Category Archives: friendship

Katie

Katie had the biggest eyes I had ever seen.  But maybe that was because the world was still so fresh and new to her.  She was only 18 when she left her family home for the first time to attend the University of Hull in Kingston-Upon-Hull, England.  Her love and compassion were so great, she still felt connected to her family and fiancé even though they were now a hundred miles away.  Katie didn’t seem stressed by the change in her life, though.  Instead, she seemed endlessly excited to face every new challenge with a bright smile and a determined fearlessness normally inherent in most young people.

Though she was embracing a new life with strength and determination, Katie was still not ready to give up some of her young girl ways.  She moved into her student house with a suitcase full of clothes, books, and a menagerie of cuddly friends.  A trunkload of furry, stuffed animals lived underneath a large array of photos of family and friends that were tacked up in random order on her yellow bedroom wall.  The glassy-eyed bunnies, dogs, and ducks sat on her narrow hard bed all year and sometimes Katie would tuck them snugly under her heavy quilt before leaving for classes in the morning.  Her long dark hair would be wrapped up in a high bun or bouncing in curls down her back as she ran for the bus or walked in the cool English wind to campus.  Katie was studying fashion and set design for the theater.  She loved going to the cinema and enjoyed live theater.  She was a talented actress who loved music and had no fear of a dance floor.

I thought I knew Katie very well.  We were roommates at the University of Hull.  I was the exchange student from America.  I was the older, weird foreigner that Katie randomly got stuck with during her first year.  Katie, however, didn’t seem to mind.  She embraced me as a member of her family.  I was her older, gypsy sister from the very first day we meet.  I remember Katie’s excitement in meeting her “first, real live American!”  I remember the warmth and kindness she extended to me the night it was my turn to cook the student meal for my house and I burnt the food so badly we all went to bed hungry that night.  Katie had wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close as I cried from embarrassment, shame, and guilt for starving everyone.  Though Katie and I would go shopping and to the cinema together, though we would relax together over endless cups of tea, though we would lie in our separate beds, together in the dark, talking into the night, there were times when Katie would be the bratty kid sister to my worldly older sibling mindset.  At times, I would push her away while demanding my space.  I would become annoyed when she would read my newspaper directly over my right shoulder.  I would complain when she opened my mail before I got home or wanted to hang out with my dates and me.  I cringed when she went through my luggage and criticized my fashion sense or lack thereof.

Katie always seemed to understand, though, when I became frustrated.  She would slowly and sorrowfully back away from me.  But  then like most younger sisters, she would be right by my side again the next morning; she would once more laugh, play, and lift me up whenever I felt like I was falling down.  For that year, we were family, at times close and loving; at others annoyed and upset with each other.  But sisters all the same.

A year later, Katie and I hugged good-bye as we shared whispered promises to stay in touch and write often.  Katie would be continuing her studies at the University of Hull, while I returned to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, America.

But the years sped so quickly by and life got in the way, and Katie and I started to travel in separate directions.  Over the years, we lost touch, which is something I continue to regret.

I thought of Katie over the years and wondered if she married her fiancé and what kind of wedding they had.  I wondered how many children Katie raised or if she had decided to dedicate her life to the arts.  Knowing Katie’s exuberant personality, she probably was superwoman, putting tremendous effort into motherhood and career and was exceptional at both.

Now, after many months of escaping from my thoughts, Katie’s sweet smile, big eyes, long hair, and enthusiastic personality have been on mind since Monday, May 22, 2017.  Around 4 pm that day, I learned that there had once more been a suicide bomber who killed himself along with 22 innocent young people.  Over 100 people were injured and fifty-nine of those people were in the hospital.  The bombing occurred directly after an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Katie and her family lived in Manchester, England.

I don’t know yet if Katie and her family are safe.  I don’t know if she was even at the concert.  I wish now more than ever that I had never lost contact with her.

I am older now and so much wiser and I’m beginning to realize a few things.  Over the years, I have regretted the things that I didn’t do more than the things I did.  But I mainly regret the moments when I could have loved another person or maintained a friendship, but didn’t make the effort.  Regretting people is so much harder than regretting events.  Do you ever get the opportunity to say I love you again?  I can change events.  I can alter the course of my life.  But I can’t always go back and rewrite relationships especially when I don’t even know where to find that particular person again.

It’s been hard to hear about the terrorist attacks over the last few years.  Europe (France, Belgium, London) holds incredibly special memories for me, and I suffer horrible heartaches when all of the beautiful places I have loved so much have been destroyed.  But this time, I intimately know someone whose hometown was attacked by terrorism and my heart has been completely broken.

I think about Katie now and pray that she and her family are safe.  And I really pray that it is not too late to say something so incredibly simply.

I’m so grateful, Katie, that you were my special, sweet roommate for my year in England.  Thank you.

I miss you, Katie.

I love you.

Prayers for Manchester

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Vibrant Red

It all started with a very simple comment.  A co-work looked at me the other day and asked, “When are you going to dye your hair again?”

I was a little surprised by her question.  It was true that I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to my hair lately.  Life has been so busy that I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to my style or color.  Over the last several weeks, I have just been washing my hair in the evenings and then giving it a few quick strokes with a brush before rushing off to work in the morning.  I don’t fuss with my hair for the rest of the day.  This is fine for me.  I have never been an “every hair in place” kind of girl.  I like my hair wild.  I admit though that sometimes it looks a little too wild, a little too untamed.  I don’t think I’m lazy.  I just have more important concerns than the color or cut of my hair.

Yet, I felt myself cringe a little as I looked at my coworker.  Her hair is always creatively styled and her makeup always looks professionally applied.

I hesitated for just a moment before answering her question.  Unfortunately, my reply wasn’t very motivating.  “I don’t know,” I answered.  “I’ll take care of it when I have more time.”

“Well, it doesn’t look bad right now,” she assured me, “but your color is kind of faded.  Your hair is the color of a peach.  I always picture you as a vibrant redhead.”

Her words made me smile. A vibrant redhead.  I had experimented with that color in the past.  I loved it, even though, I reluctantly admit, that years ago, it also made me very uncomfortable.

When I was born, I was completely bald; there was not a single strand of hair on my smooth, tiny head.  As I grew into a toddler, I had just a few wisps of pale blond hair.  My mother always loved to tell the story that when I was three years old, she had pulled the few strands of my hair up to the top of my head and secured them there with a small plastic barrette.  While we were at the grocery store, a man kept staring at me before walking over to the basket I was sitting in and looking down at the top of my head.  “Oh, she does have hair,” the man said to my mother then.  “I thought you had just stuck that clip straight down into the top of that poor baby’s head.”  Mom always thought that was adorable.  The story though haunted and embarrassed me for most of my life until I finally learned to laugh at myself.

But awkward comments were to be expected.  My childhood hair was always very fine and pure platinum blond.  I was very different from my both sisters who had thick hair.  My oldest sister was a dark brunette, while my other sister was a redhead.  We looked like a rainbow when we stood side by side.  The full light spectrum was always reflected off our hair whenever we were together.  I was the lightest, the palest everywhere we went; I was the one who always seemed to fade into the background.  Being a very shy child, I didn’t mind.  I rather liked it that way.

As I grew older, my hair darkened, until one day, when I was about 15, a neighborhood fried commented to me, “You’re going red!  Oh my gosh, you have red hair now!”

I was horrified!  I didn’t want to have red hair!  Red hair was so rare where I was growing up that my sister was continually teased about her coloring.  She was always noticed and the center of attention at any gathering.  I didn’t want that.  I wanted to stay pale and blonde and wallflower-y alone.  But I couldn’t fight it at the time.  Against my will, my platinum blond coloring continued to darken to auburn.

