I don’t want a lot for Christmas…….

Author’s note:

My mama is very much on my mind this year. I don’t really know why, but after 5 years, this year seems much more bittersweet than the previous ones without her. I think it may be simply because my children are so close this year, for the first time in ages. I will celebrate most of Christmas Day with my oldest son and his family, and it’s hard to not notice the similarities between Christmases of the past, when he and his siblings were small and their grandma made the trek to spend the day with her firstborn and family.
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Grandchildren. Who could not feel blessed when looking at these faces?
Have I related, lately, just how much I adore my children? They have become such interesting adults, not simply amazing because this mama always felt that they were special, as every mother does; but because they are simply remarkable in so many unique ways. I could write tomes about each child, absolute missives of adoration, joy, and testaments of love to each; indeed, each deserves his/her own novel of love and devotion from a mother who very much expected to lead a sad, lonely, secluded, and quiet life and instead found herself blessed beyond any seed of hope ever planted in childhood fields of dreams.
Another time.
Again this week, I offer up a past writing from the archives.This one is the first, a first Christmas without my mother, and it deserves a place of reminiscence in this blog.  It serves to remind me of how far I have come since that first very dark Christmas as an orphan, and yet, how easily I seem to be able to conjure up those emotions with little or no effort even now.

 

‘Tis the Season to be, well….something.

It’s not yet December but the trees are trimmed, the lights are hung, and thoughts of Christmas are ever-present in my house. It’s hard not to catch the spirit with two young boys jockeying for a spot on Santa’s “Good List”. It’s especially hard to ignore the fact that the holiday season has begun with a 3 year-old who is absolutely enamored of snow falling, trees glittering, and snow globes, which are of course Santa’s spy cameras. He sees EVERYTHING through those things. They are positioned all over the house, giving Santa a great view of every move, so you better be good, for goodness sake! It’s fun to have Aaron involved in the Santa shenanigans, too. At 9, he knows the truth about where the presents come from, but he’s really enjoying having this super-secret knowledge and keeping his brother on his toes. Yesterday, he told Desi all about “the year I was really, really bad and Santa only gave me coal.” He related this to his younger brother with a sly, conspiratorial look on his face as he glanced at me from time to time. Desi was astounded that this could have actually happened. I watched Desi’s face as he sat on the couch last night, his eyes glued to the TV set as the Grinch did his dirty work and then was shown the true meaning of Christmas by Cindy Lou Who. I’ll admit, it really is much easier to believe when you see things through the eyes of a 3 year-old child.

 

I know that I am mostly going through the motions this year. That’s been the case for many years, even though I have essentially had children running around the house at Christmas for over 26 years now. I miss my mom, and Thanksgiving was difficult. It just didn’t feel right somehow. I think it was mostly the pall of the last year’s events hanging over us like some sooty residue, and what we really need is a cleansing, not only in the house, but of our spirits as well. I’m trying. I really am. I need to wash the gloom right out of our lives. The only problem is, I have not yet figured out a way to accomplish that.

 

Here’s what I will not miss this year. I will not miss trying to figure out what to buy for a septuagenarian who has everything. I will not miss buying the requisite new nightgowns, perfumes, and household items she wants but doesn’t really need.  What I WILL miss is seeing her open her gifts and exclaiming over those one or two really special items, like a handmade rosary or a soft, warm sweater. She always enjoyed opening the presents and that gave me a lot of pleasure.

 

I will not miss baking cookies and not being able to load up containers of them for her, because she had diabetes and therefore could not have much in the way of sweets. I hated this every year because I knew damn well she could smell the aromas of freshly-baked sugar cookies and snickerdoodles and pumpkin bread and all the other mouth-watering treats she taught me to make wafting down into her apartment. It had to be absolute torture for someone who used to be able to freely eat as many as she wanted. I hated making up a simple plate of just a couple of cookies at a time for her, because it just seemed like a punishment. What I WILL miss is that, on Christmas Day, all bets were off and she would come upstairs and feast her eyes on everything yummy and pick and choose whatever she wanted. Just for that day. It made me happy to see her eyes light up.

 

I will not miss having to trek downstairs to open our one Christmas Eve gift together, mostly because it was always crowded when we did so and because it just reminded me that in order to have her upstairs for Christmas Day, we had to limit how much she moved around because her back, legs, and hip hurt so much. Yes, she enjoyed coming up and hanging out upstairs, but it was always tempered with the certainty that she would pay for it for days afterward. I am reminded of previous years when my kids were young and she and my brother would come from their house next door to us and we’d have hot chocolate while we opened our one gift each. I can still remember how she used to walk; she always took small, careful steps that seemed just a little bit jaunty. What I WILL miss is the hot cup of coffee that greeted me downstairs when we would go down there these past 7 years and the little gifts of herself that she was so proud of creating for us. She was an incredible knitter and crocheter and I only wish she had been able to make us more treasures to keep always.

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Great-Grammy holding Desmond, 2010, downstairs, in her apartment.

I will not miss having to hide the Christmas candy we’d buy for my brother’s stocking every Christmas because if we left it in her apartment, she had no self-control and would eat every single piece. This would cause me to 1) be pissed off at her because I’d have to go to the extra expense of buying more candy, and 2) worry that her sugar was going to go through the roof and kill her. I WILL miss buying her the bags of Russell Stover sugar-free caramels she loved for her stocking, although this one is a double-edged sword in that she also had no self control when it came to sugar-free candy either. Guess what happens if you eat too much sugar-free Hersheys bars? You get the trots, which is never fun, but is even worse if you can’t walk very well and sometimes barely make it to your porta-potty let alone when you get yourself sick gorging yourself on candy.

 

I will not miss the inevitable trip to the Emergency Room that has occurred every single year just after Christmas. Sometimes it was breathing problems, but last year, it was spinal stenosis. I DO miss the feelings of relief that always accompanied these trips because, well….she was always okay. She’d usually have to be admitted for a week but I never had the thought that I would lose her. I always knew she’d be fine and she’d come home. It was reassuring. That was how I knew, deep within my heart, that things were not going to be okay on September 22nd, When my brother came upstairs and told me “Mom needs help” and Amanda flew down the stairs while I threw on some clothes. I had this piercing feeling in my gut that somehow this was different. We’d been to the doctor just two weeks prior. She’d had tremendously good news and awesome results of her tests. She was feeling better than she had in years. This was an omen. I know that now. It should have prepared me, but it didn’t. Instead, I had that feeling of comfort, that my mom was going to be with me for a long time, and that we had more time to get to that good place we were seeking. I guess we were there without my ever realizing it. I wish someone would have clued me in, because in the days that have followed, I’ve really beaten myself up.

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Mom’s precious Kitty, watching everyone open their one gift on Christmas Eve.

I will miss preparing her plate at Christmas dinner. I will miss her wishing she could have a beer. I’ll miss sneaking a bit of Irish Cream liqueur into her coffee and how she would gulp it down. I will miss watching her eyes roll back into her head and her sigh of pleasure when she’d take her first bite of fudge. I will miss how she always gave me one gift that said more in that gesture than a thousand words ever could. Hell, I’ll even miss how she would bicker with my brother, especially last year, when he opened a gift and exclaimed “Not another goddamn plush throw!” (I guess he’s accruing quite a collection.)

