Quarter of a Cent-Cherry

Great conversation, loud laughter, fun stories. Inside jokes and quick-witted comments and the type of easy, comfortable banter that comes from many years together, from shared experiences and milestones, difficult times, tears, proud moments, pure elation and happiness. From close friendship.

The air is dry, and the trees are tall, and it’s rustic and gorgeous.

Tahoe, California. Spring. 2014.

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

Was it really twenty five years ago that I was half a world away, breathing air as dry, amongst trees as tall, hanging out in somebody’s rustic bunk, cocooned by esoteric jokes and hysterical laughter and the closest of friends?

Lapalala Wilderness, South Africa. Fall. 1989.

Fifteen years old, on a week-long wilderness program in the Limpopo Province with my tenth grade class, it was the very best of times. I loved all those school retreats to simple, woodsy places in the Highveld, where it was very, very cold in the early morning and at night, sweltering hot in between. When we were woken at the crack of dawn, and saw the mist rising with the African sun. Ate cornflakes and toast with thick peanut butter and bananas for breakfast, and then packed it all up for a long hike to learn about the Toothbrush Plant, and how to belay down a mountainside. Walking in smaller groups of twos and threes, paired off with my crush of the moment, or sharing wild hopes and dreams with my BFF while the hadedas called to each other in the broiling heat.

Lapalala Wilderness

Lapalala Wilderness

Mixed tapes played Men at Work and Phil Collins, Roxette and Milli Vanilli on portable boom boxes. We dismissed every rule late into the night, breaking curfew the very least of it. The girls snuck into the boys’ bunks (never the other way around), and we told secrets and broke promises and huddled together to keep warm.

My 25-year-old memories haunt me lately. I keep coming back to that year, 1989, when life just worked. For me. It wasn’t always like that before, and almost never again, but that year the music was right, and school was okay, and my siblings were fun and my parents understood (or they pretended to) and, most important of all at 15, my friends were perfect in every way.

Twenty five years later many of those friends are still perfect to me in every way. As I gaze out at the impossibly tall Tahoe pine trees, I ache to have them closer to me – we are scattered all over the Earth – to share inside jokes, and laugh at nothing, and sing Land Down Under out of tune at the top of our lungs.

A burst of laughter pulls me away from 1989 – I focus on the faces around me. They are warm and happy, smiling and talking. Faces I know and love. Here I am, twenty five years later, half a world up and away, with friends that are perfect to me… in every way.

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry by OPI

Quarter of a Cent-Cherry by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Jinx!

“Jinx! Double jinx! Triple jinx! Personal jinx!”

They scream this out every time two or more of them say something at the same time. I used to play that game as a kid. There was something thrilling about being in sync with my friend or sibling. Like: how cool that we’re thinking about the same thing AT THE SAME TIME! No. Way.

It’s still cool.

I don’t like to feel alone (I wonder if anyone does really…?). I feel scared and sad, forgotten and neglected, when I feel alone. Like I have to face the big wide whole world by myself and it overwhelms me. Feels impossible. I am much warmer, calmer, happier when I know that someone is thinking of me, someone has me in mind, someone is empathetic toward me. And it’s even better if they’re thinking of me at the same time as I’m thinking of them. But that doesn’t happen often. No. Way.

Sometimes it does. It does happen. And when it does I am that eight-year-old kid again – thrilled and happy with a great big grin on my face because how cool! And also because I’m reassured that I’m really not alone.

The song a faraway friend mentions to me that is suddenly playing on the radio. The adorable muppet-like video saying hi I love you you’re awesome I’m so glad you’re my friend that shows up in my inbox on a morning that seems impossible – Toronto now feels like it’s round the corner, and suddenly the morning is not so impossible.

“So weird, was just thinking of you and wishing you were down the road and I could see you…”

She is my best friend from life. We’ve known each other since first grade, which is my whole life – I remember very little before then. We’ve been silly together, cried together, confided in each other, been mad with each other, and laughed and laughed and laughed together.

hands

When I received this text from her, my heart filled with warm and happy. She had been on my mind, so I sent her a message. Asking how she was, when could we talk? And she had been thinking of me, at that exact moment. She was not alone. And I was not alone. Jinx personal jinx!

Our phone conversations are long and deeply satisfying. I wish we were lying on the carpet listening to Depeche Mode together but this is a close second. The time zones and miles between here and there fall away, and if I close my eyes and just talk, she is right here with me.

