Category Archives: Story

An Open Love Letter . . . To Target.

Logo of Target, US-based retail chain

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My Darling Target, how I love thee.  It is true that while in your presence I’ve been known to black out. When I awake I have purchased fuzzy Christmas socks in August,  a dozen bottles of mini nail polish, jeggings and a Hello Kitty cookie jar, and somehow these items came to a total over a hundred dollars. That’s ok, because, your little red bull’s eye came to represent a beacon of hope to me. Nine months pregnant, feeling like too much of a whale to be in public and slowly going crazy back at the nest, you were where I would turn.

Of course, you are one of a kind to me, but with your many locations I could pick a store off my beaten path and shop in anonymity. At that point, acquaintances were dangerous. They would want to discuss the fact that I was going to pop any day, or they might innocently ask me how things were with my “boyfriend,” or they may even be bold enough to ask me what my “plans were for after the baby was born.” In my hormonal and slightly paranoid state, I would of course interpret this to be a comment on my marital state, or lack thereof. To be honest, Target, I was deeply ashamed to be a . . . (gasp). . .

Unwed Mother.

I really have no idea where this strange shame came from. I am about as open-minded as they come.  I was a bohemian at heart before I started grade school. I think one of my imaginary friends was a homosexual. My friend group looks like a United Colors of Benetton ad, but for some reason, when I was pregnant, I found myself hiding my ring finger. So I would slip away, as much as a woman carrying forty extra pounds and the weight of the world on her shoulders is capable of slipping, to the place I felt the most free from judgment. And in a giant twist of irony, this was a suburban Target.  I would wonder your aisles, soaking in solitude and sipping on a sinful iced late.  Oh!  My dear sweet Target– you  created my personal version of heaven and put a Starbucks right inside your door. I can shop your wares with a caffeine buzz!

Within your sanctity, I would joyfully purchase a jewel toned Mossimo Empire waist top in a size XL reasoning that $13.50 for yet another top to fit over my belly was a small price to pay for the temporary increase in self-esteem.  I could shop, with little to no judgment from the foodie/health nut types who frequent my neighborhood grocery store, for the Market Pantry brand of spaghetti sauce that I adored and ate almost exclusively for the last weeks of my pregnancy.

We had a little routine, you and I, for our meetings. Once my coffee was secured, with eyes averted, I would discreetly walk past your “Club Wed” section. I didn’t really care to be reminded of the wedding I was not planning. I would then make my way to the baby section and spend hours gawking at baby bumpers, onsies and burping cloths. I would awe at the tiny shoes you carry, knowing that very soon I would be responsible for feet that would fit into these miniature shoes. Then I would well up with tears looking at the “big boy” section, wondering at the fact that my yet to be born child would one day wear a shoe size bigger then my own.

If I was not numbed and/ or emotionally exhausted enough from all this, I would wonder over to home section and stare at random items like, weed wackers or skillet sets. These domestic items objectified my unhappiness and shed harsh light on the uncertainty of my situation.  As hard as I try, I couldn’t make myself buy a weed wacker for a home in which I didn’t feel comfortable. I reasoned that I didn’t need a whole set of skillets; I could get by with one if it was just the baby and myself. Here in front of the storage solutions and slip covers, I was safe to quietly process things I didn’t allow myself to think about anywhere else. Like, exactly what were “my plans for after the baby was born”?

And if all this retail therapy got to be too much, I could always head to your dressing rooms. There I would find a bench to sit on and the privacy to shed a few tears before I put my brave face back on, complete with my new Sonia Kashuk kiwi lip gloss, and drive home to face my boyfriend. He never noticed, Target, how much time I spent with you, or the money that went into our relationship. Truthfully, he never noticed much. Had he asked me, I would have had to confess: I was having an emotional affair with you. You offered me the solace of routine, safety and small creature comforts, usually for under $29.99. Most importantly you offered me little glimpses of the truth I could barely stand to look at by myself.  At that point, no offence Target, I would have taken those things anywhere I could get ‘em.

Now, we’ve all moved on. I still visit your red sanctuary from time to time to pick up an inexpensive pair of shoes for my little boy, or stock up on some shampoo. But, times have changed darling. When I peruse your home goods, and neglect to buy cozy blankets or welcome mats, it is only I am searching for the very best for my family and my home.  When I cruise by Club Wed, or the baby section, I only see possibilities. Were I to shed a tear within your walls, it would undoubtedly be due to seasonal allergies or one of the sappy sweet greeting cards you carry.

