Imagine you’re a child sitting in a field of grass; you see a dandelion and your eyes perk up. As you pluck it from the base of the earth, you think of the one thing you wish for most in the world. What was that young you thinking of? What did you whisper to yourself as you blew the seeds into space to take on a new life?
For Kitty Sopow it was always the dream of her parents getting back together.
This week we will be exploring the brave and honest story from my dear friend, Kitty.
I met Kitty in a Target in Anchorage, which is strange because neither of us lived in Anchorage and neither of us lived in a Target, although it sometimes feels like it. Kitty had known my then boyfriend through Skype calls as they worked together on a project. As we were strolling down the aisle I remember him squinting his eyes and saying to me ‘I think I know her’. Then he said it to her, “I think I know you”. I remember looking at Kitty and thinking ‘damn… she’s cool.’ She had punk rock hair, 70’s fashion glasses, with printed leggings and an oversized sweatshirt on. She had a huge grin on her face as she finally got to meet her friend outside of the screen. I lingered back from the conversation, as shy people often do, trying to not embarrass myself in front of the cool kid.
“Kitty, what were your first impressions of me?”
“I could tell.. you were like ‘something is wrong with this bitch!’”
“HA All I kept thinking is… this girl is a badass!”
This is where I like to begin because this is where Kitty and I began. And, as I’ve learned many times in my life, first impressions are often *pardon my language* total shit. She said she thought I didn’t like her. She thought I was assessing her, trying to figure out if she was into my boyfriend or not. She shared that when she first moved to the island in Alaska for the summer, which is how we became closer than a Target meet and greet, she thought I was a “wet blanket”. RUDE. To be fair, she only knew me for five seconds and thought I was scared she was into my boyfriend- I can’t hold that against her. We all do it. Another commonality among the human race. And so, this was where our story began: Through thoughts not discussed, but impacting the relationship regardless.
As we continued on the with the interview, agreeing that we were closer friends by overcoming our preconceived ideas, I started to find a common theme- often the things we don’t talk about are creating the biggest impact in our relationships.
“Why do you want to tell your story?
“Well, ya know, I want to support you. And I’m always the one recording stories, so [I thought] it would be kinda nice to reverse the rolls…”
Kitty just graduated with a Masters of Science in Applied Anthropology in August of 2019. This degree is what brought her to Klawock, Alaska and into my life. For her thesis she wrote about subsistence on Prince of Wales. She interviewed people about the role subsistence plays in their lives. I spent many nights with Kitty hearing her talk about her interviews and would see the way she lit up when she became a part of someones story. In a way, I think she influenced me to start this project of telling other peoples stories. Seeing the way she became so involved and immeshed in each persons way of life was intoxicating.
“What do you like about your role as the interviewer?” I asked.
“You know, you just sit in silence and people just tell you what’s important to them and I think that’s really cool.”
Kitty, still airing that ‘cool girl’ vibe even today, is sitting on her bed, morning hair falling every which way, as she paints her toenails a merlot red. Oversized boxer shorts and a fitted tank top sets the tone for an ‘I woke up like this’ conversation.
“So [Kitty] the other part of today, obviously, is talking about a story that you have that you feel like might connect with other people… Do you have a story in mind?”
This is where I started to see a different side of Kitty. Her words became a little more rushed than normal and I could feel her energy shift from confident to unsure. The cool-girl vibe still lingered but mixed with a story that she has been holding in for some time.
“Can I cry while I tell you.. I think I know a story I want to tell…”
Her eyes were watering and her voice began to shake. She took a deep breath in.
“When I was a kid, there were dandelions all over the place, obviously in the spring. And uh, and my Aunt told me if I picked one up and blew, when all the whispers went away in one blow your dream/wish would come true. And they would always say that stupid wish would come true, like, if you wish on the first star that you saw or, or like, *sniffles* you blew all your birthday cake candles out in one blow your wish would come true, but I never could… and for years all I did was wish my parents would get back together. And yeah… sometimes I sit here and I forget that for years I would just oh, I would wish so hard every night when I’d see a star, every year on my birthday, or every f****ing single breath in the spring I would wish that. And they never got back together and so… I would go from like being at my dads house with my step-mom who hated me, to going to my moms house with my step-dad who we hated.”
I could tell this was something she didn’t talk about often. This was a story that came through with most of her relationships, both platonic and not, but was never said out loud. It felt as though Baby Kitty was sitting across from me, still just wishing on her flowers, candles, stars and now blog posts for the miracle of a family that didn’t know the word ‘divorce’. I know she isn’t alone. I’ve sat with friends, clients, partners, you name it, who all dreamed of different family dynamics. My parents never got divorced, but I remember when things would get bad, using some of my own wishes on a desire to feel like the Brady Bunch. I didn’t talk about it for a long time though. Blood is thicker than water, therefore, it is easier to drown in. As Kitty took her deep breaths between sentences, it felt like she was working her way up to the surface. With each word that left her lips, the heaviness seemed to start lifting. She was no longer holding in the story that held her under for so long.
Kitty was coming up for air in front of my eyes.
Kitty went on with how this whole situation impacted her choices moving forward. She, like a lot of kids that have difficult relationships with their families, learned to be independent. She knew as soon as she could leave their care she would; her ambitions fueled by the desire to be done with needing her family. That mentality, however, started to feel a bit bit blurry when she got the news that takes over much of the space in her mind today.
