Or More Politely… “Dookie”

“Why is no one out there?” I asked as I peered through my passenger window, attempting to discern if the park and beach were closed this morning and why, in turn, the beach was empty. When I was a pre-teen, before summer jobs and driving took over, I was outside all the time, and between the ages of ten and eleven, I lived at Stony Lake in Oxford, Michigan.

Before I turned twelve, I used to spend the days I wasn’t in school with a sitter. She lived next door to my dad’s aunt and had two daughters my age. In fact, one of them was in the same grade. The other was only a year ahead. And before tormenting me became their number one goal in life, we had a lot of fun.

I remember the day that I heard Green Day’s Dookie album for the first time. Alex, the self-proclaimed king of the neighborhood, came barreling down the steepest bike hill directly headed toward me. I was with the other girls and we were planning that day’s adventure. As per usual, it included the beach.

He jumped off his bike, Discman in hand. (Kids today have no idea how real the struggle was to take our music with us). He was such a punk in his jean shorts, red t-shirt, and high topped sneakers. I think the bowl haircut really added the missing element. Punk he was not. Eleven he was.

He tossed me he Discman telling me that Green Day was “the best ever” and I listened. Then the other two girls listened. Alex played the same song on repeat for each of us. And as a result, “When I Come Around” became our summer survival song.

And off we went! Onto our next task. Where were we going to bike, and when were we going to eat? This was our day-to-day. Fun, sun, food, and bikes. Until the two girls learned a secret about me.

I’d started my period the year before, near the end of the school year, and two days before my eleventh birthday. It wasn’t a badge of honor that I displayed, and I hadn’t told them. I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my best friend! But one day, before we hit the road on our bikes, my female products fell out of a pocket I’d left unzipped on my backpack.

The lights went out on our friendship. Suddenly I was something to hate and to torment. I think I represented something to them that they couldn’t attain. Menstrual cramps and the occasional embarrassing mishap? Who knew? I still don’t.

The young one, the girl in my class, began spreading rumors amongst our peer group that I was a thief. I was apparently stealing from them. Stealing what, I don’t know. The only things I ever took from that house were flea bites from their dirty living room carpet and ill kept dogs.

My mom and dad were saints. I told them about the behavior, including the rumors, and the other torments. My mom and dad made the decision that I could, and would, spend the rest of the summer at home. My mom called the state police to find the “age requirement” to legally leave a child alone. Much to our surprise, it was up to a parent’s discretion.

My former sitter did not take the news that she was “fired” well. On one of my first days alone, she and her daughters came to my house. They circled like birds of prey.

“I know you’re in there!” The adult pounded on our windows. She observed as her daughters checked our locks, jiggling both the front and back doors.

I hid in the bathroom and called my mom at work. I curled up with the cordless phone and said “MOM! They aren’t leaving!”

She assured me that they would and I was fine. Locked up tight.

They did leave, after about ten minutes of circling our home and pounding on the doors. One would think that they would have been afraid of our neighbors witnessing this bizarre display, or worse, being seen by an Oakland County police officer on our busy main road. I don’t think they knew fear. At least not then. They were focused on finding me.

I didn’t go outside alone for days. I was home for months, and I was allowed to play outside on our deck and in the backyard because both were shielded from street view.

I didn’t speak to either girl after that summer. What was I supposed to say? “Hey, did you have fun stalking my house?” And we finished our last six years of public education as strangers.

I saw one, again, the one from my class, only once in the thirteen years that have passed. We said social “hellos”, and I crossed myself with garlic and burned sage afterward.

Today, when I saw that same beach not yet full, I wondered whatever happened to the raft that used to float just beyond the swimming ropes on Stony Lake. The girls didn’t even drift into my mind until my iPod/phone moved onto a new song.

It was Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” For the first time in twenty years, I thought about that day on our bikes. Discmans in hand and screaming lyrics we didn’t understand. Being eleven is somewhat of a feat. It is okay, hell, it’s expected, to freely ride through the days and live like nothing mattered except the next song.

