Sister Screams

I’ve been told in direct and indirect ways over the years that my stepmom Cindy and her children Chelsy, Carrie, and Cory were not, and certainly are not now, my family. I suppose on paper that is technically correct. After the divorce papers were signed and assets divided, I became an ally on the wrong side. But my experience of the situation differs slightly. You see, my first memories in life include these three blonde and energetic kids behaving as family. Perhaps that is part of where my confusion arises. I remember timidly standing across from them in the entryway of a Pizza Hut as a shy little four-year-old, my future stepmom Cindy standing behind her kids and my father standing behind me and my three sisters.

Other memories float up sometimes to meddle with facts. Chelsy used to count my ribs, her fingers tickling my thin skin, working their way up to my heart. Carrie used to ride horses and show me how to brush them and feed them carrots or peppermints. I remember road trips, Christmases in pajamas, birthday parties, and 4H fairs. I remember splashing in a bathtub with my twin sister and my brother Cory and standing in a row to brush our teeth with glittery blue paste. In fact, most of my memories from early childhood star my twin sister and my stepbrother. The youngest and most oblivious to adult tensions and dramas, we formed an innocent little band too busy with kickball or Nintendo to be bothered too much with the moody adults and teenagers.

But sometimes the drama permeated our shields of naivety. My memory isn’t chock full of only idyllic, happy moments. There were odd moments of mysterious tensions, erupting tempers, and feelings of sudden fear and confusion. I didn’t understand why Chelsy would disappear for weeks or months at a time. I didn’t fully comprehend why we would talk to a psychologist about how her absences affected us, so I stayed quiet and listened. I didn’t know why the police were at the door but I was excited and scared to find out they knew where we lived. I didn’t understand why when Chelsy reappeared with her pieced and tattooed friends, she would be so tired and angry. Or why the next day she would act so light and happy as though she were drifting through a dream where all her cares were taken away.

What I did know about Chelsy, I often misread and idealized. Eventually, I tried to emulate my misinterpretations by listening to angry feminist music and flipping off everyone in my family every chance I got. Chelsy was everything I was not: rebellious, unafraid of authority, angry, loud, challenging, unabashedly original in her creativity, confrontational, wild, free, and energetic. At least, that is my memory of her. I desperately wanted her attention and to make up for her anger somehow. She would be okay if she knew how much I loved her. I would show her and make her see. I would wear black, write poetry, struggle with my artistry, and she would see that she wasn’t alone and that she could open up to me.

Chelsy 2We’re very business-like in my family. When something significant or noteworthy occurs, we gather for a family meeting. I understand now why this professional detachment may have been a necessary coping mechanism, but at the time I didn’t understand the clinical and impersonal delivery of just the facts of the matter. But I did my best to respond in a professional and equally detached manner since that seemed to be the expectation. “Chelsy killed herself yesterday. The funeral is white noise, white noise, I’m sorry what did he just say? Ok, there is no way this is happening. Ignore the crying and just nod and go back to your day.” And I did. I’m not sure what my day entailed, but I remember my twin sister grabbing me by the shoulders asking me to react. And I remember my absolute refusal. Maybe I’d picked up more from Chelsy than I knew. I didn’t know until later that this is when I began to disassociate from my feelings, my life, and myself.

I didn’t really come out of my denial until the funeral. I can see the red and purple marks from the rope around her neck. The dry eyes of my father looking down at her before the service and his quick disappearance as other guests came in. The strange woman I’d never met standing up to talk about addiction and Chelsy’s fiancé walking out of the service. Yes, addiction is a tragic disease but why does a twelve-year-old feel the urge to drink her cares away? Why does she chase her brother around with a butcher knife when she is upset? Why does she turn to Heroin and write poetry about “secrets” and “shame?” Why we were all in therapy but Chelsy was not? She was the one crying, no, screaming for help. I know part of the answers hide in a small house in Minnesota, in childhood memories that I cannot reach without Chelsy to guide me.

I know I will not get straight answers to these questions. So I will continue to quietly fill in the blanks by time-traveling back to my memories of her and diagnosing the situation through adult eyes. But when her birthday comes around I don’t want to be quiet, I want to scream out on her behalf or at least break my silence long enough to say she deserved better. She was a child. An angry, wild child full of justifiable rage and if she wasn’t my sister, then she was my dear friend and I loved her. I miss her today, yes, twenty years later, and I’ll miss her forever.

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Artwork by Chelsy Marie Van Orden

 

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Angry Anti-Abuse Anthems

If you are a survivor of any sort of abuse, you may notice that you not only feel obligated to keep secrets for your abuser/s but that you also fear potential repeat abuse when you do speak up. As I explore my past and deal with the feelings of guilt and fear, I’ve found these songs invaluable in reminding and empowering me to speak up and share my truth even when my voice shakes.

