Regret – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for July 2018’s theme “Regret.” 

Nashville, tonight we had regrets.

We celebrated our 20th anniversary in a bubbling fish tank, where we enjoyed a large red Cosmo that sent our body on journey past the potted plants and the upright Sunday School teachers, with a stop at the gravel lot. We released the shifting anvil and collapsed in a vague resemblance to the ending we had hoped.

In our Ralph Lauren High School we choose one crush between rival brothers. We became a thing at the playground when we were scared to speak our truth. And we wish we had known it was okay to say, “no.”

An ill-fated ski trip with no conditioner led to an ill-conceived plan for an eternal, growing, secret, half-pound golf ball. But our decisive aunt shuttled us to the E.R. salon, where our elaborate like finally hit the floor.

A leap of faith led to an encounter with Barney, Floyd, and Aunt Bee, three ambulance rides, and membership in the Sufferers Club. And maybe we can finally say that we no longer regret our biggest regret.

After repelling on our first date— “Not-Naked & Afraid”—we married our Indiana Jones husband. He took us camping in Destination Hell, ignoring warnings, and waivers, and mating gators, where we became “Cybil of the Swamp.” But never again!

We roomed with A.A.R.P. aunt, who thinks we’re not that young. Despite that April night when she selected the only channel she knew and we watched 2 ½ minutes of rhythmic body parts, she’s still the best roommate we ever knew.

She was bilingual, and we were…dangerously equipped. We awkwardly used the present tense, and confused fear and feces. But that was nothing compared to ordering male-member soup from the star QB waiter—and everyone who loves the Lord knows about it!

At the nursing home with Great-Grandmother Bitc— …uh, Great-Grandmother, we met him eating flesh-toned paste by himself. We became pen pals, till 12-year-old life intervened, and we never answered his last letter. And now we just want to say, “We’re sorry, Mr. Kimbrell.”

We celebrated her bachelorette party with a cucumber massacre, and Wishbone advice, and sober streaking with former home-schoolers. We escaped the cornfield led by Pregnant Rambo…but Mom is glad we would never do anything like that.


Thanks to all our storytellers—Rebecca, Jacquelyn, Cynthia, Melissa, Ty, Steve, Mary Margaret, Elly, and Alexandra! Join us August 27 for our annual partnership with The Porch Writers’ Collective. Our theme is “Almost.” Get in touch here with your story proposal! If you missed the stories, check our podcast page in a couple weeks to catch up on all the goodness!

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Pratik Patel – Report Card

Here’s Pratik Patel’s story from June 2018’s theme “Parents.” 

When I was a senior in college, I was paid $50 to write an essay for an international student’s English class assignment. I don’t want this to be an exposé but rich Arab students at private colleges can buy off assignments if they have the means for it. They usually have the means for it. $50 was a sizable amount of money for me back in 2005. I also wanted to fancy myself as a writer so getting paid for my so-called skills seemed like a good way to test them out.

I wrote this story in which my dad pulled a prank on me by scaring the hell out of me about my 2.43 GPA on my high school report card. Throughout the story, he pretends I have bad grades. But I don’t have bad grades! I have a 3.61 GPA! And everybody ends up happily ever after at the end. It had sentences like this:

  • My father caught me examining the envelope, and put the most horrible thought into words. “Your report card for this semester.” My father had said it in the simplest way possible. In spite of the simplicity, I felt the vibes of unpleasant intonations disguised in that statement. I was trying to get my client a good grade.
  • My father could’ve been a great suspense director if he chose to. But instead of applying that talent to celluloid, he preferred to practice it in real life.
  • And this was how I ended the story. I pulled out my report card from the envelope. My father had neatly circled the GPA. In large, bold, black letters, right in the middle of the red circle, imprinted was the number 3.61. He had also left a little note for me: “Just having a little fun!” That is my father.

I re-read that story recently and honestly, I’m not impressed with my writing skills. But back then, I was pretty impressed. So impressed I submitted it two months later for an online writing competition. Mostly for kicks. It was 2005 and the Internet was still trying to find its identity. It was acceptable, fashionable even, to submit stories for online competitions nobody had heard about.

Now you’re probably wondering if I’ve spent time in pIagiarism or copyright jail. I have not. I got away with it OK? And I hope my … client got away it too. Ok, I admit that my ethics are really really … questionable, at the very least. I took money under the table for completing another college student’s English assignment. And then I published it online under my own name. If you think I’m a small-time criminal, I won’t take offense. We’re on the same page.

So anyways I submitted that story for the writing competition. And to my surprise, it won Story of the Month. I was pretty psyched. So psyched I shared it my with father. And he loved it too! So much that he shared it with his friends and colleagues. They replied back to him with nice things about my writing. Nice things like:

  • This is the most successful part of any parent’s life, when they are respected for the good cause which their children have done.
  • Another said: When you look back, you probably must’ve even recollected that particular day and would have developed a feeling of nostalgia!!

My father was an instant hero amongst his own posse.

He emailed me later. He said: “Pratik, it is excellent work done. You should try to pen more and more stories like this. Thank you a lot for centering me in this story. In fact, I lived up all those moments. I kept on smiling while reading it, and everybody in the office kept on asking about it. Keep it up.” Unlike me, he was never good with words.

