Monday, July 21, 2014

Gas Station Pizza Lessons

I had huge happy plans for this weekend. I was even going to bring out the Canon and take a bunch of photos depicting the big, beautiful life we live. 

Friday night, we were going to go to Hawkins Family Farm  for their "Fridays on the Farm Pizza". I've written about this before (you can find that post here.) It's a scenic environment for a casual picnic dinner, and the pizza is delicious. When we got there, the so called farm was packed with cars, parked bumper to freakin' bumper. It was sold out. No pizza for us. 

By the time we got there, we were craving pizza in a giant ugly way so we decided to explore the lovely town of North Manchester. It's a college town, so surely there's a decent pizza joint nearby. 

We stopped at a gas station to ask the locals for recommendations. Laura accosted a friendly gentleman and had a lively and lengthy conversation while the kids and I starved to death in the Subaru.

It turns out that after Hawkins Farm, Casey's convenience store has the SECOND BEST pizza in town. Needless to say, my spirits were crushed. I had visions of watching the children play on the farm, running with the butterflies and petting free range chickens, while Laura and I enjoyed our fresh, organic pizza and bottle of Bonterra Merlot on a comfy bed of grass. 

Instead, here we were. 

The kids were thrilled with their fluorescent slushies and Cheetos appetizers. We ordered our pizza from a very cranky teenage boy and hung out at a small, grimy table.

Surprisingly, the pizza wasn't bad. Fine, it was pretty good. And the kids were deliriously happy with their cotton candy and Skittles dessert. Sometimes, second best is an OK place to be.

On Saturday, we ventured downtown for a vintage sale where the kids found a few treasures.

Fiona couldn't live without this sparkly blue ring and purple leopard print wallet.

 And Cyd fell in love with this retro cat sweater. You really can't blame her.

We had a dinner party planned for Saturday night and again, I had visions of Martha Stewart perfection.

I pictured a scenic, country setting (our backyard) with flowers, candles, and maybe some paper lanterns. I guess I'm a sucker for magical dinner ambiance. To make my dreams come true, Laura drove to Auburn to buy a large picnic table I had found on Craig's List. It was perfect!

We ran out of time and didn't get the paper lanterns or candles. But who cares? We had flowers, wine and beer and great friends. It was delicious.

After dinner, we played a friendly game of kickball and Fiona did a magic trick where she made Cyd disappear.
Cyd's not too sure about this.

Maybe I'd had one too many glasses of wine by that time but it really looked like Cyd had REALLY DISAPPEARED. I couldn't even believe my eyes! This just goes to prove that I really need to cut back on the sauce.

On Sunday morning, I had planned on a seven-mile run. Instead, I slept in until 10 a.m., had breakfast, and then went back to bed. We had nothing to do and it was glorious. 

Sunday night, we made our own pizza (bacon, blue cheese, and caramelized onions) and dessert was a spoonful of Nutella with sprinkles. It was a sweet ending to a pretty damn good weekend. 

When plans go astray, you get a chance to discover the other side of perfect. The Cheeto-orange fingers and blue slushy dyed mouths. The simple pleasure of al fresco dining with friends and the leisure of having time to spare. And sprinkles. Don't ever forget the sprinkles.  

Peace out.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sticks and Stones and Chromosomes

When I was a sophomore in college, I was stalked by a crazy poet with sad eyes and an addiction. I was initially drawn to him because of his esoteric taste in music and his intellectual nature. Maybe a part of me was also drawn to his dark side. I wasn't an innocent victim. I liked his company. We often drank together. A lot. He read my bad poetry and I read his music lyrics. How was I to know he would lose his  marbles?

His emotional state rapidly deteriorated and I had no choice but to quietly walk away. I could no longer ignore the off-handed threats of violence, the clinginess. the bloodshot rants.

He barged into my place of employment, drunk, and declared that if he couldn't have me, nobody could. Cliché, party of one. The police were called to escort him out. It was humiliating.

One afternoon, he was waiting by my car after class. He placed his foot behind the driver's back tire and taunted me, told me I couldn't leave. There was much more desperation than anger. He was shaking. I was paralyzed. I didn't back up. I didn't run over his foot. He knew me well enough to know I wouldn't.

