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I love coffee. Sometimes people try to switch my coffee to decaf when I’m not looking. I can always tell the difference. I also like Pringles, but only the reduced fat kind because they crunch better when you bite into them and they don’t leave grease on your fingers. I’m…

About Me
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As part of our quest to support women’s issues, Katana Photography is excited to announce our first ever Celebrating Survival contest!
Having any kind of cancer is frightening and confusing. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Katana Photography is welcoming all survivors from all forms of cancer to participate…

Weekly Photo
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When I was looking to buy my wedding invitations (back in April), I found a lot of designers on Etsy. After narrowing it down to a couple different designs/companies, I contacted both for their pricing list. One was pretty significantly more expensive–almost $2 per invitation more. Which I think all…

Weekly Style
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When talking to people about photography, I hear one phrase over and over again: Kids and dogs are the hardest subjects to photograph.
I, personally, don’t have this problem with my clients…kids and dogs are among my favorite things to photograph. Maybe it’s because I like to have any excuse…

Weekly Puppies
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Last week, Sean and I had our morning coffee on the balcony and watched as the Enterprise shuttle was pulled down the Hudson on a tug boat. It’s on its way to the Intrepid and I can’t wait to see it up close at the museum!

Weekly Coffee

Deck the Blog with Boughs of…

…holly.

Right. So, ok, here we go. Because I am a Christmas NUT and love this holiday so much, I am doing something that you may consider crazy. I’m going to give a present to the first three people to comment on this post. The idea came from Merry of Mom and More (I am a computer idiot and have no idea how to link…sorry!)who got the idea from JerseyGirl who got the idea from another blogger I don’t know, and so on and so forth.

So, let’s recap: You, reader, comment on this post. Then, you, reader will receive one of the following Christmas gifts from me.

1) A poem written just for you. It will be tough since I know very little about every single one of you, but I’m up to the challenge. The poem will be posted here and also be sent to you via email to post on your own site.

or

2) A (used) copy of one of my favorite books. You’ll get your choice of a few, just in case you haveit or have read it. I’m thinking one will be the nonfiction book called The Physics of Christmas which goes into detail about how fast Santa’s sleigh has to fly in order to make it to every house in time, etc. Or you could have a copy the book Grab Your Tiger, which is an anthology of short stories (featuring a story by yours truly), Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, or Lovely Bones.

That is all…Merry (early) Christmas bloggers!

A Redneck Holiday

A Redneck Holiday
A Redneck Holiday
A Redneck Holiday
A Redneck Holiday
I could regale you with tales of my boring Thanksgiving, which consisted of a very healthy baked turkey, steamed green beans, mashed potatoes, etc. I prefer my turkey served in a vat of Crisco, my potatoes swimming in a pool of butter, and my green beans submerged in melted cheese. But, you know, this healthy stuff worked too. My arteries will thank me later.

After dinner, I suited up in a bulky sweatshirt (A GIANTS sweatshirt, which was definitely not appreciated by my boyfriend’s New England Patriots loving family!). I pulled the hood up around my ears and over the enormous ski cap that was tightly hugging my skull. Tucking the frayed hem of me jeans into blue Ugg boots, I slipped gloves over my fingers and headed out with the boys.

I was being taught how to shoot a gun. His dad showed me how to load the bullet into the chamber and the proper way to position it—against your shoulder so that there is no kick back (or something to that extent). Pretty much all I heard was “Blah, blah, blah…aim at the target…blah, blah, blah…pull the trigger.” I have a very bad tendency to get a tad overzealous and not pay attention to important details…like instructions.
The conversation went a bit like this:

Sean’s Dad: Now, you pull the lever back and you’ll see the bullet be shifted into the barrel.
Me: (I put my finger on the trigger)
Sean’s Dad: No…not the trigger, the lever.
Me: Isn’t the trigger also a lever?
Sean’s Dad: No, it’s the trigger. THIS is the lever. It cocks the gun.
Me: (Chuckles to myself that Sean’s dad said “cock”)
Sean’s Dad: Ok. So, go ahead and pull the lever.
Me: (I put my finger on the trigger. Mainly to amuse myself; I know this is the wrong “lever”)
Sean’s Dad: That’s the trigger!
Me: Oh, right. (I load the bullet)
Sean’s Dad: So, now the gun is live.
Me: The gun’s alive?
Sean’s Dad: No, the gun IS live. As in it’s ready to shoot.
Me; (I lower the gun from my shoulder) Oh, so that means, it’s like—
Sean’s Dad: Don’t lower the gun! Once it’s cocked, you want to keep it pointing at the target. Just in case.
Me: Oh, ok. It doesn’t seem to safe though to be yelling at the girl holding the loaded gun.
Sean’s Dad: Now, to aim, you align the front thingy and the back thingy (I can’t remember the proper terms) with the target. Then just pull the trigger.

I squeezed one eye shut and looked through the alignment thingy that was just in front of my face.

Sean: Nice face, hun. You don’t have to growl at your target though.
Me: So, who could this gun kill?
Sean and Sean’s Dad: Who could what?
Me: I mean, what type of game would you shoot with this.
Sean’s Dad: Well, it’s a 22 bullet. It could kill just about anyone, if aimed right, but I wouldn’t go hunting any moose with it or anything.
Me: Wow.
Sean: You’re scaring us, Colleen.

I ignored him. Through the metal viewer, I saw the brown cardboard target. The power I held between my delicate hands was tremendous. My knees shook. This metal thing that was only a few pounds, resting against my bony shoulder could take a life. Whether that life was a bird or a person, it had the power. I had the power. And I liked it just a little too much. My finger wrapped around the trigger like a snake coiling around its prey and I squeezed, gently at first. Then a little tighter, I heard the loud BANG. I lowered the gun and 40 feet in front of me, a tree branch rocked back and forth.

Sean: Hey, you hit the target!
Sean’s Dad: And you hit that leaf! See it swaying?

Oh, I could see it. But that leaf—that leaf never even saw it coming.

