The Hunchback and the Caller

There’s been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood directly south of mine – a neighborhood everyone damned well knows has a higher median income than this one (sometimes it’s nice when relative poverty spares you from crime instead of making you a victim of it). Police have told folks in the area that the burglars occasionally break in when people are home, but their MO seems to be knocking on doors during the day to see if anyone is there, then targeting those which seem unoccupied for break-ins before 6pm. So we’ve been advised, if we hear a knock, to not open the door. Rather, we’re told to yell at the knocker that we’re not interested and they should leave or we’ll call 911. At which point, apparently, the cops will take their sweet time getting there, but before which they will patrol simply by driving by and never actually getting out of their cruisers.

Cops. Hmph.

I’m home today, for the second day, because my back is on strike again. Last night as I lay in bed, I thought about how much it would suck to deal with a break-in while also dealing with back spasm and nerve pain. Clearly the sound of the crime’s initiation would startle me, which would send shockwaves of electric agony through my body and render me virtually unable to fight. And also I’d have a busted front door and substantially less spending power, since these folks seem to be snatching checkbooks and purses rather than high-end stuff.

About an hour ago, someone knocked on my door. I shuffled my bent self over, with my ribcage rotated and shifted about 15 degrees to starboard and my hips rotated about 15 degrees aft, and peered through a space between the door’s built-in blinds. A man in a tie with a messenger bag crossing his torso and a brochure in his hand stood on my front step.

“I’m not interested,” I intoned.

He didn’t move.

“I’m not interested!” I yelled louder. “Please leave!”

He looked up and down the street, then stepped up and knocked again. He has to hear me, I thought. I hear everything on the sidewalk… how can he not hear me?

This time I put my face an inch from the glass and yelled as loud as my back would allow, “I’M NOT INTERESTED! LEAVE!”

He wished me a nice day and abandoned my steps.

Probably harmless.

It struck me as I shuffled back toward the kitchen: I had stutter-stepped all slumped and twisted, hair uncombed because I’d just gotten out of the shower, wearing a mismatched casual knit skirt and a t-shirt from my sister’s church, toward a knocking caller at my door, and hollered at him to go away in the middle of the day.

I am an old woman today.

“With a cat!” my dear friend Joey reminded me via text when I relayed the story to him.

“Oh hell. I forgot about the cat,” I replied.

Honestly, though? As I made my way at turtle speed toward the door to shoo off the visitor, my greater concern was not of premature infirmity or criminal activity. It was that I would actually know the person at the door and therefore feel the need to open it looking like I did.

Yep. That would have been worse. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “Vanity dies hard; in some cases, it outlives the man.”

Which reminds me, I was lying in bed this morning trying to think of what I’d like to be buried in and how I’d want them to do my hair.

I know. I’m a pretty sick ticket.

Anyway, if my house does get burglarized, despite the alarm and the conscientious neighbors, don’t worry. Since these punks seem to just want quick access to cash, I’ll probably just lie here and watch them, occasionally grunting in pain, and I’ll still have my laptop to tell you all about it.

Now on my bookshelf: A Visit From the Goon Squad

 

Epicness

You guys, this day was so I don’t even know what that I can’t come up with a first sentence.

So I gave you that one.

It started with me having to run interference on Facebook posts. My sister, who often gets caught up in what she thinks is a good idea without realizing it could, um, totally hijack someone else’s day, posted on Facebook about how I was getting these governor’s awards at this luncheon. She posted my name. She posted a weblink to the Thing.

Nooo. What are you doing?!

And then one of my best friends, who is also Facebook friends with her, reposted it.

Oh, come on, no!

And then my aunt.

No no no no no!

Yelling that. Aloud in my kitchen.

So then I had to text all of them and tell them that I really appreciated their support but that I had deliberately not advertised this and could they please take down the Facebook posts? Because now literally 2,000 people know and I’m going to get questions I don’t want to answer. There are a lot of implications – strangers knowing too much, family and friends with whom I didn’t share the information asking too much, work possibly seeing it and questioning whether it was okay for me to lobby for a law while being professionally involved with my company.

Take it down, please. Now.

They did, fortunately, but I wound up crying. It was 9am and I was already on emotional overload. I was getting two governor’s awards for my victims’ advocacy work. I was giving a speech. Once it was a five-minute speech. Then I was told three minutes. Then I was told between three and five minutes, so I sort of merged the two, made it a Best Of and had Sam edit it. Which meant switching some things around a little and recalibrating. Fine. I can do those things. But the message of the speech… the impact of a stalker, the need for victim notification of prisoner release in cases of misdemeanor offense, the long-term effects of being a crime victim, the need for people who dedicate themselves to helping… it was heavy. My parents were coming. They would hear this speech and likely be set on edge and maybe even upset by it. Rick would be there. Or not, depending on his meeting.

