My Ever Growing Shadow

For Mazie

My Ever Growing Shadow

started out as a small lump when I was six years old.
She’d never follow my lead or
join in on my fun.
Just laid there, smelling of baby powder and dirty diapers
except for the occasional flailing of tiny limbs
in an attempt to escape from a bath.

By the time I turned eight, my Shadow had finally become interesting.
She had grown
-though not much-
but at least She moved around now

excitedly,
energetically,
eagerly.

Even if She fell down after only
two steps
every time.

At ten, I lost my Shadow.
Separated by

walls                                                   and                                         windows,

cities               and                             streets.

But at twelve we found each other again.

Things were very different.
She had s  t  r  e  t  c  h  e  d out without me watching,
grown into herself some more.
Short, chubby limbs
had turned lean and long.
Her head marked with two waterfalls of hair flowing out above each ear.

My Shadow now moved with
ease
but never went too far.
She mirrored my movements
like
a marionette
destined to dance my  same dance.

As years passed,
my Shadow learned her own way,
her silhouette moving without mine,
and even though
my Shadow is ever growing

She will always stay
a little
smaller
and a little
sweeter

like any little sister should.

Getting Stoned

For our first Christmas together, my dad gave me a pair of bubblegum pink pajamas and matching fuzzy slippers that read as follows:

Boys Are Stupid Throw Rocks At Them

Who knew however, that in a twisted turn of fate, three years later, boys would still be stupid but I wouldn’t be the one throwing rocks at them. They would be the ones throwing them at me.

*

In the eighth grade my dad finally forced me to take the bus to middle school. Gone were the days of him driving me in each day and picking me up. My chauffer was quitting.

The biggest reason that I never wanted to take the bus until then was because of the wait at the bus stop. I was too afraid to stand there with a bunch of kids I didn’t know—especially since I was new to the school district. They had known each other their whole lives and I had no idea who they were. I didn’t know if they were friendly or nasty or if they’d ask me the standard list of questions: “Are you new here?” “Where’d ya go to school before this?” “Why’d ya move?” And no matter how many times I imagined it, they’d always be smacking their gum when asking these questions.

Simply put, I was intimidated. I saw them every day standing at the corner when my dad would drive past them to take me to school. They were a motley crew composed of an athletic brother and sister—who, I was convinced would be able to smell my unathleticism from a mile away— one tall and lanky European boy and his physically opposite short, round, Hispanic friend, and the “cool” kids, one who dressed in baggy pants with a backwards hat on with a cigarette permanently hanging out of his mouth and the other who kind of looked like Kurt Cobain if you squinted really hard. The athletes intimidated me, the two international kids confused me, but the “cool” kids scared the living daylights out of my thirteen-year old self. I was still watching the Disney Channel. They were probably watching porn.

Standing at the bus stop was like asking a tiny goldfish with a broken fin (ME) to enter the shark tank (THEM). But my dad loved me so much that he forced me to do it anyway.

So on the first day of school I was petrified to stand outside by myself amongst these kids. Fear pulsed through my veins as I said goodbye to my dad, gave another half-hearted attempt at putting up a fight to be driven to school—only to fail, of course—and pulled open my front door to see them all standing there. It was like they were waiting for me.

I put my headphones in and blasted really loud, angry music. I wanted to appear as tough as possible, even if I was wearing a messenger bag and a corduroy jacket.

As I slowly shuffled toward the corner, I could feel my heart beating in my chest. I said silent prayers to the school bus Gods that the bus would arrive early and save me from my misery. But as I stood there, time ticked away and the bus was still not arriving. With each minute that passed, I felt as though I could feel all of the crew’s eyes poring deeper and deeper into my soul. My chest felt tighter and tighter and I thought I might die from lack of oxygen.

After a merciless ten minute wait–which in retrospect is only about three and a half songs long–the bus finally arrived; relief washed over me and I hurried on the bus, lucky enough to find a seat all to myself. Finally, I could breathe easier knowing I had made it over the first hurdle—even if it was by a shoelace.

As the year went on, I got a little more used to standing at the bus stop. I had it down to a science. If I left at exactly 7:24 I could be the first one at the bus stop and be assured that 1) I would never miss the bus and 2) I would never have to walk toward the group of people that scared me so much. I would never have to see who I was keeping company with and could pretend like they didn’t exist as long as I didn’t turn my head. I kept my headphones in at all times and never said a word to anyone. I had my own spot where I stood each day and no one dared to encroach on my territory. We each designated our own places to stand–kind of like how dogs pee on hydrants to claim their territory–except we didn’t pee, we just became creatures of habit.

One day in the middle of winter, I walked out to the bus stop. I was the first one there as usual. The wind was howling around my head and with each gust I felt my organs huddle closer together within my core in an attempt to preserve life. I had whipped my head around to escape the wind’s bite and unfortunately caught sight of my company. No athletes or international friends today. Just me and the two “cool” kids (read: terrifyingly-dangerous-scary-and-much-bigger-than-me boys that could probably snap me in half if they wanted).

