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My hope for 2017

January 1, 2017
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It’s New Year’s Eve 2016. I’m freshly showered, about to get ready to go out.

I’m sitting in my bathrobe when my son, Everest, notices a cut on my leg. First, he crouches down to examine it. Then he kisses it, because that’s how health and wellness works for 2-year-olds. Find the hurt, press lips to it, make it better.

A minute later he carries a pillow over, carefully places it on my leg and says, “Right here. Hold it right here.”

“Why?”

“So you won’t get hurt again,” he says.

It is a fragile thing, this love. Sometimes I don’t want to move for fear of crushing it.

I hold the pillow to my leg for a long time, afraid to let the moment go.  When I finally do, I tell my son that I’m all better, and it’s true. The cut is minimal, unremarkable. It will not leave a scar. But I want my child to know that what he did matters. I want him to know that tenderness has the capacity to heal. That his love is momentous even in its smallness.

Too often it feels like the world is whooshing past, like I’ve been plunged into a loud and rushing river, and this — this tangle of love — is the knotted rope that gives me something to hold on to. It’s pure and precious and good.

We are just a few hours into the new year now, and the future is too far away for any of us to see. It will certainly bring battles and wounds. Some of us will carry scars. Some will never heal.

My hope for 2017 is that as we move forward, we find ways to protect rather than inflict. That in the face of fear, confusion, blind panic, and downright evil, we move from arguments into action. That we find a pillow and apply it liberally.

 

An ode to the purple one

April 21, 2016
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I’ve said before that when Prince dies, it’ll be the celebrity death that destroys me. But as I sit here tonight, listening to the livestream of Prince music from a Minneapolis public radio station, I don’t feel wrecked. Not yet.

I think a part of me refuses to believe that I exist in a world without Prince. Or that a world can exist without Prince. Because as long as I can remember, my world has been infused with a tiny pixie funk sex god yelping about raspberry berets and “Trojans, some of them used,” and it was extraordinary. Prince is as seamlessly woven into my childhood as grape popsicles and roller skates. He just always was.

Over the coming weeks, a lot of people will write a lot of remembrances about Prince, and they will have more authority than I do. They will be involved in the music industry, or they will have attended more Prince concerts, or they will have something really unique to contribute. I don’t have that.

What I can say is that I grew up in a squat brick home in a tiny Ohio neighborhood, and Prince was an essential part of my life. Even there. His purple reign extended that far and deep.

First grade, my mother’s vanity. I see Prince on TV, and before school one day, I use my mom’s eyebrow pencil to draw a thin mustache over my lip. “Because it’s pretty, that’s why,” I argue as she wipes it away with a cotton ball.

Third grade, bathroom floor. It’s the quietest room in the house, so that’s where I go to record songs from the radio onto a blank Sanyo cassette. After I record “When Doves Cry,” I will play it so fiercely, so ceaselessly, that the tape itself will run thin and become knotted inside the player. I will untangle it and rewind the tape back into the case with a pencil, and that will happen over and over, until it’s finally rendered unlistenable.

Fifth grade, Desiree’s house. It’s my first time seeing the video for “Kiss.” While the song is pure sugary pop, the video is the most confusing, frisky, lusty thing I’ve ever seen. Prince is pure, uncorked sex, gleefully wiggling around in leather pants and a half shirt, while Wendy, clad in twice as much fabric, plays guitar. Meanwhile, a veiled woman in lingerie and aviator glasses slinks and writhes. I don’t understand their relationship, the three of them, only that it’s visually exciting. And though I know something sexy is happening, it’s also the first time I’ve encountered something simultaneously hot and playful.

Sixth grade, the community swimming pool. My friends invent this pointless game called “Song Cannon,” which involves doing cannonballs off the high dive into the pool. The kicker? In that space between jumping and plunging into the water, you have to shout a line from your favorite song. The first time I yell, “U got the look!” The next time, “Your body’s heck a sl— … (glub-glub)”

Eighth grade, the dank, wood-paneled downstairs of my parents’ house. Spontaneous dance party with “Batdance” at full volume.

High school, Kim’s house. My friend Kim is secretly dating a guy in our class who already has a girlfriend. He gives Kim a mixtape that opens with the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and ends with “Purple Rain.” It doesn’t even matter what songs are sandwiched in between. Kim plays the whole tape in her bedroom twice, and as the music careens through hunger and longing and sorrow, the air is charged, electric.

I could go on and on. The time a man on a Greyhound bus mistook me for Apollonia. Sneaking out of work early from the Cincinnati Enquirer to see Prince play a 26-song set. Standing front and center for Prince’s Coachella set, when he trotted out Morris Day and The Time. All the years I made a Prince lyric my mantra: “I don’t wanna die, I’d rather dance my life away.

And of course, all the nights made seriously funky with purple and ruffles, sparkles and a wink.

Cooleyhighholiday: A Christmas Miracle

December 23, 2015
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The Ghost of Christmas Past just reminded me of this story, which took place a few years ago.

A friend of mine, an opera singer, was booked to perform at a local Indian casino during the tribe’s holiday party. I tagged along, but I don’t remember why. Probably for free food.

While my friend crooned Christmas carols, I sat backstage on a rickety metal chair. A couple of guys were sitting back there too, and they laughed when the chair almost tipped me onto the floor. They were nice, though, and we had a ridiculously good time for people hanging out in the wings of a dusty stage. I don’t even remember everything we chatted about, only that we laughed a lot.

One of the guys complimented my friend’s singing and said she’d be a tough act to follow.

ME: Oh, you sing?

