For 2020, partly inspired by my mother, I made a promise to myself that I would write a story each week. 52 stories for the year. Stories from my life, as a start to my perhaps eventual memoirs, you might say. I’ve decided to name the series “Mild to Moderate Shock” as it might work both ways: it might have been how I felt through these events, or perhaps how you’ll feel reading them. I hope you enjoy.
9 August 2020
Something I never, ever could have imagined recently happened. I got an email. It doesn’t sound unimaginable, so let me give you some context: I wrote a story for this series called “Villain” wherein I admitted to being the other woman and helping a boy cheat on his girlfriend. It’s from 19th April if you’d like to go back and read it. I recommend doing so if you want what you’re about to read make sense. I woke up to an email from “Laura.” I sent her an email back. She responded. I present these emails to you below edited only to shield her identity and to correct a couple of my own typos. If you do read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s a journey, and an important one, I think.
Subject: Mild to Moderate Shock: Some Constructive Feedback
I’m writing this message to point out some inaccuracies in one of your stories on your blog, Mild to Moderate Shock. I came across “Villain”- what a beautifully written piece about a period that has haunted me for a long time. I should actually start by thanking you because you confirmed something he so adamantly denied—the fact that you slept together. It’s so funny- I remember that farm just as you describe it, but that’s neither here nor there.
Charlie, as you call him, is actually a recently divorced man. And we didn’t have any kids together. Our divorce was finalized in January of this year. From my understanding, he now lives with another “other woman” and her child. I guess you can take comfort in knowing that you haven’t been the only “other woman/villain.”
You mention in your story that “his cheating on [you] didn’t ruin his relationship. It didn’t seem to ruin either of [your] lives, as far as [you] can tell.” I would like to argue the opposite. His cheating was the beginning of the end, and I should’ve known better. But, I learned the hard way 10 years later when he did it again just a few months before our wedding and I didn’t find out until a month after we were married.
His cheating on me with you is something that hurt me deeply and made me question my worth and my value every day. You didn’t get to see my side of the pain and you didn’t see how at that moment in time, it ruined my life, and it ruined our relationship. You didn’t see me crawled up in a fetal position crying because the one person I was truly, head over heels in love with, and I gave my whole heart to, tossed it like it meant nothing to him. While you were meeting at the Union, saying bye with your cheeks flushed, I sat in my room questioning if I was good enough in every respect, feeling so deeply betrayed because I knew what was happening but also feeling helpless, not knowing what to do because I loved him so incredibly much.
You write, “All the while, he and his girlfriend remained together, and, by all accounts, happy.” This couldn’t be anything further from the truth. Yes, we remained together, but we were not happy. I was not happy. I was heartbroken, sad, and felt so betrayed. I hung to every little moment of seeming “happiness” because I thought he was, in your terms, “my own one.” You didn’t see that for the past 10 years, what you did with him resulted in immense trust and self-esteem issues. They always lingered in our relationship and always shook its foundation. His cheating on me with you was a catalyst for what was to come. I acknowledge the role that I played in letting him get away with it, but ultimately, your relationship with him laid the groundwork for the end of our marriage.
I’m glad to see that you are acknowledging that what you did was wrong; however, I can’t help but feel that this is written to rid yourself of the guilt you have been racked with for so long (as you mention in your story). I hope you find peace, but I also hope that the lesson you take away from all of this is that actions have far-reaching consequences that you will never see. There was someone else on the other side who was being manipulated and lied to, and this did, in fact, have a significant impact on the lives of many. While the fault is mostly his and I have made my peace with him and who he is, just remember that you also made a choice. And choices have consequences.
Thank you so much for writing me this. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear it. All of it. I was young and dumb and selfish, obviously. And of course, I only knew what he told me. And what I saw through social media.
I will never be rid of the guilt I feel over it. I knew and know (probably even more so now that I’m older and have some distance from it) that actions have far-reaching and unseen consequences. It’s not worth much, but I hope you know that if I could go back, I would change everything. That was a watershed event in my life too, though of course not so much as in yours, because I was horrified with myself. I changed a lot about how I operated and who I was because of making this horrible choice. I suppose that doesn’t matter now to you and ultimately I will remain the villain in your eyes, but I do want to acknowledge that I have learned the lessons you outline and I am a better person now. In a million ways.
I’m wondering if you’d let me put this email up as the next story in my series? I’m certain you feel no affinity for me but it feels important to acknowledge what you have written me here. That men have patterns. That women make horrible mistakes and hurt one another. That I was more wrong than I even knew.
I understand if not, and if somehow I can atone to you, please tell me how. I never expected to get this email but I’m really thankful to you for sending it.
I would love to know how you are now, and what’s next for you. But if you’d rather not be in further contact, I understand.
Thank you again and I truly wish you all the best. I hope you find a man who would never treat you this way as I am certain you deserve much better. You obviously have a lot of love to give and though “Charlie” couldn’t receive it appropriately, I know there is a man out there who can.
Thank you so much for your reply. I really appreciate your words and you taking the time to read my side of the story. I wrote my original response perhaps a bit too impulsively, so I would like to clarify a couple of things I think I didn’t convey appropriately.
First, I would like you to know that I don’t see you as the villain in this story. At the time when it all happened, I certainly saw you that way. However, through the years and having gone through this most recent heartbreaking experience (and a lot of therapy), I have come to realize that if anything, he’s the one who should have that label. I try to stay away from seeing him that way though, for my own healing. Ultimately, our actions and our choices are a reflection of who we are as people.
My email also mentions my marriage falling apart and how his cheating on me with you “laid the groundwork for the end of our marriage.” If I could remove that sentence I would. The end of my marriage to “Charlie” was a product of a combination of events, things, and mistakes on both our sides. However, I do think that this first instance of cheating, in a way, doomed the relationship from the start. I was too in love, too naïve, and too young to really understand the long-lasting and lingering effects it had not just in the relationship, but also in me. Much like you, I was a hopeless romantic and I thought we could conquer it all—even when faced with the most blatant sign of disrespect and disregard for my feelings.
Thank you for your apology and for recognizing that you also made the choice to engage while being fully aware he was in a relationship. We were all so young and dumb, but the pain was still real on both of our ends (I now know that he broke your heart too). Thank you for also learning from this experience and using it to become a better person. I am trying to do the same and that’s all we really can do.
As for me, I’m doing well, thank you for asking. My divorce was the best and worst thing that happened, but I’ve only been able to see it this way recently. I moved back to NC (we lived in Los Angeles) and I have been working on myself a lot. It’s interesting trying to find yourself again after being in a toxic relationship for a long time. I’m finally starting to see myself in a different light and I’ve been putting myself first in what I do. I’ve been traveling more (well, before the pandemic changed our lives), taking the time to do the things I enjoy, and I’ve become closer to my family. I remain hopeful that one day I’ll really understand what being truly loved by your significant other really feels like.
I hope you and your husband are doing well and staying safe during these crazy times. I’m glad that you were able to find someone who cherishes and loves you. Please feel free to share the email as your next series- I appreciate you being so honest with your readers and with yourself, and for being willing to acknowledge your mistakes and showcase another side of the story. If possible, I would like for you to also include this response because I feel I was better able to articulate what I was trying to describe (although that might make for a really long post). I also just ask that you change my name 🙂
Once again, thank you for taking the time to listen to me and for your apology. I wish you nothing but the best and if you ever want to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
28 June through 2 August 2020
Brushes with Fame
Here are a few quick and dirty stories about when I met famous people. I’m a relatively collected person in most of my life. This tends to fall by the wayside when I meet people I admire from theatre, film and tv, which is ironic, I know. I should also say that some of these people may not be famous to you. I think fame is an interesting thing because many times in my life when I’ve told people that I’m an actor they say, “Oh, you just want to be famous.” But, I don’t. I want to be successful. I want to make money from being an artist and not have to have a “side hustle.” My dream is to be the kind of famous like the subject of this first story. If you’re a musical theatre nerd, then you may know her. Otherwise, you probably haven’t heard of her. But I am obsessed with her.
1 – Lindsay Mendez
When I lived in New York City I was, in my ways, living my dream life. I was exactly the right age, just dumb enough and just smart enough, single, brave and a hustler. I don’t think I could live in NYC now. But, then? I was living my best life.
One night my friend Jeff invited me to a really hip bar with him. It was a place, I found out later, favoured by musical theatre performers and Jeff said, “You never know who you’ll see there.” When we got there, Jeff immediately saw friends he knew and I went to the bathroom. I came back out and there was no sight of Jeff. We had already had a few drinks, but I was young and so I sat at the bar to order another. I heard a very familiar voice to my right and slowly turned.
Lindsay freakin’ Mendez was sitting next to me at this bar. My inner MT nerd went insane. I took a few deep breaths and (without thinking enough) I tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and smiled at me with her big, beautiful smile. I melted into a puddle of idiocy and began tipsily gushing to her about what a big fan of hers I was. I even mentioned a single YouTube video of hers that I’d watched over and over (this one). I told her she should play Elphaba (she did). I was almost in tears, talking very quickly with shaky, sweaty hands gesturing wildly. She was kind, and cool, and smiled, nodding and thanking me for being a fan. There was a moment, even now I see it in my memory, where she obviously thought the interaction was over and made to turn back to her date. I didn’t take the hint and kept going. A few moments or so later I realised with crushing desperation that I was making an ass of myself. I apologised profusely, likely making it worse, and let her go back to her date.
Jeff found me shortly thereafter. My cheeks were flushed and my hands were still shaking so much I could barely drink my drink. I told him I had just spoken to Lindsay Mendez. Jeff, cool as a cucumber himself, said, “Oh yeah, I’ve met her. She’s really cool.”
I, folks, was not.
2 – Gavin Creel and Jose Llana
A year after I graduated undergrad, my university staged a really fantastic play reading of Dustin Lance Black’s show called “8,” the story of the historic Proposition 8 in California and the trial that made the proposition, banning same-sex marriage, illegal. It was an amazing event, and taking part in the reading were Broadway stars Gavin Creel and Jose Llana.
After the show, they went to the bar with all the theatre people, a place that I came to love deeply while I was a student, Linda’s.
I don’t remember what happened, or how, but I have a photo with the two of them and I know we laughed and shared drinks and cheese fries and life was good. I do remember that they were both lovely and down-to-earth and my cheeks hurt from grinning that night.
If you don’t know who either of those people are, get on YouTube asap.
3 – David Mitchell and Victoria Coren Mitchell
The rest of these stories take place from my time working at a theatre bar in London, where a very famous show played. Even years into its run it still garnered very famous audience members.
I was working in the bar position that was the most insane and prominent in the theatre. You had to be super fast, totally on it and still as polite as possible whilst people clamoured over each other to get served. I had a personal policy that when I worked in this position, I would only make eye contact with the customer I was serving to hear their order, then I kept my head down and entirely focused on the drinks until it came time to take payment. Then I would, again, only meet the eye of the current customer. This policy meant that the customers had to agree amongst themselves who was next, and I didn’t have to deal with bickering or someone saying, “I was here before him.” It usually worked. But there are always dickheads. But this story isn’t about one of them.
So there I was, pre-show, making drinks as fast as I could and never making eye contact with any customers besides who I was serving. I finished an order, and turned slightly to my left as I could tell from the corner of my eye that that gentleman was next, and he had been waiting patiently and quietly, which is the best kind of customer.
I looked up and made eye contact with David Mitchell. Before I could stop myself, I reached across the bar and touched his arm saying, “Oh my god! I love you!” In typical and wonderful David Mitchell form he awkwardly said, “Oh–er– thank you?” Then I looked to his right and his wife was there. I blurted out, “Oh my god and I love you too!” Victoria Coren Mitchell, at least, thought I was charming. She said enthusiastically, “Thanks!” I told them both I was huge fans and was getting ready to go on a diatribe about how good Upstart Crow is.
Realising that I was again making an ass of myself, I said, “Well now that that’s done, what can I get you?” We proceeded to have a conversation about the price of champagne and the size of bottles. At the time we sold a half bottle and a full. Victoria didn’t know how much she wanted to drink because she knew it was a long show and didn’t want to have to get up to pee all the time. I explained to her that she could buy a full bottle and leave whatever they didn’t drink before the show for the interval. She happily agreed but then changed her mind, saying, “I just don’t think I will drink a whole bottle myself. Will you have some David?” He declined, so I said, cheekily, “Well you can always leave what you don’t drink with me and I’ll take care of it.” I winked, obviously joking, and she said, “Great, let’s do it!”
They took their drinks away, I got myself under control and went about serving a trillion more people with an enormous grin on my face. Just before the show started, Victoria brought the bottle back to me so I could set it out for the interval. She smiled beautifully and I told her to enjoy the show.
During the first act, the bartenders get the drinks ready for interval, setting them out nicely with people’s names or numbers. I wrote “Mitchell” in my most beautiful script to sit with the rest of their bottle of champagne.
The interval started and it’s basically an insane 15 straight minutes of people screaming at you for alcohol and sweets. In the position I was working, you can barely catch your breath. As the final announcement came on asking the audience back to their seats and the bar staff finally took a moment to look at each other and sigh, I saw a blonde lady in my peripheral. Victoria Coren Mitchell set the bottle of champagne on the bar in front of me, with about a glass left in it, and said, “That’s for you!” Then she scampered away.
I lovingly refer to this as the time I casually shared a bottle of champagne with David and Victoria Coren Mitchell. My little anglophile dreams came true that night!
4 – Aisling Bea
Working at a quieter position on the bar one evening, the absolutely hilarious and awesome Aisling Bea approached. I stared, clamping my mouth shut, remembering the touching of David Mitchell and not wishing a repeat idiot performance. She smiled and said, “I don’t know anything about wine but my date does so what I can order so that I look like I know what I’m talking about?”
I said, “First of all I love your work.” She thanked me graciously. Then I went on to tell her about the exclusive wine we sold at the theatre that was themed with the show, saying that it was “very drinkable.” She said, “I love that. A drinkable wine. Shouldn’t all wine be drinkable?” I said, “I’ve drunk plenty that isn’t.” Laughing, she said, “Me too!” We laughed a bit more, riffing about the ridiculous words they used to describe wine. We were, in essence, becoming best friends.
I poured two glasses of wine and her date came over. I was so starstruck by Aisling I have no memory of who her date was. It might have been Andrew Garfield? Anyway, he didn’t think the wine being drinkable was as funny as Aisling and I did.
Later I tweeted that I met her and she was “every bit as delightful as I imagined her to be.” She tweeted me back to say that she really enjoyed her drinkable wine. It was one of the happiest times of my life.
5 – James McAvoy
One evening I was working a different position wherein I was essentially a private butler to the people who purchased box seats. So I would take these little-used stairs at the back of the mezzanine to get up to one of the boxes and take orders.
