I wrote this a couple of years ago but never shared it. Seemed fitting today so share this on what would have been Wendy's 40th birthday.
For most of my life, I lived in a
No, not a real box.
I didn’t grow up on the street surrounded by
cardboard and I wasn’t a member of a small family of mice or anything, though
that would be an interesting story.
had made my own box, carefully stacked around me in rows, built up, year after
year into a solid shape that hovered around me like an aura.
Sharp corners, crisp lines and endless
strings of words that I had applied to myself and they included a lot of
shoulds and musts and don’t’s and can’ts.
There isn’t an anonymous organization for this, but maybe I’m starting
one right now.
My name is Karen and I’m
Oh, the ones I applied to
I never had a curfew in high
school, mostly because my parents knew I would never sneak out, never drink and
never lie about where I had been.
wasn’t the parenting, though we had excellent parenting, because my sister did
ALL of those things.
I was just, as they
say, a goody two-shoes.
It carried over
Homework always in on
time, so on time, that I graduated a year early.
Stayed away from the pot smokers, not an easy
feat in Los Angeles and didn’t drink, outside of one trip to Europe, where it
was legal, until my 21st
There has never in my life, been a little something called a one night
I never looked the part of the
My sister, Wendy, once
wrote about me, in some personal essay writing she penned back in 1998 or
She never showed it to me herself,
but I found the neatly typed pages years ago.
A little bit of it goes like this.
"Karen is a
nice, pretty girl...Sometimes I watch her when we’re at a bar together, and I
just laugh inside my head.
this completely different person than the one I argue with about morality.
Like the way she dances…She can slide her
hips to the beat of any song with ease and grace, but at the same time with the
kind of raw sexuality rarely seen outside of the highest class strip
She looks like a girl raring to
go, one who’s been around the block quite a few times.
But she is neither of these…Karen doesn’t put
My sister is not sexy.
She’s beautiful, but she is not sexy.
She is extremely intelligent, but she is not
hip…It’s like she’s a really hot dork trying to be cool.”
In my early college and post grad
years, I remember starting to see friends or other students sporting bracelets,
usually those woven ones, with the letters WWJD on them. It stood for What
Would Jesus Do?
According to Wikipedia, Christians
“…used the phrase as a reminder of their belief in a moral
imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through
the actions of the adherents.” The
bracelets were supposed to help you remember to be a better person, to make
wise choices. Though I suspect some
parents “gifted” them to their teens and young adults in a desperate attempt to
keep them from drinking, smoking pot and having sex. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
It's often been guilt,
or maybe a combination of guilt and fear, that’s kept me toe-ing the line for
so many years. But I didn’t need a personal
relationship with Jesus or a bracelet around my wrist with a jumble of letters
to tell me what NOT to do. It was really
the other way around.
During a Southern
California fall, on a chilly night just before Halloween, my younger sister,
the one who wrote so eloquently about my finer traits, was killed during a
random robbery in her car, on a quiet block in Hollywood. But that is another story.
Wendy was the
opposite of me. If there was a rule to
be found, she was going to do her best to break it. Not because she was contrary by nature. On the contrary. She was warm and engaging and you’d be pretty
hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t get along with her. Her world just simply didn’t have walls. There are a million stories I could relate
that would illustrate this statement, but for now, I’ve chosen just one.
It was in 1999. I was in grad school and Wendy was an
undergrad student at Occidental College.
We lived together, in a little 1950’s house in the San Fernando
Valley. It was late afternoon on a
Sunday and Wendy was still in her bathrobe.
Mostly naked was her general preference for attire. My dog was curled up on Wendy’s lap, her tiny
nose tucked into the folds of the dark green terry cloth monstrosity that was
probably in desperate need of a wash.
The start of the Golden Globe awards was on TV.
“I’m headed to
school,” I said. I had a project due and
a team meeting scheduled. “I’ll be back
said. “I might go to the Golden
Globes.” There was no sarcasm in her
“Right. Let me know how that goes.” There was a lot of sarcasm in my voice.
I came home about
four hours later to an empty house. Then
I got a text from Wendy, T9 style, on my snazzy brick of a phone. She did it.
Wendy pulled an old formal dress from a school dance out of her closet,
fluffed up her hair and drove to Hollywood.
Later, when she came home, she would tell me that she “walked right
in.” The ceremony was more than half
over, and she just looked like she knew what she was doing. She would later produce photos with a handful
of television celebrities and in most of them, she’s got this crazy face on and
is gesturing at them with a “look who I’m with” expression.
After Wendy died, I
was shattered. To be honest, I still
pick up pieces of myself every now and then and try to stick them back on. I came apart, and as I put myself back
together, over days, and weeks and years, the pieces fit differently. My rules hadn’t stopped Wendy from dying,
they didn’t stop me from grieving, and the box they had built had failed to
keep me safe. Yet, I still clung to
them, as if they gave me structure, helped to keep the pieces together. I still do, a lot of the time. As they say in recovery, once a
rule-follower, always a rule-follower, right?
But somewhere along
the way, maybe four or five years after Wendy died, when I was most struggling
with how to keep her in my life as the years fell away, I thought of those What
Would Jesus Do? bracelets. I suddenly
realized I needed one. But mine would
read, WWWD. What Would Wendy Do? When choices in life would come up, some
little and some big, I started to ask myself that question. There was something immediately reassuring
when I discovered that I always knew the answer. It connected me to her in a way I hadn’t
expected and connected me to life in a way I had never experienced.
If my gut reaction to
Wendy’s answer was “Oh, hell, no,” then I stuck to my guns. But if I thought to myself, “that sounds a
little crazy,” or “maybe I shouldn’t,” or “I’d love to, but I’m afraid,” I’d
look down at my invisible macramé bracelet and say, “Okay, Wendy, you win, I’m
doing it your way.”
What Would Wendy do
got me on a plane by myself for a solo vacation to London in 2007, which to
this day, was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. It got me to open a business in an industry I
knew little about. It got me to give in
on days I needed to get stuff done, and to stay in my bathrobe until dinner
time. It got me to stand up for myself in
moments when it’s far more comfortable for me to keep quiet. What Would Wendy Do? also left me once stranded
at a house in the Hollywood Hills trapped in a bathroom with a bunch of
cocaine-sniffing actors until 4 in the morning in days before Google Maps and iPhones
so I couldn’t call a cab because I couldn’t tell them how to find me. So use with caution.
I issue you that
warning because I’d like to pass a little of Wendy’s “get out of your box,
whatever it happens to be made out of”, brand of magic. Think of the word Wendy as a symbol, because
it’s not really about Wendy. This is
about me, about you, about all of us.
It’s about getting comfortable with the things that make you feel like
you’re wearing a too tight pair of shoes.
It’s not about breaking all of the rules, because there’s an “oh, hell,
no” in all of us and it’s there for a reason.
But there’s also a “maybe,” and a “why not,” and all kinds of other
wonderful words that make pathways instead of boxes.
So maybe I don’t need
an anonymous self-help group. Maybe all
any of us really needs is a circle around our wrist. Tattooed, imaginary, from the dime store, or
even from Tiffany’s. Especially from
Tiffany’s. A daily reminder that some
rules are meant to be broken, that some boxes are meant to be opened. That an experience, good or bad, is just
that, a wonderful, magical experience.
And that life, for as long as we have it, is meant to be lived.
So beautifully expressed. Love to get to know Wendy through who ou are.ReplyDelete