Lily Allen- Hard Out Here

Amanda Palmer- Runs in the Family

Rihanna- Take a Bow

Fiona Apple- Shadowboxer

Mariana’s Trench- Say Anything

Madonna- Human Nature

Michael & Janet Jackson – Scream

Garbage- When I Grow Up

Sara Bareilles- King of Anything

Christina Aguilera- Fighter

Twenty-One Pilots- Heathens

Honest, Horrible, Humbling Humanity

I keep asking myself why I started a blog. When I read other blogs or Google blog topics, I find a lot of material similar to what I’d expect from magazine articles. You know, DIY projects, health and beauty advice, endless how-to articles: how to take the most inspiring Instagram pic of your microscopic lunch, how to color your cares away in books conveniently for sale now on Amazon, how to disguise self-promoting sales pitches as altruistic advice, how to write the same boring contrived bullshit everyone else writes so you can finally “matter” to the world.  Just remember that blogs aren’t about sharing your diary-style diatribes, because no one gives a crap. Sorry Anne Frank, you’d need to learn about search engine optimization and selfie skills to be read these days.

Ack! I sound so bitter. I’m sorry I brought Anne Frank into my rant. (I love you.) I’m just sick of hearing that the only way people can be heard and “matter” is by buying into the notion that they have to offer practical advice. I get that we’re in America and people are about self-interest and reading something directly applicable to their own lives, but then why do they (well some of them) read novels? Or watch sitcoms, or dramas, or go the movies? And how did Jenny Lawson become one of the most famous bloggers ever?

More than anything, I think I’m angry with myself for believing this notion that you have to sell a skill to be read or to matter. A big reason I haven’t been writing is because I didn’t believe anyone wanted to read the real, honest, no fun daily struggles of another privileged middle class American white chick. And maybe they don’t. Ok. But does that mean I just tuck my tail between my legs and hide away like I’m not overflowing with thoughts and feelings that I’d really like to just let out already?

I can’t really dump all the responsibility on “society” or “norms” because if I’m being totally honest, I don’t like displaying the tough emotions like anger, sadness, or fear. I’m ok sitting on them in silence or steeping them in sarcasm.  I suppose I’ve bought into the popular notion that those emotions betray a weakness that is all too human. Sometimes admitting to being that human seems too damn difficult. Not to mention that exposing my humanity means exposing my flawed self to fun feedback from anonymous strangers or worse, my friends.

I’ll talk about the crap feelings if it is to dispense advice, information, or reactions to the myriad world events that evoke those emotions. But when it comes to my own intimate, personal daily struggles, I run like hell from acknowledging them or discussing them. I run to diaries I can lock away, to music, movies, books, denial, and fantasy worlds. I developed this withdrawal coping mechanism in early childhood and I’ve used it to keep others at a distance as far back as I can remember. I had good reasons to do so for a long time. I’m sure there will always be reasons for all of us to self-protect. I mean, the world we’re in just isn’t safe. But it won’t be safe regardless, so I may as well suck it up and spill some truth beans now and then.

The reason I started blogging was because I express myself most authentically and clearly in writing and because, despite my formidable defenses, I want to be known and understood and heard. Writing that out in the open is terrifying because for so long I have wanted the very opposite. At least I thought I did, or thought I was supposed to want that. But not being seen, not telling my truths, and hiding behind the concocted and unconvincing images of normalcy has become exhausting and alienating. I’m tired of believing I need to be quiet about my past, my story, and myself. So while I will remain reticent regarding stories that are not mine to tell, I will speak my truth. Because Oprah said I could, dammit.

That being said, I’ll answer honestly now the question some have asked in the past few months. “How are you?”

I’m adapting to and enjoying my new job and I’m relieved to have stopped moving and unpacking and to have settled into a new home. But winter is difficult for me. My anxiety and depression symptoms worsened and recently, my antidepressants have stopped working. So I’m now coping with antidepressant discontinuation syndrome as I’m weaning off my Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI).

Breaking up with my medication has been rough. I feel like I’m drunk but without the positive side effects of giggling at everything or deciding I love EVERYONE and needing to proclaim it for the entire world to hear (I’m talking to you random cab driver). No, it’s not so bad. I just feel tired, and nauseous, and dizzy, oh and then suddenly sad and then pissed off, all within ten minutes of waking up. So really, maybe it’s like I’m drunk and pregnant all at once but without the fun buzz or the adorable baby. But luckily for me, this ordeal should only last a month or two, not a better part of a year.

I also didn’t do myself any favors with my reading material this winter. I read some amazing and highly recommended books, but also dark and disturbing books that could have waited until spring or summer when my mood is more manageable. I’ll get back into my book review writing again soon, but for now, I’ll just say I recommend the following books if and only if you’re ready for some traumatic truth bombs: Kindred by Octavia Butler, 1984 by George Orwell, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Atonement by Ian McEwan.

That last novel brought up some issues for me because it dealt with a child’s misreading of sexual situations and the strong desire to atone even when the course of events has rendered absolution impossible. For now, I’ll just say it stirred up some forgotten feelings about a friend who I didn’t know I didn’t know. My little eyes were not grown and could not see her as she was before she had to go. But now my eyes are swimming in wide open Oh!s.

See what I mean? Reality blows. I’m going to go stick my nose in a happy fantasy book.

 

Tripping on Tryptophan: A Thanksgiving Story

Local Homicide Investigators to Question Suspected Accomplice in Missing Turkey Case 

 ~ The Daily Gobble 

Chief Chicken: She’s coming to, fellas. Stay alert and follow my lead.

Detective Dog & Sergeant Sow: Yes, ma’am. 

Allison: What the hell? Am I in the barn? Jesus, not again. How much  wine did I drink?

