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.

Easter People

[Editor’s Note: People of color are encouraged to participate in discussion in this post, positively or negatively. I just wanted to say up front that I am a white person writing for a white audience whom I hope will listen.]

A phrase that endures in both liberal and conservative Christianity comes from an award-winning Christian author named Barbara Johnson. That attribution is difficult because great minds think alike, so theologians like Anne Lamott have also said it…. as has my father, which is where I heard it first in one of his sermons as a kid. It has stayed with me for almost thirty years:

We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

Good Friday is all around us.

There is a global pandemic.

American cities large and small are burning in protest over decades of post-traumatic stress disorder while “Nero fiddles.”

The president, regardless of party, would usually have something to say to calm the nation after 100,000 deaths from COVID-19…………. perhaps an additional acknowledgement that these protests did not come à propos of nothing.

Whites have (of course) been affected, but the virus has disproportionately hit areas with high concentrations of people of color, magnifying inequities in the health care system that have existed since the United States won its freedom from the British Empire……. and still hasn’t moved for significant change.

It is akin to schools in minority neighborhoods not having the resources that white schools do. Though the country is becoming more integrated in some areas, there are others where black families move into those white neighborhoods to give their kids better education, and whites sell their houses. The inequality begins anew.

People of color have been crying for help; their sorrow has fallen on deaf ears… and then, a nine minute video of a policeman choking the life out of a black man surfaced on social media.

For people of color, it does not matter whether they personally knew the person killed by racially motivated violence. In fact, it was not even the murder by law enforcement of one Minneapolis man named George Floyd that threw the first match.

Racism is an institutionalized top-down system of oppression, carried out in education, health care, housing, workplaces, and many, many, many people of color killed by the police for no apparent reason other than they “looked suspicious.” Perception is in the eye of the beholder, and looking suspicious is relative given that white people wearing the exact same clothes as people of color are seemingly off their radar.

For instance, Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a Charleston church was taken quietly (meaning still alive) and given Burger King on the way to the police station. Eric Garner was harassed on suspicion of selling single cigarettes out of boxes without tax stamps. When he said that he was not selling cigarettes and tired of being harassed, the police choked him to death.

Good Friday is not only egregious inequality, it is the refusal to acknowledge it exists. Phrases by white people like “I don’t see color” and “we should all belong to one race… the human race” cease to acknowledge complete ignorance.

White people have never been segregated like people of color. White people have never lived through being stolen from their homeland and enslaved, being counted as 3/5ths of a person, Jim Crow laws, and now racism that is every bit as entrenched, just couched in more politeness (which never matters because people of color see it for what it is).

To be an Easter person during this particular Good Friday, you must challenge your own assumptions about race. You must ask yourself what you can do to promote equality in every aspect of your life, because it touches every aspect of theirs. An axiom in our society that needs addressing immediately is that it isn’t that white people’s lives aren’t hard- they’re just not hard because they’re white. The link I’ve included in terms of promoting equality is an article written by a white woman, because I think that our responsibilities are separate from minority communities.

We do not need to put people of color in the position of comforting us, making us feel better, telling us ways we can help when we are completely capable of doing our own research.

To add to her list, white people, get out of the protests. Stop. Just stop. Stand on the sidelines with cold water, masks, and/or bail money. Do not even think about moving from your station. When white people are involved in these protests, we are again off the radar. The police aren’t likely to grab us, but the nearest person of color instead. They will pay for what we have done.

On Good Friday, Jesus said, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” This makes our own Good Friday even more covered in ash, because we do not have that excuse.

Most, if not all white people see racism every day, but do not call it out.

Hiring managers do not even bother to wonder why they automatically put resumés with names like “Tyrone” or “LaToya” in the “I’ll pass” pile, even when Tyrone and LaToya have over and above the required qualifications and experience.

White “boys will be boys,” but boys of color are liable to be arrested by school security. The prison pipeline starts early, because once there is one arrest, it all too often snowballs.

These are concrete examples, but it’s more than that. White people fail to call out racism in simple conversations, particularly when all participants are white. In fact, the white people who heard the racist comment and didn’t call it out are likely to think that they aren’t racist, the person who said it was…. they were just standing there. It is not enough, and never has been, that white people remain quiet and let the moment pass.

