Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

“What’s the scariest thing you have ever done on purpose," a friend asked me recently. It made me laugh at first, because when you are scared of everything like I am, getting out of bed each morning can be frightening. Trying to pick one singular terror of mine is like trying to decide which of your children you love the most. All of my fears have their own special, terrifying place in my life, and they have been carefully crafted by my sick brain over the course of forty years. I know them all like the back of my hand, and it’s hard for me to say that one is worse than another. But even with so many choices, the answer came to me quickly. The scariest thing I have ever done on purpose is writing this blog.

When the invitation to write for this blog came in February 2009, I felt special to be included, but at the same time, I knew that I would be the one person in the group with nothing to say. I don’t write. Hell, I don’t even speak most of the time. The others in the group have writing or English degrees, and I was intimidated. Why would anyone want to know about my boring life anyway? I assumed I would sit back and enjoy the prose of my more talented and creative high school classmates, and make excuses for not contributing pieces of my own. Sure, I might occasionally insert a witty (in my own mind) remark here and there, but I just didn’t see myself putting words together that were coherent and, most of all, interesting to read. Apparently, I was wrong.  I was the one who took the blog as her own.

In my real life, I don’t want you or anyone else to know me. I am invisible, and I like it that way. I keep my emotions, my experiences and my memories in a little box safely locked away from public viewing. You don’t need to know that I’m sad or frustrated or excited. You just need to see the calm, cool and collected Me, and accept it as the truth. I am a pillar of strength, or at least that is what I want you to think. What I know now is that my little box had reached its maximum capacity and was bulging at the seams. It couldn’t take one more deposit without exploding. My friend had no idea that, by offering me this blank canvas, the box would burst open and a torrent of words and feelings would pour out uncontained for the world to see. It was more like a pyroclastic flow – caustic, burning, raw sentiment rushing down from the volcano without regard to any object in its path.

There has never been a time in my life when I have felt so vulnerable and so naked, but at the same time, so alive. Now that my secrets are leaking out, I can slouch in my chair a little and softly exhale. I don’t have to be prim and proper with my back straight and my chin forward any more. I told the world that my family isn’t the Cleavers, that my life hasn’t been a bed of roses, that I’m frequently sad and uncertain about my life, and you know what? The Earth kept spinning, and my friends didn’t leave me. Imagine that.

So yes, the scariest thing I have ever done on purpose is putting the real Me on display for your viewing pleasure each week. I hope you are enjoying the show.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Same As It Ever Was

I stepped out into the rain and took a deep breath. As I gripped the handle of my shopping cart with one hand, I pulled down the bill of my baseball cap with the other and made a mad sprint for my car. This was the not-so-storybook ending to a craptacular day – standing in the pouring rain in the Wal-Mart parking lot, loading soggy bags into the back of my dirty car on a Friday night. At that very moment, as I watched the distant flash of lightening approaching, thunder rumbling in some town not far from mine, these words consumed my brain with a vengeance…

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? ...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My God!...what have I done?”

After the cart was safely returned, I quickly retreated to my car. I was feeling sorry for myself because of my lack of social butterfly-ness. My dance card was empty tonight, and I saw a Disney/Pixar film in my future. I turned on some mood music and sat there for a few moments. My beloved Neko was so kind as to serenade me this rainy night. I pulled away with the sound of a barn full of pianos weaving a tapestry of melancholy in my car. “Don't forget me. Don't forget me. Make it easy, only just for a little while. You know I think about you. Let me know you think about me too.” And I drive.

It’s a dark road, and my night vision leaves much to be desired as I have entered my forties. I move slowly while the pounding rain envelopes my car…and me. Slap, slap, slap, slap - the wipers act as a metronome somehow keeping time with the music. The road is red with the glow of the tail lights in front of me, and green with the glow of go lights from above me. And Patrick Swayze is a romantic movie icon with a mane of hair that any woman would covet. Whoa, how did that creep in here? Sorry, my mind wanders in the dark.

