Category Archives: Personal Essays

Giving myself the gift of time

IMG_4165
Today, I celebrated another year of living on this precious and increasingly imperiled beautiful blue planet we all call home.

I happened to glance at the clock at 11:11—the moment I made my debut 58 years ago. I love it when that happens, and appreciate the fact that my arrival time was so incredibly symmetrical, numerically speaking. I’ve heard and read about the power of being associated with 11:11. The band Film School wrote a song with it in the title. I also once went to a numerologist who remarked positively upon the power of it. (I’m not sure what the significance really is, but am delighted that it’s part of my life’s story—along with the fact that I was only lefty in a home with seven right-handed siblings and two-right-handed parents.)

I eased into the morning, had a delicious and satisfying lunch of pho and always-fulfilling conversation with my sister—and then headed downtown for happy hour with a few former colleagues on the waterfront of Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. All in all, a low-key but highly satisfying day.

I’ve just arrived back home after a rather long and crowded bus ride, alone in my quiet little house on my modest little street near the town of Woodinville, Washington. My phone has been dinging with notices of Facebook greetings and a few voicemail
messages. I’ve chosen to remain unplugged for the moment, but look forward to reading the wishes from friends and family near and afar. (It’s a definite positive on the social media front.)

On this June 2, 2017 birthday evening, I’m reflecting on the past, pondering the future—and feeling incredibly grateful for this life I’ve lived and all the love that surrounds me.

My birthday gift to me this month is time. I’m not going to rush into the next contract or pursue a position that doesn’t spark joy.

I’m going to take a break, regroup, renew, recharge, recover, return to the gym, write—and forge a new path for the next chapter in “The Life of Marcy O’Hara.”

It’s a gift that will pay dividends for the rest of my life—and the fact that I’ve realized that is making me feel older and wiser even as we speak.

(Happy birthday to me!)

Tagged , , , , , ,

Mary Anne O’Hara’s Last Song Request

Our mom, Mary Anne O’Hara, made her final exit on August 7, 2001. She was 74;  the mother of eight kids in 12 years. (Her best quote ever: “The ’60s are a blur and it’s not because of drugs. It’s because of kids.”)

I was smack-dab in the middle of the procreation. As the years unfolded, it became increasingly clear that the dynamic wasn’t working for either of us.

In time, I became a “troubled teen,” and my already tenuous and strained relationship with her continued its downward spiral.

I am now almost 58; the mother of just one daughter, now 24.

(I now can understand how overwhelmed she was, yet still empathize with that middle child starving for attention and lacking self-esteem.)

Shortly before my mother died, we had a pivotal moment. I asked her to share something that would be a sign; a signal that would instantly convey that she was there with me in spirit.

She thought about it for a few seconds, and then her beautiful blue eyes shined even more brightly.

“When you hear this song,” she said, that will be your sign.” It was “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

(Superb choice, Mom. ❤️ you, until we meet again.)

I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces all day through
In that small cafe, the park across the way
The children’s carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well

I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning’ sun

And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you
I’ll find you in the morning sun

And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

Written by Irving Kahal, Sammy Fain • Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

IMG_3738

@ awkward intersections in my brain

0280_0065117080 (2)When talking about my family,  siblings and birth order invariably come up in conversation.

Ever since my older sister Ellen died suddenly two years ago,  so much has changed. That includes the “birth order” convo.

Now, when it comes up, I now find myself reaching an an awkward intersection inside my brain–every time.

I’ve always been interested in the subject of birth order, and eventually bring it up with all my friends and colleagues. (How could you not be?)

“I’m one of eight kids; five brothers and two sisters. I was fourth,” I say. Sometimes, I’ll add in a p.s.—“I was the quintessential bitter middle child.”

Other times, when reminiscing about my father, I’ll share this anecdote: “My dad was a lawyer, and absolutely loved it. He wanted all eight of his kids to be lawyers, too. He’d tell me, ‘Lefty, there are so many f**** a******* who are lawyers. You can be one, too.’” (Was that a compliment or an insult?)

