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The Blender Story…

In its prime, the blender story became a favorite among friends. My ex, I’ll call Chris, and his friend “Ally” worked together at a bar in college, and became reacquainted in the area we lived where she was living and working nearby as a high school teacher. Since he was living separately, in a very remote location, and pretty unavailable in every sense of the word, and Ally didn’t know many people around, I started hanging out with her and introducing her to some of my friends and co-workers. She was free-spirited and creative, and we had some things in common, so I enjoyed her company. During the summer, when she was off work, she and Chris often hung out together on Mondays when I was working. As far as I could tell, this seemed to mostly involve them getting high and drinking margaritas at the pool at her apartment complex. Obviously you need a blender for that, so they borrowed mine. And obviously I didn’t have much to say about anything that went on, as I was regularly viewed as unstable, crazy, and volatile for any emotion above flatline, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.

At some point, my apartment and deck became a temporary home for many of Ally’s plants when she was moving from one apartment to another and going out of town in between. I wasn’t sure exactly how this happened, but as is often the case with someone programmed to function on his own terms in life, I was just along for the ride, and did a lot of nodding and saying, “Sure.” This of course meant I’d be taking care of them, since Chris didn’t live there and was more of an observer of my life than a participant, but I didn’t mind since I’d spent several years “training” him how to live on mutual terms with someone, and things like this were his version of doing so, since they involved me in some way.

Since our breakup happened rather abruptly, and without much closure, I still had some of Ally’s larger potted plants at my house on the deck, and she still had my blender from a Monday margarita session. I knew keeping in touch could get awkward, as we met up a couple of times after and I was pretty forthright with my opinions; this tends to make people in the area where we lived very uncomfortable.

As I was grieving, upset, and pretty traumatized about what was happening, I was just looking to connect with anyone who would listen. And as Ally was still in touch with Chris and they were smoking joints together, at some point she stopped communicating with me. This wasn’t unreasonable, and I sometimes wondered if they were sleeping together, this wouldn’t have surprised me based on some of his past behavior and now looking back on what came next, but really I just wanted to make a smoothie. I’d asked for my blender back at some point, and one day returned from work to find it sitting on my deck. It was missing the lid, and there had been no communication, no text, nothing from Ally. I was incredibly pissed about the lack of accountability, my MO for most of those years of my life. “It’s fine if you don’t want to keep in touch with me,” I thought, but perhaps you could say something along the lines of “Dropped off your blender,” and THEN ignore me for the rest of your life or pretend to be busy forever. And “WHERE THE FUCK IS THE LID, THIS BLENDER IS USELESS TO ME NOW!?” But I took a deep breath, and called my friend.

The most amusing part of the blender story is this: After sitting on my deck and taking some deep breaths, I heard an incredibly loud noise, the “noise” was Ally driving by my apartment, which was located on a rather main road, in her SUV that clearly needed a new muffler. I’m not sure if she noticed me sitting on my deck staring at her, but when I looked over at her car, hanging out of the window on the passenger’s side was the large plant that had still been in my care on my deck, the plant that she had taken when she dropped off my blender, mostly likely minutes before. Chris would have really enjoyed that story, were the surrounding circumstances different, and in that moment I almost wished he was there, watching Ally noisily clank by, with a giant plant sticking out her car window.

So much for “Operation Covert Blender Drop,” Ally. Nice try…Since she didn’t know the area that well, I’m not sure she realized there were alternate routes available that would have bypassed my apartment, but I’m glad she didn’t because this has become one of my favorite stories.

I never did see or speak to her again, and resisted the urge to contact her in any way, something I wasn’t always good about with Chris when I was feeling angry and grieving.

I realized I could let things like this poison me or drag me down and stay angry, and I did that for a long time and found it exhausting, so I decided to write funny stories about them instead.

“GOT IT!”

My ex-boyfriend was really into rules, giving detailed, proper instructions, and had several “systems” in place for living his life. Things were great when I could fit into his system, and when that proved challenging, he almost immediately found someone else who could. While we probably were never a great fit,  I sense he was definitely somewhere on the spectrum, and while not an impossible situation, it certainly proved challenging for both of us.

