So you may or may not know (or care) that I am in Jamaica for 5 days with my cousin, Lindsay celebrating her birthday, the birth of her first niece and our littlest cousin - Devin Claire (congratulations Courtney and Paul!) - and celebrating our general awesomeness. But I am away and desperately missing my daughter. It's amazing how this precious jewel to whom I birthed and gave life has this power over me. Even when she is in school during the day, I miss her. She is the very best of me and probably the very best I will ever do in life. (Except those times when she is whining or has bad manners. Then she is her father's daughter. He knows. He digs.)
Often when I travel for work or fun or fun work (i.e.:working on writing stuff with Ms Carrie in LA) I wear my "Anna" necklace. It was a gift for my first Mothers' Day. Very Carrie Bradshaw. And it keeps me grounded, believe it or not. I think of my Anna all the time.
So naturally, I'm wearing my Anna necklace on this vacation. And in just a few short days, I've become known as "Anna" at the resort by our activities staff friends and now the bartenders (just the dudes).
I'm hearing "Anna, why did you run away from me on the beach?" (answer: because you ass-hats tricked me into twerking on stage last night and it's too bloody early to do Jamaican dancing without appropriate coconut rum lubrication - duh!) And "Anna, can I give you another dirty banana?" (answer: yes, because that is a delicious drink even though I know you meant that in a very, very dirty way, Dwight. Gross. As if.) And my favorite, "Anna, I will give you a spa service. How would you like my deep tissue massage?" (answer: who are you Donald Trump? Bill Clinton? No thanks, but I'll take that dirty banana now.)
Even though I'd prefer not to have Jamaican dudes saying really raunchy things to me - and because I only think of the good come backs hours later - I don't mind the role of Lauren being played by someone else this week. Lauren is on vacation. Although, I'd rather it be someone besides "Anna" since she is my child, the fact that no one seems to accept that my name is anything other than Anna, is kind of ok. (For the record, I tell them my name is Lauren, but Anna just seems easier. Whatever.)
Back in the day in my 20's (like 15-20 years ago - shit, I'm a GD dinosaur), I liked to pretend I was someone else. Yes, alcohol was involved, but I found it to be a fun game. One of my great God given talents is impressions and accents (ask me to do Cher - I'm spot on!). I am told I am quite good at mimicking accents and mannerisms. And they're so right. I'm the boss of random European accents. And this is mostly because no one knows what a Romanian accent sounds like. Except Romanians. So this game can go terribly wrong in a hurry...
Flashback to 2003: my best girlfriend and I have just graduated from Law School and our good Colombian friend and work study buddy, Pilar has also graduated from her Masters' program in International something-or-other. (give me a break, I've been drinking coconut rum drinks all day! This was a long time ago.) She invites us out on a night on the town to celebrate our graduations, oh and her program-mates will be there.
Lots of cocktails and congratulations later and suddenly I am Natasha from Romania speaking to some dude from Italy who was late to the party. I don't know why. It just came out. But then Italy guy introduces me to...you guessed it, Romania guy.
"You are from Romania? I am also from Romania...(says something Romanian)..."
"Oh, I am sorry, I could not listen to your words...what you say?" I ask in my best fake Romanian accent.
"Where in Romania are you from?"
And this is where the gig is up. I'm not even confident I can remember where on the globe/map Romania is. Actually, after all the drinks I've had, I'm not even sure where my apartment is.
"Oh, I moved to Ireland (note: because I've actually been there and know stuff) when I was school age...I don't remember Romania well."
"I see, but where are you from, originally?" (Dude is not going to give up!)
Suddenly I remember Bucharest! So I say...
"Buzau?" He interrupts.
"Yes, yes." I respond. Sure. Whatever. Just make it stop.
"Me as well..." Oh, of course you are, Vladimir. (I don't know that his name was Vladimir. That just seems right. We'll go with it.)
Luckily, I was able to sneak away from that uncomfortable conversation, but it was a good lesson: if you're going to pretend to be someone else from somewhere else, make sure it's somewhere you know because chances are you're going to be talking to someone who is from that place. Murphy's Law. Or rather, my dumb luck.
