Heaven-Sent, Direct To My Mailbox

Those of you who are lapsed or non-Catholics might not know that this is the time in the liturgical year when the readings at church focus on the Second Coming. I figure that’s what’s prompted the mail I’ve just received from my Crazy Aunt.

Actual mail. She’s that nuts.

For five and a half handwritten, photocopied pages addressed to me by name in fresh ink at the top, she detailed what we should do now that we’re in the End Times. Apparently we should stock up on non-perishables because when Satan comes to try to reclaim the souls of the recently converted, all literal hell will in actual fact break loose. Also we need to find some blessed salt so we can spread it across the thresholds of our doors (don’t open them during the unrest, though) to keep Satan at bay.

If I had known that all it took was some blessed salt, I wouldn’t need to go to confession right now as she urges.

Does it have to be kosher salt?

My aunt, you may recall, sent out checks for a thousand dollars to each of her nieces and nephews last Christmas because it was the money my grandfather had left her and she thought he would have wanted her to do it. I think my mother did get her to understand that, if he had wanted that, he would have left it to his grandchildren instead of her.  Her response was that she was just trying to do the right thing.

Which is true, really. My aunt is an untreated mentally ill person who my social worker sister says would probably be classified as a paranoid schizophrenic with religious preoccupation if she would ever be willing to be diagnosed as anything. But she has a heart full of goodness and love and she just wants everyone to be saved. I don’t begrudge her that. I don’t begrudge anyone that, when it comes from a place of love. And she’s not dangerous; most mentally ill people aren’t. It’s far more likely that she’ll be the person who gets hurt – though she’s pretty paranoid and afraid of a lot of things, so she might never be in a dangerous situation.

One of the things she’s afraid of, apparently, is the Affordable Care Act. more colloquially known as Obamacare.

After the five and a half pages of her letter, she tossed off another paragraph on different paper (no lines) about how the law is against Christianity because it “pushes abortion funding and the implantation of the chip under the skin, which is forbidden in the Bible.”

Where to begin, eh?

Aside from the fact that a lot of things are forbidden in the Bible, like footballs and cheeseburgers, the ACA does not push funding for abortion. It provides members of Congress and their staffers the option, if they choose to be part of the health care exchange rather than private insurance, to pay a premium for insurance in case of abortion. They don’t have to pay into the exchange at all if they don’t buy that particular feature of protection. It’s like a la carte.

It also says nothing about chips.

What we have here, I think, is a bit of confusion on my aunt’s part, because the only CHIP to which the ACA refers is the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And it is not implanted, it is implemented.

Oh.

See, now I definitely don’t believe the thing about the salt on the threshold.

There is one thing, though, that I find to favor my aunt’s way of looking at the world: the 4×6 envelope in which the letter arrived bore no sign of the postal service. The stamps were not cancelled and no meter mark was affixed. There’s no date of mailing. It appears never to have been touched. I’m sure this is a miracle of postal delivery. Deliverance. One of those.

Heaven-sent?

 

 

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The Pot and the Kettle

I do not like my mother.

My mother does not like me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

212.

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

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

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

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

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

I also fail at greeting card shopping.

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

“Okay, then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On that, we will never agree.

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

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

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

Bleach, Water and Hope

If you inhale aerosolized viral particles, and then you inhale aerosolized bleach particles from cleaning up… does the latter kill the former?

Please say yes.

Sister 3 and her boyfriend came to visit this weekend. We had spent about two hours hanging out downtown on Saturday when it became pretty clear that the energy level was low between the three of us. I could have been up for something else, but they seemed kind of meh, so we went home for a refreshing nosh before deciding whether to head out to another local event. Unfortunately, the bf started feeling sick as soon as we got home. He said he’d gotten really tired while we were downtown, and I figured something wasn’t right when he didn’t eat a single bite of the delectables I’d put out when we got back. I’d handed him a bottle of cold water right away when we walked in, but he was already behind the curve.

It started with the lower GI. Eventually (when we got past the politeness of not acknowledging the problem aloud), I pulled out all the home remedies I could think of: rice, oyster crackers, Pepto Bismol. I suggested miso soup, which he poo-pooed. (Haha. I made a joke.)  He kept trying the water. But it moved quickly and mercilessly to the upper GI. By 9:30pm, he was miserable, my plumbing and sewer lines were being tested, and I was heading to the grocery store for those familiar staples of stomach illness: Gatorade, ginger ale, saltines and toilet paper.