We’ve been through a lot, Target.  I’ll never forget what you have done for me and I will secretly miss the frequency of my caffeinated shopping dates with you.

Ever Yours,

C.

p.s.

THIS IS AMAZE:

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What to Expect When You Were NOT Expecting.

“Either you got a boob job or you are prego. Your boobs look HUGE!” Lynn announces. It was the end of a busy night at the restaurant where I waited tables and I was hunched over wiping down a shelf full of condiments. I took a deep breath, put down the mini mustard and say to Lynn, “Unless the University is giving out student vouchers for books and a boob job, I think it’s safe to say I must be prego.”

Lynn’s face turned the color of the ketchup I was wiping and I could have swept the floor with her jaw. Normally I would have fallen over laughing at her reaction, but I had only known that I was unexpectedly expecting a baby for a few weeks, and I was still busy picking my own jaw up off the floor.

That was four years and nine  months ago, but lately I have noticed an influx of my friends and acquaintances who have come down with a case of the “Unexpected Pregnancy,” or they, like my friend Lynn said upon finding out I was pregnant, “got knocked the fu$k up!”   I would like to point out that I am intentionally not using the expression “Unplanned Pregnancy.” I imagine that those are words that are most often whispered by not so well-meaning individuals around water coolers and hors d’oeuvre tables. “Unplanned Pregnancy,” is an expression that implies some sort inherent flaw in the mother to be, as if she was too callous and/or lazy to bother planning her pregnancy. I prefer the expression “Unexpected Pregnancy.” It sounds like a zany surprise, a last-minute house guest, or a freak weather pattern, and best of all there is no judgment. I mean, an unexpected house guest could happen to any one of us.

So now that we have the terminology down, I’d like to share a few of the things I learned during my own unexpected experience.  Here is what NOT to do when you are expecting:  please, please, please, for the love of God, do not go out and buy that book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” If you insist on buying it please read it slowly and sparingly, not obsessively and compulsively, like I did. Let me be clear, this book could scare the maternity jeans off even the most courageous mom-to-be. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is a bunch of prego-elitist fear mongering and no matter how much I bitch, I’ll  never get back that hours of sleep and general sense of peace I lost due to reading that book. The text will go into long detail about birth defects that effect something like one in every one million babies that are born under a full moon. Then it will heap on guilt and have you believe that if your baby did have this rarest of birth defects it would most certainly be your fault. Everything from Alka-Seltzer to zucchini is hypothesized to have some adverse effect to your unborn child.   “What to Expect” will make you feel confused, paranoid and completely inadequate, and these are two areas in which pregnant women need no additional help.

Now, what TO do (the very, very abbreviated version): Go ahead and get over all your preconceived notions of what a mom should be, which are probably based on what your mom was (or was not) and what society says a mom should be. Guess what? This is your experience, your life, and you get to determine what kind of mom you want to be. You want to make casseroles in your Manolo Blahnik’s? You want to make organic casseroles in your Tom’s? You never want the word casserole mentioned again in your presence?  Great, fine, whatever, because you are in charge now and this is one of the few perks of being an adult.

Immediately after this first step, proceed to step two: get over all your fears, insecurities and doubts about your ability as a mother. So, you’re unmarried? So, you don’t have the perfect job? So, none of your friends have kids? So you are afraid you don’t have a maternal bone in your body? So, your friends don’t quite trust you with their house plants let alone their children, your idea of cooking is a microwave chicken pot pie and you find the idea of breast-feeding simply repulsive? Well, this is my advice: So what? Really, it does not matter.

Line up all those feeling of inadequacy, look ‘em in their beady lil eyes and say, “So what?” Because, you are about to live outside of what you ever thought yourself capable of and you will look back and say to yourself, “damn, I did that!” Sounds deceptively simple, but make no mistake it’s actually one of the most difficult things I’ve ever faced. But it’s worth it.

Take it from me, an admittedly somewhat selfish girl who found herself: pregnant, unmarried, in a dead-end relationship, with no nearby family, a waitress, a college student, with little to no personal example of what being a good mother was, and with the strong suspicion that I had accumulated enough liquor over the years that milk would immediately curdle upon making contact with my breasts, it is very much worth it.

 There is a sign above my son’s bed that says, “I am a Dream Come True.” The thing is, when he first came into my life I didn’t know this, but now I know there are no words that are truer.

