Hunger

I’m half way through reading Hunger by Roxane Gay, and there’s been something on every single page that I wanted to underline, highlight, or scream to the world. I knew I would like her memoir because I like the subject – being a fat woman – and I like her humility – she presents her stories as just that, her stories. She doesn’t proclaim to know more than any other person who has a story. She doesn’t have a solution. She just has her story.

What’s resonating the most right now is the contradiction of wanting to be invisible but being so very visible to the world around you. Wanting so badly to be known but having a narrative projected on you because society can only make you fit with that particular backstory. I can’t stand the idea that women are conditioned to take up less space, and Gay picks up on that over and over again. I found myself thinking for a second that maybe it’s just us, her and me, and we’re the only weirdos who feel this pressure from the world. I know better of course. And that’s why she writes. That’s why I write. We want to know we’re not alone facing these totally ridiculous expectations.

So we write. We tell our stories. While there are differences in our stories, the reasons we turned to food, the ways we feel the pressures and judgments of others, the sentiment is the same: we are not valuable to society. We have no worth. We don’t know how to change that, but it is a fact that must be faced instead of being ignored.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who knows exactly what I’m talking about, but I especially recommend it to people who don’t have any clue what I’m talking about because you need to know, to understand.

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Jabes Branderham, Seventy Times Seven

I think trigger warnings are bullshit, but I know triggers are all too real. I know my triggers well, but that doesn’t mean I always avoid them. It also doesn’t mean I can always control how dark and low I get once they’re pulled. This week, I was down for almost three days. I rationalize it by telling myself that my spin was exacerbated by hormones, so I’m not beating myself up about it. Not too much because I’m trying to forgive myself for sins long ago.

There was a lot of drama and trauma in my life before I even turned ten. Some of it was external, but a lot of it was internal. I was out of control as a young child. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, let’s say around age three for the purposes of setting a scene. I don’t remember everything I did or why, but the stuff I do remember weighs me down with unbearable guilt if I let it. “Tantrum” doesn’t begin to label my behavior. For reasons I still don’t totally understand, I would scream, throw things, hit, kick, punch, scratch people, turn anything into a weapon and use it to destroy anything or anyone. I would spew as much vile hatred as I knew, and I knew a lot of words very early. I would tear clothing and jewelry off my mom when she tried to subdue me. I would try anything I could to physically hurt my brother. If I couldn’t hurt a person, I’d try to break things around me. When I got older, I sometimes tried to hurt myself, or in the process of trying to damage everything around me I would hurt myself. I was completely destructive. Spanking didn’t work. I often told whoever hit me that it felt good. Washing my mouth out with soap didn’t work. I bit the soap and told whoever fed it to me that it tasted good. Locking me in my room didn’t work because I’d just break the furniture. My mom tried to deal with me by pulling my hands so my arms were around my chest and she was holding my hands behind my back, kind of like I was hugging myself. Of course that left my legs and head free to kick and head butt. You might be thinking how much damage could a child that age really do, and yeah, I was three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine when I would do these things, but I was also big for my age, smart for my age, and for lack of a more detailed description, possessed by the devil. I made life hell for my mom and my older brother.

My older brother… That’s what triggered me this week. He must’ve been terrified. He was always bigger and smarter, but my dad put the fear of God in him that if he ever laid a hand on me, even in self defense, his life would be over. Sometimes I wonder if it would’ve been better, if I would have learned fear if my brother had fought back. He didn’t, but he could’ve, and he’s always been stronger, so he could have done major harm to me. Instead he would go to his room and I’d rage at his door with my hands, my feed, sometimes even knives. I don’t know how he did it. I probably would’ve tried to kill someone like me, but he never did. And that terror was compounded by the fact that my mom would spend an inordinate amount of time trying to deal with me instead of being a good parent to him. So not only did I take away his feeling of safety, I also took away his feeling of being loved and protected.

Even when I was getting help, getting more control of myself, and trying to understand why I acted that way, my brother and I still fought. We fought all the time about everything. He was mean in the way that all big brothers are mean – “Do you know who sings this song?” When I’d answer, he’d say, “Good, keep it that way!” to tell me to shut up. – He wouldn’t let me play with him at times. As we got older, he knew my weaknesses and he could eviscerate me with a few sentences, and did. Often. It made me feel like shit, but parts of me still believe I deserved it. I don’t know why he didn’t ever pretend I was dead. I mean, I know he didn’t try to kill me because he was scared of what my dad would do to him and I’m sure he knew it was wrong. But as an older brother, he could have cut me out of his life at any point once he wasn’t living at home anymore. He never did. We haven’t been that close as adults, but he has never disowned me, never shunned me.

I’ve spent a great deal of time working on my relationship with my mom, trying to make amends for the terror, the hell I inflicted. She’s the one I’ve cried on when I begged for forgiveness, when I hated myself for the chaos I’d caused in our home. She’s the one I’ve striven to pay my penance to, the one I’ve tried to make it right with. She has shown me more about how forgiveness works than anyone. She never gave up on me, even when she wanted to. Even when it probably would have been better to send me to one of the many disciplinary “schools” she threatened me with. She is my example of what God’s forgiveness is like. One of the disciples asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone for sinning against him, and Jesus said “seventy times seven.” Four hundred and ninety times you have to forgive someone. Except the lesson was that your forgiveness, like God’s, should be infinite, without limit, freely given even if it’s not asked for. My mom showed me that forgiveness over and over again. She has been instrumental in helping me forgive myself.

I’ve tried to talk to my brother about how I acted, but it was at a time when he wasn’t able to talk to me about it. He told me to forget about it because it was in the past. I can excuse myself in some ways because I was a child and I didn’t entirely know what I was doing, and I certainly didn’t always know why.  I think he can do the same. But I realized last night as I wasn’t sleeping and I was thinking about why I’d been so down the last few days that I haven’t forgiven myself for what I did to him. While I think I’ve forgiven myself for what I did to my mom, and I know she has forgiven me, I haven’t let go of what I did to my brother. It’s a guilty weight I still carry even though it doesn’t come to my conscious on a daily basis.

Forgiveness, true forgiveness, seventy times seven forgiveness that is freely given is hard to come by. More often, forgiveness has to be sought. If someone has wronged me, I want that person to acknowledge that s/he has wronged me, specifically. I want him/her to apologize for it so I believe s/he is genuinely sorry for it. Then the process of forgiveness can begin, not before. I can’t let it go unless the person seems contrite. It’s a huge sticking point for me. It’s why I have tried to tell my mom and brother how sorry I am for what I did, even if I didn’t do any of what I did intentionally. But God urges us to divine forgiveness, a forgiveness that requires nothing of the person who has done us wrong. I feel like that’s what my mom shows me over and over again. I have expressed my remorse and tried to do penance, but even if I hadn’t, she already forgave me. That’s what God does.

