Muted Sadness

It is one of the darkest days we’ve had in a while. It is not currently raining, but the storm has started and stopped multiple times, and the sky still looks threatening. I have my Carrot Weather app set to “homicidal personality,” and she says I should stay home today because no one likes me and she blames me for the bad weather.

That’s my girl.

Today is both my mother’s and my ex-wife’s birthday. They’re both on my mind today, but it’s only about remembering joy where Dana is concerned and muted sadness regarding my mom.

In terms of my relationship with Dana, the reason I now choose to remember good things is that I tortured myself for a long time. Anything and everything I could possibly do to blame myself, I did in spades. It’s been six years, so about a year ago I decided to let myself off the hook… not in terms of no longer bearing responsibility, but that the time for self-recrimination had passed. It was only making me miserable to remind myself of all that went wrong. The flip side of the coin is not mistaking the part for the whole. The overwhelming majority of our story is hilarious.

The only thing that’s still hard is seeing her picture come up in my Facebook memories, because I alternate between thinking they’re adorable and feeling like I’ve been stabbed. It’s not that I haven’t moved on, it’s just a trigger, and tiny moments like that take the longest to fade.

My sister went out to the cemetery and gave me an update on Fred, the one silver lining in the absolute shitshow that is grief over the loss of a parent. Fred was the seedling that was planted next to the foot of my mother’s grave… not in memory of her, it’s just that her death and his planting happened simultaneously. It was the birth and death life cycle in front of our eyes. He gets stronger every time we visit. Whereas he used to only have “kid-sized” branches and leaves, now he spreads out over a granite bench and Lindsay got to sit in the shade. The shade. We were joking that our little boy has grown up.

I think the reason we gave him a human personality is that my thought was that I couldn’t hug my mother, but I could hug Fred so tightly that you’d think I went to Berkeley. It will be a sad and proud day when my arms no longer wrap all the way around.

There are some commonalities in both types of grief. If I mention either my mother’s death or Dana, the conversation looks like gravity’s rainbow, the image so loud I can almost hear the whistle. It is as if both of them have turned into “she who must not be named” as it makes other people feel awkward to the point of onomatopoeia. For me, it’s the old trope of losing someone and they’ve just slipped into another room. Their ends of the conversation are over, but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone all “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind.” I got divorced and my mom died in relatively quick succession. One loss compounded the other as I wasn’t really done mourning the first when the second one started.

There are good things I remember in the wake of my mother’s death, though, because I must. It doesn’t heal anything- it sort of helps. For instance, I remember being on the business side of death for the first time, and how it was comforting to pick out her casket. I know it sounds weird, but it was literally the last time we’d ever shop for her, and we wanted it to be something that if she saw it, she would have been pleased. The fact that I know her casket is her favorite color and has stenciled birds on the inside is enough for me.

The difference between losing people close to me is night and day from being a preacher’s kid and attending funerals of parishioners. This is because so much time and energy were poured into my mother and Dana that I didn’t know what to do with it afterward. I also locked down my emotions, even now but especially in the beginning. In the aftermath, I couldn’t manage to be the appropriate amount of emotional in public, so I just chose not to have them at all unless I was home alone. It was either resting bitch face silence or complete hysteria with no middle ground.

It’s just that no one knew about it unless I was willing to let them in, and at first “them” added up to exactly zero persons. I branched out to people who had also lost parents, because no matter how hard people who haven’t lost parents try, they cannot grasp the enormity of the situation.

It is because of this that I know my divorce and my mother’s death happened in the right order. The people closest to me had the ability to wound me with stunning accuracy, because if I didn’t know them that well, I could either write it off or decide to end the relationship altogether.

There’s also a special list in my head of all the people that claimed to be my close friends and didn’t come to my mother’s funeral. I don’t want to keep track, but I do it anyway. I feel that the friends who don’t show up when you are in crisis are claiming to be better friends than they actually are. I’m sorry if you feel slapped by that statement, but emotions are emotions and logic is logic. Never the twain shall meet. Even if it’s irrational, it’s my truth. My brain just isn’t capable of telling my heart what to do. However, I am not unreasonable. I did not expect my DC friends to fly to Houston with me.

I think the reason that I’ve described today as “muted sadness” is that it’s not only grief over my mother and Dana, but grief over the pieces of me that died inside at their departure. I am no longer person I was six years ago, and it doesn’t matter whether some of the pieces lost are good. Trying to get them back is futile. A dead end, as it were.

In the meantime, I have turned to books. This blog has become a bit bipolar, because I used to post quite frequently. Now, it’s hit or miss. This is because I have a binge and purge relationship with reading vs. writing. I noticed a long time ago that when I read and wrote at the same time, the tone would sound just like the last author I read. I’m not a great writer, by any means, but I do know myself well enough to know when the “voice” I’m using belongs to me. For instance, when I first started blogging in 2003, I am sure I sounded like Dooce for at least a year.

Speaking of which, I had a friend tell me that Dooce used to be good, but she’s not as good a writer as she used to be. I told her she needed to send me an e-mail when I got to that point. It was her job to tell me to retire. I haven’t gotten it yet, so unless she got bored and stopped reading altogether, I’m probably doing ok. Thanks for asking.

I have read so many books in different genres lately. Last night it was a novel in which a woman gets into a car accident, hit by a drunk driver (“A Curve in the Road”). In the emergency room, she finds out that the drunk driver is her husband. Everything unravels from that point forward, and it’s masterful.

I’m also taking my time with a non-fiction book about one of the first same-sex marriages to be recognized in the United States (“Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America”). The two women met in the late 1700s. As I quipped to a friend, “that’s impossible! Lesbians weren’t invented until 1805!” I admire the couple a great deal, because in order to stay safe, they basically gave generously to the town. It meant that the mayor and council literally couldn’t afford to piss them off. If there’s anything I adore, it’s a clever “scheme.” I’m not sure they even realized they were running that game, only that the results paid off. They managed to be together until one of them died, so I think it was 40 or 50 years…. impressive by any and all standards. The prose is a bit dry, but the subject is fascinating. I would absolutely love to teach a high school history class with it, because it’s not just focused on the couple, but the war around them. There aren’t any graphic sex scenes or violence, so it would be an important alternative perspective while also being suitable for teens.

If there’s been anything good about my silence, it has been the addition of hundreds of unique voices that let me travel all over the world. If there’s a scene from a book that transported me to the point where everything else fell away, it’s from John Brennan’s “Undaunted.” When he was in college, he went to the University of Cairo. His experiences there are humorous and convey the beauty of Egypt. Plus, it’s fun to picture a White House staffer that used to be a kind of rebel, pierced ear and all.

I’ve read those passages multiple times, because sometimes I just need to lift myself out of what I’m describing as “muted sadness.”

Dear Black People,

I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.

I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.

Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.

The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”

I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.

For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.

Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.

When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.

Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.

I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.

Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.

It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.

Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.

We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.

Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.

So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.

Or are they?

I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.

I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.

Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.

If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).

I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.

In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.

Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.

To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.

White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.

Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”

Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.

Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.

Love,

Leslie

War Stories

Pandemic fatigue is real. I have had no motivation in terms of writing, because nothing has really sparked my imagination…. well, technically, a million things do, but they tend to come out in short Facebook bursts. You know, those things you have to say that aren’t short enough for a Tweet? Today was different. I got together with my housemate, Maria, and she’s always good for a blog entry because she’s a cook at a local hospital who has also worked in restaurants…. therefore, we always end up talking about war stories. We all have them.

However, we weren’t just sitting there talking. I told her that I got both of us a present. I bought myself a new chef’s knife because my old one was getting dull, and buying a new knife was cheaper than getting it sharpened. Her present was that there’s now a real chef’s knife in our block, and there hasn’t been for all the years I’ve lived here. That is because I’ve always been deathly afraid that someone was going to put it in the dishwasher, so I hid it among the candy and snacks in my food junk drawer.

So now I have two new war stories, one from two years ago and one from today. When I bought my old knife, it did not come with a sheath. I wrapped it in rags every day before I put it away, except one day I forgot, and now there is a sizable cut in the back of the drawer. Today, when I told Maria that my chef’s knife had dulled to nothing, she comes downstairs with a full set of stones. I have never face-palmed harder. Why did I not think to ask A COOK if they had a real knife sharpener?