Chief Chicken: You are at Poultry Police Headquarters. I’m afraid we had to detain you. 

Allison: Wha?? Ahhhhh!!! Damn! Did you just TALK? 

Chicken: Please refrain from profanity. This will go better for you if you cooperate. You are a prime suspect in the disappearance of Turkey Tom. Several witnesses saw you with Tom in the yard last week. Now, what do you know? 

Allison: Oh my god. It’s finally happened. I’ve lost it. I always knew it would happen around the holidays, just thought I had more time. Wait… maybe one of the West coast relatives drugged dessert again? I hope so. Maybe it will wear off. 

Dog: You say you lost something? Do you have a pattern of losing important things? 

Sow: And did you say you’re involved with drugs? 

Allison: You ALL talk? Whoa.

Chicken: We don’t have time for games. I asked what you know about Tom, the Turkey. We have concerned friends and family waiting for word in the coop. Now tell us what you know!

Allison: Well, yeah I saw the turkey when I brought him in the house last week. I had to get him ready for Thanksgiving. 

Dog: What did “getting ready” entail? A bath? A scratch behind the ears? What?!? 

Allison: No, Wolfy, I fed you scraps from the table. How do you not know what happened? 

Sow: Leave the questions to us. Now, what did happen exactly? 

Allison: Well, uh. Do we really need to go into details? He is in a better place. 

Sow: So you do know where he is? Where is this “better place?” Ohio? Nebraska? Not Minnesota. 

Allison: Look, I don’t know why I have to answer to you, but the turkey is gone. We ate him for Thanksgiving. 

Chicken: You. Ate. Tom? Ate him up…What kind of sick maniac are you? I’ve dealt with a lot of twisted criminals in my day, mostly cats, but…

Dog: What did you mean when you said you fed me scraps? Of Tom?!?

Sow: Good god. I’m going to be sick. 

Allison: Look, it was quick ok. I just hit him on the head and it was over. He didn’t feel a thing. 

Chicken: Well, I guess it’s ok to kill us off if it’s nice and fast. Lord, I’m recommending psychological testing for you missy. Did you all enjoy Tom at least? Was he worth the price you now pay?

Allison: Actually, I got him for a good price from a neighbor. It’s cheaper and more humane than the store bought turkeys. But I’ve never really cared for turkey meat. I eat it, but I have to mix it with the stuffing and mashed potatoes for flavor. I’ve always preferred chicken. But tradition is tradition. 

Chicken: Ohhh. No words. 

Dog: (sobbing) I had no idea. You have to believe me, Chief. Who else have I eaten?!?

Allison: I’m sorry, Wolfy, but you’re a hunting dog. I figured you’d be ok with it. 

Dog: Listen, I better go to the coop and break the news. Least I can do. Then I’ll get to work writing my confession. I will accept whatever punishment you see fit, Chief. 

Chicken: There was no way for any of us to know. 

Sow: I’ll go with you. Leave the Chief to deal with this sicko. (Sow and Dog Exit)

Allison: Look, I gotta get back and find out who drugged the pie. 

Chicken: Technically I can’t keep you here. You’re bigger and stronger and I depend on you for grain. But you ruined more than one life today. The farm will never be the same. 

Allison: Yeah, I hear you. I should really go with ham next year. See you at the coop. I have some shopping to do when I come down. 

Growing up Grabbed: Stop Sexual Assault

It was a typical day. I was enjoying the crisp autumn air outside, hanging out with my friends outside school between classes. Then I spotted the new boy and his best friend. I often caught these two eyeing me in classes or following behind me at a careful distance as I walked through the halls. Their intentions did not occur to me but I knew enough to feel frightened. On this particular day, I made the mistake of wandering off with one of my friends. I liked to sit on this steep hill beneath the trees and look up at the clouds.

We sat on the hill away from the others when the two boys appeared. They moved quickly. One held me down as the other groped between my legs, his hands exploring freely while I struggled. I heard my friend laugh as I tried to wriggle away from their hands. When the school bell rang, it suddenly stopped. Not knowing what else to do, I got up and went inside to class. I was eight years old. I went to school with those boys for another ten years. I didn’t speak up to my parents until years after. I thought I would get in trouble and I felt ashamed. Although they didn’t attack me again, I recently heard that one of the boys is now in jail.

 

A few years later when I was eleven or so, I went to summer camp. I had my twin sister there with me but I was still nervous and shy. I was at an age when boys were starting to notice me. Their gaze would linger longer than usual. One boy at camp did more than gaze. He stared. He followed me around the campground with his friends. He handed me notes on folded notebook paper.

To other girls this may have seemed cute or charming. He had a crush and was following the cultural norms of expressing interest. He didn’t ever touch me. But he stared. He followed. And I was frightened. I didn’t understand why I was receiving unwanted attention or how to make it stop. But he didn’t grab me. So I ignored the unwanted attention for a week, hoping that once I left camp the problem would end.

Between then and now, I went through high school, college at a party school, a semester abroad in Australia, and a few years of online dating. The problem did not end at summer camp. In high school, a guy grabbed my ass at a dance and then resumed dancing with his friends like it never happened. When I was sixteen, a boss of mine asked me to go to Florida with him just the two of us.

