In Memoriam Irish Katie

I spend a great deal of time during the holidays feeling lucky and grateful for the people who have had a positive impact in my life over the course of the year.  I think of my neighbor who has become our friend; a woman who is always willing to help with the girls.  I think of my brother who has shown me the true meaning of perseverance, working tirelessly to achieve his goal of becoming a pilot.  I think of the many students who have sat in my classroom; these young adults make me feel young, to feel invigorated, to feel excited about learning.

It is not odd, then, to think that many people in the blogging world have had an impact on me over the course of the last year.  Even though I wrote less in 2013, many of my followers eagerly commented when I chose to post.

  • I got excited when my friends, people who have known me for years, took time out of their busy schedules to read– Marta, Scott, Amy, Kim, and Jill, just to name a few.

I got down right giddy when my blogger friends commented, too.  You see, as ridiculous it might seem to people who do not spend real-time in a virtual world, I have gotten to know my blogger friends on a very personal basis.

  • I looked forward to the wisdom of Richard, both through his words on his own blog and his comments on mine.  His positive, good-humored attitude makes me look forward to growing old, shatting accidents and all!
  • I looked forward to the insightful snarkiness of the twenty-something Becca.  She has brought me laughter and a reminder of how important it is to discover oneself and experience youth for what it is.
  • I especially loved the relationship I developed with Irish Katie, a woman I felt a kismet connection because of our similar age, similar attitudes, and similar love for our daughters.

Thus, it came as a complete surprise and an utter blow when I learned this past week that my friend, Katie, someone I never had the pleasure of meeting in real life, passed away this past October.  She announced in June that she was battling ovarian cancer, but I was hopeful that modern medicine and her healthy living would allow her body to kick cancer’s ass.  Even when she stopped writing often, I kept faith that it was only because of the exhaustion and sickness caused by radiation that kept her from her computer and communicating with all of us that loved her in the blogosphere.  I kept the faith that one day soon we would be sharing anecdotes and stories once again.

I may have never known Katie but I feel like we were friends.  I will miss her comments– her “*giggles*” and “*hugs*.   I will miss her *smiles* and her special nod nod.  Through her comments and her own writing, I knew Katie– a positive, insightful, introspective, loving woman who has been taken from this world far too soon.

I think we all fear that in death, will people remember us?  Will we have made an effect in anyone’s life?  Well, Irish Katie, you made an effect on me, and I want you to know that I will never forget you.  You taught me that it is better to giggle and laugh then it is to cry.  You taught me perseverance through your countless posts about training for a mini-triatholon, and even though you were never able to accomplish this goal, your efforts will always put you in the win column.  Most importantly, you reminded me of my love for my own children through your love for Rachel.  I can only imagine how difficult it will be for Rachel to live without you, but over time, the pain will lessen, and she will know that even though your earthly body died, your love for her will never, and that you will always live on in her memories, and in her future accomplishments and joys.

Thank you Irish Katie, for being a part of my life for the last year and a half.  I will honestly miss you.

Recently,Someone Asked Me About the Book I Am Writing.

Life is a book.  You write the chapters.  As you live it, it is hard to see the chapters start or end.
S
ometimes, life is so awful that one actually thinks, “What if I wasn’t here?”
Sometimes, life is so amazing that one thinks, “God, I hope this lasts forever!”
Nothing lasts forever– good or bad.  It is at the end of the chapters that we can assess our place, our feelings, our emotional stake, and hopefully,  our emotional growth.

Chapter One: Being a child
As a child, I was gregarious.  I loved to socialize. and quickly, I felt the connection with others.  When people responded to me, I responded back.  My synapses charged and grew because of the response I received from others.

Chapter Two: Awakening
I became aware of my surroundings.  By five, I realized that my parents were often at each other’s throats.  I would be awoken in the middle of the night by verbal altercations that no toddler or adolescent should hear.  I do not think my children have viewed a movie that has been so abusive, but at my impressionable young age, my parents’ dysfunction was my reality.

Chapter Three: New Unexpected Role
I became the caregiver.  My mother was in and out of treatment centers.  She was “delicate” and we walked on eggshells around her.  Hence, by the age of thirteen, I was not only a daughter and a student, but I was a caregiver, a household manager, and an ear to my father and brother.  I had a plateful of roles in this chapter, and somehow, I maintained a positive demeanor to most, although usually, I felt like I was sinking.  I tried to end this chapter at sixteen after my mother had faltered yet again.  I swallowed a bottle of Excedrin.  By my calculations, I probably should be dead, but something kept me alive.

Chapter Four:  What About Me?
I suddenly felt empowered.  My parents and their issues, as much as they impacted me, were not my issues.  I decided to try to make more decisions for me.  I joined clubs and sports in high school; I explored avenues I had never traveled down before; I allowed myself to speculate about my future.

Chapter Five: Failure.
Over the course of five years, I could not live my life because I worried too much about my parents and their lives.  I studied in three different places of higher education, and when on the third, I felt at home, the night I felt like I was going to actually make a mark, my father begged me to stay at home because he thought my mother was, once again, suicidal.  I breathed deep and capitulated.  I had been through more than enough suicide scares to know that if he felt it was serious, I could not leave.

Chapter Six: Moving Out.
I decided at 24-years old that I needed to start establishing a life of my own.  I could not be the Go-To-When-Things-Go- Awry-girl any longer.  I had served my time, and I needed to figure out how to live for myself.  I had somehow found amazing friends who were not enablers, and I wanted to explore life without a crutch.  I moved out on my own for the first time, and to be honest, struggling to pay bills felt great!

