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Yesterday I clicked on the Google button to explore the Great Barrier Reef, and it wasn’t as brightly colored as in Finding Nemo. It was how I expected it to look; natural colored, but I think there will be an entire generation of kids who will be disappointed when they do grow up, go snorkeling someday, and find that things don’t glow under water; aside from jelly fish.


The first week I was in the dorms at college I received an email from my mom which simply said “The pill keeps you from getting pregnant, condoms keep you from getting everything else.” There is a part of me that is sad that I am slightly too young to have received this as a hand written letter, which is how my older cousins received this message (oh, mom doesn’t discriminate between her children other loved children in her life, and I can’t wait to hear how this message is received when my oldest nephew hears it in another 12 years; I’m rooting for a more awesome version of skype). I would like to have that letter so I could paste it into my baby book next to my name tag from my first day of pre-school. That orange kitty-shaped piece of paper, with “Sumi” clearly printed on it, next to a note from mom about birth control would be a nice way to tie up the loose ends of childhood. And a little reminder on how to keep from having to author a baby book for someone else who screams and cries and craps in a diaper for a few years.

“You know Sumi, sex is fun.”

My mom said this to me at the tender age of 15 as she rolled up the window and locked the doors of her Chevy Blazer as we left the drive through of the bank. In the many years since, it has occurred to me that saying “Duh, I know” in the voice that only a suburban teenage girl can muster may have been a great option at this point, although it would certainly have led to a different type of conversation, however I didn’t do that. I promptly began to twitch, tilted my head down and recessed my lower lip in a way that would suggest that my parents were actually cousins. While my physical appearance may have led one to believe that I was mentally divergent, I was actually glassy-eyed due to the concentration I was using to recall the exact specifics on how to make an early 1990s Blazer roll over and blow up. Practically every week there was a Dateline news report on how to make an SUV explode, why was I having trouble remember the logistics now?

This was the worst trip to the mall; ever.

There was a contraceptive sponge in  one of the kitchen drawers in the house in which I grew up. The all-purpose, or “junk,” (yeah, I got that pun, I’m like a 13 year old boy!) drawer was where we could find: matches, coupons, menus, batteries, toothpicks, etc. Pretty much all the knick-knacks that you need, but for which you don’t have a have good storage place.  In my childhood home, that included a contraceptive sponge.

My mom is a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, which is a really long title that means that she looks at vaginas, delivers babies and talks about birth control all day long. I grew up with her medical text books with graphic images within my reach, and I distinctly remember perusing them from as early of an age as 5. I never actually read these books, I just flipped through them to look at all the fascinating pictures. So it shouldn’t shock anyone that rather than let me imagine my own story from the pictures, something I might be known to do, my mom explained the facts of life to me when I was in kindergarten.  Yes, I was that kid, the one who told all the other kids where babies came from.  (Please imagine Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls holding court and acting out scenes with Ken and Barbie.)

Considering my mother’s profession, no one in my family was nonplussed to see female contraception in the kitchen. I imagine that my mother was at a conference hosted by Today sponge and she came home with a sample in her purse, which was something she set on the kitchen counter every day after work.  The doorbell probably rang and she saw the sponge sitting in plain view and concealed it in the drawer before letting company into our home. We did keep up appearances of normalcy. Although the sponge may have been shunted to the junk drawer for the sake of appearances, it lived there for quite some time, because no one in my family was bothered by it or cared to put it someplace more appropriate. Until my friend Darcy found it.

Darcy is a wonderfully quirky person, and she had a very loose understanding of what other people might consider boundaries, in other words, she was an only child.  So at the age of 13 walking into her friend’s home and randomly opening drawers was quite routine. She actually did this in more than just the kitchen too, and one of my fondest memories of Darcy was watching her walk out of my brother’s bedroom wearing a pair of his tighty-whities over her black Umbro soccer shorts. She started to dance around and poke her fingers through the panel in the front and pretend to pee. I watched her horrified, because I wondered if she realized what 15 year old boys did.

On this fateful sponge worthy day Darcy was wearing a grey sweatshirt which had a cartoon cow on it with the slogan “I got mixed up at Maggie Moos!” and she and I were in the kitchen goofing off with my mom sitting at the table paying bills (or just making sure we didn’t set fire to the house trying to make popcorn, my brother and I might have almost done that) when Darcy, in her uninhibited way, came across the sponge.

“What’s this?” Darcy said as she held it up for my mom to see.

“I don’t think your mother would appreciate me telling you what that is.” Mom said in her most diplomatic-seeing-patients-voice.

“Oh no, my mom knows what you do for a living, and she would the THRILLED if you explained it to me.”

