My Chicago Fortune Teller

IMG_7488A few weeks ago, I walked into a room at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago and it looked familiar. The room had a modern feel and the view of Navy Pier was great. About 15 years ago I stayed at that hotel. Fifteen years ago I was there with my husband and two of my three kids. But this time, I was there with my boyfriend.

Back in 2002, or whatever year it was, I was living about an hour outside of St. Louis and was a stay-at-home mom raising three kids. I’m guessing the year because it pre-dated uploading things to Facebook to find later. I remember using Priceline to find a hotel and taking grade-school daughters to the city and leaving my toddler son at home with grandma. I remember visiting the American Girl store and riding a tour boat on the river and onto the lake on a very cold night.

So, how did I get from that hotel 15 years ago with a husband and two kids to now – that same hotel with a boyfriend? What the hell happened? And what if a fortune teller would have found me in the lobby of the hotel during that stay 15 years ago to tell me what my future would hold? Well, lemme tell ya.

I was in the lobby all those years ago, getting an overpriced Coke from the gift shop, and a lady in an olive-drab cape approached me. I thought she was a fellow guest, albeit, in an unfortunate outfit. Wrong. She said she was a fortune teller. My fortune teller. She asked if we could chat; she wanted to tell me something about my future. Of course, I thought she was a kook, but I was also mildly intrigued. So I followed her over to one of the couches in the lobby and thought “this oughta be good.”

Just then, she reminded me of my 5th grade year in New Jersey; some friends and I bought a pack of cigarettes at a local hospital’s vending machine. Holy shit! She’s for real! Before I could wrap my head around that one, she started talking. “Dawn, you poor thing. I’m wary of telling you of things to come, but feel I must so you can prepare yourself. In the not-too-distant future you will move across the country and have many surprises. People you trust will be dishonest. You won’t see it coming. You will be betrayed. And abandoned. You will lose your home at a really bad time. Rewarding job prospects will be non-existent and you will work low-paying jobs. You will work really hard to earn a Master’s degree, but you won’t use it. There will be long periods of time when you and your kids won’t get along. They will struggle. You will be brought to your knees and sometimes will feel that you don’t really want to be alive. Those times will scare you as you have never experienced them before. You will spend a lot of time crying and feeling anxious. You’ll feel traumatized. Oh, and you’ll have a heart attack. You will experience three life-altering phases. You will wonder why all of those things are happening to you. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine in the end. FYI, you’ll be back here in 15 years and you’ll have a wonderful time at a conference with a professor you call Jimmie Jailbait.

Uh…

What?

With that she got up and walked toward the lobby doors. I could see her trip and fall before she reached the revolving doors. She got up and left the hotel in a blob of olive-drabness.

I sat on that couch in a stupor. I didn’t have much time to think about what to do next, because a few minutes later, a woman with bright pink hair plopped down next to me. She looked like Cyndi Lauper. Before a word could escape my mouth she said:

“Hey there you hot piece of ass! I’m so glad you came to Chicago Dawn! I know you are feeling a bit lost now as a stay-at-home mom, but no worries. Things are certainly going to change for you in the next decade or so. You are going to have some big changes and surprises coming your way but you will handle them with grace. You are surrounded by love and people who truly love you. You will be helped by your first husband when the chips are down. And when despair comes, you will survive the waves like a ship toiling at sea. What you need will appear. And you are so strong. You will rise up like you always do. You will be hurt, and scared, and lost. But you will find strength you never knew you had. And you will find true friends. And you will continue to be a great mother. Stay the course sister. You will create something that helps others after you weather your own battles. You will invite people into your pain and triumph. Oh, and you’ll be back here in about 15 years at a conference for nerds and you’ll LOVE it. And the guy you’re with is a keeper. He’s gonna help you and you’re gonna help him.”

She gave me a long hug and got up to walk away.

I jumped up and said “Wait? What? First husband? You mean there will be more than one?!”

She just winked and said “Due time sweetness, due time. Just keep in mind that all this stuff happens for you – not to you. You’ll figure that out too. It’s all in the way you think about things. You’re gonna do great. And you’re gonna do great things. Oh – and that drab chick that was here before me – I tripped her on the way out and told her to go back for more fortune teller training. Her delivery sucks.”

With that, she was gone. But not before she stopped at the lobby bar for a six-pack to go.

__________________________________________

Anyone who knows me well knows I often say “If you would have told me then, I would never have believed you.” That’s what I kept thinking during that recent stay in Chicago. That thought comes to mind often, especially at the holidays. For example, if something odd, challenging, sad, or wonderful happens, I often think “Wow, it’s the 4th of July. If you would have told me last year on the 4th of July when I was (fill in the blank) that today I’d be (fill in the blank), I never would’ve believed you. Yep, life sure changes.

And there are many narratives we can use to tell the stories of our past. So many lenses to look through. So many thoughts we can create.

Lately, I’ve learned so much from life coaches Martha Beck, Brooke Castillo, and Susan Hyatt. They share their own work and the wisdom of many teachers. I listen to their podcasts and/or read their books. I think Oprah SuperSoul podcasts are great too as she interviews wonderful teachers/guests. Check them out if you are interested in looking at life through a new lens.