And of course, that happened again. But this time I was prepared with a fantastic Irish brogue and lots of details about my hometown of Ardee, a suburb of Dublin, where I had also been. But, actually, I was originally from Northern Ireland, from Derry (yup, stayed there for 10 days in 1992 - I'm an expert!). Let me tell you, I was convincing and very charming. So I was Ms. Ireland a number of times and may or may not have convinced some Irish footballers I met at a bar in Teaneck.
Is it weird that I want to pretend to be someone else sometimes? Maybe. Like any modern girl in her 20's (when I was in my 20's), I used fake names and phone numbers to end a conversation at a bar.
"Sorry, we're leaving. Nice chatting with you, cheers..."
"Wait Katie, can I have your number?"
My friends would try to stop me from transforming into Kerri from Derry and they would often blow my cover anyway.
"Why did your friend call you Lauren?"
"Don't know. She's really drunk and stupid."
Looking back, I really don't know why I would develop these characters. Maybe I believed it made me more interesting to be someone from somewhere else. Probably, and more likely, I was bored and wanted to see how far I could take my little play acting. Then it became a weird habit like organizing my M&Ms by color and eating them in rainbow order, only green went last of course, for good luck. (Of course).
So this week, as much as I have been answering to "Anna" I've really just been me going by a different name. Perhaps I no longer have the energy or creativity to pull off a character. Maybe my weird social anxieties have dried up and I don't need to pretend to be someone else to take part in a conversation with a stranger. Really, this resort is teeming with Brits, Canadians, Irish and Italians. My chances of successfully convincing any of them that I am someone other than a white chick from Jersey are slim. Besides, I'm out of practice.
A couple of our activities friends referred to me last night as Chakira after a stellar karaoke performance (stellar might be overstating it, but I don't think I embarrassed myself like I usually do, although I chose a completely boring song, which is totally against karaoke etiquette and protocol. Nevertheless, it's the only song I could think of on the spot when the activities girl demanded "You're singing, Anna." You don't have to hand me a microphone twice.) - I do have Chakira's hair and as anyone who has seen me dance knows, my hips don't lie. Often, when I go to Mexico, I am mistaken for a girl from Chihuahua so Colombia could totally be in my wheelhouse.
"Well, that makes sense," I replied, "Because I'm Colombian," and now I have recovered my general Latin accent from a decade ago. That familiar, exciting rush comes over me as I gather my best Spanish phrases in my head, ready to use them at a moment's notice. Thank you Señora Montanye, mom and Spanish for Dummies.
"You are?" my Jamaican friend asks with wide, impressed eyes. "Habla espanol?
"Si, un poquito por que mi madre es de Colombia." - That's what I wanted to say in my head, instead I replied:
"No. I'm just Anna from New Jersey." It was late and I had to pee.
I lied on my drivers license when I obtained it at 17. For 23 years, I have been walking around with a lie in my wallet. I'm not 5 feet tall. I never was; I never will be.
On March 18, 1993 after passing my driving test, despite my inability to parallel park, which was an impossible skill due to the mounds of snow piled up in the parking area where I was taking my test (but mostly due to my inability to parallel park) I reported to DMV with whatever paperwork I needed to walk out a woman. Ok, maybe I wasn't there picking my womanhood, but for me, a drivers license meant freedom.
And back then, you didn't need 1000 points of light or whatever the hell they require of you now to prove who you are (thanks Bin Laden). My birth certificate and my dad and a note from the guy who administered the test were apparently all I needed. (Actually, I don't remember what I needed to get my license - who cares anyway?)
Like now, you had to fill out the card with the ridiculously tiny print - name, address, eye color, etc...And then, there it was: height. I looked for my dad for some advice, but shocker, he was outside smoking a cigarette. What should I do? What should I write down? I was memorializing my size forever and I didn't believe I would be 4'10" and 93 pounds forever. I just couldn't believe it. I had a little thing called hope. (And as it turns out, I also developed a penchant for junk food and beer and an allergy to physical movement I would discover in about a year - so 93 pounds wasn't going to last anyway. No longer could I come home from school and take down 6 Oreo cookies - yes, 6 - dipped in milk and maintain my svelte, 12 year old Jewish boy figure - sexy, I know.)
