Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ever spent...

....a late summer night in a hot cabin with your ex husband and your oldest friends?

Molly Kaff has...

“What?” Rachael teased. I still didn’t open my eyes. “Are you really going to pretend you didn’t tell us all what Jamie looked like naked?”
            “Can’t we pretend that never happened?” I grumbled, the skin on my neck and face growing hot.
When Jamie and I consummated our relationship, all three friends celebrated it as if we’d discovered a cure for cancer. Unfortunately for the world, we hadn’t cured anything but extreme sexual frustration at camp. I didn’t exhibit post-coitus discretion, and promptly told the girls every detail. Including a detailed description of Jamie in his birthday suit.
“No, we cannot pretend that never happened,” Rachael announced, pulling me out of my trip down memory lane. “In fact, if memory serves, doesn’t Mr. Burnham have a trio of moles right at the base of—”
“Argh! Your attention to detail is disturbing.” Wincing, I threw back my drink in one burning gulp, then wiped my lips. “Why did you even ask, if you already knew everything?”
“Because I wanted to give you a chance to insult his junk.” She shrugged simply, and looked at Jared. “It’s part of the process, insulting his penis size. Right?”
He didn’t look up. “Exactly right.”
“No, it’s not.” I shook my head, shuddering after my drink. “Not for me.”
Rachael’s smirk faded as she poured me another drink. “That’s because you’re not over him.”
“Not true.” I took the glass and threw it back. My arms and legs felt heavy, and my throat burned. All of which felt better than owning up to Rach being right. “I don’t. I mean, I’m not. I mean, I am,thank you very much.”
“Sure you are.” Her nostrils flared. “You know the best way to get over someone is to—”
“I know, I know. Get under someone new.”
She chuckled at her wittiness. “Well, yeah.”
“I can’t do that.” I sighed, and sat back in my chair, swirling the vodka again. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
Rachael down another drink, then blinked repeatedly to focus on me. “I know it. You’re not that type. You’ve always been too loyal and pure for your own good. It’s actually a beautiful character trait.”
I smiled lazily at her. “Well, thank you.”
Her fist landed on the makeshift table with a thud. “But it’s time to become a slut!”

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Still haven't read Drew and Posey's story?

Grab the book that helped to heal my heart after my agonizing fostering journey...

His hands came down on the front of my shirt, and when he jerked me close to his face, I could smell his toothpaste. “What else has this little bitch told you?”
Don’t call her that.” I growled.
He laughed bitterly. “What, are you in love? Did you fall in love with the trash?”
“You don’t even know her,” I said. My voice shook. I’d never stood up to him like this before. “You can’t control who I date. I’m eighteen. You have no say in anything I do anymore.”
“If you want to live in this house, I do.” He gave me a shake. “If you want to drive around in that nice car and use the nice credit card I gave you, I do.”
I dug in my pocket for my wallet, pulled it out and tossed it on the cement floor. “Take it. Take it all. I don’t want it. I just want you to leave me alone.”
“You just want me to leave you alone?” My dad imitated my words, raising his voice like a whiney child. His grip tightened, and he raised me onto my toes. “Bull. You want to piss your life away. You want this whole town to see the mayor’s kid throwing his life away. You want to embarrass your old man because of some damned rebellious streak.”
“It’s not a rebellious streak,” I croaked. His grip on the collar of my shirt tightened even further, and sweat beaded on my forehead. “I don’t care whether you’re embarrassed or not. I don’t give a damn about you or your reputation. I just want to get the hell away from you.”
His eyes searched mine. The tension in the garage hung in the air like smog, and I damn near choked on it.
“You pretentious little bastard,” Dad spat, giving my shirt another jerk and making me cough. “You wouldn’t last one day without your mother and me wiping your ass.”
“Why bring Mom into this?” I managed to say, tears stinging the back of my eyes. No turning back now. I’d already gone further than I ever had with him. “She might be a drunk, but at least she doesn’t beat up her kid. I wonder what people would think if I started telling the truth?”
He threw me onto the hood of my car and the metal bent underneath my weight. His fist collided into my ribs once. Twice. Three times, before he stood back upright, panting. “You sanctimonious little brat. You won’t ruin my reputation. You won’t. Do you understand me!?”
Rage rolled in my stomach, pricking my skin with sweat as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was off the car hood in a flash, drawing my fist back, then smashing it full force into my dad’s face with a belly-turning thwack. He stumbled backward, his hand on his mouth as blood seeped from the split in his lip.
We stood there for a long time, the silence only broken by our ragged breathing.
His eyes widened.
My heart pounded so hard it echoed in my ears. I spread my feet apart, and clenched my hands again, ready to fight some more. My heart was torn. Part of me wanted to throw another punch, this time landing it right on the eye, so he would have to go into his office the next day with a shiner. But the other part of me felt like a freaked out little kid who just wanted to curl up underneath the car and cry.
I’d punched my dad in the face. My dad.
He stood upright, wiping the blood from his skin, then scowling down at his dirty fingers. I could see his pulse jumping in his neck as he considered what to do next. I waited for him to talk. To say whatever he wanted to say after being clocked by his only kid, but instead he clenched his bloodied fingers and lunged at me. 

