Snowed In: My Experience in the Boston Blizzard

This weekend I was officially snowed in and cut off from the world. I had plans that got cancelled by two to three feet of snow literally stopping everything in the city. That meant no visiting my grandmother and mom (in from out of town) in the suburbs. No visiting one of the local breweries for their tours and tastings. No picking up my dog, who after months apart, I was finally going to bring home. I was going to have a busy, social weekend. Emphasis on was. Because instead Boston was hit by winter storm Nemo and the blizzard of 2013.

I have never been in a blizzard. Being from Arizona, the worse weather I’ve experienced has happened since I’ve moved out here. Other than the hurricane, it’s been a pretty mild winter. Or so I am told, cold is cold to me and Massachusetts is cold. But they said this was going to be big, whatever that meant.

Just in case it was as big as they said, I hit the grocery store on Thursday afternoon, lamenting with the person behind me in the very long line, that this was a little silly. Worse case scenario, we assured each other, there’d be snow and by Sunday things would be back up and running. There was no call to by the dozens of eggs and gallons of milk that people were buying. There was really no need for an emergency shop at all, we decided, this storm wouldn’t throw anything that would put you on lock down for more than a day or two. And even if it means Easy Mac, there was no need to swamp the stores like people were. We assured each other that we weren’t emergency shopping. It was a regular Thursday at Whole Foods as far as we were concerned. Nothing out the the ordinary in our shopping baskets because nothing was going to happen.

So when the storm rolled in Friday and with it the news that public transit would be shut down at 3:30, driving banned at 4:00, I was a little surprised. It seemed extreme, but what did I know? I started to worry. If the government was so eager to get everyone off the streets and bunkered down so early, the sky must be about to fall. And I expected it would fall even as soon as quarter after four. Well, it didn’t and my grocery store cynic was feeling vindicated. Sure, it was snowing and the wind had picked up, but mostly I didn’t see why I couldn’t be meeting the appointments in my social calendar. I have to say, I was little annoyed at the city. They kept talking about The Blizzard of ’78 like it hadn’t snowed since and this was just a little snow, a little wind, nothing new.

By 9:00 that evening, I was a little stir crazy. It didn’t matter that I’d spent every other night that week content on the couch with my dear friend Netflix, I was itching to get out. But finally the snow was coming down. This was it, the rest of the weekend was shot. I was doomed to stay in and watch PBS reruns and never see people again. It was dramatic, sure, but I was bummed. I’d been so excited about the weekend and now I had to spend it alone.

Then, from outside, “Dude, you call that a throw?”

“It’s the gloves, man!”

blizzard

I should definitely go outside now…

There were people outside, in the midst of a blizzard, playing football. Four people from the house across the street were running and jumping in the foot or so that’d come down at this point. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and boots, coat, scarf, and the thickest gloves I could find later I was on my front porch shouting at them, condemning their foolishness. That is, until they invited me to grab a beer and a snow ball and join them.

So I did.

At one point we turned to each other then back to the snow covered hill and lamented that our responsible, adult selves from the rest of the year that had neglected to buy sleds because this would be the perfect hill for it. And it was safe, with the driving ban there would be no one to run us over. Not moments later, down at the bottom of the hill, out of the murk and snow, headlights appeared. A plow was heading up the very hill we’d just wished we were sliding, out of control, down. “And I just changed my mind,” my neighbor commented. “I am so glad that I am responsible the rest of the year,” I agreed.  “We’d be down there, dying, right now.”

Then, something else appeared through the wind and snow: the silhouette of a person, just barely visible, about halfway between us and the steadily approaching plow. They turned back and saw the plow, just headlights moving ominously closer.

“Run!” we shouted together. “Oh, my God, run!” He ran and managed to beat the plow out of the way and onto the sidewalk. We laughed and laughed, cheering his safety, celebrating the top of the hill and not sledding and being grown up enough to make enough good decisions that we’d survived to stand out in a blizzard drinking icy beer.

It was awesome.

This is the view of the street on Saturday morning. Those lumps are cars...

This is the view of the street on Saturday morning. Those lumps are cars…

The next morning, mostly thawed out, I peeked out at the world outside my window. It was almost unrecognizable, drift upon drift of white snow. Cars had all but disappeared under the snow, stoops and front steps were gone, and trees were sagging under the snow on their branches. The road, even though the plows came through well into the night, was buried under a foot of snow. But the neighbors were out and we all started to clear driveways, cut paths, and uncover cars. The streets were impassible, the subway down, and stores were closed. But people were smiling, inconvenienced, but smiling. What was that about?

