sleeping with the little engine that could…n’t

we are what we remember quote

I realize, of course, the implication of my title. So, I’ll set things right at the onset. This is not my attempt at creating a euphemism for erectile dysfunction, nor is it a comment on the vest-pocket penis. For starters, I can most certainly trump "little engine" in the euphemism department:

"Gabe was a roll of quarters, and I’d spent too many nights wishing I could feel it in my stomach. In the same way you can’t imagine the taste of butter on your dry baked potato, you can’t fantasize the feeling of weight in your hands. Unfortunately, it’s not like the pimple on your face; it doesn’t feel bigger than it actually is. Been there, done a past life of that. Lesson learned." 

"This is one you just can’t compromise away. The careless leaving-the-seat-up thing is a non-issue.  There’s therapy for a bad temper. Get a maid to deal with the socks. But a lifetime with a penis made of kibbles n bits is a deal-breaker." —Straight Up And Dirty

I wasn’t being spiteful; I was being generous. But enough of the Wasband’s wee-wares. This is a post about trains… Or, is it? The truth is, it was going to write about trains, all about Thomas and his bits. About how I spent another sleepless night with wood glue, constructing a three-story fantasy train world for Kind Sir, and how obsessed I’ve become, wanting SureTrack Clips (so he can play on the carpet without the tracks coming undone), needing Wacky Tracking (so he can create a corkscrew road if he’d like), desperate for adapters and elevation supports. Damn exciting stuff, to one and all, clearly. Then I was going to segue to internal scripts—those things about myself I’ve always assumed, without question. I’ve spent so many years proclaiming who I am and who I’m not. "I am a Jackie Chan of a chef." "I am not someone who can install window screens." "I am someone who spends time looking back, but would never go back."

"Who would have thought," I thought—my foot supporting an ascending railway track as I reached for glue—"that I’d ever be the type to spend her Saturday night building a train station? Who would’ve thought I was the handy one in the relationship?" It’s just as The Little Engine That Could demonstrates; it’s all about internal scripts. Sometimes—all the time, actually—we convince ourselves of who we are and what we’re capable of. Mind over matter. The man who succeeds is the man who thinks he can, and all that. And here, all this time, I’d convinced (quite passively) myself that I wasn’t good at assembling anything more than a salad. It’s where I was going with the post, that is, until I was derailed with photos of the Wasband’s recent wedding…to another redhead.

That’s when I strayed from the main line and shifted directions: part of who we are is where we’ve been, what we choose, how we respond. A more intimate, quiet part of who we are is what we remember. It’s what we know.

I couldn’t un-know that I knew most of the groomsmen in the photos, that I knew which smiles of his were orchestrated, where the photographer asked him to kiss her head; I couldn’t un-know wedding dance lessons. I couldn’t un-know all the intimate things you learn when you’re with someone, as we were, for five years. Funerals. Grandparents. Weddings. Traffic. Clogged drains. Jokes about clogged arteries. Him always falling asleep first. Anywhere. In a bowl of spaghetti. Jokes about the way his mother always told that story. Doctor visits. Going with me to the OBGYN to see the heartbeat. I couldn’t un-know the way he liked to dip me at the end of songs. And as much as I tried, I certainly couldn’t un-know his mother, "Rome," but really, no one can.

I couldn’t unlearn the faces of his cousins, or his uncle—the one who was always so nice to me, but whom the Wasband privately called "A nothing; he’s a nobody." I couldn’t un-know it as I passed the photo, his uncle ready to prop him up for the Horah. You can’t unlearn everything you remember, no matter what your internal script. You can’t "I think I can" out of it. And many (even I) might argue differently on this: you can’t talk yourself out of the ugly. The kind of ugly that stays with you when you’ve loved someone. The ugly wishes, hoping someone along the way treats him the way he treated you, wanting nothing more for him than karma.

More than any of these detailed threads, the one that’s most telling, is that they’re with me still. The most telling detail in all these details is that I remember them. And none of us can choose what we remember or find a way to un-know all that we do. It sticks with you, whether you want it to or not. Sometimes he snakes into your dreams. Admitting this doesn’t mean you’re not over it. Not at all.

If I’d shrugged, if I was so far beyond it, without feeling or care, I don’t think I could’ve ever called what we had love. You can’t ignore that up until now it’s all felt like details and facts, descriptions of a breakup & breakthrough, but now it feels like something else: an acknowledgment that what we had was real. And you can’t unlearn that.

