It was like cleaning out a junk drawer before a move. It was the last few boxes of our storage unit containing the remains of our marriage. But instead of rubber band balls and expired coupons, it contained fragments of my life that I could not part with or bring with me to China. Diaries. My grandmother’s China. My purple Doc Martins.
And there it was, underneath the other half of my bike lock.
The black leather cover of our wedding Bible.
I froze. Just what do I do with it?
I picked it up and leafed through the onion skin thin pages, surprised at the memories that jumped out. A picture of a friend, a letter from my mom. A program from a funeral for a baby, his little foot prints on front.
I flip through the pages again finding more surprises. A door tag from a hotel in Bangkok. A frayed tag from my dad’s navy days. I put the Bible down on a stack of boxes I was ready to haul to the dumpster.
I look at the date embossed in gold on the cover. 1999. My marriage was a thing of the past like floppy discs,Y2K emergency bunkers and Wow potato chips.
I had an Olestra moment. It was time to get going.
But throwing out a Bible? It would be bad luck like walking under a ladder or drinking tap water in China.
I hummed and hawed. Do I donate it to a shelter or give it to someone who needs it more than me? I thought of a favorite Bible that I gave it to a down-and-out friend who was trying to kick her habit. The gold trim was worn off. Verses were highlighted like rainbows. She ended up using my Bible as a place to write the phone numbers of her drug dealers.
Don’t want to do that again.
I brought the Bible back to China as part of my hundred pounds of checked-in life, along with my chunk of cheddar cheese and Pepperidge Farm goldfish in a box that the TSA would slice apart.
I felt like a jet set bag lady schlepping my life in a luggage cart.
Thirteen time zones later, I arrive at my new apartment and make a hundred pound mountain of me in the center of the floor.
I pick up the Bible and leaf thru the pages again. I find something I never did before, a fan folded letter from my husband scribbled on a piece of legal paper. It was tucked in the Old Testament prophets.
Dear Dad, I’ve been kind of a jerk to Ginger…
A few tears come out when I realize when it was written— closer to the date on the cover than the date flashing on my phone.
I returned the note to Nehemiah where I will never find it again.
I go back to the mound of my life spreading on the floor of my apartment. I dig out from a tangle of socks a package of Sharpies that a friend bought for me.
“I thought you might need these in China,” she said.
You’re damn right.
So every day as I watch the sun come up, I do what I should have done before. I open the Bible, grab a Sharpie and share my thoughts in technicolor: lamenting, celebrating, underlining and recharging and take in the distinct smell of something permanent.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever. Psalm 100:5
I did that time warp thing over the weekend otherwise known as a high school class reunion.
For some reason, I thought the class of 1979 would class preserved in time like a loaf of Velveeta.
Well, surprise, surprise, surprise.
My life took a left turn from what I had planned, my 401 K downsized to a 4, my future erased with an Etch-a-Sketch thanks to a divorce that spanned two continents, thirteen time zones and three credit cards.
And thanks to a midlife senior moment, I forgot to pack something to wear.
I raided my storage unit in Chicago for something to squeeze into. I had two choices: my dad’s golf sweat shirt paired with pajama bottoms or my wedding dress. I went for the latter. It wasn’t a full blown gown but a short peachy number with spaghetti straps. The dress fit—well sort of—I couldn’t zip it all the way that is, if I wanted to breathe, which is why I wore the matching sweater the entire time.
No ballet flats or pump, just fuzzy slippers I picked up at a consignment shop.
I entered the banquet hall, the mid-life time traveler ex-former hell-raiser whose living in China but is still an American (which I had to explain a million times). Yes, I love our country, especially toilets with seats and the cereal aisle. And oh yes, that whole freedom of speech thing really rocks.
My eyes pop out when look around. Who are all these old people? What happened to the jocks with David Cassidy haircuts and six packs? I eyed a former crush who no longer crushed me and blinked a few times at a guy who was the spittin’ image of his dad. There were a few others I didn’t recognize at all, including a person reaching for a breadstick in the buffet line. Come to find out, it was the kid whose locker was next to mine.
Classmates shared pictures of their second homes and grandkids. Those who never made the honor roll now had ostrich sized nest eggs (You know your life sucks when the class stoner has a better retirement plan than you do). I thought of my 4 by 8 storage unit. My apartment in China that I shared with my naked acupuncture man. The detours my life took. The dead ends. The rest stops. It’s time to do a U-turn. My stomach churned thinking of how long I’ll have to work just to eat cat food, a generic brand.
If only I could shake up my past and have a clean slate.
