How to Handle Your Shit

I studied acting in New York with a formidable black woman named Susan Batson. Her voice, raspy and brash, was tinged with a Boston accent, which made her extra tough. She sorta reminded me of Al Pacino in Heat, if he were neatly stuffed into the body of a petite black woman. Shrouded in a mane of hair that was like a massive fur coat that rich women wear about their shoulders, she’d come walking into her Manhattan studio in these 4-inch heels like a drill sergeant and everyone knew it was time to straighten up and fly right. When I studied with her, she’d been working with Nicole Kidman on Cold Mountain; Nicole won the Oscar for The Hours and thanked Susan in an awards acceptance speech.

The method we studied was intense; at least it was for me. We were required to dig deep into our shit. You’d have to go to your pain to pull out the golden nuggets that you would then hand over to your character as a gift. Mining is hard frick-fracking work, man. And it had to be done. Otherwise, what the hell were you there for each week for hours and hours at hundreds of dollars a month?

We’d be in a small room, lights down. You’d get a monologue, go off to the corners of the studio to prep the monologue and come back to present your work. Acting isn’t as cut n’ dried as a math problem (at which I was never good), but in class, there are some A’s + B’s that equal C’s to learn and know. You have to find your way to the answer. You can’t take short cuts, you can’t hide, you can’t disrespect the work. For those who don’t act, even you will know this to be true because you see when an actor sucks. Acting is the hardest work I’ve ever done besides being a triple-jumper at Marquette where you cannot suck. Oh, and being a dancer for thousands at Chicago Bulls games. And singing in front of Czech-speaking audiences. And…Oh God. (So much set up for sucking!)

I hate math, but I love the problem-solving of acting. It also scares the shit out of me because you have to solve, you have to deliver. There is a right and wrong and you are 100% responsible for that outcome. My hands would tremble, the white paper which held my work to respect would shake as I sat cross-legged along the wall with my classmates before it was my turn in the hot seat. I knew I could do the work; I knew I could be a woman who’s been left for dead who’s just walked miles in a snowstorm to get back to her only child to find that child frozen to death. I could do that. Sometimes.

I’d sit in the chair, darkness punctured by a soft light, as though in an interrogation chair. I’d begin. I’d know if I was “on” or not immediately. I could feel it. And then it would come.

“Peppur!!”

Oh shit.

I’d look up from my sheet. I was sucking.

“You are fucking brilliant when you just do the fucking work!!”, Susan would yell. “DO THE FUCKING WORK!!”

Susan yelled. I don’t mind yelling. I’m athlete-trained. Sometimes you have to be yelled at. What I hated was being a disappointment.

And you see, that’s the problem.

You can’t be thinking about being disappointing when you’re doing work. You’re supposed be thinking about relevant stuff like, what is my emotional life, how does this character walk, what does this character need? NOT what does Susan Batson want to see?!

I’m in a place once again where I need to do the work. I was knocked down pretty hard this year and when you get your bell rung, sometimes some other things get shook up also and all of a sudden you’re standing there bewildered with a messy load of shit oozing in your hands. At least in acting class, you can do something with it!

While I can sit here and think, “I’m fine”…I’m really not. Like, deep down. I have the same demons that were floating around during my NY acting, MU jumping, Chicago dancing and Prague singing days. Nothing has changed except that I’ve gotten older. And now I’ve added grief.

Recently, via phone, my friend put me in the hot seat. She was like, “Yooo, you need to take a full year of YOU! You need to do nothing else but work on you.”

She’s right.

At a minimum, I need to do the work of self-care. This is a hot-topic, buzzy word lately. But, it’s the truth, Ruth. Self-care is stuff like being verbally and emotionally kind to yourself, meditating with Circle+Bloom, doing one thing at a time and being proud of yourself, taking a break from social media so’s you stop comparing yourself to others, forgiving yourself and the big one: allowing joy. When you care for yourself, you don’t get sick. You don’t let in viruses (doubt) and infectious diseases (crappy people/situations). Examples; just sayin’.

Like most of us, I have a habit of after being knocked down, just popping back up, slapping that smile on my face and singing, “I’m okay!”…meanwhile, blood is running down the side of my face, my tooth is chipped and my arm is broken in three places…on the inside. Yet, I think a smile is enough to fix the broken bone. Healing takes work. Healing takes time. Healing requires devoted attention. Yes, you have to get up each morning and go to work or feed your kids or walk your dog. You can’t completely check out.  (We don’t want to go to this extreme even if we feel it.) But, we can’t ignore that we are hurting and that this hurt must be addressed. Because if we don’t, we will suck. We’ll keep hiding, we’ll keep taking short cuts to feel better, we’ll keep disrespecting the work of who we can become. We’ll suck at life and that will truly suck because we all have gifts to give. We all have winning to do, even if it is just getting out of bed on time and combing our hair.

When Susan felt the work, she would cry. She couldn’t help it. She’d genuinely feel the emotion of the character, and she would cry. She would also give out a votive candle, the small kind encased in silver. It was a big deal if Susan handed out a candle. There was this one time where I did the work. I sat in my chair, spent. I told the story. I was alive. I didn’t think. I just did. With tears, Susan handed me my candle. I cried. She sat down in her chair, from where she watched the work. She threw me a Sharpie. I looked up at her.

“Write on it,” she said.

“Ok…?”

