Category

Adolescence

Badass

On my exposed forearms, I felt the last lick of the warm sun that is still available in November in South Carolina. As we embarked on the long walk down the boardwalk that led to the hard-sand beach, I relished in this time spent with family, closing my eyes and breathing in the air, thick with salt. My brain automatically brought me to teenaged years at this spot: to fudge shops and beach biking and sneaking out at night with my cousin. My biggest worry at that point was how to act once we got to the party.

Amanda and I were a couple of attention-seeking 16 year olds (as all 16 year olds are) trying to seem older and more sophisticated to the 18-year-old, super-mature (*eye roll*) guys that we’d met at the beach earlier that day. To us, they were the picture of cool, and we probably seemed a tad over-excited when they’d asked us to a party that night. In retrospect, our parents probably would have let us go, but we didn’t even ask them- you see, it was all part of the illusion that we were incredibly badass.

Once we walked in the door of this unknown person’s family beach house and saw the rest of the guests draped all over each other in beer-induced familiarity, we both concluded that to fit in properly, we’d have to partake in the underaged ritual of drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time. I’m sure that it wasn’t my first time imbibing, but it might as well have been. Looking at each other and shrugging, we walked into the kitchen. Amanda opened a red cooler that sat on the tile floor and handed us both a bottle.

“Cheers?” she asked more than said.

Looking down, I read the label. Seagrams. Huh. “What’s a wine cooler?” I whispered.

“Not sure. I guess we can try.”

Try we did. Again and again we “tried” bottle after sugary-sweet bottle, until I went into the powder room, and the wallpaper pattern started swirling and dancing. I blinked my eyes, but couldn’t make it stop. When I went out to tell my cousin about the experience, she wasn’t where I had left her. In fact, she didn’t seem to be anywhere, and I noticed that the majority of the party-goers were gone. I asked (or more likely, slurred to) a girl by the door where everyone went. “Oh, they just went down to the beach gazebo. There was a band playing there tonight. We’re gonna go there if you want to join us.” She pointed to the remainder of the teens grabbing the last of the cans of shitty beer and shoving it into their pockets.

“Sure, thanks,” I said in my best impersonation of a nonchalant, normal, sober, 18-year-old.

They walked out the door, laughing hysterically at a joke that I didn’t get. I followed clumsily, confident that they didn’t hear me tripping over my feet and/or didn’t care. As we got closer to the beach, I heard the music from the band. What time was it? We left around 10:30, but how long had we been “partying”?

As I contemplated this, I walked sideways off the boardwalk, directly into the surrounding bushes. I lay there in a thicket, the branches cradling me, looking up at the half-moon. No one of the group that I’d been following seemed to notice my sudden disappearance. I sighed, relieved that I no longer needed to employ any energy. For what seemed like hours (probably more like minutes) I stayed there; after all, it seemed like a nice place to spend the night, Just as I closed my eyes, I heard a faint voice- “Kirsten, Keeee-eeeersten.” Louder and louder she called.

“Amanda, I’m right here,” I called back, kind of disappointed that I’d have to leave my new favorite spot.

Apparently she didn’t hear me, because she continued calling my name. “I’M RIGHT HERE!” I yelled back angrily, for some reason.

“Thank God- I had no idea where you’d gone!” She’d become very motherly at this point.

“You’re the one who left me!”

“I got confused- I thought you had gone with the group, so I followed along.” She pulled me out of the bushes and I struggled to regain me balance. “You’re covered in scratches- and your leg is bleeding! Let’s just get home.”

“Okay. Everything is spinning. I feel kinda—” Those were my last words before I threw up all over my once-cradle. Leaning on my cousin for support, we stumbled drunkenly down the boardwalk in the direction we had come. “Yeah, I think we should go home,” I agreed. “Do you know how to get there?”

“We’ll figure it out.”

Somehow, miraculously, we did end up getting our drunk butts home and into our beds without waking any of our parents or siblings. I looked over at the clock at my bedside and concentrated as hard as I could on the spinning digits. 12:00. Badasses indeed.

