Easter was a pretty big deal in my family growing up. It wasn’t always a new dress for me or a new leisure suit for my brother. But it was always an egg hunt. And it was always a basket full of things that were just slightly off beat—like bathing suits and beach towels and boxes of raisins and candy on clearance.
It was. Always.
Until Easter 1985, when I skipped down the stairs after pulling on my church dress, rounded the corner into the kitchen and gazed down into the family room at the hearth where my Easter basket…
There was no Easter basket.
Where was my Easter basket?
“Mom, where’s my Easter basket?” I asked. “Today’s Easter, right?” My mother looked up from her breakfast, wearing a look of genuine surprise.
“Well, yes, but I didn’t do Easter baskets this year,” she
answered. My mouth flopped open on its hinges.
“Why in the world not?” My mind began racing with the excuses she might have that were even marginally acceptable. She’d had a mild stroke. She’d been detained at the border trying to come across with deluxe Mexican chocolate. My grandmother was hospitalized suddenly and my mother had spent the night tending to her because the nurses were all on strike. My father was missing and she’d been posting flyers on every signpost in the city of Tallahassee.
“Because I just figured you were both too old now.”
That was not on my list of acceptable excuses. And what does “you were both too old now” mean unless you are a twin? I was not and am not a twin. My older brother got TWO MORE Easter baskets than I did, because he somehow skirted the Age Appropriate Police. Why was he not too old at 14 in 1983 when he was the age I am now?
I walked down the three stairs into our sunken family room and
sat down on the couch like a girl who’d just been dumped. My mother was
thinking through it.
“I’m sorry you are disappointed. I had no idea,” she said.
“It’s fine,” I replied, though it wasn’t fine.
I went about my morning with a dirge playing in my head and
then climbed in the car to head to church. The church thing was not any
different. This was our regular Sunday routine. Today had become a regular
When we drove up the long church driveway, my dad dropped my mom at the door and then drove into the dirt parking lot to let the rest of us out. Our friend, Jean, had pulled into a spot moments before us and was standing at her car, with the passenger door open.
I got out and grabbed my bible.
“Hey!” She called. “Both of you come over here. I have
something for you!” My eyes widened. What could this be? I walked over to her
little gray Celica and she pulled two 12” solid chocolate bunnies out of her
front passenger seat, one for me and one for my brother.
“Happy Easter!” she said, smiling. Happy Easter, indeed!
“Happy Easter!” we replied, grinning as our dreams began to
reinflate with color and hope. I don’t
think she had any idea how perfect her timing was. I don’t remember if we told
her. She didn’t receive anything from us in return.
I took that bunny into the church building and sat it on the pew next to me during the assembly. Nobody was going to persuade me to do otherwise. I kept the bunny safe and alive until late that afternoon when my desire for sugar exceeded my desire for strange companionship. I ate the ears off. And then the head. I knew I really shouldn’t eat the entire thing in one sitting, but what a day it had been. And having only a chocolate torso looking at me seemed so deviant and tragic.
So I ate him. All of him.
And then I placed the empty box strategically outside my mom’s bedroom door as a reminder. Maybe next year I’d get lucky and she would shift the age requirements.
Preparing to travel alone is the reason I haven’t written this week. I spent half the week catching up on family laundry and the other half of the week cursing myself that the kids don’t do their own laundry.
Now I’m making a plan. Which means nothing will change except the volume of the voices inside my head.
I used to travel by myself a lot. I don’t mean the fancy kind of travel, where you go see exotic cities and book sightseeing tours. I mean the kind of travel where you get picked up in Dayton, OH and stay with a friend and eat out a couple of times. I did fly alone to Seattle once and go backpacking with a friend more insane than I am. And that trip would make QUITE a blog. But that blog would eliminate all chances that I’d ever be allowed outside Hillsborough county again. I can’t risk that. Sorry.
What happens on Poo Poo Point, stays on Poo Poo Point. That’s a real place. Look it up.
During the days of flying to normal places and seeing normal people, and even during the days of road-tripping to Texas with four small children by myself, I got pretty travel savvy. I figured a few things out. I figured out how to pre-board with babies slung to various body parts and how to break down a gate-check stroller with my toes. And I figured out how to safely get all four into a gas station bathroom during a quick stop somewhere in Mississippi. I figured out nothing related to Louisiana. Hate that place. Louisiana will always have the upper hand. Which is mostly why I hate it. That, and everything else.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the savvy. All of it. And since that time, I’ve been following Todd’s savvy around like a lost 3-legged puppy. But with this trip, I was determined to look like I knew what I was doing.
The flight was cheap, so the first thing I did was book Early Bird for myself. I mean, I can’t wait in line with all the other smelly passengers. And nothing says travel savvy like being already hunkered down in your front-of-the-plane seat when the Bs are walking on. So I booked Early Bird.
Except I didn’t. And I can’t explain what happened, except to say that I’ve lost my edge.
So because I thought I had Early Bird check-in on Southwest, I didn’t bother to even see what my boarding number was until Wednesday night at midnight–a mere 12 hours before I flew and 12 hours AFTER all the non-early birders had checked in.