Not for the Faint of Heart

Warning: This post is a tad bit graphic. Easily PG-13. If you are among the faint of heart and easily disturbed by potty humor, discontinue reading.

You have been warned.

So have you ever had your cell phone in your pocket and gone to the bathroom just to have it fall out of your pocket into the toilet? Yeah, me too. Only today, I had a small glass bottle of foundation in my back pocket. It fell in the toilet and shattered against the side of the bowl.

It happened as I was standing after going not only number one, but also number two. So, there, amongst my own waste, were shards of glass and foundation glop.

I knew I had two options…I could flush, but I assumed flushing shards of glass couldn’t be good for the potty. Or I could go find my office manager…a woman to help me determine what to do. I decided that attempting the first option would be much less humiliating. And if the toilet clogged, so what? Then I can let them know and pass the blame onto someone else.

So I bite the bullet and flush. I hear shards of glass tinkling against the porcelin bowl and just as I thought everything would be fine, the water started swirling in the opposite direction and the water, piss, poo, and foundation started spilling over top of the toilet bowl and all over my Steve Madden suede boots. That’s karma for you, huh?

I’m pretty much the ONLY girl in the office who wears foundation so I knew they’d bust me if I didn’t fess up. I went to find my office manager to explain the debacle….and she joined me in the bathroom. Her face twisted, horrified by my mess. I told her that the toilet must have already been clogged because the poo wasn’t mine.

“And the foundation?” She asked.

“Yeah, that’s mine.” It was quiet for a moment, so I continued, “I dropped my foundation bottle in there. Then when I leaned in to retrieve the pieces of glass I accidentally leaned on the flusher lever (we have those old toilets with the huge metal push handle thing).” I waited for her response, biting my lip nervously.

Amazingly enough, she believed me and a smile cracked through her disgusted face. “I knew the ‘mess’ here couldn’t be yours. No way anything this big could come out of a girl so small!” Ahhh, if only she knew me better.

So now…I’m walking around and my boots smell like my own feces. And urine. It’s awful. My colleagues all know what happened and everyone else can smell me. If I were a cartoon character, a green-like fog would be trailing behind me as I walked. To make it worse I have to get on the subway tonight smelling like sewage.

Moral of the story: Do not put anything breakable in your back pocket when using the loo.

Successful Query, yay!

As some of you may know, I have been querying agents for a book I finished. My first book of memoirs, a couple of which are featured on this blog. The style of my book is very unusual, as it is in short story format, but the stories are sequential and with a narrative story arch.

I’ve had a lot of success with my query letter and have had all but 3 agents request to see partials or fulls of my manuscript. So far, I have yet to hear back, but my fingers and toes are crossed! I thought that perhaps, you all would want to see an example of one letter I sent out to a senior editor at Citadel Press (no, she’s not an agent, but I figured what the hell…it couldn’t hurt). The writing in my letter was very stylized and the type of format that will either be loved or hated by those reading it. I guess my mindset was that since most of my book was written in this style, if they didn’t like it, better to weed them out early. And since there’s no way to please everyone, I took a risk, hoping to grab the attention of the agent and/or editor most like myself with a similar sense of humor.

So…here’s my letter with one response (from the editor):

Re: I FORGIVE YOU…(AND OTHER APPALLING LIES)

Dear Ms. *********,

I love coffee. Sometimes people try to switch my coffee from caffeinated to decaf. I can always tell the difference. I also like Pringles, but only the reduced fat kind because they crunch better when you bite into them and they aren’t as greasy. I’m an actress sometimes, a photographer rarely, a producer most of the time, and a friend always. But seriously, and yes I can be serious, I consider myself a work in progress. I believe if you fall asleep at night the same person that you were in the morning, you might as well have stayed in bed. Life will kick you in the balls, but I kick back harder. I am a dreamer. I am a romantic. I am pragmatic. I am contradictory. I am who I am and I love who I am. I love my family, my friends, my life, and every crusade I’ve fought to get where I am. Although it’s been proven that caffeine is addictive, stunts your growth, and is bad for your teeth—I like it. And I’ll never allow anyone to steal the caffeine from my coffee. My book chronicles the important, the funny, the sometimes life-changing moments I have experienced. These are my stories. These are my memoirs. These are the reasons I became the woman I am today.

My memoir, I Forgive You…(and Other Appalling Lies), chronicles the groundbreaking experiences of my life. I use humor as my defense in the face of every hardship. From the first time I was dumped to my battle with cervical cancer (and HPV), you accompany me on the stories (large and small) of my life that have made me the woman I am today. And in spite of everything, I continue searching for a love that will curl my toes and a man similar to the coffee I drink each morning: Tall, Dark, Delicious…and will keep me awake all night long.

I read about you on Citadel Press’s website. After seeing that you are a senior editor for genres such as humor, memoirs, and narrative non-fiction, I decided to send you a query letter. I’m young, ambitious, and I guarantee that I will be a published author within two years.

What gives me an edge? Well, my current boss is a celebrity, an amazing writer, and extremely supportive of my efforts. Her name is Linda Ellerbee. I currently work as her associate producer for Nick News on Nickelodeon. My writing career began at age six when I started creating stories to accommodate my wild imagination. My favorite was about an angel whose job was to watch over a little orphan girl. I am a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, with a BFA in Photography and have been a regular writer for TheTruthMagazine.com and a regional magazine called Chesapeake Pet. Most recently, I had a short story published in a book of anthologies, GRAB YOUR TIGER, which was released in April of 2007.

I’d be happy to send you a complete manuscript for your review. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Colleen Katana

Future Best-Selling Author

Her Response:

Dear Colleen,

Thank you for this most unusual and entertaining query letter. Things are a little crazy leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, but I’ll be happy to take a look at the manuscript afterward. Feel free to send it along.

All Best,
***********

Chocolate on the Treadmill

Who would like to go ice-skating in Hell with me? Anyone? Bueller?