As I was going up the stairs, carrying a tray of drinks, I looked up and almost ran into James McAvoy. Young Professor freakin’ X himself! He was handsome and shorter than I thought he’d be. He said, “Whoa, sorry about that!” in a lovely Scottish accent. I said it was no problem and asked if he and his guests were enjoying the show. He said, “Yeah, it’s great!” And then walked away.
Brushes with fame, y’all.
6 – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
The staff were all abuzz the night that The Rock was in, unsurprisingly. He had a private box, and, hilariously, a bodyguard with him. We all wondered aloud, “How big is the guy who defends The Rock?” Spoiler alert: pretty huge.
This hulking guy stood in the corridor behind the box where The Rock and his then girlfriend, now wife, were sitting. No one had any hope of getting past him.
All I was hoping for was a glimpse of Dwayne but by the time the interval was ending, I had resigned myself to the fact that it was just not meant to be. Just as the second act was about to start, I realised I needed to find the manager and stepped down into the darkened corridor.
There I came face to face with Mr. The Rock Johnson. Perhaps it was the effect of his enormous bodyguard, but The Rock didn’t seem so huge. He was big, yes, and his shirt was so tight against his arm muscles that I was very distracted, but somehow in this little dark hallway at the back of the theatre, he seemed very human.
I heard him say something to his bodyguard and the manager I was looking for, who seemed herself rather taken with Mr. J.
Then I realised that he and his lady friend were the ones holding up the beginning of the second act for the entire theatre filled with hundreds of people.
But honestly, who is going to argue with The Rock?
21 June 20
Chris and I refer to the time we had to spend apart as “the in-between time.” It was a very tough era in our relationship. One of the only bright spots for me was that during the majority of the in-between time, I was lucky enough to be a teacher at a really good middle school in Durham.
The second semester I was teaching there I was an advisor for a group of 8th graders. The advisory program is an amazing thing this private school could have wherein a teacher has 10-12 students for whom they are responsible from the perspective of pastoral care. It’s homeroom on steroids. I saw the kids 2-3 times a day, we ate lunch together everyday and my classroom was their base, their port in the storm. It was a terrific thing and one of my favourite parts of the job.
Near the beginning of the semester we engaged in a big service project and I got to take my kids on a short field trip into downtown Durham to visit the courthouse. The whole thing was arranged by one of my colleagues (a huge endeavour) and I was told I would need to drive a minibus. I was comfortable with this because I had been a tour guide in South Carolina previously (another story for another day) and I drove a big van. How different could a minibus be? Our itinerary said I would need to park in the parking deck below the courthouse. I asked my colleague who organised the event if he was sure the minibus would fit. Harried, too busy, and probably not hearing me, he said, “Yes. Yeah.”
Off we went: Miss Sciandra and her teenage entourage. I loved these kiddos. They were a great group and I felt honoured to be their teacher. We were still in the nascency of our relationship so though I think they liked me, they were still feeling me out. We were joined by a lovely woman who was the other chaperone. I didn’t know her at all, as she worked in the upper school but she was very kind. That would prove vital later.
We came to the parking structure. As I turned in to enter it, I was certain we were too tall. There was that little hanging thing that lets you know if your vehicle can’t fit. A man happened to be walking by on the sidewalk at that very moment and I called out to him, “Are we gonna fit?” He did that thing where he bent over sideways and tried to measure it with his eyes. “It’ll be close!” he called, “But I think you’ll make it!” I looked at the other chaperone and sort of shrugged. She shrugged back.
Unsure, but with no clue as to where I could park a minibus if not there (I didn’t know Durham that well) I pulled in. On the bottom level we made it through, but there were no spots. So I turned to begin the incline to the next level. We heard a crash. The kids screamed. I said, “What was that?!” One of them said, “I think it was a sign. It’s swinging.”
At this point, I had no idea what to do. That sign meant that we were obviously too big to go any further. However, I also knew that the only way to get out was to go up and turn down the other way to come down. My adrenaline was pumping. I was terrified. I was responsible for these kids. I asked the other chaperone what she thought I should do. We were blocking the way and I was worried other cars would pull up behind us. She agreed that we should drive up so we could turn back around to the exit.
I pulled forward and there was an almighty screeching, roaring, horrible sound. The kids were shouting, the girls’ screams were so high-pitched they were practically a dog whistle. We heard something break off and pieces flew into the bus. The kids freaked out, all diving away from the newly ripped opening in the bus’ ceiling. I stopped, slamming on the breaks.
I was shaking. I was in mild shock, for sure [see what I did there?]. We were screwed. The other chaperone said she would get the kids off the bus and try to find help. In my addled mind, all I could think was that the kids would miss their appointment in the courthouse and not get to meet the lawyer they were supposed to meet. I asked her to take them upstairs and keep the field trip going so that I didn’t ruin everything.
As the kids got off the bus, they all tried to say comforting things. “It’s okay, Miss Sciandra.” “We’re okay, Miss Sciandra. It’s actually really funny.” They stood outside the bus while I tried to put it in reverse and get out. The bus wouldn’t budge. It was well and truly stuck, wedged underneath a cement girder. I could not get the bus to move. As the chaperone took the kids away, the severity of the situation dawned on me. I started thinking first about how I’d be fired from a job I loved, how that would impact my saving enough money to live with my future husband in England, how I would have to pay for the hole ripped open in the ceiling of the bus, how I would become the laughing stock among colleagues I admired.
The cops arrived. Luckily, the courthouse shares a building with the police station, so it did not take long at all. These cops were pretty much what you would imagine in a medium-sized city in North Carolina. The boss, chief, or maybe just the guy who first arrived started talking to me. He asked me why I turned up the ramp after we hit the sign. I told him my “need to go up to go down and get out” theory. He was kind of a dick about it. Then I think he really looked at me, saw my shaking hands, saw that I was a young woman alone, remembered that I had 11 students with me and softened a bit.
I got out of the bus and called the maintenance man from the school. He said he’d come right away. I texted a few colleagues and then made the dreaded call to the head of the school, the man who would certainly fire me very soon. He was kind and reassuring. It didn’t matter, he said, as long as the kids and I were safe.
While we waited for the maintenance man from school to come, the cops started trying to figure out how to get the bus unstuck and out of the parking deck. After realising that it wasn’t budging, they began to let the air out of the back tires. This wasn’t getting the sinking effect they were hoping for, so we opened the back door of the bus and a couple of cops sat in the back to try to weigh it down. It was working, but not enough. So the chief got on his radio and said, “I need all the big boys to get down here. Tell Jerry we definitely need him.” Some jokes were made like, “Thank god I ate two donuts this morning.”
A few minutes later all the fattest cops in Durham showed up. They sat on the back of the bus while I got in the driver’s seat, put it in neutral and waited. Slowly, ever so slowly, their combined weight flattened the back tires enough that the bus began to move. I maneuvered it back down the slope, and around the corner. It got a bit stuck again, not in the girders but because the tires were flattened I couldn’t turn the wheel. Eventually we got it into a position where it could sit and wait for the school maintenance man to fill the tires back up and drive it back to the school.
Once it was parked safely and the maintenance man arrived, I got out and almost collapsed. I started crying and all those fat cops just stared at me. The kindly maintenance man came over to console me, to assure me I wouldn’t be fired, to tell me it would be okay. He and I had to arrange for another bus to come later in the day to pick us all up and take us back to the school. He said he would take care of everything and told me to go find the kids.
I got upstairs into the courthouse and found the group. I got the attention of the other chaperone and she quietly came over to me. I immediately started crying again and as she was comforting me, the talk the kids were attending ended. They got up to leave and all saw me crying. Though it was embarrassing, I do think it was a bonding moment for us all. They saw me as human. They understood that though it was funny to them, it wasn’t, yet, to me. We had survived an ordeal, together.
Word got around very quickly, as you can imagine. I was only able to laugh about it after I knew I wasn’t going to get fired. The head of the school called me again and said, “Amelia, this is why we have insurance. It’s going to be okay.” The kids thought it was hilarious, other students asked me about it and eventually I could find it funny. The fat cops, Jerry, etc.
Weeks later I saw the bus in the parking lot with a huge trap wrapped around it like a cast. A ridiculous reminder of a ridiculous experience.
14 June 2020
For 6 months in my early twenties, I lived on a Disney cruise ship. It was an insane time in my life. If you’ve ever met anyone who has lived on a cruise ship, they will tell you, it’s kind of like the Wild West. You’re in the middle of the sea, literally international waters, so it feels like there is no time, there are no rules, the real world doesn’t exist. A lot of crazy stuff happened to me on the ship and during my contract. Much of it isn’t appropriate to share publicly. Maybe I’ll start an NSFW story series that’s password protected. Who’s interested?
I digress. On this ship, I was a children’s entertainer. I did sometimes up to five or six shows a day mostly for children aged 4 to 7, and the other hours of the day I was essentially a babysitter. I didn’t play any characters you know, rather I was the conduit to famous people appearing. I was a storyteller with a magic book and when I told my story, the princess came to life and visited with the children. I was a circus ringmistress (as I called myself) and in the middle of my show, Donald Duck joined in. It was a weird job, but often quite magical and the chance to do shows with Mickey Mouse is truly something special.
But, as I said, the other hours of the day were spent as a childminder. This was, not surprisingly, not my favourite part of the job. I loved performing, and it was exhausting so I really didn’t have the mental, physical or emotional energy to look after children. I did it, though. And I don’t do anything half-assed, so I really threw myself into it. The kids’ club I mostly worked in was designed for 4- to 7-year-olds so it included Pixie Hollow (where Tinkerbell lived) and Andy’s room (where the toys were bigger than the kids) among other locations. It was a cool place, but for young kids it must have seemed like an enormous labyrinth. And the bathrooms (toilets, loos, what have you) were around the back, quite far from the entrance, which is vital information for this story.
There were all kinds of rules and regulations, of course, connected to the cleanliness of the space. If you were unlucky enough to pull the closing shift, you had to wash and wipe every surface, every toy, twice, the second time with a diluted bleach mixture. It was intense. When a child wet themselves, which happened often (these were little kids, away from their parents), there was a laborious set of protocols for cleaning it up, which included waiting for janitorial staff and trying to stop other kids from stepping in the pee. This was often the hardest part.
So there I was, fresh off a show (perhaps I had just done Boot Camp and had been painted green to play an army man from Toy Story) and a very small child was brought to the club. His parents left him at the door and with a wave, they were off. I am good with kids anyways, but by this point I had a nose for what was coming next. I watched the child closely, believing that a meltdown was imminent and I stepped up to try to stymie the surely ensuing tears. I said, “Hey buddy, what would you like to do?” He looked up at me with big damp eyes and didn’t say a word, but slowly, ever so slowly, peed his pants.
I watched as a small puddle gathered near his foot. He was just about to cry when I said, “Hey! Don’t worry! It’s okay. It happens to everyone. I have a great idea!” He was confused enough to hold off the tears, but was still hovering on the edge. A colleague approached and saw the situation but before she could say anything I said, “Get me a tray from Pixie Hollow.” We had small red trays for arts and crafts in Tinkerbell’s house and I had a crazy idea. See, if a child pees, we have to cordon off the entire area. This little boy was miles from the bathrooms, which meant he’d track urine with every step and we’d never be able to block off the route and prevent kids from stepping in it. So I got creative.
When my colleague came back with the tray, thankfully at a bit of a jog, she handed it to me with a look. She was just as confused as the little boy. I asked him his name. He said, sadly, “Billy.” I said, “Well, Billy, guess what? You’re going to be the first boy to ever surf through the kid’s club. Are you so excited?” He smiled a bit and said, “Huh?” I looked at my colleague and nodded; she understood, then, my crazy plan. She picked Billy up under the arms and I slid the red tray beneath his feet. Another colleague came over with cones to surround the little pee pile. I asked Billy if he was ready, and he grinned in full, “Yeah!” And then my colleague and I surfed him across the kids’ club to the toilets. I made sound effects of splashing water and said, “Whoa, dolphins!”
Another colleague was standing by the bathroom and looked at me like I was mad when we arrived. I said, “This is Billy. You must know him. He’s famous. First kid to ever surf the club. And he needs to get cleaned up.” My colleague showed him into the restroom and gave him one of the clean sets of clothes we kept for just this occasion. The girl who helped me laughed with me and said, “You’re insane.” I responded, “Hey, we kept the pee in one place. I call that a win.” I took the tray to the back to clean it properly with bleach and later saw Billy and gave him a high-five.
At the end of that week in the staff meeting I was simultaneously rewarded for my creativity by management whilst slightly admonished. “We can all recognise your ingenuity, but let’s not do that again.”
7 June 2020
Crazy Cat Story
When I was in high school and college, I cat sat for our neighbour. They were a lovely family and had a cat named Oliver who was white and orange and, as far as cats go, nice. I wasn’t a cat person when I took on this job, and when the story is over, you’ll understand why I remain a dog person to this day. This cat was the turning point from ambivalence and hesitance to my anti-cat sentiments. Though I should say, before I go on, because I know I’m losing readers by the word, that now, at 31, I am accepting of cats. I am still 100% a dog person but I have met some wonderful cats (shout out to my boy Hugh!) and in general, I will now give cats a chance.
But if you want to know why it took me over a decade to feel that way, here’s why.
It was a weekend while I was in college, and I came home to see my parents. The Crockers were going away for the weekend and asked me to look after Oliver. I had done it a number of times before and was glad for the extra bit of cash for a very easy job (poop scooping notwithstanding). Friday evening I went over to their house and let myself in. Immediately, I could tell something was different. Usually Oliver would come to the door when I came in and do that thing where he rubbed his body all over my legs. Now, he was nowhere to be found.
I walked through the front hallway into the family room, and suddenly heard the most ungodly sound that had ever assaulted my ears. How can I describe it? It sounded like something was vibrating, but it didn’t know how. It sounded like someone’s stomach just before they’re about to be sick out of both ends. It sounded, quite frankly, like Satan giggling. I could not ascertain where this terrifying sound was coming from except that it was over *there* on the other side of the room. I scampered into the kitchen with my heart pounding. I bent down calling, “Oliver! Oliver?” making that stupid “tsst” sound that I thought might work for an animal who refuses to be called when it doesn’t want to come. I was greeted with more devil-like noises and finally saw that Oliver was underneath the armchair in the living room, his eyes glowing, staring at me. I was weirded out and honestly a little frightened but I took the tack of pretending like nothing was wrong so I could convince myself there was nothing to be scared of. I hummed a bit to comfort myself while I checked the litter box (blissfully empty) and then fed him.
