I used to drive by the houses of the boys I had crushes on, and the houses of all their friends, and–one desperate night–the pizza place where my crush’s girlfriend’s friend worked as a server. Once I got stuck parked in the dark pool between two street lights watching in horror as my crush pressed his girlfriend up against her car in an extended make-out session in the middle of the street. Once on a drive-by past my crush’s friend’s house I hit the curb the curb and got a flat. I had to walk to his house and ask for help changing the tire. “What were you even doing here?” he asked. “This is a gated neighborhood.” Thank god my parents moved a few years back. Now I can visit them without the crush of memories that comes from driving by the high school where I spent two years trying to fit in and my final year nodding off on opiates, from driving by the portrait studio where I worked for two summers cold-calling strangers to book sessions and once called the police to report a sexual assault, from driving by the houses of all the people who never loved me the way I wanted them to. So eager was I to escape the memories that take hold when I set foot in my hometown that I took myself out of state entirely. It wasn’t far enough to stop the drive-bys. I still cruise around those places, those days, dredging up the person I am in the rubble of the person I was.
This one hurts. My siblings are ridiculous. Talented. Intelligent. Hilarious. Successful. Good looking. Kind. Fundamentally GOOD people. They were my world when we were growing up. Who needs friends when you have siblings? Who needs neighbors? Who needs allies or even enemies? We were each other’s everythings. I’m not saying I didn’t literally, physically sit on top of my brother when he challenged my authority when mom left me in charge. I’m not saying I wasn’t a big bitch to my little sister. I’m not saying I didn’t overlook my littlest brothers when I when I was a teenager. I’m not saying I call them all the time now. We are spread too far and all of us too thin. What I’m saying, and what I never expected, is that over the years every complicated memory and twisty thread of emotion coalesced into thick rope of love and pride. I think of my siblings and it is all GOOD.
It hurts because my daughter is an only child.
Last summer I bought a stand up paddleboard. It didn’t arrive until almost the end of the season. I waited too long and everything was backordered. I got the hang of standing up on the board pretty quickly when I tried it a few years ago; it was the learning curve for introducing a new element into my life that made me hit the brakes. There was so much to research. Inflatable versus fiberglass, for example. Hand pumps versus car. I would need a life jacket and maybe a wetsuit. I needed to figure out how to transport and store the beast, where I could launch legally, and how to get a permit and a parking pass. By the time the SUP shipped to my house and I’d practiced inflating it in the living room and made a trip to the beach office in the middle of the workday, I was this close to be over the whole endeavor. My husband suggested I watch a few videos of people paddling so I could learn the technique before I got on the water, but I was already on information overload. I couldn’t take in a single other new thing. I went out on a Sunday afternoon, nabbed the last available parking spot, and realized I’d left behind the SUP’s detachable fin. I tried again on a Wednesday morning. I was on the water before the sun peeked up over the horizon. I splashed down into the water three times in a row before managing to stand up successfully. I paddled around for over an hour. I watched the sun come up, a ball of fire in the sky. I felt the water splash around my ankles. I heard dragonflies buzz around my head and swatted them away. I swear I saw a fish jump. Later, I’d figure out I’d been holding the paddle backward, that my posture was all wrong, and not care. The learning was in the doing and I had all the time in the world.
Some topics are too big. I can’t tell you about a time I slept outside without telling you about every time I slept outside. In Utah, we set up the big tent in our backyard and a windstorm whipped it around so hard that we ran inside, scared. In the morning, the tent was gone. The Grand Canyon was colder than we thought and our gear was flimsy but there was nowhere to go. We zipped our sleeping bags together for warmth. Somehow, Lake Powell was hotter than we ever imagined. We peed in a pit toilet set inside a canvas shelter. I saw an ancient, scaled lizard. Our dad burned his eyeballs. We went back in bikinis in high school and I burned everything else. We went to Pinetop with a tent but no flashlights and no food. No campfires allowed. The forest was already burning and ash rained down. We went to Michigan with everything a family could need. We even had a plastic carton for eggs. We watched the sun set on the water. We ate beautiful food. We read in hammocks and played on the beach. We made our daughter’s whole life. We went back again and again and again.
I carried my lunch to school in a square plastic box a few years after the other kids had switched to brown paper bags or hot lunch. My mom would make my lunch until I was a senior in high school and skipped lunch altogether so I could get out of school early. It was important to her. Her mom died when she was eleven and making lunches for his three girls was one of the many mom-tasks my grandpa took on after his wife died. My mom got a stepmom when she was sixteen and the stepmom accused my grandpa of spoiling his daughters. With the homemade lunches into their teens, you see. So you see why I couldn’t ask for the $2 to buy a hamburger or a sloppy joe or a crunchy taco from Taco Bell (because there was a Taco Bell inside my high school cafeteria). You see why I couldn’t complain about the warm mayonnaise or the stinky tuna or the slimy carrots or the brown apples the smushed bread or the thermos that smelled like old milk. You see why I couldn’t say anything about the days she wrapped everything in tinfoil because we were out of plastic baggies. You see why I couldn’t ask her to stop tucking little notes into the side of my lunchbox or drawing smiley faces on paper napkins. I wouldn’t have wanted her to stop anyway. The notes made me go all warm inside. Warm like the rest of the lunch, baking in a box in the Arizona sun.