“Nick, remember when we sent Mr B a…” “Valentine’s Card!” I finish for her.

We are both shrieking with laughter, our words falling over each other’s. We giggle together for many minutes, remembering that gigantic card we sent our English teacher in high school. We took a proud photograph of ourselves with it, and somehow that photograph ended up in his hands. Busted!

She remembers a 16th birthday party we had together – the social event of the year, she said – and I remember a Saturday night hitchhiking in Johannesburg (I know, so not okay). Sometimes our memories overlap, and sometimes they don’t, but always they are special, binding us together above the broadband that connects us.

Thinking of you. Sending love. You ok? Had a feeling, just wanted to check in… Messages like these join hands and hold me close. Whether it’s a day of smiles and sunshine, or one that is dark and difficult, these missives to and from those I love and who love me feel all kinds of wonderful. As if I stretched out my hand, and felt those warm fingers interlace with mine – from across the Bay, from down the road, to the North and down South, and over the ocean.

Jinx!

Jinx by OPI

Jinx by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

This is 40?

I was always the youngest. Not at home, at home I was the oldest. But everywhere else I was usually the youngest. The youngest in my grade. The youngest in my ballet or drama class. Because I have the southern hemisphere equivalent of a fall birthday – mid-May.

jasmine1And half a world and many decades away, where the seasons are turned upside down, and where my birthday is now in the spring, I am still the youngest.

My 40th birthday is two months away. Thanks to a severe drought and global warming, spring has already sprung in Northern California. So it’ll be early summer by then. The fragrant jasmine will have wilted on their stems, leaving little more than the faintest heady whiff in the breeze.

For a while I was “never turning 40.” As friend after friend – some with two to four kids of their own, and companies to run, with aging parents and mortgages and expiring car leases – made it ‘over the hill’, turned 41 or 43 or 47, I was still in my thirties. In the same pick-up line as they were, rushing kids to ERs just like they were, signing tax returns and home loans and sometimes feeling older than even my older friends whose kids were a few years younger than mine, or who didn’t want to get married just yet.

Almost 40. With responsibilities and people, both big and little, and deadlines and obligations and appointments and a full life of color behind me, and a big blue something ahead… but I’m not excited. I’m scared. Confused. So unsure. So not confident. I wish I was 24. When I knew myself better.

Of course, hindsight is always crisply clear – the view of myself as the self-confident, sure-of-herself young woman starting her life on the foggy hills of San Francisco as Mrs Gilbert is vivid and bright, while the vision of ageing, graying me finally moving to Israel once all my kids are grown is hazy and almost impossible to see. Not just because it’s the future, and who knows what the future holds, but because… is that what I really want to do? Do I want to leave all my kids behind and move to another country without them? Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. If I stop being a stay-at-home mom now, will I regret it in ten years when they’ve all left (actually it’s 13 years, but who’s counting)? Do I want to write, or act, or teach, or own a boutique or work in a bookstore or WHAT?

I am 60-something days away from the fabulous-not-so-fabulous four oh. Confused. Confuzzled (my mother’s word). Just mixed up.

On a rare rainy day in Sonoma last week, after I declared to my best girlfriends that I knew myself better when I was in my twenties than I do now, I realized that’s not quite true. Or rather, they helped me realize it’s not true. That what I was in my seemingly cool, calm and collected twenties was blissfully oblivious… to me. And I started thinking about the things I do know:

  • I know that I don’t know. I know that I am confuzzled. I may be less self-assured, less self-confident than ever before – but I have heaps of self-awareness. And then some. Enough to drive me even crazier than I am now, before I make it to 50. Or even 45. Gulp.
  • I know that it’s more than okay to say “no”. Not to alcohol. Or to cupcakes. But to commitments. To volunteering. To having someone else’s kid over. To attending an event. To anything that is something I do not want to do. Or that will take me away from doing something I really do want to do. People understand. In fact, I think they wish they had said no too.
  • That sometimes my “greatest accomplishment of the day is making my bed.” This is something my close friend L always says – she is five years calmer, wiser and older than me. She reminds me that I don’t have to do it all – actually, I don’t have to do any. That the all or the nothing is overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And damn, she’s right about the bed: it does feel all kinds of good to yank those sheets straight, and tuck the loose ends under.
  • I know that I love meat. And marrow bones.
  • To cry is to feel. And that is wonderful. I used to keep my tears in, because I didn’t want to face the emotional hot mess they left in their wake. But I’ve discovered how awesome tears are – the relief and release to not have to keep it all together. To feel whenever I want. Even wherever I want. Like in my workout class. Or in the car. Sadness and joy and love and fear and songs and memories.
  • I don’t get hangovers. Obviously I’m not drinking enough. Goal for my forties: wake up with a hangover.
  • There’s never an excuse for bad manners. Say hello. Say goodbye. Say please and thank you. Always. Whether you’re four, or 14 or 57. Do not get out my car and slam the door without saying, “Thanks for the ride.” Wish the barmitzvah boy and his parents mazal tov, and if you want something from me, please say please! Manners make people nice people, manners maketh the mensch.
  • Accept apologies – they are heartfelt, even if they don’t sound like they are.
  • Skinny jeans can ruin my day as I lie on the floor or wriggle my hips trying to zip them up – they did fit last week. But my sister, and sometimes my brother, saves the day (and this is true for much in my life):

jeans

  • Finally, no matter what artistic brilliance, technologically advanced special effects, incredible animation, outstanding acting, writing or directing we have enjoyed over the last three decades the very best movies are, and always will be, Eighties Movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Moonstruck, Indiana Jones, Say Anything. Don’t you order what she’s having? Do you ever put Baby in a corner? Who doesn’t love to cut loose with Kevin and Kenny? Best. Movies. Ever.

I am the last of my friends to turn 40. I’m the youngest. And I feel more confused now than at any other time in my life. Blissfully oblivious, like I was in my twenties, sounds kinda appealing, I admit. But oblivious is really just oblivious – I’m not sure it’s blissful at all.

I’ll take marrow bones, Maverick and no hangover for now.

marrowbones

Don’t miss your Jon Lovitz moment

“Jon Lovitz.”

This is the text I woke up to on Friday morning.

I love that guy. I don’t have a lot of celebrity crushes – Jon Hamm is my numero uno (although I’m not sure if it’s him or Don Draper that I adore), Channing Tatum and Bradley Cooper (good ol’ all-American heartthrobs), Jason Bateman, Jimmy Fallon, Reese Witherspoon… and Jon Lovitz.

He’s definitely no Jon Hamm. Shortish, slightly balding, but with a friendly, open face and a great smile. And funny! Deadpan, straight-to-the-gut, perfectly-delivered-every-time hilarious. That’s what I love about him. His best roles were on Saturday Night Live, but he’s been in movies like The Wedding SingerGrown Ups 2Three AmigosBig, and shown up in dozens of TV shows from Friends to New Girl. Always awesome.

jon_lovitz-devil-snl-46_2-1

Sadly, it wasn’t him texting me on Friday morning! And even though I hadn’t thought about Jon Lovitz since his last appearance on SNL in 2012, just seeing his name made me laugh out loud. Because he’s one of my best comedic crushes, but for a bunch of other reasons too.

It was my childhood friend Sharon texting me before sunrise on Friday morning. She’d been trying to remember his name all night, and it finally came to her (or she spent less than ten minutes on Google, although she didn’t have much to go on). Because my California family and her New York family reunited on the beach in Miami, and we got to reminiscing about well all of it. Life before kids, before marriage, when we were teenagers in Israel together, and took the 29 bus to the beach, and saw Dirty Dancing in Herzliya (nobody puts Baby in a corner), and made up dances to Samantha Fox’s song Naughty Girls, complete with British accents. Does anyone remember Samantha Fox besides the two of us?

And Sharon remembered when I was in New York about 14 years ago, and she had taken Ryan and me for the “best cheesecake in the world” to Juniors in Brooklyn. We still talk about that cheesecake. She dropped us back at our hotel in Manhattan and, according to her, waved goodbye to me, and Jon Lovitz waved back at her! But I had already turned away, and there was traffic, and she had no way of letting me know that Jon Lovitz was standing next to me and had just waved at her (no smartphones in 1999). And I never knew any of it. Or if I did, I had forgotten it. All I remember was the cheesecake pilgrimage to Brooklyn.

So when I woke up to “Jon Lovitz” on Friday morning, I was delighted. To think about funny Jon Lovitz again. And that Sharon remembered who the celebrity was that waved at her. Delighted that Sharon and I had been friends for almost 30 years, and still had memories like this that we got to share with each other.

