I was recently accused, in reference to money, of being “tight as a duck’s ass.”
I hadn’t heard that one before. But I’ve heard plenty.
When I was 10, Uncle Jack offered me $5 to buy something, but I couldn’t find anything that seemed worth it, so in the end I asked if I could keep the cash. He liked to say that when I took out a dollar bill, George Washington blinked, he was so unused to seeing sunlight.
I don’t think I’m cheap; I know I’m exceedingly frugal. I don’t just save money, I save everything. It’s possible I lived a previous life during a depression. In fact, I might have starved to death in that previous life, as horrified as I am at throwing away food.
My first job was babysitting, paying about $1 per hour. I hated babysitting – being at other people’s houses, trying to put children to bed, being around children generally – so to me, every dollar was hard-earned and I was in no hurry to part with them.
Later, working at Ponderosa, spending any of my meager pay was still a struggle. I bought the album The Pretender because I believed I couldn’t live without it – that it was worth the $12. ( I was right – I still have that album and it is still my favorite.)
It really took me a while to figure out that what is “worth it.” Like springing for the good theatre or concert seats. Or like on our honeymoon, when they asked if we’d like to upgrade to the Jacuzzi room and I was about to say “hell no” but Mike said “of course we would,” and I was horrified – right up until we opened a bottle of champagne and got in that jetted tub. Definitely worth it.
I keep a calendar, a notebook with handwritten times, places and reminders. I write down my work schedule, plus any other non-negotiable tasks, in pen. Things I should do, need to do at some point, are in pencil. Easily erased, never there, no shame in lack of accomplishment.
What I want to write down every day, in pen, is sleep. Between appointments, between work sessions, between pick-ups and drop-offs it would be there – sleep. Nap. In the car, on my bed, or sofa – any place really, so long as it’s warm. I can always sleep. And I always want to sleep. It is my less-than-secret passion, the great love of my life. It’s ridiculous, but it’s true. I am never done with sleep, and it is never done with me.
Some nights I put it off, delaying the gratification. Some nights, early in the week, I give in and crawl into my bed by 9pm and just let it take over. In Pete Holmes’ comedy special he talks about being a new parent and how sleep is different now, because you don’t get to fall asleep and stay asleep, but instead get to fall asleep about 22 times per night – and isn’t that the best part, the falling asleep? I completely agree.
Mike has to have the room completely dark and buzzing with white noise for a good night’s sleep. For me, both curtains and a window open is preferable – real sounds from outside and real light in the morning help with sleeping and waking up. And the waking up is never easy; whether I’ve been down for 6 hours or 10, I rely on an alarm, plus at least a couple smacks to the snooze button.
And then there are my dreams. But that’s another 300 Words. At least.
When I was a kid and watched soap operas with my mother – both the daytime and nighttime versions – someone was always being blackmailed over a sketchy past. The victim was usually a woman who used to be a hooker/madam/total slut who didn’t want her current boss/boyfriend/husband to find out. Frequently this lead to murder, but was at least costly and inconvenient. And of course, the truth always came out in the end.
Which made me wonder why people didn’t just tell the truth in the first place, and beat the blackmailer to the punch, thus taking away all of his power. Of course, there is no drama in my scenario, so no one is going to write that story.
Years ago David Letterman was confronted with extortion over a past indiscretion. In response, he not only came clean to his wife, but to his entire viewing audience. I doubt his would-be blackmailer saw that coming, but along with losing her hold on his life, he also had her prosecuted, which I thought was a nice touch.
It was a bold move on his part, to confess to the world like that. People love to watch other people “fall,” especially celebrities. But I think he knew that the burden of people who wouldn’t forgive him was well worth shaking off.
What a revelation.
For me, a person terrified of what people would think if they knew my myriad faults and fuck-ups, I came to Richmond intent on never revealing a single story of any past transgressions. What a relief to have gotten over that. Because I’d rather live honestly with fewer friends than attempt to hide parts of myself for the sake of being seen in a better light. And I’d definitely rather the truth came from me. It’s very freeing.
LOVE: February 14, 2018
Love is cracking open a new book I’ve been dying to read.
Love is that first sip of morning coffee.
Love is a new fountain pen.
Love is my writing group.
Love is my book group.
Love is my Pilates studio.
Love is old Looney Tunes cartoons, particularly watching Pepe Le Pew corner that cat and declare his l’amour for her.
Love is a glowing fire on a freezing winter night.
Love is the warm air of a Richmond summer.
Love is sleep, particularly the uninterrupted kind.
Love is a handwritten letter.
Love is honesty, and the friend who can speak it.
Love is putting a fresh coat of paint on a tired wall.
Love is the ability to help.
Love is being on my patio with my sister.
Love is pink roses.
Love is champagne.
Love is an afternoon nap in the sun room, cat curled up in the bend of my knees.
Love is writing.
Love is having my writing published in the Nine Lives: Life in 10 Minutes Anthology.
