Monday, August 26, 2013

Magical Realism

The day that he told me, I was wearing a pink sundress, ties at the shoulder, with large ostentatious yellow flowers spread throughout.  It was a maxi dress before we called them maxi dresses, billowing at my ankles, its hem grazing the top of my silver Birkenstock sandals.  This is not important at all.

I tend to remember things by what I was wearing, which is more of a carnival trick than anything useful.  I recount it here though, because, in the grand scheme of things, there are other things I don't remember and I can't tell you why.  The dress remains as a gaudy reminder of the day because so many other things are lost to the wind and the leaves and the youth.

He told me that he was in love with me and I remember nothing else.  I imagine that I got up and left, I must have, but I don't remember it.  I must have driven home, I must have talked to him afterward, but I don't remember any of it.  The moment itself, the words themselves, just hang in my memory like a floral dress, the hem flirting with the ground.

My junior year of college I wrote a poem about it.  Poetry is not my thing, but I was trying, in that way that you do because it seems inevitable.  OF COURSE the English major with the plastic glasses and chewed off hair will have a book of poems stashed in her bag.  In the poem, the girl and the boy sit at the picnic table and talk.  He tells her he loves her and she skips across the lily pads in the wetlands in front of them and disappears.  The name of the poem was Magical Realism, and it was a fitting title as it was the name of a literary genre that I didn't really understand tied to an event that I didn't really understand.  I ended up turning it in for some kind of free-write thing in a seminar I took and my professor really liked it, splashing a big red "A" on it.  I was proud of that and kept it for years in my bedside table, the paper surviving with a handful of other mementoes through a couple of moves.  Inevitably though, I lost that too.

One morning while we were at the beach this year, I found myself on the back deck facing the ocean, paging through a cookbook, my fingers grazing the photographs of cakes like idylls.  It was early and the kids weren't up yet.  I was wearing a v-neck t-shirt and black yoga pants, my sea-addled hair tied up in a messy top knot.  I'm sitting on my feet like a child, lost in the book and in my plans for the cakes.  He walks up behind me, already wearing his cycling gear, probably late for his ride.  I don't turn around--I am used to him now in a way that is both amazing and humdrum.  He puts his hands on my shoulders and pulls me toward him a bit, pushing his nose into the hollow between my earlobe and the side of my neck.  He stands there and breathes a bit and then kisses my neck and says into my ear, his voice heavy like the wetlands:  "I can't get enough of you, baby cakes."  And then he leaves, walking gingerly through the house in his cycling shoes, clop clop clopping away.

Just yesterday I was on campus, a short pink dress ruffled around my thighs, my feet squeezed into Lilly Pulitzer wedges that I somehow was able to negotiate around the brick pathways in a way that I am still a little bit proud of as I sit here typing this.  The new batch of freshman were there too, being herded like identically dressed, Twitter wielding cattle to the assorted dining halls, sitting in tight circles with their orientation aides in the gardens.  I caught myself looking at them a couple of times, watching their movements as they struggled to keep up, to navigate the space that was now their new home.  He was beside me too, walking beside me, also taking it all in.  "They all look the same," he said.  "They tend to do that," I said, "Thomas Jefferson probably looked the same as all of his classmates too."  He smiles a little and I think of being one of these freshmen myself, of the girl I was before and the girl I became after.  And he is here beside me, despite that day at the wetlands, despite my 18 year old fear, despite my leaving him not once but twice, despite all that.  The man I love, the place I love, the ring on my finger with "Long time coming" etched close to my skin.  It all starts to converge a little and I realize something amazing.

I finally understand what magical realism is.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring Sprung

When I was in college, you're not going to freaking believe this, but I wasn't a clothes girl.  I just wasn't.  Sure, I had been best dressed in high school.  Sure, I was raised by a Southern woman who made sure I knew that I wasn't to leave the house without make-up and the bigger the hairbow, the better.  But when I got to college, I put all that aside and dedicated myself to the higher mind.  You know, like you do.  If you are pretentious little twat who doesn't know any better.

College was also a time when I didn't have any money.  Like no money.  And that's normal for a lot of college students, I guess, but it seemed abnormal in my bougie school.  The fact that I had a job (a full-time one, natch) was nearly unheard of among my fellow English majors.  But, you know, we're not exactly the most grounded people.  So while they sat around and lamented the fact that their parents wouldn't spring for the new-fangled iPods that had started to pop up around campus, I was sitting in the floor, coloring in the bleach stains on my work pants with a black Sharpie.

