A Letter to Bryn on Her Birthday

Dear Bryn,

It’s been a trip around the sun of gargantuan proportions. So many ups, so many downs, and through it all we’ve maintained our senses of humor. Well, most of the time, anyway. Some shit hasย just been sad. We’ve walked this path together, forged when we were infants in emotional growth and are starting to feel ten feet tall and bulletproof because when we talk, we realize that we aren’t alone. Have never been alone. We’ve had each other.

I miss the days of sitting on your back porch, watching the dogs play as we delve deeper and deeper into conversation. I miss hugs that were designed to last one second longer, because we’d just emptied our souls and needed to lean in and hold on. I love that we’ve been able to keep up our long friend-love affair by having text. I thought I was an intense personality that would never find someone with whom to roam the earth, because as I get deeper in conversation, people tend to say, “whoa. I’m out.” It was a relief to meet my match… someone not afraid of introspection and hearing others process theirs.

In my personality type profile (INFJ, sometimes P when I’m not feeling like a “judgmental dickhead“), it mentions that in my life, I will cultivate deep relationships with very few people, and hold on to them… rather than having a bunch of friends I know to varying degrees. Thank you for being one of those people. I look forward to the day when I can walk with you around the streets of DC, pointing out cool stuff and saying, “ok, this is fantastic, but let me show you THIS!” Most notably, I want to take you to the zoo. It’s amazing how much inspiration I get from sitting with my laptop or my tablet and just writing in front of the giraffes. Plus, the zoo is within a park, so make sure to point out beautiful joggers. ๐Ÿ˜›

It would also be fun to go dancing again. That was one of the best nights I’ve ever had in Portland, even though that’s usually not my scene. Let’s hit up somewhere cool (I’d have to ask around, because again, usually not my scene) and take shots of Red Bull. Wired for sound to make the evening last as long as possible.

I just wanted to tell you how much you mean to me, because I figure it’s the best birthday present I have to offer. I figure that in my writing, what I can offer you is my heart. Thank you for taking such good care of it.

Happy birthday, love. I hope you get lots of presents.

Always (and I mean ALWAYS),

Leslie

The 80% of Us

I had to walk to the 7-Eleven because I’d run out of necessities like hot dog buns. While I was walking, I was listening to an episode of The Diane Rehm Show that featured Sherry Turkle, an expert on digital education and how technology is changing the population in general. I know for sure it changed my relationship with Dana, Argo, and Aaron… all in different ways.

With Dana, there was the obvious “we both check out on our phones when we’re doing nearly anything.” In fact, I would say that our entire relationship changed when Dana got an iPhone, because then both of us were using our phones as our computers, and therefore, it changed our interactions with each other. There were times when we’d instant message in the same house, and that’s not weird. Studies show that it happens to families all over the world, not just ours. When she had a “dumb phone,” she pulled me away from my electronics. It wasn’t her responsibility to do so, but she did… and I did not know how grateful to be for that until tonight. When we both took time out to look things up, something else would grab our attention, and whatever we’d been talking about would be lost. It also made it much easier for us to be wrong or right in an argument about a fact, because instead of just talking about it, we’d Google the answer. We are both trivia nerds, so it was not unusual for us to get in minor scrapes over when the elevator was invented, or whether Cezanne or Gougin painted a particular painting, or what the fuck ever. Even if I knew the answer cold, even based on past conversations I’d had with her, Dana would still take out her phone and look it up. When I was right, she was never as happy as when I was wrong. I’m not the best loser, but I always tried to pretend it didn’t matter to me as not to up the ante….

But it did. Technology changed our relationship for both better and worse, because there were times when I genuinely wanted to look things up as well… we’d sit next to each other and share the screen, both interested in reading the Wikipedia article. That was when technology was an amazing help. Other times, I wanted to talk to connect with her, and stopping to look something up provided what I now believe was an unnecessary distraction.

I will say for the record that she comes by it honestly. I got in a scrape with her dad over whether you could check in at an airline with an iPhone, and I said you could. When he verbally wrestled me to the ground, I printed out an article showing him you could. He still said I was wrong because you couldn’t check in the entire party on one phone. Bambergers do not like to be wrong, so perhaps that was a piece of wisdom I missed in all of Dana’s fact-checking. It’s in her DNA.

Yet another place where I could have been more giving and just let things slide. The thing is, though, because we could see each other, there was also a lot of hugging, kissing, jokes, and laughter.

