It is 5:27AM. It is nearly sunrise. I look toward the lush, verdant mountain to the east, so unlike the scorched peaks I am accustomed to seeing in drought-plagued Los Angeles. The hotel staff told me last night I would … Continue reading
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.
While many people do their reflecting and goal-setting at the end of each calendar year, I typically wait until my birthday at the end of January to look back at the year that has passed and to make my plans for the year that is beginning for me.
The year that followed my turning thirty-six broke the mold of all years that came before. It broke me.
And now that my birthday is, once again, here, I find that I don’t want to do things as I have previously done them.
I don’t want to look back and reflect on the year I became an only child. I don’t want to examine all of the ways this year has changed me. I don’t want to make silly lists of all of the things I plan to do on this next trip around the sun (Get back in shape! Visit new countries! Find life’s purpose!!)
My windows of time now are shorter, more fragile. Long term reflecting and planning have both been abandoned out of necessity rather than any rational choice.
Instead of ruminating about all that has occurred since my last birthday, I can only reminisce about my most recent experience. Instead of formulating plans for the upcoming year, I can only arrange for today.
When I booked my trip to Guatemala, life looked a lot different. It was a new country to visit, and an opportunity to connect with friends, but it really didn’t extend past that for me. Once it came time to leave, however, the circumstances of my world had so drastically changed that I was now assigning a new weight to everything, counting on each trip to save me. I worried that Guatemala, or I, might crumble under this pressure.
I arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela to locals) with three suitcases full of clothing and random belongings to distribute to the children and women at Education and Hope, an organization founded by my friend Julie Coyne that brings access to education to impoverished children in nearby areas of the Western Highlands. Specifically, they provide scholarships, bus tickets, school supplies, clothing, day care, food, and love to the Educación y Esperanza family.
What they actually do can only be encompassed in one word: miraculous.
I was intimidated by the closeness I witnessed, each person who walked through the doors of the Proyecto offering a hug and kiss to Julie, her husband Gordon, me. I was intimidated by my elementary grasp of Spanish, and what to say to people who spoke no English. I was intimidated by the enormity of what happens there. As the week went on, I tried to memorize all of the faces and names. I didn’t succeed but I managed with a few.
On my last night in Xela, Lorena walks with me to set up my ride out of town the next morning. I am taken care of here, never left to fend for myself, and Lorena takes over this duty happily tonight.
I ask her how long she has worked at Education and Hope, and she tells me she has been there for twelve years, first as a student and now working there. She loves it, and loves the people. They are my second family, she says. I ask her if she has children. She tells me she has nine siblings and that as the second oldest, that is enough work for her.
She asks me if I have brothers or sisters.
It’s the first time someone has asked me since my sister died. It’s the question I have been most dreading each time I meet someone new. I anticipated it coming up on a first date, or maybe even a job interview at home. Instead, it hits me in Spanish, with the force of a sledgehammer. Tienes hermanos?
I say no, only me. But that doesn’t feel right, so I think of how I can say this in Spanish. Mi hermana está muerta. Mi hermana murió. Mi hermana no está vivo.
Sometimes even when you don’t want to know the words, your body, your mind, your heart still knows them.
Lo siento, she says. I can feel how deeply she means it. She pauses for a moment while I blink back tears, before touching my arm and telling me, Now you have a second family here, too.
On my final morning in Xela, I spend thirty minutes with the smallest of the children, letting them climb all over me, playing peek-a-boo, pretending to sleep while they shriek with laughter above me. I don’t worry about the language barrier anymore. There is no language for their smiles, and no miscommunication in their fierce hugs. The love they offer me is simple and crosses all cultural divides. As it is happening, I think I have maybe never been this happy.
It’s nearly time for me to leave.
I make my way to the kitchen to begin saying goodbye to the ladies working there, who have fed me so lovingly all week. The little kids are napping, and the bigger kids are across the street in class. The kitchen is almost empty; I discover it is because all of the women are waiting in the main room, in a receiving line of sorts, to send me off.
They each hug me, and somehow I have no trouble understanding the things they say to me, my Spanish coming through in a way it hasn’t all week. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Please come back again to see us. We love you.
Rosenda is there, one of the younger women, hugging me intensely, before drawing back and putting her hand firmly on my heart while she looks straight into my eyes. Tu tienes un gran corazón.
