So Glad My Dog Can’t Talk

My dog wakes me up every morning around 5 am to go outside and do his business. Who am I to complain? I have to get up at least once myself, most nights. So, on days when I’m not working the day shift, I get up, shuffle to the door, let him out, doze off a little while leaning on the door frame, let him back in, then go back to bed.

His method of rousing me is to either do a little shake and rattle his collar, or he’ll hop down onto the wood floor and do a tap dance. Click, click, click… “All right, already! Jeez…”

Even if I do get back to sleep, he has decided that I cannot, under any circumstances, sleep past 9 o’clock. He’ll hop up on the bed and lick my face. I’ll roll over. He’ll run to the other side and do it again. I’ll cover my head with a blanket. Then he’ll lick my hand. I’ll say uncharitable things to him. He’ll ignore me. By then I’m so annoyed I can’t get back to sleep anyway.

I love my dog. But he’s the bane of my existence. It could be worse, though. He could talk.

“Ma. Ma. MA! Wake UP! I’ve gotta go! I mean, I really, really, really have to… oh. You’re up. Cool. Come on. Hurry. I’m not kidding. I really have to go.”

“Squirrel! SQUIRREL! Oh. No. That was just a leaf. Sorry. But it looked just like…SQUIRREL!”

“I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you!”

“I’m hungry. Starving. Feed me. I want food. Food. Yeah. What you’re having. That would be great. Food. Why won’t you feed me?”

“INTRUDER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!! This is bad! This is really, really, really, really bad. So very bad. Time to panic!”

“Can I come in? Can I come in? Hey! Can I come in? Can I?”

“Pet me. Pay attention. Scratch me right there. Hey. Why are you staring at that screen? I’m right here!”

I love my little Quagmire, but if he could talk, he’d drive me up a wall.

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The Anatomy of a Traumatic Experience

It was an unremarkable day. In retrospect, that was one of the strangest things about it. I was walking across the bridge to get to work, as I’ve done thousands of times. The sun was out. I had no plans, really. Think “status quo.”

And then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned, just in time to see the guy hit the water. He had jumped off the next bridge over. There was this big splash, and that’s when time stopped for me. I think I will always carry with me a static image of him hitting the water, the splash and the waves it caused frozen in place. Because at that instant I knew he was dead. I knew it just as sure as I’m alive.

Needless to say, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the body with my mouth hanging open. My mind started to bargain. “You didn’t really just see that.” “It’s not a body. Someone must have dropped something big and heavy off the bridge.” “This is not happening.” “No. This can’t be happening.”

Then I saw two boats race out from the rowing club. They tried to drag the body out of the water, but they couldn’t. Then the Harbor Patrol came screaming around the bend in the lake, and they were able to pull him out.

Somewhere along in there I had walked woodenly to the drawbridge tower where I work. (The sequence of events is forever hazy in my mind.) I climbed the stairs. “Did you see that?” I said to my coworker.

“See what?” She had been looking the other way. Time had been moving at a normal pace for her. And then I changed that, probably. She went down and talked to the officers on the scene, and then she left, after urging me to call our supervisor.

I talked to the supervisor for a long time. This is not the first time a bridgetender has witnessed a suicide, and it won’t be the last. She offered to let me have the day off, but I didn’t feel up to the commute. I was already there, and I could be traumatized at work just as easily at I could at home. She also strongly encouraged me to contact our Employee Assistance Program and get some counseling, because this was a big deal.

How right she was. I had never seen anyone die before. I’ve seen dozens of people consider jumping, but then get talked out of it. That’s upsetting enough. I’ve seen a few dead bodies, after the fact. But I’ve never seen anyone die before. It changes you.

I spent the rest of the shift feeling stunned and sad and sick to my stomach. I didn’t accomplish much. I kind of stared off into the middle distance a lot of the time. I thought about the jumper, and was heartbroken that he had felt so much pain and despair that he made that irreversible choice. I was heartbroken for the people who love him. I was upset for all the other witnesses, including the ones at the waterfront restaurant who were expecting to have a lovely salmon lunch, as I have on more than one occasion, and instead got an awful memory.

