Mint Milkshakes

self-portrait

self-portrait

This journey (and, lord, how I have grown weary of that phrase and its haphazardous use), has been teaching me a lot of things and also strongly reinforcing things I’ve always believed. I am grateful for new perspectives. 

When I was a teenager and read the book She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, the quote that burned itself into my brain was: “Accept what people have to offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.” For the context, I highly recommend you read the book (all of Mr. Lamb’s work, for that matter). 

Excellent life advice in one succinct sentence. No one person can be everything you need them to be. There will be things that I deeply dislike or disagree with in a person, but then they show up with a milkshake. And it helps me to understand that people are composed of more layers than the crust of this planet and while some of them are sharp and hostile, others are smooth jade. 

Recently, a woman I had just met asked if she could pray over me. I said yes, because I will never be so ungrateful as to not accept someone’s good wishes for me no matter how they express them. It’s not always easy because I experienced religious abuse as a child and I don’t like reliving those feelings. 

As she prayed, she said the usual things. She asked God to heal me, to give me the strength I needed to fight. Then she added, “But, we will accept whatever you have planned because you are our God.” 

I physically bristled. My shoulders went rigid and I loosened my grip on her hand. Everything inside me was silently screaming, No. Fuck that. 

I sneaked a tiny glimpse at her face out of my closed eye. She had tears in her eyes and her voice was cracking. “But,” she added. “What we seek is full healing.” Her face right then looked like she wanted it just as much as I do. 

So, I drank her milkshake. 



There is another section in the aforementioned Lamb novel that has the main character being told that there is wild mint growing in her backyard, but she has never found any. One day, during one of the lowest places in her adolescent life, she finally sees it. The line is: “I had just found the mint.” 

I remember how I teared up when I read that. The mint, for me, became synonymous with not only unexpected pleasures, but also revelations. For the last 20 years, I have said to myself many times, “I have just found the mint.”

My advice to you from someone who has come face to face with mortality and has zero plans of giving in even an ounce: always take the milkshakes. Always look for the mint. You will be better for it, and so will the world around you.

Our Love is God | For Amanda

I just made a shirt that is very meaningful for me. The ideas/concepts for these shirts are flowing and I'm merely riding the wave. 

Growing up, like a lot of nineties kids, Amanda and I were obsessed with the movie Heathers (turns out, I DID end up "having a brain tumor for breakfast"). The amount of times we watched it was easily in the hundreds. We would quote it in almost every conversation. 

Our favorite quote was "Our love is God. Let's go get a Slushie." We just loved the marrying of the profound and the mundane. Of course, love is God. Why not celebrate with a Slushie?

As it turned out, ironically enough, the very last gift I ever gave Amanda was...you guessed it...a Slushie. She was in the hospital, and I was sitting next to her holding her hand and she said that the commercials on television for local restaurants were making her crave a sweet drink. I told her no way was I smuggling in a daiquiri. She laughed a little and asked, "How about a Slushie?" Neither of us gave it a second thought, and I went directly across the street to the local convenience store and bought her a large cherry Slushie.

I sat by her side, holding hands once again, while she sipped her drink. "Ahhhh," she said, voice barely audible. A hand squeeze. Hard. A quiet "thank you."

Deb washed her face with a warm cloth. I brushed out her matted hair and put it in a fishtail braid. We freshened up her bed and I got as close to her as I could, with my head in her lap. She silently and instinctually stroked my hair as she had done for over 30 years. 

Our love. Our love WAS God. Our love IS God. Not just hers and mine. But you and yours. Everyone's. 

So, I made this shirt. It's our quote, in her favorite color. The background image is a scan of a flowery twig I found in my yard. I made one for me, but I feel like I want to put it out there to the universe in her honor. If you were ever a fan of the shenanigans we would get ourselves into, you totally understand why I had to make this.

As we always said: Planet Amandifer, bitches. 

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wedding bells and memories

I was so delighted to be Maid of Honor in my best friend's wedding this past Sunday. It was such a beautifully perfect day and I could not love her husband and his family and her family more. Everyone is so unique, kind, and lovable. 