When I was three and rocking a mop of Shirley Temple curls, I grabbed a round brush and tried to pull it through my hair. It stuck fast. Lesson learned! My hair was not and never would be straight, shiny, glossy, or easily managed. That was far from the whole lesson though, because what I left out is that when this happened I was at the mall with my mom and we didn’t own the round brush and when my mom tried to pull it out of my hair it was really stuck and I went red all over and kicked and screamed and cried and my mom had to haul me out of there with the brush still stuck to my head. I remember sitting on a bench, watching shoppers walk by with their bags and paper cups of Orange Julius and heaving those heavy post-tantrum sobs, and the stinging in my scalp while my mom tried to work it out. Lesson learned! My feelings were not and never would be quiet, polite, sensible, or easily managed. I stayed afraid of round brushes for years, and to this day don’t trust a complicated hair tool.
I hate making decisions. It gives me anxiety. I hate shopping in a big box store. I hate researching my options online. I hate a ten page menu. I hate how many goddamn summer camp options there are in my town. It’s not that I want someone to tell me what to do, I just want to be presented with a minimal amount of options. I am the target customer for subscription clothing services and produce boxes. My husband has not once but twice given me a decision-making coin for a gift and in both instances it was the perfect gift. One is a basically a flattened out magic eight ball, with two yes/no-type options. The other is brunch specific: savor or sweet. I don’t use them often but knowing I have them gives me great joy and relief.
But here’s where the twist gets twistier.
I am really good at making decisions. Like, really good. I rock a pro/con list like no one’s business, and when I’m done listing that shit out, I don’t think twice. Not about leaving the church I was raised in, not about re-homing the family pet, not quitting my secure job as a law partner, not about backing out of a contract to buy our dream house. I move on. No look-backs. I make great decisions.
I am also the best order-er I know. You want to go out to eat with me because I am terrific dinner company and I enable over-ordering and will stay for coffee and dessert, but you also don’t want to go out to eat with me, because my meal will definitely be better than yours.
Before I got sober, I was afraid of my past. I had a hard time listening to certain music, watching certain movies, seeing certain people pop up in my social media feeds because of the way they opened a floodgate of memories. I’m not talking about traumatic memories, the kind that are a nightmare to relive. I’m talking about the ones that just kind of hang around, replaying themselves over and over again in your mind. The haunting kind. I’m talking about mistakes. I’m talking about vicious words and punches thrown and selfish actions and bad decisions. I’m talking about messes. For a long time, I didn’t think I needed to clean up my messes. I thought, if I could just stop making them, it would be enough to cover them up and leave them behind. And for awhile, I did stop making certain kinds of messes. I stopped being an asshole. I stopped getting into trouble. I really did change. What I didn’t know is that, in my hasty efforts to cover my tracks as I ran/hid from my past, I had stuffed every haunting memory into a pillowcase that I dragged with me everywhere I went. Eventually I made it into the rooms and sat down. I finally had time to breathe. I inhaled, exhaled, emptied my mind. That’s when I noticed the smell. My messes were starting to stink. It was time to get to work.
I don’t like this prompt at all. “8” on Day 9? It’s just so…off. Also, I already wrote about being eight years old when I wrote about my baptism for Day 1. Also, I’m responding to this prompt to give myself a break from memoir-writing, where I am deeeeep in the childhood years and, honestly, pretty sick of writing about sweet little me and my loving family and my weirdo church. But I said I’d write on the prompt for eight minutes and I’ve got four left, so here I go.
When I was eight years old I was convinced I didn’t sleep. I swore to my parents and siblings and anyone who would listen that I spent all night every night wired in bed, restless, not sleeping, not dreaming, just waiting for morning to come. Of course, my dad wanted to prove me wrong and to did it, he crept into my room at night and drew smiley face on my stomach in green marker. It was, say, six inches in diameter, massive on my little frame. I didn’t find it until the next morning in the shower and when I looked down and saw a face smiling back up at me I screamed. It was like a waking nightmare, finding something on my body and having no idea how it got there. It was torture, trying to piece together what had happened, where I’d been. It was like being robbed, realizing somebody I trusted had done something to my body without my knowledge or consent. It was good practice.
My daughter’s birthday is in late April, which sounds like a spring birthday, but in Chicago it’s basically still winter. I know this because it snowed two days before she was born and it has snowed right around her birthday every year since. Nobody really believes me when I say this, that we’re going to get accumulation, actual inches of snow, in the last week of April, but it’s true. We always do. My birthday is in mid-May, which I will represent is also basically still winter. I know this because every year my husband plans picnics and hikes and walks in the neighborhood because the man knows what I like and every year it’s cold, frigid even, and I am forced to tuck my cute outfit under a wool coat and my cute hair under a ratty winter beanie. After May we get a break until August, which is when the real birthday gauntlet–I mean season–starts, and the special days start rolling in, one after another, mom’s birthday, brother’s birthday, other brother’s birthday, husband’s birthday, sister’s birthday, dad’s birthday, other other brother’s birthday. (We cannot talk about nieces and nephews right now because I am a negligent aunt. In laws? Good god, no.) Other other brother’s birthday takes us into Christmas and then New Year and then we’re in the drought, the dry spell, the lonely sad season, the endless miserable winter that only starts to end the day my daughter was born.