Side note: you can buy an electric knife sharpener, but caveat emptor. I have heard so many horror stories of them chewing up expensive knives that I’ve never used one.

But before we get to the war stories, (mine, of course, because hers aren’t my stories to tell), I have to tell you something I learned this week, and it ties back to a conversation Dan and I had. She said, “you have such a great blog- why don’t you put recipes on it?” I said, “that would be great, but I don’t have any. I understand the principles of cooking, so I just look in the pantry and throw things together.” A good example of this is “Lanagan’s Pub Chili.” At Biddy McGraw’s, the pub where I used to work in Portland, we used to make a soup of the day. I made a variation on a Texas Red, using beans to make the ground beef stretch. It was so popular that they decided to add it to the menu permanently….. probably because I have an Irish last name. I don’t think I would have been so lucky had my last name been “Smith.”

My boss asked me to write down the recipe so that all the cooks could make it the same way, and I swear to God, it took me at least a month to do it. That’s because when I was making it, I never made it exactly the same way twice. I changed up the beer, I changed up the ratios of the spices, and most importantly, I tasted as I went, because I can tell when a dish “needs something” and what that something might be.

Trying to encapsulate that into a half cup of cumin, etc. was murder on my brain. It doesn’t work that way. But, it had to be done because I wasn’t always going to be there when we ran out.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I put words to that story that need to be said: cooking is all about trust and confidence. Trust comes in just knowing when a piece of meat or a pancake needs to be turned. Confidence comes in when you’ve made a mistake, but you’re sure you know how to fix it. I make pancakes every weekend, so that’s how the idea popped into my head.

I know how to respect first contact, only flip once, and have it turn out perfectly. I never have to make a “tester pancake” because I’ve used my stove enough to know what temperature I need every time. I trust it. For instance, I know that the pans we have are all uneven and there’s only one hot spot in each of them, so I have to make the pancakes one at a time. I know I need lower heat for thick pancakes, higher for thin, because the thick ones take longer to rise and “bake through.” I know that I need a little more soy milk than the Bisquick package says, because if I do them that way, the pancakes will be miniature biscuits. I trust that I know what I’m doing, and I’m confident about it….. but not arrogant. I’ve crashed and burned in the kitchen before, but at home it’s not a big deal. I can either fix it or start over. In a professional setting, you can fix it or start over, and people will talk shit about “that one time” every day until it gets old and someone else does something dumb, but they also won’t forget to tell new people what you did after you’ve left.

My biggest war story comes from the same pub, the aforementioned Biddy McGraw’s…. or at least, it’s the one that hurt the worst. I’ve been taken to the ER twice, once as a waiter and once as a cook.

When I was a waiter, I was working at Chili’s, who used to serve their sodas and beers in these extraordinarily heavy glass mugs. One of the other waiters somehow broke the bottom off of one of them, and instead of removing it, just stuck it back down in the rack. The manager made an announcement about the broken mug, but none of the people who were out at their tables heard it. I come around the corner and the broken mug is the first thing I touch. It sliced the inside of my pinkie so badly that I needed stitches immediately.

When I was a cook, I took meat slicer to a whole new level when I didn’t see my thumb slip into it.

The reason the one from Biddy’s is so much worse is that both of the times I had to go to the ER, I was cut by something extraordinarily sharp. Clean cuts bleed, but they don’t generally cause pain.

I think I’ve mentioned before that my ex is a cook as well, or at least she used to be. We haven’t spoken in years, but back then we were coworkers during the weekend brunch shift. You’d think having a couple working in the kitchen would be bad juju, but I’ve never had a better coworker in my life. This is because couples can communicate with one look, and in restaurants, every nanosecond matters….. another reason why this was such a bad injury.

Every weekend, I would make bearnaise from scratch and put it in a double boiler on the front burner. On the back burner was a shallow pan for poaching eggs. I noticed that there was a metal spoon with a plastic handle in the egg pan and thought, “that shouldn’t be there.” What I didn’t know was that the plastic wasn’t heat resistant. Pain radiated from my hand up to my shoulder as the plastic fused to my skin. I literally had to rip off the spoon, and my exposed burn was legendary in size. We then threw away the spoon because there was too much Leslie on it.

Being the cook that I am, I went into dry storage and found the first aid kit. I put some silver sulfadiazine on the burn, covered it up with gloves, and went back to work. It hurt so bad I thought I was going to throw up. I think the cream was the only reason I didn’t have permanent scars. I’ve never been through childbirth, so I can safely say that it is the worst pain I’ve ever been in, bar none.

Now, my ex is Cordon Bleu certified. She could have run that kitchen blind whether I was there or not, but it did make her life easier if I stayed. So I did. Luckily, I was able to keep cooking, because if there had been lots of dishes to wash I might have walked out. This is because no matter how tight your gloves are, water seeps in, washing off the only thing keeping me upright.

And honestly, all the dumbass attacks just run together. Just an endless series of “I didn’t see that.” Literally. I have a different field of vision than most people, and it alternates because my eyes don’t track together. In many, many kitchens, that was taken as bullshit and people thought my IQ was too low to be a cook.

What’s actually true, and my last chef said this to me, is that I have the heart of a chef. What I’ve added to that is “but not the body.”

Knowing that has been one of the biggest pieces of grief in my life, but…………

I trust me.

To All the Girls….

I just finished watching “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.” I’ve been waiting for inspiration to write; I needed a memory far enough back in my past that the blowback from myself would be minimal. (I’ve often thought that other people’s opinions stop me from writing- most of the time it’s to keep myself from exploding.) The movie is about Laura and Peter’s senior year of high school, which inevitably made me think of my own. It was so messy and difficult- like many people’s, probably, with the uniqueness of coming out all over again.

I was out at HSPVA, but my mom didn’t want me to come out at Clements. I had the chance to start over, and she wanted that for both of us. Even at HSPVA, I constantly worried that coming out at school would lead to people finding out at church…. but I didn’t have to worry about that. Everyone in my life figured it out before I had the chance to tell them.

I remember fondly the night I came out to my friend Dianne Maurice, who said “if this conversation hadn’t happened, I would have sat you down and told you.” She didn’t have to worry. I’d thought and felt attraction to women my whole life, but didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling until I turned 13. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have my share of boyfriends as well, just that it was what I thought I was supposed to do, and dating Ryan was a mountaintop experience for someone so young. How many middle school couples make it to a year and two months? I’m guessing it had something to do with us as friends being two halves of the same person, and middle school romance is sweet and lingering without the constant peer pressure and internal drive to sleep together. As a result, that friendship has grown more tender over time, because we didn’t have a horrible break-up, either….. although it was strange. I came out to him by telling him all the attraction I was feeling to people that were not him, to which he had the best response ever, which was that I was free to think but not to act.

He eventually found someone else, which was wonderful and terrible all at once. Part of me was relieved for him to find someone whose heart wasn’t tearing them apart. The other parts of me felt his absence like a missing limb, and I didn’t date anyone else until the summer before I was a senior. It was a terrible decision, because six weeks later, I met someone I thought was THE ONE, and had to go through the heartbreak of breaking someone else’s heart, always harder than someone breaking yours. It wasn’t a cheating situation- THE ONE didn’t even know I was alive until Christmas.

But I was her friend from the first day of school, because once my dad left the church, I felt free to be whomever I was going to be that year…. which was wearing pride rings to advertise.

I will never in my entire life forget our first phone call. Dr. Steed, my senior English teacher, told us to get the phone number of someone in our class because the work was going to be difficult. I knocked over two desks to get to her and slipped her my number, because it was easier than asking for hers.

The moment I walked into the house after school, literally 30 seconds in, my phone rang. I said, “hello?” She said, “do you wear those pride rings because you’re gay, or because you’re an idiot?” I said “I’m gay. Do you have a problem with that?” She said, “no. I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.” It was not a euphemism.

