Bank and mortar

All my money is plastic. My banking is done online. Funds for bills I owe are automatically sucked from my bank account when they need to be. We’ve come a long way since the hours my mom spent sitting at the dining room table with a stack of receipts balancing her checkbook. I don’t know how money will magically appear in my bank account simply because I’ve snapped a photo of it on my phone. But I also don’t know how cassette tapes work, and so I’ve come to believe it’s better to not question some things. Like why so many people love Crossfit.

So despite not ever using cash, I’ve decided to put my pack rat skills to good use by collecting loose change and donating it to charity. The thing about loose change is, I’ve found, you can’t just show up at a bank with three gallon-sized Ziploc bags of loose change and expect them to wave a wand over it and have it appear in your account.

“We’re not taking that,” they told me. “You’ll have to roll that up,” they told me. “Turn around and walk away,” they said. “Ma’am, you’re belligerent,” they said. “We’re calling security,” they said.

I loaded up on paper rolls for quarters, nickels and pennies, however, they were out of the dime variety. Because apparently dime rolls are the most in-demand, most coveted paper roll of all the change. The more you know.

So months go by and all my non-dimes have long since been rolled, so I figure it’s time to pick up where I left off.

The first bank I tried was closed. Checking my watch, I realized that if I hadn’t spent so much time practicing my South African accent into the bathroom mirror, I’d not have missed the bank’s closing time by 14 minutes.

The second bank I tried was open an hour later, probably because the proprietor was also keen on spending the afternoon hours practicing his accents or maybe his Michelle Pfeiffer lips (which I actually did spend an entire afternoon doing once).

This was apparently the place where the Royal Baby was sleeping, if such an assumption could be made based solely on the level of security. I opened the door, and an only slightly annoying alarm sounded inside the bank to alert them I was entering, and then stopped almost immediately. I can’t say I blame them for being so adamant with their security measures, because I’ve heard I look like someone who would walk into a bank wearing a maxi dress, peacock earrings and flip flops and rob it in the face.

The doorway doubled as a metal detector. I was locked in what appeared to be an airless antichamber, likely with hidden faucets ready to shower me with battery acid should I make any hostile attempts to force my way through the doors that aren’t unlike the ones in Jurassic Park guarding the T-Rex paddock.

When the door closed behind me, I heard the lock latch, which made me question whether I’d stepped into a bank or an elaborate trap set up by a serial axe murderer who grew up poor, became a self-made man and now gets his kicks murdering innocent victims in a bank vault. I know it’s not necessary to think about his difficult upbringing and all the opportunities he was’t given, but I like to create three-dimensional characters.

After performing a series of tests, including but not limited to an eye exam, sobriety test, algebra pop-quiz, a lightning round of the-floor-is-lava and a robot dance-off, they determined I was not, in fact, an imminent threat. A light on the doorway in front of me changed from red to green to grant me access to the lobby of the bank. Yes, ALL OF THIS HAPPENED before I was granted access to the lobby. Because this bank is no fucking joke.

“How can we help you?” They asked, accusatory. They still perceived me as dangerous. Bunch of paranoid em effers, apparently.

“Hi,” I said, sweetly, my arms straight, hands clasped together at my side as I swayed back and forth like a recently potty-trained toddler still trying to recognize the urge to pee my pants.

“I need some rolls for dimes if you have them, please.” Masters. I was feeling scared and inferior. Whatever mind control techniques they were using were working. I was feeling lowly and inferior, and not just because I’m unemployed and without child at 28-and-a-half.

They stood behind glass, which I assumed was bullet-proof but I was afraid to ask. Because what you don’t ask when you’re inside a bank are any questions to confirm their suspicions that you’re a god damn criminal. She handed me a short stack of paper dime rolls and then asked whether I would need anything else. I snatched them up and turned to quickly exit the bank, sick of being scrutinized and judged by the pompous tellers behind their likely-bullet-proof glass.

“Anything else?” She asked.

