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Gathered

“You never realize how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
Part 2 of 3

I won’t say it was easy to just walk away, drop his stuff in a box, and act like the last two years of my life hadn’t happened. Every five minutes or so I was freaking out, thinking I had somehow lost my engagement ring. (I loved that ring. If it wasn’t completely improper, I admit I might have kept it.) I suppose I was even slightly vindictive spraying his shirt with the perfume he’d bought me before I packed it to be shipped. Everywhere I turned, I was somehow reminded of him: something he’d said, something we’d done together, even if it was just a TV show we’d liked to watch.

My family… God bless them. My mother, my grandmother, my bridal party – they made the hard calls for me, cancelling the church, the reception hall, the DJ, etc. I told my bridesmaids, of course, and they handled a great deal of the tiny details. Invitations hadn’t yet gone out, just Save-the-Dates, so we were saved the trouble of calling the whole guest list. Days passed by in a blur. I didn’t quite fall into a depression – I had this insane 3-month old kitten to care for, and she was (and is) quite the fuzzball of entertainment and hilarity.

Then… the distraction. The one thing that could have made the whole situation worse, did. A long-lasting, muscle-cramping, body-thrashing dystonic storm. I’ve talked briefly about dystonia in the past. If you haven’t read about it, I suggest going back and doing so here. I ended up out of work for six weeks, which may have been longer had summer vacation not rolled around. At any rate, it was two months before I could see the specialist, and a few more weeks until even more new meds started to allow for some physical, if not emotional relief.

I would have thought then that my heart could not be broken any further, but as usual, I was wrong. I re-shared an article on my Facebook about a woman who was raped and decided to keep the child. Even now, I don’t remember if she raised the baby or gave the child up for adoption, but right now, it doesn’t matter. Several of my friends, including one I thought was a sister to me, picked a fight over it and when I took it to private messages to tell them to knock it off and no fighting on my wall, I was called a “horrible” person, a “false friend”, a “fake Christian”, “judgmental” and so many more names. I can’t say I came out entirely clean from this episode – there were things I would have done differently, but she wouldn’t even talk to me. The entire argument was done over text messaging and Facebook.

Do yourselves a favor. If you ever wish to have a shred of integrity, no matter how angry you are, at least speak to the person and hear their voice. If it’s worth fighting over, it’s worth that much.

So in less than three months, not only had I lost my fiancée, I’d now lost my best friend, too. Cut off entirely.

I ran. Thank God for vacation, because I ran. I hitched a ride with a cousin and when she went to a concert, I visited a friend in the same area… 8 hours away from home. I turned 5 days of working at camp into 9. (Should have been 10, but a sinus infection got the better of me.) I followed that with a week at the beach, spending most of it in isolation, even though I shared a house with my family and was sleeping in the living room. Actually, I did a lot of that in the intervening months. Spent a lot of time alone. Writing. Thinking. How things used to be. How I could have changed them. What it would have been like if I had gone through with it. Am I truly better off now than I would have been. Lonely vs. angry – which is worse?

Camp was probably the best place that I could have been. For all that nature and I don’t get along… I first went to this Camp when I was a junior in high school, and went the following year as well. I returned five years ago to babysit the younger members of the families that founded it. It’s a God-camp, and it’s the only real judgement-free zone I’ve ever experienced. It’s a place of renewal, a place think, to pray, to let go. We always joke about the camp being within a bubble and how hard it is to leave, but it’s true. It wasn’t often that I had a few minutes to sit and talk without my charges (little boys are VERY active!) but during those two weeks, it seemed like the blinders I’d been wearing since February started to lift.

A few weeks later, in early September, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the priests who had been at camp and who is also a dear friend. I explained what had happened – all the gory details about the broken engagement (he was supposed to marry us, so he was among the first to know the wedding was off, and he had even tried some premarital counseling when things started getting bad. Needless to say, Lenny wasn’t into it and just said what he knew I wanted to hear.) I told him what my friend had said and done.

And I told him that an old friend from long past had asked me to dinner.

“Blondie,” Father Joe said, “I have known you for how long now? Six years? Seven? I see you every summer with those kids – patient, loving; by the end of the week half of them are calling you “mom” too. Don’t ever accept being told that you are anything but gentle and kind. You have a heart of gold, and it’s to their detriment that they can’t see it. Pray for them. Now tell me about this man who asked you to dinner.”

gathered

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Shattered

To Thine Own Self Be True

Part I of 3

It isn’t often that I delve into the personal on here, but the past year has taught me much about the overcommercialization of the heart, the true meaning of love, where to look for strength and courage, and the importance of doing the right thing over what the world may say the right thing looks like.

