My friend Yvonne swore that she had an orgasm when she smelled caviar for the first time. I didn’t believe her, but I loved her stories. She had fly-away hair and big necklaces and her vivid lipstick had always gotten on her teeth because her mouth was always in motion. She was glamorous.
I don’t know what made me look at the local paper on my parents’ table when I was over there the other day, but I saw the headline “woman hit by truck, dies.”
“It’s terrible,” my parents had been saying, “A woman died crossing the street—just down the road, you know, by the light.”
“That’s terrible,” I said.
I kept reading the article, and I kind of had a feeling. But maybe I’m just imagining the feeling retroactively.
When I was fifteen, I joined a writing group at the local arts’ center. Everyone else was over fifty. When you’re homeschooled you do lots of stuff with people over fifty, because they’re also around during the day. Yvonne was immediately one of my favorites. We used to “get tea.” That meant we sat around talking forever in a coffee shop. She’d worked at one of those homes for disabled kids, back when they just locked them all up together and left them screaming in their own excrement. It broke her heart. It hardened her. She said it taught her what the world was secretly like, but she was also a poet. She was divorced, but she’d been married to a man who loved music more than anyone else loved music. All he wanted to do was go to the symphony. She liked to watch him loving music. He was the best listener.
I didn’t understand her poetry. It was fluid and random and dexterous. I was writing a fantasy novel about a young queen who is not allowed to fall in love but she does anyway. I had lots of descriptions of the gowns she wore. Yvonne was in her sixties. She threw her head back and laughed. She said, “Don’t knit your brows like that, you’ll get a crease.” She was tall and graceful. I never put my shoulders back because I was embarrassed about my big nose so I was trying to hide in my hair, even though I was also cocky in plenty of ways.
I can’t believe she got hit by a truck when she was crossing the road and she died. Minutes from the house where I grew up. Meeting a friend. For tea?
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Kate on December 3rd 2013 in being sad, family, fear
Bear’s grandmother looked like a movie star when she was young. You should see the pictures! There’s one of her perched on a rock in her bathing suit, and it looks like she was posed there by a famous photographer. Everyone always comments on it. “Wow!” we say, “You were such a beauty!” And she sort of chuckles and looks away.
The story goes—she got selected as the prettiest girl at the local fair. I always imagine a dour panel of older male judges, shuffling through the cotton-candy eating crowd, hands behind their backs, in gray linen suits, sizing up the young women, looking for the prettiest one. They must have known immediately, when they saw her. Maybe she was laughing with her head thrown back, her hair lustrous in the sun.
“She was so beautiful!” we exclaim, looking over the old photos. Now she’s 95—a pert, tiny, stooped woman with a ready grin who thought Obama was cool long before the rest of us knew his name. She laughs a lot, reads a lot, and grows a wild garden in her backyard.
I sometimes wish that I were beautiful just so that it could be my legacy. How cool, for my great-granddaughters to be able to find the photos of me tucked into some ancient hard-drive and ooh and ahh over how stunning I was? They would be proud to come from me. I sometimes wish that I were beautiful so that it could be a part of my family’s story. Beautiful women always seem to get a mention. There is a certain familial boasting that happens. We have good blood. Good genes. We make strong men, pretty women.
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Kate on July 11th 2013 in beauty, family, feminism
I was thinking about therapy the other day. My therapist and I have drifted apart over the past six months or so. We had been doing phone sessions, which was great because it allowed me to eat while talking to her, and also load the dishwasher. But eventually, even those became complicated, with her new job schedule and my relentless morning sickness. And, without any formal farewell, we became unhooked and slipped apart.
The dishes have suffered. I’ve been trying to decide if I should make an effort. If I should reach out to her, or find a new therapist.
It’s often hard to explain to myself exactly why I maybe should, because therapy is often vague like that. I used to get annoyed at listening to my own problems. And then I’d have to talk about that. Which is awkward. The whole thing is awkward. Once my therapist said to me, laughing, “Kate, you overthink everything!” I liked her for that.
But when I think about therapy now, the part that frustrates me is really more about storytelling than anything else. Actually, a friend of mine who is a successful storyteller, like, as a thing, not just as an expression, said something about how in therapy she feels aware of the things she has to leave out to tell a certain story about her life. There are all of these contradictory, complicating details. There are all these details that are really the beginning of a totally different story or interpretation.
The truth is, we all need to tell ourselves stories about our lives all the time. It keeps things manageable. We get this sense that we have some idea of who we are. We sort out characteristics and assemble something that comfortingly resembles a personality. People, like dogs and chimps and probably caterpillars, too, like the reassurance of identifiable patterns. We pat ourselves on the back for being a person who consistently hates the taste of licorice—it’s a clue! Have you ever notice how proud people sometimes seem of their little weirdnesses? Oh, I NEVER wear periwinkle! It makes me nervous about buying people gifts, because what if I am forgetting one of their major quirks? What if I get them something in periwinkle by accident?
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I am too scared to go to a mommy group.
I signed up for Park Slope Parents and joined a “birth club,” and endless email threads spool out along the length of my laptop screen as people write back and forth and back and forth, planning their next meet-up. And then they write to each other afterward to say “it was so amazing to meet you all!! All forty of you!! And your wonderful hubbies!” And I am still cowering in my apartment, afraid to step outside because I might get run over by a seriously jacked up stroller. Those things are so technologically advanced now—they’re like transformers. Some of them are probably voice activated. You can fit your whole life in one, if you can only master the mechanics, like an organist, always toeing pedals as your hands move busily above.
