Category Archives: reflection

The Bucket List



This past summer while searching for fresh ideas to use in the juvenile lockup where I lead a group, I flipped through a copy of “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” the kind of title placed to keep customers entertained while waiting in line to pay at a bookstore. Among the 1,560 bits of advice and wisdom there was this:

“Make your bucket list and keep it in your wallet.”

Since May of this year, I have been incorporating this exercise with the groups of adult male and female felons I see both in jail and in their halfway house-reentry programs.   It’s become the kick-off to a 4-week goal-setting group that I’ve created and of everything I’ve done with them for the past year this has been, by far, the most fascinating.

I’ve had a 22-year old black man just wrapping-up a two-year sentence for drug distribution share that he’s always wanted to learn how to ride a unicycle.  I’ve had a 50-year old white woman tell the group that her biggest wish is to fly a kite with her now adult children.  A middle-aged Latino man who has lost all contact with his children dreams of bringing them all back together for a family portrait.  Perhaps the most agonizing for me was having connected rather strongly with an initially very reticent 25-yr old man from South Boston who just yearned to “be normal,” which to him meant getting married, having children, and eating dinner together every night.  The day after he shared this, he had a near fatal heroin overdose in his room and after being hospitalized for three days, was sent back to jail.

As I’m handing out index cards and pencils I tell them that nothing is too small or too big as long as it’s legal and no matter how lofty could theoretically be achieved.  I give them about 10 minutes to brainstorm without holding back and then I ask them to share, which they almost always do.

To be fair, to level the playing field, I always share mine with them. I tell them that I keep it with me so that I can refer to it and cross things off once I’ve accomplished them. I read it out loud in the exact order it was written and when recently a young man said that he always wanted to visit his grandmother’s grave, “visit mom’s grave” got added to my list.  It’s interesting where and how our personal light bulbs are lit.  My mother has been dead for almost 28 years and I had never visited her grave.

Soon after adding it, I read my list to a group of men who had just begun the 4-week workshop.  I blew through it pretty quickly and a young man said,  “Whoa.  Wait a minute.  How long ago did your mother die?”  When I told him he asked, “What are you afraid of?”  Every week these people astound me for moments just like this.  The rest of the group joined the questioning and urged me to do it.  I don’t think they trusted my eagerness to do it probably picking up on a slight hesitancy in my voice.    So, when I made a concrete plan to go to Long Island where she happens to be buried, I promised them that I would go.  This past Thursday night at my last group before I left, one of the guys asked how I was feeling and if I was ready.  He then made me pinkie-swear that I wouldn’t back out.  It was that mutual tugging of our little fingers, that bond that I know as a parent you NEVER break, that guaranteed that I would make it.

I have indeed been afraid and I have been lazy.  Afraid of finding an overgrown jumble of thorns and tumbleweed around her grave and afraid of finding an empty headstone.  (In the Jewish tradition when someone visits a grave, we leave a rock on the headstone to signify that someone has been there.)   I have been to Long Island, less than 15 miles from the cemetery endless amounts of times since she’s died and I’ve always come up with excuses not to go.  Shame on me.

My brother and uncle explained what to do once I got to the cemetery–to check in at the front office, tell them who I was there to “visit” and they would give me a map of where to find my mother.  During the drive there, my husband at the wheel and my 12-year old daughter in the back, I found myself looking as the miles ticked down on the GPS, my heart racing as we got closer.  I pictured myself falling to me knees, crumbling in a mass of sobs and snot, and, on the flip side, not having any reaction at all.  I asked my husband and daughter if it would be okay for them to stay in the car while I found her grave and that I would wave them over when I was finished reacting in whatever way I did.

I got out of the car and scanned the headstones, knowing hers would be pretty close to where we were.  I slowed down when I spotted her last name, my last name.  Seeing  her full name, her dates of birth and death, and then her life roles listed, “Mother, Daughter, Sister, Grandmother,” on the footstone did it to me.  I bent down to wipe off the puddle of water that had formed from the rain and stared at those words and those dates.  I cried quickly, neatly and quietly before calling over my husband and daughter.  My husband came up behind me and put his arms around me, asking if I was okay.  I was okay.  I don’t think I felt any particular sense of closure (I wasn’t really looking for that) but I had made a promise, to myself and a handful of people who have become a strangely wonderful and influential part of my life.  I can’t wait to see them this week to tell them that I did it, to hear their cheers and receive their high-fives.

