A Letter To Mom On This Very Different Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

This morning I woke up between the same creamy sheets, in the same yellow-green room that I have woken up in on this date nearly every year for the past decade. The plaid chair in the corner, covered in my clothes, the rattan shade with light peeking through, the brown-spotted white Pound Puppy on the bed; it’s all exactly the same.

Except, of course, that nothing is the same.

It’s Mother’s Day, and I struggle this year to wish you a happy one. The word happy gets stuck in my throat. It’s yet another celebration, another first that we now must endure.

I can’t forget that where there were two, there is now only one.

We weren’t all together last year. The year before, there were tense words exchanged and an epic storming off moment. The year before that, we made it through an entire trip into the city and a Broadway show without anyone crying. It was rare for us to be apart on this day; even rarer that we all escaped it unscathed by the silly squabbles you have when you don’t realize you won’t always have the next year as a do-over.

I want to go back and undo the quarrels. I want to shake that two-years-ago self and yell at her, just let this one go! I want to explain to us all that we need to be more careful with each other.

I want even more to go forward and somehow have Kelly be here with you now.

I try desperately to fill the space in your heart left behind in her absence. I imagine it has raw exposed edges, so I attempt to get inside without touching them, like a real life game of Operation. But no matter how much I expand, no matter how much I contort myself, the shape of me is not right for these holes. There will always be gaps that I cannot fill.

I will never be your second child.

I will never be the one who called you Baby Mommy.

I will never be Zoey’s mom.

I will never be the one who saved people.

I will never be the Kelly-shaped missing piece of your heart.

It fractures my own cracked heart a little more, not being able to heal you of this pain. Not being able to un-break you.

I can’t bring her back, and I can’t be Kelly, and I don’t know if it will ever be enough for either of us. But I can remember her, and I can help you remember.

I can remind you of how she used to shrug and say, I know, instead of I don’t know, a wad of grape gum always present in her toddler mouth. I can remind you of the little dimple in her left cheek, and the way the bottom of her fine blond hair curled up when she was two. I can remind you that she used to kiss her finger and touch the visor of her car when she went through a yellow light, and that she got excited when she noticed it was 11:11. I can remind you how she could administer a flu shot without any pain, and a finish strep test before you could even gag. I can remind you that people called her an angel.

I can remind you of what and who she loved: butterflies, singing, purple, her job, The Yankees, elephants, Josh Groban, babies, old people, Zoey, and, most of all, her Baby Mommy.

Last week, I was running errands when I noticed the Mother’s Day cards on display. I stopped to choose one for you, but was chosen by one instead. A card with a drawing of a serene-looking elephant, butterflies floating out of its trunk. A card that reduced me to tears in the middle of the West Hollywood Target. If Kelly could have designed a card for you, I imagine it would look like this. Its accents and envelope are my favorite seafoam green.

I don’t know if I believe in signs. I don’t know what I believe anymore. But this card feels like it could be from both of us, and I realize that what I can do for you is always acknowledge her, and you.

To remember our Belly, and to celebrate, today and every day, the mother who made us a family.

I remember her. I remember us.

I love you on this Mother’s Day, and on all days.

Katie

Mother's Day 2013

Mother’s Day 2012

These Are The Things I Have Forgotten

These Are The Things I Have Forgotten:

The way my Grandmother smelled

I remember the way my sister smelled, of menthol cigarettes and cheap, overpowering body spray that lingered in a room long after she left, and permeated the DNA of her green Camry.

I remember the way the cat smelled, like spilled tears and comfort and my mother’s house. I pick up the new cat who is not so new anymore, and bury my face in his soft fur. I want to force that smell on him, but he won’t cooperate; he barely tolerates me. He accepted Kelly’s scent when she held him—of course, he was her cat—but he won’t accept Hobbes’ no matter how much I wish it.

If I can remember how the cat smelled, shouldn’t I remember Grandma’s smell?

The taste of mustard

Or mayonnaise. Or pickles. Or all of the other things that I’m sure I hate, so much that I cringe or shudder when they are mentioned. 

