The movers are here. The process has begun. There are boxes stacked against walls. Boxes stacked against furniture. Boxes stacked on top of other boxes. There are tubs, and armoires, and stools, standing guard, shielding the dirty floors. Those dirty oak floors are refinished. A relic left in a house that was all but scrapped. In a house still standing, 65 years later. Our house. 1920 Umstead Street. Our little, rental house that we have come to love. Our house. Not demolished, or stripped of its originality. 1920 Umstead Street, a house that has served, and will continue to serve, with a haunting resilience, in a neighborhood not unlike your own. But today, today the oak floors are dusty. They are dusty, and they are muddy, and they are neglected. Between the stacked boxes, one can occasionally catch a glimpse of lost buttons, or old receipts, or a paper clip, swept under a cabinet or a desks or a lazy-Sunday recliner. Today, dog hair battles loose rubber bands and old dryer sheets on the dusty oak floor. A lone Diet Coke cap has been kicked behind a stack of cardboard. The cardboard is still bound in plastic banding, waiting to be unleashed with one flick of a razor.
The movers are here, and time hasn’t stopped. People are still mowing their lawns. And pounding away at their keyboards. And walking their dogs. Sit! Stay. Heal. The movers are here and I’m hiding, alone one last time, remembering the day we moved in. Remembering the possibility that lay before us. Remembering the boxes, stacked, against furniture and on top of each other. I’m remembering the fresh paint on the walls and the fresh polish on the oak floors. I’m remembering the dog, the previous dog, that dog, that love-of-my-life, one-of-a-kind dog, Bentley, splayed out on the polished oak floors, basking in the warm glow of the cold December sun. I can see her, just over there. Over the empty water bottle, and the one left shoe, and that coat, that may or may not come along. I can see her, laying there, basking in the warm, cold sun. And she is happy.
The movers are here and they aren’t leaving until they have finished. They aren’t stopping until our little house, our cozy, charming, little rental house, is packed in a truck. They aren’t leaving until every white, clapboard cupboard has been emptied. Until there is no left shoe. Until there are no loose rubber bands, or paper clips, or half-empty jugs of olive oil left on display.
The movers are here, and they aren’t leaving until my life is packed neatly in a box, protected by papers, sorted by size. Put in its proper place. And locked away for safe keeping.
Well, stick my head in an oven and call me Sylvia, I’m feeling a little crazy today, y’all. I’ve been consumed lately with what I want out of my writing life. It is a difficult question to unpack because writing is my life, and I write about my life, and I write to share my life with others because I think it is important to do, but also I don’t really like to talk to people, or be the center of attention, because it makes me nervous, and when I am nervous I say whacked out things (see above) out of shear anxiety, mixed with a bit of delusion, and just a pinch of the carbon monoxide blues. But then I want to write so that people can see that it is a good thing to share about your life, even in the middle of a manic depressive episode, because maybe they will do it, and it will help them? And then I think is that the answer? Do I write to help other people look at their own lives and think they have stories worth telling and sharing, and is this all just a cathartic cycle that I want to let others know about?
I don’t fucking know. I mean surely, if I can share my stories (and trust me, they really aren’t that good) and people want to read them, then anyone can write, right? Then I think no, because not everyone is as transparent as me, or as sad as me, or as weird as me. And mainly, they just don’t have the time or the proper training, let’s call it, so they might need help. Then I spiral out of control, get into my car, drive to Food Lion and buy only one thing: A box of Oreos. Then I go home, put my pajamas on, crawl into bed, and eat said box of Oreos, while I binge-watch something on Netflix starring Toni Colette. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit.
Okay, whew. Don’t come over to check on me today, y’all. I’m really fine. No ovens are on. It’s just that I get consumed by thoughts about whether or not what I choose to do with my time, my blog, my words, my stories, is actually doing anything at all. And if it even matters whether or not it is. Why does it need to have a deeper meaning or purpose? Why can’t I just do it because it makes me happy and not worry about not contributing to society or community or making money or getting better at connecting with people? See, it’s a slippery slope. I’m gonna go get some Oreos.
