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the color of waiting

waitingThe color of waiting is white.  It shows no pity to those who succumb and it wraps itself around you saying:  “Now you are mine for awhile.”  It fills your head with its dense cotton batting and settles in your abdomen where its presence makes itself known with an ever-growing sense of anxiety. 

Waiting is a white cotton sheet tacked over the window, sequestering you in your home and holding you hostage to its demands.  It sits, wedged next to you in your chair, radiating its alabaster coldness while erasing the words in your book.  It whispers, “You are not important” and makes you forget your name.   White noise clogs your ears and makes time stand still.   Minutes will seem like hours and days will feel like centuries.  It etches wrinkles in your face and changes the part in your hair.   It is the grayness of nothingness and of everything.

The color of waiting is a ghostly white specter floating above your head and through your body.   Its tendrils weave a web across your eyes until you can only focus inward, where it sits patiently, always present, always reminding you of who’s really in charge.   It creeps into your bed at night and startles you awake – an icy cold finger rearranging a jumbled dreamscape into its own name.   Its white-hot ember will light up the blackness and you will not sleep again tonight. 

Instead, you will wait.

You will wait and you will think only of waiting and you won’t stop, won’t stop, won’t stop, while your eyes film over with milky white cataracts and your nose fills with the acrid smell of self-loathing and your mouth tastes only regret.  

“You will wait now” it whispers, its departure time unknown.

to disregard thee

“You have 1 friend request” my Facebook account informed me today. Whenever I see someone’s requesting me as a friend, my first reaction is always one of bewilderment.   I mean, my circle of friends is purposely small, so the people I consider my real friends have long been in on my Facebook page.   These days, casual acquaintances and relatives who’ve come to Facebook at the urging of their children are my usual requests, so I assumed this morning’s friend request was one of those types.  Instead, I found myself face to face with a person from my long-ago past who, to this day, still strikes invokes feelings of fear and loathing in every fiber of my being.

Back in 1975 -, long before the terms ‘domestic violence’ and ‘post-traumatic stress syndrome’ became part of my lexicon; long before the days where teen dating violence was discussed in high school; long before the establishment of battered women’s shelters and domestic abuse hotlines – I was trapped in a secret web of violence with my battering boyfriend.  Looking back at that time in my life, and armed with the psychological portrait of a batterer I’ve now practically memorized, I’m able to see the warning signs of impending abuse long before the first slap was ever administered: Insults, name-calling, accusations, isolation, intimidation, blaming, withholding, coercion.  They were all present and accounted for.

“I want to sit in that chair. Get up and find another place to sit” he demanded.  Up to that point, I’d been enjoying the evening talking and joking with him and his sister, and feeling a little cocky I laughingly said  “No.” When he walked over, physically removed me from the chair, pinned me to the ground and started slapping me around, my mind rebelled.  Who would do this?  What had I done wrong?  Doesn’t he love me?  Why isn’t his sister stepping in a stop him?  What can I do to make him stop?  His sheer physical strength was too much for my 108 pounds and the best I could do was turn my head so he wouldn’t injure my face.

Afterward, there were the tears and the apologies and his ever-so-logical explanation that it was my fault.  If I’d only obeyed him, he wouldn’t have gotten so mad.  If I’d just done what he told me to do in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to drag me from the chair. “See how simple it all is?” he seemed to be saying.  And it did seem simple enough because he’d already made apparent my inability to do the right thing  just a few weeks prior…

He’d had some friends over for a jam session.  I’d recently become enamored the use of the recorder on Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow and had just purchased a cheap recorder to practice on.  While my boyfriend and his buddies were in the next room playing Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple songs, I stayed in the front room, trying to teach myself how to play along to Today and White Rabbit.  Over and over, moving the needle back to the beginning of selected parts, I absorbed myself in memorizing the notes of these haunting melodies.  Successful, I felt proud and excited to have discovered a new way to make music.