During my semester abroad in Australia, I walked on the beach with a guy who kissed me, grabbed my breasts, and put his hand down the back side of my jeans, grabbing away as I walked back to our group of friends waiting outside a bar. He pulled his hand out of my pants only when we got closer and more visible to our friends.

 

When I entered the online dating scene, I was cautious to always meet new people in public places and regularly text my sisters updates. However, I made the mistake of saying “yes” to a movie on a first date one time. The guy interpreted my “yes” as consent to grab my hand in the dark theater and place it on his crotch. I stopped dating for a while after that one.

But I had other random incidents while avoiding the “romance” scene. One guy asked me out and then gave me his business card. I checked out the website on the card and discovered a gallery of nude photos of the guy by himself and in sexual poses with various women. Another man followed me on the street in the city one day, shouting “goddess! beautiful goddess!” at me for a few blocks. I had to hide away in a record store and wait for him to leave. Multiple customers have leered, made inappropriate “jokes” or comments about my body, one even being so bold as to exclaim “nice ass!” at me from the drive-up window.

 

I have to confess. I’m guilty too. I didn’t make it clear that I was not comfortable. But I kinda thought it went without saying. I often nervously laughed it off or pretended to be OK with the jokes so I wouldn’t offend a customer or coworker. I sometimes even enjoyed the attention, thinking it meant that I had value, not that they were objectifying me and disrespecting me.

At some point, I became numb and stopped noticing when my boundaries and my rights were violated. It was the norm. I bought into the notion that my body was an object up for grabs and should be commented on by shouting men on the streets or lonely customers. The disrespect became so routine. Plus, I didn’t think I was worth the effort of saying NO. STOP. THIS IS NOT OKAY.

Maybe because I grew up in a culture where I saw women constantly disrespected and devalued. Maybe because I saw women used and abused for having smaller bodies and collectively humiliated for having larger bodies. Maybe because after hearing so many stories of rape from my friends, I considered myself lucky to have lived so long undergoing only minor assaults. Maybe I thought, if I laughed it off and pretended it was OK, I wouldn’t be raped. 

This is the definition of rape culture. Abusers justify their abuse and blame their victims. Victims hide in shame and start to believe they deserve the abuse and even caused it. Rape is shamed into silence and assaults are shushed. So many girls grow up thinking their bodies can be controlled by men. So many boys believe they’re entitled to that control and even view it as a  major component of becoming a “real man.”  Some of us start to rationalize the problem and justify it by saying “boys will be boys” or  “it’s just locker room talk.” I too have been complicit by remaining silent during assaults on my dignity, my body, and my basic human rights. But it’s time for me to say NO. THIS IS NOT OKAY. THIS MUST STOP. 

 

 

Moody Musings: Stuff Your Smiles

One of the first things I read this morning was a well-meaning article on the benefits of smiling. I’m sure there are many benefits and as my therapist tells me, “it is important to focus on the positive.” So why, when I read it, did I have to quell an overwhelming urge to throw my phone through the window? I’ll tell you why.

It’s Monday. Morning. It’s raining. And just, NO.

If you’re a woman on Earth, I’m sure you’ve been told at some point to “smile,” or that “you’d look prettier if you smiled,” or some similarly obnoxious statement. Not necessarily just by men either. It seems some people just don’t like to see you frown and they’re seriously concerned…about how your face looks and how it affects them. Isn’t that sweet?

daria happy.PNG

I could be clinically depressed, have just lost a loved one, or read the news. Maybe all three. You don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head.

You have no idea why someone else is frowning or just not inclined to smile at the moment. They could have a mood or behavioral disorder. In which case, walking up to them and telling them to “smile!” is about as productive as walking up to a person in a wheelchair and saying, “just stand up and walk, it’s so easy and good for you.”

People have said things like that to me during depressive episodes and I felt so much worse afterwards. I felt like my inability to feel happy was inconvenient for others. I wanted to smile. I wanted to be in a good mood. I wanted to have the energy to make an effort. But sometimes, I just didn’t.

I already felt bad about this. I already wondered what was wrong with me, why I couldn’t be “normal” or “happy” like other people. I mean really, why wasn’t it easy to do basic things like laugh at a joke or just enjoy something, anything at all? Because of neurotransmitters, chemicals, and hormones I don’t control. Having someone tell me to stop being a “Debbie-downer” or to “smile more,” not only invalidated my feelings, it invalidated a very real, widespread, and legitimate illness.

But even if I didn’t have a mental illness, I’m still a human being with my own individual thoughts and feelings apart from yours. Living in this world is not always easy or happy. Sometimes we get sick, we die, our loved ones yell and hurt our feelings, we get laid off, and on and on. There are so many reasons to feel emotions besides happiness. We all have a right to those feelings and to their expression. So just as you can tell me to “smile,” I can tell you to buzz off.” And just because you can do something, doesn’t make it a good idea. It’s too bad if my feelings are difficult for you or affect your mood. But that is your issue. Don’t make it mine.

larry david smile better.PNG

It may seem something small and simple. But my body is my business. You don’t dictate what I get to do with it. Any of it. 

This is a basic boundary issue. If I’m not hurting anyone, then it’s nobody’s business what I do with my face or my body. It’s also none of my business what you think of my face or my mouth or anything at all. Your blunt command for me to “smile” crosses the line.

