Whenever I work the day shift, once I’ve survived the commute and parked my car, I make my way over my drawbridge to the bridge tower. I’m usually not living my best life at that exact moment. I could never be mistaken for a morning person.
But during that foggy-brained walk, I almost always pass a guy who is walking in the opposite direction. I could set my watch by him. We both are creatures of habit, it seems.
I often wonder about this guy. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? He’s a bit scruffy, but he’s punctual as all get out.
So, about 9 months ago, I decided that I would say good morning as we passed each other. He did not even look up at me, and he said not a word. But this is Seattle, after all. People don’t just say good morning to strangers, as a general rule. It’s just not done. (I’ll never get used to that.)
The next day, I thought that maybe this time, my good morning wouldn’t take him by surprise. But I got the same reaction. No eye contact, no response.
Okay, this has become a challenge. I began to want, very badly, to get a good morning out of this guy. I was determined.
Months went by, and I continued to do my daily experiment. It became a bit of an effort to keep my pleasant tone when I could only assume I was going to get nothing back. But I did so because, when all is said and done, I really did hope he had a good morning.
After all that time with no eye contact whatsoever, I began to wonder if this gentleman had some sort of anxiety disorder. If so, were my good mornings construed as a type of bullying? Was I adding stress to his life? That certainly wasn’t my intention.
But I really didn’t know a thing about him. Maybe he was just less of a morning person than I was. Maybe he was a Seattleite from birth and his greeting muscle had atrophied. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone, but on the other hand, maybe he’s desperately lonely and just socially awkward.
I decided to press on, because if he never responded, it wasn’t like I’d beat him up or something. He’s an adult and can make his own choices. I’d just be a little sad.
Somewhere around month three, he began to give me eye contact. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t give me a hostile glare, either. Progress.
By the end of month six, I began to detect a change in expression. Was that a very slight, hesitant smile peeking out of his scruffy beard? Yes, I think so.
Then in early February, I got really sick with the head cold from hell, and I missed a week of work and sidewalk greetings. I wondered if he noticed. But I didn’t dwell on it, because I was too busy coughing up my lungs.
When I came back to work, to be honest, I still felt like utter crap. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like my old self, either. I was so busy trying to ambulate through my vertigo that I didn’t bother to say good morning, or even look up, to him or anyone else, for about two weeks.
The following week, though, I was back to our old routine. This time I got the biggest smile ever. That really made me happy.
After that, his smile was more subdued, but it was still there. I’d like to think that I was a bright spot in his morning. I hoped so, at least.
And then today, it finally happened. I said good morning, and he smiled brightly. “Good morning!” he said.
I almost jumped for joy. I wanted to dance the rest of the way down the bridge. I wanted to look over my shoulder at him, but I didn’t want to intimidate him in any way, so I just walked, casually, to the bridge tower, climbed the stairs, and then started jumping up and down. Yes! Yes! Yes!
Do I plan to escalate this contact? No. I look forward to exchanging good mornings, of course, but I’ll leave it at that. We are strangers, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way. But now we’re strangers with benefits of a rated G sort.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. I’ve learned a great deal about communication from my healthy relationship with my husband. It makes me realize how messed up all my past relationships have been.
Years ago, pre-husband, when I had something that (I thought) was interesting to share, I’d say, “Hey Bob!” (Name changed because, to be honest, I really don’t care.)
He’d respond, “What’s your problem?”
That would take the wind out of my sails. Here, I wanted to tell him this cool thing I’d heard on NPR. I wanted to share a moment. A laugh. A smile. Instead of responding with enthusiasm, he’d come at me with his typical negativity.
For Bob, everything was a problem. Being alive was a problem. You’ve never met a sadder sack in your entire life. It made people uncomfortable. They wanted to avoid him. I didn’t realize how much his horrible attitude weighed me down until I got out from under it.
