Category Archives: Life Experiences that Have Caused Anxiety

The Titanic Tooth

The Titanic Tooth

Tuesday night I was lying in bed eating a “fun size” bag of peanut M&Ms. First of all, what’s so fun about eight tiny pieces of candy? A fun size portion should contain about three pounds. There is nothing fun about eight M&Ms in a cute little bag. More candy equals more fun. True story.

So I was lying in bed reading and eating my nightly chocolate ration when I bit down and crunched into something very hard. Hmmm. Must be a burnt peanut, an M&M that weaseled it’s way through quality control and into my fun size packet. No worries, work it over with my teeth a little more and I’m sure it’ll succumb to a happy peanut paste existence. CRUNCH. Wow, this nut’s not giving up. A tough nut to crack, if you will. You know what? Maybe it’s not a nut. Maybe it’s a thicker part of the thin candy shell that makes them melt in my mouth and not in my hand. CRUNCH. Nope. That’s not right. I pushed the piece to the front of my mouth with my tongue and removed it like it was a stray dog hair. I looked down at it and realized that this wasn’t a peanut or a piece of the thin candy shell. Uh-oh.

I hesitantly rolled my tongue around my mouth, flicking it over each tooth just to make sure everything was where it should be. Except that it wasn’t. Near the very back of my mouth, my tongue immediately noticed a difference. The next to last tooth on the bottom right side now had a gaping hole in the side. I pushed my tongue as far as it would go into the hole. Compared to the piece of what I now knew to be tooth, the hole was huge. This could only mean one thing.

I ate part of my tooth. It must have gotten mixed in with the thin candy shell and I didn’t even know it.

This was definitely not the highlight of my day because it carried with it several implications: One, I wasn’t going to get to finish the rest of my M&Ms. And it would drive me nuts (pun intended) to know that there were two M&Ms left hanging out in the tiny bag.  Two, I was going to have to make a dreaded emergency trip to the dentist as soon as possible because I definitely don’t want to risk getting an infection in the tooth, forcing me to have another root canal. Three, until I could make the cringe-inducing trip I was probably going to be on a liquid diet, which meant Slim Fast shakes for every meal. And fourth, and most alarming, I JUST ATE PART OF MY SKELETAL SYSTEM.

It’s odd how things that probably wouldn’t frighten you during the day become major catastrophes under the dark of night. A person could easily say , “Oh well. I’ll call the dentist tomorrow and get it fixed in the afternoon and be back in fighting shape by nightfall.” and go back to reading her book. I am not that person. And that is not how my mind works. Especially not at night. After the full realization that I JUST ATE PART OF MY OWN HEAD sunk in, I wondered how I had eaten something like that and not even known it. This just corroborates my recent thoughts that I definitely need to chew my food better. (I realized this when I threw up a hot dog and looked at the size of the pieces laying in the parking lot and my first thought was “I could totally put those pieces back together to form a hot dog puzzle.)

So now my tooth was on a journey that could not be stopped. I’m no doctor so I don’t know the entire medical process of where it was going but I did know where it would eventually end up. And here’s how I am concerned that the journey might go:

I swallowed part of my skeleton. It will journey down to my stomach where it will sway gently among the English toffee cappuccino I had on the way to my appointment this morning, colliding with the white cheddar popcorn that I had during my Mary Higgins Clark movie this afternoon. (It’s hard to focus on a movie while chewing on one side of your mouth with your head turned sideways so that no stray popcorn pieces goes careening over into the cavernous hole.) Eventually it will travel down through my intestines and out of my body among some poop. This is where my concern kicks in. The tooth is all jaggedy. I can tell that by the size and shape of the gaping hole it left behind. This means that it will surely rock back and forth in the stomach juices, threatening to puncture my stomach lining, sending white cheddar popcorn bits and cappuccino onto my organs via my torn stomach. If, by some lucky twist of fate, the tooth doesn’t puncture my stomach and escape into my vital organs, it will travel down through my intestines in a mix of digested stuff that will at some point, if it hasn’t already, turn into poo. (Again, I don’t know the medical process. I don’t even want to know. The less I know about the way my body functions, the less likely I am to faint.)

I texted my fears to my friend Romy, who tends to be the voice of reason when I board my crazy train.

Me: I’m scared to eat. I’m afeared (Yes I use the word afeared.) I’ll eat part of my tooth. (which I had already done.) Literally I could digest part of my skeletal system…

Romy: Then you’ll just poop it out. No problem! (Because it’s normal to poop out part of your skeleton.)

Me: I’ve given this some thought: what if it’s jaggedy and tears a whole in my intestines and poop leaks all over my body? I could die.

Romy: It won’t. It will be so covered with thick gunk that it will just glide through.

Me: I’m an idiot. A hole. (Bet you thought I wouldn’t catch that.)

Me: You can’t guarantee that. It could settle on the outer fringe of my poo and tear me open like the titanic.

Romy: Nope. (Very reassuring. I think this is when she realized that the crazy train had already left the station and the only thing she could do was ride along. Truth be told she was probably checking between her toes for lint at this point. )

Me: You are not a doctor. I know things.

Romy: I know more than you. (This is debatable. But I think she was throwing stuff on the wall to see what would stick and if she could get me on her side, she would win and the crazy train could be stopped before it turned into a wreck.)

Me: Not about me and the way my body works.

Romy: Your poop isn’t different than anybody else’s! I’ve been pooping for 48 years…How about you? (Ah the age card. Normally I play the age card about her being so old and me still being young. Reverse Ageism, well-played, Romy.)

Me: You got me there. You are, in fact, the elder pooper.