That doesn’t make the guilt go away. Nor does it repair the relationship. That’s why God is an example to strive toward, not a blank check to do shitty things to each other. In chapter three of Wuthering Heights, Lockwood freaks the fuck out at the 491st sin Jabes Branderham preaches about. One too many, and he snaps. Jesus did give us a limit when he did the multiplication. We are only human after all. We can be stretched to our limits and we can break each other’s patience and ability to forgive.

I know I stretched my brother past his limits. I know I did not show him enough contrition. He may have forgiven me, but I have not forgiven myself. I punish myself for what I did to him, what I did to my mom, in many unconscious ways. I’ve punished myself for a long time without knowing it. A lot of what I’ve done, the choices I’ve made, has been to make amends to the whole world for what I did to my mom and brother. I’m hard on myself not just because it’s in my genetic make up to be a harsh self-critic and push myself to be better, but also because I feel like I have to make it up to the whole world. I have to earn the forgiveness I won’t freely give myself. I have to punish myself because my brother never did, God never did, my mom never really did. And I do. I punish myself all the time. I beat myself up. I tear myself down. I don’t let myself feel the love around me. I refuse help because I think I’ve taken up enough time and energy out of the world and now I should only be putting time and energy back. Feeling guilty and not forgiving myself are not the only reasons I make unhealthy choices, but they are a substantial part of why I am so hard on myself.

But hating myself, punishing myself, feeling guilty don’t do any good. I can’t undo anything I did before the time I was ten years old. Life isn’t a scale on which I can weigh all the good things I’ve done since I was ten against the bad things I did before that and have it come out in favor of “Laura is good.” I don’t make my brother feel any safer in his life now or any better about his childhood by being horrible to myself. I don’t show him I’m sorry by making myself miserable without even knowing I’m doing it. I’m not showing my mom how much her forgiveness means to me by continuing to feel guilty when she has let it go. None of us will ever forget, but living like it’s still happening, dragging it with me, even subconsciously, doesn’t do anyone any good. Thinking that every person in my life now will hold me accountable for what I did then only poisons new relationships when I’m trying to leach the poison about of the existing ones.

So last night, if only for the night, I released myself. I forgave myself. I let it go. I’ll have to do it seventy times seven more times. And then seventy times seven again. Even if I can’t do it because I am human, I have to strive for the example God set and forgive myself freely. I have to forgive myself for everything, not just what I think I’ve done my penance for or what I think my mother has forgiven. I have to let it all go and know that it has shaped me, but it doesn’t have to define me. And when something triggers the guilt, I have to remember the forgiveness.

Marketable Skills

This may turn in to a poem later, but I decided that I should write something because I didn’t yesterday. Yesterday I tried a new walking route, and clearly only one productive thing can happen per day this week.

So I had to break out the tool box because the knob on my bathroom door came off. It got me thinking of this list of things.

Pop a lock with a credit card

Know the difference between a flat head and Phillips head

Dry wall/sheet rock – measure twice, cut once

Explain any biblical allusion in literature

Know what word you want to use that you don’t know or have forgotten

Have at least three different ways of saying the exact same thing

Recognize celebrity voices within milliseconds

Make a mean sandwich, 30 at a time

Name that song, title and artist, after only hearing a measure or two

Laugh at myself

 

Sharing Space

I’m not easy to live with. I know because I’ve lived with myself for nearly 35 and a half years now. God only knows how my mom and older brother managed. I suppose they didn’t have much of a choice because we’re blood. The roommates I’ve had who aren’t blood, well, they deserve consideration for sainthood.

I’ve lived alone for the last seven years, which is a good thing most days. But as I exclaimed “TOO CEREBRAL” last night while I put my face cream on, I thought of all the things my roommates had to put up with for the length of time they chose (were maybe financially forced?) to live with me.

My college roommate, who I was placed with randomly, became my best friend because we were finishing each other’s sentences the day we met. Among other “fun” things she put up with: She allowed me to keep the room at titty-freezing temperatures. She didn’t mind when I decided to block out all natural light in our second semester of freshmen year (I was going through a break up). She was okay with my weird “NO SEX IN THE DORM ROOM” rule (which, of course, I honored too). She got used to and eventually responded when I made random barnyard animal noises because I was bored. Later when we shared an apartment that was only a one bedroom but felt like a palace compared to the shoe boxes we’d shared, she cleaned the bathroom and kitchen because I’m not the best at noticing dirt (low vision and all). She of all my roommates would have had some vague idea of what the hell I was thinking last night when I exclaimed, “TOO CEREBRAL!”

My first NYC roommate came from the John Mayer fan community. We both had specific living requirements for what would be our first apartment in the big bad city. We both also needed our parents to be guarantors on the lease. I paid less rent because I was in a fake bedroom created by putting up a tension wall (now illegal) in the large living room. It was 8 feet by 12 feet, but I made the most of it and could see Broadway from my window. Neither of us were big party girls, so I think the worst thing she had to put up with was one night when I invited some grad school friends back to our place. I was drunk, as were they, but she was not. And she gracefully let us carry on in the living room and didn’t freak out when one of us spilled red wine on the white sectional. I’m pretty sure it stained. I curtailed my random verbal outbursts in the ten months I lived there, so I’m not sure what she would make of my exclamation last night.

My next, and longest, NYC roommate was a girl I’d gone to middle and high school with. We were very close during those years but had gone different ways for college. Back together again, we found a place in Brooklyn that didn’t have a bath tub, but had separate entrances and bathrooms for each of us. It was like living alone except we shared a kitchen and the cat’s attention. In that apartment, she put up with me clogging my toilet and asking her to unclog it. She was used to some exclamations, but they were usually when we were each watching Nip/Tuck in our own side of the apartment and we were shouting commentary to each other instead of watching it together in the same room on the same TV. We had some things to say about Peter Dinklage’s story arch, okay?

We then moved to a two bedroom, one bath in Astoria, Queens. That was my favorite apartment. In that place, she put up with me having my desk in the living room. It was a huge living room, but it was also a huge desk and I was at it frequently. She also let the living room TV be mostly mine because she had a TV in her room. So, by extension, she didn’t complain on weekends when I didn’t leave the couch in front of that TV. I think we were equally messy in the kitchen and bathroom, and neither of us seemed too pressed to clean. Except when our moms came to visit. Or when we had our moms visit with the express purpose of having them clean for us. I think we’re equal with noises in that apartment – she’d play violin in her room in return for allowing me to sing in mine. She would scold the cat when he thought her hand was a chew toy, and I would scare the cat when I came home drunk and danced around to Lady Gaga (roommate was out on those occasions).

