Classic 

The year my song was written, Kurt Cobain, Nicole Kidman, and Will Ferrell were born. Carl Sandburg, Otis Redding, and Jayne Mansfield passed away. And Gregg Allman wrote the song “Melissa.” 

It would later appear on the album Eat a Peach in 1972, after Duane’s death, as a tribute. And thirteen years before I was born. I like to think our souls high fived somewhere in the heavens. 

My mom and dad said they knew my name was my name right away. Although they considered other lesser names (for me, not in general), I am clearly a Melissa. And many times, I’m glad I wasn’t Mi’chele, as much as I love The Beatles. 

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that I was named after a song. It was a tribute to Duane, after he died in 1971 from a motorcycle accident.

Although my parents both ride, I have always been terrified of motorcycles. 

I started writing bad poetry and short stories as a kid. 

My bad stories were about my friends and our adventures with the band Hanson. Awful works of teenaged fiction. 

But is anyone surprised they were about a band?

My name also means “honeybee” and is of Greek origin. 

My heritage is Scots-Irish. I sunburn by looking out of a window. My hair isn’t red and I have blue jean eyes. 

Many people think the name of my song is “Sweet Melissa” but it isn’t. But the confusion is an interesting one, seeing as honeybees are directly responsible for sweetness. 

I’m not even sure I like honey.

I’ve had it but I don’t remember if I like it. 

I detest being called “sweet.” There are a thousand adjectives that I would prefer to be called. Kind. Generous. Intelligent (my favorite). Conscientious. Honest. 

The laundry list is long.

Maybe I’m making Duane Allman angry, and I hope not. After high giving souls snd turning me into a writer and an intense lover of song and sound, I hope he’s not mad that I don’t like the word “sweet.”

It’s infantilizhng. 

And Melissas are much more than a one syllable adjective. I definitely deserve more than the very adjective used to describe honey. 

Melissas have the power to bring a gypsy home and let wanderers love.

Gregg wrote “Melissa” and he used “sweet”, but you see, the title, the name, she wears is “Melissa.”

Beyoncé is treated like the queen bee, but we know that can’t be true. Her name isn’t Melissa.

Mine is.

And she might be older than I am but my song was written first.

I’m classic rock for a reason.

I wonder if that is why I love Cary Grant movies?

I think when I finally meet Duane, I’ll thank him for the song. As long as I can dance with Jimmy Stewart.

Not sweet.

Classic.

That’s my favorite adjective. 

Melissas are not sweet. We are intricate like honeycombs. Powerful like honeybees. We can fly on the power of our dreams. And we have an allure that brings our gypsies home.

 

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31 Truths and Then Some

“Don’t know much about history. Don’t know much biology. Don’t know much about the science book. Don’t know much about the French I took.”

On the eve of my thirty-first year, Sam Cooke is playing on repeat in my mind. 

I had a college professor that once said, “I don’t know shit about shit, but the shit I know, I know really well.”

Which got me thinking. What is the “shit” I know for sure? 

I made a list of thirty-one truths I know about myself and my life.

1.)  I am completely loved. 

2.) My dreams are valuable, supported, and worth chasing.

3.) I’m not perfect, but I am understood.

4.) I love with all of me, all the time.

5.) I work hard and always have.

6.) Family is created not inherited.

7.) My husband can, and will always, make me laugh. Because he knows laughter is my soul food.

8.) I crave sunlight like I’m part plant.

9.) I am exactly like my mom.

10.) I got my creativity from my dad.

11.) I’m a good teacher, even when it is hard. 

12.) I worry far too much.

13.) I get deep emotional connections to fictional characters.

14.) My first crush was Charlie Sheen.

15.) There is no genre of music that I wholly dislike.

16.) I find my truth in poetry.

17.) Some of my values conflict.

18.) I cry at tv and movies. All the time. Even happy ones.

19.) I have five close friends that I treasure like family heirlooms.

20.) I am more sentimental than practical.

21.) I have multiple reincarnations of myself planned (as if I have some sort of control?).

22.) I will live to 112.

23.) My love of words is directly connected to my being named after a song.

24.) Sometimes,  I like animals more than people.

25.) Silences don’t always need to be broken.

26.) Shoes and dancing fix everything.

27.) I cannot whistle.

28.) I like the Twilight films (and there’s no need to judge me).

29.) The theme from Buffy is my power jam.

30.) My biggest fear is one day going blind.

31.) It’s okay to be a work in progress. 

Thirty-one truths. 

I don’t pretend to know everything. I know as much to admit that I don’t. 

One of the truths that I left off of my list is this:

I know myself now better than I ever have, and I have never struggled with self-awareness.

That’s not to say that some days I don’t think “what the actual crap am I doing?” Or “who the actual crap am I right now?”

I don’t remember when the lever shifted into “aware” mode. When do we really know that we are on the road to becoming who we want to be? I feel like I’ve always been on this road. 

The thing about truth? It’s okay if it changes. 

People used to believe the earth was flat!

But some truths are universal. And my truths are foundational. 

On the eve of my thirty-first year, I am surrounded by truth. By comfort. By the promise of another year to develop my story.

Next year, I will have more truth.

That’s the way it works.

“I don’t know shit about shit, but the shit I know, I know really well.”

I know myself very well.

And on that note…

 Sam Cooke ladies and gentlemen. 

“Why thank you, it’s called genes”

She cried. And it’s the only time I remember immediately feeling like a shitbag teenager. It was not a feeling I was well acquainted with and I regretted my last two words.