With Argo, I learned from this podcast that only 20% of communication is verbal, and some studies push it down to 7%. So to say that we knew each other was relative. I know I made the mistake of thinking I knew her better than I did, and I would say the same of her. Our ideas of each other’s personalities were skewed by quite a bit because we never saw each other in the context of facial expressions, tones in our voices, etc. I realized that in a lot of our e-mails, I was inferring her tone rather than knowing it, and that piece made all the difference. Maybe if I could have heard her tone of voice in her writing, I would have said a lot of things differently, gave a lot more when I saw she was upset, etc. I also know that it’s a lot easier to reveal things about yourself that you wouldn’t say if someone was sitting right in front of you, so there’s that.

Actions and reactions on paper are totally different than in person… and totally different than on the phone. There are so many levels to communication that it was a mistake to limit ourselves to only one. My words hurt her, and I couldn’t see it. Her words hurt me, and she couldn’t see it. There was no way to just chill. There was no way to see tears and respond to them. There was no way to know whether we were joking or serious without a fuckton of emoticons. In a way, it was a great release to be able to send my words out into the ether, but when my words didn’t engender the response I thought they would, there was no way for us to look at each other and come to complete resolution. The part that I *do* know about Argo is that she is the most hilarious person I’ve ever met in my life, but it’s a hard road back to hilarity when talking about something serious in only black and white. She entered my life as a “Fanagan,” so in effect, the thing that drew her to me became something she despised.

But it’s ok. She only knew 20% of me, and I only knew 20% of her. Who knows what would have happened had we known the other 80%? I don’t know whether it would be better or worse, but I do know that it would be different.

With Aaron, it’s an interesting dichotomy. We have known each other in a friend-intimate way. He knows he can have whatever he wants out of my fridge, and I know that both of us feel a real loss in terms of “going nowhere with you.” We called it “running Aarons.” However, now that we’re in different cities, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve talked on the phone. Now our relationship is much more like the one I had with Argo, checking in with each other online all the time… the difference being that I’ve been around him long enough that most of the time, when I infer his tone, it’s correct, because I’ve been there day in and day out to know how he would say something and sometimes, why he would say it. At the same time, though, I don’t know how he has grown in the time that I’ve left, and I have to make room for it. So maybe I know 40% of him. 60% on a good day. ๐Ÿ˜›

As for me, I have gotten the strange telephobia that’s sweeping the nation. With me, I want to see you in person, or I want to write to you. That middle ground, for some reason, has become lost to me. When I was younger, I could spend hours on the phone. Now, a phone call makes me sweat. It’s common knowledge that getting over a fear is tackling it head-on, so perhaps being single right now is better for me because I don’t get to bargain with Dana over whether she’ll call for me or not. I don’t have a choice whether to face my fear. I just have to muscle through it, along with a lot of other people.

And in all of this, my only question is whether we are creating new forms of dialogue, or destroying something that can’t be replaced. Sometimes people need to hear my voice. Sometimes people need to be able to hug me. Sometimes, there need to be conversations that cannot be interrupted because someone liked my status.

I’d continue this entry, but my phone just went off. I hope it’s a letter, but it’s probably just spam. It doesn’t matter. You know I’m going to look anyway.

A Guy’s Guy

I’ve never lived with a real guy before. With Grant, he was a metrosexual, so his beauty products were equal to mine. He cleaned up after himself, and never let the bathroom get real. You know what I mean. He might have left the kitchen a wreck most days, but the bathroom was his sanctuary just as much as mine.

Duncan is one of those men that has never heard of Comet, leaves his dirty shorts hanging in the bathroom to dry on the back of the door, and tends to make yellow stains on the toilet that I clean up, not because he’s lazy, but because it would never occur to him that was a problem. He just doesn’t notice.

Because a) we’re not married and 2) I believe in equality, I don’t care whether the toilet seat is up or down. I figure that he shouldn’t have to remember to put the toilet seat down for me because I don’t have to remember to leave the seat up for him. Where it is is just where it is, you know? However, it would be nice that whether the seat is up or down, it’s clean.

