Friday, December 13, 2013

Burning Down the House

In the middle of all the wedding planning hoopla, JT and I decided we weren't going insane fast enough. So we decided to buy a house.

Truth be told, a one-year-old's birthday party actually decided it for us. My best friends, Jason and Becca, were hosting a shindig for their beautiful son when Bec looked around and realized the layout of the house wasn't exactly ideal for entertaining (upstairs, the rooms don't really connect in a way that lends itself to mingling, and the only way to get to the game room is down a set of steps - not great for older family members). That moment planted a thought in her head. Hm. Maybe it was time to think about moving?

And in typical Jason and Becca fashion, within two weeks, that was exactly what they decided to do. I was so sad. I loved their house, entertaining challenges and all. It was so homey, with its built-in shelves and window overlooking the entire neighborhood. I had helped them move in a few years prior, helped them paint, watched them make it their home. We had so many great memories there.

As I articulated all this, I saw my friends exchange a quick glance. When I ended my whining, Jason spoke up.

"Why don't you buy it, then?" he asked.

Well, that was an idea.

A few weeks and many conversations with JT later, we took them up on their offer. All of us were beyond excited. Jas and Bec were just moving down the road, so now we'd technically live even closer to each other than we did. They got to come back to their beloved starter home whenever they wanted. We got to become homeowners! Woo!

And then it dawned on me. This meant we all had to move.

The last time Jason and Becca moved, I spent a freezing cold January day slipping and sliding on the ice rink that had formed in the back of their U-Haul thanks to an endless barrage of freezing rain. Their marble end table cracked when it decided to perform a triple axel/double toe loop midway to the new house. You know the scene in “The Day After Tomorrow” when helicopters start crashing because they literally freeze mid-air? I expected that to happen to our U-Haul at any moment. 

Never again! I told myself. Helping friends move is the worst. Just, no.

But when you're the one nagging your friends to get a move on so you can get into your new home, “No” goes out the window. You just move. And in this case, I ended up pining for the days of sub-zero temperatures. This time, there were renovations.

Jas and Bec truly had no choice. Their new home, while lovely from the outside, was a legit nightmare past the threshold. The woman who had lived there prior had clearly been a student of "Better Homes and Gardens." Circa 1983. 

Every room of the four-story, five bedroom home had a different color carpet. That carpet matched whatever wall treatment this lady had chosen, and in most rooms, that meant wallpaper. Lots of it. Shiny, '80s, foil-like wallpaper in the dining room. Seashell patterned wallpaper in the powder room. Faux finish wallpaper in the sitting area. There was enough wallpaper in this house to coat Massachusetts. Twice.

The living room. Sweet Jesus, the living room. The walls were painted a deep maroon, which would have been tolerable, had the carpets not ALSO BEEN THE SAME SHADE MAROON. The far end of the room had clearly been an addition, so the big window that should have been there to provide some relief from this murder room  just wasn't. No natural light. Just red. It was like walking into a nightmare. Or being inside a “True Blood” episode. So. Much. Red. Everywhere.

The upstairs was no better. But perhaps the best of the worst was the master bedroom, which had a deep rose colored carpet. Here the decorating visionary decided to pair her pink carpet with an entire 18-by-20 room full of floral wallpaper. And because that's not enough, the drapes also were done in a heavy floral. And not even the same pattern as the wallpaper.

Within seconds of moving in, Bec had whipped out a wallpaper scraper and got down to business. My job was to follow after her with a warm rag, wiping off any remnants of paper glue. When Bec took her blade to the floral wall, a rosy pink revealed itself underneath the first strip of discarded paper. It was the same exact color as the carpet. We lost it. By the time all the paper was reduced to shriveled strips on the floor, Bec and I were in tears, standing in the middle of a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

Over the course of a few weeks, Bec and Jas basically existed off cigarettes, coffee and two hours of nightly sleep. I helped when I could, slathering on paint, peeling off paper and supervising wine breaks.
Once “Extreme Makeover: Jason and Becca's House Edition” ended, we were all exhausted, but I was also ecstatic. I knew the next step was the actual move, complete with U-Hauls and all.

I had but one more mountain to climb. I had to help Bec move. In true retail industry fashion, Jason had to work the day their truck was coming. So I broke my own rule and showed up ready to work.  

It will be fine, I told myself. It's not even freezing outside. It will be nothing like last time.

And that turned out to be true. Because the last time, no one had to call the fire department.

It was 8 a.m. on moving day. I stood in the driveway of my friends'/my house, dodging the pro movers. Having already stuffed my Honda Fit full of plants, pots and other last-minute random, I was now packing up the back of the pickup truck belonging to Bec's dad. As I considered the jigsaw puzzle going on the truck bed, I heard a siren in the distance. The house was a softball toss away from a fire department, so I thought nothing of this. Soon, it sounded like another unit had been called out, this one located a few miles away.

I listened as the sirens grew both louder in volume and higher in quantity. I turned to Bec's dad, who was surveying the back of his truck while holding a candelabra with one hand and scratching his head with the other.

“Sounds like an accident,” I said, gesturing to the direction of all the ruckus.

“Mmmmm,” he said, finally chucking the candelabra on top of the rest of the rubble.

Once the movers were ready, we all jumped in our vehicles – the movers in their truck, Bec's dad in his, me in the Fit and Bec in her SUV – and drove the three miles to the new house, Bec's dad leading the charge.

I was so focused on keeping the plant on the Fit's passenger seat upright, I nearly slammed into the back of his truck when we turned into the plan. Beyond him was a sea of emergency vehicles – fire trucks lined up back to back, ambulances at the ready, police officers holding out hands to stop us in our tracks.

The caravan pulled off to the side of the road, Bec's dad looking back at me with a “No idea” shrug and me mimicking it to Bec. After about three minutes, the sea parted to let an ambulance through. When I could see past the trucks, my heart sank. A dozen frenzied firefighters scrambled to douse the flames licking out of a roof two doors down from Jason and Becca's.

We all jumped out of our cars at once. As we waited in stunned silence, Bec's dad ran up to a man standing gawking in his robe on his front lawn, got the scoop then ran over to share with us.

