Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Four Candles

Four years old. How did this happen?

There’s always this fear with the youngest child that you’re sort of missing them. It goes faster. There’s still wonder and little reflective moments, but they’re fewer and farther between in our faster-paced, schedule-driven life. Not much time is spent just sitting and gazing anymore. There aren’t as may firsts. There’s still amazement, but it doesn’t command the attention it once did.

Especially this year. Little Girl’s got a real Sixteen Candles thing going on, between her brother’s recent Aspergers diagnosis and some home improvement absurdities (more on that in a future post). We usually plan our birthday parties weeks in advance, including a delightful trip to Display & Costume to lovingly pick out the favors and napkins. Not this year. I don’t have a cake planned. I haven’t even bought her a present! I guess we’ll still find time to do all that, but still. Can’t help but feel a little guilty, being so preoccupied with all this other stuff as my sparkling girl turns four.

Despite our best efforts, she’s lived a fair amount of her life in big brother land. The first princess she knew about was Princess Leia. Baby’s First Laugh happened when he accidentally threw a beach ball in her face. One of Baby’s First Words was “Dine!” – thanks to her brother’s love of dinosaurs. She’d even try to say the actual dinosaur names: “Da-BILL-a-dot!” Potty talk, sass back, and Santa agnosticism all started at an earlier age for her. But man, you should have seen her hold her own that first year in preschool.

She’s been a prominent force in The Boy’s life, too. These last few months, something’s really clicked with them and they’ve become such friends all of a sudden. They act out Pokémon and Captain Underpants (there’s that big brother influence again). But he’s been known to play “hairstyle” with her, too. He reads to her. They build forts. They crack each other up.

It’s a beautiful thing to see unfolding – every bit as beautiful and wondrous as the baby gazing of yesteryear. But now, instead of languidly pondering the velvety eyelids of a sleeping infant, I’m overhearing snippets of priceless dialogue as I make dinner or drive them home from school or (yes) catch up on Facebook. It’s a less intentional kind of wonder. But it’s still there.

I love catching glimpses of her dancing to Imagination Movers in her car seat when she thinks I’m not looking. She’s got this great head-bob/finger-pointing move. I love overhearing her intricate imaginative games with her stuffed animals and Playmobil figures. All those different voices. She keeps changing their names. “Little Foal” becomes “Magical Glitter” becomes “Sugar Grape Pie.” I love her quirky love of florist catalogs and the recipe pages in magazines.

And I cautiously love her ever-increasing feistiness. I’m not sure, to be honest, if I’m ready to deal with the amount of feist that’s coming our way. But I’m glad for her. She’s going to need that strength and spirit.

Happy birthday, my big Little Girl.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Full Circle

Her office is around the corner from our old apartment building – my first address in Seattle and the first place Mr. Black and I lived together. This can’t be a coincidence…can it? It’s such an unlikely location for an office like this, amid the hip furniture stores and hip coffee shops and hip apartment dwellers. How strange for us to be back here again after all these years, like the Ghost of Relationship Future haunting the younger version of ourselves.

On the days when I come here with The Boy, I try to point out some of the old landmarks to him. There’s our old building. That’s where we used to rent movies. He nods politely, but he’s way more interested in the new ice cream store a few blocks up the hill. Outside, I’m the only one with a school-age kid. But in the waiting room there are earnest, sensitive kids and their earnest, sensitive parents. I try to chat sometimes. Mostly, though, I just sit there reminding myself to breathe. I’m way more nervous than I ever thought I would be. The heart just pounds in spite of all the mind’s best reassurances.

At the end of the month, we officially confirm what we’ve already suspected. First of all, our boy is one “gifted” little dude. Tested off the charts. Literally. She had to map his results in the top margin of the page. He’s so gifted, in fact, that I’m taking the quotation marks off that braggy, antiquated term. I’m going to own it: Gifted. So there.

Oh, and one other thing. Aspergers. I’m going to own that one, too.

Funny how two years ago I was fighting so hard to prove it wrong. His preschool teacher was the one who first suggested it – at pick-up time, with my toddler girl asleep in my arms and The Boy running wild on the playground. Apparently, she’d sprung a last-minute fire drill on them the day before, and he’d had the king of all meltdowns.

A four-year-old melting down over an unannounced fire drill seemed like insufficient cause for this level of intervention. But the teacher was insistent. She had other reasons, too. Like his refusal to be hugged. Or his anguish at last-minute changes in the routine.

I was livid. I thought she was being awfully quick to label, and awfully unprofessional just springing it on me at the end of the school day like that. I was determined to prove her wrong.

Mr. Black, Zod love him, reminds me about it as we drive home together. “You realize this means that preschool teacher was right,” he teases.

“She was right for the wrong reasons,” I answer.

In those days it was all about Being Ready for Kindergarten. No one seemed to think The Boy was “ready,” and it pissed me off to no end. Really, “Is he ready for kindergarten?” was the wrong question. Might as well ask “Has he changed into a different person yet?” I knew something was up with the kid, even then. I decided to do an evaluation before the school year ended so I could send him to kindergarten armed with a diagnosis, naively expecting the school would roll out the red carpet of free services to help him. Isn’t that adorable?

Well…things didn’t exactly work out that way. I picked a therapist who was within our price range and available to do the evaluation immediately. Which is not how to pick a therapist, folks. File that one under “Don’t do what Donny Don’t does.” Her official diagnosis was “anxiety and depression,” which made sense at the time.

But it wasn’t enough to get the elementary school psychologist to take us seriously. The Boy's kindergarten teacher was supportive and tried to help me advocate for him, but to no avail. They chalked his meltdowns up to typical kindergarten anxiety. They said his academics were good, so this wasn’t really a special education issue. The school year was nearly over before we finally got our team meeting. With good friends, an excellent teacher, and a classroom aide (who was there for a classmate with Down syndrome) he still managed to have a good year.

But first grade? Not so much. Never before have his differences been so heartbreakingly pronounced (or, at times, so heartbreakingly misunderstood). I should have seen this coming, but I felt completely blindsided. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I think all along I was secretly hoping he’d outgrow this. Somewhere in the deepest, most childlike part of myself, I believed that with just the right context, maybe the Aspergersish behavior would just…stop. But in those first weeks of the new school year, it became brutally clear that this wasn’t going to happen.

This time, it was a trusted friend who suggested we have him evaluated. This time, I went to our pediatrician first and got a referral. This time, I’ve had nearly two years to get used to the idea and the label doesn’t feel like a punishment or a cruel misunderstanding. It feels…fine. It fits. In many ways, it’s an incredible relief.

I don’t want to fool myself by imposing a sense of closure on this story, but it does feel like an end of sorts. Or a beginning. Or a really nice rest stop. Something. We have a clearer path and a tentatively emerging support system. I have a new level of acceptance for my son that, I guess, maybe wasn’t there before.

Next week, I’ll be making one last visit to the old neighborhood. I’ll catch a glimpse of our old apartment building and the window where I used to sit and wait for the UPS truck to arrive with my boxes from Philly. Here’s your future, Younger Self, I’ll think. Reader, you married him. You bought a house, you had kids, and now you’re walking down that same street to pick up copies of your son’s evaluation for his school.

And here’s some more good news – the old pizza place is still there. Let’s grab a slice and see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Accidental Staycation

Somehow, without even trying or even necessarily wanting to, the Floor Pie family appears to have mastered the “staycation.”

I’m as surprised as you are.

When the snow started falling on Monday morning I was just the littlest bit irritated, even as Impy and Chimpy joyfully scrambled into their puffy coats. For all my do-whatcha-feel quirkiness I’m actually a rather linear thinker, easily ruffled when plans go awry. We had a Thanksgiving trip to Oregon to prepare for, co-op preschool classes to attend, plates to spin.

But snow in Seattle is a rare occurrence indeed. Between our city’s apparent lack of snow plows and a landscape of crazy-steep hills and floating bridges, we tend to shut down pretty easily. As it turned out, the only thing that wasn’t cancelled that first snow day was my parent-teacher conference at The Boy’s elementary school. Afterwards, with Mr. Black home with both kids, I walked down to my favorite coffee house in that neighborhood and just sat, warming my hands on a pumpkin spice white mocha and watching the snowflakes swirling around.

It didn’t matter that I was only a few blocks from my kid’s school and a short drive from home. It didn’t matter that dozens of loose ends and unanswered questions lay in my mental inbox. For the moment I was deliciously alone, anonymous, with all the time in the world.

You’d think that feeling would disappear the minute I had to haul myself home in the now-heavier snow. But it didn’t! I walked in the door to find Mr. Black on the computer and the kids immersed in some game in the playroom. After a minute or two, I actually picked up the library book I’d been saving for our trip and curled up by the window to read. (To read! A grown-up book! During the day!)

We passed the hours with all the whimsical luxury of a family renting a quaint cottage in some vacation town, easily changing companions every few hours for a new set of amusements. The Boy and I walked up to the hardware store to buy birdseed. Little Girl and I read stories while The Boy catapulted shovels full of snow in the backyard. The Boy and Mr. Black played Civilization. Mr. Black and Little Girl played Bird Bingo. The four of us walked up to Kidd Valley for lunch. The only thing missing was an exotic landscape…although an all-day snowfall that doesn’t melt the next day is exotic enough in these parts.

Snow day after snow day, I expected the cabin fever to set it. We did have some isolated flare-ups – not unlike the sort you have when traveling with your family. But for the most part, that luxurious vacationy mood remained. Even now, the night before Thanksgiving, there’s still a delicious sense of laziness in the air.

When we’re trying to pack the car tomorrow I might be cursing the loss of my usual pre-Oregon-trip bustling. But I’m hoping that, instead, all this blissed-out laziness has somehow brought me closer to some True Meaning of Thanksgiving sentiment (I’m thankful for family!). Or at least some anti-holiday-stress sentiment (I’m thankful for having avoided the mall this week!).

