There are very few things I remember from my childhood.
One being the time my six-year-old self, with both doe eyes fixed on the television, took a long-winded sip from my mother’s lukewarm Coors Light instead of my own Happy Meal Sprite. (Why she had a straw in her beer is something neither of us ever figured out.)
Apparently I wasn’t a fan.
Another, the scarring moment four-year-old me plummeted to the ground off a set of presumably high-end, Bermudian monkey bars. Later in life, my mother would say with a straight face, “I can’t believe that’s all you remember from that fucking trip.”
Apparently it was a nice one.
A third, in elementary school, when my mother confiscated my brand new Looney Tunes pencil case after discovering that I’d reported her to D.A.R.E. informants because she smoked Marlboros, not marijuana.
Apparently those little baggies were for buttons.
One of the hardest parts about losing both parents has been losing the memories that went with them. The stories I would ask to hear over and over again at thirteen, but couldn’t care less about come high school because I was a hormonal monster with a Myspace to manage.
The little things that only they took note of and either, A. never told me or, B. told me so long ago that it’s been excommunicated to the dark chamber of my brain where Math B is stored.
The ones I’m interested in now more than ever.
A good friend of mine just started a blog called, “From Russia, With Sarcasm.” In it, she plans to detail every thoughtful/embarrassing/life-molding moment from her immigrant childhood (and her parents’ coinciding immigrant parenthood) — a conquest, I admit, I am equal parts fond and jealous of.
Sure, there are the anecdotes that stuck — like how, to keep this pint-sized human off the couch, my mother would simply lay down the vacuum (a household object, I’m told, I was terribly afraid of), or how, come hell or high water, I would try and stick my tiny hands in the VCR (a household object I apparently was not).
Though, there will always be gaps.
There will always be gray areas because there will always be stories, whether proclaimed at dinner parties or published for the world to see, that haven’t been properly fact checked — some filled with unintentionally stretched versions of the truth (Was Mom a Grateful-Deadhead or did I dream that?) and others with sentences that could always be better.
Sentences that would benefit from said little things.
Take this piece, for example.
When did Mom first learn I was paralyzed by the vacuum?
Was I alarmed by any other inanimate objects?
Did I shriek in fear or lay fetal on the floor?
For a writer, these details (or the lack-thereof) can make or break a good piece. And, for someone still grieving, the missing pieces are just another reminder of how real a loss is.
So, like us writers usually do, we improvise (just like us grievers do with things like inherited debt and all that dreadful funeral paperwork we never knew existed).
It was probably an accident, and she probably laugh-cried.
I was definitely wary of the George Foreman grill.
If I was then, like I am now, fetal. Definitely fetal.
It’s all any of us can ever do.
Also featured on Huffington Post Healthy Living
A friend recently informed me that I’ve been living below the poverty line.
Since blowing through my savings in a mere two-ish years on my own, I’ve had the nice, expensive Pursian rug pulled out from underneath me. The one that paved the way for lavish, week-long music festivals and all of the bar tabs I so heroically-and regrettably-offered to pay.
I’ve kicked the iTunes habit my stay-at-home mother so desperately begged me to curb in high school (she was less than thrilled that my father’s hard-fought-for pension was going towards things like the “1,2 Step” music video and the “Goofy Movie” soundtrack) and nixed my morning cappuccinos, all in hopes of keeping afloat — and finding the center in my checkbook.
In a world where there are college courses on wine (Cornell University), maple syrup (Alfred University) and even “The Art of Walking” (Centre College) — but none on being a self-sustainable human being, learning to cut the crap must, instead, come naturally (often on its own time).
And so, I present to you, Adulting 101: The Sparknotes edition.
1. That’s definitely mold. You should definitely do something about it.
2. Make sure you’re not paying part of the previous tenant’s cable bill because you
more than likely definitely are.
3. Never read the comments section.
4. Check that tupperware before microwaving.
5. Tupperware is spelled “tupperware.”
6. The IRS doesn’t care that you also need to eat.
7. Open your mail.
8. No, seriously. Open your mail.
9. Never tell your dentist (pre-procedure) that you don’t care how it’s going to look.
10. Your DNA is on everything.
11. Snoozing “five more minutes” than you did yesterday, every day, will catch up to you and eventually get you fired — in the same way that those Seamless orders will come back to haunt your bank account.
