i once went to a model casting call…

I once went to a model casting call. Why? Because if you’re a 6’1” female with a fast metabolism and face that looks any degree better than.. I don’t know… a gargoyle, a lot of people tell you to try modeling. You know, when they’re not asking if you play basketball, volleyball, or whatever other sport they assume tall people play. Does that mean you should do it? Probably not, but you hear it enough and you see a flyer one day for a local fashion show casting call and you think “oh, why the hell not?”

So that’s how, at age 20, I ended up standing in line with a bunch of lanky, beautiful girls in downtown [redacted] on a late spring afternoon. The weather was hot, but I’d seen enough ‘America’s Next Top Model’ in my day to know that I should show up to the casting call in skinny jeans and a plain tank top, with my hair pulled up in a messy bun. Thank you, St. Tyra. Except, Tyra was wrong… or these girls hadn’t spent enough time bingeing on chips in front of ANTM Saturday afternoon marathons as teenagers. I found  my place in line and realized everyone around me was dressed up. Not just dressed up, they were all wearing heels. Strike one, Elizabeth.

I’d left my best friends sitting on the couch in the home we shared. They were laughing at an episode of Ellen when I shut the door. The casting call was a fifteen minute walk from our place, which turns out to be the perfect amount of time for a girl to convince herself this wasn’t the dumbest idea she’d ever had. I’d pretty much talked myself up to ego’s peak when I arrived. So realizing my outfit did not fit the mold really didn’t make me nervous.

No, the nerves kicked in when I noticed how many of the other girls were holding folders and notebooks.


Oh god, portfolios!

They all had portfolios.

I’d read a poster that clearly stated “no experience necessary”, but every one of these girls had photographic proof that someone at some point in her life thought her face was worthy of printing on glossy paper.

Commence the breakdown.

Everything I’d managed to believe on my walk began to unravel. Why was I here? What was I thinking? I started looking up and down the line finding things about the other girls that seemed more perfect than me. Was I taller than everyone there? Sure, but not one of them had a nose that was too big for her face. None of them had gangly elbows and wrist bones that stuck out like mine. None of them had relatively thick track and field thighs like the ones I’d earned in the weight room (this is where my old teammates make fun of me.. but I really had them.. i swear!) All of these girls appeared to have a lot more experience with make-up than me. They were primed for modeling. These weren’t just random tall chicks who’d given in to strangers’ courtesy comments about their height. I was way out of my league, and it was becoming very clear, very quickly.

I spent about a half hour in that line before I decided the whole thing wasn’t worth it. The list of my own imperfections grew longer every minute. I was thinking about my body and face in a way I never really had. The last thing I remember hearing before I decided to turn and leave was a middle-aged mom whispering to her daughter that the girl in front of them was not even close to pretty enough for the gig. Are you serious? Is that where we are as a society? The only way to make your own daughter feel worthy is to tell her the next girl is far from it? Nobody needs that poison. I was twenty, which qualifies as a relatively grown-up woman. I knew how to tune out beauty criticism. God, I’d survived middle and high school. I could handle my own inner monologue. I could even stand to listen to my peers critiquing themselves and others, but a grown woman knows better. A grown woman has already  lived decades past that part of a girl’s life when nothing about her seems pretty enough. I wondered what she was saying about me, and that’s when I broke.

No, thank you. I wanted out, and no one was making me stay. No one was begging me to take my turn on that catwalk.

I’d tell you I grabbed my stuff and left, but I didn’t have anything to gather. I didn’t have a portfolio. I didn’t even have a bag. The only thing I’d carried with me was the confidence to just find a place in line, and I was starting to lose that. I never made it inside the doors of the casting call that day. I stepped out of line when I was still a handful of people from the doorway. I took the fifteen minute walk back home where I found my best friends still laughing together on the couch. They asked why I was back so soon. I’m pretty sure I just shrugged, gave some shortened explanation, and made plans to grab pizza at the best place in town.

It was  just a five minute walk to our regular pizza spot, but it turns out five minutes with friends is the perfect amount of time for a girl to get her gangly arms, big nose, thick thighs, and mental state right back where they need to be.

Mr. McNitt brought me tiny motors

Mr. Mcnitt used to bring me tiny motors. They came from vacuums and fans and whatever other discarded items he could access.

It was around the year when all I wanted for my birthday was Adidas breakaway pants like some I’d seen on NBA players. I got a kick out of how they’d tear them off after warm ups revealing their uniform shorts underneath. It was when I was still mostly unaware that boys and girls are supposed to like different things.

Sometimes the motors came to me in plastic bags with little else around them. Sometimes I had to break through tiny plastic barriers to get to the parts I needed. Eventually he brought me broken motors so that I could figure out what was wrong and make them run again.

