When my daughter was in middle school, she asked me to read The Fault in Our Stars.

“Of course!” I answered emphatically. As I remember the moment, it was about an hour before bedtime, also known as the hour I’m either the most agreeable or the most unhinged. My intention has always been to settle them into slumber as calmly as possible – whenever possible – but telling me about a research paper due the next morning, dumping nail polish in the sink to learn what the hell is making that clicking noise when you shake it, a meltdown over sexist dress codes and halter tops, and thrown brushes of the tooth and hair variety sometimes thwarted my stress-free sleep plans for them. 

This is a photo of the world.

Nightmares, at that point, were still mostly my doing. 

She handed me the book, right then and there, and nodded as if to say, Go on, then.

“Oh, now?” 


I should’ve known she’d stand there and watch me read as fast as I possibly could, gauging my progress by the emotions careening across my face, our hearts breaking at the same time. She’d done the same with Mulan, Wall-E, all the Toy Stories, and Kill Bill (don’t judge), and would someday soon do with the Twilight series (okay, now you can judge) and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. 

Through the years, she taught me that two broken hearts are somehow easier to put back together than one. The process is quiet and oddly simple; one gathers up all the shattered bits while the other finds the roll of tape, and both work together to put everything right without a worry of whose pieces go where. 

Anyway. It turned out to be a long night with a delayed arrival at school the next morning, but it was a very, very good book to share. And, as you can see, the memory stuck. 

I will never rip that piece off my heart.


For the past few years, the first song I play on my hopeful walks is Outside by Travis Scott. On a handful of occasions, it’s fired me up enough to jog. I would’ve written run, but there are a few readers who know me in real life.

“All my neighbors outside,” I sing my version softly so that said neighbors don’t overhear me. “Ain’t goin’ in.”

It’s also the first song that comes to mind when I’m in a writer’s slump, just me and my empty screen, Get Off My Internets’ deliciously naughty forums and Mosheh’s smart Instagram stories luring me away from whatever content I’m supposed to be creating.

“We been hanging outside. Ain’t goin’ in.” 

In 2019, I watched his documentary, Look Mom I Can Fly, with the same daughter I just mentioned. I don’t remember if I loved it because she loved it, or I loved it because it made me appreciate him as a person, but I loved it and have watched it a few times since.

“I’m going to his concert,” she vowed.

“You will not be going to his concert,” I vowed back. And then I bought her one of his sweatshirts.

“Balance on the beam, yeah balance on the beam, yeah. Do some shit I’ve never seen.”

If I’ve learned one thing as a parent, it’s that it’s important to try your best to like what your babes like, especially when you don’t initially understand. Pretty much everyone and everything is worth a second or third look, even if it’s one of those looks where the cartoon bubble above your head reads, “What in the actual %@&*?!” 

Spend the time, read the link, follow back, watch their eyes, take the care. Because those are the moments when you really learn something about someone. Mostly yourself.

P.S. There are also a lot of things I haven’t learned yet about parenting. And myself.


“Hope you had a mattress when you sleepin’ on me.”

It sounds dramatic, but I haven’t slept since that horrible Astroworld concert in Houston. I didn’t want to write about it here because now it’s on my permanent record. I just can’t seem to shake it.

And so, I’ve started reading about crowds, and how they can kill you if you’re not paying attention. Actually, the last five words of that sentence are a little too simplistic and blamey. Crowds can kill you, and that is all I want to say about that.

Except for this.

Someone smart I follow linked to a Guardian article by Leo Benedictus, in which he masterly explains crowd accidents and exactly how collapses happen. He’s even got graphics. It’s fascinating, and you should read it, too.  

He spoke to Professor Edwin Galea, an astrophysicist whose professional interests expanded from the fluid dynamics inside stars to post-disaster fire spreads, then the movement of crowds, and then crowd behavior. Again, I’m surely simplifying his expertise, but my brain shut down after “inside stars.”

My basic takeaway from his brilliance is that problems arise when crowds move like a fluid and not like beads. It’s the difference between spilling an iced coffee on your keyboard or a bag of Skittles.

I am not an astrophysicist. 

When Professor Galea was asked about stampedes, a word that’s now oft mentioned in the same breath as Astroworld’s tragedy, his expert opinion is clear: “This is just absolute nonsense,” he says in the article. “It’s pure ignorance, and laziness … It gives the impression that it was a mindless crowd only caring about themselves, and they were prepared to crush people.”

But Leo Benedictus’ article was written back in 2015. 

As a crowd, I think we’ve changed a lot since then, don’t you?


I live in Abu Dhabi, a city that gives real Fauci vibes. If he drove a Maserati. We rank third in the world on Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, and we’re currently ranked first in terms of vaccination rates.

“Pull up in a Lambo or just with the Benz.”

I’ve only been here a few months but, to me, it’s quite simple; Emiratis and the expats who live here seem to care about the crowd. No one wants to get sick, no one wants to get someone else sick, and no one wants to give up the lovely, lovely life they enjoy here. And so, everyone follows the rules whether they like it or not. (The “or not” part is important.) 

Rules, might I add, that include installing an app on our mobiles that’s required for entry literally everywhere: grocery, restaurant, pharmacy, mall, hotel, or beach. It shows how many days since our last Covid test – strictly required every 30 days – as well as our immunization and booster history. 

Florida could never. (See also North Dakota, Alaska, Tennessee, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, South Carolina, Arkansas…)


Crowd safety appears to be a running theme here. The hefty traffic fines alone keep everyone up to speed, and the accumulation of Black Points is an extra deterrent; earn more than 24 of those in one year, and your license is revoked.

The fine for jumping a red light in Abu Dhabi is a little less than $300 plus 12 Black Points on your license. What comes after, though, causes the real pain: The offender’s car is confiscated for 30 days, and there’s a $14,000 fine to release it when the time is up. 

But wait. There’s more.

After all that, running a red light means your license is revoked for six months.

“Nobody’s gonna know.” 

“They’re gonna know.”

“How would they know?”

Oh, they’ll know.

If you dare drive without a license, you’ll be fined the equivalent of $1400. Half that plus 12 Black Points if you’re caught on camera driving recklessly. A third of that if you don’t give way to emergency, police, and public service vehicles or official convoys. That last fine is the same amount assigned to driving a noisy vehicle, stopping on the road for no reason, changing your car’s color without permission, refusing to give traffic police your name and address when requested, and failing to keep pedestrians safe. 

A fine for failing to keep pedestrians safe

A fine for failing to care for the crowd.


I was in a book club a few years back, and one of the assigned reads was written by a Columbine shooter’s mom OMG WAIT I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK CLUB STORY FIRST.

Okay. Have you read Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright? I read mostly all of it except the last, like, 15 pages. And so, when we started talking about it at book club, I opened the conversation with, “Meh. They were selfish. Book was boring. Didn’t care.” 

I think I even shrugged.

You know that moment after you say something and people around you don’t do anything except blink slowly? That happened.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s an old book and you honestly should’ve read it already. The ending is that HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN WERE MURDERED BY A WORKER FRANK REFUSED TO PAY. THERE WAS A FIRE. ALL IN THE LAST FEW PAGES OF THE DAMN BOOK.

I hope I didn’t spoil it for you. I’ve never enjoyed endings like that, anyway.


Back to the Columbine book. I walked into our gathering that afternoon, and a woman asked, “So what did you think? Who do you blame?”

I almost choked on my Ritz. “Blame? Who do I…”

“Yeah,” she continued. “Do you blame the mother or him or…”

My dad used to say, “Wash your hands before you point that finger.” I grew up on a farm, so I assumed his words had more to do with me playing with cow poo piles than life. But as I usually am, I was dead wrong.

Blame has never been my favorite thought process. I’ve never gained anything good from it. After tragedies, I realize it’s important to find the origin of fault so you can fix that, but blame games for the sole purpose of popping off don’t do it for me.

Guilt games, on the other hand… 


If you’re anywhere near me right now, I am talking to you about crowds and how they can really muck up an otherwise great life experience. I asked my husband about them last night over drinks, and his eyes turned into perfectly round…umm…circles.

