A Cheese-Colored Sweater

I had a phone interview this morning, so I thought I would dress up and put myself into the formal "I HAVE TO BE INTELLIGENT" mode.

I suppose my babblings worked to an extent, for I was asked to participate in a Skype interview later this week. (If that means moving my computer so I'm not back-lit, and redistributing all the [packed] cardboard boxes so they can't be seen, so be it.) Admittedly, it is going to be strange having a Skype interview. My computer is in my bedroom and, no matter where I put it, my bed will be in view. That's right ... the bed with the
leopard print bedspread.

Anyway, after the interview, I was angsty and bored. Borsty. A terrible combination when it comes to sitting at a desk working, but a wonderful attitude to have while gallivanting about my backyard (and my neighbor's backyard, while I'm at it).

The result: a hilarious first attempt at an outfit post.

The "I'm NOT GOING LET GO [of this wall], JACK" pose.

The "I'm Going to Replicate a Pose Until The Wind Strangles My Hair into My Mouth" pose.

The failed close-up shot of my belt, which, by the way, I found while cleaning out my room. I've probably had it since I was eight or nine. THIS IS NOT TO SAY that I have grown economically rotund; this is to say that I am now a full foot taller and have hips.

The "Why Did No One Tell Me I Was Wearing a Skirt" pose (a la Steffy). (And, for the record, she does not fail. Rather, she looks like a graceful statue. Me? I'm a grasshopper in an A-line.)

The "My Neck Must Look Majestic" pose.

The "Confused Toddler" pose, complete with one sleeve up, one sleeve down.

The "My Neighbor is Watching Me So I'm Going to Take Pictures of A Ring on A Bush" shot.


Yes, I have abnormally large hair follicles. I would say I'm part hobbit, but that isn't biologically possible, given my height.

Me, fifteen seconds before this picture was taken: Why, hello there, Mr. Fence Post. You will SERVE ME as my makeshift tripod as I commune with nature.

Sweater: thrifted
Skirt: Old Navy (four years ago)
Belt: from childhood (found while cleaning)
Necklace: antique (found while cleaning)
Ring: heydayhandmade
Shoes: Gordmans (again, about four years ago)

Cleaning Out the Basement

I was crying.

It was 1:00 in the morning, a Thursday, and I was sitting on the floor, my back against my bed, crying.

My room was strewn with boxes, garbage bags and mildew. For three days, I had been lugging up from the basement molded, dusty cardboard boxes labeled “DAWN SAVE.” I had sorted through Barbie accessories, parts of Melanie’s Mall. I had sat, patiently, on my bed, pouring myself into plastic pieces until I could formulate that yes, this was a Barbie kitchen and no, I don’t have the rest of that Barbie grocery cart.

I recognized plastic brushes, miniature baby bottles, tiny hairdryers and mismatched shoes. Horse collection, Littlest Pet Shops, Melanie Mall, Barbie, respectively.

So much pink. So much plastic. I couldn’t believe what a capital materialist I was when I was six, seven, ten. Boxes and boxes and boxes of toys and playthings and dolls and animals and beads and paper items that had to be sorted, sniffed, thrown out because of the mold infestation.

The Polly Pockets were taken out and examined. I opened each case, sprayed it with Lysol. I watched the beaded moisture dry as I played with each delicate piece. I remember this. I carefully clicked open a mint-green case, the first I had ever owned. Larger than other kits, I opened up the bottom compartment and saw all of my tiny dolls there, collected and untouched for years. They were still clean, still in perfect condition. I never broke anything.

Blue battery acid had leaked into one box, and the bottoms of two others were completely worn through. My room, which usually carries the scents of acutely named Bath & Body Works products, was suffocating. The oppressive atmosphere reeked of basement, of mildew and stuffy, unwashed clothes. I could smell it on my hands, the rug. The wooden floor, normally spotlessly slick, boasted the blackened imprints of rotten boxes.

My nose was stuffy, I sneezed frequently. My eyes would water, my legs would cramp. I didn’t have room to sit; my computer chair had been moved into the living room, and my bed was covered with clean, fresh containers in which I would place the sorted, freshly-Lysoled items. The space beneath my desk had been plugged with stuffed animals, and my closet blocked off with a collection of cats worthy of being featured on Kitschy Living.