Sigh. I knew this meant that I would be getting on the plane after 132 people had already boarded. But you know, I decided I could play the game. I was going to wear C13 like a boss. When it was finally my turn to board, I was walking down the jetbridge behind C9, C10, and C11. They were a cute little family with mom, dad, and teen daughter. Teen daughter, C10, called over her shoulder to her dad, “Dad, I call window.”
Oh, sweetie. I wanted to say. You won’t even be sitting with C9 and C11. And you can forget the window, babydoll. We Cs don’t have these luxuries. I have no idea where they ended up sitting or if they managed to be together on the back of the plane. I couldn’t think about them once I rounded the corner. At that point, I had to go into full recon mode to locate my seat. Be strategic. Waste no time. The flight attendant was standing in the area before Row 1. There were seats open in the middle on both sides of the first row.
“How full is the flight?” I asked. I mean, I could see it was pretty full. But my question was, did these outstretched front rowers have a chance of staying in their chaise lounge without someone like me plopping down next to them.
“Completely booked,” he answered. So, no. No one would make it out alive. I started to veer left to sit down between two strangers and the flight attendant said, “You can’t have that with you,” pointing to my backpack. “There’s no place to store it under a seat. You can put it a few rows back in an overhead.” No way. You aren’t taking my backpack. It’s like a Mary Poppins purse. I wasn’t parting with it. So I allowed my front row dreams to die and kept moving. Row 2, no. Row 3, no. Looking for some skinny people. Row 4, no. Row 8, loud women talking. No women. No on the women. Row 7 had two dudes, one of them average build and one of them skinnier than my right leg. I scooted in and shoved my backpack under the seat in front of me.
I was feeling pretty good about my choice until I realized both men had claimed their armrests, which mean that my arms would be glued to my side in an almost concave fashion. And the guy to my left had his legs splayed like criss-cross applesauce. So I got to touch his elbow and his knee the entire flight. I was also thinking one of them smelled until I began to wonder if it was me.
It wasn’t me.
When I arrived, after a shorter flight than I anticipated, I found my way to the rental car counter and pulled up my confirmation number. I had rented an Economy Car. I was hoping for a bright green Chevy Spark, but ended up with a white Ford Fiesta. I’ll have to describe the fiesta sometime. The rental went fine and I headed out the sliding doors on the rather lengthy route to the car itself, in Hertz space 444. It was a long walk. Halfway there, not yet to the escalators, I was watching the guy in front of me maneuvering with all of his luggage. Poor guy. Look at all the luggage. Compared to him, I was agile. I felt free and easy. Until it hit me that the reason I was having a much easier time walking was because I had left my luggage sitting at the Hertz counter.
They don’t not call me savvy for nothing.
The woman was surprised to see me back, but was already helping another customer. I just awkwardly mouthed the word “luggage” and grabbed it out from its spot next to the new customer’s knees. No one had stolen my bag. If they had known there was a brand new pair of Vans in it, I bet they would have.
My goal for the rest of the weekend is to book a sightseeing tour of Glasgow, Kentucky, spend a little time in Hobby Lobby, and hang out with cherished friends.
And if you are looking for me, I’ll be zipping around in a Ford Fiesta, wearing a brand new pair of Vans.
When I discovered the newspaper clipping of this story in my middle school yearbook, it had been at least 20 years since I had read it. My mother used to keep a framed clipping on the wall in an upstairs hallway of her house. But we always just pointed and chucked as we went by. I never stopped to read or remember.
Last night, not only did I read it, but I typed it into my laptop. I had to resist the urge to edit the entire time I was typing. I wanted to change this word or that word and constantly reprimanded my 14-year-old self for certain word choices or clichés.
It was more important to preserve what it was than to make it better.
I really don’t believe that.
At any rate, this morning, one of you asked me a question I’ve been asking myself for 34 YEARS. She said, “What would you have titled your story back in 1985? Would you choose a different title now?”
Oh, what a question that is.
I tried to blame the Tallahassee Democrat for their terrible alliterative title. And it IS a terrible title. But the fault lies with me. Because I sent it in without a title. I knew it didn’t have a title. Everything has to be titled.
I didn’t know what to call it. For 34 years, I’ve been asking myself what it should have been called and I still don’t know. I was lamenting this again to Todd last night and he said, “It doesn’t matter now. It’s Sinkhole Sadness. That’s its title.”
I need someone to give it a real one. Clearly, this is beyond me.
The other thing I will mention about the story is that near the end, the main character calls his friend a “stupid fool.” When I wrote the story, that was the only thing that seemed to fit the integrity of the desperate moment he was in. That was all well and good until I won. When I got word that I had won, I questioned the words, based on Matthew 5:22 stating that if “anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. I remember calling the Democrat reporter in charge of the contest and discussing my concerns. We had a good discussion. Ultimately I kept the original phrase in, probably for the same reason it ended up with the title of Sinkhole Sadness. I couldn’t think of anything else.
So here it is. There are so many things wrong with it. Some of them go with 1985. Some of them go with the writer being a melodramatic 14-yr-old girl. It’s mostly bad, with a few good moments that peek through the Sinkhole Sadness clouds.
I surfaced, gasping for air, and glanced nervously around
for my pursuer. Impulsively, I scratched at a raw mosquito bite at the back of
my neck. My eyes shifted and searched but all was still, almost as if the earth
was holding its breath.