“I’m ugly.” I pronounced into the bathroom mirror.

I just finished a rant about the red tones in my face and how I hated everything about myself.

It never dawned on me that while my mom was sitting directly behind me, every hateful thing I said about myself was like a hammer hitting her.

I was a fairly confident teenager, but every once in awhile, even the confident girls have their moments in the dark.

“When you say you’re ugly, it hurts me so much.” I never forgot my mom’s words or the tears in her eyes.

Looking back, I don’t know why I went on the rant. I didn’t have big problems with acne. I didn’t have hair that was (too) weird. I didn’t develop at a faster rate than my friends. I wasn’t tall, so the “gawky” phase wasn’t all that applicable.

Throughout my teens, I never went anywhere without makeup. Not annnywhere. Even ten minute trips to the grocery required at least mascara.

I never thought that calling myself “ugly” would upset my mom.

But no one looks at you like your mom should. No one loves you like she should. And my mom did. All of those and more.

She wanted me to see myself the way she did.My mom told me everything was just a matter of teenage perspective.

She was right.

By the time I graduated from high school, I knew that the redness in my face was from a combination of using the wrong facial care products and age.

In college, I changed my hair to better suit my skin tones. Electric blonde without any contrast wasn’t a good look. Ever. But it was the one I wanted…

The red tones in my face calmed and with daily use of lotion with a higher SPF and a good night cream, they stayed at bay.

I get strange looks when I tell people that I don’t wear makeup. I haven’t worn foundation, cover up, not so much as pressed powder since I was 19.

When I feel particularly “fancy”, I wear eyeshadow. I wear lip gloss because it’s Michigan, and our weather is brutal all.the.time. Avoiding chapping is just common sense.

I buy organic, vegan facial lotions that cost more than a tank of gas.

There are days when I only wear mascara, also from the same organic, vegan company. I support then because they don’t test on animals.

But there are also plenty of days during which I never apply makeup.

Recently, my husband asked why I had begun wearing more makeup than normal.

He is used to me. The me that doesn’t wear much, if any, on a daily basis.

“The truth? I hate my hair. I’m trying to deflect.” I replied to his blunt question “what? are you wearing more makeup?”

On December 30, I made an impulsive decision to get my hair cut. It looked good for the first day. And then….disaster. It was supposed to be a stacked bob. Instead, it’s a mess. It is chopped and abruptly just stops in the back. It doesn’t style well and looks….odd.

“It looks ugly.” I heaved a sigh and pulled my wretched hair into a ponytail. I detest wearing a ponytail or messy bun every day. I love wearing my hair down and styled. It’s what I’ve always preferred. I miss the long, thick hair that touched the top of my belt.

Ugly? Do we stop to think about the weight of the word?

Do I hate my current hair cut? Yes. Do I regret getting it cut? Absolutely. But is it “ugly”? No.

It’s hair. It’s fixable.

One day, I’ll be a mom. And it would kill me to hear my child call him or herself ugly.

Ugly is weighty with access baggage.

I may not be the world’s most beautiful according to People magazine. I’m not 5’7 and 105 pounds. I’m not “perfect” but I like myself. Bad haircut and all.

I look like my mother, and she’s one of the most beautiful women I know. But more than that, I look like her mother, whom I never met.

I love stunning people when asked what brand of makeup I wear. There is something satisfying about saying my mom and dad’s names as my brand.

“Why thank you, it’s called genes.”

Bad haircuts. Touches of rosacea. Nothing makes a woman ugly, minus her actions and her perceptions .

I’m banning the word “ugly” as an adjective for people. Actions, shoes, cars. Those can be ugly but people can’t.

Someone’s mother is crying because that child strongly resembles her own mother. And to her, that mother was the loveliest woman in the world.

I’ll never be ugly again. That hammer has been put away.

Every Person Has a Goat

Forrest Gump told us “you never know what you’re going to get.” I am a person that makes friends everywhere. Every person has a story , and each person that I meet has something worthwhile to add to my collection, whether I know that person for a few minutes or a lifetime.

I love stories and storytelling. The first few months of my marriage, I heard “stop making friends at Wal-Mart” every time we ran an errand.

The best part about my life’s work is that I meet anywhere from 50-100 new people every few months. Every September, I meet a new group of people, and the same happens every January.

I make friends easily and I keep my friends close. I finally have a skulk of best friends that know my soul because they shape it. 

I have friends with various ethic, backgrounds, religious beliefs, genders, and sexual orientations. Each one of them with a rich story.

I met my friend Brandie a few years ago at school. At the time, I was her teacher.

She struck me as an old soul. She had wise contributions to add to class discussion and her writing always exceeded my expectations.

Close to two years after our class ended, social media brought us back into each other’s lives. I had since changed schools and staying in touch was difficult. Sometimes social media’s far reaching power is for the greater good. 

Come to find out, we had mutual friends that were not connected from our former school. The world isn’t just small. Sometimes it’s a shoe box. For an ant.

I’ve gotten to know her better through conversations about her hobbies, our mutual status as “dog mom”, and art. Brandie is an amazingly talented painter. Her work makes me think  to collaborate on poetry and painting.

A couple days ago, she lost a friend. All I know about this man is that he was affectionately called Goat. And he lived in her hometown. 

I saw her post about the loss, and my heart sank.

People that I love don’t deserve pain. Ever. 

I found out that he was also a tattoo artist and a painter as well. 

People, it seems are boxes of chocolate. Every variation of confection a side of the complex nature of personality. 

Her friend passed away. 

And my eyes filled with tears.