Whether the feeling lasts or not, it’s just really, really nice to feel this relaxed when we’re this close to the holiday of 1-5 traffic and pie fails. It’s such a rare time of year for living in the present. More than anything, I’m grateful for that.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You Are My Rain


It’s so easy to lose the thread these days. And then when I find it, it’s not really him at all anymore; not the him I’ve come to know. I used to doubt so much, and yearn. I used to not know how to ask for things. I used to worry and miss him. I used to curl into him, filling every space, renewed.

Did we really love the rain as much as I remember, or was that some affectation of the recently-moved-to-Seattle? Because that’s what everyone warns about before you move to Seattle, isn’t it? So we told them all the rain’s no big deal, and then we kind of had to commit to that. No car in those days, so we’d wait at rain-swept bus stops and street corners. I used to imagine a wedding announcement featuring us in our soggy jeans at the corner of Pine and Boren, waiting for the light to change.

So many different snapshots of our early love are rain-drenched, even before Seattle was on the horizon. The night we met, I walked to that party from one end of my Philadelphia neighborhood to the other in an eerily foreshadowing misty warm January rain. And when I knew he was moving, I’d study the rainy days and try to imagine myself in his new city. It seemed so distant and unlikely, but the next thing I knew it was real. Damp grocery bags in our hands. Drizzle-speckled used CDs from Cellophane Square.

The music we fell in love to was rain itself. Hooverphonic. Air. Massive Attack. Stereolab. Love Spirals Downwards. All those dreamy, fuzzy layers; dozens of neutral shades blurring sensually into each other. All these years later and I still catch my breath when one of those songs comes on, and an ordinary drive to the store is suddenly transformed. I notice the skyline again, and remember what it felt like when this was the landscape of a romantic adventure; not the landscape of errands and commutes.

Yes, by now the novelty of all this rain has worn off a bit. Complaining about the rain in Seattle is about as useless as complaining about the heat in Texas. But that doesn’t stop us. Sometimes it’s downright worrisome, the way it pours down on our little old house. Sometimes we’ll have days and days – weeks, even – of relentless downpour, and I’ll think this just can’t be good for us. But there are moments when the rain unexpectedly locks me into the old optimism.

Like last week, when I had to run some paperwork into The Boy’s school. The last thing I wanted to do was leave my cozy little car-cocoon. But the minute I set foot on the sidewalk and felt those soft raindrops in the warm breeze, it was like stepping back in time. The colors – vibrant reds and yellows of the autumn leaves popping against their black branches and the milky grey sky. Suddenly, I wasn’t in as much of a hurry. I was feeling that same wet, fresh, ripped-open sensation of when I first arrived here and everything felt so new – rain-drenched, uncertain, discouraging at times, but unmistakably hopeful.

It isn’t just nostalgia that links my love to the rain. Rain is struggle. Rain is sacrificing convenience and comfort for the sake of just getting outside anyway and going where you need to go. Rain drives you crazy, making you adapt to its quirks. Rain is familiar. Rain drives you back inside. It gives you permission to go slowly and take care of yourself. (Have some tea.)

Rain is imperfection itself, in all its disappointment and unexpected beauty.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Sister Got Hitched


It was ten years ago – ten! – that my sister married her longtime boyfriend. In the years that followed, there would be an avalanche of family weddings, including my own. But hers was the first. And hers was the one that ushered in a new era in which we learned to stop worrying and love (Or maybe it was Gloria Steinem’s marriage, six days earlier, that paved the way. That didn’t hurt.)

In those days our generation, or at least our little corner of it, just wasn't that into weddings. And when they did happen (with the exception of a few good friends, of course), it felt somewhat alien. I knew girls at work who talked endlessly about their weddings. They were typically the same ones who talked endlessly about dieting and looked with disgust at a plate with anything resembling cheese on it. This was the same sort of person who would ask if I minded that my younger sister was getting married first.

Um . . . no. But thanks for your concern. Have another olestra chip.

I truly wasn’t the least bit jealous or upset. But my sister’s engagement opened a door of sorts – a door I’d assumed was mostly meant for neat and polished people who were happy in cubicle land, who raced toward the superficial trappings of adulthood like we raced toward the prom in high school; those color-coordinated girls and their housebroken boyfriends who obediently wined and dined and sent elaborate flower arrangements.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t attract this sort of boyfriend myself. I simply hadn’t the least bit of interest in such a man. The guys I fell for were all mired in existential angst, darting their eyes and tossing their heads like frightened horses at any notion of conventional cubicle-bound adulthood. They were in academia, or performing arts, or underemployed slackerdom with vague artistic ambitions. When I met Mr. Black, for example, he was teaching one college course a week, working on a novel, and writing music and movie reviews to make ends meet. Sure, he’d thrown in the towel and started applying to law schools, too. But even that meant three more years of studenthood. Sign me up!

I loved the slacker life. I loved my old apartment with its dark brown shag carpeting, I loved my Nick at Nite (which prominently featured “Rhoda” and “Mary Tyler Moore” reruns in those days), I loved the open-ended adventures in hilarious absurdity when I went out with my friends. I didn’t want my life to change very much. I just wanted a little romantic companionship – someone who would lie around with me all weekend instead of running off to go do something, someone who nevertheless had remarkable depths of intelligence and wit, and someone (this was the trickiest requirement with these guys) who even wanted a girlfriend.

Mr. Black embodied all of these things and more, and I’d followed him into the misty, cloud-mottled sunset of Seattle to co-slack forever in harmony. The notion of marriage seemed a bit beside the point.

And then, suddenly, one of my own was crossing over. I don’t ever remember my sister yearning or aspiring to marriage for marriage’s sake. Right up until the day she got engaged, we used to commiserate about people asking her when she planned to tie the knot. But she absolutely wanted to be with her guy. They’d been friends for years and together through all sorts of post-grad adventures. In lots of ways, they’d grown up together, and he was already a de facto member of our family. The fact that there hadn’t been a formal celebration to acknowledge it never occurred to me.

But now that there was a formal celebration on the horizon, we were quick to embrace it! Flowers, cakes, dresses, decorations – these were no longer superficial trappings, but an elaborate palette with which to create our very own two-part season finale Wedding Episode. This wasn’t just some wedding; this was our sister’s wedding, and we planned it with the joyful abandon of all our childhood Christmases, birthdays, and Halloweens put together.

My long-held aversion to All Things Girly began to soften as I ventured into previously unknown territory. I tried on sleek gowns at Nordstrom. I bought my first (and last) pair of high heels. I even bought a copy of Martha Stewart Weddings magazine and started squirreling away ideas for my own hypothetical wedding . . . and started hinting to Mr. Black that I kind of wanted one. And, the day before the wedding, I joined my sisters and cousins at the nail salon for my first pedicure ever. (This girly stuff wasn’t so bad after all. Except for the high heels.)

The wedding and reception took place on an idyllic university campus where the bride, groom, both sisters of the bride, and many of the guests went to college. Just to ratchet up the nostalgia factor even more, we were all staying at the same fancy hotel that anchored a once-ritzy mall and movie theater that were popular destinations back in the day. I’d seen Fatal Attraction there. And Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And Graffiti Bridge.

Old familiar places are usually so evocative for me. On a visit to Philadelphia, for example, I was walking across Rittenhouse Square and felt suddenly overcome by a sense of longing and loss – for what, I couldn’t say. But when I lived there, I did tend to wander around that part of town while sorting out this or that heartbreak. Perhaps I was feeling the cumulative sense of those wanderings; a visit from the Ghost of Drama Past.

I expected to feel something similar, being back on my old college campus after all those years. But I didn’t. Nothing. It just felt like a place, like any other place. And there was a wedding to rehearse, a Pablo Neruda poem to practice reading, high heels to break in. All the old spirits were either at rest or exorcised by the presence of our older, relatively wiser selves. The past was, well, past. One star in an elaborate constellation.

At the reception, I stood on the porch where I’d received my diploma nine years earlier, gazing out at a sunny lawn flocked with aunts, uncles, parents, cousins, and friends from every era. And I realized just how optimistic it was, this whole wedding thing. It wasn’t just about the event, or even marriage itself, necessarily. It was simply the living, breathing affirmation that – married or not – we could form our own center. No more kids’ table, no more adolescent eye-rolling at the fringes. We could be adults in the conventional sense, without fear or ironic detachment; without losing our spirit or our individuality.

You don’t need a wedding to do that. But it took a wedding for me to fully realize it.

Happy anniversary, Sister.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Midlife Climb


At my forty-first birthday dinner, over one too many delicious tequila-based cocktails, Mr. Black tells me he wants to climb Mount Rainier.

I wait for the smirk, or the air quotes, but neither are forthcoming. He’s serious. What can I say but “Why?”

“Well,” he chuckles a little self-consciously, “because it’s there.” And then it dawns on me.

“You’re having a mid-life crisis!”

He smiles and shrugs. “Yes, I guess that’s part of it.”

I panic a little. How can this be? He’s always so even-tempered and content; the Spock to my Joan-Cusack-in-Broadcast News. And now, after all these years, the male existential angst raises its head and he wants to do the hiking equivalent of buying a red Corvette?!

I take a long sip of my drink and blurt out “Couldn’t you just have an affair?”

“Do you want me to have an affair?”

“No. . . no, of course I don’t.” And it’s true. I really don’t. But somehow I think I could cope with the heartache of his infidelity better than I could cope with the heartache of his taking a bad step into an icy crevasse. So I try to explain myself.

“It’s just that, with an affair, you’re so much less likely to . . . well, die.”

