Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Saab story

I can see paradise by the...
Several years ago, I inherited my father-in-law's Saab.

It's a terrific car. It has way more power than my Honda Civic, plus the windows are automatic. It has a lot of buttons for things I still have no idea about. It's a fancier car than I'd ever had.

However. It now also gets all quitty when it's hot out and it has to sit in traffic.

Maybe some of you remember how last year my car and I both broke down in hysteria on Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour?

One of the things that I managed to tell Nick, through my sobs and inability to breathe or articulate, was that there was an icon on the dashboard that looked like a yellow submarine. It is number five on this chart, which I got from a UK site called The Auto Agency.

I'm pretty sure my friend Steve referred to number three the "butt crack" light. This makes me feel better.

I mean, do you know what all those symbols mean?

In any case, my car stopped, and we had it towed to the Saab place in Virginia.

They fixed what they thought it was, and then I drove it to the Outer Banks to hang out with Wendy and her family, and lo, on 95 in Friday rush hour, my car started doing that thing where I press on the pedal and it does...nothing. I knew this was the precursor to it flashing the yellow submarine light and then just plain stopping.

So I pulled off into a small town that coincidentally had a garage that was about to close. There was nothing they could do for me. So I bought the kids ice cream, which they proceeded to drip on the floor because the temperature was approximately one million degrees.

Nick suggested we let the car cool down, and then get ourselves to Potomac Mills, which was about five miles away. We could have dinner while a storm was due to roll in and drop the temperature significantly, after which point we could drive home.

We did all these things, as well as buying Jordan a pair of maroon Chuck Taylor shoes at Off 5th, which he then referred to as his "designer fashion sneakers".

Once the car cooled down, I drove it home without issue. Nick took it to the Saab place, and they replaced something, or two somethings, plus the part that keeps the gears from suddenly snapping, because that was about to go, which sounded rather alarming.

It's an old car.

So we did all these things and all was fine all winter. Longer than all winter, because it stayed cold cold cold forever.

And then in April I drove India and some friends to a birthday party in Leesburg. It was a hot, sunny day. And on the way back, on 66, my car started doing that nothing thing that it does when I press the pedal.

I knew it was about to get quitty. I was trying not to freak out.

But traffic was moving. I got our friends home just as my car flashed a bunch of lights and then stopped.

I turned it off and got it started again, drove the mile home, and left it for three days. I didn't even want to look at it. I was pissed.

We dropped it off about three weeks ago. Nick asked them to keep it until they figured out what was wrong with it.

Yesterday they said they've run through two tanks of gas trying to get it to quit. They left it running for eight hours, and then drove it home.

No stalling. They can't make it fail.

They said they're stumped. One idea they proffered was that maybe, just maybe, Nick's wife, which would be ME, had perhaps filled it up with regular gas, rather than premium. The engine is old, and at this point, kind of picky.

Now. I may not know what the yellow submarine light's real name is. I may thing that one of those lights looks like loops of spaghetti. And I may have Nick talk to the garage because I genuinely don't know what I'm talking about with cars.

All these things are true.

But. What's also true is that I am a first-born rule follower. And. I happen to know that the octane rating has to do with the temperature at which your car burns gas. I learned this on NPR. You have to use the right number for your car's engine.

(Even if you think it's annoying, because your Honda used cheaper gas and also never quit on you. But you had to work up to that crazy left-side merge into the GW Parkway to Alexandria, because your Honda didn't actually have the power to merge in with anything approaching alacrity.)

The fact is that we have two cars, when one of us rarely drives. We have no car payment, because both our cars are old as god, and mine was free. There would be no reason to buy a new car if we got rid of this one.

And I actually love this car. Except for the quittiness, which makes me very resentful.


This afternoon I'm picking up my car, crossing my fingers, and driving it back into the city. And then I'm basically never driving it to Virginia again.

What I really, really need is Car Talk. The Tappet Brothers would figure this business out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


This morning I woke up to my annual text from my dear friend.


It's so simple, and so powerful it its simplicity.


Today marks nine years since I picked up the phone in my office knowing from the number that my dad was gone.

Now I can't remember the last time I spoke with him.


Birthdays and death days are the hardest.

Holidays are hard, too.

I don't know why I used to think it was just me.


This particular grief is so familiar, no longer frightening.

Even so, grief can catch you unawares, like your reflection in a store window, when you were really trying to get a glimpse of the cute shoes inside.

Grief can be tedious for those who aren't living through it.

Grief can be bewildering for those on the outside.

Grief can be bewildering on the inside.

