With Starbucks all things are possible.

I should have taken the sign that said “This lane must exit” more seriously. I was driving to a friend’s house and there was a horrific accident that caused a huge traffic jam. Not a car was moving as far as the eye could see and I decided to turn around and go home. I squeezed into the far right lane of the next exit then changed my mind. My friend needed help with a problem and I decided to do the right thing, which is where I went wrong. Checking my side mirror carefully, ignoring the sign, I slowly pulled back onto the freeway and immediately heard the dreaded, eerie meep

Uh-oh.

Uh-oh.

It was the meep of a Highway Patrol motorcycle horn. Though it was my first ticket in 15 years, the old familiar awful feeling came right back like it was yesterday. My stomach churned, my hands trembled, my breathing was shallow.

The cop, of course, took the must-exit sign seriously. He wrote my ticket and drove away, and I continued my slow crawl on the freeway, worrying about how much my little adventure was going to cost me. My jaw started aching. Lately my jaw had been really sore and popped when I opened it. TMJ, I figured. Stress related.

I started to call my friend  and tell her I’d be there late, and realized I left my phone at home. iPhone-less! OMG. I felt vulnerable, incomplete, disconnected from the world. It was the last straw. I was on the brink of losing it. I was just about to let out a naked, blood-curdling primal scream when I saw that I was at my friend’s exit. Right off of which was a blessed Starbucks. A miracle. Where isn’t there a Starbucks? Can you think of a place where there isn’t a Starbucks? So I decided on a caramel mocha latte instead of screaming.

A second miracle awaited me inside. The bathroom was vacant! That’s a rarity at Starbucks (of all places, with all that coffee) with their one-unisex-room accommodations. PTL! It was just what I needed. 

If the vacant restroom wasn’t miracle enough, when I ordered my drink I discovered another miracle. I had earned the holy number of Stars. Lo, all things come together for good. My drink was free! I was healed, instantly. It was like all those bad things in my morning never happened. It’s such a blessing to know that Starbucks is always there for us, everywhere, with its 22,000 points of light around the earth.

It makes me feel a lot better about the thousand dollars a year, at least, that I spend there on my daily fix.

Everybody at the party was high.

I mean their voices were, from inhaling helium like Helen Mirren and Jimmy Fallon are doing in the YouTube video below. Be prepared to hurt yourself laughing.

I didn’t want to go to the party. I was newly sober. Facing life without the anesthesia I’d been used to for twenty years, alcohol, was putting me into system overload. At the time I didn’t think it was possible to even be at a party without drinking, since I hadn’t done it in twenty years. Most of all I didn’t see how it could possibly be fun. Then they brought the helium tank out and people went up and inhaled and talked, something I had never seen or heard. It brought the house down, me with it. I never laughed so hard.

The night of that party, thirty-two years ago, was the night I learned that life can still be fun without alcohol. In fact it’s infinitely more fun. I’m glad my friend Joanne, the hostess, forced me to go. She said I’d be surprised how much fun it would be, and she was right. When I saw her go up in her elegant cashmere and Levis ensemble and talk to us like Daffy Duck, tears rolled down my face and my ribs hurt from laughing.

At the end of the evening we all wrote notes on small slips of paper and stuffed them into balloons, then inflated them and released them into the night sky. There we were huddled together in the dark, sending our wishes and hopes and dreams and blessings out to the universe—like we do in life, I guess. I scribbled my fondest hopes of being a wonderful mother and competent provider, and more, in sobriety and stuffed them in and sent them up. When all the balloons had been released it grew quiet, and we stood together and looked up, watching the spheres of color get smaller and smaller until they disappeared, bringing our fragile longings and our passions far away with them, into the mystery of the night. We felt close to each other.

I’ve been to a lot of parties since Joanne’s, but never another like that. No more helium, no balloons bearing messages to the universe, no soliloquys in cartoon voice. That was my unforgettable party of parties, hands down. A great launch into my decades of sobriety.

Th-th-th-th-That’s All Folks.

WARNINGS (in light of what we’ve learned in the last thirty years). Do not release balloons into the atmosphere: they are hazardous to animals, which can choke on them and become entangled. Do not inhale helium, as it can seriously deprive people of oxygen and cause anoxia and other serious conditions.

Bumpy rides on Valentine’s Day

I love Valentine’s Day. But I didn’t always. I had a tragic love affair when I was ten, with Mike Devlin, a boy in my class. He had blue eyes, freckles, and an adorable cowlick. We lived in the same apartment building and hung out together after school. One day, on a patch of grass behind the apartment, he gave me my first kiss. I was in heaven. I knew we’d be together forever. With Valentine’s Day coming up I was sure I’d get a big fancy card from him when the cards all of us brought to class were passed out. But all I got was a little flat one like he gave everyone else.

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Be my valentine, doggone it.

I was cynical about love after that. It took me a long time to grow up about Valentine’s Day. I was self-conscious and shy and introverted, especially in high school, and the big day usually found me dateless, flowerless, and candyless. It was a difficult time. I became more outgoing in college and dated a bit more but also became deeply interested in my journalism studies and didn’t worry about Valentine’s Day so much. When I graduated and began working, sometimes I had a significant other on the big day and got goodies. I always hoped a box of See’s Chocolate would be in the mix.

Sometimes I was on my own and then I bought my own Valentine gifts for my own bad self. I had gotten smart. And I didn’t fool around either.  Nice things like suits for work (even a Chanel once, in my salad days), opal earrings, the best my money could buy. Sometimes I’d even wrap them for myself, when I was really into it. Or I got together with those indispensable, essential companions in my life: girlfriends. We’d have a Valentine potluck and drink wine and give each other nice stuff and laugh about having a better time than we would on a date.

At thirty-five I gave birth to my daughter and the true spirit of Valentine’s Day sprang to life for me. When Michele was five, she wanted a Care Bears backpack for school. Valentine’s Day was coming up so I bought one, and gave it to her as her first Valentine gift. When she opened it she shrieked and jumped around and wore it all day and evening. I gently pulled it off when she was asleep. That’s when I learned the true meaning of Valentine’s Day—the deep joy found in giving joy to someone you love. Michele’s desires back then were so charmingly simple. A new Ginny doll, going to a movie in a theater, a Little Mermaid umbrella. Her joy was spontaneous and unrestrained and beautiful when she opened her gifts.  

I don’t get too caught up in the romantic hype of Valentine’s Day. I have my memories of those days with Michele to keep me warm, and now I have my young niece and nephew. My husband, believe it or not, forgets Valentine’s Day occasionally. I don’t understand how it’s even possible for him to do that in the face of all the incredible nonstop blasting media hype, but I don’t get upset. I know he loves me. Okay, I lied. I get a little upset when he forgets. I like it when he remembers and brings me candy. I may have moved beyond the commercialized sentimentality that is so attached to Valentine’s Day, but I haven’t moved beyond chocolate. And make that See’s, please.

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Another kind of chocolate – better than See’s!