Archive for the ‘Coming of Age’ Category

For my 5th birthday, my grandparents gave me a stuffed Gund puppy dog that I promptly named “Puppy”. An unoriginal yet practical name, Puppy was a fluffy, adorable, small stuffed dog with soft long hair and an expressionless face. He had two large, dark eyes and a hard, black plastic nose that had the texture of a real golden retriever’s.

Even though I appreciated the gift, somehow I misplaced Puppy during a trip to my grandparents’ house in North Carolina and I returned home to New Jersey without him. Soon after, I remember sobbing to my mother in a rare display of panic that I had lost Puppy and was desperate to find him. On the phone to my grandparents, my mother pleaded with them to search their home and after rummaging through their hall closet, under the snow jackets was Puppy’s small face, neither happy nor sad, that he had been left behind for months.

From that day forward, Puppy remained within close distance of me. At first, puppy accompanied me on long car trips to visit family members and family vacations. The summer before my 8th birthday, Puppy took on new role in my life: a guardian, a comfort, a best friend.

My parents’ bitter, traumatic separation led to a long, tedious divorce and through it all I depended on Puppy. His face, constant yet loving, helped me through my father’s awkward visitations- uncomfortable trips to bowling allies, Disneyland, and the movies. My father took pictures of me atop a horse while riding, a frequent Saturday afternoon activity of ours, with Puppy dangling in my 10-year-old arms. I chronicled my visitations with my father in my “little girl” journal and Puppy was a recurring character. I recorded my limited time spent with my father and my “little girl” rage at why life had changed so drastically since my father left.

At times, Puppy came to my child therapy sessions and acted as a mediator between the harsh realities of a divorce that my therapist needed me to face and my wild imagination that everything would return to “normal”. At times, when I didn’t know which parent I missed most, I would squeeze puppy tight and pretend that he would tell me, “Everything will be OK.”

Fluffy fur gradually turned into matted hair as the years went on. I started to notice the nicks and blemishes on puppy’s plastic nose and eyes. I would tell myself that each little tuft of matted hair was a hug I had given Puppy and I must have loved him too much.

When pre-adolescence faded into womanhood, Puppy’s place soon moved from the side of my hip, to a throw pillow on my bed, to the back of the closet, a place he had familiarized himself with shortly after he came into my life. And though I’m an adult now, he sits quietly in the back of my closet- alone and acquiescent, with that same expressionless face, waiting to be by my side if ever I need him again.


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A Counting

“When you think things are bad, when you feel sour and blue, when you start to get mad… You should do what I do! Just tell yourself, Duckie, you’re really quite lucky! Some people are much more…Oh, ever so much more…Oh, muchly much-much more unlucky than you!”
–Dr. Seuss, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

When I was a child, my Mom read me DIETYHLYA? about a gazillion times. She did and does have it memorized. As a melodramatic teenager, I listened to her pull phrases from that book and drop them to me as a gentle and loving reminder that I’d be OK, and that it’s not so bad.

Well, there are two kinds of blessings to count – positive ones and negative ones. I gave DIETYHLYA? to a friend when her son turned one year old. The boy’s daddy read it and said, “What? So everyone else’s misery should make you glad?” He entirely missed the point. You can enumerate all of the good things in your life, to remind yourself to be glad. But enumerating all the ways it could have gone wrong but didn’t… the “negative blessings”… that’s a way to remind yourself how quickly it all can change and how appreciative to be right now.

Well, in the past few months, I have had occasion to reflect on just how… safe… I should feel. The gambler’s fallacy says that I’ve had a run of good luck, so the odds of it changing now are greater than they were before. Superstition would say that to enumerate the good things in my life is tempting fate. But then I’m also told that “thoughts become things – choose the good ones” is a motto to live by. I like that better.

1) I have been married to my husband for ten years. We rarely fight and have virtually never gone to sleep angry. He’s carried me through the toughest times in my life, and I’ve tried (although feebly, at times) to do the same. And although some would say that it’s naivete to think this, I’m fully confident that 10 years from now, I will love him just as much and more. I love him more than I did 10 years ago, for a start, and I trust him to do the right thing.

2) I have a sunshine of a daughter. She is persistent as only a toddler can be, but she’s also easygoing, happy, and full of life. She’s rarely sick, she’s usually polite, she likes to sleep at naptime and nighttime, and she’ll eat almost anything. My daughter dances in delight at the simplest of things and is patient enough to sit [mostly] still long enough to get a haircut.

3) I have a family I adore. I was left behind by one deadbeat dad, only to acquire a Dad I know would never let me down. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but he has a heart of gold. I have a mom who nurtured me when her own heart was ready to give way, who taught me how to be a lady and a woman, and whose moral stature is unparalleled in my experience. I have three siblings, all at the cusp of adulthood. It has been challenging, to say the least, to watch these three grow up. Each has taught me a lot about life – compassion, internal contradictions, generosity, fear, addiction, passion… so many things that I remember feeling and not understanding at the time. And having watched my mom and dad navigate these rough waters (and helping them when I could) is bound to strike a chord when my own little one(s?) is there.

4) I have the best friends a person could ask for. And better friends, I often think, than I deserve. They’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, sick and healthy and sick again, generous and down-right mean. The winds of change have blown some of them away; I desperately feel those losses, but they twinge as a reminder of those I still have and those I’ve gained.

5) I’m healthy. I know, you laugh. But consider how much worse it could be. Everything that’s wrong with me is manageable, and none of it is terminal or even dangerous.