I’ve left out the girl I shared a room with for three weeks in Germany. I don’t think she really counts, but it was interesting to arrive and discover that most of the rooms we had in hotels and B&Bs only had one bed, so as strangers we tried not to disturb each other by moving or stealing covers.

You may notice there are no male roommates on the list. I’ve not had a live-in lover, nor did I ever live with a male roommate. No relationship has ever lasted long enough to get to the “Should we try living together?” stage, though when the time comes, I hope that the guy will understand (and possibly appreciate? dare I aim so high!?!) when I make barnyard animal noises to break the monotony… or was that a symptom of being a college kid unchallenged by her classes because she was not living up to her potential? But a live-in lover would hopefully know what I meant by “TOO CEREBRAL” when I shouted it last night. As for male roommates who aren’t lovers, it never came up, but I never pursued it either because I thought I wouldn’t be comfortable lounging in my PJs in front of the TV if a guy were hovering around. What if that second NYC roomie had been a guy and insisted on having his gaming system hooked up to the living room TV? That would not have worked. At all. (Do you like how I stereotyped guys as being gamers?)

But what did I mean, “TOO CEREBRAL!” Well, that’s easy. I was criticizing myself because I’m so hard to live with because I’m too in my own head. Living alone doesn’t necessarily help to cure the thing I was criticizing, but it sure makes it more acceptable to shout my self-ridicule because no one is around to hear.

Part 6 of X (A bit about Liam)

Fiction and the real world collided this morning while I was channel surfing. I realized I only watch a handful of the channels available to me, so I went exploring while I ate my breakfast (sausage gravy biscuits are heavenly).

I happened on an English Premier league match. It was Swansea v. Newcastle United, a fixture that I used when I began to tell Liam’s backstory. I didn’t look up that it was even a possible match up in the current table, I just picked two teams I know aren’t London-based or mega famous outside of England. Well, okay, so I picked Newcastle because actor Ben Robson is a fan (and my newest celebrity crush). I was tickled to see the match I wrote fictionally happening in real life.

But remember, FICTION means I MADE IT UP! Oh, and today’s entry is a continuation of this, but we last saw Liam here when Hannah left him outside the coffee shop.


Liam lounged on the couch with Manchester City at Arsenal on the big screen and Swansea at Newcastle United streaming on his iPad. Katie was outgrowing naptime, but some days he could manage to get her down for an hour if he ran her ragged earlier in the day. Annie still needed an afternoon nap to make it to bedtime without being a cranky girl. Liam was puzzled by his youngest daughter’s clear understanding of language despite her lack of speech. When she was grumpy, her face was enough to gut him, but the noises she made to express her displeasure sent him into a panic. Not even Annie’s mother could soothe her when she missed a lay down. It was always Katie who stepped in and, using some sister telepathic magic, got Annie to settle. Liam thought Hannah could probably comfort Annie when she was upset. The woman had been so good with both his girls. They immediately liked her. Katie hadn’t stopped talking about her since they parted ways outside the coffee shop. It was all Liam could do to keep his own thoughts off the woman, her sad eyes, her unruly wheat-colored hair, her quick wit; he didn’t need his gregarious daughter’s help to remember he was supposed to text birthday party information. Though it was competitive, he reckoned he wanted to see Hannah again even more than Katie did.

A particularly bad call in the Man City match diverted his thoughts, as did the text alerts on his phone with colleagues’ reactions to the unfair officiating. Liam was sure he’d be analyzing replays of it when he got to work tomorrow. He was relieved he wouldn’t have to rush a commentary for the half like the lads who were in studio today. He was lucky to only work one of the weekend days in return for always doing the UEFA mid-week matches. It let him spend more time with his girls, and it seemed to work with Rebecca’s schedule.

Liam sighed deeply. What were he and Rebecca doing? Surely he wouldn’t be so intrigued by a stranger his daughter had met in the park if things were going well with his wife. They only shared a home three or four days of each week. She preferred to stay in their country cottage as often as possible, only coming into the city for business meetings or when the girls had something to do. She’d made clear that she wasn’t interested in spending time with him on their own. She barely spoke a word to him outside of necessary communication to be good parents to their daughters. All conversations were about the girls – what they should have for breakfast, what the play date diary was like this week, when was the next doctor’s appointment, how soon was the deadline to sign up for music class. Yes, they talked plenty because they both loved their daughters more than anything in the world, but that was where the discussions stopped.

Gone were the days of lingering at the breakfast table to laugh at some morning TV program. The nights of quietly making love so they didn’t wake infant Katie had vanished. Even the trivial parsing out of household chores wasn’t a conversation anymore. Rebecca took care of everything at the cottage and left Liam to do the same at the house in the city. When they did find themselves living under the same roof, they fell into their old routine of taking turns – when Rebecca did the cooking, Liam did the washing up. When Liam got the groceries, Rebecca did the laundry. Whoever noticed the bin was full first took it outside. More often, they each shopped, prepared meals, and did laundry for themselves and the girls, not bothering to worry about how the other would feed or clothe themselves. They never talked about who would do what, much less argued about it.

It was isolating. Liam didn’t understand how it had gotten to be this way. Certainly things had changed when Annie started to crawl and walk. Two young children took up a lot of energy. Rebecca’s sister helped often, and they spent their collective fortunes wisely when it came to getting help around the house. They had cleaners come in weekly and a gardener twice a month. But they both insisted on not having a full-time nanny or a cook of any sort. They wanted to maintain a level of normalcy, even humility, for their family life. Rebecca had been a model before she quit to pursue her love for fashion design. Liam, of course, knew from his football days how fame and money could warp a person’s perception of reality. Neither of them wanted a celebrity lifestyle or its trappings. They wanted their family to be happy and comfortable.

Katie and Annie were definitely happy and comfortable, but Liam was neither when it came to his relationship with his wife. That couldn’t be the sacrifice couples had to make for being good parents, could it? Plenty of his mates had children, careers, and loving relationships with their partners. He knew it was an effort for some of them, carving out time to be a couple on their own, planning date nights so they remembered what it was like to eat out without the children rushing the meal along, enlisting grandparents to watch the kids during short romantic getaways. It wasn’t impossible to be in love with your wife and be a good father to your children. So why did it seem impossible for him to even talk to Rebecca?