She was dating a hockey player at another school named Mark, a beard she kept up a little too well because it was excruciating watching her basically make out with him on New Year’s Eve. By then, we were together on the down low, even to her closest friends….. because I was out, but she wasn’t. Who would have thought the goalie for the women’s soccer team at my high school was a lesbian? That just doesn’t make sense. 😛

Prom night was also a mess, because we’d sort of gone to Homecoming together- I went with one of her friends so we could be near each other. But by Prom, school was ending and she thought she was ready to be truly seen with me. I bought the perfect dress, and she backed out. She ended up coming over after she was finished at the dance, because I couldn’t just go and watch her. I thought that was crazy. People have asked me many times why I didn’t just break up with her and go out with someone who didn’t have a problem with being out. Listen, it’s not like the lesbian dating pool at my high school was huge. In terms of out lesbian, I was the entire club. It was scary walking in the parade all by myself.

But it wasn’t a lost cause. I made it safe for people in younger classes to come out. By the time my younger sister got to high school, people were putting rainbow flags on their backpacks, and Lindsay asked who started it. They said, “I think it was this kid named Leslie.”

For those who don’t know me in person, the school year was 1995-1996. In that time and place, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by most of the people around me. It wasn’t that they were hateful, just woefully uneducated. Back then, when I was out and about with my girlfriend, we watched our backs constantly, knowing where and when PDA was appropriate.

Thinking something was wrong with us included her parents. We didn’t tell them- they searched her room and found one of my love letters. We were forbidden to see each other, and like with all teenagers, it didn’t work. We were just even more secretive than we were before….. to the tune of making out in her car near some woods and being caught by the cops, who luckily didn’t do anything except tell us to move along.

In the end, she wasn’t THE ONE, a fact that I ignored for at least ten years. She decided to go back to Canada for college, but before she left, she wanted to get married. Why that didn’t set off alarm bells, I’ll never know…. because how did she think it would work? She couldn’t hide me forever. No way was I going to be her roommate at 30…. even 18 was stretching it. But “roommate” was how it was done in those days, so the fact that same-sex couples can get married and is now so accepted is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

Like most high school kids, I let the relationship go on too long because I didn’t know how to let go. We were long distance, and I looked into immigrating to Canada, but before I could really start the process, I learned something truly disturbing.

Since I was the internet guru, I looked up all the places gays and lesbians gathered in her city. Well, she went, and she met someone. That wasn’t the problem. If she’d come home that night and said she’d met someone else, it would have been all right. But she didn’t. She dated this person for months, to the point of moving in with her before she was forced to admit what she was doing. I didn’t even find out from her. I found out because her girlfriend e-mailed me, saying that my girlfriend had never told her she was seeing someone when she left Texas and that I should just back out because my girlfriend was hers now. I can still feel that pain as if it was yesterday- not that I live there, it’s just present when I think about that time in my life.

Despite that asshole move on both their parts, every trip my ex-girlfriend made to Texas was filled with fun and flirty dates where it felt like we were our old selves, and then a line would get crossed and we’d have an old fight over again or I would get torched with jealousy.

Eventually, she settled down, got married, and started having kids. It was only then, a decade later, that she said she was sorry we couldn’t have been partners as adults, because she thought we would have been good at it. Her words were sweet, and I knew that’s how she meant them. A compliment didn’t line up to the way I took it. I was burning with rage. She said something to the effect that she’d thought about getting back together, but she knew she’d treated me so badly that how dare she have the right to ask me to try again? I think all the anger I’d stuffed down so that she’d still want to be my friend surfaced in that moment- not only at the way she’d treated the end of our relationship, but that she took away my choice as to whether I’d have forgiven her or not.

As it was, I was so hurt that I didn’t date anyone from the fall of my freshman year of college until I was a junior. I had major trust issues, and it took me three years to work them out enough to be able to open my heart to someone else.

Apparently, it’s a pattern, because I haven’t dated anyone since I broke up with my most recent ex (five years ago, almost six). Probably it’s been twice as long because it hurt twice as much, especially since I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in addition to being hurt by her.

I think it might have been different if a couple of years later, my mom hadn’t died. Though I was screaming for a companion in those days, I didn’t want anyone but her- and not because I was stuck in the place of “she’s THE ONE and there shall be no one else.” It was that I didn’t know anyone as well as I knew her, and the thought of having no history with someone and dragging them into the shitshow of my grief was not appealing in the slightest. I got through by trusting friends, but it wasn’t the same as having someone to hold me at night while I cried.

As I started to come alive again, I realized that going through my grief on my own was a good thing, because I didn’t realize how jealous I was of other people my age who still had their parents. I don’t know how we would have managed that, but my guess is “good, most of the time, but the bad would have been egregious.”

I sometimes think it would have been nice to have a mother-in-law as backup, but she wasn’t completely on board with her daughter marrying a woman, either, so I waffle on that point. What I do know is that waiting so long has been helpful, because I feel much freer than I did three years ago. There’s no lingering emotion from that relationship that would help push a new person away. What I do know, though, is that my next relationship will be completely different, both in my approach and the fact that no one can compare to her- a new person would be in her own class, with her own unique gifts rather than trying to think “she’s better.”

The last piece of the puzzle is that I haven’t met anyone who has swept off my feet with awe and lust. Of course, that is not how all relationships begin, but in order to want to be romantic with someone, you have to feel something. I did have a conversation with someone about dating, but it was one of those things where my interest was piqued, but I didn’t make any declarations of love or anything. It was just “maybe dating each other would be fun and we should try it.” We didn’t, and life quickly moved on because I was never pining.

I really don’t have time for it. My attention is taken up with other things, other people with whom I am not romantic but are such good friends that intimacy happens regardless. A person does not have to be in love with you to see your soul if you make it visible to them. I am lucky to have friends that walk in my inner landscape, and it is surprising how much I value it over finding a partner. It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s that I’m perfectly happy to stand back and let them come to me. I don’t have a mad drive that says I’m going to die alone, no matter how many people say that to me because they’re worried. Trust me, that’s a them problem. I will never die alone because I have friends, constantly undervalued in our society because the fairy tale says I need to find one person that completes me and live happily ever after.

For me, the fairy tale is having friends that truly care what I think and feel, the best lesson I’ve learned in the years that have passed since my first high school romance. I don’t have one person that completes me, I have several who oversee different aspects. I don’t want to live in a world where that is seen as deficiency, but celebrated in its abundance. I know love as deep as an ocean because of them. Our shared history has provided ups and downs that stick in my mind, learning and growing every bit as much as I did when I was partnered- perhaps more as each of them show me who I am. They love me as fallible as I am, which is everything I could hope for in a romance, anyway.

To all the girls, all I can say is “thank you.” They are such small words, but the depth behind them is huge. Your love is #relationshipgoals enough for me, and I hope I am half the friend that you have been to me. It has certainly been and will continue to be my honor……

Always and forever.

Tea and Sympathy

I only have Tums chewables today (usually have omeprazole), so I have forgone my midday caffeine blast in favor of a tame(r) Irish Black Tea with Splenda and soy milk.

I have gone back to my ridiculously strict vegan diet, because I am one of those people that gets involved in a project and forgets to eat. The connection is that I eat rarely enough that when I do, it needs to be superfood. I have cheated a lot in the past few months, but that didn’t bother me until I started noticing it wasn’t upping my game any.

I think a lot of ADHD people do the not eating thing- let me know if I’m wrong in the comments. It’s my opinion that truly focused “zones” only come around so often, and you have to take advantage of them when they arrive. I know that this introductory paragraph isn’t exactly spilling my guts, but we might get there. I’m in the zone. Stay tuned. We will interrupt this post as emotions develop.

I am also trying to be the type vegan that focuses on actual vegetables. I am not trying to get by on vegan protein shaped like meat…. with one exception. There would be two if I could find them. Gardein used to make incredible vegan crab cakes and fish filets, but I can’t find them anywhere. I should have known something was up besides the expiration date when they went on sale by so much that I bought four packages of each……. Now, I’ve found fish sticks that are so damn good they remind me of my childhood in northeast Texas…. the only difference being yellow cornmeal instead of white. Now that’s a debate I’m not even trying to hear. It gets vicious.

