About kb

free spirit, lover of red wine, bacon, sushi, the ocean, and adventure. I work in the legal field, do freelance writing, and take care of children.

On This Dying Planet, Sadly

Growing up, we heard all about the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I was born in the late 80s, and the better part of my formative years was spent existing in the shadow of excess in all things – plastic packaging, disposable razors, wrappers, shrink wrap, Ziploc bags, fruit snacks, disposable cameras, the yearning for Lunchables ….the list goes on. My parents yellowing stash of thick Tupperware accrued sometime around 1984 seemed pointless and outdated, because why would we need it when everything came in its own to-go container? Think of all of those balloons, butterfly clips, snap bracelets, jelly shoes, sand toys, and containers of Play-Doh we used to use languishing in some landfill now.  Consumerism was at its height – everything was shiny and new and ultimately, so conveniently disposable. The consumption models that began with the advent of mass production have only multiplied, ultimately modifying the way we view tangible goods and commodities such that we’ve been willfully blinded to our gross overindulgence and reclassification of necessity.

We saw the campaigns pushing recycling. Denver started a recycling program when I was a kid, and we put all of our eco-knowledge into separating trash from recycle.  We learned about the deforestation of the rain forest; we learned that the Earth was warming; we watched Fern Gully and some of us (me) had nightmares; we were concerned about CFCs in the atmosphere, global warming, and the ozone hole.

I guess in my idealistic young mind, I assumed that all humans would realize we had a collective problem, and we’d fix it. Globalization couldn’t be all bad, right? Everyone on Earth would have to work together to find a solution, and of course we would, because it’s our home. The plan was simple: everyone just recycle, plant more trees, not use so much hairspray, and the Earth would be okay again.

In college, were secretly convinced that Chicago didn’t actually have a recycling program and that the blue bags distinguishing recycling that got hauled away with the rest of the trash just got dumped with everything else. Then came GrubHub, that magical food delivery mechanism, and with it, Stryofoam containers, greasy pizza boxes, and plastic cutlery, wrapped individually in plastic bags.

Composting was for the real hippies. That was some real next-level shit. Recycling would be enough. Companies would lower their emissions; solar energy would not require the pollution-intense process of some really dirty mining; no future President would increase massive tariffs on the solar industry, effectively crippling its affordability and growth, nor would they ever consider rolling back laws intended to benefit the environment, and thus, the population as a whole, even at slight increases in costs for companies who increase profits by disposing of waste in horrible ways. The corrupt capitalist ideal of greed would never leach deep into the souls of those in power, like an oil leak in the Gulf we underestimated and now can’t stop. We would never pull out of a non-binding climate accord, just to be dicks on the world stage.

Or so I thought.

I cringe now to survey my home and think of all of the products and packaging contained therein. We recycle avidly, which is frustrating because recycling pick up is only once every two weeks and our bin is always full. Our trash can is never full, but when it is, it’s full of trash bags with plastic packaging, cat litter, and soiled things that can’t be recycled. I’m ashamed to admit we’re still using cleaning wipes, those convenient non-recyclable, non-biodegradable bastards. (We’re on the way to baking soda and vinegar, though, and I swear, my bathtub has never been happier. We also have ridiculously hard water, so I use vinegar on everything to decalcify and degrime.)

I’m in the process of a massive attempt at overhauling our lives and the ways in which we create waste. I’m a huge fan of Costco, because who isn’t, but I’m also starting to be more mindful of the ridiculous amount of packaging surrounding nearly every product. Of course, it’s not just Costco. It’s everything. From the moment you’ve clicked on the Submit Order button on your Amazon account, you’re creating a waste trail. Someone has to use a car to get to work to get paid a terrible wage to work in terrible conditions to grab your order, put in more packaging, and then label it and ship it to you, utilizing resources like more gas, more fossil fuels, etc.

I once got stoned in high school and cried because I was stocking the disposable plastic spoons at the Dairy Queen where I worked, and when I dropped one on the floor, the reality of the fact that it was wasted landed in a very real way. This spoon had been mined, manufactured, processed, purchased, shipped, and intended for single-use ice cream consumption by the end consumer. And now, because I’d dropped it, it was useless, wasted. Pointless. I felt so careless in that moment.  I should find the ridiculous blog I wrote about it that night; the memory of that feeling has stayed with me.

But now imagine that extension of careless waste that’s extended my entire life, and yours. Think of how, if you had to stack all the trash you’ve ever created in your backyard, it would grow endlessly. It’s like the rise of cyber-bullying, in a very far-reaching simile, because without having to see the effects of your actions (or inaction), you are not faced with the consequences. Your trash gets magically whisked away every week and it’s not your problem anymore, because it’s out of sight and out of your mind. Much like when you call someone names on the internet. You don’t have to watch them cry or see their self-esteem crumble, because you’re safe in the confines of your own home, desperately trying to make yourself feel better about your sad life by putting others down. (I should clarify, this was not a great metaphor and I definitely don’t feel so vindictive about my trash leaving as I imagine internet bullies feel about internet bullying.)

Oh, and even if you recycle your plastics, which we do to the fullest extent possible (this includes remembering your reusable bags, not buying bagged salads anymore because we can at least recycle the plastic boxes the lettuce/spinach come in, opting for non-packaged fruits and veggies, etc.), you’re still not helping anything, because plastic can only be recycled a few times before it’s useless. Even recycled plastics require the addition of new virgin plastic to ensure that the structure is sound. Hopefully this comes as no surprise, but some plastics are not recyclable at all.

Glass and metal are the only materials that can be recycled over and over without losing quality, meaning that we can keep recycling aluminum cans, glass bottles, and whatever else in an endless loop. That’s heartening, at least. I’ve been trying to choose more glass (even though I’m clumsy as all hell and it’s led to the increase in broken things around our home). I still remember when my little brother and I thought that collecting cans was the ticket to young wealth, because King Soopers/Kroger would pay you like 5c/can. Or maybe it was by weight….because they’re light. We imagined we’d be rich. Alas, that did not pan out.

It starts little. No one will be perfect at living without creating waste, and if they are, I’m sure you’ll hear about it like running into a friend who’s just become a vegan or taken up Crossfit. But honestly, if you can do this, you’ve probably earned some serious bragging rights, so preach!