Being an Easter person in a Good Friday world is not one decision. It is a lifestyle choice. It is a commitment to do everything you can to help the world progress.

My analogy for this is that I didn’t decide I loved women at 13, told one person, and that’s all I ever had to do. I come out to everyone who is new to me. It’s a choice to come out every single day, not that one time once. Advancing the nature of humanity is the same way. It begins with new behavior every day, not that one time once.

If you only have one story in which you stopped racism, I am giving you an invitation to create more- hopefully one for every day of your life from here on out.

We, as white people, do not have an ability to apologize for the past- at least, not in words. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything without changed behavior. We have shown to people of color over and over that words of contrition are just that.

A Good Friday white person is one that says “my ancestors didn’t own any slaves. Inequality doesn’t have anything to do with me.” An Easter white person recognizes that the way racism has been woven into the fabric of our flag, inextricably interrelated with our culture, means that they have benefited from a system built on the backs of the people living here when we arrived, and the people we stole to build our own infrastructure. An Easter person recognizes that we’ve made people of color participate in our own delusions of superiority…. our own ridiculous narrative that has lasted far too long.

The more we try to dismantle it, the closer we are to bringing Easter to the masses, rather than keeping it for ourselves. The enduring phrase becomes more meaningful, because we will have a concrete idea of what it means to be Easter people in a Good Friday world.

We don’t have to take it lying down, as if the world will always be Good Friday with a few people willing to make it Easter on their own.

Moreover, the world will always have Good Friday problems. There is no way to eradicate them. The difference made is the number of people willing to stand up and claim Easter as their own….. a groundswell of hope outweighing despair.

Changes by Easter people, from small to sweeping, will help in more ways than we should be able to count.

Amen.

ProChristianation

I have so much to do today that is banal, therefore I am sitting at my desk hoping to come up with something brilliant instead. Maybe if I have a creative flash, it will make taking care of the small stuff easier. I try to go from least desirable to most, because if I start with the thing I want to do most, the rest of my to-do list goes into “I can do it tomorrow” status, which generally runs ad infinitum amen.

I need to do some stuff around the house, and I also need to go to the pharmacy and grocery store. I should have thought ahead on this one and used the pharmacy at the grocery store from the beginning, but luckily, CVS and Giant are practically next door to each other. It takes about two minutes to walk between them if I’m feeling lazy, 45 seconds if I’m booking it…. usually dependent on how much I have to carry from one store to the other. I feel like taking this break to write is justified, because I don’t like to go anywhere without my phone, watch, and headphones completely charged. It helps me to be in crowds if everyone feels further away, so I’m usually listening to music or a podcast.

I never leave my watch at home because I have cerebral palsy and monocular vision. If my monocular vision is guilty, I have missed a step down (sometimes a step up) or a crack in the sidewalk. If it’s the CP, I have taken a spill a propos of nothing. My watch has fall detection, and if I don’t move in a certain amount of time, alerts 911. I’ve never needed it, but I am genuinely afraid of hitting my head, because in 90% of cases, the falls happen so fast I don’t have time to react. I’ve only had three falls in the last five years that have resulted in bruising or bleeding, but that’s enough, especially since I ripped my favorite pants at the knee…. khakis that would have looked horrible with patching even if I could have gotten all the blood out. No, wait. I have ripped two pairs of pants at $50 a pop. In one case, I thought I broke my hip. Luckily, I did not. The bone ached for days as I recovered, though.

While I was in more pain than worrying about my pants, I am reminded of an old Ryan Darlington story. He wrecked his bike and walked it back home because he was scraped up, road rash, bleeding, all the things. His dad took one look at him and, completely deadpan, said “geez…. is the bike okay? There’s nothing like the love of a parent for a child.

It helps to have a friend to help me watch out for that stuff, but mostly I just tumble ass over teakettle because I won’t say anything up front. I need to get to a place where it just is, and doesn’t make me feel embarrassed. It’s difficult, though, especially with new people in my life. If I fall once in front of them, it’s just an accident. Three or four times? Not so much.