When I arrived at the venue, I had an odd feeling and I couldn't figure out why. I stepped outside and walked around and when I saw the gazebo, my heart stopped. We were at the same exact location where my best friend Amanda had gotten married, nineteen years ago. I was her Maid of Honor, as well, and nothing about the landscape had changed. I was instantly thrust back into my twenty-one year-old self, walking slowly down the same stone path to join her and thinking to myself how we were both way too young to be doing any of this. Her toddler son, my first nephew, Pierce, squirmed and squealed and grinned during the ceremony. 

The realization that I was Maid of Honor twice, to two best friends, nineteen years apart, in the exact same spot, hit me like a punch in the face. As most of you know I lost my Amanda in 2016 and not a day goes by that I don't talk to her, think about her, ache with missing her.

I managed to keep myself together and focus on my Kristie and the joy of the day. Since my diagnosis, I strive and work as hard as possible to live in the moment. It's as easy as it sounds, ha. 

I have a small altar in my sitting room, aka my zen room. On it is a tiny photo of my nana hugging Amanda at her wedding. I got Kristie and Deb into the exact same spot and made a close replica of that image.

 

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I didn't get it exactly, but it's close enough, and the spot where they are both standing is exactly the same. And now as I edit this I am just now noticing that Amanda wore a flower crown, and I too wore a flower crown for Kristie's wedding. I literally did not even put that together until typing this just now.

Believe in what you will. I believe my Amanda is with me always. I believe she was there with me giving me the strength to stand up in front of a large group and declare my love for my Kristie pie. 

Some friends and family members have asked me to give them a copy of the speech I wrote for the wedding (which is so humbling and amazing and I am glad they were touched), so I am including that here:

I met Kristie ten years ago when both of our sons, Dakota and Liam, went to Wise Owl Preschool. I would watch her walking every day with little Quinn in a stroller when she would drop off Liam. Our boys became friends over a fight for a toy truck. Kristie and I would make small talk at the school and I instantly liked her, but it wasn’t until our boys were in first grade that we really became friends.

Coincidentally enough, we both signed up for a program called Picture Person which involved us coming to our boys’ class (they were in the same first grade class) and talking to them about a specific artist and then doing a project with them in the style of that artist. When we both showed up at the same time, we joked about how we had chosen the same volunteer role and we were excited to work together with the kids. 

The first time I went to Kristie’s house, I couldn’t believe how alike we truly were.  Looking around, I saw my own style staring back at me.  We even had several of the exact same pillows, lamps, frames, and blankets, and this is something that would only grow stronger over the next ten years; we often find that we have purchased the same dress, or pottery, or even panties! We joked that we were almost like a singular unit, and that became our name for each other: Singular Unit, only we abbreviate to just SU or “Sue.” 

As our boys became best friends, so did we. Kristie and I are both empaths and we intuitively know when one of us needs the other. She is notorious for leaving love tokens on my porch; some freshly baked cookies, a candle, her famous homemade soup, sometimes even lip gloss and panties from Target. We give each other handmade cards, finish each other’s sentences, and raise our boys to know that we are family because the foundation of love that we share is the essence of all families. 

We have been a flicker of light for each other in our darkest moments. There are no secrets and no veils, only a sense of relief and joy that we have found one another to share our lives and our loves. We laugh until our abs ache, we can cry and wipe away each other’s snot and sadness, we can cuddle and giggle, jump up and down like happy children, make spontaneous trips to IKEA or flea markets, or just sit together in silence. 

Kristie is one of the most intelligent, capable, and driven women I’ve ever known. When life hands her something hard, she uses it to build something stronger. She parents her children with grace and ease, and I love that we are second mamas to our own flock. She never ceases to amaze me with how much she gives to her family and friends, her career, her dogs, and to the world as a whole.

Kristie is also the most supportive friend a woman could ever hope to have. I’m a photographer and one day years ago she took me to see a Herb Ritts (very prominent black and white film portrait artist) photo exhibit at the Cincy Art Museum. I was staring in awe at one of the black and white portraits when she came up next to me, laid her head on my shoulder and after several minutes, whispered, “You can do that.” I’ll never forget that moment. Her belief in me and her steadfast love keep my heart beating.

Hers was the last face I saw before I went into life-saving brain surgery. Her hand only left mine because they pulled my stretcher away and into the operating room.  She would spend days in my hospital bed with me, and we would color, and we would talk, and in those moments I felt a peace and a strong belief that I have way more to do in this life before I go.