I know when I head home from work, if I look at that beach again, it will be full. But when I was a kid, just before I turned twelve, it was run by three girls and a boy. All on bikes. All before it turned to shit. Or, more politely, “dookie” because biology decided I was ready for a new curve ball.

If I was or not was irrelevant and still is. Friends turned on friends in an instant. And for what? A tampon?

It wasn’t fair, and I was eleven.

I would say that it shaped my attitude toward friends and other women, but it didn’t. If anything, I learned how to “be” alone. It was that summer that I became a writer. So maybe I should thank them…Probably not.

I think we are better off. Hell, I might have a “better” shoe size now, and who knows that torture that would “deserve?”

And all these years later, I don’t have any idea what I supposedly stole either.

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Country Girls Can Wear Converse

When I was a kid and into my teen years, you would have seen me keeled over before listening to country music. I grew up in a home that rules classic rock supreme and my mom taught me Motown sound at the earliest age. I discovered punk as a preteen and fell in musical love with The Ramones, The Smiths, and my ultra-fave, The Sex Pistols by purchasing old cassettes and using my public library to its fullest potential. 

It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered that all country music doesn’t make me gag or cry into a PBR, whining over my lost dog and/or truck. 

I started listening to the stories. Because as a person that has an affinity for stories, storytellers, and storytelling, they matter to me.

The fourteen year old screaming “God Save the Queeen” one day found herself humming along to the lines of Kenny Chesney’s “Back Where I Come From” and thinking, “dude…. That’s so me…” 


As a teen, I never thought I’d remain in a small town. I wanted to write for a magazine, which required (so I thought) moving to a larger city. My mom was hoping for Chicago. A closer alternative to the New York I thought of at the time. 

But, as they so often do, things change. 

And I love my small town. It’s pretty here, and I’m now sitting in one of our many parks. 

But the truth I’ve discovered has little to do with my love of small towns. It’s that country music had it right all along. Actually, Miranda Lambert has been the “most” correct. Everyone is famous in a small town. And in my town, you better look out because it’s not only that everyone knows each other, most people are also related
And in said small towns, interesting things happen for seemingly no reason. 

Yesterday, I was offered a job. While at my summer job. Being kind to strangers doesn’t go out of fashion, but it will make you famous. (Please start polishing my  walk of fame star now.)  

I met the owner of The Horseshoe Grill in Brown City, Michigan. We chatted casually, but I felt like I’d known this woman for years. She has a friendly face, and reminds me of Monica, one of my best friends, who coincidentally owns a bakery.  She told me about her restaurant, and I scribbled the name on some receipt paper and tucked it in my pocket. 

Her offer made me smile for hours and even into today. Mostly because it is nice to have someone, a stranger, see my character before anything else, and I knew she was appraising me based on the way she was watching me treat other people, and herself. 


Today, my husband and I went there. I didn’t see the woman I met yesterday, but the place is amazing! The food….. 

I like to eat, and the food was excellent. 

Not only that, but it was pretty and clean with friendly staff and genuine smiles.

They were playing country music.

As we later strolled our own small town, I looked across the parks and the sidewalks and thought “I’m lucky.”

First to be from a place this beautiful, and second to be somewhat famous here. 

I didn’t think I’d end up a “country” girl but I am. And as I’ve said before, I’m happy here. With my parks, my river, my historic downtown, and my pseudo-fame.

I’m happy to live fairly close to places like The Horseshoe Grill.

My park. My place. Where a country girl can wear her Sex Pistols Converse and a flowing sundress. It might be strange, but it’s a small town. We all are.

So if you see a thirty-something screaming the lyrics to The Smiths while wearing a Kenny Chesney shirt and Sex Pistols Chucks, it is me.

On my way and traveling through my town. And my life. 

Bless my soundtrack. It’s varied. 

Or, as artists call it multi medium.

All  photos from Lapeer, Michigan. 

Rip Van Me

Apparently, I slept through a take over. It must have been gentle, because even I, who can admittedly sleep through everything, would recall hostility. 

