Monday, September 29, 2014

A Wedding, A Toast, and Thirty-One Years of Friendship

On Saturday night, my oldest friend got married.

We have been friends for every minute of our thirty-one years, and this was a big day.

All day on Saturday we sat in a massive suite in a beautiful hotel and we did the things that girls do on the day of a wedding. We donned robes with our initials on them and there was hair and makeup and cocktails and special cake that you can only find in one particular bakery in one particular Pittsburgh neighborhood. And there was laughing and fun and heels and a big white dress and four navy dresses and an aisle to walk down and a big party to go to and a room filled with people who have known me and who have known her for all of our lives.

And somewhere in the middle of that party the DJ called me up to make my speech. 

And this is what I said:
I am sitting cross-legged on the floor looking through old pictures. Turning pages of photo albums, some yellowed with age, the pictures curled at the sides from years and years of handling, and some brand new, the pictures printed and delivered to my house only days ago.
And as it sometimes happens, the past and present seem to collapse together and in that moment I see us both as we were and as we are. As baby girls and as grown women.
And these are the pictures that tell our story.
We’re newborn babies, sitting in strollers in my back-yard, pushed side-by-side by my mom and yours.
We’re two. We are eating popcorn and holding hands and running through Storybook Forest wearing raincoats with the hoods pulled up, mine blue and green, yours pink and purple.
We’re five, and we dragged those itchy yellow lounge chairs into the pool at Parkway like we always did even though the lifeguards got mad. And then the whistle blew for adult swim and we sat on dry chairs, wrapped in towels, eating French fries from the snack bar and I know that yours were probably the only parents there that day because mine never let me eat French fries from the snack bar at Parkway.
We’re nine and sitting on the floor of your room surrounded by magazines while Michael Jackson’s Bad blares from the record player. Your mom yells up the stairs asking us what we want for lunch and Ben tries to get in but you slam the door shut and yell that we’re having girl time and we fall into fits of hysterical laughter and leap up to jump on the bed as Smooth Criminal starts playing.
We’re twelve and we buy dresses together for my bat mitzvah. Mine is a sailor suit and yours is white with red flowers and they come with hats and for some inexplicable reason we think hats are a smashing idea. And the weekend of the big event we sprawl on the floor of my bathroom and we shave our legs together for the first time with pink razors and men’s shaving cream and we make a huge mess because that’s just what you do when you’re twelve and it’s bat mitzvah season.
We’re almost thirteen and we’re sitting cross-legged on your bed and in between us is the brochure for my fancy new school in Florida because that’s where my family is moving at the end of the year. And your mom talks and talks about all the amazing things the school has, like two swimming pools and ceramics classes, because I’m sure that’s what my mom told her to do. But we look at each other and we know it’s really not that amazing at all.
We’re sixteen and I’m back in Pittsburgh for a visit. We get hot chocolate and we meet up with more friends and we go upstreet and walk around like we own the place because we kind of do.
We’re twenty-four and on the very same early morning study schedule for the New York bar exam so we start our days with a 6am g-chat about criminal law, New York practice, our respective early morning trips to Dunkin Donuts, the size of our coffees (large), the kind of donuts we picked (usually with sprinkles), and what we’ll do when it’s all finally over.
We’re twenty-six and we’re New York City girls and our weeks consist of work, e-mails about work, Steeler bars on Sundays, and dinner and Dancing With the Stars on Monday nights at your 50th Street apartment while we talk about whether people at your office know that you and Brian are dating and when we think David will propose.
We’re twenty-seven and when David does propose late one Thursday night I call and wake you up out of a sound sleep with the news. And seven months later you’re standing next to me when I get married in the very same room where we danced at your bat mitzvah fourteen years before.
We’re twenty-eight and I force you to train for a half-marathon with me and you show how good of a friend you are by not actually killing me when I end up with a stress fracture and you end up having to run the whole thing by yourself.
We’re thirty and we go to Tiffany so you can try on engagement rings and we follow that up with celebratory pizza. And a few weeks later when my phone rings and I see that it’s you I know exactly what you are calling to tell me.
And today.
Today we are thirty-one. Today is thirty-one years, six months, and ten days of friendship. Today starts a new chapter in our story that started way back at a BBYO convention when our moms were twelve. And today, it’s an exquisite privilege to watch my best friend, my forever friend, start a brand new beginning and step into a future of possibility with the one who has filled her life with love.
So here’s to you, and here’s to us. To all the years that are behind us, and to the ones – maybe the very best ones - that still lie ahead.

Back when our moms pushed us in strollers

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To Begin As We Mean To Go On

There is a little color mixed in with the still-vivid green of my suburban trees, the air is starting to get cold, and getting around Manhattan is a veritable nightmare because the UN General Assembly is in town, along with its secret service agents, motorcades, and roadblocks. Not being a fan of pumpkin spice lattes - blasphemy, I know - these are my most obvious signs that fall has arrived.

Long my favorite season, I have had some reservations this year about the melting of summer into fall, but now that it's here, I'm ready to embrace it in all of its spicy, crispy aired glory.

Another sign of the coming of fall is that beginning tomorrow night, we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of four successive weeks of holidays, the most important and holiest month of the Jewish calendar.

Tomorrow morning we are driving to Pittsburgh to spend this holiday with family, and tomorrow night, as the sun sets, I will light candles with my mom and with Sister K, and we will welcome these weeks, ready to observe and to come out the other side of the month eager to start again, to begin as we mean to go on.

As I wrote last year around this time, these are family times, times of reflection, and times of celebration.

Wishing everyone who celebrates a shana tova, a meaningful holiday, and a sweet new year.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Friends We Have Loved and Lost

I remember writing the story of my own friendship break-up

It was the end of last summer, and I had just come home from a Jersey Shore vacation with my family. It was on that vacation, and in the two days following, that I realized that my friendship, one I had loved and cherished and depended on since the first week of my freshman year of college, was no more. Even though the evidence of its demise had been piling up for some time, the final realization that what we had was no longer reached up and slapped me on the face so hard that for the first time, I understood what whiplash must feel like.

So I did the thing I do when I'm not sure what else to do. I went to my computer, opened a new post on my blog, and I wrote. As I wrote I discovered wells of grief hidden inside of me that I hadn't been entirely aware of, and I typed words on a keyboard wet with tears I barely realized were falling. And when I was finished, I pressed publish, too drained even to proof-read what I had written. 

Lots of people read that piece. So many, in fact, that it became the second most popular piece I have ever published on my blog. Despite all of that, it would be months before I could go back to read my own words.

So I understand. I understand how much energy it takes, and how painful it is to re-visit the stories of the friends that we loved and lost. To rip open our hearts and to write words about the relationships that once occupied a central place in our lives, but that are no longer.

And that is what makes the anthology My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends so remarkable. Edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, founders of The HerStories Project and editors of The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain and Power of Female Friendship, the book explores the loss of female friendship. 

Thirty-five women have bared their souls to tell their stories of breaking up with a friend that they had once assumed would be in their lives forever, and although each story is different, similar strains run through them all.

The book makes us understand that female friendship is complex and mysterious, and that the wounds left over from the loss of a female friend are long-lasting, painful and deep. Many of the women told stories from long ago, but it is still fresh pain that seeps through their words, as if the friendship had just ended days before. We learn from these stories that female friendship has the power to give us joy, closeness and connection, but also to cause a pain and loss that is unparalleled in the human experience. 

In her incredible essay Going Without Sugar, Cheryl Suchors writes, "I wasn't divorcing, but we have no language for the collapse of a friendship. No civil or legal understanding exists to encircle, protect or declare its existence. No public ceremonies seal the relationship or shore it up when rocks pierce the hull and we have to swim for shore, the sound of wreckage and cold seawater filling our ears."

I kept going back to these words over and over again, unable to get them out of my head. These sentences sum up more than anything the message of the book; that a friendship between women is so much like a romantic relationship - soul deep, involving powerful love, a shared history and a connection that seems unbreakable. But there exists no framework around which we end a friendship; no formal vocabulary to use to declare that someone once so central to our lives no longer occupies the space that only they could fill. So the friendship ends and we feel lonely and adrift and filled with a pain that may dull over time but that never truly goes away.

Maybe the friendships that we lose weren't ever meant to last forever. Some of the essays in the book explore the idea that certain people were meant only for certain seasons of our lives, and some friendships we lose may even come back to us one day, but that doesn't make their loss any easier to navigate. It doesn't make us question ourselves any less, or keep us from wondering if there was anything that we could have done to hold the friendship together, even if we know there was nothing.

But what we can do, and what these brave and talented women have done, is to share our stories. To tell our tales of friendship, love and loss, so that no one has to walk the path of lost friendship alone. 

When you read this book you will see yourself in these pages. I did. Knowing that others have weathered the loss of a cherished friend as I have hasn't taken away all the pain and confusion of my loss, but it has reminded me that I am not the only one who felt the particular brand of sorrow that swims in the wake of a friendship lost, whether you are being left or you are the one doing the leaving.

The wisdom of these thirty-five women and the power of their stories will stick with you long after you have closed the book, and will remind you that even though circumstances may differ, in the crucible that is friendship loss, you are never, ever alone.

Thank you so much, Jessica and Stephanie, for the privilege of reading this book and reviewing it here. I loved every single word.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For Them, I'm Grateful

When I started writing and blogging almost three years ago I thought it going to be a mostly solitary affair. As a lifelong introvert with a passion for writing, I thought that writing was something that one most often does alone, and that was the way I liked it. The idea of toiling away in a semi-lit room with just myself, my thoughts and my computer was appealing to me, and even seemed a little romantic.

Yes, I was writing to be read, but mostly, I was writing for myself. I was writing because writing has always been my favorite form of expression. It has always been the way that I order my thoughts, make sense of the world, and make other people understand me. I have never been very good at talking through what was in my head, but give me a pen or put me in front of a computer, and as if by magic, it all appears on the page or the screen.

So I started blogging. I started writing down all of those thoughts in a place that has become a kind of time capsule. A place where I document my life, the good and the bad. A place I will be able to return to over the years and remember exactly how it was when I moved to the suburbs. When I finished a half marathon and then another one. When really bad things happened in the world. When history was made. When my family grew. And blogging fit me like the proverbial glove.

But blogging is not at all the solitary activity that I once thought it would be.

Because once I started taking it seriously, I found an entire community of people who do what I do. Who write down their thoughts and put them out into the world for anyone and everyone to read. And I become a part of this community. And it became a part of me.

The women I have met since I started blogging are smart, thoughtful and hugely talented, and they opened their arms to me and drew me into their mysterious and wonderful world. They read my writing, and I read theirs. I learned about them and they learned about me.  And they become my friends; friends just as real and true as any I have ever made in my life.

Their friendship has made me think, and has made me happy. And more than anything, it has made me brave. Brave enough to keep sharing pieces of myself. To keep telling my story. Because their friendship has also made me understand that there is a power in telling our stories and in sharing that connection with another person. Because, more often than not, there is someone else out there who has already walked the road we are walking; who can take our hand and show us the way.

These women have shown me the way.

Some of these friendships have stayed online with conversations on blogs, and e-mails, and promises to meet if we ever find ourselves in the same city at the same time. And some of them have jumped from the digital world to the real world, with phone calls and text messages and dinners with long, winding conversations. But all of them are special, and all are important.

And for them, I'm grateful.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fall Weekends, Merel Style

Deck. Sweatshirts. Sweatpants. Fireplace.

We're staying outside until the first flakes fall.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"...and we reach for the stars"

I posted this quote - one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows of all time - last year after the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I am re-posting it here because I think it is particularly apt for the events - and the people - we remember this week, here in New York and around the world.

"...More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom, and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive...The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They are our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. But every time we think we've measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America."
                                                          -President Josiah Bartlet
                                                           The West Wing, Season 4, Episode 2

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen Years Ago

Thirteen years ago I was a mere three weeks into my freshman year of college.

Thirteen years ago I was passing through the student center after an early morning class when I saw a huge group of students huddled around the TV.

Thirteen years ago I joined that group just in time to see the South Tower collapse. I was still standing there half an hour later when the North Tower fell.

Thirteen years ago I sat in the dorm room across from mine with two girls I barely knew and watched the news for hours. We knew each other very well after that day.

Thirteen years ago I watched as a girl on my floor tried to get in touch with her mother, who worked in the towers. She was safe, on her way to work but not quite there yet.

Thirteen years ago I watched another girl on my floor crumple to the floor in tears when she learned that her good friends had not, in fact, been on that United flight bound for Los Angeles, like she thought they were supposed to be.

Thirteen years ago I watched a roadblock set up at the entrance to lock down my predominately Jewish college campus located in the suburbs of Boston, ten miles from the airport where the planes took off. No one was allowed in or out without passing through security.

Thirteen years ago we all wondered what this would mean, and what would happen now.

Thirteen years ago today.

This morning on the train to work I sat next to two men who were talking about fleeing their World Trade Center offices on that day. We were sitting in the quiet car but not one single person told them to be quiet.

This morning Grand Central was filled with police and the extra security that always marks this day.

This morning I walked to my office in Manhattan. In this city that is my city now.

This morning I thought about the life I have built here and the memories that I have made here, and how proud I am to be here to experience the grit and glamour and energy of this city that is unlike any other.

This morning American flags lined my way to work, flying at half-mast to remind us all of the darkness of that day, and how nothing ever will be, or maybe should be, the same ever again.

Here are those flags.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On The Passing Of Time

I took this picture on Monday afternoon. 

I had just gotten off the train and instead of turning left to go to my parking lot, I turned right to go pick up my car from the dealership conveniently located right next to the train station where my car was waiting for me after an oil change.

This is a picture I quite like, so I have looked at it a lot since Monday. I guess it must have been cloudy for most of the day in White Plains, but just as the sun started to set the clouds started to burn away and for a few minutes the sky looked like this. It was breathtaking, and the picture doesn't nearly do it justice.

But this post isn't about a beautiful sunset dotted with storm clouds. Not really, anyway. 

It's about time.

Because the first thing I thought after taking the picture was that for the first time since we turned the clocks forward in March, the sun was starting to set before my regular train pulled into the station. For the first time in six months, I needed my headlights to drive home. For the first time since spring, the air is chilly when I leave my house in the morning and on my way home, and a few enterprising leaves have already started their turn towards the wild colors that mark the changing of the season.

School buses are driving the streets of my neighborhood again and pumpkin donuts are back. I just got a coupon in the mail for 99 cent apple cider and the candy aisle of my grocery store has taken on a distinctive orange and yellow hue. And probably most glaringly, two weeks from tonight I will be sitting around the dinner table with my family in Pittsburgh to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

And despite all that, it kind of still feels like summer just started. Like two minutes ago we were driving with the top down, headed to Washington for our Memorial Day celebrations.

Time is a funny thing.

Because way back in April, time seemed to stop. The days felt like years - every moment an eternity -  and I thought that maybe I was destined to live in April for the rest of my life. But I wasn't, of course. Because time moves on, and time heals, and April became May and as the world came back alive after a frigid winter and a spring too cold for all of winter's ice to melt, so did I.

And summer started with its sweaty days and balmy nights and I felt better than I had in months, and I had summer to thank for that. And even though summer seemed to fly, I tried to be present in my moments and in my days. To make memories of the season that brought me back to life; that made me laugh and smile and appreciate the place where I was, where I live my life and the people I have chosen to live it with. And I was. And I did. 

But time marches on.

So here we are. Moving into the season where the world turns golden brown, the air is spicy, football is back, and jackets are necessary, even though it feels like summer just started yesterday. But today, I feel ok about that. Because for the first time in a long time, I am happy and healthy and focused on what is happening right now; not what I want to happen or wish would happen or what might happen at some point in the future, but right now.

Like a picture of storm-clouds on sunset.

So the sun can set as early as it wants and I'll even open my coat closet for the first time in months. I'll wear a sweatshirt when I sit outside, and switch my Saturday morning coffee from iced to hot. I'll pull out my long-sleeved running shirts and watch as my gardener switches from lawn mower to rake.

And these things are ok. These things are good.

Because this is where I am right now. And these are the moments that matter.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Summer's Last Nights

The last addition to the Merel outdoor summer of fun.

Tiki torches to light our way through summer's last nights.

Friday, September 5, 2014

"...I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag."

“When I die, I want my funeral to be a huge show biz affair with lights, cameras, action. I want craft services. I want paparazzi. I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don’t want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don’t want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing “Mr. Lonely. I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing like Beyonce’s.”                                                            
                                          - Joan Rivers                                                                                              June 8, 1933 - September 4, 2014

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Memorial Day and Our Summer Home

Our first summer weekend hanging out on our new summer home.

Hoping for a few more good ones before the seasons change.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Naked Pictures, A Hack and Rape Culture

I saw something on Facebook yesterday. Actually, many somethings, but all shades of the same.

More than a few people I'm "friends" with over there, in reference to the now infamous weekend hacking of the iCloud accounts of, among (many) others, Jennifer Lawrence, posted something along the lines of "if celebrities don't want their nude pictures shared, they shouldn't take nude pictures."

In other words, if you don't want people to see you naked, you sure as hell better never be naked.

I sat with this for awhile, trying to figure out why it made me so uncomfortable. Because it did. Really uncomfortable.

And then I saw something else on Facebook. I saw that Emma Sulcowicz, a Columbia University student who filed a Title IX complaint alleging that the University mishandled her rape and the subsequent investigation, was carrying the mattress from her dorm room bed wherever she went on campus in protest of Columbia's failure to take action against her rapist, and would continue to do so until he was no longer on campus because, she says, "Every day, I am afraid to leave my room."

And maybe you want to stand up right now and tell me that these two incidents are completely different. Completely unconnected. Maybe you want to tell me that no one touched Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe you want to tell me that being raped is nothing like having nude pictures of yourself posted onto the internet. Maybe you want to tell me that posting naked pictures isn't the same thing as sexual assault.

But what I want to tell you is, you're wrong.

Sexual assault doesn't have to be physical to exist. Sexual assault deals with consent, and particularly the lack thereof, in a sexual act. In Emma's case, a man forced her to have sex without her consent. And in Jennifer Lawrence's case, hackers shared nude pictures of her with the entire world, and I'm relatively certain she didn't give her consent for that. Or to the millions of people who have looked at the pictures since Saturday. 

And instead of talking about how she was violated, how sharing these pictures was a crime and how everyone who looks at them is complicit in that crime, people decide it's better to lecture her about how if she would just never have taken these pictures in the first place, this never would have happened. As if she and the other women involved in the leak are somehow at fault for these private pictures finding their way to the internet.

Sorry, but fuck that.

The hackers didn't find these pictures and publish them on the internet because a bunch of famous women had nude pictures on their phones or stored in their iCloud accounts, because they had bad passwords, because they took the pictures in the first place, or because they just weren't careful enough. It happened because people committed a crime by hacking into iCloud, stealing personal property and publishing it on the internet. 

And the public came flocking because, naked women y'all. And what do naked female bodies exist for, if not to entertain the men of the internet, of the world, right?

Wrong. So very, very wrong. It doesn't matter that these women are hot or rich, or that people feel that they are somehow entitled to them because they are famous and put themselves into the public eye. None of these things give anyone the right to violate their privacy. These women are people. They are human beings with the right to a personal life and to pieces of themselves that are not available for public consumption.

The kind of victim blaming that has ensued in the wake of Saturday's hack isn't any different from the victim blaming that nearly always follows rape allegations made by women against men. It is just as horrifying as when we chastise a rape victim for what she was wearing, saying, drinking. Or for not saying no loud enough. Or for not going to the police fast enough.

This is rape culture.

And don't you dare tell me that men get raped and sexually assaulted too and use that as some kind of excuse to close your ears and cover your eyes and ignore what is really going on here. Because how many men are afraid to walk down a street alone at night because a woman might jump out and attack them? How many men do you think worry about getting raped by a woman during an early morning run? And do you honestly think that the hackers who published the nude pictures of Jennifer Lawrence didn't find any nude pictures of men? Of course they did, but they didn't publish those all over the internet because men don't do that to other men.

We live in a world where universities, my very own Brandeis University included, hand out rape whistles to girls during freshman orientation and give them the locations of the emergency phones on campus, instead of telling the boys that rape is wrong. We live in a world where girls are taught to protect themselves but boys are rarely taught not to do the things that the girls would need to protect themselves from. We live in a world where companies are spending money developing nail polish that will change colors if dipped in a drink that contains a date-rape drug because money is not being spent teaching boys not to rape. We live in a world where in a poll of high school students, a large percentage of both girls and boys really and truly believe that it's not rape if she's drunk, if her skirt is short, or if she paid for dinner. We live in a world where a brilliant and accomplished female Senator is called "porky" by her male colleagues. And we live in a world where too much unacceptable behavior is ignored or pushed aside or even laughed at because boys will be boys, amiright?

And it's sad and terrifying and not at all the kind of world that I would like my children to grow up in.

So what do we do? Where do we go from here? Do we stop taking any pictures of ourselves that we wouldn't want posted on the internet for the entire world to see? Do we all buy a bottle of the date-rape drug detecting nail polish? Do we buy pepper spray for our purses and hold our keys between our fingers if we should ever have the audacity to walk alone at night? Do we stop wearing short skirts and red dresses and high heels?

I just don't know. I'm not sure anyone does.

I don't know if it will get better, or if maybe it will just keep getting worse.

And that might be the scariest thing of all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sometimes When It's Raining We Sit Outside Anyway

I really don't want this summer to end.

Seeing as my love of fall and winter has been well documented in these pages, that's kind of a strange thing for me to say, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Because this summer has been magic.

After a tough spring, these past three months have been exactly what I needed. Three months of good weather, family time, and reading books on my outdoor couch. Of barbecues, friends, and quiet time. Of enjoying the home that we have worked so hard to build. Of getting happy again. Of finding myself after months of feeling a little lost.

And this past weekend, we bid farewell to summer. It will still be pretty hot for the next couple of weeks, and there is plenty of outside time left before the leave fall and the first snowflakes make their appearance, but the abundance of "back to school" pictures on Facebook today tell me that the season is well and truly over.

So, you may ask how I spent the last three days of summer. I spent it at home, outside, in the living room we built on our yard; alone, with David, with family and with friends. Day and night. In sunshine and in rain.

And it was just absolutely perfect.