Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Am Not an Animal

I'm a little bit of a sentimentalist. I send my friends Valentines, in part because I remember the pain of having not been the recipient of very many in the years that our teachers didn't require students to bring a card for every other student in the class. It was humiliating to collect my doily- and sticker-covered box to hear a very few little cards shuffling around the bottom; I think my all-time low was five. Even in those years, when there were several people in my homeroom to whom I didn't want to give a Valentine for various reasons, I did it anyway because it was the nice thing to do. I guess it was best to start learning about rejection then, because developing the ability to not cry in front of people came in handy later when the rejections were more public and brutal.

The reason it's on my mind today is because a friend's love interest really enjoys manipulating her emotions, slapping a mouse trap shut on them when she seems to feel more than he is willing to permit. He makes plans and blows them off, then accuses her of being ridiculous when she calls him out on it. The universal opinion of people who know her is that he's a jerk and she should leave him, but sometimes things are more complicated than that- I concur that she should, but I understand why she doesn't.

I made the mistake of sending Hopkins a 'friend' Valentine last year. The card had a penguin on it. At the time he was living with his mother and aunt, and when he received it, he made a huge production out of being upset to the point of near-revulsion (this information was relayed to me by his aunt). So yes, a huge overreaction, and when I caught wind of it, it was horrifying. The simplest way to consider it is, "To hell with him, I shouldn't care what he thinks," but I do care; nobody can make you feel worse than someone whose opinion you've permitted to matter. Also, if he is really my friend, you'd think he'd might have reacted more as, "Oh, hey, a penguin," instead of "Dear God, I have just received a card from the most hideously subhuman and loathsome creature on Earth!" (Is it just me, or does that sound like something that The Oatmeal would come up with?)

As I wrote to my friend in the wake of her latest pain, we have to give ourselves permission to feel self-respect, if we're not getting respect from people in whom we are emotionally invested. She and I have disconnections with interpersonal relationships in similar ways, and I'd love to lock this dude in a room with Hopkins and let them have a "Who's the Worse Asshole?" showdown...it might end in a dead heat.

The holidays are going to be hard enough for me this year without dwelling on so much negativity, but watching her tie herself in these knots brings back the awful loneliness I've felt most of my life. We deserve better- anybody does- but there are days that my belief in how realistic that is wanes. I'm not a perfect person, by any means; I just wonder why some people think it's a waste of time for them to treat me like a human being and not an offense to their sensibilities.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rich Corinthian Leather...Or Not

One of the vast changes I noted when I began working in higher ed was the fact that most students seemed to have cars, and that at least half of the cars on campus (it was a private, albeit non-competitive admissions, college) were much nicer than what I drove. When I started college, we were discouraged from having cars. Some of my friends, however, did manage to bring one, and those were the folks upon whom we all relied for transportation to anywhere beyond campus. The theory behind not allowing freshmen to have cars went something like this: "If they can't get off campus to do things, they'll do things on campus. Also, it will be far more difficult for them to turn the state flagship into a suitcase college every Friday."

Wrong. My mother came and got me at least once a month, and that was a 200 mile round trip from my hometown. I was in the Honors Program, so we generally didn't go forth except to hang out in each others' dorms, play RPGs, hack from a computer lab, or go to the library. Sometimes when we were feeling especially motivated, we might even go to the second-run dollar theater in the student center, or dress rehearsal night for the latest College of Fine Arts offering.

My friend Bill had the Mother of All Land Yachts which took the form of a 1972 Chrysler Cordoba. The car was, in a word, HUGE. The trunk could have held several dead bodies...foreshadowing his job a couple of years out as the night call guy for the county morgue...and one could easily cram about five people in the back seat in the days before seat belt laws. The front seat was a bench, too, so it could hold three or four folks depending on the size of the passengers- I was already a Big Girl and Bill was a Large Dude, so three if we were in the front and somebody small wanted to sit in the middle.

There was a reason that I sat shotgun in The Green Goblin- so nicknamed for its dark hunter green color- mostly related to wardrobe. The fashion at the time among college girls was chino skirts that were tapered down to the shin-length hem, effectively a latter-day hobble skirt. The Goblin was a two-door, and those skirts made it necessary for Bill or one of the other boys in the car to come around and fish me out of the back seat because I couldn't get out (when left to my own devices, I resembled a stranded walrus trying to flop along the ice). After about a dozen rounds of this, the boys decided that it was much simpler to let me ride up front...not to mention that a couple of people pointed out that "the lady" (HA!) should be up front anyway.

Sadly, the Cordoba wheezed its last over the summer before our sophomore year, and Bill returned to campus with a far less-intimidating late-model Pontiac 6000 similar to my mother's. The Pontiac would have been fine, except for one little thing: Bill tended to throw himself into the front seat a little hard, and one night the driver's seat hinge snapped. Since it was too hard for him to sit up to drive it that way, I drove it back to the frat house and we went to the movies in my Chevy Beretta.  Even though the Cordoba was kind of an in-joke within our circle of friends, the Pontiac never quite lived up to its ultra-nerd factor. It was a unique part of the mythology of our undergraduate experience...and every time I see a Cordoba, I think fondly of those days...including the molting sun-damaged upholstery that only a teenager could fully appreciate.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dress You Up

I'm still running on Madonna fumes. I've mentioned before that eShakti has enabled me to have a wardrobe of styles I've been dying to own for years- and I just ordered the most beautiful dress that has a two-layer skirt with wide chevrons of tulle over a peachy-pink underskirt. It's basically an early-evening dinner dress, for candlelit dinners that I won't be having anytime soon, but the urge to own it was overwhelming. My mother would have appreciated the skill involved in that skirt.

They say that we should dress for the jobs we want...well, most days feel like I'm putting on a costume, rather than getting dressed for work; that has more to do with perception and feeling than it does with how or why I should dress for my job. I came from a position where we were encouraged to dress like first-grade teachers, at which I arrived from a state university, where I was expected to wear business attire. My current job involves fairly casual clothing since anything too formal would scare our students to death- they already feel intimidated enough talking to staff in the offices, and we don't want to add to it.

What I would like is to have somewhere to wear this fantastic wardrobe. The world has become increasingly casual all the way around, and there just aren't as many opportunities that don't cost an arm, leg, and a kidney to experience to which one would wear beautiful clothes. Life runs at the speed of casual dining versus anywhere that might have tablecloths and/or candles- and those moments belong to younger, prettier women than me.

I always say that I don't believe in "magical moments", and yet I keep waiting for them. I try not to want too much. It reminds me of an exchange between Frankenfurter and Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 

Magenta: "I ask for nothing!"
Frankenfurter: "And you shall receive it in abundance!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Into the Groove

I still can't shake the Madonna earworm from last weekend, so today's piece is "Into the Groove" from Desperately Seeking Susan. In the movie, Madonna's character had a very cool jacket with a pyramid on the back and this pair of rhinestone-studded demi-boots that I would have almost sold my soul to Satan to have.

Back then, when my parents controlled my wardrobe, I was turned out in the most abysmally "safe" assortment of plus-size grandma clothes available. My mother also made sure that I had the most hideously functional Playtex Eighteen Hour bras that no self-respecting teenager would wear voluntarily...and for which I was relentlessly tortured by my bully, because I had to change clothes in the same room with her during band contests. I was the height of all that was uncool in my granny panties and birth-control bra.

During the spring of 1985, Desperately Seeking Susan came out. Over the winter, I'd lost my precious old Fox Terrier, my aunt, and then, to cap it off, my grandmother, shortly followed by being dumped a few days before the prom. It was the Superfecta of all teenage hideousness. As a sophomore stuck with a dress and no date, I was circling the drain- hoping against hope that Hopkins, who was similarly dateless, might clue in and save me. (No such luck, although the prom disaster was resolved by a kindly boy from my church who took pity on me.)

In the midst of all this, a shoe store chain that specialized in inexpensive fashion shoes came out with exclusively-licensed reproductions of Madonna's boots from the movie, and I HAD to have those boots. My birthday was coming up, so that's what I asked for- in fact, they were the only thing I asked for. I wanted those boots, and I thought that by suiciding my Sweet 16 birthday list, I would surely get them.

It didn't happen.

I don't remember what I got for my birthday that year, but it wasn't the boots. Mom told me that she'd tried, but they didn't have the boots in my size. I knew she was lying because on our most recent trip to the city, I'd gone to the store alone and tried the boots on. They did have them, they did fit, and my parents just didn't feel that they were appropriate. That was almost thirty years ago and I still remember it clearly.

As an adult, I think this is why I have far too many clothes, shoes, and accessories. A couple of years later, I trooped off blindly to an SEC university with painfully tacky, cheap handbags, a wardrobe of out-of-style clothing, and my grand total of six pairs of shoes. If I'd thought I was vilified for that in high school, at least I came from an area of conservative blue-collar middle-class people who didn't care overmuch about that kind of thing and thought too much apparel was wasteful; I arrived in Lexington and was mocked into hiding within a couple of days. I vowed then that I would never be ridiculed for my taste in apparel again.

