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Worst Man In the World*: On Trial

I’m pretty sure that, if a Hollywood film producer read a screenplay based on the news articles about the John Edwards trial, he’d toss them aside, scoff, look at the screenwriter and say, “Ya gotta gimme something plausible, kid. Nobody’s gonna believe that tripe.”

This, by the way, will have been the same guy who produced Alien Vs. Predator and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. 

We’re four days into this trial, in which John Edwards is accused of improperly using nearly a million dollars in campaign funds as hush money to keep his babymama away from the press while he ran for president in 2007/8 (unofficial charge: being The Worst Man In the World*). The defense contends that it wasn’t campaign money, it was gifted for the candidate’s personal use, was intended to hide the affair and child from Edwards’ wife, not influence the campaign, and therefore was not illegal. (Claims as to the ethical and moral rightness of the scheme have not been made in court.) For four days, the court has been listening to the testimony of Andrew Young. Andrew Young is the former campaign aide who agreed to pretend to be the father of John Edwards’ mistress’s baby, and agreed to  live with her and his own wife in a cross-country, fugitive-like, months-long run, for the purposes of hiding the affair and pregnancy.

Now, I read Game Change, so I did already know about Andrew Young, and I already could not believe the way the whole thing went down. But wow, I didn’t know the half of it. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann were holding out.

The Characters:

John Edwards, former presidential candidate accused of using campaign funds as hush money to silence a mistress

Andrew Young, former campaign aide and close friend to John Edwards, who agreed to claim paternity of Edwards' child with his mistress and embarked on a cross-country effort to keep her away from the media while Edwards ran for president

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rielle Hunter, former Edwards campaign videographer and Edwards' mistress, who gave birth to their daughter, Frances Quinn, in February 2008

Fred Baron, former Edwards campaign finance director who personally funded part of the effort to keep Hunter away from the media. Now deceased.

Reclusive philanthropist Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, who agreed to help fund Edwards' "personal needs" as a presidential candidate. Now 101 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scene: June 2007. The presidential primary is in full swing and Edwards is performing well. He appears to be a loving family man, married to a chubby but cute woman whose late-in-life children came after the heartbreak of their teenaged son’s death in a car crash. But his wife’s breast cancer has returned, and his mistress, campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, has just threatened to expose him to the media as a liar and a cheat. Now, she reveals she is pregnant.

EDWARDS:
She’s a crazy slut. There’s a 1-in-3 chance that baby is mine.

YOUNG:
What do you want to do?

EDWARDS:
…Take care of it.

See, it’s not that Edwards was wrong when he called Rielle Hunter a crazy slut. Factually, it was probably true. But it’s no way to treat a lady you’re banging on the road to the White House while you’re wife’s having chemo. Yet, unlike The Ides of March, Young doesn’t go rogue and decide to “take care of it” by using a campaign slush fund to pay for an abortion without telling the candidate that’s what he’s doing. As we’re about to learn… that? Would have been the less insane approach. Like, by far.

Instead, what happens, according to Young, is that Edwards devises a plan to get two ridiculously wealthy campaign supporters named Fred Baron and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon (I did not make those names up) to fork over lots and lots of greenbacks for the sake of keeping Rielle Hunter quiet and far, far away from cameras and microphones. Bunny Mellon (of The Mellons, Carnegie and otherwise), who is currently literally eleventy-two years old, agrees to spend $1.2 million over time for what she understands to be “personal needs” for the candidate.

YOUNG:
I don’t know if this is legal.

EDWARDS:
I’ve talked to several experts in campaign finance laws. It’s legal.

By law, individuals are only allowed to contribute $2,300 to a campaign in a given election cycle. Bunny knows these funds are for “personal needs,” not intended to be used for the campaign, but one wonders: if it’s so legal, why does she write the checks to her interior decorator for $75,000 at a time? The decorator then endorses the checks and sends them to Andrew and Cheri Young.

(Um, hello? Decorator? You are an idiot. Take the money and run!)

So we suspend our disbelief and the decorator follows the plan. The Youngs (oh, yes, Andrew’s wife is in on this) are supposed to use the money to keep Rielle away from Edwards most of the time, though now the defense says the Youngs siphoned off most of the money to pay for the construction of their $1.5 million home. Edwards tells them to give Hunter an allowance between $5,000 and $12,000 per month so she can travel and meet up with him when his wife’s not around. And merrily we roll along, debating a President Edwards.

The scene: December 2007. HUNTER is now in her third trimester, living in a rented home in Chapel Hill.  But a tabloid has tracked HUNTER down in a grocery store parking lot. The media pick up the scent: EDWARDS’ one-time campaign videographer is single… and pregnant.