It had taken $50 and two small-time crimes for that email to land in my Inbox. That email should’ve made any son proud ….. Right? But it didn’t. The trouble, you see, is the story I wrote about my father was … fictional; it wasn’t true. He never played a prank on me. He never pretended I have bad grades. It never happened. In real life, I got yelled at for my average GPA; occasionally, I got smacked. By the time, I graduated high school I knew I wasn’t ever going to live up to his expectations. And it got worse in college.

I shared that story with him for a purpose. I wanted him to know what was going through my mind when I was a student. I wanted to see if, given the opportunity, would he feel sorry for what he made me go through? I wanted him to wonder if setting such expectations was worth it in the end. I wanted a reaction. Any reaction. Any reaction but compliments for my writing. I just wanted an honest moment of truth. It hurt that he never gave me that. I was disappointed all this passing of time hadn’t softened him. And most of all, I was disappointed that my story wasn’t able to get through to him.

I thought that by sharing it with him, I would get closure so we could start from a clean slate. He’d say “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let you go through that.” And I’d say “I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations.” And then we’d move on with life. Maybe even become good friends and save the father-son relationship for another time. But that hasn’t happened.

And so, here I am, left with as many unanswered questions as I had since I shared the story with him. I hope I find some answers eventually. You know, just so I can write another story about it. And if I do, it’s OK if I’m not paid $50 for writing that story.

Kerrie Cooper – People Smile and Tell Me I’m the Lucky One

Kerrie Cooper’s story from June 2018’s theme “Parents.”

We were 32, my husband and I, when we decided to start our family. In doing the math, that gave me 72 chances to get pregnant before I turned 38. It was a seemingly endless amount of possibilities.

We wanted a girl most of all. We had already named her Isabella, and hoped with all our might that she would have his curly hair and my brown eyes.

Because I was certain it wouldn’t be long before I was pregnant, I turned my focus to how I would surprise Michael with the news. I decided to sing him Danny’s Song by Kenny Loggins. It held special meaning to us both. We would drive around in his jeep with the top down on some winding country road on a summer day with no particular place to be and no particular time to return; singing it out loud, unabashedly attempting some harmony around “even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey…” and I would have to stop singing for the tears that closed my throat. It was the perfect choice.

During an annual exam I mentioned to my ob-gyn that I had stopped taking birth control and we were trying to get pregnant. She congratulated me and asked how long it had been. “Over a year,” I said. She paused, looking over her clipboard and said, “Well if that’s the case we need to run some tests to make sure you aren’t infertile.”

I didn’t hear anything after the word “infertile.” My ears started ringing – high pitched and thunderous at the same time. I blurted out “Ok” but I was farthest thing from ok. First comes the denial. Then fear. It’s the fear that will get you.

Although the tests were inconclusive, I was given the label “unexplained infertility,” and advised that the best way to get pregnant was through medical intervention. And this began what would be eight years of infertility treatments and drugs; and thousands upon thousands of dollars to have a baby.

The journey shattered everything I had hoped to believe in: Like a body that works; insurance that wouldn’t fail me; a medical system that cares; and doctors who have all the answers.

I had no option but to trust the course in front of me, because why pursue it if I am not going to believe with every fiber of my being, with every wish on a candle, with every silent prayer, with every tearful plea, in its success? It was a game that offered no preparation but I agreed to play anyway to achieve one of the most desired outcomes that two people who love each other often want: a baby. To create another human life. To do with our bodies what they were intended to do.

I began to go through a vicious cycle. Daily injections and scheduled sex and blood draws and the grand finale of semen into a jar, hyper-spun and cleaned and then injected inside of my uterus with hopes that these super swimmers would find my plethora of jacked-up eggs, collide and stick around to grow as one.

Then I waited for the phone call with the results of my blood test. Even though I had, of course, snuck in two home pregnancy tests, my eyes bored onto the strip of paper willing a line to appear, and when one does not, I convince myself that it was too early anyway. The phone call from the nurse is all business, “Sorry. It’s negative.”

I didn’t recover easily. As it went on, I actually didn’t recover at all, only I didn’t realize it. We averaged six cycles a year for eight years. I had eleven surgeries. Insurance stopped covering anything below my boobs. Not that they were paying any of these expenses anyway. It was all out of pocket.

I could no longer be in the presence of babies. Most times I would merely tear up, but others I would sob uncontrollably, and I had zero control over it. People either got the woman with tears dropping quietly or a crazy lady crying the ugly cry with snot dripping down her nose. I couldn’t walk by a Baby Gap in the mall and I sent “regrets only” to every baby shower I was invited to. Everywhere I looked I saw babies and babies saw me, staring right at me, their beautiful innocent eyes looking right through me. Not one of my friends with children understood – how could they? It was the single most isolating experience of my life.

Slowly, my husband and I drifted apart as if on separate rafts in the ocean riding two different currents. Undetectable at all until we looked up and saw how far apart we actually were.

Questioning everything, we began to explore anything. Fertility goddesses, healers, diets, vitamins – anything that held promise. I went to a Maori Indian healer from New Zealand, asking for Papa as I had been instructed to, only to be informed, “Papa only goes where he is needed.” At the end of my session I would find myself surrounded by every healer in the room, Papa at my feet. My body was vibrating so strongly from their energy I could have sworn I was levitating.

