Category Archives: girlhood

Lit

I woke up Thanksgiving morning and started my usual routine – bathroom to pee, brush my teeth and clean my nightguard. I brush and then soak the night guard in some fizzy solution last year’s 8th-grade homeroom advised me on. To dissolve the tablet you toss it in very warm, but not hot water.

Since it’s first thing in the morning, I expect to run the water a few extra seconds to get the water to the tap from the hot water heater in the basement two stories down. Yesterday, though, was different. The water just didn’t get warmer. I immediately assumed I’d go to the basement to find a burst or wildly leaking hot water heater and anticipated dropping $750 or some other crazy-right-before-the-holidays price to replace and install a new one.

I decided to have coffee before venturing downstairs.

Twenty minutes later, I rounded the corner from the stairs to face the hot water heater…actually, heaters. There are two and I first needed to determine which was mine. Fortunately, neither had any water leaking. Good news. I touched the one on the right and it felt warm. No doubt, it was on. I moved towards the other one, on the left, covered in cobwebs. Great.

Of course, that one, mine, was cold. The pilot wasn’t lit. I went upstairs, did a little research (perhaps the thermocoupler needed to be replaced?) and returned with a flash light and some matches, not able to find the stick lighter in the drawer. Maybe it ran away with the hammer. I can’t find that either. Back downstairs, I crouched down and read directions for lighting the pilot and was relieved to find that I didn’t have to provide fire to light the pilot. It had its own ignitor. I thought back to when I first learned how to relight a hot water heater.

I was probably 12 or so. We had recently moved into what would be the longest term residence of my life until I bought my own house. The house felt special because it was ours, sort of. My mother’s boyfriend had bought it and done some work to make it habitable, after a period of vacancy. We could paint any color we wanted to, as long as we agreed to the same one, and we each had our own bedrooms. Without heat. Sometimes in the depths of winter, the interior of the windows would be frozen from exhaled breaths and dreams. We were teenagers and had lots of blankets. It was fine.

There were times when we didn’t have heat in the house other than that cast off by the wood burning stove my brother fed like a mother nurses a newborn. If the uninsulated, built above a dirt foundation, house got too cold we’d wake to have no water whatsoever. During really cold spells, that might be our situation for a few days. On occasion we had oil for the furnace and propane for hot water and cooking, but if we didn’t, we learned to adapt to what was available. It’s just how it was.

So, lighting that water heater, all those years ago. I remember being mad. I was a kid. This was an adult’s responsibility, not mine. I was frustrated. Other people just had hot water and heat all the time. They could boil things on the stove because they had gas. Why was our shit so inconsistent?

And I was scared. Gas scared me. Electricity scared me. Is that weird?

But, we needed hot water (not for the washing machine, we didn’t have one of those,) and there actually had been a propane delivery. We must have been caught up on our bills,* for a change. I wanted a shower and my brother wasn’t home to take care of it. I didn’t have a choice – it had to be taken care of and there was no one else.

The utility room was down the hall, on the other side of a door that led to a part of the house we didn’t use. It wasn’t fit to occupy with its glassless windows and concrete floors. The hot water heater was by far the newest piece of hardware and I kneeled, practically genuflecting, next to it. I remember there was a red button that needed to pressed, and maybe you had to count to three, before inserting a match into a blowhole of sorts and then, trusting that it was lit, the knob had to be released and turned a particular way. It felt intense. I hated it.

Just like yesterday, I lit it.

“our bills?” I was 12, they weren’t mine.

2 Comments

Filed under Albany, Education, girlhood, house, musings, Uncategorized

Rain down on me

0F1F2461-D37D-477C-947E-F8C72B2599EE.jpegRecently I ran in a drenching rain that soaked me. I pushed myself through the downpour knowing that, unlike many other weather-induced, physical circumstances, once I was soaked, I was soaked. Wet is wet.  As long as I kept moving, I wouldn’t get cold and it would be fine.

