My husband has been out of town this week, which means I am single-parenting it. And listen, big shoutout here to the single parents. My own mother was a single mom of four, and honestly, whew, I’m not sure how she did it, because when I have to be a single mom for a week at a time, it is rough. Of course I don’t have a support system here in Georgia, so it makes it that more difficult. But I did have some good chats and texts with friends this week that kept me going. Either way, I said and wrote some things this week I am not particularly proud of. I said and wrote them out of passive-aggressive spite, tiredness, and probably low-blood sugar. What follows is a list, to the best of my knowledge, of things I have said and written in various platforms this week. Enjoy!
The damn dog is afraid of the fake owl in the garden!
I was in the “back room” of the video store, you know, hanging out.
Vasectomies for dogs is a thing, so now we don’t have to be mean and cut off his balls, you know?
So the alien robots take over the world and everyone dies, except for us because we hide in a cabin in the woods, and when it’s time to repopulate the universe you have to do all the heavy lifting, cause well, I got nothing inside anymore, and eventually the radioactivity that allowed the aliens to beat us, seeps into our bodies and we are able to outlive all the other people on the world. Eventually we are the two oldest living “true” humans, not android hybrids, and we Thelma and Louise this bitch. You in?
WHY ARE YOU BARKING?!
We’ve all peed in a trash can once or twice, right?
The damn dog is trying to hump the fake owl!
Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. Then what happened? Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh. That is very interesting. Go brush your teeth.
Oh, someone might die? Cool. But what time does your plane get in on Friday?
Do you want me to mail your shampoo?
I’m not paying someone to cut his balls off! That is so fucking rude.
She’s gonna be Poseidon, so I mean, I think we should go.
How many granola bars did you eat for breakfast? Did you eat breakfast?
Secular summer camps sound great, but listen, I live in Georgia now, so I have to do a lot of sitting on my sun porch drinking gin and tonics this summer. I just can’t commit. You get it.
Go get the damn fake owl from the garden before the dog kills it.
OHHH, chicken Wangz and Lil Smokes! Well then, all is forgiven.
Go clean your room. Go clean your room. Go clean your room.
Yes, but what did the school nurse say after you told her you already pooped three times and your belly still hurt? Did she tell you to go back to class? You need to go back to class.
Did we eat dinner tonight?
WHERE THE HELL IS BURGER KING?
Yeah, I know the owl is FAKE and can’t die! Go get it!
Wait, wait. Remind me again who Mad-Eye Moody is.
I swear to Baby Jesus, I will send him to his Grandma’s.
Just make popcorn, dude.
I talked to Mrs. Martin, the school nurse, and she is not happy with you. She thinks you were fibbing about your belly hurting.
No technology tonight. Yeah, go watch tv.
This is why your belly hurts! Sugar! All this sugar!
WHY am I the only one who can pick up towels off the floor?!
I have these memories that sort of live on the cusp of my brain and they nag at me, and nag at me, and nag at me, until I take the time to write them down. They aren’t particularly special moments, or important, or a moment that other people might think should be memorable, but they spring up in my brain when I am doing other things and I can’t seem to shake them. They are called Involuntary Autobiographical Memories (IAMs), seriously. That is what the mental health community has decided to call them, and they are more common than I thought, which is helpful for someone like me, who is always afraid I am weird and my brain doesn’t work like it should. None of that is important, and honestly would be best discussed with my therapist, or a my physician, or an unsuspecting bartender. But I do have to share the following story today or I will have sweaty night dreams about it. So, enjoy?
I am about four years old. We are headed to Southern Texas, Corpus Christi, to be exact, and we are riding a Greyhound bus. It is hot, my teenage sister is cranky, per usual, and my mom is nervous. I can tell because when she is nervous she shakes her legs up and down in her seat in a fidgety sorta way. I have to pee. I ask my mother to pee in the bathroom they have on the bus and she says no, absolutely not. I start to wonder why she is so against me going pee in the bathroom. There is a bathroom on the bus, and it is clearly marked. I’m only four, but I can read. I start to worry that I won’t be able to hold it much longer. I sit silently and look down at my shoes. I am wearing Jellies. You know what I mean, those cool sandals from the 80s that lacked both structure and support. They were colored, with flecks of glitter in them, and they are the reason a whole generation of 40-year-old women now have plantar fasciitis.
