“Hey, Aunt Amalie! How are you?” David’s voice chirped merrily in my ear when he answered the phone the other day. I could hear his twin brother, Jacob, chime in from the background. A wide smile crossed my face. I dearly loved these two boys, my sister’s kids, and although I lived almost 300 miles from them, our bond was intrinsic and primordial, established the instant I laid eyes on them, just days after their birth, 12 ½ years ago.
My sister and brother-in-law went through a great deal to have these children; finally, in vitro gave them the gift of healthy, twin boys, as delightful and beautiful as you can imagine. I fell head over heels in love with them the moment I held them in my arms. Motherhood was not in the cards for me; endometriosis and a series of related surgeries rendered me unable to have children but I suspected I was not cut out for the role of “Mommy.” However, these two boys summoned powerful emotions in me, to protect, love, teach, and adore and I have been an active participant in their lives.
As twins, David and Jacob couldn’t be more different. Jacob is laid back, easy-going, with a gorgeous smile and spectacular white-blond hair. His penchant for building complex projects out of Legos leads me to believe he will someday be an architect or urban planner.
David could be my child. Passionate, willful, emotional and sensitive, he is also assertive and determined. I wish I could give him my thick skin, I know he worries what other people think of him. But I also know that experience is the best teacher and I try to guide him judiciously. He is our computer geek as he loves anything having to do with software and all things Apple.
They both crack me up, especially as they approach their 13th birthday. David, especially, is ever conscious of impending Puberty. As I spoke to him on the phone, he asked me, in his still pitch-perfect prepubescent voice, “Aunt Amalie, I think my voice is getting deeper. Do you think my voice is getting deeper? I think it is!”
I answered that of course, I thought it sounded a bit different. Then I couldn’t resist teasing him, and said he better watch out or he was going to walk around sounding all hoarse and crackly. This made him laugh. Then I imitated a deep sounding basso voice and said that the next time I called I wouldn’t recognize his voice as he would probably sound like that! He laughed again but I could sense the excitement in his voice. “They want to grow up so quickly,” I thought.
While shopping the next day, David asked my sister to buy him Axe deodorant and body spray. She looked at him curiously. She had seen the commercials and was surprised that this was a product he would be interested in. But she bought it.
The next morning, David came downstairs for breakfast dressed to kill for school. Spiffy pants and shirt, and positively REEKING of Axe body spray. My sister about wet herself trying not to laugh.
David asked her, “Mom, I used the new Axe stuff. Did I use too much?” Kathy diplomatically asked him where and how he sprayed it. He explained he put his clothes on then sprayed it in an “X” pattern over his shirt, then on his shoulders and under his arms. She calmly explained that she was pretty sure you sprayed it on your body, not your clothes and that you just misted it lightly. She suggested that he change his shirt but David insisted that he had to wear THAT shirt to school today. She told him it would probably wear off by lunch.
Then Kathy looked at him and asked, “So who’s the girl?” David blushed and grinned. “Maria.”
Apparently “Maria” was in his Math Group and was “pretty cool”. Kathy hoped David wouldn’t knock her dead with Eau de Axe.
As my sister related this story to me, I couldn’t help but wonder where the time had gone. What had happened to the chuckling with glee, cherubic babies that had been David and Jacob only yesterday? I remember when I would drive in from Pittsburgh to visit and they would be waiting for me as I opened the front door of their house. They would be holding on to the plastic gate my sister had protecting them from going up the steps to the second floor and their little faces would scarcely clear the top of it. They would peep up at me, not sure at first who I was. I would speak softly, “Hey there, I’m your Aunt Amalie, remember me? Look how big you guys have gotten!” and pretty soon wide, gummy smiles would break across their faces and they would begin to bounce on their feet in a delighted, welcoming jig that only a nine-month-old child can muster. Suddenly, the miles would melt away, recognition flared and the thought of driving back home made me sick at the thought of leaving them. How I loved my boys and how I loved my sister and brother-in-law for bringing them into the world.
I have embraced and relished every moment with them and it is poignant and comical to see them approaching their teenage years. Their wit is quick and they keep me on my feet. But I wish I could fling a lasso on Time and halt their impending Puberty. Let them be children just a while longer. Indulge in innocence and wide-eyed wonder for a year or two more.