Excerpt time!

Still wondering if you want to grab a copy of About That Summer to enjoy in these last days of your summer? Check out the excerpt below to help you decide...

The lump in my throat started to crumble and wash away.
“Ahead of my time. Or totally out of touch. Take your pick.” Jamie kept his arm around Sue and didn’t move away when she rested her head on his shoulder. “But I gave the necklace to Molly during the game of hide and seek on s’mores night. There was a full moon, and everyone was hiding, so the green was still and quiet. Bree told me about her favorite hiding spot behind the fireplace.”
            I noticed as Owen swiped at his eyes. “When we got back there, James thanked her,” I explained. “Then she took off into the darkness to find Rachael and April. James asked her for help. They concocted a plan to get us alone, so he could give it to me. It was very romantic, in a fifteen-year-old sort of way.”
“Hey, I thought it was romantic.” Jamie’s eyes met mine and lingered. “It was one of the best nights of my life. That was the night I realized I loved Molly.”
Sue looked at both of us. “Guess that’s why Bree asked us to make sure we gave you a s’mores night just like the old days.”
“I guess so,” I said finally, my voice hoarse. The weight of Jamie’s gaze felt even heavier than the grief. “She… she must’ve known how important it was to us all those years ago.”
“Still is,” Jamie said, his voice barely audible. I wasn’t sure either Sue or Owen heard him utter it.
I didn’t look at him. Couldn’t. Was something happening between us? I didn’t dare move.
Owen spoke next. Turning back to the dishes, he switched the hot water back on. “It’s a damn shame you two split the sheets.”
Sue stood up straight, and wiped her nose, scolding, “Owen.”
He shook his head. “Sorry, kids. I just wish it’d all turned out differently. I wish Bree were still with us, and we were all getting ready to have a s’mores night with her family, and with Toby’s. And with you two.” He gestured to Jamie and I. “And your kids. Would’ve been nice to share s’mores night with your kids, eh?”
Jamie’s hand slid from my shoulder, and the kitchen suddenly felt chilly. Owen’s words hung on the air between the four of us like filthy, stained laundry hanging on a line in the backyard, and a pit formed in my stomach.
“Well…” Jamie drew a long breath, then released it slowly. He turned and walked toward the door, not casting a glance at me as he strode away. “I’ll go get the rest of the dishes.”
And just like that, the moment was gone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


For the longest time (literally decades) I didn’t dare say out loud that I had anxiety issues, because I didn’t want to be labeled as “mentally ill.” 

