Author Archives: aggiekesler

Skydiving

Instead of writing about my quarantine life which seems like the real-life version of Groundhog’s Day, I’ve been digging back in my memory bank and thinking about my past travels. What comes to mind first is Australia, and despite how much I love it, I’ve not blogged much about it. One of my fondest memories of Australia is my first skydiving adventure.

As I waited in line to book my spot, I contemplated whether it was worth it. My money was running low, and with at least another month to go in Oz, I really shouldn’t be frivolous. I mean, $800 was a lot of money for a few minutes. I could do a lot with that much money. Weighing up the pros and cons, my dad’s voice echoed in my head. His last words before I moved to Sydney were, “Just promise me you won’t go skydiving.” I promised. And I rarely, if ever, broke a promise, especially to my dad.

It was my turn and a decision had to be made. Deciding I’d regret not doing it more than doing it, I thrust my only credit card at the cashier. The credit card I got right before I left. The one for emergencies only. The one with a $1,000 limit. Go big or go home, right?

Suiting up, I looked around. Everyone else had someone with them, someone to experience this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with. I wished I’d had someone else to share this with, but I didn’t let the fact that I was solo hold me back. I was raring to go. My tandem instructor came over to introduce himself. His smile and enthusiasm was contagious. Small in stature with a head full of grey hair, I wondered how old he must be. While I never learned his age, he did reveal that he had over 8,000 jumps under his belt, which put me at ease right away.

Climbing into the plane, I was struck by how tiny it was inside. And there were no seats…or seatbelts! This was unlike any plane I’d ever been in before. Strapped to my instructor, closer than I’d ever been to a stranger, we took a seat on the floor of the plane, very close to the other jumpers. While we waited for the pilot to get in position, they asked us who wanted to go first. No one volunteered, everyone looking at everyone else as if to say, You do it. “I’ll go first,” I found myself saying. I still don’t know why I said that.

Since I was first, I was seated nearest the door. With the pilot in position and ready for takeoff, the engine cranked and the propellors making it hard to hear, I shouted to my instructor, “I think they forgot to close the door!” I quickly learned that when skydiving, the door is left open the entire time. As we took off, I was acutely aware that I was mere inches from an open plane door, seated on the floor, without a seatbelt. The cold wind blew in from the opening, whipping my hair in my face, stinging me with its frigidness.

Once we reached altitude (14,000 ft), my instructor told me it was time. Seconds later, the photographer I hired to take video and photos of me jumped out. One second he was there, the next he was gone. I was scooted forward to the opening, where the coldest rush of air hit me in the face. “Are you ready?” he asked. Nodding my reply, he pulled my head back against his chest, and we jumped out. I expected to be scared, to scream from either fear or excitement, but no noise came. I just took it all in.

As we were free falling for what seemed like 10 minutes (in actuality it was 60 seconds), I reached out my arms, feeling the rush of the air, moving them around like a kid who rolls down the car window while riding fast on the freeway. Every fiber in my body was experiencing pure bliss at that moment. This was worth it. Worth the broken promises and the debt I’d have to pay off.

Once the ripcord was pulled, I felt a sharp jerk upwards, followed by a peaceful floating feeling, as we drifted back down toward earth. The view was incredible! I was skydiving in Mooloolaba, Australia, a small beach town, so the view below was one of ocean and sand. When I close my eyes, I can still see the mental pictures I took so many years ago.

As we neared the beach, I pulled my legs to my chest, as I skidded onto the sand on my bum. The videographer asked me, “So how was it?” My reply was unexpected. I didn’t scream or shout. Matter-of-factly I replied, “It was cool.”

I don’t have any digital copies of my first skydive, as that was back in 2004 and digital cameras were fairly new, but here are some shots from my most recent skydive in Taupo, New Zealand in 2018.

Fourth

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

F is for Fourth

Tell me a memory from the Fourth of July. Where were you? When? What was the like light? Why this particular Fourth?

There’s magic in the Fourth of July. It’s the heat of the summer, so there’s always water involved, whether you’re in a swimming pool, boating across the lake, or just running through the sprinkler in the backyard. Everyone comes over, and there’s a lot of How’ve you been? and I haven’t seen you in forever! and Man, have you grown! The barbeque pit is working double-time, as the men man the grill, fresh hotdogs and hamburgers for everybody.

