A Cool 100

April 2, 2017

Today we celebrate my wife’s grandmother’s 100th birthday.

Try to imagine–seeing all those years, weeks, days. Living. Outliving.

Hours before the reception I am tying off helium balloons. The playing cards attached to strings aren’t heavy enough to weigh the balloons down, so we drape them in groups of five around coat hangers and the necks of unopened wine bottles. The young cousin in charge of the helium can’t quite master the art of tying balloons, but he fills them with aplomb. He is territorial about the tanks and demanding when a balloon is ready. “Who’s going to take this pink? WHO’S GOING TO TAKE THIS PURPLE?”

A woman who works for the church tells us the security alarm goes on before midnight. “There’s a motion sensor,” she tells us. Our eyes involuntarily drift upward to the half dozen loose balloons, some stringless, swaying ever so gently in the circulating air. One of them hugs a light fixture.

We unload cases of beer and start emptying bags of ice into clear tubs. I want to break up the ice more, smash it like we used to in bathtubs before parties, but I’m worried about scuffing the floor. I accidentally send chunks flying when I try to use my keys as an icepick. I remember to set out a cup to save bottle caps for an aunt, though I know I’ll find at least two when I empty my pockets later.

I can’t remember the last time I was inside a church. Probably the service for my grandmother’s memorial. The sanctuary was dark and close and stifling hot. At one point I swayed, caught myself, wondered if I might actually pass out.

This one is lighter, bigger. The stained glass almost seems new. We hear the quartet practicing in the choir loft. Balloon boy prowls behind the altar, tests a microphone.

In the hymns and prayers I find myself mute. I’m rusty with the call and response, but more than that I feel strange going along with the motions. My lips don’t move until Hail Holy Queen. “How does everyone know these lyrics?” my brother-in-law whispers. He doesn’t remember this song from Sister Act.

The hassocks fascinate me.

After family photos–“That was perfect! Now just three more!”–we walk back to the assembly hall and find ourselves partly locked out. We sneak in through the church offices.

It is quickly apparent that there are more bodies than chairs. “We figured there’d be about 250 people,” one cousin tells me. “There are 200 chairs.” I resolve to stand for the duration.

On this side of the hallway, with all the tables and throngs of people behind glass, we are like a small zoo exhibit. Younger cousins drift in and out, eating and adding sugar to their lemonade. I try twice to hold a baby so that his mother can use both hands. Twice he decides against it.

I keep catching flashes of my wife from across the room. Relatives and old family friends recognize her. Sometimes she waves in my direction. At certain moments–once during the homily, once while I’m watching the endless slideshow of photographs–I am struck by how naturally, how easily this family welcomed me. How even Grandma tells me she’s glad to see me.

As the reception winds down we’re herded outside, handed balloons. The playing cards have special backs, informing the reader that Marietta Gesenhues turned 100, and that she would love a card or note sent to her address. Surely most of the balloons will return to the ground not far from here, but I like to imagine some of them setting off for parts unknown. Crossing state boundaries. Delivering themselves at the feet of children just beginning their own centuries.

We sing happy birthday and release our strings. The sun reflects off the playing cards as they rise, a glittering array winking out of view.

Try to imagine–seeing all those balloons. Seeing all those days. Living. Outliving.


Here We Are–This Must Be the Beach

September 1, 2015

My dad says that whenever we’ve arrived at our destination. Someone–his mother, maybe? I really need to start writing these things down–used to say it, and now he does. We don’t travel much as a family, so I haven’t heard it all that often. Nonetheless, I’ve picked it up myself.

This must be the beach.

We were headed to the beach, and now we’re here. So this must be the beach.

I lived essentially all of my adult life (so far, anyway) in a city. I grew up on a farm–most people know this about me, if they know much about me–but it didn’t take me long to replace the evening music of crickets and irrigation sprinklers with the irregular chorus of sirens and subway thrum.

Thirteen years ago I stepped into Harvard Yard with a guitar case and a stuffed panda bear and most of the other belongings that mattered to me. I stayed in Boston for two degrees, three Red Sox World Championships, three apartments, one disastrous breakup, two teaching licenses, one totaled car, the Marathon bombings, two adopted cats with snipped ears, countless beers, too much snow, many oysters, the issuing of the first legal same-sex marriage licenses in the nation, and my own wedding, just over a year ago, looking out over the Charles River.

The city adopted me. I don’t know if it loved me, but certainly I loved it. My heart catches in my throat when I see the skyline coming into view as my plane approaches Logan. I sweated there, and bled, and cried. I shouted myself hoarse, nursed broken hearts and whiskey, breathed the air and knew I was home.


Now I am back in a place where tractor fumes and cut hay dance on the breeze. These hills aren’t my hills, not yet, but the grass and the sky and the deer are familiar. Drivers wave when you pass on the road. Walgreens sells cases of Bud. At the high school football game you will run into women from your third grade class, now bouncing fussy babies on their hips. You may not recognize that guy in the John Deere hat, but his cousin used to date your babysitter.

Crossing the northern California border used to unlock my heart. It was almost a physical thing, that small release of a part I didn’t know I’d hidden away, revealed only when I finally came home. I haven’t felt it, not yet, but every hummingbird and every back porch chips away at the dirt from the city.

Not home. Not yet. But the beach, maybe. This must be the beach.

Hey, I wrote a thing!

January 24, 2014

Specifically, I wrote a thing for The Toast, which you should all be reading in general because it is wonderful. You should read my piece at least five times each so the editors ask me to write more things for them.

Food porn

December 11, 2013
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eagle.mk’s photostream on Flickr.

I Don’t Expect to Sleep Through the Night

October 18, 2013

I happened to catch an interesting story on NPR yesterday about new research on the benefits of sleep. The super non-sciencey version is that our brains (like other animals’ brains) actually flush out toxins while we sleep, which has implications for research on Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses. I didn’t know this before yesterday, but apparently dementia disorders are overwhelmingly associated with sleep disorders.

My interest in the story is twofold. First, I’ve struggled with insomnia for pretty much as long as I can remember. I basically thought this was just an unfortunate side effect of being me, but as it turns out, it’s actually a very common symptom of bipolar disorder, and one that is delightfully (for the most part) treatable with the right combination of medication.

Secondly, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Her deterioration was deeply painful for my mother and her siblings, and a fear of developing dementia is now something my mother and I share. Like the risk of developing bipolar disorder (which is pretty huge if one parent has it), the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases considerably if the disease also runs in your family. The initial articles I found about potential links between bipolar and Alzheimer’s made my brain hurt (on account of not being so sciencey) but I would be curious to see if research on two conditions so strongly linked to sleep disorders could both be aided by this new discovery on sleep and the brain.


October 9, 2013

So I’m a big sports fan, which isn’t something I’ve written about all that much, although I was once really excited about starting a feminist sports blog. (That is still a thing that would be awesome to do. I’m even still sitting on the WordPress name. I am just awful at organization.) I think part of the reason I don’t write much about my love for sports is that it can be tough to be a female sports fan, especially if you’re also a fan of women’s athletics. Mainstream sports media dudes are, by and large, dudes, and their treatment of women’s sports (and women in sports journalism) runs the gamut from total ignorance to dismissal to super gross sexism.

But that’s not actually what I want to talk about in this post. Instead, let’s think about fandom, and taunting, and young Wil Myers.
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But What’s Your REAL Name?

October 9, 2013

At least once a week someone asks me what my initials stand for. My stock answer is “My first and middle name,” which usually gets a chuckle, but almost never deters the questioner. When they realize I’m not going to tell them, a lot of people just start guessing. Curiosity is persistent, it seems.

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