Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Amy, What You Wanna Do?

* Note- This was written for a writing class about a year ago when I was six months pregnant.

A week after serving as my bridesmaid on a sunny June day in City Park, Amy left for Korea to teach English for a year, her first time setting foot outside the 48 contiguous states. Mike and I were to head to Thailand for our honeymoon at about the same time; however, our plans were thwarted by a job offer. I couldn’t turn it down, so we opted for a few days lounging poolside and mountain biking in Sedona, making a mutual promise to take our Asian adventure the following summer before babies came along.

The timing of our Thailand trip a year later coincided with the end of Amy’s teaching contract and the start of her own multi-country, 90-day Asian adventure before she would head back home to Denver. Although it was our honeymoon, we were both close to Amy and jumped at the chance to spend a few days with her on the other side of the world. We made our plans via email and Skype. Come August, Mike and I would meet Amy in Bangkok. We’d travel together by bus to the mountain jungles of Chiang Dao and share a tiny hut at a nature preserve. After that, we would all fly to the Phi Phi islands to enjoy some beach time before going our separate ways, Mike and I to honeymoon in the blue-water islands of Kho Pnanag and Amy to meet up with friends in Laos. After not seeing her in over a year, I was excited to catch up with my good friend in the midst of her first big adventure.

I met Amy when I started a new job in 2006; my daytime home became the cubicle right next to hers. She was several years younger than I but had been at the company awhile. She taught me the software systems, where the bathroom was, and tips on whom to avoid (the lady with the British accent and the man with the nipples that shone through his dress shirts). After a month of sharing a wall and daily jokes, we had lunch together. That turned into occasional, hilarious after-work drinks, and we became fast friends. When my mom died suddenly a couple months later, Amy made the hour-long drive to the funeral in Colorado Springs. I had no idea she was there until she appeared before me at the reception, tear-streaked face, enveloping my tall frame in hers. She spent the next few months listening to me talk and cry. We barely knew each other, but we learned quickly.

We created Wine Wednesdays. Mike was my live-in boyfriend then, and he had a volleyball game every Wednesday night, Amy’s cue to pick up takeout and dress in her finest yoga pants and giant University of South Dakota sweatshirt for her weekly visit. I poured the Pinot Noir and we sat on my back patio smoking cigarettes, discussing our terrible jobs and big life decisions ahead, drinking too much. More than once Amy and I both called in sick on the same Thursday. People knew what we were up to, but who could stop us? We rationalized that we were given sick days for this specific purpose.

Amy grew up on a farm in South Dakota. She graduated from USD and headed to Denver shortly thereafter, her goal to escape the prison where so many of her peers found themselves incarcerated. She told me once that she would be suicidal if she ended up working at a tanning salon in Watertown for the rest of her life like her sister. Because of the way Amy was raised, she possessed a naiveté that I found hilarious and endearing. She was whip-smart with a memory for numbers and processes that rivaled a computer, and she finished her MBA while we were working together, but she would regularly ask questions a three-year old might come up with. She half-shouted everything in a high-decibel, scratchy voice, never realizing people across the room were privy to everything she said. I was never embarrassed by Amy, always protective; I didn’t want anyone else laughing at her. She once returned to our workspace after giving a presentation, complaining that she felt like people were laughing at her while she spoke. I asked what her presentation was about.

“Egg mutual funds,” she said, still perturbed.

“Egg?” I asked, “I haven’t heard of that fund family.”

“Yes you have, we just did that brochure for them.” She scolded my bad memory over our wall, “A-I-G, egg.”

My heart sunk. “Um, Aim? How about from now on, you just call it AIG. Ok?”

She slumped into her chair with flushed cheeks and an “Oh shit.”


While we waited for Amy to arrive at our Bangkok hotel following her late flight, I started to worry. She had become another little sister to me, and a year of low-grade worrying about Amy on her own in Korea suddenly manifested itself into full-on freaking out by two in the morning when she still hadn’t arrived. I woke my husband. “You’re making your jetlag worse” Mike muttered without opening his eyes.

“But, hon, her plane was supposed to land at midnight. Getting her luggage and a cab here shouldn’t take that long. And I have no way of calling her. And I’m worried!”

My husband, used to my constant worrying, told me he loved me then rolled over to escape the beam from the bedside lamp I’d illuminated. Minutes later, his snoring resumed and Amy knocked on the door. She apologized for the late hour explaining that she’d opted to share a cab with an Australian guy she met at baggage claim. “I was pretty convinced he was a serial killer for the first part of the ride, but he turned out to be super nice.”

The cabbie had dropped the Aussie off first, causing the delay.

She looked the same except her naturally stick-straight black hair was longer and wavy, the result of an experimental perm she sprung for in Korea. It looked beautiful. “I hate it” she rasped and slung her giant backpack on the twin bed she had already claimed as her own. We hugged and pulled back to look at each other.

“You need to pluck your eyebrows,” Amy said, matter of fact and as if we had been apart for an hour instead of a year.

