Little Boxes, Day Four: The Ghost, The Machine

I have to admit, I don’t feel good about this one. It never feels particularly good to walk up to someone you cared for and stab them in the face. However, there are some words here that need to be said and need to be heard. For anyone about to tell me what a heinous bitch I am, I say this: think of all the gory details I’m not including. Anyone who knows the story well enough to voice an opinion would know those, and would thank me for not putting them here. I care enough to grab you, shake you and yell in your face. It’s just not always pleasant.

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Dear Sir,

Most people don’t get a second chance with me. You got a third one and you squandered it. In my stupidly idealistic way, I had hoped that more than a year in the tutelage of someone much nicer than I would have changed you into a better person than the one I’d known before. I had hoped that you’d learned by example. I really felt like you were making an effort. I was also making an effort, trying to watch my tone and be more of a team player, to prove that I have definitely changed. I have a pack of friends who are slowly turning me into a better person because I am trying to take advantage of their abilities to lead by example.

Those are the same friends who were telling me to run.
Run fast.
Run far.

They remember what happened last time, the way you dropped me cold, giving little reason. The way everything changed from good to bad overnight. The way I learned that someone can look at me as you did and then lop me off like an infected limb. It was unbelievably cold. It took three years before I was even really willing to let you prove you’d changed, and what did you do? You lopped me off again. Just disappeared, resurfacing next to someone else and creating a situation you can’t possibly have fully thought out.

I cannot fathom how one human can treat another human this way.

Had things continued well for a few more weeks, I would have sat my friends down and said “I know he’s done wrong in the past, but I think he’s really trying and I really wish that you’d give him a clean slate.” I was going to ask them to give you a shot. I was willing to clean away all of the hurt that you doled out all those times, all of the passive-aggression, all of the self-centered behavior and all of the little things mumbled and then never repeated at an audible level.

I was hoping you would win them over. I was hoping you would win me over. I was hoping you would prove yourself, prove that you had decided to grow up as many of your friends have, giving me reason to welcome you back into my life and bed. I wanted to come home to those arms, but only if those arms belonged to a man this time. No one made a mark like you did. All you had to do was prove that you were willing to do the work. In the meantime, I was content to be your friend and move slowly.

Instead, you found someone who wouldn’t ask so much of you. You found a quick fix. You treated the symptom and not the disease. You have cured loneliness for a while; you have not cured the behavior that causes the loneliness. I have lost the guy who made a mark on me, but you are doomed to a lifetime of being miserable. I point this out in hopes that you will change, not for me (you have lost me for the last time), but for you. So far, misery is one of the few things to which you’ve committed enough for it to be considered a long-term goal.

You have asked why you have trouble keeping friends, and I suspect that this quick-fix mentality is why. Your treatment of others is completely dependent on your mood at any given time, and completely motivated by self-interest. At any moment, without warning, you may lose your patience and say things that can never be unsaid. The other person walks away forever and you are left wondering why.

People who only care for people because of self-interest are doomed to be surrounded by people driven by self-interest, because other people will have nothing to do with them. Until you understand this, you are doomed to be surrounded by people like yourself: friends who will leave you as soon as you have nothing they need or want. A circle of people patching up their empty lives with quick fixes.

I had thought for a while that you’d had this realization. That you had decided to do the work that it takes to reap the benefits of better friendships. However, learning and evolving is not pleasurable or quick. Adults realize that things of value take time and work. You tend to give things a month or two and then give up when your efforts don’t pay off quickly enough.

I liked you enough to give you two more chances than most people get. I sincerely wanted you to live up to your potential. I wanted nothing more than for you to decide to work hard enough to become what I know you could be. I wanted you to prove that you wanted me enough to work to get me. You just wanted someone – anyone – to want you, so you could prove that your recent breakup didn’t prove you to be flawed, undesirable. “Someone still wants me! This breakup means nothing!” You weren’t interested in evolution. You were interested in validation. “Self-Esteem Band-Aid Vagina” is not on my driver’s license or passport, so that must not be my name.