It was a disaster, my room. My obsessions with cleanness and neatness and organization were gone and erased and covered; they were buried in cardboard and breakable plastic. I couldn’t sleep for the three nights my room was buried; it was suffocating and claustrophobic. I couldn’t understand how my grandmother, a hoarder of furniture, clothes and expired food, could nest in a similar environment. My furniture (which also happens to be lined up with my floorboards) was inaccessible. Indeed, I had but one small circle on the floor of my 15’x15’ square bedroom in which to sit and sort.

And so I did. Cross-legged, cramped and claustrophobic, I sorted. Trash. Trash. Smells like mold, trash. Keep. Maybe. Keep. No. Ha! I remember this. Donate. Donate. Donate. Donate. TRASH.

The Goodwill pile on the far side of my bed continued to grow. It encompassed stuffed animals, unread and uninteresting books, aged dolls and unopened puzzles. Totes of smelly school papers were dumped out and trashed, but not before I examined national skills assessments.

I noticed that my handwriting had not changed since seventh grade. I realized that I had studied igneous rocks in eighth, and that I had, quite literally, forgotten everything. I had studied vocabulary words that I had long since incorporated into my daily language. I had excelled in spelling, sometimes struggled in science. Teachers frequently commented that my frequent absences had kept me from learning, and yet there, on my report card, were six straight As. Was I always a perfectionist?

The answer is yes. I’ve always had order, always had a system. Each thing in its place, its proper place, at all times. I have always known where to find a specific item, and I have always taken care of my belongings.

When I unearthed Barbies from numerous boxes and totes, I found that I had more than thirty! I kept just a few for my future child/children, and donated most. Some I trashed. It was devastating to me, to physically place something my mother had worked hard to purchase, in a trash bag. But there was no way I could keep her; her hair was moldy, her feet spliced open, her face smudged. I wiped the dirt from my old doll’s face, mentally apologizing for the years of inadequate storage.

The first thing that nearly made me cry was a music box. Other items, such as photographs and baby clothing, had forced me to stop a minute or two and reflect. But the music box was different. It was cracked, absolutely, split down the side and back. It was from my early days at “The White House,” when I was two, and I would creep out of my crib and across my room to wind it up. The colors fascinated me, and I would always listen to the gears turning, whispering, gritting against each other as they caused the fiber optics to turn yellow, orange, red, green, purple.

Thinking of the old house, and how I would sit on the floor, blanket in hand, and watch the music box, I set it down in my doorway. I plugged it in, turned the switch. Yellow. Peach. Orange. The colors rotated and twisted, a palette of digital color. I slowly clicked the knob until it could go no further. It tinkled, tapped, tuned itself and hummed a cheery tune I recognized. My back against the wall, I slid down and onto the floor. I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my head on them, humming to the tune. I remember this.

Ollie came to investigate. She sniffed me, my feet, my hands, the music box. She pawed at it once, meowed, then left. She didn’t like the noise. I, however, found it comforting. It was painful, reminiscing. We grow up too fast.

I found a Popular Mechanics magazine from 1998. Its feature article concerned The Titanic, a ship that I had been interested in long before the movie. Along with the magazine came several books, all of which concerned the doomed luxury liner. Then there were the chapter books, ones I had read four years before I heard the name “Leonardo.”

Titanic was a fad, an obsession of mine. I had the cinematography books, the biographies of the stars. However, I found other remnants of childhood trends, including a green Duncan yo-yo (fifth grade), a collection of horses (fourth grade), a box of magic tricks (third grade) and all of my Goosebumps memorabilia, including a furry green … hand. Electric green, it resembled a muff from four feet away, with the exception that it featured inch-long black claws. What the hell was I thinking? I asked myself, stroking the fur. I can’t keep this. I rediscovered Beadie Babies (I once had more than 100) and photographs from Las Vegas. There were the Lisa Frank folders from second, third and fourth grades, and my Lion King merchandise from before that.

In the folders were worksheets that I had designed myself. Math problems, science questions, fractions, sentence structure. I had taken my elementary textbooks home with me and copied the extra credit questions out of the back. I had had the intention of educating myself throughout the summer, and advancing my multiplication and division skills beyond that of my classmates.

Scarily enough, I did.

