What Is Left

My mom asks which tie I like best as we stand over the open drawer. She asks me variations of the question all day: when do you think we should have the service? What verse should we use for the prayer cards? Which casket do you prefer, the bronze or the silver stainless steel? I’m afraid to offer my opinion, lest someone use it to make a decision.

My aunt found my grandfather this morning, on his back in bed, still warm, robe on, hands clasped over his waist, almost like a prayer, almost like a gesture of ok, take me now. I was sitting at my mom’s table, drinking tea, when her sister called to tell us. We had gone to see him for dinner the night before.

My eyes pass over the maroon paisley, the navy stripes and land on a red tie whose pattern is made by texture, small raised and depressed squares. It’s familiar. Did I give him this tie? Did I give it to my dad or stepfather and it got passed along to him when they were done with it, much like the cotton sweaters and old Polo shirts did?

I wanted to write a eulogy for the service. I had, in moments of morbid prescience, taken notes for one after some of our weekly phone calls, the calls we’d had regularly since I moved to California. The calls I would make on my way to work, as I sat in traffic on the 10, or on a Sunday, as I drove up the PCH for lunch in Malibu. The conversations where I got to know my grandfather as a person and not just my Grandpa.

The signs were there at his last dinner, if I had looked at them. He had difficulty eating, taking slow, disinterested bites of mashed potatoes, of his single slice of turkey garnished with cranberry sauce that came from a rectangular package like the jelly containers you see in a diner. He didn’t want dessert. He kissed me goodbye, told me he loved me, and patted my arm when I said I would see him next month, a placating gesture offered to an oblivious child.
I would have picked the red tie, but my aunts choose the more traditional maroon print. They put it together with the suit found hanging in his closet, which he’d had tailored recently to fit his shrunken body, skin hanging loosely from his bones. It’s a funeral suit. He has left numerous copies of his death directives in various places throughout the house. There are so many logistics of dying.

In our last phone conversation, his voice was more upbeat than it had been for months, maybe since before my sister died nearly a year earlier. I heard the smile as he told me that hospice would be starting soon, that Meals On Wheels was already delivering lunch and dinner every weekday. I put him on speakerphone as he described what he’d eaten that day and texted a friend who is a grief counselor to ask if there was another kind of hospice that didn’t mean the end. She wrote back while he was still talking about pot roast: no. 

I burst into shaking sobs as we stand around his bedroom discussing his burial outfit, much like I did in that phone conversation when he told me he was ready, that he’d had a good life, that he had accepted it. Five hours after he is gone, surrounded by what is left behind from his good life, I still have not.

 

***

 

The next door neighbor’s cat, who had left white hair all over my grandfather’s lap the night before, paces on the front stoop, insistently meowing when no one will let her in. She looks ragged, fur matted and clumped in uneven patches, as though she has been in some suburban street fight. We are late for the funeral home, holding the maroon tie and tailored suit, and leave the cat sitting on the top step, staring at the closed door.

I remember so few details from those phone calls. Just: the softening of his tone over the years, impatience giving way to tolerance. Also: the encouragement and support when I quit my job, telling me I would be successful no matter what I did. And: the mmm that eventually changed to I love you too, that finally became I love you, initiated by him, at the end of every phone conversation.

The day after we visit the funeral home, planning visitation in New Jersey and a burial in Pennsylvania for the following week, after I have written my third obituary in a year, I drive by myself to Connecticut for the writing workshop that has brought me back to the East Coast. Much like I went to one in Italy a few weeks after my dad died, and like I traveled to Australia a few weeks after my sister died. I worry that there is something inherently wrong with me that I can keep moving after they no longer can.

The sun beats down on us at the cemetery in Pennsylvania, feeling almost as hot as it did in July, when we brought my sister’s ashes up to my grandfather’s family mausoleum. The caretakers swept the dirt and spiders from the marble room before we arrived. The smooth box holding Kelly’s remains sits on the windowsill beneath stained glass, exactly where we left it. I drape purple and pink flowers from today’s arrangements on top of her, careful not to cover the plaque that bears her name. I slip one of the prayer cards from my grandfather’s service through the seam of the box without opening the lid. My mom adjusts the ceramic purple butterfly I brought back from Guatemala that is hanging from a framed picture of her on that sill. It slides through her fingers and shatters against the marble floor.

All of the notes I emailed to myself, the makings of his eulogy, have disappeared. I search my entire computer by key words: Grandpa grandfather Joe 94 95 96, all of the ages I might have referred to him as in these emails. There is no record of anything ever having been written after our phone calls. There is no record of the stories he has told me. There is no record of anything.