You get your body and your mind to do and think as you please. So do I. I don’t care if I’ll “look prettier” if I smile. I am so much more than a face or a pleasing expression to be admired by doting passersby like I’m a piece of furniture.

big lebowski meme.PNGTelling a stranger to do anything with their body is weird and creepy. It places that human being on level with a dog that you believe you have the right to command. “Sit!” “Stay.” “Smile!” “Good girl!!!” No. Just don’t. You are not my master and I will not obey. We’re not pets to command or dolls to arrange at your pleasure. 

Now that I’ve covered the basics of why it is disrespectful to tell someone to “smile.” I’d like to point out that the results you’re looking for, that pretty, shiny, happy face doesn’t appear on command. When you force someone to express a feeling they don’t actually feel, the expression will be just as fake. A genuine smile doesn’t just appear on command. This does: forced-smile-hilary

An expression of thinly veiled annoyance with a barely detectable upturn of the mouth. If we do smile at your command, we’re labeled “stiff” and “unnatural.” If we don’t, we have “resting bitch face.” So tell me again, why we should smile?

Suspect Sexist Standards

I consider myself a feminist, but this post is about the goal of equality within feminism.  I want to discuss some disturbing trends I’ve noticed regarding women’s treatment of men and other women. Sexism isn’t confined to men’s behavior toward women. Yes, I acknowledge there are several important sexist issues there, and I’m sure I’ll blog about the many instances I’ve personally experienced soon enough. But what about the guys? In what ways do we as women hold them to double standards, different expectations, and unfair treatment?

My first long-term relationship was from age seventeen to twenty-three. A high school junior at the romance’s first blossoming, I was smitten with literature, poetry, and Shakespearean plays. I was still in that teenage phase where I considered Romeo and Juliet to be terribly romantic, not creepily co-dependent or extreme. When my boyfriend opened car doors for me or paid for dinner, I thought it was romantic and chivalrous. I didn’t stop to wonder if he could afford it.

I moved in with my boyfriend when I was nineteen, convinced I was one of the lucky few to find “the one” in high school. Daydreams of marriage and family in my mind, I settled into our new apartment and figured I was on my way to “happily ever after.” But after a few years, I started noticing that I wasn’t happy. I felt bored, confined, and even trapped. Sometimes at night I would take long drives and pretend I wasn’t coming back.

In retrospect, I think a large part of my problem came from my false belief in the modern myth that once you’re in a relationship, you’ll be happy and feel complete. I had an expectation, as I think many women do, that settling into a relationship with a man would bring me financial security, physical protection, and emotional intimacy. I think these beliefs caused me to underestimate my own role in my happiness and discounted my own abilities to take care of myself.

But it also overestimated the man’s role, his responsibility even, to provide happiness and safety for me. Why should I figure out how to make myself feel happy and fulfilled if a man was around to do it for me? This way of thinking was not only harmful to my own feelings of self-worth, it was harmful to my boyfriend’s too.

gender equality

Since that time, I’ve noticed a number of sexist standards that I’ve applied to men and that the women around me accept as a standard. I’ve lived in a small town in the Midwest and a large major U.S. city on the West Coast, and I’ve found the attitudes and patterns in both areas. I’ve worked hard to become aware of my own attitudes and consider if they’re really fair to myself and my loved ones. When I fight to stand up for my own rights, I also try to stop and consider the rights of the other person involved. This has been a long and difficult process, as I’ve had to admit to myself several times how my thoughts and behaviors are unfair.

Along the way, I’ve become more sensitive and more aware of other women’s expectations and beliefs about gender roles. I started wondering where my own beliefs came from and started looking around at the people around me and the roles they assumed. I quickly discovered I was not alone. Many women who want fair and equal treatment in some areas, don’t seem to want it in other areas such as finance or emotional intimacy.

Troubling Trends:

Unequal Economics

First off, I’d like to acknowledge that my current boyfriend makes more money than I do and I have borrowed smalls sums of money from him in times of financial difficulty. During my time with him, I’ve received serious remarks from women indicating that I was lucky to have found a “sugar daddy” or someone “who can take care of you.” As a recovering codependent, I bristle with pride when I encounter these assumptions. I’ve worked really hard to remain independent and make sure I’ve earned my own way in the world (as do many people of all relationship statuses).

I notice when female servers flirt and laugh with my boyfriend and then register a small expression of surprise when I reach for the bill. I notice the thinly veiled animosity after I announce my boyfriend’s occupation or expensive hobbies. I notice that women assume my male partner foots the bill or make jokes about withholding sexual favors if and when he denies me money. Is my body up for auction to the highest-bidding male? Is a man’s earnings something for me to manipulate into my possession? What year is it again?

Must Marry?

I’ve had women ask me why I’m not married or assume I want to get married and have children. Now, I’m not saying these things are not right for some people or not the path for many to find happiness and fulfillment. But I do question why it’s assumed that I am in any way with my partner for financial reasons, or that I “of course” accept financial support from him, and want to get married, and squirt out babies.