Advertisements

Lost Motherness

fullsizeoutput_27ed

Syd’s birthday – Kyle not happy

fullsizeoutput_27f1

Glynn’s birthday – Kyle not happy

fullsizeoutput_27f3

Must be Kyle’s birthday. 🙂

About a year ago, I found a company that would transfer my old videotapes to a digital format so I could watch them online. I didn’t record a lot, but was curious about what was on the tapes I had. I was excited when I got the link and could start watching. Wow. There they were; those moments of daily life with my kids. There they were! My little kids! In the flesh. In voice. In movement. My God, they were precious. Where did the time go? And where was I during that time? I watched the tapes and just cried. I cried for the mom in those tapes. That sad mom. That lost woman. I cried for the 15 years I was there with them, but not really there.

My first memory of being really alone as a mom was the night I brought my oldest daughter home from the hospital. They told us she’d turned blue that morning in the nursery; she’d stopped breathing from choking on mucus. I think that was the longest night I’d ever spent awake on her floor. Alone.

From there, years passed as I made big decisions, alone. Decisions about how to handle big problems and little problems. ADHD. Speech delays. Reading delays. Chores. Sleep overs. Jesus. Mary. Joseph. Sex. Drugs. Rock and Roll. I was a kid with kids. Really, what the fuck did I know?

I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom. All those years, I thought I was supposed to be doing something else. I was supposed to be somewhere else.

IMG_6833My mom was a stay-at-home mom. And she always told us we had to get a college degree. I guess that implied we had to do something other than what she did. So that’s what I set off to do. Different experiences when I was young set my mind toward doing “something important.” Growing up, people thought I should be a model. So I did that in New York and Germany. I had a theater scholarship at the community college, so maybe that was something? Then I went to another college and got a degree in Broadcasting. And I was smart. I had a free ride. I worked really hard too. When everyone else was getting wasted on Wednesday nights, I was at home reading my textbooks. During my last semester, I studied abroad in Sweden. And the professor who sent me to Sweden thought I was special – he thought I should get a Master’s. But, I didn’t think sociology was my thing. Looking back, I’m grateful he was my cheerleader.

I even did my college internship at MTV in New York. So, by the time I was 23 years old, I had done some pretty cool shit. Hell, I‘d even lived in San Francisco for one summer with a group of nuns and did volunteer work. That was the summer I worked backstage and met Mr. Mister! I even lived at the beach in Ocean City, MD a few summers. You could say I was not one to rest on my laurels. I grabbed the world by the balls, horns, or whatever.

IMG_6836Fast forward to the married me. Before kids, I worked a low-paying job in radio. After a few kids I worked jobs in promotions and advertising that, looking back, were okay. I even had a nanny for a while. I lived where I lived because of the husband’s job. I guess we decided his job was more important; he could make more money. My talents were never really considered. By him. Or by me. Or his parents. Or my parents.

It became obvious that it was my job to raise the kids – whether I had a full-time job or not. The husband worked. I was always so jealous of my friends who had husbands who would get home from work and play with the kids – or be the Scouts leader. I was so jealous of the couples who talked and knew each other. I was jealous of the idea of working and having kids and the myth of having it all.

By the time there were three kids, we had moved to another state. A job that ignited my talents, would have meant an hour commute – plus all the house and kid work. No. Fuck no. And there was no way I was going to put the kids in daycare from 7 AM until whenever. I know myself pretty well. When I work, I work. The kids would have lived at the daycare. And both parents would have been an hour away. No. Fuck no.

IMG_6841At the beginning of my time at home I felt very isolated. And lonely. Alone. There were many days I felt I was dying. The fun me. The creative me. The one who wanted to make something. The one wanted to experience the world and learn new shit. I created a freelance copywriting business so people would know I was still there and had something to say. Make no mistake, being a stay-at-home mom is exhausting. The hardest work ever. How many moms and dads do I know who go crazy just staying home with their kids over summer break? The husband used to say that he’d rather go to work than stay home and “babysit” the kids.

In the last few years, so much resentment had built up. Where’s the recognition for moms? Is there a Nobel prize for good momship? Is there really a “Mother of the Year” award? Do they do stories about moms on 60 Minutes? No, not unless you trap your kids in the basement. Where’s the big salary to show what a great fucking job you did? Where’s the trophy? Where’s the social support Hillary – fucking baking cookies comment? You get a bunch of patronizing “hardest job in the world” comments at dinner parties.IMG_6840

I created a group of girlfriends to help fill the void. But there was a void. I was supposed to be doing something. Something for a resume. But stay-at-home motherhood is just a void on a resume. It’s a nothing job on a resume, even though you’ve been doing so much. On a resume it is literally space you have to fill with something important.

And if you get divorced, you’re fucked. Split things evenly, my ass. After being home for decades, there is no way a woman’s career can catch up to a man’s. No way. He walks away the financial and career winner. His salary remains, and you start over. (Yes, I am still working through some anger. Some of it self-directed.)

And yet, I would do it all over again. It’s the regret I am trying to heal.

I was sobbing when I told my counselor “I would give anything if the 53-year-old me could go back to that time – the time in those videos – and just sit in bed with the kids when they were little – and just read to them again. If I could be with them for just one day! I would cherish them, I would read them a book, I would smell their hair, I would cuddle them, I would snuggle their little bodies, I would stare at them while they were sleeping. Just ONE day – I want to go back now to when they were little.”IMG_6844

And I cried when I told that story to a group of people the other day. And I cried when I told the story of the videos to my boyfriend this morning.