As I bent down to pour the dry food into his bowl, he bounded out from under the chair and across the room at me. I shrieked and dropped the rest of the food into the bowl. He was hissing and swatting at me and I was shaking my legs like I had ants in my pants to try to stop him without hurting him. He wouldn’t give up, so I quickly closed the dry food bag and made for the front door. As I got there, he followed, wailing like Mephistopheles and then sank his teeth deep into my leg. I screamed and started crying, frantically shaking my leg to get him off me. He skidded away from me across the wood floor and I snuck out of the front door and slammed it shut behind me.
I turned around and looked into the waist-high windows that surrounded the front door. When he saw me looking in he leapt towards the glass to swat me with his paw. He was almost as high as my head. I jumped back. Shaken, terrified, and bleeding, I limped around the corner to my house. When I got in, no one was home, so I cleaned the cut, put on a bandaid and waited for my mom.
Needless to say, she did not believe my story. My mom was and is a cat person, and even had her own cat named Oliver when she was a child, so definitely had a soft spot for this one. The only reason we didn’t have a cat in my family growing up is that my dad is very allergic. So it took some convincing to get my mom on side. Finally, once she saw the bleeding bite, she relented slightly and admitted that maybe something happened. I was firmly, and admittedly dramatically, saying the cat attacked me, and she didn’t want to give into such histrionics but I did convince her to go with me in the morning because I was afraid to go alone.
The next morning we walked around the corner to the house and my mom was kind of joking about what we’d find, “Oooh, the big bad cat!” When we opened the door, we again heard the awful sound. My mom didn’t recognise it either. She asked me, stopped in her tracks, “Is the cat making that sound?” I nodded yes, my eyes as wide as dinner plates and my heart already pounding. As we slowly went towards the kitchen, Oliver bolted out and came for us. I started screaming, and (vindication!) so did my mom. She was trying to get the cat to calm down but, of course, he wasn’t listening. We eventually made our way into the kitchen and my mom grabbed a broom and used it as protection while I very quickly gave him his breakfast and emptied the litter box. All the while he was hissing, swatting, and making what sounded like Old Scratch’s indigestion.
Finally, we were able to back out of the house, all the while my mom defended us with the broom. When we got the door shut, Oliver was again leaping at the window trying to get us. We looked at each other and I said, “SEE?! He was ATTACKING us!” My mom was in shock and we spoke on the walk home about how she had never ever seen a cat act like that. She assured me that I didn’t have to go back, that she would take care of it for me and would tell Mrs. Crocker about Oliver’s behavior.
A couple of weeks later, back at college, my mom called me. She told me that it had been, obviously, quite hard to convince Mrs. Crocker of Oliver’s violence. She couldn’t believe it. But she did think that perhaps he was acting a little strangely, so she took him to the vet. Oliver was diagnosed with cat schizophrenia. His brain told him we were trying to hurt him and he responded in kind. Ultimately, they had to put him down because there was no predicting his erratic outbursts and he was becoming quite difficult.
I often paraphrase this story by saying I got attacked by a cat once. I stand by that precis. So if I’m ever cautious about meeting your cat, this is why. RIP Oliver.
31 May 2020
BLACKOUT for #BlackLivesMatter
24 May 2020
The Black Futon
My freshman year of college, I thought it was uncool to go to a formal party alone. I didn’t realise it was acceptable to fly solo and just hang out with people. So, desperate to be accepted into the “theatre people” crowd, I took a boy, we’ll call him Noah, to a mixer.
Admittedly, I didn’t know Noah well. I think I met him in the dining hall and I thought he was cute and nice. Also, he was in college, so how dumb could he be? Reader, I hope you’re learning by this point how very wrong I so often was.
At the party, Noah proceeded to get shitfaced. As soon as he had a couple of drinks he was not cute anymore and I was really embarrassed that he was my date. He first began making a fool of himself then he started falling asleep on the couch and I realised it was time to go. I called a cab, and told him (yelling into his half-asleep, fully-drunk face) that I was taking him home. He lived in a dorm not far from mine so I told the cab to drop us off there so I could make sure he got in safely. I was finished with him, but I wasn’t a monster.
At the door of his building, he was swaying. He had begged me in the car to come back to my room. That was, obviously, an absolute no. Though I admit I was disgustingly impressed with his level of unearned bravado. He could barely stand but he wanted to “rock my world.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out what I thought was his key fob. He kept repeatedly pushing it against the censor to no avail. I finally grabbed it out of his hand and pushed him out of the way so I could get him into the building and off my hands. It wasn’t his key fob. It was a chapstick.
I said, “Noah, you idiot, this is chapstick. Where are your keys?”
He laughed and patted himself down, eventually slurring, “Oh shit, they must have fallen out of my jacket at the party.”
“Can’t you call your roommate? Or anyone on your hall to let you in?”
“My phone is gone too. Oh no!”
I was fuming. It was late, cold and I had had enough. I was tired and ready for bed and eager to be out of the company of this human toilet.
Then he said, “I guess I do get to go home with you.”
I stalked off towards my dorm, cursing myself for being nice. I shouted for him to follow and as he stumbled after me I said, “You’re sleeping on my futon.”
He tried to say something cool. He failed.
When I got him into my dorm room, he was barely conscious. I took off his jacket and pushed him onto the futon. As I hung his jacket on my back of my door my hand brushed by the pocket. In it were his keys and his phone. I turned around to lay into him and he was already passed out.
I got in bed and was so looking forward to the morning when I could get rid of this guy and never see him again. My bed was lofted, so I was about 6 feet away from Noah and his likely drunken farts.
Sometime early in the morning, when I felt I had barely slept, I woke up to a rustling. There was movement down below, though it was evident whoever was doing it was trying to move slowly enough so as not to wake me up. I looked over the bar of my bed and Noah was lowering the pad of the futon in place and picking up a plastic bag with something in it.
I said, “What are you doing?”
He looked up, terrified. “Nothing, thanks for letting me crash, I’m going home.” He was now, apparently, quite sober.
“Why were you moving the futon?”
“Okay, listen.” This was not a good start. I did not want to listen and I did not want him to have to tell me anything. “I peed on the futon and I was flipping it over so you wouldn’t notice.” He waved the plastic bag. “This is my underwear.”
I sat up like shot. ‘What the fuck? Are you kidding me?”
“…No. Why would I joke about this?”
“So you were going to flip my piss-covered futon, and then leave without telling me. And then over the next few weeks it would start to smell and I wouldn’t know why? Are you actually joking? You owe me a new futon.”
This motherfucker had the audacity to laugh. “Yeah, I guess this wasn’t a great plan. I thought you might not notice because the futon is black.”
“You will buy me a new futon pad. And when it comes, you will help me get this one out and get the new one in.”
“Yeah. Yes. I will. You can go back to sleep. So sorry, dude.”
And then he left.
I got out of bed and sprayed Febreeze all over the futon until it was practically soaked. I honestly can’t remember if he did buy me a new futon, or if I decided it wasn’t worth seeing him again so I bought one myself.
The fun, and ridiculous, addendum to this story is that four years later he showed up uninvited (and again wasted) to a party at my off-campus apartment declaring his love for me. I literally left him standing on the porch for almost 20 minutes, hoping he’d leave. Eventually, I had to come out and speak to him. I was wearing a toga (it was a toga party) and he had brought a very pitiful bouquet of flowers. I barely remembered him and he was telling me how in love with me he was. When I refused his advances, he asked if he could come in and use the bathroom before he left.
I said no.
17 May 2020
When I was young my friends knew that I was a scaredy cat. I was (and still am) not the person to watch scary movies with. I saw Poltergeist when I was way too young: my brothers were watching it and I wanted to seem cool. My mom didn’t know. After I slept with the lights on for two weeks and couldn’t watch TV alone. One of my friends who loved scary movies convinced me to watch The Ring in 8th grade and I saw the entire thing through the spaces in a knitted blanket that I had over my head. And by entire thing, I mean very little. In high school I went to a scary movie with my friends and maniacally laughed through the entire thing to try to deal with my feelings. The other people in the movie theatre were not happy. I do not like jump scares. In fact, I hate them. Funnily enough, I like thrillers and I love roller coasters. So it’s not about not liking adrenaline, I just like it when I know it’s coming.
My friend Lianne, who I have known since we were 8-years-old, knows this about me. She’s known me almost the longest of any of my friends. I call her Leech or Leechy. We were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. It’s a grand friendship, now over 20 years in the making. But in high school, so very often, I wanted to kill her.
When Leech used to come over to my house, she loved to go and hide when I went to the bathroom. She thought it was hilarious and she was sneaky as hell so she was really good at it. We would hang out, having a great time, then I’d get up to relieve myself and when I opened the bathroom door, the house would be silent. Eerily so. After the first few times this happened, I knew exactly what she was doing. I would come out of the bathroom, feel the odd quiet, and the adrenaline would start pumping through my veins. Then I would begin yelling. It was usually a diatribe that went something like, “YOU ASSHOLE. I HATE YOU! COME OUT HERE. YOU ASSHOLE!” She’s one of my best friends.
Somehow, Leech would keep quiet. She was probably snickering to herself all along in her hiding spot, but she would stay silent enough that I couldn’t find her. Inevitably, she would jump and scare the bejeezus out of me. It was lucky I was always coming out of the bathroom, otherwise I would definitely have peed myself.
I did eventually learn my lesson. I would come out of the bathroom, realise it was another ruse and then yell, “I’M NOT LOOKING FOR YOU, ASSHOLE. I’M TOO SMART TO FALL FOR THAT.” Then I would go sit on the couch and wait. Once, she wisened up to this and hid in the family room behind the couch. She got me real good that time.
This is, I am only now realising, perhaps a stupid story to tell. Now you all know that I hate being scared, so when this pandemic ends I might be in for it. But at this point, I’m so desperate to see friends that I would gladly be scared shitless by any of you.
But that’s not an invitation.
Really, please don’t do it.
10 May 2020
Hell No, Part 2
The long awaited return of Jessica.
Sophomore year, while living with Lindsey (she who told me I didn’t deserve love) I was, unfortunately, not out of Jessica’s reach. Though I tried to put her completely out of my mind, and the campus held 16,000 undergraduate students, I couldn’t entirely hide from Jessica.
One morning, in the autumn, I think it was, I woke up and went to class. I lived, as I said previously, in the dorm right next to the drama building. It was one of the nicest dorms on campus because it was one of the newest and I loved it because the doors had circular windows that I thought looked like portholes on a cruise ship. I was living the high life in my fancy dorm that was closer to all my classes, in a better room with (at the time) a better roommate. I thought I was home free. I was wrong.
When I came back to my dorm in the afternoon I was greeted by something that I honestly think will stick with me for the rest of my life. On our door, I had put some pictures. I’m not sure if this is just an American thing, or just a girl thing, but on our dorm room door, I had put a few pictures of me and Lindsey. (This was obviously when we were still friends.) I guess the pictures were to say, “We live here!” They were supposed to be fun, and a lot of people on our hall had done it. I regretted it, instantly. On one of the pictures, with a big black sharpie, my face had been crossed out. And underneath, in giant letters, was written, “SLUT.”
She had found me. And, like when she chased me, she had not only found me, but found a way into my dorm, onto my floor and gotten to my room. I was terrified. I tore the picture down, went into my room and closed the door behind me as quickly as I could. I cried for a while. I raged. I thought about what to do. Lindsey told me to forget it as there was no way to prove it was her. I didn’t forget it, but I didn’t do anything about it either. What could I do?
Flash forward. It’s my senior year. I had become a very different person. I had made incredible friends, really found myself, and I was soaking up every moment I could. One night, my friends and I decided to go dancing at a place called Vespa. It was usually an over-priced Italian restaurant, but some nights they moved the tables and brought in a DJ and it turned into a gay club. I was dancing with my friend John, living it up, when suddenly I was shoved so hard that my drink spilled all over me.
I whipped around and saw that the person who bumped me is a guy I vaguely recognised, and dancing with him, smiling like Ted Bundy, was Jessica. John shouted over the music, “She pushed him so he’d fall into you.” I ran out of the club into the parking lot. John followed. I raged once again. “That fucking bitch. My clothes are ruined.” I was covered in sticky booze and the night was over. I was ready to go back in and show her what I was made of. She’d been harassing me for four years and I was ready, if you’ll pardon the expression, to beat her ass. John calmed me down and convinced me it wasn’t worth it. What could I really do? I’d get in more trouble for starting a fight than she would for “accidentally” making someone spill a drink on me.
The night over, I went home and stewed. Ultimately, I decided to be the bigger person. But I now had four years’ worth of shitty memories to reflect on, and I’m nothing if not thorough in my remembrance of what hurt me. These stories are proof.
I wish I could say that was the end of it. But even after graduation, Jessica hunted and haunted me. Stay tuned for part three and the end of the Jessica saga.
3 May 2020
My Own One
Friends, a love story.
I moved to Birmingham, England in 2014 to pursue my MFA in Acting at what was then called the Birmingham School of Acting (BSA). Not far from Stratford-upon-Avon, I was beyond thrilled to be studying Shakespeare so close to his hometown. It was, in so very many ways, a dream come true. I did not know, then, that the decision to move across the ocean to do acting would make another, and perhaps the most important, dream come true as well.
I have mentioned in previous stories that I was boy-crazy. I’m not sure if it’s clear enough how very insane about boys I was. I found my 5th grade diary not long ago and every single entry was about a boy. I was 10, and had scribbled “Mrs. Amelia Warren,” all over it, in honour of my 5th grade “boyfriend.” Though it sounds silly, that’s actually the crux of it. I wanted to be married. All my life, all I ever wanted was someone to share it with. I guess it comes down to a desperate fear of being alone (I am incredibly reckless when lonely, please see story called “Villain”) that I retain even to this day. This desperation, this intense desire to be a part of a couple led me down numerous wrong paths. You’ve seen some of them outlined in these stories, and more are to come.
But, once, in the autumn of 2014, I found the right path. And it all started at a party.
BSA had an opening party every year. It was called FAFFY, which stood for Find A Friendly First Year. Many people also jokingly said that the first F in FAFFY stood for something far more x-rated that I’ll let you fill in yourselves. And often, as I’m sure you can imagine with a bunch of horny actors, they were right.
In 2014, FAFFY was held at a house on Bristol Road in Birmingham. It was a huge house, where a number of second-year actors lived. The event on Facebook said the party started at 9:00pm. So, being a group of unknowing Americans, my new classmates and I (who I’d only known for a couple of days), got in a taxi around 9:15pm and headed to the party. We were, unsurprisingly, some of the first arrivals. No one shows up to a party on time, what were we thinking? But the people who were already there were very kind, they welcomed us and chatted to us. I remember thinking all the girls were so gorgeous, and youthful and I was delighted by the sheer number of different accents I encountered.