I made an executive decision: I would declare myself at 5 feet tall. What were the odds I would not continue to grow? Well, 23 years later, apparently those were some good odds. 59 inches. That's 4'11" for those of us with conversion problems. Luckily, with my return to a fit and healthy (ish) lifestyle I am proud to declare that the other day my scale told me I was 99 pounds (my scale also tells me I'm pretty, I'm smart and I'm going to "be amazing today." No, it doesn't. But I can tell you that gravity in my bathroom is very different from gravity at the doctor's office or the gym. I don't know why. But that other gravity can go screw itself. I like my gravity.)
In any case, I'm short and small. I've always been short and small. There are photos of me floating around Facebook from an eighth grade class trip to Washington DC. I look like I need a sandwich and to be adopted by Angelina Jolie. I looked like bones with some skin on it. No meat. How I have never broken a bone, I have no idea. (Yes I do, the Oreos and milk habit. Yay nutrition, kind of.) Of course, I have meat on my bones now because I finally hit puberty last week and all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffets were invented.
The weird thing was, I never really was teased for being short. Sure, I had nicknames like "Shrimp" and "Squeaker" growing up, but these were terms of endearment bestowed upon me by my very best school chums (yes, they were. Shut the hell up.) Really, being little was never anything that held me back, exactly. Sure, I wasn't going to be an overly successful basketball player (sucking at basketball didn't help anyway), but being small wasn't all that bad as a kid. Granted, I couldn't ride the bumper cars at the county fair without an adult until I was like 12 or 13 and I wasn't getting on any big roller coasters, but my family wasn't into amusement parks anyway. So being short wasn't all that bad (or maybe I am so traumatized, I don't really remember. Also, possible.)
The weird thing is, as an adult, it kinda sucks and I'm probably going to die from it. Seriously. Have you seen how close I have to sit to the steering wheel to drive? There is no way I survive a head-on or at least escape without having my face burned off by the blasted air bag. So that sucks. Every time I get into my car, I feel like a WWII kamikaze, preparing to face my certain doom driving into a B-52. I even take a shot of sake like they did. (No, I don't. That would be irresponsible.)
Another reason being small sucks is I can't touch in the pool and I have to swim the whole time. This is annoying. In the 4 foot deep section of the pool, I am struggling to keep my head above water. And so, I can't play water polo on vacation. Believe me, I've tried. Nothing says vacation like a competitive and quasi-violent rugby like game in the resort pool with a bunch of mostly drunk people you don't know. For me, nothing says vacation like nearly drowning during said polo match.
For whatever reason, while on vacation this week, my cousin and I have become the target of the activities people. It's probably something I said and then they probably said "Oh, you don't like to have fun" and then I had to assure them "Yes, I love to have fun" and then we ended up twerking on stage in front of the entire resort. Yay, fun!
Yesterday, I got dragged away from my chair and book and entered into a "biggest splash" contest - spoiler alert: the enormous drunk guy from England is gonna win this thing. He's going to belly flop into the pool and everyone will go "Ohhh!" even though it will hurt us more than it will hurt him, and then we will all cheer for the big fat guy for humiliating himself in front of the resort. And he will charmingly say, "Cheers" as the activities people award him with a bottle of Jamaican rum, because that's what this guy needs, more alcohol.
Anyway, I didn't win the rum. I don't even think I made a splash. But I apparently leapt really high according to the video footage. Unfortunately, there was no prize for who could jump the highest into the pool. If there had been, I totally would have won that.
The next activity was the water polo. And as targets of the activities people, an attempt to once again drag me out of my chair and away from my book was made. My cousin, who is maybe an inch or two taller than me (we come from a long line of wee folk) was a good sport and joined the game.
"Oh no, I don't water polo," I told the activities girl by the name of Roly Poly (how badly do you think I want to find out why they call her Roly Poly?).
"Come on mon, everyone does the water polo," she tells me.
"No, I don't. And I just jumped in the pool and didn't win rum, so I'll watch."