An overwhelming wave of panic washed over me. I was all alone with the two guys I was most afraid of in the world. Well, maybe the idea of Osama Bin Laden scared me a little bit more, but he was a distant fear. This was immediate.

Just like the first day of school the bus was late. Of course it was just my luck that the morning I feared for my life my rescue vehicle was running late. (I really shouldn’t have been surprised.) Each minute felt as if it was stretching on for days and even though I had my headphones in and my music was blasting I could still hear the boys’ voices. I didn’t know what they were saying, but then again, I didn’t want to.

All of a sudden, I heard one of them spit. And then I heard their shuffled feet. Frozen—from the cold and pure terror—I didn’t even turn my head to see what they were doing. But I didn’t have to. Because all of a sudden, I felt something hit my backpack. And then something hit my leg. And then a few more things hit the pavement around me.

Tiny, little stones.

I was extremely confused. Were they actually…stoning me? What was this, 400 B.C.E? I was certain I had imagined it. But I was too afraid to turn around to even confront them. And so I just stood there, turning my music louder and louder until suddenly, the bus turned down our street. Slowly, slowly, slowly it rolled its way toward my corner. It stopped in front of me and I rushed on, sat down, and bit my lip to keep from crying.

When I got home that day I wasn’t sure how to tell my dad that his one and only intelligent, talented—and at times, wacky (read: beloved)–daughter had essentially been stoned at the bus stop–NO THANKS TO HIM–so I tried to ease it into casual conversation. I didn’t want him to totally drown in his own guilt. Because if he hadn’t made me take the bus, this never would have happened.

I don’t remember his exact reaction to the news, though. Probably because it was very angry and heated. But I do know that the next day when I found myself alone with the two boys again and little stones landed at my feet, instead of being petrified, I imagined taking my dad’s old hockey stick out with me the next day and beating the boys over their heads asking if they “really wanted to mess with me?!?!” It was a crazy—and somewhat violent—fantasy but it got me through the ten minute wait for the bus.

When I got to school I immediately went to the main office and reported what had happened. I didn’t care if I was a tattletale or a loser/geek/orchestra nerd/wimp. I just didn’t want any more rocks thrown at me.

The next day, when I stood at the bus stop the athletic siblings and international friends had returned. I felt less intimidated by them than usual simply by knowing that there was safety in numbers and the two boys that had harassed me would be less likely to do it or confront me about it in front of other people.

I don’t know if the boys who harassed me ever got in trouble for what they did to me. No one at school called me in to talk about what happened. But maybe they did get talked to because I do know that it never happened again.

After that year, I never had to stand with those boys again. I heard rumors that the one that resembled Kurt Cobain ended up in Juvee and I don’t remember what ever happened to backwards-hat kid.

But I was lucky. Although this was definitely a really weird, atypical, and twisted way of bullying someone and made me feel mortified, in a lot of ways it was nothing compared to the verbal harassment a lot of kids face each day in the halls at school or even in their homes. They get teased mercilessly and called names and with cyber bullying they can be attacked even over the Internet. If there’s one thing I learned from my experience, it’s that no matter how small the incident may seem, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and especially fearful, you have to speak up. Even if you’re afraid, it’s worse to stay silent. Bullies may seem strong and tough because they aren’t afraid to say and do some ugly things, but don’t forget, you have a voice too. And you can’t be afraid to use it.

Landslide

It was a sticky, hot and humid Saturday in June. Even though it was later in the day, the heat was unbearable. Dressed in jean shorts, a yellow tank top, and sandals I sat on my front steps waiting for my aunt. I was so eager to go that I’d been out there for a while and was growing inpatient. I was ready to get in my own car and drive there myself. (Good thing I didn’t since we know how well my Jeep handles long distance drives.) At 4:45, she finally rolled up to my grandparents’ house to pick me up. I hopped in the passenger’s side and we finally began our journey. We were headed to the Jones Beach Theater to see Stevie Nicks.

We quickly stopped at the deli for sandwiches and made sure to get extra water bottles for the ride there. If we thought the heat was stifling before, sitting in the car with no air conditioning (since my grandpa only likes to fix the “necessities” on our cars) was like entering the gates of hell.

As we began our journey, our spirits were high and we looked forward to the nice drive onto Long Island. But somehow, as I co-piloted the mission and gave directions, we ended up in a traffic jam that had us sitting in the car, inching forward-with no breeze blowing through the windows-for over an hour. We blasted the radio to try and distract ourselves from the suffocating heat but there was no escaping it. It was like a blanket smothering us. Finally giving up on distractions, we looked at each other, our makeup smearing off our faces and started comparing who had sweat more. Laughing hysterically, I showed her the back of my shirt, which was soaked through. I felt the back of my legs and determined that when I eventually stood up (if we ever reached our destination) it would look like I had peed my pants. However, my aunt, who had worn a black tank top, had completely sweat through her entire shirt, had sweat beads dripping down her forehead through her headband and had little droplets of sweat coming out of her elbows. She won.

