Sunday, December 15, 2019

Religion and Racism: Sweat-Inducing Chats With My Kids

I was sitting at this exact desk when I called out a classmate for being racist. Also, the yearbook caption writer greatly overestimated my interest in physics class.
~~~~~~






"What do you get when a black woman gets an abortion? A CRIMESTOPPER!!"

I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as the other kids uncomfortably laughed. Still giggling, Kelly looked over at me and my blank stare.

"Oh Sheevani... that's just the way I was raised," she said with a flippant wave of her hand.

This was her go-to excuse whenever she made a racist joke and I sat stone-faced. A group of us in the back of Physics class were often subjected to her racist comments and "humor." Before class started or when we were supposed to be doing in-class work but the senioritis was too strong, she'd educate us on her ignorance and always just say, "Well, it's just how I was raised," as if that excused her behavior.

"Why do you get so pissed anyway? You aren't black!" she laughed and looked around for expressions of agreement, "It's not like I'm making fun of... you know... Muslims?"

"I'm not Muslim either," I said with my stoicism acting as a shield for my increasing rage.

Don't freak out, Sheevani. Don't. Freak. Out.

"Well, whatever... I grew up with those kind of jokes."

"Those jokes are racist and NOT funny." I said opening my Physics book. Perhaps today I could distract myself with the thermodynamics chapter we were covering. I looked up to find her glaring at me with a look of disbelief.

"OH my god, Sheevani... I am NOT racist!"

I stared back... partly because I didn't know quite how to respond and partly because I was taking some pleasure in offending her for a change.

"They are just JOKES. God, just because someone makes a joke doesn't mean they are racist!"

"If you weren't racist, you wouldn't tell them or find them funny." I said.

Mr. Schultheis began class and the room quieted down as bodies shifted forward and books were opened. Kelly's eyes lingered on me before she turned around. Her face showed genuine hurt and for a moment, I felt bad for calling her out. I looked over at my friend Tom who grinned and gave me a thumbs-up. Lucas glanced back and mouthed, "Thank You," to me. Whew, I wasn't alone... although, those same guys laughed at her joke. I may have had supporters, but I was the only one who spoke up. In that moment my momentary guilt dissolved and I knew I had done the right thing.

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Lately, my kids have been bringing up some heavy topics that I should have seen coming, but naively assumed were a few years down the road. Namely, racism and religion have had top billing around our house for the last couple of weeks. The innocence with which my kids ask questions and share things they have heard from friends is just that - innocent. These topics are ones about which I want to be very thoughtful. That thought has forced me to once again be reflective about my own experiences with both... and as always, I try to provide my kids with open and transparent conversations. Admittedly so far, the conversations have been a bit clunky because I've been so caught off guard, so the imperfection of my response is where I'm struggling. I didn't expect parenting to be easy by any means, but I also wasn't prepared for such complicated conversations at this stage. Nonetheless...  they're here.

The Worst Word
Earlier this week, my daughter told me that a boy said the n-word at school. We were driving home from carpool pick-up and my stomach dropped. She explained how in history they were learning about the Niger River, but this boy said it the "other" way. For a moment I unclenched and asked if she thought he said it by accident... just pronounced it wrong, but she said he has said it before. I had about 47 more questions but asked only a few more; Had the teacher heard him? Did he laugh when he said it like it was a joke? Did other kids join in saying that awful word? Turns out, my daughter had heard the story from a friend since she was in a separate history class, so she didn't possess the details about which I was inquiring. While inside I was horrified, I tried not to show too much of my emotions while driving home. 

"Well, that's an awful, awful word and I'm disappointed to hear he said that," I calmly said as I drove past the town Christmas tree. 

"I know," my daughter said. 

"If... if you were there when he said it... what would you have done?" I asked trying not to lead her to any specific answer. 

"I would have said he shouldn't say it and it's very hurtful to black people," she said and my shoulders relaxed with relief and pride.

Truth be told, I had talked to my kids about that word months ago because of.... well, Beyonce. Both the record and Netflix film, Homecoming, were in heavy rotation for a few weeks at our house and Queen Bey lets the n-word fly. And yes, I let my kids listen to uncensored music. Look, music is one of those constants in my life that has served many purposes from inspiration to healing. I would be lost without my favorite music and I just cannot subject myself to Kidz Bop. I hold absolutely no judgement if that's your jam for your kids, I certainly understand why, but I'm selfish. I can handle the occasional Disney soundtrack, but I cannot handle Kidz Bop. I'm an original artist purist and I'm won't apologize for that. 

Since my daughter seems to memorize lyrics after one listen, I felt it necessary to tell her that she shouldn't be throwing around that word while singing along to Beyonce. We had a very frank discussion about it and why it wasn't a good word to say. She had even noticed that when I sang along, I'd skip that word.

"There are bad words and there are WORSE words... to me, that word is the worst word. It really makes me sick to my stomach when I hear it used as an insult," I said.

"But, why does Beyonce use it?"

I knew this question was coming. Since college, I have been a part of many debates about black artists using this word in their comedy or song lyrics... how "they" are allowed to say it but "we" aren't. And yes, all the uproar came from white people who thought the black usage of the word was hypocritical. I never understood why this bothered some of my white friends so much. I'd retort with, "Do you WANT to say that word?" To which they would be horrified and say of course they didn't, yet they felt somehow repressed by this societal rule. I explained to my daughter that since I had never been victimized by that word, I have absolutely no right to judge how those who have been oppressed by it choose to use it.

"Not every black person uses that word and some don't like that black artists use it in their work, so even amongst themselves there are disagreements... but for us and other non-black folks... we should never say that word." I told my kids.

After discussing the incident at school, my daughter could see I was distracted and asked what I was thinking. I dismissed her concern, but after a few moments I decided to share some of my experiences with not only that word, but all sorts of more racist occurrences in my life. I even shared how her own grandfather, my dad, was denied housing back in the 1970s because some apartment building owners didn't rent to Indians. "They ruin the place with the spicy cooking," he was told. There were times when I'd hear the n-word thrown around casually at school or by a friend's parent. My daughter listened intently and wondered if I had spoken up, and I was honest about how it took me many years before I'd openly chastise people for using that word. Often times I would get scared to say anything because I thought if someone was ignorant enough to use that awful word, they may turn their racist venom on me. But that as I grew older, I knew that if I didn't say anything, I was telling the offender his or her actions were okay.

I chose only a few stories and held off on telling many more offensive details - I'm not sure they are ready for that yet, but the message was clear. Based on how my daughter felt about the incident at school that day... I know the message was received.


Praying with my Dad at my pre-wedding Ganesh puja

I Don't Want To Start Any Blasphemous Rumors
My son loves to chat. And I love that he loves to chat. Part of his daily oratory abundance is a rundown of what he's learning at school. He's at the age where everything is interesting,  and he cannot wait to tell us about things like ancient Egypt, sound vibrations and even punting a ball. He's so proud of how much he's learning and I eat it all up.

"Mama, the Star of David is the symbol of Judaism," said my son out of nowhere while eating his after-school snack. 

"Yes it is! Wow, how do you know that?" I asked.

"We're learning about it in school. Also, they celebrate Hannukah and it lasts for 8 days!" He licked his top lip leaving a key lime yogurt mustache I'd have to wipe off later. 

"Very cool, bud... I'm glad you're learning about that," I said. 

For the next few days, he brings up different tidbits about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all the topics of their World Religions unit. I was so focused on my delight that their school is exposing them to different religions, that I didn't see a very obvious question coming. One night while we were watching The Great British Baking Show, my son asked what religion we were.

"Umm... well, I'm Hindu. I mean, I was raised Hindu... and Daddy was raised Catholic," I sputtered.

"So, we're Hindu and Catholic?" My daughter inferred.

"I mean... I guess? So, I tend to be more of a spiritual person versus religious and Daddy really isn't religious at all... but, that doesn't mean we aren't... I think there are certain parts of Hinduism... like, some people are very religious and we aren't... not that I don't believe in God, but... (sigh)... it's, um, complicated, I guess."

Oh God.

Yyyyeaaaah, needless today my kids stared at me blankly and turned their attention to the technical challenge on GBBS since it was easier to understand. Paul and I looked at each other and sort of shrugged. But, me being... well, me, I have been thinking about my clunky response for days. I didn't want to confuse my kids but at the same time, I don't know if I'm very clear about where I stand on God and religion. 

"How are you guys going to handle religion when you have kids?" 

A co-worker of mine asked this during a discussion about her own struggles with her husband. I sort of shrugged and said we would "figure it out." She sighed and said how lucky I was. Her husband was insistent that their kids be raised Greek Orthodox - no debate, no question. He insisted on this because my friend wasn't religious. Since religion wasn't important to her, but very important to him, his logic was that the kids should be brought up with his faith. However, being a headstrong, intelligent woman, she couldn't accept that as a sound reason. The topic had gotten so heated and contentious, that it was delaying their attempts to start a family. I felt relieved not to deal with such a hot topic in my own relationship.

While we were dating, religion was barely on the radar. I suppose it was at it's height as a subject when we got married. We had heard about a non-denominational "priest" who could perform the ceremony and thought that was best since both of us weren't very religious. But I did want the presence of the Hindu ceremony because I've always imagined performing some of the elements I had seen at countless Indian weddings. Paul was very supportive of that and I knew it would make my mother happy. So we combined a Humanist and Hindu priest to perform our wedding. Done. Easy Peasy. 

Growing up, my mother prayed every single day. After she bathed, she immediately performed her puja, or prayer, at our home mandir, or shrine. I'd watch her as a young girl and sometimes sing along to the Hindu hymns, or shlokas. My favorite part was seeing her eyes open after the final meditation. Her calm was blindingly apparent. On the other hand, my father had more of a scientific mind and deferred to logic over religion. While he'd show doubt, I knew he wasn't a complete non-believer. Almost every summer, our family would take a road trip to a temple in Pittsburgh. During our visits, I would see my father, our resident skeptic about all things, press his head against his clasped hands and close his eyes so tight that I could almost feel the importance of his prayers. 

Paul is an Agnostic with a pinch of Atheist. On the rare occasion where we have talked about religion, he's expressed strong opinions about the Catholic church as an entity (given the rampant pedophilia and the lack of consequence for that pedophilia), but he's sort of ambivalent to the concept of God. He doesn't proclaim there is absolutely no God, but he's not willing to submit to a "fact" that God exists. For me, I have issues with believing only one religion has it 100% correct. Whether it's Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, there are elements to every religion that serve humanity in their own ways. I wouldn't say to a Christian that they are wrong since they don't believe in Lord Shiva, nor would I want to be persecuted about polytheism by a Catholic.

It seems I have inherited a combination approach about religion from my parents; a good amount of faith with a healthy dose of logic. I feel a comfort when I enter a Hindu temple, yet I'm not willing to subscribe to all that Hinduism has to offer. While I cannot prove there is a God, I cannot bring myself to tell my kids that God doesn't exist. During tough times in my life, I have prayed in private for some guidance, but I've also found strength within myself to take things head on... but did God give me that strength? I don't know.... I just don't know.

A few days after the inquiry about our family's beliefs, my son asked a more pointed question, "What is God?" Once again I found myself to be incredibly inarticulate. So, I did what I've done whenever my kids ask about shit I cannot answer; I Googled it.

"God is a supreme being or creator. An all-knowing, all-powerful, all present being."

My son stared at me.

"Like... like a superhero who helps you figure out your life," I said.

"Oh, cool!!"

I chuckled at my kid-friendly translation and knew it wasn't quite enough. Later, I spoke to my kids about how everyone has different beliefs, and how those beliefs must be respected. My own approach to faith, I told them, was a bit complicated and I was still figuring it out.

"But one thing I do know is that no one should be picked on because of their religion, and no one should force their beliefs on other people. Respect what others believe and move on."

I'm pleased with how I handled this religion stuff, but I know I'm not done. No doubt there will be more complicated topics to tackle in the future... and I can only pray there is a Pinterest board to help me out.

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I want my kids to be good people. It's that simple. The challenging discussions were perfect occasions to talk about diversity and respect. When I told them stories about racial and religious strife throughout history, they couldn't fathom how people could be so cruel to one another. To them, it didn't make any sense. I hope that view strengthens and permeates to their friends, colleagues and, one day, kids of their own. But, telling them to be respectful isn't enough... I am keenly aware how my actions will go much farther than my words, which is why I'm very conscious of how I conduct myself. After all, I want to be a better person, too.

God knows I'm trying... or maybe it's just Wonder Woman. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Mr. Husband, TEAR DOWN THAT WALL!

You can't see it, but there's a wall there
~~~

