Tag Archives: memoir

First Dates Happen…

Thanks, Mom

by Christie Robb

About five minutes through my first date I realized something was going horribly wrong.

When I met the boy I was 15 years-old and trying my very best to be unconventional—which pretty much meant that I had a bad haircut, wore entirely too much eyeliner, and sported a pair of white fingerless gloves that I wore so often that the palm had permanently taken on a grayish-brownish hue. Not surprisingly, my love life to that point consisted almost entirely of one-sided crushes suffered in silence.

But this time I was determined to woman-up and ask the boy out. One day, while milling about in the auditorium lobby after a school play, I pointed the boy out to my mom.

“That one,” I said. “I’m going to ask that one.”

“What, that one with the black hair over there?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said, suppressing a grin.


I turned, suspicious. “Yes. Why?”

“No reason.”

In the weeks leading up to the dance I was a wreck, unable to eat solid food, fueled almost entirely on Dr. Pepper and social anxiety adrenaline. The notes I passed the boy in between classes were damp with flop sweat. Our phone calls had pauses where I tried and failed to ask the question I imagined was hanging in the air.

Eventually I asked, but I couldn’t tell you how I did it as I think I blacked out in mortification while doing it. However, I eventually came to and it seemed like he had, in fact, agreed. So, this was happening and I needed something to wear.

At my school, in the grungy ‘90s, the Sadie Hawkins tradition involved, not only girls asking guys, but for the couples to attend dressed in drag. So not only was I going to be trying to make it through a first date without humiliating myself, I was going to have to do it while dressed as a dude. Fine.

After many trips to thrift shops, I settled on a pair of black leather pants and a small man’s tuxedo jacket with tails (and the ever present gloves, now even more dingy as a result of all the sweating). Apparently the look I was going for was Punk Oscar Wilde Madonna.

On the big day, being 15-years-old and unable to operate a car, my mom drove me over to the boy’s house and dropped me off in the driveway. After shutting the door behind me and struggling not to hyperventilate, I heard my mom’s tires squeal as she peeled out of the driveway and fishtailed around the curve of the subdivision.

She was usually so overprotective. I’d expected her to come in to meet the boy’s parents like she did with the parents of every other new friend I’d ever had.

I mentally thanked her for granting me my privacy and recognizing the woman that I was struggling to become.

Taking a big breath to calm my battered nerves, I slogged up the driveway and knocked on the door. I was starting to see spots. Breathing, I reminded myself. You gotta keep breathing.

The boy’s mom answered the door. She explained that he was still getting ready upstairs. Then she peered out into the darkness of her yard and asked if my dad had dropped me off and if he was still out there.

This seemed like an odd question, but I figured maybe she wanted to meet my parents and reassure herself that we weren’t all psychos. I shook my head, unable to say words.

His mom ushered me into the living room and sat me down on a couch and asked me if I wanted a soft drink while I waited. I nodded and looked around a little, wringing my hands together in an attempt to keep them from shaking.

Her house had a unique decorating scheme. There were a lot of tchotchkes bolted to the wall. A lot of them looked sharp and pointed. Old timey farm equipment? I wondered. Gardening tools? I gulped. Instruments of torture? In a few minutes the mom returned and handed me a cold class of soda and a photograph.

I reached out and grabbed the photograph, my gesture a reflex more than anything else. I looked at the picture. Faded and wrinkled, it featured a bunch of people wearing the autumn color palate of the ‘70s. The picture showed a youngish man feeding a woman something from his fork. I gave her a vague smile and wondered why my date’s mom was showing me this.

“Recognize anyone?” she said.

This feels weird, I thought. Is this how dates normally go? The overhead light glinted off the prong of some sharp thing on the wall. What were the consequences of getting this question wrong?

I looked closer. Ok, the woman in the picture kind of looked like the mom, but younger. Maybe this was a picture of her first date? I squinted at the man in the photo trying to see features of the boy in the youngish man’s face.

I had to admit the man did look familiar.

But not because it looked like my date. It looked…like the old pictures of my dad from my parents’ photo album.

“I used to know your dad,” my date’s mom said.


It’s taken me about 20 years to realize this, but I have finally decided that there was no graceful way to react to being shown this picture. At the time I stammered something inane like, “that’s nice.” Then, my date came down the stairs dressed in his mom’s little black dress, a pair of Doctor Martin’s boots, and full make up. I took a sip of my soda and glanced at his features out of my peripheral vision. Do we have the same nose? I wondered. Or is that just contouring?

