Sunday, November 13, 2005


It amazes me how infrequently I follow through with things I say I'll do. I have written countless "manifestos" stating that I, Kate Hooks, will stop drinking, eating whole pints of ice cream, being late, swearing, gossiping etc. Inevitably, though, one or all of my proclamations ends up broken within a week, my manifesto ends up in the trash, and a new, modified version is written to enable the cycle to repeat itself.

Before I left for Vegas, I vowed I would give my gambling money - if I made a profit - to a good cause. Specifically, I decided I would donate half to the genocide intervention fund, and half to Ronic at the grocery store. Secretly I didn't want to give any surplus cash away; I wanted to buy a new pair of jeans to better compliment my recently burgeoning butt (thus the ice cream manifesto). On my way through the grocery line, though, I found myself telling Ronic that I was going to Vegas for a few days, and that if I won any money, I'd give her half. I sort of winced as the words came out of my mouth, because, like I said, I wanted a new pair of jeans.

In Vegas I met Brett and his friend, Keith, and spent the weekend learning why the City's nickname is "Sin City." We all met to watch a bunch of concerts, but managed to spend a sufficient amount of time at the blackjack tables as well. At least Brett and I did (we both have addictive personalities). So 48 hours after landing in Vegas, I managed to leave $280+ richer, with (what I imagined to be) a permanent headache, a perpetual ringing in my ears from the music, and a grand total of 20 minutes of sleep. When I entered my classroom on Tuesday morning, I noted how difficult it would be to keep what happens in Vegas in Vegas, when I looked like I'd been hit by a truck. Fortunately I must look like I've been hit by a truck on a semi-regular basis, because no one seemed to notice.

That Tuesday afternoon, after school, two things happened:

I bought $225 worth of "Save Darfur" bracelets for my students to sell at the school store.

I gave Ronic $100 at Giant.

So secretly, I managed to lose money. And I realize that the Bible emphasizes that you should give just to give, without sharing every "selfless" thing you do with the world. And of course I agree, but I need to emphasize a revelation - giving does amazing things to one's insides. It's like all the self-doubt and disappointment and guilt that riddles a person's inner-most thoughts is immediately superceded by pure hope and love and softness. My headache, gambling guilt, and beer gut-induced self-deprecation became insignificant when Ronic called my house to tell me she loves me. When I gave her the money on Tuesday afternoon, I was shaking, and she started to cry, held up the money and told everyone to "look at what her customer gave her." (Which was rather embarassing, actually). I cried though, too. Especially when she told me that she'd hit that part in her life where she thought she couldn't go on, and that God had sent her an angel from heaven in the form of, well, me. The customers behind me didn't seem impatient or angry that I'd caused a scene, and had forced the already backed-up line to extend a little further down the cereal aisle. The woman behind me asked where the money had come from, and I told her it came, ironically, from "Sin City." She laughed and assured me that "Jesus knows my heart," and doesn't mind if I gamble every once in a while.

My students think I'm crazy for spending $225 on rubber bracelets to fund the African Union, but I think it's good for them to see follow-through from me for a change (especially since I never return their papers on time).

So what is the point of writing this? It's honestly not to prove how virtuous I am or to suggest that I'm an "angel sent from heaven." I'm neither. I'm a mess, and the only reason I didn't leave Vegas with even more money, is because Brett and I were both physically incapable of leaving the blackjack tables while we were up more than $1800 - neither of us has much self-restraint. It is, however, to say that Brett is probably right: Mother Theresa might have been completely selfish in her selflessness. Because hearing Ronic tell me she loves me, and seeing my students wear their green Darfur bracelets religiously, feels much more gratifying than buying a pair of jeans.

