A Limited Family History

When I was little, I hated my name. Kaitlyn. A good name for a witch. On cold, wintry, moonlit nights, I would get goosebumps listening to a choir sing “Joy to the World,” and I knew that a witch, probably named Kaitlyn, was outside hunting me.

But then I grew up and became very glad that my name is Kaitlyn because had I been born a boy, my name would have been Andrew. Nothing against Andrews, but Kaitlyn fits me much better, witch-like as it is.

My mom says my parents’ first fight happened late one night when I wouldn’t stop crying. My dad whispered angrily, “Feed her! She’s hungry!” And my mom, who knew better, whispered back through gritted teeth, “She’s not hungry!” But this wasn’t their first fight. Nor was it their second. It was most definitely their third.

My parents’ first fight occurred when a hot, tired, hungry woman on her honeymoon wanted to eat Mexican food, and her husband said that they would wait until they reached the American food, at the opposite end of the park. My mother plopped herself down and said she wasn’t going anywhere until she got food. So my dad walked to the American food at the opposite end of the park and brought the food back to my mother who was as good as her word.

My parents’ second fight was over my name. They both secretly hoped I would be a boy named Andrew. And when I wasn’t a boy named Andrew, they couldn’t decide on a name. The decision was so last minute and I was so ahead-of-schedule, that my dad misspelled my name on my birth certificate. No longer Katelyn but Kaitlyn.

I’ve always been proud of my last name, a good thing since I’m keeping it. (Unfortunately, when I do someday live up to my great name, it will be through the pseudonym KaitMarie Sammon.) I knew deep down as an elementary school student that whomever the Chisholm trail was named after was related to me, forever made famous by his name christening the trail. I knew deep down that the great hymn writer, Thomas O. Chisholm, was one of my great grandfathers. But now I know better. No one knows what the Chisholm trail is, and no one knows who Thomas Chisholm is. Not anymore.

While I did play a witch in Macbeth, probably the name I live up to the most is my middle name. Whenever my mom and her sisters get together, they joke that I got the raw end of the deal when I was named after my aunt Michelle. “No wonder Kaitlyn turned out the way she did when we named her after Michelle!” She was the sister who under- and overbaked brownies. She was the sister who decided the meal was over and began removing plates from the table regardless of who was still eating. She was the sister who ate dog poop, thinking it was a chocolate milkshake (nice one, Mom). She was the “hot” sister, as one of my mom’s students described her.

I wouldn’t want to be named after anyone else. This aunt is passionate and throws herself whole-heartedly into what she believes in. This aunt won’t let any constraints and situational setbacks control her. And while I will never be called “hot” by any of my mom’s students, at least I can be passionate about my beliefs. At least I can set aside my fear and follow where God leads me. And I can’t help being a little bit crazy. Who else would go to church in the midst of extreme fatigue and worry specifically to give a bridesmaid dress and lace to a seamstress and then leave church after choir practice only to discover at 10:30 at night that she left the fabric and dress underneath her choir seat? Who else would get out of the worry-sick bed, now filled with this extra worry concerned with finding the dress and fabric, and drive back to church in her pajamas and winter coat just to find the fabric and dress? Yes, the same person who can cook ramen to perfection.

I love observing my parents and their siblings interact. When my mom and her sisters get together, there my dad is in the midst of them. They relive old memories and share the ridiculous stories of their childhoods. I like to think I’m creative, but I definitely missed some of those creative genes. When my dad and his siblings get together, they get in loud, heated discussions of Christianity or politics. Sometimes they play ping pong or wiffle ball, but always loudly.

This is my family. These are the people who made me me. This is my heritage. And I am proud to be a Burke Sammon Chisholm.

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I’m following in my mother’s footsteps.

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Till Death Do Us Part

To My Future Someone:

On Saturday I went downtown to see a play, a play about loving to death and the way life appears when you’re about to jump off a bridge. Before the play started, I sat and talked with an old couple, very much in love with each other and the life they lived together. During the play I sat between two sets of couples, living together but who knows for how long.

I walked back to the train station in the pouring rain, really the perfect ending to the day. After seeing drops of blood rain down on a man who loved too much, I was thankful to have drops of cleansing water rain down on me.

When I was two blocks away from Union Station, a man approached me. For a fleeting moment, I thought he might be you. He was looking for the way to Ogilville and asked if we might walk there together. I wanted to say yes, but the image of blood raining down from the ceiling was still strong in my memory and the thought of serial killers kept me from inviting him in. Although I refused his invitation, I still listened intently as he shared with the couple next to me his present story: in the U.S. Navy, from the Ukraine, extremely attractive, noticed how wet I was. And I thought, this guy doesn’t seem like a serial killer. He seems nice. Why did I have to blow it?

But then I remember that’s what I do. Two years ago, I almost ruined what could have been a fabulous friendship. Although our relationship was restored a few months ago, I lost the time in her life when she met her husband. I missed the time in which she went from acquaintance to friend to girlfriend to fiance. And I vowed to never ruin another friendship by my own carelessness.

