Two more items of interest popped up as I was sorting through a pile of childhood papers tonight. My marriage certificates.
These were apparently something we did at the Sadie Hawkins dances in what would’ve been my sophomore year of high school.
The funny thing? I have a memory like an elephant and I have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever. I apparently married my friend Scott (not once, but twice), though we never dated in reality. Perhaps he lost a bet?
Now I also wonder what else I have forgotten from those events. Did I register for gifts? Wear a pretty dress? Had I known at the time it would be my only wedding, would I have done things differently?
Folks older than me seem to assume that I identify more with the 90s because those were the years in which I graduated from high school and college, but really, I consider myself a child of the 80s. To me that decade was much more interesting and colorful — if given the choice to revisit either, I’d easily pick the 80s.
And what would the 80s have been without Cabbage Patch Kids? I remember yearning for one of these in a way no other toy had previously captured me. They were overpriced, ugly, impractical dolls that flew off shelves most likely due to their clever adoption gimmick. Whenever you purchased a doll, it came complete with its own name and adoption papers, and the company that manufactured the dolls would keep in touch with you if you properly completed your paperwork. In addition, to validate the authenticity of the dolls, you had to find the Xavier Roberts signature on its bum. It was all very important and official.
But these dolls were hard to come by. Not only were they easily out of the price range of most middle class families, they sold so quickly, the company couldn’t keep up with the orders.
I had all but given up on getting one when my 9th birthday rolled around. I carefully examined all of the wrapped gifts and saw that none of them bore the famous shape of the Cabbage Patch box, and I didn’t want to make my parents feel bad by showing my disappointment, so I acted especially excited about a lavender terrycloth robe that my mom presented me with, and rejoiced when I saw the solar powered calculator that was supposed to help me improve my math skills. At least there was cake, I figured.
Then my mom and my sister disappeared into my parents room and returned triumphantly carrying my new Preemie™ and my mom told our guests the story of being afraid to walk it home from Fred Meyer for fear she’d get robbed.
My baby’s given name was Marleen Berty, which I thought sounded terrible with “Kokkoris” so I promptly re-named her Marlena Charisse. Marlena after my favorite character on Days of Our Lives, and Charisse after one of my close friends at the time.
In this photo you can see Marlena with her adoption papers and her first birthday card. She still sports the outfit she came in.
In the 80s I also begged for another toy I never got: Atari, the revolutionary home video game system that pretty much all of my friends had. Instead of giving in to that desire, my parents and grandmother supplied me with a steady stream of quarters, which I rapidly fed to the arcade across the street at the Eastport Plaza mall. My games of choice: Tempest, Centipede and of course, Pac Man (or more specifically, Ms. Pac Man). Below you’ll see a sticker from one of my stationery collections featuring the character.
Above the sticker is my book about Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Mary Lou was what kept me glued to the ’84 Olympics and also what made me take gymnastics for the next four years. I had a bodysuit and training suit identical to hers and practiced my winning smile (another thing she was famous for) in my bedroom vanity mirror on a daily basis. I still watch and enjoy the Olympics, but I don’t remember ever liking another athlete as much as I liked her.
Perhaps the most mainstream fan-girl thing I’ve ever done is to visit the legendary road where The Beatles shot the cover for their famous album of the same title.
The first time I saw it was in May of 1998. I was a recent college grad and went on a literary tour of England, Ireland and Wales with a bunch of classmates and my two favorite English professors. On one of our last days in London, my roommate (Trinn) and I journeyed out for a Beatles walking tour led by the “Biggest Beatle Brain in Britain” and had a wonderful time. The last stop on the tour was Abbey Road. Walking up the steps to the studio was like entering a sacred church. I was shaking in disbelief that I was on the land that sparked such amazing masterpieces. It didn’t disappoint.
The second time was July of 2005. I was reporting live from Live 8 in London for @U2. Paul McCartney and U2 had opened the show with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which thrilled my sister and me to no end. We had the time of our lives in Hyde Park with all the music and fanfare, then later at Harrod’s and other city hot spots. The next day with no “work” to do, we ventured on to a Beatles walk similar to the one Trinn and I went on in 1998. It was a wonderful year only made better by this trip and I’m glad I could share this great place with the person who made me a Beatles fan as a young child (my big sis).