Grief can settle in and open another bottle of wine just at the point in the evening where you think everyone is leaving and you're ready to go to bed. .


On Saturday I was walking with my kids and India said, "I wish your dad were still alive."

I said, "Me, too."

She said, "It's very sad, and we don't have to talk about it."

I said, "It's OK to talk about things that make us sad. My dad would've loved you so much."

And she replied, "Grandma Lillian and your dad are watching out for us."

I said, "I believe that. I like this idea."


On Sunday, I took my mom to the house of a trasured family friend from our Delhi days.

Bibi and I saw each other and started to cry.

She said she missed my dad. She misses his sense of humor. They would push each other to wicked funniness and scandalize others.

In her memories of me as a teenager, I would come in and graciously say hello and then leave. I always had places to be.


I can remember my dad's laugh, but not his voice.

Why didn't I save any voice mails? Now I always save voice mails.

It's not a safeguard, but it makes me feel better.


India asked when my dad died, and I said a few months before Jordan was born.

She said, "I wish he was alive longer so he got to meet us."

Me, too, baby. Me, too.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Try to remember when life was so tender that no one wept except the willow

This year, I'm trying to be more mindful. To notice but not judge. To sit with feelings rather than trying to change them.

I do this with varying degrees of success. But I am trying.

In May, everything makes me cry. Everything. I know this.

Yesterday I clicked on a story in the Post about an adopted son reuniting with his birth mother in Japan, and sobbed even before they reconnected. I mean, the guy was sitting at his desk at the Pentagon and got a phone call about his mom and I was just a wreck.

The fact is I cry at my desk no fewer than three times a day. I also have allergies, so I can always blame them if anyone notices my red eyes.

It's inconvenient, but I'm not dysfunctional. Just teary.

Now, I am trying to recognize and embrace these feelings rather than push them aside to get on with things. It is not my natural inclination.

Last year right around now, I went to see Deb, my acupuncturist (who I am linking because I love her, and am so happy to recommend). My allergies were walloping me, and I was afraid they were going to turn into a sinus infection.

I couldn't breathe through my nose, and I couldn't get a break from the congestion, no matter what I did. I used the Neti pot. I took hot showers. I steamed my head. I took Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, Xyzal.

I doubled them up and used them in combination, which Nick found rather alarming and asked me to stop.

But it didn't matter. Nothing helped.

When I saw Deb, she told me that grief resides in the lungs and this affects your sinuses. It was May. Pat's health was rapidly declining. We had recently lost our dear friend John. I was gearing up for my annual Overnight walk.

And it was May.

The period leading up to the Overnight--which I am walking again in June in Philadelphia, if you would like and are able to contribute--takes a toll. Because I am fundraising and telling my story, I think about suicide and loss every single day.

People send me their own stories. People give me names. Every one of these feels personal. Every one of these makes me cry.

And in fact, if you have names of loved ones you have lost or who struggle, please, feel free to send them to me. I do not connect my willingness to walk for people to donations.

But in this period, I have a hard time. It's not depression. It's just sadness. Lots and lots of sadness.

Now, going back to Deb, I cried to her for a while, and then she said, "People like you operate in high energy mode, and you like to stay up." At this she reached her hands in the air. She grief brings us low, and people like me, we are afraid to be pulled down, because we're scared we won't get up again.

Really, the exact opposite of that Chumbawamba song.

This made sense. It makes sense. I fear the devastation of grief, because what if I get stuck?

I don't think of myself as a high energy person, but according to my husband (who I asked because sometimes things I think about myself are not what other people see, like how I think I'm crunchy and every time I say this, my friend Sophie laughs really hard) I radiate energy and intensity.

Honestly, I am often tired. We know how tired I am and my hell it is so boring. But I think it's true that I am high intensity. (I mean, if you know me, what do you think?)

Anyway, Deb said I needed to recognize this about myself. Grief will pull me down, but I will not stay down. I could let it pass, knowing I'd recover.

She also said I needed to figure out why I walk the Overnight walk. I needed to dig down into the real reasons for me, and address this need.

And so I have given it a lot of thought. This year I delayed fundraising until about six weeks out, because it costs me too much personally to be that sad for months.

Now I'm trying to just let myself feel the sadness and sit with the grief. Not avoid or fight them, but see them for what they are and honor them in a way that recognizes that loss hurts, and the spaces left behind by the most important people in your life are huge.

You know I recently reconnected with my cousin Patti Jo. She's an artist, like her mom. I sent her the photo of my daughter wading in a tide pool last weekend, and she juxtaposed it with Aunt Jo's painting of me at about that age, and added the text of my thank you message to her.

