In keeping with my poor self-promotion skills, I forgot to make a post when I was the featured author in Spank the Carp, a fiction and poetry magazine where I was published in 2021.
And here is a photo I took of something GRAND. Enjoy 🙂
In keeping with my poor self-promotion skills, I forgot to make a post when I was the featured author in Spank the Carp, a fiction and poetry magazine where I was published in 2021.
And here is a photo I took of something GRAND. Enjoy 🙂
One time, when I was a young teenager, as I walked in the front door of my house, I got into trouble. I didn’t know that my mother was right behind me and I let the screen door close instead of holding it open for her. She was irate and reprimanded me. This stuck with me for a long time and I thought of it occasionally over the years. At the time, I was indignant because I thought it was so unfair to be scolded for something that I didn’t realize was happening, because I really, truly had no idea that she was behind me. In my mind, I was yelled at for not predicting the future. I can remember saying to myself over and over inside my head, but I didn’t know she was behind me! How can she be mad at me for not knowing something? Even now, thirty years later, I can still remember the feeling of not understanding why she was so angry. At the time, I kept replaying it over and over in my mind to see if I was missing something. I wish I could say that I came to understand the part I was missing soon after, but I did not.
It took a long, long time before I understood why she got mad. Years. Many of them. I wonder if my mother had had the ability, then, to articulate this lesson, which I am going to attempt to do right now, would I have been able to get it? Teenagers are narcissistic and see things through one lens only: self. This isn’t a criticism, it is an observation, but one that is often made scathingly and therein lies the problem. We don’t offer teenagers the opportunity to learn how their ignorance affects others. This is not a criticism of my mom. She had three other younger children to deal with, dinner to cook, a house to maintain, etc. Who has the energy to explain this lesson to a defensive, snippy, angry teenager with so much else going on? And even if she could have, would I have been receptive? I think that collectively we need to make ourselves aware of the huge impact awareness can have on everyone’s lives.
This is a lesson I have struggled to teach my own daughter. She has never let a door close on me, but we repeatedly bump heads over her lack of respect for other people’s time. While she was growing up she had a nickname in our house: five-to-seven. We called her five-to-seven because it always took her five to seven minutes longer than anyone else to get ready. Or to come out to the car where we were waiting to leave. I won’t deny that there were many instances where I simply yelled at her and warned that I would leave her if she wasn’t in the car by the time I was. But also tried to teach her the lesson of awareness that eluded me so many years ago. I tried to help her to see how her behavior affects others. We had sit down conversations and I painted the big picture for her.
It did not result in her having a renewed sense of perfect time management or transform her into the one ready to go on time, every time. I think it is just in her to take forever getting ready, this may never change, or at least maybe not until she possibly has children of her own one day. Our conversations did, however, change her awareness. Now she understands how her behavior, any behavior, not just her time management skills, affects those around her. She is aware of others as opposed to just self. This awareness translates into all aspects of life. This awareness is what can change the world.
We are all so wrapped up in our own feelings and our own problems we don’t often take off the lens of self and view how our choices affect those around us. This includes things as simple and inconsequential as being a good conversationalist to heavy things like understanding what it’s like for a Black person living in America. I have spent the past several years intentionally becoming aware. Or woke, if you prefer. But my definition is broad and includes being aware in every situation, all the time, not only in regards to social injustices. I mentioned using awareness to be a good conversationalist. I think this is an excellent place to start. It is small but requires intentional discipline. If you are like me and love to talk, this can be hard to do! But the fact that I can do it despite being a “talker,” means that you can too. You can practice becoming a more “aware” conversationalist, and then use this model in all aspects of your life. Become a more aware friend, partner, fellow shopper in a store, son, spouse, sister, boss, American, human.
As you sit and converse with someone, or a group of people, pay attention. Who is doing most of the talking? What are their (or your) words accomplishing? Is everyone being included in the conversation? Is anyone cutting anyone off? And are they doing it especially to further their own agenda (which could be as simple as being the center of attention)? When you take your turn talking, how and what are you contributing? Are you doing it simply to avoid silences? Are you moving the conversation forward? Is it a conversation at all or just a bunch of people sitting around listening to you? Look at people’s faces. How are they reacting to what each person is saying? When someone says something that sparks an idea in your own head of what you’d like to say next, do you stop listening and only focus on what you want to say? Do you continue to really hear what the other person is saying? Could the other person be saying more than what their words are conveying? Is there an underlying cry for help? Complaint? Praise? Are you really hearing what the other person is saying? Are you even giving them a chance to say it?
