Losing My Family, Keeping My Home

I'm not going anywhere. Unless you push me.

I’m not going anywhere. Unless you push me.

Growing up, I didn’t have the best dad. And, by saying that, I mean he just wasn’t really around, and when he was there I walked on eggshells. His presence was large and frightening, so I tried my best to stay out of his way. I spent a lot of time in my room reading Francine Pascal, V.C. Andrews, Judy Blume and R.L. Stine, writing wistful poetry, listening to depressing music, watching Nick-at-Nite and eating Doritos and Pop-Tarts. Anything to self-soothe.

My parents never had a stable marriage. It was riddled with addictions, domestic violence, cheating, and well, all the awful stuff you see on Lifetime and Dateline. When I was nine, I vowed to never be in a relationship like theirs. And, we all know how promises like that turn out. I attracted every man who drank too much, shot himself up with steroids, punched me in the face, was married or lied just for the hell of it. And maybe, I even sought them out.

And then, when I was 24, I discovered my dad’s affair. Torn, but my mom being my best friend, I ratted him out. And, she torn as well – I’m sure – kicked him out, and then took him back. Dad was never mad at me, but I couldn’t handle it. I had interfered in my parents’ marriage. I had called my dad’s girlfriend. Maybe even threatened her, who can remember? And, I had broken my mom’s heart. Oh, and I had gone against my brother and sister’s wishes: they wanted me to keep the secret. I had caused major distress in our family.

So, I ran away.

Phoenix seemed like a plausible choice. I had family here: Uncle G, Aunt J and two cousins, S and B – both around my age. They would take me in and help me start a new life. Also, they weren’t fucked up, like my family. I could learn important life skills from them. Things I missed out on amidst the chaos.

And, I did. I learned how to host dinner parties, make small talk, carry myself like a lady, treat a man right, color block and accessorize, order a vodka soda and swill wine. But most importantly, as a lady, I learned how I should be treated.

After 45 years of marriage, G heavily doted on J. He would toss his arm around her shoulders, drop her off at the door when it was raining, buy her jewelry, lavish her with compliments and just overall spoil her. He was visibly and excessively in love with her. I loved watching it – mostly because it was so novel to me.

Over the years we all became very close. They treated me as their own. They were my people. I was over at G and J’s every weekend for family dinners and I spent holidays, birthdays and vacations with them. I was in on family jokes, family gossip, family secrets and family fights.

I felt particularly close to and was very fond of G. I slipped and called him ‘Dad.’

G was a real man. He co-founded a bank when he was young and became insanely successful and admired. G had a soft spot for dogs and horses and wept during sappy movies and sad stories. He wore an apron in the kitchen and the finest suits to work. He played golf at Firerock Country Club and had a voice that rivaled Tony Bennett. He had impeccable taste and loved taking us to places like Nobu, Binkley’s and The Italian Restaurant; yet knew how to enjoy a brat at a Diamondbacks game. He got manicures, wore a mustache and threw a more spectacular temper tantrum than a two-year-old getting his Legos taken away.

The Grand Canyon couldn’t contain G’s personality – or his generosity. The moment I’d walk through the front door, I’d get a whiff of his cologne. It made me smile, but his smile, when I’d tell him how good he smelled, made me smile more. There would always be a drink waiting for me and Norah Jones playing – he knew she was one of my favorites. But, before I’d even drive over to G and J’s house on Lakeview, I’d study the news because I’d want to have something topical in my arsenal, so we could banter. G was intimidatingly brilliant and had no qualms in showing off.

Last year, unexpectedly, G got very ill.

It was bizarre seeing him so weak, because he’d been such a force his whole life. G was in ICU for a few days before he passed away. He died a week before his 66th birthday. The devastation of his death was collective and overwhelming. G’s employees and friends were overcome with grief. And his family, his family was shattered and shocked. G was the patriarch of the family and without him, they felt lost.

Death does weird things to people. It causes them to act out in strange ways. This situation is not out of the ordinary. After the funeral, my aunt and cousins distanced themselves from me. I was excluded from things, from events, from grieving together. Not only had I lost G that month, but I lost the rest of my family, too. I was alone in the desert.