The result is a little over-curated. I have a wardrobe of great clothes, fantastic shoes, and cool bags, but I still remember what it was like to want the things I couldn't have "because they aren't made in your size, honey". Although there are more choices out there, it's not a hundred percent awesome even today, but at least I can buy a lacy bra or a cute jacket if I want it. If they ever re-issue those boots, rest assured that they will be MINE.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Crazy For You

The other night, as we sat waiting for Stefan's improv show to begin, a selection of Eighties movie soundtrack songs played in the background. Ben, one of Stefan's college roommates, rolled in with his two latest vinyl acquisitions, Don McLean's American Pie and Madonna's Madonna. As we looked them over and made suitable sounds of approval, Madonna's "Into the Groove" from "Desperately Seeking Susan" queued up. Hopkins glanced over at the Madonna album I was holding and told us, "Oh, I had that one in high school...I ripped the CD onto my computer a while back."

I felt the anger flash out into my expression before I could control the reaction. Madonna is a sore point with me in the context of Hopkins; every single freaking dance for which he stood me up in high school seemed to have ended with "Crazy for You".  I hissed, "Keep going and they'll take your Straight Card away. Madonna, really? YOU were a big Madonna fan?" Insert hysterical observations about mistaken homophobic reaction to that kind of thing in our high school, hence excusing his concealment of Madonna-mania; I dryly added, "Unless you know the choreography for all of her videos as well, nobody would have made that mistake. Trust me."

If I reach outside Madonna's canon for another ballad, the more perfect choice is Counting Crows' Raining in Baltimore (there's that Johns Hopkins reference, kids), and the line that hits me hardest is this:

There are things I remember; there are things I forget.
I miss you...I guess that I should.
Three thousand five hundred miles away-
What would you change if you could?

My friendship with him only works if I don't register any sentiment or emotion, so I have to find other ways to draw it off. I've become so accustomed to not showing emotion (because it tends to be treated as a punchline if expressed by a fat woman) that this is sadly more normal for me than not. It's one of those deals I've made with the Devil. In order to have him in my life, I have to be careful to stay numb. I got a metaphorical slap in the face the one time I evinced my true feelings for him, and for twenty-eight years, that moment has informed every subsequent humiliation I've felt when I've been dismissed by a man as ridiculous, unsuitable, or unwanted.

I am, as I have always been, that guy at the D&D game who has boobs. As far as he's concerned, that's the only way I'm not threatening or gross, I guess. I've waited all my life to let this go, and to move on, but I've resigned myself that it will never happen. This is all there is, and this is as good as it will ever get.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'Way Down South It's Not Forgotten

This piece from NPR about racist origins of traditions at the University of Mississippi was thought-provoking, but the comments...well, the comments ranged from thoughtful to downright scary. I read them with growing unease for a very good reason: the son of my high school psychology teacher, who was also our football coach, is an associate athletic director at Ole Miss. My father has been their family doctor since before their daughter, who is a classmate of mine, was born. I think Dad may have delivered Derek, but I'm not absolutely sure- it's been a while, now, Derek being some six years younger than his sister and me. Derek deals with athletic academic compliance, something with which we're being hammered at the moment in light of the overwhelming cheating scandal at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill.

I was disturbed when Derek left the University of Louisville to accept a position in the athletic department at Louisiana State University, but when he went on to a new position a little while ago at Ole Miss, I got worried. It's nothing on Derek's part, mind you, but Ole Miss does have a history. (So does the University of Kentucky, by the way, if you dig deep enough; in the 1950s the University of Kentucky's athletics flag had the university seal on a field at the left edge, and the rest of it was the Confederate battle flag. The heavily romanticized Lost Cause still smolders unto today in some quarters.) Things seem to be okay, but I've never had the guts to really pursue this conversation with his family.

It was Derek's father, you see, who was called "boy" in my presence on the senior trip. It was about four a.m., in rural Alabama somewhere, and our bus had stopped at an all-night diner en-route to Panama City Beach, Florida. There were fifty of us or so, and only four of our party were African American: Coach C, his daughter, and two male classmates. The deputy sheriff walked up to Coach C, and said to him, plain as day, "Boy, we don't like your kind around here. You'd best get back on that bus and get on down the road."  I went perfectly still; I'd been raised to think that this kind of thing was a stamp of the lowest, trashiest sort of behavior...and in 1987, some backwater deputy called our football coach 'boy'! I was absolutely speechless. I thought at the time that I might be hallucinating from lack of sleep.

The coach begged his pardon, said we'd be on our way as soon as we could get everyone back onto the bus, and turned to me. His voice was calm and even as he told me to round the others up and get them back on the bus as quickly as possible. I must've started to say something, because he added, firmly, "Now." So I did it, and we left. The moment is burned into my memory forever; the comments on the NPR piece brought it flooding back to the surface. Has anything changed in the intervening time period? Have we really moved forward, or are we mired in the same muck?

At what point can we sift tradition from the bitter ashes of racism, Jim Crow, and slavery? When can we let go of the invective and bigotry? When will we ever move on? I worry for Derek's safety in a nagging, slightly seasick way, especially since this story clearly stirred some pretty angry sentiments. Let's hope that the people on the ground at the University of Mississippi, including Derek, can make a difference and help build a more amicable atmosphere where the pride is still there, but lacks the ties to an outmoded way of thinking and being. Moonlight and Magnolias was always a myth, anyway- a facade overlaying a darker undercurrent...dig it up by the roots and plant something new, folks. It's way past time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Last Man Standing

So, the other day, our local surgeon and father of one of my childhood friends, passed away after a steady decline in health. He was a larger-than-life person, who lived to the fullest and was a brilliant surgeon on top of it. He'd dedicated his career, as has my father, to the rural agricultural community where I grew up.

With his passing, my father is the last of the local doctors- there are some "imports", but Dad's the last one who came during the Sixties, when the hospital was new and building a really great reputation in the area. He's been lonely since the surgeon retired this summer, and now...I hope he doesn't decide to retire. He'd be bored stiff inside five minutes. Dad's not exactly a handyman, and his primary entertainment other than watching hunting on TV is actually hunting (which these days is more like "sitting in his stand watching the animals walk by- sometimes shooting at them, but not seriously").

I'm not going to mince words here: they dealt with a lot of gruesome shit at our tiny local hospital back in the day. There were horrible car accidents, difficult births, men mangled and torn by farm machinery and livestock, hunting mishaps, drug overdoses, teen suicides...and we had a pretty sharp bunch of doctors to handle all that. They stepped up. They brought the "A game". They gave their lives to Medicine and we, the families, understood...that was The Way It Was- your dad missed recitals, graduations, award ceremonies, dances, plays, and ballgames, because he was sewing up some guy who caught a chainsaw with his thigh.

This particular surgeon helped me sneak my mother's original Papillon into the hospital. He'd taken Mom's very, very infected gallbladder out and was telling me, in detail, about how serious her condition was, when Didi poked her nose out through the collar of the cardigan in which I had her wrapped. He looked down, saw the dog, and said, "Get it inside- I'll cover you!" as he propelled me toward the door, where I was further aided and abetted by the Director of Nursing. Mom, by the way, was upset: "Oh, honey, you brought a DOG into a HOSPITAL! What were you thinking?" That was long before anyone had ever heard of therapy pets, of course.

There are a lot of people back home who owe their lives or the lives of their loved ones to this man. To me, of course, he was not only my father's colleague, but my friend's dad and the man who let me fish in his farm pond...and who helped me get a DOG into a HOSPITAL and never once questioned the logic behind it. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fat Shaming: It's All the Rage

A rescue colleague posted a tale about how her husband's obese co-worker, a recently-diagnosed diabetic, injected his insulin into "his big belly" at a business dinner one night. I don't take issue so much with people being grossed out, but in my librarianly way, I followed it down the rabbit hole by asking a series of questions and offering that he might have had a medical emergency. As someone who is the sibling of a brittle diabetic and who has serious food allergies herself, I was curious to know if it was just an aversion to the injection or the fat body. I lost my temper pretty quickly, so shame on me for that, but it's not something about which I can be particularly objective.

People who aren't overweight or obese feel that it's their right, nay, their obligation, to remind those of us who are that we're unpleasant for them to behold and that in all sorts of ways, we take up more than our 'fair share' of space and oxygen. Also, it's their purview to remind us that we aren't supposed to eat what they deem inappropriate for us, such as sweets, alcohol, carbohydrates...well, pretty much damn well anything that's not a green, leafy vegetable or a lean broiled chicken or fish, because if we didn't eat like hogs on a rampage, we wouldn't be fat, right? 'Put down the fork and push away from the table' is how that logic goes.

We've been having this almost violent exchange on one of my library social network groups about racism, privilege, and bias, and what I want to say is, "Live a day in my world; there's privilege to not being fat, too." A colleague who is teaching a dual-credit course at an area high school just brought up that she is being cat-called over her weight as she walks to and from the class each morning. It's giving her flashbacks to the unhappiest moments of her own time in high school. This is a college professor and she's being fat-shamed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids. General wisdom would tell us, "She's the adult, she should be thicker-skinned! It's just kids being kids!" Maybe, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt like a motherf*****.

