The Pasts of Women and End Tables

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’ve yet again failed at shopping for end tables. One wouldn’t think that this most “first world” of problems would lead to anything more than going to some other store to look. One would also have to be pretty new here, as finding a blog in the banal is kind of how I roll.

“I can’t just go to a store-store and buy a thing that’s for sale just because it doesn’t offend me. I want what I want, or I don’t want to pay for it and the idea of just walking into a place that sells furniture and slapping down a credit card just seems so…consumerist.”

Jen is on the receiving end of this phone call and I’ve already warned her that I’m probably having a serious low blood sugar moment.

The ultimate answer, as it so often is, is to go to an antique store. To buy something that wasn’t constructed in China and isn’t made of particle board. Something from back when “cherry” meant solid cherry and not cherry veneer glued to pine. Something with a past and a story. The answer today is to go home and clean something, craft something or paint something. But, for the love of God, to not spend Saturday sitting in Rivergate Mall traffic.

I return home to continue the project of going through everything I own to compile a closet worth of stuff to put in a yard sale. It’s part of phase 3: ditch the Ikea furniture you bought on Craigslist and deliberately, mindfully choose furniture that you like. On purpose. Like an adult. While it is true that no one really “needs” end tables in the way that they need food or water, I’m a nester, and I’m tired of nesting on hand me downs and things I bought because they were cheap and not because I loved them. Everything else in my house is there because I love it: the pictures, the cats, any other people who might be around…why does the couch get to be the one thing that gets to be here simply because it was really cheap and it didn’t fill me with contempt? It doesn’t make me feel like I’m home. It just makes me feel like “here’s this place to sit.”

(As a side note, “cheap and doesn’t fill me with contempt” is a phrase a redneck might include in the “what do you look for in a partner” section of a match.com profile.)

I so much prefer the cheetah print chaise someone gave me: it is fabulous and comfortable and when I sit on it, I think of the friend who gave it to me. I look at my nightstand and think of the little old man who sold it to me, telling me the story of where it had been since it was made almost 100 years ago. I look at the bed frame and think of the tiny songwriter and his tiny wife and how I liberated it from their guest room as the tiny songwriter told me stories he’d heard. Stories about the father of the guy I was dating at the time, who was also the reason I needed a bigger bed. Nashville is a small place and Craigslist makes strange bedfellows, no pun intended.

Part of the process of bringing in intentional furniture is clearing out unintentional things: art supplies left from a past life I don’t plan to revisit, quantities of hand-me-down dishes that I will never need, text books on things like ActionScript 2.0 (ancient!) and accessories I have outgrown. 35 year-old grown women needn’t own large, plastic jewelry in heart shapes and candy colors. I could deny this fact, but denial just makes me feel sort of sad and ridiculous, like a 60 year-old woman wearing sweatpants with “Juicy” written across the butt. You have to know when to walk away. If you’re lucky, you feel like you’re walking toward something better, despite its lack of bright plastic hair accessories and Catholic schoolgirl skirts.

Halfway through cleaning out my craft closet, I found the box containing my negatives and contact sheets from photography class. These negatives are snippets of a life whose residue I am slowly cleaning from my craft closet.

So many pictures of my life at 24. Mark and me in a Halloween store. Me sitting in my office at Vanderbilt. The horrible, scary shower in the apartment on Louise Ave. A younger, sprier Mr. Puss. A younger, less attractive version of myself with hair down to her butt and a penchant for wearing said hair in long pigtails. There are a couple of rolls that look like the world’s most depressing ad for the Cherokee nation, where I’m sitting in the foyer of my apartment building wearing a baggy t-shirt and shoes that should only be worn by an angry feminist from 1995: chunky Mary Jane creepers whose only redeeming quality is being shiny. I remember a blur of long days, 3rd shifts and feeling like I was living in someone else’s body. My recollection seems accurate: I am smiling in only 3 of the 50 or so pictures of myself, most of which skew toward “art school dramatic” a tad more often than they should.

Still, I am glad for these pictures. They are little time capsules of an era that was a blur. They make me wish I took more pictures now. They make me sad that no one will let you photograph them anymore because they’re afraid of what you’ll put on Facebook. They make me wish I owned an SLR camera and had someone forcing me to make time to use it. I must have done something right: my teacher tried to get me to switch my major, but I didn’t want to spend my life photographing weddings.

All of these pictures also make me wish I could send a letter back ten years to the girl in those pictures. The one glaring impatiently at the camera, wearing chunky feminazi shoes and Willie Nelson braids.