What a cliche! What a horrible cliche! The person who wants to go back in time to relive some moment. The person who didn’t listen to that other cliche “stop and smell the roses!” How lame!

Thinking of it feels like torture. I know I had joyful moments back then – but when I think back to that time, it feels dark. When I see the videos, I see that I was a good mom. I see the joy. I just don’t remember it.

I keep thinking that I want some fairy godmother to come knock that younger Dawn upside the head and say “Wake the fuck up! You are going to be here for 15 years or so. Relish it. Enjoy it. Live it. Breath it. Settle in. You will never get these moments back.” And the Dawn of today says “Yes, Yes, Yes! I would do it. I would settle in. If I only knew then what I know now!”  Great! Another cliche!IMG_6838

So where was Dawn back then? She was stewing in resentment for what she thought she should be doing. What would I do differently? I would feel the joy of those kids.

Back then, I was a good mom. I was probably a great mom. But I wasn’t present. I was living in muck.

My counselor tells me I need to be nicer to myself. I need to go back to that Dawn and be nice to her. Comfort her. She was doing the best she could at the time. Give her a hug. She was working really hard. Alone. I have a hard time doing that for myself.

IMG_6832My kids are adult-ish now. Luckily, I get to see them often. Last night, my 25-year-old Face-Timed me and said we needed to do it more often cause “the Kardashians do it, so we should too.” Kardashians or not, I realized how lucky I was that on a Friday night when she was bored, she thought to call her mom. This kid was also at my house for a long school break recently, and we spent a lot of time talking. I feel close to her. I feel like I know her.

IMG_6839The same goes for the other two kids. My other daughter and I Face-Timed last night about a spring break trip we will take to New Orleans. I’m sure she’s happy that I will help pay for part of the trip, but deep down, I think she’s happy to be going with me. I feel close to her – and I feel like she lets me know her pretty well.

My son and I have lots of great talks – just like I do with his sisters. He’s almost 19 and I always feel great when he says “love you” when he hangs up the phone. I think he is a pretty sensitive guy and I always feel he’s listening even when other people think he’s not. I think he knows I love him unconditionally. The best thing I’ve heard lately is that to love that way means to love someone “for no reason.” I think my kids know I love them for no reason. I just love them.

I now understand the idea of being present. At least I am trying really hard to understand. I cherish the time I have with my kids now. In 20 years, I don’t want to watch a video I have of them on my phone and cry – then beg to go back to relive it. I want to feel the joy now. I do feel the joy now.

Thank God. And Jesus. And Mary. And Joseph. And all the other ones out there looking out for us.

IMG_6834fullsizeoutput_27f5

Divorce: Things lost, but not forever

Gorging yourself on pulled pork and pierogies is expected when you visit a local arts fest. This, after I tried on 45 rings and my sweetie bought me a gorgeous handmade necklace. As we walked along, checking out booths full of stuff, I saw a bunch of Christmas ornaments. My sweetie asked a question. I didn’t answer. Instead, I just kept walking with a lump in my throat. I knew if I answered I would cry. So I just whispered something about not having my Christmas tree. I told him I was trying not to cry. So, we just walked while I let the moment of grief pass. For the last three years or so, I’ve had a lot of those moments. Odd moments that come at the oddest of times.

angel

This angel has been on top of my tree since the early 1990s.

December of ’92: I lived in Omaha, Nebraska and my first baby girl was six-months old. It was time to go tree shopping. I’d grown up with a fake tree and had such warm and loving feelings about it. That tree was stored in a big-ass box and was a pain-in-the-ass to put together. It had wired branches that went into a long-battered wood pole. It had colored lights with night-light sized bulbs, glass ball ornaments, garland (not tinsel), and a nativity set. I used to stare at it for hours. That tree paired with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV made me feel sheer joy as a kid. Even now, a decorated tree and Charlie Brown means warmth, safety, and love.

So 1992 was my year to recreate the same thing for my new family. My baby daughter and I got into our Ford Festiva with tires the size of donuts and headed into the wilderness of big-box stores to find our tree destiny. And there it was. Six feet of plastic beauty. Sixty-bucks later it was loaded into the Festiva: back seat down, rear gate of the car flipped open, rear-facing car seat illegally strapped into the front seat, and new mother convinced she’d go to “shitty mother” jail.

For 23 years that tree was my tree. It became the family tree because soon enough there were three kids and a dog. Year after year it stood. And it was always the same; white lights, gold garland, and ornaments. It stood, bearing all those ornaments; those Hallmark series ornaments purchased for each kid beginning with the year of their birth, the Barney ornament that moves, the naked Santa ornament from cousin Betty Jean, the leg lamp ornament that talks, and all the goofy school pics ornaments the kids made. The tree was a beauty.

2012 xmas tree

A beauty to behold

Well, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One year, after I got the lights on the tree, one of the strands went out. In frustration, I drove to the store to get a new strand. All they had left were LEDs. Onto the tree they went. The result was ridiculous, as you can see. The incandescents glowed yellow. The LEDs glowed blue. How unsightly! And it was on display out the front window! Did I give a shit? Well, obviously not. I thought Martha Stewart. Bite me. I had a leg lamp from the movie A Christmas Story in my front window the rest of the year. My front window was a freak show.

A few years after the lighting incident I got divorced for the second time. I was forced to downsize and sell the house I’d been living in with my kids for 11 years. For years after our split, my first husband and I worked together to make sure the kids never had to move. No such luck with husband number two. I don’t feel like wasting any breath on that turd, so instead I’ll chat about my stuff – that really isn’t just stuff.

