Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Boy Who Walked Backwards...

Yesterday, barely visible through the wet fog, I caught him out of the corner of my eye. A brownish-gray coat hung to his small waist, while worn blue jeans striped his legs. All around him, other kids skirted to the bus, stiffened legs moving at triple time, miniature backpacks bouncing behind them.

He paid them no attention, moving backwards as if in slow motion. Tilting his head one way, and then another--but not in the way people tilt their heads when they're trying to keep rhythm. He tilted his head the way we do when our eyes are wide open and they see something brilliant.

I paused at the stop sign to observe him. His arms swayed like a monkey and he walked on his tip toes, weaving from one side to another with the carefree nature of a one-year old who just learned how to walk.

I sat for only a minute or so. Headlights blinked in my rearview mirror and the glare of iridescent bulbs jolted me. And so I pressed the gas and left him.


An uncontrollable grin crept from the base of my face. The kind of grin which tends to manifest when joy pries open your lips and hops onto your tongue and plunges into your body with the same commitment as an adventurous kid approaching a zipline.

I wish so badly I could have bottled up that joy. I wish so badly I could have captured that kid's curiosity and carefree meandering. I wish I could have dove inside his six-year old brain and saw the world through his sweet, imaginative eyes. But mostly, I wish I could have encouraged him to hold on to his simple joy, and to continue wandering outside the lines.

Since I couldn't, he inspired me to dust off the cobwebs, to claw my way to that spirit nestled deep inside me. To find the little girl who used to wander aimlessly against the grain, tripping over raised edges, shaking her hands with reckless abandon, lost inside her own imaginative fantasies that played upon the reel of real life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

As Soon As We Get Past This...

"Life is just a series of just as soon as I get past this or thats," my friend's mom said in casual conversation.

Seemingly simple.

But it got me thinking.

A quick scan of the last twenty some years produced a montage of moments--

Moving in 4th grade
The death of both grandfathers
A year-long mystery illness in 6th grade
Frog dissections in 7th grade--heck, middle school as a whole
9 years of conditioning sprints
11 years of projects and exams
Applying to college
Waiting for graduation
Overcoming injuries, surgeries, and physical therapy
Enduring heartbreak
Interviewing for my first real job
Moving to New York City
Surviving September 11, then looking for job back home
Choosing to leave NYC and readjusting to life in Ohio
Overcoming Dengue Fever
Recovering from a car accident
Training for a marathon
Recovering from more injuries
Applying to grad schools
Moving to Cleveland to go to grad school
Experiencing loneliness and fly infestation in my apartment building
Racking up more loans, more heartbreak, and hours without sleep
Getting through my first few years of teaching
Adding car payments to my budget
Getting over my grandmother's death
Experiencing more heartbreak, more injuries, and another surgery
Enduring more disappointments, more loneliness, and a super long power outage
Getting past the beginning stage of a relationship so I could figure out if it was going to last
Wanting to be engaged
Planning a wedding
Surviving our first year of marriage in a 740 square foot condo
Trying to sell our condo and coming up with a down payment for a house...

I stopped.

Wanting pain to end, waiting for life to begin, figuring out how to handle each new bend in my road.

Sure, every situation struck me acutely in the moment it attacked. Digging, twisting, wrenching me to worry and fear and wish. At each peak, my challenges/worries each assumed a post as gatekeeper, holding me back from the life I waited my whole life to embrace, a life I imagined others were experiencing, a life I wanted so desperately to get.

Laura, once you get beyond this, I told myself, you will see the beacon of light, you will tap your toes on your very own yellow brick road where the air will reek of greener grass, and the skies will be occupied by chirpier birds, and every empty inch of your heart will be flooded with love. Don't stop believin', my little inner voice told me, because if you hang in there--if you keep pursuing the happiness you learned was yours when you memorized the preamble in 8th grade--you will eventually find it. Just you wait...