I used to answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” With “mechanical engineer.” Not to be confused with “a mechanic” which I may have said a few times when I was still getting the hang of the lingo.

I loved the motors and I loved Mr. Mcnitt for finding them for me. He helped me explore how they worked. He helped me turn their energy into something bigger. I remember the first time I saw a tiny LED light turn on because I’d properly connected all the parts. I thought I’d really made something.

My mom worked at school so I came in early with her. I started spending those early mornings with Mr. McNitt, trying to figure out what I’d create next. I moved from LED light to fan to eventually taking apart a broken vacuum motor and putting it back together so it worked again. I didn’t really know the depths of the math or science behind any of it. I just used whatever logic I had in my tiny brain (and his assistance) to work it out.

A few years and a new school later I was already falling out of love with the idea of becoming a mechanical engineer. Math started to become difficult around 8th grade. I don’t know why. For the first time in my life I was operating on grade level instead of above it. My teacher was foreign but I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I understood him just fine, but math wasn’t a fun class anymore. It was the one hour of the day when things had stopped being interesting to me. It was much more exciting to pass notes, about cute boys, written in brightly colored gel pens. Nobody was bringing me motors to fix and I lost the fascination.
Math mostly became more difficult. In algebra they started throwing in letters. I wasn’t ready for those worlds to collide. Everyone told me “you’ll love geometry. It uses shapes. It’s very visual.” Geometry gave me my first and only F. A fact I was so embarrassed by that I told my parents with a handwritten apology letter. They got me a tutor, a very good tutor who helped me improve my grades… But I was defeated. I was tired of working at something that seemed so difficult when every other class was easy.

I briefly enjoyed math again when they introduced words, not letters… Whole words. Probability and statistics was a fun math class because I sat on top of my desk in the back of the room. I was a senior and I spent 90% of class coloring, 10% easily answering the only types of math problems that made sense to me anymore.

Becoming an engineer was out.

This week I read a piece in the Atlantic about the engineering elementary school in Greenville. I couldn’t help but think about Mr. Mcnitt and the motors. I went to a fine elementary school but those things I learned from Mr. Mcnitt weren’t standard, they were just the result of a kind older man taking interest in feeding a child’s curiosity. I thought about how I would’ve thrived in the engineering elementary school environment. I read that they’re working to build an engineering middle school and have plans for an eventual high school. I hope it comes together soon because I can’t imagine how many little girls could grow up to become women in a male-dominated field if they just had the spirit of a Mr. Mcnitt to guide them when the math gets a little difficult.

(diary entry from 6 year old Elizabeth in 1994, a time when doing math was exciting enough to be the only sentence in a diary entry.)

you just save some numbers

(This story is largely not mine. I’ve done everything I can to stick to the details as I remember them. Every word comes from the deepest well of respect I have inside of me.)

My oldest brother wouldn’t hesitate to pick me up and throw me over his shoulder if it fit the joke. We’re adults, but in the right moment he’ll still throw me in a pool or toss me around like a little kid just because he can. He’s strong. Sometimes I forget how strong. Sometimes I forget that slinging his “little” sister around is a whole lot easier than carrying another grown man. I don’t know how much of that he’s done, but I have to imagine that he carried a buddy or two during his time in the Marine Corps. I wonder if he’s slung an injured friend over his shoulder just to get him to safety. I wonder, but I don’t ask.
There’s a lot I don’t want to know about his months overseas. I don’t want to know that the guy who showed me how to properly hold a baseball bat, used those same hands to steady a high-powered gun in the middle of volatile Fallujah at the peak of the war in Iraq. War is not like play… except in some ways it is. In some ways the skills a person learns while playing in the woods as a child enhance his ability to survive in a war. That terrifies me. The troops coming home from various wars are somebody’s kids. They’re someone’s big brother. They’re just a few years past tossing footballs in the backyard with the neighbors. Sometime after September 11th, with our patriotism reloaded, we began to remember this.

I was taking an elective called “The Sixties” when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The class focused on teaching a bunch of 8th graders born at the end of the 1980s about the culture and events of the 1960s. We had a unit on Vietnam, one in which we learned about the way soldiers were treated upon their return to the states. Soldiers who largely hadn’t been volunteers. Kids who were drafted to fight an unpopular war returned home to criticism from neighbors. They found hostility in airports on their return flights.
A few nights ago I was sitting by a fire with my brother. For the first time I heard the story of his journey back from Iraq. I’d never asked about the trip back. It wasn’t something I’d really considered. I guess I never thought much past the fact that he made it back safely.
My brother’s time in the Marine Corps ended before his tour of duty. He left his unit early. He told me his unit made a pact that anyone who had a reason to leave needed to take it no matter what. They’d all agreed, injury or end of duty, an out was an out. No questions asked. No respect lost. They’d all served. They’d all fought with and protected one another. When his time came up he followed through and left.
Normally when troops leave war they leave as a unit. They’re debriefed. They spend time unraveling the experience with each other, breaking down the loss and the gift of making it out alive. They have time to process it. My brother was sent without his unit on a flight from Iraq to Germany where he spent four days trying to unwind without anyone else who understood. He spent four days in Germany trying to drink away the experience, for which I absolutely don’t fault him.