Take a look at my profile picture (as always, courtesy of Decadence Photography. I can’t recommend her highly enough). I’m a girly-girl. I like makeup and fancy curls and fairy tales. This isn’t to say I can’t handle firearms or a half-ton horse, but I’m more Belle than I am Brunhilde. Ergo, I’m a firm believer in love and romance.

Or at least I was. I admittedly was a bit of a late bloomer. My girlfriends still like to tell stories about how they had to bring me home and teach me how to walk with my hips and in high-heels and flirt a bit so I wouldn’t get so tongue-tied talking to the hottest guy in the eighth grade…which I still did. A true talent, as the conversations we had were limited to the scripts in our hands. A year later, I fell hard for one of my best friends. That was at the end of freshman year. We dated until midway through senior year and saw each other through a lot- thick and thin, good and bad. It was hard to let go. Harder for me, I think, and that made it worse for him, because despite how angry I was most of the time, he really is a good man, and I thank him for it. Five years of on-again, off-again is not the way to let one’s self heal and move on though.

Move on we both did, finally, and eventually when all the dust settled I met this guy I’ll call Lenny. We hit it off pretty much right away and even though we lived about an hour apart, saw each other nearly every weekend and quite a bit during the week. I got along well with his family, and he with mine. He proposed after we were together for only nine months, and I accepted. Things were chugging along great. Wedding plans were falling into place perfectly; my dress was ordered, the church was booked, the reception venue arranged, bridesmaids fitted for their gowns, our wedding bands were purchased…

…then he lost his job. And the people who rented property from him moved with almost no notice. His parents, who lived with him, started pressuring him and making him feel guilty that he’d be moving out with his wife and they’d be all alone. (His parents were perfectly capable of being on their own; his mother still worked full-time.) Things he promised me about our life together, important things – suddenly he’d change his mind 24 hours later and there’d be no further discussion on it. His siblings started sticking their oars in, and practically accusing me of breaking up the family and throwing their parents into the street (yet I noticed how none of the siblings offered to help with the parents’ bills, rent, etc.; it was all to be on us.)

Something in all this seemed Not Right to me. I felt like I was getting buried, not married, and this shouldn’t how a joyful bride feels. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping. As far back as February my own mother asked me, when I was ranting about such and such situation, “Is this something you’re willing to live with for the next 30 years?”. That was the first time I really caught myself and thought about it. As her words turned over in my mind, heavy as lead, I was forced to look at her and say, “I don’t know”. We were seven months from the wedding then.

It snowballed. Stupid things – refusal to come to my nephew’s birthday party. Blowing me off to drink and watch sports with his brothers at the bar instead. Shutting down completely when I tried to get him to see that the financial situation as it stood was not sustainable and we needed to do X, Y, and Z so that we wouldn’t go bankrupt right after we signed the marriage contract. He would agreed to a plan and then again change his mind almost instantaneously.

The final straw was the argument over the budget. As it was, with both of us working picking up the tab for his parents and the property was not going to work and there was no way in hell I was going to move in with my in-laws. Not when they were capable of looking after themselves and we newlyweds. It would have been different had one or both of them been ill and incapacitated, but that was not the case. The day before we’d had a plan to sell property, help them find an apartment, get ourselves one with cheaper rent, etc. Then, again, I was accused of insulting them, throwing them out to die, oh, and we won’t think of selling for at least ten years or so. I don’t lose my temper often, but I did that night. A broken mirror, a broken pair of spectacles, and 125 miles added onto my car. A complaint that his parents were worried sick and frightened that I had driven out there in the middle of the night, but he’s my fiancée – shouldn’t I be able to see him whenever I want? I’m 30, not 13, thanks. (For what it’s worth, I’m five feet tall and weigh just over 110lbs. A friend once described me as the “least threatening person he’d ever met”.)

