Last October I decided to take this blog seriously. As seriously as one can take a blog with 100 followers. (Listen, I’m not being ungrateful. I see you all. And I’m grateful for your readership and friendship, or more likely that my life makes you feel better about your own life. Either way, thanks for the follows, y’all!) So, last October I decided to try to write as much as possible on here. It was more a test. A litmus test, to see if I was even capable of writing everyday. Or every other day. And I’m happy to say that I have been mildly successful. In fact, I realized pretty quickly that if I write, people come to read. Likewise, if I don’t write, people don’t come. It’s all very Field of Dreams-ish round these parts. If you write it, they will come.
So I’ve been writing. Some months are easier than others. This summer was a little slow with all my travels, but my blog has been on an uptick over the last couple of months, both because of my recent publication in an actual fucking poetry collection, and with a very personal blog that resonated with people. And you guys know that is my only goal with my writing, right? That it resonates with people. That people can read what I write and laugh, or smile, or get angry, well that’s all bonus material. What I really need is just one person to read my writing and shake their head in agreement, while they lick the Cheeto dust off their fingers and says, “Mmmhmm, girl, yes! Yes, girl! I have been there too! Thank you!” Which is why I write about things like mental health. Because somewhere, someone sitting in bed, wide-awake at three o’clock in the morning, needs to know they are not alone.
Anywho, this is a thank you post, even though it doesn’t seem like it. Man, I’m bad at this. Thanks for making my year of blogging successful. Thanks for reading my random thoughts and weird-ass stories. Thanks for liking and commenting and sharing. Thanks for, you know, just being there in the ether. I feel y’all. Not in a creepy way. In a real, spiritually-connected way. And I really do hope I make your day better.
Yesterday I spent the day in Arizona wine country with friends. Turns out that yes, things can grow in the desert. Not just prickly things and snakes. But lovely things, like grapes, and long-distance friendships, and beautiful, blue-eyed baby girls.
Yesterday was one of those days with the ability to save those who need a bit of saving. You know the kinda days I’m talking about: when the stars align, the sisterhood converges, and the desert abides. When the chaos of life slinks off your shoulders. When you find yourself in an unexpected place, with perfectly, imperfect people.
Today I’m thankful for the yesterdays in my life. To the planes that arrived on time. To the cramped cars, and the funny Border Patrol men. To the cough drop talks, and the woman with the sangria from California. For the girl gangs I’m apart of. And the ones I don’t yet know.
You guys know how I love Brene Brown and gangsta rap, right? The gangsta rap isn’t important here, I just wanted to make sure you know. I’ve had this Brene Brown idea kicking around in my head for several months now, and it goes like this. Let’s say you get into a disagreement with someone. It’s based on a misunderstanding, most disagreements are based in a misunderstanding or faulty expectations. So let’s say you’re disagreeing with your partner and you start spinning out of control, like thinking of all these crazy scenarios and reasons why this person could be upset or angry with you. It happens right? Brene calls it, “The story I’m telling myself,” and it isn’t necessarily steeped in the truth of the situation, but rather our projections, our previous altercations with others, our own histories. You see? Why am I thinking about this lately, well, because I’ve decided to give up, once and for all, on a friendship that just wasn’t meant to be, because I’ve realized, finally, after nearly three years that there is no way I can help this friend. She has too many emotional and mental problems, and though I want to help people like that, I want to fix broken relationships, I just can’t give her anymore of my energy or thoughts. So instead I’m getting my truth out here today, and ridding myself of her negativity and the pain she caused me. Here’s the short version.
This friend, let’s call her “Julie,” and I were buds. Like a fast friends kinda deal. So fast, in fact, that I neglected the warning signs. Her parenting style was way different than mine, for instance. She did things like leave her kids at home alone and go to the local bar with her husband at night, which seems nuts to me. She’d complain ad nauseam about things like too much sugar at classroom parties, but she’d never actually make it to help in the classroom. She’d complain about women who had side hustles, like selling items they liked or making art. She’d make fun of women who had plastic surgery, or who kept a “clean” house. It was all very bizarre, and now that I’ve had time to think on it, it was mainly projections of her own insecurities, but there I was, believing the best in a person who I thought I really wanted to be friends with. Even though her small annoyances were actually really big judgments about people she knew nothing about. Red flags, you see?
Part of my desire to be her friend came from my child, who absolutely adored her daughter. She was also an eager person to network, and I was a shy, kinder mom who wanted friends, so again, I overlooked things. Most notably the horrible ways she would talk about our mutual friends and others we knew, especially when she drank. And she drank every single day. I don’t think there was one time I wasn’t invited to her house and asked, nay, pressured to drink. She once told a group of us that the only way their household could save money was to cut their liquor budget, and that obviously wasn’t going to happen. To say a few of us were shocked was an understatement. But this is all tertiary. The real red flags were much harder to ignore.
