Friday, September 15, 2017

Warning: This blog may be offensive to anyone with a closed mind #whotellsourstories




“Have you seen Boomerang?” She says.

I am at my desk.  The old coffee maker in the break room behind me wheezes out the first few streams of water through the dark roast grind that I’ve just measured into the large, white, paper filter.  The smells lights up the office like a Christmas tree.  As if in a trance, our boss, Mr. Waterman, crosses from his office into the break room with his Panasonic Camera coffee mug clutched in his hands.

“Morning ladies,” he says, barely turning to glance at us.

Anna pulls off her oatmeal colored, fisherman’s sweater over her head, adjusting her black, satin headband afterward.  Her fine, shoulder-length blond hair sticks up in the air at all angles, making her look like a slightly deranged Alice in Wonderland.

Static cling! Just like the Bounce ad…

“You’ve got to see it because the entire cast is Black,” she continues.  “I mean everyone is Black – EVERYONE.  It’s an ad agency, right?  And the receptionist is Black, the security guards are Black, the mailroom guys are Black, the executives are Black! There are no White people at all!"

Her voice tilts up when she says this, as if she’s astounded by this fact and is anxious for me to share in her astonishment.  I grit my teeth hard as my heart pounds in my chest.  My fingertips start to tingle from the rush of adrenalin shooting through my veins.

Here we go…

My friends and I had all seen Boomerang several times already.  We laughed and howled at Eddie Murphy’s reaction to Lela Rochon’s “hammer toes.” We chortled when Eartha Kitt did her seduction dance, reluctantly admired Robin Givens' cutthroat instincts and rooted for Halle Berry to win Eddie’s heart. This was one of just a handful of movies that any of us had ever seen that was written, produced and directed solely by Black people. Boomerang was an amazing, unique experience for us.  And it was NOT an experience that I wanted to share with little miss "Anna in Wonderland," even if I could.

“I’ve seen it,” I say evenly, bracing myself for whatever stupid thing was going to come out of her mouth next.

Please don’t say something that’s going to make me hate you.

“I said to Rolf, this is must be what’s its like for Laura when she go to the movies.  Rolf pointed out that most movies have all White casts except for roles, like gardeners, maids and criminals.  Isn’t that horrible?  I can’t believe that I’d never noticed that until I saw a movie with an all Black cast!  Have you ever noticed that?”

Have I ever notice that?!  Have I ever noticed that?!!

When I was little, my picture books were filled with lovely White families, my textbooks told the stories of how White people conquered lands and invented things.  My teachers, who gave me all of this information, had all been White. The news anchors I watched in the morning were White, every face that graced the cover of any tabloid magazine that I bought was White, movie stars were White, and all of my favorite television stars were White.

I have a hazy memory of being a little taller than our kitchen table and hearing one of my parent’s friends speaking to my mom in angry whispers.  She was outraged that nearly ten year's earlier, Elizabeth Taylor had been cast as Cleopatra.

“What’s wrong?” I wondered out loud.  “Why are you so angry?”

“We finally had have one of our stories told,” she said turning toward me with ferocity in her voice.  “The story of an Egyptian queen!  But instead of casting one of our beautiful sisters in that role, they cast her.  Egypt is in Africa, Laura.  Elizabeth Taylor is White.”

“Ohhh…”

But the truth is that White actors have long been cast to play non-White roles.  Two years after Cleopatra, Laurence Olivier would be cast as Othello the Moor, three year’s previous, and Natalie Wood danced in to our hearts as Maria in Westside Story.  And there’s always my mother’s least favorite; the casting of Mickey Rooney as the offensive Chinese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

And it didn’t stop in the 60's.  Just in the past few years, Johnny Depp was cast as Tonto; Angelina Jolie was selected to play Marian Pearl, (the lead) in A Mighty Heart. There was the all white cast of “The Last Airbender,” and don’t get me started on Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson (you really wanna be startin’ something?)

But Anna didn’t know that she had tripped over such a cultural land mine.  She had no idea why Boomerang was SO important to Black people.  She didn’t know or understand the tsunami of backlash that Brian Grazer and Reginald Hudlin had withstood in order to produce and direct a movie with a Black director and an all Black cast in 1992.

But I understood.  In fact, everyone that I knew understood.  Everyone I knew stood in line to see it the night that it opened in theaters.

“Yes,” I say crisply.  “I have noticed that.  Everyone who looks like me has noticed that...”


Who tells our stories?


“Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melach Ha’Olam….”

Miles, Justin and I make three circles with our hands over the flames of the two candles before covering our eyes.  I watch as four-year-old Miles peeks over at his little brother through his sturdy, brown fingers.

“Ahhh-haa-main!”

I sing the closing note by myself as both Miles and Justin begin to wrestle over a Sponge Bob bath toy.

How did that even get down here?

I close my eyes for a moment and take a deep breath, before grinning widely at each of them.

“Holla’ if you want chocolate chip challah!”

Sponge Bob falls to the ground as they both squeal and climb over to where I’m standing.  I rip two handfuls of the soft, fresh challah bread off of the beautiful, braided, egg-wash-shiny loaf and hand them each one before buttering a piece for myself.

This is the most delicious bread ever.  It’s not even bread! It's more like cake!

I loved Shabbat.  I did not covert when I married Brian (for a variety of personal reasons), but I love the stories of Judaism.  When I first became part of Brian’s large, Brooklyn born, Jewish family, I felt overwhelmed by all of the new things I had to learn.  New names, personalities, foods, traditions -- but once I heard and began to learn the stories of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat, Sukkot, Hanukah and others, I had found my vehicle into their faith.  I didn’t have to "be one to know one".  I could carry the stories too.

These are people who had been separated from their homes, their communities, their families and their places of worship.  These are people who under penalty of death (or worse) continued to tell the stories of their ancestors.  Some of them literally died so that their stories — their history could live on and never be forgotten.  And now, I’m a part of that.

I would often find myself welling up during each Friday night ceremony, while holding a squirming Miles or Justin on my lap.

All around the world at sundown on Friday evening, Jews are doing the exact thing that we are doing right now -- passing along their stories to the next generation. In this way, while the adults tell and relive these stories, the children are connected to something bigger than them.

But there would always be a moment during Shabbat where I would kiss their curly heads and wipe off their small, brown faces and wonder:

But where are our stories of Black Americans?  Were those stories snatched from us as we were stolen from our mothers and fathers?  Did those beautiful oral histories die on the coasts of Ghana and Senegal with those beautiful oral-historians?  And how will my children ever really connect to this history and culture.  How will they know everything that they are?

African-Americans and Jewish people have a lot in common.  We were both enslaved people.  We are both persecuted people.  We are both people who have survived horrific holocausts.  Globally, we all remember the Jewish holocaust.  The Jews have made sure that it is something that we will “never, ever forget.”

I admire this.  I am envious of this.  But this also saddens me.

Because, I can’t help then but wonder, where are the stories of these beautiful brown people who built the country in which we all now live?  Who speaks for the enslaved Africans who were systematically separated from their families, their language and their history?


Who Tells Our Stories?




I was fourteen years old when I first heard Rapper’s Delight.  My friend, Monica patiently taught me all of the words so that she and I could rap along with the little black and gold transistor radio she always brought with her on the F bus. Normally, I sat in the front of the bus, right across from the driver.  But when I rode with Monica back and forth to San Francisco for acting class that entire summer of 1979, we sat all of the way in the back, hunched over her radio, reciting the words over and over like an incantation.

