When I was a kid my mom cleaned houses for a living. One of the houses she cleaned belonged to a husband and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley. The Tinsleys were very retired, and lived in a large house in Leavenworth, near the public library. I’m not sure what they had done in their working lives, but Mr. Tinsley, who sat in his home office all day, smoking cigars, and swiveling around in an old wooden rolling chair, had the mark of a lawyer, or maybe a CPA. He wore suspenders, and used a cane, on the rare occasions that I saw him get up from his desk.
Mrs. Tinsley could have been a school teacher, or a stay-at-home mom, or even a piano instructor. Maybe she was all those things. Maybe she was none of those things, I just don’t know, I don’t remember ever asking. What I do remember is sitting on the steps that connected the family room with the second level, while my mom vacuumed the upstairs bedrooms, and watching Jeopardy with Mrs. Tinsley, while she sat across the room in a recliner, and offered me fistfuls of those hard strawberry candies, with the gooey centers.
Mrs. Tinsely loved Bill Clinton. Mr. Tinsley hated him. Mrs. Tinsley crouched doilies and read magazines. Mr. Tinsely yelled at the Meals on Wheels delivery woman, and wrote my mother checks every Tuesday afternoon for her services.
Their house was in a row of houses on their street that were all very old. Some had started to fall down, while others were being bought and remodeled. Their house was somewhere in the middle, in dire need of updating, but still working for the two of them. Regardless, they had a formal living room, which I always associated with “rich people,” and I liked to spend a lot of time sitting in the “fancy” chairs in there, reading teeny-bopper magazines, and watching out the big picture window.
Their house even had a large wrap-around porch on the front, with a couple of rocking chairs. Somedays I would pass the two hours or so rocking on their porch. At the end of the street there was a house that had been turned into a retirement home. Or maybe it was less of a retirement home, and more of a nursing home. It had a lot of people in wheel chairs, sitting outside when we pulled up, and in the exact same spot when we left. I often wondered who pushed them out there, and who brought them back in. I hoped someone brought them back in.
It was an interesting dichotomy, trying to figure out how those people at the end of the street, sitting alone all day in wheelchairs in the grass, who were relatively the same age as The Tinsleys, managed to find themselves there, rather than living in their own large home, with a woman who cleaned it for them once a week, and people who delivered their food everyday. It didn’t add up to me, and if I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. Though it’s certainly more sad now, because I’m older and I know what I know. Still…
One of the last times I remember going to The Tinsleys’ my mom asked me to take a bag of trash out back for her. I didn’t usually do much helping when she cleaned houses, but every once in awhile she would ask me to take some trash out, or wipe down a mirror or something menial, particularly if I was following her around being annoying. This day I had the bag of trash in my hand and I walked out the back door, down a few steps, and out the back of the fence to the alley where the trash cans sat. I heaved the trash bag over the fence, into the can, when something shiny caught my eye.
Down the alley was an older woman, with a walker, slowly making her way toward me. She was dressed in sweats, and a shirt that looked like it had been worn for days. She was saying something but I couldn’t understand her. The more I waited, the closer she came, the closer she got to me, I realized she was calling for something, or someone. I wasn’t sure what to do so I sort of just froze at the fence, nervously looking back at the Tinsley’s house, hoping my mom would come out. Before she got any closer to me a woman dressed in scrubs came running down the alley after the woman with the walker. She ran up behind the woman, and put her hand on her shoulder. This scared the woman, and the nurse assured her she was okay, then told her they needed to go back in. The nurse saw me then, and told me that the woman was looking for her missing cat. I was immediately upset for her, and told the nurse that I hadn’t seen a cat, but that I would keep an eye out. The nurse just smiled, and waved my suggestion away, “There’s no cat,” she said, and she put her arm around the woman and they walked slowly back to the house at the end of the street.
Later that night when I told my mom what I had seen, she told me that some people forget things when they get older. What the nurse likely meant, was that the woman was looking for a cat she had once had, probably years and years ago, back when she lived in her own house. This was hard for me to understand at the time, but now, of course, I do.
I’m not sure what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Tinsley, I have a faint memory of my mother telling me of their passing at some point in my teen years, but I always wondered about them. And I’ve often wondered about the woman in the alley searching for her lost cat. I suppose I always will, because if you ask me, we all have our cats we are looking for. And we always will.
On the eve of my son’s 11th birthday I can’t stop thinking about what a woman said to me in Target when he was about nine months old. We were walking along the bread aisle, one of my favorites because as you know my first true love is Carbs. Anyway, we were walking along and I was singing the alphabet song and he was laughing and giggling and pretending to sing along. I stopped to contemplate kaiser rolls vs. pretzels rolls—this was when I could still tolerate white bread, oh those were the days—and a cart came screeching around the corner of our aisle and a very fast-paced, older woman was walking toward us with a smile. I was nervous at first because older women scare me, generally, because they usually say whacked-out things to me like, Why don’t you wear make-up more often? and Ladies shouldn’t use the F-word. I thought, Oh for fuck’s sake, what is this about? She sped up to a stop right next to me and grabbed my naive, fat arm, and exclaimed, This baby! Oh my goodness! He’s a doll! Look at this hair! (He had those blond, wispy baby curls then.) And his laughter! I heard him laughing two aisles over and just had to come and find him! I was a little taken aback. I mean women are usually drawn to babies like Jackson, this wasn’t the first time that I had experienced this, but this woman, she had more to say and she was talking to so fast trying to get it out before the fear in my eyes made me smile politely and wander away.
Listen to me, she started, gripping my arm tighter, this goes so fast. So fast! And I know you’ve heard this. I know you get sick of hearing it, but you hear it because damn it is true. It feels like one day you put them down for a nap and the next you are taking pictures of them at their high school homecoming. Between the practices, the long school days, the arguments over money and taking the car out at night, the piano recitals and the sleepovers, somewhere along the line it speeds up and you don’t want it to, but there is nothing you can do. Nothing! But to enjoy every, single moment. Even the hard ones. Even all the years of puberty. Be grateful. Promise me?
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just nodded blindly. I may have mumbled a I promise, but honestly I was thinking who is this woman and what is her deal? Is she mentally unstable? Is she trying to steal my baby?
Then she looked down at him once more, gave him a little tickle. He smiled and gave her another adorable laugh. She laughed too, with tears in her eyes, and she told me to have a good day and she walked away.
I’ve never forgotten that lady. She’s made appearances in my writing over the last nine years. She’s appreared in my head when I’m trying desperately to be grateful, but it just isn’t coming easily. She’s come to me in dreams and nightmares. She’s always been there. I wish I would have asked her name, or how many children she had, or grandchildren. How many she had lost, or gained. How to keep them close, even if I can’t keep them little. But I didn’t ask her any of that. I just watched her walk away, grabbed my kaiser rolls, and smiled down at this nine-month-old sweet, monster who had wrecked havoc on my body and was currently wrecking havoc on my home, my life, and my heart.
Last night I laid in Jackson’s bed with him and recounted his birth story. We do this every year. We all do right? Even well after they don’t want to hear anymore. He amuses me. He asks me questions, he laughs when it is appropriate. He knows by now that I need to share the story with him once a year, just as much as he needs to hear it. But this time the Target woman was with us too. Because Christ, she was right.
She was so right.
Hold those babies tight. Rock them to sleep while they still let you. Let them linger in your arms even after your arms are prickly and pained. Let them watch that second episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Watch it with them. Laugh and yell: Mimmie Musse, Mimmie Musse! Cause damn it, one day that will all be gone, and you will wish for just one more time.
And one day, when we are those old ladies in the Target aisle, don’t be ashamed to grab the arm of a naive mommy and tell her to enjoy it, because honestly, honestly, she has no idea.
I had a necessary and slightly concerning conversation with some other parents at Jackson’s school the other day that revolved around a picture that is on a website from the fundraiser that we are doing right now. This is the picture:
It’s cute, right? What sparked the conversation was one of the other mommies telling me she wished we would have made it to Midvale sooner because we have been such a blessing to them and Jackson is such a great kid. I thanked her and agreed. I told her this was the best elementary school we have ever been in, and that we have been in three of them.