(It’s totally a stroller)
My mom and I went to Babies R Us and looked at the things that babies are supposed to have. Fleets of bouncy seats with dangling, jangling things attached, high cloth walls around play sets that will educate your child from birth to college while you’re in the other room, living your life, and hulking herds of gleaming, multi-compartmented strollers. I panicked and bought a stuffed giraffe. I couldn’t face the handlebar innovation. I couldn’t face any of it. I felt suddenly like I needed to sit down, so I feigned round ligament pain.
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Kate on March 28th 2013 in family, pregnancy
“What made you decide?” said my friend Brenda, on the phone.
“Um,” I said. I thought for a while. “I should figure it out,” I said. “I should try to think of the moment.”
It eluded me.
I could explain the reasons not to very easily. “Having a baby is like giving up.” I’ve never been into babies, really. Over the past couple years, I sometimes wanted to have one with sudden ferocity, but then afterwards I felt a little ill. Terrible idea! What about my life?
She laughed. “There were a bunch of people in my high school who were pregnant—there was a class for them.”
“Yeah, girls get pregnant in high school and that means they’re not going anywhere. It’s a bad thing.”
“You’re not in high school.”
“But I’m too young for New York.”
What I mean is- I’m too young for my world. My friends. “Thirty-five is a good age,” they have been known to say. They are good at their jobs. They are going to get better, and make more money, and be more famous.
“Technically,” I said, “I’ve already waited over a decade. I’ve been fertile for a long time. I’m, like, biologically old now.”
Fertile is a funny word. It just pops into my head these days, now that I’ve decided to have a baby. Fertile. And I think of farm-y fields. And trees. I think of fruit, like on the cover of a book by Michael Pollan, not the fruit that actually grows on my parents’ trees in their backyard, which is delicious but spotty.
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Kate on November 7th 2012 in body, family, life, new york
There were three men sitting together at a table in the corner. The restaurant was very small and they were talking loudly and there was something else, too. Do you know that faint blinking red warning light in the dark of the back of your brain that goes on around certain men? It’s so distant and low that it’s easy to ignore most of the time. And I was with Bear, anyway, so whatever.
We sat down and Bear asked me if I was having a good time almost immediately. We were in Lee, Massachusetts for a night and a day, before heading to Boston, where Bear had a quick conference waiting.
“Want to drive up with me and see the fall colors?” Bear had asked on Friday, the day before. The fall colors are a big deal for him, since he’s from California.
In the Berkshires, we spent the day hiking, amazed by the beauty of the forest. Bear got a sudden very low blood sugar and I saved his life with a pop tart I’d bought on a whim from a gas station convenience store even though I’m really trying to be healthier and not eat stuff with so many preservatives. So that’s a story about how sugar addiction saves lives.
We drove around and tried to include “the fall color” in most of our comments. “I’m seeing a lot of fall color in this area.” “Yeah, the fall color is especially colorful here in the valley.” We weren’t even slightly dissuaded by the persistent rain and dull gray sky.
By the time we sat down for dinner in the little restaurant, there were puddles pockmarking the street and we were starving.
“Best barbeque I’ve ever had,” one of the men was saying insistently. “There was a whole pig just hanging on the wall. And a boar. Everything was just out where you could see it. They don’t mess around. Not like here. You can’t get good barbeque anywhere around here.”
He had a voice that makes you listen, strung-tight and authoritative. I glanced over. He was probably in his fifties, longish white-gray hair springing from under a baseball cap, wiry and guarded. It wasn’t anything exactly about the way he looked, though. He was radiating that faint red warning.
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Kate on October 1st 2012 in being different, family, feminism, life
My mom is really social. She’s probably a “connector,” or whatever. She started all these local groups when I was a kid. She started like ten book clubs and a science club and even a magic club, for kids to do magic tricks. Not even kidding. I could do one magic trick, and it took me WEEKS to learn it. It involved magically tying a rope in a knot, just by moving it around a little in a non-rope-tying-looking fashion. Yeah, I was talented. I did that trick at every meeting of the magic club.
My mom loves to throw parties. My brothers and I always had three birthday parties each, just because she liked them so much. She would bake these enormous, elaborate cakes. Alligators and Darth Vaders and turtles; for me, a cream and lavender castle, with actual spires and tiny windows. I think if she asked me now, though, I’d want Darth Vader, too. I didn’t understand how coolness worked back then.
I never really liked the parties my mom threw for my birthday. When I was a little kid, I was infamous in the family for crying every time people sang happy birthday to me. I think I was just overwhelmed. Like, why are they all singing at me?! What do they want? What am I, some pony that’s supposed to perform a trick now, for their amusement? If there was any compassion in the world, they would just give me my cake and leave me in peace!
My mom was a good sport about my whole, you know, personality. And later I became outgoing and good at my pony tricks and fancied for a brief time that I was hysterically funny and felt that I was on the verge of composing the world’s most hilarious joke, which I then intended to submit to Boy’s Life, since my brothers got that magazine and it had great jokes in it. The joke was going to involve a kid making fun of his dad for being old (it was a boy, because of the target audience). He was going to point out something about his dad’s age by suggesting that the dad had gone for rides on dinosaurs. And then the dad was going to have a witty comeback that would take it home and leave all of the Boy’s Life readers chuckling helplessly on the toilet.
(definitely one of these)
It never really came together.
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