I went under but immediately resurfaced, coughing up a
mouthful of dirty water.
“Charles?” The uncertainty in my voice skipped across the
spans of the water. I weighed the possibilities of his unexplained exit and
decided that he had given up to go home. The sinkhole had always been his least
favorite place to play anyway.
“It figures,” I almost jumped at the loudness of my own
voice. “I hate Charles sometimes.” Angrily, I swept up my blue towel from its spot
next to Charles’ belongings. I wiped my face and began the trek home along the
rough dirt path.
I unlatched the front gate and hopped quickly around the
back of the house, the heat off the ground scorching my calloused feet.
“Mom, has Charles been by here?” She looked up at me from
her crouched position next to the garden. She sigh, her blue eyes tired and
“No, honey, I haven’t seen him today.” My face twisted in
confusion as I trudged up the steps and entered our house. Dazed, I reached for
the phone and dialed Charles’ house automatically.
“Hello. May I please speak to Charles?” His mother had
“He’s not here. I thought you and Charles were off swimming.”
My mouth dropped open and my blood iced up.
“Oh no…the cave…” I left the phone dangling on the end of
its cord. I leapt off the back steps and without slowing, I shouted, “Mom, call
the police and meet me at the sinkhole. It’s Charles!”
Nausea swept over me like a huge tidal wave but I ran
blindly, fleetingly. My throat drained dry and my tongue clung helplessly to
the roof of my mouth. The water was ahead just as I had left it. I stopped at
the edge of the water and looked down at Charles’ worn sneakers and yellow
towel. I suddenly remembered seeing Charles’ possessions earlier. Only then, it
hadn’t registered. The roar of engines filled my ears, drowning out my
I turned slowly, trying hard to understand. I squinted, but
the people climbing out of cars were blurred and unrecognizable.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?” My mother reached for me but
I backed away, shaking my head.
“Don’t touch me,” I said. “Find Charles.”
The policemen were already searching for him in the water. I
turned my back on the blinding, golden rays of the sun that continued to shine
despite the sickness traveling through me; despite all the confusion caused by
a simple game.
I sat down, wrapping my arms around my knees, and tried to
block out my fear. I felt a strong hand on my shoulder. I jumped up , startled,
and stared into the sensitive face of a wet and shivering policeman.
“Son, we found your friend.” He glanced nervously over his
shoulder. Following his gaze, I spotted a wet body lying still on the ground. I
ran around the policeman, who turned to watch me, and knelt on the ground
beside Charles. I took his hand and shook it. The coldness and stiffness of his
hand stunned me, causing me to drop it in fright. His eyes were fixed on
something in the sky. I looked up and then back at him. My eyes grew wide at
the sudden realization. I stood up and clamped my jaw tight.
“Charles,” my voice cracked. “You stupid fool!” I turned and
ran, my legs pedaled furiously by some unknown force. I stopped finally and sat
down against a tree that shaded the edge of the dusty clay road.
Pictures of the scene at the sinkhole washed a wave of guilt
over me. The guilt was a cement block on my head, weighting my small body to
the ground. A single crystal tear rolled off the tip of my nose.
The past hour of tragedy was confused and scrambled and I was unable to piece it together. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I could not get up.
During the summer of 1985, my life was changed. Twice. The
first time, when I was waylaid by a slimy gray frog. The second, when I entered
a writing contest.
The two incidents were not entirely disconnected.
That summer had begun in typical Florida fashion. It was 8
weeks of 95-degree sunshine. It was daily thunderstorms. It was wandering from
house to house along Marston Road looking for the latest adventure and adventurer.
It was hoping for an invitation to swim in a backyard pool, because my house
didn’t have one. It was frequent trips to the coast and time with my
grandmother. It would not have been summer without those things. But my path
took a sharp left turn the day my mom dropped the Tallahassee Democrat on the
kitchen counter for me to see. It was early one weekday morning and I was
standing up eating a bowl of instant grits. She had circled in pencil what she
wanted me to see.
“Teenage Writing Contest: Enter now! Amazing prizes!”
There were guidelines and age categories in the fine print below.
I skimmed the ad and looked up. My mom was waiting for me to finish reading.
“I think you should enter this,” she said. My mother was not
in any way an artsy person, but she supported me in being one. They had me at ‘writing’
and sealed the deal with ‘amazing prizes.’
“Ok,” I replied. “I’ll give it a shot.”
The deadline was in 3 weeks. I would enter the Short Story
category for middle school grades 6-8.
“Maybe you can write it at the beach,” she countered. “I
need you packed by 2. We’re going to try to get to the Oaks for an early dinner.
I looked down at my bowl of grits and no longer wanted them. My mouth was
watering for a ceramic boat filled with triangular shaped Wheat Thins and
garlic butter. The thought of an early dinner of fried flounder at the Oaks
made my instant grits instantly subpar.
Two days later, after a full day of seafood and
beachcombing, I picked up the legal pad I had brought with me for writing and
sat down in a vinyl-cushioned lounge chair at the edge of the screened porch. Every
afternoon we had rest time. It was a thing from my earliest memories until we
sold that shanty in 1996. The times for resting shifted daily like a curfew,
but we always rested. Sometimes I was told to lay down. Sometimes, I took a
legal pad to the lounge chair.