It will get better in every way that you hope it will. In five years, panic will leave you, almost as if by magic, but mostly because you stop caring in exactly the right way. In six years, you will close on your first house. In seven years, you will lose the weight that Paxil gave you. In 9 years, you will get a job that you love. In ten years, the boss at that job will tell you you’re kicking ass at that job and you will get a raise. You will try to go buy end tables and fail, only to realize that, if that is the biggest problem you have on a Saturday, you’re doing pretty well.

Through all of this, there will be times that are hard. You will keep putting one foot in front of the other and walking right through, emerging a little bit stronger than you were, having learned to anticipate the hard things and step over them like a ninja. Should you fail at this, there are plenty of people who will help you step until you find your balance.

24 year old self, I know it sucks right now.
Stay with me.
It gets so much better.

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The Cynic

In these post-breakup days, I have had a lot of time to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been working, going to school, seeing friends, working out, Christmas shopping, playing the piano, and…well, good lord. You get the picture. But one of the strange things about these days is the amount of time that I’ve had to just THINK. For whatever reason, I just hadn’t had much time to do it. Or I’d been spending all of my thinking time thinking about the wrong things. I’d been wondering where I was going to work when my contract ran out. Wondering if a certain horrible group project would turn out OK. Wondering what the flying hell happened to my relationship. All of those things can tend to take up a lot of time, and most of them don’t end up with answers. Now that my brain is no longer in survival mode, it can get back to “leisure thinking.” Things like “what if, like energy, there’s a certain amount of fat in the world? A morbidly obese person dies, and 60 girls gain ten pounds? They blame their birth control, but really it’s because the weight needed to be redistributed as the fat person rotted. Fat IS stored energy, right?”

Seriously. I pondered that through an entire grocery trip.

In survival mode, everything just stops while your brain just tries to get through the day. I had nothing to say and nothing to write because there simply hadn’t been a thought in my head that wasn’t about what I did that day. Even my internal dialog had become plot summary. As a side note, I hate plot summary. Conversation should not be like a third grader’s book report. I only want to know what you did so that we can then move on to how you felt about it, how you hope it turns out, or how it fits into your master plan. The big picture.

Anyway, with all this quiet around me during holiday drives, commutes, workouts, etc., I felt my brain open up. It had time to think. To wonder about things. To think of things it wanted to do. To slow down and try to figure things out. I started to give some thought to the nature of love. Like, maybe my relationship fell apart because I just wouldn’t know a man that loved me if he walked up and shook my hand. Maybe I was just THAT cynical.

But no.

I knew that one friend loved me because he listened to me bitch about my job ALL the damn time. There were long stories detailing such riveting topics as paper jams and mail merges, and he listened to every single word of every single one, without interrupting me, acting bored or changing the topic. If memory serves, he would even reach over and mute the tv or pause the DVR so we could talk. That man loved me.

What happened to him? If I wanted to blame him, I’d say that he found a girlfriend and forgot about me. If I told the truth, I’d say I wasn’t that great a friend to him (he supported me, and I’d be like “thanks” and then miss important things like his college graduation) and he finally found a girl who would accept his love properly. I still owe him an apology, and he’s going to get it if I ever manage to track him down.

I knew that another friend loved me because he talked me down from 100 different ledges after a particularly gross breakup. I’d get going on some rant, and he would just stop me with “Amy, this person threw you away. Like trash. Via TEXT. Why are you spending all this time even thinking about him? He should be wiped from the Earth, along with your memory of him.”

He helped me through that breakup and when his breakup came, I legitimately tried. I listened to his understated story of being tossed aside by a girl he thought he would marry. I thought he was fine, because he seemed so calm. I knew that he loved me because I got a chance to beg. To say goodbye. To tell him I loved him. When he killed himself anyway, it changed me forever and I forgot how to be terrified of everything. That man loved me.

I know dad was kind of contractually obligated, but still. There must have been countless times that he gave something up for mom, sis and me. Countless times that he didn’t get to do what he wanted to do because we were the bigger picture. Countless things he couldn’t have because he was squirreling money away. Money that became part of the down payment on my house. My car. My eyes. This is the man that made a goth girl do a mock interview because “I think you’re cheating yourself out of 20 grand a year with that nose ring.” The man who looked at a disheveled 10 year old and made her “have some self respect and iron that shirt.” The man who kept asking “no, really, what ARE your goals?” until I figured out an answer. He loved me enough to not let me get away with anything. He loved me enough to tell me that I could do better until I did better.

