Smile and say thank you

I squint at the name embroidered in white thread on her green apron. Arles, is it?

“Your tea will be out in just one second,” she says through her mask.

“No problem,” I say, and then, “is your name Arles?” I squint at her apron, “Is that an l or an i?”

“It’s an i, Aries, like the zodiac sign,” she says.

“Ah.” I say. My brain tells me this is a fine place to let the conversation die, but I say “I thought maybe you were named for Arles, the town in France.”  She smiles and says nothing. It occurs to me that might sound snobby, and I am reminded once again that we don’t always know what is behind people’s words or actions.

She leaves the window, presumably to get my tea, or maybe she thought I was contemplating saying more. She would have been correct. She comes back with my iced tea and hands it to me through the window.

“My mom and my sister and I went to France about twenty years ago and visited Arles, it was beautiful. We had lunch at a restaurant in a very old building, and sat on the patio, which was partially enclosed by what was left of stone walls that had been bombed during World War II. Our waitress was funny and very patient with us and since we didn’t speak or read French she would make animal noises to tell us what was on the menu…a snort for jambon, a quack for canard. It was a beautiful day and I can still hear the four of us laughing. It’s my sister’s birthday today. She died about seven years ago.”

I say, “Thank you. Have a nice day,” as I take my tea, and drive away.

COVID-19: Silver lining #242

Despite the horrors COVID-19 has wreaked on families, human bodies, economies and our society I think most of us agree there are silver linings to be found. We saw communities coming together in beautiful ways…entire neighborhoods singing from their balconies in Italy, people lining the streets to clap for first responders and medical professionals as they ended their shifts and people working through the night to sew masks for their friends, family, communities and local hospitals. There have been so many stories of love and kindness and beauty during this awful scary uncertain time, but my own personal silver lining story actually comes from the hate and anger this pandemic has brought out in us.

Like so many others whose jobs allowed it, in mid-March my co-workers and I began working from home. We forwarded our phones to voicemail and, in addition to my other duties, it was my job to listen to these messages and direct the caller to the appropriate person. I work for a local public agency, so we receive a lot of calls from frustrated members of the public even when there is not a pandemic, but COVID-19 took it to a whole new level. The number of emails popping up in my in box notifying me that a new voicemail had arrived was overwhelming in and of itself, but the content became unbearable. So much hate. So much anger. It was unbelievable. Incomprehensible really. And yet it just kept coming. It was as if someone had taken a rubber tube, stabbed it into my neck and just started pouring in hate and anger.

People would call and scream about how pathetic our local elected officials were for allowing the public health officer to implement a shelter in place order. They would scream about how stupid these elected officials were for not implementing stricter shelter in place orders. They would scream about things like the fact that they weren’t allowed to golf or get their hair done or go out to dinner. They would let loose the rage that was brought on because they couldn’t get their watch fixed, go to a movie, have friends over for dinner. For a time the then-public health officer prohibited gardeners from working, which sent people into an absolute rage. The messages were all high-pitched screams of ‘they are outside’ and ‘I don’t even talk to them’ and ‘they certainly don’t come into my house’. The callers were informed that the risk was to the gardeners who came from different households and in most cases rode around in a vehicle together all day, putting everyone in the car and their respective households at risk of contracting and spreading the disease. They did not care. They needed their lawns mowed and their leaves blown. That was more important.

These messages sometimes went on for five minutes, and there were typically 20 or more messages per day. Screaming. Name calling. Accusations levied against whoever was listening to the messages. You are all lazy pieces of shit. I pay your salary and you don’t even answer the fucking phone. Tell me how you are going to fix this. Governor Newsom is a piece of shit. Donald Trump is a piece of shit. Governor Newsom is our hero. Donald Trump is the second coming of Christ. There have only been 11 people in our county who died, that’s nothing. People with pre-existing conditions can stay home. People should wear masks because they are putting me in danger. A lady at the grocery store walked too close to me and she wasn’t wearing a mask. I won’t wear a fucking mask and I purposely walk close to any sheep I see wearing a mask just to see the fear in their eyes. All of these things and more were screamed into my ear day in and day out for more than a month.

On April 18th the mayor of the city I live in was killed in a plane crash. Just prior to that he had stirred up a storm on social media by making disparaging comments about Trump supporters, comparing them to KKK members. His comments were harsh and there was plenty of debate about whether or not they were justified. I’m not sure how long it was after his death that national news outlets began to pick up the story of the mayor who had spoken ill of Trump supporters and within a week or so was killed in a plane crash. People who did not agree with his comments began flooding local social media with comments about karma and God’s will, etc., while others reminded people to be kind and think of his family.