Remember the song "Every Breath You Take" by The Police? That was my life. He was watching me. He knew when my classes started and ended. He stopped me in the hallways, crying and begging, and I listened. I was sorry. I was so goddamn sorry.

Sometimes I saw him as I drove to work. He knew my route. He waited for me, his arms crossed, in a stance of dominion, on a street corner he knew I would drive by.

He often showed up at my house in the middle of the night and threw pebbles at my bedroom window. He couldn't live without me. He was going to kill himself if I didn't come out to talk to him. There was no way out. I was powerless. Trapped.

This is what it feels like to be hunted.

My parents sent me away that summer and he ended up moving across the country. Although I never saw him again, he used to call me on the phone constantly. For many years thereafter, the sound of a phone ringing did unbearable, crippling things to my heart.

I began to refer to myself in lower case. i was tessa. It was so e.e. cummings, but with less beauty and more loathing. My self worth, which was shaky to begin with, spiraled into non-existence.

But it wasn't just him. It's not just the neurotic alcoholics. There was the genuinely nice guy/boyfriend who told me I should wear jeans with a white t-shirt because he really liked that look on a woman. This was during a time in my life when I mainly wore long, hippie skirts and one-size-fits-all flowing blouses. He wanted me to trade in my Birkenstocks for Keds. I was his doll to dress the way he wanted, regardless of my personal style. He wanted to mold me into a respectable (stepford) wife.

When I gained a few pounds, tipping the scale at a whopping 110 lbs., he thought I should go on a diet because he "doesn't like fat chicks."

And there was the time when he declined an offer to join his best friend for a weekend in Chicago because he wanted to spend time with me. We went on a date to a smoky, horrible comedy bar and then back to his apartment. When it came time for the anticipated (inevitable?) sex, I told him I wasn't in the mood. I didn't feel well.

He looked at me, surprised and outraged: "I gave up Chicago for THIS?!"

this this this

The devastating smallness I felt that night has lingered. It reminds me daily that we are altered (albeit not defined) by seemingly irrelevant moments. The meaning behind those careless words dismantled my self image.

We ended up having sex after all. There was no coersion. I could have just left, with my pride. But I stayed, I caved. He told me he loved me, but I didn't believe him.

I didn't want to write about #YesAllWomen. I wanted to listen to the conversation. I wanted to feel the zeitgeist shift, safely. I resisted being another voice in the movement because I didn't want to talk about it, to relive it, to acknowledge it. I may be a different person now than I was in my early college years. I make better choices (usually) and I can fend for myself (for the most part), but I'm still a woman.

When I go on a run in the early morning light, on a trail I know like the rhythm of my heart, I'm on edge and ultra aware of my surroundings. I change my route often, just in case. I'm so thankful when I run into happy little families, enjoying a bike ride on a sunny day. The dread creeps in when the trail gets a little less traveled, a little more secluded. I've learned to quantify and analyze potential danger. Is the man following me walking his dog? If yes, the odds that he's a rapist or murderer are greatly reduced. Is he walking hand in hand with a woman? If yes, he's qualified as quite safe. Is it getting dark out and he's walking in regular street clothes, looking around suspiciously? If yes, run the hell away.

Because you never know for sure.

That's the thing. It's the uncertainty that ruins any sense of safety, any peace of mind.  But I'm not going to sacrifice what I love because of a possibility. Life's too damn short to be ruled by what ifs. I'll keep running, even if I have to look back every now and then. I've become used to the fear. It comes with the chromosomes.



P.S. I wrote this post several weeks ago but have been reluctant to publish it. Special thanks to Erica and Rachael for the encouragement.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

In the Mean Time

I have a whole other post written about #YesAllWomen, but it's too depressing. Besides, I'm too chicken to post it.

So instead, here are some fun, happy photos to make us all forget about the bad things for just a moment.

Corn flute.

I know how you feel, mommy cat.

Peace out.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Fog is Rising

I had promised that my next post would be chock full of joy and happy, shiny children frolicking in fields of wild flowers and butterflies. Well, maybe next time, my dear, loyal friends. It's been a dark time and I'd be a damn liar if I pretended otherwise.