The moral of the story is clear: Don’t ever drink wine coolers. They make you fall into bushes.

Good Enough

The years after college were my most confident.
I was praised at work. I was enthusiastic about trying new things. At the age of 21, I was confident and blissfully happy.
I felt good enough.

When I turned 24, I took on a new teaching job that was a bit out of my element, so I studied. I studied my ass off, and presented to the class what I had learned. It was not easy (especially being amongst the hormonal teens), but I was given confidence by all the people who surrounded me.

I felt good enough.

Around that time, my boyfriend and I moved in together. I felt like I could be myself: silly, quirky, sarcastic. It was like the ultimate sleep-over with my best friend.

I felt good enough.

When I went to graduate school in the evenings, I raised my hand to participate in discussions. I worked hard to get high marks. My work ethic was good, especially when I was 9 months pregnant and couldn’t fit in the attached desks anymore.

I felt good enough.

I had my baby. She had the most perfect ears; I remember staring at the tiny swirl, the bluffs and the miniature valleys that formed an impeccable archetype. She was a good baby, but no matter how many books I poured over, I had no idea what I was doing, and neither did my husband.

I was stay-at-home-mom, wasn’t I supposed to know? Wasn’t that motherly instinct shit supposed to kick in by now?

Her pediatrician assured us that she was thriving: hitting her milestones when she was supposed to, but I still had so many doubts.

I felt just barely good enough.

My new position in life was strange because I hadn’t anticipated it. I wasn’t really sure what to do. Should I vacuum everyday? Make a roast? My mom always worked outside the home, so I didn’t have a model. None of my friends stayed home- they didn’t even have kids yet- so I couldn’t commiserate or ask questions. I was alone.

I strived to feel good enough.

I was blessed with another pregnancy a couple of years later, but without the distraction of work, I could really concentrate on how awful I felt. I was nauseated by every smell, tired in the middle of the day, depressed and more alone-feeling than ever. I withdrew, trying to hide myself behind my belly. I went to doctor’s appointments, my toddler by my side, my husband working extraneous hours to be able to afford another child. Or maybe it was to avoid me. Can’t say I’d blame him.

I didn’t feel good enough.

After my son was born, I felt slightly better, but still something was slightly “off.” I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When the doctors asked me questions, everything seemed jumbled in my head. I couldn’t recall memories correctly. I was frustrated and never felt more dumb. I tripped over my own feet and couldn’t walk in a straight line: My body wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. My new baby was difficult. He screamed while my toddler ran in circles around me, holding her hands up to her ears to block out the noise. I had failed her. I was failing him. I was a failure.

I wasn’t good enough.

My husband left me.

I wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

 

It’s What is on the Outside That Counts

My mood is determined approximately 93% by what I’m wearing at a given time.

It started from infancy, with comfort being a priority. Think: soft cotton onesies and dry diapers. As I grew into toddlerhood and through my early years of schooling, comfort flew by the wayside in favor of glamor (at least what was considered “glamor” in the 80s).

When I was in 4th grade, my parents received a call from the teacher asking if they were aware that I was sporting high heels at school each day.

Apparently my mother’s adult-sized shoes on my kid-sized feet clued Mrs. Smith in that these were not my pre-arranged footwear.

This was not the first contact from school regarding my fashion choices, however. A few years prior, the teacher had asked during a conference if any changes were going on at home. After mulling this over for a while, my mom couldn’t come up with anything:

“I-I was on a business trip last week. Why? Is everything okay?”

“Aha! That must’ve been it, then!” the teacher proclaimed. “Academically she’s been fine, but wore velvet and taffeta dresses with dirty running sneakers to class all week. It was just rather strange.”

Apparently my dad was indifferent about the “homeless-chic” ensemble choices that his child determined were appropriate for kindergarten.

I was lucky enough to have a mom who didn’t fret over the details of my get-ups, unless it compromised the integrity of my family. For the most part 90s-fashion was pretty low-key, anyway, though I sometimes looked with envy on the kids who identified themselves as goth.

