goodbye is a bitch

As I write this post, I am sitting on my parents’ screened-in porch, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, covered in a thin but ever-present layer of dog hair, drinking a Diet Pepsi (sorry Mary, I have no idea why there is no Coke in this house, please don’t be ashamed of me), and batting away the occasional advances of two loving and eager dogs whose attention-seeking behavior is clearly a ploy to steal my prime spot on the loveseat where I’ve been sprawled all afternoon.

It feels good to be home. Really, it does. And I know it will be hard to leave again when I load up my car this fall to drive all the way out west, but getting back here was hard. Over the course of one week, I watched my students graduate and move out, then gradually said goodbye to each of my friends and coworkers as they headed home — some for just the summer, some for only a few weeks, but all of whom I had no idea when I would see again. After the residence hall had emptied out, I began the daunting and stressful task of cleaning out and packing up my apartment — a collection of furniture, clothes, and knick knacks that have made two adjoining dorm rooms feel like home for the past three years. All I could take with me were the things that would fit in my sedan, so a giant purge was in order. However, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m a pretty sentimental person. Getting rid of things was an ordeal. I didn’t want to part with the six dollar end table I’d picked up from the thrift store or the throw pillows I’d sewn that matched my bedding. I wasn’t ready to sort through my nail polish collection and decide between two shades of lavender, or throw out the half empty bottle of perfume I never use, or reduce the size of my mason jar collection to just a couple. As I sorted through donations, trash, and things to keep, I watched my life collect into piles. Stuff. Things. Objects. Things that could be considered meaningless but meant something to me.

As much as I wish I could be the kind of person who can throw her life into a few suitcases and boxes and be ready to move across the country, I’m not. I like to be at home, wherever I am. I like decorations — little random jars filled with things, pictures on the walls, fuzzy blankets draped across the couch, shelves filled with books and movies and frames. I like comfort and coziness, and I’d built that for myself at my home in Michigan. It felt safe. As I looked ahead at the next chapter — moving to a new city, a new region, going back to school, taking a bunch of new risks — I wanted all of that safety to come with me. I wanted to pick up my living room, with the shelf on the wall filled with books and records, the squishy couch where my kids curled up and told me their secrets, and the old tube TV that I bought before my freshman year of college, and bring it with me to Spokane. I didn’t want to sort through it, I just wanted it all to come with me. I wanted to walk into my new apartment, turn on my same twinkly lights, and see all of my things there, greeting me like old friends.

In the end, I emptied my two rooms into my tiny car. It wasn’t easy. I got rid of things I didn’t want to, but I kept all the basics, the things that were irreplaceable (and plenty of things that are, but I’m stubborn). I had no less than three major meltdowns. One such meltdown occurred two days before I was scheduled to drive back to Minnesota, as I sat surveying the refugee-like state I was living in, half-packed boxes and trash bags surrounding me, and sent a panicked text to my friend Mary, who promptly responded with “Where are you? I’m coming.” (She showed up no less than five minutes later with a bar of chocolate. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year.) And it was among those boxes and bags, as I cried to Mary about everything left to do the next day and my fears about leaving and how my mom hadn’t been home when I’d called her earlier, that I realized it wasn’t just my stuff I was attached to. It was everything. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my friends who were still here, to say goodbye to this place. I had spent so much of my last days there tearing through my belongings, throwing things in trash bags and deciding what was worth the space, and not enough time making my peace with leaving.

That final night, with my car loaded up, my walls bare, and only some blankets and a massive bag of laundry left in my bedroom, I cried a lot. I said goodbye to some of the most important people in my life and sobbed. I brushed my teeth while crying. I tried to calculate if there would still be room in my car for my laundry and I cried about that. I hugged my teddy bear which I had purposely left unpacked and cried some more. But I let myself cry because, fuck, the whole thing sucked, and I wasn’t about to pretend that it didn’t.

I drove the whole twelve hours back to Minnesota in one shot, the first time I’ve ever done that alone without splitting it over two days. I filled up my gas tank and shelled out the $4.25 for an iced mocha because that’s what you do when you’re about to drive all damn day and you’re on the constant verge of tears. And even though I had been dreading the drive and I cried a lot during the first few hours, I survived it. I sang through countless Broadway soundtracks, I made up a bunch of weird harmonies to old John Mayer songs, I cursed my car for its lack of air conditioning and cruise control, I got stuck in countless construction zones, I refused to stop for fast food and instead subsisted on snacks, and, with four hours left, I crammed the raggedy blanket I’ve had since infancy under my ass to try and elevate my partially-numb right leg and keep going. But when I got home, my mom had bought four different flavors of Ben & Jerry’s to welcome me. My dogs jumped up and down. My dad told me we didn’t have to unload the car until tomorrow. I collapsed into the comfort and familiarity of a place that wasn’t my usual home and I knew it would do for the summer.