My brother tells the story of his return to American soil so much better than I ever could. It’s his to tell, and I won’t do it justice. He talks about his first flight in. He landed in Pittsburgh, drunk as a man can be. He was alone. He was uniformed. He was returning from physical battle, and facing the mental battle of getting back to normal.

Normal, by the way, is a myth for men who’ve been to war. My brother is changed. He’s still one of my best friends in the world, but I know he’d tell you he is different. I know he knows it.

My brother was drunk in Pittsburgh when a man took him under his wing. He’d been on a four day bender in Germany, followed by uniformed flights where airline employees fed him cocktails on account of his heroism. You’d be drunk as well. Honestly, I don’t know how much time lapsed between his flights. I forgot to ask. The way my parents tell it, it seemed like an eternity. They had no idea if he was okay, or if he’d make it on his final flight. They couldn’t get him on the phone. They were afraid something terrible had happened. My dad describes it as one of the scariest nights of his life. My brother had made it through a war zone, lost friends and coworkers, earned a medal for protecting someone in battle, and the night he landed back in the states was one of the scariest of my parents’ lives.

My brother can’t describe the man who helped him. In fact, the way he tells it, he honestly thought he was being shown around a strange building by a small Iraqi child. His memory of the man is blurred with countless tours through Iraqi schools. He doesn’t remember any phone calls from that night, but my parents do. The stranger called them to let them know he had found my brother, he was drunk but okay, and the man would make sure he made it on to his next flight. The final leg of his journey home.

This is the part of the story when my dad interrupted to tell me he still has that man’s phone number saved into his contacts. It’s not that he’ll ever use it, but in a way the man saved my brother from a lot of things; from himself; from his demons; from missing a flight and spending a few extra hours in a strange city with no one to help him debrief. Some phone numbers are worth saving.

The stranger eventually got my brother to his last plane. He met the pilot who just happened to be a very nice man who later married my aunt. She knew him at the time, but we’d never met him. He’d never seen my brother until he flew him home to North Carolina. Sometimes people are just exactly where they need to be when they need to be there.

My brother laughed a few nights ago as he told me the story by the fire. I don’t know how it even came up. That’s how I learn about his time at war, though. I don’t ask. The stories just flow freely sometimes. We’re far enough removed now that the stories are more entertainment than harsh memories. My brother laughed about how drunk he was. My dad laughed about how scared he and my mom were. I sat quietly astonished at the stranger who decided he should be the one to take over a soldier’s care.

It may not seem remarkable. These things happen, right? I hear the stories of people standing up for troops when they board planes. I know we’re pretty good at tying yellow ribbons around trees, and praying for young men we send to war. I know that sometimes we can all be very patriotic. But are we really that good at it? How many of us would honestly go out of our way to shadow a young marine around a strange airport for hours until he is safely in the seat on his final flight home? Really, think about it.

My brother took what I always believed to be a lonesome trip back from Iraq, without his unit, without anyone who understood. But he wasn’t completely alone, because some guy, whose number is still saved in my dad’s phone, decided the least he could do was get him back to his family safely.

after sandy hook

Two days shy of eleven months ago a man with a very broken mind walked into an elementary school and killed twenty young kids.

The day after those children were murdered I babysat my six year old niece. Tonight I was trying to find something to write about and I stumbled across the notes I jotted down that night after she fell asleep.

I’m sitting on the steps in my older sister’s house. It’s almost 11 pm and just a floor above me are two sleeping girls. My nieces are 13 and 6. I had the chance to babysit them tonight and it really could not have come at a better time. This week was horrific. Yesterday I did all my work with red, teary eyes. I can’t wrap my head around the killing of children. No one in her right mind can, I guess.