“Karey, don’t you remember when we met the Pope in Amman?!” he leaned so far over the table with his memory-panic.

No. I don’t remember. I didn’t go. It was 2009, my youngest was not even four, and crowds – especially religious ones – have never felt safe to me. He went with our two older girls, who had just celebrated their First Holy Communion. They wore their white dresses. He wore a suit.

“Pope Benedict,” he said, breaking into the chant. “Bah Bah! Benedicto!” 

He even clapped.

“The gates opened and everyone around us rushed to get to him, and I had to grab the girls – ” He stopped his story to squeeze his arms against his chest, holding on for dear life to his phantom daughters like he’d done that day. “And, for a few minutes, I didn’t know how we wouldn’t be crushed.”

He sat back, shaking his head like he still couldn’t believe it.



Recently, I saw a photo of my daughter, snapped during a particularly frightening moment for her. It was only a split second, as all captures are, but she looked like she didn’t know what was happening or why, completely lost, mid-gasp.

“Off the lean, it’s always better off the lean.”

Now, if you’ve ever seen a photo of this kid, she’s the very definition of life. Coming at the camera – through it, even – laughing, looking like an Abu Dhabi traffic fine. She’s one of those crowd controllers with the ability to make people better or, depending on her mood, much worse.

It all turned out fine, and like I said, it was a moment that is happily over. But I can’t push the look on her face out of my nightmares. It’s the face of someone who doesn’t know what’s coming next. Or how bad it’ll get. 

It’s the face of someone who has lost her breath for a moment.

Thank goodness for all of us she found it again.


I’m a writer who gravitates toward endings completely opposite to the one in Loving Frank.

“You’ve got to be careful,” I warn my girls. “Life can turn on a dime if you don’t take care.”

(Hey. Do you know that phrase’s origin? Turn on a dime? A dime is the smallest US currency, so it’s used a lot when talking about the capabilities of a high-performance car or boat: “Oh, this bad boy? It can turn on a dime.” Apparently, that’s an important quality for a land or sea vehicle. It’s also a common description of someone who can change direction quickly in a very small space: “Whoa, they really turned on a dime.” More important of a quality in a person, I’d say.)

But my life advice doesn’t consider things like people who aren’t paid, fires, murder, and crowds. The last 15 pages of a life – or the last minutes – can’t be written out beforehand so that you might possibly be prepared to turn on a dime and get the hell out of there. 

No matter how you try, no matter how careful you are. 

From what I’ve seen, a lot of endings happen when it’s too late to turn on a dime. From what I’ve seen, a lot of endings look a lot like a gasp that you don’t realize will be your last.


“’Cause just last week I rest in peace’d a homie.”

I just read that the cause of death for most of Travis Scott’s unluckiest concertgoers in Houston was comprehensive asphyxiation. Do you know how much weight it takes to squeeze the air out of someone? I looked it up: 570 pounds. That’s if you’re a standard sized male in his 20s or 30s.

Imagine a 14-year-old kid. 

Imagine anyone.


The other night, in a text, my daughter called me her twin flame. She added a lol at the end, but I knew what she meant. 

And if I’d been lucky enough to have her next to me, watching my face while I read it, picking up my pieces while I searched for the glue, she’d know exactly what I meant back.


About a month ago, my daughter saved a squirrel. She was walking with her friend at her university when she saw the little thing run into traffic and stop big-eyed like squirrels and deer and I tend to do when faced with impending danger. My daughter panicked, then immediately ran into the street with her hands up to stop an oncoming bus.

This is the squirrel.

Later that night, she FaceTimed me to tell me she’d lost two pounds. I gave her a weak thumbs up and a bland smile without teeth, and she frowned at my lack of enthusiasm.

“Weight is such a boring topic,” I said. “You’ve got much better content in you. I mean, you saved a squirrel today. Tell me more about that. Talk to me about your plans for the week. Or your plans for life. Or, like, who’s hooking up with who. Tell me about your pranks…”*

And so she did.

*OMG her pranks are hilarious. One time, she exited a bathroom at a party and told everyone her phone had dropped in the toilet, and then she…as I write out this story, I’m realizing it’s way funnier in my memory and way grosser in real life. The punchline of the prank is her yelling “POOP HANDS!” and then shoving her fingers in her friends’ mouths. Her name is Gracie and if you’re ever around her, you should not be. Run. Especially if she’s smiling. She is always smiling.


I’m a content writer. It’s part of my work to stay current on any topic imaginable that could potentially make my clients more valuable in their particular spaces. If I don’t know about it, I’d better soon. And there’s a lot I don’t know, so it’s stressful work for me.

It was my old job to be prescient on up-and-coming topics women and moms might find valuable. I found people I thought the rest of you might love, and then arranged and deleted their sentences to make sure you did. 

Now, good content is tricky. My posts have to stay close enough to agreeable concepts while subtly introducing new ways to think about things. Low key, I want my stories to be discomfortable, which isn’t a word but it has a good amount of syllables. My goal isn’t to create upsetting content; I hope it simply settles somewhere between your brain and your gut until you’re ready to absorb it or…get rid of it altogether. 

The latter group tends to leave comments that are never published.


One of our family acquaintances early-voted for not-my-choice. Her reason was that she didn’t like “her” voice and couldn’t imagine listening to it for four years. She couldn’t even say her name. Then something about dementia and a crackhead son. She thinks Amy Coney Barrett is brilliant and the right choice at the right time. She believe masks are an infringement on her rights, and COVID-19 is the flu. She RTs QAnon conspiracy theories and thinks Tucker Carlson speaks the truth. And so, I could tell her content was coming from her husband and Fox News.

I wanted to remind her that she kind of has a crackhead son. That wouldn’t be kind. We all tend to view our own content as perfect and complete, don’t we.

But content in real life isn’t supposed to be perfect or complete. I think it’s best when it’s thoughtful and constantly evolving and edited harshly. Content is not meant to be absorbed without question from one source; it’s an active compilation of facts, information, and emotions, a real exertion of effort. You’re supposed to work on it daily, if not hourly. In a perfect world, we’d read the room, see what it’s missing, understand what we’re missing, and adjust accordingly. Content IRL is best when it’s trying. 

Or maybe that’s just at dinner parties.


My oldest, Lillie, has a short FaceTime fuse. If a conversation’s content is not pleasing to her emotionally, informationally, or aesthetically, she’s out.

When she calls, I know she taps on her face and makes it full screen. I know this because the way she looks at herself like she’s the most charming thing this planet has ever seen is not the same level of annoyanceadoration with which she looks at me.

If I sense that she’s feeling less than perfect, I ask if she’s gone on a walk or run that day. The answer is always no. I take that back. The answer is usually a pointed glare, then a hang-up. I get the same response when I ask how her classes are going or if she’s taking care of her body.

“Are you taking care of your body?” That’s a big one with me. It encompasses everything. It has nothing to do with adding or subtracting pounds, but everything to do with drinking less spirits and more water, getting sunshine and sleep, giving away kindness like candy but also not giving away everything you’ve got, asking for what you need, and adding shockingly bold and wild ideas to your brain.

Most calls, I sit and stare at her with a goofy grin on my face. Her content cracks me up. The way she presents ideas and the remains of her days, sometimes in a brash Cockney accent or the da Bears voice of her second high school’s football coach, keeps me entranced.

Entrance. Fill (someone) with wonder and delight, holding their entire attention.

I hope the content I offer the world is half as entrancing as hers is to me.


I am a snowflake. 

Someone I don’t know very well was telling me about her niece, who vocally and vehemently supports Black Lives Matter and Trans Rights and pretty much every other liberty-oriented movement. She said, with rolled eyes, “Does she even know any transgender people? Or have any Black friends?”

It was like she couldn’t imagine expending so much energy on someone she’s never met.

When I offered another idea, one that reminded her of the privilege she and I carry and the responsibility that comes with that privilege, she waved me off with a “You’re such a liberal.” My God, I hope so.

My online pal Katie posted this idea the other day: “Growth requires tension. When you avoid tension, you avoid growth.” I’m trying.