I laughed. “Thanks, Amy”

Several days later, the three of us sat in the open-air restaurant of Malee’s Nature Lover’s Bungalows in the middle of the jungle drinking Chang beer, the label depicting a foil elephant who dripped constant condensation. The air was thick with insects and sweat, and we fanned ourselves while we talked about the amazing things we had already seen and what else we were going to cram in before heading south. We passed the three cameras between us, scanning through the digital images, comparing different shots we had taken. Amy went to the kitchen to get us another round. I thought this seemed like the right moment to mention something to Mike.

“Five days late,” I told him quietly.

Amy had spidermanned silently up behind me without my knowledge.

“You’re pregnant?!”

I jumped. The other patrons looked our direction, staring, mouths agape. While we were the only English speaking group that we knew of at Malee’s, the word pregnant apparently translated well, especially in a screaming Bette Davis voice.

“Amy, shhhhuussh. Geez!”

She laughed and sat down, accustomed to unwanted attention. We explained that we were ready to start trying for kids after the trip, but that I had run out of birth control in July. Since my doctor told us it would probably take us awhile, considering I was 35 and had questionable ovary service, I decided not to get another prescription just for one month. I continued that it was probably not real, just my body’s response to going off the pill and traveling. There was just no way.

Three days later, the three of us stood in the Bangkok airport Boots drugstore holding a meeting of the minds in the sunscreen aisle. Did we want to spend 1000 baht on the good American stuff for snorkeling and sea kayaking, or would the cheaper Thai sunscreen get us through? We went to pay, Amy in front of Mike and I, her own sunscreen in hand. A stroke of genius met her at the front of the line.

“Do you have pregnancy tests?” she asked, loudly over-annunciating each word, though most everyone in Bangkok spoke English.

The man behind the counter nodded and pointed to the selection behind him. Amy grinned at me.

I hesitated. I did not think I was pregnant. “Fine. If we’re going to do this here, we might as well buy two,” I told the cashier and Amy at the same time.

The man glanced up at Mike who stood before him with two tall brunettes, both requesting pregnancy tests. This is how Americans get a bad name in foreign countries.

We arrived on Phuket, our last stop for the night before catching the morning boat to Phi Phi; we walked to the beach to explore. The sky turned from blue to brown while we splashed in the shallow waves. Within moments, heavy raindrops began their assault, bruising our bare shoulders, plastering our hair to our faces. We found cover in the nearest bar. More Chang beers were enjoyed. Amy and Mike had three each; I sipped one. Just in case. A sloppy, hand-painted sign on the wall stated: Broken English spoken here. Boxes of Kleenex lined the bar, the Thai version of paper napkins. We laughed and carried on; we took photos with the bartender; we meandered across the street to our hotel when the rain stopped and darkness arrived. Inside our room, we all rushed for our chance at the bathroom, a proper toilet in Thailand always worth the wait. When it was my turn, Amy told me to wait and fished a pregnancy test out of her backpack, holding it in the air like a winning lottery ticket.

“Come on! Do it! This is so exciting!” She jumped in place, a child in a curvy five-foot-eleven body.

I laughed at her, nervous. “Ok, fine.” I took the white box from her. “I really don’t think I’m pregnant, Aim”

I took the test into the bathroom and my husband followed. The directions were in Thai, with an English supplement that was in severe need of an editor. I peed on the stick. We waited. Two lines appeared. Everything changed in that second; Mike and I stared at each other, our mouths smiling, our eyes wide in fear.

Amy’s banging on the door broke up the moment.

“Jesus, you guys, you’re killing me! What the hell?!”

I opened the door and told Amy that we were going to have a baby. Amy embraced us, and we stood together like the baby belonged to all three of us.

When we split up with Amy on Phi Phi Don, I watched as she walked toward her hostel down the winding island street, a street that had never seen a car. I smiled at how, just a few minutes before as we packed, she had transferred the tampons from my bag to hers. “You won’t be needing them, and they practically have a street value here, they’re so hard to find”

Always thinking, that one. I already missed her again.

Mike and I returned from Thailand at the end of August, back to our daily grinds and our new reality as future parents. Amy just got back last week, landing first in South Dakota where she could spend a few weeks catching up with her family. I got an email from her yesterday:

Heyo! So I have a huge favor and want you to look at my résumé and use your skills to make me look like a superstar. It is currently a shit-show.

I attached my résumé. What do you think?

If I get a job in Denver I will need to live with you...hahaha. Not kidding.

I will be your own personal nanny.


I smiled and quickly prattled off a response on my keyboard:


I will happily look at your résumé. Please remember that my freelance rates, due to widespread popular demand, are now in upwards of $75 an hour. Hahaha. Not kidding.

One quick question, if I fix your résumé and get you a job in Denver, how will you have time to be my personal nanny?

Just wondering.

Miss you-


Her response came shortly after, explaining that she had brought that unborn baby into this world via her gift of a pregnancy test, and that should be payment enough for a little sidework. I like to imagine that she was sitting in front of her screen bright-eyed and smiling the way I was.