Until you've had people crane their necks to examine what's in your grocery cart and visibly disapprove (by sighing, rolling their eyes, tsk-tsking, or similar) of its contents, you've not really lived. It's also great to be stared at as if you're a zoo exhibit when you're dining in public, although, here in the South, most people have enough couth not to comment in your earshot. Shopping for general items can also be fun; I once had the experience of overhearing a father coaching his young son on how to most effectively insult someone like me (they were near me, and I was definitely Dad's target of choice). I spun around and snapped, "I'm fat, not deaf. Perhaps you could concentrate on teaching your child some manners, rather than teaching him to act like a cretin." He turned white as a sheet- apparently it's only fun if you don't get called out.

It's often said that fat-shaming is the last safe prejudice. That's why so many of us are willing to risk our lives and mutilate our digestive tracts to leave this physical state of being behind- because we live in hell every moment of every day.





Friday, September 12, 2014

Band Brothers

There was a freak accident in my hometown recently involving the child of one of my friends. I am unclear on the exact details, but the result is that my friend's son experienced head trauma that sent him to the children's hospital in the Big City for a few days. There is residual, lingering damage; while it gives the superficial appearance of being minor, my friend is in the process of beating himself to pieces over it.

Remember getting yelled at for throwing paper airplanes in the classroom when the teacher stepped out, or turned her back for a minute, because someone's eye would get put out? Well, a teacher's son lost an eye to that when I was still in school. We were all terribly leery of throwing any kind of projectiles around after that happened. My friend's son was caught in the head with a small projectile that hit at exactly the wrong angle and caused some slight hemorrhaging in the cranium. It was an accident, and the person who threw it certainly didn't intend for this to happen.

I shouldn't borrow this trouble, but let me explain why I have: I have no brothers of my own, but I acquired several when I joined band, specifically when I joined the drumline. For four out of the five years that I marched, I was thrown in among this outfit. They teased me, and I was often extremely angry with them- my mother, who had three brothers, had to shepherd me through this experience because she understood it better than I did. They could say this stuff- some of it mean, but never cruel- but if anybody else hurt me or ran their mouths, they answered to my guys (and on one particularly memorable occasion to the older sister of one of them).

So now I don't know what to do for my friend. It was an accident, and he is a good father. He has stepped up in so many situations since we became adults, and I have been very impressed with the man he's become...although there were MANY times I would have gladly strangled him when we were teenagers. How can I help him? I just don't know. All I do know is that it's unproductive to blame yourself for things that you couldn't control; you have to focus on the now, and plan for the future, and whatever that might bring. He's brought his "A game" so many times before, and I'm hoping that the same resolve sets in soon. He's going to need it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Am the Terror That Flaps in the Night

So, on Saturday, I drove through a gut-wrenching blinding rain complete with accompanying electrical storm. A warning light popped up on my dashboard that I'd never seen before, and I learned, much to my displeasure, that it's a bad one, to wit: something screwy is going on with my alternator. It didn't help that I had just driven through a lightning strike, although I'm thankful that my entire car didn't short out.

As a woman who drives a great deal and relies on her car at an almost ridiculous level, that compounded my anxiety from earlier in the day. So while others were taking part in Stefan's improv show, I was busily thumbing through the owner's manual, drinking Two Rum Punch, and worrying myself so much in general that I could not possibly enjoy the first episode of Doctor Who starring Peter Capaldi.

Also, it's going to monkeywrench the desk schedule, bane of my existence, at work today. This is a repair, however, that WILL NOT wait. I blow this one off and I'm looking at buying a new car, folks...and this one's not entirely paid for. So yeah, I get to wait this out at the Subaru dealership today to the tune of Daddy's Credit Card. (Let's not get into the social engineering that took, and yes, I'm paying him back in a few days, it's just going to take some juggling to get it together. He nearly had a conniption. Trust me, the First Bank of Mom would have paid for this one and not asked for it back, but I'm an adult now/with problems of my own/I'm an adult now/Why can't you leave me alone?...)

Anyway, I felt that this was deserving of a Darkwing Duck reference, as I felt quite disaster-prone plowing through the deluge with freaky red lights going off on the dashboard. It's Monday. Now all I have to do is make it all the way to the dealership. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shoot that Poison Arrow

Yesterday was a long one for me. I started out with a rescue transport of an Airedale who's been in my care for quite some time-that was the easy part. I bought some clothes hangers, went to see my friend Amy briefly at her job, and then headed down the road to my father's hometown...to the cemetery.

Mom is buried in my father's family's plot. When I learned last week that I've won the state library association's mentoring award, I grabbed my cell phone as soon as I hung up with the association president with the first thought, "I have to call Mom and tell her!" Well, that would be impossible without a psychic medium at this point, and it hit me a lot harder than I care to discuss quite yet. Then it turned out that no one in my family can attend, and Stefan can't be there because it will run longer than his allotted lunch hour.

So, I had this long, sobbing conversation with my mother's basket of geraniums at the cemetery before driving back to my house, two hours northeast, to pack for my trip to Smalltownland. As I was headed over, Stefan texted me that Hopkins, who ostensibly was supposed to be unpacking his moving boxes at his new apartment (which was what he'd said earlier in an e-mail to me), had showed up at the improv show in the Big City.

A few quick texts to him later, it began to dawn on me how little I actually matter. It was a hard blow after the week I've had- there have been several other trying moments- and add to that Stefan's gratitude that Hopkins was thoughtful enough to come out to support his act even though I was on my way to buy Dad's groceries...I was stung. I felt betrayed on two fronts. If I must, I will eventually rationalize that the troupe needed Hopkins' ten dollars, but I'm still a bit bruised about it at the moment.

Someone posted a meme about arrows on Facebook a little while ago that resonated with me. The  image that leaped to mind was of May Welland in The Age of Innocence winning the archery contest, which was a sign of her health and appropriateness as a marital prospect, but later proved to be indicative of her character. May, who seemed simple and uncomplicated, proves to be quite cunning and defensive of her home and hearth after her husband strays- her strength was required to draw the bowstring and accurately target that which threatened her peace. She neatly removed the threat and her husband, who never suspected she had it in her, is stunned.

I think sometimes we forget that we have the strength to draw the bow, much less shoot the arrow. It requires so much control...and we must master ourselves, our movement, thoughts, and emotions, in order to shoot true. It's when I become cold and calm that I'm at my most dangerous and decisive, when I reach zero tolerance for fools and cowards. I can feel my finger on the string...all I have to do is pull...and release.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Angel of Music, You Deceived Me

In my teens and twenties, I was a huge Phantomane...I saw Phantom of the Opera twice while I was living in London, with about two-thirds of the original cast. I've also seen it twice in the States, once in New York and again with a touring company in Louisville. A small clip of the overture prefaced our answering machine announcement my senior year of college, and my friend Angie and I once beat time on the ceiling of her now-husband's apartment in time to the overture in order to aggravate my ex-boyfriend who lived in the apartment directly upstairs.

Even then, I realized that my fondness for the show stemmed in some part from my identification with the plot. The Phantom, shunned because he was disfigured, had a brilliant (if twisted) mind and rather singular talent. He made the mistake of falling in love with Christine, who was a pretty good singer, albeit quite vapid and not all that bright. So, there I was, shunned by society for my looks and intelligence, and in love with a boy who a) was totally out of my reach, b) didn't know how I felt and/or want to acknowledge me, and c) would never be capable of returning my feelings. I'm not big on romantic plots- but something about the rejection that drove Erik to madness and desperation resonated with me.

Instinctively, I had always known that ingenue roles always went to the pretty girls with the light, high soprano. The ingenue always gets her man, even if it's not the more interesting one. Phantom is ultimately about Christine making the safe choice and returning to the handsome, 'normal' guy, and an ordinary life...because it doesn't matter how smart or talented Erik was; he's deformed, he doesn't think or function like everybody else, and he's just plain weird, which makes him unacceptable (well, that, and he kills people who make him feel threatened).

If I am honest about what Hopkins said on that ill-fated evening about a month and a half ago, I can best illustrate it by saying that I painted an overly-flattering portrait of him with the brush of long-standing affection. As he construed it, it was false or dishonest (I thought I was the most self-critical person I know) but I have a right to my lens/my 'version'. There's also quite a difference between tortured genius and simple failure; I have a better understanding now of Christine's disillusionment when she discovered the truth about Erik, even if I disliked her as a character.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Empty Nests, Empty Cradles

So school started this week for most of my friends' children. It's at this time of year that I see the photos flash by on social media and think, "What if?", but it's a non-sequitur.

I have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. This makes it very difficult to conceive. Also at my weight, pregnancy was an unsafe idea, and well, no husband during my threshold of fecundity, anyway. Closer examination of my blood chemistry and other physiological factors led one gynecologist after another to caution me strongly against trying to bear children.

It was never meant to be.

