There Are Ghosts

Today is 9/11 and there are ghosts. But a lot of us have ghosts. So I’m not alone with mine. I know this.

There are a lot of things that remain unsettled when it comes to 9/11 at least for me and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone with that either. I know about the unsettled moments because trickle in at my most vulnerable times; times where I least expect it; times where my guard is down.

Like getting hit from behind; a sudden, blinding reflection from the windshield of a passing car; a dying baby squirrel, its screeching mother and a bird of prey.

On most days, I cast out lines and those lines come back to me with some sort of punctuation. At the end of each day I look at all those lines and I have some type of map, something that makes sense—an outline. Sometimes there’s something new at the end of a line. Sometimes, I let a line go. But when it comes to the lines I casted out on 9/11/01, they simply snapped. They were too taut or something, too much of my mind to handle at the time and they just snapped.

So there are ghosts. There will always be ghosts.

Last year, I spent 9/11 driving a dying baby squirrel to a vet in Madison, New Jersey, the only vet within the 20 mile radius who would accept a “wild animal” of 2 weeks old. He had fallen from his nest. His mother stood above screeching, a sound I will never ever get out of my head. Pure distress. So I scooped up his little body and drove him to the only vet willing to show this tiny creature some compassion. And we sat there together and watched him take his final breath.

When I returned home, the mother was silent but a hawk circled the nest above. And I sat in the grass and sobbed.

This year, Toby Joe Boudreaux and I are going to see DC United play the New York Red Bulls and this seems kind of OK somehow. It seems perfectly fitting to combine these two cities on this day in this manner. You see, it’s selfish, but that morning all those years ago, I had one brother working downtown right where the planes hit and another brother working in DC married to a woman who worked at the Pentagon. And I kept calling and calling and calling hoping to hear that they were OK, that everyone I knew from DC was OK. And I got though to one brother and I talked him into leaving the area where the planes hit and heading 10 blocks north to me instead of staying put, which is what the police wanted him to do—to stay put. I talked him into leaving and then the buildings began to fall and I watched them fall with my own two eyes from SoHo and was pretty sure he was dead. And I couldn’t get him on a line.

He was OK. He showed up dusted in soot, dust, and minute particles of human remains.

Everyone I knew was OK that day, well, physically at least. But I have friends who lost relatives and loved ones and I don’t have the right words to write here to them. I never have had the right words which is why I usually don’t write any. So I’ll just say today that I am so sorry.

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This year, I am going to surround myself by other people—mostly strangers—who are also surrounded by ghosts. And maybe we can cast out some new lines and find some punctuation.

And I hope to experience some joy.

And I hope that nothing falls from the sky.

And I hope you’re OK with your ghosts, too.

Stories Told From Ticket Stubs: The Old 97s.

March 1st, 2001: Old 97s.
A Throwback Thursday Series.

I used to be a huge Old 97s fan. A friend of mine named Aaron gave me Too Far Too Care back in 1997 and I was hooked. I saw them a bunch of times over the years, but this one stands out. It took place during a tumultuous time. I had gone through a rough breakup a few months prior and instead of facing my demons head-on, I left DC and moved to NYC in December of 2000. I left behind a secure, high-paying job and dozens of close friends and ended up staring at four blank walls in a three-story walkup in Greenpoint.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved living in NYC. But I was also pretty unsure of myself. And so I, like countless others, set out every day wandering the streets in search of myself.

None of the two friends I had in NYC at the time liked the Old 97s. And since I was young and still freaked out by the idea of going to a show by myself, I wanted company.

This is perfectly absurd to me now. At age 41, I would be THRILLED to attend a concert by myself. I love being alone now especially since I so rarely ever am. Now, concerts and movies look more like a three mile run or a trip to the gynecologist. If 41-year-old me could sit 27-year-old me down, she would definitely beg her to enjoy the alone time. She would tell her to go to that show and sing along at the top of her lungs. Because that’s what she needed and wanted to do. She was just too insecure to actually do it.

I wanted company. So I purchased three tickets: one for me, one for Gerry and one for Bob. And they went. And I THINK I even paid for their drinks, possibly even the car service to and from. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I paid them to hang out with me that night.

For what it’s worth, I consider Gerry a lifelong friend. We still keep in touch. I’ve known him since I was 17. And I don’t see Bob much anymore, but we never had any issues. The three of us hung out regularly back then, sometimes every single night. So it wasn’t like they hated being around me or anything like that. (At least I hope not!) They just didn’t particularly like The Old 97s. So throughout the entire show, when they weren’t bored to tears, they were visibly annoyed. And this made it impossible for me to enjoy the show.