Sunday was much the same, except the plows finally got to most streets, including ours and the city was coming, slowly, back to life.  I went down to the CVS, about half a mile of twisted channels and paths cut out through the snow. For the first time, when I walked to CVS and paid attention to the foot traffic, the people, around me. The paths were too narrow for two to pass each other, so you had to notice who was coming your way, find the niches at doorways and open streets to wait to let someone else by. For a city known to be impatient and rude, the snow forced us to wait, watch, and thank everyone around us. I remember thinking it was sort of delightful.

Maybe it doesn’t speak well of our species that it takes such a storm to get us out of our homes, routines, and social circles. Maybe it isn’t great that I only ever talk to my neighbors when there is somewhat of a crisis. But on the other hand, maybe it does. I happen to love that when nature told us that if we wanted to survive it’d be holed up in our apartments alone, we said, “Wanna bet?”

After all, the liquor store stayed open.

Bombshell Convert

I am a feminist. That means that I believe that a system exists in which men and women are judged and oppressed based 

on their gender or sexual orientation. Furthermore, being a feminist means actively doing something about it, be it protesting, educating the public, writing letters to my representatives, staying informed, and donating time, energy, and funds that go towards exposing and breaking down this system. I love this part of my identity: shedding the blinders of ignorance has not made me angry or depressed by reality, but only fires me up when I see injustice after injustice and all the opportunities that can be taken to end this oppression. Do I believe it can end? You betchya. Do I see the light at the end of the tunnel? Not today, but I believe that someday the gender binary will break down, gay weddings won’t be an affair “separate but equal” to straight weddings, and women and men will not be judged by their sexual prowess or lack thereof.

Alright, now that I have defined a huge part of my identity, I have a confession to make. I bought a bra a few weeks ago from Victoria Secret. That’s not the secret–I think that Victoria Secret is a great tool for empowerment, with a grain of salt. I did not walk into VS, ask a woman to size me, and then buy a bra that fits me that I like and feel confident in. My friend and I went to the semi-annual sale for one reason: to buy myself a Bombshell bra.

The Bombshell adds TWO WHOLE CUPS SIZES to your natural measurements.  Not only that, but you can buy this bra in the classic colors, making them simple and unadorned for work. They also come in outrageous designs : mine happens to be red with gold glitz all over it. Oh-ho, and I don’t hide this bra out of shame and embarrassment. In fact, I’m sure to pair it with low-cut shirts that are a little thin so that I can see the glimmer of the gold thread in certain lights. (Read: any light). I’m not ashamed of my Bombshell, but I’m also aware that I should be.

When I put this bra on, I feel, if only for a few seconds, in proportion. Desirable. Pretty. Like a smoking hot babe that any individual should hesitate to speak to because my beauty makes them nervous. I get over that feeling quickly, though, and move on with my day, but when I catch my reflection in a window or find a second to breath in the elevator that thought flashes through my head and I have a new source of confidence in my next step.

Now, I think to myself Girl, how much more shallow can you get?

This is part of the problem that weighs women against men: products that inspire you to take confidence and pride in physical assets that won’t bring you any savory benefit. I am not aspiring to be a historian because I believe I’m a solid 7. But if I think so highly of myself, why should I wear a bra that maybe helps me up the rankings? When I work so hard to talk to my younger girl cousins about how brave, smart, or wise the Disney Princesses were instead of how pretty and dainty, am I contradicting that lesson by wearing this piece of clothing that, literally, restricts my movement but also plays into a patriarchal society that demands its women to be bountiful in all the right places? What’s the point in declaring my feminism, now? It’s like taking two cup sizes up, and one cup size from my real source of confidence: my competence and intelligence.

For now, I’ve convinced myself that, because I am not in the dark about gender and sexual oppression in this country and because I believe that we all partake in perpetuating this system simply by existing in it, wearing this bra and continuing  my plans to live a feminist life do not contradict. Really, it doesn’t matter if I wear an enhancing bra right now while I read my favorite feminist blogs (feministing.com and jezebel.com). And it really shouldn’t matter that I feel good about how I look in a wireless, padded, or heavily lined bra while I take signatures for a petition or register people to vote. Because for now, I think there are bigger fish to fry than my choice to look feminine and wear the Bombshell.

The real world or The Real World

This is my first semester in 18 years in which I am not taking a class. Not a single one. The next five months are dedicated to finishing my thesis (read: glorified research paper) and studying for my comprehension exams so I can graduate in the summer. And then…and then…

Several of the people in and around my life have asked me what I am going to do in the “real world” once I graduate. For a while, I went along with this question and gave some very satisfying answers about job prospects, traveling, and purchasing at least five more cats within the next two years. But I’m becoming irked by this question, not because I don’t have a solid plan, but because of its implication. Since when was being in school not a “real” thing? Will my Master’s degree be imaginary, some mathematical equivalent to non-existence, i? I certainly hope not, seeing as the time, money, and brain-space sacrificed has a definite value of 18 years—no more and no less.

