A Story about a dead mom….

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In August of this year I got the opportunity to perform a story I had written about my mother for Keep Talking Cleveland (another local storytelling series). I had only found out two days before the show that my story had been accepted. I was instantly excited and terrified. I had done storytelling shows before but this was a much different story than I‘d ever done before AND it was the Happy Dog Anniversary show meaning it was going to be recorded and played on Ideastream….. I.E I was going to be on the radio!!! I had submitted the story to Keep Talking previously as well as submitted it to some local publications. You see the thing is my mom was the craziest person I have ever known and I was haunted by memories of her even before she passed away three years ago.  Once I started writing and performing I KNEW I had to get this story out in order to move forward.  I was anxious and full of self-doubt the days leading up to the performance but I can honestly say performing that story was the hardest most rewarding thing I have ever done. It helped me begin to find peace with my mother’s passing and with my mother’s mental illness; her memories will always be with me but seem less heavy. After the show several people I had never met came up to hug me and thank me for making them feel less alone. I sobbed in my car on the way home from the performance and beamed with pride a few weeks later as I drove listening to my voice from the radio.

A couple weeks ago I was sitting in bed about to get out my computer to write, procrastinating as usual I checked my Facebook, Gmail, Instagram, Pintrest and Snapchat before looking at my Bumble. If you don’t know what Bumble is, consider yourself lucky. Bumble is a dating app in which you see pictures and get to see what people think passes as funny or charming in order to make a match and maybe get dates. The site touts itself as feminist because people can’t talk unless they match and the female initiates conversation ( ie less dick pics). Really it means you work up the courage to talk to someone you find attractive who at least initially thought you were attractive or accidentally swiped the wrong way on you only to not get a response 75% of the time. Or at least that’s my experience.

So anyways against my better judgement I had gone on the app after swearing off online dating less than 2 months earlier because how does a single 36 year old meet people these days? No seriously, how? Leave a comment if you have suggestions.  I can’t say I’ve had the best luck with online dating or just dating in general but thought “Why not?” So here I am texting with some random guy when I really should be writing. We had been exchanging dad jokes (my favorite) and he told did some stand up in the past.  We ended up talking about storytelling, He had heard of Story Club Cleveland but never been to an event, he had however been to Keep Talking Cleveland very recently. I asked how recently and he told me he thought it was in September. He then tells me “I had to leave. There was this girl telling a story about her dead mom that should have been told to a therapist, it was super depressing.”  Crickets. “Oh man I hope that wasn’t your story, lol.”

“If the story was in August and not September and was being recorded, it most certainly was my story and my dead mom”. My first reaction was “Screw this dude” and I almost unmatched him instantly. He apologized when he realized what had just happened and I went from hating this guy to missing my mom to feeling self-doubt over my storytelling abilities in a matter of minutes.

You see Storytelling has become a huge part of my identity over the last year and a half, in an almost obsessive way.  Although I’ve been a story teller for most of my life, it wasn’t until I moved to Cleveland 2.5 years ago that I learned public storytelling was a thing! After attending shows in spring and summer of 2017, I brought back a blog of stories I started after grad school,  began listening to The Moth Radio Hour and attended Story Club and Keep Talking almost religiously. I performed my first “shaky laugh at myself when no one else will” open mic story at Story Club in July 2017 and in September 2017 a story on my lack of athletic ability was chosen for Keep Talking Cleveland.

The strangest thing happened once I opened my mouth in front of the microphone for that second story: I felt strong and confident. Not an ounce of me was anxious, depressed or regretful, feelings that plagued me everyday of my life.  I continued going to shows and performing here and there.  I did a mostly funny piece on getting a ticket for selling beer to someone underage at Keep Talking and an open mic piece I did on an awful one night stand with a politically unwoke man  led to Dana Norris asking me to be a featured performer at Storyclub West.   I loved getting laughs and feeling confident. I was also more motivated to write for my blog and took a couple memoir writing classes. For years prior to this people would listen to my unofficial storytelling at work lunches or friend’s parties and tell me I needed to write a book. I always joked I’d title it “A long story long: The Amy Phipps Story” But it had always been just that a joke and a private dream. But now with storytelling and my new found love of writing it all seemed possible.  Through all of this I knew there was one story I had to tell, I needed to talk about my mother.

