Go Away, Secret Admirer

It happened again. Almost exactly 13 months from the last time. And it rattled me. It still rattles me.

Late at night, someone left a flower on my car here at work. This time a pink rose. No explanation. No identification.

With the motive unexplained, the only conclusion I can reliably draw is that someone was here. Right here, where I was standing now, alone in the dark. Someone being secretive.

And because all other information has been withheld from my emotional database, it becomes, intended or not, a very eerie form of passive aggression. As I said when I wrote about the first incident, the secret admirer thing becomes creepy after about the second grade. Please read that blog post for more details on my thought process regarding this behavior.

In the meantime, here’s a handy rule of thumb: If you think you need to remain anonymous in order to take action, then DON’T TAKE ACTION. Either man up, step up, and own what you do, or leave people alone.

Please.

Pink Rose

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Back in the Devil’s Punchbowl

In 2016, I wrote a post entitled “A Romantic Vacation for One” in which I discussed the bittersweet experience of traveling alone along the romantic Oregon Coast. I visited the Devil’s Punchbowl and “imagined my man standing behind me with his arms around me.” But at the time there wasn’t even a glimmer of hope of that on the horizon.

I gave the post a positive spin, though, and concluded that I still had an amazing time in that beautiful place. But who was I kidding? I was desperately, painfully lonely. I felt as though I were mere inches away from a chest-heaving cry most of the time. It was always a very near thing. A great deal of my energy was devoted to not completely losing it in public.

While I refuse to go so far as to say that everyone needs a significant other to complete them, I have to admit that my most recent trip to the area with my husband was an entirely different event. It’s so much more fun to share experiences with someone else. Companionship adds a whole new dimension to travel.

I made it a point to stop by Devil’s Punchbowl again, to fulfill my dream of having my man’s arms around me. It felt as though I had come full circle. It was good.

I only wish I could have gone back to visit the 2016 me to whisper in her ear, “Hang on. Things are going to look up.” I know she’d have drawn a great deal of strength from that.

So, if you’re feeling lonely, dear reader, please hang on. You never know what the future holds. I’m pulling for you.

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My Imaginary Father

Recently I came across this photograph of my father. It was taken in 1952, three years before the movie Rebel Without a Cause came out. My father was James Dean before the real James Dean had truly “become” James Dean.

My Father, 1952.jpg

I can see why my mother had married him two years previously. He’s got that sexy, brooding, bad-boy look about him that every 23 year old girl falls for.

Fortunately, most of us snap out of it.

I suspect that by the time this photo was taken, the honeymoon was long since over. My father was drunk in this picture, just as he had been in every other picture that was taken of him as an adult. He was even drunk in his wedding pictures.

My mother had lived a rather sheltered life. Her parents weren’t ones to drink to excess. Her dad protected her as much as he could, right up until his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat in World War II. My mother was 17 at the time, and the family was plunged into poverty.

She carried on, living with her mother, her sister, and her sister’s children in a tiny house that was barely bigger than most people’s garages. I’m pretty sure she got married simply to get out of there. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire.

She stayed married to my alcoholic, physically abusive father for 17 years. You can’t say she didn’t try. They were divorced when I was 3 months old.

I never met my father. He didn’t send me a single card or letter or gift. He didn’t pay a penny in child support. I never heard his voice. I couldn’t have picked him out of a line up.

My mother didn’t talk about him much unless I asked. She did say that he was an alcoholic and that’s why they got divorced. She said he was a sharpshooter in WWII, and that he sometimes liked to shoot blue jays out of the tree from the top floor bedroom window of our house. (The neighbors must have loved that.)

I didn’t know he used to beat her until long after she was dead. I didn’t think about the fact that they’d been together for 17 whole years until recently. There must have been quite a few stories that went untold.

With that kind of an information vacuum, I was free to make up stories about him in my head. I used to think he was strong. I used to think that if he had been in my life I’d have been protected and loved. I used to think I was worse off because of his absence.

I don’t think those things anymore.

Now, I just think he looked like James Dean.

__________________________________________

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Later Love

I’m a 54-year-old woman, so I come with accessories.