Laura's father passed away last week. Cancer strikes another father. Another husband. Another grandfather. Another friend. Another good man.

I remember the first time I met him. Laura and I were just starting out in our relationship and I came home with her for one of her (our) niece's birthday parties. There was chaos and a lot of new people, a situation that makes me shut down socially and emotionally, and every other way inside my heart. Woe is me, and all that. But there was a calm presence about him, and a gentleness you seldom find in giant men.

Over the years, he often joked that I was his sixth daughter. I believed him. He always made me feel like one of his. I never felt like an outsider, as so often happens with in-law relationships and, frankly, many others. And it wasn't just him. Laura's entire family personifies tolerance and acceptance. And kindness.

I loved him like a second father. And dammit, I'm tired of fathers dying.

He came to my wedding.

The death of a parent leaves an absence you can't fully grasp. It's everywhere and nowhere.  Joan Didion, in "The Year of Magical Thinking" perfectly describes the indescribable:

"We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself... A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” 

Here's the thing about Didion: she is able to meticulously articulate the ineffable and she does so in such a precise, raw and genuine way that you are left with your heart in the curve of her words.

We are on the same page. Our grief flows and crashes through the same unpredictable waves.

But Didion doesn't talk about what comes before. About the dread of waiting for death to finally arrive, only to destroy your present, past and future. Once you know that the inevitable is impending, your life becomes tinged with anxiety and foreboding. You start living in a dark shadow, a fog, a sort of purgatory where joy and contentment can scarcely penetrate.

I feel like I've been living in this shadow for seven years now. Waiting for one parent after another to leave me. My heart is tired. The waves keep crashing and sweeping me off balance. I've survived the tsunami and I'm ready for still waters. I'm ready for the light to shine again, free from the veil of sorrow.

Granted, we've been lucky in the grand scheme. We have healthy children and haven't had to deal with any untimely, unexpected deaths (knock on wood, knock on all the wood you can see. Even if it's plastic that looks like wood, KNOCK ON IT). There's a lot of happiness and joy and love in my life. It's time for me to embrace it fully, to let the light in. And rumor has it that light travels pretty damn fast so bring it on.

There's some frolicking after all.

The girls love their glittery shoes.

Peace out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Unchosen Love

I knew a man once who fell in love with lesbians. It was his thing.  He was desperately in love with one of the lesbian bartenders at the local gay bar. It was all so "Chasing Amy", except the real world "Amy" doesn't fall for the boy.

One night, I asked him why. She will never sleep with you. What is it about her? Why do you keep barking up the wrong fucking tree? (I don't usually use such foul language, but cheap beer and the nonchalance of youth brought it out.)

He looked at me, his eyes ringed with drunkenness and tired loneliness. He asked, why do you think?

Because you want what you can't have. Because you're a straight, rich, white man so used to getting what you want even when it isn't fucking yours to have. (It was the Coors Lite talking. Cut me some slack.)

Maybe I was angry.

He turned away, devastated. I could hear it in his sigh and see it in the slow, painful slumping of his shoulders.

It isn't anything like that, he said, writhing in disappointment. His head in his hands. His heart in irreparable shards.

It's the way she smiles and the tenderness of her fingers 
when she hands me a drink 
and accidentally touches my hand. 
Her wrists are transparent. 
And there's something soft in the way she looks at me. 
And have you ever heard her laugh?

He was in the kind of love that breaks you. The visceral kind you can feel in the most tender synapses. It is the deepest grief, confused by the maddening impulse to keep it burning.

I understood everything about him in that moment, but I remained silent. I just took another sip and nodded, my self-righteous anger fizzling.

We are human beings. We fall in love with other human beings. Sometimes, against our own will.  Sometimes, the cons outweigh the pros so hard that a complicated man is left without a choice but to drown in a puddle of  unrequited longing.

Sometimes, love doesn't conquer anything at all.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Walk at the Marsh

We went on an impromptu hike through Eagle Marsh today.  Everything is thawing, so it was extra marshy and delicious.

Our birds are loving their new heated bath. It's a veritable bird spa.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." 
- Henry David Thoreau.

On that note, peace out. It's almost time for Downton Abbey.