Tonight when I tucked the 6 year old in we counted her stuffed horses. She’s in love with horses, like a lot of little girls. We counted until we got to 40, then we stopped. We couldn’t count anymore because we were laughing too hard. I was doing a really awful impression of horse noises and tossing each one on the bed as we counted. When I finally tucked her in we decided she should sleep with all of them. I piled them around her. One tiny girl and 40 stuffed horses all in a twin sized bed. It was silly. It had us cracking up. It was nothing big, but now I’m sitting here realizing that it was big to her. It’s not a moment she’ll remember forever, but while it was happening it was the funniest thing that’s ever happened. Everything that happens to a six year old is remarkable,

I can’t stop thinking about that, about how everything is monumental to a small child. Somebody marched into a school and senselessly stole the lives of twenty kids who probably were learning something new just moments before, something they’d never known until that moment — something remarkable.

I’m sitting here on the steps at my sister’s house knowing when my niece wakes up I’ll be back home in Greenville. I know she probably won’t think much about us putting all those horses on her bed, but they’ll be there — a couple dozen stuffed horses piled on her bed to remind her that someone loves her enough to spend a few minutes laughing with her before she goes to sleep.

Someone loved all twenty of those children in the same way. I could move from the steps. I could go watch television, but right now from this spot I can hear a faint snore coming from her room. So I’m staying here, because she’s resting peacefully and I need to soak it in.

three things to do before 30

There is no shortage of internet articles about twenty-somethings. Everybody is writing about millennials these days. The posts by older generations tend to be unflattering. I’m tired of reading about how lazy and narcissistic I am just because I was born in 1987. Honestly, what’s lazier than broad-brush labeling of an entire generation?

The posts written by us are usually just some remix of a Buzzfeed style list of things we should know or do before we turn thirty. These are even more frustrating. According to these we’re supposed to be traveling, partying, having the times of our lives… but most of us are too busy trying not to be lazy and narcissistic. We’re trying to build our lives, our careers, our families, and our courage. 

 Twenty-somethings have always been a popular subject in movies and television. To the best of my knowledge they’ve also always been wildly misrepresented. It’s a disservice. When I was a teenager I watched ‘Friends’ religiously. Monica, Chandler, and the gang gave me a completely unrealistic idea of what my twenties would be like. They rarely spent time at work. They traveled cross-country or around the world with little to no concern about finances. The girls went on dates upon dates with great guys who just happened to show up at the coffee shop and talk to them.

Twenty-somethings in movies do the same. They take fancy, expensive vacations. They throw big parties in really nice New York City apartments. They wear designer label clothing. They buy expensive dinners. They live it up.

I’m not an idiot; I know movies and tv shows sell because they’re not realistic. Nobody wants to watch reality. Even our facebook pages aren’t real – they’re our highlight reels. Nobody is posting photos of the Saturday nights when they stay in and watch stupid movies in sweatpants on the couch. The problem is we don’t talk about that. No one sits college kids down and says “hey, listen, things are going to get really weird and difficult after graduation.” No one tells you you’re going to be slapped in the face with bills you never even realized existed; things your parents paid for without your knowledge. Nobody documents the scary stuff.

Listen, list of things I should accomplish by age 30, how am I supposed to hop on a plane and fly to Bangladesh to find myself… when I have to buy a whole set of new tires and be back at work on Monday? How am I supposed to work up the courage to skydive when I’m still trying to convince myself it’s safe to reach in the garbage disposal (while it’s off) and pull out the spoon that’s been violently stirring around in there for two weeks? If you’ve done these things, more power to you… but that’s not my path and it doesn’t need to be.

 Why is nobody telling teenagers there is no set way to be in your twenties?  You don’t have to be a free spirit, but you can be. You don’t have to be a wanderlust, but if you can manage a way to finance it and you’d like to – then sure, try it out. You don’t have to be a workaholic, but if your ultimate goal is the career of your dreams – then make it happen. You don’t have to get married before your friends… I guarantee you that you’ll never be the only single person at a wedding. It just won’t happen. The “before you’re 30” checklists are far more hazardous than the articles about our lazy generation, and we’re doing them to ourselves. We’re perpetuating the problem. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be a part of the problem. So here’s the only checklist I will offer for those of us in our twenties:

1) Start trying to figure out who you are (while remembering that it’s a lifelong process and you won’t know by the night before your 30th birthday)

      2) Remember that life’s just not that serious.

      3) Throw out this list and make your own, if numbers 1 and 2 do not satisfy whatever it is you’re trying to get out of this weird, wonderful decade of your life.

laughing with mamaw

Mamaw weighed around fifty pounds when Alzheimer’s was finally finished with her. That’s a fact I didn’t know until years later. I remember her being tiny. I remember that I could easily fit my six foot high school body next to hers on the hospital bed we’d moved into the house for her, but I didn’t realize she’d gotten that small. It makes sense, though. She was still able to laugh when I’d lay there and make really simple jokes I knew she’d understand, but her laughter was soft and weak. My mom knew her weight because she’d held her on the scale just a day or two before she died. Mamaw’s final days are a blur to me. I was a senior in high school. She’d been living with us for three years. Papaw died suddenly seven months before and I was still caught up in that. I spent most of my time trying to entertain her instead of focusing on the fact she was definitely leaving soon.