What my recorded voice sounded like

The video of my senior recital was taped over, or lost, years ago. There is no footage from my college performances. The cassette tapes from high school concerts are useless—who has anything that plays a cassette tape? I kept a Walkman for years, just in case I wanted to listen to one of those archaic tapes, but eventually, it too went the way of the rest of our obsolete 80s electronics.

Kelly’s recordings were done on CDs, so we could easily transfer them to our laptops and phones, and play them at her memorial service or in our cars. It’s her voice that I hear now when I remember songs we both sang.

The books I have read

Including those I studied and referenced on my AP English test, the ones catalogued on the “Best 100 Books of All Time” lists (did I actually read 1984, or do I just think I did?) and almost every book I read on my iPad.

The first time I saw a sun set over the ocean

Maybe it was on our first family trip to California when I was fifteen. Did I notice it there, when Kelly and I walked by ourselves down to a wharf theatre to see You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in a rare moment of camaraderie due to the freedom of being without our parents for the evening in an unfamiliar city?

Or maybe it was when we went to Bermuda the following year. There is a picture of us on a golf course at our resort, the two of us, with windblown hair and terrible 90s clothing. The sunset is behind us. Did we ever turn around to see it?

Maybe it was even later still, on our last trip together as a family, to Captiva Island. I have the fewest memories of this trip, beyond the sand whipping around on the beach in a weeklong windstorm, and the long, solitary drive across Alligator Alley from Miami. It feels that much more tragic since we would have no subsequent trips. I would travel again with my mom, with Kelly, with my dad, but never again as that original foursome.

When I had my first kiss

I think I used to lie about it, and now I can’t remember what is the lie and what is the truth. The same with when I lost my virginity, a night whose details I remember down to the perfume I wore (Estee Lauder Pleasures, which I hated but he gifted me) and the CD in my stereo (Toni Braxton, Secrets) but whose date I cannot confirm with any certainty. The lies I told other people became the lies I told myself.

What it felt like to hug my Nana

I was ten the last time I saw her, in a wheelchair at my uncle’s wedding. There must have been a fragile maneuvering around the medical equipment, gestures involving patting and kind words. We saw her less than we saw our other grandmother, whose embrace and fragile body and soft skin I can remember like she squeezed me just this morning, rather than over a dozen years ago. My dad’s mother was tall, and sturdy, before the cancer. I wonder if I would have grown taller than she was, had she lived longer. I wonder if I would have wrapped my own strong arms around her, if I would have been the sturdier one. I wonder if I will someday be the formerly tall, formerly sturdy woman in a wheelchair at my son’s wedding, who dies later that night having seen all of her children wed?

How to play the flute

How to play the piano (mostly). How to sing a harmonic minor scale. How to transcribe a melody. And likely every single thing I learned in my 4th semester of music theory.

What my grandfather’s poached eggs taste like

I know that they were the best we ever tasted. I know Kelly still wanted him to make one for her when she visited him last year. I know that I hate to order them in restaurants, certain they will never be as good as his (the way I know linguini with clam sauce cooked by anyone else will never match my mother’s). But I cannot conjure up the taste, only the recollection of the perfect amount of runniness in the yolk, the perfect firmness of the whites. I know that I will never again ask my grandfather to make one for me, because that was her thing.

My natural hair color

 

Why I hated the first day of school videos

My mom took them every year until we moved to Basking Ridge when I was in fifth grade. We started on our front stoop—Kelly, me, Michelle and Aimee from next door, sometimes some of the other neighbors—and walked down the long, rocky driveway and across the street to the bus stop. I was the only one who refused to play along when my mom asked us what we had in our lunchboxes that day, or if we were excited about the first day of school. I was the only one with the scowl, or walking too fast for the camera to follow. Kelly was just happy to be included, even though most years she would be left behind with my mom, at home, after the big kids got on that bus.

Where I left my first pair of earrings

The gold hearts with the diamond sparkle. The ones I’d been hanging onto since I got my ears pierced nearly thirty years ago. The ones I thought my future daughter might one day wear.

My last words to my sister

I know my last words via email: “Have a good Thanksgiving with Dad.”

I know my last words via voicemail, before she left for Arizona that August: “I love you, bye.” I’m not even sure I meant them at the time. I was angry, and only left the voicemail because my mom asked me to call her. I mean them now, but I don’t know if that matters.