“Now what you hear is not a test…”

Suddenly I was a part of something.  A movement.  A revolution.  Hip-Hop was being birthed in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem and had made it’s way across the country to us in California.  It changed everything about how we Black people saw ourselves forever.  And I had never felt more a "part of something" in my entire life.

I've had several friends over the years who have expressed shock when I reveal that I am (in my own words) a "hip-hop-head."

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Them: Really?  You like that RAP MUSIC?  Oh, I can't listen to that!

Me:  Oh, I love it.  It's the music I grew up on.  Have you ever really listened to it?

Them:  Well, as much as I could!  It's all Bit@# this and Fu%$ that.  Its all anti-female and pro violence.  How can someone like you listen to that?

Me: (someone like me?) Yes, true.  SOME of the lyrics are misogynistic, and some of them promote violence, but these young men and women are using their art, their craft, to tell the us about their world, which unfortunately does include elements of misogyny, fear, violence and prejudice.  But if you dismiss it all as violent noise, then you are missing the richness of the message that is being felt and received by young Black men and women throughout America and the world.  With hip-hop, Black people have a culture that WE created and that WANTS US.  It may be one of the only places that these young men and women can ever really belong and connect.

Them: Hmm.  I never thought about it like that...


Public Enemy’s Chuck D once said famously that, “Rap is Black America’s CNN.”

I love(d) Public Enemy.  I loved the brashness with which they conveyed the message of a fed-up, angry, oppressed, marginalized people.  To me, rap music was and is beautiful, thrilling, compelling.  To me, it is spoken word poetry, raw and abrasive, yet honest and moving. And most importantly, to me, it tells a story -- our story.

But now, circa 2017, Chuck D's words ring truer than ever.  For it is through rap music or more importantly, hip-hop culture that my sons are learning who they are.  It is through this musical revolution that they are able to connect and learn the stories of other people who look like them.

Poets like, Tupac, Biggie, Childish Gambino, Tyler The Creator and Chance the Rapper, give voice to the experience of what it feels like to a Black American.  Hip-hop's verses explain to young people that they are members of a race that has not only survived, but thrived in spite of the many unspeakable atrocities that have been waged against us.  It is through hip-hop music and culture, that Miles and Justin have learned to reject the notion that they are inferior because they do not see their faces on “those” award show stages or in “those” films or television programs.

Hip-hop is music, but it also clothing, television, movies, food and independent films.  Hip-hop is a collective of young men and women, vibing, cooking, eating, dancing, thriving and head-bouncing to the drum beats that came over with our ancestors.  Hip-hop is more than just "rap music."  Hip-hop is powerful and alive.  It is as connecting and kinetic as anything else that I’ve ever been a part of or witnessed.  It is not only important for the education of our young men and women —  it is vital.  Through it, we are learning our stories.


Who Tells Our Stories?





“I see now why they put Black people in chains!”

My friend has called me after exiting a showing of Hamilton.  I can hear the rush of enthusiasm in her voice.

“You loved it?” My voice is just short of a shriek.  I jump up and down a bit in place and smile widely.  I want to revel with her in how amazing Hamilton is.  “I knew you would love it!”

“Oh Laura!! Look at what we can do!!” she continues.   “I mean really!  Look at what BLACK PEOPLE can do!!  That show was a triumph.  How can any show ever compare to what I just witnessed?! I’ve been ruined forever!”

“I’m with you.  I’ll never be the same again.  Scottie and I have seen it twice and it has literally changed our lives.”

*  *  *

The next day in the ocean, Scottie is explaining to two other surfers (who had seen his Hamilton Facebook post) what the big deal it is.

“It tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, you know the guy who created the treasury.  The one on the ten dollar bill.”

“I know who he is,” says one of them dryly.

“Oh, okay,” says Scottie.  “But the cool thing is that Hamilton is the most successful Broadway plays in history.  Hamilton has set and broken more records that any other stage show of any kind.”

“It’s that great, huh?” says the other one.  “Wow.”

“The really great thing,” says Scott.  “Is that the cast is almost exclusively NON WHITE.  In fact, Alexander Hamilton is Black,” Scottie laughs.  “George Washington is Black!  Can you believe it!?  It’s fantastic.”

“I don’t get it,” says one moving his wet hair out of his eyes.  “What do you mean?  Black people play Hamilton and Washington?”

“Exactly!” Says Scottie.  “And the crazy thing is it’s all hip-hop.  You would think it might be hard to follow or understand, but it wasn’t at all.  It blew me away.  My girlfriend calls it a ‘hip-hopera’.  The choreography was amazing too."

Both the men are silent for moment.

“I don’t get it,” says the other one finally.  "Why would they cast a Black guy as Hamilton?"

Scottie senses now that he is not being received in the manner that he intended.  He feels himself getting frustrated.

“Look, it's not just me who thinks its great. Again, it’s made THE MOST money of any show in history.  Nearly a million people have seen it already -- some paying upwards of three thousand dollars per seat!  The reason its great is because they're telling a story of probably the Whitest people in history -- our founding fathers.  And they while they deliberately cast actors of color, they were also just looking for real talent.  And boy did they find it! Some of the actors are Black, some are Latino, a couple are White, but after you get used to it, nothing gets lost in the translation.  You are absolutely invested in this story!”

The surfers look at each other. One of them refuses to look at Scott.  Scottie looks at both of them with incredulous eyes.

“You really just have to see it," he says again.

“Yeah, maybe,” says one as he paddles away.  “I’m not really into rap music, though...”


*  *  *

"Some people will never get it, Hon."

Scottie and I are eating dinner in our kitchen later on that night.

"They're pretty nice guys," he says shaking his head.  "But it was almost like they didn't want to get it."

"Most people don't want their minds expanded, Hon.  People don't like change.  That's what happened last November.  All those people voted to restore America to 'what it used to be.' They didn't want the change that happened during the Obama years.  But more than that, I think people just don't like change — period."

"Its fu*#in'  frustrating," he says.

"I know," I say getting up and crossing to sit down next to him.

"But you know what, Hon?   Those guys are in the minority now.  People LOVE this show.  Hamilton will live on as the most successful musical  -- ever."

Scottie is silent for a moment, then speaks again, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Its like some people just can't let go of their old idea of America long enough to see what is actually really happening right now," he says finally.   "Hamilton blurs the lines of color and race.  It reminded me of Miles's graduation this year."

"I know!" I smile.   "That graduation was crazy!  All of the faces were different colors, different races, different shades.  I was stunned. I've never been so proud."

"Right," Scottie nodded.  "Until that graduation, I had never, in real life, seen a truer representation of what America really looks like NOW.  And that's what's up with Hamilton!  Hamilton is an American play.  It isn't a 'White play' and it isn't just a 'Black play' either. Hamilton is what's really happening right now --  we are more diverse than ever.  And that's why some people are so scared.  But for me, I say it's about time."





Open correctional gates in high deserts
Yeah, open our minds as we cast away oppression
Yeah, open the streets and watch our beliefs
And when they carve my name inside the concrete
I pray it forever reads
Freedom


 Kendrick Lamar


Justin, Jeremiah and Miles at the Museum of African American History and Culture 2017











Friday, September 1, 2017

Hi, my name is Laura...


Hi, my name is Laura and I am an alcoholic. 

I’m also a writer, mother, daughter, girlfriend, sister, stepmother, friend, volunteer, mentor, political activist, cousin, Trustee Exemplar, advisory board-member, former wife, former PA President, former publicist, former assistant production coordinator, former documentary director, former “party girl,” former King Cobra girl and former receptionist/hostess.

