The Problem With Privilege

I can’t possibly have anything unique to say about pretty much anything relating to over-reactive police, racial tension, media, or  anything else that factors into the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri over the last week.  But in the constructs of American life, there is a certain element that we just can’t seem to see our way through.

I’ve read a lot of reports and opinions from professionals and amateurs; one of the great ironies of the Internet is that it gives everyone the same volume at which to speak, which means people who should probably just sit down and shut up get a megaphone that amplifies their voices just as loudly as those who know far more than anyone else about whatever topic is discussed. The result, often, is the wider dissemination of what is inflammatory rather than what is rational and measured, because inflammation is more visceral and therefore more instinctive. I believe that’s why demonstrations that begin with one goal end up a melange of goals and opinions, and things that start off peacefully end up sporadically disruptive.

In everything we’ve read and seen, it seems there is a lot of visceral reaction, natural and instinctive, that leads to accusation and defense—or defensiveness. Sometimes these are overt. Other times, less so. It’s when the accusations and defenses are less obvious that I think the most trouble arises, because it’s harder to know what just happened.

To me, one of the most interesting forms of inferred accusation and applied defensiveness centers on the concept of white privilege.

For the record: I’m white. So I can’t pretend to fully grasp the perspective a person of color would bring to this situation. But I also live in a dense urban area, in a city whose majority population is black. (And I use the term “black” deliberately; not all “black” people trace their heritage to Africa, which means they are not all African-American.) In my environment, to not acknowledge white privilege is to basically stay in my house and never look out the window or turn on the news. Which isn’t to say there aren’t people in my environment who don’t understand the construct.

I used to rebel a little against the idea of white privilege, because I didn’t understand that I wasn’t being blamed for something and I wasn’t being defined as better-off, necessarily. I’m not sure when I realized what it really was, but I think it was some time around when the stalker thing happened, because it had a lot to do with what motivated me to take activist action; I realized I could use my privilege to benefit other people, not as some great, benevolent white lady, but as someone the system automatically took more seriously and cared more about because I was white. (I also speak what people would categorize as proper English, with no discernable accent.) In all of my reading this week, I have come across a few essays and op-eds from white people who are upset about being assigned a kind of privilege, saying things like, “I refuse to apologize.” The content of their writing reveals that they just don’t know the definition of white privilege.

White privilege is simply about the fact that white people do not have to deal with the possibility of being underrepresented, mistreated, suspected or demeaned, as persons of color.

For example: If I walk down the street in the dark, no one is going to look at me sideways, unless he or she is concerned for my safety. But if a person of color – a black or latino person, in my community – walks down the street in the dark, someone is going to wonder, “What’s he up to? Where did he come from? Does he live here? Where is he going?”

If I get pulled over by a police officer, I will have no reason to wonder if it’s because of my race. (The only time I got pulled over and didn’t deserve it was when an officer thought I was talking on my cell phone, and all I had to say was, “Oh! No, I wasn’t.” That is literally all I had to say. He believed me even before I offered to let him see my phone’s call and text message logs, and he let me go without checking them. If I were a man of color, the odds would be much higher that he wouldn’t believe me, or that he would take me up on my offer to see my phone’s logs.)

In fact, getting pulled over after having done nothing in violation of the law is much less likely to happen to me than it is to a person of color, and my story is more likely to be believed.

When I go through airport security, no one thinks they should look in my bag; if it’s searched, it’s purely because of a randomized approach. But when my friend Adhira goes through airport security, there’s a greater chance that someone will think that because she is Pakistani (they might not know she’s Pakistani; they’ll just know she’s brown and looks Middle Eastern), they should search her bag.

And the chances of me, a white woman with no criminal record, being shot by a police officer are essentially zero. Whereas the chances of a person of color with no criminal record being shot by a police officer are higher. Statistically speaking, even if I was armed, even if I was threatening, the chances of me being shot by a police officer are still lower than if I were an unarmed person of color. Thirty-seven of 45 people shot by police in Oakland, California between 2004 and 2008 were black. None of them were white. In 40 percent of the cases, the person who was shot was unarmed. (No officers were charged. Other shows of force were not categorized in the data set.)

My whiteness means not only that I am presumed innocent more often, but also that I am presumed more innocent than a person of color. I am presumed to be a better person. Even when I have done something wrong, and even when a person of color has not.

That’s white privilege. It’s not my fault. It’s just a side effect of my having been born white. For persons of color, suspicion is a side effect of having been born something else.

You’d be irritated about it, too, after a while.

But here’s what dawned on me while reading an essay today written by a Princeton University student some months ago: white people tend to look at privilege differently. We think of it as socioeconomic. Of course we do; we’ve never faced discrimination—or incrimination—because of anything else. So we reflexively resent when someone seems to accuse us of having an advantage, because, if we’re socioeconomically comfortable and not trust fund babies, we probably did have to work to get where we are in life. Because we have never had to struggle to be considered equal in any other respect, our only understanding of privilege comes from the idea of money. But for people of color, the struggle to be seen as equal goes way beyond lines of credit and sizes of homes. It’s rather telling, isn’t it? We define everything by our own perspective…including our own privilege. Maybe if white people were better able to understand how other people define privilege, we’d be collectively more able to understand why so many people don’t have it.

Maybe then a lot of things would get better.

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.

So I think about all these things, and I wonder if we’re old enough, we Ohio 5, to be dealing with them quite so frequently. It’s a moot point, obviously, with three of us having lost a parent and one having lost two siblings already. Meg is part of generational poverty. She’s not just thinking about it; she’s living it, despite a college degree, largely because of a lack of motivation on her part or her husband’s. I worry about her four kids’ opportunities, too.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Which You Maybe Learn Some Stuff About Hearts

On Tuesday, a cardiologist and her happy minion tried to kill me and then assessed how close they came. Fortunately for me, not close enough. *Buzzer sound* Sorry. Try again next year.

The stress test was the least irritating of all the parts of this appointment, but that’s part and parcel with doctors. You wait in the waiting room for 60+ minutes (which is why you’re called a patient) and, when you leave, they’ve said a lot of words but haven’t really actually told you anything.

Travis, the Stress Test Tech Person, was delightful, actually. He called me “baby” a lot, but somehow it wasn’t creepy. Sort of like how diner waitresses call you “hon,” whether you’re three or 103, and whether they’re 55 or…

Wait. They’re actually all 55.

Anyway.

Travis was telling me what he was doing all along. He did an echocardiogram first, propping my back against his in a totally clinical way to position me where he wanted me so he could get the images he needed, and explaining very nonchalantly why I really couldn’t keep craning my neck to see the picture on the screen. (“Look, see what happens? The picture gets fuzzy.”) He also told me that he was super-annoyed that he kept getting 30- and 40-somethings for stress tests that day. “If one more person has to walk for 15 minutes before we get them to their target heart rate, I’m jumping out a window,” he said.