Well, it’s official. Hell has frozen over and I, Colleen, have a boyfriend. This girl is officially OFF THE MARKET.

So, the boy, Sean, just moved to New York from Los Angeles to be with me. And things have been going great. It’s like we’re in this ethereal bubble of love and happiness. People stare at us, wanting to vomit, jealousy oozing from all orifices as we walk down the street hand in hand, staring lovingly into each other’s eyes.

Last night, our love bubble popped. The stress of two people living under the same 600 square foot roof (and a dog…soon to be two dogs once we bring his back with us after Thanksgiving) became too much.

I came home from work, tired, achy, and cranky. I’m not an avid exerciser, but Sean is. For this reason, I joined the local gym so that we could bond over having rock hard abs and pecs that could poke your eyes out. I had been going 4 times a week, approximately; two work nights and on the weekends. My body has never been more sore. It’s as though the devil himself reached his fiery little hands through my skin and ripped apart each quad, each bicep, each tricep, each hamstring, each calf…you get the picture. By the middle of this week, I could barely move, let alone work out. The simple act of laughing caused so much pain that if I even got the impression someone at my office was about to tell a joke, I would just turn and walk away. So anyway, I got home from work, and on my way picked up paper towels and some Halloween candy that was on sale. I was so excited about the M&M’s and Reese’s Cups I bought. I hadn’t even seen chocolate in two weeks let alone eaten any and it sat in the plastic bag I carried with an aura of light surrounding it.

I got home, placed the bags on the counter and he immediately saw the candy, diffusing the flame of excitement that burned within me. Here’s how the conversation went:

Him: Candy?
Me: Not just candy–but Reese’s!
Him: Great.
Me: What? It was on sale.
Him: Do you KNOW how much sugar is in that?
Me: No. Is it enough to make YOU sweeter. If so, you should eat some pronto.
Him: I’m being serious.
Me: So am I.
Him: We have enough sweets in the house.
Me: Such as? Because the sweetest thing I’ve had these past two weeks is yogurt with fruit.
Him: There’s a lot of sugar in some fruits.
Me: Yeah, in Delusionalville where you currently reside.
Him: And you have honey mustard. That has a ton of sugar.
Me: It’s not like I pour the honey mustard directly into my mouth and drink it–a tiny bit goes on my sandwiches. HEALTHY sandwiches.
Him: It’s still a lot of sugar.
(I take a bite of the Reese’s cup. By his horrified face, this is apparently the equivalent to making out with a stranger at a bar right in front of him)
Me: Mmmm, this is SO good. I can just hear that sugar being stored as fat cells.
Him: You’re not funny.
Me: Yes I am. Maybe not in Delusionalville where you currently reside.
Him: You used that joke already.
Me: But you didn’t laugh. I thought I’d try it again.
Him: Nope, still not funny.
Me: Are you sure? Cause it may be–outside of Delusional–
Him: Stop! So, are we going to the gym tonight?
Me: Seriously?
Him: Well, I’m going.
Me: I’m only going if I can bring the bag of M&M’s.
Him: YOU CAN’T EAT M&M’S AT THE GYM!
Me: Then I’m not going. And I’ll eat them here. On the couch. And I’ll purposefully drop one on your side so that it melts tonight while you’re watching tv. So what is it? M&M’s on the treadmill or M&M’s on the couch?
Him: The gym. But we’re walking in seperately and I’m pretending I don’t know you.
Me: (under my breath) Good luck with that.

TEARS, FEARS, AND THOSE PRE-SCHOOL YEARS

TEARS, FEARS, AND THOSE PRE-SCHOOL YEARS
TEARS, FEARS, AND THOSE PRE-SCHOOL YEARS
TEARS, FEARS, AND THOSE PRE-SCHOOL YEARS
_____________________________________________________________
Occurred: March 2007

Her tiny teeth crunched away at the Cheerios in the bowl in front of her. To my right sat Maddie, humming an indiscernible tune while munching, milk and grainy bits of wheat floating in her mouth suspended between two rows of teeth.

“Finish up, kiddo,” I stood, bringing my own bowl of empty cereal to the sink, “we need to get you to ballet.”

“Ballet!” she shrieked and shoved another spoonful into her mouth. Dried, crusty milk was resting on the corners of her lips and she tried to wipe it away with the back of her hand.

“And if you finish soon and dress quickly, we can grab ice cream on the way.”

“Ice cream! Ballet! Yaaay!!!!” She lifted the entire bowl to her mouth and drank the rest of her cereal with one big gulp.

Well, that’s one way to finish, I guess.

Eliza was attending a Saturday class at a local University and needed me to take care of the Mad-ster for the day. I was, of course, happy to find an excuse, any excuse, to steal her for the day and bond with my favorite 4 ½ year old.

We stretched the pink tights over her legs and threw on the leotard over that. Then, I layered her in jeans and warm sweater. She buttoned her peacoat as I tied a scarf around her neck and pulled a hat down over her ears. We left their Astoria home hand in hand and walked in the brisk winter to the nearest Baskin Robins.

Maddie skipped beside me, three of her steps equaling one of my own. She hopped around, babbling on and on about how excited she was about getting ice cream. Her little fingernails scraped my palm. “Mommy never lets me eat ice cream. Even when I’m a good girl and I clean my room and I am quiet and help her bake Mrs. Annabelle cupcakes…I still don’t get to eat ice cream.”

I looked down at her, not able to see her face; only the top of her pink and white ski hat. “Why doesn’t mommy allow you to eat ice cream?”

She stopped skipping and looked up at me, her big brown eyes so dark I could barely distinguish her pupils from the irises.

“Because I’m allergetic to milk.”

Crap. How could I forget that she was allergic milk?

“Ya know, Maddie, it’s really cold for ice cream. Wouldn’t you rather have hot chocolate with soy milk? Yum, I know that’s what I want!”