A sleeping curse perhaps?

Most people don’t “appear” to be zombies (yet, it’s coming). 

So I’m confused. 

I was handed a piece of rhetoric from a man wanting my vote in the next Congressional election .

Me. The person least likely to read, much less use political rhetoric for anything other than a classroom lesson. 

The back of this piece of kindling notes that it’s time to “take back our country.”

From?

I haven’t heard “the Redcoats are coming!”

Oh, right…. Wrong century.

I haven’t been forcibly removed from my land.

Oh, right…. Wrong ethnicity.

I haven’t been branded, sold, forced into bondage. In fact, I haven’t been harmed at all by any military or governmental force. And neither have my neighbors. 

So it strikes me that this apparent “take back” should begin in my Congressional district.

Call me Rip Van Winkle 

This pamphlet makes me laugh so hard I think I need a potty break. 

“Our borders are no more secure than they were back then.”

Back then?

Very specific.

Again, are the Redcoats on the move? And if they are, could someone ask them to bring Jane Austen? I have lingering questions about my beloved Mr. Darcy.

And if General Custer is back at it, I’d sure like to know what kind of clean eating, herbal, vegan (or Paleo) plan he’s been on to survive intact. 

Or, it could all be smoke and mirrors.

I’ll vote. I will practice what I preach. But I’ll look elsewhere.

First though, I will email this candidate and ask him:

Are the Redcoats coming?

What year is it?

May I please borrow a horse and  carriage to get supplies?  I must have been out for quite some time. 

Then, this pamphlet will get recycled. I hope it’s turned into toilet paper.

Unless….

He’s talking about Ohio….

Those guys… They’re cagey. Borders. Take backs.

But terrifyingly, he’s not. He’s serious. 

And me,

Well, call me Rip Van Winkle.

And I really don’t mind Ohio.

Jim’s Ears

“I am fricking freezing.” I thought as I huddled along the downtown  sidewalk last October. It was mid-afternoon on a weekday and although it was early in the month, a chill had swept in and took me by surprise. Crunch. One dry leaf under foot. Crunch. Crunch. A bunch more. 

The streets of downtown were lined with cars, suggesting a bustling shopping experience and crowded stores. It made me happy then, and remembering the day does now. I enjoy a busy downtown and my fellow community members shopping small. 

I walked into the tattoo shop wondering what they’d think of my argyle sweater, jeans, and brown riding boots. I hoped they wouldn’t take my lack of ink as a sign of disapproval or judgment. 

As I entered, I tried to will my eyes to stop widening. On every wall, there were drawings or photographs of the kind of intricate artwork that I could hardly imagine drawing, much less making permanent on any one person.

“May I help you wit’ some thin’?” I heard off to my right. 

I looked at the man attached to the voice. He had tattoos everywhere– on his face, neck, and arms. He had piercings too– in his eyebrows, lips, nose, and cheeks. He also had plugs the size VW Bugs. 

“Look at his eyes. Only his eyes. Do not stare. It’s rude. Look. At. His. Eyes!” I commanded myself.

“Yes, I’d like to replace two of my cartilage piercings with better posts, the kind that won’t come out.” I voiced. 

“No problem,” the man said, “Jim will be right with you.”

Jim, as it turned out, did not have multiple tattoos (that I could see). He also didn’t have multiple facial piercings. He had plugs in his ears. 

My “where do I look” anxiety faded away into nothing and I settled into the chair.

Jim walked me through the steps required to replace my cartilage piercings. I elected to replace one that day.

“You must be a pro!” He made note of the fact I didn’t flinch as he inserted a hollow guide needle to secure the new post. My new post was implant grade titanium. 

I chatted easily with Jim and told him the stories behind each earring.

When he was done, I thanked him and tipped him generously for his good work. I left and later wrote a five-star review, mentioning Jim by name.

I went back a few weeks later, requesting him, to replace the other stud. 

That was last November.