It took me 11 minutes. You’re welcome, Travis. I shaved four minutes off that last guy’s time. What’s that you say? That’s not a good thing?  The last guy is 58 and had a heart attack at 41 and is, from a fitness perspective, the lifespan equivalent of four minutes’ better endurance multiplied by a differential of 21 years and mitigated by one heart attack better off than I am? Well, what of it? You want to get your schedule back on track, right? That’s what I thought.

Travis is a very put-you-at-ease person. My blood pressure was 100/62, and he didn’t like it, because it meant I’d have to walk longer, but it was a testament to his calming presence. (At the beginning of my first appointment, two weeks ago, my BP was 120/80).

Happily, they did not make me run. They just made me walk faster by three-minute increments on a steadily increasing incline to get to the required target heart rate (220 minus age and multiplied by 0.90, or, in my case, 165.).

I basically still have no official comprehensive diagnosis, because doctors are annoying, but here’s what I’ve been able to figure out so far:

I have what’s called a 2nd degree Type 1 Wenckebach block. Wenckebach is pronounced WENK-ee-bock, which sounds really silly and is difficult to take seriously as a heart condition, but I guess that’s okay, because it’s not necessarily a serious heart condition, and Germans have funny names sometimes.

The two days I was beeping from the waist on the Holter monitor, minus the ten total hours required to be off-telemetry so the highly advanced cell-phone-cum-science-gadget could charge, resulted in the revelation that my heart skipped 3,842 beats during the other 38 hours. Which is considered “frequent” in a seemingly half-assed, three-sentence report of said monitoring.  The Wenckebach block is the reason for the dropped beats. It’s an electrical impulse disruption between the atria and the ventricles, in which the length of time in milliseconds between the electrical signal that contracts the atria and the one that contracts the ventricles gets progressively longer until it gets long enough that the whole heart skips a beat. Because it’s Type 1, it’s benign and generally, on its own, does not require treatment. If it were to be Type 2, they’d have to consider some options—pacemaker, etc.

It looks kind of like this on an ECG:

Wenckewonky.

Wenckewonky.

 

You’re looking at a series of waves, cleverly named P, Q, R, S and T. The P wave is the bump just before the spike. The Q wave is the lowest point just preceding the spike. The R wave is the tip of the spike. The S wave is the trailing low point of the spike. And the T wave is the bump right after the spike. A 2nd degree Type 1 Wenckebach block results in that flat line you see between the second T wave in the image and the next P wave. You see it happen again three beats later, on the right side of the image. That longer flat line is where the heart skips a beat entirely because the time between the P wave and the R wave (for some reason, the Q wave doesn’t matter to Wenckebach) got long enough that the heart said, “Eff it. Start over.”

This is where it gets fuzzy: This is not considered an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia happens when there’s a premature beat in either chamber of the heart, independent of the electrical signal conduction we’re talking about here. (It’s fuzzy because it’s still an irregularity and both of them are results of electricity within the heart, but different kinds of electrical conduction. MY thing is not considered “abnormal.” Even though it surely seems abnormal to drop 100 beats per hour on average and not even be a hip-hop star.) I have no actual arrhythmia. Apparently, that’s remarkable. I don’t know why, but the doctor said so. I win.

So, the block shows up on the ECG. Fine. The stress test is to see whether the block is consistent even when exertion makes my heart work faster and harder. Adrenaline naturally forces the heart to function more efficiently, so they were looking for correspondence. Excellent news: my heart does what it’s supposed to when I’m walking a stupidly significant incline at a rather good clip for 11 minutes.

Somewhat less excellent is that, after that, during what a normal person would call either a “cool-down” or a “Jesus, let me sit down for a minute,” and which cardiology types call “recovery,” they pulled me back over by my telemetry straps to the table, flopped me down all sweaty and heavy-breathing on it, and put their hands up my gown. It was the least awesome time that has ever happened.

This is when they do the second echo, to compare heart appearance and function under “stress” to the first, relaxed echo.

The echocardiogram revealed that, structurally, everything appears normal. This means it is not heart failure, cardiomyopathy or disease in the valves or arteries apparent in the ultrasound. Huzzah! Mac and cheese for everyone!

However, while I was lying there all schvitzy, the rhythms went wonky – I could feel and see on the monitor the way my heart tends to trip over itself, even when I’m not doing anything but sitting on my couch watching Orange Is the New Black. This essentially looked like the lines were trying to draw the Rocky Mountains instead of the usual rhythms. I have tried to find an image of this, but it’s tough to do a Google image search for “electrocardiogram that looks like Rocky Mountains.” To the best of my memory, it looked a lot like this highly technical medical thing I drew:

WTF wave

WTF wave

I got no explanation of what this Rocky Mountain Wonkiness was and, as strange as it sounds, couldn’t ask, because in those few moments, I wasn’t allowed to talk, and afterward, the doc who administered the test (different from the one I saw two weeks ago, because he was on hospital rounds) had another patient waiting and had already explained the block and the difference between the dropped beats and the arrhythmia and basically told me she had to go.

I did get to talk to my other doc the next day, and while he hadn’t seen everything at that point, I did manage to get him to look at the report and he said the Rockies were about the “P wave getting buried in the QRS complex.”

I hate it when that happens.

Basically, he’s a little surprised by the frequency of the dropped beats, and he says the fact that I drop them in recovery is “not quite normal.” Clearly, he doesn’t know me well yet, or he would realize that everyone knows I’m not quite normal. The upshot of these two surprises is that he and I will have a standing annual date to make sure things don’t get any more caddywompus. Because that’s possible, and then we’d have to discuss pacemakers or what-have-you.

Remember how half the reason I called the cardiologist with my hair on fire a month ago tomorrow was that I was swelling inexplicably? Yeah, we still don’t know what that’s about. But since my Lyme titer definitely, definitely says I may or may not have had Lyme Disease one time in the last 37 years, I might be able to pursue the 341 other possibilities for swelling with my general physician when I see her tomorrow to find out how many tests and dollars it will take to rule out the Lyme Disease thing.

So. Current diagnosis: Heart-wonk. Treatment: Eh. We’ll see. Recommendation: annual check-up. Follow up with general physician to find 27 other things that might or might not be a problem.

Ah, medical practice. Twenty-four hundred years after its beginnings, it still hasn’t made perfect.

 

Lub-a-Dub-Dub, Three Cords and a Flub

I am currently hooked up to three electrodes that aren’t transmitting anything.

Just for fun.