A day or so later I got a notification of a new message so I called my voicemail an punched in the code. I listened as a man from some far away state said in a very subdued and sympathetic tone, “Hey. I heard that your mayor died,” and then with enthusiasm said, “and I’m glad to hear he’s dead.” He went on to talk about how he was a Trump supporter and how wrong it was for the mayor to say nasty things about Trump supporters and that karma got him and that it made him so happy to hear the mayor had died. And you know what? He really was happy. I could hear the joy in his voice. It was totally disturbing. I remember feeling like I was going to just buckle, emotionally. I simply had no more room for all the hate. His words and his ugly ugly joy were heavy in my heart, but there was this one thing that stopped me from falling…when he first said he was glad the mayor was dead, I heard in the background, over the sound of a TV, someone make some sort of exclamation of surprise and disapproval at his words. This tiny little half a second utterance was just enough to keep me in the game. Like a tiny drop of humanity had fallen into a ten-thousand-gallon vat of hate and overpowered it all.

This is my silver lining: It wasn’t until I took in so much hate and anger from others that I realized how much of my own I have been carrying around for years and years. I had grown so used to hauling these feelings around with me I didn’t even know they were there until more and more showed up that looked and felt just like them and I was like, Oh, that’s what that is. It was a sort of immersion therapy I suppose, and looking on the bright side, I didn’t have to pay for it.

I am done with the wholesale peddling of anger. I’m done being a part of it. I’m done hearing it. I’m just over it. Obviously there are still situations that make me angry and frustrated and really really question the lack of humanity in some people, but as far as just walking around in a constant state of simmering anger about who knows what from who knows where, I’m done. (As evidence, even my husband has noticed that my chronic road rage has evaporated.) It’s time to pinpoint my own frustrations, face my own sorrows and grief, and get on with the business of letting love’s light shine. Although I owe some debt of gratitude to the haters who have shown me what I don’t want to be, I am sorry for your suffering. My hope is that you one day find a way to be free.

Ask Not…

Grateful to be an American. Humbled to be an American. Proud of the military men and women who have fought, and still fight, for this country, and proud of their families who hold it together while their loved one is in the middle of a war zone. (I repeat: in the middle of a war zone.) Proud of the countless Americans who have used their incredible minds to make advances in medicine and science and public policy and technology. Proud of all Americans who have fought for their fellow human beings. Proud simply because, through no grit or determination or work or calculating of my own, I was born to people with American citizenship? I don’t know…shouldn’t we, as Americans, strive to accomplish something of our own to be proud of? Shouldn’t we strive to be Proud to be an American who has Contributed to America?

Have you gone to work every day to make a living? Have you started a business and created jobs for others? Do you pay your fair share of taxes? Do you decline to pay your taxes in protest because it’s something you believe strongly in? Are you an educator, working to make Americas developing minds strong and healthy and curious and confident? Do you love your children? Have you overcome an obstacle you never thought you could? Do you stand up for what you believe in, no matter the cost? What exactly are you proud of? I understand being grateful to be an American. And I understand being humbled to be an American. But being proud to have been born with a certain citizenship, which was done through zero accomplishment of our own, should not be enough.  We should strive to be Americans we can be proud of. When I recently took stock of my own accomplishments I was woefully lacking in those that contribute to making the United States a great nation.

Okay so I do pay my taxes. I do abide by most of our laws, though I will jay walk when the opportunity arises. I did manage to get through the Whole30 eating program, so that’s good. I’m generally a caring person. My husband and I have three rescue dogs and I feel like we take good care of them (though little Leo’s bad breath and Elena’s proclivity for scooting around the yard on her butt make me realize I’m a little tardy in getting them to the vet…). I call my parents to check in on them. I try to think about the example I set for my nephew and niece, though honestly, they are leagues beyond me. But given the needs of this great nation of ours, have I really contributed in a meaningful way that has earned me the right to be proud of what I have done as an American? Have my accomplishments, or even my failed attempts, risen to the level of those who have truly accomplished something they can be proud of that makes this country great? The answer is no.