We talked about the teachers who molded us. Friends who upheld us. Police who kept their spotlights on us. I chatted with a several friends who married their high school sweethearts, now pillars of a strong community.
Thank goodness for these pillars.
A few classmates still have teens in an era where heroin is the new pot and kids cruise the dark web instead of Main Street. I think of the police who made us dump our beer and escorted us home. If only you could control the knobs of a kid’s life.
As if our parents could control ours.
Then, there were the empty chairs. We all had the same question that no one dared to ask: who will win the Grim Reaper’s raffle ticket for our next reunion?
As a kid, I busted my butt to get in college so I could leave that small town. Now all I want is to get back in. But I can’t travel back in time. My fuzzy slippers won’t bring me there. Can’t erase my mistakes, but I can reimagine my future. I smile for the class photo and hold my breath. I’ll never squeeze back into this dress again.
I’m sick of it all. I’m so sick of it, I don’t want to write about it. We live in a thumb happy society, where thumbs need muzzles before they tweet to the masses, before students text their English teachers with happy faces instead of words.
Really students? If you want me to help you with your grammar, start writing me messages in English instead of eggplants. If you think I’d enjoy a meme of a dancing baby wearing a loaded diaper, it’s time to unfriend me. If you bomb my inbox with links to fat people at Walmart, unsubscribe me.
As if you didn’t hear it before, this world is filled with thumb clutter.
I’m as guilty as everyone else. Living in China, facebook is my rabbit hole to America and my thumbs are my garden spades. I can see what you ordered at Olive Garden. I can see the selfie of the abscess on your arm–even if I don’t want to. And thanks to facebo-ituary, I can see if anyone died.
Facebo-ituary is an oxymoron. It’s good grief. I mean, do you click LIKE on the post when someone dies? Does that mean you are glad they are dead? I’m sorry but an angel emoji will never replace a hand written note. I still remember who sent cards when each of my parents died–as well as who did not. The Hallmark logo, the glitter, the embossed basket of flowers and fancy fonts of the message, and the cursive signatures. I still attempt to send a snail mail card with my condolences –yes, from China– but it won’t show up until a month after the last carnations have wilted.
But I’m not tweeting today. And no one posted a picture of ingrown toenail. I’m in Chicago digging through my storage for memorabilia for an upcoming class reunion. I unearthed a motherlode of notes. Mother of all motherlodes. This is BIM stuff–Before Instant Messaging. I have notes passed in chemistry class, letters pecked out on IBM Selectrics during typing practice, including this one that says: THROW OUT AFTER READING, which I didn’t.
But the notes are full of damning evidence that would be catastrophic if posted. We drank, we smoked, we toilet-papered houses, we skipped band practice and sat on outhouses dreaming about our future. We spiked the prom punch. We tipped over sleeping cows. We collected the eyeballs from dissected frogs in biology class and threw them during geometry. We made memories and friends without the help of Mark Zuckerberg. We didn’t use our thumbs much…and after I read the notes, we didn’t use our brains, either.
Recently left a reply on friend’s page, What Would Jesus Tweet? I don’t think Captain Salvation be using his thumbs. I think he’d using a different finger—and not a good one.
I don’t think he’d unfriend someone for having different political views. I don’t even think he’d unfriend Judas even after that cross business. And I don’t think he’d cast me into hell for posting notes I passed in high school. He’d probably start a flash mob to help him feed the five thousand homeless in San Francisco or something.
But today’s world does get upset over things you post or tweet. We offend, defriend instead of forgive and mend.
If only we could burn posts, tweets and photos on social media like we could notes and photos from the past (Yeah, that’s me with the hair cut courtesy of a kitchen bowl). Let’s get social again on social media.
It was a few days after the Oklahoma City bombings. I was behind a two way mirror in Florida eating handfuls of m&ms while listening to women discuss fiber infused yogurt when I got the call from my oldest sister.
“Ginger, you better come home.”
By the time American Airlines got me booked on a flight to Grand Rapids, my father had passed away. I could tell you the moment that he strolled into heaven wearing his loud golf pants. I wasn’t holding his hand while he took his last breath, I was thumbing through a sky-mall magazine when I got tingles over my body followed by a feeling of peace followed by a six hour delay.
Funny how you never forget these things.
While my Dad had passed on, my Uncle Charles took on my dad’s duties but not his golf pants. Uncle Chuck was a tail gunner in WWII. His plane was shot down by the Germans during the bombing of Dresden. He bailed out of an airplane and landed in a tree. It was my uncle’s faith that saved him.
