A New Beginning

So much has happened.

It was a year that both raced and plodded, with highs I hadn’t felt in ages and lows I hope to never feel again. I don’t suppose the generalities defy custom; I made new friends, lost track of old ones, and watched a dear one leave the world too soon. My heart expanded to welcome a new niece and tightened to finally evict an old love. In some ways, ghosts were finally released. Realizations dawned. Struggles tested. Worries became realities. Romances bloomed and withered. Academia endured. Challenges forced refinement of character, and frustrations—sometimes unrelenting—revealed new understandings. Things I thought I knew either shifted or turned out to have been different all along. Tears came more easily. Life’s mess and complication insisted on winning the day.

For a woman so keen on protection, it was a year of exposure and rawness, of ache at the slightest touch and ecstasy at unexpected provocation. It was a coming out, a time of permissions, of letting feelings surface and learning lessons that I hope will lead to greater grace.

I missed writing. I missed connecting at the soul with people whose faces I had never seen but whose hearts I felt I knew well. But occupation and obligation rarely relented, and when they did, I found my musings so muddled, so tangled, so exhausted or so banal that words were either insufficient or grandiloquent, that to reach for them would have seemed an injustice to their spirit. I wanted to write, but I wanted to rest my mind more.

This post is not a new year’s resolution; I don’t believe in those for their own sake. It is not a clarion herald. It is not a promise to anyone—not even myself. It is simply an acknowledgment of sorts, head bowed, thoughts clouded, that I have been away for a long time, and that I have ached to connect again. The shape things take from here is uncertain. There are ideas, but there is no plan. There are only my fingers on the keyboard and my thoughts on the screen, taking shape in letters after a year full of blurry lines.

Hello again.

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What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

In all four of his television series thus far, Aaron Sorkin has named an episode “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” It was the name of the first season finales for “SportsNight,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it is the name of the upcoming series finale of “The Newsroom.”

The reason I love Sorkin so much, and particularly “The West Wing,” is that he writes for intelligent people and doesn’t assume that he has to dumb it down to meet the lowest common denominator (with the exception of the first four episodes of “The Newsroom,” in which every woman was a drippy damsel in distress, and every man a douchebag trying—and, somehow, being allowed—to be a knight in shining armor). It’s also witty when it’s right to be witty. “The West Wing,” in particular, is my go-to when I need comfort viewing. Something about it is the visual equivalent of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, the entertainment equal to being wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea on a cold night.

Today has been an odd kind of day.

It started with me reading, for reasons passing understanding (big Sorkin phrase), a blog post on cocktailsandchemo.com that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have read posts on this blog here and there before, and it has always been a mistake, but, like a moth to a flame, there I was, and I was destroyed for 15 minutes when I should have been drying my hair. It’s heartbreaking. It’s about a very young man who is dying of colon cancer, and it is written by his wife. They have a daughter who’s not even two. Don’t read it. I swear, you’ll be done in from the combination of love and ache and beauty and sorrow and hope and anguish and just don’t.

At work, my colleague and I finished the last of the eight phone interviews we were conducting for a vacant position. They went fine, and we were able to solidly eliminate three candidates and put one on the bubble, leaving us with four we felt confident bringing in for face-to-face meetings. But as anyone who has conducted interviews knows, doing eight in a week pokes a bunch of big holes in your days, and between them and your meetings, you tend to feel like you haven’t gotten anything productive done. I kept trying to get a foothold, and being able to do little more than toe a few emails.

Then there was an absolutely ridiculous issue with a publication that really should not matter in the slightest, but required another redesign and another round of new copy after the clients had agreed on the design and sent the supposedly final final final copy. My vice president wound up involved in a way I’m not aware of, and as far as I’m concerned, she can handle it the rest of the way, because I am pretty tired of trying to do things for these particular clients and getting split decisions, too many revisions, and still hot breath down the back of my neck to get the final version to them in time for them to send it out when they didn’t give my team any time to do it in the first place. The real killer of this whole thing is that the designer spent four days hand-drawing this publication after all parties had agreed on a design concept, and now it’s scrapped entirely. I find it terribly disrespectful of someone’s energy, time and talent, and these clients do this constantly.

A bit before that, Facebook told me that my dear friend Sam is leaving and moving to Indianapolis to take a job. Sam helped me through a lot of really difficult times in my last job, listened and asked with great interest about my love life or lack thereof, gave me great advice I actually took, bantered with me Sorkin-style in solidarity to our shared affinity, gleefully played my political wonk game, and generally has been a precious friend. Nearly a year ago, he told me about something really difficult that he was struggling with, and five months ago, he stopped talking to me altogether. Nothing happened between us, no argument or conflict… he just stopped answering messages of any kind and never reached out again. It has always made me sad, and now that he’s leaving town, it makes me even sadder. I’ve sent him a message to congratulate him and let him know I miss him and hope to see him before he goes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back.