Next up is that pesky 5K.  After I do that, I will be rewarding myself with the biggest turkey leg I can find.


Bunnies in the Sun

I recently bought a deck of “conversation starter” cards to use as writing prompts for my recent foray into being a writing coach. They each contain a question like: “What literary character would you most want to be friends with?”, or “If you could ask your hero one question what would it be?’’ and so on and so on. In working with teens it’s a useful way to at least get them thinking about how to best express themselves and a good way for me to get to know a little bit about them before we launch into actual writing.
The other night with my family we started pulling random questions from the deck, my 16-yr-old stepson editing out the ones he thought were boring or too obvious before bothering to read them. When he got to this question, it took us a lot longer to respond to than any of the others before it:
“If you could know one fact about every person you meet, what would it be?”


This morning in my prison workshop, I asked the women this question. Like my family and me, they gave it some deep thought. I didn’t lead them in any particular direction but stressed the word “fact,” something concrete.

The first woman responded in all seriousness by saying she would want to know their shoe size. Well, I guess it is a fact but not exactly what I was looking for.
“Really? Why?” I asked.
“Well, I have really big feet and I want to know if someone has a pair of shoes that I like if I can fit into them and borrow them. I’ve been looking at your shoes this whole time.”
(For the record, I was wearing fabulous brown leather clogs, wide strap with an oblong gold buckle. End-of-season sale at DSW last year, thirty bucks.)
“Maybe you have a foot fetish,” one of the other women pointed out.
“Maybe. Probably,” she conceded.
I pointed to other raised hands.

“I’d want to know where they grew up.”

“What’s their nationality”
“How old they are.”
“What’s their education?”
We agreed that the person’s answer to this question would help determine if there was any common ground between them, either putting them on equal footing or completely at the other end of the spectrum.
“Here’s how my husband and stepson answered the other night. I think my stepson said it first but my husband was very quick to agree with him:


I realize that this isn’t exactly a FACT, that it’s very subjective, but I thought it was a fantastic answer to the question. I said to the women that for some it might be stealing a candy bar and for others it could mean killing someone, but, I think the answer can say a lot about how someone looks at themselves, the things they hold themselves accountable for, how they look at right from wrong.
I didn’t intend for them to answer the question, threw it out there rhetorically, but they started answering anyway.
“Well, I accidently let 10 baby bunnies out into the hot sun and they all died.”
Somehow, a few of us couldn’t help but chuckle. This woman was in prison for SOMETHING and I’m assuming that it wasn’t for killing her bunnies. She didn’t take the laughter personally. “I was watching tv, and I guess I left the cage open and they escaped. I even picked up some that were still alive and tried to get them to drink but they died anyway.” Of course it was sad and horrifying to kill your pets, but she couldn’t help but giggle with us while reinforcing that really, she thinks it was the worst thing she ever did. When the next woman answered with “drug trafficking” the bunny woman said she would switch places with her in a heartbeat.
A couple of women aswered with starting smoking crack, selling drugs, hanging out with the wrong crowd and evading immigration.

In listening to the conversation my answer came to me, at a moment in my life where the question resonsates for me for all the right reasons:

“I would want to know what their dream is for themselves. If they’re 3, I want to know what they want to be when they grow up. If they’re 70 I want to know if they have lived their dream.”

What Does it Mean to Be Gifted?

With the return of “American Idol,” I’ve been hearing that tired cliché about people being born to be a star, possessing a God-given talent causing their parents to notice something in their child, apparently the second they are born, that they are different, gifted.

There are videos of these starry-eyed contestants at 2 or 3 singing along to animated musicals or Frank Sinatra to prove their point. The gushy judges say things like “You were born to sing, man!” (Steven Tyler) or “You sounded like an angel just then,” (Jennifer Lopez) and it must be rather heady for these kids to hear these compliments from their American idols.