I don’t know what made me give up and accept her age answer but I did. For some reason that I now cannot explain, I accepted the fact that because she had been pooping longer than me, that she was more of an expert on the subject of what happens when one’s tooth takes this unnatural journey through the body. So after first accepting her explanation and logic of what would happen to my tooth, my reality has taken back over and I know that right now there is a tooth floating around somewhere in my body, wreaking havoc on my system. For all I know, that bit of denture is somewhere in my intestines, on the outer fringe of my oncoming poo, just waiting to bump into the walls of the intestine and leak poop and toxins all over my body.  It will stick out of the poo and scrape it’s way down the intestine, tearing a lengthy hole in me, which is how my body will then fill with poop. My organs will be soaking in waste and I will eventually die from the poison.  And the band will play on as it happens…

I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon to get the tooth taken care of.  Bad news: another trip to the dentist. Good news: I will probably have more fodder for my blog.

Toothberg dead ahead!



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The Dentist

The Dentist

Going to the dentist, as I have mentioned before, is always a high anxiety experience for me. I go to a dentist in small town in Southern Illinois about two hours from St. Louis every six months. I have a two-hour trip of dread wherein I imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s the same dentist I’ve gone to since I was in eighth grade because I hate change.  I am comfortable with my dentist and I don’t want to have to try my joke out on anyone new. (He asks how I’m doing and I say “I’d be better if I weren’t here” and no one but myself finds it amusing. It’s the same joke I’ve been using since I first went to him. See? I told you I hated change.)  I try to distract myself by singing along with my music but that makes my mouth dry and since I don’t want to screw up the perfect brushing job I did ten minutes before I left, my only option is water so I just stop singing because the water will rinse away the minty clean feeling.

When I leave the dentist, I always tell myself that I’m going to do better between now and the next time I have to visit. I’m going to brush for the full three minutes in a circular motion all over my teeth. I will floss every day. And then about two days later, after the I-just-left-the-dentist clean teeth feeling is gone, I go back to my old ways of not doing as well as I should in both areas.  Then about two weeks before I have to go to the dentist I start cleaning them all crazy compulsively, like the hygienist isn’t going to be able to tell that for five and half months I semi-neglected my duties. Who do I think I’m fooling?

I enter the office by way of the five by five foot lobby and always stop by the bathroom to make sure I am boog free because I don’t want the hygienist looking up my nose in disgust, worrying that with one misplaced jab at my gums the boog is going to fly out at her when I exhale in pain. So far I’ve been lucky enough to never have this happen (the booger flying, not the exhale of pain. The exhale actually happens every time without fail.) I’m not even sure how I would recover from the humiliation if it did happen aside from just getting up and walking out without saying a word and never returning. The lobby smells like a basic commercial lobby: industrial carpet and Pledge. It’s size keeps it from holding more smells.

The bathroom didn’t really have an odor (thank God)  and I was indeed boog free, so I went into the office, signed in and sat down with my book.  I look at the walls to see if there is any new “art”.  What I’ve noticed about every dentist I’ve ever been to is that there are three things that will never change:  Every dentist I’ve ever been to has Norman Rockwell paintings on their wall. Every dentist also has that Children’s Storybook Bible mixed in with their magazines and every dental waiting room I’ve ever been in has Highlights magazine.  And the pages are always scribbled on in blue and green crayon, the hidden pictures are always solved and someone has spilled some unknown liquid on it so that there is no way I’m going to touch it without imagining what kind of liquid it is. Yes I am on the upper edge of my thirties and I still enjoy a good hidden picture puzzle.

The waiting room has that dentist-y smell: It smells like the gritty toothpaste they use to clean your teeth. I think the smell of the gritty paste is less noticeable (but still slightly minty, even though the paste is always pink. What’s up with that?) because of the feeling of biting down on wet sand that you have when they tell you to rinse.

I look around the waiting area and notice a wide variety of people who appear to be from 1995. There is the small town cheerleader and her mom. I know she’s a cheerleader because she always has a high school cheer shirt on with matching shorts.  Then there is the elderly couple, both there for their denture check-ups and fittings. She is wearing sensible flats and he is wearing the old person staple, New Balance tennis shoes. Sitting on the other side of the room is the overly tan biker lady whose cigarette smoke I can smell from ten feet away. You’re at the dentist lady, you should at least brush your teeth before you come in.

I was sitting by the door to the lobby and pretty soon I heard the front door open and the bathroom door close almost simultaneously.  I dove back into my book until about ten minutes later when this older gentleman in a John Deere trucker cap sauntered in, bringing with him the smell of whatever he did in that bathroom. This smell soon permeated the lobby and overtook the smell of the commercial toothpaste.  Every time I looked up John Deere was either heading to the bathroom or coming from it. Sir, perhaps you should have rescheduled if you are having that many stomach issues. 

They call my name just as I am starting to think I might have to offer John Deere some Tums. They lead me back to the cleaning room and I sit down, dreading even more what I know is to come.   I sit down in the chair and assume my normal dental position: legs crossed at the ankles (so that I can press them together in anticipation of the pain)  hands with a death grip on the rests as my knuckles turn white and every few minutes I have to unclench them and do little finger exercises, and my neck so stiff that I am sore from it for an hour after I leave. I lay there in this position, jaw clenched until I’m told to open up, assaulted by even more smells:  the burning of the drill, the toothpaste and someone’s lunch, which while I can’t prove that this is what it is, smells like day old Chinese takeout.

Hygienist adjusts her stool, turns on the light and pulls it closer so that I am now in the spotlight.  Every time I look at this light, while I am waiting, I can’t help but think that it looks like a giant snake falling out of the ceiling. The light itself looks like a giant snake mouth coming at you with big venom-dripping fangs. Look at this light next time and tell me it doesn’t look like a gaping snake mouth.