Until what? Until I reach the next level? Until I kill all of the monsters and collect all of the coins? Until I find more obstacles, more difficulties, more dreams, more goals, more challenges, more life? More chances to ignore the beauty of the life that holds me? Or the opportunities to be thankful for how lucky I am? More wishing past something I will eventually yearn to have back when I find myself short on heartbeats and low on breath?

Of course I look forward to the day when J and I have a fire to cuddle beside, when we don't have to clean our house every morning and pretend like no one lives here. When we can put off dusting and vacuuming one more day so we can watch our baby giggle and play catch with our dog. When we can have space for family and friends to stay with us, and a place to go outside and grill.


My friend's mom is right. I should also be thankful for today. For fewer square feet to clean. For the thirty-some bars and restaurants within blocks of our front door. For Saturday and Sunday mornings when we can sleep as late as we want, when we can go out to dinner without hiring a babysitter, when we can travel to visit family without worrying about a pet, or packing a baby bag, or hoping our child won't burst into tears on the airplane.

Never again will we be in this space in our lives. Never again will we have so much freedom, so much promise, so much life to live--so we need to make sure we enjoy the freedom we have. We need to live each space in our lives--joyful and difficult. We need to stop dreading weather reports, grunting over repair bills or complaining about not having enough space. We need to be happy for the space we do have. We need to find the good lacing each challenge, the opportunities that peek through the cracks of each struggle. We need to be happy for what each gatekeeper teaches us, without focusing our eyes on the mythical road that rests beyond the reach of his trident.

My friend's mom is right. Life is a series of as soon as we get past this'es. And so today, I took a little peek around our condo, and filed its details deeply into my memory. That way, when J and I sit down with our grandkids, we will be able to adequately tell them about the incredible year we spent in the Short North--and every bit of it will be true.

Then, I laughed at previous traumas and played out what came next. I saw where I grew strong, where I became wiser, where I should have paused and enjoyed every single heart beat of anticipation, or quelled any unnecessary fear. I realized that I have the power to triumph over any challenge I face, but that power must be renewed every single time I take a breath. It's me who must define my attitude, and it's me who must embrace my life.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Will Always Love You

Her name occupied the space at the top of a Taboo card last night; this morning, Alexandra sent me a text message informing me that she was gone.

I've seen a few posts here and there on Facebook--mostly from women my age. The smattering has been surprisingly minimal. Considering everything else garnering attention on social media, her virtual absence makes me sad.

Of course she fell from grace--like so many other people who have become larger than the life they could live--but haven't we come to expect that? Haven't come to expect that no one is ever as fantastic as we secretly dream they are?

I remember seeing her with Bobby Brown and wondering why someone so pretty and pure and talented would ever pick him. I remember hearing about the cocaine habits, the police reports, and the abuse--but by then, Hollywood's many facades had already made me jaded. By then, I stopped aiming to become like those I proclaimed to admire.

Instead of wallowing in disappointment, I wallowed in my memories. Instead of expecting my heroes to be more than their talent, I appreciated their gifts. Instead of listening to media gossip, I listened to their music, to their speeches, to their talents.

She, like many others--Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and President John F. Kennedy--all at one point took residence on a pedestal in my heart. Then, one by one, their indiscretions poked holes in my innocence, sending each of them tumbling to the floor. Even though their personal behavior saddened me, at one point, I still admired them. I still wanted to dance like The King of Pop, play hoops like Air Jordan, and speak commandingly like JFK.

And in my room, as I twirled atop green carpeting and bathed myself with the sunshine blazing through my window, I wanted to be as beautiful, as bold, and as earth-shattering as Whitney Houston. I wanted my lungs to explode with authority, my curls to bounce wildly with every step, and my shoulders to tilt with the same convincing confidence Whitney exuded from the cover of my favorite album.

I remember sneaking into my mother's cassette collection and stealing Whitney. I remember sealing my door, repositioning my mirror and cuing up her voice.

Clock strikes upon the hour
And the sun begins to fade
Still enough time to figure out
How to chase my blues away
I've done alright up till now
It's the light of day that shows me how
And when the night falls the loneliness calls.

