Lone Oak Road and a Plate of Fish

 On Monday I have night class and often I am exhausted and not in the mood. After a long day of work, I get in the car and drive towards home. I, however, never make it home. Just as I get close to my town, I have to slow down and turn left to go to class. I park the car, grab my soda and books, and take a small walk to the building my class is located in. I say hello to my friends and proceed to bitch about whatever homework I didn’t finish. Last Monday played out nearly the same as it does every week, except this time I was silently dealing with something that had happened on Lone Oak Road.

 For those who do not live in Paducah or the surrounding area, let me tell you about Lone Oak Road. It is a four lane road that should only be two. It is congested and miserable. This is not a metropolitan area at all, but Lone Oak Road is always backed up. The street lights never work in sync and you will catch all the red lights. Each side of the street is crammed with businesses: banks, fast food restaurants, consignment stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and tattoo parlors. People are trying to get in and out of these businesses and no one is willing to let anyone in or out. It is my 5 o’clock nightmare.

 Last Monday had been a long day for me. I couldn’t make people happy and had been snapped at by clients most of the day. I was exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, and had a music class to attend from 6 to 10. I was grumpy and not in the mood for timbre, tone, and harmony, but I climbed into my van and started to class. I had a craving on that fateful day. A craving for Long John Silvers, only greasy fried fish would soothe this weariness. With my last ten dollars grasped in my chubby little hand I pulled through the drive thru and ordered.

 “Long John Silvers, can I take your order?”

 “Yes, can I get the L11 with a Diet Coke, please?”

 “That is a L11 with a root beer.”

 “No, an L11 with a Diet Coke.”

 “A root beer?”

 “No. A Diet Coke and add a three-piece shrimp please.”

 “Okay, that is an L11 with three shrimp and a root beer.”

 “Yes, that will be fine.”

 I accepted defeat. A root beer it was going to be. I was handed my box of fried fish and looked for a place to put the cardboard box of goodness. My van is in rough shape. I drive about an hour and a half each day getting to and from work. I live in this van. I eat in it. Clean Saidee’s backpack in it. Change clothes in it. And occasionally sleep in it. This activity shows in piles of empty Cato’s bags, empty soda bottles, empty filet o’ fish boxes, toys, and clothes. There was no place to put my box of fried happiness. So I lovingly placed it atop a mound of cardigans and my oversize purse. I opened the steaming box and started feeding myself greasy French fries.

 I drove with my left hand on the steering wheel and the other hand grasping the box of food. Each time I had to slam on my breaks I kept the box from sliding. I was protecting the fish like a mother protects her child who is in the front seat for the first time. Every few seconds I would tear at the flakey fish and feed myself with my fingers. My fingers were covered in grease as I continued to tear. I was in my own world, dreading the music class, singing to the radio, and feeding myself, when it happened. As I moved a plump greasy shrimp to my mouth I turned my head to see a gray car with three teenage boys laughing at me.

 Under normal circumstances I would have mouthed, “Fuck you,” and given them the finger. Under normal circumstances I would have fantasized about their lives and made up a story about the boy in the backwards hat having gonorrhea and how he had just slept with the blond kid’s girlfriend, now the blond kid was infected and prom was going to be a little itchy this year. But I was in a vulnerable position with a greasy face and fingers, the shrimp still perched upon my lips. I put down the shrimp and put both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2. I looked straight ahead and pretended this wasn’t happening.

 I had crossed a line that can’t be uncrossed. This is my life: a life of fast food on the run. My life is lived in a dirty black van, with me singing along to the radio or, if I am lucky, a Clutch CD that Carvell has left in the player. I have always believed that in my own vehicle no one can see me. I can pick my nose freely and change clothes with no one being the wiser. In my car I can sing like Adele. In my car I am safe.

 Tomorrow is Monday and I will be mean and exhausted. I will swing by a fast food place and repeat my order into a microphone. I will go to class and see my friends. My schedule will not change. Three teenage boys with possible gonorrhea took away my sanctuary and I don’t know how to get it back. I am no longer invisible in my own car.