“Write: To be lit when I win my Oscar.”

I still have that candle. I believe I will get to light it at the time designated. Maybe it will happen for acting. Maybe it will happen for something else. But, I have to believe that it will happen, somehow someway. The only way that will happen is if I do the work to get there…and that doesn’t mean get new head shots or take a voice-over class. It means I gotta I deal with my shit that keeps me from my Oscar.

I implore you to handle your shit. To do the work, so that you can win your Oscar, too. Consider these words your candle. Let’s check in again this time next year; it is award’s season after all.

xo,

Peppur

Peppur as Carrie Bradshaw

 

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When a snippet is not enough.

via Daily Prompt: Snippet

She wanted more. She thought she’d be fine with what had been offered. A crumb here, a morsel there. She’d often grabbed at their smallness hungrily because she was hungry. She was willing to accept these offerings even though they were less than what she wanted. Had always wanted. (When had she stopped accepting less? When had she gotten so hungry?)

When she saw this snippet, this most recent time, she stood and shouted, “Enough!”

She wanted more. She knew that just by saying so, that now, she would get it.

 

 

Mom and me plus my cousin

Why Birthdays Are For Love.

On the eve of the celebration of my birth, I write this as a gift to myself. Because I must.

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My birthday cake. November 8, 2017. Love.

I’m writing this from the cramped middle seat of a Frontiers flight from New York to Phoenix. I arrived in NY about two weeks ago when I fled the confines of Baltimore and the arresting new memories created there in such a short time. Like the buildings in the neighborhoods Uber drivers said to avoid, I had crumbled. My outsides were still standing, a tough brick house, but a peek through me to the inside would show floors destroyed, walls caved in, leaving craters in the structure allowing my heart to plunge to a pile of debris at the bottom.

When I look at those Victorian buildings, some built in the early 1900s, I can tell they were beautiful…then and now. The Indian (my ex-guy) would laugh at me callously, not understanding how I could look at a place he called a ” fucking dump” and see grandeur.

For my birthday this year, I only wanted one thing: to be a mom. I made this wish a year ago November 8th when I celebrated with my Prague College students. I blew out the candles on the thoughtful cake these kids pooled their Czech crowns for and wished. I came pretty close.

As I sit in Row 12, Seat E, I’m actually tormented. Not by the squeezed middle seat, but by a child. The one in Row 10, Seat E. She is screaming. SCRREAAMING a high-pitched violent jolt that punches you in the face after stabbing your ear drums first. This horrific sound mirrors my anxiety and I wonder if her young spirit knows something about this flight that we all should. I get more anxious. I try to block her out. I try to meditate her out. I hummmm. I chant. I start to lull-a-bye her with the “Go To Sleep” song, from Row 12. I direct my soothing vibration toward her, not wanting to judge the mother for not being able to do the same. With my eyes closed, the crumbling began again. A tarnished chandelier fell from a rotting ceiling, the weak cord that held it, giving way with a zip. Tears. Because I thought of the mom. And how I wasn’t going to be one. I thought about how happy she must have felt when she first learned her child was with her. I thought about how fulfilled she must have felt to watch her belly grow, to rub it each month with satisfaction and wonder. And how agonizingly euphoric she must have felt as her baby willed itself out of her and was placed in her arms. I wiped my face, told myself to “STOP IT!” and instead thought how helpless she must have felt now.

While October 10th took away my briefly-enjoyed birthday present and left me with a grief I have never known before and hope to never again, I still rejoice. I must.

I rejoice because I am loved. When my heart plunged (and my relationship imploded at the same time), my dear friend swept me up and deposited me in her warm home full of children and loving chaos (those of you that have, know). Their family din drowned out my own and I felt better. When it was quiet, when the kids were at school, I slumped to the sturdy wooden floors of her Baltimore home and cried; she cried with me. A true friend.

A director I worked with in Prague, who is from NY, screened her short film in which I starred. I Megabussed it to NY to enjoy our hard cinematic work and to escape myself. New York, my former home, brought me closer to more love. My cousin and my sister-girl, who was visiting from Prague: the three of us uncorked a bottle of wine and enjoyed the setting sun in the enclave of Central Park. Love.

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Love in Central Park

I visited old work friends, the kind you call family. I saw my friend who was my very first acting partner. I love her. I hung out with my girls who started out as an LA support network and became sisters. I laughed, loved and cried over beers in Brooklyn with another friend who was catapulted onto a new path and appreciation for healed life due to f*ck(ing) cancer. I stayed with my BFF from college, where she let me disappear into the depths of her comfy bed at night while she slept on the couch. Love.

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Love in Brooklyn

 

I came alive in the city I knew before, a stranger to what I had been as I searched for reminders and clues to who I would be now. Changed. In my journal, I wrote: Am I reinventing myself or am I enhancing who I already am? 

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Love in SoHo

I experienced all of these things while my birthday steadily approached. I was getting nervous. What was I going to do for my birthday? Where should I go? What should I do? How could I fill in what was missing? I knew I couldn’t have what I had really wanted. Those candles had been blown out. What I wanted was my own mom.