In actuality, I hate anything made of soy. I find soy milk’s odd yellow color disgusting and would rather continuously poke myself in the eye with the dull point of a pencil than taint my hot chocolate with something as vile as soy milk. But I also realized that if Maddie got sick as a result of this scoop of ice cream, I would never hear the end of it. Nor would I ever be able to see her without a chaperone again for at least six months.

So, apparently, suggesting soy hot chocolate as opposed to ice cream was the equivalent of telling her that every last one of toys was going to be burned in a bonfire while we passed out brand new toys to every one of her friends leaving her with NONE. Her legs gave out beneath her and she crumbled to the ground in a fit of tears. In the land of Maddie, this suggestion warranted acting as though you had just swallowed battery acid.

“BUT…I…..YOU…SAID….WANT…..ICE CREAM….NOT…..MILK…..”

I bit my lip to stifle the laughter. “I’m sorry, Maddie, but I don’t speak Insane Toddler. Use your words…what are you trying to tell me?” I crouched and held her body steady as she caught her breath, calming down.

“You::sniff:: said ::sniff sniff:: I could have ::sniff:: ice cream. I don’t ::hiccup:: WANT hot ::sniff:: chocolate.”

“Ok,” I said, “That’s a fair statement. Why don’t we compromise.” She stared at me blankly, waiting. “You know what compromise is?” She nodded, snot starting to drip from one nostril. I pulled a tissue out of my pocket and handed it to her. “Ok, then. I will keep my promise and buy you the special ice cream that you’re allowed to have and if you’re a good girl and don’t complain about that, then we will split a soy hot chocolate.” Her eyes lit up and she started smiling again. “Deal?” I stuck my hand waiting to see if she’d shake on it.

“Deal!” She grabbed my hand and shook it eagerly.

* * *

Maddie and I made it to her upper west side ballet class just in time, but not after spilling half of the cup of hot chocolate down the front of her sweater. (which ultimately soaked through and stained her ballet leotard underneath) We ran from the subway stop to her studio, me: always a few steps ahead, dragging her behind me. The other mothers glared at me when we entered through the heavy glass doors, knowing Maddie, but not recognizing my face at all. They assumed I was the nanny or babysitter, which ultimately meant I was dirt. Hired help. And I suppose essentially, I was the nanny for the day. I knelt in front of Maddie and unbuttoned her coat, flinging off her hat and scarf. Together, we stripped her of the layers until she stood in front of me, a tiny ballerina, her soft light brown curls hanging just below her ears. She grabbed my hand, excited to show me off to her friends. Pulling me toward the loud voices of children screaming and laughing, she stopped in front of the instructor; a tall, lean woman whose features were chiseled and exotic. Her neck was long and that paired with her pale skin made her appear like a swan in front of me.

“Hi,” I said, suddenly feeling clumsy and awkward in front of her.

“Hello.” She smiled warmly.

Hello. She made the word sound so classic and elegant. I wished I could pull off saying hello with the same memorable charm she did.

“Are you the babysitter today?” She wasn’t judgmental or condescending. Afterall, I guess what she does every Saturday is similar to that of babysitting several pre-k children all at once.

I opened my mouth to answer, but Maddie beat me to it.

“No, she’s my Aunt Colleen.” I nodded, smiling. “And she’s a ballerina too!”

I grimaced. Why did she have to say that? I smiled weakly at the Swan-lady. Maddie and I used to dance around her old house all the time, putting on music and twirling, pretending as though we were principal dancers in Swan Lake. When I was a kid, I took dance lessons and even throughout high school and college, I did. But I am far from being a ballerina.

“Really!” It was more of a proclamation than a question. “And where did you study?”

Maddie looked at me, eyes wide, not understand the question, but pretending to.

“Oh, well, I actually am more of an actress. I studied theatre moreso than ballet. Maddie was just a little confused because she’s seen me dance in a few shows.”

“Ah. I see. And where has Maddie’s father been? Mack, I believe is his name. I haven’t seen him lately.” I paused, the wheels in my head turning about the proper way to answer this. I assumed, It’s none of your damn business, would not be an appropriate response.

Again, Maddie beat me to answering. Her little lips became suddenly pouty and her head angled to the floor, her eyes looking up at the teacher and myself from under her eyebrows. “My daddy doesn’t live with us anymore,” Her voice was quiet, “He lives with Uncle Daniel.”

It was as though the entire room of gossiping mothers hushed with the one statement. Although they all pretended to be engaged in other conversations, their bodies were all leaning toward the three of us. They may as well have pressed their ears to glasses against a wall, listening.

The Swan seemed shocked and at a loss for words. “Well, she said leaning to Maddie slightly, “Sometimes daddies choose to live with other daddies, and that’s ok too.”

Maddie looked up at me, confused.

“No,” I corrected her quickly. “No, it’s not like that. He just had to go back to Virginia for a bit.” I glanced at Maddie still looking at the floor and then at the other mothers, waiting like vultures to feed on the gossip. “For work.” I added quickly at the end.

The Swan nodded. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Aunt Colleen. I hope you can make it to the spring recital.” She glided past me, constantly a vision of grace walking on the balls of her feet like a Barbie doll.

I leaned down to Maddie who was still quiet. “You ok, kiddo?”

She nodded. “We’re still a family even if daddy doesn’t live with us.” She spoke like she was reciting something she had learned in a book.

I nodded. “Yes we are.”

“And I’m not going to cry about it because big girls don’t cry.”

“Ok, Fergie, calm down there. Big girls cry. Even I cry…sometimes.”

She scrunched her nose and it reminded me of when I was young and used to do the same thing. “I’ve never seen you cry.”

I thought for a moment. How can I explain this? “I’ll make another pact with you.” She stared at me intently. She loved the idea of being involved in an adult meeting. “If you and I are hanging out and for whatever reason, one of us feels the need to cry, we will. No holding back for whatever reason. That means, I can cry in front of you, and you can cry in front of me.”

She nodded and ran off to the middle of the dance floor. I wasn’t sure she fully understood the pact, but someday she would. And when she did, I knew I’d be there to kiss away her tears. I knew I’d be the one rocking her back and forth reassuring her that tears were a good thing at times and they let the weepies out.

