fingerprints and dust.

•April 13, 2011 • 1 Comment

It’s quiet in the house except for the sounds of the cars passing on the nearby highway.  It seems too quiet, but no one is home except for me, so I don’t know why it would be any louder.  The attic is dusty and hot, but it doesn’t bother me too much.  I sit in front of a mound of old boxes and a few bags tucked away in a dimly lit corner.  It’s surprisingly dark up here for late afternoon.

These boxes have been sitting in my attic for over a year now, completely untouched and mostly forgotten since I put them there.  It’s an eclectic group of packing materials; I can tell how little forethought went into packing this stuff up just by looking at it: a couple of orange crates and a used FedEx box, several plastic Target bags and paper Starbucks handle bags, and a large Bath & Body Works bag.

I pull the first box toward me and peer inside.  My heart flutters and sinks down into my stomach, like that feeling you get when you know you’re about to get bad news.  The box is mostly empty, which seems slightly odd.  There’s a picture of my best friend from a dance recital, a handful of plastic glow-in-the-dark stars, a magnet that reads “Hurrah! At last I’m 50!,” a bendy Bullwinkle figure and a small blue Christmas tree.  Under that are a few pictures of me from when I was little in Virginia Beach, a lock of hair from my first haircut tucked into a church offering envelope that reads “Apr 1990,” a koosh ball, and bits of paper with my handwriting circa 10-12 years old.

In the bottom of the box is one of my professional acting headshots, in a cheap pressed wood frame.  I’m twenty and smiling brightly, gleaming braces reflecting the sunlight.  The glass in the frame is shattered, which has scratched the picture in places.  The bottom of the box is full of glass pieces.  As I try to delicately pick up the frame, shards of glass attack my fingers and make them bleed in a few places.  Thankfully, there’s nothing underneath.

A car alarm goes off outside; presumably across the street.  It quiets down after a few minutes.

Memorable trash, that’s what most of this is.

I set that stuff aside and after running downstairs to attend to my bleeding fingers I look into a few of the bags.  They mostly contain my collection of National Geographic magazines that span probably ten years total.  One of the bags holds twenty or so CD cases, many of which don’t actually have any CDs inside.  Upon further inspection, I find that only three of them are mine.  In the very bottom of that bag are a couple of Happy Meal toys from the early 90s, loose photo negatives, and an empty envelope with my name on it.

Still another bag holds a collection of coloring book pages colored and ripped out along with a few used gift bags and crumpled poster of a play I produced a couple of years ago.  There’s also a paper turkey made out of a tracing of my hand that says “Mary Christa – age 4” on the backside, as well as some Valentine’s Day window clings.

I stop and sit back for a moment, taking it all in.  I’m not quite sure what to think about all this.  I take a quick survey of the attic.  Surrounded by Christmas decorations, old computer parts, and unused luggage, lay every tangible memory of my childhood.  Every colored picture, toy, and Sunday school craft project.  Everything about me from the last 25 years and accidentally left at my mother’s house is in these boxes.

My mother gave me all this stuff January before last.  I guess I shouldn’t say she gave them to me; rather, she dumped them in my always unlocked Jeep Wrangler while I was at work one evening.  It had been almost a year since our already fragile relationship had completely fallen apart and I had moved out.  This wasn’t the first time she had done this (it was actually more like the sixth or seventh, I think), but it turned out to be the last.  Each time before it had been lesser items, like junk mail or an old computer monitor that I had given her – mostly impersonal stuff.  It hurt, but not like this.  At Christmas she left a framed poster that she had bought before everything happened.  On the wrapping paper she had written MERRY CHRISTMAS in the harshest block lettering she could muster.  I could feel her anger through the Sharpie marks.  These items had been accompanied by an extra special note left on my seat that simply read: I figured you’d want these since you aren’t my daughter anymore.

I plop my head back on a Rubbermaid container sitting behind me and take a deep breath.  Dude, the basset hound next door, belts out a howl.

I can do this; I just have to keep going.  Next box.

I crawl around one side of the pile to look into the largest box and put my face into a large spider web.  I’ve got to get better lighting up here.  I snort and sputter while grabbing wildly at my face and hair for a moment before determining that there isn’t a spider crawling on me after all.  I chuckle a little at myself from that display of arachnophobia, which lightens my mood.  Maybe I can enjoy this.  After all, this is kind of like an extreme display of vanity, everything here is mine, about me, or I gave it as a gift to my mom at some point.