Besides, now I have incentive to stick to my "no more consuming entire pints of ice cream in one sitting" manifesto. I need to fit into my current pairs of jeans.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


There are some things that people say that I never forget. Sometimes the words are formative, and sometimes they're destructive. Either way, people's indiscernible fragilities make me cognizant of how frequently I speak, and of how infrequently I think before doing so. Right now I teach 180 high school students - I think about the words that come out of my mouth sometimes when I'm frustrated, and when no one will sit down or agree with my contention that it really is possible for a 10th grader in Baltimore city to stop genocide in Sudan. I told Cortez that I wanted to run him over with my car - what if he becomes an ax murderer as a result of my irresponsible use of hyperbole? What if Cortez, or any of my other students, are like me: ostentatious and ridiculously self-assured yet secretly vulnerable and sensitive to the potentially destructive words of others? I should have studied bugs or worked in a lab training rats.

When I was 16, April, a friend on the track team, told me my stomach was too fat for such a skinny girl. I was 5'10" and weighed 135 pounds, but all of a sudden I was self-conscious about something other than the ferocious zit on my chin. I started doing sit-ups. 11 years later, I gave up because the washboard abs never materialized. I still don't like my stomach, though.

I also remember my high school friend, Selina asking me how I could be so stupid. We were at a friend's house doing math homework my senior year. Some type of trigonometry, I think. I was in 12th grade. I haven't taken a math class or balanced my checkbook since.

In ninth grade I remember Neil telling me I was pretty. He was a curly-haired senior on the cross country team, and I was a gawky long-legged freshman, covered with mud and sweat, topped off by frizzy post-running hair. Still wearing our respective ITHACA cross country mesh tank tops, we were crammed on a yellow school bus on our way from a mid-week meet. I don't remember Neil's last name, nor how I did in the race that day, but I do remember thinking it was some sort of miracle that someone found me pretty. Especially after a cross-country race. People must not have called me "pretty" very often.

Rather than list the innumerable things that I've selectively ingrained into my bizarre memory, I write this to encourage you, when you're breaking up with someone, to choose your words more carefully than one usually does. Sometimes things stick and, like your favorite jeans that you wash with a piece of gum in the pocket, there is no amount of peanut butter or patience that will ever return things to normal. Jeans, post-gum, are always a little bit jacked-up.

When Jim and I broke up, he left quickly. He had to. He was upset, I was upset, and I knew that if he stuck around for more than 8.5 seconds I'd start frothing at the mouth, beating him with my frying pan, or cleaning the toilet with his head. So he packed fast. I was still wearing my pajamas, sitting on the floor, clutching my knees to my chest. Everything around me started to look blurry and the back of the couch was scraping into my backbone and the carpet itched and I couldn't figure out what to do. So, while he packed, I did nothing. I couldn't even think or pray or remember that I was stressed-out about the school year that started in two days. I might have started rocking back and forth a little; that's what crazy people do, I think. I felt like I was going crazy.

A few days later I realized how much stuff he'd left at my apartment. In addition to the mess of what used to be me, he'd forgotten a lot of his crap. CDs. Pictures. Books. A few t-shirts that I'd worn to bed earlier in the summer. Looking for an excuse to call him and hear, "April fools, Kate! I'm coming home, I love you, I never cheated on you etc. etc.", I decided to call him. Since it was August, there was no "April fools!" rather a terse, emotionless conversation which went something like this:

Me: Hey, how are you.
Him: Not great, how are you?
Me: I'm sitting under my desk.
Him: Why?
Me: I just am. Listen, you left a lot of crap here. Do you want me to mail it somewhere, or do you want to come by and pick it up sometime I'm not here?
Him: Neither, don't worry about it.
Me: I'm not going to throw out all of your pictures and books and stuff. Where do you want me to mail it? You left an entire CD of vacation pics here...
Him: Listen Kate, if I left it there, I obviously didn't care that much about it anyway. If it's still in the apartment, sell it on eBay or throw it out - I don't want it back.

Rationally, I knew he was talking about his stuff. Rationally, I knew he probably wanted his books and CDs and pictures back, but felt guilty having me mail them all to his "new" mailing address. Still, the only thing that came out of my mouth was the word, "Clearly." I sucked in a breath of air that tasted like dirt, and the conversation ended shortly thereafter.

I since resolved to throw out most of his stuff. I finished the book that I'd borrowed from him, and gave it to a friend, turned a few of his T-shirts into gym t-shirts and tucked the shoes he'd bought me for my birthday, and the Ray Lewis jersey I'd bought him for his, to the back of my closet, and threw the rest down the garbage chute.