The elimination rounds are somewhat heartbreaking. You literally can see the dreams of these castoffs crumbling at their feet. “I was MEANT to be a star,” some say, “I was BORN to be a singer.” I respect them for putting themselves out there, and hope that such a very public blow won’t shatter their determination.

Do we all secretly feel that we were born with a gift? Do we all want to be stars? Why do some make it and some don’t? If we don’t have people telling us we’re gifted at something, how do we know if we are?

I have a friend who is the textbook definition of self-actualization. She lives her full potential every day. One day she decided she wanted to be a window dresser, found an internship and within less than a year was dressing windows for Barney’s. Soon after, she discovered her great skill at jewelry making, got a website up, and has sold many a ring. At the same time she tried her hand at different art mediums and recently had a piece chosen as a part of a very cool group exhibit. She made loads of money making these unbelievable spicy nuts out of her kitchen, getting them into the hands of the right connected people. She married her best friend, has two great kids, and is in awesome shape. Best of all, she is incredibly humble and funny as hell.

I’ve had some really smart friends yelling at me lately for not promoting my writing. They tell me I could be rich, famous. I counter by reminding them that there are zillions of people who want to be famous writers and who think they can be. I tell them I’m a dime a dozen in a very crowded field of friends yelling at their friends for not doing something with their talents. I read some other blogs and think that I am nowhere near their level of humor and intelligence. Do I think I have a gift? Do I want to be a star? Is this what I was born to do?

Quite frankly, I don’t want to be a star. It would be fantastic to have a writer that I have tremendous respect for think my writing is different, that my voice is unique, and that I’m funny in all the right places. I wouldn’t turn down a back cover quote from, let’s say…Augusten Burroughs or turn down an interview on NPR. That’s where my dream takes me, but then I think of the writer’s equivalent of an actor’s cattle call and I get slightly embarrassed for myself.

Yes, I’ve certainly got a story to tell, as we all do, and I really hope that it will eventually reach a wider audience than just the 100 or so people who have subscribed to my blog. It would be so fantastic to be a self-actualized person, to live my potential and see where it takes me. (I actually just smiled, ear-to-ear, when I typed that sentence which I guess is a really good sign.) Maybe in the process I’ll stumble upon a different gift, like, having an amazing fastball or eating more hotdogs in a shorter amount of time than that guy who does that every year. OR, maybe instead, I should just focus on what may be more a talent, than a gift and make my friends stop yelling at me.

You May Ask Yourself, Well, How Did I Get Here?

Tomorrow I have what is now my 6th annual parent-teacher conference. My ex-husband and I will sit at student desks with their attached chairs that barely accommodate my spreading thighs and his growing gut. We might feel ashamed of our sometimes lack of organizational skills when it comes to the shuttling back and forth of our daughter and the things that get lost in the shuffle. We’re not the Poster Parents for keeping the details together ( as I write this, she has a day off for a “teacher professional day,” something they seem to have a lot of, and, well, we didn’t know this until 3-days ago and had to scramble to find someplace for her to go.) The best part, though, is that he and I are in this together and both will admit, in this arena at least, we’re not exactly “Parents of the Year.”

I have never felt as old as I did when we had our first parent teacher conference back in kindergarten. It was a rite-of-passage that blind-sided me. How the hell was I old enough to be sitting talking about the future of my (very high verbal skills, not so great in math) 5- yr. old child? I was more caught up in that than the content of the meeting. I smirked while my ex-husband engaged in the conversation. I now do everything MY parents did—I sign permission slips, quiz her on her social studies homework and vocabulary words, while I have to fob off the math homework on my husband or stepsons because as my parents would say, “I don’t understand this “new math.” I still feel occasionally strange being called “Mom.” Aren’t I too YOUNG to be someone’s “Mom?”

For me, and I will never forget this, was the epiphany that I had in college, shopping at a local supermarket with a friend, that becoming an adult was the second it occurred to me that I could actually choose my own cereal. If Fruity Pebbles ended up in my cart it was because I wanted it to. I didn’t have to argue about it with anyone. My choice. I feel bad for my daughter having to hear an endless stream of “nos” every time she unleashes the “Can I have this? Can I get this?” but she will some day experience the joy of throwing that first box of cereal made of cookies into her own cart.