After a few years, as I slowly gained more confidence, I grew into my hair and I was proud of the color.  I wasn’t vain about my appearance.  There was still too much about my body that I hated.  I wasn’t thin; my long feet turned out awkwardly.  But I started to appreciate my red hair color which made me look much different from other people….in a good way.  I liked the idea that my hair was uniquely my own.

My hair wouldn’t stop changing color, though.  It went from a pale blond to a light red to a dark red until gentle gray strands began to shoot out all over my head.  I started to get gray hair at an early age.  I was only 26 when the first few gray strands appeared.  I must have inherited this trait from my maternal grandmother.  Grandma Edie was completely gray by the time she was 27.

Okay, I may have slowly learned to enjoy my red hair but I wasn’t so appreciative of the gray, even if it was premature.  It just made me feel old and I cried every time I was asked at a fast food restaurant if I wanted the senior discount.

It was time to dye my hair.

At first, I decided to relive my childhood and dyed my hair platinum blond like Marilyn Monroe.  But I’m not Marilyn and the color just once more made me look pale and washed out.  My life had changed; I had changed, and I was no longer accepting the wallflower position.  Red is the color of my soul.  But just like figuring out the dosage of prescription drugs, it took several experiments with different products, mixtures, and timing to get the right tint of red that made me feel the most comfortable.  Some reds were just too brassy for me; others made me look like a large carrot; a few dyes turned me into a pumpkin head.  I even tried burgundy once and really liked it until I realized it had faded to pink.  Yes, that’s right, I walked around with pink hair for several weeks before I finally took the time to dye it again.

Several shades later, I finally found the hue I liked the best and thought was the most flattering for my features.  I loved being strawberry blond.  It wasn’t too dark for me and the red shined brightly out in the sun.

This was the shade I had been using when my coworker made her comment to me.  The problem wasn’t with the dye but with the fact that I just hadn’t taken the time to touch it up again.  My gray roots were beginning to show, but I still didn’t really care.  It was true, though.  I was a peach with rotting, gray areas.  I decided to freshen myself up and started shopping through hair dyes that afternoon.  I reached for the box containing my usual strawberry blond formula but then stopped.  A vibrant red?  I had tried that before and many people made comments that my hair was a spark, a fire, a beacon, a siren.  But…vibrant red…Yeah!  That’s me!  Feeling adventurous and frivolous, I bought the red dye and hurried home before I could change my mind.

That afternoon, I mixed up the color and quickly applied it to my hair.  I wasn’t very careful with it.  I wanted to hurry up with the processes.  I’m not girly-girl enough to spend a lot of time on my hair.  I really didn’t want to mess with it.  I put the dye on and waited half an hour before rinsing it off.  I wrapped a towel around my head and squeezed out any additional water.  I took off the towel and didn’t really pay much attention to the color.  My hair is usually dark when it’s wet…no big deal.  I was sure it would be much lighter once it was dry.

Um…wrong!

About an hour later, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.  “Oh, my God, what have I done!?”  My hair was certainly vibrant red, the color of blood, Midwest harvest summer sunsets, cherries, Mars, and measles.  I was horrified…it was horrible.

Too make the situation worse, my sister-in-law, Mary, was very nice as she complimented me on the new hair color…but then kindly pointed out there was a big problem.  Because I had been in such a hurry to complete the process, I hadn’t realized that I had missed applying the mixture to a large chunk of hair in the back of my head.  Peachy strands stuck noticeable out through the red.  I was shocked as I stood with my back to the bathroom mirror holding up a hand mirror in order to stare at the back of my head.  But there was nothing I could do about it now.  I didn’t have any of dye left.  And besides, it was late.  I needed to get some sleep for work the next day.  I went to bed knowing I had no way to fix the situation.  I spent most of the night telling myself all kinds of things: My color doesn’t matter.  I am not my hair.  I cannot be defined by the way I look.  Who cares what other people think or say?  Other peoples’ opinions shouldn’t matter to me.  It’s only hair, just dead protein.  I can change it again.  I could cut it all off and it would grow back again.  No big deal.

But it was no use.  I have to admit that I, who never really fussed over my hair, felt stupid and ugly.  Maybe I was upset because this was absolute proof to me that I am completely klutzy with hair and make-up.  I would never be beautiful.  I can handle that actually.  I know I am a good person.  But I didn’t know if I was ready to face the awkward comments from people concerning the way I looked.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I didn’t know what excuse I could give.  What was I going to do?

The next morning, I walked into work with the collar of my coat pulled up over the back of my head.  I ran down the back hallway to my locker and yanked it open.  I suddenly sighed with relief as I discovered the answer to my dilemma.  I had forgotten that yesterday my supervisor had handed out Santa hats to everyone.  I never liked wearing the hats which usually were too big for me and put a lot of static into my fine hair.  But now, I grabbed the hat and plucked it down onto my head.  The peachy patch in the back of my head was now covered.  I couldn’t tuck all of my hair underneath the hat so I allowed bright red strands to hang around my face and shoulders.

But then, something really unusual happened.  It was so strange, I still don’t quite understand it.  Almost everyone who saw me that day complimented me on the way I look.  I heard endless comments of “Wow!  Love the hair!”  “  That’s a great red!”  “  What a beautiful shade!”

Now, of course, I didn’t let anyone see the peach patch in the back of my head, which could have easily changed everyone’s opinion.  I also admit that I wasn’t very gracious about the compliments.  I was so taken by surprise by everyone’s comments that I responded by saying, “Th…Thank you…?  I really don’t like it myself.”  Or I said, “Thanks…I’m trying to get used to it myself.” Why did I respond that way?  Why couldn’t I have just said “Thank you” and walked away?  But never feeling very secure with my looks, I felt so ugly and unsure of myself that compliments were hard to accept. I felt the need to apologize for who I was and what I had done.  I had to keep insisting to everyone that I was unattractive.

That evening I bought more hair dye and corrected the error I had made the day before when I colored all but the back of my head.

Now, my hair was completely vibrantly red…and I smiled as I looked at it.  It suddenly felt so right!  Yeah, maybe it was attractive.  Yeah, maybe I did look good.  As I brushed out my hair, I had thought about the compliments I had received that day.  I realized then that opinions didn’t matter.  No one’s thoughts about another person were important.  And hair is such a trivial matter.  But what I responded to now was everyone’s kindness when I was feeling so low and unsure of myself.  I smiled as I thought of everyone’s loving, positive reactions when I was feeling so ugly.  That’s all that really seemed to matter.

So now my hair remains a bright red.  I always loved red but was always worried about people laughing at me or teasing me.  I realized now that the reason I wasn’t comfortable with Mars red was because I was afraid of other people’s opinions.  Even now, there are strangers who walk by me and groan, “God, that’s BRIGHT red!”  Or they call me “beacon.”  But it doesn’t matter now, because I feel good.  It’s funny how I love bright red hair when I love myself.  I need to trust myself and know what I like and not worry about other people’s thoughts.  Hair doesn’t define the person I am inside.  I know who I am so what matters what happens to my body?  I know what my flaws are…I know where my scars are…but it’s strange how they don’t matter if I don’t focus on them.  I am very happy with my hair if I don’t give it too much attention.

I’ll keep my hair red for now.  It is uniquely and personally me.  It defines who I am and is part of my journey.  Maybe someday, I’ll change it again but right now I feel happy.  Besides, I am not my hair…I could dye it purple if that’s the way I feel.

Um….someday…

I smile as I think now of my coworker.  She was right…

I am a vibrant red!

