I accidentally wrote a poem in a dive bar.
I was half interested in the drink I was stirring, and I was sitting in the notoriously isolated end seat of the bar where you can only hear the third and seventh words your friends are saying when a gaggle of girls walked in. I say gaggle because when they laughed they honked, and their large gold jewelry clattered and sparkled to the beat of the Rhianna song they had just chosen on the jukebox. They grabbed each other’s arm with every accentuated “I know” and spilled their vodka tonics with each swing of their Berkin bags. They were as distracting as a bedazzled family of geese crossing the interstate.
Everyone turned to see.
No one that rich comes into the bar. No one that beautiful comes into the bar. It’s tucked away on purpose like the last piece of pizza you hide yourself in the back of the fridge so your roommates don’t eat it for breakfast. It even has the vibe of a reheated slice of pizza; warm, with strange drafty, cold spots, and a little stale with the smell of last night’s cigarettes. It’s terribly comforting.
As I tilted my head towards the smell of Lancôme La Vie est Belle and Kat Von D Saint Eau de Parfum that was wafting through the door, I caught the eye of the woman closest to me. She gave me a “we know each other, do you know me, I know you, I can’t tell if you know me?” smile as she twirled a curl around her finger.
I stared blankly, blinking openly at her face for a few seconds and then quickly feigned interest in the bottles of cheap whiskey hanging from the ceiling. I like to play it cool like that so that people don’t think that I’m strange.
“You don’t remember me.” She said. It wasn’t a question.
I looked up at her, doing my best to combine a nod, a head shake, a shrug, and a smile all at once, but confident my expression was a mirror of Billie Ellish at the Oscars. I revert back to middle school Mary when pretty girls talk to me, nervous they will tease me for my weight, or my weird humor, or my split ends.
She was gorgeous with the kind of curls in her hair I’ve tried 100 times to do with a flat iron. It doesn’t matter how many YouTube videos I watch, I always end up looking like Ms. Hannigan after she’s had mop water thrown on her. The Carol Burnett version, to be sure.
I listened as she told me we had every class together in undergrad. I confirmed that we had the same major, down to the specialties and the minor. I listened as she talked about how she never wanted to be a middle school teacher, and how she can’t believe she spent so much time in all those classes. I listened as she talked about all the hard math classes and how she never thought she was smart enough. She talked about her kids, and asked me about mine, not particularly noticing when I said I didn’t have any. She stays at home with hers now in a nearby suburb where salaries are in the six to seven figures, something she seemed both proud of and frustrated by. I listened to the brand of her lip gloss, and her well-informed thoughts on education reform. I listened and agreed, and nodded, and smiled, fully conscious of both the absurdity of her needing my attention, and my split ends.
Her night at this reheated pizza bar seemed to exhilarate her and depress her. She had so much to say, and wondered aloud if there was enough time tonight to say it all, as her friends took shots behind her, handing her the small liquid glasses for her to down in between turning back to me with another thought, the whiskey registering as a subtle blip across her already furrowed brow. When she would turn away, I’d grab my phone and jot thoughts into the notes app, hoping to be able to fully capture this strange encounter later. I was the Bob Woodward of the dive bar. Why were these women here? How had they chosen this place? Why had this woman remembered me? What was it that she was really trying to say?
“Come on, I need to smoke.” She said, tossing her hair at her friends, who seemed uninterested in the fact that she had drifted three feet down the bar towards a stranger in sweat pants. I glanced at my sweatpants, noticing a stain on the right thigh and remembering the chicken wings I had had for dinner. They sounded achingly better than following this person outside for cancer, but I was intrigued by her simultaneous exuberance, loneliness, and poise. She was a dolled up version of me, at least for for four years of college. Same beginning, same motivations. Same classes, same plan, same goal. She spent the same Thursday nights writing proofs, and the same senior year practicing for her nearly impossible oral calculus class. We were told the exact same futures by our exact same advisers but we ended up with very different endings.
She lit her cigarette outside with a deep inward breath, delicately guiding me by the elbow to help me move out of the way of her exhale.
“I love my boys.” She said looking straight into my eyes through the haze of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.
“It sounds like it!” I said, almost pronouncing the exclamation point like a voice to text in case I dared to sound doubtful like a “bitter childless woman”.
She paused for a few soft minutes. I would describe it as a comfortable silence, as though we had known each other for years, but apparently we had.
“This is fun!” She said smiling.
And then we were done.
I never caught her name. All that was left of the peculiar stage show that took place under the lights of a Bud Light sign were the semi-poetic notes in my phone. My slightly absurd, creepy, quirky, attempt at perfunctory journalism.
The geese played a few more Rhianna songs, and then at the request of the other patrons, switched to country, which brought the girls back together in a huddle of singing and sloshing glasses, and Berkin bags, and slightly disheveled, though still ever so perfect, curls.
I left for NYC at 4:00 this morning. It’s now 4:58pm and I still haven’t arrived. I should have known that things wouldn’t turn out the way I hoped when I woke up in time to take a shower. I never wake up in time to take a shower. Not even before important work meetings with people I’m trying to impress. But I woke up at the thigh gap of dawn to take a shower so that I could look nice for Billy Joel. Because Billy, I love you.
It started when Pam at the United desk told me simply that our flight crew had not arrived on time for the flight. She didn’t sugar coat it with anything about how they needed more rest, or how the weather had delayed them. We were standing alone in an airport with six and a half gates (no one is sure what gate 5A is supposed to stand for) and anything you say in an airport that small is obviously thinly veiled.
The airport is so small that Pam was actually waiting on four passengers for the previous flight when I was speaking to her. Waiting for them like you might wait on friends to give them a ride to the mall in the 90’s. She yelled back to her flight deck buddy, “I’m just going to run over to TSA and check to see if they are there.” And in fact, there was someone there. I could watch him from my perch at the ticket desk walking through TSA without even craning my neck. Watch him repack his bag and tie his shoes. I could probably throw a baseball at him and hit him in the face if I had any aim. That’s just how small the airport is. Which is to say, when my flight crew didn’t show, there wasn’t a line of planes waiting to take me to DC. I should have said, “Mare, you’re 3 hours away, just drive yourself. Things aren’t look great for you!” But I didn’t. I certainly didn’t.
The new flight meant I missed my connecting flight, which snowballed into a lot of new horrific airport disasters, until a whole long time later it was 2:30 and I had been sitting on a runway in DC for an hour in an airplane with a broken air conditioning. The pilot was mumbling something over the intercom about a ground stop at La Guardia and told us we were going back to our gate “for an hour”. I got off the plane in a panic because everyone knows they don’t de-plane a plane for “an hour”. I was fumbling with my phone, trying to decide if I should get a train, or a car, or a bus, or a boat. It was a like a sick, expensive, Dr. Seuss book when, like clockwork, a United attendant announced that our flight was cancelled. She didn’t offer anything else. Not a sweet “please call this number” or “check your phones for your change in flights”. Of course, she couldn’t do any of those things because all we received was an email, hilariously misdated, saying our flight was cancelled and to follow a link for options, of which there were zero.
Flash forward to me in Gurpartap’s taxi cab 40 stressful minutes later, after hauling ass across the airport to try to find any airline that might take me. There was zero room at any inn for this Mary, which in the end probably mattered little since all flights to NYC have been since cancelled anyhow. I found a cab and threw down some cash, indicating that I would pay whatever (old school) to get to Union Station as fast as his little cabbie wheels could take me. These are taxi rules, not Uber rules, Gurpartap.