I feel my blood pressure drop as we hug. Why do we always do this? We always feel better after we talk, yet we both have to get to the point of diarrhea level stomach aches before we actually say what's on our minds.

We head to the bathroom to do our pre-bed routines; his being much longer than mine since I'm too lazy to commit to a full brushing and flossing routine. Hey, my dentist hasn't shown concern, so I'm not going to mess with my unbroken system. As I pull out a make-up remover wipe and brace for the cold moisture on my face, I think about how we didn't delve into all the issues on my mind. Sure, we tackled what was freshest on the surface, but what about the stuff that's buried?

I glance over at him hunched over the sink, 3 minutes deep into his 8 minute brushing session, and wonder if he is thinking the same. What am I even saying? Of course he isn't. For the entirety of our relationship, I've been the deep thinker when it comes to our emotional well-being. He probably thinks everything is 100% clear and fine. We shall coast on this false clarity for weeks or months until the next set of concerns come up. Then there will be a few days of awkwardness, snippiness, avoidance and disingenuous pleasantries. Finally one night, after the kids are asleep, we'll do this all over again.

Back in college, a roommate of mine would pull her comforter over her bed and say it was "made." However, she'd never fix the fitted sheet that was half off the mattress, or smooth out the flat sheet that was wadded up on one side and her pillow was almost always wedged between the frame and wall. At a glance, the bed looked tidy, but a closer examination would show so much messiness underneath the top layer.

I long to break the pattern of pulling the comforter up over our issues... it's time to fix those sheets.

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Lately I've been feeling really helpless when it comes to my husband's happiness. Everyday I see him experience a range of emotions from heartfelt joy when he sees the kids come down for breakfast, frustration, impatience and anger in his home office, back to happiness after work with the kids, ensconced in sappy love as he puts them to bed, distracted annoyance as he opens his laptop again and then total exhaustion that causes him to pass out 15 minutes into our alone couple time. It's work shit. It's ALWAYS work shit.

I remind myself that it's easy for me to say things like, "Just don't let it get to you so much," or, "It's not the end of the world." From my vantage point, the level of discontentment he reaches every single day seems unnecessary, but I have to remember that it's not about me "getting it." The dichotomy between our typical days is pretty extreme, so I have no right to get judgemental about his moods. Also, we are different people. His approach to career and success is and has always been vastly different than mine... it's not wrong, it's just different.

My main struggle, however, is seeing him build this emotional wall around his career dissatisfaction. He is a master at compartmentalizing his life. When we lived separately before we were married, I would only see this happy-go-lucky side. Since being married, however, I've been privy to many other sides. Mostly, I've noticed an unfulfilled career pattern... company after company, role after role. In an earlier post, I wrote about how I've made certain choices in order to cut a clear path for his career to flourish, which I believed would make him happy. In fact, I banked on it making him happy. And while he's a successful person by anyone's standards, I know he is still very unfulfilled when it comes to his career. At times, I get so annoyed and think, "You are a white man in America with an MBA and executive salary! What more could you want?!"

Ah, there's that judgement again. The one constant in our marriage is that my husband has stood by me through all my struggles and never once shown any judgement. He listens quietly, sometimes because that's what I need, other times because he doesn't know what to say... and at other other times, I'm sure, he is biting his tongue. His patience and support for me throughout our marriage has been rock solid, so I want to reciprocate. Only, we've always differed in our capacity for patience. Paul's tolerance tank for me is that of a robust SUV while mine is comparative to, say, a lawn mower.

I've spent years pushing away my desire to obliterate his emotional wall, but now I'm starting to really fear the effects of all these repressed emotions... for both of us.

Got Time to Lean, Got Time to Clean
It's only been in the last 5 or so years that I've learned what really makes Paul tick. Of course, I had known the trivial things; likes and dislikes when it came to movies, food, cars, etc., but in relation to big picture stuff, I had to do some very uncomfortable digging. Considering we've known each other for almost 2 decades, I realize this may sound pathetic, but it's our reality. He's not a big sharer and I've been too scared to force it. The painful discoveries from his past came out during very emotional and trying times in our marriage. I needed him to open up or else our relationship may not have recovered.

One very significant door that Paul opened revealed a strenuous start to his relationship with his stepdad. From what I had seen during our time as a couple, it seemed perfectly amicable. While more formal than affectionate, it never appeared to be more or less than a typical father/son bond. Paul even called him 'Dad' instead of by his first name, something his older sister chose not to do, so I assumed it had been a smooth transition from life with a single mom. But, one day during a serious discussion about some issues in our relationship, Paul told me about those first few years.

When his mother remarried, his new stepdad did not hesitate to take on an authoritative role when it came to Paul and his sister, especially when it came to helping out around the house. Now, it wasn't like Paul was at all lazy. In fact, during her years as a single mother, Paul's mom had instilled a pretty rigourous set of chores for him to get done daily. But now this man, who was new to his life and home, did not hesitate to order Paul around and make him feel bad about taking any kind of break; watching television, listening to music, playing a video game, etc.

"What are you doing? Why are you just sitting there?"

The nature of his urging wasn't overtly aggressive or violent, Paul clarified, but with all the new adjustments of that time; mom's married again, we have a new man living in the house, he's telling us what to do like a dad before we've even gotten used to him... it took an understandable toll. And Paul being the affable kid that he was, he didn't want to bring his discomfort to his mother's attention and stress her out. So he followed orders. The effects of that time are what Paul still deals with today; a persistent sense of being on edge and never feeling like he can sit still without a nagging guilt about being unproductive. There are other lingering affects as well, many of which he still won't discuss with me.

I sat there listening with tears in my eyes as he revealed what he went through. It felt like an enormous crack had spidered down Paul's impenetrable wall. He even looked a little different to me. Feeling his vulnerability after assuming a trivial reality for so long was like breathing fresh air after being trapped. Talking about it was painful for him, but it was the first time I felt like I was peeking into the inner core of who he was. I am someone who is attracted to a person's energy, so seeing a truly genuine side was so beautiful and, quite honestly, a relief. It was the closest I had felt to Paul in years.