Ballpoint pen and a yellow pad on my lap, I rested my head
against the neck cushion and tried to channel my inner storyteller. With my
eyes closed, the entire story unfolded in color behind my eyelids. All I really had to do was obey and write it
down. It took me two hours to finish. I wrote my opening line as rest time was
beginning and wrote the final one as I was given my freedom to go wander the
beach. One neat rewrite later, I handed
it to my mom and told her she could mail it in.
That was the last I expected to hear of that. I wasn’t going
A month later, in the middle of July, I was housesitting for
my friend, Kara, who was traveling with her family. My routine was to bike
over, which was less than a mile, take the mail inside the house, and then care
for her gerbils. The gerbils were a religion in that family. Their names were
Jimbo and Homer and they were the family puppy. On my third day of doing that
job, I pedaled up the hill toward her house until the heat began to push back
against me like an unseen forcefield. When I couldn’t pedal through it anymore,
I hopped off my bike and walked it the rest of the way. I dropped the bike at
the edge of her driveway and gathered the mail to take inside. It was a bunch
of dumb stuff like insurance and bank statements. I didn’t think it looked like
much fun to be an adult. They always got bad mail.
The front door was 6 steps up from the front walk. I climbed
them with effort, still out of breath from biking, and stood there for a minute
thinking about the routine. Maybe the gerbils would be in plain sight and I
wouldn’t have to spend 10 minutes digging around for them. You couldn’t assume
they were in there. I tucked the mail under my arm and fished the spare key out
of my jeans shorts. I was unsuspecting of anything more than little tomfoolery
in the gerbil cage.
When you are most unsuspecting, that’s when you should
suspect. That’s precisely when you need to be wearing a beekeeper’s suit and wielding
a baseball bat. Standing there with their mail dampening into my armpit like an
extension of myself, I reached for the doorknob and was hit in the forehead by
a force powerful enough to be a point blank paintball. I had no idea what it
was, since I couldn’t see my own forehead and I hadn’t seen it coming.
I knew that it had hurled itself from the door jam above the
I knew that its landing on my forehead sounded like a bar room slap.
I knew that it was slimy.
And I knew that I did not want it there.
I dropped my key and the mail and began whirling and
flapping and swiping at my own face. It took too long, but my friend jumped off
my forehead and onto the railing that bordered the square porch. At that point,
as I allowed my heart rate to level out into a safer range, I got a look at
him. He was one of those slimy, sticky, tree frogs, the color of my small
intestine, and representative of everything appalling. If there’s any consolation
in this story, it’s that I surely shocked him as much as he shocked me. We came
at each other like a day of reckoning. I used a piece of mail to launch him off
the porch rail and silently declared war on frogs for the rest of my life.
I have stayed true to my word.
There’s a reason God chose frogs as one of the ten plagues.
I shut the door behind me and went straight upstairs to
check on and feed the gerbils. I was hanging the water bottle on the side of
the cage when the phone rang downstairs. I skipped down the stairs and stood
there at the kitchen table for a minute while I decided what to do. Do I answer it? Is this part of housesitting?
What do I tell a person when they ask for the Pearsons?
I picked up the phone tentatively and said, “Hello? Pearson
“Missy, it’s me,” my mother said, breathlessly. I had only
been gone 30 minutes. I had no idea why she would be calling me.
“Mom? Is everything ok?” I asked. Somebody was dead. They had to be dead.
“Yes, yes,” she said. “You got a letter and I wanted to tell
you about it.”
“I got a letter? Who from?” Don’t even get me started on the
“It’s from the Tallahassee Democrat,” she answered.
The contest. I hadn’t thought about it since she mailed in
“Open it! Open it and read it to me!” I was practically
shouting. And she was as excited as I was. She ripped into the letter and the
phone went silent for a few seconds. Oh
“YOU WON!” She shouted. “You won FIRST PLACE!”
“What?! Are you kidding? I can’t believe it!” The frog was
now long in my past. My future included ‘amazing prizes.’ “What did I win?” I asked. It was a fair
“Well, let’s read on here…they are going to print your story
on the front page of the Lifestyle section of the paper.”
“OK, that’s cool…what else?” Where was the money? There had
to be money.
“And you get to eat dinner one night at the Governor’s Club
with all the other winners.”
What? Dinner at the Governor’s
Club? With strangers? My face fell
and suddenly I could again feel the imprint of the frog as he’d suctioned to my
skin. Dinner at a fancy restaurant. Did the prize patrol remember this was a
contest for people under 60?
But still, I told
myself, getting published would be cool.
Getting published, even if only in the local paper, was cool.
But I had made an egregious, unrecoverable error that still haunts me to this
day. It haunts me more than frogs.
I had neglected to title my story.
They did not call me to ask me what I wanted it called. They
titled it for me.
The world’s worst title for a short story in the history of the written word. The
words were mine. The title was not. The title was so bone-chillingly bad that I
couldn’t get past it. It lodged in my throat like boiled turnip greens.
I was pretty famous at church for about a week. People I
didn’t want to talk to at all came out of the pews and the woodwork to tell me
they had read my story. My story, Sinkhole
Sadness. There were only about 2 of them I cared to hear from.