Not really. I have a wonky heartbeat, and I have for years —too many for me to care to admit, but almost half my life. Recently, a couple of other things happened that I thought were unrelated, and then all of a sudden it occurred to me that slightly swollen ankles and feet and calves and a few extra pounds and a seemingly undeservedly fluffier midsection might all be related to my wonky heart.

And I freaked. The fuck. Out.

I called a cardiologist and scheduled an appointment, for which I had to wait two weeks, which commenced two weeks of freakout. I stopped all alcohol intake and started paying very close attention to sodium. In 24 hours, I dropped four pounds. In ten days, I lost eight. Some of that might have been because I was never home to eat; for two straight weeks of nightly rehearsals and concerts, I sat on stage, squirming on backless wooden benches for hours at a time, singing Mendelssohn and Adams and Beethoven, and monitored my heart, my ankles, my breath control. Was that racing/thumping/tightness because of adrenaline or anxiety or impending death? Did I need to get a spot on the end of the row in case I felt suddenly morbidly unwell? What if the heat of the lights and the crowded space and the all-black concert dress got to me?

I was convinced it was heart failure or cardiomyopathy.

I’m still somewhat convinced.

The swelling has largely abated, and when I finally did see a cardiologist, he seemed to think it might have been a coincidental result of sodium overload paired with cyclical fluid retention. I’m not sold on that theory, but as long as the swelling stays at bay and the weight stays off, I might be willing to believe it. Though I will be super-annoyed at the new tendency to retain water.

I was so scared that when my friend Eliza joined me at the cardio appointment in case he said something devastating and asked how I was doing, I burst into tears.

I was so scared that I was actually thinking about how I would tell my family, what might happen to my house, how long I might still be able to climb the stairs, how long I might be able to work, and exactly how far shy of, say, 50, I might be gone. I was thinking that maybe this is why I don’t have a husband. I was thinking about how I’ve thought for a while now that I will probably die young.

No kidding, guys. That’s what I was thinking.

I even thought about whether, or when, I would blog about it. I thought about my old blog acquaintance, marjulo, who seems to have lost her brief battle with inoperable pancreatic cancer, whose final post was about her diagnosis and whose site no longer exists. I thought a lot about my friend Amanda, just starting her impossible-to-win battle with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, finally finding her fight even though the tumor in her femur still has her in pain and the thought of fighting for the sake of a bunch of months of weekly chemo and then maybe a little time in remission only to be followed by more chemo and less remission is a lot to take.

“Well, of course you think something terrible is wrong with you,” Eliza said in the hospital lobby after the cardio appointment. “Terrible things are happening to everyone around you.”

There was probably something to that.

I had to have a couple of blood tests, and I’m set for a stress echo, at which time they will first try to kill me on a treadmill and then do the echocardiogram I thought was rightfully mine at the first appointment, to find out whether I have heart failure or cardiomyopathy or some other dysfunction greater than the AV1 block and the suspected pulmonary stenosis the cardiologist mentioned at the first appointment. (An AV1 block is a first degree block of the electrical signal between the atrium and ventricle, which, doc says, means it “takes a little longer to get from the lub to the dub,” but isn’t treated; pulmonary stenosis is when the valve between the heart and the pulmonary artery doesn’t open all the way and builds up pressure in the heart chamber as it tries to force blood out to be oxygenated.) My thyroid checked out fine, but my Lyme titer was “indeterminate,” which is the medical equivalent of “Meh… maybe you had Lyme Disease… maybe you didn’t.” Which is basically irrelevant to the situation at hand, but has forced me to schedule another appointment to find out whether I did, in fact, have Lyme Disease once. All evidence to the contrary.

And now I’m hooked up to all these electrodes that are plugged into a gizmo that sends signals to a former cell phone that is now a PDA, and it is all pissing me off.

The first time I felt my heart go weird, I was 20. I was stressing out in a serious way about a married man who had professed his love for me and with whom I did not want to be involved except that I was already kind of involved, not adulterously, but in that way that you get involved with men you work with who say they are willing to put everything on the line for you because their love is just that strong, and you happen to be a total shipwreck in the self-esteem department at the time. I was lying on the couch in my college apartment, which I shared with three of my friends, and Jerry Springer was on, and it was something ridiculous and gross, and I suddenly realized that my life, at that moment, mirrored the show.

Since then, my heart has been skipping beats not with thrills or joys but with impunity. In recent years, it has seemed to frequently trip over itself in an effort to catch up after a dropped lub or dub: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub…lub-lublublub-dub-dub-lub, lub-dub, lub-dub…

I had an echocardiogram something like 11 years ago. I don’t even remember the name of the cardiologist. In fact, I remember nothing about that appointment except for the echo, and the declaration that nothing appeared out of order. And I haven’t had it checked on since. I’m not the annual physical type, so apart from the gynecologist, there isn’t a doctor I see regularly. I’m off the grid.

For the last 36 hours, however, two small devices have been tracking my heart and sending its patterns to a place that then sends it to the cardiologist. I think. Except for the five hours last night during which I got so monumentally irritated by the incessant beeping indicating low battery or poor connection that I ripped the electrodes off my chest, yanked the battery out of the monitor and turned the PDA off entirely so it could charge and I could sleep.

The PDA, which in a previous life was a Samsung Omnia II cell phone, cannot hold a charge. It prioritizes sending data over charging, which means that even if it stays plugged in all the live-long day, it uses up all its energy and dies, which seems counterproductive to a 48-hour heart monitoring system. When it blinks out, such horrendous beeping ensues that I feel like C3PO in mixed-up pieces on Chewbacca’s back. “OMG! DID YOU DIE?! I THINK YOU DIED!!! OH WAIT, THAT”S ME,” it says.

At the moment, it is turned off and plugged in to charge so that my cardiologist can get some idea of what my heart does while I’m sleeping tonight. Since the jumping my heart experienced last night was due to the damned infernal beeping waking me up juuust as I would doze off, rather than its own screwy, jazz-infused rhythm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, day one of my 48-hour monitoring just had to coincide with Field Day at work. The PDA and the monitor have to be no more than ten feet away from each other at all times, which meant I had to carry the monitor around in the wristlet I use as a keychain/ID/credit/debit card holder the whole time I was swinging from ropes and walking high-wires and hiking around campus, sweating my boobs off, building team spirit with my coworkers. And since I didn’t really want the coworkers to know I was on a Holter monitor, I had to try to be surreptitious about it.

My wristlet is red, b-t-dubbs.

The monitor was clipped to the waistband of my pants, so the work polo I was wearing had to stay untucked. I was relieved to see most others had left theirs untucked, as well, so at least that didn’t seem weird. And happily, the shirt was long enough to cover it even when I had to reach up to swing from ropes like a goddamned Amazon woman.

I managed to keep my monitoring hidden from the coworkers all day. I did not, however, manage to keep the heavy wristlet from smacking me in the face while I clung to ropelines.

