I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song
I’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long
Time hurries on
And the leaves that are green turn to brown
– 
Paul Simon

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s September’s prompt. 

September // Back to School: Back when you were in grade school, what were your favourite and least favourite subjects and why?  Did you become what you dreamed you would be when you grew up?  Or did your interests completely change?

I have been best friends with my best friend since grade school. The story of how we met has something to do with her moving to our town, and me offering her some orange candy in the schoolyard (to this day, I love orange candy), and that was that. We were both weird kids in a ticky-tacky suburban town – where all the houses were pink boxes with tile rooves and everyone lived in Planned Communities and swam on swim teams at community pools.

At first blush, my family could have Passed for Normal in that kind of town, because we were waspy, and preppy, and my father had a fancy job where he wore suits and was gone a lot. But my parents were from Elsewhere, and gave zero shits about my social status in the hierarchy of vicious packs of LA County blondes. Jade’s family, on the other hand, had moved south from the Bay Area, and she was a Child Actor, so there was basically nothing she could do except join a swim team if she wanted to be Normal.

But we found each other, and together we were invincible. There’s something special about finding a friend who makes you feel…normal.

Jade and I were both good students – she was more of an artist and I was more of a jock. In school, we were both good at language arts, and because we grew up in the era where if you were so inclined as a kid, you could just kind of disappear from the house all day in the summer, we used to vanish from one home to another and put together our own shows, and films, and dramatic productions. I’d walk or ride my bike to her house (which I now realise was Not Near to Mine, and undertaking this sort of ride as a child of 11 would probably result in a call to Child Protective Services today), or she’d come to mine, and we’d spend all day and night Doing Creative Things.

We were especially clever and creative in the days leading up to the return to school, when I think the anxiety of facing our classmates and peers ramped up in our unconscious. We’d stay up all night singing songs into the tape recorder, or making weird videos on my parents’ giant CamCorder (legendary among these is the night we decided to make a music video to If I Had a Hammer, including an actual hammer, which we shook menacingly at the camera as we lip-synched to Peter, Paul & Mary – totally missing the point of the song – until the head of the hammer shot off the handle and hit the camera lens.)

Even as a good student, there was something about the anxiety of school for me. I was an A+ kind of kid; lots of activities; varsity athlete; a strawberry blonde almost-Tracy Flick. I was good at school, but I didn’t like it. My mother always told me I’d be nostalgic for those First Days, and those dusty halls, and those shitty subjects, but xx number of years out, I still feel relief that it’s over.

So as Jade and I got a little bit older, we expanded the scope of our arts lessons from merely playwriting and filmmaking to interpretive dancing. We were Very Serious Tweenagers in the Greater Los Angeles Area, exposed to too much, but not enough, and so we’d sit on the lawn outside her family’s house, and Make Up Dances.

We were young so we were pretty limited to our parents’ music as the backdrop for our dancing. We’d flip through the tapes and find something “cool.” This usually limited us to the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel. So we began making up interpretive dances to Simon & Garfunkel songs.

One afternoon, we created an epic interpretive dance to Paul Simon’s Leaves that are Green. We were 12. We practiced and practiced and practiced, and lip-synched our way through the song. For some reason, every dance move became second nature to us and deeply ingrained in both our memories. We very obviously did not understand the lyrics, or what the song was about, because, well, we were 12.

From there, we went on to an illustrious career in interpretive dancing to nihilist songs, including a turn in Eighth Grade Drama class when the actual assignment was to perform an interpretive dance, and none of the other kids even understood what that was. We not only had to debate which one to choose from our extensive repertoire, but selected The Sounds of Silence, and performed it from memory.

This is all a long-winded way of saying, my favourite subject in school was interpretive dance, and to this day, if you ask nicely, Jade and I will still perform The Leaves that are Green. 

 

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s August’s prompt. 

Nostalgia // Tell us about your favourite summer memories. As the summer winds down, tell us about your favourite summer memories from this year (or any year). We want to see your freckled faces and tanned skin. Show us your summer.

I had to retire my favourite summer dress recently.

