Random musings of a harmless madwoman.

Today I heard of a second friend losing a parent in less than a month. In the last three months, I’ve had two friends diagnosed with breast cancer, three friends lost beloved pets, one person in a car accident, two more required disabling surgeries, and one filed for divorce.

While the holidays are a time for family and friends, joy and merriment, for so many, the holidays are painful reminders of who’s missing, what’s been lost, and questions of how they’ll get through.

This time of year, we often hear, I can’t wait for this year to be over.  This year has been very good to me, but I’ve definitely been one of those people.  While I’m pretty good at remembering my blessings, I’ve definitely wanted years to end, as if a turn of a calendar page would magically set things right.

Of course, that’s not how it happens.

Shouts of Happy New Year don’t bring back loved ones, don’t mend marriages, they certainly don’t mend broken bodies or broken hearts, and no amount of horns or fireworks will pay the rent or put food on the table.

So what can you do to support someone who isn’t feeling the holiday spirit this year?

  • Extend the invitations to holiday gatherings as you normally would with the understanding that they might be declined.  Follow up with an invitation to a quiet dinner or drink, 1:1, avoiding Christmas fanfare and revelry, and just be available for your friend.
  • Be patient. Don’t take their lack of reciprocation of, or participation in, all things holiday as a bah-humbug on your Christmas parade.  It has nothing to do with you.
  • Extend grace.  If there’s something you always do together – shopping, wrapping gifts, cookie exchanges – again, extend the invitation, but this year might be the gap in your tradition.

And what can you do if you’re the one not feeling festive?

  • Be gentle with yourself.  Honor that you’re hurting and you need to grieve and heal and regroup however that looks to you.
  • If you muster the energy to go to a gathering, but 30 minutes later, you feel you need to leave, go.  No need to feel guilty.  Honor yourself for giving it a try.
  • If money is not an issue, try to make the holidays a little brighter for someone else. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but in my rough times, whether my heart was broken or my wallet was empty, if I could do something for someone else – a little something or a big something – it helped me heal, it helped me remember the many blessings I still had even in those moments of utter loss, it helped remind me that I’m still me, I’m still here, and I have to keep going.

 

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I haven’t blogged in over two months.  Readers have been nudging me about my next post.  Sometimes, dry spells are more about making time to write versus not knowing what to write.  Typically, if I make the time, there’s always something wanting to come out.

This time has been different.  Very different.

Lately, when I focus on what to write, nothing comes to mind.  Nothing at all.  There are thoughts of I could write this or I could write about that, but nearly all of my writing has had an emotional component – probably because this isn’t a paid gig.  I’ve been writing because I want to, because I’m not just moved to, but compelled to, as if I have no choice. If I don’t get the words out, they’ll just keep me awake, keep me distracted, annoy the shit out of me.

I asked friends for suggestions about what I they want to read. One suggested I write about the blank space.  And when I started to consider that blank space, what came up was distressing and a little unsettling.

Why? It’s disconcerting that I write because I feel and if I’m not writing, I’m not feeling.

What’s going on in the world is no small amount of insanity.  Shootings, racism, vicious and vile politics, crimes against humanity in ways we hadn’t imagined or at least, believed that we had learned never again.

I was about to go on with specifics, but it’s not necessary.

I’m not feeling depressed and I’m not feeling numb, but that blank space on the white board may be trying to tell me something.  Maybe in efforts to not let the insanity overwhelm me, I was becoming numb.  Certainly, it should be hard and it should be painful and we should all be hurting over the heartbreak in the news.  For me, maybe it’s finding balance.  Maybe it’s finding constructive ways to protest and fight and protect against the bullshit.

The one thing I have realized since sitting down to do this blog: don’t let the white space become white noise.

 

Watching and reading all the coverage for days around the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court and the allegations of sexual misconduct hit me hard today, just now.  The stories and denials, the people supporting the accusers, the naysayers – all the fucking naysayers – like Mitch McConnell standing on the Senate floor and denouncing the accusations as a low Democratic campaign to besmirch a man who has hundreds of people writing letters of support and all the people who dismiss the alleged behavior as typical for teenage boys.