 And my last piece of advice is: what you should expect while you are unexpectedly expecting is that you will rise to the occasion of creating the perfect situation for you and your loved ones, as only you can do.

Enjoy, and just be glad THIS can’t happen:

Kicking Cartoon Ass

Eeyore being sad.

Image via Wikipedia

At the risk of sounding like a complete psychopath, I have a confession to make: I hear voices. The voices in my head sound a lot like the five o’clock news. They are all doom and gloom with the occasional side of sensationalism.  “Next at five, Candice will never find what she calls “fulfilling” work in this economy. She ought to be grateful to have any job at all! And stay tuned as we uncover breaking news of how Candice has probably taken years off her life in her many failed attempts to quit smoking! And later, watch as we bring you exclusive coverage as Candice gets her heart ripped out of her chest and stomped on again because she was misguided enough to trust another man!!!”

  If Eeyore and the teacher from Charlie Brown had a love child, it would sound exactly like one of my voices:  “Wah wah waaah. Oh . . . bother.” These voices, or my “script” as I refer to them, have been following me around for as long as I can remember.  Over the years their incessant chatter has become more like background noise, like a television on in the other room while you are trying to sleep; you eventually train your ears not to listen. Although certain situations really aggravate the script and the voices get louder. For example, say I am about to walk into a room full of people I don’t know very well. Suddenly my News Anchor Eeyore will go berserk and gets all Stephen King’s Carrie on my ass and shouts “They’re all gonna laugh at you!!” Or, say I am thinking about taking a much needed vacation to Mexico, the voice kicks in: “You don’t have any business going to Mexico! I mean all kinds of horrible things are going on over there! Besides, how are you able to afford a vacation right now? I mean, there are people practically standing in line for handouts and you want to go gallivanting off to Mexico??”

Heaven forbid that something wonderful happens! The voices will become deafening, like a keg party in your living room when you have to get up for school the next day and no amount of covering your ears or hiding under the covers will allow you to get any rest. Such was the case when I got engaged: “Oh… you’re gonna try that again. Haven’t you learned anything from the last several times you tried being in a relationship? Do you know what the divorce rate is these days? Besides, why would you think he really wants with someone like you anyway?”

Perhaps the worst was when I decided that I would give this whole writing thing another try. This time my voices didn’t even dignify their thoughts with words. They just burst in to shrill, hysterical laughter at my dream.

Sounds crazy, right? It is. But believe it or not—I am actually very lucky that my voices sound as crazy as they do because I am better able to recognize that they are not me. I mean, I actually enjoy meeting new people and I will never, ever turn down an opportunity to travel. And love; sure it’s shat all over me before, but so what? I still believe in it. And writing, well laugh all you want but I have known since I was old enough to read that one day I would make my living with words. The great news is that the crazy-Eeyore-piss- on-sunshine-fear- mongering-news-caster is not me!  That voice is not me at all and there is a lot of power in knowing that. There was a time when I thought that the script was part of me and even worse, I thought that the voices were right! (doom and gloom can sound so authoritative) I am not sure how they got there, or what purpose they could possibly serve—but I do know that everyone has ‘em.

My girlfriend Lee runs around like Chicken Little. Even though she is one of the strongest, smartest and most successful women I know, she is constantly bracing herself for the worst the case scenario. Even in the midst of all her dreams coming true she has one eye on the sky and is wondering “What the hell am I gonna do when the sky starts falling?”

If being thoughtful and caring was an Olympic sport my friend Lynn would be on the Wheaties box. She is the type of person who notices that something might be going on with you before you know it yourself. She has the uncanny ability to see the good in others and to make the best out of the worst situations. She is the type of girl who could probably make having a flat tire in the middle of the desert an absolute riot. However, she is always haunted by her voice: The Roadrunner. “Meep meep!” He screams at her constantly. Always pushing her to do more, move faster, get it right and figure it all out! Poor girl can barely sleep at night because the Roadrunner is always running her ragged.

And then there is my friend Milana, who has been blessed with one of the hugest hearts I have come across. She dreams big and has the absolute tenacity to make these dreams a reality. Yet she carries around the voice of Yosemite Sam with her everywhere she goes. This fiery, hair-trigger tempered nut job is always threatening to go off and destroy all the things she loves.   