I think I’m feeling wistful at the passing of time overall, not just of David and Jacob growing older, but of the passing of time in my own life. I want to say, please, slow down, there is so much left to do, so much left to experience and I need more time! I don’t want to rush the process! And I want my nephews to relish the process of Life, savor it all.
For it all goes by, all too quickly.
“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” John Steinbeck
My sister, Kathy, graduates this weekend with her Masters in Teaching. She is 45 years old. To say she is a gifted teacher is an understatement; as a substitute teacher in her district she is one of the most sought-after teachers in the two schools she works. An introverted, painfully shy child in the past, my sister has become adept at capturing the attention and cooperation of young minds. Her students clamor for her attention and approval. She is especially gentle and empathic with those struggling to connect: with the subject matter, with their peers, with other teachers, with their world at hand.
Kathy regrets that she didn’t pursue a teaching career while in college the first time around. Instead, she bowed to influence from our well-meaning parents who recommended that we both get into “business.” So she started working as a trust officer for a large bank. And was miserable, very, very miserable.
Then she fell in love with a wonderful man, got married and had cherubic twin boys and chose to be a full-time mom. Fast forward a few years as the boys grew older and more independent. Her love for teaching, (which had never really gone away, just sort of idled dormant in a corner of her heart), rekindled anew and she started exploring options for substituting at her twins’ school. A Teacher was born.
A wistful, “I wish I had my teaching degree” over the years soon turned into, “I am going back to school and getting my teaching degree!” Armed with a supportive husband, children and a cheerleading squad made up of her teaching peers and other school administrators, my sister successfully juggled full-time motherhood, marriage, managing a home, substitute teaching and a full-time school load to make it to graduation day this coming weekend.
I’m proud of the fact that at her graduation, my sister will be wearing the pendant I gave her for the special day. Engraved are the words from Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up,” and her initials. I’m also very proud of her.
The other day, my sister taught a first grade class for most of the week. On Friday, one of the students, who had brought in some flowers, told Kathy that she should take the flowers home with her. After all, as he pointed out, “you did pretty good for yourself this week!” Pretty good, indeed.
It has been a little over two weeks since I was laid off and I have been fairly buzzing with energy. Relatively speaking, I’m doing great. I think it helps that right from the start I sized up the situation pragmatically, considered my options, made priorities and a game plan, focused on my successes and didn’t take getting laid off personally. I don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna or anything but seriously, by not sitting down and letting waves of desolation wash over me and think, “ah, woe is me!” but instead, maintaining an active state of “do something, and do it now!” I have been able to ride this dip in the road fairly well.
I’m lucky, I don’t have any debt other than a mortgage, which I just refinanced at a spectacular 3% for 15 years (yeah, that pretty much rocks) and fortunately was able to finesse that a month before I was laid off. I set about trimming even more fat off my budget and by living frugally I can live on severance and unemployment for a significant amount of time. I did some research and a strong candidate, in this market, can usually be assured of finding adequate employment in 3-6 months. My goal is by the end of July. I’m doing the job search full time, networking, using LinkedIn, other social media, job boards, referrals. I will be employed and expect to employed well.
I’ve even got a spin, a truthful one, on being laid off. As my former employer put it, it was a business decision. As a software sales executive, I covered NY, NJ, New England, and Canada, and any open territory in the rest of the United States. I did this all remotely from Western Pennsylvania. We did not have the budget to send me to meet clients face to face, go to networking events or conferences. This was a terrible handicap vs. our competitors. But now, the company is in the process of merging with a small software company in NYC that has 3 sales people in my former territory. One of those sales people will be taking over my territory.
And it makes sense. I’d make that decision if I was running the company. So no looking back and on to new opportunities, bigger and better ventures.
I’ve also turned my attention to my house and all those projects you never have time for when you are juggling a professional life, personal life, family, friends, and everything else that comes along. My garage has been completely organized and cleaned out, even had a company come and haul out the computer monitor, two televisions, printer, scanner, VHS player, window air-conditioner and other sundry items taking up half of my garage.
I also pulled out boxes of old files and went through filing cabinets and found documents, even taxes, credit card receipts, stuff dating back to 1986! Boxed it all up and took it off to be shredded by a professional, bonded company in town. Done!
Another priority I made was to focus on physical fitness. This is something I started over a year ago but, let’s face it, with no job to go to every day, you can really make time for some major workouts every day.