This may seem overwhelming for someone new to becoming aware. It sure can be. But a great first step is to just listen. What better way to attune yourself to the people and world around you than to stop and listen? And it does work. You know how you can learn a skill in one specific area, but later, while doing something completely different you find that old skill comes in handy? This is like that. If you practice awareness with something small, like in a conversation, your listening, identifying, recognizing, and interpreting skills will show up later in all sorts of situations. You might be setting your alarm for the next day when you have to go to an event. You might think of how important the event is for the person you’re going with and know that you want to honor that and you might set your alarm five to seven minutes earlier to be sure you are ready in time. Or you might be walking in your front door, knowing there was someone behind you at some point, and you might stop with your hand on the door and look back, to see if they are coming right behind you.
For my English Composition class I recently had to write a two paragraph explanation of a time in my life when I had to persuade someone to do something. This is the very first assignment for this class. I took a risk by making it lighthearted as I don’t know the professor yet and if he will approve or not. But as it is only the first assignment and I have all term to bring my grade up if this one tanks – I went for it. What do you think? Would you have been persuaded??
My best friend in the entire world is irrationally and horrifically afraid of all insects. I am a nature lover and so insects do not bother me, alive or dead. A few years ago we were in the basement of my childhood home and it was full of dead camelback crickets. She was freaking out. She didn’t want to go near them or even be within several long feet of them. At first I just terrorized her a bit by picking one up and chasing her around with it. But I started to think I could use these dead crickets to help her get over her fear. I tried to help her realize that realistically these crickets could not hurt her. Even alive, a few camelbacks would not harm her, but these especially couldn’t do anything to her as they were all dead. I asked her if she would consider touching one. Just a brief one fingered touch to a crispy leg. You would have thought I asked her to dip her entire hand into some sort of poisonous pain potion. She said that she would rather die and that if she so much as touched it that she actually would die. She’s a teeny bit of a drama queen. I told her the little fellow I was holding was named Harry Camel Back. I thought if he was more personified she might be less afraid.
Do you know – she eventually did touch him. I do think that my powers of persuasion are what did it. I explained to her the irrationality of her fear. I showed her how I was okay even though I was holding an entire handful of crickets. I made him seem less threatening by giving him a name. I suggested that by touching a dead one and seeing that no harm would come to her, she may be less afraid in the future when confronted with basements full of cricket carcasses. Any of these things could have been what finally convinced her and I honestly believe that my arguments were solid. After she did it I gave her a tissue for her tears and remarked how proud I was of her. When I told her recently that I was going to use this story for my English class because I believe it was my powers of persuasion that helped her overcome her fear she said that she is still traumatized to this day and she only did it because she was mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Which I guess is another strategy that could be used to persuade.
In my blog posts I don’t get political. I quit Facebook for many reasons (and years before the current “president” took office). People sharing misinformed and ignorant political views was one of them. But the purpose of my writing blogs first and foremost has always been for myself. I do it because I must. It has to come out of me. But I share it, usually to entertain and maybe teach a lesson. So I wrote this blog with the intention of only getting it out of me and onto the page. I would never share this type of intimate thought. It’s too controversial. It’s too real. It’s too personal. And then I realized that the entire idea behind it was that I’m afraid of becoming complacent and one sure way to be complacent is to never talk of the thing you’re complacent about, therefore allowing yourself to hide your inaction and failure to take a stance. Is the woman who watches a child get abused and does nothing just as bad as the woman who commits the abuse? Even if she isn’t “just as bad” (though maybe she is?) she at least is not innocent. So here we go.
You know how sometimes you know something in the back of your mind but it’s unacknowledged and unrealized? Or maybe taken for granted? That is how I have felt about my white privilege. And I realized it the other day while driving. I had this (Awful? Sad? Honest?) thought:
I can’t wait for Trump to be out of office so that I can stop being so angry on behalf of everyone all the time. I realized it was one of those moments where you have just said something to yourself that is really really honest but possibly really very horrible. What is at the heart of that thought? White privilege.