Mom has told me that she called Darcy’s mother to okay having a “special little talk” with us, but I don’t remember that at all. Perhaps it is because I was laughing too hard to notice. My mom might be liberal with her own kids, but she doesn’t hand out contraceptive information to minors unless their legs are in stirrups in her office.

Mom then proceeded to take the sponge out of the package and tell us to gather around the kitchen sink, which we did like the Macbeth witches over a cauldron. It looked like a molded marshmallow with an elastic loop on it.  While she was lecturing about all the contraceptive properties and proper usage of the sponge mom then turned on the tap and ran it under water.  Although we do not have any pictures of this event, I have a very clear mental image of what my face must have looked like when the sponge expanded because the look of horror on Darcy’s face reflected my own terror, of shoving a campfire marshmallow inside of me and have it explode.  I don’t know that my mom intended it, but I believe she made two big believers in condoms that day.

I also don’t think that Maggie Moos ice cream shop could possibly have mixed anyone up as much as the concoctions that came out of my childhood kitchen.

I was the attention seeking little kid that wanted to break a bone. That’s right, I envied the classmates who came to school with casts on their appendages. I didn’t fear the pain that was associated with breaking a bone, I wanted everyone to sign my plastered leg and try to scratch an itch with a knitting needle out of desperation. Unfortunately I was also the little kid that drank two gallons of milk a week, and didn’t realize that I was my own calcium-fortifying nemesis.

I made it to adulthood before I broke my first bone, but pinky toes are often the casualty of drunken barefoot nights at the beach during college, right? Oh you poor people that didn’t go to college near the beach, you missed spinning in circles staring at the stars until you magically find yourself laughing and lying on your side in the cold sand. Shut up, this is fun.

But toes don’t get a cast!

Last July 4th, when I was 32 years old, I really thought my cast had come. Waking up in a hospital emergency room, when the last thing I remembered was cycling along the Chicago lakefront bike path travelling around 17mph?  This had to be it! My hand looked like a prop from a horror movie, but it wasn’t broken. My face and tailbone were. (I will never cease to be amused that I landed on my face and broke my ass, who else does that?) And just in case you were wondering, inflatable donut does not equal cast.

It has been over a year, and I am just now getting back on my bike, perhaps if I actually sat on an inflatable donut I would have been able to return earlier. I’m not afraid. I know I was lucky to not have broken a lot more than I did, to have flown clear of my bike and not broken a femur or vertebrae. I think I have a special protection though, Murphy’s Law, which is screwing up that odd little kid’s dream of having a cast.

When I was eight years old my mother was delusional enough to think that she would become a soccer mom. She had a full time job delivering babies, which seemed to occupy an awful lot of her time, however social pressure (something that she had never bowed down to before) dictated that she jump on the early forming bandwagon and enroll my brother and I in park district soccer so that perhaps she too could drive a minivan and wear sweater vests. Either that, or my brother asked if he could play and I wanted to do it too since I still had painful memories of having to sit on the sidelines at all his T-ball games because I was too little to play, oh, and because I was afraid of the ball.

I remember going to the first team meeting at someone’s house. There were some very important decisions made at that meeting to which I played a pivotal part, as the name I had suggested was chosen and we were to be the Phantoms. The following week my brother and I were both excited as my mother fulfilled her duty and dropped us off at our respective soccer fields. However, when she picked us up from practice she was surprised to find me in a foul mood, and I declared that “I QUIT!” When she asked me to elaborate she claims that I said “because he made me run!” This could perhaps be how I articulated my thoughts and feelings at the age of eight, but let me elaborate (defend myself) just a bit:

At the end of the practice drills (at which I have no doubt that I was completely hopeless) we had to run a lap around the field. Being a rather corpulent child, I was the slowest kid on the team, so the coach made me run the lap again. (Sidebar- If I didn’t run it fast enough the first time, what-in-the-hell makes you think that I am going to run it faster the second time?) When I finished the second lap the coach pointed me out to all of the other kids and informed them that since I was so slow I would make them lose. Although I don’t quite remember everything about this next part, I often recall the looks of apathy coming from a group of children sitting cross-legged as I stood the spectacle in front of them (I do remember that part). However, since I often remember these kids wearing baseball uniforms I seem to think that I have incorporated into my memory the cast from a 1980s after school special about a loser sports team. Really, if I try hard enough I could remember being on the Millennium Falcon when the Death Star blew.

So, yes, I quit because he made me run an extra lap, AND because he made me the scapegoat for any losses the team may suffer, whether they be from my lack of hustle or not and I guess it came out as “because he made me run!” So my apologies go out to my mother, whose soccer mom dreams never came true. Really, why am I apologizing, she should be thanking me.