Gurpartap then proceeded to waste precious time discussing which route we should take, when clearly he had already decided which route was best for me, and my pocketbook.
“This route is shorter by miles, but see the time? It is only 8 minutes longer. And this one is longer by miles, but shorter in time. However it has tolls.” He explained showing me how his phone’s gps mapping device of choice, Waze, and his car’s gps could compare choices. “Which one do you want?”
“I don’t care! Which ever one is faster!” I nodded furiously and waved at them both not remembering which one showed me the fast, expensive route.
Gurpartap explained the maps again, exactly the same as he had before.
“The fastest route!” I waved my hands at the expensive route again, “I don’t care about the cost!”
“Oh but the tolls are $30-$40 dollars…for 8 minutes? Really ma’am? 8 minutes?” He looked at me sternly. “You’re willing to pay all that money for 8 minutes?”
“Oh whatever you want just GET ME THERE!” at this point Gurpartap had started driving and I just wanted him to keep his judgey ass eyes on the road.
An hour later, however, I would have paid $100 for those 8 minutes. We were 2 miles from Union Station and the gps was showing we still had 30 minutes to go. It was sheeting rain and there were emergency vehicles everywhere. I could only hope that someone had run over Donald Trumps wig and he had called all these cars in a panic to see if they could revive the hair piece. That was the only reason that would make this traffic jam okay. That and the story the Washington Post would write the next day.
Gurpartap shook his head, “I’m not thinking you’re going to make it.”
I glared at him over my backpack. “I’m not thinking I’m going to make it either.”I said through gritted teeth.
I stared at the gps on my own phone, and suddenly realized the projected time included looping through a huge backup at Columbus Circle to take me to the front of Union Station, Cinderella in the pumpkin style.
“Gurpartap,” I asked, “What if I hopped out right here,” I asked pointing to my map, “Before Columbus Circle? Would that save us some time?”
“Yes it would!” He grew excited, going into full conspiratorial mode. If he had had a white board, I think there would have been arrows and charts. At the next red light he quickly instructed me to hop out in the rain and grab my carry-on from the trunk so that I could save time getting it from “the boot” when tuck and rolling at Union Station. He also insisted on me putting my backpack on, looping my carry-on over my shoulder, and checking all the pockets of the vehicle in advance to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything behind in a rush. You know me so well Gurpartap. So well.
About a block away from our final stop, he allowed to pay ahead before the actual end of fare so we could complete the transaction on the go and not waste time at the end. I threw an extra large tip on the charge to thank him for his assistance as he darted between cars and illegally pulled into a bike lane so I could hop out safely.
And then I ran.
Straight into on-coming traffic like my mother absolutely did not teach me.
I had 9 minutes to catch my train and traffic was at a standstill so it was hardly as daring as it sounds, but pretend it was James Bondy. As I flew through Union Station I could hear “Last Call for Penn Station” on the announcement and though I had no idea where I was running, it gave me hope. I lifted my bag off its wheels and ran up to the first man in a navy blazer I could find.
“Shit you gotta run, girl!” he said when I showed him my ticket and he matched it to the departures board. “That’s in F gate and that’s not very close to A gate.” he said pointing to the gate we were standing closest to. They were alphabetized, as you can imagine.
I heard a stream of names being listed, including “Case”. “Last call for Case”. That calmed my heart a bit, feeling as though “last call” meant “if we can see you we’ll let you on” until a well dressed man, the type that looks as though he regularly travels on Amtrak trains and knows the lay of the land, came barreling past me and yelled “Wait for me I have a first class ticket!” as though he knew they absolutely would not wait for him, even if they saw him.
I sped up again and plummeted down the platform, sliding on the wet boards, my hair sticking to my face. “Wait for me I don’t have a first class ticket!” I tried to yell through my asthmatic heaves. I fell onto the train and panted heavily. I didn’t realize exactly how loudly I was wheezing until I looked down and a row of nicely dressed 30-something business men were staring at me like I might accidentally sweat on their Louis Vuitton.
“Don’t worry boys. I will.” I whispered through a wheeze.
I found a seat next to the most mid-western looking man I could find, and got to work searching for my inhaler and drying my sweat.
Then I texted Kyle. “I might make it after all! (winky face, heart emoji, weird gif of someone having an asthma attack) Please find out how we can get from Penn Station to Madison Square Garden AS FAST as humanly possible! I’ve got to see Billy!”
I got a text back from Kyle faster than I would expect, considering I had texted him about another man. Finally good news. About as good as it gets actually. Turns out Penn Station is directly underneath Madison Square Garden.
At least I’ll make it before the last song.
“Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental. Your best bets true baby-blue Continental.”
It is possible to live in two worlds.
It is possible to be deliriously happy and absolutely devastated at the same time. It’s a bit like wearing an oversized sweatshirt with a pencil skirt, comfortable and too tight all at once but it’s the style of the moment so you sit in it and grimace and look fucking amazing while you do it because, what else are you supposed to do?
Kyle was flipping pancakes and they fell smoothly into the pan as he turned to look at me and laugh. I was holding the phone really close to my ear, smiling, chatting, grateful to hear her voice on the other end.
“I’m the Samantha,” she said.
Kyle and I were in full basic bitch mode when I got the call. I always knew out of the two of us he would be the bridezilla, but I really had no idea how hard he could jam. We were staging our own engagement photo, the photo to end all photos, and I had never been more proud. I had made Kyle promise that we wouldn’t look stuffy or boring, to which he immediately suggested I be drinking a beer and wearing my favorite gray t-shirt. The one which my niece lovingly referred to as “my nice jammies I wear to parties sometimes”. I put it on with pride, and swiped on a little lipstick.
Let me tell you. Kyle can stage a breakfast. He should really be an Instagram Flogger. Is that what food bloggers are called? If not than, well… I guess I’m not really that invested. But I AM invested in that pancake stack:
We used to lie around in high school and watch Sex and the City, the four of us friends, laughing at each other for being too Samantha, or too Carrie. I was always the Charlotte because I was “such a square”. It sounds like an insult but it’s really the truth so I can’t complain. I once took a forgotten trash bag of beer cans home to recycle so my friend’s older sister wouldn’t get caught having thrown a house party. I was very much the Charlotte. No one wanted to be Miranda, probably because she ate chocolate cake out of the trashcan and wore terrible hats. Regardless of distance, or religions, or relationships, or terrible haircuts, our friendship never faltered. I don’t even think we would have stopped being friends if one of us had actually been a Miranda. For the majority of our friendship we have lived in four different states, living different lives in different worlds, but we have always been comfortable in our friendship. Like your “nice jammies that you wear to parties sometimes”, or your favorite hometown pizza.
We call each other to talk about the things that are devastating. The things that are life-altering good. The things that are mundane. We share favorite songs, and resume tips. We check in about haircuts. We rarely cry, but we always know that we can. We visit in the summers, or deep in the winter when no else will. We meet over drinks on the holidays, squished between dinner with family, hugs hurried but lingering. We have best friends back home that know the middle names of summer flings and the last book that we read, but that doesn’t shift the years of deli sandwiches and Rilo Kiley in the sun that we share. Our friendship is different. It’s solid on the edges and soft in the middle. It’s flexible, and smells good, and lasts.
It is possible to live in two worlds.
Kyle and I got engaged on a Saturday, while eating salmon. I can’t remember how it all started except for the salmon, which is why our romantic story starts with a sentence from a Judy Bloom chapter book. But it gets better because it ended with Kyle playing me “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” by Louis Armstrong on the piano, and then we slow danced like it was the closing scene in a John Hughes movie. We laughed the way people laugh when they are nervous, and in love, and happy.