I’d had mentally ill folks in my life, people who did really worrisome, unsavory things because they weren’t in complete control of themselves, and therefore were seen as crazy or unstable. I didn’t want to be labeled as crazy or unstable, so I kept my burdens to myself.
But anxiety has always, *always* been a problem in my life. Even as a little girl, I remember being so nervous that I would bite myself to feel pain, because pain made sense—nervousness didn’t. I remember that even though I was going to the same school, with the same students I’d known since preschool, I vomited every day before middle school. I remember telling people I had headaches because Of my glasses, to justify inexplicably crying in class. And I remember having a full on meltdown at a school dance when an upperclassman asked me out. I didn’t like being so uneven all the time, or having epic, massive unravelings at school for random reasons that made no sense to folks around me.
I hated the fact that I was different. I hated being viewed as erratic and babyish because I couldn’t control my emotions. I hated that it was viewed as weakness and immaturity. Rather than telling people that it felt like I was having a heart attack, or that I couldn’t breathe or bear my own weight at times, I let folks think I was just a silly, weepy little girl. Too young and immature to care how ridiculous I was being. It was better to be viewed as lame and immature, than crazy. I knew that much.
Over the years, I learned to keep these anxiety attacks to myself. I learned how to turn these meltdowns from tears and sadness to rage—because it’s easier to explain that I’ve got a rotten temper, than to explain that I’m having panic attacks triggered by random, seemingly inconsequential triggers. Rather than being seen as a “crier,” I would be seen as a “rager,” which is equally damning, but slightly less embarrassing. To this day, I am not a “crier,” and I would rather be seen as an epic b*tch than cry in front of most people. 
Over the years I became adept at hiding my anxiety from the world by masking it with humor and a loud voice. If I was laughing, nobody would know that on the inside I was literally spinning out, and that I would over analyze literally every word of every conversation I had that day, while struggling to slow my heart rate back down to a tolerable level. There were always 5 kids in my marriage that I had to manage: my four children, and my anxiety, which was usually the unruliest and most unpredictable of them all.
As far as anyone knew, I was a healthy, happy, functional—albeit high strung—middle aged wife and mother. I showed up for church activities, I had two jobs, I participated fully in raising and rearing my children, and I spent most of my time smiling and laughing while I did it all. My secret was just that: my secret. Nobody was the wiser, and even better, nobody saw me as weak....
I detest being seen as weak.
When we moved abroad, though, that’s when I lost my ability to (mostly) hide my anxiety from the world. We were in a foreign country where we didn’t speak the language, and I was put into circumstances I could not control. See, in an expat situation, you’re given a small handful of folks and told: “here are your friends, play nice.” If you do not mesh with someone, too bad. If someone isn’t your cup of tea, too bad. If someone isn’t kind to you, too bad. 
You don’t get the opportunity to find other people to befriend. There aren’t other people to mesh with. You get who you get and you deal with it, or you accept that you’re going to be lonely and without a social support system, which to me (at the time) felt utterly nonnegotiable. And it takes massive amounts of patience for a person with anxiety to spend time with people who emotionally and mentally drain them. 
This is not just a case of not really digging someone, it’s the difference between seeing and spending time with them, and then having the physical and mental energy to *function* for the rest of the day, and be there for your own family. For a human with anxiety, faking it for four hours can be the difference between spending an evening cooking and eating dinner with their family, or laying in bed crying because they’ve over analyzed a ten second blip of a conversation they had with someone who mentally drains them, to the point where they’ve spun out completely.
Yeah. No bueno. 
Between the move, and the unraveling of my relationship with some family members which caused some panic attacks of epic proportions, followed quickly by the death of my father while we were estranged, and I was suddenly unable to mask my anxiety from the world any more. There I was—live and in color—melting down for all to see. And it sucked, hard.
Panic attacks; meltdowns; temper tantrums; verbal tirades; unexplained illnesses and physical ailments; crippling, mind boggling exhaustion. The list goes on, and now that I’m back in the USA, I’ll likely be able to get help for a lot of these things, but the anxiety is a beast that never, ever lets up. It’s a monster that sits in the corner, growling lowly like my dogs when they dream, grinning at me as if to say, “don’t get too comfortable, Brooke, I’m right here, ready to pounce when you least expect it.”
And so I wait. Praying I don’t fall apart and cry in the line at the grocery store, or at a meeting at church, while simultaneously patting myself on the back because I’ve been wrangling this awful, ugly beast for 42 years, and still managed to show up for life, participate fully, and keep everyone fooled for a good, long while. 
I’ve learned little tricks to maintain my composure. I control the things I’m able to control. I like to be organized. I prefer things to be tidy and predictable. I like order and predictability. Chaos sets me on edge, so I make lists. Dozens of lists. I even list on my lists that I need to make lists. This is how I maintain my calm. It doesn’t always work, but it helps, and my husband appeases me, so I go with it. I also eliminate people from my life if they trigger anxiety in me. Not because I don’t like them (though sometimes I don't,) but because I like myself enough to want to maintain my balance. 
I still don’t like my anxiety being referred to as mental illness. I am not schizophrenic, I do not hurt other people or myself, I hold a job, I have a successful family. I don’t like being lumped into a category with folks who are sicker than me. But I’m learning to relax about it. I’m learning to accept that it’s an umbrella, and I’m on just one end of it, much like the ASD umbrella my son is under. If I fight the stigma associated with his diagnosis, shouldn’t I fight the stigma associated with mine?
Eh, with time, I suppose.
In the meantime, why not celebrate those who, like me, wrangle that beast every single day, and still show up, participate, and function, as if they *didn’t* just collapse on the floor because they couldn’t breathe, or spend the last night of their life laying awake crying because they just couldn’t stop stressing and panicking long enough to doze off....
Maybe we should be high fiving those peeps, because they sure as heck deserve it. I feel like I do. It’s not easy to be me some days. And I would venture it’s not easy to be you, either.
Just a thought. 
Moss out.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Social game.