I wanted to run away, again. It would be the easy and natural thing to do. The emptiness was consuming and the aching relentless. So, I prepared to go to the only place I knew bigger than my heartache: Texas. My brother was there and I could purge my pain into the Rio Grande or maybe just coat it in queso.

I sold my condo in Old Town and rented an apartment in Midtown. My job was a contract position, so essentially I had no commitments. Nothing was tying me to Phoenix. But as much as I’ve snubbed commitment in the past, I quickly discovered how deeply I was committed to The Valley.

I didn’t want to move.

Arizona was home. I worked hard to create a life here and didn’t want to abandon it. I thought about everything keeping me here: my friends – whom I love greatly, the mountains I hike weekly, the kids at Chrysalis where I volunteer and the arts community I’m involved in. Even the monsoons, haboobs and driving in traffic when it’s raining hold a special place in my heart. And, I met someone. Someone eerily reminiscent of G. So a piece of me stayed for the unknown.

Ultimately, I’m home. Savoring old memories and creating new ones.

Are You Dead Yet?

Have a bowl of this stuff. It will make it all better.

Have a bowl of this stuff. It will make it all better.

“Is he dead, yet?” I asked my mom, apathetically. It was dark and we were speeding down Highway 83 in my dad’s tangerine pickup truck, trimmed with red racing stripes on either side. My mom at the wheel, me scrunched between she and my 3-year-old brother, M. I was 8.

No answer.

M had swallowed some fishing line and it was unclear if anything was on the other end. Naturally, Mom was worried so we were headed to the ER. I, on the other hand, didn’t grasp the seriousness of the situation. The only bouts I’d had with death at that age were second-hand. I’d merely overheard the adults talking about it. Things like, “Did you hear June Foster died? You know, she was Al and Linda’s daughter. Yeah, with folks like those, you’d think she would have taken better care of herself. Such a shame. She’ll be missed. ”

I tugged at the fishing line. M gagged. He wasn’t dead.

And, he didn’t die. A couple of X-rays concluded nothing was at the end of that line and a few hours later, we were piled back in the truck, cruising back down Highway 83. During the ride home, I still felt the same: apathetic. M, I’m sure, felt more comfortable. And, Mom clearly felt calmer. Her hands were lighter on the steering wheel, the radio was playing and she was humming along to Anne Murray’s, Daydream Believer. When we got home, we were treated to ice cream. Lots of ice cream.

The next time I would ask if someone was dead, I would be asking myself. Over the course of the last few months, I would wonder daily if my mom was dead. If the man she was living with had killed her. I would call to check in on her. If she didn’t answer her phone, I’d text her. And if there was no response within an hour, I’d call or text my brother and sister to see who had talked to her last. Each day felt like an episode of 48 Hours – but with no resolution.

So my brother and I tried to resolve it. We’d move her away – with one of us, since we both live out of state. She’d just leave her things behind – they’re just things – and fly to either of us. Or, we’d fly to Iowa and get her. On numerous occasions, after numerous assaults, Mom agreed. And then, he was nice again. Or, maybe next week? Or, crashing into our lives just didn’t feel right.

Each time, I’d be heartbroken. Hearing about my 60-year-old mom getting her head beat in by some piece of shit made me want to kill him. I’d beg her to get a restraining order. She wouldn’t. I’d plead with her to go to a domestic violence shelter. She’d ignore me. I’d tell her to kick his ass out. She’d lie. So, I’d cry.

But in the end, or as of this moment, none of my tactics worked. And really, I get it. I get all of it. The older we get, the scarier moving becomes. And we can’t make someone change – they have to want it. Me, sitting here, with big expectations only yields disappointment. And, Lord knows I’ve got enough of that in my life. But I will always offer my support – and a big bowl of ice cream.


Igniting and Fighting Mental Illness

wine and prozac

Why yes, a prescription for wine and Prozac sounds lovely.

“I’m prescribing you wine and Prozac.” I was lying on my six-year-old niece’s bed, her small, latex-gloved hands were patting up and down my body and she wore a look of concern on her face. We were playing doctor.

