I was leaving Patsy’s office yesterday when I hopped in the car, feeling pretty good, a rare occurrence after therapy. I hadn’t cried, or said fuck, or told some long, sordid story about Adele or voodoo, it was a good visit, actually, and switched the channel on the radio to 90s music and “Stay (I Missed You)” came on. You know the 90s pop song by Lisa Loeb? “You say, I only hear what I want to. And you say, I talk so all the time. So.” And just like that I was transported back to my childhood bedroom, with it’s dolphin trinkets, underwater-themed bedspread, and matching curtains. And there, on my dresser, was my radio with the ability to record.
The year was 1994, and I had been waiting for what felt like literal years for one of the pop stations out of Kansas City to play Lisa Loeb and her love song to the guy she desperately missed. Or did he miss her? Or was it all a big misunderstanding? Was he kind of an asshole? Now that I think about it yeah, he was kind of an asshole, but I didn’t get that back then. Back then, I wanted to hear those first few chords, run to my radio and hit the play/record button to get as much as the song as I could onto the mix tape that I was making for my boyfriend who had just moved because his dad was in the Army and life was horribly unfair. We were soulmates.
And then it happened. The DJ said the magic words, “Here’s Lisa Loeb…” and I ran over, hit the buttons and well, it worked. Just. Like. Magic.
The rest of the mix tape had a lot of Wilson Phillips on it, but the second side, first song, was this one and man, I was way serious about him hearing it.
As the song played, and the radio recorded, I danced around my room like I was Lisa Loeb, and I only hear what I want to, and a camera was following me around as I hopped up in down in relative torment with my super cute glasses in a little black dress. It was all too magical. Then I stopped the recording at just the right time. After the last chord, before the DJs annoying voice came back on.
Two weeks later the tape was finished and I sent it to him, all the way across the country in Virginia. Two weeks after that he wrote me and said he liked the tape, but that we should break up. It hurt. A lot. Because I missed him. Then I cried. I slammed my door. I cursed Lisa Loeb while I screamed:
“So I, I turned the radio on/I turned the radio up/And this woman was singing my song/Lovers in love and the other’s run away/Lover is crying ’cause the other won’t stay…”
While my mom banged on my door to keep it down in there.
Yeah. Middle school was fucking harsh. But at least I had Lisa Loeb.
I’ve been working on a post about the series of tornadoes that broke out when we were living in Missouri between the summer of 2011 and 2012, including the Joplin Tornado, of which my father-in-law’s house was destroyed (he survived), and the Leap Day Tornado that hit our town in 2012. We were living in Branson, Missouri at the time and “The Strip” was hit pretty hard. Jerimiah’s office was destroyed, and he had to work from home for a few months before they found a new office in town, but everyone was okay. Shaken up, but okay. I’ve been working on the post since way back in February because I wanted to post it on Leap Day, because you know, topical and what not. But I couldn’t finish it. I was wading through the pictures I took in Joplin the day after, when Jerimiah and I went to help his dad fish his belongings out of the rubble, and I was so sad looking at those pictures that I was having a hard time writing words to accompany them. I was determined to finish the post this week, then yesterday I woke up to the news in Nashville.
Shit, you guys.
When a tornado season starts out like this, it isn’t good. I’ll just say that. And coming from a Kansas girl, a girl born and raised in The Great Plains, or Tornado Alley, whatever you want to call it, this is some severe, severe weather, and it won’t be going out like a lamb. We need to be prepared. We need to take this seriously. We can’t keep standing in the front yard, drinking our ranch dressing straight from the bottle, saying, “Ope, why’d the wind stop so suddenly?” We need to heed those warnings we all know, but have ignored for so long.
There really is no way for you to combat an F3 like the one in Nashville, which ripped through a heavily-populated part of town, or an F5 like in Joplin. There just isn’t. When it comes, it comes and you just have to hold on and hope you make it out. But the world is certainly more technologically advanced now than it was when I was a kid, and there aren’t many more excuses we can use. Listen to the warnings. Stay indoors. Don’t go out when the sky turns that black and gray color. If the wind suddenly stops and it gets eerily quiet, then it seems like a train comes out of nowhere, it isn’t a damn train, y’all. It’s a twister. Get out of your lawn chair, throw your Bud Light to the wind, and run into your basement. This is serious.
I know this seems like a duh to a lot of you, but the hard truth is, there are places in Tornado Alley where the belief is 100% “It won’t happen here.” In fact, I grew up with that notion. In Leavenworth they think because they are “in a valley” that the tornado won’t come to them. In truth it has been years since a big twister has struck there, and it does seem to strike close to them, all around them, in fact, but when I was a kid it never hit Leavenworth proper. Which meant there were a lot of lawn chair watchers. People making fun of people like my mom and me, who spent many a summer nights camped out in my closet (the most interior space, without windows) with a weather radio and a box of Legos for distraction. That’s the behavior of people who have lived through a twister (of which my mom did as a child). She knows how to take it seriously. But so many don’t, and it scares the shit out of me.
When Jerimiah and I were still dating, way, way back in 2003 a tornado hit Lawrence, Kansas. We were living in Lawrence at the time, and he was working at Blockbuster Video on 27th Street. It was the evening, about 7:00 pm, when I drove some dinner up to him at work. I was working at Best Buy, and had gotten off early and decided to treat him. The weather wasn’t looking great, but then again, it was Kansas, in May. The weather never looks great on warm, May nights in Kansas. That’s the peak of the season. When I walked in, I found him standing in the middle of the store with the District Manager. They were discussing whether or not to close up shop. Apparently a line of storms was headed for us and Blockbusters, if you may recall, were nothing but rows and rows of windows so you could look inside and see the rows and rows of projectiles lining the shelves. Jerimiah was at odds with his manager, who wanted to close. Jerimiah, a born and bred Kansas boy himself, was all “Nah, this will pass.” I mean it’s Lawrence, for fuck’s sake. A half a mile or so from the University of Kansas campus. Mother Nature knows better than to mess with the Jayhawks. Turns out he was wrong, terribly wrong.
About half an hour later the DM, Jerimiah, about three employees, and dumb me who stuck around to see how it would play out, were running toward the Baskin Robbins next door in a wind so hard and fast it took my breath away. Then suddenly it stopped. All was still. The sky was as black as I’d ever seen it, and it was quiet. Eerily quiet. The cars at the busy intersection had all stopped. The wind was gone. The rain and chatter, all silenced. We all stood in our tracks halfway between Blockbuster and Baskin Robbins and looked up toward the sky. Just then the sound came. They say it sounds like a freight train, y’all because IT SOUNDS LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, this funnel appeared. It was all black, just like the sky, so it was hard to see. I was mesmerized. Then suddenly someone pushed me from behind and yelled, “Run!” So I did.
I spent the next ten minutes in the freezer of the Baskin Robbins with the Blockbuster DM, two Baskin Robbins employees, and the rest of the Blockbuster crew (all of us kids). Jerimiah stood out in the ice cream parlor waiting and watching. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. And you certainly won’t find me in any lawn chair because of it.
The twister did hit campus that night. It also took out several apartment complexes, but to the best of my knowledge no one was killed. Injured, but not killed. It was only an F2, we were lucky. Below is the public info statement from the National Weather Service in Topeka. We were in Douglas County on 27th and Wakarusa.
This is how it happens when it happens. It happens in a lot of places, varying degree of damage and winds. Varying numbers on the Fujita scale. A twister can go from an F0 to an F3 pretty quickly. But some people just don’t respect the catastrophic ability, because when you are from a place where this happens all season long, you become numb to it. Until you aren’t anymore.
