Things Never Had, Part One (Dessert)

(And so, the conclusion of part one.)

I sat myself down one day. I stopped mindlessly dating. I started dating with a mission.

What ensued was a string of guys I really should have run from. Not abusive, horrible guys; just guys whose heads weren’t in the game. Guys who didn’t like me much. Guys with better things to do. Guys focused on work, or booze, or bands or any number of things that guys can be focused on. I understand that; I was those guys for years. In their defense, I really am “a lot of look,” as Tim Gunn would say. It takes a special person to tolerate my special brand of crazy, my over-analysis of everything, my neurotic fear of things that are decades from happening, and my habit of endlessly bitching about my hair/foot size/skin/whatever. Couple that with the fact that the Neurotic Crazy Town Amy doll comes packaged with a Siamese cat, a posse of protective, scary friends and a mom who doesn’t mess around, and that’s a lot for any guy to handle.

Then, the universe (and one friend who will never let me forget it) delivered to me someone who is my type physically, mentally and sexually. Someone who has a bizarre habit of staying stuff I was just about to say. Someone who practically volunteered to meet Scary Mother. Someone who was willing to go see Jane Eyre. Someone who has voluntarily talked about his feelings on more than one occasion. Someone who isn’t afraid to take the piss out of me. People kept telling me that I seemed happy and glowy. I was in denial for a long time. Then, more realizations:

1. In his arms, I have felt perfectly safe, comfortable and understood.
2. I have looked at him and seen a long-term future that doesn’t freak me out.
3. He knows how to handle and wrangle my brand of crazy.
4. He is not one to give up easily.

I wasn’t using the L word because I feared that it wouldn’t be returned.
I wasn’t using the L word because I wanted to make sure I meant it.
I wasn’t using the L word because of one other thing we’ll discuss later.

I almost used it once before, with someone else, then felt like it would have been a misuse. Wild horses, rhinos and guns couldn’t make me have anything to do with him now, but I still hope for his eventual happiness. I just also hope that I have nothing whatsoever to do with it, as he could never have made me happy. Sometimes we love people who don’t love us back. It happens. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust ourselves or our definitions of love; it just means we should find someone else and love them longer and better.

With that said, I’m afraid my current mister is doomed.
He did this to himself, after all.

So there it is.
I have fallen in love.

Hell has frozen.

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Things Never Had, Part One (Entree)

(And so, having discussed the shortcomings of devoting one’s life to one’s career and the scary nature of love, we return to discuss fear and adjustment.)

One day, you realize that you let someone into your life. Someone has made it past the guard dogs, barbed wire fence and security cameras. Someone has charmed the guard dogs, cut the barbed wire fence with an angle grinder and shot out the camera lenses. Someone has coerced you out of your fortress. Someone has talked you down from your tower. You want to run screaming, but there’s this voice in your head saying, “No. This is The Guy. Do not run this time. Do not run.”

I have let someone into my rib cage.
He has taken my heart somewhere.
I can only hope it is in a climate-controlled safety deposit box of some sort.

I have spent 33 years learning what I was supposed to learn in order to get here. It took a long time because I was busy learning a bunch of other stuff. Love was the hardest because there were no books. No college major. No papers written and returned with red ink. I had to be self-taught and I kept slacking because I didn’t know what to do. I can code you some nice HTML, but I don’t know any rules on PDA or what to say to let someone know you really like them without freaking them out. I don’t know how to say things that are unpleasant when I fear hurting someone else’s feelings. I don’t know how to meet his parents or friends or siblings or any of that. I don’t know how to have a decent day when that person says I hurt his feelings, however accidentally. It’s like there’s an entire volume in the Encyclopedia Britannica of life that nobody bothered to mail to me. It’s the “M” volume: men, mathematics and Megadeth. I don’t understand any of those.

Also, I was scared.

I was scared that, if I told him I loved him, his conquest would be over. The mission would be complete and there would be nothing left for him to do but become completely bored with me and treat me more and more like some old piece of furniture. I was scared that he would change my life so completely that I wouldn’t recognize it anymore. I was scared that he would change his mind. He would find some little stupid thing about me that he didn’t like and then not be able to tune it out. It would grow bigger and bigger until he couldn’t stand to be around me. I was scared of a future that wasn’t completely up to me. Best case scenario, I was scared that I wouldn’t die first and I would lose my mind. My friends would find me sitting on the floor of my closet clutching a whore sandal and drooling on myself. Then, I realized some things.

