Hope is a Thing that Flutters

My brother and I went to an SAT tutor together.  He’s a year older (1 year, 3 months, and 19 days to be precise) but we ended up in the same grade in high school.  Neither of us are particularly good at or fond of standardized tests because they’re boring, but he was too driven and I was too lazy to study on our own, so a tutor it was.

I remember very little about my time at SAT tutoring.  I don’t even remember our tutors name.  I do remember, however, that she wore polyester leopard print tops and makeup on her hands which were also heavily moisturized in sparkly glitter.  Her house smelled like Playdoh, which always freaks me out, and she really liked roosters.  Rooster blankets; roosters wallpaper; rooster pillows;  rooster plates; rooster statues;  and roosters on those towels that aren’t face cloths and aren’t hand cloths but aren’t big enough to be a bath towel (UGH! Why do they make those!)

While I found myself incredibly uncomfortable by the twin Taxidermy Roosters that flanked the doorway to her sitting room, I was more unsettled by the fact that the toilet mags were a years worth of gun catalogs, Men’s Health, and Chicken Soup for the Soul- which, who writes those?  Give me their name so that I can tell them that I am still scarred by that story about Tilly the dog who just wanted you to pet her before you went to school and you ignored her!!! and then you got home to find out that Tilly the dog had been hit by a car!  I cried at recess when I read that, and I’ll never live it down… just like you’ll never ever be able to pet Tilly again, you MEANIE, you should’ve pet her when you had the chance!!!!!!!

My Chicken Soup aggressions aside… there are nice things I remember, too.  Mainly, the drive with my brother, who’s always been one of my favorite humans.   We would drive in our shared clunker the 15 mile route over to her house in the boonies of Newtown, passing some of my favorite sites:  the Flag trees, about a mile from my house in Bethel; Fairfield Hills, a hauntingly beautiful abandoned(ish) psychiatric hospital; the colors of autumn.  We’d listen to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” on repeat (say what you will, it is a good song), Bob Dylan, and The White Album of the Beatles…. The musical education was probably more important than those silly tests anyway.  I couldn’t have guessed then that things would be how they are now.

I drive past those old favorite spots of mine all the time, since I moved back to old Bethel town.  And most of the time, I don’t notice them, but in the winter months I start to feel the heaviness of the past few years; the weight of the landmarks all of us grew up with has shifted slightly since December 14, 2012; the lives of all those little babies who were murdered senselessly, what could have been but wasn’t, what SHOULD have been but wasn’t.

Things have been hard lately, guys, and I know more than ever that I cannot be selfish – it’s not just that way for me, but it seems for everyone in our little corner of the universe: the unexpected passing of a 25-year-old lovebug; the passing of a beautiful, vibrant 22-year old girl I’ve known and loved since I can remember;  the death of a 23-year-old new mother of a gorgeous 3-month old baby via hit and run; a cancer diagnosis of two beloved neighbors… Just in the last few months.  Sometimes, I wonder, does this happen in other little towns?   At 25, I can’t count the number of funerals I’ve been to, are we all alone in this burden?   Then I find a little perspective in my Facebook feed, as my friends post more and more about their hardships or their friend’s hardships. And I am reminded not to be so self-centered.  I’ve come to realize it doesn’t take away from individual pain,  suffering,  sadness, but rather makes me feel like I have a little purpose – to let people know “we’ve gone through this, we can help you get through this, because you CAN get through it”  or at the very least “hey, I’m here if you need me, and I understand.”

flagtrees

So, I return to the flag trees.   Painted when I was 12 years old, when towers fell and planes crashed.   The flag trees have always held a special place in my heart, I’m sure I have photos somewhere of my siblings and I climbing all over them somewhere (though, as I am moving house, I can’t find any!!!)  Most of the time I drive past them and forget they are there – how strange the way the landscape of home fogs over in your mind.  I found these trees a comfort at 12 – old enough to understand, but not old enough to have people tell you everything; old enough to know your daddy had biweekly appointments on the 71st floor of the North Tower and luckily they weren’t on Tuesdays.   I found them a comfort at 23 when twenty babies, six educators, one mother, and a severely ill young man died.  To me, the trees are hope.  Hope is not always a thing with feathers.

Sometimes hope is a thing that flutters like a flag, or continues to grow.  Sometimes its just some paint on a couple of trees.  Sometimes hope even looks like roosters and chicken soup for the soul.  Sometimes hope is when you say, “I’m here if you need me.”