In September 2016, my Mother and I ventured to San Francisco to celebrate her 76th birthday. While there we wandered into an art gallery that featured several band images. After the docent saw me gravitate toward the Beatles section, she asked if I was a fan. I replied I was a super-fan who had visited Abbey Road twice. She then led my Mother and I upstairs, out of the area the public was allowed, and showed us the original prints taken on the day of the shoot. There were only a handful, and every take was represented. I was speechless. It was part of a special series that would be shown at a later time, after we’d left the city. I was so grateful for that special sneak preview.
My parents recently moved into a new (smaller) home, so I was required to pay them a visit and pick up many of my childhood archives that were cluttering their space. As someone who loves scrapbooking and cataloging everything I do, I’m taking special pleasure in uncovering my younger self as I dive into boxes and boxes of memories.
When I find common threads in my life then and now, I’ll be posting relevant notes and photos. I hope those of you who knew me then will smile, and those of you who know me now will enjoy meeting Little Tassoula.
The first grouping I realized was my obsession with celebrity (which, let’s face it, hasn’t exactly faded). I’ve been writing fan letters as long as I can remember — these three are from 1988. The first is what I received back from then-crush Vonni (now Giovonni) Ribisi, who played Corey on the sitcom “My Two Dads.” After gushing about how I hoped the main character would pick him (over Chad Allen) to be her boyfriend, he (or his fan club president, I suppose) replied with this standard black & white glossy (autograph on the back).
21 years later, I the Groupie, would stand next to he, the movie star, at a U2 concert. And no, I didn’t mention the fan letter to him.
The next letter I received was a personal response from Jim Davis, the writer/creator of Garfield. I remember sending him a long-winded tome about how I hated cats, but for some reason loved Garfield and he should be very proud of this grand achievement (making a cat-hater a fan of his cat-based cartoon). He apparently got a kick out of it and was nice enough to send me an autographed print AND this hand-signed letter. I always thought when I became famous, I would be as sincere and personal when writing back to fans.
The third response here shows that my political activism started very young. Watching the news rabidly every night with my parents, I became an admirer of the first female Filipino President Corazon Aquino. When we had an assignment in Miss Prentice’s English class that required us to write to an important figure, I didn’t limit myself to the American variety and wrote directly to the Philippines. My Mom shook her head, sure that I’d be disappointed when I didn’t receive a response, but she was mistaken. Not only did I receive a letter from her Correspondence Secretary, I got an official photograph of my hero.
Earlier in the week, I posted my setlist prediction for U2’s performance at Dreamforce. As with any opinion piece, I had some mail about “how so wrong” I was and how some of my choices were “beyond long shots.”
I’m pleased to report, that although I wasn’t completely right, I was mostly right. See above for the side-by-side comparison of what I thought they would play and what they actually played, in the order they played them.
The set was also shorter than I had projected (by three songs), but that’s okay. Their performance blew me away and I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. Especially their epic Trump rant and “40” at the end.
Heading down the coast later this week for the Concert for Kids charity U2 gig that’s part of the Dreamforce conference, I’m already conjuring up thoughts of the rush I’ll get as my heroes take the stage. I haven’t seen them perform live since my birthday trip to Dublin last November, so I couldn’t be more ready for that rush.
For those who aren’t as passionate (or downright nutty) as us, part of what we “superfans” do is debate the setlist. Before (sometimes during) and after shows, we like to predict, celebrate (or mourn) and de-brief about which songs were played. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what they’d play leading up to this event until I saw today that they’re resurrecting their stadium stage from the Vertigo tour for the show. And because I’m someone who believes inanimate objects hold energy, and I also believe that Bono will feel like “time traveling” a bit, my opinion on what they will likely play has shifted.
Before I go any further, I should disclaim: I honestly have no tips or inside information on this setlist, so if I turn out to be wildly accurate, just chalk it up to my years of following them on the road and a healthy dose of God-given intuition. If I turn out to be completely wrong, well, that’s fine too.
