thejuliemeister

Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife


Leave a comment

Mother’s Day

Our lives are often parceled into different periods marked by major events, the times before and after something has changed us. There’s before Cameron and after. Before we moved to Hawaii and after we started our lives here. Before my miscarriage and after, when I learned the extent my soul could feel pain. But the greatest fissure in my life will now always be before becoming a mother and after.

 

Every night I stand watch, perched over Jack, fingertips grazing his pajamas as I wait for the steady rise in his chest to meet my touch then fall away, before rising again. Still breathing. Once confirmed, I’ll return to bed.

 

This ritual started within days of bringing Jack home from the hospital. Either Cameron or I would sit up and peer into the bassinet at night, letting our eyes adjust to the dim light cast in through a crack in our bathroom door, waiting to see him move.

 

After five months, Cameron has largely stopped his vigil. He’s confident our baby is fine at night. He doesn’t feel my constant, unabating terror that somehow this miracle we made will cease to be. Or if he does, he’s better at hiding it.

 

I’ve heard the words before that you never really know fear until you have a child. I understood the meaning of those syllables strung together to form an idea, but I couldn’t comprehend the concept until I held Jack in my arms.

 

Jack was born a little after midnight on November 19th. I pushed him out in 14 minutes. I didn’t let the nurses take him away to clean him. Instead I had them hand him straight to me, blood and all. Lying on my chest, only a minute old, he did the first of many things I would find remarkable, when he picked up his head and looked at me.

 

I’m constantly amazed at how much I can love Jack. I’d heard of people bursting with joy, but never truly felt my heart swell till I felt lightheaded until I saw his smile and heard his laugh. He can be frustrating, gross, tiresome and loud, and I love him anyway. Being Jack’s mom is the most difficult and most rewarding experience of my life so far.

 

Of all the realizations that have come since Jack was born, one of the most mind boggling has been the understanding that this feeling of awe I have for my son is how my mother has felt about me.

 

Few relationships are as fraught as that between a mother and a daughter. There are novels, movies and memoirs dedicated to the subject. Though my mother and I have a loving relationship and talk often, we’ve had our differences.

 

I baffle her. In as many ways as we are alike, from our physique to our exacting logic, we are different. She marvels at my gregarious ability to make friends in new places. Throughout high school she was frustrated by how often I neglected homework yet managed good grades by acing the final exam. I don’t know how many times she told me that real life doesn’t work that way; there wasn’t always going to be a big test at the end where I could make up for months of slacking off. As a freelance writer, I tend to disagree.

 

I needled her, clearly. I tested the perimeter of her boundaries, always searching for a weak spot. Always hoping she’d concede to me doing something outside of her better judgment. I could never understand why she didn’t want me to go to concerts at the old movie theater that had burned twice before because she thought it was a firetrap. It rankled me that she was always so damn protective, wanting to carefully guide my actions to stay safe.

 

I get it now. Every night as I lightly caress Jack’s ribcage, waiting for the telltale rise and fall in his chest, I finally understand why my mom did everything in her power to keep Sarah and I sound. I know the boundless love of a mother for her child that strangles with its ferocity.

 

We have a joke in our family. Whenever someone embarks on something new, and potentially dangerous, we tell them, “stay with the group, watch out for sleeper waves.” That was my mother’s mantra during class field trips to the beach at Bodega Bay, where rip tides can sweep you away in an instant. Now it’s a way to say “be careful, I love you.”

 

Now on my first Mother’s Day as a mother, I’m equally bewildered by my love for Jack as I am at my new appreciation for my own mother. And I want her to know that Jack and I continue to stay with the group and are always on guard for sleeper waves.

