Perseverance

Blades of kelly-green grass scratch at your ankles while you stand hand-in-hand in front of the little brick ranch: Doug’s house. You meet there because it’s in the middle.

There are seven of you, five on one side and two on the other. The sun is dipping below the trees and lightning bugs are in flight, flitting, blinking. Crickets are chirping, but it doesn’t stop you. There’s a game to play.

Your side is up. One more break and you win, stranding the loser on the other side. Your heart is pounding. Your hands are clammy. You haven’t been called yet, but you know it’s coming. You look across at the team of two. You’re the smallest on either side, but size doesn’t matter.

“Red Rover. Red Rover…” Your name is called.

“Shit,” you say only because your parents are inside watching Wheel of Fortune.

There is no time left to wuss up or back down. You run, slicing through the air, pummeling your bare toes into the dewy grass. Determined to break the chain, you push forward faster. You convince yourself that you are a powerful bolt of energy. Nothing can stop you. With fists clenched and teeth grinding together, you close your eyes and imagine what it will feel like to win the game for your team. Just two more steps. You lunge forward at their hands like a bull, but something stops you.

Instead of breaking their grasp in two, you bounce off. Their arms are iron poles fused together. The wind is gone from your lungs. You sail through the air, arms stretched back to brace for fall. In an unfocused instant, you see shoulders then snickering faces and a crimson sky before landing on your butt in the yard.

“Damn!” you say.

The boys high-five. Their loss is diverted – no delayed –  because of you.

“Three to four,” says Josh. “We got this now.”

You stand, brushing the grass from your backside, sulking to your new team with hot cheeks. You won’t live this down for at least a week.

You grab Doug’s hand, cringing at the sticky-ness between your palms. It almost makes you vomit. Boys – eww.

Before you can call the next person, his mom swings the storm door open and shouts, “Time to come in!”

A collective groan comes from the group because you know the rest of the parents won’t be far behind. Street lamps are on. 

“Rematch tomorrow?” Jess asks.

A chance for redemption!

“Rematch tomorrow.” You all agree.

 

Photo courtesy of Julia Raasch/Unsplash


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Sea Glass Mosaic

you.

you are a seaglass mosaic.

don’t be fearful of your imperfections. they are what make you.

i know the resiliency of your skin is being tested. a seemingly never-ending current of depression is sweeping up, splashing the places you’ve reassembled many times.

let the wave reflect your courage rather than shadow your beauty. stand strong. let it wash over you. embrace the tide rather than bracing for it.

your finish will crack. maybe even break. but it’s okay. each crack represents new wisdom and love for life. each break will expose a new facet of your Self.

let sadness rinse away anything unnecessary, leaving only the important pieces.

after the tide, pick up what’s left, rebuild, and glisten in the sun once more.

photo courtesy of Seth Doyle/Stocksnap.io

When a Friendship Burns

After high school, I moved in with the person I considered to be my best friend. She and I had the same blue corduroys, pixie haircuts, and infatuation with Brandon Boyd from Incubus.

We were inseparable. We’d go out dancing three nights a week, get wasted, and take turns vomiting in the bathroom after too many margaritas. We screamed Linkin Park songs as we drove around aimlessly in her little white pickup truck smoking cigarettes. She was my soulmate, the Thelma to my Louise.

During the height of our friendship, we made a promise that if we never found love, we’d be there for each other, no matter what. We thought we’d end up two old kid-less ladies in a flat downtown with one cat and two dogs. We’d be chain smokers with curlers in our hair and sparkles on our cheeks. A couple of cougars on the prowl, we’d hit the bars night after night getting trashed and having fun.

Oh, the dreams we have when we’re young and stupid.

Our wild behavior only managed to last so long, before we ran out of money. When that happened, I regretfully returned home to my parents. She started dating a guy she met at the club, and stopped spending time with me on the dance floor. There were no longer midnight cruises with our favorite rock bands. Instead, she stayed home watching movies with him.

I’ve learned over time that one person cannot be the sole communicator in a friendship. Without taking turns listening and talking, without being there emotionally, there isn’t much left to hold it together.

Our friendship was losing importance to her, and our communication was dwindling. Each time I asked her to hang out, she claimed to already have plans. It was a sign that she didn’t want me as her friend anymore. I kept trying, leaving her message after message, but she stopped returning my calls.

Eventually, I stopped dialing her number.

Cherie Burbach, a friendship expert, says lack of communication is “one of the biggest reasons” why friendships end. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces back together. Especially after we had already put each other through hell, and made it through without a single burn.