I’m still a terribly cynical person. I will check your actions eight ways to Sunday to make sure they’re true. I do this to protect myself.

But, by God, I know when I am loved.
And I never, ever forget it.

State of the Heart Address 2011

As is tradition in these parts, we’ve gathered here on what I generally refer to as “Lovey Dovey Bollocks Day” to discuss the last year or so of the life of my heart. It’s my way of wrapping things up in a lovely little bow, and a bit like a coach reviewing a game tape. “Let’s look at what went wrong and see how we can do better next time.”

Last year was a bit of a roller coaster. I went on what felt like 1,000 terrible first dates and had a few holes poked into me by a couple of guys who just weren’t that into me. One lost his head to my metaphorical katana.

I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity.
It sucked. Hard.

This would explain why, when a friend told me about a friend of his that I just had to meet, I responded with a giant tidal wave of cynicism.

“Ugh, dude, no. Just leave me alone for five seconds. I just…I’m tired.”

“But, dude. Just meet him.”

“Fine. I’ll meet your fucking friend. Whatever.”

That was four months ago.

Today, I’m still fumbling around in the fog, unable to see more than 50 feet in front of me. I can’t tell you of the future. I can only tell you what I have seen.

I have seen this man not freak and run on multiple occasions when others almost certainly would have. I have seen this man be both ultimately strong and ultimately soft. I have seen this man be unafraid of me. I have seen this man be self-aware, communicative and compassionate. I have seen this man face one of everybody’s biggest fears and emerge with sanity intact. I have seen this man understand, and respond to, every batshit crazy metaphor to come out of my mouth. I have seen this man patiently answer dumbass questions. I have seen this man easily mesh with my friends. I have seen this man behave like an adult. I have seen this man see right through me, stopping midway to notice the deeply hidden squishy bits. He showed up, behaved with integrity, and made me feel understood. He has the brains to keep up and the balls to wish to do so.

I’m scared as hell, I have no idea what I’m doing and I have no idea where I’m going, but I know this: I’m not running.

I cannot escape.
I don’t particularly want to.

Hijacked

It’s been pointed out to me by a couple of people that I’ve been “rather quiet” for the last couple of weeks. I had noticed this, but every time I thought about writing something I couldn’t really think of much to say. I usually write when something’s gnawing on my brain and I need to think through it. That “thinking through” process usually ends with at least something coherent coming out of my fingers. So, why the quiet?

The problem is that there IS no problem.

This is a wonderful problem to have, so I’m not too worried about it. Instead, I’m going to give myself over to the idea of doing the unthinkable: being happy all up in your face. I’m going to start this terribly obnoxious process with a little plot summary.

It seems as though everybody is finally starting to get their shit back to where it was before everything exploded last summer. I am no longer being kept awake by thoughts of impending unemployment, I have all the freelance work I can handle and more work keeps trying to arrive at my door. I haven’t had to ask my mother for money since the ceiling of my office caved in.

Also, I’m about to call Humana to tell them that I’ve been sane (aka “off my drugs”) for a year and demand that they remove the rider from my policy, lest I give Blue Cross a call. If all goes well, this should lower the rate of my insanely expensive individual healthcare policy by 20%. I should also point out my glee that I’ve been off those drugs for a year and am currently doing better than I ever did while I was on them. In fact, in a few weeks, I’m going to get on a plane (!) and travel (!) to Los Angeles for work.

I’m not even all that nervous about it, as the sense of adventure is currently far outweighing the anxiety. It’s like being released from jail; I’ve just been running around doing things and feeling like it’s the first time I’ve done them. Eating a hamburger for the first time in 16 years is a lot like experiencing a hamburger for the first time. It’s like being little kid, trying things for the first time, except I actually remember the things.

My roof has yet to leak, my cat is in perfect health, my friends kick ass, I’ve met a nice boy, all of my computer components work, my car starts when I turn the key, my internet almost never kicks out and I’m consistently at my target weight.

If you’re finding all of this terribly obnoxious, don’t worry. I’ll be back to my old, bitching-about-everything self soon enough. In fact, I just thought of a story I forgot to tell you about my trip to Belle Meade traffic court…

…Really IS Fear Itself.

Remember back in July, when I said that thing about the unnamed feeling of dread? The thing slowly breaking us apart, leading us into sleeplessness and frown lines? As we find ourselves looking down the barrel of October, I started to wonder how all that turned out.