I read a great thing recently about how it doesn’t take everyone being perfect; it takes all of us doing it imperfectly. Change doesn’t happen overnight; it begins with that single decision to start being more conscious about how we consume, create, and dispose of products. Even though we’ve been blindly recycling for years, we can all do better. So much better.

Glass snapware containers replace our plastic ones; but our existing plastic ones, we keep and use, washing them and ensuring that they don’t molder in the refrigerator (I’m guilty of throwing away cheap plastic containers in my life due to this situation…). Glass jars line our shelves. Most of our dishes were purchased secondhand or gifted. The Corelle dishes from my youth now live in my house; the china set I purchased at the flea market nearly a decade ago is still in (beloved) rotation. We have reusable dishes and cups to take camping. I’ve always loved a good thrift store trip, and over the past few years, I have definitely cut back on the amount of clothing I purchase everywhere.

We’re working on phasing out paper towels. We’ve got an abundance of dish towels (no microfiber cloths – those also have plastic in them), and we’ll be asking my mom to help us sew some Swiffer-sized cloth things so we can re-purpose our Swiffer and stop using the non-recyclable cloths. (She’ll read this before I actually tell her about it, so Mom, let’s discuss how to best go about this. I’m imagining a flat envelope-ish fabric mop situation.)

We’re attempting to compost, which we’re doing a terrible job of, so that’s at the forefront of our plan to try to live more intentionally. (Hey, Denver people, you can get a compost bin for like $10/month and you should do that. Aurora, I have a friend who started a compost business and will come pick your stuff up. Unfortunately, Englewood doesn’t offer municipal trash service, so the company I use doesn’t offer composting, which is why I’m open to any and all suggestions for happy composting. I need worms.)

I’m obsessed with Nalgene water bottles, despite the fact that my very spatially-unaware self struggles with not spilling their contents all over me at least once a day, and we have a rotating set that we use instead of other water containers. We’re making our coffee and tea at home, and we carry those with us in reusable metal and plastic containers, saving us money on not buying coffee, too. We’ve got reusable straws. I keep a spoon in my backpack at all times (which might be why I’m constantly complaining that we don’t have enough spoons in the house).

We’ve switched to bar shampoo instead of bottles, and I am still looking into bar conditioners, although I have yet to find one that’s decent. Suggestions are welcomed! I’m also using apple cider vinegar (diluted) to rinse my hair on non-shampoo days. We’ll be switching to toothpaste tablets as soon as we’re done with the tubes we have now.

Next year, we’ll try to grow more of our own produce. This year, we have managed to keep all the plants we bought alive (definitely not thriving, but alive), and we currently have a whopping 2 tomatoes growing. I’m excited. We’ve got a push mower, too, to cut back on gas usage and increase caloric output and cardio benefits while lawn mowing.

Biking to work, carpooling, reducing the amount of trips we take, not ever taking a cruise, limiting air travel, buying local, not getting new electronics just because, not having air conditioning, washing clothes on cold, not using the dryer, fewer soaps and detergents, proper disposal of prescription medication, signing up for e-billing instead of paper bills, not plastic packaged cushy toilet paper, making food instead of buying it pre-made, choosing to buy products that come in glass or metal or paper or without packaging, etc. Even the thought of procreating is terrifying – both for the sake of my hypothetical children and the sake of their impact on this planet.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list – we’re working on it, and building it. We have an online list where we drop our ideas and we’re trying to see what other steps we can take to reduce energy consumption, decrease waste, and overall, be better to our home planet. We’re not even good at it yet, and I’ve been grateful to see the increased prevalence of articles about the state of the planet and it’s increasing my sense of urgency to stop thinking recycling is the answer, because it’s absolutely not. It’s not about the United States anymore – it’s about how we can’t just ship our plastics off to China and wash our hands clean of the havoc we wreak.

This year, I did middle school programming for the adoption camps I volunteer for (never again; middle schoolers are hormonal demons who travel in packs of angst and feed off each other’s energy), and as part of our service project, we cleaned up trash in a park and in the area where the camp was held. It was a ridiculously hot morning, and everyone was grumpy and angry, but all in all, we collected five bags of trash among roughly 15 kids.

We went camping in Wyoming last week, and hiked a few miles to this gorgeous waterfall, and on our way there and pack, we packed out a backpack’s worth of garbage, including dog poop (bagged but discarded behind a tree along the trail, not necessarily so someone could remember to pick it up on their way back) and a boot. A boot. I watched a child throw a plastic water bottle into a river, threw my hands on my hips, and said, “Well….” in a very patronizing way, and stood there until the parent finally noticed and made their child retrieve it. (Yeah, I’m that guy now.) You’ve intentionally sought out nature and you’re going to abuse it? How does that even compute?

Even though I know that I’m but a drop in the bucket, or a single boot in a river, I know that it is my duty as a citizen of this global community to do whatever I can to ensure that I protect our environment for our future, whatever that may look like. I also know that it’s not just on a personal consumption level, it’s about politics and legislation and corporations. It’s about global efforts to enact policies that reduce, reuse, re-purpose, and change the consumption models so that corporations are incentivized to reduce packaging, pollution, and overall waste in their sourcing, manufacturing, and product marketing. It’s about everything. It’s about the fear of the melting permafrost that’s not so permanently frozen. It’s about climate change and dwindling habitats and dying animals. It’s about giving up our comforts so that we can do better. Even though this is a frustrating way to end this post, it’s my hope that eventually, we can wake up, finally face the grim realization that we’re killing our home, and work hard to protect the remaining resources and life we have left, before it’s too late. (Which, of course, for so many environments, ecosystems, and species [maybe even us], it already is.)

 

On Salmon, Reluctantly

I’ve been mentoring a now-12 year old for a few years, and in that time, she’s become more my little sister than anything else.

We met through the adoption camps that I volunteer for, and her parents asked if I’d be willing to hang out with her and be a role model for her. (It’s interesting how sometimes the very notion that you are a role model for a child propels you forward, especially when you feel incredibly small.) So we began our journey to pseudo-sisterhood one winter day in 2015.

Flash forward to multiple family dinners. They are a very healthy family, and to me it seemed that every time I would go over, they’d be making salmon. Grilled salmon, baked salmon, salmon a million ways. My 12 year old would always balk at the salmon, and so, in the spirit of role modeling, I would choke down salmon the way she liked it: cracker, slathered in cream cheese, salmon. Actually, that’s a decent way to baby step into salmon consumption. Cream cheese is a beautiful thing.