First let me at least say that I have been “color conscious” my whole life. And although racism affects all races and colors and I think our country has a problem with many types of minorities, for this blog I am referring to specifically black and white. I feel like many people know these three stories (at least the four of you who read this, Thank you Aunt Jackie) but here is my very first memory of color consciousness. I don’t remember how old I was but it was definitely between the ages of six and nine. I was on the front porch with one of my neighborhood friends. She lived in the corner house that was facing Echodale, a main road. We were playing. She pointed out that a black man was walking down Echodale. And then immediately and without warning she screamed, “We don’t want you here, get out of here ni**er!!” Then she ducked down behind the porch wall in a fit of giggles. As I was not expecting this and also frozen in a state of mortification I did not move at first. The man looked up at us and shook his head sadly and kept walking. I finally ducked down to where she was and burned with shame. I will never ever forget that feeling. I remember not even understanding fully what that word meant but that in our house it was bad. Very very bad. No one said that word in our house. My family, though Catholic, wasn’t overly Jesus-y or religious but our rules were centered on kindness. “Shut up” was also a forbidden word in our house because of how it made other people feel. We were taught that everyone is a person and deserves to be spoken to with respect.
The next thing I remember was when I was a few years older. We went to visit my godmother who lived on Anntana Avenue in Gardenville. Someone was walking down her street putting flyers on every door of each home. I don’t remember the exact wording of the flyers but it was warning all neighbors that a black family was moving in. I don’t remember if there were instructions or suggestions or any other information I just remember the feeling it gave me. I was once again ashamed of what people were doing.
The last story is about my dad and many people already know this story. I think I was a teenager when this came about but I honestly don’t know if it happened years before or not. My dad went into a Dunkin’ Donuts and there was a white man ranting and raving about “all the ni**ers”. My dad stepped up to him and told him to stop talking like that because he, my dad, used to be black. Was this the best way to handle an ignoramus? I don’t know but it was better than doing nothing. This is how my family was and is. We DO see color and always have because there is a difference in black and white. The difference is the history of our races in this country and the way we have treated each other and allowed that treatment to go on.
If anyone reading this is saying in your head right now that it isn’t that way anymore I would like to just tell you that I currently (in 2019) work with many people who call black people ni**ers, monkeys, and one woman who still says colored. None of them do it in front of me anymore but that is exactly, EXACTLY, the reason why some people think racism isn’t a problem. It’s because of my white privilege. I can make it clear that I do not tolerate that sort of behavior and the ignorant people will simply cease to show me their ignorance. And because I’m white, it doesn’t affect me. I can carry on like they aren’t small minded and uneducated because it changes NOTHING for me. This is the epitome of white privilege.
White privilege means much more than just my argument here, but I’m tackling the part that I believe people forget about, don’t understand, or refuse to admit. It means that your life is not in danger. Your actual physical life or your way of life. Your privilege allows you to not HAVE to talk about or deal with being the target of bigotry, racism, or ignorance because you are UNAFFECTED. Lucky you.
I understand that racism is not cut and dried. It is not as black and white as black and white. There are many gray areas. There are many factors and behaviors that affect each individual person’s ideas of another race. I understand that. So what is the answer?
There are so many nuances and intricacies involved in being a racist and also overcoming racism that it would take many blogs to cover it all. So I’ll just go with one idea. We need to HUMANIZE every single person. Every single person was once somebody’s baby. Was once a child. I have seen people who are racist behind closed doors go out of their way to help a black person. What is this phenomenon? How does this happen? I have seen this a lot actually. It’s on par with those people who say they aren’t racist because they have black friends. There is something in our brains that allows us to think differently about one single HUMANIZED person than a mass of people and all the stereotypes that go along with it. If you are an overt racist, I’m sure you are not reading this blog and I cannot help you with your hatred. But if you are someone who possibly suffers from residual, partial, closeted or inadvertent racism this is for you. Acknowledge your privilege. Here I am. Acknowledging mine. And when the current horrible person in charge of our country is hopefully replaced with someone less repugnant, I will remind myself to not be complacent. My mother has always said the right thing to do is usually not the easier thing. It might be hard and tiring to fight against ignorance and injustice and oppression but how much harder is it for the person being oppressed?
Do you have a moment or event in your life that you continually look back on with shame or regret? I’m not speaking to monumental things like getting divorced twice or anything as life changing and stupid as that. I’m more referring to small moments that you hope possibly went unnoticed by others, or even if they didn’t, they were just little embarrassments. I have one that I’d like to share, in order to exfoliate it from myself. This confession will be my loofah.
When Ingrid was alive and I was working “full time” caring for her (aka driving her around, lotion-ing her feet, cleaning the boxes of cat shit) I used to take her to her knitting club once a week. It was at her friend’s house in Timonium and there were usually between four and six women there. Sometimes Ingrid would send me to the store to do the grocery shopping while she knitted and sometimes I would stay and hang with the girls. These were retired women in their fifties, sixties and seventies in Ingrid’s case. They were all very kind to me and I enjoyed their company very much. Their conversations ranged from hen-type gossip to current events to their own life events and books. They were all readers and they talked about books often which was (is) my favorite topic.