I feel guilty, having deprived my parents of grandchildren, especially having seen my father interact with his late best friend's grandson and his great-grandniece, both of whom are creeping quickly up on preschool age. I always believed that my thinner, prettier sister would be the one to present them with grandchildren- she's married, too- but she turned out to be a brittle Type I diabetic. The trade-offs are straight out of Steel Magnolias.

A colleague at my last job, upon hearing that things were shaky with my then-fiance', suggested that I go to Central America to adopt a child, as her own daughter had recently done. There have been moments when I considered it, but now I'm forty-five. It's really too late.

At the very least, I thought I might marry someone who had nieces and nephews, because I KNOW I would be a rockin' aunt. No such luck. Most of the men I've dated have been only children. Swell.

One of my friends from high school, a single guy, is pursuing adoption. He inherited a nice estate from his grandparents, which will endow the lucky child he adopts with twelve years of very good private education followed by the college or university of its choice. Marriage is not on the cards for him, either, and he's taken this well in hand. Moreover, he's willing to adopt a school-age child, which is awesome because those children are so frequently overlooked in orphanages in favor of infants.

I'm proud of my friends for their parenting. Their children give every appearance of having turned out well, but this time of year makes me feel awkward, with that slight tinge of failure. Some of us were never meant to be mothers...but that doesn't mean that we never think about what could have been.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Those Who Dance Must Pay the Piper

My sister isn't socially inept like me, so she pointed out with some deliberation this past weekend that I was most likely wrong to be upset with Hopkins. Not that I hadn't considered it, mind you, but my other friends' reactions informed my own response.

To wit, Little Sister said, "Maybe he thought he was being funny. You know the way that some people are trying to be self-effacing by saying that somebody's exaggerated about them to others," i.e., that he was not calling me a liar, he was saying that I tend to present the rose-colored glasses version of him. In my defense, I asked him. No response, zip, nil, nada, which pitched me into the frame of mind in which I poured out my anguish (and anger) in a blog post.

This brings me back to a couple of things: you can't unsay it, and in a way, it's a karmic debt that came back for repayment; and it's my fault for losing my temper.

It's a long and storied relationship, and one with which I've been trying to make peace for thirty years. I have been so hell-bent on proving to Hopkins that I was and am worthy of his friendship that I forgot one very important thing: I'm worthy of friendship, whether or not I'm worthy of his, particularly. I was and am worthy of love, whether or not he has ever felt I was worthy of his. The pain of feeling inconspicuous and meaningless haunted me for three decades because a careless boy was certain that fleeing to a prestigious university would solve all of his problems, and that the only way to set the stage for it was a nearly hospital-sterile clean break.

In his defense, I believe he'd characterize me as fickle and shallow. It's something I could have solved then, or now, if he'd only actually talk to me about something other than Doctor Who, Sailor Moon, or 'net neutrality. Lack of honesty, communication, and let's face it, mutual social awkwardness, has led to a lot of pain and unhappiness over the years.

Then again, he could've meant what he said, and I'm rationalizing again.

*sigh*

Drama. I hate it.





Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Must Be Here for the Shoes

I'm going to stage a little departure from my usual navel-gazing today to talk about something else near and dear to my heart: clothes. I like them, but I really like them a lot better when I can get them in my size. What generally ends up happening is that I get a catalog or visit the website of a company from which I've ordered clothing to purchase without being able to try anything on. As my mother used to say, I'm "built funny", so standard clothing sizes, even plus sizes, often don't fit me correctly- so then I have to do the Mail Order Return Tango, whereby I send something back and have to wait forever for the money to be refunded. The shipping, which is frequently extortionate, is never refunded, and sometimes there's a penalty of 10-15% of the cost for sending it back- in the end, a plus-size is paying for the "privilege" of not being able to try things on in a store.

What's really saved me in recent months is eShakti. I've regained most of my weight that I lost with my LapBand, since I had to have the saline removed while Mom was sick (I developed a dangerous digestive issue). The thing is, I still have to have clothes, regardless of my weight. I am well above a 24W pant/skirt, which is the highest size carried in most plus-size departments. So what am I supposed to do? I'm a full professor- I can't roll onto campus in my skivvies!

One of my colleagues is on the short and curvy side. That is a deadly combination as far as clothes go, too; she needs petite, but plus petite is harder to find than hen's teeth, and like standard plus, the clothes are often expensive and just barely this side of hideous. She was an eShakti customer, and one fine day, she sent me a link to a dress on their website that was embroidered with cats on the skirt. I looked at it and thought, "Eh, well, they probably don't have my size," until I read the size charts. Not only do they make clothes that will fit me, they actually go beyond my size (I'm a pretty big gal).

If you have a friend or relative who sews, you can get extensive measurements taken and have your clothes completely bespoken (I don't, currently, and am loath to hire a seamstress to do it if I'm not going to buy from her). I do, however, use the customization option to change skirt lengths, add sleeves, and sometimes change necklines. All custom work and alterations are included for a single $7.50 per-garment customization fee. Their return policy is surprisingly liberal given that all of their clothes are made-to-order. Also, those returns end up as overstock, and sold at a discount over the regular retail. I've scored several dresses and a skirt that I love from the overstock section of the website.

Once, I ordered an overstocked dress using my cell phone, and for some reason, it processed as the smaller of the available overstocked sizes. I left a voicemail with their customer service line to follow up an e-mail saying that I needed to cancel the order and why. They called me back promptly the next day to confirm the cancellation and the lady with whom I spoke was very nice. 

If you're leery of buying a custom piece (14 working-day turnaround, custom-made and courier-shipped from the factory in India), check out the overstocks. Buy something at a discount and see if it fits/you like it. If you do, chances are you'll be back for more!

Disclaimer: I'm just a rank-and-file eShakti customer. I have not been solicited to promote them or received any form of compensation for doing so. I just like them and I'd pretty much be naked right now without them.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Spaghetti No

Once upon a time, when I was in college, I arranged to cook dinner for Hopkins, my friend Ann (A.K.A. "Moral Support and Cheerleading Section"), my sister, and Mom- Dad was out of town on a fishing trip to Canada, the weekend having been chosen specifically for that reason.

I rose early Saturday morning to begin cooking. I had chosen the menu based on a mistaken sense of universal popularity and the fact that I knew it was something that I couldn't screw up if I tried. I chose spaghetti with meat sauce...and at our house, spaghetti sauce did not come out of a jar. It was an all-day process involving several cans of unflavored tomato sauce, a small can of tomato paste, herbs, spices, onions, and hamburger. In order for the acid to break down in the tomatoes to a point at which I could eat them and not die, and for the sauce to have time to properly develop its flavor palette, preparation had to begin many hours before dinner.

All day, I stood over the stove, spicing, stirring, clarifying onions and cooking the meat. Mom contributed by running up a batch of Italian bread dough in her bread machine, which we stretched into a loaf and set aside to rest.

Finally, a couple of hours before the Moment of Truth, I turned down the stove, left the sauce in Mom's care, and raced upstairs to bathe and dress. Since I was now an officially Grown-Up College Student, I dressed in the first stare of late Eighties university fashion: big hair, khaki skirt, socks, loafers, an Irish fisherman's sweater (pink, in this case), and crisp white turtleneck, finished off with gigantic Anne Klein lions' head earrings and a heavy gold herringbone necklace.

The doorbell sounded and Ann and I began our descent. Halfway down, my loafers' slick soles betrayed me and what was supposed to be my cool, sophisticated entrance turned into slapstick comedy as I careened down the stairs, hitting the wall at the back of the landing with a resounding thud. Ann steadied me and we made it down the two landing steps without further incident.

I stood there grinning at Hopkins like an idiot for what seemed an eternity and what was, in truth, probably less than three minutes; then I started babbling. When I finally managed to govern myself enough to speak coherently, I explained that we were having spaghetti...at the mention of which he turned slightly green. "Oh, God, is something wrong? Are you allergic to tomato sauce?" I asked as my mind flipped into full-panic mode.

"No," he murmured faintly, "it's just that I...I'm working at Pizza Hut."

From the kitchen, I heard my mother snap, "Well, I should hope that THIS is certainly an improvement over anything that is served at Pizza Hut." (Her inflection alone seemed to consign Pizza Hut to a culinary par with a roach motel.) "THIS is homemade. It has taken her ALL DAY, and I daresay my daughter is an excellent cook." End. Of. Discussion.

Dinner was, one might say, a bit strained.

That is why, to this day, although I am an excellent cook and am especially proficient in Italian red sauces, I will not serve pasta to guests.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I am Aldonza

In reflection over the fallout of this situation with Hopkins, what I wanted was for him to care. What I got was contempt. It's not apathy, but it still hurts.

 One of the contributing factors (of a great many) is that I could never quite figure out how to change into something that appealed to Hopkins. I've reached the point in my life where I have accomplished a great deal. I am mostly secure in my identity. I do not need to change to satisfy some abitrary parameter set by someone else. I am me, take it...or leave it.

You know what? That's okay...and this is why: I am difficult to know. I have been insulted, abused, defamed, and generally treated like crap by a lot of people. I insulate myself in a shell into which almost no one is allowed. It is a monumental risk to feel, much less show emotion, and open myself to potential ridicule. I got burned. Moving on.