An hour before the event began, my parents called to tell me they were stuck in bad traffic from an accident exactly nowhere near where they needed to be. I wasn’t sure they would make it in time to hear my speech, which would, of course, upset them. Then, sitting in my car in the parking lot outside the luncheon site, I drizzled a not insignificant amount of red nail polish on my blue spring coat.

So things were off to a great start.

My parents did make it in time. Somehow. So did Rick. He slipped in a little late and sat in the back, instead of at the table with us, the group of people receiving an award for the work we did. He did that work, really. But he came over after my speech, tapped me on the shoulder and said he was sitting elsewhere so he could slip out to tend to other professional obligations when he had to.

Seeing him felt sad. And good. And made me miss him. And made me hope. And felt awkward.

But I was glad he made it to get his award. And to hear my speech and see me in my really nice dress and heels with my hair up. He likes that look, and I’m a big believer in the lingering image.

I think my speech went well, but to be honest, I’ve blocked out parts of it. I wondered afterward if I had really said everything. I had written it all out, then rehearsed it so I would know it well enough not to have to read it word for word. But a whole section is missing from my memory.

The other speakers had lived through experiences so much worse than my own. I try not to qualify it that way. I try not to invalidate my experience vis-a-vis someone else’s, but when you’re speaking after a woman whose husband was killed and before a woman whose husband beat her and then murdered her two young children, you do feel like you’re unfairly spotlighted.

When the time came to give me my individual award, I looked toward the back of the room and saw Rick standing there in the doorway with the senator. He was backlit from the windows and surrounded by white marble. It was like he was glowing. I felt a pang. A few minutes later, when they announced our group award, I avoided looking at him but couldn’t help noticing the grin on his face. He deserved this, and he deserved to be proud. I was proud of him, too.

After that, he and the senator came and sat at our table, where my parents had joined us because our group was so scattered throughout the room. He wound up talking to my parents for a while. I have no idea what they talked about; several people had come up to me and I was justifiably distracted. And somewhat willfully ingoring his presence. Not because I didn’t want him there, but because I didn’t trust myself to act like there had never been anything between us.

After we left and I led my parents back to my house, I checked my phone and saw I’d missed a call. From the university. I returned it.

They offered me the job. Maximum salary allowed, title I wanted. I start May 1.

As promised, I texted Rick to let him know. His response: “Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! CONGRATS! You’ve had a very big day, if I do say so myself.”

It was a big day. A big, difficult, surreal, emotional on every level day. So much so that I don’t think it’s registered.

My mother wanted to frame my awards and hang them. In my bedroom.

No no no no no.

 

Always There

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

Lots of people have done that, right?

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

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

Or my mother?

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

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

And the two of them are really pissing me off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I got a message from my mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me, it just means wanting to forget.

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

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

I’m Gonna Need My Meds For This

OMG, you guys.

So every once in a while, Rick calls me from work to update me on something connected to the crime victim legislation we worked on together. He stays in touch with a lot of the people he used to work with, and he tries to stay on top of some of the initiatives he worked on to make sure they get done.

Anyway. A while ago, before he left the senator’s office, he told me I was nominated for a victims’ advocacy award. Which is crazy. And it was an honor just to be nominated, of course, just like the Oscars, and I would have been fine if they had Ben Afflecked the whole thing. But he called me earlier this week to tell me that not only am I in fact getting said award… I’m actually getting two.

Whaaaat? I didn’t, like, do anything. I wrote a letter. And, admittedly, persistently kept in touch with him to see what was going on with the plans to do what I’d proposed. Sure, I’m doggedly determined, but still, I didn’t do any of the actual work. He did all that.

Happily, he’s getting an award, too. There’s some sort of group award that they’re giving out this year, and he’s getting it because he made this happen, even though he doesn’t work for the senator anymore. And I’m sooo glad, because he deserves it more than anyone does. So much more that, before I found out he was getting one, I actually thought about giving him mine.

But it would have my name on it, and I thought scratching it out with a nail and etching his name in there instead would be too… obvious.

So yeah, apparently two awards for just, I don’t know, being outraged, and the governor is going to be there to give them to me or something. It’s a governor’s award thing. I don’t know if the governor actually hands me the awards. But the governor will be attending. I’m told.

So then, yesterday, Rick calls me again from work. I know he’s going to have something to tell me about the victims’ advocacy efforts or about the potential job I may or may not get (second interview is Tuesday) at the university where he now works, because he’s calling from the office phone and he won’t use that for personal calls. So he tells me, “I have even more good news for you.”

