Coffee with a Dollop of Yogurt

“Good morning, honey.”

I glance up from my journal and exchange a greeting with my dad. He silently settles into the wicker chair to my left as we listen to the salty waves tumble over the sand. At nine o’clock in the morning Costa Rica already cultivates heavy morning air, which clings and sticks and drowns the pores. Despite the heat, my father and I routinely enjoy our morning cups of coffee. I sip my third cup when a strange sight catches my vision.

“What’s wrong with your cream? Is it spoiled?”

Hearing the confusion in my voice, my dad smirks and dunks a spoon in his glass mug, whirling the mixture around and around. The chunky cream remains distilled.

“Oh, it’s not cream. It’s yogurt.”

What.

“You put yogurt in your coffee?”

“Mhm,” he says with a light in his eyes, and slurps the concoction. “It’s milk-based, so it’s basically the same thing as cream.”

Now you’ve met my father. His name is Jim.

I was thirteen when my dad was in a life-altering car accident, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. I have few fragments of memories before the accident in 2003 which include him singing me to sleep or frequently holding a litter of puppies in his arms (he’s a Veterinarian). Oh, and one other memory.

A few months ago I blogged about what it was like to grow up with four brothers. In short, I chronically strove to be part of the group and begged to be invited to anything and everything that the boys were doing. Once, my brother Steve and our neighbor Garrett were playing a game that consisted of swinging punches to injure each other’s groins. They were laughing hysterically so (naturally) I asked to join.

“You can’t play! You’re a girl.”

“That’s not fair!” I screamed (not) dramatically, as I stormed away in a cloud of malice and frustration.

Hours later, my dad came home from work, walked through the door and shouted, “I’m home!” as I simultaneously jumped out from behind the wall and punched him right between the legs. HA. See, guys! I can too play!

My six-year-old victory was short-lived as my father bent in half in a pleading grimace. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t laughing; I just knew something was wrong—so I bolted.

An hour later he coaxed me out from behind the sofa. I could tell from his tone that he had already forgiven me. Still, he took the opportunity to educate me on the anatomical differences between boys and girls, and since then I haven’t attempted to play this particular game a second time.

Besides these few memories I don’t actually remember much about my father before the car accident, but I do know that he lost a little bit of discernment. Lack of discretion produced an attitude in him that wasn’t concerned with how others viewed him along with a whole new level of weird.

The great thing about Jim is that he has no qualms about discussing topics that aren’t typically acceptable in society. For example, he’ll initiate a conversation with a new acquaintance about lactose’s effects on one’s intestines, or warn my friends about hot-tubbing during menstruation (as if he knows anything about menstruation. ALL WE WANT IS A HOTTUB, DAD. AND WINE).

Whether my dad is spaying a cat for a science class, asking my friends for their urine for his garden, or mixing us gin & tonics, he’s consistently sporting a smile and a twinkle in his eye. I appreciate his willingness to be laughed at, his eagerness to be weird, and his desire to attempt new endeavors.

It’s important to add that people unanimously agree I inherited my weirdness from my dad. And I don’t have a brain injury—so what exactly does that say about me?

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The Hunchback in Heels

“Okay, everyone, squeeze together! Smile!”

[a pause, photographer squints at camera screen]

“Hmm…okay. Almost perfect, but a couple changes: Lauren, honey, fix your strap. And Kayla, can you duck down a bit? You’re just a little too tall [laughs], and you’re blocking Dan.”

TIMEOUT. Do you know what just happened?

I was asked to “duck” because I was taller than my partnered groomsman (who was, by the way, shrugging in clear apathy). You’re thinking, yeah, that looks bad, what’s the big deal? In my mind, I heard: hey Kayla, can you please become a hunchback? Try posturing your spine several inches shorter and still look poised and classy? Actually…just get on your knees.

You can imagine my facial expression. However, despite my dramatic reaction, I had to admit that I somewhat expected this to happen at my brother’s wedding.

Let me give you some context. Prior to this past fall I rarely wore high heels. During the most formative fashion years of teenage-dom, when girls pranced around in short skirts and heels, I sported only flip flops and ballet flats with soles eroded away from weeks of weight. I was 5’9″ when I began high school and almost 6’0″ when I left. Why would I buy heels when I have them built into my tibias?

It didn’t help that I hadn’t a clue how to control my lengthy limbs, and my high school friends weren’t afraid to make my long extremities the primary source of entertainment. I heard comments like, “Don’t let Kayla do a cartwheel or her feet will break the ceiling!” I will do almost anything for a laugh, so when I heard this I’d instinctively attempt a dramatic cartwheel. But deep inside, beneath the surface of laughable incoordination, I hated being tall because I wanted to wear cute, fun (tall) shoes but I felt like I wasn’t entitled to do so.