There was a day every year, though, that made me rethink my high minded, anti materialistic stance.  And that day was the first day of spring.  It seemed that like magic, every year, there would be one day where the winter was turned off and the sun came on and everything was glorious.  And as if by the same magic, every girl on campus, would suddenly be outfitted perfectly.  I had no idea how they did it--if these things were planned weeks in advance.  But one would look around and everyone would have on these perfect sundresses and cardigans and sunglasses and legs would be tanned and hair would be streaked and there was an ease in the whole thing that I have never felt with anything ever.  It was a moment when you didn't know whether to curse them, fall to the bricked sidewalks crying or praise their otherworldliness.

One year, I remember in particular.  I was a junior or senior, living off campus.  I came to school and parked illegally in the faculty and staff lot as I was wont to do.  I was walking to campus, struggling with the messenger bag that had seemed like a good idea before it was laden with a couple Norton Critical Anthologies and wearing these sort of ridiculous Doc Marten mary janes that I had, a pair of wide legged green khakis and a really unfortunate button up shirt that I imagine was the exact pattern of some junior level Old Navy designer's grandmother's wallpaper.  And then I felt the heat off the sidewalk and I knew what I was walking into, and I vaguely considered going right back to the car.  Sure enough, I looked up, and there was this gorgeous being in front of me, wearing something Lilly Pulitzer and smiling.  She was exactly everything that I was not, and for that fleeting moment, I would have given up all the understanding of Tolstoy that I had tried so, so hard to garner to just feel the sun the way it shone on the shoulders of her sheath dress.

So here, I am, all those years later.  I work at the college now.  I can buy sheath dresses now and I know that those purchases do not interfere with my ability to understand modernism.  And although I work off campus, I took the time to drive to campus on that first warm day (Monday) and step onto the sunken gardens.  Yeah, nothing's changed.  There's still a little bit of magic there, a feeling of this unattainable natural perfection, a feeling that given the choice of anywhere in the world, you'd pick that place, that moment, that grass beneath your feet, that breeze tugging at your dress hem. The 20 year old's haven't changed either, bedecked in spring finery, except now I am reminded of how young they really are.  And despite the fact that I was also wearing a colorful dress, no tights, and new shoes, I felt the same girl beside them, the Doc Marten girl, the sharpie in the bathroom floor girl.

I will never not be that hot mess girl in some ways.  I know that.  I have made my peace with it, I guess, and moved on.  I look at my 3 year old, whose spring wardrobe I have cultivated with fervent eBay purchasing for most of the latter part of winter, and hope that she will someday walk out on the gardens on that first warm day, feeling and looking like sunshine.  In this way, I am not so unlike the overweight t-shirted mom's on Toddlers and Tiaras I guess, but I condone my own foolishness.  Allie condones too, as she has become a girl in love with the seasons, and as always, a girl in love with reinvention.

I used to be a girl taken by winter and the dark, but I am no more.  I am the sunroof-open-Mariah-Carey-on-the-radio girl.  And it is rather glorious.  You guys, I'm not even going to front right now:  I am wearing a pair of black eyelet SHORTS as I write this.  SHORTS, YA'LL.  This morning when I walked out of the bedroom in these and my 4 inch heels, bless his heart, but E looked at me in his own bleary eyed way and said "Oh, you can wear shorts to work on Friday?"  First off, it's THURSDAY, dear, and second off, "These are formal shorts."  WHICH ARE A THING.  DO NOT MAKE ME TELL YOU WHAT AN ARM PARTY IS.

And sometimes, I think, maybe I have a little bit more of those perfect girls in me than I thought.  Sometimes I can feel a bit of the ease, a bit of the confidence, a bit of the sun.  It took me 10 extra years to get there.  But, as with most things, it has been worth the wait.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Potty Humor

In the grand scheme of having a teenager, I have been pretty lucky thus far.  Gabby is wise in a way that I totally wasn't at that age and is funny and smart.  Sure, she does some strange things ("forgetting" to turn in practice logs for her guitar class, even though she actually practiced and did the work), but overall, I couldn't be happier with her burgeoning teenage years.

This past Friday, Gabby's world was completely turned upside down when My Chemical Romance broke up.  MCR is/was Gabby's favorite band, and her closet is dotted with t-shirts and hoodies and fingerless gloves (?) and wristbands (??).  Since their demise, she has been very nearly inconsolable.  Part of this is that it sucks when something happens to your favorite band--I know this because my favorite band growing up was The Smashing Pumpkins, and well, Billy Corgan's personality is there was a constant sense of misadventure in them and their various projects.  So all these emotions are just too obvious to me--growing up is a minefield of throwing yourself into other things and other people that ultimately go asunder.  But in a way, Gabby had used MCR (and her MCR fandom) as a way of dealing with our moving and her parents' (READ:  MY) divorce.  Through the band, she found ready-made feelings and a ready-made community of other teenagers who wanted to experience those ready-made emotions.  So I got it.  I indulged her sulking, I bought her favorite cookies at the store, and I smiled weakly and turned out the light when she fell asleep, clutching her iPod while reading Gerard Way's 2200 word (rambling, self indulgent) missive for the 3rd time.