Thanks to a buddy pass from a friend, I was able to get my wish. I surprised mom with my presence on my birthday, just as I surprised her with my presence when she was a young 18 year old. Because, as I walked the streets of New York, with all those people and sights and sounds and buzz, I thought about how my mom must have felt when she learned of me. Thought about how bewildered she must have felt to watch her belly grow with me, to rub it each month with displaced satisfaction and wonder. And how agonizingly euphoric she must have felt when I, her baby, willed myself out of her and was placed in her arms. I thought about how she knew me and loved me longer than anyone else, and I wanted that.

Mom and me plus my cousin

Mom and 2 yr old me with my cousin from photo above. Love.

I am happy, still, on this birthday. Thankful for what was and wasn’t and what will be. Because Birthdays are for love.

 

 

ps….thank you to everyone who has sent notes and hugs through the internet to me. I love you.

Why I no longer give a shit about spinach.

Yesterday was interesting, to say the least. It started with the normal jumping on the laptop and working on my social media clients. Only my fingers were tingling with excitement because today was finally the day for my first true pre-natal visit! The Indian and I had to drive an hour for the visit, as I was seeing a doctor my cousin suggested and it was near her home, not mine. It was on my “Baby – To Do List” to possibly figure out what doctor to choose that was closer to Baltimore.

I was running late, of course. When I get nervous, I start paying attention to stupid things like, vacuuming or doing my nails when I should be getting dressed. The Indian hates to be rushed so where I tend to make up my time by rushing to the car or driving like a maniac, he walks calmly and slowly and drives with frustratingly slow care.

We both were nervous. We argued in the car about something stupid. He has started to drive Uber to take care of me and the baby and has been getting up at 4:00am to scoop up the lucrative airport people. He was complaining to me of how this woman yelled at him for not calling her when he arrived at 4:15am, saying it was “his job” to do so. He told me how he was gonna show her about who’s job it was to do what. #Cancel. I told him he had negative energy and needed to not have conflict every single day. He told me I didn’t understand. We drove in silence the rest of the way until he reached for my hand and held it tight.

We arrived. We checked in. We joked with the receptionists. I told the girls, “Girls, I’m nervous; if I fall out, one of ya’ll is going to have to pick me up.”

My name was called and an efficient blond woman lead us back to the room. I was giggling, as I do when I’m nervous. Laughing as I took my leggings off, I joked with The Indian that he better get ready because she was going to stick the wand in me for the exam in order to see the baby. He said he was going to pass out.

I’ve been watching YouTube videos. “8 weeks pregnant”; “9 weeks pregnant”; “10 weeks pregnant”. I learned that at 10 weeks, the baby is no longer an embryo and becomes a fetus. My YouTube girls were exclaiming about finally being in the “double digits” and being so excited. Their excitement got me excited. You hear so much about miscarriages and stuff, that I was having a hard time feeling secure enough to get fully attached to my baby. Late one quiet night,  I watched someone’s YouTube ultrasound and saw her baby kicking around at 10 weeks and heard her baby’s heartbeat at 175 bpm and under the glow of my cell phone where I was tucked under my blanket, I smiled and rubbed my belly and whispered, “That’s you, baby!”

With the wand moving around inside, and the monitor screen hanging from the ceiling to my left, I saw my baby. I looked at the Indian, and with true wonder, said “Oh my god, honey, there’s our baby.” He smiled oddly. His big brown eyes glued to the screen with its computerized black and white images. He wasn’t green, but close to it. We were in so much awe.

My technician was clicking away at buttons. On the screen, like an old-school video game, she was going after and capturing what turned out to be five fibroids. “Fibroids?!” I said aloud. Five? Where the hell did those come from? She kept clicking and I kept thinking, “Forget the fibroids! Back to the baby, back to the baby. Let’s talk about the baby.” But she wasn’t saying anything. She wasn’t talking. She was clicking. Soon the clicking stopped. She was through. And then she just sort of slowly took the wand out. I spoke up, panicked, “Hold on. Can’t we hear the heartbeat?” Maybe she forgot to turn the sound up. On YouTube the technician had turned the sound up and the girl got to hear her baby’s heartbeat. 175 beats per minute. I wanted to hear ours.  That’s what the heck we came for. What I’d been waiting for. She faltered and said, “Um. We can’t hear one at this stage.” Then uber efficiently, super clinically, she instructed me to get dressed and a doctor would be speaking with me.

It was then that I knew.

Last weekend, I went to the Farmer’s Market here in Baltimore. Beautiful day. Beautiful people. Healthy energy and I was in the mix with them. Happily. I was shopping for the colors of the rainbow in my veggies. Nutrients for me and for the baby. I’ve been so consumed with eating well since last November. So consumed. I grabbed a gorgeous bag of spinach. A deep delicious green, so much better than the organic green we get at Whole Paycheck, even. I was so content. So happy with myself for taking care of myself and my baby. I swiftly bought bright red radishes, yellow squash, glowingly orange yams and some home-made spices before I ran out of my $15 budget. So happy with the sun on my face, feeling fulfilled. Feeling whole.

Little did I know then that my baby was already dead.

My doctor entered the room. She is quite tall, and lovely, actually. I’d only met her once and had immediately liked her because she’d joked, “Was this an unplanned pregnancy?” It was a polite way of bringing up my age. Never once did she call me high-risk or advanced maternal age. As she took notes during the exam, she simply and calmly said, “We’ll be sure to test for Down’s Syndrome.” I had agreed. At that visit, I was around 7 weeks. They’d taken blood, she’d called with results to say the numbers “Looked good.” When she had walked in the door, she didn’t look good.