Okay, I’d think to myself, you can do this. Salmon is healthy; it’s full of Omega-3s and whatever else you need. Eat it. Demonstrate curiosity and willingness to try new things.

So I kept eating salmon.

At a recent family dinner, I remarked that they’re always making salmon, and they told me that they thought salmon was my favorite. Achievement clearly unlocked, as I have been faking a love of salmon so well and for so long that they believed it. That’s why they made salmon every time.

We laughed, as I explained that I was trying to demonstrate good eating habits, and since then, our menu has differed significantly. The other night, we ate manicotti, as my 12 year old scraped off all of the sauce, leaving just cheese and noodles. (How one can appreciate anything without sauce, I cannot fathom; I clearly still have work to do here.)

And, proudly, a few weeks ago, I bought fresh salmon at Costco, slathered it in pesto, topped it with breadcrumbs and shredded cheese, baked it for 17 min and then broiled it carefully for 3 min to crisp up the crumbs, and, to my great surprise, I enjoyed the hell out of some salmon for the first time in my adventures in cooked fish.

I’ll have to send them the recipe. Or perhaps, I’ll just have to make it for them the next time we have family dinner.

On the Point Game, Linguistically

I have always loved language.

My mom tells me that even before I could talk, she would peek into my bedroom after nap time, to find me in my crib, holding a book (this was the 80s, and I wasn’t about to smother myself on a book, I’m assuming), turning the pages and babbling to myself in baby talk, but with the correct intonations as though I were telling the story.

I began writing my first (only?) novel at the age of 10, when I typed 50 pages of a story about a girl who finds a secret door under a bridge in her local park and gets transported back to ancient Egypt, where she must solve a mystery and save the world. One day, after much time spent researching so as to avoid any anachronistic insertions into my story, I decided that I hated it, and promptly deleted the file. My adult self would give nearly anything to read those 50 pages now, and I’m disappointed in small Katie for her abrupt and reckless decision making.

In high school, during my stint as a tortured poet (or the state of being that most of you would refer to as “being a teenager”), I wrote a few marvelous poems, and mostly garbage ones. One, which I disseminated to my entire AP English class, included the word “urethral.” I meant to say “ethereal” and to this day, I cringe when I think about it.

This brings me to a game that my friend Jacob and I created, and which really is the best game in existence: It’s called the Point Game. Every time you use a word incorrectly, but the meaning/intent is clear (or even if your word is used incorrectly and the meaning is completely unclear), you get a point.

Points are not good. You don’t want to be accumulating points. A point receiver can argue the point with the point giver, usually with no great success, and a point receiver can outright reject a point, but it doesn’t change the fact that they did in fact receive a point. It’s a lighthearted game with no real consequences or score. We enjoy ourselves and the resulting linguistic discussions immensely.

The best example of this is actually one of the things that brought about the Point Game. A drunk woman in a bar was angry at a man, and she shouted at him, “A diatribe of women will come after you!” Diatribe is defined as: “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.” So, point.

I always call it James Joyce-ing, but I love to make up my own words and massage language and punctuation to suit my needs, and I respect anyone who can masterfully manipulate (or rather, renaissance) language to suit their intent.

The point game is also an excellent opportunity to evaluate your own use of language. Part of why I love working with kids is because they force me to critically think about my own perceptions of the world, and the hardest thing is when children ask you to explain an intangible concept, like luck, for example. But how many words do I use regularly that I don’t actually know what they mean? Sometimes, I’ve got a pretty good idea, so I just go for it, but it’s a nice reminder that you can (and will) be wrong or misinformed.

The point game is not about mocking poor use of language; it’s about learning and reaffirming your own abilities to understand the meanings of words. It’s all about learning how to renaissance words to effectively communicate your intended meaning, even if you’re not quite hitting the mark. Besides, it’s fun and it keeps you on your toes.

On “RBG,” Reverently

As a child, my most common Halloween costumes were either witch or Supreme Court Justice. Perhaps it’s because I had easy access to the black graduation robe my mom had because she was a teacher. Perhaps it’s because I did firmly believe that I was going to be the first female president of the United States.

I have loved Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a long time. When her popularity grew significantly after the spread of the “Notorious RBG” meme, I loved her even more. To see such an accomplished woman be so idolized felt joyous to someone who spent years looking up to strong women in law and government.

Chances are very low (if not non-existent) that I will be a Supreme Court Justice or the first female president, given that I never did follow through with the law school plan. However, I very much enjoyed curling up on the couch to watch the documentary “RBG.”

It’s full of beautiful moments of RBG’s relationship with her husband, something that I think we can aspire to, and it brought me to crying very happy tears. She’s tenacious, and her life’s work to further women’s rights is beyond inspiring. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to stare down the innumerable challenges she’s faced with grace and aplomb, and her interviews in the documentary are delightful.

Given her recent health challenges, I cannot even begin to explain how much her dedication to her work is personally motivating to me.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, I highly recommend that you put it on your list of things to see.

On this Poem, Lovingly

Before You Came

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 1911 – 1984

 

Before you came,

things were as they should be:

the sky was the dead-end of sight,

the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

 

Now everything is like my heart,

a color at the edge of blood:

the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,

the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,

the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,

and the black when you cover the earth

with the coal of dead fires.

 

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?

The sky is a shirt wet with tears,

the road a vein about to break,

and the glass of wine a mirror in which

the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

 

Don’t leave now that you’re here—

Stay. So the world may become like itself again:

so the sky may be the sky,

the road a road,

and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

On New Orleans, Belatedly

I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans. My little brother – rather, younger brother, as my little brother towers over me at 6’4″ – is getting married, and I am now a bridesmaid (although I tried to explain I really didn’t need to be one), so I was invited along to the bachelorette party in New Orleans.

Now, I do love my brother’s fiancée quite a bit, but the thought of me, a Colorado woman whose very low maintenance beauty routine generally consists of “when’s the last time I wore makeup and where is it?”, traveling to a beautiful city with beautiful Dallas women who know how to curl their hair intimidated me immensely. However, I own a super sexy black dress, and I’m Katie Fucking Barry (sorry Mom, it’s a figure of speech), so I figured “I got this,” grabbed my makeup bag, stuffed it in a backpack with my laptop, and headed down there.

