A Whole Year Younger

Another day, another nap.

Recently I realized that I have blog posts dating back to 2004 archived on an external hard drive. This is a slightly terrifying prospect, because hello, teenage angst! They come in handy sometimes, though.

Reading through old writings can give you new perspective on a situation. They can also give you a better birthdate for your cat.

That’s right, folks—Squirt is a whole year younger than I thought! 😂 I thought she was 14 but she is, in fact, 13. (Again?) When I let her know, she just flicked her gaze away from me disdainfully.

She has naps to take, people.

It seems like I got her in May or June of 2004, so she was probably born in March or April 2004. Some people pay big bucks to look younger, but not Squirt—she actually is younger! (Plus there’s the fact that she is tiny and doesn’t at all look or act like an older cat, aside from being more cuddly and taking more naps.)

There you have it, folks—musings from a kooky cat lady who is procrastinating all of the things. #amediting #amschooling #amwishingiwasnapping

PS: Does anyone know how to import LiveJournal XML posts to WordPress? I can’t figure it out for the life of me, and the plugins I’ve tried all suck. Not that the world really needs to read my angsty teen blogs, but it’s a hell of a lot easier reading them here than it is to squint at an XML file, and I kind of like scrolling through (some of) memory lane.

A Family Tradition

"A Family Tradition," by Elizabeth Barone

I wish there was a way to photograph those moments in life where you truly feel alive, perfect. Capture that feeling, forever preserved. There’s no way to actually save a memory, so I try to remember. I tell myself I’m going to write it down, and then I forget.

There’s a ducky bowl that’s been banging around since I was little. It’s a bit faded at this point, but otherwise in decent condition. When I was a kid, it was the coveted cereal bowl in the house.

I will fight to the death for this. It's a family tradition. 🥄

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I liked it because when you finished the cereal, the ducky “swam” in the remaining milk. My dad liked it because it was bigger than the other bowls, and the man loves his cereal fixes.

We fought over it, a lighthearted war. It became a race—who would get the clean ducky bowl first. For years this went on, victory cries ringing through the house every time one of us claimed it: “My ducky bowl!”

It became a running joke that, at some point, became a ritual. Ducky bowl was serious business. It traveled with us from apartment to apartment, finally ending up at my grandparents’ when we moved in during my senior year of high school. I poured snacks into it while I wrote my first novel, while I worked on homework during college, while I wrote code for clients’ websites—if Dad didn’t get to it first.

I kept threatening to take it with me when I moved out into my own place. Dad kept threatening to hide it.

I introduced my husband to it like he was meeting family: “This is ducky bowl.” When we got married and began packing to move into our first apartment, I grabbed ducky bowl from the rack of clean dishes and wrapped it in newspaper before Dad could see.

I smuggled ducky bowl out of my parents’ place like a thief.

During that first Christmas after or some other holiday, I confessed my crime to Dad. He feigned wounded outrage, and I tried to make it up to him. “You can have it on weekends,” I offered.

“You can keep it,” he told me, as if passing on a family heirloom.

For the first time in two decades—maybe longer—I had ducky bowl all to myself. Even though I bought a set of dishes with bowls twice as deep, it was still my favorite. I happily munched cereal, marveling at how the thing had managed to stick around. Some things I lose, others hover about me like ghosts.

And then Mike stole it.

“No!” I protested, reaching out for it as Mike poured cereal into it or ate cheesecake out of it. At first I thought he was just messing with me. Slowly I realized I was wrong.

I had a rival.

Again.

The race began anew: secret washing of dishes, stacking it beneath the other bowls in the rack so he wouldn’t see it; playful shock when he got to it first; considering hiding it in an unlikely place. It was these moments that I most missed my dad. (He’s still alive, don’t worry.) I missed the game, the shared running joke. All children grow up and out of their parents’ homes, but I think some small part of us stays behind.

Tonight I caught Mike reaching for ducky bowl in the rack.

“Damn it,” I muttered, feigning offense. I reached for it.

Mike grabbed a spoon. Gently he tapped me on the forehead with it. “Back, demon.”

I gaped at him in mock outrage. My grip tightened.