 

There are plenty of other things I’ll miss, but I am hoping that after this first, awkward year where we are all hyper-conscious of what has been lost and who’s missing – where I will probably try way too hard to seem festive and jolly and to make merry when inside, I’ll probably be as dead as a pile of unlit twigs in the fireplace – we’ll all be able to move on and find joy on coming years. Perhaps we can start to make some new memories that, while not better, are just as good. I may have lost my childish wonder at the magic of Christmas, and I may have lost my mother, but I have not lost the ability to hope.

nat
The sky is a neighborhood.

 

 

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The Ghosts of This Writer’s Past…..

Author’s note: I am feeling a bit under the weather today, so I decided to revisit some old writings I made a few years ago, and republish them for you all to read. This one is very important, because I have a friend who has recently experienced this loss and it has been so hard to put into words how I empathize and understand her grief. I am hoping that this might help. Jenn, this is for you.

So this is the day I thought would make all the difference in the world.

This piece of writing began as a letter to my mother. I lost her a year ago on this day. In the beginning, during those raw, new moments of grief, I wrote to her as a way of feeling like there was still a connection. One thing that a lot of people don’t know about our relationship is the fact that we always wrote our feelings to each other, rather than talk about them out in the open. Writing them down on a piece of paper (or two or twelve) was our way of resolving issues and of airing our hurts. Every time I received an envelope with my name written on the front of it, my heart would sink with the knowledge that I had somehow let her down or hurt her. As I would read, each word would wedge itself like a dagger into my heart until I was certain that I could not bear to turn over another page. Then, having finished the letter, I would reach for my own pen and paper and respond. My responses were always emotional and angry and remorseful and I usually ended them begging her to please love me, to not turn me away. As the years passed and email became more convenient, the feelings were still the same even if the delivery was different. I would see an email from her and dread having to click on it, but knowing that I must. In these letters, and later emails, it was no-holds-barred and anything goes. We said what we meant and meant what we said. There was always resolution, always understanding, and although most of the time, she only wrote to me when she was very angry about something I had said or done or some mistake she felt I was making, they were her way of telling me that she did love me. Those weren’t common words in our home when I was growing up, and by the time I was grown and she had mellowed a bit and would say them, I was uncomfortable when she did. I preferred reading them to hearing them.

 

I would give anything, right at this moment, to have a letter from her.

 

In this letter, I imagine that she would take me to task for the way I have behaved since she died. She would be pissed to see me sad, mourning, inexplicably bursting into tears at any given moment on any given day. She would be disappointed in the fact that I have stopped doing the things that I used to enjoy: writing, drawing, cooking, listening to music, reading volume upon volume of any kind of book that I could get my hands on. I do attempt these things, yes, and I do read, but often, I will find myself simply staring at the words in the book before me, wondering what I just read. The other stuff I have mostly set aside for now, because to attempt to do any of it requires the desire, and I have none of that. I have no desire for anything, and most of the time, I feel like I am running this big race from the moment I wake up to the moment I crawl into bed, where getting to the finish line means I can succumb to the oblivion of sleep. All I have to do is act naturally; pretend I am amused at the jokes of others, accept the affections of the ones who love me, make things run right at home, and attempt to do my job competently and with some compassion and caring. I need to respond in the right way at the right times, take my cues from others, and never, ever let on to a single soul that I feel empty. I feel pain and sorrow quite well. It comes in peaks and valleys, but the elusive happiness? I watch for it, wait for it to return, and even fooled myself into thinking that if I could simply make it to the one year mark, and pass through that day with some reverence and grace and as few tears as possible, then happiness would once again come knocking upon my door.

 

My mother would write to me and say, Lori Rose, that’s a load of crap and you know it.

 

She would be so angry with me. She would dash off her disappointment with my sad-ass self on a dozen sheets of stationary paper and I would feel EVERY SINGLE WORD. She would tell me to get off my ass and resume my life, to live well, and to never look back on my mistakes. She would tell me how proud she was of me, and she would list all the things that made her proud. She would thank me for her grandchildren, thank me for always trying my best, and she would tell me that although I always lived with doubt about how she felt about me, she always loved me. I wish I could have that letter. It would make all the pain of this past year worth it.   I don’t know how to be who I should be, even for her sake. I have forgotten that person, and the person I am right now is some sort of impostor in my skin, inhabiting my life, and doing a piss-poor job at it. I am still filled with so many questions, so many things I wanted to ask her, and I can never realize any of it now, because time flies and life is fleeting and all that good bullshit that people quote when they’re feeling philosophical but they can’t know how I have been feeling because they haven’t lost MY mother and they will never know what it feels like to live in this skin. I should have taken better care. I should have noticed how fast time was flying by and I should have stopped to listen.

 

Because I cannot let this day pass without something good coming out of it, I want to remember some little things that, to the casual reader, may seem insignificant. To me, they were very important. The last time I saw my mother, in the hospital room, her face peaceful and her pain over, I was holding her hand.My mother had very feminine hands. They were a little plump because she was never a small woman, but her nails were always manicured and she wore clear polish most of the time, and they glowed a soft pink. She had baby-soft dark hairs on the skin between the knuckles and the first joint of each finger, but only a few.  My hands aren’t plump but they do resemble hers. When I was a little girl, those hands held my own as we walked downtown, to Zippo to see Grandma, to the doctor’s office, to the store. They smoothed away my hair when I was running a fever and slathered Vicks on my chest when I was really congested. They folded my clothes just so – and I fold clothes the same, exact way now – and placed them in neat piles on my bed. They measured out the ingredients for cookies, for chili, for spaghetti and meatballs, and all the things I loved to eat. They rarely, if ever spanked me, leaving that task to Grandma, who was heavy-handed once and who had the Wrath of My Mother rained down upon her for leaving a faint mark on my bottom on an occasion when she was out and Grandma was watching me and I did something I should not have. One of those slightly plump hands delivered a slap across my face when I was 15 and acting uppity. She was immediately apologetic; I was immediately ashamed of myself for making her resort to that. Her hands were soft, caring, and at the very end of her life, I held her hand in mine and whispered to her that it was okay to go if she had to. I waited for her to squeeze mine, letting me know that she understood. That squeeze never came, and that was how I knew that she was already too far away from me to be able to. An hour after her heart had stopped, I still clung to her hand, hoping for a reflex, for anything. In those long, agonizing, exhausted moments, I just could not let go. Those hands held me when I was a baby. They drew pictures for me. They cared for me in every way that a mother cares for her child. They wrote the letters that I dreaded/needed. Just as her face will never fade from my memory, neither will her hands.