Sister 3 felt bad. Initially when she told me he really wasn’t feeling well (which was around 6:30), she said they might not be able to stay the night. But it was clear he wasn’t going to tolerate a road trip home, so he had to tough it out at my house.

He had a rough night – Sister 3 and I were treated to the sounds all the way on the top floor of the house from the basement. I’m glad I went for the Gatorade, because apparently he wound up with terrible leg cramps from dehydration. (“I had a charley horse and a hamstring cramp in the same leg at the same time,” he said later, “so I just had to scream into my pillow.”) The cramps, he said, eased when he – bravely, I think – forced the juice. Sister 3 cleaned both of my bathrooms. Twice, I believe. But I wasn’t so sure it would be enough. So as soon as they left, out came the bleach and bleach-containing cleansers for the fourth scrub in 48 hours (one was in anticipation of their arrival).

I’ll spare you too many details but give you just enough to say that the red colored Gatorade made it easy to know the basement bathroom floor needed to be washed with bleach and water. Sister 3 had already appropriated all the sheets and blankets for washing, as well as some other bathroom textiles. I just went ahead and grabbed the rest. If I could have put the couch in the washer, I would have. I had begun to suspect that this was norovirus, and when I looked up the length of time it can survive outside the body, I was delighted to learn it lives for up to 12 days on fabric.

So there’s a loveseat I shan’t be using for two weeks.

I scrubbed every non-porous surface that would tolerate the chemicals: faucet handles, doorknobs, places other than the doorknob where I imagined he (or my sister, who I’m sure will get it, too) might have touched. I washed my hands so many times that the skin is stretching to allow me to type. My lungs are a little scratchy from the cleaning solvent. I find myself wishing I’d bought a can of Lysol at the store last night – or this morning after church, when my sister and I went to pick up more Gatorade and some Greek yogurt to put those live active cultures to work in the boy’s gut.

I’m eyeing the remote controls for the TV and Blu-Ray player suspiciously. The boy never touched them, but my sister did. Again I wish I’d bought some Lysol.

The incubation period for norovirus is 24-48 hours from first exposure. Fingers crossed I’m still sitting up and taking nourishment this time Tuesday. Because Tuesday I’m scheduled to finally get back to seeing Ali Velshi (not really Ali Velshi, former CNN newsman turned Al-Jazeera America newsman… my therapist, who reminds me of AV).

Because my head needs to be scrubbed, too.

Standing My Ground

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

Then we had Sunday.

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

Oh, come on. 

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

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

Um… I’m sorry, what?

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

Are you serious right now?

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

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

Nope. Apparently not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Season of Gross

I have spent a significant portion of the last week being gross. It’s summer on the East Coast, and that means one thing: heat and humidity.

Oh. That’s two things. But not really. They’re basically one word around here. Heatandhumidity.

My new gig at the university meant several days of outdoor events recently, and they were perfectly enjoyable and successful (there are few things in life as tangentially joyous as college commencement ceremonies, for example). But running around at commencement carrying ish and taking photos and performing strategery in your head makes you very sweaty.

That was also the case at a major event last week involving every VIP client I have. Said event was seven years of headaches, setbacks and political shenanigans in the making. It was outdoors. On a construction site. In 90+ degree heat. What, then, to wear? The outfit needed to say “big deal.” It needed to be professional. It needed to reflect the awareness that lawmakers and higher-ups in education would be present. It needed to allow me to wear flats. Ideally, it needed to be school colors. And I needed to look gooood. Because this was Rick’s event, and if I can’t have him, well… I might as well make him wish he could have me.

Rick, in a shirt and tie, told me he couldn’t believe I was wearing the very lightweight 3/4 sleeve cover I had over my black sleeveless dress. I told him the truth: it’s partly so I don’t get sunburn and partly to absorb the sweat. (I did not go with the ultimate truth, which was that it was also meant to cover the sweat stains that I’m sure had spread on the back of my dress. Which I had to peel off my body when I got home. Did I mention this outfit also involved Spanx?) This was when I realized the benefit to wearing a suit jacket if you’re a man: you’re going to sweat through your shirt, regardless. You might as well wear something that makes you look good and will cover the embarrassing stains at the same time.

You know those women who just glisten and gleam in hot weather? I’m not one of them. I don’t get dewy with perspiration. I sweat like a whore in an Alabama church right before a thunderstorm. Also? I get sort of splotchy and slouchy and a little grumpy. So I spent the whole event trying to look professional and sophisticated (and desirable) while feeling the sweat run in rivulets down my torso, arms and legs, and praying my spray-on tan didn’t run with it.