I don’t know why I’m sharing this story today. I think I was so messed up in my head when I heard about Nashville yesterday, that it brought up all this other stuff. These old memories, and I wondered if many of you don’t know how tornadoes work, why and when they come, that sort of thing. So I guess I’m trying to inform. To plead with you all to take it seriously. Because you just never know.
As for Nashville and Central Tennessee, I hope everyone is okay. Shaken, I know, but in tact for the most part. As I write this they have confirmed 19 deaths, there may be more to come. There usually is. I’m partial to the City of Nashville, to Central Tennessee. It’s one of our favorite places, and it’s a place that has brought my family and friends and me great joy in our lives. I know they will be okay, eventually, but not without help. Because of this I am adding some links to the bottom for ways you can help.
Maybe one day I will share that Leap Day Tornado story, or talk more about the Joplin tornado, but today just stay safe out there, y’all. And help if you can.
Some weeks I have a very strict idea about what I am going to write about every day. In fact, in my planner (yes, I use a paper planner) I write each day, then make a little box for checking the day off when I write, and next to the box I sometimes write the topic. I do this to sort of will myself into writing about a certain subject. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today’s box said, “Oakland Cemetery”. Oakland Cemetery is a cool place. It’s another famous southern cemetery that we recently visited. It’s in the heart of Atlanta and it is where Margaret Mitchell is buried, so I went to sacrifice a penny on her gravesite, as many writers before me have done. The problem is somedays when I actually sit down to write, what I intend to write is not what comes up. Today is one of those days. Today I woke up thinking about the phrase, “These Colors Don’t Run” and the first time I ever heard that phrase, and I can’t get it out of my head, so I just have to write about it. Margaret Mitchell and Oakland will have to wait.
The first time I ever heard or read this phrase was in a shopping mall in my hometown in 1991. It was during the Gulf War, and I lived in Leavenworth, Kansas. If you’ve never heard of Leavenworth then bless your heart. Go find a John Wayne movie on Amazon Prime and wait. At some point he will talk about a “bad guy” either of black or brown skin, and he will say something along the lines of, “I’ll be seeing them in Leavenworth,” then he will ride away into the California sunset. He just means he’s rounding them up and sending them to prison, probably because in the movie they stole cows or killed a white woman. Same. Same. Leavenworth is a prison town, but it’s also an army town and home to the historically-famous Fort Leavenworth, on the banks of the Missouri River.
This is all to say that when the Gulf War was happening (the first time the Bush’s tried to make money off Middle Eastern oil) Leavenworth was a hot-bed for pro-war shit. I was a third grader with no real idea what was happening, and both my sisters (who had been married and moved out of the house) were suddenly back home (with two and a half kids in tow) while both their husbands fought on the front lines overseas. It was a stressful, confusing, chaotic time in my life.
So from the summer of 1990 to the summer of 1991 my mom, my two sisters, my two, then three nephews, and third-grader Missy lived all lived together in our two-bedroom apartment in Leavenworth. We watched the news every, single night on a small 19-inch colored television. On the weekends I would sometimes go with my sisters who would volunteer to do things around the community in support of their husbands with the other Army wives. Maybe we’d pass our yellow ribbons, or man a table at the local shopping plaza to pass out buttons in support of our troops. I always went because usually someone bought me ice cream afterward. That’s it. That was my driving motivation.
One particular Saturday morning I stood at a table with my sister and handed out buttons. I don’t remember what they looked like, but I know they said, “These Colors Don’t Run” on them, so I’m guessing they were something like this:
I know we had entered Operation Desert Storm (or Shield, I think they were two different operations, maybe) at this point, because I had a shirt on that said it too. Here look, this is third grade me in my favorite “Operation Desert Shield” shirt:
I know it was my favorite, and probably only one, because my mom has like 15 pictures of me in it from that single year. Here I am in March of 1991 holding my newborn nephew Josh, who is legit getting married next month:
Just for the record, that’s not a mullet. That’s just my mom cutting my bangs, but refusing to let me cut the rest of my hair, so I always wore it in a pony tail and it sometimes looked like a mullet.
Anywho, there I was standing at a table passing out these buttons and I vividly remember looking down at one of them and thinking, “What the hell does that even mean?” I mean, how can colors run? Which colors? Red, white, and blue? Run from what? From bad guys? Who are the bad guys? What is happening?
Something like that started to unfurl in my brain and I was, for the first time, very scared about the war. About never seeing my brothers-in-law again. About having to see my sisters cry a lot.
It sort of got worse before it got better after that. I started having nightmares about bombs, which were just little flashes of light that I’d see explode on our small tv whenever Tom Brokaw would come on in the evening. My teacher would ask if I’d been sleeping. I’d lie and say yes. But mainly I’d just lay awake at night, pretending to sleep until two, maybe three in the morning, when my sisters’ whispered voices and the low hum of the tv stopped for the night.
Both my brothers-in-law made it back home safely, but not without problems. They aren’t my sisters’ husbands anymore, and I had a few more nephews over the years.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that “These Colors Don’t Run” was a bad pun, at best. My mother said something one day about washing colored clothes with whites, and it hit me. Ah, yes. These colors don’t run. They don’t run away from necessary war. They also, it would seem, don’t run away from unnecessary war either. Some things never change.
I left college at 19 to pursue different avenues of life, like working full-time at Blockbuster video, rolling blunts, and doing keg stands. The latter were skills I’m sure college would have taught me eventually, but I didn’t think I needed the pesky class time to get in the way. Plus, how else could I get movie rentals for free? I didn’t go back again until I was 26, recently married, and unexpectedly pregnant. It’s when I finally decided to take my education seriously. Lead by example, I suppose. Read: I wasn’t good at keg stands.
So there I was, eight months pregnant, sitting in an astronomy class when our old, bow tie-clad professor showed us a video that totally and utterly fucked me up. My stomach was so large at this point, that I was unable to sit in a normal auditorium seat. The class was in a big hall with those small seats that had the small writing surface that flipped up from the side of the seat. So there was no way I could take notes using it (college desks aren’t made for women who are very pregnant, lest that be a warning ladies), but there was a long table with two chairs in the back of the hall for people with disabilities, or for larger people who couldn’t fit in the seats below.
So every Monday night I’d race my chubby legs up to the third floor to get a seat at that table. And every Monday night it was in fact, a race. I was racing two very large dudes to the two empty seats at the table. Looking back I should have just let them have it, they were uncomfortably big for the seats below, but again, I literally could not get the flip desk over my pregnant belly. There’s no moving parts around to fit better at that point. It’s just there.
On this particular night I was running a bit late, and I ran into my 85-year-old professor politely standing at the VERY slow elevator. He caught my eye and waved me over. He really liked me for some reason, and would always ask me to ride up with him if he caught me. I obliged and was chatting at the elevator with him, when I saw the two big dudes enter the hall. They eyed me, and I eyed them, and I swear to you they took off running up the stairs. Running. Full speed. Yeah, they beat me to the table. (Now that I think about it, that was pretty fucked up of them. Then again maybe I should have just asked someone to bring a third chair up, I dunno.) Jesus, I’m off topic.
So the night that we watched this video that fucked me up, I missed my chance at the “fat kid table.” (I say this lovingly, as both a fat kid and because that’s legit what those dudes called it) and had to sit in a seat and use my notebook as my desk. I was pissy, and defeated, and just starting to try to routinely will my baby out of me. I was done, y’all. But he still had another month of cooking to do. So there I was. Alone. Pregnant. Annoyed. And slightly in awe of the path my life was taking when my 105-year-old professor showed us the video.
