Author: Bekah McNeel

Behind the Photo: Pajama Pants

My mom recently sorted out all the remnants of the days when you had to print the whole role of film to get the one picture worth keeping. Over the years the best photos were picked over for frames, albums, and other display pieces.

These are the left-overs. But not the throw-away left overs. The ones that tell the story of the real family behind the Christmas card photos.

This photo is from the summer after my freshmen year in college. My family took a road trip across the West Texas desert. Like most of our road trips, preparation was minimal and packing space was at a premium. My mom’s rule whether on vacation or moving into an RV for nine months: you get one bag.

It being the dead of summer in the West Texas desert, I did not pack jeans. Why would I? Besides, I had gained 10 pounds and none of my jeans were comfortable for sitting in the car for long stretches.

I was freshly home from college, and probably being an ass. So I don’t blame my family for limiting interaction with me to just essential information exchanges. Apparently “We’re going horseback riding” was one of the conversations that didn’t make the cut.

When we showed up for a horseback ride through the hills of Terlingua, the wrangler took one look at my 3″ inseam and just shook his head. The rest of my family, who all somehow knew to pack jeans that they would wear exactly once on the trip, stared at me with that “don’t ruin this for us” look.

So I put on the only long pants in my duffle bag, a pair of orange psychedelic flower pajama pants.


Epilogue: Loose Bits

These are the entries that didn’t seem to fit any other categories, but contain little nuggets of insanity.

April 26, 1995- Well, the stitches are good for one thing: Glory. Everybody loves a nice gory bunch of stitches.

It’s true. Fifth graders love major injuries. Of course, I was not one of the cool kids who broke her arm falling off a skateboard or got stitches from, I don’t know, machete juggling. No, my moment in the Munchausen spotlight came from keloid tumor removal where I had pierced my ears the year before. 

November 10, 1995

Orff Ensemble [the NON-mandatory choir I sang in] went to Dallas today. It was cool. I’ll give you the play by play.

4:30am Loaded bus, listened to music

4:50: Started going

5:00 : fell asleep

6:00: Woke up

7:00 : DONUTS!

8:00: music, Austin

9:00: used nasty bus bathroom

10:00: read, DFW Hyatt

11:00: practiced

11:30: performed

12:00: finished

12:30: ate lunch in basement. Hoagie, chips, coke.

You know you’ve reached a particular plane of spirituality when you devote a page of your scrapbook to God, and pose by scripture graffiti in your Samuel L. Jackson hat.

1:00: saw exhibits

2:00: left

3:00: fell asleep 3rd time

4:00: wake up

5:00: read

5:30: MCDONALDS! 9 chicken nuggets, soda, fries

6:00: left

8:00: sang. Become VERY sick of Love Shack

9:30: Home (Seele)

10:00: real home

Nick fell off the bus toilet. Our performance was pretty good. Got sugar drunk. Had to use the men’s restroom at the Hyatt.

 Judging from the account, DONUTS! at 7am were the highlight of the day. Rivaled only by MCDONALDS! 

I am still twitchy about the song “Love Shack.” Pre-teens will listen to songs like “Love Shack,” (and then later “Barbie Girl,” and “Stacy’s Mom”) until your ears bleed. It was preparing me for being mother to a toddler who is infatuated with Cats: The Musical. 

I also remember listening to “Gangster’s Paradise” on that trip and feeling particularly badass. I think this was when I learned that “roadtrip” is synonymous with “everything you aren’t allowed to do with your parents” including fattening foods, and apparently mainstream light rap.

My final somewhat random things are prompts from my American Girl journals. In 2nd and 3rd grade I used American Girl journals that were filled with helpful prompts for organizing memories. Actually, they were there for exactly the purpose they are now serving. To illicit ridiculous statements for my future self to enjoy.


From my 1992 American Girl Journal

More than anything I want to be able to tell Theodore I love him.

That dream is important to me because I love Theodore. And I am too shy to tell him.

This is how I plan to make it come true  by paying atenchen [sic] to him and smiling at him.

Nothing can stop me except if he gets a girlfriend or the end of second grade.

I was a mute with a deadline threatening my quest for true love. I don’t mention it here, but I also have a fish tail and lovely red hair. They based a movie on me.

Looking back, I have changed in this way I am not so shy.

I have not changed in my sweet personality and good taste. 

Still going strong on that one.

From my 1993 American Girl Journal

On the best day I can imagine, I would be kissed by Theodore in hot pink spandex shorts and a swing top. And he would take me to extra cheese pizza in winter at His Hill we would dance to a Hole [sic] New World and Kirsten and Amber [my dolls] would come to life. 

I’m assuming I’m the one wearing pink spandex in this fantasy. Also, a girl knows that boys come and go, but dolls who come to life will endure.

I think that now (this is/this is not) the best time to be an American girl because our new president (Bill Clinton) is very over charging taxes.

Ah, yes, my Fox News days…

More than anything I want to be an artist and a model

That dream is important to me because it is my ambition and how I intend to make a living

This is how I plan to make it come true take art lessons for an artist and for modeling just hope my natural good looks shine through. 

Nothing can stop me except hand disease, pimples, warts, broken hands, and bad hair

I think I’ll succeed because I’m pretty (not meaning to brag) I’m a fairly good artist and I’ll do everything I can to. 

Part Nine: I Was Right All Along

By now it should come as no surprise to anyone that I often felt like the only thinking person in a room full of Philistines.

January 23, 1994 – Today I went to Anne’s. Kristy was there. I haven’t seen Kristy in three months. But she is way less sophisticated than Anne and I.