I laughed out loud, not only at the prescription I’d just been given, but also at my niece’s sternness. The girl meant business. She didn’t give me a formal diagnosis, but no matter. I was happy with my prescription and would have accepted it regardless. Clearly, she’d heard talk around her house and was just echoing what she’d heard. And because I’m related, I knew my sister, N, was tossing back the Prozac and my brother-in-law was tossing back the wine.

Mental illness is like Nutella in my family: dark and thick, creating addictions, desperately clinging to whatever it touches, and deceptively comforting.

When I was eight, N, who’s two-and-a-half years older than me, and I would tape-record ourselves, singing songs, mimicking commercials, and interviewing family members. We’d play the tapes back, laughing hysterically the entire time.

One day, when my great-grandma was over, having coffee with my parents, we dragged the tape recorder over to her. I shoved the plastic microphone in her face and N asked some hard-hitting question, which I can’t recall. But, I do recall Great-grandma hollering, “Get that out of my face! The devil is in there! The devil is hiding in there, girls!”

We’d heard talk that Great-grandma was unique. But we didn’t know exactly what that meant. Was it because of how badly she was abused as a child, or because of all the abortions she had given herself (birth control and money weren’t easy to come by back then), or plain old mental illness? Either way, she had a lot of personality, was good-natured and always fun to be around. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time with her due to my family moving and Great-grandma’s elderly age.

When we were teenagers, N and I would visit Great-grandma in the nursing home, keeping her company, painting her nails and curling her hair. Great-grandma liked feeling like a lady. And, we loved hearing her stories from back in the day. She always made us laugh, often times unintentionally.

One day, while N was heating up the curling iron, Great-grandma, sitting in her wheelchair, looked up at N and asked, “Do you wear glasses?” N told her no, she didn’t. Without a beat, Great-grandma shot back, “Well, you should. You’d look better.”

I don’t think Great-grandma was ever diagnosed as mentally ill. People were usually just slapped with the ‘crazy’ label back then. It wasn’t until I was 14-years-old that I heard about depression. My mom and N were talking about it. They were talking about antidepressants, Prozac or Paxil, I think.

This was during the antidepressant craze, in the early ‘90’s. Everyone was on something – even my mom and sister. So of course, I wanted in on the shit, too. I don’t remember feeling depressed; nothing more than normal teenage hormonal mood swings. But, I do remember wanting to feel more.

I was working as a waitress at my parents’ restaurant. My maroon apron spelled, ‘Burger Boy’ in large, pink letters across my size-D chest. It was a bit of an old-school restaurant, so I carried my change in the deep, front pockets of that apron. With each step I took, my thighs would thrust the change forward, making an annoying jangling noise. Also, most of my customers were my classmates. Before they’d run off to the high school football game on Friday night, I’d serve them cheeseburgers and mugs of root beer.

Then, I’d clean up their mess, serve myself a medley of chili-cheese dogs, pork fritters, onion rings and fried cheese curds – with a side of Ranch dressing – and drift home to scrub the grease out of my pores. Looking back, maybe I was depressed. And in my defense, maybe I had a few things to be depressed about.

Either way, I wanted to be like my mom and sister. I always wanted to be like my mom and sister. Even when I found out they had periods – and I didn’t – I wanted to be like them. I’ve always just wanted to fit in, because I never really felt like I did. So, one day at work – in the midst of making a root beer float – I flung myself onto the ice cream cooler and had a meltdown.

I don’t really remember what precipitated the meltdown. I just remember hugging the cold metal cooler against my cheek, tears falling and my mom rushing over. She rubbed my back, asking what was wrong. “I…I…I don’t know,” I stammered.

She asked again. “Maybe I’m depressed?” I asked, wiping my nose with the back of my hand.

“Oh. Well, okay,” Mom said, gently. Then she asked something along the lines about what would make me feel better.

“Well, probably some antidepressants,” I said, matter-of-factly, drying my tears with a bleach sodden dish towel.

And, that was that. It was settled. We would go to the doctor and get me hooked up with some drugs – so I could be happy, too. It was that easy. Only it wasn’t. Sure, I was prescribed some antidepressant and took it for a while, but my life carried on as usual. I still worked at the Burger Boy. I was still chubby. I still felt awkward. Happiness wasn’t an automatic side effect of taking antidepressants.