The Theory of Evolution - Marriage Edition
As an avid listener to the Armchair Expert podcast, I've heard the word "evolved," thrown around quite a bit. When Kristen Bell was a guest, she applauded Dax (the host and her husband) for how evolved he was. What she meant was that Dax has taken the time to really understand himself and deal with his issues; the good, bad and ugly. And that information fosters a personal environment to grow into a better person. That doesn't mean his faults go away completely, but when they do arise, he has the backup data to inform the why of his actions. That understanding allows him to course correct. To me, this is the most important thing we as humans can do for ourselves. Understand the why. It's f*cking hard to do, but I'm a believer that if we are not evolving, we are shrinking into the worst versions of ourselves.

One of the greatest gifts this blog has given me is the self-reflective journeys I've been on for my posts. I've had to really dig deep into who I am and why I've made certain choices, and while it hasn't always been a pretty picture, it's been incredibly enlightening. I realize both how far I've come in certain ways, but also how much father I have to go in a lot of ways. But, I'm so fortunate to be in the practice of always looking inward and figuring out how to steer my way towards some semblance of personal fulfillment. 

I wish the same for my husband. I'm not suggesting he hasn't evolved at all, but I know there's much farther to go. After learning about a few issues from his past (the stepdad stuff was just one of many), I'm worried about him holding in all that pain. Within the last year, I've realized through my own personal rumination that I can only do so much. I've had to repeat this to myself over and over again, both in my thoughts and out loud in the mirror. He needs to figure this out himself. Some days I wholeheartedly believe that... other days I want to search and search for the magic button that shoves him toward a path to contentment like it's my job. Because for so long I considered it my job... I'm his wife. I should be the one to make him happy. But just as I discovered a few years ago, the only person capable of taking steps to improve their situation... is you. 

Don't Worry, Be Happy - ALL THE TIME!
I once heard a report on NPR that delved into the quest for happiness. In it, the reporter talked about how happiness is approached in different countries and I was struck by how the French view the concept. Rather than a destination, the French consider happiness as temporary stops along the way. In fact, they see a state of perpetual happiness as ludicrous, unattainable and setting oneself up for failure. I nodded along in my car as if I was in the audience of a Ted Talk and the speaker could see me from the stage. 

This idea that we need to keep trying to make ourselves and others happy starts so young. Oh, the baby is sad! Give her a toy! Our forefathers even included happiness as a pursuit in the Declaration of Independence. My Google search of "happy songs" came back with 935,000,000 results. Last time I was at Barnes and Noble (yes, I still enjoy physical books, thank you very much), there were at least two tables of self-help books, 85% of which touted some advice about how, why and what you must to do achieve HAPPINESS. Hell, this whole post is about my husband's happiness and my desperation for him to find it.

It's hard for me to change that destination happiness mindset, though. Ever since I can remember, I've been trying to solve the issues of my life with the sole purpose of being happy. If I could just change A, B and C... then I'll be happy. But as I think about that NPR report and seek a more spiritual side of existing, I can see the damage we do to ourselves when we feel this expectation to find our bliss, always stay positive, seek our passions, make the MOST out of every day! 
  
Look, I'm not saying I'm trading in my positive attitude for a new bitter town address, but I do see the value in recognizing that being happy all the time is not at all realistic. I do not expect Paul to suddenly find the perfect formula and he'll never be unfulfilled again! For me, there is no clear answer about whether or not happiness should be held as a persistent intent... but self-improvement sure is. Maybe if we focus on being the best version of ourselves, the happiness is an accidental side effect?

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Every single day, Paul and I marvel at our son and how that little boy can find joy in pretty much everything. At least once a day, we catch each other's eyes, smile and shake our head at the beauty of it all. Paul will say, "Oh that kid..." But lately, he's been following that up with, "I hope I don't screw him up." To which I say, "Huh? How would you screw him up?" Paul then responds with a shrug and dismissive, "I dunno..." I ask him the question even though I think I understand what he means. He's not unaware of the wall and he's well aware of the damage it could do to our kids if the reasons for that wall aren't dealt with.

My life has been an open book to my husband. I met Paul almost 19 years ago, and since then I have revealed the hardest struggles and the darkest secrets of my life to him. Even when he has shared some past struggles, the emotional scope feels very abbreviated as if there is so much more he is not telling me. Do I feel an imbalance of emotional vulnerability? Am I scared that the truths on the other side of that wall will hurt me? Am I scared that this wall will have a negative impact on our kids? Yes. Yes. YES.

There has been a new addition to my recurring dream repertoire. Paul and I will be having a serious discussion and, suddenly, he will have an outburst... telling me so many things he's been holding inside for years! And then he breaks down in tears because he feels so much better. The dreams usually end with us in a sobbing embrace feeling an ocean of relief. Then I wake up and the pit of my stomach aches because it wasn't real. Ugh, why couldn't I have just dreamed about Tom Hanks being my best friend again??

My love for Paul is so incredibly deep. No one has helped me become a better version of myself more than him. There are things he needs to let out and I only want that for his own benefit. I know it will be tough for both of us, but I'm prepared to trudge through that pain to make my recurring dream come true. It's time to smooth out those sheets... I just hope I can find the courage to start the discussion. Definitely something I still need to work on.

Anyone have Kristen Bell or Dax Shepard's contact info?!?!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Every Pity Party is a Shitty Party

I read over the post I was minutes away from publishing and I had to stop my own fist from punching my own face. The overarching theme of the post was about my tendency, for much of my life, to equate a slow social life with being a total loser. When I thought of this topic and how I've often felt "out of sight, out of mind" in social circles, it felt relatable and worthy of my blog.

My nose scrunched as I read story after story of being left off an Evite or not getting invited to a wedding. The whole point of the post was to share these feelings, but also illustrate how I've evolved into accepting my tendency to be a loner. I do believe that. I'm perfectly at peace with my social activity and inactivity. However, as I read over the post I had spent days writing, I sounded like a whiny bitch.

After a huge eye roll, I pressed down on the trackpad, dragged my finger up over the text and with a disgusted exhale... hit DELETE.

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In that now defunct post, I wrote about a few parties that were thrown without me, but the one party I refuse to attend or host is a pity party. As an eternal optimist, I cannot allow myself to go too far down the road of despair because there are too many things to be thankful for. Every single day I try and surround myself with positive energy because, as I get older, negativity sucks the life out of me. Seriously, I would be like a dried fruit version of myself if I succumbed to all the bummer stuff around me. For my own mental health, I have to literally and figuratively turn off sources of doom. It is especially hard right now with the current climate; both political and well, actual planetary climate, but I make it my mission to focus on all the beauty around me. And yes, there is plenty to find.


The Woe Is Me Club
At my very first job out of college, there was a group of men at the office who were miserable. Naturally, they were all friends; you would see them congregating at each other's desks, going out to lunch, huddling together at happy hours (ironic). As a fresh-faced woman in my early 20s, young and excited about life, I had no idea why they insisted on being the office wet blankets all day, every day. Today I am older than those men were then, and I still don't get it. During those years of working together, I had learned quite a bit about each of them... they all had families, all were relatively healthy, they had college degrees in viable fields and well, obviously they were employed. I'm sure there was plenty I didn't know about them, but learning what I did during the years we worked together, it was pretty clear these guys were bound and determined to be miserable. 

I sound pretty harsh here, I realize, but I'm not even going to try and sugarcoat how little patience I have for people who have SO much to be thankful for, but choose a life of whining and misery. To be clear, I'm not talking about folks who are clinically depressed or suffer from other debilitating mental health conditions. I'm talking about chronically negative, privileged people who have lost perspective. 

One day, I was sitting in the cafeteria with one of the Woe members and he was bitching about being passed over for a promotion. 

"Story of my life..." he exhaled shaking his head. 

"Well, it doesn't have to be," I said biting into my turkey sandwich.

"What do you mean by that?" His eyes bored into mine as if I'd just accused him of saying something racist.

"Well, I'm just saying if you're so unhappy here, maybe you could find a better job somewhere else," I shrugged.

"Ohhhh, the naiveté of someone who's been here for 2 years," he leaned back with a snarky smile and folded his arms over his chest. 

"Ohhhh, the bitterness of someone who hates his job but won't look for other opportunities," I said mimicking his body movement.

He laughed. We were acquaintances at best and he seemed surprised by my bold response to his insulting statement. That day, I was in no mood for his negative crap and I had no qualms about telling him that.

"Look, I'm just saying that this isn't the only place to work... if you hate it so much, make a change. At least see what's out there." I felt odd giving someone 8 years my senior such advice, but I also felt like the more logical one at the table given his attitude.

"It's not that simple," he said shaking his head.

"Why not?" I asked.

We went back and forth as he made up flimsy excuses about having put in so many years at the company, established relationships, probably nothing better out there right now, etc. I would deflect each of these with simple statements like, "But, you hate it here," or "If you haven't looked at other options, how do you know nothing is out there?" Frustrated, he finally retorted that I wouldn't understand because I was too young and inexperienced.

"Believe me, when you're my age with a family, you'll see things the way I do," he held his hands up to signal the end of the conversation.

Nope, I thought, I'll be sure to never see things the way you do.


TCBW
This isn't to say that I haven't had dark periods where I've fallen into "the world is against me" despair. When I look back on those times, I realize now how trudging through that emotional sludge was so necessary for me to appreciate all the fantastic things in life. And that mental shift didn't magically fall into my lap. I had to want it and find it. One thing I've learned over and over again is that finding the proverbial silver lining is work. I wish it was more like, WERK... but no, it's solid WORK. Ask Oprah... she probably has about 4,000 gratitude journals at this point.