You know what blew me in?

The World Cup.

I went home, started writing an essay for my summer class, and had the USA vs. Ghana game on TV. I don’t know much about soccer, so basically I’m all, “Goal is good,” and that’s it. At halftime, The Colombian texted me to tell me to come over. He had one of other other neighbors there, and said neighbor is a bit profanely vocal and demonstrative during sporting events. Javier didn’t think he could handle it alone.

Since I am still very wary of Javier (his relationship with Lydia, however infirm, endures), I let him sweat it out a little while before I went over, armed with my former Samsung Omnia II and its charger, because it was already showing a yellow battery life level.

After our other friend left, and somewhere between the coach’s interview and Dempsey’s interview, I started beeping.

Not the phone, which lay on the windowsill, plugged into an outlet below. The monitor that was attached to me.

Javi did a pretty good job of pretending not to notice that I was emitting electronic sounds from the area of my panties. At least, he did the first four times it went off. And he pretended not to notice when I got up, heaved a sigh, and went into the powder room to check on the monitor.

But finally, after another loooong beep, he said, “Why are you beeping? Whass going on? Why are you stress?”

I’m a terrible liar, so I had to tell him. I thought for sure that this whole I’m-attached-to-a-bunch-of-wires-that-have-been-largely- unsuccessfully-adhered-to-my-midsection-with-steri-strips-all-day-so-that-a-cardiologist-can-keep-an-eye-on-my-heartbeat thing would be a pretty substantial turn-off.

Evidently, I was wrong. Evidently, it translated to a kind of “The Fault In Our Stars With Hearts Instead of Cancer.” Javi told me he had recently spent 12 hours overnight, alone, in the local emergency room for chest pains, and when we hugged goodbye, he tenderly and briefly kissed my neck.

Hope the monitor didn’t notice.

It was so brief that I didn’t even have time to say, “Stop kissing my neck, you South American seducer!” Which is not to say that it’s not still happening in my head, 24 hours later.

Dammit.

Why am I attracted to emotionally unavailable men? It’s a question for the ages. I have been, by all accounts (mostly his and mine, and also Angie’s because she’s heard about them) very clear with him about why his attempts to kiss me (four of them in the last nine months) are absolutely not going to be met with reciprocity because he is still with Lydia. And also, what I haven’t said is that he is to Lydia what Jack was to me, and I don’t need another Jack. He doesn’t know anything about Jack, but I know enough to know I don’t need Javier to be another Jack. On this I am absolutely resolute.

But those shoulders, and the back of his neck, and the way he has to peer over his glasses to see his phone, and the way he looks in a shirt and tie…

Settle down, heart. You’re being watched.

 

 

 

Glass half-full. I’m going with that.

The ice cream truck is playing Christmas songs and I’m getting mistaken trash dumping citations. It’s springtime in the city.

The trash citations are supposed to be for the house two homes north of me. Instead, some dolt who works for the city and doesn’t know north from south took all the requisite photos of proof and failed to understand in which direction the house numbers ascend. He’s got the front of my house in with three photos of the back of the house two doors up. He’s also got a photo of the rear of the house in between, which was also inexplicably cited, and it’s clear in that photo that the rear of my house is clean and the rear of the house to the north is where the trash is.

I expect this will be easy to fix, as I know the councilman for our district and I’m pretty confident he knows how to count and which way is north, and he is now in receipt of my email. As is someone in litigation for the city’s code enforcement division. If nothing else, I’m sure I can get the rats to send some emails, too.

Oh, relax. It’s a city. There’s water nearby and the trash gets picked up in the alley. Rats happen. You know you’ve grown impervious when you see one that’s multicolored and have no reaction whatsoever except to immediately characterize it as a brindle. Besides, the alley cats help control everything.

I love fighting the Man. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier when you know people. Of course, I’ll have to take care that city code enforcement doesn’t notice the sections of drywall propped up against the concrete wall behind my house, which are there because my guest bedroom got rained in. They used to comprise part of my ceiling. Those who have been reading me for a while know that this happened right before I bought my house, when Hurricane Sandy menaced the entire east coast. That time, there were stripes down the wall the day I was supposed to close, and I told the builder I wanted him to rip the wall out and redo it. He didn’t, but he seemed to have had a good reason. He said he’d fixed the problem on the roof and gave me a builder’s warranty.

Then he basically ignored me when I actually needed him to do something about water I was finding in the basement. Not a lot, but it’s still water – rain water, to be precise – and it comes through…

…wait for it…

…the electrical panel.

I think I know why it’s happening and how to fix it, but the builder is in the wind. He’s ignored me for 11 months now. He has ignored my realtor as well. I have looked up the records and discovered that he has been sued 40 times in the last 15 years, mostly for breach of contract, and he owes people millions of dollars.

Soooo that’s probably a fruitless pursuit.

Back to the guest bedroom… After a super-fun night of ignoring the paper I had to write so that I could, instead, help my former contractor friend and neighbor rip out an 11 1/2 x 3 1/2 foot section of my guest room ceiling to discover completely saturated fiberglass insulation, we figured we found the problem. The evidence hadn’t shown up in the ceiling, though it was just a matter of time. Rather, it had shown up halfway across the back wall. The water, having saturated the ceiling insulation, then found a path along beams and whatnot, and ran down that way.

Oh, physics. Oh, properties of liquid.

I gave the insulation a little time to dump its continual streams of fiberglass-flavored rain into buckets before I pulled it down. And looky what I found!

0503141430

How nice of them to label it!

Yeah, nobody I know wrote that. That’s from the builder’s guy. Helpful, no?

You might think that, upon coming home from work after a rainfall of several inches and finding a puddle on the windowsill and then following context clues to discover that half of the back wall of your guest bedroom was a sopping mess, you would have a few choice words at this revelation. You might think that I, historically willing to document choice words, would not be at a loss.

I really just laughed.

Because seriously?

Anyway, I got a roofer to come out, and he told me with every bit of stereotypical city Italian affect that the actual problem is three-fold: there were holes worn in the roofing materials around two pipes that vent up through that ceiling to the roof (the one pictured is the bathroom plumbing vent pipe, and the other one, about 18 inches toward you if you’re looking at the picture, is the air vent pipe for the bathroom fan), allowing rainwater to collect there and then drip through around the pipe;. Also, the air vent pipe was not capped.

I’m going to give you a minute to process the fact that an aluminum pipe not fitted for any kind of moisture because it’s meant only for air was left just as open as you please on my roof, so that it could just rain directly into said vent pipe and then leak from the elbow fitting into my ceiling. Probably for a long time, and directly onto my head at one point, as I stood there staring at the pipe marked “roof leaks” during a subsequent rainfall, waiting for the marker’s prediction to come true.