I wear glasses and compression socks and I suspect that orthopedic shoes are not too far over my blurry horizon. I sleep with a night guard so I don’t grind my teeth, a CPAP mask so I actually breathe, and wrist braces so I don’t hyperflex my wrists during the night and inflame my tendons. I also require a pile of pillows of various shapes to be comfortable in bed as I’m not as limber as in days of yore.

My medicine cabinet is full to overflowing with both prescriptions and over the counter remedies. There are certain foods that I absolutely love but will no longer eat because I’m not willing to bear the consequences, but I keep cures for those consequences on hand in case I forget. And, oh yeah, I keep a variety of lists because I can’t always count on my memory.

It has been a life well lived, and I have no regrets. I’m about as healthy as the average American my age.  You, too, will accumulate baggage as the years go by. Trust me. It’s all part of the process.

I often look over at my husband with a certain level of awe, because we hooked up later in life, and that isn’t for the faint of heart. I cannot believe he managed to look beyond this massive pile of accessories and was actually able to see me as the catch that he believes that I am. That is a unique gift indeed, and I treasure it. I will never take that for granted.

I can’t imagine how May/December romances actually work. At least when you are with someone of a similar age, the nightstands on both sides of the bed are equally overwhelmed with flotsam. We each have our accoutrements, so neither of us feels unduly burdened. The scale of life is relatively balanced, and that’s such a comfort. When you start off together in the land of accessories, you don’t have to anticipate quite as many future surprises, and on the rare occasion when a surprise comes along, it isn’t quite as big of a shock. What you see is what you get.

Those of you still in your prime won’t yet understand this, but there’s nothing quite as romantic as the sound of two CPAP masks clinking together when you kiss good night. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Clink.

aging hands

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A Wicked Sense

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.

Bullying

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#youknowme

According to this Los Angeles Times Article, talk show host Busy Philipps recently sent out the following tweet:

1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme. So let’s do this: if you are also the 1 in 4, let’s share it and start to end the shame. Use #youknowme and share your truth.

Apparently this has prompted an outpouring of heart-wrenching stories, and that made me feel like I should add my voice to the ever-increasing, truthful, agonized din. Because #youknowme. (I’ll add some other stories to the end as well.)

When I was 21 years old, I was living alone in a studio apartment in Jacksonville, Florida. I didn’t know anyone there, but that was where the decent job was, so off I went. My family was only 2 ½ hours away in Central Florida, but they may as well have been a million miles away in terms of my day to day life.

I was lonely. I’d come in to work on Mondays and my voice would crack, because I hadn’t talked to a soul over the weekend. The loneliness was physically painful.

One day I was sitting in a lawn chair in front of my apartment when a guy approached me. He lived in the same complex, a few doors down. He’d just moved in. We talked for a couple hours. It felt good, talking to someone. It felt good to be listened to. So when he asked me out, I said yes.

I can’t even remember what we did or where we went. All I remember was the rape afterward, when he brought me back home, pushed his way into my apartment, and got what he had been after all along.

It was a Friday night, so I spent the weekend hiding in my apartment. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t tell anyone. It would have been my word against his. And I was so ashamed for having been so stupid.

And he would pound on my door at random times of the day and night. Three in the morning, for example. And he’d be laughing. Laughing. I would curl up in a fetal position on my bed, crying, and hope the lock would hold. He’d also ring my doorbell. Over and over and over again. I put a wadded up paper towel between the striker and the bell. He’d still do it. The click, click, click sounded as loud to me, emotionally, as the bell. Because it proved he was crazy.

For weeks I would do nothing but rush to and from my car when I had to go to work. I’d try to stagger my times so he wouldn’t be around. I’d peer out the window, then make this desperate dash.

Then I found out I was pregnant. I never wanted children, and I certainly didn’t want one that would keep me in this horrible moment for the rest of my life. I also did not have the means, financially, to care for a child, and I didn’t have the ability at the time to raise one. I was coming from a place of total emotional instability.

So yes, I had an abortion. And no, I have not had one minute of regret about it. And meanwhile, this guy was still harassing me.