Immediately we start trying to out-geek each other with amateur actuarial speculation on the likelihood of death due to an affair vs. climbing a mountain. You could get shot or stabbed by a jealous husband. You could have a car accident on the way to her place. You could contract a deadly STD. Ah, there’s that ironic detachment. The conversation moves on.

We agree that he’ll start by joining a local hiking group that helps midlife crisis guys prepare for their eventual feats of strength. None of this driving-to-a-trailhead-on-a-whim nonsense. And he acknowledges that he might decide not to climb the whole damn mountain in the end. But in the meantime it will be nice to kick his hiking up a few notches with some new challenges and maybe new friends. Nothing wrong with that.

But later that night, I can’t sleep. Suppose he really goes through with it?

Worst case scenarios flash through my mind. To calm myself, I lean against his sleeping back and just listen to him breathe for a while. He is here, I remind myself, not on a mountain, not lost to some rocky wilderness. I wrap one arm around him and bask in the simple presence of his body. And then I imagine that same body, just a body, striving and inconsequential against miles and miles of glacier and sky. I hold him tighter and try to just breathe.

I wasn’t always so fearful about the whole Man vs. Nature thing. I used to embrace it, in fact. Nature was – still is, in many ways – one of the deepest, most comforting, most spiritually fulfilling things in my life. I discovered hiking in graduate school, escaping with my friends to the Catskills whenever we could manage it. I loved the rush of pure strength in my legs as we pushed our way up those steep climbs, the air so clean it felt a little sharp going in. And I loved my boots like some people love their cars.

Even after I moved to Philadelphia I tried to keep the spirit alive, walking everywhere in any weather, setting off on hiking-related vacations – Colorado with a good friend, Maine with Mr. Black, the Adirondacks by myself one summer. Moving to the Pacific Northwest felt like a paradise of sorts, where we’re literally surrounded by snow-capped mountains and wild, rocky beaches; so many opportunities to lose oneself. Those early days were incredible, exploring the edge of the continent with the Man I Loved.

I imagined we’d be one of those many Northwest families who take their babies camping and hiking. We did manage to get some hiking in with The Boy in the early days, back when he was portable.


But now, with two rather anxiety-prone children ages six and three who have a hard time abandoning routine and creature comforts . . . well, let’s just say we’ve put the dream on hold.

We tried to do kid-friendly versions of our old trips, with moderate success. We’d stay in motels. We’d spend the rainy days exhausting limited indoor attractions – local cheese factory tours and museums featuring pioneer artifacts and taxidermy. But last year, on a relentlessly cloudy Oregon Coast vacation, I was going stir crazy. It was just a little cloudy – okay, it was a lot cloudy – but it wasn’t actually raining. Couldn’t we do something outdoorsy before heading home to the city?

Mr. Black suggested Oswald West State Park, remembering that their trails were family-of-tourists-friendly, with a nice beach for sandcastle building nestled between the rocky hillsides. I guess Mr. Black’s idea of “tourist friendly” is not my idea of “tourist friendly,” because I decided to bring Little Girl’s stroller along.

It seems ridiculous in retrospect, but you have to appreciate the whirlwind fog of traveling with small children. She was two at the time, too heavy to carry and too, well, two to walk along. It was a small umbrella stroller, light and pretty easy to navigate. We did fine for most of the trail. I even made it over a narrow, bumpy wooden bridge with some maneuvering. But when we hit the beach, there was the usual barrier of rocks and driftwood to climb over and down. Why hadn’t I thought this through?


Mr. Black carried the empty stroller while I inched my way over the rocks and driftwood carrying my impossibly heavy two-year-old, willing away back pain and silently praying for a safe descent. How the hell am I going to make it back over those rocks, I wondered, when Mr. Black pointed to a staircase built into the hillside on the other side of the beach. Stairs! We’re saved! We sat back and enjoyed our cloudy beach day.

But when it was time to head back, those stairs proved only slightly less challenging than the pile of rocks and driftwood. Her little two-year-old body got heavier with each slow, deliberate step. My neck and shoulders ached, and I was growing crankier by the minute.

At the top of the staircase I unloaded Little Girl back into her stroller and started crabbing at Mr. Black about something. I don’t remember what. It was one of those conversations where one person’s being deliberately vague while the other is deliberately obtuse. You know: “What? That. What!? That! What?! THAT!!!” One of those. We were about ready to start pummeling each other with the nearest sand shovels.

Suddenly, I realized how close to the edge of a cliff we were standing. And how the brakes of Little Girl’s stroller were not on.

Calmly, steadily, I pushed the stroller away from the edge and up the trail, still pissed about whatever minutia we’d been arguing about. But horrifying images teased at the edges of my mind. What if I hadn’t noticed in time? What if The Boy had accidentally bumped into the stroller and sent it rolling? What if my sweet little girl, in her diaper and mismatched Gymboree outfit, my sweet little girl with her adorable laugh and love of books, my sweet little girl who hated the damn beach and would have been so much happier staying home with her stuffed animals, had met a terrifying and dramatic end all because of my own selfish attachment to stupid cloudy Pacific Northwest goddamn wilderness? Screw you, Nature.

Yes, this was an overreaction of sorts. It wasn’t Nature’s fault, after all. A little common sense could have prevented tragedy. And we did avoid tragedy, didn’t we? Looking back on it, I can’t even trust the memory. How close to the edge of the cliff were we, really? How real was the threat of her falling?

But nothing can match that horrifying vision of “what if,” or the realization that I’d brought my little daughter into harm’s way through my own poor judgment and misguided love of being in a thrilling but dangerous spot where we had no business in the first place.

Seriously, why do we need to stand at the edge of rocky beach cliffs and mountaintops? These places aren’t here for us. Why do we keep trying to have them? Is there not enough to satisfy our bodies and our spirits in the homes we’ve created, in the cities we’ve built? Maybe the kids have the right idea after all, missing the comforts of home while we drag them down the trail of pristine natural beauty (that we paved and drove our cars to get to) in an attempt to reclaim something that never belonged to us in the first place.

And yet, I do still love to hike and immerse myself in breathtaking mountain scenery. What’s not to love? There’s a certain peacefulness and strength out there that just isn’t at the mall, or even at a city park. It’s in the soft air, the quiet, the motion of branches and waves. It’s the feeling in your legs when they just have to stretch and climb, literally elevating yourself one big step after the other.

I’m less compelled to drag the kids along now, at least until they’re older. As for Mr. Black and his midlife climbing aspirations . . . Well, I won’t stop him. I can insist that he proceed with safety and extreme attention to detail, but I can’t hold him back. As midlife crises go, this seems like a pretty benign one. Might as well let it unfold.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Go Back Up

These bike-path dudes all look the same. Hip and healthy, shaved heads under their slick helmets. If I weren’t so distracted, I’d be feeling comparatively dowdy in my old jeans still spattered with glue from a day-camp art project. But that’s kind of irrelevant right now.

Everyone who passes by does the same thing I did – pause in disbelief, start to briskly and righteously move away, and then . . . look up again and freeze, helplessly. Bystanders. Some people take pictures with their phones. I already feel tacky for standing here and watching this, so I take some small consolation in the fact that at least I’m not that tacky.

She’s right in the center of the Aurora bridge, on the other side of the railing, just standing there, facing the long drop to the water and police boats below. I can see a few police officers on the bridge with her. It looks like they’re talking. She gestures wildly at them from time to time.

Then she turns around, squats down and lowers one foot, as if she’s climbing down a ladder. But there’s nowhere for that foot to go. It just waves there, impossibly small against the vast expanse of bridge and air. One of the bike guys near me bellows “GO BACK UP!”

And she does. Not all the way, but she lifts her foot back up and steadies herself on the ledge again. Now she’s squatting, with her face in the railing and her back turned to the jump.

An Argosy sightseeing ship passes by, awkwardly, skirting as far away from the scene as possible.

I know I shouldn’t stay. I have no business here. None of us do. But I want to see her climb back over that railing to safety. I feel responsible for seeing this situation resolved, somehow. You can’t just walk past a suicide attempt and never give it a second thought, can you? After watching her lift that foot back up, I’m almost certain she won’t go through with the jump. But I want to know for sure.

I’m feeling rather stoic – until I actually talk to someone and feel my voice shaking and repeating my words. I can’t yell like the bike guy did. But I’m talking, actually saying the words out loud, in the same kind-but-firm tone I use when one of my kids is wildly upset and needs some redirection: “Go back up. You don’t want to do this. I know you don’t. Go back up.”

Which feels kind of lame. I overhear a woman talking to her friend, abstractly comparing herself to the person on the bridge, and saying she understands. I wish I understood. But I know that I don’t. I couldn’t possibly. The closest I can get to empathy is recalling my old embarrassingly frequent public displays of adolescent angst, and the accompanying adolescent outrage that the world, in all its shallowness, didn’t come to an empathetic halt to acknowledge my suffering.

Now I’m finding strange comfort in that very shallowness. I look around at all the people who aren’t attempting a suicide jump. The cops, the commuters, the bikers and joggers on the trail, that woman with her bag of groceries, that mom who leans in to quietly explain it to her son before gently urging him on. I look at the lights on all the houses in the surrounding hills. And past the bridge, I can see my son’s elementary school.

It’s getting dark. I had no business being here in the first place, and I definitely have no business staying this long. I have to believe that she won’t jump. I have to know she won’t. So, I “know” it as best I can and start walking home.

But when I get there – when I sit at my computer and learn that this bridge that’s walking distance from my house is the second deadliest “suicide bridge” in the United States; that at least two people have died jumping from the bridge just this summer – I still feel frozen in my tracks.

“Go back up,” the bike guy yelled. And she did. That’s what I keep thinking about. I didn’t have the presence of mind, or the courage, or the vocal chords to do that. But I’m so glad someone did.

