I can’t post it because I’m not in the mood to laugh with others. It would be a fake laugh. I started a blog post last night. It was about Scott quitting the school PTA.
That’s when Scott got the call.
I stopped typing. My stomach dropped. Something bad happened. I could hear the shock and sadness in Scott’s voice. I stared at Scott. Scott caught the questions in my eyes.
Scott: Chris Mentzel passed away suddenly. Maybe heart attack.
Scott hung up the phone.
Me: What? We just hung out with him. No, he didn’t.
Scott: That’s all Matt said. Oh wow. I just want to text Chris…ask if this…if this is for real.
Me: We just saw him at happy hour last week. He sat across from us. I can still hear his voice. There’s no way. He was here. Here. In front of me. I can touch him.
Scott: This doesn’t make any sense.
Me: He was so fit! He played hockey. No, this isn’t right. What is he, like, 32 or something?
Scott: But there’s nothing on his Facebook.
Me: I’m looking too. His Facebook looks normal? There’s no way.
We scrolled through his pictures. Hockey photos. Weddings with suits and beer. Happy hours. Work events. The pictures showed Chris talking and laughing. He smiled for selfies. His laugh pierced the air. His voice deep.
It hit us.
Scott teared up. We were flipping through photos of a complete life.
Me: I don’t understand…
Scott: I texted him a few days ago. He was fine. I don’t get it.
Me: Chris joked with Hunter about Emma’s height when we bowled with him. He said she’s going to be taller than him. And Kate wouldn’t say hi to him so he just laughed and waved. He was just here in front of us.
I shut my eyes. I put myself back in the bowling alley. There he was.
Me: I stood up and hugged him goodbye. He left the bowling alley before we did, remember?
Listen To Your Mother is a live show where women (and sometimes men) come together to read their stories about motherhood. More than 32 cities host these shows in honor of Mother’s Day. In February, I got an email congratulating me for earning a spot to try out in Kansas City.
I did not make the cut to be in the show.
This is because I have two voices.
My writing voice is what you are reading. It’s the voice in my head. It’s confident. I have 506 posts on this blog. That’s getting up in front of a growing audience 506 times. This audience – you – doesn’t make me nervous. To be honest, I’m sitting with you on my couch in my PJs, sipping a glass of wine. We’re all friends here.
It’s my speaking voice that screws everything up.
Three people. All it took were three pairs of judging eyes to send my speaking voice back to my car muttering “you’re such a screwup.” My body went haywire in the tryout room. My face was trembling. Hand sweat. Boob sweat. Everything was sweating. I couldn’t hear anything but the thud-thud, thud-thud of my heart echoing in my ears. I knew a rejection email was floating in the air, following me home.
I wrote this for an audience. I need the audience that doesn’t scare me to listen.
Don’t talk to a stranger.
Hi, my name is Julie!
Did you hear that? That’s me going out of my box.
And I’m sorta freaking out standing here in front of you. Can you hear my heart beating too?
Hi, my name Julie – those are the words I kept repeating in my head while I stood behind a group of parents at the school pick up. I had to give myself a mental pep talk to speak those words.
Just say it. Just say it. You can say it.
Your kids go to the same school.
You live in the same neighborhood.
The worst that could happen is that they won’t say hi back because they won’t hear your mouse voice.
Clear your throat.
What if they think ‘Oh, there’s that mom with the open windowed house. I wonder if she knows her fighting kids keep the neighborhood awake. I mean – surely they can’t hear that.
Wait, what am I supposed to talk about if they do say hi back?
You need friends. You’re sinking. SPEAK UP.
Ugh, who cares. Just say it. Do it.
Hi, my name is Julie.
One of the moms returned my smile. “Hi, I’m Heather,” she said. “Did you hear about that big tornado in Oklahoma?”
I later found out Heather and the group of parents wondered if the shy mom would ever talk to them.
It was one of the hardest moments of my life. I should have done it years ago.
Don’t talk to a stranger.
Your parents told you not to do it. “Don’t tell anyone your name or where you live. Don’t talk. Run!” they said. “They’re all out to get you.”
I never stopped listening to my parents. I never stopped telling myself don’t talk to strangers. It’s easy when you’re born an introvert. One or two good friends is all I’ve ever needed.
Then I had a child.
I went from introvert to loner. A baby gave me a free pass to hide out in my home. I was happy. I didn’t need friends. My daughter became my new little friend. And sleep was my best friend. I would take Emma on walks around the neighborhood. I would take her to the park. I found courage to join a playdate group. The hot topic with the moms was always our kids. It was not my intention of comparing my kid to their kids but I did. I came home disappointed with myself as a mother. I didn’t puree my own baby food and now I fed my kid cancer from a baby food jar. Great. As our kids grew to school age, the playdates faded and our friendships faded as well.
I screwed up. My kids were in school and I had no friends. I wasn’t happy anymore. I didn’t have one person to talk to about life. I needed people. Friends. Other parents to compare notes to. I needed someone to lean on and tell me I’m fine. Is anyone else terrified for the day when we drop our kids off at middle school? Are my shorts too short or have I been a mom for too long? How do I keep the spark going in a marriage? How do I talk to my girls about periods? Should I keep my hair short or let it grow?
Emma and Kate are growing up. Playdates turned into “mom, I’m going down the street to play. Bye!” My daughters are making their own friends. They taught themselves how to talk to a stranger. And I am doing the same.