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The Jumper

JumperWhen you’re 27 years old, even if you happen to be a teacher, it’s my personal belief you should not have a denim jumper on rotation in your wardrobe. It’s actually my personal belief nobody should EVER have one, but I can’t save the world from poor fashion decisions; and honestly, they do look pretty comfortable.

When I was 25, I lived with my friends Katie and Kristen. They were both teachers and I couldn’t believe the amount of time and energy that went into their work. Teaching is an admirable and sometimes thankless profession and I give major props to anyone who does it.

I also couldn’t believe that Kristen owned and wore a denim jumper. The first few times I saw it I thought maybe it was for a special event in her classroom, “crazy sock day,” or “wacky hair day,” because surely that was why she saw fit to wear it. But it wasn’t, it was comfortable, and practical, and “teachery.”

I’ve always had a decent fashion sense, and was working for a department store at the time and I felt it was my responsibility to tell Kristen that she should probably light it on fire. But perhaps in a more polite way. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but eventually I strongly “suggested” the jumper be retired.

Listen, you’re 27, do you ever want to go on a date again? You’re introducing this jumper into your wardrobe at least three decades too early. Please stop.

And so, because people tend to accept my fashion advice, the jumper went away. It’s become a running joke in our friendship, “Remember the denim jumper?” Kristen and I lived together again a few years later, and I became something of her personal fashion policewoman.

Can we talk about the sweatshirt with the penguin? Oh, right, it’s a classroom full of fifth graders, maybe it’s okay, but please take it off after you come home.

I don’t think you can wear capri pants with socks. Also-those socks are cute, but they have math equations and apples all over them, so, you know, maybe wear pants that cover them.

While volunteering recently at a thrift store that benefits a Children’s hospital, I was unpacking donations and came across the ugliest Christmas jumper I’ve ever seen. It is definitely homemade, most likely previously worn by a teacher, and the perfect size for me. Because it couldn’t be sold in the store (because it’s hideous), and I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw it, for $1.50 I am now the proud owner of my own ugly Christmas jumper. And as soon as I saw it, I thought of Kristen and laughed out loud, “The Jumper!” I texted her to let her know of my good fortune, and her response below was exactly what I expected.

IMG_9335Kristen is an excellent and talented teacher. Her students love her and stay in touch with her years after they finish her class. She has a passion for teaching and education and I’ve seen firsthand the difference she’s made in many kids lives.

And I suppose the only real thing I have to offer is to make sure she’s doing it while wearing matching shoes.

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Tell me WHY…

If you’ve never told a conservative, religious woman that you love her son but you fear he’s on the autistic spectrum and it’s making your life a living hell, I don’t recommend it. My ex-boyfriend, Chris, was from a lovely, supportive, and close-knit family. They were kind and generous toward me, and treated me like one of their own. His “mommy,” however, told me more than once that she liked me, but that her allegiance would always be with Chris.

This made sense, really, but seemed like an unnecessary thing to say. It was almost as if she could see the writing on the wall, “It’s quite possible my son is going to fuck this up, act like a sociopath and destroy you, but just so you know, he’s in and you’re out.” Okay, noted, thanks lady. And that is, in fact, pretty much what happened.

My immediate family is highly dysfunctional, but thankfully my extended family is not, and so I understand the importance of closeness and connection to family. I believe you should go on outings together, spend time with each other and aging parents, take trips together, etc. However, Chris’s mom had a need for control unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

I sensed it was because she was aware of his limitations, and trying to control both his and her environment brought her some sense of peace; she was trying SO desperately to be perfect. But her enabling behavior wasn’t helping anyone, and I was exhausted from a competition I didn’t sign up for and had no interest in participating in.

The control was often subtle, and disguised as “helpful.”

“Oh, I just happened to go shopping, buy all of Chris’ s favorite things, and put them here at the house, so he’ll “stop by!”

“That laundry he brought here is washed, folded, and put away in the room I keep here for him, just the way he likes it!”

Fantastic, how helpful! Will you be breastfeeding him later too?