I read a quotation yesterday that summed it up for me very nicely: "I don't miss him. I miss who I thought he was." I've missed Hopkins, as he was when we were in high school, for two-thirds of my life. The sweet, shy kid I knew evaporated somewhere in the intervening years, and that's the greatest tragedy- or he's trying awfully hard to convince me of it in the most negative ways possible.

I carry that version of him, the one who broke my heart at seventeen, with me always. Maybe he thinks I'm unworthy of him, but who is he to judge? Not wanting something or someone doesn't determine their negative worth, it only defines one in their terms. I don't have to accept those terms- ever- I just have to accept myself.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

And So We Begin

There were times that I wondered, in earnest, if my friends and I would be okay- if we would survive our teenage folly to be decent adults. For the most part, I'd like to think that we are, and most of us are still around for the time being.

Here are few of the truths that I've been dealing with recently:
  • There are things that you can't fix, no matter how much of yourself you pour into them
  • People who are determined to remain broken are going to stay that way- don't waste yourself on them
  • Betrayal hurts like a mofo (corollary: if you betray me, I will never trust you completely again)
  • There's a point in life past which your damage is your fault, not anyone else's, so suck it up, buttercup. You're the author of your existence, so you have to fix you.
  • When you're dismissive or disrespectful of people, it reflects poorly on you, not them

and, here's a big one:

  • I may love you, but I don't have to like you. 

I ran into one of my cousins who rather famously thought it was okay, at the age of eighteen, to throw rocks at twelve year-old me when I was sent to fetch him home one summer evening. All I could think, when another relative decided to make him speak to me at the funeral was "ROCKS!" I don't care how distinguished his career as a combat pilot was; to me, he will always be that mean so-and-so who considered his twelve year-old female cousin on par with a mangy dog. I'm forty-five and he's fifty-one. Rocks. That's going to be how I relate to him for the rest of our lives. I love him, but I don't have to like him.

My two greatest fears are being abandoned and being publicly humiliated; I've had to deal with both of those firsthand recently. The thing I wonder about is why someone would gripe about having no life, then verbally eviscerate his only friend. Exit gracefully- if he'd stayed for the fallout, he'd know that I did. (Again, I may love you, but I don't have to like you.) My mother would've been proud of me, although it might have ended differently if I'd had access to rocks...


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wish You Were Here

Stephen's senior picture, from the 1972 Glasgow Scottie

Many years ago, when I worked for the denominational college near Smalltownland, my cousin Stephen came to town to talk to the county and city fathers about a tourist magazine, the kind you find in hotel rooms and at tourism offices. The morning he was to meet with them was the same day that the sewing factory, the largest employer in the area, announced that it was shuttering two large plants, effectively gutting local industry.

I managed, after several attempts, to reach Stephen's secretary to warn him. She got through, and a few hours later, he turned up at the college library to thank me for the heads up. He said it was the shortest meeting he'd ever held; he walked in, said, "Gentlemen, I'm sorry, but we only work in proactive situations. I understand that yours became reactive this morning. When your economy recovers, we will be happy to work with you in future." That was it. He came home with me that evening to visit my mother and father, who hadn't seen him in quite a while.

About a year ago, we buried his mother, and then mine, six months later. The big shocker came when his baby brother suffered a stroke and died in the early spring. The memorial service is the last time that I saw him- I had found his personalized senior yearbook on Ebay and bought it for him. It's still on my kitchen table; now I'll be giving it to his sons.

When I was a small child, we went to visit their family almost every week. Of my father's siblings, my aunt and her family lived closest, about forty-four miles from us. I've written about how I adored my uncles on both sides- the boys' father gave me the run of his enormous interior design firm, where I could frequently be found hiding in the batting loft of the sewing room. My life in Glasgow was sort of magical (to a little girl, it was); my three boy cousins trundled me up and down their street in a hooded English perambulator buggy. They let me get away with blue bloody murder. They were my childhood idols.

Stephen was a gifted musician who was chewed up and spit out by the country music industry long before it gained its most recent commercial momentum in the late 1980s. He left professional music and returned to Western Kentucky University where he finished both a bachelor's and master's degree. He was instrumental, during his tenure with the Glasgow-Barren County Chamber of Commerce, in the establishment of the Glasgow Highland Games, alongside his much-beloved band director, the legendary Charles Honeycutt. I suppose that the Games are his legacy now. He also made a brief return to the music industry, appearing as the father in the Raybon Brothers' video of their cover of Butterfly Kisses.

There was a dark side, though. Stephen was a sickly child whose health remained fragile as he grew. As a young man, he underwent neurosurgery on his spine that was botched, leaving him in long-term chronic, debilitating pain. The additional surgeries meant to correct it further injured his back and led to irrevocable changes in his personality. He became someone I felt that I no longer knew; when I would see him at family functions, I found myself searching for the "old" him, the one I remembered. When his mother died- and he was the one who found her body- we all began to worry about what would become of him.

I had hoped that this speculation would not be so soon answered, and I hope that in death he has finally found the peace that eluded him in life. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hail and Farewell

Today is the viewing for my cousin Susan. She learned, about the time that Mom did, that she had cancer. The difference is that Susan was only 41, with a twelve year-old daughter. Cancer had claimed her aunt, my mother's niece, a few years ago. This is the curse of our very concentrated genes. Susan fought like a tiger to live absolutely as long as possible- to see her daughter turn 13 and go on vacation with her to Florida with Patrick, her husband, who is working long hours as a physician in the Big City. (Doctors' families learn early on that you jealously guard every moment you get when The Doctor is home or available to *gasp* actually travel with you somewhere. Those times are RARE. Patrick set aside his career to be with his family throughout this ordeal, to his credit.)

Susan and I had the same oncologist. She has the reputation for pulling off the impossible, but Susan was past even her ability. The last four months of my cousin's too-brief life were reflective of her sheer stubbornness and force of will. She used every possible iota of time that God would grant her in this world.

Tomorrow, I cannot be there for her funeral. My mother's last living brother has been diagnosed with colon cancer and will undergo surgery to remove the tumor in the morning. This is a man who is nearly six-and-a-half feet tall. I rode on the shoulders of giant when I was a child, because my then-bachelor Uncle Ben would fling me up there and haul me around piggyback. He was an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and because he had little time and few things on which to spend his money, he spoiled me dead rotten. I received a number of crushingly expensive toys from Childcraft and FAO Schwarz, and a number of solid silver julep cups, owing to his largess.

This is the same uncle whom I failed so badly as resident summertime mole-killer on the farm. He also had occasion to spank me once with his very large hands because I defied him, climbing over a barbed-wire fence into a pasture with the bull. It only took once. I was also talking with another Airedale rescuer who has a peacock living in the woods behind her house, about how my uncle would put me on his ATV and drive me to the house of a former tenant of the family farm who raised peacocks. Mrs. Crawford saved the windfall feathers for me, you see, and it was those little excursions that have formed the basis for my desire to someday own a couple of peafowl.

Colon cancer claimed my mother's life in December. I am so ridiculously ill-prepared to deal with either Susan's passing or Uncle Ben's cancer diagnosis. My problems seem so pale and minor in comparison. I will also never complain in earnest about my personal physician's insistence that I have a colonoscopy five years before the normal baseline. I just hope Uncle Ben has it in him to fight as hard as Susan did, because I don't want to do this again...not now. Not soon.

Man plans, God laughs.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It's Not Me, It's You

I can't begin to even fathom the gazillion people who have heard the old chestnut, "It's not you, it's me," as a breakup takes on its inevitable momentum. Even when it's not the dissolution of a romantic entanglement, we're often left questioning why that person wanted so badly to dissociate from us. We turn inward to tear out our own hearts and wonder, "What's wrong with me? Why do they not want me around anymore?"

Here's something to consider: it's the truth. It isn't you...it is them. You have no control over someone else's feelings or actions, so it follows that because they're lowering the boom on you, yes, IT IS THEM! The flaw lies without, not within. There is no amount of repairing a situation that is going to make it hurt less or change the outcome, in the end, since the other party has walked away.

For two-thirds of my life, I've carried one particular rejection around like a stone in my heart. Now I'm trying to admit to myself that it was an irreparable situation from which I should have walked away with a clear conscience and without further burden when I was still a teenager. I was and am, in many ways, a broken person, but if I waited for those flaws to smooth out, I would have had a much lonelier life that I have-  So, I guess it's not quitting so much as realizing it was never my fight in the first place. It's a big adjustment.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

As I recently explained to someone, grief sneaks up on me when I least expect it. To wit, the infuriating decision by the University of Kentucky to level several older dorms, although I'm kind of annoyed by the breadcrumb that they left Patterson Hall intact. The general air is, "Sure, we're plowing down four other buildings, including two of architectural and historical significance, but we're keeping Patterson Hall. Ain't that nice of us?

Sure.