So there I was texting with a man I had never met but had some hopes of maybe going on a date with telling me he left my story. Not only was I alone but I also felt like I might not be good at my new hobby.  I told him I understood there was no way he could have known that was my story and that I knew not everyone would like every story I did. I went on three dates with him in one week. The third date he invited me over for dinner then afterwards while we sat next to each other on the couch made a big point of being “honest” with me by saying he had just gotten out of a relationship and went looking too soon.  What? You couldn’t text me or ghost me like a normal human? You had to “Break up” with me in person at your house after three dates?!

Storytelling and dating actually have a lot in common as both are risky business. They involve me opening myself up to potential rejection, heartbreak and disappointment in order to hopefully find happiness, acceptance and above all human connection. I’m very proud and honored to now be a co-producer of Storyclub Cleveland so I can say at least one of them has been a positive journey. Maybe someday I will find the mythical one but until then I’ll keep putting myself out there because if nothing else the material it provides is priceless.

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As a pediatric physical therapist spending time with parents of babies and as a single woman on and off dating aps, a question I get very often is “Where are you originally from?”   I usually respond with “Wisconsin, 30 minutes outside Milwaukee”.  Its common I then get comments about beer or cheese or “Madison is such a great city!” A few moments later I get the confused “Why did you move to Cleveland?” I explain I wanted to move back to the Midwest as I was living in Baltimore for the last few years. Ultimately that same day or days/weeks later I’ll make a comment about living in Central Pennsylvania “Oh is that where you went to college?” “No I went to college in Wisconsin”. Then at some point I’ll talk about growing up in The Black Hills or how Missouri is my birth state. At that time I will either be drawing a picture to explain my timeline or the person has given up trying to understand where this crazy girl is from.

In total over my 36 years I have lived a year or more in 6 different states, nine cities and 15 houses or apartments. No my parents were not in the military. We were poor. Moves during my childhood were due to eviction, affairs, job transfers and landlords selling our rental houses. I claim Wisconsin as where I am from as my family has lived in Waukesha from the time I was 10 until currently. My mother was plagued by mental illness and my father by health ailments so our house in Waukesha was full of conflict and filth and never truly felt like a home.

After grad school I moved with my then boyfriend to Central Pennsylvania, he would complete post-doctoral work at Pen state university and I would make the best of mostly rural living. I knew State college was temporary just as I had known places I lived as a kid and in college were temporary. I held on to the fantasy of building a home after my partner completed his post doctorate work. We would lay roots somewhere,  something I’d never truly done. A few years later we were married and in fact moving to a new state once again.

The home would be in the greater DC area. Ben got a job at the NASA facility in Greenbelt Maryland and I would likely get a job at the children’s hospital in either Washington DC or Baltimore. Laurel, Maryland sat smack damn in the middle of the two cites so we looked there.

Initially I loved the place we rented, an old historic home turned into apartments. The bathroom had funky pink tile and a claw bathtub, the kitchen was big enough we could cook together without falling over one another and we adopted a fun towny bar down the way as “Our bar”. The land lords lived in a cottage on the property. They were a sweet older woman from new Zealand and her boyfriend/lover/husband/friend (never quite figured that one out) who was at least 20 if not 30 years younger than her.

As the years grew on and I made friends and connections to the area, my husband didn’t. I wanted to look into buying a house, he didn’t. I loved being a car ride and metro ride away from our nations capital, the availability to see a million museums, attend rallies, try new restaurants, he didn’t. He had fallen in love with the woods of Pennsylvania, I hadn’t.  I started to resent the ugly pink tiled bathroom with the shower that never got hot for more than five minutes.   And after I saw our landlord’s paramore lead away in handcuffs after falsely calling in a fire, I feared and resented them too. I looked around our apartment at our mismatched furniture and mismatched lives. This wasn’t a home, it was a lie.

After finding the courage to start out on my own, I moved from Laurel, Maryland  to Baltimore.  I could take a new city, but I couldn’t initially  handle a new job, a new state and this new single status.   I still knew I wanted a home and wanted to lay roots, but wasn’t sure if I could do it in Baltimore.  Sure I had friends, but I wasn’t happy in my job and my ex was 30 minutes down the road. Maryland just like Wisconsin now held too many ghosts for me to claim it as truly my home.

After my mom died the same year as my divorce  (when it rains it pours, my dad had passed away the year I got married)  my best friend of 20 years suggested I move to Cleveland.  Shannon moved to Cleveland from Wisconsin for law school after her dad got a promotion and transfer.  Shannon told me I needed to be with my family.  Don’t get me wrong I love my brother and sister but both my parents were now gone and Shan’s family had taken me in as a fourth child since I was in high school, offering me  safe haven from a turbulent home life.

