Lacerations

Isn’t it strange how you can receive a thousand compliments, but it’s that one insult that sticks with you? I was thinking about one of those just the other day. I have no idea why this one possesses such a sharp, cutting edge for me when it was delivered by someone whom I never met face to face, but it’s a laceration that never quite seems to heal.

When I was in my early 20’s, I had just been brutally dumped by my boyfriend. I had long, thick, wavy hair at the time (I still think my hair is one of my best features), so in an effort to start afresh, I decided that it would be fun to get a curly perm. I wanted to curl that man right out of my hair, so to speak.

I’ve always been kind of a wash n’ wear type of girl, so doing something this elaborate was quite a departure for me. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Fortunately, out of sheer luck, I happened upon what I still think to this day was the world’s greatest hairdresser.

The perm she did made me feel transformed. Sadly, these things require maintenance, so I wound up seeing her many times in the next two years. And of course, while she worked her magic, we talked. I began to think of her as a friend.

It turned out that she had a son my age. She said we had a lot in common. He was as liberal as I am, and he was pursuing his dream to become a writer in a unique way. He was living in a tent in Denver in the winter. Not only was he writing about his experiences, but he was also saving a boatload of money so he could focus on his writing.

It sounded like a grand adventure, so I allowed that it might be fun to be pen pals. And besides, the perm hadn’t attracted a new boyfriend, and since I lived in conservative North Florida and was the only liberal (I thought) within a 500 mile radius, I was lonely. She gave him my address. We struck up a correspondence.

It was interesting, hearing how he lived, and what he did in his day to day. He really was a good writer, and could spin some fascinating tales. We did have quite a bit in common.

In those days before blogs, he wrote a newsletter which he distributed to his friends and family. I was soon added to the mailing list, and delighted in his exploits along with everyone else.

And then one day he wrote an entry about me. In it, he said, “My mom is trying to fix me up with a Florida girl. She tells me that this girl is not at all attractive, but that she is extremely intelligent and liberal. Thanks a lot, mom.”

Nothing quite like finding out that your hairdresser, the one who raves about how great you look while taking your money and giggling with you like a school girl, thinks you’re “not at all attractive.”

Nothing quite like having that put into a newsletter that is distributed to about a hundred other people. Even worse, having that be written by someone who knew it would be read by you. How callous.

I had an appointment with the hairdresser coming up. I decided to go. I sat in her chair. I looked her in the eye via the mirror as she babbled about how she was sooooo sorry and that her son had no right to say those things.

“You’re right. Neither did you,” I said. I left without getting the perm.

Needless to say, I never went back. It would have been too awkward. There would have been two elephants in the room. One named, “Your Son is a Jackass” and one named, “You Have Been Lying to My Face This Whole Time.”

Shortly after that, she left town. It was a shame, too, because I never found anyone else who could perm my hair without either drying it out like broom straw or making it look like a bird’s nest in a high wind.

But then maybe that had something to do with my altered self-perception. Hard to say.

Ever since, with a few brief experimental exceptions, I’ve pretty much stuck with the same tired hairstyle that I had in my high school yearbook. Yeah, whatever.

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Me, long after the perm grew out.

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Hallucinations

I’ve written a lot about reality and the perception thereof. I used to think of reality as a solid entity. I thought there was one reality, and all of us had varying abilities to see it. Now I’m not so sure. Reality seems much more fluid these days.

I know that the things I see out of the corners of my eyes when I’m severely sleep deprived aren’t real, but they sure seem like they are at the time. More than once, I’d swear I’ve heard someone call my name, only to look up and see no one who knows me, or, worse yet, no one at all.

When my mother died, I missed her so much that I swore I saw her several times in a mall, or in a train station, or rounding the corner on a crowded city street. Apparently that’s a very common part of grief. But it sure gives you a jolt when it happens.

I’ve had entire conversations with someone only to realize that due to a misunderstanding, we were talking about two separate things. That can be hilarious. But surely there have been times when we’ve both walked away without realizing we were not only not on the same page, but in completely different books. And there’s no way to know how often that happens.

According to this article from the Atlantic, entitled Hallucinations Are Everywhere, a lot of hallucinations come about because your brain anticipates what is about to happen, and that can make you believe it is so. It’s a fascinating read. But it leaves me wondering how much of my reality is crafted by my brain out of whole cloth. That’s a little scary.