And I knew I had made the right decision.
“I knew the way you know about a good melon.”
Afterwards we went downstairs to the bar below my apartment in our pajamas and baseball caps and had whiskey and called our moms because we wanted to celebrate, and because I hate wearing jeans, and because we didn’t know what else to do. Just a few short weeks later we were in the kitchen, elbow deep in pancake batter and bacon, with my camera propped up on my coffee table so we could send out Save the Dates.
My phone began to ring.
“FIND MY PHONE!” I yelled to Kyle, giggling and jumping over the coffee table. I absolutely never know where my phone is. It’s something everyone loves to hate about me, but I find adorable and carefree, so fuck the haters. He flipped pillows in desperation and threw some bacon towards me, trying to be cute in a messy way. I missed the call in the bacon tussle but immediately called my dear friend back, throwing my head against the couch as I soaked in her voice, imaging the smell of her perfume. A smell I’ve known and loved for 20 years.
“I’m the Samantha.” She said, “I have cancer.”
It is possible to live in two worlds. To be deliriously happy and absolutely devastated.
I looked up as the world slowed down. Kyle was flipping pancakes. They fell with a thud into the pan as he turned to look at me. His brow furrowed, taking in my expression.
She and I call each other more often now, the way you do when you’re deliriously happy, and absolutely devastated and trying to figure out how to sit comfortably with both. What else are you supposed to do?
I was holding the phone really close to my ear, grateful to hear her voice on the other end.
Sometimes we talk about the wedding and sometimes we talk about cancer. There’s a delicate urgency in our voices like we want a minute together where everything feels normal.
What is normal?
This is normal. This is the new normal.
Sometimes we talk about wedding dresses and sometimes we talk about chemo. Sometimes we ignore the exhaustion of both and spend the afternoon trying to figure out how to clear a clog in her bathtub the way strong, feminist, women do.
It is possible to live in two worlds.
When I first heard about IUDs I made a joke about IEDs. It was obvious in the “periods remind me of wartime” kind of way. I swore I would never let someone implant something inside of me until I had heard a viable argument that it was better than any possible form of birth control for men. I gave an impassioned speech or two about how women can have one child every nine months, but a man can impregnate a woman every time his sperminators (medical term) recharge. I might have been serious, or I might have been scared.
I definitely changed my tune when Donald Trump came in and took the White House like Kaa from the Jungle Book. Except no, because that’s insulting to Kaa because he just wants to sing some songs and eat Mogli for dinner, and at this point I’d prefer that in my president, wouldn’t you? Anyway, I changed my tune because we put a Slytherin in the White House, and I moved to the South. Admittedly I didn’t run a controlled study for comparison, but all of a sudden, my birth control was no longer free, and my new doctors began to refer to my period as “that time of the month” so, qualitatively speaking, I was freaked the fucked out. I weighed my options, and if you’ve read about the Rocky Horror Shit Show that happened in my uterus, I chose to get an IUD because come hell or high water, at least for the next five years, I have free and hidden birth control.
IUD’s can do some crazy shit to your body. I have a friend who had to have her IUD taken out because she didn’t stop bleeding for a year. For some people, they make your period go away, which actually freaked me out before Handmaid’s Tale convinced me that weird science experiments on my uterus might be best case scenario. My good friend from college got an IUD and her period stopped immediately. Can you believe the freedom? She could wear white pants 28-31 days of the month, except that I explicitly told her that that was a terrible idea because she falls down a lot. But then she got a lump in her boob and they told her she had to get her IUD out to regulate her hormones. Now every month she gets a monthly reminder about how good she and her left boob, and her vagina had it. Plus, she has to buy tampons again which aren’t even tax free in most states. Cancer and tampons are just so expensive. They told her she could get a copper IUD but who wants to go through all of that pain again after you’ve just been told you need to deconstruct your boob? Haven’t we been violated enough?
When I was on the pill, I was regulated by white pills and blue pills. Now I’m just hormones in the wind, free flying however the calendar might take me. My IUD makes my period short enough to keep it interesting, and long enough to remind you that hell is real. I’m grateful that my period is short. But it isn’t a sweet, tea party. Instead, I think my uterus is a hoarder. It saves everything up like it’s waiting for a therapy session. New, old, painful, stylish, last year’s model. When I was on the pill I bled blood. Now I bleed mud and oil and deconstructed emotions.
My period is needy and clingy. It shows up on dates, and at my gym. It rolls in like a friend and then goes all Texas Chainsaw on my ass when I dare to RSVP to a pool party. I used to think I was hella lucky, back in the good old days when birth control wasn’t a bigger issue than heroin. But oh, how the mighty have fallen. I’ve given up the pill for a birth control that cannot be taken from me, or price hiked. So long gone are the days of cramp-free periods and pill planning vacations. My Aunt Flo has a mind of her own, and she hasn’t been to see her therapist about her social anxiety and abandonment issues in far too long. So, you can find me at the drug store at 4am tomorrow buying tampons so I can take my fucking period with me to Mexico. I hope she has a passport.
Karen was screaming, I had literal gutter water dripping down my face, and Bernadette Peters was auditioning for the part of Fantine in “Les Misérables” in a mud puddle at my feet. If that sounds like a shit show to you, it’s because of Karen…and also…I started this story somewhere near the end. I’m actually not even sure if the woman in question is named Karen, but when we circle back to the end of this story, I guarantee you’ll agree she was at least born in the generation of Karen.
We had had a slush storm earlier that morning. The kind that closes down Virginia, but that Ohio would pour flavored syrup on and send children out with snow pants and face masks so they wouldn’t be late to John Deere Club. As happens in Virginia around 5pm, the weather was shifting to confuse commuters, and I was taking Bernadette Peters out to see if she would take a shit in the grass. (Bernadette Peters being the dog, not the Tony Award Winning, star of Rogers and Hammerstine’s Cinderella with Brandy, Guest Host of the Muppet Show, Bernadette Peters. I might have clarified earlier.)
Bernadette Peters, or Bernie, or BernDog, or Berns, or the newly dubbed #BernieTheBasicBitch, was being a pain in pumpkin spice latte as only a Basic B knows how to be. Bernie is about 7.34 pounds, and could fit in a Birkin Bag. The thick layer of 7-11 Slushie was cold on her tiny little paws, and she was making little honey bee mating patterns in the snow instead of “doing her business” as my mama says. Despite her dance moves, I knew she had to go. Dog owners, particularly those that live in apartments, know the pooping schedule of their creatures better than they know their own. I sometimes find myself watching Jamie Lee Curtis commercials and wondering if Bernie needs probiotic yogurt and wishing I cared about my own health as much as I care about hers. (This morning I ate Cheetos for breakfast. Bernie is strictly gluten free.)
I stared into Bernie’s little eyes. I begged. I pleaded. I squatted alongside her and poked and prodded her tiny little tummy, and pet her tiny little head. She gave me side eye as large rain drops began to fall out of the sky. It was a look that said, “No thank you. I would like to shit in the house, please”.
I pulled my hood up and tried changing locations as the rain sped up, and our coats, both fur and artificial, became soaked. I found a small strip of grass that wasn’t swamped with rain water, and was letting her sniff the area for dog dominance purposes when a car sped by. A tsunami of gutter water cascaded down the side of my face, legs, and into my boots. I yelled out a series of curse words I had learned watching British crime shows as poor Bernie shook the water off her fur and tried hiding her face in my left boot.