Gabby was still smarting from the loss last night when we sat down to dinner.  And truthfully, we were all tired.  My son, Sam, has just started tae kwon do, which I am incredibly excited about, but which takes our evenings 2-3 days a week.  Last night, I came home from work and pick-ups with just enough time to pull a chuck roast out of the slow cooker, shred it and set out my ingredients to make the shredded beef tacos for dinner before heading back out to tae kwon do with younger children in tow.  E showed up at the studio to pick up Alice (after his 10 hour day and 1 hour commute), but ended up staying to watch Sam do his kicking combination (and get his kicking stripe--WUT WUT).  By the time we sat down, we were all flagging.  Frankly, I was pretty upset that I was still wearing pants and a bra because there comes a certain time of day when I want neither of those things on my body.  This made for a pretty quiet dinner time.  Lots of chewing.  Lots of thoughtful chewing.

And then, out of nowhere, Gabby farts.  I'm sorry if you don't use that term in your house, but that's what she did.  I grew up with a father who spent the major part of my childhood asking me to pull his finger, so I am ok with farting.  You don't really need to guild the lily on that one, folks.  It is what it is.  So Gabby farts and E and I just look at each other.  The muted green in his eyes that had been covered by sleepy eyelids danced a little.  I snorted, almost choking on my taco.  And we all started to laugh. 

It started out as just your normal giggles.  But then pretty soon, we are full on laughing, the three of us, and Sam is yelling, "WHAT?!?!  SOMEBODY TELL ME WHAT SHE SAID" because Sam is always kind of left out of something.  Which made us laugh more.  Alice starts just laughing for the sheer joy of laughing and before we know it, she is inexplicably dancing beside her chair.  And we laugh.  Even though we are tired, even though My Chemical Romance is no more, even through disastrous first marriages and depleted savings accounts and empty bottles of Grey Goose and Jeff Buckley songs, we laugh. 

I want to say that life is like a sitcom and that this just broke Gabby free and today she awoke and tossed her hair around and became a new girl, able to put MCR behind her.  That didn't happen.  She spent a good part of last night in her beanbag, clutching the iPod, still wearing her MCR hoodie.  But when I went to bed last night and put my head in her room, there was a bit more life in her eyes and she giggled easily when I almost dropped my glasses and accidentally flipped her off.  YES I FLIPPED MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER OFF.  In fact, I did it a lot when I figured out it would make her smile.  Cause I'm that mom.  Sucker for a cheap laugh.

But last night, as I finally took my pants off and cursed the maker of the underwire for one more day, I reminded myself of a simple truth:  Sometimes you just need to fart.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Six years ago, on Halloween night, I felt normal.  I was working a couple of jobs at that point, one as an executive assistant and another as an SAT tutor in the evenings and on weekends.  The kids were young and enrolled in school and a day care that I couldn't afford.  And my husband at the time had just that day started substitute teaching and had a long term sub assignment.  That day, we had come home from work and school and gotten the kids ready and had gone out trick or treating as a family.  As we walked around the neighborhood with the cheap plastic pails that would eventually totally break on the sidewalk under the weight of the candy, I felt exhilarated.  It was the first time both of us had ever been employed at the same time.  I felt like a real family, a responsible little unit, ready to take on the world together.  That night made an impression on me (obviously since I still remember it so well).  The normalcy was something I had craved, even when I didn't know that I was craving it, like the first warm strawberry of the season, eaten hastily in the field from dirty fingers.

It didn't last.  Within a month and a half, right in time for the holidays, actually, then-husband had quit the job and had 50 excuses, all of which I accepted, for why he preferred to stay in bed.  Within three months, I would be having panic attacks in the shower, and despite my working 60-70 hours a week, spending at least one morning every pay period in a grimy check cashing place that smelled like roach spray and desperation.  Normal was something we only were in photographs.

Last week, my now-fiance got a job (or rather, transferred to a new job within his same company) close to where I live.  Like commuting distance.  All of a sudden, things that we had talked about as "in the future" are things that we can do.  We can talk about houses in concrete terms; we can finish the pre-approval process for said house.  We can make plans and sit up at night and talk about them over cheap wine and then get up the next morning and make them happen. We both have jobs and commutes and business casual and geeky things to talk about when we get home, things that make the other one smile and say "That's nice, dear."  We help each other, and we respect each other, and at the end of the day, I know someone has my back.  And that if I do end up buying new brakes for my car, I don't have to go to a check-cashing place or lose one wink of sleep about it.