Finally, we started to gain speed. The wind, although warm, rushed through the windows of the car and I held my arms up to dry out. The radio back on again, I sang along to some of the popular tunes on the radio no matter how awful they were.

Faster than expected, we arrived at the tollbooth to cross over onto Long Island. The lines were tremendous and with no breeze again, I immediately began to sweat in the stifling heat. As we sat there waiting to pay our toll, a big brick red van pulled up beside us on my side. The driver–an olive skinned, dark haired, handsome guy in his mid-to late thirties–stuck his head out of his window and shouted at me “You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!” Considering I was dripping sweat at such a rate that I was sitting in my own puddle of it, I just stared at him incredulously. I guarantee that it was NOT the face of anyone beautiful. I had been stunned into silence and could only point at myself as if to say “Huh? Me?” to which he responded by pointing past me at my aunt. Go figure. I grabbed her attention and pointed in the direction of the guy in the van–I still had no words to describe the situation at hand. “You’re gorgeous! You’re gorgeous!” he called to my aunt across the barriers of interstate highway traffic, 100% humidity, my frizzy hair, and two vehicles. Unlike me, my aunt did not just STARE at this man with a crazy look on her face. Instead, she embraced her confidence and started talking to the guy and told him we were on our way to a concert. Slowly, we inched toward the tollbooth. In a last ditch attempt to totally pick my aunt up, the man wrote his number on a Band-Aid, hopped out of his van and gave it to her. Very classy. We rolled through the tollbooth and went our separate ways. I believe this was the reason we had to suffer through the heat: so our windows would be down so this guy could see my aunt and totally hit on her in the strangest place (a tollbooth, seriously?!) in order to make one of the most bizarre and unbelievable memories of my life so far.

Back on the highway with wind blowing through the car I could smell the ocean’s salt water. The setting sun streamed in through the car and I felt at peace.

After what felt like hours, we arrived to the theater. We got a parking spot and I sat on our trunk (which was surprisingly not hot) and had an eggplant Parmesan sub. I observed the others in the parking lot tailgating, laughing and joking. It really was a beautiful scene. It was as if everyone left their problems behind before they came to the venue. They were just enjoying themselves. I wanted to be more like that. Before I knew it, it was time to pick up our tickets for the show. We met up with my aunt’s friend who had a couple extra tickets and we entered the venue. I immediately got an ice cream cone to celebrate our arrival, which had taken too long.

We entered the stadium and found our seats. We had no idea where they would be and boy were we surprised when they were only one level up from the orchestra seats! They were perfect. As we sat waiting for Stevie to come out I found myself feeling so content, surrounded by people that loved the same music as me and my aunt and who I imagined to live lives that I wanted to emulate more of. Before I knew it, the sun had set and it was time for the concert to begin.

Stevie came out dressed in a beautiful, exotic, black corset and skirt with a flowing shawl over her shoulders contrasting against her long blonde hair that blew in the ocean breeze. She was stunning and her voice was mesmerizing. It was rugged and rough and just cut right through me. She commanded the stage with such ease. Without a fancy light show or dancers, like many popular artists have today, there were no distractions from her vocal and musical performance. It was simple, yet so powerful. I felt calm as her music washed over me like the tide. The music absorbed through my pores as I swayed to the music as the same breeze that was kissing Stevie’s skin kissed mine. I could not have felt any happier for those two hours.

I’d been to plenty of concerts before seeing Stevie but somehow, this one signified a shift in my life; a transition from insecure girl to young adult, grieving daughter to college student. It helped me imagine the life I wanted to lead. It had truly been a perfect combination of things. The venue: Long Island-where my dad lived for a time-and where the breeze washed away any worries. The music: so rock and roll and pure (no matter how cliche that may sound). And the company: my aunt, whose outrageousness can only make me smile. It was as if the stars all aligned for me to have this experience to remind me of the power of music and it’s ability to make someone feel, in the words of one of my favorite books, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” infinite.

Happy Birthday Dad

Looking through an old journal, I found this poem dated April 11, 2009. I wrote it for an English class and gave it to my dad for his birthday that year (May 2nd). He turned 54. He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier that winter and I wanted to give him something that would show how much I loved him. He passed away when he was 55.

As a kid you weren’t always there for me
but you came when I needed you to be.
A move would never come easy to us
but we muddled though it all with small fuss.
You were finally there for everything
from summer, to fall, through winter and spring.
And even now that things have changed so much
I’ll always be there for a hand to touch.
I guess I know the place where I feel best
and that’s next to you, where I’m truly blessed.
When we’re in the car with music playing,
song after song, our arrival delaying,
the sun shining brightly on our faces,
trees pass by, seeing so many places.
No words are spoken but we’re both content
knowing where we’re going and where we went.
We’re a team, always and forever, Dad.
Everything will be okay, don’t be sad.
Together we’ll get through it all I know
because we’re a team, forever we’ll grow.