She once tried to convince all of us in “our crew” which was about six families at this point, that one of the other friend’s husbands was in love with her, this was after her theory that he was gay hadn’t panned out as she’d hoped. She slapped another friend’s husband across the face after she told him he didn’t know how to be a good husband, and he had in turn suggested her marriage maybe wasn’t as ideal as she thought it might be. We all laughed about it when it happened, but honestly, who does that? She often spoke badly of people based solely on their appearance, even women she said she really liked. Her husband’s friends’ wives, women we met around the community, etc. For the first two years I let this all slide, because I had a friends, and honestly, I didn’t want to rock the boat.
Then there was the whole summer where she pinned all the bad behaviors on one of the kids in the group, going as far as taking the girl aside and discussing things with her that she just shouldn’t have. In fact, that was the first time I confronted her about her behavior, explaining that maybe she should talk to the girl’s mom (one of our best friends) and not take matters into her own hands. Julie just scoffed at me in a condescending way, another habit of hers I ignored, and said as a “boy mom” I didn’t understand girl drama. And I guess she was right, because Julie was all drama, and no, I did not understand her.
The more that summer went on, the more horrible things she said about our close friends (including one that had just had a baby), the more I started to stick up for them. Started to decline offers to go sit on her porch and listen to her make fun of her neighbors, who were also her friends, while she told me very secret secrets about their family, most likely told to Julie in confidence. Am I painting a picture here now? This is not a normal, nice, woman. And she doesn’t even come across as one, it’s honestly more of a go with your gut thing, and I just totally blew my gut off to have friends. (Side note: I was in a bad place when I met her. In the middle of fighting infertility, having moved across the country, my baby starting kindergarten, I just wasn’t myself and the idea of a close knit circle of friends who I could trust was comforting. Still is. I just didn’t realize I already have them and that not all of these women were who they said they were.)
Anyway. our relationship came to a breaking point later that same summer. A mutual friend had an empty beach house for a week and suggested we take it. I half-heartedly asked Julie if her family would like to come along, assuming she’d say no as the strain in our relationship was apparent by then, but she said sure. She begged her husband to take time off work and come, since mine was, and when he couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, she was upset. But we all went to the beach anyway.
This is where things get complicated. And I’ve spent a lot of time, too much really, replaying it all in my mind and this is all I can come up with. You know when you’re truly unhappy, say in your marriage, and you spend a lot of time with a married couple who are truly happy, and it makes you sad and a little jealous? There was some of that. One night, as Jerimiah and I were debating taking the kids to do something fun, apparently we had discussed it enough, and she promptly slammed a pot down and said, “Jesus, do you two have to make ALL your decisions together?” That was followed a few minutes later by a, “You seem to want to be around him a lot. Can you not do things on your own?” I took this as an insult at first, it wasn’t until afterward that I realized that it must have been difficult to see a good, equal, partnership at work. In fact, later when I told her that yes, we do talk about everything because we are a partnership, she rolled her eyes and said, “Well good for you!” This made me mad, but I should have listened more to the undertone. She was a woman hurting, I knew this because most of our girls-only outings ended in Julie crying about her marriage, about her untrustworthy husband, about how the only real satisfaction she got out of life was her job. That is some sad stuff, and honestly I should have seen it sooner, but I didn’t. And later, even after I let her berate me like usual, I still apologized. Then I felt even more dumb. Why am I apologizing for having an awesome husband and an awesome marriage? Psh. Get it together, Missy. You can’t fix others’ problems.
So the long of it is that we got into a good, old-fashioned argument (after several drinks) one night. She told me, in front of my husband, what a shitty dad and husband she thought he was (projection) and she even made a comment about my nephew who was living with us at the time. She said she couldn’t believe I was okay with him smoking weed (not at our house, but just in general) and she said because of that her husband (the one who secretly smokes weed in his shed—no shit, I had to hide his pipe from him at my house for a year and she’d routinely call to check and make sure I hadn’t given it to him. Talk about trust issues…) didn’t like my nephew. I was quite taken aback, as you can imagine, so I said (out of anger, mind you), “Well I’m sure if they’d just smoke a bowl together your husband would like him a lot more.” As you might imagine that sent her off the deep end.
When we finally called it a night, I assumed we’d wake up the next morning, and hash it all our sober, so I profoundly apologized about that one mean thing I said about her husband (the rest of the argument was really just her yelling at me about how I let people take advantage of me… uhh, hello, that’s what I’d let her do for years by then). And just before she walked into her room she turned to Jerimiah and me and said, “I’m sorry too, that I called Jerimiah all those horrible things and said he was a bad husband and father.” I smiled. I understood. Then she added, “I mean, I think it, and I believe it, but you know I shouldn’t have said it out loud.” Then she went to bed, woke her kids up before the crack of dawn the next day, and left like a coward, refusing to ever talk to me in person again.