Fast forward from high school to this past fall. About a month before my brother’s wedding I scoured cyber mall for appropriate wedding footwear. The options were minimal and unimpressive. Tired and perturbed that nothing caught my eye, I broadened my search from flat soles and included “heels” in my parameters. Click.

The results were far more appealing but (let’s be real) I can’t actually walk in any of these. Click.

THERE.

Tall. Bold. They would definitely make me ginormous. I paused, and quickly conducted a mental count. Out of sixteen bridal party members at least half were taller than me or met my eye line. My brothers accounted for three, plus two more groomsmen and three bridesmaids, all who could give me normal hugs.

Definition: Normal Hug noun: An embrace characterized by two participants of relatively equal height.

Antonym: Embreast noun: An embrace in which one participant faceplants into the other’s boobs.

I can’t tell you how many hugs of the latter sort I’ve (unwillingly) given; the worst occurred the first time I wore heels and a plummeting neckline to a high school dance. (That night I learned that selecting shoe height is incredibly important for maintaining appropriate standards of PDA as well as my personal feelings of coordination). Through my brief calculations I concluded that if half the bridal party is approximately my height I could not only avoid standing out like a sore thumb in the professional photos, but also face-to-bosom contact altogether, and wear the shoes I’ve always wanted!

Unfortunately, “embreasts”, public scrutiny, and early onset of kyphosis aren’t the only risks related to high-heels. Throughout college I avoided additional height like the plague because I thought any potential suitor would find a feminine Goliath intimidating. This no longer really concerns me, as I’ve learned and witnessed that there are, in fact, males shorter than me who have the confidence to be with a tall woman. Likewise, there are tall men who are insecure for reasons unrelated to height. Plus, I had long ago decided I wasn’t bringing a wedding date. That just left my groomsman to consider, and I knew he wouldn’t care about my towering over him. Voilà!

I made the purchase but the next day doubt crept in. Thankfully, over the month leading up to the wedding countless personal pep talks and third party opinions affirmed my endeavor. I started to feel excited about my monumental debut.

Consider my current posture my “monumental debut.” Some grand opening, huh?  Vertebrae in hunched position, standing next to my groomsman. I had known this was very possible, and I suppose I could have avoided contortion by simply removing the shoes ahead of time. But I paid an arm and a leg to make a fashion statement and *cuss*, I wanted to wear them the whole day!

Despite any photography havoc, by the end of the night the shoes proved to be a success. There were no falls or broken bones. Throughout the day I acquired three notions: first, I no longer care if I’m taller than most, and I actually prefer it because I see EVERYTHING; second, I’m sorry if the occasional male (or female) feels intimidated around an alpine woman but I’m really not sorry at all; and, finally, a faceplant-in-my-chest really isn’t as concerning when fabric covers the cleavage. (Another helpful factor is graduating from high school. Teenage boys are WAY too eager to faceplant). These notions instilled a new confidence and I’ve since obtained several more pairs of heels.

If you see me walking in public please don’t analyze my gait (we’re still working on balancing) but please feel free to compliment the recent colossal purchases. And if you’re at all moved to make a hunchback comment, I won’t feel bothered at all. In fact, you can just refer to me as the “confident hunchback.”

*If you haven’t seen Saturday Night Live’s “Confident Hunchback” skit featuring Andy Samberg, immediately open a new browser and search for “confident hunchback SNL” via hulu.com. Enjoy!

Oh, Brother

Growing up, I thought I was a boy. Okay, not really, but here’s the situation: I have four brothers, two older and two younger (I also have a younger sister, but she’s a blog entry all to herself). At a young age my mom dressed me in polka dot hair bows and surrounded me with Kens and Barbies, but my unrealistic play dolls often ended up beheaded and/or limbless, torsos soaring high in a game of monkey in the middle.

Guess who was always in the middle.

Not surprisingly, playing with my brothers was more appealing than solitude with my headless dolls, even though my bony composition put me at a strong disadvantage at sports. Play time transitioned from Barbies to climbing trees, dinosaur games, bloody murder (hide and seek, but more terrifying), or wrestling. I didn’t stand a chance in wrestling so every time my brothers were seconds from declaring me “loser,” I’d swing the competition in a different direction…my direction. Suddenly:

Me: “WAHHHHH OW OH WAHHHH!!!!

Dad: “Stop! Stop! Tell me what happened.”

Me: (hiccuping dramatically) “Steve! He pulled my hair!!!”

Dad: “Stephen Roger, go to your room. You need to play nice with your sister.”

