The Damn Dress

David Bowie. All I can think about is David Bowie’s song “Changes”. I am a believer in change. If I wasn’t, none of the things that I consider good in my life would have happened.

If I hadn’t changed jobs, I wouldn’t have gone down the path that led to my husband. If my friend groups hadn’t changed, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends. If I hadn’t have chosen one path, or the other, and so on…

This morning, I encountered a change. And, to put it lightly, I was pissed.

I had the nerve to be angry, righteously outraged, that a dress I had worn a year ago didn’t fit. I couldn’t zip it. My husband couldn’t zip it. The dress wasn’t going on my body in any way resembling whole.

And I had the nerve to be angry.

“What! The. Hell!” I screamed, kicking my beautiful dress across the room. And mentally flipping it off too.

“I’m too fat! Apparently! A dress I wore A YEAR AGO no longer FITS!”

My husband looked at me like I had ripped out my brain and tossed it, along with the dress, across the room.

I wear dresses often. Sometimes, I wear dresses because it is simply easier than wearing pants. I saw a meme a few days ago that said something about wearing dresses because it was easier than matching two articles of clothing. I fist bumped the creator, mentally of course, and thought “right on sister friend.”

But sometimes, I wear dresses because I like to wear them. I like to feel “dressed up” even if it’s to go into town with my husband or to lunch with a friend.

Today I was getting dressed up for an event. I was taking my mom to a tea in the garden for her birthday. It was an occasion that called for a pretty summer dress. And I have them in spades.

Why was I so bent that this one particular dress wasn’t going to work?

Because it indicated a change. And I hadn’t been on the lookout for it.

I left the house calling myself every name in the “book” that women have in their heads. I am convinced that we have books in the back of our brains that are evil. They are evil books that open when we are in foul moods or surprised by something about ourselves that we don’t like. (Amy Poehler, my spirit animal, if by some chance you’re reading this, don’t you agree? I read Yes Please. I know you do.)

I started berating myself for my food choices. “Dumbass. You know you can’t eat this, this, and this, and expect your crap to fit.”

I thought, “you don’t run fast enough/long enough/hard enough.”

I chastised myself, “what do you expect!”

In those moments, it didn’t matter that I still own clothes I wore fifteen years ago because— they still fit.

It didn’t matter that the beautiful sales lady at my favorite downtown boutique told me recently “you have a figure I’d kill for.”

Did it matter that nearly five years later, my wedding dress still fits? Nope.

What about the fact that my husband thinks I am beautiful? Who cared! The damn dress didn’t fit.

How about the fact that I normally run or walk four or five miles a day? No, that didn’t matter either.

I was fixated on the one article of clothing that wouldn’t go on properly this morning.

The mean girl in the back of my head opened the book to page “you suck” and was reading it out loud.

When I arrived at my parents’ house, I apologized for being a few minutes late, citing the fact that the damn dress didn’t fit and I needed to change.

“Oh, but it WILL fit by the end of the summer. Mark my words.”

What did I think I was going to do? Some Harry Potter type wizardry.

My mom and I left, and we had an amazing day. The event was beautiful and it was everything I hoped it would be for her and more.

And the dress I wore was more fitting for the occasion than the one I was so pissed off about in the first place.

Thank you, change, you worked in my favor.

Again.

Tonight, as I was working at my crafting table, I thought about the damn dress again for the thousandth time.

And then, I felt really stupid. Because it was never really about the dress.

Yes, I am disappointed that the dress didn’t fit but it didn’t take an act of God to get me out of it. I wasn’t stuck in a dressing room. Scissors were not required and nor where Jaws of Life.

Now I am mad because I let the mean girl win.

I let her call me names and remove the value I have for myself, even for just a few minutes.

I wonder why we do that. Why do we hand over the control we have over our own visions of ourselves to a nagging mean girl?

And I sat outside watching a beautiful summer sunset and thought about the answer, and the truth is, I have no idea. I don’t know why. I could come up with a clichéd, sickening pop psychology answer that is pretty much crap that tastes like watery pea soup when said aloud.

Nothing, not even the mean girl in my head, should have the power to make anyone feel bad because of a dress. And although the tirade was ninety-seven percent mental, I still handed over my power to her for thirty minutes too long today.

