I’m not going to say that my sister Kelly and I are the best Mother’s Day gifters ever, but we’re probably pretty close. Read the rest of this gem…
I’m not going to say that my sister Kelly and I are the best Mother’s Day gifters ever, but we’re probably pretty close. Read the rest of this gem…
I believe it has been three years since I last saw my dad. Read the rest of this gem…
Let’s talk for a minute about parenthood. Read the rest of this gem…
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
It’s just a word, and it’s written in english, and it says…
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?
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.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know that I have a soft spot in my heart for people who break convention.
For people who say, “I don’t care what the sheeple want — I want what I want, and if it means that the so-called Rule Makers of the Universe — the Simon Cowells and the Joan Rivers and all of the popular girls in all of the high schools in all of the land — point their snide noses in my direction, then I must be doing something right.”
See, in this world, there are good rules, and there are bad rules.
Good rules, like having to wear seat belts in moving vehicles to we don’t pose a danger to ourselves or others by becoming flailing, rubbery, projectile objects during the event of a collision, help protect us from our own laziness and stupidity.
Bad rules, however, like those that tell us we can’t drink at baby showers and we can’t wear a black shirt with brown boots, only exist because someone who was once the slightest bit influential (and is now likely dead, in rehab, or no longer relevant) once said it out loud.
And puh-leez. Black and brown go with anything. So why wouldn’t they go with each other?
And we all know how I feel about drinking at baby showers.
Imagine my excitement when I received an invitation — nay, an order, from the Queen of Hearts herself, to follow the White Rabbit to a “simply mad”
tea party wedding, where all of the guests would be wearing vintage inspired clothing and hats.
It was going to be like make-believe for grown ups.
I mean, c’mon. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm to get me to jump down that rabbit hole.
Or any rabbit hole, now that I think about it.
Except maybe a real one.
Hop on in:
The details were out of this world.
I was there, too. Showing off my mad croquet skills.
This is me. Winning.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t have cell phones in Wonderland, people.
Yep. That one’s mine.
This part was way cool. The DJ played music from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and the bride’s parents came out as the King and Queen of Hearts.
Makeup change! She even got her groom to wear the hat for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds of AWESOME.
Like photographing Grace Kelly on set.
This “bouquet” must have weighed 35 pounds. It was incredible.
There were only 35-or-so guests at this Alice in Wonderland theme wedding, and each one played along, which really made it magical.
Most people scoffed when the bride told them her plans.
All I can say is, I’m glad they didn’t bring her down.
I think it’s Taylor Swift who sings, “People throw rocks at things that shine.” And shine, that evening did.
So. Maybe Taylor knows what she’s talking about, after all.
Almost six years ago, short only by a month, a boy met a girl.
The boy was scruffy. Bachelorized. Severely lacking in the skills of courtship that, if harnessed and properly utilized, could so effortlessly turn “like” into “love.”
He was one of my best friends.
The girl was striking. Confident. Recently heartbroken over someone whose name never deserved the ink in her journal, yet strong-willed enough to know that Life has a way of working things out.
She was my cousin.
She still is, I know, so I’m not sure why I’m writing in the past-tense, except maybe because now she — and they — are so much more.
It was at my wedding. June 2nd, 2006. My cousin called him the “Red Tie Guy.”
Love at first sight?
Because, you know, that’s what he was wearing.
I like making matches.
I’m not going to lie.
But when he showed up at my bachelorette party just a few days prior (because he’s that good of a friend), Scott asked if there would be any single girls he hadn’t yet met at the wedding.
Because who wouldn’t want to date a guy who goes to bachelorette parties?
And I may have said, “Well… there’s my cousin…”
His blue eyes looked hopeful.
“But she’s too good for you.”
I winked. He laughed. But really, it turns out, I was just tempting fate.
Yep, not just one, but TWO guys celebrating the sistahood. The one on the right has no idea his bachelor days are numbered.
At my wedding they met. After that they kissed. Then they dated.
They carried out a long-distance relationship for a seemingly unreasonable amount of time, but they were in love.
Self-portrait by Leah B Photography.
These things happen.
Now, so many years later — so many experiences later — my perpetual bachelor friend has passed me by.
He looks different.
The whole world looks different.
Photo by Leah B Photography.
Now he has a new bachelorette to worry about.