I was born in the USA because two families moved here from Switzerland several generations ago. They left their families and embarked upon a journey to a new and better life in the United States. I was born in California because my grandma drove across the United States by herself in the 1940s to set up a new life for she and her husband, who was away at war, and their future family. I grew up on 40 beautiful acres and galloped around on my horse because my parents chose to raise their family in the country. None of these things, which have helped me to have a great life, are things I have done.  Just like none of the things all of the great Americans before us have done to help us all have the opportunity for a great life are things we have done. What have we done with the opportunities we have been given? What have I done with these opportunities?

About the most I’ve done to fight for what I believe in is throw emotional posts up on Facebook with no thought, and in the heat of the moment, no care given to how my angry words will impact the larger situation. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am positively certain angry words don’t help.  But maybe there is something I can do here and now. I wrote above that Americans before us have given us the opportunity to have a great life, but actually some people here in the United States have greater opportunities than others, simply because of where and to whom they were born. I am happy for those people, I don’t want to change a thing for them.  But I would like to do something that creates opportunity where opportunity is lacking.  I’m not sure how to do this or what that looks like, but my ancestors did that for me, and that is something I could be proud of as an American, and as a human being.


The Road to Yes

A few weeks ago my husband and I were all set to join my family at my parents’ house for dinner. The invitation came from my dad, who was living the single life for a fewdays while my mom was out of town. We may have viewed this partially as a mission to rescue my dad from the diet of corned beef hash and Miller Genuine draft he adopts whenever my mom is out of town, but to our surprise he informed us that he had stocked up on kit salads and that a Chinese Chicken Salad was on the menu that night.

My sister and I had recently signed up for a walking challenge at work so I had become a little more aware of opportunities to “get in some steps”. So far this meant walking the .6 miles to my chiropractic appointment instead of driving, intentionally parking at the far end of the grocery store lot, and, in those desperate moments when I wanted my step tracker to hit the 10,000 mark for the day, running up and down our stairs at home a few times. But on this day, as we looked forward to joining my family for a meal, I had a radical idea: what if I walked to my parents’ house?

The chef at work

I did this once before several years ago, only I decided to ride my bike. My parents house is about nine miles (8.7) from ours, which is not very far on a bike if you’re a cyclist or even if you’re just in sort of reasonably okay shape. I recall arriving at my parents’ house with heat stroke. Someone brought me a glass of ice water as I sat panting on a patio chair and casually informed me that a mountain bike was not ideal for a street ride. Who knew?

As I contemplated walking to my mom and dad’s I remembered the bike ride and the heat stroke that followed. I thought about the heat. I worried about traffic. I fretted over the best route. I came up with every reason I could to stop me from actually following through on this “crazy”idea. But one thing kept popping into my head: why was this idea so crazy to me? It was a walk. I go for walks all the time. Most days a week in fact. I doubted I had the time to make it the whole 8.7-mile walk, maybe half way, so this would actually be a shorter walk than some of the routes I do on a regular basis. I had hiked about 17 miles during a trip to Yosemite just a few weeks earlier. I frequently walk from my house down to the river and back, which is a longer walk than this would be. So why was walking a certain distance perfectly normal in some instances and ludicrous in others? I had no good answer. It’s not as though joining my family for a meal of Chinese Chicken Salad out of a bag required that I wear heals (and honestly I’m hard pressed to find any event that would get me into/onto a pair of heals). So I walked. I put on my sneakers and told my husband I was going to get a head start on foot and requested that he stop the car when he saw me walking on the side of the road and kindly give me a lift the rest of the way.

A new view.

I ended up walking about five miles that day, and I could tell you all about the walk – the cool picture I got of the railroad tracks, the guy in a passing car who I thought was waving to me so I smiled and waved back only to realize he was not waving but making lewd hand gestures, and then he yelled “I want to grab your boobies” (Me, too.) – but honestly, the real journey took place in my mind before I ever left the house. The road from No to Yes can be a long and difficult slog, but in the end it’s always worth it, even if all you get out of it is a reminder of just that.





Okay, I give. I can’t stand anymore. This whole thing can be over now. I get through the days fine. I laugh. I make people laugh. I carry on conversations and make decisions. I drive a car and walk the dogs and do laundry and plant plants, some of which have died and some of which have not. But this little pin prick in my heart – that somehow feels like it weighs at least one ton – is getting to be too much for me to carry.  Just as when some unruly nightmare of a person twists your arm behind your back (or pins you down and stuffs dirty underwear in your mouth…) and evilly commands you to “Say Uncle!” I have winced and taken deep breaths and done everything I can think of to ignore or withstand or stop the pain, but I can’t do it any longer, so, UNCLE MOTHER FU#&%ER! Unfortunately the pain doesn’t stop.