My advice, though, is this: if, while in the process of shredding someone's heart with a rake, you need to move out, please choose your words more wisely if you leave things behind. It's inevitable that you'll forget a few things; material things you can qualify much easier than the mess of a person you leave behind. Speaking from personal experience, though, it's hard enough to think you're dumb at math, or to spend a decade sucking in a non-flat stomach, but it's even harder to be relegated to the status of an over-listened-to CD or a paint-stained t-shirt. Personal resilience only goes so far.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Jenny and Me


To be honest I've been in a funk lately. I guess I don't really know what that means, but if funk is gunky stuff that ruins something that is otherwise good, then that's where I've been. On Thursday I woke up at 5:45, and for the 14th straight day, the sun wasn't out - nor did it show any signs of emerging. The weather outside was wet and gray, my classroom was so cold that my students took the PSATs wearing gloves, and my somewhat frizzy hair was slowly starting to resemble Don King's. I was in a bad mood. I tried listening to festive music, but happy noises irritated me, I tried to pray and my prayers usually came out as lists of requests for myself and others. Meanwhile I was teaching my students about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and while the topic should have sparked at least a moderate amount of appreciation regarding my own life, it just depressed me. I decided the world was disgusting, and maybe the best case scenario was contracting the Avian Bird Flu. Our country is entrenched in moral depravity, we're fighting a war that we shouldn't be fighting, people all over are starving to death, the Janjaweed militia is roaming around on camels with M-16 assault rifles killing civilians at a rate of 500 people per day in Darfur, and the "love of my life" cheated on me. Rationally I knew that my own life was fine, but all I wanted to do was eat pint after pint of ice cream and then complain about getting fat. Yes. I was even starting to drive myself nuts.

On Thursday night, after decimating a pint and a half of ice cream and reading about Darfur, I felt heavier. Heavier even than 6 servings of ice cream should make me feel. I sat on the couch to watch TV, but I hate TV. I listened to music, but I'm sick of all my music. I wanted to talk to someone, but I didn't know what to say, and MS stuff is bugging both of my hands, so I didn't even want to write.

I scanned my email inbox and called Jenny - one of my runner friends from Colgate. She's ridiculous and stubborn and filled with magnetism and radiance. She cracks me up. So I called her. I told her I was in a funk and it was absurd and inexplicable and there was nothing wrong, but I needed someone to talk to. She talked. She suggested about 89 things that I know I need to do, but am too lazy to do. I must be insanely annoying to talk to sometimes. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I'm lonely. I live in this stupid apartment nowhere near my friends and it reminds me of my ex.
Jenny: Why don't you move?
Me: I like my couch. But there's still this cheeseburger stain and it reminds me of my ex too.
Jenny: You could sell the couch...
Me: It's really comfortable.
Jenny: Could you talk to someone, you know, just to get some of this out?
Me: I don't have time. My insurance won't pay for it. It won't help - I already know what's bugging me.

(At this point I could almost hear the wrinkles on Jenny's forehead start to form.)

It went on like this until I started hypothesizing that I could die in a car accident and no one would ever find out. Then Jenny, who presumably wanted to flush the phone down the toilet, insisted on coming to Baltimore for the weekend instead. We got off the phone and she said she'd meet me at the train station on Friday night. Begrudgingly I agreed. There is honestly no point in arguing with Jenny once she makes her mind up about something, and even though I'd have to vacuum, I think I needed something to take my mind off of, well, me.

In the meantime, I went to bed, woke up six hours later to another cloud-ridden day, spend my "moment of silence" in homeroom internally calling on God for help, and went about my job of educating the youth of America (I like to sound as important as possible).

Anyway, it was a normal day at City High School. Normal except my 9th and 10th graders passionately assured me that we have a chance to be on Oprah if we continue our endeavors to collectively heighten awareness about Darfur. It was normal until Octavia stayed after school to watch a multimedia presentation about Darfur by the NYT on my archaic laptop, and until perpetually pissy Patricia sent me a rough draft of an email she wrote to the local news station about the genocide in Darfur.