My girl friend, who is a local caterer, and I, meet three times a week to walk/run 4 miles and do 74 steps up a steep ridge where we live. We do them twice. I’m also doing Les Mills Pump (a barbell with weights-based workout) several times a week.
Diane, the caterer, and I just worked out an agreement, where I will provide sales/marketing services in exchange for physical fitness training a few times a week. A win-win situation so I can put something on my resume during my time “off”.
So what’s my point of telling you all of this? I know this post is a bit different than what I’ve written before but so many people have been in this situation, especially with this rollercoaster economy. Being unemployed can be one of the most devastating things to happen to someone, especially when you have a family to support. But I adamantly believe (and have written this before) that you define a situation by how you respond to it. Action brings results. Positive thinking, about yourself, what you have to offer and what the future will bring, opens the door to new opportunities.
So raising a glass to all of you that are in the same boat, good luck to you and give it your all. Persevere! I do think that things are looking up. I see more activity on job boards like The Ladders, Careerbuilder, Monster. But make sure you use LinkedIn and your professional and personal network.
This is also a great time to explore something you’ve always wanted to do, something you feel passionate about. I know once I get some of these projects completed that I am looking forward to spending more time writing and cultivating my creative Muse. This happened for a reason and I am embracing the moment.
I was fired this past week. Summarily let go. And it’s ironic, because on so many levels, my life is coming along so very…beautifully! My writing feels good and the creative outlet is awesome; I have a very deep connection with someone who came back into my life a few years ago and we are rediscovering the kismet that seems to keep bringing us back into each other’s lives. I’m blooming with good health and joie de vivre and feel better than I ever have. My family is thriving and doing well; and my friends are happy and prospering on various levels. Life is good. The only disconnect was my career. It has been a rollercoaster ride of feast and famine.
I knew things weren’t going well at my current job, for a number of reasons. Not for a lack of trying. I’m the consummate professional, never a slacker, a hard-worker and my clients loved me. At times, I let my career define me. But there was a decision making methodology with the type of client I was working with that didn’t jive well with my for-profit experience and I wasn’t, on the whole, very happy.
In the end, I was told it was a “business decision.” I didn’t cry, I remained stoic and cool. I was even rational enough not to sign the document they presented me so I could later review it dispassionately and with a clear head.
But inside I was shaking. The tears simmered on the inside of my eyelids. I was both furious and scared. To add insult to injury, the president, to whom I had reported in this small company for four years, didn’t even venture out of her office to wish me well or acknowledge my leaving. It was like a slap in the face. I have worked for a number of spectacular managers in my long sales career and held her in the highest esteem. I lost a large measure of respect for her that day.
I know it wasn’t an easy task for my sales director or especially the VP. They were both very professional and even kind.
Driving home I told myself how I’d be saving money not making the long, daily commute. That it was serendipitous that my resume was up to date and ready to be submitted to the right job. That I had marvelous references. Then I thought of calling my mother. Instead, I called P. and left him a voicemail. The sound of his voice almost made me cry. But I resolutely pulled my shoulders back and cleared my throat. And continued the long drive home.
Once I arrived home, I paced my house endlessly. I had so much pent up energy. I took call after call, making plans, reviewing my options, getting advice.
I knew I’d be fine, I always land on my feet (ok, I’ve repeated that line a hundred times since that afternoon). But I was still reeling. I needed a good cry. I thought it would hurt, that my eyes would swell and it would actually ache. I don’t like failing, I’m not good at it.
It struck me how bloody cold I was. Freezing. I was frozen to the core. I turned up the heat and ignited the gas logs in the fireplace. Pulled on a sweatshirt. I just couldn’t seem to get warm. I hunkered down on the couch and drew up the down comforter about me. Suddenly, I was very tired. The tears pricked my eyes.
I received some good advice from P. today. Take a few days, regain your equilibrium, get your bearing and then figure out what it is you want to do.
I want to write.
But that doesn’t pay the mortgage.
I’m a damned good sales person, dammit.
I look at my face in the mirror this morning and I’m amazed at what a difference a few days makes. I no longer look haggard and worried. I look and feel…lighter. I firmly believe that how you react to a situation will define its reality. I will not look at this as a failure but as an exciting new opportunity. I will move on and not look back. I don’t even harbor anyone any ill will, I’ve thought about it and it was meant to be, it wasn’t a good fit. I even wish my former colleagues well.
I’m anxious to see what the next chapter brings. Even a bit excited.
