Saturday, October 16, 2010

Road Trippin'

                There are two types of road trippers in this world- those that get there and those that get it. See, for me, a road trip isn’t just about getting from A to Z and zooming past all the other letters in a blur. It’s more like A to Z, stopping at the letters in between that look interesting along the way. Unless there is a real need to get to Z by a certain time, why not stop at that fruit stand selling those fresh picked peaches, the scenic outlook, or sitting down at a local favorite diner instead of whizzing through some fast food joint? Road trips ought to be enjoyed every step of the way and if you can’t do that, pick another weekend.
                A few years back, my then husband and I visited my folks in North Carolina. My youngest brother was stationed at Camp David and he got us passes to see it. We flew to North Carolina on a Thursday. From Washington, it’s about an 8 hour trip. Then you factor in the time that we left our house to the time we arrived at my folks and it was swiftly approaching eleven hours. The very next day, we piled into a Jeep Liberty and began the long trip to Maryland. It was my folks in the front and my husband, middle brother and me in the back seat. Now, as mentioned before, I’m a plus sized girl. My ex isn’t heavy but he’s not a slight man either. And then there is my brother. He’s about 6’4” with long grasshopper legs and a beefy frame. Oh yeah. It was cozy in the back of that Jeep. All eight hours were just peachy- if peaches were best served bruised beyond all recognition.
                We stopped twice on the way up- once for gas and once to eat at a Hardees. Don’t you think it would have been nice to pull over once or twice more so we could all resume our natural shapes every so often? We didn’t. We arrived in Maryland and my folks dropped us off at my younger brother’s place to get reacquainted (we played drinking games). On Saturday we toured Antietam and Camp David. That night we ate cake to celebrate my upcoming birthday. We drank again. On Sunday we drove home. The way back was almost as bad save for the fact that Dad did let us stop for fifteen minutes at an antique mall my Mom had been pleading with him to stop at for the previous year. We made up for the lost time by scarfing down our fast food combo creations fifteen minutes quicker down the road. The next day, the ex and I flew home.
                Let’s recap- fly in, drive, drink, tour a deluxe Boy Scout camp while hung over, get lost at a civil war battlefield while still hung over(saving that story for later), argue with the father figure, drink some more, drive, fly out.
                We had a strict “No Road Trip” rule after that attached to our North Carolina visits after that. Of course my parents constitute anything past going to Target, work, or church as a road trip so the visits thereafter were much more boring. It saved us money, though; we visited less.
                Shortly after that we went on a road trip from Olympia, WA to Podunk, Idaho to see the in-laws’ extended family. We drove with my ex’s folks and the trip started off with my father-in-law inviting me to shout out whenever I saw anything worth stopping at. I’m fairly certain this was the trip we spent an hour and a half at a waterfall. The whole town was coated in a fog that reeked of a paper mill and had bed bugs been a problem at that point, I’m fairly certain they’d have infested every inch of our motel. Plus, we got to spend an afternoon with a grandma so far gone I found myself looking for her marionette strings.
                All in all, neither of these trips will ever go down as The Best Road Trip Ever® but, hey, with the trip to Idaho, I remember a gorgeous waterfall. The North Carolina one was so bad that I shutter involuntarily whenever I see a Jeep. So, stop often and thank me later.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Damage Control