Rick said at the end of the event that he needed a shower, but he didn’t look the slightest bit ruffled or wilted. Whereas I’m pretty sure my face had melted off.

Dammit.

Yesterday, I headed to Philly to spend some time with my people. Both sides of my family have started a new tradition of getting together as one big mob to tailgate, walk over to a Phillies game, and then do a little post-gaming. We all bring food and beverages and whatnot, and someone schleps a grill, and we eat and drink and are merry. And then we sit in the stands and yell at the Phils. Well, yesterday was about eleventy-two degrees. It wasn’t quite so awful while we were tailgating, but in the stadium, if you had drawn a line from the ball of fire that lights the earth to the stands, it would have hit us. We could not possibly have been more in the sun.

A bunch of Irish sitting in the sun.

Brilliant.

I stood up after three innings and I swear to you, it looked as though I had peed my pants. I was sweating that profusely. It was basically like spending several hours on the inside of a Crock Pot. Even my undies were wet. Ew. Plus I was covered in two liberal coats of spray sunscreen, which makes me look like a glazed Krispy Kreme donut to begin with. It was in my hair, which had acquired a lovely crunchiness. By the time I left to head home after eight hours of summertime fun, I was officially disgusting. I stank of musky sweat and sunscreen. I couldn’t stand myself on the drive.

By the way, the Phils struggled in the heat, too. Lost 4-3 to the Brewers after a late-game rally that died when a pitcher got tagged out trying to steal third. Because pitchers don’t run so fast.

Not nearly as fast as the sweat down my body.

Things I Don’t Remember

As if I needed it, there was drama over the Memorial Day weekend.

I was at the Jersey Shore (stronger than the storm, bitches!) with my family – well, most of them; Sister 2, BIL 2, Youngest Neph and Shiny New Niece were elsewhere. Anyway, I was at the Jersey Shore, and Sunday night we went out to one of the local establishments – my parents, Sister 1 (BIL 1 was at the house with Twin Nephs), Sister 3, her boyfriend, three of her friends and their boyfriends, and a pair of former neighbors who have been friends of our family for nearly 20 years now. It was a nice night, not hot, not crowded. We were dancing. I had maybe four drinks? In three hours? After dinner. Vodka tonics on ice. Some guy at some point came up and started dancing with me, in which I was not the slightest bit interested, so I humored him for maybe 3/4 of a song.

Somewhere around 10:30, I bought beers for two members of our party and a drink for myself. I delivered the beers. I  took a sip of my drink. And then I rather suddenly realized I needed not to drink it. I felt weird. Sure, inebriated, but not dizzy, not room-spinning, not hot, not nauseous… just weirdly drunk. Instead of sipping my drink, I started sticking my fingers in it, pulling out ice cubes and chomping them. And then I put the drink down on the bar, turned to the bartender and asked him for water. He gave me a cup full, I laid a dollar bill on the bar (because the end of my drinking should not mean the end of a bartender’s tips if he still has to fetch my requests)…

…and that’s the last thing I remember.

Well, the last thing until I came around, sitting with my legs straight out in front of me on the curb outside the bar, with three paramedics in my face and an ambulance behind them, Sister 3 to my right and the rest of our party lined up on the sidewalk behind me.

Apparently, during the few minutes between me laying a dollar bill on the bar and sitting on a curb surrounded by emergency medical personnel, I collapsed.

According to my sisters and the family friends, I went limp and Mr. M had to catch me. He was holding me up with his leg and arms when Sister 1 came over to ask what had happened. She says I never closed my eyes, but I had turned gray and unresponsive. She and Mr. M shared the burden of my body weight while Mrs. M, who is a nurse, grabbed my arm and found me clammy. They tried to get me onto a chair, but I slid off it. The bartender vaulted the bar to try to help. Mr. M and Sister 1 picked me up and carried me out of the bar.

They say I started to come around as soon as they got me outside, but I don’t remember the beginnings of that. They say the medics asked if I had my ID on me and I told them it was in my back pocket. I told them my debit card should be back there, too, but it wasn’t – they found it inside on the bar, which is odd, since the bar only takes cash. (I’ve checked – the card number has not been used by anyone but me.)

What I remember is answering the medics when they asked me my name and how many fingers I was holding up. Then I turned to Sister 3 and said, “What happened?”

She had her hand on the back of my head, stroking my hair, as she answered me. She was very calm. She did a great job for a 23-year-old who had just watched her 36-year-old sister collapse for no real reason.