So, yeah. Two leaks. Long time.

Blessedly, that roofer, who is totally legit and came with multiple recommendations, said he’d only charge me $150 for the fix. Which is $9,850 less than I expected. I haven’t gotten a bill yet, so we’ll see how that actually shakes out.

And it appears his fix has done the trick. We’ve had a couple of rainfalls since, and everything’s dry.

My guest bedroom is still rather… rustic. So the next step is to call in a contractor to tell me what it will cost to remodel the room to look exactly like it did before it got rained in.

For now, the door is closed and I’m pretending that room doesn’t exist. Fortunately, I have an appreciation for learning, which comes in handy when you’re standing at the top of a ladder waiting for drops and can instead wax kind of nostalgic about the gorgeous, wide beams that made up the original ceiling, above which, between gaps, you can see the original slate roof. Since my house is about 100 years old on the outside, that was kind of cool.

Glass half-full.

Of rainwater, but half-full.

Local Support

There are moments in life—oh, life, you are so hilarious—when everything turns on its head. And then there are moments, say, five years later, when everything turns again. And yet nothing is the same as it was the before it changed the first time, and you wind up cross-eyed and kinda nauseous.

One of my dear friends, Amanda, has just been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It’s bad, and it sucks, and there are basically no other words. I mean there are—some of them are Latiny medical words and some of them are very bad words and almost all of them are adjectives, but none of them mean anything except cancer. Cancer that has made itself quite at home in Amanda’s body, in a bunch of places, without so much as telling her it was squatting until she bought a house, moved in, thought she’d tweaked her knee, and the MRI showed a tumor. It wasn’t until two weeks and five appointments later that the focus shifted from suspected lymphoma to, “Wait, no… not lymphoma. Breast.”

Everything changed when that word entered the conversation. Suddenly the PET scan that looked “unsurprising” when they thought it was lymphoma was a whole different ball game, and the bases were loaded.

It’s funny, in that not-at-all-humorous way… every time I would hear about someone diagnosed with stage IV cancer, I would think, “How did they not feel something was different?” Now I know the answer. Amanda was diligent about her health; her father died at age 34 from cancer, and she is obsessive about annual physicals, blood work, colonoscopies, and, yes, a mammogram every year since she turned 40. She had one less than a year ago. Clear. But mammograms in women under 50 are much less effective because the tissues are still dense, and Amanda is 43. And though she did notice a change that may indicate inflammatory breast cancer about a year ago, and did go to two or three doctors to check it out, all the tests came back clean. Amanda is also cursed with a useless metabolism, and her weight hid the “very enlarged” lymph nodes under her arm that only showed up in scans. There was just no way to know.

She is feeling every emotion you can imagine. She’s cried so much that she doesn’t think she can cry anymore, and then she does.

Her family is very small and not local, so there are five of us who live within an hour who will be her “on the ground” care team. I asked her, sitting in the car after the watershed appointment where the breast surgeon told her what we were dealing with, who she felt comfortable with knowing all her intimate details and being there even on her worst days. She gave me the names. We’ve already launched a small operation to keep things organized and keep each other informed as we take turns accompanying Amanda to appointments and, going forward, treatments and post-treatment days. We are functioning exactly as we did in our jobs when we worked together: project managing and troubleshooting, thinking of everything we can in the early going so that things might be a tiny bit easier later. There’s a Google Drive and a calendar and a binder and a lot of coordinating amongst ourselves so that everything goes seamlessly to anyone who might observe from outside.

Now there’s a new name on the list, one Amanda didn’t mention at first, but said she was okay with when Liz asked, and while she’s not a full-on member of Local Support (bra logo pending), she’s already the exposed underwire that’s going to poke the shit out of me.

She’s my old boss.

Terri has Hodgkins Disease, and she’s currently in relapse number four. She also has a manipulative personality and a tendency to want to be in charge of, and wield power over, everyone. She’s not Amanda’s friend, but when Amanda thought she had lymphoma, she reached out to Terri for guidance. It made total sense, and Terri still has valuable insight that will help Amanda, and that is all that matters.

But Terri treated me horribly pretty much every day for four and a half years, threatened on paper and in person to fire me, humiliated me, ignored me, called me names, and made me miserable, and I’ve only been away from her for 13 gloriously liberating, rebuilding months. And now she’s part of this.

The whole care team used to work for Terri; Liz still does. She doesn’t have a problem with Terri, but knows my history and was sensitive enough to ask me if it was okay to give her my email address and if it was okay to invite her to a team meeting we’re having Tuesday night at Liz and her wife Molly’s house. I told her Amanda needs Terri’s insight, and that’s all that matters.

And then the chest pains started and I realized I’m going to need to get a new anti-anxiety med prescription, because apparently I can handle my sweet friend having stage IV breast cancer, but I can’t handle having to deal with Terri again. Terri, who emailed me seconds after I gave Liz permission to share my email address, seemingly to say not much of anything, and then, after a few really courteous exchanges, said, “I know it’s a shitty way to reconnect, but I’m glad we are. Still miss you here…”

And then I yelled at the screen and threw up.

(I only actually did one of those things.)

I met Amanda, as well as Alicia and Miriam and Liz, when I started my old job, not quite six years ago. The four of us were like an internal support group in a rough industry, constantly keeping each other laughing, helping each other with the work, or listening to each other’s gripes. I met Molly when Liz, during a snowstorm, offered to have me stay at their place, two miles from work instead of my 50,  because we had to work the next day. Together, we have all been through a raft of ridiculousness.  Of all of us, Amanda left first. I left a few months later; Alicia and Miriam left on the same day, seven months after that.

Miriam (who also hates Terri) reminded me that sometimes the Devil has an answer, so you talk to the Devil about that one thing and you ignore the rest. I’m going to try to keep that in mind. It occurred to me that this is what some families must endure… that sense of being thrown into something awful with someone who has caused a great deal of pain, because someone else needs them both at the same time.

I just got home from spending much of the day at Amanda’s house with her, her friend Noel from college, and another of our former coworkers. There’s a weird sense of conflict within me about giving non-team members any information on Amanda’s illness. I’m fiercely protective and I don’t want others to know more than she’s comfortable with sharing, but when they ask you point-blank and Amanda’s not yet home from Target, it’s an awkward situation.

I’ve known about Amanda’s cancer, in whatever form it was going to take, for two weeks, and I’ve already learned so much. Some of it is about myself. And it may be uglier and more insidious than triple-negative stage IV possibly inflammatory breast cancer. Tomorrow morning, Alicia takes Amanda to her first radiation appointment to try to get a handle on her somewhat debilitating pain, and in the afternoon, I take her to her first meeting with her medical oncologist, who will determine and order all her chemo treatments and coordinate with the breast surgeon and the radiation oncologist about others. And Tuesday, Terri and I sit down with the rest of Local Support, bra logo pending, and figure out how to hold Amanda up without fraying at the edges.

