Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Birthday Plans

I came into the office to find a HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner hanging from a wall in my cubicle and a chocolate cupcake that read Happy Birthday on my desk. It was tempting to eat it as a second breakfast but my self-control is holding strong as it sits off to the side of my paperwork still.

My birthday is actually tomorrow, but Jon and I are escaping our jobs for the remainder of the week to celebrate, take a couple of mental health days, and to take a trip to Pittsburgh.

You see, I have a little obsession with IKEA, I love the place, but the closest store is 90 miles away in good ole Pennsylvania, so any trip there becomes an all day long hoopla.

I also like the city itself. Of course, three years ago today I caught my first glimpse of a homeless man sleeping in a doorway on 5th Avenue. Not a momentous occasion, but it was at that moment I realized what a sheltered life I had lived. Seeing this man curled up into the fetal position with his dirty pillow and ratty sleeping bag was much different from walking by the man who plays a saxophone on the corner of E 9th Street and Carnegie Avenue, in downtown Cleveland, with his trunk lying open, begging for change. I always had my illusions of the saxophone player collecting his change and belongings, and catching the next RTA bus to East Cleveland where he would sit down to dinner with his family and tell his wife of all the pretentious, spoiled people who couldn't spare him a glance tonight.

My first reaction to the man sleeping in Pittsburgh was turning to Jon and asking, "People actually live like that? It's not just in movies and New York City?" Sad. I know. But that day I learned to stop looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, and I noticed that evidence of homelessness was all over the place, even in Akron, if I just opened my eyes to it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the rest of this week, as I am lucky to have a job, and fortunate to be able to take paid vacation. I'm also lucky to have this chocolate birthday cupcake that I can eat in 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 38 seconds.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Realizing How Small We Are

I have been having a lot of trouble living in the present lately. I have been obsessing over the past and freaking out about the future. I haven't any idea what brought it on, but I have been thinking a lot about Melissa, a girl I considered my best friend through grade school and junior high. I can remember the first time I saw her. She was eight-years-old to my seven, and we were both in second grade at Forest Hill Elementary, but we were in separate classes and therefore hadn't met. Our older brothers were good friends and they had gone to great lengths to keep she and I a secret from each other. Ten-year-old boys will visit a friend's house to get away from their little sisters, so our brothers didn't want her to know about me, and vice versa. But Melissa was sneaky and she caught wind of the fact that I lived just up the street, and so she quietly followed her brother out of the house one day. I'm not sure just how far she made it before being spotted, but when she was, our brothers only laughed and let her come along. I was walking through the house when they arrived, but the boys made Melissa wait outside on the front porch. My brother found me and said, "Katie, I have someone who really wants to meet you."

I remember being really confused that someone would want to meet me, or at least, someone that my brother knew. I followed him out on to the front porch and spotted his friend, and peaking out from behind him was a skinny little girl with dirty blond hair, big round cheeks, and a gap between her two front teeth. "She followed us all the way here. I think she wants to be your friend," my brother said, "her name is Melissa. Melissa, this is my sister Katie."

We spent the day gallivanting between her house and mine. I remember being introduced to her mother and stepfather, and their inquisitive looks as they took in this little girl with strawberry blond hair down to her waste, a hand-me-down dress that was a little rough around the edges, and a pair of three-sizes-too-big low black pumps I had raided my mother's closet for that morning. By the age of seven I had mastered the art of walking in shoes that were much too large for me. Oh, and I wasn't wearing socks. (Looking back on this I do not envy my mother.)

"Do you have shoes that fit, Katie?" her mother asked me. "Yes," I said, "but these are my favorite."

Melissa and I scurried upstairs to her bedroom where we could compare Barbie dolls and dress-up clothes. From that day forward we were inseparable. You never saw Katie without Melissa, and you never saw Melissa without Katie. It was like we had become one entity, one person. No one ever expected one of us to be without the other.