No two Fourth of Julys were ever exactly the same when I was growing up. They all had the same basic recipe of food, family, friends, and fun, but the location sometimes changed, as did the people and the events. But one thing that remained constant was the fireworks show. Fireworks and the Fourth are synonymous. I can remember going to the fireworks show with my family when I was younger, around 10 years old. After all the festivities at home, we’d load up in the car and drive to Post Oak Mall, the only mall in town. We’d have to get there by 8:30pm to get a good spot, because the show always started at 9:00 on the dot. I remember laying a blanket down on the hood of the car, where we’d lay to get a good view of the night sky. Looking back now, I’m not sure if we actually laid on the hood of the car or on the ground next to it, but I think it was the car. At least, I want it to have been the car.

With that first explosion of light in the sky, nothing else mattered. With a smile plastered on my face, my brother and I trading Did you see that one?‘s and the quintessential oohs and aahs, all of our bickering was suspended. We were sharing a magical experience, one that only came around once a year. The finale always came too soon, and while it was our favorite part, we never thought it was enough. We always wanted more.

Source

End

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

E is for End

Tell me about how a relationship ended.

I’d been dating T for six months, longer than any other relationship before him, and I was in love. Like really in love. Like the I’d do anything for him, melt whenever he looked at me, and thought we’d be together forever kind of love. So when he broke up with me, with no warning whatsoever, on what was supposed to be a great day, I was instantly heartbroken.

It was early morning on Saturday, December 3, 2005. I still remember the date; it’s forever etched into my memory. We were driving in my truck, on our way downtown to the University of Houston for a robotics tournament. I was the coach, and my team was excellent. The excitement of the day ahead made me giddy that morning. T was coming along to help out, since he’d been volunteering with the team all semester. He was one of us now.

About halfway there, he shifted the conversation from talking about the tournament and what to expect for the day to talking about us. More specifically, talking about how he felt about us, about me. He ambled on about this and that, most of which I can longer remember, but I wasn’t prepared for what would come next.

“You know, a lot of the guys that sing on stage with me at church have girlfriends or wives that look like models,” he said. Perplexed, I wondered where this was going. “I think that I deserve a girl who looks like a model, too,” he continued.

My stomach started to tighten and my breath suddenly caught in my throat, bracing myself for what would come next.

“You know, I love who you are as a person. I love your personality, your humor, how kind you are. I think you are so pretty, too. But…you’re just not thin enough for me,” he went on to say.

The silence in the truck was deafening. As I began to process what he’d said, my heart felt like it was splitting in two. My world crumbled in an instant. You’re just not thin enough for me. Those words echoed in my head over and over. Reeling from the shock of it all, I was dumbfounded. As I ugly-cried the rest of the way there, trying and failing to catch my breath, I couldn’t believe he’d done that, that he’d said those things. That’s not what you say to someone you love.

And to do it right then, that morning, when I was on my way to a tournament where people were depending on me to lead them was beyond selfish. Not only that, we were in the same vehicle, which meant I was stuck with him all day and would have to make the ride back with him later that evening. I remember asking him why over and over, but the only response I received was that it was what he deserved.

The pounding in my head got worse and worse, as the realization of what he’d said set in. I tried to pull myself together and stay strong for my students, but I just couldn’t do it. I had to pretend to be sick, claiming that I’d come down with a bad cold the night before, but came because I wanted to be there for the team. The moms knew something was wrong. They saw the telltale signs of my puffy, red eyes. A few of them pulled me aside to ask me what happened. I fell apart and told them everything, as they enveloped me in hugs and words of support, all while glaring at T who was across the gymnasium.

Somehow I managed to get through the tournament, and my students even won a few trophies. I don’t really remember the ride home. I don’t think there was much said, as I stared out the window, tears sliding down my cheeks. The rest of that weekend was one of the lowest points of my life. I couldn’t eat. I tried, but every time I went to put food in my mouth, I thought about those words. You’re just not thin enough for me. The me that was content with my body before he uttered those words was no longer there. All I could think about was that I was too fat. Too fat to be loved.

The pain and shame and embarrassment of it all was too much to handle. I called in sick to work on Monday, and stayed home and cried. I didn’t eat much that day either, apart from a bowl or two of Raisin Bran. I lost 8 pounds in three days. That’d be the start of a 25-pound weight loss that would happen over the next few months, as I painstakingly went on a diet and spent many hours in the gym, trying to attain the body I thought he wanted.