The video started out with a person standing on a street in Paris. I knew it was Paris because as the camera panned up and out, you could see the Eiffel Tower. Then it kept panning. Up, up, up. Out of Paris, out of France. Out of Europe. Out of whichever hemisphere that is. Shoot me, who cares. Up, up, up, way up into space (this was an astronomy class). Up through Earth’s atmosphere, up past the International Space Station, through the stars, out of the Milky Way, way up, past everything, into pure nothingness. I was so engrossed in the film that my notebook slid off my lap, and still I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The camera went way up. Then it just ended.
We all sat silent for a long time. My 110-year-old professor flipped the lights on with a flick of a switch on his podium down below. People shifted nervously in their seats. No one said a word. It was all too much. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know why. Hormones I guessed. I looked behind me. Up to the big dudes. They sat silent, stony faced in their large, comfy chairs. My 113-year-old professor said something like, “It’s just like that, isn’t it? The stars. The universe. This life.”
I looked down at my notebook, half-heartedly kicked it with my foot. Then down at my expanding belly. It occurred to me that it is like that. This small, insignificant life. The comfy chairs, the notebook on the floor, the elevator ride. My annoyances, my desires, my stupid, stupid mistakes. My baby. It’s all like that.
Then my 119-year-old professor went on with his lecture.
A girl behind me quietly got up, picked up my notebook, and handed it to me. I managed a smile, but by now the big, fat tears were rolling down my face. She nodded in a knowing way, even though she had no way of knowing. This was it. Only one way out from here. For all of us. Into the nothingness.
A month later my very healthy son was born. I dropped my classes the next semester. Decided maybe I’d made my mistakes and college wasn’t for me. That instead I’d focus on this child. This bright star, and his future. Then I remembered that he wouldn’t know how to shine, if I didn’t teach him.
A couple years later I graduated with my toddler waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. I graduated a second time with my third-grader waving and screaming “Mommy” as I walked across the stage. And who knows, maybe I’ll graduate a third time, and maybe my teenager will be screaming and waving “Mommy” while I walk across the stage.
And sure, in the end, it all fades to black. We all go back to the nothingness that we came from, but at least we get to look back down for a bit. Down, down, down. All the way down to those few blazing moments.
When I was born in 1981, my oldest sister Khristi was 16 years old. That’s right, sixteen! And today is her 29th birthday (I’ll let you do the math on that one) and I’d be amiss if I didn’t say something about my big, little, sister because even though our ages have made us feel worlds apart at times, she has taught me so much about what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother, and a friend, that I am forever indebted to her. But not so much that I won’t make fun of her 4’11” stature, or her graying hair she tirelessly covers with “strawberry blond.” Because that’s what sisters do.
When I was very little, learning how to read and write well before I should have been learning how to read and write (thanks, mom), I had a hard time spelling my sister’s name. To be fair, I’ve seen her name spelled at least a dozen different ways. I had the “K” part down, and the “i” a the end, but I kept messing up the middle part. So for a short time, to help me remember how to spell it when I’d write lists of family members to practice my writing at four-years-old, my mom would say, “Remember, it’s Khristi with an h.” One time I ran up to my big sister and I yelled, “Your name has an h in it!” Khristi grabbed me up, spun me around, and laughed. Cause that’s what sisters do.
There are other things that sisters do. Sisters fight. And we’ve had our fair share, particularly when I was a teenager and she was a mom, struggling to raise four boys largely alone (her husband, though a local police officer, was also in the military and would sometimes be gone for a year at a time), and she relied on her family, me included, to help out. In fact, every summer I would babysit the boys during the day, and she would pay me to do this. It worked out. She got a pretty cheap sitter, and I made some pocket money. But, it was a job I loathed, because three boys (at that time) were a nightmare, and they just wanted to torment their Aunt Missy. Looking back, I’d give my left leg to spend one more summer running through the sprinkler with Josh and Corey, or watching a toddler Sammy run down the hallway and slam his door shut because I wouldn’t let him watch ANOTHER episode of Teletubbies. But, I just got Josh’s wedding invitation in the mail, and Samual already has two monsters of his own, so I mean, I’m pretty proud of what they have become too. But me being a teenager, and knowing much more than anyone else around me, I would often fight with my sister. She’d try to tell me that I’d “get it” one day, and I’d tell her that I hoped I wasn’t anything like anyone in my damn family! Oh the rebellion.
Turns out, as I’ve matured, realized that I actually know nothing about anything, especially how my sister made it thorough the rough days, I’ve realized I’m more like her than anyone else in my family. I’m a little tough sometimes, especially toward myself. I feel obligated to be honest, even about the things I’ve done in my life that aren’t so great, because like my sister, I’d rather control the conversation, than have people controlling it behind my back. I’m fiercely loyal. To a fault. I realize that we all make mistakes. No one is perfect, no one is even close to it, but while I hold people accountable for their actions, and assume they will do the same to me, I do so knowing that we all mess up from time to time, and then we work to make it better.
My sister Khristi has seen better days. She’s been married to a man, who for the most part treated her well. She’s had four awesome sons who would die for her. She’s been through a divorce, but she’s recovered. She’s reinvented herself time and again, and she’s still learning, even at 29, which is more than we can expect of a lot of people that have walked her shoes.
So my wish for Khristi on this 29th birthday, is that the needle keeps hitting “Full.” I hope that she stays full on the recent luck she’s had. I hope she stays full on love, on trust, and on loyalty, even to the friends who have wronged her, and yes, she has close friends who have wronged her, friends I can’t even forgive on her behalf (because sometimes, that’s what sisters do), but she can. Because she’s just that sort of person. I hope, more than anything else, that she stays full on love, forgiveness, and patience to herself.
I love you, Khristi with an h. I hope you have the happiest of 29th birthdays, and that Greg takes you somewhere nice to celebrate. I hope you get to see all the boys, and the grandkids, and I hope that someone tells you how wonderful you are. And just in case Beeb forgets to say it, “It’s time to do those roots, Sis.” 🙂
My love for Dolly Parton knows no bounds. If you don’t know this about me, now you do. Take from that what you will. Which is why, when in Nashville, Tennessee, a place I find myself a couple times a year, I’m always on the lookout for Dolly. I’ve never ran across her, not in Nashville, not in Southern Missouri, not in Sevierville, not even in concert. But I’m always on the lookout to learn more about her, to emulate her caring, compassionate nature, and to understand what makes this woman, who doesn’t call herself a feminist, but is a feminist by all accounts, tick. So when my husband stumbled across the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America” and asked me if I’d listened to it yet, I was shocked that I didn’t even know it existed. Am I slipping off my Dolly train, I wondered, as I went back “through the years, wondering once again, back to the seasons of my youth…” No, I’m just not up to speed on a lot of podcasts.
Turns out “Dolly Parton’s America” is badass, just like Dolly.
Turns out “Dolly Parton’s America” is truthful, and honest, and raw. Just like Dolly.
Turns out “Dolly Parton’s America” is exactly what I needed in my life right now.
I learned a lot of new things about Dolly, but the most important thing I learned was that Dolly hasn’t always been the Dolly we see now. The Dolly of my childhood. The Dolly fighting for equality. The woman writing hundreds of songs about love and faith. In fact, Dolly was dark for sometime, in a bad place, and that led me down a rabbit-hole of Old Dolly, and now I’m more in love with her than ever before. Here, have a listen.