Anyway, I had to pee. And I was very afraid the I was going to have an accident and that pee would run down my leg and into my Jellies, where it would pool in the sticky, plastic sole, and I would have to walk in my own pee for the rest of the trip. Again, I was four. And it was hot. And I was on a Greyhound bus.
I put my hand on my mom’s leg to sort of calm her in some way, then I lied and said I didn’t have to pee anymore. I probably said this because I thought she was nervous because I had to pee, and she didn’t know when we would stop next. We did stop occasionally, though I have no recollection of the stops.
When I looked back up I made eye contact with a man walking toward the back of the bus where the bathroom was. He smiled a polite smile. He was wearing cut-off shorts and a blue t-shirt with the arms cut off of it. He made his way back to the bathroom. I turned my head to be sure he went in. A little while later, the whole bus filled with a horrible smell and I involuntarily scrunched up my nose and said, “Eww!” My mom shushed me. It wasn’t polite. But then she moved her shirt to her nose and bounced her legs up and down again. And that was that.
Weird isn’t it? That is all I remember about the Greyhound Bus on our way to Corpus Christi, Texas in the early 1980s. I don’t remember the color of the seats, or the scenery that we passed. I don’t remember stopping at a McDonalds to eat and use the bathroom. I don’t remember what my mom or sister were wearing, or the odor that inhabits a bus like that. I remember my shoes. I remember that I had to pee. I remember the man and the way my mother reacted to the whole thing.
I remember more about the trip once we arrived, like my oldest sister’s house, the reason for going to Corpus Christi was to see her. I remember her creepy boyfriend, Rick, and his work van. I even remember the night they had a party and everyone drank beer. I remember my mom’s friend Debbie, who came along, but I only remember her sitting on a metal folding chair on the front porch of the house, talking about how hot it was and wiping the sweat from her breasts. Otherwise, it’s like she wasn’t even there.
Involuntary Autobiographical Memories. Ain’t that some shit.
This morning I’m obsessed with finding a bag. Not just any bag, a brown khaki tote. It was a free tote. The kind you get when you order a magazine subscription because you think your life has finally reached the point that you can lazily read a magazine on your front porch, while you sip your Saturday coffee, rocking back and forth to the lull of the birds in the magnolias. You think you’ve reached a point in your life that you’ll promptly read each issue, delivered every week, by a friendly mail carrier whose suspicion of your growing magazine consumption comes in pitiful glances, as he taps on your glass door and waves the next issue into your box. It’s a pity you’ve steadily learned to tolerate.
I am looking for a tote that came free with a magazine subscription. The kind of subscription you order because you think your life has come to a point that you will be able to read each issue promptly. That the issues won’t start to stack, in tedious, yellowing piles, at the corner of your bedside table. You think you’ve finally reached a point in your life that you will not, at three a.m., grope for the cup of water on your bedside table, and knock the tedious stack of yellowing, unread issues off your bedside table. You think you are so much in control of your life, that you won’t curse at the dropped issues, or at the missing cup of water, or at the person groping in the dark. You think you are so in control of your life, that you won’t feverishly toss and turn for the rest of the night, wondering why the hell you kept a tedious stack of unread, yellowing issues of a magazine on your bedside table. Was it all for the free tote?
This morning I am looking for a free tote that came with a magazine subscription. But it’s not actually the tote that I need. It’s the notebook inside the tote. I had it at the hotel we lived in for a few days at the end of last month. We lived at a hotel for a few days at the end of last month, because we were moving. We were moving from a city that I love dearly, to one the I dread with a maturing certainty more and more each day. We were moving and the boxes had been stacked around our small house. And the truck had been ordered. And the bedside table had been turned upside down. And the magazines stacks had been recycled. And the water cups had been packed. And like you do, when all of your belongings are packed away in boxes and all your magazines recycled, we moved into a hotel for a few days.