Last night I made macaroni and cheese out of a box- vegan, expensive, and worth it. The only thing I didn’t have was margarine for the roux, but I used olive oil and it turned out fine, especially after I added small dice Daiya provolone and stirred like mad until it resembled homemade. The thing that put it over the top is that I put dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta water while it was still cold. By the time the pasta was cooked, they were perfectly rehydrated. It was all I could do not to eat the whole box, but I decided to eat the whole box of fish sticks instead.

I hope all my readers know that I’m just talking about my life, and I have no need to convert others. In fact, I don’t even tell people I’m vegan when I eat at other people’s houses, because I hate the thought that they’d cater to me specifically and possibly hate what they were eating. Additionally, Tony Bourdain raised me right. He said that “food is hospitality, and if you reject someone’s food, you reject them.” When I go to someone else’s house, what we’re having is what we’re having. I would eat face bacon with a smile.

There’s not a one size fits all diet for everyone, vegan is just what works for me.

Being vegan is something I never would have discovered without getting divorced, because Dana worked in the meat department at a high-end grocery store in Portland for most of the years we were friends/married. She never would have agreed to an all-vegan diet, but she was okay with the occasional vegan meal, like going out for Mexican. And yes, I realize that I could have been vegan on my own, but either one of us cooking two different meals every night was not going to happen. But I did kid her about it. One time I cracked an egg into a bowl and there was blood in it. I asked Dana what it was and she said, “THAT is a chicken abortion.” I said, “if you say chicken abortion to me ever again I will make you a vegan for the rest of your life.” To her credit, she never did, except when telling this story.

Invariably, one story about Dana leads to another, because right now it has a very real hold on my life.

When Dana and I first started hanging out, I had just broken up with a woman that consumed my thoughts, the kind of woman that you can’t help but smile around and dream about. Though she was older than me by quite a bit, in that nebulous adult age where you experience transition over and over, we were in similar places emotionally.

Because of our age difference, every day I wondered if it was the day we’d confess we couldn’t do without each other, or the day we’d break up…. made more complicated by the fact that my friends thought she was really cool and her friends thought I was a girl toy/midlife crisis (in the worst of ways). Their fears were unrealized, but made for excellent gossip. In the three months that we were actually, solidly together, it was like every other relationship I’d ever had, intense and beautiful. I always like dating women who are smarter than me, and if I am the Chevy, she was the Rolls. In the traditional sense of the May-December fling, people think that the younger person is being led on. In this case, I was pretty good about standing up for myself. It was, up to that point, the relationship that, for me, had the most equality.

After over a decade to think about it, I believe that just because a relationship wasn’t meant to last doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful.

The biggest mistake I made was that when we agreed it was over, we were so drawn to each other that we dated in secret for another year. For her, I am positive that it was pure attraction, while I continued to hold out hope that she’d eventually change her mind. You could see it written all over my face.

The hammer absolutely dropped when she said something that really made me angry. I wish I could remember what it was, but I remember the way it made me feel. I said something to the effect of “you don’t get to say things like that and date me (euphemism) at the same time.”

And I left.

I was also tired of making excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that as I craved and loathed being someone’s “dirty little secret.”

Because our down-low relationship only prolonged the inevitable, I felt as if my heart had been handed to me after being put through a blender. I should have accepted being single and moved on with my life immediately.

It was in this terrible, painful emotional place I realized that I needed a friend, and most of the ones I had currently were mutual with said ex. I had no idea how to manage something like that. Introverts make friends when extroverts adopt them and drag them out of their houses.

Enter Dana, the loud, obnoxious blonde woman that I’d met a few times at church, but didn’t feel one way or the other about until we actually got to know each other.

Our first lunch date was with her then-partner and their friends for Easter lunch. She said later that the only reason I got an invitation was that I looked so incredibly sad.

I was actually miserable about quite a few things at the time, so it was not untrue……… and over time, I told her about all of them.

I even let her into my apartment after telling her that I was tired of living like “dumped girl.” When I think about her response, I still get tears in my eyes. She said, “well, we’ll go clean it up.” That “we’ll” was everything. Everything.

I decided that the best way to say thank you was to change my behavior, so I became absolutely OCD about keeping my apartment spotless. Most days, you could eat off the floor, and every day off the counters. It was organized to a fault.

To get back to the hold that this story has on my current life is that I’ve been living like “grief girl.” When my mother died, I went into such a state of apathy that absolutely nothing mattered, along with the fact that I didn’t want to remove anything she’d touched….. which slowly became not wanting to remove anything at all.

In the immediate aftermath, life wasn’t worth living. I don’t mean that I wanted to kill myself in turn. It was never that severe. It was more a case of “why should I even take care of myself…. do more than just survive, when my mother isn’t here to see it?”

It didn’t make sense. She was never here (at my house in DC), except for one visit. Mostly our relationship consisted of marathon phone calls. But grief doesn’t make sense.

After the initial thunderstorm, all of this emotion just drops out of you. You’ve invested so much in a relationship that’s not coming back, and there’s what I call “the in-between.” As you heal, you find other relationships to fill your huge emotional needs, and you slowly find stuff to do that replaces the swaths of time you spent together- in my case, 3-6 hours a week on the phone. “The in-between” is the first few months to a year after you lose someone important- a partner, a parent, a child- where there’s just nothing. There’s no time, there’s no reason, there’s no logic, there’s no structure. You’re just completely and totally empty, a shell of yourself.

My AA friends have often told me that when they first stopped using, there was a brain haze where most things were mindless and fuzzy. It took at least a year to clear out. A similar thing happened to me when my mother died. For a while, everything I did was completely mindless and fuzzy, even when I was being productive. I’d get to the end of a day and have absolutely no idea what I’d done or what I’d said. Because of this, I secluded myself all the time, save talking to people also in deep grief.

This is because I was afraid of people who didn’t have the same frame of reference as me- didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of trying to explain my point of view.

People can nod and smile and think they’ve been through something equally life-changing, but they haven’t. Losing a partner, parent, or child is something you don’t understand until you get there. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. It literally rewires you down to the neurons. Your mind makes connections it never did before, some of them good, some of them bad. It depends on the day.

In my own life, I found that people who said truly insensitive things or made dark jokes were the only times I felt anything, because it took that level of emotion to cut through the fog. I never got mad at dark humor, because it’s also part of my basic diet. But with people who said truly insensitive things, I’d obsess over them for days. The worst, and there were many, were the ones who said “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when my mother dies.” I’d take it and stuff it down, but want to scream. “IT’S A GOOD THING I’M GOING THROUGH IT AND NOT YOU!” Those remarks are things you have to stuff down, because no one ever means any harm, and if you pop off at them, you’re basically just getting grief-driven crazy spatter all over someone who really has no idea what they’re saying/implying.

Now that time has passed (not enough for me to say “it was a long time ago”), I am again ready to rejoin the people who are truly living. I’ve been surviving for a long time. I now have enough people to lean on who have filled the time and emotion I used to pour into my mother, as well as a clear mind. I don’t want to be one of those people that focuses on grief forever. It would wreck my mother to know that when she died, time just stopped for me, and I stayed there, in the “in-between.”

I’ve started with superfood, and a desire to start taking care of all areas of my life. Eventually, I’d like to be in another relationship, even if it still makes me sad that my mother won’t meet her.

Whether that person comes into my life is not up to me, but if I continue surviving and not really living, there’s no hope we’ll ever meet. I won’t have allowed the chance for it to happen.

And now, the zone is coming to completion, and I need to go eat the rest of my macaroni and cheese.

Bottled

I’ve been shaken like a Diet Coke lately, for reasons that are shaking everyone else on top of everything else in my own life. Yesterday was my mother and Dana’s birthday. My mother is, well, my mother. My ex is someone I loved for about 15 years (Dana would remember down to the date and time…. I am not that good). Though we have no future, you can’t be friends with someone for that long and not have them cross your mind occasionally. So, yesterday brought up almost every feeling of grief I’ve ever had in my life.