I then go on to say that he ended up with four lawyers out of 8— 50%; not bad at all. And it’s at that exact moment that I now  pause and mull it over in my mind:  Should I add the caveat?

I am one of eight—but now we are seven. He did have four kids who grew up to be lawyers–but now there are three.

A little over two years ago, our sister Ellen Marguerite O’Hara, died suddenly. Getting used to speaking of her in the past tense?

It’s taking longer than I’d anticipated.

“Bree’s Company”

more iphone 2014 1558

I’m living a sitcom life.

It’s called “Bree’s Company,” and it features a colorful cast of quirky characters.

Let’s start with me, a young-at-heart freelance writer, former “Valley Girl” and bonafide late bloomer. (At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.)

The cast also include Gio, my ex-hubby. We divorced 8 years ago, right when the Great Recession was taking hold. Our daughter, Bree, was going to start 10th Grade, and after renting expensive apartments for a while–we decided to pool our resources and buy a modest rambler. The plan was for all of us to coexist until she went to college, at which point I’d move out, he’d stay and we’d continue gaining equity over the years.  Plans didn’t quite pan out that way, though. (I’ll explain more later.)

Gio has a great relationship with his girlfriend of several years, and most nights stays at her place. But all his stuff (a lot of stuff!) is here in this little 3 bedroom/1 bath rambler with no garage and limited storage options. He and I both have accumulated way too much stuff over the years — but happily, downsizing is in full swing.

Then there’s the star of our show — Bree. Her full name is “Gabriella Mary,” and she also answers to “Gabby.” She’s a senior at Western Washington University, a creative writing major with a psychology minorr. She and her fiancee, Jeshua, moved in last month. he’s taking two online classes this summer, and will finish up in December. Jesh is busy looking for a job in tech. Their entourage also includes two cats, Giles and Charlie, who have fortunately settled in peacefully with our Jake.

Last night’s revelry involved an abundance of red wine and a magnetic poetry smackdown followed by an hour’s worth of wrangling over where to order pizza — and you know what? It was a great Saturday night.

It’s “Bree’s Company”– and so far, it’s working out swimmingly.

Tagged , , ,

Ellen’s playlist p.s.

e and me 2013

It’s been six months now.

I’m getting more used to talking about her in the past tense.

I’m getting used to saying I now have five brothers and one sister.

I’m getting used to stopping myself as a pick up the phone to text or call her.

I’m getting used to living with the fact that my older sister, Ellen Marguerite O’Hara, is dead.

Her birthday is coming up—October 10th. She would have been 57. Would have been.

It was a late evening  this past April, about a month after she’d died. I had wandered up to bed; my younger sister, Regan, was still downstairs watching TV.

As I dozed off, I heard in the distance a series of loud thumps. Probably a few boxes falling, I thought.

Several moments passed, and then the door to the room opened. Regan, my younger sister, limped in, sobbing hysterically. She collapsed onto the bed, crying out: “I think I broke my f-ing ankle! I can’t believe this. I fell down the stairs!”

I helped her hobble to her bed, and sat down beside her. She was in tremendous pain, and it seemed to be escalating. “We’re going to the hospital,” I decided.

15 minutes later, there we were — in the emergency room of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Hospital. There we were, in the very ER where Regan had rushed Ellen just the month before. There we were, in the very building where Ellen had died after five horrendous days.

Regan was lying on a cot in an exam room, ice on her ankle, awaiting the results of the x-ray. We’d both calmed down, and were quietly commiserating over the fall. In a moment of sentimentality, she had scooped up JoJo, Ellen’s infinitely annoying little white dog. “That f-ing dog! Why did I decide to carry that f-ing dog!” We looked at each other and chuckled quietly.

A few seconds later, we heard sounds. Music, coming from somewhere in the exam room.  We both fell silent and listened intently. The music was coming from my purse, which I’d stashed in the corner of the room.

I reached over and fished inside for my phone. It had turned on by itself — without the required 4-digit security code — and my Pandora app had begun playing.