The first one, I told them, was also great, on paper. It was not a Title One school, which is very important to some people. Like, very important. Like one of my old friends, upon asking why her daughter went to our kid’s school (at the time) when she lived just as close to another one, rolled her eyes at me and she said (in a voice just above a whisper, even though no one was around,) “That’s a Title One school,” and gave me a knowing smile. I didn’t have the heart, or maybe the nerve, to tell my “sweet” friend that I was raised in a Title One school. That I am a product of poverty. That I got free lunch. Of course, this is the same woman who said she wouldn’t send her dog to the Charter school that was in our town, even though she knows people who work there, kids who go to school there. And I’m guessing I know some of her reasoning. PS… She’s a teacher. #EekFace
Our kids at that time, my son and her daughter, were in kindergarten together in a school that was, in the state of North Carolina, an A-rated school, sometimes an A+. The problem wasn’t so much that it had a 3% free or reduced lunch population (which we were a part of, unbeknownst to my friend I’m sure), it wasn’t even that I could count the number of “diverse kids” as she referred to them, it was that the school itself didn’t reflect real life. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the school. I met some amazing people there. Of course I also met some people who turned out to be some real assholes, but most of them were pretty cool. And I’m still friends with some of them. And I still think they are doing what is best for their kids, given where they live.
Let me quickly address the free lunch thing, since I sorta just snuck that in on you. We were on the free or reduced lunch program in kindergarten because at the time that school started we had just moved to NC, and Jerimiah didn’t have a job yet. We were still living off our savings while he looked for work, so the school district automatically qualified us for the program, and we took advantage of it for a few months, until Jerimiah found a great job, and Jackson started to bring his own lunch to school. But still, it impacted the “numbers” for the school, and still the people who were privy to this probably looked at us differently. Most likely. This may be shocking to some of you who knew us back then, especially because people always assumed that we moved to NC because of work. But no. We moved to NC to findbetter work. We knew we couldn’t stay in Southern Missouri. We also didn’t know that the town we were moving into was basically more of the same, just with more money. I never told people that because I was ashamed of it. But truth be told, we were kinda bad-ass for doing it. For selling off most of our things, for taking a BIG chance. And we have been reaping the rewards ever since. But, again, that sorta behavior scares people. And you can’t make friends easily with that origin story.
Again the school we were at for kindergarten through half of third grade was great. The real problem was just that 90% of the kids were little white kids with the same socio-economic status. And as some of you might know, some of you who have left your bubble, moved away from the places you were born and raised (unlike my sweet friend mentioned above) this is not reflective of real life. As I told this story to my new friends one of them actually gasped, a white woman, and said that was her worst nightmare for her kid. To go to school with people who looked just like her. I agreed. Explained that it was a driving force for us to move into “the city” and enroll Jackson into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, even with its many problems, it was much more reflective of real life. Then I brought up this picture.
Again, it’s cute. But, after what I just said, can you see the problem? You might hear a lot of people talk about representation nowadays. And if you are white, you may not pay much mind to that talk, well because, you are represented. Everywhere. But this pic concerned me in a lot of ways.
First off, this is the pic that all the kids and parents see when they first log into the site. So if you are a little Black girl (which we have a lot of at our school) then you see a scene that is not reflective of your life. If you are an Asian boy (which we have a lot of at our school) you are not seeing yourself represented very well either. And so on and so forth.
This might be a good time to add that the county that we live in, DeKalb County, Georgia, is the second most affluent county IN THE COUNTRY, with a predominantly Black population. Let me break that down for you. Most of the money, coming in and out of our county, is from affluent Black families. We are minorities here. Jackson is a minority in his school. Both in sex and race. This is our life. Our community. And it is good. Really good.
Back to the picture. Did you notice all the white kids are on one side, while all the “other” kids are on the other side. See that? See the token Black girl? And the Asian boy? See the two kids that could “pass” for Latino? It’s a bit odd. And maybe I’m reading too far into it, one tends to do that when they have been enlightened to white privilege, but I don’t think so. I also don’t think, or want to believe, that the company did this on purpose. I think it was more of an, Oh shit, we need some “diverse” kids in this pic too! And then they hurried up and made sure they had “one of each.” That’s how I think it went down. Either way. Bleh.
I think I’m just noticing things like this more because I am more aware of the world that we live in. The world advertisers create. The world the white-males make for us, and I’m starting to call a spade a spade, if you will. Like my sweet old friend, who still has others fooled, but I’ve seen her true side. Her “Christian” side, and it ain’t pretty. But more about her in another post.
So that’s what’s been kicking around in my noggin today. Representation. The importance of being around people who do not act like or look like or live like you. The importance of cutting through bullshit and getting down to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be said. So here I am, saying it. Like always.
This weekend, try to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. Eat at a new place, try a new store on the “other” side of town. Start a conversation with that one Black man that lives in your town. I dunno. Try something. Be present. Show up for others. You won’t regret it.
I had my annual exam this morning with my new doctor in Atlanta. There wouldn’t normally be much to report, it’s usually the same old song and dance. I need to lose weight. Get my medication right. But today I met my new NP, and things were different. She’s sweet, and young, and resourceful. She’s an immigrant, who left Iran ten years ago with her brother to escape religious persecution. She was raised in the Bahá’í Faith. It’s a more progressive sect of Islam. Women are viewed as equals in her religion, but still not in Iran. In Iran she was treated poorly because of her religion. She was not allowed to go to college. Her parents could not own a business, or work for the government, schools, etc. they can only work for private companies. The ones that will hire them. Her life was hard growing up, and if it weren’t for her opportunity to come here, she isn’t sure where she would be.
She didn’t just offer up this information about herself, of course. She just asked a normal “doctor” question.
NP: How many pregnancies?
NP: How many children?
This is when the doctor usually says she’s sorry for my loss. She may ask what happened, depending on what I’m there for, she may not. Today my sweet, young, Farsi-speaking NP simply said, “Tell me about your baby.”
What came next was a ten-minute conversation about how abortion, especially ones like mine, where the baby isn’t viable, are totally okay in Iran. In most of that part of the world. That this stigma here in the US, we did that to ourselves, and she thinks it’s nuts. “No one,” she told me, “No one in Iran would have expected you to carry your daughter to full-term. You’d seem crazy to them if you did that.” She went on to tell me a bit about her life and religion. She told me she thinks the powers that be in her new country, our country, use the issue of abortion to hide what they are actually doing. It’s all a game with them. They don’t see the women.
It’s weird, and a little funny how things happen. I forget that sometimes. I’ve been torturing myself all week. A wreck with guilt, as I am every year around this time, for something that I just shouldn’t have guilt about.
I was reminded of this today. I was reminded by someone who didn’t need to know my why, or my how, or my when. She just needed to see the struggle in my eyes. She put her hand on my shoulder as I struggled to sit upright, my open gown covering nothing of my upper body, my breasts hanging out all over the place, and she said, “Look at me.” I looked at her. “I would have done the same thing you did. You’re strong. Strong to know the toll that would take on you. Strong mentally to know what was best for you and to do it.” Then she took my hand and helped me sit straight up. Helped me close up the front of my gown. Helped me straighten my crown.
There’s good out there, y’all. Everyday, everywhere. And it comes to you when you need it.
A few months back my husband got a new phone for his new position at work and it came with a brand-new, shiny phone number. It was a Charlotte number, because that is where we lived at the time. He has never had a Charlotte number. I have never had a Charlotte number. We both still have the numbers we got in Missouri back when I was pregnant with Jackson 11 years ago. It was new and exciting, until he got the text.
One day while at work he got a message that his number was added to a group chat. It was a bunch of numbers he did not know. At first he thought it was a work thing, but all the numbers were Charlotte numbers. All the people he was about to work for had numbers from Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, and the rest of the southeast. Then the group name appeared: “Group 9 Kinda Lit”. He knew it wasn’t me and my friends, again, because the numbers were from Charlotte. So he was puzzled. He was just about to send a “New numb3r who dis” text when the pictures started to roll in. One by one, pics of large, black penises rolled into his new chat.
That evening when he got home he told me what happened.
“Did you screenshot them for me?” I asked, eagerly.
“No! It’s my damn work phone! I don’t want to be in that group or to have pictures of penis on my phone!”
“Did you give them your personal phone?” I hoped.
“What?! No!” He was getting perturbed. “I don’t want pictures of any penis on my phone.”
“Homophobe,” I concluded.
“What?! No! Jesus…” He took some deep breathes while he looked at me in a mixture of pity and awe. “I deleted the conversation.”