I should also say that this is in no way, shape or form my “dream setlist.” If I had any say in the matter, a lot of the greatest hits would fall by the wayside to be replaced by sentimental favorites, or they’d just play their War album start to finish.
This list isn’t what I think they even should do, it’s what I think they will do.
Vertigo — The stage is literally set for them to bust this out, and I’m 100% sure they will. Why do I think they’ll open with it? Bono can count the crowd in with some Spanish. It’s hard not to jump up and down when they start playing it. Most of the audience will know it even if they’re not U2 fans (especially if their memories go back as far as 2004 when it was featured in an iPod commercial). Side note: he hasn’t sang “twinkle” since then. It’s “sparkle” now. Just an FYI.
Elevation — While the crowd is amped, they’ll want to keep them that way, and this song is another one that’s so familiar (if only because it’s often played at sporting events), it will do the trick.
Beautiful Day — Obligatory. They’re in California. It most likely will be a beautiful day. And everyone knows the words.
Even Better Than The Real Thing — Taking the average age of the crowd into consideration, something from Achtung Baby should come out by now, and I’m bargaining it’s the least exciting (but arguably most recognizable) one.
Stuck in a Moment(You Can’t Get Out Of )— Five songs in, they’ll slow it down and for some reason, I think they’ll do it with this. Can’t explain it; just feeling it. Maybe even a “California” snippet at the end. This choice isn’t logical, by the way. Just a gut feeling.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For — A crowd pleaser for sure, this one would fit nicely after that ^ one.
The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) — They opened their shows with this on the most recent tour, and it’s the song they played the day they (gasp) gifted us their free album during the Apple event two years ago. Dreamforce is a tech crowd, and even if the audience members aren’t die-hard U2 fans, they’ll probably have heard this at least once before. I don’t think they can not play something from the current album, and this is the most logical choice.
I Will Follow — Bono will give some speech about how The Ramones inspired them, blah, blah and break into their most recognizable early hit.
Desire — The band caused quite a stir last week with their Donald Trump take on this song at the iHeartRadio Music Festival. A month out from the election? They’ll do it again, I hope.
Bullet the Blue Sky — They’ll follow with this to add an exclamation point to that ^. Outside, it’s America.
The Fly — With graphics that speak to the election (hopefully). How great would it be to see the phrases from this hateful Donald Trump word cloud make an appearance in the classic Fly sequence? So great.
Sunday Bloody Sunday — While they’re pissed, this is a natural path to take, turning from America’s injustices to Ireland’s.
Every Breaking Wave — Another radio-friendly song from the current album to calm things down (This is when douchey jerks in the audience will refill their beers. Sorry, it’s just true).
One — Bono will need a break by this point and he can make the crowd sing this one. Don’t act like you don’t know it.
Mysterious Ways — They’ll wake everyone back up with this dance-y pleasure, which I (for the record) never get tired of hearing/seeing.
New Year’s Day — This is a bit of a wild card, but it could work.
Where the Streets Have No Name — They have to.
18. Pride (In the Name of Love) — They can’t put it off too much longer; the show is almost over. 19. Walk On — A little hope for the ride home. 20. With or Without You — Easy choice. Good choice. Good night.
When I was young, every Easter I would beg for a bunny. Since I was allergic to cats and dogs, and rabbits could stay contained in one room, I thought having one would be ideal. My parents thought otherwise.
They showered me with Easter baskets full of Cadbury Mini Eggs (my favorites), magazines with Michael J. Fox on the cover and various token gifts. But never did I receive a bunny. Mom claimed that rabbits smelled, I was most likely allergic to them too, and it would be too devastating when someday said pet passed away.
Though she was right on all counts, that didn’t stop me from wanting one and visiting the rabbit cages at the pet store across the street. I also made a friend of Diamond, a sweet grey bunny that belonged to my 6th grade reading teacher, Miss. V.
Diamond lived in our classroom and we often made a game out of letting her out of her cage. I was one of the trusted few who was allowed to leave the room to retrieve her because I was calm enough to coax her back (I know, me, calm?!)—I took this privilege very seriously and was rewarded tenfold.