The weird thing was that I could see that life was going on all around me. Boats were happily floating over the spot, unaware that someone had just died there. People were jogging. Cars hummed their way across the bridge.

The waterway had always been kind of a sacred place for me. Now it had been violated. By the jumper? By the boaters? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

I talked to several people during the course of the shift. My crew chief stopped by. He offered, again, to let me have the day off. He reminded me about the Employee Assistance Program. He told me a few stories about things he’s experienced, and how it made him feel. It was really nice of him to stop by. I kind of felt detached, though.

I also called my sister, who was predictably horrified and sympathetic, and a few friends, who were sorry and tried to be comforting. I even spoke to my therapist. But I felt… it’s hard to explain. I felt like I was in a different reality. A different place, where I couldn’t quite reach them, and they couldn’t quite reach me. I could hear what they were saying, but it was like I was at a high altitude, and my ears had yet to pop. At a remove. Alone.

At the end of the shift I expected to go home and have a really good cry, but the tears never came. As of this writing, they still haven’t come. But I can feel them on the inside.

When I got home, I hugged my dog, and then fell into a deep sleep. I was really afraid I’d have a nightmare and wake up screaming with only my dog to comfort me, but that didn’t happen. I don’t even think I tossed or turned. I barely even wrinkled the sheets. It was like I had been in a coma.

When I woke up, “it” was my first thought. But oddly enough, I felt calm. I felt rested. I was in a good mood. Could I have gotten past this so easily? It felt like I had been given a “get out of jail free” card. What a relief. Tra la la.

Okay, yeah, maybe I’ve gotten past this. Woo! What an adult I am! This is awesome! Just in case, though, I did look into sending a condolence note to the next of kin. I spoke to the Harbor Patrol Chaplain. Naturally, he couldn’t give me a name, but he might be able to forward the note on for me. I thought that would be a nice little bit of closure.

I also spoke to the Employee Assistance Program, and set up some counseling sessions, even though I was feeling great. Way to go for practicing self-care, Barb! I felt really mature and well balanced.

In fact, I spoke to a couple of professionals who thought I was probably over the worst of it. But my therapist told me, cautiously, that I’d probably experience ups and downs for quite some time. There’s a reason she makes the big bucks.

Again, that night, I slept well. I was rested the next day, but a little subdued. Nothing major. Just kind of bleh.

And then that afternoon I started to shake uncontrollably. I wasn’t cold. I was just suddenly overwhelmed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had several semi-urgent things on my to-do list, but it was painfully obvious that I was in no shape to deal. I just… I shut down.

I kind of checked in with myself, and what I got was: I’m afraid. I feel out of control. Everything feels so fragile, like a soap bubble. I’m so exhausted that the air feels like the consistency of chocolate pudding. Everything takes more effort than normal. I just want to be left alone.

Which is kind of good because after that first day, most people stopped following up with me. They were over it. It was an awkward conversation. Life goes on. But I still felt, and still feel to this day, that I need someone to hold me while I cry, and that someone can’t seem to be found.

Yes, there’s therapy in my future, and yes, I’ll learn to cope with my new reality. I know this because it’s not the first traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me. I hope it’s the last, but I kind of doubt it. I am also well aware that things are cyclical. I’ll have good days and bad days.

Perhaps it’s the awareness of the cycles of life that have always prevented me from making the horrible choice that the jumper did. No matter how bad things get, even when the loneliness is so bad it’s physically painful, I know that eventually the pendulum shifts in the other direction.

That, and I could never put someone through what that jumper has put the witnesses, the first responders, and his loved ones through. Never. Not ever.

Having said that, though, I hope he has found the peace that seems to have eluded him in life.

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What to Do When You Can’t March

I used to lament being born in the early 60’s. I was too young to participate in the “really good” protests. Be careful what you wish for. Here we are again.

Unfortunately, I have a really strange work schedule, so most marches march right on past me. I would have loved to participate in the women’s march on Washington, for example. Or the protest against the immigration ban, or the march for science, or even the produce your dang tax returns one. But nooo… I get to sit in my lonely little work tower, wishing I could lend my voice to the ever-increasing cacophony.

