Monthly Archives: March 2014

Out

“What are you doing?”
“Looking at porn.”
“As if you need more shoes.”
“It’s a coping mechanism.”
“You must’ve gone through a lot.”
“As my best friend of 10 years, you should know.”
“Hmm. You’re right. Oh! Those are cute!”
Jessie pointed a perfectly manicured finger at a pair of blue suede pumps on my computer screen. They were cute. And blue just happened to be my favorite color. With a few clicks, my 6 inch pain killers were in a virtual shopping cart, ready for purchase.
“But where the hell am I going in them anyway?!” I whined.
For the past six months, I’d been in a rut. Everything just felt so…so…blah. I felt unfulfilled professionally, socially, romantically and sexually. My life was fifty shades of grey. Except middle aged white women wouldn’t be flocking to their nearest Barnes and Noble to snatch a hardcover retelling of my life and discuss it in hushed tones at play dates and soccer games. Maybe they’d recommended it to one another as quality bird cage lining. I threw my head back and let out a sound that I imagined would come from a dying giraffe. Jessie laughed.
“So glad you think this is funny.”
“You’re so dramatic! Are you still upset about-”
“I’m upset about everything.”
“Welcome to life.”
I got up from my desk and began to pace around my room. Jessie planted herself on the edge of my bed next to my 6 month old dachshund, Frankie. He was keeping himself busy with a chew toy. Oh to live the simple life of a dog and be so easily entertained.
“I’m just bored. I’m bored with everything. Nothing is happening. I have nothing to look forward to. Nothing to be excited about. This is my fifth consecutive Saturday night at home. The only reason I’m not alone this time is because Mikey is out of town on business, so you’ve got free time.”
“It better be business.”
“The point is, nothing moves me. How am I supposed to write when nothing moves me to do so? Am I supposed to write about this white wall? Who am I? William Carlos Williams? Shit, even his white fence had a red wheel barrel and chickens to spice things up!”
“That’s it. Go shower.”
“Huh?”
I stopped on what must’ve been my fifth lap around the room. I’d forgotten for a second that I wasn’t talking to myself for once.
“Go take a shower.”
Jessie stood up and headed towards my closet.
“What are you looking for?”
She ignored me and I was back to feeling like I was having dialogue with myself again. I watched her rummage through my disorganized closet.
“Jessie. What are you doing?”
“I’m tired of your moping. We’re going out. Now go wash that depression and desperation off of you.”
“Going out where?”
“OUT!”
I immediately began to regret my rant. My regret grew when I saw Jessie staring at a sequenced cloth on a hanger a little too long.
“You’re still here.”
I looked at Frankie. He hadn’t looked up from his chew toy once. I headed for the bathroom while making a mental note to remember how shutting up was usually in my best interest.

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Part Eight

“Quinn?”

I’d know her anywhere. I was taken aback by how much she’d changed and yet remained the same. She had filled out a bit more. Her hair was longer. But when she turned and smiled, I saw the same woman I’d fallen in love with four years ago.

“Ryan!”

I moved closer to her and began to extend my arms to embrace her, but I stopped once I noticed her right hand was being occupied by a smaller one. The hand belonged to a little girl with wild, curly hair and bright brown eyes. My heart stopped. She was beautiful.

“So how are you? What are you even doing in this area?” she asked.

The little girl tugged on Quinn’s hand and gazed up at her. Quinn scooped the child up into her arms and rested her on her hip. I was mesmerized.

“Congratulations on the wedding.”

“Thanks. Had to grow up sooner or later, right?”

“I guess so. I know you made her so happy. She’s a great woman. Don’t goof.”

“I’m trying. How did you-?”

“I heard from a mutual friend of mine and her’s. Kelly.”

“Oh.”

I looked away for a moment. She knows Sam’s friends. I knew better than to have invited her to the wedding. Even if I could have found her. She moved out of the complex and quit her job at the restaurant. After the day I showed up at her apartment unannounced, we avoided each other for weeks. I wanted to talk to her but every time I’d see her, it was clear that she didn’t want to communicate with me any longer. Then one day, she was gone without a trace and I had no choice but to continue with my own life with Sam. I loved Sam and wanted to finally be who she deserved. Within the next two years, we moved in together, got engaged and got married. It all happened very suddenly but Sam was happy, so I was happy. Quinn was gone and I assumed she was moving on with her life just as I had. Three years passed since I’d seen her last.

My attention was drawn back to the child. I couldn’t help but stare. She peeked at me, then hid her face in her mother’s hair.

“She’s gorgeous.”