Now a word about the discrepancy in the education levels here. I have an annoying Baltimore accent. I say wooder for water (though I’m trying to break the habit!). I graduated high school with a low B/high C average and only went on to community college. And that was over twenty years ago. The job I quit to work for Ingrid was safe and vault technician, a fairly dirty man-job that required zero higher education. But I love books. I love to read, I love to write and I LOVE BOOKS! Bookstores and libraries get me high. The fifty cent book aisle at Goodwill makes me weak-kneed. One time I went to Powell’s books in Portland and I almost believed in god that day.
These friends of Ingrid’s – all educated, well spoken, well compensated women. They went to or sent their children to (or both) private schools. They had vacation homes in New England and sons who took their students to South America for field trips. They drove BMWs and Mercedes. They shopped at small local grocery stores where you could buy fresh dates stuffed with cheeses I’d never even heard of. But here was our unifying fact: We all loved to read (yay books!).
I mistakenly thought that at least my love and knowledge of books could put me in the ballpark with them, if not during the game, maybe for warmups. Cute, aren’t I? One of the ladies, Mary, asked if anyone had read The Life of Pi (this was the year the movie came out so everyone was reading the book). I had recently read it and LOVED it so I piped up right away, raving about how good it was. Mary said she heard it was an allegory. And here is what I said:
“Oh, I don’t know what that is but one of the reasons it was so good is because the whole story is actually just an analogy for something else!”
When their eyes all met each other’s and their smiles got deeper as they nodded and said nothing else it was a true testament to how sweet these women are. It wasn’t even until about a year later when I learned what an allegory is. In ignorant girl speak it’s: an analogy for something else. You might be thinking, so what? You didn’t know what an allegory is. Big deal. Me neither (Well maybe I’m just hoping the last part). But the reason why it is a big deal is because I think I can be a writer. I think I can write books that people will want to read. I actually tell people I want to do nothing but that for the rest of my life!! And to me, a person who wants to do nothing else with the rest of her life but write books who is sitting in a room of educated, well-read women showing her ignorance of allegory is like a wannabe plumber at a plumbing convention saying he doesn’t know the difference between PVC and copper.
Oh. Well, maybe it’s not that bad. I mean that would be really bad, right? So I think in writing this down I may have already exfoliated. Huh. Everyone starts out not knowing anything about anything. You don’t know what you know until you know it. If you actively open yourself up to learning new things every single day, the world is never boring and every moment has the potential to be an adventure. I didn’t know it then. I know it now. So maybe what I’ve been agonizing over these past several years hasn’t been the fact that I’m a wannabe writer who didn’t know what an allegory is but that I’m sadly no longer in touch with any of these wonderful women and therefore can’t update them: I know what an allegory is now. But there are still billions of things I don’t know yet – isn’t that exciting?!
It rained a lot this week. When I go to pick up elementary school children when it’s raining, mothers will stand on curbs with umbrellas covering the children. They will walk the children all the way to the bus doors so that their wee little ones don’t experience even a moment of rain. Curb lanes will be small rivers that children have to hop across to step onto the bus.
One mother wanted to be so sure that her kindergartner didn’t accidentally step down into the rushing water between curb and bus that she forwent the umbrella for a moment to lift her son the six inches from curb to bus. This was too much for my small friend. He squirmed and complained. The gap was so small that I don’t believe she did it because she thought he couldn’t. I think it was more because she knew the puddle jumping potential of that glorious curb lane might have been too enticing for him.
Something of my feelings over this behavior (of mom) must have shown on my face because she said to me, “Having wet socks in school all day is no fun.”
I’m a good sport and a friendly person so I smiled and nodded. Well I am a good sport and a friendly person but more importantly Christmas is coming and that particular bus stop of families gives generous Christmas gifts to the bus driver. Only like three people, INCLUDING my mother read this blog so I think I’m safe to tell you the truth.
I should not have smiled and nodded. I should have told ‘ol Dry Foot’s mom that there is great value in wet socks. This particular neighborhood has homes that all sell for seven figures. There is no disease or raw sewage in the rainwater running down their curb lanes. Her son’s feet were firmly encased in Under Armour shoes. So that removes the concern that him having wet feet all day could make him sick.
That’s it. That’s what she “saved” him from. And it came from a place of love. I’m sure it did. She is a sweet lady with sweet children (she did let her older son hop the gap himself). As parents, we would like to remove all discomfort from our children’s whole entire lives. And pain, suffering, sadness, or any other negative thing. But we can’t. What we can do is equip them with the skills to deal with it when it comes. How do we do that? By letting them do it.