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

The Writing Process

  1. Think of an interesting idea or fond memory that would make a great blog.
  2. Sit down at the computer to write, and spend the next hour on Facebook/Twitter/Reddit.
  3. Finally open a new blank word document.
  4. Reward self with another 20 minutes on Facebook.
  5. Back to the word document. Try to figure out a good lead-in to the blog. Spend 200-300 words meandering through different big words trying to get to the point. Most of this will get cut later.
  6. Before actually reaching the point, remember that there is funfetti cake mix in the cupboard. Proceed to bake cake.
  7. While cake is baking, go back to writing. Spend 30 minutes trying to craft the perfect transition sentence to finally get into the meat of the blog.
  8. Pull cake out of the oven.
  9. Put on Taylor Swift album to help focus and realize that the transition sentence is still shit, spend the next 15 minutes trying to fix it.
  10. Dance break when Shake it Off comes on.
  11. Continue writing, now finally able to dig into what you started out to write.
  12. Realize 5 minutes later that cake has cooled enough to frost. Proceed to frost cake.
  13. Bring a slice of cake back to the desk to energize your writing.
  14. Spend the next 10 minutes writing, only to realize all you’ve done is described the slice of cake you’ve finished.
  15. Delete cake writing, then go back to that pesky transition because it’s still not right, probably because the first 200-300 words aren’t right either and probably need to be cut.
  16. Notice the time and realize you need to make dinner/run errands/meet friends. Decide to finish tomorrow without ever writing anything of substance.
  17. Repeat.


Leave a comment

How I knew

243161_2017473312360_4805640_o

There are a few things I know for certain about that night. I know that I was a god at beer pong. I know I was at a party that I had no business at, but happened to be down the street from my apartment. I know that when I walked in I spotted a guy in a mullet wig with a drawn on handle bar mustache and knew he was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School where I worked. I groaned. There was no way for me to know then that within two years I’d marry that man, and that more than five years later I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

 

It started with Ramsey. It was a typical Saturday night, and I’d texted my friends to see if anything was going on. I didn’t particularly want to go out, but I wanted to check my options. Ramsey was the one to text back that there was a mustache and wig party (so 2011) in my neighborhood. I could tag along.

 

I did. Ramsey and I partnered with a stranger and formed a champion beer pong team. On the edges of each game I noticed a guy, the same NPS student, was hanging around. He was a friend of the stranger we’d paired with.

 

I learned at least one lesson that night: even a champion beer pong team still ends up drinking a lot of beer over the course of a few games. I was not immune. But instead of full-blown inebriation, I was generally feeling good. Karaoke good.

 

That NPS student started talking to me. Apparently I’d helped him before in my capacity as a registrar employee. He seemed so interested, and for me, just then, that was exactly what I needed.

 

A couple of months prior to this night, I’d told my then male best friend I wanted to be more. He declined. I didn’t honestly think I’d find anything of value with the opposite sex for many more months or years to come.

 

Then I met Cameron. He was smoking and drinking cobra malt liquor out of a brown paper bag. He was raised in Tennessee but he doesn’t have an accent, unless he is drinking and around another person from Tennessee. That night he happened to be with a friend from Knoxville.

 

He charmed me.

 

For the rest of the party we were inseparable. The photo above is actually from that night. After the party wound down he offered to walk me the 4 blocks home. We held hands. I remember him saying he wanted to take me out, and that he could already tell we were going to be “that” couple- the couple that’s so cute it’s annoying. He was right.

 

I had a tiny apartment then that shared a front stoop with my neighbor, a woman I was pretty sure dealt drugs in her spare time. I’d planned to give Cameron a chaste kiss at my front door and hope he actually called. When we got to my place at around two in the morning, my neighbor was sitting outside with a gentleman caller, and I couldn’t have my adorable good night in front of them.

 

So I let him in. It was only supposed to be for a few minutes. Just long enough to give a little smooch then say goodnight. But one smooch turned into two, and suddenly I was waking up to daylight, still fully clothed, thank you very much, and a sweaty (also fully clothed) dude was next to me.

 

Shit. Nothing had happened aside from kissing, but I really wasn’t into finding myself in bed with a stranger after a night out. Now I had to figure out how to wake him up and usher him out.

 

Cameron was thankfully already awake. We started the awkward dance of conversation between two people who don’t know each other, but happened to share a bed the night before.

 

Conversation flowed. There were no awkward pauses. We got along. He asked if I was a dog or a cat person. I’d never had a cat before, so I answered honestly: dog.