It’s not even the notebook inside the free tote that I need. It’s the hastily hand-written quote inside of the notebook that I’m after. It’s my own writing. Half cursive, half capitals. Halfway through the notebook. It’s written past pages of to-do lists, bad middle-of-the-night-ideas, and important phone numbers I forgot to remember. It’s the sort of notebook people like us keep. The sort of people who think we’re so in control of our lives that we order magazine subscriptions, and keep notebooks filled with dots rather than lines. Notebooks filled with middle-of-the-night ideas and phone numbers and to-do lists. Notebooks with doodles and desires. Notebooks with words we can’t quite grasp and thoughts we have to think on for a little while longer. Notebooks with dots rather than lines.
There, inside the notebook, is a quote I jotted down, in somewhat of a fever, at a writing thing I went to a few weeks back. I don’t remember the quote in its entirety. I don’t remember what the teacher said the quote was about, or who the quote was from, or if the quote is even the quote I’m loosely remembering right now. But I do remember the feeling of urgency to get the quote into my dotted notebook. I remember the desire to lock the quote up inside. The weight of that moment pressing down on me. Wanting, needing, to know more about it. I remember thinking this quote could give me some direction. This quote had the power to save me in some way. That one day I would need a quote to save me. That one day soon, I would need saving.
Today is the first day in weeks that I am experiencing some sense of normalcy. I’m sitting at my desk, coffee in hand, listening to my dog click his nails along the hardwood. My husband is snoring in bed. My child is watching some sort of show about cars. I am writing. What I am writing I am not sure. Let’s call this a check-in. A wake-up. A fresh start. I have been packing and schlepping. I have been living in hotels and eating from sacks. I have been looking for Q-tips in large boxes stuffed with brown paper and old bits of broken computer monitor that seemed, to someone, to be so precious they must wrap it in all that brown paper to ensure its security in transit. In short: Nothing is normal right now, but I’m trying.
I know moving is tough. A million people have told me and a million more have said it with such conviction that I can feel it in their hearts that they had a shitty, shitty time. And I have moved. More than once. Across state lines. Across the country. And this move wasn’t horrible. We had help. Big, strong, burly men who took smoke breaks and ate their lunches in 8 minutes flat, boxed and lifted, secured and transported, all our junk. So why am I even complaining? I don’t know. I have become accustomed to it I guess.
Life isn’t normal today. But it could be so much worse. And even though I feel like I am hanging on by a thread, I am grateful, somewhere deep inside, for what this is all affording me. Affording my child. My husband. Our futures.
So whatever you are up against today, just remember to take it one day at a time, friends. One moment at a time, if you need to.
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.
I don’t usually get political. Bahahahaha! Just kidding, I get political all the damn time. I get political when it calls for it, when it doesn’t call for it, and when I’m drunk at a party and I say some shit like, Jesus, our president is a fucking piece of work, ehhh, then I nudge the very quiet guy next to me, who happens to be my husband, and he whispers, Dude, don’t do this here, it’s my boss’ house… In short, I get political any chance I can, but I wasn’t always this way. It has been in the last five years or so that I have found my voice and have come to educate myself on such topics as: Healthcare for all, women’s reproductive rights, the Supreme Court, our country’s diplomatic ties to China, and the LGBTQQIA+ community, of which I consider myself part of (Heeeyyy girl heeeeeyyyy! 😉 But I’m happily married, sorry for your luck.) And now that I have my voice, well, I don’t plan on shutting up anytime soon. Which leads me to memes that have been floating around my Facebook feed for a few months now. Some of them are photos with words over them, some of them are ugly paintings, some of them are pics of celebrities who apparently say negative things about people in the LGBTQQIA+ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and asexual, for those of you who do not know). Here is one example:
I know why many of my friends are sharing this one. They think it’s funny. In fact, it gets tons of likes and laughs and people comment things like, Now that is funny right there! and Truth! I don’t even know what a girl even looks like now (actual comments from FB). But the thing they all of these memes have in common is: Fear. These memes really stem from your fear. And here is how I came to that conclusion.