 

My mom’s hospital room had one window, and it looked out over Lake Erie. She died at sunset, and what a glorious sunset it was. I stood, looking out the window as the doctor removed the respirator tube, and my daughter remarked, “Look at the sunset Grammy gets to have, Mama.” It was the most vividly pink light, and as I peered out that window over the water, my eyes smeared with makeup and my face saturated tears, a sailboat drifted along in the water, peaceful and calm. I will never forget that sunset and I don’t think I will ever again see one quite as beautiful. I am hoping that tonight there is a sunset, and that I am able to find beauty somewhere within it.

 

Mom, I love you. I miss you in a million little ways and a million big ways and I’m sorry for everything I didn’t do and never got a chance to do and I promise you, I will start putting one foot in front of the other and finding my way BACK to myself by moving forward. You would tell me to QUIT MONKEY-SHITTING AROUND. Okay, Mom. Okay.

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Mom with my oldest son. That smile there? That was pure happiness on my mother’s face. She was one year older than I am now.

Sometimes you take a pill, and sometimes, you buy a shovel.

Panic disorder. No one knows what causes it, but anyone who has it knows that it is a bitch. I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced a panic attack at least once in their lives, and especially if they are a parent. Think about those times you walked into the kitchen and found your toddler climbing onto the table or saw your 8 year-old on the roof with a cape on, insisting that “If Superman can do it, I can, because Daddy says I am a Superhero!” or had to give your kid the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge a piece of candy or chewing gum from their throat. That immediate, paralyzing, jolt of unadulterated fearful panic you experienced on those occasions? That’s a panic attack. Now imagine having those for no reason, randomly, just, well….whenever.

It adds an oh-so-interesting element of pure suckage to one’s life, let me tell you.

I’ve been having panic attacks for decades. I didn’t know that I was, but once I overcame my natural distrust of doctors and therapy and medication, I realized that I have suffered needlessly and most ignorantly.  I therefore put my family and friends through the hell of having to deal with me when I was rushing around with this super-charged energy, angrily lashing out, because to admit that I was – quite simply put – terrified and I did not know why? How do you tell someone that and not assume that their response will be to call the men in the white coats? When you want to be seen as invincible and strong, and when others expect that of you, it’s quite a tall order to quell that current of adrenaline that courses through your body, humming just underneath the surface. I would tap my foot, or bounce my leg. At work, I would drum my fingers to a beat that only I could hear, driving my coworkers crazy. I was never still, never quite able to settle down. My sleep began to become disrupted, and insomnia became my friend. The depression fed the anxiety, and the worries that I went over and over on repeat, like counting sheep, would fuel the panic. I was making bad decisions, and worrying about my bad decisions, and then, BOOM, it happened.

One morning, I awoke in the throes of a panic attack so bad, it had me frozen in my bed. I could not move. I knew I was safe. Intellectually, you are there, you see, but there is something in the body that kicks into overdrive and overrides every rational thought you have, hijacking your brain. When I was able to move my arms, I sent out a text to the husband, who was in the library. “Come here” was all it said. Thus began a routine he would perform 2 or 3 times a week: he would go get me a Xanax, I would take it, and then he would wrap himself around my body and hold me tight until I relaxed. This was so hard for me to do. Before, I was insistent that I not be touched, that I be left alone or allowed to race about in my furious whirlwind of fear and anger. To allow someone to “cage” me was probably putting his life in danger at first, but it was an important step for me to admit to him that I was so scared that I was positive that I was just going to die, and to allow him to see me at that most vulnerable state. In trusting him, I saved myself.

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This is a pretty accurate cross-section of my brain.

I found that, as my life eased up a bit and I made the changes that needed to be made, and most importantly, STAYED ON MY MEDS NO MATTER WHAT, this morning terror began to recede. Now, I can go months without a blast of fear upon opening my eyes, but I do notice that it begins to happen again when life becomes too stressful and the worries begin to mount. But, how to stop that stress? There are no easy answers for a person like me, who worries and gets paranoid for the most ridiculous reasons. It’s all a part of my diagnosis, and at least I am intelligent enough to understand that the diagnosis may define what is wrong with me, but it does not define ME. I have the power to reduce the stress to certain extents, and when I can’t do it myself, there are drugs that can assist. Granted, popping a Xanax is not going to magically restore the number of hours I can work next week back up to normal because my company decided that

HAPPY FUCKING HOLIDAYS, WE’RE A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR COMPANY AND WE WANT TO SHOW YOU HOW MUCH WE CARE BY REDUCING EVERYONES’ HOURS ON THE WEEK YOU’RE WORKING FOR THAT LAST PAYCHECK BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!!

Nope, that little, white pill won’t fix that stressor. It won’t fix the fact that there are family members who persist in creating endless drama to the point of hurting people I love. Nope, the pill won’t make all that go away, and it won’t make the idea of cracking the offending person over the head with a sledgehammer or whacking them in the face with a shovel go away either, but that little, white pill does make those thoughts less rational and more ridiculous. Because really, is one act of rapturous violence, a moment’s blissful satisfaction, worth going to jail for? Nope. Nope. Nope. During a Trump Presidency, acts of violence seem to be the answer, but they are not, and actually feed  the beast that is ravenously chowing down on our values and our very identity as the Greatest Country in the World. I don’t blame Trump for people who act like twatwaffles, because I’m sure they acted like that before he came into power. But I do blame him and those of his ilk for making twatwaffles think that it is okay to be a twatwaffle. It is never okay to be a twatwaffle. Let us just establish that. If I am far away from my little, white pills and you are a twatwaffle and there is a shovel handy, you might find yourself in possession of a new, more compact, face. I make no guarantees if the pills are not there and the husband is not available to restrain me.

This year for Thanksgiving, my daughter and her family were home for the holiday for the first time since her husband joined the Army. He is now a veteran and they made the trip home before settling into their new home in the private sector. I bought frozen pies for our dessert. My daughter looked on, incredulous, as I put 4 pies into the cart. “What happened to my mama who made everything by scratch?” she mused, baffled by this sight. Later, as I was mixing up a pumpkin cheesecake, which was the only homemade dessert we had this year, I explained to her why we were eating Mrs. Smith’s instead of homemade. It was pretty simple: there are so many things we do that makes life more difficult. We wanted the holiday to be fun and without the stress of drama and discord. I wanted there to be less time figuring out how much time I had to do this, or that, and while mixing up pies and peeling apples and such doesn’t sound like that much time, opening a box and putting a pie in the oven is ever so much easier and tastes pretty close to just as good. I used to rush around and become cross and tense over feeling like I had to do all these things just because that’s how we always did it. Guess what? We don’t always have to. We can choose. In becoming less rigid and more open to change (I swear, the minute the husband reads that last bit, I will hear him hoot with laughter no matter how far away he is) I am giving myself permission to be more fun. I am warding off those morning panic attacks that paralyze me. And if a Mrs. Smith pie can do that? I may never bake another homemade pumpkin pie again.

pie

I do have kernels of wisdom to impart. Ease up, people. Ease up on the demands you make upon yourself. Tell everyone to back the fuck off and let you do your thing. Don’t force yourself into so many commitments this holiday season that you forget to have fun. And the best advice I can give you? Buy an upside down cross and wear it. It is a natural twatwaffle repellent.

