And Then I was Gone Again . . .

Too often we craft a narrative for our own lives. We convince ourselves it’s true. We take stock and look around at the world. Perhaps we tell ourselves that our own discontent is self absorbed, a First World problem.

But look at all you have they say. Blessed. They like to throw that word around, blessed.

There are tiny moments in which I see my good fortune. In the early morning light, golden, streaming in behind her blonde hair, all ethereal. Her baby breath in my face as she whispers, “Here Mama, you cuddle with my blankie.” She strokes my arm and crawls under the covers. My lips find the top of her head and I kiss her hair, soft as silk. I run my hands over her little warm body and rub her cold naked legs. “Stay under the covers and warm up,” I whisper back to her. She does. I try and memorize this moment. I know she’ll only lay silent next to me for a few moments. I wish we could stay like this all day.

She is perfection at three.

lsleep

The last nine months I have been lost in the woods. I have avoided, burned bridges, failed to maintain friendships. When a mother of small children decides to take care of herself, like really take care of herself, well, some things will suffer. I hadn’t realized that I’d barely kept contact with my own mother, until I flew alone to see her and she choked back tears while she asked me to just “Keep in contact.”

I hadn’t realized.

I sat in my son’s room the other night and listened as he explained in great detail the Lego world he’s endlessly crafting. I looked around and for the first time saw that he really is a boy now. His artwork hung everywhere, his Legos arranged meticulously. His creations positioned painstakingly with Scotch tape, miles of Scotch tape. I listen, really listen to him for the first time in too long. I wonder when I missed it, the transition. Where have I been?

I’ve been here but not really here.

I hadn’t realized.

I’ve been here, pouring the morning cereal and barking orders, packing lunches and loading backpacks, filing homework, getting into my workout clothes while I yell, “Put on your shoes! We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”

“Ten minutes!”

“Five minutes!”

“Get in the car. NOW! Your sister’s already in the car!”

“But Moooooooom!” He whines refusing to leave whatever project he’s currently working on in his room.

The tiny voice in my head mutters, “Stop calling me that.”

And then I am gone.

Off on a plane, again. Other mothers I know see pictures of me on a beach and comment, “Another girls’ trip?”

It is not a girls’ trip.

I sit on my mother’s patio and drink coffee. We debate the election in circles. We try to make a game plan. I watch she and her husband bicker in an adorable fashion. I tease them mercilessly about being old retired people. I envy them. We all laugh. They drive me to lunch in their old Subaru.

carride

We eat Cuban food. Walk the beach. Run errands. Commiserate some more.

At night after they’ve gone to bed I stand at the mirror in their guest bathroom. I brush my teeth. I stare at myself in silence. The weight of it all finally hits me.

Hard.

I push back. I shake my head side to side in denial. “No,” the little voice whispers, “put your arms down and let it in.” Grief comes up behind me and wraps her arms around my middle. “What if I’m just going to have to live with this?” I ask her.

She doesn’t answer.

Days later I sit alone in a fancy hotel room in Clearwater. I watch the sunrise over the white sand beach. If you squint, it looks like snow.

sunrise

“How’s your day?” a friend texts.

“Awful.”

“Call me.”

I call.

I sob into the phone unable to speak. They listen.

“Are you writing? You need to do the damn thing! Get down to the beach. Have you been in the water yet? Get in the water!”

“I have. I was. I had to go back to the room….” my voice broken.

beach_feet

I spend the next twelve hours in that room. I never turn on the TV. I cry until the front of my shirt is wet. I write. I talk to friends. One friend makes me laugh until my belly hurts. The kind words of another make me cry even harder. I hang up the phone and feel surrounded by their love. I cry more. I lay on the bed and stare out the window as the sun slowly dips behind the ocean, families in silhouette playing on the beach. I open a bottle of cheap drugstore wine. I sit in the chair and start drinking on an empty stomach as the room grows dark. I order room service and eat a $30 cheese plate with my $8 wine. I finish the wine and leave the rest of the cheese out in the hallway.

window

I crawl into bed without brushing my teeth and pass out, exhausted, spent.

my_face

Done.

The next day I drive to the airport. On the bridge while stuck in traffic the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen keeps pace with my car. She stays right outside my window.

For miles and miles.

She guides me home.

Hey New Lady Friend, Why’s Your Husband Such a D?

It happens to me all the time. I meet a woman and I like her. She’s smart, funny, kind and down to earth.

Then I meet her husband.

I’m left scratching my head in confusion. “Why is such an intelligent, charismatic woman with a man like that?”

I spent a decade behind the chair. I can rock out a precision bob and do extreme color correction like nobody’s business, but my real area of expertise is women. Over all those years I spent thousands of hours talking to women. Small talk is one of the most important parts of being a hairstylist, if not the most important part. But I shouldn’t say “small talk” because when women are in the salon, therapy happens. You’d be amazed by some of the deeply personal information I knew about my clients. I knew two of them were pregnant before their husbands did. I was also one of the few people who knew that a client’s son was in prison for child molestation.