Hygienist begins her task of scraping my teeth with that sharp pointy jabby tool. I tense even more.  She always starts conversations by referring to whatever t-shirt I happen to be wearing that day. Usually it’s a Cardinals shirt so she will reference the team or tell me that they went to a game a few weeks ago. I appreciate that she is trying to talk to me like a normal person but in this instant I am not a normal person.  I know this because normally I don’t have a stranger’s hands poking and jabbing and shoving their entire fists into my mouth. Every time she talks, I have to respond which means prolonging the time that I am in the chair. I realize she’s probably trying to put me at ease but I’m not there to discuss the National League standings or to hear about her daughter’s first concert experience (Miley Cyrus)  Just keep scraping.  The scraping is the worst because not only can you feel it, you can hear it. The sound of the scraping is worse than the actual scraping.

After much blood loss and rinsing, she draws out a long piece of dental floss.  I’m just getting over the trauma of the scrapey scrape when she starts to floss my teeth really fast.  Obviously she does this twenty times a day but she’s still very rough with it. She’s so rough that I worry every time she flosses my teeth that one of these times she will hurriedly put the floss between my teeth, swish it around and when she goes to pull it out, will send one of my teeth flying out of my mouth.  Again, this has yet to happen but I am sure that one day it will occur.

That takes less than two minutes and then the wet sand cleaning begins.  Before she begins she puts on one of those little rings that has a well in it for the paste. Is that a necessary tool? Is it that much harder to shove your hand six inches further and dab on the paste from the little table? I wonder if a dentist has ever proposed to his hygienist and used one of those rings as the engagement ring. I’ve never seen anyone wearing one outside of the dentist office, so probably not. 

She finishes brushing my teeth and gives me the little Dixie shot glass of water to rinse with. It’s never enough water so I have to do two shots of it just to get the sand out of my mouth and even then, I walk out with some remaining sand in my teeth but I’m afraid if I go for a third cup Hygienist will think I’m questioning the quality of her work and will store away that information and will use it against me in six months. Like it’s going to make her mad and be even rougher next time.

The dentist then comes in to check her work. I guess that’s why he comes in. He trots in whistling his little made up tune ( I wrote about this in the Candy Drawer post if you missed it) and sits down at the stool. He asks me how I’m doing.

“I’d be better if I weren’t here.”  (dead silence. Is this thing on?) 

Smelling like onions from his lunch, I try to hold my breath as he gently pries my mouth open and takes a look-see (his word not mine).  He continues to hum and decides that I have a cavity (even though as he says ” I thought we’d be past that at this point,” meaning “I thought by now your candy eating addiction would have subsided but I can tell by the teeth that it has not.”) Since I live so far away he does my cavities on the same day as the cleaning to save me the trip.

He gives me the shot in the jaw that causes my eyes to fill with tears from the sting. Then he turns off the snake mouth and tells me he will be back in five minutes.  After about five minutes I hear him standing at the desk having a conversation about his weekend and the things he got done on the farm. I am getting peeved thinking that he has forgotten me and that by the time he remembers me the numbness will wear off but he will drill anyway when he walks back in.

He drills and the smell of decaying tooth along with burning plaster pipes up to my nose. At least, that’s what I think burning plaster smells like.  Then he calls off some numbers and the hygienist hands him tools. He pokes and prods and jabs and crams and then tells me to bite down, which I do.  After a few more scrapes to remove the excess gunk, he tells me I am done and that I can rinse the gunk out. I do my two shots again, not taking a necessary third.  The hygienist hands me a crappy little toothbrush with the dentist’s name on it.  With the quality of the toothbrush, they can’t possibly expect me to actually use this thing on my teeth but it will be good for cleaning the grout.

I step into the office which smells like musty paperwork from 1979, scotch tape and dust. My dentist is like no other I’ve ever been to. He has a deer head hanging on the wall of his office. Nothing says “sterile environment” like half of a dead carcass on the wall. I make my six month appointment and pay and the lady hands me the appointment card. 

As I am leaving the dentist, I get that surge of happiness and relief.  I survived and have clean and happy teeth.

This must be how Yadi feels after leaving the vet or groomers. We both have an extra little bounce in our step. Clean and happy because we survived and know that we are going to get a treat when we get home. Hers is a dog bone, mine is a Happy Meal. 



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Sleepover Part 3

Sleepover Part 3

We scurry about BG’s room, gathering up various pens, pencils, metallic paint pens and scraps of paper.  We WILL deliver that autograph on Monday morning.  We scatter about the room, each of us intensely practicing our Olivia Newton-John autograph.  Every few minutes someone will say “I got it!” and hold up their specimen only to crumple onto the floor in failure after  close inspection.  The problem is that all of us write like third graders because….we are third graders. We must employ someone who doesn’t write like a child. BG’s brother is out because even though he is in fifth grade, his chicken scratch looks worse than ours does, and also we don’t want to interrupt the I’ll-impress-them-with-my-weightlifting session he is doing in his room with the door open just for our benefit.

We know that BG’s mom won’t sign for us because she is a very uptight and serious woman so our only hope is her dad. We sit around and try to figure out how we will get him to sign this autograph without having to fill him in on the whole story. We know he won’t be a willing accomplice if he knows we are plotting against this particular neighbor because they are golf buddies. No one comes up with a good plan, so we continue to practice our fraudulent signatures. Our scheming is interlaced with a series of phone calls from both sides, in which the calling party quickly hangs up after the phone is answered. Two hours into the war, the phone calls mercifully come to a standstill.  Lucky for us because this is the same time that BG’s mom calls us all back into the dining room for more birthday festivities.