I was so alert, I could tell the medics exactly how much cash I had in what denominations in my back pocket. When they couldn’t find my pulse in my left arm, I told them to use my right because the veins in my left tend to roll. Given that degree of alertness, they didn’t transport me. BIL 1 had come to get us, and I vaguely remember climbing into the car, though I don’t remember getting out at the house. I stayed awake and talked to my family for about an hour, just to make sure I didn’t have some other weird episode. I felt boozy, but still not dizzy, not nauseous, not room-spinning drunk – none of those awful things you feel when you know you’ve had too much. I drank a ton of water and went to bed. Sister 3, sharing the room with me, woke me up a while later to check on me and have me drink more water. I woke up in the morning with a monster headache, a little dizzy… two cups of coffee and a two-hour nap straightened me out.

Then I was fine. Tired, but fine.

We wondered if I had been drugged. Had the guy who tried to dance with me slipped something into my drink? I never put a drink down – I need something in my hand when I’m out – like a prop, a security blanket, something to do with myself. But I drink slowly. Sister 3’s boyfriend remembers that the guy had tried to “grind” me, and I had told him no and walked away. I don’t remember that at all, though I do remember that I didn’t dance with him long. I think, if I had been drugged, the effects would have lasted longer.

Mrs. M. wonders if it was some sort of freakish medical event that was exacerbated by the drinks. Honestly, I wonder that, too. Someone told me my blood pressure had been 134/60. That’s odd for me; I’m usually around 100/70.  As I went to bed that night, I said a little prayer that if there was something wrong medically, it would be a quick and quiet death in my sleep. Seriously. I said that prayer.

I still haven’t figured it out. I’m waiting for my medical insurance to kick in, and then I’ll go for a physical and let the doctor know about this incident. I’m sure I’ll get a lecture about alcohol, but I’m no more than a moderate drinker on a high-intake day. Who is taking a break for a while.

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

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.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

My sister had sent me a picture of a child’s drawing. It was a little disturbing. This is what it was:

Yowza.

Yowza.

She told me she and my mother had discovered it in a pile of drawings my grandmother had kept since all her grandkids were little. It was in with all the other stuff my sisters and I had drawn, colored or made. This was in the 1984 section. But this was the only thing that didn’t have a name or a date on it. I know that the fiery stick on the left is either a cigarette or a match. I’m fairly sure the red-glowing stick on the right is a cigar, meant for my grandfather. I have no idea what the thing at the top is. A car cigargette lighter on a tripod? A bull’s eye?

And what had they won?

My grandparents were smokers. Actually, to say my grandmother was a smoker is an understatement. My grandmother was basically a human cigarette. A chain-smoker so serious about her nicotine fix that it had to be constant. She smoked four packs a day. That she got emphysema was no surprise. That she never got cancer is astounding.

Sister 1 is fairly convinced that I must have been the one who made this painting. I would have been seven in 1984. But I’m not at all sure it was me. First, I’m certain that I knew there was no H in “want.” Secondly, I’ve never made my Gs that way. Third, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have double-punctuated.

Even at seven, I was a bit of a grammarian.

I think one of my cousins was behind this, and it somehow got mixed in with my sisters’ and my stuff.

The bittersweet irony of this discovery is that my grandmother, in addition to emphysema, also had Alzheimer’s. By the time she was in her early 70s (when I was in my mid- to late-teens), she wouldn’t have even known she had stashed drawings away. She would have looked at them as though she’d never seen them before. She would have stared at her handwriting on the backs, with names and dates carefully kept, and had no idea the handwriting was hers.

Those precious (and discomfiting) memories she’d saved had all been lost, despite her care. Left for her adult grandchildren to find more than a decade after her death. Left for us to try to interpret. Memories have become mysteries.

This is the final post in my Twelve Days of Christmas series. As those who read it last year may recall, I used it to be mindful of the gifts I received every day. I have done the same this time.

The First Day: Memories

The Second Day: Comfort

The Third Day: Grace

The Fourth Day: Patience

The Fifth Day: Books

The Sixth Day: Hope

The Seventh Day: Perspective

The Eighth Day: Aspiration

The Ninth Day: Bounty

The Tenth Day: Simple Pleasure

The Eleventh Day: Inventiveness

The Twelfth Day: Mystery

These series have given me a gift of their own: the ability to look back and find a gift in something that seemed mundane or even irritating at the time.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Ephipany: the day the Three Kings brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, following the star to his manger.

May 2013 provide you all with a star to follow, so you may find your gifts, and give them to those who are worthy.