So now I’m here, with another chapter of my life behind me (and most of it still in boxes, because I hate unpacking). And I still feel a little bit like there’s a Michigan-shaped hole in my heart, and I know it’s going to feel that way for awhile. Until I move to my new apartment and I fill it with new old thrift store tables and mason jars and twinkly lights. Until I find the new people who will play Cards Against Humanity with me on a Monday night or sit at the coffee shop for hours on end. Until I have time to let my feet sink into the new soil around them and my eyes adjust to the streets and buildings so that they become just another familiar sight. Until it feels like my home.

I have unending thanks for the things I gained in magical northern Michigan over three years and four summers. I don’t think I would be sitting here, writing this post, dreaming about the future if I hadn’t taken a chance and gone there in the first place. So even though goodbye is one of the hardest words I’ve had to say in that place, I’m thankful that I got the chance to say it at all.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

lessons in adulthood from a 1999 Chevy (and my dad)

Some people have an emotional attachment to the first car they drive. Some people have memories of being sixteen, driving around in the sticky July heat, singing along to Cat Stevens with their best friends at midnight, or making out with their first love in the backseat while parked in the driveway of their parents’ house, or buying that first car freshener that is supposed to make the interior smell like “Hawaiian breeze” but really just makes such a small, enclosed space wreak of old lady perfume. Some people look fondly at the small dent in the door and remember the time their best friend crashed a bike into the side of the car during spring break.

I am not one of those people.

For the past three years, I have driven a 1999 Chevrolet Lumina, and for the past three years, I have loathed that car with my entire being. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have a car that my generous parents graciously allowed me to haul all the way to Michigan, because living at boarding school in the woods without a mode of personal transportation would have made me certifiably insane. I don’t know what I would do without my little old Chevy. I just don’t have any warm fuzzy memories about this car in particular.

My car is named Oscar, a name that my sister gave it as soon as she got her driver’s license and inherited it. In addition to me, Oscar has been driven by both of my sisters, my uncle, and my grandfather, who originally owned it. I feel the need to explain this to anyone who rides in Oscar, based on several factors:

  1. It is extremely obvious that this car used to be owned by a senior citizen. The color is what I like to refer to as “tumbleweed,” a muted tan-brown color that only a senior citizen would select when purchasing a vehicle. You know the color. Tumbleweed is the safe choice, because black and white show dirt too easily, and red and blue are just too flashy. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when you’re driving to church or the pharmacy.
  2. This car was made when car phones were still relevant. I know this because there are two forms of car phone devices inside Oscar. One is a plastic receiver that looks like a toy phone sprouting out of the floor between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It doesn’t stay mounted to anything in particular, so it just gets kicked around because the curly cord that attaches it to the floor is ridiculously long. The other is an arm-shaped mount and/or charger from 1999 – when cell phones were still the size of a ketchup bottle – coming out of the (mostly non-functioning) car stereo. It doesn’t fit the floor receiver because that would make too much sense, but instead just interferes with most of the stereo buttons on the right side and makes it impossible to see the clock from the passenger seat. However, it does function as an excellent hanger for trash bags and other miscellaneous items.
  3. There are two bumper stickers on the back, neither of which I selected myself. One reads “world peace” and the other “I (heart) sushi.” While the former is obviously something I support, and the latter is an absolutely true statement about my feelings toward raw fish rolled in rice and seaweed, neither of these proclamations are things I would have chosen to state publicly by slapping stickers on the rear end of my vehicle. I don’t even have a problem with the overall concept of bumper stickers. In fact, there are many nice stickers I’ve come across that I have considered adorning my car with. But, since my sisters both drove Oscar before I moved to Michigan and took him with me, the world peace and sushi stickers are stuck there for the entire world to see. Sometimes, I imagine someone driving behind me and cursing me when I suddenly slam on the brakes because a rabbit is crossing the road: “GODDAMMIT! What’s your problem, sushi lover?!”
  4. The car still smells like old people, despite the fact that it hasn’t been driven by anyone over the age of 25 in almost ten years.

