Some Poems I Wrote in College

One of the best and worst parts about moving is finding stuff you've forgotten about and the stuff you hold on to, even though you never look at or use it anymore. Some years ago I carefully transcribed the poems I wrote in high school and college into a spiral journal and in the years since, I've added scraps and fragments written here and there. Some of the poems are good, most are just plain angsty, all are a record of my then-life. Here are a few I wrote in college. (Some poems I wrote in high school.) I promise this is the last of them!



The rhythmic pattern beats time on my soul

A lulling pinprick of sound,

it reassures with perfect clarity

That time's metronome must forge on

To bring new life to past's promises.

Small, simplistic

Yet somehow this gives me peace.

           -August 1, 2000 (OK, this one I love. Rain is my favorite.)




She stands in a red shirt and jeans

While he's dressed in a striped shirt and shorts

His cell phone pokes out of a pocket,

A pack of cigarettes peek out from their home in his shirt.

They look forward, frozen in time

Clasped in each other's arms.

She glows with happiness

It's obvious she loves this scene.

His face is lit up as well, echoing the same emotions.

Everything is perfect.


The tables turn, shining new light

Her blissful innocence stares out

But he-

Does his smile seem forced?

His arms seemed loving, protective-

But were they?

Maybe the cell phone rings, breaking the pose

He might speak to someone she doesn't know.

Maybe she will never know.

The idyllic moment passes by

Reality is her bothersome friend.

Everything was perfect.


Questions whirl around

No clear answer comes forth.

Where did the feelings go?

She never saw them leave.

He still looks out.

She still stares,

Then she sets down the picture and walks away.

Was it really perfect?

            -March 27, 2000 (Profound or pretentious? Maybe both. I still have the picture.)



A fragment

You confused me

And I somehow believed your

Eyes of wide innocence

Intently memorizing mine

You liked:

my hair, my smile, my body, my eyes

my personality, my clothes, my laugh


Silver tongued words floated around us.

You checked my tag and discovered

I was made in heaven

           -written sometime in 2001 or 2002 (because a pick-up line like this must be commemorated on the page)

He Was A Customer, Part 2


This was originally published on A Deeper Story. Read part 1.


The chore list loomed before me one Saturday in June. As I priced bottle after bottle of Gatorade, Phil waltzed in to the store and started talking away.

"You're so smart. I can tell you're intelligent just by looking at you. And you're a nice girl, too. Girl? I should be calling you a woman. You're gorgeous, you know? You just kill me, you do," he continued. The missing part of his tooth captured my gaze as he rattled on.

He tried holding my hand several times but I wouldn't let him touch me. He stayed at the counter rambling for thirty minutes about my finer qualities, while I shrunk more and more inside myself. I hoped the pharmacist or other clerk might wander up front but no one came. When he finally left, I shook. How on earth could he say those things to me? There must have been 40 years between us.

In the following weeks, it was as if Phil knew my work schedule. It's possible he did. Without fail, he turned up every shift I worked 15 minutes before close. Hardly anyone would be in the store. I was alone at the front until he left. I didn't know what to do.

Had I brought this upon myself? Was it something I said? Maybe something I wore? I didn't have an answer for why an older man would act this way. I was terrified to go to work or even be near the pharmacy on the off chance he'd see me. I felt violated and alone. I was a teen and he was a customer. I couldn't tell any of my friends or family, convinced I was making something out of nothing.

I finally asked another female coworker about Phil. Had he ever treated her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable? She said he hadn't but told me to call her on the intercom if he came in that night. Sure enough, he came in 15 minutes before close and I paged her using our code word. Even though Kristy only wandered near the front of the store, I felt safer than I had in weeks. When Phil bought his usual lottery tickets, he gave me one of the instant game tickets. I won $3.

Another week passed before I mentioned vague details to my parents. They said I should talk to my boss. Given how scared I was to go to work, I knew it was the next step but my boss had a temper and his family was rumored to be "connected." Things were bad enough, it might be worth getting fired over. But, still, I waited.