Okay…

“I just talked to Ann, and not only are you getting two awards at the luncheon, but you have also been invited to be a guest speaker.”

To which I responded with all of the eloquence that has convinced these people that I deserve such things: “Holy crap!” And found myself otherwise speechless entirely. Which bodes well for this event. I mean, Rick and Ann and some state senators have heard me speak before, because I testified to a state senate committee in favor of the bill. But I also just had an argument with my cat. In Cat. So let’s not get too complimentary.

“Yeah, you’re kind of a celebrity down there. She’s sending you a letter about it, but I wanted to tell you,” Rick said. Which is the same thing he had said two days before, when he called to tell me about the awards. I think he likes to hear my reactions to these things. And it’s good that he tells me, because I just closed my PO box and started having whatever mail was still going there forwarded to my house, and I don’t think Ann has my new address. And I feel like I can’t really call her and say, “I hear you’re giving me awards and adulations. Here’s my new address so you can tell me all about it.”

So now I’m trying to figure out a few things, like what to wear, and what to do about work that day since I thought initially Rick said it was from 11am to 2pm but the website I found says it’s from 12:30pm – 3:30pm and I would definitely be really, really late to work at that point. And then I remember that if I get the job at the university, I might not even be working at work anymore. So problem solved! Except not, because then that would probably be my first week at the new job and I don’t want to miss a day in my first week at work and–

“You’re getting. Two awards. From the governor,” Rick reminded me. “It’s a state school. I think they’ll be okay with it.”

Oh. Right. Huh. Okay, then.

And also I’m trying to figure out what to say in this speech I’m giving. I’m currently obsessed about knowing my audience. I believe it’s people who work in victims’ rights for the state, some political types, and crime victims. But I don’t know the percentages, or how many people will be there, or if anybody else will be there.

My mom wanted to come.

I told her no because I’m too old for my mommy and daddy to come to a thing where I get an award.

She said, “Okay, then don’t complain when you see other people’s parents there.”

“Mom…”

“I think the president’s parents came when he–”

Oh, Jesus. Seriously?

“Mom, first of all, that is a terrible analogy in that I’m not becoming President of the United States. And secondly, the president’s parents are dead.”

“That’s true,” she conceded. Though to which part, I’m not sure.

She wonders why I don’t tell her things.

So anyway, I feel like eventually the speech is going to be the easy part. Clearly I’m a writer. The harder part will be stuff like pretending not to be dating Rick and finding something to wear and not falling down.

Oh, these people have no idea what they’ve done.

Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As could those who oppose guns with equal vehemence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it is hard to refute common sense.

 

Say, What’s That Shovel Doing There?

Okay, I’m telling you this story. I’m telling you this story because how many real life people can I tell this story to? Not that many, because they’ll all freak out. And you guys will too, kind of, but still, I’m telling you this story.

So I come home from work last night, it’s a touch after 11pm, I drive down the alley and I pull into my parking pad. As I get ready to get out of the car, I notice something leaning against the wall of my parking pad that I’ve never seen before. I’m kind of looking at it puzzledly (is that a word? I’m making it a word) for a minute, and then my next-door neighbor, Tyreese, opens his back door and holds up a hand and tells me to wait a minute. He’s making wide eyes at me. “Just wait. Just wait.”

Clearly something’s up. So I wait.

A minute later he comes back out and tells me that there were two guys behind my house just a few minutes before this. His girlfriend saw them, yelled at him, he jumped off the couch, put some clothes on, grabbed his gun and looked out the door. When he looked, they ran. He says they looked like teenagers. As he told me this I realized that the thing I saw propped against the wall of the parking pad is a shovel – one of those heavy iron ones – and there are footprints all over my metal cellar door. I had left the damned kitchen window blinds open by accident. That window is right above the cellar doors. The damned punks were going to break into, or at the very least were casing, my house. Tyreese had told me to wait when I first pulled up so he could look around a little, make sure no one was watching from anywhere. He was worried someone had been watching me come and go, waiting for me.

How awesome is Tyreese, by the way?

I knew when I bought this house that I was taking a chance. I mean, it’s the city, I’m a woman, I live alone, yadda yadda yadda. Frankly, living alone in a house as a woman is always a risk, no matter where you live, but you can’t be afraid your whole life. Still, though… two and a half months and some punks are breaking into my house? Come on. It’s not a bad neighborhood. Plus I’m so freaking careful it’s ridiculous. I bought my TV and had it shipped to the UPS facility so I could go pick it up instead of having it delivered here. I never put the box for it outside. I kept it in the basement. My dad took it to Pennsylvania to throw it out. Swear to God. That’s how careful I am.