Things were often explained to me in excruciating detail, instructions delivered like a drill sergeant, and I was more often than not the audience for long-winded, one sided conversations about various topics such as a Abraham Lincoln biography he was reading, the importance of watering basil close to the root, the venomous snake population in the area, or how the lever and fulcrum operate. The lever and fulcrum lecture came prior to going to the park to throw a softball, as I was instructed to throw using the same mechanics, and asked if I understood why that was important. I usually resisted the urge to say, “NO, and I don’t fucking care,” because I loved him and found him smart and interesting and believe he was mostly oblivious to the fact that many times I tuned him out after about 30 seconds, I have no doubt he did the same when I dared approach the topic of anything emotional or serious. Naturally, as he wasn’t usually able to understand my point of view, my exasperation and annoyance with the instruction giving and being lectured to as if I was a disobedient child was perceived as me being “sensitive,” “over-emotional,” or “crazy.”

I’d foolishly try to explain, “See, no, I’m not really crazy for being upset, it’s just that nobody has ever shouted vegetable chopping instructions to me while I was cooking…”

“I mean, I’m trying not to be upset, it’s just that nobody has ever scolded me with “Sometimes, I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU INSTRUCTIONS, IT DOESN’T MEAN I’M BEING A DICK, IT JUST MEANS I’M TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO!” This actually happened once and I resisted the urge to laugh out loud.

Perhaps my favorite story about following the rules happened on a Sunday when we went to the beach. We were going to enjoy the day and go throw a flying ring (like a Frisbee). As we left my apartment, it began…”Now, it’s very important, if you miss it, and it lands in the water, it’s going to sink, so you really have to pay attention to see where it went to retrieve it.” “Right, of course,” I thought. I understood the implications of not littering the ocean with plastic and not losing your belongings, but it was a $9 piece of plastic and I thought perhaps we could just GO FUCKING THROW IT AND HAVE FUN. Exasperated, but knowing full well he wouldn’t understand why, I said, “Okay.”

So we went, we tossed, and then inevitably, I missed, sending the disc flying into the unsafe waters. It’s important to note here I was wearing water shoes, but not beach clothes; I had on regular capri pants and a T-shirt. When the disc went plunging into the ocean, I did as I was instructed, and by that, I mean, I dove in wearing my clothes, got soaked, jumped down, retrieved it, and waved it over my head, yelling out triumphantly, “GOT IT!” I, of course, was being facetious. I thought for sure he’d understand the absurdity of diving into the ocean fully clothed to retrieve it. Instead, he looked at me, nodded, and said, “Good job,” as if I was a dog that had just retrieved a ball. I told my therapist this story at one point and she laughed out loud. “Oh, there’s more where that came from,” I told her.

I hesitated for a long time to start writing about this and my experience, we have several mutual friends, and for a long time I was bitter, angry about the way things ended, and resentful, and I knew I couldn’t start then. I didn’t want it to be retaliatory, or mean, or hurtful, and so I waited. I waited until I knew that this experience taught me what I needed to know, waited until I could forgive, and waited until the pain no longer felt like it would suffocate me. And in the years when it did, I found connecting with people, sharing similar experiences and being brave enough to tell many of my difficult life stories cathartic, like a weight being lifted. I no longer felt the need to conceal, or hide behind circumstances that weren’t my choosing. I realized what a gift it has been to find the courage and strength to keep going among some painful and incredibly challenging experiences, the gift of always being able to find the humor among the pain, and the gift of being brave enough to talk about it. Stories connect us, allow us to share experiences; they have the power to teach, persuade, and allow for insight and understanding. And so, at a time in my life when I needed connectivity and clarity, I started writing…

 

It’s kind of a crazy story…

I talk often about how surprised I was how common gun ownership was in the South, how I once borrowed my friend Tara’s car, which unbeknownst to me, yielded a loaded pistol under the passenger seat, or how more than one friend there told me, “Oh yeah, every time I go to Savannah, I carry.”

“No shit,” I’d say. It seemed, and still does seem, foreign to me, but in no way did I want to hop on the gun ownership wagon, though I lived alone and was encouraged to. It did start to become clear, however, that in a home invasion situation or something similar, I’d be at a disadvantage. Many Southern stories begin with, “It’s kind of a crazy story…” I learned that what followed would most likely involve a gun, an opossum or raccoon, someone’s pickup truck, and someone’s weird relative or ex-husband (who was definitely carrying a gun).