It was a strapless dress, and I’d had it for over a decade, so it was beyond salvaging. It was just an old brown dress from Ron Herman that I’d picked up on a trip back to LA after I’d sat for the Bar. I’d taken it all over the world with me; worn it to all sorts of major life events.

I’m not sure it was even attractive, but I felt good in it.

There is something special about a favourite summer dress – mine; anyone’s. It seemed to absorb the smells of salt and sand and sunscreen over the years. The dress was constructed of a simple t-shirt fabric, and had resisted a decade-plus of spills, and tears, and subway grit, and New York City grime. I had used the dress’s length to cover up the nasty case of shingles I’d been surprised with one hot, late summer five years ago. I had sunburned the hell out of my chest while wearing it to my ex sister-in-law’s graduation. It was a sword; a shield. If you know me in person, you probably wouldn’t remember the dress offhand, but you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of me in it.

It had come with me to explore all of China, and jump fully clothed into the sea in Thailand; had travelled all over Chile and New Zealand. We had rung in the New Year in Australia together in 2012, and soaked in blue English nights over warm beer with good company.  I had worn it back to LA one warm late-winter to console my best friend after her house burned down. The dress had been my one constant over my whole tumultuous time in NYC – through husbands, and jobs; change and upheaval. No matter the circumstances or the hemisphere, I could count on slipping into my brown summer dress and feeling like myself.

e9d641a0-3bbb-4a26-b00d-a6dac20c3aa3

(After the fire)

A few weeks ago, I found it in the bottom of a drawer. I hadn’t been able to find it all summer, but I knew I had put somewhere last year to remind me to take it to the tailor to have the elastic around the top replaced. I obviously had tucked it away so well, it had avoided notice. The dress was getting on in years and it needed to be repaired; probably replaced, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with it just yet. I slipped it on anyway – wrinkled and sagging – on my way between running Summer Streets (my first outdoor run of the season!) and a hair appointment.

During the colouring process, the gown covering me slipped open, and my colourist dripped bleach on my dress. In all my years of being a bottle blonde, that has never happened. But it did, and I knew that it was the universe’s way of telling me that The Dress Was Done.

There is something funny about living in the past; about not merely breathing in the sweet summer smell of a t-shirt dress every year, but clinging to it. There’s something silly and maybe a little sad about patching up a dress that is clearly falling off your body and smells permanently of sunblock, perfume, and faintly of sweat. So when I arrived home from my hair appointment, I changed out of my dress and slipped into a different outfit before meeting some friends for Mostly Mozart that night.

I looked like myself, but different. Older, maybe.

Before I went out, I found my kitchen scissors and I quickly cut two swatches from the bottom of the dress, then binned it. I penned a letter to Jade in California, reminiscing on the night that I’d come to her house after the fire; wearing my off-season summer dress. Then I popped the note in the mail with a scrap of dress; headed off to Lincoln Center and never looked back.

In California, there is a bit of a love-hate relationship with fire. Every year, the wildfires rage and they burn the canyons near my parents’ old house; sometimes hopping the eight lanes of freeway and lapping dangerously near the pink stucco expanse of tract-homes on winding cul-de-sacs. The droughts and the ever-growing brush make this a constant threat. But farther north, the coniferous forests also need the fire to reproduce – some of the old-growth trees, like the Giant Sequoias, need fire to release their seeds from their cones. Fire is part of the renewal process. Other trees depend on periodic fires to clear the choking brush so they can grow.

Jade almost died in a fire about a decade ago; escaping at the last minute, woken up by her cat. A few years after, I dragged her into a brush fire in Yosemite Valley, deep into the Sequoia forests, to climb above the treeline; away from but still inside the inferno.

So it seemed like the right thing to do – to take the dress you wear to the water and you wore to the fire and send it back to where it came from in California.