My room looks somewhat akin to the CIA or the FBI thinking that I have papers hidden somewhere that they have to find by turning everything upside down. It’s not necessarily unclean, just unkempt. If I had a guest coming over, I could get it spotless in less than 15 minutes. I need to put the clothes in the hamper and take down the recycling, but other than that, I’m golden. I’m trying to keep everything in some semblence of order because my therapist says it will help, and I’m willing to try anything. I wish I could get back the “anal Annie” attitude I developed in my Portland apartment, but apparently that OCD was short-lived, probably because it was tied to that time in my life, and that time in my life is never coming back, either.

My point is this. As long as I take my dishes downstairs so that I don’t get bugs or mold, I could give a shit what my room looks like. Sometimes my crazy spatter is heavier than others. But I would never in a million gazillion years let that spill over into a common area of the house. My space is my space. Our space is our space, and never the twain shall meet.

I have always had this attitude in group houses, and it has served me well. Duncan is thisclose to getting a reprimand from Hayat, because I’m not going to confront Duncan. Hayat can be “the heavy” a lot better than I can. She is a ball-breaking tornado in a tiny body, and I just love watching her do it. 

It’s kind of a spectator sport. 

When she’s on the telephone, I pretend not to listen so that I get to hear her order people around at work. She is very, very good at what she does, although privately I call her “Chandler,” because I’ve lived here since April and I still don’t know what that is exactly. It has to do with spreadsheets.

I should have taken a picture of the bathroom before I cleaned it. Hindsight is 20/20. All I’ll really have to say is “yellow stains” and she’ll get the picture. Duncan is an attorney who is trying to get into the CIA (really) and always studying for some kind of exam. I’m not sure what that exam entails, because I thought that if intelligence wanted you, you’d know it.

I have a CIA baseball cap that my dad bought for me at a tourist shop, and it gives me no small amount of pleasure to fuck with people about it. I mean, come on. If you’re actually in the CIA, why in the everliving hell would you advertise that fact? Apparently, some people don’t know that.

This one lady said, “are you really in the CIA?” I said, “yes. In fact, it was really easy. I just took a Blockbuster Video application and crossed out ‘Blockbuster Video’ and wrote in ‘CIA’ at the top in crayon, dropped it in the mail, and ‘voila!’ I can’t take credit for that Blockbuster Video line.  James came up with it in high school when one of our friends wanted to be in the FBI. But it’s a good joke, so I lifted it for my own amusement.

The woman looked at me wide-eyed, like she couldn’t tell whether I was kidding or not and just walked off. I just thought to myself, “…aaaaaaand, my work here is done.”

My next touristy purchase is going to be the t-shirt that says, “NSA: The Only Agency That Cares Enough to Listen.”

In case you’re wondering, the crayon was “Burnt Sienna.” I don’t think they would have taken me if it had been “Cerulean.” Although, you are totally screwed if you want to join the CIA, because Blockbuster Video closed all their stores, and Best Buy just won’t cut it.

Good luck, Duncan.  Maybe I’ll lend you my hat if you’ll clean the fucking bathroom.

It’s Gettin’ Portland Up in This Bitch

The high today is supposed to be 52 degrees. Right now it is 48 and partly cloudy. My body is saying, “I remember this.” Right now I am wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, an oxford, my hoodie, jeans, and two pairs of socks (one of them being thick and woolly). If need be, I have a down jacket to put on top of all my layers, but I doubt I will, because within five minutes of walking, I’m ready to take it off, anyway. When I’m walking, I rarely need a coat because the movement in itself creates enough body heat to keep my inner layers warm. When my mother gave me a Macy’s gift card, I splurged on a Ralph Lauren double-weight hoodie, and I am not sure I have taken it off since she bought it for me because Samantha likes to keep the air conditioning (as I have said before) somewhere between low-boy and walk-in. If you do not know what those are, you’ve never worked in a restaurant. A low-boy is a refrigerator under the prep area. A walk-in is a freezer as big as a dorm room. Needless to say, wearing layers has come in handy since April, and especially handy since August. I am slowly re-acclimating to the cold, and I cannot say it is not welcome.

One of the reasons I stayed in Portland so long was the cold. I do not like the humid heat of Houston, and I love fall clothes and being bundled up like a walking sheet set with comforter. In Maryland, we get our fair share of hot weather, but it doesn’t last as long… another plus being that when it is cold, the sun still shines, so my Vitamin D level doesn’t plummet into nothing. Once I came home from Portland and Angela (my doctor stepmother) ran a set of bloods on me and a few days later, I got a phone call:

Angela: Congratulations! You have the lowest Vitamin D level in the history of my entire practice!
Leslie: I’d like to thank location, location, location. What do I win? An Amana side by side refrigerator/freezer?

