How Rory Gilmore and Other Television and Film Teens Helped Me get Through High School

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According to many, I am a millennial. I do not relate to most of what the media claims are traits held by millennials but this may be due to my “Older-millennial” status as I was born in 1985. While I did play Oregon Trail on an old Mac and possessed Giga Pets and Tamagotchis, my peers did not have cell phones in high school, save for a few rich kids, during senior year, who had old Nokias for emergencies. As a teenager, coming of age in this very specific moment in time, I had, in my opinion, the best role models that television and film had to offer. Going to school and making friends was not easy for me. In fact, most days of high school were spent faking sick so I could stay home. My anxiety was too high and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and watch the much more interesting lives of characters who resided in the confines of The WB network or the teen films of the 80s and 90s that I had re-watched ad nauseam.

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Once while watching a rented copy of She’s All That, a film I had already seen a few time since its release, my mother asked why I enjoyed films about high school so much but hated going there for real. I couldn’t explain it to her as she was someone who looked back fondly at high school. She craved social gatherings and cared little about the academics, while I thrived in the books department but cringed at interacting with others. There was something magical about  Laney Boggs and Jake Stiler, just as there was something special about Kat and Bianca Stafford form 10 Things I Hate About You.

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While staying at home, I would re-watch recorded episodes of Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity, Roswell, and Popular. If it was on The WB, it was almost impossible to escape my complete dedication. Though it may seem pathetic to be so entranced by fictional people, there was something comforting knowing that Joey Potter, Buffy Summers, and Felicity Porter would all be in my life each week. Even when the episodes were delayed for baseball games or presidential addresses, I knew that they would return. During a hiatus or summer break, I had my trusty videotapes that held six hours of recorded episodes each.

 

In the fall of 2000, I was fifteen-years-old and a sophomore in High School and it may have been my best semester in traditional high school ever. As a senior, I attended a Continuation school, but that sophomore year, I managed to attend most days, ace all of my tests and quizzes and even became part of the school newspaper and drama club. This was not simply a decision I made on my own accord, it was something I only attempted following the inspiration of my newest television role model, Rory Gilmore.

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Years before, I related to the bookish Joey, Felicity and Willow Rosenberg but Rory struck an even bigger chord. Not only did she love to read and write, but she was also exactly my age when the show aired and she shared a nearly identical dynamic with her mother as I did with mine. Just like Rory and Lorelai, My mother and I are best friends who speak at a speed that only confused others. Watching Rory fight her way through the new atmosphere of Chilton and succeed in spite of her somewhat outsider mentality, she made being nerdy desirable. This was before nerdiness was the coolest thing anyone could be. This was before Seth Cohen was considered a teen dream and comic book movies became mainstream. Rory spoke about literary characters and obscure films and music on a regular basis. Every cultural reference filled me with knowing elation. Walking those halls during my sophomore year, I felt confident and supported by my band of fictional, female misfits, even if they only accompanied me in spirit.

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After attending a continuation school where I became editor of the school newspaper, a very Rory Gilmore thing to do, I went to college. In college, something changed in me and I was able to branch out and make friends, real three-dimensional friends who existed outside of my 90s RCA television. Now in my early thirties, I pushed through high school, a Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Arts degree, all in spite of the anxiety-filled school days of my younger self. To this day, even after being married, having two children, and making some fantastic friends, I still often revisit my old friends through dvds and Netflix. If it wasn’t for them, or film characters like Veronica Sawyer from Heathers, Watts from Some Kind of Wonderful or even Missy from Bring it On, I may have been lost in my own misfit status with no assurance that having different interests or having thoughts that may seem contrary to my schoolmates did not make me unlikable or destined to be alone. It merely made me believe that there was a real-life version of Pacey Witter, Lane Kim, Willow, Buffy, or Torrance out there somewhere, and I was right.

Having my children and partner with me most of the time helps me thrive and lessens my daily anxiety. Having so much support that doesn’t come from a screen helps, but I would be lying if I said that I don’t often return to the comforting world of 90s teen films and television. It’s become a part of me and always will be.

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All that Remains (Chapter 2)

I thought I might at add chapter 2 of my YA novel, see what you all think. I posted Chapter 1 a few days ago.

Chapter 2

Ellie’s final soccer season was cut short for her final year since most of the people on the team were seniors and didn’t feel the need to extend their after-school activity much longer than High School. Rather than the season-ending on September 30th like it had been for the last eleven years, June 15th was their final game. There was still going to be multiple celebratory parties for the players throughout the summer, one official league send-off and countless parties that mostly consisted of the players getting drunk in the middle of the desert while kicking around a ball and reminiscing about their favorite, most vicious, plays.

“Thanksgiving,” I said with a pang of nostalgia working its way through my chest.

“Thanksgiving will be the next time we will see each other again after this summer. Maybe not even then. What if my mom wants to come see me? She’s practically never been anywhere, she would probably like to see the east coast.” I contemplated aloud trying to keep the melancholia at bay. 

Lucy looked past me, toward the field but not necessarily at the game. Lucy’s disinterest in what others said was another of her tiring traits.

 “That’s kind of your choice Angie. You’re the one who has been obsessed with getting out of this town since before we could cross the street by ourselves. I’d be surprised if you came back for the holidays, or even at all”. Lucy had a way of keeping me on my toes in our conversations. I was never sure if what I said was going to be slapped down as being far too theatrical for a Saturday morning chat or if she would reply with something even more maudlin.

“Why do you say that? I mean, the not coming back part?” I asked

“Because you’ve wanted it forever. You can say you just want to see what else is out there

but I have a feeling we won’t be seeing you again” Lucy said with certainty.