“NO!” It came out louder and with much more force than I’d planned. “BYE!” I said, turning to run out of the bank. Though, my plans were foiled when I tripped awkwardly and slipped out of one of my shoes. I spun around, my phone flying out of my open purse and landing on the floor. I was reaching my foot out to find my shoe, but then aborted that mission to instead go for my phone. I took one step with my bare foot onto the bank floor and the realization hit of what was happening. I turned back toward my shoe, hopped one-footed back to my shoe and slid it on before turning and making the short walk to pick up my phone. I didn’t want to face them, so I said, “GOOD DAY!” and then made a break for the exit, however, I got to the door and realized it was locked. I stood there pushing for what seemed like an eternity, noting the measuring tape adhered to the door frame. No doubt there was a security camera at my back taking in my description and height.

The door buzzed I nearly fell through. Ahead of me I saw a familiar box with an illuminated red light. This time, I knew. I was to stay in this chamber until the door behind me locked before exiting through the final door. While I waited, I turned to them, beaming with pride at how fast I caught onto their security measures. And to make the situation even more of a drain on my dignity, even more humiliating, I waved.

The light turned to green and I held my head up high as I walked through the final door and into the parking lot, more thankful than any person has ever been for online banking.

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Why so serious?

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Turns out as long as it’s called “juice,” he’ll enthusiastically drink it.

(It’s beet juice.)

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“You don’t know about me, ’cause I’m a recluse.”

So relateable. Not sure whether that makes it hilarious or very, very sad.

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Remarks on senseless death

Yesterday was a sad day in this country for fans of justice and Gleeks alike. Trayvon Martin’s killer walks free; Cory Monteith found dead in a hotel room. Yesterday also marked two months since my dad’s death. And in all of this, I keep pondering just how senseless death can be. Senseless and preventable.

I saw this Tweet, which I think perfectly sums up my sentiment about the Trayvon Martin shooting.

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I am a resident of Florida, this happened in a town near mine. Trayvon Martin will never get married, never have children, go to college. All because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And some gun nut trying to be a hero shoots an unarmed 17-year-old kid who died scared.

Cory Monteith celebrated his 31st birthday last month. He’s been called the glue that holds together the hit show Glee by other cast members. His autopsy will be performed today, and people are speculating his cause of death was drug overdose. He went to rehab to take control of his substance abuse problem, and then ended up dying alone.

These people are different from one another in almost every way. But what they have in common is that their deaths could have been prevented. If George Zimmerman wouldn’t have had such easy access to a gun. If Cory Monteith had made better decisions.

I watched the robotic rise and fall of my dad’s chest when he was dying, and I started thinking about how his untimely death could have actually occurred seven years earlier. A massive heart attack nearly killed him, made his heart weak. Years of smoking and drinking excessively had put more stress on his body than it could handle. I’ve made peace with my dad’s death in the sense that I am not angry with him for the decisions he made in his life that caused him to die at 63. But still I can’t help thinking about how the decisions we make – whether it’s how we take care of ourselves, how we treat others, how we are quick to hate instead of accept and love people, how we turn to drugs or alcohol when we’re down or bored – affects us so monumentally. What happened to people dying of old age? Drugs, guns, poor lifestyle decisions, these are the choices we make every day that end lives, that bring sadness and the kind of grief that is paralyzing.

Death is inevitable. Senseless, untimely death is not.

My love and support go out to the families of both Trayvon Martin and Cory Monteith.

 

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“Tears don’t mean you’re losing”

“I’m fine.”

Lie.

I’m not fine. I’m sad. I know grieving is normal. But people are uncomfortable with other people’s grief. So when people ask me how I am, I tell them I’m okay. But I’m not okay. I can experience a range of emotions from happy to sad, but what comes from losing a parent is a long period of figuring things out. Of asking questions and thinking about how things have changed. About longing for a time when your life was simpler.

The day before my dad died, his brother flew in from Alabama to meet us at the hospital, and when he greeted me, he asked how I was. I said, “Good.” And then we both looked at each other, eyes filled with tears, and I shook my head. We’ve been trained to respond that way so that other people don’t feel obligated to take on the weight of our burdens.