Let’s say you are at the grocery store. You want to get in and out. You go in there kinda knowing what you need, but you know you are in a hurry. If you’re like me you wrote a list, then you left the damn list on your desk, so you text your husband to ask what you need and he’s all, There was a list on your desk and you’re all, I forgot it and he’s all, This is why I told you to use your phone like a normal person, do you want me to download that app that has the… and you are like, Shut-up I don’t want to do this right now asshole, do we need bananas or not?! And you don’t, so you skip the fruits and vegetables, because ehh, and head straight for the ice cream. So you grab your 12 items or less and run up to the express lane. You are standing there bouncing up and down, while you juggle the ice cream, pack of discounted pork chops, and butter, while you look in desperation at the cashier to see if they are a fast one who has their shit together (can we just take a moment to thank the fast cashiers, they are amazing). Turns out they are fast and that makes you happy, but then you notice something. Is the cashier wearing a bow tie? That’s not part of the uniform, I mean, the men wear the bow ties, but not the women. But those are boobs under that shirt. And she is wearing lipstick, but her hair is buzzed short. You recognize that it’s about a two on the sides because that one time when you decided to cut your son’s hair the salon had to shave the sides to a two after your hack job. Hmm, you think to yourself, is that a man or a woman?
Now I’m gonna stop you right there and ask this: What difference does it make?
I’m going to go a step further and ask, when would it make a difference, in your actual life, to figure out what the person standing next to you on the train, or the person in the car who passed you, or the new co-worker, or the person cutting your lawn, or your insurance person is male, female, both, or neither? And I really want you to consider this, you guys. Like, when do you honestly feel like it matters to know “what a girl even looks like now”. Does it matter if you are hiring someone to be a server or a cashier or a doctor or an accountant? It shouldn’t, because #EqualPayForEqual work and all. Does it matter when the person has an actual hand in your life, like your hair-stylist, your housekeeper, or your yoga instructor? Honestly, the only time I could think that knowing the sex of someone (who wasn’t going to be a sexual partner), for me, is my gynecologist. Hand to the holy, spiritual universe, I only want a woman rooting around in my vagina every year with that long-ass cotton swab. I don’t even care if my gyno was born a woman, I just need to know that she gets it, when she’s pushing my breasts into weird shapes and I’m looking at the ceiling trying not to make eye contact.
You guys, I have been thinking about this for awhile now. Like, when would it actually, really, fucking matter in your normal, everyday life, to figure out what gender a person identifies as, short of them being someone who you are actually interested in seeing their genitals, because you think they are kinda hot, but you know you only like people with penises? The only people who really want to know if they are talking to a man or a woman are usually people who want to degrade the other sex in some way. Either they want to feel comfortable telling a sexist joke, or they want to offer the woman less money for the same job, or they want someone who is the opposite gender so they can flirt with them, or check them out, or feel superior (talking to dudes here). If you know who you are, and what you like, and you are kind, and try to always live your life that way, and you are solid in your sexuality and your preferences, what difference does it make how the person standing opposite you identifies? Answer: I doesn’t.
And here’s the thing, a lot of you say that.You say, I don’t care what you do or how you live your life, just leave me alone. But you don’t leave them alone. You fight for bathroom bills, and to stop Drag Queens from reading to kids. You share memes like the one above, and far, far worse ones, just to get a laugh from your friends who also say, Doesn’t matter to me if they are Black, white, purple, Gay, straight, whatever, I respect everyone who respects me. But they don’t.
So, why, oh why Wise Missy do we continue to talk about the LGBTQQIA+ community like we do? Why don’t we want trans people in the military, why don’t we want to talk about protecting trans kids, why do we still say shit like, I would rather drown my kids than let them ‘choose’ to be gay? Fear, y’all. It’s pretty straightforward, don’t ya think?
