Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Walk on the Beach

We are walking on the beach after dark.

My sister is experiencing a vodka-fueled delusion in which she is the reincarnation of Steve Irwin, and has just pulled a well-meaning grandpa aside because he had the gall to take a walk with his granddaughter, and is showing her seashells by flashlight.

My sister is slurring something about sea turtle nesting season and she wants this tourist this so and so to nix the light so the turtle mommies won’t get confused on their way back to the Atlantic. Never mind there’s not a turtle in sight. Never mind this guy is grasping the tiny hand of what looks like a 5-year-old girl, still wearing a flower-print bathing suit and carrying a pink, plastic bucket. Never mind my sister is clutching a faded, 22-ounce insulated cup advertising the 1996 Olympic Games filled to the brim with vodka, Diet Coke, and ice.

My mom and I are standing several feet away, eyes turned up at the sky, trying to summon the power of invisibility.

This, my friends, is how we roll.

My mother, sister and I have gathered at our favorite meeting spot on the beach – exactly two hours drive for each of us -- for our last girls’ weekend before I move to Virginia. We’ve come here many times over the years. We’ve sat on the balcony celebrating mother’s days and promotions, talking politics and careers and once even choking down a yellow piece of birthday cake on my nephew’s 32nd birthday – three months after his death.

I am wondering how many times our heels have made indentations in the sand here, when my sister points to Venus, a lone light shining above our left shoulders, as if God punched a hole in the sky.

“Is that the first star of the night,” she asks me. Before I can answer, she throws her arms out – as if embracing the air around her, sloshing vodka and Diet Coke all over the sand. “Star light, star bright…”

“Is that a star or a planet?” I interrupt. Why I do this, I don’t know. I’m such a freaking know it all, I can’t even stand by and let my sister make a wish.

“It’s the North Star,” my Mom says with so much certainty that it’s impossible not to let it go.

“Mom, it’s can’t be the North Star,” I say.

“Why not?” she asks.

“First of all, it’s in the west,” I say.

“That just depends on where you’re standing,” my mom says.

“No way, Magellan,” I say. “North is always north. The Atlantic is there – so that’s east. That’s south. That’s north. That’s WEST.” I point in all four directions for effect – as if my index finger makes things absolute.

“It’s Venus,” I say. I know this, ironically, because my mother’s mother told me so.

“Well, I think it’s the North Star,” my Mom says.

I leave it at that.

We are hoping this walk will somehow diminish the impact of having consumed a pound each of bread, grease and cheese. My mother and sister ordered a Domino’s pizza called The Extravaganza because they couldn’t resist the name. It came loaded with pepperoni, ham and sausage, despite the fact I gave up beef and pork at age 13. I tried to pick most of it off, leaving behinds heaps of carnage on a soggy, paper plate.

To make the walk bearable, we each poured a sizeable cocktail into insulated tumblers we brought from home.

“My shoulder hurts,” Mom says. “Do you think it’s because I’m carrying this giant drink?”

She stops then to take a sip, as if to lessen her load.

I laugh, then grow concerned.

“Is it your right shoulder or your left shoulder,” I ask.

“The left.”

“Is it your shoulder and your arm?”

“Just the shoulder,” she says.

There’s a beat.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’m not having a heart attack.”

I continue to worry because I know without a doubt she wouldn’t tell me if she were having a heart attack. In her mind, it would be better to collapse in the sand and die than go through the trouble of calling an ambulance. She once thought she was stroking out and insisted on driving to the hospital with me in the passenger seat screaming “You know you’re going to have an accident and kill us both.”

“I know,” my mother answered then, cool as the other side of your pillow.

So, that’s what I’m dealing with here. We decide if mom is about to die, it’s best to make it back to the tiki bar at the hotel.

We clamor back up the dunes, wash our feet, and take seats at the hotel’s outdoor bar, next to a door where we can hear the music from a wedding inside. (My sister, upon seeing the bride and groom up close, slurred that the bride was much prettier from our 10th floor balcony and her husband must be a good 20 years older than her.)

I watch my mom study her legs with a frown and wonder “what now?”

“My ankles are swollen,” she says, twirling her bare feet in little circles. “Must be from the walking.”

I laugh.

“You’re right, Mom,” I said. “It can’t possibly be from the quart of vodka and heavy dose of Extravaganza.”

She laughs.

She says she’ll miss me.

“It’s only because I like you,” she says. “I wouldn’t miss you if I didn’t like you. And it’s a wonderful thing to like your daughter as well as love her.”

I like my mom too. I admire her. I believe she has accomplished more in her life than she believes she has. It is not easy to leave her. She thinks it is. She thinks I have spent my life rejecting the steady, solid, brick house of a life she built – the life she chose. But that is not the case.