Oscar is not the kind of car I thought I would be driving at age twenty-four. But he is fully paid for, so while my friends who drive flashier, newer vehicles are emptying their bank accounts every month to pay off their cars and undergrad student loans, I’m able to spend excessive amounts of money on nail polish, clearance-priced sweaters, air fresheners, and shampoo every time I set foot in Target. I’m effectively still a broke-ass twentysomething, but at least it’s not because I drive a car that’s too fancy for me.

While I like to think of myself as an independent woman most of the time, the truth is I have my dad’s number saved in my phone favorites for the exclusive purpose of calling him whenever something goes wrong with my car. Eventually, my dad purchased Triple A for our family, and I am convinced it is because of the number of times I have called him from Michigan because my car won’t start. I still call him out of desperation every time, though, and he still replies every time, “Sorry. Call Triple A and have them jump it for you.”

On one recent night, as I made a treacherous winter drive into the closest town to where I live, my turn signals mysteriously stopped working. Instead of shrugging it off and figuring I would deal with it once I got to my destination, I veered off the road and into the first gas station parking lot I could find. I pulled my fingers out of my mittens, still frozen from scraping the daily layer of snow and ice off of Oscar, and frantically dialed my father.

“Dad!” I exclaimed when he, surprisingly, answered the phone. My dad hates talking on the phone more than anything. He is notorious for not answering, and when he does, our conversations usually last no longer than two minutes before he asks if I want to talk to my mom.

“Hi, Maddie,” he said, his voice echoing suspiciously.

“Am I on speakerphone?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’m, uh, I’m playing MarioKart,” he replied.

My family owned no gaming systems until I was ten years old. Then my parents gave me and my sister a PlayStation for Christmas. My dad, who picked out a few games for us to start out with, ended up playing a game called “Spyro the Dragon” all night on New Years Eve, and it became clear that the gift was more for him than us. Years later, when the Nintendo Wii was released, my mom gave him one for his birthday, along with the newest version of MarioKart, which was really exciting because you could use the controllers as actual wheels. Five years later, my dad still plays MarioKart for at least a half hour a day (usually during his lunch hour – he comes home, makes a sandwich, and plays a few races before heading back to the office), despite the fact that he has beat literally everything you can beat within the game. Instead, he races online against other players who, for some reason, are also home in the middle of the day. I suspect that my father’s main opponents are college students and competitive stay-at-home moms whose children are napping.

All things aside, MarioKart is some kind of release for my dad, and I guess that’s not a bad thing, really. He doesn’t have many other hobbies, unless you count watching The History Channel, reading political blogs, and making specialty drinks with his expensive, state-of-the-art espresso machine.* Plus, his MarioKart addiction has led me to acquire mediocre skills in the game because of the number of times I’ve played against him. Skills that I have been able to unveil at several different parties, much to the surprise of most of my male friends, who assume I’m useless at video games** because, well, I spend most of my free time writing, pining after fictional characters, and painting my nails. I’m also not a competitive person by nature, hence my aversion to team sports of any kind, but put a Wii Wheel in my hands and I will cut a bitch.

“Okay, well, I have a question about my car,” I said, choosing to ignore the video game sound effects on the end of the line. “I’m not sure if you can even help me, but I thought I’d try. The turn signals aren’t working. Like, even when I try to use them, they don’t blink on the dash at all.”

Victorious music erupted from the game before my dad said, “Hmmm, yeah, it’s probably either a fuse or a switch.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you will need to replace the fuse if that’s what it is.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“Well, you might have to wait until morning and go to an auto shop, then.”

“Dad, I’m on my way to town! I promised John I would go to his gig!” I had reverted back to my teenager-y speaking tone. But in my defense, I was on my way to town to see my friend John play drums in a local band, and I was already running twenty minutes late.

“Just drive carefully and brake slowly anytime you’re going to turn,” my dad said. He sounded only mildly exasperated with my helplessness. “You can always use hand signals, too.”

“WHAT?!”

“Hand signals. You know how to do that, right?”

“Well . . . yeah. But I’m not doing that, Dad.”

“Why not? It’s a perfectly legal option.”

“Nope, not happening. Um, how hard would it be to change the fuse myself?”

