The Ponytail Girls

Confession: I am not good at doing hair – my own, or other people’s.

TV and movies had me convinced that little kid hair should be beautiful; golden; glowing.  And when I was a little girl, mine was red, stick-straight, and fine.  The type of hair nobody could do anything with. As a result, my mother sort-of gave up, and cut it short.

And growing up in Southern California as a ginger-to-maybe-strawberry-blonde-in-a-sea-of-tow-heads, I never felt…right. By 5th Grade, I was addicted to Sun-In.  Maybe I am just Not A Redhead At Heart.

Anyway.

I have this theory that there is a cult of people out there who are really good at doing hair.  (You may know them as: Hairdressers.)  (Kidding.)  They were the girls who would come to elementary school with their hair in perfect ponytails; who would show up for ballet class with impeccably coiled buns.  Who, in high school, would arrive for first period looking as if they’d just come from a blow-dry.

Needless to say, I am not one of those girls.  I have spent the last few months wearing my hair tied back in an awkward, lumpy chignon because it’s summer in New York, and even though the weather has been almost unseasonably nice, I’ve been busy and can’t be bothered.  But even if I could be bothered, I’m not much good at it anyway.

I spent years of my young life envying The Ponytail Girls.  Wondering where they learned their tricks.  Trying to uncover their secrets.  Sometimes, I felt like they had the world at their fingertips, and I was always going to struggle to be pretty, or popular, or to fit in, because I couldn’t get my damn hair to lay flat.

Confession:  Sometimes, I still feel that way.

Don’t you?

Don’t you ever look around, and think: Holy crap. These people around me know something I don’t.  There is some secret to finding the right clothes, and being liked, and doing hair, and I was absent that day.  I missed some crucial piece of information, and not only can’t I put my hair up in a smooth ponytail, but I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!

Speaking of being absent that day: When I was a kid, we attended a Catholic church for a while, which meant I had to go to CCD.  This was around the time of First Communion, which was a critical stage in Catholic religious education and formation. It was also around the time that I came down with some deadly virus, and missed a bunch of school and CCD.

I was always a diligent student, and while I didn’t particularly like CCD, I also didn’t like feeling as if I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was able to catch up enough to make my First Communion.  However, I was absent on the day that they taught what you’re supposed to do at the point during a Mass when you make a bunch of tiny crosses down your face.

Imagine my horror when my first Sunday back, all the other kids in my class were making tiny face-crosses, and I was left standing like a fool. I was too embarassed to ask what the hell was going on, so I spent years just sort-of waving my hands over my face whenever I had to attend a Mass.

Fast forward to when I became engaged to my former spouse, and I had to go through the whole religious education thing AGAIN, because 1) the Catholic Church had no record of my previous “formation” and 2) I’d never achieved any of the other sacramental levels besides First Communion.

And of course, I again managed to get sick and was absent the day they taught the tiny crosses.

I felt stupid.  And I stumbled through a lot of events and innumerable masses because I had no idea what I was doing.

In reality, Catholics make those tiny crosses before the Gospel is read during a Mass to symbolise a desire to have the reading in their thoughts; to have it proclaimed from their lips; and to invite God into their hearts through the Word. I probably could’ve figured that out years ago via Google.

It is not a some kind of secret handshake happening there in the church.

And there is no secret to the magical ponytail, either.  Some people just have good hair; some people don’t; some people take the time to learn the tricks to do hair, and I never did.

I guess what I am saying is that I have spent a lot of my life feeling weird, and left out, and I blaming other people for it — like they had the answers and were keeping some secret from me. In reality, I was just as much to blame.  I could’ve asked about the crosses; I could’ve learned to do my own hair.

The other thing I now know is that yes, people talk; yes, people care about what others are doing.  But they probably aren’t noticing your flapping hands or messy ponytail.  We’re all just as clueless; we were all absent on some crucial day.

That said, I still won’t make the tiny crosses before the Gospel reading.

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Good

Recovering from the kind of hip surgery I had is part art, part science, but mostly it is sitting still and following the doctor’s/PA’s/physio’s instructions to the letter.

For someone who a) is incredibly active; b) has run 14 marathons in four and a half years; c) is very fit, this sitting still has been a challenge.  For nearly two weeks post-op, I was spending about 4 hours in this device:

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And then additional time in the ice machine:

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And then trying to fit in physical therapy appointments as well.  It was just so…time consuming.  And some of the therapies were boring.  Four hours of bending?  Come on! But you know what?  I wasn’t in pain.  For the first time in almost a year, I wasn’t in pain! It was amazing.  Boring, time consuming, and amazing!  I’ll take it.