I’d love to know what the criteria for sophistication was in 4th grade. I pretty much lived on the trampoline and ate S’mores PopTarts, so poor Kristy must have really been primitive.

March 21, 1995 – Well I’m on a role. Everything went my way almost. In math I was chosen as the best test taker in my home room. In music I was the only one who knew what an overture was, and the only one who answered correctly to the question “what is the The Barber of Seville?” Mr. Tipton called me his star. We’re getting swings on the play ground. But as usual it ended in tragedy. Fred the mouse is dead. The washing machine got him. He’s flat now.

This is an entire scrapbook page devoted to my SAT scores in the Duke Talent Search. I feel it speaks for itself.

I have no memory of this macabre incident. We had a hamster named Fred, but I’m pretty sure he died as a result of a science fair project entitled “Do Hamsters Prefer Hamster Food or Candy?” I also have a vague recollection of a little leather mouse I used to carry around in my pocket, probably in an attempt to be a quirky literary heroine. That would explain how he ended up in the washing machine.

Also, I knew about the Barber of Seville because the theme at summer camp had been “opera.” I was on team Pavarotti. Our cheer was “La donna e mobile.” The other team, the Domingos, sang “Figaro” as theirs. It’s from the Barber of Seville, you Philistines.

April 11, 1995 – Today we found out the nominees for Student of the Year Award. I’m one! Or should I say I was. I didn’t make the finals.

As much as I wish I could win, now nobody can call me a goodie-goodie. I personally don’t want the “Goodie-goodie of the Year Award” and it’s not like I need a $50 savings bond. I’m not penniless! Can you tell I’m incredibly jealous? [These little flickers of self-awareness are signs that a sane person was trying to break through.]

If it wasn’t for Alissa I’d have that thing tackled. She brought that stupid story thing to school! [“That story” is a piece of quasi-erotic fiction I wrote with two friends, one of whom later brought it to school, where it ended up on the principal’s desk. The entire saga is detailed in an earlier entry, including the rehearsed speech I planned to give my mom delivering the bad news. Sadly the story itself has not survived.]

Any how. When I’m up there at M.I.T., first in the class and they say Dr. Bekah A. Stolhandske PhD, MD, MRD, ND.D, IQ level 206 came their way, I will personally remind them and tell the world they were ignorant enough not to give ME the SOTY award.

Sassy pose, side-tie, rolled sleeves, snarky door hanger, and room rules tacked to the door. I’m 11 and I know everything.

Thus far, Seele Elementary School has not bragged to the press about its illustrious alumna. Nor do I have any of those degrees. “MRD” and “ND.D” might not even refer to real things.  I don’t think I was referring to a Masters in Rural Development or Naturopathic Medicine degree. My IQ was not, and is not, 206.

That does not stop me from knowing ev-er-y-thing.

July 21, 1995 – I have lots of opinions. Listen:

On Millennialism and the dates when Jesus is coming back. We don’t know WHEN he’s coming. There’s nothing we can do about it, and we’ll know what to do when he gets here.

On Love: There are three kinds of love. Agape (everyone), Filéo (romance) [I continue to misspell and misunderstand phileo love thoughout my journals], and Family love. There you can like someone and love them OR you can love but not like. When you like someone you want to be around them (Filéo or friends or family) but you can love someone but not want to be around them (Agape, sometimes). You can love and like, love but not like, and neither love nor like someone (even though you shouldn’t). But no one can like but not love someone else.

It may surprise you that I did end up with a masters degree in media studies, seeing that in 5th grade I clearly do not have any filter for media bias:

May 1, 1995 – I have learned by my own opinion that the Great American heroes aren’t so great. This is from popular television! See, it isn’t always the stupid educational stuff! I learn diddlysquat from that. Nobody can ever teach me more than I can learn by myself. My grandma would hate to hear me say it but, General Custer was awful. Sitting Bull was worse. The Texans were WRONG. The American Rebels were betrayers. And let it be known that the Confederates were cruel. That’s why I wanna go to M.I.T. OR maybe I should just go to PARIS! I’m not liberated, I’m not a suffragist, I’m just a kid who know that difference between heroes and cruel, sissified, @#$%&s.

Let’s just start with the end, in which I confuse liberated with liberal, and suffragist with feminist.

Liberals and feminists were the warlocks and witches of my childhood. Mysterious, powerful forces for evil. By insisting that I am neither “liberated” nor a “suffragist” I’m not claiming to be an indentured servant who opposes universal voting rights. Actually I’m just in full-tilt denial about becoming a liberal feminist. These fits of freethinking occur intermittently in my journals.

I would be 23 years old before expressing my non-liberal-feminist views to someone who repeated them back to me and said, “That’s liberal feminism.”

However, in this particular case I am siding with, it appears, the British Crown and Santa Anna’s Mexican government, so clearly my fears of being too liberal are unfounded. But there’s some pacifism and Unionist sympathy in there too. Basically, I’m railing against the glorification of American/Southern heroes, which my whole life had been conflated with Christianity.

I have been railing about it ever since.

Part Eight: I’m a Grown-Ass Woman

(Warning: This post contains semi-explicit language, and one horribly awkward sentence that would be graphic if it were anatomically correct. Read at your own risk. Seriously. You’ve been warned. That means you, male family members.)

Over the timeline of my journals I hit all the horrific milestones of “the most wonderful time of my life,” as I called it with a groan and a sneer.

Of course…some milestones involved shopping.

September 22, 1993- I GOT A BRA! I can’t believe it me! Bekah Annell Stolhandske have an honest to goodness BRA! I’m overwhelmed.

Not as overwhelmed as you will be, kiddo. That body of yours is just gettin’ warmed up. And don’t you just love my haphazard use of exclamation marks?