Long black dresses and capes, pale faces with dark lipstick;

I wanted to try it, but didn’t think I’d be able to pull off the “too-cool” countenance that seemed so effortless to that crowd.

So I decidedly blended in through high school and college. I kept up with the trends (platform foam flip-flops, tank tops atop other tank tops, risqué mini-skirts, wool sweaters from J. Crew), but didn’t really try anything new during that period of my life.

Upon leaving school and joining the work force, I needed to maintain a sense of decorum, so I dressed preppy and older. My glasses and “teacher-bun” (complete with writing implement jabbed through the center) rounded out the “she’s such a professional” look.

As long as my job was as a professional hot mess, I realize when I look back.

The only thing that set my wardrobe apart were my shoes:

My collection was vast; enviable. Every color and shade was represented, from fuchsia to forest green. But what they all had in common? Height. Towering peep-toes and the tallest wedges took me from pocket-sized to altitudinous amazonian. I was able to walk long stretches, run a marathon if needed, and- most importantly- stand sternly eye-to-eye with my eighth-grade students who had hit growth spurts over the winter break.

I stood straighter and more confidently in my heels, but the moment I switched to flat shoes, I rolled my shoulders forward and waddled like a mallard. Every footfall brought a sense of woe. It’s fascinating how an item of clothing can influence temperament to such a degree.

When I was more than 7 months pregnant with my daughter, I recall slipping my feet into a pair of 4-inch pumps before a night out. I specifically remember that feeling of pleasure I had, to be able to put something on my body that actually fit- that felt GOOD even- was so satisfying. Though it was only 8 years ago, it feels like a lifetime has passed.

I actually can’t pinpoint when I began wobbling.

Looking back I can remember starting to lack confidence in my ability to get up from the table in a restaurant and walk to the restroom. I felt like all eyes were on me: had I drank too much wine with dinner? I could never remember.

During my second pregnancy, I kept falling, especially as my belly grew bigger and threw off my center of gravity. I took precautions to help me balance for the little guy’s safety. After all, I was supposed to be his protector, and it was only a few months that remained. I sat for longer stretches, I gave up exercise, and I stopped wearing heels. I remember that time of my life as being very dark.

After he was born, I was (perhaps a bit selfishly) excited to get my body back.

Falling was more infrequent, but my balance issues were still there. All of a sudden putting on taller shoes was difficult- not because they hurt or didn’t fit, but I genuinely began tottering and weaving awkwardly, as though I was heavily intoxicated. It was a slow progression, but eventually I had to phase out my beautiful high-heeled shoes.

I got rid of most, because I couldn’t bear to let my beautiful shoes see me like this, a shell of my former self, but I presently have a couple of pairs that I’ll slip on- if just for a moment- and let them electrify my soul and uplift my mood.

Then I take them off my feet carefully in favor of some sensible tangerine-and-aqua-floral-patterned flats.

 

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Story was in response to the prompt:

“What do your clothes say about you?”

From the wonderful podcast Writing Class Radio

What do your clothes say about you
“There’s no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories.”

“An Absent Detail” Terzo

Introductory, Secondo

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“Hmm…”

I stalled, trying to come up with the perfect thing to say to resolve the situation.

“Let me show you something here on the computer.” We walked over to the desk and I plopped down into the office chair. I signed into my Facebook account and pulled up an old photo that someone had tagged me in from high school.

It was a bit grainy, as pictures of pictures tend to be, but you could still clearly see the group of us girls, arms over shoulders, the lot of us grinning widely. “See that? That’s Mommy.”

“Yes. And is that Aunt Maggie?” she inquired, pointing to a girl who looked absolutely nothing like my sister.

“No, that’s just another girl with blond hair. That’s me my friends after we did a play. That’s Katie, Jen, and Leslie.”

“Wow. Cool.”

Continue Reading…

The Kiss (Trois)

Un

Deux

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Finally, the boys started coming in, looking Long-Island-90s preppy. I looked at the sea of plaid shirts that was before me. Almost all the guys looked the same in their button-downs and baseball hats, so choosing would have to be based on more than their looks, which would require much more detective work. I walked back over to the only two people who I actually knew at the party.