I’m ready, bring it on.
I have been plagued by Writer’s Block the past several days. And I have been hoping it would just sort of, go away. That’s not like me. I usually deal with issues or problems head on, dissect them, analyze them, problem solve. Ask questions. Get to the root of the matter. Sometimes to the chagrin of those close to me. But I grew up with a father, God love him, who didn’t communicate very well, who either yelled or turned on the silent treatment during disagreements, at times for months. Reasonable dialogue was something I learned on my own, not by example. So not letting things fester, being sensitive and empathic with potential issues is something that I, as a result of my upbringing, have learned to employ.
But I have let my Muse lead me on a merry chase the past few days. It is scary when you feel inspiration dry up, when the wellspring seems to have diminished to a trickle. So much material, so much to write about, where did it all go? I take a deep breath, my fingers pause on the keyboard…
And I decide to blame the weather.
The slight balminess to the air, that gentle stirring of all things green and blooming about you—ah, yes, Spring has arrived. This is the contender for Major Distraction of the Week Award.
It pulls me outside. I feel that expectation, that quiver of anticipation that the year is truly starting, that everything has suddenly awakened and is stretching in its skin. I feel like I have been dormant these past few months and that it is time to surge forward, make strides, climb mountains, feel that runner’s high. Both metaphorically and physically.
But it is wreaking havoc with my creative flow. I feel like I am in limbo.
There is a part of me that wants to turn to other writers for inspiration but I fear being too impressionable right now, that I may mimic or parrot. I want to remain true to my voice.
I hear laughter far off in the distance. My Muse is still there, but she is off prancing about the May-pole and paying me no mind so I am left to my own devices. What can I say? It is Spring and everyone is out celebrating. I must hunker down and sort this out myself.
I’m fast approaching my 48th birthday. I’m not sure what that means to me, if anything. But I feel a sense of restlessness deep within me, like I’m searching for something.
I look back on the past 47 plus years of my life and feel a sense of wonder. My life is nothing like I expected but in many ways, it is perfect and I can’t imagine it being any different. Sometimes, sometimes I think my experiences have honed me into a very unique individual and there are places in me, parts of me, that very few people can understand. And sometimes that is a very solitary place to be, even lonely.
I have learned to find solace, joy even, with inanimate objects and pastimes: writing, books, music, movies, reading and solo athletic endeavors like running where I can decompress and revel in the adrenalin pumping through my body and I can stretch my body to its limits.
My writing frees me, heart, mind, and soul. When I place my fingers on the keyboard, I feel like I am tapping into a limitless realm, and the words pour forth. Writing feeds and, at the same time, soothes my restless soul.
I chanced upon the following: “My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while.” Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.
I feel like I am at a point in my life where every cell in my body is holding its collective breath. Let me explain.
I am a Survivor. Of chronic illness. Of bullying. Of verbal abuse. Of morbid obesity. Of ridicule. And I have learned to protect myself. I have carefully constructed the ramparts that safeguard my head, heart, and soul. My salvation has been my fierce, White Russian nature: I am determined, outspoken, assertive, and proud. I am strong and have always believed in myself. But I’ve let few people in. As I developed more socially, I drew more friends and many more acquaintances. But truly letting my guard down has been a challenge for me. The cost was too great.
But I feel like, in this 48th year, that I’ve reached a turning point. I have remarkable, wonderfully close friends who have taught me what it is to trust and love, and what it is like to hang in for the long haul. I have a family that has evolved through significant challenges and who loves and supports me. And I have learned to love, trust, and support them all back.
So what about this restlessness I am feeling? What is driving it? I feel like I am about to surge forward with something, about to make a big change.
I think there are things that I have been holding onto, that I have let define me and that have comforted me because of their familiarity. And maybe it is time to let them go.
Letting go scares me. And saying something scares me, scares me. I don’t like admitting to fear, it makes me feel like I am admitting to a chink in my carefully built facade. Like the ground beneath my feet has suddenly become unsteady and I reach out for balance, for equilibrium.
But the air is sweet and the breeze is cool on my face outside of my fortress. The possibilities are endless.
And then it strikes me that maybe this state of unquiet awareness is good. That I will be open to opportunities, that my heart will be open to prospects that Life chances my way. That maybe a bit more risk-taking in this 48th year is my birthday present to myself. And that this will be a very good year indeed.
