On Fear and the Bad Thing, Unabashedly and Forwardly

Trigger Warning, Yo. Things here are things that you shouldn’t look at if you’re at risk for being triggered by sexual assaults and such. Sorry in advance, shit’s about to get heavy.

It’s been ages. I’ve been avoiding blogging. Sorry.

It’s a long story, but my life took a complete detour. I know that’s how it always goes, the best laid plans always end up in complete and utter disarray, but this turn was long and winding in ways that I had never expected. I’m back on track now, thankfully. It’s been rough, to say the least, but I’m finally back where I need to be. I think.

I have been avoiding blogging. I haven’t had anything to say. I hadn’t wanted to talk about this, but I so badly want to want to blog again, and I have a feeling that saying this will help with that. It’s been bottled up forever, and if there’s one thing they can’t take from me, it’s the one thing I love more than anything: writing.

In short (not short) – I spent nearly six months being unemployed. It was necessary. It was a godsend, actually, because in the course of filing for unemployment, I got the opportunity to find closure for something that had haunted me for a long time. It was expensive, for me, but I get to sleep through the night now with the satisfaction that had escaped me for an entire year.

Here’s the short (of course, not so short) story: I was drugged and assaulted by a co-worker while I was a tradeshow in New York in January of 2013. I blacked out fifteen minutes into having a drink with a man I detested, but with whom I wanted to have a good working relationship. I woke up naked in a hotel room. There was a beer bottle on the tv stand. I hadn’t been drinking beer that night. I had missed meetings. I was sick, confused, dizzy. I had to GPS my way back to the hotel where the conference was after doing some printing for work. It was two blocks. There’s more, but you don’t need it.

My assailant met me outside the bathroom of the tradeshow floor – where I had been throwing up – and asked me what I remembered about the night before. I told him nothing, and asked him what had happened. He told me that we had “just had some fun,” and then apologized profusely. I was sick. I was in trouble. My bosses were so angry with me. I was in shock. I was so afraid of losing my job that I never went to the hospital. I was terrified. I thought I’d be okay. I thought I was okay. (I hate the band FUN. and anything that explicitly says, “Fun” on it because nothing is fun, not after that.)

I got back to Denver and spent an entire Saturday crying. I don’t know if you’ve ever cried for 6 straight hours, but it’s fucking terrible. I knew it was bad when my brother came to the door of my room and told me he loved me. He never does that. That’s when you know things are bad.  That Sunday was the Super Bowl. That was rough, too.

When we got back to Denver, back to work, they wrote me up for missing the meetings. They told me that they were leaving everything else out to protect me. They asked me if I thought I had been drugged. I told them that yes, I thought I had. They assured me that this was just a matter of procedure (the write up, not the drugging). I went along with it. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what to do. I went back to work.

I tried to put the whole thing behind me. I couldn’t. I had a full-on emotional breakdown in April 2013, after reading a blog post by an economist who theorized that sexual assault while the victim is unconscious does no lasting damage. There’s a post there, from that moment, that I’ll never forget as long as I live. That day was my grandmother’s birthday party. I tried to smile.

After that point, I missed an entire week of work. My employer, realizing that this was actually a real thing, hired an investigator and conducted an internal investigation, but the findings that came back in June were “inconclusive” and I was told that while I wasn’t being fired, I was free to leave. The assailant? He kept his job. I left in July. I wish I could explain to you how great I felt the day that I quit. I felt like a god, for a few minutes, swelling with a happiness I hadn’t felt in months. I gave them three weeks’ notice, because my boss had told me to give as much notice as possible. The actual separation was much worse. The day I left, I wrote a post. The vice president of the company accidentally copied me on an email he was sending to my boss with a link to my blog and the subject line: There you go.

I stopped writing because I couldn’t write about, much less think about or talk about, anything else. I was at a point where I could hardly get out of bed. It was horrible. I felt like dying. I’ve never been so down in my entire life. I am so thankful for my friends – they listened to me for hours; they listened to me say the same things over and over and over; without them, I wouldn’t be here. I lost a few, too, because the things I was fixated on were too much. I get that. I hate that. I’m sorry. Grief has those ways of expression – mine was verbalizing it. Word vomit, everywhere, all the time. Oh, you have a job? Here’s my story….Blahhhhhh. I can’t describe how horrible it is to know that you’re being weird and not be able to stop.

I went back to work at the Dairy Queen I’d worked for since I was sixteen. I spent a year there. I managed. I was actually a really good manager. I’m good at customers, at people, at keeping things running smoothly. I went to work in the office, which I loved. I began to do more. I left there due to a whole slough of circumstances – mostly my foot surgery. My boss told me he wouldn’t contest my unemployment, since we had a good relationship and I’d worked there for a decade and the separation wasn’t bad. I filed for unemployment, having no idea what I was going to do.

When you file for unemployment, they take the wages not from the current quarter, or even the quarter before that, it’s the four quarters before that. (Think 18 months, minus the last six or so.) It was my birthday. It was a Sunday. I was filing for unemployment, frustrated and sad, and when the state asked me what the reason for the separation from my former employer (not my most recent one), I was honest. I wrote, “I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker. After the investigation came back inconclusive, I quit.” Turns out, this is a legitimate reason to quit. I could have filed for unemployment benefits the minute I quit last year. I could have saved a year of my life spent blending ice cream and chunks of fattening cookies products and cleaning fruit gobs off of things and wearing gross polo shirts. Not that it was all bad. It wasn’t.

A state adjudicator called. We talked for twenty minutes. He was so understanding. He was amazing – I swear, if it was okay to send a thank-you note to a state agency, I would. I’d send flowers and fruit arrangements and my eternal gratitude. I told him what had happened, and he was professional and factual and expressed his condolences to me. I was professional, too, in a calm way I had not thought I could be. I was objective, or at least as objective as I could have been as I discussed the events that led to my separation. (Objectively subjective, if that’s a thing.) It wasn’t emotional. It was what I said it was. It was this date, and that date, and this happened next, and then this.

