Generally, I’m not much of a cryer. I’m not boasting when I say that. Trust me when I say there are moments when I wish for little more than a sob session to release the emotions that at times well up inside me and practically beg to get out. Honestly, tears would be welcome.
But, like I said, I’m not much of a cryer.
Last week, though, my eyes filled with tears repeatedly. What can I say? Children and full moons apparently are my weakness.
It started with a book. Author Nikki Grimes’ recent memoir, OrdinaryHazards, relates the story of her childhood. Grimes, the second daughter born to a mentally ill, alcoholic mother and a musician father with a gambling habit, survived a childhood that was rife with abuse, neglect and instability.
What saved Grimes and propelled her forward were words and their power to provide comfort, hope and confirmation of her own value. The intuitive and undeniable impulse she had to write, saved her.
This quote really resonated with me –
She’d prepare a hearty soup for them from scratch or bake a batch of cookies to lift their spirits. For such kindnesses, that mother was beloved by untold unfamiliar people beyond our door. On them, she lavished the attention I had once been hungry for. Oddly, her redirected affections made a certain sense to me. Apparently, my sister and I had made the colossal mistake of not being strangers.
My childhood was nothing like the one of neglect and emotional abuse experienced by Nikki Grimes and her sister, but I’ve known students who have suffered a similar existence…girls who have been sexually abused in the same beds in which they had once been tucked into and boys who have been told by their grandparents that they are no longer welcome to live in the only family home they’ve known.
I work in a middle school. My students are children. While mere words may not save children who are living in dire situations, I believe my most important job as a librarian is to provide kids with books that can do just that, save them, by letting them know that they’re not alone, they’re valued and life can get better.
The fullest moon in the sky has more of a chance of holding all of the sadness I feel, than my eyes have of containing my tears.
I can’t say that Elvis was my very first crush (Tom Jones holds that honor), but he was the first performer whose albums I owned and played incessantly. My mother would order them for me from commercials on television and I would wait impatiently for the UPS guy to deliver the records to my house weeks later. The haste of Amazon Prime was unimaginable in the 70s.
The best weeks of the year, from a television viewing perspective, were the ones in which the 4:30 movie featured Elvis movies like Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas. Even as a kid I knew the quality of these movies was suspect, but they were just so damn fun to watch that it didn’t even matter.
August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died, is a day I’ll never forget. I was in Long Island at a shopping center that had outdoor speakers broadcasting a radio station playing pop music. There was an interruption in the programming and a man’s voice announced the shocking news that Elvis Presley was dead.
It was my first rock and roll heartbreak.
Had Elvis lived, he would now be 85 years old. On Saturday night the Hangar on the Hudson in Troy is hosting a birthday party to celebrate the King of Rock and Roll. Johnny Rabb, the Tichy Boys and other special guests will be performing in what promises to be an epic party in the King’s honor. My dancing shoes might not be blue suede, but they’ll be on my feet nonetheless.
As of mid morning on Monday my hair still smelled like woodsmoke from Saturday night’s bonfire on Herring Cove beach. I washed it later in the day, but delaying the shampooing allowed the odor to linger in a lame attempt to cling to the week I had just spent at the Cape. It ended too soon.
After my adventures in Greece earlier this summer, I came to the realization that 2 weeks in Greece was essentially the same cost as the house I rent in Wellfleet. Hmmm. That was striking. Maybe it was time to let go of of this twenty year tradition for the sake of experiencing new destinations…
But, the magic of the Cape seems to get me every time, even when getting there is a clusterf*ck of traffic. Morning walks to the ocean, swimming with my dog in a pond that feels like our own and enjoying friends and low key entertaining…I just don’t know how to let it go.
Difficulty letting go has been a theme for me, it seems. This annual vacation, my Volvo wagon, lovers, specific articles of clothing…I hang on to things that have personal meaning that is sometimes irrational and beyond physical properties. I suspect it comes from unresolved childhood issues and a general lack of stability growing up. I mean, by the time I was in 6th grade I had attended three different school districts (and 5 separate buildings) and moved at least 8 times, which certainly didn’t lend much in terms of consistency to my life.
Perhaps all of that upheaval created a need for some constants in my life, beyond my brother and oldest of friends, and the annual trip to the Cape has simply grown into an event that is beyond a mere beach vacation. It’s a touchstone of my summer.
As I drove east and then south to Wellfleet, I did so with the mindset that this was it, end of an era, and I felt okay about it. Seven days later I knew that somehow I would find a way to continue this tradition, even with an anticipated return to Greece and a trip with my youngest son to Spain. At least for the next year. It’s just too important to my emotional and mental health, and my dog, to abandon.