I was disappointed. But, not devastated. I wasn’t clinically depressed and so, I went off the medication. Years passed. I quit the job, dropped the weight and still felt awkward. Depression found me. It came and went, and sometimes brought anxiety along.

I was always able to manage – eating right, exercise and telling my mom way more than she’d ever want to know about my life kept me sane. But about two years ago, something didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel right. My life hadn’t been going the way I wanted.

Due to two hip surgeries, I wasn’t able to run anymore. I was single; not having babies with the man I loved. I was working at a job I didn’t like, for a boss I didn’t like. I wasn’t menstruating and I’d been to every doctor in the Valley to find out why, “Oh, it must be low body fat,” they’d tell me. I’d cite literature I’d researched, stating it wasn’t normal; a woman my age needed to get her goddam period. They’d brush me off with a referral to the next doctor. Meanwhile, my mood was dipping. Low. Very low.

My drive to and from work was filled with tears. I couldn’t stop the fucking tears. Not even Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl could stop my tears. They’d even start falling at my desk and I’d have to sneak off to an empty back office and hide, sometimes for an hour at a time, until the weeping ceased. I’d leave at lunch everyday and call my mom, blubbering. I didn’t know what I was crying about. Finally, one day, she asked, “Do you think you need to go to the hospital?”

Yes, yes I did think I needed to go to the hospital. I just wanted a time-out. I just wanted a moment to collapse. But, what would people think? And, what would I tell work? And, then what? What happens after you leave a psych hospital? Business as usual? Is it on your record? Right then, my aunt beeped in on call waiting. Apparently my mom had called her earlier that morning about me, concerned. Mom, being over 1,500 miles away, was desperate for someone to check in on me, someone closer. My aunt was that person.

She spoke to me like nothing out of the ordinary was going on. She was talking in her normal tone of voice, not softly like we were in a library, or gently like my dog had just died, or concerned like I was a lost toddler in a mall, or empathetically like I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Nope, just conversation per usual, but then she acknowledged the obvious and asked what I was crying about.

“I’m, I’m, I’m not sure,” I sobbed, “I think my hormones are out of whack.”

“Well, you’ll just have to call your doctor and he’ll put you on some birth control. You’ll be fine,” she prophesied.

“Okay,” I agreed. I just wanted her to shut up. Shut up so I could go back to crying. But, she kept talking, always talking.

“Well, you should be over here, Meghan. Yes, you should be at my house and see what’s on my face. I have this big-ass cold sore on my lip. It hurts like hell. Almost makes me want to cry.”

She blabbed on about her cold sore and my mind raced. Was she really more concerned about the herpes on her lip than my failing mental health? Why wasn’t she asking me about checking into a hospital? Shouldn’t she be coming to get me from work? By the time I hung up the phone, I was pissed. I was so pissed off at her.

But, I wasn’t in the hospital.

Death is the Pits

Death changes everything.

Death changes things.

When I was seven, I got kicked out of the foam pit in my gymnastics class. Gymnastics is a tough sport. I mean, you’re expected to stand on your head until all the blood rushes to your brain, flip cartwheels and hang from the horizontal bars until your hands give out and you fall on your ass. So as you can imagine, the foam pit was a nice reprieve.

The pit’s real purpose was to allow us to practice new moves without being scared. But of course – every once in a while – someone would lounge around in it, just a bit too long. You see, our “Pit Permit” was good for “Two minutes. Tops,” according to our instructor, Mr. C.

One day, I tumbled into the pit and was trying my damndest to get out, but it was like I was wading through tar. The foam blocks were nestling up, in between my legs and arms and I was having a hard time making my way to the edge. I could feel Mr. C’s eyes on me. And then, I heard a whistle blow, “Meghan, your two minutes are up. The pit is not a place to play. Get out! Now! I said now!”

I struggled through the foam, defending myself. But Mr. C told me I had purposefully taken advantage of the foam. I had cheated the system, thinking he wouldn’t notice if I would sit in the pit for an extra minute or two. And for this I would be punished. I would lose my pit privileges for the remainder of class and month, for that matter.