12. APR stands for “annual percentage rate.”
13. Annual percentage rate has something to do with your credit cards.
14. Which you should have, apparently.
15. Say no if you want to.
16. Say yes if you want to.
17. Feel if you want to.
18. Snack if you want to.
19. Wine does not equal dinner and neither does air, even if it’s all you can afford at the moment.
20. A savings account is called a savings account for a reason.
21. If you use it like you would a checking account, your bank will (not so) politely threaten to strip it of said title.
22. Cutlery ain’t cheap.
23. Carpe dormio (seize the nap), also known as,
“This is fine.”
“Are you sure you want to put your roommate down as your emergency contact?”
“Hell, what if you forget to cook breakfast that morning?” asked an overly aggressive, semi-sexist personal trainer during a free consultation I wish terribly I had slept through instead.
“I’m sure,” I said confidently, dodging — if only for a second — a bullet I knew damn well was going to whip around and rattle my ribcage. (I was right.) Not three minutes later would she seek out my medical history and ask my father’s age.
“My dad is dead,” I said, “but he would have been in his early seventies.”
“Honey, I’m so sorry. How long ago?”
“Seven years now.”
“Well, what about your mother?”
“Oh, she’s dead two years this October.”
The thirteenth month feels like a brand new chapter, if only for a sentence or two.
By fourteen, you stop measuring the passing of time in months as her absence begins to announce itself, instead, in moments. And, quite frankly, those moments — triggered by, for example, her nonattendance at a wedding or her presence, still, on speed dial — don’t give a fuck where you are, what time it is or (as it turns out) whether or not it’s your best friend’s birthday.
See also: your first time back at the gym in a year or an awkward first-date with a sports writer who you can only assume never texted you back because your baggage was showing.
“What do you write about?”
“A lot about drinking and a lot about death.”
By the beginning of year-two, the world as you once knew it has been remodeled — or, at the very least, provided a feasible blueprint. You’ve gotten up, you’ve gotten on and you’ve kind of, sort of gotten your shit semi-together.
There are four walls around you but, now that the room’s stopped spinning (and you’ve finally paid off the better part of her debts), it feels like they’re caving in. You come to the harsh realization that, with a lack of loose ends to tie up, the gravity of a loved one’s death can come crashing in — anytime, anywhere — with the same intensity as the morning after. And it does.
In the 24 months since my mother died, I’ve battened down the hatches more times than I can count. I’ve spent sunny afternoons in bed with the lights off, self-diagnosed myself with a type of depression I found on the Internet and even cancelled an appointment with the head of the New York City Police Department Press Office because I thought I was having a heart attack. (Oh, anxiety. You devil.)
And still, I’ve weathered each storm (and the subsequent night terrors), just as mom did when dad died.
I’ve learned to laugh harder and to open a wine bottle without breaking the cork. I’ve learned to balance my checkbook, to refresh the weather app before leaving for work and THAT WRITER’S BLOCK IS REAL AND IT TOTALLY FUCKING SUCKS. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff and that whiskey makes me an animal. I’ve learned the importance of “I love you” and that, sometimes, it’s better to just say, “No. I don’t want to. I’d rather sit in and order Chinese.”
I’ve screamed and I’ve cried (and I’ve scream-cried outside of McDonalds). I’ve moved mountains (see: filing my taxes) and I’ve cowered in fear (see: paying said taxes). I’ve tried new things like seeking therapy and opting for goat cheese and keeping my dentist appointments (all but one of those she’d truly be proud of).
I’ve grown closer to friends and family who, like I, never asked to be a part of this club.
And, most importantly, I’ve accepted that — whether it’s been two years or seven — it’s okay to not be okay because, contrary to popular belief, time isn’t a miracle worker.
The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.
– Amy Poehler, “Yes Please”
Ten weeks ago, I went back to school. Well, sort of.