What was The Horrible Thing? No one died. No one went insane. It was like we were all tumbling toward the floor only to twist, cat-like, at the last minute and land on our feet. Things that were cutting us up were simply detached and lost the power to hurt us. You can stand there and cover each other in Band-Aids, or you can grab the offender’s wrist and take away his knife.

Have our lives become perfect? Well, no. When you find someone with a perfect life, send that person to me so I can punch them in the face and yell, “life’s not so great NOW, is it?!” However, life seems to have pulled itself out of the endless death spiral for a while. I wasn’t sure how much more of that any of us could take while still having the ability to ever smile again. This isn’t to discount those of you who are still having The Drama. I see you. Even if it’s not my place or ability to help, I see you.

It’s just that the feeling of dread has lifted. The Drama Tsunami (feel free to use any of these phrases as band names) has passed and we’ve begun clean up efforts. We’re all looking around at each other, knowing that we’re going to be fine and that what didn’t kill us really did make us stronger. So, congratulations, friends. Congrats on your new jobs, your new special friends, your new houses, your new cars and the new wisdom you all gained getting to those things.

I think we all made it out of summer 2010 alive.

Weekend of 1,000 Christmases (part one: sharks with lazers)

I type to you from the usual place: a 6-foot office table in the back room of my house. I am looking at the usual thing: a 6-foot collage of musicians that’s waiting to have Beethoven painted on part of it. I am doing so without glasses on my face or contacts in my eyes.

No, I didn’t win the contest. I am referring to my mom as my “benefactor” on this because it makes me feel like Pip from Great Expectations. Well, it’s really mom and dad. Dad squirreled away the money; after he died, mom decided how to spend (part of) it. Thankfully, part of that includes shooting lasers at my head.

FRIDAY:
Mom and I awake at the crack of ass (roughly 7ish) to drive to Loden Vision’s Rivergate office. I’m ushered back to a dimly-lit suite where a Cars DVD is playing and a guy hands me a surgery hairnet and slips those funky surgical booties on my feet. They also taped two big pieces of gauze to either side of my face (“sideburns,” to catch any eye drop drippage), put numbing drops in my eyes and gave me a strong Tylenol and a valium. Shortly thereafter, the doc came in, sat me down and used some kind of pen to mark my corneas (sounds gross, but you can’t feel it). I sit down a while longer and then some lady asks me if I’m allergic to betadine, iodine, or shellfish.

“What? There’s lobster? Where?”

She takes this as a no, and uses betadine to clean the areas around my eyes. More numbing drops, then I get taken down the hall to the surgery room and laid down on a big gray chair between two machines.

Machine #1 is the “suction.” This basically translates to “we’re going to grab your eyeball real good to hold it in place and cut a flap in the surface of your eye.” Not particularly comfortable, but I guess it’s better than expecting me to be able to hold still. Too much pressure, you know. Take me out of the equation and just stick my eyeball in a vise.

Machine #2 is the infamous “focus on the red dot” machine that actually shapes the cornea. They put an “eye speculum” (the proper name for “that thing from Clockwork Orange that holds the guy’s eyes open”) and then the doctor takes a pokey thing and slides the cornea flap aside. It’s gross and you can see it happening, but I couldn’t feel it and was just so glad to no longer be in the suction machine that I didn’t really care. It’s the same “that’s disgusting, and I bet it would seriously hurt if I could feel it, but whatever” that you have when you see the dentist wiping chunks of your wisdom teeth on a paper towel.

Anyway, I stared at this little red dot for 30 seconds or so and watched it get less and less blurry while smelling something that smells like when they drill your teeth at the dentist (ew, but as the brochures say “This is NOT burning!”). When I sat up, everything was kind of halo-y and slightly double-y, but there it was. I could see the door from 20 feet away. SEE the door. Handle and everything. When I’d come into the room, I had to use my glasses to find the chair. The doctor said I had the highest prescription of the week. I did not get a t-shirt for the honor, though.

So, I went back into the dimly-lit room to listen to more Pixar movies and “let my flaps settle for 15 to 30 minutes” or until the doc could come in and clear me for takeoff. I was chauffered home by mom, who hurried me back to my blissfully darkened house. I popped a pain pill and a Lunesta and was pretty much out cold until a couple hours later when I woke up like Angry Elvis: “It feels like there’s an eyelash in there! Ow!! Drops! DROPS!”

Anyway, when I woke up the second time, I found mom in the kitchen surrounded by pasta, bread, wine and salad. There was also a dehumidifier in the hallway. Something about air conditioner condensation causing watery stigmata on my walls. Either that, or the house was crying. It’s kind of a drug haze. Did I mention the pasta?