The decision came back. I won. I had been awarded unemployment benefits because the separation was not my fault. I cried hot tears of happiness. I felt as though pieces of my soul had been put back (wherever pieces of your soul go – your heart? I always imagine pieces of my brain going into place like a puzzle, which I feel like can’t be right, but it’s like that). Winning felt like justice. A third party – objective, with no vested interest in the findings, had looked at the evidence and ruled in my favor. He’s going to do another hundred of those that week. I was a social security number and a task to be checked off. He was my knight in shining armor, even if he didn’t know it. Guy, wherever you are, you are doing a great job. Keep doing that.

My employer appealed. We went to a hearing. I hired a lawyer, realizing that this was the only chance I was going to have for any sort of justice. She was great. I’m so glad I found her. I could have done it without her, actually, but having her there gave me resolve. I so badly wanted to get a favorable decision. I went into the hearing knowing that I was going to give it everything I had. Everything. I prepped for weeks. My mom came with me, emotional support. We sat in the room. My employer appeared by phone. I’m so glad – I only cried twice during the hearing, once when I talked about tendering my resignation and once when it was all over; it was overwhelming and I was full of the need to cry. I don’t know if I could have been as strong as I was – and I was; I was full on fucking lion-Katie – if they’d been there in person. I would have been a tearful puddle of sadness. I wouldn’t have been able to summon the heartbreak and rage that I needed to put on my big girl pants and handle the situation. Handle it. I handled that shit so hard. Seriously.

The hearing lasted two and a half hours, where most unemployment hearings are less than a half an hour. I got to tell the entire story, from beginning to end. I got to provide documentation. The hearing officer was fantastic. She was very adept, assertive in a very intellectual way, very quick to ask questions. I believe that she became angry when she asked my employer for a copy of the original HR investigation report. They refused to provide it, even though they referenced it throughout the hearing. I wonder, to this day, what was in that report. I wonder why they hired a second attorney to review it (something I learned the day of the hearing). I wonder why they were so adamant about not providing it, since their HR rep tried to tell the hearing officer that it was just a collection of notes, even though she’d ripped my therapist a new one about it, asking him if he’d ever seen it and why he thought he could testify about it/me. Ha. He responded that he was only testifying about me, my symptoms, and his experience of my therapy and trauma timeline. I would pay good money to see what that report said, since the day I was interviewed by the HR investigator, she told me that it wasn’t that hard to fire a contractor. She also tsked at times when I talked about how things were handled between myself and the bosses for reporting of the whole thing. She even gave me a book about feminist legal theory, since she discovered I was into that sort of thing. I’m way into that sort of thing, although since it all happened, my exposure to feminist everything has been limited to avoid triggering me. Stupid. I hate that. Take the one thing I love, why don’t you? I’ll get there. I’ll be able to read reports about sexual assault and rape without freaking out. It’ll happen.

Because of the hearing, I got to see the write up that was issued to my assailant the day they told me about the decision, in June. It said that no matter how noble his intentions….finding himself in a hotel room with a co-worker was unprofessional and not to happen again. I laughed, actually, at that. I should frame it, so I can remember how not to act as an adult, how not to reprimand, how not to manage, how not to resolve a situation. It’s disgusting. It’s fucking upsetting. It’s ridiculous. Six months later? That’s the best stern reprimand you’ve got? He’s costing you thousands of dollars in investigation costs. He’s costing you time and whatever else. He wasn’t written up for not calling the HR lady back the day he was informed of the investigation in May – he called my office and cell phones repeatedly that day, never leaving a voice message. Over and over the phone rang. I shook the whole time. My employer didn’t tell him to stop until the next day, when I had to email them a second time to tell them that the repeated harassment was upsetting to me. I was afraid to answer my phone for ages.

I left the department of labor and employment the day of the hearing feeling fantastic. I felt good. My support system was there. My lawyer told me that barring some strange legal technicality, she had no idea how I couldn’t win. I had told my truth, from beginning to end. I had responded semi-nastily, in the most professional of ways, to the ridiculous inquiries and assertions of emotional instability from my former employer and their representative. I got to hear the hearing officer ask them, using the words “ham-handed,” that if I had been hit by a bus, would they have written me up?

My former lady boss was amazing. I feel for her – I want to send her flowers, for testifying honestly. I hope that she didn’t get into any trouble. I always respected her and valued our relationship. It wasn’t the same after she asked me if it was because I got in trouble the day I had my breakdown. I know that she’d worked for them forever, and I hope that as a result of her testimony, she wasn’t in trouble. I love her. I sometimes think about her, and I hope that she’s doing okay. Seriously. Fruit baskets. Whatever she wants.

My boss boss’s testimony was different. He became agitated. The hearing officer asked him to clarify something he’d testified to three minutes prior, the issue of whether he’d known at the time of the write-up that something had happened, and he became angry and sarcastic. It was a yes or no question. He responded, “Sure.” That was the best response, I think. Instead of a yes or a no, it was a nasty “sure.” I watched the hearing officer’s face when he said that. She was intently scribbling notes. Intently. Very intently. I was hot with the prospect of his response – the annoyance he showed buoyed my claim, or so I felt. He brought some stuff up. I got to rebut it. He asserted that I was emotionally unstable. I got to rebut that. Being ADHD and having anxiety don’t make me unstable – they questioned the fact that I had a therapist, which is funny because the only reason I have him is because during my first annual review, they told me that I had to work on my focus issues. Hence, the ADHD evaluation and subsequent treatment. And my amazing random therapist who has been my rock for way too long.

I hate that everything went so badly. I hate that the people to whom I’d given so much came to hate me, and that our working relationship soured. But at the same time, I find that the people I detest the most are the people who masquerade as good people when they’re really not.

I don’t hate how it turned out. I walked out of that building and it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. People say that, but think about the last time you felt that way. It’s freeing. It’s like you’ve got light again. Light meaning less weight and also light the opposite of dark. The curtain of darkness was lifting, or at least shifting. I lived for a few moments. I put my professional face on that day. I got to change out of sweatpants and put on the business dress that I’d been assaulted in – I wore it for courage, an homage to the hope of my former self.

The decision came via mail. I tore it open like it was a Christmas present. I read it, hardly daring to believe it. I screamed. I cried. I screamed and cried, tears of fucking joy. Tears of healing. Tears of pain. Tears of victory. It was just unemployment benefits. But it wasn’t. It was so much more than that. It was the soothing tears of healing, of justice, of a battle well-fought. I jumped on the bed a little bit. That’s how great it was. I cried some more. I felt the cracks somewhere in the brain puzzle that is my soul personified congeal in the best way, immediate healing. I won. I fucking won. I fought the good fight and I won. I am crying as I type this. I was brave. I was strong. I was everything that I hadn’t felt for so long. The world, which had been so cruel, rewarded me and my honesty and courage.