Imaginary Kate posing at Imaginary undergrad graduation, posing with Real Grandma. What a headache.

Without a doubt, we’ve all talked about, dreamed about, wondered and skirted around this “Real World” concept, so I pose the question to you: what in the flying f*ck is the Real World and how do I become a Real Person in order to live within its space? If am on the cusp of entering this place, then I feel like I need some clarification in order to avoid becoming a nonentity. It is my understanding that this is a place where a body is not in school, has its own job, pays it bills, and has a few more responsibilities that make it a commendable part of a working society (Note: professional students CLEARLY do not meet these qualifications).

Barf

Do this for the Real World and you’re an automatic IN.

It’s not like this is something I can look up and research, either, seeing as MTV has a monopoly on the Real World and has occupied it since 1992. But if I take my lessons from this Real World, then there are certain themes for my new life to be on the look-out for:

  1. Prejudice
  2. Politics & religion
  3. Romance
  4. Sexuality
  5. Unrequited love
  6. Departed house-mates
  7. On-screen marriage
  8. Coping with illness

Interesting how I never experienced any of this in the last 18 years (well,  “On-screen marriage” might be tricky to argue, but my sass is on a roll). Maybe the point of school is to prepare myself for these “recurring themes.” Maybe the purpose of my Latin America seminars in 2011 and 2012 was to teach me that there are some fiercely homophobic bros out there who love to hate on AIDS-ridden gays. I’m certain that my Marine Biology class from 2008 amply provided the life-skills for when my roommate moved out and we scrambled to find a new one. And the most important lesson, one that was a tough learn in the History of Revolutions course I took in 2009, was that of unrequited love…for immediate and radical change brought on by the people for the benefit of the whole and not the few…oh, wait, that has nothing to do with MTV’s Real World, because that might have actual, long-term, and significant change as opposed to the “longest running reality TV show” claim to fame. THAT must be part of Non-Real World.

I am so not prepared for the Real World if this is what it takes. But if my hunch about “reality” is right, that finding a job, paying my bills, and interacting with a larger community that is outside of (but not necessarily separate or far from) academia, then I’m certain I will do just find and y’all can stop saying Welcome to the Real World!

I Wrote a Novel in a Month

Or Why I Haven’t Been Blogging.

“Thirty days and nights of writing abandon” so says the masthead for the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, website. The Challenge: write a novel in a month. A novel in NaNo terms is 50,000 words, roughly 1,667 words every day. For those of you with memories of finals week still fresh in your mind, that is that final paper that you wrote at the last minute, every single night, for a month. And people choose to do this? Yeah, and I was one of them. One of something like 300,000 worldwide for a word count around 3,288,976,325 (this year).

Heck yeah I did!

Heck yeah I did!

For the math whizzes out there, that doesn’t quite add up. If three hundred thousand people are writing, we’re coming up something like 12 billion words short. Clearly not everyone completes the challenge. But, I did! My 50, 102 words were part of those three billion words. I feel pretty accomplished  To be honest, there was a fair amount of personal back patting, but shoot, I deserved it! I’ve never written that much before.

So I’ve written a novel. Or something. I’ve written 50,000 words of a novel. Except that I haven’t even gotten the whole idea out… You have no idea how tempted I was to have the last official thirteen words be: “And then they were all hit by a bus and died. The end.” and just be done with the dang thing. But I didn’t.

Maybe you noticed that we are halfway through December and I’m still not blogging (sorry long lost drafts of October… I’ll get to you some day.) November has ended and yet, here I am, writing every day, still. Queue cramped fingers, crossed eyes, and yet more crumbs in my keyboard, all in order to achieve the goal, to write the novel.

The goal is different now, more intangible.  When you are counting each word, you have something to achieve. But now I’m just trying to finish the plot, and that isn’t quite as quantifiable. How do I know I’m done? Assuming I don’t send in the bus after all, that is. And when I’m done, is that a novel?

Saturn with its largest moon Titan.

Saturn with its largest moon Titan.

Before I can answer that question (if I can answer that question), I should tell you what it is about. It is about a National Park Ranger. At the Rings of Saturn National Park. Who gets wrapped up in a revolution to free the Saturnian moon system from the United States.

In the words of my esteemed friend Carolyn, “Is it supposed to be good?”

My answer: “Well…” Because I don’t know. I don’t even know what makes a good novel. What I know is: The science is good. The story is, if nothing else, original. And the characters have dimension, although I’m still working on that last piece.