She took boyfriends from me and lied about it. I took jewelry from her and kept it. We fought over who got to wear the neon pink leopard halter almost weekly, and who got the last beer in the fridge every time we were running low. But we always picked the friendship over the fight. Nothing could tear us apart, until we didn’t have that willingness on both ends to communicate anymore.

Then we had nothing.

Today, we both have kids roughly the same age. We’re both married. We both have our version of white picket fence perfection. Our paths have been similar, but in opposite directions.

I wonder if our relationship would have lasted, had she and I had been raised today. If she could have texted me when she didn’t feel like talking, or messaged me on Facebook, would we have been better off? Or would it have only delayed the inevitable? In my heart, I know even in modern times with better access to communication tools, she would have eventually stopped responding.

So many times I’ve sat in front of my computer with a half-typed message to her, asking simple niceties. But my fingers hover over the enter button, never quite ready to reopen that line. We weren’t destined to be forever friends.

Our relationship was like throwing kerosene on a bonfire: it was intense, fun, and full of energy. But a fire like that can only get so crazy, before someone has to suffocate it. 

Maybe after all these years, I don’t want to find my matches.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Earle/Stocksnap.io

A Lesson in Speaking Up and Saying Sorry

The neighborhood I grew up in doesn’t look quite like it used to when I was young. Sure, the tiny bungalows and ranches of blues, yellows, whites and brick continue to sit close to the sidewalk with cement slab driveways and manicured lawns framing each one. Mature trees anchor the street firmly in its blue-collar place. And, even today, I could set my watch by the freight trains chugging along two streets over. But it has changed in other ways.

Most noticeably, the neighbors inside the houses seem farther apart. The kids I played with as a child moved out long before I finished high school, and now they have moved on, making families of their own. The houses have changed hands to an older generation who care less about connecting with one another and more about their own to-do lists.

On any given day when I was growing up, a herd of neighborhood kids would congregate in front of my house to play hide-and-seek, red rover and tag. 

I remember one day, in particular, where we were all taking turns with the jump rope and skip-it.

“I dare you to jump rope from the top of the steps,” I said to Douglas, my next-door neighbor. Before the words even finished running out of my mouth, I regretted saying them.

“Yeah, I double dare you!” my step-sister, Steph, exclaimed.

With a wobbly voice, he accepted. I kept my mouth shut and held one end of the jump rope while my stepsister held the other.

We swung the rope around, making it soar up towards the sky. The first couple of times it came down, towards his feet, he cleared it – no problem. But then on the third or fourth time, something happened. I couldn’t tell if he tripped, or maybe lost his footing against the step, but before I could stop it, he fell backwards onto the concrete. It happened in slow motion. First he was midair, face contorting and arms flailing, then he was slamming against the ground beneath him.

Douglas’ head hit the jagged corner of the bottom step, with a loud thunk. Blood started gushing onto the concrete. His face turned chalky as he opened his mouth into a strange shape and screamed. Razor blades scraped against my ears. My feet weighed ten thousand pounds, but somehow I managed to pick them up, one after another. I ran to find my mom.

I thought he would be broken forever.

Another neighbor, Josh, ran over my driveway and through the next front lawn to find Douglas’ parents.

When the adults met back at my steps, harsh words were shouted and all fingers kept pointing to me and my step-sister. My face was hotter than the blood in front of me, and knew I was responsible. I should have spoken up, but I didn’t.

“It was my idea,” I said, accepting the blame.

Douglas was rushed to the hospital and I was sent to my room where I buried my face against the coolness of my favorite pink pillow. I tried to bury my regret, too, but it kept welling back up through my eyes, streaming down my face in hot spurts.

I wanted to hide there forever, but my mom didn’t let me. After my step-sister went home, she took me to the dollar store. She loaned me four quarters and a dime to buy a toy for Douglas as an apology. I picked out a bag of green toy soldiers because soldiers were strong, and so was my friend.

When we got back home, she made me knock on his door, present in hand. A red-faced Douglas answered with his parents at his side.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he responded.

“Are you okay?” I asked sheepishly.

“I got stitches,” he said, pointing to a freshly shaved spot on his head, sewn up with thick black thread. Looking at it made my belly feel like I just went down the first hill of a roller coaster at Cedar Point.

New tears burned the corners of my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I said, handing him the bag of plastic army men as an olive branch.

“Cool,” he shrugged. “Wanna play with them?”

I looked up to my mom and she nodded, nudging me into the house. Douglas ripped open the bag and the little plastic soldiers spilled onto the wooden floor. We played with them while our parents drank fizzy cans of R.C Cola and mended the wound festering between them. When I looked up, my mom smiled, letting me know that everything was going to work itself out.