What did I learn from talking to hundreds of women for all those years?

Most women have very little confidence.

Women will change who they are for love.

Women settle.

I’m not just talking about straight women. This isn’t me bashing men. I love men. This is about women and their lack of self esteem, their desire to please at the cost of their own identity. I watched my lesbian clients do this too. They meet someone new and soon they’re listening to her music, watching her shows and going to her stylist. They would eventually break up and come back to me.

They always came back.

If you’ve ever thought I have a lot of self confidence, this is why. When you listen to this kind of self deprecating drivel all day you start to view it as weak and boring. I began to see it as self absorbed. Come on ladies, get over yourselves.

But I do know how hard that is. I’m not immune to a society that is constantly telling us we’re not good enough.

Here’s what I do know.

If you’re one of my female friends, chances are I think you’re too good for your husband.

We all met for drinks once and he made a homophobic remark about the waiter. But your best friend is gay.

How the hell does that work?

Sure, I mean no one is perfect and we all have off days or suffer from making a bad first impression, but you’re telling me he went on a golfing trip when you were thirty-eight weeks pregnant. You’re telling me that he finds most women’s voices shrill and annoying.

Really ladies?!

Get your shit together. I’m sure he has good qualities, but you have to ask yourself how this happened.

I have a guess.

I think so many of us grow up wanting so badly to be the object of some man’s gaze, that often we date a boy simply because he likes us.

We want them because they want us.

J_says

And here’s where it gets really messed up.

When your husband actually turns out to be impressive, we tend to think you’re a princess. We get resentful. “Oh yeah, her husband does everything,” we say. “Did you know he actually gets up in the middle of the night with the baby? And did you see on Facebook that he sent her away on a surprise trip with her friends? She’s spoiled.”

We get angry. We label you as pampered, and undeserving. Some of us wonder aloud what you did (or do) to deserve this type of treatment.

The truth is we know what you did.

You had self confidence. You didn’t settle. You didn’t win the husband lottery. You chose wisely.

I’m sorry ladies, but this has to stop. We have to figure out a better way to raise our daughters. We need to take a long hard look at “girl’s” movies, shows and books. Gone are the sexist shows like The Brady Bunch and games like Mystery Date, but we still have a long way to go. Look at most of the movies geared toward girls. There is always a love interest.

Sure the end message of Frozen is sisterly love but remember the entire first part of the movie? The part where Anna sings about meeting a special stranger and then agrees to marry a man she just met. Yes, Disney works in a major message about how that’s problematic, but the focus on romantic love is still there. And those two major musical numbers in the beginning? Little girls won’t just forget that shit. They’ll remember that they’re supposed to care about getting married. They get that message loud and clear.

I’m not saying marriage is bad. I’m just saying we don’t do this to boys. The movies/shows my son watches don’t focus on the male character obsessing over a girl. Cody on Rescue Bots isn’t pining after Doc Greene’s daughter Francine. Hiro Hamada in Big Hero 6 doesn’t have a love interest. It would seem silly and forced if he did.

It’s 2016 and we’re still selling this lie to our girls. They’re supposed to attract a mate. Plain and simple. We reinforce the message that if no one is romantically interested in you then you’re defective. So it’s no wonder that so many girls grow up to settle for less than they deserve. We’ve taught them that their value as a person hinges on the desire of someone else.

15_Annie

Me at fifteen, gorgeous but hating my ugly self while obsessing over a boy.

It’s the craziest shit in the world when you think about it, right? As comedian Dave Attell once said, “The ladies have all the power because the ladies have all the vaginas.” Men should be the ones out there peacocking. We shouldn’t be the ones with the perfume, jewelry and make-up on. We shouldn’t be the ones out there trying to “catch” a man and convince him to settle down. Why are men so scared of getting married anyway? Hell, if I could find a good woman I’d marry her ass tomorrow, and I’m a straight lady. Getting to share your home with a kind, nurturing, and loving woman (or gay guy) is the best thing on earth. Sign me up for that whole sister wives thing. I’m down.

I don’t have the answer on how we fix this. Keeping my baby girl from watching Cinderella isn’t the panacea here folks. But I can control how I speak to her about her future, dating and about marriage. So, let’s stop teaching our daughters that pairing up is important and inevitable. Let’s use the word choose, as in “If you choose to get married one day.”

Because ladies, marriage isn’t the prize.

We are the goddam prize.

 

 

 

[On behalf of my deliciously bearded husband I must tell you that he is fantastic. Although he has never sent me away on a girl’s weekend. WTF dude?]