It’s official. My new phone is smarter than me. And I didn’t even get an actual smart phone, just one of those basic phones that makes calls and enables you to text. But I upgraded from my ancient LG flip phone that I’ve had for years and now I have a bright, shiny touch-screen phone, complete with slide out Qwerty keyboard. So far, I.hate.it.
Put me in front of a laptop or any computer and my fingers make rapid-fire music across the keyboard. I can key like crazy. But this phone stops me dead in my tracks. My fingers suddenly become bumbling and clumsy on the touch screen and words get misspelled, texts get sent before they are completed. I give up and try the Qwerty keyboard, first pecking painfully with my index finger. “No, no, use your thumbs!!” my editor admonishes me. I like that idea; with my old phone I could make calls and text like crazy with my thumb.
For some reason that old dexterity doesn’t translate with this new device. I find myself squinting at the small keys, searching for the right one to press. Frustrated, I abandon the task of texting and set about exploring Ringtones.
Wait, no “Doorbell”???? I MUST have the “Doorbell” ringtone! I have one person, and one person only, who is designated that ringtone. I know I sound like a die-hard romantic but for me it signifies the sound of my suitor calling, showing up at my door and ringing the bell.
I Google free ringtones online—download a “doorbell” ringtone, problem solved! Ok, I’m getting the hang of this. The new phone might be fun.
And I have to admit, phone calls sound clear-as-a-bell on the new phone. And the nifty camera that came with it takes pretty interesting pictures — you can even use cool effects like changing your picture to black and white. I figure all this out while I’m at work, supposedly w-o-r-k-i-n-g. I practice taking arty shots of my coffee cup, of my laptop, of my phone, then sending them to my editor. Neato.
Oops. Conference call coming up in 20 minutes. Time to put my intriguing new toy away. Maybe it’s not such a bad phone after all…
I’m 47 and I have never been married. It’s not that I’ve never dated or been in serious relationships, I have. But not a lot of serious relationships, at least not for someone who has been single her whole life. In fact, I have been in love a total of two times. I’m discounting of course, all of my teenage infatuations and the preteen crush on David Cassidy. I’m also discounting the boy I dated for over a year in college because it was a Big Woman on Campus dates Big Man on Campus situation. I was infatuated with our popularity, his sunny smile and blond hair. Coming off the heels of my wretched grade school and high school experiences, my new found popularity at university and active participation in school activities was quite literally a palpable high for me and I basked in the glow for all four years. Tim was just a part of that. So, no, he doesn’t count either.
So I look at the two men I have really loved and who’ve said that they had loved me and try to figure out why I’m still single. I spent a lot of time on this over the past few days, it has been a time of reckoning, of realization.
My impression of marriage came from the first couple I encountered in my life, my parents. I was the oldest child, so I remember the early days when my parents were so happy together. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and I clearly remember her powdering her nose, applying lipstick and fixing her hair in anticipation of my father coming home from work. She was so excited to see him. My bright eyes took this in and this is what I thought of as “marriage”.
The later years have been filled with bitterness, constant bickering and stony silences. My mother confided her unhappiness to me and I felt uncomfortable and stifled listening to her complaints. They are married to this day and still don’t know how to communicate like adults to each other. It breaks my heart and they have become a cautionary tale of what not to do.
As my friends began to get married in their twenties, I would attend their ceremonies and watch them walk down the aisle. Unbidden to my mind would come the thought, “this is where I’d run for the hills!” As much as I romanticized about that perfect wedding, that perfect man, I would feel a chill go up my spine watching the bride go down the aisle. I had started to think of all marriages as turning out like my parent’s.
Interestingly enough, my parents are an anomaly. I am surrounded by a surprising number of happy couples. My sister and brother are both in well-grounded, very happy marriages. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few of my friends who have gotten divorced; most are still happily married.
My sister points out that I am nothing like my parents; I have learned well to reasonably speak my mind, handle issues with sensitivity and maturity, to listen with empathy and respect. So why does the uncertainty linger? Why do I feel that faint lick of panic when I seriously consider linking my life permanently with that of another?
It’s funny, with the man I thought was my true love, I had it all planned out. I knew what my ring would look like, I knew which song would play as I walked down the aisle, I knew we wouldn’t get married in a church, I knew it would be simple, unassuming, tasteful. I knew I would love him forever.