BREAKING NEWS: THINGS COULD BE WORSE!

I live by these words and have for a long time. Do they always work to salve my pain? Not always, but again, I'm willing to work at it. Some of TCBW thoughts are:
  • Yeah, my baby is fussy and not sleeping, but given that my dear friend just had her 2nd miscarriage, I'm going to cherish this healthy, fussy monster.
  • Okay, it's not ideal that my husband travels a lot, but he is supporting our family. He also listens to my concerns about feeling like a single parent at times and never dismisses my feelings.
  • Fine, my face and bod look old and fewer people understand my references, but at least I'm around to look old and bore people with my stories of the 90s. I didn't lose my life to cancer at 37 like my friend Amy, I didn't suddenly die in my sleep like another friend last year, or get killed by a drunk driver like my husband's dear friend in college. 
These are trivial things, I realize. But I also suppose that's my point. My life hasn't been rife with tragedy and drawn-out struggles, so therefore, I refuse to let myself ignore the fortune of living a pretty charmed life. Nothing irks me more than privileged people finding shit to complain about. Yeah, it hasn't been all smooth sailing, but I'm also not a refugee or an abandoned child roaming the street. I don't live in poverty or in an abusive household. I'm not suffering from a debilitating mental or physical illness that limits my independence. But here's the thing, there are tons of stories of people overcoming those types of injustices or personal tragedies. Those badass tales are all around us! Read Educated by Tara Westover or any of Maya Angelou's memoirs among others. Those types of inspiring stories certainly knock my perspective back in place. Look, this works for me and I'm not saying it's what will work for everyone. I'm just glad that I have this nagging gratitude reminder which I fully engage if I smell a personal pity party going on for too long. 

An area where a TCBW thought is harder work for me is with my relatively new migraine condition. Back in 2008 when I got my first one, I thought I was having a stroke and went to the ER. The doc that day gave me my first TCBW moment when she came back with the results of my CAT Scan.  She told me I had "nothing scary" in my brain, but instead seemed like I suffered a migraine with aura which was both common and treatable. Since then, I've gone through ebbs and flows with those damn things, and there is constant worry that I'll get one. While I had an extremely hard time with it at first, I've learned to deal with them as best I can. I live with the possibility that they could get a lot worse as I get older... but I never forget to remind myself that they could get better as my hormones level out with menopause (good GOD). Below is the TCBW work I need to do and, admittedly, isn't always easy to do when I suddenly can't see half of someone's face. 
  • I get these migraines once every few weeks while some people get multiple migraines per month. I do not suffer from chronic migraines and for the most part, I've figured out my triggers. Some people have to be hospitalized or prescribed strong drugs while I can treat mine with OTC pills and recover relatively quickly. I have quite a few friends who have offered to help me if things do get worse, including using medicinal marijuana, which sounds super cool and would make 15-year-old Sheevani blush from how edgy I've become in my 40s. 
My common theme here is to never forget that life is hard and while sometimes my own shit may seem awful, a ton of other people out there have it a lot worse than I do. That's something I will always work to keep at the forefront of my thoughts.

Wah WAHHHHH
I will sit and watch Debbie Downer SNL sketches for hours, but as for a real-life Debbie? No, that's a swift drop-kick right out of my life. All that complaining and seeing the gloom-and-doom in life is draining to be around. Now, I'm not talking about listening to a friend going through a hard time or providing a much-needed shoulder to cry on. I love to be that person of comfort. But, even those friends can overstay their welcome, especially when they are doing zero to help themselves. I'll refer you back to the gentlemen of that Woe is Me club from my first job. They all sat around having the exact same complaints for at least 7 or 8 years as if somehow the Gods of Whining would dump some good fortune on their cubicles.

My father educated me about a lot of wonderful things during my life, but the most important, albiet unintentional, lesson he taught me repeatedly was how I never wanted to view the world like he did. I'm not talking about politics or religion, but more the cynical lens through which he saw almost everything. I'm pretty sure a lot of us can relate to having an elder tell us they are just being "realistic," but to me growing up, I just saw my dad wallow in negativity so much that I know it affected far more in his life than just sharpening his gift of snark. My father did have real stress, from his career to his health... all pretty major and tough to deal with, however, he certainly didn't make it better for himself or any of us in the way he dealt with the challenges. I remember feeling this unfair burden of emotions due to his unwillingness to address his issues properly. Once, during a summer back home from college, his emotions about his own issues had boiled over to the point where he wasn't allowing me to spend the day with my then boyfriend. His arguments were absolutely nonsensical, so I said, "Why are your issues the reason I cannot go out? Can't I just have fun for a day and not deal with YOUR issues for once?!" My words sort of snapped him out of his rage. "You're right," he quietly responded, "This isn't your problem... go, bheta. Have fun with Greg." 

Now, would I go back in a heartbeat and sit with him to understand what was troubling him so much? Absolutely. But, that's not the story. The story is about a father taking out his issues on his 20-year-old college girl. Here is another lesson he accidentally taught me as well; that I never want my own issues to distress my kids. This doesn't mean I will never show them vulnerability or emotion. Give me a break, they see a range of that every single day. But, as they grow up and develop their own problems in their own little bubbles, they shouldn't have to worry about or deal with my shit. In order to be the best possible mother to them, the least I could do is figure out how to properly address the issues of my life. If they ask me why I'm sad or struggling, I'll happily open that book for them because I know I'll have a chapter in there titled, "In Progress," or, "My Plan." 

Obviously I have no clue what sort of battles our family may endure in the future, but I never want my kids to feel I'm not working on myself at all times. For me, it's about transparency at all levels, from the onset anger or despair to picking myself up, wiping away the tears and figuring out how to see a path forward. While my dad didn't really put that sort of thinking into practice during my lifetime, I know he'd encourage my approach during his grandkids lifetime. 

--------------------

Please don't let the theme of this post suggest that I do not understand how therapeutic a good old fashioned bitch session can be. I LOVE to bitch, WE ALL NEED TO DO IT. Life is hard and the alternative to venting to our friends is bottling up that shit and I don't know about you, but my blood pressure is not equipped for that. But, just as I tell myself with strawberry cheesecake and baked macaroni and cheese, everything in moderation. You do too much of any of that, including the bitching, your insides will hurt and all those toxins released from your body holes will alienate a lot of people. 

Whether a bitch session or pity party, I choose keep mine short, poorly planned and with shitty food. Like the Fyre Festival of pity parties... except with much less Ja Rule.  

Monday, September 23, 2019

Welcome Week - The Real Story

My last post featured a short story inspired by my first night away at college. When I started writing it, my intention was to tell what actually happened, but as I typed away I realized I wasn't quite ready to share the true events of that night. So instead I wrote about what I wished had happened. This week, I'm still not ready to share, but for some reason, I feel compelled to do so.

This account of that night from 23 years ago is as accurate as my memory will allow. It certainly wasn't my ideal way to start my college life at Michigan State University, but it was certainly a lesson in poor decision-making, speaking up and healing shitty first impressions.

The following is a true story.

---------------------

Co-Ed Expectations

Party Time

I breathed in the humid night air of East Lansing as I walked across Grand River Ave. The feeling was a mix of guilt and relief; guilt because I truly didn't think I deserved this gift of going to away to college and relief because I finally felt like I could make up for the years of social stagnation that my 18-year-old self had deemed unacceptable. I was sick of being the odd one out and now I could just blend in with the rest of my peers... at least on a social level. No more, "I can't go," or "I'm not allowed." For the first time, I could actually make the decisions for myself.

Back in 1996, Welcome Week at Michigan State University was a full week. I have since learned that it has been reduced down to a weekend shortly after I was gone from campus, so I feel lucky that I was one of the last to enjoy an entire week of familiarizing myself with the various aspects of scary college life. That first night, I tagged along with Kavita and her friends to a few house parties off campus. I couldn't think of anyone better to usher me into the college party life than my best friend of 9 years. She was starting her sophomore year, so she could show me the ropes.

We were one of many large clumps of co-eds crossing over to the party streets; Charles, Division, Bailey among others. Flashes of various party scenarios appeared in my head, no doubt an amalgam of tv shows and movies I'd watched for the last 5 years. People making out everywhere, lampshades on heads, loud music and dancing, keg stands, rounds of shots being passed around. Basically, if it happened on My So-Called Life, Beverly Hills 90210 or any John Hughes teen movie, it was swirling around in my head as a trailer of what I was in for later that night.

The beer was gross, but Kavita had assured me that I would acquire a taste. "It won't be so bad after you have a buzz going," she said. After achieving said buzz, I was having a great time. While not every party trope I'd seen on screen was happening, I was relishing the freedom of it all... I didn't have to watch the time or figure out an excuse to tell my parents. The night was as young as I wanted it to be, and I loved every minute of this new normal.

Post Party Time

The group had splintered into a few pairs and triplets, but eventually we all made it back to Holmes Hall. Since I was already with her and her friends, I had decided to crash with Kavita that night instead of going to my own dorm room, which was all the way across campus. Besides, I barely knew my roommate yet, so spending my first night with a familiar face was the perfect way to start my college life.