Moments later, she fell, landing on her bum. She looked at her instructor and then at me. Deciding on me, she tottled over holding her backside with both hands.

“Does this mean I can cry now?” She said, her eyes wide and glistening. She bit her lip, waiting for my answer.
I nodded and opened my arms. Her little body fell into mine and her body shook as she cried.

The Night of Dino-Dog

THE NIGHT OF DINO-DOG
_______________________________________________

Occurred: Summer 1997

The sun was the color of butter; a rich, deep yellow that blazed onto the powdery sand and blue ocean reflecting sunlight onto our pink faces. I was wearing my first bikini ever. It was denim blue with red polka dots, and ever-so-slight padding to make up for my lack of curves. The terrycloth towel I was laying on felt soft against my back, and the sand beneath me had molded to fit the contours of my body perfectly.

Beside me, laid Michelle, my best friend.

Michelle and I met when we were 5 years old. It was the first day of kindergarten and she and I shared a coat closet. Those were the things that best friends were made of. I honestly can’t remember much else of that first day or even those first couple years, except that we were inseparable. When I was 12, my family moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and Michelle and I vowed to remain friends despite the distance. We both kept our promise.

So anyway, beside me, laid Michelle. She had long golden hair that was fanned out perfectly on her towel. A pink bikini was taut against her red skin, but it was not her first belly-baring bathing suit. Her mom had allowed her to have a bikini a couple of years ago. In all honesty, both of us could have been mistaken for boys from the neck down. Her eyes, although closed, still appeared to be squinting beneath the bright sun.

I sat up on my elbows, the grainy sand caving under the towel. “My mom says that squinting like that will give you crow’s feet.”

“What are crow’s feet?” She didn’t move. Nor did she stop squinting.

I slowly turned my head towards the ocean. “I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound good, does it?”

She shrugged trying to look as though she didn’t care, but I saw her face relax from its squinted state. I smiled to myself.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a group of three boys walking our way. They must have been about 15. The first boy, the leader of the group, had sandy blonde hair and green eyes that sparkled, even from far away. He was the most muscular of the three and beneath a flexed bicep, carried a long, red wave board. The two behind him weren’t nearly as attractive. One had bleached hair and dark brown eyes, and the other had dark hair with dark eyes.

My bony elbow poked Michelle in the ribs. She groaned in protest.

“I stopped squinting, ok? Let me sleep!”

I nudged once more a little harder. “Boys are approaching. Perk up…look sexy!”

As 14-year old girls, we had no idea what looking sexy actually entailed, but we were determined to get a boy to talk to us on this trip. We were with Michelle’s parents and sisters on a beach trip to Maryland. It was my first time going on vacation with a friend’s family, and Michelle’s parents gave her a lot more freedom than my parents usually allowed, so I was taking advantage of this short-lived independence. Michelle and I had been trying all weekend to strike up conversations with good-looking guys, failing miserably time and time again. After the billionth guy ignored us, we decided to watch older girls on the beach, to study their tactics. It was genius…they would ignore the boys. Then, when a guy was in sight, they’d lather themselves with tanning oil enticingly. Glistening in the sun, the oil glided over their smooth, tanned skin. If a boy did dare to approach one of the girls, they’d drop their shades over unimpressed eyes and look the other way. I called this the “Untouchable Approach.” We decided it was worth a try.

When Michelle finally realized what I was trying to tell her, she instinctually jumped up, scrambling for the sunblock. Neither of us was allowed to use tanning oil, so we had hoped lathering lotion all over our bodies would have the same effect.

She squeezed a huge blob of lotion in each of our hands and we began rubbing it into our already lobster-red bodies. I started by putting some on my ankles and worked my way up my legs. When I reached my knees, I realized I hadn’t put my sunglasses on. With a goopy hand, I pulled my sunglasses from the top of my head down over my eyes. My fingertips squished against the lenses and when I tried to look through them, there was an enormous, white hand print all over the front. I tried to wipe it off with my arm, but that seemed to just smear it so that I couldn’t see at all.
From my right, I heard Michelle’s peeved voice. “What are you doing? They’re coming up on us and you look like you’re on a day trip from Sunnyside Mental Institution!”

Wiping the remaining lotion on my arms, I whipped off the sunglasses just as the cute boys were passing. He was much, much hotter than I had originally thought. I made eye contact with his emerald eyes and time slowed down as he passed. He shot me a dazzling smile revealing perfectly straight teeth, then looked back at his friends, laughing.

Michelle pursed her lips and spoke to me without moving her head, attempting to conceal the fact that she was talking. “Do something. He’s looking at you. You look like a deer caught in the headlights.”

My eyes were wide, and my face was blank. She was right. I flirted with as much passion as a gay boy watching a swimsuit competition did. I blinked a few times very rapidly and snapped my head back in their direction; they had their backs to us now, walking away. Crap. Another opportunity lost. I looked down at my body. Pinched between my greasy fingers were my sunglasses, practically submerged in lotion. My arms were streaked white, and globs of the white lotion were still all over my legs.

Michelle looked at me, swallowing laughter. “There’s some in your hair too.” She scrunched her nose and flipped her own hair out behind her. Lowering herself back down to the towel, I saw that her eyes were still squinting behind her sunglasses.

* * *

After days of trying to flirt successfully, and I stress the word “trying,” Michelle and I decided to give up and enjoy our last night on vacation. All week we had been eyeing an old fashioned, hand dipped ice cream parlor, but had avoided it because “sexy girls don’t eat ice cream.” Whatever. 14-year old girls have it all wrong…eating ice cream can be very sexy; just not the way I do it.