I don’t remember the end of our last phone conversation. I don’t remember our last in- person conversation. I’m not even sure I remember the last time I saw her, some time in early 2013. Can that really be possible? Can I really not remember the last time I saw my sister?

Everything else I couldn’t bother to remember; everything else that I have forgotten.

My beloved Grandma (and Grandpa) on the 13th anniversary of her passing.

My beloved Grandma (and Grandpa); yesterday was the 13th anniversary of her passing.

Our last Christmas; my last clear memory of us together.

Our last Christmas at home in 2012; my last clear memory of us together.

Confession: I Will Always Love You

When I was little, I used to ask my mom what I could do to make her not love me anymore. 

 
I started testing people early it seems, and my mom was my first participant. She would tell me “I will love you forever. No matter what. I will always love you. I would challenge her frequently, the little four-year-old antagonist that I was, never fully comprehending this concept of forever love, often testing it, yet desperately wanting to believe it. So I would ask, and she would immediately and unwaveringly answer:

 
If I’m bad, will you still love me then? Of course.
If I yell at you, will you still love me then? Definitely.
If I run away, will you still love me then? Undoubtedly.
Even if I hurt you, will you still love me then? Yes, always. I will always love you.
 
This memory came rushing back at me this morning in my favorite yoga class, what we fondly call “yoga church” every Sunday morning. The theme was comfort, and our teacher asked us to think of something that has been said to us that brings us comfort. She offered a few suggestions but I chose the first thing that popped up in my head, the thing that is always somewhere in there but needs to be brought into consciousness so much more often.
 
I will always love you.
 
Ironic that what comforts me is also what I have the hardest time understanding.
 
As I moved through the warrior ones and the tree poses repeating my mantra, “I will always love you”, I pondered if it could really be true. Could we ever really make that commitment to someone, to love them unconditionally? Does it only work with your parents, or your children, or your spouse? And could love possibly transcend time and circumstance and everything else that life throws out to test us, and really be forever? How could I believe it from someone else when I wasn’t sure if I could extend the sentiment myself?
 
I thought about all of the people I have loved in my lifetime, the four-year-old contrarian now in a 35-year-old body, still questioning everything. When I’ve said I love you, when I’ve used the word forever, did I mean it? I think of the ones who broke my heart, and the ones whose hearts I may have broken. I think of the ones who grew apart, or replaced me with another. The ones who told me they were going, and the ones who simply left without a word. Is there truly love left there?
 
I am surprised to discover the answer is yes. 
 
Through any lingering anger, through pain that may never fully heal, through tears and hurt and confusion and acceptance, there is still love. Love for what once was, love for lessons learned, love for being a part of my past and for leading me to where and who I am now.
 
LOVE. 
 
And if I can believe my own love exists for others unconditionally, I should be able to believe it when someone uses the words forever and always with me. I should be able to use those words too.
 
We went around the yoga studio this morning before savasana, each person offering up what their words of comfort had been. Everyone had something, and they were mostly variations of the same “everything is going to be all right” message. It seems everyone has the same basic needs: to feel safe, to know things will work out, to feel loved.
 
Maybe all we need to feel safe is the promise from someone else that we will be. Maybe this is why we call it yoga church, because it challenges us to rely on faith–faith in our bodies, in our minds and in our hearts. And faith in each other. Maybe what we can offer back to each other most for comfort…is love. 
 
So to all of you, I echo the sentiments that my fellow yogis voiced this morning:
 
It’s going to be okay.
I will be here for you. 
Things will get better.
You are loved.
 
I will always love you.
 
xx,
Katie

Confession: A Yoga Retreat Changed My Life

I am so honored to be featured on The Travel Yogi’s blog today, describing my amazing and life changing experience on my first yoga retreat.

“I made the decision to go to Bali on a whim. An LA-based yoga teacher, Jen Pastiloff, whose class I had taken once or twice, mentioned she would be leading a weeklong trip there in November. I knew virtually nothing about Bali, except for the magical feeling evoked whenever I heard the word. She had probably announced it in those previous two classes as well, but this time I heard it. I took a flyer, exchanged a few “what can I expect” emails with The Travel Yogi, and was booked on my first yoga retreat one week later.