Why had I begged two people to see a band they didn’t even like?

Right before leaving (we left early) I asked them if they wanted anything before heading back to Brooklyn, and I think it was Gerry who quipped, “Yes, I would like the last two hours of my life back.”

Buuuuuuurn.

Because I Live In An Asylum.

This morning I called into The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss my Etsy shop. The segment was called Checking In On the Maker Economy. Etsy was brought up and how they’re going public. So I figured what the hell? I make things and sell them on Etsy. I have a unique product. I am a “Maker”. Let’s do this!

So I called. The line was busy for a while, but I kept trying. After several attempts, a woman answered. She asked me my name, where I was calling from. She asked me what it is I make. I answered. She put me on hold.

Today is another snow day. Which means all three kids are home with me and they are all also completely insane. They are always completely insane, but throw in some cabin fever, the excitement of being home instead of at school, and Walter’s recent round of vaccinations, and we’ve reached asylum levels of insanity. Come to think of it, there are moments where I feel like I live in an actual asylum. It’s perfect madness. I live in a house surrounded by perfect madness, the madness of children.

As I sat on hold I began looking around the room, taking it all in. Walter was crying and drooling from underneath my desk. The other two were riding wheeled office chairs around the living room, dueling like they were on horseback. What had I been thinking? Calling into a radio station to talk about “making stuff”. What had I been thinking? I can’t have a conversation about my business right now, not one with any order or decency. How was I going to hold an adult conversation with another adult while on the radio as countless others listened in?

What the hell is wrong with you, Michele?

And then it happened. Brian Lehrer introduced “Michele from _______” and BAM! I was on the air.

I swooped down, picked up Walter and made a mad dash to the other side of the house, in search of the most quiet corner I could find. And I think I began to talk. I can’t remember what happened actually because I live in an asylum. But I think I mentioned that I make lollipops. That they are unique—blah blah blah. There is one called “The First Trimester” made from lemon and fresh ginger—blah blah blah. I think I mentioned “Rise ‘n Shine” and maybe a wine or two. I can’t remember what I said, really, because I live in an asylum.

What had I been thinking?

I think I kept talking and so did Walter, fussing in the background, endlessly whining from my right hip, directly into the telephone.

What had I been thinking?

And then without missing a beat (which is incidentally why I listen to him every day) Brian Lehrer quips, “Sounds to me like you’re in the fifth or sixth trimester right now!”

I think I laughed, but I’m not sure. But that doesn’t matter because the best part about this? The part that surprised me the most? I GOT IT. I got his joke, like, immediately. I didn’t have one of those parent moments where you’re like, “Uuuuhhhhh duhhhhhh, whaaaaaa?” No. I GOT IT. There wasn’t a brain delay at all.

I got it.

And then it was over. Just like that. Probably because he didn’t want to hear Walter fuss into the phone, or listen to my other two children beat the shit out of one another while riding around on office chairs. And I can’t say I blame him; that doesn’t make for very good radio. But it does make for a good asylum.

After I hung up, and then after some time went by (because of course it did), it occurred to me that I completely failed to mention the name of my shop. Because…

Living In The Suburbs Feels Like Waiting.

There are days I wake up and I wonder how it is I got here.

How do I live in the suburbs? How is it I have three kids? Where has the time gone?

I turned forty last year but because I was pregnant and fairly miserable with sickness, I didn’t realize it. I didn’t have a big party, or invite anyone over. I think I spent it on the couch, horizontal and probably whining about heartburn. But I turned 40. Had you asked me when I was 35 what I would be doing for my 40th birthday, I’d have said I would be at my favorite restaurant surrounded by close friends, celebrating a pretty momentous milestone. But no. Instead it was just another day, one I barely even realized. A day that came and went.

You’re supposed to realize you turn 40, right?

I turned 41 last week. And if it hadn’t been for Facebook, I’m not sure I would have remembered.

Sometimes living in the suburbs feels like waiting to die. I know that comes off as horribly depressing. And overall, I’ll contend: it’s a depressing thought. But it’s also darkly comical. Living in the suburbs feels like waiting, waiting for what? I’m not sure.