He tapped me again. “Banish your evil.”

“Unhand it or I’ll bite you.” I leaned down, jaw open, white teeth flashing.

“Banish your evil!” He bopped me on my topknot.

My teeth neared, Mike fending me off with the spoon, my eyes filling with tears of mirth, jaw straining from laughing while pretending to bite. Just as I grazed flesh, he released it, bringing his hand to safety.

“My ducky bowl,” I told him.

He reached for another bowl.

“Here.” I sighed and held out ducky bowl. “You can use it.” For now, I added silently.

Looking at the proffered bowl, he shook his head at me. “Demon.”

I will fight to the death for ducky bowl. It’s a family tradition.

Three Years, Three Little Words

Karaoke night. This is the only photo I have of myself with both of my longest, closest friends.

Three years ago today, I was sitting at the desk at my part-time office assistant job, chatting with the 90-something-year-old woman who’d helped build it from the ground up. Mrs. D was an absolute doll—though I can’t say the same for her son’s girlfriend. Anyway, it was a slow day, so Mrs. D and I kept each other company while working on odds and ends. Then I got the text.

“Sean passed away,” Mike wrote.

The world flipped. My mind went as white and cold as snow. No. Then I entered the first stage of grief: denial. This has to be a joke. And it’s not funny.

Sean and I had been friends for 12 years—ever since the day we’d sat together on the bus my freshman year and bonded over our Gameboys. Our friendship was the oldest one I had, one that had changed very little over the years. We were super close, though a little too alike in our short tempers; we often had heated but friendly debates about anything and everything. We’d seen each other through tragedy and milestones: his first painting sold, my first book published, him moving in with Gabi (the love of his life), me marrying Mike (the love of mine).

So when Mike texted me those three little words, I couldn’t believe it.

I wouldn’t.

“Excuse me,” I told Mrs. D. “I need to step outside and make a call.”

“Of course!” She smiled warmly at me, then continued what she was doing at her desk.

I walked out to my car on shaking legs. I hadn’t had a cigarette in two years, but at that moment I needed one. I opened the passenger door and sat down. Then I called Mike.

No answer.

I tried to take long, slow breaths. Why, my brain demanded to know, would Mike text me something like that and then walk away from his phone? It was starting to feel less like a sick joke and more like a horrible misunderstanding. I couldn’t just sit outside forever. So I logged into Facebook.

As I scrolled through my feed, I told myself that I’d see everything was fine. I’d see Sean’s or Gabi’s latest post, and then I could kill Mike for pulling such a nasty prank. Who does that? my brain insisted.

He’s never done anything like that before, though. He may be a goofball but he’s not mean. Never mean.

And then I saw it.

A mutual friend of Sean’s and mine had posted something along the lines of “Just found out an old Kaynor friend passed away.”

No.

No.

No.

Just as the tears started to blur my vision, as I frantically tried to tell myself maybe it was someone else, Mike called.

My poor husband couldn’t talk.

In his shock, he’d managed to fire off those three words and then he’d broken down.

He’d seen it on Facebook, too, but the post had specifically named Sean.

“No,” I sobbed. “We would’ve heard something from Gabs.”

Meanwhile, our lovely, sweet girl was barely keeping it together while she sat with his parents and helped make arrangements. She’d wanted to tell us herself because she didn’t want us to find out via Facebook, but understandably hadn’t had the chance to yet.

It was true.

All of it.

Still, my brain insisted that if I just went to Sean and Gabi’s, I’d see that it was all a joke. Or a mistake. I wouldn’t even be mad that they’d pulled such a mean prank. I’d just give him a big hug.

This was the second stage of my grief: bargaining.

The rest of January passed by in a haze. There were nights at Sean and Gabi’s place. I stopped sleeping, binge-watching Lost instead because we’d long had a debate about it and I guess I needed to put that to bed. There was a wake and a funeral, and two autopsies that gave us no cause of death.

Only a black hole in all of our hearts.

Sean and Gabi, at my wedding (2013).