“So, what do you think?” Liz asked me, pouring herself a cup of lemonade.

“Think about what?” Her cousin asked.

“Don’t worry about it, Mark. Kirsten’s just looking for someone to hook up with.”

“I just want to kiss somebody,” I said, not wanting there to be any confusion about my intentions.

“Oh,” Mark rolled his eyes, “I’ll leave you girls to it then.” He walked off and was quickly engulfed amid the waves of teenagers.

“What about [insert generic boy’s name here]. He’s cute. Nice, I guess. He keeps looking over here too.”

“I trust you.” What the hell? They all look the same anyway.

“Consider it arranged.”

In a few minutes I could see Liz out of the corner of my eye talking to a boy and trying to motion discretely with her chin. He WAS pretty cute. I was glad I had put my trust in he;. It would’ve taken all night to deduce a contender by actually talking to all of them. Generic white boy, you are the chosen one.

I tried to play it cool, as I knew he was looking in my direction. I poured myself a cup of lemonade, all shaky and uncool, in order to look busy. I heard a voice from behind me, confident and strong. I had found my polar opposite! “Hey,” he greeted me as I turned around. Liz tells me you’re one of her friends from Stony Brook. That’s cool. Kristen, right? I’m Mike” (?)

I tugged at my hair and fidgeted in my own skin for far too long. “It’s actually Kristen. Uh, I mean Kirsten. Whoops.”

“Ha. Do you wanna… umm…”

“Hmm?“

He wasted no time. “You know, go to the other room?”

“What?” Over a decade being friends with Liz, and I wasn’t aware of the other room.

He smiled coyly and led me over to a door in the basement that led to the boiler. The other room?

It was pitch black and free from any ambiance. I sat down on, well, I’m not quite sure. I felt like a live flounder was flopping around in my belly. I heard the sound of another couple kissing in a different corner of the room. “Comfortable?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah. I guess.” That fish wouldn’t stop wiggling.

He sat next to me. Herewegoherewegoherewego…

 

Continued…

The Kiss (Deux)

Continued from The Kiss (Un)
the big night
When the big night came, I brushed my teeth 30 or so times. My gums were sore, but it was all for the greater good. I chose my sweater-turtleneck-jeans combo carefully. I didn’t wanted it to look like I tried too hard, but try I did. I brushed my hair and swept it up into a messy bun. The full-length mirror revealed the reflection of a little girl. “Next time I see you, mirror, I’ll be a much more seasoned young woman.” My stomach did a little flip-flop at the premise.

I got to Liz’s house about an hour before everyone was expected to show up. We carefully constructed a game plan for the night. My stomach growled as I stared at the chip bowl on the coffee table. “No!” I scolded myself, “No one wants to kiss a girl with sour cream and onion on her breath!”

“Okay,” Liz was saying, “so you’ll just give me a signal, I don’t know, wink or something, when you see some one you’re interested in. I’ll get this done, don’t worry about it.”

“Okay!” a nervous laugh escaped me.

“And don’t do that.”

“What? Laugh?”

“Is that what that was? You sound like a hyena doing jumping jacks.”

I tried to picture the scenario. “I get it. I’ll try to play it cool.”

We sat on the couch in her finished basement watching some made-for-tv movie that starred a somebody from 90210, but even that couldn’t catch my eye. I couldn’t concentrate on anything but my impending kiss.

Her cousin showed up first, the one who I really wanted to make out with, followed by a group of girl friends, who greeted each other with loud yelps and jumps, as though it had been years since they’d seen each other, as opposed to the three and a half hours since school had let out.

Continued

The Kiss (Un)

I was 14 and had never been kissed.

Well, a peck on the lips while playing “truth or dare” under the snack bar at the cabana beach, but not a real kiss. Not the one where someone else’s slimy, wet tongue invaded your mouth, thrusting itself barbarously. Not the one where two people’s saliva commingled in a ritualistic, germ-infested dance. One where you needed to awkwardly tilt your head, as not to smash your noses against each other. I hadn’t had THAT.