At first, I thought of his family and his friends and my heart went out to them. I’ve been there. I have experienced losses of my own. 

I felt sorry for them.

And then Henry David Thoreau came to mind. 

And I sound like a sacrilegious English  teacher when I say that although I admire his work, I don’t know it that well. 

But I did remember this:

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

 I often paraphrase him and say “it’s our job to live for our friend now.”

In my own life, I think about the maternal grandparents I didn’t know, my great grandmother that I loved so much, whose life ended when mine was in its oddly shaped preteen form. I think of my dad’s grandparents on his father’s side. I never knew them either.

I think about the friends I have and how lucky I am to have them. Either via text (again, thank you “modern” technology) or phone call, I can talk to them whenever I need to. 

We all have people we love who inspire us. And we all have people that leave our lives too soon. It’s as if they don’t get a chance to finish their stories. We all have a Goat.

We are left as the co-authors of their great works. Every day we talk about them and remember them, we are picking up our pens and contributing to their books.

I think that it part of art’s role. As an artist, my creations aren’t just my story. My art is the story of the lives I have collected. The people u hold dear and the tiny glimpses of lives I am only in the audience for. 

“They” say that “time heals all wounds.”

Well, buggers to that. 

Time might heal the wound, but we ought to wear our scars proudly.

“This was my friend. I wrote this about…..”

“I love you grandma, I hope your proud…”

Our scars remind us of the stories. The ones we are left to continue. In a way, they are bookmarks. Reminding us to pick up where the story left off. 

 

Wink at a Yellow Storefront

I sat down and channeled Matthew McConaughey. “Alright, alright, alright.” Flipped my computer open. Went to YouTube and typed “dolphin and whales singing.” Then I chose the two hour playlist. I was ready to grade final papers.

Once I get on a roll, I’m golden. And I was on a roll this morning. I was in the analytical zone. Read, attach grade, attach final course grade. Next?

I hit my stride, with the occasional desktop notification letting me know I had a student email. Check. Answer. Success!

Today, I was on task and made significant dents in my (growing) end of semester task list.  

But around 6:00 this evening, I got tired. My eyes started to sting and my focus was shot. Snickers rested her chin on my knees and looked at me as if she was thinking “mommy are you done yet?” 

I was. For the night.

I sat down and watched television with my husband for an hour. Guilt free. That doesn’t come easy. I can’t begin to think of the days, nights, and weekends that I’ve felt guilty for not working harder, pushing through more, getting more in, because it was there. I’m a work horse. If you put a task in front of me, I will do it. I don’t stop.

But I’m learning, slowly, how to pause.

Because Ferris Bueller had it right all along. Life does move pretty fast.  

So I’m resting. And this might seem really mundane, but it’s not. 

I’m saying yes to something.

I went for a walk, watched the sun fade, saw the moon come out of hiding, watched the dogs play in the backyard, and listened to crickets.

Soon, I’ll grab a cup of hot lavender tea and a book. I plan to ignore the laundry and just Be Me. 

As a teenager, I distinctly remember telling my mom that I was going to live in New York or Chicago. I wanted to write for a magazine or newspaper. 

We were in front of a small yellow storefront in my hometown. At the time, it was a secondhand bookshop. 

“I want to write for The New York Times or maybe O Magazine!”

My mom encouraged me, telling me if I wanted to be a writer, I could. I could do whatever I wanted. She said she had all the confidence in the world in me. 

We picked up our walk and carried on.

In time, I changed my mind. 

I really like old storefronts. I like downtowns that bustle with people I know. I like hearing crickets and watching the dogs run in the backyard. I like being close to my family and the family I share with my husband. 

I need to pause more often.

These are the things that make me the person I am. 

We are shaped by our dreams, choices, and  ambitions. Mine didn’t lead me to New York or Chicago (minus a weekend trip once or twice).  I wasn’t supposed to live there.

I am supposed to be here, celebrating a day during which I graded final papers while listening to dolphins and whales sing their melodies. 

And at night, I hear frogs and crickets. 

My surrounding choir seamlessly transitions from one to another. 

Shortly after that stop in front of the yellow storefront, the bookshop moved. Just due east to a neighboring town. It wasn’t supposed to stay where it couldn’t thrive. 

But I was.

I visit the bookstore in its new location to this day.

The next time I go to my parents’ house, I’ll have to wink at that yellow storefront.

I’d have most certainly missed the crickets.

And the final papers.

$57.50

It was a Saturday.  The high that day was 59 degrees. When I left the house, it was sunny. The animal shelter was open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. I had been “internet dating” Edgar for about a week, and April 16, 2011 at 1:23 p.m., he became mine. Or, as “they” say, Edgar adopted me.

“This place is too dang quiet.” I said to myself in late March that year. I’d moved into my first house in late March and every morning when I got up, the only person to greet me, was me. When I came home, the only person in the house that cared if I fell asleep or  spent half the night awake, was me.

I was lonely.

I’d left a home with my parents, a dog (Noah), and a cat (Halee). I was used to someone being there all the time.

This being alone thing was going to be strange.

When I moved, I told myself that I would get a dog. I love dogs. I love their loyalty and their pure and generous spirits. They are unconditionally loving.

I also love cats. I love their personalities. I love their quirks and their mannerisms. I love that cats are often like people. I swear they are tiny humans in feline shapes.

I found Edgar on Petfinder. His photo showed his eyes beautifully. My big man had emerald green eyes, and when he looked at you, it was like he knew everything about you.


I strode into the shelter and walked right up to the desk.

