A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tribute to an "old" friend.

I wrote this in response to Kirstin's request. She very sweetly is putting together a book of memories for her mother's (Bit's) fiftieth birthday.

Bits and I became friends sophomore year of high school. Given the fact that I'd meanly maligned her to another student during a spring concert freshman year and that her mother overheard me, it's sort of miraculous that we ever managed a friendship. But chance stepped in, slapped us in a class togetherGeometry, Mr. Ephraimoff with the really bad cow-pie comb overand my unfair,  preconcieved notions about her fell away.

Bits was always bursting with juice: gossip, humor, schemes, drama--the essential elements of fun. While I had other gal pals to make michief with (toilet papering, crank calls, late night carousingthe usual shenanigans) when I was with Bits it seemed that things were more likely to go haywire or not according to planas if there ever was one. There was something daring about her, and at that time, I was a girl who needed a little dare to keep things interesting.

That being said, it's not like we ever did anything really bad or criminal, (although as I write this, I have to admit I'd forgotten about the shoplifting), but there were a couple of events that I shake my head and wonder about. Was that really Bits? Was that really me? Good to remember that the stuff you get up to in high school doesn't define you as a person. It just means you had your chance to be a hairbrained high schooler and you took it.

Here is the letter I wrote for my dear friend. 

"Perfection" being a subjective word of course.

Dearest, Bits, aka, Elizabeth, aka, one of a few of my high school partners in crime, aka, current day media personality The Reluctant Therapist:

I was honored to be asked to dig deep down into the memory banks—back to the olden days of the mid-to-late seventies, back to the time of goofy, cut-throat high school politics, self-involved teenage angst and boy-centric diffidence. I’ve unearthed a few items I thought you’d enjoy and perhaps a few you’d prefer to forget. Because what’s the good without the bad? Be glad I don’t have a spring-trap brain that clings to every remnant because I’m quite sure I’ve forgotten lots of stuff—probably for very good reasons.

Some noteworthy gems:

·         Your mother overhearing me say unflattering things about you at a school concert before we were friends and to my absolute horror, having the story repeated back to me by you. Have I ever told you how much I appreciated your forgiveness? My big, occasionally obnoxious mouth thanks you as well. Given our tender ages that could have so easily caused permafrost. I’m so glad it didn’t. And if I didn’t do a good job apologizing at the time, let me say again how sorry I am. Insecurity can be an ugly thing.

·         Rotating birthday parties. Surprise sweet 16s, being kidnapped for breakfast and having to go to school in pajamas—was that for 17? It began with me in January, then Denise in February then you in March.

·         Sleepovers, sleepovers and more sleepovers!

·         Monterey Dunes.  The hot tub.  Jamie’s wet jockstrap landing on my face.  Jamie, WTF?

·         Breaking up and getting back together. You and I. Several times.

·         Sophomore year I started it, then you took it up, and Denise finished it: sequential crushes on Sean Trippi. As I recall, Denise won that prize; he certainly seemed like a prize at the time. I’ve gotta be honest, I got over it then and there, but I still remember the sting.

·         Our junior year road trip to Fresno State and UCSB. Remember stopping at Anderson’s Split Pea House, Casa de Fruita, and how terrified you were of my driving? Remember your dad warning us about the dangers of Pacheco Pass? Your dark green Camero survived and so did we. Of course we did. We were 17 and invincible.

·         Being included in enough Weissenborn family gatherings to wish I was a relative rather than a friend.

·         The Dwyers. I wonder from time to time how they’re all doing. Would love to see what those boys-turned-men are up to these days. I envision Brian struggling, Billy gliding, and both of them still not liking each other very much. Reminds me of another couple of other siblings I know but I’m not naming names. Ah… Some things never change even when you wish they would.

·         A story I wish I could forget or better yet, have expunged from the record: Altos Oaks. How exactly the whole thing transpired I can’t explain. It was then and still remains completely out of character for me and for you too—to my knowledge.  In retrospect, it seems like I only watched the movie but, no, we starred in it. Leading lady, Lyn Nave, in the back seat playing tonsil hockey with two boys a year younger. Leading lady, Bits Weissenborn, with you-know-who (at least he was in our class), practicing her lip-lock and padding her make out resume. I’m blaming you, because I cannot for a second imagine such a thing happening with any other friend of mine. As far as I know this tale never made the gossip rounds—thanks be to God. I still cannot believe it was us in that car. Strangely enough, this is one of my husband’s favorite stories about me from high school.