Two hours of Googling and one very reassuring “this can only be good for you” text later and I was giving Gotham Writers Workshop my address and credit card information. A 10-week workshop sounded nice, and I was getting pretty tired of staying faithful to community news (hell hath no fury like a resident scorned). Both my blog and bedroom were collecting dust, as they still are (consider this a public apology to my boatload of dedicated followers and anyone whose clothes I have stolen and let pile up on my floor). Basically, I considered myself long overdue for one of those life-changing “a-ha” moments you see on the big screen. Like when Harry meets Sally or when Blanche realizes she’s the sluttier of the Golden Girls.
I said to myself, “If all else fails, I guess I’ll have something to write about,” followed by,
“Maybe I’ll even meet a boy.” *
With one class left — and at least 18 pages I would have never otherwise written under my shiny new belt, I can safely say I got my Hollywood ending (minus the part where Lena Dunham shows up at my apartment to offer me a book deal with little to no fine print and a lifetime of free Taco Bell). With just one more rush hour train ride to Bryant Park on my horizon, here’s (a SparkNotes version of) what I’ve taken away from Memoir Writing 101:
Some people are going to really dig your writing,
and others would rather read the back of a takeout menu. Some will grow fond of your flow, your style, your voice, and maybe even your excessive use of commas. Others will not. That’s just how this thing goes.
Some people are not going to “get it.”
Many will. Just make sure they understand who’s who. The rest is up to them.
Make sure you’re getting on the right train.
This is not a metaphor. Balancing work and class is the fucking pits. Make sure that D train is not a B train, or else you might end up taking an Uber home from East Flatbush at midnight with nothing but two dollars in your pocket and a half eaten bag of white cheddar popcorn in your purse.
Times Square is the worst.
Also not a metaphor. Just the cold hard crowded truth.
Keep a journal,
be it in a composition notebook, in the notes of your iPhone or on the back of a receipt. Whatever you do, write it down because, if you’re anything like me, your memory — or lack thereof — will prove to be your greatest enemy in the quest to finish your piece. Think of it as the troll under the bridge that won’t stop asking questions you don’t know the answer to. Be prepared to pay the toll.
Simple right? One would think.
The realization that I will never, ever write enough hit me like a nasty hangover as early on as Week One because — spoiler alert — you can never, ever write too much. Make the time, even if you swear you don’t have it (I, for one, have pledged at least one hour per day I would normally spend Facebook stalking former flames to my forthcoming collection of personal and painfully embarrassing essays).
Write often and write it all, but don’t dwell on writing well. Spill your guts on the page even if that means devoting three and a half pages to the way your college boyfriend looked at you when you drank too much Pinnacle Whipped, and another two to the time you were physically removed from B.B. Kings for spewing on a table full of someone else’s food.
Don’t sweat the small stuff in the first draft (this one’s a metaphor!). Save the heavy editing for drafts seven and eight because, if you’re doing it right, you won’t ever really be finished writing.
* I did not meet any boys.
It’s 10 p.m. on a Wednesday and I am ready for bed; lights out, and Neosporin on my legs because I fear that the sand flea bites I brought home from Puerto Rico will scar. I’m thinking about reading, but also about Zebra Cakes.
The strangers outside are too loud.
I do ten sit-ups in my head and wonder what Wayne Brady is doing now.
“You had the right idea when you moved in with guys you knew you’d never bang.”
Six and a half years ago I buried my father. I had pink hair, a petite frame, and a bone to pick with the world. I listened to a lot of Brand New and Kevin Devine, hoping that one day the two-family house my mother and I rented would feel like home again. For a while, it felt too big; the smell of dad’s english muffin pizzas still lingering, even though he wasn’t the slightest bit Italian (though I later found out we were a tiny part Polish).
Soon enough, mom and I found a way to make it home again (a new bed-set and a few fresh paint jobs didn’t hurt).
Seventeen months ago I buried my mother. I had brown hair, unsteady hands and luggage-sized bags under my eyes. I listened to a lot of Arctic Monkeys and Ben Folds Five, hoping that one day the two-family house my mother and I rented would finally be someone else’s problem. That the grime on the kitchen counter would be someone else’s to scrub, and that the unsettling creak of the second floor hallway would be someone else’s to cry about at 3 a.m. That the mountain of crap that belonged to my mother, my father and their mothers and fathers would soon be someone else’s to give a shit about.
In time, I found a new home. First, in a basement. Second, in a shoebox above a bar.