I Drove Away and Left Her There Sobbing

Maybe it was the article I read. The one about how mensuration is a nightmare for homeless women. It recommended keeping an old purse filled with pads and tampons in your car to give to a homeless woman should you see one. Or maybe it was the fact that someone I love and respect very much had recently mentioned a myth so many people believe. She told me she doesn’t give money to beggars because some of them make 60K a year. I gently told her that was impossible, an urban legend.

Either way, something got to me.

I’d ignored countless homeless people on that corner. The overweight woman with the spacey eyes, old men with gray stubble, some holding signs declaring their veteran status. There was the old lady I accidentally made eye contact with and had to scramble to find some money as she approached my car when she mistook my gaze as an invitation. I even ignored the family with the little girl, all while drinking my Starbucks and staring straight ahead at the red-light.

But last week as I drove to pick my son up from school, I saw her. She was standing on that corner.

I passed her and stopped at the red-light. I thought about the purse idea. I thought about how street life would be particularly difficult for women. It occurred to me that it would be damn near impossible to live on the street, begging for money, and not end up prostituting yourself. I thought about her standing there. I felt certain there was a slim chance she’d made it to this point in her life without experiencing the horror of sexual violence. Statistically, it’s nearly impossible. I wondered if she’d have to sacrifice her body today. Would she have to use the only thing she has left as a form of currency? Would she have to spend a few minutes allowing her mind to travel elsewhere, pretending what was happening wasn’t really happening?

I wondered.

There was no one in the right-hand turn lane. When the light turned green I took a sharp right instead of going straight. I drove back around, searching for my wallet as I did. Inside I had a one, a five, and a twenty. I pulled up to the stop sign and looked in the review mirror to make sure I wasn’t blocking traffic. No one was behind me.

I rolled the window down and stretched my arm out, holding the money towards her. I kind of wiggled it around a bit, immediately regretting the gesture, like I was offering food to a dog. She approached tentatively and started to reach out her hand.

Then she looked down and saw that it was a twenty-dollar bill. She pursed her mouth in distrust, her face crumpled and she asked, “Are you serious?”

twenty

Then her eyes met mine, and she could see I wasn’t playing some cruel joke on her. The dam broke wide open. Her head shaking back and forth as if to say, “No no no.” The quickness with which she started sobbing pulled hard at my heart. She choked out, “Are you sure? Really?” with tears streaming down her cheeks. The desperation in her voice is something that cannot be captured in writing.

My eyes burned. “Yep” was all I could manage while nodding my head emphatically.

She snatched the money quickly and thanked me, then hurried back to the curb.

I drove off and saw her in my rearview mirror, still sobbing.

I was wishing it had been $100.

I was wishing I had said more to her. I wish I had told her, “The world still needs you. You’re not worthless.”

After I picked up Oz I told him what I did. Then I had to explain to him why some people are homeless, because this is an impossible concept to a four-year-old.

“But Mom,” he said, “we have to go back and get that lady. We have to bring her home so she can take a bath and sleep in a bed.”

“Buddy, I know. I wish we could do that but she’s still a stranger. You can’t just bring a stranger into your home.”

“But she won’t be dangerous Mom. She’s not dangerous, she just needs our help.”

So then I explained to him what mental illness is and why it is that some people just can’t function normally.

“Well, I know how we fix that too,” he said, “We go get the homeless people and we feed them and let them take a bath and then we bring them to the doctor. And the doctor can give them medicine to fix their brain.”

“I know buddy. I’d love to do that, but unfortunately it’s not that simple.”

“Yes it is Mom.” he replied annoyed, as if I just didn’t get it.

We drove on home. The barren branches of the trees stood out against the winter sky. I was high on the kind of joy that only comes from helping others.

Then I felt dirty in my privilege.

I felt like the rich lady patting herself on the back for attending a charity ball. My kids chatting away, strapped into their expensive car seats, being driven to their big warm house to watch cable TV and eat balanced meals. Headed to a home where they are loved and wanted.

I thought about that woman. I thought about her mother. I thought about the day she was born. I have always done this when I see someone who has hit rock bottom. I picture them as a newborn. I imagine that someone felt joy about their existence.

Then I thought about my own daughter. I thought about how sometimes life can spin so utterly out of control. I imagined my daughter homeless and then I shook my head to remove this image thinking, “No, never never never. That could never happen.”

I know so many people will read this and say the usual refrain, “But she’s probably just going to spend it on drugs or alcohol.”

I bet she is, and I don’t care.

I don’t want to play moral police when it comes to helping beggars. A person, literally begging, stripped of all dignity and pride.

In that moment when I saw her I just wanted to give her one day.

If she’s an alcoholic or a junkie, I bought her one day without the shakes. A day where maybe she could afford to get right and get a full belly.

That’s enough for me.

I saw her and my heart hurt. I refuse to harden my heart towards someone else’s baby girl.

Maybe my boy was right. It really is that simple.