“Thank you. She’s all I’ve got.”

“What’s her name?”

“McKenzy. But we call her Mac.”

“Hey, Mac.”

“Hi,” she said in a small voice.

“How are you? Its nice to meet you.”

She stared at me. A thoughtful look spread across her face. She must have been about three years old. Just then, my heart stopped. Was I crazy?

“Quinn!”

Her name could barely escape my lips. She looked me in my eyes then looked away.

“Quinn!!”

“You have a wife.”

“Is this my child, Quinn!?! You’ve had me living my life in the complete dark for the past three years! I was thinking that you just wanted things between us to end, but you were running away with my flesh and blood?!”

“I didn’t run away. I found out after I decided to leave. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Because what good would it have done, Ryan? You weren’t leaving her. I didn’t want my child to be a scapegoat for a coward.”

“A coward?”

“Yes. If you weren’t afraid to be honest and to take a risk, you would’ve left her. But you were comfortable. You married her, Ryan! You made your choice.”

“You made it for me!”

“I just knew what would happen before you did. That’s all.”

I looked at the child again. My daughter. She was a spitting image of Quinn. But I could see myself in that face. How could Quinn possibly think that what she’d done was okay?! To just vanish and have my child without me ever knowing? I wanted to scream. I wanted to cause a scene. I wanted to take my daughter into my arms and cry. I looked back at Quinn and tried to keep my emotions in order. I noticed a locket hanging from her chain. I’d given it to her as a gift on her birthday years ago. I hadn’t thought much of it and it was the only gift I’d ever gotten her. She never wore it when we were still speaking. She had said she was trying to find a picture to put in it. She noticed where my attention had gone and opened the locket to reveal what she had finally put in there. There was a photograph of she and Mac on the right side and on the left a photo of she and I. We didn’t take many pictures together. In fact, we didn’t take any at all except for that one photograph. She’d found one of those disposable cameras laying around her mother’s house and brought it home to finish whatever film was left over. She said she didn’t have enough real pictures and she wanted to start a photo album that wasn’t only accessible through Facebook. But I never knew if she got the picture developed or not. That day was the happiest we’d ever been. We spent the whole day laughing. That was the day I knew I loved her. That’s when it wasn’t just an affair anymore. I felt myself getting chocked up. This was all too much.

“I won’t ask for anything from you. We’re fine. No money is needed. I just want you to be happy. That’s all I ever wanted for you. And you are. One day, when she’s older, I’ll tell her everything about us. How her mother and father made some mistakes but in the end there was a beautiful product of those mistakes. If she wants to find you and have a relationship with you, and vice versa, then I will not be in the way of that. But right now, I don’t want her to be the reason that your life possibly falls out of place. “

“Sam can’t have children.”

“Oh my God, Ryan.”

“We found out a few months ago.”

I touched the little girl’s hair. I fucked up.

“I never stopped loving you, Quinn.”

“Maybe if you hadn’t started at all, you’d be better off.”

Relax, Mom.

The following conversation happened this morning while I was eating my bowl of brown sugar and maple oatmeal.  It all started when I filled my mother in and let her know that my cousin asked me if I would like to be a bridesmaid in her wedding this coming fall.  We were gushing about how excited we are that my cousin is getting married.  But, sure enough, my mother asked the evitable question.

“So when is your turn?  You know I’m waiting.”

I laughed, reached for the bottle of honey in the cabinet and responded, “I need a boyfriend first!”

“But what about (insert guy’s name here)???”

“That’s not my boyfriend.”

“He’s not?!”

“Mom, I’ve known him for five minutes!  Can I get to know someone first?”

“But aren’t you guys dating?”

“I mean maybe?  I don’t know.  We’ve been out once!  We’re just getting to know each other.”

“Back in my day, dating and talking to someone meant that he was your boyfriend.”

“Then imagine how many ‘boyfriends’ I would have had if that were true in 2014.  (Insert name here) and I are friends.”

I found this conversation to be hysterical for the first 10 minutes.  Since meeting and hearing about this guy, my friends but mostly family have been really excited.  I have a reputation of “loving them and leaving them.”  I’m never into a guy for more than a week before I find something that bothers me and I lose interest.  When it comes to men, I have the attention span of a toaster oven.  So now that I’ve been conversing with someone on a fairly regular bases for more than a millisecond and I’ve even been on the phone, it’s as if Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar (I love you, Leo!  Screw The Academy!).

“So why isn’t he your boyfriend?” she quizzed.