I called a priest, an acupuncturist and a psychic in the course of an hour one day and I met with each one. From the priest I asked forgiveness for divorcing my first husband. Still under the sway of my catholic upbringing, I had convinced myself that I was being punished by God for the divorce.

The acupuncturist, who I went to weekly for a year, gave me the type of period she said women are supposed to have: pain and symptom free.

The psychic gave me hope: telling me I would not be denied a child; there was a little girl coming to me and she is beautiful and lively. She would be an answered prayer, but comes to me in an unexpected way. I hung onto her every word. I so wanted to believe her.

Depression hit me hard, but when I came out of it, I wanted to pursue adoption. Michael was still grappling with his emotions. Once we worked through the collateral damage of the years preceding we arrived at this one irrefutable fact: we wanted to be parents. We attended adoption conferences and met with agencies, one of which took our deposit but rejected us, and lined up an attorney to help with the search. Five months later, I got a phone call from our lawyer: “There’s a woman in Pennsylvania and she has chosen you to be the parents of her unborn baby.” And then, “Kerrie? Kerrie? Are you there?” On the other end of the line all I could do was nod my head silently, I was crying too hard to answer.

We flew out to meet her. I wanted to know the woman who was making this ultimate sacrifice for us. She lived in a poor area of town. It was sobering to take in her reality—heartbreaking really. After a few awkward exchanges, we suggested lunch and headed out to Ruby Tuesday, one of the only “sit-down” (her words) restaurants in the area.

Michael and I made nervous chatter in the car. I kept stealing glances at her. She was tiny, really tiny, and her belly was huge. I had to fight the urge to touch it. We stopped outside the restaurant so she could smoke. It crushed me to watch her.

As we entered the restaurant, Michael approached the hostess stand. I took two steps towards him and stopped dead in my tracks. Michael turned back to look at me and saw my distress. My face had contorted in way that was all too familiar to him and tears started falling. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I could only say his name, “Michael.” I grabbed his hand, squeezing it hard. I felt like everyone around us froze like a still frame in a movie as Michael and I stood there, facing each other and holding hands. I didn’t need to say anything else. It took him just a moment to cock his head upward and hear the music: “People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one. Life’s just begun. Think I’m gonna have a son. He will be like you and me, as free as a dove…”

Here in Lebanon Pennsylvania, 10 years later, we are with the woman who would give us a child. And Danny’s Song, the song I had wanted to sing to my husband to tell him the news about our baby, was playing in the restaurant.

We moved her in with us for the last months of the pregnancy. I couldn’t imagine not caring for her; she was giving us everything we dreamed of. After three months, Michael and I watched our daughter, Isabella Maria DeMay, being born here in Nashville. Her middle name to honor the woman who brought her to us. She has my husband’s curly hair and my brown eyes.

Finally, exactly the way it was always supposed to be, we were parents.

 

Kerrie L. Cooper is the founder and author of Kindred; building an online library of true stories to heal, inspire and encourage. Kindred is also an online shop full of merchandise that collects profits for one-to-one giving to those who find themselves in an unexpected time of need.

Ty Powers – Better Late than Never

Ty Powers’ story from June 2018’s theme “Parents”. 

Had my father, Charles, been a superhero, his tagline might have been: Mild-mannered Nazarene preacher by day! Mild-mannered Nazarene preacher by night! Dad was kind and gentle and funny, beloved by his church members, but not always the most adept at dealing with his own family.

It makes sense. As many PKs (preachers’ kids) will tell you, that “service to others” thing can be a real problem for the pastor’s immediate family. Early on, my two brothers and I realized our emotional needs often took a back seat to the needs of others. Oh, did I say “back seat”? Sometimes we weren’t even in the car: Mildred broke her hip stepping off a curb; Darryl’s toenail is infected—he’s diabetic!; Tina’s daughter has taken up smoking pot and even worse, dancing; Brother Smith is seeing a Satanic face in the tiles of his bathroom floor. You know, typical stuff.

Sixteen years ago, my marriage was in shambles. The shit had hit the fan, or as I say when children are present: “The ship has hit the sand.” Even though my dad and I didn’t really have a “spill your guts to me” type of relationship, I needed someone to talk to. Even though I resented his parishioners for stealing him away from me for all those years, surely all his counseling experience was not for nothing,” so I called him.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Ty!!!!!” He always sounded like he was either super surprised, or trying to prevent me from falling into a hole.

“I need to talk to you about something. Can it be just you and me, so maybe not at the house?” I wasn’t ready to loop in my stepmother just yet.

“Sure!” he said in that professional “Welcome to our church; please fill out a visitor’s card!” sort of way. “Come on over and we’ll drive somewhere!” My dad loved Buicks. Big ones (“I like big Buicks, and I cannot lie!), so when I got to his house, we got in his big Buick and hit the road.

I was terrified.

“Why don’t we go to Trevecca and talk there!” my dad suggested. If you’re a Nazarene in Nashville, you can’t help but be linked to Trevecca Nazarene University in some way or another. He had an office on campus.

“Yeah, Dad, that’ll work.”

