A letter to Heaven

Dear Nannie,

You would be turning 99 today. Happy Birthday! It is our first year without you here to call, send cards and gifts to and it just feels a little sad. I know you were ready. It still cracks me up to think about how you greeted Aunt Glenny when she came to say goodbye on your last day: “What the hell’s taking so long?” But 47 years is a long time to love a grandmother. It’s a gift few people receive. And it just makes the loss a little greater, the memories a little sweeter.

When Grammy died 17 years ago, I began a tradition that I’ve continued as each of my other grandparents have passed away. On each of your birthdays and death days, I do a little something to honor you and commemorate something that is special to me about you. It started with making the ancient family secret crescia bread for Gram. It is gardening for PopPop and playing a family game of Monopoly forPoppie. But for you? Hmmm. Well, this very missive is part of it!

You were the Greeting Card Queen, remembering every birthday, anniversary, holy sacrament, and other Hallmark holiday with a hand-picked card and your straight print signature. You were a big influence on my penchant for penning little notes to people over the years. I cringe now to think of the money I spent at the Cornell Campus Store on sappy expressions of friendship and romance and bust-a-gut two-liners for the younger and older generations. Yes, you definitely planted a special seed in me and I am now proud to carry it and grow it in this way!

And you were so charitable- giving to this and that organization with commitment and passion. Guiding Eyes for the Blind would always send adorable notecards with dogs on them in acknowledgement of your contribution, which you then bequeathed to me! I miss them. I’m sure there are still a few kicking around in my secretary but I’ll probably hold onto them for sentimental reasons. Giving was what you did best, whether it was advice or humor or goodie bags at Christmas or outright donations. So, that is the other thing I did to honor you today. And what an adventure it was! I might as well say now that Phyllis gave too; all day long , she stayed with me through the process and I’m so grateful for her support!.

I only learned about plasma pheresis a couple of weeks ago, but today I donated plasma. It’s becoming the rage. The donation center draws from about 1,300 people per week and they aren’t even open on the weekends! Basically, they assessed my vein quality, checked my health, and drew my blood, spun out my plasma, and returned the red and white blood cells, platelets and some saline back into me. They ultimately took about two pints of plasma from my body. With proper hydration and healthy eating (which you also taught me), my body should recreate that plasma within two days.

It was an absolutely fascinating process from start to finish. It takes about four hours for first time donors but should only take about 90 minutes subsequently. There were a lot of forms, educational videos, and screenings. I am proud to report that I am as healthy as a horse with excellent vitals, blood cell and protein levels. Everyone I interacted with was incredibly thorough and professional. The business was organized and efficient. The actual extraction and return infusion process was painless. And I feel so darn good about doing it!

While I did it partially to honor your legacy of giving, I was also able to help so many other people in the process. Plasma is now a key ingredient in many of the medications and protocols used to treat a host of immune diseases and disorders that afflict people all over the world, like hemophilia, ITP,and CVID. Researchers are on the verge of releasing a new plasma-based treatment for blood clotting and pressure disorders as an alternative to Coumadin. With the presence of certain antigens in the blood, a pregnant woman with high-risk negative Rh factors can have her blood exchanged for healthier blood that will ensure the proper development of her fetus. The whole thing is amazing! Because the etiology of my vision loss was auto-immune, I am particularly attuned to the mysteries and research being conducted to combat them.

Plasma pheresis is simple and safe but significant in improving the quality of life for millions of people living with these conditions. Whether I end up doing this monthly or semi-annually, it will be a Nannie-inspired gift that will make me proud and grateful for my own strong constitution and the beautiful, healthy almost 99 years you had ! So, happy birthday, Nannie! I miss you!