Being a grown-up is funny, sometimes, isn’t it.

img_3522

A few weeks ago, I was running late coming back from my riding lesson. My lesson had run long, and the traffic had been bad, and it was the one day I’d ever scheduled something for after. I’d dropped my car at the garage and grabbed a taxi and gone immediately to a hair appointment in my sweaty riding togs. For someone like me, part of the attraction to horseback riding was the outfits. I like leggings and oxfords and little blazers and fuzzy velvet hats and boots. (I am a Hat Person – but that is a topic for another post). Excepting the helmet, I literally wear that exact outfit to the office, frequently.

But that particular weekend was the hottest weekend of the year-to-date. So I was racing to a hair appointment in sweaty skintight clothing, smelling like a horse, helmet in tow.

My stylist tolerated me, managed to detangle my mop, and eventually sent me on my way. By then, the evening had cooled down slightly, and since I had a helmet with me anyway, I thought I should just Citibike home! I was coming from all the Flatiron district and heading to the Upper East Side, so this was a ride of more than 50 blocks. It was just me and the delivery boys out on bikes – it was still a blistering evening; the “cooldown” was relative.

After a few blocks on the bike, I noticed that people were hooting and whistling as I rode past. I checked, quickly, to make sure that I hadn’t split my breeches; that nothing was hanging out. I was riding a Citibike in what was obviously a horseback riding helmet; wearing what were clearly horseback riding clothes. I had strapped my monogrammed boat n’ tote to the front basket and was riding up Third Avenue, looking like I’d commandeered a hulking cerulean steed, mistaking it for the horse I’d rode in on. I rode another few blocks before I crossed the Rubicon of awareness and realised why people were trying to get my attention: I looked like an idiot.

Around Murray Hill, a middle-aged man on the corner screamed Fuck you, Ann Romney! at me, and cackled with delight at his own cleverness.

I finally made it over to the bike lane on First Avenue, and turned on to my street, awash in a mix of embarrassment, amusement, and adrenaline. As I rode down my street, a pizza delivery guy whistled at me long and loud. I made a rude gesture as I locked the Citibike into place; snapped a photo of the bike for posterity (because if you don’t take a picture, it didn’t happen); and headed into my building.

image1

(Predictably, that same delivery man was delivering pizza to someone in my building and I had to suffer through a mildly humiliating, interminable elevator ride with him.)

I learned a lot that day. For instance, merely because one can ride two things in one day using the same equipment does not mean that one should endeavour to be quite so foolish/ambitious. Maybe sometimes I try to do too much and wind up looking ridiculous, even if I do have some fun in the process.

The world has been fairly awful over the past few weeks, and I have no real desire to comment on it at this point. I think we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to be actively engaged in current events, but as a privileged, white Western woman, I think I have a lot of listening to do before I start making proclamations about The State of The World.

As recent events have unfolded, I have watched about half my friends take serious political and moral positions and share them on social media. I have watched the other half post photos of something called the Spouse Challenge, wherein they post a bunch of photos of themselves and their spouses to show the rest of us how much they love each other. I have gotten a little bit of crap (some good natured, some not) for not having a Hot Take in either direction.

Because Paul does not use/understand social media, he finds things like the Spouse Challenge deeply intrusive and upsetting. I find them unnecessary. We are the sort of people who don’t sit next to each other on planes because we both like the window seat, so the thought of us posting photos on social media celebrating Our Love in order to prove it to the world is…ridiculous.

We both came to this point in our lives, and this relationship, Gently Used. It would be weird to pretend that I’d never loved anyone before Paul, or that my entire life Up Until This Point had had no meaning, or bearing, on Anything I’m Doing or Experiencing Now.

With all of that said, here is a brief playlist for your enjoyment detailing the past decade of my romantic history, and how I got to where I am now. This has absolutely nothing to do with politics, police brutality, gun control, race relations, or how much I love my spouse.

Okay, maybe a little bit with why I love my spouse.

Bonus points if you can guess which of these songs corresponds to which era.

This is the eighth (and final) piece in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifthsixth, and seventh.

By mid-June, I am feeling crazed by Not Knowing whether I have the type of EDS that will make my organs rupture without warning, and also by Not Being Able to run now, or potentially ever again.

