Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Blonde With The Big Boobs

In college I had a gorgeous, bubbly roommate named Cheri. She was the kind of girl that other girls watched out of the corners of their envious eyes as she went bouncing by. A luscious waterfall of blonde hair shimmered like a silky golden blouse, blue eyes sparkled like the glitter from art class in the 2nd grade, and that smile, that perfect white smile framed by adorable dimples – a jury of her peers would most certainly find her guilty of possessing an unfair advantage.

Not surprisingly, the guys were helpless against the pull of her magnetic north to their south poles. They would follow her around like the pied piper’s hypnotized mice.

But when she opened her mouth, the enchantment was quickly broken. No one in the world could love themselves as much as this babbling Barbie doll. Her endless narcissistic chatter effectively reversed her intense magnetic pull, repelling all but the shallowest of suitors.

But as I got to know this flawless mannequin in a v-neck sweater and a mini skirt, it became obvious that she was desperately searching for a few crumbs confidence and a shred of evidence that she truly was this wonderful girl she spoke of. Every word uttered from those shapely pink lips was a plea: please see how amazing I am, please affirm that I am the most beautiful and desirable girl you know.

Many of her narratives began with, “So I walked into the bar, and this guy nearly fell off his chair – ‘Wow! Who’s the blonde with the big boobs???’”

She so often described herself this way, as the blonde with the big boobs, that eventually that’s what we called her. She was no longer Cheri; she was The Blonde With The Big Boobs.

She loved that nickname. Although she'd feign annoyance when we said it, her brazen eyes sparkled with delight.

I always wondered, though, did she really even see herself this way? Or did she see herself as The Worthless Girl Who Dates Arrogant Assholes, or perhaps The Trailer Park Kid From A Broken Home, or The Loser Who Dropped Out After Freshman Year.

Or maybe she really did see herself as The Blonde With The Big Boobs, and she felt that was all she really had going for her.

We ultimately became close friends, my patience with her nonsensical prattle paying off as she let down her “I’m So Beautiful” wall of protection and let me in. The stories of how she floored all the guys on campus with her stunning good looks eventually settled down. She was a sweet girl underneath her blanket of pretentiousness.

I’m sad to say that we lost contact after college. I think about her often, and I worry for her, and I hope that she’s okay.

I remember you Cheri, and you will always be My Beautiful Friend With the Smile That Lit Up the Room.

“If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.” - Fritz Perls

Friday, July 20, 2007


I dialed again. Panic was starting to overtake my normally calm demeanor. It was 10:30 at night. Why hadn’t I heard from her yet?

Ringing… ringing… ringing… ringing… ringing…


Damn it! I hung up the phone.

I sat. I stewed. I hit redial.

Ringing… ringing… ringing…


My jaw clenched. My eyes narrowed. I tried to control my breathing.

Deep breaths, that’s it. You know everything is okay.

But where was she? How did I know she was okay? I’m not normally one to worry, but let’s face it - I was just hoping, trying to convince myself that she was alright. The truth was, I had no idea because I couldn’t speak to her.

I hit redial. I waited.

Her voice, converted into small packets of binary data, traveled from her cell phone to a nearby wireless antenna, switched from our wireless carrier to the landline phone system, sailed over the traditional phone network, into my house, into my ear…


I hung up.

I think I’m gonna lose it.

I hit redial again. I waited.


It was maddening. I probably called 30 times over the course of an hour.

I dialed again.



“Mandy?” I asked hesitantly.

“Hi, Mom!”

“Where are you?”

“I’m at Adam’s.”

“I’m coming to get you. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

When she got into the car, I asked how her day was. She told me about the mall, and who was there, and how they walked to Burger King and then to Adam’s house. I listened. I commented. I wasn’t going to slam her with a barrage of frustrations and scoldings and punishments the moment I saw her.

“By the way, where’s your cell phone?”

“In my bag.”

“I called about 30 times.”

“Sorry. It was downstairs. We were upstairs eating ice cream.”