A year ago this week, I stopped playing the social game.

Most people are smart enough never to get involved in the game in the first place. They never dive head first into the social scene, or seek approval and acceptance from their peers, and wind up living happy, secure, normal lives.

But not me. Because I'm me.

When I moved abroad (I'm home now, thank the lawd!) I convinced myself that without friends, or more specifically, social acceptance, I would be lost, and my time in a foreign country would be utterly awful--borderline intolerable.

I was wrong. More on that later. But...I was convinced that without being a part of the social scene in the wealthy, pretentious, ostentatious town my husband's job had placed us in, I (and more importantly, my kids) would be miserable.

And if you've never lived abroad with a child who is utterly miserable, then pat yourself on the back, because you've dodged a very painful bullet. Living in South Korea with grotesquely unhappy children darn near ended me.

It. Was. Awful.

And our "community" didn't help. If anything, it made things worse. But, I digress...

As I was saying, I moved abroad thinking that the #1 thing I needed to do was find my place in the social scene, make friends with the right people, so that their kids would be nice to my kids, and rub elbows with the right crowds, so that my family would be seen as part of the crowd, the people others wanted to hang with, the people others needed to hang with.

It was all pretty stupid and adolescent, if you ask me. But hindsight is 20/20 and all that. At the time, all I knew, all I could see, was that we'd moved to a foreign country where people were not all that friendly, where myself and my children did not speak the language, and where there was a much, much smaller expat presence than we'd originally been told. Upon landing in this place, it quickly became clear to us that in order to survive abroad, we would need to get in with the expat circle, and that if we didn't, my life--and the lives of my kids--would be very, very lonely.

And what is the one thing a parent who just moved their kids abroad fears most? Loneliness. Nobody wants their kids to feel lonely.

So.........I started jumping through the hoops.

Whenever I was invited somewhere, I went. Whenever someone's children wanted to meet my children, I complied. Whenever I was asked to participate in things, I did. I packed away my hermit tendencies, and became a social butterfly. I went to cocktail parties, despite not being the type whatsoever, and also not being a drinker of any way, shape, or form...and I rubbed elbows. When they needed volunteers at my children's insanely pretentious and overpriced school, I shoved my own workload to the back burner and went. When the women invited me to lunch, which seemed at times like that was the only thing they ever actually did, I accepted. When I was told someone was not acceptable to be allowed in the fold, I agreed. When they "accidentally" forgot to invite others, I went along with it. When they gossiped, I gossiped, too. When they Mean Girl'd those they found unworthy, I participated.

I became a lesser version of myself.

I did not like the person I became.

Sure, my kids had friends, and "seemed" to be enjoying their time abroad (as much as they could between bouts of crippling homesickness) and my place on the social totem pole insured that they would always be smiled at, invited to things, and welcomed (however begrudgingly at times) into the fold.

But at what price?

I'd become a colossal bitch. I was acting like a Regina George. Who in the heck sets out to become a Regina in their 40's? I mean, honestly.

So...during my last year abroad, after having three separate unpleasant experiences with three separate women in this social circle...something inside of my snapped, and I said, "I'm done."

I just walked away. I ended every toxic relationship I had in that town, and I cut them out. Snip, snip, and they were gone. Just like that.

And oddly enough...everything was okay. My children didn't suffer that much. Sure, they got some grief. After all, when her BFF is the daughter of one of what I'd always referred to as "The Holy Trinity," that I'd just divorced myself from, there was inevitably going to be some backlash. But, oddly enough, my daughter maintained herself in a manner above and beyond what a typical 16 year old could do. She came out of the refiners fire a better young woman, stronger, able to stand up for herself, unwilling to be treated like garbage. A true bad a**, if you ask me.