I wish I could tell you that this was the end of our relationship altogether, but it wasn’t. We got back together and broke up a few more times before I finally called it quits. But that first break-up hurt the most. I didn’t see it coming, and the wounds he inflicted with his words have never completely gone away.

Driving

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

D is for Driving

Let’s talk about driving. How did you learn? What kind of driver are you?

Learning to drive was an ordeal. At first my parents decided to save money by teaching me themselves, but after many failed attempts and screaming matches that ended in tears, they forked over the money for driving school. We were all so much happier that someone else was teaching me to drive.

I remember getting my driver’s license in 1997, when I was sixteen years old, but unlike most of my friends, I didn’t get it on my birthday. Due to the driving school debacle, I received it several months later, which at the time, was utterly embarrassing. Looking back now, who really cares when I got it? A few months doesn’t make much of a difference.

My first car was a dark gray 1991 Ford Mustang 4-cylinder hatchback with very low mileage. Having to earn the money to buy my first car was so unfair to sixteen year old me, but I’ll admit, once I had saved up the $4,000 to buy it, I was very proud of myself. Plus, it was a Mustang, which was super cool back then.

As a young driver, I got into quite a few wrecks, the first being with my best friend Nicole, when we were joy riding around in the neighborhood behind our high school one night and I ran a stop sign, hitting another car in the intersection, causing them to spin a few times and land their car in someone’s front yard. Luckily no one was hurt, but it was not my finest moment. When the police and my parents showed up, I was in a lot of trouble. I’m not sure how long I was grounded for, but it had to be at least a few weeks or a month.

The next two wrecks in the Mustang happened a few months later, coincidentally on the same day! After school, I was driving near the high school when a car turned left across traffic and hit my car, damaging the front fender. After dinner, I drove back to school for an NHS meeting, only to get hit again by a student driver who backed up into my car in the parking lot, damaging the front bumper. When I came home later that night, I remember saying to my dad, “Guess what happened tonight?”, to which he replied, “You got in another wreck!” “How’d you know?” I asked. He actually didn’t know; he was making a joke, but was shocked that it had happened again.

In the years following my first year as a driver, I would get into numerous wrecks, but luckily none were too serious. I earned a reputation as a bad driver, and as much as I tried to dispute it, I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I eventually grew out of the poor driver phase, and became more confident behind the wheel.

Coffee

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

C is for Coffee

A whole world exists in coffee. Glean those details. Write everything you know about coffee.

There’s something about the smell of coffee that makes me feel comfortable and content, like I’m wrapped up in a big hug. The sounds those fancy espresso machines produce at coffee shops make for great background noise when writing, reading, or doing work on a Sunday afternoon. Meeting a friend for coffee is such a great way to spend the afternoon, catching up on life.

The thing is, I hate the taste of coffee. Always have, always will. The bitterness comes through, no matter how much you try to cover it up with sweetness, dilute it with milk, or hide it in a dessert. Don’t give me coffee-flavored ice cream, frappuccinos, or tiramisu. I just can’t do it. No matter the package it comes in, coffee just isn’t my thing.

Coffee is ingrained in so many cultures, making it hard to turn down. A new friend invites me for coffee, but I have to politely tell them that I don’t drink coffee. I’ll take a hot chocolate or tea. But why don’t you like it? It’s so good! They can’t understand that someone could possibly hate coffee. When I lived in Albania, there was a coffee shop every few hundred meters, if not closer. The seats were always filled with patrons getting their fix, sipping ever so slowly on the tiniest cup of espresso, making it last forever, as they caught up on the latest gossip. Not drinking coffee was a cardinal sin.

When I was younger and I first started earning my own money, first from babysitting gigs and later from part-time jobs at the local Sonic and cinema, I always bought my mom coffee mugs and fancy flavored coffee from the specialty coffee shop in the mall. She used to love drinking coffee, hazelnut her favorite flavor. It made gift-giving easy, and her mug collection is extensive, thanks to me. But several years ago, she gave up drinking coffee. One day she couldn’t get enough of it, and the next, she was strictly a tea-drinking gal. I’ve asked her why she quit numerous times, but there was never a real reason. She just stopped.