The next morning, we got up even earlier to go back for a follow-up visit (“everything looks good…just takes time to see what the final result will be”). The follow-up was ended with a visit to Panera for cheese souffle and cheese danish. Everybody knows that these things don’t have calories on the weekend. Google it.

As of today, I’m still doing eyedrops every 4 hours, I can’t wear eye makeup for 5 more days, and I’ll be sleeping in those dorky Kareem Abdul-Jabbar glasses for some time, but make no mistake: this is completely kick-ass. I have no idea what to do with myself, just running around being able to SEE things. Running around with naked eyeballs, like some kind of crazy eye nudist. No glasses on the nightstand. No endless bottles of contact solution on the bathroom counter. No glasses case in my purse. I still keep catching myself reaching up to push up my glasses, only to find nothing there.

It’s like 1,000 Christmases all at the same time.

Sunday morning, I woke up in a house I love, with a mom I love, a cat I love and a phone bearing tweets and Facebook updates from people I love, not to mention text messages from people checking in on my eyeballs. I kind of wanted to cry for a second, but then thought maybe I’m not allowed to. My folder of instructions says nothing about being stupidly emo.

Arguing with Myself and a Long Answer to a Simple Question

Last week, I ran into someone I don’t see much. This came at goth night, so it was pretty much the usual when he said to me, “so, how are you?”

Unfortunately, his timing kind of sucked. I was standing by the door at goth night, so a truthful answer would have been “I’m standing here waiting for 10 different awkward situations to walk through the door.” An even more truthful answer would have been “…and one of those awkward situations is happening right now.”

The last couple of months at goth night has been like some kind of twisted game show where you see whether the predicted awkward situations outnumber the brand new awkward situations. We’ve all been there: we’re dancing, mingling and more or less having a good time, but we’re also watching the door. If an awkward situation walks through the door, I at least don’t want to let it get the drop on me at the bar. You know how that is: you go to get some water, someone taps your shoulder from behind, you turn around and the little voice in your head goes “BUH!!!”

This would explain why, when this person asked how I’m doing, I opened my eyes kind of wide, said “good…” and made the same face that my sister made that time someone hit on her at goth night. No wonder my inquisitor questioned my sincerity. Half of my brain was watching the door. The other half of my brain was in a sensory overload “wtf” test pattern.

Awkward things have been afoot the last few months, mostly brought on by dating. Turns out when you lose 20 pounds and recover your self-esteem, people notice. I appreciate the attention, but that doesn’t mean I have any clue as to how to handle it. Thus, awkward situations happen, either by dating or avoiding dating. Leaving the house becomes an endless game of “oh hell, what’s going to happen NOW?”

So, what’s a girl to do?
Think about it later.
Dissect it.
Have a moment of clarity.

Like many moments of clarity, this one came days later in the shower:

“Why are you watching the door? Why are you letting other people dictate how you spend your night?”

“But…I don’t want to be overtly bitchy to people I’m probably going to keep seeing…”

“Excuse me, but didn’t they already do something bitchy, or at least awkward, to you?”

“well, yeah, but that’s no reason to stoop to…”

“Please. You told those people, as nicely as you could, as clearly as you could, how you felt. If your answers weren’t to their liking, that’s too bad. It’s not your job to keep feeling weird and crappy just because you don’t want to date those people.”

“But they’re going to show up here eventually and do I talk? Do I not talk? Nod from across the room…?”

“They are not the boss of us. WE are the boss of us. We dictate how our night goes. No one else. Do you WANT to say hi?”

“I most certainly don’t want to say hi.”

“So don’t.”

Getting back to the original question, “how are you?” the truthful response goes like this:

“I’m doing better right now than I have since…well, possibly since ever. I get to work from home, my boss doesn’t micromanage me, my cat is awesome, my car is almost paid off, my family relationships are improving slowly, I’ve met a whole gang of new friends, gotten closer with people I’d been meaning to see more, I have a 4.0 in my programming classes, I’m off my drugs, my girly parts are functioning in the way that they were apparently supposed to be functioning the whole time, I’m dangerously close to weighing what I weighed in college, and I can dance for a solid hour without passing out.”

Alas, that’s a long response, a run-on sentence and it sounds braggy. Not to mention that I’d have to do even MORE cardio to be able to get it out in one breath. Besides, it’s loud at goth night and, when people ask how you’re doing, they don’t really want your freaking life story. So I’m just like, “I’m fine…you?”