Allow me to introduce myself

I’ve been in California a couple months now, and it’s been an unbelievably slow acclimation. It’s not something I understand consciously—I can’t point to anything that’s been “wrong.” I just knew I didn’t feel right yet and that I had to be patient with myself.

At the same time, I’m acclimating to my new body. I realized I don’t really understand how to connect to it consciously either. I have to do the slow, patient work of getting in touch with it. I’m not going to start dating again and just suddenly feel self-assured. I’m not going to buy new clothes in bigger sizes and not have to process it.

So between the new coast and the new flesh, there’s been a steady undercurrent of anxiety and sadness that I just had to sit through. That right there is the hardest but most effective part. The only way out is through.

But today, I felt a tiny little shift. I dropped Finn at a groomer’s this morning, and I realized I wanted to go explore. I didn’t have to force myself this time. I didn’t have to build up to it in my head for days. Suddenly I just felt OK.

I happened upon (googled) the finest hair salon in the area (Supercuts, San Jose), and asked the tiny little hairdresser (Anh) to cut off however much she thought was best.

On the drive there, I realized I’d been keeping my hair long because I was afraid short hair isn’t flattering on my now-rounder face. I was afraid that getting fatter meant having to prove my femininity even more, and that I’d have to keep growing my hair if I wanted to feel OK dating again.

So when I sat down in the chair, my first thought was factual: I am big. I was seeing it how someone sitting across from me would see it. My belly folded over itself in tiers of flesh, and I looked away. As inches of hair dropped to the floor, the piano solo version of Alicia Keys singing “Empire State of Mind” came on. My eyes welled up with tears, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I didn’t get to give New York a proper goodbye, or because I felt like it didn’t notice I left.

As she was cutting, she said my hair would be one color again now. I had dyed it forever ago in my Queens apartment—or maybe it was the infamous Brooklyn apartment before that (the one where a burglary sent my healing journey off in a whole new direction). Either way, it was long enough ago that I still had my accidental ombré, and now it would be back fully to my natural color.

When it was all over and I got in the car, I saw my mother looking back at me in the rear view mirror. She’d never really had long hair so I guess she was easier to see now that I’d cut mine off. She smiled, I smiled back.

To kill more time, I roamed around Target, trying to find the plus-size section (I didn’t find it, which means they don’t have one), when I suddenly felt overwhelmed with the thought that I was free to do whatever I wanted. For the rest of my entire life. I had all the time in the world to roam. I touched all the pillows and visited every aisle.

I hopped from errand to errand, walking from the car with purpose, accomplishing one small normal thing after another, until I had to head back to Redwood City to pick up my freshly bathed Finn.

That’s when Phantom Planet’s “California” came on, and I felt the shift. I excitedly sang along while it built up to that first chorus crescendo, turned onto the ramp to the 101, my speed increasing as the song intensified. I got that weird tingly sensation you sometimes get when you’re feeling super earnest and super emotional at the same time. I shouted the lyrics, my mouth open wide like I wanted to swallow the song whole. It was like I was hearing the song for the first time and the millionth time all at once.

When I got home, a housewarming gift from a shop owner friend back in Sunnyside arrived with a card on it that said “Home sweet home.” After pairing it with a magnet on the fridge, I fluffed my hair with my fingers, wanting to check out my new hair with my new ‘fit (Amazon-purchased Hanes sports bra and high-waisted bike shorts), and looked in the mirror that hangs on the pantry door. It felt like my body was looking back at me. It’s like we were meeting each other’s eyes for the first time, like we’d never truly seen each other before. And the intensity of it made us both blush.

Reflections on “doing the work”

Today was my last session with Laura, the amazing therapist I’ve been working with since 2015. We knew that we went as far as we could go together. I have new hills to climb, and I may need a new partner to help me get there. (More specifically, I want to focus on my recovery from diet- and body-related trauma with an ED specialist.)

Ceremony and closure are important, and that’s what the last session is for. Laura reminded me of the first day we met and how deeply depressed I was—and how much we’ve faced head on over the past 6 years.

I had seen therapists at different points in my life for short stints, but there was always something that got in the way. (Usually underemployment.)