When your parent or spouse or friend or anyone in your life warns you about doing something they think you shouldn’t do, does that always automatically make you not do the thing? Do you learn your own lessons by advice? Or do you have to experience the pain of a hot stove or a broken heart or an embarrassing situation where your own (wet or dry) foot ends up in your mouth? We learn our lessons by experiencing, feeling, living through the consequences of our actions.
Do you think my small friend will be tempted to puddle jump before school ever again? He has approximately twelve more years of regular school and rain is something that is likely to happen again, probably more than once.
This is going to sound crazy. But I wonder what would happen if she let him get wet socks and he had to go all day in them? I’ve come up with a few different theories.
These four theories I have come up with completely on my own. I was discussing this with a wonderful dear friend of mine and she had another to add. And by the way, she has two master’s degrees so she’s like super smart.
What if he gets the wet socks and whether it annoyed him or not, once he finally changes into clean, dry, warm socks he gets the clean, dry, warm sock feeling? You picture that for yourself right now. Oh yeah. Good right???
So not only does experiencing discomfort teach us life lessons about things we may or may not want to do but it teaches us gratitude for when we don’t have discomfort. And being grateful is the greatest gift you can instill in your children. Truly. Thanks Jen Monaldi!!
Some days you hate yourself, you just really do. I mean, even if you’re the type of person who is generally quite emotionally healthy and stable. They can’t all be good days. Sometimes it could come from drinking a little too much coffee or more likely, not enough coffee. It throws your brain chemicals off their routine. Or it might be getting near to “that time of the month” (even if you don’t have all your contraptions down there anymore, your body still knows). Possibly when you were getting dressed this morning, your pants that normally are “just right tight”, meaning they are not uncomfortable but the proper amount of tight that still make your backside look pleasing, maybe those pants were hard to button. Meaning they have passed “just right tight” and tipped over into “too tight” making you have a pooch hanging over the top that you need to disguise with a well-placed sweater or a larger top. When that happens you might not realize it at that moment but it sets your whole day up for irritation.
And you can’t explain it to anyone. I mean even if you realize it yourself. You might stop in Walgreens to pick up some lip balm because despite the fact that you know you possess over eleven lip balms, and that there is sure to be one in the pocket of your jacket hanging over the back of the dining room table, and one in the side zipper of the purse you switched out of two days ago- the fact remains that you cannot find one right now. So you grab yourself a new Burt’s Bee’s or even splurge on a Nivea one and you go to the counter to pay and you find you are fourth in line. And the woman being rung up has some coupon issue. She’s arguing with the cashier, who honestly could care less if the lady saves sixty cents on two six packs of Diet Coke. I mean who buys Diet Coke at Walgreens anyway? Everyone knows the groceries in there are jacked up in price because it’s not a grocery store. It’s the convenience factor. And the cashier is calling for backup and the Diet Coke lady is waving her circular over her head and you just want to step on her foot or stab her with the pointy end of your car key. The longer you wait the more irritated you become until finally it’s your turn and you are just horrible to the cashier. When she asks if you want a bag you say no in the same way a teenager declines everything that is ever offered to them. You snatch your change and stalk off without a smile and then you get in your car and just burst into tears. You want to go back inside and tell the poor cashier that you really are very sorry and that you actually are a nice person but that your pants are just too tight today and its ruining everything.
And sometimes that just gets you going until you are riding along the self-hate train with no stops in sight. And when your brain decides it’s going to be “one of those days”, there is nothing you can do to stop it really. I mean, you get to work where you drive a school bus and as you climb up the steps you notice there is a rotting smell coming from your little plastic trash can. Normally you may not notice the smell or even if you did you would just empty the trash and be on your way. But this day is just out to get you and so the smell climbs inside of your nostrils and even when you are driving down the road with your side window open you swear you can still smell the smell and so that nugget of irritation inside of you grows a little bit so now it’s like the pit of a rotten piece of fruit lodged inside of you.
And every driver on the road is just a complete idiot. I mean four way stops are straightforward. We all stop. You go. You go. You go. I go. People will try to outgun each other and then have to do that halt/stop jerky thing where no one is sure who is actually going. And sitting in this bus seat really makes the button cut into my pudge. It gives me the feeling of wanting to get going nice and fast and then slam on my brakes so that the little rebels on the back who are kneeling in their seats when they know right well they should be sitting will just slam their little faces into the seats in front of them. And instead of being horrified by this thought as I might be on a day where my pants fit properly, I look in the big mirror to see how many children would fall victim to my idea. And then you think about what you’re actually thinking about doing and you realize that you are a terrible terrible person. Here you are entrusted by parents and school officials with the most precious cargo in the world and you are careening around curves like a wild woman hoping for bloodshed.