I had to sell my house and move in a short period of time. I had to get rid of stuff in a frenzy. I am not a materialistic person, but some days I felt like I was dying. Getting rid of sixty-percent of my stuff felt like death. Perhaps I am sentimental? One day I sat in the garage sorting screws. And I was crying. Ex-husband #1 walked by carrying a box as he was helping me move and probably thought I was batshit crazy. I thought Oh my God. Will I need screws in a townhouse? I won’t have a garage, but will I need a screw at any point in my future?

Sure, I took loads of stuff to Goodwill. Multiple car loads of stuff. But there were certain things that meant something to me that I had to get rid of – like my kitchen table. Yes, the table my kids and I sat around year after year. It wouldn’t fit in the townhouse I was moving into, but there was no way in hell I was giving it to Goodwill so it could sit there with some garish price tag on it. So I decided to list a bunch of stuff on Craigslist under Free to see what happened. Now the table lives in Boalsburg. Ex-husband #1 and I delivered it to a young couple who needed it for a growing family.

Next, my house plants. My beloved house plants. Some of them came from funerals; my dad’s funeral, my former mother-in-law’s funeral. From my first day on-the-job in 1993 in Omaha. From here and there and everywhere. These plants had moved with me from Nebraska to Missouri to Pennsylvania. Two female friends came and loaded them into the back and front seats of their cars. They are still alive, I think. The plants – and the friends.

Artwork. I had Impressionism prints on my walls. For years, Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro brightened our space. One morning, a guy literally came and took them off my walls. He said he was opening some sort of business and would use them there.

Holiday decorations. Ouch. I loved decorating for the holidays and I had a big house. I was going to a very small townhouse and bins of stuff had to go. For example, lots of the stuff was for Halloween. I took pictures of my beloved ghouls and goblins, posted them online, and asked people to take them home. People were kind enough to tell me what they were going to do with them; my skeleton bride was going to grace a haunted hayride – or maybe she was going to a local neighborhood. Either way, she was going to a nice place.

Christmas. I don’t really remember many of the decorations I got rid of, except my tree. There was no place at the townhouse for a six-foot, fake tree. So she had to go. I saw visions of her standing all alone in the back lot at Goodwill. No fucking way. I would sob. No. Hell no. So her picture went online with the rest of the decorations. As far as I can remember, she went with someone who had a Christmas-themed business.

That time is still a daze for me. Even now, I don’t know where some of my stuff ended up. I just remembered I used to have a reindeer in a rocking chair that rocked and sang Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Where the hell is that? I still regret giving some of it away. At one point I drove a car-full of antiques to an antique mall and some sleazy guy gave me $60 for all of it. The wedding dress from wedding #2 was part of the deal. He told me the dress would end up at a flea market. I didn’t give a shit where it ended up.

monet

Me and one of my daughters at the Met

About two years ago, I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC with one of my daughters. We walked into a room filled with Impressionism. Even though I’d seen it there before, seeing it again hit me hard; the Monet that was no longer in my life. I got tears in my eyes. The memory of what was.

I’ve had many odd moments since giving away my stuff. I missed that skeleton bride at Halloween. So, I found the exact one from the 1990s on eBay recently. It was odd to be so happy about finding her. This past Halloween she graced the living room of my boyfriend’s house. I think his kids named her Mrs. Bones.

skeleton

Mrs. Bones

My townhouse is absolutely lovely now. It’s home. I remodeled it after I moved in and my friend Sarah was nice enough to give me a few ceramic, lighted Christmas trees to replace my fake tree. And after that day at the arts festival, my boyfriend said we’d get a tree this year at his house. He and his girls picked out a real tree. That’s a first for me.

current tree

The real tree – my stuff and his stuff

I sorted through the boxes of ornaments, lights and garland I managed to keep. Three years after the loss of my tree, my ornaments are back up. And so is that strand of blue-white lights. My boyfriend had ornaments and lights too, so we have a dual-family tree with lights of different sizes. I hung my craft show ornaments and he hung his shiny red balls. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

When I am at my boyfriend’s house, I will sit in the living room and look at the tree, just like I did when I was a little girl. Just as I did when I was a new mom, just as I did when I had toddlers and teenagers. I still feel serene around a tree that I decorated. My nativity scene is set up too and the angel that’s been on top of my tree for decades is back on top. She’s just in a new place.

* This is just one story of loss due to divorce. If you are divorced you know the losses are many; friendships, family members, material items, plans for the future, companionship, love, and others. But over time, these losses can certainly turn into new paths of friendship, love, family and plans for the future. Believe it.

Megabus Mayhem by Ross C.

Wal-Mart parking lot

            Don’t get off the bus in New York, I remembered my dad telling me as I sat next to my best friend Luke as the Megabus sped away from the Walmart bus stop in State College, PA. I had no idea what I was going to do. Should I go up to the bus driver? Maybe I should just go back to sleep and then I’ll just deal with the situation when I wake up. I had some money, but I was not sure if it would be enough to get through a night in the Big Apple. As I was having my mini panic attack inside, Luke was panicking too and yelled, “Just freaking do something!” as he pushed me out into the bus aisle. Immediately I got up and started to make my way toward the front of the bus.