EDWARDS:
I have an idea. Andrew, you can say that you’re the baby’s father.

YOUNG:
Um…

EDWARDS:
We need to give the media something they’ll understand. An affair between two staffers.

YOUNG:
Well…

EDWARDS:
Andrew, this is bigger than all of us. I want to get the military out of Iraq. I want to help remake healthcare. And… I don’t want Elizabeth to have to deal with this before she dies.

YOUNG:
Well… okay.

Yes, seriously.

The Youngs and a pregnant Hunter accept arrangements from Fred Baron, who is

… wait for it…

the Edwards campaign’s finance director…

to go live in a house in California together like some effed up reality show without cameras. Young publicly claims to be Hunter’s baby’s father, despite his marriage. And then they head out on the run, trying to evade the media. Baron spends $183,000 of his own money for Hunter’s care. He sends Young overnight packages stuffed with cold, hard cash so the money can’t be traced. Edwards is careful to tell Young not to ever let Edwards know exactly where they are.

EDWARDS:
I don’t want to have to lie if somebody asks me.

Edwards and Hunter continue to talk, with Edwards borrowing staffers’ cell phones to call her so that the number doesn’t show up on the Edwards family phone bill. Eventually, he gets a separate phone, unbeknownst to his wife. He and Hunter call it “The Bat Phone.”

Possibly as in batsh*t crazy.

The scene: June 2008. YOUNG is growing increasingly frustrated. EDWARDS had told him back in December that he would come out as the baby’s father as soon as the election was over. He dropped out of the race in January and then stopped taking YOUNG’s calls. HUNTER’s daughter, Frances Quinn, was born in February. HUNTER and baby still live with the YOUNGS. And still, EDWARDS is denying paternity, though he has admitted to the affair. In May, EDWARDS had gone to MELLON asking her for $50 million to establish an anti-poverty foundation, but he was intercepted by MELLON’s lawyer and accountant, who asked him about all the checks Mellon has been writing to her interior decorator for purposes of supporting EDWARDS off the record. The anti-poverty foundation idea is, not surprisingly, nixed. YOUNG, who can only get to EDWARDS through intermediaries now, had confronted BARON with four demands: that EDWARDS fess up to being the father; that he reveal his longterm plans, that the YOUNGS stop living with HUNTER and her child, and that EDWARDS meet with YOUNG face-to-face. The two former friends met in a hotel room near Washington in mid-June, where EDWARDS asked YOUNG to keep the secret a little longer. The men nearly come to blows, but EDWARDS charms his friend.

EDWARDS:
I love you, Andrew. And I know you know that I would never abandon you.

 Not even kidding. Later, on cross-examination, a defense attorney would ask Young: “Did you fall in love with John Edwards?” To which Young would reply, “A lot of people did.” He would admit that he wanted to be best friends with a president, that power was the lure that made him say yes to all these deals.

The scene: August 2008. EDWARDS and YOUNG are meeting near the Edwards home in Chapel Hill. YOUNG arrives to find EDWARDS sitting nervously in a borrowed black Suburban. He motions for YOUNG to follow him and drives erratically along backcountry roads before stopping on a dead-end path and beckoning YOUNG to get into the Suburban.

Holy crap, y’all.

EDWARDS:
What is this I’m hearing about checks Bunny Mellon wrote? Do you know about this?

YOUNG (astonished… thinking there must be a recording device somewhere):
No, I didn’t know about that.

EDWARDS seems anxious. He is sweating.  YOUNG snaps.

YOUNG:
I have evidence of everything that’s happened over the last year, John. I’ll go public!

EDWARDS (getting out of the Suburban):
You can’t hurt me, Andrew. You can’t hurt me.

 It was the last time the two men spoke. But this week in a Greensboro courtroom, prosecutors played recordings of voicemails between Edwards and Young dating back to 2007. The prosecutor asked Young why he had kept these messages, and notes he’d made.

“If I didn’t have these,” Young answered, “Nobody would have believed me.”

*who hasn’t killed anybody. That we know of. Yet.

A Stranger At the Door – Part 3

Click here to read part 1.
Click here to read part 2.

******** 

The trooper had pulled me over because he thought my registration was expired. The sticker was for the wrong month. The car dealer had run out of April stickers when I bought the car on April 29th. He had given me a sticker for March.

The trooper had a flat affect, no expression on his face. He was soft-spoken and had an accent that led me to believe he was from an African nation. “Did you have a protective order against you, or did you file one?” he asked.

I was surprised by the question. I didn’t know that would show up on my registration. “Yes,” I told him, “I did have a peace order. I was the complainant.”