We absolutely fear what we don’t know, what we don’t understand, and in some instances, what we are trying very hard to push down in our own lives. Believe me, I know, I was there. My best friend in high school came out in our junior year, and I immediately stopped hanging with her, something I still regret to this day, and do you know why? Cause I was questioning my sexuality too and I thought if she was out, then people would assume I was a lesbian, and then I’d be labeled and ostrisirzised and I didn’t want that. I was afraid. And so are some of you, and that’s okay. It’s totally okay to be afraid of things you don’t understand. We all are. I am totally and completely terrified of sixth grade math, y’all, and you will find me routinely telling whomever will listen, Fuck 6th grade math! We don’t need that kind of shit in our lives!
But, uhh, yeah, we actually need 6th grade math, I just don’t understand it.
Now listen, we usually always wonder, right? Like in the grocery store scenario I would wonder if it was a man or a woman, or how that person identifies, it’s part of human nature. It’s what we have been taught to do. We wonder about people and that’s okay too. What isn’t okay, is using your fear to belittle, berate, harm, or otherwise oppress actual human-fucking-beings because the way they dress, or the way they talk, or whose genitals they like to touch, makes you feel uncomfortable. That’s gross, y’all. Stop it. Keep the wondering to yourself.
Now I know I have totally dumbed down this very complex topic, and let me just apologize to the LGBTQQIA+ community for the injustice I have done here. But please know that my goal is to actually make people think before they share shit like this. Think about the person on the other side of the check-out line, or the train, or the counter. Think for a second how it would feel to constantly feel like you don’t belong in your own body, then have to go out and feel like you also don’t belong in your own world. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Ask questions to those who are living through it, who are striving and thriving. Ask questions to educate yourself, to quell the fear that runs under the surface. Ask questions and stop judging. Those two things can save us all a lot of time, and when we are talking about the LGBTQQIA+ community, it can also save lives.
Several months ago Jerimiah was told by his company that his role was changing and he would likely not be in the Charlotte area anymore. In reality, it was much more harsh, and he was forced to make his own destiny, in a sense, by filtering out areas in the US that we did not want to go. They wanted him, for example, to go a few places we have visited, but did not think would fit us. Think: Jefferson City, MO; Louisville, KY; Richmond, VA; The Middle of Nowhere, Mass; etc, etc. In short the list was scary. Then Atlanta reached out to him. Now mind you, the last time we visited Atlanta, GA, as we hit I-85 to head home, we looked at each other and said, out loud for the whole damn universe to hear, We are never going back to Atlanta. So yeah, we fucked ourselves royally. In two weeks we are moving to Atlanta, Georgia.
Now at first, at first, I was skeptical at best. I mean the reasons we didn’t like Atlanta are the reasons most people don’t like Atlanta. It’s crowded, it’s a bit run-down, it’s an urban city, sure, but it is smack-dab in the middle of one of those southern states. You know what I mean, the conservative ones. They just passed a Heartbeat Bill, for Baby Jebus’ sake. It is a place we were desperately trying to stay away from. And did I mention the traffic? The aggressive drivers? The homeless who have a penchant for lighting overpasses on fire? Then there are the ‘burbs. Buckhead comes to mind, because, well, that’s one nice place, that we could absolutely not afford to live in. And that is by design. There is intense, intense socio-economic segregation in and around the ATL. Intense.
But then friends came to our rescue. People who know people who know people who live in and around Atlanta. Decatur. Tucker. Smyrna. Marietta. Dunwoody. We started to feel better, though we suspect our friends were so eager to help because well, it wasn’t THEM moving to Atlanta. A sense of relief comes with learning you won’t, in fact, be moving to Atlanta, just visiting.
We were able to find a house, a cute, little ditty in one of those adorable ‘burbs (even though we know we are not ‘burb people, it feels like the best place to go before we get to know the city a bit better). We found the house. The company is moving us. We have all the paperwork signed. The forms faxed to the new school. The utilities on. The landscaper on deck. We found the nearest pool. We have signed up for events in the community. In a phrase, we are ready. Even though it doesn’t matter much if we are ready or not, it is coming.