It sucks that my dreams right now reside in a place that I am not. I don’t want to leave my family, my home, or the stretch of beach where my mother and I leave footprints only inches apart.

I look at her now, and wonder who will sit in the passenger seat the next time she’s inclined to drive herself to the hospital.

I think this, but do not say it. Because more than half of my heart wants to stay here with her, and be a comfort as age settles over her like a long, afternoon shadow. I know what’s coming. I was there when it happened to her mother.

But then I think about when it comes to be my turn – when I have to watch my skin thin and my hair whiten and to think with regret of all the unexamined possibilities scattered behind me on my path.

My chest hurts. I blame the Extravaganza.

I look up at the sky and try to spot the North Star – thinking of how much better it would be to depend on the light of something so far away, something so far removed from the choices we’re faced with here on Earth.

It would be so nice to depend on something other than head, heart and gut to guide you -- knowing with certainty the direction you were meant to travel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Project MoJo(y)

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this in January, after the earthquake in Haiti. I was thinking then about resurrecting the blog, then decided I wasn't ready. Material wasn't coming often enough. And I didn't have the balls. I found this musing recently, and decided I liked it well enough to post. You'll see I wrote this in the twilight of a very dark period that has since blown over like one of those black, afternoon clouds we get here in South Florida. It also reminds me of what my mother likes to say when things are not working out as we planned "Wait six months," she says. "Everything changes in six months." Over the course of a lifetime, I have found this to be true.

I used to write a blog. People used to like it. Sometimes, they ask me to start writing again. And I say I should. Then I don’t. Because I like to write humor. And I’m not funny right now.

Plus, my old schtick, the perpetual single gal – is just tired, tired, tired. And my new schtick would go something like this: “Couldn’t sleep. Went to work. Worked. Watched HIMYM. Couldn’t sleep. Went to work. Worked. Watched HIMYM.”

But I’ve been told by more than one person (ahem, more than five people) that I’m a lot more sane when I’m writing than when I’m not. So I’m going to give it a shot. I apologize in advance for any boredom you might experience. And as I’ve always said to my parents, “keep your expectations low.”

My new schtick is Project MoJo(y). Because I want more joy in my life. And I need to find my MoJo, which is around here somewhere – probably buried under that hey-uge stack of books, magazines, dog-eared J. Crew catalogues and spiral-bound calendars I buy once a year and never use. (I swear I will organize that pile next weekend. Yes. Next weekend that stack will be history.)

I recently read a first-person essay in the New York Times about a woman who dodged divorce by simply ignoring her husband whenever he asked her for one. He would say “I don’t love you anymore.” And she would look him square in the eye and say “I don’t buy it.” And lo and behold, he never left. She said it turned out to be just a mid-life thingamajigit and he got over it and now they are happier than ever.

So I’ve decided I can do the same thing with this icky icky poo poo cloud that’s been hanging over my head the past year. I’m just going to ignore it.

Find Joy.

That’s what I jotted down on a yellow Post-It and stuck to my bathroom mirror January 1.

It’s my New Year’s Resolution, and when I stuck it there I thought the concept sounded complicated, intimidating and out of reach.

But today it just looks shameful.

Only a few hundred miles away, people are clawing at dusty piles of rubble with raw, bloody hands. They are trying to find babies, parents, brothers and sisters. They are trying to find food, water and shelter. They are trying to find diapers, Neosporin, bandages and doctors. They are stepping over the dead, looking for the path out of hell.

I, meanwhile, am cozy in my reasonably-priced one bedroom apartment two miles from the beach with soy milk in the fridge. I have toilet paper, Q-tips, face soap and clean socks. I have salt and pepper shakers shaped like little fish. I have glasses for both red and white wine. I have three pairs of sandy flip flops by my front door. I have a big, stained, comfy chair that has started to spill its stuffing. I have a lace curtain that hangs in my kitchen window.

I live in a heaven beyond comprehension.

Armed with this new insight, and not knowing what else to do, I gave more than I could afford to the Red Cross. And I’ll go to Wal-Mart and buy some diapers, medicine, bandages and granola bars and drop the whole lot off at one of the 3,000 Haitian organizations here in South Florida collecting for the cause.
Even though I know it’s not nearly enough.

I wonder how I have managed to be so fortunate, despite being so ungrateful this past year. I wonder why it wasn’t my home that toppled down on top of me. I sure haven’t racked up a whole lotta good karma, that’s for dang sure. Except for helping a little old lady find the caffeine free Diet Coke today, I haven’t done much for anyone lately.

Earlier this week, I actually thought I had a point with all my malaise and carrying on about the malaise and wearing my malaise around on my head like a great, big, hat that would make even Carmen Miranda pull me into the ladies room and say “Girl, it might be time to crank it down a notch.”