I will probably never understand depths of what makes Amy tick they way I do with my husband or my best friend. She is a complete character, always surprising me with the things she says and does and the things she is capable of accomplishing. She is my adopted baby sister and the craziest person I have ever met. She is simultaneously sobering and infuriating. She is one of my favorite friends, yet she is impossible to know. It is for all of these reasons I count myself lucky to have been placed there on the first day of that crappy job, a wall away from the loud farm girl, the one who will stand up for you at your wedding and your mom’s funeral, the one who will crack you up with her internal cocktail of country bumpkin and brainiac, the one with the power to bring your baby to life by laying down 300 baht in a Thai airport and bossing you around a little. People like that don’t come into your life every day.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Little Night Music

Note: I am blogging and writing again after a ridiculously long hiatus during which I was pregnant, gave birth and, prior to that, tried to conquer the world of running (spoiler: I didn't, but still may).  Although much of what is here on MiddleSister doesn't even sound like me to me anymore, I figured this was the best place to put what is finally getting on paper again. I'm rusty and wordy and sloppy, but I'm back, and I promise to learn how to edit again soon.  Join me, won't you?  Here goes.

A Little Night Music

Some might frown on a seven- and five-year old being in a bar, but it wasn’t like that. It was our special night out with our mom and her friends. She didn’t drink; she was just there for the music, and we got to be her little companions just this once. We were allowed to have sodas and were to remain sitting at our table in the dim basement of McKenna’s Pub on a Sunday, a school night. (Though it has long since been closed, I cannot drive by that corner in Colorado Springs, on the occasions that I am forced to leave the solace of Denver for a visit, without seeing that bar in my mind, a black and white English cottage of a building, always so out of place next to a KFC and a gas station)

My mom did not get out much. She was single and in nursing school, and she worked full time to make ends meet, too. In retrospect, she probably barely had the time to think straight, even without a social life. We understood in a way that this outing meant a lot to her, but now, as a working mom who pines for my bi-monthly book (or more aptly wine) club, I can see that it must have been such a treat. It shocks me to think that she was only about 29 then, when as a new mom at 36, I still feel like such an amateur.

We were good kids. When your mom is young and single and completely used up just trying to pay the bills, you have to be good, otherwise it all goes to hell. And we never wanted it to go to hell. Courtney and I sat at the table in the corner with our sodas, while our mom, a round woman with a huge smile, beautiful amber eyes, and a wit that would catch you off guard, carried her Diet Pepsi around laughing her great laugh with her nursing school friends and singing along with the folk duo, Phil and Frank.

Phil was the brother to Barb, my mom’s lab partner in nursing school. They were apparently alphabetically paired, their last names both starting with the same three letters. Barb’s brother was starting to book quite a few gigs around the local music scene in the Springs, and it became a natural hangout for the Beth-el School of Nursing crowd. They were all having a great time.

I focused on the music, wanting to be seen as a seven-year old prodigy who tapped her toe in perfect time. My sister colored. We both felt very special being there, the only kids in a grown-up place, on our best behavior, listening to live music with other grownups who all checked in on us as they mingled by, asking how school was or if we were being good to our mom. Without a husband or nearby family, my mom had only these other nursing students as her support, though most of them were still so young and single that the idea of raising two children alone must have baffled them.

After that one night at the bar, I was obsessed with Phil and Frank and their voices and acoustic guitars. I thought they were lyrical geniuses and, though I did not understand many of songs’ words, I pretended to be a party to the deep meaning. I begged my mom to take me back to the bar, but she never did, saying that it was a special one-time thing. Kids did not belong in bars on school nights, and she knew that. I continued to ask about the music though.

My mom attended another of their performances, one that they played with a woman named Cindy, whose voice was sultry like velvet and smoke. I know this, because at this gig, my mom asked if she could place a tape recorder on Phil’s music stand to record the set. This was back before people were freaks about contracts and copyrights and pirating. It was just all about the love of the music. So Phil agreed.

So I guess this is the story of how my mom made me my first bootleg. I listened to it constantly. I made a copy of the copy to play on my little stereo in my room, and my mom kept the one she made in the car, where we listened to it every day on the way to and from school. The harmonies were crisp and beautiful, the guitars were alternately tinny and fast or melty and slow, and the back and forth chatting and laughing and key-finding of the musicians between songs was my favorite part. The lyrics were deep and grown up and spoke of real life and the seriousness and humor involved in the business of being an adult. (In college, someone played Paul Simon’s Duncan, and it was the first time I realized that someone else actually wrote that song, that is was not a creation of Phil and Frank. It was also the first time that I understood that “the couple in the next room, bound to win a prize; they’ve been going at it nearly all night long” meant they were having sex, not arguing as I had deducted as a young child of divorced parents.)

In my mind, this cassette was a number one album. In fourth grade, my teacher asked the class what kind of music we liked. People said Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and Prince, and I liked them, too, but I raised my hand and announced that Phil and Frank were my favorite band. And I did not understand why no one knew what the hell I was talking about.