“Well, how do I know you won’t go off to Wellesley and leave everything behind too? I’m not the only one who has talked about leaving Manere.” I didn’t know why it mattered that I reminded her of this fact. She wasn’t altogether insulting me with the assumption, and she wasn’t entirely wrong. A large part of me contemplated ditching town for good and never looking back. Lucy took in a deep breath like she was going to dip her head into the deep end,

“I know you won’t have to worry about that with me because I decided I’m staying.”

She somehow managed to state something that was nothing more than a statement of fact for her, but a form of betrayal for me, all in one breath.

“You aren’t going to Wellesley in the fall? Or like at all?” I begged desperately wanting an explanation.

“It’s not a major deal. I just decided to save my money and go on a life education. Learn by doing. “

Once again, Lucy had found a way to make light of a poor decision. Her getting into college seemed like a bizarre fluke, but to turn it down seemed ludicrous.

“What kind of life education? Like how to bag groceries or work the fryer?” I said.

“I knew you would say something bitchy about this.”

Lucy continued,” I wasn’t even going to tell you. I was going to wait to see if you ever came back to visit and then I would break the news to you”.

Her reasoning was confusing, “What about when we talk on the phone, or if I wanted to send a letter to your dorm? Would you have just kept some elaborate lie go on forever” I asked.

Lucy shrugged and began to skate her foot back, forth, and across herself against the dirt in a bungling, disjointed movement. She knew there was no way to make any of it seem better and I was not going to accept it without a fight.

“Lucy, this is our chance. We always talked about this. Getting the hell out of this town. Leaving it behind to start fresh.”

             We had never left the town. Not even once. Not for a trip to a nearby relative or to go to an amusement park. There were always rules in our town. Rules that seemed pointless most of the time, but rules that were rarely broken. It was a law that was enacted in the 1950s. The explicitly stated law that residents were unable to leave Manere until they turned eighteen. Most who became eighteen rarely left, anyhow. It was as if moving was forsaking your entire family, group of friends and the town in general. No one really knew why the law existed. There had been tall tales spread around for as long as I could remember. Whether it was that beyond the border there lived so much crime and dangerous people, it would forever scar those who experienced it, or there being a nuclear disaster, which somehow Manere avoided, and no one talked about it. Mostly, they seemed like rumors that had been altered so many times in the previous few decades that they weren’t even worth researching. My mom would probably never let me leave the town limits by myself anyway, at least not until I was going to college to do it. It seemed well worth the wait.

“Don’t you want to live in a place where the soccer fields have grass?” I said.

“Grass is overrated. You need to mow it. Dirt is easy, and it takes zero effort to keep up. It’s all about dirt, Angie.” Lucy smiled.

Lucy’s sarcasm was comforting. Though I worried there was sincerity in her love for dirt which wasn’t a good thing. When I first started spending a good amount of time with Lucy, in elementary school, I thought we were kindred spirits. She seemed to want to get out of Manere just as much as I did. Her waggishness made our weekly sleepovers all the more lively. We would watch movies or play board games while talking trash about girls from school, mostly Jessica Stafford the suck up and all-around brown-noser who would be considered a teacher’spet, but the teachers couldn’t stand her either. We would talk about boys we liked and the girls with whom we were feuding. The most memorable conversations were about our parents. Lucy lost her mom when she was ten, it was something that bonded us. This was three years before I would lose my dad, and I wanted to be there for her, and a part of me felt like I knew what she was going through even though I didn’t. At the time, I was genuinely terrified I would say the wrong thing, or that losing a parent was contagious and I, just like everyone at school, didn’t want it to rub off on them.

“What do you think they have on them?” Lucy said.

I looked at the far end of the field to see two police officers talking to a man and woman. Their aged skin would generally place them in their late thirties, maybe even their forties but knowing the town I grew up in, they were, most likely, no older than twenty-two.

“I don’t know. Drugs?”

“Totally drugs. Look at them. They have the drugged eyes, and they’re all twitchy. Probably meth.” Lucy explained.

It was usually the drug of choice for those who chose to do drugs in Manere. It was the easiest to make in a town that denied entrance and exits while simultaneously being one of the single worst climates to grow anything worth smoking.

“Nothing to see here. Always the same people. Why can’t they just kick their asses out of this place?

My cousin told me that they used to have super strict guidelines here. Criminals were basically just banished. If they refused to leave, they would, like, hang them in the middle of MainStreet or some shit like that. Talk about getting things done.”

“Lucy, when exactly was this all going down? Like in the 1600s?”

“No, this was like twenty years ago. Not long ago at all.” Lucy said with a devilish grin.

“Your cousin? Andy? That guy makes stuff up all the time.”

“It was Emily, actually.”

“Oh, Emily. Little-miss-creates-drama-out-of-boredom? I really don’t think any of that is true. It sounds completely insane.”

 “I don’t know. I think it wouldn’t hurt to bring something like that back into common use. It sure

would get rid of a whole lot of nasty people.” Lucy said.

“If they shot every person down in Manere that wasn’t a worthwhile human being, there would just be rows of dead bodies lining the streets,” I suggested.

          Lucy crumpled her forehead. In that single expression, the feeling I had looming over me all school year came hurtling back. Lucy and I just weren’t as much alike as I once thought. Her being resistant to leaving town was one thing. It made sense that she felt safer in the confines of a town that included her dad, stepmom, two brothers, and a handful of cousins, aunts, and uncles. This was home for Lucy. It was never quite home for me.