Two hours later his phone lit up again.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
DING! DING! DING! DING!
I raced over to the phone and there they were in all their glory.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“Group 9 Kinda Lit,” I said with excitement.
“Shit,” he ran over and stood next to me. “Tell them they have the wrong number.”
“Nooooo!” I pleaded.
“Yes, dude, I can’t have this on my work phone. Get me out of the conversation.”
By this time hook-ups were happening and I really wanted to know who Tyrone had settled on for Thursday morning “fun” at his house. I was invested.
“What if I just say, ‘Hey you guys! This is Missy!’ Then I send a pic of myself? I mean, they probably wanna be my friend.”
“Uh no, dude. Tyrone does not want to be your friend. He only wants to be your friend if you have a penis.”
“So he wants to be your friend.”
“No dude, I think I might have the ‘wrong kinda penis’ for this group. Give me the phone.”
Then he proceeded to block all of the numbers from his phone, while I stood by his side and said nothing.
So why am I telling you all of this today? Well, I read a quote this morning that said, “Your self-worth is not defined by your sacrifice.” And honestly, I felt that. Hard. I felt it hard and I felt it deep. I felt it hard and deep. Because what I did that day, the sacrifice I made, standing idly by as my husband ruined my dream of being a part of Group 9 Kinda Lit, will not define me. I will press on. I will stay strong.
The other day my family and I were out and about and we stopped in for lunch at a local fast food restaurant to grab burgers and shakes. It was a pretty busy day and there were a ton of people in the restaurant. It was loud and crowded and everything was running a bit behind, but we had no where to be so we sat down at our table and talked while we waited for our number to be called. A couple of minutes later a man and his young son sat down at the table next to us. The tables were pretty close and we could hear their discussion. The son was about Jackson’s age and was wearing a Minecraft shirt. The son was polite, and quiet, and he smiled at me when I looked over to him. I smiled back, thinking Jackson and him could probably be friends. Until I heard his dad started talking to him.
It wasn’t what he said, at first. At first it was his tone. The dad was a meek guy. He was a little small, sat hunched over a bit, and didn’t really give off a “My dad could beat up your dad” vibe. But his tone was biting. In fact, I started to eavesdrop when he was discussing their order and the dad was sort of berating the kid for what he ordered. The kid just sat there and listened to his dad. This wasn’t the first time he was made to feel bad for a decision he had made. It was rather odd, though. I didn’t know if the dad was putting on a show for us, because our tables were so close together and he was trying to assert himself as, I dunno, a tough guy? Berating your kid makes you tough, maybe? Or maybe he was just in a bad mood and he was taking it out on his kid. We all have bad days, I reminded myself, and maybe this was his. The poor kid just sat, his eyes on the table and listened to his dad bitch about everything he did. Then their number was called. The boy jumped up to go grab the tray and the dad yelled after him to get him a lid for his cup. Though the restaurant was pretty loud still, so I doubted the boy would hear him. I lost track of what was happening at that point, until the boy came back without a lid for his dad’s drink.
“Did you hear me?”
“Hello, I asked you to bring me back a damn lid? Did you not hear me?”
“Should I just go get my own lid?”
The boy, unsure of what to do and obviously upset about his dad’s behavior, was trying to put their trays down on the table, so he wasn’t making eye contact with his dad.
“I still need a damn lid, cause I guess you didn’t hear me.”
The boy put the trays down in a hurry and he ran back to get his dad a lid. By this point my husband and I had made eye contact with each other and wordlessly said, “This guy. What a dick.” I sort of lost track of their conversation then, as our food had arrived, but their body language told me that if the boy was a dog he would have his tail between his legs right now and the dad would be kicking and screaming at him while he was chained to a fence with nowhere to run.
And then it happened. I went to take my first bite of my cheeseburger when I heard:
I looked over at their table and they had their heads bowed in prayer and the father was speaking.
“Thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for this food we are about to consume. Thank you for our wonderful lives and all that we have. We are grateful for you love. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I looked at my husband once more who didn’t look shocked at all. And why should he be? As a man who doesn’t want anything to do with organized religion. As a man who knows that he doesn’t need the fear of God to make him do what is right, as a man who would never treat his child in that sort of degrading way, in public or private, he just assumed this other man was a Bible-thumping Christian. Meanwhile, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor.
I didn’t make me happy. It didn’t make me feel better for this child. Or see this man in a different light. It infuriated me. Here is this man, obviously someone who is secure enough in his religious conviction and bold enough to intentionally show everyone what he believes, belittling his child, over and over again, then bowing his head like he did nothing wrong. And who knows. Maybe inside he was asking for forgiveness for being a dickheaded-dirtbag, but my money is on no.
My husband and I just looked at each other. He gave me one of those, “See, they’re hypocrites” kind of looks and I continued to sit dumbfounded. I don’t really have a point with this post, except maybe that parentings is tough, y’all. Like really tough. And we all have our own ways of doing things, but if you are not leading from a love-centered place, what are you actually doing? If you child walks around afraid of you, what are you doing? If you have to constantly pray to your God for forgiveness for the way you treat your child, what are you doing?
I’m not pretending to have all the answers, y’all. But I know that this man, regardless of how religious he is, should be reprimanded for the way he treated his child. And I constantly worry when I see people act like this in public. I worry, because what happens when they are in the privacy of their homes?
The incident did remind me of a book I came across once. I don’t remember where I was, or how I came to be thumbing through it, but it was called “To Train Up a Child”. It was billed a “Christian Parenting Book” and it put a lot of focus on whipping and beating and talking down to your child. People honestly believe that parenting this way is the best way. People honestly believe they are doing God’s will by raising their children like this. This isn’t leading from love, y’all. You simply can’t learn love from a book.
We have to do better as parents if we want things to change in our lives, our children’s lives, our communities, our country. It starts from home. I’m just asking you to be more aware, as a parent, be more aware and more loving. We aren’t raising stubborn mules, we are raising human beings with large hearts who only want to make you happy.
Mardi Gras literally translates to Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is a day to indulge in all the things you intend to give up for Lent. It is called Fat Tuesday because on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday you are expected to indulge. Cakes, and breads, rich meats and sauces. Items that many will give up in preparation for Easter, which comes exactly six weeks later. Fat Tuesday is positioned right after Carnival and right before Lent. The purpose of Lent is to prepare for Easter through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial. The purpose of Carnival, is to drink as many Hand Grenades as you can, while you drunk-hobble down Bourbon Street, your boobs hanging freely, and people pelt you with strings of 25 cent beads while you scream, “Shit yeah, Mardi Gras is awesome cock-suckers!” I think.
Listen, this is Part Deux, in what is shaping up to be a four part series, of my one and only trip to Mardi Gras back in February 2011 with my Mother-in-Law, two of my best friends, and a rag tag team of weirdos who had never left southeast Kansas. To get up to speed Imma need you to check this out first: https://missygoodnight.com/2019/03/01/corner-of-bourbon-and-canal/ I think it would be best so you are aware of all the, uhh, specifics before you jump right into this one. But, if you are so inclined to start here, well, then I like you. Go for it! Bonne chance!
Now where was I? Oh, yes. Do y’all remember when we were getting out of the car in a hurry at valet because we were being rushed and also because we needed to help MIL unload Peggy’s sweet-ass van, as all the occupants of that van were staring wide-eyed into the streets unable to move? Well then, do you remember that we were quite pleased with ourselves about the speed and accuracy with which we exited our car, with the exception of one thing: Purple nail polish? Yeah, okay.
So the first night, before we got sloshed on Bourbon with a mixture of Hand Grenades and Huge-Ass Beers, we tidied up a bit. Well, Melody and Kasey tidied up a bit. I slapped some more deodorant on and called it good. The girls in the other room took showers, did their hair, the whole nine yards, so we had some time to kill waiting for them. During that time Melody was debating whether or not to ask for the car just so she could get her purple nail polish. Kasey and I were trying to convince her that it was dumb, and just to forget about painting her nails. Then MIL pops in from the bathroom is all I have purple nail polish! Yay! Crisis averted. Melody used the nail polish, then we all left to get totally obliterated.