Love is a deep massage to release jacked-up shoulders.
Love is an organized desk. Or closet. Or anything, really.
Love is late morning “coffee” with Mike.
Love is any movie adaptation of any Jane Austin novel.
Love is music.
Love is Ian playing music.
Love is peanut butter.
Love is Halloween.
Love is purple.
Love is in the quilts on our beds made by my sister’s hands.
Love is being forgiven.
Love is forgiving myself.
Love is my friends.
Love is the family I have.
Love is the family I have made with Mike and Ian.
I have always loved magazines.
Teen and Young Miss were gateways, leading to Glamour and Cosmo. I’ll pick up People or US for a flight; Vanity Fair for a beach vacation – nothing in there is a quick read.
It’s the variety of topics I love – especially in New York Magazine. Like the piece about the Website “What it’s like to…”, where people submit their stories – such as, “What it’s like to SEE ALL COLORS” (a rare condition), or “What it’s like to SLEEP ONLY 2 HOURS A DAY.” There were also far more extreme excerpts, some I wish I could unread...
Recently there was a story about John Hinckley, would-be assassin of President Reagan, out of the psychiatric facility where he was incarcerated, currently living with his mother in Williamsburg, VA. He still has Secret Service trailing him – though mostly to the Burger King.
I’ve read some beautiful, personal stories in Real Simple – one by an adopted woman whose biological parents were a college girl and her boyfriend – a football player killed on the Marshall plane crash. The adoptee found her father’s parents, still in West Virginia, who were overjoyed to meet the child of their only child.
I get Pilates Style, Entertainment Weekly, Oprah, HGTV and Bookmarks – and sometimes I receive subscriptions I’ve never ordered, like a year of American Cowboy, which led to an onslaught of bizarre cowboy-themed catalogs. My current freebie is Washingtonian. I used to get Smithsonian, which had fascinating articles that made me feel incredibly smart upon reading – but the subject matter was so out of my normal sphere I’d forget it all in a few days. Or hours.
But that’s the beauty of it – an hour, maybe two to soak it in, wrap it up and toss it in the bin. Satisfying. Efficient. Sweet.
“You said it was only going take two weeks…”
“I’m sorry Sir – we really have been having trouble keeping this job staffed –“
“What job?! The job hasn’t even officially started yet – we’re still in the demolition phase. You’re just tearing down – what’s going to happen when you start the actual building? How long is that going to take?”
“Well, that’s the tricky part, sir – demolition – because you see, Sir –“
“Just stop right there – I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me how hard it is to keep the demo guys organized, keep them from not losing interest or wandering off or just getting into fights and pulverizing each other instead of the existing structure. I get it – I’ve employed a few trolls in my day, and I know how impulsive they can be.”
“They really are, Sir.”
“But Mr. Sisk, you have to realize that I’m under some pressure here to get this job done. My wife – the Princess – is only going to be away for two weeks – what they call a fortnight, around here – and I want to surprise her with new stables when she gets home. But in order for that to happen, I need the old stables torn down, and torn down soon, because the elves are scheduled to start construction first thing Tombsday morning.”
“I do realize, Sir – and I am on it, as they say in the movies. Your stables will be razed by dawn on Moresday, or I will refund your payment times 100.”
Prince Walt was on edge. Things hadn’t been going well between he and Princess Lillian for going on a year now and he was desperate to please her with a new home for her beloved Unicorns. He personally wasn’t a fan of the Corns, but this was just another point of contention between he and his Princess he wished to put to rest once and for all. Hence, the fancy new stable. If only he could get it built.
But, as promised, the trolls lumbered in just before midnight on Snoresday, and made quick work of the old structure. Prince Walt was pleased when he walked the site, the only bit remaining being the four cornerstone footings positioned deep into the earth. But as he glanced from one to the other, he noticed a discrepancy in width between one and the other three. The southernmost cornerstone footing was longer by several feet – which would have made sense if there was a slope to deal with – but that simply wasn’t the case.
Curious, he strode to take a closer look at the stones. They were of the same size and type as the others, but upon closer inspection, there appeared to be a slight bulge to the center of the stack. Furthermore, there seemed to be less compression to the stones there, as though they were resting on something not quite solid.
Could there be groundwater beneath this footing? Prince Walt was concerned, and considered sending a messenger for Mr. Sisk to investigate, but decided to dig into the footing himself and see if he could perceive the problem before spending any more royal monies on this project.
So he began to pull out the stones in the center, tossing them behind him, one at a time, until he was forced to uncover the entire top layer, and then the next, and then the one underneath that before discovering the key to the protuberance in the footing.
It was a clamshell. Not a regular clamshell, but one very large clamshell, perhaps the size of a small child, or a large dog, or a normal-sized sheep.
Prince Walt stood up and stepped back, a little afraid of what this might be. The largeness of it was off-putting, but the thing itself was quite beautiful. Despite being covering by stones which held up an entire wooden structure, the clamshell was unbroken, unscratched even, and gleamed with colors of pink and white with a hint of pale grey.