Though many things in my neighborhood have changed over the last thirty years, the bloodstain on my stepdad’s front step remains. It has faded only slightly with time.

Each time I see it, it reminds me to speak up, say sorry, and take care of my friends and neighbors.

***

Right now, more than ever, I need my mom to reassure me with that smile that everything will, again, work itself out.

I tried. I tried to speak up. To do my part, but it wasn’t enough. That roller coaster feeling in my belly won’t go away this time. I keep worrying about what the future holds for my girls, my neighbors, my friends.

Will more blood spill, because we didn’t speak loud enough? What can I do now?

Little plastic soldiers won’t work this time.

Photo courtesy of  Tim Marshall/Stocksnap.io

Hard Ciders, Hip Hop Legends and Some Crow’s Feet.

My thirty-fifth birthday is around the corner and it has me wondering all kinds of strange almost-middle-aged things. Such as, where do I get Botox for my crow’s feet? Or why won’t those extra pounds come off like they used too? And, why am I so freaking tired all the time? Some days I feel like I’m falling apart at the seams, but then others, like my double date from the other day, have me feeling like thirty-five might be the best year, yet.

***

We followed the growing number of people through rolling green hills toward the entrance of Wolf Trap, an open air concert venue in Vienna, Virginia. The last time I went to a concert was before I had children, in my twenties. Seriously.

I casually held hands with my husband and some of our best friends were at our sides doing the same. Our kids and their kids were all safe at home with sitters.

Smiles plastered our faces. We finally had a night out and what cooler way to celebrate than with hip-hop legends? We ordered ten dollar drinks, because we’re adults and can make stupid purchasing decisions without anyone shaking a finger at us, anymore.

But we weren’t allowed to bring drinks of any kind into our seats (lame, I know), so we found a spot to finish them next to the lawn seats, a sea of blankets and people boozing it up. We watched the scenery as the sun turned from neon to rouge while Tone Loc belted out his famous Wild Thing. Bass vibrated our feet and treble rang in our ears as the crowd danced in rhythm. Some of the dancers’ moves more closely resembled full-body dry heaves, but by the looks on their faces, those people were having the most fun.

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“Bottom’s up!” I shouted when Coolio was announced. We rushed to finish our hard ciders just as he started singing Fantastic Voyage. He rapped a few other songs I am unfamiliar with in between, but ended on a poetic note, singing Gangsta’s Paradise barefoot. The whole crowd sang along with him.

After that, we saw Color Me Badd (I Wanna Sex You Up = best make-out song EVER! Wait, can I even say make-out anymore? Sure…I think.) and we missed All-4-One for a second round of drinks and a bathroom break. This time we chose something a bit stronger for thirteen dollars, because why not?

We danced clumsily back to our seats just in time for Rob Base. Oh the JOY. He brought back memories from my youth that I’d forgotten all about. For the love of dance music candy, Get on the Dancefloor, Joy and Pain, and It Takes Two are three of his musical masterpieces.  Sorry for the earworms. Not.

Lastly, Salt-N-Pepa with Spinderella took the stage and they killed it. Completely and totally killed it. They looked amazing, twerked better than Miley, and sounded so put together.  And after thirty years of touring, they’re still best friends who love what they do. They’re a testament to what true friendship looks like. No frills or bullshit. Just two people sticking it out, no matter what. Where my girls at?

***

The next morning my ears were still ringing and I needed an extra cup of coffee, but the fun was so worth it. And you know what, if being almost-thirty-five means going to concerts where the musicians are considered legends, having great life-long friends, drinking expensive drinks that don’t break the bank, and coming home to a couple of cute kids, then almost-thirty-five ain’t so bad.

But I’m still thinking about that Botox. Early Birthday present, maybe?

Photos courtesy of Jay Parrish.


 

 

Bullying SUCKS.

The year was 1993, I was in fifth grade and I’d finally convinced them (you know the ones – they had perfectly poof-y hair, the best bodysuits, gem-colored jeans, the newest sneakers and BOYFRIENDS) that I was cool enough to be part of their group.  I was IN, which took some diligent work on my part because even though I wouldn’t say I came from a poor family, my parents definitely lived paycheck to measly paycheck, sometimes struggling to make ends meet.  They did their best to not let us feel the burden of being broke, but we had better luck getting a unicorn than clothes with labels.  That was difficult to explain while trying to fit in, but somehow I managed.