Love,
Kiki

 


Epistles: A lost art

Dear Readers,

Letter writing is a lost art. I vividly remember learning to write a “friendly letter” in third grade and walking over to the local post office to mail it with my class. Holding my breath as we traversed the rickety metal bridge aloft the rushing torrents of the Cocheco River. The smells of musty paper and worn granite. How proud I was to precisely apply that stamp ,to reach high enough to slip the smooth envelope through the brass-plated slot on the marble wall.
And then, weeks later, a reply to my very own mailbox at home!

What did the letter say? Who knows! It was the sense that someone cared enough to write back
to ask me questions about my life and to share with me the minutia of hers that fueled the rush. It began a lifelong passion for penpalling with friends far and near, signing my missives with lines like “yours til Niagra Falls” and “Yours til the kitchen sinks”. There was Sara DeLeon, one of the exchange students at summer camp, whom I barely new but got a high from addressing the envelope to Somewhere, France. I remember the stationary I used-white with a delicate border of strawberries on vine, so perfectly precise in stroke and hue that I could almost smell them. And then there was my little cousin, Jessie with whom I corresponded on paper for over a decade with little nonsenses about our secret crushes and getting our periods, and finding our way through high school. As I excavated my hope chest on the eve of my wedding, I found enough precious inking to fill a large shoe box. As she stood in her bridesmaid dress the morning of the nuptuals, I presented it to her as a testament to the dearest of friends she had become to me over her lifetime with just those little hello notes and vaulted secrets. My, how we had both grown! What a legacy we’d built!

And now, 25 years later, I am beginning anew with her beautiful son. The letters needn’t be frequent, just heartfelt and newsy. Will we develop the same kind of bond? Who knows! But it is worth the cost of the forever stamp and the minimal time it takes to make him whoop with delight when he finds a piece of mail with his very own name on it! Give it a try. Reach out to your college roommate with something other than a phone or laptop. Give your grandma a thrill with a note for no reason. Tell your dad what a gimmick Father’s Day is and that today and every day are more important to you for remembering the silly little things he did to show you he cared. Just do it! And let me know how it turns out!

Love,
Kirstyn

 


The Best Birthday Present Ever

Dear Beth,

Once upon a time, when I was twelve, all the girls in my class were getting their ears pierced and getting their periods. I wanted to be like them. There wasn’t much I could do about Mother Nature but I really wanted to fit in and wanted my ears pierced. Anything to be like the other girls. I was fat and short and going blind. I had emerged as being smart and that made me different too in negative ways with my peers. After a four year battle with vision loss and massive doses of daily oral steroids, I was a short, deformed blimp of a tween. I had gone from running the rules of the playground and classroom, lithe and brave and popular to becoming the pathetic, nerdy pariah of the class. I was reduced to socializing with adults and fantasizing about fitting into the “right” crowd and being likeable by a cool enough boy. Books and soap operas and Disney films were my constant companions as I’d been banned from physical activities that I used to love. Playing became work and dreaming of being normal became my obsession.

So when I was asked what I wanted for my birthday that year, the obvious answer was the only thing I could think of to try to be like the other girls. Getting my ears pierced. My paternal grandparents were up visiting from RI and Grammy was more than tickled to oblige her poor little granddaughter’s heart’s desire. Mom drove us to the little local mall in town and conveniently disappeared in order to leave Grammy and I our bonding time. We walked to the little kiosk between Papa Gino’s, Walden Books and Marianne’s and I took the throne of honor. What a humiliating shock it was to be told that , on the eve of my social resurrection, my earlobes were too fat from taking so much prednisone for so long. Even my flipping earlobes were fat! The shame burned inside me like an industrial furnace. The only thing we could do was pierce higher up on the lobe where it was a bit thinner. In the wrong place. As much as I cared that I’d just been called fat and that I’d be different from other girls, it was the same enough for me to go through with it. And so, voila, my ears were pierced at the Lilac Mall with the grandmother of my dreams and I could brag to my friends and wear pretty earrings. In fact, that’s what I received in bulk for my birthday that year from those girls brave or mean enough to come to my sleepover party. And no one seemed to notice that my holes were in the wrong spot. Thank God.