We've been sharing family memories, and they feel good.

She and her brothers were born years before my brother and me, so when we were kids, we knew them as glamorous teens. My dad, to my cousins, was Uncle Mickey. He was hilarious, he was fun. He and my mom would come back from overseas with great stories.

They were right there in Duluth, so saw our grandparents regularly, and knew them when they were younger, before my grandmother was in chronic pain.

I don't know why it's so powerful, but I find it healing to connect with and to hear about our family. We have different memories and vantage points of the same people across time and place. We share genes. We all share a particular sense of humor. This might strike me the most.

The emotional space loved ones occupy is theirs, and theirs alone. It's not like wet sand on the beach, where when you scoop out a bucket full, more immediately slides in.

Some spaces never fill in. Your time might get filled, but the space doesn't. Weeks and months and years pass, and it hurts less. Or, maybe more accurately, hurts differently.

People leave us, but energy doesn't go away. I find that idea comforting.

I wonder, what you do to live with grief and feelings of loss?

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

One ring to find them

A week ago Saturday, while I was reveling in my reunion, Nick was out in the wilds of Maryland, camping with my children and the Cub Scouts.

It wasn't really the wilds. It was a state park with camp sites.

(Also, as an aside, let me say that there are a number of younger sisters who attend the Scout meetings with their brothers. India, for one, is very interested in joining.)

So anyway, they went camping. They had a cookout, and ate s'mores, and sat around the fire and then they crawled into their sleeping bags in their respective tents and went to sleep.

My husband took off his watch and wedding ring and put them and his phone and various and sundry other items in an inside pocket of the tent.

He put this collection in the pocket on Jordan's side of the tent. And apparently Jordan saw Nick's stuff in there and lost his mind and so Nick wound up moving it. All but the ring.

You see where this is going.

In the morning, he took out all his items from the pocket, and started packing up.

It had rained a great deal in the night (which sounds very terrible to me), and he shook the tent out throughly before folding it.

They packed everything up then went on a hike.

Nick and the kids were at lunch before he realized he wasn't wearing his ring.

When  they got home he looked through everything--the tent, the sleeping bags, everything. But it was missing.

He was trying not to be annoyed at Jordan for having the fit that prompted him to move his stuff. He was trying not to be angry at himself for forgetting.

I, for my part, was trying not to be mad at him for wearing his ring camping. Who effing wears their ring camping?

But I am a person who will leave my rings off for weeks at a time, though I love them. I'll take them off for the pool and forget to put them back on.

Being a wife and a mom are now overwhelmingly my identity, but whether or not I have my rings on doesn't matter to me.

I love my engagement ring. And my wedding ring was my grandmother's. It's a simple white gold band. She wore it for over 60 years, and in that time, the notches on the sides smoothed themselves. You can barely see where they were now.

I do not wear the band alone, for fear it will slip off. The engagement ring is tighter, and holds it. But sometimes this all just feels like too much.

I don't wear them when I travel, because I don't want to take them off at night in strange places. And I have lost the ability so sleep in jewelry. It's party of my whole Princess and the Pea sleep business.

I didn't wear them to Family Camp, and I would most certainly not wear them to actual camping, if I ever did that.

So as I said, I was trying not to be mad. But why, why why wear them camping?

To this Nick said he wears it all the time. It's important to him. He just feels better with his ring on than off.

I could not fault him for that.

Now, I also feel strongly that things are just things. People are what's important. And yet, this band was made by my mom's jeweler, who escaped Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. It has our initials and wedding date, which Nick used as proof to buy discounted caulk.

(Yes. It always comes back to caulk.)

It's the ring I gave him when we exchanged vows in front of all these people who matter so much to us, and who, like my dad and other dearly loved ones, are no longer with us.

It's a thing, but it's not just a thing.

I was upset. Not mad at Nick. Just upset.

Last week I was in the office talking about the lost ring, and my friend Tadu said we should get a metal detector. She said she had a friend who had lost her ring twice on the beach. And twice she'd found it.

So I asked on Facebook if anyone had one to lend us. Nobody had a metal detector. But I learned that lots of people have lost wedding rings.

I was glad I asked, because I got some great stories.

So Nick bought a metal detector on Amazon. And early Saturday morning, we headed up to Calvert Cliffs.

We were walking around the camp site, and as Nick had mentioned, it was on the edge of a big hill. There were rivulets down the sides.

The kids and I started skibbling and sliding down the hill. I was thinking there was just no way we were going to find the ring.

Look at all the nature. There is so much nature, and it's such a small object. And round and rolly, as rings tend to be.

Then suddenly Nick said, "I FOUND IT!"