Because you may not always have a shovel handy.

Shovel-with-bow
All I want for Christmas is you.

 

 

 

Over the river and through the woods, or “how to ruin someone’s Thanksgiving.”

I was once told that, if you’re pissed off about something, sleep on it. If it still boils the blood the next day, then by all means, let ‘er rip. It’s much better to let that anger out rather than let it seethe within, poisoning your guts.

And so, without further ado, I am letting ‘er rip. I slept on that bitch, it was like a lumpy mattress, and I’m still pissed.

The husband has to work on Thanksgiving. This, in and of itself, is nothing new. He has worked in retail and customer service for many years, except for his years employed in a lumber mill. We have both worked on Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and various other holidays that are sacred to most people but in our different lines of work, it was necessary. In this case, “necessary” means that he will be manning the store floor on Thanksgiving while assholes lose their fucking minds over TVs, toys, $5 holiday sweaters, and hover boards this year, right after they’ve stuffed themselves with their own Thanksgiving feast. He is made of sturdier stuff than me, having done this for 3 years now. I did it last year, and thought to myself at the time, “I never want to do this again.”  It was disgusting, watching grown people fight over $1 hand towels and stomp their feet with disappointment because they didn’t get a wrist band for one of the 6 drones available for the low, low price of $296. (Let’s just gloss over the fact that I am on medication for my inability to deal with people.  Let’s also gloss over the fact that most people should be medicated in order to make them acceptable human beings.) Then I accepted a managerial position and pretended that I was a company player for oh, about 10 seconds. It was not for me. Voldemort’s evil retail empire was not for me. I escaped the horror. He has not managed to do that. Yet.

Every year, Voldemort provides a meal for its associates since they are spending their entire day girding their loins for the whackadoodle shoppers who find it entertaining to make a mad dash into the store to do their shopping instead of hanging out at home, enjoying family, friends, food, and football. You know, the shit the associates would much rather be doing, but a paycheck is a paycheck, even if it’s from a monster retailer who begrudges them a living wage. The meal is all the usual Thanksgiving fare, which, by most standards, is not the most expensive meal to put on. Labor-intensive, yes. Budget-wise? No. With turkeys being available for .48 a pound and potatoes and veggies and even pumpkin being offered on the cheap side this time of year, a turkey dinner with all the trimmings is actually very economical, in my humble opinion. It was a pretty decent meal last year, catered by a local company, who was pretty good about replenishing throughout the day for all the incoming shifts. Let’s just say that no one went hungry as long as they got a moment to come back to the break room to sit down and eat. You know, providing that meal is the least that Voldemort can do, having demanded that its associates sacrifice an entire holiday away from their families to provide customer service to unapologetically demanding asshole shoppers. The husband will be working from 1pm-10pm, which leaves him absolutely no time to spend with our kids and grandkids, eating some turkey, maybe catching a few minutes of football with my sons, and enjoying a day that marks being thankful for what one has. Furthermore, I will miss him. Very much. And so, I wish I could point my wand and spit out “Avada Kedavra!” and blow up the entire store. Sans associates, of course. Customers who are there for Thanksgiving, though? Collateral damage.

volde

But this. THIS is what has made my blood boil, if that weren’t enough:

This year, each associate will get a meal ticket. They must turn it in and eat their meal, and then they are done. No snacking at breaks, no furtive snatching of a cookie after they make a bathroom run; you get your one chance and then you’re done. Supposedly, they are attempting to “make sure everyone gets their meal” because “last year some people took advantage and there wasn’t enough”. And that, my friends, is utter bullshit. I was there. I saw the food. The food that sat out all day and was picked at by associates. I saw the spread for the overnight crew. I saw the replenishment. At no time was there not enough food. Are there people who take advantage and fill two plates? Sure. But so fucking what? It’s a holiday, a sacred holiday, and it’s a retailer that orders enough turkeys for its customers to require another freezer trailer be set up outside the facility. Begrudging your employees a chance to stuff themselves in the same manner that they would at home, if they were able to, is not too much to ask.

turkey
An inaccurate representation of a catered meal in the break room.

But therein lies the rub. No, one would not think that a massive, big box corporation such as Voldemort would have a problem with providing a meal for its valued associates. Associates don’t get Christmas bonuses, or paid holidays off, or anything, really. Oh, they get 10% off everything around the holidays and a 25% off coupon good for one trip through the cash register IF they work that Thanksgiving, but if you aren’t a full-time associate, you don’t get the full, quarterly bonus that associates get; you get half. And that ain’t much, if you want to know the truth. Full-time isn’t a whole lot, either, if your store didn’t turn as big a profit as it had hoped.

The little “extras?” This Thanksgiving meal, for example? It comes out of the store’s bottom line. More importantly, it comes out of the upper management’s “bottom line”, in the form of their bonuses. Which are significantly higher than those of the associates’. See where I am going with this? We wouldn’t want to feed people more food than we have to if we can cut corners somewhere! Ya know, the store manager might need a new car or something, because last’s year’s model started depreciating the second it was purchased, and that extra plate you’re eating might force him or her to have to get a model with unheated seats or *gasp* a factory sound system.

Oh, the humanity!!!!!

So, when you’re excitedly standing in line on Thursday night at your local Voldemort, waiting for the latest video game for your kid, who will maybe play it twice; when you’re angrily asserting that YOU were in line FIRST for the $9 coffee maker; while you complain bitterly that you had to get there at 4pm to get in line for that 55″ TV that your daughter “needs” for her room for Christmas; remember, please, those associates you refuse to make eye contact with on a regular basis and who you ask to “go look out back” when the shelf is empty of your favorite brand of soft drink. When you’re lazily burping up your pumpkin pie that you were able to sit, languidly, and enjoy, before rushing to Voldemort to get a good parking space, that associate out in the cold, pushing those carts, got one plate of food and was rushed through that plate because YOUR LAZY ASS needed a cart moved for your car.

cust

Remember that, as little as you think of them, their upper management thinks even less. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Male Sibling Unit and the holidays, or better: It’s beginning to look a lot like F*** this.

The Male Sibling Unit is in a tizzy of sorts.

With the holidays nearly upon us, he is trying to sort out his complicated social calendar. So many parties to attend! So many outfits to plan! He is truly a social butterfly, very happy to be the center of attention in his own mind, but not quite as socially dynamic as he envisions himself to be. Oh, I am sure that in his head, he is John Travolta a la Saturday Night Fever on the dance floor, but truth be told, he resembles Ed Grimley from Saturday Night Live in both movement and personality. “Awkward” was a word invented for him by some ancient, visionary, psychic person who said, “You know? I’ll bet there’s going to be someone in the future who embodies this word.”