We traipse back to our seats with the only light being the glow from the nine candles that are sticking up out of the Rainbow Brite adorned cake.  We sing “Happy Birthday” to Birthday Girl and she blows out the candles, probably spraying her pizza sauce flecked spittle all over the cake, which I am now supposed to excitedly eat. It’s hard eating something that someone has spit on when your mind works the way mine does. But I know that this is all protocol and it would be rude to not partake so I try to scrape off the top layer of icing (using the real excuse that icing makes me sick) and eat the rest while distracting myself with the pile of gifts that have now been placed in the center of the table.

We chatter on, talking faster and overlapping as the sugar hits our system and the plates are taken into the kitchen to clear the way for the gift opening ritual. BG’s dad gets out his huge 35mm camera and positions himself on the opposite side of the room, ready to click every moment of unwrap.  We all watch as BG’s mom picks up each gift, asking who it is from and then repeating what was just said, as if she is speaking a language that is foreign to BG and so must have an interpreter.

BG opens the first card with a look of disappointment as no money comes fluttering down. She pretends to read the card and places it on the table, making eye contact with the giver as she carefully begins to unwrap the affiliated gift.

A Hello Kitty stationery set! Complete with fruit-scented markers and tiny envelopes!

“Thank you so much! I love it!”  says BG, a little too fervently, making me wonder if she really does love it or is trying not to hurt the giver’s feelings.

By the fifth gift, BG has thrown out all gift opening etiquette. She opens the cards just long enough to wait for the cash to fall out (if there is any)  not reading the card at all and then tears into the neatly wrapped presents, barely hiding her disenchantment as she is given things that she didn’t really want.  The dining room floor and table are both covered in colorfully crinkled paper.

The take was huge.  Along with the stationery set, BG’s loot included: Three packages of dessert shaped novelty erasers, a stuffed unicorn, a fake gold bracelet with her named etched on it, a Hello Kitty mini purse, two ET posters, an ice cream cone pillow for her bed, a basket of various gummy candies, three pairs of Jem socks (truly outrageous),  my Rainbow Brite paint by number kit, a monkey puppet with googly eyes, and from her parents, a Michael Jackson doll, complete with sequined glove (which was actually a sequined mitten. I remember this because I also got an MJ doll for my birthday and was very frustrated when I saw that not only was it a mitten, but once taken off,  it was nearly impossible to put back onto his tiny microphone-clutching hand.)

We helped BG take the loot back into her bedroom.  Everyone oohed and aahed and passed the presents around for post-giving examination.  Having long given up our quest for the perfect autograph, we finished watching and singing along to Grease and then head back into the living room where BG’s dad has fallen asleep in his favorite recliner while watching the sports recap on the news. He jumps awake as he hears the group descending upon him like a herd of girly geese. BG asks if we can watch a movie and he says, “yes”, stumbling out of his recliner, wishing us a good night and retiring to his room.

As soon as the coast is clear, BG punches the buttons on the giant remote and suddenly we are watching a horror movie about a Medusa-like villain with live snakes sticking up all over her head.  We unroll our sleeping bags and huddle together, munching on gigantic bowls of chips and pretzels, even though thirty minutes earlier we had finished off two-thirds of a pizza-sauce-spittle-flecked sheetcake. At some point during the evening our numbers have dwindled for a few different reasons:  someone got homesick, someone got mad and was still pouting in the bathroom, and someone threw up (I usually fell into this category if I ended up leaving the party. Pizza sauce did not and still doesn’t sit well with my stomach.) No slumber party is without drama in one or more of these categories. Someone will always be crying or sick or just grumpy.

Soon after the movie began, the weaker girls start drifting off into dreamland as the stronger ones are enraptured by the movie (or in my case, just too scared to fall asleep around this group of girls for fear that they might do something mean to me, as I have often heard rumors that this was their M.O.)  Out of fear that this monster might somehow jump out of the console television and into our lives, no one says a word as our eyes are glued to the screen, periodically jerking our heads around to see what made the noise behind us.

By the end of the movie, I am the only one still alert.  I look at the sleeping bodies that surround me and I am suddenly very awake and very aware of how much my tummy hurts from the acidic pizza sauce I devoured earlier. Great. Not only am I wide awake but I am also in severe pain.  I lay there very still, trying not to move because one of the girls, in her sleep has taken me on as a stuffed animal and has her arm draped over my neck with her face a mere two inches from my own. I can smell her Doritos breath and I suddenly make note that Doritos breath is very similar to the breath you have after you throw up. It’s doubly horrible when it’s being piped directly into your nostrils.

Fully awake and in severe stomach pain, I lay there for the rest of the night, trying to fall asleep but unable to because my mind is now wandering around like a kid unsupervised in the hallways of my mind.  My thoughts drift from focusing on remaining still to avoid an awkward moment for myself (the living teddy bear substitute) and the hugger to mentally willing the hours til morning to fly by so that I can pack up my gear and go home.  Just as I am thinking I might have to initiate a move and wake her, the hugger changes position and I am free. I quickly take advantage of the freedom and get up to go use the bathroom, which I forgot to do earlier because I was trying to seem as if I was really into the movie.

Upon my return I grab a magazine out of the rack and situate myself in the recliner. It is here that I remain until morning.  One by one, starting with BG, the girls begin to stir and sit up.  They look around at each other, doing those slow blinks that you do when you’re not yet fully conscious. No one speaks for several minutes. Finally someone asks me how long I’ve been awake and I tell them I never went to sleep.  No one says it but you can tell they all think I’m some sort of nocturnal weirdo.  BG clicks the tv on and we all just settle back into staring at the Smurfs while we (or those of us who slept) are trying to gather our bearings.