“You’re nothing but a whore” he told me after they’d left.  
“What?”  I thought, my mind racing.  I wasn’t even in the same room with them. What was he talking about?
“I saw the way you looked at them, the way you had your mouth around your instrument!” he sputtered.
“But I didn’t look at them in that way” I insisted. “I didn’t”
“You did, you filthy bitch. You’re nothing but a fucking whore the way you wrapped your mouth around that – that THING!” he screamed.  I cowered as he stood over me hurling accusations and describing my “behavior” in increasingly hateful and derogatory terms.   According to him, playing my recorder in front of other men was a ‘signal’ that I wanted to give them all blowjobs.

I don’t remember how it ended. I only remember feeling ashamed and guilty for something I hadn’t done.  I put away my instrument and didn’t play it again for another 10 years.  It reminded me of what happened and the way he made me feel so dirty and confused.  And alone.

The last time I saw him, he accused me of sleeping with other men.  By that time we were married.  The beating was severe.  Eye blacked, face swollen, and (finally) afraid for my safety, I found a way out of my marriage, out of that relationship and him out of my life for good. 

Eighteen years later and still reeling from the after-effects of another disastrous marriage, I found myself alone in my house, sitting on the couch watching the 10pm news.  And there he was – HIM.  He was the subject of a news story.  His teenage son had been beaten up at school and the dad – HIM – was being interviewed for his reaction. I drew my knees to my chest and pushed my back into the soft cushion of the couch.  He was in my house, my home, my safe place.  I felt invaded, violated, discovered, and even though I knew he wasn’t really in my house, my gut reaction was to hide, to make myself as small as possible, to disappear into the furniture.  My shame about the relationship I had with my abuser has stayed with me all these years.  I married him knowing he was broken and fatally flawedm yet I believed I could learn to act better, to be perfect and to not make him mad anymore. Not long after my divorce, the subject of domestic violence became part of the national dialogue and I could identify every single warning sign from the list I obtained. He followed all the patterns of an abuser.  I cannot honestly say, that if I’d had that information at the time, it would have helped.   I, too, was broken.  Years later, I went into therapy and learned to identify and claim my own rights to happiness and to decent, respectful treatment.  I discovered my own personal reasons for tolerating certain behaviors and made a paradigm shift in the way I conducted relationships.  I like to think I’ve made progress but still, I rarely talk about my experience and almost never mention being briefly married to an abuser when I was 18.  There is so much shame.

Over the years, he’s gone by many pseudonyms – He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned, The Asshole, and my current favorite – The Entity. I cannot bring myself to even say his name because that word in my mouth feels and tastes like evil.

I signed up for Facebook using the caution I’ve learned over the years to practice.  I was careful to apply all the privacy settings – to block my picture and mask my personal information – so imagine my horror when I opened a friend request today and found his unmistakable name and his aging face with the same sinister smile staring right at me.

“___________ would like to add you as a friend”    Confirm   or    Ignore.

Ignore seemed too soft, but is my only option and I can’t click it fast enough. I wish for a button that says “Not No, but Hell No” or, better yet, one that automatically sends the inviter a restraining order after you click a button that reads “Go Fuck Yourself”. Fortunately Facebook gives me an option to block the offending person, which I also hastened to do.

Friend:  It’s something we never were and the sheer gall of his request after all these years baffles me.
Ignore. It seems too polite a word for the way I feel about that person – yet it’s exactly the response that’s called for. The definition of the word means simply ‘disregard.’

I disregard you, He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned.
I disregard you, asshole.
I disregard you, Entity.

I disregard you, ________.

Ask Aunt Pittypat

Aunt Pittypat

After fleeing her hometown of Atlanta during General Sherman’s siege, Aunt Pittypat lived out her remaining years in a small town in Georgia.  Now, through the miracle of cloning, Aunt Pitty has been brought back to life, where she is able to fulfill her greatest dream – to advise Southern women in proper behavior.  Unfortunately though, 150 years have passed…

Q:  My brother has recently gone to jail for embezzling money from his employer.  What should I say to people when they ask what he’s been doing lately? 

A:  Well, dahlin’, a Southern girl never airs her family’s dirty laundry in public.   It’s best just to say that he’s gone away to a sanatorium to “rest” for a spell.  A true Southerner understands crazy a lot better than they understand dishonesty or ungentlemanly behavior

Q:  My boyfriend keeps asking me to kiss his sausage but I say that’s gross!  He says he’ll stop being my boyfriend if I don’t do it.  What should I do????