So you calm yourself down and try to think of some redeeming qualities about yourself. But you know – this day and all. Instead all you can think of is how you’ve been in such a sour mood and you wonder if you’re getting depressed and there’s an itchy spot on the back of your finger that is driving you crazy and is it stress causing that? At a red light you look down at your fingers and they are too thick and the itchy one is all red and you wonder why you can’t have nice feminine pretty hands like your mom and how could anyone love someone with such sausage fingers.
And speaking of sausage you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer for dinner so what will you cook when you get home? You don’t want to cook anything for anyone, why do people insist on needing you, really you just want to go home and stand at the kitchen counter and eat an entire bag of chips (the kind with the lime) and salsa for your own dinner while no one talks to you or asks you for anything and then sit and read your book completely undisturbed.
You finally drop off the last child and get back to the bus lot and you’re thinking you might just go home and hide under your bed covers with the lights turned off so your family will think you’re sick and leave you alone. You get up and walk down the bus aisle to make sure none of your relentless little cretins are sleeping or hiding in the back and you see a balled up piece of loose-leaf on the floor. You pick it up and carry it with you back to the front where you toss it in your little plastic trash can. But you can see child-like penciled handwriting and the corner of a drawing that could be a rainbow or a flower? You take it back out of the trash can and unrumple it. You smooth it out on the dash board. There are two drawn hearts in the corner that both have smiley faces in them. They are holding hands.
In the top part of the paper written in large letters it says
To: Mrs. Jessica
From: Lauren Jackson
Dear Mrs. Jessica,
I love you so much!! I miss you too! I loved 3rd grade with you. 4th grade is good. I miss the way you laugh. When I think of you I think about sunflowers blooming. They are butiful.
And that’s where the letter ends. And your heart is washed clean and full and hopeful and the sun looks much brighter now than it did this morning and nothing can be wrong in the world.
I recently reread the Stephen King book On Writing. It’s neat because it’s part memoir and part no-bullshit writing guide. In it, he gives only one exercise. It is a writing prompt where he details a situation he’d like you to use with a twist. I’m going to paste his exact prompt here and then follow it with my attempt at doing the exercise. This was so much fun! This is an adult only post 🙂 Here is his prompt (it’s quite long):
[..] I am going to show you the location of a fossil. Your job is to write five or six pages of unplotted narration concerning this fossil. Put another way, I want you to dig for the bones and see what they look like. I think you may be quite surprised and delighted with the results. Ready? Here we go.
Everyone is familiar with the basic details of the following story; with small variations, it seems to pop up in the Police Beat section of metropolitan daily papers every other week or so. A woman—call her Jane—marries a man who is bright, witty, and pulsing with sexual magnetism. We’ll call the guy Dick; it’s the world’s most Freudian name. Unfortunately, Dick has a dark side. He’s short-tempered, a control freak, perhaps even (you’ll find this out as he speaks and acts) a paranoid. Jane tries mightily to overlook Dick’s faults and make the marriage work (why she tries so hard is something you will also find out; she will come onstage and tell you). They have a child, and for awhile things seem better. Then, when the little girl is three or so, the abuse and the jealous tirades begin again. The abuse is verbal at first, then physical. Dick is convinced that Jane is sleeping with someone, perhaps someone from her job. Is it someone specific? I don’t know and don’t care. Eventually Dick may tell you who he suspects. If he does, we’ll both know, won’t we?
At last poor Jane can’t take it anymore. She divorces the schmuck and gets custody of their daughter, Little Nell. Dick begins to stalk her. Jane responds by getting a restraining order, a document about as useful as a parasol in a hurricane, as many abused women will tell you. Finally, after an incident which you will write in vivid and scary detail—a public beating, perhaps—Richard the Schmuck is arrested and jailed. All of this is back story. How you work it in—and how much of it you work in—is up to you. In any case, it’s not the situation. What follows is the situation.
One day shortly after Dick’s incarceration in the city jail, Jane picks up Little Nell at the daycare center and ferries her to a friend’s house for a birthday party. Jane then takes herself home, looking forward to two or three hours’ unaccustomed peace and quiet. Perhaps, she thinks, I’ll take a nap. It’s a house she’s going to, even though she’s a young working woman—the situation sort of demands it. How she came by this house and why she has the afternoon off are things the story will tell you and which will look neatly plotted if you come up with good reasons (perhaps the house belongs to her parents; perhaps she’s house-sitting; perhaps another thing entirely).