Without looking deeper into her words, without recognizing what that loneliness might do to her, I leaned forward into my mirror, rocked my shoulders, pumping them a little before marching in a circle and spinning back around. Throwing my arms out toward the mirror, I focused my eyes on the sea of adoring fans resting just beyond the glass.

Oh! I wanna dance with somebody
I wanna feel the heat with somebody
Yeah I wanna dance with somebody
With somebody who loves me

...Don't cha wanna dance say ya wanna dance don't cha wanna dance?
Don't cha wanna dance say ya wanna dance--uh ha...
with somebody who loooooves you...ohhhhh!

Then, I collected myself. Cuing up "How Will I Know." I set my feet in position. I gazed down at my toes. And I inhaled and began again.

The song didn't matter--I loved them all. Her voice lit fire under my feet, and because of that, it was always about the choreography.

I knew my limitations. I knew I couldn't sing, but with Whitney drowning me out in the background, no one--not even the people in the mirror or Monk, the stuffed monkey on my bed, could hear my disastrous pitches.

And so I danced and belted and pulled back my shoulders. I popped my hips and marched around the room. I jumped on top of my bed, and pulled my hairbrush up to my lips, rocking out to Whitney Houston with every ounce of energy residing in my soul.

For several years of my young life, Whitney Houston was a goddess.

And sadly, just like the Gods and Goddesses who spanned the pages of Greek and Roman mythology, she thought she was immortal; she thought she could live forever indulging in the life she wanted to live. Unlike the gods and goddesses who assumed the spotlight in ancient texts though, Whitney eventually hit her limit.

I thought she learned her lesson before it was too late--at least that's what it seemed like on Oprah. But she was human after all. When she set down her microphone, when she took off her gown, when she let down her tussles of hair--she was just a woman. Full of pain and fear and insecurity. Imperfect, lonely and real.

But no matter her flaws, she could sing. She could command the room with her beautiful face, and she could incite goosebumps with her electrifying voice. She was the first strong, bold and confident woman I remember ever seeing on stage. And her cassette tapes inspired some of the most treasured moments of my childhood.

And so, Whitney, it doesn't matter to me why you died, or how you lived. No, I am just thankful for what you gave. For what you started. For what you helped me create. And because of all of that, I will always love you.

Rest in Peace, Whitney Houston.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Quite Nice

I have to admit something.

Yesterday morning when I crept to my car, I actually enjoyed seeing snow--white tipped trees, fluff on the sidewalk grass, crystalized formations on my windshield.

As much as I've traditionally despised winter--as much as I usually complain about it and curse it--I'm conditioned to expect it, to tolerate it even. I'm conditioned to find my own sense of brightness beneath dreary, gray skies. I'm conditioned to hide my silhouette inside bulky sweaters, and tuck my toes inside thick, warm boots. Heck, I'm conditioned to complain about blahness and coldness and misplacing my mittens.

But this year, I haven't been able to do any of that. This year, I've spent my time waiting. Waiting for the inevitable explosion of white ice. Waiting for the gruesome gust of coldness. Waiting for the 60 degree days and the sunshine skies to shatter and break like glass across the earth's harsh floor.


And missing out on the sharp brilliance of the present. A present I would have appreciated a thousand times more if I stopped to consider the possibility that once the very thing I have been dreading arrived, it would actually be quite nice.

Monday, February 06, 2012

War on Women

I really try to keep my blog fairly apolitical.

Try as I might to avoid politics, I realize it's inevitable that some of my beliefs will seep into my writing. It's inevitable because sometimes--like on nights like tonight--those beliefs literally set my fingers on fire.

When I sat to write today's entry, I made a valiant effort to hopscotch down a few paths. All of those attempts either resulted in a blinking cursor or a tangent related to the recent legislation President Obama supported.

And so tonight, politics it will be. Please know that I realize this is a horrendously dangerous topic to tackle, and I am sorry if I offend you. If you don't share my political beliefs, I beg you to please stop reading now. I beg you to forgive my brief indulgence. I beg you to return tomorrow when I will tackle something far less divisive. For now though, my brain is in desperate need of venting.