I left school on Friday feeling a little less funky.

Then I went to Giant, the grocery store down the street from my school. I bought an avocado and chips for the weekend, and placed the basket carefully on my lap while I waited in the interminably long line. While not moving, I asked the woman behind me if she knew of any nearby liquor stores where I could actually park and get in with a wheelchair. She didn't, but I could tell she gave my predicament serious thought (more thought than a six-pack of Corona deserves). Then Veronica, the best grocery checker in the Continental United States, poked her head out of a previously-closed line, and saw me. She pointed at me and said, "Hey! I knew I was here for a reason, get over here." I felt bad - I realized I visit the grocery store entirely too often, and I didn't want to cut the line. Before I could protest, though, the woman behind me pushed me, my wheelchair and my avocados forward.

Veronica rang me up. I told her how glad I was to see her, that I'd been in a ferocious mood, and that I loved how she arranged my groceries. Veronica is seriously the most thoughtful checker-outer one can conceive of. She hangs the grocery bags perfectly on the back of my wheelchair, so they never fall off or scrape on the wheels - this is a highly under-appreciated skill.

While she arranged my avocados and chips, she told me that I'd made her think. She told me that bagging groceries really wasn't her calling and she needed to teach or become a nurse. I told her I would find some information for her and that she'd make a fabulous teacher (which she really would). Then the lady behind me told Veronica that she worked at the hospital, and that she too could offer Veronica some career-type help. Veronica looked like she was about to pee her pants. Then, as if this Giant trip wasn't good enough, the nice lady behind me asked Veronica about a nearby wheelchair accessible liquor store. Veronica couldn't think of one either, so I said thanks, acknowledged that this was sign number 895,622 that people with MS shouldn't drink and rolled towards the exit.

Lovely lady behind me stopped me. She said, "I have nothing to do right now, why don't I follow you to the nearest store and I'll go in for you."

"Seriously - this isn't that big of a deal. Don't worry about it."

Suddenly, though, I had a fan base and they were all rallying for me to get beer. Veronica told me to take help when people offered, and that this wasn't a coincidence, and the nice lady behind me continued to insist, and even the older man who looked like he was stoned started waving his fist in the air yelling, "Yes, yes!" And honestly I felt like I was in a movie.

Minutes later, the woman I'd met in Giant followed me to a nearby liquor store where I realized I had no cash. Again, I told her to forget about it. Again, she insisted. So in the middle of a gloomy Friday afternoon, I was suddenly about to accept charity beer from a complete stranger. The woman, whose name was Barb, went into the store and came out with Corona (the perfect compliment to guacamole), and I found my checkbook in my backpack to write her a check. She argued with me about the check, but I gave it to her regardless, and the two of us started talking. I talked to her about my students, and our project on Darfur, and my friend Jenny who was coming in from NYC to rescue me from my self-acclaimed funk. She told me I reminded her of her daughter who'd just died of Cancer two weeks ago. I got out of my car and hugged her and she started to cry.

I still can't think of a solution to genocide or world starvation or the 30,000 people who died in the earthquake last week. I'm still hurt by my ex, I'm still sick of MS and I'm still a little bit lonely. Sometimes I think God is wearing earplugs, and I don't have the patience to wait for a mountain-top experience or a new boyfriend or a cure for my neurological disease, or peace in Africa, but this is what I know:

Veronica shouldn't be working at Giant, but I'm selfishly glad she is.

Barb probably shouldn't have bought me Corona because my liver isn't doing so well, but I really needed her hug and I think she needed mine too.

I had an entirely unfunky, relaxing and cathartic weekend with Jenny and she left in time for me to go to church today.

It's sunny out.

My students want to be on Oprah to save Darfur.

We do what we can with what we have, and sometimes what we have doesn't seem like quite enough. On Friday, though, it did.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I like very much to make sense out of things. Particularly things that are messy. Ideally, I like to find a reasonable explanation for things before I go to bed. Which, I guess, is why I'm a habitual insomniac; some things never make sense.