I spent the time waiting for the flight seated at a bar, chatting to an oil and gas intern who had recently relocated to NOLA and had been in Colorado for a conference. He was fresh out of college and seemed to enjoy his chosen industry, although did not express love for living in New Orleans. I spent the flight seated next to a very loud contractor who thanked every flight attendant for coming to work that day, as if they had any choice, and who proceeded to advise me on upcoming home remodel work. He was attending his sister’s book launch in New Orleans, and clearly had not been on many airplanes. I prayed he’d stop talking at some point, because he was so loud, but he was so enthusiastic and kind that I just let him continue, whispering back responses. We talked about books, and his pet bird, and wood floors. He promised he’d read American Gods.

I really do have the strangest but most wonderful conversations with people.

I arrived too late and exhausted (I had spoken at a conference for court reporters on cannabis and employment law, complete with a super amazing Jeopardy PowerPoint I made before flying to New Orleans) to meet up with the lady crew, so I curled up in a twin bed (note to self: never again) and fell asleep, after realizing that I’d left all of my jewelry and my toothbrush in Denver.

Shit.

I woke up in a strange house in a strange neighborhood, and immediately set off to procure dental hygiene products. Our Airbnb was in an interesting neighborhood. I’ve lived in Chicago, and in interesting parts of Cape Town, so I’m really not bothered by much. I strode into the nearest store, which was an oddly compiled bodega carrying everything from canned beans to beer to purses to free condoms to one tube of toothpaste.

Joy secured, I returned to my temporary home. The women were surprised I’d walked in the neighborhood alone. I  reminded them that daylight is a beautiful thing. This Airbnb, a remodeled shotgun house with a cute red front door, was full of weird gnat-like flies. Obviously, I wasn’t sure about the local insect game, so I withheld judgement until I realized that this is absolutely not normal. However, I made my peace with the flies after the first two hours of continuous aggravation. The showers were odd. It was a nice reminder to me that I should absolutely pay someone to do my tile work for me. They had done a decent job remodeling the place, complete with bright turquoise accent walls and exposed brick and newer appliances, but man, were they inept at tile work.

And I have to imagine that neither am I. So as my bathroom remodels get underway (ha, eventually?), I will have to remind myself that my DIY mindset does not extend to actual DIY practice. And I will have to bring in skilled assistance or risk being mocked mentally by anyone who ever uses my bathrooms.

We got ready to go to fancy brunch. However, immediately after brunch, we were headed to an alligator tour. (I have so many thoughts about this tour – we paid $105 each for this adventure, and I found similar ones on Groupon for $16….so I complained, but only mildly.) I donned overalls that my brother’s fiancée had brought for me. They looked great on her, but I was just swimming in them. At least they were comfortable! (I’m generally too long for one piece things, which is annoying. I guess they don’t make clothes with the long torso-ed in mind, and it ends up touching you in places you’d rather not.)

We made it down to brunch, two of us wearing overalls, one wearing obscenely short shorts, one wearing a vest made out of Bud Light boxes and held together with leopard print duct tape, and a fanny pack with a naked male belly button on it (as though it were an outcropping of exposed stomach), and attempted to enter the restaurant. The man guarding the door, I mean, the host, dressed in a suit and bowtie, looked us up and down and said, “None of this is going to work,” while he waved his pointed index finger back and forth, up and down.

So, banned because of the way that we were, we went next door (same freaking restaurant) and sidled up to the bar, where I ate delicious gumbo. (Rabbit, duck? Something gamey that I’m not usually keen on. But still enjoyed. Would eat again.)

Then, the alligator tour commenced. I’m a naturally curious person, and I love adventure, generally. I enjoy nature and I enjoy water, so this was bound to be a good time. We climbed into a giant SUV with a couple, and were carted off into the swamplands surrounding the city.

I am in love with trees. I have been in love with trees since spending most of my childhood in and around the apple tree in our backyard, and the trees in the South do not disappoint. (See also my obsession with tulip trees in Kansas City. Not trying to say that’s the South. Adding additional context for tree love.) They are both formidable yet graceful. They loom large above you, and I imagine I could happily build a cabin and live beneath one forever.

I had never been on an airboat before. These things are awesome. They glide over floating foliage, loudly, and gather speed. I held my arm out, as one should, feeling the wind on my exposed skin. I loved it.

We navigated through a larger water channel before turning into a smaller passage, and eventually arrived to float among some plants. The guide brought out marshmallows, hooked them onto a pole, and then we met our first alligator, who floated up next to the boat, eager for food.

A smaller alligator joined that one, and the two of them chased pieces of raw chicken and marshmallows while I peppered the guide with questions about the alligator market (which is not what it once was, despite their utility as a food source), alligator lifestyles and territorial habits, and their lifespan. Turns out, they’ll eat anything, they grow to about 17 feet, live for up to 70 years, and grow very slowly. They’re very territorial, and are left to fend for themselves immediately after birth. You used to be able to get about $5,000 for a decent sized gator – but now the going rate is roughly $500 for the same gator. Hunters are given tags based on the land that they own, and it’s a good thing for population control. Alligator skin isn’t as popular as it once was for outerwear, and as such, the industry has suffered. I do believe I ate a gator nugget in Florida once.

I also learned a lot about water and land ownership rights. Turns out, in Louisiana, you can own water as though it were land, where in other places, you cannot. (You generally buy land with bodies of water on it, but you do not have claim to said water other than by the deeding of water rights, which are generally shared amongst those whose land butts up again or includes that body of water.) I need to do some more research, and learn how to more effectively communicate my understanding of water rights, but from what I gather, there are different applications of water rights depending on the potential for usage of a given waterway, and your water rights extend roughly 6 inches below the surface of the water. (Again, this is not legal advice, and should in no way be construed as such. I was drinking alcoholic beverages and asking questions that I don’t know the guide was qualified to answer.)

I enjoyed the afternoon immensely, and it culminated in me holding a baby alligator! He was very squirmy, and clearly not in the mood to be manhandled by humans. But he was sweet, and I imagined he’d feel right at home in my bathtub with Carl for a brother. They could hunt mice and squirrels in my backyard, and I would build him a pond for summer relaxation.