I turn the box over and start from the bottom.  Several school text books and work books from my homeschooling days (I was homeschooled all the way from kindergarten to high school graduation), end up on top of everything.  Beneath those are some of my favorite childhood books, which include several Dr. Seuss books.  Fox in Socks was the first book I ever learned to “read” at around age three (and by “read” I really mean memorized from the amount of times I made my parents read it to me).  This is where things begin to get really strange, even for my mother.  Under the books are an old pencil box, a package of seed beads, a partial sheet of Kiss Me, I Don’t Smoke stickers, an undeveloped roll of film, an old church bulletin from Kempsville Presbyterian, a broken pair of sunglasses, and several sheets of unused mailing labels.


But it doesn’t stop there.  There are countless other items that I have no idea why they are included with this stuff.  The plastic pop beads I understand.  The flower-shaped candle from the bathroom that I didn’t even particularly like or the unused post-it notes, not so much.  And there’s so much more.  So much that I cannot even begin to catalogue it all.  The trash in the other boxes now seems intentional – but why?

My roommate’s words from when I first came into repossession of all this stuff last year comes back to me: it’s like you’re being erased.

I only half believed her then.  Now that I’m looking at everything I’ve ever so much as touched, I get it.  I’m still in disbelief, but I get it.

This realization hits me like a panic attack.  Oh, god.  I am being erased.  I begin to frantically rip through the remaining stuff scattered in front of me and yet another bag just beyond it.  I find medical records, financial aid notices, and even some college letters.  I look at each one and hastily toss it aside to look at whatever I get my hands on next.  My heart is racing and I can barely catch my breath.  I’m too panicked to give over and start crying just yet.

There’s one big document missing – my birth certificate.  There’s a reason for that.  The day I moved out of my mom’s house, a few days after she originally disowned me for getting engaged and having the audacity to try and tell her, I found my birth certificate ripped to shreds and thrown on the floor.  Alongside this I also found all the pictures of me that had hung about the house until now in an upside down stack in the middle of the floor, some of frames now broken.  Not long after that, my grandmother told my cousin that she only had nine grandchildren now.  I had broken one of the Ten Commandments and she could no longer claim me.

I still don’t quite understand that one.

I continue to ransack what’s left of the heap, crawling around on my hands and knees.  I’m covered in dust and other attic debris and sneezing nearly uncontrollably.  I can’t say whether my bleary eyes are caused by my allergies or tears; probably both.  After a few minutes of this frenzy, I reach the final box that had been hidden by the massive stack of National Geographic magazines tossed in front of it. It’s shallow and heavy, and taped tightly shut.  I begin to peel the tape off and it shifts and clunks like china.

As night falls the road sounds subside and succumb to the growing chirps of crickets and bull frogs.  I sit back on my heels as it dawns on me what’s inside.

A box of two dozen or so thrift store coffee mugs is generally considered tacky back-up drink ware (at best) to the average twenty-something (really anybody, if I’m honest with myself).  For as long as I can remember, I have always loved coffee mugs.  This love led to a love for coffee itself, and pretty much anything one can drink out of a mug.  We were poor when I was little, so most of our shopping was done at thrift stores.  On almost every trip to the Purple Heart Thrift Store, I would scurry off to the kitchen section in search for treasures.  I gave most of these precious coffee mugs as gifts to either my mom or dad, even though they were always purchased with their money.  As I grew older, the coffee mugs got nicer, often purchased from Starbucks or Pier One, but it was always coffee mugs.

And here they sit in a box in front of me.  All those coffee mugs that I gave to my mother.

There are two layers of coffee mugs inside.  I begin pulling them out of the box and placing them on the floor beside me one by one.  A few are chipped cracked, some of which can be attributed to age and wear, some of which I’m sure is because of the way they have been transported in this box, without padding of any sort.  Two of my favorites are the Chocloasaurus and the Shopasaurus mugs, based off an 80s comic strip about dinosaurs with personality stereotypes.  I found the pair when out shopping for my mom’s birthday with my grandmother probably about 15 years ago and instantly fell in love.  I kept the Chocloasaurus mug for myself and eagerly presented the other to my mother a few days later on her birthday.  I had always wanted a mug with my name printed on it, and this was the next best thing.  We drank out of these mugs together on every special occasion until a few years ago. Also in the box is the full collection of Garfield glass mugs that Burger King sold in the early 90s, many of which still have the black crayon price markings on the bottom from the thrift store.

The second layer has several World’s Greatest Mom and I Love You This Much… mugs in it.  It also has a few mugs that I’m pretty sure she got from office or church Christmas parties, definitely not from me.  Only a few of the mugs in this box actually belong to me, but at this point I’ve stopped trying to think through all this logically.

This is what makes up my life, I guess.  A bunch of stuff eventually stowed away in attics and closets that nobody needs, but can’t seem to get rid of because of the memories they evoke.  Maybe everybody’s lives are like that.  Newspaper clippings, old costume jewelry, and well-loved toys with no material worth become priceless artifacts of someone we cherish.