Slowly we all begin to come out of our sleep stupor (although mine would be a lack of sleep stupor).  The back door opens and BG’s dad pops in with a giant box of donuts from the bakery and two gallons of chocolate milk.  We grab our donuts and go back to the Smurfs.  After the sugary goodness of the donuts has had time to hit our system and begin to flow through our veins, we began to talk to each other. Soon everyone is chattering and laughing but no one mentions the night before.

For some reason, at every sleepover I’ve ever been to, there is that morning weirdness.  Everyone remembers everything that happened the night before but there is that underlying knowingness about not talking about it.  No one talks about the sudden departure of the homesick.  No one talks about how we heard her dad going about his business quite loudly in the bathroom.  No one mentions the lengthy conversations about boys.  No one says a word about our phone war with the other sleepover. We flit around these topics the morning after and no one knows why.  We all know that we remember the previous evening but we pretend, for now, not to. Secretly though, we have stored away the entire evening.

Parents begin to filter in to pick up their daughters.  Girls gather their possessions and scramble to the car to wait while her mom has a long drawn-out conversation with BG’s mom. She is nearly asleep by the time her mother gets into the car and zooms home. And each and every girl will spend the afternoon recuperating in front of the tv, drifting in and out of much-needed sleep.

Sleepovers are an essential element of growing up as a girl.  Love them or hate them, you must at some point participate. While the details vary, the vital elements of a sleepover NEVER change:

Someone will always end up in tears.

Someone will always go home sick.

There will always be pizza for supper and donuts for breakfast.

There will always be at least one time when the party is divided into an argument and people take sides, with the Host always being the one to be the mediator.

Boys will always be discussed.

And come Monday morning, the hallways of the school will be filled with exaggerated accounts of the party and how much fun was had (in order to make the other sleepover jealous of what they missed).

But no one will ever mention the non-existent Olivia Newton John concert.



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Sleepover Part 2

Sleepover Part 2

We mull over our ideas of retaliating against the Lewton party and decide that the only way we can win this is to assure them that our party is WAY better than their party. But how to accomplish this? Then, as we watch Olivia Newton-John wistfully croon “Hopelessly Devoted To You” I am struck with a brilliant idea: We will call them back and tell them that we are going to an Olivia Newton-John concert. Nevermind that ONJ would never tour through our tiny town, population 3,026.

Birthday Girl picks up the phone and slowly dials Tricia’s phone number. She knows it by heart because up until three days ago, they were best friends. But then, because Tricia wouldn’t let BG hold her new Cabbage Patch Kid during recess, there was a giant rift in the friendship and Tricia’s invite was revoked. Scrambling at the last minute to show BG that she didn’t need her friendship, Tricia decided to have her OWN sleepover, even though her birthday was four months away. She invited her friends, some of which were also Birthday Girl’s friends, putting them in the awkward position of having to choose sides. Most had sided with BG, either because their moms made them since they had already bought her some Jem (who IS truly outrageous) socks, or because, like me, deep down they were frightened by the power that BG wielded around the third grade hallways. One false step around Birthday Girl and you were wearing the elementary equivalent of the scarlet letter.

Time seems to stop as we all hear the phone ringing on the other end. Finally someone picks up but it’s not Tricia. Tricia is too smart to answer the phone. She makes her dad answer it and yell down the hallway that she has a phone call. She asks him to find out who it is. He asks us. We panic and immediately hang up the phone. Close call.

This is going to be harder than we thought. A hush falls over the room as we sit and weigh our options. Beth keeps watch out the window because Tricia’s bedroom is directly across the cul-de-sac from Birthday Girl’s. She reports back that she can see shadows dancing in front of the half-pulled shade. Are they celebrating a premature victory over us or are they dancing along to Tricia’s Joan Jett album? We surmise it’s a victory dance which raises the stakes on this battle that we must now win.  Defeat is not an option.

We turn off the light in BG’s room and open our shade. We all line the window and watch a few minutes in silence before dialing again. The line crackles a bit as we all huddle around the receiver to try to hear the other side of the conversation. After a few rings, someone picks up. There is movement on the line, some shifting of body weight and a few hushed shushes before someone says,


“Is Tricia there?” BG says with a steady voice.

A tense moment of semi-silence. Some shuffling around and barely audible whispering before the answer finally comes,

“What do you want?”  We don’t know if this is Tricia herself or one of the many minions she has at her disposal. We don’t care because we know that every girl in that room will be in awe of us when we drop our bombshell.

“We just want you to know that we know you called us. And to let you know that our party is way better than yours. We went to see Olivia Newton-John tonight.” (Doesn’t matter that it’s only eight pm, the time when most concerts START or that we are at least two hours away from any venue that could quite possibly house such a superstar.)

“Prove it.”

This throws a wrench in our otherwise seemingly air-tight plan. How can we prove that we went to a concert that doesn’t exist?

“We got to meet her and got her autograph,” Birthday Girl blurts out in a moment of sheer improvisational genius, hoping that this will be sufficient.

Silence on the line, they are contemplating their defeat.

“Well, my dad’s taking us bowling.”


We won! Bowling compared to an Olivia Newton-John concert wherein we met her, talked to her and got her autograph (And that DOESN’T EXIST)? We began congratulating each other, all of us talking at once. We immediately put on Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 and begin to dance around to Physical, even though at nine years old, we still thought it was a workout song. Our excitement about winning is dashed by the burgeoning realization that we just made a statement we can’t possibly prove….

Unless…..we can. 