A:  This is quite a perplexin’ question, my dear and I’m not sure where to start!  To be very clear:  A lady does not – under any circumstances – kiss food, unless she wants to end up in the sanitorium with her brother.   For your gentleman friend to request such a thing makes him quite suspect indeed!  Is he, by chance, a Yankee?  They do some rather odd things up there.

Q:  I want to pierce my nipples but my mom says I can’t until I’m 18!  This is so unfair!  Aunt Pitty, what do YOU think?

A:  Oh my!  Peter, my smelling salts!  (Aunt Pitty has fallen into a dead faint.  After a brief interlude, she revives).  Well, let me say your question has left me quite speechless!  Have you been dipping into the laudanum young lady???  Your bosom is a sacred thing, fit for suclking babies but not, I repeat, not for piercing holes into.  Goodness, such a thing could not possibly be comfortable – or becoming.  I fear this practice could do irreparable harm, not to mention drastically impair your chances for marriage to a suitable gentleman.   And how on earth do you expect to cinch your corset properly? 

Q:  I’m a 22 year old woman .  My live-in boyfriend of 2 years wants to get married but I seriously don’t know if I ever want to marry.  What should I do?

A:  You are practically a spinster already, my dear!  If you wait much longer, your marriage prospects will wither and die – just like an unwatered camilia- and this would be a tragedy.  And why, if I may ask, does your beau live in the same house with you?  Is it because his estate was burned down by the Yankees?  Or is he a visiting cousin from afar – preferably a civilized place like Savannah or Charleston?  If he is gainfully employed and a gentleman, there is no reason to tarry.  Please make it a priority to engage the services of your family minister so you can be properly married, and not end up a burden to your poor family.

Q:  When my husband and I are having sex, he wants me to talk dirty to him.  I don’t feel comfortable doing this, but he says he’s going to lose interest in me if I don’t start.  What should I do?

A:  Well, a lady should never engage in gutter talk, nor should it ever be requested of her;  it’s just not done, my dear.  Try telling him what a handsome man he is and how much you admire his intelligence and superior business skills.  If this tactic does not work, try batting your eyelashes and saying “Darlin’ your lovemaking leaves me absolutely speechless.”  If he’s a true gentleman, this should surely be enough for him to consider you the rare flower that you most certainly are. 

stripping away the layers

wallpaper2I’ve spent the past several days and nights stripping the wallpaper in one room of my house.  It’s a chore I’ve done in many other rooms of my home and each time I’m confronted with a different set of challenges to meet and overcome, because once the first layer’s removed, you never know what (if anything) lurks beneath… 

 If that sounds somewhat sinister, then believe me, it  can be.

Scoring, spraying and scraping is a fairly mindless task – one that frees the mind to think about a myriad of things.  I mentally worked through the end days of my last marriage while stripping the painted wallpaper in the upstairs hallway 12 years ago, and pondered what was left of my womanhood while removing 75 years of bad choices in my son’s room after cancer surgery in 1994.  I’ve discovered ancient, crumbling plaster and poorly done patch jobs.   I’ve caulked and patched and primed and rewallpapered and painted my way through every room in my house and thought, thought, thought about life and love and everything in between.  Last night, while fighting my way through one small area of industrial strength glue in the study, I came to this conclusion:  Stripping wallpaper is like deconstructing and examining the inside of a relationship.

The outside layer of wallpaper is intact, waterproof.  Like the facade of a relationship – the face  a couple presents to the world – it can mask a whole lotta nastiness lurking beneath.   Peel it off and you never know what you’ll find.  It could be the clean, smooth wall of serenity or it could reveal what I found this week:  Layers of muck and ugliness (and nearly impossible-to-remove adhesive) stuck to yet more layers of muck and ugliness.  Last week an acquaintance declared me incapable of understanding the deconstruction of her long-term marriage because I, myself, have failed at several of my own.  Yet I beg to disagree.  It takes little insight to understand that a three-decade marriage is not so different from a one-decade marriage – there are  just more layers built up behind the facade. 