I can't begin to describe the times that we had together. It was eight years of excitement, and broken hearts. There was anger, and fun, and we were silly and obnoxious, and we were prissy and better than everyone else. We had too many matching outfits to count. She attended almost every softball, basketball, and volleyball game that I had, and she was even there for many practices. I'd go to the park to give her a little encouragement during her cheerleading practices. We talked for years about getting our driver's licenses and graduating from high school. We had plans to escape to California and live with her distant family as soon as we turned eighteen. Every birthday card she ever gave me had "It's about time you turned [age here]!!" scrawled in her gigantic, loopy handwriting. She threw me a surprise birthday party when I turned thirteen. We argued over who was taller until we stopped growing. She ended up with nearly 3 inches on me.

It was high school that did us in. She acquired new friends, friends that could show her what it meant to party. Melissa started experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and with each new incident I would take a step back and wonder if I really knew her anymore. Half way into our freshman year, her house caught fire. And only a couple of weeks after her family moved into their new place, she called me crying because she was pregnant. She was sixteen-years-old and pregnant. That night I threw away all of my resentment and spent the night with her, lying beside her in bed as she cried out of fear. I barely knew the girl next to me anymore, but I was in love with the memories we had together, and I had truly become lost without her. We mended a few bridges in the nine months that she was pregnant. We had become close again as she ditched her party friends and clung to me for encouragement. And we remained close for a little while after the baby was born, but she eventually moved out of town with the baby's father. That was when we really lost touch.

She called me a handful of times through the years to tell me that she was pregnant again, or that her boyfriend hit her, or that she was getting married to said boyfriend; father of both of her sons. She became an exotic dancer, getting paid more under the table in one night than I could make in a week. She relocated so much that I never had a working number for her. I just went through times like today, wondering where she was, what she was doing, if she was okay, without knowing if I'll ever see her again. The last time I saw her was three and a half years ago at my wedding reception. The gap between her two teeth had been fixed, she was very tan, and perfectly manicured. She left early, but she looked happy.

I'm aware that ten years of separation is way too much to even contemplate building a relationship again. We are different people with very different goals in life. I'm not sure of even if I had a phone number for her that I would want to meet for lunch on Sunday, or spend hours on the phone trying to catch up on the ins-and-outs of each others lives. I think what depresses me most about this situation is that I'm helpless. She could be dead or ill and I would never know. I haven't the slightest clue of how to find her. I have exhausted every internet resource I have and she is most certainly not in the phone book. All I can do is sit and wait for her to call me, or more likely, call my parents and ask for my number. I called my mom last night, and at the risk of sounding a little loony, I told her it was okay to give Melissa my number should she call asking for it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Six Feet of Feltasticness

Because my husband and I are cheap, and we weren't too keen on the idea of shelling out $90 on a decent poker tabletop, but we had to do something with the dining room table if we were going to host poker night at our house, we paid a visit to the local fabric store and spent $6 on just enough green felt to act as a table cloth. I think it works just dandy. Of course, the guys my husband plays poker with are quite a finicky group, at least when it comes to poker night, so I'm not sure what their take will be on the table cover. I suppose that is why I will be hiding out in the family room watching tv. Just in case.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

One Word: COLD

The wind is ruthless and the trees are making that oh-so-freaky cracking sound. The snow has stopped for the time being but the wind is causing drifts that toss it all back onto the roads. It sort of looks like long, white snakes are slithering to and fro.

The high for today was something like 20 degrees, but that was reached almost 12 hours ago and it has been steadily declining since. Right now it is a whopping 6 degrees with a wind chill of -11. I almost cried when I realized I had to run to a convenience store for fabric softener. In temperatures this cold you can feel the small hairs in your nose freezing.

Tomorrow we have a high of 6 degrees and a low of 2. I am extremely happy I can't find a forecast for the wind chill.