1. When my dad went first, my mom didn’t lose her mind.

She’s probably in Kentucky somewhere thinking that her job as my mom is done. That there’s nothing else she can possibly teach me. This is incorrect; one of the most important things she ever did as my role model was keep going. She spent years watching him wither away slowly. She was there when they pronounced him. She kept going. She went to Zumba and walked her little dog.

2. Living your life behind a thick wall of concrete nouns is no way to live.

At some point, everybody has to focus on their career. Everybody has to get the plane off the ground. Then, one day, you look at your life and wonder if that’s all there is, just a life of answering emails and hoping to make more money. Forty more years of being on an unstoppable treadmill, working and working just to get one more outfit or a slightly nicer car. Shortly thereafter, you realize that there is either something more to life or you should go shoot yourself. The only thing scarier than the possibility of having your heart broken is the possibility that you are so safely walled up that no one can find your heart to break it.

3. I am harder to kill than previously thought.

I was scared that someone would break my heart and I would lose my mind. I would end up catatonic, unable to do anything but sit perfectly still and try to figure out what the hell had happened. I would find some horrible way to blame and punish myself. Then I realized that my own brain had been trying unsuccessfully to kill me for a little over 20 years. The only person’s brain that I trusted, the brain who knew me better than anybody, the brain inside my own head, had been manipulating and fucking with me for more than 20 years and hadn’t won. I had told it to sit down and shut up. I was ten feet tall and bulletproof and didn’t even know.

(Come back tomorrow for dessert.)

Things Never Had, Part One (Salad Course)

Things Never Had is going to be a 2-part series, but this (the first part) is going to be broken up over 3 days so as not to make your brains bleed. Thus, I give you the salad course of the first meal.

Life is comprised of a lot of nouns. Many of those nouns are the things we have around us. Family, friends, pets, pillows, walls, shoes, food, car, shampoo: all nouns. All things that most of us have. They’re all concrete nouns, things we can see and touch. We can look at a person and say “she has these things. See? Because there they are.” She must have everything she needs. She is not starving or homeless or alone. When she needs to be hugged, there are plenty of people she can call. Everything seems cool on the surface because we surround ourselves with these very nice-looking concrete nouns. Concrete nouns to build walls around us. My life must be complete because I have a smart phone.

There were some things missing. Secret voids that no one could see because the missing nouns were abstract. No one can tell when you don’t have security around you. Safety around you. Love around you.

It sounds terribly disrespectful to say that I’ve never been in love. It makes it sound like I don’t love my parents, family, friends or pet. I do. But those kinds of love, while still love, are different. You don’t choose your family. You don’t have sex with your friends. Your pets are not your equals. You learn something about love from all of those groups. What you learn, when you learn it, is applied to being, as they say, in love.

“In love” is tricky. It’s two people attempting to function as equals, navigating the difficult waters of life mergers, starting with “I hope my friends like you” and “what do you want to watch?” and ending with “I will move across the country because you got a promotion” and “we will have to agree on how to raise these kids.” Love, I’m told, is terribly rewarding. It is also terribly scary. It is scary because someone has the power to hurt you. It is scarier because you have the power to hurt someone else. It is much less scary to focus on your career and say that you’re cool just hanging out with your friends. Not that I’d know anything about any of that.

(Come back tomorrow for the entree course, when we shall dine on meaty things and starches.)

Feline Confessions (Usher Not Included)

This whole thing started the same way a lot of my stories start: I have a shitty work day, call my friend to talk me down and end up going over to her house to drink wine.

The problem on that particular day began with trouble with a certain piece of software, which snowballed into “I can’t do this, and I can’t do this career for the rest of my life.” Hyperbole? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

To make a long story short and to avoid telling a story that’s not mine to tell, that night ended in the morning after we’d spent hours at the emergency vet’s office. We’d come back home one cat short.

All of this makes me feel sort of guilty.

I’ve been really busy the last few months, what with teaching classes, taking classes, hanging out with a dude and trying to keep my head above water career-wise. A lot of that has been stressful or frustrating. It has been a lot of change, most of it good…all of it stressful.