One afternoon my boss called me in to discuss my schedule in his cramped office. He leaned back in his chair and asked whether I wanted additional hours. The conversation was brisk, down to business. It was now or never. I haltingly told him about Phil and the events of the past few months. I talked in circles, unsure what to include, still not knowing what to make of Phil's behavior.

He exploded, his fist pounding the desk. To my surprise, he wasn't mad at me. He launched in to a tirade, calling Phil every name in the book. Even ones not deemed suitable for 17 year old ears. He laid out of a plan of action and said Phil wouldn't be bothering me anymore. He would file a retraining order against Phil so he'd be unable to enter the store or have contact with me again. If Phil defied the restraining order, the store would sue him on my behalf. I hadn't any idea the pharmacy would go to these lengths for me, a mere teenager. He told me I should have told him sooner. I gaped openmouthed at him. If only I could have predicted his response.

There was one hurdle left: Phil had to be informed of the restraining order.

I paced behind the counter that night, eying the clock and the front door. Fifteen minutes before close, Phil neared the entrance. I paged the pharmacist, who came up without delay. Before Phil could say a word, the pharmacist informed him several employees had made complaints about him and he was not allowed to enter the store again or charges would be pressed.

Phil looked straight at me, his voice raising with every word. "The problem with you people is that you're not open-minded. Anyone who's different from you, you can't accept. This stuff happens to me all the time. I've been thrown out of places before..." His tirade continued as he made his final purchase from the pharmacy. My heart raced and skin crawled as I handed back his change. I wanted this to be over with.

"It was nice knowing you, kid," he tossed to me on his way out. I locked the door a few minutes later. I couldn't stop shaking. We were closed. It was over.

I haven't seen Phil since that night.

Seventeen years have passed but I still remember the gap in his tooth, the alcohol on his breath, the thud of my heart.

I still remember wondering what I'd done to deserve this.

He Was A Customer, Part 1


I wish I could forget Phil. A week after my 17th birthday, I started working at a local pharmacy. A pharmacist and clerk covered the back of the store, while I ruled over the Lotto machine and front register. If I worked in the morning, I'd make popcorn, coffee, and hot dogs. If I worked in the evening, I'd clean it all up. Not very glamorous but it was a paycheck. For me, the highlight was the customers. Most of them, at least.

We were encouraged to talk with our customers, the regulars becoming like family. We teased and advised one another. I knew who preferred which brand of cigarettes and the latest happenings at their jobs. They learned about how my junior year of high school was shaping up. Everything a first job should be, but for Phil.

The first night I met him, he sauntered in with panache. This was someone to notice. He introduced himself immediately, reaching to shake my hand, and barely letting me respond before he launched in to a story about his day. Phil's belly hung over his camo pants, his posture stooped. He appeared to be in his mid-50s but I couldn't say for sure. Greasy hair stuck out from under a baseball cap, contrasting his jittery pace. As he continued talking, I noticed part of his front tooth was missing. A perfect triangle gap. I didn't want to know how it happened.

Under any other circumstances, I would have avoided him. But he was here at the pharmacy, demanding my attention, and somehow setting me at ease. He left after about 10 minutes, long enough to buy cigarettes and Lotto tickets.

A couple of months passed and I forgot about Phil until he walked back in to the store. He launched in to an explanation as soon as I came to the counter.

"I've been away for a while but I haven't forgotten about you or how great you are."

Strange but I brushed my reservations aside. He was a customer. He was probably lonely. Not a big deal.

Phil came in more frequently after that. As we chatted, I gathered he did not have the happiest of lives.  Whenever he stopped by Saturday mornings, the alcohol on his breath permeated the air. I felt sorry for him.

Four months after I started working at the pharmacy, Memorial Day rolled around and I was the lucky one working that day. Sounds from the town's passing parade called to me; it was the first time I hadn't witnessed it. I buzzed through the opening chores and tackled the list of jobs the manager left for me. Few customers stopped in and soon there was nothing to do but read magazines for the rest of the day. I grabbed a few copies and nestled them between the popcorn machine and coffee maker, leaning over the counter as I flipped pages.