We made small talk in the car, which wasn’t talking, per se, but rather, my dad reading road signs, as was his habit. “Piccadilly Cafeteria!” he would announce as we drove past. “Fessler’s Lane!” said the street sign. “Hair club for men!” declared the billboard, or my favorite: “Vasectomies!”

It was a warm, clear, beautiful afternoon, and I was sweating profusely. At Trevecca, we circled the tiny roundabout. This was before they installed the Jesus statue there. It’s a tiny Jesus on a giant pedestal. It sort of looks like a second-place trophy hiding in the hydrangeas. Just past the dorms, we found an empty pavilion. We sat down at a picnic table. I remember the sun casting shadows behind my dad’s head.

“So, what’s up!” As you may have noticed, all of my dad’s sentences ended in exclamation marks, even the questions.

I looked at him, his elbows propped up on the table, his hands clasped under his chin. I wanted to hem and haw, but I had been hemming and hawing all my life, and I was exhausted.

“Dad, I’ve been having an affair. I’ve been cheating on Gabby.”

It wasn’t surprise on his face, but sadness. Tears welled up. He had always been awkward around my wife. This was the man who suddenly blurted out over dinner one night, “Gabby! We just want you to know that we don’t think any less of you just because you’re from a third-world country like El Salvador!” Geez, Dad. Now we know what you haven’t been thinking about. For days on end. Now THAT was an awkward ride home.

So, here he was, devastated. The thing I remember most was his eyes, the way they were reshaped by his heart that was breaking, for both his son and the beautiful daughter-in-law he loved. I’m not sure what I was seeking from him then, but it wasn’t justification. I didn’t want him to condone anything. Maybe what I wanted from him was something like shelter, protection from what was crashing down around me.

So, that was Bombshell #1.

Bombshell #2: “Dad, it was with a man. I cheated with a man.” Now, THAT revelation brought a surprise to his face, and again, what I remember most was his eyes, full of heartbreak. And confusion.

I had been baffling my dad for a long time. I thought of one summer when I was 11. We were spending a week at the Nazarene Campground in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Trust me: a Nazarene campground in August in Oklahoma is its own special kind of hell. Ratcheting up the misery was the fact that I was being bullied by two older kids. Every time we crossed paths, they would beckon me with an overly lilting “Hey, Ty, come kiss my hand,” an exaggerated flick of their wrists, and a swish of their hips. It was so relentless, I eventually refused to leave our cabin.

Dad knew what was going on, so he sat me down and gave me an awkward tutorial on how to hold my hands under my chin (like this, not like this), so I wouldn’t appear so feminine. That event and other encounters from my formative years caused something to lodge itself somewhere behind my heart—the notion that derision from others was likely my own fault, that this thing I didn’t quite understand about myself must’ve been evident to others, scrawled all over my face—it definitely was something that warranted dismissal and rejection. Even hatred. I know now, in his own fumbling way, that Dad was just doing the best he could, but I wore that shame for a long, long time.

Anyway, back at Trevecca, all of that was roiling around in my head as I cried, “Dad, I don’t know what to do. I’ve been leading this double life, and it’s tearing me apart.”

“Well, why don’t we do this,” he said, no exclamation marks this time. “Let’s pray,” which I realize now can sometimes be a preacher’s sneaky way of avoiding the topic at hand. But that’s what we did. I don’t recall exactly what he prayed, but I do remember what he did not pray: there was no “getting right with God,” no “lead him out of this phase into the arms of his wife again,” no “God, just help him like sports.” Actually I did love football. All the spandex.

He just prayed for healing, and who doesn’t need that?

After the prayer, he said one more thing as he hugged me: “Hey, Ty. I want you to know something. I love you. Ann and I love you. We always will. We always have. We love Gabby, too. We’ll get through this together.”

So, there you go. My awkward dad surprised me at one of my life’s most crucial moments.

The “together” part didn’t quite last. The marriage sputtered out after another six years, including a stint in a misguided counseling approach akin to reparative therapy—what I call, in retrospect, “Homo No Mo’”. I don’t recommend it.

Gabby and I went our separate ways. She finally found a real man.

And so did I!

Dad and I never talked about my gayness again, which says as much about me as it does him. I never told him who his youngest son really was, deep inside. He was gone before I could say, “Dad, I am a gay man.” I never got to show him the shame-free version of myself. I never had the chance to introduce him to the guy I’ve been known to eat ice cream with. On that guy’s couch. In that guy’s house! Scandal!

But I did get that one very special afternoon with him, praying under that pavilion, his hand on my shoulder, the heat of the day swirling around us, the shadows lengthening, the fireflies hovering.

There was distance between us, yes, but the uncrossable chasm that I thought would open up between us when I told the truth simply didn’t happen. Every now and then, I can feel him just across the table, simply loving me.

 

Ty Powers grew up in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mississippi and has been a Nashvillian since 1994. An editor for the Lord at a local Christian publishing house, he whiles away the hours coming up with innovative ways to undermine family values.

Parents – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our June 2018 theme “Parents.” 

Nashville, tonight we shared stories of parents.

We moved next door to the Church of Not-Entering-Without-Knocking, where our lying58-Parents siblings caused a crisis. But our brother confessed, and we told our parents, and the Incredible Hulk was saved.