Enter Karen. She spun around on the steps like Liza Minnelli trying to open a shower curtain, oblivious to the tsunami, or really, it turns out, her general surroundings. “What the ACTUAL HELL are you doing to that poor animal?!” she screamed at me, leering into the early evening darkness.
I let my mouth fall open as I looked down at Bernie who let her tail fall between her legs. I think between stammers I mentioned the car, and maybe the gutter water. I might have said something about my wet underwear. In hindsight, I’m beginning to understand the reasons she might have feared for Bernie’s life.
Karen gripped the handrail of the steps leading back into the bar that she was probably thrown out of later. “You are a MONSTER!” she yelled at me, separating each word for emphasis, as the rain poured down over Bernie and me.
“But–my-my-dog!” I stammered, “My dog has to– to-to-!”
“I don’t give a shit about your dog!” she snapped back.
This was very confusing. I searched my pockets for pen and paper so I could take notes.
“You are wearing a coat, and look at HER!” She gestured at Bernie, who sunk low into the mud puddle on command, tail between her legs, her automatic reaction when anyone is yelling, not that Karen would know that, she didn’t even properly introduce herself. If she had bothered to ask, she would know that Bernie once hid in her cage for over an hour because I vehemently, and vocally, disagreed with RuPaul. But like I said…she didn’t ask.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Berns?” I thought. Sarah McLachlan “In the Arms of an Angel” played softly from some expertly hidden patio speaker, probably painted green and hiding in one of bushes Bernie peed on earlier as Bernie began to whimper. “Good Lord. Look alive girl! You’re going to get me arrested for animal abuse! Tell her about your new dog bed! I’ll get you whatever gluten free, dog treats your basic dog self needs! I’ll get you Activia! Anything you want!” Bernadette Peters sunk lower into the mud puddle as I glared in frustration.
“WHO RAISED YOU!” Karen continued, tossing her dry feathered hair under the protection of the bar’s awning, “You look like the most privileged piece of shit I’ve ever seen! You’re standing there all warm in your COAT and your dog is freezing and wet! Who do you think you are!”
Water dripped off my hood into my eyes. I blinked in her direction as she wavered on the steps, her stance wide, her arms out. The gutter water had formed a kind of Instagram Filter over my eyes, and if I squinted just so, she could have been standing in the lights of Studio 54, ready to disco. I was out of words and afraid what I might say if I opened my mouth. I had already talked about my wet underwear, and after that, there just aren’t a lot of nice British crime show words to follow up with.
“Shame!” Karen yelled in a growl, invoking the lowest of blows, “Shame on you! Shaaaaaaaaame!” She slammed the door to gutter water Studio 54 behind her, as a cluster of guests gathered to the window, drawn to the horrific scene of animal abuse on the front steps.
I stood frozen on the sidewalk, looking at the angry white faces glaring from inside the solid glass windows of the bar at the top of the steps, rain pouring down my face, gutter water forming a paste between my hair and my skin, Karen’s yelling from inside bar mixing with Journey on the patio’s sound system, all the while Bernadette Peters continued to be an absolute drama queen at my feet. Whining. I looked down at my puppy to give her a pet.
Bernie had decided “to do her business” right on the steps of the bar, with Karen’s entire circus crew as witnesses. Berns licked a drip of mud off my boot like it was Dom Pérignon, leaned into my leg like we were watching the sunset and not an angry mob of middle aged women, and wagged her tail.
I swear to god that dog deserves a Tony.
I can feel Florence in my bones.
As she is spinning toward the Carolina coast, she is reminding me of the vigor with which I would insist my body should spin across the gray plastic floor in pink leather shoes. My hips are bending, throwing themselves forward with the force of a Category 4. When I move to see the rain on my window, I can feel Miss Deborah pull at the toes in my left foot, curving my stubborn arch until it looks beautifully unnatural, like twisted umbrellas on an empty beach. As the storm pushes towards the coast, I can feel my toes push effortlessly forward as I stretch across the living room floor and grin shyly from underneath my hair. I can hear my grandma exclaim with pride at my long legs, my aching legs, my long aching legs. The wind swirls and rips my knee from its roots, no cartilage left after years of water damage and grand jetés.
As the tide rises and falls, I can feel the conch shell, the one from my great grandmother, falling from high on the top shelf, falling with the tide onto my toes, shattering and slicing my skin. The shell of my great Grandma Shell, the irony and beauty, falling flat with pain from six feet above, breaking my foot but not the pink skin of the pink crustacean. The pressure of the system pulls in and out like a storm surge on the bones in my foot, pin pointing the joints that were ripped apart by the shell, reminding me of the blood, and the stitches, and the embarrassing prom photos. Accidents always seem to find me, like water finds cracks in the foundation.
Florence crashes into the shore, and we crash into a car. I don’t remember the collision, but I remember the glass, and my face is covered in a burning powder from the impact, dusty like the sand that the hurricane has blown onto the boardwalk. I can feel the water swirling in my right arm, the arm that fractured the space between myself and the car door. My head aches with the memory and the smell of burnt fear.
As the rain clouds move west, I am running, or my memories are. Three miles, three times a week, and I can feel the pressure in my right shin. The break still new and fresh, barely healed from last winter. Each rain drop on the East Coast can be felt through my leg, like a flood of heat, echoing the 6,200 steps I pounded through in determination on an almost shattered leg. It screams with the indecision of my choice to weather the storm, of my pertinacious refusal to quit my first race. I ache with the damage, but bend with the wind.
I have memories in my fingers that throb when it rains, and scream as Florence heaves each sigh. They have spent years flowing from my hands onto keys, onto pianos and computers, telling stories through songs, and memories through stories. My fingers are young, but the weather is warning me of the time I have had. I have memories in my head, hiding behind my eyes, and putting pressure on my teeth, my nose, my cheeks. There are so many memories, my head might explode with the pressure of the storm.
In a few days it will be quiet. I will stretch my rested legs, and bend my rested fingers. The pain will recede with the clouds and my memories will spill out of my eyes, my fingers, like water from a storm drain, floating along slowly past my resting self. I will let them go, knowing the proximity they always keep. You can never get rid of water damage. The sun will rise, and my joints, my sinuses, my bones will dry.
It will be time to rebuild again.
“I said who am I, to blow against the wind
I know what I know, I’ll sing what I said
We come and we go,
That’s a thing that I keep, in the back of my head”
“Say Guatemala one more %@*$ time.” Valerie was staring at me from across the couch, crab rangoon poised perfected between her thumb and pinky like a weapon.
“But…” I stumbled, spilling some whiskey on my pink duvet, a christening of sorts as far as Valerie was concerned.
“No…No, I dare you. Say Guatemala ONE. MORE. TIME.” She looked fierce, but in the way that meant “I love you, and I WILL murder you if you don’t get your shit together immediately.”
I had been waxing poetic about the way that my ex-boyfriend could have, should have, might have, and…frankly probably never would have, turned his life around in Guatemala, if only he was given “the chance”. Valerie, or “Valerina” as I had dubbed her in the 7th grade, was hearing none of it. She had given me the obligatory 1-2 months to mourn my breakup, and now it was time for heavy drinking and Thai 9, straight out of the container. She was right, of course. She’s always right.
Especially about the fried rice.
I spent months thinking “for Valerie’s big 3-0, I’ll write her a special blog”.