My Vitamin D level was six, and normal is somewhere between 20 and 50. I took the pills religiously, but they didn’t work for me. Apparently, what I needed was natural sunshine. When Dana and I moved to Houston in 2013, I sat outside in the backyard and drank water no matter how hot it was. I would sit there for at least an hour a day, and not only did I get a farmer’s tan, I started to feel better, less depressed even, within a week or so. Since it worked, it only encouraged me to sit out there and sweat some more. I made friends. There was Clarence, the toad that lived under the house, an abundance of squirrels, and a bat I named “Batly” after the clumsy character with huge glasses on Eureeka’s Castle, but Dana preferred “Batholomew.”

In the cold of Maryland, it feels right. Sunshine and warm clothes together, with an equal amount of squirrels, cardinals, blue jays, orioles, and hummingbirds. We also have the occasional rabbit, because we Nassers (me being the adopted one) will feed everyone. We’ve got a “squirrel feeder” because the other Nassers will not take my advice about how to keep them out of the bird feeder (toss the birdseed in chili oil, because mammals can taste heat and birds can’t). We put peanuts all over the yard. We even have the occasional bee, which pleases me to no end. I stay away from them because I am allergic, but nothing makes me happier than the fact that they can feed themselves in our yard.

As a former line cook, the fact that bees are dying in large quantities is enough to get me to break into tears, but that’s an entry unto itself. We’ll talk about that another time.

Just now, as I’ve been writing this, the clouds have drifted away and it is truly sunny. It’s still 48 degrees, but the neighborhood looks so pretty bathed in sunlight.

I wish we’d had that weather yesterday, because I went with a group from church out to our retreat house in West Virginia. People were hiking the hills and taking hay rides, which sounded awesome in theory and terrible in practice. I spent most of my day huddled by the campfire, because even though I was warm enough12079716_10153562371040272_5781095409101176503_n without my down jacket, I forgot to bring gloves. Gloves would have made all the difference, because even when I put my hands in my pockets, it wasn’t enough to keep me from shivering violently. I sat there most of the day, trying to remember everything Matt, Ned, and Dana had ever shown me about making a fire. I did pretty well, actually, and kept us going with monstrous heat in the middle of a misty Portland-like day. Everything was beautiful, with the leaves turning and the grass so green that I couldn’t believe the picture I’d taken. There was no correction at all, and the grass popped out at me. In the photo, I am standing in front of the retreat house, looking out toward the entrance and exit road. I wish I’d taken more pictures, but I got a great shot, and I figured, “let’s quit while we’re ahead.” The rest of the shots I could have gotten included things like cars, orange cones, etc. I wanted the shots I got to be pure, and completely free of anything modern. I wouldn’t have liked any of the shots I’d gotten if I’d had to spend time editing out pickup trucks, and I don’t think you would’ve, either. I tend to spend too much time on editing photos, and would rather concentrate on my eye for photography so that editing doesn’t really need to happen in the first place.

I think it would be a great place to take the youth group on retreat, but the house needs to be brought up to code in order to let the kids sleep there. It might be a project the youth might think about taking on, especially if we have some Eagle Scouts able to supervise. I sincerely believe that Eagle Scouts can do anything. It might be a good conversation to have with Rev. Susannah, who is the woman that actually got the job as the youth director at CCC. I am looking forward to working with her, because as I have said before, all of this is preparing me to fly solo. Learning how to manage a youth group, I believe, is the best step you can take before becoming a senior pastor, because nine times out of ten, you don’t get people to come to your church by adults randomly showing up. The kids hear about the youth groups their friends attend, and that, in turn, brings their parents into the fold. It works the same with young kids’ Christian Education, although in our church, that’s a completely different department, led by Rev. Audrey. I firmly believe anything we can do to get more kids active in our children and youth programs is a good thing, because our congregation is getting older. New lifeblood is coming in, but it would be great to see the rate progress, and I believe it will. There are so many ways for people to plug in, especially kids. Everything from Sunday School to string orchestra.