Chapter Seven: Meeting Tom.
Ah!  Most people say they want a movie-moment: a moment when you say to yourself, “Yes, this is my husband.”  Two hours after meeting Tom, I told my girlfriend that I thought I had just met my husband.  I told my brother, my best friend, and my roommate within hours.  Twenty months later, we were married.

Chapter Eight: Children and Life.
The last fifteen years have been a whirlwind.  Three births. Three parents’ deaths.  Joy and sadness– happiness and despair.  This chapter has not been what I expected it to be, but I have to admit, no were any of the others.  I have a career that is constantly changing and a family that is constantly evolving.  My children are my sense of joy.  My marriage is an amazing accomplishment.  This June 6, it will be fifteen years that we are married.  Fifteen!  I know people who marvel at that number.

Excerpt from Chapter Eight:
Cheryl and Tom stop for a beer at the local pub.   Cheryl engages in conversation with a practical stranger.

“I have to ask, how long have you known each other?” the stranger asks.

“Almost seventeen years.  We will soon have our fifteenth anniversary,” Cheryl says.

The stranger smiles and nods her head knowingly.  “I see it.  You are two people who fit together.  You compliment each other.  That is rare.”

Cheryl smiles.  Sometimes it is difficult.  No one has a perfect relationship.  Yet, she feels empowered by the compliment.  A happy relationship is not a script; it is not a screenplay; it is not a book.   A true happy relationship is one where the two people block out all outside forces and just try to figure out how they can be happy– how they can laugh and enjoy and relish in the moments.

Synopsis:
No one will write the same book.  None of us know how many chapters we have.  If you can, write them thoroughly and happily.  Once you realize you have the pen in your hand, relish in the moments.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Growing up, I remember that my mother loved the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Any chance she had to watch it, she would.  If it came on late-night television, if it was on Saturday afternoon, if it was the Monday night movie– she would rearrange her schedule so as not to miss it.  I remember, around eleven or twelve, after she had purchased her first VCR, I finally watched it with her.

Breakfast-at-Tiffany's

At that age, it seemed a quaint, little movie.  I remember thinking the heroine seemed ditzy and out-of-place.  I remember thinking the thievery and the passion for Tiffany’s seemed obtuse.  I remember thinking that the way she treated “Fred,” who was obviously in love with her, was utterly deplorable.  Fred truly cared for Holly, and she seemed lost in her own skin.

Every so often, I would look over at my mother, and I could tell she was really into the movie.  Her countenance rose and fell with Holly Golightly’s every move, and I secretly thought that she wanted to be her.  Besides for the great clothes and the beauty that is Audrey Hepburn, it didn’t make sense.  This girl was selfish and she didn’t have a job and she really didn’t know how to treat people.  I was furious that she abandoned Fred at the end and moved to Brazil.  The character seemed flippant, and I could not imagine wanting to emulate a woman of this nature.

I hadn’t thought about this movie or my mother’s love for it in some thirty years.  However, this year, I am teaching Honors American Literature, and my students do a year-long project called the JELA: The Junior English Literature Analysis project.  Each student picks a great American author, reads three books independently by said author, and then writes what amounts to a twenty-thirty page analysis of the author and the way he/she writes.  The students are asked to look at the author’s life, to examine themes present in all of the novels, and to address similarities in plots, characterizations, etc.

Three of my students chose Truman Capote, and each of the girls read Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  I myself have never read it (although it is the first book on my summer reading list), and so I was intrigued by what each girl took away from the novella.  Each of my students brought the character of Holly Golightly to life for me, and I understood her character in a way I never had before.  Holly was a troubled, lost soul, looking for a place to belong.  Holly needed not only the acceptance of others but the acceptance of herself.  She was searching for a place where she felt like she fit in.  Tiffany’s represented hope and passion for life.  To Holly, Tiffany’s was like the Holy Grail– always searching but forever allusive.

After reading the third JELA project, it hit me.  My mother loved Holly Golightly because she herself was a lost soul.  She endured years of physical abuse by her own father, and I believe she was on guard her whole life, worried that the people she trusted would somehow turn on her or hurt her.  My mother was always trying to accept herself and make amends with her past, and like Holly, she wanted to feel safe and secure and whole.  My mother lived her life walking on egg shells , constantly on guard, fearing that someone would come in and spoil her dreams.

My father wanted for my mother to always feel safe and not feel sad.  My father loved my mother unconditionally, and a gesture of his love, for the first time, made sense to me today.  In 1982, my father had a piece of stain glass made for our kitchen.  It said “Tiffany’s.”  He hung it by a chain across the kitchen window.  When my mother came down for breakfast and saw it, her mouth dropped open.  My father said to her, “Barbie, I may never be able to take you to New York.  I am not George Peppard.  But I want you to know, as far as I’m concerned, every morning, we can have breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

My mother began to cry, and I remember that she hugged my father for a very long time.   I thought it was pretty corny; I’m sure I rolled my eyes and walked out of the room.

Today, though, some thirty years later, I got it.  I understand the metaphor; I understand what my father was actually saying to my mother.   I’m sad to say I do not know what happened to that piece of stained glass.  Maybe it was broken.  Maybe it was sold in their estate sale when they passed away some seven years ago.  I wish I had it.  I can honestly say I wish I had it in my own kitchen.  It would be an honor to wake up and have breakfast at Tiffany’s each day.