I pull slowly into my garage. It’s okay, now. The drama of the day is soon to be washed away. A cocktail is all but constructed at this point. Pajamas will be donned, and my cares will be temporarily unplugged.

And so it goes - my Friday night ritual. Never underestimate the power of computer animated feature length films, popcorn, and the deep, red wine that swims in my glass.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Baloney Has A First Name...

The refrigerator, desperate to be part of my inner circle once more, beckoned me with his cold, metal finger and a promise to once and for all purge the forbidden goodies cooling behind his doors. He wanted me to take him back, and seemed to be keenly aware that there were deals to be struck and compromises to be made. I was perplexed by this very complicated behavior from a major appliance.

He sat alone in the house all day remembering my loving touch and the joy in my eyes when the tiny light bulb inside of him revealed the last slice of cheesecake that was to be all mine. He reminisced about the days when I arrived home, arms laden with heavy bags of sinful treats and luscious, fatty meats to be fried, breaded or otherwise covered in naughty, extravagant sauces. He longs to know again the weight of thick, juicy steaks on his bottom shelf, just waiting to be grilled and devoured as if the humans were hungry lions. Oh, and the memory of that pungent smell from leftover late-night Chinese take-out was more than he could bear to recall.

But now I dare that Maytag bully to tempt me. Too many years have gone by now, and the pounds that were lost are never meant to be recovered. I swear on the soles of my Nike running shoes that all the miles passing under my tired legs will not be in vain. I shall never again fall victim to the heavenly fudge or spicy sausage balls he once kept in his chilly darkness. How dare he insinuate that low-fat yogurt and sliced turkey breast do not satisfy me? Does he truly believe that my skim milk and Crystal Light pale in comparison to his decadent eggnog and bubbly Mountain Dew? I am insulted by his food snobbery.

Let this serve as a warning. Do not push me, you behemoth of the kitchen, lest you be banished to the garage, doomed to be forever filled with bottled water, popsicles, and grape flavored Juicy Juice boxes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bad Touch

I hate politics. I keep myself removed from all things C-span if possible. I simply do not care. I do, however, when I feel so moved, quietly support a candidate and cast my vote if I see fit. Usually, I just bow out of it. I am fine with letting other people decide the fate of the free world. I am the Queen of my own precious universe, and I have better things to do like making sure homework is completed, lunches are packed, bills are paid and plants are watered. You know, the truly important matters of the day. You go on and debate the war in Afghanistan, the health care crisis, and our greedy banking system like you have some control over it, and I’ll be on the back porch with a glass of wine. Let me know how all of that turns out. However, lately there is one issue that is causing me to actually read something in the paper besides the obituaries: Mark and Jenny Sanford.

I must state for the record that I have never been a fan of Mr. Sanford. I thought he was a kook at the get-go, and I stand by that assessment. I’m not here to talk about his political career or lack thereof. Regardless of your political leaning, we all agree he screwed up by lying in front of God and everyone about his travels and indiscretions. I’m here talking about this fool because I have never seen a forty-something man so giddy over a woman before. If there wasn’t a well placed, jilted wife relaxing in luxury on the deck of a million dollar beach house, I might even giggle about his whole sordid mess.

We have all become accustomed to the protocol for cheating politicians. It doesn’t matter if you are the President of the United States dropping your britches in the Oval Office for an average looking intern, or the governor of New Jersey dropping your britches for a same-sex member of your security detail. It goes the same route each time. First, they vehemently deny even knowing the person. Second, they stand at a podium and confess the sin, begging for mercy, saying it was a moment of weakness, and praying that a big celebrity dies soon or a plane crashes to get their name out of the headlines. Meanwhile, the wife stands beside him, staring at her feet, grinding her teeth and cursing him like the sailor she wishes she could hook up with in retaliation for his dalliances.

The Sanford’s were different though. This time, the wife said, “You’re on your own” and let him stand at the podium solo. Second, he didn’t say it was just a fling, a moment of weakness. He said she was his Soul Mate, “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair. This was a love story - a forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.” He just can’t seem to quit talking about her. He has come down with an acute case of Mention-itis. This syndrome is most often caused by puppy love, and he’s got it bad. He said he’s going to try to fall back in love with his wife. Good luck with that one, Mr. Governor. Doesn’t he know you aren’t supposed to say that out loud, much less to the media?