Yes, that’s the right path for many women, but is it the only path? I think the assumption that I accept money from my boyfriend exposes the widespread expectation that men shoulder the majority of the financial burdens. Perhaps some men want to do so, and perhaps in some relationships, that is what’s best and that’s great. But when anyone suggests that financial support is something owed to me and that my sex life has anything to do with it, I get really creeped out. First of all, that’s nobody’s business, and secondly, that’s nobody’s business!

iggy pop

Some women have those dreams and goals to marry, have kids, and focus on family. More power to you! Some men want to provide for a family and take pride in being the supporter. Awesome! But why is it assumed that those are my main goals and dreams too? Or my boyfriends? Why am I looked at with curiosity or pity when I declare: “No, I’m not married.” “No, I don’t have kids.” “No, I don’t have plans to get married.” Why are my single friends continually set up on dates or warned about their aging ovaries? When did men become walking wallets and women just a uterus? Why do women tell me I need to “step up my game” when I state that I’ve been with my boyfriend for six years and we’re not married. Are relationships just games?

Emotional Inequity

Many women in my family tend to be emotional creatures, myself included. Although I think it can be a harmful stereotype to assume all women are emotional, I do believe there is some truth to the notion that women tend to be more emotionally expressive than men. In my experience, women show no remorse or shame about their feelings because they know they have the right to their emotions and their free expression. But men don’t always receive the same consideration. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women say they like “tough” guys or mention how they’re put off by “sissies” or “weak” men who openly cry or discuss their feelings. Why is it considered normal for a woman to be emotional and cry during difficult situations, but men are supposed to be stoic, quiet, and tough? Are men not human beings with the same emotions as women?

My first boyfriend was emotional, sensitive, and comfortable showing what he was feeling. I’ve since learned how rare that is for men and why. I can’t imagine being shamed for mourning at a loved one’s funeral or crying at a moving film, but I’ve witnessed men subjected to shame in those situations (both shaming speeches were by women). I can’t imagine being met with anything other than support and hugs from my female friends when I start crying. But sexism mediaagain, in my experience, men don’t have this luxury of release or honest expression. They’re taught to keep it all in, support the family, and if they have to express an emotion, the only acceptable one is anger or annoyance. Does this sound like a recipe for violent outbursts to anyone else? or homophobic hate crimes?

Yet men are expected to be romantic and show gushy expressions of love to their significant others after years of cultural conditioning to suppress their feelings. I can’t help thinking they’ve been screwed over a bit when Valentine’s Day rolls around each year. I know I’ve hyped up the holidays and placed unrealistic expectations on arbitrary events. If there isn’t a giant teddy bear and a sincere display of emotion, he must not love me. Because Hollywood says so. And when has Hollywood been wrong?

I know that I’m making some generalizations and I know m
any men and women share my observations and frustrations. I’m just tired of hearing about women’s trials in expecting fair and equal treatment while also hearing women complain about men not doling out enough money, or showing too much emotion, or not enough emotion, or being just as human as we are. Yes, women have a long history of oppression, sexism, and unfair treatment. But how are we as women holding ourselves accountable for our expectations and treatment of men or our treatment of each other?

 

 

The last time I went out to eat, I had plenty of time to sit and think because I waited for over 50 minutes for my food to arrive. During that time, some bus-boys dropped by to refill my water. The server was nowhere to be found. Eventually, I received my order and wolfed it down as though they may come back any minute to announce that they’d delivered the food by mistake. “Ahem, I’m so sorry for the mistake but the richer, more attractive customers two tables down actually deserve their food first. I’ll drop off your food a few minutes before you’re ready to bolt out the door and grab fast food.”

My dinner partner and I quickly ran out of small talk during our wait, so my mind wandered into how other creatures might handle the situation. Would a bear or lion wait around for their meal to appear? No, they would march into the wilderness and take it. So, if I am so civilized and evolved, why do I have to sit around for nearly an hour for some overpriced in-vogue vegetarian crap? I suppose that is the downside to the end of the hunting and gathering era. Sure, we don’t have to expend all of that effort foraging or tracking, but we do have to sit and wait…and wait… and wait.

I take some small comfort in knowing we’re not the only ones in this position. After all, our pets must wait for us to come home and fill their food dishes. My annoyance stems from the wildly differing standards we hold for these lovable pets in comparison to the ones we hold for ourselves. Yes, the pets have to wait, but they don’t have to sit quietly and be polite while doing so. In fact, sometimes they don’t wait at all. I can’t be the only person who has arrived home to find the pets have torn open their food bag or rifled through the trash. But if I marched back to the kitchen and broke open a bag of breadsticks, oh no! Society as we know it would collapse.

I must sit quietly and tolerate the hunger. I must control the urge to grab the plate of food from the large serving platter that just passed overhead tempting me with savory smells. But my cats can tear the house apart, claw my face at 5 am, and eat my utility bills and no one bats an eye. As I watched table after table receiving their food, I decided this just isn’t right. We’re higher up on the food chain than cats and dogs. So we deserve the same forgiveness and understanding for our desperate deeds when hunger hits. I devised the plan illustrated above and I plan to put it into practice the next time my stomach and I are teased and tortured. I’ll post a follow-up to elaborate on the results.

Trash Talk

Every day when I pull into my work parking lot, I scan the gray concrete searching for trash left over from the previous night’s events. For the past year, it has been my honor to hunt and gather these treasures into the bin, in hopes of making the place presentable to prospective clients. It never stays tidy for long though.