I went back to work in the second week of recovery, and would come home in the evenings and have another 2-4 hours of bending and icing to deal with after working a full day.  I have been marvelling this whole time about how great I feel, but also how much TIME this whole process takes.

Thankfully, my physio allowed me to substitute 20 minutes on my bike for one hour of bending, which has made the timing piece a bit easier.

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Seriously, you guys.  Open a new tab in your browser right now, and buy yourself a spin bike on Amazon.  I got this fancy contraption for less than $300, and it’s just as nice as something you’d ride at the gym.  Very sturdy; very quiet; super easy to put together. When I am fully back in the saddle, I will YouTube some spin routines, or be Sarah’s spin choreography guinea pig (it always helps to have a friend/cousin who is a group fitness instructor!).  But for now, I am using a timer set for 20 minutes on the iPad, and some old episodes of AbFab — which are are just what the doctor ordered.

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I cannot fathom how I went for so long being in so much pain.

I had my stitches out on Monday, and the surgical nurse showed me the photographs the doctor took during the surgery; showed me the placement of the screws in my hip joint; showed me the before-and-after of how they ground down the bone on my femoral head.

You had a lot of work done, the nurse explained, I’ve never seen quite so much inflammation in a joint before — see all that redness?  That’s why it’s so important for you to keep taking the anti-inflammatories.  We’re all shocked and pleased you’re in so little pain.

Not “little” pain.  I’m in NO pain, I said, eyeballing the screen, surprised by the fact of it myself.  I was looking at the redness on the screen; the rawness, and the things that had been hiding inside of me.  I was thinking of Jacob and the angel; of me wrestling with the unknown; of being forever transformed; of what this process has changed in me.

For now, on the doctor’s orders, I am sitting still.  I am taking it easy; I am asking for help; I am taking in support.  I am doing all the things that I never thought I would be able to tolerate or do.  I am recovering in all senses of the word.

I am not in pain and I have never felt quite so good.

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Motion

At some point, over the last few years, I became one of Those People who carries a big tote bag, and talks about the latest workouts, and drinks her water out of an omnipresent glass water bottle (because BPA is bad), and has Lunches and Dinners and Drinks Things at fancy places.

Basically, I went from being a Garden-Variety Yuppie Asshole to being an Insufferable Yuppie Asshole.

Anyway. This summer has been busy with all the Lunches and Dinners and Drinks Things that are the hallmarks of the Insufferable Yuppie Asshole lifestyle and so last Tuesday, I had my sesquiennial Lunch with Frederic.

It seems that we get together every year and a half or so to “catch up.”

We are different, now, in most ways, and in the fundamental ways, we are still very much the same.  But not…angry anymore.  Not hostile in that way that fuelled our passionate fires.  Now, we are just…friends.

So I had picked the Pool Room for our meet-up, partly because I had graduated to a new level in Yuppie Assholedom, but also because they’ve got this gazpacho that I sometimes dream about.

When the day of our lunch came, I hadn’t washed my hair. I was wearing flats. My skin was breaking out because I was pumped so full of analgesics that I was practically oozing naproxen. There was a time when I would’ve cancelled because I was so afraid that Frederic would see me with so much as a hair out of place.  Now, my skin was erupting like I was 13 and I just didn’t care.

We met in the entrance of the restaurant, and ascended the staircase to the host stand together.  The maitre d’ greeted me by name, probably because I’d made a number of bookings there lately; probably because I eat a lot of gazpacho.

And we were seated for lunch.

I ran out of hair stuff this morning, Frederic confessed, And my shoes broke, so I’m wearing these weird, orthopaedic shoes.

I smiled, and sort-of laughed, because even after knowing each other for so long and having gone through so much together, we still had these idealised versions of each other in our heads.  We were still afraid to be messy, and ugly, and have a spots and unfashionable shoes, and All That.

We stared at each other for a moment.

Are you engaged yet? Frederic asked.  My eyes caught his wedding band, and then flashed down to my own naked marriage finger.

Me? No. Not really in any rush.  We like where we are; not in a hurry to change things.

He nodded.