Clearly it is not actually characters from the Warner Brother’s cartoons we watched as children or the creatures from beloved children’s books that have infiltrated our minds. We got these scripts from some pretty heavy places. Maybe it was an abusive step dad who was always screaming. Or a father we never thought we could please but we ran ourselves down trying anyway, or maybe it was being raised by people who had very dark views of themselves and the world. But facing down a personifications is much easier than facing the real thing. So, as cute as Eeyore might be, with his tacked on tail and big dopey eyes, I have decided I am tired of this donkey trying to run my life and piss on my dreams. He has to go.

So I put the little donkey in a cheap suit and I sit him at a news desk. And he starts in with that same story. About how I am not allowed to be happy when there are so many miserable people out there. About how the world is a scary, scary place and I had better watch my step. He goes on to tell me that I have no business having dreams, they won’t amount to much and he’d hate to see me disappointed. And all the while I am slowly stepping further and further away from him. His voice takes on the “Wah, waah,” quality as I continue to step away. He probably thinks that he has won again and that I am just going to retreat in the shadows as usual. That is when I get my running start. I start barreling straight toward him and as I pick up speed I think of all the things that I have missed out on, all of the things I would not risk because I was busy listening to this negative bitch tell me what the world is like. I think of all the ways that this voice has tricked me into being less of who I actually am.

I plow into my “script,”  and I knock the daylights out of Eeyore.  I scream: “Shuuuut Up!” Once that poor little donkey is on the floor I look at him and say: “You are the one with no business. No business telling me how to live my life!”

And so, that’s how  I kicked Eeyore ass. And I will continue to kick it until I am free.  All those things that seemed so desperate and real, those voices that ran me around in the same circles I hated, they started to loosen their grip. What kind of nasty script are you running from? Who personifies your “voices”?  Is it time you drug Gargamel out into the streets? Are you sick of all your callous sarcasm getting in the way? Maybe it’s time for you and Garfield to have a little go time. All those demons can be personified into a harmless character and then faced down and defeated. Unless you tell me it’s Snoppy. Then you got big problems, real big problems.

Shakespeare in Divorce

William Shakespeare, chief figure of the Engli...

Image via Wikipedia

To Thine Own Self Be True . . .

Besides boys and drinking, in college I studied literature. Yet, sadly I have to admit that my knowledge of Shakespeare goes about as far as Mel Gibson’s Hamlet to that one hit wonder from the early 90’s by his sister’s name.  However, I am absolutely gaga for the Bard. Or, at least I am supposed to be— a bookish girl who always loved words tends to make heroes and saints out of all writers, even the ones of which she is not entirely familiar. Then about four years ago, I fell even deeper for Shakespeare when I ran smack into him in Brooklyn. Rather, I ran into some of his words.  Although they were written about four hundred years ago, that day their appearance on an engraved sterling ring in a bohemian flea market seemed to come in a rather timely fashion. “To thine own self be true” read the inscription. “Damn Skippy!” I thought, did a mental fist pump, plucked the ring up and scurried back to Manhattan to continue loosing myself amongst the many people.

I was in New York for the soul purpose finding myself, trying to figure out what in the world I was going to do with my life, and sometimes the best way to do that is to lose yourself for a few days. I needed to go to a place where no one knew me, where no one needed something from me and where I was free to pound the pavement and scour the subway searching for answers. I had just turned thirty, my student loan bills were pouring in and every day I went into my office I felt as if I was spooning out a small portion of my soul.  My son was now almost a year old, and his father and I’s relationship was not going to get better. It was so diseased that it really just needed to be put down in a humane way. But—I didn’t have the balls, I was too terrified of the “what if’s” to see what was right in front of my face.

 As I wandered from burrow to burrow and NYC whizzed by me in a blur my vision started to focus and it became apparent to me that my dreams had shifted into a nightmare. I could no longer afford to press the snooze bar on my life and wait for things to get better, I had to push past my inertia and indecision and actually do something to wake up. When I saw Shakespeare’s words on the ring, I didn’t stop for too long to think about what they meant. I simply thought, “This is fate in a flea market telling you to get your sorry ass out of this pathetic relationship and get on with your life.”

 So that’s what I did. I went back to Atlanta and instead of tactfully putting my relationship to sleep; it turned out to be more of a “shooting a lame horse” incident that went terribly array.  I proceeded to go through one of the worst “divorces” and custody battles imaginable. Although, to talk about divorce as being something better or worse than you could have imagined is somewhat pointless.  No matter how many people we know who have lived through them, how many sickeningly simplistic movies have been made about them, or how many times we have heard the staggering number that is the divorce rate, really there is nothing neither real nor imagined, that can prepare you for the reality of a divorce.

