Collaborations of Abstraction

Posts Tagged ‘memories

I’d rather spend the day with homeless strangers than Christmas with my family.

It dawned on me slowly, smudged in guilt, rather than coated in it, as I’d expected it to be. I set the heaping platefuls of food on the white, tablecloth-clad table.

The restaurant I worked at was serving Christmas dinner to homeless families, and I was one of the waitresses. Last year I got to use the excuse that my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. I couldn’t pretend to like him for a full day. Now my appetite for authenticity had grown. I couldn’t pretend to like my parents for the few days. And feeding the homeless seemed more honorable. An honorable excuse.

I wasn’t alone thankfully. My friend Jennifer couldn’t make it back to the East Coast so we drank wine and opened stockings the night before. I may have even abandoned her to sleep with Nathan the previous night. I couldn’t remember. Maybe that was why I didn’t feel coated in guilt. The alcohol from the previous several days had left my brain feeling slippery, unable to hold onto anything. It’s OK though. That’s how people get through divorce. And Christmas.

After Jennifer and I finished our shifts, her in the kitchen dishing up plates and me waiting on loads of very grateful, very sweet people, we headed back to her place on the north side of town. It was quaint, with a nice kitchen table and some chairs. We drank hot cider and chatted. It was growing dark, even at 3:30 p.m. Thank goodness the Winter Solstice had passed, I thought.

My phone rang. It was Nathan. He invited me to his parents house. Some of his friends would be there, he said.

Maybe I could bring Jennifer, I asked?

Of course. The more the merrier. Jennifer enjoyed the O’Brien family. Nathan had a few brothers who drank about as much as he did, told great stories and flirted with her mercilessly. They all had girlfriends, though. Still, it was flattering.

I felt tense. Maybe it was all the coffee. Maybe it was the endless days of curing a hangover with another glass of wine. Perhaps it really was that the holidays suck for people like me. I never really did like Christmas. I was trying though. That was more than I’d done in years past.

Although Jennifer was excited at the prospect of another amusing evening, I shared my worry. Nathan had been hinting at his interest in wanting more from me. Well, hinting wasn’t exactly right.

He’d been jealous when I stood outside smoking with his friends at an ugly sweater party. A month previous when we first met, he barely looked twice at who I spoke to. He told me he thought I really wanted to make a home and have a family, even if my bitter demeanor suggested otherwise.

Spending Christmas evening with him at his parent’s was a step toward the girlfriend direction — a direction I had no intention of going. I didn’t know where I was heading, but girlfriend wasn’t the destination. Hell, it wasn’t even on the map.

Jennifer convinced me that it was a party, that I would just be one of many females there, and I should consider it. Christmas night is always a weird time, she said. And she was right. It was either that or go to a movie, and that was a Watson family tradition, something I wasn’t eager to remind myself of.

We drove the 40 minutes into the suburbs and pulled up in front of a ranch style home, snow-covered lawn sprawled out in all directions. Nate’s car was already there. Not one other vehicle, not even his brother’s car, was in sight.

Maybe we’re early? Jennifer said, not sounding very sure of herself.

We knocked and Nate let us in. Family pictures hung on the walls as we walked into the split level entrance. I took off my snow-covered shoes, left them in the hallway and tossed my coat on the bed as instructed. That’s where coats go in Minnesota, you see. On the bed.

We headed into the family room, where his parents were watching Agustin Borough’s Running With Scissors. Nate’s brother nursed a beer on the corner couch. He must’ve driven with Nate. Nate’s mom jumped up to meet me, eager to size me up, sweet as pie in the Midwestern way.

Nate’s dad set the mood by making a mildly inappropriate comment about my hips, and we settled into the couch to watch the movie. When offered a beer, I immediately accepted.

The movie didn’t sit well with either of the O’Brien parents, so Jennifer suggested we play a board game. Jennifer is always suggesting games, and this time I was grateful for the distraction. However, Nate picked Life out of the bunch. Yes, the one where you choose a degree, a spouse, a number of children and go on to buy a home and achieve mediocrity.

When I celebrated getting past the child-bearing stage unscathed, Nate’s mother seemed concerned. Don’t you want kids dear?

I needed a cigarette. Now.

Jennifer stood outside in the cold and got me to laugh at how uncomfortable the situation was. I took a few deep breaths of cold air. Then I took a few more nicotine-filled ones.

OK, I’d go back in. But only for a bit. Then we’re leaving.

Of course.

It was time to have a snack. All that beer was making us hungry. Nate’s dad pulled out some pickles and olives. I started to notice the alarming amount of Catholic garb covering the walls. I tried to calm down by reminding myself it was Christmas, a perfectly normal time to have shitloads of Jesus paraphernalia around.