Over the course of the next few months I sent lengthy texts to her. I wrote her letters and shoved them in her mailbox. I FB messaged her, I emailed her, I did all I could to try to sit with her, to replay the night, to figure out where I went wrong. And in the two years since I’ve sent at least three forms of communication telling her hello, and hoping she is happy and healthy and that her family is doing well. And I received no response, save one text where she said I was mentally unstable and she asked me to never call her again. So I blocked her number from my phone, unfriended her on social media, and tried to move on.
The hardest part was that we had these mutual friends. The ones she had bashed for years when they weren’t around. But I didn’t want to tell them that. And if I’m being honest I assumed they knew. Because if she said such horrible things about them to me, I can only imagine what she’d said about me to them. They had to know what kind of person she is, and if they didn’t they simply didn’t want to know, and either way I had one foot out the door so I wasn’t worrying about it. It did hurt quite a bit that only one of them ever asked my side of the story. Only one of them sat with me as I cried on my car outside our kids school and searched for answers on what I had done wrong. We both agreed that Julie is the kind of person who makes her own reality when things get tough. She tells herself a story so she can not feel bad about the hurtful ways she acted, the mean things she said, the trust she broke. And I get that. I know other people like that. And all I can do is hope they get the help they need, sooner rather than later.
I guess this is my way of clearing the air. It’s better for her to make it in my blog than my book. Bahahaha. You never really wanna piss off a writer, right?! Especially one like me. The truth sets me free, y’all. It gives me power because I know that if you live in truth, in light, in open and honest communication, then you never have anything to worry about. So I’m sending my truth out into the universe today. I won’t be reaching out anymore. I won’t be awkwardly asking our mutual friends (I only have a couple left) how she’s doing. I won’t be filling my brain with that nonsense anymore. And if I’m being truly honest, Julie taught me way more than I bargained for, but still she taught me. I trust my gut more now. I wait a bit more to fully invest in a new friendships, because I know now that if you give them time, people always, always show you who they really are. You just have to be accepting to the facts. So that’s that. The friendship that is no more, that never really was. And I feel so much better!
As always, take care of yourself and each other.
Update: Wow, this post has had a lot of “views,” like uhh way more than a normal one. I have a few ideas why, but I also had a lot of adult women reach out to me to share their stories of being in toxic friendships. Which means my writing is helping, and you know that’s all I truly want.
I’m so sorry ladies, if you’ve had a friend, or a spouse, or a family member like this in your life. And believe me, I understand staying for longer than you feel comfortable. You feel like you have to. You want to belong. You want to be liked. I get it, I really do. But I’m here to tell you that the relief you will feel letting this person go, forgiving them like I did this “friend,” is more important for your peace of mind, your mental health, your physical health, than any friendship could ever be. Besides, you’ll have friends that will always love you. Always stand beside you. My example above I called a “friendship,” but it wasn’t. Because real friendships don’t treat you like that, and they don’t end like that. So take stock, ladies! And live your truth. ❤
This might be helpful for some of you dealing with the same sort of people:
I Googled my elementary school today. I’m not sure what made me do it. Maybe seeing all the back to school photos of friends’ kids. Maybe dropping my own child at his first day of his last year in elementary school. Maybe I’m feeling sad, nostalgic, old. Either way, I Googled the old girl and was surprised by what I didn’t remember about Anthony Elementary School, and what I did.
Anthony Elementary School in Leavenworth, Kansas was built in 1950*, funded in part, by a grant from the Ford Foundation. It was named after the Daniel Read Anthony family, who first came to Leavenworth from Massachusetts in 1854 with the first Emigrant Aid Company. The First Emigrant Aid Company was responsible for bringing Free State settlers to vote against Kansas becoming a slave state. Daniel R. Anthony may not be as well known outside of Leavenworth, where he was both a conductor of the local Underground Railroad and the owner of the Leavenworth Times (Kansas’ oldest newspaper) but his sister, Susan B. Anthony, might ring a bell. I knew none of this back then. I have a faint memory of learning about Susan B. Anthony and her family. I have an even fainter memory of connecting those dots in my head when I was maybe a second grader. I remember thinking she was pretty and strong. What I did know about my school was that it was a Title I, low-performing elementary school in the 1980s, smack dab in the middle of the “good” side of town and the “not good” side of town, and it brought a lot of different worlds together.
My mother walked me up to the front door of Anthony when I was a very tall five-year-old. Having a September birthday, I would turn six just two weeks after school started, always making me one of the oldest kids in my class. I would be nearly 19 when I graduated high school. But I wasn’t thinking about high school that day, I was thinking about not wrinkling my dress. I was wondering if my mother would stay with me all day. I was sliding around from sweaty feet in slick sandals.
