36 weeks ago, I shared my very first blog post, The Origin of Mod. I had a very specific story arc in mind: sharing my personal high school experience of my quest for a date—any date—to a high school dance, combined with how I traveled the journey of my mom’s cancer diagnosis and ultimately, her death.
When I began the journey, I had already written the majority of the stories and knew how this story would end, with my last first kiss.
I was intentional in keeping all of my stories close to 500 words. Why? I wanted my readers to get a glimpse, a taste, of what my story involved. I also wanted it to be an easy read that people looked forward to, knowing they could enjoy it in one sitting.
What’s next? If you follow my social media, you may have seen that I’m writing a book.
I wholeheartedly believe that all of humanity is connected to one another. When we share our stories, someone, somewhere, feels a pull, a familiarity, and that draws us together. I feel called to write down more of my story and organize it into a book format. It is a wonderful work in progress!
There are literally only so many hours in a day to write. I have been advised by some trusted friends in the publishing industry to turn my energy towards writing my book. This means the content readers have been enjoying in my blog will now change.
I promise I will continue to share glimpses of my story as this process unfolds. My next task is to write the over 30 stories I’ve got outlined from my childhood in the 1970s.
I have a lot of other types of pieces that I’ve written and I want to challenge myself to share them here as well.
Your support is still invaluable to me. Throughout these 36+ weeks, I have embraced, and cherished every single comment, email, and thought my readers have shared with me. Please stay with me as I traverse this process!
Thank you to everyone who has supported me up until this point: my family, beautiful friends, Light Writers, Gaggle, every single friend from the 80’s who gave me permission to use their faces and names, and my new Bob Goff Workshop Crew who are perhaps cheering the loudest.
I am so excited for what is to come and I sincerely hope you will be alongside me for the adventure!
I woke up feeling kind of glum. I was an eighteen-year-old girl who lost her mom to cancer, broke up with my only real boyfriend (because he had sex with one of my “friends”), the weather was dreary, and I was down.
As a result, I did what any other college freshman in 1989 would have done—I went to the mall, walked into a hair salon, and got a perm.
It was a glorious perm. I bounced out of that salon feeling like a new woman ready for action. The plan for the night was to go to another frat party at the house where my friends and I were little sisters.
This freshly permed girl was up for a night of dancing!
My friend across the hall had the cutest clothes. She lent me my outfit for the night.
Friends, it was everything I dreamed of in an outfit. I donned a pair of kelly green stir-up leggings, which (of course) came with a matching kelly green mock turtleneck top with shoulder pads. I then added the final piece of the coordinating outfit, a matching black sweater with large, primary-colored, polka dots… and more shoulder pads. I finished the look with chunky black socks and black, lace-up granny boots.
I. Was. Ready.
My high school friend, Jill, was visiting for the weekend. The night before, we were at the same house, laughing about the fun we had the previous summer when we toured Europe with our A Capella Choir and specifically discussed piercing our friend’s ear.
This is an important thing to remember as my story progresses.
Jill and I hit the scene. We were dolled up and ready to be dancing in the house basement to Erasure, Depeche Mode, Billy Idol, all of our favorites.
I was freshly permed, fully shoulder-padded, and ready to take on the world.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my biggest crush, a now single Mike Brothers, walking towards me. I could not believe it.
The perm must have worked!
Mike Brothers: Hey. Do you know anyone that can pierce my ear?
Me: Um, yeah. I can. I can pierce your ear!
Mike Brothers: Okay great. Meet me in room 13 at 2:00.
Me: I’ll be there.
2 am rolled around and I was ready for some ear piercing. I headed to room 13 with Jill close at hand. There was a line of guys in the hallway. They told us they were all in line because they heard some girl was going to be piercing ears and they wanted in.
What?! Well, it didn’t matter to me.
Mike Brothers was waiting and he talked to me and I had a new perm and I was wearing my favorite color and I was having a great day!
A large safety pin was secured. A quick pass over the open flame of someone’s lighter guaranteed it was sterile, and I told him to take a seat on his desk chair so I could pierce his ear.
I tried. I tried. I tried some more. But you see, I really had a crush on this guy and I didn’t want to hurt him. I’m not kidding you, at one point I was actually squatting on his lap trying so hard to get that pin through his lobe.