She took a few more runs at me, tried to use some Jamaican Jedi mind trick, but I resisted. And I'm glad I did. After the game was over, my cousin (who is a personal trainer and body builder, mind you) admitted to having a hard time just then because she's short.
"Yes, and that's why I don't water polo," I told her, "I'm too short."
"You could've done it," she tells me, "I did." And she was right. I probably could have played if I really, really wanted to. I just didn't want to work that hard on my vacation and risk death by drowning, especially since my air bag will probably kill me someday anyway. I'm going to just wait for that. I've seen that movie, Final Destination.
So, really the moral of the story is, my short stature does not have to limit me generally. I don't do water polo for the same reason I don't ride the Incredible Hulk ride at Universal Studios; I really don't want to. (Actually, there are 2 distinct but related reasons why I don't do those things: 1) I don't want to and 2) I'm scared of the Incredible Hulk ride. It goes fast and upside down and I don't want to do that.)
And the second moral of the story is, over estimating my height on my drivers license has had absolutely no consequences on my life and also was not enough to will me to grow another inch. I probably should correct it when I renew this year, but then again, I am still hopeful I'll hit 5 feet someday. It's possible, right?
The New Year on the Jewish calendar (It's the year 5777 for those of you counting) never evoked in me the same feeling of renewal that January 1 has always brought me. But the next holiday for my tribe, Yom Kippur, is supposed to, I think. Yom Kippur, quite simply is the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day in the Jewish year because you fast and abstain from doing anything fun while you hope God forgives you for all your shenanigans during the year. I don't think that's the official explanation or definition, and I know there's a lot more to it, but you get the idea.
Because we were never a religious family and still are not, but because my parents wanted us to understand our culture and holidays, Yom Kippur meant a day off of school with no TV or phones and once we were older, we would fast for the day. My mother and father would suggest that we think about all the bad things we had done and think about how we should not do those things anymore. I would make a list. Fighting with my sister was always the easy number one followed by being disrespectful to my parents. I was a fairly good kid.
I continued this tradition of using the day to think about being a better person through college to the present. The older I get, the longer the annual list becomes. And although some people may disagree, this is not necessarily because I've become a terrible person, I just recognize those flaws in me that might make me a little worse than I could be.
So I write my lists and say "sorry for being a jerk, God. I'll do better next time." But that's not really the point of the exercise and it should never stop there.
Like a lot of people, I say "sorry" a lot. Perhaps more often than I should, Yoda tells me. Although I have often been criticized for not taking responsibility for my actions, for blaming and deflecting, believe me, I do. I take on more responsibility than is probably necessary at times. One of the reasons I think I do that is I cannot stand people who cannot admit they've screwed up, who cannot look in the mirror and accept blame for a bad move or decision.
And another reason is the guilt. I will feel guilty about messing up at work, for saying something nasty and making someone feel badly (usually a sister), for making bad choices that affect others. I regret and then I try to fix it. Sometimes I can, sometimes all I can do is say my "sorry" and hope we can all move on.
I don't think sorry is every really enough in some cases. A prime example: I rear-ended a very nice family on their way home from a 10 hour car ride from the Outer Banks. Nothing terrible, luckily. My tank of a car smashed into their bike rack, so some minor damage to their bikes and rack. I probably need to replace my front bumper, but no one was hurt and no damage to their car. I probably apologized 100 times. I felt horrible. These poor people just wanted to get home, and I completely wrecked that up. But they were decent and fair, which made me feel even more guilty about my horrible driving. (And my 6 month long streak of not running into stuff with a car is broken. Usually, it's stuff. I've never actually had an "accident" with another car.)
I paid them for all the damage to their bikes and rack and then some. I put together a care-package of my books, some law firm swag and I gave them a gift card to a nice restaurant for a night out on me. It was the very least I could do because I didn't feel that saying sorry was enough for probably ruining the end of their vacation.
Apparently, it would have been and they were so taken aback by my guilt-gifts, the wife posted an itemized list on Facebook. She didn't name me, she just described me, but it turns out we have a lot of mutual friends so a lot of people now also know how my Saturday night started out. Ahh, the power and connectivity of social media...