“I’m here to adopt Edgar.”

“Would you like to meet him?”

“Okay, but I already know I want him.”

I walked over to his temporary home and looked at him. He was HUGE. He straightened himself and tentatively walked toward me. His kennel card read “not good with children” and that was fine. I didn’t have any.

I needed this big strong boy to want me. To choose me.

Cats choose the people they love. And it would have broken my heart if Edgar hadn’t picked me. But he did!

We were taken to a small room to visit. I picked him up and thought “holy moly dude. You’re used to eating well.”

I put him down and he walked around the room. Then he hissed at me.


“This room had puppies in it yesterday.” We were told. It didn’t matter. I was already smitten with him.

I took Edgar to the front desk and proceeded to formally adopt him.

I signed paperwork promising to care for him and provide a good home. This seemed obvious to me, but there are adopters that should never have pets.

We left the shelter around 1:30 pm to start out new lives. I was a cat mommy and Edgar my baby man.

Edgar came out of his shell quickly at home. I introduced him to the house room by room, per my directions. He immediately jumped on the counters and staked out his new digs.

During our first night together, he jumped on the bed and snuggled with me. He was there to care if I slept. All fifteen pounds of him.

As time went on, we became attached at the hip. He woke me up in the morning with head bumps, looking for food and adoration. If I wasn’t fast enough, he’d get behind me and nip at my heels.

He also loved everyone. Any time I had family or one of my friends over, Edgar sauntered out to be greeted and receive love. My big man loved every grown up person he met. Edgar had an entourage and a fan club after 72 hours with me.

A year later, Edgar and I got married.

One of the first things Edgar did to my husband was hiss at him. I think now that might have been Eddy’s initiation process. “If I hiss  and you love me, you’re mine.”

I was a little jealous of their relationship at first. When I came home from work and my big fluffy cat man was snuggled with my real man! “Traitor!” But I was happy that Edgar and Paul got along. They needed to love each other too. And they did.

Paul and I added onto our fur-family with the addition of Charlie the dog, Foxy (female cat), Marv (male cat), and Kip (male cat). Edgar hated each of them in turn as they came into his home, but then he got used to them and developed friendships.

Edgar and Foxy were a pair of little sneaks. No one can nap like he did with Marv. And roughhouse antics? Kip and Eddy had it down. Edgar even loved Charlie and head bumped him for love too.


Edgar Van Halen ran our house. He got us up and at it in the morning and ushered us off to bed. He told me when I worked too hard by stretching out across my desk and the papers I was grading. He told me that he knew I was tired by knocking a book out of my hands after 11 pm.

His kennel card said he was five years old. I think that was a gross underestimate. Eddy’s eyes were often cloudy, as if he had cataracts. And he developed diabetes last year.

When Paul and I made the decision to let Edgar cross the rainbow bridge, it gutted us. We had to do what was best for the big man but it was wrenching.

Edgar had so much fluid around his heart that it wasn’t visible on an X-ray.

We lost our big man on December 21, 2015 at roughly 9:30 am.

Before he passed, Edgar got into the bathtub and remained there. On his last full night, I stayed in the bathroom with him, petting him and reminding the big guy that he was loved. But he knew. They always do.

Each cat came in to visit their leader. One by one. But I think it was Kip that Edgar passes his wisdom onto. He’s mimicking Eddy’s traits and has taken on the role of leader. Even though he’s the youngest.

“Your total is $57.50.” I heard on April 16, 2011.

Edgar was worth more. So much more.

No one can get us up like he did. Or tuck us in with such care. No one can open gifts like he could. Or help is brush our teeth. He was a one of a kind love.

We gave him five years of the very best life we could. But he gave us a lesson in life and love. And those cannot be purchased. Even for the discount rate of $57.50.


About a month ago, Paul saw Foxy, Marv, and Kip all lined up by the door. I swear they saw the big guy sauntering outside the sliding glass door. The space in front of the door was his favorite spot in the house. But like this sister and brothers, he was not allowed to venture outside.

I think he strode by, looking in on his family and purring.

“Yep, they’re getting ready for bed. A job well done.”

No One “Almost” Dies in Canada

The boat ride from Detoit to Windsor took for.ev.errrrrr. All we wanted to do was get THHHHHERE. 

Boblo Island was an exotic destination for me when I was eight. The five or six other girls were just as excited.

“Do you think we can go on the big roller coaster?”

“I dunno. How big is it?”

“Seven hundred feet.”

“It’s not seven hundred feet!”

“Yeah. It is”

“No. It’s not.”

When you’re eight, a seven hundred foot roller coaster doesn’t seem that dramatic. Oh no. It’s a goal.

I went to Boblo Island when I was eight. The last summer the park was open. And there, on the crappiest roller coaster known to man, I almost died.

My Girl Scout troop went as a reward. I’m fairly sure that my near death experience in Canada was a reward for selling over our quota for cookies.

We arrived after the thirty hour boat ride. After all, we were right. Any amount of time greater than three minutes, was a day.

“I want to do the spiny rides!” I proclaimed. My friend Mel agreed and with our chaperone,  we set out to spin and spin. Worried about puking? Not us!

We spun for what felt like hours. And then, we saw it. The seven hundred foot roller coaster.

“Let’s do it!” We shouted. Racing up to the line.

The attendant was a teenage boy. Tall with strawberry blonde hair and very typical teen acne.

“Ohmygosh!!! Ohmygosh!!! Ohmygosh!!!”

My friend Mel and I were freaking out as only eight year olds can. Bouncing in our seats and giggling. Holding hands and shrieking.

