what I’m good at

I know a lot about really stupid things. With the amount of ridiculous, useless information filling my head, it’s a wonder I can ever think of anything important. It’s a wonder I even remember how to read.

When I say “stupid things,” I mean that I know Justin Bieber had a monkey and abandoned it in Germany. I know who won the last three seasons of The Voice even though – to the best of my knowledge – none of them have done much with that win. I could probably win a trivia contest about Boy Meets World or Degrassi; I’ve seen every episode at least once, probably twice. I know that Kara DioGuardi is BRCA2+ and can tell you all the other (known) BRCA positive celebrities if you ask. I can tell you the heights (or lack thereof) of Shakira and Seth Green. I can tell you how tall Jason Segel is. Even as I write this, my mind is screaming why do you know this?!

I always know the weird news: that our settlers were probably cannibals, that bath salts are a hell of a drug, and what’s happening with the FBI’s Most Wanted list. I could tell you the stories of most of the public face-transplant success stories and more detail than you need about the Amish, FLDS, or Quiverfull religions. I can talk ad nauseum about Amanda Knox and the West Memphis Three. 

A lot of people know me as the font of strange – if not useless – articles. I tend to share them in our group chat at work and email them to friends and family. What, you haven’t heard that redheads may all be related? Don’t worry, I’m here for ya!

It’s not that I don’t think current events are important; in fact, I find most of the weird things when trying to figure out what’s happening in the world. And, let’s face it, I read a lot of celebrity gossip. 

And I’m good – really good – at figuring things out. If someone says “I wonder what other movies this person was in?” I’m already on IMDB looking it up. If someone wants to know the distance from Point A to Point B, I’ve already pulled it up on my phone. I’m fast. I know the internet like the back of my hand, so finding information – helpful or otherwise – is second nature.

One of these days, maybe I’ll retain more useful knowledge, but being able to spout off crazy stories and obscure events (with a healthy mix of weird celebrity news) is one of my few talents. It’s just what I do.

This post is brought to you by the Blog Every Day In May Challenge.

day 1

I may not be able to blog every day in May (due to surgery on the 20th) but I’m attempting to participate in the Blog Every Day in May Challenge. Today: the story of your life in 250 words or less.

I was born. Memorial Day, 1985. I screamed for the first six months of my life and still haven’t learned how to be quiet. I started writing at age six when my teacher sent home a note about my atrocious, remedial handwriting. Staying up late writing stories solved that problem right quick.

I lived in the Midwest until I didn’t; when my parents told me we were moving, I cried for hours. To this day I fear change and sometimes I think it’s because my life was uprooted in the formative years. I went from the countryside to a rainy suburban town with a lighthouse. I went from a happy friend-cocoon to Mean Girls.

I’ve always struggled needlessly; teased for being bad at things, I grew up believing I was a failure. Less than. Not enough. I started growing out of that in my mid-twenties. Anxiety has always been my frenemy: always around but a pain in my ass.

I went to college. I studied abroad in Italy. I lost grandparents. I met the love of my life and worried as he fought in wars. I tested positive for a cancer-causing genetic mutation. I removed my healthy breasts to prevent cancer and it caused myriad complications.

I wrote. I sang (poorly). I discovered the internet. I forged a career path. I watched crappy TV and read silly books. I loved, I changed, I feared, I cried, I grew.

I lived.

And then I wrote about it in 249 words.

One of the things I’ve always said I wanted more than anything is to write. I’ve spent hours in bookstores, perusing the shelves and wishing that someday I could publish something of my own. As a child and teenager, I was constantly scribbling something in a notebook or journal, or a scrap of paper or a napkin at my high school food service job. I told myself I would do it for real someday.

Yet… I’m not. Part of it is that I’m not creative; I’d love to write a novel, but I have a hard time thinking of a story that would be worth the time and I’m too young to write any sort of memoir (I’m not Miley Cyrus, memorist at seventeen). So there’s that.