You can only ask yourself to please, if you’d be so kind, get the fuck out. So you close the browser window, write it all down, and you reach for the glue and get back on track.

train memories


  1. Stephanie–I have missed these types of posts-the ones that seep into your marrow and take your breath away. Thank you.

  2. Facebook is the root of all evil. I find myself staying up at night, seeking out our mutual friends, to click on their comments on the exes photo albums. I spitefully smile at the bad decorating, the colored lights on the tree of the new girlfriend/wife, and then find myself going to seek out their wedding registry. Really? The perfect brownie baking pan? WHO registers for that?! I lightly laugh at the pictures of him making snow angels in the new location that his job took him, far away from Texas, where it never snows.
    And it’s not longing for him, or for what could have been, but a small glimpse of what may have been my life.
    I saw your update last night, that you were cyber-stalking. Glad that I’m not the only one. :)

  3. I got to sit down with my very best friend the other night for a post x-mas toddy, and she asked if I ever thought about my ex. My first reaction is ‘absolutely not’ – but that’s not true.

    Every time I see my children who look exactly like both of us, or hear my son laugh with the same rumbly laugh, I think of him kindly. Every time the child support payment is late, or he bitches about tuition I loathe him.

    Fact is, he is a huge part of what made me who I am: cynical, protective, loyal, devoted, generous, thoughtful, etc. It was both his goodness and badness that I have grown from, and whereas he isn’t in the forefront of my mind, and I look forward to the day when the darlings are graduated from college and far, far away and I never have to see the rat bastard, I also have to give him credit for helping me become the woman I am. If it weren’t for both his good and bad qualities, I wouldn’t be here – content with my choices, surrounded by peace and plenty, loved by my children…I’d still be living the sham of the married life I once so wanted.

  4. So you write a post about remembering love, but you just cannot resist starting by insulting your ex’s penis size? That says it all about you -No wonder he dumped you.

  5. Beautiful post. I agree — I think a lot of the things that I think make me “me” are quiet things, ones you don’t necessarily talk about, little moments that I remember. Those moments you can’t really put into words can be your happiest and your saddest and they define who you are, the personality you show to the world.

  6. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing here about your ex- husband’s new wife. So you shouldn’t advertise this post about her, because it isn’t. You’re getting extra pageviews under false pretenses.

    Also, there’s no transition between the paragraph where you’re building an engine and the fact that you stumbled (magically, through sniffing glue, it would seem) on some pictures. And never during your post do we find out what the pictures are about. It only says so in the title, which is hardly enough.

    I think you should

    a) Read things before you post them. I mean, it’s pretty, but you always need to check if what you’re writing makes any sense at all.

    b) Take a writing course. Maybe you have, but you should probably take another one. Just because you’ve published a couple of books doesn’t mean you craft can’t be perfected.

    c) Maybe learn some editing as well.

    1. I feel like you only skimmed Stephanie’s post instead of reading the entire thing, because your critique doesn’t even make sense. This post doesn’t false advertise, and there was a proper transition from the train track part to the pictures part. Maybe you should thoroughly read things before you comment on them.

        1. A.) I am on facebook.
          B.) I was referring to when you said that “we never found out what the pictures were about”. so take a chill pill and learn to read before you comment/reply to someone else’s comment.

  7. Make sure to take time to be sure of your next move. Don’t neglect your health and peace of mind. Try new things, stay away from dating and your ex until you’re feeling strong and confident about yourself.

    1. I’m totally confused… you know SK is married, right? Why would she ‘take time’ before ‘dating again?’ This is sort of funny .. unless you meant this for other people who broke up recently and wanted to give advice? Otherwise, um…. yeah, i think she’s past that point, haha:)

  8. Apropos of nothing except the fact that I bought “Our Crowd” by Steven Birmingham at a library book sale and started reading it Xmas Day, is Phil a descendant of the German-Jewish banking Beer family? Just curious. If he has no idea, tell him to ask his mother.

  9. Just wanted to say thank you soooooooooo much for the amazing advice in your book. Your book picked me up out of the mud when I was feeling the worst I ever felt in my life, and doing all the things you advised gave me a life line – now I am so much stronger and happier.