I carried apathy for running with me into high school where they made you run the mile in P.E. class. I was lucky enough to attend a school in which the speed you ran determined your grade. (Um chalk up that ‘F’ right now!) Every spring it was the same ordeal for me, the tragedy of receiving an F. I grew up (half) Japanese and anything less than a B was a failing grade (except in French because that wasn’t ever going to be applied to real life). I would actually examine my course schedule and try to change P.E. credits for things like CPR so that I wouldn’t have to run the mile. However, it was inevitable that I run the mile every year because it was important for the school to pull us from our alternative P.E. classes to suffer through the presidential fitness testing. (Really, why does the president care that I can hang on a pull-up bar for .002 seconds? If this has to do with a fear of communism I think that my lack of physical prowess is going to invite China to take over.) I think I may still hold the record for being the most adamant reactionary the school has ever seen, because if I was going to fail no matter what, then I was damn well going to take my time doing it.

So it came as a surprise to my family that at the age of twenty-six, out of the blue, I decided to run a marathon. Ok, I am very fond of using the word ‘run’ loosely, I might have eventually jogged portions of the event, but the front runners weren’t exactly looking over their shoulder worrying about me. I decided to run the marathon for charity in the memory of my Grandfather, so I sent out letters of intent to all my family begging for money for the cause, and once they knew about the marathon I wouldn’t be able to quit because then there would be all sorts of comments… “You quit because they made you run, right? Didn’t you know that when you signed up for this sport?” Ha ha, you guys are so clever and witty; uh so perhaps you can see why I was determined to come home with a medal to prove that I had crossed the finish line.

I finished my first marathon without ever seeing the Sag Wagon, which is the vehicle that picks you up off the course if you are too slow. It was probably pretty close to me, but I was slightly delusional by the time they sent it out on the course. I might have been 20 feet in front of it; all I know is that it didn’t pick me up. Woo Hoo! My own two feet carried me across the finish line and that meant that some poor volunteer had to put a medal around my sweaty neck, and for sanitary reasons I think the person was wearing rubber gloves; well, wouldn’t you?

Now I have this medal that is big, shiny, and heavy!  And as I am showing off the medal to everyone, lay people always ask two questions: 1) Did you win? & 2) What was your time?

Question 1) They (I don’t know who ‘they’ are, statisticians probably) say that approximately 1% of the world’s population will ever complete a marathon. So, I guess that means that I beat 6.77 billion people. Woo Hoo Yay for me!

Question 2) The average person that asks you to regale them with your time has NO idea what a good marathon time is, so just round down and don’t bother with the logistics of 3:26:19, just say 3 hours (um that is a fantastical number that should not be associated with my running time in any way shape or form); it won’t make any difference to them. Actually you could tell them that it took you 2 hours (faster than the world record) and chances are they would say “oh my god, I can’t believe that you ran for 2 hours straight.”

Running is a great sport, because unless you are an elite athlete competing for a cash prize no one really cares how fast you are. This means that the only person that really knows how well you did is you, and that means that you can lie through your teeth about your athleticism. So now, more than two decades after my “quitting incident” I have nine big, shiny, heavy medals that prove that I am not a quitter, and make everyone in my family think I could someday run the Boston Marathon. And for all they know, the reason that I won’t run it is because I think that it is too hyped, and has nothing to do with actually having to qualify.

I had a bad year. It was officially over in June of 2012. It wasn’t a calendar year, but a full 365 days; fortunately for me the bad juju didn’t realize that it was a leap year and give me an additional day. Bad break-up, almost dying in a cycling accident, being abandoned at the hospital by a Jack Kerouac-type friend who was so distraught by my accident that he had to go “sort some stuff out in Toronto,” and contracting Mononucleosis like a college freshman who has been licking all the good looking guys in the dorm so as to claim possession of them (not that I got to do this, I just got Mono without having any fun). These are just a few of the larger points (I think I may have also gotten a paper cut) that illustrate why this hasn’t been the most stellar year of my life.


I have come to the conclusion that during my bad year I was spending far too much time reading a subscription to Issues, which is subtitled Dysfunctional Relationships with Men. And although my bad year ended in the middle of June (with a job offer and winning some running shoes; to me, both of these are equally awesome) I hadn’t stopped reading my subscription.


This week I am trading it in.  My pre-accident self participated in marathons and triathlons, so I decided that the best way to stop reading my subscription to Issues was to start reading Triathlete magazine. I am done worrying about, and seeking out, dysfunctional relationships with men.  This next year I am going to concentrate on one man, an IRONMAN. Well, a half, I WAS injured after all.

September 2012
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