I cry, because I can’t fathom how she can see this, especially with the big fault line running through its center. Until I realize that she sees the fissure too, and maybe loves me just a little more because of it. I cry harder. For Kelly, for my parents, for the women here, for all of our collective losses, for myself.
And a tiny piece of the crack fuses back together again. Not healed, not like before, but held together somehow from the purest form of love I have been shown in this special place. When I walk outside and find all of the students standing in the street yelling, Adios Katie, before running to hug and kiss me goodbye, I understand that this is the kind of day worthy of reflection. This is the kind of day worthy of planning. This is the kind of day you learn how to change someone’s life.
This is the year I turn 37.
This is the year that will remain largely unplanned.
This is the year that I turn the front facing camera in my mind around, and point it outwards.
This is the year of ordinary and extraordinary miracles.
This is the year of doing more, for others; of giving back that love I have received.
This is the year of sharing, nurturing, assisting, comforting, trusting, hugging, believing, smiling.
This is the year of love.
This is the Year of Us.
***To learn more about Education and Hope, or to make a donation (I can make this request, it’s my birthday), please visit http://educationandhope.org/. It is so easy to make a difference in the lives of these wonderful people. Thank you!
Every Sunday morning, when I’m at home in Los Angeles, I get up by 8:00 and travel 13 miles to Manhattan Beach to participate in my favorite weekly yoga class with Jennifer Pastiloff. There are closer classes, sure, and ones that don’t leave me cursing the alarm clock, but I always return to this one. It’s the class we lovingly refer to as “yoga church”. I don’t know who coined the term, and I never gave too much thought to it previously, beyond knowing that I usually enter class a little tired, sometimes a little cranky as well, and always emerge renewed, grateful and at peace.
While traveling to Dallas for business, my dear friend and hostess for the weekend, Cherry, invited me to join her at her “yoga church” here in Dallas; her words, not mine. I didn’t know anyone else felt this way about a yoga class, but I readily agreed, trusting my Bali sister’s opinion that this experience would be special. When two other yogi friends of mine also raved about the teacher, Janie Montague, nothing could have kept me away.
I settled in at 9:00am on my borrowed mat, anticipation building, and looked down to see there was writing scribbled across the top: Open To Grace. What an inspiring message to start your Sunday service. What a beautiful mantra for life.
As we began to flow through the sun salutations and heart-opening asanas, my eyes kept returning, almost as if magnetized, to the writing on my mat. Open to Grace.
Janie nimbly guided us through poses as life lessons, reminding us to trust, to give thanks, to be kind, to love. But it was towards the end of the class that she really sunk the hook into me, with a moment so perfect and so serendipitous that it gutted me.
“Reach one hand to the ground, and one hand to grace, and realize that what is exactly in between is you, the combination of both.”
These are the moments, though small, that change your life.
I grew up going to church sporadically, mostly on holidays or as part of the requirements for a sacrament. I dutifully attended CCD classes on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings through eighth grade, because that’s just what you did. When I was in high school, I sang in the church choir, the closest I ever came to being a devout Catholic, attending church every Sunday to sing the Word of the Lord. If I’m being honest, it was always more about the music for me than the message. The music WAS the message. I came home humming the melodies rather than spreading the Word.
At no point do I remember having an epiphany about myself, or about humanity, or about life, while I was at mass. I enjoyed the ritual, I exalted in the songs, but when I stopped going to services regularly, I forgot to miss them.
Then I discovered yoga, and our so-called “yoga church”, which inspires me to spread the message all day long. Which has left an imprint on my heart that I could never forget to miss.
Nowhere am I more in tune with myself, with who I am and who I want to be. Nowhere am I more in tune with other people, hearing their collective breath, the inhaling and the exhaling, and feeling their heartbeats echoing in my own. Nowhere am I more in tune with the Universe, both hearing and understanding the lessons it is presenting me. Trust, gratitude, kindness.
My religion is yoga.
My religion is grace.
My religion is love.
PS-Please consider donating to a wonderful event that both Cherry and Janie are actively participating in…One Love Dallas will benefit Off The Mat, Into The World ‘s Legacy Project in India, an organization that works to rescue, rehabilitate and empower those affected by the sex trafficking industry. A great cause supported by great people! You can find more info and donate here.
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.
I was watching golf a few weeks ago with my grandfather, not paying much attention until he informed me that the whole day could all come down to the last few shots. He explained that with only two holes left, … Continue reading
When I was little, I used to ask my mom what I could do to make her not love me anymore.
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!
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
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.
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.