Peeling away the layers is hard and people often don’t want to revisit what’s been covered up.  Maybe you quickly slapped some paint over the existing wallpaper just to get the job done with as little effort as possible.   Or maybe you decided to just glue another strata of wallpaper on top of the three previous ones – like adhereing a new set of problems on top of the old, unresolved issues.   Hiding the work you should have done in the first place doesn’t make it disappear, and covering up a problem with a layer of denial only serves to preserve it for later.   Eventually you’ll have to scrape the paint, peel away the layers, dissolve the old glue and expose the foundation if you want to start over.   

Rebuilding is a long, slow process that takes an arsenal of tools, elbow grease and a drive to succeed.  It doesn’t matter if you’re repairing a slightly broken marriage or starting over after an irreparable relationship. 

Deconstruction is laborious.

So everyday I scrape my way through decades of old decisions and ponder this metaphor of layers.  I think about the conversation I had last week and wonder if that person will have the strength to reveal her foundation so she can rebuild her life, or if she’ll settle for sealing over her own layers with more of the same. 

I’ve got a good scraper to loan her if she needs it.

wallpaper3

acquiescence

The older I get the more I realize that the end of my time as a person on this planet is creeping up on me.   The phrase “life’s too short” isn’t  just a cliche anymore and it’s clear that happiness isn’t something I can just continue to hope for. 

People get stuck.  They get stuck in relationships that are unfulfilling.  Stuck in situations they know are destructive.  Stuck in lives that don’t serve them well.     When you’re being dishonored or treated poorly, you’ve already given the other person permission to do so.  You’ve acquiesced, given up some of your boundaries, decided to be lazy about defending your most prized possession – your own self worth.  You’ve let someone else chip away at it and steal the pieces  it until there’s little, or even nothing left.   

I’ve been stuck over and over and over.  When a less than optimal life is all you think you deserve, you’re destined to stay there because nobody is going to ride in, swoop you up and carry you off into the sunset.    Nobody can give you your own unique recipe for rebuilding belief in yourself.   And nobody can force you to realize this: it’s not selfish to be happy.

Being stuck means you’ve caved into fear – fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar.  Fear of failing.  Fear of seeking happiness.  Fear of reaching out and grabbing great, giant handfuls of life and stuffing yourself full with them. 

Getting unstuck forces you to answer this question:   Are you brave enough to save yourself?  Or have you given in to silent acquiescence?

Hmmmm?

Single on Valentine’s Day

Single on Valentine’s Day.  A position I literally have never been in before.  “So” I wondered to myself, “what DOES one do on this, the day that’s not only specifically for those who have mates, but practically screams in laughter and points its finger at those of us who don’t?”   After carefully weighing my options (go to the movies alone/ Stay in bed with the covers pulled over my head/ Stick my head in the oven – oh shit, it’s electric, never mind) I hit upon the ideal solution:  Road trip! 

In my opinion, a solitary road trip with the tunes cranked up, Pepsi Max in hand and full pack of cigarettes at the ready not only kills a lot of time, it restores a girl’s confidence in herself.  My destination:  Paxico, Kansas, population 208.  There are almost as many antique shops there as are there are residents in Paxico and rumor has it that there’ll be a Meatloak cook-off in June!  Whoo hoo!!  So at 11:00am on Saturday I gassed up the Focusmobile and pointed her west for a day of driving, smoking and shopping. 

I hit the turnpike, set the cruise at 75, and headed smack into Kansas, a state that’s never failed to depress the hell out of me.  Maybe it was the fact that previous visits to Kansas were obligatory, thus my tendency to sense only despair and desolation when faced with miles and miles of prairie, but this time I felt optimistic, my earlier depression fading away with each passing mile.  Maybe it was my favorite driving CD (Dada’s Puzzle), cranked up to maximum volume that lifted my spirits (because the very first song, Dorina, kicks ass every time and then it just gets better from there) or maybe it was the healthful, healing powers of the ginseng in my Pepsi Max.   Whatever the reason, I began to feel empowered and excited and tingly all over. 