This is my favorite song lately. I’ve been listening to it on repeat because it makes more sense than my dad dying at 63. He would have been 64 this Sunday. I would have picked out a funny card and written a nice note and sent it. I would have called him and wished him a happy birthday, heard what he had planned to do that day; likely fish with his brother and enjoy a nice dinner with his girlfriend. Maybe go out on the boat or enjoy a motorcycle ride. But he’ll never do any of those things again, never open another card or present. And so I listen to this song because I can hear it in my soul. Because I’m someone who cries a lot, gets emotionally tied up in things. And because of this, I’m perceived as weak. People purposely keep things from me because they worry about making me upset. I was visiting with an aunt during my trip up north and she asked, nonchalantly, “You’ve got a really low pain tolerance, though, don’t you?” I’ve got 23 laser tattoo removal treatments under my belt that would disprove that. But it hurts my feelings that people make assumptions about me because I am a person who is wired in such a way that I show emotion. Sadness is an emotion, but it’s not a level of strength. And sensitive is not the same as weak.

This song expresses those ideas. That it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay not to be okay.

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The big heave

Since my sister Kelsey moved back in with my mom, all of her belongings have also been living with my mom. More specifically, a giant heap in the garage taking up all the space but one CRV-sized hole enough for my mom to drive her car in. Enough time had passed that the decision was made to unload her hoard by way of renting a dumpster, filling it, and having it hauled away. The idea was, of course, suggested to us by our other sister, a.k.a. queen of the yearly purge.

So while our family is in talks about the logistics of this dumpster delivery process, which, in itself could be an entire blog post because the women in my family tend to over think things and discuss them far after there are things to discuss (see: how long it takes for us to pick something for dinner), we factored in number of weekends vs. weekdays, number of days my sister would have off of work, timed it to be after such-and-such party but before so-and-so arrives to visit. It was not unlike solving some complicated math problem. “If x is the size of the heap and y is the number of days it will take to manually move the heap piece by piece, and z is the god-awful smell and swarm of bugs that accompany this process, solve for how angry your HOA will be if, two days after they present you with a warning for not storing your garbage cans in your garage, you have a massive dumpster delivered to your driveway.

The dumpster was there for a week and a half, I think, filled with old furniture, old memories and the wicked stench of dirty diapers (which we were mindlessly chucking in there). After a few days of hiding our faces when we walked from our cars into the house, we just stopped caring what the neighbors thought. We went from avoiding eye contact with people walking down the road, to greeting them from the porch, barefoot and void of makeup. TLC actually made it into a documentary, which you can catch this fall. It’s called My Big-Ass White Trash Life.

I can’t tell you the exact dimensions of the thing, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was about 24 miles wide by 380 miles long. Yet somehow, despite the massive quantity this behemoth was capable of holding, turns out my sister didn’t follow the rules for properly loading a dumpster and completely ignored the part about not filling it past the fill line. The technique she used was less Tetris and more sixth grade P.E. discus. Which, honestly, would have been fine if she was dealing with just small things, but it turns out my mom had several (yes, SEVERAL) dryers she wasn’t using, a broken television that was could-easily-house-a-family-of-goats gigantic. “Why don’t you carry up my old furniture I’ve been storing in the basement,” she says. So what started as a quick-and-dirty “Get your shit out of my garage” turned into a exhaustive purge of everything at that address we could live without.

So the day before the dumpster is scheduled to be taken away, which is exactly where you want your old crap taken: away, my mom comes in and asks if I’d help get all of the things in the dumpster re-situated so that it was below the fill level. I hesitantly agreed – I’d been entirely hands-off this dumpster project from the beginning because 1) I don’t live there and 2) I don’t believe in throwing things away.

I was already in sweaty gym clothes, so I really didn’t have much of an excuse and felt bad saying no, so I ::gag:: climbed in. It wasn’t that bad if you could balance on the furniture and direct your eyes away from the stash of porn belonging to my sister’s ex-husband. When my sister climbed on her end, which I could only see using satellite imagery, she immediately gagged and nearly lost her lunch because of a dirty diaper gone sour. Dirty diapers don’t smell good in their prime, let alone a week after baking in the summer sun. It was REPUGNANT.