So, I call the cops. The officer gets here pretty quick and I tell him the deal, and he says all the exact things one should not say to me at this stage in my life, post-predator/prey episode involving the court system and at least three detention facilities. Things such as: Yeah, they probably know your schedule, they know you’re coming and going, they target women who live alone.

Hey. Buddy. Can we not? With the stalker talk?

That’s not what he meant, of course; he meant that they do that so they know who the easy targets are for robberies. And I get that. Again, this was a risk I knew I was taking. But now I feel like some weak and defenseless damsel in distress all over again, and dammit, this was not supposed to happen. I have faith in this city and I have faith in this street where there has not been a crime report in months. Also, in that typically liberal, feminist, made-for-TV-movie way, I refuse to be a “victim in quotation marks.” But I noticed about 30 minutes after the cop left that the screen to my window was gone. I called him and he changed the report to an attempted breaking & entering. Definitely tried to break in. Tyreese probably stopped them just in time.

Tyreese and his girlfriend are getting some home-cookin’ for this, at the very least.

Also? The cop asked if I was okay, and I totally started crying. Never ask me if I’m okay. The longer he stood there staring at me and not believing I was okay because for some reason a woman ugly-crying in front of him indicates some level of not-okayness, the harder I cried. Poor guy felt bad.

Needless to say, the alarm company is coming tomorrow morning, bright and early, to install sensors on all three doors and all the ground floor windows, plus a motion detector inside and a remote access thingy so I can– well, frankly, so I can probably set off the alarm myself a gazillion times by accident. But mostly so I can get in and out the back door without setting the alarm off, since the keypad will be in the front.

Oh, and I was mid-text conversation with Rick when all this went down, so he got roped into the we’ve-had-exactly-three-dates-what-is-the-protocol-for-this situation. I was trying to keep him from feeling obligated and wound up feeling like an asshole drama queen for even telling him about it. The guy must think I’m a total spazz. First the stalker, which is the oh-so-romantic reason we met, and now this. But he informed me that he has dealt with drama queens before and I am so not that.

Phew.

I suppose I shouldn’t tell him about the creepy state trooper just yet, though.

Beer and Police Work

My parents came to visit on my days off. And by “visit” I mean it’s very likely that Dad wanted to do some touching-up with the paint from the job we did when I moved in. When he was done for the day, losing the light, he wanted a beer. I hadn’t bought any. Which was sort of deliberate, because I tend to think my father drinks a little more than he should. I offered him a martini instead – his preferred brand of vodka (counter-intuitive, I know), but he didn’t want that.  He wanted to know where he could go buy beer.

Well, I don’t drink beer, my wine gets shipped to me, and I buy my vodka at the store across the street from work. So I have no idea whether any of the little corner shops in my neighborhood sell beer. And the places that do sell it are not places I’d like to go, if you know what I mean. They’re a little beyond the borders of where I’d be comfortable wandering. My father is 6’4″, 230 lbs, and, though aging, not necessarily someone you want to poke. I’m a girl.

See what I’m saying?

Point is, Dad insisted on going out to see if he could find beer. 

Literally wandering the streets looking for beer. 

Shortly after he’d  left (blessedly not wearing pajamas, although we may not be far from that), I noticed that my neighbor, Pedro, was outside. I went out and asked if he knew donde esta el cerveza.

He asked his friend, in Spanish, and translated for me. I knew the place he spoke of. It was not a place I wanted to go.

But my father was out wandering the streets. Unfamiliar streets. In search of beer.

So I went. Got stared at. Got sweet-talked. Got six bottles of Coors Light, cold, in a bag. Note: not a six-pack – that comes in its own box. This is just six loose, cold beers in a black plastic bag. Then I went home. I was a little concerned I might have to go driving around looking for my father, but he returned two minutes after me.

With beer.

He had found the place I should have known about. The place where I probably wouldn’t have gotten sweet-talked. I’ll remember that for next time.

After dinner (where Dad had his fifth beer, and a glass of wine), we settled on watching the rerun of the first episode of Downton Abbey, season 3. I like the show a lot, and my mother loves it, but Dad grumbled about it being so… British. Still, they were immersed in its story when the police chopper started circling a couple of blocks over.

Fantastic.

This was what I had worried about: after two months of quiet, we would have some sort of epic crime battle unfolding on the first night my parents came to stay. I think my mother noticed the sound of the helicopter, but she didn’t say anything. 

They went to bed at 10pm and I stayed up to watch a movie. “The Sessions,” starring Helen Hunt and William H. Macy. It’s about a sexual surrogate working with a man long-stricken with polio and essentially completely paralyzed except for one key part of his body. It’s actually a very sweet film, very poignant, and based on a true story.