In all the madness, my relationship with my cat has suffered. He’s there yelling at me while I’m trying to work and I’m responding with “shut up!” because I’m just sick of hearing it. He spends the whole day looking out the front window and the whole night doing God knows what while I run all over town. On the nights I’m home, I’m usually busy with a human. The two of us call him Douche Cat.

The yelling.
The endless yelling of a Siamese cat will drive you crazy.

“What do you want? You have food. You have water. Your box is clean. WHAT do you want?”

“I want YOU. I want you to explain why, after 11 years, you are acting as though you have no use for me. I want you to snuggle with me like you used to. I want you to stop telling me to shut up. I want you to pet me and, if it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could bother to notice that I’ve lost weight. WHO was there through bad times, bad dates, long nights and lazy Sundays? ME, you asshole. That was me. Douche Human.”

As I sat in an emergency vet office, watching my friend say goodbye to her cat, I felt like a Douche Human. The time we get with them is so short, and I’ve spent the last 6 months treating mine like he’s a roommate I don’t like very much. No wonder he’d taken to peeing on my dirty laundry. As with children, if your pets are being horrible, it’s probably ultimately your fault.

One day, I will be the one with a cat on a towel in my lap. One day, my cat will purr while I watch milky white fluid be pushed through a syringe. One day, those big blue eyes will stare blankly back at me, and I will know that I caused it because it was the kindest thing I could do.

This morning when he heard me stir and jumped onto the bed, I didn’t move him aside and get up and make coffee. We had thirty minutes of snuggle time and then I kissed him on the head and said, “I gotta get up, babe.”

There was no endless Siamese yelling today.

From Sunday, December 12

I have just gotten off the phone with my mother. I love my mother. She has made a hobby out of saving my ass. She’s a good person, a strong woman and a hell of a Euchre player. However, I can’t help but feel sometimes like she is talking AT me and not WITH me. I wish I could enjoy having entire conversations about weather and sales on things at TJ Maxx. Instead, I just sit on my end of the phone wondering why I can’t have a real conversation with the woman who raised me. I don’t even care what the conversation is about; I just want her to tell me something that matters, something that doesn’t make me feel like I’m at arms’ length. Tell me something, anything, that isn’t about the cute little purse you got or what your dog did today. Please. I’m dying. We’re all dying. I try to bring something up, try to pick her brain on some issue that could use some wisdom. I throw out a topic, and she answers with, “well, sometimes that’s how it is.” That’s the mom equivalent of saying, “tmi dude…I’m not having this conversation today.”

The friends I frequently converse with during the day are busy doing 100 different things because work has picked up, the holiday season is crazy and the World of Warcraft expansion has come out. I still see them. We hang out all the time. I am spoiled by my friends in 200 different ways, and I love them to death. They put up with my stupid bullshit more than they should. But, still. I can see things, invisible topics, sitting on their coffee tables, begging to be talked about. I don’t know how to bring up those topics. Instead, we watch tv.

Frustration.

I try to remind myself that there is no such thing as truly wasting time, that there is no such thing as truly meaningless conversation. Still, I want to grab the remote, turn off the tv and say, “I don’t care what we talk about…just please…something…I’m dying.” It reminds me of a relationship I had once where I found myself lying in bed one night, unable to sleep, crying for what I thought was no reason.

The reason, it turns out, was that I had been spending every waking second with him, and he wouldn’t talk to me. He was with me all the time, and I still felt so alone. I never saw my friends. When I did finally see them, I would just sit limply in a chair, looking drained and staring at the floor. I didn’t know why. They thought I was being verbally abused and I thought I was just really tired. I couldn’t tell them what was wrong because I didn’t know. If you don’t know what’s missing, you have very little chance of finding it.

I used to be very good at keeping my own counsel (as Sandman Morpheus would say). I used to run around, feeling my feelings, and keeping my fucking mouth shut. I never told anybody anything because I was afraid that I’d get judged for it. Or that the friendship would go south and they’d use my words against me. Or maybe the topics just never came up. Or maybe I was afraid of trying to talk and then being rejected. Or maybe I spent such a long time having feelings being a terrible tangle that I couldn’t even figure out one specific feeling to discuss. A tangle of wires. You give it five minutes, then just say “fuck it” and go buy a new cord.

Whoever my creator is made me a tangle of wires but he/she/it also made me creative. It kept me alive. In the same way that blind people learn to hear really well, my tangle of wires learned to peace out on reality. I didn’t have the words to talk about what was wrong, not even when I had to break down and call in the professionals. They sat there trying to help and I just spoke in metaphor and waved my hands around.