Other milestones were not met with such grammatical exuberance. Or anatomical accuracy.

Aug 17, 1994 – Guess what. I got my first vaginal hair. I’ve been dreading it for some time now.

I’m sorry if that one is awkward. I almost cut it…but it’s just SO FUNNY to me. Pretend you don’t know me, and laugh freely at the horror of what a vaginal hair would be, if such a thing existed.

This is a page from my scrapbook, which I suppose I thought would be the terminus of my maturity.

I don’t go into much more detail on the changes in my physical body, however, I do chronicle the maturing of my cultural taste and general wisdom.

January 24, 1994 – You know my favorite song used to be “A Whole New World” now it is “I will Always Love you.” One year really matures a person.

Jan 9, 1995 – Today is my parents’ anniversary. They’ve been married 13 whole years. Marriage is a strange amazing thing if you really think about it. Of course no one really does.

No one but you, 11-year-old Bekah. No one but you.

People should think about marriage. Maybe write books or pay thousands of dollars in counseling bills. Perhaps a retreat?

One of the aches and pains of growing up is the onset of grown-up concerns. Some time in 1994 I was put on my first diet. I consider this to be the moment I became a woman.

At the risk of being too earnest for this blog post: A diet at age 10 incited an internal war that is still raging in my head. On the one hand, my particular fantasies required a beautiful protagonist, and I was inclined to cast myself. On the other hand…

June 30, 1994 – I am 20 lbs overweight. But this is the LAST day I will weigh that much, I SOLEMNLY VOW and with God as my witness, so help me Lord.

I don’t know how much I weighed, or how I stumbled upon an ideal weight at age ten. But I did. And I can safely say that I weigh more now than I did when I was ten, even if I was 20 pounds overweight. Solemn vow broken. 

My husband has had more than one limb blown off by the landmines left over from the Vietnam conflict that is my body image. Being “unathletic,” bookish, messy…it’s all tied up in there with being chubby. One big clusterfuck. Just like ‘Nam. 

My penchant for hyperbole (which I clearly have not lost) really worked against me during this time.

Sept 5, 1994 – I’m one big mess up. I forget things, I’m unathletic. I mess everything up, I’m ugly, people are always mad at me. I cost too much. I’m just a nobody.

Please try to suppress your urge to comfort me here. Remember this was 22 years ago.  I’m fine now. Just like ‘Nam.

Nov 8, 1994- If there is one trial in my life it’s forgetfulness. I FORGET EVERYTHING.

While it is not the one trial in my life, I do still forget everything, and it does still drive me crazy. In college the AAA locksmith could drive straight to my regular parking spot without directions. I now have a more finely tuned system to keep me from losing all the things and forgetting all the appointments, but if I try to switch purses, the whole thing goes straight to hell. 

Age 13: All grown up and off to see the great big world. Beanie Baby koala in tow.

Another of the great trials of growing up was singing in the children’s choir at church. Around 4th or 5th grade I started hanging out with some older kids at church. They did not have to sing in the choir. I did. It was a mandatory choir. 

I agonized over the mandatory children’s choir. Were it not for a headache on March 12, 1995, you would all get to enjoy one of my great existential rants.

March 12, 1995 -My head is giving me pain. Too much pain to think, therefor too much pain to write. So I’m shortening my original plan for a long diary entry. Enjoy life. Enjoy childhood they all say. Childhood tries my patience. Especially today. We had to sing in front of the church.

And ultimately, once the bras were bought, the the choirs left behind, the Disney musical soundtracks forsaken, and the diets rebooted…I was just like every other 11-year-old, jaded and nostalgic, with my best years behind me.

July 15, 1995 – I haven’t had much of a chance to pour out my heart. Life is zooming by before my eyes and I can’t take time to stop and smell the roses. I hardly have any childhood left. But there is no way to undo my past mistakes and relive my life. I feel like if I enjoy something it falls apart as if on cue.  I stopped really looking forward with all my heart to stuff. If I am negative the results are positive. I don’t know how or why, but God does so I just feel how I feel and God takes care of my burdens. I also think I’m allergic to cheese.

Part Seven: It was Annika’s Fault

I have three younger siblings, but you’d never know it to read my journals. Kierstn is seven years younger, and Gunnar is 14 years younger than me. Kierstn and Gunnar rarely show up in my journals for the simple reason that I was never blackout raging mad at them.

Annika, on the other hand, features regularly. Every oppressed writer needs an oppressor. That was my parents. She also needs a sniveling turncoat antagonist to laugh at her misfortune and steal her birthright. That was Annika.

Pesky little troll.

From ages 7-14 (3-10 for her), it would seem she camped out on my last nerve.

April 6, 1993-Why! Oh! Why! Did this happen to me. I can’t believe I promised Annika I’d be her slave.

Not sure how I managed to turn that into an innocent victim scenario…

April 8, 1993-Gosh. Now that Annika is five she’s been awful sassy. 5’s not so old.

I assume this was to be read in deep southern drawl and addressed to “Pa” or “Ma.”

Some oldest girl-children are instinctively maternal, doting and caring for dolls and younger children. I’m instinctively maternal as well, if you consider Lucille Bluth a mother-figure. Annika made the perfect whetstone on which to hone my budding life skills: sarcasm, passive aggression, and selfishness employed “for the good of others.”

March 23, 1995 – Today started out GREAT. I took a test. It was okay… But like yesterday, today ended in tragedy. ANNIKA. She treats me like a toothache. I help her with her homework. I play with her. And she spits in my face (not literally). But all everyone sees is how I refuse to accept her behavior. And she lies that I treat her awfully. I help her with her homework, instead of telling her the answers I make her use her brain she says I’m the worst sister she ever had. Then the other day we were looking at something and she (without asking me if it was okay with me) just stormed off with it. She comes back and I try to teach her something so I said, “Yes Annika I was through looking.”