So I exercised another choice. I bought a baseball bat, which I still own to this day. The next time he pounded on my door in the middle of the night I threw open the door with the bat in my hand and came at him like a banshee.

“LEAVE ME ALONE YOU SONOFABITCH!!!!”

He backed off my porch, terrified, and never bothered me again. Shortly after that, he moved away. But he did manage to get a last word in, of sorts. Just before moving away, he parked his car in front of my apartment and made out with a girl on the car’s hood, all the time looking over her shoulder at my window. And the circle of violence is unbroken. (I did find her and warn her, though.)

So, yeah, #youknowme.

And I know of other stories, too, of abortions that should have been, but never were.

When I was in junior high school, one of my classmates was pregnant. She must have been about 13 years old. One day, she disappeared, never to be seen again. They say she had the baby, and threw it over the back fence, killing it. So I can’t imagine that the rest of her life went well.

Also there are these stories from when I was an eligibility specialist for Aid to Families with Dependent Children in the state of Florida.

One guy, a single parent, actually stepped up to care for his children, but just needed a little help. But when the 6th baby came along, I guess it all became too much for him, so he threw the baby out of his moving car on Interstate 95, brutally killing it as it bounced along the pavement. The kid didn’t stand a chance. I had the pleasure of sending his cancellation letter to him at the county jail.

Another woman was receiving assistance for her 10 year old daughter. And then the 10 year old daughter got pregnant. How on earth are you not able to protect your 10 year old from that? Well, the girl died in childbirth because her little body could not cope with the birth. The mother’s response was to make sure that I added that baby on to her welfare check so that she’d receive no interruption in funds. Because yeah, the baby is all that matters, isn’t it? Or is it the money? Or the control?

Nobody WANTS to have an abortion, but sometimes you can’t see any other way. The idea that there are people out there who think they know better than me about how I should handle my life is outrageous. We are living in scary times, my friends. Very scary times.

youknowme

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In-Betweeny Times

May is a very strange month. Sometimes it gets really warm and you think, “Yay! Time to put away the winter clothes!” But every time I’ve done that, I’ve regretted it, because sure enough, here comes a cold snap. So I think of May as an in-betweeny time, and I try to keep my options open.

There are all sorts of in-betweeny times in life. There’s that uncomfortable stage in your development when you’re not quite a child, but also not quite an adult. Some days you feel more mature than others. (And come to think of it, I still feel that way, only not to such an extreme.)

There are also those times when you take great risks and you feel both courageous and scared silly. That’s how I felt when I drove across the country to start a new life in a place where I’d never been, and where I knew no one. One minute I was thinking, “Dang, this takes guts! I’m proud of me!” and the next minute I was thinking, “Holy cow, what have I done?” I had no idea that adrenaline could pump for 3100 miles and during the first several months of my adjustment to this new life. But it turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done.

I also experienced kind of a weird in-betweeny time when I started this new job. I mean, I had 14 years of experience as a bridgetender coming in, so being a bridgetender in Seattle came naturally to a certain extent. But there were also new policies and procedures and new nomenclature to get used to. It was like I knew what I was doing, but then I didn’t. That rattled my cage a tiny bit.

Another in-betweeny time for many people is when they find themselves in dysfunctional relationships, and can’t decide whether or not to stay or go. These transitional periods can also be the most dangerous for people in physically abusive relationships, because the abuser can often sense when he or she is losing power, and the violence accelerates. I’m grateful I’ve never experienced that myself. It must be terrifying.

And I hate the in-betweeny time when you suspect that there’s a cold coming on, and yet it hasn’t quite hit yet. You feel kind of bleh, but not so bleh that you have a legitimate reason to don flannel and start complaining. You just have to wait and see. How irritating.

And I’m sure that most of us have experienced the feeling of being on the brink of a major decision. Should I take this new job, or should I stay put? Should I marry this person or stay single? Should I buy a house or continue to rent?

In-betweeny times are when we are the most vulnerable, because we all want to make the right choices, but we will never be sure if we did. To this I say, keep your options open, but end your agony and decide. Because the no man’s land that you find yourself in is not a place that you want to remain for long.

In-Between

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