I made this today.

Lately, I’ve been making Korean food twice a week, apologizing to the air when I only add a sixteenth of the gochujang and absolutely zero dried chilis. To me, new tastes bring new understandings. Even if your lips melt off. I’m trying. I see different cultures I don’t recognize on my walks, either via their front door decoration, head coverings, or forehead markings, and race home to Google to learn more about them. I’m trying. I read articles I don’t agree with or find interesting, and highlight the parts I don’t understand. I’m trying. When someone gives me a suggestion, I pay attention and research their idea to determine whether I want to add it to my own cache of ideas or not. And if not, why not? Am I sure? I’m trying. When I am the most comfortable, I look harder for those who are discomfortable. That is still not a word, but I’m trying.

I’m dead sure I’m not doing enough. I’m dead sure none of us are doing enough. If we were, the world wouldn’t be like this.

I am a snowflake. I melt all damn day.


I’m making a new sound these days. It starts out as an “Ohhh!” or an “Awww!” and then tries quickly to disguise itself as a laugh, but tells the truth in the end somewhere deep where chokes and sobs begin.

It comes when I’m reading the news, messaging friends, missing my mom, aching for my real life, sitting in this pause, and at least once every Grey’s Anatomy episode. 

It shocks me every time, and I look around to make sure no one heard. No one hears because no one is here, except for me in this lonely interruption, wishing for a fast-forward button.


I used to appreciate precision and perfection in content. Big sentences set in Times New Roman stone were an architectural accomplishment worthy of marvel. I now gravitate toward imbalanced ideas that lean on each other, ideas that rely on me and those around me to hold them up. I like people who change how they think with new and updated information. I like people who question their belief system and those who instruct them what to believe. I like people who consider the least of us. I like people who mind the gap.

Amanda, another favorite friend I’ve never met, and I DM enthusiastically every time the other one posts a story. To me, she is the epitome of thoughtful, especially if that meant full of thoughts. She leaves space for growth and fury. Does that make sense? In our latest correspondence, she asked, “I wonder if our follow lists on Instagram are mirror feeds?” My God, I hope so. 

I follow a few people on Instagram who openly and regularly dismiss their followers’ ideas and opinions. At least once a week, they reiterate how no one understands their life, their design, or their vision, and no one is allowed to weigh in, and they’re simply not interested in doing this – gestures wildly around their heads – like everyone else. Their content will not change. Not for anyone. 

I also follow people who pretend they’re embracing their followers’ ideas. Wholeheartedly on their feeds and through their stories and in DMs. Oddly, their content gets especially quiet in times when their true opinions would result in a follower drop. They forget that their likes and follower lists are public.

I’m annoyed with the second group.

Dante Alighieri wrote, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” 

I don’t believe in hell at all, but I don’t believe in profitable neutrality anymore, either.


My friend Melissa makes this heart-stopping jewelry.

This is one of my favorites.

Every time she posts a new piece, I zoom in and stare and goosebump at how one-of-a-kind it is. It’s probably not a coincidence that she is first in line to fight for someone else’s rights; her life content, like her artistic talent, seems always at the ready to add another idea to her own collection and fight like mad to keep it safe. 

Anyway. Sometimes you can see her thumbprint in a finished piece. 

It’s so beautiful to me when our content leaves a mark.

Delight (and Other Emotions We Should Be Sharing)

When I was a little kid about ten or so, I used to stand naked in front of my mirror. It was pale yellow and oval with tons of dirt smudges. The mirror, and me.

I’d tell my mom I was going to shower, take off all my clothes, and talk to my naked reflection as if she were someone else.

“Oh, hi.” I’d double wave wildly with no care for the jiggles. “Did you see what I did to Tim at recess?”

Pause while my reflection responded as enthusiastically.

“I know!” I’d squeal softly so my four siblings wouldn’t hear. “And I was wearing my new clogs! They’re wooden!”

Pause while we laughed together.

“Totally!” I can see myself clasping my hands together. “He had to go to the nurse’s office. And then Mr. Pierce came in our room to talk to us about personal space…”

My reflection agreed that fourth-grade Tim had deserved that kick to his personal space. She agreed with me about everything, and she always looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. I loved her so. 

I’d chat with nudie me for what felt like hours in my memory, but was probably only fifteen minutes at a pop, tops. There were no locks on any of our doors. Even if there were locks, we didn’t use them. That’s how the world worked back then.

My mom walked in on me once. She was holding an armful of clean laundry, and she looked at me without changing her face that much. In my memories, her face was always delighted to see me. 

Do you remember that period of time when you think nothing you do can get you into trouble? Nothing is weird or wrong? It just…is? I must’ve been in that slice of time. She must’ve been that type of mom.

She set yesterday’s outfit on my dresser, told me dinner was almost ready, and closed the door behind her.

“You’re so lucky.” Even my reflection was jealous. 


My mom feels guilty for yelling at us all the time when we were young, but those are her memories, not mine.

Sunday mornings before Mass were a mess. I’d watch her in the kitchen, her make-up halfway done and her hair in giant curlers, screaming while she prepped a roast and potatoes to be finished precisely when we walked back in the door an hour-and-a-half later. We’d pick up a Pepperidge Farms coconut layer-cake on the way home.

Everyone else got to get ready leisurely. My oldest brother was usually reading the comics, his hair still wet from a shower that had emptied the hot water tank. My sisters were probably still peeved about their frozen showers and debating outfits, my other brother was probably playing with matchbox cars, and my dad had surely walked by to ask if she could sew a button or iron some pants. There was a lot of sewing and ironing in those days, if I remember correctly.

I’d watch it all from my perch on the other side of the countertop, my chin resting on my arms, nowhere else I’d rather be. I could see her mouth forming words and I’m sure it was loud, but all I could think was, “She is so pretty.”


If you’re worried your babes will only remember the worst of you, I’m here to tell you you’re probably right. I was just a weird kid. 

I was the one who never got spanked. My dad punched my oldest brother in the stomach once when he was a senior, so it’s not like I’m from a line of wimps. They just somehow knew my antics would come to a screeching halt if they told me, “Karey, we love you. Of course, we will always love you. But right now, we don’t like you very much.”

I think they used that line once or twice, but wow it left a mark. To this day, I think liking someone is the important thing. The only thing. 

You can’t imagine my antics when I decide I don’t like you. Or, worse, when someone decides they don’t like me.

Going into parenting, I knew one thing: I would never spank any kid of mine. Never. I resolved that there would not be a situation where I’d need more than my words. It wouldn’t happen. 

You might be wondering how that worked out for us. Well, I made it through three daughters and about a hundred million moments where I could’ve lost control, but most definitely did not. I used my parents’ line a lot with them: “Girls, we love you. That will never change. But right now, we don’t like you very much.”

And. Umm. My girls’ memories include me and my husband slapping them. In their faces. 


Other people’s memories are completely out of our control.


My brother’s teacher asked my mom for an after-school meeting. She had to bring me along because I was too young to leave at home. My brother was at least eight. 

Like I said, that’s how the world worked back then. 

“I’m worried about your son,” the teacher said. All his work for the year so far was set out on the table between her and my mom, and even I could see there was a problem: It was all black. All of it. So many crisp papers and a pet rock and a popsicle stick sculpture. Black black blackety black.

When I ask my mom to retell the story, she remembers how the teacher wanted to test him and send him to the school nurse to make sure he wasn’t depressed or in need of special services. She was sure he needed extra help.

I don’t remember what my mom told her, but I remember thinking she was calm. Whatever her mood, it did not disrupt the day. Does that make sense?

Later that night, long after the conference, she flipped hamburgers on the electric griddle and asked my brother, “Why do you paint everything black?”

He answered, “It looks so shiny and cool. Then it dries and it gets ugly, but…”

He shrugged and she smiled and he smiled back, and that was that. Nothing to see here, psychologists and elementary school teachers. It’s like she never worried about who we were; she knew who we were, and enjoyed us that way.

Other people’s opinions are completely out of our control.

Anyway. My brother ended up going to Harvard.