He searched his memory for when he first noticed the change. It wasn’t an easy task because they’d been together for what felt like forever. Rebecca was a fresh face in the modeling world when he was breaking into the top flight of the Premier League, so it was natural that they ran into each other at parties and events. Though she was a bit naive, she wasn’t vapid like some of the other models he’d met as his star rose. He wrote off the naiveté as part of her age – Rebecca was 19 and he 22 when they decided they’d make a go of a relationship. Thirteen years on, they’d been through a lot together. Liam had been a mainstay in the starting lineup for QPR for four seasons before the knee injury that ended his career and threatened to leave him dependent on a cane for the rest of his life. Rebecca was by his side through the experimental surgeries and grueling rehab when she could have cut and run to be with someone whose prospects hadn’t been ruined by a dirty tackle. She’d stayed by Liam’s side and made sure her jobs didn’t interfere with her ability to take care of him.

Once he was able to walk on his own, he began working with his physical therapist to be able to get down on one knee to propose to Rebecca. They married five years after they started dating, and Rebecca quit modeling shortly after that to redirect her career to designing fashion instead of only wearing it. Liam supported her through the transition, as she’d done for him. Rebecca didn’t endure any physical pain as she left modeling, but she suffered emotionally because so many people in the business discounted her as a pretty face with an empty head. Liam saw her through those challenges, always encouraging her to keep going if design was truly her dream. He hadn’t branched into broadcasting yet, so he could devote a lot of time to being a caring husband. Their savings from the fields they left behind and some lucrative endorsement deals made it easier for Rebecca to explore her interest while Liam decided on his next move. Together they had reinvented themselves. They were no longer the footballer and the model. Now they were the sports journalist and the fashion designer. Change was a constant in their relationship; they had always taken it in stride.

Liam knew Rebecca had struggled a bit after Annie was born. She had turned 30 that same year, and many of her friends who still modeled were lamenting the passing of time. Aging and motherhood combined got to Rebecca when neither alone had shaken her before. Liam didn’t really understand it, but he tried to show her that the changes motherhood had made to her body didn’t bother him. In fact, he tried to show her as often as possible that the body she had post-baby was even more desirable to him than the waif she’d been when they first met. He also tried his damnedest to tell her the laugh lines that disappeared after she finished laughing had always been there, that they were no more defined now than they’d ever been. It didn’t matter though. Rebecca was obsessed with exercise, health foods, creams, and serums. Liam couldn’t keep up with it all. He’d tried to feign enthusiasm to make her happy, but her new obsession with her appearance exhausted him. Even in her modeling days, she would tuck in to a bacon cheeseburger with him. Since she stopped breast feeding Annie, it was all vegan, organic, gluten free, caveman food… He didn’t even know.

Liam scrubbed his stubble. That was it, wasn’t it? They’d changed so much together, but Rebecca’s more recent changes were made without him. They couldn’t share a meal anymore because he still wanted meat and potatoes and she wanted stuff he didn’t know how to pronounce, let alone how to prepare. He felt like he was getting better with age, gaining wisdom and perspective, while Rebecca felt aging was her enemy. He was aware that the world was harsher on women and Rebecca had made a name for herself in an industry that fetishized youth to a dangerous degree. Her apathy to the cult of youth was one of the qualities that made him fall in love with her. She was an anomaly in her original profession, but now that she was out of its spotlight, she was succumbing to its ridiculous standards. Liam didn’t understand why, and it was a growing gulf between them.

Liam turned his attention to a brilliant block in the Swansea match. It was an impressive display of goalkeeping. He was disappointed in the central defenders who let the striker get the shot off in the first place, but that’s why the save had been great. He missed the days of holding a strong back line so his goal keeper didn’t have much work to do. He also missed the days of climbing into the air to beat another defender to a header, burying one in the back of an opponent’s net. He was happy he could still make a living by being a part of the beautiful game, but he missed the adrenaline rush, the feeling of being a part of a team, the flexibility and agility he no longer had. He still got out on the pitch every now and then despite his body’s inability to do all the things it used to. He was lucky to be fit enough to walk without assistance, so he never complained aloud about what he missed. He’d probably be nearing the end of his career now anyway. Some players kept going past 35, but he figured he would be ready to call it quits with Katie starting school next year.

Katie was going to be brilliant. Liam was in awe of her most days, wondering how he had been a part of creating this little human who ran him in circles physically and mentally. She talked a mile a minute, which wasn’t a surprise, but what she said was so intelligent he sometimes worried she knew too much for her age. When he’d noticed she was missing from the playground earlier that day, he panicked. While Annie wouldn’t wander too far, Katie was fearless and articulate; she could make it to Dover on her own if she put her mind to it. Luckily she hadn’t gone that far. And she’d found Hannah. Hannah who had the saddest eyes he’d ever seen, who Katie said looked that way when she was sitting alone in Hampstead Heath. Hannah who told Katie that she’d lost something. Hannah who gently encouraged Katie to the correct spelling of coffee. Hannah who blushed in the sweetest way when she thought her shirt was inappropriate for children who didn’t even notice it… or because she realized he was looking at her boobs. Hannah who was a doctor and whose eyes lit up when Katie challenged him to explain the difference between wife, husband, and partner. Hannah had tried to hold back a grin when he told Katie to ask him again when she was older. He bet Hannah had an answer for her. He appreciated that she didn’t make him look like an eejit in front of his daughters.

Liam had so many questions about Hannah. What was her area of expertise? How did she get to be so good with children? Did she like sport? She had said she recognized him; was she a football fan? What was she doing when Katie wandered up to her? Most of all, Liam wondered why she was so sad and if there was anything he could do to take away some of her misery. He wanted more than anything to see her smile. If he could be the reason for her to smile, he felt like he would be able to fly.

It didn’t make sense. Hannah was a stranger. Liam had talked with her all of an hour. Yet he still wanted to banish her sadness, to make her laugh, to know what she was like when she was Katie’s age. He wanted to come home and find her coloring with his girls in their playroom. He couldn’t stop thinking about what she would look like with her hair loosed from that ponytail she kept adjusting. He wanted to listen to her speak in as many accents as she could, and he guessed she could do more than a perfect Dublin lilt. He imagined his daughters laughing when he tried and failed to match Hannah’s talents. What was her family like? Why was she in London instead of working in the States? Liam realized he didn’t even know the basics: how old was Hannah? Was she in a relationship? Where did she work? He wanted to know everything. He scrolled to her number in his contacts and opened a text conversation.