It only makes sense as my biggest fan. She once mailed me a book for no other reason than because the author (Dorothy Parker) reminded her of my writing vibe and she couldn’t image that I should live another day without experiencing it. But writing a blog about a friend you’ve had for nearly 20 years looks more like a book than a short story, which has made this more difficult than you might imagine.
I gave up at one point, lying back to switch off my inspirational music which was, of course, a playlist made up exclusively of Jenny Lewis and “Summer Lovin’ Lakeage: Hullo Mike” – a mixtape we made in college. The title of the mixtape, as they are designed to do, gave me nostalgia for that summer. It was filled with trips to our friend’s lake, Billy Joel, and midnight screenings of old movies like “The Philadelphia Story”. I’ve always thought of Valerie when I watch that movie, and not just because I worship her the way Katherine Hepburn’s character is worshiped in the film (obsessively and with ample competition) but also because of the fierce determination of Katherine Hepburn’s character.
It’s tough to compare anyone to a 1940’s starlet without throwing out some feminist caveats, so to be sure, let me say that I mean whole heartedly that the two are comparative in radiance, poise, intelligence, and wit.
And of course that fierce fire. That determination, or as Jimmy Stewart calls it, the “hearth-fires and holocausts”.
That fire comes out and slaps you across the face with a crab rangoon when you least expect it, but most definitely when you absolutely need it. I, and many of my closest friends, would be entirely different people without Valerie. I certainly would have had a very different 30th year without her support, guidance, and continual love while living in a new place.
And so for HER 30th year, the best of birthdays (though a bit belated as it were) I’d like to toast to the woman I’m proud and lucky to have grown up alongside, while also bragging about her in the best way I know how. It may not be an amazing blog entry, or a book (yet), but it is a toast written entirely through the altered words of a Billy Joel song, and that’s pretty close.
She can kill with her heart, she can wound with her voice,
She can restore all your faith with advice straight from Joyce,
And she only reveals that she’ll love you for free,
She burps like a man, but she’s always just perfect to me.
She is stronger than hugs, mean mugs, and shoulder shrugs,
She always brings bear claws and drinks whiskey from mugs,
And she’ll take what you give her, as long as it’s pie,
Yeah she steals (sweatshirts) like a thief, but she’ll always be there for a cry.
Oh, she takes care of her friends, she has since we met,
She’s so generous with time,
Oh, and she never gives up, and she never gives in,
She is just asleep by nine.
And she’ll promise you more than half of the gin,
Then she’ll lovingly hug you and share LaCroix with a grin,
But she’ll bring out the best and the even better you’ll be,
Blame it all on gray t-shirts, cause she’s always just perfect to me.
Oh, she takes care of her curls, they’ll be straight if she wants,
She’s got the best hair of all time,
Oh, and she never picks up, and she never goes out,
When The West Wing is on.
She’s frequently kind, and she’s suddenly cruel,
But that’s only because you’re acting like a damn fool,
She can’t be arrested, she’s got plans at three,
And the most she will do is throw crab rangoon at you,
And she’s always just perfect to me.
Here’s to 30 years of life, almost 20 years of friendship, and 100 more of both!
*Note* Written post procedure in May, 2018
It could be the pain medication talking, but I really fucking love my uterus. My uterus, and all accompanying nether-parts, have been through so much stress lately I’ve been thinking about getting them their own psychiatrist, or at least a prescription for Valium. Miranda on Sex and the City had a depressed vagina, and she’s supposed to be the relateable one, so you can never be too careful.
This week I took my uterus to the doctor. There wasn’t anything wrong with me, or my uterus, per se, aside from the regular monthly bleeding and the general horror that that tends to cause men. But this story didn’t really start with my most recent OBGYN appointment. I don’t suppose any woman can properly talk about their uterus without going back a few years.
In college I was privileged to have access to health insurance and family that supported my right to accessible birth control options. I chose oral contraceptives thanks to overwhelmingly debilitating cramps and a sneaky suspicion that I would not be interested in getting pregnant before twenty. Despite the thorough lecture our 7th grade health teacher gave us about how pregnancy occurs while we watched a woman give birth on VHS, and the ample questions my mother was willing to answer, I still felt like the danger of pregnancy was out there, looming in the dark corners of a college party.
I didn’t feel like I was protected from pregnancy just by being safe in my committed relationship, or even celibate for that matter. That’s probably a story for another day, but I’ll bet if you have been to a college party, or have seen a college party on tv, or have even just had to walk past a college party to get to your apartment every night after you got off the late shift that you were working to pay your way through school, you’re picking up what I’m putting down. If you’re still unclear… well…I’m talking about sexual assault. Something about the strategically placed blue panic buttons around campus didn’t exactly instill a feeling of security for my uterus and I.
The point is, I chose oral contraceptives as an armor of sorts. A just-in-case against all the things that I couldn’t control. At 17, I was too young to get a concealed carry, and I figured the birth control might help with the cramps.
After almost a decade of taking a pill before bed time, migraines and politics had me questioning if oral contraceptives and the hormones that come with them were the best choice for me. Most doctors gave me a blank stare when I asked about more permanent solutions. One doctor quite literally adjusted his penis as he told a 28 year old me, “You aren’t old enough to make that decision” after I fervently expressed that I did not want children and I wanted to explore non-hormonal possibilities.
This year, I turned 30. I thought maybe the new decade marker on my medical forms would open new possibilities. I asked my new doctor, in my new city, in my new state, if it might be possible to have my tubes tied, or if there were other options to explore.
“You don’t have children yet.” My fully female doctor said flatly, staring at my belly.
“Right…and I want to keep it that way.” I repeated.
I tried to ignore the “yet” that had echoed at the end of her statement. People were always adding the “yet”, as though there were a secret baby lurking in my uterus that I was unaware of, that only those who have had the magical experience of being impregnated can see. I once endured a full hour of a stranger at a bar telling me my best friend would impregnate me one day. He told me he could sense these things, and I just didn’t know… “yet”. Doesn’t matter that my friend and I are not in a relationship. Doesn’t matter that my friend has a husband. Doesn’t matter that I don’t want children. He told me God would find a way.
I was frustrated by my new OBGYN, but she agreed to work with my general practitioner to help me tackle my migraines and so I stuck around. Later that month I was prescribed a medication for said migraines, I just didn’t realize I had to pick the pills up from a pharmacy in the year 1952.
As I stood waiting, the pharmacist leaned heavily on the counter and handed me the prescription. She wiggled a finger at me and clutched the paper bag to her large breasts. “This will make your….” she mouthed the words “birth control” as her eyes darted around the room, “ineffective,” she whispered.
I smiled. “Thanks for letting me know. Are there any other types of contraceptive I can take or use while on this medication?” I asked, not choosing to lower my voice for the 60-something man waiting behind me who surely had heard of condoms before.
The pharmacist winced. “I can write some down for you to discuss with your doctor,” she said, nodding. Then, to be sure I understood, she added in a curt, scratch of a voice, “If you plan to be…” her voice cut out and she mouthed “sexually active” with air quotes around the word as though I might somehow be able to feign sexual activity, “then you’ll need to use alternate protection.” She folded her hands tightly, cheeks pink.
I rolled my eyes and took the bag from her, making a mental note to call my OBGYN as soon as possible.
The receptionist at my OBGYN had a lot of questions about my insurance provider, and very few questions about uterus. I decided that it wasn’t her job to worry about my lady bits, but my concern grew when I arrived at the doctor’s office and was handed three letters describing my financial responsibility, two letters describing the importance of contacting my insurance provider myself, and an actual waiver I had to sign claiming that I understood that the cost was mine, and mine alone to bear.