Eventually I learned that it was not that cool for an almost teenager to listen to folk music constantly, and though I have always been an equal-opportunity music junkie, I focused the rest of my formative years on liking and listening to what everyone else was liking and listening to. From Debbie Gibson through Nirvana, I followed the mainstream, the cassette recording of Phil and Frank, gathering dust in some hidden box, never to be seen again. Along the way I learned to love singing and would randomly surprise my hippie choir director, when I could belt out all the lyrics to a James Taylor song he’d selected before he’d even handed out the sheet music. Phil and Frank had still left their impression on this Pearl Jam fan.

In April of this year, I had my first child, a baby boy named Daniel. His giant blue eyes twinkle with the piece of my mom that I see in him every single day, and I wish that she had lived to meet him.

I somehow forgot to sing to my baby the first few weeks of his life. I was so focused on doing everything right and making sure that I was a good mom, that I forgot to use my own little instrument to soothe him let him get to know me. I forgot I had the skill. And then one night, he cried, hard and long, back arched away from me, the wails flowing right into my ear causing me a physical pain that I now recognize as the pain of loving someone more than you love yourself. I bounced and swayed and shushed. I rubbed gentle circles on his back and placed tiny kisses on his head. I tried his vibrating bouncy chair and breastfeeding and anything else that I thought might work. And then, in a moment of clarity and desperation, it occurred to me that I should sing. And instantly and randomly from my mouth came two verses and the chorus of a song I could not place:

He was just some young white kid, trying to sound tough and black

With gravel and spit in his voice

He’d laugh at the things we’d do; the radio laughed, too

I held up my arms in rejoice

Singing rooty-toot-toot for the moon

It’s the biggest star I’ve ever seen

It’s a pearl of wisdom

A slice of green cheese

Burning just like kerosene

Burning just like kerosene

So God bless motorcycles and far-out, heavy trifles

You know you can’t memorize them

Hang your hat on your nose, don’t hide in your clothes

Smile as one begins to begin.

As I sang, Daniel relaxed into my neck and fell asleep. I felt proud of myself in remembering that I had a secret talent that could charm babies and like I might just make it through this after all. And, then I sat and wondered where I had gotten that song. After years in choir through junior high and high school and spending my whole life listening to every kind of music I could get my hands on, I still could not place the lyrics and the tune. And I could not understand why it made me so emotional. Then it hit me. It had come from a bootlegged-with-permission cassette tape, and it had been stored in my brain, collecting dust and memories, for the better part of 25 years, and then it came out of my mouth like I had just listened to it yesterday.

Knowing that Phil and Frank did many covers and many original songs, I immediately set about Googling the lyrics. They turned out to be written by Michael Johnson, a musician from Colorado, who sang with John Denver, one of my all-time favorites. But I had never even heard of this guy. I immediately downloaded the song, as well as another one from my beloved cassette that had been Michael Johnson’s, too.

I sang the song again, and I cried. I cried because she wasn’t there to see me become a mom and because I couldn’t ask her if I was doing this right, and because I was robbed of the option of being able to call her in the middle of the night to ask questions for grandma or baby-nurse answers. I also cried because I was a post-partum mess of hormones and sleeplessness, of milk stains and laundry piles, of stomach muscles that would never return.

I have written about music a lot, but every so often I am shocked at how much a part of me it is, how it runs through my veins and colors every memory. I hope it ends up being the same for little Daniel. I hope he gets the same joy from something so readily available and so pure.

Smile as one begins to begin.

More notes: I fell asleep last night thinking that, if I could go to iTunes right now and download a copy of that worn-out cassette tape, no price would be too much; I would truly spend thousands to get it back. Someone should tell Phil and Frank. :) However, that thought prompted some further research, and it looks like Phil is still playing regularly in the Colorado Springs area. Go see him if you can. I’m definitely going to.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Just When I Figured Out Who I Am

(Please forgive the formatting issues. I have no idea what is wrong with it, and I'm pretty sure it isn't me this time )

My dog changed his name this month, or more accurately, I changed it for him. We moved into our newly purchased home, and along with all of the other address changing activities, I miraculously remembered that I needed to get a new tag for Blue's collar. At Petsmart I selected an appropriately blue, bone-shaped tag in the self-serve engraving machine and then I began to type in the same words I have typed on that same screen every time I have moved in the past six years: Blue Volle. Then I had to stop for a second. In just months I am getting married. Blue is already the pseudo-adopted son of my fiancé, Mike, but when we get married, it occurred to me, his adoption will become final. To non-pet owners, this might seem strange, but pets actually do have last names. At the vet, on their registrations, and, for many of them, on their tags. I tapped the delete key a few times, and then filled in Mike’s last name. I hit print before I could change my mind, and watched through the glass as the electronic engraving arm screeched out each letter on the metal. It’s official, Blue has a new last name, and it didn’t even require a trip to the DMV.

While I understand that marrying someone comes with the option for a woman to change her last name, that thought has only half-occurred to me on and off over the years until I actually stood there in Petsmart as a soon-to-be-married person. It's easy for a dog. I just changed it for him, and he is still the same mutt he's always been.

I’ll be honest, though, I don’t want to change my own. At all.