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Sleepover Part 1

Sleepover Part 1

Every time I watch Grease and it comes to the sleepover scene my stomach starts to get queasy, my palms sweat a little and my eyes glaze over as I lose myself in the past for a few minutes. Sleepovers were a pretty big declaration of status but for me they were just another event that I had to go to that caused me a great deal of anxiety. I dreaded them for a minimum of three days before, imagining everything that could go wrong: I could fall asleep and someone might do something mean to me (Third graders didn’t generally need bras so that fear didn’t even come into play until junior high, but they might draw on my face with a permanent marker or stick my hand in warm water, making me pee.) I might get sick from the food and throw up all over the Birthday Girl or worst case scenario, I might have the poops on the night of the party and have to run to the bathroom multiple times with everyone suspecting what I was doing when I went in.

Then the big day would arrive. Sleepovers were always scheduled for Friday nights. This meant that the school day on Friday would be full of secrecy, deceit and some bit of excitement swirling around amongst my classmates. First of all, not everyone was invited so I had to be careful about who I spoke to about the sleepover because with one seemingly innocent conversation I could easily become the pariah of the third grade. One mis-step and the social standings I worked so hard to achieve on the playground would come crumbling down around me. Those first few years of grade school are essential in determining ones social status for the rest of their life. Scratch the tip of your nose a little too long in kindergarten and you will forever be labeled the Nose Picker. Get a little bit of dirt and sweat on your face on the way to the bus stop and you will always be the Dirty Sweaty Kid. Come to school with a giant cow lick and smelling like maple syrup and you will never shake the stigma of being the Kid Who Always Smells Like Maple Syrup. (Why was there always one kid who smelled like maple syrup every day?)

Navigating the school day on Friday was like walking through a social faux-pas minefield. If you spoke to someone about the sleepover and they weren’t invited, they got their feelings hurt and the rest of the girls who were invited were mad at you for the rest of the day because you caused such awkwardness. By the end of the day, your stomach hurt, you felt incredibly alone and you just wanted to go home and have your afternoon snack. But you were stuck going to the party because you had already said you would be there. Now you had three hours to sit and dread the party because you started your day with friends and ended it with enemies that you would be spending the night with.

If you were lucky enough to have survived the school day without committing social suicide, you left school giving all of the other party-goers that knowing goodbye that said “I’m saying goodbye to you as if I won’t see you until Monday but we both know we will be eating pizza and singing Sister Christian in your living room in three hours. See you then!” You walked home, threw your stuff on the floor and headed straight to the table where your mom already had a snack waiting for you to eat while doing your homework. We always did our homework as soon as we got home from school to get it over with. I hated this ritual on Friday but as I sat with my chocolate chip cookies and watched the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday evening I was glad that I wasn’t hunched over the kitchen table fretting over long division.

The next three hours were torture. It was that moment of limbo, wherein I didn’t want to really do anything at home and wear myself out for the party, making me more vulnerable to permanent markers, but I was also bored to death just sitting and waiting to be chauffeured to the party. So what better way to idle away those last hours of freedom than by sitting and worrying about the upcoming festivities and the multiple ways it could go wrong?

Finally my dad would tell me it was time to go and after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I would take my Big Red chewing gum sleeping bag (I loved this sleeping bag. It looked like a giant pack of gum), my fastidiously gift-wrapped Rainbow Brite paint by numbers and my little overnight bag containing my sleepwear (shorts and a tee) extra underwear (you can never be too prepared) and my toothbrush and toothpaste, and head to the car.

After a long and gut-wrenching car ride in which I blazed a spectrum of being excited about being popular enough to be invited, to begging not to be left alone at a sort-of stranger’s house, we would arrive. My dad would walk me to the door and be greeted by the chaperoning parent, working out all of the emergency contact number and pick-up time information while I squeezed past the boring adults and joined the already raucous party in session.  The adults would finish their discussion, I would say my goodbyes (never hugging because that labels you as the UnCool Kid Who Still Says Nite-Nite to Their Parents) and head back over to the gaggle of girls in the living room. For a moment, my worries subsided and even though I was still a little nervous, I would begin to relax just a little.

As more girls arrived, we surrounded each new arrival, showering her with attention and praise for the new teddy bear sweatshirt she was wearing, until someone new arrived and the whole process started over. As soon as everyone had arrived, we would turn on MTV and dance around the living room while watching the videos. I didn’t have cable at home so I alternated between dancing like a fool and sitting slack-jawed in front of the tv as Lionel Richie stalked a blind girl who was sculpting his afroed head out of clay, Toni Basil jumped around in a cheerleader uniform or Michael Jackson didn’t stop til he got enough, dancing in front of giant cubes of clear Jell-O.

Suddenly the doorbell would ring and Birthday Girl’s Mom answers it, trading a few crisp twenty-dollar bills for four steaming cardboard boxes of greasy pizza. She carries the boxes to the dining room table as we all fall in line behind her like a parade of baby ducks following Mama Duck into the water for a mid-day swim lesson. The dining table was covered in pastel vinyl, matching paper plates and cups and glittery confetti. A few streamers had been haphazardly taped to the wall to let us all know that we were indeed at a party. And the buffet along the wall was covered in brightly wrapped birthday presents. A few of us at this point would head back into the living room to get our neatly wrapped Rainbow Brite or ET toys and place them the already highly stacked pile.

After inhaling two to three pieces of pizza each we head back to Birthday Girl’s (BG for short) bedroom and sit around talking about the newest elementary school gossip: Who was “going out with” who (where were they going exactly?) Did you know that Jeff kissed Amy on the playground? Jacob told me so. Jeff told him because they’re best friends. BG, always a trendsetter, already has a VCR in her room and pops in her very own copy of Grease. We are all impressed.