I found the formal workbooks my mother had purchased when I was seven. They were for sixth grade math levels, and included percents and basic algebraic expressions. I had begun to teach myself “if 6 + x = 12, then what is x / 3?” years before I needed to learn it.

I discovered Beanie Babie fan packs and Goosebumps fan packs. I found kitschy McDonalds toys. I found a key chain that reminded me of a friend back in Indiana, because, for awhile, his desk had been littered with liquid-dispensing illusions. After dumping out a large container of stuffed animals, I noticed that one Teeny Beanie carried the initials of my cousin. I reached my phone (buried beneath Barbie clothing) and texted her.

“I’m cleaning out all of my childhood things and found this with your initials on it. WHY DO I HAVE THESE THINGS?”

In the box with the Lisa Frank folders, I found a blue air chair.

There was the pillowcase mom sewed for me when my room was painted Parisian style, with vertical lines alternating white, rosy pink, white, rosy pink.

There were some items that I cruised through, blazing through memories and broken childhood. There were innumerous paper items that I had made for my Barbies, as well as my Beanie Babie city. I had boxes of “cheese” for a grocery store, folded and colored paper that served as candy bars. I had bunched and glued Kleenex to toothpicks, declaring it cotton candy. I had made books, food, electronics and Christmas presents. I made sure to represent any mundane item in my character’s lives, window shades, sleeping bags and pillowcases alike. Even they had miniature air chairs. I remember these.

But none of these things—the Beanie Babies, the Little Tyke dollhouse, the school papers, the music box—compared to what I deliberately waited to do last—the books.

There were nine boxes total, but I slowly whittled and narrowed them down to six over the course of the afternoon and evening. The boxes, which are now stacked, packed and ready to go, contain Goosebumps books, American Girl books, Sabrina books, books from the Animorphs series, Dear America books, the entire collection of Little House on the Prairie books, and stacks of Berenstain Bears books.

I don’t know how or when or why, but I remember, suddenly, that I was crying.

The books of my childhood were scattered about me. My knees were once again up to my chest, but my left hand graced the covers of the books on the floor, touching Fat Cat and Miss Lollipop’s Lion, a book whose inside cover boasts my mother’s childish scrawl, “Wendy, 1963.” I cracked each both of the books open, reading to myself and laughing at the absurdity. It was when I was skimming across the poverty of Miss Lollipop when I began to feel my eyes well up.

I realized that of all the toys, of all the saved clothes and photographs and memories, that the things that meant the most to me were the books. My mother had sacrificed so much to purchase me new things each time we went to town when, really, it was unnecessary. I was happy with my books, with the adventures of bears and witches and cats and pioneers.

I remember this. I remembered sitting on the green shag carpet of “The Yellow House,” turning page of each picture book. I would read aloud but, even then, my impatience would encourage me to skip larger passages. I remembered snacking on Oreos, sitting up in bed with one leg crossed over the other, a book propped open on my stomach. I remembered the first time I read Harry Potter. I remembered flipping through Animorphs books, watching the character turn to animal, animal to character, and again. At the time, they would have all been kept on the two-shelf white bookcase next to my bed.

The books were unlike anything else, for I remembered each one; the character names, the pictures. I cried with recognition and with heartbreak, knowing that if I read them now, I would be a pathetic, unemployed twenty-three-year-old remembering days gone by. And yet, that is exactly what I did.

I read The Cat in The Hat. I read Miss Lollipop’s Lion. I read The Fat Cat and Meet Clifford and A Fly Went By and Are you My Mother? I read each and all, at 1:00 in the morning, with wet eyes and a swelled heart. Book after book, I skimmed and read and admired and looked at. And with each one, with each page, with each beloved mildewed page, I ran my hand back and forth, back and forth, whispering, I remember this.

Oooh, You're Making Me Live Now

This past weekend was short. It was stacked against us from the beginning--threatening us with intense emotions and the potential for tears of either happiness or frustration. It would be hard, and we--the family--knew it would be stressful. The bride and groom denied their anxiety, and insisted that, as they would "not be stressed," that anyone else was welcome to experience the pain and suppression of an event so overwhelming.

The view from my mom's hotel room included a corner of Walmart, as well as this horse pasture. Spying on the horses became a hobby while in her room.

It came to no one's surprise (except possibly their own) that they were part of numerous small arguments. The groom, my only sibling, called his best man four times before rehearsal even began Friday afternoon.