 

***

 

I wonder how you prepare yourself to die. What kind of fortitude it requires. How long it takes to accept it, whether you ever really do. I wonder if you can simply lie down with your hands clasped over your waist and think, I’m ready now, and that’s it. I wonder what it feels like when you know you are leaving people behind, people you know are not ready to be left.

On one of those calls last year while I drove up the PCH, he asked me what I assumed was the beginning of a silly riddle. If you take all of the things I have done in my life, and subtract the things I can no longer do, what is left? I waited for the punchline, another of the ridiculous jokes he told that I would roll my eyes at. When I didn’t guess, he repeated himself, so I humored him. I don’t know, what?

Just me.

I think about all of the labels my grandfather could have used to describe himself that no longer applied when he posed that question to me on the phone: son, brother, husband, musician, president, carpenter, fixer of everything. I think about all he had lost. I think about the labels that remained until the end: father, grandfather, great-grandfather. I think about how he told me they were the most important labels. I think about how they still weren’t enough to save him, how nothing was enough to save him, nor my dad, nor my sister and I wonder how we can all just go on, knowing that we can never save anyone, knowing that we, that I, eventually have to accept their loss, and keep moving. Just me.

 

***

 

IMG_3365

Joseph Francis Pancheri 5.24.19-10.30.15

***

 

 

On Moments of Happiness and Hope

I drove home from Manhattan today, after a whirlwind day of visiting friends and familiar haunts in the city I once called home but in which I never truly felt at home. I sped west in my stepfather’s old Highlander along Route 78 in the bright sunshine, singing along to Ellie Goulding and Maroon 5 (as their songs are apparently the only ones currently in rotation on the radio). As I put more distance between myself and the city, the trees became denser and I breathed more deeply. Right around exit 41, everything in me paused, and I turned down the music. It was a moment when I needed to identify what I was feeling, because the sensation was so odd that it interrupted all other thoughts.

I felt happy.

And happiness was the singular emotion that existed in that moment.

Throughout most of this trip to New Jersey, I have been overwhelmed: by grief, by loss, by anger, by sadness, by dread, by unease, by shame. There were so many firsts without my sister and my dad in the course of a week that completely depleted—and often defeated—me. 

The first Easter

The first birthday (Kelly’s)

The first National Siblings Day (also my first knowledge that this day existed)

The other first birthday (my dad’s)

The dread before each occasion was almost as painful as the arrival of the actual date. My grandmother’s birthday, nestled in the middle of this crazy week, somehow felt like a relief, if only because it was not so terribly awful anymore after thirteen years.

I planned last week to drive my mom to the city yesterday, and to spend time with friends and stay overnight there. When yesterday arrived, I felt completely unprepared for anything past get out of bed, brush teeth. All of the steps beyond that were foreign, and I worried were beyond my capabilities.

How do you go back out into the world when it feels like your skin is on inside out?

I didn’t really figure that out, but I did get myself dressed and where I had committed to being. And it was hard, but nice. I was able to see places I once loved, but was also grateful to have left behind. I was able to see friends I feel safe with, and talk about my dad and Kelly without breaking down or shutting down. I was able to feel like an actual person again for the day. I never could have anticipated that simply interacting with the world would feel like an accomplishment, but such is life in this new “normal”.

I also never anticipated that feeling happy, with the absence of guilt or regret or any other accompaniment would be so alien a sensation.

There have been some wonderful moments on the inside of the sorrow of the past five months. Watching rays of sun bisect a room on a farm in Virginia; glimpsing the magical light bouncing off the water in Positano; sipping tea with koalas in Australia; the simple grace shared by friends every day; hearing and reading words of loss and comfort and love and grief from gifted writers; writing something true. And yet, also present in those special moments: guilt, and fear.

What if I’m not sad enough?

What if I deserve the sadness?

What if someone else dies? 

What if this is how it will always be?

Just last week, I drove that stretch of highway in sobs, because it is the same route that my dad always drove to bring me home from the airport, and how could I be driving on that road without him? The loss of him on that drive was as acute as it was the night he died.

There was nothing extraordinarily remarkable about the drive today. Except that within it existed a moment of such ease, such peace and such happiness that it became remarkable.

Because it allowed for hope; the hope that more of these moments might someday occur, when I least expect them and when I need them most.

*Thank you to Mom, Julie and Aidan (and the Rowlets!) for leading me to this moment today. Thank you to every person who has reached out to me at any time in the last five months. I will never forget the gestures of love and kindness that have been extended to me. 

Stillness and Sunset in Virginia

Stillness and Sunset in Virginia

Confession: Why I Chose To Freeze My Eggs

*This post originally appeared on Role Reboot.

 

Last month, Facebook and Apple announced that they would begin covering the costs of egg freezing for their employees, setting off a firestorm of controversy across the country. Articles praising the benefits of this offering were quickly answered with articles that declared these measures just another way to get women to work harder and longer, or shaming these companies for their implied input into women’s reproductive decisions.