It took him more than forty years, but he finally found the love of his life. At this point, his best bet would be to remove himself from politics, concentrate on real estate or some other such rich man hobby, and spend the rest of his days loving his Argentine sweetheart. Maybe he will realize that life is too short to be in a marriage where he must learn to love his wife again. Odds are, that ship has sailed. And the sour grapes between them won’t exactly make for a loving atmosphere for their sons.

If I could talk to Jenny Sanford, I would tell her to move on, cut her losses. This wasn’t the man of your dreams, and you know it. It was a business partnership at best, and the deal went bad. Stop wasting your energy on someone who doesn’t love you. Dare to come down from your tower, and I’ll bet you will find that the love of your life is out there somewhere, too. You settled the first time. Try to hold out for true love on the next go-round.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Story About Chocolate and Vanilla

It was no secret growing up that my father was a racist. He did not hide his despicable light under a bushel, my friend. Oh, no. He was a dyed in the wool, almost-card-carrying bigot. I overheard him make the comment once that he thought the KKK was a respectable organization. He even went so far as to boycott “The Jefferson’s” because there was no way he was going to watch George and Weezy live the good life in their “deee-luxe apartment in the sky” while he labored away in a crappy mill town carrying a big, fat grudge on his shoulders. He preached that “those kind of people” were the root cause of everything wrong about our country. He never did figure out that there is no way to find joy in your life when you harbor such hatred and resentment for an entire group of our fellow human beings.

At a very early age, I chose not to subscribe to his philosophy of bigotry. My best friend in elementary school was a beautiful African-American girl named Lisa. This was a secret that I knew better than to share with my father. At eight years old, I couldn’t fathom what it was about Lisa that my father hated. He had never even met her. If he had, he would have seen that she had beautiful skin, impeccably styled hair, clothes that were nicer than mine, and she was one of the smartest kids in the class. What my third grade mind couldn’t comprehend was that by virtue of simply being born with brown skin, my father concluded that Lisa was a second-class citizen, not even worthy of being in the same school as his child.

In junior high, I faced the same challenges, although by now, I understood how simple-minded and backward my father’s beliefs were as we neared the end of the twentieth century. One of my closest friends back then was a smart, good-looking boy who had the biggest heart of any one I knew. His father was educated and successful, and his mom was beautiful, articulate and caring. I loved this boy like a brother, and he was an integral part of our group of friends. His one flaw, according to my father, was the color of his skin.

A defining moment in my life came during a seemingly innocuous outing at his house during a day off from school. Our group had gathered to hang out, eat junk food, and play Dungeons and Dragons. (Don’t hate. It was 1982.) When the time came for my mom to pick me up, my friend, the gentleman that he was, stepped out the door with me to see me to the car. Only, it wasn’t my mom. It was my dad in the car, and he had no idea that my friend wasn’t white. Although he said nothing in the driveway, I was berated the entire way home for associating with “those people”. I was furious right back at him. How dare he judge this beautiful, intelligent person solely based on the color of his skin? I have yet to get over that conversation.

My children will not know this hatred from me. I have within me a gigantic sense of fairness that I can only guess was conceived through years of witnessing my own father’s spittle-flecked, misdirected anger. When my daughter was born, my son, then four and a half, was surprised that she arrived in white skin. He thought it was a crapshoot as to what color your skin happened to be when you are born. He also wants to know why it was such a big deal that our President is an African-American. His response? “Well, why not?” EXACTLY! Why not? That’s my boy. He gets it at nine years of age.

I have no political agenda. I simply have a passionate belief that we are all on this planet together, not to fight but to thrive and revel in our differences, to learn from one another. We are all the same and beautifully different at the same time. We look different. We sound different. We worship and celebrate with our own unique traditions, but pain and happiness are universal. Don’t we all have the same goal - to live a happy, healthy life and raise our families in peace? Please tell me how the color of my skin factors in to that equation.