I collected unemployment benefits for a long time. I found a job, finally. Do you know how hard it is to have to take the honesty route when you’re applying for jobs? When the interviewer asks you, “Why do you have this gap on your resume? Why did you go from being “….” to Dairy Queen?” and you have no choice but to answer honestly? It’s miserable. You’re not only going through the strange hell that is interviewing, but you’re also reliving the worst months of your life while wearing a professional mask. Don’t cry, this is a dry-clean only dress. Ha, good advice.

This year, in September, I got a twitter notification that the vice president of my former company was following me. My stomach dropped into my ass. I checked immediately – he must have been visiting my twitter account and accidentally clicked “follow” and then immediately unfollowed me. I haven’t blogged for so long because I have been afraid. During the end of my employment there and the time that has followed, he has been watching me.

True, I used to be a fun, party child. I used to go out. I used to have friends and social engagements. I used to do things. I don’t have or do those things anymore, and part of me wonders how much of it is the shame I feel when I go out, when I have fun, as though I don’t deserve it. I am afraid. Afraid of deserving what happened to me. Afraid of being judged for being fun after what happened. Afraid that it could happen again. Just afraid. I hate that I’m being watched. Followed, per internet terminology. It’s not enough for a restraining order or anything, but it’s honestly fucking creepy. He’s a forty-plus year old man with nothing better to do than internet stalk his former employee? ….I’m not the only who’d be creeped out by that kind of shit. He’s smart enough not to check my blog from work because he knows I know the IP address.

I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe it’s this. Maybe there’s some sick satisfaction that they get from knowing that my life has been complete and utter shit for the past two years; that I’m not the person that I used to be; that I’ve lost so much; that I’ve been depressed and angry; that I’ve lost most of my friends; that I’ve struggled to get back on track; that my self-esteem has plummeted; that my enjoyment of all things is now minimal. If that’s the case, I hope they’re happy. In that way, you won. In those various ways, I’m not okay, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be. You win, all of you. Go back to your program updates and get the fuck out of my life.

There are things that happen to you that will affect you from the moment that they happen until the time you die and this is one of them. I’m serious. I don’t see fun anymore – I don’t desire it. I desire a night where sleep comes easily. I desire safety. I desire comfort.

When I finally got the courage to tell my now-boyfriend about what had happened, I was at work at the DQ. He was visiting with a friend. The friend knew. Somehow, like always, it spills out. It’s word vomit. Once it starts, I can’t stop it, the narrative pouring from somewhere deep inside me, my heart and stomach simultaneously contracting in a nervous rhythm, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, keep going, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, why did you do that? Fuck, why? Ugh, you’re terrible. When I told him, the first thing he said to me was, “Get his address; I’ll kill him.” My boyfriend is recon. He was a sniper in the Marines. He could. I know the dude’s address by heart. It’s engraved. Obviously, boyfriend was joking – not joking, but attempting to offer reassurance in a way that can never be achieved. He wouldn’t. He’s a good man. Killing is not the answer to anything. We all know that. But it felt good. To be cared about like that. To have such an immediate response. I know that sounds insane, but that sort of reaction helped to provide a bit of healing that day. He’s had to deal with it so much since – me crying all the time, me freaking out, me angry, me depressed. This Thanksgiving, we were in California with his family and I finally told him mom about it all, and he told me that it’s been so hard to love me through all the depression. I am so grateful to have someone who still loves me, through all of it. I know it’s not great. I know it’s not fun. But it is what it is. This is my reality. It doesn’t go away. Sometimes it comes back. He’s the one who has to listen to me sobbing, who has to hold me against his shoulders when it’s too much. He’s the one who has to deal with a lot of the fallout from something he never could have seen coming.

Blergh. There’s all of it. Here’s why I haven’t been blogging in a year. I so love my blog. I have loved writing since I was a child; I have loved blogging since LiveJournal; I have loved being able to express myself. I will begin again. No one can take that from me. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m sorry for word vomiting it all into this space, but I’m glad it’s out. Now I can go on about the rest of my life without this hanging over my head. It’s nice. I was talking with a former professor about everything this summer, and she encouraged me to write about it, in the hopes that it would help me heal. I’m finally writing about it.

🙂

Here’s to it being over. Here’s to fresh starts. Here’s to constant turn of the wheel of time – like it or not, we’re moving forward. But really, I am moving forward. My life is my own. They don’t own it. They can’t control what I do. I am me. I am my own navigator. I will not give up the things I love.

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On Racism, Nearby

I’ve been hesitating to even blog about everything that’s happening right now – the Ferguson, Missouri situation has reminded me that no matter how well-intentioned, I’ll always be white. As history has shown, that’s clearly not a bad thing, but it does mean that while I’d love to chime in and offer my take on the situation, I shouldn’t. It’s not that I can’t still be a part of the push against class warfare and racism – it’s just that I’ll never truly understand what it’s like to be anything but white.

That’s not to say that I can’t be an ally, that I can’t be someone who pushes for reform and truth and justice and tolerance and all of those wonderful, idealistic things I thought everyone believed in. The hard truth is that people don’t believe in those things. You learn the rose-colored worldview of tolerance and peace and then you hit the real world and it’s filled with ignorance and hate.

I was at 7-11 yesterday, buying iced coffee before I headed out to babysit, when a short, grandfatherly looking white man cut me in line holding two Cokes. He got up to the cashier, a nice woman who’d greeted me cheerfully when I walked in, and when he was told that it was going to be like $2.89, he flipped out. He asked how much one Coke was, because he’d been under the impression that they were 2 for $2.22. The cashier told him that they were no longer on sale, at which point he began yelling for her to come to the back and look. He turned around, nearly hitting me.

I don’t usually get scared, but something about him coming two inches from full body contact unnerved me. Apparently, the 7-11 people had put Pepsi on sale instead of Coke, but forgotten to take down the advertisements. I get that – it’s annoying. If you want to sell products and offer a discount, properly advertise it. She apologized for the confusion, admitting that they’d made a mistake.