“KELSEY!” I screamed at her, not because I was angry, but because that’s the only way she could have heard me at such a great distance while I bounced up and down cheerfully on an ugly old floral couch my mom should have pitched years ago. (I know you loved that couch, Mom. I’m sorry). “If I’m going to be in here, you are too!”

It took a little finagling to get all the pieces re-arranged, like lifting a refrigerator and one of the zillion dryers. And every time Kelsey was in close proximity to that diaper, she would gag, and then lean over the edge and start heaving.

“IF YOU’RE GOING TO PUKE, DO IT IN HERE, THIS ISN’T A GOD-DAMN BOAT.”

It all worked out okay. Garage looks nicer. My sister’s found some peace in letting go of old pieces of her life. And most importantly, I don’t think the HOA will be playing any more games of chicken with my mom. Metaphorical middle finger for the win.

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Four and beyond

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I looked through my lens, trying my best to capture her spirit and what it feels like to be a kid. To run through the grass without shoes, because all you want to put on is the new dress you got for your birthday. It’s got bows and patterns and bright colors that make you feel pretty. And through my camera, I was able to hide in that life for a while. In her life. I could stop thinking about the tough decisions I have to make. The workload that’s piled up. The bills I have to pay. I snapped shot after shot as she held those balloons, fist clenched tight to keep them from floating away, knowing that it was probably the toughest challenge she’d have to face that day. Her worries, though very real to her, are trivial. Her family as in-tact as it ever was. Her infrequent sadness lasts mere minutes. This is her life: peanut butter and jelly, princesses and a blanket to hold on to. No cellulite.
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This photo shoot came to an abrupt end as Patrick and I rushed out of town on our two-day drive back to Florida. We only spent a few short days at home before heading out on the road again. And as these things tend to do, my visit with my family lingered.

Today while we were on some rainy interstate, I saw what I assumed to be a truck carrying animals, though I could hardly make out the shapes in the crates through the thick of the storm. These are the sights that ruin days: a truckload of lives, filled with fear and sadness, heading to their deaths. But when I got closer, I found those crates weren’t filled with animals at all, but with flowers. The truck was delivering flowers.

I realized through the rain-drenched passenger-side window that somewhere between holding balloons in the front yard and now, I’ve grown into a person who sees a truck full of crates and thinks about the sadness, the hate and cruelty of this world. But I look through my lens and see a person who doesn’t know such badness exists. I see a person who is happy every day. Who cheers for all her opponents when she goes bowling. Who loves to blow bubbles. Who used her birthday-candle wish on a bike instead of world peace. A girl who is happy being a kid. I wonder when I lost that. Or if I ever had it at all.

I hope her ┬álife stays this way. That she always gets excited to see people she loves and isn’t afraid to say so. That she laughs at her own jokes and sings loudly and off-key. And years from now when she is driving, I hope when she sees a truck packed with crates that she assumes they’re filled with flowers.

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Because my hope for her is that she stays exactly the way she is.

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Author in progress

Author. Author. Sounds so elite, so presumptuous. And while I’d like to tell you that I am, in fact, an author, I can’t. Sure, I’ve penned plenty of newspaper columns and articles, got a few bylines in magazines and have been contributing to this website for five years, but it’s not the same caliber as writing a book and distributing it to the masses. “Author” is one of the many job titles that isn’t so much granted as it is earned. It’s like running a marathon before getting your medal. Hitting the home run and then rounding the bases. Author is only a title you can have when you’ve been there and done that. And I haven’t.

Which leads me to my life as of late. Whether it’s family or friends or everyone at my dad’s wake or the guy making my cherry limeade at Panera (highly recommend, by the way), people always find a way to turn any conversation into one about my unemployment, nay, self-employment (see: looking on the bright side).

“So where are you working now?”