There is nothing that makes a woman feel less attractive than spending a summer recovering from surgery. My skin and stomach are both taking a beating from the constant onslaught of anti-inflammatories. I have been nauseous for weeks; constantly dissolving Zofran tablets on my tongue. I sleep in long, monogrammed PJs even as the temperature rises because I am sick of looking at the scabby holes in my leg. I’m walking on my own, but my gait is like that of a baby giraffe and I cannot walk for too long without epic fatigue.

These are First World Problems, so I try to power through. I focus on how quickly I am healing; I talk about my progress with physical therapy. I take pictures of the scars and I post them on Instagram because when you are full of holes, you only want people to see the supernova of your body on your terms. I have two constellations of incisions – one on each hip – and a whole galaxy of scars on my right knee from repeated, failed arthroscopies during my days of competitive sports. There is also a several inches-long vapour trail running down the inside of my right leg from my running accident last summer.

I have to do something. I search for any activity that I can participate in that will Take The Edge Off and will not require more medication and that will not bore me. Under the influence of the last of my narcotics and Royal Ascot, I decide horseback riding is the way forward. I ask my physical therapist whether equitation is permissible, and he tells me that it is possible, but not advisable because Meredith, squeezing a piece of horsemeat between your legs could irritate your hip flexor.

I love making dirty jokes, but I do not take his bait because the last time I did that, I wound up announcing to the entire gym that I eat boxes for breakfast! I was talking about my prowess in conquering the eight inch riser they were having me step-up and step-down to prove my quad strength before they’d let me in the anti-gravity treadmill. But I got a few looks that morning.

I spend the next few days scouring the internet for barns that are not too stuffy, that are close to the city, and that accommodate adult beginners.

The last time I rode a horse was when I was leaving my first husband. Jade told me that when I was ready to leave Andrew, I should come home. When I knew it was time, I called my parents to come pick me up at a wedding in Las Vegas and take me back to LA. I had had several moments where I knew my first marriage was over, but that wedding where Andrew had dragged us to Vegas insisting he was the best man in a wedding in which he was not even in the wedding party provided a particular moment of clarity as to the direness of my circumstances.

Once I arrived in LA towards the end of that particular shitshow, Jade took me to her mother’s house. Jade’s mother, Das, is an accomplished equestrienne, and was one of the only divorcees I knew intimately at the time. Das took me out on the trail and we rode for hours and hours. It had inspired me to write a poem about Frederic, and horses, and divorces, which I had shared with him, and which he had praised in that way that made clear he thought it was stupid.

And that was that.

Within months Frederic was legally separated, and so was I and I thought things might go somewhere, sometime. But then he surprised me by telling me that he’d been seeing the Danish girl all that time, and what was I doing, still writing him letters? Didn’t I know that I’d caused a terrible flap between him and his girlfriend because they’d moved in together and one of my letters had been forwarded to their shared abode?

I shrunk back in a special kind of shame, then, when I realised I had left a man who couldn’t handle rejection to the point of refusing to admit he wasn’t the best man in his childhood friend’s wedding, only to find myself sending poems to a man I failed to notice was living with another woman.

I sign up for riding lessons at a farm in Pleasantville, NY near where Paul and I were married. My instructor wears concert t-shirts and has turquoise hair and tells me that I need to feel things; that I will suck at this a little to start; that feeling is first. I cry the first time I get on the horse – a giant gelding called, of all things, Bill – not out of fear, but because I am certain I haven’t felt much of anything in years.

I don’t suck at horseback riding, but I am not instantly good at it, which is exactly what I need. I need something to take my mind off of the EDS; and the whole of my lower extremities.

Hold the reigns up, like an ice cream cone! Tamara the instructor shouts from the centre of the ring, and I apologise for not doing it right. Why are you saying you’re sorry? she asks me, truly baffled, You’ve done this like three times in your life!

With that, I begin to realise how far off the rails I have gone. Literally. Figuratively.

At the end of my first lesson, I sign up for many more because even if I never master the sport, I am coming to terms with the fact that nothing will be the same again, and the future, whatever it is, will be entirely different and wholly Okay.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth, and sixth.