The reference above to dirty underwear? Yes, that happened.  And yes, Kelly was that unruly nightmare of a person who was straddling my chest, pinning my hands under her knees stuffing dirty underwear in my mouth. I can still see that grin on her face. I won’t say it was an evil grin, but it was decidedly not playful. It’s funny to me that now I would give anything to have that happen again.  For the record we were kids. I was probably 9 and she was 14. And also for the record, they were mine, and they weren’t very dirty.  It is very possible (i.e. likely) that I had done something horrible to her, like cut the wires to the speakers on  her maroon boom box or worn one of her shirts (without asking) and ruined it somehow.

It wasn’t all dirty underwear in the mouth though. We have alot of great memories. Kelly and I once took  my dad for a hike at the river on Father’s Day when we were in our twenties and the trail began to slope gently downhill along the water and I said, “Let’ s run!” and Kelly broke into a jog, and I said, “No! Really run! Like we’re kids!” and we both started running down the trail, hooting and laughing and jumping over small rocks and making fake motorcycle noises until we couldn’t breathe anymore. After we caught our breath she had a huge beautiful smile on her face and said “Thank you.” It was like a huge stress had been lifted off of her, but at the time I had no idea what that stress might be, and I didn’t ask. This was back in the days when the tension between us was hella thick ya’ll. (If you know Kelly you know the phrase “hella thick ya’ll” would definitely have gotten an eye roll out of her…) I mean a fight could erupt within a nano second over who knew what.

We have a few memories like that. One night we boogied down in my parents’ driveway  to MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This, which we could hear blaring from a wedding at the country club on the property next door. We were capable of having a lot of fun together and I will hold onto those memories as long as I can physically and mentally do so. But the other night while I was doing dishes a different memory popped into my head. I remembered a time when we were able to talk. To simply carry on a conversation – good or bad – but at least we had the option. Now we don’t.  So now my most cherished memories of her include, “that time we could talk, because you were alive.”

Now that I’ve cried UNCLE and this strange and constant little pain that weighs me down has still not gone away I’m not sure what happens next. I guess perhaps it’s time to stop trying to change the pain and instead change something else, like the way I view the pain or carry it or try to numb it. I don’t know. But I’m beginning to have a better understanding of what people mean when they say they used the pain of heartbreak – whatever kind of heartbreak – as motivation to accomplish something.  I can see how it’s a fuel that can choke you if it’s not used, not “burned off” so to speak. I used to try to lighten a mood by telling a friend or loved one who was a little frustrated or angry about something to “Turn it to something else…” as a joke, but perhaps it’s time for me to take my own advice, and take it seriously.

I read a story once of a couple whose two children were killed in a car accident while a trusted neighbor was giving them a ride home from school, and the pain was absolutely unbearable for the couple. They suffered through as best they could until a series of seemingly random events presented them with an opportunity and they decided to do something with the pain in honor of their children, so they opened an orphanage in Africa. And although losing a sister is much different than losing your only children, I can see how the pain of loss is great enough to power a move from the United States to Africa, the building of an orphanage and taking on the work of raising fifty-plus children day after day after day for years and years and years. I can see how the pain could sustain that forever actually, an endless supply of power if properly tapped into. Otherwise, as I have been experiencing, it becomes a heavy wet suffocating blanket that causes you (me) to sink deeper and deeper until I feel like I can’t breathe. Almost like I’m being pinned to the floor while someone stuffs dirty underwear in my mouth…perhaps Kelly was simply trying to prepare me for this.

This Do In Remembrance of ME

Dear Leah,

There is something I need to tell you and I hope  with all my heart you will listen to me this time, as I have told you this very same thing literally dozens of times before and you seem to have forgotten yet again. That pit in your stomach the day before you leave for vacation, specifically one that requires you to take an airplane ride, is not a premonition, it’s anxiety. You have a fear of flying. It’s not ideal or desirable, but it’s there. Don’t you remember? You have such a case of it that your doctor doled out a minute number of those little pills that make your brain just mushy enough that you can’t convince yourself that the plane will fall out of the sky or explode?  Every single time you are set to take a flight you feel the exact same way. This bears repeating: EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU ARE SET TO TAKE A FLIGHT YOU FEEL THE EXACT SAME WAY. And yet every single time you are set to take a flight you are certain that the feeling you have in your gut is a bad sign, foretelling tragedies ahead. You really don’t remember that you felt this way last time? Well it’s true. You did. You were wrong. And yet, here I am sitting in front of a computer at 1:44am writing this to you because you were lying in bed (a nice warm comfortable bed that felt something like a non-claustrophobic cocoon might feel) wallowing in that horrible feeling, because it’s different this time…but I was there last time too, and I’m telling you, it’s no different.