There’s also the fact that I’m afraid of failure. I’m not afraid of failure the way everyone is afraid of failure – as a sort of “what if?” scenario. I’m afraid of failure because I know failure and most things I’ve done, I’ve failed at. Including writing, the only thing I’ve ever felt remotely decent at.

I read a lot of things: books, blogs, websites, emails, presentations. So many times, I see things I would have done differently, that could have been so much better. I know that I’m not off the mark; I do have some sort of writing talent, even if it’s very basic.

The problem is, I have never been able to prove that. One of the most spectacular – and embarrassing – failures in my life was an internship I did (or attempted to do) right after college. It was on the side of my regular job, not a full-time gig, and it involved writing a newsletter for a psychology department at my university. They hired me without any writing samples and with the knowledge that I knew very little about the subject matter, and they expected me to figure out how to write the newsletter with no examples. The short version is, I failed. Spectacularly. When I sent what I’d written to one of the women I profiled, she let me know that it was probably more cursory than they’d been looking for.

When I submitted the final version to whoever was in charge, I admitted that I was told it was probably too superficial. I probably apologized. She wrote back saying she hadn’t gotten a chance to read it yet, and then I never heard anything from them again. I checked their website a few times to see if any newsletters were published, but I never saw anything.

And screwing something up <I>so badly</i> that it’s not even worth of a response is not my finest moment. And it’s made me afraid to try again in any sort of official capacity.

I’ve got big dreams of publishing something, someday, but I know the only way to get there is to do it. Problem is, the only way to “do it” is to get over my fear of failing – and I don’t really know if I can.

& then i saw love disfigure me;

Things have never come easily to me. I mean that in the most “first world problems” way possible; I’m not disenfranchised, I’m not disadvantaged, and my days are free of racism, both blatant and institutional. There may be challenges I face being a woman, but even those are rarely noticeable enough to pose a problem.

But aside from that, things in my life never work out quite right. I’ve never been the best at anything and I’ve rarely gotten through things easily. Until a few years ago, I struggled with an envy so ugly it colored everything in my life. In high school, my best friend’s father bought her a car and I was so jealous I cried. I fancied myself a writer and lamented the fact that I was only good “for my age” yet a friend of mine, two years my junior, was being published in Harvard publications. I resented the new-relationship glow of coupled-up friends. I struggled with others won choir solos when I never stood a fighting chance. I could go on, but my laundry list of failures isn’t the point. The point is, I was never a graceful loser. Sure, I could hide it – it wasn’t as though I attacked people for getting what I wanted. No one was the wiser; all my pathetic teenage suffering was on the inside.

People would suggest what they thought were novel ideas – “why don’t you try being happy for that person?” OH GEE, I hadn’t thought of that! I wasn’t that I was too stupid to understand that I should be happy for others’ successes. I just… couldn’t do it. I could fake it well, but I couldn’t feel it. No fake it til you make it here.

And then I grew up a little and learned to ignore the sting of envy. I focused on other things and stopped having to fake my happiness for others.

Enter BRCA. When I finally got over being pissed off that I had this mutated gene where most people have a perfectly normal, functional tumor supressor, everything seemed fine. I would deal with it, I thought. I would be fine.

But lately, the beast is rearing its ugly head again. It’s like I’m seventeen in all the worst ways. I chose to have surgery and it didn’t work out as planned. I shouldn’t complain: I’m alive, I’m healthy, I’m pain-free. My issues are largely cosmetic. But when I hear about other women whose surgeries go off without a hitch? I can barely deal with it. I know I should be happy for them; none of us asked for this and we’re all muddling through the best we can. Solidarity, yo. But sometimes I just can’t.

I want to be the one saying I’m so happy I chose surgery. I want to be the one saying everything is perfect, that I couldn’t be more thrilled, that everything went exactly how it should. Better, even. Instead I feel like I’m relegated to the corner, the misfit for whom everyone feels nothing but pity. I imagine people thinking, “Oh, it’s really too bad it was so terrible for you. Thank God I didn’t end up like you!”

Maybe it’s because I know I’d be thinking the same thing. And maybe it all makes me a terrible person. I don’t wish that anyone else would suffer. I don’t want them to have the experience I did… but I don’t want myself to have had it, either. 

And that’s what it’s always come down to. It was never that I wanted someone else to fail. I just wanted better for myself. I wanted things to turn out differently. I read a quote once, attributed to Anne Lamott, that said forgiveness is accepting that the past didn’t turn out how you would’ve liked (the actual quote, thanks to some internet research, is “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past”). 

I don’t have anyone to forgive for any of this, but there’s also nothing I can do to change it. It’s not the fault of anyone who had the perfect experience. It’s not as if there are only so many complication-free situations to go around and I missed out because someone else took mine. It doesn’t work that way (I hope). The past just didn’t turn out the way I wanted; it doesn’t mean all is lost for the future. 

It’s just another thing that didn’t come easily to me, and hopefully, someday I can learn to deal with it.

evil don’t look like anything;

I could’ve been Amanda Knox. I’d barely returned home from my own study abroad trip when she turned up in the news, a fellow University of Washington alum in the same country I’d just fallen in love with. First, the headline just said the roommate of a UW student had been found dead. Before too long, headlines popped up saying Amanda Knox was suspected to be involved. I couldn’t stop reading every detail about the case; I remember the brouhaha over her short story about date rape and I remember her MySpace photos holding guns. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to base so much on a social media profile and creative writing assignments from class. How much of what I had posted might someday make me look like a crazy person when viewed in the right light?
 
I followed her first trial, vacillating between thinking she was guilty and thinking she was innocent. She changed her story, she confessed, she accused her boss when he’d done nothing wrong. But yet, I had friends who shared mutual friends with her. We were basically the same: two twenty-something females from Seattle studying abroad in Italy. 
 
I was at work when she was convicted. My friend and I had been emailing all day, awaiting the verdict. I called my parents immediately upon seeing the Breaking News on MSN. I was floored; whether she was guilty or not, I hadn’t really thought she’d be convicted. It just didn’t make sense. What evidence was there, really? Did people really believe it was a Satanic ritual, some kind of sex game gone awry?
 
That was that, for awhile. All quiet on the Amanda Knox front. Slowly, I began to vacillate less and believe in her innocence. She might just be a little naive, a little stupid to act the way she did. There were a lot of problems with her story, but did they add up to murder? I couldn’t make myself think so.
 
And then I went to Italy again. There were jokes about “don’t kill anyone while you’re over there!” or “don’t get stuck like Amanda Knox!” which, of course, I laughed off. But then I was apprehended by the police and taken to the police station. I was questioned in Italian, a language I don’t speak. I’d had a few drinks and I was terrified. It was nearly one in the morning. All I could think about was Amanda Knox, being questioned in a language she didn’t speak. Being terrified, probably high or recently high on pot (which, to the best of my knowledge, does not make you murder people for sport). I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut, to say only what needed to be said. “I don’t have a residency permit. I’m here on vacation. I used to have one when I studied here, but it’s expired and in Seattle. I’m leaving in two days.” 
 
But then, I pride myself on having good sense most days of my life. I was blessed with the common sense to know when to shut my mouth and when to speak up, how to act and how to present yourself. Not everyone has that common sense, especially at twenty years old. All I could think was, if I try to speak in Italian, I’m going to say the wrong thing and I’m going to be stuck here in a cell for the rest of my life. So I switched between English and poor Spanish, neither getting my point across very well. Luckily for me, the situation resolved itself after a lot of tears and a lot of waiting around a smoky police station. After that, I had a newfound sense of solidarity with Ms. Knox. I could see how a false confession could have happened, how the Italian police could have worn her down so much. I’d almost lived it.
 
I was again at work when her conviction was overturned. We’d gone to lunch and it was playing in the restaurant; I couldn’t tear myself away from the TV. The subtitles were lagging, so we didn’t know what happened as it happened. We saw Amanda start to cry and immediately one of us said “She’s crying, they must have upheld the conviction,” just before the marquis across the screen read that the conviction was overturned. “Amanda and Raffaele did not do it. They were not there.” 
 
I’ve read numerous books about the case and numerous articles, both biased toward and against Amanda herself. I’ve read about Mignini and his issues (The Monster of Florence). I’m not unaware of the fact that the victim, Meredith Kercher, has largely gone unnoticed. I’m guilty of it, as well, because I don’t relate as much to a British girl as I do a girl from my own hometown, a girl in a situation I could imagine myself in. But that’s the truth and it’s why I’ve followed the case as long as I have. It’s why I know so many details and have so many opinions. 
 
After all that, I found myself shocked that she is going to be retried. I’ve spent the past few days poring over articles and skimming the Massei Report trying to get to the bottom of it all. It’s the kind of case that drives you crazy – everyone speculates and has their own ideas of what happened, but you’ll never really know. You weren’t there.
 
There’s a huge part of me that can’t separate our two situations; in the wrong place and the wrong time, with enough of the wrong moves, something like this could have happened to me. But then, it didn’t happen to me. It makes you wonder: innocent woman screwed over by a foreign justice system, or cold-blooded killer… or something in-between? 

oh, baby!

My fake niece lives in Texas. Although there’s no biological relationship (hence the “fake”), I’ve been friends with her mother since we were nine years old. We met in fourth grade in small town Ohio, becoming so close we considered each other sisters. Two years later, we both moved away but have stayed in contact for the sixteen years post-Ohio.

The little girl I call my fake niece was born last May; she was anticipated a little closer to my birthday but made her appearance a bit early. We don’t share a star sign, but we do share a birth month.

I was especially excited about her arrival because, since my brothers are so much younger than I, there’s no chance (I hope) of my having a real niece or nephew anytime soon. Not being ready to have my own child(ren), I’ve wished for a baby I could love and play with… and then give back to its parents.

I got to meet her when she was two months old. I never thought I would enjoy spending so much time with a baby, but I was obsessed. Tiny little hands! Tiny little fingers! Tiny little tears! I couldn’t put her down and I had to pick her up the second she whimpered. (I’m going to be such a sap of a parent.) Biological clock: ticking.

Well, not really – as much as I adore her, I still don’t want full-time responsibility for a human being. But it was wonderful to take time out of my life to fly to Texas and spend time with one of my best friends (who I hadn’t seen since her wedding in 2008), her husband, and their precious baby.

She’ll be a year old in May; when I saw her, she was just starting to smile, not yet babbling or sitting up or eating anything beyond milk. And now she has teeth and can sit and will be walking and talking before too long. I hate that I can only watch this from a distance, can only see the changes through Facebook pictures and phone calls.

It’s crazy to think that one of my best friends created a person and that it’s something most people do eventually. And it’s crazy to watch this little one grow up; as awe-inspiring as it is, I can’t even imagine if it were my own child… but that’s going to have to wait for a long, long while. I’ll settle for an awesome fake niece for now.

I’m participating in The Scintilla Project. Today’s prompt was “Write about spending time with a baby or child under the age of two. The challenge: if you’re a parent, do not talk about your own child.”

& I hope you’re learning to stay;

I could have turned back from the airport, grabbed my suitcases and headed home. I could’ve done it when the other girls looked askance at my sweatpants from their vantage point of boots and skinny jeans.

Instead, I boarded the plane and hoped for the best. Everything was new, none of us knew what the future held, and we were in for the adventure of our lives.