We felt like a Kennedy at technically a bed-and-breakfast. We learned we were on our own dealing with a barf sprinkler spewing a ton of not-puke. But in the end, it was worth a good laugh and, maybe someday, a thank you.

After a life of bullying at hell camp, we took a ride in our father’s big Buick…the day “the ship it the sand.” Our bombshell confession led to a prayer for healing…and words of love. And we wish he knew the shame free version.

We went from winning at the best day ever to falling on our face on the way to the birth of the most alert newborn ever. But we have survived raising ourselves, and we have learned not to talk about cows on trains.

We lived with never living up to his expectations, and the questionable ethics of plagiarizing our own plagiarism. But Father’s pride over a story that wasn’t fully true left us with unfulfilled dreams of mutual apologies.

We don’t remember breathing when she told us the news. After an evasive call to him and an intuitive call to her, we were on our own to say the words we could not say. And we learned it takes a long time for a heart to heal.

Sliding down a big toy with nails led to frantically looking for a penis bucket. But the good news is that it didn’t hurt much…but someday it will!

Mom’s cooking mishaps included strange pseudo-Mexican dishes, and demonically blooming steaksicles, and Dad with Joe Pesci eyebrows. But we all survived the physically painful experiences.

The tests and treatments led to shattered beliefs and tearful pleas and avoiding Baby Gaps and baby showers. After seeing a priest and a psychic and a papa, we finally heard the song…and she gave us our dream.

That was our night with parents.


Thanks to all our storytellers—Hamish, John, Adam, Anne, Kerrie, Ty, Melissa, Trey, and Pratik! Join us July 23 for “Regret.” You can pitch your story idea here. See you then!

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Snapshot – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from May 2018’s theme “Snapshot”, where each storyteller told a personal story based on one of their personal photos. 

Nashville, tonight we looked at pictures.

We took a 3,500 mile journey to eat pizza with the Boy Band—Diversified, reversing 57-Snapshotevolution all over an Amsterdam bar, and dancing to Shakira with French heroines. The boy band is all grown up now, enjoying photos of our epic adventures, and planning an epic reunion tour!

We saw the look of disdain, and remembered needing therapy until we both faced the obvious. Life with an O.D.D. adolescent was a horror story—but it has a picture-perfect ending…until adolescence returns.

We were ashamed of the flailing photo, and the party where we didn’t know the social rules on rides and face-sucking. And we wish we could delete the voices as easily as the photos.

We made wildly inaccurate assumptions about each other’s photos, assuming coolness…and hair. But despite discovering the contrast between an anal-retentive closet and clean clothes on the floor, “In-the-World-Today” is now in the picture.

After the jarring loss of invincibility and getting an angry tattoo, we had the best day of our life watching a laser light show in the cave—high on permission! And now just wish one day we would look and know he’s there.

A picture of speaking on a truck in Berkley reminds us of childhood questions and fighting Nazis and dodging concrete soda cans. We expected to be focused on academics—but what we are really doing is harm reduction.

We saw the portrait of our grandparents, who carried Jessie Belle from the sulfur odor of Odessa to her final resting place in a budget-conscious D.I.Y. funeral. And they have space available on the return trip!

For years we wrote letters to missing Lizzy, till we got a friend request from the spitting image of Mamma, and a blurry copy of the family picture finally ended the nightmares.

We always posed for contrived family photos that did not capture the weirdos we really are, until our shocked Syrian Sitto took the Most Awkward Family Photo…ever! But it did lead to new friends, and offended church folk, and amazing bragging rights.

And we saw the picture!


Thanks to our wonderful storytellers—Marissa, Bassam, Kelby, Christina, Barbara, Robyn, Steve, Jessica, and Laura!

Our next theme is “Parents” on June 25. If you have a story, let us know here!

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Cindy McCain – Lost in Morocco

56- Lost

I’ve been lost since 2014 when I left a teaching job of 27 years at a school my kidsattended K-12 three streets from our house. I moved to another continent 4,400 miles away. Solo. Sight unseen. As sure as Santiago in Coelho’s (Quelho’s) The Alchemist, I knew it was my destiny, an adventure to which God called me, promising roses in the desert where I’d sing like a girl again. I wanted to be lost in a love story. And so it began…

The taxi driver burrowed as far as he could into the Marrakech medina, stopping in a deserted, small square. “Where’s the riad?” Jasna, my new Canadian coworker asks.

He slices the air to point to a corner a few feet away, then bends his hand in a 90 degree angle to the left. Though we only know a few words in Darija, we’re getting good at Charades. “We turn left?!”we say mimicking his motion. He holds up 2 fingers. “ 2 times!” And we’re off.

Expecting a passage like the ones we’ve navigated in the souks dodging donkey carts and motorbikes, tourists and trinkets, we look around the bend and see an alley so narrow we’ll be forced to walk single file. Its path stretches between red sandstone walls–windowless, doorless, lifeless as far as we can see. We turn to tell the driver he’s mistaken, but he has vanished. We are stranded with no cellphone service. The walls are too high to see over to know where we are going, and the sliver of sky above us is turning from dusk to dark. All we can do is move forward. We enter the maze.