By the time the “prize” came due, the story and its printing
was a black speck in my rearview mirror. I put on church clothes and ugly burgundy
flats from Etienne Aigner and was dropped in front of the Governor’s Club for
the most awkward dinner of my life. My prize turned out to be a steak so bloody
I began to listen for mooing. We grilled our steaks until they bounced in my
family. I didn’t know rich people and politicians ate them rare.
The only bright spot in that evening, and it wasn’t bright
enough, was the man who served that steak to me. He was nice to look at. His
name was Ben.
Other than that, it was all just a frog to the forehead to
There was never a question about my going to college. I was
going. If I’d tried not to go, I’d have still gone. By my junior year of high
school, I had grown serious about my grades. I was making As and only As. I was
developing stars in my eyes in the shape of ivy league brick buildings. I
wanted to go somewhere special and do something special. My parents wanted me
to go to a small, private, Christian junior college.
I said UNC Chapel Hill, as if I would have been accepted.
They said Florida College, who accepts almost anyone.
They only required one semester there and said we could then
discuss it. They said this knowing I’d stay longer than one semester. It was
there that I met many of the lifelong friends I still have. It was there that I
met Todd. I stayed until I’d earned every last credit they could hand me. And then
I was off to Florida State for my junior year.
I was alone at Florida State. Alone with 14,000 other
students just like me. I lived at home (highly UNrecommended, no offense,
pops), parked my car at a friend’s home near campus and biked to all of my
classes. Occasionally I would run into a friend from middle school. But most of
the time, I walked into and out of my FSU classes by myself.
It sounds like a sad story, but I loved my final two years of college. I hadn’t gotten my way on where I went to school, but I totally got my way on the classes I took. I was an English Major with emphasis in Creative Writing. I took workshops where all we did was write stories and critique each other’s work. I learned specific writing techniques from studying the likes of William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I couldn’t think of anything much better than this.
In the Maymester of 1991, I took Beginner’s Fiction Workshop: Art and Imitation taught by Ralph
Berry. It met from 6-9 on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I had spent the day
before lining up my texts for the class, one of which was At Swim, Two Birds by
Flann O’Brien. The book cover was every bit as weird as the title. I was
intrigued. Because the class started when I would normally be eating dinner
with my parents, I had to wolf down a sandwich and head toward campus by 5:15.
Parking was almost always a bad day in Vegas. I had my tricks, though. My best
parking trick was the back 40 clay parking lot behind the Tri Delta sorority
These classes with Dr. Berry were the highlight of my
summer. That makes me pathetic. I know it now and I knew it then. I loved
sneaking through the Tri Delt property and walking up Park Avenue. The walk led
me past Ruby Diamond Auditorium and to the Williams building, a grand old
structure with brick and tile from 1926. Every class I took that summer was
inside these ancient, ivy-covered walls. I entered the building through an
arch. Every time I did, I felt I could hear whispered stories from 80 years
before. That building was an audience and a cheerleader for every writer that
stepped inside. In my second story classroom, the north-facing wall was
entirely windows, overlooking the fountain in front of Ruby Diamond. As Dr.
Berry laughed about the absurdities of Flann O’Brien, his face became a deep,
neon pink. Some nights, when everything was flowing just right, his laughing
face would flush pink as the sun was dropping across campus. For a brief few
minutes, everything was the same shade of red.
One night, I had pushed my departure from home too late. I
left at 5:30. Tennessee Street was snarled with traffic. I didn’t have time to
even consider my other parking options. I had to drive the absolute shortest
route to Delta Delta Delta, park quickly, and then sprint all the way to room 229.
I whipped in the back entrance to the back lot and parked as far back as I
possibly could. But instead of sitting in my car for a few minutes as an incognito
sorority girl, I had to exit my car immediately and risk whomever might cross
This would be okay. I mean, all I had to do was move with
purpose, blend with girls that looked like Cameron Diaz, and not draw attention
to myself. I did not need to worry about getting towed while I was sitting in a
3-hour class. I could totally pull off the Tri Delta look. I pulled into the
parking lot at 5:53. That gave me 45 seconds to cross the Tri Delt property and
6:15 to make the rest of the trek. I gave myself a glance in the rearview
mirror of my dad’s copper colored 1983 Datsun 280ZX. My hair was going to give
me away before I cleared the sidewalk. It was wearing the humidity like a badge
of honor and sticking off my head like a frayed rope. I patted it and wished it
well and shoved the heavy metal car door shut with my hip. Then I tucked At
Swim, Two Birds and my notebook under my right arm and took off.
Don’t make eye contact. Look ahead. Think like a Greek. Practice your bible Greek. Low profile. It was going pretty well on my speed walk from the clay back lot to the side yard of the fancy main house. I was within view of total freedom. The brick, colonial style house stood dignified, pressure washed, unblemished. It kept its stern and stoic face to Park Avenue like a member of the royal guard. The porch was dotted with Delta Delta Delta girls. I pictured them in my mind, but could not make eye contact. Maybe they’d think I was here to see someone. As if.
I took a deep breath. Focus.
Be the Delta. Put a little swag in your step.