It is early June, and I am finally off crutches. People ask me how I am doing, and I tell them I am great. Normally, I am much more circumspect, but when you have been on crutches for an extended period of time, walking unassisted is a terrific feeling.

I am having dinner with my friends Strand and Sam, who babysat me the day I came home from hospital. They are to be married at the weekend, and I have offered to babysit their dog, McGee, during their honeymoon.

It is a perfect night – New York is outdoing itself with the weather this season – and we meet at a burger joint in our neighbourhood, which Sam calls Hipsterburger. We have burgers (veggie for me) and beers, and I try to refrain from giving marital advice in advance of their nuptials. I am a Know-It-All; I know it. Maybe it’s part of being a lawyer.

Sam and Strand met on Tinder, which fascinates me because I went on maybe three internet dates and found the whole thing to be a horrifying sociological experiment. But I had met my ex-husband before smartphones; had ended another longterm relationship immediately before getting together with Andrew, so the last time I had dated was around the time Google was invented.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point, Strand confesses, There were a lot of broken phones from throwing things at each other.

I kept having to go to Rainbow and buy new ones, Sam laughs.

This statement, in particular, makes me chuckle, because only on the Upper East Side do you find young couples who still have land-lines; where throwing the phone is done in the classical sense. These are My People.

Strand begins to tell me about their first date; how she met Sam for coffee and he was so taken with her that he lost his composure. How they moved from coffee to lunch, which was where things got interesting. Sam tells me: I got a text message asking how the date was going, so I excused myself and I replied. Except I told my buddy, “She’s smokin’ hot; it’s going great” and after I hit SEND, I realised that I’d just messaged this to Strand and not to my friend.

At that point, Sam wondered whether he should even leave the bathroom, or if he should just quietly slink away home.

I came out, and I told her, “Look, don’t be angry. I just accidentally sent you a message meant for my friend.” It’s not bad, but I just want you to check your phone and not be mad at me.

Strand, for her part, pipes in, I thought he was sick or something had happened. But once he told me what was going on, I decided to keep toying with him. So she refused to check the message on her phone and continued enjoying her lunch, while Sam sweated it out, until he finally begged her JUST CHECK YOUR DAMN PHONE!

She saw the message and said the feeling was mutual. They’ve been together ever since, Sam’s track record with phones notwithstanding.

I laugh, because I love a love story.

We finish our dinner in the beautiful evening, and begin the slow, short walk home. It is strange to me that I am at this moment in my life: Watching the girls who I advised as their collegiate sorority adviser now getting married and having children. These girls – Strand! – were 18, 19 when I met them, and I was a fresh-out-of-Georgetown newlywed posing as an adult. I do not feel any older, but time must be passing.

The clearest hallmark of this is that during the week of my surgery, I received an email from my ex-husband. He knew Strand only as one of the college girls I advised, who would occasionally dog-sit for us. Andrew and I had not spoken in a long time. He is remarried; is a father. Of the contentious issues in our marriage “Why Can’t Meredith Act Like a Normal Wife” was a favourite of his.

He had been with his law firm for over a decade when he switched jobs and made partner in April. I found this out via a LinkedIn blast. It was unfathomably weird to me that the sacrifices I had made early in my own career – the late nights spent waiting for him, and the arguments about his paralegals – had inured entirely to his benefit. I was notified of the culmination of my efforts only because of an algorithm.

I was wondering if you’d like to attend a panel discussion on Brexit, he asked in his email.

I waited for a day, then replied, It looks like a great event but I’ll be overseas.

And that was that. I did not say Congrats on the new job! I did not tell him how lovely it was that those college girls he had once complained about were now successful grown-ups; did not reminisce about my late night drives to Staten Island. I did not tell him that I had just had another surgery or that he had been wrong about all those arthritis drugs he’d wanted me to take for my own good.

During our marriage, my complaint with him was that we were always striving to achieve only his dreams; his complaint with me was that I was perpetually in motion – always in some airport or another. In an odd way, it is comforting to know that, despite all that had happened, neither of us has changed much.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth and sixth.