This church is so amazing that I can’t help but gush about it…… while I wrap up in my layers and try to recreate the acclimatization I had to Portland cold way back when….. but at least my Vitamin D level is normal. ๐Ÿ˜‰

It’s a New Thing I’m Trying Out

Compromise is so hard, because it has to mean that the other person is listening… and you can’t make them. You can’t make anybody do anything, but in a relationship, it’s hard to convey needs and have the other person adjust their behavior. I am not speaking to anyone directly, just focusing on the weakness in myself. I have a hard time with not winning, even when it’s not a competition. If I knew the answer as to how to fix it, I would probably still be married. I would have made a great lawyer, because I will argue a point until you agree with me whether you want to or not. I have heard over and over in my life, “I just can’t win with you.” Sometimes, that’s true. I am so verbally flexible that few people have the chutzpah to stay with me all the way to the end of an argument, because even without meaning to, I am exhausting.

I want to examine every detail, every aspect, every feeling, every behavior. Most people don’t want to go that deep, and usually my response to “I can’t win with you” is, “yes. You can. We’re just not done yet.” It’s like there’s two sides to a coin in my brain. I want to “win” the argument, and at the same time, to me, a win doesn’t mean I am victorious. It means that we talked through it all the way to the end. I am so much more willing to give when I understand the problem, and it takes me a Sherlock Holmes amount of information before I can make a decision- the exception being that I can’t deduce as fast as he can, so arguments take me a lot of time to process. I want to get all the way inside your brain, know everything you think about a situation. Most people don’t have that kind of endurance emotionally, and to me, “I can’t win with you” is just throwing up their hands in exhaustion and walking off to end the argument so that I don’t have a complete picture with which to ponder.

One of my favorite lines in an argument is “stay with me, Jimbo.” I ask deep, probing questions that most people don’t answer because they don’t know the answer themselves. They don’t know themselves that well, so how could they possibly tell me? It causes frustration because they’re not going as deep as I am. Very few people can. As an INFJ, I am introspective to a fault. If you ask me something about myself, I’ve probably already thought about it. In fact, I like it when people ask me those questions, because I am bad at small talk because I don’t care.

I don’t want to talk about trivial things. I want to talk about big ideas rather than small ones… even in arguments. I want to break us both open like coconuts so that we can get to that vulnerable place of what’s really wrong, instead of the thing you’re actually telling me. I can see behind the mask. Arguments are never about small things. The small things cover up the big things, and I will probe until I find it.

I am also not very good at having my feelings invalidated, the source of just about every bit of anger I’ve ever had in an argument. If I bring up something that’s bothering me and the response is something akin to “it’s all in your head,” it brings up a lot of childhood stuff that still makes me angry and I get enraged to the point where I’m not even fighting with you anymore. I’m fighting with me and the ghosts in my head. I don’t need people to say that I’m right, only that my reality is my reality. That how I view things is important because logic and emotion are not the same, just like science and religion. Just because you don’t feel the same things I feel doesn’t mean that my feelings are wrong or bad- just different. I would much rather have someone say to me that they disagree with my assessment, but they heard me, and better yet, heard something that resonated with them even if they didn’t agree with everything.

I hear truth even when I’m angry, and hearing truth is the easiest way for me to calm myself. My whole body will relax when we reach a point of connection, an aha! moment where we both feel the same way. Sometimes that takes more than a few minutes to achieve.

I am many things, but able to work in soundbites is not one of them. Sometimes, my questions are repetitive because I want to go back to something we talked about earlier and I don’t remember what you said, but I remember how I felt when you said it and I want to go back there and explore it again because there was something I was going to say and we moved on before I could respond.

It’s tiresome, but worth it to me when I grok a situation rather than just skimming the surface. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t want to be a Southerner anymore- the type person that covers up the deep and dark with a lot of cake and icing. Secrets kill relationships. Old tapes from childhoods kill relationships when the other partner doesn’t know about them and doesn’t bother to ask.

We all have monsters in the dark rooms of our minds that we’re afraid to take out and examine, because we don’t realize that when the light shines into them, it was a coat the whole time.

As I have begun to explore my dark side, I’ve found coats, toys, Legos, you name it. When I flipped on the switch, everything looked different.

It’s a new thing I’m trying out.