Once I figured out that I was acting like a ninny, I came to an agreement with myself. I am a confident woman. I know that I am not any of the things that the mean girl said I am.  A good long look at myself and a swift kick of my own butt told me I was being irrational. I had been upset and I didn’t have a good reason.

I won’t curse out the dress, or throw it on the couch, or make nasty comments about myself.

And the mean girl will shut up, stop reading aloud from page “you suck”, and we’ll move on.

Tomorrow, I’ll tie my sneakers, and I’ll run.

I will eat a little better because I choose to.

And I’ll pay attention when my friends tell me I look fine.

I will acknowledge that they are right.

I will listen and internalize every time my husband says, “you’re beautiful.”

The damn dress is hanging on a stand in my office so I can see it.

I might not be fat, but that sucker is going to fit me again. Because it’s another change, and Tom Petty also has it right. I won’t back down either.

Mean girl: 0

Me: 1

Game on. I hope she has good shoes.

Tonight, I told the mean girl “chick, you are going to need to close that book and put it away.” I’d tell her to burn it, but that’s still book burning and we’re not about that life. Neither me or the mean girl. We do agree on some things.

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Before Jumping

I have dreams about jumping from things high up or suspended in the air. I have dreams about jumping from moving vehicles as well. 

I blame the hot air balloon scene in Mannequin Two and Ruth and Idgie’s train hopping in Fried Green Tomatoes. They are two of my favorite movies. Discovered in youth. Cherished as an adult.

In my dreams, Incubus’ Wish You Were Here plays on a loop. 

In reality, I’m afraid of heights. 

On occasion, I have a dream that involves my jumping, or more specifically, cliff diving. And in my dream,  I’m invincible. I pull my parachute and land gracefully. Peacefully. Sometimes into a lagoon. 

I can’t swim.

I used to have a recurring  dream about jumping from the bed of a pickup truck into a galloping horse. 

I’ve never been in a saddle.

According to various credible sources (the dream interpretation books I bought at Hot Topic in 2001 and 2002), jumping in dreams indicates succeeding at getting to where I want to be in life. It also indicates that I am a risk taker. That alone makes it obvious. It’s obvious these writers haven’t met me. Ever. 

Additionally, dreams about riding horses mean I have full control over my situation. My urges are also controlled by intellect.

Good to know. 

Dreaming with the band Incubus as a soundtrack isn’t in my books. That’s probably a good thing. It’s likely online somewhere. I don’t want to look. 

But hearing a song in a dream indicates great mood swings. It also means that divine providence guides my fate.

Add all of that together and it means no tacos after 8:00 pm.

My jumping dreams are entertaining and encouraging. I wonder about the song? Who’s supposed to be there?

I’m always alone in my dreams.

Maybe one night, I will remember to look before I jump.

Dad

“Daddy! Look at meeeeeee!!!” I screamed as I bounded off of the heap of straw. 

“Dad! This is so cool. Watch.”  I pronounced as I showed my dad something new I learned at school.

“Dad, how do I do this?”

“Dad! Listen to this!”

“Oh my gosh Dad! You’ll never believe this…”

These proclaimations are the story of my life. 

My dad has been present for every milestone and then some.

When I was a young girl, I remember being my dad’s helper. I helped him install new windows and a front door in my family’s home. I still look at those and think “we did that.” 

My dad went to every single one of the high school football games when I was in marching band. Even if he had to leave after the half to get ready for work the next day. I could always see him cheering for me, saying “I’m with the band.”

It’s because of my dad that I can write today. When I was eight, it was my dad that helped me navigate cursive writing. This started me on a road to writing that brought me here. Doing this as a career, as a life’s passion.

My dad has helped me with nearly every single project I’ve conjured up on my home. He’s come to my rescue with tools in hand, ready to fix, alter, or just do. 

When I got married, I cared less about my dress (that coincidentally he picked out) than about the fact I WOULD have my dad walk me down the aisle! Location, date, time, none of that mattered. I was going to have my dad walk me. Then when he did, I felt my eyes sting when he told me he wouldn’t let me trip and it was just us. 

We danced at my wedding to our song and even now, it’s his ringtone.  My dad looked so handsome and I was never so excited to be the center of attention. My dad made it okay and I was comfortable being stared at. 

Today, he is enjoying retirement. He has worked hard his entire life. Relaxation looks good on him.