It was then that I knew.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I’d gotten my hopes up. I’d taken a chance to believe that I could do this. That if I ate enough spinach. And took vitamins and stopped drinking caffeine and took Vitex and Evening Primrose Oil and CQ10 and avoided tofu and ate lentils and drank Damiana tea and did fertility massages at night while listening to soothing meditation music on YouTube that, if I did all of this, I could be a mom. That my dreams would finally come true. That the years I spent and (wasted?) not trying harder to have a baby would have been worth it. That I could truly believe in my young-looking and healthy-acting body. That I could sorta slip one by mother nature. That I could succeed where determined. That, I too could have a baby. It was then that I knew I was wrong.

When you’re pregnant, before you start to show and especially when you’re around people who don’t know you or your body, you find yourself walking around with this secret. For some reason, I felt like I had an Instagram filter on constant as I walked the streets of my new home. Where no one knew me. I saw things differently. Colors were different. Vibrant; odd; rabbit hole-ish. Thoughts were different. I’ve always been curious about strangers. Always wondered what they were about. Now I looked at people and wondered what secret they held. Was she pregnant? Was she happy in her relationship? What did he eat last night for dinner? Did he cook? Is she happy? Does she miss her friends? Are they broke? How much was that stroller? All kinds of odd questions. Secrets I wanted revealed, like mine.

Turns out our baby died around 8 weeks, 3 days, the doctor said. Shortly after my appointment. Shortly after the report of my good numbers. She said it was more likely due to chromosomal problems than my fibroids or anything I did or didn’t do. Turns out my baby never made it to fetus stage after all. No double digits for this one.

Last night, The Indian suggested we make stew. He’s so good about making sure we eat. He used to say “Feed my baby!” Last night, he didn’t. On the drive back from the doctor, as we held each other, I wailed and moaned. So hurt. So without words. So wanting to not have a dead, dead being floating in me; he calmly said, “I planned for this, Peppur. I didn’t want to tell you, but I did.” His sister’s brother is a doctor. The Indian told me how they’d had a very long conversation about all of this (my being 46; he’s nearly 40) and that he should prepare himself. Even though every night, before we would go to bed, he would snuggle his nose into my belly and hold me and speak to the baby in Hindi, in words I didn’t know, to a baby we both wanted to know. Even then, he was preparing himself.

He cut up the veggies I bought at the market for the stew. Buried in my black hoody my brother gave me, leggings and cute bunny slippers The Indian gave me, I watched. Uninterested in the food. He had me taste his spice masterwork, “Good,” I mumbled. I smiled. I was trying. He asked me to wash the spinach, which I did. It looked almost black to me now. I threw it in the crock pot.

While he dug his hands into the crock pot to mix and churn the veggies and meat and spices, he quietly said that if we stayed in this dark place, he was going to go crazy. He said we needed to get over it and move on. (Pain is not easy to just get over. However, I can agree that when you feed it, when you cry so deeply, so grippingly that you can’t breathe, the pain does seem to hang on a bit longer.) I wondered when he was going to feel this pain. He hadn’t cried yet. Told me he would be dealing with this alone, when he was alone. I hoped he’d be ok.  Hoped his preparation had worked.

I did the dishes. His iPad was propped open and rested on the marble counter as we cooked. Voices floated around us. Tinny, coming through the iPad speakers. Warbled in Instagram colors. People were crying and saying things about the loved one’s they’d lost  in the Las Vegas shooting. I stopped to watch these grief-stricken people. I leaned against my sink, arms crossed with my hood over my head. Drained. I knew I needed gratitude. But I swear it had been bulldozed to a pulp by disappointment. I turned around. I’d have to pick that gratitude up later.

The Indian and I were going to watch a movie while we waited for the soup. I chose instead to lay in bed and listen to Billie Holiday on my phone and cry. He joined me and asked me politely to stop. He pulled out his phone and we watched Wild n’ Out, the glow illuminating our faces in the darkness. I laughed. He laughed. We tried.

Around midnight, it was time to taste the crock pot soup. The Indian asked me to get up and join him. I didn’t care about the soup. Didn’t care about how anything turned out anymore. I got up. Tasted the soup.

It was then that I knew.

I started sobbing again. The spinach. It was there. Floating with the lentils and potatoes and stuff. It was supposed to have had a purpose. It had a job to do and IT DIDN’T FUCKING DO IT. I no longer give a shit about spinach.

So, as I sit here, on a Saturday morning in my Baltimore flat with puffy eyes and listlessness, the sun is trying to peek through my blinds. To nudge me like my cats used to. To comfort me. It’s about 18 hours after not hearing my baby’s heartbeat. Three days before I go to the clinic to remove an 8 week and 3-day old lifeless embryo. I wish I’d thought to ask for a picture of my ultrasound. I’d always wanted one. Just knew I was going to be going home with one to study and lament over. One to proudly post on Instagram. Or Facebook. Like all the other girls. Now, I just simply want my own picture of my baby to study and hold in these mourning moments. To get to know her. And to see with my own eyes, without a filter, that her beating heart wasn’t there. But that she was. Instead, I’m a bit haunted by the memory of a pic of the baby in the ultrasound hanging from a cold monitor. I knew from YouTube that the heart was super tiny.  With my feet in the stirrups, I had squinted and tried to see the little dot. But, you know what guys? I hadn’t seen it then. I really hadn’t…Somehow I knew I was looking at something just hanging there. Something entombed in its own world. In its own stopped time. I was looking at something that had said goodbye to me almost two weeks ago. I hope somehow, that I heard it.

