Tag Archives: love

The Meaning of Big Brothers

15 Jun

The boys. That’s what we called my big brothers growing up. They are eleven months apart, so they’ve essentially been a pair from the beginning.

My brothers have always had each other’s backs. Dave once intercepted Dan’s “warning notice” from middle school and called their shared answering machine to leave him a message in hushed tones: “Dan, go in the closet and check your left boot.” These heroic acts of brotherhood occurred often. (Of course my mom heard the message first and totally appreciated the explicit directions.)

It’s obvious that Dan and Dave have a special bond. But as their little sister, what I appreciate most is the kind of brothers they’ve been to me.

Admittedly, I’m biased. But it seems to me that every little girl ought to be blessed with a big brother. Lucky me—I have two.

When my mom brought me home from the hospital and lay me down in the crib, my oldest brother Dave made his first brotherly sacrifice. Just five years old, he marched into my room and covered me with his Sesame Street blanket, announcing: “I’m a big boy now so I’m gonna give this to baby Lauren so she will be happy.”

My brothers quickly became my heroes. I wanted to be just like them.

At age two, I made my own bold announcement: “I’m ready to be a big girl now!” Then I removed my diaper and attempted to pee standing up. My mother had to explain, much to my dismay, that I couldn’t pee like the boys. Ladies must sit–a fact I still find terribly inconvenient.

When I was eight I attempted to join the football team, but Mom said no and offered cheerleading as an alternative. Standing on the sidelines with pom-poms in hand, I fantasized about being out on the field in a helmet and heavy shoulder pads. I sat on the kitchen counter and watched the boys dip their mouth guards in microwaved hot water, preparing to create a perfect mould. When they weren’t home, I tried on their jerseys and swiped black goop across my cheeks.

Awkward photos, tucked away in boxes at Mom’s house, feature me in hand-me-down neon Umbros and boy-short hair. I hacked worms in half to watch them squirm, climbed sap-coated trees, played on a boys baseball team, sat happily-strapped to the front of charter boat with a fishing pole in hand, and traipsed up and down our driveway in oversized jeans, a boom box on my shoulder blasting Dave’s Naughty by Nature tape.

I tried, despite emerging breasts and a monthly reminder of my womanhood, to be one of the boys. And my brothers, for the most part, let me in on their fun.

Because my dad was president of our town football club, we hosted weigh-in-eve parties at our house. The kids watched team footage and took turns in the sweat box, trying to shed those last pounds. These nights threw a wrench in my tomboy identity. I was pumped about hanging out and watching films, but also unexpectedly delighted by the sight of sweaty, shirtless teenage boys.

Hormones continued to course through my body until one day in the midst of a middle school social studies class, a boy turned to me and said: You really need to wear a bra or something. I should’ve punched him in the nose. Instead, I hid in a bathroom stall and cried.

And it’s in my growth from that insecure twelve year-old tomboy to a confident woman that my brothers have played the most significant role.

This influence began in seventh grade, when a boy from Cherry Hill with a skater cut and a single mom moved to town. I hung around like a limp dish towel while he hooked up with each of my friends until finally, finally he decided to be my boyfriend.

Throwing in a load of laundry one afternoon, my mom found a neatly-folded note in the pocket of my jeans:

Lauren,

Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you f**k me
I’ll f**k you

Love, Brandon

I mean, what was so bad about your twelve year-old daughter receiving such a note from her boyfriend? I, for one, was secretly thrilled. A boy thought I was attractive enough to have sex with. Not that I understood much about sex, but I felt special.

A few days later I watched from an upstairs window, tears streaming dramatically down my face, as Brandon paced the corner across the street from my house.

Oh. My. God. I thought. My parents are so cruel, forcing him to bow down and apologize like this.

To his credit, Brandon did cross that street and say he was sorry. He listened to my mother’s speech about respecting her daughter. I, too, listened from the top of the stairs, and briefly considered throwing myself down them.

It wasn’t until my brothers threatened to “kill that kid” that I finally realized something was wrong. It’s one thing for your parents to disapprove of your badass boyfriend. It’s quite another when the disapproval comes from your big brothers, who happen to be your idols. I pretended to be embarrassed by their threat, but the next day I went to school and told my boyfriend he better not speak to me that way again ‘cause my big brothers would kick his ass.

The boys had their mean moments, too. When I was ten, Dave told me the Laura’s Fudge shop on the boardwalk was named after me because I looked like I ate a lot of fudge. Dan told me that being a Virgo meant I’d be a virgin for the rest of my life. They poked me and pinched me and told me to leave them alone. They held me underwater as my limbs flailed and rubbed my face in the snow. Typical brotherly antics.

At the time I cried and tattled to my parents. Once I phoned Mom at work to tell her David had called me a bad word, one I couldn’t say out loud. “Spell it,” my mom said. “B. i. c. h.” I heard muffled laughter–why wasn’t she wasn’t taking this more seriously?

But now? Now I’m a tough girl. Not in a worm-killing, tomboy kind of way, but in a speak-my-mind, don’t-take-crap-from-people kind of way. I have my brothers to thank for that.