I have one happy memory that kept me going, and that was the year the three of us went to the Governor Hotel for dinner to celebrate. I had called in advance to make a reservation, and when we got there, our menus read “Happy Birthday Dana & Carolyn.” It was wonderful, and no one sang to us in a paper hat……………………

The most painful and cathartic part was when I found a show on Apple Plus called “Dear …” Every episode is a different actor/famous person. I watched “Dear Oprah” and cried a little. Then, I watched “Dear Big Bird.” I should have known that would be a landmine. I remember so clearly when Mr. Hooper died, and public television deciding to deal with it age-appropriately on the air. I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe as a mom explained to “Big Bird” that she used that clip to explain her father’s death to her little girl. Believe me when I say I would have cried regardless- when I’m alone, I’ll cry over anything, even commercials. But this was different. This was near panic-attack territory. Most of the time, it’s just a few tears rolling down my cheeks, like remembering my mother and I watching Oprah every day at four from the time I was nine years old. Even when we were (rarely) at the gym, we didn’t miss it. We walked on treadmills and watched the show, anyway.

My friends and family kept in touch all day, because I’d sent them a heads up on the 10th. I just asked them to look out for me and check in if they hadn’t in a while. So basically, I got alerts on social media almost as often as if it were my own birthday…. some from people who had also lost parents, which helps enormously. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again that losing a parent rewires you down to the neurons. New people I meet will never know the person I was before October of 2016. There’s also a slight difference between people whose parents lived to be the age they generally die naturally, and people whose parents die suddenly. In addition to grieving the past, they also grieve the years of which they’ve been robbed. In my own case, it delayed my grief for about a week and a half, because I was so physically and emotionally shocked. Nothing felt real until I got back to DC and settled into my new normal, which was not talking on the phone with my mother for several hours at a clip at least a few times a week. My mother was fairly conservative- and by that, I don’t mean politically. I mean behavior, clothing, etc. I grew up that way, but after I moved out on my own I was, shall we say, more adventurous. Therefore, I really didn’t have much to say in terms of my own life, so I know A LOT about what it takes to be an elementary school music teacher/choir director. In fact, one of the pieces of grief I continue to work through is that I “ran the game” on my mom all the time…. the one where you keep people talking about themselves so that they don’t want to/get a chance to know anything about you.

When I was literally suicidal and in the hospital, I was forced to open up. Though I couldn’t tell my mom exactly what I was going through, I could tell her enough, and she was more resilient than I ever thought. Not as breakable. I spent years covering up things I didn’t have to, mostly because I was convinced she wasn’t a safe space.

If there is any reason that if I win the lottery, I’m buying Argo and her husband (and her family, and their pets, and their grandkids’ college etc. etc. etc.) whatever they want, it’s because the conversations she and I shared effectively gave my mother back to me. If they don’t want anything because they have no idea what to think, I’ll just donate to a charity I am spot-on sure would be a big hit. Man, I’ve thought a lot about this for something that is unlikely to happen considering I don’t buy tickets……………………………..

I spent so many years frightened out of my mind that I would say something that would offend my mother, I was never truly real with her. Not once. I never lied about anything, but it took me three years to show her I had a tattoo, if that gives you any indication…… and I didn’t have a tattoo. I had five.

I wish I could have been more authentic. I’m much funnier when I am.

My mother was the type person that if she said something that everyone was thinking and didn’t say it, we would all fall out laughing much more than usual because she was the last person we’d think would spill it. I have no doubt that in some ways, she was just as bottled up as me, because underneath her exterior, it always seemed like there was way more than advertised.

It’s not surprising, though. As a preacher’s family, there is such pressure to be perfect people, and none of us ever are……………. but we all curate our personalities to some extent. It’s the level that changes (one of the many reasons I think preacher’s kids make good spies- all of us have the ability to take in shocking news while smiling and acting as if nothing has happened).

In fact, taking in the shocking news of my mother’s death, smiling and acting as if nothing had happened was how I got through my first few days. It was impossible to receive people without public armor. I knew four people at the visitation, had heard of maybe another 20, and there were more than 150-200 between it and the funeral. It was truly overwhelming to such a degree that those memories are burned in so hard that they’ve replaced my first thoughts when thinking of her. That’s what I mean by “rewired.” There is nothing in the world that compares to or prepares for losing your mother, even losing someone else, because she’s the only one who literally carried you. It’s a different feeling, like you’ve lost your first apartment, as it were. I felt all the time, and still feel a little bit unmoored. Because you’ve lost the only one who carried you into the world, it’s an awful feeling no matter what your relationship was while they were alive- and unlike other feelings of grief, it’s one of the only universal ones. Everything else is as individual as a fingerprint.

I remember having such unhinged anger in the beginning, because I was the first of my closest friends to lose a parent, and some of them are much older than me. I also had quite a bit of anxiety and closed myself off to everyone except Dan, because we didn’t know each other well, but had that one thing in common, and at the time it was consuming my entire life. The anxiety came from not wanting to lash out at my other friends, because their parents being alive didn’t mean anything was wrong with them. I didn’t want to get my crazy spatter on their clothes….. fights and gutter snipes based on something I couldn’t express in a way that would make sense to them, because there is no frame of reference. I could even say out loud that I was just railing against their parents still being alive, and that still wouldn’t make any sense because people think they know what it will be like, and they don’t. No matter what you think it’s like, that’s not it.

The reality is that everyone reacts differently, so not only do you not know what it’s going to be like objectively, you don’t know it subjectively, either. Your reaction will be based on what you know, not what I do.

That’s why there’s such a drive to keep a lid on it. I don’t want my grief to inconvenience our relationship, because one has nothing to do with the other in terms of how much I adore you. I’m just on a completely different road, traveling in a completely different direction, in a completely different outfit.

And in time, more and more of my friends will be traveling with me, and our relationship will change in an irreversible way….. just like the relationship with your mother. The permanence of the change is that when your mother dies, so does a piece of you. The individuality is that none of us have any idea what will go in its place. It’s not that you can replace your mother with something else; it’s that all of a sudden, a lot of your time and energy empties out of a relationship that can never be resurrected. The time gets filled up with other things, and you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll do with it.

It shakes you like a Diet Coke.

 

True HD

I have a netbook that is far less powerful than my desktop, but it has one thing my desktop doesn’t… a video card that supports HDMI. When I started using Zoom, I switched to the little computer. Why? So that my friends are always in true HD. I also use my most powerful headphones, so that their voices are as clear as they would be if I was in the room with them. It feels more intimate that way, and additionally presents a conundrum.

If I wanted, I could turn on my own web cam… but I haven’t, and can’t decide whether I want to or not. I know that my friends would probably want to see me- it’s been years- but here’s the thing. I’m not getting together with friends for happy hour. I’m going to church… and every single week (so far), the moment the music has started, tears have rolled down my face.

The first time I went, it wasn’t just one or two. I went into the ugly cry because so many things hadn’t changed, and the deep connection I’d felt all those years ago knocked me down with force. The next two weeks, I was mostly okay…. and then there was today- Palm Sunday- and if I’d thought for even a second before the service began, I would have known it was going to be tough. But I didn’t. Think, that is.

If I had, I would have known that the service would start with my favorite people in the world singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from “Godspell.” I would have known because I’d been in the choir the entire time I attended while I actually lived in Oregon. I’d have remembered who started that tradition. I would have known whose voice would begin. I would have been more prepared for the way of the Lord than I actually was.

Again, I went into the ugly cry.

Then it got worse.

I was doubled over, tears and snot running down my face. I couldn’t get air into my chest, the physical pain of heartache almost unbearable. It was the closest I’ve come to hyperventilating in recent memory, probably because I haven’t had many moments in the last three years where I’ve felt this deeply about anything. Grief has a numbing effect for a lot of people- it’s extremely effective at keeping you from emoting so much more than is acceptable in polite company. Some people are very good at expressing their emotions. I used to be one of those people.

Now, I’m not.

