This Is Not Yet 40

“Are we old enough for this?!” the Ohio 5 tends to ask each other. We’ve kind of morphed out of “We’re too young for this,” because we’re pretty much not too young for a whole lot anymore. But the nuanced former question comes up with somewhat surprising frequency.

It’s not really because of our own respective, and relatively minor (though increasingly surgical), maladies. Two are married with children, two are aging, single gays (oh, they would just hate me for saying that), and then there’s me. Our lives, in general, while happy, are fairly banal.

I have had occasion to think about a lot of things in the last week or two. A lot of very heavy things. Thinking about heavy things makes me feel old and tired. It’s lovely to avoid that. Being an old soul who has recently found a sort of invigoration of forgotten youth, I have been able to shut out some heavy thinking. I needed to develop that ability.

But if you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you have come to know that I can be both incredibly shallow and really pretty deep, sometimes at the same time, and I can’t have one without the other. I would like to believe this is true of most, if not all, of us. If not, I imagine this must be maddening to try to understand from a not-me perspective.

And so it is with the stuff I’ve thought about for the last couple of weeks, alternating between a cavalier thought, a smart-ass comment, and a stare-at-the-wall-for-an-hour bout of What Does It All Mean? There’s the shootdown of MH17 over Ukraine. The actual warring there. The warring in Israel and Gaza and who is the more murderous party (I have my thoughts, and turn them over, regularly). The chaos in Libya. Ebola in Liberia. Endless instability and insurgent takeover in Iraq after more than a decade of American blood and treasure to save it from itself.

There is the House GOP deciding to sue the president for delaying something they’ve been screaming about being against, anyway. The refugee/immigration struggle and its heartbreaking human toll.  The disappointment, even for a lot of his supporters, that is President Obama. The general nightmare that is Congress, which nobody likes anyway, but now likes even less. There is what I see in the streets of my city every day: generational poverty, lack of education, joblessness, ill health, homelessness, lack of opportunity, lack of respect for self and others. I think about that a lot. Every morning on the way to work, and every night on the way home.

I thought about this stuff when I was younger, but usually from the perspective of an impassioned academic or idealistic observer. Now I think about it with a sense of connection I didn’t have before.

My cousin, already a single mother of a ten-year-old, is pregnant. Her father—my uncle—died of leukemia 14 years ago. She just finished putting herself through school for her BSN and got a job as a geriatric nurse. She moved out of my aunt’s house. She’s pregnant by a… well, I won’t call him what we call him in today’s vernacular; I’ll just say he’s a casual partner, who already has two other children. In this twisted world and her struggle of a life, sex in a car that she swears did not result in his satisfaction has somehow resulted in her conception of fraternal triplets.

I understand biology as much as the next person, but what. The. ACTUAL. FUCK.

I wonder sometimes, as a relatively spiritual person, how God or the universe or whatever you want to call it can be so overwhelmingly mysterious on a good day and just really messed up on a bad one as to govern a world in which so many people despair of their inability to have a child while people who could not possibly want one less can wind up conceiving three at once and announce their intention to keep all three. (Unspoken risks remaining unspoken.)

You might realize already that the news of her pregnancy led me right back to the generational poverty/lack of education/lack of opportunity/lack of respect for self and others thing.

My dear friend Will’s father died yesterday. He’d been in the hospital for six weeks with diabetes-related heart and kidney problems. Thursday morning, he arrested. They did CPR and intubated him, and Will jumped on a plane from Seattle. He arrived in Ohio just after midnight. His father died 14 hours later, as hospital staff were transferring him from a bed to a gurney to take him to inpatient hospice and take him off life support. Will had gone to carry some things to his mother’s car. Will’s father is the third parent in the Ohio 5 group to die. None have been older than 65. Two had diabetes-related heart problems.

My friend Kyle’s father was just diagnosed with a rare duodenal cancer. He is 51.

Amanda learned she has a stress fracture in her femur from the tumor and her weight. She has to find out whether she needs surgery to stabilize the bone, and whether that will derail her weekly chemo treating stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. She is 43.

My former coworker, Cedric, also died yesterday. Out of nowhere. He owned a gym, which is where his wife found him right after he collapsed, surrounded by personal trainers using the portable defibrillator. She’d had a funny feeling and doubled back on her way to work. He was 45.

Also, Facebook crashed yesterday. For like an hour. It was awful. I could not post pithy status updates about Facebook being down because Facebook was down.

Some of our brighter citizens called 911 about it.

Did not make that up.

I don’t really know where all of this is going. I started writing this post last night and then, bleary-eyed and exhausted from so much of life’s thinking, went to bed and left it to marinate. Today I find myself with even less direction. The initial plan to get as many of us to Ohio from our far-flung reaches for the funeral, with the understanding that Joey couldn’t be there that day, but would see the family a few days later on a trip he’d coincidentally already planned, has morphed into a plan to converge 36 hours later because Will would prefer that we could all be there at once. (This, for the record, never ends well.) We have joked more than once during funeral plans (we’ve had one every year since 2009) that it’s our version of “The Big Chill.”

That movie is 31 years old.

So I guess we are old enough.

The Pot and the Kettle

I do not like my mother.

My mother does not like me.

The two facts landed softly after hard words and deep pain, on a 180-mile drive down a dark highway, silent but for the sound of my tires on the road, leading me back from a family vacation a day earlier than planned, grateful and relieved to be home at 1am.

I think I first sensed my mother’s dislike when I was about 10. I can’t say when she first sensed mine because I can’t pinpoint when it became obvious. I have, and I believe she has, spent a lot of time and emotional energy since then trying to either rectify it, dance around it, pretend it wasn’t there or ignore it.