Fifteen months ago I signed a lease with two boys in a band.* I had a fuckton of shit, very limited closet space and a U-Haul booked for a blizzard. I listened to a lot of Animal Collective and Radiohead, hoping that one day, we’d be able to afford basic cable. In the year and two months that followed, I learned more about after-shave, bass amps and Sonic Youth than I ever would’ve as a close, personal friend of Thurston Moore, among other things, like:
There is a very small chance they will tolerate Taylor Swift, but they will allow you to tolerate her so long as the door’s closed or you’re taking a shower.
They will always ask about your day, and almost always start a mid-day text conversation with an obscure emoji like the set of eyes looking left or sweet potato. They will give your weekly television shows a try, but only some will stick (see: Bob’s Burgers and Broad City). Most will not (see: Girls, Parks and Rec, and Dancing With the Stars). They will push you to hit on cute boys at the bar, and, even when they’re not there they will serve as estranged wingmen when where you live comes up in conversation:
“I actually live with two dudes.”
“So, you’re just like Jess from New Girl?”
“I’m really more like Nick.”
– A real conversation I had in Atlantic City
They will almost always compliment your outfit, even though, to them, what you’re wearing looks exactly like the last five things you tried on. Also, they are perpetually unsure of whether or not “does this look okay?” is actually a trick question.
“Can you see my butt in this?” “Uhh.”
They will sit at the foot of your bed while you’re having a panic attack. Then, they will ask if they should call 911 because they have never seen anything like this and are concerned you might choke on your own tears. In due time, they will start to PMS with you, and when your period is late, they will know. For weeks, they will secretly wonder if their roommate is pregnant and ask you about it every day until you finally do.
“Did you get it yet?”
They will buy you a bottle of Duane Reade wine when your writing gets published and their band will shout you out on Twitter for knowing all the words to their six or seven songs and for always letting them practice in the living room. They will change the lightbulbs they can reach and wait for you to order dinner and make sure you get where you’re going in one piece. They will share in your accomplishments and pour their hearts into a “Sorry today is the day your mom died” greeting card.
They will wake you up when you’re crying in your sleep, and one of their moms will buy you light up shamrock earrings for Saint Patrick’s Day. They will never judge you for wearing your ex boyfriend’s pajama pants, and they will stay silent about all the hair you leave in the sink.
They will change your life, unexpectedly, and for the better.
“There’s a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out”
– Lou Reed
The funny thing about a hard-hitting loss is that you never know what you’re going to gain from it. I may have lost the only nuclear family I’ll ever have (and a killer recipe for english muffin pizzas) but, somewhere in the wreckage, I found a new one.
And it’s something like the Partridge family.
*Two friends, I should add. I didn’t find them on Craigslist and this isn’t the set-up of a poorly scripted horror movie, unless it’s just taking a really long time to pan out. In that case, stay tuned.
Last December, I vowed not to touch my friends’ tits or leave the house with wet hair.
This Christmas, a good guy friend of mine walked into the woman’s bathroom at our every-week bar to find both of my tiny, un-manicured hands pressed against his girlfriend’s chest. He was looking to smoke a cigarette and we’d been in there for close to a half an hour discussing DD bras and breast reductions (a life event I’d been denied earlier this year for lack of a better insurance plan, and to be fair, shitty luck).
The next day, my hair dryer broke.
Needless to say, my resolutions have a habit of hitting the high road come MLK weekend.
Not all was lost, though. I did stop buying cold cuts out of boredom and start buying unlimited Metrocards. I did not ask any OKCupid matches to “meet me at the Ratchet Pussy Party” and I only drunk texted my ex-boyfriend once* (to my knowledge).
*This is a story that no one believes. It was a-quarter-to-six on Santacon — second in line only to Saint Patrick’s Day for NYC’s drunkest and most degenerate day of the year — and I was simultaneously hailing a cab by Calico Jack’s, and trying not to get hit by one. As I haggled with the driver to “please take me to South Brooklyn for a flat rate” and “not fuck me over, it’s almost Christmas,” a drunk Santa emerged from the backseat. His sidekick was asleep (such is life). Before I could turn around and rush the two along, the coherent man-in-red said,
How’s [ex-boyfriend’s name redacted]?”