I make an exception for this blog. This is because it’s so much easier to hide behind my keyboard, spilling emotions and letting readers have their own reactions without hearing them myself. I made the executive decision long ago that what people thought of me was none of my business. Even in my personal life, some of the deepest relationships I’ve had consisted of letters, because again, I could look at emotions from a distance. I wasn’t capable of exploding every mine that dots my inner landscape, and letters put neither me as the writer nor them as the reader on the spot (which changed when mail became electronic- mistakes were made).

In person, I will only tell you real things about me if I feel comfortable, and it is taking me longer and longer to feel comfortable as I age. As I act and react, more emotions get stuffed into boxes and locked. There are so few times when they leak, and when they do, I don’t want to be seen, heard, or touched. I make exceptions for my family, but if you are not in that tight circle, I would rather isolate than let anyone in. I am lucky that my family is not just biological, because if it was, I would have cut myself off from any support system at all (I live in Maryland, very close to The District, and my bio family lives in Houston).

I am becoming aware that this is a problem, that the pendulum has swung too far towards being alone. The thing is, though, silence becomes addictive. I know that I don’t want to be single the rest of my life, but I am terrified of putting myself out there. Open up to a stranger in hopes that we eventually have a deep enough connection to love each other? Please. One of my friends said it best when I told her as much and she said, “well, the dating scene is scary as all holy hell.” I’m not sure I’ve ever related to anything more.

My answer to this is not to date at all, but to cultivate good friendships and to put myself out there professionally, because I think networking will probably take a lot longer, but I’ve tried a couple of dating apps and the experience was mind-numbing, mostly because the person I wrote to for a few days was never the same person I met in person. I’m also not attracted by looks, in general, so it never mattered if their bodies matched up to their pictures. But it really mattered when their personalities seemed to flip. Not once did I ever meet someone who was so genuine in their chats/e-mails that I “recognized them.” Or, at least, I never met someone in a romantic way.

There was this one woman I ran across that said she was already married and just looking for friends, so I e-mailed her and said “let’s get together for dinner. Bring your wife if you want, because I’m not contacting you for romance. I just read your profile and it seems like you’re a really cool person. I’m new to the area and need to meet cool people.” After a few days of flipping each other quotes from “The Big Lebowski,” dinner was on with both women. It has truly been a blessing that it created a lasting relationship that’s only gotten better with time.

Mostly because it’s lasted long enough for me to get comfortable. I’m not sure I’ve ever been vulnerable enough to cry in front of either one of them, but I’ve at least come far enough that talking about myself isn’t a thing anymore. I don’t “run the game” with them, the game I always play with people I don’t know well.

It’s simple, really. 99% of people have a favorite topic, and that’s them. The game is “how long can I keep you talking about yourself so that you don’t ask me anything about my life?” There’s only one person in the world that’s better at that game than me, and can read me like a manual. There was no percentage in playing, because the competition was too fierce and I knew I was losing. I talked about myself because I couldn’t not. Grasshopper will never reach satori in that relationship, and for better or for worse, I’m okay with it. I definitely wasn’t at first, but after what seems like a hundred years, I’m coming around. By now, she’s family, and I make an exception for family.

Which brings me back around to whether I should turn on my web cam for church, because I can’t put my finger on why being vulnerable in front of that congregation is a thing. They raised me. I mean, I was technically an adult when I got there, not so much with the literally. Why do I care if they see me cry? It’s not like it hasn’t happened before.

Like with everything else, I’m going to overthink about it. Explode some land mines. Feel the heartache and know that it’s breaking me open to let light in. Reconciling who I used to be with who I am now. Wrestling with whether those two people are on their way to integration. I am sure it is why I wanted my friends in true HD in the first place. My question to myself is whether I get to be in true HD, too.

 

Blogging Isn’t Writing

Especially because of the pandemic we’re experiencing, I thought it would be fun to watch movies that deal with them. The first one I watched made me laugh so hard I almost choked and died (no lie). Jude Law plays a blogger/journalist [Alan Krumwiede] who wants to break the story, and LaurenceMV5BMTY3MDk5MDc3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAyNTg0Ng@@._V1_ Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever provided me with this gem: blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation. One of the best movie quotes about blogging of all time and space. #fightme

I tend to think of it as emotionally vomiting all over the Internet, but what do I know? 😉

The movie has an amazing cast, and held my attention. When I watch movies, they generally run in the background as I do a hundred other things, but I actually sat down for this one. I am a huge fan of both Jude Law and Matt Damon, and love it when they work together. The Talented Mr. Ripley is a masterpiece. I also love Laurence Fishburne’s voice, and I could listen to him read the phone book and be extraordinarily happy with it. The movie itself is great, but what really pushes it over the top is the actors chosen.

I am sure I will keep watching disaster movies, because they are timely and generally have great soundtracks. I am a sucker for a well-composed score….. and isn’t it interesting how life imitates art?

Speaking of which, no show in recent memory does this better than Homeland. For instance, two or three weeks ago it was about negotiating a cease fire with the Taliban. Truly, with the exception of a Bipolar I case officer, this show is the most realistic I’ve ever seen.

Why would a Bipolar I case officer be ridiculous? The CIA would never let it happen. I think it’s probably a little unfair to discriminate against mentally ill workers that don’t leave Langley- with the exception that they have to be in treatment at all times- but field work would end in disaster, and not for the reasons you think.

If a Bipolar spy was captured in a third world country, they may not even have access to your medication. If they do, how likely would it be that they would actually give it to you? It didn’t even occur to me until Carrie herself got made, and descended into madness from lack of medication after getting captured by the GRU.604px-Apple_logo_Think_Different_vectorized.svg

That being said, a Bipolar analyst might be a good thing. Mental illness isn’t fun, but you gain a tremendous amount of ability at being able to see things others don’t, because you’re always thinking outside the box. Carrie’s murder boards are absolutely insane in terms of always being spot on. She can make connections that no one else can or does. That part is amazing in terms of mental illness visibility, because she highlights all the bad and the good. The problem comes in when analysts are required to be forward-deployed. I have no idea how that would work, but it’s a balance of pros vs. cons. I don’t have an answer, I just think it’s something that might come in handy, especially when Think different. becomes a thing….. because trust me when I say no one is better at it.

There have been a lot of people saying that Homeland has gotten predicable and boring, because Carrie is brilliant and then has a breakdown every season. The producers’ response was amazingly kind (at least to those who have it). Carrie doesn’t get a break from it. Why should you?

In terms of my own mental health, Carrie and I are very different. Bipolar II does not cause such extreme variance between depression and mania. The depression is full strength, but the mania is basically the Bipolar I Diet Coke™ counterpart. There’s only one time in my life that it’s gotten out of hand, and it was so memorable that if it ever happens again, I’m locking myself in my room and air gapping my computer. I will leave you to your own devices as to what happened, but it cost me more than I’ve ever spent… in fact, it reached into my five dollar life and made change… the scary part was that I was on my medication when it happened, and I thought I was going to have to start a whole new protocol.

The reason that’s always scary is that changing your medication is often trial and error, so I could have been through the wringer several times before getting right again. But as it turned out, my doctor added Neurontin™ & Klonopin™ for anxiety and left the rest alone. It thankfully, blessedly worked miracles. That was four years ago, and I haven’t had a recurrence, mostly because I’m so afraid of it that I will go to the doctor at the drop of a hat.

Nothing has really changed in terms of always feeling better, but nothing has felt worse, either. I think my ups and downs are just life, not my brain causing them. For instance, my disorder didn’t get worse when my mother died. I just experienced grief like a normal person (or as normal as I get, anyway). I walked around dazed and confused for months, not getting out of bed unless I had to. I’m guessing that particular reaction is common for people who have lost a parent or a spouse, and not an indication of something worse. Although I knew that the grief would be bad, I truly didn’t expect a fog to settle over my brain that would make me constantly feel as if I was on a heavy sedative, forgetting what and who was around me…. such as putting ice cream in the refrigerator. I leaned heavily (and still do) on the friends who have also lost parents, because they can tell with one look how I’m doing that day.

The thing is, though, now that it’s been three years I am still grieving, but over different things… like losing the sound of my mother’s voice in my head, or forgetting things I should probably remember, like childhood memories. As I get older, my first decade fades. Grief is an interesting balance between being grateful for the years you got and being cheated out of the ones you were supposed to have. It is a totally different thing when your parents don’t die in their eighties.