We jolted forward.

We chugged up, up, up. Then, we paused.

At the top of a hill.

It was then I developed a fear of heights.

I peered to my right and saw Lake Ontario. I’ve loved water my whole life and often feel most calm on the water’s edge.

I saw what I have always thought was a 55 gallon drum. And sludge bubbles out of it. Polluting my precious  lake.

“Mel! What is THAT?!” I pointed abd shook Mel.

“I dunno.” And she probably didn’t care.

I did. I stared and watched the oozing persist.

Then we chugged forward. And it happened.

Our lap bar disconnected.

Mel looked at me and I looked at her. Our eyes as big as the Tootsie Pop owl’s.

We were no longer secured into our seats. And the rollercoaster has started speeding up. Our teenage attendant was too far behind us.

And we lurched forward.

Then we were off.

I grabbed Mel’s hand and we clung to each other. Up and over the first  hill. We didn’t die.

For three hills.

And then the final loop. I could not hang onto Mel. She slipped out of my grasp.

“HANG ON!” I screamed.

She grabbed the side of our seat and I mirrored her actions.

We railed around the curve and I felt my small body lift off of the seat. Again! This happened with each hill, but this was worse! The car righted itself and the straightaway was in sight.

The ride was over.

I was in tears. My tiny frame shaking.  Mel couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She peeled me off the seat.

“You girls should have waited for me.” Our attendant said.

“They were never strapped in!” The woman behind us chimed.

I had no idea anyone noticed.

“They weren’t in the WHOLE TIME!”

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I checked. Yes they were.”

“NO we weren’t.” Mel screamed.

“It came undone!” I cried.

The attendant gave us a short lecture about following directions. I should have had enough foresight to kick him in the shin. Not that I would have. I was too scared to move.

We broke down. Both of us were in tears. Scared beyond death.

Mel and I found our chaperone. We didn’t ride another ride all day.

I didn’t tell our chaperone. I don’t know if Mel did. I just pleaded to go home. We did. Hours later.

I didn’t die in Canada that day. But I wouldn’t get on a rollercoaster again until 2004.

“I am not getting on that freakin’ death trap.” I proclaimed to my boyfriend at the time.

“Yes you are. You’ll love it.”

“I’ll hate it, and I am not above punching you. I will do it.”

“Come on, you haven’t been on a coaster in ten years!”

It was actually eleven, but who was counting?

“If I go on this, and hate it, like you know I will, we are leaving right after. RIGHT after. I want to watch the tide come in.” I said.

He agreed and away we went.

He knew the story from Boblo and didn’t believe me.

“No one almost dies in Canada.” He said thinking he was so smart.

Then I wasn’t eight. And I was secured in my seat. I screamed and I cried. Only I screamed “shit” the entire time. That was on the beach in Myrtle Beach.

I was right. I hated it. Every blasted second.

I left him standing in line to ride the death trap again. And I watched the tide come in. On my own. Just me and the moon, with the light of the pier behind me.

The pier closed the following summer.

Boblo Island’s amusement park closed the fall after my visit.

I am apparently hell on rollercoasters.

Which is fine. They’re not on my list of things I love and I haven’t been on one since.

Coincidentally, each place was near the water. I guess karma balances out love and hate for me.

When I see advertising for Cedar Point, I have a visceral reaction. I want to be sick. I have worked up to flying swings and “some” Ferris wheels, but I don’t think I will ever be a Top Thrill Dragster.

I can’t shake the pure terror of not being secured into my seat when I was eight. There is a big part of me that would rather drink water straight from Lake Ontario. The very water that I saw being actively polluted.

But all things considered, I think I will stay on the ground.

 

 

“Luna Bars Make You Sick”

“They” say that everyone ought to pay his or her dues working at jobs that they can’t stand. “They” also told me that when I was in college, every day I spent working at a doofusy (word) clothes store in the mall that I was one day closer to never doing it again. “They” said all sorts of things.

I thought retail was hell. And in many ways, I was right. I wanted to throatpunch (before it was a cultural phenom) the snotty women that came into the snotty clothing store five minutes before closing. Because…those same snotty women would stay anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. Why the store manager didn’t manager up and tell them politely to “get the heck” out is beyond me.

I thought retail was hell. And I was wrong.

In my last semester of undergrad, I got a job working as a bank teller. Now that, is hell. I’d done an internship at a credit union the summer before, so obviously, if I worked at one credit union, I’d be able to work at another right? Wrong. I’d interned in the public relations/marketing department. I knew nothing about being a teller. What was worse is that I had zero interest in learning how to do it, nor did I particularly care about doing it right. To those people whose transactions I may or may not have screwed up, as a working adult now, I am deeply sorry for not giving a rip one way or another. Really, I am.

I quit before I got fired. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I hoped every single day that I would get canned. It was my dream.

Then, I went to work at a surgery center as a front desk receptionist/part time insurance biller. When I started there, the job was perfect. I worked from 5:30 am to about 2:00 p.m. My grad classes were at night, so on the days that I didn’t have class, I had the afternoons free to catch up on reading, do homework, and write.

The women I worked with were great, I got to know some of the doctors, and before I knew it, I had worked there for over a year. Then, the new girl happened.

I went to school with her and her sister and I were friends when we were younger. I thought everything would be fine. Better than fine! I would have a pretty good friend there with me.

It got ugly.

The office bully began to take her ugliness out on me and took my former friend under her wing. Suddenly I began getting phone calls when I was off asking me why something wasn’t done or where I’d “hidden” my work from that day.