I had visited Cleveland a bunch of  times as not only did Shannon live there but as luck (unluck?) would have it my  ex-husband was from Cleveland too. I told Shannon I loved the city, but isn’t it weird to move to the city your ex inlaws live? Shannon told me it was only weird if I let it be weird and that I would likely never run into them.  Its been 2.5 years since I’ve moved here and I haven’t seen them once.

Moving to Cleveland was the best decision I’ve ever made. I work in a leadership role  Cleveland Clinic  Children’s Rehab with a very supportive  team of therapists,  many of whom I call friends as well as coworkers.  I attend holiday get togethers with my best friend’s family and most recently was extremely honored to be included in their family photos. I am constantly exploring new restaurants and breweries in Cleveland and  fallen in love with the Cleveland Metroparks ( in fact I have biked, run or hiked in all 18 reservations and got a metropark tattoo last month).    This city has also helped me discover my love and talent for storytelling and non fiction writing.  So if its ok with you,  I’m claiming  Cleveland as my home and putting down some serious roots.

 

 

 

The Feather

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I am laying on my stomach on the water bed, sucking my thumb while holding my teddy’s arm in the same hand, inhaling the calming scent of the raggedy toy. I take my other hands and stick it under the corner of the sheets so I can feel the warm, plastic squish of the mattress. I’ve been told repeatedly not to do this very thing for fear of causing a leak, it is a secret mild naughtiness I enjoy.  I’m watching the space shuttle on TV but wishing it were cartoons or a game show.

“Jill!!! Make milk while we’re gone!” my mother yells over the TV. We drink powdered milk in my house until I am a senior in high school. An awkward thing to explain to friends and a chunky bland taste I can still get in mouth as I write this.

A cat jumps up on the bed and causes me to bounce across the waves. Today just my mom and I are going to the mall. An actress from Sesame Street is making an appearance and I can’t wait. Previously when I’ve been to the mall to see someone it’s been Santa and I sit on his lap. I assume I will probably sit on her lap too, but she will tell me about Big Bird instead of asking me what I want for Christmas.

“Jill!!” My mother once again yells over the TV, “Did you vacuum yesterday?”

“I already told you I did!” Jill yells back, I squeeze and release the warm plastic mattress but keep my hands buried deep.  I know I am supposed to be interested in the shuttle but can I turn the channel without making my mom mad?

The yelling in our house is constant except for when my siblings are at school and my step dad is watching me while my mother sleeps before or after her night shift.  I love hanging out with my step dad running errands, reading books and watching our favorite movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, but I often miss my mom.  Mot today though. Today I am watching her get ready and then just her and I are going to the mall.

“Mom!!! Nick won’t let me watch my show and called me stupid!”

My mom rolls her eyes. She is naked in front of the mirror and my eyes go from the shuttle on the TV to my mother’s body. I notice her sagging breasts and surgery scars. My mother applies heavy bright blue eye shadow with her long bony ring covered fingers, her butterfly necklace gleams in the light and sways around her neck.  Someday I will be just like my mother I think. I will have large nipples and spend time putting on makeup and picking my hair. I hope to be as beautiful as she is. I hope to smell as wonderful as her, thick 80’s perfume is fills the room.

“Are you even watching the launch, Amy?” She asks, noticing me looking at her in the mirror.

“Yes” I say without taking my thumb out of my mouth, spit pooling around my thumb.

“Take it out, I can’t understand you”  My thumb makes a pluck sound as I pull it out, I swallow  and again say “Yes”, though this time quietly while looking up into the reflection of her green eyes.

She walks to me, bends down towards the bed, I watch the butterfly’s green and orange wings dance as she kisses my forehead. She is still naked and water drips down onto me.

“I love you, Amy Jan” she smiles and walks back to the mirror.

I remember very little of the actual trip to the mall but I’m pretty sure I didn’t sit on the actress’ lap.  I did however get a yellow feather I believed to be an actual Big Bird feather for far longer than what is probably healthy.   I find myself wishing I had that feather as a momentum for this vivid memory of a small moment of connection with a mother who I resented most of my life.  A mother I never got to know who loved her daughter Amy Jan more than I really ever appreciated or acknowledged.