I went back to the shop last week. No longer freezing. This time, I stood on the sidewalk with my husband. I gazed into the window and willed the locked shop door to open. It wouldn’t. 

I stared at the hours. The shop should be open.

I stomped and in disbelief exclaimed, “it can’t be closed!” But a quick Google search confirmed that the shop was indeed closed. Contrary to the hours posted on the front door.

I was in luck though. There was another tattoo shop downtown. Coincidentally, it was at the other end of the same street. 

“Do you do piercings or just tattoos?” I asked when I called. 

“Yes we do.” 

I was in luck!

I went in a few hours later. From the outside, this other shop looked sketchy. But once inside, I was impressed. The woman that greeted me was friendly and guided me to the man that would replace my left studs.

He did a great job and replaced my left studs with new silver surgical steel posts. 

Every time I leave a tattoo shop I walk out without a tattoo. But I leave with my inner rebel child feeling like she’s had a victory. 

While out yesterday, a man commented on my earrings. Completely visible because my hair was up in a French twist. Stating the obvious, he said “you must really like earrings.” Little did he know that each one is representative of a person special to me. I carry a reminder of them at all times. Like a tattoo? 

If you read my ears, you’ll see the names of those loved ones, those I keep close. My story’s characters, and one detail I didn’t expect. 

I told Jim about that on my first visit. And he listened to the rambling woman who was not so secretly, very nervous, although nothing hurt at all.

And this time, I’m disappointed that Jim couldn’t finish editing the story. 

If I happen to see him again, I will have to tell him. And find out where he’s working. 

After all, I still have an inner rebel. 

Gap Defense

Orthodontists should not look like Denzel Washington. They just shouldn’t. And I mean this in the best way. Because I cannot have a man who looks, sounds (even down to his laugh), and just is Denzel Washington, tell me I need lower braces.

Orthodontists should look like Fred Flintstone.

The small gap in the left side of my lower front teeth wasn’t always there. In fact, when looking at photos of me before the age of twenty-two, the gap wasn’t there. Many think I already had braces. I didn’t. I was born with naturally very straight, very white, and apparently very resilient teeth. To this day, I haven’t had a cavity.

Then I had my wisdom teeth removed when I was twenty-one. They were impacted and I was told they needed to come out. I don’t know why. They weren’t causing me any pain and I could have lived forever without learning that I am allergic to Vicodin. So not only was my face the size and shape of a football, but I was also sick from pain pills that were supposed to help me.

And my lasting gift…the gap in my bottom teeth.

“Smile for me?” The dental assistant said. “Why are you here?” She asked.

“This gap right here.” I said, having to point it out.

“Oh, I didn’t even see that.” She replied. “The doctor will be in a few minutes.”

Most people don’t see the gap either. I am lucky in that it isn’t huge and it isn’t noticeable when I smile. It’s cleverly hidden behind my lower lip.

I had been dreading the orthodontist visit as much as I had been looking forward to it. The dread had nothing to do with cost, or the inevitable discomfort of having braces put on if I needed them. It was the actually being told that I needed them that had my apprehension growing.

I was pouting a little before I even went to the office because at my core, and as much as I hate to say it, there is a stubborn teenager in the back recesses of my brain saying “I do NOT! WILL NOT! Wear. Glasses. And. Braces! Hell to the no!”

I know I sound like a seventh grader getting ready for yearbook photos.

It so happens that I am not perfect.

I remember my mom having braces when I was around nine years old. I remember it because I got into my first fist fight over it.

The little twerp was in my fourth grade class, and I swear that he got a kick out of being mean to the other kids just because he could. It took him years to grow out of it (I think). We were never what you’d call “friends.”

The day started out like any other. I came to class and caught up on all of the fourth grade news with my friends, Amy and Jessica. Then I sat down with my glitter crayons and colored and read my Baby-Sitters Club books (good ‘ole Ann M. Martin) and readied myself for the day.

Then, the fourth grade twerp walked in and immediately began mocking my mom, putting bent paperclips over his teeth.