I suddenly started to lose my shit.  My blood pressure is spiking.  I have a lump in my throat.  It’s like all of these stories and outrageous dismissals have been tapping at the protective glass I started installing around myself as a kid and that tapping created a crack and that crack is breaking open.

Third grade seems to be my earliest memories of inappropriate behavior.  There was a boy who was about five years older.  He decided to teach me how to French kiss.  I was 8, maybe 9.  I hadn’t been kissed – and I shouldn’t have been kissed – but it happened.  It was scary, but I liked it, even though I was very confused and knew on some level that it was wrong.  He was older, he was trusted.  I held on to that idea rather than believing what happened was wrong and I might get in trouble.

I can’t remember how old I was when I finally told someone about it.  It was a very long time.

Also in third grade, a new kid was seated behind me.  I can’t remember his name, but I remember his face, and the weird, trendy shoes he wore.  He slipped a note into my little-girl purse that had my name etched into the leather – a gift from my aunt and uncle.  On one side, the note said, “I love you,” and on the other side, “I fuck you.” Third grade.  

My teacher, whom I adored, was sitting on a desk next to mine, lecturing.  I was so upset, I handed her the note right there. I didn’t think to politely wait until there was a break and I could discreetly show it to her.  I didn’t know what ‘fuck’ meant, only that it was a bad word and people get in trouble for saying it, so this was pretty serious and he’s gonna get in big trouble.

My teacher paused, read the note, made a dismissive sound like, ‘Tsk’, shoved the note into her polyester pants, and continued with the lesson.  Nothing was done in that moment.  His seat was changed the next day but nothing more was said, explained, no assurance this was serious and he would be dealt with.  My parents weren’t even informed.

I turned 13 and it seemed that boys – technically men – of 18 wanted to kiss me.  At the time, I liked it.  I thought it meant that they thought I was pretty, that they liked me, that I was mature.

Had I ever caught an 18-year-old kissing my 13-year-old daughter, I would have castrated him and kept his scrotum as a trophy.

I didn’t make any moves on these guys.  I was a nervous, awkward tomboy trying hard to transition into a girl – like other girls my age who were pretty, who did their hair, and were actually conscious of what they wore.

I was away visiting with family friends. The son and I stayed up late watching Saturday Night Live.  He invited me to sit next to him on the couch.  Bit by bit, he drew me closer – a hand on mine, then an arm around my shoulder, I looked up and there it was, the kiss that other friends were doing with other friends our age, but he was 18.  In a twisted way, I was glad for the French kiss incident in third grade so I kinda knew what was happening even if I didn’t know to breathe through my nose so I had pull away to get some air.  I was so nervous and awkward and thought I was ready, but of course, I was not.

The other guy was a baseball coach for a little league team – maybe my brother’s team.  I hung out watching the game, then talking with the coach afterward, then walking with him toward his home which took us on a path through the woods where he stopped and kissed me.  Again, I forgot to breathe.  I pulled away and said, “I’ve gotta go.”  I never told anyone.  Not even my best friend – who will learn of it when she reads this post.

I never told an adult about the kissing.  Partly, I was ashamed.  Partly, I was afraid I’d get in trouble.  There was no groping or penetration.  I’m blessed I wasn’t raped.  But that’s still not okay.  Having those experiences too early pretty much ruined how I should have behaved with adolescent crushes.  It set me up to believe that I was more mature, so of course, I shouldn’t date boys my age, which meant I really didn’t date much.  Hearing all the dismissive, boys-will-be-boys commentary confirms that even if I had told an adult, my stories would have been dismissed too.  My mother would have gone to her comfortable space of melodrama.  My dad could have gone either way.  Dismissed the guy/s with a warning – if he found the guy was likable; or gotten arrested for beating the hell out of one, the other, or both.  Regardless, knowing that communication in my family consisted of yelling or conversations about surface-level bullshit, I would not have been supported and very much encouraged to forget it ever happened – all three times.