He was only 28. He had his entire life ahead of him—along with a beautiful, loving girl who he was going to marry. It wasn’t fair. They’d been in our wedding; we were supposed to be in theirs, too, damn it. The four of us were going to start families together, continue our Friday night tradition of games and drinks, and grow old together. I still hadn’t even gotten him to sit down and watch Game of Thrones or Firefly with me—two shows that I knew he’d love but he hadn’t made the time for yet.

He left paintings unfinished and goals unachieved. None of us could grasp that someone so young could just pass away, for no reason at all.

I still can’t, not really.

The gang, before catching the train for NYCC (2011).

It has gotten easier, though—at least, a little. I no longer hope he’ll text me on a Friday morning with “What are you guys doing tonight?” Hanging out with you guys, duh. I still want to text him every once in a while, before I remember. And I always wish I knew what he’d think about certain things, like the new DC and Marvel movies, the LEGO movie we all went to see just weeks after losing him, and the new Coheed album. I know we’d probably debate it, but I’d give whole limbs to be able to argue with him again.

Today makes three years since the day Sean passed away. Much has changed since then. Our group is now scattered across Connecticut, rarely connecting because of our hectic schedules. Mike started painting, beginning with a memorial piece for Gabi. And me… I poured my grief into my stories.

Rather than feeling sad, I now cherish the memories—of which there are so many good ones. Though I’ll always miss him, the grief is no longer debilitating and consuming. I’m not religious, so I don’t know what I believe about the afterlife, but I do know that someday, somehow, we’ll cross paths again.

Because ever since I met Sean in 2002, our paths crossed again and again—even when we weren’t really speaking. I’ve always believed that there are certain people we’re meant to have in our lives—people we instantly connect with because in a sense, we already know each other.

So even though my heart is heavy today, it’s the good memories that make me smile and remind me of how precious the people in our lives are. As they say in Rent, there’s “no day but today” to live our lives and appreciate the people we love.

Six Years Passed

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

It seems absolutely crazy to me that six years ago, cancer took my grandfather. Popi was a huge part of my life, and even now, the hole in our family is gaping. I think I was in denial throughout the entire time he was sick, up until the moment I woke up and he was gone. Even then, it took my brain and heart quite some time to catch up.

Grief is weird like that.

Six years later, I’m okay. We’re all okay. But sometimes that ache sneaks right up on me—especially during this time of year. Late at night, tucked in bed, I’m not an almost 28-year-old woman; I’m a little girl who misses her Popi.

I wonder what he’d think about everything going on in the world right now. I’m especially curious if he’d like Machete or how he would’ve looked in a suit at my wedding. My Popi loved those crazy explosive action movies. They’re the ones I usually roll my eyes at but every now and then, our interests would intersect. We could watch Mortal Kombat and The Crow together. Popi was a huge martial arts movies fan, too. Unfortunately, there haven’t really been any lately.

Popi also had a great sense of humor—and an even better laugh. It was a contagious kind of laugh; if he laughed, you couldn’t help but burst out laughing too. I can actually still hear his laugh without trying too hard.

Popi was also a musician. He could play anything on his guitar by ear. Way back in the day, he was actually in a band. I didn’t inherit that gene, but it’s totally his fault that I love music so much and write rockstar romance.

There are a million things I could say about my Popi and it still wouldn’t be enough to really give you an idea of who he was. He passed on his stubbornness, fiery passion, and goofiness to me. He also had a soft, tender side. The older I get, the more I see myself in him—which is kind of funny, considering when I was younger, I never quite understood him. He seemed so complicated to me, yet I still loved him to pieces.

He was one of my favorite people in the whole world.

I miss him so much. Eventually, when I can afford it, I really want to get hummingbird tattoos just under my collarbone. Popi loved to sit up at the lake and watch all the birds, but the “hummers” were his favorite. They move fast, and half the time I was never quick enough. But my Popi saw everything—even hawks and eagles soaring far above the car as he drove us to the lake.

I’m not religious, I don’t believe in any kind of god, and I have no idea whether there’s any such thing as heaven, but I really hope someday, somehow I see him again.

Cotton candy sky. Every time I see a sunset, I think of my Popi. #nofilter

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