My classroom was brightly colored. It housed a row of cubes where we’d put our Kleenex boxes and paint, wall hooks for backpacks and lunchboxes, and an upright piano. I didn’t have a lunchbox. I was a free-lunch kid. I didn’t know that on my first day of kindergarten, but by middle school this fact would push my head lower and lower down, everyday, as I moved through the hot food line. On my first day of kindergarten, however, my head was high, albeit full of anxiety. I smiled when Mrs. McKim, my very tall, very lovely teacher took my hand and showed me where my desk was. I followed her, looking back a few times to make sure my mom was still there. She was, standing with the other parents at the back of the classroom, much too close to the door for my liking. In my memory this is when things get jumbled, but my mom remembers it pretty clearly. I started to cry. And I didn’t stop crying for three days.
On day two, Mrs. McKim let my mom come inside the classroom again. They tried to console me, to introduce me to new friends, but I couldn’t see anyone through the tears clouding my vision. On day three, Mrs. McKim watched me walk into the classroom, and just when my mom was about to follow, she stopped her, and closed the classroom door. I panicked. I ran to the door to watch the scene unfold. My mother was crying outside the door, I was crying inside the door. Mrs. McKim, her hand on my mother’s shaking shoulder, told her it would be best to leave. Just leave me there, and walk away. I hated Mrs. McKim for this, for much longer than I should have. It wasn’t until my son went to preschool, and his teacher told me to go, while he screamed and groped for me and she held him back, that I realized what Mrs. McKim had done. And how important it was to do.
That day Mrs. McKim switched her tactic with me too. She let me sit at my desk and cry for an hour or so, then she pulled me aside and told me that I was disrupting the class and would have to go sit in the library, right across the hall, all by myself. A few minutes later I was all alone at a desk in the library. The librarian Mrs. Simmons, was busy walking around shelving books, big kids were coming in and out looking oddly at me. I sat, crying, until it felt like I had no more tears to cry. Then Mrs. Simmons walked in with two of my classmates, Robin and Pam. She walked up to my desk and introduced them both. She said they were girls in my class, and that made them my friends. Pam, whose sweet, chubby cheeks shined in the library light, asked me if I would be her friend. I said yes. Then Robin and Pam stood on each side of me and took me back to the classroom, hand in hand. I never cried again in kindergarten.
A few years ago my sweet friend Pam died. An undiagnosed medical condition, if I remember correctly. She never lost her sweetness, though. Not one ounce, even when we drifted apart years later. I can still see her chubby, rosy cheeks. I can still feel her hand in mine. I still remember her earnestness. Her need to be my friend. Her determination to make me feel safe.
It’s been a long time since I stepped foot inside Anthony Elementary School. An even longer time since I have felt that particular pain. The kind that sticks with you. The kind that shapes you. I may have went to a Title I, low-performing school in an economically diverse area of the Midwest, but I never felt underserved or overlooked. I felt lucky. I felt content. And today I am feeling thankful.
Thanks, Anthony Elementary School. For the teachers like Mrs. McKim, Mrs. Coughran, Mrs. Nixon and Mrs. Heim. Thanks for Mrs. Albright, and Mrs. Simmons, and Mrs. Parks. For Coach Hendee and Mr. Parks. Thanks for the lifelong friendships. Thanks for the blacktop and Oregon Trail. Thanks for the Halloween parades and the fifth grade talent show. Thanks for being a safe-haven, for a painfully shy little girl who is the woman she is today because of the foundation you gave her.
*It’s important to note that Anthony has been through a few renovations, including a major overhaul in 2010, and has survived in Leavenworth, where many of the other schools have been vacated, or turned into housing or commercial spaces. I’ve included a current picture below to show the progress.
Last Saturday we drove to Charlotte. We hadn’t been back to the city that I love since we moved on April 1st, but we had to go up on Saturday because our very dear friends, David, Beth, and Morgan were packing up their home in Davidson, NC and hitting the road. Much like what we had just been through, Dave’s job took them away from North Carolina, all the way up to Rhode Island. Dave is a college music professor who plays the accordion like one bad MFer, never-mind the baby grand that sits in their living room. (Seriously, never-mind it, he’s good or whatever, but Dave shall henceforth be called Accordion Dave.) So Accordian Dave took a new teaching gig in Rhode Island even though, and this is important, I offered our basement for them to live in while I worked on my first rap album, in exchange for him playing all the instruments in my band. Why he passed that gig up to teach dumb kids is beyond me, but here we are. I’m still looking for a band, and Dave and Beth and Morgan live in fucking Rhode Island. This is all Accordion Dave’s fault.
Annnnnnyway, we spent the day with our three friends. We got to see some other people we hadn’t seen, catch up a bit. We even learned all about camping trailers, Chinese language courses, and the company Honeywell. It’s a long story. We had dinner at the ye old soda fountain in Davidson, you know which one I mean, the cute little Soda Shoppe on Main Street. Right next to the cute little book store and the cute little coffee shop, right across from the cute little library and the cute little college. Ohh, Davidson.