The next morning went like you would expect. It sucked. We were all hungover, there was no way we wanted to pay for room service to bring us all the best hangover foods, and we didn’t really have a plan for the day, save buying more beads (it became apparent that we were gonna NEED a lot of beads) and getting a tattoo. Yeah, that was a goal for the weekend. Le sigh. We were all a little tired when the weirdos next to us were knocking on the door at what felt like 6:00 am, but was probably closer to 8:00 am. I rolled over to see this:
What happened next was a situation that to this day is called, The Purple Nail Polish Incident and it has varied truths. But this is how I remember it.
Cranky MIL: Melody, where is my purple nail polish?
Cranky Melody: I don’t know, dude.
Cranky MIL: Well you had it last night.
Cranky Melody (elevated tone): I gave it back to you.
Cranky MIL: No you didn’t. That’s the problem. You should have given…
Cranky Melody: OMIGOD, yes I did!
Cranky MIL: Nope. I don’t have it.
Kasey (in a whisper): Dude, get her the purple nail polish.
Me (getting up to start to look for purple nail polish): Where did you have it last?
Cranky Melody: I don’t know when I HANDED IT TO HER!
Cranky MIL: You never HANDED anything to me.
Me (getting side-tracked because I am hungry): Whose bagel is this?
Kasey (standing up to help look): It’s left over from last night.
Cranky MIL: I wish I could paint my nails this morning…
Cranky Melody (throws blankets off her): ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
Cranky MIL: You are supposed to return things you borrow…
Cranky Melody: I DID RETURN IT.
Me (biting on a day old bagel): Dude, just get up and look for it.
Cranky Melody: Why don’t we just go to Walmart again today and spend three hours there looking for purple nail polish and other shit we don’t need?!
Cranky MIL: We might have to since I don’t have purple nail polish anymore.
Me (feeling something in my mouth that is not bagel): Melody, get up.
Cranky MIL: It’s fine. I just wish I had my purple nail polish.
Cranky Melody (jumping out of the bed): OH MY GOD! Don’t say PURPLE NAIL POLISH ONE MORE DAMN TIME.
Then Melody walks over to dresser and grabs the purple nail polish as MIL walks out of the bathroom and she hands it to MIL.
Cranky MIL: Thank you.
Cranky Melody: YOU’RE WELCOME.
Me: You guys, this bagel broke my tooth.
Weirdos next door knock again.
Kasey (opens curtains): It’s going to be a good day!
Deep breathes. Yeah, so. I am sure that MIL and Melody have different versions, but you know, this is my blog. And, did we just skate by the fact that I broke my tooth on a bagel? In hindsight, it was more likely the 15 or so Blow Pops I crunched on the drive down, but that hard bagel took it over the edge. So there we all were. Four women. One with a broken tooth. One with purple toes nails, one without. And Kasey. The forever optimist. What happened next can only be explained by the desire to be a united front.
MIL explained to us that the other four weirdos had never been to the beach. Or maybe one had, I can’t exactly remember. The point is, while we all have been to several beaches, in different countries, and different regions, the ladies next door needed a win, so she asked what we thought about driving the hour and a half to Gulfport, Mississippi, all eight of us in Peggy’s sweet-ass van, to show the weirdos the ocean. We all looked at each other when she used the word ocean. Well, okay, she corrected. The Gulf Coast. Melody, Kasey, and I looked at each other. Their make-up still smudged from the night before, circles under our eyes, me holding my tooth, and we nodded in agreement. Let’s give them a thrill.
You know what they say, “Girl, your brown eyes sparkle like the Gulf Coast waters!” Just a reminder that this was less than a year after the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. So there was literal oil to be unearthed on the beach. We know cause we found it. Only we didn’t scream OIL! and call the Clampetts. We sort of, uhh, ignored it. Then jumped in for a swim. Eek. The photo below was captured by a stranger on the random beach we stopped at in Gulfport.
Two hours later Kasey, Melody, and I sat in Peggy’s sweet-ass van with Pasty-girl (whose name I was recently reminded was April, but I can’t change it now) while the other ladies spent way too long in yet ANOTHER Walmart. At this point Melody and I were not speaking to each other because she had been texting some dude who lives in Arizona who she didn’t really know and I he was planning to come for a visit, and I was like BAD IDEA Hombre. And she was all, I know what I am doing. I mean she was 25, she obviously didn’t need me telling her how to live her life. So we had spent the ride to this random Walmart somewhere between Mississippi and Louisiana, in the way, way back of the van. Kasey was forced to sit between us, and the three of us sat silently as we listened to Titty Tina offer the body guard services of her ex-boyfriend who lived in NOLA, because he was not, quote, afraid to bitch slap anyone who deserved it. End quote. And that’s how we first learned of Bitch-Slap. And the stifled laughter between the three of us in the way, way back over what we collectively knew would be his name from now until eternity, is what mended the strained friendship.
While the “old girls” went into Walmart, Kasey, Melody, and I stayed in Peggy’s sweet-ass van with Pasty-girl. MIL had taken the keys, so we didn’t have air. Probably because, #PurpleNailPolish, and so we sat with the doors open, sweating in our slightly damp clothes, and listened to Pasty-girl recount all the men she’d slept with. One of her conquests ended up being a family member of mine, uhh, by marriage. And we all nodded our head in agreement, cause yeah, that made sense. It wasn’t MIL.
Back in NOLA things took an exciting turn. After the feud ended in the van, someone, ahem, Kasey, came up with a great idea. It was Tammie’s birthday, and she was ready to par-tay! So Kasey, presumably caught up in the excitement of being in the way, way back of Peggy’s sweet-ass van, decided that every time Tammie said, It’s my birthday! of which she said every 20 minutes or so, we were all to scream, Happy Birthday! So as you can imagine, hilarity ensued. Until the crying started at dinnertime.
We had decided to go out to dinner that night at a seafood place called Deanie’s Seafood. It was supposed to be the best seafood in the French Quarter and this was back when, well, we believed claims like that. So we all washed the oil off of us and decided to convene for the walk over to Deanie’s around 5:00 pm. At about 4:45, Tammie knocked on our door to inform us that Janie was crying.
We all walked over to find a distraught Janie. She was upset because everyone else was so fancy, and she wasn’t. She had only packed, I want to say, two pink shirts and some jeans. Sigh. MIL quickly offered up some of her clothes, an offer Janie sort of smirked at, while Melody, Kasey, and I tried to get her to just try one of MIL shirts, they were nice. Then I offered one of mine. Then so on. The girls showed her that they were all wearing jeans, but she said their shirts were fancy too. I explained that my fancy shirt was the same one that I jumped into the Gulf with. Didn’t matter. Then we offered to go look for a fancy shirt for her, but she declined. The crying eventually stopped so we all just shrugged and walked to Deanie’s. I dunno.
Listen. Dinner was a mess, y’all. I ordered shrimp, but it had all the tentacles and what not on it, so MIL had to peel them for me because I can’t with that shit. Then Janie asked her to accompany her to the bathroom at some point. If I was the Mommy of Kasey, Mel, and me, then MIL was the Mommy of the weirdos (and sometimes us) and it was starting to weigh on her. But at least every time Tammie said, It’s my birthday! We all screamed in unison, Happy Birthday! At least.
After dinner we had reservations for a walking Haunted History Tour, which was ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY the BEST part of the trip! If y’all have the opportunity to do a walking history tour in NOLA, do it! At one point Melody, Kasey, and I had to separate from the weirdos and go to the back of the tour because we were so engrossed in the history and the stories that we wanted to listen, not drink and scream Happy Birthday! We were shunned. Let’s just say that. But yeah, worth it.
Birthday girl was a little drunk after the tour, so we tried to sober her up with a trip to Cafe Du Monde.
At this point the stories diverge. We decided that we wanted to go a chill bar and listen to some of that New Orleans Jazz we heard so much about, and well, the crew was having none of that, so we went our separate ways. I can’t tell you what they did, but I think it had to do with dancing on bars (sans MIL and Janie) and karaoke, and probably shots. But Kasey, Melody, and I went for a walk along the river, then settled into a cool little jazz spot that had outdoor seating. We had the pleasure of enjoying a muffuletta while we listened to a cool, little jazz quartet for an hour or so, before we headed back to the hotel. I have no pics from that time because, well, that is how chill and relaxing and nice it was. The calm, if you will, before the storm.