Then she gets all adjetatated [sic] and starts to go get it. So I compassionately say, “That’s okay. I don’t need to look.” So we were happy until my dad said, “Now Bekah why did you bring it up again if you didn’t care?”

So tonight he comes in and tells me how bad it is and what the Bible says about being mean to your sister. So I’m going to let her be as cruel as she wants. I won’t react whatsoever. I’ll treat her like a queen instead of a sister.

Scrapbooks, the original Instagram, offer a forgiving filter on our relationship.

I need to ask Annika to be sure, but I doubt I treated her like a queen at any point thereafter. Hence the lesson went unlearned.

My parents also continually refused to take my sage child-rearing advice, even when delivered in the vernacular of their tribe. (“Refuse to accept her behavior” is, I am pretty sure, a phrase right out of Dobson’s Parenting the Strong-Willed Child.)

The first piece of advice I tried to give them, and give them often, was that they were spoiling Annika. She didn’t have my moral constitution. I could absorb a lot more privilege without being ruined.

April 1, 1995 – I am so ticked at my “darling” sister and mother. First of all we took—wait a minute! That’s not where the little backstabbers began. Earlier, Annika walks in: “Bekah you know how we were supposed to go to the lease today and the mall Monday, well I wanted to go to the mall today and I forgot about the lease. So we’re taking vote because I can’t decide which one.”

Like the entire family revolves around her! I didn’t want to vote because I didn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings. But I REALLY wanted to go to the mall. So we go to get Mom’s vote. She says she doesn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings either. So she tells Annika that JUST her and Kate can go to the mall next week. Then mom took Grace to the vet and wouldn’t even let me go to Leeanna’s. You know what, for Annika’s birthday she’s having a family party at Pear Apple, cupcakes in her class, and she and Kate get to go to Fiesta Texas and the Mall. And its not even a landmark birthday at all. For my TENTH birthday all I did was take four friends to a restaurant, and they spent the night. Eleventh too. [It should be noted that the entries immediately following these birthday parties describe them as the best nights of my life. But that was beside the point in the argument I was making.] I didn’t even have a family party. I saw them at Matthew’s birthday. Next thing you know Mom will be taking Annika and Kate to Europe and send them to the awesome (my dream) Camp Edphy in QUEBEC! Oh gosh go to go get dressed for the deer lease. Whoopie!

I was constantly getting my heart set on things like overnight camp in Quebec. Who needs exaggeration when you are a walking, talking hyperbole?

Me. I need exaggeration. Although, please note the parenthetical counter-monologue that, for the good of my future readers, serves to balance out my more daring figures of speech. It occurs throughout the journals, and has followed me into adulthood.

April 13, 1995-I hate, I repeat HATE Annika. I hate Annika more than the scum between Jason’s toes. I hate her more than the lice in Chris’s hair. (Actually, Chris doesn’t have lice, it was just a form of comparison). I hate her looks, I hate her mind, I hate her soul, I even hate her ring finger on her right arm. I most of all though hate her attitude. She thinks she’s the most perfect, wonderful, adored person in the world! But she can’t be, because her own sister hates her. I just can’t help it. If I don’t let it out as it comes, it doesn’t come out as it comes therefore it boils up inside and then it explodes at the wrong time.

Perfect – X

Pretty – X

Smart – [check mark]

Good at all the sports she thinks and brags she is- X.

Evaluation= I HATE HER! 

x=no, [check mark]=yes

I included that key at the bottom so that my readers could interpret Annika’s eval. The layperson could have gotten lost in the jargon.

Of course we all know how this story ends. At some point in college Annika comes to visit and single handedly saves me from making a really stupid mistake with a really stupid guy. She’s one of my favorite people in the world, and every now and then I remind myself that I owe her about 1,000,000 acts of kindness to make up for bedeviling her childhood and just being the worst.

Part Six: That I Deserved So Much More

Another of my chief childhood grievances is the household budget. Please take a moment to laugh at my irrational sense of entitlement and the random-ass things I choose to feel entitled too.

April 18, 1994 – I can’t believe it. My mom said no. I had this big ball planned out, but Mom spoiled it. It would have been so perfect.

Yes, that’s a ball, as in the kind of social function that ugly stepsisters and plucky heroines are invited to attend at the home of eligible bachelors. A ball. As in, where the awkward tomboy protagonist with limited means is transformed into a breathtaking swan and wins a suitor. A ball. As in, I wanted elbow length gloves and a dance card and a magical kiss at midnight.

I somehow envisioned that my 10-year-old self would have been able to plan and execute a full Victorian-era ball, and that the cost of such an event should be within my parents’ budget for “Bekah’s social upkeep.”

In this case, my mom’s refusal is not only rational, but kept me from a miserable reckoning of reality (gangly/chubby 4th graders in elbow-length gloves) and fantasy (something along the lines of Kate Middleton’s life). 

Clearly I was very deprived.

June 6, 1993-Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll just eat worms! My mother won’t get me anything. Not even the money to buy two trolls (one of which would help me in a major area). She probably won’t care if I die.

Yes. Treasure trolls. That is the invaluable worldly good on which I was staking my mother’s love. I’m not sure what “major area” would be helped by a Treasure Troll, but I’m assuming it had something to do with true love or millions of dollars as those were the two things that seemed to elude me throughout the 4th grade.