·         And never to be forgotten (although I know you wish it would): the flaming popcorn/exploding beer babysitting event of senior year. In short story form the title would be: “How to do Nearly Everything Wrong on a Babysitting Gig”. Thankfully, at the end of the night everyone was OK, if more than a tad bit frightened.  I can still hear that little boy asking, “Is my refrigerator going to catch on fire?” And weren’t they the same Altos Oaks boys who invaded the house playing football with a can of beer? OY! The last thing any parent wants is to come home to a house smelling of liquor, burnt popcorn, and Lysol. We did the only thing reasonable—told the truth. Talk about your crunchy moments. Oof.

Darling, beautiful, friend—
Isn’t evolution a wonderful thing? With age comes all kinds of excellent things: wisdom, patience, acceptance, and ability to see things from beyond our own perspectives. I’m so glad to have had the chance to see life through your eyes from time to time.

Just remember, you hit fifty; fifty did not hit you. Be sure to keep that as your goal in the many, wonderful years to come.

In closing, I’m including the blog posting I made when I made the 50 milestone in January. You can run but you can’t hide.

Hello? Fifty's Here

Today you are 50. Five decades. Half a century.Two score and ten. No matter what you call it or how you slice it, 50 is, well...let’s say it’s substantial. It's got some heft. It packs a punch and cannot be sidestepped. It means business. Fifty knocks on your door bold and brash as life itself, because that’s of course what it is, and you have no choice to but to answer it.

I propose that turning 50 is like a knock, knock joke.

“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
Your head rushes as your heart gives a funky double beat. Holy shit! Fifty?! How did this happen?you wonder. You try to gather yourself and hesitate before responding with your gut reaction.
“The person you’re looking for is not here.”
“Oh, please! Don’t be coy. YOU are the person I’m meeting today.”
“Uh…Could you come back some other time? I’m really not ready for you today.”
“Sorry, ma'am. Today is the day, YOUR day, the day you turn officially middle-aged.”
“I, uh…could you just give me a little time to spruce up and get myself together? How about tomorrow? I could meet you tomorrow.”
“Today is YOUR day. Don’t worry. I know what you look like and how together you are and are not. Just open up. I promise not to hurt you.”

You gasp. Is it possible you heard a garbled “much” at the end of that last sentence? You fear this is the case. You calm yourself by taking deep breaths and consider logically what to do. After some reflection, and seeing no escape, as much as you really don’t want to, you determine that you will meet Fifty on your own terms. You decide if you have to do this—and apparently, you do—you will do it graciously. You have your shoulders back and head held high when you open the door and look Fifty straight in the eye.

The big Five-Oh looks decidedly older than the less significant Four-Oh and somewhat more fragile and out of shape. Five-Times-Ten doesn’t seem to be bothered by the thickening of her waist or embarrassed by the dark splotches that have begun to show on her face, although you find these changes rather disconcerting. It's been a while since Ms. Fifty has been to the hair dresser. You can tell because the gray and mousy brown is showing in her part and at her exposed temple. You notice Ms. Half-Century has brought you a copy of AARP magazine, the publication which will from now on grace your mail box every month; it’s there in her jacket pocket.
And by the way, that jacket—oof! Fifty needs to get a better stylist because plaid corduroy wasn’t a good look even fifty years ago. You think you might do her a favor by mentioning this and suggesting a nice medium weight charcoal gray wool blazer instead, but you’re distracted from saying anything because you’re not sure but you think you can hear Fifty’s joints creaking just a teeny bit as she shifts from foot to foot. Her sensible shoes—Naturalizers—make you blink, trying to clear the vision. At best, the footwear can only be described as beige, frumpy and cankle-inducing. There is a definite whiff of cantankerousness emanating from the enlarged pores of her slightly sagging skin and you wonder if she’s noticed the faint budding of jowls on either side of her once charmingly dimpled chin. The chin cleft doesn’t reach the alluring depths it used to because it's been filled in with a substantial layer of subcutaneous fat. Whatever sex appeal Fifty may have possessed hit the skids at least a year or more ago. You hold back a shudder, not wanting to hurt her feelings.