We twist and turn—twice. Nothing. I pray for a main artery that leads to Jemma el Fna square, the heart of the largest open-air marketplace in Africa pulsing with commerce, chaos, and cacophony. Where B erbers play Middle Eastern bagpipes, drums, tambourines, and lutes as dervishes dance and charmers call us to sluggish cobras, menacing monkeys, and henna.

We walk on–sweaty, thirsty, anxious in the August heat. Finally we see lamp beams in the distance…and the silhouette of a group of guys walking toward us. We slide by moving fast toward the light.

Spilling into a souk, we’re thrilled to weave under Arabian archways around shopkeepers, scarves, and stray cats. Shaky hungry from adrenaline, we step into the first restaurant we see and show the host the address to the riad. He says it’s too far away and his place is booked for the night.

With a flick of the wrist he summons a white-robed man from the alley. “Follow him,” he commands. Despite all my mother’s warnings to never trust a stranger, we do. Nervously we snake through the labyrinth wondering where he’s taking us. He stops before an unmarked door and knocks. Slowly it swings open.

With a wide grin and “Ouila,” he waves us over the threshold into paradise.

Flickering lanterns light the courtyard and pool. Water trickles from a massive mosaic fountain as birds chirp in orange and lime trees. Above us, rooms open to a balcony cascading with fuchia, bougainvillia, and jasmine. And on our white tablecloth under the stars, roses.

I was lost in Morocco, a kingdom of wide open spaces, in childlike wonder. A single mom since my daughter was three and son was one, I’d known that when our band, the 3 Musketeers, split up, I’d need a preemptive strike against being sad. I would need new. I was a Stage 5 Clinger. But I was a gypsy soul, too. So I honored a promise made to myself one summer standing in an Italian vineyard. When the kids left the nest, I’d fly away for awhile , too.

I signed a two-year contract to teach English at the American School of Marrakesh. The move was all I’d hoped it would be and more–a tall order for a girl born with a supersized imagination and fairy tales in her genes. My grandmother, Mama Lou, had read to me tales from T he Arabian Nights when I was a wee one and when a woman, lonely and rejected by divorce, she said God had something special for me. I was comforted by Isaiah that says He gives roses for ashes. He did.

I loved being lost…On my morning commute watching the sun rise into a pale lemon and conch- pink sky. Men in coffee- colored djellabas circled on low stools talking over morning tea. Women walking with babies tied tightly to their backs in brightly colored cloth cocoons. Shepherds tending sheep. In every class hearing “Good Morning Miss!” and passionate opinions on Holden, Huck, and Heathcliff. On weekends playing in secret gardens, sledding and trekking by foot and mule across snow-dolloped Atlas Mountains, watching sunsets from fortresses above the sea. Walking in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes at Taj Palace; sleeping in Josephine Baker’s suite; belly dancing with coworkers; caravanning by camel across The Sahara; volunteering with village girls.

Ok, all was not pools and palm trees–threats from ISIS, a mugging, a wreck–but getting lost in Morocco meant finding the girl inside me. There I walked with more confidence, faith, freedom and joy. I found kindred spirits– coworkers from a dozen countries who spent weekends together on the rooftop or in Europe on crazy-cheap flights. And other expats living new dreams who said I’d fallen under Marrakech’s spell, too. Lost in adventure, beauty, writing. Living like a woman much loved. Found.

Fall break my second year I head to the Atlantic Ocean to review yoga/surf camps. The ride to Taghazout reminds me of exploring the California coast with my children. I miss those days, but I remember us in London my first winter away. Wearing paper crowns in a pub on Portobello Road we toasted Christmas proclaiming home was now wherever we’re together. They’d flown to Marrakesh, too, and understood why Mom loves being here.

The next morning at Surf Berbere a beam lasers through blue wooden shutters on the window by my bed. I push them open and catch the sun rising slowly, then bursting boldly from behind buildings down the beach. I sing“Morning Has Broken” and “Wild World.” Cat Stevens loved Morocco as I do. Through the window at the foot of my bed I hear, smell, see nothing but sea–the tide pushing and pulling mightily in opposing directions. Same as the churning inside of me.

The danger of getting lost is fearing being found. The school and friends want me to stay longer, but how can I when people I love want me closer to home? I remember reading Life of Pi with my sophomores Mahmoud, Chadi, Fadi, Anthony, Brahim, and Medhi. When Pi’s sole companion while lost at sea, his tiger, walks into the jungle without saying goodbye, we were gutted. The line“All of life is letting go” made me cry in class. Because it’s true.

I miss the two lives I birthed–parts of my heart– walking around on the other side of this ocean. And I know I’ll miss this crazy, exotic country where I’ve created another new life, mine.

After 3 years away I moved home last summer to a different US, Nashville, me. Reverse culture shock registered in seismic shifts. I couldn’t believe the daily news. I also wondered…when did Jimmy Kimmel get so thin and manicures so pointy? Seriously, much was scary. I’d sold my house planning to buy back in, but at these prices with only adjunct teaching jobs??? I only knew I had to share my story to encourage others to take beauty breaks for the soul. I got a tiny apartment in a place I call Walden Woods and lived another life I’d imagined since high school writing. I missed expat life but loved being near family and friends again.