How do you prepare for a life-changing experience? You can’t, I guess. You can simply take the leap, open your heart, and allow it all in…”

Please click here to read the rest, and consider one of their upcoming retreats for yourself!

xx,

Katie

Sunrise at Soulshine

Sunrise at Soulshine

Confession: I Don’t Think Everything Happens For A Reason

Everything happens for a reason. It’s one of those platitudes we all hear at some point. Usually well intentioned, sometimes a bit hollow, it’s often what people offer up when they don’t know what else to say. When they can’t … Continue reading

Three Months

Before we were dating, back when we were just friends, my ex once told me that I had “perfect skin”. I don’t remember how it came up as we were driving in my car, or what we could have been talking about that led to that lovely, albeit somewhat unbelievable, compliment. But it stays with me. At the time it was just one of those nice things that someone says that you don’t particularly agree with, but are happy to hear anyway. No, you deflect, no I don’t at all. But secretly you’re pleased. You want to believe it is true.

When we started dating a bit later, I remembered that passing comment, so insignificant at the time, but now, with the attached meaning that hindsight provides, hanging like a sort of albatross around my neck. He thought that I had perfect skin. What if he saw this blemish on my chin, or these lines on my forehead? He must expect that he will always see perfect skin, and what if someday he can see that I most definitely do not have perfect skin? If he thought my skin was perfect, what else needed to be perfect? My hair, my clothes, my body?

So I tried to give him what I thought he wanted to see. Makeup-covered, cutest outfit-wearing, blown-out-hair me. Beyond that, I attempted to BE who I thought he might want to see, might want to love. I tried to be casual (I’m not), I tried to play it cool (nope, not that either) and I tried to seem like the most perfect, has-it-all-together girl he could have ever met (not even a little).

It didn’t take very long for that to crack. There was the time I got a stomach bug on our first trip together. That splintered the image a little. The time I drank too much and cried drunk tears in front of him. That didn’t help the façade. Or when I finally admitted that I really cared, that I wasn’t casual or cool or any of those things he may have thought I was. The crack became an actual break.

Three months. That’s how long I could sustain this persona I had created for myself. That’s how long it took for the real Katie to make an appearance. That’s how long it took for him to realize that the real Katie was not what he signed up for, and not really what, or who, he wanted at all.

When that relationship imploded for the second time, about three months in again for the second time (as so many before it had as well), it broke me. 

The heartbreak, certainly. The pressure of starting over, again, absolutely. But mostly it was the idea that maybe no one would ever be able to be with me for longer than this trial period. That no would decide to keep me for longer than the standard 90-day return policy.

That no one could actually love the real Katie.

It was a dark moment in time, full of confusion and doubt, despair and fear. After so much pretending, I didn’t know who I was anymore. Or how to be someone who somebody would want. I didn’t know if that was even possible.

But from this breakdown came the breakthrough.

Something clearly wasn’t working for me in relationships. Some pattern seemed to be repeating for me regardless of what “type” of guy I dated. Somehow I wasn’t achieving that real, true, lasting connection with anyone. Someone was preventing me from making it past the three month mark.

Me.

Or the “trying-to-be-the-perfect girl” version of me at least. That version was always destined to crack. It would always come up short. It was always doomed to fail. Because it wasn’t real.

The real Katie is very sensitive, and very clumsy, and gets pimples, and has frizzy hair and cares too much most of the time. The real Katie does weird Rain Man-esque things like separate candy by color and only eat the orange ones and memorize numbers and check United miles obsessively. The real Katie likes classical music and Lifetime movies and so many other things that no exes ever knew about.

Maybe if the real Katie showed up at the beginning things would be different. Maybe if there was no façade, if there was nothing to crack, things wouldn’t break. Maybe someone wouldn’t return this real version after three months.

And maybe, just maybe, someone WOULD love real Katie.

beyourself

Confession: I Saw Love While Leaving Las Vegas

oldcouple

 

I took this picture in the Las Vegas airport. I’m leaving Las Vegas. This is always my favorite part of this trip, the leaving. Vegas is not my town. It reeks to me of booze and smoke and desperation and loss and betrayal. It’s my boulevard of broken dreams. I’m rushing to get to my gate, to get out of this godforsaken city, when I see them.