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A Hooker with a Heart of Gold

When I was in fifth and sixth grade I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. To be more specific I wanted to be a payload specialist. I studied the movie Space Camp backwards and forwards. I memorized movie lines and could discuss rocket boosters. On family trips to Florida I most looked forward to visiting Cape Canaveral. When the Challenger exploded I mourned for the lost life and the space program. It was my mother who finally brought me back to earth, “Heather, not everyone is meant for college.”

You may be thinking that was mean, but I promise you it wasn’t. I was a terrible student. I never did homework and my ability to do basic math is laughable. What my Mom was trying to say was, “we all can’t be doctors.” She was a logical woman. If everyone had the ability to be a president, CEO, lawyer, doctor, scientist, or astronaut, there would be no mechanics, receptionists, teachers, actors, writers, or cashiers. Everyone is not destined for greatness. It may seem mean, but sometimes the truth is harsh. I dropped my dream of working for NASA, but I still had other dreams.

Molly Ringwald needed an understudy and I was up for the part. I would have been the kind of understudy found in that cinematic gem Showgirls. Poor Molly would have slipped on a rosette that had fallen from one of her kicky vests and I would have gracefully accepted the lead in For Keeps. I loved “Moll” (it’s my private nickname for her) in every movie she did. In Sixteen Candles I cheered for her when she sees Jake after the wedding. In Pretty in Pink I cringed when she created the world’s ugliest dress. In The Breakfast Club she ate sushi. I was pretty sure that I would like sushi someday. As you can clearly see I was obviously meant to be Molly Ringwald. After a while it seemed clear that Molly had her career under control and I moved on to my next career, artist.

My life as an artist peeked when I received an art award in the third grade. That was it. My artistic talent never matured past that. This was a short-lived phase because I looked dumb in a beret. I did spend ten years working as a graphic artist, but I was kind of terrible at it. My design was rarely creative and I once listed my own phone number as the ISBN number. I am self aware enough to recognize when it is time to drop a dream. It was time to forget about a life in Paris.

The biggest and most exciting thing that happened to me up until age 16 was that my best friend, Kristi, had movie channels. These movie channels helped to form my next great career idea: hooker with a heart of gold. I was fascinated by the movie Angel. It is a sweet story of a fifteen year old girl, who is best in her class by day and a teen prostitute at night. The absolute best part of my hooker obsession was that Angel was a three-part series. Three parts! Someone created three full screenplays on this one character, and I have written one line of a novel. It seems so wrong. The hooker with a heart of gold is one of my favorite Hollywood themes. If Ricky Business is on then you will find my ass planted on the couch. If Pretty Woman is on then no laundry will be folded. If I catch the opening scenes of True Romance you will hear me sigh and say, “I wish someone would kill my pimp for me.” My hooker obsession was at an all time high when I tried to convince a boy at Kingsway Skateland that I was a prostitute at night. Because nothing screams teenage whore like a pair of over-sized glasses, a perm, and a white Swatch watch. After a while “selling my body to the night” seemed like a bad career choice and I went with my true love, writing.

I have been many things in my 38 years. Mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, special education assistant, graphic artist, administrative assistant, and a case worker in a child support office. However, the one thing that was a constant through all of the things that I have been was that I like to write. I like to tell stories. The other day I had a moment of clarity. Every week I sit in front of a computer and I type. I come up with a thought that I want to discuss and then I discuss it. I put words on a screen and then I put it out there for people to read. Sometimes I get great feedback. Other times I hear almost nothing back, but guess what? I am writing. Acclaim and greatness may never come my way, but still I write. I am a writer and I am more than a little proud of myself.

Uncomfortably Fat

Sometimes, I make people uncomfortable. I am loud and cuss a great deal. I wear lots of colors all at one time. I tell stories that require wild hand gestures. My personality takes up space, but not nearly as much as my body does.  I am 274 pounds, and to some, I am uncomfortably fat.

As a chubby chick I have rules that I have to live by. My hair must be clean if I am to leave the house. No Tweety Bird shirts at any time. Never can I wear tennis shoes with no laces. If eating at a buffet, I will never be the first one in line, and if there is one left of anything I will not eat it. These are the unspoken but real rules of being fat in America. They were created to fight a stereotype which is often perpetuated by the media and TLC.  There is another stereotype that bothers me just as much as the chicken leg gnawing, off-brand Ked wearing, redneck one, and that is the “but she has a pretty face” stereotype.

