Tag: Remembering



When I’m 85, the smell of Bath & Body Works’s peach nectar lotion will remind me of that unsettling coaster ride of an autumn with my first boyfriend. The smell of carpet shampoo will remind me of walking into my college dorm room with an armful of books and giddy expectations. The smell of hand sanitizer will take me back to the NICU where infant Natalie recovered from surgery, and the smell of lemons will remind me of this spring.

The lemon trees and perfume and homemade limoncello and lemonade (more on that soon) have swirled deep into my perception of life this spring, and I have to tell you: I am infatuated. With lemons… AND life. Remember how crap-coated existence looked in January? And in February? And in March? Man, March was a doozy. I didn’t share most of the horror that was my brain this last winter out of embarrassment and pride and a respect for your collective wills to live, but my personal journal entries are like something out of Mordor.

But then… One afternoon toward the end of March, I was researching psychiatry in Italy in preparation for the next day when I was going to beg my skeptical doctor on my hands and knees for antidepressants. If I was going to grovel, I at least wanted to be prepared. I learned that “antidepressant” is “antidepressivo” and that “panic attack” is “attacco di panico” and that around 75% of women taking Yasmin end up on depression medication. Huh, I thought. Could this be as easy as going off the Pill?

It was. Only seven weeks later, I am a completely different person. Actually, I was a different person within seven days. I can hardly believe how easy it is to get out of bed each morning now that homicidal hormones are no longer running around chewing holes through all my happy thoughts. That endocrinologist who assured me I certainly did not have a hormonal imbalance owes me one year of lost happiness and a delivery truck of Lindt chocolates, at least as I see it.

I figured I owed you all an update now that I’m on the outside of the cage. So many of you have encouraged and supported me through a truly crap-filled (and -coated and -battered and -fried and -garnished) time. You’ve sent me e-mails and earrings and reminded me that I have some worth as a human being after all, and I am a thousand kinds of thankful. The future holds promise again. The world is habitable again. My creativity is waking out of its coma, and when I look inside my brain, I finally see myself. And when I’m 85, the smell of fresh lemons will remind me all over again how lovely it is to be.







For instance, the one in which I entered names and addresses from handwritten cards into a computer for eight loooooooooong hours every day. I bribed myself to keep on living with Mrs. Baird’s cupcakes and one Sunkist a day from the vending machine. Still less fun than it sounds.

…Or the next summer, at the same company, in which I weeded out duplicates from the universe’s longest list of churches. In French. Which I don’t speak. It took me the entire summer.

…Or the summer after that with a company that hired me without actually having a position for me. I occasionally made copies, chatted with the secretaries, and tore sticky notes into miniscule bits to give myself some job security. Oh, and I also avoided their mandatory company-wide “spiritual strengths” meetings, which sounded as pleasant to me as steel wool underwear, by hiding under my desk. (I kept a pile of paper clips on the floor to give me an excuse were I ever caught. I wasn’t.)

…Or my first job out of college—pregnant and newly moved to Unemployment City, U.S.A. I searched high and low for English-nerdy jobs, particularly ones that I could do at home with the baby, but I ended up settling for a part-time position at a dusty resale store in an abandoned shopping center. (I still kick myself for not at least applying to Starbucks. Why? Why? Why? Why? Oh right, placenta brain.) I stocked dusty shelves, reorganized dusty knick-knacks, and coughed over the dusty cash register while dealing with unreasonable customers. I also dusted. And then quit.

…Or the next job I got as a church custodian since it allowed me to bring newborn Natalie along. She slept in the nursery cribs while I scrubbed bathrooms and vacuumed between pews, then I’d read novels from their library while she nursed. It wasn’t such a bad setup (besides leaving me exhausted and grumpy at the end of every day), but I couldn’t deal with my bosses. I would single-handedly clean up debris from a giant church dinner, steam clean the carpets, scrub the urinals, wash the windows… and one of the elders would complain that I had left some dust on the underside of a table in the attic. Perhaps I have a problem with authority figures (make that probably), but (okay, definitely) my days as a “sexton” were over.

…Or the last teaching job I took in the States. I was hired to teach several different courses to students ranging from kindergarten to college in both one-on-one and classroom settings. And now I need a nap. I loved the teaching experience itself (Have you ever played Study Skills Jeopardy with 7th graders? Or taught anything to first graders? They were a blast!). However, the company I worked for required me to make my own curriculum for each of the different classes from scratch. I also had to drive myself across town to different schools throughout the day, and I consistently put 60 unpaid hours a week into the job. In addition, I kept getting called to the principal’s office for:

1) Wearing the wrong kind of jacket.