The story that I missed reading in this discussion was that of someone who wanted to freeze her eggs no matter what the cost or who was paying for it. The story of someone like me.

From a very young age, I wanted to be a mother. I wanted it more than fame (a recurrent childhood dream), more than getting married, and more than a successful career (not that I believe any of these are mutually exclusive). The desire for children has been a constant in my life that has never wavered. It was always the dream I reserved for “someday.”

“Someday” when I finally find the right partner. “Someday” after I’ve traveled and am ready to settle in one place. “Someday” when my career slows down and I have more time.

And then I turned 36, and suddenly it seemed like “someday” should have been here by now. I hadn’t been in a relationship in quite some time, and had never been in one that was pointed toward happily ever after, in any semblance. I had always bristled over questions about why I was still single, and deflected suggestions of egg freezing with the same response I reserved for recommendations about joining match.com: “It’s not for me.”

But approaching 36 felt different, like I was finally becoming a real adult. Many of my friends were on their second or third child, happily nesting, and for the first time, when I visited them and their adorable babies, only one thought remained after the visit: I want that, too.

I could no longer pretend that I didn’t hear my biological clock ticking. All of a sudden, there seemed to be articles everywhere about the challenges of getting pregnant after 35—or maybe I was just now reading them after years of careful abstention. When three separate people mentioned egg freezing to me within a week of each other this summer, I stopped my blanket “It’s not for me” sentiments and actually looked into the procedure and what it might offer me.

Click here to read the rest of the article on Role Reboot! I am so happy to be on their site for the first time today, and would love to read any feedback you care to share!

 

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Had No Idea What A Blog Hop Was

“When I am older, I would like to be successful. I hope to be an author some day. I love writing and have written many stories. Writing is like truth. It exposes the things you don’t want to show. I love reading too. When I read, it’s as if I’ve entered a world of my own. It’s like being in the book. To me, books seem alive. Every time I read, I travel into the story.

I want to write stories in my own books some day.”

 

My fifth grade autobiography

My Life, at eleven

 

When I first began blogging in late 2012, people asked me if I wanted to be a writer, and if I had always wanted to be a writer. No way, I told them. In college, I had majored in music and in business. Afterwards, the only writing in my career was in the form of emails to clients and coworkers. I hadn’t written anything more as far back as I could remember.

I was home in New Jersey recently, going through those bins of junk and memories you find in every parent’s basement, when I came across a folder from fifth grade. As I opened one of the “Katie” containers, I found a blue folder with “5th Grade” written across the front. And I remembered: Mrs. Gospin, the teacher who encouraged me to read, and to feel, and to dream, and to write. In fifth grade, I WAS a writer, and I embraced this, the evidence of which I was now looking at. I wrote thirty page short stories about teenage friendship angst, popularity contests, and falling in love—everything I imagined was part of being an actual teenager. I also apparently wrote a school report entitled, “My Life: An Autobiography”, which is excerpted above. It seems that I did, indeed, always want to be a writer. It just took me twenty-five years to remember.

My writer friend, Cindy Lamothe, invited me to join a “blog hop” a few weeks ago, and I was initially skeptical. I had never heard of the concept, and the other hops I could think about—sock hops, bunny hops, actual hopping—weren’t very appealing. (Except for hip hop, which I didn’t think this involved in any way). When she explained the concept that writers would all answer the same four questions, and would link other bloggers, who would link to even more bloggers, I understood that it was a sort of electronic chain letter. Much easier than hopping. And since I was interested in reading everyone else’s answers, I figured I needed to participate.

For better or worse, the answers from this twenty-five-years-late-to-the-writing-party writer:

 

1)What am I working on/writing?

I have random emails I’ve sent myself with thoughts that pop up at 2am, and Word documents with four sentences on them at any given time on my computer. It’s (barely) organized chaos. However, right now I’m actively working on an essay about body shaming based on re-reading my sixth grade yearbook, and on a follow-up essay to a Huffington Post Live segment I did about the stigmas of being 35 and single. It’s about being 36 and single. (spoiler alert: it’s not much different)

At some point in the near future (likely about three days before it is due), I will begin working on my first twenty pages of fiction since fifth grade for a workshop I’m attending with Dani Shapiro at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in August. My hope is that it will turn into a book; my fear is that I will discover my talent for fiction peaked in fifth grade.

 

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure it does, really. From a stylistic perspective, it’s probably not as poetic, possibly it’s not as bloggy, and it’s definitely not as literary as some others in the personal essay genre. So I think what is most different lies in the content: my story, and my willingness to expose my imperfections in the search for what is true, what is universal and what is beautiful.

Or it could just be that I’m weirder than most people. I like to call it “unique”.