My parents moved to Manere when I was a baby. It was a job for my dad, nothing more. The only reason they knew anything about Manere was that my grandparents had lived there as children. It was where they had met and left together once they graduated high school. When my mom told her mother that we would be moving to Manere, there was understandable dissent. Grandma refused to accept the move, but my mom wanted to support my dad completely. They were struggling to find work. Mom had a newborn to watch over, and dad wanted to do his best to earn enough to take care of us even with his problems interacting with others. Mom always said I must have inherited his social anxieties. For years I thought she was insulting me, but I think she was, at least partly, pleased to have a daughter who questioned and feared the bizarre way people behaved toward each other. Not having any other family in Manere had made it easier to want to move. My mother becoming an absentee parent didn’t help matters.

“Look, he’s not taking shit from her either” Lucy pointed out. One of the officers, Erikson I think was his name, had cuffed his fingers around the skittish woman’s wrist pulling her closer to say something in her ear. Her boyfriend just watched helplessly. The woman’s eyes barely reacted which probably had more to do with whatever she was on than what he was saying to her. Her free arm was extended as she flicked her wrist while holding a phantom cigarette. Her pursed lips fell slack, and the glare of the sun highlighted an unmistakable tear flowing from one of her eyes. The officer returned the space between himself and the woman. Erikson gave a cursory glance to her boyfriend and released a menacing smile and what appeared to be a chuckle emanating from his immature gut. Erikson was one of the youngest officers in Manere and hadn’t achieved the comfortably inflated appearance that some of the older officers managed to attain. I was never sure if the police officers did anything considerably constructive or necessary. Perhaps, in the less crime-laden past, there was more physically fit police who held charge and order but just as the buildings and streets were becoming more decrepit, the authority figures certainly played by their own rules. Assuming there had been rules, to begin with.

“Derek’s coming over tonight. Should be interesting.” Lucy said

“Interesting? How interesting could it be with Derek? I’ve never had a decent conversation with the guy. Can’t believe that he made it out of high school.”

“That’s a bit harsh. Besides, I don’t find his conversations to be the interesting part, and you know it. “

“Lucy. I thought you guys were actually trying to be friends. If you keep hooking up whenever you hang out, I feel like that wouldn’t be defined as a friendship”.

“Luckily, I’m not that worried about maintaining our friendship.”

I rolled my eyes.

“I’m bored. Okay, Angie? Is it okay that sometimes I get bored and Derek just happens to cure that boredom from time to time? It shouldn’t affect you anyway?” Lucy stood with her hand on her hip offering a slouch with expectant eyes.

“It’s fine. I know it’s fine. You are free to do what you want.”

 “Thanks, warden. Besides, if we were running the tallies, I would say you were a lot more bored than I was in the last few years. Like you were practically checking off every dude in the yearbook,”

It wasn’t true, and I didn’t have the energy to ask her why she would say it.

“Alright, well I better get going. In case Derek comes to my house, and I’m not there, and he gets confused and wanders to the neighbors”.

I hook my head incensed.

“He may have graduated high school, but it was in Manere. We’re not exactly churning out the best and the brightest” she laughed maniacally giving me a hug and skipped away with genuine schoolgirl spirit. No matter how earnest a conversation got with Lucy, her exit was always with levity.

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but feel that someone was watching me. I peeked my head over in the opposite direction of the soccer game and noticed Officer Erikson looking at me. His sunglasses giving off a reflection of cactus and chain-link fencing. What he may have been thinking under those aviators was anyone’s guess. Just like the other officers in Manere, he gave away nothing. I returned my gaze to the ground with my shadow as the only thing keeping me company as I made my way out of the park. I hurried to my busted old Chevy Nova that never locked. The blazing metal shocked my hand for only a second, and I prepared myself as I sat in the driver’s seat. Bracing for any bare skin that may come in contact with metal and pushed aside the excruciating pain of buckling up. I left my windows halfway down any time my car was in my line of vision, but even when it wasn’t, the inability to lock it made putting up the windows unnecessary. It wasn’t like I ever expected rain showers. I placed the key in the ignition and turned the car over only to see officer Erikson walking briskly toward my car.

“No, no. Don’t come over here. Please don’t come over here” I mumbled to myself.

“How are you doing today, Miss Abrams?

“Just trying not to melt,” I said jocularly hoping the conversation would be nothing more than small talk.

“Well, no luck with that one. This summer is supposed to be a scorcher. Record-breaking” he looked up at the sky like he was seeking confirmation from the sun. The way people in Manere talked about the weather was a head-scratcher. It was hot every year. Being the desert and all, it got to be more than 110 degrees. Yet each summer everyone seemed to think it was something out of the ordinary. I could never be sure if the constant discussion of the heat, or the wind in the winter time, was because of some form of amnesia. The way women forget the pain of childbirth just enough to be willing to do it again. It was the same for the residents of Manere. The unendurable heat and body-shoving wind were erased from their brains at the commencement of each season. I was one of the few who were spared the brain swipe. Whether that made me one of the lucky ones, I was never quite sure.

“Anyway, I better get going” I sighed as if it tore me up inside to end our conversation so abruptly. Erikson put his hand on my opened window.

“I heard you were packing up soon. Is that right?” he asked while still looking out into the nothingness of the desert.

“That’s the plan. Last week of August. Orientation week”

“That’s neat. You excited about being a real college girl are ya?” his tone was as confusing as ever, not sure if that was condescension in his voice or if that’s how he sincerely asked questions.

“Yes, you could say that. I’ve always wanted to live on the east coast.”

“What’s on the east coast that’s so great?” he asked with a firmer tone.