It didn’t matter that my clothes, head-to-toe, were completely saturated. The fact that my tank top and skort clung to me didn’t bother me. The loop I was taking that night was 5 miles, my go to distance, and I felt strong, not sexy. I was running alone and for myself, not for anyone who might be witnessing my endorphin-fueled elation. 

As I rounded a corner, I was struck by a memory from another rain sodden day a long time ago. I was maybe 14 years old and had walked the two miles from my house to town in a light and misting rain, loving every minute of it. It was a pretty walk, mostly downhill, with lots of trees and a gorge with a stream flowing through it. It was beautiful and, even as a young teenager, I appreciated it.

After getting into town, I stopped at the Seven-11 to pick something up and the manager approached me. He looked me up and down and with a smile that made me uncomfortable, and told me I “looked good wet.” I remember being puzzled. What the heck did that mean? What would make someone say that?

All these years later and I still think of that day and how I felt. My joy in being outside and the internal warmth I had gained from my efforts disappeared as soon as he spoke to me. I felt cold and exposed in a way that was new and embarrassing. Four words from this grown man’s mouth completely changed my experience that day and continue to echo in my head after nearly 40 years. 

On this particular night, decades later, I just ran faster.

 

1 Comment

Filed under aging, Exercise, girlhood, musings, running

Watching my mouth

If you know me, you’re probably expecting a post about my struggle to control my tendency to use colorful language or to share stories that may not always be appreciated by those mentioned. But, no, that’s not quite what this is about. This isn’t about what may come out of my mouth, but instead it is about what goes in.

But, first some history. I’m sure I’ve written before about the recurring dream I had for years. I must have, it was pretty profound for me. The dream is set in a rural area I lived in for a couple of crucial elementary school years. It was a place that had left me with idyllic memories, but in my dream the entire area had been poorly developed and settled with over-sized houses replacing blueberry bushes, fields and trees. The wildness that I had loved was gone.

I always woke up sad from that dream until the day I recognized that I only had that dream when I was faced with change or a decision. Once I had that realization, I never had the dream again.

The point of the preceding, is this: when we recognize why or how something exerts power over us, often it loses its hold. So, about my mouth…

I’ve come to understand that there are times in my life when my eating practices become a form of exerting control. It’s like I’ve been disappointed by the connection between my actions and the results in some personal situation, so I limit my eating to be able to observe the numbers on the scale going down, sort of as proof of the positive relationship between effort and reward.

Without exception, this only occurs when I’m feeling emotionally beaten up and it never really lasts for very long. After a week or two, my body demands more food if I’m going to make it run or bike or walk or paddle board or ski. I remember again that I’m more of an “indulge myself” girl than a “deny myself” lady and eat some ice cream, maybe even with hot fudge, and the scale goes back up a few pounds.

I don’t even know if it’s a bad thing, this temporary curtailing of my consumption. It seems to only make me eventually more appreciative of food than I had been, more thoughtful about what I ingest, which seems ok. There’s nothing wrong with paying more attention to what you’re interested and willing to swallow.

1 Comment

Filed under aging, girlhood, musings, Observations, relationships, stress

I like that

2B1BA3C8-94F6-4EDB-BBAF-12E804849B00When I was an undergraduate, studying English and Women’s Studies at the University at Albany, I didn’t often buy prepared food in the basement of the campus center. There was one occasion, though, when I was on campus in the evening for a panel discussion and needed a bite to eat. I walked downstairs and hesitated a moment before entering what was then the grill area of the food services concession. As I stood at the doorway I witnessed the cooks behind the line blatantly eyeing up (and down) each woman. As the women approached the counter to place an order I could clearly hear the men saying “I like that. I like that.” They made no attempt to hide what they were saying, nudging each other and smirking. Did they think they were offering compliments as a side order?