But I did and for 35 years it has bothered me like a pebble in a shoe. Hoops and dangly earrings never sat right and the stigma of being different because of my blindness and weight haunted me. Until yesterday. As I slide into middle age, I’m taking stock of those childhood dreams, memories, and traumas. Multiple piercings weren’t a thing until I was in college and I was just sort of resigned to the placement of my piercing holes. In fact, I barely ever even bothered to wear jewelry at all at that point. I could rationalize that it would be easy enough to lie to anyone who asked why my holes were in the wrong place by just telling them that the bottom ones had closed up and I was left with the ones where the double piercings had become commonplace. But then I thought. I’m wearing jewelry more often again and have oodles of earrings now, to the point where it is hard to make a decision about which ones to wear. Why not pierce the bottoms and actually have double piercings? Just why not? And there was absolutely no refutable reason. And

so when you,my dear Beth, asked me three weeks ago what I wanted to do for my birthday, the words tumbled out before I had time to think about how stupid they might sound. And yesterday, at the local mall kiosk with the person in this world I feel is most akin to my dead Grammy, we pierced my ears. Strong, stubborn, sexy and loyal, you gave me the gift my grandmother could only partially accomplish all those years ago. And I feel pretty and as “normal” as I’m ever going to feel and there is no way you can tell me there isn’t a loving God. Maybe middle age isn’t so bad. So there! And thank you again!

Love,
Kirstyn

 


BFF

Dear Wendy,

How can you know what you mean to me? Since the very day I was born, you have been there by my side. A forced friendship at first, we trolled the streets of our little neighborhood looking for adventure, sometimes competing for our parents’ attention in very different ways, always understanding that the bond between us couldn’t be broken by lies or fights or wins or losses. You watched me turn from a normal little girl into an obese, pathetic, brown-nosing adolescent as my vision deteriorated and my self-confidence dwindled. I watched you turn from a bossy, lying bully into a kind, brilliant, gorgeous woman. We weathered our fathers’ business separation, our mothers’ idiosyncrasies , our brothers’ challenges and complexes. We caught frogs and trained for track season by phone pole lengths, and deposited our darkest secrets with each other.

Our separate elementary school worlds intersected when I turned 14 and you turned into my champion. Without hesitation, you opened doors and smoothed the way for my entry into public high school. While it might not have been taxing, it was risky and important. I entered the real world of ninth grade with just a little more hope and faith that I wouldn’t be the outcast I had become. That I had clean turf on which to make my reputation. And I did. But you were always watching. Watching out. In case I had any real trouble.

And by the time you left for BU, I was steady if not sure. You’d given me the gift of independence as well as transportation to school in the coolest vehicle in the parking lot. It was quotidien for you, I’m sure, but stopping at DD’s and gliding into school on your arm made me so proud. You were the kind of girl I wanted to be. Smart, athletic, beloved by every niche within the community. And without words, you bequeathed it all to me, except for the athletic part. I thrived. I had normal teenage angst, which is all part of the you I wanted to be.

And when you left, you didn’t forget me. We talked and wrote and visited. You let me into your brand new shiny world. And when I left, I’d like to think I did the same. And so we grew. And grew. And grew. To that point where we could share those deepest darkest parts we couldn’t even do back then and there. And we loved each other through it all.

I don’t know about you but, yes, I did get jealous of those beautiful fun young women you came to call your friends. They were gorgeous and kind and cosmopolitan and more of what I wanted to be, especially if that is what you valued. But you let me in and shared it all- without reservation. Every kiss and party and test grade and run race. At least that’s how I felt, so nurtured and important staying with you in the big city, whether we stayed in and talked or went out and caroused. You just gave and gave and gave more and more of yourself to me.