One of the things that I often repeat to myself is: This is only temporary. It started when Jackson was a baby. He was colicky, and the doctor assured me that it was temporary. She said around 12 weeks old he would just stop one day. And he did. Sort of like a light switch. One evening, at exactly 12-weeks, he had his normal colicky meltdown, then the next day he didn’t. And Jerimiah and I decided right then and there, that if we can make it 12 weeks through a colicky baby (he had a three hour crying fit every night and the only two things that soothed him were the vacuum and standing in front of the open freezer door) then we could get through anything.
A couple of years later, while I was lying in the hospital bed waiting to give birth to my dead daughter, Jerimiah and I looked at each other and I said, “This is temporary”. And it was. What I really meant was, if I can live through watching my daughter’s irregular heart beat on the screen for the last time, then labor for five more hours, then I could make it through anything. And still today, when I find myself way down, deep down in the dumps, I think back to that day and I remind myself that this is all just temporary.
I have an amazing friend named Beth. We met four years ago, when we were both new to Charlotte, to North Carolina, to making friends as an adult, as a mommy. She’s been instrumental in getting me through the last year of my life, and I wouldn’t trade her for the whole world. Yesterday we painted the school rock together for the last time. Now mind you, she did all the planning, the procuring, and the art, as it were, to paint a rock for someone else’s child (a task she takes on because she is kind, and considerate, and a little crazy). I always just end up running up halfway through, begging to help (because in my mind I am an artist) and she obliges. We talk, and paint, and laugh.
Yesterday, while I was asking her why she does this for other people, she explained that she likes to know that a kid will be surprised in the morning. She likes to plan, and paint. Then she said that she likes the medium. After all, it’s only up until the next person comes and paints over it, right? It’s all just temporary. Well, of course I wanted to stop what I was doing right then, take her in my arms and cry. See, I’m moving next week. Not too far away, just from Charlotte to Atlanta. But Beth is moving soon too. Maybe to a place much further away than Atlanta. Things are changing. Rapidly. We have known this for some time, but it was all very ethereal before yesterday.
And why wouldn’t things change? Beth reminds me of the second law of thermodynamics, she tells me, “As we move forward, we move further into chaos”. And don’t we always move? And aren’t we always fighting the chaos? Won’t we ever learn?
It’s a lot, I know. It’s a lot for me. The temporary chaos of this day, this week, this month, year, life. I want to be accepting. I want to welcome it. I want to shout out to the cosmos, “Nice try, you! But you won’t get me this time.” But it will get me. The chaos will get me. The changes will get me. They will do more than get me, they will consume me. I can feel the pull already.
In the meantime, I would do best to remind myself that this is all just temporary. Like a giant rock, that routinely gets a fresh coat of paint, to make a kid smile.
In elementary school I participated in the Book It! Program. If you don’t know Book It! it was a program designed by Pizza Hut in the early 1980s. The then-president of the company was called to action by President Reagan, who asked big business to find valuable ways to help with education in America. Pizza Hut stepped up to the plate, literally and figuratively, with the Book It! Program. Book It! awarded elementary school children the chance to read appropriate-level books, in exchange for stickers, buttons, and you guessed it, free pizza! I don’t know much more about the program from the business side, but I did find an informative and fun article here, if you are so inclined: http://mentalfloss.com/article/501605/12-cheesy-facts-about-pizza-huts-book-it-program.
What I remember about Book It! was the awesome personal pan pizzas that you got whenever you finished your “chart”, which was a brightly colored poster board with the names of everyone in your class, and stars representing how many books you had read. For each book you got a sticker. For every ten books you read, you received a coupon for a personal pan pizza. This was a great incentive to kids who were not planning on reading ten books a month, a fun bonus for those of us who were, and a smart marketing move on behalf of Pizza Hut. I mean, parents will do more with less, for an excuse to NOT cook and do the dishes on a Friday night. It was a win-win, and honestly, one of my favorite memories from elementary school. We were sorta poor, and Pizza Hut was not a place we frequented. My mom cooked food at home, so once a month I knew I would get to go out to dinner. It wasn’t anything fancy, but my mom would take me to Pizza Hut. She would get us a water and a Diet Coke, then she would order two personal pan pizzas and we got one of them free. It was a sweet deal, and a fun evening for us because the nearest Pizza Hut was at the mall of sorts, in Leavenworth, called The Plaza. It had some shops in it, an arcade, a book store, ice cream, etc. It was small, but always exciting to go look around with my tummy full of free pizza. Sometimes, if it were near payday, we would walk around and dream of the stuff we wanted, then hit Baskin Robbins just before we drove home.