None of those things have worked, and none of them ever will. That’s clear now.

I am always the quiet one on family vacations. Part of that is because my family is loud. With the nephews and niece, we are 12 people in one house, and no fewer than three are running, shrieking or arguing at any given time except those few precious dark-night hours when even the baby is sleeping. I tend to be an observer; I take things in – I rarely initate. It’s just who I am. For countless summer vacations I have been happy for some time with my book and a spot on the beach or in the house that’s away from the din.

But somehow I am expected to be someone different from year to year, so that there are always questions about what’s bothering me, what’s wrong with me or why I’m anti-social.

Nothing, nothing, and I’m not. Since I was a teenager, this has been my vacation routine. I have lived alone for 14 years, and I am not used to being around 11 other loud, shrieking, arguing, running people for 24 hours a day for a week. I like my space, I like my quiet, and I don’t have anything to say because I’ve been with you for all this time and therefore nothing new has happened in my life of which you are not aware.

I cannot talk for 15 minutes about a pair of shoes. If you ask me a question, my answer will only have so many words. I don’t count them. I just answer. Not everything is fodder for a full conversation.

Was anything bothering me this week? Yes. Two things. One was Jack. I have spent the last ten summers thinking of Jack on the beach. I’m still struggling with it and I’m still hurting and I am reminded of that when I’m sitting on a beach in a tiny town I love, to which I invited him many times, only to have him refuse each time for one reason or another, and then visit it with Gwyneth instead, while hiding the nature of their relationship from me. I had dreamed about him in fitful sleep. I wish it weren’t bothering me, but it was. My family doesn’t know about how my relationship with Jack evolved, devolved or ended because I’m a very private person who doesn’t share her personal life much. My family knows that.

The other thing that was bothering me was my mother. Over the course of the week, the two thoughts that gelled in the car in the end had been pushing their way to my consciousness. I was struggling with them, too. Nobody likes to admit that she doesn’t like her mother, and nobody likes when her mother doesn’t like her. It seems unnatural.

What has finally broken the surface is that it is completely natural – as natural as disliking anyone. The only thing that’s unnatural is trying to force oneself to change the feeling in the absence of a change in the person.

I am me. She is she. What we do not like in each other are things central to who we are. Though we can move to accommodate differences in whatever way is possible, the fundamentals of our selves cannot be changed.

But my quiet and my feelings about my mother had created a tension that erupted at the dinner table Friday night when I jokingly insisted that a young band performer’s four-inch acrylic heels were trashy and my mother told me to put my chin away. The long, slow simmer of the pot’s relationship with the kettle ticked from 210 degrees to 211, and I told her, with an effort at joviality to belie truth, that she had jutted hers first. And she told me, nastily, to shut up. Twice.

I got up from the table to do the dishes and try to control my anger, and a few minutes later, she ordered me to sit down. Still furious, and now resentful of being an adult ordered to a chair for a lecture, I ignored her. When she yelled at me again to sit down, I turned and looked at her but made no move to obey, my mouth firm because anything that could come from it now would be bad.

212.

She stood shrieking obscenities and came at me. My sisters and brothers-in-law scattered from the area with the kids. My mother’s fury made her stronger despite being four inches shorter, and she grabbed me by both shoulders, turned me around and threw me into the chair. Then she leaned over me, finger in my face, still screaming profanities, and threatened to hit me.

It was then that I knew I would not stay the night.

My father stood close-by but made no move to stop the incident, instead coming to tower over me, telling me to obey. I wondered in what way I had behaved as a child who might warrant this treatment and was admittedly not receptive to a conversation when my father mandated it, convening what felt like an intervention because I had been quiet this week.

I think, now, that he was initially motivated by concern until I told them that if they know I’m quiet and I tell them there’s nothing wrong, they need to accept it. He ceded that. Was there something wrong? Yes. I had a broken heart and I don’t like my mother. The former is of no matter here, and the latter might yet be best left unsaid. With both of those truths considered, accept the negation and let it be.

The next twenty minutes picked apart my faults as a person and what my mother called my life’s blessing and curse: “You are smarter than 90% of the people around you and you don’t hide it.”

I also fail at greeting card shopping.

“The last two Mother’s Day cards you sent me were funny.” This was an accusation.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?!” The only time I swore.

How do I explain that my failure to send mushy greeting cards to my mother is not out of an inability to express warm feelings, but out of a lack of having those feelings for her at all?

“You hate me, don’t you?” she demanded to know. Her chin jutted and her eyes hardened. It was a challenge, a goading – an effort at drawing ire so she could play the victim from here forward.

“If I hated you, would I send you a card at all? Would I think of you? Would I call you? Would I ever talk to you?”

“No.”

“Okay, then.”

My father asked what my mother has always wondered: why he and I can talk for an hour on the phone and she and I cannot. He knows the answer, but always stops at a single reason: we can talk about business and work. I gave the real reason: he and I talk about a lot of other things – including politics – and I cannot talk with my mother about those things. And when I do try to talk with her about work, she doesn’t care. She changes the subject – sometimes when I’m in the middle of a sentence.

She apologized and said she would try to do better. It was a score she kept, so that later in the conversation, she could say she had acquiesced to two things and I to none.

Which wasn’t even true, but is her standard of operation.

When the demand came for an explanation as to why we have always had such a tense relationship, I started with my answer but was interrupted with accusations. And when I calmly tried to point out that something my mother had just said was an example of why I feel she is judgmental, she rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders and said, “This is futile.” Then she got up and left the room.

