Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife

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Little Ball

My dad used to scoop me into his lap, curling my knees to my chest as he held me tight, pressing me into a wriggling little ball. I’d scream with laughter until I couldn’t breathe. When the pressure seemed too great and I might succumb to his grasp, he’d release me. Though freed, I’d usually stay put, tucked into his arms.  

It was our game. He said he was trying to squeeze me down into a little ball because I was growing too fast. He wanted to reverse my progress. Keep me small forever. We’d laugh and cuddle, but it was futile. Despite being condensed into countless little balls throughout my childhood and beyond, I grew up.  

Now I am grown. That still feels surreal sometimes. Frequently I’ll find myself doing something mundane—washing the dishes, paying a bill, driving to the store—and it will hit me. I’m an adult. I have a house and a husband. Together, we have two boys. I still feel like that kid sometimes though, pressed tight, loving the comfort of my father’s embrace as we both tried to hold onto my childhood a little longer.  

My oldest son is two-and-a-half. He’s wild. His hair falls in dirty blond ringlets as he launches himself from couch cushion to couch cushion, often narrowly avoiding a collision with the coffee table. I’m so proud of his growth. He can use his words to communicate his intent (more-or-less) in a way that seemed impossible a few months ago.  

My youngest is 10 months and on the cusp of walking. He snakes around the house, pulling himself forward on his forearms then pauses to look back and grin, showing his four teeth—two up top, two down below. His growing independence terrifies and delights me.  

Despite my pride I already feel the pull to bring them in and squeeze them tight. I want to hold on to both of my sons now, while they both need me so desperately. As independent as they both already are, I’m still their Mommy. They come running or crawling to me with all their needs. I can’t stand the idea that one day, I won’t be able fix all their problems.  

I never realized that being a parent would fill my heart so much that it breaks a little. With each new milestone I feel pride, tinged with a little mourning at my children taking one more step towards adulthood. I know that no matter how hard I squeeze and press them to me, there is no slowing their speeding growth.  

At the same time, I’m always on a countdown, waiting for it to be time for the next activity, meal or sleep so that I can check out for a bit. It’s exhausting to be needed, especially now when there are so few outlets. 

One of the few things we can do out of the house with the playgrounds closed is head to the old cemetery that doubles as a dog park down the road. My husband and I take the boys and our dog there after dinner most nights to let them get some energy out before bed. My toddler loves to run through the headstones as he screams for me to chase him, his knees raised high with each stride in his toddler gait, giggling wildly.  

It always strikes me as I run after him how many children are buried there. Most of them are tragedies more than a hundred years past, but not all. On one trip my son tried to take a toy car that looked brand new from a gravestone of another 2-year-old who died in 2004. As scared as I am of my sons growing up and not needing me, I can’t fathom them not having the opportunity to do so.  

I’ve heard that “the unknown” is life’s greatest fear, but that’s a lie. I know exactly what my greatest fear is. It’s to join the chorus of moaning mothers who have buried their child.  

Before my sons were born, I had a miscarriage, and I didn’t know if I’d make it out from under the grief. I will always carry the weight of knowing that baby was there, then gone. I imagine losing one of my boys would leave me a living ghost.  

I’m so grateful to live in an age and a place where it is uncommon to lose a child. For most of human history, and even in much of the world today, that hasn’t been the case.  

No matter how exhausting it is to have my oldest pulling at me, crying, as I nurse the baby, with them both needing me so urgently, the idea of the alternative is infinitely worse. No matter how much I wish I could pause their growth, I’m thankful that they’re growing. 

Throughout quarantine I’ve tried to practice grace, giving myself and those around me some extra leeway because we’re all struggling. I know I can’t stop my boys from growing up, but sometimes, when they crawl into my lap, I’ll indulge the urge to hold on. I’ll squeeze them tight, knees to chest, and we’ll all revel in the perfection of their youth.  

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Ghost Towns

On normal days, driving through Columbia, California, feels like a trek through time. The past tends to overlap with the present as families and retirees explore the state park and historic downtown. This is California’s gold country in the foothills of the Sierras, a few hours from where they first struck gold at Sutter’s Mill. The main drag of Columbia is lined with buildings that have high wooden facades masking squat brick structures. It’s like a movie set made to represent the “Old West” that would look over-the-top if it wasn’t real. 


There are dozens of little gold rush towns like this up and down the foothills with names that match that era: Twain Harte, Drytown, Big Tree and Big Bear. Today, as I drive through Columbia on my way from Murphys to Sonora, it looks like a ghost town, more like Bodie, the husk of a long deserted village on the California-Nevada border that’s usually open for tours. They’re both empty now. Everyone is under a shelter-in-place order to prevent the spread of the first true pandemic of our lifetime. 