The Prince was a sensible man. He’d married the Princess out of duty, even though he didn’t love her, and liked her very little. He didn’t believe in silliness, but he knew all about predictions and prophesies, and he knew that is exactly what he had just stumbled across. The clamshell was a talisman; he was meant to discover it here, now. He just needed to summon the strength to open it and accept whatever it held for him.
But strength was not necessary, and all summoning was for naught, as the clamshell opened easily and without a hint of effort. And therein, the Prince found his fortune.
One word: Run.
So he did.
My father’s brother died this week – Uncle Sid. Uncle Sid’s wife, Aunt Joan, died earlier this year.
I didn’t know him. He visited once, when I was young, with his children – Chris and Andy – even younger. He and Joan were divorced then; eventually they remarried, which I thought was cool. What I remember about that visit was that he looked exactly like my father, except for his gray hair, which seemed wrong; my father was older. But otherwise, they looked – and sounded – identical.
As far as I know, that is one of the few times my father saw his brother. I don’t think he traveled to Ohio, where Sid lived; they may have met up at a family wedding in Massena.
I never saw him again, and never met Aunt Joan at all. She sent us a Christmas card every year, with love from A. Joan and U. Sid. And she always thanked me for the picture I sent in our card – said she loved watching Ian grow up in those photos.
It’s bizarre and impossible to me that my parents had siblings and family who were not in our lives. We grew up knowing my mother’s family well; we barely knew my father’s family, even though they lived only a few hours from us, with kids – our cousins – very close in age to Kathy and me.
Ian knows Zac and Drazen as well as anyone in his life – he has always been close to them, despite the distance. Zac was the one he texted for advice when he broke up with his girlfriend (advice which warrants its own 300 words…). And even if our times with Mike’s siblings are more sporadic, they are equally easy and familiar.
I understand family relationships being strained. That happens. Estrangement I don’t get.
I once started a job in July and gave notice five days later. I was miserable – it was not what I wanted to be doing; wrong environment; not the place for me. All these things I said to the HR manager, the same guy who hired me. He understood – these things happen. But as for the notice – would I be willing to stay until they found my replacement? Of course I would – it’s the right thing.
I remember vividly the feeling of sweet relief after walking out of his office. Now I could relax… and enjoy the job. And then become quite good at it. I stayed all summer. Eventually I transferred to a North Carolina office. Eventually I worked there for seven years.
That was my first clue that I shouldn’t “trust my gut.”
Being overwhelmed translated to insecurity, which morphed into the belief “I’ve made a huge mistake.” That exact sentiment, the “huge mistake,” has surfaced often, accompanying life-changing events including, but not limited to, marrying Mike, becoming a mother, and Pilates instructor training. So when I am seized by the desire to “give notice,” mentally, I do. In my mind, I convince myself that I am no longer required to do this – and this gives me the freedom to move forward, without worry of failure.
I honestly don’t know if they even looked for my replacement at that first job. Maybe that HR guy knew, in his gut, that I was being misdirected by mine. That all I needed to do was “quit” to take the pressure off, and I’d be fine. That I was simply scared. But I know now what lives in my gut, so if my gut says “get out,” it’s really the fear talking – fear, which I no longer let take the wheel.
The truth was, I was relieved to be kicked out of the church, just like I’d been relieved to be kicked out of my cousin-in-law’s wedding, and for the same reason.
That’s not to say I wasn’t ashamed, both times. I was horribly ashamed, and embarrassed – but I had it coming. I was profoundly unhappy in my marriage and was no longer willing – not for friends, family or even Jesus – to keep it going.
Excommunicated was the word I used, as it lent a hint of drama to the situation. Actually, it was a simple conversation. The minister explained that, if I pursued divorce I wouldn’t be following the church’s teachings and could no longer be welcome. I think my tears in that moment made him hopeful, that perhaps he was finally reaching me with this revelation of what I would be losing. I was saved, the deal was closed, but in truth, it never really took.
It was a bad match, much like the marriage crumbling beneath me. My relationship with Jesus was going the way of my marriage – built on good intentions, colliding with unmet expectations and finally wrecked by lies. I was breaking up with two good men – both of whom I’d been a disappointment to, and was sincerely relieved to be released from.
Church members tried to convince me, talk me out of my choice, save me from myself. Even the minister’s wife tried, but I got the sense she understood better than anyone. My precariously perched soul was finally given up on, and in the end, it didn’t seem to be hard for most of them to let me go. Nor was it hard for me to go. It never fit me – like the baptismal robe, it was too heavy, even before it got wet.
I was born in Oswego, NY,
"I had always wanted to be a writer, but was impeded by the belief that to be a writer one had to be extraordinary, and I knew I wasn't. By the time I was ready to give up my academic career I had realized that while books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else." The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield