Category Archives: Memoir

When Your Kid Is Smarter Than You Are

Photo 43

Many summers ago, our family went to a local art festival, and while I visited another booth, my son found a turquoise and green glass pendant and, though he only had eight dollars in his pocket, he convinced the vendor to sell it to him.

We coined the piece of jewelry my “compliment necklace” because every time I wore it, I received kind words from strangers who gushed over the glass that glowed in the sun.

I loved my necklace like nobody’s business, and I wore it every day.

Recently, while we were vacationing in Florida, the glass pendant slipped off its silver chain and smashed on the bathroom tile.

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“NoooOooooo!” I wailed, falling to my knees. “NoOoo! No! NoooOooo!”

Carrying the jagged shards in my open palm, I showed the pieces to my son who happened to be sitting in his brand new rocking chair, reading a book, and eating a slice of pie.

Standing, my boy put one hand on my shoulder. He’s taller than I am now, so he looked down at me a little. Stepping aside, he pointed to his new rocker, not 24-hours old.

“Come. Sit down. Have a little pie. You’ll feel better.” He offered me his plate.

I shook my head. Because I didn’t want any pie.

I wanted my glass pendant back.

“You bought it for me when you were 7,” I complained. “Every time I wore it, I thought of you.”

My son settled back down in his rocking chair. “If we didn’t lose people and things we love, we wouldn’t know how important they are to us.” My son shoveled some pie into his mouth and pointed to his chest. “Anyway, you don’t need a necklace to think of me. I’m right here.”

At home, TechSupport doesn’t let me tuck him into bed anymore. But, the night my pendant smashed, my son let me cuddle with him for a few minutes. As I stroked his spiky crew cut, I saw a silver thread in his hair.

I tried to pick it out, but it was attached.

Turns out, my 13-year-old has a gray hair.

My husband and I have said our son is an old soul. To us, he’s always possessed the understanding, empathy, and kindness of someone with more life experience.

As a youngster he always shared his toys. He was comfortable with rules, and sometimes, as I explained things to him, he eyed me suspiciously, as if to say: Of course we don’t write on walls, or touch hot pots on the stove, or stick fingers in electrical sockets. Of course, we don’t bite our friends. Or push them. Duh.

Over the years, I’ve complained when he’s been overlooked for awards. It kills me each Friday when his middle school publishes its list of “Great Kids of the Week,” and his name never makes the list. Meanwhile, he doesn’t care. He tells me he doesn’t need his name announced over the loudspeaker or his picture posted in the hallway. He knows about his good deeds, and that’s enough. A stellar student, he doesn’t like me to mention his grades. When he was bullied in elementary school, he refused to retaliate. Even when his father and I gave him permission to kick the bastard who was bugging him in his cahones, our son told us he believed in nonviolence. Like Gandhi. How did he even know about Gandhi in 5th grade? Though middle school can be an unhappy time as teens jockey for popularity, Tech has maintained a core group of smart, kind people who are loyal to each other.

Our son has never been interested in material things.

He has simple requests.

A bed.

A book.

A rocking chair.

A slice of pie.

That one single silver strand of hair on his head confirmed it for me: proof positive that my kid is an old soul — unusually understanding, wise and empathetic beyond his years.

Don’t get me wrong: he’s a teenager, too. He eats constantly, hates putting away his laundry, and making his bed. He laughs at dumb YouTube videos and would play Minecraft all day, if we let him.

But he knows how to talk me down when ants are crawling across the kitchen floor. Or tonight, while I held my stomach as I listened to the news, crammed with voices, the President talking about justice and violence and terror — again.

This is the world I brought you into, my son. A world where things are always breaking. And nothing is solid.

But he has the right words. Reminds me that most people are good people. That G-d hears prayers and love transcends zip codes and time zones.

“Kinda makes you realize your necklace wasn’t such a big deal,” he said.

What will I ever do without him?

Have you ever lost a sentimental something? Do you put on a strong front for your children? Or do you let them see you cry?

tweet me @rasjacobson

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Rules of the Road

imagesI was rolling down the road, belting out the chorus to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” when a white Volkswagen zig-zagged in front of me, cutting me off. I watched the car tailgate and nearly hit someone who was driving the posted speed limit, then nearly wreck another car it tried to pass on the right shoulder of the road.

Following behind the white car, I watched the driver roll through a second stop sign.

No pause. No hesitation. Nothing.

Really? Optional?

I couldn’t believe it.

Eventually, we came to an intersection where the light was red. I slowed to stop, but the white VW sailed right through.

Something has got to be wrong with that guy, I thought.

I never thought I’d catch up to that zoom-doom car as it weaved its way down a busy stretch of road, lined with shops and gas stations and restaurants. With so many destinations, it’s easy to lose someone. But as luck would have it, a train was coming. The crossing gates had gone down, forcing a long line of cars to idle, waiting.

The white VW was right in front of me. The driver honked twice.

I couldn’t help myself.

I got out of my car. Tapping on the dark glass with my fingertips, I waited to see the face that went with the driver.

I expected to see a boy, a teenager hurrying to get back to school — or a man. Clearly, there was some serious testosterone in that car.

But when the window whirred down, a woman about my age stared back at me. She was wearing enormous designer sunglasses with pink lenses.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Of course.” The woman tilted her head to the side. “Why?”

I shouted over the train’s rumble.

“You rolled through a few stop signs and a light. Did you know you did that?”

I expected the woman to offer some explanation for her recklessness. Or, at least, to qualify her behavior. I could understand if she had to get to the school to pick up a sick child. I could understand if she was hurrying to get to her mother’s house. Maybe her mother had called to say she had fallen and she couldn’t get up. I needed to hear her say she was driving herself to Urgent Care because she was bleeding and in pain. I needed to know she was rushing home because she realized she had left her oven on. Hell, I would have been okay if she had admitted to rushing to the grocery store because she was out of sugar.

Honestly, I just needed to know she was okay.

That’s a lie.

I wanted her to apologize and acknowledge she’d been driving recklessly.

But the woman in the pink sunglasses looked at me like I was a cockroach she wanted to flatten with her fist.

“Stops signs and stop lights are stupid,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say.

Because what do you say to that?

As she rolled up her window, I hurried back to my car and slammed my door. The rumbling noise of the train was muted, but the noise in my head was not.

I copied down the woman’s license plate on a piece of scrap paper.

I considered what would happen if everyone drove the way that woman drove. What if everyone thought stop lights and stop signs were stupid? Her disregard for the most basic rules of the road scared me. There have been times where I have sat at a stop light when no one else was around and thought: Duh, this is stupid. No one is even on the road. I should just go. But I don’t. Because the first rule I ever learned was something like: We stop at red, and we go and green.

I thought about the stop signs near the school by my house. I wondered if she ran through those signs, too. I imagined her white car hitting a child — mine or someone else’s.

I dialed 911.

Yes, I decided. It was an emergency.

I reported what I had witnessed, the conversation that had taken place. I reported my location and the license plate of the white car.

“You shouldn’t have approached the car,” the woman from dispatch scolded. “The driver could have been dangerous.”

I shivered a little. I hadn’t considered that.

The dispatch agent told me that unless an officer actually observed the car driving erratically, the driver couldn’t be issued a citation; however, she added, since I was able to provide a description of the car was and the direction in which she was traveling, she could get an officer in the vicinity to try to catch up to her.

By the time we finished our conversation, the train had passed and the crossing gate’s red and white arms that had held back traffic were going up. Traffic had started to move forward.

I have no idea if anyone ever caught up to the woman in the white VW, but I hope someone did.

Obviously, something was off that day.

Maybe she’d forgotten to take a necessary medication. Or maybe she’d been drinking. Or maybe she was just a really crappy driver. Whatever was going on, that woman needed to get off the road.

That afternoon as I drove home, everything felt fragile. I know nothing is solid, but I suppose in matters like safety, I prefer the illusion to reality. I need to know people believe in stop lights and stop signs. I need to believe there are more stable, kind people on the earth than dangerous, psychopaths out to do harm. I need to believe we are civilized.