And my son's didn't suffer as much as I'd expected. Some of the playdate invitations waned, but overall, they still maintained friendships that were based on silly boy things like anime, Harry Potter, and potty humor. They did alright, despite how many people disliked their mom! Who knew?

As for me? Well, I actually managed to have a great year. I still had a couple friends. We went out from time to time, but not often. I wrote books, I read books, I enjoyed the peace, and I patiently waited for my time abroad to come to an end. Not having these toxic women in my life didn't effect me nearly as much as I'd originally thought, and if anything, I'd become stronger, more secure, and happier in my newfound independence from the dreaded social game.

At one point, I'd been scolded for not greeting a woman properly (the whole kiss, kiss on both cheeks thing...I'd apparently been rude and thoughtless for waving to a group of women as I passed, chasing my son, while calling, "Gotta go! Hi everyone!" Again...who knew?) and now I was coming and going without having to give another thought to who I was with, who would be seeing me, what I would be wearing when I was seen, and whether or not I'd said or done the right things at the right times, and not embarrassed my uncouth, rednecked self in front of all of the wealthy, well bred socialites. That last year abroad I was free! Truly myself for the first time in a couple years.

Almost alone, yes. But free. And it felt great.

I'm not sure I'll ever understand women who play the social game. Who manage their social lives like a constant game of chess. Who determine each move, each activity, as if their very place in the social infrastructure depended on it. I see it all the time! Even here in rural Washington, amongst my church family. Sure, it's not as evil and toxic as the social scene in Songdo, South Korea, but it's still there. That Social Game, that determines who is at the top of the totem pole, and who is at the bottom. It's like we, as women, cannot get off of this awful treadmill that is the game. We get on when we're my daughter's age, and turn it up to a speed that makes it darn near impossible to hop off and catch our breath!

Well, I got off. I excused myself from the social game a year ago, and I've managed to stay out since. Even here in the USA I don't participate. I am back in my old church family, and while I see some cliques, some friendship groups that I'm on the fringes of, I just don't dig in too deep. I refuse to feed into the idea that if I'm not friends with the right people, or rubbing elbows in the right crowds, that I am not where I am supposed to be--with the people I'm supposed to be with.

I am where I need to be. I am with the people I'm supposed to be with. I don't have to be anything I'm not. I can be me, and either people will dig it, and stick around, or they won't, and they won't.

Either way, I'll be fine.

And for the first time in my 42 years, I'm really, truly okay with that.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Have you checked out my contemporary YA, The Art of Being Indifferent, yet? Drew and Posey's story was a labor of love for me, after a long and painful journey into the world of foster parenting....

I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. It felt like someone had poked a hole in my lungs, and I couldn’t fill them back up. The whole backdrop of the school, and the kids getting into their cars, and the auditorium and trees behind her all blurred. The only thing I could see clearly was my mother.
Right in front of me, after seven years.
“Do you recognize me, baby?” she asked. Her voice was rougher, like she’d been smoking a few packs a day for years. Which she probably had. “It’s me. Mama.”
Drew sucked in a sharp breath, and his grip around my waist tightened. “We should go.”
My mom shot him a narrow-eyed look that toed the line between annoyed and flirtatious. “My girl’s got a boyfriend. Good for you.”
I still didn’t say anything. Words—and reasonable thinking—eluded me.
“Po,” Drew said, his voice more insistent. He took my arm. “I think we should go. Seriously.”
“Wait.” I tugged my arm away and stepped toward my mom. “What... what are you doing here?”
She pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket andshook one out. Her hands shook when she lit it. She caught me staring at them, and turned to blow smoke over her shoulder. “Sorry. I’m nervous to see you.”
“Why are you here?” My voice sounded different. Jagged, like I needed a cough drop, a kick in the head, or something. “How did you find me?”
“It wasn’t that hard to find you. Your high school was listed online.” She sucked on her cigarette, then flicked the ashes on the ground. “And since you blocked me, I decided to come find you for myself.”
Drew eyeballed her belly. “You sure smoking is good for your baby?”
I blinked. “Drew... this is my, um, mom. Celeste.”