December 26, 2013

There was a time in my life when I became proficient in making a seal to store cocaine in small quantities, I could fold a tiny envelope out of a shiny piece of magazine in moments, without scissors. I could measure out just the right amount of powder from one of those seals onto a fingernail in a bathroom stall while ten people waited outside impatiently and waited for the toilet to flush.

There was a time where I could soar uphill a river on wet rocks and always find footing and never fall.

There was a time when I could read three Nancy Drews in one night, during commercial interruptions for the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch.

There was the time I survived my father telling me he had Altzheimers. I was nineteen. I didn’t think I’d make it.

There has been childbirth, and sobbing toddlers, and bad breakups and great love affairs and wonderful vacations and horrible moments when I realized I lost my wallet or my house keys or faith in finding whatever I believed I lost. I’ve found most everything, even when I stopped looking for it.

It is magnificent, that this life has given me enough time to be so many different versions of idiot, mother, lover, hero and ass.

And that I still have a big, huge sprawling life left ahead of me.

I can’t wait.

About a Week Before Christmas

December 18, 2013

The snow started about 2 pm today. By three I was on the phone with my boss checking to see if the Christmas party had been cancelled. It wasn’t. By four, I was trying to talk Sophie, the Dog that Would Really Like to Live In Miami, into going outside. By 5, both kids were with friends and I decided to have peanuts for dinner in honor of the party I was missing.

And at 7:30, under a snowy sky, I was standing on top of a very small hill wishing that I had mittens. Night sledding. The kids came home, and when they tripped over the snowboards left piled up by the back door, a brilliant idea was born. Night sledding.

I’ve never taken a ride on virgin snow. It’s puffy, not very slick, it kind of felt like the sled had had a little to much eggnog on the ride down.

We had only four of them, and there were five of us, so there was a certain amount of negotiation. Between the kids. I didn’t have to negotiate. I drove the car, and, they assumed, would make the hot chocolate when we got home. That gives a woman a few privileges.

“Katy, do you want to make snow angels?” Tue had spilled from the sled onto her back and was inspired.
“No, I didn’t come here to make snow angels,” Katy said, then snatched the sled from Tue. “But you can make snow angels,” she said sweetly.
“Mom, put your feed on the sled. Stop dragging them. There you go… Wasn’t that fun? You want to ride down with me?” Colin offered right before smashing me in the face with a snowball.

He then pummeled Kate, who responded by falling over and mewling like a kitten. An angry, wet kitten.

We slid down, we staggered up. Enough times that I didn’t even have to mention hot chocolate when I said it was time to head home.

In the car, in the quiet of heavy breath and windshields wiping “Ol Fifty Five” by Tom Waits came on the radio.

“As I pulled away slowly, feeling so holy, oh Lord, I was feeling alive.”
Merry Christmas and to all A Good Night.

It’s the middle of December. This is the time of year, more than any other, when money weighs heavy on my family. We can’t afford to sign the kids up for ski lessons, we have eggs for dinner not because breakfast for dinner is a lovely novelty but because it’s a cheap meal. I throw out the mountains of flyers in the Sunday paper because looking at all the wonderful gifts we can’t afford is depressing. We aren’t poor, for God sakes my kids do not suffer because they can’t fly down a mountain on a few carefully crafted pieces of plexiglass. And we like eggs. But sometimes it feels that way. Our town is made up a lot of people who shop for sport and go to Aspen to snowboard.

The other morning, I woke up way too early. Too much on mind, not much I could do about it. The day was spent, and I’m kind so I’ll make this brief, struggling thru a yoga class before the sun was even up, driving twenty miles to a mall to try to replace a broken phone even though, and I heard this five times in the course of my time there, I wasn’t due for an upgrade. Next, I burned another twenty dollars of gas racing to work. I am employed at a local college where I also attend classes. A few emails, a brief review of what I needed to know for my finals next week, and then I raced back home to deal with dogs that needed walking, kids that needed feeding, and a mountain of half damp laundry in a dryer that hasn’t worked that well for years.

It was a long day. By the time the dishes had been cleared, and my notes reviewed, and the dogs sent to the back yard for too little exercise but a chance to shriek at anyone with the good fortune to pass by, I was weary.(Yoga at 5:45 is a lovely idea in theory, but I should really only indulge if I have time to nap in the afternoon.) Our tree was standing in the corner. It smelled good, but none of the lights worked, so the rest was going to have to wait for a trip to Ocean State Job Lot on the weekend.

I went next door to say hello to our neighbors. I walk their dog. They look after my daughter when I’m working late. In a month or two, or if we are lucky, three, they are moving across town. I’ve known this for weeks. I didn’t really know it until last night.

This is a family that is very different from our own. They are from another country. The mom is young and beautiful, I think she used to model. She sells fine jewelry on ebay. I am older and attractive if I work at it really hard and the lighting is good, but I never photograph well. I don’t wear earrings any more because I always loose one, and I’m not stylish enough to pull off asymmetrical jewelry.

Her daughters are a little bit older than my little girl. They have more than one pair of Uggs. They have impeccable manners and always call me Miss Julie. They take off their shoes when they come over and they like my popcorn. They laugh at my jokes but that might be because they are really polite. Watching them grow up has been one of my favorite things.

We are very, very different. Yet, in the course of being neighbors for ten years, I eat cereal out of a bowl that belongs to them. She sips coffee out of one of our mugs. She notices when I lose weight, I can tell when she hasn’t slept well. I went over to their house the other night at eleven pm to borrow a belt from her husband because my son needed to wear one to school in the morning. He got out of bed, found the belt, and told me to keep it.

I don’t know them that well, and I know them better than my friends. I know they like to sleep really late on the weekends, and that she loves her leopard slippers. Her daughters have danced around my living room and my son has cleaned their garage. I know them because they are in our lives and have been in our lives almost every day for a very long time. And even though I don’t always understand what my next door neighbor says, and I know she sometimes thinks I talk too fast, we have chosen each other as family.

At end of my long, long, day, I chose to visit the family next door. It’s the holiday season and I think they must miss their home, far, far away, and their family, on the other side of the world. After our brief visits, to talk about kids, to take their dog for a walk, to borrow a stick of butter, I always feel better just knowing they live right next door.

When I got home, I realized that all of the boxes in the kitchen weren’t parcels from online shopping. That in a month or two or three, they will be gone. They will live on the other side of town. We will see each other in the drug store, or at the school for a Christmas concert. But how much can we say when we aren’t standing in each others kitchen, at the end of the day, and really listening thru all of the barriers language leaves between people from different sides of the world?

All of the stuff that had weighed me down heavier than a thousand rocks fell away, and I started missing my family of friends while they got ready for bed next door. My son came down stairs and put my head on his shoulder, and promised me that we would always stay in touch with the Vo’s.

The tree is decorated now. And Katy is outside playing in the snow with her very best friend in the whole world. And I will ask her mom tonight, when I visit her kitchen, if her daughter can sleep over again.

This may be their last Christmas as neighbors, but it won’t be our last Christmas as friends. My son promised.