Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Bully with a Good Heart

Even though school rules forbid gum, Daniel was chewing his gum loudly, snapping and cracking it, blowing huge bubbles that covered the lower half of his face. He had me up against the brick wall on the playground, his arms caging me in on each side, but he was smiling as he talked to me. He had some of the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen, light and airy, like your favorite pair of faded denim blue jeans.

“Hey, do you like Brian?” he asked, pushing his gum to the side of his mouth with his tongue as he leaned in toward my head that was already pinned to the red bricks.

“Yeah,” I answered as passively as I could, trying to contain my excitement. Brian was the most popular guy in fourth grade. He had longer hair that he flicked to the side with a toss of his head as he strode down the hall and slipped curse words into everyday conversation. He was everything a nine year old aspired to be.

“Well, he really likes you, too,” Daniel assured me. As one of Brian’s best friends, I trusted him to know. “Do you want to go out with him?”

“Okay.” Or, as I was screaming in my head, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

As someone who had not yet had any experience in the dating world, I couldn’t believe my luck. My heart soared. I felt as if I had lifted off my feet and was floating above all the boring kids on the playground who Brian didn’t like, all the Nobodys with whom Daniel wasn’t having a life-changing conversation. I was Somebody in this world that revolved around Grand Avenue Elementary. I was going with Brian.

That lasted about ten more seconds.

Daniel dropped his hands and ran off around the corner of the playground to where Brian was playing basketball with the other cool boys, screaming as he ran, “Brian! You’re going out with Kelly Kizer!” This was followed by a torrent of laughter from Daniel, who had just pulled one over on his friend by tricking him into dating me.

I was mortified. I already knew that my thick, dinner-plate-sized glasses and inability to feather my hair did not make me the most popular girl in school, but I hadn’t considered myself to be so low in the pecking order that I would be considered the most embarrassing person a guy could date. I had friends. I was even friends with kids who were friends with Brian. I wasn’t one of the kids who went to special-ed classes; I wasn’t one of the poor kids who were made fun of for being dirty; and I wasn’t one of the overweight kids who were called tub-a-lards. But apparently I had my own category of awfulness that would make a cool guy cringe if he were declared to be “going with me.”

Fortunately Brian was so cool that all he had to do was say to Daniel, “No, I’m not, you dick,” and that was that. We were already broken up.

Daniel excelled at being a bully and getting into trouble. The principal and Daniel were so well associated that Daniel would shout out “Hey, Mr. Williams, how’s it hanging?” as he passed him in the hall as if it were a scene from a John Hughes movie.

In the sixth grade, our math teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, tried numerous methods for getting Daniel to behave. One day she placed a chair at the front of the classroom facing the rest of the students and had Daniel sit there until he could get the goofiness out of his system. I was ready to see Daniel burst into tears, just as all his other classmates who had been relentlessly picked on by him were probably itching to see as well. He sat there with his head down for a while, looking up on occasion, and the rest of us were instructed to go back to our multiplication worksheets. Then we heard a noise coming from the front of the classroom: a gush of air, a treble in the throat. Was this it? We looked up to see Daniel peering through his bangs, snickering as he watched the class. One of his friends began to giggle as well. Daniel lifted his head higher and looked around at all the faces, laughing outright at his awkward situation, and we all began to laugh too. It was contagious. Soon even Mrs. Schwartz was laughing, and to quiet the classroom back down she dismissed Daniel back to his seat.

This “punishment” may not have been the success she had been hoping for, but it was legions better than the week before when she had shouted at Daniel, “If you can’t be serious, then you should just leave.” At which point he had stood up from his desk, walked out of the classroom, and exited out the door into the parking lot.

Daniel was both a bully and the class clown. Even though he could be a total “dick,” as Brian would say, it was hard to hate him because he was as funny as he was cruel. Plus you aren’t allowed to openly hate popular kids. When I was young we didn’t call kids like Daniel “bullies,” we called them cool. Because that’s how kids who can manipulate to get whatever they want appear to other kids. But I knew Daniel fairly well, and despite the fact that he could be a combative asshole, I also knew he had a good heart.

