that miss mudd...

Once. A few weeks back. And I don't usually tell a story just for the telling of it. But, this. It keeps making me laugh.
So, come with me. It takes a while to tell it right.

A few weeks back, I had to get Maggie from her friend's. Early. I woke up and made coffee, then hopped in my waiting, heated car in my sweatshirt and pajama pants. The coffee was warm and billowy as I headed out on the road. I was a bit preoccupied, driving. The open ceramic mug. The hot liquid. The cold air.

When I arrived, all was still. No signs of life.

"I'm here!" I texted her. Nothing.
I sent a bitmoji over Snapchat. Helllloooooo????
Nothing.

I got out of the car. Cup on the floor. The dogs came to greet me, but no one else.

I knocked on the door. Nothing.
I'm not ashamed to say I peeped in the door-side window.
Not a light. Not a motion.

It was 7:20, or so, by then and I assumed Maggie had just slept through her alarm. I sat there for a sec. I didn't want to go back home--it's about a 25 minute drive. And then it struck me that there was a Mass soon down the road. A 7:30 Mass, I thought. A rather rural parish. A farming community. A 7:30 Mass wouldn't be considered early by their standards.

This church. I hadn't been there in years. Likely a decade. I worked there one, solitary year of my career. The worst year of my life, as it was.

It wasn't the school's fault, though the principal didn't care for me. I have to assume it was because I had the temerity to suggest to her that perhaps the library books by J.K. Rowling should remain intact rather than ripped in the trash. And that was on Day 1.

So I left without looking back ten months later. In fact, the only time I returned was to demand a meeting with the priest because I had gotten wind that the very same principal had told people (as her parting shot) to not hire me even as a sub because I...and I guote..."had a substance abuse problem". [Spoiler: Not true.] The kind priest assured me had believed nothing of the sort. Besides, she was gone by then anyway.

"Don't ever use this woman as a reference again," a subsequent interviewer once informed me.

"She says you don't follow directions. You aren't a team player. You spread negativity among the faculty....I mean, I think this woman hates you."

And. Apparently? She did. It turned out to be her last and only year as well--but that wasn't really my concern, as in-the-rear view mirror as this part of my life was.

I saw her once. Said hello. Treated her kindly. The thing is? People who are that awful? Well, I always tell the kids: "Yeah, it's terrible being around them. But can you imagine how bad it would be the BE them?" Ugh.

At any rate. This place. It didn't deserve me. And I don't mean that in a flattering way to myself. I mean it to them. I was a disaster. Newly divorced. Just a wreck in every way. Fearful. Sad. Angry. And the kids I had in that class--they deserved more. So did the parents. So did the rest of the staff, who never asked for a me-tornado.

Truly it is a lovely place. Cows graze. The church bells ring. I was right on time for 7:30 Mass.

But. Remember? Remember, I'm in my pajamas.

My PAJAMAS, friends.

A little non-plussed, the woman at the door blinks. Smiles a little wobbly smile as she welcomes me. These flannel lab puppy pants. This oversized green hoodie--form fitted under a brown jacket vest I had grabbed at the last minute out of the backseat. Brrr!!

It's too small--the vest. Too small for the sweatshirt I have stuffed inside it like a sausage.

Was my hair combed? Eh.
HAD I brushed my teeth before I left? Surely, I had..? (Right?)

I closed-lip smile at her. Thankful, all at once, for COVID and masks. I turned to go sit in the choir loft because these fine Faithful who actually dressed for the occasion didn't need to be bothered by me.

I could hardly pay attention at Mass. I couldn't stop taking it in. Nearly the whole time, all I could do was look around. I peered over the ledge of the balcony in wonder. So small. Friends, it was SO SMALL. That camera lens of my life loomed so largely in my memory-- but that church was so.small.

And all at once, I felt like Jenny in Forrest Gump throwing rocks at something so stale. So gone. In my memory...so far back. Not remembered poorly. Just not remembered at all. Some of the kids I had that year? I don't even think I would remember them. Yes, they deserved better than me. The Me I was back then.

It took me until I was leaving--I hadn't gone to Communion. God loves me no matter what, I know, but it seemed ridiculous to join the communion line in my current state. So it took me until I was leaving to realize I also didn't have my shoes tied.

I left as everyone else did. The chime of a text arrived, telling me I was right.
"OMG! MOM. I totally slept through my alarm!"

By Monday, I was well-acquainted with the ridiculousness of it. And that's what made me think of it tonight. I was telling someone about my true love of the ridiculous.

Life has gone on. I want to say I have turned into a good teacher. A memorable one, at the very least. A good person. A valuable colleague. I have a business. I serve on leadership communities. And I have written a Pulitzer Prize nominee book, Slack Water about--oddly enough--that exact time in my life. Way back then. And I don't say this to pat myself on the back, but for you, Dear Reader, to get a sense of the dichotomy.

I was laughing so hard with a friend the following Monday. The kids were at a special class and I was...I don't know, maybe in the copy room.

"And you know!" I said as we giggled about it.

"You know that small towns have loooooooong memories. You KNOW that no matter how far I have come....no matter that that was just a terribly sad detour on the road of my life...no matter how many children I have loved, and been loved by...You KNOW...that there was ONE person in that congregation that day who recognized me. And seeing me in that sad little tableau...in those flannel puppy pants...."

And my friend...oh, she laughed and laughed. And honestly, so did I.

"And you KNOW she said to her friend later that day, 'Oh, I saw that Mrs. Mudd today. Remember her? Lord, but that woman's always been just a hot mess."


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