“The roof caught fire,” he said.

“Really?” Bec seethed in hysteria-induced sarcasm.

Another neighbor wandered over, and took note of our truck.

“You folks moving in today? What a welcome to the neighbohood!” he joked.

Bec smiled and introduced us all.

“Which house is yours?” she asked.

“See the one with the flames shooting out of it? That one,” the man said.

Bec balked and stammered to find the right response.

“Oh don't worry about it,” he said, waving a dismissive hand at the mess. “They were doing some work up there, a guy dropped his cigarette. Not a big deal. No other homes are affected. No one was hurt, that's all that matters.”

Bec and I shook our heads. Here was a guy literally watching his house burn, casually making small talk with a perfect stranger. You would have had to take me away in one of the ambulances, I'd be so insane. He was seemingly fine. No one was hurt. A roof's a roof. Not a big deal.

It was a great lesson in perspective. It didn't make the stress of the last few days magically fade away, but it did make me a little ashamed of my initial selfish attitude about helping friends move. If this guy could take some time to greet a new neighbor in this moment, surely I could spend a few hours helping the people I love.

Though I don't think I should ever help them move again. First time brought an ice storm, now actual fire? What's next? Sharknado?

Probably best they just stay put for a while. Or forever.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Inviting Stress

In any good rom-com featuring pending nuptials (and really, which ones don't?), there's an obligatory scene in which the Bridezilla and her dopey, don't-wanna-be-there groom are in a stationary store, the woman ferociously scrutinizing font styles while the bored man rolls his eyes, makes a crack about every curly script looking exactly the same, then does something doofusy, like knocking over a pristine display of ballpoint pens or something.

Has this ever happened in real life? Do couples really invest much time and energy agonizing over whether they should go with “Fancy Script” or “Fancy Script – Bold?” Call me unromantic (or just lazy) but the idea of spending more than a minute pondering which font captures the love I have for my husband makes my eyes glaze over quicker than you can say “response card.” I prefer the invitation process to be quick, painless, and involve as little human interaction as possible.

When my cousin got married, she made her own invitations, and they were lovely. I decided to follow her example. She walked me through the process, and it sounded ridiculously straightforward. Step 1: Go to Party City and buy an invitations set, complete with response cards and envelopes. Step 2: Use the accompanying online program to design the invitations and response cards. Step 3: Take that design to Kinko's, hand them your Party City sets, wait a day, annnnnnnnd DONE! Address, mail, and that is it.

So I set out on a Sunday morning, sure as anything that I'd be sending my invites out on Tuesday. I picked out an elegantly simple set, ivory paper with a glittery flower border tucked into a glittery half-sleeve with a tiny white bow at its center. I figured I'd print today, stuff and address Monday, and mail Tuesday. Done and done. I bought three of the sets ($75 total, oh yeah!), and within an hour, was on my computer with JT nearby choosing our wording and font. The online program only offered about eight fonts, six of which looked like a child had scrawled them in crayon, so narrowing down the choice to swoopy (Edwardian) or super swoopy (“Formal”) required no effort on our part. Edwardian it was. Onto the wording.

This was when I made my fatal flaw. I decided to consult a wedding etiquette website and learned that invitations are supposed to be HARD. There's required wording for weddings in which the ceremony is open to all guests. There's another option for when the ceremony is private. There's rules about how parents' names appear. There's rules about how your names appears. There's rules about rules. I quickly learned that unless I followed each and every one of these rules, no one would come. Bah. 

It was just before midnight when I landed on a wording I thought would do the least damage. Thirteen typed lines = four hours of deliberation.

OK, so Step 2 had not been that easy. That was OK. All I had to do now was print out a prototype, take it to Kinko's and voila! Only problem was I don't own a printer. (Shut up. I haven't had a real need for one since college, and I can't justify the cost of buying one for the one or two times a year I do. Oh, and I'm cheap.) I called my cousin and asked if I could use hers. That was fine with her, and we planned to meet the next day to get it done. Woo hoo! Back on track!

Turns out, like an ass, I did not save the invitation properly in the online program. So as soon as I logged on, I was met with a blank invitation, its emptiness mocking me and sending a shot of panic up my spine. Yet, if it was possible to find a silver lining to the prior evening's hellfest, it was that I had agonized so intensely over the damn wording that I had memorized each syllable. I wrote it all up, checked it over twice (cut and pasted it all into a Drive doc because ANNOYING), hit print, and snatched up my prototype. Finally, progress!

But then, the hell? Despite the screen displaying no such thing, a thick black box ran around the text of the invitation in my hand. At this point, I had already invested more time and energy in this mess than I'd ever planned, so I decided that it was just a mock-up, and surely the copy place people could rectify this one tiny detail.

An hour later, the scowling face of the man behind the Kinko's counter told me I had been wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

Apparently, not only was there no way to eliminate the offending black box, but the entire hard copy was useless. The copy place literally could not make a copy of it. Creepy Copy Guy, with his greasy pony tail, '80s dad glasses and swarmy sneer, had acted like the mere suggestion bordered on blasphemy. They needed the whole shebang in digital form. The only other option was for them to build the whole thing for me in-house. Furiously annoyed at the idea of creating the whole thing AGAIN on my own, I figured handing it all over to the pros would be worth a couple extra bucks. I conceded.

“That will be $49.99, plus tax,” Creepy Copy Guy said.

I crooked an eyebrow skyward. Was he freaking kidding me? Fifty bucks for them to mess around on a computer for five minutes? Eff that! “,” I said, pulling the stack of blank invitations back to my chest. “I'll do it myself, thanks. I'll be back.”

I stomped out of there, irritation itching all over me like ants on a discarded cracker. How had this been so easy for so many brides who came before me? Had Kinko's higher-ups decided that simply allowing customers to make copies no longer fit their business model? Were they expanding into psychological research, and was I nothing more than a guinea pig in their latest study? (“OK, they still think we're a copy place. Let's see what happens when we refuse to make copies. Mwahahahaha!”)

