Up until earlier this week, I had a pot of moldy chili on my stove. Lately, days tend to get lumped together. I didn’t intend to leave the chili pot on the stove. I certainly didn’t mean to ignore the pot long enough for its contents to crust over, but that is exactly what I did.
In truth, I forgot about it. The piss-ant in me wants to call that impressive. That I could actually forget about the huge, orange, covered cast iron pot bigger than my head sitting in plain sight on my stove. Though, it’s only funny because it’s true. I stopped seeing that pot because I didn’t want to deal with what was inside.
Ignoring it was so much easier than dealing with it. Until it wasn’t.
My first thought, upon accepting the pot’s lingering existence, was: toss it out.
One easy trip to the curb on trash day. Done and gone.
Though, with the entire planet currently so sick and diseased, I then thought: adding another thing to the landfill due to nothing more than my complete lack of motivation and commitment is too selfish…even for me.
The Earth has enough going wrong. She doesn’t need my moldy chili pot fueling her sustained dumpster fire.
So, despite my weak stomach and sensitive gag reflex, I took care of the pot. Restored it to full, clean use.
Now, I’m reminded to go about the business of cleaning out the rest of my pots…including those that aren’t nearly as tangible or practical.
Currently, my metaphorical kitchen is stacked with moldy chili pots and staying focused on one at a time still feels pretty damn daunting.
On my 21-st birthday, I was living in Connecticut, going to college, and looking for an apartment.
Financially, itkind of made better sense to live off campus. It would mean that I would have some overages in scholarships and come graduation, my university wouldowe me a check. (That was actually pretty sweet.)
Also, I wanted to play house with a boy I was moving up from Georgia. Socially, emotionally, andtruly financially, this made no good sense at all. (It was actually pretty stupid.)
So, instead of throwing down mugs of green beer (my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day) or getting another bad tattoo in a questionable spot in Bridgeport, I spent the day going up and down the Merritt Parkway searching for the cheapest, most livable place to rent.
And just off (what used to be) the infamous Sikorsky Bridge (when it felt like driving over corrugated sheet metal) – my 1982 Oldsmobile Firenza just stopped. No power. No gas pedal. No nothing. I cranked the wheel as hard as I could to get over to the breakdown lane. I flipped on my hazards and cried.
I didn’t yet own a cell phone.
I knew next to nothing about cars.
My family was more than 100 miles away.
And the Merritt isn’t really a great strip of highway to walk.
So, I cried louder and harder and punched the roof a few times.
After my tantrum I noticed a notebook, then started rummaging through the piles of laundry, books, empty coffee cups, and other accumulating debris that I typically traveled with to unearth a thick black Sharpie.
PLEASE CALL FOR HELP
and stuck the sign in my back window.
Twenty minutes later, a cop car pulls up behind me. I’m relieved and anxious. Because I’m stuck. And newly 21. And he’s a cop.
He approaches the driver’s side – hands on hips – touching his gun. I roll down (like for real) my window.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Oh, my car died. I’m stuck.”
“License and registration.”
“Oh, ah. Wait, but I just need a call for a tow.”
“License and registration.”
“Okay, hold on. It’s a bit of a mess.”
I stumble through my disaster to get to the glove box for the registration. Then I fumble with my wallet.
“If I search this vehicle am I going to find anything?”
I’m thrown by his question. Find anything? Like, I know what he means, I just don’t know how to answer. I haven’t smoked in… months, I think…but I have lots of friends who are stoners. It’s totally possible there’s a bud, or some seeds, or at least resin somewhere…I mean the car is a DISASTER. Maybe? Is maybe what I’m supposed to say? Instead I go with:
“Officer, I asked you here.”
He’s not impressed and again asks for my credentials.
“Ha,” he goes, once I turn them over, “AND it’s your birthday. Your twenty-first even. Have you been drinking?”
Oh my god. At least this one is easier.
“No. I’m looking for an apartment. And I just need a tow. That’s it.”
After a bit more of useless interrogation and judgement on my lack of cleanliness, he finally makes the call.
While I’m grateful to be off the Merritt, and away from the cop, once riding shotgun in the tow truck it occurs to me that I’ll need to call someone…who lives in state, to pick me up.
The only CT number I can recall is an ex-boyfriend’s. The one who’s heart I broke for the boy from Georgia (who would in turn wreak havoc on mine).
When he (miraculously) picks up I lead with:
“It’s Amanda, please don’t hang up I’m in real trouble.”
He doesn’t. Instead he shows up and asks if he can take me out for a legal drink, and I tell him that I have to go to work (which is true) and the twenty-minute ride is painfully awkward.
And that is the lasting gift of my 21st birthday. That asking for help and getting on your way can be painful and awkward. And expensive. And still…worth doing.
He asked me to consider another side of gratitude.