The other thing I remember about Book It! was how unfair it suddenly seemed one day in fifth grade. I was a fairly smart kid. No rocket scientist, but I was an avid reader, a strong reader, and a lover of books. One day my class came back inside from recess and sat at our desks with the lights off. This was something we did everyday. It was a rest time that Mrs. Coughran, our very patient teacher, bestowed upon us. Mrs. Coughran took this time to turn off the lights and let us rest our minds and bodies before we stumbled into whatever was next on the agenda. Everyday she would read aloud during this time, from a book that we all voted on. We had three choices. We could either listen while we rested our eyes (think: trying to get a quick snooze) or we could color or draw, or we could read our own book silently at our desk. I usually chose to read silently, especially when I was close to completing my ten books for the month.
One particular day I excused myself to the Book It! Chart to see how many books I had left. Mrs. Coughran or Mrs. Simmons, the school librarian, had to pick the books for us, as reading at your appropriate level was one of the requirements. On this day I meandered over to the chart to see which book I had next so I could decide if we had it in the classroom, or if I needed to go find it in the library. That is when the shock set in. My chart looked like this: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Indian in the Cupboard, Number the Stars, Anne Frank, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver, etc. etc. Meanwhile, a large number of the rest of the class were reading books like this: James and the Giant Peach, Sarah Plain and Tall, Little House in the Big Woods, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Superfudge, and Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing. See a pattern here? I was getting saddled with these “big” books, which is how I thought of them, when really they were just more advanced subject matter, while my classmates read what amounted, to me anyway, as Dr. Seuss. I was pissed.
I went home that night and told my mom, who really had no idea what I was bitching about. She was convinced my teachers knew which books I should be reading, and what the hell was a Superfudge, anyway? She told me stop complaining, but she did offer to run me down to the public library so I could pick out whatever I wanted. I took the bait.
The next day at silent reading, I looked around the room before I lifted up my desk and snuck out my brand new public library copy of Pippi Longstocking. Now I had read Pippi Longstocking before. In fact, I had read all of them and watched the movies back in, ohh, second grade? But it was funny and short and I didn’t need to look up words in secret in my bedroom at night. I spent the better part of our fifteen minutes trying to hide the cover from Mrs. Coughran, who seemed to be inching closer to my desk. I figured if I could get the book done quickly, I could just run over and jot the title down and have her give me a sticker without her even looking at the cover. It was a tense few minutes.
I was still reading happily along to Pippi’s antics when someone switched the lights on without my knowing. I was so engrossed, I didn’t look up until Mrs. Coughran’s hand touched my arm. I looked up at her, my eyes wide, I had been caught. She knelt down next to my desk and asked me what I was reading. I showed her the cover. That’s a good one, she said, not taking her eyes off of me. I think it is a movie now too. I shook my head and gulped. Are you going to count that as one of your books this week? The question sort of stayed out there, in the air between us. I wasn’t sure what to say. I found the nerve, maybe from Pippi, to say, I think so.Okay, she said with a smile. I think that’s a good idea. But don’t forget that Mrs. Simmons wants you to finish “Number the Stars” this week too. I shook my head. Yes. Yes. The holocaust book, I remembered quickly. She smiled and walked away.
That afternoon as the bell rang, and we all ran to the freedom of our parent’s cars, Mrs. Coughran called for me. I stopped in the doorway, a little bit scared. She put her arms out for a hug and I fell into her. I had been so afraid she was mad at me. Then she looked me in the eyes. Reminded me to look her in the eyes, something she had been working on with me since day one, and she said that she was proud of me for being a class leader in the Book It! Program. She confided that we were probably set up to receive the coveted pizza party at the end of the year because of our hard work, and that I had really helped bring the class reading up. I smiled a shameful smile. Then she said to me, Remember, Missy. You are what you read.