“What was his name?” the trooper asked evenly and quietly. I told him. “Was he your boyfriend?” he wanted to know. I blinked behind my sunglasses, wondering why he was asking, and explained that he was not, that he had been a stranger to me. “What was the order for?” the trooper asked.

“Stalking,” I told him.

“Well,” the trooper said softly. “Don’t file a complaint against me.”

My hackles rose. “Excuse me?” I risked a lack of courtesy.

“Don’t file a complaint on me for stalking you,” he repeated, just as softly.

A beat. Was that supposed to be a joke? Or an implication that I’m just some bitch who makes up legal complaints against men?

“No, sir.” I was firm. “My complaint against him was quite valid. He was found guilty and went to prison.”

I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the way the trooper was questioning me. Where did I work? What’s the location? What did I do there? Where was I going now? What would I do when I arrived? Did I have a business card? When I told him I did not, but offered other proof of my employment, he declined. Then he asked me for my license, for the first time since he’d gotten out of his cruiser. I thought he held onto it for too long, stared at it for too long. And as he studied it, he asked me what time I would be off work.

Eventually, he let me go with the understanding that I was watching the mail for the registration sticker. The next day, I was still uncomfortable about the encounter. But I didn’t know if he’d crossed a line or if the cultural difference was the reason for his demeanor. The problem is that my experience with that stalker has made me more sensitive, heightened my suspicions. I hate it. I resent it. I was always cautious, even before I had the stalker. I always looked around, not fearfully, but consciously, so I knew who was where and what cars were new in the lot. My stalker came out of the darkness from his apartment 100 feet away. I never saw him when I got home late at night because he was never out. He stayed inside, looked through the front door of his building for my car, and waited until I was inside my home to creep up. Now every night, even though I don’t live there anymore, I look around a little more carefully when I get home. I look around a little more carefully, even though I could have looked forever before and have never seen the danger.

I am far from paranoid. I don’t live in fear. But perhaps the most unfair part of my experience is this: knowing I have a heightened sensitivity has made me question my own instincts. Sitting on the side of the highway with the trooper at my window, I had felt my anxiety flush through the skin of my chest. Even two days later, something about the incident still felt wrong. But I didn’t want to get this trooper in trouble if he hadn’t done anything out of line. So I hedged my bets and asked an acquaintance who works for the state police whether the trooper’s behavior had been SOP.

My acquaintance responded that he wanted as much information as I could provide on the incident, and that I should call him immediately at an unpublished number if this trooper stopped me again. And then he encouraged me to make a formal complaint against the trooper to his commander.

I was glad to know that my instincts were right, that I wasn’t just oversensitive. But I was alarmed, too. And I was worried; if I file this complaint, does that count as a strike against me somehow? In some future traffic stop, will two legal complaints now come up, painting me as one of those women perceived to have filed one too many sexual harassment lawsuits, one too many concerns about her treatment at the hands of a man? The trooper’s commander was polite and professional, but did not seem terribly bothered by what I told him. Inexplicably, I found myself near tears as I tried to calmly justify my complaint.

Nearly two years after the stalking began, I would like to believe I’m past it. It was an isolated incident and he was punished according to the law. My concerns, coupled with those of a state lawmaker and his staff, translated to action that might protect the safety of countless other individuals by giving them an opportunity to know when an offender is out of jail or prison – something they wouldn’t have known any other way. But every time I hear something that sounds like a pebble against a window, every time I hear someone joke about stalking someone, every time I sense that a stranger’s behavior is odd, I am reminded that I have been changed. And I still feel like a girl with a stranger at her door.

A Stranger At the Door – Part 2

Click here to read Part 1.

********

My parents, just in from Florida, bore faces weary from travel and etched with worry. My sister was wary and staunch. My boss, with whom I’d exchanged terse messages that morning, was angry that I wasn’t coming to work, despite agreeing to it ten days before. With the blanket of tension wrapped around me, we waited in District Court for hours for my stalker’s bench trial. But at the last minute, he asked for a jury trial, so his case would be transferred to Circuit Court and his criminal defense attorney could better guess a sentence from judges he knew.

Three weeks later, in what was scheduled as a preliminary hearing in Circuit Court, my stalker pleaded guilty to avoid the harsh sentence a jury trial would yield. His attorney argued that his client “didn’t have the courage” to actually hurt me, admitted to having a drinking problem and had learned that he “needs to be more considerate in the future.” He also told the judge that his client had no violent prior convictions. I suppose badly beating a woman doesn’t count.