Although I couldn’t have stopped the nausea-inducing, turbulent plane ride to Portland, I could’ve turned back when we arrived. A three-hour drive in a rented car and I would’ve been home, the whole thing done and over with.

Instead, I stayed. I sat in the airport with my new best friends and a few other students who all but ignored us. Them versus us, already not what I had expected. Sitting in uncomfortable airport seats, we discussed our expectations, our pasts, our probable (hopeful?) futures.

And I got on the next plane, embracing what I thought would be the best experience of my life. Thirty-thousand feet above the Atlantic and the only one awake, I stared out the window with Sigur Ros in my ears. The sky was clear; the stars were amazing. It certainly felt like the cusp of something amazing. It felt like I was arriving.

I could have left, though, once the plane touched down. Once the entire day’s worth of travel was over, once we’d crossed time zones into another day, I could have turned back. In fact, I almost did – when I realized this was not, in fact, meeting my expectations for the best time of my life or my greatest adventure; when I did not cry upon stepping on foreign soil; when I did not forge lifelong relationships with every single person. When I broke my own heart a thousand times over, replacing the beauty of Italy with the ugliness of twenty-something drama and my own anxieties.

But I didn’t. At any time, I could have turned around, could have undone it all. Across the world isn’t so far away after all.

Except… I couldn’t. No matter what I did, there would be no undoing. The second I stepped out of my comfortable life, everything changed. I could have given up but Rome was already in my heart, travel already in my blood. It wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, my tears came not from happiness and awe but from the opposite, but it was what I needed. There was no other way – and no turning back.

I’m participating in The Scintilla Project. Today’s prompt was “What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?”

love your enemies

I’d never met him before, yet here he was, in front of me. I’d never even heard his name until earlier in the day, but there he stood, waiting to report a work-related injury to HR. As the HR gatekeeper, I was always responsible for dealing with employees who really needed to talk to someone else; I just had to fill in until that person could be found or roused from whatever they were doing.

This time, though, instead of simply documenting his injury and getting back to work, the man asked me to hold out my hand. I did, because we were waiting for my boss and it would have been awkward not to and I wasn’t sure what else to do.

He looked at my hand, this man I’d never seen before, let alone met, and told me about myself. According to my hand, he said, I’m a nitpicker, I love chaos, I’m argumentative and I like to debate. He said I try to be a “hardnosed bitch” but really can’t do it. It’s not as though any of those are unique traits; lots of people like to argue or thrive in chaos. But all of them together, plus the idea of trying to be a hardnosed bitch and failing, made me think he was onto something.

A few of the things he said remain to be seen – will I really have just one child (perhaps, since that’s what I’ve always said) and live until my 90s? Do I really have bad knees (yes) and an arthritic left hand (not currently)?

And then he told me I need a man I can raise my head to. He demonstrated this in such a way that I thought he meant a tall man, which didn’t make a ton of sense. I’m 5’1 – why would I need someone so tall? I started to inquire, but he finished his sentence with “because why would you want someone less than you?”

That was the moment it hit me that, as much as I don’t believe in fortune-telling and palm-reading, he was probably right-on. I’d spent a lot of time feeling inferior to men I dated, yet knowing that as much as I hated the feeling, I also didn’t want to be with someone I considered “less than” me. In fact, it was a big thing in my life at the time, that this person could never have known.

When he walked out of the office after telling me the story of my life, his parting words were “Love your enemies.”

I probably spoke with him another two or three times during the course of my role with that company. One of those times involved him reciting some sort of spoken-word poetry to me at my desk, something about dreams. I think he eventually left, and I certainly did, but that encounter sticks with me even years later. I don’t know why, other than it still fascinates me.

I’m participating in The Scintilla Project. Today’s prompt was “write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.”

well I cursed and I cried but now I know;

It’s been almost two months since my surgery and sometimes I forget that I had a mastectomy. Who does that? And who does that at age twenty-seven without even having cancer? I thought I would feel brave and mostly I just feel crazy.