In any case, I caused this stupid crash because I chose to allow my mind to wander and wasn't watching where I was going on the road. Literally, this is the beginning few lines of my Opening Statement to the jury in a car crash case. More reason for my guilt and why sorry wasn't enough.
Aside from the Facebook shout out, the husband texted me and thanked me for the gifts and for cutting them a check for the damage so quickly. He even praised me for being a "good, and decent person." That made me feel a little better. Doing "the right thing" has that effect.
But what about those catastrophic F-ups? I've got one of those and I have taken more responsibility for it than I should, I have recently realized. (No, nobody died or was physically harmed by me. I just made a very bad and selfish decision that ended up back firing and affecting more people than just me.) I suppose there is nothing wrong, exactly, for taking the fall for something you did, even when you weren't the only person involved. And naturally, I feel badly enough for my role. But my hang up was that moment I realized that all fingers were now pointing at me. All my fault? Hold the phone, people. That's not how this all went down and I can prove it! (Should I?)
Remember that time you put a hole in the wall of the living room because you were using PVC pipe in the house in a sword fight battle with your sister and one of you has really bad aim? (I don't remember that either, mom) And remember when your mom angrily asked you who did it (and where did you find that PVC pipe, anyway?), you and your sister both pointed at each other? And that prompted the consistent, loud argument: "She's lying, she always lies. She did it!" But you both got punished anyway because you were both at fault for doing something stupid in the house and then not taking responsibility. And because you were 11 and foolish, rather than accept responsibility for your part, while stuck in your room, you would write an essay explaining what happened, and why physics and common sense proved it wasn't really your fault? But in the end, the only way to escape the boredom and isolation of the bedroom and further punishment was to come out with a full confession and genuine apology - understand why you're sorry and mean it or be returned to your boring bedroom. Proving I wasn't entirely at fault was never going to help me escape at least some punishment and blame.
Those types of lessons as kids have led me to err on the side of the full truth when I screw up. "That's totally my fault, and I'm sorry" is a phrase I use often. I came to believe the truth will set me free. Just confess, accept blame and try to fix it. We all recall how "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" worked out for Bill Clinton...oh wait, bad example.
But now, as I consider all the nonsense that I need to reflect upon as this High Holy day approaches, I'm concerned about my "catastrophic F-up." What's important to know is that this screw up occurred a few years ago, but the lingering effects keep it on my list. And because of the lingering after-shocks, I am wondering if I am ever going to be entitled to escape this bad thing I did. Maybe I'm not. Maybe that's the punishment for someone like me - to deal with rumors and gossip and stares and whispers; to hear "That's her. Did you hear...?" whispered when I walk by in certain circles forever.
I try not to dwell on the gossip-mongers out there who are just too happy to ruin my reputation, whether what they are spreading is accurate or not. And what can I do beyond what I have tried to do? I've confessed, apologized, accepted responsibility - all the things I thought I needed to do. I have no control over how other people react or what other people perceive to be a way to punish me because they, although not within the zone of my destruction, decide they didn't like my decision and how it panned out. What a relief that everyone else is so perfect.
Eventually, someone else in the world will do something catastrophically stupid, the world will be bored of my tale and will finally move on. Nevertheless, I will continue to be punished by my own guilt - the guilt of knowing I had a choice, chose wrong and caused harm. I will be sorry the rest of my life for it because I can't change what I did. I can't take it back. I can just say sorry and be truly sorry. A gift card to a restaurant or law firm T-shirts will not make it better.
On this solemn High Holy day, I will be celebrating my cousin's birthday on a short but needed Caribbean getaway, hoping this monster, Hurricane Matthew doesn't mess up our travel plans. I'm sure we will have fun, but like on most days, when it's really quiet, I think about what I've done wrong and how I will never make a mistake like that again.
I'm supposed to be asking for God's forgiveness so that he will "purify" me or something. But I think it's more important to ask for the forgiveness of all the people I've harmed in little ways, in big ways, in weird ways, in ways I didn't even know. And so I ask, humbly.
My future is so exciting. For once, I can see it. And while it would be selfish to ask for "bygones" and just forget about my past mistakes, I want to move forward without the constant reminder of them. Mostly, I want the people around me to know there are mistakes you make one time. Never again.