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Chris was most definitely on the autistic spectrum, so having a conversation about his mother, or my feelings, or any emotional matters in general was the equivalent of banging my head against a wall repeatedly for several hours, except the emotional toll it took was probably more painful.

I’d describe a relationship with someone like this as “a living fucking nightmare that nobody around you fully understands.” I feared, for years, I was going insane. But it turns out, other people in my situation feared the same, and finding help and support through research, reading, and websites is one of the only things that kept me sane in an otherwise isolating, lonely, and awful situation. This website was particularly helpful: http://heartlessaspergers.com/aspergers-partners-speak/

I loved Chris and knew it wasn’t his fault, but I obviously couldn’t get support from him for much of anything, and during an attempt at addressing the situation with his mother, out of love and concern for him, I was reminded he was perfect, things were “just fine,” and I should just try to be happy.

The following sums up many of the unsuccessful and unproductive conversations Chris and I experienced over the years:

One evening, Chris’s mother and I went to get pedicures. The plan was for Chris to meet me at my apartment when we were done, and go over to his parent’s house to eat dinner with her. I liked his mother, but I could practically see the blood draining out of her white-knuckled hands from holding such a tight grip on her adult son, and some days it was especially exhausting.

This was one of those days, so when she told me, “Oh, I told Chris he needed to go over to the house at 5:30, put the oven on, and that there was beer and that cheese he likes there,” I could feel myself losing it.

Of course you fucking did! God forbid you let the poor kid have a separate life…

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, really, but it was a snapshot of a much bigger picture. I grinned and made it through dinner, then looking at family pictures after dinner, then a movie after that. When we finally left, close to 9 p.m., leaving time to walk to my apartment, not spend any time alone together, and just go to bed, Mommy called after Chris, “So, I’ll put coffee on for 7 a.m. tomorrow?”

She also liked to “suggest” that he join her for coffee before work in the mornings, you know, after leaving her house at 9 p.m. the previous evening. I could feel myself starting to lose it. Losing it, however, is not allowed with someone like Chris. I knew this, so I stayed silent. He was somehow able to figure out I was upset on the walk home and asked why.

“Listen,” I said, “I could tell you, but what’s going to happen is you’re not going to understand because it’s more of an “in general” feeling, and you’ll look for a specific, and we’re going to get in a horrible misunderstanding.”

This was a common occurrence at this point, perhaps it had improved a bit since I’d mostly just stopped trying to talk to him about much of anything, and stopped trying to feel things in general. This, in retrospect, is a fucking awful way to live your life. And I did it for a long time.

It wasn’t very common, but this time, he insisted I share my feelings. It wasn’t because he was interested in them more than he was attempting to quantify them according to his logic. “We just had a nice night together with my mother, everything was fine, what could possibly be wrong?” he asked.

“Never mind,” I said, “You won’t understand and I’m too tired to deal with arguing right now.”

“No,” he insisted, “You need to tell me EXACTLY what happened or what my mother did to make you upset.”

Jesus…here we go

There was no specific, so I tried to think of an example to use, knowing full well it wasn’t going to work.

“Um, your mother gets really overbearing, it’s annoying and why the hell did you have to go there to turn the oven on?” I was grasping for something because I was upset about something that was a recurring abstract theme, and he, as usual, needed a concrete example.

“There is nothing wrong with me turning the oven on, my mother asked for my help, and I’m happy to help her,” he said. This is how a relationship with someone like Chris works:

“Please explain your feelings in concrete, logical terms. If I am able to see a logical correlation between the emotion and circumstance, then, and ONLY then will I determine the feelings are valid, and agree to discus them.”

It didn’t happen often, but that night, I lost it. I didn’t have a voice in the relationship and the years of built up frustration, exhaustion, and molding my life to fit a very one-sided relationship bubbled to the surface, and I lost it. I cried from sheer exhaustion, knowing that he’d just stare at me and provide no support or comfort whatsoever, and he didn’t.

When I felt myself start to get angry, I told him I was going to leave for a while, that I needed to go calm down, that I knew he could only function in complete absence of emotion, so I left and went for a drive to calm down.