Mom had a great time in college. She went to a lot of dances and parties, she was in a sorority, she took a swan-dive off the top bunk in her room in Keeneland Hall and permanently screwed up her back by herniating a disc. There are pictures of her with her friends, swilling illicit Chianti from its straw-covered bottle, in that room in Keeneland. She'd wanted me to live there, but alas: I have had respiratory problems since I was an infant, and the older North Campus dorms of her youth were not air-conditioned. Mom was the warning beacon, proclaiming Mother Harvard's progress toward locking the front doors each night; in the 1950s, a girl caught outside when the doors were locked was "campused" for a specified length of time, and her parents notified of the infraction- Mom probably kept more than one girl from departing college prematurely at the insistence of mortified parents.

Top it off with her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, the oldest sorority at the university, losing its charter several years ago. Mom saw the handwriting on the wall after my negative experience during rush, and a pointed conversation with an associate dean who was one of her pledge sisters; still, she was upset. They were circling the drain, and they folded. (They've recently re-colonized at the school where my best friend was also an Alpha Xi; I entertain a vague hope that perhaps someday they will do the same at my alma mater.)

Keeneland was part of Mom's history. Now that she's gone, it feels like another part of her is about to be destroyed. I understand the march of progress, but a couple of the buildings they're pulling down (Keeneland is not one of them) are landmarks. I remember thinking, years ago, when I visited the University of Tennessee, that they'd overbuilt their parcel so heavily that it was imposing, cold, and uninviting. Kentucky's construction plans engender the same thing. Pretty soon there won't be a blade of grass between the buildings and they'll all be early-millennium generic style. I guess if you want an attractive campus, pay top dollar and go to liberal arts school, right?



Monday, May 12, 2014

Take Me, Baby, or Leave Me, pt. III

Based on a recent social media conversation with Hopkins' aunt, I think it's time to point something out: the night that he graduated, he said something to me of which I have always been quite keenly aware:

"I have given you as much of myself as I could." 

Had he not followed that up with the notorious "forgetting everyone and everything" quotation, I, for one, would have been a hell of a lot less hurt. In the moment, I couldn't process it. I was too busy being absolutely devastated.

There are some truths that we bury deep inside ourselves because dealing with them in their most bald-faced forms is too painful. Sometimes we try to manufacture meaning or create sincerity or invest people with emotions that they can't feel. They are who they are, and we're aware of it; our inability to accept it is at our own risk.

Since she took it upon herself to be the Voice of Reason and there is no truly valid counterargument, well, I gave up. I called the therapist whose name I'd been given by a friend and made an appointment for later this week.

Kentucky author Bobbi Buchanan wrote a brief, pointed piece about Mother's Day this year that resonated with me, and the final line was haunting:  Girls who stuff the hope chest with feathers and forever silence their dreams.

What if you stopped hoping a long time ago, because you knew that it was useless, or that it might end up leaving you humiliated or embarrassed? What dreams? I learned as a young girl that those things exist only for other people; I suffocated on the feathers long ago.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Motherless Day

When my mother died, everyone told me that the "firsts" would be difficult. Here's one that I wasn't ready for at all: Mother's Day. It falls the same week as my birthday. Dad wants to visit the grave on Mother's Day. He's oblivious to the fact that I would rather gargle jet fuel and eat ground glass, but whether we go or not, Mom's death, Mother's Day, and my birthday will always be closely tied together.

It's not helping particularly that both a former work colleague and an Airedale rescue colleague died on the same night from complications due to aggressive cancer. I've been in my office the better part of both days since, crying off and on. I embarrassed myself in front of one of the nursing faculty yesterday morning by randomly bursting into tears while she was here to discuss a good date on which to make clinical ID badges for her RN students.

The Mother's Day ads are hard. Reminding myself that I don't need to find a card or order flowers or plan a meal is painful. Some of the commercials are so downright annoying that I can imagine my mother's scathing sarcastic commentary on the subject.

My sister asked what kind of birthday cake I wanted and it hit me that I really don't care, so I texted back "Edible, not carrot". Truth is, I have this sneaking suspicion that all cake will taste a little like sawdust this year. My friend Stefan and I share a birthday, as do my sister's best friend, Beth, and I. Stefan's having a big "Mafia" game at his apartment a week from Saturday and I'm invited, but...I probably won't go because I'm at huge risk of being everybody's least-favorite buzzkill. I've been avoiding social engagements for the most part, so nothing new about that at the moment.

Today I did make a little progress. Someone I once dated married over Christmas, around the time Mom died. I was so out of it and subsequently so down that I admittedly engaged in severely bad manners by not wishing him joy. His wife posted a picture in social media of him with their new dog, a rescued yellow Labrador Retriever. I sent him a message congratulating him on his marriage and the dog, and admonished him to not wear dark suits around the Lab (or, conversely, invest heavily in lint rollers).

So, I guess I'm going to inch through this a little at a time until I finally come out on the other side. In the interim, I've got to suck it up and try to figure out what kind of flowers to take to the gravesite since Mom told us she'd come back to haunt us over artificial flowers. I wanted geraniums (Mom always had geraniums around) but Dad wants to run it past my sister. Oh, and he invited my godmother to meet us for lunch. I love her, but I don't know if I'm ready to see her again. That's the thing about life, though: it goes on.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bat Sack, NANANANANANA, Bat Sack

My father was a biologist in a former life. He's never really told us a lot of stories about his adventures in graduate school, other than being the keeper for the small animal lab where he obtained his first gift to our mother: a white mouse.

The first of these stories that Dad told recently was about bat collection. He wrote his thesis on the Little Brown Bat. He was required to collect his own research specimens, so he'd round up a few other biology grad students (and my hapless godfather, an engineering major, who had a car and was Dad's roommate at the time) to head out to the caves around the Kentucky River to collect bats.

Back in the 1950s, they didn't know much about bats and rabies. Bat collection, as they did it then, consisted of Dad and company carrying burlap sacks through the caves, plucking bats off the walls, and stuffing them into the sacks...barehanded. If you know anything about bats and/or their habits, that should really gross you out and make you marvel at the fact that my dad et al. did not end up foaming at the mouth in the ER at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Yesterday I got to hear a new one that had put my poor godfather on the spot; Uncle Ralph was a long-suffering soul. His parents were gentle farm folk from down in Scottsville. Since Lexington was all the way across the state and they assumed that "Little Harry" (Daddy) was taking good care of their son, they didn't travel up to visit very often. When they did, Mrs. Johnson came bearing the bounty of the farm: hams, sausage, beef, chicken, her canning, fresh vegetables, fruit, and baked goods.

That semester, Dad had been assigned to capture mice to supplement the biology department's collection. He was supposed to catch, skin, reconstruct, mount, and catalog them...but he didn't like doing it one mouse at a time. He devised a plan to speed things up by collecting a bunch of mice and doing them as a batch. He also decided that the best place to stash the corpses was in their shared apartment refrigerator.

About this time, along came the Johnsons. Dad was at the lab, so he wasn't there to hear the screams when Uncle Ralph's mother opened the freezer to find, stiff as little boards, my father's mice.

After they got her calmed down, Mrs. Johnson told Uncle Ralph to pass it along that she was going to telephone my grandmother about the mice- I'm just glad that she didn't tell the landlady because they would've been evicted. When my sister dared to say, "EEEW, Dad, that's GROSS!" his response was, "Well, the freezing killed all the microorganisms that they might be carrying..."

Yep, that's my Dad. We get The Weird from both sides.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Take Me Baby, or Leave Me: Pt. II

Yesterday, I had another round of what-if self-doubt. I was stuck in the car with Hopkins for longer than usual thanks to road construction, and the resulting conversation left me a little bruised.

I'm moving through prequalification for weight loss surgery revision, and he informed me that his doctor had mentioned it to him. Then, in typical "I don't know when to shut up" fashion, he added, "It just seems like cheating." No sooner did he say it than he realized what he'd said and out of the corner of my eye (I was driving) I saw him flinch. I said, "I know that you think I'm going to rip your head off. I'm not. The decision to have surgery is very, very personal, and you came late to this dance. You were never fat growing up, and moreover, women are judged more harshly than men for their weight- in fact, there are many research studies in multiple disciplines that prove it. I have tried everything except drugs. You are entitled to your feelings on the subject, but this is my choice. You have no idea what I've been through or why I'm doing this and I'm too taken aback right now to explain it."

The subject changed and we were soon caught in the horrific traffic jam that is I-65 North on the weekends...for two...freaking...hours.

Then something kind of strange happened later at the improv show- I excused myself during the intermission and as I passed some men on my way to the ladies' room, I heard my friend Paul say, "That's her, right there," and when I came back out, one of them stopped me. "I just wanted you to know that you have the greatest laugh. I kept hearing it and I finally figured out where it was coming from. You just...it's a great laugh."

I hate my laugh. I cackle and I'm very self-conscious about it. I said so.

"No, NO, you have a wonderful laugh! Keep doing it!"

When we sat down, Paul told me (he knows this guy), "He was paying you a compliment. You need to accept it!"