They got back to the counter and he continued yelling (I’m not exaggerating here – the entire store could hear) about how this is what is wrong with America, greed and blah blah, and then he paused and told the cashier, “You wouldn’t know. You’re just visiting here.” She insisted, with a lovely accent, that she was an American too.

That’s when he lost it. He started going off about Judgement Day and how God would know that she was lying about being an American. (I almost cut in and asked him if God was American, but I didn’t and I’m glad.) He yelled at the cashier, and to her credit, she handled it beautifully. When he got to the part where he was yelling about how his mother would know that she wasn’t an American, she calmly told him that she didn’t care what his mother thought.

It was horrible. She was clearly an African immigrant, and I don’t care whether she was a citizen or here on a visa, she’s working and she’s nice and she’s obviously someone who is stronger than she looks. He was clearly the worst sort of American. After he left, I told her that I was sorry that she’d had to deal with someone so rude and that I hoped that her customers from then on were pleasant to deal with. The woman behind me offered her support as well. I would have been in tears – I was impressed with how calm she was.

It’s 2014. Any illusions of a white America should have been dashed years ago – it’s over, or rather, it never was going to be a thing. At some point, these people are going to have to embrace the fact that diversity is here to stay, whether they like it or not. I can’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel to someone based on their skin color, or their accent, or the fact that they work at a 7-11.

I’m still appalled. I wish I’d spoken up. Better yet, I wish the boyfriend had been there. He’s not always the most forward-thinking human, but I know that he wouldn’t have stood for this kind of hate. He’d have had words with the man.

It’s not just 7-11. It’s Facebook. I live in a very educated bubble. Most of my friends are white like me, have at least a college education, and are pretty progressive and liberal-leaning. (Not all. Most.) The posts that I’ve seen lately about Ferguson, Missouri and racism have been about being a white ally, class warfare and the threats to the white majority stronghold of our economy, and so on.

Boyfriend comes from a different place. His bubble is different. I love skimming his news feed to see how different they are. He probably thinks I’m trying to glean information about his lady friends, but honestly, it’s a remarkable sociological difference, whether it’s based on location, education level, or career path, and I’m fascinated by it. That and the lady friends.

Last week, a Marine friend of his posted something about the Ferguson, Missouri situation, including the riots, with a very inappropriate caption. I was appalled that an active member of our military would be allowed to post something like this – but it wasn’t just the post, it was the comments on it that aggravated me.

A plump, blond, middle-aged white woman commented on the post and said something about how upset she was about “these savages” and how “we bring our Lord to them and they act like animals” and so on and so forth. Our Lord? The same God of White America that the 7-11 dude worships? What are these people smoking?

I did a terrible job at describing the post and the comments, but I’m trying to illustrate how frustrating it has been for me to see that not only is racism alive and well, but it still wears the well-meaning mask of religion. I wanted to believe that while racism still existed, it at least had the decency to hide deep in a person’s soul and not be broadcasted around on social media and spit at cashiers in convenience stores. I wanted to believe that so badly, and clung to that hope. I was wrong.

I may scoff at the well-intentioned ally posts and the never-ending parade of sociological examinations of cross-sections of our society, but today I am grateful for them. I’m glad that I get to sit and click and read them – I’m glad they’re being published and that people are reading them, and sharing them, and spreading a message that shouldn’t be new to some people but clearly is. I need to do more — we’ll talk about hashtag activism at a later point. And the next time I see a man yelling at a woman because of her accent and the color of her skin, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. At the very least, a little social sanctioning may give him pause.

We can do better. We need to do better.

On Two Years, Anniversarily

I remember what I was wearing when I walked into the Black Crown Lounge on Friday, July 13, 2012 – a sleeveless printed mini dress, black and tan. That’s not important.

When the bartender handed me the drink, our eyes met and I felt some sort of electricity run through me. I panicked and looked away. I don’t panic, usually. But then again, it’s not every day I run into someone who stirs that kind of curiosity. (His version of events is very different. He claims there was no shock of recognition, nothing except the standard physical appeal. He is wrong.)

I’m never very bold when it comes to this sort of thing, so I just let my friends do a little bit of information reconnaissance. I noticed that the bartender would pass by, taking out the trash or something. I ignored him. (I’m so smooth. So many skills.)

After a few near misses — the awareness of proximity not lost on either of us, even though he’ll never admit it — he approached me and asked me if I’d like to hang out some time. I giggled, and said yes. “Should I get your number, then?” he asked. Oh god, I’m the worst at being nervous. I gave him my number.

The next night, I picked him up and we went to the goth bar. Totally my scene, but not his at all. We went home and he made me a martini (I’d never had one), and we watched a documentary.

The rest is history. Five weeks later, we drove to the Grand Canyon.

We got bored there. I demanded a lake, so we drove to Lake Powell and camped on the beach. It was just us and the sand and the lake. And the family of Mormons who couldn’t be bothered to pack out their trash, but that’s not important. They left before sunset, and we had the place to ourselves again.

I fell in love with him that weekend and promptly dumped him after we got back to Denver. We never really stopped talking, though. Our relationship continued on, in some form or another. There were the bumps that came in the middle. There were several ultimatums that changed us, shaping our communication, and once, halting it altogether. When we began talking again last summer, he asked me to meet his parents. He took me to a barbecue. He made me dinners. We ran errands together.

One night, he made dinner. I got to his house, and he asked, “You like salmon, right?” I don’t eat cooked fish. I lied, I think. He saw right through it. I still ate it.

This time fell together slowly. There wasn’t any overt statement of expectations, although it was very clear that this was becoming a thing. I was going through a lot when all of this started, and he would hold me and let me cry into him. His quiet strength has always made me feel safe and protected in a way I can’t fully describe.

I remember the first time we held hands in the car. It was an errand somewhere last summer, and he grabbed my hand. I thought my heart was going to explode. I didn’t say anything. It was a declaration he’d never made out loud. I’ll never forget how I felt that day.

We celebrated our two-year anniversary last night. Two years since the night I met him. Two years of us, in some form or another. But mostly, it’s been about a year since we started this, the real thing. He’s not the romantic type, and we’re broke, so I wasn’t expecting much. But part of me hoped for something.