"He's stressed," Tom told me as we stood in the sanctuary, watching Keith pace back and forth. He smirked. "He'll call me and I'll say, 'Hey, how are you doing?' 'Fine. I'm okay.'" Tom paused and made sure I was listening. We both smiled. "'Are you sure, Keith? Do you need me to come over?' 'No, no. I'm okay. Just checkin' in.'" Tom laughed a voluptuous laugh, one that echoed about the church entertainingly. His eyes ignited. "He's stressed."

"I know."

Keith strolled from one side of the side to the other, half-listening to my uncles-turned-groomsmen suggest possibilities. Their roles in dozens of weddings in the past prompted them to offer assistance, which my brother probably found oppressive. "How are you ushering out the extra overflow seats over there? How do you want the ushers to look? How do you want us to look? Do you want us to have the jackets buttoned up? Open? How do you want us to stand?"

But those things--the wait, the mild arguments, the chaos--don't enunciate what everyone had waited for, what everyone had planned for and bookmarked and anticipated--the union of two souls.

The ceremony itself was a perfect harmony of short and sweet--the sixteen-minute-long nuptials were interspersed with tearful vows and promises of eternal love. "I'm honored to marry Keith and Alicia," the pastor announced, "A couple whose first date was held at this church." They smiled at the memory, and everyone laughed as the pastor continued. "I'm glad Keith is so cheap," he joked. "I vividly remember giving them a ride home, and I never considered this--today--to be what it is."

As one of five bridesmaids, I witnessed my brother pledge his vows to his wife. I knew that the guests could not hear his words, as they were only whispers, but I can attest that they were truthful, and spoken from the heart. His entire being was wrapped into those truths, and he gripped Alicia's hands with assurance when he whispered, "With all that I am." His face, his words, his promises, his eyes--I was not the only one who cried that day.

I felt distant; my brother was giving himself, devoting himself to a woman resplendent in a sparkling white gown. Simultaneously, I was close enough to him, just within distance to see the sheen of tears on his cheeks. I could see the streaks on his face, the glossiness of his dark eyes. My own face welled, and I blinked repeatedly. I gazed to the right, to mom, to Hans, looked at them as vows were repeated, promised. Mom, I knew, would cry, but not when I was looking. I looked at my father, my aunts. Teresa sat diligently, interested. Maureen, when I looked, lifted her glasses to wipe the dampness from her plump face. I was later told that my father--a wall, a porous rock when it comes to emotions--even had a moment of tearful joy.

We all smiled. We all cried. Alicia, in a moment of delicateness, tenderly wiped away Keith's tears as the pastor spoke of their attributes. "Keith, Alicia has said that you have respected her for who she is now, and that she is grateful for the love you shower her with."

At the reception, they fawned over each other, kissing like giddy teenagers. They shared dances, laughed as Keith--handcuffed and blindfolded--dentally searched for a garter. Keith jubilantly paraded with a tambourine as Phil Collins, his favorite, crooned to the guests. The cutting of the cake. The tossing of the bouquet. The unfortunate non-slushie-ing slushie machines. The melting red candles. The red rose petals. A broken vase. Candy favors. A second helping of tacos. Michael Jackson. Hugs. Kisses. A dollar dance.

I cried more than my mother when Hans and I danced to "Over The Rainbow," the song Keith dedicated to my mother. (For years, she has told us that this is the song we have to play at her funeral.) "Keith, I can't dance to this," she insisted. "No, mom! Come on!" "Keeeith," she whined." "GET UP!" he instructed. "You're going to dance because you're not going to hear it when you're dead!" Mom did as she was told, laughing later about the truthful absurdity of his statement.

I danced with Keith, awkwardly at first, then pleasantly, then joyfully. A blurry photo of us laughing is in my position; my teeth are wide with a smile. Dad danced with Alicia. Members of my family danced with each other. "What the hell is a box step, dad? Can't we just dance?" My cousins would ask their father, who was eager to show his children--daughters and sons alike--his moves. "You gotta have rhythm!"

It was only around 9:00 when the party ended. The mothers had been tackling the clean-up, blowing out candles and throwing away tablecloths. The cake was packed up and the slushie machine that had never frozen its contents was shut down. Purses and shoes were recovered. It was discovered that Keith's car had been vandalized with shaving cream, silly string, and toilet paper. Indeed, he spent the first hour at home sweeping up rose petals that someone had scattered about the house.