 

The thing about The Male Sibling Unit is that he likes to talk about these upcoming events. A lot. Every day. Months before they actually happen. Hell, months before he actually knows the date of said events. In the past, I would just try to handle the incessant chatter, because I am not the kind of person who dwells on the things that are going to happen in the future until they are nearly upon us. I’m not a procrastinator as such, but I just prefer to concentrate on the here and now instead of thinking about something that’s not happening for 3, 6, 9 months. Eventually, I would explode with frustration at his tendency to dwell on the next Christmas party at work the day after the last one. I am acutely aware of such outbursts of irritation toward him because that’s how our mother chose to handle him in nearly every possible conversation she had with him. I am not kidding. Back in the days when I was married to my biggest mistake and we had bought our first house next door to her, I would rise at 6am to get my kids going for the day and hear her screaming at him. Yes, through the walls of two houses in the winter, and of course, through an open window in the summer, which is more understandable. Our houses were perhaps 6 feet apart, which isn’t much, and our kitchens were side-by-side. I’m not trying to explain how I was able to hear her. I am explaining that she was screaming at him at 6am. I know, I know…..don’t bother someone before they’ve had their coffee. I am such a person, but I don’t scream or rip faces off. I am more likely to stumble about, blind, muttering incoherent bits of sentences, and groping for my Xanax if I have woken in the throes of a panic attack. (It happens. A lot.)

But our mother? Would. Rip. Your. Face. Off. Simple questions from The Male Sibling Unit like, “Should I wear a sweatshirt today?” or statements like “We are almost out of milk” would elicit banshee-like shrieks of fury only heard in the best, most terrifying horror films. One morning, one of my kids – I don’t remember which one – asked me, “Why is Grandma so mean to Uncle Charlie?” My answer was probably something along the lines of “She hasn’t had her coffee” or maybe even “Because she’s a bitch” if I was feeling particularly hostile toward her on that day. The truth is, I was used to it. She did it to me, too, but I was intellectually savvy enough to learn, very young, that you just didn’t engage her in the morning.  (Or any other time.) The Male Sibling Unit, he of a less advanced intellectual capacity, didn’t grasp this, and still hasn’t, and she’s 5 years dead and gone. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, I imagine he expects her to pop out of a room one day, bellowing at him. Death has little meaning to him.

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An actual illustration of our mother before coffee. And after.

The point is, I try, very hard, to never explode at him. I am not her. Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, I am pushed beyond my limits. But I have tried to come up with simple rules he needs to follow about these things, because he is very regimented when it comes to following most rules. Even better, if you make him charts, he will follow them religiously. Now, I have a hard and fast rule that, if it is not happening in the actual month we are in, we don’t talk about it. It works. Most of the time. He is, lately, very verbal and OCD about the things he does every day. He will chant to himself his tasks or responsibilities and actions for the day, in order. If I have’t got my Mom filter on (the one that only hears the shit we absolutely need to hear in case someone is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, or truly in some sort of jeopardy….if you’re a mom, you know exactly what Superpower I am talking about) I will hear him and call him Rain Man in a joking sort of way.

Anyway, we are in the midst of furtive mutterings about parties and gifts when he thinks I am not listening. I hear him, though, and when he slips up and starts making his vocal lists about each event and who’s going and what they will eat and how much he will dance and then on to the next event, I have to modulate my voice to stifle the rising tide of exasperation and remind him that we have rules. Thanksgiving? We can talk about that. Christmas, though? Please. No. It’s bad enough that the TV commercials started the day after Halloween and I have people on my Facebook page crowing excitedly about how they already put their tree up and have been playing Christmas music for a month and don’t even get me started on the retail world and the tinsel-covered, ornament bedazzled, Christmas vomitus blanketing every single store, every single window, every website. I just can’t do it. Not yet. I have begrudgingly begun some shopping, but that’s only because my children have procreated an astonishing number of grandchildren and it’s as daunting a task to manage their gifts as it was 20-odd years ago, with five young kids.

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The Male Sibling Unit has a girlfriend now, and that has become a major consideration when planning his holidays and his shopping. He knows he should buy her a gift, but truly, it is less about the gift than the fact that he gives her one. He really doesn’t actually care about what he should buy her, and will offer up suggestions like “a necklace?” when asked what he would like to buy her. She is older than him, and is capable of living independently, with guidance from social workers, so her needs are a bit more refined than he imagines. I have begun planning his gifts to her, and he’s perfectly cool with that as long as he gets all the credit due. When she is delighted at the scented lotions and soaps and the pretty jewelry and probably a nice coffee mug since she drinks coffee, he will take every ounce of the credit for picking out the things that thrill her so. I’m good with that, as long as we don’t have to talk about it for two weeks after Christmas. He is, however, extremely excited and concerned about what she has already purchased him and, unfortunately for me, teased him with the knowledge. He’s a 42 year-old 8 year-old, giggling and excitedly wondering out loud, “What did she get me?” I don’t know! I think I’m going to love it! I hope I do!”  He can’t help himself. And I don’t have the heart to quash his anticipation.

19 more days of blessed silence remain until he bursts out of his room on December 1st, chattering about Christmas and parties and food and presents and what kind of cookies are we making and most importantly, what is everyone going to think when he shows up at work every single day with his vast assortment of Christmas hats and attire on? I can feel it building, like a pressure cooker filled to the brim. He is gonna GO OFF. There is no way to avoid it.

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A pretty close rendering of The Male Sibling Unit in December.

It doesn’t have to be stressful. What you allow will happen, right? I can choose to be zen-like in my approach to his effervescent bubbling-over. I’m girding my loins. Preparing to embrace the horror.

And keeping the Xanax and wine in constant supply.

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Yes, those are both my glasses but that is not enough wine.

 

 

 

 

Me, too.

There are rocks inside me.  Everyone has them. Stones from the past, most grown smooth with the passing of time; small, like marbles.  I carry those with me like little reminders of the battles I fought and the wounds those stones caused. The scars are small; with time, they heal and turn into silvery threads on my skin.  And then there are the big rocks. They weigh me down, burdensome with their size and  their jagged edges. They sit farther back in my psyche, lining the walls of my mind, actually becoming the walls themselves. I have subconsciously built many large and tall, impenetrable walls throughout my life. Some have come down with the help of warriors who chose to go in there and knock them down (the husband, for one, he with his armor of strength and patience to work with in order to relentlessly, slowly take down walls, stone by stone, brick by brick); some have fallen with the passing of time, leaving open pathways for feelings I was never too keen about feeling to creep through like a midnight mist in a cemetery.

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Today, a wall comes down. I am knocking it down myself, with a heavy battle ax and then when that breaks, with a sledgehammer. If the sledgehammer breaks, I’ll pull down those jagged rocks with my own two hands, and perhaps come away, bloody and torn. Am I afraid of getting hurt? Sure. But I am more afraid of holding this inside me another day. By holding it inside, I am complicit; an accessory to a crime that has overtaken this country, this world. Men in power. Sick men gripped by an illness that is vile and horrifying. Men taking what they want from those weaker than them. Men using that strength they have to overcome with fear and ripping from their victims so many precious birthrights: dignity, self-respect, safety, innocence.

This is my “me too” story. It is long, but it is necessary. It needs to be puked out onto this page, purged from my soul.