That sealed it, I think. I am an adult. I needed to be treated like an adult, in an environment of adults. I was not going to live with my in-laws any more than I would expect Lenny to be happy about living with my parents. I wasn’t going to be lied to, or be expected to obey his parents or siblings because that’s what the women do. I’d lost nearly 10lbs and couldn’t remember that last good night’s sleep I’d had. On the drive home from his house I had my last good cry over him. I hadn’t broken the engagement, not yet, but it was pretty inevitable. That was a Thursday night, Palm Sunday weekend. Friday morning, the ring came off. I adopted a kitten, instead. Looking back, good trade.

Friday, a friend slept over and we cold-bloodedly analyzed my choices from every angle. I think it was most telling when she said that if I did go through with this, she couldn’t stand by my side and be my Maid of Honor. I appreciated this honesty. I went to work and spoke with a few of my coworkers whom I’d known for a long time and trusted almost as if they were family.

Sunday, I went to his house and told him that it was clear we had different expectations on what a marriage should look like, and I wanted out. The worse part, I think, is that he didn’t even fight for me. Not an, “I’m sorry, let’s try to work this out,” or “We can put the wedding on hold and get through this,” but just let me walk away. Five months before we were to be wed, I was instead putting his stuff into a box to be mailed back, including the three rings, single yet again.

End of Part I

shattered

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Teacup Children and the Socially Impaired

Since the mid 1980s, a trend has been developing that has me severely worried for my generation. Lately, that trend is coming to a head and I’m afraid that we as Millennials are not going to be able to handle the inevitable.

I couldn’t put my finger on the cause. It could have been one thing, or several. It could have started way back in 1974 when Timothy O’Bryan’s father slipped a cyanide-laced Pixie Stix into his Halloween bag, killing the child and frightening parents into thinking there were child-hating maniacs handing out candy for decades. (How many of you weren’t allowed to eat your candy until your parents checked it first?) Maybe it was when Mary Kellerman, aged 12, became the first victim of the Chicago Tylenol murders. Perhaps it was the Satanic daycare sex-abuse hysteria of the 1980s and 90s. Whatever it was, it led to the rise of “helicopter” parenting, the practice in which parents hover over their children to ensure the child never fails, is never allowed to fall, never allowed to take risks or experience pain.

These are the parents who won’t let their child ride a bike without knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet.

They are the parents who made sure the monkey bars and the swings were removed from the playgrounds to reduce fall and choke hazards, and there isn’t dirt or grass under what remains, but several inches of recycled shredded rubber or mulch.

If their school system still uses traditional grades, and Johnny gets a poor grade on a test, Mom and Dad will be in the next day to negotiate a better one, or finding out why the teacher didn’t teach better.  Often, Mom or Dad will just do Johnny’s work to make sure it’s done right.

Afraid to let them out of their sights, parents schedule as many after-school activities as possible. From t-ball to soccer to dance, everyone gets a trophy just for existing. There is no concept of “winning” or “losing” and thus no chance to fail in a fairly safe environment. Where there is no chance to fail, there is no room to grow. No internal motivation is developed. Children learn to depend solely on external motivators, a trait which will not serve them well in the “real” world. One would think it ludacris for a parent to accompany her grown child to a job interview or complain to the dean of students about a test grade, but it happens.

An argument between friends or classmates is immediately sorted out by teachers or parents. Children don’t learn crucial social skills, and often any conflict is immediately labeled “bullying”. What children DO learn is to quickly manipulate the system to their advantage, crying “wolf” (or “bully”) to gain attention from adults.

This lack of social skills leads me to my other big worry: the millennial generation today doesn’t have any. For that, I can go back to 1992 and IBM. Most 20-somethings today could barely remember their home phone number then and were too busy memorizing their colors, numbers, and ABCs, but that was the year IBM introduced the first smartphone, nicknamed “Simon”. Since then, we’ve all gone downhill, and it’s been well-observed that most people under the age of 35 are lacking the basic skill to carry on a conversation. It’s difficult to sit through a dinner with someone who is constantly checking their phone for email, texts, Facebook, etc. Eye contact is impossible – many can’t maintain it. When our eyes are glued to a screen all day, we forget what real interpersonal contact is like.

I firmly believe this is what has given rise to the #YesEveryWoman and #ThatsWhatHeSaid, as well as videos in which people with hidden cameras walk around for hours and record the reactions and statements of others. As human beings, we have lost the ability to interact properly with each other. We have become so used to hiding behind a screen that we have become incapable of just being.