What helped me the most was meeting Tracy Walder (link is to my question at her Q&A after her book talk- The Unexpected Spywe had a conversation when she signed my book), and learning that even with all she’s accomplished professionally, she still has her own body issues and doesn’t talk about it, either. Her hypotonia didn’t develop into CP, so our cases are different, but our internal monologues are the same.

I didn’t mean to put her on the spot, but I’d read a few pages of the book while I was waiting for her, and she mentions it, so I thought it was fair game.

I kicked myself later that I didn’t take her aside privately, because I think talking about it to an audience might have made her uncomfortable. I hope I was able to diffuse it by saying I had it, too, so she wouldn’t feel alone…. or maybe it was that I didn’t want to feel alone. Either way, it worked out.

I’d never met anyone with hypotonia before, so one of the best moments of my life was learning that there’s another person in the world that has the same feelings I do. I am sure there are plenty more, but neither of us know them. In fact, she says that she doesn’t think she’s ever met anyone outside her family that has it.

She gave me such a gift by opening up, because it raised my self-esteem when I realized that it was okay to feel how I feel, and just to let them come and go. Perhaps in the future I will feel more comfortable getting out of the house because of it. I tend to hole up (quarantine or not), because the layout of the house is familiar and safe. I purposely put off going to the grocery store and pharmacy until social interaction is needed to maintain isolation, because I don’t have to guess whether I’ll trip. I don’t have to guess that I’ll run into something. I don’t have to guess whether or not my shoulder will bang on a door frame unless it’s doubly wide. I just know.

It makes meeting people doubly hard, but during the quarantine, I did have one woman reach out to me that I managed to piss off in one day flat. That’s a record. However, I wasn’t upset about it because it was a conversation I knew was going to be way more trouble than it was worth. She grew up non-denominational/Pentecostal and still trying to live out her faith in that vein, which made me cringe because that framework is designed to keep people inside the fear of going to hell when they die………. and she can try until Jesus comes to fit in as a queer fundamentalist, but people will still talk behind her back if not directly to her face.

She spoke fluent “Christianese,” which is a language that I hear so much that I can understand it, but I won’t engage. People who take the Bible literally and those of us who take the Bible seriously are so different that there’s really no mesh. You will never catch me using the phrases “looking for a Godly marriage” or “raising kids in His word.” What pissed her off was me saying “I hear those words a lot, but I have no idea what they actually mean.”

Having spent a lot of time in the Bible Belt, I know to keep my views to myself (she was originally from Beaumont, TX). For that crowd, the resurrection is more important than anything Jesus ever did while he was alive…. and I do not enjoy the “sticky, sticky blood” interpretation.

Also, nothing in the Bible to literalists is a story from an ancient civilization trying to understand the world around them, but absolute truth- as if God sat down and wrote it all in pen. Don’t even mention to them that stories of Jesus were oral traditions not written down until 90 years after his death. No one had an eyewitness account, but literalists skip over that, as well, and will fight you in a way that you’ll always lose, because they go pretty quickly into righteousness- they follow Jesus and they have no idea what the hell you’re doing. They’re Christians, and you’re faking it…. as if no time has passed and thousands of years of exegesis and criticism are fake as well. My alarm bell went off when she said she went to Bible College. Here’s what I mean by alarm bell, taken from Wikipedia:

Many were established as a reaction against established theological colleges and seminaries, which conservatives believed were becoming increasingly liberal and undermining traditional Christian teachings, such as Biblical inerrancy [emphasis mine].

There’s a big difference between Bible College and say, getting into the divinity schools at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Emory, etc…. this is because the error is that seminaries were getting too liberal. It’s that the more they pieced history together, they could no longer support the idea that every single sentence in the Bible is a hundred percent factually accurate and needs no translation from then to now.

I am sure that my treatise on “inerrancy” could have been an entry all on its own, but everything ties together in terms of getting over myself and meeting new people, and knowing within a conversation or two whether it’s a relationship I’d like to continue. I know I’ll keep tripping and falling, but I’d like to know whether I’m going to land in the right hands.