I wasn’t sure where the conversation was headed or if I was prepared for continuing it at all. There had been different reactions over the months before graduation when declaring my plans. I knew for years what I wanted for myself, but it was only the last few months of high school when I felt free to share them with others, especially anyone outside my immediate friend circle. Some teachers gave me undecipherable nods. Mr. Douglas, who was my ninth-grade biology teacher and my senior advisor always was the most outspoken authority figure who never shied away from questionable language or suggesting activities utterly inappropriate for students ‘You shouldn’t smoke cigarettes if you have weed available. Weed is always king’ he would tell us. I loved Mr. Douglas for being honest and being one of the few educators who only moved to Manere after living sixty-four years of his life in a dozen other places. It made him have the kind of perspective on things I desperately craved. When I told him my plans to go to college in Pennsylvania, he said that I should do what makes me happy and that staying in Manere would only guarantee the loss of my soul and desire to live. It was a dark thing to say, but that was why I believed it. I could also see he was proud of me which was something else I desperately needed at the time. It gave me the final push to declare a formal intent to accept admissions.

“I guess I just always wanted to live there. The grass, giant trees. The weather sounds like a welcome change.” I made a list of all the generic enticements that seemed to appease a surprising amount of people.

“You know. If you leave, it’s going to be mighty difficult coming back.” Erickson said.

“I know. My friends are always ragging on me about that. I’m sure I’ll come back for holidays and stuff. I’m not going to just disappear” I assured him. Erikson gave out a single chuckle. His eyes continued fixed on the empty desert.

“No. You know what I mean.” He finally looked directly at me.

“Um, I’m not sure exactly what you mean,” I said

“Well. You know the drill. You leave Manere, and that’s pretty much your prerogative but don’t expect us to welcome you back with open arms.”

“I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t really expect you to be welcoming me back with open arms. I’m sure my mom and friends wouldn’t mind seeing me though”.

“I thought this sort of thing would have been explained to you by your mother or teachers.”

There was an unexpected silence between us. I began to speak but decided it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t the first time I was reminded of the Manere ultimatum. 

“I guess, I will just have to decide to go away forever then. I’ll be sure to give everyone I have ever known a nice long hug before I ride off into the sunset” I acerbically informed him. Erikson made an indecipherable grunt.

“Are we all done here?” I asked

“You have a good summer kid. Don’t go getting into any trouble. I know you aren’t one of those kids who likes to get drunk over at the dry lake bed.” Erikson leaned over pulling his shades a hair lower for effect, “one of these days something bad may happen out there in the middle of the desert and then how will all them friends feel about that? Not so good”.

The smell of cinnamon gum masking his cigarette-breath engulfed my car.

“I’m not sure I am really friends with those types of people but if I run into anyone with any plans like that I’ll surely tell them that it would be very bad. Are we done here, officer?”

“Yeah, we’re done here. You can calm that saucy tone with me. You got the same saucy tongue as that dad of yours. He didn’t seem to know when to nod and say yes sir, too.”

I put my car in reverse and stomped on the gas not worried about where the officer’s feet were. As I exited the parking lot, Erikson remained in my rearview mirror fixated on the spot that my car had just been parked as if he was waiting for me to return.

My Happy Family: Me, My Ex-Husband, Our Two Children, and His New Wife

When someone asks me if I’m married, I’m often unsure how to respond.

“Well, I’m divorced but I live with my ex-husband and he’s my best friend” is my casual response but only when I don’t mind follow-up questions.

In recent years, I also explained that not only did I live with my ex-husband, but with his new wife as well. Oh, and she shares my first name. This revelation not only incited more questions, and no we were not sister-wives, but there was typically a facial expression that could be described as a cross between skepticism, horror, and maybe a trace of hidden laughter. It seemed the idea of living with my ex-husband, our two small children and his new wife was the height of hilarity, or I was simply out of my mind. What I share with M is what may be considered modern love because it doesn’t seem to fit in any traditional definition of marriage or romantic love. Our love story did start out something more akin to the movies which may have been exactly what caused the relationship and marriage to implode so many times.

M and I first met at a small community college. I was studious and trying to save money by going to a cheap school for two years before transferring to the University of my choice. He was a slacker who was stoned most of the time. At first, I found him almost repugnant. It wasn’t anything to do with who he was as a person, I just didn’t know much about people because I was an anti-social teenager and had my eye on the prize, not boys. My best friend, Mary, was the one who had eyes for him, which led to M and me becoming friends. After spending increasingly more time together, something began to grow and we had to deal with having romantic feelings while also being respectful to Mary. Though there were tears, fights, and the brutalization of a seven-year friendship, Mary finally accepted M as my boyfriend. Our relationship seemed to have exhausted multiple emotions in a short amount of time. We were inseparable and unbearable to our friends but we didn’t care because we were young, passionate, and naive.

M also enlisted in the Marines a few months after the beginning of our relationship which created an urgency between us. I wasn’t planning on being a military wife just yet as I had been accepted to a private liberal arts college an hour from home and was ecstatic.

Thus, began the first of many trials our relationship went through. Going from every day together to more than three months of exchanging only letters, and a single phone call with a poor connection. Once he returned from boot camp, we were two completely different people. He was a stoic marine and I was a social college girl living in a dorm. It just didn’t work and by the end of his leave, before he had to ship off to his next round of military schooling, he had broken up with me. This was a particularly hard blow as it was apparent throughout the week that we didn’t make as much sense, and even more upsetting when his family asked us when we were going to get married just hours before the dumping. I returned to school but assured him that I really did want to remain, friends, because we were friends first. A month later, I visited him at Camp Pendleton, and when he was about to fly to Kentucky for six months, I skipped class and my two best college friends came along with me for an impromptu trip to the San Diego airport so I could say goodbye. We decided that we wanted to try us again.

The combination of long distance and immaturity is a recipe for insecurities to creep through every thought. Only a couple of months after reuniting, M unceremoniously broke up with me again, this time over the phone while I was at Target. Months went by and we continued our friendship, through emails, and phone calls culminating in another attempt at the relationship upon his return. We continued a long-distance relationship when he went to Iraq. There were arguments and jealousy while he was gone but when he returned, we were stronger. One day in the summer before my senior year of college, I decided M and I were going to get married. I prepared paperwork and booked a library that does weddings. I let M know that we were getting married in two weeks. He only asked what he was going to wear. So, began our marriage. Missing college experiences, dropping out of college after commuting and being excommunicated from my friends caused resentment that didn’t show itself for a few years.