If you are still reading this, bless your heart. (That is what people say to patronize others here in the south.) You are a trooper. Really, you are. But this seems like a good break spot. We have covered quite a bit of ground today, and I left quite a bit out. For your pleasure. Thanks for traveling down memory lane with me. Two parts left. And I promise they won’t be worth it. As a parting gift I have included some more pics of Day Two.
It is six o’clock in the evening on a Wednesday. I am sitting in a semi-circle staring blankly ahead, trying not to make eye contact with the man directly across from me who has an oxygen tank next to him and keeps talking about how he wishes he could step outside for a smoke. There are only five of us so far. I know this because every fourteen seconds or so I look around the room as if I am searching for a clock on the wall, but in reality I am using my peripheral vision to count heads. Is that meaty woman by the door lingering there because she is afraid to commit, or is the success story for the night. I do not count her just yet.
We are all sitting on hard plastic chairs that are intended for children. That are so small my thighs are spilling over the sides. I shift uncomfortably in the seat, and I just know this will give me a rash, or deep lines in my softness, at the least. We are in the dank, dim basement of church that, five days a week, doubles as a pre-k for tired Methodist mommies who just need a fucking break for three hours in the morning so they can Zumba, then hit Publix alone.
My foot is asleep.
The woman beside me is breathing so heavy that with each intake I brace myself for the warm, garlicky steam to waft toward me. I close my eyes to pretend that I am in one of those funny sitcoms where I look over at her and we make eye contact and I say something funny and she laughs. The laughter breaks the awkward silence in the room and then we all become super best friends, bound together by our inability to control our emotional eating and our desperate desire to hide behind jokes, because that is the only way we think people will love us.
We start to meet outside of our designated meeting times. We start to have potlucks with things like kale salad (because we are trying) and Diet Coke (because we are not trying that hard) and we only refer to each other by the nicknames that we created (my best friend is Wynonna because of her red hair, and I am Momma Naomi because I like to tell everyone what to do). We start referring to ourselves simply as group.
I open my eyes to see a skinny, pale blond woman lowering herself onto a large, comfy rolling chair. Why does the skinny bitch get the rolling chair? Ah, she’s the mentor.
Twenty minutes later I say the first words I have said all night, after the blond says, Missy, tell us about yourself.
I’m quiet for an actual minute because I have learned that if you are fat, and no one knows what you are capable of, you can be quiet for so long that the silence gets awkward and the conversation goes on without you in it. This doesn’t work with the blond, because as much as I want her to be just one of the other fat people’s caring sisters who has volunteered to come tell us about Weight Watchers, she is actually a real, goddamn therapist who has been hired to try to reach us. To get us. To help us with our self worth. She continues to silently smile at me, her piercing blue eyes locking onto mine. Because this isn’t my first rodeo with a therapist, and because this is not the first time I have tried desperately to get a skinny, pale, blond woman to like me, I cave.
Hi! (I sort of wave to the group that I have actively been avoiding for the last half hour). I’m Missy and I’m a bread-aholic.
I laugh trying to ease into it. A few chuckles come from around the room and I am hoping I can figure out, by the end of the allotted time, who it was that laughed, because those my people. Meanwhile, the blond loses her smile. She ain’t playin’.
Uh, I am married and have one son and a poodle who is kinda, sorta, well he’s a shithead, but I love him. The poodle, not the husband or son. But I mean, they are sort of all shitheads sometimes, you know?
More laughter. Her smile comes back. Okay, keep going Missy.
I am 37 and have always been overweight. I was the kid who was picked on in second grade for having a big round belly, and also because sometimes I would toot when I sneezed, but never owned up to it.
More laughter. She doesn’t laugh, but her smile broadens. She is starting to like me now. I feel safe for no reason whatsoever, except that probably these other fatties get what I am going through and I assure myself that I am not the saddest sack this blond therapist has ever seen, so I decide to go all in.
Obviously, I hide behind humor. My biggest problem really is bread. Carbs. Sugar. I eat when I am sad. When I am angry. When I am happy. I enjoy over-processed foods, but could tell you what I am supposed to be eating, what I should never allow into my body, and how important portion control is. I know how sugar releases dopamine in my brain. I know that too many carbs can cause inflammation in my joints. I know that people like me, who eat a lot of added sugar, are twice as likely to die of heart disease. I know I should not drink Diet Coke, but when I’ve had a shit day, that’s all I want to do. I exercise five days a week, but I know that you can’t exercise away a bad diet. I do not jump on fad bandwagons. I don’t Keto, or South Beach, or Slim Fast. I know those are not healthy, and unrealistic for the long run. I know, but I do not adhere to most of it.
The group sits with their mouths agape. Oxygen man turns up the dial on his machine. Heavy-breather coughs. Blond woman’s smile fades away. I decide this is probably a bad time to ask if there is a snack table somewhere.
By the end of the night I haven’t realized anything that I didn’t already know. I grew up on TV dinners and pre-packaged lunch meats because we were poor and those went a long way. I never learned to read the ingredients on the box. When I was a kid they didn’t even have to tell you what the hell was in the food you were eating. This aided in a whole generation of new fatties cropping up. McDonalds became a thing in the generation before mine. By the time I was born we had so many different fast food choices it would make your head spin. It does make your head spin, because mental confusion is a symptom of bad eating. I know. But like most things, slowly but surely food and the elevated importance of it in our emotional well-being took over and no one, no one stood up to say we have to stop.
But, I also know that at this point in my life it is no one’s fault by my own for still being overweight. I have been given all of the tools that I need to succeed. Anyone can now Google how to rid yourself of sugar, how to restart your cravings. I know people who do the Whole 30 every other damn month. And they do it because it is freaking hard to stick to it. It is freaking hard to retrain your brain. Hard to live everyday in a mental fog, wishing and hoping for just a little suckle off the old fructose bottle. Because we all want to be happy, right?
I’ve never been to an Overeaters Anonymous group, and court-ordered would be the only way I would go. Though I am having a hard time figuring out what would make a court order you to a place like that. Do I need to stab someone over a lack of cheese at Taco Bell? What if I lifted a case of Little Debbie Snack cakes from the Kroger down the street? But I suspect if I did go to one of those meetings, it would end up being a lot like the scenario above, because although I do not know yet how to get a handle my emotional cravings, I do know myself.
For now I will continue to dream of the day I can pick up a stalk of celery and it can emotionally fulfill me like that bag of pretzels. I will keep refusing Diet Coke for La Croix, keep buying that damn Halo Top instead of the Ben and Jerry’s that I really want. I will keep buying the damn caesar dressing made from yogurt, because even if all that is bad for me too, it is still a hell of a lot better than I used to do, even I though I will still eat chicken wings whenever I get the damn chance.
For those of you who are struggling with the weight. Struggling with the cravings and the bad choices and the lack of exercise and all of the things, remember that you are not alone. There is help out there if you need it or want it. There really are Overeaters Anonymous groups, and if group therapy works for you, DO IT! There are nutritionists (that your insurance will indeed pay for, you may just have to ask), and there are good, honest gyms, or workout groups, or just people to walk the block with a few times a week. There is therapy to deal with the real root of your overeating, because regardless of what you think, you are probably not just a lazy, slob who doesn’t have the time. There are things, mental and emotional things, that are stacked against you. You just have to be committed to finding what works for you. And remember, one step at a time. Sometimes, quite literally.
I’m always here to lend an ear or a smack on the hand if you need me.
A whirlwind is really the only way to describe the four days that we spent in Washington D.C. this last weekend. A complete whirlwind. Jerimiah, Jackson, and I have been to D.C. once before, but only for one day while we were visiting Jerimiah’s mom in Maryland. Back then Jackson was just learning to walk, we had not yet made it to his first birthday, and President Obama had just been sworn into office. In short, we were in a very different time in our lives. So was our country.
Fast forward ten years and suddenly my little guy, who last time in D.C. was toddling across the Washington Monument, was marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, a smile on his face and a megaphone in his hand. He was marching for women’s rights. He was marching for his friends and his family. He was marching for his mommy and for his sister. He was marching for his own reasons too, recalling the first time he heard President Trump talk about “the wall” and asking whether his Hispanic friend, Angel, would be sent away. He made up his own chant: “Be a leader, not a Tweeter!” It was sort of, well, perfect.