Depending on how long or how well you know me, you may have questions about how I got to be an alcoholic or what it was like when I drank.  And depending on how well I know you, I may answer some of those questions.  

I think its important for me to tell you that I'm not trembling with angst at every social function, trying to figure out a way to break away and sneak a glass of wine.  I want you to know that I don't ever romanticize about "how much better my life would be" if I could join you at the bar for a high ball or a lemon drop (although I really used to like those).  I don't feel sorry for myself because I "can't" drink.   But I know to some of you, it may seem like drinking is some kind of privilege that has been stripped away from me.  And the fact is that, yes.  I did like to drink very much (and take pills).  But after they stopped working, it took a very long time (years) for me to finally give up on trying to get them to work again.  And during those years, I hurt and pushed away everyone who loved me.  I didn't like living like that.  I didn't like who I had become.  After I got sober,  I recoiled from alcohol as if from a hot flame. Drinking scared me.  I didn't long for it.  In fact, I was absolutely terrified of who I might become if I took even one drink or one pill. Some years later, I find myself in the promised position of neutrality when it comes to alcohol.  I'm no longer tempted nor terrified by it.  It is just there.  But it is not for me. And I'm completely fine with that.

Also please bear in mind, that I am speaking for myself only (and a little for Scottie). But here are some things I can tell you about my alcoholism/recovery without you having to ask:

You can drink around me

If you we’re out to dinner, you can feel free to order a drink (or three).  While I appreciate the consideration, (really I do) PLEASE don’t not have a cocktail on our account. In fact, if you want to, you can get totally drunk.  It’s really okay.  Ironically your concern about how to make Scottie and I feel comfortable at dinner or at a party, usually serves to make us more uncomfortable. On a side note,  I’ve found that outrageously drunk people, while sometimes entertaining, often make less than enjoyable dinner companions for the one(s) who are abstaining.  But as far as my sobriety goes, rest assured — your indulging in a few cocktails while we’re together won’t jeopardize it.


It’s actually an allergy

So, yeah - I’m literally allergic to alcohol (there’s a joke in program that goes something to the effect of “I’m allergic to booze -- when I drink it I break out in handcuffs")!

Just think of me like you would any friend who’s allergic to say, shellfish.   You’re probably not going to make a big deal about eating a shrimp in front of that person or fret too much about whether or not to order the crab salad at dinner.  It doesn’t have to be some taboo subject, you know?  I’m simply allergic to alcohol. Of course, there are also other components (obsession of the mind and a spiritual malady), but my point is that I am bodily allergic to alcohol.  Once I take that first drink, I am powerless over what happens next.  But you don’t have to worry about protecting me from your alcohol.  Have a drink!  I’m good.



You can invite me to go to Las Vegas or The Wine Country, but I will probably decline:

I don’t drink, smoke, gamble (or shop or spa recreationally), so a trip to Vegas sounds about as appealing to me as the five-hour car ride in bumper-to-bumper traffic that it takes to get there.  And since I’ve been sober, I’ve really just found it to be too loud, too dark, too smoky and generally kind of skeevy (Although I could maybe be persuaded to fly in for a day to see Michael Jackson “One” by Cirque du Soleil.)  I do love me some MJ…

As for wine country, which sounds really fun and romantic in theory. The whole point of being there is to partake in wine tastings and whatnot.  So what’s pitched to me as a relaxing, picturesque weekend with amazing food, in actuality, can turn into a whole weekend of me having to politely cover my glass with my hand and say, “No thank you, I don’t drink” over and over again.  Also, I find that hanging out with a bunch of drinkers in wine country is just kind of boring without a buzz.


I don’t ingest anything that changes me from the neck up

I don’t vape, smoke cigarettes, smoke weed (or do edibles or oils).  I avoid all narcotic pain meds (i.e., Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet) and I’ve stayed clear of any kind of sleeping pills or anxiety medicine (like Ambien Xanax and Klonopin).  Obviously I don’t partake in any kind of illegal amphetamines (speed, meth, cocaine). But I also won't take your prescription Adderall or Ritalin.  I don’t take NyQuil (it’s a like a full shot of alcohol!) or drink “non alcoholic beer” (we have a saying in program that non-alcoholic beer is for non-alcoholics).  I don’t drink Kombuchas (if you don't know why, just Google it) and for totally different reasons, I don’t even drink coffee anymore.  I don’t drink those special “natural” teas brewed from opiate or amphetamine-like derivatives that are supposed to be “calming” or give you “energy” (like Khat or Kava).  And while we’re on the subject, I don’t drink energy drinks either.  But I do eat chocolate.  Don’t judge me - I know that’s a drug.  I also eat sugar, which is totally a drug. Okay, fine — you're right!  Judge away!


You don’t have to feel bad for me because I "can't" have a glass of champagne at your wedding:

If you invite Scottie and I to your wedding we will dance, eat too much and perhaps over indulge on wedding cake.  We will “ooh” and “ahh” and maybe even get teary when you say your vows.   We may sit down and laugh with our table-mates while taking pictures of your flower girls.  We will watch with curiosity as the drama unfolds when your uncle or cousin reappears after having had “one too many.”  But please don’t be offended when Scottie and I say our goodbyes soon after the first dance.  But after all that food and cake, we’ll just want to get home, get in bed and watch Homeland or Game of Thrones.  And while we really don’t miss champagne at all — its nice when our hosts have some sparkling cider on hand for those who don’t partake (I also love a good “mocktail” menu at a wedding!)


Don’t smile condescendingly and say “good for you!” when I tell you that I don’t drink

I know you mean well.  I also know you probably just don’t know what else to say.  But the fact is that I’m not in recovery to get yours or anyone else’s approval.  I don’t drink because I made a decision nine-plus years ago to choose life.  I don’t drink because I have my best life ever now.  It’s not punitive or shameful.  It’s also not a badge of honor.  It’s just my life. And while it is in fact “good for me,” and I say this respectfully, please don't point it out while giving me a thigh pat or a mini fist pump.


Feel free to talk to me about the problem drinker in your life (even and especially if that person is you)

The most crucial call to action in recovery is our charge to pass our experience strength and hope along to anyone that wants (or wants to want it).  So I am more than happy to share my story with you when it’s warranted.  And I’m equally happy to simply to listen if that's all you need or want instead.  What ever is required, I will do my best to be of service.  So please don’t be too polite, shy, ashamed or afraid to bring it up.  People in recovery are great respecters of confidentiality (it is sacred to us as well as essential for healing from this terrible disease).  And more than likely, any horrible, scary thing that you have to say will probably sound perfectly normal to me.  

Again, this is just me talking.  I can't and don't speak for anyone else in recovery (well, again, except for Scottie).  I just wanted you to know this about me in case you were wondering what it is like for me to live life as a sober person.  I hope you that if you were confused or had any notions of how hard it must be to live without alcohol (believe me, I could NEVER have imagined it!) -- that this might have helped to clear it up or expel them.  Because as I said at the top, it is true -- I am an alcoholic.  But it is because I'm in recovery that I'm able to be that and so much more. 

#grateful

Please share this with anyone you know who may be struggling with their (or someone else's) addiction or recovery.  Also, please leave your own "do's and don'ts" for me in the comments.  Thank you!


Friday, August 25, 2017

How love (and food) helped me to make friends with my mortal enemy - the ocean

1972


My kids-sized, red and navy beach towel is wrapped around my shoulders.   My hair, which was once in braids has been undone by the ocean waves and is plastered down on my face and neck.  I shift uncomfortably on a small, gray, beach towel that feels as though it's been washed too many times without fabric softener.  I grimace when I move, because the gritty, yellow sand feels like it's taking my skin off "down there."  I want to lift my butt cheek off of the towel and empty the sand out of my bathing suit, but I'm just too cold to move.  I look around for my mom but I don't see her.