So why am I sharing all this now?  To set the foundation of why women don’t come forward right away – if ever – or tell someone or file charges.  It’s because women – at least in my age range – have learned from a very young age, that we are somehow less than.  Our thoughts and feelings are dismissed, our ideas disregarded, our talents and contributions minimized.  So that’s how we, as women, begin to treat ourselves.

Here’s more of my story.

When I was 18, I was living with my dad.  His best friend – who was named as my godfather – stopped by one evening.  He was wasted and reeked of alcohol and cigarettes.  When I came into the room, I went to hug him, because that’s what was expected.  He kissed me – on the lips – and shoved his ash-tray-tongue into my mouth.  Right there!  Right in front of my dad!  My dad was a heavy drinker back then and he didn’t notice. I pulled my head away but I couldn’t pull away from his ‘hug’.  He held onto my waist really tight and kept smiling a drunken, smarmy smile, and telling me how grown up I was as I was trying not to wretch from the awful taste in my mouth.

I minimized myself by never telling my dad.  To tell him would be to hurt him.  Never mind how it made me feel.  If I told him, one of two things would have happened. It would have destroyed a 30-year friendship, and I didn’t feel I was worth that.  My dad would have used the excuse that his friend was drunk and dismiss it.  How do you think I would feel then?

My dad passed awhile back.  His friend is still alive.  A few years ago, I minimized myself again by sending him a Christmas card which was a collage of pictures of me and my daughter.  Somehow, I thought it was something I should do. I thought my dad would appreciate the nice gesture to his friend.  When the friend sent a card in return, he didn’t ask about my daughter – what sports she was playing, how school was going – he didn’t ask me about my life, work, etc. – he said, “Beautiful ladies!  Love the pictures.  SEND ME MORE!”  No matter what anyone says, I know exactly what he meant.  There’s no making excuses.  No dismissing it as complimentary.

This is how insidious the dismissal that girls learn at an early age manifests – and remains – for decades.  There’s no reason to name names because these fuckers aren’t earning some cherished honor or a lifetime appointment as a judge.  But you can be damn sure that if one of them was, I’d come forward, and share my experience of their inappropriate behavior and that without acceptance and remorse, they are unworthy of high praise and commendation. 

I was just introduced to Alajawan Brown, an incredible kid – hard-working, kind, generous, selfless.

He was killed eight years ago.

The local news did a story on an organization collecting backpacks and school supplies for underprivileged kids in the community.  Ayanna Brown was interviewed as she was on-site, at the Renton Walmart, collecting those supplies and donations.

https://komonews.com/news/local/family-honors-murdered-son-by-collecting-school-supplies

She shared the memory of Alajawan starting a business mowing lawns to buy his own school supplies. He was only nine years old.  Before the piece ended, I knew I’d be delivering supplies the next day.

The parking lot was impossibly crowded.  I found a spot at the far back of the lot and headed to the stand, just as it was being taken down for the day.

I approached with my bags, and to the woman clearly in charge, said, “Looks like I’m just in time.  Are you Alajawan’s mom?”  She said yes, and I asked, “Can I give you a hug?”

She opened her arms wide, like she was going to embrace the whole world, and I got my first biggest, warmest, most loving hug I’ve ever gotten from a stranger.  I introduced myself, and Ayanna introduced herself and her sister who said, “I’m his aunty.  I want a hug too.”  And that’s when I got my second, biggest, warmest, most loving hug I’ve ever gotten from a stranger.

While Miss Ayanna’s team – sister, son-in-law, daughter, and three grandbabies – continued breaking down the tent, Miss Ayanna said, “Come here.  Let me introduce you to him.” She pulled out a backpack, and began her introduction.

The drive for school supplies was of course, started because of Alajawan’s determination to help his family by buying his own supplies.