I’m no army brat, so the term captain isn’t one I use with any frequency. Which is probably why I took note of the fact that I did indeed use the word twice in a single evening recently. Both were in the “proper noun” category, meaning a place and a person, (of sorts) and both have left me feeling reflective. I’m not complaining, it’s not a bad way to be, particularly as my academic years winds down.
So, the first occurrence was related to a mega reunion, involving many graduating classes, which occurred last weekend. While the event initially sounded fun and worthy of a drive “home,” as the date approached it began to feel less and less appealing. I don’t like really big crowds and I didn’t think I would know many people there. My immediate classmate cohort had been a freshman class of 65 which the much larger class(es) we were merged into, in a neighboring district (we didn’t have a high school in my town), had either absorbed or spit out. What was the point of driving 100+ miles to talk to people with whom I wouldn’t necessarily have engaged 35 years ago?
But, then I started seeing the names of the people who were making significant effort to get to Orange County and I reconsidered. I still didn’t feel comfortable going to the large, and probably loud, outdoor party on Saturday, but there was an interest in a Friday evening social at a local place that everyone there had memories of hanging out at during our late teens and twenties.
The get together was held at the Captain’s Table, a joint where softball teams celebrated after every game, win or lose, when we were kids. It was very much a roadside burger and beer stand, with barstool seating and, as I remember, hinged wooden windows that could be dropped at the end of the night. I learned to like beer there, something I had to do because it was the cheapest alcoholic beverage at the time and I was saving my money to travel.
Friday night’s mixer made me shake my head many times, none of which were particularly bad reasons. I shook my head to clear cobwebs and hopefully recall a long forgotten name. Or history. What was our connection? Shared academic classes? Parties? Did we hang out? Where do you start when you’re talking with someone you haven’t seen in 35 years?
There were, of course, some Laker friends whose names are pretty much etched on my heart. Those people? We really know each other and our histories have been entwined for decades. It takes no effort to remember our shared memories, families, or joint experiences and I’m always happy to see them anywhere. That part is easy.
I stayed at the Table long enough to catch up with a couple of people, eat a burger and drink a beer. That was really all I could manage since I needed to drive north again to spend the night with friends in New Paltz. I left feeling a twinge of regret for
1. Not arranging my schedule better to accommodate staying later and
2. Just not being more comfortable with a crowd.
My takeaway from the happy hour is that I really need to either work on my social skills or avoid placing myself in situations like this in the future. I’m pretty certain that I felt similarly after the last big get together. Maybe I just need to accept that I’m not the reunion type? How do you manage similar events? Any techniques you’d like to share for making reunions more meaningful?
Now, if you’re thinking my second captain of the night was a Captain Morgan and Coke, you’re wrong. It actually involves an adorable addition to the household of friends – a new puppy! Captain is a cocker spaniel who has stolen the hearts, and the shoes, of his new parents since he arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s been a while since I’ve been around a puppy and I almost forgot how cute they are and how much work they can be! Although Captain is ridiculously adorable and easy to be with (even when he bites my toes), I sincerely salute both of this weekend’s Captains and wish them health and longevity.
I am so tired of the abortion debate. Not like too exhausted to continue to fight for women to have control of their own reproductive choices. No, that isn’t it at all. I mean, like so weary of having to argue with people who believe that they have the authority to dictate what any woman can do with her body. The kind of tired that makes a person angry and liable to snap. Like hangry on a massive dose of steroids. Yeah, like that.
To me, taking responsibility for an unintended pregnancy as a teenager meant terminating because I knew I wasn’t responsible enough to care for a child. I had no education, no career and no partner with whom I wanted to raise a child. My life style then was far less moderate than my current one and the pregnancy, as I said, was unplanned. That eventual child would not have been provided with its best start and caring for a infant, with potential birth defects, certainly would have been far beyond my capabilities as a high school student. My choice was the best one in my situation.
It was no body’s* business but my own, and only my soul, if there’s such a thing, will bear the scars of my choice. Just like it’s my body, it’s my karma or damnation. It has nothing to do with you, so don’t try to make it your business.
It’s not about YOU or God. Not everything is.
I’ve never claimed to not wonder, or think, about what that embryo may have grown to become. I’ve always been convinced that the aborted baby was a girl and, after being fortunate enough to birth three sons, I’m ok with the universe fucking with me like that. That being said, I have zero regret about my decision and I truly believe that the energy that was gathering cells together within my body, went somewhere else in the universe. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I have a close female friend who is essentially the same age my child would be and I appreciate that her own mother was in a position to welcome her into the world in a way that I could not. She is a gift.