I pointed at the empty chair while my father stared down at the table. “I don’t know how to fix that,” I said quietly.

Minutes later, with my father and me both still at the table, my mother came back to finish the dishes I had started, and told me that if I insisted on leaving that night, I should think about how it would affect the family. This was her way of constructing a narrative to claim that I had been the one to walk out.

There was no good path to take, but the moment that had sealed my decision to leave had not been mitigated and no forgiveness had been sought. I had been commanded to respect her by virtue of her motherhood and told that I didn’t have to like how I was treated and that I, as the child, do not warrant a similar degree of respect.

On that, we will never agree.

I packed calmly and waited an hour for my sisters and their families to return from the amusement park and ice cream shop so that I could say goodbye and tell them I was sorry if my decision to leave that night hurt them.

My sisters and their husbands told me that they were not hurt, and they understood.

I said goodbye to my parents, with hugs, and I drove three hours home, with a new acceptance of our destination and no idea of where to go from here.

The Course of Human Events

Social media tends to give those of us who participate in it an interesting glimpse at how people think about Independence Day. Other holidays too, but particularly the patriotic ones. Aside from the lack of creativity (everyone changes their profile photo to a waving-in-the-noble-breeze American flag and says “Happy 4th everyone!”), there’s a lot of thanking the military for upholding and protecting freedom.

I’m down with that.

But there is a forgotten faction of that militia, and I hate for us to misremember the way our independence was declared. It was early in the struggle, just less than two years after the first Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, that 56 men met and argued for hours and days over exactly what independence would mean for these colonies they had created – colonies which did not always agree and, indeed, often fought openly about the ramifications of their freedom from King George III’s tyranny.

It was this fighting, this conflict, in a hot and airless chamber of a building still standing, that first truly won the nation’s freedom, a freedom signed in ink before blood on July 4, 1776. From this, a purpose for guns and bombs was gelled. The fighting had begun long before, on principle and on blood-stained ground, but it was a loosely-held union that faced the redcoats of the King’s army.

It was the unequaled might of the pen that sealed the bonds against Britain.

We don’t celebrate that much. We manipulate their document and the Constitution that followed to score points against those with whom we disagree, but we don’t often offer proper reverence to the 56 men who were willing to put their lives on the line not in front of rifles and cannons but in front of each other, who left their weary wives and children in Boston, in Wilmington, in Charleston and Atlanta, to travel on horseback for weeks and face the threat of sacrificing their sons for the sake of the shaky ground on which they dared to stand firm.

These were noble men, great men, brave and strong and carrying the weight of a new way of life on their limited shoulders.

Soldiers are hailed as heroes and often – but not always – deserve to be. Founders are relegated to history as men in funny hats who blew hard, only regarded as Founding Fathers when it’s convenient to rhetoric.

Who really is responsible for America’s freedom? Who really is ennobled by the distinction of setting forth the cause for which all American fighting – some of it misguided – has come since?

John Adams.
Samuel Adams.
Josiah Bartlett.
Carter Braxton.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Samuel Chase.
Abraham Clark.
George Clymer.
William Ellery.
William Floyd.
Benjamin Franklin.
Elbridge Gerry.
Button Gwinnett.
Lyman Hall.
John Hancock.
Benjamin Harrison.
John Hart.
Joseph Hewes.
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
William Hooper.
Stephen Hopkins.
Francis Hopkinson.
Samuel Huntington.
Thomas Jefferson.
Francis Lightfoot Lee.
Richard Henry Lee.
Francis Lewis.
Philip Livingston.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Thomas McKean.
Arthur Middleton.
Lewis Morris.
Robert Morris.
John Morton.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
William Paca.
Robert Treat Paine.
John Penn.
George Read.
Caesar Rodney.
George Ross.
Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Edward Rutledge.
Roger Sherman.
James Smith.
Richard Stockton.
Thomas Stone.
George Taylor.
Matthew Thornton.
George Walton.
William Whipple.
William Williams.
James Wilson.
John Witherspoon.
Oliver Wolcott.
George Wythe.

Freedom forever to be defended under the flag and the sword – because of these men.

Let us never forget.

Standing My Ground

I was just thinking the other day about how nice it was that my dad hadn’t started any conversations with the phrase “your mother…” in a long time. I was thinking it was nice that he had either stopped acting as her enabling emissary or I hadn’t done anything worthy of passive-aggressive anger in a while.

Then we had Sunday.

The day had been lovely. The whole family was at the shore house for the weekend and we had spent several hours in the sand before throwing in the beach towel due to wind. As we were coming off the beach, Dad said to me, “You know, your mother…”

Oh, come on. 

Apparently Mom had been nursing a grudge over something I said to my sister on Facebook about her posting a picture of herself in which her house number is visible. I didn’t remember doing it, so I looked it up. What I said was “have you gotten any messages about the visible house number?” It was a perhaps not-so-oblique reference to my mother messaging me and lecturing me about my house number in a photo. Mind you, I was not in the photo and the photo did not show what my house looked like. Unlike my sister’s post.

My father wanted to tell me that I should be more considerate of my mother’s feelings given what I went through with my stalker.

Um… I’m sorry, what?

“Let me put it this way,” he said. “Think about how you would feel if someone you loved went through something like what you went through.”

Are you serious right now?