Alajawan continued his determination to pay for supplies, fees for sports – football was his love – and even his own gear.  The day he was killed, April 29, 2010 – he was at that Renton Walmart to purchase football cleats he found on sale.  A 35-year-old gang member shot and killed Alajawan, mistaking him for someone else.

He was 12 years old.

Louis and Ayanna Brown decided to use their unspeakable loss to continue Alajawan’s desire to make a difference in his community and created Alajawan’s Hands.

My introduction to Alajawan continued.

Ayanna described how when Alajawan would see panhandlers, he would never give them money, but he would ask them if they were hungry.  And then he would feed them, with his own money.

From the backpack, Ayanna pulled out a worn Ziploc bag stuffed with school supplies.  I ran my fingers along the bag feeling a sacred reverence.  Then Ayanna pulled out a binder and opened it to show me the page now protected in a plastic sheet, that showed one of the budgets that Alajawan had worked up.  I snapped a picture that turned out blurry because I was a little emotional and my hands were a little shaky.

Aside from the annual drive for school supplies, there is the annual giveaway for the supplies.  There are tutoring services and scholarships for children to participate in camps and sports.

Community engagement and service continues on Thanksgiving every year.  Alajawan’s family cooks turkey every way imaginable, cornbread and dressing to the point that Ayanna is over it once the holiday is over.  Anyone who’s hungry can come and be fed whether homeless or they have four kids and need help feeding them.  On Alajawan’s birthday, there is a celebration of his life with a community event with a focus on family – games, give-aways with a family theme like a family movie night basket with popcorn, movie, theatre-sized boxes of candy.  Community, family, people.

As I was leaving, Miss Ayanna told me, “Don’t take anything for granted. You don’t know when it will be gone.”  She told me how Alajawan would forget to put the lid on the peanut butter jar or the soap would fall from the soap dish in the tub and he’d leave it to get all mushy and his mom would be the one to find it first.  She said she wished she ‘could still fuss on him’ over things like that.

I want to make a difference in my community. – Alajawan Brown

If you’d like to learn more, or help continue Alajawan’s mission, please visit Alajawan’s Hands.

 

*Edited*

On an unremarkable day, the old black-and-white picture of the missing-person flyer sent a jolt to my heart.  Twenty-eight years later, it still brings tears to my eyes.

On the night of June 1, 1990, Todd was at a pub.  He realized he had had too much to drink and he tossed his car keys to a long-time friend saying he’d see him tomorrow, and started walking home, as he had done before.

That was the last any of Todd’s loved ones saw him.

While authorities have always suspected foul play, there was a possibility of an accident.  Maybe as Todd was walking home, he staggered a bit from the shoulder of the road and a car hit him.  Even so, if that was the case, someone could have called 911.  But there was no call.

His body was dumped in the woods quite a distance from his route home.  His remains were found the following January.  Blunt-force trauma to his head.

 

 

Todd was funny and kind, a loyal friend.  A lot of girls swooned over Todd.  He was friendly to just about everyone who wasn’t an asshole.  He smiled so easily, so readily, like life was just one big happy day.

My earliest memories of Todd were in high school.  He was a sophomore, I was a meek freshman.  Somehow, I was graced to sit at the same cafeteria table with Todd, his older brother, and other upper classmen.  Todd and his brother would have the most obnoxious burping contests.  At the time, I was pretty uptight and serious so it grossed me out, but I came to appreciate the freedom they had to burp in such glorious disregard for rules or convention.

I wonder what he would be like today had he lived.  Probably a father.  Probably still close with the same friends from high school.  Definitely still smiling.

In memory of Todd, I ordered a special glass of wine.  It was called Ballbuster.  It was smooth, laid-back, and the name itself was irreverent and real, like Todd.

Someone somewhere knows something.  I hope the renewed focus on this case will prompt that someone to come forward.  Family and friends deserve closure.  Todd deserves justice.

To read more on the case, please visit the story on Jersey Shore Online.