Yesterday my cat Scrappy died rather unexpectedly. I’d adopted him from a friend in the South, and it was clear the beginning of his life hadn’t been very easy, he hid under my bed the majority of the time the first few months, meowed from the hours of 4-6 am, hated most men, and figured out how to open my kitchen cabinets with his paws to hide under them.

“What a pain in the ass,” I thought initially, but life has blessed me with a great deal of patience and tolerance, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and eventually we became best of friends.

Yesterday, after I put him to sleep, I contacted my friend Stephanie, who I’d adopted him from. “Scrappy lived a good life with you,” she said. “The first half of his life involved living on the streets of Brunswick Georgia, and getting shot…”

“Hold up, Scrappy got shot!?, I asked. “I never knew that.”

And in typical Southern fashion, she answered, “Yes, by my ex-husband.” Naturally, I thought.

I had so many questions, as usual. “How the fuck does a cat get shot?” and “What?”, “Are you kidding me?,” and “WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES PRECEDE YOUR EX-HUSBAND SHOOTING YOUR CAT?”  

“Well, I’ll tell you sometime,” she answered, “it’s kind of a crazy story…”

 

Mama

I took time off after my first year and a half of college; at the time I told people it was because I was at an expensive school and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to major in and left out the part where I answered the phone at my house one day and was told from a loan officer that my mother owed a significant chunk of money to my school. Given my parents track record, I realized this was something I’d have to figure out on my own as well. I also rarely mentioned that when I went home, it was usually to make sure my sister and her underage friends didn’t get arrested when they drank at the house and huffed ether while my mother disappeared for a few days. This, along with financing my education, didn’t seem like my responsibility, but it was, unfortunately, the role I’d assumed.

I never invited anyone into my house, friends, dates, I’d get dropped off and say things like, “Looks like everyone’s sleeping,” instead of “I can only imagine what kind of crazy shit is going on in there and usually I like to spend four days cleaning before anyone comes over and I haven’t had time to do that this week because I work two jobs and now have to figure out how to pay for college…” “Everyone’s sleeping” was much easier and kept things where I wanted them…hidden. I left college, moved home, worked, tried to keep the ship afloat until one day, after dealing with some more crazy antics, I decided, “No, I won’t do this anymore, this won’t be my life.” I was working full time at the time, and moved in with a friend for awhile until I’d saved up enough for an apartment. “I’m leaving, I can’t live like this,” I told my mother. “Well, where are you going to go? Can you afford it? I wish you wouldn’t,” she said. “I don’t know, but it won’t be here,” I said.

My mother’s illness made her wildly inconsistent, unreliable, and unable to meet my most basic needs. She rarely was available when I needed her, and I very often fulfilled the role of caretaker for both of my parents. I started taking classes again years later while working full time, I’d work close to 50 hours a week, drive an hour each way two nights a week, sit in class for 3 hours, then drive home. I’d register for as many online courses as I could, and finally decided to quit my job and go to school full time for one year to finish. Both my parents told me they’d help me during that year, and true to form, they both failed to fulfill that promise. But like always, I found my way. I became resourceful, sought help from friends and other family members, and refused to believe I’d have to become a product of the environment I was given.

Since I’ve moved back to the area and live in proximity to my mother, she’s offered help and support, and by that, I mean our relationship consists of text messages that tell me to come over for dinner. This is what she’s able to offer, and so I graciously accept. “There’s meatballs here, Love Mom.” “Veggie lasagna, I hope you had a good day, Love Mom.” “We have turkey chilli, come over if you can, Love Mom.” We connect in no other real way, don’t do things or spend time together, but I know she’s giving what she can. I have a student loan that’s almost paid off, the loan is nearly paid off because my mother promised to pay it off, didn’t follow through, and so I insisted on putting it in my name, and I’ve paid it off myself over several years. Every once in awhile, sometimes during a manic episode, my mother will put a chunk of money toward it, then remind me she’s helping me pay it off. “I put $500 on your loan.” The old me would’ve probably said something cruel, like, “That’s great, Mom, but you totally screwed it up, so I did it myself.” But instead, now I say, “That’s great, thanks.” And when she says, “I know you like beets, here, take some of these home with you,” I don’t say, “I don’t need beets, I need you to be my fucking mother,” because we both know it’s too late for that. I say, “Thanks Mom, these beets are delicious.” I know she knows I’ll probably move away again, that self-preservation will persevere, and I’ll need to do what I haven’t done enough of, take care of myself. But while I’m close by, I accept and appreciate what she gives.