I’ll get over this. As do all the other women on the street with this secret. I’ll be fine. I hope. But for now, while my boobs still hurt and I still have morning sickness and my belly is still round, I’m not.

 

 

And by the way, for those of you who are like, whaaat? I thought Pep was still in Prague! Or, whaaa? Who’s The Indian? Start reading here. Love you.

 

 

Life goes on?

It’s funny how death teaches us about life.

Well, if you’ve been following along, you know that I decided to leave Prague back in July and I did it like a thief in the night. I secretly told people goodbye — mental telepathy secretly. I’d see someone who I cared about deeply as a friend and I’d know it was the last time I was going to see them for awhile, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them goodbye. So inside, I’d be like, “I’m leaving Prague for awhile. I love you. See you soon!” Then when I was out of their sight I would cry.

I hate goodbyes.

A month or so before I left, I was lucky to earn some sessions with an emerging life coach who really helped me work through my self worth, relationship fears and how to say goodbye. I’m not sure why I have so much anxiety around uttering this simple phrase. For our last session, she gave me some transference exercises to try. I was to attach good feelings to a nice photo and when the anxiety came up, I was to swoosh that picture into my visual space and feel better. As I said goodbye to my 3 adult students whom I’d grown so close to…the tears would come and I would try…swoosh…and nope. Tears and words choked in my throat. I had to damn-near pat them on the back and run out of the cafe on our last sessions. Like a child. Ugh.

Another reason I left so quietly and didn’t say proper goodbyes. I didn’t feel like explaining what I was doing, and how I was leaving to go get knocked up by some guy I barely knew. Doesn’t matter. In my head, I still have one foot in Prague and one foot in Baltimore, Maryland where we settled.  I worked so hard for my visa and health insurance and it seems like a normal good move to keep that status should I want to travel again or god-forbid need some major health insurance. So there we are.

And where am I?

After the funeral, I found a cute flat for me and The Indian in Baltimore.  Many folks in these parts are anti-Baltimore due to high crime and severely sketchy neighborhoods, but I kinda like it. Very charming in some areas. Amazing and interesting history; like, Edgar Allen Poe lived a few blocks from flat — how cool is that? And, there is some lovely architecture. Coming from Prague, I need this type of aesthetic art in my life.

But really, where am I?

In my last post, I mentioned how everything with my Indian boyfriend wasn’t always roses and caviar. It wasn’t. And it is not surprising why. We don’t know each other. We are two people who wanted a family, now, and that common denominator got us intertwined in trying for a kid. I told my married Czech friend about this, one of the ones I couldn’t bear to leave, and she looked at me sideways and said, “You’re doing it backwards. Child, marriage, love?” She was right. I know this. I never do anything the “right” way, I’ve decided. I just don’t. I’m always moving to cities with hope, a few bucks and a vision board. It’s tough, but it always works out. This arrangement is no different. My mom calls it an arranged marriage. My dad and brothers call it nothing, but when they call me, they constantly ask, “Are you sure? Are you alright?”

I’m alright. Basically. I’ve been trying for a baby since May with no success yet. I’ve moved to a newish country, new city, with no job and one good friend nearby and family an hour away. On top of all that, Belinda’s death caused such an intricate chain reaction of domino’s falling that I’ve had to step back and say, “What the heck has happened?!”

We weren’t prepared.

But this is life. You take care of your parents when they need you. You take care of yourself however you can. You get out of the way or pick yourself up when the dominoes start falling and then you kick yourself and bang your head against the wall for not freakin’ being prepared!

I’m a headstrong person. I’m a solitary person. I’m an unprepared person. So a few weeks ago I found myself sleeping on my cousin’s couch because I had left The Indian. I was pissed at him for a few things. I wasn’t happy with the situation and felt the baby-making was no longer worth my happiness as a thriving, interesting, lovely, talented woman. So while he was still living in our flat that I found, I was on my cousin’s couch an hour away near Silver Spring, Maryland.

Where was I?

I was content to be near the family for which I’d left Prague to be near. I was safe. I was fed, cared for. There were kids to commune with. A dog to walk. Time with my mourning dad. Time to try to figure out what I was not successfully figuring out. All I knew was that I left the comfort of a flat and several jobs in Prague and now I was on a couch.

I’m resilient. I can take a lot. But one night, while scrunched on my side of the L-shaped couch with the dog at my feet crowding me and my younger 14-year old cousin snoring on his side of the L-shaped couch, I sorta lost it.