 

3) Why do I write what I do?

I was asked why I write by a published author a few months into being a blogger. She told me she didn’t know what to make of me, because in her experience most people wrote because they enjoyed it (eh, not until it’s done), they had a burning story to tell (I couldn’t think of one), or they just couldn’t NOT write (I could do that very well; I did it for twenty-five years). And once I was stumped trying to answer her, I questioned if I really was, or should be, a writer.

Except there was this: since I have been writing for the past year and a half, I have experienced a clarity about myself that I can’t recall having before I started sharing my stories with other people via my writing. By sharing my thoughts and feelings with others, I was able to recognize myself again.

And this: my relationships with the people in my life deepened because I was showing people who I really am for the first time in decades. No more facades, no more pretending to be someone I’m not. Turns out, there are people who actually feel similarly and share those sentiments with me. It makes every moment of insecurity and vulnerability when I hit “Publish” completely worth it.

I write what I write because it connects me to something larger, something truer, and makes me feel less alone.

 

4) How does my writing process work?*

The words “process” and “work” might be misleading here. Let me paint the picture for you.

First, I think of everything else that I could possibly do instead of writing. Doing laundry and taking a nap are my go-to alternatives, but sometimes I consider waxing my car, re-wiring the under-cabinet lighting in my kitchen, or steam cleaning the bedroom carpet. Then I remember that I don’t know how to do any of those things, so I sit down on my grey suede couch with my legs stretched out in front of me, flip on the tv for background noise (reality shows are great, because you don’t really want to pay attention), and pick up my laptop. I open a blank Word document (or pull up any one of the documents I have already started and not saved with four typed sentences; I’m up to Document 9 at the moment). I like to flip over to the Internet next, so as not to finish whatever I am working on too quickly. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail all prove to be excellent distractors, as do Buzzfeed quizzes and Grumpy Cat memes. Once I have chastised myself, out loud, for my excessive procrastination, I return to that Word document and write a paragraph. Since it almost seems like I might be on a roll, I stop and edit that paragraph within an inch of its life. Then I’m usually tired, so I call it a day.

Via this “process”, completing one essay can take between one day and one year. I’m working on tightening up that timeline.

*I do not recommend this “process” to any other writers. It’s quite lengthy and massively inefficient.

 

Let me introduce my fabulously eloquent and inspiring friends:

 

Cindy R. Lamothe

Cindy R. Lamothe

CINDY R. LAMOTHE is an expat living in Antigua, Guatemala with her loving husband, David and two small turtles. She has earned her B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. She is a writer, social media strategist, inspirationalist, and lover of life. Her work has appeared in online magazines and websites including: The Manifest-Station and Sweatpants and Coffee as well as other publications. Cindy’s quirky personality and passion for travel has led her down many strange paths, harnessing her appreciation for beauty and innate wildness. Get to know her on Facebook, Twitter and her personal website crlamothe.com, where she encourages others to let go of fear and live authentically.

 

Sara Lieberman

Sara Lieberman

SARA LIEBERMAN is a freelance journalist based in New York City. After years of brainstorming catchy headlines and editing entertainment and pop culture features for publications like the New York PostPage Six Magazine and Seventeen, she decided to pursue her dream of being a writer who travels. (Or, if her passport and check-in statuses are any indication, a traveler who sometimes writes.) Her work appears in in-flight publications like Hemispheres and Rhapsody, The Daily Beast, Cosmo UK and Fodor’s. More personal musings can be found at News Girls About Towns, the blog she originally launched with a fellow journalist to document their job-swap in London and New York. It now features posts about self-discovery while discovering the world. She likes long walks on Fire Island, goat cheese, Vinyasa yoga, Mumford & Sons and macchiatos. Follow her on Twitter and like her photos on Instagram.

 

Meg Ruggieri

Meg Ruggieri

MEG RUGGIERI currently lives in Denver, Colorado. She writes LeftoversFromFriday, which is a lifestyle blog for people who are trying to figure out life while on their way to a happy hour at a place they’ve never been before while stuck in rush hour traffic with their mother in a perma-passenger seat. Some may call this a run-on sentence; she calls it life at 25. You can find her musing about life and dating perils on Facebook or sharing her unfiltered quirkiness via photos on Instagram.

 

Laurie Luh

Laurie Luh

LAURIE LUH is a career counselor, HR consultant and the co-founder of Mimosa Lotus, a lifestyle website that inspires personal growth by providing tools to live a happier, more fulfilled life. Laurie was the head of Human Resources at Participant Media since the company’s inception in 2004, and left in 2013 when she realized that it was time for her to jump into the next phase of her career life. Now Laurie writes about the practicalities of “jumping” and dispenses overall career advice for Mimosa Lotus and greenlightjobs. She will also be a featured blogger on a new online career center that’s still in development. Laurie has been a guest lecturer at USC and has spoken on several panels. Outside of writing and career counseling, Laurie lives by the beach in Los Angeles and is an active runner and hiker hoping to add surfing to her list of activities very soon. She’s easy to find over at Mimosa Lotus, or you can follow her on Twitter, where she’s often tweeting photos of favorite SoCal hotspots.