She must have gone to the bathrooms down the beach.

I can't feel my hands, so I cup them over my lips and nose and blow in them to create some warmth.  Without making any obvious movements, I look over to my right to make sure that I haven't aroused the curiosity of my stepfather, Kenny.  But he seems to be occupied by a game of catch with his brother, Paul and his cousin Emerson a few yards away.  Satisfied that he's not checking for me at that moment, I turn my attention to back to my blue fingertips.  Just then, my step-cousin, Jay Jay, comes running up from the waves, screaming with delight.  He rushes over to me and sprays me in the face with chunks of sand as he skids to a stop in front of my towel, his bathing trunks dripping the 50 degree ocean water on to my bare feet.

"Come on Laura," he implores, "what are you doing out? Come back in the water."

I'm shivering too hard to speak.  I shake my head furiously and mouth the word "no."

Jay leans in closer toward my face.  His expression is one of genuine confusion.  He places one of his ice cold hands on my arm.

"What's wrong?  You don't want to go back in?"

"I'm frreeeezzzing," I say finally.  "Its too, too, too cold."

"What's too cold, the water?"

I nod again.  I'm irritated with his wide-eyed innocent act about the temperature of this water.  All summer long,  I try to stay as far as possible from that ice bath they call the ocean and each day we're at the beach, little Jay Jay runs around trying to pretend like the ocean is something we both like.

"Laura, Laur," Aunt Becky's voice reminds me of the syrup Jay Jay pooled all over his blueberry pancakes that morning.

"Do you mind going back in with Jay Jay? He was really looking forward to you guys getting to play in the ocean today."

I squint up her, unable to really see her face against the sun.

"Sorry, Aunt Becky.  I'm too cold."

"I know you guys are in The Cape for another couple of weeks, Laur.  But you know we're leaving tomorrow.  Jay Jay starts 2nd grade next week,  (she reaches down lovingly and pats his wet, curly head) so today is our last day."

I suck my teeth and look down at my numb, frost bitten, water-wrinkled toes.

I wish I was leaving tomorrow.  I hate it here.

"I already did go in with him." My voice is almost inaudible against the crash of the waves and the din of the other families chattering excitedly on all of the other beach blankets.

I glare over Jay Jay's way and lift my head so they can both hear me.

"I went in once, Jay -- just like we agreed."

"You were in like 5 minutes!" Jay Jay's voice is just short of a screech.  The noise catches the attention of Kenny, who tosses the football away and plods over to the three of us.

I keep staring at my toes and shake my head again. I feel my insides stealing for the inevitable stand-off.

"I'm not going back in," I say under my breath.

"You will go in with Jay Jay," says Kenny.  The impatience in his voice is visceral.  I literally dig in my heels as he tries to grab the edge of my towel with a jerky motion.    "They're going back to New Jersey tomorrow," he says nudging me hard in the back with his knee so that I'm forced to move forward.  "It's their last day at The Cape."

Panic starts to boil so quickly in my stomach that it feels like a cramp.  Seized with desperation, I whip my head around, looking for my mom again, but don't see her.  Finally I look at him with what I hope is a pitiful look.  Just to be sure, I poke out my lower lip.

"But I'm freezing. And I already went in."

"Didn't I just said that you're going in?"  This time there's a definite warning in his voice.  I look over at Aunt Becky to see if she's heard it too.  But she is just staring at Jay Jay, who dancing around in a circle like he has to pee.

"Come on Laura!  Come in the water! Come on Laura.  Come in the water," he chants.

My goose fleshed skin sings as Kenny strips the towel completely from my shoulders.  I feel like I've just been thrust naked into an ice storm.  Slowly I get up, keeping my arms crossed over my stomach to quell the ache and to keep from being completely exposed to what feel like arctic crosswinds coming off of the ocean.

"Yay!"  Jay Jay raises his arms in triumph. "Thank you, Kenny!" he beams at my stepfather. "Thank you, Laura!"

I hate him.  I hate all of them.

The break is colder than I remember.  I steel myself against the surf as each, 6-Ft, foamy whitecap whips itself agains my 70-pound frame and tries to take me under.  I spend every second I'm in there fighting being taken in above my thighs, jumping up every few moments to avoid being splashed above my bikini bottoms.  My feet and ankles grow numb within seconds.  My teeth are chattering uncontrollably.

15 minutes later, I'm allowed to return to the shore because Jay has stepped on razor clam shell in the surf and cut his foot.

Hallelujah

"I told you we should have gone out further, Laura," he says between tearful hiccups.   Aunt Becky is wrapping him up in a large, downy-looking, towel that smells fresh from the dryer.

"And I told you I wasn't going in above my knees," I say angrily.

"Hey!" the syrup is gone from Becky's voice.  "You two cut it out!  Jay, let me see your foot."

I settle back down onto my now ruined-with-sand-and-cold water beach towel.  I feel tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

I want to go home — not to the Cape house.  I want to go back to Cambridge.

"There you are!" The sound of my mother's voice looses a few of the waiting tears from my eyes.  I don't bother to wipe them from my cheeks.  I want her to see what "they've" done to me.

"Hey..." her voice softens when she sees my face.  She looks from me to Jay, who is now howling with pain as Becky sprays Bactine on the bottom of his foot.  "What happened here?  Why are you guys crying?"

"Jay, Jay cut his foot," I say dismissively, looking up at her.  "I just didn't want to go in, I told them but they made me..."

Suddenly I am silenced by the savory aroma coming from the small, overflowing, greasy, white bag that my mother has in her hand.

With a glance, I can see that she has tartar sauce and ketchup packs in her other hand.  I scramble to suck in the saliva that is edging out of my mouth before it hits my chin.

Fried clams....

"Who made you go in?"  My mom's face is full of concern as she glances nervously over toward Kenny.  I want to bask in her sympathy and the safety of her mommy-love but the fried clams have put me into a trance.  I find that my hands have dropped my soggy towel on their own and are now reaching up for the bag.

"Mommy! You got me clams!"

My mom laughs (that great laugh she has like she just can't help herself).  She hovers down and hands me the bag and the tartar sauce.

"I thought you'd be hungry after all the time in the ocean.  I drove over to the Clam Shack. I almost thought the Rambler wasn't going to make it back.  We might need to head back home early and take it to our garage to get checked out...."

Her voice fades away into the distance as I pop the first clam in my mouth.  Too late, I realize that I've forgotten to test it first with my tongue.

Agghh!

The clam sears the roof of my mouth but I don't care, I so grateful for the heat of it.  I shove another one in before I finish chewing, blowing out my cheeks and sucking in air dramatically to cool off the steamy bite.  The spicy, salty, unctuous crumble of the crisp batter and the briny, chewiness of the clams fill me with feeling that warms my whole body.  I want to leap off of my towel and dive head first into the bottom of my clam bag, absorbing all of its yumminess and warmth.  I smile broadly up at my mother and lean my cold, dripping, head against her bare leg.



*  *  *

1975


The line at the first gas station is too long so we stop at the one near the beach.  Mumbling something about "OPEC," my dad gets out and wrestles the huge, deflated, orangey/red, whitewater raft out of the back of the car and walks in between the lines of cars with Florida license plates, dragging the raft behind him.