As of April 1, 2019, we will be Georgia residents. No longer North Carolina residents. Not Missouri residents. Not Kansas residents. But Georgia residents. A residency that we didn’t necessary want, but one that we are getting, and well, we will make the best of it, because that is what we do. It is what we have always done. You can’t go forth in prosperity and happiness any other way. So, if you are so inclined, please wish us luck, and health, and happiness in this new adventure! And we will do the same for you!
In a quiet suburban home on a cul-de-sac, with a Subaru and a Honda Odyssey in the drive, seven girls cram into an upstairs guest bathroom. The walls are covered in a floral pattern, there are tooth brushes lining the sink, there is mold, unbeknownst to the home owners, growing beneath. Six of those girls jump into the bathtub and pull the shower curtain to hide their faces. They are shaking with nerves, but relieved they are not the girl who has to stand next to the light switch, for her role is much more dangerous. The girl by the light switch moves her hand slowly toward the switch and asks the group if they are ready. One girl squeals. One says she changed her mind and wants out. The others quickly grab her, pushing her deeper into the middle of Nike shorts and pink training bras, to be frozen at a later, undisclosed time. The bathroom goes dark. One girl channels some courage and she starts, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…
None of the girls know who Bloody Mary is. They’ve heard stories. Bloody Mary was a young girl who killed her parents. She was a teenager who lost a baby. She may or may not be Mary I, Queen of England, a matronly, forty-ish woman with stringy hair and zero fashion sense. Either way, Bloody Mary wants them. She needs them. She uses her fingernails to scratch their faces until they die. Bloody Mary wants, they think, to slowly kill them as to bathe in their virgin blood in the moon of a Saturday night.
Bloody Mary’s vengeful spirit only comes if you chant her name thirteen times. She only comes when summoned. And only pre-teen girls at a suburban slumber party can summon her. Only pre-teen suburban girls know that after the thirteenth time her name is said, red dots appear on the bathroom mirror. The dots mean she is with them. The dots mean they have done it.
Once, in my own bathroom, we summoned her. I reluctantly climbed into my own shower, pulled the curtain and watched my friends’ faces quickly disappear with a flip of the switch. Then, as if by intuition, we began to chant: Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary… I thought about stopping it. I just knew it wouldn’t be true. I knew there would be no dots on the mirror, that the legend was a myth. One of my friends grabbed my sweaty hand. I tensed up.
The chanting speed leveled, but the excitement in our bodies raised our voices. We started to slowly rock back and forth, our bodies bumping in the tub, swaying back and forth with each Bloody and Mary. Maybe my mom would hear us and open the door. Maybe she would come in and save us, and say that this was ridiculous, and that there was no Bloody Mary, and that we needed to quiet down because it was nearly midnight. I listened for her footsteps, but the hallway was silent.
Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary…
Feet inching toward the edge of the tub, hands to the shower curtain in anticipation. Sweaty hands and heads. Hot cotton candy, popcorn breathe sucked in hard. In just a moment we would be face to face with the frightening demon-woman who wanted to mutilate our faces in the name of her dead babies, or her Catholic sister, or her horrible parents. One more time and the truth would rise.
The light flipped on, the curtain splayed open, and there on the mirror, thirteen red dots of all shapes and sizes. We had released the deathly spirit! It took but three seconds for the gravity of the situation to set in. We sprang from the tub, feet over shins, shins over thighs, thighs pushing arms. One girl yelped in pain, another pulled herself over the threshold, as she’d been knocked to the floor. We ran down the hall, into the cool air of the open, well-lit living room. The words were nonsensical. There was crying. My mother stepped in the room, horror on her face, what had happened, who was hurt?!
Then, as quickly as she had come, she had left. Bloody Mary was gone, we had not a scratch on us. We knew because the girl who flipped the light switch, God bless her, had said so. We were safe. Bloody Mary had went on to torment the next house, in the next suburb, in the next cul-de-sac, in the next guest bathroom full of pre-teen girls, squirming and squealing in the anticipation of the summoning.