The phone rings. BG is super cool because not only does she have a phone in her room, but it’s a plastic Mickey Mouse figurine that stands with an outstretched arm perfectly cradling the phone. Birthday Girl answers it. But there is no one on the line and all she hears is some breathing and a few quiet giggles followed by the distinct sound of someone being shushed. Then click. We all think that this is odd but quickly resume our conversation which has now lapsed into discussing the merits of wearing leg warmers over our jeans.

Mickey rings again.

Same thing; giggles and shushing. Except one of the gigglers mistakenly pops out a few words before she is shushed and our entire party then remembers: Tricia Lewton, who lives across the street is having a sleepover tonight too. MaryAnn Coyle, who has a very distinct voice, was the one who didn’t shush.

We are being prank-called.

 This means war.



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Getting My Hair Did

Getting My Hair Did

I went to a beauty school yesterday for a haircut.  This is another one of those situations that is a little stressful for me.  My anxiety begins when I know I’m getting my haircut. This can begin as early as two days prior to scissors coming anywhere near my head. It really has to do with what the hairdresser will think of me: Do they consider me gross? Are they totally grossed out because I didn’t wash my hair or because I kind of let myself go, hairwise? Do I have huge chunks of earwax that I don’t even know about? Are they disgusted even touching me because I might smell like old lady since I live alone so my house always smells like old vegetable stew?

I finally work up enough nerve to go. I think it’s a very bold move to let a student touch your hair. I should consider this an act of charity on the student but for some reason I think it’s a punishment.  I always feel like they think they’re better than me and I can’t tell them differently because they have sharp objects moving very fast all around my head.  If they screw up, I’m wearing hats for the next eight months. I know this because of the horrible Great Clips Incident of 1997. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.

So I go knowing that this could easily and possibly go really, really wrong. But still I go.

The school is located in what used to be the Huck’s Convenience Store where I would go to buy my candy on my lunch breaks in high school. (Seriously, this candy thing goes way back.)

The first thing I notice as I open the same door that lead me to my daily dose of cherry Nibs is the odor that thrusts itself up my nasal passages and almost makes me cry. I walk up to the desk.

“So do I just sign in?” I ask the desk lady.

“Yeah,” (Nice to meet you, Chatty Cathy.)

“Ok…let’s see, it’s eleven thirty and–WOW that is pungent,” I say, unable to exhale the smell from my nostrils.

“What?” (I’m sorry, do you speak in sentences or just blurt one word answers out?)

“That smell. How do you guys stand that all day without getting sick?”

“I don’t smell anything,” says Chatty Cathy, looking over at the Silent Bob who has now sidled up beside her, “What does it smell like?”

“Perm.”  (Two can play at the one word answer, lady.)

“Oh that,” she says, leaving “that” hanging as if she’s going to say more but decides that I don’t deserve any more explanation because of my lowly station in life.

I stand there for a minute, lowering my chin as I wait for her to finish, then realize that she IS finished so I turn on my heels and go sit in the waiting area. The waiting area is almost smaller than a normal sized public restroom stall. I just sit down when I hear them discussing me as if I’m not four feet away.

“Jenn,” says Chatty, not calling me but not saying it low enough so that I can’t hear.

“Jenn?” says a short slim girl who I swear is only thirteen years old.

I get up and walk towards her as we exchange smiles. She asks me if I want her to wash my hair.

“I didn’t wash it today so..” I trail off, assuming she would pick up my cue and lead me to a basin.

“OK,” says Slim, as she points me towards her station. Apparently my hair will not be washed today unless I wash it when I go home.

I sit down as she goes off somewhere, not saying a word. I look around and make eye contact with this elderly woman who looks ridiculous sitting across the room with foil sticking out all over her head as if she’s trying to contact the mother ship. We hold each other’s glance just long enough as if to say,

“You’re a bold woman taking your chances here. I wish you luck.”  We both silently applaud each other’s bravery.

Slim returns with a tiny maroon cape. She drapes it around my neck in a way that makes me feel secure in her abilities. I mean, if she can drape that professionally,  I’m in good hands…right?

I’m not good at making decisions, especially when it comes to my hair because I have absolutely no sense of style.  If the person that was cutting my hair told me that the mullet was coming back, I’m scared that there would be a slight chance that I might let them give me one. So the conversation always goes like this:

Slim: So…what are we doing today? (Technically it is “we” because we’re both involved but I don’t plan on actively participating. That being said, if a hairdresser ever said, ” So what am I doing today?” it might startle me as to whether or not they even knew where they were.)

Me:  I just want it cut shoulder length.

Slim: Just straight across or with layers?

Me: What do most people do?

Slim: Layers.

Me: Yeah…let’s do that then. (Again, “let’s” as in “we” because if I just say DO THAT THEN, I’m kind of being bossy. Scissors close to head, remember?)

She doesn’t waste any time, just starts frantically clipping away at my hair after the obligatory, ’tilt your head down for me”.

This is where things go one of two ways: I either get someone working on my hair who can’t or won’t shut up and I worry that they’re not focused enough, or I get one that over-focuses on my hair and won’t say a word, making me extremely uncomfortable in the silence.

Yesterday I got the latter.  I sat still and quiet for as long as was possible (for me) because I don’t want to force anyone to talk to me.

But the silence makes me nervous and when I’m nervous (or have too much caffeine or am manic) I.can’t.shut.up. This is why I would not be a good witness at a trial because I’d go in as a witness and nervously talk my way into being the prime suspect.

So I start the conversation.

Me: So do these hours count as credits?

Slim: Yeah. (Snip. Snip. Cut. Cut. FOCUS.)

Me: How long does it take to get your degree?

Slim: If you go full-time eleven months. If you go part-time, sixteen.

Me: Wow (long dead pause) So do they have job placement services?