As a kid, I would laugh as he told the story of landing in a tree in a tangled parachute. Farmers rushed to the tree with pitchforks. His back was injured, he was terrified. Before long, German soldiers were surrounding the tree as well.
My uncle, nineteen at the time, was certain he would be shot. When the soldiers asked him his name and he replied, “Krieger,” they put down their guns.
Saved by his German name.
Uncle Charles walked one hundred miles to a POW camp where he ate grass soup until the war ended, about six weeks later. He lost a good portion of his body weight but not his faith. Before he bailed from the airplane, my uncle had the time to grab one of two things: his revolver or a small bible that his sister gave him. Uncle Charles opted for his bible.
As a kid, the story made me laugh. As an adult, his story makes me shiver.
Until the day he died, Uncle Charles would have devotions out of that very same Bible, the pages worn over the years. And every spare moment he had, Uncle Charles would be “that crazy guy on the street corner” giving away free bibles.
You never really know what people have gone through, why someone leaves you a small green bible instead of a hefty tip or why someone dies while you are on a runway looking at a memory foam mattress for pets or why someone would pay $199 for such a thing.
But I do know my uncle’s story has impacted mine.
You can read it below.
If somebody asked, “Ginger, what did you do on Sunday?” it wouldn’t have been watch the Cubs game.
I was in Bangkok and met a friend for lunch at Yemeni restaurant in the Nana district. As a young girl in a colorful hijab brought a mountain of aromatic rice and roasted meats, my eyes drifted to a wall of hookah pipes–or actually, what was behind it. The twisty pipes concealed a dining area for males only, where a group of men devoured an Anthony Bourdain sized platter of lamb and rice pilaf. I prayed they used hand sanitizer as their fingers were their eating utensils.
Bangkok. Yemini food. Colorful hijabs. Mysterious men and hookah pipes. Sounds as exciting as a James Bond movie. But don’t let your imagination run away.
My friend and I weren’t conspiring with Agent 007 on how to rig a Roulette wheel in Monaco. We were griping about the increased deductibles of our health insurance policies.
As for the men swooping piles of lamb into their pie holes in the special room behind the hookahs? Most likely, they were in Bangkok cheating on their wives.
Exciting? Yeah, right.
Sorry. Life overseas isn’t the exotic adventure you imagine. It’s not that much different than yours.
It’s easy to imagine glamourous lives for every person you pass on the streets in Bangkok. The Japanese fashionista teetering on stilettos. The backpacker with dusty dreadlocks and Birkenstocks. The German in cool eye frames and Gustav Klimt t-shirt. What are they doing here? What stamps fill their passports? Are they selling government secrets or heading to Starbucks to grumble about their insurance premiums?
Everyone else’s lives can seem more interesting than one’s own, especially in a world obsessed with posting retouched selfies on facebook. Single folk wish they were married. Married folk wish they were still single. Kids wish they were grown-ups. Old folks with for their youth. Those kvetching in Asia wish they were watching baseball in America. And so on.
But other than the never-ending variety of smells, AND the meat section at Walmart, AND motorcycles driving on sidewalks, AND the fake Arc de Triomphe outside my bedroom window, living in China has become as routine as living anywhere else.
For starters, the reason I am in Bangkok? I’m getting my semi-annual boob squeeze at Bumrungrad Hospital. Hospitals in China do not have JCI accreditation (an acronym I didn’t even knew existed until I moved to the flipside). This assures you that the hospital has a stamp of approval before a polyp removal. That’s why expats in China routinely go to Bangkok for a poke, scrape and probe.
Food choices in China-even in my quaint village of six million–are expanding. You no longer have to smuggle cheese in your suitcase when returning from the States. Good Mexican food is rare, but in Shang Hai, Taco Bell does deliver. Gatorade periodically appears on the shelves of Carrefour. Molasses is still as hard to find as a size 8 women’s shoe.
In a few days, I’ll return to the USA for a month and will be overwhelmed by things you do not notice. Things you think are boring but I will find exciting. They include new samples at Costco, a new haircut for the Channel 5 weatherman, another variation of orange juice beyond pulp-free-calcium-fortified-low-acid. Toilets with seats. Signs in English. Ketchup that tastes like ketchup.
As I give up my seat to a monk on a city bus in Bangkok and you give up yours to an elderly person wherever you are, we can only hope that somewhere in the world, life is as exciting as it looks in travel brochures.
But everywhere else? The rice pilaf is always fluffier, the pad thai is always paddier, and the grass is always greener in Vietnam (that’s only because of residual Agent Orange).
It’s just the same-same but different.