In 2015, I saw (on facebook lol) that a close friend whom I loved like a sister and fell out with a few years prior was getting married a couple miles away, in a park we had walked through hundreds of times as we navigated our 20s in Brooklyn together, and I wasn’t invited. I felt something break inside me and I realized that it was an outsized reaction because I hadn’t fully dealt with a lot of trauma. So I found Laura. Her office was only one block away because I knew that that was the only way I’d make it there.

After the session today I scrolled through 2015 in my photos so I could fully acknowledge who I was then. I had just turned 30 and had a job that was toxic but also my entire life. I was dating regularly, and that mostly meant going on lots of bad first dates. I had friends and community and two baby nephews, but it was a bit of a house of cards. I was going through life’s motions, but there was so much underneath the surface that I had to tend to.

I share this photo because the mood stood out to me, but there were many of me smiling and having fun. Many bright skies and ocean waves. I can actually see all of that now. I couldn’t then. For the first time recently I realized how many beautiful things I’ve gotten to see and experience. I now see that woman in the mirror, so tortured in her body, through a much different lens.

Therapy saved my life, and I mean that in a pretty nonchalant way because it’s so obvious. A lot of really hard stuff happened in the last 6 years and the 30 before that, and while therapy didn’t make everything suddenly happy, it did make the unpredictable circumstances of life more manageable. What I wanted and needed became worthy of inspection. Who I was evolved; parts of me sharpened while others dulled and receded.

I’ve pushed a lot of people I know to pursue therapy, and probably been a bit too intense. Some have gone and it has been so amazing to watch. Like, truly amazing. I am constantly in awe of the ways the people I love have been growing and changing. But most haven’t and I feel a genuine nagging sadness about it. Because everyone’s life is worthy of inspection and reflection. And after 6 years of piecing myself together I can say confidently to that 2015 version of me in the mirror: even ours.

A Nice Lady

My grandma turns 89 today. I can’t call her because she won’t remember me so I remember her instead.

I leaned in, talking to her like nothing had changed (because for me, nothing had). I showed her old photos of herself. In one photo of my pregnant mom, she asked who it was. “That’s your daughter, my mom. And that’s me,” I said, pointing at my mom’s belly. 

I held her hand tightly before remembering that that might be confusing to her. “I hope it’s OK if I hold your hand.” She covered her right hand over our clasped hands. “I like you. You’re a nice lady,” she said, smiling. The whole time, I felt her love radiate through her fingers intertwined with mine—the warmth of the connection was unspoken but overwhelming. She knew me in her bones, on a cellular level; we are made of the same stuff. 

She has long, beautiful fingers. Even now, deep into her 80s, she always has a polish on them. Her nails are yellowing and thick, yet her fingers still have the elegance of a pianist, just like I remember them from when I was little—when her nails were lovingly and meticulously manicured, the purist representation of who she was and how she saw herself. Being put together was very important to her. 

My grandma gave me her favorite art-deco onyx ring when I was in my early 20s—she said she wanted to see me wearing it while she was alive. When my nails were long and painted and I put on the ring, my fingers were her fingers—it made me safe, it was home, I was powerful. That ring was one of her pieces stolen in the burglary, and all the essence of her infused in that metal is gone, too. The only thing that makes me feel better is hoping that it found its way to a pawn shop, then passed from hand to hand to land in the possession of a woman who needed that feeling of power more than I do.

My grandparents were a huge part of my childhood, serving as a safety net for my single mom as she went back to nursing school when I was a toddler and then struggled to support Michael and me as we grew. After my mom died, they were my single source of unconditional love for a while. My grandma could be controlling and bossy, like I was her own daughter, but it came from her love of my mother. 

When I look at myself—my hambone arms and bow legs, my thin mousy hair and small chest, my rounded belly, my tall frame and huge feet—I see my grandma. While those features have tortured me, I have always felt proud of them, too—I am a genetic imprint of a woman who is equal parts force and charm. And that thread connects her to me and to my mom, a thick yarn made out of black humor, intuition, and the gift of the gab as a means of connection. (Did I mention our love of cats—and CATS?) Losing my mom was an earthquake for both of us, rocking us to our foundations—because we all shared one. 