“Listen, you know I need to be able to contact you. I need to know where you are.”

“I know.”

“And another thing…”


“You need to change your message.”


“Oh you think it’s funny, do you?”

More laughter.

“You have no idea how close that message had you to getting grounded.”

Roaring laughter now.

“I mean, the voicemail wasn’t even triggering consistently. Sometimes the message kicked in after 5 rings, sometimes after only three. And you always answer the phone the same way, so I kept thinking it was really you when I heard the Hello. And then when the Hello finally was real, I almost hung up on it because I thought it was the fake Hello.”

Choking, doubled-over laughter. “I wish I could record this conversation!”

“Have you noticed that every time I’ve called you recently, there’s a pause after you say Hello? I never know which freakin’ Hello I’m getting, you or your stupid message! I don’t know whether to speak or not. It’s making me insane.”

“But it’s so funny!”

“Change it. Every time I call you I feel like a damn fool.”

“Mom, admit it. It’s the best voicemail message ever.”

“Change it. I’m not kidding.”

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years. ~Author Unknown

Friday, July 13, 2007

Robby and the Pencil Point

When I was in the second grade I had a little crush on Robby M. He had a crush on me too. Nothing had been said, but a girl knows these things.

He would rub my arm, and then smack someone else’s arm and say “You have Tammie Odor! I quit! No backsies!” So of course, a big “Tammie Odor” fight would ensue…

“Tammie Odor! I quit!”

“Tammie Odor! I quit!”

“Tammie Odor! I quit!”

The boys would chase each other, lunging and dodging, slapping the Tammie Odor around. The girls would just stand there and watch, arms crossed, heads tilted to the side, eyebrows raised. Boys were stupid.

But then Robby would pick me to be on his kickball team on the playground at lunchtime. And he would pass notes to me that said “Who do you like?”

He would try to make me laugh during music class.

He would sit at my table during lunch. He said he liked my Muppets lunchbox.

During a class trip, he wrote R+T in the fog of the bus window above his head. He even drew a heart around it.

One day the two of us got in trouble for talking during Mrs. Rogers’ class, so we had to stay in for lunch and work quietly at a round wooden table in the back of her classroom. We sat on the small pastel chairs, opened our reading comprehension workbooks, and started filling in the blanks, circling True or False, and drawing lines from the word to the matching picture.

Sometime after Mrs. Rogers stepped out of the room, a small argument erupted between us, which led to an all-out battle. The brief focus of my elementary school affections jabbed me in the thigh with a pencil, piercing my white tights. I was absolutely enraged.

I poked him in the eye.

By the time Mrs. Rogers came back, Robby had an ever-reddening eye full of eyelashes, and I had the point of a #2 HB in my leg.

We were sent first to the nurse, then to the principal’s office.

It was the first time I’d ever been sent to the principal’s office. Mrs. Waldron was old and stern in her white ruffled shirt, buttoned high on her neck, and her drab, floor-length skirt. Her eyes were two different colors, and it seemed that one of them never really looked at anything. The hallway rumor was that she had a glass eye. I surmised that it was the brown one, because the blue one was bloodshot all the time. We were given a talkin’-to and a warning, and we were sent back to class.

So Robby and I hadn’t even reached the point of confessing our young love, and the relationship was over. A week goes by so fast…

I never got that pencil point out of my leg.

I made several attempts at removing it over the years with a pair of tweezers and once with a sewing needle, but to no avail. It still floats around inside of me, hidden. I can’t feel it, but it’s there.

Occasionally, it makes its way to the surface. I’ll notice a little dark spot on my leg, just below the skin. But it refuses to be removed, and my efforts just send it deeper into hiding.

That is, until the next time it worms its way up to poke at the underside of my skin. A sly, secretive reminder of a love from long ago.

And that’s the way it is with those expired love affairs. You don't feel them anymore, but they never entirely go away. They’re inside of you, a part of you.

Every once in a while, they resurface for a moment. Sometimes they just smile and wave at you, and you think, “Aw, I remember that. Those were some good times.”