The next few days involved two more store visits, two dozen phone calls, countless emails and about 30 mockups until the Kinko's folks were able to produce something that could pass as an invitation. I'm still not clear as to the problem – something about the script font unhinging the printer's inner flux capacitor leading to a clash between the monitor's sensibilities and the parchment's ink-to-page ratio – but it literally took four people six days to fulfill my request.

When I finally went to pick up the invites, Creepy Copy Guy shoved them at me like he couldn't wait to be rid of them. I took them under my arm, feeling relieved yet utterly defeated. I had my invitations, but at what toll on my overall well-being? I was seeing fonts in my sleep, hearing Creepy Copy Guy in the voice of every man, twitching every time my phone binged, alerting me of a new email. Would I ever regain my sanity? Probably. Would I ever go to Kinko's again. Abso-fucking-lutely not ever ever ever ever.

I gave myself a couple days to recover, then called Mum and my sister-in-law, Nik, and asked if we could all get together and get these bad boys assembled, addressed and the fuck away from me. They obliged, and we gathered at Mum's one night to finally put an end to this BS. We laughed and chatted as we worked, all in an assembly line, me stuffing, Nik stamping and Mum address checking, when Nik stopped and sucked in a tiny gasp.

“Sis?” she asked, her face ashen.

“What's wrong?” I asked.

She replied in a near whisper. “There's nowhere for people to put their names on the response cards.”

I paused, head cocked slightly to the left. She was right. They simply said:

Attending?     Yes       No

Nowhere for their names. Granted, people could write them in if they remembered to, but there was nothing to prompt them so how many would really think of it? And the return envelopes were all posted, so not everyone would write in their return addresses. In other words, it was highly likely I'd be receiving RSVPs and have no earthly clue whatsoever who they came from. 
Mentally, I raised my fist and shook it furiously while shrieking “KINKO'SSSSS!!!!”

Mum froze. We all just stared at the pile of completed invitations in the middle of the table. I felt sick. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. Why wasn't anything ever easy? Why was this the most complicated task I'd ever attempted? Why could my life not just be like one of those chick flicks, where planning the wedding happens over the course of a fun-filled montage set to the tune of some cheesy wedding-themed song?

And why, oh why, had I not just called the damn stationary store to begin with?

Updated: Thank God Nik realized our big gaffe when she did. We ended up devising a system in which we numbered each invitation and made a list of the corresponding guests. It was actually kind of fun getting the responses and being like, "Ooo! Number 32 is coming! Who's that?!" Crisis averted. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013


In the beginning, wedding planning was a snap. JT and I were very much on the same page when it came to crossing things off our to-do list. We banged out the big stuff fairly easily. We'd ask ourselves what we really wanted, consider if it was worth the trouble of exploring other options once we found it (answer: no), and moved on.

Conversations about the biggies typically went like this:

Me: “Ceremony?” Him: “Backyard wedding?” Me: “Agreed.”


Me: “Reception?” Him: “Not too big.” Me: "Agreed."

Me: “There's a nice banquet hall by our house.” Him (two seconds after we went to look at said hall): “Agreed!”

Everyone We Told About These Decisions: “Don't you want to look, like, everywhere else and drag this decision out for months and months, slowly driving yourselves insane?

Us: “No!”


And so on and so forth. It just worked. That went on for awhile, but I should have known it couldn't last. It soon became apparent that while deciding where 100-plus of our friends and family members would eat dinner one night is bizarrely easy, determining which hair piece I should wear the day of the ceremony is UNGODLY HARD.

Dammit if those details don't start dooming every thought in your brain, rendering you incapable of thinking about, talking about or dreaming about anything other than what color shoes your bridesmaids should wear: gold or nude? This shit matters, people. Or at least it does when you've already endured months of planning, the stress of which was building, growing somewhere tucked away in your subconscious, waiting to strike. You'll be going through your life, everything's hunky dory, then suddenly, the only thing you can conceivably care about is what color ink you're going to write the seating cards with.

Everybody hits this point during wedding planning. They make reality shows about women who can't manage to stay sane during the torture that is the last few weeks before the wedding. The word “bridezilla” is practically up for entry into Merriam-Webster. But I'm here to tell you that this can happen to anyone. Any bride can snap at any time about anything. And for me, that thing was shoes.

When I tried on my gorgeous, lacy, sparkly, perfect, ivory wedding dress, I was so pleased that it fit so well. As I spun and twirled, the tiny clear sequins shimmering, the delicate lace swishing, I looked down and realized it hit the floor perfectly. Just the ever-so-slightest bit of a flair in the back, but upfront, the length was absolutely ideal.

“Look how perfect it is!” I said to Mum, swirling some more and smiling ear-to-ear.

“It is,” she said. “But you're probably going to have to wear flats.”

I stopped, mid-twirl. Flats? Blech. That word was barely in my vocabulary. Yes, I'm 5-foot-nine, but that has never stopped me from rocking whatever footwear I see fit, and typically, that means sky-scraping stiletto heels, towering wedges, or pointy four-inch pumps. Sure, it basically leaves me as tall as a normal person on stilts, but I simply don't care.

The idea of flats, especially on my wedding day when I wanted to look my absolute best, was less than appealing. But she was right. The dress hit the floor so perfectly, there was no way around it. Anything more than a kitten heel would hike the gown up off the floor, like I was anticipating a flood hitting mid-ceremony. Ugh. Not good. Flats it was. And ivory ones at that.

And so the search began. Any time Mum and I were out and about, together or not, we'd stop in the closest shoe store and do a quick pass. For months, this produced absolutely nothing. Each pair was either 1. white, 2. silver, 3. too tall, 4. adorned with some massive bejeweled cluster at the toe that guaranteed to tear at the delicate lace of my dress. Initially, this was no big deal. We had months to find the right shoe. It actually became a little funny. Mum would call and say, “I found your shoe!”

“Great! What's wrong with it?” I'd ask.

“Oh, it only comes in lime green. But other than that, we're all set!”

We'd laugh, not caring because it really wasn't a big deal. We'd find it eventually. Everything else had come together so easily. It was ridiculous to panic.

And then, the three-months-til-the-wedding mark it. And suddenly, panic was all we were capable of.