We did end up earning a Book It! Pizza Hut party on the last week of school. We read and ate until we were too sick to read anymore, then we watched old episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy and ate some more. Someone’s mom brought in cupcakes, another brought juice boxes, and Pizza Hut brought boxes of piping hot pepperoni pizza. We felt like royalty.
As most of you know, the husband is being relocated. His company, which shall remain nameless considering they probably don’t want to be associated with me, is a domestic, Fortune 300 company, with corporate and field operations, in a business that is stable and growing. He is on track to grow with this company, which is becoming unusual in this modern world. So, cool, cool, cool. Here is the thing, he’s been working from home for three weeks now. Le sigh. Let me stop here for a second and just say: I LOVE MY HUSBAND. Like LOVE him. I’m not saying that, then going around behind his back telling people that I hate him. Nah. He cool. We cool. And after seventeen years still very much in love and what not. Sex is good, cause I know you were wondering. It took a slight nosedive when we were trying to conceive just cause, well you know the deal, it wasn’t so much fun anymore as work, but after I had my hysterectomy, whew! Through the roof fun, ya know? Discovering parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed. We have this thing…
It has taken me a long time to write this. Months, actually. Months of pacing my floorboards well into the night. Months of looking out my window for a sign, anything to come crashing down on me, begging me to stay for a few more weeks, a few more months. Fight more. Make this home. But nothing ever came. It isn’t surprising that it took me so long. It takes me a long time to get anything done. I used to be ashamed of that fact, but since I’ve known you, I’ve learned to appreciate this about myself. It’s not laziness. It’s not lack of motivation. It’s the opposite. It’s because when I invest in something, in someone, I invest my whole damn heart. And when you invest your whole damn heart, well, it takes time. You can’t leave on a whim. You can’t walk away without looking back three or four times. It’s a process. A lengthy, tumultuous process.
It seems silly, contrite, even dramatic, but Christ, I’m going to miss you, Charlotte. I’ve never left anywhere or anyone without wanting to. And even then, it is harder than it seems. When I left Leavenworth, Kansas many moons ago, I did so with a sadness that took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have. It’s true I had been working on my exit for 20 years, but still, I was totally and completely oblivious to what leaving actually meant. Through the entire process, though, I knew I was making the right decision. I knew this is what I had to do in order to launch. In order to learn and grow. So I pushed the sadness down, deep down, covering it with southern fried chicken and Arkansas BBQ.
Ten years later I left Southern Missouri. Again, I left because I knew I needed to. I knew it was the next right step for me, for us. I had a family by then. A husband eager for the adventure I had spent years cultivating in his mind. A five-year-old, on the cusp of kindergarten, a honestness inside him so profound that he didn’t once cry for his home, the only place he had ever known. Because he, like his mommy, craved new experiences, open roads, fun, and light, and merriment. In what seemed like an instant, we packed up a U-Haul, and we drove 1,000 miles in the stifling summer heat along I-40, eastbound. Then we took a right hand turn, and we found you.
Charlotte, my dear, I write this in love, honor, and humility, for I know you deserve more than what my words are capable of. Still, I refuse to carry the burden of forgetting to thank you for what you’ve meant to me these last five years. You were the city, after all, that I longed for. The city whose streets morphed me into the most honest version of myself. The bravest Missy anyone has ever seen.
Charlotte, it didn’t take long to learn how to navigate your patchy pavement, your potholes, and your politics. You wear your heart on your sleeve, waiting, hoping to be opened up by all of those who are willing. You taught me what it meant to be an outsider, to be hoping for acceptance. You taught this midwestern transplant about real, down home, southern hospitality. You taught me about peach cobbler and Cheerwine. You taught me that it is okay to not fit in. Then you taught me how to be accepted. You helped me shrug off the feeling that I was an imposter. A lost girl, tangled up in a city that I didn’t think wanted me, that I didn’t know I wanted.