As I’ve moved up in my field, I’ve also found myself in the unlikely role of being a supervisor. I EVALUATE people. I MENTOR people. When did I become any sort of expert that I am looked up to as a mentor and guide? When did I become the person that people who have reported to me are complaining about me to their friends saying what a bitch I am or telling them how great I am? Am I feared when I have to call someone into my office to confront them on something they’ve done? I still have to hold back tears in these situations because I hate confrontation of any kind.

I’m not going to like that day when I am offered a seat on the train simply because I look too old to be standing. I don’t want to be the old couple that is called “cute” by people in their 20s just because I’m holding hands with my husband. None of these are original thoughts, I know, but as I turn 47 in just two days, I find myself wanting to run and flee, in the opposite direction, down the timeline, from a big giant statue of a 5 and a 0. I ADORE my life. It is absolutely everything I want it to be (except for never having the money part) but there is something about mortality that doesn’t sit very well with me.

Digging (Too?) Deep

I had an upsetting conversation with a friend the other day about my mother. It brought up a lot of stuff that I hadn’t talked about in a while and his reaction made me realize, as he said “That’s a lot to be carrying around with you.” I tend to forget that sometimes, and have moved through my life as if it was just the script that was written for me. I’ve even gotten it down to bullet points. (I refer you to a post from last year–“I Love You Claudine Part I.”)

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that “I Love You Claudine Part II” has yet to be written. It’s the magnum opus, the granddaddy post, and after the conversation with my friend about what follows after Part I, I’m not sure I have it in me to go there, at least right now. I covered the “Part I” in years of therapy, but discontinued before the “Part II” came up.
I’m not trying to be cryptic and I’m sure I will get there eventually. So many of my previous posts are pieces of a complicated puzzle, the prequel as it were, from the Holocaust to a double-suicide. That’s the interesting part–my mother being a Holocaust survivor was always the first in the bullet points. The DOUBLE suicide, not so much. Some of my best friends claim I never told them about the double part. I find that really interesting. Is it that ONE suicide is hard enough to learn about than throwing in the other detail? Is it way too incomprehensible? It does tend to be doubly-dramatic, and more troubling, I guess, than I’ve ever let-on.
My brother has asked me who would be interested in reading all of this, and I’m not sure I’ve come up with an answer that makes any sense. It is certainly a compelling story and it is a way of sharing with people who have known me for many years to get the complete picture. I also love that the strangers who have stumbled upon my blog or been referred to it by friends, appreciate this for the writing, in addition to the narrative.
In any event, it’s obviously just a part of me. I’m not “crying on the inside and laughing on the outside.” The light side of me prevails through the darkest of memories but I don’t ignore them. I either deal with them head on at that moment or push them away for another time. Maybe that’s what I’m doing, at the happiest time of my life–just dodging the dark side.

Like A (Gefilte) Fish Out of (Its Jar Of Gelatinous Stuff)

Last night for work I attended a party at a home in the wealthiest suburb of Boston, which according to Forbes magazine has the 97th most expensive zip code in the United States. According to public record, the house has an estimated worth just shy of $2 million.