And I wanted that SO BAD.

I wanted to be desired. Coveted like Brittany Cohawks, who everybody talked about in awe just because she got a haircut over the summer and probably because she grew boobs. Big whoop. I had seen Brittany in the locker room before swim class, her beige-colored bra tossed casually on the bench, displaying padded cups that made up for 75% of her chest size.

I knew I had to come up with a plan of action. Should I forgo weekends spent having sing-a-longs with Jackie, Saturdays riding my 10-speed throughout the neighborhood, lazy afternoons spent playing Barbie dolls with my little sister, give it all up to have a boyfriend? It just seemed illogical.

I complained to Katie, to Sarah, to any friend who would listen to my sad story: I hadn’t and WANTED to kiss a boy. It was in discussing this drama with Liz that a course of action was devised. A party. One with girls AND boys. I’d surely find some dude there who was willing to toss this girl a little tongue. After all, Liz went to a different school, so there’d be new blood, so to speak.

 

Continued

Kiss
How I envisioned it…

Blue Bicycle

bike

It was propped up against the interior wall of my garage, awaiting a long journey down tree-lined streets, through neighborhoods where children played freeze tag on their front lawns. The bike was fueled by those laughs and yells of playfulness, or, more accurately, it’s driver was. The shiny powder blue steel bars that formed the frame were strong, yet delicate; its brown wicker basket practical, yet dainty. In my mind, I rode that bicycle everywhere.

Growing up in Strong’s Neck, our bikes were equivalent to freedom. At 9 years old, with a simple, “Bye Mom, bye Dad!” I’d leave the house, climb onto my 10-speed, and go.

I hadn’t made any defibicyclenite plans.

My parents hadn’t set up a playdate.

I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be.

I set off for Tara’s house first, one of the only other girls in the neighborhood. She’d open her door and come running out in a flourish, as though she’d been waiting by the front window for me to arrive all morning. Together, we rode up the street to Karl’s, the wind fluting in my ears.

He was already outside with his sister, but stopped talking to her mid-conversation when we pedaled up his drive. From there, we went to several other houses, collecting friends to join our platoon along the way. We rode our bikes for a couple of hours, then usually went over to someone’s backyard, where we’d play until the sky became sooty and Mom called for dinner.

The neighborhood gang would dissipate one-by-one, hopping on bikes to head back to warm suppers. The next day would inevitably repeat this same pattern.

My bike was my freedom back then, and I looked at it now- chrome gears and untouched pedals- and saw it as freedom as well. Someday.

blue bike

Nobody Likes New Year’s (the 1st of 2)

New Year's
Tick-tock, tick-tock…

Expectations.
Disappointment.
Expense.
Awkwardness.

The best one’s that I recall were those when I was a child; sitting cross-legged on the bed with Laura, watching Dick Clark count down the new year while our parents danced and ate and did adulty-things in the grand ballroom at Hôtel Le Chantecler. We were exhausted from a full day of skiing, but found it within ourselves stay awake for the big moment: a new year!

When midnight struck we yelled and threw homemade confetti all over the room. We found bits of ripped up colored paper tangled into our hair for days afterward, and it was beautiful.

As time moved forward we stopped going on our annual ski trips to Canada, and Laura and I parted ways on New Year’s Eve, to hang out with our respective friends. When I was a senior in high school, I went to a party at Melissa’s house. She was one of my best friends, so I had made arrangements to sleep at her place after the festivities.

Continue Reading…

Collection

The visual is clear when I close my eyes: the blue canister that had once been used for coffee grounds, but was now the perfect vessel for my collection.

I had scrubbed the inside of it with fervor, using the Ajax that was “hidden” under the sink. My mom would’ve had my head if she’d known that I was sifting through the chemicals and cleaners there, but my pig-headed passion for getting the can clean drove me to renounce the guidelines set to keep me out of harms way. I had all at once felt rebellious and obsessed with the notion of making it spotless on the inside.

The canister still reeked of the bitter scent of coffee, though, and it burned in my 8-year-old nostrils.

Continue Reading…