This seemed logical and perfectly reasonable to me, but not to Chris. When I came back shortly after, I thought my efforts to regain composure would be appreciated. But instead, Chris told me, “It’s not normal to get so upset by something that it requires you need to leave.”

OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! THIS IS HELL! 

I lived this way for years, and I loved my ex-boyfriend and would’ve stayed with him forever had he been willing to work on this with me. He wasn’t. Though not intentional, this relationship was incredibly emotionally and psychologically damaging, and it’s taken years for me to feel whole again.

After we broke up, he started sleeping with his 25 year-old co-worker. They wondered what was “wrong” with me for being upset, and why I was hurt. I knew her, and we shared many mutual friends. She fit very neatly into his “system” of operating in the world, so the whole thing made a lot of sense to me.

I then lost my job unexpectedly, and had to leave the place I loved, where I had friends, a life, and support, because I knew I couldn’t be anywhere near him. I still sometimes have bad dreams about the whole experience. When recounting the story to people in the recent past, I’ve been asked if I think he’s a sociopath. “No, he’s not really,” I say, “but it feels that way.”

When you start talking openly about your life and experiences, especially if they involve circumstances people may prefer to keep private, people have all kinds of opinions. I’ve talked openly and honestly about my abusive and traumatic childhood and mentally ill mother, and been accused of seeking attention and “needing to work through some things.”

Of course I’m working through some things, who the fuck isn’t? I’d rather do it openly and honestly than from behind closed doors.

This relationship with my ex-boyfriend, for a very long time, left me a shadow of my former bright and hopeful self, and it took me awhile to realize how significant the long-term effects would be. I’ve been recovering from emotional abuse. Sure, the abuse wasn’t intentional, but unfortunately, the effects are still the same.

I also waited a long time to write about it because I was angry, hurt, and resentful, and I didn’t think that was fair. We share many mutual friends, and I didn’t, and still don’t, wish for any of my writing to be retaliatory; that’s not how I roll.

There’s been a lot of turmoil in my life, and a lot of pain. I’m proud of what I’ve overcome and what I’ve accomplished in spite of it. Ernest Hemingway said to “write hard and clear about what hurts,” and that’s what I’m doing.

Perhaps someone needs my strength and courage, or maybe someone else will be inspired to share or write about what hurts in his or her own story. That’s how you connect, and connection promotes healing.

I realize some of the things I write about won’t be popular with everyone, but they will always be authentic. Because this is my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Face Plant

My friend Cindy is a wildlife biologist. She’s done all kinds of interesting things, traveled to Peru researching birds, spent time on a field assignment in the Galapagos Islands, and had many other awesome experiences I’d never really thought of as possibilities in a career. She also has a history of fainting when she gets sick, particularly when she throws up, and I’d describe her as “not graceful,” (she’s clumsy as fuck.)

Her brother is a doctor and they believe the problem is related to a combination of low blood pressure and some type of low sodium level in her blood. It seems the only real solution, though, is for Cindy to pray she doesn’t ever get sick to her stomach, and in the meantime just buckle up and hope for the best.

One day a few years ago, Cindy called me while I was at work, she was running errands at Target, and had somehow blacked out and came to sitting on the ground near her car. She had eaten something earlier in the day that made her sick, threw up, and as usual in that situation after passing out, the rest was a blur. I told her not to drive, to stay put and left work early to go pick her up. We left her car there in the parking lot, and I planned to drive her back to my apartment and nurse her back to health. As is often the case, things didn’t go according to plan.

While driving over the causeway near my house, Cindy instructed me to pull over so she could throw up.  I pulled over on a small stretch of pavement adjacent to the water. I suppose you don’t really plan ahead in these situations, and I figured she’d just open the window and let it out.  What actually happened, however, was much worse.

Thoughtful and considerate as she is, Cindy opened the car door as not to make a mess. At some point she unbuckled her seatbelt, and when she threw up, she fainted, and when she fainted, her unbuckled self fell face first from my car, directly onto the pavement.

