Monday, July 2, 2012

Chuck Norris Approved Cover Letter

I, Michelle, take you, Oh Mighty Oklahoma Corporation, to be my lawful place of employment. I swear, with God as my witness to bring my extensive experience with logistics, sustainment program management, and mechanical organization to the proverbial table. I can also offer you, if you play your hiring cards right, unparalleled devotion, loyalty, and creativity. I vow to positively contribute daily to the interoffice dynamic, employee morale, customer relations (in the non-Biblical sense because I’m a lady), and overall workplace environment by pledging the following:
While engaging in electronic mail (e-mail) correspondence, I will never “reply to all” when a simple “reply” is sufficient. I think we can all agree, nothing good ever comes from replying to all.

I fervently pledge to remember we live in a fast-paced, technologically advanced society. As such, I will employee interoffice communication devices, e-mail, and when appropriate, personal visits. I will NOT send an e-mail request and immediately follow-up with an instant message, an uninvited desk visit during lunch break, or a rambling voicemail that is cut off after 3 minutes because I spent the first 2 repeating, “Hello? Bob? Are you there? Is this on? I hate hearing myself on voicemail, don’t you?” etc. I also will not kill trees by using carbon copies in triplicate form when a simple e-mail will suffice. As you can surmise, when given the choice, I choose Planet Earth AND comprehensive prevention of rage-inducing snafus.

Once, when employed as a Staffing Representative, I had the unfortunate task of speaking before a federal judge, on behalf of my employer, in a case involving a former employee. To summarize, said employee found his job duties increasingly stressful. Rather than taking full advantage of the company’s wide array of counseling services, he made what would turn out to be an ill-fated decision. Stressed and tired after a hard day’s work, he chose to unwind with 5 pounds of uncut cocaine and a lady of the evening, courtesy of his company credit card. As it turns out, this coping mechanism was deeply frowned upon in corporate culture. Having learned a wise and valuable lesson from these abysmal relaxation techniques, I vow to you that in seasons of pressure and tension, I will choose morally upstanding and fiscally responsible methods of stress management. I fully commit, here and now in front of the entire staff reading this cover letter, to remain drug and prostitute free, especially during, but not limited to, times of employment distress.

I promise to dress professionally and in an age-appropriate manner. This means you will never see me sporting a faux-hawk, hipster horn-rimmed glasses with plastic lenses, the ever popular neckerchief, skinny jeans, knickers, "rompers", or facial tattoos.

I will honor the unspoken social contract of personal space, particularly when in a cubicle setting.
As a stepmother, I have been given the gift of near constant denigration in the form of 2 know-it-all teenagers; I can assure you I can take constructive criticism unlike, shall we say, LeBron James. I vow to strive for continuous self and professional improvement, especially if corporate season tickets to Thunder games are given as a tangible incentive.
While both my military and industry experience have afforded me the qualifications to appropriately utilize buzzwords, jargon, and catchphrases, I vow to never, under most circumstances*, use the following idioms:

  • Take that offline
  • Core competencies
  • Bottom line return on investment
  • Out of the loop
  • Central belly button
  • Customer Centric
  • Buck stops here
  • At the end of the day
  • Shoot for the moon, for if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars

*If one of the listed expressions is all that stands between me and a Buzzword Bingo victory, I shall with a heavy heart, relent.
These are my solemn vows to you, Oh Mighty Oklahoma Corporation.

Thank you for your consideration,
Michelle Jolie-Pitt
President, Team Awesome, 29 Years

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Reverse Bucket List or If I Was Queen of America

1. Never, ever, under any circumstances get roped into participating in a marathon. If ever the need arises to sweat and chafe profusely in front of strangers, remember the joy of bathing suit season at the local clothing boutique. Said urge will immediately dissipate.

2. Accept that Best Picture winners at the Oscars will inevitably be one of the following:
  • Too long
  • Too “artsy” for anyone other than the director and 5th year Humanities majors to understand
  • Have a coma-inducing plotline rife with unrealistic scenarios, unlikable protagonists, wooden dialogue
  • A movie no one in the at-home viewing audience will have ever seen or have a desire to see
3. Spread the message that the promise “Coming Soon” is open to interpretation. Dear Retail Store: what does “soon” mean to you? Soon could be tomorrow or 3 years from now. TELL ME WHEN MY LOCAL BEN N JERRY’S ESTABLISHMENT WILL GRACE ME WITH ITS PRESENCE. TELL ME NOW. Saying you will open “soon” is the retail equivalent of chastely kissing your prom date. Like I did because I’m a lady, DAD.

4. Dole out free throat punches to people who say, “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less.”

5. Equip all vehicle front bumpers with a Gatling. Deploy fire exchange at any vehicle that is in the right exit lane without needing to exit.