We realized, while we were eating our deep fried green beans (Morgan’s favorite), that this soda shoppe was one of the first places we all hung out together when we both ended up in North Carolina nearly five years ago (we both moved to NC in the summer of 2014 from the Midwest). We were invited to Morgan’s six-and-a-half-birthday back then, and we played at the library, then had shakes at the soda shoppe, then met the husbands for dinner at a little Italian joint that isn’t there anymore. It was what sealed the deal, for us anyway. The Missy, Jerimiah, Jackson, Accordion Dave, Beth, Morgan deal. It’s a good deal.
So while I was in Davidson (forcing Beth to pack her bathroom on my timeline as I shook my head in agreement every time she took a swig from the whiskey bottle and said, this is all fine, this will all be okay) I realized that the very reason I’ve felt so tied to North Carolina all this time was this woman. This woman kneeling in front of her bathroom sink yelling about toothpaste. This lovely, whiskey-drinking, hanging up maps for the movers, making sure everyone was fed lunch, woman. And her accordion playing husband and her magical daughter.
It’s difficult to be away from the people we love. The loyal, honest, lovable, crazy people we call our friends. And I am away from them. ALL OF THEM. I have my very best girls in Kansas (‘sup Rachel and Madison). I have a couple of best girls in Missouri (looking at you Kasey and Erica). I have Melody in Arizona. I have Susie and Camille on Lake Norman. And now I have Beth and Dave and Morgan in Rhode Island. Of course there are a ton of other smart, amazing, people scattered to the wind in between there, but that’s what the are, scattered. And that sometimes makes me very sad.
In the middle of the chaos of sneaking the tequila bottle away from Accordion Dave and Jerimiah, I got a text from Melody, my Tucson bestie. She was in labor! IN LABOR! In labor with her precious daughter Bexley. Her second born. The surprise we have all been patiently waiting for over the last nine months. There it was. Flashing on my screen: Guess who’s in labor? I immediately screamed and yelled the announcement to the whole house. In fact, I was so excited and devoted to reading all her incoming texts, that it took a couple of hours for the sadness to hit. I so wanted to be there with Melody. I so wanted to be one of the first people to hold Bex, to see her little bow on her head, to listen to her Momma recount the horrible labor process. But I was in Charlotte, 2,000 miles away, with a friend who also needed me. A friend that I also wanted to be with at that very moment. The idea of friendship, the loves in my life, the wonderful people I have known but am so very far away from, all came flooding in at one moment. So I did what I usually do, I cried. Only this time I excused myself to “walk the dog” because I didn’t want to cry in front of anyone.
Listen, you know I am not above crying in public, in private, in front of friends, in front of strangers, in front of a mirror while I watch my face contort into ugly shapes and hope that no one is secretly video taping me. But for some reason I just couldn’t be the one to cry that day. In front of those friends. I needed to be strong. And I felt strong, until Beth met me halfway up the street, fell into my arms, and cried too.
We can only hold it together for so long. At some point the weight of whatever has been keeping us down, the feeling, the moment, the event, the person, whatever “it” is, finally makes our knees buckle. And we can only hope someone is there to catch us. I am so glad I was there to catch Beth. For her to catch me. I wish I could be there every time one of my people needs catching. Needs to take a breather. Needs a time-out called. I wish. I wish. I wish.
I think what I want to say today is to hug your people. Be thankful you have them near. If you are like me and they are not near, then call them. Don’t worry if they might be busy, or sideways, or tied up with a screaming newborn. If they are, they will call back. But chances are they will answer. Because chances are they want to hear your voice, or your laugh, or they want to vent about their day to someone who cares. Take the chance. Insert yourself into their life from time to time. Even when things seem like all is well. Even when you haven’t talked in a while. Even, even, even. Your people need you. You need your people. Make it so.
Ps… Had Accordion Dave taken my offer, our first album would have been titled, Me and Accordion Dave Against the World ‘n them Hoes: Here Comes Treble Vol. I
It’s time I address my drinking problem, or lack thereof. I once met this woman at a party. She was a friend of a friend. The first time she met me, and the few subsequent times thereafter, I had a glass of red wine in my hand, and I was cool, calm, and collected. And to hear her say it, the funniest person in the world. Am I funny? Sure! Am I the funniest person in the world? Hers, maybe. But from then on she called me her “Funny Friend Missy”. That is how she would introduce me to new people. She would rush over with an unsuspecting soul and say, “Here she is, here is my Funny Friend Missy!” Then the friend would smile or laugh, and they would look at me to say something hilarious. Le sigh. It was exhausting.
What ended up happening, is that whenever she was around I would make sure to have wine in hand. Because, like a lot of people, my cool, calm, collected, humorous nature only comes out when I’m drinking. When I have wine or gin close at hand. In fact, one day this friend invited Jackson and me out to a day of fun with her and her daughter, and well, let’s just say it was the only time we ever did that. I suspect because I was stone-cold sober all day, thus, I was my real, unaltered, weird self. And she was disappointed.