 

He told me that he had a dog named Gus. It brought me back to a day in first grade when both of my parents pulled up to school in the minivan even though Sarah and I usually took the bus. They opened the sliding door to the backseat and on the floor was a cardboard box. In that box there was a puppy. We named him Gus. I couldn’t believe this man had his own Gus.

 

Later in the conversation I asked what he wanted to be after the Navy. A writer, he said. At that time I wasn’t writing. I’d given up on fiction and I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to write about. I still knew deep down that I wanted to write. He wanted the same.

 

That morning we talked for four hours before he had to go. We could have talked for longer. It’s been more than five years since then and we can still talk for hours. Somehow on that first morning together, between finding out about his Gus (now my Gus) and his facility as a writer, I knew that we had something. We still do.

 

 


2 Comments

Yaste like taste

My name is Julie Yaste. Before that, for 26 years, I was Julie Zack. I love that name. It sounds like the alter ego of a superhero. Like Clark Kent or Peter Parker. Julie Zack was definitely an improvement on Bruce Wayne. To this day I have friends who call me JulieZack like it’s one word, and will never know me by another name.

 

I didn’t intend to change my name. Being a Zack was so much a part of who I was. Even my name, Julie, was partially conjured as something to be suitable with Zack. My mother longed to name me Emily. My father reminded her this would leave them with a girl whose initials were EZ. Unfortunately their clairvoyance couldn’t predict that JZ would eventually also raise some eyebrows. If they could have predicted that, then maybe there wouldn’t also be a Jenna, Josh, Jim, Joe and Jack in the family.

 

I used to joke that I would never change my name upon marriage unless it gave me a significant alphabetical advantage. Going from Z to Y didn’t seem worth the hassle. With that luck, I’ll one day have a daughter who will marry someone with a last name starting with X. Maybe after 26 generations we’ll work our way forward to the start.

 

The problem with Yaste is that nobody knows how to pronounce it. In waiting rooms at doctor’s offices I hear “Mrs. Ya-stay?” And I know they mean me. Nobody ever stumbled over Zack. It’s easy. It’s one syllable that looks like it should be one syllable. The trouble with pronunciation led my husband to always explain his name like so: “Yaste like taste.”

 

I always think there are so many other words that rhyme with Yaste: paste, haste, waste, chaste, baste. We could be Yaste like baste! But no, we’re Yaste like taste, and that always leads to some asshole that thinks he’s clever calling me tasty Yastey. It makes me think of that time I had a doctor refer to my antibiotic induced yeast infection as the yeasty beasty and I shudder.

 

Beyond the pronunciation issues, I wasn’t keen on being JY instead of JZ. Y isn’t exactly a sexy letter. At least with Z you can imagine the three sword strikes of Zorro and know that the letter is badass. It’s bold. The same shape upper and lower case. Z is for zebra, the animal with the coolest stripes that inspired a generation of fashion. Y is for yak and who honestly wants to be associated with that?

 

For over a year after we got married I stayed Julie Zack. I tossed around the idea of never converting to a Yaste. At first Cameron was irked that I didn’t immediately want to take his name. He told me he imagined me attending future ship functions with him, and having people refer to me as “Mrs. Yaste,” and then I’d step in and correct with, “actually, it’s Ms. Zack.” I wouldn’t have done that though. Eventually he realized that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about our marriage. It mattered how we felt in it. So he dropped it.

 

Around the same time, I decided to change my name. It wasn’t Cameron’s insistence. It wasn’t the societal norm. Instead I thought about if Cameron and I have kids. I’d want our kids to feel like their parents were a team, and we were all part of the same family, with one name. I loathe hyphenated surnames, and the thought of a Zack-Yaste or a Yaste-Zack just seemed cruel. So one Valentine’s day I walked into the local Social Security office and within an hour I had a new name.

 

For the last few years I’ve wanted to write a book. My husband suggested that when I do (his words), I should publish under my maiden name. Zack is more approachable. Everyone knows how to say it (thank you Zack Morris). And he knows how much I love that name.