And the thing is, I always knew Leah would make a wonderful mother.
But it turns out, Scottie B., that I’m pretty sure you will not be anything less than an exceptional father.
So listen closely, because I’m only going to say this once:
I was wrong.
You’re not not good enough for my cousin.
You — the two of you — and now the three — are completely,
(Unrelated side note: I re-vamped the site and there will soon be some changes.
The most unfortunate side effect is that you have probably lost your email subscription if you had one. If so, please go to the top right corner of the page, just below the header and menu where it says “Subscribe to Blog Via Email.” THAT’S where you go to re-subscribe. And I’m not saying it will hurt my feelings if you don’t, but it might turn me into an emotional puddle of helplessness. So. If you don’t put your email in that box and hit “subscribe,” all that’s on you. Okay, so apparently I wasn’t very diligent in my research earlier, and I have now been able to transfer all of my email subscribers to my new site. So you’re off the hook. You’re welcome. Unfortunately, it’s still looking like any of my followers from WordPress.com (you know who you are) will have to use the email subscribe option in the top right corner of this page if you want to keep getting updates. And, you know… I’ll miss you if you don’t.)
I’m one of those lucky people who has someone who has my back.
It’s easy, when you have it, to take it for granted. But I have it. And I’m not trying to rub it in, but I think you should know. It’s kind of important if you want to know me.
I’m not going to lie and say we always understand each other.
I’m not going to lie and say we’re always on the same page or even, sometimes, in the same book.
But I’m also not going to lie and say he’s not one of the good ones — the kind who calls when he says he’ll call. The kind who stays sober so you have a safe ride home. The kind who cooks you dinner and rubs your back and somehow manages to turn you into a hugger when hugging used to make you feel all awkward and gangly and boob-pressy.
Sometimes I think I don’t know who he really is, and that scares me.
But it also keeps things interesting.
He’s my rock and my hard place.
Infuriating sometimes, because he can’t read my mind and I don’t know why.
All I do know is that 31 years ago, the world was graced with this:
(This side isn’t so bad, either):
And those of us who get to experience him, no matter how brief or how long, should consider ourselves pretty damn lucky, indeed.
Happy birthday, Justin!
I’m just going to say it.
Apparently I can expect a big, fat lump of coal in my stocking this year, because apparently I have not been a good girl.
In fact, not only am I writing this post on stolen property (this is Justin’s computer — mine is still kaput), but I’m also obsessed with sex and swearing.
This is what I’m told.
But the good news is, it’s not my fault.
Really, it all started with my mom’s vagina.
The Scene: Thanksgiving Day, 2011. My little sister’s adorable apartment is filled with smells from holidays past. Her culinary skills unthwarted by working with limited tools and nonexistent lighting, the turkey has been roasted to a goldeny perfection, and it’s literally oozing the butter and garlic she’s been injecting into it for the past 6 hours.
Our table is tiny, but it has all the necessities: Four plates full of Kelly’s avian delicacy, skin-on smashed potatoes, green bean casserole with fresh green beans, some kind of awesome stuffing I can’t even begin to describe, Mom’s homemade gravy, and my completely out of this world sweet potato casserole.
Except one plate — my brother’s plate — is missing the casserole.
I don’t want to talk about it.
But we also have wine. It’s good wine, and everything feels okay thus far because Ma had only just arrived, right on time to make her famous gravy using primitive cookware and completely sans tupperware shaker, oh miracle of miracles, and this night in Fort Lauderdale is the first time the 4 of us have been together in as many years. In fact, it’s the first time the 4 of us have been together unsupervised ever, I’m pretty sure.
I fill Ma’s glass.
So this is a family dinner, it dawns. The conversation is pleasant. We jibe and cajole — the things families do when it’s been a while, and the laughter is real. I look around the table and think about how different we all are, yet somehow the same. We siblings have the same sense of humor — it’s crass. But we make no apologies because life, after all, is too short. The humor must be genetic because we weren’t together long enough to learn it. Joel basically grew up alone with my mother, spending time with his father according to whatever arrangements the grown-ups had made, and then eventually my dad comes along, and Joel’s stepmother, and new families are created and he’s kind of stuck there in the middle dealing with that and who knows whatever else teenage boys deal with when the world is at its most confusing. He escaped when he was 17.