I gave what’s called a victim’s impact statement, and the Internal Affairs sergeant who sat in the back of the room told me later that he thought it would have made a difference if the state had not already agreed to a plea deal. I had okayed the deal because it would save us from worrying about the initial officer’s errors in a jury trial, and it would save my parents from listening to testimony.

Factoring in suspended time from the statute, my stalker was sentenced to 13 months, including time served, and four years probation. Because of his criminal history and the escalation of his behavior, the judge had added a year to the probation deal and sent him to a state prison instead of a county facility.

There is no Truth In Sentencing policy in my state, so I knew he would not serve the full time. The state and county were not obligated to tell me anything about his status. But a friend told me about a state-endorsed service that would monitor his incarceration and tell me if he was released. “I mean it,” he told me firmly. “Sign up.”

Two months after sentencing, the service sent an email. My stalker was out. They put him on home detention for five more months, living at his mother’s house with an ankle bracelet. His ten-year criminal history included a bevy of drug offenses, burglary charges and assault. It showed that while he was on house arrest for beating that woman, he was served with a protective order by another woman. From time to time, I checked his record. One day, I saw that his probation had been reduced from four years to one.

It hit me then. Because of a few connections and an understanding of whose office to approach about what, I had an advantage over so many other victims. I knew others might be intimidated by the idea of calling offices all over the state. I realized that not everyone can pick up and move when they deal with something like this. I realized that not everyone has the support, the friends, the family, the workplace security that I have. And I realized that if it had not been for one friend’s advice, I never would have known anything past the day my stalker pleaded guilty.

I realized how lucky I was. And I knew someone else would not be.

Six months after my stalker’s arrest, I sent an email about my case, and what I wanted for other victims, to two state senators and six state delegates. A few months later, one of the senators officially proposed a bill on my behalf that would tell victims of misdemeanor crimes about the service I used to monitor my stalker’s status. It was a simple plan: a line of copy on District Court letterhead, telling recipients of subpoenas, summonses and other documents about the service I used, to which their counterparts in the felony-oriented Circuit Court were automatically granted access.

I testified to a state senate committee in favor of the bill, a three-minute speech I had agonized over, trying to tell my story and explain why the bill mattered. I tried to drive home the point that most people like me never know anything about their perpetrator’s status after sentencing for a predatory crime. The proposal’s one-time cost of implementation was $5,760, not much more than it had cost me to move. The bill had great support and no opposition.

But it stalled in committee for political reasons. There would be no new law.

The senator’s chief of staff sounded so frustrated on the phone. He said he had gone from such a high to such a low that he was thinking about finding different work. But we didn’t give up. We planned for the next year’s legislative session, and kept trying to make something happen without legislation in the meantime. Several weeks after my testimony to the committee, the senator’s chief of staff called to say that a state agency for crime control had found room for the cost of our initiative in a federal grant. Because it was a one-time expense, there was no risk of undoing our work for lack of funding. The purpose of the bill had been served, in spite of those who stood in its way out of selfishness.

Jack had once said to me, “I tend to think everything happens for a reason. But I can’t think of a reason this happened to you.” I told him that I don’t believe the same thing, but I do think we can make something good come out of a bad situation.

And we had.

******
This is part 2 of a 3-part series. The final part will be posted tomorrow. 

A Stranger At the Door – Part 1

Late July, at midnight. A tapping on my sliding door. Rocks against the glass. The doorbell going off. Over and over. It went on for 16 nights, all of this, sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for an hour. Always between midnight and 1am. Some nights, hidden by my closed blinds, he picked things up from the floor of my second-story balcony and threw them across to the other side. Some nights he saw that my light had been turned off and banged on my bedroom window.

I ignored him, thinking he was some punk who thought he was funny. Then one morning I found  a terrifying note on my door and a one-word message on my car. That’s when I called police. For three nights, they tried in vain to stop him. He taunted them, and me. When they finally caught him, they had to chase him down to his own apartment. He lived 100 feet away. He told them I was his girlfriend.

They brought his ID to my apartment. I did not know who he was.

He might be let out on bail. In daylight, on my way to a weekend court office to get a two-day peace order until I could see a judge, I found another message written on my car.  “NOT YET.” I had to have the police come again. At the court clerk’s office, a bail bondsman, seeing my state, slid his name and number toward me and softly suggested maybe all I needed was a good dinner. I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to realize he was hitting on me. I’d already spent hours that day trying to find out if I could get out of my lease without a penalty, trying to make sure I had somewhere to go if this man was released on bail, trying to make my boss at work understand why I couldn’t come in. I had slept fewer than three hours and woke to phone calls from the police precinct, asking questions about the report made by the first officer who responded. He had left out important details, lied about what happened to the note I had kept and turned over as evidence after he had told me to throw it away.  He was already in trouble before this and was now likely to lose his job. For weeks, commanding officers and detectives from Internal Affairs questioned me in a series of interviews. I was asked to testify in a tribunal hearing to determine the officer’s punishment.