 

But the thing I don’t think he realizes is that I didn’t really know myself before he came around. I worked a job I didn’t like. I lived in a place that I fell into but didn’t really choose. I didn’t write and I forgot how much I love writing. I was a shell, just going through the motions and trying to be an “adult.”

 

Cameron challenges me. He inspires me. He makes me better. I would not be where I am today, with so many of the accomplishments I’ve achieved if he hadn’t come into my life.

 

He’s right that I prefer the actual name Julie Zack. But I love being Julie Yaste even more.


1 Comment

Due Date

In an alternate world, today would be different. It wouldn’t just be a day that I took off work to enjoy Hawaiian living. It would be a day when I was carefully driven to Tripler hospital to give birth to my first child. I imagined using a special water-birthing chamber. It sounded so much calmer than a typical frenetic hospital ward. It would be warm, and peaceful and by the end of the day I’d have a sleeping baby that I could contemplate in its Buddha Zen. Pink cheeks. Ten fingers, ten toes.

 

We aren’t in an alternate world. We are here. Today. And even though it’s my due date, there is no baby. I lost it months ago.

 

Its been hard knowing that everything I do right now would be so drastically different in that alternate world. Last week I went to the Big Island for work. I hiked around Volcano National Park and gained over 20,000 steps each day. It was beautiful and amazing and there’s no way I could have done it if I was 9 months pregnant. It’s hard to hold both truths in my mind. Then I remember there is only one truth, the one where that baby, my first, was never destined to be.

 

I thought about driving up to the North Shore today and buying a lei, then throwing it into the sea. A symbolic goodbye. I took a nap instead.

 

Part of my apathy is survival. I can’t feel it all again right now. It was too much when it happened. I can’t go through that again. Not today.
In a more hopeful way, I feel I’ve already said goodbye. It happened maybe a month ago.

 

Right after the miscarriage I commissioned a bracelet stamped with the initials of the baby, had it been a girl. ALY. Amelia Leilani Yaste. Our Aly girl. We never picked a boy name.

 

I wore it always. It was something that was part of me. That and my wedding band never left my person. I was afraid that without it, I would forget, and do some disservice to the child that would have been. I won’t ever forget though.

 

Then one day, I was wearing the bracelet, and suddenly I wasn’t. I didn’t take it off. It broke.

 

I remembered that a friend told me once that when a bracelet breaks off, it’s good luck. I texted her asking if that was true. I didn’t give her the details. She told me that when a bracelet breaks off, it’s a sign of completion or closure.

 

That same day someone messaged me on Twitter about how an article I’d written about miscarriage gave her courage to write about her own. Her blog was heart wrenching and beautiful in its honesty.

 

It felt right. I’d spent so many months focusing only on loss. This was an opportunity to move forward. Not to forget. I’ll never forget. But to find a path where I can remember without being totally undone.

 

When my mom stayed with me after the miscarriage she suggested I should have a mantra. Something I could say to myself to feel better in some way. I never found a mantra, but I did find a prayer.

 

Please grant me strength and shepherd the spirit of my child.

 

I don’t know exactly what I believe in. I have a complicated history with faith. But I say this to myself throughout the day, every day.

 

Somewhere, I’m sure, ALY is safe.


Leave a comment

Sexism, orgasms and grad school- oh my!

Over the weekend I read through novel synopses for my peers in a graduate creative writing class. Most were good and I’m excited to see how they develop. One, however, shocked me both by its overt sexism, and because the author seemed totally oblivious to the fact that it was incredibly sexist.

 

I won’t go through all the details of the plot, but it involved a man in a power position dating an unnamed Japanese-American woman who has never had an orgasm. The man makes it his quest to make her climax. They have a “great” relationship, and the man wants to propose to this woman, but isn’t sure if he can unless he can make her orgasm. That premise alone is so mind-boggling and icky in its cluelessness that I realized just how alive and well sexism is in America.