 

State of the Disunion

I just left the world of dating apps again.  After a year-plus hiatus, I was talked into trying again on an improved site.  That was exactly 24 days ago.  I’ve already had enough.

This time, there weren’t any clowns, no puppeteers, no candidates posed with shrunken-apple-heads but there were still plenty of fantastical profiles and pictures, including countless bathroom selfies.  There were pictures where men seemed to have no understanding of how to smile.  Men who still insist on sharing bare-torso pictures – often from years ago – pictures that range in age, hair color/hair amount, and weight by about 10 years, pictures on the bed or couch, with pillows and cheesy attempts at pouty, sultry bedroom-eyes.  Many pictures in gym-mirrors, showing off biceps more substantive than their brains.  There were sad attempts to lure women with pictures of their adorable children.  Some pictures I believe were mug shots with the height hash-lines Photoshopped out.  One fella looked frightened in every one of his profile pictures.

Profile self-descriptions were equally appalling. Bad spelling, sappy, over-the-top romantic prose totally meant to draw the ‘Awww’ effect and get me to swipe right – which I did not, and one special guy who said, ‘…I don’t go much for hikes.  I’d rather listen to records and rub your butt.’

Of course, that’s all a bunch of nonsense and I’ve used it for entertainment value.  I quit the dating app because of the real stuff that comes with it.  Straight-up Folks, this is not fun.

My heart wasn’t broken by anyone.  I literally had three dates.  What’s hard to manage is the energy expended for such little gain.  The emotional energy put into trying to connect with someone.  I’m authentic.  I’m out there giving it true attention and intention.  It’s not just meeting someone and having wine or appetizers.  It’s making the time, it’s putting consideration into what to wear, where to meet – I try to consider where someone is coming from, what traffic is like, parking, atmosphere, etc.  There’s an effort expended to remember details in profiles and pictures to ask relative questions, to demonstrate interest, unless I meet the person and immediately see, I have no interest because he misrepresented himself by 40 pounds – that really happened.

Two of the three dates was with one guy who was very nice but despite his declaration that he’s very comfortable with himself, he wasn’t comfortable with me.  So nervous that it made me uncomfortable.  The third date was with a guy who I thought was great.  I wasn’t seeing monogrammed towels in our future, but it had been a long time since I’d had such a good first date and first kiss.  Planned to meet again, then radio-silence.  I really didn’t think a 58-year-old guy who said he was looking for a long-term relationship would ghost me – or anyone for that matter.

And that’s when it started to weigh on me.  That even at 50+, there’s ridiculous, sophomoric bullshit that goes on in the dating world.  That people can be incredibly selfish.  That someone can kiss you and never say another word to you.  Why kiss someone at all if you’re really not interested?

It feels like there are conspiring forces to ensure I remain single.  When I look back on relationships and what I have given and contributed balanced with the heartache received in return, it’s hard to stay optimistic.  It’s hard to have faith in ‘the process’, hard to believe in the goodness of people when they’re disingenuous, and really hard to give a shit when someone can’t even bother to comb his hair for a profile picture.

 

While this has been percolating, I haven’t had time to write and polish it up so here it is with apologies for mistakes and maybe even some blathering.

Technically, I started my second 50 years last year, but as we mark birthdays in this culture, it feels like I am starting my next 50 years tomorrow.  That said, I think if one is going to reflect on 50 years of living, one should be at least, 50.

In no particular order, here are things I’ve learned, I know for certain, I’m still learning.

No matter what I thought I knew when I turned 50, very recently, I’ve learned, I’ve still got a lot to learn.  So it kinda sucks to expect kids to know what they want to be when they grow up, or to expect teenagers to know what they should study in college, or for adults to be able to accurately answer the inane interview question, Where do you see yourself in five years?

Just cut that shit out.

I learned that sucking helium is fun, especially when you do it with your childhood bestie.

Spending evenings with my friends is never wasted.  That can’t be said for spending evenings with dolts met via online dating sites. Trust me on this one.