Six weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with a brain condition. Unable to live in Kentucky, she moved in with me. She’d look at the trees out my windows and say she felt lost in them. I felt lost, too. We watched and waited for her surgery, recovery, what would come next.

Two weeks ago on her 81st birthday, miraculously, she moved into her own apartment by my sister. Letting go of her home was hard, but she bravely found freedom in a new start. I took a full time interim teaching position ending soon. Then? No clue.

I’m visiting friends in Morocco in June knowing all there has changed. Everything alive does. After that? I’m groping blindly along walls. But every time I’ve been lost in the desert, seeking, knocking, a door finally opens. I step into a place where rose petals float in fountains. Where once I was lost, then I am found. No long-er blind, I see.

Matt Kelley – Where Are We?

56- Lost

The bus slowly came to a halt, and the driver stepped out to have a cigarette. We realized we were the only two people on the bus, and we had no idea where we were.

We had arrived in Rome for our honeymoon the day before, and while we had gotten over our jet lag, my wife and I were tired from a long day exploring churches and ancient ruins, and had gotten all the calories we burned back and then some with pasta and a few bottles of wine. But when the bus stopped, potentially for the night, we were suddenly wide awake and painfully aware that we were in a deserted part of a city where we didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and might be stuck here till morning.

For a while, neither of us said anything. Neither one of us wanted to be the one who started the fight. Clearly this was someone’s fault, and neither of us wanted to spend the next fifty years hearing, “remember that time on our honeymoon when you got us lost?” So we sat there silently, staring at the open door at the front of the bus, neither of us totally sure where we were.

We stared at the door the same way we had stared at a bunch of boxes six months earlier when we had moved in together. She had rented a small house a few months before we got engaged, but it was always going to be “our” place. The clothes went in the closet, the guitars were hung on the wall, but the boxes of CDs, souviner keg cups from college, and plenty of other little knick-knacks that I couldn’t have cared less about until she suggested throwing them away? Those things didn’t have a clear place, and I figured the boxes could just sit there in the middle of the living room for the time being.

I figured wrong. My very organized, very disciplined bride to be could not co-exist with boxes of stuff that didn’t have a place. After a fight that ended with the wedding almost being called off, I spent the first night in our home together on the couch, not really sure where we were.

We silently stared at that open door at the front of the bus on the outskirts of Rome the way we had stared at the map of the city when we landed the day before. The travel agent who had helped us book our hotels and train tickets said they had found us a great deal on a room, and that it wasn’t that far from the train station in the center of the city. This person’s version of “not that far” and mine turned out to be a little different, so we lugged our suitcases and our jet lagged bodies along a street running parallel to the walls of the old city, a paper map being our best resource in the days before smartphones.

“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” she asked. “Yes, of course I do!” I didn’t. “Where did the travel agent say it was? It feels like we’ve gone too far.” I fumbled with the map, attempting to man-splain how  Europeans are more used to walking than us Americans, even though the agent who found me such a good deal was American, too. I was blowing one of my first chances to show that I, as her husband, was in control, that she didn’t have to worry. The one thing I couldn’t say was that I had no idea where we were.

We stared at the open door at the front of the bus, neither of us saying a word, neither of us wanting to be the one to start the fight. I sat there praying that the bus route continued later into the night, trying to radiate a sense of clam I didn’t actually possess as I watched the muscles in her neck grow ever tighter in agitation, I finally relented in our silent battle over what to do. I stood up and walked out the door onto the dimly lit street, shivering as much from the late fall chill as my anxiety over being stranded and having no idea where we were.

In very broken Italian I attempted to ask the bus driver what was going on. He began speaking rapidly, his tone and flailing arms letting me know that I was interrupting his smoke break and to get back on the bus, you stupid American! I sat back down, telling my new bride that I had taken care of everything, which we both knew wasn’t true, but before she could call me on it the driver got back in his seat, shut the door, and the bus started moving again.

A few minutes later we recognized our stop, attempted to thank the driver who clearly couldn’t wait to be rid of us, and made our way back to our hotel. We didn’t have to say anything, because we both knew we were tired, stressed, and ready for this night to be over. But at least for the moment, we knew where we were.

Chloe Dolandis – Closer

56- Lost

Do you know where my iPad is? I’ve been asking everyone for months, and I’ve looked everywhere, and have been begging it to come home using the “find iPhone” thing to no avail. And although I come from a long line of people who lose things — my dad with his glasses, my Grandpa Tony with his sense of direction as he’d drive to my parents’ house for the 87th time, both of them with their tempers — it’s just not usually like mebut when I moved to Nashville by myself in November I was overwhelmed to say the least, and I started misplacing things. I’m not super attached to electronics but there’s stuff on this particular device that wasn’t saved in the cloud — like lyrics to songs I’ll never finish and voicemails from my parents and grandparents that I’d recorded onto it from my phone because I couldn’t figure out another way to save them. And I was getting flack from a completely clogged mailbox.

But these voicemails didn’t just sit in my iPad, they were part of my life’s soundtrack — I’d listen when I missed my family or when I wanted to share the insanity that sometimes ensues — my favorite one of all time has to be from Grandpa Tony. It simply went, “Grandpaaa! ::click::” If you knew him that wouldn’t sound so weird.