I'm so unaccustomed to positive attention that it took me completely off-guard, but something pinged in my mind: where there's one, there are more. Maybe I'm not so bad, after all, and I need stop worrying about the kind of people who look at me and decide I'm less human because I'm not a skimpily-clad cosplayer, an anime character, or a porn star...or simply the same average size as everyone else around me. There are people who think I'm worth knowing and all I have to do is be myself.

The psychologist with whom I spoke at the bariatric clinic last week sat back and told  me, "You can handle  the surgery, but it's what comes after that's a problem. You have to stop worrying about everybody else and care about yourself for once. You have to believe that you are worth the effort." I have heard that all my life, but I don't know what it will take to accept it. If I can't accept a simple compliment, how can I deal with that?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Take Me Baby, or Leave Me

For everyone who's ever decided to radically transform themselves, I think there's always a huge, lingering "what if". The one on which I'm dwelling is an old, familiar nightmare that I experienced once before in college and to a degree when I underwent the LapBand several years ago.

Whenever someone who's been overweight most of his or her life suddenly loses weight, people don't know quite how to react. Because I didn't know how to handle it the year that I went on a medically-supervised liquid protein fast (read: starvation diet of 600cal. a day) and lost eighty pounds over the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I made some rookie mistakes. I didn't clue into the downside fast enough when a boy I'd had an interest in suddenly moved in on me with all the grace and speed of a Great White Shark...and dropped me with even greater haste when he realized I was the same girl in a more socially-acceptable-looking package.

So there I was, tottering around campus wearing a size 12 for the first time since seventh grade...which was still fat for an SEC school in the Eighties. Men tried to chat me up. I got stopped after class or in the various classroom buildings. I was whistled at and catcalled from the windows of the Six Pack fraternity houses. The whole time I was thinking, "What the hell is that about?", because none of that crap had ever happened to me.

It was short-lived. After the breakup with Shark Boy, I retreated, abandoned the diet, and ate everything in reach. I ballooned again.

So there's this dark, murky thought floating through the back of my mind: "How will I respond, at such time that I look more socially acceptable again, if the men who have patted me on the head suddenly regard me as attractive? It's still the same girl, in a different package." When I talked to my sister about it, I told her that she could come visit me in the women's prison near the city where she lives, because I figured I'd go berserk and hurt someone.

I've been there before, and this will be even more radical. Women are so closely judged by their looks, moreover their weight, and if I'm not fat anymore, who am I? It's been my identity since the third grade, even though by the fifth grade it was somewhat the creation of another fat girl who was trying to deflect attention away from herself. What happens when I'm not safe, friend-quality, 'fat me'?

It might be painful finding out, but at least I'll be in pain in jeans that I didn't have to buy from a specialty catalog or a plus-size store. That's a good thing, right? Maybe. I don't know.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Drama is Appropriate Only in the Theatre, Sugar

There are people who stew in their own drama. They think a big entrance and an even more explosive exit are the way to go. As a supervisor, here are a few observations on why this is a Bad Thing:

A) Your ingratitude is duly noted,
B) undesirable behavior that was overlooked for a long time is now writ large for the world to see,
and
C) this will come back to haunt you.

When you're leaving a job, even if you hated it, it's best to be circumspect on the way out the door. Making a scene or exiting in such a way that deliberately maximizes the inconvenience to your  employer (when leaving by choice) emphasizes all of your very worst qualities. It doesn't reflect upon them, it reflects upon you.

My mother always said, "Dignity in all things." This isn't an enjoinder to be aloof, arrogant, or just plain old stuck-up; what it really means is that you should conduct yourself with grace even in situations where you'd like to tear somebody's head off or read them the Riot Act. One doesn't break down, blow up, or "show out" until the doors are safely closed behind us and no one can witness the aftermath.

In all, don't burn the bridge. Don't bite the hand that once fed you. Don't plow the fields with salt. One never knows when one might be served with the consequences of not keeping one's head.

Monday, March 24, 2014

You Can't Outrun your DNA

My sister had the brilliant idea to follow up our mother's decades of exhaustive genealogical research by presenting each of our parents with a National Geographic Geno 2.0 kit for Christmas. We were pretty sure about her side, but not so much about Dad's. As an historian, I had long suspected that my father's family might be Jews...up to and including the fact that his father's line becomes somewhat fuzzy in the era just prior to the American Civil War. It's not that uncommon in the South for a Jewish family to have assimilated and hidden their ethnicity and religion in that era.

When we received Dad's DNA results, I started reading the maps for both his mother's haplogroup and his father's. My grandmother's genes led us a merry chase, including her Native American ancestry, and there were some surprises: what we believed were Welsh Celtic genes are actually Irish. She had quite a bit of Eastern European ancestry, specifically Romanian, which Dad loved because he's a big Dracula fan- we were making a lot of jokes about Trahnthyvahnee-ya. Then we read his father's genetic history and its migratory pattern.

My sister and I were viewing it simultaneously and texting when it leaped out at me: my grandfather's DNA traced the Diaspora- exactly. As I read the accompanying report, my suspicions were borne out: we're not just Jews, based on the migration pattern, we're Sephardi...the Jews whose culture was almost totally devastated by the Inquisition (much less that little event in Europe during the mid-Twentieth Century known as The Shoah).

What's sort of interesting to me about that, anyway, is that one of my graduate history professors, a Sephardic Jew, told me that I would never be able to understand anyone's history other than the WASP upper-middle class from which she assumed I hailed- at the time, I angrily cited my father's maternal Cherokee ancestry in refuting her. This new information adds oh-so-much extra irony to it- not white, not a WASP, and we share a non-WASP ethnohistorical background. (insert mic drop here)

Your DNA doesn't lie, folks. I come from two different ethnic groups who survived multiple attempts at genocide- as enacted by most of the rest of my gene pool. Weird, not that uncommon, and kind of interesting. As my friend Shane says about race and ethnicity, "You don't know who's looking back across the table at me on Thanksgiving!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

Little Altars Everywhere

Yesterday, the tone of the day was strained. Everyone I met seemed to be stressed out and at the limits of their patience. Disagreements erupted left and right, I found out that I can't volunteer for a camp designed for grieving children because it's too soon after my loss, and on top of everything else, the grief counselor called to find out why I hadn't rescheduled the last appointment that I missed due to one of our wonderful ice storms earlier in the month.

Three things happened in rapid succession after I left work for the day: at the grocery, I bumped into a colleague who broke her hip at the beginning of the semester, turned around in the floral department to see the hybrid tulips my sister carried in her wedding displayed next to the spray orchids I chose for Mom's casket, and encountered a chemo patient talking to her friends in the produce department. It was the trifecta of triggers.

While I was conversing with my colleague, I blurted out, "It's good to see you getting around so well. Mom wouldn't do what the physical therapists told her and she never walked again." The unspoken part of that was, "I was terrified that you might not, either." Her husband works for the college and what I said to him the first time we ran into one another after she had surgery was, "You tell her she must do everything that the physical therapists and occupational therapists tell her to do. It's vital." Not that I didn't think she would, but I felt compelled to say it. Irrational though it is, I will probably link broken hips with death for the rest of my life.

The floral display, merely that particular juxtaposition of both flowers in white (they both come in a variety of colors) was upsetting. I took a picture with my phone which I posted to social media, largely because it seemed emblematic of the day I was having.

Looking beyond the flowers and seeing a woman younger than myself, probably in her thirties, bald from chemo and wearing a turban, was the icing on the cake. I took a deep breath, smiled the "I hope you're doing okay" smile universal to cancer patients' families everywhere, and quickly walked away through the bakery.

The name of the game these days is "exasperation". I feel like I'm being peeled with a vegetable peeler, a little at a time. Controlling my gut reaction to things, and moreover, stopping the words from falling out of my mouth, has become a herculean effort. Weird things trigger moments of extreme grief- and, like my father, I found myself with the urge to flee after my first cousin's funeral a couple of weeks ago, rather than face another round of grieving with our extended family. As much as I love them, too, I wanted to hide from them when Mom died. I have professional responsibilities that don't allow me to build my blanket fort and not come out for hours on end...but I'm not able to cope with minor dust-ups right now. My office door's been closed more since Mom died than at any other time in my career, my need for quiet and calm overwhelming my claustrophobia.

If my management of things is not as soft-handed as normal, it's a side-effect of my current frame of mind. I am not who I'm accustomed to being; I don't want this to be my 'new normal', but for now, I don't have much choice. I may not succeed, but I'm trying.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Here's to the Socially Awkward Among Us

A few years ago, I stumbled across the webcomic Girls With Slingshots, drawn and written by Danielle Corsetto...who incidentally lives over in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Danielle's work is funny and so gut-wrenchingly honest that sometimes it can smart a little. One of the things I totally dig about it is that her protagonist's mom is a librarian, as is one of the other characters, Clarice. She went so far as to confirm- somewhat because the librarian readership bugged her to death about it- that Clarice, who originally clerked in an X-rated shop, got her MLS a little at a time to become the librarian she'd always wanted to be. (Ed. note: GWS is sometimes mature in its content, ergo it may not be everyone's cup of tea.)