I got out of the pit and sat down on the mat, my head hung. Did I strategically plan to spend more time in the foam? Mr. C’s accusations really got me questioning my innocence. He was so convincing. Looking back, I can see how false confessions happen. Your mind totally fucks with you. The month ended and I was allowed back in the pit, but I passed. I was terrified I’d get stuck again, Mr. C would think I was lying and well, you know the rest of the story.

Years passed and I was kicked out of many more places, for good reasons: violin class, the school bus, a strip club and an airplane. But, it wasn’t until 10 months ago, when my uncle, G, passed away that I was, once again, wrongly accused of something and kicked out of a place I wildly adored: my family.

I moved to Arizona about 10 years ago and became incredibly close with my aunt, uncle and two cousins, S and B and their significant others. I was 1,500 miles away from my nuclear family and they took me in and treated me as if I were theirs. We did things families do: spent major holidays together, bought each other birthday gifts, cooked together, teased each other, fought with one another and defended one another.

I was over at one their homes nearly every weekend – eating dinner, boating, watching movies or just keeping my loneliness at bay. They were my people. But, at the same time, I respected my boundaries. I knew my place, well, I sort of knew my place, it was a fine line to walk. I was sort of like Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch.

Although G was not my blood – he was married to my mom’s sister – I loved him deeply. He was an amazing person. Bigger than my words can describe, but you can read more about him here. His passing was unexpected and devastating to everyone who knew him.

He’d been in ICU for a few days and I was in the waiting room, on the phone with my mom, when he coded. S was flying back from a business trip when it happened. B and my aunt were in his room with him. The rest of the events are sort of a blur, which I think is common in highly emotional situations.

Naturally, I told my mom G coded and she was already packing her clothes to fly out to Phoenix to offer her support. I’m not even sure who came out to the waiting room to tell me G had passed. I just remember going into his room, kissing his cold forehead, telling him I loved him and saying goodbye. I also remember feeling awkward, not knowing if I should be in there. Was this just a time and place for real family? I mean, he wasn’t my dad – only my uncle. And, S wasn’t there yet and didn’t know G had passed. Did I have a right to be there before she was?

S eventually arrived and it was about as awful as you can imagine. Not being there when your dad passes away has to feel terrible. We all said goodbye again, the chaplain came or maybe the chaplain came and then we all said goodbye. And then, I went home.

Leading up to the funeral, I spent every night at my aunt’s. I just wanted to be there. They had been married 45-years and had a lovely marriage, so I couldn’t imagine what she was going through. After the funeral, however, things got weird. I’d call and offer to help clean, pack, bring food, or just visit. And, each time I’d be told, “No.” So, I backed off because I understand that everyone grieves differently. But, months went by and I was the only person my family was avoiding. I had a gut feeling I said or did something offensive. I mean, I had gone from being over there nearly every weekend to not seeing them in four months.

I didn’t want to make the situation about me, but I wanted to fix whatever I had done. So, I asked. My aunt told me nothing. I had done nothing and why don’t I come to the country club for Thanksgiving dinner. Of course I would go.

This was where it was clear there was a problem. S wouldn’t talk to or look at me. On the brightside, she did refill my wine glass. I didn’t stick around to not be invited to Christmas. I flew to Dallas to be with my brother and shortly thereafter I found out what I had ‘done.’

Try as you might, secrets can’t be kept for long. Word spread through the family and I learned S was mad at me because she thought I told my dad G died and he told someone who told someone who told someone before S found out. I felt like I was right back in that foam pit. Had I told my dad? I didn’t remember calling him. I rarely talk to him in day-to-day life, why would I call him in such an emotionally charged situation? I knew I hadn’t even called my sister because she called to yell at me for not doing so. My seven-year-old self was questioning my innocence. I was driving myself nuts, and then it finally hit me to scan through my phone records, which determined I had, in fact, not called my dad.

But in the end, does it even matter? G is gone and everyone is hurting so much, why add to the pain? And then again, maybe S isn’t really mad about what she claims. Maybe she’s just mad and needs someone to be mad at. Maybe she needs more than two minutes in the pit and will venture out, in her own time.

In My Day, We Were Defriended by Taking Back BFF Necklaces

Will you wear it? Will you wear it forever?