At the end of the work day, as she was leaving, my coworker declared quietly that she was going to go get gas in her car and deal with her lingering depression. She wasn’t kidding. It was awkward, if not surprising. Most of us know she is struggling, and what makes matters worse is that she’s not terribly well-liked. I don’t know which begets which. I have always found her lacking in self-awareness, which leaves me torn between concern and irritation, which makes me feel awful because I know she is in pain.

But the weirdest part of the day, and that part that, along with Sam’s announcement, has me the most untethered, was around two this afternoon, when my friend Angie found my blog.

As many of my readers know, I am completely anonymous here, and none of my real-life family, friends or acquaintances have ever known I write a blog. I wanted it that way, because the anonymity gave me permission to speak freely, to blather on about things my friends might already be bored by, to say what I want about whomever I want, and to feel like I had a safe place to do it all. But today, after I quoted a particular song lyric in an Ohio 5 group message, Angie Googled it, and somehow, a blog entry in which I had also quoted it came up. She outed me in the group message immediately, and even told our other friends how they could find the blog.

I can’t describe the feeling I had. My heart pounded. I don’t log into the blog on my work computer, but I did today, first having to change the password because it’s cached in my computer at home and I couldn’t remember it. Then I had to quickly go through all my posts to see if my friends would be upset by anything. I will admit that I deleted posts that I thought would upset them enough to cause friction.

I got a message from WordPress that my stats had skyrocketed. Eighty-three hits to the home page.

That seemed excessive, even for my friends.

I worried that they might have shared it with a few other people we’re close to. It wasn’t really narcissism, any more than writing a blog is narcissism. It was just that I suddenly felt like I had lost the ability to protect something tender.

I’m not angry at Angie; She was shocked, after knowing me so well for nearly 20 years, that there was something I had managed to keep from her for three and a half. Her impulse to tell the rest of our friends was reflexive. Thoughtless and inconsiderate, but not malicious. She has apologized for it, admitting that she searched through all of it looking for her name so she could see what I have said about her. Meg has apologized for trying to find the blog after learning it existed. Joey, after finding the home page and reading the glossary, has promised not to read anything else, acknowledging that there’s a reason none of them ever knew about it and that he would respect that. Will came late to the conversation; I don’t know if he’s seen the blog or not.

I’m not holding it against them. But I feel exposed, like my clothes have been torn away on a busy street. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but if I was already feeling a little raw, now I feel like my diary lock has been broken. I know that sounds silly when I post things on the internet for anyone to read, but the pages in the diary don’t really contain anything these friends don’t know. What they do contain are some expressions I feel embarrassed for them to see, and empty pages where a certain freedom I had cherished has been taken away. There’s no lock to keep all of that safe anymore.

So, not to be dramatic, but in a way, today was a season finale. There’s every possibility and even likelihood of more episodes, but the anonymity was a major character in this series, and that character is gone now. Everything will be a little different from here on, if not for you, then at least for me. I will think twice where I never thought twice before. I am already wondering if my friends will read this post and be upset by it. In “SportsNight,” after that season one conclusion, S2 Ep1’s title is “Quo Vadimus.” It’s Latin for “Where are we going?” While I’m sure I’ll still try to be witty when it’s right to be, and I won’t dumb anything down, it’s going to be a while before I feel comfortable again.

In the meantime, I think I need some mashed potatoes.

Fifty Things You Would Have Been Fine With Not Knowing About Me

Misty over at Misty’s Laws, while consumed by an alien being that is taking all of her nutritional sustenance and strength for its own personal gain, has revealed to me that 50 Things About Me is the blogosphere’s new 25 Things About Me thing that went around Facebook circa 2009. Since I haven’t posted in a dog’s year, and since I’m both an open book and mysteriously mysterious at the same time, I thought you might jump at the chance to learn more about me that you could not possibly care less to know.

Yes, this is my lazy way of posting. But it’s also my way of saying hi, I miss you, I still read the people who show up in my reader feed (oh, btw, Hey WP, WTF is up with all the people who no longer show up in my reader feed)?

1. What are you wearing? The same clothes I wore to work: black pants, sky blue elbow-sleeve sweater. I did just take my contacts out and put my glasses on. *shazzam* New look!