Six months of being married, M was off to Iraq for the second time and I was left in our three-bedroom house with only our three dogs to keep me company. The time away was strenuous at times but most of that stemmed from the uncertainty of whether he was going to come home again. There was more than one instance of confusion in which I was told my husband was one of the marines who was killed during a firefight. Terrible communication between marine wives and military officials aside, M returned home and we knew we wanted to start a family. After only a few months of trying, I was pregnant and we were buying our first home.

This was also around the time when M was discharged from the marines. Unfortunately, PTSD is a real thing and the only way the VA was helping him was through piling on as many medications as they could, resulting in someone less like a husband and more like a zombie. We became distant, barely talking and when we did, it would end in an argument. He thought I was a nag and I thought he was lazy and didn’t spend nearly as much time with our new son as he should. We were on our way out when one day we decided to have sex that was more out of need and probably a bit of hatred which resulted in the best marriage parting gift we could have asked for, my daughter.

While I was in my early stages of pregnancy M met another woman named Megan (So many M names! I know). She was two years younger than us but seemed even younger. She was a free spirit and apart from our matching names, long dark hair, and Tina Fey glasses, we were completely different. I saw their relationship blooming, and while I trusted M, I also realized how much I didn’t care if they did have feelings for each other and wanted to act on them. I was done with the marriage, so rather than build an even larger divide of hatred between us, or wait to see if he did cheat, I exited the marriage. I found him an apartment and we went our separate ways with M kicking and screaming the whole way out. I barely wanted to speak to him for months. When I gave birth to our daughter, I called him from the hospital but didn’t even have a working number for him. He had seedy new friends and I wanted nothing to do with it.

It was almost a year after we separated when I felt comfortable seeing him regularly and we remembered how much we adored spending time with each other. He and the other Megan were a happy couple and I wanted M to know that I respected his relationship and wanted to get to know her. The three of us spent an evening chatting, laughing, drinking and reconnecting as people beyond who was married to who, and who dated who. A month after our divorce was final, M and other Megan married. She was now in the Navy and moving to Washington state. Upon finding this out, M was unsure if he wanted to move with her because he didn’t want to leave his children. Somehow the three of us decided that since I wanted to move out of California anyway, that maybe the kids and I should stay with them in Washington for a while until I find work. The fact that this woman was offering to house her new husband’s ex-wife and two toddlers just so they would be together was what I believed to be exceptional. The five of us did have plenty of good times and a real friendship grew between Other-Megan and me. We even published a children’s book together with my story and her art. Things weren’t so positive between the newlyweds. Their marriage was of constant tension and it surprisingly had nothing to do with me. She tended to cheat and it ate away at him daily. There were screaming matches a few times a week. The deterioration of their marriage only strengthened our friendship. After Other Megan returned from sea declaring she wanted a divorce. It was truly disappointing to see the end of another marriage for M. He didn’t deserve so much strife and she wasn’t prepared for all the responsibility of being a wife, and stepmom. She’s just a nice girl from Orange County who took on too much, but we did have a lot of fun together and I think about her often. M, the kids, and I returned to California where we lived together in the house we originally bought as for our family.

Now a few years later, we have returned to Washington just the four of us. He is still legally married but more out of inability to complete the paperwork with her. We have no plans to remarry as our relationship isn’t that simple. Romantic love is fleeting and our love is deeper and more vital to our lifelong happiness. We are completely dedicated to being parents together, and being best friends who have no interest in finding anyone else for right now. There may be a day in the future when one of us may find someone else we want to be with, and neither one of us deny this reality, nor are we concerned by it. We also know that no matter what happens in the future and even if it leads to the distance between us, we will always find each other in one way or another because relationships aren’t always permanent but we are.

Why Homeschooling has worked for us (Most of the Time)

 

Homeschooling was never an option for me as a kid. In the first few years of my elementary education, I wasn’t aware that it was for secular children. My parents took me to church but I never recalled either parent being particularly devout. Religion is an entirely different post.

When my parents divorced and my mother moved my older brother and I to a small town as I was entering fifth grade, homeschool became a fantasy. The social aspect of school, the cloistering setting of a classroom became overwhelming for me. After having a sporadic attendance problem throughout elementary and junior high, I hit a wall in high school. I just couldn’t do it. There were terrible arguments with me and my mother and I couldn’t explain why it was so difficult for me to be around other students. I had entered high school the fall after Columbine, so it wasn’t a great time to tell kids that school was a safe place.

After too many lost years I was placed in Independent Study, and then to a continuation school where I flourished. I ended up going to college and earning a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and a Master of Arts in English with a Rhetoric Emphasis. Why? Because I always loved to learn but the way I was being taught made me hate school. Once I reached college, I was introduced to a world where there was no one way to teach or to learn.

Now my nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter are homeschooled and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to teach them. Each child has their own strengths and weaknesses and I am able to adapt to those things. While I have been the primary teacher for them since Kindergarten, it has not always been easy.

The opinions of friends and families: Everyone in my family scoffed at my decision to homeschool. My judgemental older brother, my mostly indifferent father, and even my usual nonjudgemental mother all responded with confusion and certainty that my decision was a poor one.