History Lesson

In the end, it is not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.–Abraham Lincoln

I have always found history fascinating.  I enjoy watching documentaries, reading textbooks, visiting historical sites, and looking at old, black-and-white photographs.  I don’t really know why I am fascinated with the past.  Maybe I just like the idea that there was life before I was born and there will be life after I leave.  History reminds me that time is never ending.  Maybe I like the idea that everything we say and do now will become the memories we turn to in the future for guidance or comfort.  Maybe our history is proof that our time hasn’t been wasted, and maybe, just maybe, there was a purpose to our collective lives and consciousness.  History demonstrates a solid cause and effect that can be mapped out as life progresses and our drama continues to unfold.  History reminds us who we are, where we came from, and the connection we all share to life.

So, if I truly honor past events that have created life as we know it today, why, every year, do I always dread August 21?  I don’t enjoy celebrating my birthday for several different reasons.  I don’t always like all of the attention.  Sometimes, I prefer to go unnoticed.  I also don’t feel comfortable accepting presents.  I don’t want people to spend their money on me when I know they may be financially struggling.  Or maybe…

Okay, to be honest…

I hate celebrating my birthday because I don’t like turning a year older.

There I said it.  I hate getting older.  It bothers me because I don’t see myself the way other people have started to view me.  In my heart, in my soul, I still see myself as a spritely, physically strong, highly capable, intelligent, attractive, young woman.

I’m amazed how many people disagree with me.

I was horrified the first time I was offered a senior discount at the movies.  But…but…I’m a young woman!  Why would I be offered the discount?  My brother, Tony, tried to calm my anxiety.  “Jamie, every person who works in retail or fast food thinks anybody over 30 is a senior.”  His explanation didn’t help.  How did I possibly go from being carded to being offered senior discounts?  What happened to the in-between years?

And I almost went over the edge when I received my first offer to become an AARP member.  I stared at the letter and magazine in abstract horror before I manically shoved both pieces of literature into the paper shredder.

I cringed in terror when I tripped the other day at work and one of my colleagues stated, “You have to be careful.  At your age, you could have fallen and broken your hip.”  I was shocked when I was informed by personnel at the school where I was teaching that my health insurance was going up by twenty dollars a month because I had crossed over into the “older age” category.  I’m always surprised when websites and applications ask my birth year and I have to scroll further down now to find the date.  And just how is it possible that people born in the year 2000 are getting their driver’s licenses now?  Why am I looking at the younger generation and saying things like, “Well, when I was growing up, we were taught to show respect…”  Isn’t that what my grandmother used to say?

I have tried desperately through the years to prove to other people that I am still a young woman.  I buy skin products like anti-wrinkle creams believing that each “magic elixir” holds the secret to eternal youth.  I put in hair extensions and dyed all the gray out of my hair.  Each gray strand reminded me of each day ticking off my life.  I go to the gym constantly and try to convince myself that I am in better shape now then when I was a teenager….if only my knees would stop popping.  I exercise and stimulate my mind by reading, writing, and studying…well…history!  Why do other people so quickly point out and joke about my gray hairs, the lines on my face, my momentary memory losses, and my thin, frail body?

For these reasons, I have let several years pass by without celebrating my birthday.  I didn’t plan on celebrating this year either.  I was just going to go to work, go to the gym, and not deviate from my usual day’s routine.

But then…

Ignoring my request to let August 21 just pass by this year, my family surprised me with dinners, sweet gifts, nice compliments, and a visit to the Kansas City Zoo.  And I was shocked how many people posted wonderful birthday greetings and blessings on my Facebook page.  The good wishes were heartwarming and made me feel connected to so many amazing people who had guided and supported me throughout the years.  Today, Tuesday, August 23, I received a twenty-dollar bill tucked inside a birthday card from my aunt Nancy in Florida.  The card and money made me smile as if I was eight-years-old again…and I think I appreciated the gift more now than I did as a child.  I understood the sacrifice my aunt made by sending me the money and I was touched by her generosity.  The money made me smile, too, because it reminded me of my mother who also sent money through the mail regardless of the risk of loss or theft.  My aunt and mother are women of grace; beautiful, trusting souls who saw the simple good in life, an attribute that only comes…

…that only comes with age!

And that’s when I realize that birthdays are a true blessing!  This year, I thoroughly enjoyed the attention I received from my family and friends and loved the birthday celebrations.

I suddenly realized that my birthday really wasn’t about getting older.  It was a commemoration of how far I have come in my life.  It was a reflection of the connections I have made and the friendships I hold dear.  As I went about my day on August 21, I didn’t feel a year older.  Instead, I felt surprisingly blessed.  I was so thankful for every day of my life and all of the amazing experiences I have had over the years.

Now, I have years of experience and knowledge that only comes with age!

And with age comes a carefree sense of self.  I walk around in my pajamas and go out in public without makeup or brushing my hair and I don’t care.  I say what I feel and don’t worry if it’s not the popular opinion.  I hold on to the things that I like and don’t worry if other people think my ideas are stupid.  I sing out loud and dance with spirit even though other people think I have no talent.  I hold on to my beliefs and refuse any pressure to become someone different.  I try to handle my stress and don’t insert myself into other people’s problems.  I’ve learned to live my life free, accepting the person that I am without fear of what other people think of me. I have grown comfortable in the person I have become.

And I know that all of those who offer me the senior discount and fear for creaking knees will not know this until they too have reached the age of “old,” the age of wearing pajamas in public and dancing when there is no music.

I am more of myself today than I have ever been.  I haven’t grown old.  I’ve grown up by growing strong and growing joyful and growing free.  Among the many great presents I have received over the years, I appreciate the gifts of humility and wisdom the most.  And this year, I learned that every day is precious and every moment needs to be celebrated.  My best birthday gift in 2016 was to see every year as one more blessing.

Though I now have my own unique past, I still maintain my childish heart.  I still have dreams and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  But I also have stories to tell and wisdom to share.  I have lived a full life of travel, adventure, successes, failures, heartbreaks, laughter, and tears….

Now, I am older.  I have a history….

I am history.

Unconditional Love

Friskie has not been a happy dog lately.  When I come home from work, she no longer jumps up excitedly.  She doesn’t wag her tail or bark happily.  Instead, she just continues to lie on her large brown puppy pillow.  She just glances up at me as I walk into the room.  Her big brown puppy dog eyes plead sadly with me for just a moment.  Then she lowers her head back down, rolls over, and goes back to sleep.  I stare at her for just a moment and think about all the fun we used to have together.  Friskie and I became fast friends when I first moved into my brother and sister-in-law’s home.  I considered Friskie my first real friend when I returned to Kansas from California.  The dog and I used to wrestle around the living room together.  We used to play tug of war with her toys.  Any of the toy I would toss across the room, she would fetch and bring back to me with her little tail waggling and laughter glowing in her eyes.  We used to cuddle and laugh together in bed at night before drifting off to sleep.

But now, she is silent and still.  I think she is depressed.  She is sad; sorrow is reflected in her eyes and joy no longer radiates off of her sweet, furry, brown and white face.  She whimpers for a moment now and then settles down and goes back to sleep.  And though she can’t tell me in words, I know why she cries.  I know why she is upset, but I can’t really do anything about it right now.  I tried to explain the situation to her with gentle, loving words, but, of course, she doesn’t have any idea what I am trying to tell her.

“Friskie,” I try to reason with her as I stand across the room from her fluffy puppy pillow.  “I love you but I can’t pet or cuddle with you right now.  I can’t take you into bed with me.  I’ve been so sick.”