When I floated back into the conversation, it was just around the time that Nate’s dad called Jennifer a communist. For what? Who knows? Maybe belonging to a newspaper union. But more likely I think it was because she was a woman who had the nerve to have an opinion.

To change the subject I asked about the pickles. They were good. What brand? In Minnesota, this was a perfectly legitimate question because pickles were a legitimate side dish.

Oh, you like them? He was pleased. Nathan, you’ll have to get her involved in your business.

Business? I wondered. Are you in the pickling business? I thought you were an insurance salesman.

Oh no, my parents sell Amway.

Stunned silence.

You’ve heard of Amway, right?

Well, yes. But I thought it was like, illegal or something now. I mean, that still exists?

Of course. You’ve probably seen commercials for it before. Late night TV?

I shook my head. I didn’t have a TV. But I suddenly was the proud owner of a brand new stomach ache.

We left, with two jars of pickles as our parting gift. So nice to meet you, everyone said. So glad you could make it. See you next year.

I’d rather spend Christmas with a bunch of suckers than my own family. Or was that just another version of my family? Another nightmare film entertaining me while I kept digging the same hole?

After reliving the evening’s most shining moments, Communist Jennifer and Childless Rebecca drove in silence back to North Minneapolis.

At one point, a lot of the homeless folks we’d served that day had lived in this neighborhood. When they could still pay rent. Before they’d lost their jobs. Now that was a hole to dig yourself out of. Maybe my Amway Christmas wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was exactly the gift I needed.


It’s Thursday afternoon and Amanda Fairchild is on the phone for me. This makes my palms sweaty. Not because I want to date Amanda. Or even have sex with her. I’m straight.

Nope. It’s because she is a popular girl and I am not.

I’d see her in the hallway with her long dark hair hanging in a perfectly straight curtain down her back. She’d run her fingers through it in a way I’d imitate as I walked from band down the hall past where all the “cool kids” would hang out.

Somehow in the four minutes between class they’d congregate there. I would’ve if I was asked, but I’d have worried how to get to debate class on time, as it was at the other end of school. I’d never had that problem though. Until today. Maybe. When Amanda dialed my number.

I sat with my phone to my ear for a minute, not fully listening as she invited me somewhere. Her house maybe. It all seemed so surreal. I accepted in a haze. Sure I’d be your friend. I saw us laughing as we walked down the hall, trading hair-styling tips. How did I get my hair so smooth and curly? she wondered.

But Amanda had another question for me. Now, in real life. The one where we are on the phone together. I try to pull myself together. Popular girls never talk to me. The guys did sometimes. There was even one who flirted with me in our advanced math class. But the girls? Nope. Not even a breath in my direction.

I would answer Amanda’s question. I would do everything in my power to be her, be one of hers.

“Do you have, like, any experience with guys?” she asks.

I am stunned. What did that matter? Then I think I catch the sounds of silent (well, almost silent) laughter. My whole body feels wrapped in flames.

I take a breath and reply, “You know, I just remembered, I think I’m grounded. I don’t think I can go to your party.”

The rest is a blur as I rush to get off the phone so my tears can have some privacy. But when I hang up they don’t come. And I push the shame and embarrassment away as I pick up my notebook and remember: Tomorrow is Friday. There’s a geometry test.

To be fair, and I do like things to be fair, let me tell you something I did a few weeks before (or was it after?) this unfortunate phone call.

It was just before school started and I was standing outside the cafeteria. Since this was Minnesota, there was no sunny veranda where kids spent their time, like in the California movies. No, we lingered in the darkness of a sub-basement, lit dimly on each end with the natural light that strained through the decades-old frosted, yellowing glass.

I stood this particular day in front of the old tunnel that connected the west building to the main school — a tunnel built because the winters really are that bad, but closed because no matter how terrible -35 C feels, asbestos cancer feels worse.

I was angry that day, about what has long since slipped my mind, but this I knew: Danielle would pay.

I stalked up to her and her friends as they stood chatting in front of their lockers. I was a year older than them, so I immediately garnered something like respect. There I was, an eigth grader drunk on her power.

“I’d watch yourself girl,” I spit with all the venom I could muster. “I can make your life here a living hell.”

She looked at me with a knowing. I wasn’t fear, just an understanding. I walked away thinking, A living hell? What kind of a cliche is that? I was a writer in edit mode, even then, wishing I could go back and delete those words and insert something more clever, less tired.

I have no idea now why I’d want to make her life hell though. And later I would approach her and apologize for that comment. We laughed at my ridiculousness, at my dramatic proclamation only a junior higher or a character from a bad movie could believe.