That last one was the game changer for me. Not only did I decide to make a last-minute change in my gait in hopes that I might blend better, but I sped up. To a run. Somewhere between the transition between normal stride, sorority girl stride, and sorority girl running, I kicked a rock. The rock was camouflaged by nothing. It was in plain view, but I had too much going on. Turns out it’s not easy to rush to class while pretending to be someone else and also trying to avoid detection.
When my foot encountered that rock in plain sight, my leg was already in some unsightly position. I was off balance. There was no recovering. I kicked the rock. Hard. My foot stayed back, as if being held by a defensive end. The rest of my body lurched forward. I threw my books like a forward lateral and went down on my face. Right there. Twenty short paces from the Tri Delt girls who had nothing but time for the show I put on. I hit ground with three different body parts. The one I felt the most was my right knee, which was bleeding pretty freely when I stood back up. Now I was going to have to add a 2-minute restroom visit to clean up my knee.
As I hobbled up the hill toward the Williams building, I
never looked back at my audience. I heard my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Haste
makes waste.” How could I argue with her now? I had wasted time. I had wasted
my knee. And worst of all, I had wasted my chances to ever get in tight with
the Tri Delta girls. I had also wasted a perfectly exceptional parking
But I don’t worry. There are sororities for girls like me, too. They’re called Honor Societies. I started one of my own in my mind that accepts school-loving, old-car-driving, clumsy, fluffy-headed readers and writers. The parking lot is paved and smooth and the porch is screened with a swinging bed and Amish rocking chairs. There is a fountain out front with two birds at swim.
I’m a charter member of Pi Trippa Dorka. And there’s something to be said for that.
It was a sultry, sunny day in the middle of May. The kind of day that could land beads of sweat along my hairline as a reward for simply walking to the mailbox in north Florida. It was the kind of day that made me pine for February. But none of that mattered now, because I was above the clouds, inside a climate-controlled cabin, on my way to 2% humidity. We were flying to San Francisco for our honeymoon. I had been married now for 19 hours. For some people, marriages are interchangeable. They turn spouses in like library books over the course of their life until they find the one they like well enough to keep. For others, a honeymoon is a vacation with the person they’ve been vacationing with for quite some time.
Neither of those was true for me.
For me, marriage was forever—permanently permanent– and the honeymoon was the beginning of some things I didn’t know a whole lot about. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
I was nervous. I was as nervous as Jezebel on Judgment Day. I had been nervous since the pizza guy arrived at our Marriott the night before because we had both forgotten to eat at our reception. I almost invited him in as a chaperone, but Todd tipped him and pushed him back out into the hallway.
And so there we were now, over Oklahoma somewhere, with Todd happily partaking in the in-flight entertainment and me sitting in my seat overthinking every single moment of my life that had led to these seats on this airplane with the young fella to my left.
This is why only adults get married. I was 22. That is not an adult.
I’m a textbook overthinker. I’m not good at it or creative
about it. But I’ve been doing it since I was 9, so I’m well-practiced if
nothing else. There in 23A, with nothing but wispy white clouds within view, I
tried to figure out where we were going to be as a couple in 30 years, or 50.
And what I decided was that Todd had made a terrible mistake.
Poor Todd. He didn’t know what he was taking to San
Francisco. He didn’t know what he was chained to for life. I was crazy. I was a
crazy person who had finally learned to wear a little make-up more subtle than
my 1980s rouge racing stripes and who finally had a head of hair that didn’t
cast the shadow of a dinosaur-sized Q-tip. He had fallen for a person who
looked like she had it all together. But he didn’t know. My crazy was going to spill
out like the contents of my suitcase and he’d soon know that he’d married the
horse head from the Godfather.
I set my thoughts aside because a flight attendant was two
rows ahead of mine, handing out headphones for the in-flight movie.
“Would you two kids like to watch Groundhog Day?” she asked,
pulling two plastic covered headphones from a weird little basket. I looked at
Todd. He was smiling and nodding, so I smiled and nodded, too. What a nice man
I married. The flight attendant called us kids.
My fear that I wasn’t marriage material had formed in my stomach and was swelling toward my throat like a gas bubble. What if it was an actual gas bubble? What if I start burping like a frat boy in the middle of Groundhog Day? If I do, then Todd will know. He will know that he has married a fraud. And a burper.
The fears died down a little as I chuckled through Bill Murray’s predicaments on the screen in front of me. I was being ridiculous. Everything was just as it should be. We knew what we were doing. We did this on purpose. Our parents approved of it. My mother had actually begged me not to mess it up. She knew I had some crazy in me. It was all good. All good. I exhaled, as if to clear the last of my emotional toxins out of my lungs and looked over at my partner for life. He was wearing his headphones. His face was relaxed and happy. And behind the round, tinted lenses of his glasses, his eyes were closed. He was asleep. He was going to miss some critical transformations in the movie.
I looked back at my movie screen and saw the flight attendant coming back down the aisle with her little basket. She leaned in and dropped an Andes mint on my tray table and without a word placed a mint on the tray of my sleeping husband. Bill Murray’s alarm was going off again in my ears as I gingerly unwrapped my heavenly patty from its shimmering green bathrobe. Wow, that’s good. It’s like having Olive Garden in my mouth.