She looks at you triumphantly with a certain tinge of smugness thrown in that you suppose is meant to keep you humble. You shake off your dread, tell yourself that despite any appearances to the contrary, you are an adult and will act accordingly. With a deep breath of resolve you try to make the best of the situation by smiling, extending your hand and saying,
“Thank you. Thanks so much for coming, Fifty. You’ve brought a lot of changes with you. I want you to know I appreciate the wisdom you’ve shown me in the last decade. You've offered me a deeper perspective and broader understanding of life and how it works. I have more tolerance, am less judgemental and am trying to keep an open, questing mind. There is still so much I need to learn. I want you to know I am truly grateful for your time.”

Instead of shaking your optimistically offered hand, Madam Fifty deposits the wretched AARP magazine into your proffered palm and says,
“You’re supposed to say, ‘Fifty who?’”
“What?!” You’re confused. Here you are trying to be a good sport about all this and Two-Times-Twenty-five is ignoring your good intentions. What in the hell is she talking about?
“You’re supposed to ask me ‘Fifty who?’ That’s how the joke goes. Remember? Knock, knock?”
“Oh. Right.” You want to show Fifty that despite her disenchanting presence you are still in possession of your well-developed sense of humor. You play along. “OK. Fifty who?”
“Fifty, your new decade.Geeze, woman! Pay attention. Have you gone senile already?”

You muster a wan smile, shake your head and roll your eyes. Along with being a supremely snappy dresser, Fifty is clearly one bitch of a laugh riot.
The best is still to come. I truly believe that. Hoisting a glass in your honor: Cheers, dahlink!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Looks pretty innocent, doesn't it? Cue ominous, foreboding music...
Despite the fact that I'm a scientist and  am not religious in the traditional sense of the word, I do in truth, believe in ghosts. It’s generally not a thing I blurt out for everyone to hear because I’m well aware that people tend to think you’re a crackpot when you say stuff like that. But in light of what I’m about discuss, I think it's fair you know this in advance.

I probably wouldn't be so sure about the presence of ghosts except for the fact that I’ve seen one. I was 21 when a ghost of unknown origin appeared to me in the middle of the night. It was not a hallucination. I was not dreaming. The reason I know I was not dreaming is because I was wide awake while she—the apparition—hovered at the foot of my bed, and I remained wide awake until sunrise finally melted me out of my petrified state many hours later. While she floated near my feet, my ghostess had both hands outstretched as if wanting something from me, but I didn’t know what she needed. I was pretty sure I didn’t have whatever it was, but I was very sure I wanted her to go away. She was opaque and slightly glowing in the classical way that ghosts are portrayed in cinema. Her clothes were turn-of-the-nineteenth-century, ragged and dirty. She appeared to be a beggar.

In response to her presence, I froze. An almost full-body paralysis overcame me. In that moment I knew precisely the meaning of the phrase “scared stiff.” The only things I was able to move were my eyeballs. I couldn’t turn my head, but found I could avert my eyes. So I looked away from her as far as I could. In my peripheral vision her image persisted. She remained levitating but still for maybe another 30 seconds, arms and hands beseeching. That half minute seemed like an eternity. She faded while I remained tightly clenched, an overwrought mound of panicked protoplasm.

When enough light infiltrated the curtains many hours later, I got up cautiously and with no small amount of trepidation, crept out of my room and told my mom about it. She’d been sleeping in another room across the hall and had neither heard nor seen anything unusual. For the next four weeks I slept in the same room and, thankfully, the needy spirit left me in peace. My mom, who lived in that house another year or two, never saw her or any signs of her.

Subsequently, I worried that maybe I was one of "those" people—the kind of person to whom ghosts feel the need to make their presence known. A few years after this event, I attended a neuroscience conference in New Orleans and was lodged in the French Quarter in what used to be slave housing. In modern times the place had been refurbished—Big Easy bungalows was how I thought of them. I figured if there was any place likely to be haunted, this was it. My week’s stay was uneventful and unmarred by anything that could remotely be described as eerie. In a town overflowing with voodoo and other supernatural fallderall, I felt a sense of relief. I must not be susceptible to ghosts after all. Whew!