6. Also, anyone in the fast lane who makes subsequent vehicles break cruise control. Go fast or get shot.

7. Disable everyone’s “reply to all” button. Nothing good ever comes from replying to all.

8. When attending a work meeting, always carry a small bag of angry woodpeckers with you. When someone non-ironically employs any of the buzzwords and/or catchphrases listed below, free the woodpeckers. You may choose to jubilantly shout, “RELEASE THE KRAKEN” as the woodpeckers inevitably peck out the eyes of the offending party. Loathed words/phrases:

  •        Harvest low-hanging fruit
  •        Shoot from the hip
  •        Synergy
  •        Let’s table this discussion until we can ruminate offline
  •        Touch base
  •        Buck the system
  •        Think outside the box
  •        High burner
  •        Central belly-button
  •        Singing from the same sheet of music

 9. Stop low-flow toilets. Some things require high-flow; this is a great motto for life.

 10. As punishment, when a fellow movie theater patron spends the entire two hour experience exuberantly kicking the back of your chair, force them to take your “I’m-too-cool-to-be-alive” teenager around the block for a short drive. Encourage said teen to spend the car ride listing all the ways his/her parents are stupid and lacking in teenage wisdom and know-how. This is a guaranteed cure; the seat kicker will return mere seconds later with a quivering lip and hollow, vacant eyes. He or she will apologize profusely and promise to never so much as step foot in a public theater again as long as you, The Stupid Parent, take back your teenager. Immediately, if not sooner.

Friday, March 30, 2012

I Will Try To Remember These Things When You Steal My Nachos

I, Michelle, take you, Bobby, to be my lawfully wedded husband. And, I swear, with God as my witness, that I will never abbreviate that title to “hubster” or “hubs,” unless doing so ironically, in a faux cockney accent. Furthermore, I will never call you sickening pet names like Shnookums or My Baby Boo, especially in public settings; this is my solemn vow.
I promise to notice and appreciate the little things you do to make my life easier like opening car doors, mixing the best Pumpkin Coffees, emptying the dishwasher, and cleaning the litter box even after I’ve said I would do it for 5 days straight but haven’t.

I fervently pledge to make humor and friendship a key element in our home. I promise to laugh off more things and take myself less seriously. I vow to give my best effort to caring about the news, even the “talking head” news shows because you love them so. I agree to watch Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man without rolling my eyes. I promise to stop sighing heavily and mumbling in a passive aggressive manner when you “borrow” the kitchen scissors and never put them back. I promise to stop dulling your razors and then secretly returning them to the basket for your use. I will remember that even when we don’t agree, we’re on the same side. I will strive to remember that it’s ok if the pantry isn’t perfect, and my way of folding the towels isn’t necessarily the best way, although it IS the prettiest way. I think we can agree on this point.

I promise to remember how important physicality, chemistry, and passion are in a happy marriage. I will do my part to ensure we remain as excited, enamored, and adoring of one another as we were when we were first falling in love. I promise to listen when you talk and truly hear what you’re saying. I promise to tell you as often as I can how clever, funny, handsome, kind, sweet, sexy, talented, and intelligent you are. I promise to remember and celebrate all the tiny nuances of your personality that make you so unique and wonderful.
I vow to never walk away from a disagreement with you without returning to make it right. I will love your children as my own. I will listen to your dreams, hopes, and goals and meld them with mine so our separate lives become one. I will encourage you when you are feeling overwhelmed. I will make you smile and laugh when you’ve had a rough day and want nothing more than a familiar, loving face. 

I will make you Frito chili pie and perfectly crisp chicken fried steak when you need a cheat day in the worst kind of way. I will eat steamed vegetables with our spaghetti because that’s the way you like it. I will be open to new ideas and adventures, as long as you are by my side. I will spend all of my days making our life as fabulous, fun, and fulfilling as I possibly can. I promise to uplift you to our children; I will tell them often what a great dad they have and remind them of your love for them. I will be your biggest fan, championing your accomplishments.

I will thank God every day that He blessed me with you. I will remember, even when we’re not at our best, that you are my Prince Charming, my true love, my soul mate, my partner, and my best friend. I promise to look at you every day and remember that I got the very best one.

I vow to love you with all of me, heart and soul. I promise to give my all to us and our marriage. I promise to do my part to make our life together flourish, to make our marriage the best decision we ever made.

This is my solemn vow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hand Holding: The Gateway to Fornication

Kindergarten marked the first and only year I attended a private, religious school. I don’t remember the name of the school, Tabernacle of Eternal Damnation or something, but I do remember my teacher, Mrs. Starks. She was approximately 8 feet tall, as skinny as skinny could be, and had mounds of curly brown hair that she wore in a massive heaping bun clipped to the side of her head with a pastel bow. I remember thinking her head would snap off from the weight of the side bun, but thankfully, it never did.