For almost three months (which, in the grand scheme of things I realize is a short amount of time), I felt my "Jesusy" relationship with Jim fall apart. I felt this as definitively as whether or not I wear socks when my feet are cold in the winter, but I was too lazy to get up and find a pair. Especially since it was summer. I hated the feeling. Jim was, I thought, the one. He was it. So this whole need-for-socks feeling was very bad. Like I was sleeping next to an imposter, except I couldn't really sleep because my feet were cold and nothing made sense.

I can see now, why people stay in abusive relationships, and why drug addicts remain drug addicts until they overdose. At some point in life, we all make a decision that yields some type of euphoric sensation. For drug addicts, I suppose, it's the first high. For others it's the inexplicable intoxication of falling in love. I remember when it first happened with Jim. It was when I told him that I was broken and a complete mess, and he didn't run away with his hands over his head screaming. Brokenness can really only be attended to once it's acknowledged, and even then, it's really just shared and never quite fixed. Still, though, it felt nice to finally breathe properly; to share my insecurities and vulnerabilities - my internal mess - with someone else.

All at once (too quickly really), my inside broken bits were tenderly acknowledged and held and loved exactly as they were, and not how I wanted them to be. I felt like I was free-falling from 18,000 feet above ground, and Jim dropped out of nowhere, handed me a parachute and said, "Hey, this could be fun, can I come along?" To this day, I don't think there's anything as exhilirating or frightening as letting someone really know who you are - especially the messy parts. And this is why I forced myself to "work things out" when imposter-Jim started hanging around more often. I was completely incapable of reconciling the Jim that knew and loved me, with the Jim who moved in with me. I prayed, I wrote, I swam and I cornerned him into biweekly "are we okay"-type conversations. As his answer was an ostensible "yes", I started to think I was going nuts. At the very least I was delusional, and the whole thing scared me even more than my initial descent of 18,000 feet, because suddenly there was no one there with a parachute.

Imposter-Jim was much less sensitive than his long-distance counterpart who I'd started my relationship with; we'd visited monthly and talk on the phone for hours at a time. Once he moved here, though, he watched a lot of television, drank a lot of beer and wanted to go camping all the time. I stopped feeling delusional and reexamined my previously-acknowledged broken-bits. I decided to gather them up and build a wall between me and the Imposter. He didn't seem to notice, he was too busy reading I thought maybe he was turning into a goat - something completely lacking in human characteristics, that likes to consume garbage and is incapable of conversation. He started to talk on the phone outside of the apartment, camp more often, and drink even more beer. He stopped making eye contact. Everything seemed forced, and when I'd mention this I was chronically assured that everything was fine. I decided to turn my wall into a fortress with the new broken pieces I accumulated, and started to assemble a few weapons of mass destruction (just in case). The thing is, even with my fortress and weapons, I was still convinced that diplomacy would work and the Imposter/goat would leave, and my fortress would be peacefully disassembled.

It was right around then that I got nuked.

Even before I found out he was cheating on me, my fortress, weapons and all, were systematically annihilated. Imposter-Jim imitated the way I walk.

It was just the two of us in the apartment. We didn't have a couch or anything, so he had the entire living room for his performance; I, his sole audience, was awestruck. It was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. It was like watching a Discovery Channel special on liposuction when I can't find the remote in time to change the channel. Even then, I usually turn away - not merely because the sight of someone else's fat in a tube grosses me out, but because my own judgment of someone else's vulnerability makes me feel like a nauseous version of Beezlebub. The bile in the back of my throat was more a function of my own judgment than someone else's disgusting fat in a tube, and this meant I was not a good person. At the very least I had a lot of work to do.

When I watched Jim walk across the room like me, there was no remote to change him with. Besides, he was imitating me, and no battery operated anything was en route to curing a neurological disease. So I watched, as the person I loved leaned too far forward, lifted his right leg too high, and grabbed onto my shaky Ikea desk for balance. It was so accurate and so disgusting. My boyfriend was much worse than a goat. I refused to show him how hurt I was. I refused to suggest that my own horrific judgment of liposuction patients was analogous to the fourteen steps he made across our apartment, but I was aghast. Aghast that he saw me like that. Aghast that my inside broken-bits were no longer tenderly held and loved, but regarded as ugly Discovery Channel-type entertainment. Aghast that he didn't realize any of this or feel a semblance of guilt.

