Category Archives: Discomfort

The Slap

By the time I looked down the barrel of a gun for the third time in thirty seconds, I started questioning the wisdom of living with an ex-con.

I’d hung in there for four years, but watching my boyfriend, Brad, play with the handgun his buddy Mark just bought, I realized the only way Brad would be upset if I were shot is how much trouble he’d get into with the cops.

Like the time he grabbed a knife from me when I was opening a box. If I’d succeeded in the way I was doing it, considering the resistance of the tape, there’s a good chance I would have stabbed myself in the chest. He clutched the knife, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Oh, my God.” I thought he was relieved that I wasn’t hurt.

Brad was five-foot-five to my five-foot-ten, with a large purple nose and ruddy complexion from too much alcohol by thirty-six, but that didn’t matter to me. He seemed charming and intelligent, with a lot of Bad Boy in him. I was enthralled after being married to an Air Force officer for seven years, and I was ready for someone with a rule-breaking attitude.

But two months after Brad moved in, I became depressed.

A friend asked, “Don’t you think he might be bad for you?”

I said, “Oh, not at all,” and something about how he lets me be myself and isn’t it great I can relax around him enough to feel my depression?

Two years into our cohabitation, I swallowed a couple handfuls of sleeping pills. I spent a week in the psych ward at the University of Washington after the stomach pump. When depression hits me, it’s always in the spring, and it was beautiful during my stay. The skies were clear, buds were sprouting on the trees, and the temperature was cool with a hint of summer ahead. It felt like life was full of possibilities—for everyone but me.

Brad didn’t visit or call during that week. I choked down the pain and thought, “He assumes I’m okay. That’s a good thing, right?” I called him every day, though, just to let him know I was fine, and I tried not to hear the impatience and irritability in his voice as we talked.

When I was discharged, he told me he was busy, so why don’t I just take a cab home? I told myself, “That just means he believes I can take care of myself, which is great.” I tried to silence the whimpering voice in my mind that asked, “Doesn’t he care?”

Life returned to its routine loneliness for a while, and then Brad got into an argument with our landlords, the Borbas. I can’t recall what the disagreement was about, but we received an eviction notice over it.

I told Brad I just wanted to move. I didn’t want an eviction on my record.

He gave me a pamphlet distributed by the City of Seattle regarding tenant/landlord disputes and assured me that they couldn’t evict us because “We have rights. Look, they’re in the pamphlet.” I felt nauseous because I’d always liked the Borbas, but I thought Brad would be impressed with me if I stood by him. So we fought the eviction.

I took a second job on the weekends as a stripper in order to keep up with the attorney fees. Brad continued just working the one job, but he said he was hard at work, researching our rights in his spare time.

I thought we were a great team, and he seemed to find me attractive at last. When I was just an administrative assistant, he would tell me, “Sometimes you’re pretty” in a tone that conveyed I should feel flattered. But now that I was taking my clothes off for strangers, he found me sexy. I was relieved and felt as though I were worth something to him.

In addition to our full-color pamphlet about tenants’ rights, Brad brought our white phone receiver to court in a plastic baggie. It had a black smudge on it, and he told the judge it was proof that Mr. Borba had entered our apartment without our permission, did some unauthorized work, and then used the phone.

As we waited for the court reporter to stop drooling on his machine because he was laughing so hard—which was fine because the judge was guffawing and unable to speak—I started to wonder about where this was going. Minutes later, we lost the case.

After we moved out and I caught up on the attorney fees, I stopped the stripping job. Brad didn’t mind, though, because by now he had developed an addiction to going to strip clubs.

I felt useless again, but then one day he mentioned a casino robbery he and a former cellmate were planning. He described the plan in detail, telling me that it would be foolproof because “Indian casinos have terrible security.”

I heard myself offering to help, and I held my breath as I waited for him to think about this. The nausea I’d gotten with the eviction was back, but it was much worse. I tried to ignore it, but that just led to profuse sweating.

Brad was silent, and I chattered about how people who know me would be blown away to hear I’d participated in something like that. He listened and frowned, then told me two weeks later he’d changed his mind. I was hurt, but I could breathe again. I suspected he didn’t think I was discreet or smart enough to help. I felt ashamed because I was willing to commit a crime—and I was ashamed because I wasn’t good enough to commit it—but I was grateful for the reprieve. I thought, “I was willing to risk prison for him. He’s gotta love me now.”

I spent two more years with him, feeling lonely, waiting for him to come home at three in the morning after visiting bars, gambling joints, and strip clubs. Anything to avoid being with me.

I’d kept my body in good shape and always been supportive of him, even as he sat in the shed out back every evening, smoking, drinking, and looking at porn because “I need to warm up.” But my anger was building without my realizing it.

One day as Brad knelt next to the cage where our pet rats, Thelma and Louise, lived, he made a remark about my needing to keep the cage cleaner. I was their sole caretaker, and I was meticulous about cleaning their cage and keeping fresh food and water in there. The girls even got to run around the house for long periods of time twice a day.