The boys support my endeavors, my adventures, and my passions. Whenever I get a new job, they are two of the first to congratulate me. They take me to Phillies games, befriend the guys I date, and these days, they even pay my tabs. We aren’t just siblings, we are friends.

Dan lives in New Jersey, Dave lives in Florida, and I live halfway in-between. But having big brothers means knowing that, even from 600 miles away, there are two people willing to kick some ass for me. A long time ago I stopped wishing to be a boy. But I still want to be just like my brothers, who are two of the finest people I know.

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Becoming the Wind

10 Jun

On a sunny morning last summer I found myself lying on my bedroom floor, sobbing, unable to get up. I say “I found myself” because it was like an out-of-body experience. As though I stumbled upon this girl, a heaving pile of limbs, and I could do nothing to help her.

Thankfully, someone else was there to scoop me up off the floor, put me in the car, and take me to the doctor.

While I sat in a bare clinic room, cheeks sticky with tears, he made the difficult call to my mom, gingerly explaining to her what was happening. My parents were on a plane to Asheville the next morning.

And there were other knights in shining armor. A friend who called me from the endodontist’s chair after I sent him a text message asking for help; who got me out of the house for a walk in the woods; who sat with me at Urgent Care, dropped off my prescription, and took me for a slice of pizza. Another friend came to spend the night with me, armed with movies and the willingness to listen. One thing I know for sure: I am a lucky woman to be supported with such love.

The most difficult thing to explain is just how I reached such a low state. From the outside, things seemed to be looking up. I had just completed a master’s degree, moved into a new apartment, built a solid group of friends, and was dating a lovely guy. But something was off.

Trying situations had been amassing over the previous year: heartbreak, loss, unemployment, and that whole 26-and-directionless quarter-life crisis thing. In June I came to the painful (and expensive) realization that I didn’t want to do the very thing I’d just spent two years becoming qualified to do. In July my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. By August, I’d been unemployed for months, couldn’t pay any of my bills, and had no desire to do anything productive.

That last part was the scariest. A total paralysis. Here was a girl who has essentially worked since she was 16, now utterly afraid to seek employment. I couldn’t even imagine myself interviewing for a job, let alone having one. What if I broke down crying in front of my boss? What if I couldn’t get up in the morning and had to call out? I felt pathetic. Suck it up, I kept telling myself, millions of people are much worse off than you. But for some reason, I just couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed by change. Nearly every single aspect of my life had changed in the course of a year, and it felt like life was happening to me. Worse yet, every time something good came along I clung to it with a death-grip that immediately strangled it out of existence.

We have all observed change in nature and called it beautiful: fall leaves like glowing embers, an emerging butterfly, grapes fermenting into wine. Of course, these changes mean that something has died, and without death this beauty wouldn’t exist. Yet when death reveals itself in our immediate lives, we resist, turn away, or dig our fingernails deep in a panicked attempt to hold on.

Depression is a strange friend, in many ways. Often brought on by separation or loss, it beats you down until you have no choice left but to give up or stand up (or let someone pick you up…). General sadness does not compel such transformation–it allows you to keep trucking along, thinking tomorrow might be better.

“Standing up” and moving beyond depression is not about stubornness nor determination. It’s about letting go and becoming the wind, as Rilke puts it in the poem below.

Through yoga, long chats, books and yes, a brief stint on medication, the tide shifted. Yoga, in particular, is teaching me how to embrace change. What was the worst time of my life turned out be the bearer of life’s greatest fruits: the “children” of whom Rilke writes. For me, these children were deeper friendships, a renewed passion for writing, and a sense of belonging in this little mountain town of mine. Right now, that is happiness.

When life changes drastically again, as it inevitably will, I’ll remind myself of all I’ve gained from loss. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do what Rilke suggests…

***

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus Part Two XII

Lucky in Love

23 May

In seeming opposition to our last post (though not really in opposition at all), we bring you this video. A true story, and a darn good one at that.

All the Single Ladies…

20 May

It took me 27 years to discover the value of being single. Now I finally get it. And I think everyone, yes everyone, should be single for at least one year of their adult lives.

Let me be clear: I believe love is the highest expression of humanity. And I am most certainly a romantic. I love cuddling, hugs in the morning, blueberry pancakes in bed, knowing that another person has my back (and I have his), laughing so hard that I fall off the bed, embarrassing nicknames, streaking through my living room to wild applause, sweet messages on sticky-notes, and being comfortable enough to perform my goofy, made-up songs for someone.

I am not suggesting these experiences alone are equal to the massive, ineffable concept of love. They are simply human expressions of love. And they are some of the reasons why it took me so long to appreciate the single life.

But love does not require a committed relationship, let alone a ring (c’mon Beyonce, I know you don’t buy that shoulda put a ring on it crap). Love doesn’t even require another person. Although a measuring device does not yet exist, I am pretty sure I experience more love as a single woman than I did as a girlfriend or fiancé. But why?