I am not marrying Mike early in my twenties as was the custom not so long ago. I am 33, and have a 10-year career and a life and an identity, all under the umbrella of the name I already have. I have published work as Cara Volle, and have started a business as Cara Volle, and beam proudly when I am referred to as one of the Volle girls, or the middle Volle sister. When my younger sister got married, she changed her name instantly, and it always felt strange to me to say it. It never rolled off of my tongue or pen, and the dissonance always echoed after I had said or written it. She would always remain a Volle sister to me, but my older sister, who kept her last name, remains a Volle sister to everyone. I always want to be a Volle sister, too, and that is the first reason I don’t want to change my last name.

The other reason is that Mike is the proud owner of a 13-letter monstrosity of a last name. It rarely fits in the allotted space on forms; his email address takes a full minute to type out, and at the request of every customer service person he meets, he has to spell it a minimum of three times, with the tricky double A, and a times-two on S-C-H and then a bunch of other letters thrown in for good measure.

I have a friend who, upon hearing me say Mike’s last name, said incredulously, “His last name is Schnarf-Schnarf?” And while I won’t plaster Mike’s name all over the Internet, I will say that this isn’t far off.

I have frequently seen Mike hand over his driver’s license or credit card, only to provoke the girl behind the counter to stare at it wide-eyed, turn it from left to right in her hands and say something like, “Wow, that is a helluva last name.” That happens to him every single day. Mike has even told me, with a last name like his, that his first name is basically irrelevant. People don’t even notice it. Great. Just what I strive for in life, more irrelevancy.

All humor aside, I think that this name-changing decision belongs to each and every woman who marries, and I think it is personal and that there is not a right answer. We all have our reasons for keeping our names, taking their names, or constructing some combination of the two, or just making something up. The great thing about living in this century is that we can do whatever the hell we want, and I hold that right very dear to my heart.

I have chosen to take Mike’s name, and while there is a large element of biting the bullet involved, I appreciate that it is my choice, and that my reasons can be whatever I want them to be.

I know that my taking of Mike’s name is important to him, and I can respect that he feels that way. He even said, “I don’t care what our last name is as long as it is the same,” which made me respect his feelings even more, although I won’t say that I think he totally meant it. His point was that he wants us to be a family, and to him, a name feels like part of that. That makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy for sure.

Having the same last name as my children is also very important to me. I don’t think it necessarily makes a difference, or that it scars a child in some way to have a mother with a different last name. In fact, I am sure there is a good lesson about strong women with their own identities to be presented in that scenario, but it is a personal requirement, vital enough in my mind to cause me to give up something that I treasure.

I know that I will always be a Volle on the inside, and that I will always be a part of where I came from, part of a family who is hilarious and classy and smart, where sarcasm and hugs are intertwined, and where everyone always gets it and where no one has to prove anything to anyone else. Those are things that never go away no matter what my name is. In addition, I told Mike that I will continue to write under my maiden name and that will be my way to keep a little part of my Volle world in, what is to me, a very big way. As I strive to one day become a published author, I know that I will get to do that as the original me, and I’m pretty sure I can explain that to my future children.

In the meantime, I will stick to planning our wedding and settling into our home and try not to dwell on the paperwork and emotions that will come with changing my name next year, and with that, selling off just a little piece of the person I am. Instead, I will think of my Mike and I a few years down the road, walking off into the sunset hand-in-hand with a gangly child or two and our big scruffy dog. The Schnarf-Schnarf family on their way to living happily ever after.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

For Kate. We'll Always Have Vegas

This is my best friend, Katy. She works a demanding corporate job, has a beautiful four-year old daughter, and a husband, and a dog and a home and a busy family life. I have Mike and our house and dog, but we live a fairly carefree, childless existence and have a lot of late nights, and last-minute social events and vacations that we cram in between our jobs and my extracurricular writing and the twelve sports we train for. Mike and I ski all winter, Kate takes her daughter ice skating or to the library on those cold weekends. I stay up late tippy-tapping on my laptop several nights a week, then float in and out of my contract job as I’m needed, while Kate is at her desk by seven AM every day being the boss of people. Mike and I make our home in the heart of the city; she lives a 40 minute, traffic-infested drive away in suburbia. With our crazy and opposite schedules, it becomes really difficult to see each other on a regular basis. We manage to fit in the occasional drink, and I never miss a Chuck E Cheese birthday celebration for one of my favorite little girls in the world, but our quality time has quickly diminished over the years as we have gone from blithe twenty-somethings to card-carrying members of the responsibility crowd.

Katy is a Catholic Republican; I’m an Agnostic, bed-wetting liberal. She’s an organized logic master; I’m a head-in-the-clouds wanderer. She always says the exact right thing in every situation, and I have my foot in my mouth so often that I’ve actually acquired the taste for it. We miss each other.