Who wants to be in a relationship where everything you say is interpreted as some sort of problem? I certainly didn’t. And even more insidious is the fact that clearly there was a lot under the surface that he was failing to say. He’d much rather be a martyr than assertively communicate and work out issues. No positive growth to be had there. Instead, I got the passive aggressive, “What’s your problem?”
Oh, I tried to talk to him about it on multiple occasions. He didn’t seem to think that any changes were needed, so I was left to realize that the problem was, in fact, his. I hope he hasn’t carried that on to future relationships. I would wish rather more for him than that.
But his Facebook page indicates that he’s still unhappy with life. It’s an endless litany of complaints, negativity, bitter humor, deep cynicism, and depression. Every once in a while there will be something pleasant in there, but if you count each post as positive or negative, the negative stuff outweighs those things ten to one, and half the time the positive things were posted to his page by someone else. It makes me sad just to look at it. It also makes me relieved that I’m no longer breathing that toxic air.
Now I’m married to someone who is interested in what I have to say. He also happens to have a lot of interesting things to say himself. I look forward to talking to him. It isn’t a chore for either of us. I save up stuff to tell him at that happy moment when I finally get home, and we communicate positively throughout the day. And now I realize that’s how it should be. How lucky am I?
Yes, life will throw its fair share of problems at you. There’s no denying that. But that’s not the lens through which I choose to view the world. It’s not my automatic assumption. I also happen to think that negativity is learned, and can be unlearned, but some people would rather wallow. I have no idea why. Clearly wallowing hasn’t made them happy or they wouldn’t feel the need to wallow.
I have this theory that people like this think that their attitude is something that they are helpless victims of, rather than it being a conscious choice. I would hate to feel that helpless. Yes, I struggle with depression, and there are days when I feel like crying, but for the most part, I spin my world rather than letting it spin me.
Your existence should not be a problem to overcome. There is so much to see and do and learn and be inspired by! There’s so much beauty and wonder! Life is such a gift and such an opportunity. It shouldn’t be squandered.
It’s delightful to be in a relationship that isn’t covered with a wet wool blanket of despair. My husband can put a positive spin on just about anything. If he sees dog poop in the road, he’ll say, “Thank goodness the dog wasn’t run over!”
I’m still struggling with the final, bitter dregs of this illness. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever feel human again. Am I recovering slower because I’m getting older, or because bugs are becoming more insidious and diabolical? I don’t plan on looking into that very deeply, because neither conclusion would be pleasant. Bleh.
In times like these, I tend to want to look back at even more awful periods in my life. No, I’m not a masochist. I just like to remind myself that I survived that, so I’ll survive this.
So while lying here in a stupor, encased in flannel, I suddenly remembered a time, not too long ago, when I was in such dire straits that I actually had to start a crowdfunding campaign to get me through. I learned a lot from that experience. It was humiliating. It was heartwarming. I’ve never been more vulnerable in my entire life. It showed me who my friends really were. And it taught me how important it is to pay it forward.
Check out my blog post entitled The Fine Art of Begging to get all the details. You can also find it in my first book. And as a follow up, I’ll say that I’m still not in contact with those relatives who thought I was an embarrassment to the family, and I don’t miss them at all. And I have paid it forward every chance I’ve gotten, and will continue to do so for as long as I live.
Sending you love and light, dear reader, and hoping that I’ll be back amongst the living very soon.
Just out of pure dumb luck, I was born in a racial majority in a relatively free country. The vast majority of the privilege that I have enjoyed, and still enjoy, I did not earn. I’m very aware of it. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take advantage of it. (You’d be lying if you said you wouldn’t too, if you found yourself in this position.) Sorry. It’s an ugly, uncomfortable fact.
And then, too, out of pure dumb luck, I find myself living in one of the most financially vibrant places in the world. The cost of living in the Pacific Northwest is outrageous. It can be a struggle to keep your head above water here. But when you do… oh, when you do… it’s delicious. There, I said it.