I don't remember what I said to him afterwards. I doubt it matters anyway. I just remember the familiar taste of bile that rose to the back of my throat, and the definitive realization that this would take much more than a self-initiated talk to recover from. My vocal chords were too tangled to speak anyway.

Jim and I were not, and never will be "okay." That's a fact I've started to digest by now, but still doesn't make any sense. The bigger question is, will I?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Right after the triathlon... Lovely orange swim cap, huh? Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 08, 2005

Brett and Me (he beat me... but only 'cause I can't swim in a straight line!) Posted by Picasa

Our Triathlon Team...."Nutty's Buddies" Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Why I'm (sort of) Starting to Like Baseball

One week remained in my first year of teaching at Baltimore City College High School. Unlike my gullible 6th graders at Morrell Park, my sophomores knew that my gradebook was closed, so planning a structured and scintillating lesson on the United States Government was about as lucrative as the crunches I once thought would give me washboard abs. Instead of agonizing over lesson ideas, or grading work that I had no intention of recording, I threw a few student-written current event summaries into the recycling bin and drove to Frederick, MD with Jim for the weekend. We originally planned to camp, but opted for the Travel Lodge instead, and substituted a Friday night canoe trip for a minor league baseball game. If my memory serves correctly, the Frederick Keys (Baltimore's minor league team) were playing the Nationals. By the fifth inning, the score was still 0 to 0 and my attention started to wane. That's the problem with baseball: there are too many innings and not enough action. I like hockey or lacrosse games and (even though I'm biased) a good fast-moving track meet. Baseball is only one small step above picking the lint out of my dryer vent, so I don't buy season tickets.

On this particular evening, though, I went to a game. I also, for whatever reason, went with a moderate level of enthusiasm (which had something to do with Jim). I drank an overpriced beer and watched the people around me. I tried to concentrate on the first few innings of the game and learned that the letters KKK stand for more than a white supremacist organization founded in 1865, they also represent strike-outs (I was relieved to learn this, but still confused about the absence of African Americans in Frederick, Maryland). Then I lost my focus again and had to pee.

Jim was engrossed in the game and I had my wheelchair, so I wheeled away without discussion. I got about three feet from the bathroom when I passed a girl and her mother. As the girl was approximately six years-old (and thus at eye level), I smiled - I like to convince small children that people in wheelchairs are normal and nice. In this particular instance, it must have worked; rather than gape or walk by me (her mother was literally dragging her back to their seats), she stopped, pulled her mother to a halt, and looked me straight in the eye.

"Hi." I addressed her as non-threateningly as possible so as to avoid having my wheelchair tires slashed by her mother. The girl had thick glasses and stringy blonde hair all attached to a beautiful rosy-cheeked face.

She was literally pulling against her mother at this point, but I could tell she wanted to talk.

"Umm, why do you use that, that wheelchair?" She sort of pointed at my chair and then put the majority of her left hand into her mouth.

Like I said, she was six, right - she obviously had no concept of nerves or myelin or autoimmune diseases that compromise a person's functionality, so I rejected even a cursory explanation of multiple sclerosis, and summed it up like this:

"Do you ever get colds?" (She nodded) "Well when I was 19 years old, I got a cold in my legs. Only my cold won't go away. And just like your nose doesn't work really well when you have a cold, my legs haven't really worked well since. So my wheelchair helps me get places..."

Her mom stopped pulling her and let her listen, and right as I finished my blatantly inaccurate explanation of my neurological disease, the little girl put her hand on my shoulder:

"That happened to you?" (Now I nodded while her eyes got very serious.) "Well I'm really sorry to hear about that."