In the days after the arrest, I had to go back to court for a temporary peace order, good for a week. Detectives came and asked me questions, dusted my window and sliding door for fingerprints. I found out that my visitor was also a suspect in three indecent exposure cases, the victims of which were women living in ground-floor apartments within walking distance of my 2nd floor place, who had seen him on their patios, watching them while he pleasured himself. I learned that my upstairs neighbor had tried to bail my visitor out, that police now suspected they were dealing drugs together. I worried that my neighbor might be a threat to me now, too. An illegal cab driver, also apparently a known dealer, also an associate of my visitor, sat parked directly in front of my apartment one day. Officers found him in the upstairs neighbor’s apartment on another night, even though the neighbor said he didn’t know who drove the sedan in the lot.

I did not live in a “bad neighborhood.” What had happened to my quiet, safe home?

Nine days after the arrest, I faced my visitor in court, at a final peace order hearing where he was allowed to question me. It’s a civil proceeding. It works that way regardless of criminal charges. If you want a piece of paper that says he can’t come near you, first you have to stand in a room full of strangers who also need protective orders and tell your story, stand with him six feet away and talk to him. When I saw him walk in, in handcuffs, I had a flash of a memory: him sitting on the front step of the building next to mine, in basketball shorts and a T-shirt.

It was the only time I had ever seen him before.

Separately, the criminal charges were set. Stalking. It took weeks to reconcile the word to my consciousness. Stalking? I had a stalker? I wasn’t famous, I was no one. Would people take me seriously if I said it? Would they roll their eyes, thinking I was being dramatic? Thinking I was flattering myself?

Twenty days after his arrest, I moved.

I worried that the first officer’s mishandled report would hurt us in the prosecution, that my stalker would get away with it and come looking for me, even now that I lived ten miles away, having closed all my service accounts and opened new ones in my new place instead of transferring, so there was no trail from old home to new. To ease my mother’s mind, I rented a PO box instead of getting my mail at home. But he knew where I worked. The information was in the peace order delivered to him in jail.

*****
This is the first of three posts. I have wanted to write about this since I began blogging over a year ago. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

fitness class

How To Kill Yourself While, Ironically, Trying To Improve Your Health

There are so many super-cool, trendy ways to get a workout these days. Newest one to enter my awareness spectrum: TRX group suspension training.

What. The hell. Y’all.

One of my (very brave) friends at work took a class the other day. Naturally, now her Everything hurts and she’s having trouble using the bathroom without injury. She sent me a short video so I could see what this workout is.

I was six seconds in when I decided I would probably:
A) accidentally hang myself;
2) lose my grip on a strap, fling it across the way and smack someone else in the face with it, costing them an eye, then stand there agog as the strap rocketed back toward me and hit me in the back of the head, knocking me over;
and/or
Third) let the strap go slack at exactly the wrong time and fall down.

It struck me as I watched further that this looks a lot like the rings event in a gymnastics competition, only most of the time you’re in some variation of a standing position. Note: that allowance would not make me any less likely to badly, badly hurt myself or others.

The coworker who did this just lunged by my desk, trying to stretch out her legs.

Last week, she took a Zumba class. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically Latin dancing to work off calories. Fun, right? She had a good time, but she lamented that she can’t do classes like these because she’s always at least one step or instruction behind everyone else and therefore going left when everyone else is going right, back to their forth, down to their up, etc. I can empathize. I suggested she have a drink before the next class, as, if she is anything like me, she’s a total white girl when sober, but she can cut a rug with the best of them with a nip o’ grog.

I personally have often wished I could take a fitness class instead of slavishly trying not to fling myself off the back of a treadmill (two sisters and a mother have done it – it’s genetically predetermined to happen to me at some point) or hit myself in the face with an arm pole from a cross-trainer. Clearly my gazelle-like grace is more oriented toward an activity requiring coordination and group-togetherness. But my gym never offers (who am I kidding… offered… past-tense) a class at a time I could attend. And when I see the kind of stuff they’re doing these days, I have to wonder: whatever happened to plain old aerobics? Step class? Olivia Newton-John in legwarmers, gently sweating?

What? That wasn’t about exercise?

Why was she wearing legwarmers? And a leotard?

Okay, what about jogging? Or is it yogging? “It may be a soft J, I’m not sure. But apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It’s supposed to be wild.”

(I ripped that from Anchorman.)