Update: She's safe.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Art of Getting Lost

Back east, in an old friend’s kitchen, she finds an address book of hers that was a gift from high school. The cover is padded with a light blue Laura Ashley-like print and trimmed with lace (so touchingly not her style), and she reads me every address I’ve had since age 22. We talk about a mutual friend who was also my boyfriend for a short but serious while, and though I wish him only the best, I’m breathing a dozen sighs of relief that we went our separate ways.

Funny how those roads were all leading somewhere. I never gave it much thought in that wild, uncertain time full of intersecting souls and paths. Relationships – platonic and otherwise – were intense, meaningful, and routinely transitory as we moved on and beyond and through. This guy was a blaze of warmth and stability, older than me and more certain of his way. He would have married me. The lure of security was huge, but the fit was just . . . off somehow. I didn’t trust it. In the end I fought my way out, breaking his heart. It would be years before anyone would want me that much again. But those were good years. I was on a path, too.

It’s so maddeningly easy to get lost when I come back east for a visit. My sister reassures me this is just what it’s like here – tiny country roads dipping over hills, through forests and farms, appropriated and cobbled into one confusing-as-hell state road. I keep pulling over, poring frantically over the map, sure I must have missed the turn. No. The turn just hasn’t come up yet. Keep going. You’re fine.

I feel like I used to be so much better at this, but I wasn’t really. Yes, I did a lot more long-distance driving in my early 20’s than I do in my early 40’s. I was always taking off to see some friend or boyfriend in some other state. But I wasn’t much more adept at it than I am now. Wrong turns, dead ends, misread maps. I’ve been to the Jersey Shore by way of Delaware and I’ve taken more than one wrong/long way around a DC beltway. It didn’t bother me as much, though. Getting lost and confused was simply part of the process; part of the adventure. The destination wasn’t half as exciting as the journey.

There wasn’t much “home” to miss, either. Sure, I loved every one of my single-girl apartments, but I didn’t miss my stressful jobs and empty answering machines. The further away, the better. And, obviously, there were no kids in the backseat in those days, with their Bunny Grahams and Laurie Berkner CDs and adorable little need for routine and security. It’s amazing how “When are we going to be there? Are we ever going to be there?” can throw off the whole On the Road spirit.

I leave my friend’s house later than I’d intended, kids in their pajamas and an inadequate Google Maps print-out on the passenger seat. It’s dark, and I’ve made my first wrong turn before we’re even out of the neighborhood. I sniff out a new way back to the main road, turn onto it with a sigh of relief, only to zip right under the bridge for the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Come on!

But there’s a gas station right there. The heat and humidity wraps around me like a blanket as I fill up the tank, planning my next move and watching my kids’ sweet, trusting little heads in the glow of their They Might Be Giants DVD. What an adventure this is for them, driving all night back to grandma’s house in Pennsylvania. There’s a small thread of my old spirit that can vicariously enjoy it with them, but mostly I’m a bundle of neurotic-mom nerves.

We make it back to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway easily enough, and the kids are asleep before long, but I can’t seem to settle into the drive. Did I miss my exit? Is this right? It’s so late and I’m so tired. Should we stop at a hotel? Is that lame? Will we have an accident if I don’t stop? Beltway, beltway, beltway. Let’s just wait until we get to 83. Where’s 83? Shouldn’t we have hit 83 by now?

And when we finally do hit 83, I still can’t decide. I see a sign for a Comfort Inn and exit, but the road is so dark and I don’t see it anywhere. And then the road closes for a passing train. Rattled, I turn around and get back on 83. A little further along, there’s a sign for a Hampton Inn, which looms majestically over some retail village. It takes me three tries to get on the right winding road to the top of that hill. When I finally reach the merry glow of the lobby, it’s swarming with high-school kids just as bright-eyed and giddy as my own kids at the prospect of travel. It’s adorable, really. Too bad they’re filling up the entire hotel and there’s not a single room left.

So, the hell with it. I put in a Sleater-Kinney CD, soft enough not to wake the kids but loud enough to keep me going, and soldier on to my parents’ place. 83, 30, 222, 183. And gradually, it starts to feel fun. It’s a summer night, I’ve got my music and a familiar stretch of roads in front of me, rolling past it all. In motion. In process.

I used to thrive on this – the constant movement, solitude, and sense of possibility. Even when I did decide to settle down, it was with a man who was moving to Seattle, and a whole new journey began. Now, instead of traveling to boyfriends, I travel to my sisters and parents and old friends. And now, for the first time on this crazy-busy east coast trip, I really miss my husband. If he were here, he’d have navigated me through all this with his trademark stoic reassurance. Yes, this is the right way. No, let’s not stop for the night. I can drive if you’re too tired. It’s nice to know I can still do this without him. But it’s so much better when he’s here.

At last, I make my way up the last stretch of country hill. Pulling into my parents’ driveway, I imagine I can hear the reassuring sound of a plane’s wheels first touching the ground after a long flight, bumping wildly but never breaking their stride. Home.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Reruns


Well, gentle readers, I’m outta here for the rest of the month. In a few short days, I’ll be hopping on a plane with Impy & Chimpy to visit all our wonderful East Coast friends ‘n’ family. Computer access – and time to write, for that matter – will be in short supply, so I figured I’d put up some delicious summer reruns for now. These are some of my favorites, all summer-themed in one way or another. Read ’em up. If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!

Red, White . . . Blue
Some people have ironically melancholy Valentines Days. I have ironically melancholy Fourths of July.

The Pennsylvania We Never Found
Visiting my childhood home with my own kids, I remember the initial promise and reality of “farm” life.

Fling One and Fling Two
Two summer flings remembered – one heavy, one light. Grab some orange popsicles and lemonade and enjoy.

Beach Tale
Observing a young, wacky couple in what could only be the earliest stages of love.

New Twilight Novella: the Ultimate Clueless Mom Fantasy
I know, summer’s here and you’re probably up to your eyeballs in Twilight hype/criticism by now. But this essay is about the new novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner – which is to the Twilight saga what Fire Walk With Me was for “Twin Peaks.” Hopefully there’s something in there for Twilight lovers and haters, alike.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Letter to My Preconceived Notion


I wrote this in February, 2002, for the child I had only just started hoping for.

It began simply. I left the pink plastic case in the drawer, figuring it would be no big deal – business as usual, minus one little blue pill at bedtime every night. If it happens, it happens.

But nothing, baby, nothing swings like these moods. I’ve got the sex drive and depression of a high school girl, perched on the brink of some pitfall or other. Which will it be? Conceive and be a breeder, a Mommy, a sweatpants-wearing ghost in a house full of people who wish she would just shut up? Or the sorry infertile non-woman, so askew that her own errant ovaries know better than to pass it along? Which will it be?

Somehow, sweetheart, I simply know that I want you in my life. And yes, it’s probably for all the wrong, culturally inscribed reasons. Nevertheless, I love you dearly, though you’re no more than a theory; a hypothetical little genetic time bomb.

I can’t promise you a thing. You understand this now, existing only in my mind as you do. But when you are your own little being, you will forget. You will want the more expensive sweater, want your mother to stop crying, want to spend Christmas in your own house instead of on a plane bound for snowy Pennsylvania or in a car bound for rainy Oregon.

You will want the world to love you as much as I do and it won’t, baby, it won’t. You will navigate your way through the whole mess of childhood and adolescence, not knowing the rules until long after the game is over and it’s time to start a new one.

Some people will admire this particular quality or that. Some will instantly dislike you through no fault of your own. There is hate in this world and it permeates everyone. It is there. But there is love in the world too, my sad boy or sad girl. There is ebb and flow, calm and storm, a whole complex geography of being and becoming, knowing and wondering, learning, forgetting, and learning again. You will turn inward, want to write a poem but your feelings will be greater than a mere vocabulary can express. You will find, seek, separate, go your own way into the darkness and light, as I have, as everyone has.

You are asking me what is the point of it all if there is no vindication. I don’t know the point, or if there needs to be one. Most of us have learned to create meaning in those aspects of life we can measure – our jobs, our gardens, even a fist-sized lump in one’s uterus that will one day be a baby. But baby, find your own answers that make sense for you, and change them as often as you need to keep being happy.

And please . . . be sure to take these words from me now, because when you need a cup of juice, when you need help with your homework or braces or a ride to the mall, I won’t be able to say these words to you. I’ll be the last person you’ll want to hear them from.

And maybe I’ll never have you at all. Maybe you’d rather stay inside where it’s safe – part of my thoughts, part of my body, never quite taking your own definitive shape. And maybe people will misunderstand and pity me, or consider me flawed in some way. But these same people will, no doubt, have the same reaction when I let you dye your hair day-glo green and partake of whatever nasty elements of pop culture you choose. Either way, we won’t care what they think. These are your decisions. Be hypothetical, or be conceived. I will leave my pills in the drawer, and I will wait.

Saturday, June 26, 2010



Funny how when we “reconnect,” as the parenting magazines call it – “put the spice back,” as it were – funny how that’s all it takes sometimes. My dog brain confusedly responds as if it’s in love with a new guy. Morning-after optimism skipping home. Ha. Hardly.

This is Mr. Black, my old man. He’s the guy who argues that the dishwasher is “fine” when it smells like rotting milk stuffed in an old sweat sock; the guy who gives me that annoyed, confused look when I know I’ve been perfectly clear; the guy who clumsily stomps on my feelings and acts all defensive about it when a simple “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to” is all the situation requires.

Trying to explain again wouldn’t be worth the aggravation, so I just check out. Float away on another widow watch of empty distractions, happily tethered but floating just the same. He’s floating, too, in another direction, and our house is filled with mutual, benevolent silence. It’s hard to be grounded all the time. It’s so much work, so fraught with embarrassment and uncertainty and unfulfilled (probably unfair) needs that can only be met in the netherworld of the imagination.