He offered to cook dinner last night. He made my favorite: pineapple curry. We got a bottle of wine we usually wouldn’t buy. I made my grandma’s chocolate cherry cake, garnished with a blend of frostings and some fresh strawberries. At one point, he ran off yelling something about “the sauce!” We made curry; there isn’t a sauce. I didn’t think anything of it and used the opportunity to turn up the stove to make sure that the chicken was fully cooked. (He told me he knew that’s exactly what I’d do.)

When he came back, he directed me to grab my wine and get in the car. I didn’t even have time to get shoes. He grabbed bowls, the curry, the rice, and the wine. He started driving. He pulled up at a quiet little park a few blocks from our house.

I got out and started towards the back  of the park. He’d set up a picnic blanket and put down a ton of electric tealight candles around the blanket. It was really magical. “I expect to see happy tears!” he directed. I laughed, through happy tears. He told me he tried to get all teal-colored lights but that wasn’t possible, and that the sauce errand had taken forever since he’d been pulling the tabs out of the tealights.

We ate curry, drank wine, and let the darkness settle around us. Then we laid on the blanket, surrounded by little tealights, and watched the bats fly above us. I was overwhelmed. I am thrilled that he did something so perfect. He put his hands on my face, told me how much he loves me, and kissed me, through more happy tears.

I never saw this coming but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love our little family.

On the Week, Backwardly

I’m trying to type but there’s a giant black cat laying in front of my keyboard and it’s complicating the whole thing. There’s a thunderstorm brewing and I think the animals are tense as a result. Well, maybe not the dog – he’s got a rawhide bone and I imagine I won’t hear a peep from him until he’s finished it.

I found my car keys! We were retracing my steps for the past two days, and even though I swore I didn’t take them into Costco, I called anyway, just to double-check. Turns out, I must have just grabbed them out of habit, because the man who answered the phone at Costco asked me to describe them and then told me that he was holding the zebra and skeleton key in his hands! I was overjoyed and slightly embarrassed, but hey, I saved myself a ton of money and a call to AAA.

I got to see my first X-Men movie last night! I enjoyed it. I haven’t been to the movies in ages. My friend Duane works for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he travels with them, so he met up with us to see the movie since they’re in town this weekend. It was fantastic to see him – I haven’t seen him since I graduated from college. It was brief, though, because after the movie, I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed. Hopefully he’ll get a bit more free time before he heads back home so we can actually catch up. (Whispered movie conversations don’t quite count.)

I got super sick this week. Monday night, without warning, it hit me, and I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday in bed. The fever finally broke, but my energy levels aren’t quite back to 100% yet. I was looking forward to getting a lot done this week, but as it turns out, maybe sleep was just what I needed.

While it would be fantastic if just one thing would go right for me now or at some point in the near future, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. I’m just trying to ride it all out for now, and the idea of trying to conjure up some success or luck is swirling around in my head. Keep going forward, I think. And so I am tiptoeing, but also trying to make the most of this unexpected downtime. I am relaxing, or at least trying to. I’ve read more books in the past few weeks than I have in ages, and I’ve made plans to binge on some “Game of Thrones” tonight.

The boys are off camping; they’ll be back tomorrow. I’ve been enjoying the time alone. The silence is nice. Not having to answer to anyone is nice. Not having ESPN on is nice. (I was am so frustrated with DirecTV, because they’re pulling the old Comcast trick and upping our bill every month. During a phone conversation with them the other day, I accidentally dropped us to a package that does not include ESPN. I am, of course, not the least bit upset, but my brother will be. I told him it was his job to call DirecTV and fix the whole mess because I can’t be bothered since it’s just ESPN. Poor guy.)

The dog misses them, though. I’m not enough stimulation, even though we’ve been to the dog park, the park, and on walks. It’s hard to be entertaining all the time. I did take the dog with me to a bbq spot downtown last night. He got to sit on the patio and get tons of love from everyone, but he kept shooting his bored eyes at me. But man, he’s so cute.

On the Tendon, Securely

When I was in the ER a couple of weeks ago, I kept insisting that I couldn’t move my big toe. They assured me I was fine, that the movement would return. As the wound began to heal, I realized that I could not lift my big toe. I could point it, ballet style, and fold my toes under, but I could not bring my big toe up. It was a sad attempt – the other toes would come up nicely, and there would be the sad big toe, not even halfway as high as it should have been.

I babysit for a couple of doctors, so I asked one of them to look at it. As soon as he pointed it out, I kicked myself for not realizing it before. The tendon on my left foot drew a clear, elevated line over the top of my foot when I lifted my toe. There was no such line on my right foot, a clear indication of a severed tendon. No tension, no tendon at work.

He informed me that there are two tendons that cause your toes to come up. I had torn the EHL (extensor hallucis longus) tendon. For non-active older adults, he wouldn’t recommend fixing it, but for someone young and active like myself, there is no need to spent a lifetime without that movement. (I thanked my lucky stars at that moment – I hadn’t been able to put on shoes without having to guide my sad, limp toe into them because it just wouldn’t move.) He made a few calls and surgery was scheduled.

With 6 weeks left of health insurance, and the clock ticking, I went in on Monday. They did a preliminary examination, taking some X-rays and feeling around. I already had a surgery time set aside, so all that was left was the surgery prep. Everyone was fabulous – they all commented on how cold my toes were, which made me laugh. I had a choice between a spinal block or full anesthesia, and since they told me I couldn’t watch the surgery, I chose the full anesthesia. The countdown was quick. The anesthesiologist asked me where I wanted to go, I replied “South Africa,” and was out.

I’m in a giant black boot – they told me to treat it like a cast. I can’t remove it for two weeks. It’s heavy, but I feel secure in it. I’m not to move my big toe yet. After the first follow-up appointment, I’ll be able to manually move my big toe back and forth – with my hands, so as not to engage any of the muscles to prevent any accidental tendon snapping.

Boyfriend took this fantastic picture of me sleeping on the couch my first night home. I’m to keep my foot elevated, so I’ve managed to create a sleeping position that’s semi-comfortable. I assume I have blanket over my face because the light was on and I couldn’t get up to turn it off. Note the hospital socks. Two socks on that foot.