My older sister and Daniel’s older sister were friends, so I had known Daniel longer than most kids. One of the first memories I have of him is a kind one. I was quite young, maybe only four or five, and I was graduating from my swimming class. On the last day the other beginner swimmers and I were all taken to the deep end where we were instructed to jump off the diving board and into the water. We were all a bit terrified to be in the big kids’ territory. I remember getting out of the shallow end and walking in a line to the deep end, past the bleachers where my sister and mom sat as they waited for my class to end and my sister’s class to start. They and everyone else on the bleachers would be watching me to see if I would be able to do the big jump. When it was my turn, I got up on the diving board and walked out to the end and looked down. There in the water was my swim teacher with the life preserver floating beside her. As small as I was, it looked like she was at least one of my body lengths below me. But I didn’t hesitate. I just stepped off the board and into the water.

I had been so excited that I forgot to plug my nose, and the water gushed up, burning my nose and filling my throat. I surfaced, coughing and gagging, as my teacher offered me the life preserver and floated me toward the wall. But I also heard cheering. I squinted and looked toward the stands where two kids were shouting and clapping for my accomplishment. As I got out of the water I asked my sister, “Who is that?” and she told me that Daniel and his sister had been watching my big jump.

Daniel was not fundamentally or inherently flawed. Like all kids who act up, there were reasons for what he did. Because our sisters were close, I knew things about Daniel that the other kids at school maybe never did. Daniel’s mother was mentally ill. She was institutionalized for a long time and his father was busy running a few local businesses, so Daniel and his sister were mostly raised by his grandparents.

Knowing all this about Daniel should have made me more accepting of his behavior, but when you’re a kid all you care about is whether or not someone is a jerk to you. He fell into drugs at a young age but turned it around just as young. As early as his high school years, he found the military and then found God. I remember championing his work to one of my teachers, trying to help him get a better grade on a beautiful world map he had made for a social studies final project. I wanted Daniel to be happy and succeed in life. If happiness is being married with two kids, working as a computer software engineer, and always having a smile on your face, then I think he has succeeded.

Friday, May 10, 2013

40 Things To Do Before I'm 40

About a year ago a friend of mine posted a list on Facebook of 40 things she wanted to accomplish before she was 40. I thought it was a fabulous idea. I was born the same year as she was and I was also facing the big milestone birthday in just about a year and a half. So on December 30, 2011, I finalized my list and shared it as a public declaration that this would be my goal.

Yesterday, on May 9, 2013, the last day of my 39th year, I completed the list. I didn’t complete it perfectly, but I did, somehow, manage to finish it. There were a couple substitutions I had to make, for example, Tour the Taliesin (Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio near where I grew up that I’d somehow never been to) had to be replaced when I realized the tours closed for the year and wouldn’t reopen by my birthday. But for the most part the list is as it was when I made it.

And now – to the list…

Kelly’s 40 by 40 List

To be finished by May 10, 2013



1.        Finish my book 8/9/12 – This was the sequel to my first novel, The Gathering Storm. I thought this would be one of the most difficult to accomplish, but Storm Damage was finished far ahead of the deadline. I have also just started writing the third book.

2.       Fly somewhere Florida with the family 3/27/13 – We flew to Atlanta and then on to Fort Lauderdale, then drove to Key West. So my previous blog post about flying can be amended a bit.


3.       Run a mile without stopping on St. George Island 4/11/12 – I have a high resting heart rate (90 bpm) and a very low blood pressure (80/50) and therefore when I do aerobic exercise I often feel like I’m going to pass out. I continue to run a mile about once a week, even though I get no joy out of it. I even bought a treadmill. But I’m still glad I did it.

4.      Give blood with (name deleted) 1/19/12 – This did not go well. It deserves its own blog post. Look for it in the future. Again, glad I did it though.

5.       Try 10 new restaurants

                                I.            Backstreet Café with (name deleted) 1/13/12

                             II.            Andrew’s with (name deleted) 1/20/12

                           III.            Comet Café with (name deleted) 2/3/12

                           IV.            Golden Mast with (name deleted) 2/4/12

                             V.            Kil@wat with (name deleted) 3/10/12

                           VI.            Loaf and Jug with (name deleted) 3/15/12

                        VII.            Papa Joe’s with (name deleted) 4/9/12

                      VIII.            Blue Parrot with (name deleted) 4/11/12

                           IX.            Giordano’s with (name deleted) 4/13/12

                             X.            La Fuente with the family 5/19/12

This was just a great excuse to try new restaurants with friends. I could have said 20 or 30 new restaurants, because I probably went to that many. I deleted everyone’s name from all these activities since I didn’t ask their permission to post about them, but another great thing about this list was getting to do so many fun activities with friends.