It occurred to me that there was a very high probability that I had accidentally managed to ask my half-brother to a Sadie Hawkins dance.

Once we were out of sight of the house walking towards the school gym, the boy pulled aside, turned his back, and extracted a squished up soft pack of Marlboroughs from his pantyhose.
“Got one of those I can bum?” I asked.

Once I got home, my mom sniffed me and looked at me with disappointment. “Did you smoke?”
I brushed her off.

“You got something you want to tell me, Mom?”

She blushed. “I didn’t want to ruin your first date,” she said.

“You were going to let me commit incest?” I asked.

“What?” she asked. “No.”

Apparently, the night of the play she recognized the boy’s mom as her friend from back in the day—a good friend whose friendship had been strained a bit due to the fact that my mom may have stolen my dad from the boy’s mom at a holiday party sometime before 1979.

It was a fact she’d apparently decided to keep to herself, first dates generally being awkward enough on their own.

Thanks, Mom.

Drama Happens

Tales of a 4th Grade Psycho

by Hope Madden

I learned precious little in my 12 years of Catholic schooling. (That’s more on me than it is on the schools, to be honest.) But one lesson that did stick: nuns are judgey.

When I was a 4th grader in Tiffin St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary school, my teacher, Ms. Teill, was charged with generating some kind of skit to entertain at an upcoming PTO gathering.

I volunteered my services.

I would not act, oh no. I prepared to write and direct my first stage play. I called it, “When a Stranger Calls.”

If that title sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is. I stole it from the box of a VHS rental I coveted at the local video store.

As a child, I was fascinated by horror films.

I attribute this to inaccess (my parents only allowed G-rated films until I was about 12), and my abiding fear of all things.

As a preschooler I was afraid of Sesame Street – you must admit it is lousy with monsters. I found Boo Berry cereal equal parts delicious and frightening. Trees and the woods still terrify me – a handicap in rural Ohio.

Odd as it sounds, my ritual for overcoming my fear was to write scary stories.

Not just any scary stories – I would rewrite those tales I overheard that frightened me, allowing me a sort of ownership, I suppose.

I had notebooks full of them – tales crafted of what I could glean from a commercial I’d seen for Helter Skelter, or after eaves dropping on the babysitter as she summarized the film Carrie over the phone to a friend, or after poring over the box for the VHS tape of David Cronenberg’s Rabid. All these became inspiration to my 10-year-old self. Little did Miss Teill know.

I’m not sure how familiar you are with the 1979 slasher whose plot I attempted to plagiarize.

A babysitter receives creepy phone calls telling her to check the children. She ignores the message, the children are slaughtered, and eventually she finds that the calls are being made from inside the house.

“Have you checked the children?”

In the film, the babysitter survives – a fact I did not grasp from the VHS box, so in my play, she dies. And the children die. So do the parents, the police who investigate – actually, every character in my play died except the maniac, who lived to kill another day.

So my friends and I rehearsed during recess. We honed our tale until we were ready to share it with our parents – and everyone else’s – as well as most of St. Mary’s faculty at the PTO meeting.

Poor Miss Teill. Well, I suppose she should have paid more attention during rehearsal.

As it happens, it was Holy Week – those sacred days leading up to Easter.

Let’s be honest, though, there is a lot of blood shed in those days leading up to Easter. Is this really that different?

Where do you think Sister Cleofa landed with that argument?

It turns out, child slaughter doesn’t play that well with the nuns.

My parents were mortified, as was the whole of the audience. As I recall, Miss Teill was reprimanded. I was definitely reprimanded, and had to promise to stop writing anything at all.

And to stop being morbid.

There were several children I had to promise to stop playing with, also, at their parents’ request.

But otherwise, the performance went well, I think.

So that happened…a spider in the eye!

Oh No, Not Again

by Christie Robb

I’ve always had a thing about my eyes. Which is why having a small spider land on my left eyeball recently effectively ruined my day.

There’s a primordial memory floating around in my brain of my mother sitting on my toddler body, pinning my arms to the carpet with her knees while my father wrenches open my eyelid in an attempt to apply medicinal eye drops to combat a bad case of pinkeye.

I’ve loathed the concept of anyone’s wriggling fingers getting anywhere near my sockets ever since.