Our daily emails are hilarious (if I do say so myself) and fill a small void, and the random days when we can sneak away for a glass of wine, though few and far between, are godsends. A couple hours together is a way of recharging that neither of us can explain. We have our soul mates and life partners at home, and we love and appreciate them with every fiber of our beings, however, we share something that only the two of us understand. There is a Gaelic term, Anam Cara, meaning soul friend. My mother was Irish, and my name is actually the Gaelic word for friend, which is maybe one reason why this term has always resonated with me, but it’s also because it has such a strong meaning behind it. I don’t think there are many times in life when people end up being so close that they truly know your soul. Your spouse, a sibling, maybe a parent, but people from the outside world don’t always get it. Katy gets mine, and I get hers. We will be connected for the rest of our lives.

With Kate there are deep, questioning conversations about life and relationships, and politics and careers and who in the hell we are. Then there are the uncontrollable comedy routines where we feed off each other for hours and end up clutching our stomachs and wiping our tears while those around us wonder what happened that was just so damn funny. I can go to Kate with my most confusing relationship problem or my most petty fashion question and come out on the other side with an answer that I know is honest and in my best interest. There are the times when it is completely unspoken, like Katy silently taking care of all the food and drink at my mom’s funeral reception without being asked because she knew I, drowning in shock and grief, had simply forgotten about it. Or the times when we say it all, even the hard things like “I think you’re making a mistake” and “Are you really happy?” and “How do you really feel?” and even “You’re being ridiculous.” or “Maybe you shouldn’t wear that.” The boys definitely couldn’t get away with all of those. Sometimes, we really dig in deep and get to the core of who we are, and other times, there is the pure and harebrained fun.

It is because of the fun that we came to a consensus about the necessity of an annual trip. We needed a weekend together once a year to get away. Away from the boys, from our separate responsibilities, and even away from town. It would be toward the end of summer or beginning of fall, before the craziness of the holidays starts to take over, which, lately, seems like sometime in early October. It was decided. And we were psyched.

As we embarked on the planning for the inaugural trip (Vail), I was picturing the next 50 years or so, spending a weekend in a different random spot in the country each year and exploring together, all while laughing hysterically and having a few glasses of wine. We would start in our wilder years going out on the town wearing sassy outfits, spend the in-between years hitting the cities with the best museums and bookstores while bitching about our teenagers and how our husbands still seem incapable of taking out the trash after 20 years of training, and finish sometime in our early 80’s when one or both of us had just become too old to travel after last year’s trip to the Bingo World Cup or the Knitting Hall of Fame. Then we would reluctantly hang up our annual tradition and rock in our creaky chairs side by side reminiscing over photos and black coffee at the retirement home. There would be no regrets because we would have seen it all.

This week, after returning from a hilarious weekend in Vegas, our emails were flying back and forth, filled with inside jokes from the trip that I will write about someday if I ever find it possible to recapture the actual outrageousness of it all. At the end of about my third email, I said, “Well, I guess it’s time to start thinking about where we should go next.”

Katy responded back in about three seconds, “Why mess with a perfect thing, Vegas again next year?”

The sparkle, I'm sure, was already dancing in her bright blue eyes, and I immediately knew that the World’s Largest Ball of Twine would have to wait.

Here’s to soul-friends, lifelong laughter, and the best comedy partner a girl could dream of. Here's to weddings where the priest sees my underwear, hockey games when you should never have worn clogs, and curly-headed princesses with adorable, itchy butt cheeks. Here's to dead roots, real pearls, and the great state of Connecticut, all at the same craps table. Here's to five chairs here and three chairs there and two girls who aren't with us. Here’s to the memories and the future craziness of it all. Here's to Vegas, Sass.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why I Tri

I signed up for my first sprint triathlon almost four years ago. It was January, and I was sitting in my cubicle at my old job, my leg splayed out in the aisle next to me encased in a metal brace. It was the armor around my torn MCL that I had damaged while on the ski slopes. I was sad and depressed, and I was 60 pounds overweight, not to mention finding it almost impossible to quit smoking. I felt empty and ugly.

I’m not sure what possessed me to sign up for the race, although I am pretty sure I felt the need to scare myself out of the depression and the pattern of emotional eating that seemed to always accompany my funks. I had previously read about the Tri for the Cure somewhere, but that day I had a sudden surge of guts that caused me to check out the website. It was a sprint triathlon for women only. There would be a half-mile swim. (I hadn’t been in the pool since my days on the high school swim team 13 years prior, and the thought of seeing myself in a bathing suit caused acid to rise into my throat.) There would also be a 12 mile bike ride. (I thought about it as I studied the website some more and realized that the last time I had been on a bicycle was right before I had gotten my driver’s license.) And the last part of the race would be a 3.1-mile run. No problem. I could totally do that. I mean, sure I was out of shape, and heavier than I had ever been before, oh, and my knee was currently in a brace that barely allowed me to walk, but I thought, it couldn’t be that hard. Right? I paid my 85 dollars, and convinced myself that I could accomplish a lot in the seventh months before the race.

Or maybe not.

I spent five out of the next seven months not really doing much of anything except continuing to feel sorry for myself, eating and drinking too much, and complaining about the way I felt and looked, but never owning it and taking action. Two months before the race my friend, Brenna, asked me if I was still going to do it. I hemmed and hawed and said, “I don’t know; probably not.”