The thing is, nothing about my experience was what it should’ve been. I know, I know: the best way to make God laugh is to make plans or whatever. But I’m a planner and I had my ideas of what I wanted, and got none of it. I chose my surgeon because she was the only local surgeon willing to do immediate, direct-to-implant reconstruction  and I ended up with no reconstruction at all. I fervently hoped and prayed she could do “delayed immediate” reconstruction, inserting the tissue expanders after two weeks instead of three months (which is typical delayed reconstruction) and that was a no-go due to my dying skin. I started banking on three months, trying to prepare myself, but then my skin officially turned necrotic and had to be debrided so reconstruction is put off until some unknown time far in the future. 

Not to mention the seromas and potential infection I dealt with a few weeks after surgery. Now I’m left mostly healthy, but with scarred skin and a bunch of unknowns. I may be able to begin reconstruction in six months; my skin may not be viable for reconstruction and that would require a lat flap procedure. The fact that I opted for a nipple-sparing mastectomy may soon be irrelevant as I’m likely to lose a nipple, again due to the skin necrosis and debridement. 

In short: everything is a mess. I’m done being sad about it, as there’s no point. I was angry for awhile, but there’s no point in being angry if there’s no one to be angry with. This just is what it is. This is the path my life is taking and I’m still undeniably me, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

There does seem, however, to be somewhat of a divide between those who had a normal procedure and… me. Or those like me. I think a lot of it is in my head, but I have a harder time relating to people whose surgeries went as planned. I know it’s not easy even if things do go well, but it’s hard for me to really see that because I would give anything for things to have gone normally for me. I would never wish my problems on anyone, but I feel like it puts me in an entirely different category, like I’m separate and “other” in a way I didn’t expect. There aren’t many twenty-somethings with massive complications. 

I didn’t plan on being one, either, but here I am. And this is my life now so I’m trying to learn to embrace it. 

two weeks

Somehow today is only two weeks since my surgery. It feels like months and months, which is annoying. Ten weeks to go until they’ll start reconstruction. Sigh.

It’s been… interesting. I thought I would feel totally different – in a bad way – for weeks. I expected to be tired and out of it and in pain and not myself, and none of that has been true AT ALL. People think I’m weird because I seem so normal and because I stopped taking painkillers so early. I have a hard time believing it’s even real – since when do I have a high pain tolerance? Since when am I not a huge baby? I guess I never had any real indication that I was that way, but this is still weird because it’s so out of line with my expectations.

I’ve already started forgetting I even had surgery. A lot of the time it’s obvious because my chest is so tender that I can feel clothes rubbing against it and because my muscles are so tight that moving certain ways feels weird. But there are times, even this early, that I forget I had a mastectomy. I forget that I’m totally flat-chested and just think I’m… me. Like nothing has changed. Again, I almost don’t believe I’m capable of being this adaptable but I guess I am?

There are still issues, of course. In typical me fashion, I have a hard time when good things happen to other people. I would never, ever treat them differently or say anything, but it does get hard hearing about people finishing their surgery process or having everything go wonderfully. I wouldn’t wish anything bad on anyone, but I do wish this was different for me, so it’s challenging. I have always struggled with being happy for people when I’m not happy in my own life, so it isn’t like this is unusual. But now that I’m an adult and generally try to be a nice person, I do feel bad for looking negatively on others’ positive experiences. I just have a hard time believing I’ll ever get there myself.

My mom said maybe all of this is happening so that I can empathize with others and be of more help to people in similar situations. I don’t buy into the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I can’t deny that when I first got my genetic test results I felt like there was… not necessarily some pre-ordained plan, but the idea that maybe I would do something with all of this. I still have no idea what that’s going to look like, but I suppose time will tell. Apparently this ordeal is trying to teach me patience, but something tells me it’s not going to work. Patience may be a virtue but it’s certainly not easy.