God Gave Me Her

“For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.”
Luke 2:10

This is one of my favorite Christmas phrases and while I love this time of year for the oozing thankfulness, goodwill toward men and my love, Jesus, the good tidings of great joy I am speaking of here, is when God gave me her.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The year was 2004 and I was entering college, the brisk tundra that is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I came to NMU pretty unsure of myself, yet at the same time pretty sure I needed to be the person I’d been too scared to be before: my true self.

While a part of me thought my natural coolness (I distinctly lack natural coolness, so I was doomed from the start) would just effervesce to the surface with minimal effort, turns out I was still just as uncool as I was in high school. But the difference was I had begun to accept the fact.

Fate has a way of intervening in these things and did so on Halloween night. Don’t misunderstand, fate could care less about my social stature, but it did have a hand in making sure I found my person, who would in fact always help honor the best in me.

I went to a church Halloween party in a local gym, where I did walk-abouts in my 70’s disco costume: an adult dance leotard with flared legs that I’d found thrifting. I put on a black afro of Diana Ross proportions and popped a handful of candy or Cool Ranch Doritos in my mouth every opportunity I got. I was back in my dorm and in my pajamas by 9 p.m. I purchased a package of brownies on the way home, because, obviously.

I popped in a VHS of, It’s a Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and began to do my laundry. That is when I heard a ruckus in the dorm hall. I peeked out to see a group of girls—the cool girls—bedecked in their costumes, a tinker-bell, sexy cat, the like. While my night was winding down, theirs was only just beginning. They spotted me and yelled hellos.

The sexy cat was Ashley—sure I knew her. She lived in my hall, we were supposed to start a dorm newsletter which we had Pulitzer Prize winning hopes for and then never wrote a single article and most importantly she was funny—her infamous costume for years would be some sexified variation of a sweet woodland animal.

I gleaned that they were about to walk in the frigid Marquette air to a Halloween party. Being painfully maternal, I insisted on being their driver. They politely asked if I wanted to come along, but I had already had my fun and was comfortable being the designated driver.

I am not sure what did it. Why this group of terribly cool girls—they listened to The Smiths, had insatiable wit and knew everything wonderful about pop culture—would later want to be my friend because, in my mind I had already indicated what I was about. Staying in as a freshman to watch, It’s a Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on Halloween should have by all rights said it all.

It did say it all. These were my people, for they adored my maternal ways, my propensity to do deeply nerdy things, and after all was said and done I was just being myself.

They loved me anyway. Best of all Ashley loved me anyway.

It is appropriate that our love started on a holiday, sure not Christmas, but with that one holiday, we’ve celebrated everything together: Christmases, babies being born—all hers, because I am wild and free and can barely keep track of my coffee mug collection—marriage—again her—boys, boys and boys.

The most important thing I can say about my best is that while every celebration has mattered with her by my side championing me, she’s been there through the antithesis to celebration, which let’s be honest, happens a lot more in life.

Like all the times we didn’t celebrate boys. One would break her heart and I would see red, storm outside in my pajamas in ten inches of snow, vowing to slit the ol’ bastard’s tires, while Ash howled from a window for me to stop. One would break my heart and she’d get on a plane just to hold my hair and force feed me dinner because I refused to find solace in food—the only time I don’t enjoy eating.

We would diet together, power walking and eating gobs of low-fat string cheese and Luigi’s Italian Ice for dessert, but then when we gained 10-35 pounds back, we’d say ah fuck it, buy frozen pizzas and cuddle each other in bed watching rom coms.

Every time I have packed up my car and moved cross-country, felt uncertain, misunderstood or scared, the times when life is the farthest thing from a glossy celebration, but is instead the underbelly, the bowels, the deep bog of cow shit, she reminds me that she has my back.

To illustrate:
One night in our junior year of college while of course snuggling in my bed, we heard something ominous downstairs. We looked at each other and after a brief exchange decided to investigate.

I grabbed a heavy clay angel with a chipped wing that I always had on my nightstand. Ashley grabbed an enormous can of hair spray and down the stairs we crept, ready to bash in an intruder’s head with a clay angel while doubly ruining his eyesight with Big Sexy Hairspray.

Turns out it was nothing and we went back to snuggling.