Though Jackson may not have grasped what was happening around him, may not have caught the meaning of many of the signs, or heard the rumblings under foot of anti-semitism, or noticed the anti-abortion counter protesters, at one point he walked up next to me, grabbed my hand and said, “Mommy, I see why we came now.” And that was all I needed to hear. I, on the other hand, I had been a mess leading up to last Saturday.
The idea to go to the Women’s March had come to my friend Beth and me (like most of our ideas) in a bursting blaze of wine and lingering indignation. We were at my kitchen island one evening a couple of weeks before, catching up on our recent holidays (complaining really about lack of sleep and lack of sound judgement) when she said, “Hey, the Women’s March is in a couple of weeks, wanna go and take the family?” “Uh, duh,” I responded, as I finished off the bottle of my Target “Clearance” red, and she started pulling up AirBnBs on her phone. It wasn’t long before we had roped in both husbands, our friend Meredith and her two sons, and a third friend, Merrily, who like Beth had the experience of the first march under her belt. The house was booked, the days requested off, the scene was set. Then came the shitstorm.
First there was the weather. I mean, who could have possibly known there would be a Nor’easter in January?! No one. No one could have predicted that. Washington got what five inches the week before the march. Or was it 15? 50? I dunno, but the temps were about to, as Lil Jon, The East Side Boyz, and Ying Yang Twins would say, “Get low, get low, get low, get low…” Yeah. It got low.
Then days before, the news broke about the march administrators. Now I can’t really speak a lot to this. I caught it in passing, Beth could probably tell you more, but it seemed like women fighting each other and accusing each other of saying things that should not have been said. It made people nervous. It made people scared to come to the march, scared to stand in solidarity with one another. Honestly I stayed far away from it, figuring I’d learn more when we were actually there, seeing these women in person.
Then there was the news of the change of venue. Originally the Women’s March had obtained a permit to march at the National Mall, but with the shutdown, the National Parks Service was afraid they would not be able to keep the mall clean and the snow removed in time for the march, so at the last minute a permit was issued for 10,000 to march on Pennsylvania Avenue. The one saving grace that the march would go right by Trump’s Washington Hotel, all was not lost.
Then the night before our president himself tried to steal the thunder by saying he would make a “Big, Yuge, Terrific” announcement at 3:00 pm on the day of the march. Then it was promptly changed to 4:00 pm, considering that is when the march ended. I think he knew better than to piss off 10,000 women marching past his house. Good on him.
Then of course, was the fact that hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans had gone without pay for a month now. That weighed heavy on our minds and our hearts, and we tried to figure out how we could help them, while marching at the same time.
Le sigh. It was sort of chaotic to say the least, but still, we persisted.
Everyone made it to DC safely, having made the six hour drive from Charlotte on Friday. Saturday morning came and our crew readied ourselves for the street, even though we were all a bit groggy and some of us were, ahem, a bit hungover. The kids though, they were amped up! They had their signs (most of them made by Beth) and their megaphone and their marching shoes. Not to mention their hats, gloves, and layers of clothes. (In the end though, this day would prove to be the warmest of our time there.)
They boys seemed hellbent on making as much noise as they could, as well as giving out a number of “free hugs”, cause yeah, these are cool kids. Meanwhile, Morgan (the lone girl in the kid group) showed up ready for battle, her handmade sign garnering a lot of attention from us, as well as many people at the march. We will call her, well, wise beyond her years. (Basically, she pities ‘da fool.)
At this point no one had any idea how many people would be at the march, what the scene would look like, how the marchers would react to one another, and whether it would be anything like the other two marches. I had never been to a march, period. I was nervous, I was anxious, and I was a little numb to what I was walking into. But I was ready. We all were. We were ready for whatever was headed our way, snacks and toe warmers in our bags, and smiles on our faces. At about 10:15 a.m. the whole crew took off from our house for the metro. We were only five stops away from the crowd that awaited us.
About twenty minutes later we rounded the corner of Freedom Plaza and saw a sight that I am not sure we expected. Well, I didn’t expect it. Thousands of men, women, and children lined the streets. Vendors selling merchandise, food, and hot coffee. Pink hats, 12 foot signs, and amped up fellow Americans ready to take to the streets together in love and in light. It was all a little much for me to take in.
There was so much to see. It was like being at a circus, a parade, a concert, and a play all at once. There were smiles and voices. There were high fives and handshakes. There were hugs, lots of hugs. There were women crying. There were funny signs and serious signs and necessary signs. There was a camaraderie I don’t think I was fully prepared for. I simply stood, silently looking around trying to take it all in, trying to sear this image into my mind to recall at a later time, on an idle Thursday when I am in bed, my blankets pulled up over my head and I am sad. I wanted to bottle it. I wanted to capture the essence of the mood, the sight, the sounds all around me. In short, it was pretty fucking cool.
We started marching and chanting and laughing and hugging promptly at 11 am. The march was just around one city block, but it took about two hours. In the middle of it Merrily, Beth, and I popped into a coffee shop to get the crew all warmed up with cups of joe, when a slight scare happened upon us. Meredith came in asking if we had seen Cooper. He had walked over to throw something in a trash can and the sea of people had swept him away. We tried to remain calm. He had his cell phone. The crowd was slow moving. And we had eyes all over.
His momma ended up finding him just a few feet away after a frantic look for about ten minutes. When he had realized he was separated from the group, he found a police officer and stood by him, looking for us and trying to call his mom. (Did I mention how smart these kids are?!) He seemed okay, we were all a little shaken up, though no one wanted to admit it, and after a small break to regroup we joined the masses again. At one point after we found him, Beth, Meredith, and I all looked at each other, a knowing smile spreading across our faces. Had we been worried? Yes. But this was a sea of mommies. A sea of grandmothers. Of women who have birthed and held and bathed these babies, the generations before us. Women who have seen more in their lives than we ever will. Our babies would be just fine among them.
As the march wrapped up we saw more sights that conjured up pictures from the 1970s. Women in trees leading chants, women in bikinis (in that weather! Oh my goodness we wanted to put sweaters on them!) women holding hands, forming chains, women screaming, women with fists in the air, women with an air of determination to be heard and seen. And they were.
Around 1 p.m. the march wrapped up at Freedom Plaza where a stage had been erected to house the speakers, of which there were many. There were speakers from the Women’s March itself, the very women who were reportedly arguing just days before taking the stage, including Tamika Mallory who went after the rumors head on, telling her Jewish sisters, “I see you.”
About 3 p.m. the kids lost steam. It started to sprinkle and everyone was a little hungry. That’s when Beth’s husband Dave, Meredith, and Merrily offered to take the kids for food and all meet back later. Beth and I wanted to stay to see more of the rally and Jerimiah was sort of along for the ride, so we split up. I’m not sure what the other group did, but I was sent screenshots of giant cinnamon rolls, so it must have been good! Beth, Jerimiah, and I walked to the other side of Freedom Plaza to try to get a better view of the stage. That is when we found the counter-protesters.
Calling them counter-protesters might not be accurate, I don’t know what they were or why they were there. I don’t know who they were trying to scare or upset. I don’t know whether they were there on their own ambitions or whether they were paid by some larger organization, though my money is on the latter. But they were there, and they weren’t going anywhere.
At first I didn’t see them. In fact I stepped right past them and didn’t even notice their signs, as I was fixated on trying to get closer to the stage and by this time of the day was ignorant to signs above my head. It wasn’t until Beth and Jerimiah made eyes at each other and Beth said, “They are trying to cover up their signs” that I looked over. There was a circle of women standing in front of a young man. They had him surrounded and they were holding their signs up above their heads, ushering people around him. I stepped around Jerimiah to get a better view. That’s when I saw the man’s sign.
It was a graphic depiction of a “late-term abortion”. Graphic in the sense that it was made to conjure up a disgusting scene of a dead baby, supposedly at five months gestation, outside of its mother’s body, cut up in many parts and covered in blood. Of course it was a depiction. It was not an actual baby, but a doll made to look like one. On the other side of the sign was what appeared to be a dead woman. It was all very morose. I spun back around trying to again focus on the stage, but I could not get that image out of my mind, which I what I assume they wanted.
Within a couple of minutes I found myself standing in front of the man, my signs held up above my head, giving the other women in the group a reprise from the sign holding. Beth was next to me holding her signs and Jerimiah was across from us blocking the signs of a young woman who had popped up. I’m not sure how long we stood there, but it felt like half an hour or so. At one point I lowered may sign and another woman took over for me, so I could take a picture of Jerimiah across from me. Another image I wanted seared into my brain for later.