                My ex husband and I have an interesting relationship- interesting in that “How long before I fly out there and smack him upside his head” sort of way. If you’re taking bets, the answer is “never.” I spent almost ten years trying to get him to see the light. I’m fairly certain that all the options have been exhausted by this point. But who knows? Maybe answering the door to a surprise ass kicking from your ex who is supposed to be on the other side of the country might be just the ticket to get him to wake up….
                Not likely. I bring this unfortunate thing up because even though we aren’t “friends” on social networks any longer, whether I want to or not, I still know more about what he’s posting than I ever thought I would.
                It usually goes something like this:
                Step One: I’ll send him a text message about something important. For example, this latest bit was reminding him of his court ordered responsibility as a father to send his son child support because, otherwise, I know he would have “forgotten” and to inquire as to why his crack head of a roommate hasn’t turned in her application to be on the lease (Honestly, does she even really exist?) so I can get off of it since he’s held up this process for almost six weeks at this point.
                Step Two: I’ll get a text message back that is usually fishing for sympathy.
                Step Three: I acknowledge that his life is hectic and then remind him that these are requests to make his son’s life less difficult, not to badger or harass him, and make it known in a polite but firm way that I’m not a person he can unload on any longer.
                Step Four: This is when it all comes out that I fucked up his life. I took his son away. I took him off my health insurance. All I want is money.
                Step Five: I point out that A) He had the option of seeing his son twice a week but he said that he needed time to himself and two days was too much so I decided to give my son an environment, hopefully, Elijah would not have to deal with those sorts of arguments, B) when I left Panera we ALL lost health insurance, not just him. It wasn’t a plan to screw him over, and C) if he can’t send his son a letter or a card or even so much as call, if not me than at least call my folks, to see how Elijah is doing then he ought to at least keep to the agreement that we reached and he was given plenty of opportunity to back out of. It’s not like he was forced into any of it. His paranoid father who is convinced that the world is out to screw the clan even went over the numbers and said it was okay (according to Paul, at least).
                Step Six: Paul doesn’t respond. Instead, I get a phone call the next day from any one of the approximately 40 “mutual friends” that wants an opinion on whatever his latest status update is. It’s usually followed by a bit of laughter, some frustration, and a lot of head shaking.
                Step Seven: We continue talking about more interesting things than the ex like the weather, cookies, play dates, cars, jobs, health, etc.
                Step Eight: I think about this pathetic little dance that’s done over and over again. I get angry. I want to shout out that this is really how it’s happening. Look, I’m not stupid. I’m biased. I feel like I’m in the right. I think I did the best thing I could for my son. I think that at some point you have to stop thinking about how the ex feels and you need to focus on what is going to have to happen to give the child (you know? The one with no say but so much to lose in all of this?) the life he deserves.
                In an ideal world, Paul would inquire about his son. He would make an effort to be a part of his son’s life. We could remain civil. He would have found a roommate that could actually be able to fill out a lease. In this world, if he can’t do that he will be asked to at least pay child support. If he doesn’t show even an effort to do that or work out some sort of plan, I’ll just keep records and report him.
                See, it’s not as if Paul was forced into fatherhood. It’s not like I went behind his back. We decided we weren’t going to have kids. I wanted a child but I respected his wishes. One day I was moping about this and he asked what was wrong. I told him I wanted a child and he agreed. There was no argument. He wasn’t forced. I was shocked and then elated that he agreed. A few weeks later we got pregnant. This is his son, too, damn it. If he loves his son as much as he says he does he would try to be a good father. But I guess that’s a lot harder than being a complete deadbeat and then spinning lies…

The Gentlest Giant

I have three brothers. David is the oldest and lives in Ohio. My youngest is in Mississippi. His name is Andrew and we, through the years, have been closer than the others. Then, there is my brother Douglas. Douglas is learning disabled. If you sift through what he says, you’ll find a keen mind that sucks in information like a Hoover Shop Vac. It’s getting it to come out again that gets him into trouble. He’s also emotionally about thirteen which makes any sort of relationship with him like walking a tight rope. If you lean too far one way, you’ve given him too much slack and he runs off with his new found freedom, laughing and waving it right into the street. The other way finds him shut down and sulking upstairs.
I don’t envy anyone who cares for the disabled. It’s a job I couldn’t do so those people have my complete admiration. My parents are in that category. I guess if Douglas were more disabled it would be easier in some ways. They could say he has autism or whatever and people would understand. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that Douglas’s brain works differently.
The funny thing is, though, that I think a lot of this house would fall apart if it weren’t for Douglas. He moans and groans about doing a job the way any thirteen year old but if you need the gutters cleaned out, a sump pump put into place, painting done, or any of the other little maintenance things taken care of, Douglas is the one that does it. Mom’s not climbing a ladder any time soon and Dad is way too tired for most of it. Enter Douglas. He’s also the go-to guy for dishes and cleaning the floors. Hell, even this morning I was reading the paper and he set down a cup of perfectly brewed coffee by my hand.
Douglas is also the house’s town crier. If it rained last night, you’ll know about it. Did one of the cats get after the dog? Ask Douglas. If I’m in the room next to our bedroom and Elijah wakes up, Douglas will come from across the house to let me know.
I think part of it is because he’s able to. I also think he just wants you to love him. Everyone needs to feel needed and a part of something bigger. It’s hard to do that out here in the middle of nowhere. It’s a three mile trek on narrow roads with crazy ass drivers and no sidewalks to the nearest bus stop. His biggest trip out of the house is to the grocery store and when we had to push back a trip to the mall a day, the look on his face was as if Mom had just told him a basket of kittens had just drown.
That brings me to the other thing about Douglas. He is devoted to cats. He knows every outdoor cat in the area and reports to us on the comings and goings of them, too. Last week a cat got stuck in a tree on our property and he pulled out a rickety ladder to rescue the poor thing. Even with me steadying the ladder, I was sure he was about to fall to the ground and dislocate something. But no, he rescued the cat and was repaid with claw marks across his forearm. He knows the next door neighbors cats by name, meow, age, and temperament and was proud to introduce me. He found out where the strays live a couple miles down the road and watches for them should we ever drive by. And my cat Socks has not once had less than an over flowing bowl of food since we’ve been here.
Douglas is a true gentle giant. He easily fills up a doorframe but I wouldn’t trust anyone more with Socks and it’s amazing how wonderful he is with Elijah.  Sometimes we have a precarious dance being siblings but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Oh, he just dropped off a plate of bacon wrapped scallops. It must be time for lunch.  Gotta go!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Tattooed Lady...