The world of social media means never hearing emotion. You read what is written without hearing the reflection or intent. How many conversations have spiraled out of control because something was misinterpreted? Have we become completely desensitized to others’ emotions and feelings? Has that lack of seeing and hearing someone’s reaction allowed for the rise of disrespect, whether real or imagined, between the sexes?

Not too long ago, what is now considered “catcalling” was thought of as a man getting his act together, taking the plunge, and saying hello to a lady. Sadly, today’s society is severely lacking in ladies and gentlemen equally, but unless your friends had sisters, sometimes randomly addressing an attractive stranger was the only way to meet someone. Often one ended up saying something incredibly stupid as he stumbled over himself in his nervousness, hoping that in the approximate 12 second window that he had to make a good impression that she would either be willing to continue the conversation or let him down gently.

To the men out there, you kinda stink at this these days. Women, you’re pretty bad at it yourself.

Men: The way to get a lady’s attention is NOT to make any blatant sexual comment. Just, no. Don’t even go there. Do not touch or follow a woman without her permission – that’s illegal. Say hello, or something funny, or compliment her.

Women: If a man, stranger or acquaintance, says hello or compliments you, it is polite to respond “hello” or “thank you”. If you don’t wish to converse, that’s all you need to say. “F*** you” is not appropriate. If you think you’re in danger, or if you’ve been grabbed or touched in any way, scream and call the police.

Everyone should have a few fall-back subjects to talk about that don’t involve television shows and Buzzfeed lists. Read a book or two. Have informed opinions on national politics and stay current with current events. Find a hobby. Start challenging yourself to put the phone away one day a week (or if that’s too much, one day a month) and dedicate that day to one of those things.

It’s time to put on our big kid underpants and learn to be big kids, without holding Mom and Dad’s hand or the equivalent – the smart phone. Let’s learn to be people, not robots.

free range

I highly recommend the article The Overprotected Kid for more on helicopter parenting, bubble wrapped kids, and how one community is trying to give kids a new chance at childhood.

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Stop! Don’t open. That door!

There’s a lot of lousy things going on in the world today. A laundry list of them. (Note to self, do laundry.) As I am very, very sick of turning on the TV and the radio and the interwebs and hearing about suicides, looting, race-baiting, rape, and the crucifixion of children, I’m going to my happy place.

Now is a good time to warn all of you that my happy place involves killing zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.

I discovered Resident Evil 2 when I was a sophomore in high school through a boyfriend, and in turn, I introduced it to my brothers. There isn’t a lot that a 16-year-old girl and two boys ages 13 and 10 can agree upon, but for the three of us, it was Resident Evil and the extremely unusual  and rather bloody crime fighting adventures of Chris, Jill, Claire, Leon, Ada, and the rest of the gang as they battled the evil Umbrella Corporation. Alright, maybe “crime fighting” is stretching things a bit, but Chris and Jill were RPD special ops, Leon was a cop, and the second game took place in a police station. Close enough.

I don’t know what it was about those games. We watched each other play like we might watch a movie – offering advice, shouting out warnings, and always ready with a clever insult when someone did something stupid, whether that be the character or the one controlling him. And oh, did we screw up. Or, better, tried to make each other screw up. Like the time I neglected to mention that licker that was going to burst through the two-way mirror, and I’m pretty sure the story about how I missed Birkin during the final battle with one of my precious rocket-launcher shots (you only get two) when I had the game set to “auto-aim” will be told at my funeral.

Then again, so too will we recall my brother frantically pointing at the gate and stammering “Use the bent-pin-door-opener-thingie!”

“The lock pick?”

“Yeah, the lock pick.”

Ah, the good old days. Today, it’s rare to get my brothers and me in the same room for more than five minutes at a time; our lives pull us in so many different directions. I’ll always look back with fondness though at the appreciation for a perfect headshot, the achievement of shaving a few seconds off a record time, the beating of the extra game with ‘Hunk” or “Tofu” (yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. You race through the game as a giant block of tofu.)

Or when someone is in desperate need of a smile, you just look at them and say, “You were almost a Jill sandwich.”

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A Movie, a Centipede, and a Police Officer

… all walk into a bar…

I know, it does seem like the beginning of a joke. In retrospect, nearly a year later, the whole thing was funny. In honor of me having the entire house to myself for a few hours and the fact that I’m going on vacation for the next three weeks as of Thursday with very limited internet (unless I haul myself to a Starbucks or something. TBD.), I figured if I wasn’t going to be posting again until nearly September I could at least leave you with something amusing, and poke a great deal of fun at myself in the process.