I could not do it.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was likely five minutes, another pal took the safety pin, jammed it through his earlobe, and fastened it on the other side.
Thank God for Jill because she somehow cleared the room, hit the lights, and then dissipated the line out in the hallway.
It was at that precise moment that Mike Brothers and I shared our first kiss.
My first semester was flying by. I was a dedicated little sister at the frat and never missed a party. I understood that I had classes, but I often chose to skip them. I also learned that I could fake symptoms so well that the university health center would even skip testing me and simply diagnose me with Mono. That note got me out of class, “legitimately”, for at least a week.
The holidays began to loom and my dad decided our family of now four, plus my brother-in-law, would head to the magical city of Orlando for the week before Christmas. It would be a good distraction from missing my mom and by now, I was becoming an expert at distractions.
One of my dad’s friends offered up their condo for us to stay in and we boarded a plane and headed to fun in the sun. My sister was seven months pregnant at the time and had really been through a lot of stress with her pregnancy. Her doctor told her she absolutely could go but must rest and use a wheelchair when possible.
We spent our days pushing her around Sea World, the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. A favorite memory was when her husband was pushing her and one of the wheels got stuck in a trolley track on Main Street at The Magic Kingdom.
A trolley could be spotted in the far distance, and she started to panic, encouraging her husband to get her unstuck and off the tracks. My brother and I started laughing and shouting at her to simply stand up so that he could lift the chair and move it to safety.
There was just something so silly about that moment that really had us laughing and laughing. It felt like a great release to be together, distracted, having an actual good time.
While on that trip, we also got to visit my dad’s Aunt Jo and Uncle Ed. Aunt Jo was my grandma’s sister. They didn’t have any children of their own so they were bonus grandparents to us. We didn’t get to see them often but when we did, it was always very special.
This trip showed me how important time with family was and I was grateful for yet another distraction to keep me from the sadness that continued to grow within me. I really, really missed my mom. I could literally feel it weighing on my heart.
Our family arrived home just a few days before Christmas. We always spent Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family so on the 24th, we headed to my aunt and uncle’s house. Our family relationship was unique here because my dad’s sister married my mom’s brother. They had two kids and we consider them our double cousins. We share the same four grandparents and grew up really close to each other and were sometimes more like siblings than cousins.
Christmas Day was always spent with my dad’s side of the family so on the 25th, we headed to my other aunt and uncle’s house. All nine of my cousins, plus spouses and dates, were there. I smiled my way through it all. My sadness was there, but it wasn’t talked about. We were all putting on a happy face and giving it our best. I don’t know what ‘it’ actually was, but I did genuinely appreciate my extended family.
As my semester break wound down, I started searching out the mail each day before my dad could get to it. My grades would be coming soon and I knew there was no possible way I could have done well. Panic started to set in.
Luckily, I got to them first. It was bad. The worst grades I had ever gotten, a 1.87 /4.0. A letter was included telling me that I was on academic probation with the university. I had one semester to bring up my grades, or I wouldn’t be invited back.
I did what any terrified teen would do: I hid them from my dad.
Several years ago, I was visiting my dad and noticed my mom’s recipe card box. I asked him if he used them. He said no and was happy to let me take them. I didn’t have many things with my mom’s handwriting and tucked them away to be enjoyed when the time was right.
One night, I got the kids to bed, poured a deep glass of red, and curled up in my favorite chair to just ‘be’ with my mom and her handwriting.
Once I was snuggled in, I started to flip through the cards. That’s when I remembered how very much she adored or was obsessed with, her electric typewriter. Practically every single card was typed. All I could do was laugh as the memories of her at our kitchen table with the gigantic electric typewriter (with eraser cartridges) came flooding back to me.
Then about four years ago, it was time to get my next tattoo and I knew what the word would be. I know people get tattoos with loved one’s handwriting, but that wasn’t an option from my mom. It came to me quite clearly: typewriter font. Perfect! It makes me remember my mom with a smile while honoring my work as a writer/editor.
A couple of years later and I was helping a friend organize her basement. She asked me the story behind my tattoo and as I shared, I saw something click in her bright eyes. I followed her up the stairs and she brought out this incredible canvas that she had purchased but it didn’t quite work where she wanted it to in her house.