Just outside of Topeka, the Flint Hills appear.  Because of the chert, the land sucks for growing crops but cattle ranching is all the rage.  In the spring, if you drive happen to be driving through on a relatively windless day or night; you might drive smack into a controlled range burn.  I got to see a major range burn at night several years ago and it was a spectacular sight.   

After stopping for a quick bite to eat on the interstate, I reached Paxico at 12:30.  The town is so small, it’s impossible NOT to drive right to the main district section.   I parked the Focusmobile and proceeded to hit practically every antique store and junk shop that was open.  I’ll spare you the details of my purchases, only to say that I found a Catholic school version of a Dick & Jane reader for four bucks and a kick-ass Lawrence Welk ashtray.  Score!   Many Observant-friendly finds made their way into my possession that day.  I stopped in at the local cafe for an iced tea, mentioned to the female cashier that I was sans Valentine, (so was she!  I am not alone in the world!) and we had a nice girl-to-girl talk about the advantages that having one’s options open afforded us. 

The afternoon was waning, so I fired up my fuel-efficient vehicle and headed west, back to my sublimely empty house.  Once home, I unpacked my belongings, placing the LW ashtray with my increasing collection of vintage smoking accessories, and noted that it was almost dusk. 

I had just one more important task to complete today.

I set about collecting fire-making supplies and the stash of cards and love letters from my ex-lover.  Everything he’d written to me during our ten-year run had been kept lovingly in a carved box and stored with my most special possessions.  And now it was time for their ceremonial burning – the last vestige of our relationship together was due to go up in smoke on this, the Day of Lovers, in just a matter of minutes. 

The sky was deep purple as I fed the tinder into the fire pit.  The fire burned slowly at first until I touched the first card to the flame.  Damn, paper makes a dandy starter!  The flames jumped higher as I fed more of the missives and declarations of love into the pit.  Words that once held meaning were reduced to ashes, and the flames licked at them greedily, as eager as I was to cremate it all. 

I watched the fire consume this mound of paper, then found myself whistling a little tune that’d been dancing around my head all day: 

“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame. 
You give love a bad name.”

Ah, Bon Jovi.  You’re a genius. 

It was full dark when I finished.  I put out my fire, walked into my house and closed the door – Valentine’s Day was officially over.

hill jumping

An up day begins.  I call these days the good ones; the other days are called the bad ones.  There’s seldom a day I can simply call an average one. 

Up and down, I ride a rollercoaster every single day.

A good day begins with laughter.  Always laughter.  The optimism I feel is rooted in small things – a lover’s message, restful sleep, kind words, warm smiles – which lift me up and carry me through my day as if I am gliding far above the world, smiling down upon it.    Far above it all I can’t make out the dirt in the cracks of my life; I only see the top of the rollercoaster, the pinnacle of exhilaration and the promise of good things to come.   Laughter is easy, my thoughts sublime.

A bad day always begins with remorse.   My thoughts spin in a labyrinth of regret and moroseness for many things – lost tempers, missed opportunities, failed loves.  Down days take place in the world of the subatomic, a place where I can examine my individual faults in minute detail, tease open their black shells and expose the rotton nuclei at the center.  The bottom of this rollercoaster goes far beneath the crust of the earth.   It free falls down to absolute darkness and crashes onto bare rock and this is where I lie – surrounded by detritus of disappointment, sadness and self-loathing.

I see the people who can jump over the chasms of darkness and hill jump from one  good day to the next.  I wonder how they avoid the skeletal arms of sadness that seem to be able to snatch me down into their dark portal at will.   My good days are cherished because of the dark ones.  During those good days, I gather pennies of strength and laughter and store them up in my heart and my psyche and use them as currency to buy my way out of the madness. 

 I sometimes ask myself if I’d be satisfied living on top of the hills all the time, jumping from one to the other, and honestly the answer would be no.  For as much as I ache when I’m drowning in the chasm,  it makes the good days that much more valuable.  I live in a world of polar opposites, rarely in the middle – up, then down, then up again. 

I ride the rollercoaster.  I am alive.