And lo, he had.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Mind your messages

A couple days ago, I posted something about wanting to put the Eagles on a continuous loop in the waiting room of my shrink's office.

In response, my friend Matt, who I've not seen in decades, sent me this clip above. I responded that it was funny, and that Nick hates the Eagles as well.

(Inconceivable, but true. I'm all, Nick, why don't you come to your senses? You been out ridin' fences for so long now...)


Matt and I had that brief exchange. Then that same evening another friend and I were messaging. She's in a leadership position, and she has some constituents who behave very badly. We were going back and forth about their behavior, and how she has to be diplomatic in her position.

We wrote lots and lots of messages back and forth. She described and I expressed sympathy and outrage.

At some point I said I would tell them to fuck off.

And in the middle of this volley of messages, Matt messaged me saying he doesn't actually hate them, and he mainly thinks about them in the context of their era.

It fit so well with the other conversation. I thought she was being exceedingly kind and generous to a group of rude, obnoxious people.

So I basically responded that I would not be that diplomatic, and I'd probably tell them to their faces that they're assholes.

Yesterday morning out of the blue I got a message from Matt with a random, "LOL".

LOL what? Ohhhhhh.

Which was a totally innocuous response to a crazy lady who feels the actual need to tell a band how much she hates them like right to their faces?

I was immediately all, OH NOT THE EAGLES! I like the Eagles! That was about these other people you don't know who behave terribly.

Fortunately, this was easily explained and not terrible like the time I messaged one coworker with the phrase "sucks big fat moose weenies" thinking he was the other coworker who actually used that expression.

It was also not as bad as when, last month, I confirmed with my trainer that I'd see him at noon, and then added I was a little nervous about the ass licking.

Happy Friday! 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Let the music play on (play on, play on, play on)

Dear AESers,

I love you. I love all of you.

I miss every one of you I didn't get to see.

I started missing each of you who was there as we hugged goodbye.

We all hugged so much. It wasn't enough time. It's never enough time.
I tell people I have spectacular taste in friends, which is true.

But the fact is I lucked into you.

I lucked into moving back to Delhi and walking down Chandragupta Marg, past the big tree with the vultures outside the front gate, and into AES.

I lucked out by walking into 9th and staying through 12th.

Leaving for college broke my heart. I longed every day to be back in Delhi with all of you, back where I felt safe and loved.

I lucked into you at play practice with Mr. Pepperling, on the field with Coach Connor, passing notes in geometry class with Mr. Gupta, and in typing with Mr. Mitroo. I lucked into drinking fresh lime sodas at ACSA and listening to Purple Rain on the boom box.

And 80s dance music, which is my favorite, is irrevocably linked with dancing every single weekend with you. I will always associate Quiet Riot with Matt's house on the compound and Dire Straits with Jason and Lodi Gardens, and how beautiful is that?

I lucked into walking out of science class with Mr. Robbins and diving with you into huge monsoon puddles that had filled up the soccer field in the torrential downpour in between classes. I lucked into spending every weekend with you, often at the Gunghroo or the #1 at the Taj.

I lucked into Jason kindly being willing to drop me home from parties, because my dad deliberately set my curfew half an hour earlier than everyone else's, and I wasn't allowed to take taxis alone.

I lucked into sleeping at your houses and going dancing anyway, whether or not we had to sneak out past sleeping parents, which I still cannot believe we were so bold as to do.

I lucked into the fact that the smells of India are embedded forever in my heart. When I smell specific blends of spices, it is Delhi. When I smell a particular wood fire smell, it is Kashmir.

When I smell jet fuel, it is every runway I ever walked down getting on or off a plan onto the tarmac. The smell makes me ache for a childhood spent on Pan Am, with plates and glasses and real silverware and space to sleep in front of my parents' feet.

There are scents I cannot identify. But when I smell them, in that olfactory Proustian way, I am home in my heart, though Delhi hasn't been my physical home in over 30 years.

Some of you I only overlapped with my first year, or my last. Some of you I didn't even know in Delhi, because you were there before or after me. But we come to reunions, and we meet, and the spark is there.

And this is my good fortune, my privilege.

We were firmly Breakfast Club era, and I remember watching it in the Embassy theater. (They had such good popcorn.)

It was our era, but not our school. At AES, smart was cool. I can't think of a single person we didn't think was cool, because we didn't specifically think in those terms. Everyone could do anything and everything they wanted to.

We were so tight and supportive that we all did sports and theater and went out dancing together and worked hard to get good grades. Some of us were utter basket cases at the same time others may have thought we were princesses.