The best advice I ever received was, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” 

Admittedly, it was passed along by my dad in a hazy-but-real dream after he’d passed away, but still I used it with wild abandon for the next eight years. I quit a few dumb jobs without a back-up plan, and let my clothes pile up on the floor of my closet

“Eight?” you may ask.

“Yes,” I’ll smile back serenely. “Eight years later, I had my first daughter.”

Now I do everything I don’t want to do. 

I think I’ve told you this before, but my mom’s most useful advice to me as soon as my first babe was born was, “From now on, you’re going to be half right about everything. There will always be something you wish you’d done differently or better for your children. You’re going to have to learn to be okay with getting it right half the time.”

She has other hits, too. Like, “They have to be jackasses somewhere. Make sure they feel comfortable enough to let it out at home.” 

And when your babes piss you off, remember all the things you admire about them. The stuff that will make them interesting, interested adults and not prison adults. The stuff that makes you sigh and remember your grammy or your cool uncle or your dead sister. The stuff that makes you hope they stay within hand-holding distance of you as long as possible. The stuff that makes your heart hurt. I swear to you, whatever moment you’re in will seem inconsequential. 

I learned this one a bit late, but it didn’t matter in the long run. My girls think I slapped them when they were six or seven. Jesus.

She taught me it’s nice when your kids and their kids share their music and favorite programs with you, and that being brilliant isn’t as important as being kind. Open-mindedness is always the best option. An unwillingness to grow and change is the ugliest quality in a person. And for God’s sake, don’t watch Fox News. Do the NY Times crossword puzzle if you’ve got time to waste.

She stayed home with us and put everyone before herself, but she would never tell you that’s the best way to parent. She’d encourage you to be the best you possible, whatever that means to you.

What else what else what else I know I’m missing something. Oh, yes. Make sure, in your babes’ memories, your face always looks like you’re delighted to see them. 

She’s one of the best in the business.


One of my daughters’ pals is going through it right now. In case she didn’t know, I told her that every family is mucked up a little. Every one. We’re just all out here pretending we’re mostly okay.

The fifty percent thing. 

It was awkward and I felt bad butting into her life, but I really wanted her to know this before she’s an adult and has her own family. I want her to go into it knowing there’s a real possibility that she’ll get it wrong half the time and that it will be too much half the time and that it sometimes gets worse before it gets amazing.

Amazing is the goal, but there is amazing in the worse, too. Promise.

I don’t want her getting stuck trying to stay in the half-right part of life. I don’t want that for any of us.


Esmé reads me emails she’s about to send to her teachers. 

“Does this sound professional?” she asks. 

How the hell would I know? I end all my notes with exclamation points and walk around my life thinking that we’re all in this together.

Are we, though? I hope we are.


“I think I’m a bad person,” my mom told me the other day.

“Why?” I tried to hold in my giggle.

“I don’t know…” Something was upsetting her greatly, I could tell. 

I won’t tell you what she said. It’s political and personal, and I understand her point completely. But it was pretty funny to me, too. I mean, this is a person who spent her entire life – over eighty years! – enjoying people for who they are, not who she wanted them to be.

Like, when one of my cousins got pregnant before she got married and our entire extended family ostracized her, my mom dragged us over to her little box house after Saturday night Mass to give her a present and celebrate this someday baby. I remember it was dark inside their house. I remember my mom turning on lamps when we walked in. I remember the house looked bigger when we left.

I said, “You’re not a bad person.”

“I think I am.” Man, she was resigned to this one.

“Well,” I suggested. “Am I a good person?”

Her tone immediately brightened. “You’re the best person I know.”

“So if I like you, you’re good.”

Now, I’m aware my mom isn’t perfect. Actually, no. I’m not. That’s a fib. I mean, I know there were awful moments, and more than a few of those fifty percent wrong decisions, but my life as I remember it was mostly her letting me be exactly who I was, which led me to exactly who I am today. And I like that guy when I look in the mirror. Mostly fully-clothed now.

She paused, and I could tell she was smiling again.

They’re the bad ones.”

She’s likely half-right.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Right after winter break during my freshman year of high school, I asked my mom’s hairdresser to replicate a style I’d seen on a surfer’s girlfriend in Hawaii. Since my return from The Islands – of course I did, and repeatedly – I’d refused to wear anything but white drawstringed linen, neon tees that fell off my shoulder, and frosty pink shimmer. I needed this haircut to complete the vibe. 

“Aren’t you cold?” everyone asked. It was the Midwest in January, after all. I lived an hour-and-a-half from Chicago on a farm overrun with corn and cows, at least twenty minutes from civilization. Civilization was the mall. Yes, Michelle, I’m fucking freezing. 

But I smiled and sighed and ignored my haters, wondering aloud if the local ice cream shop offered shaved ice.*

*Our local ice cream shop was the Baskin-Robbins at the mall. I am dead sure I didn’t know it was shave ice at the time, but I’m even surer that no one else in Shorewood, Illinois did, either. 

Michael, my mom’s hairdresser, listened to my description intently, nodding in the mirror like we were embarking on a great adventure.

“White, not like punk white but sun-streaked white here and there and especially in the front. Angled-down bob on one side, a little shorter in the back, and super-short over one ear. Not shaved, just kind of sticking out. Some long strands in front that blow in the wind. Like, they look like a mistake that they’re longer than the rest. They look like I don’t care about this haircut at all.”

Oh, but I did. I cared very much about this haircut.

In less than an hour, my life changed forever. 

That’s me on the right with Jenny and Beth. Melissa McCarthy’s down in the front.


The wrong haircut can ruin your life. Ask anyone with quarantine bangs, or you can also ask me, the guy with a quarantine bowl cut. 

Do you remember ripping pages from Vogue and Seventeen, folding them precisely so there’d be no creases on the actual hair, safe-keeping them in the special pocket of your Trapper Keeper? I do, too. There were a lot of hopes in those tear sheets. 

But editorial hair is pretty much impossible to achieve in real life. If you’ve ever pressed your luck at a salon where the majority of their clientele are one-time walk-ins or regulars who’ve had the same tight perm for fifteen years, you know this already. A place where imaginations get stuck in hairstyle books – BOOKS! – from 1986 atop foggy glass coffee tables in the welcome area, where clients are privy to snippy fights between cigarette-stained stylists and the shifty receptionist about someone stealing tips or not leaving tips or having to share tips with someone who doesn’t deserve them. 

Here’s a tip: Pay for a consultation. If your new stylist doesn’t share your enthusiasm, don’t make a follow-on appointment. If you tell them what you want and they tilt their head to the side and then huddle with a more experienced hairdresser who looks equally confused, get up and leave. If you look in their eyes and then look at everyone else around you and feel a mini panic, walk away. If the salon gives you the creeps or someone makes you feel less than yourself, throw off your cape and go.  

Trust. Your. Gut. 

That’s not anything I’ve ever done, but I think you totally should.

Once, a seasoned beautician just back from smoke break snatched my inspiration pics, held them up one-by-one in front of me, and put her hand over the models’ faces.

“Do you want the cut?” she asked. “Or the face?”

Unfortunately, neither was an option that day.


It’s not just women.

My husband loves Michael Jordan, but he is 5’8 and not known for his basketball talent. In the few pick-up games I’ve seen, he seems to rely on sac taps to pain his opponents into dropping the ball. The only manageable way for him to be like Mike was to shave his head.

Years later, he decided he wanted hair again. He was dismayed to discover that only his sides and back were still there, so he had a choice to make: Michael Jordan or Cookie the Clown?

We belong to a razor subscription club.


I’ve sat in over two hundred different salon chairs in my lifetime. Like, over three hundred. I’m usually horrible with math and exaggeration, but not this time.  

When I meet a new stylist, I make sure to dress up. All black, of course, but my best all black. Not my athletic all black, or my comfy all black, and especially not my linty all black that accidentally got washed with towels. I wear my chicest jewelry, contour and highlight, and make sure my manicure warrants a double-take. 

I certainly don’t want them to think I’m who I usually am.