At around 11pm, the chopper was back.

Oh, come on.

Circling… circling… cirrrrclliiiiiiinnnnnng…

Maybe Mom & Dad’s dueling C-PAP machines will drown out the sound. Of the chopper. And the movie. About the sexual surrogate and the client, who talks to the priest all the time about trying to have sex.

I don’t know which thing I’d least like my parents to hear.

Forty-five minutes later, the chopper was still chopping around. I was rolling my eyes. Catch him already! For crying out loud!

An hour.

Oh for fuck’s sake.

An hour and fifteen minutes. Movie’s over. Sex has been had. Helen Hunt has been naked a lot. Full frontal. Full dorsal. No cellulite.

I hate her.

Chopper’s still circling. 

Gah. You guys suck at catching bad people.

An hour and a half. I’m in bed. It seems like other choppers have joined in, but that’s probably really just the medical units flying back and forth to the two major trauma centers nearby.

On and on this search went. I wondered what this guy had done. 

I wondered why the cops were apparently so bad at finding him.

I wondered when they’d finally give up so I could stop worrying. Not about some bad guy breaking into my house, no. About my parents hearing it and figuring out what was going on and, from then on, worrying that I’d bought a house in a terrible neighborhood. 

Which I didn’t. It just ain’t the pastoral suburbs.

The birds finally peeled off about two hours after the search began. I have no idea whether they actually caught the guy. I have no idea what he did. You’d think I’d be worried.

Meh. I’m used to the city. Mine is not a bad neighborhood, but it’s not a far distance from one. You’ll hear sirens, because there’s a main thoroughfare just above my house, and because of the trauma centers nearby. But it’s a city.

This morning, I asked my parents how they slept.

“Great!” 

“Really?” I said carefully. “You didn’t wake up at all?”

“Well, I always wake up to roll over, but otherwise, no.”

Huh. No sign they had any awareness of the manhunt the night before. Only the marks from the straps of their C-PAP machines lingered on their faces. Completely unaware that a criminal had been on the loose nearby in the midnight hour.

Apparently, the dangers of alcohol and apnea put you at risk of not only dying in your sleep, but also of being murdered in your bed.

Now Is the Time

I need someone to explain to me why we must so diligently defend the right to own a gun.

No, really. Someone please explain it to me. Real reasons.

I confess up-front: I hate guns. They are instruments of death, created only for the purpose of injury or killing. That said, I understand that some people need guns to protect themselves or their families from wild animals. I understand that some people need to hunt in order to eat. I understand that some people live in places where they don’t feel safe unless they have one. I have a bit of trouble with that last part, because I don’t think owning a deadly weapon should be a safety blanket, but I don’t live somewhere where I feel I need a gun, so I won’t claim I understand.

But here is the amendment so many people so vociferously and sometimes ferociously defend:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Why do we always seem to forget about the first half of that amendment and insist on the second half? A well regulated militia securing a free state. Also known as the military and law enforcement. Not everybody and their brother. Everybody and their brother are not a well regulated militia. 

What has happened so many times in our country is not just about the second amendment. It’s about a lot of things. But it does have a lot to do with guns, because the other potential reasons – the breakdown of family, the secularization of society, generational poverty, lack of opportunity, the glorification of violence in mass media – none of those things cause murder with spoons or sticks. Mental illness is a global problem – it does not discriminate based on age or gender, nationality or creed, geography or income level. I will always, always advocate for the mentally ill. I will always insist that we remove the stigma of those who are unwell. I could and might write a whole separate post about it. But there have always been the mad among us… yet there have not always been these kinds of mad acts. Proof of this exists in the numbers of gun-related deaths around the world. My God, we have so many more. And so, so many unsolved. Welcome to America: you’re free to fire. Wave that flag.

And it’s not that I don’t love my country. In fact, it’s the opposite. I love my country so much that I want to stop proving to the world how much tragedy we allow under the guise of defending words ratified 221 years ago (December 15, 1791), presently pushed in the name of commerce, trade and lobbying. There hasn’t always been easy access to guns. But we’ve already slid down the slippery slope. We already have literally hundreds of millions of guns in this country – I heard one estimate that there’s one for every man, woman and child.

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights – these are not the Bible. These are not the infallible words of God. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written by human beings trying to extricate themselves from a king. They had rifles that had to be loaded through the barrel with a tamp, and pistols that puffed smoke when they fired. Bring back Jefferson, bring back Adams, bring back Hamilton and Franklin and all the undersigned, and I swear to God they would all tell us we’re out of our minds for letting everybody who wants to own a gun do so in these times when we are not trying to beat back Redcoats in front of the farm. I swear to God they would want to know how all the people who walk into gun shows and all the people who thrill at the power of the weapon in their hands constitute a well regulated militia.