She gifted it to me. Wow! It hangs on the wall next to the desk in my office. Can you read the type-written words? It says I love you, over and over and over again. A sweet message from my mom.
College was FUN! While I went to my classes most of the time, my focus was definitely on social interactions.
One frat house seemed to meet the needs of my new friends and me the most. They offered free booze and, more importantly, a dedicated dance party in the house basement. The guys were friendly and let’s face it—what college guys weren’t friendly to freshman girls? So, we joined their Little Sister program.
I was assigned a Big Brother to navigate the process and look out for me. Naturally, mine was one of the better dancers and was an absolute pro at the tight roll of his jeans. He had a slightly southern Illinois accent that had him pronouncing Mod as Maude and it was endearing. He really was a nice guy and I felt lucky.
One day, I was sitting upstairs in the frat living room area and a real looker strolled in. A wave of heat rolled right through my body, and a voice, clear as can be shouted in my head: YOU’RE GOING TO MARRY THAT GUY. I’ll call him “Mike Brothers”.
I was intrigued. The problem was, Mike Brothers was dating someone, and I was kind of friends with her. Bummer! Good thing campus was full of other cuties to grab my attention and keep me fully distracted from the mundane things like going to class and studying.
I will say this: Mike Brothers was on my radar.
One task Little Sisters were expected to accomplish was to get the signature of every guy in the house on the wooden paddle that our Big Brothers gifted us with.
At this time in my budding college career, I was skipping down the stairs in my dorm and missed the bottom step. Thankfully, the security team on campus was able to drive me to the ER and I returned with torn ligaments on my right ankle and a shiny pair of crutches. I was devastated that I couldn’t participate in aerobics any longer and also not too sad that I was able to legitimately miss classes for a few days.
This injury did not deter my quest for signatures, and especially my newfound mission of getting to know Mike Brothers.
I tucked the wooden paddle under my chin and crutched around that frat house like a champ. I specifically crutched carefully to room 13, heart racing, and flashed a dazzling smile at Mike Brothers. You can bet I got that coveted signature.
It took a while to meet all of the guys and during that time I decided I needed to get more face time with Mike Brothers. I will note here that I respected the fact that he was in a relationship. I will also say I found the match a little odd and didn’t think it would hurt to seek him out again, flip my paddle to the other side, and get his sexy signature just one more time…
After my dramatic weekend at home, I went back to college. I drove home again soon because it was time for our family to bury my mom’s ashes at a cemetery my dad chose.
He chose a parklike setting and I learned that cremated remains are called cremains and at this particular cemetery, the cremains are all buried in the same area, by a pond, near a windmill. It was ironically similar to the space where I met my mom in my dream.
I didn’t tell The Dude I was coming home. In fact, he had no idea I was home the previous trip either. It was time for a confrontation.
I found The Dude at a house party, well actually a detached garage party. I strolled in, heart racing, and saw him with a beer in one hand, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. I completely surprised him and he immediately tossed the cigarette.
“Babe! Babe, wow, you’re here.” He came in for a big kiss and I dodged.
I dodged for two reasons:
Kissing someone who just smoked was like making out with a dirty ashtray.
Yeah, I was there, and I was there to break up with him for having sex with one of my friends. Not a great kissing moment.
Yeah, I am. We buried my mom’s ashes today. Can we go for a ride?
He was understandably shocked by that statement. I guided him to my dad’s car, all decked out with power windows, power locks, and… a cassette player.
We drove around for just a few minutes and after some icy pleasantries, I pulled the car over and parked. I took full advantage of my dad’s Delta 88 Oldsmobile and its many fancy features. I hit the power lock button and genuinely startled The Dude.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and slowly turned to the passenger side. This created a dynamic dramatic effect. Then I asked him about Homecoming.
How was the dance?
The Dude answered.
I see. Did you have sex with She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?
“Babe! No. Babe, I would never do that to you.”
Are you sure?
Really, really sure?
He nodded an emphatic ‘no’.
At this point, I pushed the cassette in and hit play.
He listened and then tears started to stream down his face.
It was so dramatic and so fantastic.