And then, on the stairs by the door, I began a conversation with a boy in a plain black t-shirt. He had bounds of energy, blue eyes and a way of listening to you that made you really feel like you were really being heard. He was so nice, and I continued speaking to him for a long time, all the while necking a bottle of white wine by myself. You know, to feel brave. I was starting to really feel this boy, whose name by now you have guessed was Chris. He made me laugh, he had a lovely accent, he was adorable. The way he paid attention to me was starting to ring warning bells in my head. A boy this sweet must be gay.
I knew exactly one other person at the party. A boy named Gabe had kindly reached out to me on Facebook before I moved to England. We had had a few conversations and I was grateful to him for making me feel welcome. Almost entirely through the bottle of wine, I wandered away from Chris in search of Gabe. I needed my suspicions confirmed. It took me forever to find Gabe, as the house was enormous with a giant garden as well. I parsed my way through the dark, tipsy, pushing into conversations between strangers and saying, probably loudly and American-y, “Have you seen Gabe?”
When I finally found him, he was quite sauced as well. I said, “Gabe, listen, the cute boy named Chris, over there in the black shirt. Does he play for your team or my team?”
Gabe, not being American, did not understand my euphemism. “He doesn’t play on any teams, he’s an actor.”
“No, Gabe. I mean, is Chris gay or straight?”
“Ohhhh. Chris Pearce? He’s straight.”
And before he could give me any encouragement, or discouragement for that matter, I was off to find Chris.
I took him home with me in a taxi. We had been kissing at the party in the back garden where it was quite dark. In the dim light when the cab door opened, I saw how young he was and I started to freak out. When we got back to my room, and I saw him completely in the bright light of a residence hall, my worries worsened. He seemed very young. I was 25 and did not want the responsibility of taking this sweet boy’s virginity. When we got in bed, I told him all we would do is kiss. He was fine with it.
The next morning we said goodbye and he assured me that he would text me. I waved and said inwardly, “Okay, sure but no.” He did text me, and was very sweet about how he enjoyed meeting me and our night together. He wanted to take me on a date. I said no, initially. I thought he was way too nice, and I didn’t want to corrupt him. I wasn’t used to men being nice to me. Remember, six months prior a guy invited me to Miami with him and then never spoke to me again.
Chris continued to text and eventually asked me out again. I told my friend Todd about the situation and that I didn’t know how to let this guy down because he was so kind and I was worried he was too young. Todd said, “Do you know the quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity?”
I said, “…Yes.” waiting for him to call me crazy.
He said, “You keep dating bad guys and they treat you badly. Maybe if you date a nice guy, I don’t know, he’ll be nice. And who cares how old he is? If he likes you, and he’s a legal adult, it doesn’t matter.”
So I went on the date. He took me to an Italian restaurant and seemed very nervous. We ate and talked and laughed.
And that, my friends, was it for me.
Sometimes Chris and I call each other “my own one,” which is a reference to The Importance of Being Earnest. I always thought it was sweet and kind of sickeningly cute that Jack calls Gwendolyn that. I never thought I would find a man willing to call me that. But I did.
I love you, Chris, my own one.
26 April 2020
My life contains a variety of crazy roommate stories. I’ll keep you all on edge a little longer with the Jessica saga, and tell you a sadder tale.
My sophomore year, despite being chased by Jessica, I very stupidly re-entered the roommate lottery. Why did I do this? Perhaps naivete, and the belief that it really couldn’t get any worse than what I had already experienced. Luckily, I ended up winning the lottery in two ways: I was placed in my first choice dorm (the one right next to the drama building) and I ended up without a roommate. That’s right. The housing gods smiled down on me and bestowed me with a double room and a roommate who never showed up.
Now, instead of dancing naked nightly in praise of these housing gods and realising how very lucky I was, I did a dumb thing. A freshman I met through the drama department, let’s call her Lindsey, was having some trouble with her roommate. They weren’t getting along and she was feeling quite miserable with the situation. I understood Lindsey’s predicament. Hell, I had just lived it! So in all my kindness, and because I was (and am) truly an extrovert and I didn’t really like living alone, I invited her to move in with me. I thought it was the perfect set-up: I wanted a friend, I wanted a roommate, she needed to get out of her situation and it seemed like she wanted to be friends with me.
And for a few months, it was the perfect set-up. We got along quite well, got cast in the same show and enjoyed that experience and became fast friends. At the time, I was in a very odd dating situation (definitely a story for another day) and so Lindsey was there for me through the trials and tribulations of my flavour of the month. I have said, and I mean it, I was the boy-craziest person you’ve ever met. I thought Lindsey and I were becoming best friends and I was certain this girl and I would be in each other’s lives forever. I didn’t realise that my difficult freshman year and the insanity with Jessica had made me so desperate for connection, but it had.
Somewhere along the way, things started to sour. Maybe it’s my selective memory (and maybe it isn’t) but I really don’t remember how or why the dynamic changed. Suddenly, around the new year, Lindsey didn’t want to hang out anymore. She made excuses to not spend time with me and my room became, yet again, a relatively toxic environment. Except this time, I couldn’t pinpoint why.
In February, I was wallowing a bit in self-pity. My grandfather had just died. My romantic relationship had broken down. It was nearly my birthday, this girl I thought was my friend was distancing herself from me and I was feeling alone. I tried to speak to Lindsey about how I was feeling, and it also happened to be very near the time when we would need to sign a contract to live together the next year so I wanted to ensure we were on the same page.
In a whirlwind of a conversation she both revealed to me that she wasn’t going to live with me again (and was, in fact, bunking with a girl I had introduced her to) and that, and I quote, I was “not deserving of love.”
You know that quote that says, “People won’t remember what you said. People won’t remember what you did. But people will always remember how you made them feel?” For the most part, that’s true. But for me, with my damn acute memory, I will remember how you made me feel and the exact words you used to make me feel that way.
At 19, I hadn’t yet learned the important lesson about never giving away my power. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t take to heart what this catty girl said to me. So I did. I believed her. And for quite awhile, I really wasn’t sure I was deserving of love.
This story feels like it merits a moral. So here it is: you are deserving of love. You, reader. Always. Every day of your life; your worst and your best, your ugliest and smelliest, your most beautiful and charismatic. Every single day you are deserving of love. So believe it. And never tell anyone otherwise. The world is dark enough.
19 April 2020
It occurs to me that many of these stories seem to be about strange or awful things happening to me. I don’t want you all to think I am just a victim in my life. So, a story wherein I do the thing. In fact, a story about what I would consider The Worst Thing I Have Ever Done™.
I fell for a boy. Of course. (I was truly the boy-craziest person I’ve ever encountered.) He had a name like a soap opera star, red hair, and a slightly Southern accent that drove me wild. We’ll call him Charlie.
We met at an audition at the beginning of senior year of college and, to me, it felt like kismet. He was funny, smart, sexy, mysterious, and, most importantly, at that time, we had the same reference points. By which I mean, we had seen the same shows, the same movies, we laughed at the same things, we had almost all of the same opinions on everything we liked and disliked. I took this pop cultural alignment as a sign that we were destined to be together. I rationalised that the universe would not have brought this person, so like me, into my life, if he wasn’t meant to stay. We also were obviously intensely attracted to each other.
He, of course, had a girlfriend.
That didn’t stop us from becoming fast friends. I was able to compartmentalise like an absolute pro back then and I had convinced myself that just because our friendship relied on the fact that we pretended like his girlfriend didn’t exist didn’t mean that there was a problem. I was absolutely head over heels for him. I liked that he put no effort into his wardrobe but still managed to look good (in a slightly grungy way). I liked his freckles. I loved staring at his eyes, which were greenish and gorgeous. We could talk for hours without noticing time going by. He was, in so many ways, my dream guy. I remember we’d sit in the Union just chatting, trying to make each other laugh and there was always electricity crackling between us. We made each other feel alive, excited. Our cheeks would always be flushed by the time we said goodbye.
In November, he told me he was in love with me. He wrote me this epic email about how he couldn’t deny it, and it made him sick, and that he loved his girlfriend but he had to be honest about what was happening. I didn’t know what to do. He told me we had to be friends. He wrote, “But I care for you so much that we have to be in each other’s lives. We have to be friends. Fight that awkwardness that only we’ll know about for as long as it takes and just grit my teeth and go with it. and I’ll do that for you because without you in my life in some way I think I’d hurt more than I already do.” I was so enamoured that I agreed. I would look forward to seeing him, then get angry at myself for it, then try to avoid him, then miss him then feel dumb for missing him. All the while, he and his girlfriend remained together, and, by all accounts, happy.
It obviously didn’t work. I got angry at him for being in love with me, telling me, and doing nothing about it. I got tired of waiting, fell for another boy, put Charlie out of my mind and thought that was that. I got my heart broken by this other boy (perhaps a story for another time) and finished my senior year of college single, two months from moving to the Dominican Republic and lonely in my apartment as my roommates moved out one by one.
It was a lazy summer. I was a new college grad, with plans on the horizon, and stayed in Chapel Hill to work a bit more at the part-time job I had while I was a student. It was hot and hazy, a true North Carolina summer, and I was reckless. I have learned, since then, that loneliness and boredom are a poison cocktail for me. So it was that summer.
With nothing else to do, and too much time with my thoughts, I texted Charlie. I told him I missed him and that I would love to catch up. He invited me over. He was, quite strangely, living on a farm just out of town, taking care of animals in lieu of rent, while he figured out his next steps. He gave me an address, and told me that, because of his schedule and that of the person he was staying with, I should come around 10 at night. With no one to stop me, I got in the car. His directions included that at some point I would turn onto a gravel road, and that it would seem like I was going the wrong way, but to keep driving. When I got to this point, I was ready to turn back. It was like something out of Deliverance, pitch black, and I could barely read the signs in my headlights. I called him from what looked like a broken gate and he said he could see my car, that I was there. It was the first time I had heard his voice in months and it sent my stomach on a rollercoaster.
Here, I will make a strange move, and tell a large portion of this story through two others. I wrote both of these that summer, after the incidents. I think I must have chosen third person to give myself some distance from what I’d done. To make me feel like less of a villain. It was almost ten years ago now, but reading them, I remember everything. It’s etched into my memory as evidence of my wrongdoing.
“Good morning, my love,” she said, the four words feeling new but strangely familiar on her lips. It wasn’t a greeting, and it wasn’t a goodbye, but it sure felt like one. And said aloud, to herself as she cried in the car, it felt sultry.
Then suddenly, that ironic juxtaposition had her dissecting the phrase with the utmost precision. Each part, on its own and together.
“Good.” It was a seemingly nonchalant word to use. She didn’t know statistically but it felt like the most often used word in the English language. A word so overly used that it seemed to lack any meaning anymore. The human race, semantically satiated. But for her, it was the only word to use. That’s how she felt: good. She wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t spectacular; given the circumstances, how could she be? But given those same circumstances, she was, indeed, good. Her tears were salty, yes, but bittersweet. She felt simultaneously heartbroken and healed, bereft of understanding but chock full of a joy she could barely recognize. All that swirled into “good.”
And then, when used as an adjective to describe “morning,” “good” was skyrocketed to practically poetry. The sun rose lazily over the barn, it was cool out, not too cold but the perfect temperature to freeze their bodies that burned like fire. The air between them still hummed dangerously, and the birds chirped suspiciously, as if they knew. It was almost too early to be awake, or too late in their case. But still, it was a good morning in the most physical and scientific senses. Less tangibly, after the night they’d shared, the events of the last five hours, it was a good morning. It couldn’t be wonderful, they were still too sick to their stomachs, and yet it wasn’t bad: each time their eyes met that essential understanding remained.
“My.” This word was troublesome. By no accounts was he at all hers. The ownership inherent in that word was something she would probably never understand. For a few precious moments locked in his small, musty bedroom, wrapped in his warmth, she thought she knew what it was like. But it disappeared from her almost immediately when her stomach curled, her body revolted and her mind awoke. It’d been knocked unconscious by the drunken stupor of her heart then violently kicked awake by her gag reflex. Any notion of possession skirted around the corner, threatened by her conscience. He was not hers.
But when she put that disallowed word next to “love” it was no longer sickening. He was her love. The last five hours they’d spent together proved it incontrovertibly. The last year of their lives was all the evidence necessary to understand it. The way they exploded into each other’s psyche after one chance meeting, and remained rooted there abated by nothing, not time, not his already existing life, not her whirlwind romances elsewhere, not silence, not months without seeing each other; it all fit together easily and comfortably. They were in love. He was her love, and she was…
She smacked the steering wheel and silently cursed any deity she could think of. She wished she could take back what she’d said alone in the car, with the knowledge that she could never take back what she’d done or what she’d said to him in the confines of his bedroom. She wasn’t sure she wanted to, but she was disappointed in herself for committing such a blatant crime. In the dark of night she’d driven to that bucolic setting, she’d looked at the stars and felt alive, she’d slipped onto his bed with an unbelievable ease and she’d taken what was someone else’s. Her heart throbbed with a stolen love, her lips with a stolen kiss.
“I gave up being good.” Was it as easy as that? She had told herself it was as she drove through the darkness once again. It felt like a serious case of déjà vu: the dark winding roads, the sound of her tires on the gravel, his ethereal figure floating towards her in the darkness when she got out of the car. But it wasn’t her brain playing tricks on her, and her breath stuck in her throat the same way it had when she hugged him five nights earlier. Her body heated and her hands shook and her stomach did somersaults when he touched her, their cheeks lingering a little longer than they should next to each other, emanating a warmth and familiarity neither wanted to let go.
Afraid of an awkwardness she was almost sure wouldn’t be there, she escaped into the night sky like she had before. The stars truly were magnificent there. They sat on the trunk of her car and talked like old friends, joking, sharing stories, finding yet more similarities between them. Each time he made her laugh she relished the joy, attempting to save it to her permanent memory store, for later when she was thousands of miles away. She was so afraid that she was dreaming, her subconscious fabricating this intimacy because she wanted it so badly to be real.
It wasn’t a fantasy, the night taught her as it went on. The heat between them never cooled, in fact, a perpetual fire seemed to burn beneath them. Overwhelmed by it they moved locations at intermittent times, pretending the summer temperatures or the lack of air conditioning predicated the change of locale. But they were simply stops along the way: each knew where the night would progress. The car he couldn’t stay rooted on because the material of his pants wouldn’t allow it led them to the living room where they couldn’t sit because of a heat he couldn’t handle so they ventured to the back porch they then had to vacate because he wanted to show her something; inevitably it brought them to his bedroom, she lying sprawled on his bed, arms above her head, smiling with tears in her eyes.