It was decided that a bunch of us would go to the brother floor and hang out. All the rooms had the bareness of the just-moved-in quality; boxes half emptied, beds barely made, closets adorned with a few hanging garments. Holmes Hall was one of the dorms on the far east side of campus affectionately called, "The Projects" since it was one of many high-rise residential halls that lined a divided road, each of them looking exactly alike with their beige brick and sterile design. Kavita had been a bit horrified that I had been placed in the West Circle side of campus, with the old architecture and dorms that resembled more of a tudor style aesthetic. She insisted all the fun happened in The Projects.

Kavita and I were hanging out with a couple of her friends in their room. One of the friends, Carl, was a guy I'd heard quite a bit about during our long distance conversations the previous year. Kavita told me all about how complicated he was, but also how smart and sensitive he could be. I had built him up in my mind to be Troy Dyre from Reality Bites.... Ethan Hawke's portrayal of a smart but damaged guy who lets his potential slip away in order to avoid becoming a yuppie seemed the perfect imagination match for Kavita's stories.

Sitting on the dorm-issued couch next to Carl was sort of thrilling. He wasn't exactly warm or friendly, but again, my knowledge of his nature allowed me to excuse his iciness. In fact, I wasn't sure he knew I was even in the same room... that is until Kavita and the other guy left, and all of a sudden Carl reached his arm around my back and hoisted me on top of him. Completely surprised and unaware of how to do... well, anything, I let him sort of take the lead. My heart pounded... first at the surprise at what was happening, but also feeling a bit flattered that THE Carl wanted to make-out with me?! I couldn't really say for certain that he knew my name.

Uncharted Territory

Before the night began, I was hoping to kiss a guy. I feel no shame admitting that. A full make-out? Okay sure! Sex? No way. I knew better than to go straight to rated-R before getting comfortable in PG-13. Ever since I hit puberty, I was a boy crazy, rom-com loving, hit teen-show watching dork who longed for my over-romanticized first boyfriend, kiss, couch make-outs, etc. Much like the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign worked on me to avoid drugs, episodes of my favorite teen shows scared my unskilled libido into submission with pregnancy scares and HIV/AIDS tests. I was eager to start, but I was in no rush to enter the world of condoms, birth control or going to the free clinic for tests. 

We made it back to Carl's room and onto the top bunk which he had claimed. His roommate wasn't arriving for a couple of days, so we had all the privacy we needed. Laying beneath him, kissing in the dark, hearing his breathing and feeling his hands on me, it felt... okay. While my experience level was pretty much zero, I could tell Carl wasn't a master at the art of making out. His movements were urgent, sloppy and totally devoid of the romantic rhythm I had seen with Dylan McKay and Brenda Walsh. He wasn't aggressive or scary, just clumsy and clueless. As it was happening, I distinctly remember the thought, "I'm sure this will get better," crawling through my brain. 

At a certain point, my shirt was off and his attempt at unbuttoning my pants was met with a clear "no" from my mouth. "That's cool," he panted and returned his focus to everything above the equator. I felt very shy being topless with a guy, but given that the room was dark, I wasn't as self-conscious. It was exciting and scary at the same time. Carl never made me feel unsafe, mind you, but there were moments where I wondered if I was actually enjoying myself. These moments occurred when he'd be giving a lot of attention to my virgin nipples with the enthusiasm of a newborn baby. That's as detailed as I can get without wanting to melt into the floor. But yeah, let's just say that Carl had a fixation on two very specific parts of my body that night. 

I'm not sure how long the make-out lasted, it could have been 30 minutes or an hour. We were done after a knock on the door from Kavita wondering where I was. Carl hopped down from the top bunk and cracked the door open slightly. I heard some muffled talking and Kavita's signature giggling.

"Having fun in there?!?" she yelled.

"Uh, yeah!" I responded half embarrassed, half lying.

"Haha! Okay, I'm going to bed now Sheevs... you coming with me orrrr....?"

"Oh yeah, hang on! I'll be right there!"

My first make-out was done, I had decided, and it was a solid 5 out of 10. Eh, maybe 4. I re-dressed, jumped down from the bunk and asked Carl if I could use the bathroom. He nodded and yawned as he pulled his shirt back on. After peeing I looked at the mirror in horror to see purplish patches all over my neck and chest. ALL OVER. It was like a strangulation of hickeys. I opened the door and Carl stood there, bleary-eyed and waiting to use the bathroom himself. He took one look at me in the light and his eyes grew large.

"Oohhhh shit... I'm so sorry."

I fake laughed, said some semblance of a farewell and sped-walked to the other side of the building to Kavita's room, thankful to not see anyone else in the hallway. She was the one and only person to whom I could show my complete humiliation. Along with her roommates, they commiserated with me and called Carl an asshole. I didn't totally defend him, but I also kept saying, "I had no idea it was even happening!" The entire session was just a jumbled mess of kisses from my mouth down to my... well, Carl's favorite points of interest. His apparent "passion" lended itself to higher than average suction settings. 

Turtleneck in 90 Degrees

The morning after, Kavita's roommate let me borrow an ill-fitting white mock turtleneck that only covered half of the affected area. The combination of that shirt along with the expensive concealer my mother had ordered for me was how I masked my neck for the next couple of days. I could see the looks of consternation at this weird girl wearing a white turtleneck in peak August heat. The edge of the white collar eventually got stained with a ring of beige concealer as I sweated the days away. The worst part of my make-out aftermath happened under that marred shirt and was only known to me. Carl's prolonged fixation on my nips that night caused the skin to crack and bleed. In the days leading up to the start of classes, I'd feel sharp pains from the peeling skin rubbing against my bra. With every stab of nipple pain, my eyes would flush with tears and not just from my physical malady. I just wanted to have a fun make-out with a guy... but I ended up an ashamed idiot with a neck full of hickeys and bleeding nipples. College was supposed to be where I could start fresh as a confident young woman who was eager to explore her freedoms. Well, that first night certainly wasn't the ideal way to make that idealistic impression.

They All Knew

It wasn't until about a month into the semester when my new dorm friends were comfortable enough to address what they saw of me that first week. 

"Oh my god, it was so obvious! The more you tried to cover it up, the worst it looked!"

I would bury my face in my hands with a muffled, "I know!!"

"I felt so bad for you, but I didn't know you at all, so I couldn't really say anything!" said the girl in the next room over.

I finally explained what had happened and how it was basically a cautionary tale for any other sheltered girl looking for too much excitement the minute they leave the nest. 

"It could have been worse... believe me," another girl said with a serious expression.

"Oh, totally," I said, understanding her implication,"A lot worse, I know."

Contrary to what Kavita had said, my side of campus was just as fun as hers. It may have not been the mecca of secret kegs being snuck up to dorm rooms, but there were nights spent chatting with some incredible friends, who really became my saviors that first year. After they learned more about who I was as a person, that first impression of me from Welcome Week seemed to be an alien who had invaded my body. After some time, I could joke and laugh about that ugly turtleneck. While it took longer than my nips, I eventually healed from the shame and embarrassment of it all.  

--------------------

So, that's what really happened that first night away from college. This wasn't easy to share, but at the same time, I feel it sort of encompasses a lot of my identity struggles in a single night. When I find myself cringing at this story, it's not so much about the hickeys and nip abuse, but more about my inability to distinguish who I was and who I was supposed to be. 

Look, at age 18, most of us don't know who the hell we are yet, but for me, I rushed to be what I'd seen in others rather than figuring out who I really was. Back then, I was sure my parents rules were to blame for my stagnated experiences and well, that is true, but I had also built that up as what was "holding me back." From what exactly? Oh, all the stuff that parents are supposed to protect you from. "You'll understand when you're older," has never rang so loud and true in my ears. 

This is a story about succumbing to an urgency of identity and not following your gut. It has served as an example over and over in my life of what happens when you covet an experience or lifestyle that may not be what's best for you... or even something you'd enjoy. 

I'm happy to report that eventually I did experience my fairytale moments complete with movie-like magic and true love romance. They happened when I wasn't trying so hard to be someone I wasn't... they happened exactly when they were supposed to. Go figure.  




Monday, September 9, 2019

Welcome Week

My freshman year roommate at Michigan State University took her oldest son to college a couple of weeks ago. Cortney's eyes were misty and her smile conveyed a mix of pride and heartache as she hugged her handsome boy in front of his dorm. I smiled as I clicked through the photos, imagining what Cort must be going through and thankful that her current experience is still 9 years down the road for me. My social media feeds have been full of posts about freshmen college kids going away, but since this was Cortney, the first person with whom I lived in college well... seeing her post knocked me sideways by a tidal wave of memories from that first week in East Lansing. Moreso, the first night.


The following story was inspired by true events.


--------------------
Ready. Set. GO.


I-96


Meera watched the speedometer with restrained excitement.


Don't speed! You don't want to get a ticket today!


The winding highway seemed endless, and she was half thankful, half exasperated for the seemingly glacial pace of the drive. As the signs for unfamiliar roads whizzed above her head, her mind would get sucked into reservoirs of wonder. How often would she make this drive? When would it start to feel routine? Does she deserve all of this?


That last question ached in her heart the most. For the last 2 years, she had fantasized about this very drive, but always shrugged it off as a non-possibility. There's no way, she'd tell herself. Given the mysterious nature of her family's finances coupled with her father's immediate need to change the subject, Meera had resigned herself to other options. When the decision was made, she felt an aura of euphoric instability... as if at any moment it could all change. For the last month she had braced herself for the impact of the rug being pulled from beneath her feet.