“My body aches the time is here it’s lonely in this place where I’m lying / Our baby has been born, but something’s wrong, it’s too still, I hear no crying / I guess in some strange way she knew she’d never have a father’s arms to hold her / So dying was her way of tellin’ me he wasn’t coming down from Dover…”
Oh, it gets worse than an illegitimate, still-born baby, y’all. Much worse.
Christ Missy, why you ruining our lives with this shit today? Okay, fair question. It would seem that Dolly, as happy, and as lovely, and as beautiful and talented as she is, had some hard times. Real hard times, y’all. Writing suicide notes, hard times, y’all. In fact, she said something on the podcast that stung pretty hard, because I myself have thought that exact same thing. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like this:
“I don’t think I wanted to kill myself. But I’d come to the point that I understood why people do it. I understood how a person can get to that point in their lives to think that this is the best solution.”
That’s a tough thing to admit. That’s a tough thing to admit to anyone. In fact, up until today I had only admitted that to my husband, but after hearing Dolly admit it on a podcast, I realized that I’m probably not the only person who understands that feeling. And that makes sharing her story, sharing my story, more urgent.
I’m not suicidal. Let me get that out of the way now. I’m doing pretty well right now, in fact. But I have been. I’ve been “wondering if I can remember the code to the gun safe” suicidal. That particular bout was brought on by a new medication I’d been put on the week I lost my daughter, and my doctors straightened it out pretty quickly. But only because I told my husband. Only because I talked about it.
And isn’t that the hard part? The talking about it.
I’m more in debt to Dolly today than I have ever felt before, because she had the courage to talk about something that a little, backwoods, girl from Tennessee should have been taught not to talk about. And I’m more conscious of the people out there who have taken their lives. And their family members. People I have known and people that I love, who are dealing with the world after losing their loved ones. I wish I could reach out and hug you all. Please know that I think about you and your loved ones who reached that point in their lives. I think about you and them. And I make an extra appointment with my therapist. Or I talk to my husband about how I’m feeling. Or I blog about Dolly Parton. And suicide prevention. Because we all have to start somewhere. And we all have to do something to make people feel a little more in control.
Listen to some Dolly today, y’all. One of those songs with a good beat and a little heart. Like my favorite from my childhood, which was maybe, sort of, absolutely the first time I ever heard the name Jackson, and decided I’d name my first son after him. Told ya I love Dolly…
When I was about five years old, I desperately wanted to be a ballerina. I watched a cartoon, I can’t recall now, where a little girl was dancing with her dog. She was in a pink tutu and ballet slippers, and she was spinning around and around in a circle. My grandfather was alive at the time and living in our small apartment with us. He was fighting terminal cancer, though I didn’t know what that meant, and he was wheel-chair bound, with one arm already lost to the disease.
He sat, day in and day out, in his wheel chair, or in the big, brown chair in our living room with the wooden arms. He sat and he watched television, whatever was on, though he had his favorites, like Price is Right. My mom would cook breakfast, and lunch, and dinner for my grandpa and me. She would wheel him into the kitchen to eat. She would wheel him into the bathroom, move him from the chair to the toilet. She would bathe him. My sister and my mother would carry him up the flight of stairs from our basement apartment to get fresh air on nice days. I would watch television with him. That was my job.
The day we watched the spinning girl and her loyal dog, I jumped up and pretended to be her. I danced around my grandfather, whose toothless grin gave me the confidence to spin on my toes. He clapped his hands and told me I should be a ballerina. I agreed with a smile.
Then in the spring my grandfather died.
In the summer my neighbor said I was too fat to be a ballerina.
In the fall, we moved to a new house, I started kindergarten, and forgot about my dream.
I’ve done that from time to time. Forgotten about a dream. A goal. I’ve let people tell me what I’m capable of, and what I am not. I’ve been doing it again, as of late. Letting strangers, mostly, tell me what I am capable of and what I am not. What my limits of talent are. Where my lane is, and how I should best stay in it. We fall back into old patterns. We do what feels most comfortable. What we learned as children. How we learned to cope.
I’ve been working on a longer piece of writing centered around my early childhood and like any good writer, I’m making a playlist to help me write. One that, if I’m lucky, will transport me back to those days. And weren’t those some days?! You see, I’m the youngest of four siblings, a brother and two sisters, and my closet sister in age is Belinda, who was eleven-years-old when I was born. Which means when I was in kindergarten, Belinda was a 17-year-old, living life hard on the fringes of high school in 1987. Which means when I make my kindergarten playlist it’s not just the Care Bears Soundtrack and The Good Ship Lollipop (which are both on there), but it’s also a lot of really long guitar riffs, really big hair, and well, this:
Is this love, that I’m feeling? Is this the love, I’ve been searching for? It must be, cause Whitesnake told me it was. In kindergarten. Yes, in kindergarten I thought at some point in my life, I’d be in a white dress, with a white thong up my ass, packing my bag, while my long-haired boyfriend (that is a boy right) watched me all sad like, then wrote a power ballad for me to come back. So, it might have had an impact on me or whatever.
Still confused, here’s another:
No actual idea what this man was singing about. Donkey park? Whistling? Hey, I like sparklers! Wait, the world is closing in? We’re close? Like brothers? What kind of accent is that even?
But like fucking clockwork man, I hear this song and boom! I am transported back into my sister’s bedroom. Her Bruce Springsteen poster, her American flag draped over her window. Her record playing spinning, Air Supply, or Poison, or maybe that really cool, new band REM? This one goes out to the one I love. This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind. Yeah suck it, preschool!
What was even more pathetic, was my desperate attempt to be in a song. The 80s, as you may recall, were a stunning time to be named something like Sherrie, or Amanda, or Rosanna. Rosanna. I’d listen anxiously waiting for there to be a song about Missy, somewhere, anywhere. But alas, bad girls were Janie, fast girls were Billie Jean. And who could possibly forget, Carrie from The Final Countdown, or maybe it was Kyrie. Yes, it was Kyrie Eleison. Of whom I thought was an actual person, btw, for a very, very long time, even though there was not one thin, blond woman in white in the whole video. Didn’t matter, I still thought I’d follow a boy with a mullet down every road he must travel. And if I was mad there were no songs about me, imagine how my sister felt. Belinda isn’t really an easy name to work into a song.
In fact, I’d have to wait for years and years for a song about Missy, but finally it came. Thanks, Airborne Toxic Event, you guys are too cool for this world.
So there you have it. My kindergarten playlist. All the Guns ‘n’ Roses, Cinderella, Boston, Kansas, and Starship you could ask for. Man, I’m really glad I found my own music when I got a bit older, and I’m really glad that this hotness didn’t mess me up in any way.
So I guess, thanks 1980s hair bands. Thanks, Belinda. And thanks to my mom for not realizing how inappropriate most of this was for me at the time.
Oh, and Beeb, you finally got a song too! They are some of my people, and I hope you love them like I loved Bon Jovi for you.
I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I tossed and turned. Got caught up in reading some comment sections about the half-time performance (y’all some haters, JLo and Shakira literally ROCKED our socks off! Don’t be jealous, or racist.) And as far as I’m concerned, I’m now a lifetime fan of both ladies because y’all, THE CHIEFS WON THE SUPER BOWL! I couldn’t sleep because I was so amped up on chicken wings, fudge brownies, and sexual thoughts about Patrick Mahomes, or was it Shakira? Maybe it was Andy Reid? Doesn’t matter. At two am, I was like, it’s cool, who needs sleep?! Then I started searching for pictures of the times I made my son, who has no desire to watch football, and who isn’t allowed to play football (because some brains are worth saving) dress in Chiefs gear since he was a baby. I found some. Then I finally fell asleep. That is to say that this post is really just a post of pictures. A post of disappointment over the years, rooting for one of our favorite teams (Jerimiah is a Packers fan) and then getting our hearts broken repeatedly.