And then I sensed someone watching me, their gaze hot against my head. Don't be ridiculous, I told myself. There was a window behind the counter but you'd have to look past the sunshade and cigarette cases to see anything. I brushed the feeling aside but the sensation lingered. My head fairly buzzed. Someone was watching me.

I slowly turned around, expecting to laugh at myself when no one was there. Phil stood before me on the other side of the glass, his hands cupped around his eyes. Eyes staring straight at me.

He shot straight up and hollered excuses through the thick glass.

My heart thudded as wild as my racing thoughts. Please don't come in, please don't come in. I begged to no avail. He walked in and tried to apologize.

"Oh, sorry...didn't mean to be looking in on you. I was just trying to figure out who was working in here. That window makes everything look darker. I thought you were a black girl until you turned around," he blundered, ignoring my telepathic plea for him to stoptalkingstoptalkingstoptalking.

I didn't know what to say. What could I say? My face turned blank, as did my mind. What could I possibly do? I willed him to leave the store, to leave me alone but he took longer than usual. He couldn't decide between Camels and Winstons. He didn't know if he wanted to buy a cigar or a Little Lotto ticket. Never one to linger, he wandered down the magazine aisle after making his purchases. I caught him using the storefront security mirror to spy on me several times. But I didn't say anything. He was a customer. Surely, he was harmless. Surely.

I pushed the incident aside, until a few weekends later.


This was originally published on A Deeper Story. Read part 2.

Coming to My Senses review

I couldn't tell you the name of my mother's perfume but I'd know it by scent. Saved for special occasions and date night with my dad, the perfume signified part of womanhood, this grown-up elegance and sophistication. I don't know the last time she wore it- it's apparently retired now- but it wafted its way through my childhood.

By junior high, I alternated wearing a few fragrances of my own. Love's. Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth. Bath & Body Works' Cucumber Melon.

And then my perfume days ended: my dermatologist told me fragranced lotion was further drying my eczematic skin out and I should probably avoid products with fragrance in them altogether. In retrospect, perfume might have been OK but it was easier to cut it out altogether. I still wore body spray occasionally but I sprayed my clothes, instead of my skin. That sums up my relationship with perfume for the past two decades.

When I first heard of Alyssa Harad's memoir Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, I was intrigued. I didn't realize perfume had a larger story or that perfume blogs existed or that someone would be anti-perfume or that perfume could change someone's life.

From Amazon:

Alyssa Harad’s affair with scent begins in secret, late at night, by the glow of her computer screen when she stumbles on a blog devoted to perfume. Bookish and practical, and a stranger to beauty counters, she is surprised to find herself lured into a sensual underworld of quirky characters that changes her mind about much more than perfume. Candid, elegant, and full of lush description and humor, Coming to My Senses takes readers from a private museum of rare essences in Austin, Texas, to the glamorous fragrance showrooms of Manhattan, and finally to a homecoming in Boise, Idaho, to prepare for Harad’s wedding. This deeply personal story reveals the intimate connections between scent, our senses, and the people we are and want to become.

Alyssa Harad emailed me a few months ago, after a recommendation from Katie Gibson (thanks, Katie!), and asked if she could send me a copy of her book. I couldn't say yes fast enough. Whenever a book on my To Read list arrives unexpectedly in my hands, it's as if the stars have aligned.

I had to set Coming to my Senses to the side until I traveled to Seattle last month. There, on the plane, I settled in. Harad whisks her reader away on a feast of the senses. I could have sworn I smelled amber and rain and honey and leather and vanilla solely based on reading her rich descriptions. I contemplated how each perfume would settle and what a heart note actually smells like. What scents have I been drawn toward all these years without really thinking about it?

I was fascinated by the association between perfume and memory. Or just plain scent and memory. We might not smell something for years and the moment we do, we have an instant association. Women have long been known for their signature scent and this can bring back memories of special occasions, relationships, and so on.