I also knew that I felt enormous relief when we both agreed that we were rushing into things and needed to take a break. Not at first. Initially, I was hurt that we weren’t on the same page. But I felt the presence of another emotion that I didn’t quite recognize at first–until I found myself bouncing around the house, answering the phone cheerily. Feeling almost…free. Like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Free from the wondering if he was going to uncomplicate his life. Free from the wondering if we were going to really get married (could I truly walk down that aisle??). Free from wondering if I could really be the priority to him as I had made him in my life.
And suddenly, I. Just. Let. It. All. Go. Just like that.
It was a revelation. Partly, because, I realized, I wasn’t ready to get married yet, if ever. If I did contemplate marriage with someone, he would have to be patient, there would be no rushing the altar for this girl. I’d need to settle in with the idea, get comfortable. I wondered if what I really wanted wasn’t so much marriage but companionship, someone to love, trust, travel with, share my life with. Have the kind of emotional and physical chemistry that makes your toes curl and the hair stand up on the back of your neck. So when he walks into the room or you find him standing at your door, your breath catches in your throat, still, even 25 years later.
Someone who is going to be there for me, good times and bad, whether it is convenient or not. If I need him, just to hear his voice, he’s there, on the phone, or in person, no questions asked. Because he knows that for me to ask, it’s important, that usually, I’m resourceful, and deal with my issues on my own, I don’t ask for help, or support. But sometimes, it’s nice not to knock it out alone. Up to last week, I thought I had that. I was wrong.
I don’t need someone around just to make pithy conversation. I’m in Sales, I have pithy conversations with professional acquaintances all day. I don’t need another LinkedIn connection or the equivalent of a Pet Rock—no expectations, no real interaction, everything occurring at arm’s length. Even my friends offer me more than that. I want something, someone, more substantial.
It’s with new perspective that I survey my life and my future. No more orchestration, no more parameters. I have an open heart and a clear and ready mind. I know what I want, what I expect. I won’t settle for less, I deserve the best. And if the best is me, that suits me just fine. I intend to just settle back and enjoy the ride.
I woke up to a day shrouded in clouds, the ground covered with newly fallen snow and a layer of pristine, sparkling ice, even freezing my back storm door shut. It was with relief that I remembered it was Saturday and turned up the heat and ignited the gas logs in the fireplace. Hot coffee in hand, I decided that a bit of plumbing the past was in order.
I ventured into my basement and set about pulling old files and folders. Soon, I had my past spread about me: years of journals and assorted notes and scribbles. As I began to read, the years fell away. Essays I had written in grade school and high school; diary entries from my teenage years; quickly scribbled notes from school chums; journals and notebooks from my years of chronic illness with Graves Disease and throughout my lengthy recovery.
I focused on the earlier stuff. The girlish scrawl, the earnest voice that spoke from those pages, the words from a young mind brimming with imagination and hopeful dreams for her future. I remember being that young girl, so at odds with her surroundings and the other kids. At times my environment felt jarring to me and I just wanted to escape.
There is a theme to my early writing, of feeling isolated, peculiar, lonely and different. If I had stayed on the sidelines, I probably wouldn’t have had as many problems with the other kids, but I was outspoken, fierce even, and participated passionately in my favorite classes.
But I received my due when I would get on the bus, often sitting alone, while the other girls would whisper and snicker about me just loud enough for me to be able to overhear. I dressed funny, my hair looked stupid, I wasn’t “cool”. I couldn’t wait to get home after school. My mother’s cheery, “How was school?” was often received by my cool and deliberate “fine.” Yes, just fine. Peachy. I wanted to fling myself off the nearest cliff.
But I also remember thinking I was meant for better things, and I looked to the Future as if it was a true beacon of hope. Grade school and even high school weren’t going to go on forever and I pinned my hopes on blossoming at 16. To me, that was going to be my turning point, when I became beautiful and all the boys would want me and all the girls would clamor for my friendship.
At the core of it, I was simply a lonely young girl who wanted to connect with someone, who wanted to be understood, who wanted to be loved.
The summer after my junior year in high school, something happened. I trimmed off about 12 pounds with daily bike rides and had my hair coiffed in a buoyant Farrah-like ‘do. I returned to school that September head held high.
And. Nothing. Changed. Oh, yes, I received admiring looks and glances, and one of the “nice” popular boys asked me to a party. But the long-established cliques were impenetrable and when we attended, barely anyone would talk to me, such was the penalty for trespassing.