I lean out of the open window so that my stomach rests on the edge of the panel.  I am spellbound with anxious curiosity as my dad proceeds to fill the raft with the tire pump near the bathrooms.  A woman with bright orange lipstick walks by my dad wearing a cut off shorts and a tank top that reads, "Fort Myers: City of Palms."

Did they mean for the two palm trees to go right there?

My dad and I both turn for a moment to watch her walk by before looking back at the raft. I watch in amazement as the raft twists and grows — like a monster coming to life.  Soon the red, rubber is taut and shiny and the raft stands taller than he does.  I shout through the window at the top of my lungs.

"Come on Daddy!  Let's go!"

My dad laughs as he hoists the raft into the back of the station wagon and pushes it toward the front.

"We're 3 minutes away," he smiles as he slides behind the wheel.

It feels like it takes hours for my dad to unpack the car.  I wait impatiently while he spreads an old, faded bed spread down on the sand.  This is my second summer in a row down here in Florida with him.  I never knew that a beach could be so -- warm.  We'd been every day of the summer so far.

I start hopping up and down in place while I wait for him to carefully put his camera in a paper shopping bag (which he also places on the blanket) and then takes off his t-shirt, folds it and then places it into the bag on top of the camera.  I have already wiggled out of my shorts and am standing on the soft, white, warm sand with my arms outstretched towards him.

"Daddy!"  My voice cracks with impatient anguish.

Finally, he grabs the towline of the raft in one hand and grabs my hand in the other.  He looks down at me with a mischievous smile.

"Race you!"

Together we both run toward the ocean as fast as we can.  My heart is beating out of my chest and I want to stop, but the full-of-air raft bouncing on the sand behind us gives me a thrill like we are being chased.  I scream at the top of my lungs for no reason as my dad slows down at the water's edge.  While he keeps going, I come to a full stop in the wet sand before the waves hit my feet.  My dad keeps running in, making several large splashes before diving in head first.  I watch amazed and frightened as the raft line in his hand acts like a floating device, pulling him back to the surface.  His afro flattens as he pops out of the water, framing his face with S-shaped squiggles.

"Come on!" he says, waving me in. "It's really warm, like 80-degrees."

I take a tentative step forward and gasp as a wave rushes over my toes.  My eyes are squinched shut and every muscle in my body is tense and I brace myself for the inevitable, unpleasant chill of my old enemy — the ocean. 

"It's not that freezing Cape Cod water," shouts my dad.  "Fort Myers is on the gulf of Mexico. Warm water, white sand..."

It's not cold.  It's not cold.  It's not cold! Get in!

I splash toward him at full speed, collapsing in to his arms once I get within range.  He holds the raft steady while I climb into it.  I slip around the inside of the raft like a fresh caught mackerel on the fishing boat deck.  I'm giggling uncontrollably as I start pinging off the sides like I'm the ball in a pinball machine.

He peeks over the side and me with a funny face as though he's confused by my giggle fit.

"Uhhh, what's so funny in here?" he smiles.

"Daddy!  Let's go!" I shout.

"Oh, are you ready?"

"Yes!"

"Okay..."

My dad's arm muscles pop as he turns toward the waves and runs out as far as he can before he dives in and swims, towing me in the raft after him.  Once we've passed the break, he surfaces, taking in big gulps of air.  He nods at me and turns the raft around while he treads water.  Suddenly, before I can steady myself, a wave picks the raft up and carries me toward the shore at top speed.  I scream with fear and delight as the raft gets tossed around like a toy.  Finally, thoroughly soaked and hoarse from screaming, I end up on the sand.  My dad has been swimming underwater behind the raft, he surfaces beside me with a concerned look.

"Hey..."

My mouth is full of water.  I sputter a little and turn towards him with my arms out.

"Laura?"

He lifts me out of the raft and hugs me close, careful to make sure he holds on to the raft's towline at the same time.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

I cough two or three times before I can answer him.  My water-slicked arms are clasped around his neck and my long legs dangle into the raft at our feet.  I look at him in the eyes with a pained expression before breaking into the widest grin I can manage between sputters.

"Again!"

Later that day, I am sitting at my dad's kitchen table watching him make dinner.  The setting sun paints the room a brilliant orangish pink and makes  the sand on my dad's brown arms  glimmer with hundreds of rainbow flecks.  I'm fascinated by his muscles as he tears the iceberg lettuce for our shrimp salads.  Still sandy myself, I wiggle around in my bathing suit and shorts at the table like I'm being eaten by fire ants.

"Daddy!  I'm starving!"

My dad laughs and pulls several large, pink shrimp from a container and throws them into the salad bowl with firm, red tomatoes and the lettuce.  My mouth actually waters as he gets the mayonnaise jar out of the refrigerator and picks up a table spoon.

Finally, our fresh shrimp salad is ready to eat.  He places a large bowl in front of me and I attack it without a word.  The first bite of buttery, tender shrimp causes me to close my eyes and pause mid-chew.  The lettuce is crisp and fresh.  The tomatoes are so firm and red they could be eaten like apples.  My dad and I both eat silently, faces down in our bowls until they are empty.  He looks up at me with a smile as I stuff the last bite in my mouth.

"More?" he says

"Yes!" I nod, still chewing.  "Please Daddy!"


*  *  *

Costa Rica, 2012


"You're doing great, Honey,"

I try to scowl over towards Scottie and lose my balance on the surf board.  I laugh as I fall because I land with a thud onto the sand.  My surf instructor walks over and offers me his hand.  I look back over at Scottie as I accept it.

This man has got to know how much I love him.  He's got me out here learning to surf!

Scottie walks over to me and kisses my cheek, asking Emmanuel if he thinks I'm ready to try it in the water.

"Be patient with her man," Scottie says in a confidential tone.  "She hasn't spent too much time in the ocean."

"Yes, I have!" I protest.  I grew up in the ocean - We had a house in Cape Cod and I spent summers in with my dad in Ft. Myers and Ft. Lauderdale.

"Excuse me," said Scottie.  "She's right.  What I meant is that she hasn't spent much time in the ocean as an adult."

"Oh," I fight the usual flash of irritation that consumes me when he's right.  I can feel my mouth setting into a straight line. I avoid looking either of them in the eye.

Emmanuel's brown eyes grow big with disbelief.  He looks from me to Scottie and back.

"But you guys live in Cali, right?  You don't surf?"

Scottie laughs and puts his hand on his shoulder.

"I surf," he says.  "She most definitely does not."

"Wow!" says Emmanuel turning toward me with a look of quiet astonishment.  Then as if he's just remembered that he's my surf instructor, he snaps his fingers and points to me.

"So what do you think?  You ready to get out on some waves?"

I gulp and look toward the emerald green water.  The waves are calm, almost non existent.  Emmanuel has assured me that the water is warm "like bath water."  I look over toward Scott and nod.

"Are you coming out with me, Hon?"

Scott shakes his head.  "I can't really surf over here, Hon.  There aren't any waves."  He points about a quarter mile down the beach with the short board that he's rented for the day.  "Emmanuel says I can catch a break over there."

I squint and adjust my eyes so that I can see the 15 or 20 surfers on their boards where he points.  They look like ants to me, or floating heads...

But I don't want to surf without you!

"Okay," I say with false cheeriness.  "I guess I'm ready then."

Emmanuel grabs up our boards and starts walking toward the water.  I turn to face Scottie and kiss him goodbye.

Maybe forever...

"I'm not leaving you yet, Hon" says Scott.  He's holding me close to him.  I can smell the sweet, zinc scent of sun screen on his skin.  His breath smells faintly like the dark, Costa Rican coffee we'd had in the car on the way over.