Unfortunately, this aversion was rather inconvenient as my eyesight started to deteriorate in elementary school. I knew what would happen if folks found out that I had trouble seeing the blackboard. They’d take me to that office where the people forced my head back against the chair and tried to wrangle stinging liquid under my clenched eyelid.

I became sneaky. When adults came into the room, I’d yank the book that I held three inches from my face out to a respectable distance and pretended to read until they left. I’d try to get into the classroom early and casually stand next to the blackboard to glean any information that was there. I’d get into fights with kids sitting next to me so that I’d have to be moved up to the front row, next to the teacher’s desk, so she could monitor my behavior. On vision test day, I’d memorize the eye chart while waiting in line and recite it as best I could when my turn came.

But, despite my best attempts at childhood subterfuge, I was eventually found out and by middle school I was outfitted with the thickest pair of glasses I have personally ever seen a human being wear. I’m sure there are people out there with stronger prescriptions. I assume they are legally blind.

In middle school I attempted to get contacts. Unfortunately, in order to get fitted for contacts you have to let someone touch your eyes to measure them. Despite my appearance-driven motivation and the assistance of several eye doctor staffers holding me down, I was unable to let anyone measure me for the contacts, much less put one in.

I attempted to train myself at home by putting a drop of water on my index finger and slowly trying to introduce it to my eyeball. The few times I managed to keep my eye open and accomplish this, the feel of the water against my eyeball caused me to fling my body across the bathroom and crash into the closet door. Eventually my parents asked me to stop, fearing for the structural integrity of their bathroom.

So, when the laser eye surgery option came along I was determined to get it. This was not only my chance at escaping the magnifying glasses permanently strapped to my face, this was an opportunity to avoid ever having to go to the eye doctor again. I made an appointment, asked them for a ton of valium, let five people pile on top of me to put the Clockwork Orange eye prier-opener on me, and then slice off the top of my cornea and shoot a laser into each eyeball for a full minute.

The next morning, I could see. A miracle. No one was going to need to get their fingers near my face for the rest of my life.

Until I somehow managed to get an arachnid under my eyelid.

I was trying to take the trash out back to the Columbus-issued trashcan. In order to do this, I needed to pass through the gate of my privacy fence and go around to the alley behind my house where the trash can lives.

I suppose an inexperienced juvenile spider must have been building a web in between the fence and the gate and I broke the web when passing. All I know is a black speck appeared to get slightly bigger as something sailed into my eye.

Dropping the garbage bag to the pavement, I shrieked and flattened myself to the walkway as if somehow assuming a prone position could possibly help. My hands cupped protectively over my eye socket as I rolled on the ground. Then I felt movement. Suppressing a desire to vomit, I sprang to my feet and bolted toward the house, screaming incoherent guttural sounds.

I raced into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Snot and tears everywhere. Screwed up left eyelid. Dragging in a ragged breath and, bracing one foot behind me so I wouldn’t fling myself backwards, I used both hands to pry open my eyelid.

Inside just peaking out from under my eyelid, I saw it: black and with entirely too many legs.

I screamed and shot back, falling over the edge of the bathtub and collapsing into it, my head striking the wall. I had a spider in my eye and was alone in the house and likely would be for hours. I had to remove it myself.

My first attempt at spider-extraction was to run tepid water into my cupped palms and lower half my face into it while straining to keep my left eye open, mumbling, “ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,” over and over. This proved to be unsuccessful.

So I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a large stock pot and filled it with water. Pulling my hair back into a quick ponytail, I submerged my entire head in the pot. I shook my head from side to side to try to dislodge the persistent interloper. No dice. In an attempt to scream I inhaled some water.

Sputtering and now thoroughly damp, I surveyed my eye in the mirror. Spider was still there, appearing to wear my eyelid as a blanket.

By now the adrenaline of my initial series of panic attacks had metabolized. I was tired, defeated and disgusted. I raised my hands to my face, took a deep breath and on the exhale screamed and flipped my eyelid inside out. I flicked at the spider, sailed back into the bathtub at the feel of my finger grazing the sensitive inside of my lid, and prayed for death.

After a minute, I extricated myself from the tub, stood, and saw a tiny exoskeleton on the white bathroom tile.

I lifted my foot and stomped the shit out of it.

Later, I made a phone call I’d hoped never to have to make again. “I need an appointment,” I said. “Somehow I got a spider in my eye and I need the eye doctor to check it out.”

After the receptionist stopped laughing, I said, “And make sure a lot of people are working that day. It’s going to take at least a few of you to pin me down to get the eye drops in.”