Hugs were exchanged, congratulations were given. Family that I had not seen for months--years even--spoke kindly to each other, joked, laughed, reminisced, commented positively on the black, white and red decorations. "You did good," they said.

It was over. The bride and groom would leave for their road trip soon, a time of post-marital bonding. Hans would leave on a flight early the next morning, and my heart sagged with the emptiness of saying goodbye. Not even 48 hours earlier, I had run out of the hotel lobby and into his arms, clasping his shoulders and letting myself be crushed in an embrace I had craved for four weeks. I hugged my brother as much as I hugged Hans, repeatedly saying "Congratulations" and "Don't go" to them, respectively. And as for "I love you?" That's a mantra I said to them both.

Ten months ago, they were engaged. Ten months ago, we began planning for a weekend that would drown us with emotions, smother us with stress. Ten months ago we began arranging for family and friends to gather from across the United States. Ten months ago, we could imagine the short-lived whirlwind of an August wedding, of tearful, joyous vows and an eternity of devoting glances.

Ten months ago, I could not have imagined standing in the vestibule of a church, looking at my mother, my brother, my father, myself, and saying to Hans, almost admirably, "This is my family." Ten months ago, I could not imagine myself on a dance floor with my aunts, uncles or cousins, who debated the choreography of "Thriller" in addition to obediently dancing to "Cha Cha." Ten months ago, I could not have imagined my mother divulging her secrets to her ex-sister-in-law. Ten months ago, I did not even know my mother had secrets to share.

Sure, the weekend was stacked against us from the beginning--weddings automatically run on high emotions. And sure, the weekend was short. It's not something I can forget easily, though; my chest continues to swell when I think of my brother's loving and dutiful face, and my mother still brings her hand to her mouth in a rush of joyful tears when show her this picture, that picture. "They'll like that," she'll say, struggling through tears. "Yes they will."

And in the end, that's all that matters; the frustration is steamed out, and all that remains is an enveloping and inviting joy for the couple who now shares everything--a house, a bathroom, a family, a church, a last name. Congratulations, my loved ones.

Ben Wilson

When this scheduled post is shared with you, I will be two hours away, preparing for my brother's wedding. Less than a year ago, he proposed to his girlfriend of four years and on Saturday, he will publicly swear his love to her. It's been stressful, these past few weeks, and I have much to share--about the wedding, about my job search, about the infinite memories and feelings and thoughts and photographs that spun about me as I unpacked and divulged into childhood memories.

But, for right now, it isn't about me; it's about my lovely brother, Keith, and his soon-to-be wife, "Mrs. Keith." My only part in the day is to play the part of bridesmaid (here's hoping I don't teeter too much in my patent leather shoes). So here is to the beginning of a lovely weekend, a wonderful marriage ... aaaaand wells of tears from my mother.

And now, the artist of the week...

Ben Wilson is an English wood carver and outside artist. He carved sculptures in wooded areas, but would often find many of his works vandalized and destroyed. Having a "strong dislike for rubbish, he developed a new art form that is both vandal-proof and beautifies rubbish."

He paints chewing gum.

An article in the New York Times says that "a woman named Vassiliki, who was passing by, said that when she came upon Mr. Wilson, prone and seemingly inert on the sidewalk, 'I thought he wasn’t very well.' She added: 'I was like, "What is he doing?" And they told me: "He’s painting the chewing gum." '

That is exactly what he was doing. Mr. Wilson, 47, one of Britain’s best-known outsider artists, has for the last six years or so immersed himself in a peculiar passion all his own: he paints tiny pictures on flattened blobs of discarded chewing gum on the sidewalks of London. So familiar is he here, painting in any kind of weather, that he has become something of a local celebrity and mascot.

'He brings a lot of joy to a lot of people,' said Peter Kyriacou, who owns the local Snappy Snaps photography store, which has a number of Wilson works out front."

Wilson softens the gum with a blowtorch, sprays it with lacquer and then applies three coats of acrylic enamel. He uses tiny brushes, quick-drying his work with a lighter as he goes along.

To see more of Wilson's work, visit Flickr.

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