I’d been trying to wear my headphones at night, where I listened to my zen YouTube meditations on my cell phone. Gongs. Flutes. Rainforests. That sort of thing. My cell phone battery died. I was left with no defenses. I heard footsteps on the stairs. I knew what is was. It was my eldest cousin, who is a bit of an insomniac at 20 years old. For perhaps a week, she would come down each night for a snack. She was always wide awake, while I was clenching my teeth, gripping onto whatever fitful sleep I could muster to cage. The padded steps reached the kitchen. Where a light was flicked on. Yes, a light. That flooded into our adjacent living/bedroom. I’d pull my head under the covers. But it wasn’t enough defense for … the squeak. The squeak! The incessant squeak of the cabinet that housed the snack she so diligently needed each night. The squeak called out to me. It mocked me, laughed at me as it knew I was trying to sleep, even if my cousin was not as knowing. And then came more. The accomplices to the squeak. The shuffle of a box. The crickle, crackle, crinkle-crinkle of the plastic-wrapped honey bun. There would be the opening of the fridge for some drink to accompany the crickling honey bun. And then there would be not just the man-handling of the cherished honey bun, but then there would be the OPENING of the hard crickling plastic that encased the sugary, messy, ornery, mean, harassing honey bun. And sometimes there was another squeak and reach for a second honey bun. A menacing afterthought.

I was already on edge. Stress from my relationship. Stress from worrying about the fate of my widower dad, who was left with NO Plan B. Stress of my broke ass. I had this hairline fracture of a lava meltdown zigzagging it’s way through my body. I could feel it moving around and exploring new areas of my nerves. Sleep was the only way to keep it cool, to keep it from growing and I wasn’t getting any gosh darn sleep.

The crickling got louder in my head. It flamed the hairline lava fracture. I felt it zing through my toes, swirl and swivel through my intestines and up my esophagus to where it exploded. I was possessed. Amber light shot from my eye-sockets. I stood on my knees on my side of the L-shaped couch and lost it.

I was shaking with unfamiliar rage as I hissed, “I can’t sleep!! I can’t sleep! I CAN’T SLEEP!!!” then, trying to be polite, loving and family like, I quietly said, my voice quivering while I clamped my hands together, “I know this isn’t my house and I know you guys are so great to let me stay here, but is there any way you could not do what you’re doing? It’s the wrapper. It’s so loud. And, and, and the squeak!”

She stared at me, in semi darkness, quite stunned. “I’m sorry Auntie Peppur,” (they call me ‘auntie’ even though we’re technically cousins) “I can’t help that the cabinet squeaks.”

I burst into tears. The lava. The squeak. The crackle. I pounded my fists on the couch and cried. Hard. I whimpered, “But, I can’t sleep…I can’t sleep!”

My cousin quietly turned off the light. Not taking an eye off me, she retreated from my tantrum. I huddled into a fetus position. Clamped my eyes shut. In the darkness, I heard a quiet request, which sounded very much like Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Shall I pray for you, Auntie Peppur?” It was my little cousin from his side of the L-shape. “Yes, honey. Yes. Pray for me.”

I learned later that he had sent a text upstairs to my sleeping Aunt (his Grandma) that read something along the lines of “Auntie Peppur is down here freaking out, what should I do?”

Now, of course The Indian and I had been baby dancing. Even though my dad had kept saying, “Please, Roni” (short for Peppuroni) “Please protect yourself.”

It was then, as my whimpers started to die down and after my cousin’s post-prayer (sorta-loud) “Amen” floated off to heaven, I ruminated on how much I hate honey buns. And then I wondered. This meltdown. It’s different. I rolled over and stared into the darkness at the ceiling. “I don’t think this is your standard PMS. Maybe I’m….naaah.”

I rolled back to my side.

As my cousin fell back into his rhythmic snore and the dog snorted and snuffled back into place to crowd my feet, I thought, “Is this? Am I…maybe I am. Pregnant.”

Holy bananas, life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why then, why now?

It is surreal to write this. In my last post, I so simply wrote of how my dad had just gotten married to his new wife and how I stood up in that beautiful wedding. Who could have possibly known that just three months later I would be standing up at her funeral?

My dad’s wife, Belinda, died on July 11. At nine hours ahead, I received the call on July 12 around 6 or 7am in Prague as I was frantically packing the last of my things to move back to the states.

I’d never heard such panic or grief in my bother’s voice as he shrieked? blurted? explained? “She’s dead, Pep. Gone. Belinda died.”

“What? Who? What?!” I sat down on my bed amidst piles of papers and books and clothes I couldn’t figure out to stuff into my three suitcases. The morning sun was bright. Quiet. It found me through my vaulted windows as it did each summer morning. Nourishing my plants on the wooden windowsill. Nourishing me. The foreign sun poured into my room that morning, making me more and more comfortable with my fairly abrupt decision to leave. Until I’d picked up the phone. “What? What happened?”

At the time, no one knew what happened. We learned later that she had a blood clot in her lung. My dad told me he’d been upstairs waiting for her to come upstairs to bed. She’d been downstairs in her office finishing up a few things, working on her real estate business, in which she was and had been thriving. He told me she came upstairs, ashen, slumped on the bed and said, “Roscoe, I can’t breathe.”

Dad had called the ambulance, they arrived at the hospital, and from there she died shortly thereafter. They just weren’t able to save her. She was 58.

After I got back to Prague from being in the states for their wedding, I had selfishly and excitedly decided to make a change in my life. I was so…”impressed” with the life my dad and Belinda had seemed to create in Maryland. While I was there, their home was filled to the gills with family, friends, children. Warmth. Vibrancy. Laughter. Brownness. A lot of it created by Belinda. It was just a crackle of excitement and love I didn’t realize I was missing in Prague…where I had a full life of producing theater, singing with a Czech group, doing Prague Betties, teaching English, journalism and making occasional travel excursions. Friends had come to visit. I wasn’t alone, by any sense, but there was loneliness. And questioning. What was my purpose there? I was in a seemingly homogeneous society where I would be on the metro and think, “I’m the only black person. Again,” But then, I would look and think, okay…I’m the only black person, but over there is the only Asian person, or the only person with red hair, or the only French person. Or African. There were lots of only’s. I wasn’t so different. So alone. But yet.