“Because I just met him.  Who’s to say he’s what I want in a boyfriend or if I’m even what he wants in a girlfriend?  Who knows if he wants a girlfriend at all!  We have to know if we can even be regular friends before we are anything else,” I explained.

Alright, I’ll admit that I like the guy.  I won’t pretend that managing to get me to want to be on the phone with you isn’t a pretty sizable feat because it is.  We find each other attractive, and have similar interests.  But I just assumed my mom understood that at 24 years old in the new millennium, liking the same music and movies isn’t exactly the sturdiest foundation to build a committed relationship on.  Just because he can quote lines from my favorite action/comedy sequel doesn’t mean that we are betrothed to be wed next May (although when I found out his favorite pizza topping is the same as mine I was ready to put a ring on it.).

“You know, Noelle, you’re not getting any younger.  I just want you to settle down and be happy.  I don’t want you to be like me.”

Her voice began to crack and I could see that she wanted to cry.  The conversation stopped being funny.  To be honest, the women in my family have pretty shitty judgment when it comes to the men we love and I totally understand a mother’s desire for her only daughter to fall in love, have a family and be happy in ways that she couldn’t herself.  But along with feeling sad for my mother, I felt frustrated.

You see, I went through a few years of my life wanting nothing more than to be in a relationship.  I just wanted to be somebody’s girlfriend.  I put up with shitty treatment from subpar and often unavailable men just to feel like I was wanted and loved.  But I soon realized that those men didn’t care about me.  They didn’t love me.  And I was looking for the wrong things in the wrong people.  I don’t NEED to be in a relationship right now.  24 years old and single is not a death sentence.  There’s no expiration date anywhere on my body that indicates that my time is running out.  I’m fresh out of college with so much more living to do.  Not to say that having a boyfriend stops you from living.  In fact, my ideal relationship would be to be with a guy that lives WITH me.  We can travel together.  Learn together.  Grow together.  It would all be beautiful.  But I can still do those things without a boyfriend.  I still want to do those things even if I’m single.  Let me focus on my career path.  Let me live alone for a few years in my own space, with my own things.  Let me be comfortable with me.  It took a long time for me to come to these realizations and to be okay with them.  It’s liberating.  And truthfully it makes liking someone that much more enjoyable.  There’s no pressure.  I can just like him.  He can just like me.  And whatever comes from that, will come on it’s own.  And even if its nothing more than a platonic friendship and not a destination wedding followed by a gaggle of curly haired children, that’s fine.  I will be fine.  I will be happy.  I will be happy because I will continue to live for myself and to love myself until someone who loves himself in these same ways comes into my life.  Then we will love each other.

So relax, Mom.  No, I don’t have a boyfriend yet.  But I’ve got this.  I’ll be fine.  Besides, my little brother has a girlfriend so it’s not a total loss on the whole grandchildren thing.  You’ll just have to wait a bit longer.

Faith

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Today, one of my tutees made me cry. Maybe I’m soft. Maybe I’m hormonal. But the fact remains that I shed a thug tear because of a seven year old today and I am not ashamed.

Her name is Faith and she’s in the second grade. I first met Faith this past summer while working at the summer camp hosted by the school I currently work at. She instantly became one of my favorite campers and she was well aware and took advantage of it. Although I shouldn’t have, I played favorites with the children and Faith was in the top 5 kids I wouldn’t mind hanging out with during those bus rides to whatever place we were headed for a field trip.

But, once I began working at the school during the academic year and learned that Faith would be one of the children that needed a little extra help, I knew that I’d have to be a little less lenient with her than I was during the summer months. The hours spent trying to teach her and the other little girls how to jump rope would have to be replaced with trying to get Faith to finish her homework in a timely fashion as well as work on some of her reading, writing and arithmetic. Kevin had warned me about how she wasn’t the easiest to work with when it came to academics and I soon learned that he wasn’t exaggerating. Faith was and still is very much behind her fellow classmates.

But since working with her, as well as a few other children, I’ve noticed that confidence is important. In an incident about two weeks ago, I witnessed her parent harshly criticize the girl for a picture she had drawn of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for her book report. Personally, I thought the drawing was pretty damn good for a second grader. MLK’s eyebrows were snatched! But her self esteem plummeted as soon as her parent told her how sloppy the drawing looked and that she wouldn’t receive a good grade on her report despite all of her hard work. No wonder this poor girl doesn’t want to do the work, I thought. She doesn’t think that she CAN!