I didn’t know how to talk.
I held off the problems by playing.

That is to say, I played in secret. Whenever I had the house to myself, I was playing. When my parents left town for the weekend, I never threw a party. Never raided the liquor cabinet. I sat at my piano until I was finished. If the sun was down, I put the dimmer on low and played ballads in half-dark. I played with reckless abandon and horrible singing, safe in the knowledge that no one was coming home and I needn’t listen for the mechanical grind of the garage door. I would have died if they’d come home and caught me. There were a couple times I didn’t hear them unlocking the door, and there they were standing in the doorway of the dining room. It was only slightly less horrible than if they’d caught me masturbating.

It was that kind of playing where you can actually feel your brain shift into neutral.

I played because I didn’t know how to say, “I am pissed off…I am confused…and I hate you for bringing me to this town.” “I am frustrated.” “I miss my friends.” “I think about dying every day.” “I am scared.” “I feel alone.” That’s a lot of stuff to have to have swirling around in you while you’re just trying to take the SATs, avoid that guy who throws fries at you at lunch and write a paper about Crime and Punishment without actually READING Crime and Punishment. I didn’t have time to deal with “issues.” I was just trying to get through Calculus.

I eventually found my words.
Now, I can’t live without them.

On the need scale, it’s right there between air conditioning and music. I lose my shit in 4 days without air conditioning. Without music, roughly 9 days. Without someone’s hands in my brain (or vice versa), I start to wither and die in about 7 days. I start to feel horrible, lonely and frustrated and have no idea why. I start looking at my friends, just wanting to grab them by the ears, pull their forehead to mine and say “I need you to talk to me.”

Then again, it’s not always particularly socially acceptable to go around grabbing people (even friends) by the ears. You just have to wait out the busy times, the holiday seasons and the WoW expansions. Sit at your computer. Type all of the things you would have said.

I love you all dearly and I miss you.
Even if you are next to me on the couch.

December 10 and the Event Horizon

Recently, a friend and I were discussing the time in someone’s life when he or she looks at his or her life and says, “I’ve been doing it wrong. It’s time to stop doing it wrong.” I call this time the Moment of Clarity. He, somewhat more ominously, calls this the Event Horizon. The more I think about it, I think maybe his term is a little more apt.

A moment of clarity sounds like some easy thing that happens where deer and bunnies fly out of your ass and your life is suddenly better. An event horizon is a boundary around a black hole. As in “you’re either going to do something BIG, or you’re headed into that black hole over there.” I’m not saying that having deer and bunnies flying out of your ass sounds pleasant (the hooves!). I’m just saying that the black hole makes more sense. Why?

Because huge life changes are usually brought on by something terrible happening. Very few people have said to themselves, “my life is awesome…let me change everything.”

The event horizon brings on all kinds of change, depending on whatever it is in your life that needs changing. Some people decide to stop drinking. Some people decide to finally pick a major. Some people realize that they’re living in a cage of fear and get sick of themselves and decide to start living, not that I’d know anything about that.

I bring this up today because this day 3 years ago was my event horizon. It sounds very simple to say “my friend killed himself.” It sounds like “this week on a very special ‘Blossom.'” It’s more graphic and truthful to say that someone I loved dearly died alone and sad in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. The sheer insult of that. It’s egotistical to think that I should have been able to do something, but it made me crazy that I couldn’t even help clean out said apartment. All I could do was drag what was left of me to a church in Rivergate, hug his mom and do some seriously epic public crying. Three years later, it still burns. I still want to kick him in the face for it.

Alas, today is not about that. Today is about learning from that. I realized a lot of things all at once:

“You are emotionally unavailable.”
“You are wasting your life worrying about stupid things.”
“You are spending your entire life working.”

It’s all very predictable to realize that whole thing about life being too short after someone dies, but you know. Take it how you can get it. The point of death, aside from clearing up population real estate, is to remind us not to waste time.