For 16 years I have made a living essentially asking rich (or as my boss has taught me to say, “well-resourced”) people for money for the variety of human services agencies I’ve worked for. I’m good at my job because I feel really passionate about the issues I’ve raised money for—at risk youth, the homeless, teen moms—and, I’m not afraid to ask anybody for anything.
These small events are a great and easy way to make money. Board members host at their lovely homes and invite their friends who also live in lovely homes so they can learn more about the work being done at our agency and ultimately whip out their checkbooks and give tons of money on the spot. I’ve planned about 30 of these and have been everywhere from an expansive apartment overlooking Central Park to sitting on couch cushions in a funky Park Slope townhouse, where I’m certain the hostess must have hid her hookah pipe before her guests arrived.
The picture above is the image Google came up with when I searched for WASP. I have absolutely nothing against WASPS. My best friend is the epitome of WASP. The couples at the party weren’t quite so…pink or young, and sadly there were no perfect labs there, but Boston, really because of its proud blue blood history, has a lot of people who look like this, much to their credit. And, I LOVE that woman’s dress.
Every once in a while, when I was still speaking to him, I would mention to my father some event or situation where I may have had conflict with a boss, or some other work or social conflict. The first question he would ask was “Are they Jewish?” It seemed like the most preposterous question in the world to presume that there was some rampant anti-Semitism in every interaction I had with non-Jewish people. In some cases I’ve been the first Jewish person someone has met and after that rather surprising admission I feel like they should meet another one first because I’m not exactly the poster child for Judaism. Even my first husband, a Catholic, ended up knowing more about my religion than I do.
I can’t know this for sure, but I think that most people feel most comfortable around their own. When I go to Long Island or Manhattan, I feel at home, like being there brings out the authenticity in me that isn’t the same in Boston. I have two Jewish friends here who I am very close to. When I first met the second one, we were out on our inaugural getting-to-know-you coffee, and I whispered to her, “Are you Jewish?” in the same way that people whisper about cancer. There was some instant understanding, like we belonged to a secret club. It’s just how it is.
I am very proud of who I am. People seem to learn quickly that I’m the child of a Holocaust survivor giving me some bizarro Jewish seal of approval. That being said, I wouldn’t know that tonight is Rosh Hashanah if I didn’t have Jewish friends on facebook all wishing each other a Happy New Year. I won’t go to services tomorrow or on Yom Kippur.
Of course, the people at the party were lovely and engaging. They didn’t condescend to the teenage mother who came to speak about our programs. Of COURSE I wasn’t the first Jew they had ever met. I might have been the least in shape person there, but certainly it’s not because I’m Jewish. It’s because I’m kind of a slug.
Sometimes, when I’m in a situation where the women are naturally blonde and the men are in Brooks Brothers I feel like this:
That’s my issue, and noone else’s. I am certain in SOME situations, that could be the case (as a matter of fact, with some statements said to me like “Jews are cheap, right?” and in one case, “Is it true that Jewish girls love to fuck?”) I’m reminded that maybe that is what I represent to some incredibly ignorant people, but in reality, not to the rest of my orbit.
So, to all of my delightful Jewish friends, I wish you a very Happy New Year and an easy fast.

The Deadly Sin of ENVY

This is the entrance of the summer “cottage” of Cornelius Vanderbilt. I have walked into that room about 7 times over the years and it always leaves me completely breathless. You can’t see it, but to the right of that chandelier are massive doors that lead out to a ridiculously expansive lawn that sits on the Atlantic Ocean.

The square footage of the Breakers is 65,000 and today would be worth $310 million. Today, Vanderbilt’s net worth would be $183 BILLION while Bill Gates is worth a piddly $40 BILLION. Warren Buffet recently lost $27 BILLION when he saw his stocks lose some value. As of March 2011, Mark Zuckerberg was worth $13.5 BILLION and Facebook, in June 2011, was worth approximately $84 BILLION, give or take.
I’m not going to go into the extraordinary history of this place that took only 2 years to build. It is impossible to describe without seeing it but it literally brings tears to my eyes. I get this great sense of ENVY walking around, standing at the top of the grand staircase looking down over that great hall below.
My husband had never been to Newport until yesterday. Along with my daughter we toured 3 houses (the behind-the-scenes servants tour, sort of the American Gosford Park or Upstairs Downstairs, is the most fascinating hour you will ever spend), my husband marveling over the systems–the circuit breakers, hot water tanks and the secret tunnels where coal was driven in on tracks right into the boiler room–while my daughter and I imagined ourselves taking baths in the marble bathtubs and having seven or so “costume changes” throughout the day. The closet space is ridiculous and the writing desks are so fucking ladylike and elegant it makes me want to cry.

Although somewhat masculine, the library above is where I tend to linger the longest on the self-guided tour. The upper rectangular panels are made out of Spanish leather to mimic the leather bound books in the collection.

Okay, let me get to my ultimate point: My 10-yr old, like me, looked over the grand entrance and said:

“This makes me sad that I can’t live here. I mean, the kids used to slide down those banisters on plastic trays!”

“I know what you mean, honey, it makes me kind of sad too.”