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I Don’t Want to Hug You

I never meant for this to happen.

This past New Year’s Eve I made a mistake. I established myself as “a hugger” – the person who gives complete strangers hugs in greeting.

The way I see it, there are 5 Levels of Stranger-ness (at Parties):

1.   Randy:  This Stranger is a total stranger.  He probably wants to make out with you and/or your friends…and/or the lampost.  Who is he?  It doesn’t matter!  You won’t learn his name because you’ll be calling him by his Code Name for the rest of the night.  Code Names are often derived from identifiable features, including, but not limited to:  “Lady Hair,”  “Captain Blackbeard,” “Facial Tat” and “Chlamydia.”

2.  L’Etranger:  The Foreign Stranger.  No one knows this person.  You can’t even figure out how he got invited to the party.  Frequently, he is a random French dude (always french) who your friend’s friend met six years ago on their two-week life-changing “study abroad” adventure.  He doesn’t speak – presumably because he doesn’t understand Slur (drunk English) – which makes him seem mysterious.  You can safely assume that he spends more time contemplating the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life than you do.  This party is probably just another vapid gathering of nothings in his existential existence.  He looks like maybe he killed someone.  You just don’t know.  But, does it even matter?

3. Future Ex-Boyfriend:  They say when you know, you know…that he’s going to be your ex-boyfriend one day!

Me: He’s cute!  He looks like he’s going to make me MISERABLE.

Melanie:  Yes.  He seems “nice.”  You might, maybe, want to consider avoiding?

Me:  And steer clear of my type?  Never.  Not while there are RED FLAGS EVERYWHERE!  Silly.

4. Your New Best Friend: When you look into this Stranger’s eyes for the first time, a wave of acceptance that you will be friends one day washes over you.  It’s Friendlove at first sight, and it is real.   Often, you can just outright tell these people that you want to be friends with them, like you did in Kindergarten:

A snippet of an actual conversation I had last Saturday:

Me: I WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH YOU.

Girl: Okay! Me too!

5. Actual Ex-Boyfriend:  This is awkward.  This Stranger is technically not a stranger.  You actually knew them pretty well one time, but hey, the past is the past.  Now, they’re relegated to a subcategory of Stranger.  And you’d like to keep it that way!

Him: Hey.  How are you?  You look really pretty.

Me:  I know.  I would literally rather be in that booby-trapped room in the Temple of Doom with walls that move in to slowly crush me to death than be in this situation right now.  Soooooooooo nice to see you!  Hope you’re good.

6. Ozzy Osmosis:  You basically know this stranger because everyone you know knows them.  Sometimes, Ozzy is your friend’s sibling.  Sometimes, Oz is the friend-of-friends who is living somewhere abroad (NOT to be confused with L’Etranger over there in the corner.)  And sometimes, but only sometimes, is Ozzy The Unicorn Friend: that friend from college whose whereabouts are generally unknown; you’ve been told before that s/he only emerges a few times a year, if s/he even has cell phone coverage again.  The point is:  you know who they are and they know who you  are.  You know they know who you are, and they know that you know that they know that you know… who they are.

And so it was, that in the hours before 2014, a rather delicate situation arose:  I was faced with meeting and greeting an Ozzy and a Randy at the same time.

Greetings are the worst part of meeting Strangers.  They are a hotbed for awkwardness because they require you to read the comfort level and appropriateness of the situation.  Usually, I am quite good at this, but occasionally, I slip up.

ASIDE: It is for this reason that my dream of being on a talk show is also my greatest fear.  I know that when that day inevitably comes and David Letterman greets me on stage, I will go in for a hug while he goes in for a handshake.  I will probably go to kiss the same cheek he kisses, too, causing both of us to do the awkward chicken-bob head dodge to avoid kissing each other on the lips.  I’ve thought about this moment a lot.

On this night, the part of Ozzy was played by the brother of two of my friends.  I had been hearing about him for two years and he had never surfaced.  I was beginning to doubt his existence.  Naturally, upon greeting him, I gave him a hug and said “So nice to finally meet you!” (or some shit like that.)  I don’t think he knew who I was.  Boys don’t pay attention to anything, though, so whatever!

