Friday, April 29, 2011

farewell friday photoblog I: of sand and surf

Kooks are surfer lingo for posers and non-local surfers
...or just see the Urban Dictionary definition, which paints a more specific picture than I do
Little known Derrick fact: he's a surfer-turned-medical-student who built his own board in his garage, surfed with Cali surf shop owners and corporate-sponsored surfers, and has ridden waves in a snowstorm, in hurricanes, in Hawaii, and on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico...and he misses it terribly

Little known Nicki fact: she can't surf, board, windsurf, parasail, or water-ski...but she is a CHAMPION beach reader

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I'm terrified to move to Boston.

That's not entirely true. It's not the moving, the finding-a-place, the packing, the unpacking, the knowing no one, the big city, or the new surroundings that terrify me.

It's the fact that after I take this step, I don't know what's next.

There's nothing on my horizon 'cept
a bottle of cheap wine
I could keep freelance writing and editing my heart out. I could resume publishing (read: writing, revising, mailing, holding my breath, getting rejected, and once in a blue moon getting published, because them's the brokes, kids). I could keep writing/editing and get a part-time job at one of Boston's many publishing companies just to get me out of the damn house once in a while. I have three or four blog ideas-- real blogs with clear focuses and posting schedules, not the random smatterings of photos and free association posts that comprise the Handbag -- that I want to start. There are new writing markets and niches I want to enter. There's so much in life and in my career that I want to do and after the Great Boston Migration...I've got to decide.

In short, I've got to take a deep breath and step somewhere.

Before I entered the treacherous land of the creatively self-employed, everything I read cautioned that when you succeed, it is entirely your own success...but when you fail, you are the sole reason for your failure.

That's a terrifying threat waiting in the shadows. So it makes a girl wary of her steps.

And it makes her pray for some handrails, a headlamp, or some painted arrows on the wall.

Maybe a spirit guide.

I'm secretly praying my spirit guides are the Animaniacs.

So, readers? Did you ever know you had to start travelling somewhere, but you didn't know which direction to take? What did you do? How did you decide? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, April 22, 2011

friday photoblog: on saying goodbye

Short and sweet for you today-- working on a series of Farewell Virginia photo-posts before I begin the great northern migration to Boston. I'll be posting more sporadically through the next month, as I'm going to be rambling around the region on a Whirlwind 'Farewell Virginia' Tour. Expect pictures, stories, travelogues, and photos of me crying into a stack of crab cakes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

match (day) madness: part five -- match day

Every school handles Match Day differently. Some schools have parties, others have ceremonies. Some have a mad rush to the stage to claim your envelope. Others start at 1 PM and have each student read the contents of each envelope to the watching audience. Which means that if you get your twentieth choice...well, you've got to announce you got your twentieth choice to a massive audience. And you've got to hold back your tears until you can make offstage, because it's not fitting for a future doctor of America to break down and cry in front of hundreds of people.

Every school is different, but two truths remain no matter which school you go to:
1.) you all open an envelope with your fate sealed inside at 1 PM Eastern Standard Time

2.) if nature calls after 1 PM on Match Day, you'll find a dozen future doctors sobbing in the bathroom.

Welcome to Match Day, kids.

Derrick's school is known nationwide for its wild-and-crazy Match Day proceedings. Class officers pick a theme every year, and the Match Day candidates choose the wildest of costumes to accompany that theme. This year's theme was "Animation Domination," meaning the fourth-year med students could dress up as anything animated. Cartoons, comics, movies, you name it.

There's even an official pre-Match Day party.
Complete with keg and liquor.
At 9:30 AM.

Again, welcome to Match Day.

The costumes were incredible. Princess Jasmine and Jafar drank beer with He-man and Shira. Superman, the Green Lantern, and Mr. Incredible clustered in a corner. I talked with Penny and Inspector Gadget, Carmen Sandiego, Mario, and Dora the Explorer. There were Care Bears. There were Powerpuff Girls. Captain Planet and the Gang. Cinderella. Pocahontas. The Bill from Capitol Hill. Troll dolls with silicone asses.

It was an experience.
Princess Zelda, Miss Frizzle, Nemo, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Jasmine, Inspector Gadget

Derrick was Jonny Quest. For those of you unfamiliar with the obscure 1960's Hannah Barbara cartoon: Jonny Quest was a too-smart-for-his-own-good boy with an Indian best friend and a cartoonish dog.