“WE HAVE TO FIND SHOES!!!” Mum said for the eight-gillionth time that week.

“I know, I know,” I said between short gaspy breaths. “We'll make it happen. Sunday. We'll shop. We'll go to the mall on the other side of town, that swanky one with the Nordstrom's and all the designer stores? If we can't find shoes there, something is seriously wrong.”

Something was seriously wrong.

Row after row, and nothing even came close. Everything was too high or or too off-color. Every stinking pair. I couldn't believe it. And in a dazed shock, Mum and I walked out into the parking lot.

“I can't believe it,” I muttered. Mum just silently shook her head, too stunned to speak.

“How can this be?” I pleaded with her. “You cannot tell me that I'm the first bride in the history of matrimony to need flat ivory shoes! What is going on?! I'm gonna have to buy another dress!”

Mum snapped into action. She grabbed my wrists, and looked me dead in the eye. “Do not give up!” she shouted, causing passersby to gander over in our direction. “I need you to stay strong! If you give in, I'm gonna....sniffle....I'm gonna....”

Seeing the sheer desperation in her eyes, I knew I had to buck up. I threw my shoulders back, flipped my hair and look ahead. 

“OK," I said. "We can salvage this day. Let's hit up Charming Charlie's at the Galleria. At the very least, I can get my girls their jewelry.”

She gawked at me. Yes, I was technically giving up. But I couldn't look at another shoe. Sparkly jewelry would fix this.

Twenty minutes later, we were in the Galleria, on our way to Charming Charlie's, when a shoe store caught my eye. Some invisible force caught hold of me and dragged me over to the window display, like a meth head shuffling up to his dealer. I knew this was a bad idea, but I couldn't resist. But then, there on a shelf in the middle of the store, sat my wedding shoes.

“HAAAAAAAAA!” I gasped and ran into the store, Mum following and clutching her heart.

“You just scared the life out of me!!” she screamed, but as soon as she saw the beacon of hope I held in my hands, her fear turned to utter and complete joy.

“That's them!!!!” she shrieked, as I cuddled the gorgeous, flat, peep-toed, ivory flats in my hands. They were perfection. Everything I wanted and more. Hope surged in my heart as I flagged down the closest store associate I could find.

“Excuse me!” I waved excitedly. “Excuse me, but may I please try these in a size 9?” Mum and I swapped a secret smile of glee before the associate answered.

“Those shoes?” asked the tall, emaciated, forty-something woman, dressed in skinny jeans and a white blouse, a silk kerchief knotted ever-so-daintily around her neck.

“Yes!” I beamed. “These shoes! Size 9, please!”

The associate gave me a bored eye roll. “Flip them over,” she said flatly.

Flip them over? The hell? Um, is this some kind of fancy pants shoe-buying process I was unaware of?

She made a motion to indicate I should flip them over so I did.

“What size do they say?” she raised an eyebrow.

“Um, 7,” I answered. Was this a test? Was she deciding if I was even worth owning such a wondrous pair of shoes?

“Riiiiiiight,” she sneered, enjoying this. “And you found them on the clearance rack. So that means that's the only size.” She flipped her hair, turned and did her best Naomi Campbell stomp as she stalked off.

My mouth hit the floor, and I jogged to catch up her.

“Miss?! Miss!!” I gasped when I finally reached her. She arched her eyebrow so high it about hit her hairline.

“Please, I was wondering if you could maybe order them? You see, I really need this shoe...”

“No,” she spat out, then said the worst thing she could have possibly said at that moment. “Discontinued.”

A prickly heat washed over my heart, and my pulse hit Mario Andretti speeds. There was no air, only rage. My head spun, and when I opened my mouth, the voice that came out was not my own.

Oh, hi there, Bridezilla.

“Listen to me!” I boomed at the bewildered woman. “I. Need. THESE. SHOES!” The voice shrieked so shrill, I feared the store's glass windows would shatter. “I'm getting married in less than three months, do you understand?” I peered at her horrified face. I didn't care. She was going to do what I said, like it or not. “NOW! Get on that computer,” I pointed sharply at the store cash register, “And find out how I can get those shoes. I don't care if you have to special order them. I don't care what it costs. I don't care if you have to ASSEMBLE THEM YOURSELF. JUST DO IT. RIGHT NOW!!!!!”

The woman's face went pale. She said nothing as she slinked away to the register. I felt Mum behind me and swung around.

“That was....something,” she said, grinning sheepishly. But I couldn't laugh. I could only feel frustration and anger and complete panic. When the associate returned, she wisely kept a good five feet between me and her.

“I'm so sorry, but it is impossible to order them. They truly are discontinued,” she flinched.

I sighed and hung my head. “Fine,” I uttered.

I barely made it to the door before I felt tears sting at my eyes. Mum was at my side and she guided me to Charming Charlie's. I barely glanced at the endless merchandise. I was so done for the day – a day that I had essentially wasted when that was the very last thing I could afford to do right now. I just wanted to go home, down a box of wine, and forget anything ever happened.

But then, somehow, a tiny voice in my head began to squeak in the background behind Bridezilla's seemingly endless rant. She was still bitching about the shoe situation. But a voice, which sounded much more like my own, was pushing through all that racket.

“You get to choose how you act, you know?” it asked timidly. “You don't have to give in to this ridiculous fake stress. I mean, it's shoes. You yelled at someone and ruined a perfectly nice day out with you mom over shoes. You get that, right?”

In that instant, I realized that no amount of wedding stress was an excuse for me to treat other people that way. This ended now. In my mind, I tracked down Bridezilla. She was still raging, urging me to go back and get that snotty shoe store associate in a headlock. I concentrated hard, and with a poof, she vanished. Easy as that. The second you decide to stop letting those things matter so much, guess what? They don't matter that much.

In a couple of days, the shoes I had found online the evening of that fateful shopping excursion arrived. They fit fine, looked fine and would serve me well.

I crossed shoes off of my list and moved on to the next thing.

