Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dear Peter,

Dear Peter,

I was sixteen. Sixteen.

I saw you and immediately identified my challenge because you were so damn hot. I knew right away I'd have to be smooth and I'd have to work quickly if I wanted to land this prize. This was not going to be easy.

Looking around the circle of camp counselors with whom I would be sharing my summer, I assessed my competition. After all, here we were at staff week, the campers would arrive in a few short days, and time was a wastin'. Unfortunately, I could tell that there were several girls sitting on the pine floor of Main Lodge with us who shared my summer dream. Their combination hairflip/giggles were such a giveaway. I was going to have to take this job of snagging you very seriously.

I studied the 40 other girls in the room. We had all come to camp for the benefits of the great outdoors, friendships, swimming, leadership opportunities and personal growth for sure, but we also had our secrets. We knew we wanted to experience some big firsts this summer, and we'd really like it if it could be with ummm...let's see...YOU. Smokin' hot YOU.

I went in early and I went in strong. I never looked back. I was smitten beyond my wildest sixteen year old dreams. You had unbelievable shoulders. Your abs? Holy abs. Your hands were worn and strong from the manly work you had been doing with hammers and axes and ropes and things I knew nothing of. At night you smelled faintly of Irish Spring and Chaps. You had a carefree laugh that made me melt. You talked about the fact that you were going to college in the fall. You were completely irresistible to me. I was putty.

We sealed the deal that summer. I literally tackled my dreams.

We kissed to Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Stevie Nicks, Elton John and UB40. We laid on our backs next to the lake listening to the bullfrogs, telling stories and counting shooting stars. We built and stared in to fires and more fires. We drove to Vermont so that you could buy beer legally. We went for walks and played the alphabet memory game: "Apples, bananas, catnip dishtowel..." That summer you let me give you what would end up being the first of hundreds of haircuts. I could imagine playing with you forever more.

Who could ever have guessed that all of the reasons that I fell for you that summer at camp would end up catapulting us in to a marriage based on things deeper than deep? How can it be that we and the fates have taken care of us so well? At the beginning, I saw you as the hottie you were, but I couldn't have known that you would be the only living person who can snap me out of a funk or reconnect me when I slip away. I knew your shoulders, hands and abs were strong, but I had no idea they had nothing on the strength of your character. I knew you played with hammers and axes that summer, but I never could have imagined that you could replace the facia and soffets on our home.

When we were counting shooting stars, I couldn't have known that you would teach me endless things about faith not in god but in the strength of human beings. I could never have known that at sixteen.

We've now welcomed and embraced two astoundingly beautiful children, and we've mourned the loss of two parents and a brother together. That summer we built fires while we built a foundation for something both strong and somehow magical. How could we have known?

To be sure, I'm still putty.

Love, Susie

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stepping Outside

There's a thing about teaching in the town where you live that is somewhat quaint, almost timeless, and also kind of charming. My husband is an administrator in the same school where I teach, and both of our kids go there too. Every morning at 7:25 the four of us grab our backpacks and our lunchbags and hop in the car together. We drive the three quarters of a mile to school while our daughter brushes her hair, our son buttons his shirt and asks why there has to be a dresscode anyway, and Peter and I iron out the plans for the afternoon and evening. That's quaint.

Except when it's not.

Our town has about 20,000 people in it. Our school is the only private school around. It's a small school, where everyone knows everyone's everything. That makes it ultra quaint, except of course if you want to be a little bit anonymous or a little bit brave or a little bit aloof or a little bit anything different from what you were yesterday.

Let's say, for example that you wanted to be in a musical that the excellent local theatre company was putting on. That might break the mold of the usual fifth grade teacher in the quaint little very expensive private school. That would be a little bit weird and could very easily rock the proverbial boats of the quaint people who are part of that exceptionally sweet and adorable little elite school.

Especially if one of the scenes in the play, which for argument's sake we'll call "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," required you to wear a very little extra tiny, and just a little bit slutty costume, and rub yourself all over a male actor. That might be a whole lot for the quaint folks of said school to swallow. And then you'd have to make a decision.

You'd probably start out by trying to fit into both worlds very safely. You might be up there on stage trying on the one hand to do your thang, all the while trying to send the message to the audience (who isn't even there yet because it's still rehearsal) that they,as quaint people, have no need to worry, because you're not really LIKING what you're doing. "You see," you'd be saying with your eyes and your body, "I'm only doing this because I absolutely have to. If it were up to me, I'd be being teacherly in the classroom with your adorable children. I'm very matronly,quite predictable, and really rather boring like you'd expect, so don't you worry your pretty little selves."

And then, what might happen, is your director might call you out in front of the whole cast during your dress rehearsal. He might say something like, "YOU DON'T LOOK SEXY AT ALL! IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE SEXY IS NOT ANYWHERE IN YOU! ARE YOU GONNA WORK WITH ME OR NOT!?!!"

And then you might be crushed in your heart because being all quaint has cost you so dearly. You'd then need to ask yourself a very important, somewhat timeless, ultimately UNquaint question: How much is your independence worth?

You'd have to make that decision.

And then maybe you'd decide to hell with any judgers who are quaint. Maybe you'd be willing to admit to 5,000 people who each payed $20.00 per ticket that you're actually not all that fucking quaint. You might even decide to let down your guard and play the damn part, in all its slutty glory, and see what happens.

And maybe if you were brave enough and also kind of lucky, you would return to your quaint elite little school, and you'd realize that most of the people got what you were trying to do, and inside they knew that everyone should be brave once in a while. But if you were really paying attention, you might even realize a lesson that's truly precious, like a star lingering at dawn: you don't give a shit if they get it or not.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Who lives in me? How many of me are there in there? Honest to god, I have no idea.

I thought that once the real me emerged, or I forced her out of hiding, I'd breathe a sigh of relief and know for certain that my search was over. "Alas, I've been found," I'd sigh. Here I am. I'd carry on as Me.

I used to love to reinvent myself. I would show up at camp and declare myself "Sue" as opposed to the Susie everyone remembered from last summer. I would become a gymnast. A singer. A jockey. A jokester. A writer. Each day a new me. My identities changed with the wind.

But this game was more than just child's play. More.

I was looking, searching for the real one. The essence of the me I needed to rely on. I was playacting, fooling even the me's that were judging. "Look at her! The new one. She's such an intellectual!" I had everyone fooled. All of me.

I became the wife to an astounding man. I'm getting closer. My children were born and their pure beauty and courage and trust and wisdom dropped me to the floor. I was stricken by my love. I was a mother. I was found. I believed it was my essence being unveiled. Was this my core, finally exposed to those of me who needed to identify it?

Yes and no. There are more layers. More me's. I can't find the real one though. The One. They keep switching places right when I think I've got them pegged. There's a cloaked magician with dirty fingernails and wrinkly hands playing the shell game with all of the me's. I suppose I am the magician, the baffled audience and I'm under each shell.

I have a crowded soul. Let's all just try to get along.