I feel like I should cry, but I just can’t seem to.  It’s a different kind of hurt; a dull ache that flares up in quiet moments and lurks in the back of my mind on birthdays.  An incredulous pain.

It’s surreal to think that I’ve been erased to nothing more than fingerprints and dust in my own mother’s house.


a coffee challenge.

•April 7, 2011 • 4 Comments

In case you missed my updates on Twitter, yesterday I decided to see just how much coffee I could consume in one afternoon shift.  Here’s how it went, in pictures:

I started off the afternoon right with a simple doppio con panna with a pump of mint (since our whipped cream isn’t sweetened).

Next, it was a Double Shot on Ice, a recipe re-creation from my old employer, Starbucks.  I’ve missed those.

Next up: doppio espresso with a little raw sugar.  Delish.

On to a triple-shot vanilla nonfat latte, one of my all-time favorites.

And finally, to end the day right, an iced quad caramel macchiato (with extra caramel!).

That’s right, kids, I had 14 shots of espresso in around 6 hours.  Don’t try this at home, I’m a trained professional.


music for papers and rainy days.

•March 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve got this stuck in my head, thought I’d share it with you.

on cloudy days.

•March 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

hydrangea leaves and broken dreams.

we never again thought of those days lying the grass, dreaming of what we would someday become.

we grew up and left our childish dreams behind.

we loved, we lost, and continued on.

a broken vase of tiny flowers as our only reminder.

a shadow of what we could have been.


“The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”: FDR’s First Inaugural Address

•March 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A little academics for you in the morning.


On the cold and gray morning of Saturday, March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stepped onto a platform on the East Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, DC, and became the 32nd President of the United States.  Although this morning was not at all what the press called “Roosevelt Weather,” a reference to the sunshine that had seemed to bless each of his campaign stops the previous fall, a large crowd waited eagerly.  They waited for direction, for answers.  It was now a matter of seeing whether a representative democracy could conquer economic collapse, and Roosevelt was stepping into the forefront of it all. It was a matter of staving off violence, some even thought revolution.  Roosevelt’s natural air of confidence and optimism did much to reassure the nation.  His famous first inaugural address, often known by the famous phrase “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” came at a time when fear and panic had paralyzed the nation. Roosevelt’s inauguration occurred in the middle of a bank panic that began four years prior in 1929, and had continued to fall since, sweeping the nation.  Of course, we now know this as The Great Depression.

The official day began at 10:15 a.m. with a short private prayer at St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as the “Church of Presidents” across Lafayette Square from the White House.

Shortly before 11:00 am, Franklin and Eleanor arrived at the North Portico of the White House, where they remained in their open touring car until greeted by outgoing president, Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.

Traditionally, the outgoing and incoming presidents were seated side by side, a symbol for the world of the peaceful transfer of power that had prevailed for nearly 150 years. But this time the traditional ride to the Capitol was more than awkward.  In the months leading up to this day, the dislike between Hoover and Roosevelt had increased and the automobile ride they made to the Capitol building, with the two men seated next to each other, was mostly a quiet one.  This tension could be readily seen by any observant onlooker: Roosevelt acknowledged the crowds of people lining the street by waving his top hat at them while Hoover sat rigidly still beside him.

Inaugural arrangements in 1933 were different from previous ceremonies. Historically, the custom was to hold it on the East Rotunda of the Capitol, with many, many steps to climb. The organizers knew that Roosevelt could not maneuver steps, so they had a series of ramps and wooden barriers constructed to create a private passageway to within thirty feet of the podium. To manage the last part of the way, Roosevelt was able walk with the assistance of his son James to the podium. The handicap accessibility system made for Roosevelt was a precursor of the accessibility systems of today.

As Roosevelt sat inside the Capitol before the event started, he had time to review his speech and decided to rewrite the first sentence. What he planned to say, “I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candor and decision which the present situation of our nation impels,” didn’t seem to convey the sanctity or incisiveness he wanted for the occasion. Roosevelt thoughtfully then wrote the inspiring words we know today: “This is a day of consecration.”

Finally the ceremony began and Roosevelt proceeded down the ramp and rose to make the slow, difficult walk to the podium. Watchers were amazed as Roosevelt drew on what one eyewitness called “bottomless reserves of physical and mental strength to make the short journey to the platform and the Presidency.”  As Roosevelt gathered his strength and pushed onward, he simultaneously gathered the strength of a struggling nation.

