Posts Tagged: personal histories
11

You Are Not a Descendant

“You don’t have to know what you’re looking for. You just have to start looking."

I'd been hearing this siren song from an attractive soccer mom from an Ancestry.com commercial throughout months of late-night TV, and anyway, I needed a reason to hole up in the local library: it was an unreasonably hot summer, and we didn’t have air conditioning. I gave in and charged the $299.40 “World Explorer Membership” to my VISA card. I would give up my couch potato habits to “meet my ancestors, learn their stories, and journey into the past.”

Like many recent grads, I was jobless and had a lot of time and energy on [...]

12

Costumes

When I was nine, I knew exactly what I wanted to be for Halloween. I wanted to be Cleopatra. At the grocery store, there was a rack of costumes-in-a-bag you could buy for $9.99, and while my mother insisted on spending her time at the grocery store doing boring things, like buying milk so we could all survive, I’d beeline directly to the costumes-in-a-bag rack as soon as we walked in. My mother told me that I shouldn’t do that, because I’d get lost and she’d be considered a bad mother for abandoning me, but I felt she was being irrational. I would obviously be by the costumes-in-a-bag rack. The [...]

12

An Unhealthy Relationship (with Food)

Omelets

We went to the diner on our first date. Or maybe it wasn’t a date. We were hanging out, going over lines for a community theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream we were both in. It was one of those build-on, customizable dates, or non-dates, where you keep adding to as it goes well. Rehearsing lines became coffee became going to hear a band became more coffee became going out to breakfast at 3 a.m. We spent time one-on-one, deep in conversation and in groups, near each other, but not touching, arousing the suspicion of our friends.

The diner was an old train car with a space-age, art [...]

12

This Is Sober Sex

It was the night of my sister Kelly's 30th birthday party, and I was anxious. We’d encouraged guests to come in costume to fit the 1920s theme, and before anyone showed up, I helped my sister into the incredible flapper dress she’d found, beige with sheer paneling and sequins in all the right places. She set her black bob-cut wig and sparkling headband in place, swiped a bold rose color across her lips. I wanted Kelly to love the way she looked, because it was her party, but secretly all I could think about was if I’d look better: he was coming.

We'd been having sexless sleepovers for a [...]

14

Leftover Woman

I am supine in a plush recliner. A woman is kneeling before me, pressing her thumbs into my feet. My friend Jon, a Chinese-American Tsinghua professor, is next to me in an identical chair. The TV in front of us is switched on a nature channel. The leopard pouncing on an unsuspecting gazelle makes sense in any language.

A man is rubbing Jon’s feet. “Is that your girlfriend?” the masseur asks him in Mandarin, nodding to me. “No,” Jon says, “she’s an old friend.”

“How old is she?” the masseur asks. Jon asks me and I answer 29 in English although I understand the Chinese. Jon translates and the masseur [...]

23

It Was Really Lovely Meeting You

I slid into my assigned window seat and closed my eyes. Dear airplane gods, I silently prayed, please, please, please leave the middle seat empty for the next 15 hours. I was still begging the universe for this travel favor when I felt someone settle in beside me. Too bad, I thought. Then I opened my eyes on my dreamy new neighbor.

“Hey there,” he said. He had an Australian accent. His blue eyes and unkempt blond curls were coupled with the kind of three-day old scruff that makes me want to move somewhere mountainous populated by men who chop their own kindling.

“Hi,” I said.

While two flight attendants [...]

8

Word Search

When I moved to New York from Germany, I didn’t have words. I had written for prominent papers in Hamburg, but in New York my German faded quickly and English was slow to take its place. After a few months here I found myself close to aphasic. All I had now was a hasty, unhappy marriage and an apartment in Bushwick that was cheap and hot. Through the window bars I could see glimpses of a trash-filled backyard and an alley cat with kittens. During the day I could hear the termites in the backyard destroying the wooden benches that were built by the old German winemaker who owned the [...]

7

Ballerina Gets the Ball

Growing up in rural Maine our school was so small we didn’t have a gym. Twice a week we were bussed over to the town’s maritime academy to use the facilities. Our gym teachers were marines in training, and I was a skinny only child, far more adept at the barre in ballet rehearsals than I was at hand-eye coordination on the field.

Basketball is the only sport I ever learned to play. I spent games on the bench, my stomach cramping with anxiety. I dreaded the moment our coach would call me over to sub in, forcing me out onto the court. I didn’t kid myself about scoring; I [...]

15

Bill Murray and Me

The first time I met Bill Murray, I was 18 years old and wearing a miserable brown ensemble.

The garments belonged to my mother, and for unknown reasons I had filched them to add to my own wardrobe in New York: a chocolate, polyester blouse, light-washed jeans, and mahogany, backless loafers in the style of re-imagined Mary Janes. I had just moved to the city for college and the independent film I interned for consisted of a tidy editorial crew (Editor, Assistant Editor, and me.) Rather than cool clothes, I outfitted myself with that spirited, blind alacrity only youth affords. I was thrilled to work on a real film—in the [...]

5

Grandma's Proxy

My brother’s request was simple, his tone firm: We were going out for dinner. I couldn’t recall the last time I ate a full meal, let alone left the house. I hadn’t been to my own home—a six-hour drive north—in weeks. Deadlines passed unnoticed, my precarious writing career in peril.

Everything rested on a fulcrum, the pulse of a 77-year-old woman in a dark room. And that was all that mattered; I was either inside that room, or just outside it.

“I don’t know if I’m doing a good job,” I confessed as my grandmother and I watched the hospice nurse pack up her bags.

“She says she’s not [...]