We are wrong about the Second Amendment. We. Are. Wrong.

But we have slid down the slope, so I can be reasonable. Can gun rights advocates be reasonable, too? I won’t take away your right to own a handgun or a shotgun. But I for damned sure am done with your supposed right to own anything more, or to own, frankly, more than one or two. I am done with your supposed right to own more than ten rounds of regular, non-armor piercing, non-hollow point ammunition for a handgun, or the average number of shotgun shells needed to bag your family’s dinner for a month. It’s just not reasonable. It’s not. And I declare this forcefully because no one has ever been able to explain to me why it is.

Twenty-eight mass shootings since April 1999 and ColumbineTwenty-eight. And every time, those who advocate for gun rights say “now is not the time… don’t politicize the tragedy… guns don’t kill people – people kill people.” I’m done with it. NOW IS THE TIME. Make it political, because gun rights are political. The NRA can go to hell. Twenty children are dead. 

I’m done.

 

Aurora

I don’t have to write many words to describe the thoughts we’ve probably all had about what happened in Aurora, Colorado just after midnight Friday morning. The only word I have to write is “Why?”

But whomever may answer that question one day will need many, many more words. Any belief to the contrary serves no purpose except to dismiss the horror and find comfort in that dismissal, if nowhere else.

We have likely all imagined – whether it was for a moment or for hours, once or several times over the last few days – what it must have been like to be in that movie theater. To be disoriented by the booming sound of the movie mixed with the booming sound of the gunfire. To be stunned and scared and spurred on to act. To be frozen. To be wounded. To lay dying, with the surreal images of a comic superhero looming large somewhere nearby, casting the only light into what has become an unfathomable kind of darkness.

We have likely all imagined what it must have been like for the families of the people in that theater when they learned about what had happened, when they got a call that one of their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers had been shot. When they sat beside the hospital bed trying to make a doctor’s words into some sort of syntax they could understand.

We may have even imagined what it was like for the police, the SWAT team, the paramedics to show up at a scene so chaotic and unexpected that it’s a miracle they managed to react as well as they did.

Did we imagine what it was like for the gunman?

No one wants to do that. No one wants to put themselves in the shoes of someone who would carry out carnage so horrific, so brazen, so indescribably savage and callous and wrong.

No one wants to think that it could ever, ever be them.

A year ago… ten years ago… twenty… do you think James Holmes thought it could be him?

Nothing I say in this post is meant to excuse or absolve his actions (and herein, I assume his guilt). I do not believe that is possible. Nor do I intend any moral relativism. I want that to be clear. It’s not that I don’t think he’s guilty. It’s not that I don’t think he deserves to be locked up somewhere. It’s that I think he is unwell, and there is good reason the unwell should not be regarded as anything less than human.

At this point, there is much we do not know about what happened in Aurora. We know even less – almost nothing at all – about what was happening in Holmes’ mind. It is tempting to think him a monster, a cold, cruel, heartless, evil being devoid of humanity or courage. Those whose lives have been forever altered by his actions have every right to feel that way about him.

But it doesn’t mean it’s true.

Once, he was a child. Once, he was a college student. Once, he was a son.

This is not the writing of a bleeding heart, but of a broken one. Because it is in our trashing of humanity that we show our inhumanity, and that works in more than one way. The calculated killings of 12 and woundings of 58, the careful traps and triggers laid out in Holmes’ apartment, are not the only symptoms of a disregard for life that will come of this tragedy.

Because there will be many of us who will dismiss him as a demon. A misfit. A coward. A rogue. A psycho. And never again think about his humanness.

Because it’s so, so much easier that way, and isn’t this hard enough as it is?

As a nation, every time a mass murder happens, we talk for days about what’s wrong with the country. What’s wrong with its young people, what’s wrong with society, what’s wrong with the laws. And then we do almost nothing. We put up crosses and teddy bears and floating balloons and we light candles and we leave the victims and their families to deal with the hole in their lives and the vacuum it’s created in their sense of what’s ordered in the world. And then it happens again. And again.

And again.

We could talk about gun laws, and I personally believe there is good reason to talk about that, because I believe they’re insufficient and I believe that any logical 2nd amendment protector could agree that no one needs assault weapons and no one needs six thousand rounds of ammunition, much less someone who’s never owned a firearm or been hunting before. We could talk about violent video games and violent movies and a lack of discipline from parents and from teachers. We could talk about drugs. We could talk about a thousand things.

What we should also talk about is the nature of mental illness and personality disorders, and how to deal with them.