In fact, it wasn’t until the Royals won the World Series a few years back that we even knew what winning felt like, and you guys, it feels damn good. Some of us have been waiting on this win for longer than others of us in the Goodnight household. But the win is for us all.
It’s for Kansas City, it’s for Kansas and Missouri (even though our dumbass President doesn’t know which state the Chiefs play in). Shit, maybe I should clarify that real quick for some of you. Arrowhead is in Kansas City, Missouri. But Kansas City is split in half. Half in Kansas and half in Missouri. (But trust, you don’t want to be on the Kansas side of the city by yourself at night). But honestly, honestly, the Chiefs are one of those teams that belong to a lot of people, not just in two states. They belong to the Midwest. To all the men and women in little towns with tattered Chiefs flags hanging from their front porches. They belong to our families in Oklahoma and Arkansas. To our crew down in Southern Missouri who hosted parties every time the Chiefs made it into the bracket, then lost. To our friends out in western Kansas, with Chiefs banners stung across old barns on wheat fields. To our friends in the Flint Hills, in Jeff City, in St. Louis, cause I mean, St. Louis needs a win. The Chiefs belong to Nebraska, because college ball is only good for so long. They belong to the people who hate the Broncs and the Raiders. And yes, they belong to Kansas City, first and foremost.
Last night’s win is for our friends and family members, the ones in their sixties and seventies who have been waiting, relentlessly waiting, for this day. It’s for my mom and my mother-in-law, who have sat screaming at television screens for too long. It’s for our friends and family members who aren’t with us anymore. Who didn’t get to see the win here on Earth with us. Today, especially for me, it’s for my Uncle Arthur, and my nephew Little Scottie. Sending love and hugs to wherever you are. The Chiefs did it!
We celebrated bigly last night in the Goodnight house! Jerimiah, a true Kansas boy, let me scream and yell and run around, while he just smiled and laughed, “I can’t believe they pulled it off.” Jackson, who was born in Southern Missouri, high-fived me, more excited that he got to stay up past bedtime than watch that fourth quarter unfold like it did! And then there was me, just a 38-year-old Chiefs fan who was so used to saying, “We’ll get ‘em next year” that I pulled out all the stops to try to indeed “Get ‘em this year,” including making a prayer candle in honor of the ghost of Derrick Thomas. I have my beliefs, about who helped us this year, and my lucky things, but I gotta say none of that really matters. Those guys played a hell of a game, both teams did, and I congratulate the 49ers and their fans. They showed up. It’s just that the better team won. Wow, that’s crazy to say.
Hoping to get some sleep tonight, but until then, have a look at some Chiefs fans over the years! And HOW ‘BOUT THEM CHIEFS?!
I’ve been wanting to share about my mom’s friend, Ruthie, for some time now, but I have been unable to. Ruth was one of my mother’s oldest friends and she died recently. She was a fiery, friendly, funny kinda gal, whose antics litter my childhood memories. I have so many stories to share about Ruthie, that it was hard for me to pick which ones to share. I wanted to share the kind of stories that would highlight who she was, at her core. I was going back and forth wondering if I share how she would let me sit up front with her in her VW Beetle and move the stick shift when I’d ride along on a beer run with her? What about how she would laugh at me while I danced around her dining room at the old house on Pine Street, while she played 1970s country music on her large stereo, shuffled cards and drank beer with my mom and a few others? What about when she lined all the neighborhood kids up at the pool down on Fourth Street and taught them all how to dive? Or her jokes, her hilarious, sometimes crude, usually not age-appropriate jokes? I just couldn’t decide. I couldn’t even decide if I would actually ever write about Ruthie. I couldn’t decide until two Sundays ago*.
Two Sundays ago the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Tennessee Titans to clench the AFC Title and waltz their way into their first Super Bowl in 50 years, which they will be playing in this evening. Now listen, I don’t believe in angels. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, or purgatory (unless you’ve even been stuck in line at IKEA), but I do believe in the human condition. I believe that people we love don’t really ever leave us. It’s something I can’t explain. It’s something I don’t care to have explained to me. But I know we are all made up of stars, and I believe, with no real reason or explanation, that Ruthie had something to do with the Chiefs’ win that night, and that’s when I knew that I had to tell the story of Ruthie.
I don’t know much about Ruthie’s life before she met my mom in the 1970s. I know she grew up in Leavenworth, I know she went to Leavenworth Senior High School in the same building that was my middle school many moons later. I know she was loved in the community. I know she was funny, and smart, and I knew as a child, that she had a pure heart. But otherwise, the Ruthie I know is the Ruthie she had became after marriage, and kids, and heartbreaks. Still, she was a force to behold.
Ruthie and my mom met when my mom was new in town. My mom walked into a bar with a run in her pantyhose one night. She didn’t have a car, and the night was young, so she walked up to a man sitting at the bar and asked him if he would give her a lift to the grocery store so she could buy a new pair of pantyhose. She offered to give him a couple of bucks for gas. He laughed at her and said, “Sure thing, as long as you can clear it with my wife.”
“Well, where’s your wife?” my mom asked, clenching her hose so they wouldn’t fall down.
The man pointed to the woman behind the bar. She was funny looking, a little rough around the edges, a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, her own full draft beer sitting on the bar.
My mom walked right up to her, said her name was Margie, showed the woman the run in her hose, and asked if she minded if her husband gave her a lift to the store to buy a new pair. She offered the couple bucks in gas. Ruthie pulled the long 100 out of her mouth, looked my mom up and down, and said, “Sure thing, Sis. If you’re balls enough to ask me if my husband can take you to buy pantyhose, you’re alright.”
The man at the bar was Ronnie, Ruth’s husband, and Ruth, in case you missed that, was the bartender. Ruth and Ronnie became a part of my mom’s life from that day forward, and would remain, well into their seventies. They fussed and cussed at each other sometimes. They had spats and disagreements. They didn’t talk for some time toward the end of Ruthie’s life, but over all those decades, their families merged.
I was the youngest of all the kids in both families. I was so young that I grew up with Ruth and Ronnie’s grandkids, rather than their kids, though their youngest Julie was my primary babysitter after my sisters moved out of the house when I was in kindergarten. Mostly though, I got to hang out with the adults, because by the time I came along in 1981, they spent more and more time at home drinking beer, than hanging out at the bars. Some of my earliest memories are of Ruthie and some other ladies coming over to our apartment to play cards at our small kitchen table. They would drink beer and listen to sad country songs, Patsy, and Loretta, and Hank. They would play so long and so late that I would make a little pallet on the kitchen floor under the table, right next to my mom’s feet. I’d fall asleep there and wake up the next morning in my own bed. It was comforting, the cold linoleum under my Care Bears sheets. The smoke rolling over my head (my mom didn’t smoke, but she let Ruthie smoke in the house back in those days).
Later, when the card playing meandered over to Ruthie’s house, I’d climb onto their sofa, one room over from the dining room, I’d watch cable television (we never had cable) and I’d drift off to sleep with MTV on mute, while I listened to those familiar, sad songs from the dining room.