Last week one of my best friends asked me some questions about alzheimer’s. Her family is dealing with the beginning of a similar situation. It’s a brave thing to ask about, because everyone knows there are no positive answers. Someone you love is slowly going to forget who you are, then who they are, then how to even continue eating and breathing on their own. I did my best to answer her questions, but realized that I don’t remember very much about the process of the disease. I know it’s awful. I know Mamaw went backwards through stages of her life. Most of the time she lived with us she didn’t remember who I was, but she knew I was a familiar face. There were nights she woke up devastated at the loss of her son who died in 1969. In Papaw’s final months she had no idea he was her husband, but she could remember when he’d eaten cake earlier in the day and she’d call him out on it if he tried to say he’d done well on his diet.

I remember the things she did that were funny. She’d hide colored pieces of mail. If anything pigmented came in to the house with a stamp on it, she’d hide it in a couch cushion or down in the sides of her favorite chair. I remember she’d hide her false teeth sometimes. It wasn’t funny when she would get out of the house and try to walk down the street alone, but it was funny when she’d push her very tiny frame right up against mine and try to get past me to go out the door. She told us all the time that she was going home. I must’ve said “you live here” four thousand times in that last year.

I remember that I stayed home some nights to “babysit” her when my parents had to take care of other things. God, she would’ve hated knowing someone had to watch her like that – especially her teenage granddaughter, but I didn’t mind it. I sort of treasure those nights because at least for a few hours she knew I was someone to trust, even if she couldn’t remember my name.

I had a birthday party when I turned 18. A bunch of my friends came over. Mamaw was 11 days from death,  but we didn’t have any way to know the count. I remember almost nothing about that party, except that my friends who knew about Mamaw wanted to meet her. I took a parade of sugar-high teenagers into the bedroom that had been transformed into a hospital room to meet her. I climbed in her bed with her and put on a show in front of my friends. I told jokes. I told her she was too skinny and needed to “beef up”. Mamaw laughed. Mamaw smiled. That’s the last time I definitely remember her smile.

These are the things that went through my head when my friend asked me questions about it. I tried to give solid answers. I tried to reach deep into my brain for the real facts about the disease. The truth is, I don’t have clinical answers. I don’t know much about the medical explanations of how Mamaw’s brain essentially disappeared. I never bothered to learn much about the science behind it, because I was living it in real time.

What I remember is that she was able to laugh all the way through and that’s the best thing I can tell anyone who is facing that illness. It’s far more devastating for the people around the disease than for the person who has it. For my money, the best way to get through it is to remember a person with alzheimer’s can still laugh.. and it’s only fair, really. If you’re going to die not remembering anything about the people who love you, then you damned well better at least get to hold on to your sense of humor.

Super photo of me with Mamaw. I was 14, and no, my face hasn’t changed since I was like… 4.

tragedy and pop ups

“AP News Alert” popped up on the screen. I clicked it.

“Baghdad (AP) – 12 dead after suicide bomber rams explosive laden car into a checkpoint.”

If you’ve never used a newsgathering program like ENPS then you may not know how it works. Truthfully, I don’t really know how it works. I just know what it does. It’s somehow connected to newswires from various sources. I build my shows inside the program. Don’t ask me to explain that. It sounds much more complicated than it is. Throughout the day alerts pop up at the top of the screen. Everything from breaking news, to weather updates, to sports scores (hallelujah!).

Most days I ignore the weather updates. I usually click the sports scores. I always read the news alerts. There’s a moment before I click them when I hope I will read something like “San Diego (AP) – Huge impromptu parade breaks out in downtown streets because everyone is having a great day” — I’ve never seen one that said that, or anything close. More times than not they tell me something terrifying happened in another country. I read the suicide bomber alert and caught myself thinking “again, really?”

I clicked out of it.

I paused.

I clicked back in.

“Baghdad (AP) – 12 dead after suicide bomber rams explosive laden car into a checkpoint.”

Twelve people killed and my initial reaction was basically… oh, it happened again.

No, Elizabeth. It’s not just a thing that’s acceptable. It’s not “oh, it happened again.” It’s oh my god, this won’t stop happening. This is every day for an entire slice of the human population. This keeps happening.

I am admittedly very guilty of thinking too long and too hard about nearly everything, but honestly can you imagine a world like this? I mean you — the person reading this who has probably spent most of his life enjoying the comforts of America. Do you know how safe you are most of the time? Daily suicide bombings are not our reality.