The “but she has a pretty face” stereotype is what the Dove soap advertising campaign does. The women are lined up next to each other in white panties and bras, and while some of these women are bigger than others, they fall well into the average category. My body is not depicted. If this was truly an ad that was embracing women it would have me, Gabourey Sidibe, and Beth Ditto. Women who are or who have been truly plus sized, and have stretch marks and body flaws. One of my breasts is a cup size larger than the other. My stomach is a mess of stretch marks and my belly button is deep and wide. Tattoos and scars cover my skin. My double chin is near legendary in my mind. In the shower I soap my body and lift my heavy breasts. I open the shower door and prop a leg up on the sink to shave my legs. I lather and watch the puddles form on the bathroom floor. I am too big to shave my legs with the shower door closed. This is me. This is my life as a plus-sized woman. This is the life and body of a real women and not what Dove is trying to sell you.

I am many things, and I will admit that fat is one of them. I am never going to be in a Dove campaign hugged up against other women with a smile on my face. My head will never be thrown back in false glee as a photographer tells me what to do next. Dove is lying to you and selling you a false sense of confidence. They want you to believe that all women are beautiful, but they won’t show you my body, or Gabourey’s body, or Beth’s body. They want to be seen as inclusive but not too inclusive. That is the lie that is being sold.

Check out this article by Erin Keane for more conversation about Dove and their advertising campaigns. http://www.salon.com/2013/04/18/stop_posting_that_dove_ad_real_beauty_campaign_is_not_feminist/

The Occasional Failure: My Life as a Parent

I need to get something off my chest. Sometimes I couldn’t give a damn about the newest art project Saidee brings me. Sure, I love the sweet attempts at spelling. Sure, I love the script that is slanted slightly upwards. But, damn how many pictures of hearts, peace signs, and flowers does one mom need? My daughter is a paper hoarder. Her room is a disaster and filled with pages of computer paper, construction paper, print outs, and coloring books. Each page has been deemed a masterpiece by her, and we cannot get rid of it.

I worry that this makes me a horrible parent and instead of tiger mom I may be sloth mom. My children are bright and articulate and truly good humans. They display problem-solving skills and humility. Overall, I have been an okay parent, but I am starting to get older and perhaps a little weary. As Saidee climbs out of the car each morning she makes an open heart symbol with her hands and says, “This means love, Momma.” I reply, “I know baby, and I love you too.” My question is who is the asshole that taught her the open heart thing? I know I didn’t teach it to her, but someone did, and that person will need to raise this child if I find Instagram pictures of her making duck face and doing the heart thing.

Every morning after the heart symbol she climbs out of the van, her Hello Kitty backpack on her shoulders. A line of cars sits patiently behind us as empty Diet Coke bottles and Egg McMuffin wrappers blow from the open van door. I understand that what I am going to say is a gross exaggeration, a hyperbole if you will, but the child climbs out of the van as if I drive a monster truck. I smile and wish her a good day all the while thinking, “Damn, just get out of the van.”

I love being a parent. I truly do. It is just that I am tired. All day, every day I make decisions about people’s lives. Some of these are clients and some are family. I try to keep a house clean enough that a social service isn’t beating down my door. I try to make sure everyone has clean underwear for the next day. I try to make sure everyone is fed. I try to be a good employee, friend, mother, daughter, wife, and sister. But sometimes I just want to yell, “NO! I WILL NOT GET YOU A DRINK. NO! I WILL NOT PUT ON PBSKIDS.COM. NO! I WILL NOT MAKE YOU SOMETHING ELSE TO EAT.” I just want to sit here and watch the last 20 minutes of Veronica Mars in peace. Sometimes I just want to be alone, if even for 20 minutes.

On Saturdays, Saidee stands next to my bed till I wake up. She wakes me up with a sheer force of will.

“Momma, I’m hungry.”

“Okay, eat a Pop tart.”

“You bought the weird ones.”

“Okay, I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

“Momma, I’m thirsty.”

“Drink water.”

“I want Diet Diet Mew Mew.”

“Saidee you can’t have Diet Mountain Dew for breakfast.”