On warm summer nights, before the sun went down, Mom and Ruthie and Ruthie’s older daughters, Rhonda, or Robbie, or Debbie, would sit on the small front porch of their house on the corner of Pine and Fourth Streets, and listen to music, and drink beer, and talk about their week, how the Royals were doing (it never was too good), or who Ruthie had cut grass for that week. Ruthie would be propped up in her corner spot near the back of the porch in a lawn chair, a table next to her with a small radio (for the Royals and country music), a Diet Pepsi if she’d just come in from mowing, in a styrofoam Wood’s Cup. She’d have her Royals cap on, her cut off denim shorts, and a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. Her shoes, once white, by this time in the summer were faded green from grass, and her knee-high men’s socks would be pulled all the way up, with grass clippings hanging on for dear life. Summer Ruthie was a sight to behold. And I loved her for it. She was sweaty, and covered in grass, and she would sit there in that corner and wave at the people who drove by, drink her Diet Pepsi, until it was time to switch to beer, and she would tell stories. Ruthie was an amazing teller of stories, and she always had plenty, and my ears were always open, sitting on the cooler lid across from her and my mom on the tiny porch waiting for whatever was about to happen, because at Ruthie’s house something was always about to happen.
The summer was Ruthie’s time to shine. At some point in her life, she stopped bartending and switched to mowing grass. Ronnie worked construction, and devoted a lot of his time to the Mormon Church, of which Ruthie did not belong, and together they were staples in the community. Do-gooders, who would help any lost soul they came across. My mom was often on the receiving end of their goodness, often relying on Ruthie to fix a broken muffler on one of my mom’s old junkers, or let us sell items at their yard sales, which were always a big hit since their house was so well known, and in a great location on a busy street. Ruthie would swing by and cut our grass if she was in the neighborhood. Ronnie would slip my mom a $20 bill, that my mom always paid back, in between pay days at her job as a housekeeper. They were friends. And well, that’s what friends do.
I’d spend my summer days running up and down along the house with Rags, their dog. I don’t know what kind of dog he was, but he was friendly, and furry, and he was permanently attached to a run on a close line, right next to the back door, which was sometimes used as the front door for the people in the know. In the evenings Ruthie’s grown kids would wonder over with their families and their kids, who were my playmates on those long nights. We’d catch lightening bugs and smear their light on our arms, chase each other around the backyard, filled with cars, and lawnmowers, and Rags’ excitedly wagging tail chasing us as far as his line would allow.
Cars would drive by and honk, and we’d stop and wave. Everyone waved when the cars honked, even though they cars were just honking for Ruthie. They all knew her and loved her. From the stuffiest, most uptight old ladies to the men who sometimes didn’t have a couch to sleep on, people drove by and honked, they walked by and sat for awhile on the stoop. Ruthie always offered a smoke, or a beer, or a Diet Pepsi. Ronnie often offered a ride to wherever they might be going. There was a lot of laughing on those long, humid summer nights. A lot of friendship, kinship, and fellowship.
As the sun would go down the party would move indoors. More people would stop over. One of Ruth or Ronnie’s sisters, or a neighbor. Julie might show up with a group of her teenage friends. One of my sisters might stop by if they were back in Leavenworth. And there always seemed to be more kids. Kids from everywhere. We’d stay outside until the called us indoors for the night. We’d tell ghost stories about the old house on Pine Street. Like the ghost that we were sure lived upstairs, which also happened to be the only place there was a bathroom in the house. Up a long, curvy, old, creaky staircase. I spent many nights holding in my pee for as long as I could, then running up and down those stairs, while Ruthie would yell, “Be careful, Missy. God damn, you’ll break your neck!”
As the years rolled on I stopped going over to Ruth and Ronnie’s with my mom, in lieu of slumber parties with my friends, or even later when I was a teenager, I’d rather stay at home alone and watch television, or listen to my music while my mom went over, or the adults went out to play darts or go bowling. I became “too cool” to sit on the stoop. God forbid someone see me. What I didn’t realize back then, was that Ruthie’s stoop was the cool place to be, and there have been many a nights since then that I have wished for just one more summer night on the corner of Pine and Fourth.
After I left Leavenworth, married, and had my first born, we went back to Leavenworth for a visit and stopped by Ruth and Ronnie’s. They had moved a couple of houses down, and the old house on Pine and Fourth was torn down. It was beyond repair. We introduced Baby Jackson to Ruth and Ronnie, and Ruthie bounced him up and down on her lap like she had all her grandchildren. Laughing and telling him inappropriate jokes.
Years later, the last time we saw Ruthie and Ronnie, Jackson was five years old. It was the summer before we moved to North Carolina. We took a long weekend in Leavenworth, and just as we were headed back to Southern Missouri I grabbed Jerimiah’s arm and said, “Wait, let’s run by Ruth and Ronnie’s!” It was evening time, and the Royals were playing, I knew they’d be at home.
When we got there we parked at the end of the long line of cars outside their house. We were about three houses down from where they lived, and I recognized most of the cars. There was Debbie’s car, and Ronnie’s old work van. There was Ruthie’s black Chevy, and another truck that I assumed belong to her son Johnny, or maybe Billy was back living with them. We walked up to the front door and knocked, as we peered inside. We didn’t see anyone, but we heard them. A whole clan of Logan’s from the backyard. We let ourselves into an empty house and followed the noise. When we stepped onto the back patio, the veranda Ruthie called it with a laugh and a slap on your arm, we were greeted with cheers and hugs.
“Well, look who it is!” Ruthie yelped, getting up from her recliner she had brought onto the veranda, along with a television, a stereo, and a ton of Royals and Chiefs memorabilia, under a canopy tent. Jackson stood and looked around, taking in all the noises and people. Ruthie grabbed him up in a big hug, and then offered him a Diet Pepsi. Then she showed us around. We hadn’t seen her in years by then so she wanted to show us all the updates, which were really just more Royals and Chiefs decorations, signed balls and posters, a Gretchen Wilson poster hung in her “Royals and Chiefs” room. We walked around and followed her as she pointed out pictures of grandkids, and great-grandkids by then. She offered Jackson every piece of candy or sweet we walked by, and he obliged, eating pie and a lollipop that she kept around for the kids. I caught a glimpse of her red Chief’s “brick.” The foam one from my childhood that she’d throw at the television and yell, “Sonofabitch!” when the Chiefs made a bad play. I smiled. Smelled the familiar smells. Remembered all those many years ago. The house was different and Ruthie was smaller by then, more frail looking, but somehow still mighty, still strong, still able, I knew, to entertain, to amuse, to tell a dirty joke or two. And I’m happy that my son got to meet the woman I knew and loved for so many years, even for just an hour.
On Sunday, August 18th, 2019, a week after the Chiefs beat the Bengals in a preseason game 38-17, I got the call that Ruthie had passed away. I cried, but not for long. Too suddenly the memories came flooding back, and I was forced to smile. The stoop on the porch. The Chief’s Brick. The day in the alley behind her house when she tied my mom’s car muffler up with a wire hanger, while she cursed and hammered under the car. The night I stayed up way past my bedtime to help string up lights on Ruthie’s St. Patrick’s Day float. The dirty joke about the nun I heard on her front porch when I was 12 years old and didn’t quite understand. I laughed aloud. Jerimiah asked me what was wrong, then I told him…
A bus full of Nuns falls of a cliff and they all die. They arrive at the gates of heaven and meet St. Peter. St. Peter says to them “Sisters, welcome to Heaven. In a moment I will let you all though the pearly gates, but before I may do that, I must ask each of you a single question. ”
St. Peter turns to the first Nun in the line and asks her “Sister, have you ever touched a penis?” The Sister Responds “Well… there was this one time… that I kinda sorta… touched one with the tip of my pinky finger…” St. Peter says “Alright Sister, now dip the tip of your pinky finger in the Holy Water, and you may be admitted.” and she did so. St. Peter now turns to the second nun and says “Sister, have you ever touched a penis?” “Well…. There was this one time… that I held one for a moment…” “Alright Sister, now just wash your hands in the Holy Water, and you may be admitted” and she does so. Now at this, there is a noise, a jostling in the line. It seems that one nun is trying to cut in front of another! St. Peter sees this and asks the Nun “Sister Susan, what is this? There is no rush!” Sister Susan responds “Well if I’m going to have to gargle this stuff, I’d rather do it before Sister Mary sticks her ass in it!”
