I’m reading a YA series that I started for free on Amazon and couldn’t put down. It’s called The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney. Janie Johnson has a milk allergy, so she shouldn’t have even been drinking milk that day… but she was eating a peanut butter sandwich, and couldn’t resist grabbing a friend’s carton. The blood drains from her face as she looks closely at the waxed cardboard. It’s a toddler wearing a dress she can still picture, still feel the fabric in her hands. It doesn’t make any sense.
Her parents couldn’t be criminals. Ready to faint, she realizes she was kidnapped 12 years ago… and whether or not her parents were criminals, there was still another family looking for her.
Through a series of twists and turns, the first book ends with Janie meeting her bio family. The second book is her adjustment period, in which her boyfriend listens patiently to all her worries, fears… and rarely, joys.
The third book starts with her boyfriend going to college and becoming a DJ on the college radio station. Dead air hangs as he struggles with what to say… and all of the sudden, it comes to him… Once upon a time….
I’m guessing you can figure out what comes next. All of the sudden, my fears and insecurities spilled out on the couch. I body-blushed, and panic raced through me as fast as the water falls through the Columbia River Gorge. I’m halfway to dry heaving before I realize I have the ability to put my thoughts to paper, and hope it helps. It generally does. If not, I will take a walk with my headphones in and set to dead air. Thinking while mobile allows my endorphins to create different pathways in my head, so that I stop thinking about problems and start thinking about solutions.
I started this YA series to get the structure and feel of it. Now about 60% through the third book, I realize that in a lot of ways, I am no better than Janie’s boyfriend, who isn’t malicious, but certainly thoughtless…. or is he?
Through all of his talks with Janie, he’s had nowhere to put them. Nowhere to decompress. Nowhere to receive feedback from strangers who have no horse in the race. His signal strength is nowhere near broad enough to get from his college town to Janie’s house in a different state. He spills his guts, unloading all of his own thoughts and feelings on everything he’s been through, trying to communicate and organize the jumble of emotions in his head…. without thinking that someday, someone close to him would turn the knob to his frequency.
He’s the good guy AND the bad. He can’t help but have been affected by all this, but he doesn’t take precautions. He doesn’t change names, he doesn’t change descriptions, he doesn’t change any identifying details at all.
I, at least, try. What I have found over time is that I’m not very good at it. There are certain people I do name, but a thousand others I don’t. I want you to know my friends, to meet them in your own way as they develop over time into 3-D characterizations that I hope are as full of life as they are…. especially for my friends in different areas of the country that I hope will one day run into each other.
Other people whose identities I thought were sealed have been as flimsy as shaved ham…. and I think, how could I have been so stupid? Why couldn’t I have thought a few more steps ahead? It feels like I have been Gretel all along, leaving breadcrumbs and then throwing myself into the oven. The only defense that even possibly stands up is that even though I was leaving breadcrumbs, they were too small for me to see… too small for me to find my way back… but not so tiny that other people couldn’t.
If it wasn’t for The Wayback Machine, I would have gotten up from that novel and deleted this entire site…. because now I know I’ve been tattooed from my scalp to my heels. There’s nothing I could do or say to get away from the things I’ve already written, both about myself and others. My comfort comes from the fact that I’ve tried my very best to only tell my side of the story, leaving room for both other people’s perceptions of me and the Truth™ that exists in the middle. But sometimes, just sometimes, I’ve crossed that line. The truth that exists for me is that those moments have been subconscious, because I’ve always thought of this blog as being about my own reactions to other people and not the things they think about me… and if I’ve published something that was a reaction to me, it was only my interpretation of what it might mean, and not the meaning that the other person would say it was. But when I do that, the chances that I’ll learn their truth diminish dramatically, because they think I’ve already made up my mind.
You can read three or four days of entries in a row and tell that’s not true at all. I change my mind constantly, which isn’t always seen as evolution, but maliciously two-faced. It is then that I go back to the name of this web site, which I coined from my belief about The Bible…. Stories That Are All True…. and some of them actually happened. I would like to think that the conflicts in both are made up of evolution in thought…. like the old joke about describing different parts of an elephant. The views from the front, sides, and back are completely different, and yet, all valid. Different entries are different trains of thought, sometimes brought about by the view in front of me and/or the passage of time.