I joked with my therapist a few weeks back, “Guess what, my mom’s going to pay off my student loan!” We both smirked, “Did you thank her?” she asked. I smiled, “I did,” I said, and we both laughed. I showed her a text message, “Look, she made beets!” “Did you thank her?” “Of course,” I said. I helped my mom with an Amazon order last week, I looked at the book she was ordering, and it was about overcoming poor parenting and moving forward. I didn’t say anything, neither did she, but there was an unspoken understanding that said, both “I’m sorry,” and “I know.”

There’s such a huge stigma around mental illness, but my mother’s has taught me resilience. Her limitations encouraged me to be courageous, and dealing with her illness taught me grace, kindness, patience, and compassion. Because of her, I am strong, brave, and have taught myself the greatest lesson of all, that I may not have anyone to rely on, but I can rely on me. While solving a problem for someone at work last week, I examined every angle and wouldn’t give up until she was satisfied. “Thank you so much, she said, I really appreciate your persistence.” I smiled, because I do too. And I have my mama to thank for that.

 

“We liked you, but…”

For about a year since I’ve moved back to Massachusetts, I’ve been job searching. I do some freelance work, but it’s a tricky way to make a living solely for me right now. I figured there’d be much more opportunity here, I have a good amount of experience and I know people, so really how hard could it be? You know what there’s also more of here? PEOPLE. They’re everywhere, and armed with 3 undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees, and White House internships and field work in Africa. I have enough professional experience to know the drill, networking, it’s about who you know, making connections and so on. So I’ve done that, scheduled informational interviews, shown up places, but after telling people how great you are for almost year without any return, it starts to feel incredibly defeating. I’ve had people say things like “Oh, once it took me two years to find a job when I was out of work,” and “Don’t worry, it will happen.” TWO YEARS!? Good grief, that seems like a lot of effort for somewhere you may or may not like spending one-third of your life. So I do a lot of nodding and smiling. Nod. Smile. Say “Thank You.” Repeat. Nod. Smile Say “Thank You” out loud but on the inside “Please shut up, please stop saying that.” Repeat.

And everyone wants to be helpful and supportive, and offers all kinds of suggestions, such as, “Well, have you thought of doing something completely different?”

No, not really, I’m good at what I do and I like it and I have a good amount of experience.

“Do you think maybe you’re being too picky?”

No, not really, I’ve had jobs that weren’t the right fit and I sat in my car on the verge of tears in the parking lot before walking in, so, that’s a miserable way to live and I refuse to do that.

“Maybe you should try welding or a trade or something.” “Have you thought about going back to school?”

NO, NOT REALLY, I PUT MYSELF THROUGH SCHOOL ONCE ALREADY SO IT HASN’T OCCURRED TO ME TO DO IT AGAIN WHILE I DON’T HAVE A JOB. But “Thank You.” Nod. Smile. Repeat.

One of my favorite questions recently was, “Why do you think it’s taking so long to find a job?” Hmmm, that’s a tricky one, but I’ll take a stab at it. “I think it’s because I keep applying for jobs…and then not getting them.”

I’ve been told several times “We really liked you,” “We were really impressed by your experience” and was also told “Don’t feel special, we make everyone who interviews here, even for just freelance positions, do that writing exercise. We’re pretty picky.” Well, well, well, EXCUSE ME….

I was interviewed recently by a 25 year old and wondered if her master’s degree taught her what to do when people yelled at her, pointed a finger in her face or asked her to do a ridiculous project- say- perhaps- don a sushi outfit and fly all over the country. Maybe… though it’s unlikely.

I find the whole “You need to prove yourself” in interviewing so exhausting. “How would you handle such and such?” What if something difficult happened?” Lately, I’m tempted to say, “Listen, I don’t want to brag, but I raised myself, made sure there was food in the refrigerator, put myself through school, and a bunch of other stuff on my own, so I’d probably be a good employee. I don’t ever give up and function well under pressure, but by all means, please make me take this bullshit personality profile test and do a trust fall and write an essay about why I want to work here.” You know why, “BECAUSE I NEED A FUCKING JOB!”