I did nothing to deserve any of this. I know it. I admit it. I’m not proud of it. But there you have it. I haven’t actively stolen anything. I haven’t committed crimes or hurt anyone. I have worked hard all my life, yes, but things have been handed to me, and I’ve taken them. I’ve also had fewer hurdles to climb, which means I’ve had a lot more energy to carpe that diem.
The most uncomfortable thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is what I call the Great Unsaid. How did we come to be here, in this fruitful place, where the salmon run and the trees push ever skyward? How did no one else notice that it’s rainy, yes, but the summers and winters are mild, the food is abundant, and the land is beautiful? How did we manage to just move right on in and set up camp?
That’s the thing. People had noticed. For centuries, the indigenous people here had thrived, had cleared large swaths of land to live upon. They had hunted and fished and celebrated and established communities and waged war amongst themselves long before Europeans set foot on this land. I think it would have been a great deal harder for us to move right on in had our timing been a little different. We’d have sailed up to this place at its height.
But no. By the time George Vancouver cruised these shores in 1792, what he found was utter devastation. Whole villages wiped out. Bones stacked up in houses, bleached bodies scattered upon the beaches. Death. Misery. The few people left alive were poverty stricken, weak, refugees unable to defend their ancestral lands.
It seems that smallpox broke out during the American Revolutionary War, and it swept the country from east to west, and from Mexico to Canada, devastating entire communities as it ground on, finally arriving like a tsunami on this coast, only to be snuffed out by the Pacific Ocean.
So there you have it. Luck again. Europeans cruised up to an area where as much as 95 percent of the population had been conveniently wiped out by a disease which, by the way, these same Europeans had visited upon their shores. They moved right in. They built upon the bones of those who had been here before.
We may not like to think about it, but everything here has been built upon bones. A very opportunistic phoenix rose from someone else’s ashes. And here we are.
I am currently sporting a three inch gash on my right cheek. The worst part about it is that I have been so sick that I don’t have a clue where it came from. I just surfaced from my swirling pool of delirium at one point and there it was. And of course the minute I knew it was there it started to hurt.
I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. I guess it’s actually more like a scratch. A bright red, deep, angry scratch. Maybe it’s something my enthusiastic dog visited upon me, or else the result of a bad wrestling match with my CPAP mask. I have been known to sleep walk and wind up in strange places, and Nyquil does tend to keep its secrets. I only know it looks like I’ve been in a bar fight. As people stare at me, I’m tempted to say, “You should see the other guy.”
It’s embarrassing to go out in public looking like this, especially since I don’t have a funny story to go along with it. It’s a good thing that I’m feeling so weak and unmotivated that I’m naturally lying low anyway. But in retrospect I needn’t have worried, because I forgot that I am now living in the Pacific Northwest.
You see, in Florida, if I had gone out like this, strangers would be stopping me on the street. “Child, what happened to you?” If I had been walking with my husband they might even say, “Did HE do this to you?” All while giving him the hairy eyeball. In the South, people are all up in your business.
But here in the Pacific Northwest you could walk down a busy street with a sucking chest wound and no one would even bat an eyelash. Here, no one wants to intrude. Its as if everyone walks around wearing a cloak of invisibility. You could have a second head growing out of your chest and the most intrusive interaction you’d have with somebody would be their inquiry as to what floor you are going to when you get on the elevator and can’t reach the buttons because your second head is in the way.
This has its pros and its cons. Sometimes I genuinely don’t want to be bothered with people, and here people make that very easy. You do you, I’ll do me. But I do miss that sense of community, and that honesty. Because come on, if you see a gash on a woman’s face, you really do want to know what the hell happened. At least I do. I’d rather someone asked than that they make up a story. I’d rather think that someone gives a shit rather than feel like I’m all alone in the world. I like my privacy, but I’d also like to think that there’s help out there if I should ever need it. Yes, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I just always seem to live out in the lunatic fringe, where all the extremes of behavior come home to roost.
In the meantime, until this wound heals, I’m kind of liking the Pacific Northwest realm of things. Here, my gash doesn’t exist. No one but small children will even look at it directly. No one will ever inquire about its origins. Therefore no one will never know that in this instance, their guess is as good as mine.