You were given a chance to prove yourself changed and evolved, or at least open to change and evolution. Instead, you have proven yourself soulless, self-centered, impulsive and immature. Harsh words, but those are also apparently words that no one has ever cared about you enough to say. You need to hear them; those words are the adjectives keeping you from getting what you really want. Whiskey works for a while, but deciding to be better is what takes away the loneliness. Deciding to be better is what will surround you with better, more rewarding friendships and relationships. Decide to be better.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day Three: O, Canada

Dear Sir:

I really did like you, much as it’s possible to like someone I knew for so short a time. I had hoped you’d stick around long enough to meet my friends. I think you would have liked my friends. Pardon the assumption, but I think you could use some real friends. Your life seems to be all surface relationships and mingling; that’s no way to live. It’s not how my people roll, and I think you would have liked my people.

Oh, I know there was a snowball’s chance in Hell of things working out, with you so far away and both of us most likely never being willing to move, but I was willing to see where it went for as long as it kept being worth the trouble. That “worth the trouble” ended up not being very long.

That’s partly my fault for getting naked too soon, but I maintain that this was partly your fault for being delicious. You opened your mouth and I was doomed. You took the gold standard and sent it platinum. The great dethroner of exes. You may as well have placed birthday cake in front of me and told me not to eat it. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

You used the f-word (“friends”) two weeks in, but were too nice to admit that you’d friend-foldered me. Too “nice,” that is. With quotes. Instead, you wasted my time and concern, let me plan a visit which got canceled and semi-accidentally pointed me in the direction of bitchy tweets aimed between my eyes. That was when it became too much trouble, seeing a stranger address me as a rival. I kept waiting for you to live down an allegedly accidental use of the f-word. You never did. You never let me past the moat, telling me everything about everything, but nothing about anything that really matters. I walked away before I cared too much.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t seem to see you in the same way. I looked at you and saw someone all shiny and bookish on the inside, someone who reminded me of my dad, someone who would play Scrabble AND music with me. It seems that you just see yourself as someone too plain for rock stardom. The big secret about rock stardom is that it’s kind of stupid and it hates everyone over the age of 30. Rock stardom is a fickle bitch with fake hair, fake boobs and a taste for Vuitton bags, which you would be expected to purchase. You don’t want anything to do with her. If you lived in Nashville, you might have gotten the memo that who you are is good enough. That quiet version of you, working a desk job and picking out cars by reliability is much more attractive than the one buying drinks for that bitch Rock Stardom. Who you think those sunglasses make you is just a cheap copy of what MTV’s been feeding me since 1981. If all I wanted was skinny jeans and aviators, I could go to any bar in Nashville and swing a dead cat.

I’d also like to explain my disappearance, because I really DO feel like a dick about that. I really didn’t mean to just disappear without explanation, as though your feelings didn’t matter. I’ve had people do that to me and it sucks. I just didn’t seriously think that you’d notice or care if I disappeared, and you never asked for an explanation. Since you never asked for one, I figured you didn’t care much about getting one. I figured that explaining myself would be melodramatic. If I guessed wrong, I’m sorry for that. It was a good time for a while. I wish you had thought so, too.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day Two: Norse Mythology

The last six months have been difficult ones without much comeuppance for the people who have hurt me. Many of these people have been guys. In fact, the drama got so bad that I swore off (until 2011) any kind of activity that wouldn’t be approved by a Sunday school teacher. The idea was this: if any guys decided to walk away without warning, it would hurt less. For the record, I was right. It did hurt less. Even if most of why he walked away was because I wouldn’t get naked.

What about the others? They show up, they fuck up, they get deleted. There’s either not enough of a relationship happening to bother with closure or there’s too much anger at the time to be coherent. I’m cleaning out some little boxes of hard feelings and writing some letters. I thought you might want to come along. Why? Because people like drama, rumor mills need rumor facts, and sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is tell someone the truth. We all just find it easier to walk away, but that doesn’t do any good. Haven’t you ever wanted to call a potential employer and find out why you didn’t get the job? They’re always too nice to tell you. You just keep making the same mistakes.

This week, I care enough to tell you the truth. I take ownership of some blame. I let go of some little boxes.

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Dear Sir:

I think the only thing that kept me from saying truly horrible things about you is that I know I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were a derailed train and I was a misplaced jogger. I wandered off and ended up directly in your path. It was a mistake.