We are normal.

95% of me loves it.  Maybe more like 97%.  Stability is underrated, folks, as is uninterrupted sleep and real estate aspirations.  The other 3-5% is caught up in a mix of "This too good to be true-edness can't possibly last forever" and "What if I get itchy?"  I have spent so much of my life trying to convince myself that I didn't need this, that I didn't need the house, the car, the steaming cup of coffee made by someone who loves me, even at 6:00 in the morning.  What if I don't, in fact, need it?  What if I find myself singing Freebird off the back porch of the house, drinking Grey Goose from the bottle in my bathrobe?  What if I wake up as some pitiful John Updike character, miserable and hateful in my own wretched way?  Despite my heels and my cardigans and my responsible adult car, I have the same flair for the dramatic as I did as a scowling, goth-y 13 year old in black lipstick and Doc Martens.  I find myself scared of what may indeed by laying dormant inside of me, some inner demon singing Rage Against the Machine and biding her time.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the kitchen making lasagna.  Just poking around happily, futzing around, making salad dressing and mashing garlic into a paste to smear exorbitantly on a loaf of ciabatta.  E asked me if he could vacuum and I laughed, wondering what woman has ever answered "NO!" to that question.  So he is vacuuming the house, and Alice is laying on the couch watching Netflix on her iPod and Sam is watching YouTube videos about electricity and Gabby is sprawled on a bean bag in her room in the way that only a 14 year old girl can.  Normal Sunday night stuff, probably replicated in 17 houses up and down the block of our WASP-y neighborhood.  My mom, chased from the interstate by a freak snowstorm, walks in and looks around at us.  "I never thought I'd see it," she says.  "But this is nice."  And it was.  It was so, so nice, like a warm sweater and a puppy and an especially warm piece of pie all wrapped up into one.

Everyday is a lesson in that normal doesn't have to be a straight jacket.  In that "extraordinary" lies in the way my toddler's hair curls around her ears of its own accord, the way that he makes late 90's SNL references while he makes my lunch, the giggling fits that Gabby takes that force her to writhe in the floor.  My peeps--they are extraordinary, and although it takes work, I remind myself that I deserve this.  That we all do.  I am so getting there.

 At some point, I am going to write something totally fluffy and esoteric about mascara and ponte dresses, I promise.  Maybe a blow job or two as well.  My oeuvre.  Today is not that day, but tomorrow might be.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Our Wedding, Our Bodies, Ourselves

So I'm engaged.  Like for realsies.  I have a ring on my finger, and it was made for me by some guy in Finland which I will find a way to bring into conversation any way I can.  As in "Oh, socialized healthcare?  They have that in Finland.  WHERE MY RING WAS MADE."  Ok, I don't do that all the time.  Only in my head.  One has to indulge her douchiness in her head if nowhere else just as a way of not turning into Anne Hathaway or some shit.

Anyway, so I got engaged and everything is just moving so fast but it just feels so so right and all of a sudden I am actually interested in weddings.  I have never really been interested in them at all, not even the first time when I felt like I almost had to apologize to people for having to come.  "Oh, yeah, sorry you came all this way cause it's kinda not a big deal you know."  Part of that was being 22 and just being done with college and being a little wackadoodle anyway.  And part of this was this kind of prescient feeling that I know that I had now, that made me feel worried about the future in a way that you shouldn't be at 22 and definitely shouldn't be when you are walking down the aisle to someone.  Here's a life lesson, guys:  DON'T GET MARRIED AT 22.  In fact, don't make any kind of life decisions between the ages of 22-26.  In fact, don't leave the house between those ages.  Just sit in your parent's house and watch old episodes of In the Heat of the Night because that will tell you really all you need to know about love, life, and loss.

But I digress.

So all of a sudden I am interested in weddings, but not in the whole "blush and bashful" way, but in wanting to create a small, intimate event for us and for friends, much in the way one would create a batch of jam or an expertly frosted sugar cookie.  We started off with this idea of renting a cabin and just having a 2 day long party for our nearest and dearest, with a wedding kind of haphazardly thrown in the middle.  I would cook and people would mountain bike and there would be beer and happiness and such.  And then we started thinking about the price of such an event and decided maybe buying a home was more important.  So we were thinking of downgrades and this whole time we are making spreadsheets and such.  FUCKING SPREADSHEETS, YOU GUYS.  AND THEN, we went out to a pub one night and after about 3 drinks of a super hoppy beer, my lightweight fiance bit his lip and told me that he thought we should elope and then go to Ireland and I said "OK!" because seriously, guys, with the spreadsheets.  (Note:  my job involves me spending an inordinate amount of time looking at spreadsheets many of which have to be coded which is another way of saying "SHOOT ME IN MY FACE AND LEAVE ME FOR DEAD CAUSE I HAVE LOST THE WILL TO LIVE.")