I’m on pain meds. I have my foot elevated most of the time. I was supposed to go back to work today (in the office), but I’m still exhausted. I’m laying on the couch right now, working from home. Getting up to do a few things zaps my energy and increases my discomfort. I can’t drive for a while, so that’s annoying.

Yesterday, I slept most of the day. I had two furry helpers who napped with me. Acorn hung out by my feet, Carlos took advantage of my stomach and chest. I love that they’re starting to tolerate each other a little bit better. They’ll never be best friends, but I love it when they both snuggle with me.

I’ll try to go back to work tomorrow – we’ll see how long I last. Getting up is uncomfortable, so I’ve been avoiding too much movement. I’m ready to have my feet again, but I’m so grateful that it could be fixed.

On the Puppy, Anxiously

There’s something wrong with Acorn.

We knew it the moment we met him. He’s all floppy black puppy, but he’s got sad brown eyes. He sat there on the floor of the house in Mississippi, shaking fearfully, timid but so sweet. We fed him, we bathed him, and he was ours. I knew it instantly. Boyfriend was hesitant, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with him before we took him in. And there wasn’t, mostly.

But there’s something wrong with Acorn. It isn’t physical. Whatever happened to him in the four and a half months before he joined our family left deep scars. We knew it when we met him, that he’d been mistreated. It’s in the way he cowers from an outstretched hand, the way he’s terrified of doors and floors, the way he used to curl himself up into a ball around other dogs. He’s anxious. Boyfriend likes to joke that he takes after his mother (me) in that way.

He’s come a long way in the two months we’ve had him. He’s more confident around other dogs now, he loves to play with them. He’s better with people. He stills shies away from a hand that’s put forth too quickly, but he loves to be loved. He climbs into bed with me at night and sleeps with his head on my legs. He sits on the bathroom mat behind me when I brush my teeth. (He blends in, since the mat is black, so I’ve nearly tripped over him a few times.)

He’s been ours since we fed him. That first night, he lay by the foot of our bed, and he’s been with us every night since. He’s loyal – when I’m outside in the front yard, I don’t have to worry about leashing him since I know he won’t go far. When we’re hiking, boyfriend usually takes the lead, and when Acorn can’t see me anymore, he’ll double back until he sees that I’m behind them, and that I’m okay. Then he’ll run back up to boyfriend.

He’s like any other puppy, eating us out of house and home, chewing on everything he can get his paws on. He’s stubborn – he won’t come in until he’s done playing, and yesterday, leaving the dog park, we had to put him back into the car because he didn’t want to leave.

The car was where we first realized he had deeper fears. The first few days, he wouldn’t jump in or out of the car. When you’d try to take him out, he’d plant his feet as though you removing him was going to be the worst thing. Same for getting in. And doors. And places he’s never been before. And bridges.

He’s hesitant, nervous, afraid. He won’t go in the side door of the house. One day, boyfriend had the back gate open and he got out. Boyfriend found him, a few minutes later, waiting patiently at the front door to be let in.

He’s sweet. He’s loving. He’s learning how to be a dog. But he’s still scared. The other day, boyfriend was lamenting that we ended up with such a wimpy dog, a coward, and that these aren’t ever things he’ll outgrow. Abused dogs, he said, are like that forever. There’s no changing them.  (Boyfriend loves him, don’t get me wrong. He just gets frustrated at the seemingly unending line of nervous anxieties we find and the seemingly illogical explanations for them.)

I disagree. I mean, I don’t think Acorn’s ever going to the most aggressive, alpha male out there, but I do think that we can love a lot of the fear out of him. He used to freak out about the linoleum in our kitchen (I mean, who wouldn’t?). He’d scamper across it like it was burning lava. He wouldn’t eat if his bowl was on it, and if he did, he’d run back to the safety of the living room as soon as he could. But now, if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit patiently behind me or lay down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He’s getting there.

Instead of getting upset with him, I’ve been as patient as possible. At first, I set the bowl just inches onto the linoleum, where he could eat with all paws on the wood floor. And then, I inched it in, so that eventually, he was standing with all fours on the floor, happily chowing down.

He used to be unable to go outside without one of us. Now, I let him out and let him play outside until he signals that he’s ready to come in. He knows we’re coming back for him, that being outside isn’t being abandoned. Sometimes, after I’ve had enough of outside play, he’ll refuse to come in, carrying his rope toy and looking longingly at me. I’ll leave him outside until he comes to stand by the door, his signal that he’s done. He knows I’ll be there to let him in.

Right now, he’s curled on the couch next to me, asleep. Even his dreams are calmer now. He used to yelp and squirm when he slept, nervous little yips. Now, he sleeps more soundly. When he falls asleep, he’s out. He’ll try to fight sleep, his eyes getting lower and lower until finally, they close and he melts into his sleeping position. It’s so sweet. After big hikes, he’s usually asleep before we even leave the parking lot.

He’s got the most adorable face. He’s already learned the word “walk” and when you say it, his ears perk up and he stares at you expectantly. He’s all giant paws and he’s still mastering walking gracefully.

We’re working on reassuring him that he’s safe, that we love him, that when he does something wrong he’ll be punished, but it will be reasonable and consistent. We’re finding out how to adapt to his nervous habits, and how to change the ones that are changeable. We’re exposing him to other dogs, so he’ll have buddies to play with and learn from. We’re letting him be loved by everyone who wants to love him — strangers always comment on what a sweet, adorable dog he is.

I can’t help but think about how whoever it was that hurt him and then left him. I can’t help but think about what a miserable person they must be. I can’t help but be sad for all of the animals that don’t have loving homes. But I look at my two furry sons, both rescued, and I can’t help but feel like the most blessed person on this planet.

Carlos, my FIV+ Chicago street cat, missing a fang and half an ear, who was returned to the shelter by a family. Acorn, my anxious black lab puppy, abandoned in Mississippi. They are my favorites. Carlos is fierce and too aggressive for his own good, but he loves his wet food and to be pet right under his chin, and will hop up onto the bathtub ledge to say hi while you’re taking a bath. He loves to curl up in the crook of your elbow and fall asleep with you. Acorn is sweet and playful, full of energy, who shakes with excitement when you come through the door. He loves ice cream treats and his rope toys, tearing up anything with a squeaker as soon as he can. These guys are part of my family. These guys deserve all of the love. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

He was such an unexpected blessing. It’s like my brother said, “He’s such a precious little pup.” And he is. He’s our precious little (50 pounds and counting) pup. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Having Photographer Friends, Artistically

One of my friends is an absolutely fantastic photographer.