But I’m not actually going anywhere. He is enough. More than enough. He does so much, devotes so much time, makes this charmed life of mine even possible. He doesn’t electrify me with adoration and compliments. Never did. Never swept me away, even in the beginning, with that reserved no-nonsense Spock-logic. But I was swept nevertheless, not by any words or gestures, but by his presence and the mere prospect of love from a man like that. Him showing up and loving me was enough.

We had this long, glorious leap of faith that stretched from Philadelphia to Seattle; a bright, soundless soaring that made everything else seem distant and past. Then we crashed and bumped down, got on our feet, stumbled around for a while and eventually just started walking along. This is what marriage is. Other humans are maddening and imperfect. They can’t change to suit us. Change is next to impossible. Settling, though? Well, that’s easier.

There’s so much I don’t even try to fight about anymore. I know he loves and respects me. Most of his actions indicate as much, even though he lurks around like a sullen teen sometimes. Not only is this as good as it gets, but it’s really good much of the time. We’re good friends, good parenting partners, great . . . um . . . partners still (sigh).

It’s just a little disorienting, is all. I get these lovey/crushy feelings and nowhere to really put them. This guy can only take so much school-girl adoration from me before he’s gotta watch Wapner. And besides, this is more about me than it is about him. It’s always been more about me than whatever guy happened to be standing there. I just feel these feelings of – I don’t know – love, poetry, intuition, bliss, life . . . and I start looking for somewhere to put them. I’ve always sought a human outlet for them, glorifying even the most benign, clearly wrong-for-me little non-relationships, confusing a suitable temporary recipient for some Great Love.

As a young teenager, flying a kite in the empty fields near my parents’ farm or strolling through the impossibly sensual aroma of summer evening tiger lilies, I’d imagine how it would be to share all this with a boyfriend. But when the time came, something would always fall flat. They didn’t get it. Some of them tried, but nothing could match the intensity of imagined love versus an actual imperfect being standing there missing the point. I don’t know why I thought marriage would be any different. Even under the best of circumstances, my experience is not your experience.

But, you know, it’s all okay. Love is one thing, and I do and always have loved Mr. Black. But this bliss feeling? This is mine. No crush can hold it, no human can match it or satisfy it. This is my experience of love and life, and it needs no recipient to fulfill itself. It simply is. I love my husband. And I love.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Follow Up

Well, the ultrasound was reassuring. That’s what the nurse tells me, anyway, after my whole week of pretending not to be waiting by the phone like some pathetic forgotten girlfriend. Checking and rechecking the answering machine, springing into action the minute the phone rings, sinking a little inside when it’s only that telemarketer again.

This morning, I promised myself I’d wait until the afternoon to call the doctor’s office. Ten seconds later, I was dialing the number, promising myself I was going to leave a breezy message. (“Iiiii’m breezy!” Remember that, from “Friends”? Sure you do.) Of course, my message was anything but breezy. I stammered. I repeated myself. And Little Girl threw me off even more, worried that I might be scheduling a doctor’s appointment for her.

The nurse called back soon afterwards to tell me that the ultrasound was normal. Reassuring, she said. Apparently they mailed me a letter earlier this week saying the same thing, although I haven’t received it yet. I hope they’re as efficient when it comes to sending the bill.

So, you know, hooray for good health. But while I’m relieved and embracing life and smelling the roses and whatnot, I can’t deny that I’m also feeling pretty cranky about the whole situation. I don’t like how it ends up reading like a Very Special Episode of some sitcom: “Oh, I might have a big serious disease. Oh wait – no I don’t. Roll credits. To learn more about female reproductive health, consult your local library.” I don’t like how it tugged at some pretty deep-seated fears (and possibly my readers’ fears when I wrote about it here . . . sorry, guys), only to make those fears seem silly and unfounded. It was a jolt we all could have done without, I think.

And, sure, I could have been more stoic about it in the first place . . . not written about it, not thought about it, not told anyone until there was a real reason to worry. But that’s not how I roll. By now, I might as well just accept the fact that I’m not breezy. Never have been, never will be. I’m all drama, love, and fear, wrapped in a crunchy cynical coating that flakes right off at the slightest provocation. If there’s the slightest disturbance in the force, I’ll be talking or writing about it. And if you tell me there’s a quirk on my blood test, send me in for a big juicy ultrasound, and then ignore me for a week only to say “Oh, you’re fine” . . . well, it’s going to take more than a “you’re fine” to restore my sense of peace.

But, you know . . . probably not much more. A nice walk and a delicious latte might do the trick. Maybe this past week just boils down to another embarrassing oversharing / overcaring incident to throw on the pile, but hey . . . what’s one more?

Meanwhile, I'm incredibly touched by all the support and kind words from you folks. Thanks, as always, for reading. You're the best. I'll be sure to post something funnier next time. In fact...why wait?

Friday, June 11, 2010



I’m probably fine. This is the way it always goes. Some anomaly pops up, some uncomfortable, invasive test is ordered and I sit around in some innocuously tasteful waiting room pondering my future. It almost always turns out to be nothing.

So, here we are again. The hospital sure is a drag when you’re not expecting a baby. I feel bad for the well-dressed gentlemen in the radiology waiting room who seem to be new to all this. They look so vulnerable and so bravely uncompromised in their work clothes, holding on to that last shred of their identity before it’s hospital-gown-and-probe time. Me, I can’t even sit down. They made me drink 32 ounces of water and hold it in before this test, and I’m standing on my tiptoes, shifting my weight from one foot to the other in a maddening internal struggle not to pee like Niagara Falls. Even the languid tropical fish tank is pissing me off. And a “Best of 2005” issue of Seattle magazine? That’s just plain insulting.

I don’t remember this being such a production the first time. My doctor had the ultrasound equipment right there in the office, and he let me look at the screen as he measured the ovarian cysts, instantly reassuring me that it didn’t look like cancer. Not today. It’s just me and the tech, and she’s got the screen turned away from me. I stare at the disturbingly sex-toyish instruments on the wall and try not to speculate. She presses my belly here and there, this way and that, presses until it hurts and won’t stop hurting. Probe, probe, click, click. I don’t want to ask.

I’m probably fine. Last time, sixteen years ago for goodness sake, it was only endometriosis. The biggest cyst was the size of a baseball and it swallowed one withered ovary like a fat burst of popcorn swallows its spent kernel. And it hurt. So much. Nothing hurts this time, so maybe there’s nothing going on in there after all. Or maybe my body’s so stretched out from the pregnancies and miscarriages and surgeries that it barely registers cysts anymore. Who can say? I could say, if she’d just turn the screen a few inches in my direction or let me know what she sees. But she doesn’t.

I was 24 last time, worried and fascinated. Endometriosis is no big deal. It’s just painful and inconvenient, and it can affect your fertility if it goes on unchecked. “If you were married, I’d tell you to have your children now,” my doctor had said. Gulp. I wasn’t married, of course. I’d just started dating some guy in a Grateful Dead cover band who, for all his pot-headed charm, was not what the kids call marriage material. Not that that mattered much to me. I was just barely getting a career off the ground, just barely setting up housekeeping outside of a university setting. Finding some guy to marry was the least of my problems.

But a few months later, waking up in the recovery room after my surgery, the first thought that flooded my consciousness was “I’m alone.” I wasn’t, of course. My mom was in the hospital waiting room, ready to take me back to her place to recover. But I was still young enough to take something like that for granted. All I could see was that I had no boyfriend (Grateful Dead guy and I had broken up by then), no real job beyond my various temping and tutoring gigs, and no children – not even the prospect of children.

I’m not sure why that mattered to me all of a sudden. I guess, like most female-reproductive-system diseases, endometriosis has an air of blame about it. It used to be called “working woman’s disease” because it mostly affects women in their 20’s and 30’s who haven’t started spawning yet. Don’t let your body make babies and the damn thing starts making little cyst-babies of its own. I guess on some level it felt like a punishment or a warning or some such. Mostly, though, it just underscored how very adrift and alone I was feeling.

So, all’s well that ends well . . . sort of. Yes, I ended up with a wonderful family and an easy, joyful life. But I’m still alone in this hospital. It’s pretty clear the tech isn’t authorized to tell me anything, so I start reading into her every move like it’s a first date. Did she take more measurements on the left side than the right? Is her stoicism a bad sign? Wouldn’t she say something reassuring if there were something reassuring to report? Finally it’s over and I’m sure a radiologist will come in and explain everything. No. But my doctor will have the results in 2-3 business days.

I patch myself together, put my clothes back on, and toss my hospital gown in a disgusted heap. I don’t go home. Instead, I drive a few blocks north to the neighborhood where Mr. Black and I shared our first Seattle apartment and wander around the old streets, trying to reason my way through it.

Sixteen years ago I was mourning the absence of a husband and kids. Now the saddest thing I can think of is dragging them along through whatever medical bullshit the future holds – maybe not this time, hopefully not this time. But someday. Didn’t I realize that it was better to be sick when it was just me?

I’m probably fine. This is how it always goes. Anomaly, invasive test, reassuring results, and back to life as we know it. I’m going to feel pretty embarrassed next week when my doctor calls to tell me I’m fine. But for now, for some reason, it’s hard to let go of the hypotheticals. Endometriosis doesn’t worry me. It’s not like they can scare me or shame me with tales of threatened fertility anymore. Bring it on. Just don’t let it be the other thing. The cancer thing. I don’t want that.