He’s always been known as a singer, a trumpet player, and a band leader. He created a family unit that some may consider a unique version of the Partridge Family, with some added New York flair (accent), a little more “Cry Me A River” than “Come On Get Happy,” and to this day still features my father playing accordion solos. My dad’s side, Greeks who are self-proclaimed honorary Jews, frequented the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and wedding scenes as musicians, upstate in the Catskills and then in South Florida, where we relocated shortly after I was born.

My grandpa, “Tony Stevens PhD,” made sure that I (his only grandchild) inherited the music gene by trying to give me piano lessons — which lasted about half a year when I was, like, 6 because we had very different “styles.” He played with the army band in Korea, of course had a PhD in music, performed at Carnegie Hall, and worked with some jazz greats including Dakota Staton and Harry James. He basically hated anything that wasn’t in that realm and I was a pop girl. And, his way was the only way. Even after I studied music in college with a focus on jazz, and became a professional musician, if he played what he said was a “G,” but I explained technically it really was a “C,” it was still, no question, a “G.” (Gotta give it to the O.G.)

Every holiday and family gathering, there’d be music. One of his favorite songs to play was, “The Curtain Falls,” made famous by Bobby Darin, which I could not find online for a while because I kept searching for the title “Closer” — the new title Grandpa Tony lovingly gave the song. He’d end all of his one man shows with it, singing:

“If I had this to do again 

And the evening were new again

I would spend it with you again

But now the curtain falls.”

When we got together we’d also have passive aggressive, more often aggressive, fights about who got to play, who’d play what, the voicing of a chord, my vibrato, Grandpa’s politics, my dad’s politics, religion…The last argument I had with him in person was about six months ago. He towered over me saying I wasn’t allowed to talk at the dinner table because I don’t know about politics, I’m a woman, and I’m “the child.” I finally stood up and asserted, “You can’t talk to me like this, Grandpa. This is not okay.” I think that may have been the same night I announced I was moving to Nashville so his fuse was shorter than usual. In a later phone call he was fuming: “You should stay in Florida, meet someone, and get married!” Grandpa’s M.O. was to “keep the family together.” My parents adamantly reinforced this as I grew up, and several years beyond college I willingly abided, but I knew it was time to go.

When we began spending less time together, Grandpa and I got into a rhythm of him calling me Wednesdays and me calling him Sundays. Sometimes we’d miss each other because he was practicing or sleeping or running an errand, and I was recording or auditioning or socializing. We’d always forgive each other and promise to call the next specified day. One day, after he got more used to me living in Tennessee, he turned a corner: “You’re doing the right thing. Focus on your career and you’ll meet someone when it’s time.”

In December I went back to Florida to play some shows and had the opportunity to be a guest vocalist with the Sunrise Pops Orchestra, a 60 piece band. As well as preparing standards and show tunes, my conductor helped me arrange two of my original songs. One of them, “Comin’ Home Real Soon,” I wrote with my parents as a Father’s Day gift for my dad, and in the lyric I mention specific family members, including my grandpa. Whenever I play it I like to dedicate it to my family, especially if they’re in the audience. I hesitated to invite him to the show — he did walk out of one of my gigs very upset because he wasn’t thrilled with the band or what I was doing. But, at 91 years old, Grandpa Tony was there taking it all in and changed his tune, and I got to dedicate the song to him. After the performance he pulled me close and said, “Baby doll, if you don’t make it, it’s not because you’re not talented.” By then I’d come to terms with the idea that his opinion wasn’t going to define my direction, but it was still nice to hear and I was happy he was happy.


I headed back to Nashville and we continued our weekly calling. A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my guitar player about a gig and Grandpa called on the other line. I didn’t pick up and totally forgot to call him back. He left a voicemail that I didn’t listen to. The day after, I considered going through messages and deleting everything to clear space — I was at capacity again — but left his latest voicemail as it was, still unheard, as a reminder to call him back. The day after that my mom got in touch with me. Grandpa Tony had died.

His timing was impeccable if there is such a thing as picking the right time to go. I had four gigs scheduled in Florida and had to leave just a day sooner than planned to be back in time for his funeral.

It was a perfect sendoff for him. One of his tapes (yes, cassette tapes) featuring songs from almost all of our family members played through the speakers as the viewing began. As I approached my grandpa’s casket to see him one last time, his version of “The Curtain Falls”, “Closer,” began to play.

After the funeral the family went back to his place — his glasses were still sitting on a piece of music he’d been working on, next to a pair of tweezers poised with a tiny paper music note, ready to be glued down to amend a chord on the page. He never needed updated technology to create something beautiful. Our small, shaken family gathered around his dining room table, ate dinner, and missed him. It dawned on me that I still had the unheard voicemail in my phone, so with everyone’s permission I played it. We collectively laughed harder than we have in a long time. Mission accomplished, Grandpa.

Right before we left, my dad sat down at Grandpa Tony’s piano and began to play. I sang:

“Oh, Nanny and Grandpa come over

Tonight by the light of the moon

And I want yours to be the first face I see

‘Cause I’ll be comin’ home real soon”

I’d like to dedicate this story to the memory of my iPad.