Guilded Age Society people wouldn’t like me very much. I’m kind of loud, and I’d put my elbows on the table. My guestroom would be a mess and I’d leave makeup stains on the towels which would really piss off the maids in charge of laundry. I’d push the buttons to call the butler just for fun and send things down the dumbwaiter to see where they ended up (My daughter compared the dumbwaiters to the elevator in her Barbie Dreamhouse.) I’d sleep too late for croquet and they would call me lazy.

On the way home, as we drove the 10- mile loop with the ocean on our left and other ridiculously gorgeous homes on our right, my daughter again mentioned how sad she was that she couldn’t live there. She asked how she could live in a place like that and I told her that basically, people of great wealth have invented something. “But everything has already been invented,” she said. I again tried to explain that people like Vanderbilt invented things that people didn’t know they needed, but then couldn’t live without. “Kind of like facebook,” I said, because God knows, we couldn’t live without facebook. (I’m still praying that someone invents the perfect umbrella which I hope the man who invented the Dyson is working on.)
“You could marry Justin Bieber,” I suggested, who incidentally, as of this writing, is worth $85 million.

The Meaning of Dreams

In a dream I have almost once a month, my mother did not commit suicide 25 years ago, but has in fact, been living her life somewhere else. In this dream, someone tips me off, and I track her down in what appears to be a rather lively apartment community. Someone sets-up a phone call for us, and she is completely non-plussed and not very happy that she has been discovered. I have yearned to hear her voice and she doesn’t seem to be fazed one way or the other to be hearing mine. She has no excuse for pretending to be dead. It seems like she just wanted to be leading a different life where she never thought she’d be discovered.

In these dreams she hasn’t sold the apartment where she was found dead and the door has been left unlocked. It’s rather large, much bigger than it is in reality. I beg my siblings to keep it so that we all have a place to stay when we come to New York. They decide to sell it. Maybe the message to me should be obvious: LET GO.

In another never-ending series, I host monthly parties at my house. A postcard has gone out in a mass mailing at the beginning of the year with a calendar and time of these, more like an open house, that start at 2:00 and go until an undetermined time. They take place in the house that I grew up in and generally, they are a total failure. I’ve forgotten the dates on the postcard so a smattering of very disparate people will show up, see that there’s no booze, notice that I only have one cd made, and leave while the afternoon sun is still shining.

In another version of this, I’m hosting a dinner party and I’ve gotten one chicken for 10 people or 2 bottles of wine for 20. I leave my house to go shopping (usually to a Whole Foods) where the shelves are empty. I come back and find friends in my kitchen, cooking what they can find in my cabinets, the table set. I feel like an utter failure and my guests are too stunned into silence to even look me in the eye.

In my dreams I’m on planes that are as big as shopping malls with movie theaters and newsstands. These planes never take off but cruise around neighborhoods or hover very closely to the ground. Oftentimes, as we get close to an airport to attempt a takeoff, a plane crashes inches away from ours.

Perhaps the most pervasive dream, and this has been for YEARS, is what I call my “stuff” dream. Nothing has caused me more frustration in my sleep (except for those dreams where I can’t dial the phone, my fingers being too clumsy for the push-buttons).

It has several different versions but it started out as this: It is the last day of summer camp and it takes me hours to pack my father’s rented car. My brother formulates a packing diagram and I am forced to choose things to leave behind. One of the bunks contains what appears to be my own personal library, shelves and shelves of books. I choose the ones I want leaving HUNDREDS behind. In a different room there are racks of clothing, apparently my rather extensive wardrobe of clothes that I have never seen before. Somehow, the owners of the camp decide to let me leave the books and clothes there all winter, on the promise that I would clear everything out before the next summer season.

More recently the dream has morphed into this: I am in a train station, a couple of flights up from the tracks with duffel bags, totes, suitcases and my favorite pillow. As the departure time of my train gets closer, I start taking my bags down to the platform, dragging as many as I can carry at a time. I hear the train squealing into the station, put what I can on the train, but have to make one more trip to get the last of my “stuff.” I have five minutes to go up to wherever I’ve been waiting to make it back down to the train. Not ONCE have I made it, and instead, watch the train pull away with my bags and piles and heaps of stuff, heading on its journey without me on it. (I’ve had this exact same dream with buses but sometimes, I DO make it on the bus.)

