Make It Easy on Yourself

My husband: “Seriously, Jen. This Facebook post about your thesis defense must be your most popular post ever. People keep liking it.”

Me: “It makes up for the nine birthday wishes I got this year.”

My husband: “No, really. I think it’s because of what you wrote about me.”

Me: “What? Because I was publicly nice to you? That thing about love and support?”

My husband: “Yes. That. Exactly.”

Me: “I don’t think so. People just like milestones. And baby pictures. And cats.”

*   *   *

I love Facebook birthdays. Seriously, the last eight birthdays since I joined Facebook have made up for the 30+ birthdays prior.

My birthday is in August. Worse: the end of August. No one remembers your birthday when they are boogey boarding and eating funnel cake by the Jersey shore.

This year, as most years, I pretended to not be excited about my upcoming Facebook birthday. I also pretended to not be upset at 12 noon on August 19 when I had only received birthday greetings on my wall from my mother and my old friend, Sondra, with whom I share a private birthday challenge. (For decades now, we’ve competed to be the first to wish each other a happy birthday.)

Checking my watch as we set out for our family vacation to the Israeli desert, I silently pacified my ego by blaming the time difference between Israel and the U.S. However, later that evening, only a handful of greetings on “the wall,” I realized the annual sea of flattery and acknowledgment was not coming.

I would, I guess, need to feel satisfied by the real-time, in-person love of the people in my company: my husband, my three kids, and friends we were travelling with. That was new.

susan d note fb

*   *   *

When I turned 18, the week before we all left for college, my girlfriends bought me a book about sex and a package of Today sponges as a birthday present. A how-to guide with illustrated positions, that book might have been the most thoughtful birthday present I ever got from friends. I saved it for many years. It was lost somewhere between Elizabeth, NJ and the port of Haifa.

I wonder if writing today about this memory of the birthday sex book  is why I dreamed last night about a college boyfriend I haven’t seen in decades, and why I remembered this morning he said to me once, “Enough with the hand job. I can do that myself.”

*   *   *

The good thing about your Facebook friends forgetting your birthday is the idea that once something is on the internet, it might have a chance at one day being forgotten. That we don’t have to worry so much about naked photos of our children on instagram or that time we wrote a blog post about the color and consistency of our poop.

*   *   *

There’s a line in my thesis I love. In fact, it might be one of the most important statements in my entire thesis (a lyric essay memoir).

Despite my fears of saying what I really think, I am almost certain the people who have loved me over the years of my life love me because of the words I’ve spoken out loud, not because of the words I’ve kept to myself. 

This almost-belief is what allows me to sleep the nights I’m worried about the words I’ve written: on the blog, in old letters on frayed pages of spiral-bound notebook paper, or in emails during the late nineties. It makes me think I will one day be forgiven by anyone I’ve ever hurt. It gives me the confidence to continue sharing my internal truths, even when I’m so frightened by the consequences of admitting to them.

*   *   *

Truth: I suffered the absence of my Facebook birthday this year. I really did. And I will likely suffer next year, so DON’T FORGET!

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like how much I want your attention, how much I want you to remember me…and fondly. I don’t like that I still struggle with loving myself enough so that I don’t need to be loved by you.

But I’m getting there.

Maybe this is why so many people liked my “thesis defense post.” They subconsciously know I’m getting there.

 I’m getting there.

They said this outfit was 3D

I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”

The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.

She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.

These things

“Thoughts were things, to be collected, collated, analyzed, shelved, or resolved. Fragmentary ideas, apparently unrelated, were often found to be part of a special layer or stratum of thought and memory…”  –H.D., Writing on the Wall


I seal in plastic Ziploc bags photographs, letters, my child’s artwork. I pile up large Tupperware containers of high school journals, college scrapbooks, and sticker albums I’ve saved since 3rd grade.  There is even a small box inside a larger box in which I store cut-up cotton shirts; remnants of all the graphic tees I ever stuffed into the set of almond-colored formica drawers of my childhood bedroom. The idea was to make a quilt one day. But it’s been more than 20 years since I cut them and still they remain fragments of a former social life.

Sometimes, I let go. I purge, actually; for the movement is swift and forceful.

I gather up books and plastic toys from McDonald’s and washed out jelly jars I was saving for just-in-case. I rally the troops in their respective bedrooms and we dig out unaccounted for Lego, DVDs, and well-loved teddies they once birthed at Build-A-Bear.

It used to be that we would prepare a yard sale — display all our attachments large and small on the grass for others to descend upon and barter for. Now, I push it all down into a free tote bag I got once at the grocery store and drive to the recycling area.

My load becomes lighter then. I feel clean in the same way I do when I make the bed before sleeping in it.

It’s temporary, though, this weightlessness. I will feel dirty again. I will feel weighed down by the objects that make up my life.

* * *

Sometimes I want it all back.

Not all. But something specific.

Days or years pass, for instance, and suddenly I long for the floor-length sleeveless, blue and white flowered dress I traded in for credit at the secondhand shop on Broadway because I could never bend down when I wore it. When I realize it’s missing, I’m surprised. How could I have given up that dress? Didn’t I understand that one day it might fit me differently? There are photographs of me in that dress I can actually tolerate – black and white strip photos taken on the boardwalk in Ocean City. I was younger then. I wore contacts. But, I think it was the dress that made me pretty.