And with that pronouncement, I put the whole thing out of my head for about two to three weeks.  Every once in a while I would cycle through dresses or look at a favorite elopement spot, but mostly, I just forgot about everything.  There was a freeing in it, but I kinda missed it too, so once in a while I would harp on my poor hapless fiance that we had to "GET THIS TOGETHER!!!!!" mostly in furtive iMessages, sent while listening to Ryan Adams at work and to his credit, he didn't say "You need to get yo damn self together, missy."

And then I told my mom that I thought we would elope.

Now, here is a primer on my mom.  She is small.  She is smart.  And she is like one of those damn turtles that when it gets something in its mouth, will not let go until it thunders.  She is also very, very, very Southern.  So when I said "elope," she heard BWAH BAH BAH BAH BAH WHO LET THE DOGS OUT.  Or something.  Cause she just pretended I didn't say that word.  It was all "You can have something small" and "Your dad has a house at the lake!" or "Won't this be nice!?!"  And then, just to make sure I was paying attention, she had to make some snide comments about my first marriage cause really, we haven't talked enough about what a doozy that was.  AND THEN, to top it all off, she blames it all on my future MIL saying, "Well, I think you should do it FOR HER, because SHE would like it."  Uh huh.  Keep telling yourself that, MOTHER OF THE BRIDE.

Mothers.  Bless their hearts.

So I am back on the wedding blogs.  Somewhat questioningly.  At this point, we are just trying to figure out the best course of action.  Part of me was almost excited about thinking about this inane crap again because it is more fun than say, thinking about the failings of our public school system or the fact that I forgot my dry cleaning in my trunk for the 15th day in a row.

But then, it hit me....if I have a wedding, like an honest to God for real I have to lose weight?

Cause I kinda think I do.

I got married the first time fat.  I had a size 16 or 18 wedding dress and I partly don't remember because I didn't care and because wouldn't you block that shit from your memory?  Of course you would.  When we were most certainly going to elope, I planned on wearing something lovely and flowy and romantic and probably sticking a flower in my hair because when else can you fucking put a flower in your hair and not look like someone chilling in the Haight, smoking something sold to them by a guy named Madness?  But if it's not just us, well, that changes things.  For one thing, my mother and daughter both agree that I look like ass in anything long.  So a short dress will be a definite.  And I am ok with that.  Short is fine, in fact, I probably prefer it myself.  But that opens up the question of legs and then oh my jesus I am going to have to start running.  And dieting.  And I should really stop going to bed with a small dish of chocolate chips.

I thought I was ok with my body, I really did.  I have spent some time getting to where I am, which is a comfortable middle ground--definitely not the smallest I've been, but far from the largest.  I am happy with what I see most days, I like the way my clothes fit.  I know how to fit and flatter myself.  But then, this comes up, and all of a sudden, I am mad at myself for eating a cookie, and I am starting to think about going back on Weight Watchers which we all know makes me freaking crazy.  I just want to look good in the pictures, I tell myself.  It will be worth it for that, I think.  And then, out of sheer nervousness about the whole thing, I eat something that I shouldn't.  And then I'm mad.  GOD, I'm a freaking Cathy cartoon. 

Really, what I really really want is to look in the mirror and for once, to see myself the way he sees me.

To know what makes his eyes light up when I walk out in the red dress that I had on when he proposed.  To understand the slow smile that comes from the horrible dance I do to "Va Va Voom." 

Not to see everything else, the things that could be better, the skin that should be tighter.  To be able to enjoy his arm around me at night and not worry that it is resting on something wiggly. 

The scary thing is that I'm not sure that all the diets in the world or all the miles in the world or all the anything in the world can give me that.  Maybe.  But probably not.  It's a head thing, I know, the same kind of head thing that made me slightly wackadoodle 22 year old and is currently making me a slighter yet still wackadoodle 30 year old. 

But I try.  I find that in navigating life as a single mom (as in, mom who lives alone with her three monstrous children), "I try" has become almost a mantra.  "I try" to make it all work--sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.  But I always try.  So I will try at this too.  To be at peace with the kind of wedding I have, with how I look at it.  I try.

Cause in the end, I still get to marry the guy I thought about singing "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" to.  And that is a sweet ass feeling.