We have our tragedies:

A bombing at a marathon in April killed three and injured 264 others. It was horrible. The entire country watched for days while Boston police tried to track down the suspects. We mourned for weeks and rightfully so.

Last December a deranged man, younger than me, marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed twenty children and six teachers. We cried. We questioned it. We got angry that the killer was also dead and we’d never get the answers we deserved. In the news we noted the passing time; one week since the shooting; one month since the shooting; six months since the shooting. The kids started back to school in different buildings. We mourned for months.

In September 2001, you know the story, suicide bombers used four of our airplanes to kill nearly 3,000 of our people. Authorities are still sifting through rubble trying to identify victims whose bodies were never recovered. There are people who don’t have official word they lost a loved one in the 9/11 attacks, they’ve just had to assume it’s true. We mark the anniversary every year.

We know tragedy and we know it as tragedy because it doesn’t happen every day. It’s not our normal. These things are still horrible and scarring. They tear our hearts to pieces. They make us question why we’d even want to live in a world that can be so ugly sometimes. They’re dark and dirty, but they don’t happen every day. We have the luxury of knowing that our tragedies are not regular. They likely won’t happen again tomorrow. We’ll get a reprieve. Maybe it will be six months or, if we’re lucky, longer. It feels disgusting to use the word “luxury” to describe anything as awful as the events listed above… but it’s real and raw.

We are blessed with everyday safety, even if we complain about its inconvenience. We hate taking off our shoes at airports. We hate the body scanners. We curse the TSA for their rules about tiny bottles of shampoo and mouthwash. Whether we agree these things are necessary or not, they’re a direct result of the good intentions of our government – its effort to protect us from repeat attacks.

We argue over guns; who should have access, and who should control the process. We blame gun owners. We blame people who are anti-gun. We blame lack of mental healthcare. We blame video games. We blame parents. We blame drugs. We blame the government. We blame ourselves. We disagree on where the problem starts. We disagree on which measures will protect us from big tragedies, but the point is we are discussing them. These things are an ongoing conversation because people on both sides want us to live in a world that is safe. America, as a whole, wants to keep tragedies… tragic.

So I’m sitting here staring at this news alert that I’ve copied and pasted into this post twice. It’s twelve words long. A twelve word snippet about twelve people who won’t be going home today. Twelve words about twelve people with families and friends like mine.

They will be mourned.

They will be missed.

Their story… will likely be lost in the mix the next couple of days when another scene like the one that took their lives happens again in a nearby town.

I question what I know about my country daily. I question people making decisions in Washington. I wonder how grown-ups can argue like children long enough to shut down the Government. I worry that our political system is irreparably broken, but I know I would never see a news alert about a suicide bombing in this country and think “oh, it happened again.”

(ENPS and my incredible stick figure interpretation of Greenville’s extreme trampoline park)

muggsy bogues and other lies brothers tell

I don’t blame my brothers for the many lies they told me as a kid. In fact, I’m impressed by their creativity. I don’t think I was particularly gullible when I was young. I prefer to think I just really trusted my big brothers. They are four and six years older than me so there’s a certain amount of worldly experience and knowledge they’ll always have ahead of me. As a kid, I trusted that to a fault.

The house that was my first home had a playroom. The playroom had an original Nintendo. The boxy gray one with the gloriously simple controllers. They used to let me play Super Mario Brothers with them. Correction: I thought they let me play Super Mario Brothers with them. Mario was the game to beat in the early 90s. Really, why would my brothers want their annoying little sister making that more difficult than it already was? So they’d hand me a controller, set the game on one player, and tell me I was controlling the mushrooms. The mushrooms: the computer controlled bad guys who were trying to kill Mario. I wish I was making this up because I don’t think it says much for my intelligence (although I was 5 or 6 at the time). I remember being confused when I’d hit A and the mushroom wouldn’t jump, but I never got frustrated enough to stop playing. I can’t be mad about this now, because it was kind of genius. I had the joy of thinking my brothers wanted me to play with them. They had the satisfaction of knowing I wasn’t going to ruin their game.

I could probably tell you a thousand other lies my brothers told me when I was a kid. There was a short period when I thought that maybe I really had been a happy meal prize and they really had wanted the toy instead.

There were several instances when one or both of them convinced me our dog liked to be ridden and I just needed to hold her collar a little tighter. “It’s safe! It’s fun!”

There were plenty of times when they pushed me to ask for something they wanted because I was the baby and it would work. Actually, this one wasn’t really a lie… it’s just good business.

I don’t mean to call my brothers liars. I just mean they were talented little sister manipulators. Like I said, I don’t blame them.