It was over so fast. I wondered if the flight attendant
would bring me another when my eyes wandered to my left and settled on Todd’s
tray table. His mint was just sitting there. He hadn’t flinched. I looked back
to the movie and tried to get on board with the crazy hijinx, but I could no
longer concentrate. That mint looked so isolated. So vulnerable. I began to
hear persuasive debating in my ears. He
doesn’t like chocolate. You’ve never seen him eat an Andes. It’s going to go
stale while he sleeps. He’ll never know.
That was the worst one. He’ll never know.
It was all too much. I needed the mint.
I reached over and silently swiped his mint, unwrapped it,
and ate it.
Funny. His didn’t taste nearly as good as mine had. Maybe that’s because I had stolen it straight out. In that split second, I had become a conniving, thieving Wife Bandit and nothing would ever taste sweet again.
Less than 20 minutes later, with the movie still playing
into my deaf ears, Todd woke up. He looked over at me and smiled sleepily. Then
he looked to his left at the stranger in the window seat. That man had a mint
on his tray. Oh no. Todd looked
across into the middle section of seats. There were mints there, too. Then he
looked back at me.
“Hey. Where’s my mint?” he asked, innocently. “Did I get one?” Right then I had a decision to make. I was a thieving Wife Bandit, but I wasn’t yet a liar. I didn’t have to be a liar.
“Yes,” I said and contorted my face into something that I’m
sure scared him as bad as what I said next. “I ate yours.”
“What? Why?” he asked in shock. He wasn’t mad. I could tell he wasn’t mad. But he’d had his first tiny little glimpse into my “for worse” and it was uglier than he’d imagined and sooner than he’d expected. After all, we were still inside 24 hours from saying those vows. How quickly I sold his love for an Andes.
“I was hungry. You were sleeping. I’m sorry.” And I was sorry.
“Man. I can’t believe you ate my mint,” he said, staring at
the seat back in front of him.
It was the first wrong thing I did as a married woman. Almost 27 years, 4 kids, and 6 houses later, it’s still one of the more terrible infractions of my life. That mint still sits on a tray table in my mind as a reminder of what I’m capable of.
Not Safe For Missy’s Preacher. -or- Not Safe For Male Persuasion.
The following tale is one that needed to be told, which likely makes sense only to me at the moment. It is handled somewhat delicately. I wasn’t going for shock value. But it might be just the topic a dude would walk away from at the water cooler. Consider yourself warned if you are either of the above.
One night last week I exchanged a rather negatively passionate discussion with a daughter about feminine hygiene supplies and the fact that she was absolutely, desperately out of them. I don’t mean a little bit out. I mean she couldn’t go another hour. It was 9:36 p.m. I know this because I looked at the digital clock in my bedroom, exasperated, and said, “It’s 9:36 p.m.!” The children know not to bring me any form of crisis after 9. They’ve been warned. For years.
About this time, Brady stepped out into the hallway looking
like a resurrected Patrick Swayze and said nonchalantly, “What was that whole
I paused, looked at him, and carefully weighed my answer.
“Maxi pads. What else do you want to know?”
He stepped back into his room wordlessly and shut the door
behind him. He hadn’t wanted to know that much. And, of course, I knew that.
I stood in the hallway between the bedrooms of my house and
thought through the potential resolutions to our problem. There wasn’t an array
of them. There was only one: go to CVS right then. But before I sent Todd (he’s
a good man), I took the scenic route to a middle school clinic in Tallahassee,
Florida in 1983. It was spring. I was in the 6th grade.
Periods were a bigger deal in 1983, mostly because the
solutions hadn’t caught up to the severity of the problems. For my pain, I was
handed an aspirin. I might as well have swallowed a bay leaf, for all the good it
did me. And for the other obvious problems that went along with a girl’s administration, all the hygiene hunting
in the world could only take you so far.
How a 12-year-old girl navigated these waters depended
largely upon the information and supplies at her disposal. For all my mother
did right for me in the world, and she did a lot right, she got this one wrong.
I knew periods were a thing. I knew Eve was to blame for them. And my dad had told
my brother on the way to church one Wednesday night that someday I would yell
at him a lot when all he wanted to do was play Monopoly with me. That was the
extent of my knowledge about women and their cycles. When it finally happened
to me, in the food court of a mall in Lakeland, I had no idea what it was. I
thought I was coming down with something. Like Mumps. Or rabies. It took a good 8 hours to diagnose puberty. When
my mom finally clued in to what was happening with me, she explained it in brief
and inadequate detail. It wasn’t enough. A girl doesn’t need the Cliff’s Notes
version when she’s crawling out from under a rock.
Two and a half hours in to my new grown-up world, I went to
my mother privately and whispered, “Mom, why is it still happening?” She looked
at me with a mix of shock and amusement in her dark eyes and said, “Honey it’s
going to go on for about 5-7 days, once a month, for the rest of your life.” What in the world? That would have been
pertinent information from the get-go, I’m thinking. I handled it like a girl on her period. I
closed myself into my uncle’s old bedroom with the red shag carpet and bawled.
For the rest of the night. My uncle didn’t still live there, just in case you
were thinking the story was about to get really strange.
And that’s how I started my period: completely ignorant,
100% unprepared, and while staying at my grandparents’ 1 bathroom house with
every member of my family.
Preparation wasn’t our strong suit.