Other people can’t march for other reasons. Health issues. Location. Having small children at home. Time constraints. For everyone that does march, there are probably 5 who would like to, but can’t. It can feel really frustrating.

But there are still things that you can do. I think the most important thing you can do is speak up. Let people know how you feel. When it’s perceived that the majority feel a certain way, it becomes the norm. So you don’t have to march to be a part of the strengthening tide of protest. You just need to let others know you’re with them. I highly recommend blogging. But even just posting something on your Facebook page, or bringing issues up with friends and family, can be effective. If you get even one person to stop and think, “Hmmm. Maybe the earth isn’t flat after all!” then you’ve done something. You’ve become part of progress.

It is also important to put your money where your mouth is if you can. Support Planned Parenthood. Support public radio. Support the ACLU. Also, boycott companies that you feel are not on the right side of history for whatever reason, such as United Airlines, Ivanka Trump, Wells Fargo, Monsanto and Walmart. Money talks.

In addition, it’s extremely important to let your congressmen know how you feel on various issues. Call them. E-mail them. Write them. Pester them. Sign legitimate petitions. Vote. It’s the people who didn’t bother to vote who got us in this protest-worthy situation in the first place.

I also wear my heart on my sleeve in the form of bumper stickers on my car. I think this is a lot more effective than most people realize. I see people taking pictures of my bumper all the time. And I also sport a yard sign, as you can see, below.

Ask yourself this: do most of the people who know you know exactly where you stand? Then you’re doing well! Keep it up! #resist

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For Pete’s Sake

Many years ago, in the virtual world of Second Life, I made a friend. Let’s call him Pete (so I can have a cool blog entry title). It was purely a friendship. We were both in relationships at the time.  I enjoyed talking to him. He had a very creative mind, and was very good at banter, which is something I appreciate quite a bit. So we’d banter.

He lived in Seattle, and at the time I lived in Florida, so the odds of ever meeting face to face were pretty long. (I remember saying on more than one occasion throughout my life, “Who would be crazy enough to live in Seattle with all that rain? Depressing!”)

As time went on, I was in Second Life less and less, but we’d keep in touch. Exchange the odd e-mail. Flirt a little. Joke around. Nothing dramatic. But it was nice.

Then in early 2014 he moved several hundred miles from Seattle. Ironically, I moved to Seattle that August. Two ships that passed in the night. But he gave me lots of great advice on things to see and do here, and good areas to look for housing. That was a big help.

Occasionally he’d pass through Seattle to visit his son, but we never did meet. He always seemed to be here on days I worked, or I’d be out of town, or his time would be limited. He did say he might be moving back to Seattle at some point.

Then, about 6 months ago, he abruptly stopped responding to my e-mails. I knew he was still alive because I’d see him log in to Second Life every now and then. But he didn’t reply to my messages there, either.

I will never know why my friend disappeared. But I have a theory. I think that he’s back in Seattle, and the prospect of actually meeting me was too daunting for him. Was he expecting me to show up for coffee wearing a wedding dress? Please.

It kind of makes me sad. I really did consider him a friend, and it would have been nice to cross paths now and then. If something more had come of it, great. If not, that would have been okay, too.

Instead, as I walk down the streets of Seattle, I’ll sometimes look into the faces of the men I encounter, and I’ll think, “Pete? Is that you?” Sometimes I wonder if he crosses my bridge, and if so, have I ever made him late for some part of his life by opening it?

One thing is for sure: He’s somewhere out there, depriving himself of the opportunity to know a pretty awesome person. What a shame.

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Sphallolalia

I learned a new word today. I enjoy enriching my word power. But I fear that in this case my opportunity to use this term is rapidly diminishing.

sphallolalia     “sfa-lO-‘la-lE-a

Noun

  1. Flirtatious talk that leads nowhere.

Origin

From the Ancient Greek σφάλλω (sphallō, “to stumble”) and λαλιά (lalia, “talking”).