I think we plan vacations and then look forward to vacations so we don’t remember that the bigger picture—or some ultimate goal—doesn’t actually exist. There are lessons for the kids, countless practices that include balls and expensive equipment coached by parents with unfulfilling day jobs. We schedule date nights at mediocre restaurants and drink overpriced wine. We discuss the kids’ practices or that upcoming vacation. We go home, pay the sitter, and then continue to wait some more. We make schedules that repeatedly fail because of course they do when you’re dealing with snow days, sick days, train schedules, kids and other people. And when those schedules fail we come up with ways to make sure they don’t fail in the future because failing makes us feel bad. And it sucks to feel bad.

Our walkway needs to be shoveled. And the trash needs to be put out. Recycling comes every other week and if you miss the alert that they moved it due to a possible snowstorm, your garage starts to look like something out of an episode of Hoarders.

Small rodents break into your garage and lick clean the cans you didn’t properly rinse but since they likely got a big dose of dopamine and left with a full stomach it’s hard to hate them. Good for the small critters who don’t have vacations to look forward to or date nights at mediocre restaurants. They don’t have plans that fail or Common Core math tests to bitch about.

Living in the suburbs feels like waiting—waiting to return to something that matters, something bigger than yourself, something you pictured when you were 21 and graduating from a college you paid a ton of money to so they would repeatedly tell you that after you were done you could do anything; that you could change the world.

Today I grabbed a single trash bag from below our kitchen sink and went around the house tossing random pieces of crap into it. I filled that bag up within 10 minutes while the baby babbled gleefully into an empty box of tissues. That felt great so I made a plan to do it every day for two weeks. I’ll fill up a trash bag full of our shit. And items from that bag of trash will eventually end up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean floating on a sea of garbage the size of Texas because that’s what we do in the suburbs as we sit and wait for upcoming vacations: we give up gluten, wear yoga pants from lululemon, fight about parenthood, drive big cars and destroy shit.

Then one day you find yourself in the quiet car on a train headed north on the way home from a job that brings you nothing but stress and someone makes a thoughtless mistake and you think to yourself right before the car explodes into a burning inferno, “What was I waiting for?”

I want to dig through the empty cans in a drafty garage and discover happiness. I want to run these thoughts out of my head. I want to find meaning in an empty box of tissues and not spend another dime at a mediocre restaurant. I want to walk among a sea of strangers in a city where you don’t realize you’re waiting because the backdrop is forever changing and its inhabitants are fooled by distraction.

26.2 Miles.

Well, I did it. It wasn’t easy. But I did it. And I have a whole, long writeup in the works but I can’t seem to find the time to truly bring it all together, so here I sit letting you know I am alive and well.

(Please forgive me for any grammar mistakes and/or spelling errors. The baby is taking one of his “flash naps”. If I get 30 minutes, I’ll be surprised.)

Let’s see. I survived the race injury free, which is pretty awesome. I was a good sore, but that only lasted for a few days. And every hour the aches lessened, I began to feel a touch more blue. There is a certain sorrow one feels after training for (and completing) a marathon that is difficult to describe. The only other time I felt anything similar was when I had postpartum depression. It’s kind of like you do all this work, spend all these months working toward something, anticipating one big event, then BAM! that something happens and you’re left thinking, “Cool. Ok, so now what?”

Yes, with one scenario you have a baby. With the other, you’re a marathoner. But something just feels… empty? That could possibly come off wrong to those who haven’t experienced postpartum depression. We love our babies. It’s just this inexplicably sad feeling. Anyway, a slice of that sorrow resurfaced after this race.

But enough about all that.

So back to marathon morning.

I woke up at 4:00 AM to get to the Meadowlands by five. Having gone to bed at 8:30 the night before, I was pretty well rested. It was a blustery cold morning. The wind gusts were insane.

How was I going to do this?

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I arrived at the base of the bridge at around 5:45 AM. The sun had barely risen and the clouds were active and plump and deep shades of gray. The sky was unwelcoming, like summer and winter were refusing to give in and just let fall take over.

I made some oatmeal and sat down and tried my best to keep warm. Oh my goodness it was cold! I fantasized about a hot bath, the one I would take hours later after all this running nonsense was out of the way.

“If I survive.” I joked.

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My village (Green) was stationed near the Army building. And a few of us joked about going to war. Couple that with the sound of the helicopters hovering above, our nerves, and the canon blasts, and that comparison became darkly comical at times.

The more seasoned marathon runners wore trash bags, or those metallic wraps handed out after many long races. They had deli bags covering their shoes. Plus, they were able to sleep somehow. Then there were the crazy people wearing nothing more than a tshirt and shorts. Just looking at them made me feel colder. So I tried not to.