They wanted to swap schedules with me and work “the good shift” during the summer when I slogged in at 5:30 every morning in the nasty months, which in Michigan could be September through June, given the right set of circumstances.

They bullied me. They bullied everyone. And the workplace became a place I hated.

I ate because I was stressed, and when I quit, I was thirty pounds overweight. Plus, it didn’t help much to have the office manager, a man (of course), tell me “your ass is way too fucking big for those scrubs.” Thanks. I needed that. Every twenty-two year old needs that? Every woman needs to hear that? Particularly at work. And from a man that had no business even looking at my rear, much less commenting on it. I wish him no ill will, but if his toupee ever fell off in his soup, he’d have it coming.

I finally quit at the near pleading from my family.  They saw what that place was doing to me. They brushed off my “but I need to pay for school” and “I have responsibilities”. My mom’s exact words were, “we are a family and families help each other out.”

I quit without another job to go to and didn’t look back.

It took several months, but eventually two of my actual friends from work left as well.

Within a year, the “friend” I had as a kid, the office bully, the office manager that called me fat, and the administrator that let it all happen, hell, she encouraged it, were all fired. From what I understand, through the grapevine, that they were escorted out of the building. Part of me laughs. Part of me genuinely feels sorry that they are that truly pathetic.

I was unemployed for a few months before I got up the nerve to call on a job I was offered. One of the doctors I had gotten to know offered me a front desk position, basically doing the same thing, at his office. I didn’t want to take it. I was worried about the same office horror show that I’d just left.

It was summer. I was walking and doing yoga again. I was losing the stress weight that working in Satan’s waiting room had packed on. “Your ass is too fucking big.” I’d hear that and work just a little harder.

But I finally called on the job. I was hired on the spot.

On the first day, I went in nervous. I knew that my former office bully, if she’d gotten wind that I would be working for one of the surgery center’s doctors, would call and bad mouth me.

She did.

She told the office staff at my new place of employment bold-faced lies. Apparently, according to her, I wore short skirts and “slutty” shirts to work. We wore scrubs and even when we didn’t, I was far from short skirt and “slut” wear. Whatever that is anyway. I didn’t do my work and I hid it in drawers. I lied. I did everything but kill a patient. And I’m sure that with a little more imagination, which she had in spades, I could have accomplished that if given enough time.

My new co-workers weren’t going to like me. I had concocted a menagerie of horrible first day scenes in my mind.

“This was a mistake.”  I thought as I walked in. I had on a pink dress with a white sweater. I looked like I crawled off of the pages from a 1954 Women’s Wear Daily. The dress hit me about mid calf, just under the knee. That had been one of my “slutty” dresses?

I met my new co-worker.

Within an hour we were laughing and telling each other jokes. Thankfully, she told me all of the things my former work bully called and said about me. I was able to dispel those falsehoods quickly.

“I saw you for three seconds and talked to you for two when I realized all that was garbage.” Thank goodness my new co-worker had taken the time to actually get to know me before she believed everything that came out of my work bully’s mouth.

We hit it off and work was, for once, something that I didn’t hate with every fiber of my being. Every day was full of laughter and we made the monotony of our front desk responsibilities something to enjoy.

But the day that would bond us for life is the day we scarfed down Luna bars.

As usual, we had hit a 2:00 slump. It was three hours before closing and we were losing steam.

One of our other coworkers noticed and asked if we wanted an afternoon snack. Snack? Duh! Of course.

She brought us each a Luna bar.

“Have you ever had one of these?” I asked.

“Nope, but they say whole food and protein. What they hell?” She replied.

What we didn’t know would hurt us. We became violently ill within thirty minutes of eating them. We traded off doing the work we had left for the day. And when we could, we each brought the other water, thinking that the more we drank, the quicker we could flush the Luna out of our systems. But, we were wrong. Yet again.

Once you hold another woman’s hair back as she throws up a Luna bar, you are immediately bonded for life. This is female code. Don’t question it. Just know its power and truth.

After that day, our joke became “do you want a Luna” or “today can’t be nearly as bad as Luna bar day.”

We were fast friends. I felt like I had known her for years.

We found everything funny at work and our patients commented on how well we worked together.

We laughed like loons  when I slammed my trunk, leaving my purse, phone, and car keys all nicely tucked in. I was there to capture it all when a spider fell from the ceiling and landed down her shirt.

Peas and carrots.

After a year of working together every day, I quit to go teach full-time. It was a move that I was desperately scared to do, but I decided to take the chance.

Not working together didn’t slow us down. Not one bit. She’s still one of my close friends, and we’ve added onto our many laughable moments. But “want a Luna bar” might still be number one. Seconded by the day we renamed ourselves as Spice Girls. (To this day, I am still “Melbie, Melbie Toast.”) Or maybe the day that we hosted a bachelorette party together.

Luna bars are still the most disgusting things that I have ever eaten, but I wouldn’t take back that day even if I could. Luna bars brought me closer to my friend. The Aries Queen and one of the kindest souls I know.

“They” say you must pay your dues working through college, and if you choose to go, through graduate school as well. I hope no one has a workplace bully, but I hope everyone finds their own “Little Lorrie”. She’ll be crazy and the work itself might be tedious (particularly if you work for a surgeon), but coming in will be fun.

Then you’ll graduate. And you’ll get the job you’ve always wanted.

You’ll cry when you leave because your work friends, and they have seen you through it all.