For me, that person could be a different (non-literalist) denomination, a different religion altogether, or agnostic/atheist as long as they respect that I’m not going to change.

My beliefs about the Bible can be summed up in one sentence. I believe that all 66 books are stories that are all true, and some of them actually happened.

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.

 

Get to Know Me: COVID-19 Edition

Why not take a break from COVID-19 and learn about each other… Hat tip to all the people who’ve filled it out on Facebook and I shamelessly stole it because I had nothin’ for today.

1. Who are you named after?

My name was originally supposed to be Amanda Jane, and my parents were going to call me “AJ.” Then, my mother was sitting in a church service and the organist was listed in the bulletin as “Leslie Diane.” The rest, as they say, is history.

2. Last time you cried?

Two weeks ago, when I attended church through Zoom at Bridgeport UCC in Portland, Oregon (link is to the service, 10:30 AM Pacific). I saw some of my oldest friends in the world, and heard their voices. It was magnificent, and I was crying because I was filled with grief at my mother dying, and how long it had taken me to get back to the place where I was comfortable going to church again. For the first time in three years, I have now gone to church two weeks in a row.

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Absolutely not- it is a carpal tunnel pile of garbage that keeps getting worse. I use Evernote/Microsoft OneNote to keep track of my thoughts because if I write them down in a notebook, I can’t read them later.

4. What is your favorite lunch meat?

It used to be the disastrously unpopular olive loaf, and now it is the plant-based version of honey-baked ham (made into sandwiches on bread infused with maple syrup with Swiss “cheez” and margarine). I’m not sure olive loaf is even made anymore, but when it was, the grocery store never ran out…………………

5. Longest relationship?

I’m sure my dad wins this one, but if you mean romantically, seven years and change.

6. Do you still have your tonsils?

Yes, but I’ve had tonsillitis enough that they probably should come out to avoid recurrence. It is so unpleasant. It’s a good thing antibiotics work fast.

7. Would you bungee jump?

It depends. I probably wouldn’t do it on my own, but I’d never turn down a dare.

8. What is your favorite kind cereal?

The brown puffed rice at Whole Foods with real chocolate.

9. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

Mostly yes, because I wear Converse All-Stars high tops more than anything else.

10. Do you think you’re strong willed?

It depends on who you ask. I don’t think I’m particularly obstinate unless I’m standing up for someone else. My friends think I’m stronger than I do.

11. Favorite ice cream?

Every flavor of ice cream I’ve had with plant-based milk is my new favorite. Almond milk with almonds and chocolate is probably at the top of the list right now.

12. What is the first thing you notice about a person?

Whether they like small talk or not. I’m not attracted to the small questions.

13. Football or baseball?

If these are my only choices, it’s Baltimore Orioles baseball. My real favorite is soccer of any kind. Doesn’t matter the gender or the league. I collect national team jerseys, and interestingly enough, I don’t have the United States. Oh, and I have one MLS jersey… DC United, of course. 🙂

14. What color pants are you wearing?

Uniqlo Extra Warm leggings and lounge pants made of grey t-shirt material.

15. Last thing you ate?

A Nutella and strawberry jelly sandwich.

16. What are you listening to?

  • Miles Davis
  • Lots of podcasts- too many to list, but if you want recommendations, leave a comment.

17. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

Dark grey or Cornflower, the colors I use the most often in HTML. The grey is #333333, and the blue is #336699.

18. What is your favorite smell?

I have two- tea tree oil and lavender anything…. although I had to take a break from lavender while reading the Outlander series. It turned my stomach for a while.

19. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?

My sister, Lindsay. She’s cooler than you are.

20. Married?

I used to be, and it would take an act of God for me to do it again.

21. Hair color?

Brown, with a little grey and white mixed in…. which is such a blessing because it stops me from looking like a ten-year-old.

22. Eye Color?

Espresso… well, brown, but I’m being, ummm….. creative.

23. Favorite food to eat?

Anything I’ve cooked myself. I’m good at it, and I get immense satisfaction with that kind of accomplishment.

24. Scary movies or happy ending?

Why choose? My favorite scary movie is “Get Out.”