Hours went by. Canons roared. Waves of men and women hit the bridge. The excitement grew. I was so nervous. I was so cold. I took an extra long time in a porta-john. If you’ve ever seen a porta-john at a race, you know how desperate I was for warmth.

At 10:50 AM, it was finally time to start. While I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life, and I worried my cold bones might shatter upon initial impact, I was ready to get moving.

They blared Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. Goosebumps covered my skin.

Wow. I am here. Finally. After years of spectating, clapping and screaming for runners until my hands hurt and my voice cracked. Dreaming of the day I would get to do it myself. Hoping it happens at all. Anticipating the reality of it. I am really here.

A canon blast! And we were off.

The wind was so strong on that bridge, my right foot kept blowing into my left foot, almost knocking me to the ground. An NYPD van drove by blasting the theme from Rocky over their loudspeaker, an event that would stand out as a favorite memory from that day. Wind slapped us from what seemed like every angle, but we kept moving.

Entering Brooklyn.

Hats came off, jackets, pants, shirts.

Things warmed up on the other side.

The crowds in Brooklyn were amazing. I wanted to stop and hug everyone. People handed out orange slices, water, tissues, leftover Halloween candy, smiles. Oh my goodness! The smiles! The laughs. All the words of strength and support and love. My faith in humanity grew immensely that day. I have been a spectator of the NYC Marathon for over a decade. But nothing compares to being on the inside. Now, I understand why it’s so important to get out there and cheer. The people made it easier. It’s true what they say: the specators carry you.

The last time I felt so close to so many New Yorkers–complete strangers, unknown faces in a crowd–was right after 9/11. And the juxtaposition of these two very different events, the fact that I was experiencing some of the same emotions, gave me great pause. So I let myself run with it. Sometimes carrying emotional baggage helps.

I was going steady for the first 10 miles. Things were looking good for me. I was on pace. I felt great. I had energy. Things were awesome. And then, just like that, things started to feel a little off. I started to feel uneasy. I stopped for a second, which was probably a big mistake. Because when I started up again, my guts started sending me messages, terrible messages.

Oh no.

I saw my family in Williamsburg, right around mile 11. I hugged them and chewed up an Imodium. Toby warned me that it would likely not do a damned thing until much, much later—probably after I was done with the race. But I had to try something. Because things were going south fast.

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I stopped at four different bathrooms between miles 11 and 16, waiting in line at each one. There went my steady time. There went the faith I had in my ability.

I became more and more disheartened as I continued on and I was ready to quit. But I couldn’t quit, and not because there was some internal voice imploring me to keep moving. No. I couldn’t quit because I had accidentally given my armband to my dad back at mile 11, the same armband that held my “ditch cash”, my lip balm and my Gu Gels. I had to laugh. Even if I decided to quit, I would have to walk. So that’s what I did. I walked. But I walked along the route in search of anything, something—a new set of guts.

Every time I tried to run again, I got sick. Every single time. The bouncing and jostling of my insides sent sharp pains throughout my entire abdomen.

I contemplated turning left off First Avenue and just walking myself back to the park to find my family. I considered trying to find a cab to where they were and letting them pay once I arrived. I tried calling Toby and my father via Siri (which I’d never used) and instead I ended up calling an old friend from Brooklyn who I haven’t spoken to in years. Oops.

Something didn’t want me to quit, even Siri.

Move.

Right as my guts were about to give out completely, I ran into my running guardian angel. Thank GOODNESS for my wonderful friend, Corie, who was right there waiting for me at mile 18, right where I needed her the most. She took the train in all the way from New Jersey and positioned herself where she knew from experience how difficult it would be.

I’ll be straight with you: there is no way I would have continued had it not been for Corie. She made me keep going. I told her I wanted to borrow subway money, she talked me into waiting until we hit the Bronx. She kept reminding why I was there, what I had been saying all along, which is that I just wanted to finish. She told me not to worry about my time. “In fact,” she said. “Don’t even look it up. Just finish. Do this for you. Screw your time.”

We made it through the Bronx and then back into Manhattan and at that point I simply couldn’t quit. It just didn’t seem right. I owed it to myself, to Corie and to my family to finish. Plus, Corie left without giving me any subway money. ;]

I still cry when I think about Corie. Joyful tears. What a remarkable thing to do for someone. (Thank you, Corie. Toby made a serious joke about cutting my medal in half and having your name engraved on it. Without you, it wouldn’t be mine.)