The chances of it being ovarian cancer are slim indeed. There’s nothing in the family history, and my initial blood test results weren’t that bad. I just wish they’d conclusively rule it out already, so I can put the worry away for good.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Two Years of Blogalicious Blogness

Hey gentle readers, did you see that I had two pieces on the cover of Open Salon this month? One was a reworking of last year’s Mother’s Day post (which the editors chose to run under the heading “This Mother’s Day…treat yourself to some porn?”). The other was a book review of Emily Gould’s And the Heart Says Whatever. Which reminds me . . .

I don't remember the exact date of my blogiversary, but I think we're coming up on two years pretty soon. When I started, I hadn’t written anything in years (thanks to all those lucrative-but-mind-numbing jobs and all that not-so-lucrative-but-soul-consuming parenting of newborn babies). But I’d been reading a lot of memoirish stuff by writers my age or younger, including Gould’s infamous NYT Magazine piece. It was the sort of writing that people are always wringing their hands over: “Oh no, young women are writing about themselves! How dare they!”

I suppose there’s some inevitable and perfectly justifiable jealousy when someone gets a book deal for the same sort of stuff you couldn’t get away with in all those writing workshops. But instead of finding it discouraging, I was inspired. Not deluded into illusions of fame, you understand. Just really, truly inspired. I had all these hilarious coming-of-age “nothing happens” kind of stories floating around in my old journals, not good enough to spin into fiction. But maybe I could just . . . write them the way they were. And maybe people would actually read and enjoy them, just as I was reading and enjoying other women’s stories.

So, here we are. It’s hardly the stuff that 1980’s montages are made of, but I’ll take it. After all those years of struggling with it, I’ve found a medium that works for me and I’m simply writing again. I’ve loved having this little virtual open mic to try out my voice and share my thoughts. Thank you so much for reading. And stay tuned . . .

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kitty Witty Bitty

“My cat’s breath smells like cat food.” – Ralph Wiggum

Oh, you knew there was a cat! How could there not be a cat? Mia’s been with me since the carefree Philly single days, and she turns 15 on Friday. (That’s right, I know my cat’s actual birthday.)

Anyway, I thought a few words might be in order to honor the little Brown-Brown. We’ve been through a lot together, we two. I was in my twenties when we joined forces, still relatively new in town, all underemployed and lonely, sharing a 20th-floor apartment with my sister. Getting a cat seemed like the next logical step.

And maybe it was a coincidence, but somehow my life took a dramatic turn for the better when Kitten Mia moved into that apartment. Sure, I still had my crazy-lady boss and disappointing attempts at dating. But now I also had this furry little anchor of sorts, always there to stick her paw up my nose to wake me up in the morning. Even sitting around watching “Dr. Katz” felt more exhilarating somehow with a kitten leaping all over the apartment or purring on my shoulder. She made it feel like home.

My sisters and I anthropomorphized the hell out of her, of course. She was more Beezus than Ramona, we decided; a bookworm and a student of science. Even the vet joined in, claiming that if Mia were on “Friends,” she’d be Monica. At some point we imagined she preferred Celine Dion to our music. And she had a red gun like Agent 99 on “Get Smart.” You know . . . to scare away the dogs.

As the year went on, my job got better and my social life started picking up. That summer my sister moved to DC and Mia and I moved to a new apartment on Antique Row. We had the whole second floor to ourselves, complete with wall-to-wall shag carpeting and lots of windows for her to chatter at the squirrels and stalk passing busses. Best of all, there were real mice! All we ever had at the old place was the occasional cockroach or centipede. But this place had a steady supply of mice for Mia to chase and – occasionally – catch, wound, and release to die in the walls somewhere. Good times.

Mr. Black showed up about a year later. Mia was no fan of his at first, but eventually he won her over with his ability to open a can of cat food. Next thing you know, we were moving to Seattle. I got on that plane with just three suitcases, a purse, and one very confused little Mia in her Sherpa bag (which fit neatly under the seat in front of me). Other than some frantic digging when the plane first took off, she traveled pretty well.

Everything kind of blends together after that. There was another apartment for a few years, and then the house we live in now. There were bad jobs and good jobs, some neighborhood riots, an earthquake, a wedding, and lots of lazy days in between. There were babies, which Mia has recently forgiven me for bringing into her home. She’s even come to grudgingly enjoy the little man-cubs:


And now the old girl’s about to turn 15. Which seems so old, but at the same time it kind of fits. She’s been with me for practically my whole adulthood – through all those friends and boyfriends coming and going, through all my different hair-colors and glasses frames, from cuddling with me after a bad date to cuddling with me after the kids are finally asleep. She was the first member to join this little nuclear family of mine. She’s seen it all.

Aaand now she’s squawking at me to turn on the bathroom faucet so she can have a drink. I guess that’s as good a place as any to conclude.

Happy birthday, little Mee-loo.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shrill Monogamy

“I think I came to Cleaving expecting Powell to have my affair for me. Just like she cooked all those Julia Child dishes for me in her first book. So I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised that, instead of sweeping me away, Cleaving just made me . . . well, shrill.

Why does someone else’s story bring out such a strong reaction in the readers?”


Check out my review of Cleaving on Open Salon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Clever As Clever

But now I am six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now forever and ever.
– A.A. Milne

Well, he’s six. I remember being a day camp counselor in high school and thinking the six-year-olds were so scary-little. I was glad to have the big tough third-graders instead. Maybe six hasn’t changed much since then, but it’s a whole hell of a lot bigger than my baby. Seriously. I look at this and I can barely believe it’s the same person:


Six, man. That’s well on his way to boyhood. Star Wars, burping contests, and sass-back are already among us. Peer pressure, too. There’s still so much innocence and sweetness left to enjoy, and I’m so proud of his emerging autonomy. But, you know. Boyhood has its challenges.

I love him so much. He is my Huck Finn, my Good Will Hunting, my Bart Simpson. And sometimes he’s the boys who teased me in elementary school, which makes it tricky to make peace with him but oddly easy to make a sort of peace with that part of my past. See? It wasn’t me being an oddball after all. It was them with their high-spirited temperaments and a school that defined them as “bad.” Karma’s a strange one sometimes.

And that’s our fundamental struggle, isn’t it? Him and me, anxiety’s mother-and-son. Only I’m all flight and he’s all fight. He puts me front and center when I’d so much rather blend into the background. And everyone’s got something to tell me about The Boy. He’s “mean,” he’s “gifted,” he’s too loud, he had another meltdown today, I should be spanking him, I should be putting him in a private school, I should be homeschooling him, I should try music therapy, I should leave him alone and stop fretting because he’s Fine. (And I still have post traumatic asshole disorder from that preschool dad who raged at us on the playground last year.)

Well. I don’t know what to make of any of that noise. At least his kindergarten teacher is empathetic and supportive. And when it comes to being his mother, I’m at my best when I turn off my targeting computer and use the Force. One small step at a time, learning from him as much as teaching him. The fact is, he does go against the grain and it is legitimately annoying to people. I’m trying to get better about not letting that break my heart.

Bottom line? He’s a good boy. Good to the core. He is kind and inquisitive, empathetic and earnest. He is wildly intelligent and absolutely must have math and building projects in his life. He thrives in the company of his friends. He has a precocious vocabulary and an adorably emerging sense of humor. He is fierce. And I love that he’s fierce. He has this incredible instinct to stand up for himself that I still don’t really have. So he doesn’t fit the mold. What kid does? People used to complain to my mom that I was too quiet. What can you do?

Put some candles on the damn cake and give him a hug, that’s what. I’d hide the Easter eggs too, but he insisted on doing that himself this year.

Happy birthday, young Jedi.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Finding Nyro


Finding Nyro
There’s not much in my music collection that I can truly claim as my own discovery. Most of my favorites came through some zeitgeist bellwether or other – in the cool kids’ dorm rooms or some boyfriend’s mix tape, drenched in peer approval. My taste never quite followed the mainstream, but it definitely stuck to a rather predictable canon of late-1980’s-and-90’s alterna-chick music (Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, Throwing Muses, PJ Harvey, Sleater Kinney, etc).

But Laura Nyro? I found her all by myself, almost by accident and perfectly backwards. A contemporary of Joni Mitchell, she predates all my college-girl favorites and influenced many of them. But it was the summer of 1997, just a few months after she died, when I heard her on the radio for the first time.

I was clearing out my cluttered non-profit office, preparing to move on to my first-ever corporate job. WXPN was playing all its favorite artists alphabetically for some reason. They were up to the N’s, I guess, because all of a sudden “Eli’s Coming” came warning, pleading, pulsating from the tiny radio speakers, stopping me in my tracks. That powerhouse voice; the seemingly endless layers of soulful harmonies, instrumentation, and Nyro’s wild piano all driving the anxious pace of the song . . . until it slows and swoons to a bittersweet surrender. “Eli’s coming, better hide your heart girl.” How did she know? I scrambled around for a post-it note and jotted down her name when the DJ announced it. I spelled it “Nero.”

Soon Eli and the Thirteenth Confession took up permanent residence in my CD player. I had a week off before starting my new job, and I was spending every minute of it practicing with the new graphic design software while Laura wailed in the background. “Poverty Train.” “Stoned Soul Picnic.” “Eli,” of course. That whole summer was a stark, lonely time of transition, but her music filled in every corner of the empty spaces. Sometimes I’d just lie on the floor right next to the speaker and bask in every nuance of her songs.

Cover Girl
I was surprised to recognize some hits I knew from other bands covering them (especially after I got Time and Love: a Laura Nyro Tribute Album). The Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues,” for example, used to irritate my socks off. Then I heard The Roches’ joyful version on Time and Love, infused with all the boisterous, wistful joy of unrequited love. “We used to hear this song on the radio when we were kids – that big Biiiilll! busting out of the speakers,” Suzzy Roche reminisces in the liner notes. And then I finally heard Nyro’s original version, thick with sunny harmonica, that syncopated piano, and her big voice. Never thought I’d love a song that pleads so unapologetically for marriage, but there it is. It’s one of my favorites.