The perfume world is accessible while feeling remote. Perfume can be costly but I wonder whether it's a more affordable luxury than we give it credit. After all, one bottle can last years. Harad takes us along through the blogs, the history, the perfumers- giving us the information, while also flooding our noses, so to speak. Along the way, she adjusts to a transition in her career and decides to get married to her long-time boyfriend.

Perfume makes her come alive in a whole new way and it was absolutely lovely to witness that transformation. I'm not saying I cried a few tears on the plane. I'm just saying.

Coming to My Senses is an easy and mesmerizing read. I felt strangely bereft when it was done because I wasn't quite ready to leave the world Harad created. It appears I'm starting a new relationship with perfume.

2013-12-07 16.15.18
When I read the latest copy of InStyle magazine, instead of skipping over the perfume inserts, I actually opened the tab and inhaled deeply. I never do that! Not only that, I considered the notes and scents and my reaction to them.

The other day, I rubbed one of those perfume inserts on my wrists. Just to see how my skin interacted with the scent.

Now I'm contemplating visiting a perfume counter and finding a signature scent of my own. Maybe I'll help my mom find a new signature scent, too. It's the daughterly thing to do.


Do you wear perfume or have a signature scent?

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a complimentary copy of Coming to My Senses but all thoughts, opinions, and reactions are my own. Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

This Is How We Met: A Fried Pickle Love Story

We should have known better. Nine 19 year olds planning a camping trip? Not the best idea. Only a few of us had camping experience, after all, and we'd never planned an entire trip before.

My aunt and uncle recommended a camp site in central Illinois, not too far from where three of my friends grew up. We thought it would be the best of both worlds. We did not consider what the camp site offered compared to our camping intentions.

Camping2Camping professionals, year 2

And so one weekend in the summer of 1999, we arrived from our respective corners. Giddy, drunk on freedom and promise. Only to be confronted with a series of rules, regulations, and the tiniest plots known to mankind.

Strange people up in our grill? We had to be quiet at night? Copious swarms of mosquitos? We looked at each other. This would never do.

Ignoring the money we'd plunked down on deposit, we set up camp in Danielle's grandparents' backyard. OK, it was on the other side of the lake in their backyard. Still, we slept in tents, blazed campfires each night, and lived it up.

As much as anyone can live it up in central Illinois.

Camping1Hiking at Starved Rock

The locals, Melissa, Danielle, and Sara, raved about a certain pizza place. They'd long talked of Nuggets and Fried Pickles. While we might have looked bug-eyed at their enthusiasm for strange dishes, no one could resist the allure of pizza. We decided to give ourselves a break from camp fare for one night.

Thus, we headed to La Grotto's and life has never been the same.

The pizza place read as a typical hole in the wall. It fit its small town surroundings but would easily be overlooked in a city. I didn't think my friends would steer us wrong. Still, I kept my expectations low.

The garlicky Nuggets- fried bread dough- were an instant hit. Then it was on to the fried pickles. I liked pickles but fried? I wasn't sure what to think.

I lifted a spear to my mouth for the first hot bite. Perfectly seasoned batter complemented by the dill of the pickles. And then ranch dressing for dipping purposes.

They're freaking fried pickles!

Euphoria entered the building. 

Camping4Friends let friends eat fried pickles.

We made quick work of those pickles before moving on to deep dish pizza. For me, the star of that evening has and always will be the fried pickles.

Who knew central Illinois housed such fried perfection?

Who knew I would one day become known for my fried pickle obsession?

A tradition was born, along with this new long-distance relationship. We set up camp the next summer and headed to La Grotto's for the usual. The fried pickles didn't disappoint.

And yet, they remained in Peru, IL while I did not. I couldn't find fried pickles in Chicagoland. I didn't want to be a whiny fried pickle aficionado but I needed a fix more than once a year.

Luckily, it became easier to find fried pickles near my hometown. Plus, they're ever prevalent in Nashville.

Even so, dear friends. The fried pickles at La Grotto's will forever be my first love. The standard against which all other fried pickles are measured. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Do you like fried pickles?