Corie left me at mile 22 and I knew then I’d finish and somehow I was actually able to jog again. My guts were ok. Finally.

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I jogged slowly down 5th Avenue and into the park. At mile 24, I started to cry for no reason. Nothing happened that sparked it. I wasn’t particularly emotional before the tears showed up. I guess my emotions took over. I was able to compose myself for a bit only to fall apart all over again at mile 26 when I saw a young woman holding a sign that read:

Someday you may not be able to do this. Today is not that day.

Thank you, sweet gal, for totally making me fall apart.

I was almost there. I could hear the crowd, the voice over the loudspeaker yelling out finisher names. I was almost done.

Wait, had I even started? I couldn’t remember starting anymore. What had I been doing all this time? I’d forgot to remember what I was even doing out there. Just like that, it was over. The longest, most physically difficult endeavor of my life (so far) was over so fast.

Why hadn’t I remembered not to forget?

Wait, what?

There are tears in my eyes, but you can’t tell.

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Training for and running this marathon was the second most difficult thing I have ever done. It was trying and emotionally insane. It was also truly remarkable. I am forever changed in ways I can’t even begin to write about. I am humbled, gracious, and thankful. And it’s true, what she said, that someday I won’t be able to do this. And that day could come at any time.

I am just so grateful I was given the chance and that I took it. I am grateful for Corie, for my family, and for the city I love best. I am just so grateful.

Thank you.

Digging For Clay

The first time I saw him he was being wheeled out on a stretcher and lifted into a van by two medical examiners. Eric was there as well—tall, well-dressed Eric. Eric is my favorite doorman. The sky was a dull gray, absent of any real emotion, leaving that to us. It was raining. But not enough to make you care, not enough to mean anything. Eric had just opened the back door of the apartment building as I rounded the corner. He made a hand gesture, pursed his lips and shook his head.

No. Not yet. Wait there. You don’t want to see this.

I froze. I couldn’t breath. A wave of dread and nausea washed over me as I fought back vomiting. I knew what I was about to see.

Earlier that day, while chaperoning a field-trip with my older son, the sitter watching my 2-year-old sent me flurry of texts. The texts included words like “FBI”, and “murder”. There were the words “medical examiner” and “crime scene investigators”. She wrote about a distraught man sitting outside, weeping. She wrote that something terrible had happened.

I read all these things while standing on the banks of the Long Island Sound, digging for clay.

He’d been dead for days.

They shut the doors to the van, thanked Eric for his help and drove away. Eric and I stood alone in the rain, watching the van become smaller and smaller. And then he was gone. Just like that. The dead man was gone.

“I spoke to him almost every morning. He was a nice guy…” Eric looked down at the ground, kicked a pebble and shook his head again.

I gave him a hug.

That whole tiny moment—the bleak sky, its hesitant rain; the look on Eric’s face; the hand gesture he’d given me; the van and the man’s corpse—would continue to haunt me for the remainder of the day and well into the next. When I shut my eyes, it was there. When I went to bed, it was there. When I took a shower, it was there. It was a picture—an image—filled with everything and nothing. I simply couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t unsee it. And I wanted to.

Is this what painters do? They have an image that they can’t unsee, so they create it in hopes that it will stop haunting them? The day had dropped this moment into my life and my memory kept repainting it, looking for something new, something different, something less final and horribly sad.

But I am no painter.

I kept looking for color.

I have no memory of there being any color.

If only the sun had been shining.

What I’m about to admit isn’t something I am proud of. And it’s probably not something most people would choose to admit in writing. Perhaps, if you were reading this in a book, you might forgive a character for doing what I did. Because we forgive fictional characters. Fictional characters can do irresponsible things. They can make poor, cringeworthy decisions and we forgive them for it. Even when fictional characters are based on real people, and actual events, we forgive them. It’s comforting to be able to say, “Yeah, but it’s not real. She didn’t really do that because that would just be crazy.”

But I am not fictional. I am me. And so.

I’m going to try something different. I’m going to write this next part in the third person. I’m going to refer to myself in the third person in hopes that maybe you won’t judge me as harshly for everything I’m about to tell you.

Also: every time I try and finish this post in the first person, I cringe and give up.

Ready?

After seeing his body, she became obsessed. She decided she needed to know as much as possible about the dead man. She couldn’t let her last and only bit of knowledge about the dead stranger be that of a receding medical examiner’s van on the grayest of all days beneath a rainfall that didn’t matter.