Steve: “Dad! We were wrestling. I didn’t pull her hair. She’s lying! She just doesn’t want to lose!”

Me: “OWWW WAHHHHHHhhhhhhh…”

Over time my self-accommodating tears created a barrier between myself and my brothers and gave them more drive to gang up on me. I recall a time when I was about 8 years old. It was a cold, December night and my mom was preparing for a dinner party. We were playing in the basement, waiting for guests to arrive. I was likely annoying the boys, making threats to tattle on them if they did anything wrong. Within a few minutes they had convinced me that I was “different” from them because I was adopted, so I wasn’t really part of the family. Even the youngest, to whom preschool was only an aspiration, was participating, smiling and egging the older boys on. For several minutes I retreated to sass and attempted to reveal inconsistencies in their arguments, but eventually genuine tears disclosed my sensitivity and I bolted for the stairs.

Heartbroken, I found my dad and accused him of lying to me. I told him the life-altering news I’d received. He chuckled. My heart sank. In my mind his amusement affirmed my fears. My dad looked at me and said, “Kayla. You’re not adopted. You look exactly like your brothers. But if you were adopted, that wouldn’t change anything. You’re part of the family.” Relieved and simultaneously furious, I gave my brothers the silent treatment for as long as I could stand and spent the rest of the evening with my headless dolls.

Usually when I tell people that I have four brothers their initial reaction is pretty close to sympathy. “Wow, how did you ever survive?” or “Yikes! That must be hard.” Yes, at times I felt bullied and lonely, but that comes with being part of a family. I did my fair share of lying, teasing, and hair pulling. The truth is that as I’ve grown older I have come to appreciate my brothers more and more, especially because I now notice how each differs from the others.

At the beginning of this year I went through a miserable break up. My brothers knew my boyfriend pretty well, and when I told them that we weren’t together anymore all four responded uniquely. Jaron spent a morning with me, sharing coffee and conversation and encouragement. Ryan said little, but enclosed me in a giant, bone-breaking bear hug. Kevin gave me a normal hug and said, “I’m really sorry. We really like him, but I understand.” Steve found me surrounded by snotty tissues, shook his head and sat down across the room. Legs crossed in formal fashion, he pointed at me and said:

“I’m going to give you the best break up advice you’ve ever heard.”

“Oh…ok?” (choking back sobs)

“As soon as you can, have the mindset that you’re not getting back together. That way, you won’t waste time waiting for it to happen. You need to do the best you can to move on. Start with removing him from all social media so that you’re not tempted to keep tabs on him.”

As much as I hated this advice I did my best to heed his words and, honestly, they helped. Although I preferred my other brothers’ sentiment to Steve’s cut-and-dry approach, I’m certain the post break up months would have been far more challenging had I not listened.

Thankfully, memory is partial to happiness so with time I have forgotten the moments of intra-familial strife and have instead accrued a surplus of heart-warming memories. I’ll never forget the night when one called me to find out if I was home and if I could talk. I’m so glad I was, because he disclosed months of bottled up emotions and let it all out in one tearful conversation. I’m pretty sure he hated that I saw him cry but I am so grateful that he trusted me. I also loved the airplane ride when the queasy one found himself squirming next to a stranger’s volcano of vomit, and I just grabbed his face and said, “Don’t smell! Breathe through your mouth!” because I knew his gag reflex was seconds from losing it. And who better to protect me from a creepy ass-grabbing stranger than my oldest brother who happens to be a former reconnaissance Marine? For the record, Ryan’s blood was boiling but he didn’t have to intervene because I had already smacked the knucklehead.

Without all these boys I might be more refined, but I certainly wouldn’t have learned how to burp the ABCs. The boys consistently offer witty comments, inappropriate entertainment, and fresh perspectives on any given situation. They’re always willing to act goofy, be my wedding date, play a round of cards, and try something stupid. And they still make fun of their feisty sister, which is probably healthy for me.

So what do I tell people now? I respond by saying that four boys is occasionally too much testosterone but, in my opinion, it’s just the right amount of brothers.

Jaron, Michigan Tech's finest engineer.
Jaron, Michigan Tech’s finest engineer.
Ryan, myself, Steve, and the new Mrs. Innis
Ryan, myself, Steve, and the new Mrs. Innis, watching Kevin on Homecoming Court. (RIP bangs)
We told Old Navy it would be easier to buy the store, but they didn't believe us.
We told Old Navy it would be easier to buy the store, but they didn’t believe us.
Marine training includes how to kill the enemy with creepiness.
Marine training includes how to kill the enemy with creepiness.
myself, Kevin, and Jaron sailing the Puget Sound.
myself, Kevin, and Jaron sailing the Puget Sound.