So, while I’m more than tired of hypocritical politicians, men who seek to exert control over a woman’s reproductive decisions and people who care more about the life of an unborn child than they do of one that is living in horrendous conditions, I will not ever rest on this issue. Promise.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, originally published in 1999, is one of those books that has stayed with me since I first read it many years ago. This YA novel relates the story of a high school freshman, Melinda, who is ostracized by her peers because she calls the police while at a party during the summer after eighth grade. What no one other than Melinda knows is that she called for help because she had been sexually attacked by an upperclassman. She told no one. She did not speak.
Recently, I read the graphic novel edition of the title and was completely taken in by the story again. Updated to include social media, cell phones and other contemporary details, the story translated beautifully to the visual medium of a graphic novel. Our copy has already disappeared from the collection, a sure sign to librarians of a book being a winner. We have two more copies on order.
The latest title written by Anderson is Shout, an autobiography written in verse and, again, it is exceptional. Subtitled “The true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced,” this book tells the story, at last, directly from the author’s perspective without the protection a fictional character can provide. It is raw and harrowing and at times deeply sad, but there is a thread of defiance that is awe inspiring. The story manages to span a time period from World War II to #metoo and has left a mark upon me that I suspect will remain forever.
Below are a few of the lines that stole my breath.
I woke up Thanksgiving morning and started my usual routine – bathroom to pee, brush my teeth and clean my nightguard. I brush and then soak the night guard in some fizzy solution last year’s 8th-grade homeroom advised me on. To dissolve the tablet you toss it in very warm, but not hot water.
Since it’s first thing in the morning, I expect to run the water a few extra seconds to get the water to the tap from the hot water heater in the basement two stories down. Yesterday, though, was different. The water just didn’t get warmer. I immediately assumed I’d go to the basement to find a burst or wildly leaking hot water heater and anticipated dropping $750 or some other crazy-right-before-the-holidays price to replace and install a new one.
I decided to have coffee before venturing downstairs.
Twenty minutes later, I rounded the corner from the stairs to face the hot water heater…actually, heaters. There are two and I first needed to determine which was mine. Fortunately, neither had any water leaking. Good news. I touched the one on the right and it felt warm. No doubt, it was on. I moved towards the other one, on the left, covered in cobwebs. Great.
Of course, that one, mine, was cold. The pilot wasn’t lit. I went upstairs, did a little research (perhaps the thermocoupler needed to be replaced?) and returned with a flash light and some matches, not able to find the stick lighter in the drawer. Maybe it ran away with the hammer. I can’t find that either. Back downstairs, I crouched down and read directions for lighting the pilot and was relieved to find that I didn’t have to provide fire to light the pilot. It had its own ignitor. I thought back to when I first learned how to relight a hot water heater.
I was probably 12 or so. We had recently moved into what would be the longest term residence of my life until I bought my own house. The house felt special because it was ours, sort of. My mother’s boyfriend had bought it and done some work to make it habitable, after a period of vacancy. We could paint any color we wanted to, as long as we agreed to the same one, and we each had our own bedrooms. Without heat. Sometimes in the depths of winter, the interior of the windows would be frozen from exhaled breaths and dreams. We were teenagers and had lots of blankets. It was fine.
There were times when we didn’t have heat in the house other than that cast off by the wood burning stove my brother fed like a mother nurses a newborn. If the uninsulated, built above a dirt foundation, house got too cold we’d wake to have no water whatsoever. During really cold spells, that might be our situation for a few days. On occasion we had oil for the furnace and propane for hot water and cooking, but if we didn’t, we learned to adapt to what was available. It’s just how it was.
So, lighting that water heater, all those years ago. I remember being mad. I was a kid. This was an adult’s responsibility, not mine. I was frustrated. Other people just had hot water and heat all the time. They could boil things on the stove because they had gas. Why was our shit so inconsistent?
And I was scared. Gas scared me. Electricity scared me. Is that weird?
But, we needed hot water (not for the washing machine, we didn’t have one of those,) and there actually had been a propane delivery. We must have been caught up on our bills,* for a change. I wanted a shower and my brother wasn’t home to take care of it. I didn’t have a choice – it had to be taken care of and there was no one else.
The utility room was down the hall, on the other side of a door that led to a part of the house we didn’t use. It wasn’t fit to occupy with its glassless windows and concrete floors. The hot water heater was by far the newest piece of hardware and I kneeled, practically genuflecting, next to it. I remember there was a red button that needed to pressed, and maybe you had to count to three, before inserting a match into a blowhole of sorts and then, trusting that it was lit, the knob had to be released and turned a particular way. It felt intense. I hated it.