I was 14 when he began to groom me. I didn’t know what grooming was back then, but if any girl was ever ripe for the picking, it was me. I was both intelligent and naïve, having thus far grown up without a father figure or any man to really show me what it is like to have that kind of influence in their life. I had attempted suicide at 13 and had just finished therapy. My mother and I were at odds all the time, and she had recently gotten my grandmother to enter a nursing home after many battles. She was figuring out her own life, free of caring for an invalid , and I was a young teenager without any kind of anchor. She began a pattern of leaving me home with The Male Sibling Unit while she went to bars and hung out with new friends, wearing new clothing she defiantly announced to me that she “deserved” after years of not caring about how she looked. She and I fought, constantly, and all I ever wanted to do was escape. Music had become my life; I lost myself in rock and roll, spending every penny I made babysitting on records, 45s, and cassettes. The Walkman had yet to hit the market, but when it did, I would buy one I could afford and be lost in the stereo sounds of my headphones every moment that I wasn’t in school, watching tv, or asleep. Music is how he lured me in.

He was a teacher at the high school who had been sent to our junior high to teach a class there half-days. He was also a part-time deejay, doing school dances and working at the local radio station. In those days, there were a bunch of teachers who worked part-time at our radio station. It was a good side job, I guess. He was nothing special to look at; I thought he looked a little bit like a pudgy walrus. He was certainly old; I would find out that he was about 37. He was somewhat of a celebrity to those of us at the junior high level, because he was friendly and engaged us in discussions about our favorite music.  He used our slang; he was one of us. He borrowed our albums to make copies for his deejay jobs and offered to make us cassettes of different music; all we had to do was give him lists. It was all innocent enough, but there were certain ones who he seemed to pay the most attention to – all girls, now that I remember clearly – and I was his favorite. We would spend time talking, and he began to delve deeper into who I was, and what made me tick. I was flattered; no adult had ever been that interested in me, a homely, nerdy, closed-off girl with baby fat just beginning to melt off my body. I was awkward around boys and certainly around men; I had no frame of reference. You can see where this was going, can’t you? I never had a dad. He found that out, and that’s what he used to engage and reel me in. He was the perfect “father figure”.

By that summer, when I was graduating from 9th grade and getting ready to enter the high school, he extended a special invitation: I could come out to the radio station when he worked and see how things were done. I only lived a short bike ride away and as he lured me with the promise of all the different kinds of music that I could listen to out there, I was all in. After the first invitation, others followed. He taught me how to work the machines and to make mixed tapes of my own. It was amazing and wonderful there, because even though our radio station didn’t play 99% of the music they received as part of their programming, they seemed to have everything! The British New Wave movement was ramping up and I was lost in the sounds of Duran Duran, The Fixx, The Clash, and so many others. I was listening to rock and roll that just blew my mind; I was in a musical heaven out there. All the fights my mom and I were having; I had a haven to retreat to, and an adult to talk to who didn’t tell me that I needed to mind my mother. He even took my side sometimes! Oh, man…..it was soooooooo easy for him. He must have rubbed his hands together like some villain in an old movie, just exultant with the possibilities he had with a rube such as me. One afternoon, he kissed me on the cheek as I was leaving and said, “Congratulations on graduating from 9th grade.” I felt special. I felt like a dad would have done that. Not a single alert went off in my head. Not one.

As fate would have it, he had another “in” with me. His mother  and my mother had a mutual friend, and his mother was visiting that summer. The three women got together and my mother became friendly with her, too. They even had dinner at his house with his wife and kids. Oh yeah…..he had a wife and 2 kids. After that, I was asked to babysit for them, and I remember doing that once. The relationship was pretty solid by then, and he had gained the trust of my mother. He still took my side whenever there was a fight, though. Of course he did.

I will never forget the first time. It was a Saturday, and Mom and I had just had another knock-down, drag-out fight. She was threatening to send me to my aunt’s again for a week, and I was just NOT going. I sped away on my bicycle and found myself at the radio station. In between his broadcasts, he let me vent. I cried. I raged. He calmed me down. I remember it clearly: the music on the radio was Huey Lewis and the News. And then he kissed me. On the lips. I had been kissed just a couple of times by then, by a boy I was sort of dating. I didn’t even really know what a kiss was. I froze for a moment, not sure what was going on, confused and in pain and then desperately hopeful that this was some sort of mistake, just a reaction to my teenaged angst and his way of just trying to make me feel better. I drew away from him, and he apologized and said it wasn’t what he’d meant to do. I shrugged it off, a little scared, a LOT confused, and a little dazzled. This tiny part of me, deep inside, was blossoming a little. I realized that I was a girl, becoming a woman, and this man saw that, somehow. At that time, I didn’t say to myself, “This is sick, this is wrong.” I had no real frame of reference for that. I had been warned, as a young child, that there were “bad men” who would “touch young girls” but this guy was a teacher. Was my friend. Was friendly with my family. There was no way he was a bad man. It was just impossible. I decided to let it go. It was a one-off. He’d apologized. 

School started, and as the early days passed, we 10th graders began to get the lay of the land at the high school. Older kids who befriended us would teach us the things we needed to know in order to navigate the huge, mysterious and deep waters we were swimming in now. We began to hear whispering about him. He was no longer teaching part-time at the junior high now; that task had been given to the next teacher in line for that job. I would see him every day, and early on, when one of my classes were changed and I needed a study hall, I was assigned to his room. That’s when the older kids really began their talk. “Don’t be alone with him,” they would say, “He’s a perv.” When pressed for details, we were told that he had actually been “suspended” for a year because he “touched a girl;”. The stories were lurid and endless. I was able to verify that he had been “on a sabbatical” and yes, the stories linked hands with that one occasion in my mind and I began to feel a little uneasy. Could I have been wrong? Was I that gullible? My friends and I would talk about it constantly, and in the end, we decided that if he had really done something bad, the school would have never let him come back. In those days, it was more like which teacher didn’t act like a perv than did. In the following years, we would all come to realize just how true that statement was. And so life went on.

One Friday night, he was working at the radio station and he called my mother. “Why don’t you and the kids come out and I will order us some pizza and we’ll just hang out? I am so bored tonight. There’s a game broadcasting.” My mother had nothing going on that evening, which was rare, and so the three of us went out. We sat and talked for a while and then he handed her some money and asked her to go get the pizza. This was in the days before delivery. She took The Male Sibling Unit because there was always a chance of him talking while the mic was open. It was growing dark; I remember standing in the big, glass doorway, watching for them to come back as he did some top-of-the-hour news. I never heard him come up behind me. He wrapped his arms around me, touching my breasts and groaning. “You don’t know how badly I have wanted to do this,” he moaned in my ear.