It wasn’t long before I overheard a discussion behind me. Another young woman had shown up, anti-abortion signs in hand, to spew ignorance at the crowd. Some marchers had stopped to try to talk to her. It sounded like a civil discussion. No one was yelling, no one was even raising their voice. The young woman was talking about science. About how babies are made at conception. About how they feel pain during an abortion. About how babies are “sawed into pieces” to get them to come out.
I stepped in. I didn’t plan to. My body sort of just moved over to her. I knew as I was walking that I shouldn’t do it. I felt the emotion rising up in me. I felt my head getting hot, giving me this sort of groggy feeling. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the cold, or the steam forming at the corners of my eyes, but I walked up and I told her Lydia’s story. I started with, “I gave birth to a dead baby.” The crowd of women went silent and all their eyes turned to me, the young anti-abortionist as well. They listened intently. They listened to me describe the chromosomal disorder. They listened to be explain the choice I had. The one I had because abortion is legal. They listened to me say her name, over and over again. Lydia. Lydia. Lydia.
Then when I was finished. When the tears were streaming down my face, Evangeline, the woman who was holding the disgusting sign said, “I’m sorry that happened to you, but that is different.” I wanted to scream at her. IT IS NOT DIFFERENT. But I didn’t. Eventually I walked away. I felt beaten down. I felt abused and assaulted. Even now today, I am not sure why.
Later that night I wasn’t so cordial with the crew. We ended up all meeting again at our AirBnB. I got to hear Jackson tell me all about the big cinnamon rolls, and listen to the kids run around upstairs playing Harry Potter and Monopoly and recounting the fun they had that day. I lay in my room, listening the talking and the laughing and the love being passed around the table. Everyone came to check on me. Beth and Meredith offered encouragement, you’re not alone, we are here if you want to talk. Jerimiah offered his love. His strength. His solidarity. After all, we had went through it together. Always together.
I eventually drifted off to sleep that night with horrific images in my mind, but I dreamed about my daughter. About the women I had met that day. About the women I have come to know. Come to call my friends. About all the daughters and all the women and all the lives that were lost, are lost. All the women I marched for.
It’s been a few days of processing for me. And I’m still working through my experience, but so far there is one thing I am sure about. I am so happy that I was able to be part of the Women’s March. I am so happy that I was able to use my voice for those who cannot. I am so happy that I stood with my husband and son by my side. That Jackson saw a strength in his mommy that he may have forgotten existed. That he saw his Daddy triumphantly helping women. That he understands what our powers can be used for. I am so happy that I stood alongside friends that I did. Women of caliber like those with me that day. I am so happy to have those women in my life. In my heart.
I am so happy to think that my daughter knows what I do, how I share her story, how I speak of her and about her, is to remember her. To better the lives of all girls and women, to keep her present always in this world and in my heart. I am so happy to have been on the right side of history. To have walked the walk many before us have walked. To have done my part, as tiny and as insignificant as it seems, I know in my heart that it made a difference for someone. And that will carry me for many more years.
I’ll leave you with this thought: As women we can’t allow the world to change us, to rearrange us, to divide us, or to deride us. We have to act responsibly and respectively toward one another if we are to get anywhere. We have to lift each other up, step on the backs of those who first carried us, then become the backs for the younger generations to hoist theirselves on top of. We are part of a fold like no other. And we must welcome each other with open arms, open minds, and open hearts.
Today we went to the monthly “giveaway” for the homeless in Charlotte, North Carolina. This event’s name doesn’t speak to what it really does and how people in the community really come together, so I wanted to give you a closer look.
For many years Jerimiah and I have been looking for an organization to support, a cause to get behind, something that was close to our hearts, something tangible, a way to hit the streets and feel like we were making a difference. Up until last year our “charitable service” involved checks to the DAV, occasional donations to friends and family who were taking them for a cause they felt strongly about, checks to the Trisomy 18 Foundation, the American Heart Association, etc. We shop at thrift stores when we can and we donate regularly. But basically we felt like we were phoning it in.
Then last year I met a women who volunteered her time at the holidays making meals for families at one of the many shelters for women and children in Charlotte. She told me all about how wonderful it was to meet and talk with these mothers, who generally were victims of domestic abuse and who were seeking better lives for their children. I was taken with how genuine she was in her belief that she had a real impact on the lives of the women she met. The only problem was, she was a Christian fundamentalist. So she took that time, above all else, to try to “bring these women to Christ”. She said it was sometimes difficult and she sometimes had to be direct about it, and that sometimes she got the sense they didn’t want to talk about it, but she still did. The more I talked to her the more uncomfortable I felt. It doesn’t seem like a good thing to try to weasel your love for the Lord into a conversation with a woman who has run from an abusive husband, left her home in the middle of the night, and is looking for a comforting ear and a bit of safety. It seems rude to try to make her believe in your beliefs or even make religion a priority at a time in her life when she has a million other things to deal with. In my experience it makes people feel worse, not better. Not to mention that it can turn people off religion altogether to think that in order for people to be nice to them, they have to accept Jesus Christ.
Now listen, I am a Christian. A Baptist to be clear. I do not attend church, nor do I proselytize. I do not feel called to share my faith with others, even though my church has told me many times that is my job. It is not. My job, as a Christian, is to help others and to be kind. I feel called to understand and be accepting of other beliefs. I know full well that others’ beliefs have nothing to do with me, and that they are entitled to them. I am not so ignorant to think that my God is any more powerful or “right” than any other God and there are many, many Gods (Hinduism alone has over 10,000,000). Having said that, any missionary that puts God above the people they are helping is not for me. It was also not for my Atheist husband. We also did not want to teach out 10-year-old son that you can only help others who believe what you believe. Because the truth is that you can help anyone, at anytime, even if they believe exactly the opposite of you.
Having said that, Jerimiah found the Atheist Alliance Group on Facebook. This was a nice group, full of, you guessed it, non-believers, who are loosely associated with the larger group Atheist Alliance International. We don’t know much about AAI, because we are not members, but we do know Shane, who runs the local “giveaway” each month. We know him and we have talked to him. We found out why he does what he does and it is pretty simple: Because he is fortunate and he can help those less fortunate. Period. Bottom line. End of story.
Shane and the group of people who work tirelessly each month getting donations, organizing volunteers, and hauling around Amazon boxes full of flashlights and Q-Tips, recognized a problem and worked toward a solution.
In Charlotte there are several shelters for both homeless men, and women with children. On Tryon there are two in particular: The Men’s Shelter and the Urban Ministry Center. At 8:00 sharp, the men’s shelter kick the men out for the day. This serves a couple purposes: 1. It helps get the men out and moving, hopefully to find work, even temporary day labor and 2. It allows the staff to clean the facility, and work on getting people in and out, on a more permanent basis.
Urban Ministries takes men, women, and children, but they do not open until 11:00 for food and shelter, so Shane decided to set up shop in an empty parking lot on the corner of Tryon and Dalton, once a month, at 8:00 am sharp and run until the last person walks up, which is usually about 10:00 am. It isn’t until you go a few times that you realize that right across the street, next to the 7-11 with no public restroom, is also a homeless village. A large grassy area full of tents and sleeping bags strategically hidden behind the blacked out fence of a body shop. It’s a good spot to set up shop.
This is one of two giveaways Shane does. He also holds one each month in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but we do not go to that one as we like to save our resources for the homeless in our community. Shane lives in SC and makes the trek up to Charlotte each month because the need is present.
Today was like any of the other giveaways we have been to over the last several months. It was not the coldest we have worked, but it was by far the windiest. The highs today are supposed to top out in the 60s, but the wind this morning was fierce and the temperature never above 40 degrees. Of course, we have a nice, warm home to go home to after we work our two hours, but the people getting our assistance do not. They also had nowhere to go when it rained for four days straight, raining so much our backyard flooded and the rain penetrated roofs and flooded small creeks. But they came out this morning in full force, enjoying the rain-free morning and even more so the hot breakfast.
Shane and his core group serve up a piping hot breakfast, which has just gotten better over the last few months with a donation of a large, portable, flat-top grill! They can cook loads of pancakes and sausage and bacon on that puppy at one time. And they do! And the men and women who stop by for breakfast appreciate it.