Before this goes any further you need to know something about me: I was a Muggsy Bogues superfan as a child. I thought the little guy wearing the #1 for the Charlotte Hornets was worthy of his number. He was the greatest (for what it’s worth, Muggsy is the Hornets’ career leader in minutes played, assists, and steals… but I digress). I get the irony of my Muggsy passion now. I’m 6’1″ and my childhood basketball hero is 5’3″ and weighed in somewhere around 140. At the time, I was somewhere around 50 lbs and whatever height is just an inch or two above average for a 6 year old. When I played basketball it was with my older, taller brothers. I was a little kid among giants. I got Muggsy. I understood his struggle. I admired his skill. And I was six, so I thought he had a really cool name. His name… is what ultimately got me.

For Christmas 1993 I asked for twin cabbage patch dolls. Apparently that wasn’t actually a thing at the time. I don’t know where I got the idea that it was. Lucky for my parents all cabbage patch dolls (the baby ones) pretty much looked the same. They just grabbed a couple in different colored outfits and gave them to me as twins. I didn’t know the difference. I was happy.

Sometime Christmas day, around the first changing of the doll diapers, I noticed a signature on each of their butts. That is, apparently, a thing cabbage patch dolls just have. It’s weird, but whatever. When I discovered it I was old enough to know the blue writing said someone’s name, but too young to read cursive.

“Can you read this to me?” I asked my brothers.

I trusted I’d get an honest answer from the 6th grader. Or the 4th grader, who was pretty new to cursive, would try to help me figure it out. They saw a signature and an opportunity.

“Muggsy Bogues” my brother said. I swear. Almost immediately he told me it read “Muggsy Bogues”.

Forget that the signature clearly began with an X. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t learn cursive for another two years and they knew it.

Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever been as excited about anything as I was the day I found out Muggsy Bogues had, for some unknown reason, signed the left butt cheek of each of my cabbage patch dolls. I told everyone. I mean everyone. I took those dolls up and down the street. I let those dolls sit at the base of our basketball goal while I practiced my granny shots. I was inspired. I didn’t question why Muggsy would take the time to sign my dolls. I just understood it to be true.

When school came back around I took those dolls to show and tell. I’m pretty sure that’s where the whole thing started to fall apart. Some mean kid tried to ruin my fun, telling me there’s no way Muggsy signed those dolls. I guess I questioned it a little. I probably wondered for a few minutes about why Muggsy would’ve signed them anyway, but I believed that more than I believed my brothers would just make something like that up. The truth is I never really stopped believing it until third grade when I learned how to read and write in cursive.

Xavier Roberts. That’s the real name on the butts. Roberts was an art student who created the cabbage patch dolls that swept the 80s and 90s. I guess that’s pretty cool. You could argue he’s #1 in doll making, which is… a lot less exciting than basketball. I’m told the dolls with his signature are worth something now. I looked them up on ebay and found I could get around $125 for mine (if I had any idea where they were). Maybe I’ll dig them out of an attic someday and make a little cash. I just can’t help but wonder how much more I could get if they just said “Muggsy Bogues”.

stadium sunrise

I could’ve slept for two more hours, at least. I don’t know what made me set a pre-dawn alarm on my day off. When I get in my mind that I want to do something, I do it. It’s a consequence of being the youngest child and incredibly stubborn, I suppose. Last night I wanted to see a sunrise, so the alarm was set. I woke up, put on some shoes, fed and walked the dog and headed to my nearest high school to watch the everyday miracle that starts in the East.

There’s a time between dawn and the actual sunrise when the sky is bright enough that you think you may have missed the pink and orange show. Everything looks like daylight, but the sun hasn’t actually reappeared yet. That’s what was happening when I reached the top of the stadium and found a spot to lean on the railing. I had my phone out, ready to snap a dozen photos to post into the internet abyss. Then, on instinct, I took one photo and put the phone away. A picture wouldn’t do any of it justice, and I’m more of a words person anyway. I vowed to not look at twitter or instagram until I’d seen what I came here to see. It disgusts me that this is even a bargain I have to make with myself, but I’m a product of the 21st century and that’s just how it goes.

For several minutes the clouds looked like dying embers. Their edges had that glow you see when you’ve been by the fire pit all night and you’re just waiting for it to cool down enough to be left alone. I watched as the glow spread across the entire top of a massive cloud that seemed like it might put up a Pacquiao-caliber fight against what I came here to see. I was getting impatient. That’s my nature. I knew what I wanted. I knew it wouldn’t look much different than it has in the past. I knew it could happen faster.

I looked down at two gatorade bottles that now held dip spit. Disgusted, I kicked them down the row of bleachers a bit and looked back up at the sky. I don’t know what about the discarded paraphernalia of southern teenage boys made me decide to go back to what I was doing, but I’m pretty sure I just needed to see something beautiful again to get the brown spit water image out of my head.