This sort of became a cycle for me for a few years. I was close with someone who drinks every single day. Every day. Her and her husband have a lovely home on a lake, and they like to enjoy, well the scenery. They are less “get out there and boat” people and more “drink all day by the lake” people. And that is okay, it’s just that I am neither, in reality, but in order to fit in I certainly had to drink more, and so I did. I drank and drank. I drank to be “My Funny Friend Missy” and Jerimiah drank to be “a man”. In reality, we sort of hated ourselves during that time. We are the type of people who can spend a fun week back home on Table Rock with family and friends and totally kill our liver, then not drink for the next six months to make up for it. In fact, unless there is something happening, a day-trip to the lake or beach with friends, a mean-ass game of Spades, or a a celebration of some kind, you will rarely find us lifting a glass. We just don’t drink like we pretend to on social media. We have a non-drinking problem.
So listen, I talk a mad game about wine and Tanqueray, and I do enjoy those two items, they are my favorites in fact, but unless you are gonna come over to my house, and we are going to play a round of Pitch, or you need a girls night, wherein we sit in my bathtub with bottles of wine and cry together, then really, just come on over and bring me some unsweet tea instead. With a lemon on the side.
Remember to drink responsibly (cause when I do, I usually forget that part).
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.
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.
Listen, I am not gonna lie, this was a trip of a lifetime, for a lot of reasons. But should I, a 29-year-old mommy, have gone balls to the wall at Mardi Gras? No. Yes. Maybe. I’m not sure. Seems like I may have had more fun had I been 21, single, without child, and totally okay with drug-fueled sex in a dark alleyway. And since there has never been a point in my life where I was cool with that, I’d say no. Probably not. Now I do want to take a moment to say that I am fully aware that this is not everyone’s experience at Mardi Gras. I even know that in New Orleans, Mardi Gras can be, and routinely is, a family affair. Especially for the Cajun and Creole people. What my friends and I did was 100%, young, white-people, tourist Mardi Gras, and I am glad that I did it, one time. I will never do it again. Though I am currently planning a family trip to New Orleans for later this year, and I am so unbelievably psyched about it because that city is beautiful and magnificent and full of history. Now, having said all of that, and properly apologizing to my Louisiana kith and kin (I am so sorry, y’all), let me tell you about the dumbest thing I did in New Orleans.
As I mentioned in Part Deux, the group did a history tour while we were there and Melody, Kasey, and I were smitten with what we learned. Some of what we learned about was the voodoo that surrounds the city and its people. Because of this, we made a point of visiting Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 before leaving town on the last day. We picked this cemetery for a specific reason. It was the best known cemetery in a place of known cemeteries and it was supposedly the final resting place of Marie Laveau, the infamous voodoo priestess. Fun fact, Marie Laveau and I share the same birthday, September 10th. I used to think that was cool.
Anyway, the cemetery itself, on the north side of Basin Street, was a lovely testament to those buried there. Considering we knew by then how some of the New Orleans dead were treated, this seemed to be quite nice. There were some remarkable above-ground vaults and very detailed workmanship on many of the crypts. We took a few snapshots of the different tombs and then quickly made our way to Marie Laveau’s final resting spot.
Legend predicates that you must not touch Marie Laveau’s tomb, rightly so, UNLESS you leave a sacrifice, or she will make your life a living hell. Well, I did not know this at the time. I saw the many trinkets left around the tomb, but paid little mind to them. I had been so caught up with her life, from recently reading about her, that I was eager to just see where she was supposedly resting. I say supposedly because whether or not her remains are in there is constantly disputed. Either way, when I saw it I sort of lost my shit and went right up to it and touched it. And that is when shit hit the fan.
It sort of gives me the chills thinking about it now. I feel like I am being watched as I type this, and you guys, I am not “into” this sort of thing. But what I did that day, and the events that transpired over the next year, while most likely, probably, coincidental, serve as a reminder that you should never mess with the dark arts and to this day my plan is to go back to their tombs and place sacrifices on both of them in an attempt to make right my wrongdoings. To show respect. To say I am so very sorry to these two amazing women.
This all happened at the end of February 2011. 2011 turned out to be the worst year of my whole life for a number of reasons, ones I won’t explain here, because well, some of it is just too unbelievable. And I know, I know, most of you are all, Christ, Missy! None of that had anything to do with touching a VooDoo Queen’s tomb and not leaving a sacrifice, but I mean, do we know that for sure? No. No we don’t.
Look it, if you have made it to the end of this series of unfortunate events, bless you child. This has been one bumpy ride and I wrote this strictly for myself and my best friends. A ride down memory lane never hurt anyone, not physically anyway. I do, eight years later, look back at this trip so fondly. I look at my friends, at my MIL, at the rag-tag team of weirdos and I smile. I am glad I did it with them. Glad I lived through a once-in-a-lifetime experience with ladies who know how to take a joke. Know how to laugh at themselves. Know how to have fun, and be sad, and learn, and trust the collective. I am grateful for a husband and son who don’t mind if I run off from time to time with my girls. Who trust I always come home alive and disease-free. I learned a lot on this trip. A lot about people and a lot about myself, which may seem like a lot to put on a silly girls trip to Mardi Gras, but nah, it isn’t.