Nah, screw yogging. I’ve never yogged with any kind of commitment. Two miles, max. In climate-control on a treadmill. That’s it. I can’t yog. I run when someone is chasing me with a weapon. End scene.

Step class it is.

Step 1: rejoin gym.

(“Gime? What’s a gime?” The Simpsons.)

Santorum Exits, Stage Right. End Scene.

Well, it’s happened. All the pontificating and gesticulating and jockeying and vying is pretty much done. Game basically over. Mitt Romney will be your nominee for the Republican Party’s presidential race.

Did you hear that cheer?

Me, neither.

Rick Santorum’s decision to leave the race was rather sudden, but not necessarily unwarranted. His daughter, who suffers from a rare and very serious genetic disorder called Trisomy 18 which kills more than 90% of its victims by their first birthday if not in-utero, was hospitalized again over the weekend. Apparently, though the former senator did not say it directly, that was part of the influence on his decision.

I’m sure he wouldn’t have decided the same thing if he had more delegates or didn’t appear set to lose the primary in his home state of Pennsylvania on the 24th.

Say and think what you want about Rick Santorum. I’ve said before that the reason he did so surprisingly well at just the right time for a candidate was that he rarely changes his position on anything and he stands up for what he believes in, come hell or high political water. Not everybody likes what he believes in, but he didn’t need their support, anyway – there were enough people who were like-minded to bolster his race. But he never could raise enough money and he never could get as organized as the Romney people (because he never could raise enough money).

What was right about Rick Santorum was that he knew what he was talking about when it cames to matters of Congress, foreign affairs and budgeting. Sometimes his answers on those questions in debates earned him boos because the crazy audience members (I swear they’re a pack of rabid animals) wanted him to be less realistic and more wholly right-wing on those issues, but Santorum served as a representative and a senator. He knows the process and he sat on the committees. He knows what’s not going to fly on Capitol Hill, and more importantly, he’s going to tell you it won’t fly. Unlike Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, both veterans of the Hill as well, who have pie-in-the-sky ideas (moonpie-in-the-sky, in Gingrich’s case) and won’t face facts because they get in the way of a good (read: insane) soundbite from a debate. Oh, Gingrich rants against the media, but he knows they’re doing his bidding every time they run a bite.

When Santorum decided to suspend his campaign yesterday, Mitt Romney put out a statement saying he had been a worthy and able competitor who proved he had an important voice in the party and the nation.

Newt Gingrich called his campaign a remarkable testament to the power of conservative values and then “humbly” asked Senator Santorum’s supporters to check out newtgingrich360.com and throw their support to him as he continues his campaign all the way to the convention “so conservatives have a real choice.”

Newt Gingrich is not humble about anything and this was the first time in months that I’ve seen him address a competitor in the race with the respect of a title before his last name. He normally just tosses out last names. Romney this, Santorum that, Obama the other. The rest of the candidates are respectful enough to put the title before the name. Governor Romney, Senator Santorum, President Obama.

So, let me check… yep. I still hate Newt Gingrich.

Ron Paul is still in the race, too, by the way. You wouldn’t know it, because once Super Tuesday came and went, his ability to challenge a frontrunner did, too. He hasn’t won a single state so far and they’ve been through half the primaries. Supporters will tell you that everyone counts the delegates wrong and Paul actually has far more delegates than anyone thinks. I don’t know whose math they’re using. Maybe it’s that drug legalization that’s getting to them.

The good news, dear readers, is that if you’re not into Republicans, you can relax a little. You’re going to have far fewer of them coming at you now. The bad news is that if you live in a swing state, the commercials are going to start hot and heavy soon. Obama v. Romney. Title fight. Whether it will be a gentleman’s game or a Mixed Martial Arts match-up remains to be seen.

How to Clean Grout Using Nothing But Elbow Grease and Tears

Jack’s toothbrush is too soft.

I learned this while using it to scrub the grout in my shower.

For the last two weeks, I’ve spent most of my emotional energy alternately wanting to stab people and crying. Turns out, there are more people in need of a good gashing than I previously understood. Sure, my emotional state may have had something to do with my urge to cut them, but really, I think under normal circumstances a lot of these people could benefit from a bit of a knifing, and upon hearing all the evidence, not a jury in the world would convict me.

Jack and I have always had what you’d call an unconventional relationship. We’ve known each other for ten years, and for most of that time we’ve been especially close. I value that. The power and depth of our connection has brought blessings and joys to my life that I have not experienced from any other relationship. I knew early in our acquaintance that he was an extraordinary person, and I felt strongly that it would be wrong not to know him as well as I could. I believe he is a gift to my life, and he has made me a better person.