Other times, they sneak up on you and try to squeeze your heart, try to make you remember what you felt like when you were caught in their grasp, or how you felt when it was over.

Over time their power over your heart diminishes, and the little reminders floating through the currents of our insides carry no feelings at all. They’re just memories.

But we learn from those past experiences. We learn about people, we learn about ourselves, about love and what we want out of life. Maybe they even make us better for the next time.
They help make us who we are.

"You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves." - Saint Francis de Sales

Monday, July 2, 2007

Mrs. Garrison

When I was very young we lived in an apartment building on 6th Street. Mrs. Garrison lived on the third floor of our building for a while, and then she moved to an apartment up the block from us – not too far, still within walking distance. She used to babysit for my brother and me. Sometimes if my brother had plans with friends, I would have her all to myself.

She was really old. I mean, to a 5-year-old, 75 was really, really old. She wore old-lady dresses and old lady shoes. She had a large hump on her back where her spine was curved, and she kept her pure white hair tied up in a bun.

I remember once when I was staying overnight with her, she took her bun down to brush her hair. I had never seen it down. It was so long and white.

“Mrs. Garrison, you look like a witch!” I laughed.

She looked in the mirror. “Yes, I guess I do!” she laughed. I didn’t mean any offense (you know how little kids just blurt out whatever they’re thinking), and none was taken. She put her hair back up in a bun, and she put mine up in a bun too, so I could be like her. We admired ourselves in the mirror. I had never seen my long hair tied up in a bun before. I liked it.


Mrs. Garrison was afraid of thunder and lightening. She and I had that in common. Whenever it stormed, she would come downstairs from her third-floor apartment and stay with us until it passed. She didn’t like to be up so high. It always made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one afraid of the lightening. And I recall even feeling the slightest bit brave, because I knew that staying with us made Mrs. Garrison feel better. I felt like I was helping her, protecting her. We got through those storms together.


There was a black velvet painting of Elvis on the wall in the living room.

I was 7 years old, sitting at the kitchen table drawing pictures with Mrs. Garrison when her son stopped by.

“Did you hear?”

“Yes, I heard,” Mrs Garrison said in a low, solemn voice, shaking her head. “I can’t believe it.”

“Hear what?” I asked.

“The King is dead.”

“We have a king?”

“The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll!” said her son. “Don’t you know who The King is?”

I didn’t know, but they sure did. It was a sad day at Mrs. Garrison’s.

(Side note: whose parents or grandparents cut out the newspaper article when Elvis died? I have all the Elvis clippings in the box of papers from my grandparents, along with the moon landing two page pictoral from the New York Daily News, and a bunch of recipes my grandmother was saving.)


Mrs. Garrison was old, but she was energetic and fun. Much more energetic than my grandmother, who was younger but very overweight and mostly just sat around and watched her “stories” in the afternoons. Mrs. Garrison and I took walks to the lake to feed the ducks, and up to Angie’s Delicatessen to buy new coloring books and nice new crayons. Oh, how I loved a new box of Crayola crayons, with their vivid colors and perfect tips. My favorite was Magenta, although at the time I misread it as Mag-neta.

When my favorite stuffed animal, a little white lamb, got so threadbare from its constant companionship with me, the neck ripped into a wide gaping hole. My grandmother said it couldn’t be fixed, so I carried my wounded lamb around that way for weeks with the stuffing hanging out.

But one night when I stayed with Mrs. Garrison, I asked her if it could be fixed and she said “Of course it can!” She got out her black thread (it was the only color she had) and stitched it up. The black stitches kind of stuck out on my dirty little lamb, but he was no longer injured or losing stuffing as we walked, and I was so happy.

Mrs. Garrison was the best.

Some of the caregivers from childhood (babysitters, teachers...) fade away from our memories over time. But the ones who gave you their full attention, the ones that spent quality time with you, and made you smile, maybe even made you feel loved… those are the ones you never forget.