Trying to figure out where I should even start today. That’s the issue. I can talk for five pages if I have something to talk *about,* but when it’s just a regular rainy day in H-town, I think “maybe I should go watch TV.” I have no energy for writing when it’s rainy. I’m all like, “you mean I have to talk to people?”

Yes, yes you do. This blog does not write itself. But oh, how I wish it would.

This is the first week I’ve been in Houston where I haven’t constantly been thinking about “her.” I don’t use her real name to limit the damage to the people who already know the situation and both of us. I am trying to drop this story line completely, as if I can just move on to a different show or channel. However, there are days when I just feel guilt and pain, one of those shallower wells of emotional injury that I talked about in Death and Loss. The bruise is healing, but that doesn’t mean that when I accidentally hit it on a table, it doesn’t smart.

Usually, the table represents a church. It doesn’t matter which one. When I walk into a church, I can hear her voice as clearly as I could the first day I met her. It feels so strange to be without her that I will myself to concentrate on something else. She used to put her elbow on my shoulder and lean into her hand, and if I sit just right, I remember how it felt. I remember that she sang beautifully but could never remember the words to anything. If she didn’t know a hymn, she’d just make it up. Who would know the difference? Barely anybody, but I’d laugh to myself. I also knew that even if she didn’t hit the very top notes, she’d just say she did. No one noticed that, either, but it made me cackle. Focus on something else… focus on something else…

But in a church, there is no something else to focus on… just an ever-present reminder of how it began and how it came to an end. I had to start my own church just to reinvent and re-frame my beliefs. For me, church is in the middle of the backyard, with no music at all. It’s a Quaker Meeting and I’m the only attendee. Sometimes, I’m not there, and the squirrels just forgive me.

The squirrels have to forgive me for a lot, but they’re far less judgmental than a Vestry and I don’t have to attend any committee meetings. So, all in all, a plus.

Advice

I have stopped giving people advice unless they ask for it… and, in fact, when people come to me for that ear to listen, that’s exactly what I do. Before I respond, I actually say, “do you want my opinion, or do you just want to vent?” I do not get offended when people say “I just want to vent,” because sometimes the best advice comes from not saying anything at all. By saying nothing, you are just agreeing to be that sounding board for someone while they work out their problems on their own. It’s magnificent because they’ll still thank you for “helping them,” even though all you did was sit there.

The change has come from the extraordinary amount of time I’ve spent sitting by myself, letting the air around me support my deepest thoughts. If you sit long enough, the answers will come. It is excruciating at times, because you’ll get impatient and want an answer RIGHT NOW… but maybe a problem doesn’t need one hour of sitting there. Maybe it needs ten. Maybe it needs ten months. Only you can decide that, but if you let your impatience take away your serenity, you will still be in the same place you were when you started.

It’s like when I start a movie and I’m already tired. I fall asleep before the end, and then I feel like I have to watch it from the beginning so that I can actually understand it. Believe it or not, that movie for me is Return of the Jedi. I saw it in the theater when I was five, but the only thing I remember about it is the scene with the Ewok battle. As an adult, I fall asleep every time they come on the screen.

Dana didn’t know this about me, and about eight years ago we were hiking to Angel’s Rest (in the Columbia River Gorge) and talking when she said, “it’s like that scene where Yoda dies.” I said, “YODA DIES?!?!?!?!?!?!??!” and promptly fell into a bush. Seriously. No preparing for the fall, just outright ass over teakettle.

I didn’t sit until the end. I didn’t finish the story.

When you spend time alone, you are finishing your story. The things that happen to you are the rough draft. Thinking about it is crafting the edges, making the changes, taking the behaviors you wish you could retract and thinking of ways to correct them.

Giving someone advice is robbing them of the chance to finish their own stories. Not only that, if they try what worked for you and it doesn’t work for them, now you’re up for the shitty friend award without even knowing it.

Avoid winning the shitty friend award. I have come in first place a few times in my life, and it’s just not enjoyable.

However, there are those times when you wish you could give advice because you care so much about the person that needs it. Think those things in your head. In fact, think them all you want… but you’re better off giving pseudo-advice out loud. By pseudo-advice, I mean things like:

  • If you just sit there long enough, the answers will come.
  • Take care of yourself- you’d be surprised at how much a bubble bath helps.
  • Do you ever just walk, with no particular destination?
  • Have you read any good books lately?