Unfortunately, I chose to hug him almost immediately before I stuck my hand out to greet Randy, who stood waiting next to him.  I watched, with awkward horror, as Randy’s look of expectancy turned to Kind-Of-Sad-Confusion.

Randy looked down at my hand.

I smiled.

He opened his arms and stared at me.

I hesitated.  My extended hand involuntarily retracting.

“What? No hug for me?” Randy said.

So, I gave in.  I did. I hugged him and I thought:

I am the most awkward person on the planet! I am so mean for not going to hug you right away!

But not really, because hugging you is so awkward because I REALLY DO NOT KNOW YOU!

Who are you?

Why do you have the same haircut as Jennifer Lawrence?

Did you just say your name?  I wasn’t listening.  I’m going to call you Lady Hair for the rest of the night.

And I did.

That’s the story of how I became a hugger.

 

 

The Sperm Tie: Adventures in Neurology

I’ve always liked bowties.  Bowties can look dapper, sleek, hipster, or just plain silly.  I prefer silly.  I picked my neurologist based almost entirely on the fact that he wore a bowtie.  He had an “emergency bowtie” on his book shelf.  I thought this was weird… in a good way.  I was pretty sure he, like, knew things, too.

I think his bowtie had a sperm design on it.  I’m really not sure because I couldn’t ask him.  You can’t just ask someone if their tie has multicolored sperm on it. That could go one of two ways:

Me: Yes, I’m paying attention, areas of inflammation, etc.  Quickly, though, DOES your bowtie have a sperm design on it…
Dr. Brainy:  Um… no? These are just squiggly lines with pointy oval shapes on one end.
Me: Okay, sorry, but it looks like you have multicolored sperm on your tie.
Dr. Brainy:  Oh.  Sad. 😦 I’ll probably hate you forever now.

or

Me:  ….does your bowtie have a sperm design on it?
Dr. Brainy:  It does!
Me:  Okay, yes, carry on.

I spent the majority of that appointment staring at his neck like a serial killer.

I guess I should explain the neurology thing:  I have malfunctioned.

On November 23rd, while I was watching Doctor Who and his bowtie save the universe with my friends, I suddenly smudged my glasses.  I couldn’t get the smudge to go away, even though I’d cleaned them.  When I got home, I went to change into my contacts to find that I hadn’t smudged my glasses at all.

The entirety of the central vision in my left eye was gone.  In it’s place was a fuzzy, grayed-out almost-circle, like when someone takes a picture with a bright flash and there is a spot where you cannot see.  I completely panicked, as you do when you suddenly go partially blind.  I can’t see. (Insert alarm bell noises here.) BAD. VERY BAD. 

And so began the two weeks of my life that I existed in a near constant state of fight or flight.  That night, I chose flight.  I decided that it would go away and went to a party.  I stand by that decision. It didn’t go away.

Since then, I’ve chosen fight.  Two MRIs,  four doctors, five botched spinal tap attempts (and one blood patch,)  twenty seven needles, and five thousand milliliters of steroids later, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  Essentially, what that means is that my immune system has gone rogue and occasionally attacks things it should really not attack.  Asshole.  In my case, it appears to be rather fond of my optic nerve (which has since been kind enough to stop being inflamed, allowing my vision to return to normal.)

I debated writing this post for a long time.  I have this really intense fear of people thinking I’m playing the sympathy card for attention, of being defined by it in the eyes of others, or of making people upset.  Really, I would prefer if everyone would just NOT act like anything because I have to live another sixty years with this.  I can go to work, I can get married, I can have babies, I just might sometimes have a little trouble seeing out of one of my eyes (or some other symptom but we’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it.)

I allowed myself a one day pity party.  Clearly, the list of things I wound up stressing about did not include actually having an autoimmune disorder.  I didn’t even make it through the day.  Feeling sorry for myself was so incredibly boring.  Plus, I was on steroids and much more interested in yelling at everyone. Roid rage is real.

The way I see it, things can always be worse, way worse.  I don’t see being diagnosed with M.S. as some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing that’s happened to me.  Now I know.  I know why I get tired easily.  I know that if I ever lose my sight again, I don’t need to be scared.  I will have medicine that tells my immune system to calm the hell down.  And at the end of the day, I know that I’m going to be okay.  So many people don’t have that security.

This is probably the last post I’ll write explicitly about M.S., for the reasons I state above.  But now, perhaps my life and attitude towards it may make a little more sense — even if it was just a post for me to gather my thoughts and make a little more sense to myself.