I also learned about the city of New Orleans. New Orleans is a fickle lady. She’s electric, but she’s gloomy. She is fast, she is slow. She will show you a good time, sometimes at a price. She will fill your mind with things you didn’t know possible, then she will burden you with doubt. She will give you a collection of ugly memories. She will offer up her own kind of repentance. She will make you tingly all over. She will lift you way, way up. And if you let her, she will pull you way, way down. New Orleans is the woman you didn’t know you needed, at a time you didn’t know you needed her. And I love her. And I am afraid of her. And I miss her terribly. And I want her. And on a good day, I plan to see her again. And on a bad day, I wish I never had.
I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I should really stop there. Save myself from the inevitable torment that comes every single time I recount the story. I get tense, and anxious. I can’t sleep. My body gets achy, like the flu is about to take over. Or maybe it’s just the ghost of Marie Laveau II, who still rightly frightens me. That’s what it is. I am afraid that if I delve into the past, and recount the events that transpired on those four sleepless nights at the end of February in 2011, the ghost of Marie Laveau II will come back into my life, spitting and shrieking, assuring me all the bad things will happen again. But here I am, acting against my better judgment, just like my time spent on the corner of Bourbon Street and Canal many moons ago. This story is so varied, so full of life, so mysterious and wonderful and dreadful and wrong, I would be a disservice to attempt to tell it all at once, so I won’t. I will tell the tale of my time at Mardi Gras in parts, and if you feel like hopping down this dangerous, but ultimately delightfully stinky rabbit hole, then read on. But it’s certainly at your own risk.
I honestly don’t remember how it started. I’m not sure if my friends, Melody and Kasey, suggested we go, or if my mother-in-law decided she would go and invite us along. Someone decided they would go to Mardi Gras that year, and invited the other. My MIL took the reins, being the only person in the group who had ever been to NOLA before. She cashed in some of her hotel points and got us a pimp view at the Crown Plaza Hotel on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Streets. Right in the heart of the French Quarter, a stone’s throw away from Old Man River, and smack dab in the middle of the Carnival action. I think her friend Peggy was supposed to come along, then couldn’t last minute, but my MIL had already secured Peggy’s PIMP minivan, so she decided to invite a few other ladies she knew from her home town. So my MIL (I won’t use her real name to protect the guilty), Janie, Tammie, Pasty-girl, and Titty Tina (I’m using aliases here for a couple of the girls for two reasons. 1. I don’t remember Pasty-girl’s name but she legit wore pasties on her nips one night, and 2. Nah, it’s really just number 1) all hopped in the van in Southeast Kansas and headed south. Mind you, none of these women had ever been to NOLA, and two of the five had never been outside Southeast Kansas (unless you count Joplin, MO and anywhere in Oklahoma, and I don’t.)
Kasey and Melody and I set out from my house in Branson, Missouri on the morning of February 24th. I guess someone watched my kid, cause yeah, I was the only one who had a kid-kid at the time. A toddler, and I would suppose that my husband took the time off work to stay home with him. What a saint that man is. We left on a Thursday, cause why not? We loaded up my VW Passat, which meant I was the only one who could drive, since I was the only one who could drive a manual. Really smart on my part. (I guess maybe I had the safest car of the lot. Eek!) I should take a minute to inform you all that I was 29 years old. So on the FAR, FAR end of the proper age to be going to Mardi Gras. Kasey was closest in age to me at a whopping 26, and Mel was, well, Mel was giving us the gift of her youth at 24. Which left me as the Mommy, Kasey as the annoying big sister, and Melody as the spoiled baby, as it were. Which is why when the first fight happened, somewhere in Arkansas, over whether or not Kasey should have included Dave Matthews Band on the mix cd, I jumped into “Mom” mode and never really recovered. Which made me, well, uncool, and also a bit out of sorts for the rest of the trip. More on that later.
My MIL left a bit before we did from Kansas, and the plan was to meet up somewhere near Memphis several hours later. Remember, she had a van full of women who had barely ventured outside of Kansas, with her being the only exception. She was in the military for many moons and is a worldly-traveler. Which is why it took so long to valet park the cars at the hotel. She had to explain over and over again that it was totally safe, that we would get Peggy’s PIMP van back, and that they needed to be “fast”, like storming the beaches of Normandy fast, and they should have money in hand to tip all the people helping us. They were confounded. It was painful to watch. But, whoa now, I am getting ahead of myself.
We ended up meeting on some sketch-ass back road along the Arkansas/Tennessee line. If you haven’t spent a lot of time on the Arkansas/Tennessee line, you should thank your lucky stars. It’s scary. This is where we were first introduced to the rag-tag team that came with MIL. We pulled into a gas station to see them all crawling out of Peggy’s van. As Melody, Kasey, and I approached the van, one of the doors slid open and a loud and robust woman said, “Y’all gonna show your titties?!” You guessed it, that was Tina. Then we met Tammie, who I already kinda, sorta knew, and then that one girl, then Janie, who looked like all of our grandmas, explained she had never been outside of Columbus, Kansas. Awesome! This is sort of where the regret started to set in.