My biggest complaint is that I do not believe I have fulfilled my potential. And I am trying to figure out what I can do over the next few years to change that. And I’m weighing all the risks involved in doing so. Big freaking woop.

Can you imagine the fundraising effort that might go along with that crisis?

I picture the commercial, a video montage of people like me: driving Hondas and Toyotas bought after pouring over Consumer Reports magazine; standing in line at Starbucks, waiting to order a venti soy skinny mocha latte; buying Greek yogurt; and taking a Pilates class.

The voice-over would go something like this: “Look at these images. Don’t turn away. Right now, as you sit in front of the TV, millions of bored people need your help. You, yes, you, can save them.

Close-up on me.

Voice-over: “For the price of a mani-pedi, a bottle of Pinot and a Birkin bag, you can help this generic, white, western woman find joy.”

I look at my Post-It and wonder if I should take it down. It just seems so silly. But only the other hand, it’s a daily reminder of what I hope to do in this blog. Find Joy.

So I sat down in front of the TV with a glass of wine to mull the whole dilemma over and the answer came to me in the waning moments of The Karate Kid.

I grabbed another Post-It, jotted down another message, and slapped my new mantra right next to the old one.

Don’t forget. Life is Good.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This is*

This is how to climb out of a warm bed when you’re still tired; This is how to pretend you’re not tired; This is how to dress; This is how to look busy while you think of other things; This is what to say when asked why you're always so happy; It's easy to look happy; This is how to remember; This is how to forget; This is how to pretend you’ve forgotten; This is how to fall in love; This is how to pretend you’re not in love; This is how to let love flutter past your fingertips (again) and move on; This is how to laugh when a voice slices your soul; This is how to hurt people you love; This is how people you love hurt you; This is how to breathe; In and out, no matter what, remember; This is what's important; This is what’s at stake

*This is a blatant rip off of the great Jamaica Kincaid

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Where did all this stuff come from anyway?

I am being cruel with my things, tossing all the clothes I've bought over the course of a lifetime into one of three piles -- items to keep, donations to Goodwill, and trash.

I want to ignore the memories that permeate the fabric like a perfume I used to wear, but don't anymore. But here they are, like a gnat buzzing around my face. I swat. But they return.

I am finally getting rid of the black cardigan I wore the last time I saw him. Before I found out he was getting engaged. Almost a year to the day he asked me to leave the apartment we picked out together. Fuck memory lane. To Goodwill with you.

But the red top stays. I wore it that one day, walking down the street in West Chester, Pa., when the guy slammed on his brakes, rolled down the window, and shouted that I looked great in red. Those kinds of things, a girl has to keep. I’ll be dragging it to the nursing home with me like Linus’s blanket, telling the bored looking woman giving me a sponge bath “You wouldn’t know it now, but one day back in 2001 I actually stopped traffic. By the way, what’s my name again?”

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

The tiniest, sliver of a second

Our big story du jour was about a fundraiser for a sheriff’s deputy who lost her arm in a boating accident. Apparently, people are selling green bracelets to raise money for her medical expenses. Now, the irony of selling bracelets to collect money for a woman who lost her arm was not wasted on a room full of apathetic news people – and bad jokes were soon volleyed around the room like a good, old-fashioned game of pong.

Afterward, I looked at my co-worker and said, “I feel the flames of hell licking at my ass.”

It was just one of those days -- one of those aware days.

I noticed it again when a press release rolled into my inbox, and I opened a new document and began to write:

A woman is in jail on charges she beat her 12-year-old adopted son with an extension cord, stuffed a pair of socks in his mouth and secured a piece of blue tape over his lips.

I looked at the sentence and thought about how easily I had typed it out, a skill honed after more than a dozen years spent boiling down someone else’s tragedy.

A man shot his 6-year-old cousin after Thanksgiving dinner
Police said a 16-year-old girl was gang raped
A Downingtown man is accused of stabbing his wife while she slept

If I’m not careful, I think about it. And I hate it when I do that. Because the difference between a good day, and a life-changing, gut-wrenching, holy-fucking-shit day is just the tiniest sliver of a second – and that’s not information you want to meditate on for any length of time.

Tick. Tock.

I’ve heard this is why we should live every moment like it’s our last. But I think that’s too much pressure. Naturally, you are going to find yourself in the grocery store behind a blue-hair with a stack of coupons as thick as the Fountainhead stuffed in her withered little fist and you don’t want to be standing there thinking “This arthritic living corpse is stealing my life.” That’s just not Zen.

I think about all the precious moments I wasted today: at least 45 minutes spent talking like a gypsy with my friend Chris, making up raunchy, fake fortunes; about 25minutes spent trying to look interested in a co-worker’s personal problem; and probably several minutes peeing. Which, frankly, would be the perfect epitaph for my tombstone: “Here lies Kelly Wolfe. She pissed away her life.”