I’d like to believe that Amanda would’ve apologized for her phone call. We talked a few times as we got older and she was always pleasant.

I know that I might have an overly optimistic idea of folks, but I think most of them are just doing their best and trying to meet their needs. And, judging by my sweaty hands and pounding heart at the very prospect of talking to one of the popular crowd, at the idea I may be accepted, I can only imagine the intoxication of actually being in the middle of it.

And if I know anything about being drunk, it’s that you’ll often do anything to keep that buzz going, even if it might make someone else feel a bit bad. That’s the last thing you’re worried about when you’re chasing your next fix, whether it be booze, drugs or approval.

If you ask most people who have known me for a long time, they’ll tell you that I have an extraordinary talent for forgetting the past and letting go of people that don’t suit me at the moment.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s true. I’ve definitely thrown people away like they were used tissue.

Because of this, I’ve spent the last three or four years being very conscious of the choices I make, who I surround myself with and most importantly, learning lessons from my past instead of forgetting them.

rebecca watson young

Like I can NOT pull off bangs. Don't let any stylist convince you otherwise.

Of course, in my typical fashion, I’ve swung from one extreme to the other and I now am worrying how on the goddess’ green earth I’m going to let go of all this crap from the past: This residual shit.

I want to move. Life is bleak and cold; it’s lifeless out there half the year. I work to pay my bills; my work drives me to eat Dairy Queen every Tuesday. I don’t know how to accept love and give it in return. As soon as I start to feel, I reach for a bottle of something. I love music but am embarrassed to express myself. My dog ate my identity. I wish I could travel somewhere. Anywhere. I keep meeting the same people. I don’t have time or energy to cook. No one wants to eat it anyway.

There isn’t much room in the life I have for the life I had.

I live in Santa Cruz: Paradise. But more importantly, Home. Life is beautiful on the ocean. My garden grows and I’ve got so much I’m giving it away. I own my own business; my mental health is as important as its bottom line. I’m surrounded by people who have taught me how to love and how to be a good friend. I happen to be married to one of those beautiful people. I hike every Tuesday. I’m editing my novel. I love music and sing all the time. Biking as a form of transit is a big part of my identity. I’m planning my next trip to Utah, followed by a dream trip to Brazil. And I’ve got a batch of cookies baking in the oven, eagerly anticipated by my hubby and my friends.

So why? Why can’t I let go of that sad, awful, boring life? Part of me wants to hold onto it so that I never take the life I have for granted. OK, fair enough. But can’t that live in one tiny part of my brain? Why does it have to pollute every single thought I have?

Why can’t I think about going out to a good meal here without comparing it a restaurant in Minneapolis? Why do I still say, “Oh you have that here?” as if I’m a frickin’ tourist just appreciating the quaintness of this beach town? I want to smack myself for this.

Do you have this problem? Or are you able to let go? If so, HOW? I feel as if I overcorrected in my hope to be more connected with the people and things in my life. How do I strike a balance without living in the past?

I was walking my friends daughter to school this morning, it was a crisp fresh morning and we walked down a small pathway surrounded by trees and grass, it was somehow the most beautiful morning I could remember for some time, I would go to say it was the most beautiful morning ever, maybe this was just because I’ve lived in the city centre for so long and I miss how it feels to be near nature.

I am by nature a country boy, I grew up in a small village on Anglesey in North Wales, my playground was acres and acres of fields, beaches where only six miles away, the Snowdonia mountains only fifteen from my home, closer in the summer when we spent our time in Caernarfon. It really was a magical place to grow up, I can remember standing in the grass in my bare feet, the morning dew feeling so nice between my toes as I played with it, today I almost felt like doing the same all over again.

But this is city life in the 21st century, its far more pleasing for people to play on there iPhone’s than engage in some more basic instincts, but really what’s more strange? me enjoying some wet grass between my feet, or the person walking past me, twittering to the would about the strange guy on the grass with no shoes on. It sometimes makes me feel that this society is less tolerant for being yourself than most people would think Ireland to be, but maybe the whole world is like this, or is it just a city thing? perhaps i really have been away from wales for to long.

I did enjoy my morning walk , I  wondered if Ciara was also enjoying the fresh morning, I looked down to a pink bobble hat and a mass of blonde hair being carried by a defiant stride that meant “I don’t want to be here but lets just get there so I can be warm” I was not quite sure how a 9yo could be so cranky, so I left her and wondered if she will have any fond memories of mornings like this, or if city children just dream of central heating instead.

Collaborations of Abstraction

Two close (though, unfortunately, not in proximity) friends – a Welsh man living in Ireland and a Minnesotan woman living in Germany – come together to share musings, wit and random things of interest in this journey called life