One of my favorite movies reminds me so much of our friendship.  It’s called Frances Ha and I want to share a quote from it here that I have always associated with my girl, my Kristie pie, my SU.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes…but not because you’re possessive, but because that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”

That is what we have, and I am so, SO happy that Chris and his family are here and part of our family. I knew immediately when I met him that he would hold my girl’s heart with only the gentlest of hands. He has shown me and my family so much love and support in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine having anyone else as an SU-in-law. I know that their love will endure all struggles and challenges that life throws at them.

In closing, to my Kristie, a poem by e.e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                  i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want

no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

 

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

Singular Unit | July 15, 2018

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baby elephant walk | meeting mai thai

Anyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love for elephants. They were my Nana's favorite animal, so as I was growing up I came to also revere their gentle, majestic beauty. I was able to take a short ride on one at a wildlife park near Lake Erie when I was about eleven, and I ended up writing about that experience years later, as it didn't fully register with me emotionally as I was so young. I never thought I would get the chance to be near one of them again.

Fast forward to my 40th birthday a few weeks ago and Deb tells me she has a surprise planned for me on the 23rd. She had managed to keep it quiet since February, and I had no idea what was to happen.

Yesterday, we had a behind the scenes elephant encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden! It was like being in a dream. When Mai Thai entered the room, all the wind had been knocked out of me. I got to give her a shower, scrub her with soap, rinse her off, throw some treats to her, pet her ears, and scratch and pet her sides. I took photos but not as many as you would think, as I really just wanted to be in the moment.

She also made a painting for me. Now, I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding this as this is a practice in other countries where they beat and abuse the elephants in order to force them to make detailed, specific paintings for tourists. That is horrific, and I in no way support that, of course. But Mai Thai has been taught, along with basic commands like raising her feet so they can groom her, to take a paint brush from them, wrap her trunk around it, and "paint" onto a canvas. She is not harmed or forced in any way, and she just rubs the brush all over the canvas. They had me choose two colors for this, and I picked blue and yellow. I felt at peace with this as being behind the scenes it is obvious how much these animals are loved, well cared for, and respected. Mai Thai's humans are very humbled to be her caregivers.

I got to spend nearly two hours with her, but it felt like two minutes. At one point, she "kissed" my shoe twice with her trunk. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around her and hug her, but I wasn't allowed to, unfortunately. Just being by her side was enough, though.

Like the elephants and their razor sharp memories, I too will never forget.

 

Mai Thai © jennifer summer 2018

Mai Thai creating my painting | © jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

© jennifer summer 2018

swimming free

So, this post is going to be quite the bummer.

Last Sunday, my mother helped me clean out my fish aquarium. I noticed that my filter was not working, like, at all, so I needed to go buy a new one. I got that and I also got the bottle of stuff you're supposed to put in the tank if you're starting out with a brand new aquarium and you want to add the fish the same day.

We cleaned it out really well, not with any cleansers, but just hot water and paper towels. I cleaned all their little houses and trees and statues, put the new water in, put in fresh gravel, made sure the temperature was right, and then put the fish back inside. We then left the house because Mom and Mike were driving back home, and I had to go back to the pet store because I had bought the wrong size replacement filter.

When I got back, both of my beautiful fish, AnaÏs and Henry, were dead, floating on top of the water like wilted lotus flowers. I screamed and sobbed and kept yelling, "Why? Why? Why?" (Kind of like Nancy Kerrigan did, but this is no time for jokes, dammit). I was truly devastated. I called Deb and was sobbing so hard I could barely get the words out, so she just rushed over. I took some photos of them and cried all over them and kissed them and made them a little casket. 

We went back to the pet store and told them what happened and they said the problem was that I had removed all the bacteria and the cleanliness was too much of a shock on their system. I just kept crying and crying, feeling like the horrific fish murderer I am.

They told me to let the filter run for a week and then the tank would be ready for fish again. June (my sucker fish) survived because they are apparently the cockroaches of the fish world and would survive a nuclear attack.

Anaïs and Henry brought me so much joy, calmness, and beauty. I am so sorry that my ignorance caused their demise. I hope they forgive me. I love you, beauties.

 

Anaïs (top) and Henry | April 15, 2018