I do love to flirt. There was a time when I couldn’t get through the day without at least one good flirt. But I was younger then. Thinner. And the range of flirt-worthy men seemed much wider.

But I have always made an effort to avoid being inappropriate with my flirting. It’s all about context. I would never flirt at work. I never flirt with someone who is subordinate to me in any way. I never want to intimidate anyone or give them the creeps. I only flirt if I’m certain that at the very least it would be taken as a compliment.  If I knew you were in a relationship, I’d give you a wide berth. Unlike Trump, I’d never grab anyone. That’s not acceptable. Ever.

Flirting was fun. But I’m starting to feel that the older I get, the more awkward it becomes. That, and I’m getting pretty gun shy after years of rejection.

So I’m entering a new life stage. Henceforth I won’t be initiating sphallolalia. That’s probably for the best. In retrospect it kind of sounds like a disease. But if you hit me with some sphallolalia, I’ll most likely respond in kind. Fair’s fair.

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Mansplaining

I once attended a meeting in which a man said to me, “Did I say you could talk? I’ll tell you when you can talk.”

Oh, where to begin.

First of all, this is a guy who has been laterally passed from department to department like a flaming bag of dog poo. No one wants him. Everyone wants him to be someone else’s problem. He’s a mess that no one wants to clean up. He has zero people skills, and his management style is intimidation, confrontation, and condescension.

I am a grown woman. This man was talking to me as if I were 3. If I talked to him in that manner, it would be considered insubordination.

Insubordination is a nifty catch-all phrase. What it boils down to is that senior staff can treat you like shit, but you are supposed to sit and quietly take it, or you lose your job. The more the term insubordination gets trotted out in a company, the more likely it is that employees are dealing with a mountain of abuse.

But this man, in particular, is the poster child for mansplaining. As is explained in this video, studies show that men dominate 75% of conversations in decision-making groups. This is why the term mansplaining is becoming so popular. I know it exists because I live it.

I’ve actually had men say to me, “Don’t worry your pretty little head,” and “What’s on your little mind?” I’ve had my ideas discounted, my comments interrupted, and my suggestions ignored for most of my life. And it’s usually by someone with a much lower IQ than I have.

I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating this is. I’m done with patiently waiting my turn. Who gave you the right to divvy out these golden tickets to speak? I’m talking. Right now. If that means I’m a nasty woman, so be it.

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Fence Talking

When the weather is nice here in Seattle, I kind of feel obligated to take advantage of it. I spend a lot more time in my back yard here than I ever did in Florida. What people don’t tell you about the Sunshine State is that the sunshine also comes with 100 percent humidity that presses down on you even at 3 am, as well as 3 inch long cockroaches, fire ants, snakes, and mosquitoes. Here in Seattle the climate, when it’s feeling cooperative, is like paradise.

Times like these, it’s excellent to have nice neighbors. It’s good to be able to fence talk with someone, but it’s a fine art. You have to remember that one’s home is one’s castle, and people do want a certain level of privacy. You don’t want to get all up in each other’s business, but it can be comforting to be able to exchange pleasantries, and feel as though there’s someone you can go to for jumper cables if your car battery dies.

It takes a bit of effort not to cross the line when fence talking. You want to know each other’s names, of course, and the names of each other’s pets. Pets, in fact, are a nice safe topic. You can talk about your dog’s antics and stay comfortably within the fence talk realm. The weather is a good subject, too. And perhaps what you plan to plant in your back yard. Cordial, but not intrusive, is what you’re aiming for. And when both parties know those rules, it can be a wonderful place to be indeed.

I can tell that there won’t be much fence talking with my neighbor on the other side. He always looks like he’s sucking on crab apples, and the few times I’ve attempted to say hello, he has responded with a grunt. This leaves me wondering if I’ve done something to irritate him, and it makes me quite uncomfortable. When I sit outside I tend to turn my back on his yard. I suppose stand-offish indifference beats outright hostility, but it does seem a bit of a shame, because some day it might be his turn to come asking for jumper cables. You just never know.

Neighbors greeting each other over fence

[Image credit: galleryhip.com]