Service Industry

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Performed at Keep Talking Cleveland March 2017

My second job was working at a local small higher end grocery chain. This was the kind of place that sorts through the berries for you and sells artisan bread and has a fancy wine selection.  It was in the town I grew up in but my working class family had never shopped there so my interview was the first time I was in the place. I was told as a female I would be a cashier as girls were checkers and boys worked on the produce floor. The girls somehow also got to clean the bathroom.  I’d like to say this is where the division ended, but it definitely wasn’t.

The main manager was this guy Pete who seemed cheery to customers and would walk around singing songs. Pete however would tell very inappropriate derogatory jokes to the boys and was super critical of the girls. I once was the only cashier and needed him to fix my cash register. While he fixed mine I went on another and had a line of only like 3 people. Pate opened his line and ushered over one of the customers, the customer stated she thought his lane was closed “Well it was but I had no idea she’d be so slow. She has to grow up if she thinks she’s going to college in the fall” Another time when a female cashier accidentally hit a salsa display breaking a jar, he slow clapped and yelled across the store “That’s what you get for horsing around. Don’t just stand there, clean it up”.   Pete was a real asshole.

Its 4th of July weekend and the store is hopping.  We have 3 checking lines going and a line around the small store. So  I’m actually not that good of a cashier, there’s a couple of reasons for this: First of all I have a math learning disability so counting back change isn’t a strong suit of mine  and secondly anyone who knows me knows I like to talk. A lot.  So I often get in conversations with the middle aged moms coming through my store. It was actually really cool as I learned a lot, like you tell the difference between parsley and cilantro by smelling it (growing up I didn’t know what cilantro is, as its not an ingredient in Hamburger Helper.)  I start to get stressed by the amount of customers and by Pete circling around us like a shark around a boat.   I’m trying to keep my talking to a minimum and not screw up change too much when a man with a bald head and facial hair places a case of Budlight on my counter.  I am only 18 and years before my craft beer obsession but even then I question why you’d buy that at a store that sells so much variety. I look at him and think he has to be 23. I don’t why I pick this age and not 21 or 25 but 23 is what I’m going with and don’t waste time checking his ID. I check him out and move on to the next customer.  A few customers later and I see the 23 year old man back in the store with a man in his 50s. At first I don’t’ think too much of it, maybe this is his dad and they need more Budlight. I then notice they both have something large hanging around their necks and are carrying the case of beer. Shit.  The thing about my talking is the more anxious I get the more I talk, and the faster I talk, this is also why dating isn’t a strong suit of mine.  So the verbal diarrhea just runs out of me as I’m checking out a customer and prolonging the inevitable.  “Do you like fireworks? I like fireworks. I like the ones that rain down on you. One time I saw a star firework…”  The gentlemen eventually redirect people from my line to another and make their way to the front of my line.

“Ma’am I’m officer what have you and this is my partner who looks 23 but is apparently not 23 and this is this was an undercover sting. Do you know more people die from underage drinking 4th of July weekend than any other weekend?” Again the verbal diarrhea flows “Obviously you can see why I thought he was 23 and I NEVER drink (lie)”  It may be no surprise that this doesn’t faze the officer and he tells me he has to write me a ticket, he can’t write it in person but he thinks it will be about $400.  Now the verbal diarrhea becomes internal panic “I work in fucking grocery store, how am I going to afford a $400 ticket? I’m going to lose this grocery store job and I’m definitely not going to be able to community college now. Worst of all Pete was right about me, I am irresponsible” I thank them as they walk away and go back to my register to continue checking out customers. I finally calm myself down by thinking of ways to pay the ticket and convincing myself that maybe they wouldn’t tell my bosses.