Have you ever come across someone who has broken a basic safety rule and endangered others’ lives? What did you do? When do you decide to get involved?

tweet me @rasjacobson

challenge97

How I Caused The Buffalo Bills to Lose Super Bowl XXV

Buffalo Bills logo

Buffalo Bills logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1991, I lived in Buffalo, New York.

That year, the Bills made it to the Super Bowl for the first time. The team was  favored to win, and everyone who lived within a 60 mile radius was stoked.

Except me.

A graduate student at the time, each week, I sat in Wash World for one-hundred-minutes, reading and taking notes as the machines hummed around me.

I’ve never been a football fan, so I swear on a six-pack of Bud Lite when I tell you that I had no idea it was the night of the Big Game when I ventured out to do my laundry that Sunday.

All I knew was that the tiny parking lot was jammed with cars.

Cursing my bad luck, I parked a half-block away and kicked my basket down the slippery sidewalk. The snow looked blue in the darkness. I remember the cold and the way my breath curled in the air.

Inside, I paced around looking for an available washer only to discover every machine was in use. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why it was so dang busy at Wash World. Usually, the joint was quiet on Sunday nights. But that night, more than two-dozen men huddled around a tiny television, which someone had set atop a crooked table.

I glanced at the screen. Oh. I rolled my eyes. A football game.

That night, I tried to read, but the men cheered and cursed at a deafening decibel. A tall dude in acid-washed jeans crushed an empty beer can against a wall.

Sunday the laundromat sucks

Sunday the laundromat sucks (Photo credit: haaaley)

As you can imagine, this bunch wasn’t diligent about checking to see if their laundry had finished spinning.

When a machine stopped, I waited to see if anyone noticed. No one did.

Standing at the edge of the rug, I made my announcement. “Someone’s wash is done.” I gestured toward a row of white washers. The men sipped their beer with indifference.

I should have left.

But I needed fresh towels and clean underwear to make it through the week.

So.

I tossed someone’s load of graying tee shirts and ratty boxer shorts into a wire cart with wheels, and I continued to listen to them burp and fart and laugh and whistle and swear.

Forty minutes later, I dumped my wet pile into a wheelie basket and contemplated the whirling wall of dryers.

I checked my watch and noted how late it was.

I didn’t want to be in Wash World anymore.

Trapped in a world of testosterone, cigarettes, and beer, I silently prayed that I might own a washing machine and dryer one day, so I wouldn’t have to go out in the cold with a roll of quarters and touch the damp underclothes that belonged to strange men.

When a few dryers rolled to a stop, I planted my boots at the edge of the rug again.

But no one moved.

I had a right to dry my laundry and, game-be-damned, I was going to do it.

I crossed in front of the television.

The men snapped to attention. I might as well have stabbed someone.

These were totally hot in 1991.

These were totally hot in 1991.

“Holy shit!” A scraggly guy in those gawd-awful baggy red, white and blue Zubaz pants clutched his head with both his hands.

“A bunch of dryers stopped,” I said to no one in particular.

Glancing at the television, I noticed a slim figure in white running onto the field. A man on the rug chewed his fingernails. Some of the others pressed their palms together, as if in prayer.

I heard an announcer say something about a player named Norwood; about the 47-yard kick he would have to make. He said he thought Norwood could do it. Another argued there was no way.

I heard all this as background noise.

You know, because I didn’t care about the game.

I just wanted to finish my laundry and go back to my crappy little broken down house.

“I hope he misses,” I grumbled. I didn’t think anyone heard me.

As the kicker’s field goal attempt went wide right of the uprights, I watched the **players in blue** jump up and down, and I heard the announcer say something about the Bills losing Super Bowl XXV.

Looking up, I realized I was the only woman in a room full of men who had just watched their dreams die.

Men who had been drinking.

The man in the baggy pants pointed a finger at me. “She wanted Scotty to miss!”

A beer can whizzed past my face.

Someone called me a bitch.

I thought they were going to kill me.

Apparently, by walking in front of the television and speaking a few words, I had altered the outcome of the game.

It made perfect sense.

A girl’s gotta know when a girl’s gotta go, and that was my time to git.

Abandoning my laundry, I hustled into the darkness. The freezing air slapped my cheeks as I hurried down the street, trying not to slip. Glancing back, I hoped no one was following me. Inside my car, my breath hovered in the air when I finally exhaled.

I went back to Wash World the next day to retrieve my things, but my laundry was gone.

I don’t like to think about what might have happened to it.

These days, I remain uninterested in the NFL.

If we are invited to someone’s house for a Super Bowl party, I stay in the kitchen. At halftime, I emerge to watch the show long enough to be able to comment on it the next day.

And I am careful to never cross in front of the television.

Which team do you follow? Or are you just there for the bean dip? If you don’t watch, what do you do during the Super Bowl? And can I come with you?

**NOTE: I had to Google “Who won the Super Bowl in 1991?” to find out the winning team. It was the Giants. The Giants won. Seriously, I had no idea.

Fifty Shades of Humiliation Featuring a Guy in a Gray Suit

Recently, I showed you the line-up of amazing bloggers who committed to sharing their most embarrassing moments over the course of the year. If you surf Twitter, you will be able to find the series under the hashtag #SoWrong. And a lot of other crazy shizz, too. Probably. Last week it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t share one of my own heinous moments. Gulp. Here it is.

SoWrong

Click on the eyeball to see who else is participating in this series!

During high school, I worked at a department store in a local mall. At its peak, the chain had ten locations, and I spent many afternoons, weekends and vacations behind the costume jewelry counter, helping blue-haired ladies decide between faux-pearl earrings and plastic white clip-ons.

When I came home from college in the winter of 1985, I learned I’d be working in fine jewelry where black surveillance cameras hovered over the display cases.

Dude looked a little like this. Seriously. Look at those chompers. And that chin.

Seriously. Look at those chompers. And that chin.

One day, a man in an expensive gray suit leaned against the glass case where the 24k gold was kept and flashed me his whitest smile.

My heart beat loud in my chest. Gray Suit was cute. I wondered if he was single.

“Is there something you’d like to see?” I asked, hoping he would say something like: You. I’m here for you.

“Didn’t Carol tell you?” Gray Suit asked, invoking the name of my supervisor.

When I shook my head, Gray Suit frowned. My teenage heart dropped.

“Let’s start over.” Gray Suit outstretched his hand.

We shook hands the way my father always said was indicative of a person with character: firm and not too quick to release.

His lips moved. “I’m John Stevens, the gold rep. I come to swap out the inventory occasionally.” He set a hard, silver briefcase on the floor, bent over and produced several, rose-colored velvet bags, which he set on the glass countertop, careful not to leave messy fingerprints.

“I need you to get the keys from that drawer over there and put everything inside these bags.”

John flashed his dimples.

Isn’t it so sparkly and pretty?

I bit my thumb. “I think I should probably wait until Carol gets back from lunch…”

John glanced at his watch. “I still have to get to North Syracuse, Camillus and Clay.” I could feel his frustration. “Carol should have told you I was coming.” John shook his head. “I guess I’ll go see Mr. Big Boss…” He leaned over to lift the handle of his briefcase.

And I should have let him go.

Oh, I should have let him go.

But I was 18-years old.

And I didn’t want my supervisor to get in trouble with Mr. Big Boss.

And there was this small stupid part of me that hoped that John Stevens, the hot guy with the great smile, might want my phone number. Or something.

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Image courtesy of Nina Strelov via Fotopedia

So I did as I was told.

I drifted over to the drawer where the key laid waiting inside a small white cup. And somehow I was pushing the tiny tarnished key into the lock. Once the lock was off, I slid open the doors, dropped to my knees, dragging all the gold into one clunky pile.

John handed me a velvet bag, which I filled and set atop the empty display case. He smiled as he flipped open his briefcase and placed the bag inside. He tapped the top of the tall earrings tower with his fingertips.

“I’m going to bring everything out to the van, and then I’ll come back with the new inventory.”

I nodded. Of course he would.

“We don’t like to leave the cases empty for long.” John explained, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Every minute the case is empty, we lose potential sales.”

He promised he’d be right back.

When Carol returned from her break, I told her John had been there.

“Who?” she asked absently as she tidied up around the cash register.

“The gold rep” I said. “You just missed him. He took the old gold, but he should be back with the new stuff any minute.”

Carol looked at me with big eyes.

And then I knew.

I was a stupid girl.

My idiocy was confirmed when Carol stood in front of the empty display case and held her hand up to her throat, like something was burning there. “How long has he been gone?”

The words caught in my mouth. “About five minutes.”

Notoriously unflappable, Carol stomped her heel on the floor and swore.

I had done something really bad.

Okay the chair wasn't quite like this, but still.

photo courtesy of jeltovsky at morguefile.com

In Mr. Big Boss’s office, I sat in the naughty chair and wept. As he questioned me, I remembered something. “The cameras! He was standing in front of one of the cameras the whole time!”

I was elated. Thank goodness. We could get the footage and give it to the police. We would be able to catch the bad guy.

Mr. Big Boss rubbed his huge palm over his bald head and looked at me with soft eyes. He could probably tell I was confused. “The cameras aren’t real. They’re there to deter theft, but there’s no film inside. That guy probably knew they were fake. He seemed to know everything else.”

And, I thought, he knew how to work me.

I was sure I was going to be fired.

I braced myself for it.

Instead, Mr. Big Boss called the day “a learning experience.”

It was not the first time nor would it be the last time that a boy would trick me.

But it was a very embarrassing moment: the day I swapped nearly 10K in gold for a phony smile.

The fancy department store where I worked opened its doors in 1896. In 1992, the corporation filed for bankruptcy and four stores closed. Under pressure from creditors, Mr. Big Boss, grandson of the founder, sold the company and its remaining stores in 1994, just two years short of their 100-year anniversary.

I have always felt partially responsible.

Have you ever done something incredibly stupid at work?

tweet me @rasjacobson

So You’re Trying to Get to Cleveland for New Years Eve and The Thruway Closes & You’ve Got to Pee

New Years Eve 2012

For years Hubby and I had a long-standing tradition of spending New Year’s Eve with friends in Cleveland.

Some people might be thinking: Cue the sad-sounding trombones.

The reality is our New Year’s celebrations in Cleveland have been wonderful.

Some years we dressed up all fancy-schmancy and traveled to decadent restaurants while other years we huddled beside the fireplace in our jammies and fell asleep before the ball in Times Square touched down.

One year as Hubby and I set out to make our annual trek, the weather looked hairy. But we were young and stupid, so we packed up our car and pressed on.

After we passed Buffalo and got on the Interstate, the snow started pelting the car so we couldn’t see.

We turned on the radio.

Yes, the radio.

It was either that or Hubby’s tape-deck and collection of mixed-tapes featuring Kenny G.

My husband gripped the steering wheel. The snow was blowing the car around and we wanted to know if the whole trip would feel like we were driving through a wind tunnel beneath the heavy feathers of a rapidly molting white bird.

And then we heard it.

The Thruway has been closed from Buffalo to Erie.

As if on cue, the cars slowed and stopped. We turned off the engine to conserve gas. There was nothing to do but wait.

And listen to mixed tapes.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I was two months pregnant at the time.

I don’t know about how it goes for other women, but during that first trimester, I had to pee.

A lot.

After sitting for three hours in my husband’s tiny black Honda Prelude, I panicked.

“I have to pee.”

The windshield wipers swished back and forth and, for a moment, we could see.

“Well, you’re going to have to hold it.”

I looked out my passenger side window, at the stillness of it all and contemplated how I was going to make it to a bathroom when I couldn’t even see an exit ramp.

But this need to pee was non-negotiable.

I tried to explain it to my husband so he would understand.

“You know how you don’t like to eat Lucky Charms for breakfast?” I said. “Well, I don’t like to pee on myself.”

In my experience, any time someone tries to ignore a biological urge, that urge becomes more urgent.

I popped open the car door. Snowflakes fluttered onto my lap.

“I see an RV ahead,” I unbuckled my seat belt. “I bet they have a bathroom. Either they’ll let me in, or I’m going to have to cop a squat.”

I walked down I-90 between the rows of stopped cars, glad for my hat with the earflaps. People saw me coming and rolled down their windows to ask me questions – as if I could tell them when the snow would stop, how much longer until we would start moving, about what was causing the delay.

I only knew I had to pee.

I slogged through the snow that came up to my knees and kept my eye on that RV with the Canadian license plates.

Knocking on the door with urgency, I was greeted by a man in a red ski-mask with cut outs for the eyes and nose.

I explained to the masked man that I was pregnant and that I had walked really far in the snow.

Because I had to pee.

The man in the ski-mask walked back up the steps and gestured for me to come in.

I looked back at my husband’s car, a white lump in the distance. Before I’d left, I told Hubby once I was in that he should give me ten minutes, that if I wasn’t out in ten minutes, he should come get me because someone was cutting me into small pieces.

So I followed a man in a ski-mask into an RV.

Surprise! The RV was filled with Canadian hockey players who were super-friendly, eh?

After I used their facilities, they offered me snacks and told me not to hesitate if I needed to come back.

On my way out, I wished them a Happy New Year, and they held up mugs and shouted something unintelligible in Canadian.

Several hours later, we got moving again, but traffic was diverted back to Buffalo where Hubby and I were forced to spend the night in a Microtel, which felt much too micro after having spent so much time crammed in such a tight space.

We didn’t make it to Cleveland for New Years that night. Instead, we had spaghetti and meatballs at one of our favorite restaurants.

I was pretty hormonal, and I remember crying as I pushed pasta and meat sauce into my mouth.

Our waitress appeared with a tiny bottle of champagne.

So long ago, not everyone was even born yet!

“This is for you,” she announced. “From your friends in Cleveland.”

And then I really sobbed.

Because I missed them.

And because I couldn’t drink champagne.

Except I probably could have.

But it was so lovely of them to remember us.

Stranded on New Year’s Eve.

Last year we made it.

And we ate raclette.

And everyone made it to midnight.

And it was positively perfect.

Last night, we got about 10 inches of snow.

It better melt really fast.

Or else.

Hope to see everyone soon!

What are you doing to ring in the New Year?

tweet me @rasjacobson

How Facebook Reconnected Me To My Ex-BoyFriend’s Wonky Groove

Gratitude to Loretta Stephenson @WANA Commons for the use of this image

Not long ago, I received a private message on Facebook from a stranger who turned out to be one of my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends.

This woman expressed concern that her ex – a man I used to live with – might be unstable, perhaps dangerous, and she hoped I could provide her with some background to help her understand what had happened in my now twenty years dead relationship.

I remembered the good things first.

How he brought me flowers and played with my curls. How we’d hiked and biked, ridden horses and picked wildflowers. How he gave me heart-shaped rocks.

How he made me feel.

After someone else had left me broken.

We played house in a rat-infested shack.

We went to university, learned our professions well.

But one day, he accused me of eating all his peaches.

And the next day, he stopped listening to my poetry.

He went out late and came home later, smelling of beer.

I learned he slept with another woman.

When I decided to leave, he came home as I was gathering up my last box of things and shoved me against a wall.

With his hands pressed against my shoulders, he shouted too close to my face. “You promised you’d never leave!”

Then he slid to the floor.

I kept moving.

Because I knew it was a trap.

He’d always used my words against me, twisted things around to make me feel like I was in the wrong. I was tired of being the bad one.

He followed me outside to my car. It was summer, and he stood on the hot driveway wearing shorts and wool socks as he leaned against my open window.

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me.” His long eyelashes were wet. “You’re just like everyone else.”

I remembered I’d left my purple and green tapestry inside, but I decided he could have it.

Because I wasn’t going back.

Alone in my new apartment, I mourned the death of our love. I remembered how he begged me to stop taking my birth control pills. We’ll make beautiful babies together, he had whispered in my ear as we laid together on our futon in the dark.

Somehow I knew his words were wishes, not promises. They were just words without rings or commitment attached.

Somehow I knew to get out.

In the Facebook message from the ex-girlfriend, I learned there is a collection of women who have been wined and dined, then made to feel small, cheated on, and dumped by this same man.

If this is true, it means that for decades, he has brought one woman after another into his home. That he has fathered children, but abandoned their mothers.

I was sad.

Because I’d always said if he couldn’t find happiness with me, I’d hoped he could find it with someone else.

And I was sincere when I said that.

But it sounds like he is still tortured by the devils that were chasing him when we first met, that he has become the person he said he would never be.

I also learned I have a bit of a reputation.

Apparently, I’m “The Smart One Who Got Away.”

And that is partly true.

I did get away.

But I hate hearing that this man is broken, a scratched up record with the needle stuck in the same rut, and that this wonky groove is still the rhythm of his life.

And I hate hearing that he is smearing women against the sky.

Have you ever received second-hand news about a lost love? What did you learn? What did you say? Feel?

tweet me @rasjacobson

An Old Flame, Doused

I have often reveled in the wrongness of things.

Growing up, I cut Barbie’s hair and pushed straight pins through her ears.

I told people I was making earrings, but mostly I wanted to make holes in Barbie’s face.

As a teen, I gravitated toward recklessness. Once, on vacation with friends, I disappeared on the beach to kiss a boy whose name I didn’t know. My friends were mad, but I chose the taste of cigarettes and beer on a stranger’s lips over my own safety.

For a while, I was in an unhealthy relationship.

We had an understanding.

Kind of.

I mean, he created the rules.

And he meant well, I’m sure, with his flattery and charm.

When he touched me, I swooned with gratitude.

Because he knew how to make me feel.

Not too long ago, I ran into this person.

Though he had aged, I remembered his dimple, how easily he could undo me with a word or a look. And I was surprised at how, after all these years, my body still responded to his touch.

I watched his mouth move and remembered the place where confidence collided with arrogance.

I saw how little he had changed.

I know he believes he is a good person.

But I know him to be a juggler who thrives off secrets and lies.

A person who craves power and uses people as playthings.

For a time, I allowed myself to be part of his secret life.

Allowed myself twice to be used and discarded.

In an odd way, seeing this person again helped reaffirm the treasures that I have at home.

Things that should not be trivialized.

It’s funny. I don’t crave recklessness the way I used to.

And secrets taste like vinegar on my lips.

So while I enjoy more than my fair share of double-entendres and flirtations, there are places where I draw the line.

Danger paired with exhilaration can feel something close to love.

But it isn’t.

Ever run into an old flame? Someone who was not good for you? What was that like? Do you revel in wrongness? How far are you willing to go?

This week, writers were asked to use this photograph to inspire our post. My piece is a hybrid between fiction & non-fiction. We had 450 words. I got it done in 386.

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Putting My Faith in Boots That Pinch

Me in my brown Frye boots, circa 1985.

I have this freakin’ awesome pair of brown leather Frye boots.

I got them in 1985, before I went to college.

They cost $172.00.

I remember holding my breath as the cashier took all my bills and slipped them into the register.

When she handed me the bag, I thought I might throw-up.

That first semester I walked around campus with bloody heels, praying my investment would eventually pay off.

I’d dreamed of soft chocolate boots, like the couches the people I’d babysat for owned.

But my new boots were stiff and unyielding.

Those suckers took forever to break in. 

Somewhere along the way, they stopped hurting.

And when I wear them now, someone always admires my kicks and asks me where I got them.

I like to watch their faces when I say I got them in a shoe store that closed in 1989.

Ten years ago, I promised myself that if I ever found a similar pair in black, I would buy them – price-be-damned.

Recently, I was not shopping for shoes when I saw the sister pair to my old brown Fryes: tall black boots with a buckle.

I looked at the bottom of the sole to find the price tag and sucked in my breath.

It’s always been hard for me to spend money on myself. 