Speaking of dating/romance, despite heartbreak and disappointment, I still miss James, or, the good parts about that relationship.  It’s hard to find someone who knows you so well – the good, the bad, the cranky, the hormonal, the sexy, the hairy-legged – and loves you anyway.  Some of you may be groaning about that, and may want to proverbially – or literally – smack me upside my head.  I get it. Not to worry, I’m not looking to rekindle. I just miss him.

It’s important to say ‘yes’ to opportunities.  It’s been a remarkable year of firsts that resulted from simply saying yes. I hiked two new trails and visited my childhood bestie.  I went to Hawaii, and in one day, visited a green-sand beach, a black-sand beach, and a volcano, then showered off, semi-privately, hoping there weren’t cameras in the palm trees.  Now, to be honest, the jury’s still out about saying yes to the guy driving the very old pick-up who offered to take us – Jasmine and me – to that green-sand beach.  He made us pay after we were there – surprise – but the ride was absolutely harrowing, standing in the back of the pick-up, holding on to the truck-frame for dear life.  At the very least, we walked away with a story, just as we walked away with a story about visiting the volcano, the Kilauea Volcano that has been erupting since a few weeks after we visited, and you can’t get to safely, now.

I pretended to be a ghost in an actual ghost town.  You know how you have that one friend who calls you and says, Hey, you wanna do ….?  For me, that friend is Angie.  Naked-lady day spa, yoga retreat, pop-up café, hip-hop dance performance, camping, being a ghost in a ghost town, cardio striptease class – yes, yes, yes.

Showing up for others is a really big deal.  You may not think it matters much, but wow, don’t dismiss or diminish when you do that.  That shit creates major memories and ripple-effects.  I got up at 4AM on a Sunday to find a spot on a course of a half-marathon.  Why?  My trainer was going to do her TENTH – Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon.  That shit needs to be honored and celebrated.  So, that’s what I did.  With a partner in crime, Tina, we held up a banner bought by donations from the gym community.  Several others in the community were running or walking the race.  Some knew about the banner, not everyone.  But showing up – in honor of my trainer – to her complete surprise, was fucking priceless.  Lost sleep, a little cold, taking a morning constitutional in a port-o-potty, standing for a few hours, every bit of discomfort worth the 30 seconds of reaction and maybe four minutes of posing for pictures, but the lifetime of memories for Marisa, my trainer and inspiration to many.

Showing up for sick friends- especially those who are single and having to do life without a partner as back-up – can literally be life-saving.  I brought chicken soup to two friends, brought one to the ER.  But that doesn’t even begin to measure up to the friends who brought food, and gift cards, and hope to me this past holiday season.  I honestly had no idea how I was going to get through.  At Halloween, I had to choose between buying candy for the possible 6-12 kids who would come by and a bottle of wine.  Between Halloween and Christmas, people showed up. Food, gift cards, wine-for-days because sometimes, wine just makes life a little more bearable.

That said, I might drink too much wine.  Not sure what the measure is for that but blood tests aren’t raising red flags with my MD, and I’m pretty sure the French and Italians have more than 2-3 glasses a day.  Jury’s still out on that one.

Regardless of how little I have in savings, I never feel guilty about giving to those in more need than myself.  I can’t worry about retirement 10+ years from now when I see someone starving or a child in need of school supplies.

While I wish I was a better mom to Chloe, I think she’s going to be okay if only because, I’ve worked to own my screw-ups with/to her.  I think owning our shit, showing humility, and apologizing to our kids goes far.  Parents in my generation mostly didn’t understand this and it was kind of a detriment in that it didn’t teach us how to do that as parents.  Humans aren’t perfect and if we don’t demonstrate how to own being not perfect to our children, how will they know how to be imperfect, yet human?

There is more but this is already long.  I hope the takeaways of hope, humility, appreciation, being open to possibility, spending time with those who are worthy, it’s not what you have but what you give, wine in moderation, suck the helium, saying yes to adventure resonate and inspire you.