I managed to float through adolescence with nary a scratch. My father moved us to Nebraska (from Minnesota) when I was in 7th grade. I was awkward, to be sure — I never went to prom or involved myself fully at school, though my grades were superb. I flipped burgers when I was 15, then learned about the world of “white-collar” work when I accepted a 30-hour/week position at Best Buy during high school. Ironically, my co-workers at the one job for which I’ve ever had to submit to a urine test are the co-workers who taught me to smoke from a water bong. And the rest is a bit of a blur, until I emerged from the haze to attend college in Ohio, near-but-not-too-close to Joel.
Kelly is tough. Though only 4 1/2 years apart, it might has well have been the world for how little we knew each other. It seemed we were always pitted against one another — brains (me) versus beauty (her) in an all-out battle of who’s-gonna-make-it-out-of-this-with-an-ounce-of-self-esteem-intact? I’m pretty sure most women can relate.
We weren’t close. But then I ditched her for college, and somehow we became close, through the distance. And then when Dad left but didn’t physically leave, an event that gave our mom a proverbial eye twitch — a twitch that must have somehow sent electrical signals to the place in depths of her brain where all logic exists and shorted a fuse and suddenly everything was emotion – all emotion, all the time (can you really blame her?), Kelly begged me to come home. So I quit school, told Dad to move out, provided tissues for Ma’s spirals, and tried to convince Kelly that everything would be okay. That really, whose parents don’t get divorced anymore? But, at age 16, the damage had been done.
I’m pretty sure none of them remember any of it. That haze was far more potent than anything I might have smoked in high school.
But we emerged, mostly, and while the stale stench still lingers, we’re all creating lives. Pretty good ones, at that.
So we’re sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table and I’m thinking about how the lines between blood and upbringing are blurry, for sure, and I realize it’s strange how the lives of 3 siblings could have been so diverse when, after all, we all came from the same vagina.
So I say just that.
Only without all of the background context and qualifiers, so it just comes out as, “Isn’t it weird that we all came from the same vagina?”
Sometimes my thoughts run ahead of my mouth and the actual words can’t keep up, so they paraphrase.
It doesn’t always work out.
For a moment everyone is quiet, of course, because who doesn’t want to take a moment to contemplate a thought like that while eating roasted turkey with cranberry stuffing and mom’s gravy and — “EWWWWWW!” (From my brother and sister simultaneously.)
Ma just looks at me — that knowing look — and says, “Katie, I know why you’re so obsessed with sex and swearing.”
Really? This is news to me. I mean, I like sex, and I have been known to cuss inappropriately from time to time (maybe more in front of Mom because I know it bugs her), but now I’m obsessed? This is how it works? You mention your mom’s vagina ONE time at the dinner table, and suddenly you’re a maniac? And certainly, while I mentioned a certain unmentionable body part, I was definitely not talking about sex.
“And I know it’s my fault,” she continued.
Now I’m intrigued. Because, while I’d argue ceaselessly about her use of the word “obsessed,” I’m willing to put that on hold to hear this.
“Well. Remember when I bought those DVD’s?” she asked, her voice losing its laughter and growing somber. ”Those… Sex and the City DVD’s?”
“And you asked if you could watch them? And I let you, even though I hadn’t seen them yet?”
“And then, when I finally watched them, I couldn’t believe I’d let you watch them…”
Is this really happening?
“And now you’re obsessed with sex and swearing and it’s all my fault!”
I’m pretty sure, at that point, that some cranberry stuffing flew out my nose. We laughed. But hard.
“Well,” I retorted while taking a sip of my wine, “thank God I became an alcoholic too, so I could deal with all of the trauma! The trauma that was undoubtedly caused by Sex and the City!”
I mean, duh. Obviously it’s Carrie Bradshaw’s fault.
In fact, I’m pretty sure this excuse will now work for everything:
Honey, I know we can’t afford those $300 curtains. But Carrie Bradshaw made me buy them!
What? I know you wanted to save that nice bottle of Cabernet for our anniversary, but Carrie Bradshaw told me to drink it!”
Okay, I know I’m not supposed to talk about my mom’s vagina during Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s Carrie who tells me to do these things! She’s all up in my head!
And now, should I ever decide to see a shrink again, I’ll know who to blame.