And then I made a bunch of excuses. My knee was still bothering me a lot. I needed to get my old bike back from someone I had lent it to. I hadn’t been feeling so great lately. I needed a gym membership with a pool. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Somehow though, she managed to talk me out of the haze I was in and into doing the race. She was signing up, too, and we would tackle it together. She could barely swim; I was vastly unsure of my cycling and running skills. We had two months to figure it out.

My first outing on a bicycle was traumatic to say the least. Brenna and her then fiancé and Mike and I hit the road. All three of them are avid cyclists. Next to that trio, I was a hot mess. I was wobbly and tentative on a hand-me-down bike that was about six inches too small for my six-foot-one, bordering-on-obese frame. I felt like a circus clown cruising around on a child’s tricycle, although I was much less coordinated. My brand new helmet and rolled up yoga pants reeked of my amateur status. As soon as Brenna saw my bike seat, she said, “You’re going to have to get a new saddle.”

Once I realized that a saddle and a seat are the same thing, I asked why. She said, “If you don’t know why when we’re done riding today, I’ll explain it to you”

The brief ride that followed was devastating. I fell just short of having a seizure as each car drove past me. I was in the bike lane, sure, but all I could keep picturing was one false move, me falling sideways into the road, and my head being crushed like a grapefruit beneath the tire of an aggressive Prius. The other three rode ahead of me, going only slightly faster than my snail’s pace of about two miles an hour. They almost couldn’t go slow enough to let me keep up.

When we returned from our ride, which couldn’t have been more than about 6 miles or so, I said to Mike, “I’m going to have to get a new saddle,” and hobbled inside to remove the sandpaper that had seemingly been planted in my underwear

One down.

I dragged Mike to the pool at 24hour Fitness the following weekend, and I was delighted to discover that I could still swim. In fact, I had finally found the one thing I was better at, athletically speaking, than Mike is. Even though putting on my newly purchased, plus-sized bathing suit was depressing, the weightlessness I felt in the water, and the fact that I was still capable of effortlessly gliding through lap after lap did wonders for my severely broken self-esteem. I felt just like myself for the first time in a long time, and the muscles beneath my thick layer of fat felt suddenly useful again. My body was remembering what it felt like to be an athlete instead of a professional depression victim. After swimming for an hour, I reluctantly dragged myself out of the pool, showered, went home, and promptly slept for 10 straight hours. It wasn’t the usual depression-induced sleep; it was a good, tired, earned sleep. While I was sleeping, the old me was just starting to wake up.

Running is the obvious third member of the trifecta. I have always had a weird relationship with running. I actually like it. But I have never been good at it, even when I was really slender. Add 60 pounds to that, and a few more years of puffing on Marlboro Lights, and I was basically screwed.

That first attempt at running will stick in my mind for probably the rest of my life and will keep me from ever becoming sedentary again. I slipped into a pair of XXL sweat pants and a giant t-shirt and put my dog on his leash. My knee was mostly healed, although the strain of weighing almost 250 pounds was still the cause of some occasional pain. With my trusty dog, Blue, by my side, I walked out the door and up the block towards the corner. I told myself that when I reached the corner, I would begin to jog. And that is what I did. As each foot hit the ground, I felt every extra pound that had gathered on my tall body jiggle and jump around. After I heard the smack of Nike to pavement, I would feel the meat of the corresponding thigh continue it’s Jello-like motion for a full second afterwards. A car drove by, and the driver stared openly. Tears started to run down my face as I realized that I must look absolutely ridiculous. I made it one block before I had to stop. My knee was screaming and my lungs were on fire. I walked for about a mile and made another attempt at a run. This time, I made it about half a block and could go no further. This was not going to be good.

Eventually, the day of the triathlon arrived. As I stood in the water with all the other women who were between the ages of 30 and 35 waiting nervously for the gun to start us off, I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt fat and exposed and scared out of my mind about what I was about to do. Then the race started. The water became a whirlpool of athletic 30- to 35-year old limbs and torsos. It was organized chaos, only organized in the sense that everyone was headed in the same direction. I took a foot to the face and got a noseful of water. I freaked, but then realized that my feet could still touch. I thought, I am just going to stand up and turn towards the shore and walk my fat ass the hell out of here. Then suddenly the wake of 100 swimming women picked me up, and I was doing something that I had done naturally my whole life. I was swimming, and I was good at it. I swam past half of the women in my wave, cranked my propeller arms around and around, and felt better about myself than I had in a year.

I finished my swim in a very respectable 19 minutes. The bike and run would be a different story, and it would ultimately take me almost two hours and twenty minutes to complete the race. But complete it I did.