 A divorce is two people who were once so in love that they could see their futures in each other’s eyes and who now can no longer look each other in the eye. Divorce is when a stranger comes into a courtroom, wearing a robe and a grim smile, and proceeds to divvy up your life with the precession of a surgeon and a scalpel. Divorce is when bailiffs and court employees herd you through the system as if you are one of many because you are literally one of many. You might as well be assigned a number. Instead of Jones v. Smith, the tittle of your case should be: 1407b v 2356a, because you are now a cow in a large herd, a number, a statistic. Your life is no longer “personal.” And guess who got you here? You and the former love of your life. I don’t care what anyone says about amicable divorces. There is no such thing. Divorce is insanely heartbreaking no matter what the particular details of you and your ex’s relationship were. No matter how happy you are to see his broke-down ass go, it always hurts when they hammer the final nail into the coffin of what was once your greatest dream.

And while I lived through that nightmare, I wore my flea market fate on my finger and would stare down at those words making them mean whatever I needed them to mean that day:

To thine own self be true. Yes- I can face this bully of a man in court.

To thine own self be . . .  yes, I can survive the pity filled looks from the other moms at school and show my face in front of the many acquaintances who had “heard” my story.

To thine own self . . . yes, even though all I want to do is crawl in bed and sleep until it all goes away, I can muster up the energy to be present for my son.

To thine own . . . yes, I can start to believe in love again.

And eventually, that nightmare passed and somewhere along the way I tossed the Shakespeare ring in my jewelry box and hadn’t thought of it much until yesterday while doing a little organizing. I came across it my heart stopped for a second. “to thine own self be true” it whispered and I stopped what I was doing, left the little piles of neatly folded shirts and stacked papers, wandered over to my desk where I proceeded to do a little Google research and read about what other people think the words mean. The line is from Hamlet and is spoken by a father, Polonius, to his son who is about to take off and do some traveling, the proverbial “finding himself” trip.  What preceded this famous statement was mostly a fathers lecture on how his son better not lose his ass financially and that he better damn well avoid slutty women.  So, for many it’s hard to believe that the phrase, “To thine own self be true” was intended to have quite the same introspective, feel good meaning we have attached to it. But, I had to wonder, did it matter what other people thought about the words? Did it even matter what the Bard himself meant by these words when he put them in the mouth of Polonius? Not really, to me they were my battle cry, and my fortune to read.

When boiled down to their most basic and least poetic meaning, I take the words on my ring to mean: “Know who you are, cus the more you know yourself the less likely you are to screw yourself over.”

When dispensing relationship advice people have a habit of saying, “Listen to yourself, just follow your gut.” If you are one of those people, please, go ahead and punch yourself now. How can someone listen to themselves when they don’t know what they the hell they are saying??  In order to follow your gut you have to know which one is yours. Knowing yourself, as it were in my case, turned out to be more difficult than I would have imagined. I was always confusing who I thought I was supposed to be and who others wanted me to be with who I actually was. In most cases when I should have been “listening to myself” there were so many conflicting voices going on in my head I felt like a Schizophrenic.

Had I known myself back then I would have known to pay attention to the voice inside my head that said, “Um, this shit ain’t right!” When my ex brought me leftovers from his dinner out as a consolation for not taking me with him, or when the day I was moving into his apartment he went out with his guy friends looking like a character from “Night at the Roxbury.”  If I had known myself then perhaps I would have trusted myself when after watching my ex miss the entire third inning of a baseball game because he had to take a pretzel back to a stadium concession stand based on principle, I thought: “This guy is impossible to please!”

So now, at thirty-something I am finally getting around to being true to myself, to feeling my gut, to picking out my voice in the crowd, and to knowing myself. And sometimes, it’s not all that pretty.  Am I always blowing love and sunshine? Hardly. But I can thank Shakespeare in part for this: I won’t ever have any dreams blow up in my face or my hopes perish before my very eyes again because now a days I deal in reality, a nitty, gritty, true to myself reality and that is better than a dream—it’s true to life. y

And . . . to lighten all this introspection up:

Crushed.

Faith (George Michael song)

Image via Wikipedia

At the age of thirteen I was temporarily psychotic. That is to say I came down with my first crush and it was the type of crush that makes you realize why they ever came up with the term crush in the first place. I was in agonizing physical pain. It was absolute mania, I cried, I swooned, I giggled, but most of all I was elated. The world was larger and more alive. It was an innocent school girl version of being on shrooms. I just seemed to feel everything. A sunny day, a barking dog, a taste of spicy mustard, or a sad song; everyday ordinary events were now attached to feelings.