2. Ever been in love?  Um, yes.

3. Ever have a terrible break-up?  Do you not read this blog?

4. How tall are you?  5’7″

5. How much do you weigh?  During which week of the month? Before or after the dirty martini?

6. Any tattoos? Nope

7. Any piercings?  Double-pierced ears (Usually don’t wear the earrings in the second holes, but, strangely, still run an earring through them at least once a day to keep them open. I make little sense. Also, pierced navel, still sporting the original ring with which it was pierced 11 years ago.)

8. OTP (One true pair, favorite fictional couple?)  Adam & Eve. Those two literally could not find anyone better.

9. Favorite show? I don’t get to watch TV much anymore, but I love The Daily Show. I DVR Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. But my all-time favorite TV show of all time in the history of ever is The West Wing. (My readers from the year before the last presidential election will not be surprised by this.)

10
. Favorite bands?  So, I don’t really listen to current music much. Apparently I’m 81 years old. I’m pretty faithful to Counting Crows even though Adam Duritz’s retreaded lyric ideas sometimes get on my nerves. Turns out I like solo artists a little more.

11. Something you miss?  The days when nothing hurt.

12. Favorite song?  Impossible to pick one. Can’t. Moving on.

14. Zodiac sign?  Aries.

15. Quality to look for in a partner?  Does “Willingness to be my partner” count?

16. Favorite Quote?  “Do you wanna invoke the wrath of the Whatever from high atop the Thing?! Go outside, turn around three times and spit!”
~Toby Ziegler, The West Wing
(I know. It’s pretty deep. I’ll give you a minute to process.)
 
17. Favorite Actor?  Kevin Spacey is pretty brilliant, even if he’s kind of a dick.
 
18. Favorite Color? Blue
 
19. Loud music or soft? Yes.

20. Where do you go when you are sad?  Bad places. You don’t want to come.
 
21.  How long does it take you to shower? Depends. Am I paying the water bill in this shower?

22.  How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? I can do it in 45 minutes if I have to, but it somehow usually takes me 90 minutes from the time I get up until I get out the door. This is inexplicable.

23. Ever been in a physical fight?  Ever? Sure. I have siblings.

24. Turn on?  Humor and intelligence.

25. Turn-off?  Assholery.

26. The reason I started blogging?  I like to write. I think a lot. My professions have been very writing-intensive and very thinking-intensive, but not very personal-expressiony.

27. Fears?  At present? I’m about to start watching the first episode of this season’s American Horror Story, so…clowns.

28. Last thing that made you cry?  Reading a testimonial about Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening service 37 minutes ago. Goddamned breast cancer.

29. Last time you said you loved someone?  Last night, on the phone with my dear old friend, Will. Or just now on Facebook when I said I love Jon Stewart. Depending on your interpretation of the question.

30. Meaning behind the name of your blog? I tend to turn one tiny thought into an entire onslaught of neurosis. Single=one thought. Cell=neuron.

31. Last book you read?  The last book I read for fun was “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

32. Book you are currently reading?  Well, I’m reading “Manufactured Consent” by Noam Fucking Chomsky (the “fucking” is silent) and some other douchebag windbag for a class I’m taking. I read textbooks. Some day I’ll finish “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn, which was what I started after “The Goldfinch” but didn’t quite finish before this term of grad school began.

33. Last show you watched?  The Daily Show last night.

34. Last person you talked to?  A classmate.

35. The relationship between you and the person you just texted? Last person I texted was Javier, my Colombian friend/neighbor/pseudo-crush. (Text was of strict Neighbor nature.)

36. Favorite food?  Anything terribly unhealthy and delicious.

37. Place you want to visit?  All of them. Maybe not something that ends in -stan. Actually, I’d love to learn more about the people in those places.

38. Last place you were?  The bathroom…?

39.  Do you have a crush? See #35.
 
40. Last time you kissed someone?  Kissed nine people goodbye on Sunday.
 
41. Last time you were insulted?  Probably on Sunday. I was with family.

42. Favorite flavor of sweet?  Chocolate. Are you kidding me with this question?

43. What instruments do you play?  Snarfblatt.

44. Favorite piece of jewelry? I wear two rings. Each one features the birthstone of a godson. One is sapphire, the other is citrine.

45. Last sport you played?  Played? Is gossip a sport?

46. Last song you sang? Presently, the Bach Magnificat is on repeat in my head.

47. Favorite chat up line? Hoping “hey” qualifies.

48. Have you ever used it?  Can’t imagine it would be my favorite if I hadn’t used it.

49.  Last time you hung out with anyone?  Sunday. Family birthday dinner festivus + football proclivity.

50. Who should answer these questions next?  All of you. Do it.

What was that thing I used to do sometimes? Blogging?