As I read the next item, Bridezilla seemed to whisper the word into my ear: “Hair piece,” she sneered, bursting with self-satisfaction.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Letting Go

My step-dad, Kip, came into my life when I was 9. At first, our relationship was rockier than an unpaved country back road. Still seething from my parents' divorce, I met every rule he set with utter defiance. Not used to being around children, he set impossible standards. It seemed we didn't stand a chance.

But somehow, we survived. As the years went by, resentment turned to understanding, attitude turned to appreciation and today, I consider Kip to be more than my dad. He’s my great friend, confidant and advisor. I know for a fact I would not be as driven, conscientious and detail-oriented as I am without him. And I happen to like those parts of my personality, so for that, I will always thank him.

When it came time to pick a song for Kip and I to dance to, I wanted something that was Something different. Something that celebrated our unique bond. None of this “Butterfly Kisses” BS. Something fun, upbeat, positive.

I wanted Journey.

During the course of countless family road trips, Kip had instilled within me a deep appreciation for Journey that has stuck throughout adulthood. Something about that odd mix of sappy sentimentality mixed with '80s electric guitar riffs resonates with me. Every time the tape would loop back around to “Don't Stop Believin',” I'd feel that inexplicable rush. Today, if there’s a jukebox nearby, it’s the first song I play. It is the only song I’ve ever karaoked to (extremely poorly and extremely drunkenly).

The closest I've ever come to death was when, in a packed Pittsburgh bar, I played “Don't Stop” on a jukebox. I figured everyone would love it as much as I do. I figured wrong. The town's beloved hockey team, the Penguins, were, at that very moment, facing off against the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. As soon as Perry belted out: “Just a city boy! Born and raised in south Detroit!,” a bar full of eyes turned away from the TVs showing the game to glare at me. My brother, who realized my faux pas, downed his beer in one gulp, grabbed my hand, and got me the hell out of there. We stopped just outside the door so Eric could double-over with laughter, stand back up, look at me, and double-over again.

When it came to narrowing down songs to dance with Kip to, “Don't Stop” was on the top of my list. But when I pitched it to him, I got shot down quicker than you could say “Steve Perry.” Kip didn't want to do a fast song. He wanted a slow song. And he wanted it to be special. I was upset, sure, but I knew the moment was about more than just me. If Kip wanted something different, I could be open-minded. So I began to search the webs for some suggestions, and he did the same.

It didn't take long for me to realize Kip's definition of “special” and mine are two very different things.

A quick Google search landed me on a page listing the top 100 father-daughter dance songs. Some were easy to dismiss. (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”? Really people? The lion sex song?) Others made it onto a list I emailed Kip, including a top three of “My Girl,” “Stand By Me,” and “You'll Be in My Heart.” “Surely he'll love one of these!” I told myself. Wrong again.

“He doesn't like them,” my mom told me during our fourth phone call about the song debacle. “He's researching more options right now. He's actually sitting at the computer ...crying.”

“Crying?!” I was stunned. Kip doesn't cry! Kip doesn't emote anything. Unless cranking up the volume when my mom and I dare to talk to each other when he's watching golf on TV constitutes “anger,” the only feelings Kip has as far as I know are annoyed and really annoyed.

“Yes, crying,” my mom, chuckled her signature Betty Rubble laugh. Yes, she was laughing as her vulnerable husband wept in the background. And that's why I love her. “Honestly, Rachel, I had no idea picking this damn song would cause so much drama.”

“I didn't know either, Mum,” I said. “What the hell is he listening to that's making him blubber like that?”

“I don't know, some song about loving you first.”

I groaned. I knew exactly what song she was talking about. I had ruled it out immediately for two reasons.

  1. I had been to no fewer than a dozen weddings where a bride danced with her dad to “I Loved Her First.” It was just so predictable. I wanted something unique, not the Standard Father-Daughter Dance Song.  
  2. Its message is so not us. The whole song is about a father loving his daughter “from the first breath she breathed.” I'm thinking if I hadn't breathed until age 9, I'd have more pressing problems than what song to dance to at my wedding.

So when Mum put me on speaker and they both asked me what I thought, I mustered the most excitement I could.

“S'alright,” I said.

“You don't like it!” Kip, who had composed himself, was annoyed.

“It's just,” I said.

“Ok, whatever.” Really annoyed.

I sighed. “Look, we have a ton of time. We can keep looking. If we can't come up with something we both like, then I'll be fine with this.” Luckily, they couldn't see my shudder.

“Fine,” Kip said.

For the next few weeks, I got daily updates from Mum. Songs he'd vetoed. Songs he'd liked, but only kind of. Songs he wanted me to hear. Songs he never wanted to hear again.

“Just pick one,” Mum would implore. “Any one. I don't care. Just do whatever you have to do to put an end to this hell!”

By this point, I would have gladly agreed to do interpretive dance to “Butterfly Kisses” if Kip wanted to. He still hadn't found The One. And until he did, we'd all suffer.

Until one day, when Mum called me on my cell. The only reason I knew it was her was by the caller ID. Otherwise, I would have sworn someone was holding their phone up to an episode of “The Flinstones.”

“Hmmmmhmmhmhmhmhmh!” I heard the Betty Rubble giggle the instant I hit Answer.

“Oh, God. What?” I asked. When something strikes Mum as really really funny, she loses control. She literally can't stop laughing. There have been many times we've had to leave places because Mum couldn't get ahold of herself.

“Kip Hmmmmhmmmhmmm picked a song,” she said through gasps of air.

“Oh?” What could be funny about that? What had he picked? “Jungle Boogie?” “I've Got Friends in Low Places?” “Single Ladies?”

“Tell me,” I demanded as Mum continued to cackle.

“Oh, you'll have to hear it for yourself,” she sniffled a few times as she's laughed herself to the point of tears. “Check your email.”

I hung up, and pulled up Gmail. I had one new message. It was from Kip with the subject line “This is it!!” I opened the message, and clicked on the link to the YouTube page he'd sent. It took me to a song performed by a person named Crystal Shawanda called “You Can Let Go.” I'd never heard of either. I hit play.

The opening verse lured me right in. A five-year-old child tasting her first freedom while learning to ride a bike and telling her father he could let go. Cute. Appropriate. Kip had taught me to swim, drive, write a check. It was fitting. I was on board.