And it was the truth, but I don’t think Friskie believes me anymore.  I had been working a lot of additional hours over the last few weeks, and though I was tired, I was feeling good….until last Tuesday.  Tuesday morning, I awoke feeling good until suddenly my stomach began to twist around in circles and I found myself in the bathroom hoping that my suddenly queasiness and vomiting would pass quickly.  Even though, I felt better after a few minutes, I was still feeling achy, dehydrated, and exhausted for the rest of the day.  That was just the beginning.  For the next five days, I was horribly sick with flu-like symptoms.  I continued to cough, sneeze, and vomit.  I suffered from diarrhea, nausea, and horrible prolonged headaches.  My muscles ached and I felt unable to control my movements.  In the middle of summer, I was freezing and couldn’t seem to get warm.  I was shivering horribly and yet would get up from the bed to find my pajamas and the sheets soaked with sweat.  I had absolutely no energy, mainly because I couldn’t eat anything.  Even the thought of food made me feel nausea and queasy.  I stayed completely behind the closed door of my room, only stepping out when I needed to use the bathroom.

As I struggled to heal, I stayed away from the sweet family pets.  I didn’t want to get any of the dogs or the cat sick.  I don’t know if the animals could catch any viruses from me but I didn’t want to take that chance.  I was too exhausted to deal with the animals.  I was too hot to cuddle with the dogs who are covered in hot, sticky fur.  I left the animals completely alone…and I think I hurt Friskie’s feelings.  Though the other animals seemed to understand and take the situation in stride, Friskie looked hurt and upset.  She seemed to be lonely and sad.  I don’t think she could understand why I had turned my back on her after we had been so close.  A few nights, I could hear her tapping her little paws down the hallway and coming to a stop right in front of my bedroom.  I would lie in bed fully awake as I listened to her scratch at my door.  Then my heart would break as I heard the dog start to whimper and cry to be let into the room.  I tried to ignore her.  I didn’t want to be around the tiny dog while I was so sick.  I really wanted to open the door, but I couldn’t pull my achy body out of bed.  My muscles just would not respond.  I couldn’t get up and walk to the door.  So I lay in bed and listened to my lovely furry friend crying for most of the night.  I wanted to call out to her to soothe her, but didn’t want to risk waking up the rest of the family.  As bad as I was feeling, hearing the dog cry made me feel even worse.  But there was nothing that I could do about it.

Finally, slowly, after five long days, I began to get back on my feet by Sunday morning.  Though I was still weak, I began to feel better and was finally able to get out of bed and move around a little.  But now, Friskie wanted nothing to do with me.  For days, I had ignored her.  For days, I had not played with her or pet her.  For days, I locked her out of my room and refused to cuddle with her.  I had broken her little puppy heart and now she was done with me.  She wasn’t happy to see me when I walked into the room.  She wasn’t excited or playful even as I grabbed some of her toys and tossed them across the room.  She just stared at me, her little doggy eyes watching me closely and suspiciously as I walked across the room and retrieved her toys myself.  I held them out to her but she refused to take them.  She had been my best friend and I had let her down.  She no longer trusted me.

I felt as if I had just lost my best friend and I couldn’t even begin to explain to her what had happened.  I wanted to just grab and cuddle with her, but she would wiggle away from me.  She refused my offers of food and comfort.  We ignored each other for several days, both of us with broken hearts and not sure how to fix this situation without the ability to talk out our feelings.  I began to realize that I would just have to be patient.  I had to let Friskie slowly come to trust me again at her own pace.  I didn’t force her to be with me.

And slowly, it began to happen.

Finally, on Wednesday, the fourth day of recovery, I sat on the living room couch with my nose in the book and pretending that I wasn’t concerned about the dog.  I tried not to make any sudden moves as I realized that Friskie was slowly climbing up onto the large square padded ottoman where I had my feet comfortably placed.  Friskie stopped for a moment and stared at my stockinged feet.  Slowly she reached out her paw and patted the top of my foot before quickly pulling away.  I put my book down and we stared at each other for a moment.   Once more, Friskie reached out and patted my foot.  As I looked up at her again, she seemed to smile shyly at me for a moment.  I turned back to my book.  Friskie slowly climbed up and used my legs as a bridge to cross over to the couch.  Tentatively, she climbed until she was cuddled in my lap.  I wrapped my arms around the dog slowly and cuddled her close as she playfully licked at my hands and fingers.  Then she nestled in close to my chest as she settled down to sleep.  After having her heartbroken, she had started to trust me again.  Over time, Friskie started to come into my room again.  She sits on my lap as I work on the computer.  She cuddles in bed with me at night.  I don’t know if she will ever know that she was turned away because I was sick.  I don’t know if she will ever understand the reason that she had been so rejected.  But regardless of the reason, she has trusted me again.  She is loving me again without question.  She is putting her heart on the line one more time in order to feel and know love.  Friskie, like so many other animals, has returned to love me without question or without asking for anything in return.

Why are humans the only creatures on earth that have to make love so complicated?  Love should be pure, giving, kind…love should be without question…love should be trusting and understanding…love should be the willingness to have your heartbroken.  I want to love as purely and simply as animals do.   Too bad all my relationships aren’t this forgiving, this loving, this kind…maybe I need to learn to trust when I want to run, to love when I want to fight, to give when I just want to take.  To love without fear or ego…and maybe God put animals on earth to teach us about unconditional love.

Memorial Day With Grandma Edith

Edith Marie McCurdy was born in Kansas on July 7, 1906.  When she was just a young girl, her father tragically passed away.  Edith was forced to leave school to care of her younger brothers and sisters while her mother worked three jobs to support the family.  My great grandmother McCurdy was a unique and interesting character.  She was a strong, colorful woman who was known for beating the neighborhood men in rounds of poker while smoking cigars and enjoying endless shots of whiskey.  An independent role model, great grandmother McCurdy raised her three daughters to be as strong and tough as she was.  The three McCurdy sisters—Edith, Alma, and Lil—were smart, beautiful women who were constantly compared to Katherine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, and Audrey Hepburn.

In 1922, at the age of sixteen, Edith eloped with Ralph LeRoy Burgess.  A year into the marriage, Edith gave birth to her first child, Ralph, Jr.  Over the next ten years, the family grew with the addition of three more children—Jimmy, Nancy, and Leslee (my mother).  Though the Burgess family is directly descended from the House of Burgess (the ruling royal family during the founding of America before the Revolutionary War) in the 1930s, Ralph LeRoy struggled to support his family.  During the Great Depression, he worked as a plumber and handyman, taking any odd jobs he could find in order to support his growing family.  The Burgess family never had much of anything—money, food, or possessions–and they continually struggled for survival.

Every morning during the cold Kansas winters of the 1930s, the two young sons, Ralph and Jimmy, would wake up very early, put on their tattered coats, and walk outside into the cold, dark morning.  The sons would join other young boys who walked along the railroad tracks and picked up lumps of coal that had fallen off the trains.  Coal was the only source of heat for all of the families in Kansas, but no one could afford it.  Grabbing the coal off of the snow-covered train tracks was the only way most families could survive.  Technically, however, the coal belonged to the railroad companies, so even picking it up off the ground was considered stealing.  The young boys walking along the tracks were constantly looking out for policemen as they slipped the black, dirty, hard clumps into the torn pockets of their coats.  However, the threat of an arrest was unfounded.  Many of the officers chose to look the other way when they saw the boys walking the tracks.  Some officers even helped the younger boys gather up the coal before escorting them back home to their mothers and issuing a stern warning.  However, the next day the officers would look the other way when the young boys once again arrived at the railroad yards.

According to Grandma, the Great Depression was a time when people pulled together and shared what little they had.  “People were kind to each other then,” she would say.  “Everyone was always offering what little food and coal they had to each other.  We had no choice.  We were all suffering.”