People ask me that a lot, especially over the last two weeks since Andrew has gotten married: So when are you and Paul going to make it official?

I don’t think either Paul or I feel like we are lacking anything in our lives or our relationship because we aren’t married.  I admire the hardware that the married girls sport, but otherwise, I am pretty ambivalent about That Whole Thing.

Also, I have observed that people seem to feel unhappy in relationships when they believe they must be on some sort of march to the finish.  But I have found one can enjoy people and partners for what they are, where they are, and one need not necessarily be in perpetual motion.

Once I figured that out, I felt a lot more…free.

I guess that was really how I had found myself sitting face to face over gazpacho with a man who had once broken my heart in that punchyouinthegut kind of way.  Back when I believed everything had to go somewhere, interactions between Freddy and me were downright weird.  I could barely tolerate looking at him because I was so devastated about the way things had or hadn’t gone.  But now, we were just two old friends who had been to the front and back, sharing stories; talking about our partners; inquiring as to what had been going on and what came next.

At the end of our meal, the waiter came out with the big plate of cotton candy, which Frederic eyed suspiciously.

Don’t worry, I said, It’s not on the menu, but when they get to know you, then they just bring it to you.  Also, there’s ice cream in the bottom.

And we ate it. That was it.

There was no drama; no high emotional or sexual tension; no massive or horrible news to break.  We were two old friends having lunch.

There had been so many years of grief and loss and fear and fear of loss; so many years in perpetual motion, and now we were just still.  Now we had just run out of hair cream, and had spots on our faces, and were wearing orthopaedic loafers.

It occurred to me, too, that I had spent so many years blaming Frederic for everything – his drinking, his lying, his inability to accept things. It was not until recently that I could bear to accept that I also had to shoulder some of that blame.

We had been friends for nearly a decade. Things between us had never really gone anywhere.  In truth, they really hadn’t had to.  What we were looking for had been in front of us the whole time.

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Blues

#Reverb14 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2014.   Each month, KatSarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Please check out the #ProjectReverb main page and join in.

Summer Time Blues | It’s mid-summer and we’ve got the summer time blues.  Tell us how you’re feeling at this mid-summer check in point.  Do you have the summer time blues?  How do snap out of it?  Or if you’re still loving summer, what’s been going great?

If you’ve wondered where I have been, the truth is that I’ve spent my summer studying for securities licensing exams; dealing with a number of intense projects; preparing for hip surgery; having hip surgery. This means that I have been in a haze of learning about municipal bonds and undergoing a ton of physio and weird workouts to prepare for everything that’s been thrown at me.

In other words, I’ve got the summertime blues.  Bad.

Last week was the hideous denouement in my summertime saga: Monday, I came down with shingles; Tuesday, a huge project I’ve spent six months of time on was pulled; Wednesday, I found out Andrew was getting married at the weekend.  It was just a series of Serious Stuff that brought me way, way down.

And, I was scheduled for hip surgery on Monday – which I’ve spent almost a year preparing for, and which shingles threatened to postpone.

It was A No Good, Very Bad Week.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a week that bad since the one where Frederic called me to tell me he was getting married, and then, within 72 hours, I had been hit by a car and found out that Bill was sleeping with half of the five boroughs.

How do you recover from a rotten week – the kind of week that makes you question yourself and everything you’ve been doing for…years?  How do you prepare for a series of examinations that try your patience and don’t seem immediately relevant to anything that you do?  How do you fight a body that keeps fighting you?

Most weirdly, and perhaps importantly, how are you supposed to feel when your former spouse marries someone who is basically the opposite of you?

How are you supposed to feel when your ex-husband gets remarried, period?

I am not sure there’s really a stock answer to that question; I’m not sure there’s any way you’re supposed to feel.  I don’t have much of a relationship with Andrew now, and we’re not close friends, but it felt like I had to do something, or feel something, or cope with something.

So my mother came into town last Saturday night to help me prepare for, and get around during the week following my hip surgery.  We seized the pre-operation opportunity to see Cabaret on Broadway; to enjoy time and Thai food together; to play with Roo and just relax.

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And Sunday, Andrew got married.  It was, admittedly, weird to watch mutual friends post photos on Facebook.  It was strange to field the incoming text messages from friends who didn’t realise they’d never unfriended him on social media after our divorce, who suddenly had his wedding photos in their newsstreams.

They refrained from asking the obvious question, which was, if your ex has a wedding that is the opposite of the one you had, and his new wife is as different from you as can be, what does that say about you?