As of last week, Faith’s class has started working on their multiplication skills. Ask anyone that knows me, and they will tell you that I loathe all math. I’m an English nerd for a reason. So when my supervisor informed me that Faith was struggling to grasp the basic multiplication table, I felt her pain immediately. At least in high school, they give us scientific calculators and encourage us to use them for any and everything. But in second grade, you pretty much have to memorize that little chart in the back of your composition notebook and hope you remember what 8×7 equals on test day. Faith was not amused. She even asked me if she could read a book instead of working on math. Faith doesn’t like to read. I knew this would be one long hour.

I decided to start out with showing her a few strategies that would help her solve the simple stuff. She seemed to be getting the hang of it so I decided to test out just how much she was retaining.

“Ok so I’m going to give you three problems and set the timer on my iPad for 5 minutes. Sound good?”

“Yeah!”

“Now what do I always tell you?”

“Take your time and don’t rush.”

“Exactly. If you don’t finish in time, it’s okay. I want to be sure you get them right. Its not a race.”

But of course, she was excited and rushed through the problems. She finished with two minutes to spare.

“Done!”

“You don’t want to check them?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, I don’t want to check them.”

“I think it’d be a good idea if you did.”

She reluctantly picked her pencil back up and “checked” her answers. I knew they would be wrong and I knew she would be upset. As suspected, the first answer was incorrect. So was the second. So was the third. With each swipe of my pencil to draw a small “x” near her error, he shoulders slumped and her face turned redder.

“They’re all wrong. I knew it!”

She hung her head and looked away from me.

“Faith, look at me. Faith!”

She raised her wet eyes to meet mine. I could see that she felt defeated once again.

“We’re going to get this right! I’m here to help you. That’s what my job is. Don’t give up on me. I’m not going to baby you but I’m here to help you. Now lets work.”

So we did. We went over those problems and corrected the errors. We practiced our strategies again and again.

“Alright now. I’m going to give you three new problems and set the timer for 5 minutes again.”

She looked at me with hesitation.

“You got this. What do you have to do?”

“Take my time.”

She used all five of those minutes to answer each problem and check them twice. She put her pencil and head down once the buzzer rang signaling that time was up. She was preparing herself to be wrong again. I was all too excited to show her that she had in fact solved every problem correctly.

“You did it!”

She fought back a smile as she wiped her eyes. It was then that I felt myself getting choked up. I opened my arms and told her to come over to where I was seated. She embraced me and I held back a tear.

“I told you that you could do it. Don’t you feel silly for doubting yourself now? You’re an amazing and smart girl, Faith. Don’t EVER let anyone tell you differently. Don’t EVER think that you can’t because you CAN. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help because everyone needs help once in awhile. I’ll never turn you away. I’ll never give you more than you can handle. I’ll never stop believing in you so don’t you ever stop believing in yourself! You can do whatever you want if you work hard enough and don’t ever forget that! You’ll make mistakes sometimes. You’ll get stuff wrong. But that’s okay. Just take your time and do your best and I promise you will get it. Understand?”

Faith looked at me, nodded, smiled and embraced me again. My heart was so full it almost burst.

Every now and then, I feel like Faith. I get frustrated and want to give up. Everything I do feels like I’m getting it all wrong. But to see her want to give up reminded me that I do not have the option of giving up. I have to keep going so that I can reach more kids like her and remind them that they too can do whatever they want. You won’t always get it right on the first try. You wont always get it right all by yourself. But you have to take your time. You have to go over things and make sure that it’s the way its meant to be. You have to trust yourself. You’ve got to have faith.

“We have 10 more minutes. Do you want to read or do you want to practice some more?” I asked.

“Lets practice some more!”

And so we did. She got 3 more problems right with 50 seconds on the clock to spare.

(FYI I didn’t cry in front of her as I was talking to her. I excused myself and went to the ladies room after she went home.)

Birthday No. 24

Today is my 24th birthday. As it was just put to me a few minutes ago, I’m one year away from joining the quarter century club. Thanks for the reminder, E. I approached my birthday this year with slight resistance. I’m getting older and feeling the pressures if adult life more and more every day. I didn’t even want to celebrate. But with some persuading from friends and family, I woke up this morning in a better, happier place.
Although we think that by a certain age, you’re supposed to have everything sorted and in place, it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. It’s 2014 and life’s possibilities ate constantly expanding. So tell that feeling of “I have to have a career, house, husband and 3.5 children by the age of 29” to beat it. I may not be all the way there by 29 but at 24, I’m certainly not where I used to be. And for that I am grateful.
So I’ll raise a glass to 24 tonight and smile knowing that my future may not be the very clearest but it still shines brightly.

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