Hey Ruthie, thanks for the laughs. Thanks for the memories.
*I wrote this post last week in order to honor Ruthie the day the Chiefs play in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years, and I woke up yesterday morning, Saturday, February 1st, to the news that Ronnie had passed away. My heart is heavy today knowing that the Logan family is going through the loss of their father, and I’m sending love and hugs to all of them. This family, that was such a special part of my life for so many years, is having to bury a second parent in the coming days, and my heart breaks for them during these struggles. But the thing I know about the Logan Clan is that they are supported in a community who loved their parents, and they are supportive with one another. They will get through this. Ronnie was a religious man, and he devoted his life to two things: His family (even the ones not related by blood) and the Mormon Church. I know he is where he needs to be today, and I’m pretty sure it’s kicked back in a chair watching Ruthie throw her red brick at a television screen once again. ❤
Last time I visited Leavenworth, I went through my mom’s photo albums and took pictures of photos that I wanted to remember, either because they sparked a memory, or because they were too absurd to pass up. I’ve been going through these old pictures, which is sometimes scary because I never know what memories will surface from them. Like, will it be a good memory? Will it teach me about who I am? Or will it make me cringe? If a picture from my childhood makes me cringe, I simply jot that feeling down so I remember to talk to my therapist about it. She just loves a good challenge. Anyway, today I looking for a very specific picture for another post I am working on, when I came across this photo instead:
Yeah, I know, there’s a lot going on here. Let me break it down for you. My best guess on the year is 1987. That would make me about six-years-old, my older sister Belinda about sixteen-years-old maybe seventeen, depending on whether this photo was taken before or after July 10th. That’s a crapshoot. It’s obviously summer. I’m not holding any poppers, or snakes, or smoke balls, but that doesn’t mean much. Still could have been near the 4th of July.
My sister is the one standing next to me by the picnic table and the girl on the lounge, I think, is Shane. Shane was one of my sister’s friends, and aside from knowing that Shane drove a truck and had a boyfriend who once showed up at our house in the middle of the night to ask my mom if she would hold $10,000 cash for him for a few days, I don’t remember much about her. I do remember holding the $10,000 cash in my hands when my mom called me into the utility closet, closed the door, and asked me if I wanted to hold $10,000 cash to see what it felt like. I think I may have buried my lead.
My mom has to be the one taking the picture. I know this because suddenly I’m all too aware of what I’m looking at. I’m looking at the one and only time we ever attempted to go camping.
It had to have been Shane’s idea. Had to have been. Or maybe something Shane and my sister cooked up together while they were drinking Boone’s Farm, and chain smoking Marlboro Lights in the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot after my sister got off work. Why my mom and I were brought along, I can’t say. Shane was the only one with a working vehicle, unless this was that short time when my sister had that big land yacht with the dead-body trunk she bought off an old guy for $200. Who knows.
But I do remember with clarity now, that there was a tent. And a BBQ grill. We ate hot dogs. We sat in tall, itchy grass. Or probably just I did, maybe on a blanket, the adults had chairs. I remember my mom dousing me with that bottle of OFF on the table there, and her being overly anxious about the trash bag hanging off the table because of bears. I remember that my sister told her we didn’t have bears in Kansas. But she wasn’t convinced. And neither was I.
The orange bottle on the table is either lighter fluid or suntan lotion. Pretty sure that’s a bottle of drinking water on the seat of the table. Or maybe bathing water. Or washing your hands water. Or pouring over your privates after you peed water. It was probably for all of that.
At some point when I asked if I could swim in the lake, everyone yelled “NO!” all at once. I was allowed, however, to walk into the lake for a little bit, up to my ankles maybe? And then later my mother told me about one time when Belinda almost drowned in a lake and OMIGOD! That’s why I was terrified of water and a full-grown adult before I was taught how to swim. This explains so much.
Later, after the tent was set up, the campfire was roaring, and the stars were out and beautiful, I drifted off to sleep in a little pallet in the tent, only to be violently shaken awake about 2:00 am and told that we had to go home. Everyone had had enough of camping and my sister needed her own bed and toilet.
Yep, that was the one time my family attempted camping when I was a child. I’d call it a success.
The first time I took a writing class where the professor instructed us to write creative nonfiction, I wrote a story about my sister. About how she would tease her hair, and as a child I would watch her in the mirror. She would tease, tease, tease, then she would ask if I wanted teased. Lots of teasing in the 80s. Lots of teasing with big sisters. I wrote my heart onto the pages for the first time ever. I made connections, pulled loose strings. I fell in love with the genre immediately. It called to me, to the little girl in the mirror, circling the big girl looking back through rose-colored glasses. I felt relieved that this sort of writing existed. I felt comforted.
I turned my essay in. My professor gave me a B. Made sure I knew he was being generous. He said my language was dramatic, yet lacking. He was a Shakespeare scholar. My subject choice, he said, was “saccharine”. Saccharine, I thumbed through my dictionary. Was that relating to sugar? Sweet, sticky? Overly sentimental. Mawkish. Why didn’t the Shakespeare scholar write mawkish on my essay? This was nearly fifteen years ago.
I’m hyperaware now of my own sentimentality.
I’m aware of what is expected, of what is tolerated in the genre.
I was back to see Patsy today (for the new people hiding in the back, Patsy is my awesome therapist). She was either booked solid, or away the whole month of December so I had A LOT to talk to her about. There was the pretty low spot I found myself in right after Thanksgiving. There was a whole month of guilt trips from family about coming home for Christmas, there was even the “Toaster” story that I had been saving up for her because I knew how she would react (jaw drop, head shake, a “What the actual hell?”) Oh man, it was good. But before I went back for my hour of emotional torment, I noticed an interesting thing in the waiting room. Lots of people I don’t normally see on my biweekly Tuesday or Thursday morning vists. Like, mainly mature, white men. I was sort of surprised. The five or so minutes I waited I also heard the office staff book three or four evaluations, which made me very happy because mental health is very important and I get the sense, over the last few years, more and more people have realized that.
I know what you are thinking. It’s probably the same thing I thought as I sat there watching people uncomfortably fill out paperwork in the first week of January, maybe they made this a New Year’s resolution? Maybe so. Hopefully. But who cares?! Listen, I know the general feeling nowadays, particularly from my generation, toward setting a New Year’s Resolution. Let’s call it, umm, jaded. And I gotta be honest, I just don’t get it.
What is so wrong with taking a clean, fresh start on a day that literally gives us a clean, fresh start? Maybe I don’t get it because I am a grade A, low-life, procrastinator who has said, “Oh, I’ll just do it on Monday” before. Because Monday is a clean, fresh day. Monday hasn’t been tampered with like Saturday has. Monday has so much potential. Monday will be better.
This got me thinking about the day I was baptized. I was baptized as an adult. I was 30 years old in fact, and it was after a particularly difficult point in my life and I needed direction. And faith. And cleansed. Looking back I should have made a therapist appointment instead of a sitting in a pool of my own filth in a white gown, but you live, you learn. The point is, I felt cleansed. I felt fresh. I felt like I could start over. So I did.