“I was just like thinking you know, wow, like I spent years just thinking about that one wish, ya know? Now it’s just weird because well my moms got breast cancer… and I had to call my dad and tell him. And it was like, I’ve know for a long time that my moms had cancer like at first she had skin cancer, then had cervical cancer, and now its in her breasts and lymph nodes and my dad didn’t know any of this… and he was like ‘Oh, thanks for telling me.’ And I just thought that was, like, just weird. It’s so weird. What’s really weird, okay, is so my dad’s mom also has cancer. Everyone else knew that my mom had cancer but my dad didn’t and it was just weird. ‘Oh yeah dad, sorry, you’re the last one to know my moms had cancer for like a year… And its like, you know, I know my dad at one point had to have feelings for my mom… so, like, I wonder what he is thinking?… his mom has cancer, his ex wife now has cancer, I wonder if he’s thinking ‘oh my daughter is going to get cancer.’
As she said this sentence I could feel my body start to heat up, because all I could hear in that sentence was ‘oh, is my friend going to get cancer?’ My friend, that was so rawly telling me about the difficult childhood she had and her family’s battle with cancer, and the person that was there for me in some of my darkest times, would I see the day that she get’s sick? I tried to let the thought pass through, not letting it derail the conversation.
She continued on about this strange dynamic that now existed and then it hit me, was my friend sitting there also wondering if she was going to get cancer?
“You know [Kitty] you mentioned your dad wondering if you were going to get cancer, but is that something you’re thinking about?”
“I think so. I always thought I was going to die from suicide or cancer,” she shared as she was laughing through her nose.
Kitty uses laughter as a way to cope with the dark things in her life. It is something that I love the most about her. She continued to make jokes throughout the interview, saying things like “my mom is the one-percenter of breast cancer, so bow down, she is a one-percenter.” When I lived with Kitty we would spend hours laughing at everything we could. We would talk about our suicidal ideations like it was going to be the kickstart for our stand-up shows. No matter the topic we find a way to laugh together. But the good thing about knowing Kitty, even more after this interview, is that I know that between the laughs there are deep, deep pains that spill out with hard crying. This interview was no different, oscillating between laughter and tears. I could feel her pain and I could feel her trying to cope with that pain.
She went on to talk about her two siblings who have gone through the same events, but how they handled it much differently.
Kitty talks about her family through a lens of empathy, wanting to have a deeper understanding of the choices that were made as to lessen the pain and the way it impacts her daily life. She told me about her brothers and how much it affects them. She recalled the disconnect from her older brother as he pushed away from any sort of connection, which they have now started to rebuild. Then to her younger brother, who is still working on finding himself. As she then laughs and throws in “So, yes I am the middle, obviously.” Needing to interject some more comedy to help protect herself.
All of this disconnect and hurt with her family kept her on the move. She winded up in Alaska in August of 2012. If there is one thing that Kitty has always made clear to me, it’s that Alaska held one of the most special places in her heart.
“And so, do you think you’ll be in Alaska forever?”
“You know, I used to think that, until my mom got sick again. I’m gonna go home for a little bit. It’s not healthy for me to be there for a long time. I haven’t been home for more than 5 days in like 7 years. Yeah, I was thinking about going home for a month.” She was quick to note that she wouldn’t be staying at her families homes, she would be renting a place, still finding ways to keep herself safe.
It felt as though Kitty was letting go of something as the interview came to an end. She was recognizing that as we get older we can take our history and rather than let it define us we can let it inform us. Kitty still cares deeply for her family, regardless of the unfulfilled wishes from her childhood. She is there for her mom and they are all working together to get through all the ways cancer derails their lives. Her wish now transforming into one of keeping her mother alive, healthy, and married to anyone, so long as she can stick around.
Kitty, who I see as a strong, bad-ass, presented me with very real vulnerability. I felt so connected to someone I already call a close friend. Hearing her story, I was humbled by the ways I didn’t know this part of my friend. It reminded me that whether you are sitting with a complete stranger or your best friend, there are always new stories to discover, so long as you leave space for people to tell you what’s important to them.
“Okay last question for you, Kitty. Is there anything you want to recommend to people hearing your story and have experienced or are experiencing the things you have experienced?”
“Uhm, probably just self-care and mindfulness and sometimes self-care isn’t a bubble bath it’s actually getting a f****ing therapist and talking about some shit. In order to have productive self-care I think you need to know a lot about yourself… Self-care doesn’t necessarily feel good. It can honestly be the most painful thing you ever do.”
Blunt enters the screen, another coping skill she has acquired over time.
She continues, as she exhales from a deep drag, “my mom consumes every thought of mine right now. I’ve been crying a lot lately… Here I go crying again.”
“I wish I could hug you.”
Through the tears, “I just want to say that if my mom were here she would say ‘google how to do your own breast exam. And don’t forget to get your mammogram at dat 40’ and then she would cross her arms and give you the look.”
Sound advice, I would say.
And I would like to add, never stop wishing on anything you can. As Kitty so perfectly demonstrated, sometimes hope is all that we have to get us through a difficult time.
A[wo]men & Kitty Sopow
* Featured image gathered from story-teller (From left bottom to right bottom: Joe, Terry-mom, Kitty, Pearce-dad, Bobby)
Vows, schmows. I don’t care.
Is it hereditary?
I really don’t know.
-Divorce by Kitty Sopow
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***For more information on the story-teller, follow her on instagram @sopowart