It was a few days before Halloween Weekend 2012 and I was going to visit my brother at Penn State for the first time to see the Penn State-Ohio State football game as well as enjoy all that PSU had to offer. I asked my brother if I could bring a friend; more specifically, Luke because he was my best friend and we were both considering Penn State as a future school for next year. My brother said sure and Luke and I decided we were going to go up Saturday morning and come home Sunday afternoon. We got our Megabus tickets on Thursday for 8:00 am Saturday, and my mom was going to drive both of us to the Megabus stop in the morning. The bus goes from Pittsburgh to New York and passes through the Penn State area, then loops around and passes back through Sunday afternoon.

It was Friday night and I was packing at home when both of my parents gave me the “Be Careful” talk. My mom starts off the conversation by saying, “Now Ross, we know you don’t want to hear this, but just be careful when you are up there. Your brother can be a real idiot and I would not put it past him if he just left you and Luke to fend for yourselves in State College because he couldn’t remember what stop to pick you guys up from, or what time to get up and get you guys”. I replied, “Okay mom, I’ll be careful,” when really I thought, Seriously?! I’m almost eighteen I would think I could handle myself by this point. My dad then chimes in: “Now I know you don’t have hardly any common sense and when you and Luke are together I try not to even think about what you fools are doing, but can you please promise me that whatever you do, do not end up in New York”. This time I actually said, “C’mon dad, you are talking to a kid who has like a 3.8 GPA, I think I can accomplish the task of getting off at the right bus stop”. “I’m just telling you” he responded. I was actually stunned that my parents thought that I was incapable of completing daily tasks. It turns out that they would be right about what they thought, but that’s beside the point. I finished packing and I went to bed eager to get up in the morning and head to Penn State.

At about 7:30 am, my mom and I picked up Luke and we were then dropped off at the bus stop about ten minutes before the bus arrived. I had with me my backpack which had a couple school books in it for the illusion to my mother that I was going to do homework, my phone charger, a change of clothes, and a shave kit. Luke had his backpack with similar items in it, and he also brought a sleeping bag because he did not know where he would be sleeping at my brother’s apartment. He had to put that in the cargo hold of the bus before we got on because it was too big to bring with him to his seat. My mom waved goodbye to both of us and yelled before we got on the bus, “Have fun! But be Safe!” We both laughed and yelled back, “Okay!” and we were on our way to The Pennsylvania State University all on our own. As soon as the bus ride got underway, we did what any sensible teenager would do that early in the morning: we slept. We basically slept the whole way until we arrived at the Walmart that is in State College. We got off and Pete, our African-American bus driver who I could tell was not particularly happy with his life choices that led him to be a Megabus driver, told us we were going to take a fifteen minute break, but he did not specifically say that this was the stop for Penn State. We left our stuff on the bus, got off, and stood around until Pete was ready for everyone to get back on. We got back on the bus and sat down. Now we knew we were close to where we had to be because it was 11:00 am and we knew it took about three hours one-way, but we did not think that a Walmart was the bus stop for State College. We thought we would be dropped off right in the middle of campus. The bus started up again and off we went again. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Pete gets on the loudspeaker. He says, “Alright everyone, next stop New York!” At that same moment, Luke and I look at each other and have the same expression: “Oh Shit”. I could not help but think about what my dad said the night before, “Do not get off the bus in New York”.

When Luke pushed me into the aisle, I had to make my way down from the upper portion of the bus to the lower front of the bus where Pete was. I think that he was a little bit surprised that someone had gone up to the front to say something to him because that was obviously not the norm. Stumbling over my words I managed to say, “Uh yeah, we need to get off the bus”.  He just looked at me and said, “Well if you have anything in the cargo hold, I can’t get it for you”. Without even thinking I shouted, “Okay that’s fine!” I motioned for Luke to come up to the front of the bus and Pete let us off about a mile and a half away from the Walmart stop. When Pete let us off, everyone on the bus was just laughing hysterically at our expense so that was nice. I called my brother to tell him what happened and of course, I woke him up so he could not have even picked us up because he was not even there. He laughed about the situation, and told me he would be there in a few minutes. While Luke and I were walking back to the Walmart, Luke said, “Hey wait, I forgot my sleeping bag!” I answered, “Yeah, um the bus driver said that he could not get anything from the cargo hold so it’s basically gone”. “That was my favorite sleeping bag, dude,” he said. I said that I would buy him another if he cared so much for it, which I could not believe. We made it back to the bus stop, where my brother greeted us with laughter, but we made it to State College. I really wished I had known that the bus stop was actually at a Walmart rather than right in front of Old Main like I had imagined.

We chilled at my brother’s apartment for a short time after which we went to the football game. It was my first Penn State football game, and it was awesome. PSU ended up losing, but it was still sweet. Then we chilled at the apartment and got the “real” tour of Penn State from my brother and his roommate. My brother also had his buddies from high school up for the weekend, so it was an all-star lineup of about eight people in a 350 square foot apartment. To sum up the Saturday after the bus ride, I couldn’t really say because I do not remember much past 8:00 pm.