A month. A whole entire month since I posted.

That, my (remaining) friends, is the longest I have ever gone. Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of my blog, and this is my gift to those of you who have been here almost all that time. Admittedly, it’s not much of a gift, and all you had to do to open it was click on the headline, but if we’re being honest, that’s all you’ve had to do to get anything from me in that three years.

I have thought of you. Oh, I have. I have thought, “I should write a post about that!” or “It’s been forever since I posted… and I feel like I had an idea… that one day…”

Mostly, though? Life. You know. You’ve had it. Not bad. Not amazingly good. Not whisked-away-to-an-awesome-deserted-island. Just living. Trying to stay above water. Trying to write, in one weekend, despite all best efforts at head starts, two 10+ page papers for grad school when it’s been 14 years since you wrote more than a page and a half. And doing it while possibly also having had a martini.

I swear to God, I wrote five paragraphs I didn’t remember writing. And they were good. The martini was merely average, and I so completely forgot I’d written them that I actually made a note to myself to write about the stuff that, it turned out, I had already written about.

I don’t know if that’s alcohol or age.

Also? It occurs to me that the paragraph up there was eerily disrespectful of the Malaysian Airlines situation right now, with its deserted island and above water references. Except if they’re on a deserted island, it’s probably not awesome.

See? I’m still a bad person. That hasn’t changed.

Speaking of that, though, my new fun game is playing Whack-A-Conspiracy-Theorist. My father thinks the plane was stolen for ransom. I’d like to know where he thinks some asshole landed a 777 full of people without anyone noticing, and how he thinks said asshole was gonna get picked up from wherever that was and delivered to his reward.

I personally am pretty sure it was hijacked, the flight crew was overcome or forced to fly a new route, and then the plane ran out of fuel and is now in the water. Nothing that’s real becomes an ABC series that pisses everyone off in its finale. Mini-series, tops.

You’d think I would have stopped being disrespectful when I actually noted that I was being disrespectful. Huh.

In other news: Bill O’Reilly should go away. Did you see this thing with his simmering disappointment about the president going on Zack Galifiniakis’ web show and degrading the presidency? Like nobody’s ever done that before. I mean I’m pretty sure that breaking into an opposite party’s office to steal stuff during a re-election campaign or getting blown in the hallway outside the Oval or being a general moron “decider” aren’t things that do favors to the institution. You know? But here’s Bill-O, Mr. Falafel, flatly stating about the president’s appearance on the web show that “Abe Lincoln would not have done it.” 

Well, no shit. There are a lot of things Old Abe would not have done. He wouldn’t have tweeted, sent an email, flown in a plane, driven a car, ridden in a car, used a telephone, taken penicillin…

You see where I’m going with this.

…wouldn’t have read “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly…

…and not just because he would have to be alive to read it…

I’m saying “Abe Lincoln would not have done it” is not valid unless the “it” was done by James Buchanan or Andrew Johnson. And they were both dull, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there, too.

For those who may be wondering, Liam is presently out of the country on business in Madrid. To be followed by a quick layover in Singapore en route to Sydney. By which I mean there is basically nothing that is “en route” to Sydney, but anyway, that’s the itinerary. We’ve had two dates and a third attempt, thwarted by family obligations on both sides. He’s not back for another week and a half, but he may be in touch before then.

Since I’ve been gone, Shiny New Niece turned a year old and Neph 2 informed me essentially that I suck at Super Mario Brothers. Also I beasted “Killing In the Name” on the easy setting of Guitar Hero and am now seriously thinking about joining a band. Both aforementioned papers were finished, if not good, and I await grades. I enrolled in a summer class, a political science elective about public policy. Oh! And I testified in the senate judiciary committee of my state legislature in favor of a bill my state delegate wrote at my behest, asking that offenders who have violated terms of home detention not be granted eligibility for home detention in the future. It seems like a common sense thing, but the bill isn’t going anywhere. It’s not written well. But that’s okay. We keep on.

I am well.

I hope you are, too.

If not, I hope you’re completely nuts and leave an amusing comment.

A Stranger At the Door – Part 3

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

******** 

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

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

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

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

“Stalking,” I told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Stranger At the Door – Part 2

Click here to read Part 1.

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we had.

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

A Stranger At the Door – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty days after his arrest, I moved.

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

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

Pretend there’s a big candle shaped like a 1 here. Oh, and a cake.