I’d say I’m proud of my dad, but I think that’s a tremendous understatement. 

When I look up the word “dad”, I see: “superman.”

My dad can, and always has, done it all and been it all. 

“They” say I look like my mom, and in many ways, I do. However, I am also so much of my dad. 

I have the same eyes, nose, ears, personality traits, penchant for loud classic rock, and quiet observant nature. My dad sees more than he says and knows everything. My dad is far too humble to say it, but he’s a genius. He knows everything. Or, at least I think so. To me he does. 

I enjoy days spent with my him. He has an easy way about him that makes everything enjoyable. And I’d say I’m lucky. 

I’m lucky to have a dad that has seen every single one of my band concerts, helped me with homework, made me his helper, protected me, laughed with me, and had shown me the way.

My dad is superman. And I know that I am incredibly biased. But anyone that meets my dad knows that he is a cut above. And quite frankly, if they can’t see that, they need an optic transplant. 

It’s Father’s Day weekend, and my husband and I are planning a small barbecue for our dads. 

And at some point I know I’ll say, “hey dad!” And he will say, “what’s up kiddo?”

Because that’s what we do. It’s who we are. 

I’m the kiddo. 

And he’s my daddy. 
 

Busy

for my wonderful niece and dashing nephews

She was always busy. With her work, her school, her life. She was busy when my great-grandmother died. Busy when my own mother had breast cancer. The word “busy” is, for me, a synonym that means “I don’t care.” It must be hell to be that busy.

As a young girl, I wrote handwritten letters detailing my life as an elementary school warrior goddess.  Then, as a “tween”, I wrote about my budding interests including art and music. My teenaged letters included more of the same but with peppered details about my future dreams.

Most of my letters went unanswered. There were a few empty invitations to visit, but they came when I couldn’t make those decisions for myself and once the relationship was already damaged from years of neglect.

Moms are amazing. The language between mother and daughter is often one of soul to heart, and its’s often not dependent on words for it to make sense. A look. A laugh. Gestures. All communication that is well understood. It cannot be replicated and should be cherished.

But aunts? Aunts are different.

Aunts can love in ways that mirror a best friend but come package wrapped as family. They’re gifts. Particularly for girls.

Aunts are other positive role models, oracles, and confidants when the whole world goes mad.

I don’t know this from experience. My own relationship with my aunt is lackluster at best. Distance, both physical and emotional, has taken its toll. I am no longer the little girl with handwritten letters that hook hopes to promises long gone.

My aunts have been my mom’s friends. Women who by some unknown power have loved, carried, and enriched my life. They have understood and supported me.

“They” say that animals adapt to a change in their environments. And I can testify that family does the same. At least in my experience.

I am an aunt now. And I often wonder if I am a good one. I have two nephews and a niece. My niece, who I want to be good enough for… She’s beautiful and talented. She lives twelve hours from me. And I am afraid that she doesn’t know how often I think about her. About her hopes. About her dreams.

She, and her brothers, came into my life when I was twenty-five. They are the children of my husband’s brother and his sister-in law.

There are days that I am flat out jealous of my sister-in-law’s three sisters. They are biologically connected to my wonderful niece. And I hope that they appreciate her for everything wonderful and promising that she is. I am sure they do… Anyone that watches my niece for three seconds knows that she will make this world a better place. But her other aunts also have geography in their favor. They can see her more, talk to her in person, take her places, and watch her bloom in real time.

Sometimes, I am jealous.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law recently sent some gifts to me and my husband. One of mine was a cold beverage mug that says “World’s Coolest Aunt.”

My youngest nephew is five. He doesn’t, and won’t, know any other connection to his Uncle Paul other than me, Aunt Melissa. He was only two when I got married. But my other nephew and my niece, they do. They know a family without me in it.

They know a Paul without a Melissa. But they don’t know a Melissa without a Paul.

I don’t know if I do all of the aunt things I should and if I do them right. Please forgive me, I am learning as I go.

Is it still “cool” to say I love you in public? I don’t want to fail to live up to the bar set by my mug.

I do love you guys. So very much.

I may not have been in your lives from the beginning, but I am here now. And I am going to be here. I’ll never be “too busy.”