But until then, I’ll nod. And smile. Say “Thank you.” And repeat.

Sushi Doria…Are you Ready to Roll?

Rolling sushi for a living was never really something I aspired to, but for most of the years 2012-2014, that’s exactly how I spent a significant portion of my time. I’d moved to Glynn County, Georgia, a picturesque and quiet place, but also in the middle of nowhere with limited job opportunities. One of the advantages of not having many people you can count on in life for me has been the ability to approach situations with a “Eh, screw it, what’s the worst that could happen?” attitude. I needed a job, so I accepted a marketing position with a large seafood company, a subsidiary of Gorton’s Seafood based in Massachusetts, and since I was living in a small town in the South with a limited amount of support in my life, this affiliation to my home state was somewhat reassuring.

The company was preparing to launch a new product, “Sushi Bob,” and as I learned, a company-wide product launch is a big deal and requires a lot of hands on deck. “Sushi Bob,” partially developed by one of our sales people, was a new and innovative idea. They’d partnered with a sushi rice manufacturer and developed sushi “kits,” pre-portioned kits of sushi rice combined with different proteins (our company’s seafood) to create an easy and fun “Roll Your Own Sushi” experience. Since many of our customers were large colleges and universities and other business and industry customers, the idea was to create a fun and interactive sushi rolling station involving a banner, sushi rolling supplies, and someone in a sushi outfit yielding a very sharp knife.

I was told about the product launch and the Sushi Bob concept during my lengthy interview process, which involved meeting with several people, some more than once, a detailed personality profile test, and a complicated math test equivalent to the SATs which I no doubt would have failed without the help of google. (Yes, I’m outing myself). I assumed I’d be helping with sales support, marketing projects, writing press releases, and other marketing/public relations duties. I was correct…but there was a plot twist. “We want you to be the go-to person for all things Sushi Bob related, you’ll have to learn the product inside and out, become the expert in it, be the gatekeeper for all marketing supplies and sales support, oh, and also, fly all over the country and teach people how to roll sushi, PS-We’re going to call you Sushi Doria.” I wasn’t prepared for this, but it’s not the only curve ball life has thrown me, so I did what people all over the place do in the corporate world and adult life in general and replaced the question “Are you fucking kidding me?” with “Sounds great.”

My boss and I were a two person marketing team, we worked in conjunction with a marketing agency, but still, there were only two of us, and a crew of needy sales people all over the country, and now I had the added responsibility of taking my one-woman sushi show on the road. The sales people were a demanding bunch, I got used to it and worked well with them by the end of my sushi stint, but there was an initial “hazing” period I’d say, where they wanted to make sure I was tough enough and could handle some pressure, but unbeknownst to them, my life had already prepared me for that, so it was unnecessary. After a few conversations where I used euphemisms for “I’m efficient and will help you get what you need, but not if you act like an asshole,” things improved. I’d harass them about their non-New England sports teams and drink beers with them on the road and what’s better than that for forming a bond? They were a competitive group and one day I witnessed this conversation between three of them that took place in front of my desk:

Co-worker 1: “After a tough mudder, my wife wouldn’t let me get in the car because my shoes smelled so bad.”

Co-worker 2: “My shoes once smelled up our closet so much I wasn’t allowed to keep ANYTHING in there for awhile”

Co-worker 3: “I was on a plane once after running a race”…..

You get the jist. “I made a car smelly. “I made a WHOLE CLOSET smelly.” “I MADE A PLANE SMELLY.”

I bit my lip to keep me both from laughing out loud and from asking, “Hey, do you guys realize you’re having a competition about WHOSE SHOES FUCKING SMELL THE WORST? Also, you know at the end of the day, we’re selling frozen fish, right?” But they were a spirited bunch, I’ll give them that.