  10. Oh my jesus, Stephanie! Thank you so much for this post. I really thought I was some nuthead for feeling the way I do about my ex, about whom you gave me advice one afternoon over Facebook chat. I’ve moved on from him and I’m happy just being with myself right now but sometimes while sitting at the bar with friends and I almost feel his arm wrap around me. Or while I’m cooking, I can hear him tell me that it smells good. And sometimes I hear my parents unlocking the front door and I”m swept off my feet into his home where I would wait for him to come in with a smile on my face. I miss the good times….I miss what he meant to me before it got bad….before he hit me…before he spit in my face and treated me like trash.

    And it kills me because I know most people wouldn’t understand me…they’d think I’m a masochist….but that’s not what I miss….I miss the love and the laughter, the attraction and the conversations. But then just as I start to miss him, I remember the hell he made me live and I realize you can’t love Dr. Jekyll without Mr. Hyde and just like that I snap back and go on building my own train station.

  11. Very well written. And very true. Hitting home for me was mostly the part about the kind of person we think we are…
    You can’t unlearn the memories, sure. But I think we don’t allow them to fade naturally any more… we keep them alive and present artificially in this world of thousands of digital pictures, internet, facebook.

  12. Try getting over an ex when you share a child together.

    There is no closure, no get the fuck out. Just acceptance. Acceptance in the fact that either he or you fucked up and it will never be. I too like that you admitted you were cyberstalking. Hee!

  13. My first reaction to this post was, she’s wrong. Of course you can get over someone and not have them affect you. Of course, you can force yourself to forget. But then I looked at my own experiences and how I was shaped by the men in my life prior to my husband and realized that my experiences led me to the man that I chose. Because I learned from them what I didn’t want.

  14. GREAT POST, STEPHANIE! This is the kind of post that keeps me coming back for more. Great use of language, phrase, tone… all of that English-lit stuff! You are such a good writer. This is one I will come back to.

    I don’t know what you read in your spare time, but if you come accross it, I would love your opinion on the book “Making Love Last Forever”. Don’t judge this book by its cover, but judge it and let me know what you think.

    1. Ugh, and please don’t judge me by my typos. My brain works faster than my fingers.

  15. What a sad post. To start by poking fun at your ex-husband’s genitals to then try to send messages to his “nothing” Uncle who your ex shared thoughts with you about while husband and wife…I don’t know…I was going to write “you’re better than this”, but then I really didn’t believe that enough to mean it.

    For someone who has made her dreams come true and has a husband, children, movie deals and a life filled with crafts and scrapbooks, you think this wouldn’t phase you enough to write this entry.

    Maybe knowing your ex and his new spouse are part of the NYC elite bothers you since that was where you saw yourself landing? Is it because she’s a model? Who cares about that shit? Most rational intelligent people don’t.

    I get that you shared a life with this man, but to take the occasion of his wedding to stalk him and then mock him and land a few more shots literally below the belt was just pathetic and there is nothing triumphant and or beautiful about what you wrote here.

    I get it, he was a complete shit to you. You turned that experience into lemonade and wrote a successful book about it. This post should have stayed on the cutting room floor.

  16. I dunno. You are still talking about the ex’s penis size? And it has been exactly how many years? Even if you are “over” him, it is still so tacky to write about this on the internet; sure, it is something to share with your girl friends. Frankly, it looks like you are still trying to win a battle against him.

  17. I thought it was beautiful what this post said about her own mind and memories, and how none of us ever really forget or 100% “move on” … I do somewhat agree that these particular excerpts from the book do kind of cheapen the rest of the sentiment.

  18. Author

    In defense of the little engine, please allow that I genuinely was writing this post as one about a train, but then it changed, and I realized the title was still about sleeping with a little engine that couldn’t… meaning, I wasn’t sleeping, and STILL, with all that work, staying up late, missing my sleep, there was STILL no little engine train with which to play.

    Then, when I came upon the photos (and it doesn’t matter how I came upon them), the post changed, but the title was the same, and I then realized the title might imply erectile dysfunction, etc. Then (pardon the pun) train of thought brought me to the fact that within Straight Up and Dirty I spoke of the subject more colorfully. Saw it as a damn fine place to quote my first memoir.

    For the record, penis size was the smallest, least significant thing about him. It is, however, the easiest to quickly quote from a book, and tie in with a post title as it is. So THAT was the thinking there. Body insults are the least of it, the very least of it.

    And um, “try to send messages to his uncle…” I NEVER try to send secret messages on my blog. I am quite confident his family doesn’t read this blog, for starters, and I’m also pretty sure I got most of it out in writing Straight Up & Dirty. Not all of it, but a good chunk. There are certain details I did not include in the book because I KNEW his family would be reading it, and I didn’t want to hurt them with certain cutting details that made for an awesome story, but in the end weren’t mine to tell. What I did by including that detail here is remain authentic to what I experience, which is what I’ve been doing on this blog for the past 5 years now.