Friday, February 2, 2007

One Huge Happy Family

My mom stopped by the other night to check on me because no one had seen or heard from me since my little sister dropped her bomb almost two weeks ago. She was afraid I was hurt and upset and couldn't face the family right now; that I was administering a very common tactic of mine when I'm upset by just avoiding everyone in an effort to ignore what is really going on. I assured her that that wasn't the case. I hadn't visited due to the cold temperatures outside and the warm fires inside, and I hadn't called, because, well, I don't call. I hate the phone. I hate talking on the phone and will avoid it at all costs. I wasn't making excuses to my mother. I told her the truth. And she seemed okay with my answers, so it was my turn to get the scoop on what has gone down in my absence, which apparently isn't very much. My father now knows about my sister's pregnancy, but it was not the doing of my sister, because she was too afraid to tell him. My mom told me that she had to deliver the news personally before he found out by some random passerby as all of my sister's friends were calling with questions and it was only a matter of time before my not-so-stupid father figured it out and was either hurt or furious that his own family couldn't tell him. My mom said their conversation went as so:

Mom: "You know she's pregnant with [boyfriend's name here]'s baby."

Dad: "That doesn't surprise me."


I got a chuckle out of this. This reaction is a testament to how much my father has chilled out in his old age. I can remember a time when it wouldn't have been so pleasant, when he would have shot out of his comfy blue recliner, marched right up to my sister, and in an effort to shake some sense into her he would have grabbed her by the shoulders and asked repeatedly, "How could you do this? How could you be so stupid? Didn't we raise you to be better than this?" He would have continued grumbling such sayings for many days until he finally realized that what is done is done, but he didn't have to like it. He would remind everyone that it was his house, the house he paid for, and we had better damn well show some respect to "your mother and I," and begin following his rules. For many months, every so often, you would be able to look over at him and see the steam billowing out of his ears, and hear his anger in such simple phrases as "Get me a cup of a coffee." But to hear that he took the news so casually brought a smile to my face. That was the man that I had come to love, and it was someone I didn't even know existed before my husband forced me to see it. In any case, my mom says he hasn't tried to talk more about the pregnancy. The whole situation does make me wonder, though, about how it would feel to be told that your "baby" was having a baby. I suppose in some situations it would be wonderful, but in this case, not so much.

I've also been thinking a lot about her ability to raise this child. I know it will be hard, incredibly so, but I also know that she can, and will, do it because she has to. It's just unfortunate because I know everyone has a dream for their child to have it either as good, or better, than they did, and she's going to have a hard time doing that from her current situation. My parents are good people. They have very strong values that they tried to instill in all 6 of us kids. They've been married for nearly 40 years. They gave us encouragement, understanding, and love in an effort to make up for the money and other material things that they couldn't give us. So as long as my sister has come to realize this, as I have, she will be okay. The important thing to remember is that I, and my brothers and sisters, and their husband and wives, are all being blessed with our 15th niece or nephew, and my parents with their 15th granddaughter or grandson. Yes, we're quite a site when you get us all together. And we most definitely love babies.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Winter Blues

I'm getting the feeling that winter-related depression isn't only caused by sun-deprivation. I think a silent, yet key player in our foul moods comes from layers upon layers of salt that have robbed the color from our every day lives. The streets are no longer black with neon yellow paint, but gray with dingy mustard colored lines running down the center. Our cars are no longer the vibrant shades of red, green, or blue that we chose them for, but appear to be stripped of all paint and left in the original gray shells. Of course, even if there were color out there somewhere we wouldn't see it, it's impossible to see through the accumulation of weeks worth of salty grime that is plastered to our windshields. We try to clean it off with wipers, but it only streaks, and we're left in a worse boat than we started out in.

The sidewalks are a mess, the buildings, the houses; they're all covered in salt, ice, and dirty snow.

I miss temperatures above freezing. I miss warm, dry feet. I miss red stop signs.

I should relocate to the south.