The following tale is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

 

It isn’t often I get the house to myself in the evening, less often that I even desire it that way, because frankly, I don’t like being home alone. My cat isn’t exactly intimidating toward strangers; he is more the type demand attention than drive them away from the house. With this in mind, my plan was to order take-out (or take-in, as the case may be) and sack out on the couch with Netflix. All was going well until I got to the Netflix part and out of the corner of my eye I saw something skitter across the floor of the living room.

My glasses were exactly where they should be. That is, I don’t usually wear them at home unless I’m actively watching television, as I generally *know* where things are placed and my eyesight isn’t THAT bad. So they were on the table, next to the book I’d been reading while noshing down on boneless wings, bread sticks and diet coke. (Healthy, I know.) I couldn’t tell the size of the critter, or even if it was vegetable, animal, or mineral, though considering that it was moving, it was pretty safe rule out vegetable and mineral. I figured for mouse. We haven’t had many mice since we’ve had the cat, but at fifteen years old, he’s slowed down quite a bit and it was perfectly possible that one had slipped by him. I got up to check.

Was I ever glad I was wearing flip-flops.

It was not a mouse. I would have been definitely ok with a mouse. I actually like mice. This was smaller than a mouse, and had many more legs. Dozens more legs. In fact, the very name of this horrible being translates to “one hundred feet” and it sure as sugar looked like it. There was a bloody centipede making its way under my living room rug.

I did what any normal 29-year old woman would do. I screamed bloody murder. The monster was having a hard time getting under the padding of the rug, so I took a quick picture of it (because that’s what any sane person does when confronted by something that terrifies her, and I didn’t think anyone would believe me otherwise) before stomping madly on it. Fortunately, I killed it. As sure as I heard it go “Gak”, I killed it. I peeled back the rug’s padding to be sure. Yup! Dead. Then I fired off this text message to my mother, along with the picture:

“Do you know what that is? It’s the back-end of a giant (expletive deleted) millipede or centipede or whatever that I just killed IN OUR LIVINGROOM!”

Ok, maybe I wasn’t as calm as I’d thought. Still, I had won the day. Now I could sit back, choose a movie, and become one with the couch. This lasted a total of maybe ten minutes when another of the little things came across the floor and under the couch.

This time, there was no was I was getting off the couch. I texted my mother again, who was away on vacation, as though she’d be able to solve it from four hours away: “If the house is gone when you get back, it’s because I burned it down to ensure the thing and any relatives are dead, ’cause another (expletive deleted) just went under the couch.”

Even from hours away, moms will be moms: “Move the couch and chair and vacuum the rug.”

While this may have been a thinly veiled ploy to get me to clean up the livingroom, I rolled up my pj pants, put my flip-flops back on, took out the rocking chair, and did just that. I moved the armchair and vacuumed the rug under and behind it, moved the end table and did the same. I carried the decorative tree into the hall and hauled half the couch into the middle of the room and started vacuuming behind there. Still no centipede, but I figured it dove under the rug like its ill-fated companion on the other side. There were some blankets folded up on the floor. I went to shake them out, just in case…

…why is it “just in case” never ends well for anyone? The monstrous, hideous creature falls out. I jump and scream and drop the blanket, into which it promptly dives back in. (To make this even more mentally interesting, if it needs to be, it’s a leopard print Snuggie – you know, one of those blankets with sleeves.) I have a vacuum in one hand and I’m stomping pretty much aimlessly on the floor, because although I want desperately to kill the thing, I don’t know where it is and I don’t want to kill it IN the blanket.

At that precise moment, a police officer walks through my front door, looks at me and says, “What the hell?”

I wish to the gods that was the punchline to a joke, but it isn’t.

“There’s a centipede in the blanket,” I explained. “Do you seriously think I’d be vacuuming at 9:00 at night for any other reason?”

“I didn’t think you ever vacuumed at all,” he replied, taking out his flashlight.  “In the 26 years that I have known you, which is to say, my entire life, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen you vacuum behind that couch. Shake the blanket out and get him.”

As soon as I did, the centipede fell out and was ground into paste on the hardwood floor. My brother the cop, having done his duty as an officer of the law and seen this terrible criminal -who went around terrorizing innocent women- brought to justice, make himself a sandwich and enjoyed his dinner break.

So much for my night in.

 

 

thankful spiders

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