I, being full on a diet of Women’s Studies, stepped up to the counter and addressed the cooks and informed them that what they were doing was unacceptable and they needed to stop. Their response? “What are you? Anita Hill?” This was late fall, 1991 and the news was full of Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court and Anita Hill’s testimony accusing him of sexual harassment. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere dealing directly with the kitchen guys, I walked away shaking my head.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the then head of Food Services at the university. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from his office and arranged for a meeting with him on campus. He complimented me on my letter writing skills and we discussed the incident. I explained my position and the concern I felt for 17 and 18 year-old women who might not be comfortable confronting men who were engaging in inappropriate verbal harassment and that campus should be a safe place for everyone. He was sympathetic, understanding and assured me that the situation would be addressed. I never went back to the cafeteria again.

Maybe those men were spoken to and developed a new understanding of what is acceptable in terms of addressing women and professional demeanor. Maybe they have daughters of their own now. Maybe they even now know that we don’t like it. At all.

1 Comment

Filed under Albany, Education, girlhood, Local, musings, writing

13 Reasons Why (I struggle with suicide)

About 30 years ago a friend of mine committed suicide. His name was John and he was sweet with a mop of messy hair and jeans that sagged years before it became the trend. He had a kind and strong heart, along with a sense of responsibility that once found him driving behind his cousin and me one night after we had all been out far too late, just to make sure we got home safely. I’ll never forget him.

It never fails to make me sad when I think of him. So much living has happened since that day he took his life with a gun, living that he has missed. It would have gotten better, I think. The disagreement or sadness that caused him to believe his only option was to depart would have become less overwhelming. I just know it.

Since that first suicide there have been others, none however to anyone I was closer to than John. The distance between me and those other, more recently lost souls only provided a single buffer – I was exempt somehow from the guilt of feeling as if I could have done something to prevent the ultimate outcome. That being said, there’s no escape from witnessing the pain of those who are left behind and that’s my biggest issue with suicide – the neverending question of what we survivors could have done to convince that person not to end their life.

After having read the book years ago, I’ve been watching the Netflix series that folks have been talking about, 13 Reasons Why. I binged out on a number of episodes, although my attention sometimes wanders. I think the characters are a little too self aware for high school kids and the tattoos and drugs seem unrealistic. I have, though, been impressed with some of the acting and the creative way the plot and characters were developed to provide material for 13 episodes. The music is pretty good, too.

Regardless of the presentation of the material, the take away for me is this: the pain of the person who takes their own life ends with their last breath. That’s the moment for those of us remaining, when it just begins. Our lives are not better without them, but they continue. We miss them eternally and their absence is a void we’ll never fill.

Even thirteen reasons will never be enough.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, girlhood, Observations, television

So mothers be good to your daughters too

D0CB0C7D-372C-4FFF-A072-2C34D5F64266-1258-0000011A65462537When I was a child I often heard about my Oma with whom my mother had a strained relationship. The complaint my mother frequently made was that Oma treated her sons and daughters very differently. Sons were useful and contributed to the family’s existence and thus were to be indulged, while daughters were primarily useful only for assistance in taking care of the boys. Even though this was one of my mother’s greatest criticisms of her own childhood, you’re probably not surprised to hear that she herself was guilty of repeating the same behavior. Habits are hard to break.

I met some family members on my trip with whom I had never before crossed paths. It’s an odd thing meeting someone you’re related to after living five decades on this planet without ever encountering them. What’s even odder is when you realize how many remarkably similar experiences you share despite not having ever known each other.

Did you know that the word “cousin” is the same in both English and German? That fact makes me smile.

My cousin and I sat across the table from one another and told the stories of our lives, our relationships, our health and our mothers. At times the thread of our conversation was so personal and intimate that it was impossible to believe we hadn’t before met. There’s never been a time when I felt so firmly that someone understood exactly what I was talking about when I shared some moments from my own mother-daughter highlight reel. Why? Because she had experienced the same sort of unhealthy situations.