I’d heard of the fight or flight response, and though I’d lived in a version of it my entire life, this was the first time I experienced it fully. There was one of my closest friends, lying face down in a pool of blood on the pavement, and I was fucking terrified. But I leaped into action-jumped out of the car, and ran over to her. She came to, and I pulled her back into the car.

She was conscious and aware, but bleeding from the face and the mouth and I calmly said, “Okay, Cindy, I think it’s probably a good idea for me to drive you to the hospital.” I considered calling 911, but we were in a pretty remote area, and the hospital was just a few miles away, and I knew it would be faster to get her there myself.

Experiencing fight or flight is the only time I’ve ever felt like a superhero. It’s such an odd sensation. I felt myself become a calm, reasonable person fully capable of handling the situation, while simultaneously experiencing sheer terror and doubting every move. I talked to Cindy the whole way, level headed, slowly, and steadily, “Okay, we’re almost there.” “It’s going to be fine.”

And thankfully, it was. She was pretty banged up, but the blood and initial swelling made things appear much worse than they were. Her teeth were fine, and except for one gash, most of the abrasions on her face were superficial.  After several hours of testing, hydration, and getting her scrapes cleaned up, we were free to go.  To follow up, she had a minor plastic surgery procedure that ended up costing a lot of money and may not have been necessary. But after that, she was back to herself. Today, there’s no physical evidence that the whole incident even happened.

Cindy’s a badass. She’s also incredibly kind and genuine and one of the most loyal friends I’ve ever known. She’s on to more unique experiences and adventures, and I’m sure I’ll get to accompany her on one of them sometime soon. But when I do, you can bet your ass I’m making that bitch wear a seatbelt…and a helmet.

Hetero-“flexible”

I maintain a few online dating profiles mostly for entertainment purposes at this point. After the painful ending of a relationship that I thought would last forever, and some other major life changes over the last few years, dating requires energy that I haven’t been able to access. I normally have more determination, but a few disappointing dating experiences and failed attempts have been enough for me to throw in the towel for awhile.

I do, however, get a lot of messages that keep me entertained. My profiles include sarcastic descriptions about loving both food and mama’s boys (these are both true), so there’s an above average amount of attempts at getting my attention that include information about pie, recipes, and knitting. Guys also seem very impressed by my cheeks, which I find somewhat surprising, because who knew they cared about that?

I sometimes go weeks without reading any, then log-in, read a bunch and get my fill, laugh, then sign out and move on with my life. I went on a message reading binge a few days ago, and received one of my favorites to date: “Holy hell, Ms. D, I must say…Your eyebrow game is positively fierce!”

I’m friends with enough gay men to know that any male using the word “fierce” and complimenting my eyebrows is unlikely to be one-hundred percent heterosexual. Upon further research, I proved this point correct when I read the guy’s profile, which described him as “heteroflexible.” Yet another reason I don’t dive in to online dating head-first is that I prefer to live outside “the loop.” Previously, I had no idea what heteroflexible meant, and I preferred it that way.

But curiosity prevailed, so I googled heteroflexible, which means something along the lines of: a sexual orientation or situational sexual behavior characterized by minimal homosexual activity in an otherwise primarily heterosexual orientation that is considered to distinguish it from bisexuality. It has been characterized as “mostly straight.”

So as far as I can tell, this guy is gay enough to comment on my fierce eyebrows, but straight enough to want to see them in person sometime. Perhaps I’ll read more dating messages later, but right now I’m off to tend to my eyebrow game.

“Oh, I remember him!”

I love food, it’s a known fact among those who know me well, and I’m often the butt of several well-meaning (and highly accurate) food jokes. It’s been this way as long as I can remember, a friend in kindergarten once said, “Doria, you’re going to eat us out of house and home!” on a play date. The FedEx guy at one of my previous jobs once said to me, “Wow, I must come at the same time every day, huh? Because you’re always eating.” He didn’t, in fact, come at the same time every day, but I WAS, in fact, always eating.

