Happy June

Might as well republish my essay about eighth grade graduation in Holmdel, N.J.  It has appeared here before, but anyway:

(Note: All names have been changed to protect the obnoxious.)

“Oh my God!” my mother said to me.  “The other girls are wearing $300 dresses!  Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
It was June of 1985, and my family was sitting in our Chevy Citation outside of my junior high auditorium, the car idling as it faced a brick wall.  I was there for my eighth grade graduation.
We had moved at the beginning of the school year to a wealthy central New Jersey town:  farmy Holmdel, home to CEOs and actors’ offspring.  We were already planning to move away, because we just didn’t fit in.  One year in Holmdel was enough.  We lived in the only “poor” development in the town.  It wasn’t actually that poor, but it was old and across the street from Hazlet.
In Holmdel, the biggest insult occurred when a boy accused a teacher of buying his ties at K-Mart.  Your parents had to own a new Porsche or comparable vehicle if you wanted to fit in.  You were uncool unless you wore Guess jeans, Madonna bracelets and oversized fluorescent “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” shirts that said “Frankie Say: Relax! Don’t Do It!”
            My mom watched the girls enter the gymnasium doors.  “Maybe we should skip this,” my mother said. “I’ve never heard of someone wearing a $300 dress to a junior high graduation.”
I was shocked.  She was letting me skip a school event because it might make me uncomfortable.  When had that ever happened?
And why didn’t it apply to anything religious?
But I was resolved to go through with it.  I was tired of not standing up for myself.  At school, I was teased for being shy, and I never knew what to say in response when kids picked on me.  I mostly turned away and looked at the ground.  I never had good comebacks – until hours later, when I was home.
But now, I was going to go in there and stand with the others, no matter what.

            Holmdel, New Jersey is 56 minutes southwest of Manhattan.  It’s a place of horse farms and six-bedroom homes.  The median household income is $112,879.  My parents had moved there because the schools were top-notch.  The only place we could afford to move into was the one middle-class development with 100-year-old homes that were close together.  We paid $800 a month to rent a three-bedroom house.
At school, I frequently heard kids discussing which company their parents owned, and the fact that some of them were related to movie stars.  One day, our health teacher was lecturing about cocaine addiction, and she asked, “Has anyone heard of the actress Lauren Tewes from Love Boat?”  A girl raised her hand and said, “She's married to my uncle.”
            Another day, our eighth grade English teacher was discussing stereotypes.  “Let’s face it, we live in Holmdel,” she said sarcastically, walking across the room.  “We are rich snobs!”
            I didn’t laugh.

*      *      *
I made my way into the auditorium in my simple light blue dress.  Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but it was only thirty-nine dollars at Bamberger’s.  You wouldn’t know the price by looking at it; it was pretty nice, just fine for a junior high graduation.
All of us girls clustered backstage, around a giant cardboard box of corsages for us to choose from.
Most of the popular colors were gone.  But I noticed one light blue corsage near the bottom.  It was exactly the color of my dress!  I snagged it.
When I looked up, Stacie Sasser was staring at me.  Stacie had thick wavy black hair and freckles, as well as a giant gold STACIE necklace.
She turned to her friend Alyssa and asked very loudly,  “Are there any blue corsages in there?”
Alyssa looked at me pointedly and then peered into the box.  “No,” she said.  “I don’t see any blue ones left.”
“Blue is really the only color I can wear with this dress,” Stacie said.
“You’re right,” Alyssa said to her.  “Blue is the only color you can wear with that dress.”
They both looked at me.
I waited limply with my blue corsage in my hand.  “You can have mine,” I said.
“Oh, thank you!” Stacie said, snatching it.  “That is soooo nice of you!  Alyssa, isn’t that soooo nice of her?”
“That is soooo nice of her,” Alyssa concurred.
I felt much better than if I’d kept the corsage and been hated.
            We wandered around the heavy black curtains to the stage.  The boys stood on one side, the girls on the other.
I remembered some of the things that had happened that year:
            I remembered that several of the boys told a fat kid in our class that he “reeked.”
I remembered a blonde skater-boy wearing an Ocean Pacific hooded sweatshirt that said “No Fat Chicks.”  Even then, I sort of thought someone in authority should talk to him about that.
            I remembered a popular girl stealing a box of M&Ms that an unpopular girl was selling for band, and no one saying anything.  She took it out from under the unpopular girl’s chair during class, and several people saw it.  She winked and smiled at me when I noticed her doing it.  For a moment, I felt cool.  And then, kind of bad.
I remembered a girl looking at me in art class and saying, “Ooooh, I looooove your shoes,” just to mock me and amuse her friends.
            I remembered our social studies teacher catching two girls passing a note ridiculing his pants.
            On the stage that afternoon in June, in Holmdel, New Jersey, we launched into our chosen graduation song.
            “We aaaaaaare the wooooorld!”
            “We aaaaare the chiiiiiiiildren!”
            “We are the ones who make a briiiighter day, so let’s start giiiiiiiving!”
            “There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives.”
“It’s you who make a better day … just yoooooooou and meeeeee!”
            After we angels finished up, I scooted off the stage and went home to finish packing to move. 