When Dr. Arnold came in, I was a bit confused, and not because he isn’t my traditional OBGYN. It isn’t surprising to get a parade of strange doctors before my usual doctor because go to a teaching hospital. Honestly, I thought a teaching hospital would be like Grey’s Anatomy and, happily, it is. I was confused because he came bearing even more pamphlets.
Dr. Arnold was lanky, with skinny jeans and a lab coat straight out of Rocky Horror Picture Show. His curly hair was tossed to the side in the way that only years of nervous finger combing could achieve. His thick horned rimmed glasses were the same kind I saw on a bust of a serial killer on Forensic Files and his lisp gave away nothing about his sexual preferences, despite cultural stereotypes. He handed me a bunch of pamphlets using just two fingers to avoid the obvious cooties my female-ness might have. “This one goes in your arm,” he said gesticulating, “and this one… does… not.” He looked down at my crotch, so I would be sure to know that, medically speaking, my vagina was not in my arm.
“I would like as few hormones as possible,” I told him, referencing my migraines. “Does this one here work with my migraine medicine?” I was skeptical given what I had read online.
He peered through the pamphlet. “I don’t see why not. But I’ll ask Dr. Catbasket.” (His attending’s name is clearly not Dr. Catbasket, but it’s really, really close, and I needed a pseudonym so I just can’t help myself.)
After some useless conversation about my menstrual blood, mostly prompted by me once I realized it would make him specifically uncomfortable, he went and retrieved Dr. Catbasket. She hurried in with another resident in tow, and began the process of discussing my options all over again with a new set of serial killer glasses, perched on a new resident’s face (just like Grey’s Anatomy).
After a bit, we had decided on an IUD, specifically because of the low amount of hormones that would be leaking into my body on a regular basis and because I have a strong a history of skin irritations and the arm injection is known to cause rashes.
Though strange skin rashes are, themselves, their own kind of birth control I suppose.
The day of the doctor’s appointment for my IUD insertion, I lay on the table with my feet in stirrups, shivering under my ridiculous excuse for a hospital gown. They had me sign a waiver before beginning, reassuring me as I signed that everything would be okay. I couldn’t help but feel like this was the same scenario for Ariel when Ursula told her “it’s cool, it’s just your voice.”
I laid on the table waiting for the procedure, staring at a table full of instruments. I was immediately struck by how much iodine and gauze they had laid out in preparation. It didn’t look as simple as the pamphlets or the Google search grab of “IUD procedure” would imply (below) with its description of quote “just an easy office visit!”.
My next clue that maybe this wouldn’t end with cupcakes was the doula. She came in like a mouse and stood peacefully in the corner in what looked like a yoga version of parade rest. I would have thought that she was just observing, Grey’s Anatomy style, but then she approached my head and asked if I would like her to help me breathe through “the pain”. My whole body immediately clenched. Turns out I have strong physical reaction to doulas, and it isn’t positive.
She titled her head like Professor Trelawney trying to read Harry Potter’s tea leaves of death, and said soothingly “I am… a doula…it is…my job.” She paused between sentence fragments, I imagine for dramatic effect. I shook my head furiously at her outstretched hands, my doctor already shoving speculums into places I was regretting allowing her access. I already had one lady putting her hands in places, the doula could just keep off.
I won’t go into too much detail about what followed, except to say that getting an IUD involves a lot of things that on their own are painful for many women including but not limited to inserting something into your vagina, opening your cervix, holding your cervix open, and then finally pushing something into your uterus. The end parts were where there was trouble.
The long and the short of it is, that my abdomen and uterus began to seize, very similar to as if I were in labor. I’m still unclear if the seizing caused the difficulties or the difficulties caused the seizing. There was a lot of talking, but I mostly just clenched my jaw and tried not to punch out the doula who was singing a song about breathing.
My doctor continued to work diligently, apologizing, and randomly asking me to cough for her. I did my best, but she was lucky if she could even get me to breathe for her, let alone cough. At one point she grabbed a desk lamp and shined it between my legs for extra visibility. I don’t think I can ever watch “The Brave Little Toaster” with the same innocence ever again.
After about 45 minutes, tears were streaming down my face, and the doula was crumpled in the corner and reeling from my rejection. My doctor began to withdraw the troops.
I sat up as much as my spasming stomach would allow, “What are you doing? Is it over?”
“No, I’m sorry, it’s not. I was unsuccesful.” She sighed, apologizing repeatedly and shaking her head.
The doula adjusted the pillow under my head and told me I was very brave. “You didn’t make a single sound,” she told me as though silence were a badge of bravery. The entire 45 minutes it felt as though someone was using two sharp fingernails to pull a piece of my uterus taught, and then twist it into a knot. Then, after it was as tight as it could possibly go, those same sharp fingernails pinched as hard as they could, stretching it wide from two corners until it felt as though it were about to burst like a balloon filled with too much helium. When I thought that pain was so much it just had to have been the worst of it, the process began again, and again, and again.
We moved to an ultrasound room, where they allowed me to rest for about 20 minutes and wait for an ultrasound tech. I mostly panicked, imagining the torture of having to go through that process again. The plan was to tag team with an ultrasound tech, the tech guiding my OBGYN’s hands using the ultrasound image. I cried, asking to go home without an IUD, and preferably without my spasming uterus if that were an option. They told me to relax and turned the dial up on a speaker in the corner.
The ultrasound room was large, and strangely decorated like a dorm room. There was even an early 2000’s era Dell in the corner, blasting music. The music theme was ominous, mainly orchestral with some percussion. I tried to lie still and relax my abdominal muscles, but they cramped and seized repeatedly almost as often as I sobbed. Eventually the ultrasound tech, doula, and OBGYN all paraded in, laughing cheerfully about the music. I wiped my face quickly and took as many deep breaths as I could, as the ultrasound tech showed me the CD case to the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack that we were listening to. Makes sense, I guess, “Lord of the Rings” is exactly what people listen to while relaxing… in Hell.
The next phase was quick. Relatively painless. With the ultrasound technician’s help, the IUD was in place within 10 minutes. But within 10 hours I was back on the table, writhing in pain. My doctor wasn’t available to see me, so another doctor asked me a few questions, poking me in the side like spoiled piece of meat. Before I knew what was happening, I was in a wheelchair flying to the other side of the hospital to have my appendix removed.
I clung to the right side of my abdomen as though a doctor might jump out of a ficus and remove my appendix between the hospital lobby and the cardiology unit. I was in a lot of pain, sure, but no one seemed to be listening to me about the IUD, and the uterine spasms, and the fucking doula, and the ultrasound, and the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack. It seemed as though they were focusing on “the statistically normal causes of abdominal pain”, and ignoring that it might be from the horror I had been through the day before.
Luckily, as it turns out, doctor’s don’t just take out someone’s appendix without some tests, as I had feared during my cross hospital wheelchair ride. After settling in my new hospital room, the new doctor listened intently to my story about the IUD. He nodded nicely, though skeptically. “Miss, I appreciate that this can be scary but I promise appendectomies are nothing to worry about. The worry is not removing them when needed. We’ll check your IUD just to be sure, but, please know that they are very safe, and complications are very rare.”