 

 

 

If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

So, I might hate grad school. Lil bit.

I had a meeting at the end of last month with one of the deans, who happens to be my client. Upon an exchange of pleasantries and my inquiry as to his well-being, he said, “I’m intermittently fine.” I thought that was a genius way to describe my own status and seconded. 

“You’re getting your master’s, right?” he asked.

“Trying to, yes,” I replied, because it was precisely the reason I was only intermittently fine.

“How many classes are you taking this term?”

“Two.”

His eyebrows went up. “Two? That’s a lot, with a full-time job.”

“Turns out!” I replied. 

And then he told me how I might be able to get around taking a 200-level stats course prereq with a bunch of sophomores by taking a special topics course in one of his college’s programs instead. Memo to me: if this works out, buy that man a fine bottle of his favorite liquor.

One of my classes features a six-phase case study. Since it’s done in phases as assigned, you can’t procrastinate and do it all at the back end of the term, which is great… but you also can’t get ahead. Because of that, and the fact that I have to write a 20-30 page research paper for the same class, due the same day as the case study, I decided to knock out the 20-25 page research paper in my other class well ahead of time. I can’t actually even remember when I got that paper done, but I think it was about three weeks ago. Seems like longer. 

Anyway, the case study. Handed in phase one. Aced it. “That’s the hardest part,” said the prof. “The rest is going to be easy.”

The man lied.

Having believed him, I handed in phases two and three on the appropriate date. A week later, he was set to return them. I sat in my tiny little desk like Will Ferrell in the opening scene of “Elf,” listening to him talk about how they were, on the whole, kind of disappointing. I was anxious. My fingers had heartbeats. What if I didn’t do well?

It was worse than I thought.

I didn’t do well. 

I bombed.

“I’m not even going to grade this,” he said. “Just do it over.”

His handwritten notes said, “Wrong,”  “Wrong,” and “This totally misses the mark” in the three sections of the grade sheet.

Do you remember how it felt when you were in high school or college and you got a bad grade on a test or a paper? How the bottom seemed to drop out of your stomach while your throat closed up? Pro tip: happens when you’re 37, too. 

Just do it over, he says.

*whimper* *moan* *sigh*

I had already spent hours – hours and hours – on this case study. And now I had to do these two phases again… and do the next phase. Due in two days.

I had to take a personal day to spend 11 hours working on this thing.

The end of the term is coming. All the stuff is due very, very soon – so soon that I should probably stop spending words on this blog post and write another page or two of a paper, instead. It’s so much harder to write them now! But by the end of this term, I will only have completed three of the 14 courses I need for my degree. The school is only offering one over the summer that can count toward my program. And the no-skin-in-the-game dean says, “Two… that’s a lot with a full-time job.” 

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t do a thesis in my program. I take comprehensive exams. And if I only take one class per term, it will take me 14 terms (4.66 years, assuming I can take a class every summer term) before I graduate. Nine terms (three years – same assumption) before I can take the first comp. I will have forgotten everything from the first classes by then.

Not happening. Gotta double up if they offer two program courses in a term.

I got back the three still-questionable phases of the case study on Monday. Wonder of wonders: I aced them all on the re-do. Now an implementation timeline, a budget, and a package and polish, and that baby is put to bed. I have written seven of the 20 pages required for the research paper. I have bled on the keyboard of this here laptop.

Tonight, I got back the four-question essay exam I had to take in the other class. I had had to completely BS one of the answers; he asked a question about the topic from the only class I’d missed. If I got partial credit, I would have had an 85 and I would have taken it.

I looked at the paper.

95%.

Whoa.

I looked at the question I couldn’t possibly have answered well. “I can tell you read the chapter,” he had written in red, “but be more specific.” And then he went on to talk specifics about the chapter. Which I had, in fact, not read. 

It was the only chapter I had not read, out of 21.

Fooled you, pal.

Maybe I’ll make it to the M.S.

Inspirational Videos Make Me Sad

I’ve mentioned it before: my friend Joey telling me once, “I think you feel things more deeply than most people do.” I remember feeling doomed when he said it, because I’d always thought everyone else was just like me and I, for some reason, just couldn’t handle Normal and had to compensate accordingly. But no. Joey says I’m not Normal. Joey says I’m Different.

I realized it kind of explained a lot. It explained depression in my teenaged years (not the typical teen angster, I—writer of poetry, listener to Pink Floyd in the early ’90s, singer of classical music—everything was just slightly to the wrong side of typical). It explained anxiety in my adult years. It explained my tendency to shut down emotion so I can function without feeling like I’m at the bottom of a dark hole by myself, or at the highest point in the world, but knowing I’m soon going to be in that hole. (This is different from depression. This is existentialism. One is a medical condition, the other a philosophy. Admittedly, they’re probably linked. And I’m actually kind of a rational existentialist, which is, in itself, contradictory. Sigh.)

Which, really, explains the choice of my first career, one in which you can only thrive if you’re jaded and cynical, because letting humanity enter in will basically ruin your faith in it or make you cry all damn day, every day, for various reasons you can’t always pinpoint.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I’d like to believe it made me Exceptional, like Woolf or Van Gogh. But though I do buy the flowers myself, my writing isn’t required for tens of thousands of students. I still have both my ears and would probably never lop one of them off of my own volition, and I can’t paint for shit. I’m worse than Bush 43. Way, way worse.

I actually think he’s pretty good.

I don’t understand why people will stop their day to watch something they know is going to make them cry. I don’t want to cry. I think I overdosed on it when I was younger. So I skip over those videos that are supposed to inspire you, because I prefer Sweet Brown memes. Sweet Brown memes do not bring my day to a screeching halt, never to be restarted, because I can’t get out of my own head.

Apparently, for the people who watch the tearjerker videos, it’s just for a minute, and it actually kind of makes them feel good, and then they go about their day. But for me, it creates this whole thread of thinking, and suddenly the really beautiful Thai Life Insurance commercial that will totally get you if you have even a shred of a soul becomes an entire internal debate about how much of my money I should give away and why I can’t keep a potted plant alive (obviously it has to do with my selfish inability to remember need when none can be voiced).

Really.

And then my whole day has gone to hell and I’m sad.

Also I fall in love with the guy in the commercial. Who is probably an actor in California only pretending to be the nicest guy in Thailand, but still. And then I think about why I can’t find a guy like that. Or why he would definitely, definitely dump me, even though he seemed really interested all along. Or why I probably wouldn’t like him if he stuck around, because I’m a heartless bitch.  Or something.