But, here she was. She glanced in the rear view mirror and caught her mother's face in the reflection. Meera's heart lurched as she saw the sadness in her mother's eyes. Gita's chin rested on her knuckles, her mind a million miles away from the Nissan Altima in which she sat. Don't, Meera thought. She didn't want to have to worry about her mother today. Today. This unforeseen day. The day her life would change forever.


Her first day away at college.


The Pit


"So dark!" Mahesh exclaimed upon walking into Meera's dorm room.


"Ugh, DAD!"


"It's like a basement! Just one small window!? For how much we are paying??!"


"Like I had a choice? Seriously, can we NOT? I really don't need the stress!"


Gita shot Mahesh a look. Seeing the worst in any situation was sort of Mahesh Gupta's specialty. His passion to always zero in on the empty air in a half-full glass was only matched by the deep love for his daughter. This was a hard day for him as well. Harder than she'd ever know. 


"Looks like Lauren has already been here," said Meera. There were 3 suitcases and some boxes neatly tucked in the corner of the room. The lower bunk had been made up with hunter green sheets and a plaid comforter. A stuffed cat rested on the pillow. 


Meera only knew her roommate from a letter she had received 3 weeks earlier. Lauren was from a small town in northern Michigan, a star basketball player who would bring a tv and computer for the room. Oh, and she was sheepish about sleeping on the top bunk, so it was decided that she could have the lower bunk during an awkward 10 minute phone conversation the two shared about a week earlier. That same conversation was when they decided that Meera would provide the dorm room staple mini-fridge. Mahesh wasn't happy about that. 


"What, Dad?! She's bringing a tv and computer! A computer she said she'd share with me for schoolwork!"


"Do you even know how much this fridge will cost? Did you even think about that? You don't know this girl, she may be taking advantage!"


"Dad, they are like $100, it's not a big deal." Meera's older brother chimed in with the hopes to squash yet another shouting match between his dad and sister. He was watching tennis, the US Open, and didn't look away from the television. Unlike Meera, Maneesh didn't go away to college, but instead commuted 40 minutes to a satellite campus of a big university. Meera never knew if that was his choice or because their parents couldn't afford to send him away. He never told her and she never asked. 


"Well, then I can pay for it," Meera said, "I have money saved up." 


Mahesh slowly closed his eyes and exhaled. Meera could see the tension in his jaw and knew this was the end of the conversation. He would later take her to Meijer to buy the mini-fridge, which was on sale according to the Sunday circular he perused earlier that day. As Meera took out her cash, he silently handed his American Express to the cashier and put his arm around her.



Olive Garden


As a child, there were countless sleepovers where Meera's father had to come rescue her after nightfall. The horror of her parents being far away in another house never failed to consume her as the sleeping bags were being set up. She had wondered if going away to college may awaken those dormant emotions, but after the last few hours of unpacking her room, meeting her RA and walking around campus, Meera couldn't start this new chapter fast enough. She loved her parents, of course, and figured she'd miss them at some point, but she had to admit a sense of relief when there was no panic setting in as their departure was approaching.


"I'm so scared I'll get lost on campus!" Meera said as she tore a parmesan breadstick in half.


"Oh, everyone is so friendly! If you lose your way, just ask anyone... they will totally help you!"


Nisha was Meera's best friend who had already spent a year in college... the same college. Something they dreamed about as pre-teens. If pressed, Meera would have no choice but to admit that she had chosen this particular college because Nisha was there. All the years of their friendship were spent a few towns apart in different school districts. Their bond was kept alive by short conversations every evening along with the occasional weekend sleepovers (Meera never needed her dad to get her from Nisha's house). Meera was gutted when Nisha had left the year prior for her freshman year. As a lowly high school senior, she was afraid their friendship wouldn't survive. It did.


"Bheta, just practice walking to your classes this week," said Mahesh, "That's why they give you this week. So you can familiarize yourself with the campus."


"I'll come with you!" Nisha squealed. She and Meera had barely touched their fettuccini alfredo. The butterflies in Meera's stomach had consumed any hint of an appetite. Mahesh, on the other hand, seemed to be drowning his emotions in mouthfuls of spaghetti bolognese.


"We should go soon, Mahesh, I don't want to drive back in the dark," Gita said.


Mahesh's face grew somber and he nodded. A twinge of sadness leapt in Meera's stomach. There it is, she thought. She needn't feel guilty about her numbness for leaving. She will miss her parents, but... only a little.


"You can just drop her off at my dorm," said Nisha, "We're hanging out tonight and you're staying over, right?"


"Yup!" Meera and Nisha exchanged knowing glances.



Good-Bye


"Good luck, bheta, wish you all the best," Gita said as Meera bent down and touched her mother's feet, a sign of respect she had done for years to older relatives when they visited from India. Today, it felt right to pay these same respects to her parents. 


"Thanks Mummy," she said, "Drive safe."


She turned to her dad and began to reach for his feet, but he stopped her by the arms and pulled her in for a tight embrace instead. With her face pressed against his cheek, she could hear him swallowing down his tears, a feeling all too familiar to Meera. Although, today her tears would remain at bay. 


"Bye, Meeru Bheta," Mahesh choked out, "Study hard, ok?"


"I will, Dad."


He turned and walked away quickly as if the pain of leaving his only daughter existed in the one foot radius around her. She waved and watched them drive away in a parade of other cars full of parents and siblings leaving their own precious person behind. 


Their car rounded the corner out of sight and Meera turned to Nisha. They hugged and jumped up and down. Let the festivities begin. 



Party Time


God, this is gross, thought Meera.


She had tasted beer before. At the age of 10, she snuck a sip from one of the ancient bottles of Lowenbrau that had seemingly taken permanent residence in the back of her parent's fridge. Both Gita and Mahesh never drank, but they kept the beer "for guests." Those poor guests would suffer the consequences of their hosts not understanding that beer has a shelf life. On the rare occasions where Meera found herself at a high school party, she preferred to be the keen observer of the cooler kids getting drunk while watching the clock to make sure she wasn't late for her 11:30 curfew.


Now, she had no curfew. Now, she had no scary parents waiting up for her. Now, she could be one of the cool kids getting drunk. Well, that is if she could only choke down this disgusting brown liquid that assaulted every bitter tastebud on her tongue. 


"Sooooo, you're Meera?" The guy running the keg looked at Meera with familiarity. In the dim of the back porch light, she could make out that he had thick, dark hair, smiling eyes, and a wry grin that gave way to deep dimples low on his cheeks.


"Uh yeah! I'm Meera!" Ugh, she said that way too excitedly. Jesus, play it cool, idiot!


"I lived on Nisha's brother floor last year... and this year, too. I'm Colin."


Oh my God, it's COLIN!! Nisha had told her about Colin last year during their weekly phone conversations. Colin was sort of a player, Meera had learned, but also super smart with a complicated family situation. He plays guitar in his dorm room, prefers reading to video games and according to the girls who've hooked up with him, a totally amazing kisser. Meera immediately got nervous.


"Ohhh... yeah, I think I remember Nisha mentioning you... Colin... from her brother floor." These were the words that she said, but her mind was still processing everything Nisha had told her. She was seeing them scroll on a screen like the Terminator data download as he searched for Sarah/John Connor.

  • Colin hooked up with Nisha's roommate, Jillian
  • Colin and Jillian tried to date, but it fizzled
  • Colin got his stomach pumped last year
  • Colin looks hot with his shirt off
  • Colin writes songs that he will sing after smoking pot
  • Colin's mom died when he was young and he hates his step-mom
  • Colin was on the Dean's List
  • IMPORTANT DATA - **Nisha has absolutely no interest in Colin**



"Nisha saved me last year, man... she's an awesome friend. I know she's so excited for you to be here. All of us on the 4th floor heard so much of 'MEERA THIS' and 'MEERA THAT!' You're a legend!"


He raised his red Solo cup that was overflowing with foam and quickly put his mouth on the rim to suck up the white sea of fermentation. She watched his mouth, his sharp jawline and those dimples... oh, those dimples that flashed quickly in rhythm with his lip movement as if to tease her.


"Ohh.. pshhhhh, "Meera forced a laugh, "Yeahh... I mean, we're pretty close, I guess. I mean... like, I'm excited to be here too... totally." She's flustered. Colin was almost famous in her eyes.


For the next hour of the party, Colin keeps finding Meera. A couple times in line for the bathroom and at others he'd just appear next to her on the couch. As she choked down beer after beer ("Trust me, you just have to develop of a taste for it," Nisha had said), her body felt more relaxed and the edges of her nerves dulled with an almost purring sound that made her feel warm inside. Buzzed. She was buzzed. For the first time in her life. The warmer she felt, the more she wanted it to last, so she kept making trips to the keg, finding more confidence and less social awkwardness with each trip.


"MEEEERAAAA!!" Nisha said as Meera made her way to the keg for the 4th time, "You guys!! Don't you LOVE my best friend?!!" Nisha turned to Meera,"Are you having fun?"


"Oh my god, this is the BEST!!!"


Meera and Nisha hugged and tumbled to the poorly maintained wooden deck, spilling beer everywhere and cackling with the delight.


"Whoa whoa!" Colin appeared again and took Meera's hand. He lifted her up and against his body. She looked up into his eyes and smiled.


"Youuuuu doing okay?" he asked.