I totally forgave him. We weren’t in love, we agreed to see other people. Did it feel good to have him go that far? Absolutely not. Was I willing to go that far with him? Absolutely not.
I drove him home and stayed chatting with him and his brother for several hours. We officially broke up that night. My first official boyfriend was history.
I returned to college and stayed until Thanksgiving break. During that time, I certainly had my eye on my friend Andy’s roommate whom I will call Tall, Dark, and Handsome (T, D, & H).
I filled my days with occasionally going to class, meeting all of the new friends I possibly could, making out with T, D, & H on the regular, becoming a little sister at a fabulous fraternity, drinking, and sleeping.
I found that whenever I would sit down to actually study, my mind would calm, I would remember that my mom was gone, and the tears would flow. I decided I needed to stop those tears from coming. Once they came, it was so very hard to stop them. I absolutely wouldn’t allow myself to break down and found all kinds of ways to distract myself.
I would close my books and head out to find the fun. It wasn’t hard. If friends in one room were studying, I’d skip to the next. I’d keep going until I could find somewhere to land.
My dad agreed that since I was coming home a lot this first semester of college, it was easiest for me to have a car at school. That was so lucky. As I drove back and forth, I really did think things with The Dude were going to work out.
What I was most excited about was the fact that I had an actual boyfriend who had an actual Homecoming dance coming up. And he played on the football team! A tight end. I honestly didn’t know what that meant, but I did know that I loved wearing his old football jersey.
I would, for THE FIRST TIME EVER, be going to a dance with a guy I was actually dating!
Or so I thought.
One day when The Dude and I were talking on the phone, the topic of the dance came up. I could hardly contain my excitement.
“Babe, about the dance. I think I’m going to ask She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.”
Um, she sleeps with all of her dates.
“Yeah, I know.”
I was crushed. When I left for school, we agreed we would date around and I certainly was, but She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named? Ouch. She was someone I considered a friend. We were on the same teams. She was his age and they had a bunch of mutual friends going to the dance together.
Okay, you can go. But promise me you won’t sleep with her.
The dance came and went. My best friend’s younger sister was on a team with She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. She was hosting a team sleepover one weekend soon after the dance.
The Dude and I were still officially a couple and rumors had started to swirl that She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and The Dude did indeed do the deed the night of the dance.
So, my friend and I did the logical thing. We drove home for the weekend. Another good friend did the same. We met at the sleepover house, in my friend’s bedroom, and put our plan in motion.
We put a blank cassette tape into my pal’s tape recorder and my two friends slid right under her bed with the loaded listening device.
I sought out She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and brought her up to the room for a chat. My friends hit the record button just before we entered the interrogation room. I could sense her nerves but continued on. I repeatedly asked her if she had sex with The Dude at his Homecoming and it didn’t take long for her to confess, crying the entire time.
I truly wasn’t upset with her at all. I actually really liked her. But she did sleep with my boyfriend and that was unfortunate. After her tears dried and we wrapped things up, we heard a loud click. I knew that the recording had run out of tape and automatically clicked off.
“What was that?” she asked glancing around the room.
I pretended to not hear anything and ushered her out. My friends rolled out from under the bed with the evidence freshly recorded.
[In hindsight, I wish I had never pulled She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named into the mess of my relationship with The Dude. At the time, my 18-year-old brain truly thought that was the right course of action. I grew up idolizing Charlie’s Angels and Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. I felt like a justified super sleuth fueled by the excitement of some serious drama.]
The absolute busyness of starting college was as much a curse as it was a blessing. Thankfully, the friends on my dorm floor were all very nice and maybe too much fun.
I was happy to have been invited to join the sorority I felt the most comfortable in, even though for a while I was known as “the umbrella girl”. One of our first pledge class activities was an event that involved us all sitting in a circle and sharing a bit about ourselves.
My heart sank a little as it got closer to being my turn. I’d have to share about my mom and I knew it would get heavy, fast. My heart hammered in my chest.
Hi! My name is Karen, everyone calls me Mod. I’m a Radio/TV major from Oak Park, Illinois, and um, my mom died at the beginning of this month.
Hugs and support but boy did I feel like a buzzkill. But this is who I was and it felt important that people knew.