But when that subject comes up, suddenly, we all get very, very quiet.

Again: we do not know what went on in James Holmes’ head. And it’s understandable that some of us can’t abide the implied degree of forgiveness that comes with acknowledging an issue of mental health. But today I saw the full video of Holmes’ hearing, and though I’m not an expert, my sister is well-trained, and she thinks the same thing I think: this is a man who is mentally ill or has a personality disorder.

My sister is a licensed clinical social worker with years of experience treating the criminally insane. She worked with men who were locked up not in a prison, but in a criminal forensic psychiatric facility, because their crimes, though grave, were spurred by mental illness or personality disorder. One of the most important reasons that people with these conditions should be in a psychiatric facility instead of a prison is that, if their condition is not treated, they will likely become more dangerous even to other inmates or correctional officers, and more dangerous to society if their crime did not carry a life sentence.

There are those who would argue that someone who’s crazy couldn’t have plotted out their attack so carefully as Holmes appears to have done. That’s not true. Psychosis of some kind – schizophrenia, for example – can drive an unwell person’s judgments and actions for as long as it lasts. It is entirely possible that psychosis dictated Holmes’ months of calculation, including ordering his ammunition and chemicals, and buying his weapons.

There are those who would argue that if he were truly that disordered, there would have been some sign, but so far we know of none. Also not necessarily true. Holmes happens to be at the right age for what clinicians call an initial psychotic break. It is possible that the break began, and thus his plot began. There are numerous cases of vicious crimes – though few as vicious as this – committed by someone in their early 20s with absolutely no criminal or psychological history prior to the crime. My sister alone has treated several such criminals. She treated someone who was undergoing electroconvulsive therapy – ECT or shock therapy as it’s commonly known – and saw him slowly begin to realize just how disordered he was. She was a witness to his horror at who he had become.

Holmes fits a psychotic profile in another way: he was a graduate student in neuroscience who recently faced what the University of Colorado called an “intense” oral exam. Significant stress can trigger a psychotic break in a person in their early 20s who has never shown signs of mental illness before.

It also wouldn’t be surprising if Holmes says he doesn’t remember what he did. When we do something traumatic to this degree, the brain shuts down the memory-making or memory-retrieval system. It does so to protect us, so we don’t have to live with what we’ve done. It’s simliar to blocking out bad memories of something that happened to us in childhood. It’s inconsistent, but again, my sister worked with someone who had forgotten part of what he’d done. He wanted to see surveillance video because he couldn’t remember a specific part of his crime. (She didn’t allow it – she knew it might have fulfilled a fantasy for him.)

When we forget, or refuse to acknowledge, these very real things about the nature of the human mind and disorders, we ignore part of our humanity. When we dismiss someone as a nut or a monster, we remove their humanity. That is what allows crimes like these to continue. When we ignore the reality of mental disorder, we ignore what causes mass murder. Just as a criminal may disregard humanity in favor of killing, so too do we disgregard humanity in favor of a simpler, more satisfying, less painful answer to a deeply disturbing question: how could a human do such terrible things to other humans?

The answer, however complex, however dark, however impossible it is to put into words, lies in all of us.

Just like it lies in James Holmes.

One Day In My Head: A WTF Post

That second part of the title should be in script font, underneath the first part. Like an after-school special titleboard.

SO. Today is Friday, my day off, and I am all over the place. Bud over at Older Eyes once asked me, very very early in my blogging “career,” whether I’m really as neurotic as I seem. Um…..

…Yes.

Well, kind of.

I do play up the comedy a lot of times, but mostly I really do spool out thoughts until the end of the roll, unraveling all sorts of terrible and tragic possibilities along the way. You know. Just in case. So I’m ready. Prepared. Because I don’t like bad surprises. Which is dumb, because obviously nobody likes bad surprises.

By the way, the spool always, always ends with me dying alone in some godforsaken house or apartment in a recliner in front of a television (which for some reason is always a model from like 1978 with rabbit ears), wearing a terrible nightgown and not being found for days. But Darla at She’s A Maineiac points out that this is a good reason to maintain the blogging. So that people will notice they haven’t heard from me in a while.

That said, I didn’t post for two weeks and nobody checked on me.

So.

Anyway. I thought, given today’s mental gymnastics, I thought I would just let you in on what it’s like to be in my head. Note: I thought about the serious stuff seriously. This isn’t intended as flippant.

First I thought about coffee.

When that was taken care of, I saw the news about the shootings at the movie theater in Colorado. I imagine my reaction was the same as anyone’s. I went from the incapability to even register the information to the anger about it happening before settling in on how awful, how indescribably awful, it is. My historical perspective kicked in and I realized it was easily the worst mass shooting ever. God, all those people. I wondered if they even realized what was happening at first, or if they thought the noise was somehow related to the booming audio from the movie. Even as I sit here typing these words, I’m shaking my head.