We left the alligator tour and went and ate the best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life. I love fried chicken. I would eat it all the time. And man, the sides. Sweet potatoes, collard greens, mac and cheese, beans, rice. Heaven. This is what my heaven buffet includes.

We went home, napped (very necessary), and then became beautiful for our evening adventures. It included Hurricanes at some famous bar, then somewhere else, then a club. By this point, I was ready to go home, but they refused to let me go alone and thus, I danced wearily for several hours, while holding onto a railing, until we could leave.

The next morning brought beignets and I was able to pick up a new set of tarot cards. My friend Madeline had gifted me some in high school, and I’ve since lost them. While I am in no way blessed with the ability to remember anything about the tarot, I do enjoy possession of said cards, and was happy to procure them. The voodoo shop was lovely, cluttered, and full of things I could have spent hours looking at.

We wandered until it was time to check into my hotel, and we all hauled ourselves and our stuff there to wait until it was time to go to the airport. As soon as they left, I  immediately put on the bathrobe (because in theory, bathrobes are amazing but who actually bothers to use them in real life?), and then sprawled out across the bed.

I ordered room service. Obvious mistake, but the exhaustion deadened my bones and my fear of committing some GrubHub faux pas in a hotel lobby loomed larger than it should have, so with that, an over-priced Caesar salad and turkey club were whisked to my room. I opened the door in my bathrobe, hoping that wasn’t too weird. But I would imagine they’ve seen worse?

The next morning, I had formulated somewhat of a plan, and took the streetcar to a cemetery. I am obsessed with graveyards. I find them to be beautiful places of quiet reflection, the immensity of life somehow compacted into tiny markers of who once was. I’ve often stared at gravestones, caught in my own head, thinking hard about what it is to live a full life and then be reduced to a few lines of text for future consideration. In New Orleans, due to the sea level situation, you can’t really be buried underground, as your grave would just come back up, rejected by the earth. So instead, you are buried above ground. This cemetery housed graves going back to the late 18th century, I believe, and I wandered and wondered until the heat of the day and the weight of laptop digging into my back signaled that it was time to depart.

I perused a local bookstore for about an hour. I could read forever. I have lost my gift of immediately knowing a book is worth reading by looking at it, overwhelmed by the offerings of language and stories. I selected two, finally, one, a memoir by a well-known blogger known as The Bloggess, because she’s magical and hilarious and I would happily support her by purchasing her book, and the other, because the story felt compelling. I also had one more book in my backpack, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a man whose writing I adore. So now, with three times the books I had with me when I started this three-day adventure, I sat wearily and made a new plan.

I had a few hours. I was exhausted. I was sweaty. The air was thick. Since I’d just spent $30 on books, I didn’t want to Lyft anywhere and I wasn’t sure what else I needed to see; although I had a couple museums in mind, I did not have the time. So instead, I decided to take the city bus to the airport, figuring I could just curl up at a bar somewhere with a book. So that’s exactly what I did.

I am not the most adept at public transportation, nor am I the least, so I figured that even with my several hour window, I’d manage to arrive in time. One streetcar ride, to the end of the line (I got to ride past the Loyola New Orleans campus, so that was cool), two buses, and a half mile walk in between seemed not that daunting. I made friends with a woman at one of the bus stops. We talked for half an hour about everything from high cholesterol to Chicago and weather and fried chicken. She said the locals don’t love the fried chicken place I’d fallen in love with as much as they used to, and I agreed that once something gets too popular, its quality generally decreases. However, I swore I’d come back to sample more chicken offerings, and we laughed about the quality of fried chicken in Denver. When she left the bus, she waved at me and shouted for me to have a blessed day. I loved her.

I arrived at the airport, having lost more fluids to sweat than I ever have in my entire life, exhausted and content. I found a quiet bar, curled up, and brought out my book. After the couple next to me left, a large man sat down, and immediately began talking crazy. I gave him some insight into adoption, after he told me a completely rambling story about a niece that had been given up for adoption who had reached out to the family, but the family was not getting along and so they refused to give him her information, and this and that and everything. So, I directed him to where he might find additional resources for tracking her down and I assured him that knowing is important, and that meeting her might provide some important closure for his sister, her birth mother.

With no ability to create any sort of insightful conclusion, I conclude. Alas, that was New Orleans. I’ll go back; it was beautiful.

On Kavanaugh, Rapily

Oh, surprise, surprise, rape blog again.

 

I hate this.

I hate what is going on right now as far as the current Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh. It’s a fucking hard Kava-no from me.

I haven’t eaten in two days. I have ordered food, looked at food, and taken two bites of food.

Politics is real. What action and inaction politicians are taking has a very real affect. It affects all of us. Especially some of us. Especially in certain situations. This is one of them. I hate the word “triggered” – but here’s the deal – it’s real. It’s a real thing. And it happens when you least expect it, and usually welcome it the least. Now is one of those times.

When I was 12, my father had taken us – and I do mean that – and we were in Eagle, Colorado, staying with some people we’d met at City Market. We were on our way to the movies that night, and I was sitting in the front seat of a car with bench seating. I was in the middle, because I was small. During the drive, the man, a stranger, put his large hand on my small thigh, and left it there. I froze. I stayed frozen. I finally moved to pick up his hand and remove it from my thigh, placing it on his own. That night, I stayed awake, with my back to the wall of the hard bed I was sleeping in, waiting for him to come. He didn’t come. I told no one. Later, when my dad wanted to go back to visit this family, I fought and cried and begged and fought. I got in trouble. I told no one the real reason I didn’t want to go.  I told no one until I was in therapy after college. I told my therapist. Then I told my mom.

When I was 18, I was drugged, along with my pregnant roommate, at a party. I felt the feelings of thoughts escaping my mind, and stared out of a window. I got her home, somehow, safely, and fed her milk while she was throwing up. My muscles didn’t work, and I barely made it to my bed. Bu I somehow managed to save us that night.

When I was 24, I went on three dates with a pilot. I told him, on our first date, that I didn’t want to have sex. We kissed, and everything progressed, and I protested, but when it happened, I froze. I didn’t say no. I remember laying there, in the midst of it, knowing it was a no but not knowing how to get out of it. I stayed silent and it was over.