My roommate, Kindness, and I got along well. Her friends were nice and we both did our own thing while existing in the same space together amicably. I appreciated her. I definitely believe the fact that my mom had just died made her a little nervous, but she truly never let it show.
One night, we were both sound asleep in our beds that were just a few feet from each other. I had an incredibly vivid dream.
In it, I was sitting on an old, brown, metal folding chair, the kind my grandparents would bring out when company came. My mom was sitting next to me and it was obvious we were in a parklike, very green cemetery. The sun was shining and it felt so good to be with her.
She looked right at me and smiled. She told me I would be okay, that everything would be okay. I didn’t want the dream to end but at that moment, I woke up.
It was the middle of the night, the only light in our dorm room was from my brand-new-grad-gift fancy digital alarm clock.
I woke up from this dream that felt real and believed my mom was sitting at the edge of my bed.
KINDNESS. I whispered loudly.
“What, what?” she replied in a sleepy stupor.
Is my mom sitting at the edge of my bed?
Big, big mistake.
Sweet Kindness let out a blood-curdling scream, jumped to her feet on top of her bed, and started screaming “Sweet Jesus, sweet, sweet Jesus!” as she rapidly clapped her hands to coincide with the run-jumping action of her body.
I scared poor Kindness to her bones.
Which then frightened me.
After I told her about my dream and that I felt certain my mom was actually there with me, it didn’t help her calm down at all. Not one bit.
Once we were settled back in to hopefully fall asleep again, I prayed to God: Okay God, that was pretty intense and really scary. I don’t know what that was, but maybe my mom shouldn’t come back like that again.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to undo that prayer in the decades since she has died. While she has been in my dreams, none were quite as vivid and spectacular as that first one. It came when I deeply needed reassurance.
Poor Kindness was more than happy to do a roommate swap at the upcoming semester break.
It’s mid-August, 1988 and my dad’s Oldsmobile is packed and ready to deliver me to my freshman year of college. Our destination: Bradley University, University Hall, floor 4a, one of the coveted Dorms of the Future!
Yes, I drew the dorm lottery prize and that meant my room was equipped with a personal computer (PC if you’re in the know) for my roommate and me to share.
This was groundbreaking and really my first known foray into using computers. We certainly didn’t have one at home—who even did? Students were told to bring their own floppy disks and our lives would be infinitely simpler and… futuristic.
My roommate, whom I will call Kindness, and I were both from the suburbs of Chicago and hit it off when we met. She tolerated all of my Big Top Pee Wee cut-outs and brightly colored decor. I couldn’t take my rainbow room with me to college, but I could certainly bring the vibe.
Sorority Rush was the first week on campus. Bradley had six national sororities and I didn’t know much about any of them. My dad’s fraternity brothers from Bradley mostly married women from one specific house, and I did have that in mind.
I was assigned a Rush Counselor (Rho Chi) and spent the week attending various events at each house. At the end of every round, I would narrow down my choices, and the houses would narrow down theirs.
One house continually stood out to me because each time I walked in and met someone new, they were unique from the last person I met. While other houses seemed to have some sort of mold to fit, in my eyes Pi Beta Phi did not. They quickly rose to the top and I was hopeful I’d continue to be invited back.
Besides Rush happening that first week, my social life was taking quick form. Tammy lived just below me and her roommate, Staci, and I bonded along with some other new friends on both of our floors. By bonded, I mean we gathered together almost every night talking and drinking.
I was lucky that I was never cut from a house. I felt that the power to choose was in my court and I knew others weren’t so lucky. Each day, we’d get the news as to which houses invited us back. Every day, there were tears scattered throughout the dorm and campus in general. It was intense.
I was grateful for the distraction that it was. I found being alone almost intolerable. So, I constantly sought out other people to keep my mind anywhere but on the recent loss of my mom.
The night before the final found, the Preference Round, I overdid it.
Pref was a fancy dress-up day and if you were lucky, you got to go to two houses—one for lunch and one for dessert. I was excited to head first to the sorority of my dad’s friends’ wives and second to Pi Phi.
U-Hall had communal bathrooms. On that particular morning, I gathered up my yellow, personalized shower tote, robed up, and gingerly made my way down the hall to shower. I didn’t feel well at all.