Miss. V. sometimes went on vacation and needed students to board Diamond while she was away. Each time she helped try to talk my mom into letting me take her home and each time my mom responded with a resounding “no.” I would get too attached, my Dad (the biggest animal lover of all of us) would relent and get me my own after Diamond left, etc. She never caved.
But Miss V. remained a favorite teacher, and recognized my way-above-level reading and writing skills. She was the first to introduce me to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and the first to encourage me to read forbidden works by the brilliant Judy Blume. Really, she was a hell of a teacher.
Yesterday, in my peripheral vision, I caught a glimpse of something grey in my backyard. It turned out to be the neighbor’s cat who often visits, but for a split second I thought of Diamond. Then I thought, “I wonder whatever happened to Miss V.” So I did what we all do these days: I Googled her.
I first saw an image that I recognized as her staff yearbook photo from my years in middle school. Next, I noticed she had married, as she had another last name tacked on to the end of the one I knew her by. Then, a horrible discovery: Just a few lines down was her obituary.
The vibrant, young, strong teacher who I loved so many years ago had battled several rounds of cancer and lost. She passed away in 2010 in a small Oregon town.
A flood of emotions came over me: disbelief, curiosity, grief and guilt. Why guilt? Because I hadn’t thought about her in over 25 years. Because although I know I was a good student for her, I don’t know if I ever conveyed how much her kindness meant to me during those tough years. I’m not sure she ever knew I succeeded as a writer—or even just as an adult in the work force. Many of my classmates in our low-income neighborhood most certainly did not.
Then I thought about why I was getting so upset about it. Why this cat in my backyard triggered a memory that sent me spiraling back in time and seeking out a ghost from my youth. I’m a firm believer that we’re all here to learn how to be better people, so I knew there was a reason.
This memory reminded me to make sure that the people in my life know how much they mean to me. That because of social media, there’s really no excuse for not reconnecting or staying in touch. That I should make more of an effort to learn more about the people I care about; not just what they do for a living or other things I could find out by looking at their profile pages. That I let them get to know me as much as I hope to know them. It’s not something I’ve always been good at, but I’m making a conscious effort to be better about.
There are a lot of patterns in our lives. Behaviors, careers, romantic partners, financial habits, health — everything has a rhythm.
Unfortunately, not all of them are positive. One such pattern in my life is that of loving people who get breast cancer.
When I was young, my aunt had it (and survived it), then my best friend’s aunt got it (she didn’t survive it), then my hair stylist (survived), my former boss (survived), two of my mom’s friends (one survived; one didn’t) and one of my good friends now is currently battling it.
That’s not counting the dozens of “scares” in my friends and family, where women had a mammogram that showed something that turned out to be nothing (yet scared the heck out of them in the meantime).
Though I’ve never personally had it, I’ve hurt for each of these people in my life (and those close to them who suffered, regardless of the outcome). Breast cancer changes everything.
My dear friend Debbie (the former boss, listed above) fought the good fight and won, emerging strong and determined to help other women who experienced breast cancer at a young age. Even with wonderful support from her family, she quickly learned what it was like to juggle treatments and still manage to run a household.
She founded The Pink Daisy Project to alleviate the financial burden for young women battling breast cancer. I’m proud to be a volunteer for this organization and thrilled that we’ve launched a new campaign that helps drive donations and lets contributors have a little fun on social media in the process.
As you can see in my photo above, I’m sporting a temporary “pink daisy” tattoo. A $2 donation to the cause will get you the same one; all that we ask is that you snap a selfie of yourself wearing yours and use the hashtag #2fortat when you share it out.
Every little bit helps, and so does making both women who need help — and those with the power to help them — aware of the Pink Daisy resource.
We want breast cancer to stop trending in the lives of amazing people, but if it doesn’t, let’s confront the trend with help and hope and compassion.
I recently lost a member of my immediate family. It was the first time that’s ever happened to me, and considering my immediate family consists of just four people (including me), it predictably turned my world upside down.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, the only way I know to cope is to put some thoughts down on paper (or on the inviting screen of a MacBook Pro, in this case). So here goes.