Within these dreams are threads of letting go and relinquishing control. There are things that I hate about myself, the way I’ve moved about my life with useless crap that has weighed me down. I clearly fear, especially within these party scenarios, that I am constantly letting people down, never living up to what is expected of me.

However, the most acutely painful of these dreams is in thinking that my mother wouldn’t want to know me now, wouldn’t break down in tears upon hearing my voice, wouldn’t ask questions about her granddaughter or my life. I guess it’s pretty obvious. The thought that she opted out of my life, when she ended hers, makes me feel insignificant, not good enough to have stayed alive for. In reality, I DON”T feel that way, and I know that that is the argument is for why suicide is such a selfish act. I’m not sure what else this dream is trying to tell me. Any suggestions?

Not Exactly Repressed, Just Occasionally Forgotten

Every once in a while I remember that I was almost molested by a total stranger. It pops in and out and when, completely at random, it pops in, I’m like, “Oh yeah, I remember that.”

Growing up during winter vacations, I would go to Miami Beach, WAY pre-trendiness, to visit my grandparents (the trendiest thing at the time was the advent of the 7-Eleven Slurpee which I just learned on Wikipedia are kosher!) My favorite part about going was knowing that my grandparents had Poppycock in the cabinet that I would sneak chunks of when they weren’t looking. I learned from my grandmother how to section grapefruit perfectly before serving it and from my grandfather, if you palmed a tip into the hands of a maitre’d at a Chinese restaurant, you’d get seated more quickly.

Every morning I’d get up and go to the pool where other kids, some of who I grew to know from the years before, would throw their towels down and spend the day (One of these girls lived in Chicago, and when Bubble Yum first came out only in selected markets, I sent her a carton of it, much to her delight.) It was a fairly dull routine but we had no choice. We didn’t drive and there wasn’t much in walking distance. My sister who is 8-years older than I am, had a friend who lived in another complex and would get picked-up to spend the day with her while I watched my grandmother shuffle around picking out dirt from her white carpet and lean into the tv to hear it.

When I was about 8 or 9, there was a building maintenance man who used to hang around the pool and talk to the lifeguards and the guy who handed out the towels. I would see him every day in his blue jumpsuit with his name, (let’s call him “Paco” even though I of course remember his real name), embroidered on his pocket. Paco carried around some sort of transistor radio that he said he could use to communicate with the airline pilots flying above us. This intrigued me so I took great interest in it. At the time, there were two floors being added to my grandparent’s building and he told me that the reception was better from the top floors. So, you get where this is going.

We took an elevator to one of the top floors that was still under construction. I remember EXACTLY what I was wearing–a light chambray dress with some sort of red bandanna-like panel on the neckline. There were doors in the hallways that went outside to small balconies and somehow we ended up on one, with my back leaning against the iron banister. We were something like 36 floors up so no one could see us. I remember him asking me to lift up my dress, which I did slowly, before realizing that something wasn’t quite right. I said that I thought my grandparents would be looking for me, opened the door behind him (which thankfully wasn’t locked) and ran down the hall to the elevator. I pushed the down button over and over and over, he followed me, and somehow, by some miracle, a man must have gone up instead of down, so we weren’t alone in the elevator. I pushed the numbered button of my grandparent’s floor and rang the bell with great urgency.

I remember having a nervous smile on my face but my grandparents still knew right away that something wasn’t right. I remember sitting on the closed lid of the toilet with my grandparents urging me to tell them what had happened. I remember sensing that my sister was pissed off that somehow this was all cutting into her plans.

In my memory, the rest unfolded very quickly. I see it in quick, spliced-together scenes. Someone alerted the police who talked to me very sweetly in the Bingo room. I remember feeling VERY grown up. There was a lot of activity and curiosity from other residents and I remember it being mobbed in the lobby. While I was being questioned, Paco was apparently found hiding in the laundry room.

If this were a thriller, Paco would just be getting out of jail and would somehow find me. He’d start staring in my windows at night, trailing me while I walked the dog, kill my cat and leave a message in blood. When I have remembered this incident I have wondered if this could happen, if he ever knew my full name, but, I know that that’s not a reality.