So have I written a novel in a month? Not exactly. It probably won’t go any farther than the five free bound copies Amazon gives all NaNo Winners. Probably not more than five people will ever read it. But to tell the truth, that doesn’t matter. Because I beat this monster, this looming I never have so I never will mentality that kept me from writing seriously in the past. And you know what? Even if I am the only one who is, I can’t wait to read it.

But heck, it is a love story, wrapped up in the fight for good and evil, in outer space. What isn’t there to like?

Onward to Happily Ever After

For months and months and months, I’ve liked this boy. You’ve probably read about it before on Serving Tea To Friends. You may be tired of hearing about it. In fact, I realized that I was getting tired of hearing about it. What was I still thinking about him for? Why was I going over and over what might be if I’d just do something? I promised myself that I’d say something, knowing full well that I’d kept my fingers crossed behind my own back. I was a champion of finding an excuse not to say or do something when we two star-crossed lovers were together. And I say ‘star-crossed’ because we do both love the stars; and surely, I thought, that love could transfer to me, made up as I am, at the most basic level, of stars.

So I never did anything but hope that it would just happen; I could work out the math later. But space science isn’t like that. And neither is love. And I probably wouldn’t have ever said anything, except Lyzi posted about what we would do if we weren’t afraid to do it. She challenged those of us in the Serving Tea To Friends community to live better, fuller lives for just one month, then report back on facing our fears.

I don’t think I would have said I was afraid to tell the someone that I liked that I liked him. I find no shame in the way I feel. But I was concerned that I’d make him uncomfortable. Or that, in an effort to prevent awkwardness, be awkward or even mean. And there was that dark unknown I had to face: what if he doesn’t like me? It was not only a possibility, but after such a long time of not dating, a real probability. If I was afraid of anything, it was how I would react to that.

But Lyzi said, seemingly directly to me, “Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.” So that very night, I wrote him a letter.

Well, I wrote him an email, it being the 21st century and all.

“I really like that you like all the same things I like. And I really like how easy it is for me to talk to you, I don’t know how to explain it really, but with everyone else I am never quite sure how much they know about history/science/whatever, but we seem to be on the same level. I think. I like your friendship. [My brother] says that liking that you like all the same things I like is the same as flat out liking you. I do care very much about you and thought it was time that I said something.”

And now it is time for the updates: Sorry, dear readers, to let you down, but he doesn’t feel the same way. I know it isn’t the romantic comedy ending we were all hoping for, me more than anyone else, but it is the ending we got. He doesn’t, in so many words, like me.

The fears that I had have not reared their ugly heads. I am not devastated by the news. In fact, I am relieved. Maybe I knew all along, but hope wouldn’t let me acknowledge that truth. I finally have permission to like other people without cheating on my Tucson-based crush. And I think the friendship I still share with my ex-crush is stronger. At least, I feel better about it. All in all, I am happier for having said something.

Not everything is rainbows and kittens. Yes, I am happy. Yes, it was the right thing to do. But also, yes, I miss the imaginary life I built on morning commutes and day-dreamt afternoons. I still, for all the respect I have for his feelings and all the faith I have that I will find someone more perfect, think of him as the most compatible person for me that I have met to date (Pun?). I find myself ramming, full steam, into the immortal words of Sugar: “You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.” And bouncing off them.

There. You are updated. The boy who loves the stars back in Tucson isn’t the boy for me. I am okay with that. I am beyond glad that I faced my fears at long last. But I am in mourning nonetheless for the relationship that could have been. And scared all over again about the uncertainty of not knowing who the one is. But rather than fight that fear or bemoan the loss of perceived love, I will follow some other advice, “There are times, at least for now,when we must be content to love the questions.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And that is a challenge I encourage everyone to accept.

Why I’ve Never Felt Like A Real Redhead

There’s a mistake on my driver’s license. I’m listed as a blond, but I got my license when I was 16 years old and a full-fledged ginger. My natural hair color is strawberry blond, and this fell through the cracks somewhere between me doing my driver’s test victory dance and filling out DMV paperwork, but I don’t think it happened on accident. I’m not a redhead at heart and have never liked the clownish, perpetually greasy locks cascading down my back.

Of course, my look had to come from somewhere, and I wasn’t dumb enough to choose it for myself. A Catholic from New Jersey, my dad was 100 percent Irish. My mother, a lifelong Californian and former beauty pageant finalist, comes from a long line of Romanian Jews. I hit the jackpot by getting my mom’s towering height and willowy, sylphlike body type, but was unfortunate to inherit my dad’s pasty skin tone, freckles, and red hair. I was the only one out of my Irish grandmother’s thirteen grandkids to sprout red hair, and while a lot of adults told me that the difference made me “special and pretty,” it actually made me a pariah in my own family, and as a social outcast at school, I didn’t need to feel like a weirdo among relatives, too.