And things were about to get worse.  World War II took many of the young men far from home and far from their families.  But once again, people rallied, Grandma claimed, and continued working together.  Young,  brave men were eager to enlist and fight for America’s freedom, especially after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Young courageous women went to work in factories where they helped build equipment needed for the war effort.  Families would gather together in the afternoons for activities such as writing letters to the troops or rolling old material into bandages.  People spent what little money they had buying war bonds and contributing to care packages sent overseas to the troops.  Women would use dark liner to draw straight lines down the back of their legs.  The lines resembled the seams that usually were found in the back of nylon stockings.  The women were disguising the fact that they were now bare-legged.  The nylon was being used to create parachutes for the men overseas.  Other small luxuries, like chocolate, were no longer available to the general public.  The precious items were being sent to the troops overseas.  The American people gladly sacrificed their material goods and simple pleasures for the war effort.

Many American homes began to resemble caves.  The houses were shrouded with blackout curtains, which blocked any light coming in or out of their homes.  The houses were plunged into darkness to make them invisible to foreign planes that might fly over America and drop bombs, which was currently happening in England and across Europe.  Due to the bomb scare, many homes had bomb shelters and underground bunkers.  Public places held weekly bomb raid drills and school children were taught how to duck and cover.  According to Grandma, all Americans participated in the war effort.

Roman Senate Seneca once stated, “Great men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.”  The stressful situations of World War II brought Americans together as they overcame adversity and triumphed in their battles.  At that time, our troops were considered heroes and were gratefully supported by American citizens who had also sacrificed to keep America strong and free.

So Memorial Day was always very special to my grandmother.  Every year, on the last Monday of May, my family would go with Grandma Edith  to the local florist to buy exquisite wreaths and bouquets of lilies and roses.  Not understanding the significance of the flowers when we were younger, my sisters and I loved to play with them.  For instance, we would pretend we were brides carrying the huge bouquets down the aisle.  We would sit in the back seat of the car holding the wreaths and bouquets on our laps and become intoxicated by the sweet, natural aroma that filled the car.

As my mother drove around town to various cemeteries, Grandma Edie would tell us stories about the Great Depression and World War II.  She would tell us about the way people supported and loved each other.  She would talk about the families that would gather together to cry over their losses and rejoice over the return of their sons.  At each of the cemeteries, Grandma would lovingly clean off the headstones and place flowers on the graves of her family and friends.  Many of the people Grandma honored had served in the war but many others were family members or friends who had shown love and support during the most trying times in America’s history.  Grandma believed that all people who stood up to adversity and fought for the rights of others bravely served our country.  The soldiers  on the battle field, the young women in the factories, the families rolling bandages, the people giving up chocolate and nylons, the teachers who instructed in bomb drill techniques, the souls crying over losses that were not even their own.  All had served and all should be honored.

So for Grandma Edith, Memorial Day was a day to respect all people who had lived, loved, served, gave of themselves, and took care of each other when America faced great adversity.  My family never celebrated Memorial Day in any other way.  We never went to barbeques or had parties.  We didn’t go to the opening of swimming pools and celebrate the coming of summer.  Thanks to my grandmother, the holiday always held a traditional meaning for my family.  We spent the day honoring all who served…at home and abroad.  And although I admit that as an adult, I no longer spend the day visiting gravesides, Memorial Day remains a day of quiet reflection and in appreciation for all who serve America…

….just as my wonderful grandma Edie had taught me.

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Mistake

 

I think I may have made a terrible mistake.  I did it out of love, though, so it can’t be that bad, right?  But my actions are beginning to backfire on me now.  Though I may have some regrets about what I did, I still am unable to stop because, even though it may be wrong, it still makes me feel warm and safe and loved.

Over the last several months that I have been living with my brother and sister-in-law, I have bonded with their three small dogs.  I love animals and couldn’t resist letting their pets become part of my life.  I haven’t had a pet of my own for several years and so the bonding is now a wonderful blessing for me.  I love the dogs and I think, or I like to believe, that they love me too.  I love the way all three dogs excitedly bark and dance around me whenever I walk in the front door.  I enjoy the way the dogs cuddle up to me when I’m just sitting on the couch.  I love the way they suddenly flop over onto their backs exposing their bellies for a quick rub every time I walk by them.  So, you get the idea, the dogs and I usually love hanging out together.  I would hang out with the cat, too, if she liked me.  I’m never quite sure how the cat feels about me.  She sits on my lap and plays with me one day and then hisses and snarls at me the next.  Of course, because of the cat’s ever-changing attitude, I have grown closer to the dogs.

Lately, when the dogs get lonely, they knock on my bedroom door and ask if I want to build a snowman or ride bikes or something.  No, not really, usually they just want to come into my room and hang out with me.  They hide under my bed; they sleep under my desk; they dance around the room as they sniff and explore the area.  The dogs especially love sitting on my lap when I’m on the computer.  Of course, even though the dogs are small, I can hold only one at a time on my lap, which usually causes the dogs to fight with each other.  They growl, snarl, and nip at one another which causes me to immediately send them out of the room for a time out.  They are allowed to come back in to my bedroom again only when they promise to behave and get along.  But, for the most part, when I am writing my blogs, novels, or emails, one of the dogs is usually cuddled up on my lap.  I really enjoy these moments.  It makes me feel really good to be holding an animal, especially a beloved pet, while I’m working.  Whichever dog I’m holding usually likes to lean against the desktop and look at the information that is on the monitor.  The dogs like most of my blogs.  Their little tails start wagging back and forth and their tongues slid out to one side of their mouths.  They will turn around to look at me with serene expressions on their furry faces.  I usually have to be careful with the dogs if I’m sending emails.  Several times, the dogs have leaned against the keyboard and sent out an email before I have completed writing it.  None of the dogs seem to like my poetry, though.  I think it puts them to sleep.  They will lean against the desktop, look at the monitor, yawn widely, and then curl up on my lap and fall asleep again.

So, it is rather obvious that the dogs and I are best friends.  But lately, the friendship may have gone a little too far.  One of the dogs has started to take advantage of our relationship.  But it is really hard to tell her no sometimes.  Friskie is a lively, happy, playful dog who is covered in white and brown fur and has large, brown eyes.  She is a small dog, probably weighing no more than 15 or 20 pounds.

So, a few weeks ago, when I was feeling lonely and a little down, I welcomed Friskie into my bedroom as soon as she scratched on my door late one night.  I picked the dog up and placed her on the bed.  I had never put any of the dogs in my bed before.  But tonight, feeling sad, I decided to make an exception.  It took a little time for the dog to get comfortably situated.  At first, Friskie wasn’t sure what to make of her sudden good fortune and she roamed around the queen size bed for a moment stepping gingerly across the mattress and scratching at the sheets.  She began to settle down into the far corner of the mattress until I crawled into the bed, picked her up, and placed her down in front of me.  We both were settled on our right sides as I cuddled Friskie close to my chest.  I began to relax as I felt warm and comforted.  I began to scratch along the dog’s back, side, and chest.  Soon, we both started to dose off.  After about twenty minutes, however, I picked up Friskie and walked her to the door.  I sat the dog down in the hallway.  She looked up at me in surprise for a moment before I told her good night, threw her a few kisses, and closed the door to my room.   A few minutes later, I could hear her little paws padding down the hallway to the living room where she normally sleeps.

The next night, once again feeling sad and lonely, I invited Friskie into my bedroom and placed her once more on my mattress.  And again, after we had a few minutes of relaxation, I picked Friskie up and placed her outside my bedroom door.  Again, I told her goodnight, gave her kisses, and closed my door.  I listened to her slowly making her way back into the living room.  This soon became our routine several nights a week.