"I'm soooo good... how are you, Colin Foster?" Meera's buzz had stripped away her usual self-consciousness. He didn't stop looking into her eyes and she matched the intensity of his stare. Colin placed his hand on the small of her back, pressing her hard against him. 


YES, FINALLY, she thought.

Choke


"First time being drunk, I presume?" he asked. Colin escorted Meera into the kitchen. The tile was sticky and the countertops resembled a 1970s vibe. 


"I PRESUUUUME! Who are you? Sherlock Holmes??" Meera laughed too hard at her own quip.


"Ohhhkay, I think that answers my question. Let's get you some water."


Colin handed Meera a bottle of water from the cooler. He twisted the cap open and put it to her lips. She looked into his eyes as the cold water met her lips.


"I'm okay, really," she said, trying to sound normal, "I mean, I'm definitely buzzed, but I don't think it's only from the beer. I'm just soooooo glad to be away from home!! Oh my god, you have NO idea!"


"Oh yeah?"


"I mean, I loooove my parents. Totally love my parents... but, like, I could never just go out. It was always such a big deal... going out with friends," Meera dipped into an impression of her parents, "Who are you going with? How do you know them? Who is driving? Where is this place? What time will you be back? Blah blah blah... it was exhausting!"


"I can imagine," Colin leaned against the counter next to Meera, their arms gently touching. He gestured to her to keep drinking the water and she obeyed. A couple was kissing in the entryway.


"I could never do THAT!" Meera said gesturing to the passionate pair. Colin laughed at Meera's incredulous expression. She stared at them and shook her head, "I mean, I wanted to... I can name at least 4 guys I wanted to do THAT with, but... it wasn't worth my parents finding out. I just figured, it will happen eventually." Meera shrugged.


"Have you... never kissed anyone?"


Suddenly Meera was very aware of what she was saying and, more importantly, who she was saying it to... this was Colin. COLIN!


"Oh.. yeah! I have... of course I have!" Meera wasn't making eye contact.


"It's not that big a deal if you haven't, you know."


YES IT IS, thought Meera. Of all her friends, Meera was the least experienced. She had once shared a sloppy kiss with a drunk soccer player at a school dance, but it was more a smashed mess of tongue and teeth than anything else. She refused to count that as her first kiss. Her virginal path was yet another thing that set her apart from the friends she grew up with... friends with whom she had seen in pre-school crying for their moms to high school talking about refilling their birth control prescriptions. Everyone around her seemed to have lived those romantic tropes that Meera relished from tv shows and movies.  Meanwhile she was forced to use her imagination to appease her prudish existence. No more. Tonight, she would put an end to that era. 


"Well, I mean... we can't all be COLIN FOSTER!"


"What does that mean?" Colin asked. Meera looked up afraid she had offended him, but the look in his eyes suggested more of a sly curiosity.  


"Nothing... nothing.. I'm sorry... I..."


"I guess Nisha's told you a few things, huh?"


Meera tightly smiled as Colin looked forward and slowly nodded. He took the water bottle from her hand for a long sip. It was weirdly intimate and she felt a heat building on the back of her neck. Meera's eyes were glued to the motion of his mouth on the perforated plastic. The gentle movement as the water flowed through his perfect lips that closed as he swallowed. His tongue made a quick appearance to lick up an errant drip. Her gaze moved down to his Adam's apple then traveled over the smoothness of his neck up to his earlobe. It looked so soft and kissable. GAH!! OMG!!! YOU CAN'T DO THIS!


"I better go find Nisha," Meera suddenly said and pushed herself off the counter. She swayed at the change in position and was annoyed by how she must look to Colin; naive and sloppy.  


"I think she's out front," Colin said. She half expected (wanted) him to stop her from leaving, but just as his reputation preceded him, Colin rarely did what was expected. He just smiled at her with each of his dimples piercing her racing heart.

BFF


"Meers! You okay? Are you wasted? Feel sick?" Nisha said when she saw Meera's pained expression on the front porch. 


"No no, I'm fine. Just had some water."


"Good! Yes! Make sure you drink a lot of water!" 


"Yeah, Colin got it for me," Meera said looking at Nisha. Since the age of 10, their telepathy was one of the best things about finding each other.


"Dude, go for it! I can tell Colin totally likes you!"


"You think?? I totally froze in the kitchen with him... ugh, but I wanted to kiss him SO bad!!"


"You will NOT be disappointed, trust me!" Nisha said shaking Meera's arm.


"Wait... you... did you two?"


"Ohhh no no no! I've heard! Jillian practically failed her Sociology quiz the morning after she and Colin hooked up! Said she couldn't stop thinking about kissing him!"


Meera took a deep breath and was more determined than ever. This non-kissing life had gone on long enough! There was just one thing...


"You're sure he'd want to... with me, I mean?"


"POS-I-TIVE! Now GO! HAVE FUN!" 


Nisha laughed and said the rest with her expression. Her bright brown eyes were a window into all those years of endless chats about being in college together, experiencing this next phase together... not only in proximity, but an adjacency of support, guidance and love. Meera needed Nisha at that exact moment and Nisha was exactly there.



The First Make-Out


Meera charged back into the kitchen. Her mind was clear and her steps solid and steady. Colin wasn't standing where she had left him. Shit, I blew it. He must have left. She continued through the back of the house where a few people were sitting on the couch passing around a joint. Nisha's suite mate, Audrey, smiled at her and asked if she was okay. Meera nodded and kept walking. The stairwell to the bungalow loft was backed up with people in line for the bathroom. She peered around laughing faces and impatient sighs to catch a glimpse of Colin, but he wasn't there either. Meera exhaled and walked back toward the porch to tell Nisha she had missed her chance when a warm hand caught her wrist. She turned around and looked into Colin's smiling eyes. He said something smooth and adorable then clasped his fingers between hers and led her outside. The August air was warm and damp which matched how her body felt at that moment... a lifetime of anticipation was finally going to be answered. She was the girl in the movie living the magical scene where the lighting is perfect and the music tugs at your heartstrings. Meera had felt those scenes in her bones so many times, yearning to jump through the screen so it would be her feeling everything. 


Colin walked her to the side of the house where no one was around. The soundtrack of house parties up and down the street was in the air, but all Meera could hear was her heartbeat thick in her ears. She leaned against the brick and relaxed her shoulders. The adrenaline surprisingly gave way to calm as she looked up at Colin. He ran his fingers through his wavy hair and tilted his head. Was he nervous? Meera grasped his waist and pulled him against her and lifted her face to his. He said something funny, they both laughed and before she knew it, he was kissing her... soft, but with an urgency behind it... as if waiting for permission. Meera was in no mood for slow and steady wins the race. She'd lost this race a long time ago and only wanted to make up for lost time. She was hungry. Ready. Set. GO.


Over the next 20 minutes, Meera and Colin were entangled against the house, lips and tongues dancing together, hands all over each other, nails digging into backs, necks bathed in hot breath and kisses. Much to her relief, Meera felt like a natural and it was clear Colin was enjoying himself just as much as she was. He pulled back and asked if she was okay to which she just pulled him back to her mouth as an answer. He let out a gentle moan as her lips moved to his earlobe. It was just as soft as she had imagined. 


In the distance she heard her name... Nisha was calling her. Colin pulled back and they stared at each other... lips parted and breathless. 


"I better go," Meera said, "I really don't want to, but..."


"No, I get it," Colin reassured her, "You heading back to Borden?"


"Yeah, I'm staying with Nisha tonight," she said. Nisha called out her name again. "YEAH! I'll be right there!!" Meera responded, desperately not wanting to go.


"I'll walk back with you guys... if you don't mind?" Colin was still pressed up against her and Meera loved the weight of him. Mind?! Yeah, like I could mind! she thought.


"Oh, I don't want to make you leave if you don't want to," she was trying not to sound needy.


"Eh, I'm kind of done with partying tonight anyway... let's go."


Colin turned to walk to the front of the house and Meera realized this could be the last moment they would be alone together for the rest of the night.


"Wait!" she called and pulled him back to her. They kissed for another minute or two when Nisha called out for a 3rd time not at all hiding her impatience. She wanted breadsticks, "NOW!" 


"Okay okay... sorry, we better go," Meera said gently pushing Colin away. "COMING NEESH!"


"Yeah," he said, "You know, my roommate doesn't get here until Wednesday, so... I have the room to myself."


"Oh, um..." Meera's eyes darted down and around, "I don't know... I mean--"


"Oh man, sorry, that was stupid... I was just saying. No pressure or anything... ugh, I'm such an asshole," Colin's mild panic flattered Meera. After all, he was Colin Foster and could get any girl he wanted. 


"No! You're not an asshole! It's just Nisha and I agreed to spend this first night together... it's kind of, I don't know how to explain it..."


"You don't have to explain. I just... well, I was having a lot of fun," Colin held Meera's cheek in his hand and melted her insides with a dimpled grin. 


"Me too," Meera said shyly.


"OKAY SERIOUSLY MEERS!! GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE NOW OR YOU CAN FIND YOUR OWN WAY BACK! BREADSTIIIIICKS!!!!"