These are the things that people remember as helpful without giving you the chance to be right or wrong… because the truth is, your story is your own.

You crafted it yourself.

Hitting the Tape

Oh, so this is what it feels like to have a body again. I feel strong, stronger than I have in ten years, and I think it has a lot to do with forcing myself to sit outside. My Vitamin D level was so low in Portland that it made my bones go soft, and any depression that I felt ranged from “I’m a little under the weather” to “I just want the pain to stop.”

When I got to “I just want the pain to stop,” I knew it was time to come home. I had fallen too far to help myself up, and I did not expect my friends to shoulder the burden of being untrained therapists. Besides, it wasn’t my friends that gave me problems. It was the woman that abused me when I was a kid and refused to face the music when I grew up. I flat-out ignored her behavior until my dreams became so terrifying that I would wake myself up… a repeat of what happened when I was little, but something that I hadn’t thought of since then.

The mark of an excellent abuser is the absolute denial that they’ve ever done anything wrong. I screamed into a black hole of seeming indifference until I thought I would die from emotional laryngitis. I am bipolar and I take medication for it every day. When I take my medication every day, the chemical imbalance goes away and therefore, I have the diagnosis, but not the behavior.

Instead of taking that into account, my mental health provided her with a fountain of reasons why she couldn’t possibly be held accountable for my pain; I mean, obviously. I’m just a crazy woman.

A crazy woman whose crazy started when we met. I didn’t know how to handle what she was telling me, and I didn’t have anyone to tell about our conversations because they were a secret. She had the audacity to tell me that her life was an open book, and even then it was insincere. Even when I was young, I learned how to turn the pages. I learned how to evoke reactions, and how to keep her from reacting at all. It was a game. It always had been… and not only that, it was rigged so my only choice was to resign.

The analogy of “an open book” is apt, because for my fourteenth birthday, she gave me her college journal. I read about everything college kids do, including sexually.

Learning to break the cycle of emotional abuse was to entertain that she knew what she was doing when she gave it to me. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Other people were so worried about me that they tried to get me away from her, but it didn’t help. Because she was a lesbian, I thought they were just prejudiced and I willingly drowned in quicksand. There was nothing on earth that could get me to walk away.

She had me, and she knew it. For the next quarter century, our relationship looked like a game of tug o’war. I would run toward her wholeheartedly, and then she would emotionally shut down. I would try to run away, and she would bring me back in. At no time were we ever equals, but there was a lot of lip service that I was. In fact, what broke me was her insistence that I couldn’t, wouldn’t grow up and act like her equal… but there was no set of instructions, and even if there had been, the rules would have been changed daily just to make me feel even more worthless than I already did.

…because if I felt worthless, I wouldn’t leave. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength, because I knew that her Siren call would be ever-present in my life unless I drove my own ship into the rocks. Getting out of this situation has been the best thing I’ve ever done, because what I had to realize is that I grew, but she didn’t grow with me. She tried to keep me in that one-down position, had to feel like she was in control, because when she wasn’t, she felt powerless and railed against it. It was all or nothing, with no happy medium.

I’ve done this before. I’ve walked away before. Like many, many abused women, I was foolish enough to think that if a little bit of time passed, that I could go back… in reality, it was just more of the same, except that it got worse and worse. Selective memory took over so that not only was I crazy, I had made the whole thing up.

Because that’s how you treat people when you’re running away from yourself. I know it because I’m so good at running away now. The blessing that has come out of running away this time (and hopefully, the last) is that I’ve finally hit the finish line. All that’s left is the victory celebration, but a very quiet one.

There are good memories, too, and I’m sorry that there won’t be new ones. So I grieve that part. I grieve the loss of a future that won’t happen…

As I sit in the backyard with strong bones and a healthy mind and a zeal for whatever is next. Dana and I are starting to ask the big questions, and it’s fun receiving the big answers. Before, they didn’t have a wide enough road to drive through. Now I’m installing a highway.

Buccee’s and I are in negotiation.

Adorning the White Hat

Today has been a relatively busy day, and it’s nice to have a chance to relax. It’s just you and me and a bottle makes three (of delicious Coke Zero). I’m sitting in a very expensive black chair that I wish came with a matching ottoman. But hey, you can’t have everything you want in life. I have a team lead and a boss that like me. Ottomans are optional.