For the Love of the Game

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I really hate Ohio State.  I know a lot of people do but my hate doesn’t make a ton of sense. First of all I don’t follow sports or care about sports. Growing up in Wisconsin my parents were hardcore Packer fans. They tried to get me into it but refusing to drive me to the mall during games and answering the phone when my friends called during with “SOMEONE BETTER HAVE DIED” kind of had the opposite effect on  me. I can’t tell you the last time I sat down and watched a football game that wasn’t a Super Bowl (even then I’m the annoying girl making jokes and eating snacks loudly).   I do have a long history of trying to seem cool by talking about sports and saying things like “Yeah if they win the sweet 16 they go to the great eight and then the fantastic four”.

The other reason my Ohio State hate doesn’t fit is for the last 2.5 years I’ve lived in Cleveland and absolutely love it.  I always tell my friends who frown at me when I don’t do the O-H-I-O thing at weddings or other events:  Look, I can root for the Indians (aka wear a shirt and eat a hot dog) root for the CAVS (I like basketball slightly more than other sports),  I’ll even laugh at the jokes about the Browns being pathetic but chime in with the optimistic Clevelander view of  “Maybe next year!”  BUT I simply can’t do the Ohio State Thing.

In the spring of 2007 I was in graduate school at University of Wisconsin and began dating a PhD student originally from Ohio. The first sign of his undying love for Ohio State was when he nearly got me hit by a car as we were running across a street to get to the bar before kick-off of the Ohio State vs Wisconsin game.  Later our friend who had also gone to undergrad at Ohio State told me “Yeah that’s understandable”.  Throughout our dating and eventual Marriage life had to be arranged for Ohio state games.

One time a few years into being married we were at a friends’ house watching another big Ohio State vs Wisconsin game. I was doing my Amy thing of drinking a couple beers and loudly eating snacks, half paying attention to the game on TV.  I happened to actually be watching when Wisconsin scored a touchdown and cheered. My husband Ben responded loudly with “This doesn’t even matter to you, this matters to me! Anyone who knows me the two most important things to me are Ohio State Football and Hiking” The room was dead silent until I laughed and asked “Anyone notice anything crucial missing from that list?” Ben and everyone else laughed as he hugged me and said “You know you’re up there baby”. As time passed Ohio State Football and hiking  really did continue to be his passions and I seemed to fall short. Ben would miss Ohio State games for a backpacking trip (he took 1-2 weekend trips a month) but would not miss games for events important to me.

In September 2014 we finally took the Pacific Northwest trip I’d been wanting to do for years. The trip was pretty great minus lots of awkward silences you probably shouldn’t have with the person you’ve been married to for a few years. On the last full day of our trip we were in Seattle and would fly home on what would be my birthday. So I’m not a big princess about my birthday but I am a little princess about my birthday and flying west to east (we lived bear Baltimore at the time) meant my entire birthday would be spent traveling.

I discussed this with my husband and made the suggestion that we pretend that last day in Seattle was my birthday. Ben responded “But its not your birthday” I told him I realized what date my birthday was and exhaustively went through the reasoning again adding that I saw a poster for a Neil Simon play earlier that day “But your birthday is tomorrow and the first Ohio State game is tonight”.  I gave up trying to celebrate my birthday but tried to get him to at least watch the game at a bar or brewery.  He watched the game in our hotel room and I ended up having a horrible anxiety attack and going for a walk on the hotel grounds to try and calm myself. We had my “birthday dinner” at a seafood restaurant in a mall near out hotel.

It may not be a surprise that our marriage did not last. What lasted a just little longer than our marriage was my hate of hiking and backpacking but in the last couple years I have learned I actually love hiking and exploring new parks and trails on my own (I’m still not sleeping outside though). What has lasted much longer than our marriage is a resentment for a team that had nothing to do with the failure of my marriage, which I can admit is pretty silly.   Perhaps someday (hopefully soon) I will be at a Cavs game with friends someone will yell: “O-H” I’ll return with an enthusiastic: “I-O” but for now GO BADGERS and pass me the snacks!

 

Thousand Years

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In June 2012 my husband and I journeyed from Baltimore to St. Louis for my good friend Matt’s wedding. Despite being born in Missouri I had only been to Missouri one other time as an adult: a greyhound spring break trip in college. That trip was fun but the last day was my introduction to the Missouri humidity- it was only March.  None of us were yet 21 so we couldn’t explore breweries and jazz clubs, we did however see the arch and take a long nap on a boat tour. On that last humid day we ended up shoving our luggage in lockers at the oh so exciting Missouri State History Museum.