Roosevelt’s main theme throughout his 1933 inaugural speech was: “This nation is asking for action, and action now.”  His response was that “We must act, and we must act quickly;” the people want “direct, vigorous action.”  The action Roosevelt proposed was clear and direct: put people to work, raise farm prices, boost purchasing power, prevent foreclosures, national planning, strict supervision of all banking, credits, and investment, and an end to speculation with other people’s money.

Roosevelt knew that he would have to do more than urge action, however eloquently; he must also act, and act soon.  And act soon he did.  The very next day he declared the very first federal bank holiday, closing all United States banks and freezing all financial transactions.  The holiday ended eight days later on March 13.  Just two days after that, on March 15, The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose from 53.84 to 62.10. The day’s gain of 15.34%, achieved during the depths of the Great Depression, remains to date as the largest one-day percentage gain in history.

Roosevelt saw his inauguration as a time to “preeminently speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly,” in a time that Americans should not “shrink from honestly facing conditions” in the country.  He spoke with confidence that “this great nation [would] endure as it [had] endured.”  He honestly believed that it would revive, and prosper, just as it once had.  And then spoke those famous words: “first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself: nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” and changed our nation forever.

lost, but not forgotten.

•March 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

lost mitten

this feels oddly fitting for today.

the place where your soul died.

•February 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A storm rages in the nearby distance.  The warm air mixes with the cold and swirls around us like a tornado.  The wind licks at my bare skin and teases my hair.  He doesn’t seem to notice any of this.

He stands stoically halfway up the pier from where I sit dangling my toes in the water mindlessly.  I don’t think about how dirty the water really is or how I really shouldn’t be doing this.  Sometimes I forget and touch things that I shouldn’t.

He pays me no attention.  He’s stiff as a board against the wind and I’m afraid of his face.  His ill fitting black t-shirt with some sort of band scribble is pulled up on one side to reveal the elastic of his boxers that rise slightly above his faded jeans that don’t fit well either.  I fight back tears that I don’t know where they came from, and I turn back to gazing at the turbulent sea.

He continues on in this manner for some time.  Hours, it seemed.  It was probably more like minutes.  I clung to my gray cardigan sweater as if it were holding me stable on the pier and tucked the hem of my skirt beneath my left leg a little more.  I felt empty and worthless.

With every second that passes my heart sinks a little closer to my stomach.  If I even have a heart anymore.  To be honest, I’m not sure.

It won’t do any good to speak.  But I want to so badly I can almost taste it.  The salt in my mouth from the ocean spray tastes like death.  I blink to keep out the sand from a violent gust and to keep in my tears.  We really shouldn’t be out here; I’m surprised no one has come out here and yanked us away from the looming hurricane headed for the coast.  I guess they got everyone inland earlier and assumed anyone stupid enough to walk past the double red flags onto the pier got what they had coming to them.

I wondered what it would be like to be consumed by the waves.  It seemed like a very romantic way to die.

They would write about us in the newspaper.

I almost smiled a little at this, but was suddenly brought back to reality by the creaking boards behind me.  My heart jumps a little but he’s only leaning against the railing now because the wind is too strong for even him.  I often think he’s a lot stronger than he is.

My hair whips in front of my face and I turn back to the ocean as I move it back.  I’ve never seen the tide this high before.

I wish he would speak to me.  Say anything at all.  I know I’ve done everything wrong again, but for once I wish he’d just say something.  Just a single damned word.  He never does.  He does this to me because he knows how much it hurts me, not because he doesn’t really want to say something.  He makes me believe I am putrid and I believe him.

Dark clouds move ravenously across the sky, devouring any hope the city had left.  Most people had boarded all their windows and doors by now, and a few had even left town, but we came to this pier right in the middle of it all.

I thought about all the horrible things that I said and done realized that everything that had led up to this point was absolutely my fault.  He wasn’t to blame for this, it was me.  My hands found the edge of the wooded pier and wrapped around the bottom of it on either side of me.  Rain began to mingle with the now constant barrage of wind and sand and I wanted to die.  I wanted to dissolve into the sand and blow far, far away from here.

I sink to one side and pull my feet up from the devilish waters so they lay beside my shivering body.  The rain begins to sting my bear skin.  I think seriously about diving into the water right here and now or perhaps of just laying here until the sea swallows me whole and they find me weeks later swollen and green.  No one will care.

As I close my eyes, resolute and decided, I hear a voice behind me yelling something muffled.  Before I can even think about it I’m being scooped by unfamiliar arms and carried to a car with flashing yellow lights that are dimmed by the storm.

They ask him what I was doing there.  As I float in and out of consciousness I hear him mumble something about trying to get me to safety to the coast guard officer.  They believe him and I believe him and surely he’s telling the truth.