Fight or flight instinct. It ran through my mind at lightning speed. If I fought, I would have to explain. If I flew, where would I go out in that dark, isolated night? I did the other “f” instead: I froze. His mouth was on my neck and he was turning me around and pulling me back away from the door and I was defenseless, scared, confused. I remember thinking, “What the hell is wrong with him?” As he tried to kiss me, I suddenly regained some fight and pushed him away. “Stop!” I cried. “Don’t do that!” He looked confused and hurt and God help me, that made me feel terrible. He said, “Please, don’t worry, okay? You can’t get pregnant. I had a vasectomy.” It was as if I was up in the air, a thousand feet high, and suddenly came crashing down to earth. I backed away, suddenly angry, and shouted, “Pregnant? Are you crazy? This is so WRONG!” I ran for the bathroom and locked myself in. He waited a few minutes, then came to the door, again with the apologies, again with the insistence that he didn’t know what had come over him. Then he played his last card: if I told my mom, it would all get really ugly and we didn’t want that to happen over a stupid mistake. I knew what he was talking about; the year before, there had been a “incident” with another teacher and a student and that student had been run right out of the school. That teacher had the school district on his side, and the support and devotion of other students. If I said anything, I would be ostracized just like her. Silently, I came out of the bathroom. I stood at the door, waiting for my mom and brother to come back. When they did, we ate pizza, me just kind of playing with a piece and then complaining that my stomach hurt; could we please go home? When we got home, I went straight to my room and put my headphones on, wishing for nothing more than to lose myself in the music.

That whole weekend, I was troubled. When Monday came, I was still feeling confused and puzzled. What was going on? I just didn’t understand. Were the stories really true? I began to watch him, how he looked at girls, how he spoke. He was very different with me, very open and casual. Part of me felt betrayed, but this other part of me, the part he groomed? I cared for him. I wanted his support and friendship. I know now that it wasn’t like being in love with him; in no way did it ever resemble that. It was an infatuation, but not with he, himself. It was with the idea that another human being, a man who was successful and had power in some ways, found me interesting. And that, right there? That was the abuse. He abused me, plain and simple, and it was going to get worse before it got better.

Two weeks later, he sexually assaulted me with his fingers. He stood, with his back to me, held me up against a wall, and put his hand down my jeans, into my underwear.  This was punishment for not helping him, the night before, at a dance he was deejaying. He had told my mother that he would bring me home after; this was the only way she was letting me go – if I had a ride home. Somehow, I felt that he intended to be alone with me, despite the fact that another girl was also getting a ride home from him. It just didn’t feel right, and I was still  so unsure of him. I bowed out and walked home, lying to my mother that he had brought me. The next day, I knew I had to make things right with him or he would tell her, and so I rode my bike out to the station to explain. I told him I had not been feeling well, and that I was sorry, but that if he told her that I had walked home, she would ground me. Shit, you’re thinking. I played right into his hands, didn’t I? would be screaming that at my 15 year-old self now, but back then, I thought I had some sort of control. It was as if all pretense flew out the window at that very moment. He knew he had me. I knew he did, too, but not in time. And so, he told me he needed something, just a very small thing, because I had really let him down. Right then I knew that the stories had been true; that he wasn’t sorry for the things he had done to me before, and that this was the only way I was getting out of there. I had to let him. He pulled my hand around in front and ground his erection against it while his other hand reached behind and penetrated me; I did not know what to do. I struggled, I cried a little bit; mostly, I stood outside of myself and let him finish. I knew that if I pretended that it was okay, I could get out of there faster. When it was done, it was as if a mask had come off his face and I saw him. I saw him. I left, and I was never alone with him again.

For about a year, well into 11th grade, he basically stalked me. He would call my house and talk to my mom, finding out where I was if I wasn’t home. She didn’t know better and would give him the telephone numbers to the places where I babysat. He would call me, and I would tell him to stop. He would drive by our apartment building, by the places I babysat. At Christmas after the assault, I tearfully tried to tell my mother what he had done. She was wrapped up in a relationship with a very toxic man who scared me, and I was trying to talk to her about it, and she sarcastically told me I could “go complain to________” about how I didn’t like her boyfriend. I lost it, tried to explain to her about what happened. In those days, I didn’t have the words, and couldn’t articulate exactly what had happened, to her. It just wasn’t something I could say to her. She got the gist, though, and blew me off. There was no way “such a good, kind man” who was “like a father to me” could ever do anything like that. I had misunderstood, she said. I was being dramatic. He was “a religious man” who didn’t see me that way.

I was completely and utterly alone. During that time, I had a couple of boyfriends who I told, although not with any detail. One was quite large and towered over him, and he confronted him in the hallway outside his room one afternoon, threatening to wring his neck if he ever came near me again. After that, the stalking, the phone calls, mostly ceased. There was an uneasy truce, with me steering clear and him not crossing any lines. 11th grade almost felt normal. Until it didn’t.

It was a Sunday night, and I was doing homework at the kitchen table. The phone rang. I answered. It was him. He was working. I don’t know why I talked to him, but maybe there was just some part of me trying to make things feel normal again. He asked what I was doing, and I explained my homework to him in a little bit of detail. I was having a problem with one aspect of it, and, like a dad, or at least like a guiding adult, he helped me to find the answer. I thanked him. Then he said, “How about coming out here and making my night exciting?” I hung up on him, my face red, my heart racing. I was angry, disappointed, and not at him. At myself, for falling for it, for being so gullible that I let him make me feel that low again, that powerless. The next day, I avoided going down the hallway where his classroom was, and ducked into other rooms if I saw him. I was in my last period class when he appeared at the door and beckoned me over. Acutely aware that my teacher was at his desk and that other kids had seen him ask me to come to the door, I had no out. I walked outside the room and stood there. “What do you want?” I asked tersely. “Why’d you hang up on me last night?” he demanded quietly. I looked him dead in the eyes. I was done. I was beyond willing to let him do this to me anymore. “I hung up on you because you cannot talk to me like that, you fucking perv!” I said, low enough to hopefully not be heard by anyone inside the room, but angrily enough to get my point across. He stepped back a little, visibly affected by my anger. “You can’t talk like that to me.” he said. “Oh, really?” I asked, sarcasm dripping from my voice. “What are you going to do? Give me detention? I bet you would just LOVE to get me alone in your room, wouldn’t you?”  His eyes grew wide. “Leave. Me. ALONE.” I said, and walked back into the room,. feeling both triumphant and terrified.

“Lori? Come see me a sec.” It was my teacher. He was sitting at his desk, intent on some papers in front of him. I was absolutely petrified. He had heard us. The jig was up. My life was over. I walked over to the desk. Without looking up at me, he asked quietly, “That guy bothering you?” His meaning was clear; the stories had not only been true, but he knew. “He-he was,” I stammered, “but I don’t think he will now.” Still not looking up at me, still writing on a piece of paper, he said, “Good. But if he does, you come to me. I will deal with him.” 

I was never harassed again. The phone calls stopped. The fear never totally went away, and of course, what happened to me affected how I saw men from the moment it happened. I think they’re all a little bit bad. I think they’re all capable of disgusting things. But not all are pedophiles, like him. Because that is exactly what he was, and what he is. The stories would emerge as the years passed; I would find out that he had been at this sort of thing when he was in his early 20s and had assaulted the daughter of his mother’s friend. There were other girls during and after me. One of them had a very angry dad who took matters into his own hands and avenged his assault on his daughter by beating the crap out of him. I wish I’d had a dad.