I’ve simplified the description of my cut over the years, in five different states and as many countries, accessorizing with a Pinterest board full of Kate Lanphear and old Agnes Deyn and Sienna Miller. Sometimes, I show them Instagram shots of bloggers’ baby boys.

“Like toddler hair after a long day at the beach,” I say, pretending this is normal.

My first stylist in Amman came highly recommended by all the expats. His eponymous salon’s pricing chart seemed to be on a sliding scale; the wealthier you looked, the higher your bill. I sure wish I’d known that. (See above sentence starting When I meet a new stylist…)

He didn’t ask me what I wanted and I was too intimidated to speak his preferred Arabic or French. Even if I was brave enough, how much would “Sayed’s office is upstairs from Bashar’s office” and “This omelet is delicious” help me?

Anyway. I ended up with sleek brown hair.

“B-b-brown?” My bottom lip quivered and I couldn’t breathe as I tried unsuccessfully to mess up this new style. 

“This is your natural color,” he replied in perfect English. “This is how you should be.”

I think about him sometimes. I’m still so pissed off by how he’d tried to reveal the real me. The ideal me. How dare he. Natural color. The audacity. What the hell did he even know. Besides three languages and hair. I would never in a million years want to be how I should be.

I left him a thirty percent tip on a three hundred dollar bill.


My sister was a hairdresser. One summer, she put foils in my hair and told me to take them out in a bit as she drove off to do something more important. 

“How long, exactly?” I asked.

She thought about it and shrugged, “A bit. Until it starts to sting.”

I sat outside in our plaid plastic-wrapped aluminum fold-up chair from Woolworth’s, and waited for what I thought was a proper bit, until I imagined I felt a sting. I was orange until she had time to foil me again, and then she persuaded me to chop it all off anyway. You know, to conceal all the breakage. 

“It’s just hair,” people say, and I’ve said it, too.

That same sister was white-blonde most of her adult life, shifting between long and shorter, curly and straight. She never had bad bangs. We’d ooh and ahh, loving on her latest look while anticipating her next life-altering change. She was so carefree and adventure-bent, and you never knew what she’d do next. 

Her very last hairstyle was a wispy crewcut. The least hair she’d ever had, and yet it still looked so heavy on her withering body.

It’s just hair until you don’t have it anymore.


Last week, I finally made an appointment at a new salon in my new temporary city. While the stylist draped the cape around me, I looked in his mirror. It…I…my bowl cut was really not…as whimsical…as I…

Deep breath.

Can I just advise you to never rely on your home reflection for the truth? 

“Do you know what you want?” he asked, nodding sympathetically in the mirror. 

I think I was traumatized because all I could tell him was, “I don’t want to look like a sad mushroom.” 


A few summers ago, I heard my old hairdresser, Michael, was renting a chair at an old lady salon in my hometown. It was right next to a liquor store and the check-cashing/payday loan spot that always had a line outside on Fridays.

I was with my daughter, the one who looks like me at my beginning, and when we walked in he gasped. He took her by the shoulders and looked at her until we were all mildly uncomfortable.

“Your mom made me a million dollars,” he squeezed her while his eyes lit up the salon. “Everyone wanted her hair, and I was the only one in town who knew how to do it.” 

I remembered that day, telling him the haircut of my dreams. That surfer’s girlfriend on the beach in Hawaii.

She’d been standing at the edge of the water, smiling at the sun, laughing at the wild waves like she welcomed them, holding her arms wide in one moment as though she was hugging the horizon. The world was hers. She looked like she could do anything, be anything, overcome everything. I couldn’t tear my eyes away, hoping I could somehow figure out and then memorize how she was how she was

Her haircut was the closest I’d get.

To All the Homes I’ve Loved Before…

I once snapped a photo of a rusted tin house leaning weakly next to my Jakarta traffic jam. I counted at least three different chipped paint jobs, four malnourished cats, one broom without a handle, and ten-to-one odds of tetanus. A sweaty, sobbing toddler wailed out of an opening someone far more optimistic than I would describe as a window. There were two hanging lines of pants and tees in varying sizes, all the same exact shade of brown. It was the sort of brown that didn’t begin brown. 

“It’s as bad as being homeless,” my friend shuddered, shaking her air-conditioned head. 

Jakarta Blue.

We were being chauffered to our kids’ international school for an international fair, which was basically an opportunity for all the moms to show off the best things about our home countries. I was having serious misgivings about the pigs in a blanket on my lap.

I tried not to make eye contact with my driver as I wagged my finger at her. He spoke perfect English and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings about his home country. And even though that screaming little kid would never know what she’d said, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings either.

That was his home, after all. 

It’s easy to forget about feelings in a place like Jakarta. Most of us tuck them away after the first week. 


I’ve been interviewing for fresh work lately. Every time someone asks me to tell them a little about myself, I always mention how I’ve lived all over the world, moving homes every two years for most of my adult life. 

Just so they don’t think I’m bragging, I always throw in the line, “Nowhere cool, like Paris or Rome…” and then casually mention Oman and Jordan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

They laugh comfortably and I look like I’m joining in, but really it’s a tiny test to learn a little about them. What they say next is important. Do they talk about how frightening it must’ve been to live in the Middle East? Do they ask if there are actual stores and neighborhoods in Jakarta or if it’s just…jungle? Do they wonder how I liked the people, emphasizing the people with scare quotes?

And so, my answers. The Middle East wasn’t frightening whatsoever; it was home to some of the best times of my life. I tell the story of going to a Jakarta mall for school supplies, and learning quickly that Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, and Hermès did not carry spiral notebooks. Of course, there was Montblanc, but we’re really more of a Bic family. And I really, really, always like the people.

“Are you happy to be home?” they ask.

Of course I’m happy. I’m always happy to be home. Wherever that may be.


We stayed inside our Manila apartment for the entire month of March. Rumor had it that the penthouse tenants were connected to The Palace, so building management locked us all up straight away to protect them as the hospitals around us overflowed with COVID-19 cases. We weren’t really allowed to leave until we left for good in April.

I love that apartment. Walls are windows, every view is an Instagram story waiting to happen, and it even has an elevator whose mirrors pretend I am much cuter than I actually am. I could call the front desk and ask for whatever I needed: food deliveries, water, and anything else that gave me the feeling I was safe. I miss it and all my stuff terribly. 

But it’s the height of privilege to live in a place like that during a time like this and not once consider that social distancing and uninterrupted income and home security are luxuries most in Manila can’t afford. It’s selfish to feel comfortable when you know that comfort isn’t shared with everyone.

Do you have those thoughts, too, wherever it is you call home?

My mother-in-law thinks I’m a socialist.


My hairdresser in Jakarta used to tell me wild tales about her brother. I can’t tell you the diciest bits just in case you know him or some of his wives, but one of the stories that stuck was how his house would totally and completely flood every rainy season. 

Now, you should know that there are two rainy seasons a year in Jakarta, and each lasts a few months.

Just another Thursday during rainy season.

“Like…every year, twice a year, he has to start over?” I asked, incredulous, my heart racing at the idea of such scheduled upheavel.

“Every big rain,” she shook her head. “He’s bought so many mattresses…”

I shook my head, too. “Why the heck doesn’t he move?” I could not understand this at all.

“That’s his home.” She looked like she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand this at all.


We’re temporarily in Northern Virginia, waiting it out in a big townhouse until I-don’t-know-when. We’ve got two couches, four barstools, one television, five beds, three empty rooms, and a peeler I thought was necessary. We had just enough dishware until I broke two bowls.

My husband recently flew back to our apartment in Manila and my two older girls drove away to their university. For a few weeks after they all left, I felt lost. Aimless. I stayed up late and talked to my friends all over the world. I FaceTimed good morning to my husband when I was going to bed, and flipped it when I woke up again. I slept through breakfast EST and PST.

I am less lost now, but I still don’t take this time zone seriously. I remind myself to remember every day how lucky we are, and I am supremely grateful for this temporary home, this soft place to land in a very hardened time.

It’s not remotely as bad as being homeless, but it feels like there are two walls missing and a roof.