I know that my one, small voice won’t change the world. My only hope is that by stopping generations of hatred in one family, I have somehow made a difference.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon

Do you believe in fate and karma? The older I get, the more I’m convinced that fate has its hand on the paths of our lives. My mom used to always say, “When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. Nothing you do can change it.” I’m beginning to believe it. I’m beginning to believe that even though we may be given choices, there seems to be some grand outline in place, and we are just following along in a cosmic PowerPoint presentation, filling in the bullets points under each header, with the ending already penned for us. We just think we're driving the boat.

I am neither a very religious nor spiritual person. Although I like to play at it during my yoga, my mind is usually wandering off to think about what my butt looks like in my yoga pants or that funny clip I saw on youtube last night. Having said that, I can’t help but believe that karma is behind my four-year-old daughter’s interest in a belly tattoo or the fact that I thought my prayers were answered with the invention of fat free potato chips, only to find that Olestra makes me deathly ill. (That could just be irony, though.) But karma isn’t really about punishment as much as it is simply about cause and effect, which means I’m also hopeful that some of my good deeds might bring a peace of sorts for me somewhere down the line.

I know without a shadow of doubt that fate has brought you into my life. Some of you, I understand why you crossed my path. Others, I’m left to ponder your purpose. Is it to impart knowledge that is vital to my well-being? Or to make me feel better about the size of my thighs? Or to serve as a warning against putting inappropriate comments and photos on social networking sites? (I seem to have an abundance of that last variety in my life these days.) Maybe you are here because I have something meaningful (or not) to add to your life. It could be that bearing witness through my stories to some of the hard times I have endured will make you better appreciate the hand you have been dealt. Or maybe you’ll just be reminded of the certain pain and suffering in store for you if you chop off all of your hair in a moment of temporary insanity as I did. I would feel validated either way.

It is clear to me that not everyone was meant to be in your life forever. Some will inevitably move on for better or for worse. For me, there is only one person outside of family that I have known since birth who is still an active part my life. I have no doubt why he was brought to me. His purpose in my life is to randomly pop in unannounced and make me laugh at things I should be ashamed of, and for that, I am grateful.

The control freak in me wants to believe that I am the overseer of my destiny. Yes, I’m peddling this bike, but fate keeps throwing in speed bumps and detour signs that are forcing me off the road to places I would never knowingly add to my travel itinerary, places that scare the hell out of me. I have found that using fate as my mystic GPS means handing over a little of my power and trusting my instincts more than ever. I’ll go where the stars direct, and, if you have the guts, you are welcome to tag along. Although you may want to take my hand. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oh, Fall! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Fall is on his way. I heard his crunchy footsteps off in the distance as I opened the door this morning. He scurried away from my sight. I smelled him, too. My son said, "It smells like cold." Yes, the delicious smell of cold on a September morning. That is Fall, the one I love.

I am aware that Fall is a player. He knows the depth and breadth of my desire for him, and yet he still plays games with me. He sneaks up behind me to put his cool hands over my eyes and whispers, "Guess who?" But as soon as I turn around, he has dashed away again leaving me to suffer through another sweltering day. Fall likes to tease me, and I let him. We'll play hide and seek for another month or so, and then he'll decide it's time to settle down with me again. I always welcome him back with open arms. No questions asked.

Most people see autumn as a time of winding down. Not me. I see it as a time of renewal. When Fall wraps his arms around me, it puts a skip in my step. When Fall ruffles my hair with his cool, refreshing breath, I feel alive again. I cherish the time that Fall and I spend together walking at sunset through the fallen leaves, carving pumpkins, and sharing a slice of my birthday cake (if I were to ever eat a piece of cake). Fall knows how to treat me like a queen when he comes around. He has me wrapped around his finger.

Oh, Fall, it has been so many months that you have been away from me. I have longed for you each day. Now that I have unpacked my sweaters, my boots and the rake, all that is missing is you.