To read the more interesting Part I first, go to: http://www.addledwriter.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html#7767805703886587017

       On or around January 5, 1993, I tried to get into my dorm, but this time, my ID card didn’t work.
       The security guard at the front desk looked puzzled.  “You live here,” she said, and buzzed me in.
       After that, I would slip in through the visitors’ gate when the guard wasn’t looking, or if I happened to see someone I knew, I asked them to sign me in.
       Classes stared again, but not for me.  I was a woman without a campus.  I kept sleeping on my roommates’ couch.
Soon I looked in the campus paper and rented a room for $275 in an apartment with a chemistry grad student who lived three blocks off campus.  I took the subway downtown to Odd Lot and paid $30 for a futon and hauled it back and plopped it on my rug to sleep on at night.  All of my life’s possessions were in a few boxes.
I had managed to save a little money over the past summer and from my new job.  For $1,000, I bought a Macintosh Classic, my first computer.  That way I wouldn’t have to keep going to the library to write and to update my resume, or to work on my fiction.  My new roomie said that her ex-roommate was a writer and had used a discarded door that was left in the hallway as a desk.  I found the door, positioned it on top of two milk crates, and stationed my Macintosh on it.
       From then through May, I went to my internship in Trenton twice a week, and worked at a heavily windowed building on Arch Street in downtown Philly for the other three.  The building was near the Ben Franklin Bridge and I enjoyed watching the light bounce off the cars heading to New Jersey each morning.  I wondered when it would be my turn to leave.  I sometimes took the train to New York for publishing job interviews, even though the three-hour trip each way on commuter trains was long and expensive.  I also had time to enjoy the Penn campus, going to more club meetings. 
       I landed a few second interviews for jobs, requiring me to head back to New York on the train.  I found out that the Helmsley Hotel had bathrooms on the first floor that you could access without staying there, so I often used them to freshen up before an interview.  I walked all around the city in heels because it didn’t dawn on me to use sneakers and then switch.
In May, a girl I knew who had graduated from Penn the year before me had a room for rent in her apartment in Weehawken, N.J. for $330 per month.  $330 per month!  I could afford that.  It wasn’t in New York, but commuting would just mean paying a dollar for a shuttle bus through the Lincoln Tunnel.  There was even a view of the Empire State Building from the apartment bathroom.
       I hadn’t realized there were affordable ways to live so close to New York City.
I finished my internship in Trenton, gave notice to the disability job in Philly, and loaded up all my stuff in a junky used car to head north.
       I lived in Weehawken for three months, temping and still looking for that full-time job in the publishing mecca of New York.  During the recession, it was difficult to find any work, and I was competing with every English major on the planet – including women who had taken the fabled Radcliffe Publishing Course.  The jobs started at $17,000 to $23,000.  One job as an assistant for a literary agency was paying $16,000.
       Luckily I had the typing skills to secure lucrative temp assignments.  Even though the agencies insisted on testing us on typewriters, I clocked in at 80 words per minute.
But three days after I moved to Weehawken, I got sick.
I was sitting at a temp job in my navy blue suit and having chills.
At home, my insides felt heavy.
       I looked up the doctors who would take my insurance.  There was one a mile away in Hoboken, a city I’d never been to.  My dad had mentioned that it was becoming known as a hot town for young people just out of college.  It was a mile square in area and directly across the water from midtown Manhattan.
       I headed out in my car.  When I got there, I was amazed.  A mayoral election was being held.  Since I was interested in politics, I looked around curiously.
       One group of people was clustered around a huge electric sign that said “Big election today.”  Folks were yelling at each other across Washington Street, the main thoroughfare.  Also on that street:  Brownstones, historic buildings, bars, restaurants.