When I was 24, I was drugged and assaulted my a co-worker. If you have ever read this blog you are familiar with that story. I woke up 12 hours later, naked and damp, on the sixth floor of the Hilton in Midtown, New York City. He was waiting, as I was throwing up in a bathroom, and when he spoke to me he asked me what I remembered. I said nothing. He said, “We just had some fun.” I will never forget the Bud Light bottle on the TV stand. I will never forget that shower, or the rest of the day, or the rest of the rest of my life. That day, I told no one. I later told my bosses. Three months later, I had an emotional breakdown. It wasn’t until way after that that I told my mom. I tell my mom everything. She knew. But she didn’t know exactly what. It was that. The weekend I got home from New York, I cried for 8 hours straight. I sliced my thighs with a  wine opener so I could feel something and stop crying. No one knows that. My brother came to my door that Saturday while I was completely immobilized by tears, oblivious to what was going on, because no one knew, and told me he wasn’t sure what was going on, but that he loved me.

When I was 27, I was drugged at a party. My then-boyfriend came back after being gone for a bit to find both myself and his male cousin not okay. He spent the night taking care of me. It was almost Easter.

When I was 29, my then-boyfriend dismissed my explanation of someone touching my breasts inappropriately at an acro yoga event, saying that because we’d had prior history, I had welcomed it. I hadn’t. I hadn’t welcomed the prior history, either, but I’d frozen then as well. It had been preceded by unwelcome fingers finding me in a hot tub. I had moved, immediately, to another place. I did not say anything.

There is more. There is always more. There’s me at 19 being thrown to the floor of an acquaintance’s apartment; there’s me in Chicago being groped at a bar, shuffling against the wall to prevent it from continuing; there’s more; there’s more; there’s more.

This circus we’re currently undergoing in the political sphere is ridiculous. Not for a single reason. For a hundred reasons. I can’t explain to you the terror and discomfort I feel at night, in the morning, always. I can’t tell you what it’s like to relive my assault over and over again as I read the news. I can’t explain the tears I cried on Election Night 2016. I can’t explain the hatred, the rage, the shame.

My Facebook feed today – and not just today – is full of friends detailing their assaults publicly. This is both beautiful and horrific. Coming clean, coming out, explaining is so freeing, but also so exposing. And of them, most went unreported. There’s a sick statistic out there that says that something like 6% of rapists go to jail.

I don’t doubt that, and I honestly doubt that it’s not a lower percentage.

I can’t report mine. I was naïve at the time, and wasn’t aware that I had options. Honestly, I was more worried about my job than anything else. I didn’t know that I could have sued the company. The statute of limitations has since passed. It’s two years. An ex boyfriend, who was a lovely and supportive human being, looked into it for me. I won’t call New York State and explain to them what happened to me in 2013. Because I can’t and won’t be able to meet the burden of proof and I can’t and won’t handle the emotional damage it would wreak upon me.

I dated older men. I am kinky. I had drunk alcohol that night. Therefore, I must have been complicit. I must have wanted it. I must have invited him in.

I can’t prove otherwise. I don’t have blood tests to show you that I was drugged. I don’t have semen samples to show you that I had sex. I don’t have shit. It is me against the world on this one, and it always will be.

I don’t know what happened to my body in New York in January of 2013. I never will. But something happened, and everything changed. My life will never be the same. I’m lucky, because I wasn’t there for it, consciously. People far stronger than I have weathered the storm that comes from sex they’re there for. It wasn’t until I read an article in April of 2013 about the Steubenville rape case where an economist theorized that rape while you’re unconscious does no lasting psychological damage that all the hell came loose inside of me. I cried for two days; I didn’t sleep; I didn’t eat; I tore at my skin until I bled. It was then that the assault landed in a very real way. It was then that I called my therapist, and he came home from skiing to hear me, and it came out of me for the first time.

My life will never be the same. I have grown and overcome and learned and accepted. And I will never be the person I was before that night. I survived an unemployment hearing in which I was ripped to shreds by my former employer. I spoke bravely and certainly and calmly. And I felt relief. Someone finally heard me. Someone finally asked questions. It was horrible. I won.

To this day, I wonder what will happen if I ever run into any of those people who were complicit in covering up my sexual assault. My boss told me that the HR report was “inconclusive” and that if I told anyone at the company, and my assailant sued the company, it would be on me. He said that to me. I crumpled against the wall after he left my office. That was June of 2013.

I quit.

I went to work at a Dairy Queen and my life has never been the same. My career never recovered. My sense of self esteem that I had worked so carefully to build has never recovered. I have been treading water ever since, staying barely afloat and alive. I do work. I live. I date. I am. But I am not. And I never will be. I am alone. I live on an island of discomfort and fear. I live on an island of uncertainty. I have lost my confidence, my glow, my radiance. I am a shell of the person I was supposed to be. I am darkness and sadness and hurt. I am functional. I am outwardly happy. I am outwardly supportive and focused and attentive. I am none of those things. Not anymore.

I wanted to die.

My friend Gina asked me who would take care of my cat if I were to die, and that’s what saved it. I think of that, often. Carl is still alive. So am I. But what will save me when Carl is gone and the darkness resurfaces, as it does? I can’t die because I’d be letting down my mother. I can’t die because I matter to children. I can’t die because my room isn’t clean and I don’t want to bother anyone.

These are real thoughts.

If you watch these Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and don’t imagine yourself in Christine’s shoes, you’re wrong. Think. Think hard. Think of your whole life and think of everything that has happened to you. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has somehow managed to escape the touching and the groping and the sexual objectification and the assault and the rape and the disbelief and the cover ups and the fucking torture that is the cross-examination, you’re lucky. And you damned well better believe that it could happen to you. Because it will or it might. You can take every precaution and prepare every safeguard and you’re still at risk.

Life is hell. Sexual assault and rape and everything else associated with it is hell. For white men to stand up and deny this is disgusting. I am disgusted with our country, our president, our leadership. I am sick to my stomach tonight.

NO.

 

 

On Starting Over, Determinedly

Life has a funny way of giving you exactly what you need, even when it’s the last thing you want.

I haven’t been writing for a long time. I’m committed to changing that. It feels rusty, long-unused, unflexed. I sit here, staring at the blankness, and have no idea where to begin. But that isn’t going to stop me any longer. I’m going to word vomit things and then we’ll hope that the rust falls away as the posts fly from my fingers and I get my groove back.