                When I first moved to North Carolina, I was eager to get back to work at my old job. I’d been assured of a position and was told to call when I was ready and that all the details would be worked out then. I had only been treated with the utmost respect at work in Washington and adored not only what I did but my family of co-workers as well. Long story short, the woman out here wasn’t completely honest with me and I found myself choosing between working nights again which would mean very little if any sleep during the days or looking for a new job. Because I’ve never been a huge fan of joining the zombie race and was in the position to have a choice, I chose to look for a new job. I had never had a difficult time finding work and had, in fact, aced all but one interview since I was twelve (it was then that I entered the work force as a paper carrier). Of course, it had been seven years since I looked for a job out of necessity. Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, you know our economy is currently crap.
                My first interview was for a bakery recently purchased by a very nice guy named Abraham. I wore my black wrap dress, mother-of-pearl earrings and professional but not dowdy black heels. We spoke for about fifteen minutes and I was hired. The next day I came in to train and started learning all the dirty secrets. The place was filthy, management inexperienced, and you were paid under the table at the owner’s discretion. Sorry but that’s not going to fly. I did not go back.
                A few days later, I interviewed for a second job and chose a pair of sleek brown slacks and cream colored top that hit about mid-bicep. The look was understated and professional save for the fact that you could see a good portion of my half-sleeve tattoo and all of the one below it. I was not hired immediately and did not receive a call back.
                The next morning my mom sat me at the table and, I swear to you, confessed to being kept up at night about my tattoos and how I would never, ever, ever get a job with my tattoos on display. Oh my God. My tattoos are not of fiery death, serpents, or even the Pilsbury Dough Boy nailing Little Debbie on top of a Hostess cupcake- someone else has that honor. No, my half sleeve is an Alphonse Mucha piece depicting a mother and son feeding  a flock of birds. It is, obviously, to commemorate the birth of my son. The piece below it is script that says “Solitudine non è essere soli, è amare gli altri inutilmente” which is Italian for “Loneliness is not being alone; it is loving others unnecessarily.”  It was graffitied around Venice by the poet Mario Stefani before he tragically went home and hung himself. His story was made popular by the book “The City of Falling Angels” by John Berendt. The phrase spoke to me and, having suffered many long, dark bouts of depression, I felt a kinship not only to the poet but also to my maternal grandmother who had taken her life before I was born. This tattoo was a way to acknowledge the pain of depression and the strength I worked very hard some days to muster. Like my other more easily concealed tattoos, these tattoos mean something to me and are very much a part of who I am. Who is my mother to tell me that these markings are unfit?
                But she was very gentle and I could tell this was something that was bothering her so I listened to her concerns. She even offered a solution: Mom would buy a new long sleeved top for me to cover my tattoos. I agreed and we agreed to go in search of the perfect cover the next day.
                However, when I next came to the dinner table, I found an article about dressing professionally that my dad had printed up and set on my placemat. There was no gentle talk, no “I love you and I want to help.” It was just these two fucking pieces of paper that screamed “Why do you look like that?” What the Hell people? I have tattoos- not a set of devil horns implanted on my forehead. I mustered my best “Thanks but no thanks” and put real effort into being civil. Unfortunately, my Dad isn’t used to being told “no, what you’re doing is not how I should be dealt with” so he yelled at me. I yelled back. Then I cried. Then I felt like I was sixteen again and went into my bedroom because, well, that’s the sixteen year old thing to do.
The next day we went shopping. Now mind you, this is North Carolina, at the tail end of the hottest summer in history. If I go into an interview at four o’clock in the afternoon in a sweater with the sleeves pushed down, there is going to be a question or two like “What the Hell is wrong with you?? It’s 90 degrees out!”
So we scoured Target and I found a lovely cardigan and lacey shirt that made me look like a pink Labyrinth-era David Bowie. I giggled, briefly considered singing “Magic Dance,” and gave the set back to the clerk.
In Kohls, I felt like I’d taken a swan-dive into Republican-ville and turned my nose up at their vast collection of boxy sweaters and ill fitted pants designed to make every plus-sized girl look like my third grade teacher. Come on, I’ve considered getting branding. Mrs. Rodgers isn’t really my style.
At this point I was fairly put out and feeling rather dejected about being told my physical appearance kept my mom awake at night (can’t imagine why). So, in a slump, I gave in for the day and sulked home, simmering about being stuck in Podunk, North Carolina, rather than enjoying the liberal Northwest and seething that this was happening because my parents found me ugly.
At my Whole Foods interview a week later, I opted for my wrap dress again and almost screamed for joy when I saw that one of my prospective coworkers had dreadlocks that scraped her ass and several of the bakers had full and/or half sleeves of gorgeous, colorful tattoos. I’d fit right in. The interview went well and I received an email about a week later saying that they would like for me to come in and do a demo for them. I just needed to let them know if I was interested. Of course I was. I replied in the positive and waited…. And waited…. And am still waiting, in fact.
I scored two more interviews, both at local cupcake places. One was very “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the other’s website almost made me worried that we’d start every day with a prayer session. But I was desperate so I went back to my Mom and asked her if she would be willing to brave the stores once again.
JcPenny was my first target and we swam in a sea of polyester and corduroy. Oh, the joy! I found a lovely satin eggplant colored top that tied at the waist and dipped low enough in the front that I didn’t feel too terribly conservative but also hid the girls well enough. Alas, even with the belted waist and ruffles, I still looked like a linebacker. 42, 13, YIKES!!
Our next stop was Lane Bryant who was, thankfully, having a sale. Now, I consider Lane Bryant good for some things- bras, panties, camisoles, etc- but as a whole I’m not too impressed generally. So, when I couldn’t find anything that really pulled on my heartstrings, I wasn’t too surprised. And then I saw it- a simple black shift dress that belted at the waist. It had clean lines, was elegant, and I could wear my strappy maroon heels with it and go out when I was done putting on the shiny-happy with prospective bosses. It was also sleeveless and over budget. Damn it!