       The doctor examined me, asked for a urine sample, and said I probably had hepatitis A (the kind you get from eating contaminated food).  I figured the food trucks of West Philly were to blame.  The doctor said I would have to stay home for several weeks to recover.   It was my first full week on my own in (well, near) the big city, and now I couldn’t earn a living.
       While I was home in bed, my roommate, who worked for a publishing company, brought me freelance editing assignments to do.  I revised my novel.  I wrote forlorn letters to friends, most of whom did not have e-mail yet.  Summer got hotter.
I got a call from a young editorial assistant at a publishing company in response to a book I had submitted.  She said her company was interested and not to send it anywhere else.  Yesss!  That was welcome news.  It was a book full of lists of Gen X pop culture called “The Twentysomething Fact Book.”  But in the end, nothing came of it.
       Eventually I started temping again.  In September, I moved to Hoboken, taking an apartment share for $375 per month.
       Over the next few months, I worked at some long-time temp assignments and even got a job with a Democratic political consultant in New York (more on that another day, maybe).  That job came to a crashing halt when the consultant failed to pay his bills.  I kept looking for something in book publishing.
       In spring, more than a year after I’d graduated, a full-time job opened covering Hoboken for the town newspaper.  It was, in some ways, more alluring than publishing:  I’d be dealing with fact rather than fiction, what I wrote would have an impact on people’s lives, and I could walk around town during the coming summer and get to know my neighbors.  I was tempted to take it.  But as usual, I didn’t make things too easy for myself. I told myself that I should continue trying for a publishing job in New York, even though I kept jumping through hoops.
       I thought about the reporting job.  I could spend that spring and summer doing something I loved.  Why kill myself trying to commute to the Big Apple every day when I could cover Hoboken?
       But was I dooming myself in the long run, since I’d gotten a bit turned off to journalism in college?  The career progression would be to move from a weekly to a daily paper, and I really didn’t want to write about murder and crime for a living.
       In the end, I took the job.  I got a new apartment and it happened to be just four blocks from the newspaper office.  I pinned the painting of the dove on a bulletin board on my bedroom wall.  I’ve been in Hoboken ever since.



Mother's Day

 I want to wish a happy Mother's Day not just to mothers, but to anyone who wants to be a mom someday, and anyone missing their mom. Even though this holiday makes many people happy, there are also plenty of blog posts from people around the 'net who say the holiday reminds them of something sad.

 I have known many people who wanted to be mothers but who struggled with infertility. I also have read many blogs on this topic (folks struggling with infertility often keep blogs as a way to get support, and sometimes even to stay sane while undergoing so many treatments, rounds of IVF, etc.) Wanting to have a child isn't like wanting a fancy house or vacation. It's something that can affect every moment of your life, every hour of the day, every ounce of your soul (just like actually having kids does). A desire for a child/children is very deep and visceral. I read a blog recently by a woman who waited a long time to have kids, then realized how badly she wanted them, but she couldn't get pregnant. Her husband was fine with the fertility treatments, but at one point he griped to her she was "obsessed." I have seen that sentiment before. More people would have that "obsession" if they weren't able to conceive so easily. The majority of younger people have no problem getting pregnant, and so they never have to face questions like, "Why isn't this happening? Why do I want kids? Should I stop eating dairy/drinking coffee/drinking soda? Should my husband eat walnuts every day because they're supposed to help his fertility? What's wrong?" Most people who want kids just have them as a matter of course. So for a woman who is denied something that is so visceral, if it's important to her she is going to think about it often. Fertility treatments involve dozens of tests, shots, etc., so it's a big undertaking for a couple.

 Once you have kids, it changes your life, so remaining in a holding pattern waiting for it to happen no matter what you try, that's a tough thing. You might not know how much money you need to save for treatments, etc. So anyone who deeply wants kids should have the right to think and talk about it constantly without being dismissed as "obsessed." It can be part of a person's being, not just a physical thing. And it can be painful. Especially around Mother's Day.

 Why did I get off on this tangent? Maybe because as an older mom (and one who's very lucky to be one, at my age!!), I've come into contact with lots of people my age who have told me stories about infertility.  Maybe because I've seen one too many cruel internet comments blaming women for their infertility (I admire Giuliana Rancic for having the guts to talk publicly about her struggles; it's too bad that when she does, she gets comments on the 'net like "She just needs to put on five pounds" "She should stop working" etc. Yeah, it's really that easy and she just hasn't thought of that yet! Oh, and then there's the "just adopt." While adoption is a fine option and very rewarding, it's not easy, financially, emotionally, process wise, so not everyone can "just" do that.)

So happy Mother's Day to everyone with love in their heart - uncles, aunts, people who don't want their own kids but think kids are kinda cool anyway, nannies, teachers, dads, people who feel very alone, and anyone who for some reason is still reading this. Spread your love on this holiday, even if it has nothing to do with motherhood. Even if it's just by feeling happy with the choices you've made in life, and wanting that happiness for others too.

 PS: For those who don't want kids, there is of course nothing wrong with that either. There are enough kids in the world.


Been there

This morning, I went outside with my daughter to go pick up some stuff at CVS.  I realized there was a young woman (early 30s? 20s?) kind of poised on the bottom of our stoop, balancing a box of Bud Light cans on the railing for the steps.  I said, "Oh, do you need me to hold the door?"  She shook her head no and said she was going up the street.  She had just stopped to rest for a second as she made her way home with the heavy box o' beer.

I kind of smiled.  I remember those days.  She's probably a single girl, living with roommates, and they're planning a party tonight.  She's independent and didn't ask anyone to help her with the heavy beer.  But she's still gotta stop every block to rest for a second.

That was me a bunch of times, not necessarily with beer, but with some heavy item, knowing I'd get it back to my apartment even if it took me a little longer.