Derrick is a too-smart-for-his-own-good boy with an Indian best friend and I have a cartoonish dog.

Apollo as Bandit
That Indian best friend? Also a fourth-year med student about to match. Jonny and Hadji.
Add in my marginally retarded dog with a painted mask on (it was food coloring, PETA, relax) as Bandit, and we had ourselves a Hanna Barbara caravan.

Every med student crowded into the auditorium to begin the final countdown at 11. Each student came up on stage and had about a minute or two to showboat before they received their envelope-- the envelope that told them where they were going---which they had to hold in their hands and not open until 1 PM.

 While I could write eight paragraphs about all the different ridiculous performances we saw--choreographed dancing, a love train, breakdancing, elaborate pantomimes--I know you're waiting for the same moment we were.

12:30. Derrick started fidgeting.
12:35. I asked what time it was. For the tenth time.
12:45. We began sipping our Jameson's a lot more frequently.
12:50. The room became a lot less loud. Med students twirled their hair, tapped their feet, drummed on the armchairs.
12:55. The med students gathered on stage.
12:59. The coutdown began, New Year's Eve-style.

Five. Four. Three. Two.

Open your envelopes.

Everyone on stage tore open their envelopes in a flurry of tossed paper and frantic arms. Sheets were unfolded. Eyes scanned. Derrick was in the back. I couldn't see him. I scanned the crowd, over and over, waiting for the hands to fly up from the back row, waiting for those blue eyes to stand above the rest and tell me where we were headed. My dog strained at his leash. I dug in my heels and waited.

The first eruption came from the front row. His arms pumped in victory. His family raced to him. The room spun and I waited. More explosions erupted. A long line of laughter. A shrug. A girl covered her face, dropped her head to a waiting shoulder. Still I waited.

Derrick's mother took the leash from my hands and said Go to him.

Bless her.

It was one of those moments that slows and holds heavy in your hands. It was a moment where the seconds drift and you can remember every line, every curve, every swell of the scene. I pressed past the superheroes, past the princesses, past the cheering and the crying, murmuring excuse me, excuse me through the fluorescent hair and the tight skirts and bright colors and tossed arms and the laughing and the far-off eyes until I saw him.

He stared at a piece of paper. No emotion.

My heart dropped.

Where? I asked.

His eyes were still scanning. They print the school on the last line, in the smallest font. He had taken a drink before opening the envelope. I hadn't come too late. Here it was, Baltimore or Boston or DC or Worcester or NYC or Richmond or Gainesville or here and it was

it was

Boston, Derrick said in disbelief.

Boston. Thank God. Thank Match Day deities, thank algorithms, thank Boston Medical Center, thank the patron saint of tequila or sex or poetry or Johnny Cash or whatever the hell it is you pray to at night, thank you and thank you and thank you again.

I threw my arms around him and I cried.

I originally had a Match Day Madness photo collage planned...but this video says it better than my camera ever could:

And yes....

....we bleached his hair.

Friday, April 1, 2011

match (day) madness: part four -- the resolve

I can't tell you how much your comments have touched both of us. Thank you for your words, your advice, your virtual hugs and pints of ice cream. Just one more dark part to go.

Thank you for reading. 

Thank you for caring.

We were fucked up. I won't pretend we weren't. Derrick was facing the most important day in his career. He was facing a cross-state move. He was facing the next four years of his life, one that would determine the outcome of his entire career...and he was facing my growing emotional detachment. It's one thing to face moving away from the family you've lived near for twenty-eight years. It's another to face losing the woman you love.

It's an especially twisted circumstance to lose her to an envelope.

I wish I could lay out for you in crisp detail what happened on the Wednesday night before Match Day. I wish I could set the scene for you, make you see the darkened hallway, the hardened drips of the locked door I leaned upon, the constant clack of the shot glass hitting the table, the way my knife ran through the rind of the lime.

I wish I could outline the night's events so they made sense for you, tell you which words we hissed and which we whispered.

To use a tired cliche, it was like a mirror had dropped and I'm left picking up the pieces, wondering which fit where.