Belinda has three adult children of her own in their 30s. One girl and three boys, just like us. Belinda had said she always wanted a big family. At the wedding, I’d called us the Brady Bunch. It truly felt perfect. To me. I was happy to be around those guys. Dad had been wanting me to move back and to be near them. I knew he was so happy with her and wanted to feel complete. I’d get an occasional motherly call from Belinda with her Maryland drawl, “Hey honey, your dad would just love for you all to be near him.”

In my previous post, I mentioned making change. I mentioned a new relationship I was questioning heavily. So here’s the deal: I moved to Prague in May 2014. I hadn’t been home to the states once. So by April 2017, with this opportunity to hit my homeland, I knew I had to make the most of it. I have a mom, a stepmom, brothers, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, friends and none of ’em live near each other! After the wedding in Maryland, I made a US “Tour” as I called it and re-energized myself with visits, hugs and torrential departing tears to friends and family in New York, Kenosha, LA and finally Boston, from where I flew back to Prague.

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Photos By R. Whitehead

On my last night in the US, in a swanky hotel bar in Boston, my college roommate and I sipped our red wine while reminiscing about our sentimental days of friendship that began back in 1988.

I looked at the end of the bar and there he was. A guy. Cute. Brown skin. (Bi-racial?) He wore a hoody sweatshirt, which I thought was interesting for such a nice bar. He was drinking a Bud Light, of which I was judgey about. A pack of Marlboro’s rested next to the Bud. Yuck (but familiar as I’d been living in Europe for three years). He was alone. Seemed confident in his greying beard and short cut. And then he smiled. At me.

He had remarkably white teeth. My college roommate is a dentist and I think she may have even commented on the brightness. What happened next is what sealed it for me. He got up and came over to me. I’m usually the one that approaches. Especially at a bar. Especially if I’ve had a few Cabernet’s, as I’d had. I appreciated that. A lot.

I stood as he approached. I was wearing heels. I was a hair taller. I wanted to discount him. You know, the Bud Light. The sweatshirt. The cigarettes. The hair taller. So, I did sorta. But there was one thing keeping me staring into his golden brown eyes with these incredibly long eyelashes.

Just two days before, when I was in LA being fabulous and sparkly with my LA girls and LA Betties, we’d been sitting around the table in my girlfriend’s fab loft sipping more wine and holding onto last moments together as tightly our long-stem goblets. Maxwell spilled from speakers and embraced us in the cavernous space. I pushed my straightened hair behind my ears as I expressed to the girls with despair as serious as a missed call back, “I’m ovulating!” I couldn’t stand it any longer. I’d tried to find guys in Prague. Nothing had panned out, I told them. I told them bizarre stories of my European guy encounters. Between my giggles, they knew I was serious. Ovulation only comes around once a month. If at all when you’re older, like me, as I’d been told at a doctor’s visit six month’s prior. So I was like, “Who can we call?!” With wine as our courage, we started texting and calling our dear guy friends with an SOS for Sperm. “Peppur’s in town. She needs a donor.” Text’s started pouring back, “WTF?!” “I gotta decide now?” “Ok, but, sh*t I’m busy tonight.”

“I should have planned this better,” I told the girls, downing the last of my wine. I really should have.

So, when I was standing in front of my Boston guy, I had nothing to lose but time. I’d said bluntly, “I’m 46. I want a kid. Now.”

“I do, too.”

And that, along with fate, sealed our deal. And he became my Indian Guy (not Bi-racial after all).

As I sat on my bed in Prague with it’s bright green Ikea bed spread littered with stuff, nothing else mattered. I cried tears for Belinda. I cried tears for my poor dad. I cried tears for myself. What was to become of life now?

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What you need to know is that after I left Boston, the Indian told me he wanted to see me again. I’d had no money. Who knew when I was getting back to the states. He bought me three tickets (with the help of my college roommate’s air miles) and I made two trips back to the states in May and June. When I was ovulating. July was to be the final trip back.

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My Indian wanted me. He wanted a family. All this back and forth was nonsense, he’d say. I needed to get serious and come back to the US and make this a real thing. I was resisting. I wasn’t sure. For one thing, I loved my teaching job at Prague College. It fulfilled me in so many ways. I didn’t want to leave it.  In the end, in July, with a one-way ticket looming over my head, I relented. I too, wanted family. I wanted this. I wanted him. Right? I asked for this.

So, he had agreed to leave Boston, as his lease was up and I had suggested we move to Maryland to be near dad and Belinda and all that family goodness. We’d start anew. Being near them would help with my uneasiness. I’d have them in my corner. Family.

After I hung up with my brother, I called my Indian to tell him about Belinda. As I cried more, I stared at all the clothes I’d accumulated that were burdening me with decisions and suddenly I made one. I started throwing all that shit off my bed and onto the floor and then I pushed and bulldozed it into my hallway where it all went into a huge Ikea bag and out the door.