“Amy to the back room, Amy to the backroom”   I try to choke back tears but a few escape as I walk to the back.  Luckily Pete isn’t in the backroom and another manager Tim is waiting for me. Tim isn’t exactly warm and friendly but he has a sarcastic sense of humor and doesn’t make snide remarks, he’s actually my favorite manager (the bar was low) Tim tells me the police told him what happened followed by “Since we never had you sign an agreement saying you take responsibility for selling to underage customers, we legally have to pay the ticket when it comes to your house” I start bawling and apologize.  Tim awkwardly tells me its ok and pats my back with a hand missing a few fingers and say the equivalent of “There, there crying teenage girl”.  I try to regain my composure as I still have to finish out my shift. On the way back to my register I walk by Karen, our cheese expert (I told you this was a fancy ass store), she also has the most righteous mullet I have ever seen.  Karen hugs me very tight and when she releases me she tosses her mullet over her shoulder and tells me “We all make mistakes, you’re a good kid”.  Which is exactly what I needed to hear, just because I did something wrong didn’t mean I was a failure.

About a month later my ticket comes and its more than we thought it’d be like $700 and within about 20 minutes of bringing it in to my bosses we all have to sign a waiver saying that if we sell to someone underage we are financially responsible. The moral of the story is just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake and you might even inspire policy change.

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Couch Purse Vince

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Performed as an open mic story Story Club Cleveland February 2018

I moved to Cleveland in early spring of 2016. Since I didn’t know too many people here I learned to be ok grabbing a couple beers or dinner on my own. Especially as I often struck up good conversations with bartenders or strangers; I’m not exactly what you’d call “Shy”.

So I’m sitting at the bar half watching  a news reel with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and half playing Tinder roulette on my phone, when the guy two stools down from me points at the TV and asks me : “Is that Bill’s wife? Is she still in politics?”   The woke feminist in me held back the rage and semi calmly replied    “Where the hell have you been? She was a NY senator, secretary of state and this is the second time she is running for president. She is about to get the democratic nomination.” The guy explained he was from South Africa so didn’t follow American politics closely. I relaxed a little despite the fact this man had no accent and as later conversation revealed had been in America since he was in his teens.

I talked with him and found him semi interesting, he had just moved to the area and bought a house for $20,000 that needed to be basically completely rebuilt and was doing it himself.   I’m a runner and we also talked about these unique running shoes he was wearing of which I had never heard.  We ended up exchanging numbers with the thought that two newbies could explore together.

Against my better judgement I hang out with him one more time with some smooching involved.   Luckily he didn’t try to spend the night, but he did start texting me nonstop the next day telling me how beautiful I was and how he wanted to take me on a date. I know I’m sounding like the jerk, but it was a bit much especially from a man who didn’t know Hillary Clinton was a boss ass bitch.

Two days later after answering texts but deflecting romance I ran into him walking his dog while I was out running.  I told him I had to go home to get ready for my friend’s wedding and agreed to maybe grabbing drinks and dinner a few night later and then literally ran away.  He sends me a text:  “It was nice to see you, you looked gorgeous. Have fun at the wedding” Me: “Thanks, have fun doing whatever it is you do today” Him: “The only thing I’d like to do is take a pretty girl to her friend’s wedding.”  As I was creeped out I didn’t respond.  A few days later I told him an excuse to get out of our date and he tells me he’ll take the money he was saving for our date to buy pizza but world class pizza couldn’t hold a candle to my company.  This much I doubt, I mean have you had Angelo’s? A day later I finally told him I am officially not interested and wish him well. As you may predict he took it hard and told me he’s always a bridesmaid but never a bride.

A few weeks later I’m walking to meet a different guy who I am interested in for our second date.  On the way to the bar I start getting this weird feeling I should have confirmed the date that day as we hadn’t texted since the day before.  I text him with no response. I get to the bar and order a beer, no spots at the bar which is my go to so I sit in a booth. No text and I don’t see him anywhere. I’m drinking my beer texting a friend that I’m being stood up when I look up at the bar and see a tall man with very unique running shoes. FUCK. Drink your beer and don’t make eye contact, Amy.  I tell myself.  The next thing I know I’m spotted and Vince is sitting at my booth, I’m now hoping I’m getting stood up because this is about to get too real. The other guy never shows up and I basically slam my beer as I’m having to go through “The conversation” with Vince. I tell him we can be friends, but not looking to hook up or date. He says he’s ok with this but as I’m leaving he texts me “I like watching you walk away,  sexy”  Ugh.