One of my biggest fears was to really love someone and then lose them. When it happened, I heard it coming in slow motion. The week of phone calls. The car wreck I couldn’t stop. The begging. I saw a friend the day after it happened and I must have looked like hell; she just stood there having no idea what to do with me. I looked like hell for weeks. It became a sick game. Scare the guy at the gas station. Scare the checker at Kroger. When I wasn’t crying, I had pretty clearly just been. It was like everybody else on Earth was doing their thing and I was in my own little plexiglass box, watching. For months, I had dreams about seeing him, digging him up and bringing him home. In dreams, I went to 20 different funerals. I saw his mother cry 20 different ways. I was metaphorically on the ground, bleeding and wondering whether to bother getting up.

What got me up was knowing that he’d expect me to. When dad died a couple years later, what got me up was thinking “this is not what your father raised. Get your ass up.”

I accidentally performed an overhaul. Not everything worked out. I made a lot of mistakes. I continue to make a lot of mistakes, but I’d rather make those mistakes than sit in my house playing Soul Calibur. Sitting around playing Soul Calibur is easy, but it doesn’t make for a very good life story.

Diah taught me a lot of things. While I wish he’d stuck around longer, those last things he taught me were huge, necessary and life-changing. If heaven exists, he’s there. My dad is probably trying to teach him to play Euchre.

That’s how it is with event horizons: you have to lose big to win big..and you only win big if you get off the ground.

Diary of Happy Party Face

I once saw an episode of Intervention where an alcoholic former beauty queen was heading over to her mother’s house for a family barbeque or some such. Before grabbing the door handle to leave, she stopped and said aloud, “I’m beautiful and happy, I’m beautiful and happy.”

She’d probably been doing it for years. Stopping by the door to put on her happy face and then coming home later to get wasted on Smirnoff and shove down any unpleasant feelings she might have. The sadness of that one moment burned a hole in my brain. How sad, to have to pretend to be okay when you actually drunkenly fell down in your side yard earlier.

The other day, I realized that I’d become her.

No, I didn’t get wasted on Smirnoff. I didn’t fall down in the side yard. I didn’t lose custody of my kids. I got tipsy on wine, bumped into the treadmill, and my cat gave me a very disapproving look. Half credit?

For the last few months, I’ve done a lot more “happy party face” than I’d like to admit. It started innocently enough, the gateway drug being “show up at goth night and don’t let anyone know he hurt you.” Show up and act like nothing’s wrong. Like “I’m Jackie Fucking Kennedy and you can’t hurt me.” Show up, because if you don’t, people think you’re hiding in your house, being all hurt and squishy and writing terrible poetry. No, no. If we’re drawing battle lines, you will not make me shy away from doing what I want to do. I will show up, look cute and dance my ass off.

Then, it snowballs.

If happy party face has to exist in the real world, where people are vicious dogs, what do you do on the internet? If people will take you down in flesh, they’ll really take you down in text. The internet was practically invented so people could flame each other from the safe distance of hundreds of miles.

“Usually, when something bothers me, I write about it…but I can’t do that now.”

“Why?”

“Because of rule #1, Jen. You don’t put your drama on Facebook. It is not done.”

I mean, nobody wants to read weeks’ worth of muddled, passive-aggressive bullshit that only means something to its owner. No one wants to read status updates of you cryptically whining about your now ex-best friend. It makes you look like a drama llama. We all know at least one of those. We all secretly wish they’d just go away.

What, then? Are you not allowed to have a rough week without people thinking you’re a drama queen? Are we all doomed to be expected to never have problems? Has the entire internet become one giant party where everybody has to pretend that everything is awesome all the time? Are we all doomed to spend our entire digital lives at some kind of hellish work mixer where there’s karaoke, a cash bar and your boss dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld?

“How are you?”
“Fine. You?”

Sorry, no. If that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing, somebody just come over and shoot me right now. I am not living there. I’m not going to show up at your wedding and cry because my roof has been given one year to live and I really, seriously need a vacation. It’s your day and I can pretend my life is awesome for two hours. But, by God, I get to sort out my bullshit in my own blog. If you don’t want to hear the drama llama go “mehhhh!” in your face for a few paragraphs, you know where the back button is.

See, the thing I forgot when I was talking to Jen is that Happy Party Face is not what I DO in this blog. It never has been. I show up, tell you the fucking truth, and most of you can handle it. Some of you are just dying for someone to finally tell the truth because everybody else is so busy pretending their lives kick ass all the time. That’s my purpose and that’s what I do.

So, there.

I may have to occasionally be Happy Party Face in real life. We all have to do that. But this is my outlet and I’ll do as I please. As we say on the internet, “kthxbai.”