I love the characters, but Clarice resonates with me. She's a strong woman in many respects, but in others, particularly intimate emotional relationships, she's painfully awkward and confused. A while back, Danielle wrote in a love interest who started out as a 'creeper patron' in Clarice's library- and then Joshua turned out to be a shy but really decent guy. Clarice's reluctance to tell him how she felt, and moreover, the way Danielle characterized it in the strip, felt like someone had dropped a hod of bricks on my skull.

At least Joshua finally got the hint, and when Clarice finally let the cat out of the bag, he didn't freak out and reject her. I'm raising the point because I know all too well how it could've gone the other way- been there, done that, created this blog to try to work through it. I don't often embrace what I consider silly romanticism, but the two characters involved...well...it's close to home. It's what I wanted and what never happened for me. So, I cheer for my favorite fictional librarian and her new paramour, while at the same time it's deeply painful to read.

This arc is playing out while I'm at a crossroads in my life. I've made the decision to proceed with a more radical weight loss surgery, and it cuts to my very identity. Who will I be, when I'm not fat anymore? Will people still be my friends? Will I still be loved, when my role has changed? The loss of my mother is a powerful catalyst. Can I take control of my life? Can I have the life I want? I don't know.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fall Down Seven Times, Stand up Eight

I'm sitting here with a migraine thanks to the huge barometric shift that moved through the area last night, but since I still have an obligation to the family reading program at the public library tonight, here I am, in my office, trying to stagger through the day. We're having a professional development day at work, but I'm too sick to sit through the workshops- faculty meeting just about did me in, and there's a minimum of sound, light, and movement during those.

I've been riding the tides of emotion in my personal life. A cousin younger than myself is dealing with her mortality and the rest of us are fighting for composure- and I am haunted by her question to my sister when our mother died: "Did she suffer?" We didn't realize at the time why she was asking, because we thought her cancer was under some modicum of control. Wrong. Terribly, desperately wrong.

Mom's remaining brother is also facing some serious health issues. I've arranged to be out the day he's having surgery next month.

My other chaos, while it takes the wind out of my sails and hurts like the very devil, takes a back seat.

There are lots of little affirmations and positive quotations circulating in social media, and I've found many of them very much of the essence lately. The ones that resonate most are about the nature of true friendship and the people who honestly care about you. I've realized the last handful of years that there are some folks from back home to whom I was not especially close growing up who've turned out to have my back when it counted. There are others, still, in whom I placed a great deal of faith and trust who walked away when I needed them most. This is not anything terrifying or revelatory at this point in life, but it's disappointing...and proof that we can't manufacture a bond that doesn't "take" on its own.

It's time to take stock of who's really there, and who's only there when it's easy. These things tend to sort themselves out with time.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We Always Come Home

Things have been rocky for several days, and then, well, we had a Monday holiday followed by what I like to call, "Second Monday", i.e., a Tuesday from Hades. I had computer gremlins coming and going. On the whole, it was somewhat chaotic.

The big ol' cherry on the top of my day occurred when I was unloading groceries at my house after work last night. A carload of teenagers sped past on the main drag, and the young woman in the front passenger seat yelled, "You're too f****** fat to need food!" I was stunned. Logically, I know it's immaturity, lack of couth, and no reflection on me whatsoever, it was just plain mean and nasty.

I posted a sarcastic status message about it in social media.

This morning, I had a really sweet note from the pastor who was my upperclassman in marching band, reminding me that the people who love us don't care about what we look like, and it's what's in your heart that matters.

Todd's the bomb, what can I say?

What came to mind is that although I live sixty miles away, Smalltownland is my home. It's not just my default when things go south, it's a lodestone for many of us. I don't have enough fingers to count how many of my friends have returned there after some blistering, awful letdown in life. Even those who have not returned make the journey to touch base when the world slides off its axis for the rest of us...so many of my childhood friends came to the church when my mother died. The parents of others who for reasons of distance or work could not come, showed up to convey their condolences.

I won't claim that my hometown is perfect, but it is home. It isn't the place, it's the people. It's the feeling. It's where we're grounded.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

That Roadkill Feeling

Sometimes I find that I'm hanging somewhere between "Do I really care what people think?" to *sniff,sniff, blargalarglargle, waaaaaaaaaaaaaah*.

Mom kept me from sliding off into the latter quite a lot, and unfortunately, I find that I'm a little more susceptible to it at the moment than I should be.

I'm a fan of Randy Pausch, and a young lady I've known for very many years recently blogged about the influence of The Last Lecture on her life. Pausch was a computer scientist who died of cancer at a relatively early age (48), and this piece is nothing if not very insightful and profound. One quote she highlighted was this:

“Look, I'm going to find a way to be happy, and I'd really love to be happy with you, but if I can't be happy with you, then I'll find a way to be happy without you.”

She went on to write that she knew lots of people were struggling with Valentine's Day and she wished the best for them, whatever the outcome of that struggle.

Something else that I've touched on and written about previously is the short leash on which I have to rein my emotions. When I was about thirteen, I realized that my volatile temper and sharp tongue were just not nice, so I made the effort to systematically control them. I don't feel that I was successful at it until I was in college- and once those were under wraps, I started working on not showing pain or vulnerability either publicly or privately. That got most seriously underway as I was turning twenty-one.

What I had learned by that point was that letting people know that they'd gotten to me, especially if their responses or reactions were hurtful, was a bad thing. The downside is that it's difficult to balance letting them know I care against exposing myself to potential heartache. The last several days have demonstrated that I wasn't as good at it as I thought, so I've retreated to nurse my wounds. That this happened during a vulnerable time in my life, well, it's my fault as much as anyone's...

As I was writing this, one of my co-workers brought in the mail. In it was a small package from a friend that contained a butterfly ornament inscribed with "One Day at a Time". This is what we used to call a clue-by-four, i.e., when the 'sign' you've been waiting for has been there for a long time and you just haven't noticed it, the Powers that Be will whack you over the head with it.

I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dammit, Hopkins, Not Again.

So, anyway, Hopkins, as in "stood up by for Valentine's Day". Old news. Same thing, different day.

We're not dating, but that doesn't stop me from taking this a little personally. He's gone to every one of my friend Stefan's early evening improv shows with me since last summer, and then this one...this is the one he decides he doesn't want to attend.

Not that I didn't figure it would happen at some point, and I guess he's been such a prince over my mother's death that I really didn't anticipate that this is when he'd let me down, as in "drop me flat on my butt without warning". Yes, there's a show on the day after Valentine's Day, with a superhero theme, in a comic book shop...under most circumstances, that would have every appearance of a win-win. Not so.

I'm going to the show, but now I'm going alone. Hopkins bailed. On this one. Way to go, dude- it's not like we don't have some longstanding rejection issues between us or anything. Not like I'm in a pretty fragile place, or that this holiday is a major source of perpetual annual suckage in my life-

Valentine's Day is a time that many of us aren't basking in the pink-and-white glow of flowers, candy, and expensive tablecloth dinners by candlelight. It's a time for some of us to relive the repeated rejection that's amplified by being left out on this holiday. It's a time that we try to escape that pain by doing stuff with friends and trying really hard not to feel lonely. There's just something about feeling extra-unworthy, even if all you're doing is an 'alternative Valentine's Day activity' that falls outside the typical hearts-and-flowers greeting card sentimentality, if your friends bug out on you.

...and I knew, I just refused to believe he'd do it again.

My mom was the one who tried so hard to keep me from hating myself every year on February 14th. This is a big "first" post-Mom for me: she's not here to listen to me cry on the phone and then reassure me that it's not as bad as I think. See, this is a holiday that flays me alive. It is not meant for someone like me- by virtue of its nature, it casts me adrift into a level of self-loathing that's hard to escape.

I just wanted to do something, not by myself. 

There's a reason people leave, and there's a reason we should let them leave and stay gone, no matter how much we love them...it's to keep us from continuing to hurt ourselves.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

In the wee hours of December 21st, I stood at the foot of my mother's bed in the family room at their home and watched the light leave her sea-green eyes.

The thunder rolled in the distance as she began her exit from this plane of existence, and as she accelerated toward the end of life, the wind picked up and heat lightning flashed in the distance. In the moment that she left us, there was a brief torrential downpour, and when she was gone, the rain ceased, the wind resumed, and the storm moved off into the distance.

I told the friend who served as her maid of honor that Mom rode the storm away like a damn Valkyrie. You had to have known Mom to get how characteristic it was...and Mary Jean agreed. "That's exactly how my old friend would do it," she said.

Later that night, with our friends gathered at the house, a dangerous storm passed through. While we stood in the breakfast room arguing about whether or not to seek shelter in the basement, the mechanical butterfly I'd bought for my mother began to fly frantically in its jar, pinging repeatedly as it slammed into the glass. I pointed to it and announced loudly, "Mom says go to the basement."

I hadn't realized that the switch in its lid was turned on, because the thing hadn't moved in over a year. It's touch-operated. Nobody touched it.

Mom said, "Go to the basement."

We went to the basement.

I loved my mother. I miss her constantly.

That's all I can write at the moment. Maybe more will come later.