And when I started to grow up, eventually, you didn’t judge me for keeping some secrets. You knew me and all my warts and imperfections and loved me anyway. And you loved who I loved, without reservation or candy coating. You’ve always said it straight and honest and sometimes it has hurt but it has always been right. And you are still giving. …

So here we are, all grown up and married and parenting. We’ve cried together at our children’s struggles and road blocks. We’ve reveled secretly together in their triumphs so no one else would think we’re bragging. We’ve laughed at ourselves and our friends and our husbands and our parents. We’ve prayed and cursed at the follies and trials of our mothers and fathers and brothers. I don’t pay you; you are not mandated by a secret society to bear me. You just are the very best person I know and I can only thank God for bringing me into your life. And I can never thank you enough for being the one and only person with whom I can be completely myself. Our fathers raised us well- to lie and hide like Olympians. Our mothers taught us better- to smile and give and omit. But we’ve taught each other all the important stuff in between and I’m so grateful to have you to get flabby and wrinkly and senile with. I love you.

Your BFF,
Kirstyn

 


The people that you meet when you’re walking down the street…

Deaar Angel Gabriel,

It must have been last fall. I was walking home from somewhere . My angle was off by just enough at the intersection of Oxford and Monroe. Without realizing it, I was veering into traffic, away from the tell-tale truncated domes marking the safety of the other side of the street, the last tactile hurdle on my trek back to the house. It wasn’t snowy or windy or rainy. There was no particular reason for me to be “off” my game. I just was.

And there you were. On your way to wherever. Witnessing and willing to take the time, offer your arm, do the right thing, ensure a stranger’s safety.

You had seen me there at Starbucks several times , chewing the fat with the girls over a tall blonde or soy latte. You were a medical student and fascinated by my cheeriness and chuzpah. We lived in the same neighborhood and you’d seen me walking through it over the months. But we’d never spoken. Never even smiled at each other. You just knew I needed a hand and were willing to extend it.

And so I was the recipient of the random act of kindness we all hear about. IT was fifteen simple paces from the middle of the street to the other side. That was all you thought you were doing but you were very, very wrong. Because here I sit at least six months later on a lazy Sunday morning thinking of the gift you gave me that day. The messenger with the good news. That there are still good people in the world. That the millennial generation isn’t full of selfish, myopic narsicists. That wherever I go in this world, God watches and protects me. That it is okay for me to make mistakes and not okay to lose the courage to try to live as independently as possible. That it is okay for me to accept help at times. That I have friends I don’t even know. In fifteen paces and a 30 second conversation and handshake on the far side, you unwrapped this timeless present. And as I walked away, nervous but ready for the home stretch of my walk that day, I saw with the eyes in the back of my head, you watching me, propelling me with prayers and well wishes back to my own front door. . For all of this, Gabriel, I thank you. I hope this finds your ears and eyes and that our paths will cross again someday- hopefully not in oncoming traffic!

Love,
Kirstyn

 


Introducing…

Dear Readers,

This is an experiment in courage and gratitude. It is a dedicated space for me to express my appreciation for the thousands of people who have held my hand along life’s journey. It can be a place for us to begin to post our random and intentional gratitude to the people we encounter over the years . People we never had the chance to thank properly. People we’ve known for so long and so well that the last thing we would think of is to write them a letter. While I will be posting from my own experience, I hope this can become a forum for you to do the same. We can deliver joy to a person so easily. It only takes a few moments and a little courage.

I should have a bottomless pit of material, as I continue to live the same way I eat lobster, sucking the meat, marrow and juice out of each and every part- that is, if I continue to live rooted in gratitude and open to the less obvious lessons life has in store for me. Looking backward and forward, this will give me pause to reflect on those who’ve been instrumental in bringing me to this point, to this person I am today- filled with love and ideas and thankfulness. There is no dearth of inspiration, other than the possible shift in my attitude! And, who knows, maybe you will be the recipient of my next letter! Stay tuned!

Love,
Kirstyn