My Pop always said “Live the shit out of life.”  That’s the plan.  I always liked adventures and bowties anyway.

P.S. Going to see Dr. Brainy now.  PLEASE PRAY FOR MORE SPERM TIE.

A SCANDALOUS HIGH SCHOOL MEMOIR!!!

The following stories are true.  Any resemblance to real people is not at all coincidental.  It’s definitely about exactly who you think it’s about.  Names have been changed to code names that are not subtle.

I get writer’s block a lot.  Mostly, I think because I haven’t ever taken writing “seriously.”  I have always done it to make people laugh or to gather my thoughts in a way that actually makes sense.  “Seriously,” it was always something I did when I had a paper due that morning the next morning.  I wasn’t the best of students.  Not that I wasn’t smart.  I wasn’t lazy either.  I was bored.

I went to Catholic high school.  We wore kilts made of Teflon and rolled the waist hems to make them shorter.  I stopped rolling mine around the time I realized that if I didn’t, I only had to shave my legs up to my knees.  We went to mass once a month in our gym, and as a member of concert choir, I was frequently tasked with set up.  No one can set up a row of folding chairs as quickly and neatly as I can.  It’s a life skill.

In high school, I had a solid group of friends for the first time.  I’m still friends with some of them.  Actually, my brother married one of them.   I felt like a grown up and had grown up things to worry about, such as (ranked in no particular order):
  • Getting a part in the musical. I played Liesl in the Sound of Music before my dreams of being on Broadway were crushed forever by a certain university in New York — LOOK AT ME NOW, BITCHES!…. wait….
  • Boys.  A constant source of anxiety.  As if any of them were even remotely acceptable dating material.
  • Physics class. Totally got an A.
  • Everything. Still an issue.
  • Not getting into a good college.  I did.  I graduated, too.
  • My dog getting old.   He died… as dogs are wont to do.
  • Web MD.  Also still an issue.
  • Being in the same grade as my big brother…

I once had a teacher say to me, “if you were more like your brother, you’d have done better in this class.”  I’m serious.  I am very close with my siblings.  You have never met three more different people.  The people who loved us never made us feel like we were being compared.  But complete strangers did.  I cried about it in the car ride home that day.  My brother said that it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard and reminded me why I really didn’t do well in the class.  I didn’t do well because it was religion class and the teacher and I disagreed on some fundamental issues, like how not to be a horrible person.

Religion teachers and I have a history.  My freshman year, a different teacher, Mr. Matrix, threw a coffee mug at my head.  Let me take you back with me a bit:

Mr. Matrix:  If I wasn’t Catholic, I would be Atheist.

Baby Aislinn (thinking): Extremism.  Love it.

——

Mr. Matrix: Kissing before marriage is wrong.

Baby Aislinn (thinking): Oh. My. God. Yessss.  This will be hilarious.

——

Mr. Matrix:  Women are the cause of original sin.  There is a long, intricate ‘thread’ about this in the Catholic Latin Chat room that I met my teenage girlfriend on.  I wear her hair-elastic around my wrist.  We’re getting married in the fall.

Baby Aislinn (thinking) Do you make it rub the lotion on its skin whenever it’s told, too?

——

Mr. Matrix:  When a woman sits on a man’s lap, she is emulating the devil putting man through temptation.

Baby Aislinn (mutters aloud):  Well, no.

Mr. Matrix: Excuse me?

Baby Aislinn (realizing I said this out loud, figuring there was no going back): That is the most misogynistic comment.  And you said it in a classroom made up almost entirely of teenage girls.

Mr. Matrix: Go to the office.

Classroom immediately descends into chaos.  Classmates begin yelling at Mr. Matrix.

Mr. Matrix: NYAAHHHHH

Mr. Matrix throws mug. Mug misses my head and the girl behind me, shatters on blackboard. Silence.

He didn’t get fired.   I got detention for a week.

Besides getting detention a few times, high school was fairly uneventful for me. I never got asked on a date; wasn’t a star athlete, the valedictorian, or the prom queen; I didn’t even get a superlative!  I’m sure those things upset me then, but I don’t even remember now.  It didn’t really matter to me.  I had friends who loved me.  In the grand scheme of things, high school is purgatory (oh my! religious references galore!)  It is where you wait.