“What if, ‘be grateful’ is just a scare tactic? What if it’s just something that the few at the top say to keep the struggling down? How many oppressed people do you think have been told to ‘be grateful,’ for the very little they have by the very people who keep them from having more?”
I texted back the first thing that came to mind. The exchange in a very early job interview when the hiring manager tried to convince me that I was a fool to pass up an $8 an hour position in Boston (when I was already pulling down a full-time salary (with benefits) at another station) because breaking into the Boston market was nearly impossible…especially for a girl. He made it clear I should be grateful for the shot.
Halloween fell on a Tuesday this year and the night prior our town was struck by a freak storm that downed multiple tree branches and power lines. Trick-or-Treat got moved to that Friday…and Friday was unseasonably warm. Like so warm I swapped out my costume to accommodate a tank top and fairy wings.
As I stood on our front step, Briggs came out – in his Batman costume – and asked if we could take a picture. I obliged. Then Briggs pulled off his mask.
“Mom, let’s do another one. This time with me as a happy Bruce Wayne.”
He smiled wide. A warm wind wrapped around us. And I felt it.
Later, I texted my friend back.
“Gratitude is real but it has to be felt. Experienced. Tonight before we headed out Trick-or-Treating I was sitting with Briggs and this warm wind kind of held us together and with it came this wave of peace. Gratitude. I get to know this. Warmth. Connection. Mother. Son. The fun of being outdoors at night. The openness of our neighbors. It was all at once and all good. I think we trip up Gratitude when we try to force it. It can’t be forced – on others or ourselves. Even when it’s well intended, reminding (or worse commanding) someone to ‘be grateful,’ when they feel wronged, without or less than isn’t helping. But being present to experience true Gratitude when it arises and being a part of creating that experience for others…that just might actually help. Okay, that’s the best I got on this. ;)”
Last night, as the temperature dropped below zero and we sat down for a hot dinner in a heated home that same wave of gratitude washed over me. Over us. And for the first time in a really long time, we said (and experienced) Grace.
My grandmother was very specific about specific things – especially near the end.
Specifically, she wanted me to have a collection of colored glasses crafted in Belgium. While honoring her request and packing up these specific glasses, I came across a long since forgotten silver plated lotus flower candelabra centerpiece.
Likely, from the seventies. I thought.
“Do you think anyone wants this?” I asked my Mom.
“I don’t think anyone even ever knew it was there.”
“Do you mind if I take it home? If it turns out to be special to someone, I’ll return it.”
My Mom motioned for me to pack it up with the glasses.
The piece is clearly mass-produced. Even somewhat common. Decades of tarnish made it almost gritty (and most definitely dirty) to touch. And yet, still useful and very pretty.
Tonight, after dinner, I sat down with a box of baking soda, a kettle of warm water, a small stack of towels and a readied elbow.
Two hours later, she shined.
I think the real ‘wow,’ of Before & After rests in the power of being seen. Before…before love, intention and attention too much is (and far too many are) missed. And after…well, after we see what of course was always actually right there.
I’ve decided that my new-old-silver plated-lotus flower-candelabra-centerpiece will reflect my intention for the new year. To see and be seen, even (especially) through the grime.
It was a second wedding for each of them. They exchanged vows in my Mom’s aunt’s backyard and hosted their reception at my (bonus) Dad’s parents’ camp on a lake in Ashburnham.
I was ten.
As I remember, the ceremony was simple and touching. The bride and the groom both cried – as did most of the guests (including me) – for all of the right reasons. And the party afterwards was filled with actual and figurative fireworks.
After the boat was docked for the night and all of the water skis, floats and sand toys were put away, and my newlywed parents were off to spend a kid-less night at the Fitzwilliam Inn, my new (and yet, somehow forever) Grammy put on the Boston Pops.
She brushed my cousin Amanda’s hair and scratched her back as she told the rest of us grandkids that, the 4th just wasn’t the 4th without the Pops.
I asked if she and Papa had ever seen the Pops live. She said they hadn’t.
Eleven years later, during my senior year of college, I landed a job as the Assistant Promotions Manager at STAR 99.9 in Milford, Connecticut.
This job consisted of such glamorous tasks as driving the station’s minivan (wrapped in bright pink and purple logos and call letters) to deliver cookie grams to local businesses that might be interested in buying some airtime.
I also got to fetch a lot of coffee, set-up multiple pop-up tents (all by my lonesome), lug remarkably heavy speakers to and from events, and file an extraordinary amount of paperwork for an obscene number of contests.
Right before Christmas, one of these contests happen to offer family four packs of tickets to catch a special Boston Pops performance at a venue in Bridgeport.
I’d never asked the station for anything – not even for one of the turned down cookie trays from one of the more health conscious workplaces – but, I knew enough to lead with the story of my parents’ wedding.