But with a little luck, you’ll have a friend that will never let you down. She’ll also be there to remind you:

“Luna bars make you sick. Eat real food before you go to class.”

 

 

 

 

Worrying: Lessons from a Cat

I am a worrier. I worry about things that often don’t have a basis in reality. It might be considered an anxious behavior. It might be genetic. It might just be something that makes me, me. But at any rate, I am a worrier. 

I worry like the very act is an Olympic sport and I am a contender. I’m the Rocky Balboa of worrying. 

I worry like it’s a hobby. If worrying were a song, I’d know it like fifteen year old boys know “Stairway to Heaven.” It might be the only song I can play, but I know it inside and out.

I worry about things that I have absolutely no control over in any way. I worry about the behaviors of others. I worry about things that might happen. I worry about conflicts that haven’t happened. 

To some, this worrying may seem like a huge inconvenience. And, I’m not going to lie, it can be. I can worry myself into headaches, and I’ve made decisions based on the worst possible outcome instead of the best. But, all in all, my worrying has served me well.

Worrying about doing well in school scored me good grades. Worrying about being able to survive as an adult enabled me to buy a house on my own. Worrying about being not only a good teacher finally got me a job that I love at the university I once attended. 

But I often worry needlessly. And I know it. 

But yet, it doesn’t stop me. 

I don’t like conflict. I don’t back down from it if it faces me, but I don’t like it. And, I will worry about it.

Today, I woke up, went downstairs to where sleeping dogs snored like little trains, threw in laundry, and let the pups outside to do their business and bark at the neighbor. If they had to be up, so did their pal next door.

While I let them out, I read the news. I opened the app on my phone and looked at the local news. Not much had changed in the hours that I slept peacefully. I opened The New York Times and checked on the world. Still spinning. Then, like many others, I opened my social media app. 

One of the things that it likes to show me are memories. 

My husband and I lost Edgar in December, just four days before Christmas. 

Edgar Van Halen. My white and black flufferbutt, lovey man. The first pet I had on my own. My half blind mega boss. Edgar was the Marlon Brando of cats.

I found a photo of him today. He was stretched out on my old kitchen table and across a stack of papers that I was grading at the time. 

I remember the day. 

It was in 2011, before I got married, and near the end of my second year teaching. I poured every spare minute into work. I was a second year teacher and a workaholic. When I was at home, I was reading and grading. If I wasn’t reading and grading, I was developing content. I wanted to prove to someone (that infinite someone) that I was a good teacher. That I was worthy. 

 

I had gotten used to falling asleep at my desk. Head crashed into my computer. Highlighter marks on my face. Red pen stuck to my forehead. 

 

But this behavior calmed my worrying.

 

Edgar wasn’t having it. He jumped up on the table and pushed my grade book (yes, a paper grade book) off onto the floor. He took his giant white paws and pushed my highlighters, pens, and calculator onto the floor. Then he looked at me like mommy, you need to address thatLook what I did. Are you proud? 

 

I picked up my stuff and righted myself again. 

 

In the meantime,  he proceeded to stretch his huge girth across the papers I was reading. It was nearly dinner time, and I was exhausted. I was used to putting in anywhere from twelve to fourteen hours in my office on the weekends and at least three after work during the week. Like I said, working on a workaholic.

 

I looked at my big guy and took his picture. He always did things like that. He always let me know when enough was enough. 

 

That night, I captioned the photo from his point of view. 

“Mama, you work too hard and you worry too much.”

I have since learned to tone it down. I only have twelve to fourteen hour days when it’s nearing crunch time, and I try not to let that happen. I space out my work and have a “to-do” list each day to ensure that I am not waiting until the last minute but not making myself sick either.

 

I no longer actively worry about whether or not I am a good teacher, and that need to prove that I belong has faded as well. I am included in the group of educators that I admire. I am one of them. They have welcomed me.

 

But I still worry about other things that I can’t control. 

 

I don’t think that it’s any big surprise that Edgar’s photo showed up first thing this morning as I was scrolling through my morning routine. 

 

Somewhere, some ethereal being knows that I will listen to a cat.

 

As many times as trusted friends and family members tell me that I don’t need to worry as much as I do, about every thing that I do, their words, as brilliant as they are, tend to go in one side and out the other. Like a pool noodle with holes on each end.

 

But Edgar I can’t ignore.

 

His “birthday”, the day that I adopted him, is a week from today.   We would have had Edgar for five years. He would have been close to fifteen years old.

 

My own birthday is ten days later.

 

I think as a birthday present, I received a reminder to not worry so much. That was given to me today. Logically, I know that there are things I can’t control. And I know how senseless it is to worry about thing that haven’t happened. Better yet, I understand the waste of energy it is to worry about things that won’t ever happen, or are at least unlikely to happen.

But I worry that without worry, there is no compassion. There is no meaningful connection and desire to do well for the world. Even if that world is my own small one. What are we when we stop worrying?

 

But for me, it’s possible to be a compassionate person without worrying myself into an anxious knot.

 

We are all works in progress and I truly believe anyone arrogant enough to believe that he or she isn’t is lying. They are lying to themselves and to anyone else.

 

So I have a new goal: stop worrying so much. 

 

This reminds me of both Shonda Rimes and Elizabeth Gilbert. Two powerhouse women that have my admiration.  Coincidentally, or not (?), I am reading Shonda’s Year of Yes and saw Liz Gilbert speak last week. Liz says that the world will still spin, no matter what. And that it’s not selfish to take time to do the things that make “you” “you”. Shonda would tell me to just say yes(!) and not to worry. Again, it will all be okay.