So he continues to randomly text me, I ignore it and run into him riding his bike a few more times with unpleasant hellos.   Our whole interaction ends when he starts texting me how he found a couch purse and will sell it to me for cheap. I blocked his number and promised myself never again to hook up with a man who dismisses a powerful woman as someone’s wife or someone who tries to sell me a purse he finds  instead of just giving it to me.

My Mother

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My mom was the craziest person I have ever met and ever hope to meet.  Mental illness has affected my whole life and in no way do I mean to trivialize it, but I can’t help but say my mother, as much as I loved her, was fucking nuts.

I can’t remember when exactly I realized my mom was unstable.  I can remember always knowing she was different than the other moms.  She rarely came to after school programs, didn’t bake, didn’t help me with homework (or even know what I was studying) or go shopping.   She had a big personality which would fill any room she entered.  She was silly and outspoken, would wear a propeller hat to the grocery store.  One time when I was five she spotted Presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis,  held me up and demanded he kiss her baby.   The other side was my mom would sometimes cry uncontrollably over things that even as a young child I thought to be trivial.  When I was getting bullied I knew to tell my dad because my mom would make a scene.  Conflicts were always arising between my mom and my older siblings and I spent much of my childhood in the shadows trying to not make her angry or sad.

My mom always wanted to be my best friend, the “cool mom”.    My friends and my siblings friends’ all started out thinking she was awesome. “The first time I met Amy’s mom she asked me if my brownies were special brownies” “The first time I met Amy’s mom she told me fuck was her favorite word as it was a noun a verb or an adjective.” “Dee bought me cigarettes”.  Our house was the house to hang out at.  No bedtimes, junk food, dirty jokes, R rated (or even porn) movies.  When I was in high school pot smoking wasn’t just allowed but encouraged.  Much to my humiliation though, my friends eventually recognized the instability.  She started to pick at her open sores (an aspect of her OCD) while my best friend was in the car.  She called another friend’s mom claiming she had Parkinson’s, which she obviously didn’t .

My mom began changing jobs when I was in 8th grade and by the time I was in mid high school she stopped being able to hold down a nursing job.  She began lying about work shifts, buying useless trinkets for herself and others behind my dad’s back.  When my parents would get into yelling fights at in the middle of the night, she would come to me with presents I didn’t want, telling me “Everything was fine”.   When I got upset at her when she did abnormal things, such as pick at my scalp for an hour and insist on washing my hair, she threatened to kick me out.  I was a junior in high school when a series of events involving her claiming to not recognize my dad, her childhood imaginary best friend appearing in the trees behind our house and my sister jumping out of a moving car because she was afraid of my mom’s erratic driving, ended up with my mom committed to a mental hospital for a week.  I almost moved into my best friend’s house, but my dad begged me to stay telling me I was all he had.  The fear, anxiety, sadness and embarrassment of visiting my mom in a state run mental hospital and the burden and comfort of being my dad’s only source of stability are not an easy things to express.

I’d like to say things got better as I became an adult but they became much worse.  I became serious with the first guy who showed me interest and used him as an excuse to get out of the state and out of my family (Spoiler alert: we got divorced later). I spent much of my adult life trying to prove I’m not my mom by working hard and building a wall.  I learned in order to not be filled with rage and resentment I had to see her and talk to her as little as possible.  I never answered when she called. I would listen to the voicemail and see what kind of mood she was in and then decide whether to call her back. This is why when I was drunk on my birthday two years ago it was my friend who convinced to pick up my mom’s call.  It was the last time I ever spoke to her, my brother found her unresponsive in her apartment four days later.

Loss is never easy but I had made so many rules and built such a wall between my mom and my past that I had no idea where to start.  I felt guilty that amongst the feelings of loss and shock there were some feelings of relief.

I was battling these feelings and this new reality as my plane took off a few hours after I got the news of her passing. As I looked out of the window through my tears I suddenly realized the date was  9/11.  I, someone who was terrified to fly, was in a plane on 9/11.   I started laughing out loud; it was the first time I had smiled since talking to my brother. Despite how hard I tried to not be my mom I had her twisted sense of humor.  A few days later at her funeral, person after person got up and spoke about how much she made them laugh or smile. These people ranged from close friends to church members who had only known her a few months.  I realized in that moment in many ways, I am my mother’s daughter.  I had her love of laughing and love of making others laugh.  I am who I am because of my mother, not of in spite of my mother.