The sky was turning pink and purple at this point. I realized then that I’d been here before. (I also realized that I can’t just sit and stare at something without my mind wandering, but that’s a different story.) I’d been in this stadium at dawn. I was a teenager myself, maybe 16? I was waiting for my race to start. I sat, nervously, somewhere on those same bleachers staring into the woods trying to map out how difficult that course would be. I was in that same spot at the same time of day with a completely different purpose.

The rays began slicing through what seriously must have been one of the largest clouds I’ve ever seen. I felt the late September, early morning chill and pulled my hood on and my sleeves down over my hands. It was reaching that breaking point between the overnight cool and the sun’s first moment to reach through and warm the Earth. That may be my favorite moment of any day. I’ve always been a sunrise person. There’s something about the optimism of a sunrise. I think my insistence that sunrises are better also has something to do with being from the East Coast. The sunrise belongs to the East Coast.

The moment just before it finally happens is one of anticipation. I’m no stranger to anticipation. I, like most people, know that anticipation can often be one of the better parts of things. Anticipation before a big game, when opening a present on Christmas morning, in a loving moment with a significant other. Those few seconds just before the sun finally breaks through are the most optimistic of the entire day. It’s fleeting, but it comes every single day — the moment when you know exactly what is happening next, but you just can’t wait to see how it plays this time.

The sun joined my day, already in progress. I felt it’s warmth. I watched it rise a little higher. I took another photo or two. I packed up the sweatshirt and water I’d brought. I kicked the gatorade dip spit bottles a little further down the line and headed to the track for some sprints. I could’ve slept for at least a couple more hours this morning, but I’m glad I didn’t.

women’s equality day

In 1996 when I ran the second fastest mile in the whole third grade no one told me I was the fastest girl. They told me I was the second fastest kid in the third grade. Only now do I see the significance of that.

The internet tells me today is Women’s Equality Day. I did a little research to make sure this wasn’t some facebook rumor like National Eat A Hotdog Wrapped In A Pretzel And High Five Your Neighbor Day or something. Turns out, it’s a real holiday designated by congress in 1971 (Equality day, not the pretzel thing). I’m a woman so naturally I care about this. The push for Women’s Equality is still very relevant 42 years later, but in a totally different way.

For what it’s worth I don’t think the issue now is about rights, it’s safety. Women still need a way to go through life without being on the defensive at all times.

Hear me out. Ask a woman who runs if she’s ever been out on a trail by herself and not thought of what she would do if someone were to attack her. Ask her if she knows what it’s like to piece together an escape plan to the beat of her own steps. Ask a grown woman how often she walks to her car alone after a night out. Better yet, ask her what she does when she has to walk alone. 9 times out of 10 I bet she’ll say she calls her husband/parents/friends/siblings on the phone so someone will know if something happens or where she was when it did. Ask her how she carries her keys when she walks through a parking garage – sticking out in case she has to use them, right? Ask her if she owns pepper spray. Ask any woman you know if she’s ever been approached by a stranger, with an entirely too aggressive come on, while she was alone. I could go on for days, but you’re smart. You get the point.

Women my age were born well after the push to get women in the workplace. We weren’t around when girls couldn’t wear pants. We’ve mostly never been told we can’t do things because of our gender. I grew up with older brothers who never even considered letting “I’m a girl” be an excuse in any sport. My oldest brother taught me how to throw a spiral before I could even ride a bike. No one ever said I needed to choose a career that would let me take time off to care for a family.  I suppose that’s the case for a lot of women my age. What’s mind-blowing is that we’re just a generation behind the women who were told that they didn’t need to go to college. They should work at home for the good of the kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with staying home, but it’s a choice now. That is significant. Our mothers remember when it became okay to wear pants to school.

It’s been less than a hundred years since women were first allowed to vote. Let that sink in. It’s been less than a hundred years since women started voting.

So it’s hard for me to think of Women’s Equality day as a continued fight for more rights for women. We’ve come so far. We’re far enough that the we recognize misogyny as a character flaw not a legitimate way of thinking.

Women now have dozens, hundreds, thousands more opportunities than our mothers. But we’re still not free from the fear that one day somebody is going to come along and recognize the “weaker sex” in us and take advantage of it. So we keep pushing. We keep telling our daughters that it’s good to be strong and brave. We keep teaching our sons to respect and empower women. We’ve come this far in less than a hundred years, there’s no way to know how much better things can get.

On this 43rd annual Women’s Equality Day It doesn’t matter that I was the fastest girl to run the mile in third grade. It does matter that no one made the distinction.