Every time I believe I know what I’m doing with finances, it freaks me out.
That’s usually when I find out I’ve forgotten to pay the electric bill or haven’t checked our bank account in two weeks and now we’re overdrawn by several hundred dollars or, as just happened, miscalculated our IRS tax payments, which caused our anticipated refund to drop by eight hundred dollars.
Even when I get things right, I experience heavy sweating, just waiting for the next fun monetary surprise. I’d like to feel good about the little things I do well, but that feels like total hypocrisy.
What’s it like to experience a sense of confidence that doesn’t lead to a panic attack?
I’m doing great with my commitment to hating spring. Last night I arrived at the portion of the program where I stay up too late on a work night, drinking vodka and watching such springtime classics as Natural Born Killers and Marilyn Manson videos.
It’s my own seasonal festival where I celebrate hating the world and myself, and somehow I revel in it.
I’m also feeling proud that I only missed, by one month, my most recent prediction of Paul’s youngest brother’s (let’s call him “YB”) latest Pabst-induced call to howl, “my life isn’t what I want it to be and why aren’t you fixing it and by the way you never call or visit me and that makes me mad even though I never take the initiative to contact you and also fuck that damned Cindy for causing all of my misery, starting twenty years before you and she even met, or the Big Bang, whichever came first.” Again, I paraphrase.
These conversations typically happen about twice a year, and even when I haven’t spoken to the guy for two years, somehow I’ve got the power to flush his life down the toilet. I feel mighty. Paul tries to tell him, “Cindy’s got nothing to do with this,” but to no avail. It’s flattering having someone obsess about me, I suppose.
I don’t feel cruel about this, and I do hope that someday the kid can pull himself together. It’s tough watching an intelligent person—and probably someone who’s got niceness buried below a six-mile layer of rage—destroy themselves. I know because I look in the mirror every day and yell, “Augh! What the fuck is that?”
But I can’t afford to care too much or get overly involved. I did that a long time ago, and I was rewarded with many late-night rage calls punctuated by the sphsss of beer cans being opened and honest-to-God growling.
(And before you start judging me for being judgmental about drinking, I refer you to the first paragraph.)
I’m mostly just indifferent and a little amused by the accusation that I’m destroying someone’s life, sort of like a wealthy person who makes small wagers at the track. There’s a little surge of adrenaline when I bet on the lead horse, but then it’s pretty much a meh after that. My predictions are usually spot on, but they don’t add much joy to my life.
On the plus side, just when I’m feeling crappy about life and wishing I cared enough to do better for myself, here comes YB to remind me how badly a person can trash themselves.
I have a herd of crickets following me, just waiting for the next awkward conversation moment I create. I wonder if a new eyeglass prescription would change this by helping me see the world like most other people seem to view it.
Like the time in Paul’s late father’s hospital room right after he had a quintuple bypass. Peter lay on the bed, hugging his heart-shaped coughing pillow, surrounded by his wife, three sons, and me.
Well, he wasn’t surrounded by the youngest one, who’d elected once again to make a serious situation about himself, this time sliding down the wall to sit on the floor “because I might pass out oh how I hate hospitals is everyone paying attention to me now? Good because no one knows my pain no one’s ever suffered as I do even starving children in third-world countries have no clue what pain is and here I am swimming in free money from a massive trust fund, white, male, and American. Dad who?” Or something like that. I paraphrase.
Although grateful for not being the only weirdo in the room, I tried to break the subsequent uncomfortable silence by Florence Nightingale’ing over to Peter’s bedside and asking if I could get him anything. He said he was fine.
I looked down at his table and saw a plastic cup with little numbered marks on it and thought, “That’s interesting. They measure how much water he drinks.”
Figuring fluid intake must be important to his doctors, I picked up the container and offered to get him a drink. I instantly knew there was a problem because the crickets began clearing their throats on a Wagnerian level, and the humans became mannequins, eyes bulging.
Ever the courteous Englishman, Peter declined as Paul whispered, “That’s his pee cup, Sweetie.”
Upon reconsideration, I prefer my eyeglasses the way they are.
Discussion question: Do crickets gather in herds? Gangs? Choirs?
For those who are considering writing their memoirs and those who are already in the roller-coaster process, I want to share a gorgeous, encouraging quote from Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer:
“In autobiographic writing as in journal writing, there seems to be an internal wisdom at work that guides us to write what we are ready to understand. Different memories will ask to be written at different times, and this is an instinct we generally can trust. For the most part, people’s natural defenses protect them from memories they are not ready to face.”
When I read this just now, I caught my breath and slammed the book shut for a moment to absorb it. As I work through this fabulous guide, the truth of her statement is becoming clearer by the exercise.
What a relief to know I don’t have to be the one totally in charge of this situation. My brain keeps deflecting what it isn’t ready to explore, thus proving it’s a lot smarter than I am.
I fucking hate this season. Every year I’m bewildered by all the sunshine and cheerful people dancing around and saying pointless things like “Isn’t this weather great?” I always smile and say, “Yes, it is!” but I don’t mean it. I miss the gray skies and drizzle.
Much like my fear of Seuss, though, I don’t usually volunteer my loathing of spring to just anyone. (Except, apparently, the entire Internet.) When I do, they keep an eye on me as they slowly back away, then run down the street as though they’re on fire. Or headed to put out a fire. Or maybe start a fire.