Liam started typing “how old are you?” without thinking. He was about to press send when he realized it was incredibly rude to ask her age, especially to open a digital conversation with that question. He erased it and started over. “Hi, it’s Liam,” he typed and let his thumb hover over send. Stupid. She already knew his number; she’d put it in her phone when they exchanged numbers and he gave her the basic birthday party details. He erased again. He laughed at himself. He was nervous about sending a text message to a woman he was attracted to. Liam, a married 35 year old public figure with two daughters was composing and erasing text messages to a woman who had a PhD in he didn’t know what and had the saddest eyes he’d ever seen. What was he doing?

Liam was being ridiculous, that’s what he was doing. He deleted the open conversation and put his phone away. It was halftime in both games, a great opportunity to get a beer. He left the media room office he’d set up on the garden level of the house and checked that Annie and Katie were both still napping. If there weren’t matches on that he’d have to know about for tomorrow, he would have watched either one of them sleep. They were perfect any time, but they were especially angelic in their sleep. He loved watching as their faces changed with their dreams. He thrilled to hear their even breathing and tried to match his own to theirs. It was peaceful, a kind of prayer or meditation. Liam gave each of them a light kiss on the forehead. He was back in his seat to watch his colleagues in studio analyze the first halves of all the matches. Liam forced thoughts of Hannah from his mind as he sipped his beer and respectfully disagreed with one of his colleague’s comments about the bad call that had cost Man City an opportunity on goal.

Fashion is DANGER

If you don’t know the song this entry takes its title from, check it out here because Flight of the Conchords are worth your time.

I bought a sweater from J. Jill. It arrived in the mail today. I love it; however, I don’t feel worthy of its cuteness. It’s stylish. I am not. I have no personal “look” to speak of. In college, I bitched to a friend that I had to get all dressed up for a family thing. Her reply was, “What is dressed up to you, jeans and a t-shirt?” Okay, well, college is a weird time during which you don’t really have to leave your pajamas if you live on campus, which I did all four years. I do know what it means to get dressed up and can do it every now and again, but there’s no overarching theme to my wardrobe. There never has been. I’m all about comfort over style. And this sweater is not only stylish, it is also very comfortable. And I am not worthy of it.

Which makes me think of all the other things that the media tells me I’m not worthy of for various reasons. When did people start caring about the length and thickness of eyelashes? Was it before or after they started to worry about how white their teeth were? My teeth and eyelashes don’t measure up, so I must be a hideous beast. BUT the sweater came in tall sizes, so maybe I’m not doing everything wrong?!

Speaking of advertising, my mom and I have been tracking a trend. Owls in commercials. Mom has a bone spur, so she was fairly inactive when I was home. We watched a lot of MONK, as you do. We observed that an owl is the spokes animal for an allergy medication (xyzal?… wise-all rhymes with, so use an owl… I guess that’s the logic.) Then there’s Trip Advisor. Then we saw one for a different allergy medicine (that one’s name didn’t register in my brain, so YOU FAIL advertising executives!) Since coming back to NYC, I’ve seen an owl advertising glasses and an online university (WGU). That’s five different products or services being represented by an owl. I may even be forgetting one that mom and I saw. Who is doing PR for owls? They are crushing it right now. But it made me wonder because owls are symbolic of wisdom and another societal trend is to de-intellectualize everything and call anyone who values intelligence an “elite.” So while we’re being brainwashed by owl advertising, we’re also rejecting the idea the owl symbolizes (or has symbolized throughout the ages). I don’t get it!

Another ad I really REALLY don’t get, and also find deeply disturbing, like give-me-bad-dreams upsetting, is for a product I can’t identify because I’m so afraid of the … mascot? Is that even the right word? It’s called a puppy monkey baby. It has the head of a pug or bulldog, the body and arms of a monkey (presumably at least, based on the words and the amount of hair) and the butt and legs of a diaper-wearing baby. The… thing… busts through the door of some dudes’ apartment and dances around before waltzing down a hallway. Like I said, I’m not totally sure what it’s selling because it scares me so much that my brain stops working when I see it.

So maybe I shouldn’t worry about my personal style or being worthy of the cute sweater. Maybe I should continue to do whatever I want in terms of my clothing, beauty, and hygiene. Maybe ignoring any and all media messaging is impossible but admirable. Maybe I’m going to go buy every product and service represented by an owl.

Or maybe I’ll just wear the cute sweater and feel like I’m cute for a few hours of my life.

A Thousand Ways to Die

Yesterday I wrote, but it was in a journal while I hung out in the Union Square Barnes & Noble cafe and listened to other people who were doing the same. Being out and about during the day is going to be an anthropological study, so there’s that to look forward to.

I had two doctors’ appointments back to back. For some reason, the older I’ve gotten, the more magical doctors’ appointments have become because one always turns into more. These two were no exception. Tuesday’s sprouted another (which I think will sprout yet another when I call to schedule it) and Wednesday’s sprouted two more. It might surprise you at this point to hear that both doctors told me everything is totally fine with me. I’m smart enough to know they aren’t lying. They are trying their professional and personal best to make sure everything remains okay, and for that I am grateful.

I’ve had a strange relationship with death my whole life. It’s not that I’ve been obsessed with it or constantly afraid of it. I think I understood from an early age that death was real and could happen any time. When I was young, I’m pretty sure I thought I’d die of skin cancer. I knew I should put on sunscreen all the time, but I didn’t. I got burn after burn. I’m not even sure if mom tried to scare me by telling me about skin cancer – I don’t remember her using fear to parent ever actually. She did that with my older brother by putting a rubber snake in his doorway so he would stay in bed, and to this day he’s terrified of snakes. The guilt is something she still lives with even though it happened 35 years ago. Anyway, regardless of where the idea came from, I assumed I’d die of skin cancer and that was that. There was an outside possibility that I’d go in a horrible bike accident, but I’d been over the handle bars a few times and lived to tell about it, so skin cancer seemed more likely.

Then I got hit by a car for the first time. Okay, maybe “tapped” is a better verb. The car made contact with my body while we were both in motion, so call that what you will. I was riding my bike home from a volunteer counselor-in-training gig for a summer program at the local elementary school. It was about a mile from home. I was 14. I’d gone farther on my bike at 11 or 12 for a summer music program, violin strapped to my back and all, so this didn’t seem like a big deal. It had been raining in the morning, but it had cleared by the time I was going home, so the rain poncho I’d worn while I rode in was safely tucked into my backpack. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, even though I had one somewhere. The big white car was turning right on red and didn’t look to see that I was in the crosswalk. I, being legally blind, couldn’t tell that the driver was looking at oncoming cars from the left instead of anyone who was crossing WITH THE LIGHT to his right. Boom. When I was on the ground, looking up, I first realized that I wasn’t dead, head cracked open in the road, because my backpack had flopped up and cradled my head. I don’t know that the impact without that would have killed me, but I’m very pleased I didn’t have to find out. I then felt metal on my lips and instantaneously realized it was my bike lock key, which was on a white string around my neck. It had flipped up into my face as I fell. Assessing these two pieces of information made me realize I was okay enough to think, so next I thought, “WHAT THE FUCK, YOU ASS HOLE. I HAD THE RIGHT OF WAY!” to the driver. Third thought, friends. I don’t waste time! I assess the damage and then RAGE!

