There’s something about the number 13 that frightens people.
When we lived in a high-rise in Miami Beach, it was on the 14th floor, except for one problem. There was no 13th floor.
The elevator jumped from 12 to 14.
I thought it was so strange that buildings everywhere excommunicated the number 13. Ironically, life seemed to open a portal into happiness for us when we lived there.
My sister and I would grab a ride on a jitney and take it to the hotels like the Fontainebleau, which we had access to because we lived in the condominium. We lay on the beach, swam in the pools, and enjoyed the people who visited.
I could’ve seen the number 13 as some sort of omen. Instead, 13 seemed a saving grace, a hidden message, a sign.
So, when Jilly sent me a message, I saw it as a sign.
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She stared at me with her wet curls matted to her head. I put my hand through the circle in the clear plastic tent that encased her. The rubber glove made me feel like a robot reaching out to her. Tears dropped, dribbling down my cheeks as I gulped on a feeling of loss in my throat.
She was still so little and had not been with me long, which made me want to grab her and run away with her. But, the doctors were trying to save her. They were trying to cool the fever and keep her from having more convulsions.
When my sister was born, I thought she was my baby. I didn’t need a baby doll. I just carried her around everywhere. I held her on my right hip so much so that I attribute the severity of my scoliosis to this strange pleasure.
Her arrival left me more satisfied than I’d ever felt before.
So when death threatened to take her from me, I could hardly stand it. I slept in the lobby area of the floor where they kept her for over a week.
Burnt Orange 1970’s
The burnt orange and dark blue couches were comfy because they were nice and hard, direct from the 1970’s. I lived on hospital food and vending machine snacks because I refused to leave her, which was fine with my mom because she couldn’t bear to leave her either.
After a week of staring at her through plastic with electrodes often stuck to her body, the doctors sent us back home to Miami. But, it wasn’t until much later that any of us stopped keeping a close eye on her.
Maybe she knew how worried we were or maybe she just got tired of our sad, scared eyes because it wasn’t long before she started to make us laugh. And, once we started, it seemed that she was on a mission to continue the laughing spree.
If I was upset, she would fart.
If I was sad, she would do a crazy dance and fall down. Running in circles, she’d then spin with her arms out and collapse, shaking her head when she would stand up like a speedy yet strange little cartoon.
Sometimes, my sister Jill Michele Melean would give my dolls Ziggy Stardust haircuts just to change what was happening in the room, especially if it was unpleasant. Then, she’d tease me and say she was cutting my hair next until I was so distracted that we both forgot whatever had upset us in the first place.
As we grew older of course, her antics changed to quick quips and strange observations that sent everyone to bizarre places in time and space, always laughing, sometimes wondering and laughing, but laughing just the same.
We laughed guttural laughs that would break the patterns of sorrow and worry.
I realized, with certainty that felt like I was living in a sitcom, that I shared a room with my best friend who wasn’t just a funny friend but a talented funny friend.
Never again would I sit alone with no one to talk to except my imaginary friend.
Never again would I feel the dense space of quiet for endless hours.
Never again would laughter elude me.
And, these truths remain to this day. Although we live on opposite sides of the country, we are each other’s support system. A laugh away from a sad moment keeps us in contact with each other.
I’m sharing her latest comedy with all of you so that you enjoy the same luxuries as I do, the kind of laughter that only the funniest girl in the world can deliver, the kind of laughter that will take your mind off your troubles and lift the weight from your shoulders.
Seeing her face plastered all over the news brought me right back here. I wrote about my sister, Jill Michele Melean, who’s also a comedian and actress like Joan Rivers. When they met, it was magnetic. My sister never forgot her time with Joan because it was genuine. Experiencing authenticity in Los Angeles tends to be a rare event.
When she gripped Joan’s hand when appearing on Fashion Police, my sister felt the energy of an Olympic Torch being passed to her. This is what I mean. Being a comedian in Los Angeles, let alone being a woman comedian anywhere, takes guts and resilience. When Joan and Jill connected, it set off fiery sparks that ignite when two people walk the sam plateau.
Whenever my sister felt down, she remembered Joan and steadied her shaky footing.
That’s what our heroes give us. That’s why they live on.
When she made me laugh right in the middle of a full-on breakdown, sending salty snot flying from my nose, I knew my sister was my hero.
The first time I saw her perform standup, it left me not just laughing but gaping in awe of her ability to hurtle a crowd into fits of laughter.