We took a bus to some embassy event in Amman one early winter around 2007, and short-cutted through a section of town I’d never seen. At that time, the residents were probably Iraqi refugees. Soon enough, there would be more sections of town filled with Syrians, Yemenis, or Sudanis. Palestinians had been there the longest, of course.

One of the kids was acting up. (My Southern friend would describe his antics as showing out, if that helps you imagine it better.) It was annoying but easy to ignore, until he slapped his dad. We couldn’t help but gasp, and then pretend to look away with rounded rolly eyes. If I knew how to whistle, that would’ve been the perfect time for an aimless tune.

The guy grabbed his kid’s shoulders and faced him toward the window. “Knock it off,” he growled through gritted teeth, “Or else I’m going to tell the bus driver to pull over and drop you here.”

We all looked out the window, and took in the scene while the kid screamed in horror. Clothes drying on lines hooked between windows, concrete and rubble, grafitti in Arabic, and a barrel fire.

I grew up on a farm, and barrel fires were some of the most fun and excitement I ever had. Like, once, my brother handed my mom the gas tank instead of the kerosene and she burned off her eyebrows.

Anyway. The kid kept screaming. It was the kind of cry that sticks to your chords and your guts and your heart. His dad sure must follow through with his threats. 

I wondered much later why the guy looked at refugees and tried to instill fear instead of empathy. How could anyone look at the falldown houses they tried desperately to turn into homes, and think of anything but gratitude and grace? 

Instead, he went with them and us.

I hate that I keep this moment in my memories, but like I said, cries like that stick.


I think we each have our own definition of home. Writers far more talented than I…me…myself…damn it…have already arranged the perfect words to describe it.

To some, home is a place to hang art, drink steamy tea, and have a blender in a cupboard in case you want to make a smoothie and a peeler in case you buy carrots. To others, it’s White Claws and Rosé with your neighbors in the driveway until the sun dips low enough to remind you of the waiting crockpot and bathtime and one more reading of Good Night, Gorilla.

Home is your morning route, the bathroom renovation, the boots and backpacks by the back door, your Container Store bins and swivels after binging The Home Edit, and how the smoke alarm always pops off when you’re searing filets. It’s the slam of the microwave, the grind of the coffee beans, the hisspered argument about Nordstrom bills, and too many ice cubes at once. It’s the puddle on the floor that surprises your sock until you remember the errant ice cubes. Home is the place you leave and hope to return to even if you don’t know it yet, and every unexpected doorbell ring in between.

I’ve learned that to others, like my old hairdresser’s brother and those displaced refugees and maybe even you, home is a question. Will it rain on us tonight? Will I have one tomorrow? Will I ever get to go back?

A friend in Chicago once told me she envied how I was able to move homes so often. 

“So much change all the time! You must always be in the honeymoon phase of life,” she smiled. “How thrilling.”

Thrilling. Adjective. Producing sudden, strong, and deep emotion or excitement. Producing a tremor, as by chilling. Vibrating. Trembling. Quivering.

Yes. It is thrilling, isn’t it.

Do You Believe In Heaven?

Yeah. Same.

A few weeks before my sister Lin died, she asked me if I believed in Heaven. I was holding her water bottle, positioning the straw closer to her lips, and I tried unsuccessfully to stay steady. I don’t recall the last recorded earthquake in Shorewood, Illinois, but this was the day my entire foundation was shaken to her core.

“Yes. Of course I do. Yes.” My Y was weak both times, and her sinking eyes lost a bit of flicker. There wasn’t much left, already.

On a moment magnitude scale, it was a 5.9. Moderate quake. Considerable damage.

Three days after my dad died, my mother-in-law informed me brightly during dinner, “Right about now, your father is paying for his sins in Purgatory. Hopefully, he’ll be let into Heaven very soon…”

Am I the only one who thinks of ladybugs as tiny angels?

After watching my dad suffer from lung cancer for nearly three years, I didn’t want to hear about Heaven’s rough intake process. I looked down, locking eyes with my empathetic catfish. He was pissed, too.

I pull back and involuntarily cringe when people talk definitely about Heaven. They quote scripture casually and Instagram Story their pastors’ words and they look to the sky, up above the clouds, and explain the After the way it’s always been explained Before.

“But how do you know for sure?” I never ask. I’d love a little less blind faith and a lot more shared experience. So, here’s mine.


I’ve always told my girls that Heaven is just past where you can touch. They’d stretch out and try to find their aunt, and I’d clap my hands and exclaim, “Almost! Almost! You’re almost there!” and then pull them back to me where they belong. For now. For as long as I can keep them.

Anyway. I made that up, Heaven’s close proximity, just in case one of us has to go.

“We’ll still be close,” I promised. “Just a little beyond our reach.”

But then we moved to Indonesia, and I learned I was exactly right.

Now, I’m an awful historian who spends more time on the emotions of an era rather than the actual events, but I’ll explain Indonesia’s history from 1965–66 like this: There was a genocide. It was a genocide much like any other genocide, like the Holocaust and the killing of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge and the current situation with the Uighurs, except Indonesians used hatchets.

No worries. That was ages ago.

When you move eleven hours into the future, your body needs a minute or two to catch up. We were understandably exhausted, our new sleep schedule not helped much by Melatonin or the double shots of NyQuil after we ran out of that. But during our first family dinner at the local Mexican spot about a week in, we started talking about the vivid nightmares we’d all been experiencing.

Lillie, my oldest daughter, brought it up first. “Every night, a grandma shows up next to my bed and puts a silver blanket over me. It’s like a cold fog, and then I can’t move.”

“You’re lucky,” my husband shook his head. “An old, angry lady screams in my face and then starts punching me.” He added more specifics about the beatings, but all I remember were his eyes, round with fear.

“Oh, I have one in my room, too,” my middle daughter Gracie offered in between chips and guac. “He’s sitting up on top of my armoire.”

We waited, blinking while she asked our waiter for another drink. She ordered them like, “Strawberry daiquiri without the…” and then waved her arms. I wondered if he really understood her charades, keeping an eye out for slurring words and chair dancing. She certainly wouldn’t get it from the ground.

“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I just gave him a little” — she saluted with her left hand while holding a chip — “when I saw him the first night, and he’s never been a problem. He’s just…sitting there. We’re cool.”

The waiter brought her drink, she took a sip, gave him a thumbs up, and told us, “Just say hello. Acknowledge their presence. That’s all they want.”

Esmé, my youngest, was asleep in her quesadillas. We decided not to tell her about the ghosts among us.

That night, I slept with Lillie in her bed in her usual spot. Sure enough, just before I fell asleep an old women appeared next to me, lifted her arms, and covered me with a soft, silvery, billowy blanket. I felt cold and warm all at once, safe but not scared whatsoever.

I smiled at her and whispered, “Hello. I see you. I hope you’re well.” And then she was gone.

I wish I’d said something cooler, but it’s not every day you meet a ghost.

Somehow, life in that house went on. It was us and them, and neither seemed concerned with the other. (Except for the old angry woman by my husband’s side of the bed. He never got a break, no matter how nicely he smiled or how politely he said hello.) I still can’t figure out why any of this was okay with us, especially since one of my girls found a roly-poly in her bedroom two midnights ago and had to move to another floor of the house.

I set up my writing office on the first floor, close to the kitchen and next to the stairs. Every day around noon, I’d feel someone walk behind me, passing by on a little puff of wind. At first, I thought it was our maid, but she napped in her room from noon to two. Once, I happened to be exiting my office just when that wind was blowing by, and I felt it on my cheeks. More accurately, through my cheeks.

I remember thinking something along the lines of, “Wait. What. Did. How. Wine. Now.”

Months later, I invited a new friend for tea, a woman who’d lived on Java about as long as she’d lived in Japan. While we chatted, she kept turning her head to look toward my office. At least five or six times.

“Did you know,” she asked gently, “that you’re living in a pass-through?”

I blinked twice and lost all the air in my body. It was one thing for us to see the ghosts, you know? It was next-level horror story for someone else to see them.