My seventh grade year book photo. Livin’ the dream!

At the end of the third grade, my teacher bought each student a book that reminded her of that particular child. I eagerly awaited the novel distribution for weeks, certain I’d receive something thrilling such as “Matilda,” a story about a precocious, magical avid reader, or hilarious like “The BFG.” When she finally arrived at my table though, she dropped Judy Blume’s “Freckle Juice” onto my notebook, sending my classmates into hysterics and me into full-mortification mode.

I’d been raised to say “thank you” and demonstrate graciousness, but my educator of a year had just reduced me to my appearance and provided more ammo for bullies. Weren’t adults supposed to know better than that? Not her, apparently. So I expressed disgust — at my teacher for being clueless and highlighting the very attribute of mine that my classmates loved to laugh about, at my parents for refusing to let me wear a blond wig to school (I was only allowed to do this on outings to the mall, where I of course raised many eyebrows), and at my peers for being intolerant and cruel. Most of all, I despised Ms. Hamilton, but she wasn’t alone in pushing me to embrace my physical differences. Grown-ups were the only ones who treated me with kindness, but it enraged me when they’d argue that I was lucky to have red hair.

See? I was the only ginger in the entire class! You can guess which third grader is me.

Even as a baby, I disliked being a redhead!)

“Do you know how much money people pay to look like you?” my blond, ex-model mother would say.

“They can have my hair for free,” I’d respond. ” I hate it.”

But because I was just “so blessed” to look like a freak among my blond and brunette classmates, my parents forbade me from getting highlights. I’d spend hours outside every day, praying that the sun would lighten my stringy hair. It never happened, so one day I dumped hydrogen peroxide on my head, waiting for the fiery tint to disappear. It worked instantaneously, but faded within days. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only ginger who wanted different DNA. Two years ago, I met and high-fived “Stuff White People Like” writer Christian Lander, who agreed life as a redhead is anything but smooth sailing.

“We’re actually mutants, you know,” he said, adding that us redheads are going extinct. I’m okay with that, as I don’t want my future children to be prime candidates for skin cancer, called “soul-less,” or fall victim to “Kick a Ginger Day” attacks. It wasn’t until I became the victim of constant bullying that my mother agreed let me do it the right way and get blond highlights, and soon after I adjusted to the look, I felt at home.

As a child, I wanted nothing more than to spend my days at the pool and running around with my friends. I did this a lot in Los Angeles, where I spent the first nine years of my life, but with limitations. During camp trips to the waterpark, I was required to wear a shirt over my swimsuit. If you’ve ever tried to swim with a shirt on, you know it hinders the whole experience and prevents you from playing any type of water sport. For a little kid, that’s the end of the world. Let’s not forget that I also had to lather on SPF 50 sunblock every hour, a task that can be tough for a hyper elementary-schooler to remember. The more I hung out in the sun, the more I became sunburned, or worse, freckled. At the insistence of my parents, the daycare center assigned a supervisor to watch me at all times, making it impossible for me to be a free-spirited youngster. My peers tore through the pool and engaged in all sorts of water games while I dipped my feet in the shallow end, doing all I could to dodge the buzzing bees zooming through the air. Unlike the other campers, I couldn’t escape the potentially deadly bugs by throwing my whole body into the water. It was too uncomfortable with clothes on.

The problems didn’t stop at communal swimming areas, either. Hats weren’t allowed at my southern California private school, but I had to wear one to protect my scalp. Teachers often scolded me for it until I yanked off the itchy fabric and revealed my hair color.

“Redhead,” they’d say, turning on their heels. “Got it.”

But I haven’t always eschewed my half-Irish roots. Like most people, I experienced a grungy, haggard phase in college, when I went on a four-year hiatus from highlights, gained twenty pounds, and ate 800-calorie scones five times a week. It was both liberating and disgusting to care so little about my appearance, but after graduation, I knew I needed a semblance of professionalism to land a job, so I grew out my bangs, broke up with blueberry scones and late-night snacks, and got full blond highlights again. I visit the salon every two months or so now, and little satisfies me more than being referred to as “the blond girl” by strangers or new people.

On a bus in Italy.

Ideally, a person with my delicate features would live his or her life in Seattle, where vampires hide out and the sun doesn’t shine, but nothing about that fits my personality. Having gone to college in blazing hot Arizona and spent the first eighteen years of my life in the Golden State, I need extreme heat to be happy, and sadly the sun is more destructive than beneficial to pale faces like me.

A California girl in all senses of the term, I should have been born a blond who bronzes easily, and while I can pass for a yellow-haired girl at certain angles, there’s no denying my vulnerable complexion, quite possibly the worst part of the ginger package (aside from hearing gross genitalia jokes every once in a while). I can continue purchasing highlights a couple times a year, but nothing is worse than literally feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

This One Time, When I Was a Virgin …

Editor’s note: This post serves as, hopefully, the first in a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

When I was in high school, I hung out with a pretty sheltered group of kids. We were the theatre and band kids, and not the sexually active kind. I was a lot more promiscuous than I ever told any of them. When asked the question “Will you wait until you are married to have sex?” I, like the realist I’ve always been, said, “Gosh, that sounds like a lovely and romantic thing to do, but I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation to put on myself.” This was appalling to most of the people I hung out with because abstinence-only education taught my friends and me that sex before marriage would lead to an inevitable STD upon first penetration.

The other thing that separated me from my friends and their sexual journeys was this huge secret I was keeping. I was feeling the feels for my best friend, and, oh yeah, she was a lady. It was one more complication on top of all the talk of boyfriends and losing your virginity. The desire I felt strongest, and still feel today, was this yearning for a connection with someone. I wanted so badly to fit in with that image of being in high school with a boyfriend and exploring bodies in an innocent high school way, but that wasn’t meant to be my story.

In my pursuit of this partner, I took to the only social media outlet available to me as a senior in high school: MySpace. The ultimate resource for everything from booty calls to all those STDs I mentioned earlier. I went out with about a dozen guys, trying to explore my sexuality and understand why I always felt so different from my female peers. I had some pretty terrible dates and admittedly put myself in some dangerous situations because meeting people on the internet in 2005 was not ideal. This is where I met the guy who would take my virginity.

His name was Oliver, which was so charming to me, and he was a red-headed scrawny college guy. We had chatted for a few weeks until he was in town from his fabulous college life to visit with his parents, so we seized the opportunity to meet in person for the first time.

I don’t recall going into this date with the intention of losing my virginity, but that’s how it went. We met in the Safeway parking lot because I like to keep things classy. He went in to buy us alcohol while I waited in the car, which was so cool to my 18-year-old self. He came out with the only thing I could suggest he grab: Smirnoff Ice, the high schoolers’ go-to adult beverage. Then we drove out to the middle of the desert for some privacy, lively banter, and booze.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Jess. Are you telling me that you drove out to the desert in the middle of the night with a stranger and a six pack of Smirnoff Ice on purpose? Did that not strike you as a potentially bad thing to do?” Frankly, no. It sounded like a dangerous thing to do, but I was looking for that experience.

What began in that Safeway parking lot was hardly the safest way to go about losing my virginity, but Oliver was really a nice guy. He didn’t come with expectations. Up until that point, I’d never had more than a glass of wine at my cousin’s wedding, so three Smirnoff Ices put me well over my limit. We talked in the front seat of my car, and he suggested we move to the back. I knew what that meant, and recall feeling ready for it. There wasn’t much to talk about once we positioned ourselves in the backseat of my car. I don’t think there was a discussion of the status of my virginity, but by the end of the night, it was unquestionably out the window of the claustrophobic backseat of my Honda Civic.

Looking back on this experience, I can honestly say I have no regrets. The loss of that virginity felt inconsequential compared to the first time I slept with a woman. It was a test, an answer to some questions. So, why wouldn’t I just consider the first time I slept with a woman to be my actual “first time?”

First times are a hard thing to decipher when you are challenging the norms of sexuallity. I may technically have two sets of first times, but the actual first time was the first time I took my clothes off in front of someone else. It was the first time someone attempted to please me. It was the first time I made myself vulnerable sexually to another person. Regardless of his gender, this was my “first time,” and I’ll always remember it as such.

Of Mice and Mightiness (Part 2)

Me, coming into my apartment the night after I discovered the mouse

This is part 2 of a two-part essay. See “Of Mice and Mightiness (part 1)”

Walking into my apartment that night felt like walking into a trap. I knew the mouse was there, but I couldn’t see it or hear it. Small movements still had me scuttling for a chair, but I laid my traps diligently and scrambled into my safe haven: my bed.

I was familiar enough with the next part of the drama from the books I read. Waiting. Watching. Listening. The calm before the storm. My apartment seemed to teem with little sounds that I never realized were there before. The pop of my wooden cabinets adjusting to the temperature. People next door shifting  in their sleep. The refrigerator turning on and then back off again. Then, plastic rattling on the floor. I held my breath and listened. Sporadic clacking. The trap had caught its intended target.

I eased myself out of bed, breath coming in short gulps. What was I was going see when I turned the corner? I had only gotten glimpsed of the thing at this point. There was a great mass of Unknown in my kitchen, and I approached with caution.

The mouse was still struggling to get free. Its lower half had been caught in the glue, and it thrashed around in panic. It squeaked, much like I had not 24 hours before it.

If you didn’t already know, glue traps aren’t friendly. Most mice become so frantic that they break their own bones, chew off body parts, and pull joints out of sockets just to get free. I knew I had a moral duty to put it out of its misery before it started chewing off its own legs, but for several moments, all I could do was watch.

I wondered if this is what it felt like for protagonists who had pinned their enemies down and looked down at them as they begged for their lives. Caught, defeated, dismembered. Pathetic. I knew the merciful thing to do would be to put it out of its misery.

Another of my heroes, Sirius Black (as represented by Gary Oldman)

I’d like to say that I acted with cool, swift motions like the heroes I’ve admired since youth. I’d like to say that I swept up that mouse and dunked it in the bucket of water I’d prepared to drown it in. I’d like to say I didn’t make the situation worse than it already was. But of course at this point in the paragraph you know that I didn’t, so I’ll just tell you what I did do.

My first thought was to knock it out.  I grabbed my tennis shoe and threw it at the entrapped rodent. It bounced off the cabinet. I sighed. I picked up the shoe, and, extending my arm to its length while keeping my body as far away as I could, bopped the mouse on the head. It let out a pitiful, soft squeak.

This was about when I started to lose it. I backpedaled and gripped my hair. My breath heaved out of my chest in rasps. I felt that mouse’s pain and suffering, its pleading for me to just get it the fuck over with. I knew I couldn’t quit here. I had to press onward, for both our sakes.

I picked up a second trap from across the room and tossed it on the mouse. I took my tennis shoe and placed it on top of the mouse sandwich, gently this time, and wedged a letter opener under the bottom trap. This absurd machination enabled me to lift the mouse up and into the water. It sunk down. I put a lid on the tupperware. I collapsed onto the floor, and I sobbed.

That was my first episode dealing with genuine fear. It wasn’t exactly the way I expected it.

Fear shunted me into a corner and chained me there. It made me feel paralyzed, as if there was nothing I could have possibly done to make things better. Every time I acted, it was as if I was pulling on those chains. I would reach out to do something, and they would yank me back again. Eventually I figured out a way to pull and move to get the key for the lock, but it was a slow, painful, and halting process. This is what made my actions so clumsy, so awkward, and in so doing, cruel.

When you see heroes in your favorite movies, TV shows, or books, it always seems like there’s a calm that comes over them. It’s as if fear is something that they come to terms with and accept, and then they go steely-eyed into their final death match.

I don’t think fear works that way. If each of those people were real, I imagine they might have spent as much time shaking, crying, and retreating as I did. The thing that makes us brave is not necessarily how we face the challenge, but that we face it. Dry-eyed or in panic-stricken tears, both who step onto the battlefield are brave.

It doesn’t mean, though, that the things we do will be right. Courage gets us into the battle. Wisdom, knowledge, and ethics tell us what to do when we get there. Those things also help us do better in the future, and I already have my plan for the next time a mouse dares to darken my door again.

Folks, meet Sirius Lee Toph, my new hero!

Scaredy Cat? Present and Accounted For.

I’m not afraid of mice. So when a pair of them magically appeared in my house one Halloween, I wasn’t terribly alarmed. (I think there is some irony in there somewhere- Halloween, not being scared…) Granted, they were pets. That I purchased. More or less on an impulse. Here’s what happened: my roommate at the time and I had gone searching for the final pieces of our costumes at a Party City. Next door was a Petco. We decided to go in and look at cats we couldn’t have. Not finding any cats, we stopped at the rodents. In the male mouse container, amidst a few dozen other scurrying pests, were two running, fairly unsuccessfully, in opposite directions on the same wheel. One was white with orange patches and the other was brown with a white stripe on his head. I pointed them out, “If those were my mice,” I said, “I’d name them Harry and Ron.”

Ron Weasley and Harry Potter, mice

And so we did. And they were great. Harry, tragically, died young. But Ron hung around for a while and was one of the best pets I ever owned. And while that may be the case, this is not a blog about pet mice. And it isn’t about being superior to my fellow writer – besides, I have more than my fair share of things that scare the daylights out of me.

Point in case: the cracked doorbell button. I will not push it, although probably I won’t get electrocuted. The “probably” is the issue. And I don’t want to hear about the current that runs through such a device. It’s lit up and rings. That sounds pretty potentially deadly to me.