You were a swirling mass of pain. You pretended to be okay long enough to reel me in, but then our time together degenerated into nothing but booze and misunderstandings. I kept trying to be understood and kept failing. Runaway trains do not speak English. You couldn’t hear me trying to explain things to you because we have two different meanings for the same word. I kept yelling “hammer” and you kept handing me a socket wrench.

You said weird things, made me feel crazy, manipulated me and indicted me for crimes actually committed by your ex. All of that wasn’t even what made me angry. What made me angry was that I worried about you. I worried that you weren’t okay. I worried that the swirling eddy of pain was going to suck you down. I lost sleep. My back hurt all the time. I was never hungry. My teeth hurt all the time from being ground down whenever I was able to successfully drug myself enough to sleep. We were all scared that you were going to end up killing yourself and there was nothing we could do.

What made me angry was, for all of that concern, you had no discernible concern for me or anyone else. I was going through Hell at work and you didn’t care. You wouldn’t listen. The world was slowly snapping me in half and you didn’t have more than 10 seconds to spare before interrupting me. I couldn’t help you and you couldn’t stop cutting little slices out of me. By the time you’d left, I was calling hotlines just so I could say horrible things and only a stranger would know. The only alternative was to remove you and walk away.

I didn’t write you off and walk away as quickly as I should have because I was trying to at least remain friends. Part of me was doing so because I legitimately wanted to be your friend; part of me was just doing it to keep life non-dramatic for mutual friends. Trying to keep life pleasant and non-weird. Even now, I know that we’ll eventually end up sitting across from each other at some dinner or seeing each other at some party. We’ll have to know how to be nice. I just had to get you back across the moat where you could no longer hurt me. I had to not care about anything you said. I eventually got there.

I don’t hate you and I’m not mad at you because I understand that thing about the runaway train. You may think I magically turned your friends against you. Even if I had that kind of power (and I do not), I wouldn’t have done that. With proper apologies, we’d all welcome you home. With proper apologies.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day One: “Dude, Where’s My Retribution?”

If there is one phrase that I’ve gotten really damn sick of uttering to people in the last six months, it’s this one:

“Dude, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

In other words, somebody does something semi fucked-up to you and, when the other person doesn’t understand why you’re angry with them, you explain how they made you feel and have to point out that you wouldn’t have done something like that to them. Please note that I used the phrase semi fucked up. Truly, deeply fucked up actions result in immediate and permanent deletion. Sometimes you just say, “there is nothing good that can come from having this person in my life” and move along.

I’m sick of people treating me like my feelings don’t matter and then just having to walk away from the whole thing. I mean, what’s the alternative? Write them a well thought-out email about how they hurt my feelings? Well, we’ve already established that said person doesn’t really care about my feelings; what would be the point of letting them know they hurt me? Maybe I could could write something down about how much I hate them? Well, all that accomplishes is releasing more shit into the world and opening up myself to a possible reply from that person which would probably just make things worse. I guess you can always beat the hell out of somebody, but that’s also bad karma and a good way to end up in jail.

What’s a girl to do? If the problem can’t be worked out or the crime is really heinous, I usually just walk away. I thought this was a pretty effective, simple and dignified way to handle things. As it turns out, it just boxes up the problems. Seals them up with packing tape and then they just sit there. You want to ignore them, but there are your feelings, all boxed up and still just as they were when you put them there. Maybe a little skinnier and paler, but there they are. The other person gets to go on, and you end up with all these damn boxes.

There’s no retribution.
There should be.

The person who hurt you is never made to answer for what they did. You get to lie there metaphorically bleeding and they just get to walk away like nothing happened and keep behaving in whatever fucked-up way they choose. They’ll hurt more people and then, when people start to catch on to them, they’ll just move to a new city and start over. Like serial killers.

Usually, I just have to comfort myself with, “the life that he/she is headed for with that kind of behavior is far, far worse than anything I can deal out.” It’s true, but it’s cold comfort when all you really want is five minutes and a pair of steel-toed boots.

For example, when a pack of douchebags laid me off six days before I was supposed to close on my house, I wanted to key their cars so badly. SO. BADLY. Instead, I thought “the way you operate is going to bite you in the ass eventually, and that’d be way better.” I left their cars alone. That business eventually ended up having to cut 70% of its staff. What’s left of the company is a laughable shadow of what it could have been.