I’m not sheltering. I need to pick up my husband. He’s just flown into San Francisco from Honolulu and is driving a rental car up to Sonora where I’ll grab him. We were midway through a military move from Hawaii to Rhode Island when the country started locking down. As I flew out with my sons—two and seven months—to stay with my parents two weeks ago, my husband and I didn’t know how long it would be until we saw each other again. Two weeks was the best case scenario, a rarity in military life. We were prepared for months. It feels like a gift to see him again so soon. 


The past two weeks have been strange. Murphys is usually a tourist hotspot in the Sierras. The one mile downtown strip hosts over 22 wine tasting rooms and a cupcakerie that boasts a win from Cupcake Wars. Tourists from the Bay Area flock here throughout the year to drink too much and spend their money. At one end of downtown there’s a novelty street sign reading “wine-o crossing” with a stick figure crawling on hands and knees. 


Like those living in most tourist destinations, Murphys residents largely disdain the visitors that prop up their economy in direct proportion to how much they rely on them. But today, without the outsiders, many of the local businesses are closed, hoping to be able to reopen when things get back to some kind of normal. 


My parents’ place sits on 20 acres, 4 miles from town and down a dead-end gravel road. When my family gathers there at the holidays my husband and brother-in-law shoot guns in the yard while my dad sits nearby on his tractor watching, smoking a cigar. After decades of working in corporate jobs in the Bay Area, my parents retired here a few years ago to get away from the crowds, along with a good chunk of their neighbors. 


Their hangout spot is a tap room that also serves sandwiches run by a husband and wife who have told me before they adore my folks. My dad has one of the coveted wooden mugs reserved on the wall for a select few favorite patrons. My mom drinks wine, not beer, and they don’t do wine goblets. Once or twice a week my parents head to town for lunch and a couple rounds, before stopping into the market and heading back home up the hill. 


The tap room is open now, but only for take out. That’s the best any of the restaurants can do. Last week my mom sent me to pick up lunch and told me at least twice to tip 25 percent. My parents crave the socialization of sitting at the bar and talking to a slew of regulars. Despite their choice to live in the middle of nowhere, they don’t do well in total isolation. Tensions have risen, especially with the addition of me and my two loud sons. My boys can’t understand the changes so they add to the anxiety with their recurrent cries. 


My parents are watching the boys now while I wind my car along Parrots Ferry Road heading towards Sonora. My ears pop as I follow the curves of the mountain pass, and as much as I love my sons, I’m grateful for the 45 minutes alone. While others are spending all of their time alone, I have a toddler and breastfeeding baby. Between the two of them, someone has been in physical contact with me every moment of every day. Relentlessly. For three quarters of an hour, I am a person on my own. 


The uncanny quiet I saw in Columbia continues into downtown Sonora, as I pass Dorothea’s Christmas Store and even more deserted buildings built more than a century ago. The car rental lot is a few miles out of downtown across from Walmart. It’s near the hospital my dad went to a few months ago when he found out he’d had a minor heart attack. He spent the whole day on a gurney in the hallway because there weren’t enough beds. I pray that we won’t need to go there soon. 


When I finally see my husband in the parking lot, we don’t hug or even touch. After he loaded his luggage into the car I squirted hand sanitizer into his palm and watched as he rubbed it in. Three years ago when he returned from a deployment we hugged so hard that a picture of our embrace made the front page of the navy newspaper. This time we won’t touch until after he showers and changes in the apartment above my parent’s garage. 


On the drive back he tells me about having to move out of our home and stay at a hotel in Waikiki for the last two weeks. He heard tourists laugh and joke about how the Coronavirus wasn’t serious and they wouldn’t give up their vacations. It was all an inconvenience, a hoax, something clearly designed to ruin a perfect week in paradise. Meanwhile, locals deemed essential worked nearby serving those tourists, anxious about making rent on reduced hours as most of their coworkers were already laid off. It’s easy to see why so many lifelong Hawaii residents can’t stand people from the Mainland. 


I tell him about my parent’s house. How our toddler won’t sleep by himself anymore so one adult has to sleep with him while I sleep with our baby so I can feed him at night. I warn him that it’s claustrophobic and that we’ve all been drinking too much to cope. He says he understands, but he won’t until we’re there. 


We pass through downtown Murphys in the final leg of the drive and see a large traffic sign that’s changed to read “wine pickup available.” My parents keep saying the wineries will be fine through all this. They can sell online and it’s not their busy season. I’m not sure there will still be over 20 tasting rooms lining the main street in a few months. 