I saw something recently (a meme, let’s be honest) about female babies developing all their reproductive eggs while still in the womb, which means that briefly, a part of me lived within my grandma while she was pregnant with my mom. That is the extreme power of matriarchy, not to mention intergenerational trauma. My grandma gave my mom the middle name Alberta, the name of her mother who had died of cirrhosis about five years before my grandma became pregnant with my mom. Into her seventies, my grandmother still grieved Alberta, recalling the pain of losing her mother so young. My mom’s younger brother and my grandma’s son, Jeff, died at 16, shortly after my mom found out she was pregnant with me. That means that my mom was fresh with monumental grief as I was being developed. 

It’s been impossible for me not to feel the weight of that matrilineal line, the connective tissue of hardship and strength. I feel like I’m doing the generational work of connecting the dots and pursuing healing that stretches all the way back through our mothers. That requires, first and foremost, healing myself. I feel so privileged to be able to do that on their behalf because they couldn’t. I can’t turn back time, but I don’t want to waste anymore either. 

After I walked out onto the sidewalk after visiting my grandma, I bent over and cried from the pain of it all. I had held it in while talking to her and the release was guttural. Losing my grandma meant losing my mom all over again. It meant losing the remaining reference point for my womanhood. The two women who knew me, in a way no one else can ever know me, and our shared memories are gone now. 

So a week after she turns 89, I turn 35, the age my mom was when she died. Between losing my job, watching as the opportunities to have a family and children start slipping away, and finally letting go of the body hatred that stemmed in many ways from their struggles, the meaningful timing is one thing that’s not lost on me. It’s woven together because our stories are woven together. 

I never saw my grandma in a bathing suit because she hated her arms, like I have my entire life. Thinking back on it, I never saw her uncovered arms at all, not once. She told me many times over the years that if she could go back to her youth, she’d fix them surgically. After losing my job, I got a tattoo of my grandma on my right arm, the one I’m most self-conscious about. In the reference photo of her, her nails are perfectly manicured and she’s wearing the onyx ring. She’s out to drinks with the other secretaries who worked at G.E. She’s being told at work that she’s one of the smartest gals. Her boss comes onto her while driving her home one night. She has yet to have children or spend decades dieting. Her mother is still alive. She’s at the center of the pic, looking down while everyone looks at the camera. Your eyes can’t help but be drawn to her.

Grand Army Plaza’s Food Truck Rally

Every third Sunday from June to October, the Prospect Park Alliance and the NYC Food Truck Association sponsor a Food Truck Rally in Grand Army Plaza. I finally checked it out today, sampling the best trucks before the event’s end next month. (The Atlantic Antic is in October and one can only handle so much street food. Just kidding. Street food is the best.) The trucks encircle the entrance to the park from 11 AM to 5 PM, but things didn’t really pick up until close to 1 PM. Pictures of the food after the jump. Continue reading

Moving

I remember visiting multiple stores with my mom and grandma as they searched for the perfect reading chair. This was to be my mom’s alone, an investment, something that helped her unwind after a long day of everything that came along with being a single mom with two kids and three pets. At night, she’d sit in the chair in the living room, the room with no TV, and read a book while I played computer solitaire, listening to Green Day on my walkman. As was routine, she’d fall asleep that way, the chair a comfortable lullaby. Catching my mom dozing in her chair is one of my favorite memories of her. Continue reading

An Actual Email I Sent

While getting back into the swing of things, I decided to share some actual emails that I have sent to actual people in the past few [actual] days. I consider myself the Emily Dickinson of email-writing and self-induced reclusion. (I think it would be particularly funny for you to imagine that I sent every single one of the following to the same person. I didn’t. But I could’ve.) Continue reading

Movie Review: Knight and Day

My favorite kind of movie is a free movie; this is obvious to all by now. I will see any movie if it is free, mostly because they are fun to write about when they fail spectacularly. Anne scored us tickets to see Knight and Day, the new rom-action film starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. First of all: all right already with the movie title puns. Maybe I’m just being a jerk because I recently saw Just Wright, but I think it’s completely fair to say that puns involving characters’ names have no place in movie titles.

Continue reading

Movie Review: Moon

It would have behooved me to write my review of Moon yesterday, since it was the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, but. Well. I wrote about government  cheese instead so I think that that’s enough of a memorandum. Despite the seeming impossibility of this request, spoilers are at an absolute minimum since it’s a very spoiler-able movie. Though, I am happy to provide the main spoiler: Sam Rockwell is hot. Sorry! Ruined the ending for everyone! Continue reading