That’s what the new year does for some people. It allows them to shake off the negative shit they endured the year before. It allows them to start over. No one is trying to reinvent themselves from December 31st to January 1st, but they are trying to change their mindset. And what is so wrong with that? Why the jokes about gyms getting hit hard this time of year? Why belittle people for taking a difficult step? Maybe it makes you feel better, and if so may I recommend you get yourself a Patsy?
Because you posting on Facebook how you aren’t “dumb enough to make a resolution” isn’t helping your third cousin, once removed who is battling mental illness make that eval call. It isn’t helping your aunt who has decided 2020 is a year of change and she’s going to join Silver Sneakers. Your jaded opinions on New Year’s Resolutions aren’t helping anyone, unless to serve a few laughs, or help you commiserate with all the other haters. And again, I can give you Patsy’s number. You’ll love her, she’s great.
Here’s all I’m asking, and I’m asking it nicely the first time around: Can you spare a little more kindness? Can you think for an extra second before you share a meme about how the gym is crowded, or the health food store is crowded, or the therapist office is crowded this time of year? Because there are some of us out there who just need a definitive line. A point of no return. A cleanse, before we can take a leap. And yeah, maybe it won’t stick. Maybe by the first week of February my therapist’s office will be empty again, but maybe it won’t. There’s always that.
I didn’t set a resolution this year because I didn’t have a clear one to set, but maybe next Monday I will have one. Until then, I’m hopeful for all of you who did! This is your year!
I’ve been staring at this picture for a long time now. Months, actually. For months this picture has been on my desktop. I found it while I was researching historical buildings in my hometown (don’t ask), and I snatched it up because this building doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. Bulldozed. It’s just an empty lot there now and whenever I am back in Kansas I pass it, and a million memories come flooding back from that piece of land on the corner of 4th and Chestnut. Some of the memories are not even my own. They belong to my older sisters, friends, people who went to school in this building eons before I ever stepped foot in it.
The building was East Middle School when I was there in the mid-90s, but before that it was East Junior High, and before that it was Leavenworth Senior High, the first public high school in Leavenworth. And the more I look at it this picture, the more it conjures up, and the more sad I become. This was one heck of a school. Sure there was a tornado tunnel in the basement. And sure ceiling tiles routinely fell on us when we were in gym class. And even sure, sure, there were rats, but man, oh man, this school meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to a lot of people, and now it’s just gone.
I’m not sad of course to see the building gone. It was time for upgrades that the city couldn’t afford. So the church next door bought it, and even they couldn’t afford the upgrades, so eventually it was bulldozed. I’m sad in the way you get sad when you attach memories, deep, nostalgic, childhood memories to a place. A building. A room. A town. And then that place leaves. Or maybe you leave. And it feels like a betrayal. Even though I left this school, this community, this town, this state twenty years ago, I still feel betrayed, and also guilt, because betrayal is only one part of this mixed bag.
There was another empty field a block from where this one is now. It was owned by East Middle School and it was a regular part of our day to walk to the field for kickball games, or gym class, or games of baseball after school if you could scrounge up enough kids. But where this school was located, right in the heart of Leavenworth, across from City Hall, a couple of blocks from “Downtown,” across from the unemployment office, and next to the only pay-what-you-can walk in clinic in town, well, it wasn’t exactly what you would call a safe area. In fact, many times on the walk to our field, we would pass people smoking out of balconies, yelling things down to us. Our gym coach would tell us to ignore them. She’d tell all 30 or so of us middle school girls to walk in pairs, to ignore the looks from the old men shuffling by on the way to the senior center. We ignored the men and women, still drunk from the night before, arguing on stoops, about whether or not one of them had come home the night before. We ignored the racist gravity scribbled outside the little Korean grocery store, with the neon signs, inviting, but not overly welcoming. Today I wince as I remember, but back then, back then it was just part of this life. These memories serve me well sometimes. A reminder. These memories didn’t mean too much to me back then, but they are becoming more precious as the years drag on.
Once, the whole seventh grade walked to the gym lot, which is now a Domino’s Pizza, to set off rockets we had made in science class. It was a sticky-hot, midwestern day, but the blue sky and the clean air conjured up a song, so we sang. We walked down the cracked sidewalks, around the fire hydrants, past the Section 8 apartment complex, and through the open field across from the public library and we spontaneoulsy sang, “Home, home on the range. Where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
We sang and we laughed. We ran around the field before the teachers calmed us. We yelled at passing cars. We listened for horns blaring. We blasted rockets into the air. We dreamed of what this life would one day be. I don’t think any of us envisioned an empty lot. Or a Domino’s pizza. Just blue skies as far as the eye could see.
I have a very distinct Christmas memory that floats in and out of my conscious thought every year. It’s 1988-ish. My oldest sister Khristi had just married and moved to Germany. It had to be near 1988, because my sister Belinda was at home. She was a senior in high school. She had feathered hair and wore a lot of stonewashed denim. Yes, there was a lot of denim, and an American flag on her bedroom wall, the kind you saw in Bruce Springsteen music videos, which seemed to be playing on repeat on our small, color television. It was Christmas Eve 1988-ish and all I wanted was a Popples. Maybe a Strawberry Shortcake doll, or maybe one of those big mats that you could neatly fold out onto the carpet and color. It was like a giant coloring book. I just knew Santa would bring me all of these things. I had been very good all year, albeit very sad at the loss of one sister, and the imminent loss of another.
It was Christmas Eve 1988-ish and my mother had been crying all day. She’d actually been crying for weeks now, I’d just lost track. Maybe I was trying not to see it. Maybe I’d been crying too. Crying when my mother cried. Crying when my sister cried. Crying when Khristi called from Germany. Crying when she didn’t. Time smushes together in moments of crying, when the weight of grief presses down on you.
It was Christmas Eve 1988-ish and I sat in front of the colored television with my hot cocoa, while my mother cried on the couch behind me. Belinda went out, maybe with her boyfriend. I sat in front of our small color television and watched Frosty the Snowman, the old Rankin/Bass version from 1969. You know the one I mean, “I suppose it all started with the snow. It was a very special kind of snow, you see. The kind that made the happy, happier. The giddy, giddier.” I occasionally looked toward my stocking hanging on the wall and willed it to be filled with all the things I wanted. I occasionally looked out the window for the first snow. For the package that was to arrive from Germany. For my sister who should be at home.
The package came late, later than I imagined it should have on Christmas Eve. It was a large box. Postmarked to my mother, from a place called Kitzingen. I didn’t know then that it was a town in Bavaria. That it was part of the Franconia geographical region. That it was the largest producer of wine in that region. I didn’t know anything about Germany back then, except that there was a wall, and a lot of angry people, and Bruce Springsteen was mad about the wall like a lot of other people. I didn’t know if my sister was mad too.
My mother had stopped crying. My sister Belinda came home, as if willed by the Bavarian package. They sat me down in front of the tree, and my mother opened the big box with a pair of scissors. She slowly reached inside and began to hand gift-wrapped boxes to my sister, who gave them to me, and I carefully placed them under the tree. Slowly our Christmas tree filled with gifts. More than I could ever remember before. And certainly more than there would ever be again.
That night I would go to sleep between my mother and sister, in my mother’s double bed, in the back of the house. The next morning, I would walk back down the long hallway, my sister on one side of me, and my mother on the other, all three holding hands. I would shake at the thought of what Santa had brought me. What presents were wrapped in German paper. What happiness, what giddiness awaited me. And for a moment I was happy. And for a moment I was safe, between my mother and my remaining sister. And for a moment it was the best Christmas ever.