6.      Go out dancing at Victor’s in Milwaukee with 6 other couples 9/1/12

7.       Start a fire without using a lighter/matches with steel wool and a battery 5/8/13 – This is the one I thought was going to stop the list dead in its tracks. I had tried sitting in the sun with different lenses (it looks so easy in the movies with a magnifying glass) but it was frustrating and not at all fun. Two days before my birthday I decided to Google “How to start a fire without matches” and up came a video of a man using steel wool and a 9-volt battery. It looked so easy watching him. I made my box of kindling and sat on my wooden deck and ripped up an SOS pad into pieces and then touched the 9V battery to it and – whoosh! Up it went in flames. I took a picture for documentation, dropped the box and ran for water. It was frighteningly easy but also a lot of fun.

8.      Watch the movie Harvey with my husband. “You got the screwiest uncle that ever stuck his puss inside our nuthouse.” 1/20/12 – If you haven’t seen this movie, you should.

9.      Do an obstacle course Dirty Girl Mud Run with 5 other girls. 8/19/12 Again, the running part of it sucked, but the obstacles were a blast.

10.    Bike a Lake Country trail with the family 4/29/12

11.     Take the kids to a new national park Congaree National Park in SC 11/18/12 and Dry Tortugas in FL 3/31/13
Congaree National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

12.    Catch a fish at Merton Millpond with (name deleted) 5/9/13 – I caught 2 catfish in less than an hour, and we threw them back.  Probably shouldn’t have left this till the last day but had to rely on the kindness of others. And when I was done with this, I was DONE!

13.    Break 50 for 9 holes in golf at Ironwood Golf Course, May 2012 – This should have been a bucket list item because it was too difficult to achieve in one season. I did, but it was a scramble with a girlfriend, and they said it counted so here it is.

14.    Read the complete sonnets of Shakespeare completed 3/9/12

15.    Shoot a gun with (name deleted) 6/6/12 – Guns scare me but I ended up surprising myself and really enjoying it. I don’t feel like shooting anything living, but I would be glad to do target practice on a regular basis.


16.    Find a new food to love Brussels sprouts at The Purple Pig with girlfriends in Chicago 10/13/12

17.    Gamble at Potawatomi with friends 2/9/13 – I learned how to play roulette from a pro and then I won some money on the slots.

18.    Play Frisbee golf at Sussex Disc Golf with my kids 8/28/12 – We bought the discs and have been back since then.


19.    Invest in another piece of art at Mount Mary art fair, painting by Richard Collopy, bought with Lucy 9/9/12

20.   Read T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland 1/11/13

21.    Write Jeremy a poem It was a haiku/Because I am so lazy/But now I am through 1/11/13

22.   Tour a Brewery Sprecher Brewery with the family 1/26/13 – Hard Root Beer? Yum!

23.   Submit a crossword to the New York Times 1/19/2013 – This was my 3rd submission ever, and I haven’t heard back yet.

24.   Observe five new things in the sky Comet Panstarrs, Sun in H-alpha light, Zubenelgenubi & Zubeneschamali, Nebulae M8 and M20, Globular cluster M22, various nights 2012 & 2013 – I didn’t keep a log of these and there are probably more – some with binoculars, telescope, my eyes alone, etc.

25.   Float down the Wisconsin River with my mom and sister and kids 7/20/12

26.   Get a pedicure with Lucy at Kirsten’s in Hartland 6/12/12

27.   Find a favorite red wine Folk Machine Pinot Noir at Hinterland with friends (also a new restaurant for me) 10/26/12


28.   Visit the St. Joan of Arc Chapel with a friend and kids 8/3/12 – I’ve always wanted to touch the stone that Joan of Arc is supposed to have touched that is cooler than the surrounding building (it was disassembled and brought to Marquette campus and reassembled). Now I have.