Charlotte, you allowed me to truly let myself feel like I was a part of something. Which in turn allowed me to give freely of myself. To look past the trepidation of going out into the community, to the places I thought I feared, with the people I thought I feared. You taught me how to take their hands. To give what I had to give. You taught me how to receive what I didn’t know I needed. What I didn’t think I was worthy of. Charlotte, you taught me how to trust people again. You will forever be the place that taught me about the good and the bad of life. To understand those unlike me. To find common ground. You taught me about gentrification, all the horrible, ugly, heavy parts of it. About gratitude. About community. About moving forward together with people who are not like you, but also so very much like you.
Charlotte, I am not ashamed to say that I love you, your faults and all. Some don’t see your beauty. I’ve heard what they say about you. I’ve heard their true fear and ignorance of you. I’ve heard the complaints of your history, and your fast-paced progress. I’ve heard stories of your people, your streets, supposedly littered with graffiti and violence. But that’s not been my experience. Those aren’t the people who really know you, my dear. Those are the people who think they know you. The people too afraid, too out of touch, to get to the bottom of your heart. Too afraid to let their lives get knotted up in your streets and avenues, your museums, your schools, your churches, your neighborhoods, and your people. There isn’t an ounce of aggressiveness in you, Charlotte. There is only love and light, washed with an unmistakable sadness of underserved, underrepresented, undervalued people, trying to work together in the rapid, forward progression that has taken hold. There are people getting lost in the shuffle, Charlotte, but there are also people reaching down and lifting others up.
There are people at your schools who promote life-long learning. There are professors, and instructors, and counselors. There are people at Queens University, at UNC Charlotte. There are people at Idelwild Elementary School, and Thomasboro Academy, and Shamrock Gardens. There are people at CPCC, and The Arts Institute. There are beautiful, bright construction-paper fish lining the windows of Dilworth Elementary and silver robots at Mallard Creek STEM. There are flower beds at Paw Creek and an amazingly fun playground at Villa Heights. There are free lunches, and school picnics. Summer programs and school choirs. There are decorated lockers and national championship sports teams. There are teachers, principals, and bus drivers, that each morning, look into the eyes of their children, and tell them they are welcome. They are loved. And it makes all the difference, Charlotte. Your people make all the difference.
Charlotte, your parks are lovely. Your parks and your nature preserves and your gardens. Autumns at McDowell, down the luminary-lined roads in a wagon, make people feel like you are no longer in a bustling, urban city. Your dog park at Reedy Creek, its mixture of dust, and green, and friendly barking, allows for conversation and friendship, four-legged and two. From the geese who flank the pond at UNC Charlotte, backing up traffic on the roundabout, to the geese who nibble your pretzels at Freedom Park, your wildlife, your serenity, your escapes from the busy city life have calmed many. The excitement of an afternoon walk through Romare Bearden, the children in the fountains, ringing the bells, holding foot races across the wide open lawn, reminds me of my own languid summer days as a child. We’d glide over the beautiful lawn, take in an afternoon of baseball, cheering madly for the Knights, as they’d rally against Durham in the 10th inning. Then head over to Green’s for a chili-cheese dog.
And oh, the food! Charlotte, you are a food-lover’s paradise. From Amelie’s in NoDa to Pike’s in South End, there is a little something for everyone. Lunch at 300 East, dinner at Midwood Smokehouse (the only place this midwesterner can find good, down home, sticky, sweet sauce). Dutch Babies at The Original Pancake House and brunch at Bistro La Bon. Maybe a quick bite off the Pizza Peel buffet, or an order to go from Price’s Chicken Coop or Brooke’s Sandwich House. International House of Prayer offers up homemade specialties during the day, and there is always Midnight Diner, or Pinky’s, or South 21 if you just need good, greasy fries to soothe your soul.