Oh, and I’m not keen on loud noises. As you can imagine, rock concerts and the 4th of July aren’t really my thing.

And since we’re on the topic, I don’t really like cockroaches,  riding my bike next to buses or train tracks, riding my bike across train tracks, gutters in pools, gutters in streets, cattle guards, cattle, stopping and mooing at cattle, or the dark. And that is the tip of the iceberg.  My fears can get even sillier: like the paranoia that I will use the wrong “your/you’re” in a tweet. Just a few nights ago, I had a nightmare that a murderer was going to target one of the units in my building. With only six doors to choose from, my odds weren’t good. Legitimately scary, sure, but just a dream. Except that when I woke up I was worried my subconscious had picked up on something and was trying to alert me to my impending doom. The only way to be sure the killer wasn’t waiting in the living room was to check. Except that was too scary (see above: afraid of the dark). I compromised and locked my bedroom door, under the assumption that the tiny push lock would slow the deranged serial killer down long enough for me to wake up and find some means of protection. Luckily, it never came to that. But it illustrates just how much of my day to day (or night to night) is influenced by irrational fears.

And that is really what I have been trying to get to this whole time, the term: “irrational fears”. Talk about trivializing. Yes, it may seem silly that I’ve never been stung by a bee and yet I’m afraid of bees while I have been stung by a jelly fish and am not afraid of jelly fish (which, I’m told, feels a lot like a bee sting). But does telling me it isn’t scary make the bee (or the mouse) any less so? It doesn’t. Hello, ladies, we are all afraid of things, from big bugs to never owning a designer purse, and just because it isn’t going to kill us, is no reason to think less of it, and as a result, less of ourselves.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. That link isn’t our fear, legitimate or not. That link is the way we judge ourselves and tear ourselves down. Eff mainstream trivialization. Besides, rivers are on my list of things I’m afraid of.

Of Mice and Mightiness (Part 1)

Toph Bei Fong, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, is who I think of when I think of bravery

Though I have been described as such multiple times in my life, I never thought of myself as brave. Like any good nerd, I absorbed epic fantasy, anime, and adventure novels in which I not-so-sublty envisioned myself as the main character. I even wrote a book doing the same. Ultimately I knew: in any of those situations, I would likely freeze up in absolute terror, and everyone who was depending on me would die.

I have a couple of fears. I am afraid of storms, owing to the fact that growing up in trailers makes them a bit more dangerous than they were to my house-dwelling peers.  I am afraid of becoming like my parents, of losing my fiancé, of never achieving my hopes and dreams. Normal life fears.

It seems like I find a new fear every other week. I am used to living with them. Imagine my surprise, then, when, on a warm August evening as I sat in my desk chair, motion caught my eye. I turned just in time to see a gray blob scurry under my cabinet, a long tail trailing after it.

I jumped, every muscle tightening in my body as if I had been electrocuted. My feet seemed to hop up into my chair of their own accord. I turned to my computer, and, amidst the conversation with my friend about the death of her grandmother, I typed with shaking hands, “Holy fuck, there’s a mouse in my apartment.”

Yeah, a mouse. Not even a rat — a mouse. The one thing that turned my blood cold, that made me so terrified that I cowered in my bed all that night with the light on, that had me crying from sheer, unadulterated panic, was a mouse.

I seriously have a hard time looking at this. So creepy!

I stayed up into the morning, peering out into the kitchen of my apartment, eyes wide, ready for any bit of motion. The times that it caught me off guard, I squealed and convulsed. I broke down several times during my night of terror. It was just me in my dark studio, — me and the mouse. I don’t think I have been more terrified of anything in my life.

When the sun finally emerged to rescue me from my nocturnal intruder, I pulled myself from my bed. I was bleary-eyed, contacts sticking to my eyes every time I blinked.  Before my feet touched the floor, I slid them into sneakers. I walked across my studio, hunched, like stalked prey expecting a pounce from its predator. It was so quiet, but I couldn’t be sure.

My foot squeaked on the hardwood floor, which I met with a scream of my own. I gathered my stuff for work as soon as I could and got the hell out of there.

But it didn’t stop there. Clearly the mouse was following me. It was every lump of trash in the street, every slight sound in my office. Movement at the corner of my eye had me twitching. Clearly, I’d lost my mind. My landlord wasn’t calling me back. At 5 that day I was walking back to a hostile home.

As absurd as it may seem, it was at this moment when I first displayed something that I would call bravery. Instead of sitting around for someone else to fight my battle, I took action. I spent at least an hour in a hardware store with a very nice man who helped me piece together my options. Four traps and $10 later, I was ready to face my foe.

(Stay tuned for Part 2!)