I decided to be honest with potential friends about who I am. I tell them upfront the basic facets of my life I think they should know: I am passionate about educational theatre; I have a chronic illness; I’m extremely introverted; I’m always looking for you.

But life happens. These potential friends argue with me about why commercial theatre is also necessary; they make fun of me for counting calories or refusing the donuts at work; they want to talk into eternity when I need to be alone; they think I will be the best friend who will stick with them through life unto death.

And I can’t be that person. So I try to convince potential friends that I am not who they think I am. I am the type of person who might become a serial killer. I am the type of person who will say shocking things just to convince you that I’m a terrible person. I am the type of person who will disobey whatever you say just to prove that I’m not enslaved to your opinion. I am the type of person who will avoid humanity for as long as possible because I’m much more comfortable being alone.

And when I sit down and write out who I am, I understand that I am unlovable. I understand that I put too much pressure on you. I understand that the man who could reach out and pursue me and love me despite all that is messed up inside me, cannot exist. And I take comfort in understanding why I am alone now.

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I don’t mind walking alone when I have awesome shoes on my feet.

Someday, if you do come into my life, I know it won’t be because I asked you to. I know it won’t be because I joined a site publicizing my dateability. Because if you come into my life until death do us part, I will get mad at you for trying to fix my problems; I will get mad at you for interrupting my work flow; I will get mad at you for leaving your shoes in the middle of the floor; I will get mad at you for telling me when I should go to bed; I will get mad at you for telling what I should and shouldn’t watch; I will get mad at you for telling me what I should and should not eat; I will get mad at you for telling me what I should and should not wear; I will get mad at you in the morning because you exist; I will be mad at you most of our lives together.

If we ever meet each other and learn to love each other, it will be a work of grace in both our lives, and I’m okay to wait for that.

~Me.

Love and Death

I’ve been thinking a lot about love and death recently. Leaving a home I love to come to a new state has meant a lot of death.

My finances died and a new budget was born.

My health has deteriorated. I spent the greater part of last week sick with a sickness brought about by sadness. My gums are swollen no matter how often I floss. I’m struggling to digest food no matter how well I stay within my dietary restrictions.

Every once in a while, I remember something I left back home: a pancake griddle, a teal IKEA cart, a Gibson-girl skirt, or a green tea pot, things I killed when I left home but that keep on resurrecting without my consent.

My dreams have died, and I’m fighting to resurrect them. I killed one opportunity to pursue a different, a better, a more spiritual outcome. And I hate myself for making that choice. I beat myself up every day when I realize I destroyed my path of creativity, of rebirth, for a deathlike existence of futile passion (at least for this year).

I’m tired of dying to myself. I’m tired of acting all day like someone I’m not to come home and have to keep acting. I never get to die and be reborn. I never get to put off the old and put on the new. And I can’t seem to find a place of safety in which to be vulnerable.

I miss my sister. Who else would laugh at my morning ritual of getting up ridiculously early to shower just so I can go back to bed in my bathrobe? Who else would participate in my culinary failures and then eat with me while watching a favorite TV show? Who else would lock herself away for an entire evening so that I can be left alone? Who else would give of her Friday afternoons to go with me to the scary grocery store full of scary people? Who else would laugh with me over movie quotations? Who else would spontaneously fly hundreds of miles to surprise me for a weekend? The answer: no one.

I am ridiculously thankful for her. But we were not always good friends. I used to “act” around her, too. I used to be a fake version of myself. I hated that she ate the healthy food I bought for myself. I hated that she never put her shoes away. I hated that her hair shed all over the bathroom floor. Eventually, all that animosity went away. I don’t remember the moment. I don’t even remember the journey.

I know that someday I will look back on this “lost” year of my life, and I will see how it all fits together. I will see how the deaths were necessary for the continual creation of my life. But the pain is that, right now, today, I cannot find the light to create in the midst of all this death.

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My office definitely looks like a prison when viewed this closely, but there is beauty in the decay and rust.

Just over the Hilltop

Even though I’m a theatre buff, I also love watching movies.

Sandra Bullock says of her mother in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, “She had star quality. She wanted a bigger life than being a cotton farmer’s wife with four kids.” Ironically, that’s exactly the kind of life I imagine wanting.

Last night I watched Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. Strikingly similar to Mona Lisa Smile and striking very close to my heart. In both films the main character is faced with the impossible task of teaching students who are stuck in tradition. The tradition of already knowing everything. The tradition of being unable to accept what the teacher says. The teacher always gains the approval and love of the students in the end. But the teacher also leaves the crippling society behind by the story’s end.

I want to be like these teachers: passionate, believing in the potential of the students, encouraging the students to look beyond what they can see with their eyes to what can be seen only through faith. But I keep getting stuck . . . because I know the end.

I’m not content with this small life. I guess I’m realizing that this world is not my home, that I’m just a wanderer on this earth until I get to my true “end.” But while I’m in the wandering stage, I still want a full life. A life full of food and love and happiness.