“I actually quit my job last fall to write full time.”

“What kind of writing?”

“Book writing. Mostly fiction”

“Oh! So have you published anything?”

“No, not yet.”

“Oh.” ::utter disappointment::

And suddenly my Starbuck’s barista is looking at me with pity, as if I am some sort of failure who needs to be coddled like a mostly-dead bunny a cat left on the stoop. Conversations dwindle after that, but not my spirit. Nor my hope to turn this dream into something I can sign my name on.

Today I have nothing to show for the last nine months of work. No book sales, swag, signings, tours. But I’m okay with that today. Because writing is an art form. Similar to “innocent until proven guilty,” I’m a non-author until proven published.

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I knew this would be scary. I knew I’d feel pressure. I knew I would be broke. But I also know I’m meant for great things. And I never, not a single day, regret pursuing this.

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My goodness how the time has flewn

How did it get so late so soon?

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It’s night before it’s afternoon.

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December’s here before it’s June.

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My goodness how the time has flewn!

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How did it get so late so soon?

- Dr. Seuss

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Forever goodbye

I killed a caterpillar. Caused its life to end. Opened the emotional floodgates that come hand-in-hand with death. Familiar tears seeping from my ducts I can no longer control, it seems, since learning just how permanent death can be.

I buried my father in May. The death certificate is filled with jargon about cardiac this and shock, but all it really means is that his body gave out. His heart broke and mine did too. He was 63.

My last gift to my father was the eulogy I wrote to honor his life, his love, his soul, and to read it proudly without having to stop and gasp for breath between uncontrollable sobs. The very sobs I’d done when I’d step out of his hospital room after holding his hand, a hand that had become swollen, clammy and unfamiliar. I watched the machines move his chest in a way that looked robotic, take his breaths and fill his lungs. Beat his heart. Drain fluid. Remove waste. I remember wondering how this would end; kept reminding myself that all of this would someday be a memory. Though I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever see his eyes again, hear his voice again, feel his strong embrace.

He never woke up. I contemplated whether I wanted to see his body with all the tubes removed, and when I finally decided to, I hugged what was left of him, an empty shell, and said goodbye. I thanked him for being my dad. I kissed his forehead and stroked his soft hair. My life, I knew, was different now. I’d been changed by death, I’d come to know too well how suffocating grief could be.

I spent time surrounded by my family for more than a month after my dad’s death. Yesterday I set foot in my apartment for the first time in six weeks, and something about this place makes sense. I feel at home and at peace. Before I left, I’d planted 10 new baby trees in planters on my balcony. I returned happily surprised by the progress, some even as tall as I am. I spent time this morning unpacking and noticed through the window what looked to be a beetle devouring one of my saplings. Upon closer inspection, it was a long, black caterpillar. It reminded me of my dad, in a way, with its black body and orange markings similar to those of his Harley t-shirts. I didn’t want it on my tree. I’ve had my plants infested by bagworms (repuslive) and wooly slugs (adorable), and I didn’t want to sacrifice my tree’s recently-sprouted leaves for this caterpillar’s meal. I decided I was going to relocate it, and when I wrapped a leave around it to pick it up, it fell. It fell off my balcony. Three stories. To the sidewalk below. And as I looked at what I thought to be a splattered mess, I was overcome with guilt and grief. I did that.

I made two trips down to that sidewalk. The first before I could think rationally, to check on him. He was still alive, though appeared to be fatally injured. The second trip down was to relocate his body back up to my tree. Our lives affect those of others. We have an impact every single day. And if I was going to end another creature’s life, I decided I would give him a good death. He curled into a ball in my gloved hand. I set him on the lowest leaf, he curled slightly on his side. I sobbed. Plucking two larger leaves from higher on the tree, I noticed they had holes in them; seems he’d been living here while I was not. I covered him with those leaves, shields from the sun and wind, and stood back to let him leave this earth.

I’d broken my rule, to first and foremost do no harm.

In my sadness, I found a way to make peace. To do what I had to. To recognize the permanency of death. And to say goodbye.

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