I don’t know much about the couple. They’re 80, or older perhaps. I make up a little story about them; mingle what I know with my story, with what I hope is true.

They are going back to Kona, where they got married, to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Their children paid for the trip, or maybe their grandchildren even. It is going to be their last big trip because, let’s face it, they’re not getting any younger, and she is getting too frail to travel. They are just as in love now as they were when they got married. Before children, before fights, before affairs, before whatever life did what it does to people. They are more in love now. 

This is the story. Here’s what I actually know:

She loves chocolate; he left her holding her bag, which he told her not to let anyone touch, so he could buy her some chocolate.

They are going to Hawaii, to Kona. They are nervous that our flight is delayed and they might miss their connection.

He wears a hearing aid.

She uses a wheelchair, though maybe just at the airport, because she can walk.

He’s funny, or she thinks he is anyway; she laughed as he popped wheelies with the wheelchair, as he told stories to their new friends who were also going to Hawaii.

She laughs a lot.

They are married; to each other I hope though the rings they wear don’t guarantee that I guess.

They are in love.

I didn’t hear them speak of their love. But I saw the declarations of it as clearly as if they had spray-painted them across the floor in front of gate 55. It was there when he stroked her hair back from her face; when she closed her eyes and tilted her face towards his touch. It was there in her smile back at him as he leaned the wheelchair back onto two wheels, as he sped up and slowed down to her amusement. It was there in their clutched hands as they walked down the aisle to seats 10 C and 10 D. It was there in their gazes at each other when neither was talking, when there was nothing to be said.

It was love.

I’m sure of it. Okay so the details of the story I created were probably false. They don’t really matter anyway. The love was the same. But I needed the story.

Maybe in this story I was projecting the imagined fantasy that I wanted for my grandparents if they both could have lived that long, for my parents if they both could have loved that long. Maybe I was projecting what I want for me. Someone who will push my hair out of my face, who will pop a wheelie with my wheelchair. Someone who will gaze at me long after all the words have been said.

Instead I watch scenes of love as an observer. I sneak pictures and overhear pieces of conversations and make up stories. I choke back tears while I chose the perfect Instagram filter and write a caption that will accurately depict this scene.  But the fact remains.

I’m on the outside, looking in. I always have been. I’ve said some I love yous. I’ve heard some I love yous. And still it’s never been quite right. It’s never FELT quite right. I’ve never known the dialogue, or gotten the notes on blocking that everyone else just seems to inherently know. I can watch the scenes over and over and over and never re-create them for myself.

I haven’t, in 35 years, experienced the kind of love that I saw in 35 minutes in the Vegas airport. It’s not for lack of wanting, or lack of trying, or lack of anything I understand that makes it this way. It just is.

This could be it for me, I think. This could be all it ever is.

But seeing this today, I wonder. Maybe, just maybe, it could be out there still, somewhere between Gates 55 and 58, or between Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, even between Las Vegas and Los Angeles; my very own scenes of love. Maybe the other scenes are here now, all around me, so I will recognize what they should look like when I am finally in the starring role. 

Flight delayed, I’m back at that boulevard of broken dreams of Vegas, seeing the booze and the smoke and the desperation and the loss and even the betrayal. It’s all still there. But this time it’s a little different I think. This time I see the love too. 

Scenes of love, at the airport, in Las Vegas. If I can find them here, I can probably find them anywhere. I can probably even find them for me.

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Don’t Feel Worthy

This weekend marked the beginning of a week of birthday celebrations for me, orchestrated and carefully set up to ease me into this new year, a year that puts me into a new bracket on the age chart.  Setting up dinners with beloved friends, yoga classes and brunches, so that I’m surrounded by love instead of alone.  So far, it has been wonderful, fun, special….and just a bit uncomfortable.


I know, how incongruous is that?  That I would feel anything other than elation around friends I have known for months, for years, for decades even.  Who have seen me through joy and tears, heartbreaks and failures and growing ups.  Who have rallied around me, toasting me with red wine and giving me cards and singing Happy Birthdays.  I should have exalted in the attention, basked in the love.  And instead, a part of me was uneasy.  
 
Because they all showed up.
 