Midway through my shower, I felt lightheaded. The next thing I knew, I was on the shower floor, the upper part of my body thrust outside of the curtain, rudely interrupting the primping of the other girls on my floor. There were a few screams.
Only one girl came over to help me. She had obviously been crying. She said she could help me because all of the sororities had cut her and she had nothing at all to do that day. Wow.
The next events were fuzzy. I got to the Health Center and it was assumed I’d fainted because of cramps. So, I was given a prescribed muscle relaxant. Have you seen the end of the movie Sixteen Candles? Where the bride takes muscle relaxants for cramps?
That was literally me.
Because of all of this, I missed the first sorority lunch. Thankfully, Pi Phi was second on the docket and my first choice. I would be more than ready and got dressed, hair done, make-up on… in a completely drugged state.
My mom taught me that early was better than late and even better than on time. It was raining. I grabbed my umbrella and set off across campus. Once at the house, I simply stood under my umbrella on the sidewalk.
I noticed no one was around. Apparently, there was a break between groups and I was really early. But no worries in my mind, I wanted to make a good impression. I was oblivious to the swishing of the vertical window blinds as curious eyes kept peering out at me.
I later learned that by standing solo, early to the party, I gave the impression that I was a rogue rushee who boldly chose only one house to attend on the final day. This created a big buzz.
Eventually, more girls showed up, I was feeling extremely groovy thanks to the muscle relaxant, and the party began. By the end of the night, I was welcomed into what I knew was the best sorority for me—Pi Beta Phi.
Even though I still felt like I was moving through some sort of a grief fog, it was time to prepare for my freshman year at Bradley University. My dad was an alumnus and I know he was excited for me to attend.
Thankfully, my close friend Tammy was also heading there, and so were a few other high school friends. Tammy and I chose not to be roommates so we could meet other people and widen our circle.
It suddenly seemed like I had a lot to do in a very short period of time. I was completely clueless. One of my godmothers, my Aunt Carole, picked me up one day and took me to a wonderful store I had never heard of—Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Apparently, they would have everything a girl needs to head off to college.
Together we shopped, choosing bedding, towels, and a little caddy to carry my toiletries to the dorm bathroom. We filled a cart and enjoyed lunch out at a restaurant as well. It was really a wonderful day with one of my favorite people.
Within a few days after that, my dad and I went to visit my paternal grandfather at the nursing home where he lived. Grandpa was 88 years old and was not able to be at the funeral or visitation.
I was anxious about going to a nursing home after spending so much time in one with my mom. But, it was the right thing to go and visit and say goodbye to him before leaving soon for college.
We walked into his room and I know he was glad to have us there. My dad used an extra loud voice so he could hear him and told his dad that I came to visit before leaving for college in a few days.
Oh. Grandpa was having none of that. “What? College? No! She can’t go to college. She’s got to stay home and take care of you.”
“No dad, she will go to college. That’s the plan.”
My heart sank. Should I be going? Who would take care of my dad?
“It’s okay grandpa, dad will be fine. I need to go to college.”
Grandpa didn’t agree. Dad insisted. I sat with a crushed spirit and tentacles of panic started to grip my spirit.
Back at home, I began packing my things. I was heading off to actual college, majoring in Radio & TV. I had high hopes of becoming a game show host and this seemed the best path forward. In all honesty, I hadn’t given choosing a major much thought at all.
I was constantly ‘on’ and entertaining the people I was with. Radio & TV seemed to be the right fit. I was planning on auditioning for the choir, rushing a sorority, and immersing myself in the world of college.
My grief was raw but forward motion seemed to be the logical thing to do. So, I moved forward.
The Dude and I agreed that we would stay a couple but decided not to be totally exclusive. Well, I was ready to be exclusive. Are you kidding me? I finally had a boyfriend and he was pretty great. But, we were crazy realistic and weren’t in love so we said we’d stay together and see where things went.
He did agree that I would come home for his Homecoming dance. Finally. A date to a dance who wasn’t coerced, or bribed, in any way.
In a matter of days, I would be off to Bradley, settle into my dorm room in University Hall, and begin the process of sorority rush.