25. Last movie you watched in a theater?

This is one of the funniest things that has happened to me in a while. I went with my friend Jaime to see “Jojo Rabbit,” and since I’d already seen it, I went about halfway through the movie before I got ridiculously thirsty. I leaned over to Jaime and said, “I’m getting a Coke. Do you want one?” She nodded and I left. So I come back and it is the most heart-wrenching part of the film and here I am stumbling in the dark to my seat while the rest of the row would have murdered me if it wasn’t illegal.

26. What color shirt are you wearing?

White. It’s not my color, but it’s warm.

27. Favorite holiday?

Any that involve a three-day weekend.

28. Beer or Wine?

Not much of a drinker, but I love anything Belgian.

29. Night owl or morning person?

It depends. I have a lot of energy at both ends of the spectrum. I also enjoy when I can’t sleep, watching the sun come up when I’m normally “not there” to see it.

30. Favorite day of the week?

None right now- they all blend together.

31. Favorite animal?

I am absolutely over the top crazy about Fiona the hippo. When it’s nice outside, I like taking my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard to the zoo and sitting in front of the giraffe enclosure.

32. Do you have any pets?

None of my own, but there are several dogs that live in my house. It’s the best of both worlds- puppy love and no responsibility.

33. Where would you like to travel?

I am consumed by the Middle East, both in terms of “walking the Bible,” and seeing things in movies I’d like to experience for real, like the Blue Mosque in Iran, the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and the mountains of Afghanistan. My mom and dad went when I was very small, because it was safe to travel there for tourists (at least to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt). I’m not holding my breath in terms of my lifetime.

 

A Major Key

Sandra Cisneros just floored me while listening to “On Being with Krista Tippett.” She said that the Sufis say life keeps breaking your heart over and over until it *stays* open. Words to live by, because heartbreak is inevitable in a multitude of ways, and to me, this saying gives it a purpose. It is a deep, lifelong learning.

It came up in my Facebook memories this morning that Dana and I broke up five years ago today, and so the quote was especially apt in that light…. I feel that heartbreak was so great, it is the one that keeps me open to the world. No one ever expects to start a marriage preparing for its end, but I felt especially blindsided by all the things I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) see. There were many things I took seriously, and things I didn’t take seriously enough. In retrospect, knowing which was which is still a mystery. I just know they exist and don’t feel the need to talk it out with her, like some sort of post-mortem closure. I don’t care to know how she feels. It is not a matter of feeling heartless, just done.

And in fact, I care even less about how our marriage came apart than I do about our friendship, which preceded marriage by almost four years. Though it’s not like we talked daily when I first moved to DC, we did talk a few times and laughed a lot. But there must have been too much pain roiling underneath to keep it up, and that is the beginning and the end of it to me. I don’t have need to cause her more pain just because of something I wanted. Her feelings do matter in that respect. But it was extraordinarily difficult to go from talking from the moment we woke to the moment we went to sleep to absolutely no communication, ever. I didn’t insist on it, but I respected her wishes. It was a large factor in my moving to DC, because I am not the best at emotional boundaries. I figured that with half a country in between us, it would be so much easier to find new people to fill the void, and I was right.

I met a swath of people who had no connection to me as a married person, didn’t think of me as “DanaandLeslie,” and for that I can be grateful. Friends who had no connection to my history at all allowed me the freedom to discover who I was on my own again. I was alone, but was not then and never have been lonely. I decided to move into a house with landlords on site and three other roommates so that I would not come home to an empty apartment every night. I figured that with my mental illnesses, living alone with no one to drag me out of my shell would be a very bad thing. The last time I lived in a one bedroom, even then I sort of had a “roommate,” this loud, brash best friend who never really wanted to go home because her own house was empty….. and I grew to love her company more and more every day.

Eventually, there were three of us, all single and looking for family. I don’t know why my apartment became the hang, but it did, and I was grateful. I knew ahead of time that in DC, I didn’t have the built-in connection of friends of friends and church and all that, which is why I opted for a group house. It would take at least a few months to reconnect with the friends I’d made here before, and to find a new church because with public transportation, my old church was too far away to really get involved on any kind of deep level (I was actually involved with two of them back then- Westminster Presbyterian in SE DC and Fairlington UMC in Alexandria, VA).