After a quick stop we were back on the road. We decided to follow Peggy’s Sweet-ass van, since MIL knew where she was going. However, it wasn’t too long before MIL seemed to not know where she was going and Snoop Dogg (we programed my GPS to sound like Snoop Dogg) was all, “Hey Cuz, you missed your turn back there, ya dig?” And I was frantically calling MIL to tell her what Snoop had said. Meanwhile, the chatter in the van was so loud she couldn’t really hear me, and we kept on going that way. In the end it only added thirty minutes or so, but that was a LONG-ASS thirty minutes or so, Cuz.
Our next stop was at a Walmart right outside of NOLA. By this time we were in Creeper Louisiana and everyone we met asked if we were headed down to “M’gra”, I think. I didn’t understand a lot of what was said to me. Everyone seemed drunk and there was so much Mardi Gras merchandise that we lost all our senses. We loaded up gobs and gobs of 25 cent beads, and noise-makers, ribbon, t-shirts, masks, and King Cake. We left Walmart thinking we were prepared for all that was coming.
Below is a pic of the whole crew, minus me, the photographer, at the Walmart gas station somewhere along Lake Pontchartrain after a supercalifragilistically-long trip to a Walmart, where maybe some of the ladies saw Black people for the first time, I can’t be sure.
It wasn’t long before we were pulling up to the Crown Plaza on the corner of Bourbon and Canal. It was late, probably 10 pm or so, and we were dog-ass tired, but seeing the lights of the French Quarter and having eaten fifteen or so Blow Pops on the way, gave us a jolt of excitement that carried us through the next half hour or so of the “check-in” process. First there was the valet parking. If you have been to NOLA, to the French Quarter to be exact, and have stayed in a hotel you probably know that there is zero parking. You valet your car, then they take it to some undisclosed location and bring it to you whenever you call for it. This is the case for many big cities with limited parking, and you would know that if you had, say, every been to one of those big cities. My car was cool. We knew what to do. We hopped out to a barrage of people yelling orders, slipping tips into palms, drunk people barfing on the corner, men fighting, and cars honking. We took on thing at a time. We knew we had to get our bags to the bellhop, then hand over the keys, then get to our room, then we would be able to take it all in.
The occupants of Peggy’s Sweet-ass van, however, were totally numb to everything. They stood, wide-eyed, mouths agape, on the street taking it all in at that exact moment, as MIL unloaded the ENTIRE van and yelled at them to get their asses over there and help because we were holding up the valet line and people were pissed. Whew. Melody, Kasey, and I got our shit unloaded, our car sent away, our tips distributed, and quickly found ourselves inside this beautiful hotel with everything we needed except one bottle of purple nail polish that Mel had accidentally left in the back seat. No big deal. Right? Right.
After we all reconvened, they all had their eyes filled with enough sin, and MIL checked us in, we headed upstairs to our rooms. One of the first things I recall was standing outside our rooms (two doubles next door to each other) and we realized for the first time that we had to share our room with one of the occupants of Peggy’s Sweet-ass van. Our inclination, was to pick MIL, if we had the pick, because duh. But as we were waiting at our door for our keys, Janie walked over to us like she as rooming with us. Now, listen. Janie is a sweet woman. Totes someone who knows a lot, she’s smart, and kind. But I can’t beat around the bush here. She was way outta her league, and honestly she would have been appalled by some of the shit that we talked about. So we all stood politely and smiled at her, waiting for MIL to sort it out. Of which she did by yelling, “Janie, get your ass over here” and pointing to the room with the other girls. Whew. Crisis averted. So that left MIL, Kasey, Melody, and me in one room. And Janie, Tammie, Titty-Tina, and Pasty-Girl in the other.
Let me pause here and explain something. This all happened eight years ago. We are far enough removed from the events that transpired to look back with rose-colored glasses and laugh. But at the time, some of this felt very serious and very wrong and very scary and very amusing and very fun and very fucked up. But again, I am choosing rose-colored glasses and I hope the other ladies are too.
As I said before, this story has to be told in sections. So I think this is a great place to stop. We went out and explored that evening, as late as it was. Melody had her ear licked by a stranger, we drank HUGE ASS beers. We saw a couple having sex. We saw several people vomit. We met our first Voodoo Priestess. We walked with the crowd, as one does at Mardi Gras, as one big wave headed deeper and deeper into the French Quarter. And for all the grossness we encountered that night. For all the laughs we had. For all the beer we drank. It only went down from there. Even after we found out that Titty-Tina had an ex named Bitch Slap who was in town and was coming to find us. But that is best saved for another time.
Enjoy some pics from the first night of Mardi Gras in February, 2011.