Will you wear it? Will you wear it forever?

When I was 10, my dad yanked out my tooth. It was loose, but was one of those stubborn ones that just wouldn’t come out, no matter how much I wiggled it. He had me lie on the living room floor, facing my open bedroom door, while he tied one end of a string around my tooth and the other around the doorknob. Then he slammed the door shut as hard as he could. My tooth ripped from its roots and flew out of my mouth, hitting a wall, never to be seen again.

We assumed it fell behind the sofa, but could never find it. Even after inching it away from the wall and peeking behind, picking it up and scooting it across the room, and finally selling it moving out of the house. Dad was proud. I was traumatized.

He was obsessed with teeth and had serious regrets about not being a dentist. He would make toothpaste out of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, claiming it would whiten, brighten and clean better than Crest. And, he’d stand in front of his bathroom mirror – wearing nothing but pajama bottoms – flossing his teeth, every morning and night, until he’d flung out every piece of debris that may have potentially rotted his teeth. He even went as far as to buy actual dental instruments.

I’m not sure where along the way he manifested this obsession. Dad always had nice, straight teeth. But, maybe this happens a lot. Along with so-called perfect things we’re given, comes a fear of losing them. So we latch on tightly and nurture them, and in some instances, fixate on them.

My tooth is the first thing I remember losing in life; maybe because it was both a little traumatic and a little funny. Some might argue it was taken from me, but whatever, either way it’s gone. I never did develop a tooth obsession like my dad, but I did pick up a few of my own.

Three years later, after the tooth incident, I was really into those Best Friend Forever necklaces that Claire’s sold. Two or three necklaces came in a package, letters divvied up on each pendant, spelling out the words, “Best Friends” when pieced together, like a puzzle. That particular year, I had two best friends, so we bought the necklaces made for three.

You never really hear about good things coming in threes. Conversely, there’s that saying that terrible things happen in threes. You know, you sprain your ankle, your dog runs away and then you…wait. Because there has to be one more horrendous event coming your way. So, you wait to get fired from your job. You wait to get served divorce papers. You wait to get a call from your doctor, diagnosing you with an incurable disease. You wait to get mugged in the parking lot of Target. And, when you get tired of waiting, you create something.

Now pairs on the other hand. Amazing things happen in pairs. Like, peanut butter and chocolate, a hammer and nail, cookies and milk, shoes and socks, wine and cheese and so on. But, it seems the only thing that happens in threes, is trouble. (Exception to the rule: Three’s Company.) And, that’s what happened with H, K and me. Someone always ended up feeling left out. And by someone, I mean me.

My parents were busy and heavily involved in their own shit, teeth and otherwise, so I didn’t know the first thing about making and maintaining friends. Everything I learned, I learned from Sweet Valley Twins, Laverne & Shirley, Nancy Drew, The Munsters and The Brady Bunch.

And, because I was surrounded by so much chaos and commotion at home, I shrouded myself in a world of fantasy in an effort to escape, in an effort to belong – to something, somewhere. I wanted to be a part of something more than just a Nick-at-Nite marathon of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I wanted to belong to something more tangible than The V.C. Andrews Fan Club. I wanted to open myself up to more than a box of Twinkies and Capri-Sun.

I wanted to be loved and admired and one way to get that, I thought, was to run my own little “Unicorn Club,” just like Jessica Wakefield. So I maneuvered it so the BFF pendant with the letters “es ie” dangled around my neck, making me the middle piece of our friendship, the glue holding the three of us together. Without me, there would be no “us.”

If K and H did something without me, it felt like cheating, so I rarely allowed it. One Saturday morning, while I was at Hy-Vee getting groceries with my mom, I ran into H. While we were chatting, she let it slip that she and K were going rollerblading later that afternoon. I panicked. Why wasn’t I invited? Would they talk about me behind my back? Was this some sort of a ploy to kick me out of the group? So naturally I replied,Oh yeah, sure I can make it,” as if I’d just been invited, and then hurried away before I could be ‘uninvited.’