The driver and others on the road got out to help me. My bike was toast because one of his front tires had run over my front tire. I had an impact wound on my left shin that was starting to bleed, but nothing else seemed wrong. The driver, an old man for an old car, offered to drive me home, but I didn’t trust his skills with an automobile. And I was pissed at him for HITTING ME WITH HIS CAR. Home was still a mile away, but I was pissed enough to walk through any pain and drag my bike with me. Of course, the pain set in faster than I expected. I tried to stop in all the churches I passed because I trusted a church to have a phone so I could call my mom. She was a trustworthy driver. She had never hit me with her car (even though she very much wanted to more than I few times, I’m sure). No luck, which also made my angry. The church I went to was always open, so what was wrong with these places? I finally got home and threw my bike down on the side walk. I went into the house, yelling what had happened, and then jumped up on the kitchen counter to extend my now totally bloody and swollen leg. Then and only then did I cry.

Harrowing, but not life threatening. It did teach me how easy it is with my vision to miss something. I figured I would definitely die in some kind of car accident because of that incident.

A year and a half later, I was approaching my 16th birthday, and I was miserable. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was in therapy and on meds, but everything was horrible. It was my sophomore year of high school, and nothing was going the way it was “supposed to.” (“Supposed to” being some of the most dangerous words in the English language). I took matters into my own hands and overdosed on three different medications. In the back of my mind I knew it wouldn’t kill me. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew I wouldn’t die even though I wanted to. Obviously I was right. The morning after, I threw the note I’d written at my mom and yelled, “I guess I can’t do anything right!” In total shock, mom said I could stay home from school that day and left for work. She didn’t stay. When she got her head about her again, she came home and took me to the ER. They didn’t pump my stomach, but they fed me charcoal. And by the time I was puking it back up, I was crying and apologizing for being so stupid and selfish. But you can’t try to kill yourself and then just go home. I had to be put in the psych ward of the local hospital. Now, the local hospital is an extraordinary facility… except for their psych ward. They also don’t have a separate place for children and adults, so at a week shy of my 16th birthday, I was in with (mostly) men in there forties and fifties. The only thing my three nights there accomplished was to scare the shit out of me enough to make me never ever want to attempt suicide again.

There is a whole mess of stuff I could say about that particular incident, but for the purpose of this entry’s focus, I will conclude by saying it changed my relationship to death. If I’d had any kind of fear of death before, it was completely gone now. I’d forced myself to look mortality in the eye, so I was no longer scared of it. I no longer actively sought my own death like I had in the misery leading me to overdose, but at the same time, I didn’t fear it. I recognized it for what it is: an inevitable part of life. Also, it showed me the love and support I wasn’t allowing myself to feel, a huge portion of which came from my church family, so in a weird way, it reaffirmed my faith in God and all He promises us about what comes after this life.

Then I got hit by a New York City taxicab when I was 21. Okay, “clipped” might be a better word. But again, it made contact with my body while we were both in motion, so there’s really no way to get around it. It was my fault this time because I was scurrying across Broadway against the solid don’t walk light. I had fewer injuries, but a prized pair of Mary Janes lost its life to the velocity of the cab. Of course, it was almost seven years to the day of my other car collision, so in addition to thinking I’d be killed by a car, I also thought I’d happen either in seven years’ time or, working with half-lives, in three and a half years. I’m happy to say I have NOT been hit, tapped, or clipped by a car since, so I was wrong about the timing, but I’m still a little convinced that it’ll be a car that does me in.

I say again, I’m not obsessed with death. This isn’t something I sit around thinking about. It just so happens that my magically multiplying doctors’ appointments made me think about it.

I was confronted with mortality again when mom had an atypical heart attach when I was 26. That’s a long story for another time (and the basis for a novel I’m slowly figuring out).

The next time I thought I might die is chronicled in my short-lived weight loss surgery blog that I linked to in my first entry. The initial surgery to put the Lap Band in went perfectly. It was about 10 months later when I couldn’t eat or drink anything without immediately throwing it back up that I had a big problem. I didn’t think I was at death’s door, but I didn’t know what to make of having to have a revision surgery. I also felt terrible, like I’d done it to myself, because the surgery was to correct me choosing to put a foreign object into my body. And there’s always the risk of not waking up from anesthesia. The doctor who’d done the original surgery is in NYC, but I was in NoVA at the time, so that made me anxious too. Luckily, the doctor in NoVA was a very handsome man in his late 30s who had an excellent bedside manner and wasn’t afraid of a lawsuit, so he reached out many times and held my hand when he saw I was getting scared about test results and next steps. I came out of it all fine. (and wrote the cute doctor a thank you note for how wonderfully he’d dealt with my anxiety.)

13 months later, I WANTED to go play in traffic and get hit by a car because I was in so much pain. That was my gall bladder. The ER I went to that night was not cool, not cool at all. Fortunately and unfortunately, I was so sick that they couldn’t operate on me, and I found out my weight loss surgeon could perform my gall bladder removal. Hooray! I trust her completely, so she can cut me open whenever. In the ER though, while they were doing tests, I honestly didn’t know what was wrong with me and wondered if it was severe enough to kill me. Judgmentally, I also wondered if the doctors and nurses there were incompetent enough to accidentally kill me. In my defense, they didn’t listen to anything I said about my medical history and how I was feeling. They didn’t give a shit that I told them information that would have saved a lot of time, resources, and money. And when they were satisfied with the empirical evidence they’d extracted and analyzed at 8 am (the same information that I told them when I went in at 11:30 the night before) they didn’t give a shit about managing my pain while I waited for more tests or being gentle with me during the new battery of tests.

Only a few months after my gall bladder, the biggie smacked me in the face. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mom died of breast cancer that metastasized into bone and brain cancer. While we fought tooth and nail to keep mom alive, I was also confronted with the reality that this could be genetic. I could have a very clear picture of what’s really truly going to kill me. It’s not skin cancer. It’s not a car. It’s not myself. It’s not abdominal pain from a slipped Lap Band or a gall bladder infection. It’s breast cancer.