What does that say about me?

I’m not sure it says anything, honestly.  It’s not my life anymore.

Then, on Monday morning, I walked over to the Hospital for Special Surgery and had my hip put back together.  What felt weird, I realised, was not that Andrew had remarried, but that I wouldn’t be running the Marathon this year.  I had used running as a coping mechanism since my divorce – one of the very first things I did when we separated was obtain a charity entry to the 2009 NYC Marathon.  My identity in this post-marital era had been as A Distance Runner; a Marathoner.  And I was walking into the hospital to say Goodbye to All That – possibly permanently.

But what I realised, too, was that I didn’t need that anymore. I had no axe to grind, and nothing left to prove.  There was nothing in the tank of bad feelings that was fuelling my racing.

I was free – really, truly free.

The surgery was a huge success, and while the recovery from the injury and surgery will be long, I feel great.

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It is normal to be blue in the face of a lot of things hitting you at once.  It is normal to be knocked breathless in the middle of unexpected change.

But I’m getting through it. I’m putting one foot in front of the other. That’s how you get through the blues – you keep going.

 

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East Coast Girls Are Hip…

I wish they all could be California Girls
– The Beach Boys, California Girls

We went to California during the first week of July.

IMG_3479It was part work/part pleasure. We started in San Francisco.

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Saw friends; enjoyed the city; happened upon the Pride Parade, and bumped into more friends.

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It was a great way to start the trip.

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Then onward, to Big Sur.

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And the Hearst Castle.  They have zebras.  And I always forget that everyone else in the world says zeb-ra, not zee-bra, the way Americans do.  So when Paul tried to point them out, I had no idea what he was trying to say.

Speak American, darling.

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Then on to Santa Barbara.

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Perfection.

From there, we drove to my parents’ house.  More friends; more family.  Hooray!

Celebrated Fourth of July with my family.

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(One of these siblings lives on the East Coast, and one lives on the West Coast, and I betcha can’t tell which is which).

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A good trip was had by all.

Especially Paul, who asked me to take this picture laying back so only one of his chins was apparent in the photo.

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Spring Cleaning

#Reverb14 is the opportunity for us to reflect and project throughout 2014.   Each month, KatSarah and I will be posting on a new prompt.  Please check out the #ProjectReverb main page and join in.

Spring cleaning | How are you cleaning out your life and cleaning out your writing in preparation for a new season?  Reflect.  Photograph.  Think.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer.  The tests began late last year, and the surgery and the official word came in January.  It was the kind they could take out in a morning of surgery with nothing more but close follow-up for a few years, but it was still the kind that was Capital-C Cancer.

After all was said and done, a few people tried to tell me that because some of the cells were just pre-cancerous, what I’d had wasn’t really cancer.  Maybe they said it to make me feel better, but it was confusing to hear; made me feel like my experience was being minimised.

Was it serious or not? Am I overreacting? Should I just shut up?

Notwithstanding the status of some of my cells, I had still spent a morning in hospital with Bethany by my side; still spent all that time waiting for news.  It had been the kind of surgery where there were a few complications, so the “quick recovery” I’d been promised was anything but.  And it was the kind of situation where I bled helplessly for days, and had to wear humiliating underpants for longer than I’d like to admit.  And there there were lots of…things…going on that probably happen to women after they give birth, but I wouldn’t know because the prize at the end of my hospital visit wasn’t the thrill of bringing new life into this world, it was merely preserving my own.

Cervical cancer is a difficult thing to discuss, for a variety of reasons.  First, it’s a women’s cancer.  There are few awareness campaigns, and no coloured-ribbons, and no 5k run/walks in Central Park.  Like other pelvic cancers, cervical cancer is often not caught until it is far too late, and the available treatments tend to be messy; brutal. There are no poster gals for the disease either, unless maybe if you count Jade Goody — but most Americans don’t know who she is, and she wasn’t exactly the most popular person until she became a tragic darling in death.

Second, most cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus, something that nearly all sexually active people will contract at some stage of life. Though less common, it can also be contracted from non-intercourse contact, like being passed from mother-to-child during childbirth.  Many strains don’t cause cancer — a few do. Most people’s bodies fight off the virus and they never ever know they came into contact with it.  I take powerful immunosuppressants to keep my Rheumatoid Arthritis in check, and it’s likely that those inhibited my body’s ability to fight off this common bug.