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Simple Questions

I am fairly certain that something strange occurred today. Strange to me but altogether too “common” for other women. It’s only June, and I am deeply afraid that some brains have already been fried. Today, as I was helping a customer, he asked me two questions that had nothing to do with concrete, drywall, insulation, or paint. All things that are not in my wheelhouse but come with the oddities of a summer job.

I work enough to recognize “regulars”, and I even know a few of them on a casual acquaintance level. Most regular customers know that I am a teacher and some of them know what I teach and where. Often, those people will ask me how my semesters went and what I am teaching next.

Those are excellent questions.

Other people will ask me about the town, the weather, or DIY related questions to which I have no answers.

Those are still excellent questions.

“So, Melissa, you’re married?” The man asked, noting my name displayed on my work attire. I was ringing up carriage bolts and pretty impressed with myself for knowing what they were and how much they were before keying anything into the computer.

Was this guy serious? My wedding ring glimmers like my own personal lighthouse.

“Yes, I am married.”

“How’s that working for ya?”

I looked at him with a mixture of annoyance and disbelief.

I shook my head a little, indicating a non-verbal why do you ask but I replied, “very well thank you.”

“Any children?”

What was this guy on?

Dude. Seriously.

“Yes.” No more. No less. He didn’t need to know that I did not birth them, but I did adopt them. He also didn’t need to know that they’re feline and canine.

“Your total is $471.08.”

Nosy Ned paid and left. Leaving me to help the next set of folks that just wanted to pay and get the hell out.

Why did that man want to know such details about my life? Is it because I’m “young” and “cute”? I don’t particularly “look” my age, but my petal pushers and blush colored blouse did not give any indication of “hit on me” or “I’m so hot.” They are appropriate for work. They are comfortable.

The partner I have during most of the day leaves an hour and a half before I do on most days. Was he nosy because I was alone in my department? Would he have done that to her? Has he?

I’d never seen the man before this afternoon.

On some level, I’m “used” to being grilled by women. Do I have children? Am I married? Why not? No to one and yes to another? What am I (never we, only I ) waiting for (as if my husband has no say in the matter)?

It’s rude from women.

It’s dangerous from men.

I know how to react to women. Option one: if I like the woman. Politely tell her yes and no. No more, no less. Option two: used most frequently because I am excellent with words, the kind of response that is both creative and indicates “shut up” exceedingly well.

But where? When? Why? What made this guy want the details of my life? My marriage? Better yet my womb!

Why did he think that was okay? Where did he learn that it was?

I can hear the “just being nice” or “making conversation/being friendly/personable” argument, and I thumb my nose to it.

I can hear the “who cares, they’re simple questions.”

Me.

I care.

If I had felt free enough, I’d ask him if he was suffering from a physical condition or if he had to learn how to wear an asshat?

But the outright feeling that he found himself entitled to personal knowledge about my life was appalling! It is appalling.

Me. A woman that he knew for less than five minutes from the beginning of our transaction to the time he left.

What I should have said is this:

“As I am wearing a wedding ring, you may assume that I am married. However, this being the United States of America, and 2016, you don’t know if my spouse is male or female. And I am under no obligation to disclose that information. Children? You’re also assuming that I want them. You’re also making assumptions about my hard earned right to choose. Assumptions about my medical records, my biochemistry, and my socio-economic status. And again, I am under no obligation to disclose that information. Now, please, your total is $471.08.”

And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface regarding the assumptions the man made about me today.

And if ever asked, the man would probably think that he didn’t do anything wrong.

Reading, watching, and listening to the news, I know this happens. And while this behavior is often looked at as “being nice”, where does one, should one, draw the line?

When does Nosy Ned go too far?

Behind a dumpster in California?

I bet that man was once “nice” too.

But privilege and entitlement can take on dangerous faces. Even behind “simple questions”.

 

Stop Me

There is great comfort in life’s small predictabilities. We don’t know what life will throw our way, but I enjoy the fact that some things are fairly predictable. However, I do enjoy the element of surprise as much as the next gal. Although sometimes that leads to unpleasant outcomes. It’s life. It’s not perfect. But most days behave and unfold according to their predestined plan.

But some days just don’t fall in line.

I recently challenged myself to take special note of, or if, something stopped me in my tracks or surprised “got” me. Making an “average” day unique.

I found three. In one week.