Minutes later with a pair of tickets in hand, I called Grammy and asked if she’d let me send her and Papa to the Pops for Christmas.
They’d still never seen them live.
I cried – for all of the right reasons – when she said yes.
The night of the performance my grandparents made the four-hour drive (in three-hours courtesy of Papa’s lead foot) to my corner of New England. We went out for a delicious northern Italian dinner and then I reached across the table and proudly passed over their tickets.
“You’re sure you don’t want to go?” Grammy asked.
“I’m positive. This is like the best thing I’ve ever done. I kinda can’t believe I’m even in a position to do it.”
With that, Grammy didn’t push anymore – she just let me soak up all the good that comes in finding a way to give back to those who give so much.
It was the first time I ever really felt like a grown-up and where I go back to whenever I need to remember that I’m a good kid.
On Saturday, I had three stories swirling around my head as I contemplated this year’s Christmas tree:
The first came from the night prior. When I hung out with my artist/dreamer/teacher friend. Earlier in the day she’d taught her second graders how to make envelopes from ordinary sheets of paper.
The second came from last year. When another artist/dreamer/teacher friend of mine posted on Facebook about how she came to believe that trees belonged in the forest.
And the third came from many, many more years ago. When yet another artist/dreamer/teacher friend of mine told me about his love of English Muffins. How he’d always eaten them. Ordered them. But never once attempted to make them. So, one Sunday he remedied that.
Sometimes, I forget that I (you, we) can make things. That we’ve made all the things. All the envelopes. And beliefs. And English Muffins. And traditions. And nonsense.
Sometimes, I forget that we can make more. And anew.
Then, I couldn’t stop thinking about the +250 year old red oak that recently crashed in our back woods and the other mostly dead, centuries old pine that’s let got of all of its needles and a quarter of its trunk.
“I think this year, we should make our Christmas tree,” I announced on the trip home from the grocery store.
My son and husband were mostly on board.
After putting all the perishables in their respective places we ventured out in our boots. I dragged out an eight foot piece of trunk and Ken used a hatchet to get it down to size.
There were a few iterations but three hours later the lights and garland and ornaments all came into place and our tree was fully and completely, homemade.
I started writing again. With pen and paper. Early in the morning.
Always before sun-up and mostly just by candlelight. That way I can’t really see what I’m writing. Makes it easier to let go and harder to judge (or even decipher) what comes out.
No matter how long it’s been or how many times I come back to the practice, I’m still amazed by how familiar it feels.
My moment of, oh hey, there you are. I know you.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer.
I self-published my first book in third grade and drafted over 100 handwritten pages of a novel in middle school. I accumulated a bunch of by-lines for articles, essays and short stories in high school, college and graduate school. Throughout my career my name’s ran in more than a handful of national credits. I’ve been posting to this blog for…years now.
So, even though it’s not so early anymore and there’s no hiding from the clarity of these typed words on this illuminated screen and my tendency is to minimize (ad nauseam) any and all of my creative contributions…this morning feels like an appropriate time to shift my thinking:
I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. A writer is who I’ll always be. Who I’ve always been. Even when my sentences are not well-written.
PS – Here’s a picture of the back cover of my first book. 🙂
Many of my earliest memories include setting up all of my dolls and stuffed animals to watch me perform.
Sing songs. Introduce and interview special guests. Host my own radio show. Sell salt – kind of odd but when a Cabbage Patch Kid or Glow Worm and I would find ourselves alone in the kitchen, I used to pick up the salt shaker, turn to the imaginary crew (perpetually) following me and give a quick pitch for the common household chemical compound. (Though I never referred to it like that.)
My imagination has always been close by and so has her frenemy, worry.
Whenever I’d get really into play – lose myself in a show – actually feel the warmth from the stove of the Fisher-Price kitchen set. Spin. Laugh. Create. I’d stop. Take a breath and say (never out-loud):
Wait, what was I supposed to be worrying about?
Then, I’d remind myself about an upcoming appointment, or an errand I didn’t want to go on, or a person I didn’t want to see, or a fight I’d caused with my sister or something I broke – and hid.
Then I’d go back to “pretending,” feeling a bit more grown-up having the worry front and center where only I could see her.
The older I got – the more organized the play – the more damning the question. In middle school and high school, while running lines for a school production or running across the field hockey field, I’d constantly (purposefully) take me out of whatever action was helping me let go and ask (never-loud):
Wait, what am I supposed to be worrying about?
That’s right. French test. Being asked out and being asked to keep it a secret. Getting pregnant – even though I’m not having sex. Getting fat – even though I’m 110 pounds. Being stupid – even though I’m on Honor Roll. The Friday night party – even though I’m not invited.