2) Taking too long to drive from one school to another across town during rush hour.

3) Failing to adequately prepare my English student for his math test.

4) Not allowing a student to do unrelated homework in my class. (After a parent complained… “But my little girl is just so busy! She doesn’t have time to be paying attention in class!”)

5) Breaking the ice with an international student by telling him I would be moving to Italy the following year.

6) Failing to come prepared to a tutoring session. (I brought colorful worksheets I had written and printed up myself, my own books, two packs of markers, a homemade memory game, and a timer. But I made the mistake of asking my student if she had a favorite pen she wanted to use. Her parent called in irate that I had come “unprepared,” and my boss refused to hear my side of the story.)

That last one was the kicker. Irrational parents are one of the most insidious forces in all of nature, and I simply could not deal with them without support from my employer. I was stressed from my peeling toenail polish to my split-ends. Ironically, we were also losing money due to my work-related expenses—gasoline, daycare, vodka by the truckload. I called it quits after one eternally long semester.

Wanted poster

Only two of the fifteen jobs I’ve held over the years met my needs for both creative outlet and a boss who didn’t make me cry. However, something tells me that I am unlikely to find a career as a university student worker. (It’s too bad; planning freshmen orientation was fun AND involved free food!) So where does that leave me now?

☑ Large, sticky psychological issues with authority figures

☑ Unsatisfied with my [quite lengthy] résumé

☑ But absolutely no desire to re-enter the workplace

☑ But wishing I could earn some money all the same

☑ Dreaming of the day I can write at home in my pajamas as a professional writer rather than just an errant blogger with a snarly job history.



Gloom and Cheer

My little sister is sixteen and gorgeous. She sports a sparkly little nose stud, stylish clothes, and a haircut adorable enough to kill. She brims over with smiles, and in the Thanksgiving pictures, she and my mom are cheek-to-cheek with matching lipgloss, making silly faces together. I grin at the photos, but I can’t help the urgent stinging under my eyelids.

It’s not jealousy. I love my sister, and I’m quite honestly delighted with my current life. However, I wasn’t when I was her age. Frumpiness was thrust upon me young, and I spent nearly every moment of my early teenage years sinking with humiliation. Sinking and hiding. My mother—burdened with griefs I’m only now beginning to understand—never smiled at me. We never giggled together or shared makeup or staged silly photos. Any photos, for that matter. And when I see my beautiful sister and my beautiful mom having fun together, it inflames my war wounds. I may be a decade and an ocean removed from my past, but recovery still eludes.

Holidays in particular bring out the tangles in my emotions. No matter how happy I am with my sweet husband and precious girls, I can’t entirely forget the family life that once hurt me so deeply—the tense mealtimes, the clouds of violence, and the Christmastime hopes that always failed to fully materialize. While the New Year rang in on my fifteenth year, I lay in bed discussing suicide with myself. Happy holidays!

If I could ask any gift from my sister this year, it would be a memory—just one would do, and I’d return it in perfect condition. If I could just once remember my teenage self feeling beautiful or treasured or brimming over with shared smiles… well, Christmas would be a bit easier to look forward to.

With the gloom worked out of my system, I have to say that I really am excited about this month. We’re planning Christmas crafts and outreach projects and deliciously sneaky shopping trips with frost-tipped noses and hot chocolate at the end. One of my favorite parts of the holiday is planning gifts for friends, and I certainly can’t overlook the wonderful blog community this year. My husband may be getting tired of me telling him how much I like the internet, but I really do. I’m madly in love with it. I love having a place to spill my thoughts and having you all sop them up for me, and I love the way gratuitous kindness can spread unhindered across the globe. I know it’s not much, but I’m excited to send out a little end-of-the-year gift to you in time for Christmas. (Hint: It’s a recipe, and it’s Italian, and I promise it will be in the best interest of your happiness… and that of your sweet tooth. Enough said.) Just e-mail me with your mailing address, and I’ll send an envelope of holiday cheer your way! ‘Tis the season… and I’m grateful for you all.