That was an epiphany for me, that year. I knew I would never let another person make me feel less than who I was at any given time. Fuck them, fuck them all.
Something splashes on my hands and the keyboard and I realize that I am crying. Even now, the pain can reach out and touch me. Sometimes, I wonder why I am writing about this stuff, it seems so useless, like wallowing in the muck. But I’m aware of having a different perception, one of surviving the pain and moving on. In many ways, having a solitary childhood prepared me for adulthood and the challenges that I faced therein. I am resourceful and determined. And I know through experience, that things do get better, and that my tears are as much tears of compassion and release, as of pain.
A dear friend of mine suggested that perhaps this project will be cathartic. I like the analogy of peeling away the layers of an onion until you reach the core. Until you are naked and exposed. I’m feeling very vulnerable with my writing but also excited and passionate. It’s been a good journey so far.
I love Nigella Lawson. I remember the first time I saw her on television and was tickled by her obvious sensuous delight with food and cooking. Her kitchen was amazing and her blasé, randy comments funny and engaging. And the food, oh, the food! Her recipes hinted of faraway lands and exotic flavors and she punctuated her glorious spreads with gatherings with friends and family. For what is finer than food, family, and a bottle or two?
My romance with food and cooking started when I moved into my first apartment. My initial cooking attempts were comical, Minute Rice with frozen vegetables and Ragu tomato sauce. Then I progressed to buying the pizza made at the local grocer and adding my own pepperoni and green peppers. Daring, indeed!
But my new apartment came with something else, cable. And that opened up a world of culinary delights to me. I religiously watched the Great Chefs Of series, Floyd On (following the cooking adventures of the wonderfully colorful Keith Floyd, now there was a notable character!), and Graham Kerr.
My initial food pairings were awkward. One boyfriend got homemade vegetable beef soup with a baked potato. He thought that was hysterical. I was in love with my next boyfriend so he got the same soup but I covered my card table with my grandmother’s linens and used her fine china. No baked potato this time.
I took notes, wrote down recipes, bought The New Basics cookbook. Soon I began to experiment. My first “dish” was the chicken noodle soup (homemade noodles and all!) from The New Basics. Divine and lovely, still a staple in my kitchen. I jumped around from there, casseroles, cassoulets, tagines, Italian—I was really stuck in that groove for awhile. My attempts at pies fell flat, however. They would emerge golden and succulent from the oven, plump with baked fruit, only to deflate minutes later. Still tasty but hardly photo-worthy. And I came from a long line of impressive pie-makers so my pedigree was rock-solid. My grandmother and Godmother could bake pies that would bring tears to your eyes: elderberry apple, rhubarb with melt-in-your mouth meringue, coconut cream, key lime pie, pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. They were prolific bakers. Every meal was finished off with a piece of homemade pie, dessert was a given and something eagerly awaited. Apparently when that pie baking torch was passed to me, I fumbled and dropped it.
So I don’t do pies, I do tortes, and mousses, and trifles. I can do a mean trifle. And if it has the word “chocolate” associated with it, I pounce. Just typing the word “chocolate” and my mind begins to wander…should I do a hazelnut chocolate torte? Or rich dark chocolate truffles?
Back to Nigella. I had my family in from out of town one weekend. I usually take them out to dinner one night and then the next evening, I pull out all the stops and cook for them. I opened Nigella’s Forever Summer and found one of my favorite recipes, Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad. I loved her closing declaration at the end of the recipe: “The taste of Tel Aviv sunshine!” I found that completely romantic and was inspired to create my dinner around this salad.
I played fast and loose with geography and made hummus for the appetizer, chicken with spiced potatoes for the main entrée. Everything smelled enticing and my table was set to perfection.
My meat and potatoes parents stared doubtfully at the hummus but my sister dug right in. Then I presented the salad in all its crowning glory. My family just stared at it.
“Are those olives with…watermelon?” my mother asked tentatively.
“That’s not goat cheese!” my sister said. She hates goat cheese and swears that I put it in everything I make.
I sighed. I was going to be eating a lot of salad over the next few days.
“Just try it; it’s really delicious, I swear. Be a bit adventurous!” I tried to encourage them. Politely, they all took a portion, a very small portion, of the salad. At the end of the meal, most of it was left on each of their plates.
“I have pie…?”