I’ll admit that, because I am a flawed person, I really enjoy the fact that everyone in town is slowly realizing that those guys are douchebags. However, the little box of anger is still there. It’s not like keying their cars or beating them up would get rid of the box of anger. I could focus on how I ended up doing just fine without them. I could remind myself that everybody else from the company got laid off later, in the middle of the recession. But nothing makes the box go away.

Have we all become so afraid of consequences that we’re afraid to call people out on their bad behavior? Is there no come-uppance anymore? Is everyone content to just become sort of passive-aggressive? Or is just walking away the more mature, adult thing to do?

No, really. I’m asking. I need answers.

Well, Clarice? Have the lambs stopped screaming?

Readers, I have also noticed the silence. For days, I trolled my stash of possible blog topics and old, unpublished blogs in search of something meaningful to say. I poked around my brain, looking for something that’s been gnawing at me. I came up with a lot of things. I wrote about them. Unfortunately, they were all so mind-bogglingly bitchy that I can’t let you see any of them. One was titled “Open Letter to a Friend’s Douchey Boyfriend.” The horror.

Others are mind-bogglingly emo.

A couple of them were poetry. POETRY, for Christ’s sake. That’s when you know I’ve reach a level 10 brainlock: I give up paragraphs and start writing in pretentiously-indented, metaphor-laced sentence fragments.

There are plenty of things bouncing around in my brain, making me think about them in some attempt to figure them out. Problem is, I haven’t figured out any of them. If I had a resolution, I’d give you that, wrapped up in a pretty bow, accompanied by a lesson. I don’t have that. In fact, my one big decision on the things in my head has been to make no decision at all.

Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in wondering what someone else’s deal is that we neglect to decide our OWN deal. One day, you wake up and realize that you’re sitting around letting other people tell you how things are going to be and you haven’t even bothered to state your own bargaining terms. You probably haven’t stated your bargaining terms because you were willing to accept whatever was thrown down to you. I assume I don’t need to point out how fucked that is. Sometimes, the problem isn’t getting what you want. Sometimes, the problem is knowing what you want.

As for everything else and possible blogs that AREN’T about things torturing me (and what fun is that?), I haven’t come up with much. There’s so much actual activity going on that conversations about purely hypothetical things don’t happen. Or maybe they ARE happening and I’m just too distracted by myself to notice.

It’s not so much a time of “decide what you want.”

It’s a time of “keep putting one foot in front of the other and try not to do anything stupid.”

At least I know what color to paint the office, and I’ve had no regrets about the red hair. Just don’t ask what I’m going to be for Halloween.

Via Fountain Pen

I have just finished watching Bright Star, a biopic of Keats that involves more romance and costuming than any film ought to. The star-crossed love story ends in death (from tuberculosis, of course) and the movie is directed by Jane Campion. All of those things means that I’ve come to one conclusion:

This is why we’re all fucked.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It’s just that I also think that movies like this should come with a warning label or require some kind of license to rent. These things, these stories of love that is expressed in flowery poerty and doesn’t even stop after death, are dangerous.

It would be lovely if, when your man has to travel to Italy, he would devote much of his time to writing you ornate poems about how much he misses you. It would be lovely if they were hand-delivered and sealed with bright red wax bearing his initials. But we don’t do that here in the 21st century. Here, we have email. We have Facebook. Those things are instant gratification, but they are not particularly romantic. Ladies, if you get any bright ideas about hand-writing poems in fountain pen, proceed with caution. This tends to scare the hell out of the 21st century male. You might as well go find some moors to wander. In the rain.

Even if your man were to write you ornate poems from Italy, half of you would think it he was just up to something. Like, “he’s just trying to get in my pants” or “I wonder what he did that’s about to piss me off.” Guys, forgive us. Years of being 21st century women have taught us that guys who do things like this probably ARE up to something.

It’s like guys can’t win.
Ladies can’t win either.
Ask us about the virgin/whore problem sometime.

Actually, maybe you can win a little. At the end of the day, it’s not about the wax-sealed poems. It’s not about flowery language that could only be managed by a master of Romantic poetry. It’s about us women just wishing we knew how you felt about us. If you go to Italy, we just want to know that you’re thinking of us. We’re all screwed because modern technology has gotten us used to knowing exactly where everybody is 24 hours a day. One tiny hole is someone’s Foursquare timeline, and our stupid girl brains start wondering. It’s silly. It’s insane. It’s the 21st century. Five years ago, we didn’t have this kind of access to each other, and now it’s become commonplace, and sometimes expected.