When I was 15, I loved filling out surveys. LOVED. Would happily have born their children, etc. I considered myself very clever too, filling out my age as 15.333485 and my eye color as “pond scum.” As was done back in those days, I circulated my very clever surveys to all my friends and chuckled to myself at what they would think when they read that my preference between chocolate and vanilla was “Hello, do you KNOW me?” (Chocolate and I had quite a reputation back then.)

Then I found maturity at the ripe old age of 15.792144 and destroyed all those surveys that I had poured all my very clever immaturity into. I became a… Meme Snob. The experience is not unlike discovering crème fraîche, fresh Asiago, and cavatappi al dente and then turning up your nose at Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese forever after. Only, sometimes, you still secretly crave the taste of orange powder and soggy noodles. Come on, ‘fess up.

Today, I found myself craving a soggy orange meme… and instead of ignoring it sanctimoniously like usual, I decided to be 15.333485 again and enjoy it. (Plus, I had nothing else to write about today.) This is for you, Kelly!

6 Random Things About Myself (why does it feel like I’m starting a 3rd grade essay?)

1. My favorite food in this or any other universe is fried okra. Which pretty much limits me to the southeast quarter of the USA. Oh, and Cracker Barrel! But sadly, Cracker Barrel has yet to set up a franchise in Italy…

2. No one can deny that I’m a disgrace to my Texan upbringing. I start to melt at 85 degrees or medium salsa, whichever comes hotter. I own neither a pickup truck nor a shotgun.* Country music fills me with fantasies of puncturing my own ear drums. Need I continue?

However, though I’m not officially admitting it, I often miss the landscape of Texas… Those rugged oceans of sandstone and grass that manage to look safe in their rampant wildness… Red bluffs crowded with stubby pine trees overlooking friendly fishing lakes… Fresh-baked prairie and wide open spaces in every direction… Those Dixie Chicks were onto something (country music notwithstanding).

*Nor a rifle, a pistol, an AK-47, a bow and arrow, a BB gun, a Bowie knife, or a rocket launcher. Though I have used all of them before. Yes, Unreal counts.

3. I have ten piercings, including three that have closed. My little sister, who got a darling sparkly nose stud at 14, owes me BIG TIME. At 14, I was going for double-pierced ears, which might as well have been nipples for how well certain parents of ours took it… but they’ve come a long way in the meantime, and my jewelry and I are willing to take full credit.

4. During breakfast, Natalie looks at the backs of cereal boxes, and I read sugar bags. Sugar comes with poetry in Italy (why not?), and here’s a particularly charming translation for your reading pleasure:

 “The Sugar in a Cup:”
Sweet as an enamored boy,
Candied as an unexpected kiss,
Light as a hug without end,
Simple as the waves of the sea,
Sugar is everything and nothing,
It is not, but it is present…
It hides in a cup,
Reappears in a bag, the sugar…

5. My hair in college went something like this:
Normal: light reddish-blond (I call it Irish)
[Christmas break] Blonde of a strawberrier variety
PERM (I know, but it was tasteful, plus it saved my life during those 4 a.m. hygiene sprints sharing a dime-sized mirror with 75 other girls in South Africa)
[Summer break] Cinnamon-apple red
[Convince best friend DeAnn to dye her hair, though her hair resists mightily] Longer
[Christmas break] SHORT
Dark Irish
[Summer break] Chestnut
Back to normal
Spiky fuchsia wig
Roasted chili red
[Future husband falls in love with me and vice versa] Shoulder-length
[Christmas break] Chestnut, round 2
Pomegranate blonde
[Summer break] Longer
I’m-getting-married! red
[Wedding] SHORT
Just plain brown
With a touch of red
And then several touches more
[Christmas break] PURPLE (it was temporary, but still…)
Blonde highlights

It seems that every time I get bored with The Way Things Are™ or just need a breath of fresh figurative air, I reinvent myself by way of hair. It’s the only viable option for me, really. I will never be able to tan beyond the shade of fluorescent white. I will never be able to afford replacing my wardrobe every few months. I seriously doubt I will ever have the time to go on a Pilates spree or a soul-searching trip to the Himalayas, though, um, yes please. I can’t change much about my routine with little ones to care for, and I can’t rearrange the furniture in our shoebox apartment. B
ut I can disappear into the bathroom with a little box marked “#556, Red Mahogany” and emerge forty minutes later a different person.

6. I am not afraid of heights… exactly. However, my hands begin to sweat profusely the moment I’m up high. Or when I watch a movie scene depicting someone up high. Or when I think about watching a movie scene depicting someone up high. For instance, right now; my palms are literally gushing as I type. It would seem I was not blessed with survival instinct.