 

Dena Young

Dena Young

DENA YOUNG is a writer and blogger living in the town of big dreams, New York City.  Working in the publishing industry for the past 10 years, her former life in television production solidified her appreciation for the creative spirit.  A hedonist by nature, you’ll sometimes find her catching the sunset or wandering through a museum, but – as a food lover to the core – she’s always in search of the next great thing to eat.  Her blog, Goodness, Grace and Grub, is her celebration of all the pleasures in life.  And as an optimist at heart, she believes that magic and grace are just a thought away. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Keep hopping! xx

Katie

Of False Bravery and Half-Truths

I waited for the elevator to make its way to the ground floor of the parking garage. It was one of those places in downtown Santa Monica that always smells a little like urine, even when it’s not hot outside. The kind of garage that always has a few lights blinking and crackling, threatening to burn out. The kind that makes you wish the sun were still out and that you weren’t by yourself.

The elevator arrived and I stepped on, followed by five men speaking very loud and animated Korean. They smelled like stale beer and cigarettes, and together we more than filled the small space. One of their arms kept brushing against my REI shopping bag, and another gave me a full body scan with his eyes. We had no air left for anyone else to breathe in that elevator, but I wished that someone else would join us. Someone who might make me feel safe.

We began our ascent, only to jerk to a stop and lurch down a few feet before we reached the third floor. The men exclaimed, “Oh My God” in English, while gazing at each other with panicked looks. When they then looked over at me, I smiled calmly, as if we weren’t trapped together in an elevator between floors of a Santa Monica parking garage, instead of driving our cars safely home.“Don’t let them see your fear,” the voice in my head whispered. “They need to think that you’re brave.”

I wasn’t. I was scared even before the elevator doors closed around us. I was scared even after we all got out safely. But I couldn’t let them see that. Maintaining that illusion of bravery felt crucial. If felt like it was all that I had.

It’s what I’ve always done.

When I was a kid, I needed everyone to see that I could do everything considered scary, and do it by myself. That meant not hesitating before diving off the high dive, running to the front of the line to ride the tallest roller coaster, or watching horror movies that secretly terrified me. Often it meant impulsive decisions with little regard for consequences. I was no adrenaline junkie; it was all about trying to manipulate people into seeing me as “brave”. To me, scared equated with weak, and that was unacceptable. Fast forward thirty years later and I’m still that five-year-old kid, yelling, “Look at me! Look at what I can do” from the high dive.

Last weekend, a stranger marveled at the fact that I could attend a friend’s wedding without a date. She could never do that, she told me, unsolicited. She would rather just stay home than ever go to a wedding alone. I was rendered momentarily speechless, as I so often am when someone else voices feelings I don’t want to admit to also having experienced. I quickly moved away from the conversation, eager to get away from her and her (our) fears.

Instead, I went home and rallied against that fear. I posted a status update to my Facebook page that I hoped would reinforce me as that brave, independent person I needed everyone to see.

“If I only went places where someone accompanied me, I would never go anywhere. Don’t be afraid to do the things you want to do because you don’t have a ‘date’. You are your own best company.”

I’ve written before about the importance of loving your life even if it’s not exactly what you pictured. How you can appreciate what you do have, and take advantage of all that comes with it. How traveling alone, for example, can be wonderful and even more fulfilling than traveling with a companion. I even quoted the song “Brave” recently, as a reminder of how important it is to speak use your voice. I know these things are all true.

But.

But. The truth is always in the buts. The howevers. The excepts.

But they’re half-truths, at best. Words that are, indeed, true but that don’t begin to tell the whole story. It’s like stitching together patches of a quilt when you don’t actually know how to sew, and ignoring the holes you’ve left all over. I’ve stitched together this tale about being happy, self-sufficient and brave, while neglecting to mention all the holes throughout: loneliness; sadness; fear. There’s a quilt, sure, but it isn’t the truth.

So here’s the whole truth. The whole truth is that I don’t want to go to weddings alone; I go alone because that’s the best option I have. The whole truth is that I travel alone because I don’t have a partner to travel with me, and the alternative of not going anywhere is so much worse. The whole truth is that I still struggle with speaking up because I am so worried about what others will think. The whole truth is that being single can be liberating and empowering, but simultaneously isolating and terrifying. The whole truth is that I am scared all of the time.