“You’ll have those forever,” said the well-dressed saleswomen who handed me an oversized white box.

I slipped the boots over my stockings and took a few steps.

Omigosh. They. Hurt. So. Much.

I found a chair and tugged them off.

“What do you think?” the saleswoman asked.

What did I think?

I thought only a crazy person would buy boots at that price that were that uncomfortable.

And yet.

I remembered.

My old boots had been awful, too.

It had taken years to get them to a place where I could call them comfortable.

But they have been my signature footwear for decades.

So I held my breath as the cashier scanned my credit card.

Because they cost a lot more than they did in 1985.

And I brought them home.

And while my new boots look freakin’ awesome, I’m back to bloody heels and Band-Aids.

Right now, I’m faking it.

Pretending every step doesn’t hurt.

I have to believe that eventually these boots will be right.

Because sometimes having something worthwhile means enduring a little pain.

Ask a newly published author. Or any woman who has given birth.

Have you ever made an expensive purchase that you fretted over? What was it? How’d it turn out? 

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This week the directions were to write a piece using the idea of money as inspiration — in under 450 words. I did it in 419. 

What My Fingernails Know

photo by rocket ship @ flickr.com

When every fingernail on both of my hands has broken, I know it for sure: summer is over. It happens to me every year over a two or three-day period. It’s a physical thing; parts of me grow brittle and fall off. Long before the leaves ever change to yellow or orange, my body knows: autumn is in the house.

There may be a rogue “warm day” where the temperatures skyrocket into the 70s. Children put on their shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts. Folks celebrate, go for bike rides and walks in the park. And while I, of course, appreciate the warmth, the glow, the sun in my eyes, I know it is all an elaborate ruse.

The corn has been harvested. My clematis has withered and turned brown. And because I am perpetually cold, I am the first to pull out the winter bin, which holds all the hats and scarves and gloves. And once this curly-haired girl puts her hat on, it stays on.

Until April.

My closest friends know this about me – that I wear hats for about half of the year – but I have to explain myself to each new batch of fall students.

I tell them that I am a summer girl, and while I love the change of seasons – apple picking, pumpkin carving, Halloween and snow-skiing – deep in my bones, I will forever long for those years in New Orleans, Louisiana, where summer was eternal and stretched well into November, sometimes beyond.

I tell them that every boy I ever really loved I met in the summer, and it is hard for me to let go of the sun and heat of my youth; that each year, like some weird woman disguised as a tree, I actually feel myself growing a little older, that instead of rings around my trunk to reflect my age, I collect wrinkles around my eyes. Each September, I lose a little of my fashizzle, my sparkle, my shine. It comes back. (It always comes back. It just goes underground and hibernates with the raccoons and the bears for a few months.)

Some of them claim to understand.

(Some of them tell me there is medication I can take.)

Some of them tell me summer isn’t over yet, and that there are sure to be plenty of pretty, warm days ahead.

I don’t care what the calendar says.

My fingernails don’t lie.

It’s fall.

How do you know when summer is really over? Are you ready to let it go?

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What Do You Remember Eleven Years Later?

English: World Trade Center New York, twin tow...

English: World Trade Center New York, twin towers, 26 July 1998 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember talking to my sister-in-law on the telephone, making plans to meet for lunch as the hosts of Good Morning America made conversation in the background. Life was solid then. Buildings stood upright. Terrorists were actors in movies. Airplanes were safe. Flight attendants gave us pillows and blankets, magazines and meals, and we worried mainly about making our connections on-time.

Before we decided on where or when, there was one airplane. And then another. I recognized the dark intentions of someone whose name I did not yet know. Covering my mouth, my eyes glued to the television, my sister-in-law and I talked at — rather than to — each other. We watched the flames and the slow, inevitable collapse as one tower and then the other sank into ashes.

I looked at my 25 month old son. Sitting on the kitchen floor, he’d built a tower out of wooden blocks. And, using a toy airplane, he laughed as he knocked it down.

I turned off the television, knowing we would soon go to war and that our world would forever be different.

Where were you eleven years ago today? What do you remember about life before 9/11?