I had zero patience for this exchange because hi. I’m the one who actually had the stalker. I’m the one who lives with that every day. I’m the one looking around every time I enter or leave my house or my car or whatever. I’m the one who is always aware. I went out of my way, in spite of my own feelings, to make sure all the ducks were in a row before I even told my mother about it so that she would worry as little as possible about my safety. I did as she asked and texted her every blessed morning for three weeks to let her know I was still alive (not kidding – she made me text her every morning so she knew I was still alive) after he had been arrested and before I could move to another place.  And though it was a wake-up-and-this-is-what-I-have-to-think-about-first reminder of what I was dealing with, I understood and did it. I was very open about everything that happened so my  mother would never feel that she was being left out. I didn’t love the idea of her coming to court because it would upset her, but I knew she needed to be there for herself, so fine. And I didn’t want her to come to the governor’s award luncheon because I was concerned that hearing the story and its impact again would bother her. But she pushed and pushed and I couldn’t tell her why I didn’t want her to come, so I got tickets for them. That was the day I got my job offer, and she refused to have a drink with me to celebrate. I don’t recall her so much as getting off the couch to celebrate the announcement.

So if I can get a break for five minutes from considering my mother’s feelings about my stalker, and considering what might happen at any given time as a result of any one of my actions, I’d like to enjoy that sweet freedom without my  mother putting the thought of that situation back in my head. Thanks.

Nope. Apparently not.

But as I tried to explain my feelings in this regard, he cut me off and told me to meet him halfway – he understood my point about it being unfair to put her worries on me. Then he said he thought I should think more about her feelings because he’s starting to see more and more of my grandmother coming out in my mother.

At this point, my nephew came running up to hold my hand as we walked to the house and effectively ended the conversation.

My grandmother was a very fearful person. She wasn’t a bad person and she wasn’t totally crazy like my aunt, but she did have some phobias – by definition, irrational concerns. They governed her behaviors. And that’s what my dad was referring to.

Well… here’s the thing: I’m not going to enable or indulge those fears or concerns. It will not help my mother, and it will only hurt the rest of us. She knows, and Dad knows, what it was like to cope with my grandmother’s tendencies. So if she’s getting that way, then Dad, you need to get her some help.

But since he had shut me down and my nephew had clinched it, I couldn’t say that.

Yet, the next day, it was all still bothering me, and I didn’t appreciate having been silenced by an “end of discussion” admonishment. He was the one who brought it up, after all. So I emailed him, choosing my words carefully but standing firm in my feelings. I let him know that I was upset that they thought I didn’t consider her feelings, given all of the ways I had. And I told him that if he really feels that her tendencies are similar to my grandmother’s and that they’re unhealthy, then she should get help, and that though it may sound harsh, I would not enable or indulge the behavior.

Then my anxiety level ratcheted up another notch as I waited for his reply.

It came several hours later, and consisted of telling me that my mother was fine at the award luncheon and only wanted to recognize what I had accomplished, and that he would NEVER (his caps) bring up what he was seeing in similarities between my mother and grandmother again, and that when it comes to health issues, THEY will decide what to do.

And then he told me these kinds of conversations should be face-to-face. Which I would have done if he hadn’t shut me down.

I’m sorry he feels that way. I think he’s wrong to imply that his daughters shall have no say in whether our mother, who we all know has struggled with mental health issues, should get help. I think he’s wrong to try to make me feel bad about telling him what I think, since he brought it up.

And I feel like shit, because I’m the daughter and my dad is mad at me.

Thirty-six years old and I’m still here. Coming home from a beach on a day when I had gone to a gray mood in my head during Mass because of Jack, but hidden it. Disallowed to tell my father how I feel about what he’s approaching me for, and in addition, deprived of any credit for consideration of my mother’s feelings, and faulted for my own.

Turns out, one of the lessons I’ve learned from the situation with Jack will be applied to areas other than my love life. I will not be made to feel guilty for standing up for myself and my feelings.

 

 

The Crazy

So now I’m pissed at my best guy friend for up and Facebook-friending Jack after YEARS of not giving half a shit about him and frankly disliking him for the way he treats women.

Brad friended Jack. What the fuck. We all worked together once upon a time.. Brad left back in 2007 and literally has not talked to Jack since. And NOW, now that Jack is getting married, now that Jack has done so much to hurt me, now that Jack is somewhere between the love of my life who I lost and the object of my most penetrating hatred… Brad has friended him.

I’m so pissed I’ve tried four ways to contact Brad and tell him he needs to tell me why I shouldn’t be pissed.

Meanwhile, what did I do? Well, I went to Jack’s Facebook page, of course. We’re not friends, but some of what he posts is public. Including the new pictures of him and Gwyneth and the story of how he proposed during a marathon training run and “she gets her wish that I stop calling her my training partner.”

Memo to Gwyneth: he called you that all this time because he was HIDING YOU.

“We couldn’t be happier!” Jack says.

Good for you. Who are you, by the way?

Another memo to Gwyneth: the trail you were running on when he proposed was the one where I took the picture that’s framed in his condo. I gave it to him for Christmas in 2011. That’s my handwriting on the matte. He loved it. Loved it. I’ve never seen him react to anything with as much gratitude and emotion. I bet he never hung it because you would see it and ask about it. But it’s there somewhere. Hang it, please. So you have a reminder of where you fell in love. And where you got engaged. So he has a daily reminder of how he treated the woman who gave it to him.

I have called Joey and messaged Angie telling them I need them to talk me down given Brad’s move. And to once again stop me from sending Jack a really hateful message. Oh, it would feel so good. Here are some drafts:

You are going to ruin her.