But we’ve always been more than just friends, and less than romantically linked. For ten years, we have been an almost daily part of each other’s lives, sharing fears and hopes and worries and joys, sharing petty annoyances, jokes, late-night television and schtick, sharing the thoughts that keep us up at night, the things we never tell anyone else, sharing flirtation and emotion that, in any other human connection, would lead to something more.

Others have noted our seemingly natural fit. In light of its depth, some of us wanted it to veer more in the romantically linked direction, while others of us apparently preferred to run marathons and be evasive. The toothbrush was in my house because there have been times when Jack has spent the night, and there have been, oh, less abstruse connections… but I have some pretty solid rules about what I do and don’t do with men who run marathons while being evasive, so don’t let your imaginations run wild about my morals. (Which is not to say I haven’t let my own imagination run wild a time or 7,000.)

But don’t get me wrong, either: it’s not like we’ve been waiting around. We’ve both had dates, relationships with significant others, etc. in those years. And I’ve known for a long time that it was probably not going to veer in the established-couple direction and dealt with that as well as I could. But for me, it’s always come back to him. And for him, it seemed to always come back to me.

Well, that’s what I told myself, anyway.

Recent events tipped the scales of what I have always tried to keep in balance in our relationship. For the first time in ten years, I finally got mad. Jack has always tended to isolate himself for certain periods of time,  from everyone. But more from others than from me. This time I got mad because Jack had distanced himself so much for so long that it was really changing our relationship, and he had not given me the courtesy of acknowledging it despite a few truly gentle expressions of my concern. There were several things he had done or said that made me feel minimized and marginalized, and he knew it. It all came to a head, and I had finally had enough.

The two-hour Come To Jesus conversation that followed was at once frustrating and revealing. We both know we have our own issues, of course, and he offered that his is the worst kind of emotional unavailability. He told me I would be his perfect mate, if only he could let himself even consider loving me. And I knew that I had held on to hoping for an us that was more conventional because I had never had anything like us, and feared I never would. And then Jack needed a week and a half to answer two very easy questions: Given your self-imposed isolation, do you want me to leave you alone? and Do you feel that I am a significant part of your life?

Ten days to answer those two questions.

This would be the part where the stabbiness really kicked in. This would be the part where I became an emo barfburger with extra wretch-up.

And of course, I knew that the fact that it took him so long to answer those questions is, in itself, the answer to those questions.

At some point, I started to believe I could make do with the mixed pleasure and pain of what we had because it was better than not having it at all. During the ten days of silence that followed our long conversation, I was gut-punched with the knowledge that I might have to give it all up. I was devastated. But I knew that we were at a crossroads that could no longer be circled. I knew that I did not mean as much to him as I had thought. I knew that, no matter what came of our conversation, whether he returned with answers or not, I had to find a way to stop loving him.

He did return with answers (in email form, which pissed me off and I told him so – where did I leave that knife?!): that he wanted my close friendship but not more; that he knew it would require him to be more available and less isolated. This was not news. Rather, it was the boiled-down remains of what had simmered in him for that time, and, really, for years before, and it was all that he was willing to offer. We have had conversations like these in the past, but we have always danced around the real point for fear of losing ourselves and each other. But now there was nothing left to garnish the reduction. It was time for me to stop trying. It was time for me to redraw the lines that distinguish our friendship from the deeper love I have, until our friendship is all that I employ. Because I do not want to give up the blessing, the friendship that had made me better. But I could not keep believing it was more.

In my shower, I scrubbed at the grout of the tile for the first time with more than the rub of a finger. I used his toothbrush, possibly out of spite, but the only cleanser was the caustic acidity of my heartbreak, which was literally and metaphorically both profound and really eye-rollingly annoying. I was finally doing something more than looking at the collecting grime of what seemed harmless but wasn’t, and pondering the best solutions without acting on the answers. Minus a true cleaning agent, I might have more work to do in the end. But this was a start.

As We Understood Him

I feel like I’m breaking a rule right now.

It is Good Friday, between the hours of noon and 3:00pm, and I am using something electronic.

In my house growing up, Good Friday between the hours of noon and 3:00pm meant absolute silence. My mother believed that we should use that time – that teensy amount of time in our big long noisy childhood lives – to cease almost all stimulation and just be aware of what happened with Jesus right then.

It’s actually kind of a nice tradition, but when you’re a kid it means only one thing:

Thinking about Jesus? Was. Boring.

As an avid reader, I had more of an out than my sisters did. I was allowed to read during Good Friday No TV Or Music While Jesus Was On the Cross Time. So for me it was less boring than it was for my sisters, even though I do distinctly remember sitting on a swing in the backyard, staring at the ground and actually watching the grass grow one year, contemplating how it seemed like every Good Friday, no matter what the weather was, the sky got cloudy at noon.