Nothing paranormal happened in the next twenty-plus years so I stopped worrying about it. Although I had talked to two people who'd had similar experiences, (there is some comfort in hearing other peoples’ spirit stories—makes you feel less crazy) I didn’t dwell on my apprehension of apparitions. I was over it.

Then, about eight years ago, we took a family trip to Newfoundland.  It was Tim—my husband-to-be—his two kids, Katie and Mike, and my son, Theo. The kids were fourteen, thirteen and nine respectively. Turns out Newfoundland is bursting with ghost stories. I’ve never been to a place so heavily laden with tales from the crypt. We talked about, but didn’t end up taking a walking tour of the capital, St. John’s, which highlighted ghosts and haunted places. I bought a book of collected spook stories of the island. You could say we were immersed in the incorporeal.

On the last leg of our stay in Newfoundland we rented a house in the town of Trinity. Trinity’s claim to fame is that it’s where the movie, “The Shipping News” was filmed. In addition, Trinity seems to have more than its fair share of ghost legends, even for Newfoundland. There was a high incidence of drowning in Trinity Bay and the local sentiment is that those sodden souls cling to the area relentlessly. Admittedly, by this point of the trip my spirit sense was heightened.

The house we rented was old but had a clean, modern look and had been somewhat recently remodeled. It was simple, with two stories, three bedrooms and one-and-a-half bathrooms. We stayed for three nights. Every evening the wind picked up and I’d hear knocking against the outside of the house. On the second night I asked Tim to see what was making the noise. He reported and I verified: There was nothing near or touching the house that could be responsible for making the sound. Huh, I thought. Weird.

On the last night of our stay, we watched "Casablanca" on videotape. While the five of us watched, the channel on the TV changed all by itself three separate times. We changed it back and continued with the movie. Then again, without human intervention, the TV switched off. We switched it back on and were able to get to the end of the film. I went to sleep that last night hearing the ever-present knocking apparently emanating from nowhere.

I said nothing to the kids or even to Tim until we got back to the States. Once home, I brought up how extraordinary the Trinity events seemed. I told Tim I thought the place was haunted—not in an evil way, just a sort of eerie, annoying way. Then he told me something he’d not mentioned before. When the leasing agent walked him around the house and the rest of us were out of earshot, she told him that under no circumstances was anyone to go in the basement. Oh. NOW he tells me? We discussed it a bit more and agreed—there was something pretty strange going on there.

You may be wondering why I’m bringing this up, because you know this preamble is leading somewhere. So here goes—

We moved into a new house last June. The house is only five years old and we got a good deal on it because it was a foreclosure. It’s modern, roomy and allows us to spread out and live large. We have loved the design of this house ever since we saw the model five years earlier. We feel extremely fortunate to have gotten the house “on sale” so to speak.

About a month after we moved in, Tim and I christened the master bath Jacuzzi tub. We lit candles, had champagne and enjoyed a bubble bath for two. The next morning at about seven a.m. the jets in the tub turned on all by themselves. I got up, stumbled into the bathroom and shut the thing down. We couldn't quite figure out how it had happened. Huh, we thought. Weird.

Since then things have been calm and normal—I say that even though I went through a major upheaval and changed jobs. We are settled in and loving our new house. We do wonder about the previous owner—I feel badly for him, losing such a beautiful home. Lately, we’ve been dealing with a shower leak we thought we'd dealt with in June, but other than that things are basically copasetic.

Last night we watched Paranormal Activity 2. To me, the family seemed vapid and shallow so I went upstairs before the end. Tim stuck it out to the finish and liked it. We went to bed around 11:15.

This morning at a few minutes after seven, the Jacuzzi jets powered on. Tim apparently recognized the sound right away. I heard the noise but couldn’t place it. I thought the garage door was going up. “The tub” he grumbled, as he elbowed me—apparently it’s my job to deal with anything involving the haunted tub. So I staggered out of bed and zig-zagged  toward the tub. I hit the power button and turned it off. No one has used the tub in probably two weeks. Huh, we think. Very weird.

So if anyone reading this has any idea as to what might be causing our tub to switch on by itself that doesn’t involve spirits, ghosts or poltergeists, I’d be happy—thrilled in fact—to hear about it. Please feel free to explain. I’d feel so much better knowing a power surge or lightening strike could have this effect. You have no idea how happy that would make me.

Anybody out there have any ideas about this tub?