Sometimes, in a dream, I’ll be certain I still own a pair of shoes I have long since abandoned. Where are they, the black wedges I know will be perfect for the job interview I have tomorrow?  I frantically shuffle around my dusty, hardwood-lined closet floor, pushing to the side my brown suede clogs and my untied docksiders and my Naot sandals. My fingers will never find them because I listed them on a Freecycle board two years ago and subsequently dropped them off in front of a Tudor in South Orange, NJ.

One morning, I wake up and realize I’ve been dreaming about the brown leather backpack I carried with me through four years of college and some years after. I don’t even remember when I threw it away. This pains me. Documenting my losses is a coping mechanism.

Soft to the touch, but robust enough to manage three spiral-bound notebooks, a heavy “baby chem” textbook, and a glass bottle of Raspberry Snapple tucked away in a side unzippered pouch — that brown leather backpack was the security blanket of my young adulthood. Sometimes I tucked the yellow Sony Walkman into the other side pocket, a long track of rubber-lined wire snaking out and up into my ears as I hiked the city blocks between my apartment on F Street and the modern mirrored building on 22nd where I took beginner’s Hebrew on the 3rd floor and piano lessons in the basement.  There were crumbs of a chocolate chip cookie that smelled like nicotine once at the bottom of that brown leather backpack.

There was a flap, too, that closed off the main compartment, but also served as a wallet-like coin holder, with room enough for a wad of cash and easy access to my student ID. With one hand, I could click the flap shut into a magnetic metal clasp. Even though it appeared to be a complicated buckle, it wasn’t. It was very simple actually.

I must have gotten rid of the brown leather backpack in Tucson.

It must have been after my mother treated me to the high end, shiny Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag.  Like the brown leather backpack, it was a handy carryall with suitable compartments – an easy-access exterior pocket for diapers and wipes; one of the side pockets for bottles. It even came with an interior zippered pouch for personal items, a nursing pad, or eventually, a tampon.

When my son was two, we decided to leave Arizona to head back to where we came from in New Jersey.  That’s when we had our first yard sale. We sold the glass tables we registered for at Pottery Barn. We sold one of the lamps, too. We sold the swing set in the backyard.  I don’t remember what else.

It must have been then I parted with the brown leather backpack.

I guess.

* * *

Now, it’s a black canvas backpack I carry daily (a leftover promotional gift from a job I left 14 years ago). Inside are two pieces of uneaten fruit and half a cream cheese sandwich prepared on a gluten-free pita.  There is an unzippered side pocket from which a Laken thermo-insulated bottled filled with filtered water peeks out and another side pocket in which I carry plastic bags for “just in case.”  In two exterior zippered compartments, there is spare change for use in either Israel or in America, but not in both.  There are markers, pencils, pens, bubblegum already chewed.

It’s durable, my black canvas backpack.  And loved, too, in a colder more practical way. I carry it on two shoulders instead of one. I am often in awe of how long it’s lasted.

From time to time –in between classes at the university where I am studying for my Master’s degree or on a plane seated in the middle of two of my children — I consider how long and often I’ve weighed the black backpack down. How I’ve tested it. How it still serves me.

I wonder, too, how I will one day lose track of the black canvas backpack or if I will wear it until it breaks.

What is a classic?

What is a classic?

The Giving Tree in English. But not in Hebrew.

What is a classic?

The Wonder Years. Especially the one in which Paul becomes a bar mitzvah. Or any episode with The Byrds as background music.

What is a classic?

Mighty Love. Let My Love Open the Door. All You Need is Love. In My Room.

What is a classic?

Cornbread. Warmed.

What is a classic?

Square dancing in gym class. Sorry, more Wonder Years.

What is a classic?

I don’t know. Classics are supposed to be timeless and yet some classics have changed for me with time.  Like, The Giving Tree used to be IT for me and now I suppose The Missing Piece is. But that just happened 15 minutes ago. Can it be a classic already? Moby Dick is not a classic, and yet it is, just not for me. Not yet. But it might be one day and then I will look back at today and realize I was ignorant of the classics. The Wizard of Oz is a classic, but I’ve watched it too many times and now it is a classic, but stale.

Like The Shawshank Redemption.

Like TBS.

Like Apple Pie.

I suppose if I had to say, a classic is that which makes me cry when I am not sad.

What is a classic?

The tune to My Darling Clementine.

Mint.

Feet in the sand.

The Barbie Dreamhouse with the elevator.

Jim Croce.

Half-burnt marshmallow on a stick.

Josh and Jodie.

My dad’s green fiat.

Pepsi Free.

Yesterday.

That time my Bubbi cried at Denny’s because her eggs were runny.

That time my brother threw a rootbeer bottle at me.

That time the car was stuck in the mud in a rainstorm, but I only remember that one in a dream.

What is a classic?

Forgot my locker combo.

Forgot to study for the final.

Left my passport at home.

What is a classic?

“These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.”

What is a classic?

“In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves reduced to I
and the whole thing became silly, ironic, terrible.”

What is a classic?

“It is startling
to realize that
some of our most cherished memories
may never have happened — or may
have happened to someone else.”

What is a classic?

What is         a classic?

——–

The above contains poetry by Sylvia Plath (“Stillborn”) and Adrienne Rich (“In Those Years”), and commentary on memory by Oliver Sacks