My ex-boyfriend asked for a high-five the first time he saw me eat a sub, and a chef I used to work with told me, “Not only is it the speed with which you consume the food, but also the volume of food consumed that’s impressive.” Why, thank you! I suppose what people also find impressive, after witnessing my eating habits, is that I’m not a very large person. I’m far from skinny, but the fact I’ve managed to stay relatively petite while simultaneously feeding the appetite of a 350 lb. man is perhaps enviable.

When I worked for a food company, I was heavily involved in a new product they launched  (food being called a “product” and being “developed” is pretty disturbing to me, as I prefer all natural food, but that’s a story for another time) and I spent a significant amount of time in a Research & Development kitchen with professional chefs and research scientists; I had absolutely no idea what was happening from a scientific standpoint, but I was an excellent taste taster and kitchen companion.

And when I traveled all over the place for this job, (and when I travel anywhere in general), what I remember most about a place is not necessarily its’ history or geography, but rather its culinary offerings. “Oh, yeah, I remember that time I went to Nebraska, that was the best steak I’ve ever had!” or “Minneapolis, right, I remember that, Punch Pizza is the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had in my life.” “St. Augustine, yes, isn’t there something about Fort Castillo de San Marcos being one of the first places for the United States to allocate funding for a National Park…but remember that BAKERY there!?”

This is often the way I remember people in the professional realm as well, because I was never really good at understanding profit margins, how a company actually makes money, or really anything else in the corporate world. Aside from turning jumbled paragraphs of writing into coherent thoughts and writing, deciding which pictures looked nice, and telling people “No” when they asked for ridiculous things, I didn’t have a whole lot to offer. But I was adroit at attaching people to specific food memories. “Oh, I remember them, they took us to that amazing restaurant, remember?” “Oh yeah, that guy, I remember him, he doesn’t eat bread….WHO DOESN’T EAT BREAD…GIVE ME A BREAK!”

A sushi product we sold at this company involved a close partnership with a sushi rice manufacturer in California, outside of LA. I had to work closely with a guy there named Hajime, or (“Jimmy” in the United States), he was always helpful and accommodating, and just recently sent me a request to connect on LinkedIn. I suppose what I should’ve remembered was how he got things to us for a certain cost, increased productivity, profit margins, yada, yada (I don’t actually know if he did, because I don’t really know how that works) but naturally, that’s not what I remembered.

As soon as I saw his name pop up, my brain immediately screamed, “CUPCAKES!” Because when Hajime came to visit our office once, he brought gourmet cupcakes from a bakery in the Atlanta airport. And that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge, “He was really nice and helpful, and he brought delicious cupcakes.” And honestly, what could be more memorable than that?

Hands Off!

Sexual harassment happens to women in the workplace with such regularity it’s frightening. It’s common, inappropriate, and alarming that it’s so often overlooked and accepted. When I worked at a family owned restaurant, owned by creepy brothers, I was regularly subjected to comments about my body, outfits, and given unwanted shoulder “massages” on occasion. Every time I walked into the kitchen to retrieve a take-out order, (I was a hostess), the cooks liked to tell each other what they’d do to me if they had the chance. One time the owner of the restaurant came up behind me, rubbed my shoulders, and told me “you should wear your hair down, it’s pretty and looks better like that.”  Strange, I thought, since this is a restaurant, so you’d think wearing my hair up would be more sanitary and keep it away from the food, you creepy bastard. I remember smiling and saying, “It’s easier for me to keep it like this, thanks.” By the way, I was in high school and 17 years old at the time.

At one job I had, where our office was comprised mostly of women, we hired a male, and another male, someone in a position of power, rode in an elevator with me and said, “It will be nice to have a little male influence in the office, won’t it, now?”, winked, and then grazed what I thought was maybe the small of my back, but really was more like my ass. I remember thinking, “He must have just meant to touch my back, but maybe his hand slipped…right!?” Because surely he doesn’t think that’s okay…RIGHT!? We were in an elevator though, so nobody saw anything. Well played, dude.