My monied aspirations continued to be thwarted into middle school. Looking back, it’s hard to tell if we were really living on the edge of poverty, or if my parents were just flagging under my relentless champagne badgering. 

Feb 3, 1994- Oh Dear! I think we’re getting poor. Mom is taking relating class [sic: Real estate licensing]. Which means she has to work. She talked about if she had to, selling the Suburban. “Dear Gracious heavenly Father, So much has already been taken from us. But why?!? I know poor people can be looked down on, but why Lord? Our family is dying and getting seriously sick. Lord, at a time when money is TIGHT, you make it go away faster. Do I have to give up on my dream of money being plentiful? LORD, IT’S NOT FAIR! I love you. WHY?!? Amen.”

The prayer portion of that entry is in quotes because it was taken directly from the Book of Common Prayer.

When I started playing sports, I was convinced that my parents’ thriftiness was a sign that they were not taking me seriously as an athlete. This particular episode has been abridged, as it went on for many, many pages.

Also, maybe the best thing about my first year playing soccer was my budding sports vocabulary. I channeled my love of metaphor and euphemism into trash talking and sports reporting. With the exception of my proto-erotic longings, these are by far my most embarrassing entries.

September 15, 1995 – Today we had a soccer game against the Terminators. We WON 4-0. We rubbed them into the field. I played left and right defense and goalie. I did pretty good (not to be conceited). Our top five players are probably Carol, Leslie, Brandy, Julie, and Leeanna. But all of us kick butt hard man…

…But there was one thing. They were checking our shoes and of course mine were BASEBALL shoes. I wanted to cry. See my parents got hand-me-downs from my cousin (who plays baseball). So my dad goes, “Well, I’ll fix ‘em. I’ll just cut the extra things off.” GOD they don’t know how it feels …I am sick and tired of wearing other people’s clothes.  Why can’t they just understand! From a sister or a girl cousin it’s okay but the cleats were from a boy cousin. I hate these shoes. I want to BURN them so they’ll HAVE to buy me new ones…She got ANNIKA new soccer shoes for her first year. My shin pads are hand-me-downs too. Not Annika. I guess it’s because they see more promise and potential in her. Well, I’m gonna have all of them licking the dirt off my new cleats if they’re lucky. If not, well uh, they won’t be the happiest people on earth let me leave it at that.

I’m not sure if I was trying to sound ominous, or if I was really too mad to think of something worse than licking the dirt off my new cleats.

This is some years after the baseball cleat incident. I did stick with soccer long enough to eventually merit actual soccer cleats.

This particular episode not only illustrates my weird money hangups, but another budding insecurity. Athleticism. Even after four years of soccer, three years of varsity cheerleading, and four years of varsity softball,  my identity as a sedentary butterball lived on.

I had just finished my first marathon at age 25, and over lunch my dad reflected on my accomplishment.

“Who would have thought that of all the kids, you’d be the adult athlete?” he said, beaming. (My dad won the Golden Gloves at age 30.)

Eleven-year-old Bekah would have guessed, Dad. Now start licking those soccer cleats. I still haven’t thought of another consequence.

Part Five: They Took Me For Granted

All horrified baby boomer parents should take note that these rants happened exclusively on the pages of my journals. At least until full blown puberty freed me to do such effective things as slam doors and refer to my family as “you people.”

In preadolescence, as I frequently remind my imaginary readers, I’m a really just good kid with a lot of rage bottled up inside.

My messy room would feature more prominently than any other source of conflict between my mother and me.

Slave labor. Clearly I am HATING it.

As I remember it, my clutter and crap drew unholy volumes of rage from my mother.  I was REALLY messy. Some of my messes live on in family lore. Like the time she found a body outline where I’d been lying, traced in wrappers, pencils, and scraps of paper. Or the time my homeroom teacher described me as a “mobile nest.”

Sometimes shit got real between us.

August 10, 1995- My mom just spanked me. I’m astounded. I’m HUMILIATED. I’m disturbed. I’m quite MAD! I am NOT a 2 year-old. Two shirt tags on the floor and she spanked me. Furthermore, so what about stupid shirt tags. She just won’t give me my SPACE. Gosh, I’m on an electric leash it feels like. She won’t let me stay up late. She won’t let me see PG13 movies.

Before alcohol would help me loudly fail to resolve my issues, I had an equally unhealthy coping routine. After smiling and saying “yes sir/ma’am” I would go to my room, scream into a pillow and find something I could tear to pieces. Once I had said all of the swear words I knew into the pillow and destroyed some piece of doll clothing or school art project, I would journal.

Or I would move out.

Feb 26, 1994-Ohh this is a terrible Saturday. First I had to clean out my closet. Ewww, you should have seen it. My mom got mad at me so I moved out. I took everything essential books, money, food, drink and blankets. So I lived in my own “house” for around two hours. But then I moved back after I realized I had no extra clothes, VCR, TV, RADIO, NES, ELECTRICITY or heater!

Lest we think that my mom was the only target of my indignant malice, let me assure you that my dad got his fair share.

Aug 9, 1992-I’ll give you one word to describe my Dad slave driver he makes us clean up the playroom while he sits on the couch.

That’s two words, eight-year-old Bekah. And now as a parent myself, I have to admit I feel an ironic sense of anticipation as I clean up the playroom messes I did not make, and dream of the day my toddler is old enough for me to say “clean up your mess in the playroom” and expect it to be done without assistance.

Here I am, sharing the spotlight with my decidedly less impressive siblings.

Another oft-cited grievance was the feeling that I was being taken for granted.