Verse two: A woman on her wedding day telling her father he could leave her in the hands of her new husband. Okay, a little anti-feminist, but lovely. I could really get behind this one. Until...

Verse Three: The father freaking dies! Literally, he dies. He's in the hospital, barely hanging on and the daughter tells him – you guessed it – that he can let go.

I called Mum before the song dad had even croaked.

“You've got to be effin' kidding me,” I said.


“He dies! Mum, the dad DIES. Is he joking? Is this some cruel joke? IS HE KIDDING?”

“He honestly doesn't see a problem with it,” Mum said, cracking up again.

“Okay, listen. Please tell Kip that death will, in no way whatsoever, be part of my wedding day! Is he insane? Is he trying to tempt fate? This from a man who already had one stroke and spent a month last year in the hospital with pneumonia??! Is he fucking kidding???!!”

“Right?!” Mum was enjoying this way too much.

“Okay, just tell him I've had a change of heart. Tell him I listened to ‘I Loved Her First’ a couple more times and now I really like it. Tell him that's the one I want.”

“As long as that's what you really want,” Mum said.

“It is. It's fine. No one dies in it. It will do just fine,” I said.

After Mum and I hung up, I sat back down at my computer and really did listen to “I Loved Her First” again. It was just as sappy as I remembered. It was cheese on top of cheese on top of sugar.

But after about the third listen, I decided I kind of liked that Kip saw our relationship that way. I could live with it. It would be great.

And everyone would make it out alive.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Something Old

“Vell, vhat do you zink?” the tall man scowled at us in the most intimidating, pretentious, “you don't deserve to be here” manner. 

In other words, he was treating us exactly how I'd expected a jewelry dealer in a store with a big name and bigger price tags would. Between humming the store's jingle in my head for the past ten minutes and trying to place Mr. Better-Than-You's accent, I'd barely paid any attention to the shiny sparkler he'd placed on my ring finger.

I glanced down and watched the fiery stone flicker in the store's overhead lighting. It was lovely. It just wasn'

“It's beautiful,” I said, and the salesman nodded in agreement. “It's just so...”

“So?” he asked, eyebrow arched.


There was no arguing with that. The band all but screamed “Every Kiss Begins with Kay.” It just didn't mesh well at all with my engagement ring. My ring - my beloved, gorgeous, simple ring - was so very loved for so many reasons, that finding a wedding band to go with it had become my newest mission. And so far, squat.

The salesman shot me a smile slick with hidden irritation as I slid the band from my finger. He stuffed the ring back in its display case and slammed it shut.

I stood, pulling JT up with me. “Thanks, but I think I'll keep looking,” I muttered as we made our hasty exit. Once beyond the salesman's sight, JT stopped and turned to me.

“So, that was about our last option and you still haven't found anything you like.” The poor thing was right to be annoyed. I'd dragged him to at least four other stores in the mall just like the one we'd just left and I still hadn't found The One. We'd bought his wedding band an hour earlier when we'd spotted it on clearance. It'd cost a whopping $100, including a lifetime protection policy. I was super glad we'd scored it, but I also realized my hesitation to refinance our mortgage on anything for me was becoming a problem.

But I just had to find the right ring. My engagement ring is so incredibly special, it simply requires something perfect. My ring is a white gold band with a perfect oval stone at its center and two small diamonds perched on either side. You just don't find rings cut like ovals anymore, and that's because mine is truly one of a kind. My dad, who passed away seven years ago, had given this ring to my mother when he proposed in the 1970s. She later gave me that very ring, and when JT got the itch to propose, he had the diamond reset in white gold. It's utterly priceless. I love it, and its companion had to be perfect.

As I pulled the car out of its parking space, I sighed. Now I couldn't cross “Buy wedding bands” off my to-do list provided by The Knot. I'd subscribed to the site minutes after becoming engaged and checking items off the list brought me more joy than actually doing the required tasks. 

“Look, there,” I pointed out the window as we passed a strip mall just past the mall. “What's that? An estate store?”

JT peered out the window in the fading sunlight. “Yeah, seems to be.”

“Should we give it a try?” I glanced at the console's clock. 8:45 p.m. We were likely pushing it as far as the store's hours. Having worked in retail, I understood the extreme sense of “oh, hell” store clerks feel when someone comes into their store mere moments before they flip off the flashing florescent “Open” sign.

“Why not? Let's do it.”

“I don't know....” I said, as the car coasted past the shopping center entrance.

“Come on, babe. We're just going home. What does it hurt to stop?”

Just then, another entrance to the shopping center presented itself right at the far corner of the parking lot. That surely was a sign, right? I pulled in.

We parked, walked up to the storefront, pulled open the front door, and walked directly into an episode of “Hoarders: Antique Shop Edition.”


JT and I lurched backward as a mangy chihuahua-like beast hurled itself directly us. As JT kept the dog at bay, my head swirled at it took in my surroundings. The room was a narrow hallway, both side walls lined in floor-to-ceiling glass china cabinets, each one's doors threatening to burst open at the sheer volume of their contents. Inside, organized in no discernible pattern, perched everything from porcelain dolls to cuckoo clocks, Jesus statues to tattered doilies. Every inch of spare space left uncovered by the china closets was home to a piece of furniture apparently plucked directly from Mrs. Havisham's abandoned parlor: low musty chaise lounges coated in stained upholstery and an inch of dust, an eight-feet-tall grandfather clock whose counter lumbered back and forth as if drunk. Oil paintings sat propped up everywhere, each one depicting one anonymous subject or unrecognizable scene or another. The squishy shag carpet beneath our feet was a rusty gold, nearly the same shade as the tiny canine still attempting to intimidate us into retreat.

“Barkley, down!” a voice floated from the back of the room. A waft of cigarette smoke initially obstructed its source from view, but as he took a few steps toward us, I could make out his features. This man, with the slight hunch to his back and slowness to his step, was easily in his seventies, and had clearly kept his fashion sense from the same decade. His polyester shirt was unbuttoned just enough to reveal a tuft of shiny gray chest hair. His obviously dyed hair, a brassy chestnut, sat swept back in a style that stopped just shy of being a true pompadour. He wore no fewer than five garish rings, their jeweled centers each spanning an entire knuckle. The barrage of bracelets he wore jingled as he shuffled toward us. Six chains rested around his neck, landing delicately in the patch of chest hair.