Of course, that put me on the road to thinking about guns. I suppose it’s possible that we don’t hear the stories about when guns do good things. I respect responsible gun owners, but I just don’t get the need unless you hunt for food or protect your family from wild animals. (No, seriously, that’s valid, I get that.) I certainly don’t see the need for semi-automatics and assault weapons. Nobody needs those. Ever. For anything. My father was telling me the other day that my cousins had visited relatives on the other side of their family in New Mexico and wound up firing AK-47s in the desert.

…Why?

I thought about all the terrible things that have happened in my recent memory because of guns and disturbed individuals. And you can’t protect the people you love from that. You can’t do anything about someone who snaps.

Unless you keep them from ever getting their hands on a gun.

I thought about the Colorado shootings a lot today, here and there, interspersed with things like going to the grocery store and trimming flowers for a vase and watching Darla Maineiac’s second-anniversary vlog post, which was freaking fantastic. And she made me think about baton twirling. Which I did when I was a kid, with a baton that looks exactly like hers.

She also made me think about Green Day’s song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” which sent me back to two things: my college days, and my friends’ wedding. Which sent me to my (fictional) wedding.

Which ended in blankness.

I went from the chiropractor (where I thought about bulging discs) to the post office (stupid, stupid construction traffic patterns that jam up ev. ery. thi. ng. Also stamp designs.) to my therapist’s office.

Well, what didn’t I think about at the therapist’s office, right?

Then I went to the car shop to have the oil changed and tires rotated and some other stuff checked, and I thought about the inability of some younger women (they’re actually women now) to speak a sentence without throwing in the word “like” five times. I do it, I admit, but not this much. And not every one of my sentences ends in a question mark.

And I know that it’s not really okay to have four different kinds of tires on a car.

Which made me think about how I have to think about not making faces in front of strangers as I listen to their conversations.

I thought about the house I almost made an offer on until I found out yesterday that there had been a triple shooting on the corner the week before the seller listed the house. Oh. So that’s why he’s moving. Got it. You know, I loved that house. I did. But I was looking for clarity on the neighborhood, and I guess you could say I received that.

Which, of course, led me back to guns and Colorado and stupid, senseless things. And drugs, and what I will and will not put up with in order to prove that I believe in a community.

Which got me thinking about “The Wire” on HBO, which I’m only now starting to watch, courtesy of BIL 2’s willingness to let me access his hbogo.com account. It’s a fantastic show and I’m only eight episodes in. But it’s so, so sad. It’s not sad content, not intentionally. But I know it’s real, the places are real, the boarded up houses and projects are real, and it’s at once both a great and terrible thing to know that. Great because we tend to shelter ourselves from those things, and when we don’t see them we forget that they exist, that real people live there, that children are growing up in that environment and there will never be hope for them until we stop pretending they’re not there. Terrible because real people live there and children are growing up in that environment. And we haven’t found a way to fix it.

And then I thought about how Dominic West (“Jimmy McNulty” on the show) can’t do a proper regional accent because he gets tripped up on his Britishness, and yet you’d never know Idris Elba (“Russell ‘Stringer’ Bell”) was British. Dude can throw a phrase around like he been ballin’ American-style since birth.

And then I thought about listening to Prime Minister’s Questions on C-SPAN and practicing my British accent in the car on the way home from work the other night.

As I was carving up a quarter of a watermelon I’d bought at the grocery store, I was smacked in the head with the idea of using it to infuse some vodka and create yummy delicious refreshment. I finally canned my own fruit. Mason jar and everything. Like a prairie woman. What’s that you say? Prairie women didn’t fill their fruit jars with vodka? Pfft. I win.

Just now I thought about how I really have to call the pathologist’s office from when I had my endoscopy and tell them why I haven’t paid them a single penny of the $476 the insurance company says I owe them. (I’m in a fight with the insurance company. Unsurprisingly.) I just talked to the anesthesiologist’s office about the $797 the insurance says I owe those jokers. I’m trying to buy a house. I don’t need bills going to collections.

Now I’m thinking about all these things, and all the stuff I thought about at the therapist’s office, and also dinner.

And nail polish.

And Syria.

And how fish oil caplets are made.

By the way: while I was at the car shop not rolling my eyes at the stupid chick, I came across an article in the July 9th issue of Time Magazine that dovetails I mean almost exactly with my last post, Keeping Track. I swear, I had not read the article before I wrote that post.

Now I’m thinking about housing starts.

It never ends.