He reached behind my hospital bed to lean it back. I scrambled my legs around, and spun off the bed. Almost laughing, I looked him dead in the eye and said “If you think you’re…” I pointed at the zipper to my pants, “Well you’re nuts…sir.” He looked exacerbated. I have used that word a thousand times, but until this doctor, in this hospital room, trying to steal my appendix, I never really knew what exacerbation looked like. Half from pain, half from the trauma of being medically assaulted the day before, I demanded we call my doctor, or at the very least a female practitioner. The male doctor complied without complaint, and stood patiently in the hallway. My cheeks turned a dark shade of crimson when it turned out that all he was attempting to do was an external ultrasound.
In the end of this story I got to keep both my appendix and my IUD, though the IUD had been trying to pull an escape from Alcatraz out the side of my uterus.
Due to the spasming of my uterus, the IUD was pushed into the side of my uterine wall, and had begun to perforate the lining. Similar to A1 seen below. My OBGYN made the trip across the hospital for me, and after some crying and flailing, I allowed her to reposition the IUD, which, luckily, had not caused any severe trauma.
Not all women are so lucky.
This is a very long story to tell you that I lived and I’m fine and my uterus doesn’t have a hole in it anymore. But the point of this very long story about how I lived, and I am fine, is to hopefully illustrate just a tiny piece of the struggle I had to go through as a woman seeking a method of birth control.
And this is just one story.
And I am just one woman.
“Black Bear, Black Bear, what do you see?”
“I see a sweaty girl, looking at me.”
That’s the start of the new edition of the popular children’s book. It’s a collaboration between myself, the Black Bear, and the Black Bear Cub that I saw while hiking today in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we are anticipating it will hit shelves sometime in November, 2018. I imagine the next line of the book will be about the Black Bear’s inner turmoil and whether she thought she should give me CPR or eat me. I was too tired to care as I sat on the rock and stared at the bears, who stared right back and licked their lips. To be fair, I was pre-salted with sweat.
If you know me, you know that climbing things is how I like to torture and then later brag about myself. Sometimes it’s volcanoes and last year around this time, I tackled and complained about what I will hence forth refer to as a moderately easy trail to a waterfall, that non-the-less made my lungs burn and my legs turn to jello. In my defense, I was new to Virginia, and I just always thought people were bullshitting when they said Ohio was “really flat”.
This hike I decided to do on a whim. I woke up and was lying in bed watching a documentary, as one does on a lazy Sunday morning, and I decided I needed to disconnect, technologically speaking. I picked a trail that would be well travelled, in case I fell down a cliff. I wanted to be sure to be found within a reasonable amount of time, plus I’m vain and if did make it to the top, I wanted to be sure there would be someone there to take my picture. I’ve been living in the hills of Virginia for awhile now and I don’t gawk as much anymore when someone suggests say, taking the stairs, for example, so I figured that this qualified me for a bit more strenuous of a hike. I chose “Sharp Top” because later when I told my friends I figured it would sound pointy and dangerous. Plus , “Sharp Top” sounds a bit like “Shock Top”, and while it’s a terrible beer, I like beer.
About .4 miles into the hike I had already texted my friends that I was thinking of quitting and that I was possibly dying. I had underestimated the steepness of what 1,227ft elevation gain really meant. A family of hikers passed me as I sat on a rock and listened to Whitney Houston, hoping she would bring me inspiration. They climbed like mountain goats, legs tanned to the color of Werther’s candies, with the line of definition down the side I thought was only drawn on in cartoons. I stood up after they passed, inspired both by their agility and Whitney telling me that it was “not right” but that it was “okay”.
I climbed another .2 miles and met the mountain goat family again. They were sprawled across a pile of boulders, panting and sweating, the mother goat complaining to her husband that he had misled them. They asked me if I knew how much further we had to go. I told them that according to my watch, we hadn’t made it halfway yet, and I trucked ahead, pretending to be awesome, and strong, with cartoon muscle legs the color of Werther’s candies. I had pants on so, they wouldn’t know otherwise.
About .2 miles later I was sprawled across a boulder myself, panting and sweating, and staring at a Black Bear and its cub. I sipped on my Camelbak*, barely moving my lips and not taking my eyes off the bear. It seemed to have sympathy for me, though who wouldn’t. I looked like a pile of dirty laundry with a sunburn.
Then all of a sudden from somewhere near my toes I heard, “YOU DID IT!” and I snapped up to attention. There was a tiny little girl standing at my feet dressed in a pink sundress and those white patent leather shoes with the buckle. The kind you wear with white socks with the lace top. “YOU MADE IT HALF WAY!” She screamed. I waved my arms and reached out, trying to quiet her, spinning around to see how long we had until the bears ate us. Then as quickly as she had appeared, the little girl was gone, and her brother was running after her. He stopped just long enough to stare me dead in the eyes and say “You’re REALLY red.” He wasn’t wrong. I turn a dark crimson at the mere thought of physical exertion, and/or red wine. I blinked as he trotted off, turning back around, unable to find the bears. I wasn’t sure if I was grateful or sad that they had disappeared. If they had eaten me, I wouldn’t have had to continue climbing upwards.
The hike stayed consistently steep, and the hikers coming down consistently exhausted. They said things like, “It’s really hard” and “You only have about 15 more flights of stone steps to go” and “If you’ve made it this far, there’s no point in turning back now”. I found their exhaustion surprisingly comforting, like maybe I wasn’t a completely worthless hiker. A man and a woman wearing her baby skipped by as though they were born on the mountain. The man had just one, single, solitary bead of sweat on his brow (just for show) and the woman’s hair still held its curl in her perfectly positioned ponytail. The baby wore little Nike hiking shoes, despite its inability to stand, and its smile stretch from ear to ear, exposing one tooth, and two rows of gums. I might have turned around if it hadn’t been for that little, perfect, baby-wearing, family, but my competitive side got the better of me. If they could make this climb with one bead of sweat and wearing a baby, I could make it with a gallon of sweat and wearing no baby. That’s just math.
After what seemed like ages, I made it to the top. The reviews were wrong about there being lots of crowds, in fact as I came around the last flight of stone steps, three men and a baby (you can’t make this shit up) waved me past saying “It’s all yours, sugar”. I would have been offended by the pet name from a stranger, but given my state, I couldn’t protest.
I closed my eyes for two seconds, allowing myself to relax before taking in the reveal. As I opened my eyes, I let out a long, audible, “Fuuuuuuuuuuck” as I took in the view, immediately followed by “It smells a bit like piss”.
“It really does,” someone chimed in from behind me.
Having thought I was alone at the peak, I about pissed my pants from surprise, noting that as a possible reason for it smelling like pure human urine, and then immediately apologized for my language as the two young teens giggled and asked me to take their photo before they descended down the hill. After that it was, for realz, just me for the next 30 minutes. Left to stare, wonder, and sweat profusely, in the solitude of my own stench.
It’s really hard to leave a place like that when you finally make it. Especially as a photographer at heart. You imagine another angle, another photo, another moment you might catch. Not just for you, of course. What if there is another lone hiker about to arrive? What if there is a couple hoping to meet a hiker willing to take a shot of their moment together? What if there is a bird, hoping to “Strike a pose, strike a pose, vogue, vogue, vogue”? I can’t imagine what it takes to get someone to start heading down Everest, though of course it is significantly less comfortable up there, so that may be key.
I left, reluctantly. On my way down, I ached because I have the knees of an 80 year old man but I ran into some deer as they crossed the path. This was followed by two lizards, and hawk, and now I’m pretty sure I’m Snow White.