We women have been going publicly psychotic over our feelings for ages. I have yet to see, and I doubt if I ever will, a mass of boys scream and swoon over any girl.  Males simply retreat to their room with some visuals and that’s about the end of the story. From Beetle Mania to the hip-swiveling induced hysteria of Elvis, we girls put our passions all out there. The widespread celebrity crushes of my generation were The New Kids on the Block and the Back Street Boys, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed them, but I was still busy pining over George Michael. I followed his career from Wham! and wanted nothing more than to wake him up before I went-went to the ass-shaking, spirit moving sounds of Faith.  Sadly, years later he dealt me and the rest of the female species a crushing blow when he announced that he preferred men. (Sniff.)

Now a days it’s Beiber Fever; tiny eight year old girls and, strangely enough, sometimes their mothers too can be found weeping and wailing over this teen age boy. I roll my eyes and shake my head, What is this crap? However, if I think back to the time of my first crush, and many subsequent crushes to follow, those emotions were so raw, so all-encompassing, so damn, well… crushing, I can completely relate to these frantic teenage girls.  Had I come of age during the time of  YouTube and stumbled upon George Michael kissing Jordan Knight, I too would have pulled my hair out in agony. (please see the poor girl below)

My own personal psychosis struck while at summer camp. The culprit’s name was Jobie Dixon. He was a few years older, tall and dark with piercing eyes. We slow danced to: “Goodnight Sweet Heart” at a fifty’s style sock hop. He guided me around the dance floor in this awkward but very gentle way.  I remember my dress that night more clearly then what I wore yesterday: Blue poodle skirt, white blouse, pink ribbon around my pony tail and a pair of black and white saddle oxfords that pinched my feet until I could no longer feel my toes. After “our song” was over he leaned way down to give me a tiny kiss on my blazing hot cheek. I just  stood there frozen. . . staring at him. . . until thankfully one of the junior counselors came and led me away by my hand.

We all returned to our cabins and I sat on my bunk barely able to move. . . just staring off into space like a complete head case. My cabin mates had to guide me to my tooth-brush and help me into my pajama’s, mind you I was twelve and sober not twenty-two and hammered. Love drunk I guess?  When I finally laid my head down to sleep I slurred: “I think I’m in love.”  I was toast.  A sickening and sappy hopeless romantic was born.

I came home at the end of the week still drunk on love potion (# 9).  It was in this state that I decided to share the news with my grandmother.  This was not something I would normally do. I was the type of girl who always seemed to be flooded with emotions; however my family was not the type to discuss feelings at all. I’m not sure what my words were, probably some giddy and girlish rant about Jobie but guarded and somehow toned down. I had learned that restraint was the proper way of expressing myself. My grandmother looked at me and said flatly: “Well, that’s nice but you just remember: boys only want one thing and after that there’s just a lot of pain and hurt. And guess what? It’s always you that ends up getting hurt.”  They say coffee won’t sober you up, but those words were like the cops in my review mirror and they have been following me ever since.

Did I mention that I was only twelve? I couldn’t quite imagine what that one thing that boys only wanted was, but I had enough of a general idea that it made me queasy. Phrases like “rain on your parade” or “burst your bubble” come to mind when trying to explain my emotions at that moment, but it was more than that.  It was a shrinking of my heart and a sinking of my spirits.  Now I was burnt toast.  I was a romantic meshed with a cynic.

This, as it turns out, is a pretty confusing predicament for all involved; including the boys. Jobie Dixon didn’t want just one thing, he wanted a few. He wanted to hold my hand, to sit next to me at church, to walk me home from school and “to go steady”.  So naturally I tortured him for years, playing games and telling him I was not sure what I wanted. What I wanted was to be loved and to love his tall sweet ass back. But, noooo. That would have been too scary and I was trying to avoid all this pain and hurt my Grandmother spoke about.

I must have had a dyslexic heart because I was always getting it backward! There were guys that showed up on time for dates, listened when I talked, gave me thoughtful little gifts and even wrote me songs, but I convinced myself that eventually these guys would reveal themselves to be the monsters my grandmother alluded to, that deep down they were maniacal assholes that just wanted to hurt me.

Unless of course they really were maniacal assholes; like some guys I have dated who have stood me up, screwed my friends and then stole my money. These guys, I was convinced, really loved me. They just had a funny way of showing it.