But now, every evening around 9 pm, Friskie knocks on my bedroom door.  Or sometimes if the dog sees me walking through the living room, she chases me down the hallway and races into the bedroom ahead of me as soon as I open the door.  She tries excitedly to jump up on the bed but it’s too high for her.  She never gives up, though.  She continually runs and jumps, hits the side of the bed, tumbles backwards, and then runs and jumps again.  She tries several times to get up on the bed.  Finally, I pick her up and place her on the mattress.  It makes me laugh that she is familiar with our routine now, even though, I don’t think I should keep her in the bed.  I hadn’t actually meant for this activity to become an every night habit.  But now, I’m not sure how to tell the dog no after I have spoiled her.  So, I let her into the bedroom and up on the bed.

Well, to be honest I enjoy the comfort, too.

Friskie and I cuddle together under the blanket.  We again both sleep on our right sides.  I am behind her and wrap my upper body protectively around her.  I hold her and scratch her chest and tummy.  It makes me laugh when I pull my hand away and Friskie reaches out with her little paws and bats at my hand as she demands a few more pats.  We lie quietly together and watch old episodes of Survivor on Amazon Prime on my computer.  We giggle girlishly over Jeff Probst and debate who should be voted off the island next.  We both soon drift off to sleep.  A little while later, I’m awake and I again begin the ritual of moving Friskie off of the bed and out of the room.

But this is where we now have developed a little problem.  As I try to move the dog off of the bed, she refuses to leave.  She whines and sighs heavily.  She presses her tiny, furry body deeper into the mattress.  She digs her little paws into the blanket.  The dog refuses to budge.  She refuses to give up her safe, warm place on the bed.  Again, I get out of bed and pick her up; however, when I try to lift her from the bed now, she suddenly goes limp in my hands.  Even though this can be a little frustrating, it always makes me laugh out loud.  I have seen children refuse to go somewhere with their parents.  Their only defense is to suddenly let their bodies go completely limp.  They become heavy, dead weight as they force their parents to try to lift and carry them.  I always laughed over the way children just seemed to instinctively know how to do this.  All children seem to know this trick.  It must be an innate defense tactic that is written directly into the DNA.  However, now I have discovered that animals are born knowing this very same trick!  Friskie always goes limp now to avoid being thrown out of the warm, comfortable bed.  Picking up this little, 20-pound mutt now feels like I am trying to lift a 100-pound pit bull.  I struggle to pull the dog up and carry her over to the door.  She lays wilted over my arms.  I hold her by her mid-section as her head and paws dangle stiff and heavy down towards the floor.

I struggle to hold on to Friskie as I open my bedroom door.  As I gently try to place her in the hallway, I feel like I am trying to throw a heavy sandbag in the middle of a flood-inducing rainstorm.  She is heavy and drooping, and she has completely refused to help me in my dastardly deed of sending her away.

When I finally set her outside my door, she stands for a moment in the hallway looking up at me with large, puppy dog eyes as she continues to whine and beg to come back inside my room.  She dances around in circles and barks loud enough to wake up everyone in the entire house.  I usually have to pick her up and carry her into the living room where her dog bed is located.  I put the dog down on her large, square, brown “puppy pillow” and cover her with her favorite, tattered blanket.  I kiss her on the head and go back to bed.  Throughout the night, though, she comes to my bedroom.  She scratches at the door and cries.  I lie in bed and regret that I ever let her in my room in the first place.  Then I get up out of bed and open the door.  I cuddle with her for a few minutes.  I pet her, kiss her, and tell her I love her.  I let her cry it out before I finally carry her back to her own bed and she sleeps peacefully.

The next night, though, she is at my door again; all has been forgiven.  She scratches and begs to come into my room, and I am so happy she still loves me.  I really don’t know who needs whom more.  I’m just happy she is there for me once more.  And maybe this is what people mean when they say that their pets love them unconditionally.  Too bad we don’t always forgive and forget and choose to love again with other human beings.

So maybe I have made a horrible mistake with the dogs.  Maybe I should have never let them into my room or let Friskie into my bed.  But I guess we are all co-dependent.  I know there will be more nights when Friskie and I will lie side by side, watching Survivor, giggling over Jeff Probst, cheering on our favorite contestants,  and cuddle each other close; both of us feeling warm and loved….and, honestly, most nights, I don’t feel like I made any mistake as I cuddle the dog close.  I have no regrets at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those People

What was I thinking!?  I thought to myself as I stood inside one of the stalls in the small bathroom.  Why was I so anxious?  This moment hadn’t been a surprise.  I had spent the last several weeks reading through all of the Facebook posts describing the details, the “what, where, when, who, and why” of this event.  Each post made me feel alternately excited and depressed.  I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do.  I debated continually back and forth.  I couldn’t decide if I really wanted to participate.  Because I was so unclear, I sought advice from many different people to give me some direction.  Unfortunately, I continually received the very same response from everyone without any diversion or counterpoint.  “God, why would you ever want to do something like that?  I never will.  Why would I ever want to see Those People again.”  “I wouldn’t go.  I couldn’t stand Those People.”  “  Well, you know, all of Those People were rude and mean.  They treated me horribly.  I never want to be around Those People again?”  The answer was the same again and again though everyone was talking about a different group of people.  But it was absolutely clear.  Everyone seemed to hate Those People….no matter who they were or where they came from.

And for a while, honestly, that’s how I felt, too.  It had been 35 years now seen I had seen Those People of mine!  Why would I even think about going back?  Well…maybe it was just curiosity…morbid curiosity, at best.  Maybe I just felt a horrible need to belong somewhere.  Maybe I just needed to reconnect with the past in order to move on with my life.  Maybe I just needed some closure.  Maybe I just wanted to show off that I had survived my teenage years…High school hadn’t killed me as I imagined it would at the time.  Had it made me stronger?  I can only hope so, but I do know this:  for good or bad, I have certainly come a long way since my high school days.  So, whatever the reason may have been, I was now standing, (oh, alright, I’ll be honest!), hiding in the bathroom  of St. John’s Catholic Club in Kansas City, Kansas, as I psyched myself up to join my classmates for our 35th high school reunion.

As with most people, high school had been a traumatic experience for me.  I always felt unattractive, stupid, and awkward.  Gym class certainly didn’t help me gain any confidence.  Instead, the class seemed to reinforce  my negative feelings.  Many times, I was chosen last when deciding teams but, honestly, I can’t blame my classmates for this.  I wouldn’t have wanted anyone as uncoordinated as I was on my team either!  I believe I was the main reason my team always had to run laps around the gym for losing volleyball matches.  I would cower away in terror from any ball that came rolling, spinning, or zooming my way.

I fared no better in the actual classroom environment.  I was extraordinarily shy and quiet.  I never wanted to speak up in class and would continually play dead if the teacher called out my name.  I just could never seem to find my voice in a room full of people.  Giving presentations was torture for me.  I usually pretended to be sick on presentation days.  If that didn’t keep me out of the classroom, I would beg my teachers for any additional assignments to replace the presentation.  Many of them refused; they explained that the experience would be a good confidence builder for me.  It actually didn’t work.  I would stand up in front of the class with my paper shaking and rattling wildly in front of my face as I  mumbled through random information for the allotted five minutes of time.  I didn’t care about the grade; I just wanted to get through the experience without being laughed at or teased by my fellow classmates.

My social experience of high school was routinely painful.  I was the kid who continually seemed to have the runny nose, the drooping socks, and the untied shoelaces no matter how I tried to present myself.  I was overweight and wore thick, heavy glasses.  Every weekday, I just put on my green plaid school uniform, my sagging socks, and my arch-correcting saddle shoes (for my flat feet), and went off to school where I walked around with my head down and my shoulders protectively wrapped around my upper body.

In my senior year, I begged my mother to let me quit high school.  I am relieved and grateful now that my mother rejected all of my arguments for dropping out.  She refused to allow me to leave school until I safely had my diploma in hand.  But for years immediately following graduation, I failed to see the benefit of this at all.  I swore I would never go back to school or see any of those people ever again.