I was determined to give St. Louis and my birth state another chance so for this wedding we would fly in Friday and take a late flight home Sunday. I had friends who loved St. Louis, I was going to find out why.   We booked our hotel, rented a car and I was excited to see some of my good friends from grad school at the ceremony.

The day before the wedding saw a crazy heat wave and storms that stretched from the Midwest to the east coast. I am terrified of flying so I’d rather have four root canals in one afternoon followed by an evening Yani concert then fly during stormy weather. Our first flight from Baltimore to Chicago was delayed, but so was our flight from Chicago to St. Louis.

When we finally boarded in Baltimore we taxied forever with the pilot saying something nuts like “We are number 12 for departure”. The pilot also kindly warned us that it would be a rough flight due to worsening weather in the Midwest.  We were on a smaller plane and the only flight attendant looked all of 15 years old. She was nervous and breathy on the intercom. She started beverage service but it was very turbulent and right as she got to us she looked at me and with panic in her eyes said “I’m sorry but for my safety I think I need to sit down”.  At this point  I’m completely freaked out holding Ben’s hand to the point of cutting off circulation. My other hand is gripped onto the armrest; my back is straight against the seat and my eyes are squeezed tight. “Are you really that scared?” My husband asked laughing “This is the fun part”.  I opened my eyes and shot him a stare “You know you could be supportive” He looked at me blankly then mumbled “Sorry”.

We make it to Chicago alive but O’Hare National Airport is closed because of the weather. No one has rental cars available. We can get on standby for a flight to St. Louis the next day that would get us there at 5pm. The wedding is at 5:30pm.  My husband doesn’t want to get a hotel, wanting to sleep in the airport. This launches me into a rant on how my salary  plus his salary equals we don’t have to live like hobos.

I suddenly remember my friend Katie is driving to St. Louis from Milwaukee. Wouldn’t she have to come through Chicago?  I call Katie and sure enough she is driving through Chicago in the morning and will happily pick us up.  Roadtrip!  In order to try and calm my husband  about the money spent on the hotel in Chicago, I cancel our rental car in St. Louis.  We’ll have Katie to drive us to and from the wedding and take public transit around on Sunday.

Katie picks us up for the four and a half hour adventure to St. Louis.  The second we get out of the car in St Lois, the oppressive humidity hits me and my hair grows 3 sizes. My glasses fog. Dear God don’t tell me this wedding is outdoors.  Thankfully it isn’t, it’s in an absolutely majestic old church.  The ceremony is beautiful and perfect; specifically the way Matt and Melanie are nodding at each other and communicating through deep breaths and long deep stares.

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I had become friends with Matt early on in grad school but we had become close when he reached out to me for support when he went through a painful breakup with his girlfriend during our second year. I was shocked when he told me everything he had experienced for months, he had been in pain.  Why hadn’t he talked to someone sooner? Matt explained to me that when you are with someone long enough your lives and experience becomes so intertwined that it feels like betrayal to talk about things with other people.  I didn’t totally understand this statement then but as time went on I would understand it completely.

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Dinner at the wedding reception was delicious I’m sure, but I have no memory of what I ate. This is actually very unusual for me as I always joke about having a food memory. More than once I’ve surprised friends by describing not only what I ate but also what they ate years later.   This time what I remember in vivid detail is the newlyweds’ first dance.

The song was “A Thousand Years”. I had never heard the song before but the combination of the heat, the adventure to get to the wedding and the couple continuing to look at each other hit me hard. I could feel my throat swell and tears run down my face.  As they danced and smiled, looking at one another as if there wasn’t another soul in the place I realized THAT was what I wanted.   “Darling don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years…”

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We had danced to  a random Norah Jones song as he had rejected all my real picks as too slow or too fast.  I had tried to look hard into him while we were dancing, he would look at me but mostly looked around and talked about how he didn’t like people watching him.

Before and after our wedding we didn’t fight much, but we disagreed on a lot of things: what to watch on Netflix, where to go on vacation, whether or not to have children, ect. But opposites attract and we balanced each other out.  Why then was my stomach hurting and jealousy burning deep as I watched Matt and Melanie dance?

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The day after Matt and Melanie’s wedding was somehow even hotter than the day before.  I had canceled the rental car forgetting how long of a day we had in St. Louis on Sunday. I suggested we try to find some breweries but my husband stated he didn’t want to drink, could we find a museum? I don’t handle heat well as it is but I also don’t handle disappointment and changes to plans well. On top of all this I’m also deep in my head with the feelings brought up watching that first dance.