Charlotte, I will miss you festivals and your beer. Your spontaneous parties at OMB and your giant Jenga game at Camp North End. Your Sunday afternoon dates with my 10-year-old at Abari’s Game Bar, where we first introduced him to a Super NES, and your fun hosting of Open Streets, where we were able to see a part of the city that we never had before via one of your many greenways. I will miss walks with my dog into Uptown, though the heavily guarded training fields of the Panthers, onto Trade Street and onward. I will miss the smiling faces at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library – Plaza Midwood branch, and at ImaginOn, where the entire staff seems only there to make my life easier, by helping my son find the Hank the Cowdog series, and tie his shoe, and teach him about projection in his theater class. I will miss your Thanksgiving Day parade, Charlotte, and your street vendors. I will miss the small, but mighty aquarium at Discovery Place. I will miss your weird collection of art and people on Tryon in Uptown, just after the sun has set, but before the bars open. I will miss you “Jesus Saves” guy. I will miss you Phoenix statue, and my desire to take a picture of every visitor to the city in front of it.
Charlotte, you came into my life at a turning point. You saw me through the early days of my son starting kindergarten. You helped me stay busy when my days were more quiet than I liked. You brought me into the fold of UNC Charlotte. You got me through three very long years of grad school, where my brain, my faith in myself, and my commitment were all tested beyond belief. You met me on the other side with the loveliest of new friends and mentors, all working their magic to put that spark back into my life, my writing, and my faith in good people. Kind people, smart, loving people.
Geez, the friends, Charlotte. The friends you gave me. The fun, amazing, lifelong friends, who always seemed to pop up at the perfect time. Some we have lost, more we have gained, but all of them, at some point in the last five years, have looked at me and smiled, a mutual understanding that our time spent together was not in vain. It was not lost on us. On who we are, or how we came to know each other. Or what we will always be, when it’s all said and done, and many, many miles separate us. I’m indebted to you for these lovely people, Charlotte. And much, much more.
Joan Didion once wrote, “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” I don’t know if this is what I have done here, Charlotte, but I have certainly tried, and I will certainly continue to try, for as long as you are present in my memory, to claim you, to obsess over you, year after year, month after month, as I drag my feet to say goodbye to the city I have come to love. The city that I have come to call home.
March 18th is Trisomy 18 Awareness Day. I don’t need to be made aware of Trisomy 18. I was made aware of it in August of 2011. I also don’t think the vast majority of the public needs to be made aware of it. Like a lot of other medical conditions, you don’t really know about Trisomy 18, or its similar conditions, Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 21, unless it comes crashing into your life. But, I do support the Trisomy 18 Foundation. And I do love and admire the people in the world who are out there living with Trisomy 18. And there are people in the world who are out there living with, and caring for those living with, Trisomy 18. So I do find it necessary to educate others on the condition. That’s what I call it, a condition.
Trisomy 18 is a condition caused by an error in cell division, known as meiotic disjunction. When this happens, instead of the normal pair of number 18 chromosome, an extra chromosome 18 results (a triple, hence tri) in the developing baby and disrupts the pattern of development in significant, life-threatening ways, even before birth. A Trisomy 18 error occurs in about 1 of every 2500 pregnancies in the United States, and 1 in 6000 live births. The numbers of total births is much higher because it includes significant numbers of stillbirths that occur in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.
Unlike Down Syndrome, which is also caused by an extra chromosome, the developmental issues caused by Trisomy 18 are associated with medical complications that are potentially life-threatening in the early months and years of life. Studies have shown that only 50% of babies who are carried to term will be born alive, and only 10% of those babies will live to see their first birthday. Most of the babies who survive are girls.
As I mentioned above, there are people living with Trisomy 18. Perhaps one of the better known children living with this condition is one-time Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s daughter, Bella. Bella turns eleven this year. She is a beautiful young lady, with well-equipped parents who have made it their mission to see that she lives a happy and adventure-filled life.
At the risk of being political, I will stop there. As the Santorums and I have little in common, other than having a daughter who was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, but please be aware that not all people in this situation, or with babies who have life-altering disabilities, are capable to care for, and provide for, their children in such an amazing way. Just be considerate.
I’ll end with a link to the story that I wrote about our daughter Lydia. I suspect it will tell you all you need to know about our journey. As always, I welcome comments, questions, and thoughtful discussion on any topic I address. But remember, above all else, there are people in the world who are battling things you can’t even conceive of, things you do not know about, things you are not even slightly educated on. Be kind to all you meet.