But here’s the point. For all the times I have called her and cried, about, well nothing, she has had my back. When I have cried about colossal non-nothings, she’s been armed and ready to take on my battles, hairspray in hand. Except not really with hairspray, but you get the metaphor.

I wish I had time to tell you every story about her, but it would fill a novel and not a 1,000 word blog; she gave me a limit because she’s sort of bossy like that. I went over it anyway, because I am a real renegade.

At any rate. In my large list of thankfuls this holiday season, Ash makes the top of the list. For not deigning to touch on my un-coolness and befriending me one Halloween anyway, for having my back always, for the cuddles, the gut-wrenching laughter and the years of celebrations and un-celebrations alike.

Cheers, to you my dear. Always.

XO

-Cassandcastle

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Christmas with Cassandcastle

 

christmas-with-cassandcastle-mrs-mommy-mack

Guest Blog by Mrs. Mommy Mack

Back before we were adults. Before she stood next to me on my wedding day. Before babies, live-in boyfriends and big girl jobs, there was us. We were our family. We lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the small college town of Marquette. The one holiday that Marquette outshines any other with its blizzards, arctic temps and icy Lake Superior views is Christmas.

Funny thing is, the only person’s birthday Cassandra likes to celebrate more than her own is Jesus’s birthday. I learned this 12 years ago when we met on campus. We were both journalism majors with no clue of the future. We knew we wanted to write. I knew I needed to be her friend. I loved her excitement, her laugh and the way she told a story.

Something you might have realized about Cassandra, she doesn’t give a flying shit what other people think about her. She was absolutely the only college student I knew who brought Christmas decorations to college. Not just lights to string around your dingy dorm. I’m talking ornaments, dishes, candles, the works. Every time after Halloween you entered her rattling Ford Taurus you could hear the faint jingle of Christmas music and her rosy cheeks beamed with excitement over her annual Christmas party. While other college students were at a kegger in someone’s smoke-filled basement, Cassandra was digging through her scrapbooking box for just the right stationary to send invites on.

No, we weren’t on campus for December 25th. In fact, in college you’re out for the holidays for an entire month. That never stopped Cassandra. As soon as December rolled around, she invited all our friends far and wide. She spent every last penny (probably more than her last penny, let’s be honest) on food, gifts and Christmas cheer. We invited our annual crushes and lost our minds in anticipation. We’d hang mistletoe in hopes for a rehearsed smooch. We’d be ready. She: planning every course, dessert and Secret Santa. Me: buying too much alcohol and eating most of the food before guests arrived.

The thing is, we were all very lucky to have her. She was the glue that held our hodge podge of a college family together. She was the mom of our group. Some of the guys even referred to her as Mama Cass. Even though she constantly despised the name and wanted to be revered as a hip, young college student. She was always our caregiver. For Pete’s sake, while I was honing my Chef Boyardee skills, she was crusting chicken breasts and three course meals for all our starving mouths. She was the one that kept us all together. While I forced shots down her throat, she made me homemade cookies from scratch and held my hair back when I inevitably puked up Christmas dinner. We all missed our homes in states all over the Midwest. Cassandra was home. She comforted our hearts.

For four years, we celebrated the holidays together. Her taking care of all of us. Me making her drink too much. It always seemed to end in the same fashion, too. We would all fling off our bras, flop on the couch, dig into the baked goods we were too abashed to eat in front of our crushes and discuss the utter disappointment in our choice of men. We’d eat way too much. More than likely cry a little as we pined for our soulmates. Then, we’d end up snuggled together in her tiny bed, sleeping under her twinkling icicle lights completely content in our friendship and newfound sisterhood.

But, it didn’t matter. At the time, it seemed like were cursed in a hamster wheel of hideous love interests, we were really blessed with each other. If you haven’t had the pleasure of spending a holiday season with Cassandra, I encourage you to bask in the glow of her Christmas cheer. We are now thousands of miles apart and she has an actual soulmate to snuggle her under the blinding glow of her Christmas tree. But, one thing will never change. She will be my sister for the rest of my Christmases.