Time has a way of softening hurt, and yet, does not defeat it entirely.
From where I sit right now, the passage of time has allowed me to look more fully at all the ways my marriage and my friendship with Argo went well… but it doesn’t erase the hurts they dealt me, or my guilt at the hurts I dealt them, either. Time just slips in and, like water, smooths the hard places.
And yet, those two people aren’t even close to the number of people I’ve loved and lost because I wrote something without thinking about it all the way around. Outside of Argo and Dana, there’s another woman I met over the Internet that used to chat with me when I worked overnight at Alert Logic, keeping me company on a lunch break that usually started at 0400… some of the most precious hours of my life. She was my velvet hammer, with the metal on the outside so that hardness and softness coexisted in a beautiful way. You couldn’t get to the velvet immediately, you had to be invited…. but I got the metal when I was entirely deserving of it… that friend who wasn’t afraid to tell you that you’re fucking up instead of covering it up as not to engage, or couching it in sugar so that you couldn’t really tell what was being said in the way it was supposed to be taken.
I let her go without a fight, when she deserved to be fought for. I didn’t have many friends that would tell me the straight-up truth when I needed to hear it. Telling you why it ended would just be yet another breech of confidentiality. All I will say is that it was my fault entirely. She didn’t leave so much as she was forced to say, I’m out. She didn’t say those words, exactly, but context clues are my strong point.
I also got the sense that she didn’t want to be fought for, didn’t need or want my input on the situation, which was basically I’ve been an idiot, and I should have and could be a better friend to you. But no. I just tried my best to pretend it didn’t hurt and move on.
As my hurt began to compound interest, I was bleeding out emotionally… but what was coming across was anxiety in the form of rage when I didn’t even know that anxiety presented that way… that not getting so angry was an easy fix. I needed medication to slow my physical reactions and therapy to slow the behavioral ones… but I didn’t get it (physically or mentally) until I hit rock bottom and had to claw my way up.
Rock bottom was not everyone else becoming exhausted and enraged by my behavior. Rock bottom was realizing who I was in the equation, exactly the person I did not want to be. I can make all sorts of excuses… I was emotionally abused as a child, I didn’t have coping mechanisms, my medication wasn’t right, blah blah blah… The awful thing was that until I released my own thunderstorms, I actually believed them. Didn’t question them for the excuses that they were, because I thought I had no power.
People like me didn’t have power. They stood next to powerful people and hoped it rubbed off. Or, worse yet, people like me didn’t have power. They married into it, because when you aren’t carrying yourself under your own power, it’s easiest to support someone else in theirs…. to make them able to do what they do better because solving their problems is infinitely easier than looking at your own.
The paradigm shift didn’t come until I met Dana, because we were both on equal footing in life, and neither one of us was the driving force carrying the other. When it was over, I retreated into myself, because I realized I was falling backward instead of stumbling forward. It took two dates with a lawyer and thinking about a date with an intelligence agent on loan from MI-5 to realize it.
After that, dating was over for me. Just done. I realized that if I couldn’t have the same type relationship I’d had with Dana, where we both came into the relationship on equal footing, I didn’t belong in a relationship at all…. and still don’t. It’s not a matter of wanting Dana back. It’s a matter of refusing to engage in romance until I am sure that I have something to bring to the table without being an accessory to greatness… wanting that relationship where there is no chance of codependency because we are both taking care of our own problems rather than the me that would fix your life in a hot second while mine hangs in the balance, unexplored, and in turn, unlived.
I’ve made a couple of people laugh when I’ve joked, at this point, my only hopes for retirement are Pulitzer Prize or marry well. I’ve since stopped saying it, because even though I really was joking, the more I prodded into my sub-conscience, it ceased to be funny.
So, Pulitzer Prize it is.