On Witnessing. I had the fortunate (or unfortunate) luck of being able to sit with my loved one as he passed. At first I was horrified by the suffering he was enduring, then relieved when the nurses “made him comfortable” with his final cocktail of medicines. We felt right about respecting his Do Not Resuscitate wishes, but no part of it was easy. For hours we waited, by his side, as he grew quieter and thankfully, more peaceful. Throughout the day, small signs of normalcy infuriated me. The pleasant cleaning lady mopping the floor under his bed; the large family in the waiting room giggling at the television overhead; the cafeteria staff ringing up our tiny bowls of vegetable soup as if it was just another day at work. Of course, my loved one was oblivious, but I resented the fact that life was going on around us when such despair was imminent. I made several trips to the brightly lit, bubblegum-scented restroom either to cry or try to throw up. I was always too hot or too cold; never in between. The nurses couldn’t have been more wonderful, checking on all of us, ensuring his comfort right up to the very end. I kept watching him, thinking his final breath would be some sort of morbid announcement that he was gone, that it would be noticeable and obvious, but it wasn’t. In fact, he lived on several minutes after he took his final breath — the nurses informed us he still had a pulse. When they returned to check again moments later, one on each side of him to be absolutely sure, they behaved just as the hospital staff on Days of our Lives always does. One said to the other “I’m calling it,” as she looked at the clock and noted the time. And then they hugged us and left us alone for a final goodbye before the nursing supervisor came in to walk us through the next steps. It was nothing short of surreal.
On the Next Steps. Thank God for Six Feet Under. I interviewed Alan Ball once for my podcast years ago, and I know I told him I was a fan of the show, but it can’t be understated how much watching it helped prepare me for my first-ever visit to a funeral home. It happened just as it used to for the fictional Fishers and I’m grateful I knew what to expect. Every interaction was very compassionate, yet matter-of-fact; dark, yet calm. As the associate went to print out paperwork, I absorbed my surroundings, wondering how they chose the odd artwork on the walls. The Kleenex on the table begged for us to break down and at one point while we were alone, we did, but thankfully the meeting took less than an hour, because we knew exactly what the deceased wanted.
On Processing. Different people grieve in different ways. Some people collapse into dramatic sobs; others lash out in unprovoked fits of anger. People like me, however, quietly shrink in disbelief and struggle to form sentences when necessary. All I know is that no matter the reaction, no grieving person should ever be held responsible or accountable for anything they say or do in the weeks following a tragedy.
On Condolences. It’s very nice to let someone who has suffered a loss know that you love them and are there for them. I was incredibly moved by the flowers and cards that arrived once we announced our sad news.
On Condolences, Part 2. One of the things that was hard for us in the early days was the fact that many friends didn’t have my parents’ current address (though I had told folks to message me privately on social media for it). Instead of simply asking me, they went ahead and sent the flowers, etc. to the address where my parents had lived in 2009, so it inconvenienced the people who currently live there, and it made for some logistical juggling for us to retrieve the items. We were grateful for the gesture, but stuff like that isn’t what we wanted to be focusing on while we were still adjusting to the shock. For future reference, if you don’t absolutely know for sure where to send something, please do the bereaved the courtesy of asking.
On The Tradition of Food. One of the most customary things to do for those in mourning is to deliver hot meals. We received everything from creamy soups to grilled cheese sandwiches and cookies the weekend after our tragedy. We appreciated all of it and ate nearly none of it. We just weren’t hungry and couldn’t force our bodies to cooperate. That said, the frozen items are beginning to be thawed out and enjoyed now, so if your heart tells you to prepare food, make it something that can be preserved for later.
On Unconventional Gifts. Personally, these things helped me most. The pal that sent me a funny clip from one of our mutual favorite shows; the couple that had their young children draw pictures for me; the friend that treated me to a relaxing pedicure; my former colleagues who sent a customized care package complete with chocolate and a bottle of whiskey. All of these things made me feel loved and treasured because I felt like the givers really knew me. They realized that I would need to laugh, feel comfort and allow myself to indulge because I’d been purposely depriving myself of all of those things.