OR

I heard you were marrying Gwyneth, eight months after throwing away ten years like it was nothing and telling me you were not capable of sustaining a substantive relationship. Good luck. You’ll both need it.
OR
How long were you sleeping with her and spending nights with me? When you cancelled on me Christmas night, telling me it was something that made you sick from dinner, was that because you were spending the night with her instead? Does she know you spent the next night with me? The night I gave you the framed photo of your running trail?
I kind of wish I could post a comment on his “could not be happier!” FB page that simply says, “Whatever.”
But I know that all makes me the smaller person. I know I’ve actually crossed into the Crazy that I always envied other women for being able to pull off. Brad says Jack contacted him via Facebook last week about tickets to an event and that’s why they became friends. I call bullshit. Defriend him now, then. You don’t even talk. I need to know that my best guy friend, who has been supportive and thoughtful and derisive of Jack, isn’t dividing his loyalties. Like Jack did.
Facebook is so unnecessarily… whatever.
I’m so upset I can’t even find words anymore.

Vapor

Jack is marrying Gwyneth.

It’s not a dream. It’s not some weird hallucination or some silly rumor. It’s true.

Jack is marrying Gwyneth.

Brad is the one who told me, God love him. He emailed me today while I was working and said that there was a rumor going around that I wasn’t going to want to hear, but that I would probably want to hear from him before any other way, and that he was probably going to have to tell me on the phone. I asked him if I would need vodka.

“I think you’ll probably be okay but you might plan on a glass of wine.”

Pfft. It’s like he doesn’t know me at all. “I always plan on a glass of wine,” I replied. “That just means it’s Tuesday.”

Of all the things I couldn’t imagine it being, this was nowhere near the periphery.

Jack is marrying Gwyneth.

Brad told me the word had gotten out after Jack mentioned his “future wife” at an event the other night. Apparently then the Facebook chatter started – chatter I never saw because I’m not friends with either of them now. Apparently they’re not engaged officially, but are getting engaged officially soon.

Apparently a lot of things.

I was in my car when Brad told me this and I had to adjust my rearview mirror to see my own face. This is not an overstatement: nothing in my life has ever shocked me as much as this. Nothing. Not even when a boyfriend got married to a woman he had barely known before me, who lived a thousand miles away, less than eight months after breaking up with me. And I literally fell over when I heard that.

Jack didn’t want to get married. Ever. To anyone.

Jack spent years telling me I was his ideal. I thought if he would ever marry anyone, he would have to at least date me first. I thought Gwyneth was just the latest part of his pattern of almost loving someone and then walking away. I felt a little sorry for her. I thought, when he told me in September that he wasn’t capable of sustaining a substantive relationship, that he must be right.

Jack and I haven’t spoken since then, when he abandoned our friendship entirely after heartfelt and honest entreaties from me to save it for what it was – ten years of something truly extraordinary. He told me he knew he had caused me great pain and would take steps to repair it when it was no longer so painful for me.

I knew then that I would never hear from him again. But I never, ever could have imagined this.

She’s 22 years younger than him. He’ll be 50 next January. Could that be why he’s doing this now?

What was I – his trainer?

How long had he lied to me? One morning when I woke up in his bed, in July of 2011, and saw a t-shirt lying near my feet that I hadn’t seen the night before, and asked him where it had come from… when I thought for sure she had worn it, somehow, months before I knew they had some sort of relationship, I thought it for sure, and he said it was just a shirt he sometimes wore to bed… when I smelled it to see if it smelled like a woman before he came back into the room… when I knew he never wore t-shirts to bed… had I been right, all the way back then? A year before the last time I saw him? Almost two years ago now?

How long had he been spending nights with both of us?

How could he?

Years ago… how many years ago? eight?… I remember sitting across from him at a table outside our regular hangout. We had never touched beyond a hug goodbye. I loved him already, but it was controlled. I remember thinking that if I put my hand on his chest, he would disappear. He would fade like vapor under my palm, before my eyes.

Six years later, I knew how solid he was, how real. It seemed impossible that he could disappear for me now. Even if he changed, even if the touch went away, he could never disappear for me now.

And now it’s like he’s vanished. Like none of it was ever real at all. Like it was never more than mist, mirage, oasis. Like it was someone else’s life. Like that movie, “Midnight In Paris,” as if I’d gotten into a car at a particular time in a particular place and found myself in another dimension, not to be believed… but so very, very real, and so immensely pivotal to my life.

He has been past-tense to me for months. I don’t remember exactly when I fully accepted that I would never hear from him again, but it’s been months. I thought I might be finished crying.

I still dream of him. I feel a sting at certain times during Mass, times when I always used to give his name to God, times when I always used to think of holding his hand.

It’s terrible of me to think that this is only happening because he’s nearing 50, because she’s cute and blonde and 27 and likes to run, because her mother has cancer and his mother died of it when he was 17. It’s cruel of me to think the connection is that cheap, that it is built on something so easily found with a million other people. When what we had was so…

What? What was it?

Was it anything?

Did I spend ten years in love with someone who wasn’t real?

It’s cruel of me to want to send him a message with three words: “Is she pregnant?” when I don’t want to know. It’s cruel of me to want to send him a message telling him nothing has ever shocked me more and no one has ever hurt me more and I have never loved anyone more, and then telling him to never reply.To want to ask him how long he lied to both of us and whether he still lies to her. To ask whether she knows about me. To ask her whether she knows about me.

None of it matters. And I know, if I were her, I might think that, after all, I‘m the one who gets him, swearing to God and all who are present, to love, to honor, to cherish. That, after all the decades of love and loss, I’m the one to whom he has promised himself.

Somehow, now, I have become the vapor under his hand.