Yesterday, I completed my fourth sprint triathlon. I did it in 2 hours and 2 minutes, feeling slightly defeated because I really thought I was going to break that damn two-hour mark this time. Real triathletes would probably laugh at a time of two hours for a sprint race. It is hardly impressive, and many everyday athletes do it in an hour forty five or less. The elite do it in just over an hour. But I only let myself feel defeated for a few minutes when I remembered that I’m not competing with the elite triathletes of the world. (if I was, I'm pretty certain they wouldn’t feel too threatened) I am competing with the sad, fat girl who started this race three years ago, and I am competing against her with everything that I have. And she is backing down. In this competition, I get a little faster every time. I weigh 47 pounds less than when I first put my shaky toe in that tepid reservoir. I will never touch another cigarette in my life. I can lift heavy things and do hard stuff. When I absentmindedly reach to scratch my arm or leg, I am shocked to find that the flesh is firm and muscular. I sign up for scary things like half marathons and 10k races and then I show up and do it. I log miles and miles running around my neighborhood knowing that the drivers are now staring at my backside in a good, albeit chauvinistic and degrading, way.

Today I turn 33, and I do so knowing that I will never go back to being what I was; I’m in too deep now. Instead of being addicted to ice cream and nicotine, I’m addicted to the endorphins and the runner’s high, and the happy lolling tongue of my dog as we hit mile three. I’m addicted the rhythm and purpose it gives my day and the way it allows me to have an ice-cold Coors Light or two on a summer afternoon without worrying about the calories. I’m addicted to the thought that I will someday raise children who are strong and aware of what their bodies are capable of and who takes risks to see what they can do next. I have more goals to meet along this road: shorter times, longer distances, smaller jeans. There is nothing standing in my way, though. Tri me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Due to Trying Economic Times...

Please don’t expect the usual today. I am venting a bit.

I knew it was coming. I started my new job in August; the banks started begging for government money in September. My company made the first round of layoffs in November. I kept quiet, did my work, tried not to cause any problems or be a bitch to anyone, and attempted to look busy even though I really wasn’t. That worked through two more rounds of layoffs, my friend from the marketing department even getting cut two weeks ago. Then Monday morning my boss sent me a meeting invite with no subject. Just me and her. I knew it was going to happen before it actually happened, but for some reason there was a relative calm involved. At least on my part; my boss looked like a wreck. I went back to my desk and turned on my computer. The headline on CNN read “68,000 Jobs Cut Today in North America” I am suddenly not alone.

It was a good job, albeit short-lived. The pay was great, I never felt stressed out, and I left at four everyday with everything in my inbox completed. While writing about electronic components (motherboards, AC/DC converters, accelerometers, microchips of various shapes and sizes) was new to me, I never once found it all that interesting, and creativity in a company comprised of almost solely engineers is seemingly frowned upon. I never felt passion about working there, but I did feel stability.

I write this from my favorite neighborhood bar. Mike and I frequent this place because of the great burgers, nice staff, and the proximity to our house (stumbling distance for sure). I have never really been in here in the light of day, though. There are three older gentlemen to my left talking animatedly about past drinking encounters and establishments. Another man sits to my right in silence, sipping a Budweiser and staring at ESPN, still donning his knit hat with Elmer-Fudd style earflaps. There is one guy in the far corner at a table sitting in front of his own laptop. I imagine that he is working on his resume, which is what I should be doing. The Beatles sing Blackbird out of the speakers. I am so not ready to be out of work again.

I am trying to have a good attitude. Having been laid off before, I have learned that being positive is important. So here are the positives as it stands right now:

I am going skiing tomorrow with my also-laid-off marketing friend.
My hair looks awesome because I dropped $200 on it last weekend before I knew what was coming.
They say the economy should hit bottom and head back up any time now.
I have a few writing projects that could potentially use a dusting off so that they can become more than just projects.
I get a paycheck and health benefits through the end of March.
My dog is very happy about the situation. He knows the drill: more walks, more tennis ball throwing, more rides in the car.
I have some freelance work basically lined up already.
Umm.. I write this from my favorite neighborhood bar.

The last time I got laid off, the company I was working for eliminated their entire marketing department so I had many friends in the same situation. We were in our early to mid-twenties, and they made the mistake of giving us six month’s salary in one check. We did what any other intelligent, unemployed young people would do: we took our giant checks and went to Vegas. I am older and wiser now. With that comes being scared shitless even though I don’t have to be. Mike does well in the recession-proof beer industry, which actually tends to thrive in times like these when people need a cheap way to forget about their troubles. I am not above letting him handle things until I find something. I feel above it, but I’m pretty sure I’m actually not. Life has a funny way of always working out; I know this. Even the shittiest things have a way of teaching lessons and all of that other crap that supposedly makes you a better person.

This could be a chance in disguise, the kick in the ass I needed, or a break with a reason. I know these things. And I know that I shouldn’t be whining right now because there are 67,999 other people who are going through the same thing I am this week, (and apparently millions more since September) and I’m sure many of them don’t have a beer-magnate sugar daddy to save them. Still the visions of buying our cute little Craftsman bungalow and having an awesome wedding are suddenly slipping down the drain, and I am feeling a little pissed off about it. Wasn’t Barack Obama supposed to put on a red cape and come save everyone?

I am going to give our President a few weeks. And I am going to give myself a little time to figure this all out. And I am going to be productive with this time that I have been given. I can catch up on the laundry and be a mooch and write the great American novel at the same time. Stay tuned.