Now, with no boys to worry about, we ran from our hotel to the store’s entrance. It was 8:00pm, and we had just finished dinner; not usually a prerequisite from Michelle’s parents, but I think they were trying harder to enforce rules with me there.
The bells atop the heavy glass door tingled as we entered, cold stagnant air from the AC slapping us in the face. I swear I heard choir of angels singing as we looked through the refrigerated glass at the various flavors. Strawberry, coconut, butter pecan, cookie dough, mint chocolate chip! So many flavors to choose from…what’s a girl to do? I decided on my favorite: triple chocolate fudge with extra chocolate sprinkles. I also splurged on a waffle cone. It was, after all, vacation.

Gluttony oozed from our eye sockets as the man behind the counter handed us the enormous cones with three scoops. We happily paid our $3.50, never breaking eye contact with our desserts. Without grabbing napkins or spoons—who needed those?—we stepped out into the night.

Immediately upon walking out the door, the darkness and heat of the night swallowed us. Our ice cream started melting at a supernatural rate. Within seconds, dark chocolate goo was running down the sides of my waffle cone. It was about two blocks back to our hotel room. Knowing we’d never make it, we panicked and through snorts of laughter tried to eat the ice cream as quickly as possible. I, unfortunately, had a bit of a handicap. I have very sensitive teeth, and therefore have never been able to eat ice cream or any frozen treat quickly.

I glanced over at Michelle who had green ice cream all over her face and hands. She had managed to get her cone under control, though, eating down past the edge. I, on the other hand, had dark chocolate dripping all the way down my arms, literally past my elbows. I could feel it spread out over my mouth and cheeks, and I still hadn’t even put a dent in the mound of ice cream that stood before me in my right hand. I hunched my back and leaned over the cone so that I wouldn’t drip on my clothes. Below me, on the sidewalk was a puddle of ice cream. I continued slurping as quickly as my sensitive nerves would allow. A tingling sensation spread through my frontal lobe and I smacked a dirty hand to my forehead in pain. “Brain freeze.” I said aloud to no one in particular. When I removed my hand, I felt a drop of chocolatey sweat roll down the bridge of my nose. “Could you go get us some napkins from…” my eyes rolled up to try to see the new splotch I’d left on my forehead “…inside the store?” I glanced to the left at Michelle without moving my head.

Her face was incredulous. “Look at me! I’m as bad as you are! I can’t go in there.”

I laughed. Not because it was funny, but because I was frustrated. “Oh, no. You are not as bad as I am.”
Her laugh sounded more like a honk and then she snorted so loudly that I was surprised she had any brain cells left. “You’re right. You look horrible.”

I joined in laughing. Real laughing this time despite my miserable state. We laughed so hard that my abs trembled beneath my t-shirt. And of course I was wearing white.

I continued laughing, but Michelle’s face immediately turned to stone, looking somewhere past my shoulder in the distance. Before I could ask a question, she turned 180 degrees the opposite direction she was facing. “What is it?” I spoke through my laughter, still very confused. I looked to the right and walking toward us were the boys from yesterday. The boys with the wave boards from the beach. They were now dressed nicely. The leader, with the sandy brown hair and emerald eyes, was in a dark, electric blue button down shirt, khaki cargo shorts with a white shell necklace hugging his tanned throat.
I spun around quickly, facing the opposite direction with Michelle. I spoke quietly, more to myself than to Michelle. “Maybe they’ll pass right by us. They ignored us the other day…there’s no reason they’d say hi now.”

“Hi.” A deep voice spoke from over my shoulder.

“Shit.” I muttered.

“What did you say?” His eyes burned into my back.

My ice cream had completely melted by now and my waffle cone was soggy in the palm of my hand. Michelle’s wide blue eyes were staring at me in horror. I knew what she was thinking—it was the same thing I was thinking. We couldn’t let them see us like this.

I released my breath, still hunched over so the ice cream on my arms and face wouldn’t drip onto my white shirt. “Could you do my friend and I a favor?”

I couldn’t see him, but I imagined those eyes of his narrowing in suspicion. “Maybe. What is it?”

I heard snickering behind me. I assumed his friends were laughing at us. “I need you to go into this store here and get us a lot of napkins.”

“Why?”

“Because…” I had no good explanation. Without thinking, I closed my eyes and turned to face him.
Eyes wide, his feet sprung off the ground in horror. “Whoa! What happened to you?”

“Please will you go get us some napkins?”

“Don’t touch me!”

“We just need a few so we don’t get ice cream all over our hotel room.”

“I said don’t touch me!”

“I’m not going to touch you.” I tried to speak calmly. Reasonably.

“Stay away from me!” He looked down at the ground. Chocolate puddles flooded his flip flops, creeping into the crevices of his feet. “Is all this from you?” He gestured dramatically to the ground where several pools of chocolate stained a 5 foot radius.

I nodded pathetically.

He pressed his lips together, trying not to laugh. “Ok. I’ll get you some napkins. Just don’t…”

“…touch you,” I interrupted, “I know.”

He kept his promise. I heard the bell of the door ding and within minutes he was a few feet in front of me again with a wad of napkins in one hand. Trying to maintain his distance, he kept his body in place and stretched his arm and torso so that I could take it with my seemingly crippled body. As soon as the napkins were in my hand, he disappeared, a cloud of smoke trailing behind him.

“Thank you!” My voice boomed after him. I made a wish that I never saw his face again.

Hands on her knees, Michelle was bent over laughing.

“How is this funny?” My eyebrows lowered over my brow bone creating angry wrinkles on my forehead.

“You,” she sucked in air, gasping for breath, “looked like a cross between a dinosaur and a dog all hunched over like that.” A smile started to break through my scowl as I realized how ridiculous I must have looked. Tears were now streaming down Michelle’s cheeks and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. “You transformed into this creature—like, a dino-dog!”

We collapsed laughing. It was the first of many dino-dog moments.