Who was he? How had he died? How old was he? Was he lonely? Did he love someone? Did they love him? Where was his family? Did he have one? Do they know? Did he kill himself? Was he murdered?

Was he lonely?

She needed to know more. She dug around on Twitter, searched the “nearby” option. She keyed in and searched their shared address. Twitter made her amateur sleuthing way too easy. Before long, she’d found an article written by The New York Post about a “mysterious death” in a “high rise” (not true) “luxury apartment building” (debatable). They stated that he had been found bloodied, with cuts to his face. They reported that his apartment had been trashed, but there had been no sign of forced entry.

“Was this all true?” She wondered. “Had a murderer been in their apartment building?” (Spoiler alert: No.)

But the most useful (and incidentally the only factual) bit of information The Post gave her was the dead man’s age and name.

She had his name.

She came up with scenarios: He was a jock and got too aggressive while drinking with a girlfriend. She had scratched his face and hit him and he later died from an accidental drug overdose; He was a gay man who died at the hands of an angry lover; He committed suicide because, at 46, he was still single and alone; He had gotten into a fight earlier that night, stumbled home drunk, and not knowing the extent of his head injuries, never woke up; He died of a heart attack due to excessive drug use.

(This is what happens when a person relies on The New York Post for information.)

Truth be told, she wasn’t sure why she’d become so invested in knowing more about the dead man. Perhaps it’s because she had seen a very intimate detail of this man’s life—his death. This was something most people wouldn’t and probably shouldn’t see. But she couldn’t let him go, not yet and not in that manner.

The first encounter with the man simply couldn’t be one of his very last.

She had been to many funerals over the years. She had lost friends and family. She knew what it was like to lose someone unexpectedly and tragically. But funerals were staged events. She had time to prepare for them. The funerals she’d been to were designed as a way to say goodbye to people she had known. She shared memories with them, memories of them being alive. She’d seen them smile.

But she hadn’t prepared for this. She didn’t have any memories of this man. The only memory she had of this man was that of his death. She felt a certain amount of intimacy for the man.

The strange thing about being alive today, during the age of social media, Facebook and an exhaustive amount of connectivity, is the ease of which we can dig around and find out way too much information about a person. Because before long, she knew the name of his mother, his stepmother, father, brother, sister, and many of his aunts and uncles. She even knew the name of his pastor. She knew where he’d gone to college. She knew what his favorite sports teams were. She flipped through the snapshots he’d taken while vacationing in Italy back in 2009. She got glimpses of his life through the eyes of countless friends and family who loved him deeply. Their mourning poured out onto Facebook for anyone to bear witness to. Even her. Their tributes and memories of the man left her weeping.

He was loved, so very loved. And he wasn’t alone.

What she came to know about the dead man was that he came from a huge, loving family. He came from a family who believes wholeheartedly that he is in the hands of God now. She learned that he loved living in New York City even though his family and friends lived far away. She now knows about his amazing smile and how it lit up a room. She learned that he looked sharp in a suit and was very successful at his job. She learned that he was unbelievably kind, a quality apparent in the wrinkles that framed his eyes.

She learned that he would be missed by so many people, so very many people.

Even her. Even though she’d never seen him alive. Even though she never would.

She is no longer haunted by the image of the dead man and the van and the lack of color on the grayest of all days. She has set the image free.

Animals, Running, and a Favor From You.

Edited to add: There is a TL;DR at the bottom of this post.

I love animals. Everyone who knows me personally is aware of this. Those of you who have been reading this site for a while are also probably aware of it. And when it comes to donating money, I usually pick animal organizations. That’s not because I don’t love humans; I donate to human groups as well. It’s just that animals are terrible fundraisers.

I also love running. Running has changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. The physical payoffs are obvious; I don’t need to remind everyone how important exercise is for the body. And it’s been instrumental in my weight-loss. But that’s not why I run. I run because it eases my anxiety, which is often quite high. It puts my personal problems into perspective; they don’t matter nearly as much during or after a run. It is, for lack of a better word, my antidepressant. It is physically impossible to feel badly about oneself after a run.

Anyway, I run a lot. And sometimes I try and run with something or someone in mind. Usually, I pull inspiration from my life and that makes those difficult miles—where I’m just not sure I can go on—a little easier to endure. I finished the NYC Half thanks to a newborn baby who was fighting for his life in the NICU. I thought about him at least a dozen times along the way and he gave me the power I needed to continue. I thought: if that little guy can fight so hard to stay alive (and survive, btw!) I could finish 13.1 miles for him. And I did.