I don’t mean to sound in any way flip about this experience because I know that this is a VERY serious subject. However, in some ways, it doesn’t even seem like it happened to ME. I wasn’t traumatized by it and I’m obviously extremely grateful that I had the instincts that I somehow had at such a young age. Now, because of so many horrors in our society that go many steps further than this one did, our children know never to do anything as stupid as I did. Ironically, there are more subtle things (and some not nearly so) that have traumatized me much more than this did, not involving sexual abuse, thank God, but also not involving strangers.

I Am Not My Body

I need to stop hating myself because I hate my thighs, my ass, my stomach, my flabby underarms, my hands. I need to stop telling myself that I’m “disgusting” when I see myself in a 3-way mirror. This is no longer okay.

Yesterday I was moved to tears by a snippet in a documentary film called “Life in A Day.” People from all over the world were asked to videotape themselves going about their lives on one particular day in 2010. In one section, the question “What do you fear?” was used as a prompt. Most kids feared ghosts and spiders, adults feared God and loneliness, but one extremely overweight woman in particular, completely in the nude, in stark sepia tones, standing, arms outstretched, said “This is me. This is what I fear.”

I became immobilized. It struck me as the saddest thing I had ever seen and heard. Maybe I misunderstood and she was worried that her body would turn on her at some point, kill her from the inside, but I’m pretty certain my interpretation was the right one.

My body issues are far-reaching and lifelong. When I try to put this in perspective as an adult, I truly realize that I’m not so bad, and according to all sorts of charts and statistics, I’m slightly below the size and weight of the average American woman, not by much, but enough to make me feel a little better (I’m also 5.5 inches TALLER than the average American woman.)

I’m not going to blather on about the media because God knows, that is a tired subject. I am so sick of seeing celebrities in their fucking bikinis with sunburst sidebars about how they lost the 30 lbs they gained during pregnancy in 6 weeks. Good for you. What an AWESOME human being you must be.

This isn’t to say that I don’t look at Beyonce’s legs and thighs and feel so envious, but I don’t bemoan HER for that or hate myself for it either. I think Christina Hendricks from “Mad Men” is exquisite and I have to say, that I have those curves and do feel lucky for them.

I guess I’m extraordinarily hypocritical when it comes to this subject because I haven’t worn a bathing suit bottom in years. My top ½, not so bad, but, the rest, not so good. I wear these swim shorts things and I’ve recently decided that I hate my knees. When I say things about my body to my husband, which is almost every day, I tell him that he doesn’t even need to respond, he doesn’t need to bother telling me how gorgeous and perfect I am. It won’t help until I believe it for myself.

I’ve loved how regular exercise made me look and feel. I dropped a nice amount of weight and I did in fact have more energy. I did love that for about a year I was wearing a size 10 when all I really wanted was to be a perfect size 12. Recently, I’ve cut down on carbs and it shows. I’m certainly not torturing myself and I do treat myself to whatever I want, whenever I want. I know I should start exercising again, but I can’t beat myself up for not doing so right now.

There are many things I’ve come to really like about my body: I adore my collarbone. I’ve figured out a way to pose in pictures that make my arms look defined. When I wear perfectly fitting things, my profile is pretty great. I look really good in a maxi dress. I love the color of my eyes, the size of my lips and my really soft skin. I have a freckle on the fleshy part of my hand below my left thumb that I find strangely sexy. I like that I’m tall, but wish I were one inch taller.

I have a 10-yr old daughter who I think is the most magnificent creature on Earth. I’ve spent a good part of her life just staring at her in awe. She is definitely on the tall trajectory and has grown a bit of a belly, but, when I ask her if she thinks she’s beautiful, she says yes. This isn’t vanity, it’s honesty and it’s remarkable. I’ve always told her that you don’t just come out and say “I’m pretty,” but that you wait until someone says it to you first. She gets this, but I love that she feels great about herself. When she has occasionally said to me “I’m fat” I totally lay into her and tell her that she’s perfect and I don’t want to hear her say that ever again. I wish someone would have said that to me at her age, instead of hiding food from me under the table linens in the hutch in our dining room.