Then came Sunday morning. I somehow managed to get up at 10:00 am because the bus was scheduled to arrive to pick us up at 11:15 am. We had to get on a bus in State College that would take us over to the Walmart where the Megabus was. Even with the grogginess, we were actually good on time on getting to the bus stop, but naturally, the bus did not show up until 11. I’m thinking to myself on the bus ride over to Walmart, It would only make this trip perfect if we had to sprint to the stop just to get on the bus. And my second thought was, “Please do not let it be Pete driving”. Well, we got off the stop and across the parking lot sits the bus with Pete just closing the doors getting ready to go. Luke and I leapt off the first bus into an all-out sprint to catch Pete and the Megabus. I heard over my shoulder from my brother, “See ya!” but we kept running. We flagged down the bus and got on with Pete chuckling a little to himself. Yeah, it’s real freakin’ funny buddy, I thought as we climbed onto the bus. Again, Luke and I both slept the whole way on the bus ride back to Pittsburgh. This time though, we actually recognized the bus stop in Pittsburgh and we able to get off at the appropriate time. My mom picked us back up and she asked how the weekend was and I just said to wait until I get at least three more hours of sleep. Later, I told her and my dad the whole debacle, and of course they laughed and gloated about how they were right. I could not say anything because they were right; I am not as smart as I thought I was. Luke and I almost managed to go to New York City. Unreal. I do not have the slightest idea about what we would have done if we ended up in New York. I wish I had actually listened to my parents about how to be careful and conscientious of my surroundings rather than waiting until the bus is already moving to New York before I ask to get off.

 

A Loss of Innocence by Kerry D.

Image

            “Stop!” I screamed as I ran up the stairs, “You don’t understand, just shut up”. My older sister Lizz had just walked in the door yelling at my parents because they didn’t pick her up from Youth Group that night. My outburst hardly surprised her; we were constantly fighting and bickering with each other. She didn’t know it wasn’t my typical whining until my mom walked over and sat my sister down. I watched from the top of the staircase as my mom broke the news. My sister’s eyes widen, the tears forming immediately. I wanted to comfort my sister; I wanted her to comfort me. But I was stuck, frozen on that staircase and clutching on to the banister, because in that moment it was the only stability I had left.

Two hours earlier I was sitting in my parents bedroom playing The Sims computer game when our home phone rang. I sprinted to get it, even though being the youngest I was the only one whoever answered the phone. Ten year old me loved talking on the phone; I would keep a conversation going with a random sales guy just because. It fascinated me how someone could be somewhere else, anywhere else in the world, but their voice was right next to my ear. The Caller ID showed it was my grandparent’s number, so I ecstatically answered “Hey Nana!!!! Whatsup?!” I was shocked when my normally jubilant Nana flatly requested to talk to my mom.

“Mooooooommy,” I called as I ran into her bathroom, “Nana’s on the phone and she sounds angry soo…be nice!” I sat next to my mom as she talked, being the curious kid I was, until my mom’s faced turned as serious as Nana’s voice, and she ushered for me to leave. I was offended, my mom always let me listen in, especially when it was Nana calling to talk about something crazy the neighbor’s kid had done, or the new shoes she found at TJ Maxx. My mom half closed the door, and as I peered in through the cracks, I saw her sit on the closed toilet seat and begin to cry. My mom is not a crier. I had never seen my mother cry before, and it terrified me.

My feet lead me down the staircase in a furry to find my dad. He was reclining in his chair, watching the football game with my older brother Mike, as per usual on a Sunday evening. “Mom’s crying,” I blurted, which immediately got his attention. He went up the staircase to see what was going on, and my brother and I crept behind and waited next to the stairs to listen in. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, my mom was breathing heavily and couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to grasp what she was saying, but Mike knew. He told me to walk away, that it was “too sad” for me to handle. “I can handle it Mikey,” I pleaded “I’m almost ten I’m not a little kid anymore”.

My brother and I went down into our basement to play a game of ping-pong, his way of distracting me from what was really going on. But the curious kid I was demanded an answer, “Just tell me! I won’t tell mom you told, promise.”

And then the words I never saw coming, came next. “It’s Kaitlyn” he started. Kaitlyn? I thought, our cousin? Kaitlyn was our 17-year-old cousin, and my role model in life. I idolized her; she was the embodiment of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Kaitlyn was smart, and Kaitlyn was pretty. Kaitlyn played sports and Kaitlyn sang in choir. But above all Kaitlyn was the most kind-hearted individual I have ever met, even up until present day. I remembered a time at their West Virginia home the winter before, where Lizz was annoyed at me for following them around all day, but Kaitlyn let me stay, because I was “one of the girls” and she said she wanted to be with me just as much. I snapped back to the moment, my brother and I at the ping-pong table, and he continued to tell me, “There was a real bad accident with her and Aunt Rhonda, and Aunt Rhonda’s in the hospital she’s in a coma Ker, they don’t know what’s gonna happen to her, but Kaitlyn…” and he trailed off. He couldn’t finish it and we both knew what was next. I started hyperventilating.

“I have to pee” was all I could manage as I ran up the basement stairs to the bathroom. I locked the door and fell to my knees. It couldn’t be true. He must have heard wrong. Bad things don’t happen to good people, and Kaitlyn was the best person I knew. A knock came on the door so I knew I had to come out. I wiped my eyes and tried to look normal, because if I could get back to normal, maybe we all could. Maybe I could walk outside this bathroom door, and everyone would be smiling. We could go back to normal, and I could play my computer game and go back to being a kid.

But as I opened the bathroom door, my mom waited outside with arms stretched open, and I fell into them immediately. “I’m so sorry honey,” my mom cooed as she caressed my hair. “She’s in a better place, and she loved you. Kaitlyn loved you so much sweetie, you know that.” We all kinda stood there in the kitchen for a while, fumbling on words and “I just can’t believe its”. What do you say in that situation? Everything’s gonna be okay? Because it wasn’t. And I wasn’t. I wouldn’t be for a long time after.