We bought the dress. I tried it on for my Dad when I got home and I think he was genuinely happy to see his daughter in something other than jeans and t shirts. I sort of wanted to kick his ass. Instead I slipped on a cardigan and called it good. My brother said I looked like a whore (WTF?) so either A) I wasn’t playing it too safe or B) my brother had no clue what he was talking about. It was B.
I wore my dress and cardigan to the next interview and was offered the job a couple days later. This weekend we leave for two weeks of cupcake boot camp in Nashville. I cannot wait to look down my arm and see my tattoos creeping out of the shirt sleeve.

And So It Begins....

I remember looking out the window of the cabin. It was the first of November and much cooler than we had anticipated. The gray silk of my dress was barely any help against the just about freezing temperature outside and I could see frost on the brown leaves that crunched under my heels as I walked about the park and posed for portraits earlier. There was snow in the evening forecast, a thought I found simultaneously romantic and worrisome.
Our guests were gathered in the front. A warm fire burned in its place. The tables were set with pumpkins, cheery tea lights, and autumnal  leaves. Our friends and family had had a little trouble finding the place but now they sat in their seats and talked amicably among themselves. It was a small gathering of only our nearest and dearest.
I felt silly in my wedding dress. No one knew me as the princess and yet here I was looking as if I had stepped from Cinderella’s story. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be traipsing through the underbrush, following the creek down to the lake, or up on a mountain someplace. Of course I loved my groom but planning the wedding had been infinitely more stressful than I had imagined. Nothing had gone directly as planned. Paul had lost his job just a few days ago and we were keeping it a secret until after the wedding. The stress built inside of me and was coming to a head. It would all be over soon, though. We would kiss each other, hug our friends, and fall asleep in each other’s arms, our union blessed by a Higher Power.
“You are going to divorce him,” a voice said in my head with an undeniable conviction. I reeled back a step, shocked by the knowledge that had suddenly sprung forth in my mind. One of my closet friends had expressed her doubt when we announced our wedding and I had argued with her. We hadn’t spoken in months but because her husband was my fiancé’s friend she sat in the other room as a guest. I told myself it was because of that that I was having these thoughts.
My father asked if I were ready at that point. I swallowed the lump in my throat and turned to smile at him. He looked resplendent in his Naval dress blues- so much more regal than any of us in that little cabin. My gaze drifted from him to the other people gathered around the room. All the groomsmen were wearing red rose boutonnieres that my Dad had made in a surprising and endearing show of craftiness. My Mom had helped pin each one on. She was already seated. Dad handed me my bouquet of matching roses and I took his hand.
During the ceremony, our unity candle went out. That sense of foreboding stirred in me again but I pushed it down. The heat had just turned on and the air from the vent above blew it out. It was nothing more. That night, on our way to an after party at my new brother-in-law’s house, we were rear-ended by a stolen car someone was joy riding in. All the air was knocked out of me and I sat in the car gasping for breath. Paul had not asked how I was but instead went after the other guy. In retrospect, it seemed as if I should taken all these things in and filed for an annulment the next day.
I didn’t. I loved Paul and I thought love conquered all. If you tried hard enough, if you worked hard enough, you could make it through anything. Over the years this idea was tested over and over again. Paul could never keep a job. He was always mouthing off to the wrong person, saying rude things to his coworkers, or just not able to do what was asked of him. But if you ask him, it was never his fault. Our relationship was much the same way. He said it was never his fault. I asked too much, pushed too hard, and did not respect his dream of becoming a famous musician enough.