I am a Meme Snob no more. Now please pass the Mac ‘n’ Cheese.


Squandered Therapy

The piano and I have a long history, a tabloid-worthy on again, off again relationship. I started lessons at five years old—I remember having to rest my hands on my teacher’s large doughy ones while she played… yeeeesh—and shortly thereafter, my mother took over. Mom was, and still is, a sought-after piano teacher. She’s great at it. But (you knew there had to be a “but,” right?), I was the one student who didn’t “click” with her methods. I learned to play quite well, but it was a lot like me potty-training Natalie: we got where we needed to get, but the journey was decidedly unpleasant.

At the first possible opportunity in high school, I swore off the piano. Years of unwilling sonatas and scales had left me bitter, hating the instrument and hating that I had the weight of my talent hanging over me for eternity. (Um, I’m ever so slightly melodramatic.) Every time I walked by a piano in college, it taunted me à la that guy who keeps popping out at Happy Gilmore to call him a jackass. “Hey there, yeah just walk to class as if you don’t see me, YOU SQUANDERER!”

But toward the end of my sophomore year, my lovely friend Q convinced me to play a song she had written for the Battle of the Bands. I didn’t entirely hate the feel of keys and petals for once. And by  my junior year, I was playing multiple times a week in a little campus band. It was fun, man, and bore no resemblance to those stuffy mathematical Bach compositions I had grown up on.

Word leaked out that I was playing again—I’m told my mom cried for joy when she heard—and my husband and parents conspired to give me an electronic piano for graduation. I was stunned, in a good way. Mostly. All except for the little urge to run. That poor piano has sat untouched for months at a time since I got it; I’ve worked on a piece here or there but mostly felt guilty. There is no way I could devote those necessary daily hours to practicing, so why bother? (FYI, I often feel the same about working out. And then I squelch my guilt with a brownie.)

However, something has shifted in the last month and I’ve become a piano addict. I never realized what an effective stress reliever was gathering dust across the room. When I run into writer’s block or need a break from chores, I pull out my colorful Peanuts songbook and channel Vince Guaraldi ‘til my fingers tingle and my mind quiets down. It’s my creative outlet when others fail me.

So now I’m thinking hopelessly grown-up, motherly things about my preschooler who loves, loves music and is the [supposedly] perfect age to stick her toes into music theory. Will she hate it? Will she feel indebted to it? Will it seem like opportunity or dead weight? Will she do better starting at a formative age or when she’s old enough to make an educated decision? Will I make a crappy piano teacher? Will music suck away her life… or turn into a beautiful self-therapy? And how important is this all anyway?



Not many people know that I left home at sixteen. It’s one of those facts I tend to keep stuffed in the back of my sock drawer unless it very specifically comes up, and that doesn’t happen often. I can’t help wanting to protect that girl who grew up without anyone to protect her.

That statement would probably confuse anyone who knew my family. We were protected from television, from popularity, from music, from current events, from trendiness, from junk food, from differing religious opinions, from school, from doctors, from other cultures, from puberty, from bad words, from the law. We lived in a double-plated steel bunker of protection. But my heart was left wide open—sometimes even pried apart—to deeper and vastly more sinister dangers than tank tops or measles shots.

I only had an inkling of my own identity, but that turned out to be enough. I snuck out of sermons and found ways to cope. I rose my own money each summer to escape to the Pacific Northwest, Central and South America, Africa. And less than a month after my sixteenth birthday, I left home. No one thought it was a good idea except for me, but I knew. I had to get away to give my heart a fighting chance.

In doing so, I made a surgical cut with iron resolve —no more church or high school friends or employers or family, no going back. And what I struggle with these days is what happened after I made the cut. My friends went on to attend college, marry, have babies, and attend afternoon barbecues together. I’ve contacted several of them lately, thanks to the miracle of Facebook, and they all wave awkwardly from the other side of the chasm wondering, Doesn’t she remember burning this bridge?

Relationships feel odder still with my family, which changed in enormous, unthinkably good ways after I left home. When I visit them—less than once a year since I’ve been married—I hardly recognize them. My siblings are happy and close-knit, every trace of their stress-related illnesses gone. After so many years of feeling guilty that I left them defenseless when I moved out, I am delighted to see them this way. But I am a stranger, by my own choice. They are with their family; I am with mine.