In 2014, after mom had gotten through the worst of it, I started (slowly) taking care of myself again. By that I mean I went back to the OB/GYN for the first time in about five years. Yeah, I know. It’s called an annual, not a “whenever I decide to go.” Hearing my medical history and my family history prompted the doctor to suggest I talk to a breast surgeon, the person who would potentially run the genetic testing on me and who would definitely do baseline monogramming. My best friend was in the middle of her own fight with breast cancer at the time – the same order and level of treatment my mom needed but with fewer complications because she is much younger and healthier than mom was when she went in to her hell. Anyway, I was on the fence about testing. It turned out I didn’t have to worry about it after all because the breast surgeon’s receptionists never found my referral, so I let it go.

Well, you guessed it. One of my appointments this week was the OB/GYN, and now that I’m 35, she very much wants me to at least have a conversation with the breast surgeon to talk about what my best options are from a preventative standpoint. Like I said, everything is fine now, and she wants it to stay that way. There’s also no rush because my mom and grandma were diagnosed in their 60s. I am less on the fence about getting the genetic testing now. My instinct says, “don’t bother, just live.” The vain part of me says, “Hey, if they can reconstruct your boobs with fat from other places on your body, that kinda kills two birds with one stone!” (Because if I test positive, the next step would likely be a full mastectomy to remove all breast tissue, like Angelina Jolie did a while back). Does insurance even cover the test though? So many unknowns.

But it got me thinking about death, not in a macabre, depressed way. Just in the kind of flippant way I’ve outlined my life history with death here. Like anything in life, if you can’t laugh about it, it’s probably going to end up killing you. So, HA HA DEATH! I’m sure you’re coming, and I thought you’d be a car for a long time, but if you’re going to be breast cancer, then that’s fine too.

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

I kind of hate the expression “it’s the first day of the rest of your life” because that’s true of every day. I find people misuse it. But it’s true today as everyone – at least everyone in my orbit – goes back to school. Most of my friends are teachers, but many of those who are not have kids who started school today.

Not me. Though I slept as poorly last night and woke as early this morning as if I was going to work, I didn’t. I also didn’t stretch and walk, but I did get coffee and eavesdrop on a cute conversation between a little kid and his mom as I was coming home. I did chores around the house before showering and going to a doctor’s appointment. I ate lunch while channel surfing. Then I read while the cat snuggled with me on the couch.

It is surreal. In late June, when I was walking away, it didn’t feel real either. I guessed that today it would feel more real. It’s more real now than it was then, but there’s something still dreamy about it. I’m not worried about making copies or decorating my classroom or sweating in a building with no AC. I’m not trying to negotiate drawer space with a roommate. I’m not scanning my rosters to see if I know any of my students already, hoping I do because it means I have fewer names to learn – even if it’s a kid I never wanted to see again, that’s one less name. I know without a doubt I would have done all those things today if I went back, so it’s very real that I didn’t do any of them.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about the other things I’m not doing right now that I would be doing my first day back. I’m relieved by most of it, but there were a few things that struck me as things I have taken for granted as I’ve moved through my teaching career.

The first is that most of my friends are teachers. A lot of the socializing I do during the school year is with colleagues who have become friends. It occurred to me that I might meet non-teachers while I’m not teaching! I might have energy later in the day to see my non-teacher friends more often.  I can also deepen my relationships with friends from work if we keep up with each other because, while I will get the scoop on what I’m missing, we can expand our conversations beyond the insanity of the school machine.  I’ll also discover whether or not I’m a total shut-in without the socialization working provides.

I also thought about the kids I worry about, the ones who I won’t see in the halls, the ones who won’t come to see me after school.  I won’t get to help any students with their college application essays. I’ve done that every single year of my career since student teaching, and while it’s a headache to read some of the drivel they think colleges will be interested in, it is also delightful to do one on one tutoring and watch a kid have a breakthrough about how to show something about him/herself in a new way. It’s been one of the most fulfilling parts of my job because it is so immediately applicable for the students. It’s a concrete contribution to their futures. I thought about the kids who struggled to find their place, the ones who hated everything about school except my class. They won’t get to pop in to my classroom after school and have a minute to decompress, and I won’t get to commiserate with them and tell them to hang in there.

The last thing I thought about is what I tell people I do for a living.  When I was in NoVA at church with mom, everyone I ran into asked when I go back to school. I didn’t hesitate to say I’M NOT, but I then struggled to say what I AM doing. Similarly, when you meet new people, they ask “what do you do?” I don’t want to put people off by having a snarky response (even though a huge part of me wants to challenge people to explain why that’s a conversational convention), so what will I say? “Teacher” has been my identity for a long time. If I say that to someone I meet mid-day or late night now, s/he might wonder why I’m not in school or in bed resting up for tomorrow. I can always say I’m on sabbatical because I essentially am, despite what the DOE calls it. I can say I’m a writer maybe. I haven’t decided yet, but it falls into the list of things I’ve taken for granted in years past.

As the reality of my time-out, gap year, walk about settles over me, I’m sure I’ll have myriad emotions. The first pay period when the direct deposit doesn’t hit my bank account will probably drive it all home, starting with a panic attack.

Freedom is the strongest grounding factor to this new reality. I can do anything, whatever I want. I just have to decide what that is, be okay if it changes, and get to it.

But if today is the FIRST day of the rest of my life, does that mean tomorrow is the second? And isn’t first the worst, second the best, and third… the one with the hairy chest?

Rainy Day Thoughts

Most of what I’ve been up to this summer has involved finding a routine for myself when I’m not working. I didn’t expect to be in this situation during my leave of absence. I expected to either be teaching internationally or pursuing a second Masters internationally. Both paths would have provided a schedule for me. As is usually the case, plans mean nothing. I’ve faced the challenge of figuring out what a day looks like if I only have myself to answer to.

My cat getting diagnosed with diabetes certainly added a bit of structure, so now the first order of business is to feed him and give him his insulin. If I’m on track, the next item on the “to do” list is stretching. I know this sounds stupid, but I don’t stretch nearly enough and my body makes weird sounds as punishment. I probably don’t stretch the correct way or amount, but I’m working on it. It’s a part of my day. Then I go for a walk. I don’t measure my walks in miles or time really; I just walk.