So, today I’ve been blogging for a year. I thought I came to this whole thing pretty late in the proverbial game, and most of the bloggers I read have proven me correct, because they have months and months of backstory. I am very thankful to the 72 of you who subscribe, but I wish you would all actually read my posts. My stats show that this is nowhere near the case. Please leave me a note telling me why you don’t read all my posts. Those of you who don’t leave notes will have shown yourselves. (Aha! A clever ruse to uncover the deadbeats! This is not unlike how I schemed to discover whether there really was a Santa.)

That’s no way to treat my subscribers. I’m sorry. Please read me.

I would also like to say that I have completely given up the hope of ever being Freshly Pressed. I’m fairly sure the FP gods have found some sort of dirt on me or something. Or they are chaired by my kindergarten and first grade teachers, who did not like me at all, and who may or may not still be alive, and also by my ex-boyfriend Mitch, who frankly has no room to be critical. That’s okay, though. That’s fine. That means I’ll never experience the soaring thrill of having hundreds and hundreds of hits in one day only to drop back down to mere dozens (of delightful, wonderful, faithful people who search for “tarpon” every day on the internet and find my homepage because I once wrote a post about a terrible show called When Fish Attack 2).

Seriously, you can’t believe how many people search for tarpon on any given day.

Actually, though, I did experience the thrill of hundreds of hits, twice. One time was when I wrote a post I wound up deleting because someone figured out who I was and that is a no-no here on thesinglecell.wordpress.com. So I had to kill them. It. I had to kill it. The post.

The other day that wound up being kick-ass in the stat department was March 8th.

Do you not remember what happened that day?

That was the day that 537 people searched for Karen Santorum, and 192 for Ann Romney, and somehow got my homepage. I’ve posted exactly one entry that featured photos of them. I guess that’s what triggered the magic.

I should take this opportunity to point out that the actual candidates themselves scored very, very low on my search stats. In fact, Michele Bachmann got lots more searches than anyone else, and she dropped out, like, five years ago. Her searches totaled over 200. Coming in second to her was Newt Gingrich, vis-a-vis the moon, with five.

Not a typo. With all those political posts I’ve written, not a single person who searched for any of the other candidates made their way to my blog, unless they wanted to see Mr. Gingrich and the moon.

I suppose this means I am not a leading source for information on the presidential race.

But I am a leading source on tarpon.

So that’s something.

This, I think, will be my 171st post. Some quick math tells me that means I’ve spent somewhere between 171 and 342 hours writing in the last 365 days. Hey, that’s not bad! I’m no Ernest Hemingway, but frankly, who wants to be Ernest Hemingway? That guy was pretty miserable. I’ve never aspired to be a tortured soul writing to exorcise demons. That just happens by accident sometimes.

Also, a good portion of those hours may have been spent searching Google Images for pictures to steal and put in my posts, and/or fight with over being my featured image, as Dan Bain over at bainwaves.wordpress.com can attest, if he’s not dead.

Sometimes I wish I could tag people in posts like they do on Facebook. Or poke them.

In actual fact, I spend eight hours a day writing at work in some form or fashion (I’m omitting the hours I spend staring at the screen, either trying to make sense out of something senseless that someone else has written, or waiting for someone else to finish their part of the project). But that’s really not a ton of fun, so this blog began as a chance to stretch my writing muscles, to be completely inconsistent and post on whatever I darn well please on any given day. Or not at all. Whether its working, I suppose, is best left to my readers. Don’t ask the Freshly Pressed judges.

And I guess I should also apologize for the posts that sucked. I know there are some real duds in here. Mea culpa.

So on this, my first blogoversary, I thank all of you who have read, commented, liked, ranted, loved, hated, thought about, agreed with, completely vehemently and potentially violently disagreed with, condemned, beatified, and/or otherwise reacted in any way to my writing at any time over the last year. I look forward to seeing you every day, and I’ve truly enjoyed reading almost all of what I’ve read from other writers since I started this escapade last Ides of March.

I don’t think I picked that date on purpose. But you can’t say you weren’t warned.

My Endless Love

I am in love. 6′ tall, dark, handsome, strong, supportive, full of wisdom and humor and interesting things that I could spend hours just absorbing with all the fibers of my being… on my couch, in my bed, even on the kitchen table.

Here’s a picture.

Isn't he dreamy?

Why, what did you think I was talking about?

I kind of love all my furniture except the stuff in my spare bedroom that I bought for $700 when I graduated from college 12 years ago. I don’t have much: a couch, a loveseat, a coffee table, an end table, a kitchen table and four chairs, a pine wood standing cabinet that I currently use to hold kitchen stuff but could use in another place for towels or tchotchkes or other accoutrements, and the bedroom set that I bought when I moved here last year. I really, really like it all, and I’m still sort of proud that I bought it all myself. But my bookshelf has a special place in my heart.