My sister Lizz was at youth group, so my mom arranged for her to get a ride from a friend. She walked in annoyed and called out to my parents “Why couldn’t you get me? You know I hate driving with Rachel Benenson she’s so annoying you were supposed to pick me up!” Even the slightest outburst upset me, as I was still trying to decipher what was going on. I went to run to my bedroom, being dramatic as always and yelling at my sister for yelling. And when my mom told my sister what had happened, another thought hit me. My sister walked in the door, and the first thing I did was yell at her. 5 hours away in West Virginia my cousin Ryan sat in a home where his sister would never walk in again. Where something as normal as saying goodbye to your mom and sister as they leave for church, ends up being your last memory of your only sibling. And somehow I still couldn’t even get along with my own sister the first five seconds that she walks into the house.

I spent the next week praying. Really praying hard, to a God I wasn’t really familiar with. I was raised Catholic and I had my Baptism and Communion, but we rarely went to Church and my parents didn’t really talk about religion much. But for the next week every time my mind wandered, I prayed to God that it wasn’t real. That Kaitlyn would wake up, and we’d realize the first responders and doctors were wrong, she wasn’t dead. Every 11:11, and every eyelash I wiped away I wished that she wasn’t gone.

We drove down to West Virginia for the viewing and the funeral, and I brought my favorite American Girl Doll. It was one of the custom ones that you can choose how they look, and I had special ordered her the year before with long brown hair and brown eyes, and named her after my best friend, Kaitlyn. I clutched that doll the entire car ride there. I wasn’t the only one who had trouble accepting this tragedy. My Poppop drove from South Jersey all the way to West Virginia and forgot his suit for the funeral, and instead of renting one there, he drove all the way back home to get his suit. I was so confused at the time by this, but now it makes sense. At a time when he was about to burry his seventeen-year-old granddaughter, he needed his own suit to resemble a sense of normalcy.

I wore a pink skirt to the viewing. Everyone was dressed in black and I couldn’t handle it. Kaitlyn was the happiest girl, why she would want me to wear all black? It was my first funeral so the concept was foreign to me, but my mom liked my reasoning, and let me wear my happy skirt. Once we got there, everyone was hugging each other and couldn’t stop crying, but for the first time I couldn’t start. I saw my other cousins and relatives bawling, and I took it upon myself to try and comfort them. I’ve never been one to deal with my own problems, so I focused on helping my other cousins get through the night.

As everyone was leaving, I sat with my Uncle Pat, Kaitlyn’s father. We talked about the agenda for the next day, the details of which I can’t really remember. But I was certain it started at one time, and he thought another. He called over Ryan, his son, and Ryan agreed with me about whatever time. I laughed and was proud of myself for remembering the funeral information I had read over and over again on the car ride here. Then Uncle Pat looked at me and rubbed my back, laughing a little and said, “You’re a smart one Kerry, just like Kaitlyn was. You remind me a lot of her, you know that?” And that’s when the tears came. I excused myself to the bathroom, because if Uncle Pat could hold it together, I really couldn’t lose it in front of him. I was really impressed by him and Ryan that weekend. Aunt Rhonda was still in the hospital recovering so she couldn’t be there, but Uncle Pat and Ryan stayed strong the whole time, comforting relatives and practically the entire county that came out to remember Kaitlyn. I’m not exaggerating, literally it was packed with people from all over, and all of them told me how wonderful of a person Kaitlyn was. Whether it was classmates she sat with when no one else would, or a teammate who needed moral support, Kaitlyn was always the one helping everyone else out.

I left West Virginia with a heavy heart, but a new outlook on life. I realized it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how hard you try, because life is a fragile thing. It can be gone in an instant, everything you thought you knew can change with the blink of an eye, but you have to be ready for that. You can’t waste your time on petty matters and materialistic desires, because when you die none of that matters. I decided I wanted to live a life the way that Kaitlyn lived hers. I want people to have stories about me, and I want someone to miss me as much as I still miss her.

Regrets by O.R.

Image

We walked into my church and hoards of men and women occupied the seats, talking in hushed tones to the people around them. My dad and I took a seat near the back and waited until Pastor Rick started speaking. Even he struggled to get out what he wanted to say, although he was usually composed when conveying bad news. This news was different though, it was worse. Then he directed us to a video that had just started playing, and there she was.

Two years previously, I met Marly at a youth function at church. My parents were leading the lesson that week, and after the lesson we traditionally had the snack. No group of teenagers could go more than two hours without eating, at least as far as I knew. We sat down to eat, my parents always brought powdered donuts and water, and I noticed Marly’s food rolling around in her mouth, some crumbling out onto the table and her plate. Why was she eating like that? I was disgusted, and it became apparent in my face. We were fifteen, and this girl was chewing with her mouth just gaping open so everyone could see the powdered donuts being crunched and mixed with saliva and then swallowed down. I turned away and grimaced at my mom and dad. They returned my grimace with a distraught look.

After our snack, we went to play hide and seek in the church, a favorite pastime of ours because the church was so large and had so many rooms and hiding spots. Amanda was it, and as she counted to one hundred I went off to hide with Zoe. We snuck into a room that we knew we weren’t allowed in and hid under a table. Once we were settled, I turned to Zoe, confidentially whispering, “Is there something the matter with Marly? Did you notice how she eats?”