When he developed cancer, work was the first to go but he’d never miss band practice or a show. It “gave him strength.” It bothered me that he could drink as much as he wanted and jump around in a rock band all night but he never had the energy to work more than ten hours a week or do the dishes or a load of laundry unless I yelled at him.
The first time I got pregnant, I miscarried. When we first thought things were wrong, I went to the hospital’s emergency room. He had a show that night and his band came to the hospital not to offer support but to ask if he would leave me there so he wouldn’t miss a show. He asked my permission and I denied him. The venue was upset with them and they heard about it the next night. I, in turn, heard about it again and again and again.
Despite the birth of our lovely son Elijah in July of 2009, our relationship was beyond repair. We had both been tempted by others. I barely resisted but I still have doubts that he was so strong. We fought often. He still couldn’t keep a job. He preferred music to his son, his wife, our family. He stopped saying  “I love you.”  We had screaming matches over the phone. It was plain as could be to me that we were done and yet I still hoped and dreamed we would work it out.
Then Paul got a job working for a friend he had known from high school. He boasted that this was the job he could not get fired from. He pulled away even more. We fought and, for the hundredth time, I brought up divorce. He agreed. He wanted me to have sole custody Elijah. He wanted to stay in the apartment. He admitted that he had only been using me those past two years for a place to stay. We tried to be civil until I could find a new place but I felt slighted he was already scouting around for his next relationship when we hadn’t even moved out yet. Finally, enough was enough. He stormed from our apartment in a huff, I packed our things, and my son and I left.
For the past eleven years I’d lived in my version of paradise- a couple hours’ drive from the ocean or the mountains. Just a couple more got us to rainforest or desert and we sat in a small city perched between the hustle of Seattle and miles of peaceful farmland. I had a handful of amazing friends that I’d do anything for and, I know, would do anything for me. I loved my job, my boss, my coworkers.
I knew, though, that if I stayed, there would be a constant battle between me and Paul over our son. I knew I would fight him to be an active part in his son’s life and I also knew that just as I had been regulated to something below Paul’s musical aspirations, so would Elijah be. My son never needs to know that his father thinks he is only second best. No child should ever feel less important than a hobby.
On August 30th, 2010, Elijah and I stepped onto an airplane that took us 3000 miles away and deposited us right back in the last place I ever wanted to see again- North Carolina. We are currently living with my parents as I try to get back on my feet.  It’s a huge adjustment to go from a completely independent person to having to rely on your parents again for absolutely everything. To complicate matters even more, I feel very much like an adult able to make my own choices but my parents seem to think our relationship paused at my 18th year and this 29 year-old in their house is the same person. In some ways, yes, I am. I still love horses. I still love baking and photography. I still have strong opinions and a loud voice and, yes, I still make stupid, foolish mistakes.
However, I also know now that this is temporary. I know that once I get a place of my own, it will be my choice to subject myself to their well-intentioned but sometimes completely out-of-touch whims. It’s just going to be tough to hang on until then.
Paul lost his job with his friend just a few days before we left town. Some things never change. He is dating someone new and has not asked about his son in over a month. I got sick of trying to keep him interested so I stopped sending him pictures or calling him with updates. So far, he has missed his son’s first steps, first real words, and first display of imagination. There are a lot of firsts that Paul will miss. But that’s okay, I’m not bitter.