Medical

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Submitted for November 2017 Keep Talking CLE

 

There are three things I absolutely refuse to do: Camp, eat olives, and work on my birthday. I’ve been working in some form since I was 17 and only worked my birthday one year, which was about 2 years into being a physical therapist. I absolutely love my career, but I was so crabby simply because I wasn’t out having fun that I was a miserable human being to be around. After that I decided that taking the day off for my birthday would be something I always did for myself regardless if I had formal plans

The year after the crabby birthday I was turning 29 and had no true plans. I met up with my now ex-husband for lunch, went to the library, worked out and watched “Flight of the Concords” on my couch.  Not a bad birthday at all until that evening when I ended up buying my own DQ birthday cake because I knew my ex hadn’t made any evening plans or bought me a present. I debated having  DQ write “Happy Birthday me!” but decided that was too pathetic and a tad passive aggressive to my ex, though he had no comments on me buying my own cake as he wolfed it down that night.

The other shitty thing about my laid back ‘at least I’m not at work birthday” was that evening my ex’s father and aunt were coming to stay with us a few days in our not so big two bedroom apartment. Our guests. My ex’s aunt was sweet but told about the same 4 stories and had a lot of problems getting around as she had polio as a child. I work with kids with various impairments so I’m fine with it and I think petty helpful, but this woman was stubborn and would not accept much help.  This made me anxious as heck in our non accessible  2nd floor apartment with no elevator. On previous visits we were pretty sure she was either puling on our towel rack or sink to get on/off the toilet. I was terrified she was going to break something (something meaning her hip or something I’d have to pay for)

My former father in law was not post polio but just a slow deliberate person. I am not exaggerating when I say he drives 45 mph on the highway. The two of them would take 8-9 hours with sometimes an overnight stop between Cleveland and State College (a journey that takes most humans 4 hours). He did have a huge heart and sometimes made great conversations, but other times he would ask questions he knew the answer to “So, uh you’re a physical therapist?” yep, have been literally the whole time you’ve known me “So uh do you think physical therapy helps children?” I mean I kind of hope so as its what I dedicated my life to.

Anyways. The night after my birthday we go to my favorite brewery.  I have 3-4 beers with dinner as even though its been about 24 hours,  it’s already been a long visit.  After dinner We get back to our apartment and I have to pee like crazy.  I’m pretty sure if I wait for the speed racers I’m going to pee my pants so I hurry ahead to use the bathroom.  I don’t close the door as again I know these people are going to take a bit,  but I do hurry to wash my hands as I’m feeling a little guilty I didn’t help them walk back.  I go to dry my hands and jam my foot into that handy sliding door that divides the shower from our half bath.  I get the most intense pain I’ve ever felt.  I’m hopping around swearing and gasping and sit down on our bed with my leg up. I look down to my socked foot and see my pinky toe signaling to make a right turn and I’m filled with now not only intense pain but also panic.  My first thought is “Should I ram it back against the wall?” Luckily a little bit of logic comes in and I don’t do this.

I end up calling my ex who is still walking up from our parking lot with his relatives. He doesn’t pick up. I call gain. Doesn’t pick up, I call again “What? I will literally be there in 5 seconds” I tell him I’m pretty sure we have to go to the ER.   My ex finally gets in and sees my toe and its gnarly. “Are you sure you need to go in? Isn’t there not much they can do for a broken toe?” “Yes!”

So we go and only wait only like 30  minutes and then I get an x-ray.  I’m not totally sure why I had to get an x-ray as there’s pretty much no possible way it can’t be broken. But at any rate they do the x-ray and the x-ray technician, the intake nurse ect all see my birthday was the day before and I get from each one “Were you out celebrating your birthday? Ha ha ha”.