“They’re harmless,” she held out her hands to catch my panic. “They wish you no ill will. They were just taken before their time. Their souls aren’t ready to leave yet. They very much wanted to stay.”

They very much wanted to stay.

Oh, I felt that.


I always knew wandering souls were a possibility. When I was twelve, a neighborhood kid fell through the ice in the river flowing in front of our house. His best friend who witnessed his fall panicked and ran home, where he stayed in his room and pretended like life hadn’t just ended. I am certain he spent the rest of his days regretting the hours he wasted, even though only the first twenty minutes truly mattered.

By the time the volunteer fire and rescue team showed up with plans and machines to break through the ice, the situation was apparent to everyone. Even sixth grade me. They set up camp at our house the next morning because we were closest to the river and because my dad was friends with all of them. It used to be such a small world.

At one point, someone suggested a psychic. I KNOW. I look back on this moment in the eighties and can’t imagine that’s even in the top million options for these old men in John Deere hats and Frye boots, long before they were sold at Nordstrom.

As the memory goes, one of them knew a guy who knew a lady, and she called my house to talk to the rescuers. They tried to tell her all about the boy, but she didn’t want to know too much. Just his name.

She relayed messages to the rescue team in the water, like, “Please don’t make me spend another night down here. It gets so dark.” and “If I were a giant, I’d see a silo.”

Well, yes. This is a farm town, sweetie. Still, they kept their unorthodox faith in her and reported every clue.

I ran downstairs to the basement and gently picked up the other phone. As the youngest of five, I’d learned to listen in on boyfriend calls without mouth-breathing.

“My left foot is so cold,” I heard her say in a high-pitched, almost see-through voice, channeling the boy. “It’s so cold.”

And then she gasped. “Oh! There you are! I see you coming toward me! Just a few more steps. Over here. You found me!”

When he was pulled from the water, his left boot was off.


Also, if you don’t have a disco ball, you should totally get one.

I follow this account on Twitter called tiny fairy tales. I love it. The other day they wrote that “Heaven is just a big laundromat where souls get washed and dried before someone new takes them for a spin. The last thing you see before you’re born is a lifeguard at the top of a water slide giving you the thumbs up that it’s your turn to go. It’s also the last thing you see before you die. It’s all waterslides, baby.”

But my favorite tweet of theirs is this one: “Maybe no one’s ever really gone, maybe they become light and surround us, scatter rainbows across our bedrooms, glint off the sky colored water like a million tiny gemstones.”

Oh, I felt that.


My sister was cremated. Her husband scattered some of her at their favorite spot in Florida, but the rest of her is with my mom. During one of my visits back to Illinois, my other sister who still lived in town popped in to see me.

“Oh!” my mom clasped her hands together. “All three of my girls are here.” Her joy made my heart skip a beat.

I’ve never seen a love like the one between my mom and sister. There’s something about trying to save someone for years and years that takes a relationship so deep, you’d both drown without it.

The night my sister died, I heard the phone ring and sat up in bed with a gasp. I stumbled into the hall and waited in the shadows, not wanting to breathe. I heard my mom say, “Okay. Okay. Okay. I’m coming now.” I saw her at the other end of the nighttime house, wrapping herself in fleece and bending down to pull on her boots. And as she bent, she crumpled in half and wailed softly, her hands on her knees trying to push her back to the surface.

“Okay. Okay. Okay,” she whispered to herself. And then she was gone.

Her soul wasn’t ready for my sister to leave. She very much wanted her to stay.

“I had a dream about Lin last night,” my other sister said. “She said she could see everything and it all looked so beautiful.” There were details about the pinks of my mom’s flowers and the green of the trees from our childhood and the twinkly lights on my mom’s back deck.

My mom gasped, then stopped and stared at my sister’s glass urn, a green and fuchsia swirl of a lily she’d positioned in front of a window.

“I Windexed her house last night,” she whispered.

Of course my sister never left my mom. I’d expect nothing less from their love.

Maybe all three of her girls were there that day.


I’ve lived in a lot of homes, in Oman and Jordan, Chicago and Virginia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and a few in between. I could tell you my favorite things about each place, and it would take weeks. But if you ask me my favorite place to be, it’s right next to my girlies three. I can’t imagine ever being ready to leave them.

I will very much want to stay.

Is there a Heaven? I have no idea. But I know for sure there’s a very real place for us all, just past our reach, close enough to feel each other on our cheeks, a bit beyond our fingertips.

Just a few more steps. Over here. You found me.

I’m Covidding All Wrong

One of my ghostwriting clients told me she’s lost two friends to Covid-19. “And I can’t even begin to count how many followers…”

My jaw dropped as I typed and backspaced through a few different versions of “OMG I AM SO SORRY OMG OMG ARE YOU OKAY?!”

“They’re not dead!” She added a few lol emojis. “They’re just pissed because we aren’t Covidding the same way.”

I advised her to never workshop that phrasing on her blog. “Let me handle your crisis pivot,” I emailed back, instantly regretting the use of pivot. My clients are comforted by terms du jour, though, and this one hit the spot.

“Cool. Chat later. Headed to Botox.”

Mostly everyone I know IRL and URL is thriving by this point. They schedule beauty appointments and support their local restaurants and they’re back at their gyms. I’m not doing anything but buying Parker Thatch masks and Googling superspreaders. Botox? My daughter cut my hair with kitchen shears last night. I have a bowl cut.

I can’t show you my bowl cut. Next time.

One of my pals started an Instagram Live series, but it’s religious so I know I’ll never be a guest. Another friend is taking a social media break and touring the South with her kids, visiting colleges, renting beach houses with family members they haven’t seen in years, and connecting with a long-lost biological sister she didn’t know existed.

“Just…you know,” she told me. “Hunkering down.”


The best way to protect a brand and a reputation these days is to crop out the Covid. Bloggers and besties I’ve loved for years vague-post their weekends and workouts, zooming in tight to miss instructors and other sweaty strangers, pretending the newly-opened restaurant is their own dining room. Do you honestly believe they’re wasting that Retrofete robe dress on date night at home? I’d And, seriously. How many of us make Manhattans with a black cherry garnish for movie marathons in our basements?

You-know-whos escaped from their Covid-heavy towns in the dead of night, deleted comments bashing their decisions, and hoped like hell they didn’t get socially shamed on Get Off My Internets. No such luck, dears.

I’ve never been the guy who criticizes other people’s decisions, and I’m not going to start now. But guys like us are getting lonely and feeling weird. It’s uncomfortable to create a whole new set of rules that make us comfortable, especially when no one agrees on the rules.

Followers and friends with completely disparate distancing practices are having a rough time. I get it. One of my favorite people in the world lives two miles away. She still hugs, invites us to her home, and rolls her eyes at social distancing.

“We…” she asserts, waving her hand in an inclusive air circle, “are our own community.”

I love what she’s putting out there, but we don’t live together and everything I’ve read warns me of merging exposure and remember that family who met up one random Tuesday for dinner and mostly all got the virus and a bunch of them died? I do. Plus, my youngest has asthma and scoliosis, which I only mention so you understand my obsession with flattening curves and curving spines. It’s chaos inside my brain.

I am dying to see her, but I don’t want to see her and die. Or, worse, get her sick and then she…I can’t even write it.

She shakes her head at me on FaceTime. “I refuse to live in fear.”

Well, there’s the difference. Fear is my hometown.


A short list of things I fear:

  1. Hippos. They look cute, but they’re actually really aggressive and unpredictable and can run 19 mph. I can’t run 19 mph. I could’ve ended that sentence at run.
  2. Turkey neck. Iykyk.
  3. When I’m leaning over the sink, brushing my teeth, and then I look up at myself in the mirror and there’s a killer in a balaclava standing behind me.
  4. Waking up from a long coma and discovering no one tweezed my upper lip.
  5. Killnesses that make doctors say, “Huh. That’s a new one.”


I was born with this panic, a sick little kid allergic to everything fun. It didn’t help that we lived on a farm specializing in hay, pastures, and cows. I was even allergic to my goat, and couldn’t pet her good-bye after she was attacked by a pack of Dobermans. I was probably allergic to them, too.