That being the case, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I
eventually found myself unprepared at school, which is a world-ending scenario
for a 6th grade girl whose hair already has its own twitter account
for all the wrong reasons. I was sitting in Language Arts learning about
Hyperbole when my eyes went from bored to saucers faster than I could
mispronounce the word hyperbole. My eyes glazed over the words, “I’m so hungry
I could eat a horse” written on the white board at the front of the room. I
knew I had a problem. I did not know how to communicate to Mrs. E Jones that I
had a problem or get out of the classroom without everyone else knowing I had a problem. I thought about trying to
use my newfound knowledge of hyperbole to ask a covert and exaggerated question,
but the chances of that blowing up in my face were 100%.
This was a conundrum.
I ended up mouthing the word ‘bathroom’ while swathed in
full-on panic and she waved me out the door. Ah, good. That part was successful
enough. I trotted down the long hallway between rows of orange lockers, feeling
almost happy that I escaped humiliation, when it hit me. The bathroom wasn’t
what I needed. That would be skipping a step.
I stopped at the end of the language arts hall to think
through my options. I could go to the office to call home. Or I could handle it
myself in the clinic. The clinic seemed the faster way to solve my problem so I
turned left and walked the length of the admin hallway, passing the main
office, on my way to the clinic door. I paused to breathe, closed my eyes for
silent strength, and then swung open the door. The clinic was a narrow room
that opened up into a spacious square of papered patient beds and mismatched
wooden chairs. The first thing I noticed upon entering was that I was going to
have to step around people to even get to Coach Rollins, who was sitting at a 1960s
too-small desk writing a hall pass for one of the sick kids when she glanced up
Why hadn’t it occurred to me that I was going to encounter actual non-pubescent
sick people in a clinic for sick people? There were 4 in there. Two were lying
“What you need, baby?” She said, looking back down at her
work. There was no place I wanted to be somebody’s baby any less than my school
clinic. Mrs. Rollins was one of two P.E. coaches at our school. When she wasn’t
running delinquent-style games of four square in the gym, she was practicing bad
medicine in the clinic. I didn’t like her in either role. She terrified me. She
had smooth skin the color of a medium roast coffee bean, hair that looked like
there had been an incident with her rollers that morning, and teeth that curled
over her bottom lip like a garden rake. She couldn’t close her mouth over those
teeth. It gave her a deceptive look that she was perpetually smiling. Most of
us knew she wasn’t.
“Um,” I replied, inching closer. Half of her current patient
load were boys. Goodness. I leaned in
as close as I reasonably could. “I need supplies.” She halted her pen mid
signature and looked toward the concrete block wall behind her desk. What’s she looking at?What was she doing? Was she thinking? Had
she heard me?
“Supplies for what?” She asked finally. For the love of Gordon Sumners, she was going to make me spell it out
in front of a boy. I began to think about death.
I narrowed my eyes and thought about tensing up my arms and
legs to try and pass out.
“Monthly supplies,” I said again, through pursed lips. Please understand what I am saying. Please.
“Oh,” she said in full voice. “You need a maxi pad.”
I dropped my chin to my chest and sighed what felt like all the air in my
body. Yes, ma’am. I do appreciate your
sensitivity. She pulled open a metal drawer, with the brash scraping of bad
news, and pulled out a cloth monstrosity with a flapping tail on each end.
“Here you go,” she said, extending it toward me. I shrunk
back in terror. What even was that thing?
It was 2 feet long and in the shape of a life boat. I took it out of her hand
and just held at arm’s length like it was a venomous snake. I couldn’t take my
eyes off it. Neither could anyone else in the room.
“Well, go on,” she said, shooing me toward the bathroom that
was just inside the entrance door. I slowly shifted my gaze to Coach Rollins
and then back to the flapping pieces at the end of this crib mattress. She
sensed my unanswered questions. “It’s supposed to have safety pins but I don’t
have any o’ those. You just do the best you can. Tuck it. Into your pants.” My
eyes became little slits across my face and I blinked back the sting of shame
that was trying to cry itself forward. No way was I going to cry. The heat in my
cheeks could have fried bacon. I took one final look at the pad and offered it
back to her.
“No, thanks,” I said resolutely. That thing was an inflatable
kayak. The coach’s eyes went dark and her teeth formed more of a snarl than a
smile. She was offended. As if she had designed this thing. Like it was her
personal kayak I was refusing to row.
“Well, honey, you ain’t gonna drip dry.”
“Got it,” I said over my shoulder as I walked out like I
owned the joint. “Thank you for the valuable information.”
When the door slammed behind me, I scrunched up my face and
stood there in defeat. Shoot. I wasn’t
going to drip dry. But I also wasn’t going to let that drawer of Kmart
clearance from my mother’s childhood have any stake in my current crisis. So I
turned back the way I came and entered the main office where a phone was
sitting just out of reach from the chest-high counter. The school secretary
glanced at me and raised her eyebrows, inviting me to speak.
“May I use the phone please?” I asked, setting my clinic
attitude aside very briefly. She reached for the phone dubiously, looking me
square in the eyes like the suspect I wasn’t.
“Is this an emergency?” she asked.
One hundred and seventeen different answers to that question
flooded my mind. I almost drowned in them. I settled on just one.