I bought it at an unfinished wood store the year the Cardinals played the Red Sox in the World Series. It’s oak, so the shelves wouldn’t bow under the weight of books, or in humidity. Jack let me use him and his SUV to pick it up and get it home. My brother-in-law told me how to stain it myself and said I could either use polyurethane or tung oil to finish it. I sanded it by hand, wiped it down with tack cloth, and brushed on a coat of dark chocolate stain (while watching the World Series, and, at one point, talking on the phone to a guy who wanted me to come work for him). Then I let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied another coat of stain. Let it dry, sanded it again, wiped it down again, and applied the first coat of tung oil (because it penetrates and conditions the wood and leaves a less obtrusive sheen, and won’t chip like polyurethane can… I learned). I forget how many coats of tung oil went into that bookshelf. I stayed up late to work on it. I remember worrying about the rain outside warping the wood as it stood in front of the sliding door, or keeping the stain from drying. In fact, there are two places where some of the stain wiped away because it wasn’t quite dry enough before I started the next round of work, and another place where the stain dripped and then dried that way, refusing to be rubbed away with sandpaper.

It has character. It has a story. I did it myself.

And then I filled it with books.

I love books. I’m not a bibliophile in the strictest terms; I won’t read just anything and I don’t limit my reading to super-high brow stuff. But I hate to throw books away or give them away or sell them. I hate to loan them out and never get them back. I write my first initial and last name on the first page of every book I own when I loan it out, so the borrower knows to whom it belongs.

I want it back. I don’t care how bad a book it is.

I don’t want my bookshelf to be too cluttered and full, so I worry that I’ll need another one soon, but don’t have a place to put another one. I like that I’ve left spaces for bric-a-brac, photos in frames (which look much better when I haven’t turned them around so you can’t see who’s in them), clay vases hand-thrown by a ruggedly handsome, ruffly-haired man I met one fall at an art festival with my friends, and my grandmother’s Hummel that she made sure would come to me when she died because it reminded her of me.  I like that it has this clock in the middle of the middle shelf…

Twice a day...

…. even though the clock is broken and will never tell time again except twice a day. I like that the clock sits on top of a book my ex-boyfriend edited, because it’s the one thing I will always respect about him even though he’s a total jerkface.  I like that this book stands up in the back of the second shelf…

… because one Christmas I found it and bought four copies and wrote inscriptions on the front page for each of my three sisters and wrapped them for Christmas morning so we would each have a copy in our homes.

Books can bond people together with their wisdom and commonality.

I like that I’ve put the “crappy,” pulp fiction, super-bourgeois stuff on the bottom two shelves so I can put the more impressive stuff above it. It may be pretentious, but it’s my way of prioritizing, so that someday, when I absolutely have to get rid of some books (ack), I’ll know which shelves to pick from.

At Christmas, I put my Dickens Village houses on top of the bookshelf, set on a fluffy layer of fake snow, with white-limbed fake trees (regular and pine) and O-mouthed choristers and Little Charlie Dickens on his mother’s lap on a park bench, and Tiny Tim on Bob Cratchett’s shoulder while Bob drags the family’s tree behind them and a dog runs alongside. With gaslight lamps that really light up (but aren’t really gas) dotting the path.

That bookshelf holds the fantasies that I’ve cradled in my hands, curled up with a glass of wine or immersed in a warm bath, escaping. It holds my getaways, my fascinations. It holds the things I read in middle school (To Kill A Mockingbird), in high school (The Great Gatsby, The Catcher In the Rye – which my little sister borrowed five years ago when she had to read it for high school, and which came back to me dog-eared), in college (Life With A Star, A Lesson Before Dying, Tuesdays With Morrie – which came out my junior year and was required reading for a unique seminar class I took as a senior with the assistant dean of academic affairs, who died of a heart attack in his mid-50s, a few years after graduation). It holds the classics I should have read all the way through sometime in between, but didn’t until after I was finished school (The Bell Jar, In Cold Blood, King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet). All these books from my school days that left such impressions on me that I wanted to keep them. It holds biographies and histories, vampire stories and love stories, tragedies and celebrations.

It tells my story.

Every year, when the weather turns cooler, I look forward to curling up with a blanket and a new book. When the weather is warm, I look forward to toting one in my bag to the beach, or sitting with it out on the balcony with a drink. Some nights, I can’t wait to get home and sink into a tub of soothing warmth or a cushion of pillows with a book to erase the day.

And every morning when I wake up, every night when I come home, my bookshelf is there against the wall to remind me of my story.