March 29, 1994 -Well today I got up at 3:30 am and went pig hunting. We came back and hung out until dinner time. Then while playing I hit my knee REALLY hard on a piece of wood. (I still can’t walk on it.) Then Andy jumped from the top and broke his arm. Tonight when we prayed, EVERYBODY prayed for him but no, no, not me! (Out of modesty I didn’t pray for my leg.)

This one is particularly cringeworthy, because not only did poor “Andy” break his arm, but he ruptured his spleen and would spend the next three days in the hospital recovering from a partial splenectomy. My huge crush on him was forgotten the instant he stole the spotlight by being more critically injured than I was.

It was one of my secret Anne-of-Green-Gables-inspired fantasies to be seriously ill or injured so that 1) whatever boy I liked would be compelled to my bedside to profess his love, and 2) my parents would be sorry for…well, just sorry.

Actually, in the end, I always came around. I knew my parents loved me, and for as strict as they were, I knew I could tell them anything. Though apparently, little did they know, they were being judged on the quality of their gifts, always springing for a treat just in the nick of time. Money can buy the love of a 6th grader. Or at least it can buy the world-weary acknowledgment that you’re not so bad after all.

June 23, 1995-Gotta make this short and sweet. We went to a little circus today. Looks can be deceiving. It was pretty good. My mom and dad are really great. My mom bought me cotton candy and my dad gave me a cool watch. Just today. Nobody asked them to. No reason. I don’t realize how truly unique and special they are until I see other kids’ parents. If I could have picked, I would have picked them. Despite the kinks and dings.

Part 4: How they Mistreated Me

May 30, 1992- Here is an impression of my life: Bekah, are you going on a date? Beka (sic): Can I have some milk? Mom: it’s in the refrigerator! Gawley!

As an eight-year-old, writing complete sentences took a lot of energy and effort, and I could not be bothered to explain the connection between this milk imposition and questions about my social calendar.

This is the first time exasperation with my parents shows up in my journal. I’m eight years old, and being told to get my own milk.

1992.Does this look like the face of an 8-year-old who gets her own milk?

I’ll give this much to my adolescent self: My parents were products of the James Dobson school of family management, and their methods have given me years of fodder for dinner party storytelling.  Absolute obedience was their thing, and they expected it with a smile. They didn’t quite demand that we say, “Please sir can I have another?” while we received our whoopin’s, but that would not have been out of character.

I, however, am not one to be outdone…ever.

Jan 11, 1995 – I’m so mad at mom I could SCREAM. Leeanna and I make plans. NO! Mom and Dad have to go to Bible Study so I’m stuck baby-sitting my brat sisters! I don’t even WANT to babysit them. They’re impossible! I’d like to go just one time without having to turn off MY LIFE so I can be unsocial so I have time to bend over backward to obey the #1 rule: DON’T ARGUE. I’d like to be on my way to the Dittlinger Memorial Library with my best friend. But NO! I only need one book. I have an hour and a half to burn. But NO! I finally find my long lost library card that mom wouldn’t spare one measly dollar to replace! But NO! I’ve got to memorize an at-least-20-line long poem by Jan 25. But NO! The day was going just fine and I was hoping to keep it that way. But NO! Leeanna and I have plans for two days. But NO! I’d like to say, or even scream this at her. But NO! Because I have to stand on my head, chew glass, spit dirt, juggle 20 balls, produce quarters, roses and broccoli out of my ears, hold an elephant on my toes a ladder on my nose, repair the O-Zone layer, bring back the dinosaurs, sit through Barney, find out the mystery of the Bermuda triangle, climb Big Ben, read and memorize Webster’s First Dictionary cover to cover and grow beans out of my nose if she says so to obey the number one rule: DON’T ARGUE!

The rage never lasted long, of course. It was usually tied to getting what I wanted, a problem easily solved.

Jan 12, 1995- I’m not mad at my mom any more. In fact, I’m very happy at her. I got to go to the library with Leeanna today. I got 5 books.

Of course, sometimes getting what I wanted wasn’t as simple. 

April 15, 1995- For once I’m not mad at any body. The one thing I really want in the world is to guest star—just once, maybe—on Home Improvement. If there’s one thing I could possibly have before I die, it’s that. More than getting married.

Somehow my dreams managed to be embarrassingly small-minded and yet entirely unrealistic. And I’m sure I had no ulterior motive of making JTT fall madly in love with me during my guest appearance, what with my fuzzy hair and snaggletooth smile. Though, according to my journal, I didn’t care if it ended in marriage, a distant secondary goal.

I don’t buy that for a minute.

The overwhelming theme of my journals is the longing for love. I sniffed out my own ulterior JTT motive by placing it in the context of entries like this one, written a mere four days later.

April 19, 1995 – Annika RUINED my Beckyanna Bousteé poster! [A magazine self-published by me and my best friend, Leeanna. The brand was a clever combination of our names, incase you were wondering about the exotic title.] I am majorly P.O’d at her. She thinks just because she has the chicken pox she can BOSS everybody around. Write more later.


I’m not mad at Annika, but my emotions are aflutter. I want to die in the arms of the man I love most (not now), I want to feel his embrace around my tan shoulders. I want to kiss his wet, tender lips as they near my own. I yearn for the passion of my fantisophical life.

1994. Don’t mess with this smug bitch.

Here, my ailing sister won the game of hormone roulette. The wind blew and apparently I went from enraged (and thus probably snarking and rude) to ambiguously horny (which means I was probably alone in my room, gazing out a window). You might think something dramatic had occurred during the “con’t” portion of the entry, but I probably just ate or took a nap.

Some observations on this:

1) who was the Harlequin romance novelist I paid to write this crap? “aflutter?” “Yearn?” How old am I?