I realized I could make it on Sunday mornings easily, but not choir, and choir is far and above the biggest reason I love going to church. I feel that I am a much better soprano when I can feel the other moving parts under me, and even though I’ve done solo work (even well), it’s not my favorite (my favorite is actually singing in a quartet so I can hear myself think……..).

It was also important to me that I be free of any connections to Kathleen, my first wife, as well. I bear no ill will toward her, either- we never should have gotten married in the first place, but I was filled with so much hope as an early 20-something that it didn’t register that even though she was bisexual, her preference wasn’t women….. or at the very least, it wasn’t me…. and we’d attended both of those churches together. stone_labyrinthOne of my favorite memories of that time in my life was helping to put in the stone floor labyrinth, because, of course, you can still see my handiwork…. but you better get there fast because they’re about to build a new building. 😛

I also went to Foundry United Methodist for one Sunday just to check it out, but Fairlington was so much closer to my house and just as liberal (one of the first Open & Affirming congregations in Virginia).

Now, I don’t go to church at all (but will someday…. just be patient and stay tuned…), but do go to Foundry on Thursdays for a mental illness support group when I can feel confident about getting out of the house when I don’t specifically have to do so……

It also took me a while to get out from under the burden of people thinking I moved here specifically to be closer to Argo, because that was never the case…… just a persistent rumor that affected me greatly because it was never true. What was true is that I could have moved in next door to her and she still never would have seen me, because I tend to hole up, anyway. As I have often said, I mostly sit at my computer or tablet with my headphones blaring, so a bear ripping out the side of my house wouldn’t even have registered unless I was facing that direction.

Even though I thought of DC and Alexandria as my “home towns,” I still didn’t want to take the chance of feeding that rumor even more than it already had been, so I chose Maryland. It turned out to be the best decision, anyway, because my cousin Nathan (who is a psychiatrist in Alexandria) told me about all the mental health services available in Maryland that Virginia couldn’t even touch….. and even if I was perfectly healthy when I moved here, going through a divorce still would have required talk therapy, especially after a friendship of over a decade and a marriage of seven years and change. So I got hooked up with talk therapy and a psychiatric nurse practitioner that really worked with me instead of at me, which I require because I know enough about medicine that I abhor being patronized. Additionally, I have suffered enough that not only do I know the drugs that do work, I’ve been through the list of everything that doesn’t.

There are two instances where my nurse practitioner really shone. The first is that he wanted to change my SSRI to Prozac, and I shuddered. He asked me what was wrong, and I said that it made me so nauseous that I couldn’t function or eat. The second is that we were talking about ADHD, and he asked if I’d tried Stratera. I told him that it was interesting, that opioid agonists work on me, like Tramodol, but methamphetamine agonists didn’t. That was how our relationship matured quickly, because he raised his eyebrows at the fact that I knew the word “agonist,” and his tone quickly changed to “ok, we’re equals now.”

He really listened to me as I told him that I liked to do short courses of Ritalin or Adderall in order to get my coping mechanisms under control, then stop them until I felt I needed a refresher course, and I liked the lowest dose possible to get the maximum dopamine effects without the awful side effects.

At the time, I didn’t have any weight to lose. I was so sad that I wasn’t eating, anyway. I survived on drinks, because I had a block on eating. Things like Carnation Instant Breakfast, Slim Fast, Ensure, etc. were the basics of my diet until I felt better. I am now up to a healthy weight, but back then I looked like a heroin addict (which, for the record, I was not). I also stopped drinking alcohol almost in its entirety, because I noticed that I felt and slept better when I didn’t, and I really needed sleep to let my body recover from trauma. Divorcing from Dana was traumatic on so many levels, like the fistfight that ended our relationship permanently because I didn’t want to leave the house at all until the bruise under my eye was gone and the phantom pain wasn’t all day, every day.