He must’ve seen my mom somewhere- either dropping me off or picking me up at school. Like I said, we weren’t “friends”, so it wasn’t as if the little puke had been to my house.

“Hey Melissa! Your mom’s a big metal mouth.”

This kid must have had some innate sense that making fun of my mother would tip me over the edge.

I wasn’t a violent kid, and I am not a violent adult. But if you want to see me go from calm and collected to a femme fatale, insult my family. I will become the Godfather with mixed Irish heritage from Michigan.

I confidently walked up to the fourth grade twerp and popped him one. A nice right jab into the side of his pudgy face.

I was nine and defending my mom was my top priority. And… luckily for me, we had our five millionth substitute teacher. Another person that didn’t know either of us and was not inclined to send us to the principal’s office because it was just too much work. Even if she had, I know I would have had my typical “game on” attitude as I always did when I defended someone, or something, I thought was right.

I recalled that yesterday when Dr. Denzel told me that I would need lower braces for a year. I can’t do Invisalign because I grind my teeth in my sleep.

I walked out to my car and thought, “crap. Just… crap.”

I thought seriously about crossing the street and going to the mall. See? Braces equal teenage reaction.

But I didn’t. I drove home to work on the class prep I needed to do for today.

I weighed the pros and cons of braces. How much did that small gap really bother me?

Enough. It bothers me enough.

My mom was older than I am now when she had braces and she managed just fine.

I don’t remember how she reacted at the time to my decking the fourth grade twerp. Today she kind of smirks like “yeah, that was my kid… defending her people ’til the end.”

I still need to think about this because I really don’t want glasses and braces. But the more I think about it, the less and less afraid I am.

The small gap might be one of those things that I just “have”.

My husband apparently doesn’t mind. It was there when we met, and it was there on my wedding day.

And I look like my mom, who has a brilliant smile.

Dr. Denzel told me that my smile is still “dazzling” (his word) with or without a small gap. Who am I to argue with an Oscar winner?

Besides, Madonna(!) has a famous gap in her teeth and she’s an international superstar.

My gap is something that only I notice as a “problem”. It is a sign of imperfection and sometimes, it is a sign of discontent. But I don’t stop smiling. I smile constantly. I laugh. I I flash a grin all the time. Even inwardly, as I think of decking the fourth grade twerp.

Maybe… just maybe… the gap is there to remind me of my strength and of those whom I defend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doe to Doe

She stood—staring at me and likely wondering if I would hurt her.

I stood—wondering if she was alive or a realistic target like the one in my neighbor’s yard.

Her tail flicked and I saw a small patch of white. I turned my head and she did the same. “Ahhh, mirroring each other now.” I thought. We were mutually studying each other.

I paused my Runkeeper application on my phone. I paused the brilliant episode of The Moth podcast I was listening to at the time. The Moth often keeps me company on my walks and jogs. Slowly, I reached up to remove my headphones.

We never took our eyes off of each other.

Woman to woman, the young doe and I stared at each other. Each about a mile from our homes. She from the woods and I from my blue ranch.

I wonder what she thought about me. This weird human with legs of half purple and bright pink hooves. I probably looked like a freak in her eyes.

I wondered how long she would let me watch her. Just staring at her—Her tawny brown eyes reflected in my ocean blues. Only about twenty feet separated us.

I moved slowly, hoping to catch a picture of the stunning lady.

She let me.

And then, as if she felt oncoming traffic before I did, she gracefully pranced into the woods. I couldn’t see her after five seconds.

That was yesterday.

I looked for my deer friend this morning and I didn’t see her. And it felt like I was missing a brunch that I had planned. Some fun was being had. Elsewhere. The where that I was not.

Seeing that deer yesterday was an uncommon joy. I walk or jog every day and I almost never see wildlife that close.

As strange as it sounds, I felt connected to her. As if she showed up just to give me a bit of uncommon joy. Maybe I was there, another somewhat vulnerable female, to show her that we weren’t all that different and humans are capable of watching beauty without destroying it.