So much of the next few months will be me getting my groove back.

I’ve had quite a month. Exactly a month ago today, my life started to careen off the track it was on, and now I’m finding myself exactly where I need to be, albeit mostly reluctantly.  Now ex-boyfriend and I went to Costa Rica in early July on a highly-anticipated adventure. Everything was magical, until it wasn’t. Cue a few weeks of uncertainty and panic, then cue the fights and the fallout and all of the upset in between. Then came the back and forth, the negotiations, the ideas of how to fix it proffered exuberantly and hopefully.

Questions arose about whether it was too broken to be saved.  It was.

Ultimately, we each did a lot of digging and still came up short. I’m frustrated. I imagine he is too. We both wanted it to be, and in the way that it was, it wasn’t going to be feasible. Too much clouded any forward progress. I hate it when things fall apart.

Could I have predicted any of this? Absolutely not. I had our life planned. I was finally feeling that things were settling into place, that I had found what I was looking for. Of course, that was not to be. There are moments of regret, for me, that will eat away at me if I let them. There are moments of clarity. There are moments of compassion, of understanding, of confusion. Looking back, I see everything, still a blur. I see the best parts, and I see the inklings that led to the rest of it. I see my truth and his truth and know that the middle is a mush of the actuality of the experience.

I imagine in the coming days and weeks, I’ll feel the swell of any number of emotions. I know that waves of hurt will lap at me, pulling my heart into sadness. I know that I will have moments of despair, feelings of unworthiness, anger, hope, and general panic. I know that I will be lonely. I know that I will feel relief. I know that I will feel all of it, in turn.

The routine of our life together is no longer. It is in that realization that I am the most uncertain. “What are we going to do for dinner?” has been replaced by grocery shopping for one. Weekends seem endless, extensive, empty. Plans of adventures are left discarded. The best parts are left as something for me to look back on sadly, knowing that none of that will ever be again. The inside jokes, the happy routines, the adventures. The memories sit heavy with finality, still tinged with echoes of the pain of lost possibility.

I remember when it first happened, staring out my front door and thinking, I am not ready to do this alone. It was the emptiest despair I’ve felt in a long time.

That’s where my work begins.

I had this idea that we were going to be an unstoppable force, an enduring team. I still want to find that. I still want to be with someone who wants to work together for a bigger purpose, to support each other in turn even when it seems unmanageable.

I won’t be seeking that for quite some time. I’ve got me stuff to do. I’ve got to learn how to manage it all alone, to succeed without losing myself. I’ve got to break the bad habits that hinder my growth. I’ve got to dig deep and examine so much. There really isn’t any time like the present. It’s like that annoying adage about how you have to do something you’ve never done before. I’ve got to continue the work I started a long time ago.

In a stark moment of honesty, during one of our discussions as we desperately tried to find common ground to stand on, I told him that I have been wanting to make my house my home, and that I’ve spent far too much time living other people’s lives. I had wanted us to work together to make a life.

My friend told me that I remind her of Julia Roberts in “Runaway Bride,” because she was always eating her eggs other people’s ways and that she didn’t know how she liked her eggs. I know how I like my eggs – over-medium with lots of pepper in the yolk – but point taken.

It’s time to figure out how to eat eggs.

 

On #MeToo, Belatedly

TW: Sexual Assault, the usual

Note: I first drafted the majority of this post in October of 2017, but didn’t post it, because like so many, I hate that my art is now my outpouring and that most of my posts are centered on this very thing. But today, revisiting this post, I re-read it and wanted to add to it. So I’m going to post it, because sometimes it’s better to have put it forth into the world. I’ve been meaning to start writing again, in that, I need to push past this block that still weighs heavy on my mind and affects my ability to put forth the content that I’d like to put forth, rather than rumination on this subject.

October 2017:

I first saw “Me too,” posted on the Facebook wall of a friend, who then suggested that a better data point would be “Who hasn’t?” I knew without explanation that she was referring to sexual assault/harassment, and later, upon reading an expanded post, I was in no way surprised.

Having breakfast with my friend/mentor, we talked about what it’s like to be “out” about that sort of thing. I’m out about it, because I couldn’t not be. I don’t always want to be. Sometimes I wish I weren’t. Jesus, it’s the only thing I seem to manage to write about these days. I’d give a lot to give that up.

I think I’ve been anxious since Election Night. That sounds like a weak, victim-y statement, but bear with me, because that’s just a description of a state of being. There’s been a lot to be anxious about, both in and out of my control, and also in this vast world that we live in.  Our leaders are insane and hungry, profit-driven and determined not to assist or better anyone who isn’t useful to them. The stunning lack of empathy in our government today is indicative of far greater social plagues….but, I digress (I see you, Mom):

I cried myself to sleep before the final tally that night, before the concession, before the triumphant Trumpian speech from the Hilton in Midtown. I had a lot on my mind that night. There were so many reasons to cry.

Funny, how so many things that I hate have happened at that Hilton. A sliver of me hopes that parts of my dark energy will haunt the 6th floor of that hotel forever, as a warning, maybe, or even a mere testament to trauma. That’s unfair for the guests, I gather, and so the rest of me, save that sad sliver, wishes that all the strings holding my spirit there have been severed, not merely for the future occupants of that room but also for the salvation of my own soul.

Last year, coming up on the four year anniversary of “the bad thing,” I found myself in New York City for the Women’s March. I felt the nervous energy of return and was possessed with the determination to confront the space of the Midtown Hilton and reclaim it, as though it were an abandoned fence I might turn into fancy, rustic wall art. (April 2018 note: I have no idea what I mean with my abandoned fence metaphor attempt.) As it happens, that’s not exactly how it happened.

But something did happen. Unremarkably quiet but ultimately profound. I went, intent on drinking a Tanqueray and tonic (the drink I was drinking) in the very seat that marks the last memories of who I was, before. It was Sunday night, and after finally gathering the courage, I wandered in, and was denied entry because the bar was closed. Ah, Sunday. Of course.