Then she walked away. I went to the bathroom and started crying. This little girl still makes me cry, in fact, and I don't even know her name. For whatever reason, when she spoke I felt every disdainful look I've ever received in grocery stores/parking lots/malls/restaurants/churches/pretty much everywhere I've ever tried to go, all come back at once. I remembered bouncers turning me away from bars because they assumed I was drunk, the note I found on the floor of my classroom that referred to me as a "crippled bitch", and Darryl, a kid on the track team that I'd coached, who'd imitated my walk. All at once, I felt the memories of eight years worth of shame and preemptive explanations or apologies on behalf of a disease I never asked for, all land straight on my sternum in the form of 18 cinderblocks. So I couldn't breathe evenly for a few minutes (cinderblocks are heavy) and I started to question why it is that small children are so real and honest and pure, while adults are awkward and scared and meek. I started imagining the past eight years of my life if people just asked me what was wrong, said it sucked and moved on, instead of whispering things and treating me like a three-armed circus freak that earns averted looks, blatant stares or pity. I decided the 18 cinderblocks would have felt far less heavy.

So I cried.

Jim thought I'd injured myself in the bathroom (which is, sadly, highly possible). But I don't cry when I'm hurt, or even when I'm sad. I cry when someone acknowledges that concrete blocks are heavy, and that MS (or a "cold" in my legs) does suck. I cried then because a six-year-old, with genuine concern, and innocent inquiry, validated two things: what I felt on behalf of a debilitating disease, and what I want from the people around me. Neither of which I know how to get, and both of which I think I need.

The Keys won that night, but I don't remember the score. I do know, though, that if baseball were more interesting than dryer lint, I never would have gone to the bathroom in the middle of an(other non-scoring) inning. I would have spent one more day with the cinderblocks that I try to forget about, instead of remembering, and receiving, what I need.

This is Brett, whose butt I plan to kick in the swim portion of the triathlon (even though I can't kick!) Posted by Picasa

My brother (whose graduation inspired me to bust my knee in a handicapped bathroom) Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Last summer I planned to go to Scotland. Sarah, my roommate from my Junior year abroad was working in Edinburgh, and compared to the 27 hour flight from Baltimore to Australia, I could travel to Britain in a mere 9. Without much thought, I booked a ticket on Orbitz, and briefly rejoiced in my impulsive, carefree attitude. I was empowered. I was an independent teacher who'd saved her money wisely, and planned to spend it in style. I would travel intercontinentally alone, with a neurological disease, and it was going to be fabulous.

But that's not exactly how things worked out. First I discovered that Sarah was still, after several months in Edinburgh, living in an un-MS-friendly hostel (she'd assured me she'd be living in a proper "flat" by the summer). Then I had a relapse. To complicate things further, somewhere in between, I'd convinced my co-teacher/favorite friend in Baltimore to travel with me. To clarify: I purchased plane tickets in March, convinced Amy to purchase plane tickets shortly thereafter, found out that the aforementioned "flat" was nonexistent in April, and had a relapse in May.

Relapses vary when it comes to MS, and certain people bounce back without sustaining permanent-types of disability. I, however, didn't. I got a sunburn that turned my skin tone from relatively normal to that of a fetal pig in formaldehyde, presumably melted some precious nerve myelin in the heat, and was suddenly rendered just a little more disabled than I was before. My symptoms were bad enough that I started using my wheelchair in the grocery store, at the gym, when I went to get my hair cut, on trips out to dinner, etc. My legs and coordination deteriorated to the point that I managed to slip in a handicapped bathroom while I was at a hotel for my brother's college graduation, and was forced to use a walker for the majority of May. The relapse was serious enough that the trip to Edinburgh no longer seemed practical. I started to envision my wheelchair wheels stuck between historic British cobblestones, and my friend Amy hauling my wheelchair up stairs while I climbed, a la Spiderwoman, to wherever our destination might be. I saw myself in bars with cute Scottish men and my walker, and concluded, thus, that I needed to cancel the trip I'd already planned. I needed to leave Amy alone with intercontinental travel plans to see my best friend, and spend the summer home, with my family, in Ithaca.

I didn't deal very well with any of these conclusions. Especially when Orbitz refused to refund my tickets, and the various hostels I'd booked throughout Scotland were ostensibly impossible to reach. $2000 poorer, and one geriatric walker later, the school year ended, Amy left for Scotland without me, and I went home to my parents'.