Every December, I think about our years together during the holidays. I also thank God in the month of his birth for blessing the world with someone as unique as Cassandra. She will always be my favorite Christmas present.

ash

About Mrs. Mommy Mack

Where did she come from? Where did she go? Mrs. Mommy Mack is an impulsive writer for the past decade or so. She started out professionally and couldn’t handle the ghastly amount of money she was paid, so now she does it for free! As a self-proclaimed Expert of Nothing, Mrs. Mommy Mack uses her blog as cathartic word vomit she hopes will make you smile. There’s really no theme. She just so happens to be a mom who’s been on a diet since puberty and curses much too much.

Once You’ve Had the Best

 

There’s nothing better once you’ve had the best.”
-George Jones

I’ve always loved old country songs. Ranging from Randy Travis (whom I can’t fathom being in the genre of old) to George Jones and Merle Haggard.

My boyfriend knows this too, as he thought it was important that I own a vintage Randy Travis Fan Club pin, which for the record just about undid me. And the other day kidded about hiring musicians to serenade me.

“I’m going to get you Travis Tritt and Miley Cyrus,” he said with chest-swelling pomp.

“You know those two aren’t a combo, right? It’s Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus.”

I say all this, really as an aside—though it’s an important aside, so remember it—because that song lyric has always given me dreamy pause. Sure I’ve thought each past boyfriend ought to be the best, because he did this or that: took me up in a plane, sent me flowers for no reason, did the big grand gestures.

And while the big grand gestures never hurt a girl, those other men were missing a key component. They didn’t truly know me. They couldn’t have because I was only allowing myself to be a cultivated version of myself to please them.

I tried to be the kind of girl who went to country clubs and showed up to affairs 30 minutes early.

I’m not that kind of girl.

I tried to be the kind of girl who would keep my mouth shut and be less of a flaming hippy, the kind who wants to chain herself to trees to save the rainforest and join protesters for Native American rights.

Yeah… not that kind of girl either.

I even tried to be the kind of girl who was less interested in sugar.

And sadly, I will never be that kind of girl.

So, naturally, as God would see fit, none of those relationships worked out. I was of course surprised and dismayed and threw seven dozen tantrums.

Then I met him. So the story usually goes.

And this is how our story goes:

One night late after work, when I was lazy and tired, I suggested takeout: cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries. We walked in the door, only for me to immediately rip off my bra and start changing into my comfies, my usual, M.O. I was elated over not having to cook and to have a cheeseburger sans ketchup with extra pickles in my mouth in 2.5 seconds.

My sir started getting handsy and pulling me in for a kiss. Fine, a kiss, but when he started pulling me toward the bed, I halted, absolutely appalled.

“No way. There are cheeseburgers and sweet potato fries in there,” I pointed to the kitchen.

He laughed and kept trying to pull me back.

“No, I am not kidding. I want the cheeseburger much more than you right now. There is no getting in my way of that.”

I walked away to the kitchen. He laughed again and followed, while I unabashedly sunk my teeth into my cheeseburger in happy glee. And he knows. Because he knows me. The real me.

He knows I eat faster than he does, I could generally outeat him and certainly love food inexplicably more than he does.

He also knows the me who does weird faces and imitations at him in line in Starbucks while he stands stock still seemingly perusing the menu. I persist, rubbing my nose against his face and doing loony jigs around his body. He looks sideways at me and raises his eyebrows and I giggle. He later points out that he loves when I am exuberant like that.

“You mean when I’m a weirdsmobile?”

“No, you just seem really happy.”

“I am happy being a weirdsmobile.”

Also I am happy with him. But being a weirdsmobile? Yeah that’s an enormous part of my personality too. I have never really hid that with men, however, I have never had one who dishes it right back.

Like today while shopping he asked if he could buy a WWE comforter set. I pretended to be horrified but secretly thought it was hysterical and wonderful. Not that I like WWE, but I could be on board liking it ironically.

I led him by the hand back to the WWE sheets where he hemmed and hawed.

“Nah, I mean these are all the new guys. Maybe if the bedspread had Steve Austin.”

Then we looked at wrestling belts in the toy aisle and I suggested that he buy one as consolation, but only if he did WWE moves with it on.

“Maybe we should build a wrestling ring,” he mused.

I think to myself as I often do when I am with him, one of two thoughts:

He truly is the best.

And/Or

He is the best human I know. 

I literally find myself wanting to ask strangers, “can I tell you about the best human I know?” and it’s him.

I don’t do it, of course, but I oftentimes think it.

Which brings me back to the beginning, almost.