Initially, I started my son in an independent program in which we met up with a teacher once a week to go over the work. The school in our zone happened to be the one I attended when my mother had moved my brother and me when I was in fifth grade. The school was terrible when I attended and from what I learned prior to enrolling my son was that it only got worse. The teachers ranged from apathetic to disdainful to the entire education system. We were only living there temporarily, but even after we moved back to Washington state after his first year I realized how homeschooling worked for us. In the end, I continued educating my son and then my daughter. Eventually, my family grew to accept it because there wasn’t any other choice for them.
Now, after using a program created by Washington State in which we receive the materials and lesson plans, my son and daughter are in their fourth and third year respectively of homeschooling. The most exciting part is that they are thriving. My daughter was supposed to begin second grade but has been advanced to third-grade materials along with her brother. My son is doing fourth-grade level geometry and I only encourage him to use those abilities. Each kid has a subject they fly through as do they have one they struggle with and that’s perfectly fine.

When my family suggested that homeschool was a bad idea their only reasoning was that it didn’t allow enough social interaction. Both kids regularly play at multiple parks and engage with kids quite well. My daughter is also part of a soccer team which she adores. They learn at home and have friends outside of the home. I recently discovered there were Meetups in my area that were designed to bring homeschooled families together. Living in a community where teaching at home is common has been awesome.

There is one tiny drawback to all of this but it usually only lasts about five minutes. There is a level of stress that needles its way into me often. So many things to teach, so little time. Sometimes other important decisions or activities get sidelined in favor of teaching and learning. There are some days where it is the school work that must be sidelined in favor of other life responsibilities. The ability to move around schedules and adapt easily has been a real lifesaver for our family.

In the end, I would never change a thing about our life. I have an advanced degree and studied pedagogy throughout college which gave me a leg-up. I have the opportunity to spend my days with my two favorite people in the world and watch them learn and grow. Homeschooling is not for everyone but it has worked for us.

All that Remains-Chapter One

Having a blog can be a useful thing for a writer. While I do freelance for websites, writing novels is what I cherish most. Assuming there is any interest, I will post a few more chapters. The story follows Angela Abrams, a recent high school graduate who cannot wait to get out of her small town. There is something sinister about this town and it is up to her and her best friend, Milo to get to the bottom of it before they both leave for college at the end of the summer.

 

Chapter 1

     It was the time of the year when my entire room was under assault. Even with the blinds closed tight, the heat would sneak itself through the inhibiting slats, rousing my bare legs, arms and every inch of exposed skin that wasn’t hidden beneath the thin cotton sheet. Usually, I would become furious with the aggressive coaxing from the sun to start the day as it was typically a weekend in which I didn’t wake up before the sun. This was a morning, unlike the others. This time it was a signifier of summer. Not just any summer, but the last summer I would sleep in my childhood bed. The last summer I would have an east facing window. In only a few months, seventy-four days, I would be living in a dorm room away from everything I had known. My mom begged me to go to school nearby but living in the middle of the desert for nearly eighteen years was long enough, and I wouldn’t wish a lifetime in Manere Valley on my worst enemy. Manere became physically and emotionally exhausting and was more than I could handle for another year. My chosen University was Carnegie Mellon, a school I fantasized about since before I knew what I wanted to do there. I found a brochure hidden beneath old magazines and advertisements in our school library. There were pictures of young people laughing on the steps of historic buildings, others goofing off on the lush green lawn while some were studying under massive oak trees.

     Manere had none of that; just dirt, cactus, and devastating winds that would knock down innocent strolling pedestrians, regularly. There was rarely studying done outside because the shade was limited, not to mention how difficult it was to think straight with the blistering heat melting our developing brains. If it weren’t for hiding away inside and utilizing air conditioners and swamp-coolers, nothing would ever get done in Manere. Even so, many people walked around like depression-afflicted zombies unable to ask for help. Life was completely different across the country, the cheerfulness on the faces on those brochures sparked a motivation that never wavered. I was going to leave Manere.

     Beyond the most vital reasons to escape, I chose to go to Carnegie Mellon to get away from everything I had amassed in my life, so far. It was more than a pile of memories, it was a heaping junkyard of past indiscretions that needed to be cleared out, so I could start fresh. My friends were the only thing in my life that I knew I would miss when we all went our separate ways. Though, even that was beginning to become less true.

     I had the same best friends practically since birth.  They were my friends before we grew up and became deplorable. Maybe we weren’t any worse than the average awful teenager, it was just our natural state of being. This realization only occurred to me a few months before graduation. The first moment I became aware of the unkindness of my group came during Calculus. Mr. Machinski was giving some lesson on the rules of derivatives, but I became distracted by the notes Ellie and Lucy were passing back and forth. It was one of those long tables, not our standard single desks, so they were just passing back and forth a spiral notebook.

Look at Mr. M with those special Ed shoes and high waters. Vomit!

No wonder his wife left him.

Ugh, now he has a wedgie. I wonder if he even notices

He probably doesn’t even care. He’s probably just going to kill himself anyway

When I saw those words on the paper, which could have been so easily seen by Mr. Machinski, I just felt incredibly sad for him and more than anything, disappointed in my friends. There were plenty of times when we would make jokes about people, even Mr. M but some feeling of unrest swirled inside of me that day, making every interaction with my group slightly less appealing.                                                               

     That wasn’t the first or last time I felt isolated, even from Lucy who had been my best friend since we were three-years-old. The second moment I knew I needed to get out of Manere came when we were in line waiting to get our graduation caps. For four years, the concept of waiting in line seemed to have vanished. Elementary school was all about waiting in line. Coming from recess, going to lunch or the library, was all done in a single-file line. Once high school came around, there was no need for it. Everyone forgot how to behave, and it became impossible to stay civilized. The lack of civility may have contributed to the nasty attitude we all seemed to have developed. Sure, when we were kids, we teased and were teased. Once we became teenagers, it became a brutal psychological game that never let up. Every time I did something rude, I would feel instantly terrible about it. Sometimes it would make me feel sick to my stomach, I couldn’t eat, and my sleep would become all wonky. Yet, I would keep doing it. It was an addiction like anything else.