This morning I walked even though it was drizzling when I left my apartment. I don’t mind clouds and drizzle. I don’t mind heavier rain either. About two thirds of the way through my walk today, the rain picked up. It didn’t bother me at all. It did prevent me from sweating, but the cool temperature did that too. It also got me thinking about other times I’ve been caught in the rain and how mother nature flipped a switch as soon as September rolled around.

My first time in London was to study for a semester in 2002. I arrived in late August to gorgeous blue skies. Everyone had warned me that London would be dreary, dark, damp. I didn’t care. And it didn’t appear to be true all through the rest of August and into September. There were occasional afternoon showers, but nothing lasting. One of my professors warned us that we shouldn’t speak to soon, that come October 1st, there wouldn’t be a single day without rain, even if the sun tried to peek out for a few minutes. I didn’t really believe her, but sure enough, October 1st came and the gloom settled in to stay. It’s not like it was always pouring down rain, but it was noticeably less sunny than it had been my first five or six weeks there. The days also started getting shorter. It was my first experience being that far north, so it took some time to adjust to a 3pm sunset in early December.

It seems like the northeast US has taken a cue from British weather this year. On September 1st the temperature dropped and the rain started late in the day on the 2nd. I’m sure there are a lot of people complaining about that, but I’m not among them. I’ll take cooler temperatures any day. As my walk today showed, I don’t melt in the rain (even though the majority of what I ate yesterday was sugar, I am apparently not as sweet as sugar, melt in the rain).

Two distinct rainy London memories came to mind as I walked, the first more nonsensical than the second. Here’s the second, which I also wrote a song about at the time (ha ha, I thought I could write songs!)

I was living near the Baker Street tube in Regents Park, so if you picture central London as a clock face, I was at 12 o’clock. I’d made plans to visit a friend at her flat in Pimlico/Victoria on a Sunday evening. That’s about 6:30 on the central London clock face. The easiest way to get their would have been the circle line (yellow) because, well, it runs in a circle around central London; however, the fastest way to get there is cutting through the clock, taking Bakerloo (brown) south and changing to Victoria (light blue) at Oxford Circus.  Even with the transfer on a weekend evening, it was faster than all the stops on the Circle line. I hadn’t chosen my footwear, jeans, or coat wisely, nor did I have a mobile phone, especially not one loaded with Google Maps, at the time. The soles of my shoes were too thin, the hem of my jeans was too long, and my jacket was wool, not some high tech  quick dry material made in a lab. I got to Victoria station and remembered that my friend told me to exit through the mall that is attached to it, except I couldn’t remember which direction. Good job some of my wandering around was inside, otherwise I would’ve been drowned. Enough of it was outside, though, that the cold November evening rain soaked me to the bone. My shoes might as well have been flippers. My jeans absorbed the puddled water all the way up to my knees, where the driving rain took over saturating my thighs. While my upper body was warm inside my wool coat, I did begin to smell like a wet dog, as you might expect with a wool pea coat. I didn’t have a hat or umbrella, so my hair was plastered to my face and neck. I wandered around Victoria and Pimlico for at least an hour before I gave up and went back to the dorms.

You might think the tenor of the song I wrote when I finally dried off and got warm would have been reflective of the misery such a failed visit with a friend made me feel. Not so! It’s entitled “I’m Alright” and the sentiment is approximately “sometimes you get caught in a cold downpour, but HEY. It’s okay.”

The Far-Reaching Arm of Influence

I’ve always made an impression on people. I have always been tall, which coupled with my lack of pigmentation, made me stand out. I have a loud voice and a big mouth to match my big personality, even when I try to bite my tongue and tamp down my opinions/ideas/emotions. I’ve never questioned that I’m memorable. I’ve known I am.

What I wonder about is how people remember me, what they remember about me. Sure, the totally crazy things I saw are often very memorable to those who hear them, but I don’t always mean what I say, much less remember it.

It is these crazy statements that come flying out of my mouth that former students have remembered in some cases. I ran into a former student on the subway once and she told me the most vivid memory from my class was me telling a story about the first guy I ever asked out on a date. And how he turned out to be gay. LOVELY! Another former student remembers how I absolutely roasted another classmate about saying something completely idiotic. Another recalls a 4/20 when I told a kid he should take off his sunglasses and invest in some eye drops to be less obvious. My legacy as an English teacher might be negligible, but I feel confident that I could try my hand as a comedian.

In less ridiculous cases, former students remember things that I didn’t think I emphasized, but I’m glad it’s what they took away from class. When I’ve taught The Stranger and existentialism, students have tended to take notice. One took it to heart on a delay and wrote me a wonderful note about how he had to create his meaning for life first by being thankful to those who had helped him along the way (I was one of them) and verbalizing his thanks while asking for forgiveness for not thanking them sooner. Another student changed his perspective on misogyny in pop culture. He no longer found humor in anything that fostered rape culture after a side comment I made one day.

Then there are the former students who have gone on to careers in some way related to communications. I know I’m not the only reason they pursued those paths, even when they say it’s all because of me, but it is still a kick to see them published. It’s even more exciting (and possibly terrifying) that some of them go into teaching, whether it’s English or another subject area. I know from my own teachers who unconsciously drew me to the profession that I am a part of that for better or worse. People become teachers for lots of reasons, but I think we all have a common the fact that we had some amazing teachers ourselves and that we had some teachers who were the worst. We teach because we want to emulate those who changed our lives for the better and try to make sure no other kid has a teacher as bad as the one who scarred us in some way.

As often as I underestimate my influence as a teacher, I am more blind to the way I influence people in my life outside of the classroom. I’m surprised any time someone tells me they do things a certain way or made a particular decision because of something I said or did. It’s strange. Since I became a big sister, I’ve known my siblings would look up to me, but beyond that, I don’t think of myself as a trendsetter, role model, powerful influence.

But I’m learning that I don’t know the impact I’m having on people. Through the grapevine, I learned that my never-was step sister decided to study abroad in Dublin because she saw how much fun I had in London in 2002. She fell in love while she was there and went back to marry the man. She credits me for the shape her life took (at least according to the grapevine). Lead by example, I guess? Though I didn’t marry a Londoner and move there, to be even in part responsible for her choices is incredible.

We don’t really have control over much in life, but we do control ourselves to an extent. Though I haven’t always lived like everyone was watching to see what I’d do, I’ve always thought about the big picture of good and bad – whether I was taking that to the religious levels of heaven and hell, I’m not sure.  Most often, I’ve tried to land on the side of good. I’m floored that some of the choices I’ve made have benefited others without me knowing it in the moment. It’s trippy though.

Of course, I can’t let how my choices will influence others dictate what I do either. It’s still important to remember every now and again that I do have an influence, whether I want to or not, whether I know or not.