Try to Keep Up

I type so fast that my keyboard is constantly ahead of my tablet’s ability to process it. Interestingly enough, my old Android tablet is probably the best of them at it, but the new versions of WordPress hate it, so I hardly ever keep it with me. The coolest thing about my Bluetooth keyboard is that it has three slots, and a dial to control it. My iPad is one, my phone is two, and my Android is three. I tend to set it in the slot vertically, because it makes the paragraphs look like normal size. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m at Starbucks trying to process everything that happened in therapy, because for the first time, I felt some real emotions bubble up. Most of the time, because of the meds I’m on, I can’t feel the physical reactions to stress, anxiety, and rage (using the Oxford comma because anxiety and rage do not always overlap). Today, for the first time, my chest got tight despite the medication, and I realized that Sarah was hitting me where I needed to be hit. I told her about the night Diane passed me her diary, and she started asking about what my triggers were for that event. I told her that since the relationship lasted almost 25 years, there were any number of things that would set me off, but that in particular, there are pieces of music… and that I can remember so clearly how the air smelled that if the air smells the same, I will go right back to that moment. I wish I could describe that smell in a Nathaniel Hawthorne kind of way, but what I remember most is that it was tinged with the smell of burning leaves, a clear sense of fall crispness (It was Sept 10, 1992). It’s amazing how often the air smells like that year after year. She asked if there were any songs on the radio, and I said “no, it was never that kind of music. There are just things that my conductors have pulled out over the years, even her, that I have to muscle my way through.” There was only once I completely lost it. She did not take it well.

When we were young, one of the pieces I clearly remember singing with her in adult choir is John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth. She chose it for our last anthem as a choir together at Bridgeport UCC, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having a panic attack. Diane is one of those people that before she gets ready to do something, she wants a bubble around her of silence so she can prepare. We are not dissimilar that way, so I went to her and said, “I’m sorry to interrupt the bubble but I am so sad that this is the last Sunday I’ll have you as a conductor and this piece reminds me of being a kid in the adult choir, your elbow on my shoulder.” I was crying so hard I could barely breathe, and she gave someone the look of “get her out of here.” The rejection meant a lot to me in retrospect, because it was the moment that whomever it was that I knew wasn’t ever coming back.

Either that, or she didn’t want to become a blubbering mess, either, and I will accept that answer as well. But I did not like how she could look at me in all of my panic and tears without realizing that even a kind look or a quick hug would have gone so far… “a compliment or kindness, just to bring us into view, but you could not interpret me… and I could not interpret you.” The service itself went fine, and I was over the panic attack before it even started. I just wanted a moment of recognition that we were ending where we began, and it was sad. Extraordinarily so. Even though Dana and I were right across the street, once Bridgeport ended, I might as well have been living in Abu Dhabi.

Later on, I asked if I could meet with her, and she said no, but I could meet with her partner, instead. It worked about as well as it sounded it did. It was Susan’s job to protect Diane, and she jumped down my throat any time I had anything negative to say. My relationship with Diane predated hers by seven years- there’s no way I should have allowed that conversation to happen, because there is no way that Susan would have had any frame of reference for it. There were things between Diane and me that I didn’t want to tell Susan for exactly that reason- first of all, she wasn’t there. Second of all, she had no reason to believe me, and she didn’t.

Everything was all in my head, but I do not think that was necessarily Susan’s fault. I have no idea what Diane told Susan about me, and my guess is not enough. Susan’s idea is that my feelings about Diane were a crush that I couldn’t get over and it was just this big bag of shit I’d been carrying around for too many years.

Well, as it turns out, she was right about the second part.

Sarah told me that it wasn’t my fault that as a child, I should have taken on the responsibility of saving a full-grown adult. I agree with her, but how could I not? Her stories were all I could think of when I closed my eyes. How to get her out of her present situation. How to get her to see that I was the safe space. How to get her to see that I would never hurt her, and she was choosing to stay with someone who would. Jeri never had any intention of getting help, and there would have been no judge in the world lenient enough that Jeri wouldn’t have been locked up for keeping a pound of marijuana in the house. A pound.

I am spilling all of these “family” secrets because I don’t believe that Diane deserves to be protected anymore. I’ll never get a day in court, but I can get a day (years) in the press. It will be a Google tattoo of enormous proportion, and even if there are unintended consequences for me, there are zero fucks given. I don’t have any more to give.

It’s time to start shifting the blame where it belongs, rather than having me believe for the rest of my life that it was wholeheartedly appropriate for her to use a child for adult problems. Even when she wasn’t aware of it, I was the parent and she was the child. So many nights I went to bed wondering if she was okay…. that I thought it was only a matter of time before Jeri would leave a mark on her that would show. That it was only a matter of time until she was arrested as an accessory. That was my life, starting at 13 years old. Wondering each and every day, most of the day, with no small amount of worry…. and at the same time, feeling the worthlessness of stupidity. My instincts were off regarding the nature of Diane’s intentions, or at least they were until the adults around me convinced me to consider that perhaps Diane knew exactly what she was doing…. and if I couldn’t believe that, to believe how entirely inappropriate it was for a 25 year old woman to use a 14 year old girl as an emotional garbage can.