There’s a part of me that really enjoys having every status update from everyone I know sent to my phone. There’s also a part of me that wants to run screaming from that, move to the country, and communicate only via fountain pen.

Taking It Like a Man

As far as I know, I have been female my whole life. I mean, people kept dressing me in skirts and giving me haircuts with names like “pixie,” so I assume that I was female that whole time, even though I wasn’t really thinking about it. There are pictures of a 5 year-old Amy wearing a fluffy blue tutu. Yep. Female.

So, the nurturing that I got (even though my parents were both flaming feminists and only ever called me “princess” in sarcasm) was the kind of nurturing that girls get. Nobody ever called me “sport.” Nobody ever told me to “walk it off” when I got hurt. People expect little girls to be sensitive. People expect us to cry. This follows us into adulthood. When we have a rough time, we call our friends, we cry, we write horrible poetry and sometimes even do that shit in public. It’s not dignified, but we get away with it and nobody calls us pussies because we’re females. We deal with our pain by piling it on the table in front of us and looking through it, piece by piece, usually bringing along a couple of very tolerant and understanding friends.

I know what to do when a female friend calls at 2am, crying about a breakup. Wake up and talk about it until she’s done, sleep be damned. I do not, however, know what to do with male pain. Male pain is like termites: you know it’s there in the wall. You can hear it chomping away, but you can’t just rip off the moulding and get a good look at it because it hides the second light hits it. We women try to come at you guys with both barrels, trying to make you talk. We think we’re telling you that it’s OK to talk to us. We think we’re giving you a green light. You think we’re invading your space, judging you and being weird. We’re just trying to help, and we end up scaring the crap out of you.

We’re trying to help because you’re scaring the crap out of us. We’re watching you handle your pain in a way that is unsettling to us and not completely functional. Not to sound all judgey, but suicide statistics say that your love affair with Jack Daniels isn’t a very effective coping mechanism.

When faced with pain, guys will just hide in their houses, drink, throw themselves into their work, or try to pretend that they’re fine. They’ve been taught that “needing to talk” isn’t very masculine, crying is “weak,” and seeking help is even worse.

The whole thing pisses me off. It pisses me off that there are still women out there who are repulsed by the idea of their man crying. I mean, none of us WANT to see you in pain, but there’s a difference between “this is hard to watch because I care about this person” and “omg, what a fucking pussy.” Of course it’s hard to watch someone you care about be in pain, but that’s also a big neon sign to you that reads, “this is your opportunity to be there for someone who never seems to need help.”

Ladies, if you need your man to be bulletproof so that you get to be Delicate Princess, maybe you should take a closer look at yourselves. It’s not about Delicate Princess and Marlboro Man. It’s about two equal people who hopefully lose their shit at different times, so one can step up when the other needs it. (See? There’s that feminist upbringing. Honestly, you should meet my mom. She’s a bad ass.)

I am tired of watching male friends go through rough times and breakups, only to end up drinking too much, becoming someone else, pretending as though nothing happened, or deciding that all women are evil and must be fucked with. I am tired of this because those male friends are going to date again, and I would hope that they would do so as well-adjusted humans and not as giant balls of crazy-assed baggage. I am also tired of this because, once, someone didn’t date again and opted to just kill himself instead. I know it’s a little dramatic for my brain to fly into “omg, he’s going to kill himself” mode every time someone has walled off some pain, but there it is. My brain goes there every time now, because it didn’t go there the one time that it really needed to. Indulge me.

The wrap-up thesis statement being this: ladies, guys are not going to be able to undo all of that upbringing overnight. Be patient. Just because they’re bigger than you doesn’t mean they don’t want to be held sometimes. Guys, give us a chance to show you that we can handle your feelings. If you need help, call. This is 2010 and no one wants or expects you to be John Wayne.

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(I should point out here that, despite any real-life events of the last year, this post isn’t directed at anyone in particular. In fact, the reason for writing it was that it needed to be directed to so many people. If you think I’m talking about you, I probably am…I’m just not talking ONLY about you.)