I pretty much want to be Julia Child, at least the version of her portrayed by Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia. She loves to eat food, she loves to cook food, she loves her husband, and he loves her, and even though she faces the heartache of not being able to have children, she still LOVES life. And food. And her husband. Unfortunately, I am much more comparable to Amy Adams’s character. The temper tantrum over the chicken that won’t stuff. The meltdown over getting fat. The unkind words spoken to an immensely patient husband.

The conclusion: I want a life bigger than the one I have now. I want a purpose bigger than the one I have now. I want relationships truer than the ones I have now. I think what I want is heavenly eternity.

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Life really can’t get too much better. Standing on a rug that looks like a Mark Rothko painting. Anthropologie shirt found on sale for $10. Looking up.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Every year, I play this game with myself: where might I be a year from now?

As of 2:13 yesterday morning, I am officially closer to 30 than 20. And I am not where I expected to be. A year ago I was thinking about post-graduate careers and was leaning toward being a flight attendant or working as an ABA therapist.

Instead, I am spending a year getting acquainted with downtown Chicago before diving headlong into a sea of education and never-ending loans. A lifetime of ramen and stale Panera bagels would be bearable if I had someone to share them with me.

I was anticipating a terrible birthday: spending the day locked in my dark basement office by myself with no cake, no presents, and no money to buy presents with. A day without even a free Starbucks birthday drink to redeem. A day like every other in this new reality.

But my sister came.

She surprised me on Saturday evening when she stuck her head in my bedroom door and said, “Hey. I came for your birthday.” And these last three days have been bliss. Even though I felt like apologizing every second of each day she’s been here for living such a boring life in such a boring place. We did go out for deep-dish Chicago pizza and then ate ramen for two nights. My Sundays are filled with commitments and I spend a minimum of 10 hours at school every day. By the time we could actually hang out, there was no daylight left and nowhere to go. I found myself wishing for Thanksgiving when I would have time to be with her and show her around, but then I remembered that I have nowhere to show her. I’ve shown her everything in my new life: the three grocery stores, my apartment, and school.

I dropped her off at the airport this morning, determined not to cry until I found my way out of the airport. That took longer than expected as I somehow managed to get stuck in parking where I spent $2.00 so that I could spend less than a minute driving through the parking garage to get back out onto the interstate. Needless to say, I did not make it out of the airport before I started crying.

But somehow, the reality of my life now is bearable once again because I have a future to look forward to. Sixty-five days until Thanksgiving. Three hundred forty-five days until I begin work on my MFA. Each day a day in which change is inevitable but filled with God’s grace.

The Evolution of Dreams

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with only one dream.

The people who dream in singles are people of legend: George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Jim Elliot.

We all realize that exhausting ourselves in one dream that may not come true would kill us, so we dream in multiples.

I may not dream singly yet, but my dreams do funnel to specific points. I used to think that I would be happy if I could live in a routine (aka graduate from school). Then I thought I would be happy if Fishie would admit that I was his dream come true (aren’t we all glad that dream never came true!) Then I thought I would be happy if I could get a job involved in the theatre (aka life as I know it). Now I think I’ll be happy if I can work an 8-5 job with lots of free time in the evenings. Or I think I’ll be happy if I meet some stranger at Aldi who turns out to be Prince Charming. Or I think I’ll be happy if I go back to school and get my MFA. Or I think I’ll be happy if I can go back home to Greenville and be with the people I love. Or I think I’ll be happy if I can get a job as an actress or a playwright (the only elements of theatre I love).

Pink Clouds

Some days, happiness is as close as your favorite pink blouse.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. I fully intend to marry Prince Charming someday and get my MFA in playwriting. But when all is said and done, that dreaming is futile if I’m not living in the present. That dreaming is futile because I have no control over it. That dreaming is futile if at the end of my life, I still wish I had done something differently.

I want to live today in such a way that I wouldn’t wish to change anything. My wish, my dream, is to live today with no regrets.

The Pink Flamingo

When my parents were newly married and very much in love, they lived in Pennsylvania (where I was born) and taught at a private school where they met many of the friends they still cling to. I think the secret to these lasting friendships is the pink flamingo.

I don’t know if there was already a hideous nineties fad gaining momentum involving pink flamingos as lawn decoration. But if it were a fad, my parents and their friends turned it upside down with an ironic twist. Combine a scavenger hunt, hide and seek, and Clue with pink flamingos and imagine the possibilities! One morning, Mr. X sleepily walks outside his front door in his bathrobe and picks up the morning paper. He enters the kitchen where his wife is preparing his breakfast of Cheerios. She asks if the boy who mowed the lawn last night did a good job, and Mr. X isn’t sure. He didn’t get a good look. Exasperated, Mrs. X opens the front door and is face to face with a pink flamingo. She closes the door and reopens it again and again, personifying the definition of insanity. Now fighting the clock, Mr. and Mrs. X must figure out who put the pink flamingo in their yard and decide whose lawn to desecrate next. It becomes a game. A joke. A way to say, “Welcome home.”

Now, whenever I see pink flamingos, I giggle. And luckily for me, the fad is returning. Today alone I saw pink flamingos on folders, pink flamingos on mugs, pink flamingos on bags, pink flamingos on pajamas. And someday I will have my very own pink flamingo.