Call me Unreliable. I'll be your narrator for the evening.

We had people over. We laughed. I remember this.
I remember a glass in my right hand throughout the evening. My oil can. Whenever I could feel my laugh grate, my hand shake, I'd refill the glass, and I carried on. I smiled. I took pictures.  I made jokes. I was some bizarre semblance of normal.
Again, I lied.

Derrick spiraled.

I watched nerves and liquor take his body, saw the sidelong glances he'd give me. I saw him tense and relax, laugh and pause, become more and more unhinged. It was like watching someone drown and knowing you'd pushed him, knowing he had one hand on the deck railing and you had flung it away and watched him fall into the dark of the sea.

I tried to backtrack. I went into full supportive significant other mode. I played hostess for both of us. I listened sympathetically to the neighbors who came to complain about the noise. I dragged Derrick back in the house when he tried to confront them. I covered. I quieted. I soothed. I explained. I made excuses. And I lied.

The guests left either with awkward goodbyes or tense confrontations. When the last person had gone, I turned on Derrick. I confronted him. I interrogated. I raged. And in return, I got nothing.


Derrick was wrapped in some black cocoon, harboring himself in a shroud of tequila and defenses, waiting for me to drop that inevitable hammer. I'm leaving you. 

I can't put up with you.

Why are you like this?

He expected it. He prepared for it.

Finally, I gave him what he wanted. I slammed him up against the wall and told him I was leaving in the morning. I was trying desperately, so desperately to wake him up, make him feel something about us, make him care.

The cocoon snapped and the dam broke.

I had said the words Derrick had been dreading all week. The rest of the night is unfocused, a blur. I remember the the monologuing, the locked doors, the smashed lightbulb, the pleading, the worry. I got him to bed. I waited until I heard the quiet stillness of sleep. Then I went to the couch and tried to cry.

I couldn't.

I woke up in the morning with the quiet resolve to pack up my little old car full of as many clothes and necessities as it could handle. I was leaving.

Derrick came out at 7:50 and told me he wanted to leave at 8.

I don't know what I expected. I guess some grand sweeping "I'm sorry, we're perfect, I messed up, let's stay and leave happily ever after" speech. He was civil, sure. Positively polite. Agonizingly polite. Finally, I asked him if he was going to say something --anything-- about last night.

What's there to say? he said.

I was done.  

I'm not going with you today, babe.

His eyes were as hard and empty as yesterday. Look. If you want to talk or whatever, that's fine. But not today.

I watched him rush around the house and get ready. I watched with the eyes of a woman watching her relationship wither and die in front of her.

I tried to imagine packing up all my things. I pictured spending the day packing while he was away at Match Day, waiting to learn where he was going for the next four years. The biggest day of his career. And I wasn't going with him, wasn't going to be there to cry with him or celebrate with him when he found out where he was going. We were done. We were over. This was it.

But it wasn't it. Life wasn't supposed to be like this. I had limits, he had limits, we had both crossed them. Fine. Still--

Give me five minutes, I said. We--us---this---is worth five minutes.

In a cold moment I will never forget, Derrick looked at the clock.  He sat down. Five minutes.

You're actually going to time it? I asked. For the first time in 12 hours, I saw his jaw soften a little bit. I took a breath.

Look. This week has been hard. It's been really fucking hard. And maybe you think everyone HAS left you in the past. When your chips are down, they leave. They think, Derrick's got it. He's got this. He doesn't need me.

But I am not everyone else. I'm not. WE are not everyone else. And honestly? If that's what you think--that I'm just like everyone else in your life--I'm leaving. I'm walking away right now. Because you know I am not everyone. I am the girl who will talk with you for five hours straight about everything you've ever went through and beg for more.   I'm the girl who screams Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" through your sunroof. I'm the girl who plays air guitar on our coffee table with all the window open. I'm the girl who goes into abandoned houses with you, who dances to the Temptations in the kitchen with you, who tracks through mud, weeds, and thorns in stockings and heels with you.
I am the girl who goes swimming with her goddamn clothes on.

And I am not everyone else.

I finally dared to look at him. His head was in his hands. When he lifted his eyes, there were tears in them. We cried and we held each other and we talked and we said I'm sorry, I'm so sorry over and over and over again.

And we left for Match Day. Together.