Hard Lessons

When something like the Boston bombings happens, the sentiment tends to be fairly universal: “Whoever did this does not understand who we are. They tried to destroy us, but they will only make us stronger.”

I am sorry to say this – I know it will not go over well with everyone – but that sentiment, while lovely, proves we don’t yet have an understanding of terrorism.

They don’t care about “who we are.” All they care about is how many people they kill.

That’s their entire goal. Kill people. That is what it means for them to “win.” We can be as determined as we want to be, as poetic as we can rise to be. We can write words and sing songs and organize charities and talk about how we’re Americans and how the virtue of our birthplace makes us better than the rest of the world at this recovery.

They don’t care about any of that.

Most of the time, they have principles they’re fighting for. Most of the time, they have a political disagreement. Nothing more. Sure, it may manifest itself in theology, in whatever twisted perspective they might have on what God wants them to do. But it’s usually for political reasons. A hatred of Zionism or an anger over federal bankrolls.

We don’t know, of course, the motive for Boston’s bombing. But I’m pretty sure it was not because someone wanted to take down the spirit of America. Whether we like it or not, it could have just been a stupid, pimple-faced teenager who wanted to do something horrible. We jump to all these conclusions. We assume it’s some major terrorist network. And maybe it was. But maybe it wasn’t. We assume this is someone really smart. Well, it could have just been someone who knew when the last security sweep happened and when they could walk through with a backpack and drop it somewhere. They might claim to be part of a major terrorist network. The people who run it will never have heard of the bomber or bombers, but they may welcome the claim because they can add it to their success rate. And the bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter.

It happened because somebody wanted to kill people.

Mission accomplished.  And that’s all that matters.

When President Bush repeatedly told the nation and the world after 9/11 that the attack happened “because they hate our freedom,” he was oversimplifying the situation by a huge factor. This isn’t the only free country, and it didn’t happen anywhere else. He was doing it for a benevolent reason: to inspire unity. But he wasn’t telling the American people the truth. The truth would require us to have access to secret information. The truth doesn’t fit in a soundbite. It’s complicated and convoluted and it bores people. That’s not his fault. We don’t really care enough to know the real truth. That would require us to pay a lot more attention to the world and the way nations are run. We can barely get our own electorate to vote.

Some attacks are designed to be spectacular, to inspire fear. In those cases, yes, it might be helpful to our cause not to show that fear. But that doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying to kill people. They aren’t thwarted by waving flags and Red Cross donations. They are thwarted by tactical prevention borne of political will. If one person decides to stop trying, another person takes his place. It’s like flowers in the barrels of guns. It’s a beautiful thought and a stirring image. But the flower won’t stop the bullet. All it takes is someone willing to pull the trigger.

Terrorists don’t care about prison. They don’t care about torture. They don’t care about execution. None of those possibilities dissuade them. They obviously have no value for life, be it someone else’s or their own, because they’re willing to do something heinous and, if necessary, go down for it. That’s why they’re so hard to stop. And even if they get caught and they’d rather not die later, they didn’t care when they did it. So what does it matter now?

It’s a difficult thing to know. It makes us feel powerless all over again, and that is a deeply troubling feeling when we who value life and humanity just need some way to ensure its survival. But it is fundamental to understanding how to fight back. The real reason for our sentiment, beyond a profound misunderstanding of the way terrorism works, is that it’s the only way we ordinary people have to fight back. We can’t do anything but ache for the people who have been hurt or the families of those who have died. We are powerless, and so we find some strength in believing ourselves to be better and in finding something we can do for the victims.

And we absolutely should do that. That is what confirms our humanity. We should never stop doing that. That is what is right for average Americans to do.

But fighting terrorism with spirit? That’s a losing effort every time.

Always There

I want to post pictures of myself standing in front of my house online.

Lots of people have done that, right?

But I can’t. Because I have my mother. And a man who lives in my head and tells me he’s coming to get me.

Now, do I really want to post those pictures? Nah. They don’t even exist, actually. But there’s a very particular reason for that. When I bought my house in November, I didn’t take any pictures of myself in front of it. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t take any pictures of the keys held up in front of it, either. Thought about it… didn’t do it. I didn’t post any pictures of it on Facebook. Not even nondescript pictures of ONLY my house with no numbers and no street name. Because what if the stalker sees them?

Or my mother?

My thoughts and behaviors are governed by him. All the time.

And by my mother. It’s like what he doesn’t get, she does. And sometimes they overlap.

And the two of them are really pissing me off.

Every once in a while, I think about how having had a stalker has permeated my life ever since. It’s been two and a half years, but it’s like he’s there all the time. It’s not active fear, you understand. It’s just the knowing. Knowing I’ve been watched before, coming and going from my home. Knowing that when someone decides to show up and mess with you for an hour late at night, there’s really not much you can do to stop him except hope the police catch him. Knowing makes you more careful. Knowing makes you change.

Since July of 2010, on some level, he’s there every time I get into or out of my car, no matter where I am. Every time I stop at a stoplight in the dark. Every time I walk into or out of my home. Every time I walk through my house wearing less than a full suit of clothes. Every time I hear a noise I don’t recognize or one that sounds like a stone hitting a window, and every time I see a shadow or turn a corner or drive down the back alley to my parking spot behind my house.

When I was debating whether to buy a house, I worried that I wouldn’t be safe and wouldn’t be able to pick up and leave like I had before. When was looking for a house, I was always wondering in the back of my mind, “Will I be stalked if I live here?”

It’s an infuriating thing to think. Stupid and frustrating and infuriating.