I am not sure what museums exactly are here but as we are dragging our luggage in the 100 degree 90% humidity day, we go to the first one we see. We soak up the glorious air conditioning and follow signs to lockers where we can put our luggage. Wait a minute…. is this the Missouri State History museum?  I had failed St. Louis once again.

The flights home are on time and uneventful. We go back to work the next day and settle back into our normal routines and parallel lives.  Matt and Melanie’s wedding song becomes very popular due to its use in the “Twilight” movies. Every time I hear it images of those smiles, nods and deep stares appear clearly my mind, as do deep feelings of profound loneliness and longing.

Fast forward to 2015 and I am standing next to my best friend Shannon holding her bouquet as she and her groom hold hands and exchange secret smiles, laughs and love.  This time I am certain. This is what I want. I am not sure I can hide my unhappiness anymore.  This was the beginning of the end of my marriage.

Mile 20 of 26.2

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It wasn’t until mile 20 of my first marathon that I was over running.  And  I don’t mean done for that day I mean I really felt deep in my bones that if I never ran another day in my life I would be ok.  Surprisingly the thing that got me to the edge didn’t directly have to do with the extreme physical exhaustion (that set in after the triggering event) or the mental thought that I still had a 10k to run ( that also came after the trigger). No, the marble that started the domino effect was my head phones tickling my underarm.

Allow me to explain my weird underarm sensitivity. First to clarify when I say underarm I don’t mean arm pits, that’s ticklish on most people. What I mean is the triceps area or as I call mine the bat wing.  As long as I can remember I have hated light touch on this area.  I noticed it first in the bathtub as a kid.  If my underarm wasn’t fully submersed or above water and water was lightly on in it I would get this tickle feeling in my arm that led to this agitated felling everywhere and eventually an itching sensation in my mouth. To relate to this sensation in my mouth imagine the most obnoxious itching that you can’t scratch:  A sunburn peeling on the back of your thighs while sitting in class, a bug bite on the top of your foot while sitting in a suit and tie in a business meeting.

I can’t say that it’s so extreme that normal shirt sleeves bother it but I have on more than one occasion had a phantom hair on a sleeve or those annoying hanger hooks that have caused me discomfort.    The good thing about this underarm area is it’s not touched very often. Unless you are me and have this weird sensitivity. Since undergrad I have worked with children with disabilities and this is an area that is often pinched. My cat enjoys sitting in the crook on arm with her butt towards my face and tail lightly wagging with happiness on my underarm (she especially loves this in the middle of the night or very early in the morning).  I of course being me have also made the mistake of telling friends and boyfriends, mostly looking to find that magical moment of “OMG! Me too!”  but alas I get told I’m weird and they have to try it out “Is you mouth itching yet?” Usually this is followed by “I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make physical sense”

So alas here I am after three years of  serious running (including at least six half marathons by this point) and six months of  intense marathon training (many times working 8 hours and leaving right from work to run 10 miles on the streets of DC) competing in my first full marathon.  When the tickle strikes. I have been running slowly to keep my pace on a hot may day, only walking through a few water stops to take breaks and make sure I keep hydrated. I have been listening to my iPod Shuffle which is clipped on my running tank top. My head phone cord has been fine all 20 miles but now is suddenly tickling my underarm just right to cause my already dry mouth to itch. I move the cord and switch the position of my Shuffle. All is fine and the tickle has resolved, when it happens again.

At this point I am pissed. Why is this suddenly a problem? I go to move the cord, swearing a little and all is well again. I’m doing my slow run and almost to the 20.5 mile water stop when my elbow catches my cord and jerks my ear bud out of my ear during the middle of the 4th round of hearing “Lets get it started”.  I stop running and shout a very loud “Fuck”. The good news is at mile 20.5 of a marathon there is a large gap between runners, I could see people a bit head of me and knew there were people behind me but no one is next to me to hear the start of my tantrum. I walk a little, put my ear bud back in, move my Shuffle and wipe my face on my shirt before taking a very deep breath and start running again, longing for the water station.

Right as I spot the water station, the headphones lightly touch my underarm which starts an itch in my mouth which causes my elbow to catch the cord and jerk the earbud out of my ear.  “God Fucking Damnit” I yell stopping and fixing the problem. Surely people have heard me as I get cheers and side glances through the water station. My strategy up until this point has been start walking at first table of a station and start running after the last garbage can. However this time I walk a little farther.