My workplace sits adjacent to a bustling bus stop on a busy highway in a rougher part of town. Due to my position inside the office near a large window, I’ve witnessed many special scenes, not just the leftover remnants of them.  As I am soon to transfer away from this location, I chose to commemorate my stay with a top-ten list.

Top ten tossed treasures and traumatic tableaus:

10. Super Sad Snack times

I often find trash in clumps indicating the subject stopped to snack on multiple items whilst awaiting their transport. Sometimes these combo-clumps tell a sad tale that is all too familiar. Like the time I found an empty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream carton next to an empty plastic bottle of cheap Vodka. Or the pile of cherry stems, pizza crusts, and cigarette butts. I usually wallow in ice cream and cigarettes in private but, who knows, give me a few years and I might throw up my hands and have at it in a random parking lot too.

9. Bagel Buffet

As a food-lover, and a carb-lover in particular, I was especially annoyed when I discovered a full dozen untouched bagels strewn about the parking lot. Someone had better have a damn good reason for leaving bread behind. Don’t people know about the poor starving kids in Africa… or down the street? Or was my mother the only one to harp on that? When my annoyance dissipated, my imagination took off with the potential events that could lead to this tragic waste of scrumptious sustenance.

Was a kind client on their way to deliver the bagels to our door but then attacked by hungry seagulls? Or did the seagulls shoplift the treats from a delivery truck and fly over from the nearby grocery store? Perhaps they were caught in the crime and had to flee the scene? Or did the bag just tear as someone rushed to catch a bus? Or was a dissatisfied client leaving behind tempting treats in an attempt to send me to the latrine? Whatever the circumstances, waste is always woeful. Luckily, I was strong enough to resist the temptation. I don’t know how the birds fared, however.

8. Heroin Hiatus

Now this one I found seriously shocking and sad. I lost a loved one to Heroin addiction when I was a teenager and I absolutely abhor the stuff and anyone who profits from it. But yes, I have found discarded Heroin needles in our parking lot and I have had to report clients who consistently display track marks.

I could write a book on the harmful effects and all my opinions on drugs and addiction but there are plenty out there already penned by professionals, so I’ll spare you. My main take away from the discovery is that these issues aren’t just on the news or in books, they’re affecting our friends and neighbors. It is everyone’s responsibility to stay watchful and speak up when we notice the warning signs. Not just the warning signs of drug use, but the signs of traumas that lead people to view drugs as a necessity.

7. Smoking Sod

In the Summer, our bus stop sees an increase of smokers and a corresponding increase of discarded cigarettes. Some of these cigarettes are still on fire when they’re flicked into the bushes or surrounding mulch mounds. Without the rain or snow to extinguish the sparks, it is up to us to stand watch. So, we all keep our eyes out for smoke in the Summertime.

There is even a designated bucket in case we need to run out and douse the flaming foliage. I never thought it would be commonplace for a coworker to say, “Hey, the lawn is on fire again. Can you take care of that? I’m helping a customer.” Then again, I never thought  I’d be cleaning up Heroin needles or seriously considering eating bagels off the ground so, that’s life in America. Thanks, Obama. (jk, I love you).

6. Cologne Collection

On entering the building one morning, I spotted a small backpack in the bushes. In my morning daze, I figured I better investigate in case it hid something dangerous in its’ many zipped pockets. I had no plan on what I would do if I found something dangerous, but my morning mind doesn’t think that far ahead.

I dove in and discovered damp designer pajama bottoms and a small collection of colognes. My morning daze transformed into total confusion. Obviously, some poor wandering homeless man had forgotten his stash of sleazy smells.First I felt pity. But how did this homeless person acquire designer DKNY pajama bottoms and a collection of expensive Hugo Boss/Hilfiger/Calvin Klein brand bottles?

I can’t even afford that stupid Bath & Body Works crap. I wait for a holiday for one of my female friends to re-gift me some of theirs. My pity then turned full circle on myself. I had taken a homeless person’s bag and turned it into a sad reflection on my own life. That is talent right there! Watch out, Lena Dunham, you’re not the only narcissist writer on the block.

5. Couples Caressing as Costumed Kid Cartoons

I’m going about my business at my desk one day when I hear my coworker exclaim, “Umm. What is going on out there?” and stop to gaze out the window facing the bus stop. Curious to discover the cause of her careful scrutiny, I approached to find a very public display of affection taking place between a plump twenty-something and her boyfriend on the bench outside.

It wasn’t the crass crotch-massaging that startled me so much as the bright Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtle costume the adult male was wearing on a day that was definitely not Halloween. When the turtle reached down his mate’s backside, started massaging his own little Donatello, and all the while continued to puff lazily on his Newport’s, my small-town Midwestern awe at city-living quickly went up in smoke along with his cheap cigarette. My coworker simply grabbed her phone and started recording video stating, “No one is going to believe us.”

4. Piles of Poo & Passive Police

A customer walked in shaking her head and muttering, “Now I’ve really seen it all.” Afraid of the answer, I didn’t ask what she’d seen but simply carried on with my work. But, of course, my curiosity crept up causing me to peek out towards the infamous bus stop. There sat a one-legged man balancing his bottom over the edge of the bench and unburdening his bowels like he was in his own bathroom.