Buzzkill


The rest of the night paled in comparison to those lustful minutes she had spent with Colin. A large group of 4th floor Borden residents all walked together to get Nisha's breadsticks then slowly back to the dorm. Everyone kept getting distracted seeing other friends and acquaintances who Meera didn't know. She started to get bored and just wanted to go to bed. The buzz was totally gone and the aftereffect of all the beer and excitement exhausted her. Colin would catch her eye every now and then to deliver a sexy smile, but he would get sidetracked by some dude asking about weed or some other dude telling him about a band he should see. She so wanted to be back against that brick wall with him again, but the moment had clearly passed and sleep was a far more attractive scenario. 


They finally arrived in Nisha's room around 2am and Meera's feet felt like aching stumps. Partying in college involves a lot of walking, apparently. 


"Oh shit, I forgot to set up Jillian's bed for you!" Nisha stood in the lamp light dejected.


"Honestly, just give me a blanket and a mattress and I'll be fine."


"I hear you. OH! So tell me about Colin!!" To Meera's amazement, Nisha seemed to have a lot of energy left. 


"Oh, um.. yeah, it was fun. We hooked up a little... he definitely knows what he's doing," Meera said tiredly as she clumsily pushed her shoes off one heel at a time. She saw a blanket on the couch and pulled it to the bottom bunk and laid down. Her feet throbbed so hard she didn't even care about her face touching the bare mattress. 


"YAYYYY!! I'm so happy for you!" Nisha was changing into pajamas and Meera felt jealous that she didn't have the energy to change out of her jeans and t-shirt.


"He.. he actually invited me to go to his room tonight," Meera looked at Nisha and smiled with her eyes widening. 


"Whoa! Seriously?"


Meera nodded and buried her face under the blanket. In the darkness she was immediately transported back to Colin's body pressed against hers, his hands in her hair and his lips everywhere... oh yeah. 


"You didn't want to?" Nisha asked. 


"I mean, I did... kind of, but we agreed to spend tonight together, so..."


"Oh, Meers! If you want to, it's totally fine! He's just the next hallway over... room 412, and I'm sure he's still up... he can never sleep anyway." 


Meera lowered the blanket off her face and stared at the criss-crossed frame of the upper bunk. Tonight had been amazing and while the thought of being alone with Colin without the chance of interruption excited her, she knew it would be an unnecessary epilogue to an already perfect story. 


"Nah, I'd rather be here! Neesh, can you believe it? We are here... at college... together!"


"I know!! This is just the beginning of so much fun!!"


Nisha turned off the lights and climbed up to her bed. The girls talked in the dark until each of them fell asleep... same as when they were 12 years old. 



The Morning After


Oh, holy shit. Meera stared at her reflection with horror. 


Nisha was still fast asleep, but the sun woke Meera at 6:15 as did her full bladder. After what seemed like a 4 minute pee, Meera glanced at herself in the mirror. At first she thought there was a weird shadow or smudge on the glass. But as her eyes adjusted from her slumber to the fluorescent light of the bathroom, there was no mistaking what she saw. A fucking hickey. It was right above her left collarbone, clear as day and dark as night. She pressed her finger against the jagged purple mark as if she could somehow wipe it away like magic marker. Meera frantically tried to pull her hair over it, but unless she glued it against her neck, it was hopeless.


She wanted to wake Nisha in her panicked state, perhaps there was some college secret to hickey removal? Her v-neck shirt was of no help and besides, only a turtleneck would cover the damn hickey and it was going to be at least 90 degrees for the next few days. She decided to leave Nisha be and crawl back into her pathetic sleeping arrangements. 


This is what I get! I shouldn't have made out with a boy last night. This is my goddamn karma!


When Nisha finally woke up 2 hours later, Meera had showered, read all the campus literature that was distributed to every dorm room and done 12 crossword puzzles out of a random book left in a desk drawer. She was sitting on the bench seat next to the window staring at the campus. 


"Hey... morning," Nisha said mid-stretch, "How long have you been up?"


"Couple hours... couldn't sleep," Meera said.


"Oh... you okay?"


"Umm... well, not really."


Nisha looked at her quizzically. Meera exhaled and walked to Nisha's bunk. She stood there for a few seconds staring at Nisha with an expectant look on her face. 


"Well? Notice anything?"


Nisha looked at Meera confused. She studied her face and was about to say something when her eyes traveled 5 inches south. Nisha slapped her hand over her mouth as both an expression of shock and to stifle a very loud laugh.


"OHHHH MY GOD!!" 


"I know!! I'm so embarrassed!"


"It's... it's not that bad!" Nisha was still laughing, but Meera had yet to find any humor in the situation. 


"Serves me right! I bet my parents sent down little angels to curse me while I was making out with Colin!"


"Do Hindus have angels?" Nisha asked.


Meera glared at her and couldn't help but twist her lips into a smile. Sure, this was embarrassing, but Meera had to admit, after 18 years of living a boring life in the corral of her parent's rules, a hickey from a glorious make-out session with a hot guy was pretty damn thrilling. She full out laughed then, bending over and shaking her head. Nisha joined her and sat up, giggling her perfect giggle that hadn't changed since they first met at an Indian weekend party over 8 years ago. 


"Come on, let's go to the caf and get some breakfast," Nisha said hopping down from her bunk. 


"You know, I think I'm just going to walk back to my dorm. I still haven't even met Lauren!"


"Oh right! You sure you know how to get back?"


"I'll figure it out," Meera said, "Thanks for taking me out last night... I had so much fun!"


"Like I said, this is just the beginning!" Nisha hugged Meera and made loud sucking noises.



Nice To Meet You, I'm Not A Slut


Meera wasn't quite lost, but she also couldn't say she was 100% sure where she was on the sprawling campus. She knew if she kept walking toward the tall clock tower, she'd eventually get to her dorm. At any rate, the leisurely pace was preferred as she digested her first night away. Unlike her father, Meera liked to focus on the positive. After all, 99.99% of her body was NOT marred by a temporary collection of bursted blood vessels. The hickey would fade away, taking with it the evidence of her experience with Colin. Well, physical evidence anyway. Meera knew she would never forget her first make-out... at a college party... with a hot, considerate guy who did everything right. In fact, she considered herself lucky. There were cautionary tales floating around the Indian community about kids going away and getting raped or alcohol poisoning soon after leaving. Meera always brushed those off as standard Gita Gupta exaggerations, but they seeped into her brain nonetheless. Even though she'd rather die than have her parents know what she did last night, she knew that things didn't get too out of control because of them. 


Meera held her breath as she approached her dorm room. The door was slightly open and she could hear the television. It was a rerun of Friends where the gang is at the beach and Monica gets stung by a jellyfish. Lauren had seen the cheerful note from Meera telling her she was staying with Nisha last night. But was that rude? Should Meera have spent the night getting to know Lauren? She was second guessing everything and wanted to turn around. 


Don't be ridiculous, Meera told herself, just go in there and introduce yourself.


"Hi Lauren!" Meera peeked in with a broad smile.


"Oh hi! Meera!" Lauren was in the middle of hanging up some of her clothes. "Sorry, I sort of claimed this closet, but if you want it, I can take the other one!"


"It's fine! Take it!"


They both stared at each other for a bit, smiling and nodding. Lauren thanked her for letting her take the bottom bunk and Meera thanked her for bringing the tv and computer. 


"Oh, my brother is coming up today with the fridge. Sorry, we couldn't fit it into the car with everything yesterday."


"Cool!"


Meera's expression changed at the thought of Maneesh seeing her hickey. He wouldn't tell their parents or anything, but the thought of her big brother knowing she had a guys lips on her neck was beyond mortifying. Lauren noticed the pained look on her face.


"Everything ok?"


"Um," Meera sighed, "Okay... I'm super embarrassed and feel like a complete idiot, but... can you help me cover this hickey??"


Lauren leaned in and assessed the situation. She smirked, looked up at Meera and gave her a tight hug. Shocked, Meera stood perfectly stiff. 


"Don't worry, some concealer and red lipstick will do the trick!"


"Oh my god, really?!"


"Totally. My middle school boyfriend used to give me hickeys all the time... as a joke. He was such an asshole, so I got pretty good at covering them up! Yours is tiny compared to what I had to deal with! It'll be easy!"


Meera watched Lauren rifle through her cosmetic bag. This girl was basically a stranger, yet here she was, in crisis mode to help her keep a pristine version of herself for her big brother. Meera suddenly felt the need to explain herself.


"Look... I had no idea it was happening and well, yeah, I had just kind of met him, actually... I knew him through my best friend, so he wasn't a total stranger and... okay, so my parents were strict growing up...I've never really dated...  I felt like the last girl on earth who hadn't... you know, I, um..."


Lauren was looking at her, amused and trying not to laugh. She held her hickey concealing tools in one hand and held up her other hand to stop Meera's babbling.


"Hey... no judgement, trust me."


"Sorry," Meera buried her hands in her face, "I just... I just didn't want you to think I was a slut or something."


"Neither was I back in middle school! Hickeys don't make you a slut, Meera."


"Yeah... yeah, you're right, they don't!" Meera avowed. 


Lauren sat Meera down on the desk chair and faced her toward their sorry little sliver of a window. She went to work smearing, dabbing and blending. From the confidence of her application, she certainly had done this many times before. 


"I really appreciate this, Lauren. Not really the first impression I wanted to make with you,"Meera laughed.


"Oh please. I just wanted a normal roommate and well, making out with a guy and getting a hickey is just about as normal it gets!"


Finally, thought Meera, I'm finally normal. 


--------------------


Here's to all the college freshman starting their adventures away from home. May you all find a Lauren to cover those hickeys.