I found out that we have all the study materials available for the GCIA in our Security Center wiki, which is nice because I hear they’re very expensive to buy. It’s my first certification, so I am very excited about it. I’m not degreed in anything. I’ve never done anything academically with computers. I’m completely self-taught. My philosophy is that if you’re going to go into computers, just do it. Skip college. This is not because I hate college or anything. If you go, study something you’re just interested in, as opposed to it being a ticket to somewhere else. The reason a computer degree will not help you with jack or shit is that by the time the textbook is printed, your course material is already out of date. Things change too fast to wait for a textbook cycle.

However, this is not to say that my life has been easy being trained on the job. In a lot of ways, you’re on your own, kid. Go to college if you need to be taught something, because on the job, you’re the teacher. You have to be self-driven and completely willing to pore through thousands of pages of documentation… that’s usually hastily written and most likely incorrect because what’s in there is two versions ago. You’ll have to dig down into applications trying to break them, because it’s better for you to break them than to release something that’s customer-facing and just can’t hang (as is so prevalent in our news media right now…).

Learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, because the money’s not in desktop support. The money is in being able to build things, and alternatively, learning to tear them down. Threat analysis will start with me learning to crack my little ass off, because if I know enough to hack into a mainframe, I know enough to learn how to block it.

It brings morality into the light, but thankfully, I’ve already answered that question. When I lived in Portland, one of my neighbors was a high-level Black Hat, the kind where the FBI knows who you are. If I’d ever wanted to destroy anyone, anywhere, all it would have taken is a cold beer for bribery. And by destroy, I mean obliterate. Wouldn’t be able to walk across the street without getting picked up by the police and bank accounts suddenly on empty.

I learned what kind of person I am.

I am the kind of person that is capable of learning how to destroy so that safety and security can rise from the ash.

Which is interesting, because that’s exactly the path I’m walking in my personal life as well.

Amen.

Piano Etudes in the Break Room

I am sitting at lunch with my trusty laptop, earphones in and classical music blaring. First, it was O, Silver Moon by Antonin Dvorak. Now, it’s Petite Piece Concertante, by Guillaume Balay. Next, perhaps a little Bach Goldberg Variations or Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim. I love anything that connects me to my past, or makes me dream of the future. For that, I count on Hindemith, Ives, Cage, and Glass. I also (obviously) have a tremendous crush on trumpet virtuoso Alison Balsom. I listen to her, and I think, “if I’d only practiced a little more.” And then i think, “I will never be a leggy blonde.”

I was wrong. The next one is Procession of the Nobles by Rimsky-Korsakov. This is one of my favorite pieces of all time, because from the time I was little, my grandfather would play me the record of it in which my father was the star. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this or not, but my dad made all-state band three years running, and his senior year, he was the best trumpet player in the entire state of Texas. He got 26 scholarships, including one to tour Russia with Frederick Fennell.

I can’t even find my car when I park at the mall.

And now we’ve arrived at the first movement of the Hummel Trumpet Concerto, one of my favorite pieces to play of all time. It’s not that hard, and sounds so much more impressive than it is. I’ll have to dig out my copy and see if my mom will help me make a video. Did I mention that my mom is an accompanist?

Boy, did I get lucky.

My mom is not a pianist. She’s an accompanist, and it takes a musician to know the difference. You know, the kind of piano player that will catch your ass when you’ve accidentally skipped a measure? She’s worth her weight in platinum.

And on that note, I have to go back to work.

Oh, wait! One more thing! I had my first review today and I’m doing great. They asked me what career track I wanted to take, so I said that I wanted to do threat analysis so that I can make Linux Ninja my official job title. They said yes. I have to start studying for the GCIA immediately, which is good because in three weeks, I’m moving to nights. I can spend literally nine hours studying at a clip.

It’s a great day to be me, y’all. You just don’t even know.

Backyard O’Clock, Beer Thirty & Grief Forty Five

Dana and I have a huge back yard. It is so lovely that I rarely want to come inside. Living in Portland, Oregon for so long has made me realize that the thing Houston has going for it is that I can be outside, most of the time in short sleeves, in October… so that’s what I do. I sit on the back porch, drink beer, and reflect on how lucky I am that when I said I wanted to rent a house, it turned out to be this one.