It was so hot. They joked about the fan’s inability to actually cool the room, he wiped sweat from his eyes with the corner of his t-shirt and she wished she wasn’t wearing a black dress. It would have been easy to blame it all on the heat. It would have been easy to say they were caught in the moment, they couldn’t resist the temptation of their bodies so close to each other. But that was a lie. It was their love, and their lust; it was their intimate knowledge of each other and that one missing detail that equaled true intimacy. There was nothing to blame, they had somehow unconsciously and deliberately tangoed into that cramped room, sunk onto his too comfortable bed and ended up in each other’s arms.
This time he kissed her first and she melted into him. She was sadistically proud of her ability to seduce him, the ease with which she got just what she wanted, all of him to herself. She didn’t care if it was only for a few hours in the middle of the night. She remembered what she’d said to herself in the car on the way, and then receded into a reckless abandon. At some point he leaned back and looked at her, shocked, “You didn’t stop me.” It wasn’t a question, or an accusation. She shook her head no. “You don’t care.” The same: no doubt in his mind, simply speaking aloud what he already knew. She stared into his eyes, never letting them break contact with hers, reached her fingers through his hair and pulled him in.
The way their sweat mixed together fascinated her, and their bodies discovered each other in a way they never had. She felt parts of her coming alive again when he touched them, pleasure coursing through her limbs. She relished in making him feel good, and she tried to remember just what he looked like when he smiled at her. His pale skin luminous in the dim light, the way his face softened and made her heart ache as he grinned. She wasn’t sure she’d seen anything more beautiful and she wished more than ever, when he smiled at her that way, that she were his.
She didn’t understand the hurt she felt as she left. It was unfamiliar. Perhaps it was that she just wanted to sleep there, in his arms, soaked in their collective sweat. Perhaps it was the way he had said goodbye in the dark by her car. He had touched her in a way that made her feel like a woman, he grabbed her like he didn’t want to let her go and he kissed her with a ferocity she only wanted more of. She realized, as she drove home, her pulse beating in parts of her she had forgotten needed attention, that he had become her drug of choice. She was already planning when she would get her next fix, and she laughed sardonically when she remembered again what she had told herself only a few hours before.
She had certainly given up being good.
We only slept together once. I guess neither of us could stomach it again. I wrote to him in July, two months later, to tell him I missed him. He asked me to leave him alone. He wrote, “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get myself to a place where I felt good with myself as well as a place where some kind of healing with my relationships could start to take place. I’m sorry that you no longer have words for me. If anything I hope that’s a good thing because what we had is too hard. You writing me this message was a surprise however,it didn’t help me feel any better. I’m sorry for everything but please you can’t write me. I’m headed to europe for soon to further clear my head and be with some family. Get away from things. When I get back I’m starting fresh to finish the year strong. I want nothing…”
Charlie is married now, with a child. So his cheating on me didn’t ruin his relationship. It didn’t seem to ruin either of our lives, as far as I can tell. But ten years on, I am still racked with guilt. I can’t believe I was “the other woman.” That I knowingly allowed myself to do that to another woman. She wrote me once, to tell me to leave them alone. I have since.
12 April 2020
Don’t Change Your Face
Ten or eleven years ago, at another of the infamous New Year’s Eve parties, an old friend showed up. Now when I say old friend, I don’t mean one that you welcome with open arms and delight in seeing. I mean to say a friend from the past. Someone you aren’t sure you ever wanted to see again. Someone who you had lost touch with, and that’s okay. We’ll call this friend Sam.
Sam had had some troubles. He was a little wild and very intense and tended to take everything way too seriously. He was in the year below, and when we graduated high school, he still had his senior year remaining. I was glad to move on to college and forget him. Because Sam could be difficult, and he wasn’t someone I was very keen on staying close with. I had also heard some stories about him and shenanigans he’d been up to that didn’t make me any more eager to see him. He had been seen walking around alone in the pouring rain with no jacket or umbrella. He had been screaming at someone in a store. In hindsight, he was obviously going through something. He very likely had mental health issues. But at the time, he just seemed like the strange boy we once knew, but were no longer in touch with.
That year, I admit, I asked everyone not to let Sam know about the party. He wasn’t invited. I knew he was sometimes, intermittently, in touch with a couple of friends from the group, so I asked that they not let him know about the party. He was a wildcard in social situations and when alcohol was involved, so there was no telling what could happen. It was not my shining moment, but it was my party, and I felt I could invite who I wanted to.
So imagine my surprise when around 8:00pm, an hour before everyone was told the event began, my doorbell rang. Standing on my front step, holding tupperware containers, was Sam. He had cut his hair very short and was not in costume, but wore plain jeans and a plain taupe t-shirt. I opened the door, willing my face not to change. I have a tendency to wear my emotions very clearly and I didn’t want him to see how I was really feeling. I was alone in the house and Sam freaked me out.
“Hi, Amelia! Happy New Year! I come bearing gifts,” he said, holding out his tupperwares.
From what I could tell, they were filled with rice and beans.
“Uh, thank you,” I said.
He noticed my costume. “Sorry I’m not dressed up, I didn’t realise there was a theme,” he commented somewhat passive aggressively.
Because you weren’t invited, I thought to myself. I’m sure my face said it too. But my voice said, “That’s okay. You’re a bit early… but, come on in.”
He tried to force me to take the tupperwares as I led him inside, so I made sure my hands weren’t in the right position. We went into the kitchen where I had snacks and drinks spread on the table. He moved some things aside to place his tupperwares and then opened them. They were, indeed, filled with what looked like plain rice and, I guessed, some kind of lentils. Next to the tupperwares, produced from his pocket, he placed some pamphlets.
Coming closer, I saw the pamphlets said “Hare Krishna” and I began putting things together. He saw me looking and launched into a speech about Hare Krishna, his new beliefs, the symbolism of the food and what information could be found in the pamphlets. I begged my face to remain neutral. I’m sure I said something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I went to pour myself a very big drink and offered him one, though he knew the parties were always BYOB. He refused, citing his newfound spiritualism. I was relieved.
For the next 45 minutes he extolled the virtues of Hare Krishna while I drank heavily and surreptitiously texted my friends pleading with them to come to the party early. When the blessed doorbell finally rang again, I left Sam in the kitchen and practically sprinted to the front door. I opened it enthusiastically and told the first real guest, “Just wait till you see who’s in the kitchen.”
The party, once in full swing, became like a revolving door. Sam never left his perch near his tupperwares and one by one attempted to bring each of our friends to the glories of Krishna. Each guest took their turn being the prey and staring pathetically at the rest of us waiting for rescue. Before things got too crazy, Sam, unusually, left early, with his tupperwares in tow.
When I said goodbye at the door, I willed my face not to change, for the last time that evening. I hoped I did not look too gleeful.
Sam will return, in Don’t Change Your Face, Again, wherein his exploits are less innocent and spiritual and a little nastier. Stay tuned.
5 April 2020
Run, Amelia, Run
Hell No, Part 1
My freshman year of college I chose to enter the roommate lottery, where the University randomly pairs people together. I thought it’d be an adventure, and just the type a college gal is supposed to have. I got placed with a girl from New York City, and being from a small city in North Carolina, I thought she was cool, sophisticated, grown up. Little did I know that she would drag me kicking and screaming into adulthood with years of shenanigans. This is part one. There are two more parts to come. We’ll call this roommate Jessica, and hold onto your hats, folks. This one is a doozy.
Very early in the year, Jessica was riding the P2P (an intercampus bus) and was “accidentally” jolted and ended up in the lap of a boy. What a great meet-cute. Not long after, they were dating and she brought him to our dorm room. We’ll call him Kyle. He and I started chatting and it turned out he was from my hometown. He went to a different high school, but I actually personally knew his sister from summer camp and we had that shared history that comes with being from the same place. So with this very real connection, he and I became friends. Jessica liked that Kyle and I got along well. I struggled with my transition to college and so I was glad to have two friends so quickly.
That happiness wore off as many nights I was forced to listen to their sexual exploits in the bed across the room from me. If you’ve ever had to listen to sex, you are familiar with the smacking and slapping sounds that make you question everything about the very act. Kyle and Jessica were young and infatuated with one another. They didn’t have a lot in common but their bodies did and at 18 and 19, that was enough for them. Kyle was a year older, which pleased Jessica to no end. Pun intended.
Their pleasure turned sour when Jessica revealed to me that she had gotten pregnant. She asked me if I would be there with her when she told Kyle. She was afraid to tell him alone and I was 18 and relatively innocent so I had no idea what to do. She had sworn me to secrecy so I felt I couldn’t ask anyone’s advice about whether I should, in fact, sit with my teenage roommate and her teenage boyfriend and discuss unwanted pregnancy. So I did. I endured what will probably remain for the rest of my life the most uncomfortable conversation of all time. Jessica told him that she intended to have an abortion over Thanksgiving break, that it was all okay, that he didn’t need to worry. Poor Kyle took it in stride, I think. He sat mostly blankly staring. She cried and begged him not to break up with her. I left as soon as I could so they could have the rest of the conversation without me.
Thanksgiving break came and went. Jessica returned from New York no longer pregnant and Kyle began to grow distant. She freaked out and asked me to intervene on her behalf. I acquiesced and chatted with Kyle about what was going on. He told me that he hadn’t really wanted to date her seriously in the first place and the pregnancy was way too much for him. I understood, Jessica could be quite intense. I told him that I thought it would probably be a dick move to break up with her right away, and maybe, if he could, wait until the new year. He did.
After the new year, before we came back to campus to start the spring semester, Kyle broke up with Jessica. She did not take it well. She spent a lot of time crying and railing about him. I tried not to take sides. I had a rough time during the first semester (a story for another day) and had even told my parents at Christmas that I didn’t want to go back to school. So I had my own problems and was trying not to get wrapped up in any more of Jessica’s drama.
St. Patrick’s Day came. I didn’t have any plans. I didn’t have many friends due to the aforementioned difficult transition and wasn’t invited to any big, cool college parties for the holiday that is solely an excuse to drink in America. I had been to the gym and was sitting at my desk on Facebook. Kyle saw me online and chatted to me, wishing me a Happy St. Patrick’s and asking what I was doing on Facebook during a holiday. I told him I had nothing to do and he invited me to come to his room to hang out. Feeling lonely and like a loser, I said yes.
I put on a zip-up hoodie over my sports bra and leggings and I headed up to his dorm. Kyle lived in Morrison, a behemoth residence hall with ten floors. He lived, to my memory, on the 8th or 9th floor. The dorms were well-protected: you needed to buzzed in on the ground floor, then on whichever floor you wanted to visit, then you needed a key to get into the suite (a small collection of 4 rooms that shared a bathroom) and then a key to get into the room itself. When I got to Kyle’s room he was watching The Daily Show and drinking. He poured me a shot of something likely very cheap, we cheersed, drank, and sat down to watch Jon Stewart.
Not five minutes later Jessica burst in, screaming. “I KNEW IT, I FUCKING KNEW IT.”
She had bypassed several doors with locks to finagle her way into the dorm, into the suite and into Kyle’s room. I guess she must have looked at my computer after I left. I stupidly left it open. I was too trustworthy. I didn’t realise, yet, how very crazy she was.
She proceeded to absolutely lose her mind at us. She claimed that we had been together all along behind her back, shouting that I was a slut. She unzipped my hoodie and pointed out the fact that I was in my sports bra, saying what a whore I was. She yelled and shrieked. At first, Kyle and I shouted back. We vehemently denied her accusations and we were telling the truth. Kyle was cool, but he was not my type. Whenever Jessica talked about how handsome he was, I nodded along politely but I would not have wanted to date him. We were friends, but had not, in fact, until that very moment ever hung out just the two of us. Jessica had decided we were in a secret relationship and had betrayed her.
She was absolutely mad, and after fighting back for a few minutes, Kyle and I both tried to calm down in hopes that she would. Through this melee, two of Kyle’s suitemates knocked on the door to ask what was going on, and to complain about how loudly she was screaming. Jessica was from New York, so her diatribes were chock full of expletives and apparently one of the suitemate’s girlfriends had sensitive ears. Kyle apologised profusely and assured him that we would get Jessica to shut up. I tried everything with her: I cajoled, I apologised, I reasoned. Nothing worked. She had made her mind up and she was livid.
Finally after about 15 minutes of getting obscenities hurled at me, I said I was done with it and made to leave. She blocked my way and said, “You’re not going fucking anywhere.” As calmly as I could, though by this time I was pretty angry myself, I said, “Let me leave.” Kyle started pleading too, “Jessica, this isn’t about her, just let her go and you and I can talk it out.” Kyle was a hero in this moment. While he tried to make her see sense, I snuck by her and left. She followed me. I looked back and saw her and began to jog. She did the same. Finally, I fully sprinted for the elevators, not looking back but hearing her feet slam the pavement as she chased me. When I got to the elevator, I glanced over my shoulder as I frantically pressed the down button. About halfway down the corridor, she gave up the chase and went back to continue dressing Kyle down.
I rode the elevator down to the ground floor shaking. Where was I going to go? I lived with this girl, in the same room, that could not have been 200 square feet. She had just chased me, literally, after accusing me of sleeping with her boyfriend. What world did I live in? When I got back to the dorm, I found a party in full swing on the ground floor. I was not cool enough to have been invited but I knew a guy there. He saw me and could tell how upset I was. He let me sleep on his futon because I was too scared to go back to my room. I had visions of waking up with Jessica holding a knife over me, or with Jessica’s hands on my throat.
This event took place on March 17th. For the next six weeks, Jessica and I were like two ships passing in the night. If we did find the other in the room at the same time, we did not speak. We both pretended the other did not exist. When classes ended the first week of May, I packed up all my stuff and moved out in one fell swoop. She came back to a room half empty. Every sign of me gone.
And that, my friends, is just part one. Jessica will return.
29 March 2020
That Damn Road
When I was going through my *sexual awakening* I made the decision that I wanted to go on birth control. I was 18, a woman gosh darn it, and I wanted to take control of my sexual destiny. My boyfriend at the time was in support. I was nervous so I asked him to go to Planned Parenthood with me.
In my hometown, Planned Parenthood was down a kind of odd road. It was a part of town that I didn’t really frequent, and the only other place near it that I had ever been in my life was a store called Soccer Unlimited. Back in my midfielder days, I went there to buy all the accoutrements a budding soccer star needed. I quit playing at 14, so therefore hadn’t driven down that road in at least 4 years.
One day in the summer after I graduated high school, my boyfriend and I got in the car to head there. I was given relative freedom and a car so we had free reign during the day before my curfew. The turn for Planned Parenthood was off a big road called Silas Creek Parkway that ran through much of town and allowed you to travel relatively quickly from A to B. I pulled up to the stoplight to make the left down that ultra-specific road. As we waited for the light to change, my boyfriend and I were looking around, as you do; the windows were down, music was playing, we were young and happy.