I stood across the street, staring intently through the darkened window at the bar, at “my” seat. Still for a few minutes, I let whatever feelings I was feeling settle into the pit of my stomach where the darkness lives, and I took a deep breath, blinked, and went home. It was quiet, unfussy, emotional and momentous. I didn’t even cry

That night will never leave me. I’ll never be the same. There’s a sadness somewhere inside me that has yet to subside, and that may never slip away, but the city doesn’t hold me any more. I hated the city so much, for so long. It wasn’t the city’s fault. This last trip to New York, I took it back. I cut the strings, rode the trains, wandered, and was not bound by the past. I felt the promise of the city, the hum of constant motion, and I was truly present.

That week, with all of the news about Harvey Weinstein and the trending “me too” on social media, I felt it rising up again, like bile of the mind. The thoughts crept back, in flashes, memories of tears and anguish, snapshots of that long struggle. It’s not something I think about every day any more; it hasn’t made me cry in quite a while. I get frustrated sometimes, when I think of the hold I let it have over me, and feel weak for not being quicker about it or better about letting it go.

Hearing women say the same thing, over and over, is heart-wrenching. I know that there’s a lot of gray area here, intangible factors at play, misdirected rage at all men when it should only be centered on some, but at the end of the day, it is something that’s far more impactful than you imagine.

April 2018:

The other day, I was through old papers from the glove compartment of my old car. They had been grabbed hastily after the car accident and shoved into a bag, along with nearly a decade of proof of insurance paperwork and maintenance records. I was examining them before throwing them away, and smiled to find the single warning I’ve ever received from a police officer, bringing me back to an optimistic road trip to Chicago when I was still in college. But then, my heart sank a little.

I found a neatly folded piece of paper, thicker than usual, not quite cardstock, and I opened it. Synaptec Software letterhead; my warning; dated 02/04/2013. I read it. I read it again. I stared at the yellowed paper in my hands. It read: I was unreachable for an extended period of time. I missed meetings. I should take steps to ensure that I am ready and able to attend all scheduled work meetings. I remember that meeting. I remember my old boss, Gretchen, asking me if I might have been drugged. Me repeating over and over that something must have happened, because nothing made sense. Them telling me that they were leaving that part out to “protect” me. Five years on, I tore that paper into shreds and threw it away. Like those outdated insurance documents, it’s useless to me now. There’s nothing to be done – it exists as proof of something that has long since faded into the oblivion for everyone but me.

Since the #metoo movement, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if my sexual assault would have happened now, whether it would have been handled differently; whether someone would have listened; or whether the salesman would have received anything other than the verbiage including “no matter how noble your intentions” in his write up, issued 6 months after the incident, and only at the urging of outside legal counsel. Optics and defensibility, thin as those may have been.

But I am constantly reminded that not everyone understands.

I was talking to one of my dearest family members the other night, and we were talking about life, as we do, and I told her that when I finally told my family about the assault, months later, one of my aunts said to me, “Well, what have you learned?” and my own brother’s response was, “Jesus, Katie, you can’t just accuse people of that.”

My family member texted me the next day, and told me that she hadn’t been able to get it out of her head, and that she understands what it’s like to go against the norm in a traditional family. She said, no matter what, we are here for you and we love you and we have your back. That text meant the world to me. Those small, seemingly insignificant moments of support are everything.

So many people lack a fundamental understanding of the emotional damage wrought, and lack the ability to respond in a supportive way. My own boyfriend, on the five-year anniversary of the incident, didn’t understand, and went off on a rant about how anniversaries are just arbitrary and that the emotions that come with them are therefore arbitrary as well, due the arbitrary nature of the Gregorian calendar. I was furious. My rage was not just at him, though. It burns tight, coiled inside me, and erupts out in furious tears at the most inconvenient times, so much less so now, though.

Arbitrary as anniversaries may be to some, they are full of weight for others. He recognized that his attempt at reasoning me out of my furious but ultimately futile funk was wildly incorrect, and apologized, and I was understanding of that, because for him, there’s nothing he can do to help save me from my own memories, and his off-base attempts to outmaneuver my feelings were rooted in some sort of attempt at empathy, a way to ease my troubled mind. Many conversations ensued, and I’d like to think that they were productive and informative. I have his support and his understanding, and that’s amazing.

And yet, in the midst of all of it, is the frustration that comes when people so wrongly want to align themselves with this in a way that ultimately undermines the experiences of those who have actually lived the experience. That’s my current frustration, and not one I can even begin to address in this post. We focus so much on trauma, and its effects on the mind and body, and while everyone has lived through their own particularly traumatic moments, each is insular to its owner. Your trauma is not mine. I cannot live it with you. I can try to sit with you and hold space for your trauma, but I will never be enmeshed in your memories. I think that realization has extended my ability to empathize. Sometimes, people don’t need to “learn” anything. Sometimes they just need someone to understand.

 

On the Dog Door, Determinedly

The lawyer I work for is out of town, so he asked me to watch his dog this weekend. I am in love with his dog, a giant Rottweiler named Tank who imagines he’s a lapdog. He’s not.

I went over there to feed the dog on Saturday morning, and I couldn’t find the key anywhere. I looked in all the logical places and finally called the lawyer. His girlfriend told me that he forgot to leave me a key. I asked what the best way to break in might be. She directed me to the dog door.

I groaned inwardly. Dog doors are notoriously tight places. I’m not as tiny as I used to be (although still confident that I can fit through a dog door), so I went around the back to prepare for my journey through the door. Tank saw me coming and rushed through the dog door into the backyard, his whole body shaking with canine excitement. We exchanged greetings, and once he’d settled down, I tried to get him to go through first. He refused, ever the gentleman.

I shoved my keys and phone through the door, within arm’s reach just in case something went awry, and then let me arms and shoulders go through. About the time that my hips were approaching the dog door, Tank decided that he, too, needed to be in the house immediately. He nudged me, but given that my hips were in the middle of the dog door, he couldn’t get through.

As soon as my hips cleared the frame, however, he rushed in. For a few seconds, it was Tank and I tangled in the dog door. He made it through, of course, I wasn’t so lucky. I scraped my shin against the bottom of the door frame, cursing his dog body for being so large and him for being unaware of that fact. But as soon as I got through and saw his sweet puppy face, all annoyance melted away.

We spent a very companionable weekend together, and I’m wishing we were getting a Rottweiler instead of whatever it is that my roommate has his heart set on.