So my father, nearly 700 miles away, talked me through finding the fuse panel (on the dash, next to the passenger side door), reading the key in the manual (page 6-56), and where to buy extra fuses at 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night (a superstore that is open 24 hours a day). And in the parking lot of Meijer, wearing skinny jeans and boots that were made for fashion, not function, I knelt down in the slushy parking lot and singlehandedly located and changed the appropriate fuse in an attempt to get my turn signals working.

The fuse in question did not fix the turn signals and I ended up having to take my car in to the mechanic the following week, but the entire experience of hunting for the fuse panel, buying the right kind of replacement fuse, and managing to yank the old one out like a decaying tooth in a dark parking lot at 10:00 p.m. made me feel undeniably like a grown up, independent woman. Despite the fact that I had to get step-by-step instructions from my dad from two states away, I had managed to troubleshoot a problem on a car that I usually held nothing but lukewarm feelings for.*** Driving home from town that night, I started to think that, after three years of having a full-time job and living far away from my family, I was finally starting to become an adult. I was able to do my taxes without my dad’s help (thank you, TurboTax!), I knew how to get basically anywhere in town without using my GPS, and I had finally learned how to cook eggs beyond scrambling them. I could make it on my own . . . as long as I had my dad on speed dial.

Tune in next time, when I use my newfound empowerment to change a tire**** and shop for household appliances.

* I’m not joking when I say this is the most complex piece of equipment in my parents’ kitchen. When I was home a few months ago, my dad was tinkering with it, and when I asked him what he was doing, he replied simply, “Upgrading the software.” Leave it to my father, the computer programmer, to have an espresso machine with software.

** An assumption that is mostly accurate, with the exception of MarioKart and any rhythm-based dance or music game. Go ahead, challenge me to Guitar Hero. I dare you.

*** But a few days later, when the cigarette lighter that I plug my iPod transmitter into (the only feasible way to play my own choice of music, because the CD player in Oscar’s stereo skips madly every time I make a left turn) crapped out on me, I was able to fix it by locating and replacing the fuse . . . no phone call to my father necessary!

**** HAHAHA.

stop posting on facebook about how your mom is the best, because obviously mine is

Mommy cuddle puddle.

Mommy cuddle puddle.

For someone who has decided they want to become a writer, I’ve sure been doing a crappy job of keeping this blog updated. Truthfully, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing lately, but most of it isn’t material that I want to post here right now. So I decided to take this Mother’s Day, as I sit at the local coffeeshop, two lattes into my afternoon and hiding from the SNOW that decided to make an appearance halfway through May, to write a short post about my beautiful mom. I know nothing I write will be able to truly express just how important this woman is in my life, but I’m going to try anyway.

A few days ago, I was having a rough time, which is typical of my anxious self at this point in the school year. We’ve only got two weeks left, and my time isn’t really my own anymore. For every item I cross off my to-do list, three more get added to the bottom. I’ve also been making every effort to spend quality time with my girls before they graduate and move on, not to mention all my coworkers and friends who will not be returning next school year. It’s overwhelming, but it can’t really be avoided.

That said, I called my mom during one particular moment when I felt like the sky was falling. She’s always the one I call because she knows the ins and outs of my frightening brain when I work myself into what one can only describe as “a tizzy.” Coming off a long work week, a marathon day of meetings, and a couple moments of introspection about the state of my life, I sat on a bench on campus as the sun was setting, and I cried to her about all the little things in my life that sucked at that specific time. I was a fragile mess, but luckily, my mother is perhaps the only person alive who knows exactly how to put me in my place without sounding like a bitch.

“You realize you tend to think of everything that’s going wrong all at once when you’re feeling stressed, right?” she said, simply.

That’s my mom. She lets me word vomit all over her from two states away whenever I’m having a bad day, and she still manages to help calm me down with easy sayings like, “You’ll be okay. Go collect yourself and get back to work.”

As the oldest of three daughters, I’ve gone through a lot of firsts with my mom. We’ve had our ups and downs, but she is still the one I go to for pretty much everything. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve had the privilege of looking up to. I know I wouldn’t have made it where I am without a beautiful, ambitious, loving person like her as my support system. When I moved away after college, the hardest part was saying goodbye to her and knowing I would only be seeing her for holidays and special occasions during the foreseeable future. But I think we’ve survived the separation and it’s made all the moments I do get to spend with her that much more special.

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma. I can’t wait to see you in June, and I couldn’t be prouder to be your daughter.