My Sushi Doria adventures took me to Fargo, North Dakota in the middle of December. On that particular trip, after a long delay and several planes, (I don’t remember exactly how many planes it takes to get to Fargo, but it was definitely more than one) Delta lost all my luggage, including my Sushi outfit and supplies. They were, however, kind enough to provide me with an “I’m sorry,” kit, which is a toothbrush and a T-shirt that hit around my navel, helpful in December in North Dakota. Thankfully they dropped my luggage off at about 5am, so I could assume my rolling responsibilities accordingly.

I once stayed at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska on a trip to the University of Nebraska where I have no doubt people were making meth in the parking lot and where I had to meet some of our sales brokers at a Cracker Barrel in Lincoln, Nebraska before a demonstration. Because nothing says “I’ve made some good decisions in life” more than meeting strangers at a Cracker Barrel in Nebraska.

But the most memorable Sushi adventure occurred outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a last minute trip, a Food Service company with several locations in Tennessee was interested in bringing in Sushi Bob and wanted representatives to meet at a central location. I scrambled to make travel arrangements, coordinate with a sales broker, send supplies, etc. Since it was a short, one night trip, I didn’t rent a car and instead took a car service from the airport in Chattanooga. I had the address, which I’d assumed was a regular hotel, but as we approached the location the driver asked, “Um, are you meeting someone you know here, because just to let you know, this is a trucker motel, so if you know who you’re meeting, I’d be happy to wait here until they arrive.” “Sounds great,” I said. Since the trip was last minute, there was some confusion about whether or not the sales broker was going to meet me there, the sales guy for the region assumed she would, and he also had no idea the scheduled location was a trucker motel in the middle of nowhere. I gingerly stepped into a trucker motel, with some burley looking men in the lobby, full of surveillance cameras and met my group, five men I didn’t know. It’s possible most people would have run for the hills at that moment, but because I’m me I figured, “Eh, screw it, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Later that evening while I was at my hotel, Brad, the sales person from the region, called to check in on me. “How’d it go?” he asked. “Oh, pretty good- by the way- I was by myself, the broker wasn’t there, and the meeting was at a sketchy trucker motel in the middle of nowhere. There was a sign on the bathroom door that said something similar to “Enter at Your Own Risk,” but other than that, okay.” As someone who’s functioned in a lot of chaos, I typically handle most crazy and chaotic circumstances calmly, and he seemed surprised I wasn’t more worked up. He didn’t say “Sounds great,” but instead, “Are you fucking kidding me?” He has three daughters, is very protective, hadn’t realized I wouldn’t be accompanied by our sales broker OR that I would be at a trucker motel. He immediately hung up to go yell at someone and I went and bought myself a fancy dinner and a cocktail. Because I was safe and didn’t get murdered, the trucker motel experience became an ongoing joke. “Hey Doria, can we send you to this demo?” “Sounds great, it is at a trucker motel? Also, we have customers in Hawaii, Southern California, and all over the country, do you guys have anywhere not terrible where I can conduct this sushi business? And sometimes, they did. I spent time in Bradenton, Florida, Nashville, went to tradeshows and meetings in Colorado, Minneapolis, Toronto, and Baltimore, and racked up frequent flyer miles and some free trips back to Boston. Over a two and a half year period, I wrote every single company press release, helped manage major projects, worked closely with senior managers, sales people, learned about research and development, and gained the respect and trust of many. I did it on my own, in a place that wasn’t my home, with very little support from anyone. The company is somewhat small, in the South, and close-knit. My co-workers essentially became family, I spent a particularly difficult Thanksgiving with the actual “Sushi Bob,” who has one of the nicest families I’ve ever met, and I’m still in touch with several of them on a regular basis. I retired my sushi jacket, but Sushi Doria taught me the lesson I needed to know, that I’d always been “Ready to Roll,” I just needed to be believe it.