When I meet someone new, I wonder. And then I remember I had never met him, so it’s useless anyway. When I think about dating someone, I wonder. When someone watches me in the grocery store or on the street or in a restaurant, I wonder. When I fill out forms that require my address, I wonder, even if they’re forms that would logically require my address, like at the post office. People delivering stuff to my house? I wonder. People installing appliances? I wonder. People who look at my license to verify I am who I say I am at the airport or when I use a credit card? I wonder. It’s always, always, always there.

Finding out that I’m being honored by the governor, and that I’m giving a speech, has given me new occasion to think about the whole ordeal all over again. And that’s okay. Along with other people, I turned the experience into something positive for others, and I’m immensely, deeply grateful for and humbled by that. It’s the only thing that made everything make sense.

But I’m also remembering it all, all over again, and it’s definitely working on me.

In spite of that, though, I managed to post a picture on Facebook the other day without thinking twice. It shows the window above my front door. It so happens that my house number is up there. But it’s a cool-looking picture – there’s a trick of light happening – I like it. So I posted it.

And I got a message from my mother.

“I know you closed your PO box (which I had so that I couldn’t be traced to a new street address), but don’t you think that putting your address online is going a little too far in case that creep thinks to look for you? When you pull up your FB page, it shows your pretty face in front of row homes, and the numbers on your window. There are ways to find out the exact location from pics online and that makes it easy to find you.”

First of all, my mother exaggerates. The street name is not on the picture, so although you can see the house number, you cannot see my address, really. Secondly, my mother believes everything she reads on the internet. Which is an issue on lots of levels, trust me, and I don’t know how we survived the presidential election. But that’s neither here nor there.

It’s not that she’s totally wrong. I do see her point. But in a sense, posting that photo was a kind of victory for me, a freedom, an unburdening. Not intentional. It wasn’t a declaration. It just happened, and it was a good sign, a sign that I wasn’t occupied by thoughts of someone finding me and doing me harm. And she took that away.

Now, I know she didn’t mean to do that. She doesn’t read it that deeply. She’s a mom, and her daughter lives alone in a different city, and she has always worried about that. And then something happened that she’d always worried would happen, and now she’s even more worried. But in her message, she reminded me of my fear and brought it back. She told me I could be found. She took away my enjoyment of something simple and small and made it about her own worries instead. She put him back in my head. In her effort to protect me and keep me safe, she made me afraid that I’m not.

I want one day. One day when I don’t think about him. One day when there’s not a single caution I take because someone once threatened my safety. One day when there is nothing in me that is afraid. I have not yet had that day. Even the day I posted that photo, I hadn’t gone without thought of him and his effect on my life.

It makes me tired and angry that he is so there. Working on initiatives to help keep other crime victims safer always means reliving that experience, but it’s the only thing I can do to make good come out of it, and it’s working. I just want the power to dictate exactly when and how and why I have to think about him and that time in my life. I want veto power over anxiety. I want to be able to block him from my head, take him out entirely, and erase all of his effects. But that would mean erasing the work I’ve done, erasing having ever met Rich, erasing having moved to a better home.

He is inextricably, undeniably woven into my life. And into my mother’s.  For her, that means reminding me to stay safe from states away.

For me, it just means wanting to forget.

Related posts:
A Stranger At the Door – Part 1
A Stranger At the Door – Part 2

A Stranger At the Door – Part 3
I’m Gonna Need My Meds For This

Common Sense

My friend Bud at Older Eyes posted today the second part of his thoughts on gun rights and gun violence. I started to respond to his post and then realized I was basically writing a blog post in his comments section. Rather than hog that space, I’m posting my response to him here, as a broadened topic. Please read his posts, In the Crossfire and In the Crossfire, Too, so that you understand to what I am responding here. 

I work in a business where statistics are used to prove success and justify rates and fees. (A lot of businesses work that way, of course.) I have often been able to easily explain away a competitor’s statistic about being more successful than my company because I know how they manipulate the data. Of course, I know how we manipulate it, too.

One of the key things about understanding that, though, is understanding that there’s more than one way to be misleading, but there’s also more than one way to be right, and nobody is lying. In my business, in the end, all that matters is which element of the stats matters most to the buyer.

That’s what’s frustrating about statistics that really matter, like those counting up deaths and injury from guns. And that’s why neither side is lying, both sides are right, and both sides are manipulating the argument.

Bud at Older Eyes uses the term “In the Crossfire” in two recent posts to convey his feelings on gun ownership: moderate. In the middle of a fight. You may think I’m not “in the crossfire” on this, given my previous posts. You may have found my post, Newtown, to be more about the heart than the head. But if we step away from the extremes of soulful emotion and cold analysis, we can find one thing that governs most of life pretty successfully: common sense.

Part of the reason the NRA pushes for zero restriction on the right to bear arms is that the founding fathers established that right in part to guard against the tyranny of government. We hear references to Hitler and other cruel government leaders who disarmed the masses before systematically executing them. While I have faith in my country and don’t believe its leaders would ever do such a thing, I understand why the right to defend against it matters so much to so many people. 

As I have previously mentioned, I also understand that some people hunt for food, others hunt for sport, some feel that guns are necessary to protect themselves in their homes and others feel that no right guaranteed by the founding fathers should be taken away, and once we start limiting one, we’ll be on the road to limiting more… or taking them away completely.

Bud makes the point that we’re hearing extreme arguments on either side of the topic, and I agree with him completely. I don’t think that NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre is really doing anyone any favors in his speeches since Newtown (or ever, actually). There are a lot of gun owners and gun rights advocates who do not believe he represents them well. I understand his points, but I think he could make them with much more sensitivity and much less bombastic rhetoric.