"But I'm gonna grab some shots of you surfing first," he says picking up his camera.

Yay!

"Good," I smile, kissing him on the lips.  "Make sure you get me once I stand up!"

I'm happy to find that it's not too hard to get in.  The water is warm, not as warm as the gulf of Mexico, but it's more than fine.  In no time I'm up to my shoulders.  Emmanuel, who is long and brown glides like a seal out into the waves.  I lay down on my board and paddle behind him as fast as I can, trying to keep up.

I'm out of breath by the time we get to where we're going.  He spins me around on my board so that I'm facing the beach and coaches me through the first wave.

"All right now, wait for it, wait for it - Go! Go! Pop up NOW!"

Where's Scottie?  I don't see him.

Throughout the first half hour, I'm off the board far more than I'm on it.  After my thirteenth or fourteenth dunk under the waves, my topknot has come undone and I've swallowed so much water that I feel it my sloshing around in my stomach.  My soaking wet rash guard is sticking to my skin and the light breeze that has started to blow causes me to cross my arms across my chest while I'm sitting up on the board waiting for waves.  Soon, my teeth begin to chatter a little and I get that familiar ache and panicky feeling in my stomach.

Where's Scottie?  

"Maybe I should go in for a while," I say, trying to sound casual.

Plus I'm starving...

 I look toward the shore, hoping to see someone selling tamales, but instead I see my Scottie waving at me from the beach.

There he is! 

I can't see the expression on his face, but his body looks positively celebratory.  He's jumping up and down with his arms raised above his head.

"Whoo hoo, Honey!" he yells.  "I''m so proud of you!  You're doing great!!"

He thinks I'm doing great?  Maybe he didn't see me drowning out here...

But something about his excitement brings up an unexpected wave of emotion and I feel the familiar sting of tears behind my eyes.

He's so happy that I'm out here.  He's... proud of me.

"Ready to get out now?" says Emmanuel reaching for my board. "I'll carry your board in for you."

"No, not yet," I say thoughtfully, still looking at Scottie.  "I think I'll go for the rest of the hour."

For the next 45 minutes I concentrate on giving myself over to the warm waves.

Flow with the wave — don't fight it.   Don't be scared.

By my second or third attempt,  when Emmanuel says, "POP UP NOW!"  I find that I can get up and balance longer than ever.   My rides to the shore begin to remind me of those moments on the raft with my dad all those years ago.  Thirty minutes later, when I've tumbled off and taken a particularly forceful header into the ocean, Emmanuel swims over with a sense of urgency and grabs my elbow, careful to untangle my ankle line at same time.

"Are you okay?" he says.  "That was a quite a fall."

I'm coughing and trying to get my legs underneath me.  I nod my head, but it's a second before I can answer him.

"Again!" I say with a smile.

As we are exiting the water with our boards, I feel giddy with the rush of my experience in the water.    I can't wait to tell Scottie how great it was.

"Thank you so much Emmanuel," I say giving him a hug.

"Great job," he says giving me a high five.  "You were really surfing out there!"

Scottie comes walking up to us, looking at me as though I've just won a surf contest.

"Honey!" He throws a towel around my shoulders and hugs me close to him.

"You saw me, Hon?!"

"Honey, you were amazing! Did you like it?"

I'm nodding yes and kiss him.  I just about to tell him how it reminded me of this raft rides in Ft. Myers, when I'm suddenly assaulted by the most gorgeous smell.  I look around frantically for the source and see two paper plates covered with aluminum foil sitting on our beach towel.

I point numbly to the plates and look up at him with excitement.

"What's that, Hon?"

"Um, they call it 'Casado,' I think."  He looks over at Emmanuel for confirmation.  "I got them from a guy down the beach."

"Si," Emmanuel smiles.  "A Casado is usually rice and black beans and maybe plantain and a..."

"Yeah!" Says Scottie.  "That's exactly what it is, rice beans, plantain and pork chop."

I've already popped the aluminum foil off and am sitting on the blanket,  looking around for a fork and napkin as I breath in the heavenly smell.

"Um, did you get forks, Hon?"

Scottie laughs and joins me on the towel as he hands me a fork.

"Here you go, Hon."

The fluffy rice produces a steam cloud when I stick my fork into it.  The creamy, dark, black beans make a gravy that cause me to smile.  The plantains are so sweet and soft that they almost melt in my mouth.  I lean over and rest my head on Scottie's shoulder.

"Thank you, Honey. I was so hungry."

"Thank you, Honey" he says looking deliberately into my eyes.  "I know your history with the ocean and I know this was really big deal for you. Thank you for doing this, Hon.  Thank you for trying surfing today."







I was inspired to write this blog by my fellow writer and blogger, Riva di Paola-Lombardi, who wrote this gorgeous piece, "Living in Motion," on her experience with water as a child.  Please check it out if you get a chance (it's a really quick read!) https://gorubygarnay.com/2017/07/18/living-in-motion/

Do you have your own love/hate affair with the water or the ocean?  Please leave it for me in the comments.  I'd love to hear your story!




























Friday, August 11, 2017

How can you tell if someone is a vegan?



I can feel my breasts bouncing around wildly under my thin, cloth gown.  I glance over to the two men in lab coats standing with their arms folded to my left.  I want to place one of my arms under my breasts to keep them from flailing about, but they've told me to keep my arms in "L-shape" fast-walking motion.

They do this all day long.  They're not worried about your boobs.

"Turn it up a little," said Dr. Kivowitz, without a hint of a smile.

Hmmmm....

The ultrasound technician walks over and adjusts my treadmill.  Suddenly the air is filled with a loud, urgent-sounding whirring noise.  I take in a big gulp of air and try to fill my lungs down to my stomach like they'd instructed me to do earlier.  My legs are going so fast that I'm not sure that I'll be able to keep it up.  I picture the opening montage of the Six Million Dollar Man where Steve Austin runs on the treadmill from zero to sixty in under 2 seconds, causing TVs across America to blur and wave in the wake of his superhuman speed.

"BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER, THAN BEFORE...."

Both men move closer to the monitor next to me, nodding their heads along with my heart beat-display on the screen. Suddenly it feels like my lungs are filled with ice.  I don't know if I can take in a full breath.

No wonder they call this a "stress test!" I'm SOOOO out of shape!  I'm going to have to jump off! 

"Now!"Dr. Kivowitz's voiced booms out over the whine of the treadmill.

Thank God.

Dr Kivowitz moves dramatically aside as the technician turns the treadmill off and gently holds my left arm while he guides me down.  I am led quickly to an exam table in the next room where my gown is thrown aside so the he can get right up to my chest with his ultra sound wand.  EKG wires attached to adhesive buttons now surround both of my boobs (which are now completely exposed, but neither of them seem to care).  I can see my heart trying to leap out of my chest. I want to avoid their stern faces so I look up towards the ceiling and try to look unfazed.

The technician is silent for what seems an eternity.  My doctor stands back and watches a screen that's just out my line of sight.  The technician calls out a few numbers.  I hold my breath and try to hear the tone and inflection in my doctor's response.  Their voices are clinical, neither alarming nor encouraging.  I remain on tipped on my side (not the best position for my bare boobs) and wait for a verdict.

"Get dressed," he says finally, planting his feet in front of me while he reads the printout that the technician handed him.  His face conveys zero emotion.

Why do those two words kind of make me feel like some floozy street-walker from one of those old, black and white movies?

"Get dressed, Toots!  Go on -- get your clothes on.  My wife will be here any minute!"

"I'll meet you in my office,"  he says.