And it turned out that the phantom pain lasted for months, because I was devastated and that’s how it manifested. It’s gone now- forgiven but not forgotten. But I was so weak in the moment that even a punch to the face didn’t stop me from wanting to get back our relationship at first. It was moving away and really reflecting on what happened that convinced me that while I could accept friendship, I could never accept getting back together, because I couldn’t live in fear that something like it would happen again.

I was not innocent in that fight in terms of emotional escalation, but when Dana broke the physical barrier, I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex…. an apt description because Dana was over a hundred pounds heavier with a fist three times bigger.

And perhaps that is yet another reason I’m so much more willing to talk about Argo now than I am about Dana, because Argo has never hurt me…. I mean, she has, but less than I’ve hurt her and never in a physically threatening way.

I actually just put that together, that I can’t extricate myself from thinking about Dana without going back to that moment in time where my eye was bruised and my heart was broken….. and that with Argo, all I think of is love and laughter. It’s just so much easier to go back to those moments, because even when I try my absolute best to only remember the love and laughter with Dana, I still hang my head in shame.

Although I do hang my head in shame at the relationship with Argo crumbling at my own hand, because even though it was never true that I moved here to be closer to her, it would have been a dream and a half to get to know the real her instead of just the black and white version….. to include her in my family of friends rather than always being on the outside…. my Raggedy Man.

My body memory is so strong for both of those days, my love for both women an intrinsic part of me, just in vastly different capacities. I saw a funny memory on Facebook the other day about having to stop calling Argo my “wine and yoga pants-type girlfriend” because I kept getting ads for wine and yoga pants on my feed. 😛

It was an unfortunate side effect that at the beginning, my wires got crossed and I had a mountain of shit to work through regarding the toxic version of friendship that was presented to me at a very early age, the part where all close friendships initially made my teenage heart go haywire. But to my credit, I worked my way out of that hole, just not as quickly as I would have liked, because first I had to get rid of the toxicity that made me think those things in the first place….. and I did, very successfully. Now I am in great shape when it comes to friendship, being close and vulnerable with people I respect and admire without the emotional baggage of my own teenage “stuff.”

I feel it is apt that “Clearing Iranian Airspace” from the Argo soundtrack just started playing, because I am ending this entry on a major key.

Amen.

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.

Being Kind to Myself

I wish I could say that I’d been on my first date in the last (almost) five years and it went spectacularly well, and that’s why I haven’t written anything.

But no.

She ghosted and I’ve never heard from her again. Maybe it was something I said, maybe it wasn’t. I’m not going to wrack my brain about it, because there weren’t enough interactions to be offensive in either direction. Perhaps she didn’t like being written about, and if that’s the case, then I’m glad we never actually met in person. It’s really hard to date a blogger if you don’t like being written about and/or don’t like their work. I am not interested in dating a fan, just someone who isn’t opposed to it.

In fact, one person did ask me out for coffee once because she was a fan, and it literally drove me up the wall. This is because (I think) she wanted to meet the person who wrote all that stuff, and apparently, there should be no difference between that person and me at all. She kept measuring the person she saw in front of her against stuff she’d read from years ago, as if I was telling the truth then and lying now, and seemingly competitive over who knew me better (wtf).

She did not accept that over time, people change their views on things. She also wanted the me that existed before my mother died, and that Leslie is gone. I know I’ll never be the same, and that’s all right… but being around people who expect me to be her is not.

Right now, the most important thing is that I’m being kind to myself. I told my two closest friends here and my sister about said ghosting, all of them later checking in to make sure I was okay. Of course I was. I wasn’t putting pressure on this to later do or be anything, so it didn’t exactly feel like a loss. More like a little bit of hurt ego and nothing more, because I was happy before she agreed to go out with me, and I am happy now because of my friends’ and sister’s reactions of kindness.

My expectations were so low that it would have been impossible to feel disappointed. I liked her, but I wasn’t pining- we didn’t e-mail/talk on the phone long enough for her to get under my skin before I saw her. The momentousness of the occasion wasn’t about her. It was that I felt ready to meet someone else, that I felt free enough to do so… and that in a sense, I’d let go of the past and it, in turn, had let go of me.