So, with her 3,000 miles away, I often use her clips on her website and YouTube to remind me that laughing has a way of turning pain into light so that it becomes far away, and transparent.
On our summer visit in Los Angeles, that light shown even more brightly. On the night we ventured out to watch Man of Steel, it become apparent that she owned the title Woman of Steel and that her superpower is laughter. It was her birthday and she chose it thinking that she would entertain my children and still see a great movie.
After watching Man of Steel, I walked out feeling the same way I normally feel when I leave a much-anticipated film or even television series that I’m disappointed with. I felt disoriented and unappreciated. I felt like Hollywood could care less about what our daughters and sons learn and they definitely underestimate their ability to interpret anything more than cheap lines and renditions of X-Box or PlayStation games.
Then my sister laughed and laughed again. “What was that? My brain hurts,” she blurted. She asked the kids what they thought and they shrugged and displayed that slanted twist of their mouths, their eyebrows raised.
Then it happened. Superhero Woman of Steel mode kicked in and POW! She riddled us with joke after joke, which I can’t remember because it comes at you so fast, this blur of laughter hitting you then wrapping around you so tightly that the only thing you can do is double over in fits of laughter.
She always does this, well, at least most of the time. She, my sister and comedian Jill Michele Melean, always forces us to laugh at the absurd and even more so the depressing.
When I’d break up with a boyfriend, she wouldn’t comfort me as much as make me laugh. “You’re gonna be okay. Now, here are some things to look forward to: You’ll have plenty of time to write. And, more importantly, you’ll lose a lot of weight.”
Again, the snot flew.
Sometimes, I’d get angry and even sometimes cry harder, but she’d wake me out of my coma and laughter always followed.
As kids, if I was sad, which was often enough, she’d come running over ready to make faces and throw a nice smelly fart my way.
She was completely and utterly inappropriate and I thank the heavens for beaming her to down to me.
So, this is for you. For those times when happiness seems too far away, Jill Michele brings us laughter, the perfect weapon.
Rolling your eyes at your mother seems a rite of passage for most girls. My daughter rolled her eyes so much lately that I finally rolled mine back at her. Of course, I was extra dramatic about it. I rolled my eyes up with an extended flutter to emphasize the severity of only the white part showing.
She laughed, and her rolling eyes settled into a disdainful stare to match her frustration with my “nagging.” But, there are other sometimes more disturbing behaviors lately: Telling me to leave her alone then shutting her bedroom door, elbowing me (however lightly) when I try to hug her, saying “Oh Wow,” after I tell her to do something important like homework.
I’d already hurdled the “I hate you,” moments so I figured I could handle being my daughter’s enemy. But, “I hate you” was sharp, loud and over within seconds. These new insults dig into my side, make me feel nauseous, and even bring me to tears.
Inevitably I remember what I did to my own mother. Rolling my eyes being the most memorable of my insults. She would yell, “Don’t you roll your eyes at me!” Then, I’d do it again, just to spite her.
I’ve grown up a lot since then and I hope I’ve learned something. However, like every naïve new mother, I vowed to never be like my mother. Now, when I hear other moms say they won’t be like their mothers, I secretly say, “Good luck with that.”
My mother was terrible. She wore miniskirts to my ultra-conservative Baptist school functions. She divorced two men. She told my friends’ parents to go to hell when they made snide remarks about her inappropriate behavior. She wouldn’t let me go anywhere because she was afraid I’d get hurt. She didn’t come home sometimes for 24 hours because she’d work double shifts as a nurse.
I hated her for all of that and more.
Sometimes, very early in the morning I’d sneak into her cave of a room and kneel next to her bed. I’d listen to her breath and I’d feel sorry for myself because I missed her so much. Then, I’d blow her a very quiet kiss and leave. I wanted her with me, just being my mom, like all the other mom’s at my school.
I know now that if she were around all the time I’d have hated her for that.
Why? Well, she’s my mother, my enemy, my one true love.
It doesn’t make it any less painful to know that while I experience the same with my own daughter. It just keeps me grounded. I know the journey will leave me sore and tired, but love will lock us together.
My mother also snuck into my room late at night bringing me little presents: a pair of earrings, a teddy bear, a kiss. I’d be angry with her for something so I wouldn’t let her know I was awake, but I loved her for visiting me. Deep in my soul, I knew she loved me just as much or more than the “perfect” moms who volunteered at bake sales and coached the cheerleading teams.