I am in love. Forever.

(This may or may not be why I’m unmarried.)

(Huh.)

(Anyway.) I am going to begin keeping a list of books on the shelf. It’s at the top of my blog, next to “All the cells.” Every time I finish a book, I’ll add it to the list. If you keep a list, let me know; I’ll check yours when I’m looking for my next affair, my next commitment to a larger romance.

*******

My blog friend k8edid was kind enough to nominate me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I love her stuff and I so appreciate that she likes mine enough to honor my writing that way. My mission: tell my readers seven things they don’t know about me, and list more bloggers for them to read. (Technically, what you’re supposed to do is name a list of Versatile Bloggers, but I’m pretty literal and I prefer the less restrictive approach of simply naming a few I’ve discovered and enjoyed since the last time I provided a list.)

Here goes:

Seven Things

1. I had a birthmark on the inside of my leg that ran from just below my knee all the way up. When I was two, my mother tried to scrub it off because she thought it was dirt. But now it’s so faded I’m not even sure it’s there anymore.

Stop thinking about where it was. Geez.

2. I have 20/500 vision without contact lenses or glasses. AKA totally sucky.

3. I learned to read when I was four, and still remember a big yellow paperback book full of stories that had an illustration of Superman on the back page. There was also a hardback book called Star Bright that was full of short stories in black print with font like the one I use in my blog. The short story I remember best from that book was called “Lemonade Rain.” There was an illustration in it of a girl who looked like Sister 1, sticking her tongue out to catch the drops.

4. When I was in second grade, one of my classmates accidentally tripped me on the blacktopped schoolyard and I chipped my front tooth and cut my face just under my nose, so I have a scar that looks like my nose is running and 1/3 of my left front tooth is fake.

5. My favorite subjects in elementary and high school were always English and history. No matter what year.

6. I am half German and half Irish. Or half Irish and half German, depending on which parent reads my description.

7. When I was in middle school, every teacher I had thought I would become a writer. I sort of did… but  not a novelist, like they thought.

And now: Blogs You Should Read (Besides the Ones On My Lovely Blog Roll)

k8edid – A nurse with a heart of gold and a silver tongue.

Prettyfeetpoptoe – I just discovered her, but I think if you like me, you’ll like her. Also she’s British, which is always a bonus. I love me some witty Brits.

Ginger – a single mom fighting fibromyalgia and a wicked case of Decorator’s Bug.

Jamieonline – he’s just such a sweetheart, and he has such enthusiasm and zest for life.

The Bloggess – she’s got a gazillion readers and she doesn’t need you, but if you want to laugh out loud, read her anyway.

Happy reading, all.

Water + Toshiba Satellite A505 = Frozen Pizza

It’s funny how I couldn’t think of anything to write about until I killed my computer.

I was carrying it out to the balcony to do some work on the first not-100-degree day in like a month when I spilled at least half a glass of water on the keyboard. I couldn’t put it down or flip it over fast enough. The water settled in between the keys as I moaned and tried to convince it to stop, you know, possessing the qualities of liquid.

When I could, I flipped it over, shook out whatever would shake out, and then dried it off with my skirt. Inside my place, I dried it off again, grabbed toilet paper and dried between the keys.

I hit the power button.

A flutter of light. Then nothing.

I hit it again. Same results.

Hair dryer. I need the hair dryer.

I carted the laptop – which was only 14 months old – into the bathroom and started blowing it dry. Maybe the heat setting is bad. Cool air button.

I took the battery out, put it back in. Tried the power.

Bupkis.

If I had the sweet kind of relationship with my mother, I would have wanted her at this point.

I called my IT guy at work and left a voicemail about what one should do if one hypothetically spilled half a glass of water on one’s laptop. Not at all surprisingly, the IT guy did not fix my computer problem.

I called Brad and BIL1, both great with computers. Brad had no suggestions other than what I had done. BIL1 was more educated, but less positive.

“Yeah, you probably fried the motherboard.”

Mommy!

“You might be able to unscrew some things and get the keyboard off, and then you can dry underneath it. I did that when I spilled milk on mine once.”

I went digging through my tool box (read: Rubbermaid storage container full of crap dating back to 1995) and found the proper screwdriver while BIL1 asked about my warranty.

“I don’t know what I got. I don’t remember, and I have no idea where it is, ” I told him, twisting tiny screws.

“Well, you can call and find out what you have,” he said.

“Yeah, but… won’t that tell them that I’ve done something to the laptop?”