This time there's a gentleness to his voice.  I'm left alone to clumsily re-tie my open-back gown.


*  *  *

"Your heart looks great," he says, once I've sat in the big, leather armchair opposite his desk. "I don't see any cause for concern."

I am surprised to find tears springing into my eyes.

I guess somewhere inside I was worried that I would get different news...

"Oh good," I say gratefully.  "So, I'm all clear?"

"Well," he says picking up my chart, "not quite.  You do have some tiny specks of plaque in your carotid artery."

"Oh?" I feel the skin on my chest getting tight.  I take in a deep breath.  Suddenly, I can actually hear the blood drumming through the large vein on the right side of my neck.   I clasp my hands together in front of me and try not to look so petrified.

"It's not much now," he says waving his hand dismissively.  "But in 20, 30 years, this could cause you some problems."

In 20 years I'll be 70.  I don't want to have stroke when I'm 70.  I don't EVER want to have a stroke!

"Okay," I croak.  I clear my throat.  "So, what do I do?"

"Well," he says decidedly.  "I want you to take some preventative action NOW."

Preventative action?? Sh%$!  He wants to put me on medication!  I REALLY do NOT want to go on medication.

"I'd like for you to start eating less animal products," he says calmly.  "Stay away from red meat, egg yolks and cheese made from cow's milk.  Try to eat more vegetables than anything.  In fact, as much as possible, try to eat a plant-based diet."

No medication?!  YES!!! And I can TOTALLY do less animal products. This will be a cinch!!

"And that's all?" I ask.  I can hear the smile in my voice.  He smiles too.

"For now," he says cautiously.  "Let's see you back again in six months and see how your cholesterol and blood pressure are -- we'll also do another echocardiogram in the spring.  Then we'll see if we need to put you on any medication. But for now, like I said — really try to eat more of a plant-based diet."


*  *  *

"I've always said I should be a vegetarian," I say to Scott excitedly as I'm driving home.  "I could never kill anything.  In fact, I can't even eat any meat unless its disguised — like a cutlet.  I can't eat anything with moving parts."

"I know, Hon." He says patiently.  "I'm the one who cuts the chicken off the bone for you while you look away from the plate, remember?"

"I know, aren't you the sweetest? But I think this won't be a big deal for me.  There are so many vegan restaurants, food products, even vegan ice cream parlors.  This is the golden age of vegan!  I mean, I couldn't have picked a better time to do this, you know?"

"So," he says flatly.  "That's it? You're going vegan?"

"I mean, yeah.  Maybe not today, but my goal is to get animal-product free within this year."

 "Wow,"  He says.  "Are you on your way home now?"

"I'm going to straight to Whole Foods!" I hear my voice scaling up. "They have a whole vegan foods section!  I can buy all of my groceries for the rest of the week!"

"Okay," he says again.  I am curious about the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.

He doesn't really understand why this is so great!

"Okay, I'll see you soon, Hon!"

My small shopping cart is full by the time I go to check-out.  I have 6-different kinds of vegan cheese, vegan sausage, vegan mayonnaise, vegan chorizo, vegan hot dogs, tofu and seitan (a vegan protein substitute made from wheat gluten — not the guy with horns from the underworld).  I have quinoa, couscous and farro.  I have zucchini, kale, olives and avocados.

I have vegan, sprouted wheat bread that has to stay refrigerated because its ALIVE.

I burst into the kitchen from the garage with two full grocery bags.  Immediately I know something is wrong.  I smell it even before I see him.

Scottie is making chicken meatballs with red sauce!

The smell awakens an unfamiliar panic in my stomach.  I force a smile on to my face as I unpack basically every item from the vegan section onto our kitchen counter.

"I got hungry so I made some dinner," says Scott as he sprinkles parmesan cheese on the salad he's just finished chopping.  "I've made enough for you if you want."

"No, I'm really excited to eat some of this vegan food," I say with a flash of irritation.

I put my groceries away and then slice open two vegan hot dogs, stuffing them with vegan "pepper jack" cheese and put them in my toaster oven.  I then toast two pieces of pieces of vegan sprouted bread and slather them both with vegan mayonnaise.  When the toaster oven "dings," I pull out the hot dogs and wrap them up in the mayonnaise-bread.

"Those look good," says Scott, dragging a fork-speared meatball through the red sauce on the bottom of his pasta bowl.  "Hot dogs, huh?"

I shrug, not wanting to meet his curious gaze.

I take a big bite of the "hot dog" as soon as I sit down at the table.  I freeze mid-chew -- all at once, I become very conscious of the look on my face.

This "cheese" doesn't taste at all like cheese and the hot dog is rubbery and its still cold in the middle.

"How is it?" asks Scott innocently, stuffing a forkful of salad into his mouth.

I hate him

"Pretty good," say.  Taking great effort to swallow normally.  "I think I'm going to try and make a tofu scramble for breakfast."

"Sounds good Hon," he says with a wink.


*  *  *

"How can you tell if someone's a vegan?"

I'm sitting with my friend, Victoria at the vegan, Mexican restaurant, Gracias Madre.  Victoria is the picture perfect California vegan.  Her blond hair is pulled back into a ponytail.  She wears a white, ribbed tank top, loose fitting pants and mala beads around her neck.  Her make-up-free face is dewy with a healthy, vibrant glow.  She and her husband, Tamal, have one of the most successful yoga studios in the country and she's created her own brand called, Nourishment Now. You can you look up Nourishment Now on Youtube and Instagram and see how she makes all of these amazing vegan recipes for her family.  Victoria and I have been friends since my kids were little, since before their son was born.  I love and admire how she's chosen to live her life.  Victoria always makes me presents of yummy vegan desserts that I would swear are full of lard and white sugar.  And although she's never once pushed me to embrace her lifestyle for myself, she's always left the door open for me to explore.

"I don't know," she smiles.  "How can you tell if someone is a vegan?"

"Don't worry — they're going to FU@#in' tell you!" I laugh.

She waits a beat then laughs with me, revealing a two perfect rows of white teeth.

"It's so true," she laughs.  "Vegans will totally tell you everything about the way they eat the moment you meet them!"

"I'm not going to be like that," I say putting a piece of cauliflower dripping with cashew "cheese" into my mouth.  "I'll never wear it like a badge."

Victoria puts her fork down and looks at me with big eyes.

"Are you -- are you going vegan?!"

I look back at her with a look that says, "Duh!" as I extend my arms, indicating the restaurant around us.

"Uhh, yeah! Look at this yumminess," I say.  "I could eat this every day!"

"Well, this is huge," she says raising her sparkling clear water glass like she's toasting me.

"Yeah," I say.  "Well, it was either this or risk going on medication.  And I don't want to go on medication, so my doctor said I should try to eat less animal products."

"Less or none?" she asked.

"Well, he said less — but I'm really heading toward eating none."

"That's really great!  How long have you been, um, eating LESS?"

I look toward the ceiling so that I can calculate.

I saw Dr. Kivowitz in August, so what's that?  Four, five months?

"Almost six months!" I say (rounding up) proudly.

"Wow!" she said.  "And I'm just hearing about this now?"

"I wanted to try it on first.  See what it was like."

"And?"

I open my mouth to regale her with more tales of how much I love vegan food and how I'm totally animal-product-free now, but I close my mouth again and take a breath.