I looked across the intersection lazily, checking out other cars. Directly across from us, heading the other way down Silas Creek, towards our house, was my mother. My stomach dropped. It fell completely out of my asshole, through the car, and onto the road below. My boyfriend tried to duck in his seat, but realised it was completely futile as she had already very clearly seen us. She knew what road we were turning down. She knew everything. She’s a mother, of course she did.
We freaked out. We began both talking at once, trying to decide what to do. The light changed, I turned left and we lamely waved to my mom as we passed her. Her face was unreadable. I began concocting an outrageous lie about how I intended to get back into soccer and that my boyfriend was accompanying me to buy new cleats at Soccer Unlimited. I began to question whether I should get birth control, as I felt a sense of guilt that I was doing something inherently wrong.
When we pulled into the parking lot, I had made my mind up that I would do what I had originally planned. After all, the reason we were there was smart and healthy. I was 18, a fresh high school graduate, my boyfriend was 17 and about to enter his senior year. We should not bring a baby into the world. Birth control purchased and unwanted teen pregnancy avoided, we got back in the car and decided to go anywhere but my house.
I was worried about facing my mom, even though we were so close. A couple of days later, we were alone in the kitchen and I was sitting at the table. She came up behind me and without making eye contact said, “I saw you turning down that road.” That damn road! My stomach turned to butterflies again and I was ready to outline my defense; I had my teen pregnancy argument ready. I didn’t look at her but opened my mouth to deliver my diatribe. She then said, “I hope that whatever you are doing, you’re being safe.” I said, “We are, Mom. That’s why we were driving down that road.”
And that was the end of it.
22 March 2020
My maternal grandmother was referred to by a nickname, DoJo, for much of her later life. This was a moniker taken from Doris Johnson, her married name. I knew that from birth she was Doris Cave, because her maiden name is my middle name (I am Amelia Cave Sciandra.). I also knew that she was at one point in her life named Doris Pearson. This was my mother’s first last name, and the surname of her birth father, John. He fought in World War IIl, came home, then sadly succumbed to cancer in the 50s. So, with two young daughters, Doris was a single woman, alone. I knew that at some point in the following few years she met and married Joe Johnson, who adopted my mom and her sister, and became the man they called dad and I called my granddad. Doris took his name, and her nickname was born: DoJo.
DoJo was inimitable. Imagine being a woman alone in the 1950s, with two young daughters. Your husband survives a war and then dies. What else could you do but survive? So, she survived. She thrived. She was one of the most well-dressed women I ever met. She used to dress to the nines even to go to the grocery store. I asked her why once, and she said, “You never know who you’re going to meet.” She was obsessed with the idea of my having a “beau,” as she called it. That was always one of her first questions when we saw each other, “Now, do you have a beau?” She was from Philadelphia and retained some of her accent so she spoke with occasional punches. She wanted to pour my milk for me, even when I was 13 and could do it myself. She lived in two fabulously decorated houses in the time of her life when I knew her. First, she and my granddad lived on a golf course in Pinehurst, North Carolina like good retired people do. Then, they moved to Winston-Salem to be closer to us.
Once, when I was about ten, I was over at her house with my mom. They were chatting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, so I went off to play. My grandparents had a very cool old desk that I loved to play in. It made me feel like I was travelling back in time, and I always pretended that sitting at it I was writing with a quill. Like the inquisitive child that I was, I looked through everything in the desk, pulling open drawers, searching every nook and cranny for whatever it could offer me. I came upon an envelope upon which was written “Doris Mulhearn” in Doris Johnson’s hand. My grandmother had incredibly recognisable handwriting: a sloping script from a time now forgotten. I was confused. I knew she was at one time Doris Cave and Doris Pearson. I had never heard this last name associated with grandmom. So I took the envelope to the kitchen.
I approached my mom and said, “Hey, what’s this?” She looked at it, looked at me, glanced at her mom and then said, “Please put that back where you found it, right now.” She was not angry. But that was the end of the conversation. So I did what I was told. But I never forgot about it.
Flashforward eight years. My mom and I are driving together to Philadelphia to see the other side of the family: my dad’s parents and his large Italian family all still lived in and around the city. My mom and I were (and are) lucky: we were very close. My mom is one of my best friends. She was a teacher at my high school and rather than that being a source of embarrassment for me, it was wonderful. (Remember, I was a nerd.) Over the course of those four years, where I lived sort of as an only child, because my closest brother is four years older than I am, our relationship grew and deepened. So at 18, I was happy to be on a nine-hour road trip with my mom. We never ran out of things to talk about, and if we did, we’d pop on a CD we both loved and sing our hearts out, often to Disney music. In one moment of companionable silence, I said to her, “Mom, can I ask you about something from my childhood I have never forgotten?” What a question! She was obviously not terribly excited about saying yes, but she acquiesced and I took her through the aforementioned afternoon and the envelope with the mystery surname.
She was quiet for a bit and then she said, “I will tell you but you cannot tell your brothers. She doesn’t want everyone to know.” It turns out, my grandmother had been married a third time. Shortly after her first husband and the father of her children died, she met a man named Mike Mulhearn. He was an art teacher. He seemed kind and for a woman on her own in the 1950s with two young daughters, you cannot blame her. It didn’t work out. So only a few months later, she was a widow and a divorcee. It was a thing that filled her with great shame, such that after meeting and marrying Joe Johnson, she tried with all her might to hide this part of her past. She was very much a product of her time, and cared deeply what others thought of her. So Doris Mulhearn was buried, deep in her past. And though my mom didn’t remember when I found the envelope, she wasn’t surprised to hear how she reacted. Grandmom didn’t want anyone to know, and at 10, I was too young to comprehend why.
Two years later, my grandmother died. The family gathered in our house for her wake. My grandmother had one sister, Janet, who had three kids, two of whom were there. My aunt was there, with her husband and son. I was sitting on the couch between my brothers, and I remember my cousin Joseph was in a chair across from us. The room was full of sadness, but also laughter. We were doing what you tend to do when a loved one has left: we were telling stories. The subject of marriage came up, and the room was self-deprecatingly realising that everyone in the room, barring my parents and one of her cousins, was not on their first marriage. People began sort of listing off who was married how many times, and I said, not thinking, “Well, and Grandmom was married three times.” If it had been a film, my brothers both would have done spittakes. Instead, both of them, and my cousin Joseph, mouths agape, said “WHAT?!”
Everyone else in the room nodded quietly to themselves and it was my turn again to reveal the envelope I had found over a decade earlier and the secret my mom entrusted me with. “You knew all this time and you never told us?!” my brother Xav was indignant. “Everyone knew?!” The room chimed in with their own reasons for keeping DoJo’s secret, acknowledging that it was a different time and she would have had her own reasons herself. There was a collective release of breath, as if we had all unknowingly been holding it.
I was proud to have kept my grandmom’s secret for her when she was living. I understand why she did what she did. I think of her then, not even my age, a widow and then the next man she marries doesn’t work out. I imagine she must have felt such shame, from society, from within. But she soldiered on. She found a wonderful man who adopted her daughters and loved her the rest of his life. She could be imperious, but mostly she was a tough old broad who didn’t suffer fools easily. In my family, we call it “channeling DoJo” when you steel yourself and do not brook idiots. I am like her, I think, and I am proud to be.
15 March 2020
Call Me By My Name
If you liked the story where a boy ghosted me after a romantic weekend, you’ll like this one too.
In high school, as has been established, I was not very cool. I was PG, vanilla and rule following in every way. So, unsurprisingly, I tended to fall for “bad boys.” By which I mean, I always liked the boys who couldn’t get their shit together. I ended up “dating” one of these kinds of fellows when I was a sophomore in high school (15 or 16 years old). I put dating in quotes because I was Ms. Priss, so, to my memory, I don’t think we even kissed. But he had asked me to be his girlfriend and that was a very big deal for me.
One Friday evening, he was unable to hang out with me because he had been grounded (see above mentioned “bad boy” pattern). I called my friend Emma to come stay the night over at my house because I couldn’t hang out with my boyfriend. Like teenagers do, I wanted to call my boyfriend while my friend was over, probably partly to brag about the fact that I had a boyfriend and partly to prove the relationship was real. Boy, was I in for it.
When I called him, he picked up, but sounded quite distracted. We chatted aimlessly, mostly I listened to him complain about how unfair it was that he was grounded and how he wished he could have come to hang out with me, like we planned. I commiserated with him and shook my fist at the injustice of it all. Then, in the background, things started happening.
First, I heard a deep voice from far away say, “[boy’s name has been redacted because we are too connected in the 21st century], what the hell? You’re supposed to be grounded! What the hell is she doing here?”
Then, a girl’s voice said, “Oh, Mr. [Redacted], I’m so sorry! It’s okay, I’ll go!”
Then I said, “Wait. What’s going on?”
And then he said, “No, dad! Come on, it’s okay! Wait!”
Then his dad said, “Get your things, I will take you home. Goddamnit, [son’s name]!”
Then I said, “Is she there with you?!”
A brief break in the action to say that this boy had a very close relationship with another girl in our grade, but she had a boyfriend too. They’re running story was that they were just *best friends,* which is why they could each date other people and it was totally okay.
Then he said, to her in the room, “Wait, just don’t leave yet. Dad!”
And I said, “[His name], are you kidding me?!”
And he said, to me on the phone, “No, HER NAME, it’s not what it sounds like.”
So I said, “Well, you just called me her name, so I think it’s exactly what it sounds like.” And I hung up.
Luckily, my friend Emma was there to comfort me, rage with me, plan revenge with me, console me, and laugh with me at the absurdity of it all. I began the sleepover in a relationship, and was single before we even slept a wink. The boy kept calling me back over and over, but I never answered.
Finally, around midnight, just before we wanted to go to sleep, I picked up one of his numerous calls. I wanted to tell him we were going to bed so leave me alone. Before I could say anything he said, “Before you say anything, look out your window.”
He had, of course (as bad boys do), snuck out of his house and come to mine. He was standing on my driveway looking pitiful. He waved lamely at me. I hung up the phone. Emma and I debated for a few minutes on whether I should go down. Eventually we agreed that it was probably the only way to get him to leave.
I snuck down to my front door, whose hinges always creaked ridiculously loudly. I swear my parents purposely never put WD-40 on them so they could hear when my brothers were sneaking around. I never did, of course. This leaving the house at midnight to speak to a boy (even if he was just on my driveway) was very much pushing it for me. Good girls didn’t do things like that. I walked out to meet him, keeping my distance. When I got about five feet away, he started apologising profusely in a half-whisper, trying to explain that he and this girl were just studying together for a test they have, that’s it, it was totally innocent. I, of course, questioned why he was willing to risk hanging out with her while he was grounded but not hanging out with me. He didn’t have a good answer. I told him we were done and to not call me anymore and to not come back to my house. I went back inside, locked the door and turned off the bedroom light. He stayed on the driveway for about 15 minutes, hoping, I guess, that I would come back down and dramatically take him back. Emma and I went to sleep.
I found out later, of course, that they were not just studying. They were doing a lot more. And a lot more than I had ever done with him. So I don’t necessarily blame his teenage hormones for choosing that over what I was offering: sparkling wit, charm and some light hand holding.
To this day, if someone calls me by another name, I bridle, instantly. I’m working on it.
8th March 2020
For our first romantic weekend away when we started dating, Chris and I went to Cambridge. It was Valentine’s Day weekend and we were very much in the throes of new love. But we were still students and could only afford a rather…unconventional holiday.
We paid for an AirBnb rental that was a caravan in the back garden of a house in Cambridge. There was a bed, a small countertop with a kettle, a tiny fridge and not much head room. The bathroom was in the house, so you had to walk twenty feet in the cold to brush your teeth and have a wee, even in the dead of night.
The other obstacle to easy loo access was a group of four chickens. Rather large, the entire garden was their domain and they were not happy to be sharing their realm with us. We were embattled with them all weekend, with one serious incident on Saturday night.
As we left the caravan to brush our teeth, a chicken jumped inside.
To be honest, I was terrified of the chickens. So I stood in the house and watched through the sliding glass door as Chris struggled with the dinosaur-like creature. They danced around each other while I laughed and tried to coach my husband from across the garden, protected from their beaks and talons.
For about 15 minutes Chris struggled to get this chicken out of the caravan. When he finally did, he quickly closed the door, but that left me in my pajamas alone to navigate the (as I assumed) now angry chickens. I sprinted across to the door and banged on it and I had to jump in the door before another beast could follow me.
Aside from this terrifying moment and a few hits on the head on the low-hanging ceiling, we had a gorgeous weekend together in beautiful Cambridge and took a very cheap but very long bus ride back to Birmingham.
That’s love, folks.
1 March 2020
Such a Samantha
If you like schadenfreude, this story is for you.
When I lived in New York City, I was in my mid-twenties, young, wild and free. I literally used to think to myself, “I’m living my Sex and the City years.” I was such a Samantha. Or maybe I just wanted to be.
I met a boy, and per usual, I went mad for him. I was always a hopeless romantic and I was always sure that every boy I met was “The One,” and wouldn’t treat me as badly as the guy before did. I was usually wrong. In this case, I was very wrong.
This boy was unresponsive and hard to get a hold of, and I was too blind to see that as a sign. Instead, I threw myself a bit harder in his direction and it somehow worked. He was going to Miami to visit family, and he invited me to go with him. I had no strings, and I was trying to be like Samantha, so I said yes. I flew down on a Friday afternoon and he came to pick me up at the airport. On the drive to his grandfather’s house, where we were staying, he said, “So listen, my grandpa has security cameras all over the house because he’s so afraid of being robbed. I have covered them up with socks, because he can’t know you’re here, but I think I missed one. So when we get there, just stay in the car until I come get you.”
If I could have opened the door and rolled out of the car without dying, I would have. It was the strangest thing anyone had ever said to me. But I was in Florida, hundreds of miles from anyone I knew and I was smitten, so I just smiled and said, “Okay.” I did ask him, when I was finally let into the house, why his grandfather couldn’t find out I was there. He didn’t have a good answer.
The next day, we got up before the sun rose to go to Disney World. We drove three and half hours. In my memory, nearly the entire drive was silent. This can’t possibly be true: young lovers in their twenties on an adventure with nothing to say? But I have no recollection of any conversation.
We had a nice time at Disney, we rode rides, and met characters. I had just come off of living on a Disney Cruise Line ship for a five-month contract so it was special for me. He didn’t seem to care one way or the other. The only thing he was adamant about was that we were not in any pictures together. (Note: if you’re starting to see concerning signs, you’re smarter than I was!)