I get paranoid about stuff like this. I picture them typing it into my account info: Asked re: coverage, extension, type of coverage, 8/4. Then I go waltzing in all, “My computer isn’t working,” and they’re like, “You called, right?” and my grand plan to pretend absolutely nothing happened to the laptop goes out the window because I am such a bad liar that I start in with a facial tic before I even attempt the lie.

“Well,” said BIL1, “sometimes taking apart the computer voids the warranty, so…”

Okay, retwisting tiny screws now.

“…And you don’t want to try to turn it back on for at least a day. Let it dry completely, or if you haven’t already fried it, you will.”

I couldn’t form the words to say I’d tried three times already.

The lack of contact with the outside world had already started eating at me before I even hung up the phone. And all of a sudden, there was so much stuff I needed to write about. I whimpered. I didn’t even have paper. Who needs paper when you have a laptop? Forget internet access; I couldn’t even type. Faced with the understanding that it would be at least 24 hours before I could even try to boot up again, I was freaking out. I paced. I chewed my lip. I looked around.

I had to leave the apartment.

I went to the grocery store to fetch cat food and sour cream for the scones I wanted to make. Once there, I blindly cruised aisles I didn’t need to be in, mentally mumbling half-thoughts to myself like the guy in “Office Space.” Without realizing it, I stood unblinking in front of the frozen pizzas. When I snapped back to consciousness, I wandered away, fighting the urge to become an emotional eater.

The grocery store had been a bad idea. I was hungry, and I was upset. Danger, Will Robinson.

Forcing myself to buy only what I needed, I proceeded to the checkout with cat food, sour cream, a small frozen pizza (oh, leave me alone), a college rule notebook and a package of pens.

Wow, I thought as I looked sadly at my basket. I am a pathetic loser. The cat food seals it.

(Cat food is like feminine hygiene products. I try to make sure I need other things when I go to the store to get it. God forbid everyone know it’s the only reason I’m there.)

It was a Thursday at 5pm in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Forget it. There were four checkout lanes open, and three of them were “express,” meaning those lines were so long that I had to double down in the line behind the woman who had apparently done her shopping for the month. Standing there, I started writing this post in my head. Longhand, there’s no delete key, and cutting and pasting is way harder. I had to get started mentally now, to work out the kinks.

I compulsively checked my email and Facebook on my phone.

Twenty minutes later, still standing in line, I realized what I could lose if the laptop was complete toast. I have an external hard drive, given to me by my boyfriend for my 33rd birthday, as I was getting ready to buy a new computer. It has all the files from the old laptop, plus a “mix tape” he put on it weeks after we broke up – a sort of gallant gesture that fulfilled a promise he’d made to enhance the somewhat un-romantic gift with which he intended to make life easier for me by giving me a way to transfer everything easily from the old computer to the new one. Very thoughtful, really. But apart from the old files and enough music to play from now until my death without ever repeating a single song, the hard drive is empty. It doesn’t have a single thing on it since I bought the new laptop… because seeing the hard drive reminded me of the boyfriend.

We won’t get into that.

Point is, I hadn’t backed up anything from the new computer. Pictures, revisions of my resume, my cover letters, the beginning of a book I started writing, the video I took on the Mickey Boat, including my sisters doing a very, very poor – but absolutely gut-busting, pants-peeing hilarious – Charlie’s Angels impersonation… all of it gone if I couldn’t get my laptop back.

I entered the Bargaining Stage. If I can just get it to turn on one more time so I can back everything up to that hard drive… I can ding the Future Real Estate Fund to buy a new laptop if I have to.

Sigh.

I went home, dug the notebook and pens out of the grocery bag and started writing out this post. By the time I got to the sentence you just read, I’d forgotten what other posts I’d been formulating in my head. (How did anybody remember things before computers?) The laptop sat, open and dark, its guts possibly destroyed by the least threatening thing in the developed world, its battery removed. Taunting me.

It’s a good thing I was getting together with Ali that night and driving to my sister’s the next day to go to a concert. The urge to try to power my baby up before it had dried out was too great. I felt as fried as the laptop might be. I thought of what might be gone for good and how much hassle it is to set up a new computer, and I flopped down to eat my pizza.

Woe is me. I am woe.

Now I’m functioning off a backup laptop: my old one, which I gave to Ali when I bought the new one. It has an aqua blue line down the center of the screen and it’s slow, but it works. Thank goodness for friends who can’t afford their own internet service and can’t pick up a signal from someone else’s unsecured wifi. I’m still terrified of what happens when I try to turn on my computer again. BIL1 says I might be able to get the motherboard replaced and avoid buying a new computer altogether for the second time in 14 months.

Hold me.