Category

Independence

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.

Secret Pleasure

Alone at last…

The embarrassing things that I file away in my personal shame folder are numerous, and I don’t think I have the courage to share them all, but I will say that I have an extraordinary love for 30-minute sitcoms with simple, somewhat fatuous plot lines, reading insignificant “articles” (and I use that term loosely) on the internet, and checking the time-suck that is Facebook every 7 seconds.

Another thing that I’m ashamed to admit is that I LOVE being alone. Like, I’m crazy about it. I’m wild for it.

If alone-time and I were bobbing along in the frigid waters after the crash of the Titanic, I’d probably make some room so it could float along beside me on a broken off piece of door. Just sayin’.

One of the main reasons that I like to keep this pleasure of mine a secret are the many judgements– some of them true- that could be thrown my way upon hearing this truth.

“How selfish- you have children after all!”
“You’ll come to regret that desire to be alone when you really ARE alone!”
“You must take issue with the social norms and customs that should be celebrated, not defied!”

To that I say… well, you got me.

Yes, I am a little selfish. Not always, but I’m a round character, a person who has many aspects of her personality. I am self-centered at times, but I am also warm and giving (or so I’d like to think). I can extend myself to others- especially my kids- because I’ve gotten the chance to be refreshed in my alone times. Think of me as a rechargeable battery.

I am convinced I’ll come to lament about the times I should have cherished in the past. The lack of privacy that comes hand-in-hand with parenting small children, the tiny voices that trail behind you, asking “But, why?” about everything, the enthusiastic morning wake-ups before sunrise. But don’t we always feel a sense of grief about times gone by and pasts that happened far too quickly? Regret is always going to be a definite, even among the happiest of people, so loving my “me time” should come sans guilt.

I’ve found myself with more alone time than ever since my separation, and I think it’s honestly made me a better (and more patient) mom. I went from being “Mommy” all day, every day to having a couple of weekends each month to myself.

I enjoy going to the movies alone; not sharing my popcorn and not compromising on what I’d like to see.
Dining out with only the company of my kindle is a treat, as I can leave whenever the mood strikes me and eat wherever I want.
I take long baths.
I go to cooking class.
I walk around the library.
I attend yoga.
I lay in my bed and watch 30-minute sitcoms with simple, somewhat fatuous plot lines.
I do whatever I want.

I consider this a secret pleasure, because our society makes it seem as though people who desire to be alone should feel ashamed. It is true, however, that being alone- even lonely- at times allows us to appreciate and grow to love the chaos that comes with being together.

Soulmate

soulmate
I could write a book about all the ways I love you…

I’ve finally found someone with whom I share myriad interests and passions.
We enjoy the same kinds of movies (horror and comedies- nothing that makes either one of us feel emotions).
We have the same taste in music (all over the place; much like my mindset).
Figuring out our food options is never an issue (sushi again? Sounds great!).
I think I’ve found my soulmate.

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Rain Before Rainbows

Maybe if I try…

Maybe if I try: Rain before rainbows
Rain, rain, go away…

 

Part of becoming a grown up is accepting the fact that you can no longer accomplish “anything you want to do.”

No, I’ll never explore Mars.

No, I’ll never discover that I’m actually a princess, mixed at birth.

No, I probably won’t even inherit millions of dollars from a dear uncle who I don’t recall ever meeting.

And apparently I won’t be able to work outside the home either.

I had argued this fact on two occasions without an actual trial:

  • After my daughter’s birth, I stayed home, with the intent to return back to teaching after the kids were in school full time. Just after my son was born, I was diagnosed with MS. After much deliberation, it was decided (with nearly no input from me) that my career, for which I’d gone to undergraduate and graduate school, as well as countless workshops, seminars, and symposiums, blah, blah, blah was no longer an option. I would be unable to return. I mourned, but still upheld hope: maybe if I tried…
  • During my divorce deliberations it was decided (with, once again, nearly no input from yours truly) that I COULD work; that I was just being lazy by saying otherwise. I rejoiced: maybe if I tried…

And try I did… I uploaded my resume to one of those online-job-recruitment-site-thingies on a Wednesday night, and my first call came in on Thursday morning. With no preparation at all, I started interviewing. I was not quite as nervous as I normally would be, because I wasn’t actually planning on going back until the following year, when my little one was in kindergarten. This was just practice, I told myself. I hadn’t even updated my certifications!

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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

Better Than Me

Everyone had expected me to be upset by my divorce- perhaps a little angry, definitely hurt. I was all of those things, but my reasoning actually just came to me. It bulldozed its way into my brain and then sat there: horrible, awful, and unpleasant, just waiting for me to address it. So here it goes…

Why I’m Pissed

I wasn’t on the search for my future mate by any means. At 23 years old, as can be imagined, I had a list a mile long: smart, funny, good-looking… (the classics). Also, I was enjoying the single life.

I could do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, say whatever I wanted- within reason of course; I still lived with my mom.

The truth is, he chased me down, and I knew (or thought I did) that he’d always idolize me. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that when someone puts you up on a pedestal, eventually you have nowhere to go but down.

I loved dating him, and I was deliriously happy when we moved in together. It would be a lie if I said that I had any apprehensions when we finally vowed to love each other in good times and bad. For richer or poorer.

In sickness and in health.

Pissed

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Misconceptions

Life is a series of misconceptions.