     Rather than seeking out some help for my addiction, I needed to cut off my supply by moving far away from these people who made it far too easy to scorch the world in which I lived. Since the world I lived in was such a tiny place in the universe, I knew it was time to expand where I had been, so I could develop who I would become.

     Lucy was running late and if there was one thing I could always count on it was that Lucy never showed up anywhere even close to on time. Her tardiness was just one of the traits I was not going to miss about Lucy, especially if it meant we would miss part of Ellie’s final soccer game ever. Lucy snuck up behind me and faintly smacked me in the back of my head.

“Dude, what was that?” I slurred, unsure of whether she left any permanent damage.

“You told my dad we weren’t going to go out of town for the camping trip? What was that

about?”

Lucy was indignant, but it was tricky trying to figure out when something was going to stew with her for days or if this was something that could be cured with a change of subject. I decided it was best to address the problem.

“I thought you said we weren’t going to go, anyway. My mom doesn’t want me to leave town until it’s time to leave in the fall. Your dad nearly had a conniption fit when you told him we were going to go.” I explained

“That was the best part, Angie. What is the point of doing stupid things if you’re not terrorizing your parents?”

“Lucy, you know we wouldn’t be able to leave anyway. I’m sure the trip will be canceled for everyone, once word gets out that a bunch of teenagers want to get out of town”

“It’s barely out of town limits” Lucy whined.

“Still.”

“Ugh, but it would be so entertaining to drive my father crazy” Lucy whimpered.

“I don’t know why you have to be so bitchy to your dad. He loves you, but you treat him like he just annoys you all the time.”

“Ding! Ding! Ding! My dear friend. That is exactly what he does.”

“Come on Lucy, he is not that bad. He just doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you. He’s a

worrier. I can understand that”.

     I used to worry about everything. When I was ten, the incessant worrying felt like part of my identity. It started out in ways that seemed inconsequential. I didn’t realize it was the beginning of everything else. When I was ten, Lydia Baker came over to play, and she didn’t close Squiggle’s cage after playing with him. That night, there was a clamoring which jolted me out of bed. The flimsy cassette holder that was standing in the corner of my room was now on the ground in pieces. Under the debris of cheap pine was my hamster, poor Squiggle, trapped. Squiggle gave out a single breathe and died. It was the worst experience I had ever had, and even years later I think about his tiny startled face. After that, not only would I check doors to make sure they were locked, anchored things to make sure they didn’t fall, but I also questioned the safety and potential outcome for all possible future activities. Somehow this led to an obsession with germs which lasted a bit longer than securing the house four times before bed. The concern made me physically ill at school. I spent half of the fifth grade in the nurse’s office.

     Along with discovering I had severe anxiety problems, my time there was how I met Derek Mayhew. I recognized him as the kid who transferred into my class mid-year. Through his persistence and the rest of our group taking an interest, he became part of our close-knit team too. That was back when Milo was still talking to me.

“What are you thinking about?” Lucy nearly shouted.

“Nothing. How it all used to be.”

“Oh, no Angela. Please don’t get all nostalgic on me. Is this about Milo?”

              “No.”

        “Yes. It seems like whenever you get lost in your thoughts, we start talking about him.”

   “I guess I just miss him,” I said under my breath, trying not to dwell on it too long.

  “It’s his fault. Don’t even think about him for another minute. He sucks, and you are awesome. What kind of friend just decides to ditch his friends and make them feel bad about who they are?”

        “I know, I just wish,” I said sulkily while I rolled my open palm on the pencil that sat on my desk.

“He is the one who changed. Not us. If he doesn’t like it, he can sit in his sad, dark room with all his friends. Oh wait, he doesn’t have any friends” Lucy smirked

     Milo was the one who had decided he didn’t want to be friends with us anymore. At first, I couldn’t understand why which made me hate him. It took me far too long to understand it all.  He could see what I wasn’t ready to see.

Back in the Saddle Again (This time with Celiac Disease)

Well, it has been over a year since making a blog post. In the blogging world, that’s pretty much the kiss of death. Luckily, I’m not too worried about all that. If I was, that would just be more stress in my already anxiety stricken mind.

There have been a few reasons for my absence. Living in a new place and getting used to it definitely took a toll. After moving to a city, my family and I mostly chose on a whim, I wasn’t sure I felt about the place. The city is over 1200 miles away from our last home, making things even more troubling. But you know what? It has worked out. There is no such thing as a perfect place to live, and after finally realizing that obvious conclusion, I felt relief.

Last year I also discovered that I had Celiac disease, or rather my doctor did. Having bizarre and limiting diets throughout my twenties was great practice for this new life. For anyone who isn’t sure what Celiac disease is, it’s basically this annoying malabsorption problem that exists when a person consumes gluten. It attacks your intestines and moves on to other organs if you don’t give up gluten completely. Some people go on for years never knowing they have it because they may not experience symptoms. I did, oh boy did I. The moment my doctor told me the results, I became vigilant in a non-gluten diet.

Things improved for the most part, and I even stopped having an iron deficiency, which is something I had for as long as I can remember.

If there is a more celiac slant to a few of my blog posts, it is only natural. It’s a completely different lifestyle, and luckily my children are fantastic about it. They make sure to wash their “Gluten Hands” after eating to ensure even the tiniest trace doesn’t end up on my own plate. Making separate meals for me and my family can be exhausting but necessary.

My partner, who is also the father of my children, does so much for me. He makes sure all the dishes are scrubbed and free of gluten, makes meals often, and even convinces me to buy the gluten-free alternatives for certain items even when I scoff at the sky-high price.