I’m not sure why I get into this annual funk, but I suspect my parents waited until the end of each winter to do their most exciting parenting. Perhaps the sun and warmer weather reinvigorated their feisty tendency to punch each other. Maybe this was their unique way of celebrating spring instead of hunting for Easter eggs, dancing around maypoles, and saying prayers to a guy who rose from the dead.
If I were to give their spring traditions a name, I’d call it “Punch-a-Palooza.” That sounds festive, and I think if I’d been culturally sensitive as a kid, I could have appreciated their customs more.
I got tired of celebrating these rituals decades ago, but I don’t feel any remorse about not keeping them alive. Evidently I used up all my guilt when I became an ex-Baptist.
But I actually do revel in my own way. My spring festival is “Reverse-Punch-a-Palooza.” When someone remarks on the beautiful weather, I celebrate by refraining from laying them out before they can put a period on the end of the sentence.
Maybe I’m like a high priestess of Reverse-Punch-a-Palooza. I wonder if the position comes with a cool outfit and a scepter. Maybe even a crown.
I’m in charge of our household budget. To me, this statement is as frightening as “Nuclear missiles are headed to Seattle.”
Mostly I do okay, but last December I accidentally paid the mortgage twice. Then I did great for three whole months, and just this morning I accidentally paid an extra half-mortgage payment.
I know what you’re thinking: “How does someone accidentally pay extra on their mortgage?”
Why the hell are you asking me? Haven’t you figured out I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing?
After I confessed my newest interesting financial move, Paul and I figured out the necessary adjustments to our accounts, and we’re fine. But I’m freaking out. I keep thinking, “What is my next mistake, and how big will it be?”
(I do understand that there are far worse financial errors I could make besides accidentally paying extra on our mortgage principal. I’m not stupid, entirely. But still.)
After the latest mini-crisis, Paul and I had this conversation:
Me: So do you still trust me with the finances?
(Translation: Please take this shit off my hands.)
Paul: Sure, I do! You’re doing great!
(Translation: You scare the crap out of me, but I sure as hell don’t want the job.)
Me: Well, okay. But at least you’re checking the budget spreadsheet updates I send to you, right?
(Translation: I’m totally alone in this, aren’t I?)
Paul: You bet! Well, I skim them at least. Mostly. From time to time.
Or at least sincerely offered support for the endeavor.
One of the fun things about mining my life for memoir material is that I thought it would be about dishing up dirt on those who’ve wronged me or I was sure intended to wrong me or at the very least would wrong me if they thought of doing it and had the chance.
But I’ve gotten some advice about including more than just revenge-based tales: “Allow yourself to be vulnerable. This lets the reader empathize and feel connected with you.”
I took this to mean that there will be sections in my memoir where the reader will become misty-eyed in wonder at my courage through such trying times.
This was going to be fantastic. As emotionally walled off as I can be in person—despite how much I blab about myself—this memoir stuff would let people see the softer side of Cindy. I’m a bit uncomfortable about it, but I’ll try.
At least I felt like being a sport until I realized, just this last weekend, that an honest memoir lets people see the shitty side of Cindy too. It’s as though someone’s thrown a bucket of cold water on my burning cross.
Despite this shock, I’m going to try the honesty thing about an incident I’ve been telling myself “really isn’t relevant or potentially interesting to readers, but I don’t feel this way because I’m ashamed. I respect people’s time, and why bore them with”—you understand the kind of horseshit I’ve been shoveling.
When I left my second husband, the air force officer, in 1988 and moved back to Seattle, I naturally moved in with an ex-con. It made sense to me because Brad the Felon had done his time, so that would make him honest. He was charming, skilled at reading people, and manipulative. I was so desperate for someone to love and care about me, I’d do anything. It was a great match.
Shortly after he moved in with me, Brad got into an argument with my landlord. I was a loyal girlfriend and stood up for him. So everything worked out great for the landlord when he evicted us and I went bankrupt from attorney’s fees that Brad didn’t help pay—because he was busy relaxing at the end of a workday while I took a second job as a stripper—and my credit rating went from triple-A to in-the-crapper.
If you’re at all under the impression that I’ve just confessed the shameful part of this story…
Even after this episode, plus his late-night gambling-and-whoring escapades while coming home and calling me his “plain Jane” in a tone that nearly approximated affection, I was still so craven in my need to be loved, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to impress him.
One day Brad told me he and a buddy from prison were working on the details for robbing a casino. I raised my hand like Hermione in class and begged to be included in the caper. And there’s my shame.
It made me nauseous to even imagine committing a crime, let alone having to pee in front of someone in prison. But in those moments, I had an overwhelming fantasy of sitting in separate prisons but mutually in love at last because he’d finally realized what I would do for him. Sort of Bonnie and Clyde with hopefully way less murder.
I don’t know if Brad ever hit the casino, and he’s dead now, so I can’t ask him. I don’t really care either way anymore about either of those things.
I do know that he saved me from myself. He declined my offer of assistance—which hurt like hell at the time, but seriously reduced the nausea—because I’m a world-class oversharer. Great for blogging. Bad for crime.
"I've always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position." – Susan Lowenstein, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy