I hate Kevin Costner

When I was 11, I had it in for Kevin Costner.

My parents had gone out on a rare date to see “Waterworld.” I remember my mother had dressed with particular care, donning a long black dress, dangling amethyst earrings and red lipstick — adornments too special for regular wear around the farm.

“Voila!” she’d said, striking an exaggerated hand-on-hip pose in our kitchen. This francophonic flourish, however small it was, instilled into the occasion an extra element of glamour.

Simply put, I was dazzled. I went to bed that night feeling that all was right in the world.

So the next evening, when my mother announced over dinner that she found Kevin Costner was very handsome, I lost my shit.

“He is not.”

“Oh yeah. He’s a stud muffin.”

“No!”

In truth, I didn’t even know who Kevin Costner was, but I was deeply offended. How could she say such a thing in front of my father? How could she say such a thing in front of her children?

My father was unimpressed by the whole display. 

“Hon, can you pass the gravy?” he asked my sister.

His lack of response made it even worse. Surely my father wouldn’t acquiesce to some slick Hollywood son of a bitch. My father was a manly man. He smelled of tobacco and earth. He made trains, tractors, trucks — and later, boyfriends — go wherever he wanted them to go. He could solve The New York Times’ crossword puzzle any day of the week, but he cussed like a sailor. The warranty on his work boots, he proudly told my sisters and me, covered damage incurred through any type of work except railroad work. Kevin Costner was a pretender, and it pained me to see him praised above my father.

At night, I conjured dreams of death matches — largely informed by the fight tournament video games “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat.” In these fantasies of mine, Kevin Costner was powerless against my father’s flips and kicks and jabs. If one person were to choose a two-player game setting and attack the unmanned avatar with every cheat code available, it would have been the same effect.

In the years that followed, my disdain for Kevin Costner never died. I wasn’t always conscious of why I felt the way I did, but I found myself cheering Kevin Costner’s box-office flops and receding hairline. Some 19 years later, I still hate Kevin Costner.

But perhaps this helps me understand a little bit of what my partner’s 8-year-old is experiencing at times.

Feelings are tough.

Posted in City Living, Family, Fighting, Humor, Love, People, Revenge, Youth | 3 Comments

Back in the saddle

A lot has happened in the past year and a half. I moved, I got divorced, I moved again, I fell in love, I started coaching a running team, I had my heart broken, I went a little crazy, I had a short piece of fiction published, I played the field, I went to the West Coast, I fell in love again, I lost one of my jobs, I ate part of a cow’s heart, a child came into my life, I sold my car, I moved again.

So with that out of the way …

Posted in City Living, Humor, People, Regrets | 2 Comments

A conversation with my sister

“What did you get Mom for Mother’s Day?”

“Some wine glasses.”

“OK, good.”

“Why? What did you get her?”

“Well, I asked her what she wanted. She said she liked those $8 t-shirts from Target. That didn’t seem very special, so I asked her if there was anything else she wanted. She said, ‘Well, there is this website called Animal Shirts. They have this t-shirt with a frog giving a peace sign and I think that would really just suit me.’ I told her, ‘I always wondered where people get that shirt. I am going to make sure you never get it.'”

“But if that’s what she wants …”

“Do not cave!”

Posted in Family, Fashion, Humor, People | 3 Comments

Tell me how you really feel, Siri

My mom recently made the leap from dumbphone to iPhone. One of her favorite things about it is her dictation app because she can walk around her greenhouse and make verbal notes on which plants she needs to restock, which are then transcribed into a neat list she can email her business partner.

Of course, the app doesn’t recognize the names of all the flowers, and often my mom has to go back and translate some of the notes.

“Fuck Oprah,” apparently, is Siri-speak for “bacopa.”

Posted in Family, Humor, The South, Words, WTF | Leave a comment

Some people are bad

I posted this last summer, but then took it back down after a few hours. I was afraid it would be taken the wrong way. My intent in sharing this story is not to malign anyone’s reputation but to emphasize the importance of standing up for oneself and one another. As a running coach, a college instructor, an aunt and maybe one day a mother, it is my hope that more girls are braver than I was.

Like many teenage girls, the thing I wanted most in the world was to be left alone.

I was not beautiful. I was not outgoing. I did not matter.

I was smart. I was artsy. I was quiet. I was a Nice Girl, so it should have been easy for me to fly under everyone’s radar.

Maybe that’s why I was an easy target for him.

My senior year of high school, I had two classes that met in the vo-tech building, which is a five-minute bus ride from the main campus. The bus driver was a gruff, clownish old man named Tom. Most of the students who rode the bus had a jokey relationship with him, which involved light insults and mock threats. So when Tom started making fun of my hairstyle — a disheveled platinum pixie cut — I took it in stride.

But as the months progressed, his taunts took a different turn.

It started:

“You need to comb your hair.”

Then it became:

“Can’t your parents afford a comb?”

And finally:

“Did your boyfriend help you get your hair that way?”

The other students on the bus thought it was hilarious.

“Tom is so funny,”  said Conner, a guy I sort of dated.

“I can’t believe the things that come out of his mouth,” said Smith.

“That’s our Tom,” added Tina.

And so on it went. I was a little slut with bad hair.

Hilarious, right?

Then one day, Tom hobbled into my photography class. The teacher was in the darkroom with the students who were developing film that day.

“Oh, there she is!” Tom announced.

“Ha! Tom’s looking for you,” Conner whispered, nudging me in the ribs.

I looked down into my negative sleeves and focused on the inverse images printed in the little squares.

“Little girl, you need to comb your hair,” Tom said.

I zeroed in on one image showing a horse. Which one was it? Mine? My sister’s?

Tom took a few steps closer.

“Do you ever comb your hair?”

The horse in the negative was mine.

Tom took a few more steps.

“Your hair is a mess.”

If I had just stayed home that day, I could have avoided this whole thing. My parents would both be at work, and I’d be out currying my horse’s hide until it shined like gold. He would mouth greedily after the last few oats in his feed bucket while I tightened the girth of his saddle.

I could feel Tom behind me.

If I had just stayed home, Tom wouldn’t be standing behind me. I’d be riding my horse. He was a high-strung animal, and I was a high-strung rider. Some say that’s a dangerous combination, but I found that singing little songs kept us both calm.

I started to hum.

“Little girl, are you listening?”

Then his hands were on my chest, yanking me upright.

“Little girl, you need to comb your hair,” he yelled into my ear, grinding his palm into the top of my head and pushing my bangs forward over my face.

The other students erupted into laughter.

“Tom, you goofy son of a bitch, what are you doing here?”

“I was just taking a walk. Wouldn’t hurt you to take a walk every once in a while, fat ass.”

“Hey, Tom, shut up.”

“I’ll shut you up.”

“Try it.”

“Tom is so funny,” Conner said to me.

“Yeah. Funny,” I said.

Only one other student didn’t think he was funny, and she told both the principal at our high school and the principal of the vo-tech school about what happened.

“He is out of line,” she told me.

And it occurred to me that she was right. His attention was uninvited, unwanted. He did not have permission to say or do those things. He was wrong.

But Tom saw it another way.

“I didn’t mean anything,” he growled as I boarded the bus the next day. “It was a joke.”

“OK.”

“Just look at you. Who would even think anyone would mean anything?”

“I am sorry.”

“You should be, you stupid bitch. You’re not even pretty.”

“No. No, I’m not.”

“Sit down and shut up.”

When my rescuer tried to board the bus, he closed the doors in her face and drove away. Neither principal ever asked me for my side of the story. I suppose it’s easier to throw a student under the bus, so to speak, than it is to investigate a problem with a long-time employee.

It’s been so long since that happened. For a while I didn’t think about it. But last summer was my 10-year high-school reunion. Our class president created a Facebook page, where she invited classmates to post old photos and share favorite memories.

Seeing some of those names and faces gave me a bad feeling in my stomach.

Then I read in my hometown paper about how Tom had retired, and with much fanfare. The article made a big deal about how long Tom drove that bus, how many students he came in contact with  and all the nice things he does around the community.

I wanted to puke.

Nice Girls are socialized to avoid conflict. When Tom confronted me about whatever slap on the wrist he got, I felt guilty for bringing that onto him. Even thinking about it now, part of me wonders if I am overreacting in some way. He said he was only joking.

But when do these things stop being jokes? And even if everyone else was laughing, what was the punchline?

Because I don’t think it’s very funny.

Posted in People, Regrets, School, The South, WTF, Youth | 8 Comments

A conversation with my sister

“Well, I’m glad to see he’s out of prison already.”

“He was in prison?”

“Yeah.”

“What for? Meth?”

“No.”

“Child abuse?”

“No.”

“Child molestation?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“He set a latrine on fire on federal property.”

“Oh.”

Posted in Humor, People, Regrets, The South, WTF | Leave a comment

Pill popper

I missed a lot of school when I was a kid because I was always getting strep throat. This was fine with me because I hated riding the bus (it was an hour-long ride every morning and afternoon), I wasn’t good at math (fun fact: I am a synesthete) and the other kids were weirded out by my “different sensibilities” and I felt alone more often than not.

But at home, I could draw horses and play video games and read my “Goosebumps” books. So, a sore throat was always welcome.

That is, until my pediatrician said it was time to take my tonsils out.

“Basically, they’re harboring bad bacteria and that’s why you’re always getting sick. So, we’re going to cut them out and then burn your throat down with a laser.”

“Um, my throat doesn’t hurt that badly.”

“How much school are you missing?”

“Just enough.”

“We’ll schedule your surgery for two weeks.”

The morning of my tonsillectomy, my dad drove me to Poplar Bluff and hung out with me until the anesthesia kicked in. I vaguely remember him asking me to name British prime ministers in descending order. He made my sisters and me memorize factoids like this at the dinner table and recite them in front of friends. It was his favorite party trick.

When I woke up, my throat hurt more than it had ever hurt before. My mom was hovering over my bed.

“Oh, baby, look how pretty you are.”

I had never been able to sit still for the woman with the earring gun at Walmart, so my mom asked my doctor to pierce my ears while I was under.

“Those earrings look so good on you.”

“Muuuuuh.”

“What’s that, baby?”

“Muuuuuh!”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, what is it?”

“Uhhh haaaaf puuuuke!”

“Oh. Um, OK, lean over the bed. Try to get it in the trash can.”

Clearly, a tonsillectomy is a traumatic event.

But when I got home, things were much, much better. My mom made up a nest for me on the couch, there was a freezer full of ice cream and, best of all, I got to take codeine.

At first it was weird to sleep so heavily. I’d always been an anxious kid, plagued by strange dreams and a fear of what awaited at school the next day. I didn’t sleep much. But as I discovered, sleeping was an escape from my distress, and I started to look forward to it.

It took my mom a while to realize what was going on. My tonsillectomy hadn’t gone as smoothly as it should have; my throat bled for a while and I really didn’t feel well. But, I didn’t feel that bad. And while our D.A.R.E. program had preached the evils of tobacco and alcohol, it hadn’t touched on the dangers of prescription painkillers. How was I supposed to know that something my doctor had given me was actually bad?

I started to get antsy the weekend before I was supposed to go back to school. I had enjoyed my reprieve from the humilities I encountered on the bus, during math and on the playground.

“Mommy, may I have another pill?”

“Are you still feeling bad?”

“No, I just want to sleep a little bit.”

“Good lord, you’re addicted to narcotics.”

“No I’m not. I just want to sleep.”

“You’re cut off. No more.”

“But …”

“I will not have an 11-year-old pill popper in this house.”

At that moment, I realized how bad the situation sounded and I acquiesced.

Posted in Family, Humor, People, Regrets, Youth | Leave a comment