I saw the recent raise in my paycheck and I felt sick to my stomach. Not sick because I was disappointed at the amount of the raise. No. Sick with relief. For the first time in my life, I’m financially stable. The stress relief that accompanied that realization was leaving me a little nauseated.
You see, for most of my life, I lived in Florida, a “Right to Work” state. I can count the number of raises I have received in that state on one hand. And I had worked there for nearly 40 years. Benefits were paltry at best. I could be fired for any reason at all, or no reason whatsoever. I was unappreciated, unsupported, and I never felt safe. My pay never kept up with the cost of living. I often woke up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay the bills, or what would happen if I became too sick to work. If they needed me to work a 16 hour double shift, I had no choice but to do so. I had no recourse when an injustice was visited upon me. When I was exposed to lead paint and the accompanying toxic fumes, my boss told me (I swear to God), “Just drink milk and you’ll be fine.” The future was very dark.
Now I’m working in the state of Washington, for the City of Seattle, and I’m protected by a union. I get raises. I have health insurance and disability and dental and vision and sick leave, and if the stuff hits the fan, the union will send a representative to sit in on any subsequent meetings. I cannot work more than 12 hours a day, and I am allowed to say no if I only want to work a regular 8 hour shift instead. Can you imagine? I can say no. Such a little word, but it means so much to me.
It’s the same exact bridgetending job that I had in Florida, but I make three times as much money. Do you have any idea how much that means to me and to my life? I eat better food. I don’t suffer from stress-related maladies. I don’t wake up in a cold sweat. I can relax and enjoy my loved ones. I have a reliable car. I don’t live in a ghetto. The future is bright.
Thanks to union-busting federal legislation, I’m no longer required to pay union dues. But I do, and I always will. My union has saved my bacon on multiple occasions.
If you honestly think that your employer will treat you decently without a union having your back, good luck with that. I’ve been on both sides of that situation, and I know for certain that unions, the institutions that gave us the 40 hour work week and did away with child labor, are the only ones who are truly on the side of the 99 percent. They need our support. They are a gift. That gift should never be taken for granted.
Thank you, PTE Local 17, and all the unions out there that still exist, for all that you do. You have given me quality of life. I’m told I’m good with words, but I find myself at a loss to adequately explain how much that means to me.
Union staff have stressful jobs, holding back the tide of inequity, but what they do really, truly matters and won’t be forgotten. Please join me in staying union strong.
Every once in a while, I’ll drive past a pretty little park in downtown Seattle. I keep meaning to stop and check it out on foot, but that would require parking. And this is a city where parking is hard to find, and expensive when you do. So I’ve contented myself with merely admiring this place as I rush past. But now that I know more about it, I’m definitely going to have to change that.
It’s a park with four lovely old pillars, standing all alone, like soldiers. They prop up nothing but the sky. This park is a tiny respite from the urban sprawl while also presiding over some lovely views. In addition, apparently, it’s a dog park, and I’m all for those.
But recently I came across this post in Atlas Obscura. (It’s a fascinating website, by the way. Check it out. You’ll learn stuff.)
This particular post describes this park in more detail, in all its fascinating historical context. The pillars in the park used to grace the front of the Plymouth Congregational Church, whose congregation first started meeting in Seattle in 1869. The church was known for its stance on social justice issues.
At a time when Seattlites were expressing their hatred of Chinese immigrants, this church supported immigrants’ rights. They also supported women’s suffrage. Later, they hosted Martin Luther King Jr. during his only visit to Seattle.
Sadly, the church had to be demolished after the 1965 earthquake, but the congregation donated the 4 original pillars to the city, and they now stand in this lovely little park. The church is still going strong in a new location. That makes me happy.
Now, as I pass this park, I will think of it as part of Seattle’s liberal legacy. I’ll gaze on its elegant beauty, and smile even wider than I used to. When you think about it, history is everywhere you look. Sometimes you just have to do your homework.