Running the distance is often easier and more rewarding when you have someone or something bigger than yourself in mind.

So, when I received the email from NYRR stating that this year they paired up with CrowdRise making it possible for every single runner to raise money for an organization of his or her choice, I hit the ground running—literally!

I went out for a 6-miler and thought about which group I would like to choose. I knew I wanted it to be a local organization, and I knew I wanted it to be about animals.

It was so difficult to choose just one! There are dozens of organizations I support in some way or another. I wanted to pick them all. But in the end I chose City Critters (and Kitty Loft). City Critters cares for homeless animals, rescues animals from the city (kill) shelter system, and takes in animals abandoned by the public. Kitty Loft works tirelessly at TNR. (Trap, Neuter, Release.) Both are all-volunteer, non-profit organizations. Both have animal welfare in mind first.

So, here is where I ask you for 10 bucks. I could have probably just said as much from the get-go, but I tend to be a wordy one! If you’ve got it to spare, awesome. If you don’t, that’s awesome too. I have my goal set at $1,026.00 (actually, I had it set to 1,026.02, but they stripped my cents!) so every little bit counts.

Thanks for reading, friends! I can’t believe I am actually going to try and run a marathon. The idea of running 26.2 miles scares the shit out of me (hopefully not while running!).

P.S. You don’t have to give money to crowdrise. They have this automatic add-on at the end. If you don’t wish to give them a percent of your donation, just click the orange link next to that “processing fee” and hit zero. I am not sure why their default is to add money.

TL;DR: Wanna support me for the marathon and donate 10 bucks to City Critters? Click here.

Down the Hills and Round the Bends

My kids have a lot of Thomas stuff. And over the years, people have commented about it. I always just shrug it off. At best, they’ll think my kids are lucky. At worst, they’ll assume my kids are spoiled brats with far too many Thomas trains.

But there’s a story behind why we have so much Thomas stuff and it runs pretty deep. If I were to tell them how we ended up with so much Thomas stuff, they might end up feeling uncomfortable and I don’t like making our houseguests uncomfortable. So I shrug it off. Their worst assumption is better than the discomfort they may feel knowing the truth.

Back when I was going through fertility treatments, I used to bring Emory to the doctor with me. He was about a year-and-a-half when I started going (March, 2009). He was two-and-a-half when I stopped (June, 2010). I don’t think he remembers any of it. At the time, all he knew was that we very regularly visited a doctor. I packed a bag full of toys and snacks and we’d sit together in a big waiting room. He kept me company. Most days our visits were fairly uneventful. I’d have some lab-work done, maybe a sonogram or two.

On Friday, May 30, 2010 we packed an entire Thomas bookbag full of Thomas trains and headed to the doctor for an IUI. For IUIs, Em almost always came along because Toby had to be there as well. That day, Em wanted to take all of his trains and since he had a Thomas backpack specifically made to hold Thomas trains (equipped with a compartment to display favorites and everything) he had room for a LOT. Nearly every train, as well as a few tracks, came with us that day.

Toby’s part never took all that long. He was off to work in no time. My part took longer. Not only did I have to undergo the actual procedure, but I had to wait for the sample to be prepared as well. That usually took between 15 and 30 minutes. The sample was given to me in a tiny vial, the contents of which were usually pink.

Before our first ever IUI, I had no idea where to store the vial.

“What do I do with it?” I asked the tech. “Do I just stick it in my purse?”

“Many women put it in their bra, right here.” She told me, pointing to the center button on her lab-coat. “Keep it near your heart. Maybe it’ll help your chances.”

I sent TobyJoe a text message: I HAVE YOUR SPERM IN BETWEEN MY BOOBS.

To which he replied: THEY’RE DOING IT WRONG! NO WONDER WE CAN’T GET PREGNANT!

So, hold up. I know what some of you are thinking: this sounds horribly unromantic and unnatural. And it is weird. I’ll give you that. But at the time, it was just the way things were. The process became my job. We needed to go through this in order to have a second child. And believe me, I have had every last thought you might be having as you read this, even the terribly judgmental ones. It’s OK. I get it.