Like Columbia and Sonora, Murphys is also a ghost town. Even the hotel that once hosted Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant is closed. It anchors the town. I don’t know if it’s ever closed before in its 150-year-plus history. There’s no word on when it might reopen. 


Today as we drive through town it’s empty, but a week later when the CDC would start recommending wearing masks, we’d see someone walking through wearing a bandana around his face like a bandit in an old movie. As novel as everything feels in this new normal, it echoes where we’ve been before. 


Like everyone, I don’t know when or if things will go back to how they were before. I don’t know how many people will die in the interim. But odd as it is, I’m comforted by the glimmer of the past overlapping into the present. The world is always going through cycles, and as hard as this is, mankind has been here before, and we will get through it again. 

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Missiles in the Morning

Two years ago, I was a new mom, sitting with my eight-week-old baby when my phone buzzed and told me that we were about to die. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII,” it read. “SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”


We lived on Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. A place where the past tends to muddle the present. When you think of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the brunt of the damage was done on Ford Island. This was where battleships were moored and planes sat parked neatly wingtip-to-wingtip on that December morning. Strafing marks from Japanese machine guns scar the concrete outside of my house and my regular morning run takes me past the desiccated wreckage of the USS Utah. You can’t forget history when you live in it.


In the midst of my shock wondering how it was that something was coming to imminently murder my son, husband and me, I thought about the people who lost their lives there decades ago. How they couldn’t have expected it. Then I thought, too, of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were suddenly bombed and gone in an instant. Shadows on the sidewalk. I wondered how it would be to stop existing in a flash. Would I even know I was gone?


My husband, meanwhile, was pragmatic. When his phone sent the same alert, he said it couldn’t be real. He worked for Pacific Command and felt confident it had to be a false alarm. He also reasoned that if it were real, it would be on the news. So we turned on the TV.


There isn’t a weekend news broadcast in Hawaii. Or there wasn’t then. All we saw was college sports. Then the sports broke and we saw news of the same message of an inbound missile.


“I need to go into work,” my husband said.


He continued to tell me that it was fine, we were going to be ok. He started citing statistics and ballistic missile defense capabilities and how if a missile were going to strike it would have already landed, all while putting on his military uniform to head into a fortified base. 


I sat with my baby, who was wearing pajamas designed to make him look like a dinosaur, and prayed.


After a minute I took him upstairs with me where my husband was finishing getting dressed.


“Can we go with you?” I asked.


My husband looked crestfallen.


No. He worked in a secure facility. Civilians weren’t allowed. If a missile was coming, it would head straight there. It was all going to be ok anyway. He was certain there was no missile coming, but thought he should go to work to lend a hand.


He left, and I was terrified we’d die apart.


Meanwhile some of my neighbors had gone to old WWII era concrete bunkers and tried to break in for shelter. Across the island people tried to shelter in storm drains and bath tubs. We all knew that if Hawaii was hit, nobody was safe. A few friends texted or called me to see if I knew anything. They thought maybe my husband had information. I relayed what he said, trying to sound calm. I was more scared than I’ve ever been before or since.


A few minutes after my husband left, I finally felt relief when Representative Tulsi Gabbard sent an all clear message on Twitter.  Soon everyone was retweeting that message and others from government officials saying the warning was a false alert. My husband called too to say it was all ok and he was coming home. 38 minutes after the first alert was sent to my phone, a second one arrived to say that the first was in error. We could return to feeling safe. Or try to at least. 


Today I look at my son and I can’t imagine a world without him in it. His precious blonde curls fall to his shoulders and he smiles the exact way I did as a child, where his upper lip comes to a devious point almost like the Grinch. The world would certainly be a darker place without his light. I’ve had a second son since then too. This baby is the epitome of fat and happy. A true Buddha baby, weighing over 20 pounds and only 5 months old. I’m so thankful that we’re all here and healthy. I’m amazed at how easily we couldn’t be. 


Part of the reason the message was so terrifying was that it seemed so plausible. North Korea was launching test missiles. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were trading threats. As the closest American outpost to North Korea in the middle of the Pacific, it was totally believable that the rhetoric of these world leaders would cause our demise. 


Two years have passed, and while I should feel safe and content, the missile threat broke the piece inside of me that believed nothing bad could really happen. I’m scared all the time now of the ways in which politics and our world leaders can coalesce into violence that can affect civilians. And as I watch the news with a closer eye, I realize that it happens every day. 


There are bright spots in this world, like the perfect bounce of a toddler’s curls or a baby just learning to coo, but there is also darkness. And we must hold ourselves and the leaders we choose accountable.

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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.


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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.

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How I knew


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.




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.

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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.

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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.

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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.