Tick. Tock.

The other scary part of the whole deal is that these life changing tragedies often have nothing to do with decisions we make ourselves. We might be cruising along, paying our bills on time, using our blinkers, and making grocery lists when some nutjob decides that your life is about to take one hella turn. (The six-year-old was asleep in her bed. I picture her in pink jammies, clutching a favorite toy. I hope she was dreaming. I hope she didn’t wake up.)

Tick. Tock.

I think of one night, in those fragile days after 9/11, when I was working in Philly. We reporters would work 12 hours, then get together late at night to eat, drink, and just not be alone goddamn it. On this night, I’d been lost in thought when I parked my car (a newly-wed had been showing me a photo of her husband of two months. He was out there she was sure, we just had to find him) and I hadn’t paid attention when I slipped my car into a parallel spot and turned off the engine.

It was well past 1 a.m. when we all parted ways after dinner. And, of course, I couldn’t find my car. I was walking along a deserted, dark, narrow street – looking for something, anything familiar – when I saw headlights approach me. It was a green station wagon with three young men inside. The car slowed. They gathered in a little knot and gazed out the windshield at me. I ignored them and walked on – refusing to appear rattled. The car passed me. I heard it speed up and turn a corner. A few minutes later, I saw the car approaching me again. It slowed. The three men stared. I walked on. The car sped up, turned a corner.

I picked up my pace, and thought about trying to find a place to hide. I didn’t know what to do. Keep looking for my car? Hide in the shadows of an alley where, if they find me, what then? In the midst of trying to formulate a plan, I saw the car approaching again. It slowed. The three men stared. Then the car sped up, and turned a corner.

Just then, my phone rang. It was Bob, a friend who worked with me at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Hey, what’s up?” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“It ain’t good, friend,” I said. “I’m over by Fairmont and I can’t find my car. Some guys are driving around, circling me. They keep slowing down to look at me.

Bob, I think they are going to grab me.” I whispered the last sentence.

“Calm down,” he said. “I would slow down to look at you, too.”

Bob laughed. I did not. I was scared.

“Fuck you, Bob,” I spat. “Just write me a nice obit tomorrow, will you?”

Bob was still laughing.

“I won’t have to write your obit tomorrow, Crazy,” he said.

Men. It must be nice to gallivant around the world without a vagina – never feeling like prey.

I took the phone away from my ear and screamed into the mouthpiece.

“Dude! I! Am! Not! Kidding! I! Am! Fucking! Scared!”

I put the phone back to my ear.

“This is really bad, Bob. I can feel it.”

There was silence on the other end.

“What do you want me to do?” Bob asked. I heard concern in his voice. It was a real question. Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything he could do. If my gut was right, I’d be tied up in a basement somewhere by the time Bob made it from his apartment on South Street to Fairmont Avenue in a cab.

“Look, Bob, it’s a green station wagon. Three guys. Dark hair. I’m off Fairmont. That’s all I got. Stay on the phone with me. If you lose me, call the police.”


I cut him off with a whisper.

“Bob, here they come again.”

The car approached. I stopped on the sidewalk with the phone to my ear and looked at the driver. He had dark, wavy hair down to his shoulders and was wearing small, round sunglasses even though it was now almost 2 a.m. The car slowed to an idle. The driver and I looked at each other for a long time. He was not smiling. I felt my heart thrash against my rib cage.

Tick. Tock.
Tick. Tock.
Tick. Tock.

Then the driver slowly turned his head, looked back at the road, punched the gas, and drove away.

A stood for a second, steadying myself.

“Hello? Hello? Kelly, are you alright?”

Bob was yelling into the phone, but his voice sounded far away, somewhere beyond the current of blood rushing through my ears.

“I don’t know,” I answered.

My legs felt wobbly. I don’t know how long I stood on that corner, trying to remember how to breathe, holding the phone to my ear, Bob and I silent at either end.


“Yeah,” I said.

“Stay right there. I am coming to get you.”

“Hurry,” I said.

I looked up and down the street, trying to pinpoint a landmark so I could help Bob find me.

Just then I saw the dark outline of my car, parked just ahead, about two blocks away. Honestly, it was like it materialized there.

It felt like the sun had just come out. I honestly thought I heard a chorus of angels singing.

“It’s OK, Bob,” I said. “I see my car!”

“Oh, Thank God,” he said. I heard relief in his voice.

We hung up and I sprinted. My hands shook as I slid the key in the lock. I got in and gunned it away from the curve, not stopping until I came to a red light at Spring Garden. Then I rested my head against the steering wheel. When the light turned green, someone behind me honked, and I jumped.

Tick. Tock.

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