And then, one day, I did get invited – to H’s house. This was over 20 years ago, so I don’t remember our exact conversation. But, I do remember that she didn’t exactly invite me into her house. H’s slight body blocked the doorway, hands on hips. So, I got into a defensive stance as well, folding my arms across my chest. This pissed H off because, she said, I had no right to be mad. She was mad first and, you know how teenage girls are; only one can be mad at a time. In short, I was kicked out of my first and only threesome.

Then, the door slammed in my face. And, even though there was no piece of string tied to the end of it, it felt like I’d just had another tooth ripped from my mouth. Only this time it wasn’t the least bit funny. This time it really, really hurt.


Mo’ Mullet, No Problem

Her limp hand lay in mine, her head turned to the left, disgusted. Well, as much as an 8-year-old could look disgusted. I, on the other hand, two years younger, would have picked no other place to be. The two of us, my sister and me, were punished to six minutes of hand holding in the oversized brown chair in our family room. This was Mom’s way of disciplining us, after we fought, which we often did.

There were – still are –far too many fights to recall each one. Like trying to read the last few letters on a Snellen chart, our fights all sort of blur together. But, what stands out are the rare moments of alliance and coveted snippets of affection.  

Like the time I was eight and N let me cuddle up to her while she read chapter after chapter from The Boxcar Children, after my aunt gave me a terrible haircut. Let me preface this story with a couple of important facts: N despises reading and writing. Really, the English language, in general – she prefers French. Also, hair disasters don’t faze me – not now. It just took me a few years to break my attachment to the stuff.

When I was 14, I waxed off half of my right eyebrow and didn’t blink an eye. I had meaty, unmanageable brows that wanted desperately to meld into one. Of course, I wanted to put a stop to it. Every other Saturday I watched my mom wax the little space in between hers, along with her upper lip. So, I thought I’d try my hand at it. But, I’m a little clumsy and wax is a little messy. All in all, I stopped a unibrow from coming in, but also half of my right eyebrow – for about three months. Thankfully, it was the nineties and big hair was a thing, so my bangs did some damage control, but mostly I laughed at myself, along with everyone else.

But in the meantime, it took the mullet episode before I could handle hair loss so gracefully and maturely. Mom convinced her sister, who was a hairstylist at the time, that she should give me “this darling” haircut she’d seen in a magazine. My aunt, 16 years younger than my mom, argued the cut might not be considered darling to someone my age. My mom is stubborn and the older of the two, so my hair was cut.

mulletLet me tell you what my mom defines as a darling haircut: a mullet. Yes, a mullet. I looked like Joe Dirt (minus the sideburns and mustache) in my second grade school pictures. I was inconsolable. Like most little girls, I coveted long hair. The kind princesses had in Disney movies. Curls like Pollyanna, a mane like Marcia Brady, braids like Laura Ingles Wilder.

When I was five or so, I’d wear my pajama bottoms on my head, twirling my head just so, so the legs would linger on either one of my shoulders, allowing me to sassily brush them off as if they were long strands of hair getting in my way. When I was seven, my hair had finally grown out to the length of a princess and people would comment on how long it had gotten. I’d respond, “Thank you.” Because, I thought it was a compliment, as if I’d done something extraordinary, like win a spelling bee.

In a way, I had accomplished something. Having the courage to grow long hair was quite a feat in our household. Mom was never one to mess around with the stuff. She hated styling it, which is probably why she always had hers cut into a short bob, off of her face. I’d ask her to braid my hair for school, and quickly regret it. She’d jerk my head around like she was shifting gears at NASCAR. By the time she was finished with my hair, one of us was crying or giving the other the silent treatment or both. And, instead of walking onto the school bus looking like I was fresh out of a salon, I walked on looking like I was fresh out of a car wash.

So it made sense that she’d want me to have as little hair as possible – nothing to fuss over. Looking back, I’m fortunate I was given a mullet and not a bowl cut or a flattop. Either way, a little hug and well-read chapters from someone I craved attention from more than long hair, helped me forget about the disaster I was wearing on my head and made things okay, in that moment. And soon, my tears dried, second grade turned into third and my mullet grew out.

Maybe that was the year I learned pain was temporary. Maybe that was the year I learned people you least expect will be there when you need them. Or maybe that was the year I learned the mullet was way better than princess hair.