And, to be frank, you get irrationally angry at people who say the wrong thing, because they don’t mean any harm. They’re trying to be supportive, they just don’t know what to say. The people that do know what to do become precious- the ones that just say “I’m sorry,” because they know there are no words in the English language that will make things better. Bonus points for hugs or an arm around your shoulder. I don’t think I got enough affection at that time, because I just didn’t have as big a support system then.

The one exception was Prianka, because it was so amazing to have my best buddy pick me up at the airport when I landed at DCA from that particular trip. It was nice to relax on the way home rather than having to struggle with my bags on the Metro as I got lost trying to find my way home because I couldn’t think properly. If I had been driving, I would have realized I was going the wrong way at about Richmond.

All that being said, it was really nice to know that I was having an objective experience rather than subjective, because my feelings were so universal. Deep grief is not a club you want to join, but there is an amazing community to receive you……..

Especially other people who also graffiti the Internet.

Wilted

I started my morning by making coffee and a “kitchen sink” wilted salad with over medium eggs on top (I am a vegan who cheats. A lot. #noguiltever). By “kitchen sink,” I mean I just threw in whatever fruits and veggies were available.

I started out with sesame seed oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, diced Granny Smith apples, and ginger. To finish, I added a mixture of shaved brussel sprouts and spring mix (red romaine, baby spinach, radicchio, green romaine, arugula, red mustard, red chard, frisee), then put some rice wine vinegar in the bottom of the pan and let it reduce, helping the to greens soften and mix.

When the veggies were ready, I pushed them to the sides of the pan, making a perfect circle for two eggs, spraying the pan with sesame seed oil again so nothing would stick. I was going to do sunny side up, but I didn’t have a lid for the pan, and I grew tired of waiting for the yolks to cook, because it takes so much longer without steam.

The dish turned out perfectly, and I am my harshest critic. I was hungry in a now sort of way, otherwise I would have served everything over wild rice and lentils as well.

I have a rice cooker made by Instant Zest, and it is the best kitchen purchase I have ever made, because it was cheap and has settings for white rice, brown rice, steel cut oatmeal, quinoa, and veggie steam (which I have also used successfully for soft/hard boiled eggs).

It’s actually been a few days….. almost a week….. since I’ve cooked, because I had to gather the courage to do it again.  I was cubing raw sweet potato, and I cut myself in such a spectacular way that I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse kitchen injury. It happened so fast that I’m not even sure where I made the mistake. I don’t know if the cutting board slipped, the knife went sideways, it wasn’t sharp enough for raw potato, etc. It could also have been something I wouldn’t have caught, like my monocular vision making me think I was cutting a straight line, but I was actually cutting diagonally. This is a problem that is as equally likely as an accident I would have seen coming. All that being said, no matter what the cause, the effect was the same- absolute searing pain and bleeding so severe that I should have gone to Urgent Care/the ER to see if I needed stitches, but I didn’t.

My kitchen training was just too ingrained…. fix the problem and get back to cooking. It took forever to get it to clot, even using a styptic pencil for vasoconstriction. Once it did, I put on some Band-Aids and finished what I was doing. Two days later, I was taking off the Band-Aids to change the dressing, and it ripped open again, which led to another half hour of trying to fix profuse bleeding. Though I’d bought a first aid kit and very advanced bandages, I’d forgotten to get the one thing that would have really helped, and is a staple in a professional knife roll– Super Glue. If I’d gotten some, once the bleeding stopped, I probably could have avoided ripping it open again. You can chalk that one up to #dumbassattack, and it won’t be happening again.

Believe it or don’t, this is the first time I’ve cut myself in many years. When I was working professionally, at home I ran on sandwiches and hot dogs. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was cook for myself…. so, the only time I used knives was at work, where everything is built for safety, even for short people like me. The counter is lower, the cutting boards are heavier and held in place by wet rags, at least one person in the kitchen has honing and sharpening tools, etc. I had plenty of injuries when it came to burning myself, but that was it.

It was funny the emotions that came up for me as soon as the knife went from sweet potato to the side of my finger and nail. I thought of all the professional chefs and cooks I’d worked with, including my ex-wife, Dana, and shame washed over me. I felt like I’d let them down. It was my own moment of feeling wilted.

For a home cook, it’s just an accident. For a professional cook, it’s “you were being a dumbass and whatever you did got you hurt. What the hell is wrong with you?” And believe me, with some chefs, that is the nice version of what they would have said. And if the chef wasn’t in the kitchen, your coworkers would do their job for them. For instance, Dana used to work in a high-end grocery store for the meat, sausage, and fish department. One of her coworkers sliced into his finger while filleting a fish, and the entire department called him Filet-O-Finger for YEARS ON END.

Speaking of which, the only time I ever got a nickname was due to no fault of my own. During junior college, I was on the waitstaff at my local Chili’s. It was a busy shift, and they hadn’t switched over to plastic mugs yet. So, this waiter broke one of the heavy glass mugs and like an idiot, just stuck it back in the rack. The manager made an announcement that the glass was broken, but I was delivering food and not there to hear it.

The way the mug was stuck down into the rack, you couldn’t see the broken part, so I came around the corner and it’s (of course) the first thing I pick up. Little shards immediately went into my pinkie at the knuckle, and it was definitely bad enough for stitches. The manager rushed me to the ER, and I didn’t go another day in that kitchen without being called “Worker’s Comp” by somebody. The reason that memory is still seared into my brain is that it’s been 20 years and the scar is still visible.

I have no reason to doubt that this cut will be the same. 20 years from now, I will still remember the day I was dicing raw sweet potatoes, because the cut is deep enough the scar will never fade.

So, today was about ignoring the fear I felt about cutting myself again so I could move past it for real. “Act as if,” you know? In fact, as everything was cooking, I kept cutting. I didn’t need but about a half of diced apple, so I cut the rest into very large dice, and did the same with another whole apple. It was enough to fill two Zip-Loc bags. With the first, I shook in a small box of sugar free cherry Jell-O powder, an idea my mom got from a magazine and is delicious with any flavor. A moment of grief washed over me, because I couldn’t remember the proportions and she wasn’t there to call and ask. She used to put Jell-O apples in my lunch box as a kid almost every day, so I knew she would know off the top of her head…… and Google is just no substitute.

It was yet another moment of feeling wilted, but due to the hopelessness of the situation, I just had to move on.

I figured I would learn on my own when I tasted them if I’d gotten it right or not, and moved on to the second bag, to which I added some rice wine vinegar to keep the apples fresh for cooking savory dishes or adding to a salad (Hmmmm…. there’s goat cheese in the fridge……).

The last thing I was thinking today is that my knife is so sharp that there’s no way it’s time to sharpen again, but it probably needs honing. I’ll call around and ask how much it would be, because I’ve never learned how to sharpen and hone a knife properly….. and no matter how much I spend on an electric honer/sharpener, it will not meet my expectations. I have seen the most expensive ones chew up a knife and spit it out, even if it worked perfectly before.

If it is more expensive than another chef’s knife from Chicago Cutlery, I’ll just get a new one and leave this one in the community block…. but I’m really hoping that it’s not, because this knife, since I hide it from my housemates, has become mine. I never got first blood on Rachel (so named since she was as sharp as a Maddow takedown), or the three knives before her. I haven’t named this one……..

It’s probably going to be “Worker’s Comp.”

Talking Like You’re Writing

A few years ago, I was asked why I wrote about Argo so much more than I wrote about Dana, considering that I had known Dana so much longer. My answer was this:

To me, that question answers itself. I don’t write about Dana as much because I’ve known her so much longer. Argo is “write” under my skin, emotions so close I can touch them. Dana is a river that runs down deep inside me, and it’s going to take me a long time to carry those memories upward so that I can process them clearly.

Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Now that I’ve had about five years’ worth of perspective, I’ve been thinking a lot about both the good and the bad. It’s not a situation I’d be willing to go “back to the future,” because the way it began was so different than the way it ended, something I never expected that didn’t come out of nowhere… and yet it did. Now, I have the ability to see all the things we weren’t talking about that led to our demise, but at the time, it felt like everything came together slowly and ripped apart in an instant. That being said, I never mistake the part for the whole and I was damn lucky to have been married to her for as long as I was, and those memories are precious to me, save a few I desperately wish I could forgive and forget. It is not about blame. She is forgiven. I have a harder time forgiving myself, and there are some things that will take a few more years as time does its healing magic, often without me realizing it is happening. I am ready to meet someone else, to practice all that I’ve learned in the meantime. I am ready to be a better person/partner than I ever have been before, mostly because I’ve truly taken the time out to feel my grief, talk/write it out, and get over what I believe are some of the biggest glories and mistakes of my life so far.

The things that come back to me now are mostly hilarious….. like before we were even together. I went on two dates with Allison Frost, senior producer and occasional host of the Oregon Public Broadcasting show “Think Out Loud.” We were not in the same place in our lives (something came up in hers), and we never went out again. But basically from that moment forward, the inside joke that Dana and I came up with was that she was my “celebrity girlfriend on the radio.” This morphed into my “corporeally-challenged celebrity girlfriend on the radio.” And, in true “Bambelanager” fashion, “if it’s funny once, run it into the ground.”

But there are two direct Dana quotes that just slay me…. one is funny, and one is tragic.

  1. I know you are not grumpy with me, because I have been cute ALL DAY.
  2. Go write something. You’re talking like you’re blogging. You’ve been talking for two hours straight.giphy-facebook_s

I feel that it is tragic because I thought to myself, “if I’ve really been talking for two hours straight, why didn’t you stop me?” It just sounded like she was exhausted by me, and just go away.  I felt wounded, because one of our strong points in relationship to each other was long conversations that meandered from topic to topic in a very ADHD way. Story, tangent, story, tangent, story, tangent, story which circles back to the first tangent, etc. I thought that’s what was going on, and maybe it was given Dana’s love of hyperbole. But maybe it wasn’t, and I was just in this hypomanic state, and the thought horrified me because it isolated her. Inside, I was bursting with the idea that I’d read a situation so wrong.

It was at that point that I began isolating, shutting myself up in my office and either blogging or e-mailing Argo, because she was my sounding board at a time when I could really use one. I will never forget explaining a situation to her and her exact words were that I was acting like a “judgmental dickhead.” I laughed so hard my desk chair sagged, because as an INFJ, I have a real talent for letting the J stick out. Also, it was nice to have a new pet name.

(Also, in order not to get the person Argo confused with the book & movie, I will share a line I wrote to her in a “galaxy long ago and far, far away……” I sleep deeply in the belly of the ship, in whom I know my passage is safe. I tried to find a link to the post where I originally wrote it, but when I couldn’t, I realized it was in an e-mail. Sorry.)

I feel that the second quote from Dana fundamentally challenged who I was. I became worried most of the time that I was talking too much, and retreated into myself. Because I had a pen pal with whom I could be completely myself, and write for as long as I wanted, I did. I never cared whether I got a response or not; the important part was feeling heard.

Now, I use Evernote. Some notes are private letters never meant to be read. Some of them are writing ideas. Some are funny, some make me cry because they explore such deep emotional cuts. But, it’s my own space to talk for two hours when I need it…. like when I found out through the grapevine that Argo had gotten married.

I folded like a house of cards, and not because of the crush I once harbored (you can look it up in the dictionary as Worst. Thing. Ever. I would call it a decision, but it wasn’t. My brain just turned to mush and there was no consciousness about it. It was there before I realized what was happening. My heart dropped into my stomach when it hit me.).

My tears centered around me no longer being a friend who was worthy of being told those things… I would have been excited to hear about the proposal, the preparations… everything that comes with the thought of a close friend meeting their life partner. I didn’t even know it was headed in that direction, because the last time we talked about marriage, she said she hated it. In fact, I don’t even know his name. She was dating him when we met, so I jokingly called him her “boy toy.” When I said, “what’s his name so I don’t have to call him ‘boy toy’ for the rest of his life?,” she said that “boy toy” would do nicely. It was a predictable response. I should have seen that one coming from a mile away.

In fact, I thought I saw someone at a Nats game that looked like her, but decided it wasn’t because she was wearing a wedding ring. But just on the off chance that it was, I walked the other way. I got nauseated thinking about what that conversation might be like, and luckily I wasn’t close enough that she would have spotted me. Perhaps she would have walked the other way as well. I didn’t want to make either of us extremely uncomfortable and awkward to the point of onomatopoeia.

As an aside, the other thing that ran through my mind was “what if I make an idiot of myself and it isn’t her, anyway?” Through pictures, I have an idea of her in my mind, but I don’t know many of her facial expressions, the three-dimensional version of herself. In hindsight, that’s probably a good thing…. not that I wouldn’t be open to it now, but not by randomly running across each other without time to prepare for what would have been a momentous occasion for me…. a precious fixed point in time where I hoped it stood still long enough for me to take it in.

There are things for which I’d like to apologize in person, and it would feel so good to see her laugh. To be able to read her eyes and emotions as the conversation went on. To see if she judges for herself that I’m not nearly as weird as advertised. She has said that I am forgiven and she has moved on, but it would be different to feel it. To know deep within, to Robert Heinlein “grok.” But at this point, it’s just a pipe dream, and I will always walk the other way without an invitation.

After writing it all down, though, I realized that I was being ridiculous about it all. We aren’t close friends anymore, and she owes me nothing, ever. If anything, it’s me that owes her. Big time. Like, “if I win the lottery, then you’re getting half” big time.

It would help if I played, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Right? #crickets

Argo is included in this entry because invariably, if you think about a marriage’s beginning, you also think about its end, and this was a big piece. When I retreated into myself because I thought Dana didn’t want to be the person that made me feel heard, it was a small fissure that led to a big one.

But do I regret the seven years and change Dana and I were married? Not in the slightest. I learned lessons that could not have been learned in any other way. We had more fun than the law should have allowed. We thought so much alike that we joked that we shared a brain. But as time went on, we stopped sharing the deepest parts of our hearts, afraid to let the other one in for fear of rejection. And actually, I shouldn’t speak for her. I can only speak to what I felt at that time in my life.

I have come to feel that the relationship ran its course at just the right time, because both of Dana’s parents are still alive (as far as I know- we haven’t spoken in three years or so), and having a partner with no frame of reference as to what I was going through, especially in the acute moments after my mother’s death, have only made me feel relief at the fact I was single when it happened.

I know for a fact that I would have been irrationally angry that her mother was still alive and mine wasn’t, because I was irrationally angry at a lot of people back then who still had their parents, especially when they were much older than me.

If we had been living together, I would have made the huge mistake of taking that anger out on her, something she never would have deserved. She also would not have enjoyed being married to someone who became the equivalent of a shut-in. I am glad that I did not have the chance to dampen her spirit the way mine burned out until I could rebuild…. and I will never be finished. A parent’s death fundamentally rewires you down to the neurons about which you think don’t do anything. I act and react differently, my breath has changed, my outlook varies from nothing matters to everything does…. and when I say “nothing matters,” I mean the part where my mother won’t be there to see it.

She won’t be there to meet my as of now imaginary someone new, and the possibility of additional grandchildren (I don’t want to have kids at this age, but if I limit myself to dating only women without them, I will be lonely a very long time). Won’t be there to accept an autographed copy if I somehow miraculously get published…..etc., etc., etc. In the present, she’s not here to tell all my funny stories, or to read my blog and tell me everything that’s wrong with it. 😛

The thing I did miss then was having a companion, someone who would just lie next to me as I cried, and I mean that universally and not limited to Dana. I was ready to start dating again by October 1st, 2016, and on October 2nd, that thought vanished. I couldn’t bear the thought of dragging another person (especially someone I did not know well) into the freak show that was my life. I’m still not convinced my life is not a freak show at times, but at least there’s no opening song and dance act plus encores.

And even if my stories now are full of tangents that meander into other ideas and people, it is comforting to think that the river is rising, which lifts all boats.