Something pings at her, just below the level of consciousness, as she lets herself in, something that makes her uneasy. She can’t isolate it and tells herself it’s just nerves, a little fallout from her five years of hell with Mr. Congeniality. What else could it be? Dick is under lock and key, after all.
Before taking her nap, Jane decides to have a cup of herbal tea and watch the news. (Can you use that pot of boiling water on the stove later on? Perhaps, perhaps.) The lead item on Action News at Three is a shocker: that morning, three men escaped from the city jail, killing a guard in the process. Two of the three bad guys were recaptured almost at once, but the third is still at large. None of the prisoners are identified by name (not in this newscast, at least), but Jane, sitting in her empty house (which you will now have plausibly explained), knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of them was Dick. She knows because she has finally identified that ping of unease she felt in the foyer. It was the smell, faint and fading, of Vitalis hair-tonic. Dick’s hair-tonic. Jane sits in her chair, her muscles lax with fright, unable to get up. And as she hears Dick’s footfalls begin to descend the stairs, she thinks: Only Dick would make sure he had hair-tonic, even in jail. She must get up, must run, but she can’t move . . .
It’s a pretty good story, yes? I think so, but not exactly unique. As I’ve already pointed out, ESTRANGED HUBBY BEATS UP (or MURDERS) EX-WIFE makes the paper every other week, sad but true. What I want you to do in this exercise is change the sexes of the antagonist and protagonist before beginning to work out the situation in your narrative—make the ex-wife the stalker, in other words (perhaps it’s a mental institution she’s escaped from instead of the city jail), the husband the victim.
Narrate this without plotting—let the situation and that one unexpected inversion carry you along. I predict you will succeed swimmingly . . . if, that is, you are honest about how your characters speak and behave.
This is what I came up with:
It was that Rite Aid Design Imposters brand fake Chanel. You always thought it made the stale Camel scent incognito. It didn’t. Now that I smell you, I’m not uneasy. I’ve got a fucking hard on. Goddammit. I go outside. I stand under the eaves to avoid the misty rain. I toe a pebble with my dirty Nikes. I light a Camel, inhale, feel the throat hit. I think you know that I know that you’re here.
I want to turn around and look back up at the bedroom window. I’m sure the curtain would fall back into place if I did. This stupid game of suspense, cat and mouse, this is what used to make it so much fun. Now I see how pathetic it is. If I could just stop the visceral reaction from the damn fake Chanel. I take a last drag, turn, flick the cigarette into the wet yard and don’t glance up as I open the door. You’re on my back before I’m even all the way into the house. You’re as light as I remember. Your legs are wrapped tightly around my waist.
“Dick.” You breathe into my ear. I force myself to be slack. I don’t touch your squeezing thighs. I cock my head so that my face is angled away from you. You take it as an invitation. You bite my earlobe. A flick of your tongue into the ear. I feel my resolve going. How easy. How much easier it would be to turn and take you into my arms. My mouth. “I missed you baby,” you say. You put your hands on my throat. I think of Nell. The steel in my veins from that day you got arrested comes back.
“You need to get down,” I say quietly. Of course you act like you don’t hear me. You moan in my ear. You reach a hand around to my belt. I pull your arms off of me. I use force but not excessively. You claw at me.
“Jane.” I say it softly which stops you. I push you further away and turn to face you. Being in jail has given you some flesh back. Your face is not as gaunt, almost beautiful even. Your mouth is bleeding. There is a smear of bright red on your bottom lip at the corner of your mouth. I don’t know what it could be from, we haven’t tussled really. Though it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve intentionally done something to yourself. The last time (with me at least) was the day you were arrested. The day you almost killed our daughter. The thought propels me. I shove my hands into my pockets. I back away from you.
Your dark roots are showing in your platinum hair. You’ve had a haircut in jail. It suits you. Shows off the cheekbones that are starting to soften and lose their angularity. I realize my mistake. You’ve seen me checking you out. You touch your hair. I feel my cell phone in my pocket. Swivel it so my finger is on the home button.
“Do you like my haircut?” You say it in your old Jane voice. The one you used to tell me I was the only man you’d ever need. The one that deceives.
“Why are you here?” I say, half wanting the answer to be what it shouldn’t, half stalling for time. Your eyes fill. Your tongue darts momentarily to the blood on your lip and I wonder if your blood is on my ear.