He captures lovely, vibrant images with his camera. Last night, he wanted to practice portrait photography with his girlfriend, who happens to be one of my best friends. When he suggested it, the first thing I asked him was whether or not I had to change pants. (I was wearing pajamas and not feeling like getting out of them and into respectable clothing.) He replied that, no, I didn’t have to. I love being an adult.

This one makes me laugh so hard. I wanted something glamorous, and we ended up taking like twenty photos with my friend telling me to stretch my neck this way or that way, and to look here or there, or to be more like an ostrich. I was trying so hard not to let my double-jointed elbows be so….bendy. Most of the photos are hilariously horrible – one looks like me falling out of the shot. But this one….I love it. 

On the Puppy, Who’s Growing Quickly

When we bought Acorn’s collar, we bought an extra-large. It was too big, so boyfriend’s grandfather cut an extra hole. Two days back into Colorado, we had already loosened the collar to the next hole. And now, we’ve loosened it again. Man, they grow so fast.

It’s a good thing the collar is orange, or sometimes I think we’d sit on him when he’s nestled into our black leather couch. He blends right in, and when he falls asleep, sometimes he sleeps so deeply that your presence doesn’t even wake him.

There are currently two dogs in my living room, lounging on the couch. The boxer-lab mix, Lily, is eight; she’s into naps and comfortable places. She doesn’t belong to us, but we’re babysitting her for the week. She and Carlos have a very antagonistic relationship, so Carlos has been taking over the basement while Lily gets the living room. (Lily will sneak away when she thinks no one is looking in search of the cat — she ate his entire food bowl one day before we got to her. Carlos, for his part, will sit and wait for her and swat at her as soon as she’s close. Acorn knows to avoid Carlos, and the two of them seem to be okay together, as long as Acorn doesn’t get too close for Carlos’s comfort.)

Acorn is happily chewing on his new rope toy; we’re halfway to perfecting fetch. He’s still all puppy, floppy and sweet, into chewing on everything and playing, hesitantly. He’ll run into the backyard and romp for a while, but every so often, he looks back to make sure you’re there.

I bought the rope toy yesterday, thinking we needed something besides deer antlers and the squeaky hedgehog (with camouflage fabric on his belly, hah) for him to play with. The rope toy immediately became a hit – I threw it into the backyard and he ran after it, bringing it mostly back to me before dropping it and running to me to get love. I threw it again, and he brought it back to me. He loves it. Last night, he was playing with it all by himself, tossing it into the air, swinging it back and forth. I’ll have to take video; it’s so adorable I can hardly stand it.

We had people over to celebrate boyfriend’s birthday last night and everyone fell in love with Acorn. He’s the happiest puppy, they said, and so well-behaved. It’s been funny to watch him follow Lily’s lead all over the backyard – wherever she goes, he follows, and she’s been teaching him how to play, fierce wrestling and running. We laugh because now she’s bigger than him, and far more dominant, so she seems to have the upper hand, but one day (sooner rather than later), he’ll be bigger than her. I think she’ll make a good mentor, minus her penchant for begging, which we’re trying to avoid passing on to Acorn.

I’m enjoying this time, but trying to give Carlos enough love so that he doesn’t feel left out and so that he doesn’t start to resent the puppy for needing so much attention. I’ve been enjoying having all of us here at the house – brother and boyfriend were heading to the gym as I got home from an errand this afternoon. It’s a nice feeling to come home to a happy house, full of my family.

On the Hot Dog Man and Austerity, Simply

My cousin was in town last week. He’s quite removed from all things pop culture, as he spends his time living a very simplified life. I find his perspective refreshing, and have so enjoyed being able to spend time with him not once but twice this summer. He was in the car with our grandmother and aunt during his brief visit, and they drove by a movie theater that simply showed “All is Lost” on its marquee. We laughed as he explained that he was quite concerned by this message, but I explained to him that “All is Lost” is the title of a film (which I know absolutely nothing about).

All is not lost.

Speaking of a simplified life (which I speak of as one who is impressed and motivated by the power to directly impact your own experiences with the choices you make), I’ve been spending a lot of time simplifying lately.

It began out of necessity, but somewhere in the frantic rush to cut back on everything (I only somewhat joking refer to it as “austerity measures”), I found myself realizing how blessed I really am and how much there is to simply enjoy. In the darkest hours, I was solely focused on survival. As I grew tired and frustrated, impatient and anxious, I began to assess the positives, to focus on reinforcing the things that make me happy.

Creating happiness and finding the good in the worst of it all is the hardest part, but I firmly believe that it is the most worthwhile endeavor in which I have engaged in quite some time. Sowing the seeds of positivity has led to a bountiful return for me in both my experiences and in my own emotions.

It began when I sat down with now-boyfriend earlier this summer and he told me over dinner that he hadn’t done anything he didn’t want to in months. My cousin’s perspective is quite similar. He travels freely, lives simply, does exactly what he wants, and in turn, has a refreshingly grounded air of contentment about him.

I was so caught up in the struggle to move forward without direction that I neglected myself, first and foremost, but also my own drive. This year may not have been my favorite year, but it’s been rewarding in so many different ways.

Right now, I’m sitting on my front porch, feet perched on the railing, absorbing the radiant Colorado November sunshine. A steaming mug of tea sits next to me and a very jealous cat sits just on the other side of the front door. This is bliss.

I am looking at the most positive job week I’ve had in a long time. I had my first actual interview last week, rocked it, and was offered the job. I will be turning it down. I am also poised on the brink of creating a position with a company I’ve been a part of for the better part of a decade, and am thrilled by the level of respect and honesty I’ve been offered.

“What’s your ideal job?” my boss asked. “Let’s work on creating something that will work for the both of us.” Marketing, administrative work to include payroll, and assistant managing all wrapped up in one package? Perfect.

I am so pleased. I did this. I offered the boss my services, explaining that I’d love to help with the office and the marketing, then handed him my resume to remind him that I’m far more than the sixteen-year old he hired all those years ago. He responded with the offer and we’re all set to sit down and hash out the details.