 

First off, ladies don’t need a guy to get off. If a woman is sexually active and has never climaxed through intercourse, chances are she would take the matter into her own hands eventually (pun intended). Also, I may be a bit jaded on this one as a military spouse currently on a 6-month sex moratorium thanks to my husband’s deployment, but sex really isn’t the most important part of a marriage. Sex is great, orgasms are awesome, but it’s not the foundation of a relationship.

 

It’s also problematic that the guy is an authority figure, and holds all the power of possible marriage and presumed happiness (because all a woman needs to be happy is a wedding ring, #obvi). I could go on and on about how much this synopses irks me, but the end result is it’s gross in how belittling it is to women, and highlights how subconscious sexism is still prevalent.

 

Dudes still think of women as sex objects instead of people! Not all of them, but some do. I’m lucky enough to have had good men in my life who all support strong women. It didn’t seem possible that there might be a real contingency of men, and even some women, who think of women as inferior.

 

I’ve gotten catcalls on the street, been groped in public by strangers, and had at least one boss who blatantly checked out my rack on the regular. It’s not great knowing that my gender is one reason why I’ll likely always make less money than my spouse, or that my mom used to have male employees who made more money than she did as their supervisor. These things are upsetting, but reading this synopsis was the first time I got really angry about sexism in America.

 

The guy who wrote the synopsis is an award-winning writer. He’s got his Master’s and is on track for a PhD. He should be an intelligent human being. His critiques and comments in class are always well reasoned and informed. How then, did this grown man, with an adult son, achieve such a warped view of women?

 

It’s got to be something in society that lets some men believe that women are more valuable for their sexuality than intellect. A woman’s orgasm is not the core of her being or abilities. It’s a nice treat, but fleeting. Nobody should be valued by sexual performance. The fact that any man feels that a woman’s marriageability is entwined with her ability to orgasm is complete bullshit. We need to work on making the world a place where that idea isn’t a reality.


Leave a comment

Basil

After the miscarriage mom came out for a few days to be with me. Cameron was out to sea. She coddled me, bought us fine wine to share, and made all of my favorite childhood foods. Among these dishes was what we lovingly call Mommy Pasta. It’s a simple pasta with red sauce that tastes divine. I’ve never been able to replicate it.

 

In order to make it she needed fresh basil. I picked the only fresh basil I could find at the store. It was the living kind that still had roots attached. After my mom was done cooking she cut the top off a soda can and put the remaining live basil in it with a little water.

 

The basil sat there on my kitchen counter for a few days, even after mom flew home. I didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve never had a green thumb, but I couldn’t throw it away.

 

I found an old small pot that a friend had painted to say “Julie” in middle school that I’d used as a pencil holder off and on over the years. I bought the smallest bag of potting mix I could find and transplanted the basil to its new home.

 

Some of it died, but not all. Sometimes I’d forget to water it and the basil would wilt in dehydration, but it always perked back up with a little feeding.

 

We moved houses and the basil came with us. Cameron returned from sea. I repotted the basil in an even bigger planter and started growing other fresh herbs. Cameron uses them to cook. The basil is thriving. It’s huge and expanding with large fragrant leaves.

 

The one thing mom said when she found out I’d planted the basil was to never let it flower. If I saw a shoot of flowers start I needed to pinch it off immediately, otherwise the plant would die, its lifecycle complete.

 

For months I was vigilant. I watched the tiny herb grow but not flower. It didn’t seem like it would happen.

 

Then recently, I saw its first tiny bloom. It’s been about five months since the miscarriage. I know a few women with due dates similar to what mine would have been and I can see their growing bumps and know about how big I’d be by now.

 

I plucked the budding flower and dropped it in the grass.

 

The next day there was another bud. I plucked that too. Now it’s almost daily that I’ll find one or two floral shoots and I pluck every one.

 

So now I have this basil that I can only keep alive by preventing its bloom. It’s constantly trying to blossom, and I keep pinching it back. It seems so desperate to flower, to move to its next stage, even if that stage is moving on entirely.

 

I think sometimes about letting it flower. Letting it move through the natural lifecycle progression. I may. Basil isn’t hard to grow, and I could always start another plant. But I guess I’m just not ready yet. Maybe I never will be.