On Survivors’ Guilt. Even though I was several decades younger than my family member who passed, I felt guilty for my healthy body and mind. I didn’t think I had permission to continue enjoying life. I didn’t feel right about reading the lighthearted book I brought with me or going to a movie (always my greatest escape) because I knew he couldn’t do those things anymore. It may not have been rational, but it was real.
On Social Media. I’m thankful for it. Unlike decades past, I didn’t have to make 30 phone calls or sit down and write a dozen letters letting people know of my loved one’s passing — I simply posted it once to a carefully curated list of friends and family on Facebook and let the Internet take it from there. It was a great relief to only have to write those words once.
On Privacy. Despite the fact his obituary was only in a few local newspapers, I still received very personal condolences from acquaintances that never knew of or met the deceased, and barely know me. I couldn’t help but feel awkward about this — their hearts were in the right place (I hope), but somehow it didn’t feel quite right. A message via Twitter would have sufficed if they felt moved to respond. I just took this as a lesson to myself that if I see someone grieving from a distance that I don’t know very well, I will most likely say a silent prayer for them and just give them space.
On Prayer. Whatever your religion or lack thereof, there have been studies done that imply that those who are prayed for (whether they know it or not) are more likely to heal faster from trauma — mental or physical. I can safely say, having been the recipient of a mountain of prayers these past few weeks, that in my case it’s true. The positive energy our family received was almost tangible and I’m certain those moments of calm we would feel, where we realized the sun would again someday shine, were a credit to those who kept us in their thoughts and meditations.
On Messaging. It’s natural to want to be there for someone who you care for in their time of need, and many of my friends and family expressed this via the quickest way they knew to reach me: text message. I can’t say I blame them, for I’ve done the same thing. But what happened was this: every time I would hear the ping of my phone going off, I was right back to my most raw point of grief, no matter what progress I’d made on composure that day. I knew that the instant I read whatever sweet message they’d written, I’d collapse into another puddle of tears. It became so exhausting, I quit responding at some point and turned the phone to vibrate, hiding it under pillows so I wouldn’t even hear the buzz. I hope I didn’t offend anyone with my silence.
On Emails. I felt very comforted by emails. The thoughtful, personal messages and offers for help were perfect because I could tend to them whenever I felt strong enough to read them. And I did read and respond to all of them at my own pace, unlike texts, which I felt obligated to answer immediately.
On Breathing. In the fog of grief, it’s sometimes hard to remember to breathe. With everyone hovering around the first few days, I felt very suffocated by the attention. Again, it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the sentiment; it’s just that I wanted some distance while I adjusted to my ‘new normal.’ Perhaps other people are different, but I’m used to solitude so that’s my quickest path to healing.
On Friendship. The saying is true: you really do find out who your friends are in times of trouble. My heart is swollen with love by the amount of people from every stage of my life who have stepped up to support me and my family as we grieve. My high school BFF telling me to call her anytime — day or night —and knowing she meant it, despite the fact she has two young children to look after; my Seattle BFF offering to join me for a hike or whatever I need to make me feel better, though she also has two small children to parent; my ex-boyfriends that reached out though I haven’t spoken with them in months (or years, in one case); the atU2 staff that I’ve considered family for the past decade that sent me lyrics or quotes to accompany the flowers… the list goes on. I’m so incredibly blessed to have such compassionate people in my life.
On Kindness. From my longtime hairstylist who refused to charge me for my haircut to colleagues I’ve only known for a month sending me messages of hope and help, I’ve learned there is a deep well of kindness in human beings. No matter how many horrible things are happening in our individual lives or the greater world, the good really does outweigh the bad.
On the Cost of Death. Insurance doesn’t cover everything. From hospital bills to arrangements for the deceased to obituaries to death certificates to transportation for errands, death is really expensive. I will need to take a break from my social life for a few months, not just to heal mentally, but to recover financially. I hope everyone understands why I’m denying their well-intentioned invites.
On Paying Respects. One of the best ways we felt to pay tribute to my loved one was to request donations for a cause he was passionate about. Since he was always feeding the hungry (whether it be driving meals to families in the inner city around the holidays or taking a hot plate of food to a neighbor less fortunate), we felt it best to honor him by asking for contributions to the Oregon Food Bank. If you’re moved to do so, they (and we) would appreciate the donation.