Today I am a Princess, nay a Queen. I am a Lulie and Sugar. Today I am Love. Forty-four years ago I was born. The Cliff Notes version is bound to bring my momma’s red marking pen, correcting me on the accuracy of my memories…but its my life, so this is my story. And I am sticking to it.
My mother was gravely ill while pregnant with me. Conceived in Pittsburgh somewhere around Christmas in 1965, my mother got pneumonia (probably as a secondary infection with influenza) and ran high fevers for weeks during her first trimester. The story goes that she had pneumonia twice. Either way, lots of fevers and lots of fear. The doctors prepared my parents for the worst. While all this was going on, my father takes a job with a company in Miami called Comco. My perspective, it was a big risk. But then, Sid has always been a grand thinker. It is part of his charm and charisma. So, while he went ahead, my mom packed up the house. My sisters got to take this long circuitous roadtrip from Pittsburgh to The 305 with Meemaw on which they ate nothing but Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Also somewhere in her pregnancy, while standing on the KITCHEN COUNTER, my mother fell off and broken her ankle. This is probably not a fact, but long burned in my “memory” is my skinny mother with a big pregnant belly and a classic sixties upflipped hairdo, standing on the kitchen counter. And then, she goes to ground with me inside her.
Anyways, they were told I would likely be retarded. I know this is not a polite or acceptable description, too taboo for today. But in 1966, people said retarded. And my parents worried. When I was born…a tiny, Dinky thing…I looked normal. They didn’t stop worrying. And my mother watched me like a hawk. Every strange or unexpected developmental milestone, they wondered if “it” was finally declaring itself. What was “wrong” was that I had a deformed foot. Fortunately, the pediatric orthopedic surgeon was a bit of a maverick among his surgical peers…and did NOT do any surgery to “correct” my foot. Instead, I learned to crawl and then walk wearing casts and a “funny shoe”.
But I think my parents never really stopped watching and worrying about me. And I think I was an unusual child. No…I was definitely an unusual child. What am I saying? I am still unusual, uncommon and undefinable. For a child in a generation that all wanted to “fit in”, being different was not celebrated. I wasn’t a cool kid. Not popular and too blunt to be easily liked. Alex Feinberg aptly said it was part of my “charm”. He was a great and true friend in high school and he really meant it…my near lack of tact was and is part of my charm.
I have learned in the ensuing 25 years to buffer or censor my tactless thoughts…but the commentary is a CNN ticker in my head. Give me a few drinks and you get open mic night.
At this point in my life…a point I easily and happily tag the midway…I am thrilled to be unusual. The first 17 years I lived with my parents. The next five years I was in college and started medical school. I then got married, did medical school, residency, had my first child, started in practice, had my second child, got sued for medical malpractice, watched my sister have a brain aneurysm and almost die (today she is as normal and as twisted as ever), watched my parent’s 44 year marriage implode and became the sole owner of one of the best family practices in my town. All by 40. Then I got divorced. I have lived MUCH in the last 25 years since leaving my parent’s home. I look ahead with enthusiasm and eagerness feeling like I am just getting started. I am Stella. I have a new groove: self-defined and all mine. I have faith stronger than ever. I am great mother. I adore my kids and they are also unique and unusual. I understand their awkward feelings. I try everyday to be a better doctor. In a town with a medical school, people have the pick of the litter. The fact I am as busy as ever is very affirming . And I have found true friends, people who like my quirks and oddities. I am not vanilla. And not everyone likes NY Super Fudge Chunk. And NY Super Fudge Chunk will never be and can never become vanilla. You can’t get there from here.
And I like HERE. Sometimes, here is lonely. Sometimes I know my personality is strong and bold, brazen and tests people. That formidable nature started when my right leg was in a cast I had to drag around behind me while I learned crawled. I think every lesson in life I have learned, I did with some kind of handicap. Nothing has every come easily. It is my lot. And….I am damn good at it. Do something for 10 years or ten thousand hours and you become expert. By the time I hit 5th grade, I was Tiger Woods.
So life will throw me bullshit curve balls. From the sidelines of life, there will be criticism and judgment. Not everyone will like me. But for some, I am a breath of fresh air in a world filled with vacuous, homogenized bland poseurs faking it through life. I accept that for some who step timidly through life, faking it until you make it is a motto. But MAKE WHAT? I want to make RIGHT NOW “IT”. This is IT! This is my life and it is really good. And I am really happy. There is not a cast you can cripple me with, not a battle you can start, not an obstacle to throw in my way that will hinder me. Not for long. If I want it, if I set my mind to it, I will forge forward. And I will get it. Play fair. Play dirty. Make it fun or be mean. Be supportive or push my buttons…..I eventually stop crying and end the pity party get up and get going. It is what makes me uncommon, unusual and undefinable. But….it is my most predictable character feature. That and telling you bluntly what I really think…just give me a few cosmos and hand me the mic. And make sure you are not drinking while I am talking or shit will squirt through your nose.
Happy Birthday !