I think about the containers of unopened vegan cheese and sausage that I had to throw out because I'd put off eating them for so long that they'd expired.  I think about the seitan that was too salty and the tofu that was too bland.  I think about the rubbery, tasteless hot dogs.  I think about the five-pounds that I'd gained as a result of eating copious amounts of cashews, quinoa, farro and couscous.  I think about how many chicken and sage Applegate sausages and egg whites I'd had for breakfast in the last few months because Scottie made "extra."  I think of how many of Miles's "snout to tail" meals I've eaten because he'd cooked yet another irresistible, Sunday, family dinner (How can I possibly say no to my carnivore son?).

Wait a second!  That's it!!  I can totally be a vegan.  I just need someone to cook for me! Maybe Victoria can cook for me!! Or maybe I just need to find a vegan restaurant that I absolutely LOVE and get all of my meals from there.  Does Veggie Grill deliver?

"Honestly, its harder than I thought," I say, pulling myself out of my revery.  "I thought the vegan hot dogs I bought from Whole Foods would taste, well more  -- like hot dogs.  I thought being a vegan would make me LOSE WEIGHT but I've gained five pounds from all those nuts and grains I've been eating.  And I hate having to cook for myself every day because no one else in my house eats the way I've been eating."

I look up sheepishly, expecting to see her face clouded with judgment.  Instead she is smiling kindly.

"It's a journey," she says, "you'll get there.  And I know what you mean about those hot dogs.  I don't buy too much pre-prepared vegan food.  I mostly make my own and it tastes SO good!  I  can give you some yummy, easy recipes."

Recipes?!  Can those come with a private chef?

"And I've brought you something too!" She continues.

She pulls out a rectangular, brown, recycled-material to-go box, tied with a pretty, white ribbon.

"Vegan chocolate mini-muffins -- your favorite!" She beams.

My stomach growls at the thought of the sweet, moist, dark chocolate muffins.  Last time she gave them to me, I devoured seven of them in the car on the way home.

"Yay!! Thank you!" I say, meaning it.  My eyes dancing with anticipation.

"I'll give you this recipe too," she says accepting my impulsive, grateful hug and kiss on the cheek.

"These are super easy to make. It's a quick bake."

Ugh - baking

 *  *  *

That night I dream that Scottie and I are eating dinner at Mastro's Steak House.  I can actually smell the savory, butteriness of the ribeye steak that comes to the table in the sizzling cast-iron pan.  I can feel the creamy, unctuous texture of the lobster macaroni and cheese against my tongue.  And before I can get a forkful of their signature, warm, butter cake into my mouth, I am rudely jolted awake by the sound of my iPhone alarm.

I walk into the kitchen, saying nothing as I observe Scottie cutting up fruit and heating up chicken breakfast sausages in coconut oil on the stove.

"Good morning!" he says looking at my expression.  "Everything ok?"

"Fine," I say, almost under my breath.  "You're making sausages again? I was going to make one of those vegan smoothies that Victoria sent me the recipe for."  I sound like a petulant five-year-old.

"Oh good!" he smiles, ignoring my obvious attempt to gain some sympathy.  "I'll take some smoothie too, Hon -- if you have extra."

Sure, what does he care?  Of course he'll take some too.  He's eating sausages and I'll bet he's having eggs with cheese as well.

"I don't know about this vegan thing," I say finally, setting my elbows on the counter and cupping my face with my hands.  "It seems so restrictive."

Scott laughs out loud. "Well, it is.  You're giving up a lot of the foods that you love.  But, Honey, I admire how hard you work at taking care of yourself, your workouts, tennis, how careful you are about what you eat.  You're doing amazing.  Maybe you don't want to try and just eliminate everything at once.  Maybe you ease into it."

"I didn't know it would be this hard, Hon.   But I really don't want to have to go on medication."
My voice is almost a whisper.  It's the second time I've uttered that sentence in 24-hours.

"Hey," he says gently chucking me under the chin.  "Maybe you should talk to your dad and see what he thinks."

"Yeah, maybe," I chew the side of my finger tip and look off into space.  "But I think I already know what he's going to say."

*  *  *

"Hello?"

For the first time in a long time, I'm reluctant to be honest with my dad.  As a doctor himself, he had already peppered me with a bunch of questions when I told him about Dr. Kivowitz's echocardiogram findings.

"What was the systolic number?  What was your total cholesterol reading?  Your LDL?  Your HDL?" 

Having been a vegetarian all of my adult life and now a vegan for the past decade or so, my dad rejoiced in the news that I was finally going to have to "go vegan" (per the suggestion of my doctor/cardiologist).  But I hadn't yet had the heart to tell him that I wasn't EXACTLY, totally on board with complete and total veganism - YET.

"So, Daddy," I say finally.  "You know I'm trying not to eat meat..."

"Good!" he says interrupting me.  "Meat is poison."

"Yes, well," I continue.  "I was thinking about maybe doing no red meat, but still eating SOME chicken and turkey for a while."

"Chicken and Turkey are the WORST things you can eat!" His voice is deep with the seriousness of the message he is trying to convey.

"The worst?" My tone is one of disbelief.  "Really, worse than red meat?"

"THE WORST," he says emphatically.

"What about fish?  I eat only wild caught salmon and tuna..."

"FISH?!?" He says FISH as though I've suggested shooting heroin.

"Fish is MEAT, Laura.  Fish is the worst of all of them!"

I smile wryly and look at my phone.

"The worst, eh?  So no red meat, no poultry and definitely no fish."

"No POISON," he says dramatically.

"What about egg whites?"

"I take it back," he says.  "Eggs may be the worst thing that you can eat --  eggs and cheese."

"Not even feta or goat cheese?  My anti-aging OBGYN says those are the only cheeses I should eat."

"Look," he says, softening his voice.  "Do you want to be free of disease?  Free of illness, less susceptible to injury?  Live, healthier, longer?  Then the answer is stop POISONING yourself with meat.  Meat eaters get diseases and have heart attacks and strokes.  Those little specks of plaque that your doctor saw?  That can all be reversed if you cut out ALL animal products and start eating a plant-based diet.  You will not need to go on medication."

"Okay, thank you, Daddy. I hear you."


*  *  *

It's now been almost two-years since that fateful stress test and I've greatly eliminated the amount of animal products I eat on a daily basis.  My last echocardiogram was much better, showing a significant reduction in the "specks" and a completely clean heart scan.

When eating out, I LOVE a vegan restaurant (RFD, Sage, Gracias Madre, Cafe Gratitude, Crossroads, Stuff i Eat, Sun Cafe, even Veggie Grill) but I'll still eat the occasional spaghetti bolognese at Jon and Vinnys or carnitas taco from Guisados.

I do make small changes toward veganism wherever possible.  For instance: Scottie and I use a non-dairy coconut creamer in our coffee each morning; I use an olive oil spread on my sprouted wheat toast (instead of butter) and I ALWAYS get my Matcha green tea with almond or coconut milk. Scottie makes Victoria's zucchini "pasta" recipe for me (he spins zucchini on a special "spiralizor," making long, thin "pasta").  I eat bowls of this with vegan pesto or just garlic, olive oil and vegan "parmesan cheese"  (so, so good!!)

I have a freezer full of vegan ice cream and "Beyond Burgers" (which I saw on TV and found at Whole Foods). I eat these vegan burgers smothered in mushrooms, onions and melted Chai vegan cheese (Triple YUM!).  And of course, I make Victoria's famous smoothies almost every morning for breakfast (which is now a favorite of all of my friends).

I'm steady working toward a healthier, hopefully disease-free life.  I know my dad is right.  I know my doctor spoke the truth.  I'm just giving myself a little more time to get there.



 Please leave me your own"going vegan" story in the comments.  I'm really curious to hear how you did it (or how you attempted to do it). Thank you!