When really, the problem is that I’m not heartless at all. The problem is that if I let myself watch three-minute inspirational commercials for Thai Life Insurance too many times, I’ll just want to go to bed.

Existentialist bed. Not depression bed.

It’s really no wonder so many somewhat existential artists killed themselves or died some sort of sad, pathetic, poetic death. (Suicide and sad, pathetic, poetic death really are the pinnacles of existentialism, no?) Not me, though. I’m only an average existentialist. I’ll probably die falling down the steps with a basket of laundry in my arms after contemplating the pointlessness of laundry, my final thought being one of irritation at polyester, my face obscured by a small pile of panties when someone finds me days later. Someone who holds them up and says, “I never would have thought she’d wear leopard-print thongs.” Because they didn’t know the real me.

Or someone who holds them up and says, “I knew it. Damn!” Because he always thought I “oozed sex.”

(Somebody told me that once.)

Or my mother, who would find time in her overwhelming grief to be disappointed in my undergarment choices.

(They are not white. They do not cover everything. They’re probably not even really clean, because they can’t be washed in original formula Clorox. My house probably isn’t really clean, either. Clearly I’ve been sent to hell for wearing hoochie pants.)

Sigh.

And so this is why I don’t watch most of the inspiringly heartbreaking ads people post on Facebook. This is why I shut out sad realities in favor of unintentionally funny news soundbites that make frightening situations seem hilarious.

Because I cannot afford to fall in love with that guy from the Thai Life Insurance commercial, who will never love me back, and whose rejection will leave me despondent enough to listen to listen to “The Wall” again.

P.S. Check out this list of artists who have committed suicide. Some of the descriptions are kind of funny. This list was obviously complied by a cynic.

P.P.S. Seriously, though, watch that Thai Life Insurance commercial. 

P.P.P.S. Or this.

It Could Have Gone Either Way

My life cracks me up.

Last night I was at a fundraising event for a local charter school. I don’t have skin in the game, except that I care about kids’ education because it keeps them out of trouble and makes them productive citizens on the off-chance I happen to live past 70 and need a workforce to put something into the economy to help support those of us who can’t work anymore, in the interest of the humane treatment of the aged. Also my friend JW is on the board of the school, and, while dining at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall the other night with Javier and me, he roped me into going to this thing. Having exactly $21 in my checking account and no cash, I made sure I could do the ticket and any auction bids on a credit card (don’t worry – I carry no credit card debt now, so this is okay for a month) and then agreed to go.

It was a lovely evening, of course. The art was an eclectic mix (as all art is wont to be) of local artists and kids who attend the school. All the proceeds from the auction went to the school, and the open beer & wine bar’s pours were all donated by a local establishment. The hors d’oeuvres were tasty, I won three pieces of handcrafted jewelry at auction—one of which is a 50th birthday gift for my friend Ali, who is presently an hour late for dinner at my house—and I was happy to contribute to the cause. And I’m only slightly pissed that I missed out on a beautiful necklace by five dollars because I was an idiot with my bid. And several of my friends were there, including Javier and his girlfriend, Lydia.

Lydia and I have a funny acquaintance, which I credit to the fact that Javi is a flirt and has, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a year or so, made overtures toward me a time or two, in small but fairly obvious ways. I’ve kept him at arm’s length because of Lydia and because I don’t want to fall for another charming deceiver. (Aside from his mild implications of willingness to deceive Lydia, don’t ask me why I know this, but Javi is divorced while claiming he’s never been married.)

Staring at the artwork of sweet, city-dwelling ten-year-olds juxtaposed with the artwork of odd grown-ups, Lydia and I caught up on life since we last saw each other. I can’t remember for sure, but that might have been at my house in the wee-bitty hours of New Year’s Day.

“So what’s new?” I asked her.

“Oh, you know… went on vacation, looking for a new job,” she said, smiling and nodding.

“Wait,” I said, thinking that, with the brash emcee yelling into the microphone on the other side of the room, I might have misheard her, “did you say you went on vacation, or you’re going on vacation?”

“Went,” she said.

“Oh! Where’d you go?” I asked.

“Colombia,” she said, as if “of course” were implicitly, but silently, added. Javier, being a Colombian native whose family is still there, had gone to visit for two weeks in February.

“Oh! You did go!” I responded, with absolutely no way of hiding my surprise.

See, the funny thing is, before Javier went, I asked him, “Is Lydia going to Colombia with you?”

“Uh-uh,” he replied.

There is a Colombian accent for this, and so I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. Had that been negative or affirmative?

“Yes?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

But… yes, apparently.

Interesting. Why would he lie to me about that? That’s dumb.

A bit later, standing next to each other in front of a photograph of a backlit, vinyl-lettered, side-of-the-road sign with a pithy artist’s thought in typeface around it, Javier nudged me with his elbow. I turned to him, blinked, opened my mouth and then—

“No. Nevermind.”

“Wha?” he wanted to know.

“No. Another time.”

At the end of the event, with my three pairs of earrings, receipts, program, ticket, and invitation from Adhira (another neighborhood friend and Javi’s best female friend) for her board’s gala fundraiser in three weeks in hand, I cabbed it a couple miles to a bar where Paul’s band was playing. Around the corner from the bar, my phone buzzed with a text message from Elaine. “Are you coming?” Paul’s band was about 15 minutes into their set when I walked in, to much welcome from Elaine. Within minutes, I found myself chatting with a young woman who’d also come to hear them play. She asked how I knew Paul and Elaine, and after I answered, she said, “I used to date”

I knew, somehow, the next words—

“Paul’s old neighbor, Liam”

 This is hilarious.

“He’s apparently all hung-over, so he’s not coming tonight”

Okay…

“It’s cool, we’re still friends and all”

I don’t… why are you…?

                                                                                                         “But maybe”

saying this?

“it’s good that he’s not coming out, you know?”

 It’s not cool at ALL, is it? No, I don’t think it is. Oh, awful. I’ve been there.

I am standing next to, and chatting with, Liam’s ex-girlfriend, who, no matter how hard she tries to sell it, is not over him, and who has no idea, nor will I tell her, that I, too, dated Liam recently. 

Oh, this is rich.

She is NOTHING like me!

Who does this happen to in life? 

Well, at least he isn’t dead. I half-wondered if he’d died in Australia during his business trip and that was why I’d heard nothing since his last message, which had said, mixed in with some other words, “I’m going to send you some pictures when I get to Sydney… Maybe we’ll be able to chat via Skype… I look forward to talking with you…”

And then vanished.

(And yes, I did breezily offer two messages in the three weeks since. Nothin’.)

Elaine turned to another friend.

“Lisa, this is Jen—”

“Oh, yeah!” Lisa reacted to Jen, “you used to date Liam!”

Ha! Holy crap, this is happening! 