Ladies and gentleman, Yinzer Liberace.

The dog had obeyed his master's command, leaving us in the foray and rushing off to his owner, who scooped him up and planted a big kiss on his tiny snout. The man turned his attention to us, and gave us a “come closer” gesture. We took a few steps, sinking into the plush carpet and landing directly in front of a waist-high glass display case.

“Hello, I'm Jerry," he said. "What brings you in this evening?” 

I looked to JT, who gave me a “you go for it” nod. 

“I need an, um, wedding band?" I laughed so nervously, even Barkley felt the awkwardness in the air. "And I thought that since my ring is kinda old, maybe I could find something also, um, kinda old to go with it?”

Jerry placed Barkley back down on the floor behind the counter then turned back to me. He stuck his hand out palm up. I slid my own on top of his, and he wrenched my fingers to within an inch of his face to inspect my ring.

“Oh, yes, this is old,” he said, turning my hand this way and that, his own rings clanking together as he did. “And quite beautiful, if I might say so.....I might just have something here...” He dropped my hand and peered into his display case. I did the same, and saw pretty much what I'd expected. One gumball-sized bauble after another in every color of the rainbow. 

I prepared to shoot JT a discreet peace sign as it was clearly time to peace out.

“Now this just might work,” Jerry said at the same moment. I whipped back around and there, in his hand, was my wedding band. A stretch of tiny diamonds perched in a fine row, elevated ever so slightly above the white gold band that held them. It was clearly old, and dirty at that, but the second I saw it, I'd known I'd found my perfect match. I lunged for it.

As I slid my engagement ring off and the new/old piece on, I gasped. It looked so sublimely ideal on my finger like it was made for me. As I pulled my engagement ring on top of it, it nestled into place like it had finally found its home.

And it was in our price range. I was so beyond sold. Jerry offered to clean it for me and told me to come back the next day to pick it up.

When I returned, he had a line three-deep at the display case. I took my place behind them, and watched as one woman after another picked up pieces they'd had on hold, then naturally, modeled them for all of us. One had a sapphire so deep I initially thought it was an onyx. Another had a ruby that shimmered in the light every time she so much as moved. I moved to the front of the line, excited and confidant I was doing the right thing. Jerry let me try it on one more time, and the ladies gathered around me, gushing at its beauty and congratulating me on my pending nuptials.

Now I smile for even more reasons every time I look down at my left finger. I totally get that for some people, it's all about going to Jared. Give me Jerry any day.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Only In My Dreams

I'm in my wedding dress, but I've forgotten to wear the special, super-low cut bra that I bought because it would remain perfectly concealed under my strapless gown. Instead, I'm wearing a regular old ratty bra that I'd typically have on underneath a cable-knit sweater during an off laundry day. Everyone can see the straps protruding out from my sweetheart neckline. They droop loosely over my shoulders like unruly stands of fettuccine. The band of the bra sits a good three inches above the back of the dress, like a faded white censor strip placed on the wrong side of a topless women.

I'm at the altar, and I know the bra is all wrong. More than all wrong, down right ridiculous. But I've come this far, and I can't go back. I hear a low roar as the crowd of guests takes in my unorthodox underwear, and I flush a thick scarlet as the tears hurl out from behind my eyes. This is all wrong. How could I let this happen? Why the hell didn't one of my bridesmaids stop me before I put one toe outside the dressing room? This is unbearable. I have to get out. I turn around and run, as laughter pounds at my ears. Even JT lets out a little chuckle. I run past pews of hysterical guests, who only roar louder at my escape attempt. I flee past my parents, who can only shake their hung heads in shame. This is by far the worst moment of my life.

Until the next time I have a wedding-related night terror, that is.

My dreams have always been bizarre. Either they're so realistic and in tune with something I've been thinking about that I catch myself a week later realizing something I thought happened, didn't. Or they're so banana-sandwich insane, I'm afraid to tell even JT their plot for fear he'll decide to leave me at an inopportune moment, like say, mere seconds after I recite my vows to him.

Wait, that was another dream. And I woke up with a knot in my chest, tears on my face and a horse voice from screeching after him as he took off with a faceless, scantily-clad wedding crashing bitch.

Wedding planning is wreaking havoc on my sleeping brain, and I have no way whatsoever to stop it.

Last night, I had a dream that JT and I were walking on a path in a beautiful forest. Sunlight streamed through branches of tall trees surrounding us. I thought we were alone until a woman walked past us. We all exchanged pleasantries, but her smile lingered a just moment too long as she nodded in JT's direction. As she walked on, JT suddenly stopped and turned to me. He confessed he'd always harbored a secret crush for this mystery woman and wondered if I'd be opposed to him pursuing it now.

“But we're in the middle of buying a house!” I exclaimed. “And we're engaged!”

“I know,” he said solemnly. “But I really want this.”

Stunned, all I could do was nod. The instant my head ducked in agreement, JT was off like a bullet, chasing after his future happiness.

I woke with a start, then shook JT awake to relay my most recent subconscious episode.

“Hmmm,” he said, rubbing sleep from his eyes and yawning. “Was she hot?”

He's really got this reassurance thing down.

Truthfully, his nonchalant response more likely stemmed from the fact that I'd woken him with these nocturnal tall tales no fewer than three times. In the last week.

There's truly nothing to be done to stop these bizarre scenes from running through my mind. All my life, my dreams have run the gamut from introspective to nonsensical in extreme waves I have no control over.

When I was younger, my dreams were so strange, my parents encouraged me to keep a dream journal. A sample entry:

Nov. 12, 1997

Last night, I had a dream that I was in this jail place and all of the sudden, Leslie Nielsen came flying out of the sky. He had a gray suit on. When he landed, his head fell off. Then me and this other person were trying to stop Leslie Nielsen and this other really pretty dark-haired woman from doing something. We were on their shoulders pulling their heads off, but they were still alive. Toward the end, we were all laughing about it.