“Why?”

“Cause I said so.”

“Why?”

“Baby, I’ll be up in a minute.”

“Will you put on baby shows for me?”

This will continue until her bedtime.  As a parent I want to promise Saidee that I will not let her wear pants with words across the ass. I promise to watch her next dance routine. I promise to make up and sing silly songs. I promise to let her eat a tub of Cool Whip with her finger. I promise to let her be a kid. I promise to be a perfectly imperfect parent, but sometimes I just want to be alone. Sometimes I want to yell, “Just go the eff to sleep.” Super mom I am not.

The Sordid Life of Barbie and Ken

My Barbie dolls lived a sexually charged and politically incorrect life. These dolls were loose in the moral department. They had sex, affairs, and a promiscuous teenage sister named Amber (Skipper) who wore no underpants and snuck out of the bedroom window and into new wave concerts. My Barbie dolls lived a life of scandal that would only have been shown on Network TV after 9 pm. Perhaps they could have rivaled Dallas for ratings.

I would build elaborate houses in the living room with doll furniture that Santa would bring me: hard plastic couches, always in pink with tiny soft pink pillows; a dining room set with a table that had two different settings, one of which was a shiny mirror that was only for formal meals. The furniture that I didn’t have was created from household items. When I needed a coffee table, I could create one using beef bouillon cubes. The gold cubes were perfect when stacked, and flashy enough to appeal to Barbie’s ascetic. Her bed, originally a shoe box, was filled with paper towels and toilet paper to make it extra plush. I finally received a real Barbie bed with a pink canopy and covers; in that bed Barbie and Ken had sex, always in the missionary position.

In the fourth grade we moved to Farley and my Barbie became part of a blended family with another girl’s Barbie family. They vacationed together, swimming in an above- ground pool, the kitchen floor getting wet as we pretended that they were diving from a high dive. The water sloshed over the sides as my doll flailed and pretended to drown. The Ken doll from the other family saved her. Amber would try to wear Barbie’s clothes. The clothes were much too adult and ill fitting, but Amber wanted to be older and there was no stopping her. The doll families continued to vacation together until my Ken doll had an affair with the neighbor Barbie. They would meet in undisclosed locations to sneak time together. I don’t remember how long the affair lasted, but I do remember the aftermath. Barbie ran Ken over with the powder puff pink jeep. I ripped off one of his legs and wrapped toilet paper and band aides around him. Ken was now an amputee and would never cheat again. From that point forward I would throw Ken to the side and say he was “at work.” He had betrayed his Barbie family and was no longer important.

I would play with these dolls for hours, inventing story lines and make believe worlds. The story lines and sets were elaborate. Amber’s favorite band was The Stripes and they were new wave. I, to this day, have no idea what “new wave” is or was. I only know that it sounded like something someone cooler than me would listen to. New wave was to Skipper as Elvis Costello is to me. Looking back I am fascinated with the way I played and created these worlds. My family was functional, but the world of Barbie was anything but. Amber longed to be older just like I did. Barbie adopted Cabbage Patch Kid action figures and I wanted to adopt someday too. Their lives were complicated but glamorous. In my mind these stories needed to be told and this was a safe way to tell them. As I became older I didn’t have the safety of Barbie to tell my stories through and I became a middle school liar. My lies were woven into intricate patterns that would rival any tapestry.

Now I sneak and watch Saidee play dolls and I know that the stories are just as torrid. More than once I have caught naked dolls next to each other and I say, “I know what is happening here.” Only to get a reply in a slightly panicked voice, “They are just laying there.” She is using her imagination and I am deeply happy that a five year old with a Kindle Fire, access to an Ipad, Direct TV, and a vast DVD collection still plays dolls and creates make believe worlds.

As I write this, I have a story that I want to tell. A story about a girl: the girl is crippled by self doubt and anxiety and she scratches words onto her arms with her hangnails. She never does any permanent damage, just scratching enough for the slow sizzle of heat to ease her mind a little. The girl goes through her daily life dreaming of big adventure. She holds her car key tight in her hand, ready to take off and live the life she wants. The story is there and I want to tell it. I just wish the story telling was as easy as it was when I played Barbie in the fourth grade.