In the next five years after I graduated, there was an investigation into teachers being inappropriate with students in our school district. They were legion, these men, and it had been going on for years, and the school district had systematically covered it up. I had confided in another teacher, and she had given my name to the investigator. He drove to Oil City, where I was living with my fiancé, expecting my first child. He took my deposition and then told me about the others. To say that we, the students, were surrounded by predators, is an apt description, and that’s all I have to say about that. The girls, the boys. We were all at risk. At one point, there was talk of charges being pressed against my teacher, and an attorney called to speak to my mother, who now knew that she had made a terrible mistake in not believing me. My fiancé called that attorney and told him that no, I would not be testifying, that they had my deposition, and that I needed closure. I had a baby, and we had a family. He would not allow me to go through the nightmare all over again. There were threats of a subpoena, but in the end, he lost his job but left town with his pension intact.

Throughout the years, I have kept tabs on him. Why, you ask? Why not just heal? Forget the terrible things? Put him out of your mind? I would have, and could have, I guess, had it not been relayed to me that he was teaching again, in another state, at an all-girls Christian academy. To say that this distressed me was an understatement. I regretted not pointing my finger at him in court. Because he was most certainly still at it. I knew he was. He’d left, his wife at his side, to begin another cycle of sexual predatory acts upon young girls. I was wracked with guilt. When I found out he had lost that job and was back in our state, on the other side, no longer teaching, I tried to rest my mind. He wasn’t teaching. He didn’t have easy access to girls. At least there was that, right? But in this age of social media, no one is ever completely gone, and through a mutual friend, I found him again. He’s old, and time has taken its toll, but he is a beloved, Christian, upstanding figure in the community in which he resides now; a grandfather, and a pastor. Yes, he is a pastor at a church and with that, the access to youth is there again. I know him, you see. I know him. And he is most certainly thinking things, if not actually doing them. And no one is going to suspect that this grandfatherly, religious, totally cool guy is thinking about fucking their troubled 14 year-old daughter, are they? The pastor will know what to do. The pastor will help her find her way.

So this is my story. The wall is down. It explains a lot about me; my anger, my fears. Why I hate men, all men, just a tiny, suspicious, little bit. Why I have trust issues with everyone, for a dozen or more reasons.  Why, if my child ever came to me and said someone did something to her/him, I would utterly, completely, and totally believe them. Why it is an absolute miracle that I can have a healthy relationship with my husband. Why I feel guilty for not knowing that there was power in addressing my attacker years ago, before he could hurt others. I fear that many others came after me, not in this town, but in the other towns he escaped to. I fear that he is at it even now, even though he is old. Because there are a lot of girls just like my younger self; they exist in every town, in every corner of the world, just ripe for the picking by a piece of shit like him. The Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys of the world exploit boys and girls like me but the lid is thrown open and the cockroaches have been exposed to the light and it is up to us to have the power to squash them underneath our boots, as we take back our dignity, our self-respect, and lose the veil of shame that has covered us for so long.

I was innocent. He stole that from me, like a thief in the night. And he does not get to keep it. I don’t need it back, but motherfucker, you don’t get to keep it. By taking it back, I regain my power. I am no longer ashamed. I am no longer a victim. I am free.

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I’ve Seen Some Things.

I try to walk every single day. Yes, it’s good for me, gets me out of the house, and gives me at least the occasional dose of natural vitamin D. As a person who now works from home, it’s important to try and force myself to interact with other humans, lest I turn into Smeagol, the nasty little hobbit-turned-Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. I can see me, peering suspiciously out of my cracked-open front door, muttering angrily, “Peoples. We don’t likes them, do we, Precious?” It could get that bad if I allow it. No matter how badly I would like to take a flame thrower to the human race on my worst days, I nevertheless gingerly immerse myself in their presence just to remind myself that I am still “one of them” and that maybe some are bearable.

When I walk, though, I am reminded that people? Well, they just ain’t right. I encounter strange objects thrown, abandoned, carelessly cast aside, everywhere I go. Let me prove this to you, because I take photos. At first, I thought this could make a really strange, interesting coffee table book, these photos; and then I just thought nah. You’ll see why.

Yes, those are men’s skivvies. I encountered them in front of a church, which led me to post them on Facebook with what I considered to be pretty good possibilities for them being there.

When you’re walking past a church and you see that a man has apparently lost his underdrawers. Could this be a new religious movement?

“Get Naked For The Lord!”

“Moon If You Love Jesus!”

“Mother Mary Says ‘Never leave home without clean underwear!’ ”

“Shake Your Willie For the Holy Trinity!”

“Nude Christian Men For God ”

“Commando For Christ!”

I’m here all week. 😁😁😁😉

Yep…..Commando For Christ won, hands-down.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that this was, or at least had been, a plush sort of jacket. I think it may have been purple at one time, but the elements really did a number on it. Why it was just laying, discarded, on a sidewalk? I have no idea. The date I took this was September 11. Guess what? It’s still there. Way to go, City Street Department!

By now, you might be noticing a couple of trends. People in this town don’t like their underwear. They don’t like their gray underwear. They don’t like gray (looking) things in general. What’s the most natural thing to do when you don’t like something? You throw said undesirable item away!

You do not throw them out in front of a church, or in the case of this sad pair of cast-off womens’ panties, in a drugstore parking lot. There was a gray flip flop, too, but I neglected to photograph it. One. Gray. Flip flop.

I don’t know if this is better or worse. Apparently there was some sort of bondage-gone-horribly-wrong scenario with these two bungee cords. Maybe not, you say? Maybe it was just a furniture moving mishap? You’re ruining all my fun. There are scantily-clad, underwearless people running amok in this town, so obviously there must be some sick, sex slave bondage going on. Look, we just elected the first Orangutan President, so sex slave bondage with underwearless churchgoers who do their dirty stuff in the CVS parking lot is not beyond the scope, okay? And by the way? The bungee cords were ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE CHURCH. The church where the mens’ skivvies were. Conspiracy? Collusion? My mom always told me those Baptists were crazy as hell and highly suspect. Of course, we were Catholic and we all know the Catholics have nothing to brag about either, but bungee cords and discarded underwear? What do those priests wear underneath their cassocks, anyway?

This tale does have a redeeming, miraculous discovery made on one walk. This handsome man accosted me in front of the DMV, where he had been unsuccessfully lobbying for either his driver’s license, or, I suspect, a meal and a cuddle. He gratefully accepted a ride home in my arms, where he ate and drank voraciously and promptly fell asleep. I advertised him, hoping that such a beautiful boy could not have just been discarded, like those dirty, gray underwear. After two days of no response to my feelers, he told me his name (they all do; you just have to listen hard and be able to hear them) and Viscount Angus Martin became a cherished, spoiled member of our family. He IS our royalty, as befitting his name.

Walks. You see the unexpected, the dirty underbelly of the world sometimes. You see bad behavior and things that defy explanation. Usually, you return home, grateful for the ability to shut the insanity out.

And some times you encounter exactly what the Universe needs you to see.