GUY: Yeah, we have a group.

ME: Sweet. What’s your group called?

GUY: Boyz II Men.

You guys, Boyz II Freaking Men.

Boyz II Men served as the soundtrack for my formative years. I owned “Cooleyhighharmony” on cassette, and when it wore out, I bought the CD. More of my backseat makeout sessions were set to “I’ll Make Love to You” than other jam. And I’ve been to more than one prom with the theme, “End of the Road.”

So when I realized these dudes were actually Boyz II Men, I did the only thing I could do. I launched into the Michael Bivins rap from “Motownphilly.”

“Now check this out
One day back in Philly
Four guys wanted to sing
They came up to me I said
What’s your name? (Boyz II Men)
Ya know what I’m sayin’.”

It’s a horrible flaw of mine that I sing celebrities’ songs to them. Usually the musicians aren’t happy about it. But in this case, the guys played along, launching into the “dum dum dum dah dah” harmony — a little Christmas gift to me.

Little Man: The One-Year-Old Update

July 21, 2015
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How are you a 1-year-old already?

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It wasn’t so long ago when I would place you on your tummy and coax you to roll over. And now you’re running.

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It’s so bittersweet. I love how quick you move, how much you learn every day, your fierce and wild independence. Yet the faster you walk, the more I feel you pulling away from me. You’re becoming a little man already, and it stretches my heart out like salt water taffy.

Most everybody tried to warn me. “Enjoy it!” they said. “It goes by so quick!” Even perfect strangers said, “You’ll miss this when it’s gone!” I hated those people. But I was delirious from a lack of sleep, my body was sticky with spit up, and I often felt like I was stuck at the bottom of a long well with a purple eggplant. A purple eggplant that screams.

If I’d realized that someday you’d stop falling asleep on my chest, I’d have relished those long, lazy afternoon naps. If I’d known how you’d leap from infant to pre-toddler, I might have appreciated those early newborn days a little more. I still wouldn’t have enjoyed the colic, but overall I might have cried a little less.

Anyway, now you are one. But it won’t be long before you are two. And then 22. And then I will die, because ACK! Too soon. I can’t handle it.

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Likes:

Frankie the Fox. Oh my god, do you love Frankie the Fox. In fact, one evening as I put you in your crib, your eyes searched the mattress, your breath quickened and you started to panic, right up until you saw Frankie in the corner. I thought, “This is foreshadowing,” and that very night your dad bought a backup Frankie for us to keep in reserves.

You also love playing outside. Your family. Lemon and Kung Pao Kitten. Duplos. Swings. Bruno Mars and Daniel Tiger. And books — it makes me proud to see how much you enjoy turning the pages to see what happens next.

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Favorite foods:

Watermelon. Kiwi. Mango. Banana pancakes. Homemade oatmeal “cookies.” Peanut butter. Sweet corn on the cob.

 

Dislikes:

Bubble bath. Swim class. Diaper changes, which are like trying to pull the skin back on a snake after he’s already shed it.

You also weren’t crazy about your birthday cake, which made me happy. That’s your last taste of sugar until you turn 18. I hope you enjoyed it.

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Secret Starbucks Drink Menu of a Marriage

March 29, 2015
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Recipes for happiness.

 

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Liquid Meet-Cute

– 4 shots of espresso over ice in a grande cup

– 4 pumps of white chocolate syrup

– Add one woman, fragile with fear and grief, and send her up in a plane

– Combine with one tender-hearted skydiving instructor who offers to skip the skydive and ride the plane down instead

– Jump anyway. Jump with this man, even when your hands shake and your stomach is in your throat. Make one skydive, and then make another, and make hundreds more after that. And when the instructor asks you on a date, say yes. Yes! You’ve already trusted him with your life.

– Drizzle with chocolate.

 

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Warm Sugar Cookie

– White mocha hot chocolate

– Hazelnut syrup (1 pump tall, 2 grande, 3 venti)

– Vanilla syrup (1 pump tall, 2 grande, 3 venti)

– Sprinkle raw sugar on top

– Add the winter day on the steps of Immaculata Church, warming your hands on a thermos and watching the sun rise over Mt. Adams.

 

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Amazonian Honeymoon

– Start with raspberry syrup (2 pumps tall, 3 pumps grande, 4 pumps venti)

– Add strawberry, orange, mango and very berry juice to the first line

– Fill with lemonade to top

– Spend days chattering with monkeys, rowing the Amazon and drinking rum on a sugar plantation. Fall asleep in a thatched rainforest hut, smeared with deet, bodies tangled like jungle vines

– Add ice and shake!

 

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Stormy Days Tea

– Earl Grey tea semi dry misto

– 2 pumps vanilla syrup

– 2 pumps of caramel syrup

– Add one skydiving accident

– A move across the country

– One stolen car

– Your mother’s death

– Fertility issues

– Miscarriage

– Illness

– Moving. Three more times.

– Cling to each other because the world feels too vicious and sad to navigate alone.

 

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Anniversary Cake Frappuccino 

– Vanilla soy frappuccino

– 2 pumps hazelnut

– Add 1 beautiful, boisterous baby

– Toss in 2 teeth cutting baby’s gums

– A broken dryer and a clogged kitchen sink

– Burn the pancakes and forget to make the coffee

– Call the babysitter

– Drive away giggling because the dishes can wait and the laundry will air dry, but this is your anniversary day

– Go to the movies and hold hands for two hours, as though you just met

– Get massages to work out the kinks

– Kiss in the car

– Never forget how lucky you are

– Add whipped topping (optional)