Oddly enough, the aim of all my antics was to protect myself, to avoid being the one left with all the pain and hurt.  And in the end everyone got hurt. Love: I have had it all screwed up so many times. The only way I ever got it right, or for that matter seen anyone get it right, is by doing the opposite of what I had spent years doing. Instead of building up walls and hardening up hearts, I had to split myself wide open. Only with this risk was there ever any real chance at reward.  Sometimes I miss the simpler times of sock hops, boy bands, and the innocence of love drunk hearts but through the years it’s been a sobering experience. A few painful lessons, the right teacher, and even my dyslexic heart learned to read the language of love. If only adults might learn that sometimes it’s wiser to keep their cynicism to themselves, maybe we could avoid crushing a few more hearts.

Thank You Girl

How to wash your hands

Image by The Master Shake Signal via Flickr

“Oh, thank you!” says my three and a half-year old son. I respond with an automatic, “You’re welcome”, not even pausing to consider what Leo is thanking me for. I am trying to hover over the toilet at the burrito joint where we sometimes go when I am simply too exhausted to cook or to pick up something from the grocery store. In other words, we go there a lot. While hovering, I am reading a text from my boss about something that could have waited for business hours.  All the while I am trying to keep an eye on the door since Leo has a habit of throwing open the door before I have pulled down my skirt.

“No Momma. I was not thanking  you.”  Leo says matter- of- factly. “I was saying thank you for the paper towels.” I stop what I am doing and look in Leo’s direction. He is standing under the automated paper towel dispenser with this silly grin on his face, tickled pink that this machine just gives away paper towels.  All you have to do is put your hands under the machine and as if by magic it knows exactly what you need and gives it to you.“Momma, I didn’t know it was going to do that!” Leo squealed with glee. And he returns his hands to the same spot. “Oh, thank you very much!” he says.

An unexpected surprise has him delighted and I am probably even more so. As a mother, these are the things that bring me the most joy and it is little moments like this that make spending time with a child a worthwhile pursuit for any adult. You learn so much; rather you remember so much, about yourself and about the world that your adult heart forgot.  The paper towel dispenser has  me thinking about the unexpected things in life for which I am grateful.

I remember my Grandmother stressing to me the importance of “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Sure there is Grandma; I get ‘em all the time. It’s called coupons.   But, none the less, I had a hard time being grateful because any time something good came along I feared fate’s retribution. As if God would bless me once and then come down and smite me twice, just cus that’s how he rolls.

There are the obvious things to be grateful for, the ones mentioned in the childlike prayers I used to recite.  “Thank you for my house. . . ”  “Thank you for my family. . .” but, when put in the light of any given tragedy these everyday blessings really hit home and my thoughts shift to “Hey- I really am lucky to have a roof over my head.” Witnessing the devastation of a natural disaster or terrorist attack seems to make us all hyper-grateful. . . for a while.

I have had the pleasure of “working with the public” for many years and I am constantly afforded the opportunity to see people on both their best and absolute worst behavior. On a bad day, I may be likely to tell you that the world is full of insufferable assholes, but I actually believe that people are by in large sympathetic souls. We do care. We do want to help. Sometime we just forget to keep caring because we are so distracted with the phone calls from the boss, paying our over inflated mortgages and hovering to prevent germs because health care is just not what it should be. You know, all of our First World problems.

Then there is the type of gratitude that Leo and the paper towels taught me about; gratitude for the unexpected. I am talking about the type of magic where, just like the paper towel machine, the universe gave me just what I needed. And often times, it is exactly what I thought I did not need and most certainly did not want.

This has been true of  most of the major things in my life. Case(s) in point: Growing up I was pretty lonely and the vibe in my house was less than pleasant. I turned to reading to hide in fictional worlds.  Being a bookworm does not seem like something most teenage girls would yearn for, but my bookish tendencies would later develop into my greatest dream: writing a book.  My broken-down  family was and sometimes still is a painful burden to bear, but I realize now that it has bestowed upon me a strength of heart which I don’t know if I would be capable of otherwise.  Downright traitorous  relationships that left me blindsided and broken-hearted; they also gave me the gifts of a razor-sharp radar that can quickly point out the wrong people and a deep appreciation for true love and friendship.