But there is one problem with the word NEVER.  It has a friend named KARMA.  Because no matter how much we hate certain experiences in our lives, they all happen for a reason.  And no matter how often we say NEVER, life has a way of recycling lessons until we learn them.  For example, even though I swore I was finished with my education, after a few years of working minimum wage jobs, I suddenly found myself drifting back to school.  I began attending Johnson County Community College and loved the experience of learning so much,  I transferred to the University of Kansas and found, quite literally, that the whole world slowly began to open up for me.  Over the next several years, I found myself in all kinds of interesting jobs and positions.  I worked as a model, a reporter, and a photographer.  I traveled the world, even waking up one morning to find myself in Thailand and soon I was backpacking by myself across Malaysia.  I lived successfully in New Mexico, Tennessee, and California.  After high school, I went on a 35-year journey to find myself.  I finally stumbled my way back to my hometown in Kansas last year.

I proudly put the information of my return on Facebook and was amazed that a lot of my old high school classmates reached out to me.  That was fine.  I could handle Facebook relationships.  But four months after my return, posts began to appear about our upcoming 35-year reunion.  I was surprised because it seemed a little ironic.  How was it possible that I would return to Kansas the very year a reunion was scheduled?  Maybe…just maybe…it was KARMA challenging my never-ending use of the word NEVER and my reluctance to see Those People again.

I was NEVER going to attend a high school reunion.

For years, I had agreed with Jase Robertson of Duck Dynasty when he said, “Do I go to high school reunions?  No.  If I haven’t talked to you in over 25 years, there’s probably a reason.”  For the 10, 20, and 30 year reunions, thankfully, I continually had the excuse of being “out of town” to avoid the events.  But now, I no longer had any excuse.  So there I was on Saturday night, April 23, 2016, in Kansas City, Kansas, at my 35-year reunion, hiding in the bathroom at St. John’s Catholic Club.  Of course, this brought back even more unusual memories of my high school experience.

Once a month, my school sponsored a mixer for all of the students on a Friday night.  I never wanted to attend these dances with Those People.  My mother forced me to go.  She thought it would be good for me to get out and mingle with my classmates.  I hated it!  I wanted to stay home and watch Donny and Marie.  I had a huge crush on Donny at the time, which I think my mother considered somewhat unhealthy.  It would be a good thing for me to get away from my teen idol for a while.  Mom and I would argue about the mixers before and after the events, but every month, I was expected to attend.  Once I was at the dance party, I would spend the first few minutes standing around the refreshment table before retreating to the bathroom where I would hide in a stall until it was time to go home.  I never danced and I never talked to anyone.  I would just stay in the bathroom and wish that I was at home watching Donny.  Though I have seen him in Vegas, I no longer watch Donny now.  I have traveled all over the world.  I have published.  I have modeled.  I have had my own business.  I have taught struggling students.  I have had an amazing life.  But here I was, at the reunion still huddled in a bathroom stall instead of facing my former classmates.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to leave the bathroom and yet I continued to linger.  I may have stayed in the bathroom all night if I hadn’t thought of Janice and began to feel terribly guilt.  Janice had been a good friend to me during my awkward elementary and high school years.  I was fortunate to  reconnect with her several years ago on Facebook.  Janice had confessed to me that she too had debated about attending the reunion.  But then she said something that really got my attention.  “If I don’t go,” Janice had stated, “I’m afraid I’ll regret it later.”  Her statement made complete sense to me.  What if this was my last chance to make amends?  Janice was right.  We decided then to go together so we would each, at least, have someone to sit with during the event.

Since I was still relearning my way around Kansas City and, especially, Strawberry Hill where the event was taking place, Janice offered to drive us to the reunion.  Because sections of the I-70 were closed, we got a little lost on the way to St. John’s and ended up in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.  If I had been driving alone, I would have used “getting lost” as an excuse to just go back home.  Janice took it all in stride, though.   She stayed completely calm; methodically and strategically, she  found the way back into Kansas.  She did a great job navigating the one- way streets and the closed roads to find St. John’s Catholic Club.  She never gave up.  She never got upset.  I need to be more like Janice.  Because now I realized that while Janice had gotten us to the reunion, I had suddenly deserted her to go hide in the bathroom.  What a horrible friend I am!

With that thought in mind, I forced myself move out of the stall.  I walked over to the sink and washed my hands while I stared at myself in the mirror.  Oh, God, what have I done?  My make-up didn’t look too bad, but my hair was a stiff, unnatural, badly blended mess.  I usually don’t fuss with my hair.  I tend to just brush it and run, but tonight I wanted to look good for the reunion.  So before I met up with Janice, I had taken the time to carefully curl and style my hair, which is something I never really do.  Once I had my hair in the design I wanted, I had grabbed the hairspray and didn’t stop spraying until I was sure not a single strand of hair would dare to move out of place.  Though I began to choke on the fumes, the spray hadn’t been enough to ease my hair anxiety.  I also had a can of spray-on hair dye to touch up my roots.  (Yes, I dye my hair to cover the gray…what of it!)  I didn’t have time to dye my hair earlier and I didn’t want any of my (gray!) roots to show.  I thought I would just touch up my hair with the red spray.  I had tentatively tried the dye on a thick strand first, and when that looked okay, I went crazy spraying the dye in a solid line down the center of my head.  Oh, my gosh, it wasn’t until I was at the reunion that I realized that the spray-on dye didn’t match my hair color at all.  The color from the can was much darker than my normal (I said normal, not natural) lighter strawberry blond color.  The spray had turned the center of my scalp horribly bright red.  I looked like I had a badly oozing wound on the top of my head.  Seriously, it looked like I had split open the top of my skull and blood was seeping out.  But I couldn’t wash it out now.  I would just have to make sure that no one could stare down at the very top of my head.  Man, I need to stay away from hair products when I’m in the midst of a panic attack.  Hair products are the bane of an anxious woman…well, at least for me.  I always go overboard in order to hide my scars and imperfections.  I try to save myself from ridicule but just tend to make everything worse and much more noticeable.  So, now, I was already at the reunion and had no choice.  But what was I really worried about anyway?  I just needed to get through tonight and then possibly NEVER see those people  again.

I took a deep breath, turned away from the mirror and walked out of the bathroom.  I stepped into the main room of the Catholic Club.  The lights were down low and a soft golden glow filled the room.  Ten tables were lined up parallel on both sides of the room and covered with white tablecloths and black beads.  There were several people standing around in small groups up by the stage.  And suddenly to my surprise, I began to smile…and it felt natural…and it felt good.  My smile did not feel faked or forced or strained.  For some reason, there was an energy about the room that made me feel excited and happy.  I don’t really know what brought on this feeling.  I had expected to find myself standing on the outside of any gathered group and out of my own comfort zone, but that’s not what happened.

Instead, I felt relaxed and happy when Cindy walked up to greet me with a hug.  I felt comfortable in her presence, but in all honesty, Cindy wasn’t a challenge.  She looked radiant and her personality always sparkles and shines as much as her physical appearance does.  She has always been welcoming and charming.  She makes everyone feel like a friend.  Cindy was my very first Facebook friend from high school and continually communicated with me through that medium for the last six years.  We had already met for dinner twice before this reunion, so I already thought of her as a friend.  I was pleased that she was the one of the first people I saw at the reunion that night.  That situation helped set the mood for the rest of the evening.