Why the hell did I ever think I could do this? Who thinks this is a fun activity? I have been running for over four hours and I still had more than an hour left. And that’s if I could run it, if I walked it I’m looking at more than two hours. Worse is I know somewhere behind me, no idea how far behind me, is the car that picks up stragglers who won’t finish the course in the allotted time.  I don’t want to start running and experience the underarm tickle and pulling my ear bud which has made me upset. At that moment I could not handle that disappointment. I am covered from head to toe in sweat, the sun is in all its glory and getting hotter as the day goes on.  My foot is cramping on and off to the point where I curl my toes to assure myself I still can.  My legs, shoulders and arms all ache. I am somewhere near the 21 mile marker meaning I still have a little over 5 miles to go.  Every part of me wants to sit on the curb and cry.  I feel tired, hot, disappointed and if I’m honest a little angry at my headphones still. “At least I tried” I find myself thinking, tears welling in my eyes.

It may be no surprise that there are not many spectators on mile 21 of a marathon course.  No little kids to give high fives to, no creative signs like “Worst parade ever” or “Make this hill your bitch”.  Essentially no external motivation to keep going, you have to dig deep and find it in your soul.  “Fuck this noise I say outloud” I wrap my headphone cords around the strap of my sports bra (earbuds and all) and start jogging slowly.  There is no way I am going to be defeated by a race.  I have never given up on a goal and this is certainly not going to be a first.  Wasn’t it I who worked my way through grad school despite having to take on multiple jobs and retake a couple practicals? Didn’t I train hard through winter and rain in order to run my first half marathon only two year earlier? And hadn’t I somehow gotten through the death of my father and my mother’s unhealthy response?  I was Amy and I could get through another measly 5 miles.  Instead of thinking about how much I had left I thought of how far I’d already come, both in life and in this race.

“Run when you can, walk if you must, crawl if you have to” started repeating in my head as I slowly started running and anticipating that next glorious water stop and walk break. I finally came to the last water stop and started to see school kids running their hearts out the last mile of the course. Cleveland has this great program where kids run 25 miles during the school year and finish their marathon on the course. It was so awesome to see these kids, most in oversized shirts running with fresh energy and excitement, laughing and yelling to one another. I tried to pick up my pace but then decided I’d rather finish then die so kept with my turtle pace.  I can only imagine how gross I looked as I crossed the finish line and grabbed my popsicle, water and banana. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry.  As I walked around looking for my friends, I may have cried a little more when finally after 5 hours and 20 minutes I got to sit down in the grass.   I had met another goal. A goal which only 1% of the population has done. What next???

Head, Heart, Hands and Health

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Performed as a featured storeyteller on Storyclub Cleveland stage at Waterloo Arts fest June 2018

It is two weeks before the county fair and I am screwed with a capital S.  It’s no surprise that like my school work I have put off working on my  fair submissions until the last possible moment. Because of this I have to spend hours of 1:1 time with Mrs. Smith who is not only the sewing instructor but one of the leaders of my 4H club.  She is grandmotherly like but also not afraid to tell me I am lazy and not the most natural at sewing.  My bright pink shorts (chosen  as a project due to the fabric and pattern being on clearance) are not about to get a blue ribbon but they are ready for judging.  I also get to spend a long afternoon with the basket weaving instructor making an ok’ey basket and drinking sugar free kool-aid in a non air conditioned house. I am starting to feel like this 4H thing is not worth the hassle. I am already use to being not very good in school and in sports why did I need another avenue to prove my worthlessness?  I then remember I still have to make a cake to submit. This I decide will be where I prove myself.  I’m making a Barbie cake,  something I’d always wanted at my parties as a kid.

The thing about a Barbie cake is it requires a special pan for the dress, a special Barbie for the center and pastry bags and tips for decorating.  My dad tells me we have money for none of these things and since I waited until the last minute we will have to improvise.  The skirt is a bundt cake, the Barbie an amputated dollar store purchase and the decorating completed with a spritz cookie maker.  All three of my items get a red ribbon (they give everyone a ribbon) and to my embarrassment placed on display at the fair.

How did I get talked into 4H as a city girl in the first place? I had neighbors who had moved from a more rural area and transferred to a local 4H club. I didn’t have a ton of friends and became friends with the youngest in this family.  She talked up dance competitions ( and I sure loved to make up dances!) and learning crafts (I should probably learn crafts as one of her sister has described me as being born without a personality).  As I wasn’t allowed to join many things as a kid due to them requiring money and me needing a ride (working class family) I begged to join. My parents agreed and I loved having monthly meetings, selling and making pizzas and being a clown cow in a production of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. Thank god this was all before social media.