At another job a wildly inappropriate comment was made about my body, and I guess me being in another office RIGHT NEXT to where it was said made it okay, and I mean, nobody actually touched me that time, so….”YOU KNOW I CAN FUCKING HEAR YOU RIGHT?” It almost always happens by men who are in powerful positions, to women who are not, but all the recent news from Hollywood shows no woman is off-limits.

This happens to women EVERY.DAY. These are minor examples of a culture where this is normal, acceptable, more common than not; it’s actually surprising to be in an environment where this doesn’t happen. The Harvey Weinstein allegations are terrifying. Kudos to those brave women who spoke out to share their stories.

NO. This is not okay. It’s NOT okay that this has become an accepted cultural norm. Don’t use your position of power to play grab-ass. Don’t prey on who you feel is the inferior sex. Women are bad-ass, they push humans out of their OWN BODIES. We’re brave. We’re tough. And we’ll call you out on that bullshit.  Do yourself a favor- men who might think this is acceptable- watch this PSA and keep your fucking hands (and your dirty thoughts) to yourselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeWpX-ypSls

 

Scoop Up This…

Delta might be my least favorite airline. My experiences flying with Delta include them losing my luggage in frigid North Dakota, sitting on the runway for several hours in Minneapolis on a hot day with no A/C or water for anyone- including young children- sitting on the runway for several hours while they figured out how to de-ice the plane, (to their credit, not entirely their fault), and a series of other incidents that often stranded me in the Atlanta airport for most of the day, taking deep breaths and trying not to push anyone.

They have a stronghold in the South though, and most likely some strong ties to both Coca-Cola and Jesus, as most conglomerates in the South do. I traveled a lot for work when I lived there, and discovered a small, regional airport in Brunswick, GA that became one of my favorite places. The airport has one runway in use, gate attendants greet you by name, parking was free…(that’s right…FREE, I once left my car there for almost two weeks and it cost $0 dollars), you could show up about 40 minutes before your flight, and on your return trip, be in your car and on your way 20 minutes after landing.  The only drawback was, of course, Delta being the only airline that operated there. So, for the convenience and ease of using that airport when someone inevitably decided at the last minute to send me somewhere amazing, like Michigan in the middle of February or Nebraska, I gave Delta the benefit of the doubt. Eventually I got a Delta Sky Miles reward credit card because I traveled often, and I did end up accruing some decent airline credit and earned a few free trips.

Of course, this did come with some headaches, like at least a 50% chance that Delta would majorly screw up and ruin most of the trip. A few trips I came near cancelling, as they were short, and after 7-8 hour delays, I realized I’d be cutting it close, and it might not be worth it. I learned to plan around the “fuck up factor,” and most times made it where I needed to be…eventually. I’m not sure if it’s airlines in general, or Delta’s Southern roots, but while they were usually polite, nobody ever seemed OVERLY concerned that kids were screaming and hungry, people had been waiting for 8 hours, or that you now didn’t have any clothes to wear. Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, they’d throw $50 at the problem and hope it would go away. What with the Coca-Cola and Jesus ties and all, I’m sure they don’t have much to worry about.

If you don’t live near a Delta hub or fly them frequently, the Sky Miles card really makes no sense and provides limited benefits, which makes sense, really. I held on to my credit card for some foolish reason, thinking somehow if I used it surely I’d earn some miles and get back that part of my life that Delta owes me.  But, no matter the balance, if you’re not flying Delta regularly, at any given time, you’ll have about $50 in airline credit. Whether you charge a tomato or buy a new car, the reward stays about the same.

Today Delta sent me an email urging me to “Scoop up this,” and offering me a free ice cream. I laughed out loud, “Scoop up THIS, Delta,” I said to myself. I texted my friend Robert, who flies them frequently, “Look, Delta’s giving away FREE ICE CREAM!” Like most people, he said, “I mean, I like ice cream!” “F that, I want two months of my life back and a trip to Tahiti, DELTA,” I exclaimed. “I see your point,” Robert said.

“Delta sucks,” I replied. “Also, what flavor should I get?”

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