Part of me thinks that Diane never vetted the journal before she gave it to me, therefore she had no idea the way it would open my mind. The other part thinks that she wanted to open my mind that way so she could inflict the emotional abuse on me that she had suffered herself. I don’t think she could bring herself to perpetuate the cycle of actually sexually abusing a child, but I do believe that she thought what she was doing wasn’t wrong because she wasn’t touching me. It’s what abusers do. They justify everything, and I cannot believe a thought like that would not cross her mind at one point or another.

Years and years later, she told me that she was sorry for the way that she treated me, because she could see how some of those conversations would have been confusing and upsetting to me. It seemed too dismissively simple, and I couldn’t help it. I snapped back that if writing one e-mail of apology was all she was going to do to say she was sorry, then reading it meant “thanks, I’m all better now.”

After that, she offered to attend one of my therapy sessions with me, and I sent her an e-mail giving her my doctor’s information and told her to schedule it, because I wanted insurance that she was actually serious. She told me that she was not the schedule-maker. I wrote her a couple of days later and said that I’d changed my mind about doing therapy together, because I did not want memories of her with my doctor, or even in the room that I go for safe space… but that she was welcome to attend Al-anon with me so that in the room, we were both on equal footing.

That didn’t go over well. By that time, I was out of ideas and tired of trying to please her, so I just stopped. I started talking to Dana and my friends about what had happened, and their alarm bells went off in a major way. Finally, recognition that there was a problem, even if it didn’t come from her. I just hated that I had to get so far down before I could find the way up.

The universe is calling me to get better. Calling for me to feel rest and relief from what has been done to me. Reaching out as if to say, “I have great things for you if and when you are ready….. just try to keep up.”

Separating the Tweet from the Chaff

This one is going to jump around a bit, but I wanted to start with Twitter, because people are starting to follow me like gangbusters, but I have my doubts as to whether they are real people or not. Does anyone else have this problem? I am getting followed by all sorts of companies and media outlets that seem more interested in commerce than reading my feed. I don’t mind, necessarily, because a follower is a follower. However, I am not in need of search engine optimization, real estate, or clothing. I go to Macy’s. End of story.

I actually don’t Tweet all that often, I just use it for my blog feed most of the time, which is exciting because my work is getting a much broader audience. I’ve also got some exciting new followers, like the rewrite editor at USA Today, and some liberal Christian ones from tagging Nadia Bolz-Weber in a reply to a Tweet from one of her fans and including her. It’s truly humbling that word is getting around, and that people seem to like the way I weave my faith all the way through my web site, because it’s not just something I do. Faith is who I am.

For instance, I constantly believe that most of the words that flow out of me are actually prayers in disguise, because my strength doesn’t come from hiding my emotions, but from releasing them and being vulnerable. Life has imitated art as I become less and less scared of being vulnerable in front of people, and not wearing the mask I was programmed to wear at a very young age.

First, there was the natural mask of preacher’s kid, because you don’t want everyone in your congregation to know the ins and outs of your family. No one ever told me to do this, I just knew to be on my best behavior because if I wasn’t, my parents weren’t going to hear it from two or three people, but two or three hundred. It just wasn’t worth it to be vulnerable and human in front of people because when you are the preacher’s kid, they treat you differently and hold you to a higher standard, as if the black robe my father wore extended to the rest of us. The first thing my sister said when my dad announced he was leaving the ministry was, “does that mean we can cuss now?” My personal mask got thicker when the emotional abuse started, because then I had even more to hide.

It wasn’t just about being a preacher’s kid anymore. It was about protecting my relationship with Diane at all costs, because I knew that if I talked, it would be taken away from me. As it was, we were on thin ice and trying to find time alone rather than people seeing us together. I would say now that it wasn’t romantic, but certainly seductive to slip away under the radar.