But really? Jon Lovitz had been standing next to me at a hotel in New York in 1999 and I had had no idea… How many other opportunities had passed by me unnoticed, unknown, unrealized? I’m a “everything happens for a reason” kinda gal, but I can’t shake this feeling that sometimes if you just turn your head a fraction, or look up instead of straight ahead, or linger in the moment for one more second, something you might have missed will present itself. And it might not be life-changing, but it could make your day a little brighter or be the start of a great story… “One time, we’d gone to Brooklyn for this to-die-for cheesecake, and then I met Jon Lovitz – you know that guy from SNL with the best sense of humor – standing in the lobby of my hotel…”

It takes tea

Last week was a week from hell. It slammed me from the inside out, from the outside in, up, down and sideways. A bad week? That would’ve been doable. Anyone who saw me, spoke to me, texted me can attest to my emotional unraveling. Even if it was just in passing.

I didn’t want to write about it. I didn’t want to write about how sad I was. I didn’t want to think about the things I didn’t want to think about. About why I felt so sad. So unraveled. Or write about them.

But I can’t stop thinking about them.

Let’s just call it one of those weeks. Or one of those months. Or one of those years. We all have them. Things are good, and life feels wonderful and possible and then suddenly it doesn’t. Or maybe not suddenly. Maybe slowly and painfully. Maybe for no real reason, or maybe for the biggest reason of all.

Bad news. An ill family member. Too much work. Not enough work. A difficult child. A fight with a spouse. Or a friend.

The reasons don’t really matter. What matters is how we feel. And how we cope.

Tea. Copious cups of South African or real English caffeinated tea, milk, two sugars. Often it’s just the act of making it that helps me to feel better. When we moved into our house, my sister gave me six of the most perfect mugs that can be cradled in my two hands, like I’m holding a warm heart. I even take my perfect mug of tea in the car with me. My sister calls me crazy, with a smile. I call me surviving.

tea

Music. Loud. Especially alone in the car. Where I can crank up the volume, lose myself in the rhythm and the lyrics. Sometimes the song squeezes my heart with every beat, and sometimes it just fills the silence. Old favorites – here’s where I admit that Alphaville’s Forever Young is my most loved song in the world, that nothing gets me like John Cusack blasting In Your Eyes from his boombox in Say Anything. But AltNation on satellite radio has the perfect mix of cutting edge and 21st century classic for someone who feels like she’s classically going over the edge. As I hold my warm heart-mug of tea listening to Cardiac Arrest, I’m coping. And I’ve ended up with quite the playlist. That counts for something.

Kids. Husband. Sister. Friends. Out-of-the-blue text from Canada. Extra kisses for mom, and squeezy hugs that say I’m here. The one who saw me not quite holding it together at pick-up and whispered in my ear that if there’s anything I need… Small town, big hearts.

And some days, I don’t cope. I’ve had a few of those. Eaten too little. Slept too much.

There are days when I totally lose perspective. When the new telephone system at the pediatrician’s office makes me so angry, I almost throw the phone on the floor. When going to the grocery store feels like climbing Mount Everest. The highest altitude I’ve ever been at is 11,000 feet – I don’t do well up there. The air is too thin. And cold. Makes me nauseous.

But then, I’ve also found perspective. I have friends who’ve lost brothers and parents just this past week, who’ve found out about life-threatening cancers, whose children have had surgery. Running out of milk is really nothing. It doesn’t take much to keep perspective. Yes, they are complicated, difficult days but the human spirit is strong, and I will survive (another great song!).

And that spirit and heart can wallow for so long before they need to feel useful, creative, worth something. Four banana breads worth. Because I cleaned out the freezer, and discovered 30 frozen bananas – no exaggeration. Sometimes I cope by cleaning (not often, circumstances are usually pretty dire) and by baking – which usually sounds like a great idea, and smells delicious, but in reality I’m regretting it as soon as I distractedly spill a cup of flour on the floor, and the eggs don’t crack cleanly into the bowl but drip onto the counter, and the kitchen looks like it was attacked by a tiny army of four-year-olds (he was helping), and why am I making four banana breads when I only have two pans, and now I have to clean up this mess… not coping!

Breathe. A little alt rock. Another cup of tea. Get perspective.

The worst week ever. But not writing about it is more of a cop-out than writing about it. Because that’s how cope. If you’d like a cup of tea and a slice of yummy banana bread, I’m here.