    As for wanting to be part of the NY Elite? I made a choice. I chose to leave NY because that, all of that, never mattered to me. If you read Straight Up & Dirty, you’d know it. The Wasband was the one who said what he wanted most was to be on Page 6. I never wanted that life. I wanted dinner parties with close friends, with stories told. It’s all I ever wanted, which was part of the problem. He wanted a velvet rope life, and I wanted a cashmere blanket on the sofa playing board games with friends, having wine tastings, making warm memories at home. It’s what I still want and am still striving and working toward having. I wanted and think I’ll always want comfortable. He wanted fame, wanted to be a Ralph Lauren Ad (as another doctor friend had been) not me. Appearances were always of utmost importance to him, so the model thing never surprised me. What surprised me was how much I still remember, all of it, so vividly. Which is why I wrote what I did.

    1. Thank you for saying that Stephanie. Comments like Kalorama’s piss me off to no end, and I always want to jump in and come to your defense, but don’t want to be a blog hag. Seriously, with judgments like “so tacky,” especially in light of how self-actualized and aware you are, I don’t know how you stand it. This was so beautifully handled and heartfelt. Thank you.

    2. I hear what you’re saying, but you still made the choice to skewer the guy AGAIN.

      I mean, maybe he saw your 2nd wedding pictures and made dartboards out of them for all we know.

      This post just felt wrong and not in a good way.

      The fact of the matter is, whether you stalked and found his wedding photo’s or some “friend” emailed you a link, you should have kept it to yourself. By the by, if someone emailed you the link to his pics, that’s a person who secretly hates you no matter what you think.

      The guy was a dick to you and I’m sure you have plenty saved up in the revenge bank for a lifetime of posts like these. Still doesn’t mean you have to draw on those.

      I just think as someone who comes here to read about you and enjoys your writing, it was sad for me to see you’re still rehashing this shit when I thought you’d already gotten over it with a “You Go Girl” exclamation point.

      Life’s hard and messy and it’s difficult to stop being the people we are and start being the people we know inside we can be. I’m as guilty of it as you are.

      I just felt sad for you and your husband. No matter what he tells you, the fact that you examined the photo’s and then wrote this had to bother him. He could tell you it didn’t. But when anyone ever checks in on an ex, it’s hurts their significant other.

      1. I don’t think Stephanie was asking for advice and she certainly doesn’t write these blogs for anyone’s judgement. She writes them for herself, they are her journal entries… get Stephanie, Straight Up & Dirty, all the time on here.

        Deal with it or don’t comment at all.

  19. Oh so what if Stephanie wrote about her ex’s teenie weenie? He treated her like crap, humiliated her and seriously, this is the least she could do. Anyway, I love the honest, tell-all writing and all the putting it out there, and I dare say that this is why we all keep coming back. As for the comments about her being jealous because the ex married a model? Possibly. But I’d be more jealous if she was a brain surgeon, or an accomplished, well-known writer. Besides, from certain angles, the woman he married looks a little horsey, model or not.

  20. What I loved most about this post is that whether you want to cop to it or not, and whether you meant it or not, you totally skewered the Was. I can’t think of ANYTHING that would do that more effectively than to rehash his small penis for the world to see. And while I totally get where you were going with it, what stuck with me was how effectively you did him in.

    I’ve been guilty of making the same observation about my Was, who is actually a great guy. I wish I could stop doing that. And now that I’ve read your post, maybe I will.

  21. How do y’all know what the Wasbands new wife looks like??? Are you all stalking him as well?

  22. Part of me really liked this post. Part of me did not. I get it and understand what you’re saying about “what we remember” and how vividly you can remember it. However, I also agree with Alex E.’s comments — “I think we don’t allow them (memories) to fade naturally any more… we keep them alive and present artificially in this world of thousands of digital pictures, internet, facebook.”

    When I write about it, I feel like I’m keeping it even more alive. You may be saying “get the fuck out,” but really I’m letting it all back in.

  23. Why does it say at the top of my browser not “sleeping with the little engine that couldn’t” but

    “When the Wasband remarried another redhead: an ugly story”.

    Google that phrase and this post comes up. Obviously that was your first choice title for this post? Just askin’

    Stephanie let it go.

    I doubt whether you’ll post this comment.

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