Since I am now out of bed, writing this to you, I’m going to share with you a few more things you seem to unremember on a fairly consistent basis. Here goes:

Telling yourself “it will be fine” as you put on sneakers that you know for a fact will give you blisters will not actually make it fine. Yes they are cute and they are exactly what that outfit needs to make you look cuter than you have ever looked in your entire life, but it will not be okay. It will be decidedly un-okay. You will start to feel the pain about an hour or so into the day and, remarkably, you will feel surprised. About an hour after that you will be cursing the shoes, which you really have no right to blame, and by the end of the day you will be wincing with every step you take as your poor little toes turn bright red and layers of skin are sluffed off onto the inside of these f@#$%&* adorable shoes. How cute will you be then, with your hamburger feet?

Also, overfilling the washing machine makes the same thing happen every time.  Layering the clothes in the machine rather than wadding them up and tossing them in might make it look as though there is plenty of room, but please allow me to gently remind you, there is not. The knocking noise throughout the entire wash cycle. The annoying beep that happens when the machine is unbalanced. The sloppy mess of marginally-clean clothes you discover inside the washing machine when it’s done the very best it could but the spin cycle just couldn’t quite get enough water out. All of those things will happen, again and again, when you wash too many clothes at once. It’s perhaps the first scientific fact that you have proven. Congratulations!  Now let us put that experiment behind and move on to greater things, shall we?

Another thing…the answer to the question, “Should I take the extra three minutes required tonight to prep the coffee pot for to auto brew so it’s ready for me when I wake up in the morning?” is always always always YES. I know you’re tired and you just want to get into bed, but please, for the love of every living being in your path in the morning, get the coffee ready the night before. Try to remember that waking up to the sound of a gurgling coffee pot and the aroma of just-brewing coffee are among the top three things to wake up to. Stumbling out of bed and walking straight to the cupboard to get your favorite mug and filling it with hot coffee before you do anything else at all, other than maybe scratching your bum on the way to the coffee pot, is as close to heaven as you will ever get at 6am on a work day. If you are not able to remember this is the truth, please just at least try to trust me on this. I know of what I speak.

I could go on with this list, but I think you get my point. You have knowledge and wisdom. You deserve to use that knowledge and wisdom every day and you deserve the good things that will come along with doing so. You really will enjoy this vacation. You always do because whether or not you see it every day, you are a joyful person. It’s okay to just say no to cute shoes, you’ll still be cute. It’s okay to split that laundry load into two, you’ve got time. And you are worth the extra time it will take to make sure you know the bliss of fresh coffee waiting for you in morning when you roll out of bed. And if you can’t remember those things remember this: You are damn lucky. You are lucky to have the opportunity to take vacations. You are lucky to have shoes on your feet. You are lucky to be able to wash your clothes in your home with hot water using your favorite soap you bought at the store. And you are certainly lucky to have the ability to have coffee waiting for you each morning. Really, my darling, you are beyond lucky, you are kind of spoiled compared to so many on this planet. So please try to remember that. I believe if you remember how fortunate you are you will also remember to use what you’ve learned so far in this life, and I think that will make life better for you and everyone who encounters you. And remember, that’s what really matters.

Sweet dreams,


Squeeze My Finger

When my sisters and I were little and we had to endure something painful, like a shot at the doctor’s office or the removal of a splinter or the cleaning of a nasty bit of road rash from a spill off of a pink Huffy, my mom would have us squeeze her finger in order to distract us from the pain. As tears streamed down our faces, our mouths wide open with wailing, she would offer up her index finger and say, “Here, squeeze my finger.”  To this day I offer up this same kindness to just about anyone I am near who is in physical pain, which has gotten me more than one queer look from people who cannot figure out what the hell I am talking about, though they may be confusing  my offer with the childhood fun of encouraging someone to “pull my finger.” But it’s one of those things you just learn without knowing you learned it, and without knowing that everybody else did not, in fact, learn the same thing.

