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April 23rd, 2014 - Katherine Williams

On April 23, 2014, I was five months shy of ziplining in Costa Rica and becoming Steve’s fiancé, discovering that I’m too claustrophobic to scuba dive. It was seven months before I recorded my first—and only—television appearance. Three months before my brother’s car accident, rendering his personality almost completely unrecognizable. My last year living alone in my one-bedroom apartment. My last full year living without the worry of another miscarriage. Roughly two years before I became a mom. Four years before I’d leave my beloved New York City for Philadelphia. Almost six years before the world would shut down. Six and a half years before my dad died.


In some ways, April 2014 was the before times. 


I mourn this time. I have for years. When Steve and I were just dating. My leisurely weekends. I’d wake up on a Saturday, sleep as late as I wanted. Go to the gym. Get a manicure. Maybe a blowout. Meet up with my best friend Laura, who I met while working a horrific job at a law firm in 2006, for brunch. Take a nap. Do a stand-up comedy open mic or a show, if I was booked, and meet up with Steve in the Village. The way he would look at me. Jeggings and a leather jacket, my hair in a ponytail. I could still wear heels then. The neuromas, which caused a pain and numbness between my toes from wearing high-heeled shoes for decades, didn’t show up until 2019. Steve and I would drink dirty martinis or a good whiskey or bourbon. Hot toddies when we were sick or when it was really cold. Lots of nachos.


That was the last Christmas for Laura and me. We’d pick out my tree and have it delivered, always huge in my tiny apartment. Then we’d watch Scandal and get loaded drinking white wine and eating boxes of Velveeta mac and cheese, decorating the tree. My trees had a theme then, before handmade art class paper and cotton balls took over. Winter wonderland – full of metallics and crystal and glass and silver disco balls reflecting light. It was stunning. I had to donate many of the ornaments once Steve moved in to my 585 square foot apartment after the honeymoon to give him some space. I hope I have my own tree again someday. Between the baby and the dog, we haven’t had a real tree for years.


People ask me if I miss New York and I do, but I also miss that specific time. I now understand why my mom would look into the distance when asked the same question and talk wistfully about being “young and single and living in New York.” Maybe I would feel differently if Steve and I hadn’t had Layla. But we wanted children, plural, and were able to have exactly one. This was the choice we made. 


Sometimes I think Layla deserves a mom who wanted it more than I did. As heartbreaking as each miscarriage was, particularly the first one, indicating just how badly I did indeed want to be a mother, there are women who experience motherhood as a calling. My sister is one. “Moms create memories,” she says. She’s just good at it. She knows what to do. Do I look like that? Like I know what I’m doing? That I know how to create memories?


Steve and I took our first post-baby vacation on my fortieth birthday, when Layla was two months old. My sister was deeply concerned because I was still breastfeeding.


“Breastfeeding isn’t a choice. It’s a lifestyle.”


I pumped and dumped. Froze what could keep. The quick, one night getaway in Rhode Island, culminating in a clogged duct that Layla was able to resolve quickly, was not a vacation. 


I miss doing stand-up in New York. I had become established, was getting paid regularly. It was a legitimate second job before the words “side hustle” existed. 


“You can’t have a kid now,” our comic friend Frank had said. “You’re so good.”

“I’m thirty-eight,” I said with a shrug.


The Philly comedy scene wasn’t the same. Young, politically correct, not particularly talented but ridiculously confident. They saw me as old, irrelevant, demanded I pay dues I’d already paid years before in a bigger, tougher city with more talent. Better gigs were outside of the city, but I’d forgotten how to drive after living in New York City for almost twenty years, relying almost exclusively on public transit. I took lessons in 2021 without much success. The instructor couldn’t take me on the highway and relearning how to drive in a city in middle age is dramatically different from learning in a suburb at fifteen. My license is still active but otherwise useless except as a form of identification. I thought Philly’s public transit would be as reliable, far-reaching and safe as New York’s, but I was wrong. I’m completely dependent on my husband to drive or I take an Uber. A forty-seven-year-old woman without independence.

While we’re able to rent a house, unheard of in New York, and I walk to work, my world feels small now. I walk to the gym. I walk to drop off my seven-year-old daughter at school and I walk to pick her up at aftercare. I walk our dog. 


I never thought I’d miss the New York transit system. It got me to every borough. It got me to Long Island for paid work at the clubs there. The occasional Connecticut or Jersey gig. It got me to Steve’s apartment in Weehawken when we were dating. The tri-state area was my oyster.


Even though my daughter trots from her room every morning, perfect curls after nine hours of sleep and gives me a big squeeze, I still miss possibility. It can coexist, right? It’s supposed to, yes? Grief for what’s gone, gratitude for what is?


 

Katherine Williams is a Philly-based storyteller, stand-up comic and writer. She is a two-time winner of the Moth’s StorySlam. She has performed in festivals all over the country, including the Boston Comedy Festival, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Laughing Skull Comedy Festival and Philly’s Phunniest. She has been a finalist in the Ladies of Laughter competition and She-Devil Comedy Festival. Notable NYC productions include Williams’ full-length play My Dead Mother is Funnier Than You, which got a shout-out on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen and two solo shows: Call Me (selected for Midtown International Theatre Festival and Plus One Solo Show Festival) and sold-out hit of the New York International Fringe Festival, SHIKSAPPEAL: Getting the Chosen to Choose Me, which garnered a mention in the New York Times and New York Post. Her work has been reviewed by Show Business Weekly, The Jewish Daily Forward, and nytheatre.com. TV appearances include AXS TV’s Gotham Comedy Live and online credits include Morgan Spurlock’s series Failure Club and BADMomLife, in which Williams discusses life as a new mom. Katherine encourages you to check out Comfort Zone Camp. https://comfortzonecamp.org/


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