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My Peanut Story. (It’s Not You — It’s Definitely Me.)

“But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.

Rest in peace, motherfucker.

Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. ‘Good for you,’ he said without looking up. ‘Start the next one today.'”

-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art (also author of The Legend of Bagger Vance)

I think it’s safe to say that over the past several years, I’ve been systematically working through a series of physical and mental exercises designed to fine-tune my focus on what it is I should be doing with myself.

I think I’ve always known, but it’s odd. It’s odd how I’ve managed to avoid it for so long.

My friend Catherine from Simply Solo once wrote about Peanut Stories.

What?

Peanut stories. The term comes from a book she read, Plan B by Jonathan Tropper, in which a troubled adolescent girl can attribute the point her life took a negative turn to the time she was a toddler who nearly choked to death on a peanut she found on the floor. Apparently the scolding lectures from the doctors at the hospital were enough to render her mother incapable thereafter of any “real” parenting for fear she was inadequate and unfit in her role, so the girl started acting out as a deliberate-though-subconscious way of encouraging her mother to take notice.

It was her peanut story.

An exact point she can attribute to a changed path.

Of course, we all have them. Every major (and sometimes not so major) decision we make could potentially become a peanut story. Should I go to college? If so, which one? Should I steal this lipstick? Should I swallow this pill? Should I order the steak or the fish? Which one is less likely to cause a bout of food poisoning that will land me in the hospital for a week and cause me to lose my job and my house and become an embittered waitress at a Waffle House?

These things happen.

But really, I think the term “peanut story” should be reserved for the times when you are truly responsible for the choice that you made — for that imperceptible mental shift — the slightest click of an errant gear — that drives you to make the wrong decision. The choice that goes against your nature.

The choice that changes your nature.

I used to think my peanut story was the time I quit college. I was halfway through my sophomore year, fully immersing myself in the independent partying, experimenting, educational scene that encompasses a tiny liberal arts college in the midwestern hills, when I made the choice. After enduring daily phone calls with my 16-year-old sister who was caught in the midst of our parents’ divorce, I made the decision to pack up my Tracker and leave. I was too far away. She needed me.

And it’s true. Those moments – the tearful goodbyes with friends and professors, the haggling with financial aid advisors and dropout paperwork, the waiting for my dad to drive out with a trailer and help hit rewind on my life – were altering. They made me harder. Weary.

It was the moment I realized my parents were human.

But it’s not my peanut story.

I realize now that I was exactly myself when I made that decision. I know that although it altered the course of my life — ultimately leading to a month-long road trip around the western United States which birthed my love of travel, a first-hand account of the ugliness that can absorb two people who once said “I do,” the meeting of the man who would one day become my husband, and the eventual completion of the Bachelor of Science I don’t use today — it was a course that needed to be taken.

Rocky, potholed, and much, much harder than Botany 101.

But it had to be done.

It had to be lived.

And so that’s not my peanut story.

My peanut story is this:

Before I left college, the terribly expensive college my parents insisted I attend, my father and I struck a deal. He would pay for the debt I’d accrued the past year-and-a-half — a substantial amount despite my half-tuition merit scholarship — and I would be responsible for any educational debt I obtained thereafter. Fair enough. Life happened. Years passed. I moved home, worked, counseled, cajoled, parented, traveled, fixed watches, waited tables, rented a room in a tiny apartment, and otherwise floated on in a haze of directionless unattachment. I grew up and down. Became an adult before I was ready, responsible for things I shouldn’t have been responsible for, and relishing my lack of encumbrance for anything to do with my own personal development. I met Justin. He pulled me from the haze and moved me to Georgia. I made friends. I learned how to be in a relationship. I finished school. Married. Moved to North Carolina. Bought a house. The day I called my dad to tell him we were closing on our first home is the day he told me I was inheriting the sixty thousand dollars of debt — plus interest — he hadn’t actually been paying. It was my name, after all, on the loans. And the thing is, he’d paid for my wedding. So generously. The wedding I didn’t even need to get married. Not a word about his ability — or inability — to deal with this. Not a word until I was married, a home-owner, and a newfound contributor of a substantial amount of marital debt. My plans had been to write. We could afford the house on Justin’s income alone, and I would work part-time and write. But this? This required more.

I made the choice.

I knew it wasn’t my right choice. That it went against my nature. That it wasn’t what I wanted.

But a corporate job was what I needed.

It was my debt. My responsibility. And I couldn’t just leave it to Justin to foot the bill.

What I didn’t know was how it would end up affecting me. How it would affect my marriage. How it would turn me — the person who, until a couple of years into it, could absorb the manic-depressive phone calls from the people she loved. Who could deal with the fact that her future stepmother might be younger than her. Who could reflect the Lifetime movie plots of her life like so many little white ping-pong balls because, hey.

Doesn’t everyone have shit to deal with?

But the one thing that was MY decision. That thing I could help. That wrong choice I made to ignore my calling was like a moth in my clothes closet.

Holes, everywhere.

Right through my good humor. My high spirits. My easy laughter. My love.

Its flutter was so quiet — its wings so soft — I didn’t even know it was there.

But now I do. And I can assess the damage with an objective mind.

This thing was my fault. My doing. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway.

I have long-since forgiven my father and mother for the things that make them human. My mother for being depressed, and my father for not having the courage to tell me about his financial situation. They did so many things right when I was a kid. Their biggest mistake was being too selfless. They lost themselves trying to be who we needed them to be. I thank them for making me the woman I am today. And so I don’t tell these stories to drudge up bad feelings or anger or pity because neither of them has fully learned to heal inside.