On Sundays, when J has to work through the morning lineup of political talk shows, we DVR them so we can watch them together. He was on all weekend, so our dinner tonight happened to be serenaded by the blatherings of David Gregory and Fareed Zakaria, complete with interviews and round table discussions with Newt Gingrich, Michael Bloomberg, Mitch Daniels, Deval Patrick, Xavier Becerra, Rachel Maddow, David Brooks, Alex Castellanos and David Remnik.

As you can imagine, the discussions were red hot.

Before I dive into my venting, I'd like to preface my entry by saying that I appreciate hearing arguments even if I disagree with them. I love how they make me think and I love the bickering and debating which invariably manifests from tossing strong-willed, fairly articulate and fundamentally different people into the same conversation.

Not only do I love it, J loves it too, and we love it even more when we get to watch it together. In fact, we live for our Sunday morning vacation from chores or work, because it gives us the chance to solidify what we think, to challenge what we previously believed, or to consider issues for which we have absolutely no opinion. And I especially love when J pauses the show, when we fill our quiet condo with talk about the absurdity or the brilliance of the words we are hearing.

Tonight, when they talked about the war on religion President Obama waged when he demanded that insurance plans cover contraception, I tried to maintain an open mind, but I felt my internal thermostat continue to rise. My cheeks flushed, my stomach churned, my palms filled with puddles of sweat.

"You're scaring me," J said as he watched me curl my legs beneath my butt, and nervously swap one fingernail for another, chewing like a deranged drug addict.

"I can't believe what they're saying. I am teaching the civil rights movement right now. I'm discussing inequality in class, and I'm listening to an educated person tonight--a person whose words, if reapplied, could conceivably appear on the history pages we are reading."

"I know," he said back to me, staring with the same disbelief.

"I had to pay $80 for birth control when I was in grad school. After college, when I stopped playing competitive sports, my body waged war on me. I was in tremendous pain one week, every single month. When my doctor prescribed birth control, she changed my life. I could function; I felt human. If some of these men who see birth control as a war on religion actually felt what some women feel each month, this would not be an issue. I wasn't preventing birth when I was working 18 hours a day to become a teacher. I was spending $80 a month just so I could get out of bed and function in my job. It was absurd for me to spend that much money, but I went to a small college who took part in a graduate school insurance consortium, and no matter who I complained to, they wouldn't cover it. Viagra--yes. Birth control--no."

J nodded his head.

"They are waging a war on women!"


"I understand that the Catholic church does not believe in birth control. I understand that the Catholic church has firm standards and rigid rules. I understand all of this because I am Catholic. And I don't believe the actual church should have to pay for a policy that funds something they bitterly oppose.


The actual church does not have to follow these laws. The affiliated businesses, on the other hand, should. I recognize Catholic organizations provide charity, but so do a lot of secular businesses and those businesses are not exempt from following laws for which they disagree.

Breathe again.

"And I can't believe Newt Gingrich is leading the charge on this. What about the the affairs he's pursued or the adultery he's committed or the wives he hasn't stayed with when they were sick? His decisions have been anything but Christian exemplars. And now, he asserts a pious position?! A war on religion? In a secular society?

We finally have legislation that takes women's health into consideration and it's being twisted into a war on religion. I wonder what the bishops he is quoting have to say about his lifestyle. You have got to be kidding me."

J sat nodding, listening.

"A lot of people agree with him," he said.

I strained for air. I tried to imagine how. I really did. But I couldn't.

When I heard the NPR story declaring that women would get their birth control covered by insurance, I actually squealed. I sat up higher in the driver's seat. I felt like my nation was moving forward. The economy might still be rotten, some of our minorities are still facing discrimination, and poverty is out of control, but this....this gave me a light of hope.