After a moment, Cindy moved away and I found myself talking to Gregory.  His soft, gentle voice and easy-going manner put me right at ease.  After talking to Cindy and Gregory, the rest of the evening suddenly became easier and, to my shock, I found myself connecting, hugging, and talking to many people I hadn’t seen in over three decades!  The conversations came easily, the hugs were heartfelt, the emotions sincere.    I talked to more people that night than I did in my four years of high school!  It was a surreal and unusual situation to see everyone again.  Most of the people looked just like older versions of their high school selves.  I felt completely disoriented whenever someone’s seventeen-year-old face suddenly superimposed itself over his or her current, older facial features.  Remember, I had never seen the adult version of any of Those People.  I only knew them as teens.  I felt for a moment as if I was in a time-travel movie.  Maybe I was actually traveling forward in time.  I suspected that I would wake up the next day and it would be 1980 once more.  But for now, it was fun to see everyone again after so long.

There was Julie looking as young as she did in high school.  And Mary who always had a great sense of humor.  She was a little more serious now, but still putting out positive, good vibes.  Joan still retained her good heart and sweet smile.  Teri continually displayed enthusiasm and pride in the school and her classmates.  Karen definitely had to be the most honest of all of us.  She confessed that she didn’t remember Janice or me at all.  Her candor made me laugh.  While some of us ran around the room trying to remember everyone, and cheating by deviously reading name tags first (well…I did…),  Karen was refreshingly open and straightforward, which was greatly appreciated.  I couldn’t help but smile when Brian suddenly sat down next to me and talked about his family.  And I was comfortable when Jeff did the same later that evening.

Most of my former classmates gave me sweet compliments on the way I looked that night and congratulated me on publishing my first book.  The most consistent compliment I received from Those People, however, was for my Facebook page.  I was completely stunned to hear people mention this.  After a few months of posting comments and statements about my life, both positive and negative, I decided that I wanted my Facebook page to be encouraging and motivating.  I have posted only positive quotes and stunning artwork on my page for the last five years.  I am not trying to be pretentious.  My Facebook page is my creative attempt to keep myself inspired and focused on the optimistic aspects of life.  I was thrilled that so many of my classmates, especially Therese, Terri,and Melissa, expressed their appreciation for my posts and asked me to keep the positive thoughts coming.  I was pleased that so many people felt inspired by my Facebook page.

Everyone happily conversed and engaged with each other, but sitting in a small group of five women later in the evening was a surreal moment for me.  I never had children and so as my former classmates talked about their families, I had nothing to add to the conversation.  But that didn’t matter to me.  I didn’t care.  I was absolutely fascinated by their words.  Thirty-five years ago, the conversations had been about tests, classes, homework, and teachers.  It was an unusual experience to listen to my classmates talk about their grown children.  “They just don’t get it.”  “I have been encouraging them to move on.”  Every comment was made with a mixture of joy, love, concern, worry, and stress.  There was no doubt that these people absolutely loved their children and wanted the best for them.  It was incredible to hear these same sweet teenage voices discussing grown-up issues.  I just sat there mute and quiet as I usually was in high school.  Only this time, I was fully attentive and could have listened to them all evening.

I also enjoyed seeing Steve, Jeff, Duke, Aldo, Nick, Joe, Chuck, Keith, Michael, and Brian again.  I think I talked to the “boys” more that night than I did through the four years of attending Bishop Ward High School.  This was an extremely bizarre moment.  What happened to all of the boys from my classAnd why was every one of them so tall?  They were not scrawny, little kids any more.  Now, I was surrounded by fully grown, handsome, strong men.  If I had realized that was going to happen, I would never have left Kansas 35 years ago!  I smiled as I looked around at all of these incredibly tall, incredibly attractive, older men.  I just prayed that none of them would suddenly look down on me and notice my “oozing” painted-red scalp.  That became one of my challenges of the evening.  I strutted around and kept moving just to make sure that my wayward vanity would not be discovered.

It had been a real challenge trying to make sure no one could look down on my red scalp.  Maneuvering away from tall men became easier when I got out on the dance floor where I was now  too happy to worry about my “bloody” hair.  Now, I could shimmy and move and turn without looking like I had to go to the bathroom.  Yes, I danced!  I was actually out on the dance floor with several of my classmates as we threw our hands up in the air, spun around, and kicked our legs.  I was not hiding in the stall now as I did at the mixers 35 years ago.  I was wiggling around in the middle of the dance floor.  I was actually dancing!  Look at me, Momma!  Look at me!  And I didn’t care at all what anyone else thought of me.  I didn’t care if I made a fool of myself.

The evening was perfectly summed up by Natalie’s comment about me.  “When we were in school, Jamie, you were so shy and quiet, most people didn’t even know you existed.  But look at you now.  Look at all of the amazing things you’ve done!  It’s incredible!”  I couldn’t help smiling at her statement.  I felt completely different than I did in high school.  And as I looked at my former classmates, I realized that we had all grown into a successful, good-looking, kind-hearted group of people!

And that’s when I suddenly realized something.  I was not the only one who had changed.  All of my classmates had grown up, too.  None of us were the same people we had been in high school.  As much as I have grown and changed, so have they.  How could I ever hold anyone responsible for what they said or did as teenagers?  I wouldn’t want anyone judging me now based on my 16-year-old self and I wasn’t going to do that to anyone else.  Those awful high school years when I felt so battered…well, I suddenly realized now that most of my scars had been self-inflicted.  It was my own reserved heart and negative mindset that had kept me locked up and hidden away in bathroom stalls.  But now, we were all (a little?!) older and a whole lot wiser.  And we were beginning to connect on a whole different level.  We were no longer the jocks, or the brainiacs, or the geeks, or the cheerleaders, or the nerds, or the loners.  Those were just labels we gave each other as we all struggled to find the place where we belong, as we all strived to find our own identities.  Those titles are laughable now and certainly don’t reflect who we have become…

And the strange thing was…I really wanted to keep partying with my former classmates because, on this night of the reunion, I truly loved those people

So, at the end of the evening, I proudly gathered with my classmates for a group picture.  I was a little concerned when my high school crush walked over to me.  Oh, my gosh, he could still make me shiver as if I was sixteen-years-old again.  I quickly maneuvered myself away from him, though, and moved to the other side of Janice.  Well…okay, maybe a few insecurities still remain.  I just didn’t want my old crush to think that I was still clumsy enough to injure myself.  “Help, someone!  Jamie’s bleeding from the top of her head!”  So, yes, I definitely needed to move away from him.  I may never see him again and didn’t want that to be his last impression he had of me.

Hopefully, that will not be the last impression anyone has of me.

So here is my advice.  Do NOT go to your 10th or, even 20th, reunion.  Wait for the 30th or 35th reunion.  Do not see anyone from high school for at least 30 years.  Wait until everyone has had the chance to experience life.  Give everyone the opportunity to grow up.  See everyone again when they are seasoned, when they are weathered.  Become friends with high school classmates after everyone has had the chance to experience life.  Give each other the chance to experience life as God intended.  My classmates are people…real people.  People who are raising their families, working their jobs, and suffering their losses.  People who have cried and laughed and loved and hurt and grieved.  We are all really not that different after all…

Even though we had originally debated about going, now Janice and I really didn’t want to say good-bye.  We finally left the reunion around 10:30 pm because, unfortunately, I had to work early the next morning.  As Janice and I walked out of St. John’s Catholic Club and into the dark night, we turned right to walk down the steep hill to her car.  Suddenly, I gasped and had to catch my breath.  I stared at the scene in front of me.  From the top of the hill, I saw the beautiful, white, round moon shining down on the bright Kansas City skyline.  It was an amazingly beautiful image.  The sight filled me with wonder!  I now suddenly realized I was home.  I knew where I belonged.  I was loved.  I was safe.  The past had been put to rest…well, it had been put into perspective.  And the future, for my classmates and me, seemed even brighter now than it did 35 years ago.  Beautiful days loom ahead of us.  And though I may not always now where I am headed , I certainly now know where I have been, and where I come from…

I feel united and am proud to say I am one of Those People.