I expected for Zoe to also remark on Marly’s strange eating. I thought she’d join in and we’d banter about how disgusting it was until we waited to be found. Instead, Zoe met my eyes with the same distraught look that my parents had given me previously, and at this point I was confused. Zoe looked down at the floor, and then at me and said, “Marly has a brain tumor.”

I felt terrible. I thought back to our snack and knew how disgusted I was with her eating was completely given away by the look on my face. Had Marly noticed? She definitely had. She had limited power to control how her mouth moved and I judged her for it.

Yet my lousy facial expressions and actions didn’t stop there. We went to Impact a few months later, a weekend long event where teenagers from churches go to sing worship songs and do fun activities, and still I could not look at Marly like she was a normal human being. Instead, I acted as if she was an alien, and I completely avoided her. Her talking was garbled, so I disliked talking to her. Her eating was uncontrolled, and it was still difficult for me not to wear the same look of disgust on my face. I didn’t even want to sleep in the same bed as her.

Months passed, and Marly gradually stopped coming to youth. I later found out from Zoe that her condition had gotten worse. As time passed, I forgot about Marly’s once frequent presence around the snack table.

Until the last Sunday in January, when Pastor Rick stood at the podium in front of the church and announced that on the previous Tuesday Marly had passed away. A video memorial was to be held that night, he said into the microphone, his voice quavering. My dad looked at me and told me he’d take me that night.

The video documenting Marly’s last few months of life was made by a team of Penn State researchers who followed children’s lives through and after their time at Hershey Medical Center. This particular video featured interviews from her mom and her dad. Also present in the video was Marly.

Marly’s dad spoke first, explaining the breakdown of her disease. The initial fear, the progression of the disease, and then the acceptance of what were to come. As he spoke, I broke down. Silently sobbing, my actions toward Marly flooded back into memory. Our first encounter, the knowledge of her disease, and then how I continued to avoid her. I made thoughtless, heartless actions, yet nevertheless the actions were made and could never be taken back.

Then Marly was on the screen, completely unrecognizable. Her head was larger and covered by only a peach fuzz of hair, her eyes could barely open, and she was completely incapable of moving. Her mother stroked her hair and disclosed to the camera how she was coping with Marly’s inevitable passing away. When Marly was in incredible pain one day, she looked at her mom in the bathroom and said, “It’s okay mom. I’m ready whenever God’s ready to take me.” Mrs. Watson found comfort in the fact that she knew where Marly was going, and she’d soon see her again.

A few months ago, I was at my first THON committee meeting with my OPP group, and our captain wanted to know why we decided to participate in THON. People started to raise their hands and share their stories; heart-wrenching stories that made the whole committee choke up. I decided not to share mine because although it happened three years ago, I still felt guilty.

My memoir is about a girl who I avoided until it was too late; it involves regret, and chances lost. Now Marly can’t ever forgive me, nor should she. It’s even hard for me to forgive myself. Although the pain is still raw, and it’s hard to view my time with Marly as a learning experience, I have gained more compassion for sick people because of Marly. She taught me not to fear illness, and instead to give my time to those who are ill so that in a small way I can in ease their discomfort and troubles. The exact opposite of what I did for Marly.

Luxurious: Being Able to Take Everything for Granted

I’m a firstie on the daily prompts.  I generally have a lot of ideas of things I want to write about.  I take for granted I can get to writing one of these, whenever.  I have a computer and electricity and fingers.  And all that.

Yesterday I was watching a news channel and saw a segment about a ship that does humanitarian medical work all around the world.  They’d stopped in the Congo.  Or is it just Congo.  It’s “Republic of the Congo.”  Hmmm.  I just take it for granted that I can go Googlin’ while the people in Congo wait in line to see a doctor for seven hours.  The report said some of the adults had never seen a doctor.  Ever.  I remember how sick some of them looked.  I think of getting in to see my doctor – often the same day.  I had a heart attack a few years ago.  I got flown on a helicopter to another set of doctors.  I was always grateful.  But I know I took that level of care, for granted.

I recently went to Europe for a couple of weeks.  It was hot.  I remember eating inside a restaurant at night and sweating.  I take air-conditioning inside restaurants for granted.  I remember sweating while I was peeing.  I take air-conditioning inside toilet stalls for granted.  I was riding inside a subway car and sweating.  I take the air-conditioning inside subway cars for granted.  Some people I know tell me they don’t have AC. I gasp. I take being a wuss for granted.

I take it for granted that stuff just works.  The TV comes on.  The ice maker makes. The microwave nukes.  I have eyeglasses.  When those things don’t work anymore, I get new ones. The places I shop have food and stuff on the shelves.  If they are out one day, they will get more.  And then I can go back and get more.

My friends are there when I need them.  And even when I just want to hang out.

My students come to class.  And they do what I ask them to.

My son will get off the bus.  My oldest daughter will go to the gym and my other daughter will come for dinner when we’re having red meat.  These things just happen.  And my stepson will come over on Notre Dame game night.

My husband brings me coffee in bed every morning he is home.  He cooks on those days.  And he vacuums and does the shopping.  I take it for granted I can just do job stuff those days.

It’s good to have moments to think about things taken for granted.  What is the saying – “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

I am grateful I can take things for granted.