For the first time in my life, I feel pangs of homesickness for the people I walked away from. I chose a life of luggage tags and freedom instead of old friends and permanence, and this is absolutely what I needed. But as most choices in life go, this one has turned out equal parts bitter and sweet.


Gargoyle Daydreams

I remember her sobbing under blood-soaked sheets, moaning and gasping and stifling screams. She would not go to a hospital. Not to save herself, not even to save her unborn baby. Only when she had lost too much blood to protest was an ambulance called. It snuck down the street in the middle of the night, lights muted and siren off, to carry her to whatever help she would accept. The next morning, her living children woke to babysitters who told them “Your mom is away seeing a friend, now who wants pancakes?” Of course, who would tell young children that their own mother had been willing to abandon them to a darkly looming life and a pile of bloody sheets, all for a misplaced fear of doctors?


I find myself immersed in gargoyle daydreams so often these days that the filmy wisps of imagination are becoming stone. I’ve always been good at picturing catastrophe, but these dreams are darker than anything I’ve experienced before.

In every single one, Sophie dies.

I spoon applesauce into her grinning, teething, lovely mess of a mouth and try to talk my heart out of breaking. It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real. I snuggle her against my chest the way we slept in my hospital bed, all cozy curlicues and softness, and nuzzle her perfect dollop of a nose, all the while trying not to panic. This isn’t a goodbye.

I didn’t figure the reason out until tonight, while I browsed sites like Glow in the Woods, other women’s haunting and exquisitely beautiful stories of their lostbabies. One mama in particular wrote about the day her thirteen-month-old died, how she had known he was sick even when everyone else blew off her worries, and I suddenly understood.

It was exactly like that, seven weeks ago. We were at church when it dawned on me that Sophie was not okay. “Of course she is!” argued the other women, the relatives, all the grandmotherly types. “She’s just teething. See, her forehead’s not even warm!” And even though I sensed deep down that something was wrong, I let myself be cowed by the other womens’ years of experience.

After lunch, I couldn’t ignore the heart-tug, so I did all I knew—Tylenol, Pedialyte, kisses. I rocked her back and forth while her temperature climbed from 103º to 104º to 105º (“The thermometer must be broken,” offered a helpful relative) and consciously decided against taking her to a doctor. No American health insurance, and we’d be back in Italy soon anyway. So we went shoe shopping instead, Sophie limp and expressionless in her carseat.

She had the seizure in the parking lot of Famous Footwear while I was inside merrily trying on high heels. I ran straight out and was nearly bowled over by her lumpy lavender skin, her rolled-back eyes, her forced breaths. I couldn’t look at her again, not once on the eternal ride to the hospital. I just held her head and willed us both to keep breathing.

When we first arrived at the ER, the medical staff seemed duly alarmed. They slapped a “Red Alert” bracelet on her tiny ankle, and a team of nurses bustled with needles and machines and pint-sized magic potions. “Just hold her hand, Mom. Just keep talking to her.” It wasn’t until hours later, when the adrenaline had worn off and sheer willpower was holding me upright, that the on-call doctor coolly mentioned, “Oh yeah, this is no big deal; happens all the time. She looks perfectly fine to me.”

At that moment, I felt as stupid as I had that morning in church when the grandmothers pooh-poohed my instincts. It’s no big deal… What kind of idiot must I have been on the trip to the hospital, imploding from the silent pressure of holding back sobs? I felt very distinctly that I had been robbed of my experience and, more importantly, the right to intuitively care for my baby. But the doctors knew best. I stuffed the whole episode into some scraggly Room of Requirement in my memory and locked the door.

Tonight, it finally dawned on me that it was a big deal. Oh, was it ever a big deal. Because when I look at bereaved mamas’ photos, I see my own little girl. When I read their heartbreaking stories, I read mine. My story has a different ending to be sure, and I could never presume to understand the pain these other women are going through, but it didn’t have to end differently. If I had just… or she had just… or we hadn’t been able to… The truth is that a happy ending doesn’t erase guilt. It doesn’t settle this urgency to turn back time and do things differently as some kind of cosmic insurance against my dreams.

It was a big deal, and maybe it’s time I faced that.

Sleeping Sophie


I tend to flaunt my faith in doctors around people who are afraid or skeptical of them. It makes me feel wise, I suppose, and independent and so very mainstream. But there is more to healing than textbook medical knowledge, nodes of intuition and loving concern that matter. I know that, now.

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