And I was overjoyed to rediscover “Stoney End.” I’d first heard Barbara Streisand’s version in middle school aerobics club. (Yes, yes, drama club wasn’t offered that quarter. Shut up.) I was only 12 and not much into non-show-tune music, but the lyrics just grabbed me:
I was born from love
and my poor mother worked the mines
I was raised on the good book Jesus
’Til I read between the lines

Whoa. It was like a smoke signal of sorts. I was this vaguely intense little oddball, but I'd found a sign that such intensity really exists in the world and at least one grown-up was singing about it. After a few weeks, though, the aerobics teacher replaced the song with “Disco Inferno.” I kind of forgot about it over the years, especially by college when Streisand was definitely a signifier for “not cool.” How incredible to find “Stoney End” again after all those years, first through Beth Nielsen Chapman’s soulful, heart-breaky version on Time and Love and then Nyro’s gorgeous original with her breezy delivery of those heavy-hearted lines. How had I missed all this? How was I only just finding Laura Nyro now?


Who Was Laura Nyro?
Michele Kort’s outstanding biography, Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro, addresses that question pretty thoroughly. Many people haven’t heard of Nyro because, it seems, being heard-of simply wasn’t a huge priority for her. Being heard . . . making incredible music to be understood and appreciated on her own terms? Yes. But being famous? She didn’t really see the point.

She is known for supposedly bombing at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 at the very start of her career. Kort does a great job exposing that myth – a myth that Nyro herself seemed to perpetuate more than anyone. With her long gown and early-60’s-girl-group- inspired songs, Nyro’s style was out of synch with the festival (which launched such acts as Jefferson Airplane and The Mamas & The Papas). And from Kort’s description, Nyro’s performance fell short of her own expectations. The crowd was lukewarm; the house band had a hard time keeping up with her. Still, when you watch the clip she is positively spell-binding and the crowd is polite, if not enamored. And this supposed failure didn’t hold her back from joining forces with a young David Geffen, who adored her and oversaw her most successful albums.

Kort’s book tells the story of Laura as a wildly talented teenager who’d cut class at the High School of Music and Art to sing in subways with her harmony group. Just a few years later she was recording kick-ass album after kick-ass album with an enviable amount of creative control. She wore outlandish dresses, decorated the studio with candles, and rode a horse-drawn carriage across Central Park to her recording sessions. She was the quintessential over-the-top theater chick – but with overwhelming talent to back it up, turning out a uniquely amazing album a year from ages 19-23.


Those early songs are full of such fire . . . the wild joy, the unashamed yearning. I felt every minute of it during my first Laura Nyro year, wishing that I’d had her music with me for all my stormy years. I hadn’t exactly walked in her shoes, but I sure had cried at the corners of the squares. I’d savored the seedy-mellow bliss of “Blackpatch” and “Sweet Blindness”; the ripped-out tears and gritty urban poetry of “Gibsom Street” and “New York Tendaberry.”

There’s a whole collection of less-celebrated (and perhaps more homogenous) jazzy/ethereal albums from Laura Nyro’s later years. As Kort details in her book, she’d been through a brief marriage, followed by a head-over-heels love affair, finally nesting happily into single motherhood and eventually partnership with artist Maria Desiderio. Fittingly enough, I didn’t start paying much attention to those later songs until I was at a nesting stage myself.

As I was preparing to move to Seattle and couple up with Mr. Black for good, I found myself drawn to the dreamier songs like “Smile” or “Mr. Blue.” And when I was first stumbling through the earliest days of new motherhood, I’d prop myself up on the couch and nurse the baby in a sleep-deprived daze to Nyro’s later work. “To a Child” was an obvious favorite:
I’m so tired
You’re so wired
And I’m a poet
Without a poem

The songs are lush perfection; “easy listening” in the very best, most artistic sense of the term. Though the music is more subtle than Nyro’s earlier work, the lyrics still sneak up and grab me with every bit of the old intensity. Especially songs like “A Wilderness,” when she’s singing about herself as soft, ethereal mother and her wild child. Singing my life, in other words.
Many people pass by
Caught up in roles and rules
Many rivers run free
I don’t want to crush the wilderness in you, child
Or the wildness in me
How do we keep them both alive?

Which is pretty much everything I’ve been trying to say about me and The Boy all along. There are times when parenting tears me in so many different directions at once. And my boy in particular . . . so entirely mine but so confounding, always. Again: How did she know?

Why Chick Music?
I don’t want to get all fan-ish and imagine parallels between myself and this amazing musician I never met. Every introspective girl and her Birkenstocks over-identifies with at least one chick-music icon, and I suppose Laura Nyro is mine. But it’s not as cheesy as it sounds. It’s downright logical, actually. If you’re caught up in a haze of feelings and then some artist comes along and just sings about them, expresses them with this incredible poetic understanding. . . well, you’re going to want to latch onto that artist, aren’t you? Nothing wrong with that.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Anxiety, Art, and Head Lice

It was an interesting weekend on the Internets for me. On Offsprung (my favorite parenting Web site), there was a good discussion about the realtionship between intelligence, creativity, and depression.

As someone who's dabbled in all three, I was inclined to argue against the notion that medication for depression and anxiety inhibit artistic ability. Sure, we might not want to imagine an art world where Van Gogh's on Prozac. But, as I said in that discussion, most of us aren't Van Gogh. Most of us aren't even that guy who paints on PBS. And depression and anxiety can be huge roadblocks for whatever creative potential is there in the first place.

But then I went over to Open Salon and saw there was an open call for stories about "Facing Your Worst Fear." (As if I could pick just one!) But when I was really honest about it, there is one fear in particular that's been sucking up more than its share of my energy, brain power, and mood. Could I do it? Could I write from a place of anxiety and produce something worthwile?

Well, I wouldn't call it Great Art or anything. But it did get an Editor's Pick on Open Salon. Um . . . hooray for anxiety?

Check it out:

Lice, Lice, Baby

Yes, it's about head lice...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Remembrance of Chimichangas Past


I barely gave it a second thought when Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain went out of business a few years ago. What can you do when the favorite restaurant of your adolescence causes an outbreak of Hepatitis A with its filthy, filthy scallions? Not a whole lot you can do, really. Shrug and be cynical. It’s not like the restaurant was so great in the first place. I hadn’t been there in years, and when we did manage to go it was typically done with irony. One more facet of innocent youth falls from grace like Milli Vanilli. And so it goes.

If it hadn’t been so crowded at Gorditos today, old Chi-Chi’s would probably still be the furthest thing from my mind. But as I was waiting in line, my eyes wandered behind the counter to a stack of taco salad shells on a shelf. I gave them a fond smirk. Remember when those were such a big deal? No? Well, I do. I remember being positively enchanted the first time I was served a salad in one of those things. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in the 1970’s and 80’s, and such delicacies were not widely known about in our neck of the cornfield.


I first heard about Chi-Chi’s from the hairdressers at the salon where I got my perms. (Yes, yes, it was the 80’s. Shut up.) They were a fun-loving bunch of WTF-are-we-doing-being-single-in-Berks County, PA folks always in search of an adventure. Sometimes that quest took them to comparatively cosmopolitan Allentown, where Chi-Chi’s was a favorite hot spot. (You overhear a lot of conversations sitting around with that perm solution on your head.) So, my 15-year-old self was pretty excited to learn that our local strip mall was expanding into an adjacent field, adding a Chi-Chi’s of its own.

Mexican food! Our town didn’t even have a Taco Bell in those days, and our school cafeteria had only recently added “tacos” to its menu. This was a very big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that our Spanish teacher arranged a field trip to Chi-Chi’s for all her honors classes. We were going to immerse ourselves in the rich, vibrant culture of authentic Mexican dining. Sort of.

I was absolutely charmed. The faux adobe exterior! Painted tiles on the tables! Non-alcoholic blender drinks that looked just like real blender drinks! Appetizers! In retrospect, Chi-Chi’s was to Mexican food what The Olive Garden is to Italian food. But at the time, when “nice restaurant” meant “steak house,” the menu seemed exotic and authentic. I was so naïve, I didn’t realize that the entrees were named after Mexican resort towns. I thought “Cancun” really was the Spanish name for seafood enchiladas. Oh dear.

I described every detail to my mom that afternoon with all the girlish enthusiasm of an 18th century epistolary novel. A few weeks later, she took my sisters and me to Chi-Chi’s to celebrate the last day of school. I remember feeling so sophisticated, all pastel-eyeshadowed up, sipping that Nada Colada.

And thus, a cultural bridge to adulthood of sorts was formed. Chi-Chi’s was our place; the fancy restaurant we kids had discovered for ourselves. That’s where we went for Big Serious Dates with our love interests or Big Serious Talks with our best friends; that’s where we went with a group of friends before a formal dance or after a day at the downtown library working on our term papers. We weren’t full-fledged adults yet, but we were trying it on.

By the time I was in college, Chi-Chi’s was already becoming a joke. Nevertheless, it was our favorite spot for our Sisters Nights Out when we were all back at our parents’ place for school breaks. We weren’t so wildly impressed with it anymore, but somehow it still carried an air of the old sophistication that blended nicely with nostalgia for a time when adulthood seemed shiny and carefree. I got a taste of the real “adult” Chi-Chi’s experience during that year I spent living with my parents between graduate school and Real Life, joining my fellow WTF-are-we-still-doing-in-Berks-County friends for happy hours.