I don’t know much about deer. I know that they are prevalent in Michigan and I know that sadly, I have hit one in the past. I’m not “against” deer hunting, but I won’t go and I don’t want to hear about it.

I now wonder if those kind of meetings between two creatures is common? Is it a female thing? Was I somehow special?

She was beautiful and for a minute, there we were…

Just a couple of does sharing a path.

Hairbrushes and Mermaid Songs

“It’s crooked!” The first girl exclaimed.

“Fix it!” The other one chirped.

“I can’t! I don’t havvvvve a brush.” Girl one begged.

“Does Cara?” Her friend asked.

“CARA!” They yelled in unison, echoing off of the bathroom walls.

“What!” The presumed Cara called back.

“Got a brush?” Girl two asked.

“I don’t know! Look in my backpack.”

“UGGGGGGHH!” Girl two groaned.

 

This all seemed logical to me as I witnessed this exchange today in the ladies’ room at OU. The gaggle of pre-tween/tween girls helped each other adjust their naturally beautiful hair into pop star perfect ponytails.

I listened to them as I washed and dried my hands, smiling inwardly as I exited and went on with my day.

Cara and her friends… Such innocence.

 

Yesterday, I saw a man, who appeared about my age, teach his young daughter to talk and sing into a fan, laughing at the distortion of her own voice.

“Sing the mermaid song.” He encouraged.

“….be part of your WOOOOORRRRLLLLDDD.” She belted.

His wife, and the enchantress’ mother, shook her head, laughed at the pair of them, and took each of them by the arm, leading them away from the fan and onto the day’s next adventure.

 

I thought of these scenes when I told two of my best friends “kids don’t know what they have.”

And they don’t.

Pre-teens and teenagers don’t know that days of playing on the swings and spending days with friends will one day end. Getting on their bikes and striking out into the wild will one day be “aerobic”.

And the biggest challenge of the day won’t be finding a hairbrush.

I didn’t grow up quickly. I enjoyed the freedom of childhood. As a teen, I didn’t plunge headlong into adulthood by making choices I wasn’t ready to handle.

At twenty-three, I had a friend tell me that she was more “worldly” than I. She was all of twenty-seven. Mentally, I thought something mean. Something along the lines of “I might not be ‘worldly’, but at least I’m not a fuck up.” I didn’t say that. Instead, I replied “we all make choices” and I left it at that.

There was a part of me that wondered exactly what she meant by “worldliness” and why she evaluated me as lacking it. But there was a larger part of me that didn’t care, and I didn’t change based upon her evaluation.

Immeasurable value is found in not rushing anything and taking one’s time.

I see kids rushing to become adults and I think: Simmer. Down.

And most people I know that rushed to grow up regret it as adults.

Adulting can be hard.

We have to work to reconnect with the joy that children, even teens, have in excess.

We have to schedule days to have fun with our friends, and we have to hope that our plans work out in the end.

Then there are days when we don’t, can’t, remember the last time that we sang into a fan.

Two weeks ago, I blasted music and spun around and around with arms outstretched. Just because I could.

I recently scrubbed carpets and I forgot that Resolve will make the bottoms of flip flops into ice skates when they meet the tiled kitchen floor. I slid, 80’s hair band guitar solo style, across the dining room floor.

It hurt later but at the time I was a rock goddess.

Those kids I saw don’t know the word “worldly” and that’s a blessing.

What’s “worldly” if the world you occupy doesn’t include fun, innocence, and simple laughter?

And that very well be naïve, as I’m sure my now acquaintance may believe. Or, it’s more likely that she’ll agree with me, forgetting that she once evaluated me as a simpleton.

Either way, I hope those girls remember to borrow their best friends’ hairbrushes all throughout life.

I hope girls, my own, the ones in my family, and the daughters of my best friends, I hope they all sing into fans.

Never forgetting their mermaid songs.

 

 

 

For JRS, KICS, KLT, LLM, and DMI, whose brushes still party with mine.