It was a song I’d never heard before — “Black & Blue” by Miike Snow. We looked at each other, eyes wide. Next up was “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit, followed by “Walking with a Ghost” by Tegan and Sarah.

We laughed, then cried — and knew without any possible doubt that our big sister was most assuredly still around.

Tagged , , , ,

Lefty, can ya’ pick me some lemons?

Image

It’s Thanksgiving  Day, circa 1973 —a little after noon.

I’m 14 years old. Our home in Southern California’ s burgeoning San Fernando Valley is bustling with action.

By now, my mother has finished preparing the stuffing. The small saucepan with the repulsive turkey neck, liver and giblets and globs of fat is simmering on the stove.

The 20-plus pound “bird” has been defrosted, slathered with mayonnaise and is safely ensconced in the black and mottled gray roaster.

It’s a happy day. I and my seven siblings are scattered throughout our sprawling, ramshackle rambler.  Football games are on. Strains of “Rosalita” by Bruce can be heard in the distance. Some of my brothers are out back shooting hoops. Everyone is getting ready to get their gobble on.

Our dad, the “Big O,” is in great spirits. He’d been a bartender in NYC way back in the 1940s, and knows his stuff.  And now he is prepping for the revelry ahead.

Whiskey sours are on the T-Day happy hour agenda, and fresh lemon juice is a key ingredient. Luckily, we have three prodigious trees that collectively produce more lemons than we can ever consume.

“Lefty, can ya’ pick me some lemons?”

“Lefty “ is my dad’s nickname for me. I am the only south-pawed inhabitant of 4571 Encino Avenue, and he’s called me that for as long as I can remember.

I spring into action, hurry out back and gather a dozen or so. They feel warm in my hands from the afternoon sun.

I scurry inside with the prized citrus sensations in tow. “Here ya’ go, Dad!”  I say, proudly.

He beams back, pleased with my work. I am at this moment supremely happy.

The “Big O” then proceeds to prepare the first batch of whiskey sours. I watch, transfixed. The blender turns on, the concoction whirls loudly away, and then silence. I watch as he lifts the lid, dips a spoon in and tastes. After a few more sprinkle of sugar and squeezes of lemon, he’s satisfied.

He pours the first serving into a tumbler, and takes a sip and smiles.

“Dad, can I try it? I ask. “It looks so good!”

He takes a puff off his Raleigh and ponders my request. “Lefty, it’s  pretty strong.”

“I’ll just have a little bit, Dad!” I promise.

He pours a glassful and hands it over. I take a small sip — and my tasebuds do a happy dance. It’s delicious;  like fresh lemonade with lots of sugar and ice and but something more.  I take another sip. “Careful, Lefty!” my day says. I laugh and watch as he putters around the kitchen and keeps an eye on the score of the football game. After a bit, I start to feel all warm and bit fuzzy.

“Uhhh, Dad. I feel a little weird. I’m gonna go lie down for a little while.” I retreat to my room,  head for my bed and it’s lights out.

I  awake around 8 p.m. , groggy and confused. I wander out to the kitchen. A picked-over turkey carcass sits forlornly on the kitchen counter, adjacent to a pan of congealed turkey gravy. I lift the lid on a nearby pan, and stare at the lump of cold mashed potatoes.

I grab a plate, assemble my meal — and fill my glass with water, and then fill it again. I feel a bit chagrined, but quickly recover. There’s my plate to attend to, and I even spy a few surviving pieces of pumpkin pie!

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2013 — an unconventional year for me. No gathering of the three sisters and family. No traditional turkey dinner.

The out-to-dinner plans I had for today fell through. My college girl is spending time with her new boyfriend’s family, meeting them all for the first time.

Parents die. Families scatter. Children leave home. Traditions change. And life goes on.

Later today, “Lefty” will be picking some lemons, counting her blessings and savoring so very many memories of Thanksgivings gone by.

Cheer to you, “Nana” and “Big O”!

ImageImage

Tagged , , , ,