Some days are easier than others with this way of life. Fast food is nearly out of the question because even when there are gluten alternatives, cross-contamination is a huge issue.  Not having the ability to just have a burger and fries with my family on the way home from a soccer game can be mighty depressing. Food has always been an event for me. I always ate healthily, so when I did eat out or make myself something particularly unhealthy, I made it count. Now those options are limited.

We did find a small pizza place that made great gluten-free pizzas and had a very celiac, aware staff. I nearly cried when I ate my first bite, it was amazing. Unfortunately, not only was it far too expensive to do regularly, I grew tired of them even when it was just a special occasion treat. Honestly, I miss having Little Ceasar’s Hot and Ready.

I always encourage my family to eat what they want because they don’t need to change their diet. They wouldn’t because it would be unhealthy to do so in their non-celiac situation. I still sit with them at Dairy Queen and have a fountain drink and maybe bring a gluten-free snack along, or make my own meal when they bring home Chinese food. I will admit it is incredibly difficult to see the food, to smell the food, and know that even the smallest bite will have me sick for days.

So, that’s where I am now. I plan on incorporating the Celiac lifestyle to this blog but it will always be a parenting blog at heart because being a Celiac just something I happened to be, but being a parent is what I live for.

How Could I Have Been So Wrong About People?

Isn’t it funny when you reflect upon friends of your past and there are times when you cringe? Or maybe someone you dated or had a random hook-up? Sometimes it’s funny, other times it’s tragic, but it is definitely part of getting older. I’m in my early thirties, and for the last few years, I have really noticed a disconnect from the person I was and the person I am today. Thanks to evil/genius of Facebook, it seems we never have to completely lose touch with everyone we have ever known. The best friend in 1st grade? The girl scout troop leader’s daughter? College roommate and college roommate’s boyfriend who she isn’t even friends with anymore? The dude you met once at a frat party junior year of college and would never remember his name if it wasn’t for his occasional post on the being vegan or saving the bees? They’re all there.

In the good old days (Again, I’m only in my 30s so this is mostly the 90s I’m talking about) people would be friends, lose interest and never speak again. And you know what? That was fine. It was more than fine, it was natural. Now with social media, we don’t get to just remember people fondly, we have to be reminded of their existence daily. Why do I do it? I know I will just be disappointed by someone. We all do it. It’s sick. It’s like popping people’s zits or reading the intricate details of serial killers on Wikipedia for hours. It’s a waste of time, it’s not healthy, and it’s depressing (which would also be unhealthy since it’s self-infliction).

When I talk to people from the past, which is rarely on the phone or in real life proving how minor our true connection is,  I try to remember why I spent time with this person. Were they always like this? Was their political leaning always this extreme? Did they always hate puppies and engage in hipster culture? Mostly, they didn’t. People change, and hey! that’s fine. I have changed substantially in the last decade. One of the more troubling services Facebook offers is a reminder of what you posted on a certain day each year. This is a horrifying glimpse at the kind of person I have been. There are times I laugh at how silly I was being over something minor. There are times when I feel nostalgic, but mostly I just want to scream “Megan! Why are you the worst?!” No wonder, I know these people, I was a terrible in many ways too.

In reality, I don’t really believe I was all that bad. Typically, I am reminded of how I felt in those moments. When I am having a tough time and am convinced my life was so much easier and I was so much more sure of myself when I was in my twenties, I  am reminded by Facebook that I was much more lost than I am now. It’s a  pleasant feeling.

As for my “Friends”, have I changed or have they? The problem with Facebook is that everyone gives snapshots of who they are, what they’re going through, and what they believe, in such a superficial way that it’s hard to connect with these people on a deeper level. Since I rarely reach out to these friends, some of who I was extremely close to at one time in my life, I never really find out how much they have truly changed.  Even sending a quick message seems like too much of an effort. I’m awkward and don’t know if I really want to carry on a long back and forth, so what’s the point? These people are not really my friends anymore. The likelihood of spending face-to-face time with most of them would almost be the same as spending time with Reese Witherspoon, Kevin Smith and Stan Lee (All of who I follow on Facebook). Is that who these people, who I used to go to dinner with, go to parties with, and believe would be my friends forever, have become? Now more integral to my life than celebrities I find endearing?

Along with the friends who I just don’t feel the desire to contact, there are also the few that I downright despise. Even though I have had the reasonable mind to unfriend quite a few people over the years, there are at least a half-dozen that I choose not to “Follow” but are still on my friend’s list. I haven’t committed to dropping them completely because even though I can’t stand anything they post and if I saw them, I may feel the need to punch them in the face, there is something stopping me from hitting that unfriend button. These are usually the people I try to remember all of the positive things about their genuine persona rather than their Facebook persona. There are also a few who I know will contact me if I unfriend them which would lead me to explain just how awful I find them. It’s not that I mind confrontation, it’s that I hate wasting time on something I care so little about.

I can’t even find it in myself to post something. I’ll glance at the feed every day or even check out someone’s profile, but post something about my own life? Nope. I am not much of a sharer because I’m not sure that anyone is all that intrigued with my life. Other than my mother who I speak to on the phone every single night. She doesn’t need my updates, I have her updated more than necessary.

One thing that I have seen people admit about Facebook and other social media is that people too often post pictures of their children. While I suggest and practice keeping your profile on private to keep the cuties unseen by the general public, I disagree with the complainers. I adore seeing people’s children. Whether the person is a close friend, family member or just an acquaintance I haven’t seen in a decade, I want to see those chubby cheeks and those days at the zoo.  It’s sweet, harmless, and just a relief from being reminded of the terrible politics of today. Be who you are, and I’ll continue to be who I am, but I probably won’t post anything on Facebook about it.