My two trips back to the states to be with my Indian and to babymake had not been all roses and caviar. (More about that later.) I’d had my doubts about all of it. It was abrupt. It was crazy. I kept it secret from most. It was crazy. But change was crucial. Life depended on it. I knew I needed to do something. So I was doing it.

I cannot believe God had me flying back to my dad on the same day his wife died. On a day when he would need me, the oldest, his only daughter, the most. At a time when I had faltered more than once with a scary, blind decision to return.

At her funeral, I leaned into the microphone as I held onto the podium for strength. My legs shook, unstable in the same silver sparkly Betsey Johnson heels I had worn in their wedding. I asked “Why?” like everyone else had. Why then? Why now? I spoke of how I’d come back to these people to be of service because Belinda had inspired me to do so. What they didn’t know, or maybe they did, is that Belinda had inspired me to want to be the type of woman I was not yet. She had given me courage. To try. To be. To be a wife and mother. To live. To laugh. Be open to change. To live.

It’s funny how death teaches us about life.

 

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Family at the wedding

 

 

Baby With the Bathwater.

Where do I begin?

I’ve never been so confused in my life. (Not true, but you can imagine what’s next.)

Last week, I was gifted with…myself. My friend treated us to a girl’s serenity weekend in Switzerland with her aunt who is a bit of a healer. While her aunt lead us through exercises that opened our hearts, our minds and our iron gateways to tears, we exhaled.

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I exhaled pretty hard. Comforted by candles, we set our intentions and during that exercise, I had a moment. A big one. My friend’s aunt said some trigger words: “nurture yourself” (of all things), and suddenly I was out-of-my body wailing, which lead to hyperventilating followed by several moments of them rubbing my back and holding my hand while I tried to pull myself back to this world. I don’t know where I went, I don’t know what happened, I just now know that I 100% need to take care of myself because when I don’t, I hurt myself. Deeply. Black hole deeply. And the hurt comes pouring out like that.

Taking care of myself means going running because I want to and not because I worry I’ll get fat; it means being nice to myself when I mess up, it means putting myself first. It means writing.

Knowing that I can do these things is easy. What’s hard is this: change.

My dad got married recently. It is his third marriage. I only think this trifecta is worth noting because each woman he’s married is vastly different from the other. This shouldn’t be such a huge surprise, as people clearly change from decade to decade. As I stood in their wedding, I thought, what do I need to change about myself in order to get to this point? What IS it?

I’ve been told I’m cold emotionally. I’ve been told I’m controlling. I’ve been told I’m selfish. I can see the truth in these things: I’m afraid to be vulnerable in crucial moments for fear of revealing information (ie, feelings) that can/will later be used against me in a gunfight with my own words as someone else’s bullets. I’m afraid to let go of doing what I know because I don’t like to be called “stupid” or appear as though I don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing in every situation at all times in every moment of every second. And lastly, I can’t always find the words to express myself verbally; to show someone I care, to heal them when they are hurting, to say the right thing to make it better. I can barely do this for myself. So I keep my words to myself. Selfishly.

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I hope I can be more warm, less controlling and more giving. I hope I can change while still honoring and nurturing myself in ways that I’m still (at 46) learning how to do. But what do I do? How? There is that black hole inside me that likes to howl when I touch it. When I open the door to it.  How do I nurture myself without betraying someone else or even myself? I don’t know what to do. I’ve had one meaningful relationship in my life. One. In 2009.  (Yes, it is okay to ask, “What’s up with that, Pep?!”) Here’s something: Back in 2003 in NY, I was crying to my therapist and he asked me, “What is the common denominator in all of these failed relationships?” I thought for a moment, Kleenex in hand and said, “Men?” He blinked. “No, Peppur. You.”

“Oh.”

I know I need to change. I know I need to let some things go, including that of still going for certain dreams and seeking out certain stages. I know I need to let go of fear and let go of things that no longer serve me. I believe I’m ready for the change, but like a child being lead away from Disneyland at closing time, I often turn, with a finger pointed at something shiny, “….But…!”

I’m in a relationship now that pulls me in places I don’t want to be or feel comfortable being pulled. I question daily if it is the pulling or the place or even the person that is uncomfortable. I try to be open and honest and willing to change so that a relationship can grow…just like the baby I want.

[And then there’s that. The Baby Elephant in the room. If I don’t change, there most likely will be no baby. There will be no relationships. With anyone. There will be no euphoric baptism in a shower of love instead of tears. I will be sucked deeper and deeper into that comforting black hole.]

I hope I learn how to not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I’ve been told I’m not ready for a relationship. I was told this while in the Relationship Numero Only. So, something hasn’t truly changed in all these years. Unless, maybe I just don’t really want a relationship, says the Common Denominator. I need another therapist.

What am I afraid of?

I’m not afraid to be alone. I cried about that through my 20s. I’m not afraid that I won’t accomplish what I want in life. Cried about that through my 30s. What I cry about now, in my mid-40s, is I’m afraid I’ll never learn how to turn the frickin’ key in my heart, soul, psyche that unlocks that door to abundance. Because, behind that door is all that I’ve ever wanted. And I know it. Maybe all it takes to turn that key is a little bit of nurturing. Or to simply stop being afraid to let go. Because maybe, just maybe, that black hole isn’t a black hole at all. Maybe it is a big soft fluffy bowl of marshmellowy mushies swimming with babies and stuff. I pray I learn to let go.

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