My mom worked down the hall in the Pre-K daycare center, and I remember being really aggrieved that I couldn’t just wander down to her classroom any old time I wanted to say “hey” or ask why my PB&J was made with grape instead of apricot jelly, the HORROR. No amount of pleading swayed Mrs. Starks; she was firm on the no-visiting-mom’s-classroom rule, but this didn’t stop me from asking permission for the entire year. I bet that was her favorite part of the day!

Our classroom was co-educational, and I was thrilled that I could sit by BOYS. During naptime, Adrian Delgado and I would snuggle our mats up against one another and furtively hold hands under a shared blanket. One day, Mrs. Starks caught us and told us that Jesus would make our hands rot off if we didn’t stop clasping them with those of the opposite sex before we were grown-ups. It was a chance I was willing to take, but Adrian apparently wasn’t ready for that level of commitment. The next day, he moved his mat ALL the way over to the other side of the classroom during naptime. In retaliation, during out-loud prayer time, I loudly asked Jesus to forgive Adrian for being a booger-picker. I don’t think it was true, but who knows? Maybe it was. At any rate, I was standing in the proverbial salvation gap for Adrian; I was proving my hand-holding worthiness. Still, he was unmoved. We never held hands again.

Every morning, we would line up outside the hallway next to laminated teddy bear cut-outs with our names on them. This took an inordinate amount of time because, as it turned out, kindergarteners couldn’t read. Eventually, Mrs. Starks replaced the bears with new ones that were different colors. From then on, we simply had to locate our teddy bear color to find our spot in the single file line. Once inside the classroom, we spent the morning reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to both the American and Christian flags. Then we counted to 100, recited the alphabet, and sang The States Song. At some point in the day, we played Candyland and ate soggy Fruity Pebbles from white Styrofoam bowls.

During one such snack time, things took a turn for the worse when, in a desperate attempt to get a second-helping, I told Mrs. Starks that Fruity Pebbles was the food I most missed when living in Africa. I then went on to tell her, in detail, about my family’s time in Africa, serving as missionaries. I even told her that we had left the family car with my grandma while we were overseas because we rode everywhere by elephant. My elephant’s name was Curious George. This story was interesting for 2 reasons: My parents were never missionaries in Africa or anywhere else, for that matter, and Mrs. Starks apparently caught on to my lie around the time I chose to name my transportation elephant after a book she had read aloud that very day. The next day, my dad came to my classroom during Sharing Time and made me apologize for lying, in front of the whole class. During Closing Prayer, Adrian Delgado loudly implored Jesus to forgive me for being a liar. Jerk.

Brian Palmer was a tiny little boy in the next class over who, despite Adrian’s warnings, fell madly in love with me halfway through the school year. Despite his embarrassing prayer, I was still holding out hopes of a reconciliation with Adrian, so I never held Brian’s hand. Despite my rebuffs, Brian would often spend recess picking handfuls of dandelions to present to me during Sharing Time. After several days of this wooing, I decided I liked Brian more than I had ever liked Adrian. So, at lunchtime, I told him, “I’m not going to hold your hand, but you can keep giving me flowers.” Even at age 5, I was selfless like that.

At the end of the year, Mrs. Starks organized an official graduation ceremony, complete with baby blue gowns and mortar boards, flower corsages for our mothers, and actual gold-plated trophies. Graduation was a very big deal; my grandma sewed me a floor length pink and purple flowered dress with a big white, ruffled collar. Mama sponge-rolled my hair the night before while Daddy shined my white, patent leather dress shoes. The day of graduation, I secretly picked out the trophy I was hoping to win: the shiny green Perfect Attendance trophy. After presenting our Safety Week poster boards, reciting our numerals, and singing Jesus Loves Me, Mrs. Starks called my name to receive my coveted trophy! In a final display of humble sweetness, I held my trophy high and stuck my tongue out at Adrian.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

USA and Flo Jo

In 5th grade, I was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt, that I was destined to become a professional hurdler. I was in no way an athletic child, I was always picked last for every team sport (rightfully so), and had the hand-eye coordination of a two day old infant. In Dodge Ball, rather than say, dodging oncoming balls, I would simply collapse into a heap on the ground while flailing my spaghetti thin arms around my head in a vain attempt to smack approaching balls away from my face. In the P.E. Jump Rope For Heart competition, I jumped energetically for about 15 seconds. At that point, I decided maybe eating a sandwich in the equipment room would be more fun, so that’s what I did until the bell rang signaling the end of the contest. During Hoops for Heart, I chucked the basketball as far as I possibly could, and watched in abject horror as it sailed a good 4 feet beyond the goal, right into the face of the principal, knocking him, pinwheel style, into the judge’s table.

While I didn’t possess even a smidge of physical prowess, I did have an unwavering belief that I was Gifted and Talented in each and every way possible, despite continual finite proof that I was in fact not a child prodigy. This was the year my elementary school began hosting short lessons in self-esteem. Already holding the (secret) belief that I was basically the Best Child Ever, I whole-heartedly embraced our school’s positive, self-esteem boosting mantras. This was the year I could potentially be anything! First female president of the United States of America? I had this job in the bag based on my ability to loosely recite the Preamble to the Constitution (if complete accuracy and proper pronunciation didn’t matter). I also already owned a patriotically colored Winnie the Pooh baseball hat and firmly believed that an elephant was a far superior animal to a lame farm donkey. What more could I possibly need to know?

Armed with the unflappable conviction that the future president of the free world could surely win a measly P.E. competition, I marched straight into the gymnasium and signed up for Genoa Elementary’s annual Track and Field Day. After perhaps 3 seconds of thoughtful consideration, I scrawled my name to the list of hurdlers. I based this decision solely on the fact that my mom told me I had long legs the night before when I asked her to name my best athletic feature. You’ll note, she did not say I was a great runner or could leap like a gazelle. Although, I think we can all agree, this sentiment was clearly implied.

The morning of the competition, I asked my mom to pour me a tall glass of raw egg yolk just like Rocky drank before his big fights. Instead, she handed me a strawberry Poptart. Determined to keep my head in the game, I ate the Poptart without complaint and jogged to the bus stop. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t tired after jogging the whole 10 feet (!) from my front door to the bus stop. Obviously this was a sign! I was going to win! Probably, I’d be the fastest hurdler in the history of Track and Field Day. Mrs. Johnston, my P.E. coach, would be so proud; she’d petition the school board to rename the event after me.

I was antsy all day, practically pulsating with energy and excitement. Finally, the afternoon came and the competitions began. The hurdles were last, so I had to endure an entire hour of watching subpar events. Unwilling to wait any longer, I lined up at the hurdles a full 15 minutes before my heat began. After straightening my red, white, and blue Pooh hat, I carefully crouched down into the runner’s stance, and awaited Mrs. Johnston’s signal. After what seemed like an eternity, the long anticipated whistle shrilled, and I was off!

That day I learned a wise and important lesson, and that is: maintaining a runner’s pose for 15 solid minutes is a remarkably effective conduit to immediate paralysis. My legs were utterly useless as they tingled and pricked with sleep. Sensing that Olympic victory, and ultimately the Presidency, was slipping through my fingers, I willed my legs to lurch forward. I took one teeny, wobbling step toward the goal line before directly plummeting; face first, into the ground. Resolute in my determination, I attempted to army crawl under the hurdles; I was doing this for me, my God, MY COUNTRY. Unfortunately, neither my God nor my country heard my silent pleas. I made it to the first hurdle before my dead legs jerked awake, slamming into the side hurdle bar, sending the entire contraption raining down on me in a shower of failed dreams and plastic.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Time To Clown

Seventh grade was the year I, inexplicably, decided I needed tinted eyeglasses. Because we were not, as my parents informed me, the Rockefellars, I was stuck with these glasses for the next 3 years. They were round, huge, and heavily resembled the dark sunglasses worn by the visually impaired. It was, to say the least, an error in judgment. After much negotiation, including a last-ditch recruitment of my grandma, my dad agreed to let me wear jeans to school. This was a HUGE victory for me since we were still practicing Pentecostals, at the time. Sometime in the previous years, we stopped attending the Shiite Evangelical churches and slowly made our way to the Light version of Charismatics. Jeans were a gray area, but having lost the battle over make-up, high heels, and tank tops, I was ready to claim my victory in the pants department. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to specify color, brand, or size.

This was also the year that I learned to refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. Mrs. Henderson taught Texas History, but was apparently bored by the topic, so she ventured into states’ rights history. Her great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier, and although she had never met him, was deeply aggrieved by his death. Throughout the school year, she read aloud excerpts from his war diary, often stopping to wipe her eyes and let out a long, honking nose blow. I remember thinking she should probably let his death go, but the time never seemed right to express this sentiment.

Mrs. Frazee was my English teacher and Pentathalon Academic Team coach. She was a tiny woman, maybe 5 feet tall, with round John Lennon glasses, and frizzy permed hair. She wore the kind of old fashioned button up boots that you always see in Victorian movies and floor-grazing jumper dresses in heavy floral prints. She was the first teacher I remember talking to students like we were adults. When speaking to us, she didn’t slow her speech or adopt a sickeningly sweet voice that indicated she thought we were a few bricks shy of a full load. She also told jokes and listened and laughed and treated us as if we were her equals. She loved literature and spent the year begging us to put down our Babysitter’s Club books and check out Tuck Everlasting and Great Expectations. She frequently urged us to “tear the cellophane off the unused English books and DIG IN. A whole new world is waiting!”

In Pentathalon, we studied Broadway plays. Prior to this, I had never seen a play or watched a musical. In fact, my family had only owned a television set for 3 years. Naturally, I was completely enamored. I spent the next 5+ years quoting lines from obscure 1920s Vaudeville Acts to showboat what a cultured brainiac I was. Judging by the veritable slew of friends I had (4), my coolness must have gotten lost in translation. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Mrs. Frazee would meet us after school, give us king-sized Hershey’s bars, and quiz us on the last 100 years of Broadway. Later that year, our team won 2nd place in State. I took home a gold medal in writing. My mom was so proud; she kept my medal in the living room until I moved away to college.

Halfway through the year, Buddy Dalton moved to our school. Buddy was….different. He was tanned, muscular, tall like a high school boy, and the poster child for socially awkward pre-teens everywhere. By all rights, Buddy should have been popular. In Texas, football is the Holy Grail, and Buddy dominated the gridiron. Sure, he wasn’t one of “us”, one of the kids from the surrounding neighborhoods, but he made the Varsity football team as a walk-on during mid-term tryouts, and that was as good as being native. But, he was a close-talker, an over-sharer, and painfully unaware of his voice decibel. “HOWDY Y’ALL!” he’d bellow as we passed one another in the hallways. He had a home haircut, reading glasses, and a throwing arm made for quarterback stardom. He wore all the wrong clothes, a fact that was pointed out by Mr. Popular (Derek Pomeroy, he of the braided leather belts and khaki pants) during the school talent show.

After that, Buddy quit trying to fit in, even in his awkward, lilting way. Instead, he started doing random things like participating in bets with the football players that centered on his ability to ram his head repeatedly into the locker banks until he shattered his glasses or started bleeding from his nose. Two weeks before Homecoming, Buddy threw his helmet at Derek during practice. Derek had been taunting Buddy about his mother’s death from breast cancer, but nevertheless, Buddy was asked to leave the team; Derek took his spot as Varsity quarterback.

From then on, Buddy ramped up his over-sharing and began telling anyone who would listen about his dad being taken away to prison and how he had been moved to 5 different foster homes in the previous school year. The stories became more detailed and much grander, until eventually Buddy would sink into a crying fit that usually ended with him kicking a desk across the classroom or storming out of school, not returning for the remainder of the week.

During one such absence, Derek started the rumor that Buddy was gay. Whether he was or wasn’t, was of no consequence. In 7th grade, in the heart of the Bible Belt, the mere accusation was equivalent to having leprosy. It was Buddy’s death sentence. When he returned to school, none of his football buddies would speak to him. His locker was covered in marker graffiti, and he began eating his sack lunches outside, by himself, under the football stands. One day in science class, he turned to me and shouted, “THANKS FOR BEING NICE TO ME. I’M NOT GAY, YA KNOW. I’M JUST WEIRD.” I smiled and told him I didn’t care if he was or wasn’t. He scooted his desk right up against mine and we spent the rest of the period playing hang man on the back of his binder.

The next day, Buddy dropped out of school.

Years later, I heard he was starring in a drag queen runway show in metropolitan Houston. I don’t know if it’s true, nor do I care. I just hope wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, he’s happy.

This year marked the beginning of a 16 (and counting…) year friendship. I met Ashley just before our 13th birthdays. We would become fast friends, and nearly 2 decades later, we’re as close as ever. Over the years, we would date brothers, one of us would be the Maid of Honor in the other’s wedding, we’d vacation together, we'd celebrate and grieve births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and family tribulations. But, in 7th grade, we were just 2 Pentecostal kids looking for someone to backslide with by listening to Boys 2 Men and Mariah Carey while our parents thought we were deeply engrossed in scholarly theological study, as evidenced by our artfully placed Student Bibles and worn copies of In His Steps.

Ashley was a clown; literally, a clown. Her parents were Children’s Church ministers who strong armed their 6 kids into participation as party clowns at various children’s religious rallies. Ash hated this career with the passion of a thousand burning suns, but gamely put on whiteface every Saturday. Despite her embarrassment, this was a huge novelty to me. My dad was a pastor at the time, and my involvement in “pleading the blood of Christ Jesus over the Babylon of America” consisted of passing out cartoon religious tracts to strangers in the grocery store. To me, Ashley was on the frontlines for Christ’s Youth Army; she was reaching children via biblical balloon animals!

The first time we met, she was wearing floral MC Hammer pants and I had on a purple t-shirt with shoulder pads. We bonded over using the same deodorant (Very Berry by Teen Spirit). We spent that first evening listening to a Christian Alternative Rock band (the Newsboys) and talking about boys (Ben for her, Gary for me) while our parents played cards downstairs. Ashley was home schooled, so we never had the same classes or circle of friends. Rather, our parents would meet up at Charismatic religious movements, shuttle Ash and I back and forth from her house to mine, and set up weekend slumber parties for us.

Once, in a fit of Preacher’s Kids (PKs) rebellion, we snuck a cd of Savage Garden into my overnight bag. Safely hidden away in her garage-turned-bedroom, we turned the stereo volume to a blaring 2, leaned into the speakers as close as possible, and quietly hummed along as the lead singer declared his everlasting love for his wife. SCANDALOUS. Friday nights would find us furtively watching Dirty Dancing, the volume turned to a safe 10 on the television, while we did our best rhythm impaired dance attempts. Because Ashley was tiny, and I was a towering 5 foot 7, she always insisted I play the part of Johnny. Apparently, no one put Ashley in a corner.

In the ensuing weekends filled with babysitting her twin brothers, Ashley and I had deep discussions about our future as missionaries (inevitable; we were PKs), boys (and whether or not they were “right” with the Lord), our parents, demons, the best method for effective exorcisms, which Newsboy we planned to marry, and whether or not spaghetti strapped tank tops would tempt our crushes into thoughts of perversion when glancing at our lily white bared shoulders. We slathered our faces in make-up we secreted from our moms’ caboodles, stuffed our tiny, size AA bras with cotton balls, and ate gallons upon gallons of mint chocolate chip Blue Bell ice cream. Together, we discovered Cover Girl clear mascara, jointly convinced our parents this was perfectly acceptable in the eyes of Jehovah, and donned it with the vehemence and excitement of a pair of new streetwalkers.

Ashley became my ultimate confidant, my best friend, my adopted sister. When I cried, she cried. When I laughed, she laughed. When I was soaring, high on the excitement of my very first engagement, she was there, camera in hand. Years later, when I called, devastated, in the midst of a painful and bitter divorce, she was there. When I sent pictures of my new, post-divorce boyfriend, she sent ones of her new love. In the years to come, we would receive wedding invitations, graduation announcements, birth notices, and house warming messages. We would continue to call one another to discuss everything from new recipes to cancer treatments to weekend plans.

In tandem, we would leave our religious upbringings behind, explore the hidden world of right-wing, fundamental Christianity, and ultimately make our way back to personal relationships with Christ. There would be tears, laughter, thrilling happiness, pointless jealousies, soul-baring confessions, and ultimately a calm, peaceful understanding. Ashley was, and continues to be, the single least judgmental person I have ever known. She loves with her whole heart, and while that is worth quite a lot at any age, to a 13 year old 7th grader, it meant the world.

Today, she owns a tattoo studio with her handsome husband, is mother to a beautiful, big-eyed baby, and although she would never admit it, can probably still make a mean balloon animal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

These Were Our Wonder Years

Sixth grade was the year I moved from elementary school to intermediate school (Not junior high; junior high was for babies. I was more sophisticated than that). I was so excited to be an official grown-up! I’d have a locker and change classes every period and have SIX (!) different teachers and subjects! If growing up meant organizing a Trapper Keeper with six Lisa Frank folders, timing the between-class hallway breaks to coincide with locker and bathroom visits, and being allowed to check out three library books at a time, THEN SIGN ME UP. 

In order to best embrace my new status as a mature, sixth grade adult, I carefully chose a floor-length floral skirt, matching v-neck blouse, acid washed jean vest, brilliant white Keds with ruffled socks, and a gigantic gold and pearl necklace to wear on my first day at V.W. Miller Intermediate School. Yes, really. My mom stopped me from carrying my books in my dad’s old leather briefcase. After a very tense discussion, it was decided that my Jansport purple backpack would do just fine, and maybe I should learn to be a little more appreciative of the school supplies my mom picked out for me, especially considering I had all but threatened my imminent death if I didn’t have said Jansport backpack not even three weeks before.  Imagine my surprise when I got to school and saw that my stylish Sunday-Go-To-Meeting outfit, carefully selected after hours of deep consideration, was in fact, not stylish at all.  All the girls wore flared-leg jeans with Mary Jane shoes and ribbed fitted turtlenecks. Also, as it turns out, mom was completely right about the briefcase.

This was the year I fell madly, deeply in love with Derek Pomeroy. Derek was in eighth grade and was, of course, impossibly cool. He was on the basketball team, football team, baseball team, and ran track. He won first place in everything he showed up for and had the affection of every schoolgirl, and some of the younger teachers. He was blonde with milky blue eyes, and a perfect tan. He was the Edward Cullen of V.W. Miller, minus the immortality sentence and thinly veiled anger issues. His skin did sparkle though, I swear it did. He wore muted Hawaiian shirts tucked into pleated khaki trousers with braided leather belts while the other boys wore band t-shirts and dark-washed jeans. Clearly, Derek was going places (Middle management, but still! Places!)  Alas, I never became Mrs. Pomeroy, despite the elaborate and frighteningly detailed marital history I plotted on the back of my spiral notebooks.  Once, when passing in the hallway, he turned to me and said, “Hey. It’s Michelle, right?” Did I casually respond in a nonchalant, cool manner? No. No, I did not. But, I DID scream directly into his face, a mixture of horror and jubilation clearly rendering me speechless. So, there’s that.  Amazingly enough, this meaningful exchange did not end with an invitation to the Spring Formal. 

In gym, the girl’s uniforms were black track shorts with gray t-shirts. Because we were Pentecostal, I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts, so my dad spoke with the principal for permission to dress me in sweats. Permission was granted, and he bought me a cherry red cotton sweat suit, not knowing that the school uniform was gray and black. I very nearly died of embarrassment when he told me the suit was purchased on clearance and couldn’t be returned. I spent the rest of the school year trying to convince my P.E. teacher that I had some variation of Typhoid Fever/Dysentery/SARS and couldn’t possibly don my red suit and participate. The excuses worked a grand total of one time. I’ve forgiven Daddy for this. Mostly.

I was convinced my pre-algebra teacher, Mrs. Britton, hated me because she kept (unfairly, of course) giving me low A’s on my homework. After weeks of telling my parents how much she loathed me, they met with her, without my knowledge. I remember walking to the bathroom, glancing into the open cafeteria and seeing my parents seated at a teeny dining table with Mrs. Britton. I immediately burst into tears, certain she was telling my parents what a horrid kid I was or, even worse, how much time I wasted drawing hearts around Derek’s name in my notebook. After their conference, the principal excused me from fourth period to meet with my parents. Terrified, I sprinted, full speed to the office. Once there, Daddy told me that earning a 94 on an assignment was not a sign of singling a kid out, of hatred, or anything sordid at all. In the ensuing discussion, I would learn that having your parents use a vacation day to meet with a teacher to discuss a non-existent problem was a much bigger deal to Daddy.  For the remainder of the year, I was too embarrassed to look Mrs. Britton in the eyes, but she did make a point of gently squeezing my shoulder as she passed by my desk. She also worked out, in full detail, every problem I missed on my homework as a tutoring guide for the tests. At the end of the year, I passed her class with a 100%. 

Her daughter, Mrs. Braxton, taught reading across the breezeway from Mrs. Britton’s classroom. She had a massive head of spiral-permed hair, light pink skin, a permanent frown, a gigantic diamond wedding band, and a very precise way of speaking. She was not overly nice, but not overly mean either. Instead, she was very, very serious. She would never refer to her subject as “Reading Class” as our period schedules read. In her lofty, persnickety voice she called it “Intermediate English Comprehension.” She read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aloud to my class without any censorship. I remember being shocked that she used the word “nigger” because my mom would edit it out by saying “a very ugly word that makes Jesus sad” when helping  with my homework. It was the first time I heard an adult use that word without attaching a personal view to it.

Halfway through the year, Mrs. Braxton’s water broke during second period. I remember her eyes going wide, her face flushing dark pink, and her urgently saying, “Someone get my mom. My water broke!” It was the first time I remember her sounding normal and not perfectly measured. Mrs. Britton came rushing in soon after. She wrapped her own sweater around her daughter’s shoulders and rushed her out of the classroom yelling, “Finish your chapter questions” over her shoulder. None of us really understood what was going on, but we knew it was BIG NEWS because Mrs. Braxton NEVER only assigned chapter questions. When she came back to class six weeks later, she was very pudgy, appeared sleepy all the time and surprisingly (to all of us), smiled constantly. She was more lenient with late homework, didn’t get so angry about messy margins, and laughed at our kiddie jokes with ease. Her husband brought their baby boy in a few weeks after her return for show and tell, and we saw a completely different side of Mrs. Braxton that day. She giggled, nervously batted her eyelashes at her husband, cooed and tickled her son, and held hands with Mr. Braxton. They stood whispering in the back of the classroom, her hand on his chest, his arm around her waist while Mrs. Britton held the baby in her lap so we could all file past him and get a good look.

Dates are a bit fuzzy, but I believe this marked the year that I became BEST.FRIENDS.FOREVER. with Sherly, Emily, Kim, and Lori; if not this year, certainly soon after. We were inseparable and often spent weekends huddled under huge blanket forts in our parents’ living rooms eating Pizza Hut pepperoni slices, talking about boys, hot rolling Sherly’s waist-length hair, and putting make-up on so thick that our faces took on an opaque, shellacked look.

Sherly’s family was from India, so she was a huge novelty to us. In the heavy darkness of our childhood bedrooms, we asked her ridiculously white, middle class, American questions about India and begged her to speak to us in Hindi. She wore thick, gold anklets that were jammed full of tiny bells that tinkled as she walked. She was exotically beautiful, compassionately sensitive, painfully shy, ferociously studious, and the most even-keeled, sweet-tempered of us all. She embarrassed easily, hated being the center of attention, and would blush at the mere thought of a boy looking her way. Always ready to hug us, she would calmly tell us everything would be ok when we were having a spat with another member of our group and run interference when two (or more) of us were embroiled in some pointless argument. She was our age, but behaved infinitely older. Sherly was perhaps the first peer I’d ever met who was through-and-through kind for the sake of being kind. We all kept in distant touch with Sherly in the years after graduation, popping in and out of the periphery of her life.  Today, she’s a pharmacist, as gorgeous as ever, as kind as one person should ever rightfully be, and is recently engaged to be married. As far as I know, she still refuses to hot roll her hair.

Emily was the outspoken one. She was brash, tough as any boy (in fact, tougher), wickedly funny, deeply intellectual, and always up for anything, especially if it involved boys or bands. She could talk about football like a boy, biology like a college student, and cuss like a grown-up (out of our parents’ earshot, of course). Emily’s parents were rich in the way sixth graders view wealth, and often dropped us off at the mall or movies and ordered huge take-out meals for us to scarf down while we snooped through her big sister Natalie’s bedroom, looking for her diary and trying on her old prom dresses and Homecoming sashes. We collectively thought Emily was the epitome of cool because her big sister let us borrow her Mary Kay make-up, Bath and Body Works Sun Ripened Raspberry lotion, and listen to her Celine Dion cds. Emily wasn’t at all like blonde, popular Natalie, but to us, she was a demigod by association. Natalie and Emily had their own wing of the house, so our little gaggle could close the connecting door and sing at the top of our lungs, privately discuss “serious” things without her parents’ interruption, and create complicated handshakes in secrecy. Through the years, Emily and I would keep in touch and grow to be the closest of our little group. Fifteen years later, we would have a horrible, heartbreaking fight that ended our friendship. But in sixth grade, we were soul sisters and the best of the best.

Kim was our token rebel. She listened to wild music, dated boys, and had enormous breasts, even back then. Naturally, we were all insanely jealous and curious at the same time. She was athletic, tanned, and a whirlwind of energy.  She was a firecracker, the outgoing one who never met anyone but soon-to-be best friends, the one to suggest all the silly, adventurous escapades we attempted, and the girl who kept us laughing so hard that we’d clutch our sides and tell her to stop, in mock anger. She was also the one who would ask us, in the dead of night after everyone stopped chattering and we were all slowly drifting into sleep, if we really believed in God and if we thought her aunt could see her from heaven. Kim could go from exuberant to reflective in a heartbeat. She would have us all contemplating the philosophy of life and death, as best we could understand in our infinite sixth grade wisdom. Then, five minutes later, the wind would change; she’d turn this beaming, colossal smile on us and dare us to play M.A.S.H. without choosing any “goody-goody” options. Life was never too serious for too long with Kim. She had a huge heart, loved everyone, and was always the one behind the camera urging us to smile. She was so bright, her personality burned intensely; she was irresistible. Kim had an addictive passion for life. Her excitement for everything was contagious; you simply could not be around Kim without having a blast. She’s now married with a beautiful daughter, another baby on the way, and teaches school. She’s as brilliantly energetic as ever and probably the master of M.A.S.H. by now.

Lori was our comedic relief and the exact opposite of a drama queen. While the rest of us took ourselves, our religions, our grades, and our so-called love lives too seriously, she was just out to enjoy life. Her grades were good, she was Christian, and of course she had crushes too; but ultimately, Lori wanted to have fun. She had this big, chortling belly laugh that could almost knock you down with its vigor. If any of us tickled her or made hideous faces in the midst of her laughing, it would get higher and higher, turning from a chuckle into a bird-like screech, until there was no sound at all. She would vibrate from this silent laughter until her eyes watered and her face turned dark, brick red. We loved this reaction, so we spent the better part of every slumber party doing our best to evoke it.

She told complicated jokes with sarcastic, hilarious punch-lines, read books that were far too advanced for our age, smiled constantly, and was an all-around great friend. Needed help with your math homework? Lori was your go-to gal. Wanted someone to tell you if your hair looked weird? Call Lori! Had a secret you wanted to discuss without it getting around the school? Lori was your confidant! She was fiercely loyal and was amazingly balanced and fair. While the rest of us would make and break secret friendship alliances, she remained loving and gracious to us all. She never got in the middle of our squabbles, refused to pick sides, and typically got us to see the humor in whatever ridiculous argument was THE.WORST.THING.EVER. in our eyes. She didn’t take herself too seriously, wasn’t in a hurry to grow up, and loved being a kid. She was quick to hug, unfailingly fun, saccharinely sweet to her core, and deeply caring. Lori was the first one we all called when something Serious happened because she’d cut right to the center of the issue. She and I lost and regained touch several times over the years, always picking up where we last left off. She’s now a school teacher, still as funny and fun as ever, but is, I’m sad to say, an ardent Texas Longhorns fan.

In my office, I have a framed picture of the five of us taken in high school, a few years after we first met. Kim is, of course, in the center with her beacon smile.  Sherly and Lori are on either side of her with their heads leaning on her shoulders, and Emily and I have our arms slung around one another’s waists. We’re all looking to the right, laughing at something just outside the distance of the frame. Probably Derek Pomeroy’s pleated pants.