“I miss you Dick,” you whisper. Whisper! When you’re calm and sweet and watery eyed it’s hard to remember all the times you were raving and dangerous and high. I wonder if you’re high now. I know you aren’t. Your amber eyes are too focused. Alive. You are Jane number one right now. Old Jane. The one who didn’t use your body to keep me prisoner. The one without pills or rages or lies. The smarter Jane. The ultimately more dangerous Jane. You’ve got the bloody lip and the huge, contrite, teary eyes and now you cover your face with your hands. You fall to your knees and a soft cry escapes. Is it pushed out?
“I need help,” you say so quietly I’m not sure you’ve said it at all. I release my grip on my cell phone in my pocket. I watch you crying and feel nothing. Not for you at least. Sad for Nell. I pull the cell phone out.
“I’m gonna get you help,” I say. I dial 911. You don’t stop me. I speak to the operator. Give the address. Confirm your name. I hang up. You are quiet on the floor. I reach my hand out. You don’t see me offering it to you.
You look up. Your face is wet. Puffy. Swollen. You take my hand. I pull you up. That bright red smear is still on your lip. I want to wipe it off. You have my finger in your hand. You draw it up to your lip. You rub at the blood with my finger. It’s so red! I get a whiff of the fake Chanel again. You put my finger in your mouth. I whimper.
It was 2011. We were all sitting around my sister’s living room. There were too many of us to fit. We were spread out on the floor and in captain’s chairs. We were watching music videos. I was playing Angry Birds on my phone. An Adele video came on. It was the first time I had seen Adele really. It was the video where she’s sitting in the chair and all the dishes are getting broken.
My brother said to no one in particular but to the room at large, “She’s too big.”
It was like a punch. In the heart.
Too big for what? To be a singer? To be famous? To be in a music video? For anyone to want to fuck her? To be allowed? To be loved?
That last one. That’s what I took away from it.
Too big = unlovable.
Now to be fair, my brother is not the first person to have instilled this idea in my head. He is the last person however, that I thought would say it. Now it’s been five years. So I have thought about this a lot. Too much. It has haunted me. And not because he hurt my feelings, although admittedly, he did hurt my feelings.
It has haunted me because I believe it’s true. He said out loud, what I have long believed about myself and put proof to it that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Why? Why does being overweight disgust me? Us?
Because it’s a weakness? Because it is…isn’t it? It’s a flaw in your mental state that you can’t hide from the world, no matter how many layers of black you wear over spanx. I can tell you that I have absolutely no control over overeating. Sometimes I do. But mostly I don’t.
I know all about eating healthy. I know how to balance lean proteins, whole grains, veggies and “good” fats. I know about getting in twenty minutes of cardio several times a week, and strength and resistance training to build lean muscle. I know how to keep my blood sugar level throughout the day by eating many small meals. I know about a high protein or balanced breakfast and how it fuels you. I know about drinking water and I don’t drink soda, diet or otherwise.
So you can’t blame this fat unlovable me on being ignorant of HOW to be healthy. It’s the execution of all that goodness I’m bad at.
WHY does this weakness in particular get under so many people’s skin?? It gets under mine. I can’t blame him for thinking she’s too big. But why do we care?
A lot of overweight people don’t eat healthy. Don’t know life without remote controls and elevators and drive thru windows. I’m not one of them. I’m fairly fit (for a fattie). I have excellent blood pressure, no high glucose or high cholesterol levels and I can do squats and hike for miles and jump rope. Does that make me better than the rest of the fatties? I feel like it should. And that makes me exactly like my brother.
Which is why I haven’t been upset with him or holding any type of grudge for five years. I’m not upset because he feels that way. I’m upset because I feel that way. I know my brother loves me and respects me. But do I love and respect myself? I really really truly do. Except for this one thing….
What is the answer?
No idea. Some days I look in the mirror and I think I look beautiful. Some days I’m happy to just not be the most unfortunate looking person in the room. And some days I’m so disgusted I think…who could love me? Who SHOULD? No one.
Inside my brain, I KNOW that is just asinine. TOO BIG DOES NOT EQUAL UNLOVABLE!!!!
But why can’t I FEEL that to be true?
The only thing I know for sure is that it is a vicious cycle. Because when I’m feeling distinctly unlovable…I eat ice cream. And it feels fucking great. Which thing should I work on? The eating too much ice cream or the realizing I’m not unlovable because I ate too much ice cream? I don’t know.
And I’m tired of obsessing over it. I have a great life. Why should I care if I’m a size 16/18. Why should he?