Of the memories I have from high school, the majority of them are good.  I actually keep in touch with a number of the teachers I had and liked.  We’re Facebook friends!  But the memories that I cherish the most?
Setting up folding chairs with my friends and crazy religion teachers.  And that thing with the crickets, but that’s another story for another time.
BONUS – embarrassing chubby pubescent photos!  Good thing I saved my birthday locker decorations!
Image

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Twenty Four is a great number. I like it not only because it is a nice even number, but because two times two is four. If you don’t understand that statement immediately I can’t explain it for you. When I turned twenty-four, I was pretty excited because, as I say, it’s a nice number. Way nicer than twenty-three.

Twenty Three was lame. My first “real” boyfriend broke up with me about six months into my twenty-third year. I say “real” as opposed to “fake” because he actually wanted to waste my time AND refer to me as his girlfriend to other humans, so this was really a step up for me. I assure you that every “fake” boyfriend I have ever had has been a real person who was aware of the fact that they were “dating” me. “Fake” boyfriends freak out when the words girl and friend are mashed together in a sentence in order convey that he “likes” you.

My twenty-third year for other people went well, so it was, at least, exciting. We had some big family changes. My brother got married a month after turning twenty-five, which obviously sent me into a tailspin of inner panic. When the people you grew up with from the womb start getting married and you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up or why boys are stupid, several questions tend to incessantly plague your mind. So, your mind starts sounding like this:

Me: But really, is there ACTUALLY something wrong with me?
Also Me: Probably, you are really weird.

Me: What am I doing with my life? Should I go to grad school? Should I run away to Europe…again?
Still Me: Euagggghhhhh. Too. much. deep. question… Let’s watch Dr. Who.

Me: Hey, this new guy seems to genuinely like me as a person.
Me: Nononono. There must be something wrong with him. What about that guy?
Me: Oh, that guy who texted me “How are you?”? My response was well-crafted. A short, but sweet “Hey 🙂 Good. How are you?” He ignored me.
Me: Yessss. Good. Him.

Me: More wine?
Me: No………………………..Yes.

Welcome to my brain. It’s a weird place. But it’s also kind of funny sometimes. I kind of like my little brain. I like that it decides to like things on fairly random criteria: the number Twenty Four, for example. I’m not sure, but I think I’ll keep it. And here-in lies the problem. What do you do when you like yourself, but the world around you tells you that you don’t have your life right yet? As if you didn’t know.

Well, if you’re me, you freak out, which looks a lot like not doing anything. And a lot like pushing people away. And a lot like bone-crushing anxiety.

So at Twenty Four, I moved back in with my parents. I realize how lucky I was that I could do this. After almost seven years of living in New York City, I moved home, I got a full-time job I actually like, and I still have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on.

On moving back home, some of the pressure I felt to be a “real” grown-up dissipated. Some new pressures arose, however, from not being on my own anymore. Like this:

Parent: Where are you going? What are you doing? Who with?
Me: Out. Not sure. Melanie. She is my only friend here, remember?
Parent: True. What time will you be home?
Me: Stop.
Parent: Don’t drink and drive.
Me: I am getting picked up.
Parent: Don’t drink and drive.
Me: What? I just said I’m not driv-
Parent: Don’t dr-
(I walk away)

Parent: Clean your room.
Me: This is organized clutter.
Parent: It’s being too lazy to put things in drawers.
Me: Yes, yes it is.

Living with your parents automatically makes you a grumpy teenager again. Even when you get along with your family like I do. When I was little and played house in the same room I sit in writing this, I thought I’d have had five boyfriends by the time I was sixteen. When I was eighteen and left for college I thought I’d have my career figured out by twenty-one. When I was twenty-one, I thought I’d be in a long-term relationship by now and be engaged by twenty-six. Because that’s what everyone else’s life looked like.

At some point over the past four months I finally decided to stop comparing myself to everyone else and once I did, I realized like 95% of the people my age have no idea what the fuck they’re doing either.

I’ve begun to wonder whether I’ll ever know what I’m doing and I’m kind of okay with that. I don’t need to have a ring on my finger. In fact, the thought gives me a feeling of claustrophobic panic… similar to being buried alive but, like, nicer. And I don’t need to know what I want to be when I grow up yet. Actively working on it is enough. Because I’m ONLY Twenty Four.