Sushi Doria is also available for parties! But only ones that involve just eating sushi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tara get your gun

I spent most of the summer of 2015 hanging out with my friend Tara on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Tara’s husband is in the military and she’d been unimpressed with the location of his assignment and her job in Texas, so she became a member of what she later coined the “runaway wives club,” and moved to St. Simons, where her in-laws live, for the last year of his assignment. She was working as a nurse in the maternity ward at the local hospital night shifts, this worked well for hanging out, as she had free time during the day, and I’d just lost my job unexpectedly, so I did too. St. Simons is a small, transient place, people come and go and it’s a good 75 miles from a city, so jobs are hard to come by. I’d finally found one that I liked and was pretty shocked to lose it about a month later, especially because it was clear the decision was based upon some small town, Southern good ol’ boys club politics. (Get rid of the weird single Yankee girl who’s opinionated, someone here doesn’t like her). While my boss was making up reasons to fire me and stumbling over words, I asked him, “Why don’t you just tell me who it is that doesn’t want me to work here and make this easier?” I already knew the answer, and told him I could see exactly what was happening, but directness in the South can make people uncomfortable, and it was clear my time in this small place was running out-I’m nice-but I’m not afraid to call bullshit when I see it. (FYI-this won’t make you very popular or employable in a small town in the South if you’re already an outsider to the area).

Tara and I met through a mutual friend, bonded over a dysfunctional upbringing and quest for creating much better circumstances than the ones we’d been given, it wasn’t a contest, but she was clearly doing a better job because I was living in a small town in the South where I’d moved for a relationship, had just lost my job, and my ex-boyfriend was sleeping with his new girlfriend, someone I knew who was connected to all the friends I’d made there, basically across the street from my apartment-in the house I used to live in. We weren’t meant to be and there are reasons things don’t work out, but I don’t recommend any of these circumstances for optimal mental health. I’d spend days walking the beach, wondering if I should move back to Massachusetts, a place I felt less connected to and where I’d spent the majority of my life picking up other people’s messes, or keep fighting in a place that had become my version of a living nightmare, where I’d put in an enormous amount of dedication, sacrifice, and commitment in several areas of my life and kept coming up short.

Thankfully, in swooped Tara- fun, energetic, creative and talented, I could tell she’d be a loyal and genuine friend after our first conversation. We’re both a little quirky and different, and don’t quite fit “the mold,” but both prefer it that way. We’d kayak, go to the beach, walk her dog, go running (mostly she’d go running and I’ll lag behind her), then eat pizza. We ate a lot of pizza, and ice cream. And I love cooking and feeding people, so we did a lot of eating in general, we’re both really good at it. Mutual friends joked I’d become her fill-in husband, and they weren’t that far off. Since she’d quickly turned into the “I’ll give you the shirt off my back” type of friend, when my car needed work done, she let me borrow hers while she went out of town to a wedding. I drove her to the airport and when she’d landed in Nashville received this text, “Oh, by the way, I totally forgot, there’s a loaded pistol under the passengers seat of my car, probably not a good idea to drive through the airport with that, can’t believe I forgot to take it out, can you just drop it off at my house at some point?”

Owning guns isn’t really a Southern stereotype. It’s a thing. Almost everyone has one. I’ve gotten over anxiety about a lot of things, but guns and aggressive breeds of dogs off leashes terrify me, both are commonplace in the South. I’m clumsy, sometimes distracted, and envisioned some terrible accident involving tripping and accidentally shooting her dog and becoming the subject of my very own sad country song, (I think almost all country songs involve a gun, a dog, lost love, or someone dying). Our mutual friend, Robert, was at the wedding with Tara too, and knowing how terrified I was to have any association with a loaded gun, started sending me messages, “Oh, I heard you’re packing heat, hahaha.” “STOP,” I replied. I’m not qualified to deal with this situation.”  I’d already had near run-ins with both a rattlesnake and an alligator in the South, that was enough.

Thankfully my downstairs neighbor and former co-worker, LB, who’d become a great friend and looked out for me, was around to help diffuse the situation and my anxiety. We were playing on a softball league a few nights a week and carpooled together sometimes.  When he asked if I needed a ride later that afternoon to our game that night, I replied: “Sure, but can we leave a little bit early and drop off Tara’s gun at her house? I think I need you to handle it.” This didn’t phase him, so he did. I gingerly handed it over to him like a hot potato and we drove to her house and I showed him where to put it, but made him carry it. I was free!

 I know my last year in Georgia served a purpose, to remind me of my strength and courage and resourcefulness, and of all the times I needed support and couldn’t get it from my family so I found it own my own. The lesson wasn’t easy and seemed too painful to bear some days, but it came with the friendship of many kind souls, and a friendship I’m convinced saved me when the pieces of my life were crumbling around me. Watch out, y’all. She’s got my back. And a pistol.