By then, worry felt less like a grown-up and more like a nagging kill-joy. And still, I credited her as the hero. Without her interruptions I may have: forgotten to study extra hard for the French test (that I still didn’t ace), given in to supersizing everything when the team stopped at McDonald’s (which I did, anyway), or not made it into the parked car where he’d push down on my head to get his, after I’d promise not to say anything.
Eventually, I stopped having to invite worry back in because she just never left.
But, lately I’ve been thinking that she’s overstayed her welcome. That maybe I can send her on her way with love and gratitude.
Right before my 20th birthday, I traveled with a friend to Barcelona.
We were living in Luxembourg through our university’s study abroad program and decided to treat ourselves to a long weekend in Spain over midterm break.
(I believe we flew Ryanair, so I think our plane tickets were cheaper than train tickets – which was critical for me because I’d moved to Europe with a whopping $700 to cover all of my costs for just over five months.)
We were warned against staying in a specific youth hostel located in La Ramblas – and so, that’s exactly where we stayed.
I loved it.
We met smart, curious and adventurous teenagers and twenty-somethings from all over the world and somehow ended up at a dinner party at a local restaurant where fried plantains, homemade wine and multiple kinds of simmered meats dressed the table and filled our bellies until the owners insisted it was time to close.
Everyone was stuffed and drunk and as we started for “home,” (the hostel) we crossed paths with an American serviceman who was also staying where we were, and stumbling even more so.
“Someone should really stay back with,” I told my friend. And then, (under the influence) decided that someone should be me. Afterall, I wasn’t legless.
The rest of the group went ahead and the serviceman and I walked very, very slowly. So, slowly in fact that two local (younger) teenagers, after passing us, turned back around.
Even as drunk as he was, the serviceman seemed to catch on to what was happening before I did.
“I’m gonna put my arm around you,” he slurred. “I promise I’m just trying to help.”
Then he started shouting as the teens came closer. “It’s cool, it’s cool. No problem. No problem.”
Before he could get out any other assurances one of the teens knocked him out. It didn’t take much. It was the first time I’d ever seen anyone really hit someone in the face in real life.
I was stunned. Too stunned to run.
I wouldn’t have gotten very far anyway, because the other teen had me down and on the cobblestones before I could fully process – anything.
He was on top of me. Grabbing at my shirt. All I could do was swat back and think: “Fuck no, no, no, no, no. I’m a virgin. I’m a virgin. Fuck, no, no, no. Not like this. Not like this.”
Then, for whatever reason, it occurred to me that my purse was hanging across my chest. Maybe he wasn’t grabbing my shirt. I stopped fighting. Put my hands up. Looked at my bag. Looked at him. And nodded.
He unhooked my bag from its strap and they both took off.
The police showed up shortly after. Helped the guy who’d been punched out – asked me what happened (I didn’t speak Spanish, but did speak French and so did one of the officers) – and then took me around in their car to find the two that jumped us.
We found them. They put them in the back of one car. Me in another, and when I got dropped off at the hostel I asked what would happen next.
They gave me some paper – told me to show up in court the next day. Told me if I didn’t, the two we’d just caught, would be let go.
I told them I’d be there – and then at the crack of dawn convinced my friend to bail on our cheap airfare and catch the first train back to Luxembourg.
As scared and naive and sad as the whole experience made me feel, I’d looked that kid in the face. We saw each other, and I just couldn’t fully believe that anyone involved (from the the drunk serviceman, to the drunk student tourist (me), to the very sober kids who did and didn’t throw punches) actuallywanted to hurt anyone.
Yes, bad things happened. Yes, rules were broken. And, more punishment didn’t make any of it feel any better.
A less scared (more grown) woman likely would’ve stuck around to ensure that the kids got off, and then would’ve gone on to enjoy the rest of her vacation. But, I wasn’t her yet…and I can’t punish me for that, either.
Let me tell you about the best moment of my summer:
I was sitting by a bouncy castle at a rainbow and unicorn birthday party for one of Briggs’s classmates. He was playing in the castle with the birthday girl and a few other friends. I overheard one of the girls say:
“We need more power!”
And then, I heard my son (with complete authority) respond with:
“Let me get my Mom, she’s got tons of it.”
My heart swelled.
I’m super good at calling me out for being silly, small, stupid, suckered and/or sunk. Saying (and even more so believing) the good stuff about me takes effort – like a lot of effort – like way more than I put in most days.
So, when Briggs picked out my Halloween costume, I thought back to that summer day. Took a moment to recognize the good in raising a boy who sees his Mom as a positive force (a boy, who after being permitted to watch Wonder Woman probably five years too early, came out of the theater saying, “So, I have lots of Wonder Women in my life, right? Like you, Omi, Nana, Auntie Heid, Autie Gig, Auntie Riri, Autie Tree-Tree…”), and realized that no matter what, #thefutureisWonderFull.