I won’t sugarcoat the truth. Ultimately, and it’s become clear to me now, I was being selfish. It’s that simple. I just really wanted another baby. Therefore, I went ahead and carried a vial of pink sperm around in my bra for 30 minutes and made jokes about it. I brought my kid to the doctor with me since we didn’t have childcare. I packed backpacks full of toys and snacks and we camped out so I could hopefully, one day become pregnant. I did all of these things and overlooked all the weirdness involved because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t let it go. I wanted so badly for my son to have a sibling.

I was unlucky to have to experience it, but lucky I was able to.

So, yeah, about those trains. After you pick up your sample, you wait a bit longer for the doctor to perform the actual IUI. So Em and I made ourselves comfortable in another, larger waiting room. I usually stared out the window (the office had a pretty decent view of the East River) while Em played with his choo-choos. Many times, there were other kids present, families in the exact same situation we were. So Em often had a playmate. Overall, our visits were pretty OK.

When they called my name, we packed everything up and headed into a room that looks exactly like any other gynecological exam room.

The procedure itself only takes about 30 seconds. But after it’s done, you have to lie there for a bit as it doesn’t bode well to get up and start walking around right away. And then sometimes they’ll want you to have some blood drawn, so we were shuffled off to the lab.

And this is where we left the trains.

It wasn’t until after we got home, did I realize they were gone. I ran out to the car—nothing. I texted Toby, letting him know so on his way home from work he could maybe pick up a few. He managed to find an L Train and a 6 Train at the drugstore. (Thank you, MTA!)

I called the office the following morning and a woman informed me that they did indeed have the bag and that they would put it aside for me. I told her that if my son was OK with it, we might not be back for a bit. I was scheduled to have a followup appointment two weeks later to check HCG levels (pregnancy stuff) so I figured that if we could wait until then, we would. She told me not to worry, they would be there.

We didn’t rush back right away. And I regret that. I was so wrapped up in myself at the time, I didn’t do the right thing for my kid. I didn’t drive back the very next morning to get his trains.

Thirteen days later, we headed back to my doctor’s office where he would confirm what I already knew; I wasn’t pregnant. Again. I was already feeling pretty down for obvious reasons. I’d failed for the umpteenth time at this seemingly basic thing. But when the woman behind the front desk told me the bag was gone, I fucking lost it. Right there in the middle of the waiting room, I went off the rails sobbing.

Now, I’d seen several women break down before in that waiting room. My breakdown wasn’t anything special. I was just another sad woman crying in the fertility clinic. The trail of tears leading to and from that place is Nile long and Amazon wide.

The woman behind the counter just stared back in bewildered horror, apologizing for her mistake as she was the one who told me they’d be there waiting for us.

I looked down at Em. He had been excited since we’d be getting his trains back. I talked about it all morning. He just looked up at me and said, “Choo-choos, mama?”

Tears poured down my face and onto the floor below. I was unraveling.

I was crying because I couldn’t get pregnant; I was crying because I’d lost a baby 11 months earlier and I still hadn’t properly mourned it; I was crying because my doctor’s office was going to close for 3 months that summer and everything would be placed on hold; I was crying because I completely fucked up and lost my son’s favorite backpack full of his favorite toys; I was crying because I wanted to punch whomever took the trains; I was crying because I didn’t have the energy to argue with the woman who broke her promise; I was crying because this was all my fault; I was crying because I failed at everything.

Everything.

I explained to Em the best I could why we weren’t getting his trains back. I explained that I would make it up to him somehow and that I was so, so very sorry. I was sorry for far more than just the trains. But he didn’t know that.

Well, we never got those trains back. The backpack is gone too. And I have often wondered about the person who took them, if they felt badly about what they’d done. It occurred to me that it had to be someone working there—at a fertility clinic!—where they worked with hormonally charged women, often heartbroken and/or desperate. I realized they must have been pretty ballsy.

I wonder if they have any idea how much pain they caused that day. Would they have even cared?

Later that morning, I called my mother and told her what had happened. She knew what I’d been going through. My mom was pretty crushed by the whole ordeal as well, and immediately went out to buy Em some Thomas stuff. At some point, she told the story to my aunt, whose job includes visiting dozens of garage sales every week. She hit the jackpot somewhere in New Jersey. That aunt told some of my other relatives, and before we knew it, we were being inundated with Thomas stuff. Em ended up with at three times the number of trains we’d lost that day.

I saw the inside of that waiting room once more after that. It was for an IVF class, exactly two days after I broke down at the front desk. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I would become pregnant with Elliot (naturally!) 8 days later. Who, incidentally, is the biggest Thomas fan I know.