When I caught a cold, it traveled straight to my lungs, ensuring I’d be home and in bed for at least a week or two, trying to catch my breath. I was the only one in my family with her own room; no one wanted to sleep with the kid who woke up sneezing seventeen times at 4:00 am, hisspering, “Aren’t you going to say God bless you?!”

Shhh is the first word I remember learning. My mom’s cool hand on my forehead, sliding to my cheek, checking for fever, is one of my gentlest memories.

I’d hear life happen from my bed as my brothers and sisters came home from school or practice or work or a date, my mom starting off their hushed conversations with, “Shhh, Karey’s sick.”

Sometimes, if I was awake and desperately seeking company, my older sister sat on the other side of my open doorway and told me scary stories about the girl who dared cross the thin gold bar holding down the carpet between my bedroom and the hallway. Shit got real when she got to the part about the hippo waiting on the other side to chase and trample her.

Shhh. Let her sleep. Pray the medicine works. Stay away. That was my family’s approach to sickness.

Years later, when our combined happiness depended on CT scans and MRIs of my dad’s lungs and brain, I learned to tiptoe, too. If I didn’t wake him from his corduroy La-Z-Boy nap, I wouldn’t have to talk to him. If I didn’t go near him, I wouldn’t give him my cold. I didn’t have a cold, but you can never be too careful. And if I didn’t go near him, he wouldn’t be able to pull me in for a hug and I wouldn’t stop breathing and melt into him, choking on all the things I wish I was brave enough to tell him. Like, I’ll miss you terribly. Please don’t leave me. Don’t go to the hospital. They might keep you forever. And then what would I do.

I tiptoed past him for his last two years.


My sister got the same sort of cancer — the kind that ends poorly — and I learned something new and even more heart-breaking about illnesses. Sure, we all still tiptoed and shushed, making mashed potatoes when she couldn’t chew anymore, heating blankets in the dryer to warm her brittling bones, effusively pretending her bedroom looked SO MUCH CUTER on the first floor in her living room.

But my sister? Man, my sister taught a Master Class on Living Until the Very End.

Her last few weeks were packed with activities. She put on eyeliner before she took her Oxycontin, wrote thank you notes to all the people who had loved her, said yes to every unexpected guest, smiling sympathetically when they complained of summer colds and backaches that were killing them, and showed up with the sun on the back patio for one last morning swing.

A few days before her ending, she asked me if her hair looked okay. She didn’t have much by this point, but her husband was taking her into Chicago to Greek Town for some gyros and she wanted to look pretty. He loaded her wheelchair in the back of their Jeep and lined the passenger seat with blankets while I assured her she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. I wasn’t even looking at her hair.

There’s a page in my memories with her being carried out the door that day, looking back at me with one of those goodbye smiles you never want to see…but you’d give anything to see it just one more time.

I knew the hippo was waiting for her out there, but she sure didn’t.

When things go south, I promised myself, I’m going to be like her.

I am nothing like her.


I wish I had my brother-in-law’s confidence. He’s been traveling two or three times a week since January, and doesn’t own a mask. He persuaded a bartender at O’Hare to pour him a beer in April despite Governor Pritzker’s shutdown. His epitaph — not that I want a world without him in it — should read “Loved beer. Hated rules.” And then something about jamokes. He has the best stories about jamokes.

On his most recent flight, the attendant provided him with a mask and asked him to wear it. He pretended he was on the phone, and hooked it casually over one ear, holding up his “Just a second. Hold…” finger until she left him alone. He hasn’t been sick once.

My friend texted me last week: “Are you up for a social distancing happy hour in our driveway?” I replied in all caps YES, adding the echo effect to highlight my enthusiasm. Yes. A hundred yesses. At least.

What I really meant to tell her is NO, sent with fireworks. (Explosives. Another fear I forgot to list.)

I straight-up can’t say no to an invitation during the time of Covid-19, which is odd because all my online friends have overposted some version of the phrase “No is a complete sentence.” I should be more comfortable with it by now. By that logic, I should also realize my worth is not tied to my weight, but I am feeling very overpriced lately, nonetheless.

Part of my panic is that I simply do not know how to re-enter society. I mean, I know how to act at the grocery store, but social rules are a little fuzzy to me. Do I wear a mask while happy-houring, or is the six-foot distance enough? My cocktail style is little sips, and lots of them. Imagine the amount of times I’ll have to touch my mask. I already have and it’s worrisome. Judging from the responses to the masks with straw holes, I know those aren’t an option. They’re like condoms with convenient pee punctures. Speaking of sips, too many and I forget the rules. What are the rules, again? Everyone has a different list.

And while I deeply, madly, truly want to return to my favorite restaurants, I’m scared of waiters holding my wine glass from the top on a normal day. When’s the last time they washed their hands? Yesterday? Add in Covid-19 on the rim, and I’m out.

And so, I make excuses. They started out strong. We’d just returned to the US from our home in Manila, so I was jet-lagged. Plus, we had to quarantine for two weeks. Three, to be sure. Then I had a cough. It was a fake cough, but it bought me another week. Then my husband flew in, transiting through South Korea and Detroit, so that gave us two more weeks. My daughter still attends school in our old time zone, which means she’s got classes from 9:00 pm until 2:30 in the morning. I open the school cafeteria around midnight. On a good day, we wake up around noon. On a great day, we’ll see you at one.

But she’s almost done with school. And the beach in front of the house we’re renting is filling up with loads of people who won’t let a little old virus stand in the way of their fun in the sun. Or burnt beer bellies, but that’s a different article.

These are frivolous concerns. I know this. You know this. Every night before I fall asleep, I thank my lucky stars I’m not an essential worker. I’m not even sure I’m an essential person these days. I don’t know what to do next. I guess I’ll Google superspreaders at restaurants.


My mother-in-law asked my husband the other day, “So, Mike.” His name is Patrick but she started calling him by his middle name when I came into the picture. He hates it. I thought you should know.

“Tell me, Mike. You think everyone’s overreacting about this flu?” She said it like anyone from Chicago would say “Would ya get a load of this guy?” I imagined her rolling her eyes at Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham or whichever Fox news anchor was spewing nonsense at the time, pointing her thumb toward the phone.

My husband responded, “No.” It took up three syllables. “I wear a mask, gloves, I wash my clothes and take a shower when I come back from the grocery store, I stay away from everyone…No.” Three-and-a-half syllables this time.

She quickly replied, “Oh, me too.”

Mike thinks she’s lying.

Is everyone lying? I know I’m not the only one isolating, but it feels like I am. Most of my friends say things like “It’s time to get back to normal,” and I know what they mean: they really, really want a haircut. My bowl cut understands.


I’m probably overthinking everything. It’s what I do. These days, I worry about everyone who died alone, those about to die alone, and those who just feel alone. I stress about what I’ve said and what I’m about to say, what I’ve written and what I’m about to write. My work doesn’t help. I told you I’m a ghostwriter, so I even worry about things I’ve written while pretending to be other people. Worse, I’m holding a lot of secrets that cause me regular panic, stomach pain, fury shakes, and an inability to stop mood-snacking.

Sometimes, old employers take credit for my things. Which is fine. It’s fine. Any ghostwriter will tell you that’s part of the gig. But after a particularly painful Instagram humble-brag pre-quarantine, I made an appointment with an ENT.

“I think I have thyroid cancer,” I told him miserably. “It could also be intestinal cancer, pancreatic, spleen, lung, or any other organ in this general area.” I waved my hand from here to there.

“Why do you think that?” he asked patiently.

“Well. Sometimes it feels like I’m choking. I sweat a lot lately. And I can’t lose weight.”

“Are you trying to lose weight?”

I tilted my head and thought about that for a second. I’m trying to lose something.

He described all the tests he could perform and all of them sounded awful, which made me more miserable. While he felt my thyroid, he asked what I do for a living.

“Not much,” I answered glumly. “I’m a writer.”

He looked at me, his face right next to mine, way too close. I hated that then, but now I miss it.

“You know,” he said. “Not every story has to have a tragic ending.”

He must be new here.