BubbleGum Barbie Bridesmaid

BubbleGum Barbie Bridesmaid
MY THOUGHTS ON BEING A BRIDESMAID
______________________________________________________

Occurred: Throughout the past five years of my life

I look like “Bubblegum Barbie Bridesmaid.” For the sixth time in five years I will be, not just a bridesmaid, but maid of honor in a friend/sister’s/cousin’s wedding. I will wear a two-piece cotton candy colored gown, that grazes the carpet as I walk down the center of the church. The odor and pollen of the lilies and roses which I hold between my recently pampered hands, will demolish the natural dam my nose had created, allowing snot to flow like water from a faucet. Lucky for me, being the seasoned professional that I am, I know to hide not one, but two tissues neatly folded in the ribbon that binds the evil-mucus-making bouquet together. There is one tissue for my runny nose and watery eyes, and one for me to hand the bride as she cries tears of happiness while reciting vows which ultimately seal her fate as a second-class citizen.

Like Alice when she falls through the looking glass, the bride spirals through a whirlwind of decisions. For the next year, life revolves around her. She is the center of the universe and I am her side-kick, her little white rabbit in charge of keeping time, recording details, and staying organized.

But this fairy tale wedding that she strives for and that we spend 12 months attempting to achieve is never even comparable to Cinderella’s. In the end, in every one of my experiences, the bride is left disappointed. Something goes wrong; the linens are the wrong color, the seating chart is rearranged, or red wine spills on the wedding dress. At some point of the night, the bride will trade in her tears of joy for tears of disappointment that her day did not go as planned. And I, true to form, will be there to offer a shoulder to cry on. That is Bubblegum Barbie Bridesmaid’s job.

I’ve spent the past three weddings pretending that I agree with this institution of marriage. Giving speeches about two little words that hold such a large concept: soul mate. This belief that someone, somewhere possesses the key to unlock your heart. All you need to do is find each other. Despite the numerous toasts I have given that indulge this belief, I myself, find it a bit asinine. The idea that I am limited to only having one great love in my lifetime is ridiculous.

Men are a pair of sexy leather heels. They entice you while on the shelf, looking pristine and beautiful. The leather is stiff, a little rough around the edges. As you’re writing out the check you convince yourself that you can break them in; you will be the one to wear-down that stubborn leather. But at the end of the day, your calves are cramped, your arches ache, and there are two new blisters on each foot that will soon be calluses. You give up, and sell the shoes that seemed so perfect only weeks ago to the vintage store on the corner. Another woman comes along and sees your shoes. She tries them on and they’re a perfect fit. They don’t hurt because she already has calluses formed in the right spots.

I’ve always sworn to myself that I will never say, “You’re the only one in this world meant for me.” I don’t believe you are. Let’s face it, if I never meet you, chances are I would meet someone else and have a different kind of love. Not better, not worse, just different. After all, doesn’t it mean more to say “I choose you?”

The Night I Flew

THE NIGHT I FLEW
_____________________________________________
Occurred: Sometime in 1987

Whenever I see a feather, I smile. I smile in the kind of way that one would when passing children playing on the street. Or in the way one would watching a stubborn dog stop in its tracks while the owner stands, defeated, tugging on the leash and collar. I smile in the way that other people look at me and know that my toes are tingling.

It was 1987. We lived in a three-story house that had “Betty Crocker-esque” wallpaper and carpet that we would now describe as being retro. I was four years old and I had four heroes. My dad, my brother, my sister, and most of all, my mom. The woman from whom I had received my eyes and my taste in music. The woman who provided me with role models ranging from Aretha Franklin to Hedda Gabler. She was a stunning mother of three. She had pale skin, the color of cookie batter and reddish brown hair that rested in soft curls just below her chin. When she laughed, bangs would fall in front of her deep blue eyes. And she laughed a lot.

She was one of those rare mothers who would play with her children, not just dress them up and show them off. We would have sock wars with our balled up dirty laundry. Sing and dance around the house while cleaning. We were allowed to help her cook, even if the end result was disastrous. We would all dress up in her fanciest clothes, put on make up, then wait for my dad to come home and pretend as if he, a Prince, had just entered the ball.

My dad was the opposite. He was reticent and stoic with glasses that hung on the end of his nose. Dark hair and small green eyes peeked out over the aforementioned glasses; a businessman to the core. He would come home every night and want the house to be quiet as he read his paper. He liked the expected. He liked his routine. He was affectionate, but in a very different way than my mother was. He could be silly when he wanted to be, but usually he was the disciplinary figure in our house. Every night at the dinner table he would have a “question of the day” for us—some tidbit of information that we all had to take a guess at and whoever answered correctly won the right to choose what to have for dessert that evening. I was the youngest and therefore never got the answer right. However, there were nights when he would cater the question to me.

“Question of the day:” his voice boomed over my mom’s mashed potatoes, “Who can tell me who our current president is?” Bridget’s mouth opened revealing a gaping hole where her front tooth was missing. “Ow!” A jerking movement came from my brother as he glared at her. “Oh, uh—hm, that’s a tough one, dad…”

Bo scratched his head and furrowed his brow in exaggerated thought. Exhaling like a leaky tire, he lifted his shoulders to his ears, eyes wide in manufactured confusion. “Psh, beats me dad!”

My mom leaned into me. “Tootsie, you know this. Remember who we were talking about over lunch? What was that man’s name?” Her breath had the bitter smell of coffee.

Biting the inside of my chubby cheek, I thought long and hard recounting the things I had learned that day “Is it Wonald Weagan?” I said after a few minutes.

“Very good, Colleen!” They all cheered at once and my dad nodded, sending me a wink.

“Very good, Doodlebug.” He smiled and continued eating.

My mom, sister, and I used to collect feathers. If while walking to the front door from the car after a trip to the mall, or going to the doctor’s office, I spotted one on the ground, I’d squeal with excitement! Pinching the stem between my two tiny fingers I’d hold it in front of my face like a treasure. The stem felt fake—almost like plastic. I ran the tip of my index finger along the edge of the feather. It felt silky and the edge fanned out beneath my skin spreading and splitting under my touch.

We always found time to through books and try to guess at what feather came from which type of bird. One particular day after school, the three of us were going through our box o’ feathers while my brother did his homework sitting at the table next to us. Swinging my legs back and forth, they dangled lifelessly over the edge of the oversized chair I sat in. I held a pale blue feather up to the light and squinted while looking at it. “I bet this is a wobin’s feather.” I puffed my chest out, certain that this was correct.