It’s likely you did not learn this trick so let me tell you, it works.  Although I can remember sitting in a doctor’s office or on the edge of my bed or on the bathroom counter bawling, I cannot remember anything other than how it felt to squeeze my mom’s finger. The distraction helped me to calm down just a little bit. The pain would lessen and I knew it would eventually pass. As we got older my sisters and I would offer up the same solution to each other, spouses, children, and our niece and nephew, without giving it much thought. It’s just what you do when someone needs a distraction. It takes your mind off the pain and it becomes bearable.

A few days ago as I was getting dressed I was marveling at my ever-increasing frame. I have always been overweight but in the last year I have continually gained weight and I don’t show any signs of stopping. I have been trying to remember to be kind to myself because I am struggling to figure out how to deal with losing my sister, but the downfalls of being large far outweigh the sheer bliss that comes from eating whatever I want, whenever I want. Yet that’s exactly what I do, over and over again. This is not new for me, but it’s worse now. It’s more. It’s never enough.

I have had a few moments of hysteria over my weight gain. I know well enough by now that it’s not a love of food that causes me to eat more than I need to (or want to). I use food. I abuse food. And at the moment I feel totally out of control with it. So the other day I devoted some time to think about why I seem unable to reel it in this time.  After a few minutes it occurred to me that eating is how the adult in me squeezes my mom’s finger. It’s simply a distraction. A way to focus on something else. The problem is, the pain isn’t going way. The moment of feeling the pain dissipate, letting go of my mom’s hand and hopping back on the Huffy isn’t coming like it used to.

Eating helps me ignore the fact that I feel as though my heart is suspended on the tip of a spear inside of me and gaining weight gives me another bit of trouble to focus on, namely my ill-fitting jeans.  Then I don’t think about how much I miss Kelly, and how much I could change if I could just have another chance with her. When I do think about those things it is literally too much for me to handle, so I don’t handle it. It’s like putting your hand to fire – you just have to pull it right back as quickly as you can and grab a deli sandwich instead.

Later that night I lay* on the bed in our spare room and bawled. My husband sat beside me with his hand on my back and I bawled and bawled and between gasps for air I heard myself talking about how much I missed her and how much I regret and how you don’t always get a do-over how this pain is literally too much for me to handle.  I was surprised by some of the things I was saying and I was surprised by the unending stream of tears and sadness and regret and helplessness. Our ability to pretend the pain we carry around with us does not exist never ceases to amaze me.  It’s the elephant in the room. The catatonic elephant that is taking up all the space and all the air in the room, but I’m pretending I don’t see it. I’m in the corner focusing on a box of donuts, trying to decide between sprinkled or jelly filled.

And then, as my husband is rubbing my arm and I’m crying and talking and gasping I hear Kelly’s voice in my mind. She says, “There is snot all over your face.” Then I see her in my mind, turning her head away and gagging.  I laughed a little, which I’m guessing George thought was another gasp, and asked if he’d get me a paper towel.  I was able to breathe a little easier then. The tears slowed and eventually  stopped, and I felt like I had been able to at least see this pain, which I think is the first step in learning to live with it. And I am going to have to learn to live with it.

I’d like to report that since that night I have eaten nothing but carefully-rationed portions of nuts and whole grains, fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables, and lean fish high in amino acids, but that would be a lie. What I have done though is gotten through a few days fully aware of the pain I am carrying with me. Maybe I’ve eaten a little less too, I don’t know. For now I’m just going to make the most of the time I have here by being the best version of myself that I can be – and that includes lots of flaws and mistakes but that’s okay.  There are some things in life you get one, and only one, shot at. Fortunately weight loss is not one of them.


*I would normally use the word “laid” here but Kelly was a stickler for this common grammatical error and since she died I have been cursed with the inability to misuse lay, laid, and lie.

Free Hugs

I hope that you have been able to surrender. I hope you are wrapped in a warm blanket, like mom used to do for us. I hope you were wrong, and that there is a God, or some higher power, and I hope they are taking care of you, even though you spent a good bit of time rolling your eyes at the suggestion of their very existence. I hope all of the pain – the sadness, the anger, the loneliness, the fear, the self doubt, the self loathing – has wafted up off of you. I hope you watched it float away and then POOF! disappear in a cloud of dust, and I hope it made you smile. I hope your heart felt full in that moment and that at it remains full, and will remain full for whatever amount of time you will be wherever you are, which I’m guessing is forever, but I don’t know, because I don’t know where you are.I remember that dream. You standing waist deep in the water with a big grin on your face. You were ready to go wherever you were going next, you were looking forward to it, but you wanted to stop by first to let me know you were okay. I’m glad I have that dream, that vision of you with that smile, but it’s been nearly a year and I wish you’d stop by again.