My ex and I are sitting waiting for the doctor to come in and I’m finally not in excruciating pain because they’ve given me Tylenol and I’m less panicked when it dawns on me I’m not going to be able to run the half marathon I‘m scheduled to run in two weeks. I get emotional thinking about this as well as how overall non joyous my birthday was and in fact most birthdays had been since being with my partner when McDreamy  the PA walks in and says loudly “Oh no it looks like Amy has a boo boo toe!” followed by “This is my student who will be relocating your toe” Followed by “Would you like me to numb  it before hand?”  The shot hurts like hell but thank god I did as student tried like five times to relocate it with a ballpoint pen between my toes (modern medicine at its finest) before McDreamy PA takes over and jams it back.

I ended up wearing around a dorky cast shoe for two weeks, not running for 6 weeks and then training for my second ½ marathon which was supposed to be the third in 3 weeks’ time. I unfortunately had a few more years of awkward visits with my former in-laws including seeing my former father law in his tighty whiteys more than once and sleeping in the same bed as my mother in law once.  But I learn my friends are better than my ex in the birthday department and then eventually realize they are better than my ex in most categories.   I’m single these days and still never work my birthday and try to enjoy buying my own cake.

Competition

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Performed at Keep Talking CLE September 6th 2017

As a kid I always strived to be active and to find a sport in which I could excel. It began with gymnastics. I watched the Olympics at 3 years old and was convinced I could win gold.  I would do somersaults to my mickey mousercise records and dream of taking gymnastic classes my mom said I could take when I turned 5. I never ended up taking gymnastics as it costs a lot of money according to my mom who smoked 2 packs a day.  As did the shoes for soccer which I longed to play. As did the glove and uniform for softball.  You get the idea.

As with a lot of young kids from poor families, I was drawn to basketball. I started playing basketball when I was 11 and was psyched. I had after school plans, I got to wear matching hot pink shirts with my team mates, but mostly because this would be my sport.  This may come as a surprise but this short chubby girl did not excel on the court, but I sure did try. I played on my school team, a team  through park and rec and even through 4H ( my “successes” as a city girl in 4H is a story for a different night). During all this time I only scored a basket during a game 1x.  And it didn’t count.  As the ball went in and time slowed down and the music from the end of every Disney sports movie played in my head, a whistle blew “Technical Foul, basket doesn’t count”. Turns out right as I shot a girl on my team elbowed another girl because she smelt like beef.

Basketball clearly wasn’t my sport so in middle school determined to find my moment I turned to the other sport which didn’t really cost money, Track. Equally important was there were no tryouts.  I ran 100 meters my first year, 200 meter my second year and long jump both years. Yep my 4’11-self thought long jump was my event.  My goal for any of my three track events was simply not to be dead last. When I was sizing up my competition with this goal, its awful to admit but I was looking for a girl that was bigger than I was.  Alas I never met my goal of 2nd to last.

When I got to high school I still wanted to find a way to excel. I tried out for basketball but nearly passed out from suicide drills during the first day of tryouts. I also tried out for color guard twice in high school, a no go. I always wanted to magically find my sport, wanted to show I could achieve but I lost the confidence to try and remained mostly inactive and unhealthy throughout high school and undergrad.

Towards the end of undergrad came the big competition of applying to grad schools, I applied to 7 and only got accepted to one. PT school was long hours and on top of that I worked quite a bit. They recommend you don’t work during grad school but I’m a bit of a princess and like a roof over my head and food to eat. A lot of my PT classmates were former athletes which I felt insecure about. I had a need to get healthy and let off stress.  It was during this time we were learning about running kinematics (nerd speak for the characteristics of running) we talked about the difference between walking and running is that running has a period where both feet are off the ground, a flight phase. I was sold. I began a couch to 5k program before that was really a thing. Back in my day pre iphone I had to write down the program emailed to me on a sticky note and put it on the back of my ipod. The first time I ran 10 minutes without stopping I rewarded myself with ice cream. Eventually I didn’t have to bribe myself to keep going and I enjoyed the workouts. I began to strive to beat my own times and my own miles. I enjoyed the satisfaction of a good sweat and meeting my goals. I ran my first 5k in 2009, my first of 14 half marathons in 2011 and In 2013 I ran a full marathon. I’ll probably never win a race but I’ll also never stop trying. This year marks my ninth year of being a pediatric physical, my achievements in running and my deep competitive nature has helped me drive my patients to do more.   If I an uncoordinated girl can run a marathon there is nothing they can’t do. If they can learn to walk, they can run, if they can jump they can hop. My patients may not have my killer basketball skills but I know I can help them reach their goals.