When we are kids, this is more direct: the belief in a magical fairy who creeps into our bedrooms as we sleep to take our old canines and slip a couple dollars under our pillow; a 6-foot tall rabbA misconceptionit, who hops around laying chocolate eggs and leaving baskets of candy and fake plastic grass, wrapped in cellophane and a giant pink bow; an elf who flies from the family room curtain rod to the bookcase in the den at nighttime, surveying our behavior in December in order to report it to the big guy.

Okay, perhaps these are less misconceptions, more like lies.

 

But, as kids, we also have misconceptions about the people we are surrounded by. That our parents are always perfect. That everything will always turn out okay in the end. As a parent now, I have first-hand knowledge that the former is not true. Not even a little bit true. I am admittedly flawed, yet I try to live up to the conceptions that my children have of me.

And, perhaps it’s a little naïve of me to think so, but hopefully everything will turn out okay in the end, or, at least, how it’s supposed to.

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Christmas Past, Christmas Future **three**

The Conclusion

“Happy Thoughts”

**one**

**two**

The memory faded and my brain returned to the present, being crushed on both sides by my aggressive seatmates, both determined to be the emperor of the arm rest.

The seat in front of me reclined, making my space even smaller. Row 22, mine, didn’t move back. I suddenly felt as though the oxygen on the plane was getting more sparse, and I half-expected the masks to fall from the ceiling. I slowly filled my lungs with air and blew it out, realizing that I looked like a lunatic to the people seated next to me. Just a couple more hours…

Thinking happy thoughts

I picked up my magazine again, but it was mere moments before my eyes glazed over, and my thoughts began wandering yet again. Once more, it was Christmastime, but this memory was from a few years earlier.

Avery was in her infant swing, giggling as she stared at the colorful lights that adorned the tree. I looked around at the decorations that I had just put up, and silently congratulated myself. Now, to finish ironing the Christmas linens and put the meatloaf in the oven.

I was one housedress away from becoming my grandmother.

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Christmas Past, Christmas Future **one**

C-31 the code on my boarding pass proclaimed. Great, I thought: the cheap seats.

After a long stint Coming home after Christmaswaiting in an organized line for the flight attendant to take said pass, then another wait on the jetway while the passengers in front of me crammed their stuffed-to-capacity-and-then-some carry-ons into too-small overhead compartments, I boarded the aircraft and stood on my tip-toes to view my potential seats.

“Ladies and gentleman, there is a full flight this morning, so please be sure to allow these new passengers access to all the seats in your row,” a nasally woman’s voice came over the loudspeaker.  I noticed a few people who were already seated roll their eyes, huff, or curse under their breath. Sigh.

In a feeble attempt to get myself a seat that didn’t involve being sandwiched between a crying baby and someone who looked like a “talker,” I scanned available openings as I continued to amble down the narrow aisle.

Each time I found a potentially decent place to sit, I was rammed forward by the horde in back of me. Before long, I was given the choice of a middle seat in the back row of the plane, or one on top of the toilet. I chose the former so that I didn’t infuriate the flight attendant.

I began mushing my way into my destined residence in a flourish of body parts and bags and whispered “Excuse me!”s and “I’m so sorry!”s. In order to get to that particular seat, I had to apologize for my very existence.

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Hike

hike

 

Butterflies the color of frothy milk bubbles glided close to my nose and tall grass tickled my ankles.I breathed in the sweet smell of honeysuckle, peering through the tree trunks, so long and slender, like the necks of a hundred giraffes.

On foot, I raced the strong river currents. The sound of the rushing water spilling over abounding rocks competed with the raucous chirping of the blue heron.

A wall of dirt loomed to the left, the gnarled roots of trees jutting out toward me, desperately searching for nutrients. The path became more narrow and I looked down at the rocks and sticks and uneven ground that tried to prevent my endurance on the trail.

Looking back up to the mountains in the distance was all at once exhilarating and calming. My breath felt like it had been cut short, to blame: the enchanting scene before me, the thin mountain air, the strenuous hike. I took a large gulp of oxygen and continued to put one foot in front of the other. I allowed my mind to meander through the cavernous enclaves of thought that paralleled the twisting path.

I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s a fact that those with multiple sclerosis cannot hike on dirt paths through the mountains. But I put that thought out of my mind and concentrated on planting my feet on the ground in a meditative rhythm. A little over an hour had passed and I started to notice that it was becoming harder to lift my feet over the debris on the trail. I was beginning to move at a much slower pace than my mom and my sister, whose bodies became smaller and smaller as they got further away. Don’t look back… don’t look back and see me stumbling.View from our hike

My new soundtrack became the more frequent tapping of my walking stick as it hit the earth, and my breath as it augmented when I tried to speed up. The last few paces of the hiking trail were a struggle. Although I didn’t feel tired, my legs and feet just wouldn’t obey the directives so clearly laid out to them by my brain. I looked up the dirt path, assessing whether I’d be able to make it, or if I’d be spending my remaining years sitting on a rock, only a few feet from the paved road. From around the corner, I saw the dog, pulling my sister down toward where I was standing. She put out her arm without a word and I gratefully grabbed hold, allowing her to be my support up the rocky hill.

I’ve never been more appreciative to see the blacktop of a parking area, and I welcomed the sight of the silver Mazda that my mom had thankfully pulled around closer to where I had emerged. With a huff and a grunt, I fell into the backseat of the vehicle, the dog seated comfortably next to me. I caught my breath and absorbed the coolness of the air conditioning. My mom twisted around to look at me. “So, what did you think?”cloud and sun

I looked over to the magnificence of the mountains, the clear lake below. I thought about the butterflies and the birds. I remembered the trees and the colors so vivid that I actually felt them. “I can’t wait to go again.”