We just passed the one year mark of the day we went to the party in San Jose at Amy’s house. You were so nervous about going, you were so thankful I went with you. Your hair was in what I called your “depression ponytail” and we laughed. I said, ‘Let me do your hair’ and you said, ‘There is nothing you can do with it.’ But there was. We stood in front of the mirror and I took out that God awful scrunchie you insisted upon wearing and brushed your hair. I could see your face, exaggerated grimaces as though I was hurting you and we laughed because we both knew I wasn’t. I put your hair in a low bun and left a wisp hanging down along the side of your face and you smiled and said ‘Thank you Leah’ with an unbearable amount of pain in your voice. I couldn’t take your pain so I blew it off with a high-pitched ‘Oh sure.’ You probably actually would have preferred a big hug, but I’m certain you saw my discomfort so you let it go. There could have been so much love and comfort and peace in that moment, but I couldn’t face your pain, so I turned away with an ‘Oh sure.’ As if to say, ‘It was no big deal,’ but it was. Maybe not to me, but it was to you, and I should have been able to handle that.

Since that time I have vowed to be more open hearted, but I’m not sure I have been. I was rude to the Starbucks barista today for asking me “What else can I get you?” instead of “Can I get you anything else?” Normally this kind of corporate mind play elicits only an eye roll from me and I say “Nothing” but today I said, “I’m sorry, did you just ask what else you can get me?” he said “Yes.” I said, “Did I give the impression I wanted something else?” He snapped “4.25 at the window please,” and then probably went to spit in my drink.

Kelly and I didn’t have a mirror for her to see the bun so I took a picture of it and showed her. She loved it. I have that picture in a locket to remind me to be open hearted and to give people what they need if I can, and to ask for what I need, if I can. Sometimes I wear it, but most days I purposely look right past it when I’m getting dressed because I’m not sure I have the energy to live up to it. But I try. I took a guy with a “FREE HUGS” sign up on his offer on the Santa Monica Pier but he seemed sort of put off by it. I went in for a real hug, the kind I would be doling out if I were standing on the Santa Monica Pier holding up a FREE HUGS sign, but I got sort of a wet noodle response. Poor guy. I must have frightened him. He had no idea that a big load of grief and sadness was coming at him. In those moments I wonder if Kelly is watching. I don’t really believe she is but I do know she would have laughed if she was there.

I hope you are at peace, but the fact that I can’t ask you if you are makes me feel stuck. I’m not sure how to move on without knowing you are okay and my mind gets jumbled. The other morning I was whisking eggs and I surprised myself with the thought “Those poor eggs” because, I realized, that’s how my mind feels when I try to understand where you are and how you are and what the hell just (a year ago now…) happened. But, then I remember that dream and your smile while you stood it the water up to your waist, wearing your down jacket, and I think you gave me my answer. I just need to be open hearted enough to believe it.


Glass Half Full Kind of Gal?

Some things you carry with you without even knowing it. These can be good things and these can be bad things. I just realized one of the good things I carry with me, and that is a love of watching pelicans fly and, more importantly, dive. I love the way they soar just above the water, their wings pulsing effortlessly. I love the way they hook it around when they think they’ve spotted something worthwhile in the water below, and I love the way they dive, just like that. You don’t get any hint or indication just before the dive, it just happens. Then, for just a second, their big outstretched wings bob on the water and their head is submerged and you think for sure the entire pelican must have broken but then it rights itself, gathers its wings in close and takes off again. I remember first seeing this when I lived in Oakland. I would sit by Lake Merritt and watch the pelicans dive and it was so soothing. So enjoyable. I remember a kind and motherly co-worker asking me what sorts of things I enjoyed doing and I said I love to watch pelicans dive. She asked what else. When I’m done doing that, what else do I like to do. I told her I could watch that for hours. She told me it sounded like depression. I thought, “Depression!? Oh no!” And I’ve thought about that over the years. Was that depression? I don’t know. Maybe. But it was fascinating to me. And now, nearly 20 years later I sit watching it happen again – soar, spot, dive, fly, soar, spot, dive, fly – over and over again. Every time the pelicans dive they look broken, and every time, they get right back up, and sometimes they have a little something they got out of the dive. I could still sit and watch this for hours. Maybe that’s depression, but it sounds a lot like hope to me.