On Sunday, I had to travel back to New York. He was staying in Miami for a few days more to visit family and then would be back to the city. We agreed that we would see each other the day after he got back. I thought we had a nice weekend: none of the socks had fallen off the cameras, so we were in the clear, plus we didn’t fight. I got on the plane sad to leave the warmth of Florida, but sated. I had happily survived what I perceived as a very adult experience: a little weekend jaunt with my new lover. I was a total Samantha.
A few days later, once I knew that he’d be back in New York, I sent him a text to set up a date. I was still glowing from our romantic getaway and couldn’t wait to see him again. He didn’t respond. That wasn’t shocking behaviour; he was wont to go a few days, sometimes a week, without saying anything. Two weeks went by, then three. He completely ghosted me. I could not track him down, I didn’t know any of his friends to call and see if he was okay. I couldn’t get the book back that I lent him. He was done with me.
Does this make me more of a Carrie?
23rd February 2020
Birth of a Weirdo
In February of 1989 my mother was very pregnant. It was her third baby, after two boys, one of whom was born on the 16th of February, so she was praying this third baby would wait a bit and not come on her oldest son, Matt’s, birthday. Her hands were full with Matt (7) and Xavier, called Xav (4). She desperately wanted a girl.
My grandmother was taking care of Matt and Xav while my mother was going into labour. Luckily, it was happening on February 22, not even a week after Matt’s birthday, but thankfully long enough. The baby was breech (meaning it was going to come out bottom first, rather than head first). The doctor wanted to do a C-section, but the nurses convinced him it was a bad idea. With two little sons and a third baby, mom didn’t have time to recover from surgery. Also, it was 1989.
At 2:31pm in Plainfield, New Jersey my mother miraculously brought me into the world. As I came out folded up, with my feet reaching towards my head, they knew I was a girl right away. The nurse said to my mother, “Leave it to the girl to come into the world bass-ackwards.”
As the story goes, back at the house in Fanwood, my grandmother was informed that I was a girl and told my brothers that I had arrived. Matt jumped for joy, and Xav burst into tears.
I hope to go to my grave bass-ackwards, too.
16 February 2020
This is a story that, for some reason, has become slightly apocryphal in my family and with some friends. It is, admittedly, ridiculous. But also, I hope, quite funny. It is a peek into my brain and how silly I am inside my head, a part of me that I show outwardly sometimes. I often wish that I could show more of it, that I could be braver in wanting to give over into silliness, as I truly love to make people laugh. It is a joy I am afforded from time to time and it is my favourite thing to do. So I hope this gives you a giggle, or that quiet snort out of your nose that is almost a laugh. Or even just the *hint* of a smile.
In my pre-teen years I played pretty competitive soccer. I made it to what was then (and I think still might be?) called “classic” level soccer in my hometown. It was pretty serious (though there was still a level above it, “premiere”) and took up a lot of time. My parents were true heroes for driving me (and both of my brothers!) all around North and South Carolina and sometimes Virginia for children’s competitive football nearly every weekend in the fall and spring for years. They paid money to do that. For us. And none of us now plays soccer to the level where we could make money off it and pay our parents back for that. It’s so silly! I digress.
I was a midfielder and a decent player, I was especially fast back then so even though I was quite small and skinny, I could sometimes beat an opponent on speed before she inevitably destroyed me on strength. One Saturday, I had been thus successful and had actually scored a goal. This was a big deal, as it wasn’t a rare occurrence but also didn’t happen tremendously often. It happened just frequently enough that we could celebrate each one. And we did. That day on the way home from the game, my mom bought me a vanilla milkshake from McDonalds. Because what better way to reward someone’s physical prowess and agility on the sports field than by giving them a sugary, calorie-ridden dairy beverage?! I had begged for it, as my “treat” and my mom acquiesced.
Delighted with my milkshake, I went along with my mom to the grocery store. Invariably, I walked off to look at the snacks I wanted and hoped to convince my mom to buy me. Picture me thus: I was a skinny, little 11 or 12-year-old girl, I had a blue soccer uniform on. The top was too big and was untucked and the shorts were baggy so I looked sort of like a blueberry with chicken legs. I had pushed my socks down and had undone my shin guards. This was a “cool” thing to do, and I had seen famous female soccer players do at the time (Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain) so I was emulating them. I even wore those ridiculous “soccer slides” that everyone had at the time, which made you shuffle rather than walk to keep on your feet and all the athletes were wearing them to and from games. My shin guards were too big because my calves were so skinny so they were flopping down to touch the ground with each step I slid forward in my stupid shoes. I had long hair then, and would wear it in a ponytail, and, as was also popular in the times, I wore a string-like hair tie around my head to keep flyaway hairs out of my face while I was sprinting down the field. The hilarious consequence of those hair ties is that after the game, you look like a catfish, as all the flyaways are now shooting straight up out of our head like whiskers.
There I am, in the snack aisle, hunched over because the air conditioning in grocery stores is always blasting, and I was drinking a very cold milkshake, and I was very skinny at the time so had no body fat to keep me warm. Sliding around in these idiotic shoes, with my catfish hairs and floppy shin guards, and I am thinking to myself, “Why won’t my mom ever let us buy Goldfish?” when I turned and glanced down the aisle. Just in front of the silver staff double doors, a man with a chef’s coat and hat stood. He had brown hair and a moustache and was wearing gloves. He was standing just outside of the fresh fish counter, so I knew that’s where he was destined. His pants were awesome. They looked like a mix between pajamas, scrubs and slacks and they were navy blue and white pinstripe. I thought they rocked. And so I said aloud, to no one in particular, in a very strange accent and voice, perhaps one might think I was attempting to speak like a muppet doing French mixed with Russian maybe Spanish or Portuguese (à la a bad Bond villain), “Hmm. I like your pants, Seafood Man.”
The Seafood Man himself was twenty feet away, at least, and there is no way he could have heard me. But the woman about two feet away also in the snack aisle did. She looked at me like I was insane, and then pushed her cart away quickly. I started to giggle because i thought it was so hilarious and then I couldn’t keep it together and I was doubled over in laughter, hands on my knees, alone in this supermarket aisle. My mom found me this way and she said, “Oh no. What did you do?” And I proceeded to tell her the story, pointing to the Seafood Man in the distance who had gone through the double doors to end up back in the store but behind the fresh fish counter, selling people salmon and tuna. She also thought it was hilarious and began to laugh with me standing in the aisle. We decided to go the long way around to the cash registers, so that my mom could pass the seafood counter and try to get a look at the pants I was so moved by.
I have told this story for years, and many people know this phrase who are not members of my family, but know they could go up to either of my brothers, either of my parents, or any number of my old friends and remark, “Hmm. I like your pants, Seafood Man.” and they will get an enormous laugh.
I hope, now, you’ll join that group and next time I see you, or unexpectedly in an Instagram story or tweet, or anytime you find you need a smile and a bit of a laugh, say (to yourself but out loud), “Hmm. I like your pants, Seafood Man.”
9 February 2020
The Girl Who Cried Wolf
I’m a hypochondriac. It’s not a diagnosed condition, but true to form, like a good little hypochondriac, I have self-diagnosed. A large portion of my anxiety is wrapped up in my certainty that I have health problems. I’m terrified of being sick and yet, so sure so often that I am. What a conundrum.
When I was a teenager it was particularly bad. I used to come downstairs every morning with a new disease. Once, at the beginning of this adventure into my neuroses, I came into the kitchen and announced to my mother whatever illness I had discovered that week that explained my (non-existent) symptoms. Because I watched a lot of House, I always thought I had lupus. That day, my eldest brother Matt was home. He was sitting in the kitchen with my mom and so when I walked in and triumphantly declared the diagnosis, he said, “Uh oh. Looks like we have a hypochondriac on our hands.” And I, like the fool that I was, responded, “I don’t know what that is, but I probably have that too.” Walked right into it.
The rule became that I was no longer allowed on the website WebMD.
During my junior year of high school, when I was 16 or 17, I began to feel poorly in earnest. It started as a cold, and I complained to my parents that it wasn’t just a cold. Per usual, and I do not blame them, they essentially ignored me. They bought me cold medicine and orange juice and told me to keep drinking fluids. After a week or so, I was not getting any better and begged them to let me see a doctor. This, again, was not out of character, but they acquiesced. I could drive, so I took myself, as it was right down the road from school and less than ten minutes from home.
At the doctor, she listened to my chest and then recommended I get an x-ray. This kind of thing is a gold mine for a hypochondriac. Feeling simultaneously vindicated and terrified, I called my mom to let her know that I was being sent for a chest x-ray. I’m sure that this is when my mother began to see that, perhaps, for the first time, I wasn’t being overly dramatic. She was a teacher at my high school, and couldn’t get away from class to take me across town to the tech, so my dad came. My dad, even though we were being sent for a chest x-ray, did not believe anything was wrong with me. He is skeptical of doctors in general, and he thought this was an overabundance of caution, and maybe a way for the medical industry to make more money. Just before I left my doctor, I asked her what it could be, and she said she was sending me for the x-ray because it could be pneumonia.
I read a lot of the classics. I knew that young women died of pneumonia all the time. This was it, my time had come, I was going to die. When I told my dad in the car on the way to the technician’s office, he rolled his eyes and said, emphatically, “You do not have pneumonia.”
The technician’s office was really strange. It was a tiny, odd building with labyrinthine rooms. They took me back for the x-ray and I wore that heavy smock while they did their magic. Then they put me and my dad into this little room with just a chair and a phone on the wall. The nurse said, “When the phone rings, pick it up, it’ll be your results.” My dad and I held it together until she closed the door and then we laughed. It was the weirdest set-up we had ever seen. We waited for a long while. I sat, curled up on the chair because I didn’t feel well, while my dad paced and tried to make me laugh and checked his blackberry. After about 15 minutes, we were looking through the small window in the door to try to get someone’s attention because we didn’t know how long we were supposed to wait. A different nurse walked by the window in entirely yellow scrubs. My dad and I burst out laughing. We called her a banana, and questioned why she would choose that colour. For whatever reason, it really tickled us. While we were still laughing, the phone rang. My dad answered jokingly, “Hellooo?” with a little lilt in the word. And then his face dropped. He listened and said, “Uh huh” a number of times and then hung up, his demeanour wholly changed.
He turned to me and said, in classic Dad form, “It looks like you do have a little pneumonia.”
2 February 2020
I grew up going to summer camp. I know that to Brits, and even to some Americans who never had the experience, there are a whole lot of stereotypes that go along with camp. Some of them are really true, and others not so much. I am so grateful for camp. It was an incredibly formative place for me, as this story will show, and it will undoubtedly come up in further stories, in both wonderful and terrible ways. But for this story, I take you back to 14-year-old me. Braces, super skinny, just out of freshman year of high school and really not sure who I was at all. I had been a cheerleader for the basketball team because I desperately wanted to be “cool.” I was not. I ended up quitting cheerleading to do the spring musical, and started to find my people (theatre nerds). When summer rolled around, I was delighted to be returning to my happy place, for one of my final years as a camper.
Camp can be magical. It’s really a huge social experiment. You take children away from their parents, their homes, their schools, their rules and you place them in the care of teenagers and young 20-somethings for a week or more. You change the dynamic of what authority looks like, and you invite kids to meet their edge, be daring, try new things and make new friends. Many kids will try things at camp they could never imagine doing back at home. Also, my camp had counselors from all over the world, and for many children it was the first time they heard another accent in real life rather than on television. It is an awesome learning environment, without the confines of the school building and its regulations. Bonds are formed at camp that often cannot be broken, through supporting your friends to zipline down the lake, to climb a 30-foot telephone pole and jump off to try to catch a trapeze in the air, to hike the camp’s steep mountain and catch stunning views you can forge lifelong friendships, borne in the bliss of being a carefree young person.
At camp, I felt different. At school I was a proper Hermione Granger. My hand was always up, I worked incredibly hard to get good grades and school meant a lot to me. But at camp, I started to find another side of myself. I could be silly, do funny voices, make people laugh, encourage my friends to be daring, lead my cabin through team building exercises with wit and grace. It was exhilarating, but I was also 14. I was obsessed with what other people thought of me, I was always worried a joke wouldn’t land and everyone would judge me. We torture ourselves so much as teenagers, and even though I felt a freedom at camp, I was shackled by this hell of my own devising.
There was a boy there, who was a counselor-in-training (CIT) that seemed to be unaffected by all of this. He was just two years older than I was but it felt like a lifetime. He had this ease about him that was electric. He could charm anyone into anything but it was genuine. He cared so deeply about people and asked the kind of questions that challenged you to think harder, feel more and look inward. I was mesmerised by him. It helped, of course, that he was incredibly attractive with a smile like none other. I know people say “his smile lit up the room” but Will’s smile really did. He was truly one of the loveliest people planet earth had ever been blessed with.
I followed him around like he was a pop star. He was so funny and was always cracking jokes and I hoped some of his humour would rub off on me. I hoped he’d be assigned to help at my activities and during any free time I was always trying to find him, to soak him up. One evening, the camp was called the flagpole, as it always was before the nightly activity, and we were all told to head down to campfire. Everyone turned around and began the walk across the lower ball field that would take us down near the lake. I managed to find a way to walk near Will. We were chatting, joking around, and I did something silly, as I was wont to do. He stopped short, looked me right in the eyes and said, “You’re goofy.” He took a short breath, and in that pause I wanted to die. I had read everything wrong, we weren’t friends, I wasn’t funny, I was just a 14-year-old hanger on, trying desperately to force a bond where there wasn’t one. Then he said, “I like that.” And kept on walking.
They were two sentences, five words, but they meant the world to me. Will taught me, in that moment, the lesson I had been trying slowly to learn all summer. It was okay to be me. I would find people who liked the parts of me I was afraid no one would. They were out there, and Will was one of them. The friendship he offered me in those five words changed my life. I was different, after that summer. I went back to school with a new lease on life, and understood that I could be my “camp self” and my “school self” all at once. I didn’t have to choose, or pretend, or shut off parts of myself in either place. I could be both. I was both. I was me. I was goofy, but people were going to like it.
On this day, February 2, now 14 years ago, my friend Will died. He had been getting ready to go to the Marines, was just a few days from leaving, in fact, and was messing around with his friends in their car. He was riding on top of it and was thrown off. He fought in the hospital, but was in a coma, and eventually succumbed to his injuries. He was 18. I honour his memory by writing this story, and by trying to remember, as often as I can, to be the light, to fill up those I love with as much goodness as is possible. And to live my life truthfully, with integrity, to be unabashedly me, as he taught me so many years ago.
I love you, William, and thank you.