He buttoned up like nothing had happened and continued to wait for his bus. The smell must have spread, though, because a short Asian man soon perked up his nose and tracked down the pile of poo. I couldn’t hear his reaction, but I saw him yell and shake his finger at the one-legged man for a good three minutes.

Concerned for the sanitation of our corner, we called the police about the mess. Ten minutes passed before a policeman pulled in, pinpointed the pile and the perpetrator, and passively explained the problem with public pooping. He let us know he’d addressed the situation. It turns out the man is a disabled and homeless veteran so there would be no fine.

3. Pounds of Pot

My office building shares a neighborhood with many “alternative medicine” clinics and “herb” shops so a lot of pot-smokers come and go in our area. On April 20th of all days, a non-customer visited us and asked us some questions about our company. He carried with him a brown paper shopping bag full of what we naively assumed were his groceries. We answered his questions and he went on his merry way. After ten minutes or so another customer pointed out his brown paper bag sitting in our lobby.

I went to pick it up to place it in our lost-and-found box but low and behold, I held pounds of pot in my hands, not eggs or bread. Not sure what to say or do, I discreetly carried the bag to my boss and leaned it over for her to peek in. She glanced in and said, “He’ll be back for it. Just wait.” We waited about twenty minutes and he wandered slowly back in to ask, “Did I leave something here, miss?” My boss replied, “Not the best thing to leave behind.” My coworker whispered, “Damn it, that would have been sweet.”

2. Penis, penis, penis

The first time I saw penis in the parking lot was when a very high fellow mistook our planter for a urinal and took out his piece for a piss right outside our windowed conference room where upper-level management members sat in a meeting.The second time I saw penis was when a drunk man decided to bare all in our bushes and wander around with his pants around his ankles. The third, and I’m hoping the final time, was when a respectable (looking) businessman stripped down behind the retaining wall near the bus stop to change his clothes into something more casual. I’m tired of seeing penis guys.

1. Sex Stop

I sometimes leave the office after six as the sun starts to set. As one working girl ends her day, plenty of poverty-stricken prostitutes just begin. Sex workers start up their shifts and wander the highway selling themselves. Suddenly the sad snacks, drugs paraphernalia and empty ice cream cartons make more sense.

If anyone out there ever discovers us sitting out in the remote parking lot of the universe, I wonder what they’ll make of what remains and the “civilization” we created.

 

Copious Complaints Concerning Craptastic Care of “Crazies”

In 1996, when I was twelve years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with a side order of performance anxiety. Since that diagnosis twenty years ago, I have been treated by seven different psychiatrists. In the past year or so, I started on my eighth psychiatrist. Fortunately, I have only positive feedback for her on my anonymous clinic surveys. (Even though I usually so enjoy chronicling my copious complaints of incompetence and complacency.)

When I learned from this eighth psychiatrist that a previous combination of prescriptions I’d taken for years came with a high risk of seizures, I started to doubt that my previous doctors had fully understood their “primum non nocere” (first do no harm) oath. After she continued to explain that one of those pills I’d been prescribed for years was highly addictive and highly dangerous when consumed with alcohol,

sipper

I wondered if I should find a lawyer to explain “primum non nocere” to those ass clowns. They seem to have written it off as some irrelevant Hogwarts mumbo jumbo. Maybe the drug companies played a part?

But I digress. Last time I visited Dr. 8, I learned another little lesson.  I was in an even more nervous state than usual because I had an impending job interview scheduled that same week. To me, a job interview is right up there with skydiving or sober karaoke. As soon as I learn I have a job interview, I go into flight mode for days, assuming the cowering posture of a baby deer ready to be pounced by a hiding tiger. Hardly a confident or assuring first impression. My new doctor picked up on my excessive stammering, shaking, and sweating and offered a solution.

She called it ” Propranolol.” A drug created in the 1960s, it’s a “beta-blocker used to treat high blood pressure.” As it turns out, it also treats the physical symptoms of performance anxiety such as shaking, increased heart rate, dry mouth, shortness of breath and all the other awkward hallmarks of my most humiliating moments.

On the upside, I know of this treatment now and can begin to educate myself and use it when necessary. For that, I am very grateful. But there is also a large part of me that is asking why the hell those seven other doctors never mentioned this treatment as a possibility. I guess the addictive and harmful ones were a better fit? That makes total sense.

Since Dr.8 said the words, “there is a performance-anxiety drug to help treat your symptoms” I’ve had a non-stop reel of embarrassing memories playing in a 24-hour theater in my head. The time I could not stop stuttering in front of my junior-high crush while trying to give  a speech, when I walked on stage and forgot the piece I had worked months to memorize, the many times I had to run to the bathroom before or during a test, my panic attacks in front of the kids at camp, and I could go on for a long time so, I’ll stop.

I also wonder if this were a different disorder if there would have been a different response from the various authority figures in my childhood. Would I have been teased or ostracized for a biological problem completely out of my control? Would I have been marked down on speeches, tests, presentations, or musical performances because of a medically diagnosed disorder affecting my ability to think clearly?  Would it have been suggested that I merely suffered from severe PMS? Are the adults guiding our children any more informed today?

Either way, I now well know that just because someone is an adult with a fancy title or position of authority, I can’t assume they know what they’re talking about. From now on, I’m going to the library to verify thus making my transformation into Hermione Granger nearly complete.

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