There was this woman I once knew whose fiance was a firefighter and died in the September 11th attacks before they could marry. She never wanted another love, because she said she’d already had the best one and wasn’t interested. At the time I thought it was a sweet sentiment, but she had been young when it happened and had time for perhaps another love. As long as I had known her, her best love had been her only love.

But now I see, there’s nothing better once you’ve had the best.

And that is how I feel about him.

He isn’t the could be best, or should be best, he is simply the best.

Besides, I think it’s pretty obvious if a guy gives you a Randy Travis Fan Club pin, you’re his for life. At least, that’s what works on this girl.

xo

-Cassandcastle

Croissants and Siberia

It wasn’t enough that they’re paying me to fly upside down in planes, bounce along in a big rig down rows of sugar beet plants and fly over my handlebars while mountain biking. Okay that’s actually more than enough and all I could’ve dreamed of in landing my first big girl journalism gig.

But see, somehow I still want more. While I am at work writing about coffee shop owners crooning after hours in nun habits or covering a court case about a spurned lover and his descent into madness, I can’t help but think about baking pan au chocolat and croissants this weekend and becoming the next Julia Child.

Or I find myself casually looking up rates to attend the Iditarod and as an aside learning to become a sled dog musher. Do I have enough time in life to learn to mush sled-dogs, get adequately good at it and enter The Last Great Race? Maybe I only have time to cover it as a journalist? I suddenly wonder about taking time off, spending upwards of 15G’s and fulfilling a lifetime dream while dressed in furs worthy of a Russian czar.

And speaking of Russia, why haven’t I ridden the Trans-Siberian Railway yet? Why, why, why, why, why? I mean, all fanciful, croissant loving girls-about-town surely fantasize about steaming ahead through wintery Siberia in a historic train-car. That can’t just be me right?

I won’t wax poetic on how I have wanted wild and outlandish things my whole life, how as a child I gave serious thought to the logistics of digging my own swimming hole in our backyard, until I broke ground, saw a worm and ran. Or mused about whether I could actually jump a train, from the tracks nearby. The way I saw it I probably would’ve befriended a wolf while singing hobo hymns with a snappy if not disheveled gentleman who’d teach me railroad wisdom and share his canned beans.

Honestly if I had a nickel for every time I dreamt about croissants and the Trans-Siberian, I could’ve paid for both tickets to France and Russia easy peasy. If I expanded that notion and had a nickel for every time I’ve thought about fancy bakery and riding the rails in general, well I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with you, because I’d be too busy tending to my grape vineyard/snooty sandwich empire in Italy and flitting to Switzerland at a moment’s notice with my husband the mustache twirler and cigar smoker.

Ah, but to dream. It is sincerely my favorite pastime. I dabble with my wild fancies so much so, that I oftentimes have sleeping dreams of places I’ve never been, doing things that only Peter Pan can do—ahem don’t you fly in your dreams—and sometimes I even howl out and thrash like a wild thing, because some otherworldly figure is trying to swoop me out of my boat and take me to his underground lair. My boyfriend becomes nearly jarred right out of his drawers when I do that and shakes me awake informing me that I was having a nightmare.

I shrug and say, “not really, though it was alarming and he almost got me.” And then I casually try and go back to bed while he looks at me suspiciously, while eyeballing my neck for suspicious marks that indicate some sort of possession.

All fanciful dreaming aside, those of you who have followed my journey as Adventuredame, know how seriously I take adventurous living, but I am in my 30’s now and it was time to become a grown-up professional. Naturally Cassandcastle the Dreamer was an obvious choice to encompass my new decade of life. As if I ever do become too old to be a dreamer well then someone or something has taken over my mind and I am not to be trusted.

This was really all to say, I am still here just more sophisticated and thirty-like. Except 30-year-old me still wants to stuff her face full of Parisian-esque sweets—although Parisians would surely turn down their noses at face-stuffing, so I promise to be more dignified when I go there—and run away on the rails.

So I guess I am not more professional, dignified or sophisticated. But I still want you all to be in the loop when I run away with my mustachioed love—for the record my love really does have a fabulous mustache that he refuses to twirl, but lets me twirl when I have a hankering—and start a bread and chocolate shop while contemplating buying a team of sled dogs.

xo

-Cassandcastle