 

I am convinced that the guiding light in my life brought that book, the workshop with Liz, and that photo of Edgar to me in a series. I saw Liz first, starting reading Shonda second, and found the photo of Eddy third.

 

Good things happen in a series right? Everything happens in threes?

 

Or, my guiding light knows that I trust the words of a cat. Edgar was the Mr. Miyagi. Does that make me the next, next karate kid?

 

Either way, I am not worrying about it. Not now. Not later.

 

I’m taking my paw and pushing it off of the table just to watch it fall.

 

I’m pretty sure that is exactly what Edgar would have done. 

 

Thank you for the lesson buddy. I’m always listening. 

The Hours

2,541.8 miles. Those are the combined miles from my house to the homes of my best friends. My skulk if you will. So, supposing that I drove 60 miles an hour (which we know is a lie), it would take me 42.36 hours to reach all of them. I don’t really know if that’s in any way correct. I do English, not math. But I would do it. If any of them needed me, wanted me, just had to see me. I would do it. Barring some complication like illness or impairment, I would be there. So why, I ask myself so often, has one hour become a road block for so many others?

I live a good hour away from most of my friends. And the ones in the skulk never use that as an excuse not to see me, but in recent years, I’ve heard these phrases quite often from other people, who I call the “hours”. The ones that complain that I live an hour from them and use it in one of the following ways to exclude me from their lives.

“You live too far away”

“You need to move to {insert city of said speaker’s residence}”

“I get lost going up there”

“Your roads are scary”(as I had some sort of Harry Potter like control over the planning of Lapeer County’s roads ?)

If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that those are excuses. They are the little fallback lines that people use for things that they don’t really want to do. At home, how many times have I not worn what I want to wear because the clean shirt I was thinking about is in the basement?! For surely if it is not right in front of me I cannot wear it! How many times have I not gotten water, tea, coffee, pop, because the walk from my office to the kitchen was “too far”? How many times have I contemplated rolling my chair down the narrow hallway? Too many to count. But I don’t. It’s just “too far”.

I can see the kitchen from the threshold to my office.

See? Excuses.

Some other famous ones are the ones that are left unspoken.

“You’re married. You wouldn’t want to go.” As if my being married has any impact on the things that I would or would not enjoy.

“You’re just closer to {insert the name of a mutual friend}, so I/we figured you were doing something together.”

These are the ones that directly impact me.

The other irksome unspokens  involve my friends’ children. Now, from a woman that doesn’t have children, I don’t know all of the logistics of taking kids on excursions out and about, but I do know that I’ve watched more than one of my skulkettes do it. They’ve done it in rain, wind, snow, excessive heat, and even on unbearable Michigan allergy alert days. So why? Why are my friends’ children such an inconvenience? Better though, when did the fact that my friends even have children become a friendship barrier?

Maybe we need applications with check boxes. Sample question: “do you plan on having children while we are friends: yes or no?” Then there needs to be a hiring board that automatically throws out the yeses and unites those people as friends. See? This is a whole employment system I have worked out here.

You’d think that as I age that being deliberately left out of things wouldn’t affect me anymore. Well, I’ve learned another thing in the last few years. In each of us, there is a nine year old. There is a fourth grader in there. Deep in the psyche. That nine year old doesn’t have the “everyone is my friend” mentality of kindergarten aged children, but he or she doesn’t yet have the cynicism of a “tween”. That nine year old just wants to have fun and be part of it all. And above all, once you reach your late twenties and edge into your thirties, you damn well better listen to that nine year old. Because she’s been nine a long freaking time. She knows how to be nine.

My nine year old wants to come out when people that I know don’t listen to me or don’t seem to care at all about anything that is going on in my life. Yet, somehow, I am looked upon to care when something happens…to them.

These are the instances in which throat punching people is not an option. You need to tell the nine year old that it’s time for a time out.

I was recently engaged in a conversation that went something like this:

Person A to Person B (I am Person C in this scenario): “hey, what about the last weekend in April… (additional conversational chatter)?”

Person B: “I think that will work…(additional blah, blah, blah).

Person A and B look at me, as I was just standing there thinking “how do I escape from this?”

Now, I don’t expect Person A to know any of the details of my life, as we are not friends. Person A is someone that I know in aquaintance form.

Person B…. Person B is one of the “hours”.  Although knowing nothing about my current life news, I would be expected to know Person B’s if pressed.

I explain that I have an important event on the day in question. And Person B acknowledges that fact was somewhere in the knowledge bank. Now, I didn’t go out of my way to explain the great details of this event because I am used to their treatment of me as an afterthought.

When you ignore good people enough they just don’t care anymore.

I know that Person B doesn’t care about the event in my life because not once, but twice, has Person B brought up said alternate plans directly in front of me.

The second time this happened, I realized that the nine year old has shut up. She’s stopped talking and stopped reacting.

Using an hour as an excuse to not include me has driven a wedge so far into the relationship that I have stopped reacting when I’m no longer included. I am also non-reactionary when “the hours” don’t seem to care at all about anything that is important to me.

I would drive 2,541.8 miles. And there are people that won’t take an hour.

Sometimes, it’s hard to evaluate who to spend the time worrying about and which relationships to pour effort into.

I’ve learned to worry about the ones that spend 40.1 miles, 60.1 miles, 50.1 miles, and 2,385 miles. Just like me. Because roads travel two ways.

As do friendships.

The hours spent driving here and there don’t really matter much when the payoff is something much more valuable. In the end, it’s all time. It just depends on how you want to spend it.