2) Clearly I had yet to kiss a boy with wet lips, as I would later rank a wet-lipped ex-boyfriend as “the worst kisser ever” on that criteria alone.

3) How is it that the same kid who can correctly use words like “astounded” and “accommodations” thinks that the adjective form of “fantasy” is “fantisophical?”

My alternating anger and fantasy, along with my constant whining about how we don’t have enough money to bankroll my lifestyle (more on that to come), were fueled by books. I wanted a dramatic arch and the improbably stylized life of gal pals living in small towns or boarding schools with lots of costume parties and fancy banquets. 

As much as fiction fueled my discontent with reality, I’m thankful. Books enlarged my dreams. Like a baby deer stepping out in the big world, my first steps were pathetic and ridiculous, but they were steps.

Part 3: One Day They’ll See…

That I was the One Who Got Away….


As I mentioned before, my ideas of love were mostly informed by juvenile literature and the few PG rated movies I was allowed to watch.

Oct 25, 1994- How I wish Gilbert or Theodore would just come up to me and KISS me! Wouldn’t that be cool. We would stare at each other until someone said “are you gonna kiss her, or just stand there like an idiot?” And he would long and passionately kiss me!

Dec 14, 1994- Today was…WELL…All I want for Christmas is a boyfriend. All the girls except me (and the “immatures”) have one. This is my wish list: Theodore, Gilbert, Andy

First let us stop and appreciate that I called a group of girls in my class “the immatures.” And then went on to list the three human beings on my Christmas list.

Then we must note, for the impressionable children reading this, that my polygamous and sort of adorable boy-craziness would eventually evolve into something unhealthy.

Sometime in sixth grade, I got tough with God and declared that I could not be happy without a boyfriend. My pining took on a religious quality: I had a hole in my heart that only a boy could fill.

I hate to laugh at my depressed middle school self, because she was really, truly miserable.

But it was like my melodrama had reached its pinnacle, and just when it couldn’t have gotten any more overwrought…my steady rivulet of hormones turned into a busted water main. There were hormones spraying into the street and all the little Emotion St. kids were just bathing in them, whooping and hollering. And pining.

August 21, 1995-Now. About my depression. I’m happy sometimes, but when I’m not happy or stressed my mind wanders to oblivion and I find myself depressed and blind. If only I could fill that space in my life where Linus, Rocky, or Theodore belongs. Once I have that place I can get back to my normal personality.

One of these entries was most likely penned after this event, a middle school dance. At least one of these fine young men was probably mentioned.

The best part is that I don’t even feel ashamed of the fact that it’s the amorphous idea of romance I’m committed to, not another human being. As long as they know how to deliver embraces and flowers.

If a psychologist had said to me, “Do you think you’re just in love with the idea of being in love?” I would have been like, “Hell, yes.” (But with more exclamation marks and in all caps).

August 24, 1995- So tonight my parents began to understand my life. Open house. They followed my fast, freezing schedule. They understand everything now. Except one things. BOYS. Man, Linus is so incredibly fine. Man, I wouldn’t mind making out with him. He has a temperament very similar to my own. Then there’s Rocky. Wow. Mr. Hollywood himself. Brad Pitt watch out. We talk and argue. I want a real relationship. Not like with Theodore, We never even talked after we “went together.” I want someone who will cuddle me, bring me flowers on my birthday. I want a true boyfriend. And I can’t be totally happy until I do. (Linus #1, Rocky #2, Theodore #3, and Gilbert #4)

Occasionally I did have moments of focus, and even glimmers of self-awareness. Medically inaccurate and dramatic, but aware.

June 8, 1996- I don’t know. I just made an alarming discovery. I think I’m in love with FERRIS BUELLER [remember these are pseudonyms, I wasn’t that kind of crazy]. Can you be in love in 7th grade? Andrea and Colin don’t think so. Zac does. Well, what I’m feeling is called lovesick. I feel like if I don’t hold him close I’ll scream. I don’t have the courage to tell him, because I know he doesn’t like me. AAAUUUUGGGHH! I’m an estrogen freak. I’m a pubescent with a hormone overdose. My estrogen level rises every time I THINK about him. More than anything I want him to love me. The reason he can have me is because he doesn’t want me. I hate that. He’s so cold. He’s playing my emotions like an accordion. SQUEEZE, STRETCH, SQUEEZE, STRETCH. I have feelings, you know! Sigh! 

The only thing that would eventually be more agonizing than not having a boyfriend would be some of the lackluster manchildren I ended up dating when I finally filled the Tarzan-shaped hole in my heart.

June 9, 1999-…The night would have been perfect except that Biff was a jerk. He asked me if I wanted to pay for my meal or not (it was so awkward). Then he asked if he could meet my parents instead of taking me home, because he wanted to spend the night at his friend’s house…

This, 15-year-old Bekah, is dating, that thing you’d been aching, longing, yearning to do for so many years. Rather than tenderly responding to your every emotion, your first asswipe high school boyfriend would require you to leave the tip at every meal (and occasionally suggest that you pay for the whole thing, since he drove), and ask your parents to pick you up half way between your house and his. On the side of the road. 

Part 2: One Day They’ll See…

…That I was the One Who Got Away

Like most preteen girls who keep diaries, most of my entries were about love. Or rather, boys. There is very little in them about love…or even monogamy. I cast a wide net.

I think at a young age I realized that it was unrealistic to hope for someone smart, funny, handsome and rich. So I narrowed it down to the one criteria that really mattered: cuteness.

This is hardly abnormal. It also persisted into my adult years. I chose my husband based almost solely on looks. His integrity, humor, and creativity were like the little featurettes on a Pixar DVD. Bonus material.