I miss Kelly every day. Sometimes I will realize that I’ve gone 15 minutes without thinking about her, and the fact that she’s gone, and remembering makes my heart break all over again and the fact that I forgot, even for a few minutes, well honestly there is no single word that I can think of to describe how that feels. It’s like a bubble (made of lead) has burst.  People have told me I’m doing so well, but I’m not sure what that means or if I am. And honestly, whether or not I’m handling this wellhasn’t occurred to me. I’m not trying to make it through the day without crying, I’m trying to make it through the day without stopping. Literally, just stopping – in a grocery store, in a meeting, mid laugh, on a walk – wherever. I fight hard to resist the urge to just stop and stare. I’m still trying to grasp it and even believe it.

This is evident to me when I see or hear things that I want to share with Kelly, and for just a moment I forget that I can’t. This happens every day. At work in one of the bathroom stalls the toilet paper dispenser is a U-shaped bracket attached to the wall and if you look closely, as you’re sitting there with a few moments to spare, you can see the words “Install this side down”. I always meant to tell her about that because it made me laugh. She and I used to laugh at funny acronyms, like FALUC (which has since been revised) and PPFT (which spells the sound a fart makes). The other day I saw STPUD, which I wished I could share with her. Although these moments make me feel like I can keep her with me, they also break my heart, because the truth is she is gone, and that’s what’s so hard to accept.

Well the other day I saw an opportunity to pretend for a moment, a few seconds really, that she was not gone. I went to a work-related luncheon (though it wasn’t really fancy enough to warrant calling it a luncheon and Kelly would be the first to point this out) and the featured speaker was a woman who shared a lot of Kelly’s physical characteristics. Same hair color, same skin tone, similar body, dark glasses. At first it simply occurred to me that she looked a little like Kelly. Then I found myself trying to pretend that it was Kelly. But of course I couldn’t make that work. So I began “adjusting” my vision. It sort of worked, but her voice was not like Kelly’s and it threw me off. I actually became slightly frustrated and I wished she’d stop talking so I could stare at her with intentionally-blurred vision and pretend she was Kelly. Then I realized that if I adjusted my vision and waited for someone to ask hera question I had more luck. As she stood patiently waiting for the question to be finished I could pretend for about one quarter of a second that it was a very blurry Kelly standing up in front of the room. I continued to blur my vision as she spoke, but the moments when she wasn’t speaking were the ones I concentrated on.  I must have done this about a dozen times in the 30 minutes or so that she spoke.

Just about the same time it occurred to me that what I was doing was incredibly sad and a bit unstable, I realized the woman had done a few double-takes in my direction and her words had faltered ever so slightly when she looked my way. I found this a bit curious at first, but then it hit me, my method of “adjusting” my vision was in fact not undetectable.  I didn’t see how this could be possible since it felt like such a slight movement of my eyes, but later that day a friend confirmed that yes, it was indeed quite visible. The poor woman. Every time she looked at me she saw my eyes widen and move slightly up and to the center. Did she think I was making faces at her? Did she think I was having a seizure?

And of course, I wished I could share this story with Kelly.  I think about how I would share it with her. I would need to be sensitive about how I told her the story because she struggled so horribly her entire life with the fact that one of her eyes pulled inward a little.  I wouldn’t want her to think I found the fact that I was crossing my eyes funny, I would want her to know that the funny part was that I was doing this thing I thought nobody would notice only to find out it was totally obvious. I think if I told it right she would get a good laugh out of it. I can hear her laugh, see her face. Sometimes when she laughed really hard she would have a coughing attack and her eyes would water. I might get one of those laughs out of her with this story. If I told it right.

Of course, in order to get a good laugh I wouldn’t tell her the part about how subconsciously I must have known all along that the woman could see a shift in my eyes but that I chose to ignore this because I didn’t want to deny myself the opportunity to pretend she was standing ten feet away from me. Or maybe I would tell her that part. I think she would be very touched by that and although I might not get a good laugh out of her with that version of the story, I would definitely get a big hug, which would be even better. And I promise you, I would never let go.