It was also weird that being a preacher’s kid comes with a false sense of security on the part of other parents, that letting their kids hang out with me was safe because of course I was a “good kid.” In some ways, I was, but my problems were not things that other kids should have heard at that age, because I’d gone from 14 to 25 almost overnight. I was not young and sheltered, but an abused kid with abused kid emotional reactions. Hanging out with kids my own age seemed juvenile to me and hard on them, because it was. They didn’t need to hear my shit, and I didn’t want to talk about the things I should have been focusing on when I was that age. I wanted to have adult conversations because I’d lost the skills to hear 7th and 8th grade problems because they were just so trivial to me. Did I want to talk about problems in our classes or 7th grade relationships? No. I wanted friends who also talked about adult things, because I couldn’t relate to kid stuff anymore. It wasn’t interesting compared with drug-dealing, alcoholic girlfriends and being a closeted teacher. When I was a junior in high school, I had a panic attack before I left for the homecoming dance, because I was going with a boy and not only did I feel like I was cheating on the one I loved, I felt like I wasn’t being true to myself, either. Gary was an excellent beard, it was just a shame he didn’t know it. Before the prom (Gary was a year ahead of me), I got an allergic reaction brought on by stress and an internal histrionic mess. Angela came over and shot me up with cortisone so I could still go.

Years later, watching Queer as Folk, I cried all the way through the scene where Brian showed up at Justin’s senior prom, because I would have given away a limb for Diane to have done that for me….. the only difference being that I have two left feet.

It was an interesting relationship, because even at that age, I knew she was telling me things I wasn’t mature enough to hear without taking on her problems as my own. I am an empath, and my mirror neurons were on high alert for the entirety of 7th and 8th grade. Even when Diane moved away, they still went off, but it was less so because we were just writing to each other and talking on the phone rather than seeing each other twice a week. Having some space and time to respond was much easier for me than being in the moment with her, because then I had less time to come up with something to say. I am still that way. I told Sarah last week at therapy that I am uncomfortable without a delete key. That I have problems starting up real conversations sometimes because while I am fast on my feet with quips and jokes, I am not necessarily able to come up with anything truly meaningful on the spot, because I am too impulsive and often say things that would have come out better if I’d seen them in black and white first. There are so many times in conversation that awkward becomes ononmatopoetic, either because I’ve reached too deep into my emotions and people don’t know how to respond to it, or I’ve used a sarcastic joke that just doesn’t land.

I joke when I am uncomfortable. A lot. Most of the time, it’s conversations where a simple I hear you or , “uh huh” is all that’s really necessary. I am also fond of using obscure movie or Doctor Who references that people don’t get instead of showing real emotions. I think a lot of people are guilty of this, but in my journey to become the authentic “accidental saint” that I am, it’s something I want to change. The problems of the world are real, and people tend to open themselves up to me. They do not want pablum in return, especially when they’ve just bled out emotionally.

The juxtaposition is kind of weird, because on paper, I have the ability to respond with much more grace and mercy than I ever could in conversation, because unless the person is someone I know really well, I often feel like I have a mental patient magnet on my forehead. For instance, one time I rode the bus in Portland, and it was a not a quick trip. I struck up a conversation with the driver, and made the mistake of telling him that I was a psychology major (which I was, at the time. I’ve switched to political science, but have enough hours that I’ve already completed my minor). Upon hearing this, the bus driver seemed to think that meant I was a licenced therapist, and proceeded to tell me about all of his problems whether I wanted to hear them or not. He went deep, and I honestly felt like a doctor trapped on an airplane. If you tell people you’re a doctor on an airplane, they tend to open up about their maladies. It’s the same with being a pastor or a therapist. Tell people what you really do for a living, and your reading time is effectively lost.

Sometimes I hate it when people……… emote.

You don’t know the person well enough to really assess their situation, so it’s hard to act as if you are. However, I am too polite to actually tell them to stop talking. I hear Rigby from Regular Show in my head a lot, because one of his catchphrases is yelling, “STOP TALKING!” There are rarely times that I wish for a turbulence or the bus to crash, but sometimes it wouldn’t hurt, you know?

For instance, I would never in a million years wear a clerical collar while traveling. There are times when I am just not up to be moved by other people’s words, because I have 1800 books on my Kindle and I’d like to finish them at some point. I say “moved by other people’s words,” because sometimes I am open to the universe and allow grace to happen in situations with strangers. I am also intensely introverted. It just depends on my mood, like it does with everyone else, I suppose. I just have to remember that sometimes, burying myself in a book is cutting off allowing grace to happen.

Hold on. I have to Tweet about this.