The what? So wait, Leslie loses his head once, then it regenerates, and I and “this other person” try to rip it off again? And who's this dark-haired woman? Priscilla Presley? You know what? It doesn't matter. We all laugh it off in the end.

The bottom line is none of it really means anything. In the weeks since I've become engaged, I've dreamed that my Mum, in a fit of rage over me not sending out the invitations in a timely fashion, forced me to run an obstacle course while wearing my wedding gown. I dreamed that my ceremony was moved from my parents backyard to a tree house, and people, especially the grandparents, were furious that they couldn't scale the branches to get to it. I dreamed that no one came to the reception and JT and I ended up with 130 plates of chicken Marsala to eat on our own. It's all nonsense.

Yet, in some way it's serving some purpose. Because while I'm tormented in my dreams, I remain calm and collected in my waking hours. Things are going well. Details are falling into place.

Check with me in a few months*. I can only imagine the dreams I'll be having then. Probably something along the lines of JT swapping his tux for my wedding gown, rallying the wedding party to participate in a celebratory game of rugby in my parents' backyard, then hooking up with the caterer.

I'll be in the tree house, looking for scissors to cut these damn bra straps.

*This was written about four months before the wedding. And yes, the dreams did get worse. I actually think I exhausted my subconscious, because about a week before the wedding, they finally let up. I think my brain had its fill and was all, "ENOUGH." Either that, or it simply ran out of horrifying scenarios to throw at me. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Strange Bedfellows - Or, What To Do When Your Brother Sleeps With Your In-Laws. (Part Two)

*Be sure you've read the first part, otherwise what follows will make no sense whatsoever to you. Heck, it makes no sense whatsoever to me, and I was there.

“Yeah, Jeff, what's up? You OK?”

“Oh, I am darlin'. But you're gonna have to come getcher brother out of my bed.”

I took a second to let that demand sink in. Nope, still didn't make sense.

“I'm sorry, what?”

“Follow me,” JT's dad said, helping me up off the floor and guiding me toward the room he and Dawn occupied.

My eyes immediately went to Dawn. She stood in the corner of the bedroom in her jammies, doubled over and red-faced, trying so hard and failing to control her laughter. My head swiveled right, and I saw the cause. There, at the foot of their bed, splayed out horizontally, was all 6-feet, four-inches of my brother. He was wrapped up in the covers like a burrito, his head poking out the top. His chest heaved in slow rhythmic movements and he emitted the slightest of snores. He was out cold.

I looked to Dawn who could only shake her head and cry even harder. I looked to Jeff, who was able to offer somewhat of an explanation. Apparently, a few minutes prior, they had heard someone come into their bedroom and use their adjoining bathroom. They then watched as the figure cozied up at the foot of their bed. They assumed it was JT, starting to feel the throws of his Platinum evening and wanting to be close to a toilet. So they decided to leave it alone and go back to sleep. That is, until the figure cleared his throat, and Dawn didn't recognize the tone as belonging to her son. She snapped on the bedside light, and saw my brother snoozing at her feet.

“I tried to wake him. But he just grabbed the covers and yanked 'em back over his head," Jeff said. "So, I'm looking at him, and I'm just thinking, 'Well, huh.'”

Well, sure. What else do you think when a strange man slides into your bed and bogarts the covers? 

“You did the right thing,” I assured Jeff, and silently thanked God for my future in-law's awesome sense of humor. “I'll see what I can do.”

I approached the bed slowly, as though Eric was the tiger in “The Hangover” and I was a steak-wielding Stu. I lightly touched his shoulder and gave it a quick shrug. Nothing. I pushed harder. Nothing. “ERIC!” I shouted.

At this, my brother popped up like a meerkat. He looked me right in the eye, looked in the opposite direction, stood up, and walked out the door. We followed and watched him pass right back out on the air mattress next to a snoozing Nik, who never even flinched. JT was still passed out on the couch. Dawn, Jeff and I gaped at each other wide-eyed as though a unicorn had just presented itself, did a quick tap dance, then disappeared.

“Huh.....well, night, darlin,'” Jeff said, ushering Dawn back into the bedroom.

I lay back down on the floor, wildly confused, but no worse for wear. I fell back to sleep with my eyebrows arched in perplexed wonder.

The next morning, I was the first to wake. I grabbed a cup of coffee and went out onto the balcony to consider the prior evening's events. It wasn't long before a sleepy-eyed Eric joined me.

He lumbered out, pulled a patio chair over, slumped down, and lit the day's first cigarette. I watched him closely, as if engrossed in a Discovery Channel documentary.

“Hey,” he said, leaning back for a stretch and yawning.

“Heeeey,” I said, finally pulling my stare away. Oh, this was too good.

He puffed and I sipped for a full minute before I couldn't wait any longer.

“So,” I said, pausing for effect. “Do you want to talk about the fact that you slept in Dawn and Jeff's bed last night, or...?”

Eric looked at me completely puzzled. His head cocked to the side. And then, slowly, wonderfully, his expression began to change. His scrunched eyebrows shoot heavenward, and his spine snapped straight. He gripped the handles of the chair, and every ounce of color drained from his face.

“WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO?!!!” he shrieked, looking at me pleadingly. I turned around, and just as I'd hoped, Dawn, Jeff and a brought-up-to-speed JT and Nik were all standing on the other side of the glass, laughing their faces off.

“OH MY GOD!!!!” Eric bolted inside and hung his head. “I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! I'M SORRY! I'M SO SO SORRY!”

Dawn and Jeff just cried and cried and shook their heads. Finally, once we all could breathe again, Dawn put a reassuring arm around Eric.

“Well, honey, I guess we are all really family now. We've slept together.”

Eric continued to freak out, but eventually the mocking stopped. We've never fully let him off the hook, though. When they come to Pittsburgh to visit, Dawn and Jeff love to make a big deal of not revealing which hotel room is theirs lest Eric decide he wants another late-night snuggle.

It's all in good fun, and Eric has learned to live with the teasing. He blames the whole thing on sleepwalking.

I blame crab fries.