I planned to write a lot, but the keyboard was stiff, and my fingers were MSey and uncooperative. Instead I worked really hard on two things: not taking my anger out on God, and swimming. I begrudgingly had hand controls installed in my car (wince!), and bought "life-changing" jeans for far too much money (no, there is no correlate). Then, though, just as I reached the pinnacle of my pity party, I met Jim.

Jim had been roommates with my closest friend from high school, Meli. The two of them had lived in Seattle for three years, initially building houses for Habitat for Humanity, then living together while Meli continued with carpentry and Jim worked with incarcerated youth. At the end of their three years together, they drove from Seattle to Ithaca; Meli prepared for law school the upcoming fall at Cornell, and Jim prepared to move back to South Florida, where his family lived. When the two of them arrived in Ithaca, I was supposed to be in Scotland. Jim, according to my unwarranted expectations, was supposed to be annoying.

He wasn't.

We spent four days together, Meli, Jim and I, and when he left I felt a little different about things. I didn't think about MS as much. I signed up to swim across the lake. I started writing more. I remembered how to laugh. I thought at first it was the jeans, but after some not-so-challenging introspection, I realized it might have something to do with Jim.

After a decidedly ineloquent email where I attempted to express these sentiments to Jim, we slowly started talking. Then I visited him in Florida where he sat with me on the ground after I'd tripped, and asked me what it felt like to walk. A question that no one had ever asked me before...

A year later I'm still not in Edinburgh. Amy had fun without me and Sarah moved back to Australia. I still use a wheelchair to grocery shop, and I've gotten much, much better at balancing the bags on my lap (a skill I'd never hoped to acquire). I swam across the lake and wrote a book. I found a job teaching that I actually enjoy, and, more importantly I fell in love.

Jim lives in Baltimore now. He drives me absolutely crazy and just dropped a hamburger on my new couch. His feet smell and he's the most self-righteously stubborn person I've ever met. He's passive aggressive and independent, yet undoubtedly the most unconditionally loving and perceptive person I've ever met. No one has ever had this much capacity to break my heart, and the whole thing makes me want to bury myself in a bag of mulch - I'm vulnerable and scared and can so clearly remember the days when just my disease and myself governed my mood... But Jim, and the circumstances that brought him into my life, are what I would characterize as Jesusy.

So far.

So I guess I'm glad, in retrospect, that in spite of a new walker and a $2000 loss, I didn't take my anger out on God. I'll take a grease-stained couch over a summer in Edinburgh any day.

Jim, Taylor, Sarah and Mike Posted by Picasa

Jim and Me Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


How scary is it to love someone? To reach the realization that another person has the unique ability to make you feel as close to nirvana as is humanly possible, yet simultaneously can scramble up your insides as effectively as your roommate shakes the boggle letters around the game's plastic case.

In loving someone, and allowing myself the potential to be hurt, I am positive that God or the universe is trying to teach me something. It is in this certainty, that I find myself fighting between the things I know and the things I want to believe. I know I am more scared of any type of emotional pain that has the potential to take place than I am of getting my blood drawn at the hospital. I think I'm more scared, in fact, of an unguarded heart than I am of my neurological disease. I know that I have a combative amount of self-respect, and it isn't conducive to the word "surrender". I know that I am threatened and challenged and much, much weaker than I'm supposed to be, and that I should probably run (or wheel) in a foreign direction as quickly as possible with armor and weapons, and, if necessary, enter a convent on the way.

This is where it gets tricky, though, because the things I know and the things I believe weigh equally on my faith-filled heart, and this is what I believe: that God won't let my inside bits get too scrambled without His assistance; that love is just a tiny bit esoteric and doesn't always yield self-respect, and this loss, sometimes is okay (because we're not supposed to have that much pride anyway). I believe that scars accumulate sometimes, and that while they're always painful at inception, they don't always compromise the beauty of a person, a heart, or even a relationship. I believe that wheeling or running away is just a little counter-productive, and maybe just a little weaker than even I purport to be.

I believe I am stuck.