At no point did I say anything to Jen about having gone out with Liam. There was absolutely no reason for it, and I’m not upset about the situation. I mean, look. We had two dates and an attempted third, some lovely conversations on the phone,  and a few contacts while he was overseas. I thought for sure we’d continue to see each other at least for a little while, based on the level of interest he showed and which I reciprocated proportionately, but there wasn’t a lot invested in this thing. But how often does it happen that you run into that guy’s ex while you’re watching the friend who set you up rip a sweet riff on an electric guitar, so soon after that guy disappeared?

Hilarious!

A little while later, with Jen on the other side of the bar, Elaine leaned toward me and asked, as though she knew the answer, “So what’s going on with Liam?”

I casually said that I hadn’t heard from him in a while, but that it was funny to find myself standing next to his ex-girlfriend tonight.

“Yeah, that was kinda weird,” Elaine said with a squished-up face, “but I didn’t know what to do.”

Well… you invited us both… 

I assured her of the truth, which was that it didn’t bother me in the slightest.

“Well, maybe that’s the problem, then,” she said, without offering an established problem for her theory. “Maybe that’s just what he does.” She gestured toward where Jen had been.

I had no idea what this meant, and I didn’t care to know.

Looking up at the televisions in the corners of the bar, I saw that Wisconsin had just lost the NCAA semi-final basketball game to Kentucky by one point. Which meant I had just lost a $360 pot in which I had made everyone nervous by being the only top ten player to pick Wisconsin to win it all. Eight of the ten had picked Florida, who’d been bounced the round before.

Saturday night. And so much that could have gone either way.

21 To Life

When I turned 21, I had already embarked on my dream career. My 21st birthday was spent with coworkers and a couple of my roommates. I’d been at work for a year, carrying a full course load in college in Ohio while my family lived in South Jersey. I saw them about three times a year, because between college and my job, I didn’t get a lot of time off, and because I had a sister in college and another in high school and a third in grade school, so there wasn’t a ton of money for airfare.

I didn’t have a boyfriend. I can’t remember whether I dated anybody at 21—I didn’t date much at all before I graduated—but I do remember the mess I was kind of in with a married guy I worked with. It wasn’t a relationship, not an affair, though how do you define an affair? Does it have to have a physical element, or does a one-sided series of “I love yous,” a dozen gorgeous, unwanted roses at work on Valentine’s Day with an unsigned card quoting a country song, a fear of never hearing anyone else say what he’d been the only one to ever say, and a threat of suicide without you qualify? At 21, I wasn’t sure, but I felt certain that, when I dug my rosary out of a drawer in search of comfort and found it broken, I was in some very serious trouble. He was messed up and I was a little messed up in the most conventional way possible, and he loved me and I needed to hear the things he said so I could feel a little less messed up.

Twenty-one was a lot of work for me.

Twenty-one was a lot of country music.

Yet I thought I would get married and have kids in the way that every girl thinks she’ll get married and have kids, like it’s just a course of nature, a foregone conclusion, that stuff that always happens because it’s assumed to be guaranteed from the moment one enters the world.

I’m a few years shy of doubling 21, and almost everything has changed. That dream career for which I had sacrificed so much so willingly for so long turned into a bittersweet kind of misery for which I wasn’t willing to give up any more. It almost ended on someone else’s terms at 31 and again at 32, and then I left it willingly and very happily at 36 and three days. But for all I lost in those years, I gained a great deal, too. It made me different in a lot of good ways. Smarter. More able. More agile. I can’t imagine what else I could have done. I don’t have a dream career now—in a lot of ways, the one I left is still the dream, and it’s how I learned that when a dream goes bad, it’s not necessarily replaced by a new one dreamed with equal passion. But I have a life. I have the freedom to make new, exciting plans, and look forward to whatever happens next.

The college-owned apartment with three roommates morphed into a small rental place of my own, and then another in another state, back east, still not with family but much less far away. Then another, and then a house I bought myself. The guilt I used to feel about not living in the same place as my family is still there, but the excuse I thought I would need—that my job kept me away—no longer seems required, because I have chosen my second hometown for myself, and I no longer care who’s offended by that. I see my family every month now instead of three times a year. I live in a tremendously diverse neighborhood in a tremendously diverse city, instead of in the very, very white Midwest. I make less money, yet I am richer than I was a year ago.

My state does not get blamed for elections, nor credited for them.

The man who swore he literally wouldn’t live without me has been out of my life for 13 years, but as far as I know, he’s still alive. Divorced, but alive. I’m still a little messed up, and who isn’t, but I’m past the particular problems that put me in that situation and I have never allowed it to happen again, and I never will. My rosary, which I fixed, remains intact…even if what I believe has changed a little. There has been love since, and for all its twists, it has hurt me more, but hurt others less.

I have come to fairly loathe country music.

A few years shy of doubling 21, I am single and childless, and I like it that way, even if I’m not entirely comfortable with the way everyone else sees those words, and even if I feel bad about who it disappoints. I still want to get married, but it doesn’t have to be soon. I know that, if I find the man I want to spend my life with, he may want what I don’t. I know it may be the deciding factor in whether he spends his life with me. I may one day wake up suddenly feeling every loss of what I don’t have, but I know myself well enough to know that having it now would probably not be good for anyone. And I know that, when I’ve tripled 21, I may see that I would have been better than I think, and change my mind too late. But I have to live with what I know now. I’ve been told that my spine can’t do the job anyway, and even if it did, I couldn’t pick my children up once they got past 25 pounds. Some decisions are made by something other than the mind or the heart. Right now, I’m glad they all seem to agree.

Right now, my only true regret was the connection to a man whose feelings for me helped bring down his marriage. My role in that is one I had to struggle mightily to forgive, even though his marriage likely would have ended without him ever having met me. That part of what my life has been is not the only hard part, but right now,  it is the only part I would change. It is the only thing that doesn’t pass the test of time, the only thing for which the lessons were not worth their cost.

I don’t look back at 21 and see my biggest concerns, dreams, fears and realities of the time as trite or simple or quaint. I respect who I was then. I like her. There are a few things I would tell her now, but she wouldn’t have listened to me, and I wouldn’t listen now to what I’ll want to tell myself in 21 years. She had to learn it her way, and I have to learn it mine. I saw some very difficult things when I was 21, and I’ve seen more since. I know more now, but I don’t mock who I was then. She never would have thought she would be this happy being me. She’d be pleasantly surprised. But she got me here. She’s every bit a part of why I’m me as anything else. Maybe more.

We’re friends, she and I. Soul mates. I am at once her mother and her daughter, the one who protects her and the one who has come after her.

And I will always have her.

That will never change.

This post was prompted by FiftyFourandAHalf’s post, When YOU Were 21. She welcomes everyone’s stories.