 

The Great Outdoors

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Just Submitted this to  Tell me a Story CLE.

I don’t really like to be uncomfortable. Ask anyone who had to deal with me last month when I got my tonsils out. The holy trinity of Amy being a total bitch is hungry, tired and cold/hot. So camping isn’t my “thing”. I love hikes in good weather, seeing waterfalls, sunsets and running in the metro parks. But I do these things then eat pizza and then sleep in my bed. With a roof above my head.  And a bathroom.

When I was in a grad school I met my now ex husband who was perfect for me in no ways.  The things we had in common was we both were atheists and breathed oxygen.  When we first started dating I knew he was mildly interested in camping which I thought would be something I’d endure 1-2x ever and something he’s do a few times a year. WRONG.  He went backpacking 1-2x month and I got talked into it time and time again.  Without fail at some point during a 90 degree 6 mike hike I’d turn silent and mean. Most of these times though were in the morning after not sleeping any during the night, eating a shitty breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee and then having to hike to the car. It was not the pleasant bonding experience you see in REI comercials.  Eventual we discovered our differences here as well as in ever other area were too much and I instantly  gave away 100s of dollars worth of camping stuff he’d bought me as presents (thoughtful right?)

Surprisingly my best camping story doesn’t even involve the woodsman.  It involves a trip to Alaska with high school friends 8 years ago. My friend Jenny has lived in Alaska since she graduated high school and loves hiking and camping. Its Alaska, I think if you didn’t you’d be pretty damn bored. Well they do have an insane amount of strip clubs and breweries too.

When I’d gone camping previously with the woodsman it was either backpacking (worst sport ever) or car camping at a park where you had a site and a community bathroom with running water (slightly less bad). In Alaska the whole damn state is a camp site.  You just drive somewhere and camp. On the way to camp our friend jenny made a big deal out of us stopping at her uncle’s to get camp pads which I assumed she’d let her guests use who aren’t use to the ground. WRONG.  She and her boyfriend used the mats.  Another thing to tell you is in Alaska, people love their guns. There are highway signs that say “Don’t shoot signs” that are riddled with bullet holes.

So here we are, it’s a beautiful night in early August and we’re camping in a random location next to a stream in Alaska.   Its gorgeous and incredibly picturesque but buggy and we’re miserable.   My other friends on the trip Nick and Shannon are probable the only people who hate this more than I do.   Nick kept telling us he was going to sleep in the car if Jenny made us go camping, which we’d laugh at but then actually did sleep in the car.  Shannon on the other hand is sipping on one beer the whole night while batting bugs away.  Really I just want the night to be over so we can get on to other parts of the trip that don’t involve me sleeping on the hard ground (breweries and strip clubs).  Jenny tells us we can’t go to bed until its dark.  Which isn’t until like midnight in Alaska this time of year.  We finally go to  “bed”.  Shannon and I are sitting in our tent complaining, Nick’s sleeping in the car,   Jenny and her boyfriend are asleep on their deluxe mattress and their friend is being super Alaska and sleeping in the bed of his truck.

Suddenly we start hearing gun shots, not totally unusual as our friends were shooting earlier but it starts to sound like its getting closer and Shan and I both have this thought of “If our friend were drunk and shooting….” And run out of our tent past the pickup and pound on the car door for Nick to let us in.  Nick lets us is and we spend the night reminiscing on high school stories and laughing at what wusses we are in an over tired stupor.   At one point we finally all settle and start to fall into something resembling a sleep like state when a loud knocking comes to the window . I jump awake and yell “Holy shit it’s a bear!  It’s a bear!!!”  Surprising to no one but me it wasn’t a polite bear come to kindly ask to eat us but friends checking on us.