29.   Send a message in a bottle at St. George Island 4/11/12 – I put the message in a wine bottle after a fun night and threw it in the sea. The next morning I found it on the beach. My friend then threw it farther in and we never saw it again.

30.   Fly on the trapeze at TSNY Chicago 8/12/12 – If I had to pick one thing that I enjoyed the most, it would probably be this. Although I wouldn’t have told you that for the first week afterward because I hurt so bad from bruises and sore muscles. See my blog post on the trapeze for more.

31.    Take Kaden to a Brewers game vs. Pittsburgh – Brewers win 12-8, went with 5 other families 9/2/12

32.   Keep a journal of 40 by 40 list, also started blog 5/23/12 (yes, this one!)

33.   Tour Pabst Mansion with the family 4/29/12 – Because of the time period, it was great research for my historical novels.

34.   Hike a new section of the Ice Age Trail Monches Segment with the family 4/28/13


35.   Take a trip with friends St. George Island with friends 4/6/12-4/13/12 – Hands down the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever had. Dolphins swam outside our house every day, and circled us on our wave runners. Paradise.


36.   Contribute to Daisy in Samoa 11/2/12 – She lives in Samoa and works in textiles. She has already paid back half the loan I made to her. I will reinvest the loan in a new person once it is paid off.

37.   Send out query letters for A Different Sky early April 2013 – This is one of those things that if I didn’t put it on the list I might not have done it, and it’s too important for me to sit around and do nothing on. Still waiting…

38.   Create my own signature cocktail Kelly’s Cotton Candy = 1 can 7Up, 2 shots cherry noir Grey Goose, hunk of cotton candy, stir and add ice. With (name deleted) 1/12/13 – It’s like a kiddie cocktail but not for the kiddies.

39.   Sing karaoke Goodbye Earl with girlfriends at On the Rocks 4/13/13

40.  Knit a scarf Pretty & pink for Lucy’s American Girl doll 4/21/13


Will I make a list of 50x50? Well, probably not, but I will keep a bucket list. I already have a couple things on the list. See a tornado has always been on the top of that list, but it’s not something that can be forced into a certain time period. Having a list of things I’ve always wanted to do has simply given me an excuse to push myself and to get others to rally behind me in helping me achieve my goals. I had 33 different names of people who helped me along the way, and for many of the activities, my friends are what made them fun. Karaoke by myself? No thanks. But karaoke with friends belting out one of the best songs about strong girlfriends ever written? Thank you very much!

And with that … Happy 40th Birthday to me!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Nightmare on Maple Street

The sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street was released on November 1, 1985, and I looked forward to it with all the excitement that most kids looked forward to getting their braces off. The original Nightmare on Elm Street had been my favorite movie for some time, and I had recorded it off HBO onto a Beta tape so I could watch it whenever I wanted to.

Our little town had a one-screen movie theater that was getting the film, so I arranged to have my friends all come to my house on a Friday after school to watch the original movie, and then we would have pizza and walk to the Bonham Theater for the big event.

I had only been in 7th grade a couple months. The start of middle school was a big deal, as we went from having the same classmates we’d had for the last seven years of our life to having five schools combined into one bubbling pubescent stew. I was still trying to make new friends, which was not easy when I wore glasses so big and thick they probably would have qualified as bullet-proof.

Something you don’t realize at that age is that everyone else is trying just as hard to fit in. So all the girls accepted my invitation and the six of us hoisted our backpacks onto our shoulders and started the walk from the middle school on Maple Street to my house, which was about a 100-yard dash from door to door.

We showed up at my house and immediately started watching the movie, shrieking and laughing at every scary part. Some of them knew it as well as I did, and so we sang along with the creepy song: “One, two, Freddie’s coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door,” and so on. It was a real bonding moment and for a while I thought maybe I had found my tribe. Until the worst big sister in the world ruined it: mine.

My sister was four years older and a junior in high school. She had her own insecurities that apparently could be eased by having a bunch of 12-year-old girls hang on her every word. My mom served pizza for dinner, and my friends, sister, and I all crowded around the table to eat.