Our mothers, sisters that they are, had not really grown up together since my mother is more than a decade older and had left home when she was in her early teens. Despite the lack of time the two of them shared, what they did share was their own mother and that left a mark on each of them which they in turn, left upon their own daughters.

Neither my cousin nor I ever knew our fathers. When we were sick or injured as children, often we had to seek care on our own because our mothers were unavailable to us. We each have witnessed the astonishing deception of our parent in the way they conduct themselves with other adults and children while neglecting the very children they delivered. It is uncanny.

My cousin and I responded to our mothers’ disregard for us by growing into strong and capable women. We became educated and learned to understand that our mothers are frustrated, narcissists who will never perceive our own success as anything but an affront to their own unsatisfying lives. We severed our ties to these women not to hurt them, but to protect ourselves, and we’ve struggled with allowing others into our hearts and souls after suffering the disappointment and pain of what should have been a primary relationship in our lives.

I learned that my cousin has a physical condition very much like my own – we both have extremely low heart rates and a genuine need for vigorous exercise. She runs, too. Maybe that’s how we have learned to keep our blood flowing and our hearts alive. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that meeting her has changed me. Something good has come from something less than positive. I think my ability to recognize that is what makes me fundamentally different from my mother – and like my cousin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Europe, family, Germany, girlhood, moms, musings, relationships, secrets, Uncategorized

Growing up in black and white

imageThere’s been a lot of talk about race in our country and its got me thinking about the my own perspective on the relationships between blacks and whites. I was fortunate to have been raised by a woman who did not discriminate between races. My earliest school friendships were with a black girl and a Jewish girl – a real feat in a small town which was almost exclusively Christian and white. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of childhood.

When I was about 12, we moved to a house a couple of miles out of town in a neighborhood I had heard referred to as The Colony. That wasn’t said in a complimentary way. You see, this particular area was populated primarily by black families, including that of my elementary school friend. The house we lived in was only two miles out of town, but it felt pretty far removed. We had the telephone exchange of Warwick, the school district of Greenwood Lake and the zip code of Monroe, perfectly summing up the lack of interest in a single community to “own” this long road. It felt very much like a no man’s land.

In the spring of eighth grade, a number of us tried out for the freshman cheerleading squad in what would be our new high school. I was the only one who was selected and, even then, I felt that it was because I was white. Vicki and Brenda were both better than me and deserved it more. I ended up quitting the squad before football season even started.

A year or so later something happened that changed my comfort level with people of color. My brother had some sort of altercation with Vicki’s brother, I don’t know what it was about, and he got punched in the face as he boarded the school bus one morning. I remember being shocked by the violence and afraid of what might happen next, especially after listening to other students who had witnessed the fight. Their language was new to me and the prejudice they demonstrated was unlike anything I had ever heard, but it gave me a cloak to wrap myself in for protection. I didn’t spend time with Vicki anymore.

In the many years since then, I’ve had very few black friends. I’ve puzzled over this lack of diversity in my life as I’ve celebrated the friendships my own children share with kids from every imaginable ethnic and religious background. The single block in the DelSo where I’ve lived for 20 years is populated by Indians, Blacks, Jews and Whites and I think of them all as neighbors.

Last week, I went back to Greenwood Lake to spend an afternoon with friends. In the early afternoon, I took a run past the haunted houses of my youth accompanied by more memories than I could ever share. My feet took me along the roads I had walked countless times, most frequently to get away from home, but now instead in an attempt to take me back to where I came from. It was a very emotional run, especially once I saw the two “new” (to me) state historic markers declaring the significance of Nelson Road.image

Reading about the history of The Colony caused me for the first time ever to feel a sense of pride about where I spent some pretty influential years of my life. I was reminded of the cultural contributions of Black Americans and wished that those markers had been installed years ago. I hope Vicki has been back to see them.

Leave a comment

Filed under aging, girlhood, musings, Observations, road trips, running, Summer