As low as the bar was for choosing my paramours, I did have wildly unrealistic expectations of what comes next. I felt entitled to my fair share of flowers, songs, and “embraces.”

This pretty much sums love up.

My total misunderstanding of love doesn’t stop me from waxing philosophical about it, then or now.

Feb 21, 1995Dear Gosh. I need love. Not family love. Fileo (sic). In other words, I need a boyfriend…

[I should point out here that not only did I misspell the Greek word “phileo,” but I hilariously misuse it. Phileo is the ancient Greek term for brotherly love. Eros, is what I was thinking of here, but it would be years before I understood what that meant. Thankfully.]

…Someone who will bring me flowers and take me to dinner.You can only live on one tank of oxygen for so long. Soon you need another tank. It is like that with love. First you can live on just family love. Then you need your second tank, fileo (sic…again) (a boyfriend). Or a baby, they can live on liquid for the first while but then they need solid food, fileo (sic,sic,sic). I NEED A BOYFRIEND.

I am 11 here, and apparently intent on dating a well-paid 30-year-old. I don’t specifically mention his Benz, but I’m pretty sure that’s how we would have traveled to dinner. 

 Most entries were passionate, pining odes to the boy(s) on whom I had hopeless crushes. Followed, almost immediately by scathing death wishes upon those same ignorant dickheads.

The narrative I would later write for myself has me as a hapless, unlucky-in-love nerd up until high school, when I “got cool” (read: I figured out my hair and got a waistline, and boys figured out that they liked boobs).

Actually though, I started strong.

I had a “boyfriend” before most of my friends. He even spoke to me. Once. To tell me he liked me.

(Note: I’ve changed the names from these entries to maintain some deniability in case any of these guys somehow didn’t know I had a crush on them. I assume most of them did, but I think we’d all like to be able to pretend we have no idea who I’m talking about. They are now named after the male characters from childhood fiction they most resemble.)

May 6, 1993- He likes me! Theodore likes me! He said it to my face! Next thing you know he’ll be asking me out. What a man.

Is it too much to ask? Really?

After Theodore, most of my crushes matched the rest of my developing body: uneven, nearsighted, and volatile.

Feb 8, 1994 [ After a week of entries about loving Gilbert]-I CANNOT STAND GILBERT! He is a jock. Today I managed to put his foot in his mouth by stepping on his foot so hard he limped. But if he does it one more time I’ll fix him for good. I want respect and I”m going to get it. So if he wants to see how hard I can hit, HECK, he’s gonna see the hard way. IN BETWEEN HIS EYES.

Feb 9, 1994-I have a split personality. Part of me wants to sock GILBERT and the other wants to kiss him. But he better not mess with me or the NEGATIVE side will take over.


I should also point out that fourth grade was the beginning of my conflicted body image. Thanks to my steady diet of young adult fiction, I used to fantasize about my “tiny frame” being “scooped up” in an embrace or daring rescue.

That will never happen.

I’ve never been one of those waif-like feather people, or what you would call “tiny.” In high school, I could literally bench press my boyfriend. Actually, my boyfriend plus 14 pounds.

In fourth grade I started toying with feminism, as an alternative to waif-damsel I would never be. Not knowing how to channel my big emotions through my new “tough girl” filter, I did a lot of things that I now understand to be abusive. But this was before the days of “no means no” and on the tail end of the “give them some boxing gloves and let them solve it in the gym” era, thus I have no criminal charges. 

A mere two months after my Cybil-meets-“Gilbert” episode, our friends from Alabama came to visit. I had a brief history with the middle son, and his occasional visits were a temporary distraction from my otherwise busy calendar of alternating hate and lust.

April 4, 1994- Oh Lord, Dear Lord. Help me! Have mercy on me! I ache in my heart. I love Andy like NO ONE else. And if I’m correct he loves me. But he’s leaving Wednesday. Today’s Monday. I want to tell him I love him but time is rushing us.

April 5, 1994- Dear Lord, Andy is leaving tomorrow, but I won’t get to see him. Lord, WHY WHY!?! I know you’re in control and you don’t want me to hurt, but Lord, I DO.

April 6, 1994- Today Andy left. But I’m not too sad.

As fickle as most of my emerging adolescent affections were, I was actually pretty loyal to Theodore. I carried the torch for him 2nd through 4th grade, long after we had exchanged the only two words of our entire relationship, the first of which happened somewhere around the end of 2nd grade.

Unfortunately the details of the account are lost to the labor-intensive nature of crafting sentences at age eight. Most of my entries from 2nd grade sound like a transcription of things overhead at a sorority party at 3am. 

April 10, 1992 – Guess what. Theodore TALKED to me. But just because Annika is being rude I cannot use the phone. Miss King said I could not use my scissors on the test. 

Sadly, there are many more diary entries with the line, in all caps, “HE TALKED TO ME.” I think the last one was in college. I’m not kidding. My freshman year of college, I found a piece of lost mail belonging to my impossibly good-looking crush. I returned it, and he said, “thank you.” And I lost. my. shit.

Anyway, back in 1994, Theodore, like most devastatingly handsome 9-year-olds, went on to garner many admirers. As my writing sped up, I was also able to preserve more details before bedtime.  

May 2, 1994-Gosh, lots of people like Theodore. He’s my boyfriend (if he still likes me). Today Abby H. comes up and bragingly says, “Guess what. I’m in love with Theodore. He doesn’t like you anymore!” Two thoughts went through my head. 1) He probably likes me more than YOU 2) So? It’s not like you’re engaged to be married!

For the record, neither I, nor Abby H. ever went on to be engaged to Theodore. Neither do I have any idea who he liked more at the time.

To be continued…