I also met a new best friend in 4H,  Sammy. Sammy had an Animaniacs obsession and a converse collection. She did a million activities and was super into the Smashing Pumpkins. I thought she was the coolest person I’d ever met. The good news was we were going to the same middle school and even had gym class together!  Sammy had been in 4H for a while and warned me to be careful of Mr. Smith (the sewing instructor’s husband and the other leader of our club). I ask her why and she says he’s a pervert, he once grabbed her butt rollerblading.  I don’t not believe her but I also don’t put too much thought into it.

My first disastrous county fair was the summer before 7th grade so in the spring of 7th grade I had decided I was going to put forth more solid effort and work gradually on projects. I’d also only do clowning, basket weaving and sewing,  cake decorating was obviously not going to work without the proper materials my dad still refused to admit I needed.  I was working on a dress with daisies I was actually excited about potentially wearing. I was also working on a wall basket which required a lot more patience and skill than my last project.

The night before the last day of 7th grade  we are at the end of the year cookout for 4H. I am drinking a coke and standing by the grill waiting for Sammy to arrive when a hand grabs my ass pretty hard.  I’m of course shocked and turn around  to see Mr. Smith the 60 something leader. He laughs and winks. I stand dumbfounded then walk away.  I of course tell Sammy as soon as she gets there “I told you so” She says as if this is just part of life.  My friend who got me into 4H the year before comes over and asks what we are talking about.  She is as per a normal reaction appalled. “Seriously?”

That night I can’t sleep. I know its not a big thing, bigger things have to girls I know, hell bigger things have happened to me but it just doesn’t feel good or right. This place I loved to go despite my carftual inability feels unsafe. I end up telling my dad as I know my mom will freak out and not allow me to participate anymore.  My dad hugs me and calmly asks if I want to keep going and if I want him to talk to the leader. I tell him no, that I just wanted someone to know.

The next day is the last day of school. I am called to the counselor’s office at the end of the day. My neighbor had been upset over hearing the leader of a group she felt safe in had grabbed me and ended up crying in her guidance counselor’s office who in turn called my guidance counselor. My counselor asked if I knew of him touching anyone else, I confessed what Sammy had told me and instantly felt nauseous about the whole situation. The counselor told me he had to report it further but as it was through the clothes it would likely be up to my parents and I if we wanted to take it  much further.

I instantly tell Sammy and she starts crying and tells me  “I’m going to be in so much trouble” and walks away from me. I try to call her several times that night but no one will pick up the phone at her house. Her mother doesn’t allow her to talk to me for almost a year and will not allow her daughter to talk to the police. My family had decided a man working with children should not be grabbing butts and should in fact be investigated not just shrugged off.

I of course instantly drop out of 4H, never finish my pretty wall hanging basket nor my dress with the daisies. I hear from my neighbors that pending the investigation the Smiths have to let other people run 4H.  My neighbors will still talk to me but also refuse to let their daughter talk to the police.  Later that summer I am with this family at a different cookout when while using the bathroom with the window open I hear the mother tell her friends “Yeah our club has kind of fallen apart because some little girl made up a story about our leader grabbing her butt”

It is now fall of 8th grade and I have survived a difficult summer full of  loss: my best friend,  hobbies and my trust in most adults.  My science class is walking down to a pond to collect specimens when we pass the dreaded home of the Smiths. I hold my breath while passing but I’m surprised to hear a girl in my class say “Stay away from that house!!!” I know why I want to stay away from that house but I am very curious to hear her reason.  “This summer I was playing with my friend who is his neighbor and he started chasing us with a hose which was funny until he got ice cubes, put them down my shirt then reached in to get them. Apparently he use to lead a 4H club but he’s definitely no longer allowed around children since we filled our report.”

I instantly felt that nausea again but then felt a little relieved. Maybe both of us stepping forward had prevented more children being hurt and humiliated.  Maybe we had saved someone from even worse atrocities. I have no way of knowing but I do know that I will always stand by children who tell the truth even when its hard and means change.   This incident helped me become the bad ass feminist I am today.  The next time a random man decided it was ok to randomly grabbed my ass was in grad school and I chased him around the bar the rest of the night yelling at him how this was what was wrong with the patriarchy. I’d like to think that guy never touched a girls ass again.  And as far as cake baking goes? You’ll be happy to know I can buy a beautifully decorated cake with the best of them.