The greatest unexpected blessing of all is Leo. Getting knocked up in the midst of a rocky relationship when I had not even graduated college sure did not seem magic, or like the universe giving me just what I needed. In fact I was scared shitless. But not a day goes by that I don’t thank the lord, thank my lucky stars, or thank _________ (insert any other applicable deity or entity) for my son. The ways in which he has opened my heart, mind and eyes can’t entirely be measured. Having to step up to be the person he needs me to be is the greatest gift I have ever received and it just keeps unfolding.

It seems to me that it is the pain that keeps us growing and receiving. I am by no means attempting to poo poo on peoples pain or trying to piss off people with problems. Nor am I suggesting that we go out there and throw ourselves to the wolves in order to learn a lesson or two. What I do know is that I can honestly say:  I wouldn’t change a thing; not a single thing about where I have come from and what I have been through. And that, believe me, says a lot. So I am thankful for the unexpected and the uncertain and I even try to be thankful for the unwanted. And the paper towels. Can’t forget to be thankful for the paper towels.

So what’s your “paper towel story” ? What changed your life or gave you new perspective? I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE for you to share some of the unexpected things you are grateful for!

Fear and Loving

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Image by Paul Watson via Flickr

When did I become such a chicken shit? The younger me was fearless!  Midnight skinny dipping in the ocean, keg stands, confrontations with strangers: Bring. It. On.  Hitchhiking: child’s play. No, I am lying, I would never hitchhike that’s for people with a death wish and I was only a mildly self-destructive teenager. It wasn’t that I was without fear; I just didn’t give a flock. There is a difference.

What was I worrying about back then?  How to get past the door guy without a fake id? Where was I going to scrape up beer and gas money for another weekend road trip? Sure those ranked up there, but I was scared too. Scared I would wake up one day and all my friends would realize they were over me and I would be left to sit by myself at lunch. Scared my boyfriend would sleep around with every girl in high school and that besides being heartbroken I would look like an idiot. Well, that really did happen but that’s another story. Point is, as much of a bad-a$s as I pretended to be, I was always scared I was going to get my heartbroken.

Unlike my wallet, the older I got the bigger my fear got.  However exhausted I may be when I get in bed my fear kick starts my brain and I lie awake thinking:  I am in my 30’s, why the hell do I have no savings to speak of?  Will a public education cut it for Leo? How will I afford private school? Is the damn alarm set? Did I pay the bill for the alarm monitoring? What is this mole on my face? Could it be melanoma? Should I have that checked? What if I got sick? Well- I guess I’d be screwed cus I still don’t have anything saved! Around and around the worry swirls in my head until exhausted and disgusted with itself my brain finally switches off and I fall asleep.

I suppose I worry so much because unlike the young me who didn’t give a crap; the adult me cares a crap load. I have so much to care about that it sometimes overwhelms me.  For starters, my lil Leo, he is like this beautiful little sprout in a really big and sometimes dangerous garden and I never knew myself to have a green thumb. There are all these things I need to protect him from and things I need to give him to ensure he grows strong and happy. I have to keep growing myself to, because sprouts need their moms to be strong and happy.

And there is my love, my partner in crime, the man I am going to marry: Fiancé.  I worry about him, a lot. One night, when our love was still a little sprout, Ben went out with some of his friends and I stayed at home. We had been texting back and forth, cute little flirty texts ran rampant in the early days, when suddenly he stopped responding to my texts. I didn’t hear from him for hours which seemed like an eternity. Finally it was getting late and after much agony (“Will I seem like a desperate stalker??”) I called his phone and it went straight to voicemail. Then the strangest thing happen. Instead of getting pissed, instead of assuming that he was wasted and gallivanting around with some floozy, I got worried.  That’s when it clicked- Oh, no- I am in deep! I was honest to god worried about my big handsome man’s well being.

And I worry about me too.  I lay in bed at night and I worry: Will I somehow manage to not screw up this relationship?  What if I drag our marriage down the drain with my insecurities and fears? What if I wake up one day and he just does not love me anymore?  Will I be able to live should something happen to us? Hmm… what if I just quit wasting time and loved him? Because while I am laying here worrying; he is lying next to me wondering what is wrong.

What’s wrong is that in many ways my greatest fears are related to what matters the most to me, for example, my fiancé.  Fear is like this weed, it’s invasive and it will kill off all your joy if you don’t nip it in the bud. What I have learned is that fear gets in the way of loving. And the only thing that can kill fear? More loving. Thankfully my man helps me; he whips out his machete and I put on his grandma’s gardening gloves and together we pull weeds and we play in the dirt.