In any case, it was a cold, rainy day in good old blue-collar Toledo Ohio; a typical spring day in the Midwest.  It was pretty much completely miserable on all levels.  My “friends” and I arrived at school early, so we decided to take a stroll in the frigid, torrential rainstorm for some Jolt Cola at the local In-N-Out, situated across the street.  My brick behemoth of an elementary school was perched on top of a hill (which was lovely on a sunny day, but during rain it was like a slick pig, full of muddy bumps).  Instead of taking the stairs like any halfway intelligent person would have done, we decided to be total idiots and take the shortcut down the hill.  For some reason, I went first and (big surprise) I only got one K-mart sneaker on the hill before losing my footing.  One teensy-weensy tiny step and

DOWN

I

WENT.

I was sliding down a muddy hill wearing my only decent pair of blue jeans.

Crap.

As I was sliding (which felt like a freaking eternity, by the way), I managed to crane my neck to see “them,” my so-called friends.  I reached a pitiful hand out in a lame attempt at some help, but they just stared at me, wide-eyed with smirks painted on their pretty faces.  One laughed, then they were all laughing.  They pointed and giggled, then pointed and giggled some more.  When I finally came to a stop I was a brown, wet mess sitting on the sidewalk.  No one even helped me up.  So, with burning cheeks and an undeniable desire to crawl under the nearest rock, I got to my feet, found the closest set of stairs and went inside the school to call my mom. Rain water sloshed inside my no-label sneakers with each embarrassing step and brown water dripped from my even browner hair.  I hung my shoulders, not daring to glance at them.  I knew that I would officially be OUT and somehow, despite the chain of events, I still thought that mattered.

Bullying is a real problem.  I see it now even with my daughter, who is only six.  We, as parents, need to stop this starting at home.  We have to teach our children that bullying is wrong.  We have to help them learn that it’s important to include peers, and to be themselves, no matter what.

If you’d like more information on bullying, check out the government’s website found here.

 

Photo courtesy of Reza Shayestehpour on Unsplash

The Day I Snapped.

I can remember the day like it was only just yesterday.

I was sitting on my white couch, dirtied with muddy paw prints, baby spit-up and something neon pink, which I couldn’t quite decipher.  My head was clouded from lack of sleep and I hadn’t showered in what seemed like days.  My oldest daughter wanted to build puzzles and her frustration was growing with each passing moment because her new baby sister, a.k.a. the screaming thing, wouldn’t give her two minutes of alone time with me.  The dogs were barking, but not just the normal kind of bark.

No.

It was the ear-piercing, cringe-causing kind that makes a person want to shout or rip her unwashed hair out.

Maybe both.

There were piles of dirty dishes spilling over the sink and onto the un-wiped counters and I was drowning in loads laundry, yet to be done.  There were boxes that needed to be packed.  A house that needed to be listed and a five-year-old’s birthday to be planned.  There was so much to do, but not enough time and I couldn’t stand looking at those walls for one more second.

I had vomit on my shoulder, yoga pants that were stretched out in the knees from wearing them so long and two mismatched socks.  I didn’t care.  I pulled my ratty, unbrushed hair back, hoping that would hide some of the stink because I needed to get out of there. Without using my better judgement, or rather any judgement, I packed up the kids and headed to where else, but my favorite store with a big red bulls-eye!

Of course while we were shopping, my new baby needed an immediate diaper change right while my oldest was looking at the dollar toys and of course my oldest had a meltdown because that’s what little kids do.  Especially little kids who’ve just had their small worlds turned upside down by a new sibling.

So then, of course, I had two crying children in the toy aisle.

Of course.

I remember taking a deep breath, trying not to lose my shit right there next to the little happy white and red dog, smiling at me because he sees this crap on an everyday kind of basis.  I didn’t want to give him and his cute puppy dog face that kind of satisfaction.  He wouldn’t see me break.

So, after talking myself down from the ledge and regaining what little composure my fuzzy, sleep-deprived brain could manage, I packed my kids back into the car and went home.

The house was still dirty, the dogs were still barking incessantly and the kids were still upset.  I had more than I could take.  Something in my head literally snapped and all I could manage were tears.

I thought to myself, this must be what a nervous breakdown feels like.  I am definitely breaking down right now. I called my husband because I needed him; I was weak and I needed his strength.  But when he answered, the words all sounded wrong.  I was a blubbering fool and the words, my words, were gone.

I was broken.

That was just one year ago.  It took me one long year and the support of family, friends, coffee and wine (definitely wine) to get out of that place and into this one, where I am better, for the most part.

I am a work in progress, but then again most of us are.