It was a friend of his from college that I was not nearly drunk enough to see.
The text read something like,
“Saw [Santa’s name redacted].
He asked me how you were. Fucker.”
(Only there were a lot more typos and it sounded a lot less cool.)
I read four whole books (which, as a writer, seems pitiful but is a vast improvement from last year’s single read: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling). I stopped Google Map-ing the closest Chipotle (one may have opened across the street from my apartment but that’s neither here nor there) and I stopped staring so hard at children on the subway (their parents, not so much).
This year was not my best, by miles. But it wasn’t my worst, either.
I signed a lease with two boys in a band who, 12 months later, I consider family (even if the seat’s always up and there’s always tobacco in the glass crevasses of the coffee table).
My girlfriends and I celebrated our five-year high school reunion by drinking full bottles of (complementary) red wine and running through the hallways of said high school like chickens without heads, and super-super-super seniors who’d forgotten their locker combinations (#hailtotheeourschool).
My writing went viral and it was equal parts terrifying and completely bananas. I had love-mail and hate-mail and readers in North Korea which, looking back, seems both ironic and confusing. I became a featured blogger for The Huffington Post (with a login and everything!) and finally thought (while splurging on brand-name waffles at Foodtown), “Hey, this whole writing thing might actually work out.”
I was recognized (as said featured blogger) at a graduation party by the tattoo on my wrist, which is still one of the wildest things to ever happen to me (up there with: dancing three inches away from the lead singer of Hellogoodbye on what used to be the runway at a strip-club-turned-venue in the West Village, and casually e-mailing Aaron Samuels).
He totally e-mailed back and it was totally grool.Our group welcomed its first baby, little Leo, and he’ll be one this February.
I celebrated my first birthday without my mother, but only cried once (twice if you count the beer tears post-one friend’s bloody face-plant and another one’s arrest). Three months later, I hosted the second annual fundraiser/concert/Sunday afternoon drink-fest in my parents’ memory and raised more than $6,000 towards cancer research. I also raffled off an inflatable kayak and a bud light rocking chair but, again, that’s neither here nor there.
I visited London, just because, and did not die at a five-day music festival in Delaware.
I laughed until I cried, and I cried until I laughed (almost always in public, often at the bar).
And so, in the spirit of every “New Year, New You” post that you’ll see today (the majority revolving around losing weight and “getting fit”), here’s sixteen New Year’s Resolutions that I probably won’t keep because Urban Dictionary said so and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
1. Read more on paper and less on screens.
2. Give form-fitting shirts another chance (the resolution formerly called: Don’t buy anymore fucking flannels).
3. Take more risks. Say “yes” more often (unless, of course, you want to say “no”). In that case,
4. say “no.” Do not say “maybe.” Put your size-9 foot down.
Nein. Nej. Ne.
5. (For God’s sake,) stop trying to make brunch plans. Accept that everybody (including you) would rather sleep in past noon and re-watch the first season of Broad City. That being said,
6. try to make and keep at least one set of brunch plans. (DO IT FOR THE BLOODY MARYS.)
7. Write more of what you want to write. Leave the resignations of high-profile congressmen at your day-job and start telling the world about the 750 milliliter bottle of Smirnoff that helped shatter your knee-cap senior year.8. Pay more attention to the group texts of loved ones, and respond with something more meaningful than an an emoji of an airplane seat.
9. Write a follow-up e-mail to Aaron Samuels that says “your hair looks sexy pushed back.”
10. No tumblr after midnight.
11. No chocolate after midnight.
12. No Tinder after midnight.
13. Look up from your god-forsaken cell-phone every once in a while. Stop texting while walking. Stop texting while eating. Stop texting while talking to friends IRL and, most of all, remember what Ferris Bueller said about life moving pretty fucking fast. (Also get that shit fixed, you’re going to get glass in your fingers and die.)
14. Lose weight/get fit. (I’d be lying to you if I didn’t mention the miniature, foldaway stair-master I just impulse-ordered off of Amazon for my bedroom because, #booty.)
A little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody.
15. Actually use said stair-master.
16. Smile more and bitch less. Nobody likes a Salty Sally.