Just recently my daughter decided we didn’t need to read together at night anymore like we’ve done even before she began reading on her own. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, but when I cried myself to sleep for three days in a row, I again felt what my own mother must’ve: a sorrow that only love brings.
I wrote my daughter a note praising her for finding her independence and telling her why I was sad about it, that I would miss it so much and I’d be there for her no matter what changes come.
Within a week, she asked me to read with her again. One night, yes; another night, no.
I remind her that I will always need hugs and she will always be my baby. Those things she must accept. We’ll work out the rest.
She smiles a baby smile, blinks her eyes, and rests her head on my shoulder.
An obsession always begins with something small. His was very small and he was really, or at least it seemed so at the time, the only one who noticed it.
“There, right there, don’t you see it?” he would point and yell whenever he saw the man whom I revered.
I would look at it, then him, and say something like, “Please, stop. That’s not important. It’s just a beauty mark,” which statement would send my son into hysterics.
While I cried, yes I was one of those, over the glorious moment when Barack Obama became President of the United States, my son announced, “Obama and the Mole.” I ignored him for that moment and later proceeded to tell him all about everything he would miss if he only focused on the mole.
He did it anyway.
He tried to listen only to the speeches, but all he could think about was the mole. So, my sister took a different approach. My sister who prefers, much like my son, to laugh at everything rather than to take anything very seriously understood him much better than I did. She gave him a microphone, helped him with some lyrics, and made a short film.
So, here’s a three year old’s antidote to an unhealthy obsession.
One-eyed aliens, giant butterflies, flying dragons, mermaids, superheroes, self-portraits and other masterpieces mask our aged refrigerator. Without that in my life, even my morning coffee wouldn’t make me happy.
All parents believe their child is the next Picasso or Frida Kahlo, but we also recognize the need to connect with our child. Their art connects to a part of the soul where words can’t. At least, that’s what I find when I reach for the refrigerator door.
The first time my daughter handed me a drawing a surge of pride and euphoria swept through me. I rushed to the refrigerator as if it were a wall in an art gallery, quickly selected a worthy magnet, and surveyed its magnificence on the refrigerator door. She has come to see the refrigerator as a showcase for her talent and superior abilities, a confirmation that she is the best.
Now, she snatches a piece of typing paper from the printer, grabs a pen or crayon and waits to see where I will display her next masterpiece.
There are moments when I silently grumble that we never have paper in the printer when we need to print, but all I have to do is reach for the refrigerator door and those words never materialize.
Over the years, this refrigerator art gallery has boasted various works of art that expressed her momentary whims and our family’s unique attributes, always with a positive spin. At one point it displayed a portrait of myself accentuating my ultra-curly hair in an afro-like halo with rays of light spraying from my head. When I asked why she added the light, my daughter explained that I looked like the sun in the morning.
My whole perspective changed. I went from being a giant, frizzy-headed mess to the sun. The day I couldn’t find that drawing was the day I realized how much I couldn’t live without my children’s art. I began to value it and make sure that, when it came time to replace old art with new art, the old art had a place to stay. I created a scrapbook where I could slip the ones that meant the most to me.
The depth of meaning has grown over the years. Early one morning, still holding a grudge over an unresolved problem, I made my coffee then reached for milk from the refrigerator. I looked up and stopped. Strange creatures jumped from the door with their disproportionate necks and misshapen lips, kissing each other, flying and floating. Despite all the masterpieces I’ve seen in museums and galleries, I finally fully grasped the value of art. Art exists to remind us of the beauty we forget about while attempting to maneuver through the difficulties in life. Even if the art stands as a testament of our bad behaviors, it still magnifies the beauty we’ve disregarded.
Once my son arrived, the art collection filled our house. The refrigerator art migrated to our walls and doors. One evening after a shower, I found his refrigerator art carefully taped to the hallway walls and bedroom doors. He proclaimed that the house was too boring and it needed some color. He placed each one at his eye-level—so I learned to look down for inspiration.
Eventually, I myself moved some of the artwork to my little nook in the corner of the dining room where I work. A brightly dressed ninja reminds me of the power to fight but to be careful about wardrobe choices. Two flowing girls, outlined in blue and red, tell me to overcome differences. A butterfly splashed with color spreads its wings across my magnetic bulletin board. I hear its voice say, “Open your wings Mama. You’re still a child inside.” And a turtle calls out, “Slow down!” So, I do. Each piece expresses a new discovery, a silent insight, and an imperceptible moment that I would’ve rushed past had it not been my own child who handed it to me.