Please, Call Me Pelvis Costello

By day my daughters are college students who wear blue jeans and comfortable shoes as they tromp across their college campus. They watch an astounding amount of Netflix and can damn near quote the entire series of Boy Meets World. They are good and smart and shockingly wholesome considering I am their mother. However, by night my mild mannered children change their names, put on tights, and strap skates to their feet. My daughters are roller derby girls.

If I am being totally honest, I will admit that I wasn’t overly excited when they announced they wanted to visit a beginner’s camp that was being hosted by the West Kentucky Rockin’ Rollers, a new local derby team. My first thought was that Kiaya has very expensive teeth and had what felt like 5 years of braces and Selena is not the most graceful of children. My second thought was that I didn’t want my daughters to be part of a “scene.” I knew very little about roller derby besides what I had seen on television and checking out another derby team. From what I could tell there appeared to be a great deal of drama, drinking, and women dressed in tiny clothes to make them appear as sexual as possible. I was wrong.

Kiaya and Selena were in love with derby the moment they entered the skating rink. Selena, due to her age, was unable to practice with the team, so she became a NSO or non skating official. She went through the rule book and became familiar with the way the game was played and the rules. Kiaya was able to practice with the team and quickly decided that this was the sport for her. Growing up she had played T-ball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, and rowed for a season in college. She never truly felt comfortable in any of these sports and always felt like a bit of an outsider amongst the teams. With roller derby she felt none of this. Immediately, she felt embraced by the derby team. All walks of life were there: married women, single moms, students, tattooed and non-tattooed, young, old, fat, and skinny all skated.

The stereotypes associated with derby left out a crucial aspect and that is that this is a sport. These women play and train hard. The team works hard to make sure that they aren’t just good skaters. The big hits and story lines of the 70s and 80s no longer exist. Now derby teams concentrate on tactics. They practice endurance and strength training. Strong legs and solid cores are beyond important in the derby world. These women drill and scrimmage just like any other sport. The difference is that when you drill for football, you haven’t strapped eight wheels to your feet. Injuries do happen, and sometimes bones are broken and eyes are blacked, but this growing sport has no more injuries than your average basketball game during March Madness.

My original concern concentrated on this being a “scene.” I don’t want my children to be a part of something that has a negative connotation. As a parent I want my children to be above pettiness and sexualizing themselves for attention. With the group that Kiaya and Selena became involved in, this hasn’t been a problem. The team wears a uniform that is probably considered a burka by former derby standards. These uniforms allow the girls to concentrate on the bouts and not whether a breast or ass cheek is making an appearance. This is not to say that these women are not sexy in their derby gear, because they are deeply sexy, but not in the way that society may normally think. These ladies come in all shapes and sizes, and skate with a confidence and joy that you can’t help but to find sexy. A size two and a size 14 are skating together with a common goal, winning. Of course, when you get any group of people together there will be personality clashes, but so far these women have attempted to transcend the common female stereotypes and concentrate on promoting derby for what it is, a female-dominated sport.

Since becoming a mother of derby girls I have learned the lingo that gets tossed around at the house. I know that when Kiaya has a “panty” on her helmet that has a star it means that she is a “jammer” and responsible for getting through the “pack” of girls. If Selena comes home and is walking funny I can now safely assume that she has “skate raped” herself. Let me make you a promise that “skate rape” is exactly what it sounds like and is very uncomfortable. I know what “calling off a jam” is and recognize the motion associated with. Just like football, baseball, and hockey there is a language that those on the outside can’t always understand. Every time I go to see the girls’ bout I feel like I am in a foreign land and Kiaya-kaze and Lena-smack are my personal Rosetta Stone.

I will forever be grateful to flat track derby for giving my kids a sport that has bonded them to a group of women. When they skate I am awarded a chance to watch their confidence grow. When they fall I swallow my fear and wait for them to stand back up. If they do something wrong I watch as the coach yells at them from the bench. I no longer worry about the kids being part of scene, because I have never seen them as confident as they are when they are skating on that track. My daughters are Kiaya-kaze and Lena-Smack and I am proud to be their mother. I am a derby mom and would like to be called Pelvis Costello from this day forward.