I even had my bachelorette party at Chi-Chi’s. That’s right. It wasn’t one of those wild, swinging bachelorette parties you’ve seen on TV. It was the kind of bachelorette party you have when it’s one month after 9/11, you’re 32 and already own a house with the guy, just flew back to PA from Seattle to get married in the few vacation days you were able to scrape up, and spent the last two days running around getting your marriage certificate and finalizing wedding arrangements. In other words, it was something of an afterthought. But it was perfect. Between the last-minute wedding-planning madness and actually walking down the aisle, it was so wonderful to just sit in Chi-Chi’s – the place where, in many ways, I’d found my adult self – with my fiancé and the sisters who’d been there for me through thick and thin. Pass the chili con queso.


I’m pretty sure that’s the last time I ever went to Chi-Chi’s. I’d visit home as often as I could, but there were other restaurants now. My parents favored a fancy new Italian place where the waitresses couldn’t pronounce the dishes, but the tiramisu was incredible. Visiting Friendly’s became a bigger priority, as good Mexican food is plentiful in Seattle but classic ice cream sundaes are practically non-existent.

Two years after my bachelorette party came the Hepatitis A incident at a Pittsburgh-area Chi-Chi’s. It was horrifying, actually. Hundreds of people were sick. One man underwent a liver transplant. A few people died. I was anxiously pregnant with The Boy at the time and trying to avoid obsessing over news stories like that one, so I put it out of my mind as best I could. (Although I remember avoiding scallions with near-religious fervor.)

Just a few months ago, I drove past the old Chi-Chi’s while doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. I felt just the littlest bit sad to see the once-glorious faux adobe building standing empty like that . . . such a cultural epicenter in its day. Now the whole strip mall is bit of a ghost town, anchored by a gutted Circuit City and an Old Country Buffet. But it’s flanked by newer strip malls everywhere in the former cornfields, featuring the stores we used to travel to Allentown and even Philadelphia for – Borders, Pier 1 Imports, Old Navy.

On the one hand, it’s nice to see the comforts of suburbia in my old home town. I’m glad that my parents don’t have to lug themselves to the next county every time they want to visit a big bookstore or enjoy a Starbucks latte. But at the same time, there’s something very bittersweet about the loss of those fields and that one-time “fancy” Mexican restaurant. Just like the late teen years themselves, I don’t miss it. But I miss it. Hasta luego, old friend.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chocolate-Covered Absurdity


In honor of Valentine's Day season, I've been posting some of my favorite dating mishap stories on Open Salon. Go on, check 'em out! Show your V-Day spirit by giving this blogger a little page-view love.

What We Did Before
In which a friend and I take a zany, sitcom-ish romp through the world of personal ads.

Older Guys: Still Just Not That Into You
In which I consider the benefits of dating an older guy . . . but what did he see in me?

All the Lonely People
It’s “Eleanor Rigby” meets When Harry Met Sally meets Punch Drunk Love. Sort of.

Monday, February 1, 2010



The balloon animal vendor captured my heart. Maybe it was just one of those days when you’re ripe for unconventional inspiration. Or comfort.

That’s why I went to The Gallery in the first place that day. My mom used to take us there when we were kids. The glamorous downtown Philadelphia mall had seen better days, or maybe I’d just been too easily dazzled as a kid. But it still made for a nice little nostalgic lunch break for my slightly-jaded twentysomething self – disappearing into a crowd; sipping my old favorite Hӓagen-Dazs peanut butter vanilla milkshake; and admiring the tall, twinkly-eyed, auburn-bearded balloon animal vendor.

He seemed like the personification of everything that was right about the world. There he was, smiling and calm, making people happy while all the lunch-break suits and class-cutting teens streamed by him in a preoccupied haze. Maybe someone had slipped something in my milkshake. Or maybe I was just so bored, or lonely, or dreading going back to work that I just had to act impulsively. I’m not sure how it happened. One minute I was smiling at him from my bench; the next minute I was at his side.

“Do you like your job?” I asked. His smile was warm and genuine, not at all bothered by the crazy lady asking him personal questions while he was trying to work. And he liked his job quite a lot, it turned out. Until recently, he explained, he’d been a social worker. But it was heartbreaking work; he was completely burned out. He used to make balloon animals around the office as a way to deal with the stress, so he decided to start a business doing just that.

I was captivated. It was like a romantic version of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X “McJobs.” Here was a guy with a heart, and he knew how to follow it. He was older than me, but what did age matter when Monica was dating Tom Selleck on “Friends”? It was also sweetly reminiscent of Party Girl – when Parker Posey’s character falls in love with the falafel guy. I said goodbye to Balloon Guy and went back to work with an extra spring in my step.

For days I walked around with the delightful prospect of him in my heart, figuring we’d meet again. Everything had an extra note of joy to it. Then I realized I was going to have to do something about it. He knew my first name, but had no idea where to find me (if he wanted to at all, of course). Could I do it? Could I go back to his balloon kiosk at The Gallery and breezily ask him out for coffee?

Well, I would try. It was only a few blocks from my office, not much of a detour on my walk home. Just stop by after work, chat, and ask him out. I’d already struck up a conversation with him out of the blue. How hard could it be to take the next step?

Damn near impossible, it turned out. His kiosk was all the way at the west end of the basement level, right across from the Market East SEPTA station. I stood at the opposite end of the mall, lurking in the doorway of a store, camouflaged by a steady stream of shoppers. I could see him in the distance, taller than I’d remembered. And busy. I kept telling myself I’d head down there after the next wave of commuters poured out of the station. But I was positively frozen. What was I going to say? Would he even remember me? Just how lonely and desperate and pathetic was I, anyway? After a few false starts I gave up and went home, feeling just the littlest bit heartbroken.

A few days later, I regained my nerve and went back to try again. I took slow, deep breaths and walked purposefully toward his kiosk, forcing myself not to think about it too much until we were face to face. Step, step. Breathe, breathe. I came to the end of the row of kiosks, right where his should be. But it was gone. Gone.

No! Maybe he’d relocated to another part of the mall. I walked every floor, end to end. I had no idea the damn Gallery was so expansive. Turns out it went all the way to Strawbridge’s. Who knew? And, more to the point, where was my Balloon Guy? Nowhere, that’s where.

If I hadn’t come so close to asking him out a few days earlier, maybe it would have been easier to let it go. But at the time, it seemed to me there was a “carpe diem” lesson in there somewhere. He had been right there, but I was too overcome with shyness and self-doubt to speak to him. And now he was gone. I guess I’ve got to find him, I resolved.

I called the mall office from work, putting on my best approximation of a yuppie mom voice (which, ironically, I never use now that I actually am a yuppie mom), affecting the confidence and the “surely you’re going to help me” attitude that I hoped would cover my paper-thin excuse for calling. I pretended I wanted to hire him for a child’s birthday party, but all I had was his first name and a vague recollection of his kiosk’s location. It worked. They found his business card and gave me his number. Before I lost my nerve, I called him right up and left a message.

For our first date, we met at my “safe coffee house” – right around the corner from my apartment building, where it was easy to make a hasty retreat if things took a turn for the weird. No need for that this time. In fact, it was easily one of the best first dates I’ve ever had. No awkwardness, no “what was I thinking!” moments; just a happy, easy flow of good conversation. We could not stop smiling at each other. All I wanted was to crawl across the table into his lap, but I’d seen Sense and Sensibility recently and was going for a more Austenesque/ joie-de-repartee restraint. Instead, I went home, put on some music, and danced around my apartment like a bad chick movie.

Our second date was even better. Well, at least it started out that way. Joyful conversation, joyful food, joyful margaritas. We cuddled a little before the movie started, chatting happily. I remember right before the lights dimmed we were talking about The Producers. He told me how he’d seen Dick Shawn live, and how brilliant he was.

The movie was Othello – which, in retrospect, may not have been the best choice for a date movie. Yes, it scores points for being a lush, star-studded film version of a Shakespeare play. And yes, it was playing at the art cinema, which was practically a requirement for First Movie Dates of the 1990’s. But it was still Othello, with all its blinding bitter jealously, vicious manipulation, murder, and whatnot. When Harry Met Sally, it ain’t.

I could never be sure if it was the film’s subject matter that clouded his mood that night. Had he experienced that level of jealously himself? Or that level of manipulation? Or loss? It could just as easily have been my own chattiness about the film, and Shakespeare in general, as we walked home. Maybe the “too smart” thing alienated him. Or, just as likely, maybe my Shakespeare prattle came across as callow and naïve, illustrating our age difference in a way that hadn’t fully occurred to him until then. Or maybe he’d seen an ex-girlfriend at the theater on a date. Who could say?

But whatever the reason, something shifted significantly with him that night. He gave me a short, bearded kiss goodnight and tapped my arm playfully. But we never recovered our initial joy of each other after that.

There wasn’t a phone call for a while, which made me feel a little panicky, sad, and resentful. Valentine’s Day came and went. Eventually, I went back to The Gallery and found him at his kiosk, where I hung around like a high school girlfriend trying to chat and be breezy. I couldn’t help it. When I really like somebody, it’s puppy time! So much for Jane Austen. He made me a balloon flower – a belated Valentine’s Day gift. Sigh…

There were a few strained dates after that, and then nothing. In the end, I had to resign myself to the old familiar “maybe he’s not that into me / maybe I’m not that into him; I just want to be into somebody” refrain of the single smart girl. I was sad, of course. But it wasn’t the end of the world. It’s so easy to blame ourselves, but the fact is, dating is hard. People come with so much baggage, it’s rarely anybody’s fault when things don’t work out.

I suppose I could regard him as a “the one that got away” of sorts. But I doubt he was really “the one.” I loved the initial spark, but I barely knew the man himself. Ignorance is bliss, and sometimes an abrupt ending can be a blessing in disguise. Our brief encounter had all the joy and longevity of a balloon itself. Nothing wrong with that.
Related Posts with Thumbnails