I learned recently that my astigmatism is the reason I have poor depth perception. Though I made the volleyball team one year, I sucked at softball, basketball, field hockey, and really any sport where you needed to understand where the ball was in relation to yourself.

I could never figure out where the damn ball was.

Cheerleading, it turned out, was for me. In my dreams, I still own those pom poms.

However. When, during the dancing part of the reunion, three of my fellow cheerleaders and I tried to pose for a cheer shot, we discovered we are not the cheerleaders we used to be.
Get up, Kerry. You're the team captain!
We settled for a pyramid. Of sorts.
And let me tell you, I did not know until last Friday night that field hockey and softball are not typical boy sports in the U.S. Who knew? Carter and Boo, they knew. Or anyway, they learned it upon return to the States.

This weekend someone--was it Andy?--said they thought our personalities are pretty well fixed by high school, and I agreed. We are all the same at core. Just older, wiser, kinder, better versions of ourselves.

Yes, we're older. We have conversations on topics unimaginable in high school: caring for our kids, wrinkle cream, and the possibility of freezing that annoying post-baby low belly fat. The sadness of seeing parents decline. The unkindness of perimenopause.

Some of us have kids out of college, while some of us have kids in pre-K. We've married and divorced and changed names. We've moved and switched jobs multiple times. By now, most of us have lived through the trauma of losing a loved one.

We walk around with splinters and shards, invisible to many who haven't known us so long. These only make us shine brighter in our reflected light.
When we gather, we tell and retell stories from high school. It doesn't matter if I've heard them 50 times; I will always long to hear them once more.

Remind me, Greg, that we have known each other since we were four years old. That we have Halloween pictures of each other as adorable children. That you got to be Santa Claus in the preschool pageant where I was the bitterest Mary in existence, because I had to wear my pajamas and a crocheted afghan.

Tell me, tell me not-specifically-named friends, about that time you stole a Russian diplomatic license plate and almost got caught by the police. Tell me again about the time you did get caught.

Tell me, Jason, tell me your memories of us heading over to Claridge's for cocktails after school. Yes, OK, we headed to Claridge's for cocktails. After school. Not often. Because we had play practice, sports practice, both play and sports practices...

Tell me, Russ. Tell me about that plane trip to Pakistan I don't remember, the one where the plane got hit by lightening and you looked over and Paul A. was crossing himself frantically.

Remind me, Chris, about that time you used a magnifying glass and burned tiny holes in my adorable pink terry cloth romper while I was at the pool. I'd give up a million beloved outfits to the fire gods to be back in 9th grade at the pool at ACSA.

Talk to me about the Maurya Sheraton, Palika Bazaar, the Marine House, the compound, the commissary. Talk about sports conventions, about Limca and Campa Cola. Walk with me down Malcha Marg, or Janpath, or over to Julie's house to watch MTV videotapes.

Those are glory days, just like the Springsteen song.

We're not stuck in them; we've lived beyond, found love, had families, accomplished big things,  created satisfying lives.

But there is nothing that feels so good to me as being in a room filled with you. You're so dear to me, a part of my heart. I never, outside my family, feel so safe and loved as when I'm with you.

I never laugh so hard. I never dance so much. And I never otherwise laugh and dance at the same time.

I never wish so fervently that time would cease to function.

When we are together, we are all 16 or 17, and the most amazing teenagers in existence. We are kind, hilarious, luminous--and all the more so because we've shed insecurities, lived big lives, nurtured others. We've had to say goodbye to people we love dearly.

You're the most generous, loving group of friends I could imagine.

I started this, but so many people put it together. Thank you, Justin, for getting the Friday venue, and thank you Jason for taking charge of the donation. Thank you, Nicole and Paul, and Jason E for supporting me through freakouts about the restaurant flood.

Thank you Wendy's parents, for a lovely afternoon event. Thank you Wendy, Paul, and Jason for amazing playlists. Thank you Jason for DJing, and for organizing my present. I can't thank you all enough.
I didn't need a spa present, and I cannot wait to use it. I hope you know I would organize a gathering every year, because spending the time together is a gift to me.

You knew me when I was young and fragile and living with crazy, but not understanding how much crazy, or how deeply it affected me. I am so grateful that you remember the funny, the clever, the best, most endearing pieces of me.

These are the parts that radiate when I'm with you, because I am so incredibly happy. Who wouldn't want to spend as much time as possible with those who bring out your best, most joyful self?
We ended the night as we ended dance parties back then, in a big circle with All Night Long.

Life is good, wild and sweet. Let the music play on (play on, play on, play on).

I love you and I miss you. And I always will.