My friends were starry-eyed over having this older girl in their presence and my sister played to her audience by entertaining them with caustic remarks. Whatever my friends thought up to talk about, my sister could turn it around as an insult to me. It was A Nightmare on Maple Street.

As my girlfriends at the dinner table chatted, somehow discussion turned to bras, as is not terribly uncommon for a group of girls just entering middle school. As soon as I took my turn to make a comment, my sister immediately piped up that I didn’t even need to wear a bra. “Look at her!” my sister encouraged, and so of course they did. One of my sister’s favorite pastimes was to insult my looks, and the insult that gave her the most pleasure-for-my-pain ratio was calling me flat-chested. Of course I was, but then again I was a 78-pound 12 year old who could become airborne in a stiff breeze. My friends laughed, not just politely, but heartily. People find comfort in discovering that the butt of jokes for the evening is going to be someone other than themselves, and their response encouraged her to keep going. After another piece of pizza and some further attacks on my hair and glasses, I excused myself to go use the bathroom.

I knew my sister was still searching for any opportunity to make fun of me and bolster her new reputation as the cool older sister, so I made sure I washed my hands before I left the bathroom.

Sure enough, when I came back to the table one of my friends asked, “Did you pee on yourself?” When I left they table they had started to talk about the group sports physicals they had to take at the beginning of the school year, so, momentarily confused, I answered, “I wasn’t even there.” They all laughed and then my sister explained, “We decided you must have peed on yourself that you had to wash your hands. I never wash my hands after I pee,” she added, as if it was the most ridiculous thing a person could do. “Do you?” she asked, looking around the group, challenging them to admit they were as nerdy as I was. They all agreed with her. “No, we never wash our hands either!”

I knew, of course, that my sister had been listening intently for a reason to shoot another arrow at me. If I hadn’t washed my hands she would have said how disgusting I was and then had everyone else in the group agree with her, and washing your hands after using the bathroom would have been an activity they participated in religously. She was a relentless bully who was impossible to avoid except by putting actual physical distance between us (and not just a wall that separated the bathroom from the dining room). I was relieved when it was time to escape to the movie theater and watch other people be tortured for a while.

My sister was mean and violent toward me from about the time I was old enough to recognize it until she moved out of the house. But it’s normal for siblings to fight, and ironically she peppered my life with so many unpleasant exchanges that the few times she actually was kind to me are the ones that stick out most in my memory. Her moments of kindness were so extraordinarily rare that they are more easily recalled than the daily hostility. Yet neither have I forgotten the time she chased me around the house and out into the yard while wielding a knife.

Were my friends awful to me? Yes. But then most 12-year-old girls are fairly awful in general. The middle school and high school years are an age of insecurity when it felt safer to go along with the loudest voice and to solidify yourself as “part of the crowd” by singling out those who were not. Nearly everyone participated in the type of behavior seen around my dining room table. Nearly everyone….

I remember being put in the same situation at my friend’s house. My friend was arguing with her older sister about something I’ve long forgotten. We took refuge in her bedroom while my friend continued to complain about her sister. I just listened and nodded, because I could relate to her situation.

After it seemed safe to come out, we decided to make Rice Krispie treats so we went into the kitchen where we encountered her sister again. She picked up the disagreement they had been having before, and when my friend reached to get something in the cupboard, the sister looked at me and made a face behind my friend’s back, looking for a reaction or smile that indicated I agreed with her. I kept my face as cool as stone. The older sister, not getting the validation and feedback she was hoping for, made one more comment and then left us alone.

I felt bad for acting what I considered to be unfriendly toward the older sister, but my loyalty was with my friend. A friend who would, as it turned out, seek the approval of my older sister by joining in the laughter at the dinner table before our movie.

It’s a hard lesson to teach your kids, to show your friends loyalty and kindness even if you aren’t assured of theirs in return. You don’t want to raise a bully, or even someone who is a silent bystander, but neither do you want a doormat. When I was young I thought that if I gave someone my loyalty, I would get it in return. If I trusted someone and told them my secrets, I thought they would be honest and confide in me as well. I thought that if I gave love I would get love back in equal measures. But the world almost never works that way. Even as adults, we still must risk getting hurt in order to make a connection with people. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we find ourselves the only kid at the table without pee on our hands.