Some with headaches, some with husbands, some who can’t even eat pizza, some from the South Bay, some straight from work.  
 
THEY SHOWED UP.
 
That’s kind of the point, obviously.  And they’re my friends, who had told me they were coming, it really was no surprise to walk into a restaurant and see them sitting there.  So what exactly was my anxiety about?!?!
 
Part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it.
 
When I was in 8th grade, my best friend that year threw me a surprise party.  I can remember my mom having to tell me about it because I was having a moody, 14-year old kind of day and wanted to skip the sleepover that was planned at my friend’s house.  I refused to go.  She pleaded with me, trying to reason with her stubborn, self-righteous daughter (to no avail, I could out-stubborn anyone).  She finally resorted to telling me about the surprise party, thinking that would surely change my mind.  Um, no.  That made me want to go even less.  Because now I was not only the brat who didn’t want to go to her best friend’s sleepover, I was the brat didn’t want to go to her own surprise party sleepover that she clearly didn’t deserve and had to be forced by her mom to attend.
 
I went.  It was fun.  We ate junk food and laughed, watched Pretty Woman and Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, and tried to see who could hit the high notes in that Phantom of the Opera song, the one that ends in that piercing high E that mostly sounds like shrieking.  But I don’t think I stayed over.  I think I remember that I went home that night from this surprise birthday sleepover that my best friend threw for me because I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I didn’t deserve it.

 
It’s 20 years later and I’m 20 years older and it’s the same.  I don’t deserve it.
 
I never had another surprise party after that birthday.  I took control, planning my own birthday celebrations or lack of them some years, it was my choice.  That was so much safer.  I could control how much I allowed myself to take.  And I could share it, that felt okay.  I could have a blowout 3-day extravaganza 21st birthday with my two sorority sisters who were born the same day.  Surely I deserved at least 1/3 of a celebration?  I could indulge in the 30th birthday party at that bar on the Lower East Side called the Skinny and invite everyone I knew because it was also my friend Erin’s birthday.  And people could come to celebrate her and maybe I could accept a slice of the cake, a sliver really, and wash it down with her prosecco and just a little guilt.
 
The control felt necessary.  Because what if someone else threw me another party that I did not deserve?  Or worse, what if they didn’t?
  
I’m still worried no one will show up.
 
I went to a healer earlier this year who placed her hand on my heart and told me that she was sending love to me, directly into my heart.  Could I feel it?  I don’t know.  I could feel the light pressure from her hands, and feel her breath on my cheek, but love?  I don’t know.  She then asked me to focus on sending it back to her, straight back to her heart.  Suddenly it felt like my chest was on fire, heating up that cool room in Ojai the way the blankets and tea and afternoon sunshine had not.  Burning down through my fingertips and my toes like I had been holding them over a campfire, so hot it actually hurts but you can’t move away .  “I feel it”, she said. “I feel your love”.
 
“But you have trouble receiving the love that you give.”
 
 
How does that happen?  Did I miss that lesson in elementary school that taught how to give and receive love, nestled somewhere between sharing your toys and washing your hands in the bathroom?  Was I home sick that day and no one brought me the homework that had 10 multiple choice questions that led you to the knowledge that you are worthy of love?  Or did I just pick B for every answer and miss the point completely?
 
Instead I keep tallies of what I owe, like mini-golf scorecards that come with those stupid little pencils and always have me +1 over par.  Struggling to get my score down, to at least break even someday. 
 
It’s fine, I don’t need a ride to the airport. (Don’t go out of your way for me!)
You don’t need to come to my party. (I can’t take up your time!)
Please, don’t get me any gifts. (How will I repay you?!?)
 
How can I possibly repay you for this love that I’m not sure I deserve?
 
I can’t.  I have to drop the scorecards.  I have to go back through the questions and not just choose “B”.  I have to find another way that allows me to accept love.  While I’m struggling to open incredibly thoughtful gifts, when someone else wants to pick up the tab, when I’m confronted by the idea that I’m taking more than I deserve.  
All I can come up with is…thank you.  That’s all that’s left.
 
 
“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives.  In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
 
 
Thank you, to all of you who sustain me.  Who love me.  Who show up.  Who remind me that I am worthy, and that I do deserve love.
 
 
xx,
Katie