This made me believe I mattered. This made me believe that the fight I started fighting in grad school mattered. The letters I wrote, the "managers" I spoke to, the people who had to listen to me complain about the injustice of their prescription coverage--they were all in the past. And this was the future, a future where women--no matter where they happen to work--would have the right to the drugs they need (yes, it is hard to find jobs these days so healthcare workers in Catholic hospitals or teachers in Catholic schools might have to work there even if they aren't religious).

Yep, silly, naive ole me thought that maybe, just maybe, we finally reached the point where women no longer had to feel dirty when they picked up their prescription, or had to deal with doubts when they mailed doctors notes to complaint departments, or worse yet--had to make the horrible choice between food and pain.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Out of Nowhere...

"My wife told me April was going to be horrible," he yelled as I shuffled down the sidewalk. I had thirty seconds until boot camp, and I didn't realize anyone was outside. Jarred, I turned to identify the voice, and I found a man in his late 60s, walking briskly, 50 paces behind me.

"I'm sorry?" I asked, pausing for a minute as I readjusted my yoga mat and water bottle.

His salt and pepper hair glistened with sweat and his ruddy, round cheeks glowed like a vibrant sunrise. My question provoked a smile and he happily jumped on the opportunity to elaborate.

"My wife has a negative view," he began, swinging his arms back and forth in perfect coordinated rhythm, as he jetted toward my spot on the sidewalk. "She thinks the nice weather will bite us in the ass in April," he continued, nearly matching my position foot-for-foot.

I smiled, slightly amused, slightly concerned about being late.

"Not me," he bellowed, raising his volume and lowering his register four or five notches, clearly commanding a masculine authority of sorts.

"I'm not living in April. I'm living for today, and today is absolutely spectacular," he concluded, raising his eyes like a small child following the trail of a kite.

"You're right," I offered with a half-cocked smile. "Sunny, 60 degree days in February are rare and we need to enjoy them without worrying about April," I stammered out. He met my declaration with a nod and an infectious, full-bellied smile, and then he walked right past me.

I haven't been able to extract him from my mind, attempting to figure out which corner produced his presence on what seemed like an otherwise empty street. Or what inspired him to call out to a perfect stranger, 50 feet in front of him.

Then I traced back through my day. Despite the fact I walked outside this morning without mittens and a scarf, I never stopped to acknowledge the warm breeze. Despite the fact I didn't have to scrape or heat up my car, I never appreciated the fact I could open the door, sit in my seat, and begin to drive without laboring over thick slats of ice or waiting for my windows to defrost. And despite the fact I even removed my coat before I entered my vehicle, I never felt the inner tickle to burst into song, belting "The hills are alive with the sound of music," across urban Columbus; instead, I plopped onto the seat, tuned into NPR, watched out for pedestrians, and engaged in a series of mindless right and left turns en route to school.

But it was an absolutely gorgeous morning now that I think about it. And that absolutely gorgeous morning continued throughout the day. Once I got to school, I spent my early hours coaching a student on his poetry performance--something I absolutely love to do. I spent my morning classes reading funny material that inspired a few laughs and certainly more engagement than the previous two activities, and one of my afternoon classes was interrupted by a student who wanted to thank me for my help on her college essay. "I got into the scholar's program," she explained and then she reached out to hug me.

From start to finish, I had so many things to rev up my engine and make me sing, yet I never stopped long enough to relish the good. Instead, I found myself overwhelmed with concern about the bad.

But then, some 60 year old guy came out of nowhere. Some 60 some year old guy tossed around a few silly words about the weather, and consequently jostled my thoughts about the delicate workings of my internal Doppler Radar. Instead of appreciating the temperature, the young poet, the kids who enjoyed my reading selections, the students who were engaged in their afternoon writing assignments, the 83 year-old partner Laura found for one of my students, or the twelfth grader who took time to come thank me for my help, I directed all of my energy on the few who were off task, on the a few who needed a bit more focus.

As I trudged into boot camp, my steps were stopped by a man who asked me to pay attention. Who asked me to take notice of a 60 degree day. Who invited me to feel the sun above me, to allow the luke-warm air to lift me in his arms, and to realize how many blessings we can see if we could just take a moment to gaze beyond our cynicism.