We have made it to the end of May. I am still on crutches, but I am not yet losing my mind. I have Prepared for This – large joint reconstructions are apparently What I Do in the summertime now.

It is the morning of the last day in May, which is also my mother’s birthday, and it is a perfect, slightly cool New York City Early Summer Day. I take Roo out for his morning walk, hopping along beside him using one crutch, and hoping we finish his constitutional quickly. Everything takes so much longer when your mobility is reduced, and even walking and scooping after the dog seems to take hours longer each day than it did when I was fully in control.

As I carefully thread us between the fussy dogs and I navigate the uneven brick pavers on my block, Roo suddenly takes off for a man standing by his car. He is an older man; well-dressed; and is putting some sort of box into the trunk of a late-model black sedan.

I’m sorry, I apologise as I try to steady myself, He doesn’t normally take off like that.

I didn’t think he’d recognise me, the man tells me. I am not looking at the man’s face as he says this; I am looking down at my dog, who is sitting prettily beside this stranger like he has known him forever. But when the man mentions being recognised, my eyes are drawn upward. In New York City, it is not uncommon for a person unknown to a dog’s owner to recognise and be recognised by the dog – Roo is walked by a walker during the day and makes friends all the time. This is to say that, on its face, this exchange is no where near as weird as it might sound to a non-New Yorker.

But before I can ask how this man knows my dog, I realise what striking resemblance the man bears to my dead grandfather – my mother’s dad. I look at his face, and he looks like a very well-dressed, not-dead version of Bop. I am speechless for a moment, because the resemblance is so uncanny.

He bends down to pet Roo, then looks at me: Tell her I love her, he says as he stands up. He puts his hand on my shoulder, like he is resisting asking me for an embrace. I am dumbfounded, and not ordinarily a touchy-feely person, so I nod and I toddle away home with my dog.

I burst into tears in the lift, because I am either going crazy or have already taken too many pain-pills for the day. My mind is racing with questions. When we die, do we simply go on to live as our Best Selves in some other realm – successful, calm, and happy – waiting to bump into the occasional friend and relative along the way? Did I really have a conversation with my dead grandfather on a New York City street in broad daylight? Why would a stranger tell me to tell someone he loves her – unless it were my mother’s father on the day of her birthday?

Am I losing my mind? I am losing my mind.

My mother follows closely in the tradition of her people: Emotional Spaniards Who See Things. She often mentions her conversations with dead people, like this is something perfectly normal, and no one ever bats an eyelash at it. But my apple fell closer to the staid tree of my northern European father, whom I have only seen cry three times in my life: Once each upon the deaths of his parents, and then when I informed him in no uncertain terms that I would not be majoring in accounting.

I feed the dog then hobble off to work. I resolve to go back down and talk to this man; ask him how he knows my dog; let my rational mind take over and figure out The Reason For All This. But by the time I get back downstairs, the man has disappeared.

Am I dreaming?

I do not tell anyone about this encounter, because it sounds insane. In the past, I’ve always loved the subtle signs that I thought represented Bop waving from beyond – his name appearing in unexpected places; the time I thought I heard his laugh in the middle of the night. Those tiny events, which always happened at Just The Right Time, seemed ordinary and easy to explain – a consequence of my brain looking for comfort and reassurance after a protracted period of Complicated Grief.

How do I explain this; how can I make this make sense? I wonder in the taxi on the way to the office.

With my EDS diagnosis, the doctors believe that the genes for the disorder were passed from my grandfather, to my mother and Margaret, to me. And so I have been angry at my grandfather – the man who could do no wrong. I am mad at a dead guy, more than a decade after his death – mad that my grandmother had to feel like she was at fault for the death of her child when my grandfather’s shitty collagen gene was the likely culprit; inconsolable that I’ve spent the past few summers having my body put back together and it took so long for anyone to figure any of this out.

I am also suddenly super annoyed that despite spending decades talking and writing about how different and distant we are, I am turning into my mother.