Slim: No.

It is then that I give up because I am failing miserably. Job placement services? Really? That’s the best I could come up with? Why didn’t she say “Um…yeah, they have job placement services. They tell you to go to a hair place to get a job yourself.”

I sit quietly for the rest of the cut, which takes about ten more minutes. They are the longest minutes of my life. I don’t utter a word. But I am still nervous.

If this had been the Casey Anthony trial, I would have been found guilty.


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Good thing I didn’t work for Exxon

Good thing I didn’t work for Exxon

“Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a kid?”

“Heh heh…why?”

Me neither. But I did accidentally huff a lot of gasoline Friday.

It started off like any other day in the Murphy household, we stumbled into full awakeness-osity-full-ment (Yep, I made up that word. You can make up any word by adding -ness, -osity, -full, -ment, or my favorite, smushing them all together into one long word ness-osity-full-ment.) I took Yadi for her morning poo walk and talked to called my mom who informed me that she thought they were coming over for the day. I have no plans. I’m game.

They drove over (As far as I know, no snacks were involved this time) and my dad announced that he was going to get my bike “up and running.”

Ah, the bike. How I love my bike. I had a scooter but decided that it was not the right fit for me in St. Louis. I decided this after most of my fellow motor vehiclists tried to knock me off by passing me in my own lane. So I bought a cruiser and an engine kit, handed it over to my dad and waited for the finished product.

The moped, henceforth known as Bike, in my head, would be a perfect fit for me, because if I broke down, or ran out of gas, I could just pedal home.  I have enjoyed the Bike for a few summers, only running out of gas once (four miles away from home and when I was in the worst shape of my life) pedaling home and promptly throwing up my Rice Krispie Treats cereal all over the nun’s Morning Glories.

So when my dad said he was going to get it up and running I was pretty excited. He adjusted the carburetor (See, I know all the terms) poured the gas/oil mix in and aired up the tires. He then took the bike for a ride around the neighborhood, probably making the residents think that there was an out-of-control weedeater on the loose.  I was starving so I decided to wait until after lunch to go on my inaugural ride of the season.

We went to my favorite Chinese restaurant and came home. Immediately upon opening the door we were assaulted with the very distinct, very STRONG smell of gasoline. Uh-oh.  I ran downstairs and saw that the bike had a flat tire and was tipped over, spilling gasoline all over the concrete floor.

I was convinced for a split second (or ten minutes) that the Village was behind this. They were plotting against me. This was payback for playing Loretta Lynn to drown out their ribcage-jarring tuba tunes. After a few rants and raves and some verbage that included several very loud utterances of “It’s on,” and “If they want to play that way we will,” and “I’ll have Immigration Services here so fast it’ll make all forty of their heads spin”  I realized that they would have to be stupid to do this to THEIR OWN HOME.

We got a 5 gallon bucket, filled it with laundry detergent and scrubbed the concrete floor. When I say “we” I mean my seventy-one year old dad brushed it around towards the drain while I stood there and alternated between fuming some more about the neighbors and telling him that he couldn’t wear those shoes upstairs because I was convinced that Yadi would like the smell of gasoline,  lick his shoe and immediately fall over dead. Such is my positive train of thought in times of crisis.

After we (Read: He) got most of the gasoline down the drain I took the cat litter that I bought for icy occasions and swathed the damp floor with it.  By this time the smell permeated our nostrils and I started seeing little Oompa Loompas everywhere.

Google says to put out vanilla extract to get rid of the smell of gasoline fumes. So there are currently little saucers full of vanilla extract at various places in my home. And I am convinced that in the morning I will wake up with armies of ants and other creepy crawlers feasting on the sweet sticky substance, carrying it back to their Queen who will plump up nicely, realize her own strength and powerfulness-osity-full-ment and lead an all out mutiny over me.  My mom says this will not happen. We’ll see.

My mom also kept saying that I shouldn’t stay here  because it was dangerous. I should not be fed these thoughts because she probably meant that I shouldn’t stay here because I might get a little nauseous.

All aboard!  Take a ride on Jenn’s Train of Thought and listen to her inner monologue.  We will be making stops at “Crazy” and “Paranoid” Please have your tickets ready:

‘Ok. So I shouldn’t stay here tonight. Is Yadi asleep? She looks like she’s drifting off.  I don’t think I should let her close her little eyes. What if she doesn’t wake up? Aren’t you supposed to keep people awake so they don’t slip into a coma? Wait, that’s if she bumps her head…and is human.

“Yadi! YADI!” I yell, nonchalantly, as she opens her eyes, gives me a withering look and puts her head back down on her paws.

Whew. Ok so she’s safe…for now. But what if the gas fumes cause her to be brain-damaged? I’m not sure I could handle a special needs dog. Wait, I think I already do handle a special needs dog. What if the fumes do damage to my already low brain cell count? I don’t think I can afford to lose any more.

Is that an Oompa Loompa over there?

Get a grip, Jenn! Now is not the time to panic!

I feel weird. Am i high? Is this what it feels like to be high? I don’t feel voraciously hungry so…..I don’t know.

Seriously, is that an Oompa Loompa? No, that’s just the tower fan my mom brought in to evenly distribute the odor. I can’t let the dog stay here. I have to send her home with Grandma and Grandpa. (Yes, we refer to them  this way and Yadi knows who they are. I convince them to take her.)  It’s too late for me, but I can still salvage what’s left of her little doggie brain.’

And those are the thoughts that lead me to send Yadi home with my parents and sent me off to a friend’s house so that I could keep my remaining brain cells.

It’s almost a week later. I can’t smell gasoline. I don’t have ants.

But I’m still seeing Oompa Loompas……


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