I was fully prepared for the descent to be easy, based on all the hecklers I passed going up. Turns out that’s probably only true if you’re coordinated. I only fell 3 times, though, and thanks to the fact that my stepmom and father were always trying to get me into ice skating when I was little, I’m really great at falling. I fell the most spectacularly in the spot where I had previously seen the bear on my ascent, and somehow pulled a muscle in my right boob on the landing. I will be very impressed if that is the injury that lingers the longest.
As the trail evened out, and my sweat started to dry into a sexy, white, crust of salt on my face, I began to feel rather proud of myself. Well that, and like I was maybe dying and needed to find the bear so it could call 911 for me.
But mostly I felt proud of myself.
As I crested the last hill, a generally adorable couple passed me, their clothing pressed clean and their hair coifed nicely.
“We’re almost there right?” the first gentleman joked his partner playfully punching him in embarrassment.
“Yea….” I laughed, “un poco más.“
*Thank all that is heavenly, and all that is Amy Wagoner for my Camelbak. I would have died a slow, sad, death on that trail without your gift my dear. And we all know I would have never spent the money on myself.
I’m going to do that thing you’re never supposed to do.
I’m going to say that I hate bridesmaid’s dresses. I can specifically say this because the bride and groom of the wedding I’m in next weekend would have allowed me to show up at the altar in a potato sack. Not only that, but they would have announced mid ceremony that everyone should stop laughing because I looked beautiful.
Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.
Bridesmaid Tip #1: Don’t’ criticize the bridesmaid’s dress. Just ever.
But yea…I hate bridesmaid’s dresses.
ALL of them.
Yes, I’m talking to you, you shiny bitch in the back that did that thing to my ass that I thought would look good but instead made the father of the bride ask if I was the one he had heard was smuggling moonshine in my dress. That was probably, maybe, definitely me, but there is no reason to be rude about it.
I have purchased more bridesmaid’s dresses than I’m willing to count. My bank account would have a heart attack if I did. Some of them I was able to select myself. You know, ideally something long, with a veil over my face and sleeves, and a high neck line so my cleavage doesn’t distract from the nuptials. Some were choose your own adventure style (“One dress, 16 styles!”). Some I was forced into. Some I had to force myself into, and while it wasn’t pretty, damned if I didn’t get the zipper locked and loaded.
Bridesmaid Tip #2: Spanks, duct tape, and olive oil will go a long way. Oh, and chopsticks. Don’t ask, just thank me later.
I recently was asked to purchase a bridesmaid’s dress. One that I actually found appealing in length, color, and general theme (it wasn’t itchy). A lot of people might say “I was recently asked to be in a wedding” but if anyone has been a bridesmaid, they’ll know the dress hogs all the attention anyway.
“I loved the color of your bridesmaid dresses!” –Aunt Sharon
“I can’t believe how pretty that fabric is!”—Grandma Gene
“That dress makes your tits look hawt!”—Someone’s Drunk Uncle
Can I get a GD, “Wow your bridesmaids looked really intelligent and strong. I bet they will be really supportive of your marriage. I can see why you picked them to stand up and affirm your love in front of all your friends and family,” Janet?
Anyway, I was recently asked to purchase a bridesmaid’s dress. Okay… actually I was asked to purchase a groomswoman’s dress, but if I go into that we’re going to forget what we were here for in the first place, if we haven’t already. Unfortunately, the move and a different wedding/hair/dress/nails had wiped my bank account. I’m 30, so I’m right in between “Will you be my bridesmaid?” and “Will you be a godmother?”, both of which are incredibly rewarding, a massive honor, and cost an arm and a leg. So, I took to the internets and found the dress I needed at an online consignment shop, like any good Midwesterner might.
I mean, it was my size, but it wasn’t my bridesmaid’s dress size.
Yea, that’s right.
Bridesmaid’s dresses don’t come in traditional dress sizes. They do, however, come in “what the fuck is this size?” sizes. The kind that freak you out and convince you to order 16 sizes too big, just to be careful. That’s because the bridesmaid dress shop owners have our number. They know it’s scary to go strapless in front of 63.5 eligible bachelors, and they know we can’t afford personal tailors because we’re in six weddings this year and we had to get our “eyebrows” waxed in case Jordan decides to make it an even 64 eligible bachelors. So, they convince you to buy a 28 when you really wear a 14 and then charge you three times the price of the dress to make it fit right.
Bridesmaid Tip #3: Don’t buy a dress 16 sizes too big. Buy the one that fits you, and lay off the nachos and the unprotected sex a couple months before the wedding and you should be fine. Or get the nachos and see Tip #2.
So, I bought the dress. The dress in my size, but not my bridesmaid’s dress size. Mostly to say, “fuck you” to the man but also because it was the only one available for $80. It arrived, and it’s gorgeous, and it fits in that dreamy “if I stand up straight and don’t eat dinner but I don’t give a flying fuck because I saved two hundred dollars” kind of way.
I was pretty proud of myself. I held it up and swirled a bit to celebrate my thrifty ways. And then it hit me. Quite literally, the stupid tag hit me in the face.
“What the hell, tag!?” I yelled.
“Curvalicious.” It responded.
“The fuck?”I asked.
That is to say, the tag said, in big, shiny, pink letters “Curvalicious”. To give you a mental image, it looked exactly like if Fergie Ferg had accidentally spelled another word wrong on my bridesmaid dress tag. Font, glitter, color, and all.
Now this is where it is important to say that it’s not that our bride and groom have a wedding party with enormous tits, and asses that won’t quit, across the board, and chose a dress company suited specifically for that type of rockin bods.
Ok wait. I mean, that’s just misleading.
We, do have enormous tits, and asses that won’t quit, across the board, but the company is just a regular dress company, that happened to accommodate women larger than Jennifer Aniston. This company chose to add a tag to the dresses that they determined are large.
“Hey,” the tag says in swirly, sparkly, font, with the Black Eyed Peas singing backup “You’re bigger than a size 12, and we would like to call that curvalicious, just to make sure you are absolutely positive that you aren’t a size 12. So… are we clear? You’re not a 12. At all. Not even a little bit. Let’s double check….Nope still not a 12. Great. Curvalicious. And if you was suspicious, all that shit is fictitious, I blow kisses…Curvalicious.”
Bridesmaid Tip #4: Don’t trust companies that stole their marketing campaign from a Fergie song.
I’m sure there were a lot of reasons for this tag. Specifically, I’m sure there was some 20-something in leggings and her boyfriend’s sports bra, sipping a latte, that had the brilliant idea of highlighting the brand’s inclusive sizes with a made-up word. Unfortunately, in all settings, worldwide, (the workplace, K12 classrooms, dress stores) “being inclusive” should specifically not “highlight” anything on behalf of someone else. Not sexual preferences, not reading levels, and certainly not the circumference of my thighs.
Adding a tag to the dress not only wastes paper, but puts your clients in the unwanted spotlight and causes them to feel excluded. And, if we revisit 8th grade English, excluded is the general opposite of included.
In the end, this is just one example of why I hate bridemaid’s dresses, but this one example took up all my time, and all my wine, so we’ll pause here and revisit this in the reprise.
In conclusion, I’ll be damned if I don’t look incredibly badass next weekend in my stupid, gorgeous, “curvalicious”, can’t breathe unless I stand up straight and don’t eat dinner but I don’t give a flying fuck because I saved two hundred dollars, dress.
The whole point of wrapping yourself in taffeta for wedding is to say, “Hey. You two are getting married and I’ll be right here by your side the whole way through. Don’t worry. You got me.” anyway.
Bridesmaid Tip #5: Rock the dress, support the marriage with your whole entire heart, and bring moonshine.