The whole truth is that you can love your life, and still yearn for what is missing.

Sometimes, I take the easy way out, and I pick just half of the truth—the half that doesn’t make me look weak, or feel vulnerable. The half that feels good to post on Facebook. I’m still that little a kid putting on a show. Look at me! Look at what I can do!

It’s difficult to reconcile: being proud of what you can do alone, and desperately wanting to not have to do it.

I wrote earlier this year about how turning 35 meant letting go of a life I had imagined for myself and replacing it with something else, something I was already living. But the real truth there? (Again, the but). I stopped short of the part where I admit that even in my happiness, there is still sadness. That I do still want a husband, and I do still want children. I have accepted that I don’t have them now, and I have made my life work without them because that’s what I had to do. It wasn’t brave, or strong, it just was.

Because you adapt, and you let go, and you accept, or you won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

If I could go back and re-write that “Confession: I am 35” essay, if I could post it as a Facebook status with the whole truth, it would read differently.

I am 35, and it’s wonderful, lonely, exciting, full, liberating, strange, multi-faceted, sad, challenging, adventure-filled, eye-opening, ever-changing and completely scary every single day. It’s real life, in all its complexities. 

And it’s mine.

photo (7)

Speak Your Truth

 “No, it’s fine.” 

I could hear the words coming out of my mouth, a common refrain, contradictory in grammar as well as what I really meant by it. Yet, there it was, over and over again, in what sounded uncannily like my voice. To the boyfriend who broke his promises. No, it’s fine. To the family member who wanted everything to just be okay, when it clearly wasn’t. No, it’s fine. To the friend who simply stopped showing up, until she needed something. No, it’s fine.

It was like the chorus of a song that kept repeating, on a radio station whose channel I didn’t know how to change. No, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fiiiiiiiiiine.

It was actually kind of easy to utter this phrase. To put what I imagined other people needed before what I needed. To be someone I thought people wanted instead of what was true to me. It was so important that I was seen as “good”. Good girlfriend, good student, good daughter, good sister, good friend, good employee, good everything to everyone.

I’m not sure when it started, this burying of myself to accommodate others. When I was a kid, I was often the outspoken—okay, bossy—one. When I was in high school, I was so singularly focused on becoming an opera singer that I did what was right for me and to further that goal, even if it meant not being cool, or not having boyfriends. I knew, and expressed, what I wanted. 

But somewhere along the way, there was a shift. Perhaps it was subtle at first, so that I didn’t even notice it. Maybe it became more prominent as people began responding. What I do know is that once I felt the acceptance that came along with pleasing people, it was difficult to stop. It became a snowball rolling down a mountain, gathering size and speed until it was bigger than I was, until it completely enveloped me, until it–and I–was was unable to stop.

When you say “No, it’s fine” often enough, you almost start to believe it.

It became second nature. I wasn’t even aware of doing it until someone I didn’t know, someone I only met via phone, pointed it out to me. Her point, in doing so, was that I could never be truly happy unless I was putting myself first. And to put myself first, I needed to start speaking the truth.

We’re never really told that we’re supposed to put ourselves before others. Quite the opposite actually. Selflessness is preached, and giving more is expected. Kindness above all, of course. Why did it take thirty-five years for someone to tell me that it’s okay—no, it’s crucial—to put myself and my well-being first? That is doesn’t mean I’m selfish, or unkind. And why did the idea of doing it create such an intense panic in me?

What if I started expressing my truth, and people didn’t like it? What if they didn’t like me? 

The doubt plagued me, and paralyzed me initially. I almost let myself off the hook: the boyfriend is long gone, along with the friend who wasn’t there for me and easily faded out of my life, so I didn’t need to confront them with my feelings. But my family wasn’t going anywhere. They would need to be the test cases for my honesty, even if it still scared me.  

And then I got into my car one morning, after struggling through yet another night with my fears about speaking up, and the Sara Bareilles song “Brave” was queued up on my iPod. This time, it was a song worth repeating:

And since your history of silence 

Won’t do you any good.

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty.

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say,

And let the words fall out, honestly.

I wanna see you be brave.

And I knew: it was time.

So I tried it. The first conversation was most difficult. There were tears, and bewilderment, and anger, and defensiveness. And a few times, I almost fell back on my previous refrain, that old familiar chorus: No, it’s fine. But really, it wasn’t fine, and being able to finally say it out loud felt like lifting a giant rock from my shoulders. Speaking my truth didn’t change the facts of the situation. It didn’t change the outcome of events. But it changed me. And ultimately, that’s all I can really change anyway. Ultimately, that will be enough.

Change takes time. Speaking up requires determination. Being honest takes courage. But, at the end of the day, our truth is all we have.

Use your voice. Speak your truth. And in Sara’s words, “I wanna see you be brave.”