The food is all donated or purchased with donated money, either from the people there helping pass it out, or the many donors (some anonymous) that the Atheist Alliance Helping the Homeless receive each month. This month my own mother-in-law (not an atheist) sent us $100 to spend on what we saw fit for the giveaway. We were able to buy, in addition to our own donations, flashlights, deodorant, more non-perishable food items, and washcloths, among other things. (We usually bring hand sanitizer every month. It is one of the most liked items and we routinely run out.) We always ask Shane to see what is needed that month, most people do, and many of us in the group have taken to bringing the same items each month, sort of taking charge of that item. It helps Shane a lot to know he can count on certain items from certain people month after month.
No that all that is out of the way I want to tell you about a man I talked to today, his name is Willy.
Willy is a “frequent shopper” at the giveaway. He has been there every month that we have been going and his state of consciousness changes drastically. I am not sure if Willy is a drug-user, if his old age plays a part, or if he is, like so many others that are homeless, is mentally unstable. But sometimes Willy is very nice and friendly. Sometimes he says, “God Bless, y’all” or thanks us, sometimes he demands help and tells us that we are going to hell. It sort of just depends on the day.
Today Willy said all of these things, then he high-fived a kid, told him that he was awesome, hugged a woman who gave him a belt (his pants were falling down), then told me he didn’t “give a shit” when I told him that his bag was unzipping and the contents were spilling out. I just smiled and said, “Okay Willy”. I guess today was a bad day.
The blond woman working next to me was watching the scene unfold and she wondered aloud what was wrong with him. I didn’t know, I told her. I explained that he once hugged me and assured me that Jesus loved me, and that once he had cried when his coffee tipped over and I helped him clean it up. A woman on the other side piped in and wondered if the majority of these people were drug addicts. There’s a good chance, I told her with a shrug. And then the blond woman said, “Who cares. Drug addicts need to eat and be loved too.” And we all agreed. Because that is the truth.
For as much as we want to see these people succeed. As much as we don’t want to ever see them there again, we do see them. Month after month, the same faces. The man who can hardly stand up-right, the woman who cries about being raped when she was fifteen, the transgender woman who doesn’t talk, the lady with the stroller, the man in the tire shop shirt who promises us that he does work, but he has just been laid off for a while. It doesn’t matter, I tell him. Because it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter which side of the table you are on. It doesn’t matter if you work, it doesn’t matter if an addiction controls you most of the time. It doesn’t matter if you can’t control your emotions or if you don’t understand why we do what we do. It only matters that you are there, and you know that you matter to someone, even if it is just one Saturday a month.
One day a few months ago I was out and about, having a hectic day. My lunch date had cancelled, my doctor visit had not gone as planned, my husband was having a bad day at work, I was confused about some choices I had, and I had spent about two hours in Jackson’s classroom, reading and working math problems with a couple of kids who needed the extra help. It was a chaotic morning and by the time I realized I hadn’t eaten all morning, I was already hangry. I was on my way home to see what Sir Duke had destroyed in my absence, when I decided I would stop by the nearest restaurant and have lunch. It seemed like what I needed to do at that moment, so I quickly pulled into the nearest lunch spot which happened to be a Showmars in Midtown, right near the hospital.
I like Showmars. It is fast and clean, the staff is friendly and efficient, and they have a variety of choices. In fact, Jerimiah and I will often meet there for our “weekly lunch dates” when we just don’t know what the hell we want. This day I was feeling out of sorts, so I knew exactly what I wanted, comfort food, which for me means fried food. I walked up to the counter and ordered the chicken fingers. I paid, got my number and drink, and walked to a booth by the windows. It was a nice day, mid October I believe, and there were people sitting inside and outside. I sat my items down on the table, making eye contact with the woman behind me who was alone, though there were two plates on the table. I smiled at her and she reciprocated, though she looked preoccupied.
I walked into the bathroom. There were only two stalls and one was occupied at the time, so I went into the empty one. While I was in the bathroom stall, the occupied door opened and the woman went to the sink to wash her hands. I was in such a weird head space, that I didn’t pay much attention to the noises. I assume she unlocked the door, I assume her heels clicked toward the sink. I assume she pushed the soap dispenser and the water shot on. I didn’t really hear any of that though. I was so frustrated at myself for saying the wrong thing to the doctor, for sending an email out of frustration, and for not giving the kids my undivided attention, that I was berating myself as I finished up. In fact, it wasn’t until I flushed that I stopped and actually listened to what was happening.
The woman who had come out of the occupied stall was crying. At first I wasn’t sure what I had heard. I waited for the toilet to finish up its water cycle, then I tried not to move, tried not to breathe, and I put my ear to the crack at the door. That is when I heard the unmistakable sound.
If you have ever cried in public before, you know the sound. Your body, full of fear or grief or anger, is forcing this reaction on to you and you are not ready for it. Or more likely the people you are around are not ready for it, and you know this. So you try to make yourself stop. You try to look up and bat your eyelashes, you sniff hard, trying to stop your nose from giving you away. You dab paper towels at your eyes so you don’t smear your makeup. You wave your hands in front of your eyes. You close them, praying to whomever, whatever, to be rescued from these emotions. From this moment or this memory.
She was doing all of those things, I assume. I was still nervously hiding in the bathroom stall, wondering what to do. My first instinct was to open the door and take the woman into my arms. Just stand there and let her cry. But, I had recently been trying to stifle these emotional reactions with people, particularly strangers, because I don’t want people to be put off by me, and I am afraid I have put people off. So instead I stood silently, and listened. I listened as she pulled more paper from the machine, as she blew her nose, as she splashed water on her face. With each moment I grew more and more upset with myself, until I couldn’t take it anymore and I opened the door.
There, standing next to the trash can, her hands steadying her small frame on the sink, was a woman in a neat pantsuit, hair pinned back, make-up running down her face. When we made eye contact she immediately apologized. I took a couple of steps toward the sink and she stepped back to let me get closer. She grabbed more paper towels, and dabbed her eyes. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just washed my hands and kept my face down. Then as I reached for the paper towels the words just sort of came out of my mouth.
“Are you okay?” I asked her, meeting her eyes.
“No,” she said. In that moment I didn’t want to push, so I didn’t. I dried my hands. I should have made a step toward the door, but I didn’t. Instead I put my hand on top of hers.
Her name was Mary. Her husband of 42 years had just, that morning, passed away in the hospital a couple of blocks away. Heart attack. There was nothing they could do. Her daughter was waiting for her in the restaurant. I didn’t know what to say. She didn’t look at me to say anything. In that moment, I just had to listen.
They’d met in high school.
They had three kids and a lot of grandkids.
She doesn’t know who she will talk to when she has a bad day. She doesn’t know who will tell her it will all be okay. They had plans and he didn’t uphold his end of the bargain. Her daughter is busy. Her son is gone. So many years, so many miles, so many separations.
I just nodded and gripped her hands tighter.
I told her that I didn’t understand her grief.
She told me that was good, and that she hoped I never did.
She said she had to go. She said her daughter would be worried.
I watched as she wiped her face one last time. Then she grabbed my hands, tried to smile, and she walked out the door.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how long I had been in there, but I stood there for a bit longer. I didn’t want to go out into the restaurant. I didn’t want to see her daughter again. I didn’t want to see her. I was sad. I was sad for her and I was suddenly sad for all the people in the world like her. I was afraid. I never want to be in her shoes, but it is an inevitability. Inevitably, we all lose someone.
Eventually I made my way back to my table. My chicken fingers were there, but Mary and her daughter were gone. I sat down at the table and called my husband. He answered. I wanted to burst into tears, but instead I just told him that I loved him. That his day was bound to get better and that this low spot we were in, these changes we find ourselves fighting, they would all work out. I told him it would all be okay.
Then over the next hour I sat quietly, watching people walk in and out of the restaurant. I overheard conversations about hurricanes and hydrangeas. I watched an old man flirt with a young server. I smiled as a mother struggled with a child on her hip and a newborn in a stroller. I thought about this life, and how we live it. I thought about death, and how it scares us. I wished good thoughts for Mary. I realized, maybe for the first time, that we aren’t just here for one reason, with one talent or one gift, but that we are all here for a lot of reasons, buttloads of them in fact, but rescuing each other might be the most important.