I tell them because it helps me recognize that we all have a peanut story.

And the bitch about a peanut story is that there’s really only one antagonist.

And it’s not the person you want it to be.

It’s never the person you want it to be.

But knowing that — learning that — makes it possible to change.

To end this one.

To start the next.

This wasn’t an easy one to write. What’s yours?

Inappropriate.

On Saturday night I went to a surprise party.

Surprise parties are the best, as long as everyone is awesome and no one ruins it.

There’s just something about making someone feel so unexpectedly loved.

But first, (and if we’re going to be honest, then this is the best part), you have to make the guest of honor — the “surprisee,” if you will — feel like total crap.

“Oh, it’s your birthday this week?  Huh.  I think I already have plans on Saturday, but maybe we can get together Sunday?  Hmm… but I have to get up really early on Monday, so let’s get lunch instead of dinner.  I have to pick up my dry cleaning by 1:00, so can we go at like 11:00?  That cute little cafe downtown is a little far for me to drive, but they have a Chili’s near the mall.  Hey, I’ll buy you a birthday margarita!  It will be great!  As long as I can get to the dry cleaner’s by 1:00.”

And the fantastic part is you don’t really care that your friend looks like she wants to punch you in the face because you know, deep down, that she will feel terrible for thinking these unsavory thoughts about you when she sees you at her surprise party.

And that’s why surprise parties are the best — because they make your friends feel terrible for doubting your commitment to the friendship.  Which makes you feel great, because you can be like, “See?  I really do love you!  I love you so much that I will lie to your face and make you feel unloved, just so I can make you feel terrible later.  Which, in the end, will really make you — and especially me — feel awesome.”

See how that works?

We surprised my friend Danielle for her birthday, after each of us in turn told her — subtly — that we had more important things to do.  (By the way, of course I forgot my nice camera, so all you get is fuzzy, semi-inebriated photos of the evening’s festivities.)

It was just a small group of friends — that’s me in the gray dress in the middle, Danielle in the gray dress crouched down on the right, and the looker standing on the far right is her boyfriend Matt.

Matt planned the surprise (because he’s not just a looker — he’s a thinker, too).

(And sorry, ladies — he’s very much taken.)

It was probably the most fantastic food at any surprise party in the history of ever because Danielle’s friend Morgan (far left in the top photo) works as a catering manager for a really fantastic restaurant called Elliott’s on Linden in Pinehurst.

We may have taken advantage of this fact.

Lamb skewers with a spicy remoulade dipping sauce, seafood risotto, cheesy grits with sausage, mini grilled cheese triangles with tiny cups of tomato basil bisque, dim sum, and various dips, local cheeses, breads, and crackers.  (That’s the lamb with remoulade in the above photo.  Not, uh… whatever else it may look like.)

And let’s not forget the desserts.

So basically, I was stuffing my face, and then I noticed this.

Morgan’s tattoo.

Look close.

No, it’s not a Celtic knot symbolizing her spiritual faith for all eternity.  No, it’s not some inspirational word written in French or Latin or any language other than the one in which she’s fluent.  And no, it’s not the birth date of a child or the death date of a grandparent or the date she went to her first Creed concert and decided that she would, in fact, embrace the world with arms wide open by getting a wrist tattoo.

Nope.

It’s just a word, and it’s written in english, and it says…

 

Inappropriate.

 

That’s it.

Inappropriate.

Of course it was the result of an evening’s drunken escapade — the kind where permanent ink always seems like a great idea to commemorate something you’re sure was quite hilarious at the time.  And then you wake up in that fuzzy, semi-delirious state-of-mind — that place where you can’t quite remember which of your brain’s crazy recollections are real, and which are just dreams, and then you feel it.  You feel it before you see it.  That bee sting burn that indicates you may have done something really, incredibly, stupid.

It’s something characters do, not real people, like the face tattoo in The Hangover II or the butterfly tramp stamp in Californication.

Except in this case it is very real, very permanent, and very… inappropriate.

Or is it?

I mean, maybe it would actually be kind of nice if we could all get branded with a blunt word that describes our prominent personalities.  I know many people who would stamp me with “inappropriate” or “loud” or “incredisexylicious.”

Okay.  Maybe not that last one.

But if I had a tattoo that said “inappropriate,” people would no longer be shocked when I say something, well —  inappropriate.  They couldn’t get offended because I’d be all, “Hey.  Can’t you see the tattoo?  It’s not like I didn’t warn you.”

It would give people a heads-up.  You’d go to shake a hand, check out the wrist, and immediately have an idea of who you’re dealing with:  Funny?  Great!  Bigot?  No thanks.  Easy?  Let me buy you another drink.

I might need to buy a tattoo machine for the sole purpose of branding people while they sleep.

Labels are bad, you say?  People are more complex than a single word?  Yes, we are.  But think about it.  Deep down, in our heart of hearts, we all have something very definable.  Something very us.  Something not likely to change anytime soon.  It might be good, it might be bad, but whatever it is, it just is.

If you had a word, what would it be?

When You Think About It, It’s Really Just My Age. Times Two.

Birthdays are strange in the sense that as we get older, is seems like we have so many so often that they start to lose their luster.

No longer do they represent a special day where people lavish us with gifts for something over which we never had any control — being born.  Instead, they represent aging.  Deterioration.  They turn from something to celebrate into something to dread.

It’s the birthday curdle.

And it’s a terrible thing.

Or at least, it is if you let it.

Read the rest of this gem…