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Thought It Mattered

I thought it mattered.

 

I thought it mattered if I was thin.
If I was beautiful.
If I was tall.
If I was unblemished.
If I was manicured.
If I was highlighted.
If I was perfect.

One day I learned that it didn’t matter. And I was happy.

But, I forgot, as we sometimes do.

 

Once more, I thought it mattered.

I thought it mattered if I was right.
If I was the fastest.
If I was the strongest.
If I was the smartest.
If I was the first.
If I was the best.
If I was perfect.

Another day arrived, and I remembered that it didn’t matter. And I was happy again.

But, still, I forgot.

 

Yet again, I thought it mattered.

I thought it mattered if people thought I was thin.
If they thought I was beautiful.
If they thought I was smart.
If they thought I was strong.
If they thought I was worthwhile.
If they thought I was lovable.

If they thought I was perfect.

This time, this time I didn’t believe it though. This time I knew, the way I knew the sun rises in the East, and June follows May, and one plus one equals two. I knew that it didn’t matter.

The only thing that mattered was that I lived in truth. My truth. Spoken, felt, shared, lived. Truth.

I will continue to forget, but I will also always remember. And in those moments of recollection, those moments of clarity, those moments of truth…there will be happiness.

 

 

xx,
Katie

A Letter of Closure

“Wow, she’s gained so much weight.”

“She really looks terrible.”

“I can’t believe how big she is.”

This is what I imagine people say about me when I walk out of a room.

When I get up from the table to go to the bathroom. When I go to get my car from the valet. When I walk to the bar to grab another round of drinks. Even when I am still sitting right there in front of them, the words run in a scroll through my mind, a news ticker only I can see that broadcasts what I am so certain everyone must be thinking.

I stopped into my New York office before leaving for a two week trip to Italy. I obsessed for weeks in advance about how I would face colleagues I hadn’t seen in six months, and what they would surely think of me once they saw me now.  I anticipated conversations where I could plead with them, “Remember, I didn’t always look this way?! Remember, I used to be thin?!? Please, remember???”

The lingering rational part of my mind reasons that most likely no one is talking about me. And if they are, it’s probably not about the pounds I have gained.  But still the thoughts cut through rhyme and reason and stick there, adhered to my brain and seared into my heart.

I arrived in Tuscany last week for my second yoga retreat, this time with my extra literal and figurative baggage. Set amongst rolling hills, with a view of the Monteriggioni castle, Ebbio is an 800-year old farmhouse complete with roosters who function as alarm clocks, wild horses who nuzzle your hand looking for food, and a tree-covered trellis that is suspended above the communal table where all food is served. It is, in a word, picturesque. It is, in a feeling, home.

It is also, as I settled in, the place where I would fully face the demons that have become my daily companions of late.

The fears from New York remained; multiplied perhaps. This group would see beyond even what those in my office saw.

I couldn’t hide a fuller stomach under a blousy dress, just as I couldn’t hide my shame with self-deprecating jokes. Here, it all shows. Amidst the yoga pants and the bikinis, the massages and the acupuncture, the tears and the laughter, everything here demands to be seen and felt. Here, you wear your heart on the outside.

It took me until the last day on my first retreat to say the words: I have an eating disorder. They came out on the first day at Ebbio. I surrendered. I can’t trust that what I see in myself is real. It is time to let others show me the truth.

When we wrote our 5 Most Beautiful Things about each other, none of the letters from my friends mentioned weight or pants size. When we were asked to describe ourselves as others see us, the words “fat” and “gross” were not among those used. It is time to remove those words from my vocabulary. It is time to end this book, finally, and begin another. It is time to say goodbye.

On our second class, on a Sunday evening in the middle of asanas and flowing and opening up and crying and sharing came the directive, “Write a letter of closure.”

And so it follows, the beginning of the end.  

Dear Eating Disorder,

This is a Dear John letter. The time has come for us to say goodbye. You have been a loyal companion since my teenage years. We were high school sweethearts I guess. Though at times I made attempts as finding love elsewhere, I could never forget you. I always returned. You worked your way into my heart and my soul back when they were still discovering what should actually be there, and you convinced me that I could not live without you. And naively, I believed you. You tricked me. You lied to me. You made me hate me. Sometimes I even hated you. But I was never ready to close the proverbial door on you.

It is time. It was time. It was never time. How did you ever even get here in the first place? It doesn’t really matter now.

You will be moving out soon. You can take the flat screen tv and the fancy chandelier and even the complicated wine opener. You can take it all. You don’t deserve any of it, of course, but I will give them to you in order to ensure your leaving.

I don’t wish you well. I don’t hope you will find a soulmate in someone else one day. I don’t pray for your future happiness. I’m sure you understand. Or maybe not. That’s fine too. It doesn’t matter anymore, as long as you are gone.