As could those who oppose guns with equal vehemence.

These, frankly, are not the people to whom we need to listen. They are simply the people to whom we are given the most access. As has so often been the case in this country, we are exposed only to the extremes and left to feel alone in the middle. The middle is not exciting. The middle is not good television.

There is the argument that mental health is the real issue. The trouble with that is that it’s not. It is an issue, surely, and it deserves attention. But (at the risk of engaging in statistical analysis) the mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators thereof. Not everyone who has committed a violent crime with a gun – be it a mass shooting or a smaller scale murder – is mentally ill. There is a specific definition for mental illness, and though most of us believe one has to be “off” in some way in order to commit murder, especially on a grand scale, that doesn’t mean those people would medically qualify as mentally ill.

And there is the argument that guns are not the only issue, but seem to be the only issue on the table for a vote. That’s true. While it is not accurate or fair to say no one is proposing improvements to mental health care, access and screening before a gun purchase, it is true that guns are by far the more – dare I say targeted? – aspect of the discussion. Gun rights advocates  insist that it brings into specific relief the “left-wing agenda” to take people’s guns away. That’s really not the reason. It requires only slightly deeper thought to understand the reason: we can’t legislate mental illness. We can’t legislate what people find entertaining. We can’t legislate how families do or do not function, the moral fabric of society, the lack of pride or opportunity. We have seen these problems unfold for decades and we have not been able to stop them. Knowing the numbers has not helped.

What we can do is moderate them. Work to improve access to mental health care, break down the stigma associated with mental illness. Continue to rate and enforce ratings on movies and video games. Give people an understanding of why a healthy family life is important, give communities the tools to flourish, give individuals a vision of what they could be or do or achieve if they have the right skills, opportunities and faith in themselves.

If we look at some of the fairly rational, balanced proposals on gun policy before us, we can see them as moderation, rather than aberration. They cannot accomplish any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But they can help bring down the number of gun-related injuries and deaths in this country.

Common sense would dictate that the existence of armor-piercing or exploding bullets is fundamentally unnecessary and does great disservice to those who advocate for gun rights. Common sense would dictate that the people’s right to bear arms is not infringed by disallowing certain types; after all, completely unrestricted rights to bear arms could lead to the purchase of flame-throwers and rocket-propelled grenades, but we don’t allow that. Common sense would dictate that doing absolutely nothing would be a total failure of the government to listen to the people, and a total failure of the people to do anything but shake their heads.

Common sense would also dictate that banning assault weapons and cop-killer bullets, and requiring universal background checks, and seriously cracking down on illegal guns, won’t end all crimes and killings with guns.

But, if I may be frank, we’re not really trying to end them all. We’re trying to make them harder to accomplish, and these measures are a start. And we need to start, instead of tsking our tongues and shrugging our shoulders. We can argue down emotion. We can qualify and manipulate statistics. We can make things difficult that don’t need to be difficult, as we do with the political side of this issue.

But it is hard to refute common sense.

 

Building

The first thing I did in my house was cup my hands under a running faucet and slurp two mouthfuls of cold water.

In a day that felt like a week, I had gotten up early and met with HMcH and the seller at the house to go over what the seller did and did not want to do after Sandy rained her rain into my… not yet my… house. He would do almost everything I wanted, the seller. He had, already. He and… I don’t know, someone… had gotten up on the roof, found the source of the leak in the flashing around the old chimney erected five generations before I had set foot inside the door. The whole chimney had been re-tarred (suddenly, in my mind, the quick image of Dick VanDyke, sooty and techincolored, cheerful and singing above London). The wall was not ripped out like I wanted out of an abundance of caution. The seller (also the builder) had a perfectly reasonable explanation for why not, and I understood his point.

I debated the virtue of better-than-good-enough versus the ideal of perfection. Weighed it against the value of the deal.

Without question, he added a 12-month builder’s warranty. Top-to-bottom, everything including structural, roof, plumbing, systems and all problems short of fire, violence and volcanic eruption.

(To be clear: volcanic eruption was really listed in the things not covered by the warranty. And no. There are no volcanoes here.)

At 10:00am, HMcH told me that if we closed at 3pm, we would avoid the need to extend the mortgage contract.

Sitting in my car, I knew that the only reason to hold off was my own fear. Fear of the rain. So I called my dad, because all girls need their dads, even at 35. And I called my friend Mickey, who rehabs houses and has been an invaluable resource. Both of them heard the details of the meeting. Both gave the deal the green light.

I went to the chiropractor.

I called HMcH.

“Let’s go,” I said.

Then I went to the therapist. Coincidentally, but not unnecessarily.

To the bank after that, to re-draw the cashier’s check for $200 less than two days before, a difference in pro-rating with fees and closing costs. It got cheaper for me to buy a house. At the teller’s window, I got a text from Joey. “At bank, drawing ridiculously large check,” I replied. “On way to close on house. Will talk to you later,” I said.

The phone beeped “Yay!!”

After, somehow, fewer signatures than I expected, fewer initials and far less tedium and tension… after a lifetime of thinking, years of saving… after months of looking and months of anxiety… after weeks of packing and days of worrying… I bought a house.

My first house.

It’s not a lot. But it’s brickfront and soffit, marble stoop and hardwood floor, granite counters and glowing light.

And it’s mine.

Just mine.

With all the pride, and all the fears, and all the hope, and all the potential.

Packed full with my life, even though there’s not a single thing in it yet.

My house.

And may peace be upon it.