Am I a bad or less worthwhile person because I got this in the first place?

There is a vaccine.  It’s new-ish.  By the time it came on the market, I was too old for my insurance to cover it (in America, insurances will consider you “low risk” after age 26 and will not cover you for the jab).  I had no idea how common the virus was, or how the cancer worked.  American doctors at the time were not having any kind of serious discussion with patients about why you should or could still have the vaccine after age 26, or what HPV and cervical cancer even WERE.

Most of my friends who live outside of the US were vaccinated early on.  Living in the States, I was mortifyingly ignorant for far too long.

And because I knew so little from the start, I was too numb to flinch when I got the diagnosis and the doctor told me that my fertility might be compromised; when he said that, with the amount of tissue he took out, my cervix was likely to be incompetent, but there were things we could do if/when I wanted children.  I nodded when he explained the mechanics; the stitches.  I smiled dumbly when the nurses took my blood again and again and again and said, sympathetically, Oh my what good veins you have such good veins, we’ll see you in here next when you deliver healthy babies!

I would like to think I am a smart girl.  But how could I have been so stupid about everything?

And I took it in stride when yet another friend posted something on Facebook or Twitter about how the cervical cancer vaccine turned young girls into sluts, or when someone else circulated a sensationalist lie that the drug had killed someone.  And when I did tell people about my surgery, the response was generally not particularly supportive or positive, with the exception of my closest family and friends.  Eventually, I stopped sharing what had happened altogether, because there were so many times that my disclosure was met with raised eyebrows.

I let other people blame me. I listened when it was suggested that I was worth less now that my ability to bring life into the world might be compromised.

So I blamed myself for this.  But there was nothing to blame myself for. Truthfully, I got lucky — many women don’t have anywhere near as fantastic an outcome as I did with this disease.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying — sometimes, in the midst of slow-moving crisis, you find that your life has a lot more crumbly junk in it than you previously realised.  You suddenly observe that you are carrying around a lot of detritus of the past, and not nearly as much useful stuff as you thought.

Of course, there were and are many, many supportive people, and those friends and family shouldn’t overlooked.

But what I am really saying (again) is that I am not to blame for what I experienced. It has taken me a long time, and a lot of shaking out the cobwebs, and clearing out the cupboards, and wringing out the guilt and the shame, but I think I am finally…Okay.

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Brows

I arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday morning.

While normally, I leap at the chance to be in Asia, I will tell you that I am elbows deep in an abnormally sucky trip to Asia.  The schedule is brutal; the meetings keep getting moved around; the weather is not nice; the people have been unpleasant; and the vast majority of the ex-pat friends I’d ordinarily see are coincidentally in New York or otherwise outside of Asia.

Basically everything is just kind-of wrong.  Not catastrophically wrong, more irritatingly wrong.  And I am in a place in my life where I somehow think I have some kind of control over this kind of stuff, so I am blaming myself for it.

Oh man, sometimes I think I just suck at this.

What I realised is, I don’t even know what this is…

Cool it, Mouse, you are such a drama queen.

That’s my internal monologue talking.  In my internal monologue, I call myself “Mouse.”  I have since I was a tiny mouselet. I have absolutely no explanation for this.

Some days, lately, I just feel so…abnormal.  Like everything about me is wrong, and everything I am doing is wrong, and all of the thoughts and feelings I am having are simply not fit for human consumption.  Like if I were to share that I am so tired and wound-up about everything going on that I simply cannot control, people would be so horrified by what I think and feel, they would cast me out of polite society to spend my days in ignominy.

For instance, I’ve lately been so wound up that I have developed a furious aversion to shaved-off, penciled-in eyebrows.  These brows make me absolutely furious for no reason whatsoever.

What is really going on is that there is a whole lot of stuff happening in my life that is overwhelming and that I cannot control, so I’ve focused my anger on something utterly irrational and uncontrollable.  It’s something safe, and futile, and I can just be mad, without fear of judgment.  Except for maybe the judgment of people with penciled-in brows, but given my irrational ire, I don’t really care about them right now.

You see, it’s not safe to be mad at the things the actually matter — because they are consequential, and for the moment, I can’t really do anything about them.

It is, however, safe to be mad about…eyebrows.

baby brows

(via College Humor)

Posted in Adventures, balance, On the road again | Tagged , | 1 Comment