26th January 2020
The Car Thief
When I was 20, I worked as a nanny for a family in my hometown. It was the strangest set-up you can imagine: the father worked from home as a consultant and so was in the house every day I was there to take care of his kids. His office was off the kitchen and sometimes he closed the door, but more often he kept it open, demonstrating his clear trust in me. Not.
One morning, I was playing on the kitchen floor with the kids. Ben was around three and his sister Sofia around five. I found him adorable but she was difficult. She was very precocious and her father believed that five was young enough to teach her about rhetoric and debate. He gave her far too much power in making decisions and because of it, she was demanding and recalcitrant. We were driving little cars driving around the kitchen floor when suddenly Sofia reached over and grabbed the car out of her brother’s hand.
Ben leaned back on his knees and said to her in his cute little voice with a healthy dose of venom, “I’m gonna punch you in the cho-cho.”
It was so out of the blue and hilarious that I was flabbergasted into silence. Before I could say anything, or even do my job as a nanny, from his office, their father yelled, “Ben! We do not say things like that to our sister. You apologise right now.” Of course, this is quite similar to what I would have said as well. But I also would have had some follow up questions for little Ben. For example, what part of the body, pray tell, is the cho-cho? And as I had guessed which part, I would have asked, “And how did you come to call your sister’s private parts her ‘cho–cho,’ young sir?” But there was no time for these queries, as discipline needed to be handed down.
Ben, still angry at the theft of his car and the injustice that he had to apologise but his sister wasn’t being reprimanded for grabbing, shouted, “YOU’RE A CHO-CHO!”
It wasn’t clear whether this epithet was for his father or his sister. I was choking back laughter and attempting to form a sentence when the father stormed into the kitchen. He was obviously angry, but his dramatic entrance was prevented by the baby gate in the doorway. He fiddled with the latch furiously as he chided Ben, “That’s it. You apologise to me. You apologise to your sister and then you go to your room for a time out.” It very much seemed this man did not need a nanny, as a dummy shaped like a woman would have done him just as well. I watched the scenario unfolding like theatre. Sofia, all the while, connivingly played with the little car she had stolen from her brother.
Ben, now thoroughly in trouble, begrudgingly said sorry to his sister, then his father and began leaving the kitchen. Satisfied, the father immediately returned to his office, without so much as a glance at me. Ben, for his part, on the way to his bedroom let out one word, under his breath in a fed-up tone far too adult for his age: “Cho-chos.”
19th January 2020
Two months after I graduated from college (uni, for the Brits) I moved to the Dominican Republic to be a teacher. It was a wild choice, and one only a 22-year-old girl would make as blindly as I did.
I knew nothing of the country before I moved there. Embarrassingly, once my mother said to me, “You’re going to stick out like a sore thumb.” And I laughed and said, “No, I’ll get a tan and fit right in.” Nearly 5’ 8”, skinny as a rail (oh, for that figure again!) with bottle-dyed blonde hair, there was literally no way anyone would ever have mistaken me for Dominican.
But it wasn’t just the people I didn’t know anything about. I went idiotically ignorant to a country in the developing world. I didn’t realise that stop lights there are a suggestion, or that the police can’t be trusted, or that littering would never be prosecuted as a crime. I didn’t understand that lack of infrastructure means that when it rains, the water stacks in the road until it’s a foot and a half deep. The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country, with incredible history and culture. Santo Domingo is the “oldest city in the new world” and you can still go there to the Zona Colonial and see Christopher Columbus’ house. But it was unlike anything I had ever experienced, as this story will demonstrate.
I do not remember how I met this boy, which says a lot about my time in the country. (A “jumbo” [larger than a 40] of the most delicious Dominican beer, called Presidente, was something like 50 pesos. And a man on a motorcycle would deliver it directly to your door. I…took advantage of that situation, let’s just say, quite often.) He was tall, with slicked back hair and money. He paid me attention, which at that time in my life was pretty much enough for me. He asked me on a date and because I was young and dumb, I acquiesced. He came to pick me up in a Range Rover, and I don’t know anything about cars or years or models, but it was nice. Very nice. We were driving, I assume to a restaurant, but I truly have no idea (this is how dumb I was), on a road with not a lot of light. In the rear view mirrors, police lights suddenly flashed. He looked down at the speedometer and sort of clicked his teeth. He said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, I wasn’t speeding. They just want money.” I had no idea what this meant.
He pulled over and the cops come to the windows with their flashlights. I should say here that Dominican Spanish can be very hard to follow. It’s really fast, with a lot of slang and colloquialisms and though I moved to the country incredibly confident it took me months to truly understand what people were saying. But I got the gist of this interaction. Immediately they ordered him out of the car, asking him what he had hidden, insisting he was guilty of some kind of crime. I was terrified. I sat in the front seat, my insides turning ice cold, rehearing a speech in my head for when they finally spoke to me. I was going to tell them that I was an American, insist they take me to the Embassy, that I had my passport and they could not arrest us because he hadn’t done anything wrong. Neither of the cops paid me any attention, except to tell me, at one point, to get out of the car.
I stood by the side of this dark road, while these two police officers tore this car apart looking for anything. Periodically, one would go up to my date and say something like, “You know if you just pay us, this will all be over.” But he stood his ground, letting them search his car repeatedly, pulling up the carpets, going through the glove compartment, the trunk, folding down the seats, everything. It wasn’t cold (it never is) but I stood there shivering, absolutely scared shitless, sure that this was where I would die. On the side of the road somewhere in Santo Domingo with a boy I barely knew, shot to death by cops.
When finally they exhausted their search, they again plied my date for money. I heard them asking for just 2000 to 3000 pesos, that was all they needed to leave him alone. He refused, asking them if they found anything wrong, if he had done anything wrong. They hadn’t, he hadn’t. So he repeatedly denied their pleas for cash, saying he didn’t have any anyways, finally telling me to get in the car. He got in, told them no again as they stood at his window, almost begging, and then drove us away.
I remember looking in the rear view mirror and seeing the two policemen standing in the light of their cruiser’s headlights, hands on hips, dejected. My date drove along, turning the music up and the windows down. He seemed utterly carefree.
I said, “Where are we going?”
“I think I want you to take me home.” My voice shook a bit.
He finally looked over at me, almost laughing. “Why?”
“That was really scary. I don’t think I feel up to dinner at a restaurant.”
“Scary?!” Then he really did laugh. “You can’t be afraid of them. They’re just desperate for money. They see a car like this, and they try to force you into giving them cash. They’re corrupt, but they aren’t scary. They couldn’t have done anything to us. This restaurant is really nice. You’ll like it, I promise.”
I was dumbfounded. It was one of those moments when you realise, quite suddenly, that you’re completely out of your depth. I knew nothing of this country. I knew nothing of its ways. I truly was a stranger in a strange land.
I should have at least read the Wikipedia article about the Dominican Republic or something.
12th January 2020
A “day before the wedding” story, because tomorrow is our two-year anniversary.
On this day two years ago, I awoke with an insane headache. Truly it was like nothing I’d ever felt before. When I looked right or left or up or down, it felt like a lightning bolt striking my right eye. When I kept my head still it sometimes felt like a small person was behind my right eye, trying to push it out from my head. My right eye was getting a little more bloodshot by the hour. The pain was stressing me out (not the other way around, truly) and I had no idea what to do. All I knew was that I didn’t want to spend my wedding day feeling this way.
Our rehearsal at the venue wasn’t supposed to be until later in the afternoon so I agreed with my mom and Chris that I’d go to a walk-in clinic and see if anyone could help me. See, I didn’t really live anywhere at the time and I didn’t have insurance. My teaching contract had ended in North Carolina and I was staying in South Carolina, without any recourse to a doctor aside from a clinic. Brits won’t understand this but it’s sadly common in the US.
Those involved in the whirlwind adventure that was this day all have differing, fuzzy memories of who went where and when. Suffice to say there were multiple trips and a variety of combinations of my friends and fiancé joining me in the trek to find a doctor who would help me. We drove all over Charleston looking for someone. The closest UrgentCare clinic had a waiting time of hours, so we tried three different CVS pharmacies. The one in the middle of downtown (the third we visited and with the least accessible parking) finally had a woman who could see me. She listened to my symptoms, typed a bit on her computer and then said, “It’s kind of crazy because you’ve almost quoted the symptoms verbatim. I would guess that you have something called a cluster headache.” I had never heard of this thing so I was quite shocked to hear that I had listed the symptoms so precisely. I asked her what you can do for cluster headaches. She said she couldn’t do anything for me there, I would have to go the clinic.
So we drove back, put me on the 4-hour waiting list at UrgentCare and sat in one of the most depressing waiting rooms I’ve been in, aside from the DMV, for hours. My friends left, Chris stayed with me, we cancelled the rehearsal and decided that our priority had to be getting any help we could for my head. I was in my pyjamas. Neither of us had showered. Chris and I sat there just looking at each other as the time ticked on.
I was finally seen at 5:00pm. I explained my symptoms to the doctor, and she agreed that it sounded like I had a cluster headache. The treatment that she recommended was breathing pure oxygen for 15 minutes. She disappeared for a long while to get all the necessary accoutrements for this strange treatment. When she returned, it turned out that they didn’t have the appropriate mask so she had macguyvered one for me. I sat, breathing, for over 25 minutes. Nothing happened. Chris stared at me. By this time, we were missing our own rehearsal dinner party. Over 30 people were at the house without us, waiting for us, drinking to our future.
When the doctor finally came back, I asked her what else she could do because the oxygen wasn’t working. She said the only other recourse she could offer given that the next day was my wedding day was a cortisone shot. She said they often works for people but it wasn’t a guarantee. By that time I didn’t care if it was a needle the size of Texas (it was), or if the chance it would work was one in a million, I wanted it. So she left again for another exceedingly long while. I think this clinic must have had underground tunnelling in which she got lost because whenever she left it seemed to take her ages to find us again. When she returned she looked at Chris and then at me, then she said, “Okay, pull down your pants and bed over the chair.” Whilst my family and friends were partying to celebrate my nuptials, I was getting a shot in the ass.
There is a silver lining. When we got back to the house, Chris went to shower and an army of my friends came to help me get ready. They laughed at the hilarious bandaid on my right butt cheek, brought me white wine, and did my makeup all while keeping me smiling. The house my parents rented for the wedding week was incredible and enormous. The bedroom where I was getting ready was on the floor below the party. When I was dressed (only an hour or so late for my own party) I went upstairs and there was a set of French doors leading to the guests. I got to throw them open dramatically and the room erupted in applause. I was in a wide-lapelled white jumpsuit, I looked fierce and I was finally there to the celebrated bride.
An actor always knows how to make an entrance.
5th January 2020
The White Couch
or Sorry, Mom and Dad
A New Year’s story, for the new year.
For several years in my late teens and early twenties, my parents allowed me to throw a themed New Year’s party at our house. That’s the kind of young adult I was: dramatic and verging on ridiculous. (I was, in fact, president of the Thespian Society– Troupe #1478, I think?)
As 2008 was turning to 2009, the theme was “movie characters.” Admittedly, this was one of my less creative themes. But we were young and loved dressing up and didn’t really care about the parameters. I had only recently begun the phase of my life (that I’m still in and will probably never leave) of having very short hair, what you might call a “pixie cut.” I wanted to choose a costume that suited my relatively new look. There’s a lesser known movie that I’ve actually never seen (embarrassingly for this story) starring Keira Knightley in which she sports the same haircut and plays a model turned bounty hunter (typical). She also quite famously sports tattoos. So when my friends began to arrive and (nerds that they are) were easily able to identify my character, they noticed I wasn’t tatted up the way the character was. This was for a few reasons: the aforementioned (that I hadn’t ever seen the movie) and that after a google search I found out that her most noticeable tattoo is on the back of her neck and I could not reach that part of my body. The issue was quickly remedied: my friend grabbed a marker and gave me the important “Tears in the rain” text and that was that.
My parents were totally okay with me throwing the party that year (I was a really well-behaved kid), as long as their brand new perfectly white leather couch remained untouched. I was militant about this. I covered the couch in two bedsheets, and when every guest arrived, I opened the front door and said, “Happy New Year! Don’t touch the white couch.” Everyone knew to be careful. Even amidst ridiculous games, shouting, drinking and dancing, the couch was all right.
After a number of Mike’s Hard Lemonades (check the year, I was a young idiot) it turned out to be yours truly who fell asleep on the white couch. Someone else was in my bed, and in the guest beds and so I kipped in the family room, on the then infamous white couch. Who better to sleep on it than the person responsible for it? This way, I ensured that no one did any damage to it in their sleep, as so many are wont to do…
I awoke late and quite groggy on January 1st, 2009. Everyone was already gone, having headed home to shower and recover. When I rolled off the couch, I turned to pull the sheets off and saw to my utter dismay a number of purple spots dotting the beautiful white leather. My hand immediately went to the back of my neck. My stupid fake neck tattoo to be a nonsensical character from a bad movie no one ever even saw at a dumb theme party I invented had ruined this thousands-of-dollars couch the protecting of which was the only parameter my parents had given me when I wanted to throw said ludicrous shindig.
I burst into tears.
After a bit of a cry, I immediately went to my trusty friend google, to find out how to remove ink stains from leather. There were a number of recommendations, all of which I tried, hungover and half-crying. Nothing worked. I decided to take a shower, try to clear my head, and come at the problem from a different angle. I sat on the floor in the shower, weeping uncontrollably, trying to imagine how I could cobble together the $3000 (at least) I owed my parents.
Once cleaned and some of the cobwebs of drinking cleared away, I went back to google and moved down the list to the more “experimental” remedies. I was desperate. One site, probably 15 down the list, said something along the lines of, “You won’t believe this but if you need to get ink out of a white couch, THIS home product really works!” I am naturally skeptical of anything phrased this way but nothing had worked and I was envisioning myself in indentured servitude to my parents for the next decade paying off this couch, so I clicked on it. This fool claimed hairspray would pull the ink off without damaging the leather. Hairspray. Please.
So I grabbed my mom’s bottle and a few paper towels and headed to the scene of the crime. Lo and behold, the hairspray was working! Nearly weeping again, this time with glee, I worked that damn cheap hairspray into the various purple spots until I could not see them anymore. I took pictures of the couch and sent to my friends, “Can you see any ink on this couch?” “Does it look normal?”
A traumatic two hours later, and the house was cleaned up, no sign of a party ever having taken place besides a recycling bin full of empty bottles of Mike’s Hard. My parents returned home and were never the wiser.
I told them, a few years ago. As time had passed, they laughed it off. But it was one of those laughs that kind of dies at the end, you know? One that tells you that if they had known back then, at the start of 2009, my ass would have been grass.