 

May 26, 2016:

Everything was fine. It was a lovely Thursday. I was at work, helping every single person in Lapeer County get their goods for the weekend’s DIY projects. Therefore, needless to say, I was busy. The store was hopping.

After lunch, I had a customer that I recognized. The man looked familiar but I didn’t know why. I assumed that I had seen him in the store at some point in the past. Maybe he lived on my street. It was anyone’s game and the best guess won. I didn’t know.

My checkout line was long, and he wrote a check.

I took the check, examined it for all the proper “things”. Date? Amount? Signed? Signed. That was it. I looked at the man and back at the check. It was his last name.

“You’re her brother.” I said. “That’s why you look so familiar.”

In the past month, I have written about my former music teacher and my one and only blind date. This man? He was brother to one and father to the other.

I remembered that he lived near my current hometown.

I explained that his sister had been a mentor, and she was a beautiful soul and made music come alive for me. He asked if I knew that his beloved sister had passed. I nodded, tears beginning to form in the corners of my eyes. I’d just written about how hurt she’d be to know I quit music. I told him that she was amazing.

I didn’t tell him about the date.

 

May 28, 2016:

A Saturday. Saturdays are usually quite busy here in my neighborhood. Mowing gets done, gatherings are had, and during the summer months, some idiot sets off fireworks at all hours of the day and night. Welcome to kind of rural, but still yet suburban, Michigan.

What I love about Saturdays are my walks. I walk every day but on weekends I can walk without time restriction. And I can go outside. I listen to books, music, or my favorite podcasts. Away I go. I strive for five miles and I have yet to fail. I am currently walking with my spirit animal, Amy Poehler, and listening to her book Yes Please.

As I was walking on this particular Saturday, I heard a rustling to my left and I saw branches on a pine tree moving. It’s not unusual to be greeted by a dog, but to be sure, I looked anyway.

It wasn’t a dog.

A peacock strode out from under the tree. Under. The. Tree. I paused Amy and stared.

I dislike birds but, big majestic ones can have a slight pass.

It preened. Showing off its beautiful teals and purples. I was jealous. And we stared at each other for what felt like one whole minute.

Then, it turned. It walked away from me. Possibly to go show off for a band of squirrels or to tease a window cat. It is a bird after all, and they are evil.

 

May 31, 2016.

Tuesday.

It was a shit show.

Everything about the day was wrong. But it started with my getting stuck (yes, stuck) to the screen door in our door wall.

I’d just let the dogs out and desperately needed to get ready for work. Then, one of the beads on my “Listen” bracelet got stuck in the track on the screen door.

I wear five things religiously, as in, I don’t take them off. Ever. Unless they could get damaged. They are on my person 24/7. My wedding ring, heart necklace, best friend bracelet from Jil, and my Irish heritage bracelet, and most recently, my “Listen” bracelet. I didn’t want to cut the bracelet off. Not that I could’ve reached the scissors anyway. I wasn’t going anywhere. Any time I moved, it got tighter.

I struggled, baffled. Who the hell gets stuck to their door?!

I was all but frantic, when for some reason unknown to me, it came out. My bracelet, and my left wrist, still intact.

The rest of the day preceded to go to hell.

 

Both metaphorically and physically, I was stopped in my tracks three times. In one week.

I think my former mentor’s brother showed up to remind me, or push me, to pick up my music. I need to stop letting her down.

The peacock showed me that “weird” things, or even things I don’t particularly like, are beautiful, and maybe I need to redirect my attitudes and attention.

And my “Listen” bracelet got stuck because I need to slow down. I get in a hurry. All the time. I rush. A lot. I think fast and I move fast.

But now I wonder how many everyday “stops” I’ve missed over the years. 100? 1,000?

Sometimes I think about how one choice affects the other events in life. “If I never took that horrible teller job, I wouldn’t know Paul, much less be married to him.” “If I hadn’t taken Native American Literature, I wouldn’t know one of my best friends.” “If my parents had put me in private school like I begged at the end of fourth grade, to avoid going to middle-ish school, I wouldn’t have met Jilebean.” “If I hadn’t been in Ed Hoeppner’s class, discussing T.S. Eliot, I wouldn’t have applied to graduate school.” And so on…

So my challenge continues.

I need to be stopped. I want to be stopped.

I am quite sure we all do.

 

 

 

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