The good news was after our adventure that night, Jenny agreed to a hotel room the other over night trip we took while visiting her and I’m pretty sure no one will ever ask me to go camping again.

Growing up during the AIDS crisis

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It’s the summer of 1992, I am nine almost ten.  I still play with Barbies but my mom is trying to get me to wear a training bra.  I come home from the park one time to a stick of deodorant on my dresser.  I switch the TV between Rocko’s Modern Life and The Real World.

My sister, her friend and I are ridding our bikes home from a day at the pool.  We come to our neighborhood’s steep hill, so hop off to walk.  We are almost to the cemetery which signals the point where we usually get back on our bikes, when we see it. It is small, translucent, and appears to be dried to the concrete.

“What is that?” I ask my sister. “Is it a balloon?” Ah, the innocence.
“It’s a condom; I dare you to pick it up.” “Gross! No way.” Ok, so I’m not so innocent, my mom is a nurse without an age filter.

“Come on! I’ll pay you a dollar!” My sister eggs me on while her friend laughs. I like laughs and money, so I pick it up with the very edges of my fingers then throw it down. My sister laughs hard, with her mouth open and head back–in only a way she can. She then follows it will with a very sudden, stern. “Oh my god, we have to go tell mom, you’re going to get AIDS!” She is honestly scared and I’m about to cry, we ride our bikes home fast.

I have a group of girls I love to hang out with, even if they are very mean little girls. One time they tell me they all weighed themselves and then set the scale 15 pounds heavier before I step on. “Uh oh, you’re fat!” They exclaim. Worse yet, when we pretend we date famous actors they make me date Screech. These girls were bitches.

Two of these girls are sisters and live to the left of me, the other girl, lives to the right of me, Lindsey. Sometimes Lindsey’s super mean cousin Margret hangs out with us, I will go to the pool with my sister to avoid Margret and I can’t even swim.

“When you were gone, we became blood sisters.”  They tell me as I return from the pool one day. “Yeah, even Margret was here, but you weren’t part of it.” I get upset, cry and run home for dinner.

We are eating hamburger helper when the phone rings. My mom picks up “Woah, what happened?… Yes, I do talk to my daughters about AIDS…… No, she was with her sister earlier today…Ok, I will talk to her.”  They blamed me after making me sad that I wasn’t there.

It is December 1992 and we have just moved from South Dakota to Wisconsin. My dad grew up in Wisconsin and he is excited to share his home state and traditions. He introduces us to cheese curds, custard and “bubblers”. Life has changed a lot but we like having family nearby and I’m not being forced to fake date screech.

Tonight my dad is excited because his best friend from high school who he hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years is coming for dinner. My mother is unfortunately working but my sister and I are excited. My parents don’t have many friends and I like hanging out with adults.

My dad’s best friend is named Jim. He is very tall and super skinny. He hardly touches his tuna casserole but tells my dad how good it is about a hundred times. Jim eats one of our homemade Christmas cookies and tells stories about how he gave our dad a jar full of hundred dollars in pennies encased in a cement block for his wedding. We all laugh and the two men never send my sister and I away to play and in fact invite us to come with to drive Jim home.

Jim lives with his mother. I find this to be odd in addition to the fact that Jim doesn’t have a car, but don’t think about it too hard. Jim lives in the neighborhood my dad grew up in so he points out his old house. My dad and Jim have a long hug before Jim thanks us for sharing our dad for the evening and steps out of our van.

We drive in silence before my dad asks us “Did you notice anything peculiar about Jim?” “He’s very skinny” I offer “He didn’t eat his casserole” My sister says.

My dad speaks softly as I crawl up into the front seat “Jim is gay and dying of AIDS”

Neither my sister nor I speak.  In health class we have watched videos about Ryan White and Magic Johnson. And we know what Gay is; cue Pedro on the Real World. But watching your dad hug his best friend with AIDS is very different than a character on MTV.

I will never forget that experience nor coming home from school when my dad had gotten the call that his best friend had passed away.  I left part of my childhood behind that day and hugged my father with all the love a 10 year old possibly could.