In this back yard, I sit and try to understand my grief. I watch birds, squirrels, bats, and toads… wondering if I sit here long enough, will the pain ever go away? My instinct is no. It will ebb and flow, but never disappear. She will never disappear. It is losing a parent, a sibling, a limb. It will be a lifetime of phantom pain. My saving grace is that every time it aches, it aches a little less than it did the day before.

But it still hurts every day.

Every. Day.

Yesterday, a dragonfly landed on the arm of my patio chair, and I sat and talked with it, as if it could take my messages of love and care with it and land on your patio chair, too…

They’re messages of love and care that no one else wants me to send, because they know, looking from the outside, that I am only hurting myself because even if they showed up, they would go unanswered. To me, your reaction is not the point. I am saving myself one day at a time because if I can send you messages of love and care, I am not bothering to be angry anymore. I am not wasting this one “wild and precious life” by dealing in rage to which I am certainly entitled but do not care to entertain.

This space I have to write and reflect and hear others’ opinions is enough. People that comment rarely have any idea who I am, who you are, who we were to each other… as if even we know. I wonder what it feels like to look at us from the outside, wonder about the pain I’ve put Dana through and hope that I am not hurting her by letting her share in our stories. The cruel truth is that our stories hurt. Of course I’ve hurt Dana. Of course I have. You cannot listen to me tell them without seeing my vibrations of pain. I am enormously lucky that Dana agreed to take it on when she married me, and to this day listens even when I know that the story is getting repetitive.

Now I’m getting to the place where I wish I could tell myself to snap out of it. I want to be over it. I want to be out of it. I work hard every day to focus my attention away from my grief and it works but only so much. I have to force myself into distraction, because when I don’t, I end up like this. Sitting in the back yard on a beautiful day engrossed in how much I hurt instead of how much awe there is in the glistening piece of spider web next to me.

I have a stack of pickle salt envelopes in my car. I’ve meant to send them since July. 

Singin’ in the Grave

Wortham Center has to be one of my favorite places on earth. The first summer that I lived in Houston, I had a friend who was in the adult chorus, and my sister was in the children’s chorus a summer or so later. I spent those years as a brooding Salieri, because I wanted to sing opera and they were the ones actually doing it.

So when the opera season last night opened with The Star Spangled Banner, I couldn’t help myself. Even though I was in the audience, people for three rows were turning around to look because they thought that I was a plant and that somehow the show was supposed to start in Orchestra C. Dana just looked at me like, “stop this right now or I may be forced to kill you.” The music stops and I look over at her… “I’m not a whore. I didn’t take the high B flat. Besides, when am I going to get these kind of acoustics again? Besides, I have to let Theresa know I’m here.”
Dana rubbed her ear. “I think she does!”The only thing I didn’t do, and I now see this as a flaw in my character, is yell “PLAY BALL!” at the end.

And in an instant, I am done being funny and the overture starts and I am right back in that place. The emotional place where all of this is so familiar. The seats that scratched my butt 25 years ago still do today. After about half an hour, my lower back went completely numb and I thought to myself, “some things just never change.”

The curtain goes up and the sets are kind of weird. Cool, but weird. There’s a certain whimsy to it all, as if the backdrop has been illustrated by the same guy that did “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” The magic of opera has begun. I am completely enchanted.Of everyone, I am most impressed with the guy that played Aida’s father. I do not think that he necessarily had the most difficult role, but his voice was outstanding.

The role of Amneris was filled by an appropriately bitter mezzo, complete with claw hand gestures, and by far a better voice than the woman who played the title role.It wasn’t like she missed any notes or anything, and in fact, had some beautifully lyric lines. It was just that the mezzo had more depth and breadth to her voice… so many more colors and emotions that she managed to paint violently across the canvas. I watch Scandal on ABC, and I had to blink to remind myself that I was not watching First Lady Mellie Grant. The languages were different, but the context was the same. “I have to scream at the top of my lungs that I am in love with a man who does not love me and I am very very upset about it! In fact, I am so upset about it that I have to manufacture a scenario in which I can rub my competitor’s face in the dirt for the fulfillment of my own dark and twisted fantasies! And as a bonus, all of the people here tonight can watch!”

In the opera world, that never works. True love will end with two people declaring their undying love for each other by singing and lighting candles in a tomb with no air.