6) I have a well-paying job, with excellent benefits, working in the air-conditioning. It is satisfying, rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and busy. At the high point of frustration at my previous employer, I learned a lot and things got easier. At the next highest point of frustration, another job practically fell into my lap. At the high point of frustration at my current employer, I learned a lot and it got easier. I developed sustaining friendships to carry me through, and my personal life took a turn that took my mind off work for a while. And then, at the next highest point of frustration, I got this transfer. The first six months were hell on wheels, and I thought I might die. But somehow, here I am, happier than ever.

6) I could go on and on. Last but not least for now, though, is this. On September 11th of 2008 I went to work. On the way, I listened to the radio, and people were recounting where they’d been 7 years ago. Once I got there, I sat in a conference room all day. I watched and listened to a room full of brilliant scientists discussing dozens of ways to make the world a better place. Sure, each one of them had an agenda… an interest to preserve… a gain to be had. But at the core, each one of them had and has one central goal. To make things better. Going to work, and working hard, for that goal is the most patriotic thing we could’ve done that day. I left there proud to be one of this group.

A few “negative blessings” bringing all this to mind.
I didn’t just find out my husband’s been having an affair (or several). I didn’t just lose my parents in a tragic accident. I didn’t just lose my only child in a tragic accident. I wasn’t just diagnosed with cancer at an unreasonably young age. I didn’t just break my arm and have never broken a limb. The worst damage I’ve ever suffered in a storm is just enough hail damage to allow the insurance company to increase the value of my home. My auto accident totaled my car, but I walked away with brain and body intact. Not only do I not live several states away from my beloved, I live in the same house with him.

Enough said. I lead a truly charmed life.

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“Do it now, Meredith!”


“All of us ate it, Meredith, now you have to. DO IT.”

I stood in that dimly lit kitchen at approximately 4:15 a.m., holding a small plastic cup containing my inevitable disgusting fate: peanut butter, chocolate sauce, and brown mustard. Oh and Soy Sauce.


They all stood around me like vultures about to seize my flesh in their gaping, teenage mouths, shrieking obscenities, insults, and reminders that I was the only girl who hadn’t promised to eat whatever concoction was created for the worst Truth or Dare game of my life.

I was easily the prettiest girl there. I had long, straight, sun-streaked hair, fair skin, and a slender teenage body, toned from swimming, dancing, and acting out Broadway musicals in my room. I had started grooming my thick, dark brown eyebrows and wore eyeliner that often shaded my under eyes making them smokey and mysterious. I was just young enough to get away with playing Truth or Dare until the morning hours at a slumber party; just old enough to understand the potential repercussions of admitting too much truth and taking on too serious of a dare.


The girls kept shouting out me, the girls that I had just confessed my deepest secrets to; who I crushed on, how many boys’ hands I had held and lips I had kissed, how I really felt about my body. They were all turning against me, all 8 or 9 of these girls, chubby, greasy faced, frizzy haired meanies who were probably tormented at their own schools.

My mother was friends with the mother of the host of this party. Earlier that night, I’m sure we dined on pizza and coke, watched a scary movie, and started our friendly game of Truth or Dare just after midnight. Some of the girls were gross: pimples about to burst on shiny faces, braces poking out from chapped lips, glances of foreign and revolting private parts underneath the big t-shirts of the girls who refused to wear underthings because they said it made them feel better. These were the girls that sat in the back of the class. The ones with the strange smell and the bizarre laugh. The ones that would grow up to either be a cafeteria lunch lady, a janitor’s wife, or in spend most of their lives in prison.

I stood there staring down the cup of disgusting, defiant and near tears, as I simply said, “No.”

The host of the party, one of the girls refusing to wear underwear, grabbed it from me and stuck it in my face.

“You’re going to eat this whole thing!”

Maniacal laughter echoed in the kitchen. I started to cry. They knew that eating this goop was my greatest weakness because the thought of vomiting still makes me emotional to this day.

I spent almost the entire 8th year of my life sick in bed after my parents separated. Anxiety was the official cause of my stomach ailment. 16 some years later, I still remember reaching for the metal bowl to get sick, following sobs and low moans from pain, embarrassment, and the loss of the nutrition that my body so desperately needed. The thought of gagging and getting sick in front of these girls was destroying me.

And since my begging didn’t get me anywhere fast, I decided to just go ahead, dip my spoon in the mixture, and take a very small taste. As I placed the tip of the spoon to my mouth, the girls protested, demanding that I slurp up more.

I don’t remember how the spoon got into my mouth, but it did. And I gagged. And I let the tears fall down my young face in front of all those laughing girls who had probably felt like they had finally gotten payback for all the name calling and torture they had received in their young lifetimes. And I ran to the bathroom to get sick, and cry, a sight I’m sure most, if not all of those teenage harpies enjoyed.

I didn’t learn any real life lesson from this experience, nothing about trust, or self-confidence, or standing up for myself. I let the spoon pass into my mouth. I let the mixture linger on my tongue; I eventually tried to swallow it so that these girls would just shut up and leave me alone. If I close my eyes, I can just hear their voices, yelling and demanding, and the contents of that cup: heaps of brown mustard tucked into folds of flowing Hershey’s chocolate, piled on top of lumps of crunchy peanut butter and sprinkled with soy sauce.

And in reality, sometimes, I find myself swallowing things that I should never do, only to try and silence the nay-sayers or appease the masses in my life. I am bullied and I bully myself frequently. I let myself consume thoughts nastier than that stupid Dare in that kitchen all those years ago; one of the many real games of Truth or Dare I’ve ever allowed myself to play.

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