That didn’t happen today. It’s a brilliantly blue-skied cloudless day.

Weird.

As an adult, I still like to honor the tradition my mother established. The only sound in my house right now is the dishwasher. Turns out, we’re not Amish. I’m allowed to use electricity during the Crucifixion Hours, I’m just not allowed to use stimulation unless it’s a book. But I’ve decided that writing and reading blog posts counts as the same as reading a book. I’m avoiding Facebook, though. That’s a little over-the-line, and if my mother sees that I was on and posted something, she’ll be disappointed in me. There’s no fun allowed on Good Friday.

Yes, that’s right. I’m 35, and my mother lives more than two hours away, and I’m still talking in terms of what I’m allowed to do.

And she thought I never listened.

Anyway, today is my day off. For many years, I’ve found myself  at work wishing I had taken Good Friday off so that I wasn’t ignoring the import of the day while I was surrounded by stimulating work-associated things. I felt disconnected from the most mournful and meaningful week of the Christian calendar, and even though I’m not the most religious person, I don’t like to ignore that. I like the opportunity to reconnect and reboot.

What saves me from that disconnection is my music.  Before I had to leave my choirs because of stupid work, Holy Week was the biggest week of the year for music. Rehearsal Monday; rehearsal Wednesday; Holy Thursday Mass to remember the Last Supper and the washing of the feet; Good Friday service to remember the Passion, crucifixion and death of Jesus;  Holy Saturday Mass-A-Thon when all the converts are baptized/confirmed/receive First Communion (“Yes, yes, welcome to the Church, hurry up already, this is a two-hour thing tonight and we’re here all week plus there’s a quick turn-around and we have to be back here in less than 12 hours”); and Easter Sunday Mass.

We were always in great moods come Easter Sunday. The sad strings gave way to triumphant trumpets, and the purple choir robes were cast off to reveal joyful springtime colors. Some of the women in the group busted out their Easter hats. But mostly we were in great moods because we knew we were finally done.  Also, though I didn’t do it this year, I generally give up sugar for Lent (the whole time, not just Monday through Saturday like the Church supposedly allows), and so on Easter Sunday morning I am hopped up on the brownies I had for breakfast.

Now I don’t get to sing as much and don’t generally go to church all four days. (Most Catholics don’t, and in fact are not required to.) But I have to admit… I miss it. I miss having the music and the low lights and candles to pull me in and wrap me up in the melancholy of what we’re commemorating and the impact of what it meant for the world. I’ve always found a soulful connectedness in churches at night. And whether you believe in Jesus as the Messiah or not, if you’ve been to any of the services, you know it’s a deeply touching time in the Church year.

Tonight, I will sing for the Good Friday service. (It’s the only time in the Church year when we have the full hour-long worship with Communion and don’t call it Mass, because there is no consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. We also do not genuflect to the tabernacle when we enter or leave a pew, because we are mindful that Jesus has died and therefore the tabernacle is empty.) The woeful cello and violins will play and my breath will connect with my spirit to sing a message of sacrifice, sorrow and reflection. My co-cantor and the choir will fill my ears and the service will fill my heart. I will be still, and I will remember what it is to be profoundly human and profoundly hopeless. I will remember, so the joy of forgiveness and hope can be renewed.

Yesterday, Sister 1 was taking Twin Nephs to the babysitter for the day and one of them piped up that Easter was coming soon.

“Do you know what happens on Easter?” my sister asked.

“We go to Aunt Beth’s house!” Neph 2 replied with his arms in the air from happiness.

“Well, yes,” Sister 1 said. “But something else happens, too.” And then she started trying to explain the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to a couple of four-year-olds. Godspeed, sis.

Neph 1, ever serious and sensitive, said, “But why did Jesus die?”

“Well,” said Sister 1, clearly in over her head with these kids, “He died for us, because He thinks we’re special.”

God love him, Neph 1 seemed content with this explanation, and Neph 2 had already moved on to other interests.

Ten minutes later, they arrived at the babysitter’s house, and Neph 1 ran in and excitedly exclaimed, “I’m special! And Jesus dies tomorrow!”

Later in the day, the babysitter was talking to the kids about how they were going to make pizzas the next day, as part of their regular Friday routine. She always has to remind them that they have to wait for the dough to rise. And sure enough, Neph 2 proved he had been listening in the car after all.

“Jesus will rise like our dough!” he declared.

Now I’m a little worried there will be a Jesus-like image in the pizza.

However you understand God or your soul… I hope you take the chance to reconnect and renew your spirit this week!