“Don’t be stupid,” my sister spoke without even raising her eyes from the book, “A robin’s feather isn’t blue. It’s either red or brown. Their eggs are blue.”

And my chest deflated, defeated again by my sister’s know-it-all attitude.

“Bridget…” My mom’s voice was deep and she drew my sister’s name out about 4 syllables longer than necessary.

Bridget sighed audibly. “But that was a good guess, Neener.”

Neener was one of the many nicknames I developed in my family, along with Doodlebug, Umze, and Tootsie. Take your pick. I still respond to all.

I grabbed several more feathers from the box and cupped them greedily in the palm of my hands. “I wish I could fly!”

“Well,” my mom’s voice was back to its normal tone, “have you ever tried to?”

I giggled while scrunching my nose. A habit I still have to this day. “No, I’ve never twied.” I spoke through my high-pitched laughter.

“Then how do you know you can’t?” My mom looked down and to the right at me without moving her head, still holding a large gray feather out in front of her. “Here,” she took the feathers I had in my hands and tucked the stems underneath my arms, “I’ll try it with you.” She helped me down off the chair, then took a few of the larger feathers and tucked them beneath her own arms. She began flapping her “wings” vigorously and her feet started running in place. I did the same all the while laughing at my beautiful mother who looked as foolish as I did.

Bridget’s lip curled in embarrassment and she dug her face even deeper into the bird book. My brother laughed in spite of us, taking a moment’s break from his pre-algebra homework.

“C’mon Bridget! Don’t you want to fly?!” My mother’s breathing was getting heavier and small beads of sweat were beginning to form on her forehead.

“Yeah, BJ, don’t you want to fwyyyy?” I repeated my mother like a dictaphone. A dictaphone with a speech impediment.

Her face was growing redder with every moment. It made no difference that none of her friends were there to be embarrassed by, she was still the shade of a radish.

My mom and I began running in circles around her, singing, “We’re flying! We’re flying!”

Bo’s eyes narrowed and a look encroached his face that was comparable to any expression Dennis the Menace may have had; a mischievous and deviant grin spread across both cheeks. He disappeared down the hall and came running back to us in seconds holding his Nerf gun. “Not for long!!” He yelled maniacally.

Screaming voices filled our house. We were running—no, flying for our lives. Bridget grabbed her own set of feathers, finally joining in on the game. I ran, trying to find refuge from my brother, the bird hunter and tucked myself behind the couch in hopes that he wouldn’t see me hiding. Our house, which moments ago was picturesquely clean now looked as though it had been ransacked by four thieves. Chairs were overturned, Nerf balls were scattered about the floor, books had been knocked off the coffee table, and feathers were floating pretty much everywhere you looked.

My brother somehow cornered all us ladies in the foyer of our house; we had nowhere to run. He pointed his bright orange and blue gun at our bodies and squinted one eye closed like Clint Eastwood would do in an old western. “All right you yellow-bellied, lily-livered birds…prepare to meet my oven!” And just as he was about to pull the trigger, our front door opened. In walked my dad, wearing a suit, trench coat and hat.

We all froze.

Busted.

He looked around for a moment, breathing in his destroyed house, and placed his briefcase by the door. None of us dared to move. Except my mom. She flapped her wings over to my dad and kissed him on the cheek, still lifting her knees in rhythm with her flapping. “Hi sweetheart,” her voice was filled with love and if I think back on it, I swear I could hear pure honey dripping from her vocal chords. “We’re being birds! If you want to read your newspaper in quiet tonight, you’ll have to do so upstairs. We’re not going to stop playing right now.” She smiled at him, and still none of us kids moved. We were barely breathing, frozen in fear.

My dad exhaled and pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “Kids, cover your eyes for a moment.” We did as we were told. I heard a sound that I didn’t recognize…a very quiet rustling and then a soft click, like the sound I made when I sucked on my cheek, too angry for words. I lowered my hand from my eyes, the palm of it brushing the bridge of my nose. Above two chubby, pink fingers, I saw my dad’s arms wrapped tightly around my mother’s waist. He had her pulled in close to his body and I couldn’t tell where her lips ended and his started. Eyes were closed, their heads shifted from right to left every couple of seconds. I wondered how they managed to not bump noses. Would I someday be kissed like that by a man I loved? The kind of kiss that makes your knees turn to Jell-O? The thought of a boy kissing me on the lips made me want to vomit and I scrunched my nose, revolted at the thought. Why were they doing this in front of us? Perhaps they weren’t just my parents–but PEOPLE too. They were husband and wife as well as mom and dad, even though I didn’t quite understand what that meant at the time.

They pulled back from each other and I quickly recovered my eyes so that they wouldn’t catch me peeking. I heard my father’s sigh. “Ok, kids, you can look.” We all removed our hands from our faces simultaneously and I saw my brother send a crooked smile at my sister. They both knew about this revolting display? My chin brushed the floor and I was unable to lift my jaw off the ground. They knew that our parents performed this disgusting act and yet they allowed it to happen? Gross.

A smile slowly spread across my dad’s round face. He methodically loosened his tie and then in one swift movement lifted both Bridget and myself, running down the hallway with us under each arm. My mom followed at his feet and my brother was close behind us, shooting again.

Soon after, for my father isn’t exactly the Hulk, I was passed to my mom. Her fingers pressed into my belly and I extended my hands in front of me feeling the breeze brush across my face.

So now, 20 years later, I still smile every time I see a feather. It reminds me of a simpler time. A time when I still believed that anything could be accomplished if you just tried hard enough. The feather reminds me of the kind of mother and wife I want to be; a symbol of the kind of family I want to have. A symbol of the family that I one day will have.

That night set the standard for the type of love and marriage I deserve; the type of man I deserve. And I refuse to accept anything less than a love that will give me wings and allow me to fly.