Another thing the article says is that a lot of hallucinations are harmless. Whew. That’s a load off.

So much about the world these days seems to be built upon a fragile, shifting foundation. I can’t really blame my brain for trying to fill in the blanks to make sense of it all. But I long for something solid. Something logical. Something I can count on.

Hallucinations

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Hiding Your Light under a Bushel

I used to be in a relationship with someone who wrote a diary every single solitary day for decades. That’s pretty darned impressive. He wants to donate it to the Smithsonian someday.

The thing is (yeah, yeah, there’s always a thing), no one will want to read it except the most steadfast historians. His diary is as dry as toast. It was an arid recounting of the facts. “Today I had eggs for breakfast.”

I used to say, “Why don’t you tell them how you felt about the eggs? Or how they tasted, or smelled, or looked?” People in the future will care about the way we perceived things, not just what we did. But no. Just the facts for him.

The readers of this diary will never know his opinion about anything, or what he thought about, or what his dreams were for the future. (As far as I could tell, he had none, which is one of the many reasons we went our separate ways.)

Even though I didn’t agree with his writing style, I knew how much writing meant to him. I think that’s why I shied away from writing when I was with him. In some twisted part of my brain, I sort of felt as though if I wrote too much, I’d somehow overshadow him. So I hid my light under a bushel. I refused to take flight. Or something.

I thought I was being kind, sacrificing for someone I cared about so as not to crush him like a bug. Sometimes the dam would burst and I’d be compelled to write an article for a local paper, and I’d always get tapped to write company newsletters and things of that nature, but I didn’t start this daily blog until a year or two after we called it quits.

I made the wrong decision. By not allowing myself to shine, I was damaging a part of my soul, and I was depriving him of the opportunity to adapt and change and grow. And let’s not overlook the fact that he missed out on knowing a really special part of who I am.

But he was complicit in my self-warping behavior. He must have seen the signs. He refused to acknowledge them or nurture them in any way, but surely on some level he saw them.

If you feel the need (or are passive-aggressively encouraged) to hold yourself back for someone, please know that that’s very unhealthy. It harms both you and the person who is acting as the wind above your wings.

Always try to fly as high as you can. Otherwise you’ll never get where you deserve to go.

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Another Drawbridge Story

Recently I wrote a blog entry called How Soon We Forget, about a unique encounter I had with a fisherman on the job, and how I reacted when he passed away. That was a story that has weighed heavily on my mind for years, and it was good to get it out.

There have been further developments since that posting. I had mentioned that StoryCorps wanted to include the story in their upcoming anthology, but their fact checkers couldn’t seem to corroborate it.

Well, just the other day one of the fact checkers contacted me with a link to a brief article in the Jacksonville paper. Yay! Vindication!

Well, sort of. The Florida Times-Union isn’t exactly known for getting their facts straight, but still, it’s unsettling see how different their version of events was.

First of all, my old fisherman was only 51, a year older than I am now. Either the man didn’t age well or it was a different guy. But I never saw my old fisherman again, so that would be a strange coincidence.

Also, he wasn’t found in the boat. They found the boat on the shore, the engine still running, and they found his body a mile further down, about 12 hours later. That must have been horrible for his family.

In addition, he did have a job, so he wasn’t the content retiree I imagined him to be. I had this whole story about him in my head that was based on nothing. And that got me thinking about truth and my version thereof, and reality, and the way we perceive one another, and the way we fill in the blanks without even acknowledging that there are blanks.

But most importantly, they claimed that he went out at 3 pm on this particular fishing trip, so maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the last person to see him alive after all. So I think it’s time for me to lay this burden down. Maybe now we can both rest in peace.

I decided it would be good for me to lay it to rest by telling the whole story at Fresh Ground Stories, a fantastic storytelling group that I sporadically attend here in Seattle. You can hear a recording of it here. At the end of the story it automatically starts playing two other stories I’ve told, so just stop it if you don’t want to hear them all. But let me know what you think!

The Ortega River as it heads out to the St. Johns River at dawn. Most likely the last thing my fisherman friend ever saw.
The Ortega River as it heads out to the St. Johns River at dawn. Most likely the last thing my fisherman friend ever saw.