And even more! I’m meeting with a recruiter for coffee on Friday. Where that will go, I’m not sure, but I’m thrilled by the prospect of reigniting my drive towards a greater future for myself.

But it’s not just on the job front.

I’m finding myself able to appreciate the positives and the beauty all around me.

My strange love of “the hot dog man” and his dog is my favorite example of good in the world. He comes in to work most days and teases me. He’s still upset that I won’t give him my grandmother’s phone number, and we’ve discussed why women are the root of all evil. (According to him, the ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy was most likely due to a woman. “You know why I was the captain of two destroyers?” he asked me. “I didn’t get distracted by women.”) Sometimes, he tries to give me money and tells me not to spend it on men.

He’s fantastic. Yesterday, he came in and I gave him a free hot dog because it was Veteran’s Day. I found out that he joined the Navy at 17 (in 1937!). He laughed as I gave him his free hot dog, and then told me that I was probably going to charge his dog double. (I give the dog a pup cup of ice cream every time they come in.)

He asked me if I was going to join the Navy when I turn seventeen. I laughed and told him that I’m far older than seventeen and that my boyfriend joined the Marines when he was seventeen. “Is he still in?” he asked. I told him that no, he isn’t. “Well, when you get sick of him, just send him back!” he said.

The hot dog man got a hundred-dollar bill from a random stranger the other day. She had just sold her house and somehow had a bunch of money from the closing, so she handed him the 100 and told him that her kids were grown and that she didn’t need it, and that she wanted to spread some good into the world. We told him that we’re going to start calling him “The Hundred Dollar Man” and he said his typical farewell of “whatever” and gave us a wave before finding his walker (with the dog tied to it) outside and heading off towards home.

He probably has no idea how much I enjoy seeing him. Yesterday, when he was in the store, he was talking to a mother and her young daughter. He doesn’t see well (blind as a bat might be a more accurate description), and at one point, he was gesticulating with his hand out and the little girl reached up and high-fived him. He smiled and asked her if she was going to hold his hand. It was such a sweet moment.

He’s the best. I don’t mean to ramble, but he’s one of those examples of the best parts of the world. They’re the most unexpected. They take you by surprise and uplift you in the strangest ways.

I’m so thrilled. Life has a funny way of handing you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m finding that sometimes, the things you need the most are the things you’ve carried with you all along. (Oh, I know I’m spitting clichés out left and right and I don’t care at all.)

I’m going to make the most of this beautiful life, even though it’s not at all how I expected it would be. I think sometimes it’s the weird randomness of the universe that’s the most beautiful part of it all.

On Boyfriend and Baseball, Happily

The boyfriend and I have very different love languages. I’m all about expression and adorable things. He would never be caught dead using the phrase “love language” since it involves both emotions and communication, neither of which do much for him. 

Last weekend, I had to take the twins that I babysit to a birthday party. (They’re my absolute favorite family to sit for — the kids are amazing.) I asked boyfriend if I could borrow his car because it’s cleaner than mine, but also because it’s a bit bigger and I feel safer hauling children around in it. To my surprise, he came with me to pick up the kids. I’ve known him for over a year, but I’ve never had the chance to see him interact with children. I think that you can tell a lot about a guy based on how he handles children. 

He stayed in the car at first, hesitant. These kids aren’t shy at all, so upon realizing that my car wasn’t there, they got curious and wanted to head out immediately. They put their booster seats in his car, and I introduced them to the boyfriend. The questions began immediately. 

“Do you live together?” “Are you married?” “What’s your name?” “Do you have a dog?” “Can we open that thing?” (The sunroof.) “How old are you?” 

We had time to kill before the party started, so I decided I wanted to run to Costco to grab a hot dog before I dropped them off. (I had forgotten what Costco is like on a Sunday afternoon, so naturally, we did not have time to actually complete the mission.)

We were in the parking lot and I called for everyone to hold hands as we walked in. The little boy, who’s six, grabbed boyfriend’s hand. It was the sweetest thing. Boyfriend didn’t even flinch. 

We got inside, and immediately, they saw some Batman toys. We stood and looked at those for a bit before trying to get in line for food. I checked the time and realized that we didn’t have time for the line and to get to the birthday party on time, so I herded everyone back to the car, after much discussion about what they wanted to eat. 

On the way back to the car, the hand-holding resumed. The little boy was holding my hand, but he decided that he wanted to hold boyfriend’s hand, so he switched. I gave boyfriend a look that said, “What am I, chopped liver?” The little girl was not as impressed with boyfriend as her brother was, so she was quite content to hold my hand. 

The chatter was constant and hilarious. There were a few times when I had to avoid boyfriend’s eyes so I wouldn’t laugh. 

We dropped the kids off and ran errands, including a stop at my mom’s house to help her with her computer, and then we went back to grab the kids. The little boy had gotten a toy owl at the party, and when I asked him what he was going to name the owl, he said, “What’s the name of the guy in the car?” and when I told him boyfriend’s name, he said that’s what he was going to name the owl, although I think that half an hour later, the owl had a new name. 

I think I fell in love with him after we got the kids back to their house, and were playing with them in the backyard. The little boy wanted to play baseball. He’s obsessed with baseball, and even though I’m not the best at the game, I did play t-ball and coach pitch, so I feel like our skills are about equal. I was pitching and the little boy was hitting, and then he declared that it was boyfriend’s turn. 

Turns out, boyfriend is horrible at baseball. Horrible. I’ve always been under the impression that he’s great at all things sport, so finding out that he can’t hit a ball made me ridiculously happy. (Not that we compete at all…)

At one point, the little boy strode over to the boyfriend, who was at bat but had struck out several times in a row, and very seriously explained that he shouldn’t swing if the ball was too high or too far out because that was a ball. Boyfriend gave me a bewildered look, and I had to turn around because I was laughing at the little boy’s air diagram of the strike zone. The little boy trotted back to first base and boyfriend hit a home run. 

I know that it was just an afternoon, but it meant so much to me that he spent his only day off running errands with me, hauling six-year olds around, and hanging out with my mom. He was such a good sport about it, and I really appreciated how sweet he was with the kids. He did do quite a bit of gloating about being the favorite, but I was too happy to even argue.