Please leave the keys when you go. I am still going to change the locks, because I don’t trust that you didn’t make copies, and I suspect you will show up and try to let yourself in again.  But it’s symbolic, so leave them behind on the counter with the garage door opener and my heart. 

It’s over. This is your eviction notice. Your contract will not be renewed. We are done. 

Do not call. Do not write.  Do not text me for a booty call at 1am on a lonely Saturday night. Don’t tweet me. Don’t tag me in your Instagram pictures, attempting to make me nostalgic. Just go, and stay gone.

It. Is. Over. É Finita in Italy.

PS—I know it’s customary to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But it IS you. It’s NOT ME. And that’s why this must end now.

xx,

Katie

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany.

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany. “May you always be this happy. May you always be this free.”

 

 

Confession: I Miss My Security Blanket

I had a security blanket until I was about ten years old.

I might still have it today had it not disintegrated into small pieces. I don’t even remember it being an actual blanket. Supposedly it had Winnie the Pooh on it and was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. I only know this because every year when her Christmas card arrives, my mom says, “that’s who gave you your blanket.” It wasn’t a blanket in my memory, but a nubby grey piece of cotton with a tail that smelled equal parts fabric softener, love and safety. Its pieces broke off one by one over the years, until there was no security left to speak of.

The largest piece was lost during a week at the Jersey shore, in a house we called the Amityville Horror because it was falling down, looked like a place where bad things might happen, and made noises that sounded like it was sighing at night. It was during the summer I was too sick to go to the beach for almost a week but it didn’t matter because the beaches were closed from the hypodermic needles that had washed ashore. This was New Jersey in the 80s. I spent long, hot days in my parent’s bed with my blanket, listening to Whitney Houston and lamenting all that I was missing until one day the blanket was just gone, just another sacrifice made to the Amityville Horror house.

The tail piece was lost after finally being surrendered to the washing machine, at this point both grey and dirty. My mom tried in vain to recover it, even calling in a professional to help with the job. The repairmen could not distinguish my old blanket from the grey lint that had already accumulated in the dryer. It too was gone, another piece of my beloved blanket and another piece of my security lost, strewn throughout my childhood until nothing remained but memories.

I would still wish longingly for my blanket when I needed comfort over the years. When a friend’s son died. When I didn’t get into the college I really wanted to go to. When my heart was first broken. When my parents divorced. When I fell into a deep financial hole. When I thought I had failed at work. When I moved across the country.

When I stopped feeling safe.

All I would have needed to do was pick up that grey blanket, nothing more than a rag really, and smell it to be comforted. To know that things would be ok.

Lately I have found myself wishing for that blanket again, while not wanting to acknowledge to myself what that really meant: that I had stopped feeling safe. That what had started to feel like a safe space now confused me. I have been on uneven footing, unable to find balance with a broken toe and a fractured sense of self. Grasping for something to hang onto, to right myself, to regain stability. But where I had found reassurance before, there was none. Where I had once found support, I came up empty. Where I had previously been understood, I now felt misconstrued.

I see how others react to feeling unsafe, with anger, or sarcasm, or tears. I almost wish for those emotional outlets. But I mostly just felt confused, unsure of what would bring that feeling of safety back. I sought comfort in brownies and wine and cross-country flights. That didn’t work. I was left with jeans that were too tight, headaches from the hangovers, and some extra frequent flier miles. The security eluded me though.

So instead I slowly retreated, back into myself and into my thoughts, and waited. I waited for someone else to see. I waited for the inevitable conversation, the “what’s wrong?” and the “are you ok?” that I was sure would come at any minute. I dreaded that conversation, dreaded admitting how off balance I felt. And then it didn’t come, and it turned out that was even worse than what I had been anticipating.

I left the room and no one noticed. I stopped speaking and no one missed my voice. I walked away and no one stopped me.

I made myself irrelevant and unimportant and then I was.

Until someone did see, and pulled me back into the room. And reminded me that when you can’t find safety in the usual suspects, you just need to look harder. When you think no one is listening, someone is. When you think you are invisible, someone sees you. When you think no one understands, someone does. When you stop feeling safe, someone is there to tell you that you are. And that person can become your ratty grey security blanket, smelling like fabric softener and love and safety.

Although you also recognize now that much as you love that blanket, and that person, you don’t need to hold it tightly, willing it not to get lost this time, willing it to just stay with you. You don’t need this grimy old piece of cotton to feel safe. At ten years old it may have been your savior, but at 35, you can save yourself. You understand that you may sometimes lose your footing, or your sense of self, but that you can always right yourself. And that there will always be someone there to hold you up until you feel stable enough to manage on your own.