Part of me wishes I liked coffee. It’d make life a lot easier, I’m sure, but having made it to nearly 39 without a taste for it, means I will probably never enjoy it. And that’s okay with me, because while I might miss out on the social aspects of coffee drinking, I’m not dependent on the bitter, brown liquid to get me through the day. I don’t have the jitters that come with caffeine withdrawals, and I don’t have an expensive Starbucks habit.

Source

Bicycle

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

B is for Bicycle

Tell me a memory associated with a bicycle. The spokes, the wheels, the narrow seat.

The white and yellow Huffy, with the white thick-tread tires, wasn’t a girl’s bike. No banana seats, baskets, or tassels for me. I had to have the tough boy’s bike. At that age, I rejected everything girly. No pink. No Barbies. No dresses. None of that stuff would do.

Tearing through the quiet streets of my neighborhood, I pumped, not rode, to the sidewalk park, where I’d meet my friends for races, make believe, and hide-and-go-seek. That bike wasn’t made for leisurely rides. It was made for riding as fast as I could, at break-neck speeds. To stop, I reversed the pedals, and on more than one occasion, I nearly flew over the handlebars. But I didn’t mind; I was tough.

When I would come home to grab a drink of water or a bite to eat, I’d ride right up to the front porch and throw my bike against the concrete steps, scuffing the sides every time. My mom constantly nagged me to use my kickstand, but I had more important things to do, and her requests were always ignored. I knew I wouldn’t be home long anyway. After a pit stop, I’d be back at it, riding around til the streetlights came on and it was time to come home.

I don’t remember when I grew too big for that bike, when it was finally retired. I’m not even sure what happened to it once I moved onto a newer, shinier model, one I can’t for the life of me remember now. I wish I had a picture of me on that bike, with the curly, never-brushed blonde hair I was known for back then. The girl who rode that bike was sure of herself. She was who she was, unapologetically, and she didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. I want to go back in time and talk to that little girl and tell her that the world’s going to expect a lot from her. That they’re going to try and change her, fit her into the mold that’s expected. But she needs to stand firm in her beliefs and fight like hell to stay who she is. She doesn’t have to fit in. She can be whoever she wants to be, and that’s okay.

Africa

This April, I’ll be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I’ll write an entry a day centered on my theme of Memoir. I’ll be using  Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg as my inspiration for my daily topic. Each post will be a quick write (about 10-20 minutes) to help me notice and remember.

A is for Africa

Tell me about the time you went to Africa.

Entering our riad that night, exhausted from a day of travel and a hectic night of driving in an unfamiliar country, down too-narrow alleyways where I thought for sure we’d scrape the mirrors of the rental car on the walls, I was immediately taken aback by the beauty of it all. The outside revealed nothing of what we would see inside the walls. The vaulted ceilings were illuminated by intricate chandeliers, and the colors, textures, and shapes in the furniture, flooring, and decor were nothing short of breathtaking.

Waking up the next morning, with the sun streaming in from overhead, I was again stunned by the gorgeous surroundings. Following our breakfast on the rooftop, we set off to explore the medina, a series of twists and turns in a never-ending maze of alleyways, at times only wide enough for two people to pass by. As we went deeper into the medina, we found ourselves immersed in the sights and smells of the vendors hawking their wares and the fresh produce and spices for sale. Every turn revealed something new that caught our eye, an old wooden door, barrels of colorful spices, heaped to overflowing, or a storefront with beautifully designed pottery spilling out into the walkway, begging us to come in and take a peek.

But the food. The food is what really got me. From the tagines to the bastilla to the so-sweet-you-instantly-get-a-cavity mint tea, I was in love. Cafe Clock was my favorite find of the trip, an unassuming restaurant tucked away in an alley, with only a small orange sign to alert you to its presence. Upon entering, we immediately headed up, scaling the three flights of stairs to the rooftop terrace, an inviting area with comfortable seating and more plants than you could count. From there, towering above the medina, you could see out for miles. Down in the medina, where we were shielded from the sun, we were cold, but up here, the sun shone down on us and warmed our faces, bringing with it a smile or two. Their version of iced lemon tea, more a slushy than anything else, was frothy goodness, a mix of black tea, tart lemon, sweetness, and cold. Each time we ate there, I tried something new from the menu, but it was always paired with the iced lemon tea.