For one, I am more open. Open to experiences. Open to people—forming new friendships and reviving old ones that have faded. Going by myself to a quaint little bar in town leads me into the most fascinating conversations with the most fascinating people. (Most recently: an ex-lawyer from Jersey who used to defend mobsters.)  Sure, you can do that while in a relationship, but how many do?

Also on the list of things I do now that I didn’t do when I was in a relationship: practice yoga, meditate, disappear on a long drive without telling a soul, spend entire days reading and writing, dream up the most fantastical scenarios for my future without feeling a single ounce of guilt about who else would be affected, cry senselessly and often without anyone asking what’s wrong, and converse weekly with adorable boys from Chicago I’ve spent only 9 amazing hours with (okay, there’s just one adorable boy from Chicago).

I’ve been single for the last two years or so. During the first 8 months, I didn’t date anyone. Unless you count that one time I spent two hours watching a guy down five gin and tonics on a Tuesday night while raving about how much he hates liberals.

It’s not easy being 100 percent single, as in not dating, after being with someone for years. The loneliness is piercing. I spent a lot of time trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered ego. I also spent time beating myself up, smashing what remained into tinier and tinier pieces, until one day I had absolutely no idea who I was.

And that moment, when I had lost any inkling of an identity and sat in a heap on my living room floor, turned out to be the most important moment of my life. It was the first time I realized that truth we all do our best to avoid: I am alone. I’d been alone a year prior, when I had a boyfriend, and I’ll be alone 20 years from now when I’m (hypothetically) married with three beautiful kids.

People change, people leave, and people die. That fact always exists. Moreover, other people live inside their bodies and their minds, and they will never live inside mine. We may try to merge with our loved ones—through hugs, words, laughter, sex—but we cannot. And so often when we try, we lose our own sense of self (or fail to develop it in the first place).

When I was finally whole enough to date again, I did so with new intentions. I stopped looking for a boyfriend, a soul mate, a lifelong partner. I began opening myself up to simply experiencing men. Appreciating each one for who he is at this moment in his life. Worrying less about where it’s going and more about how it feels now.

The notion that a loving relationship requires a label, or even an exclusive commitment, is just plain false. I dated a man for 9 months, never once referred to him as my boyfriend or made a declaration not to see other people, and had more fun than I’ve had with any other guy in my life. I loved him. I still love him. We remain (gasp!) close friends.

This is not to say everything was perfect, or that we never experienced jealousy, or that I didn’t struggle with having to explain our relationship to family and friends. And it’s not to say that a non-exclusive relationship is necessarily tenable long-term. It’s just that we proved love exists outside those boxes into which most people insist on cramming it.

My relationships are not shallow. Tears flow, my heart breaks, and disappointments are inevitable. I am still me: fiercely loyal, passionate, intense, and exceptionally picky. When I love you, you know it. And this love is not reserved for boyfriends only. It’s available to everyone I invite into my life.

I am learning how to love without giving myself away. Without needing to nail down the future (an impossible feat to begin with). Maybe you were lucky enough to learn these lessons in high school. Or maybe you learned them through your relationship or marriage. But for me, it took being utterly alone to appreciate what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in one of his letters to Franz Kappus:

Nothing describes loving less aptly than calling it a merging, surrendering and uniting with another person (what could such a union of the unresolved, the unready and the as-yet-unorganized possibly resemble?); it is a sublime occasion for the individual to mature, to become something in himself, to become a world, to become a world unto himself for the sake of someone else; it is a great immodest demand placed upon him, something that singles him out and calls on him to go far. Only thus, as a task to work on themselves (“to listen and to hammer day and night”), should young people be allowed to use the love that has been accorded them.

i carry your heart

12 May

My brother got hitched last Sunday. The same brother who, six years ago, intended to be a bachelor for the rest of his life. Proof positive that time, and the right person, changes everything.

After the engagement ordeal I endured a couple of years ago, I stubbornly declared that I might never want to get married. What’s the point? How can anyone promise to love another person forever? And then I meet a boy who makes my heart beat double-time, and well, my stubbornness seems to dissipate in an instant. Time is a healer, as the late Eva Cassidy sang.

Yet what struck me most during the wedding was not the expression of love between my brother and his new wife. It was the love expressed by the union of two families. No man is an island, nor is any partnership.

Mid-ceremony, the officiant asked us to take a deep breath and just be present in the moment. To appreciate each person in attendance. As I looked around at the other 24 people in the room, I realized that my brother’s choice for a date to his Sophomore dance some 17 years ago had led me to gain three new sisters, a brother, and a larger support network in my own life. That, to me, is the beauty of marriage at its best. It binds families together, and each family member’s life is thus increased and expanded.

With that in mind, I’d like to bring Cheekie back to the interwebs with a poem the maid of honor (my new sister) read during her toast to the bride (my other new sister). This poem has been a favorite of mine for years. One of the qualities I love most about poetry is the way a poem can resurface in your life at various times with new meaning.

i carry your heart speaks to the love between sisters, which I am now fortunate enough to enjoy for the first time in my life. But it also echoes this moment in my life in a larger way, as my heart seems to be stretched out in so many geographical directions while life responsibilities anchor me here in Asheville…

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

-e.e. cummings

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