His criticism caused something in my brain to click. Without hesitation, I strode to him and slapped him up the side of his head. I apologized and blamed my parents’ violent marriage for my actions. Then there was another click in my mind, and I heard the echoes of that excuse from a thousand times before. I didn’t want to hear myself say it ever again.

It was as though I’d slapped myself. I woke up and began to see Brad and me, as individuals, with clarity. He’d never cared, he never would, and I started to get okay with that.

Two weeks later I came home from work to find Brad and Mark examining the new handgun as though they were forensic experts. They passed it back and forth in reverence, caressing the silver barrel and cooing to the gun as though they wanted to make love to it. I watched Brad display more affection for a weapon than he’d ever displayed for me, and the truth of this made me flinch every time the barrel flashed at me.

His statements over the years came flying back to me, but now they didn’t sound like almost-compliments, and my mind began to scream in response. I could hear a new voice, and there was no whimpering.

Flash—“Sometimes you’re pretty.”

What the hell are you doing?

Flash—“I need to warm up.”

You asshole.

Flash—“Can’t you take a cab home?”

This time my rage was out loud: “Get the fuck outta here with that thing!”

Brad looked at Mark with regret and embarrassment. He handed the gun back and apologized for my behavior. As Mark and his gun left, Brad strode out of the room in a huff, out to his shed to be with his booze and his smokes and his delusions of being desired by air-brushed women.

But I knew the shed wasn’t far enough, and one more evening’s separation was too short. I needed him to leave forever, go wherever, and soon.

He left without protest or sadness. Just a shrug and a suggestion on how we might divide the VHS movies. Of course I could keep Thelma and Louise because caring for anyone simply wasn’t in his nature.

*****

Twenty-one years later, I decided to Google Brad, as a bored person with exes might do. I didn’t expect any solid hits because his last name is common, and when I Google him, there’s usually a famous sports figure who pops up.

But this time the search brought forth a news article about him. Early one morning that year, Brad stepped in front of a train that was going forty miles an hour.

If he’d done it right after I’d kicked him out, his death might have pleased me. But the decades had changed me, brought a sense of empathy I didn’t know I had until I read about his suicide.

It was difficult to process my feelings.

How could I feel sad for someone who had been so cold and mean?

Was he capable of feeling the kind of despair I’d felt when I took all those pills and irritated him with the inconvenience of my depression, or was his death merely a choice of expedience because he’d lost the ability to charm, manipulate, and abuse a vulnerable person?

My newfound empathy surprised and disconcerted me, and I began to wonder where this might lead regarding my fractious familial relationships. Could I begin to forgive? Could I ask for forgiveness?

Of Police, Pillows, and Pizza

This afternoon I heard screaming in the upstairs apartment. It sounded alternately like a man, then a woman. The footfalls were unusual too. Some rhythmic in one place and some short bursts of running all over the unit. I’m used to Stompy up there, and this was different.

As the warm glow of domestic violence PTSD washed over me, I called the cops, hoping I was just overreacting. They told me I was their second call about it, so I took the next sensible step and began hyperventilating and calling Paul’s cell until he picked up.

In the midst of this, the part of me still connected to Earth knew I was losing ground with my work schedule. I had to call my clients to ask for deadline extensions. While waiting for the police, texting my clients was out of the question because I was shaking so badly that my finger kept missing the phone altogether.

The cops arrived pretty quickly, just after what I swear was a woman screaming, “Oh, my God!”

There was a brief discussion at their door upstairs, then quiet. One of the officers came down, grinning, and said, “Yeah, it’s just one guy up there watching a soccer game.”

I’ve worked in a sports bar, and while I’m indifferent to sports, I detest rabid sports fans. Especially dudes who shriek like a woman being stabbed to death.

The officer and I agreed that it’s better to call just in case, and isn’t it nice that there’s nothing violent happening and all, so I didn’t confess my plan to smother the bastard with a chloroform-soaked pillow later this evening.

So the breathing is back to normal, and my chest pain has subsided. But now there’s a tic underneath my left eye, and I feel like a wet towel that’s been beaten on a rock.

Some of my exhaustion may also be due to the dead guy we found in our carport this morning. Naked, pants around his ankles, staring up at the ceiling.

Either way, I’m having wine and pizza, with a Sominex for dessert.

Mexican wrestling fan_free
I know it’s not about soccer, but I’m still getting my pillow.

 

Sweaty Betty, an Update

It took less than an hour after I posted my Fretty Betty Disorder story to develop a new obsession:

What if the memoir-writing class doesn’t get its minimum of five students? They’d have to cancel. So I’m in, but what if? I’ve had other writing classes cancel at another place.

Now I have a lemony-fresh thought to worry about. What a relief. I must be a stress junkie.

I do fight this. Really. I tell my brain about how popular this class is. It’s always full. There’s always a wait list. It’ll happen.

My brain thinks I’m a chump.

(Paul is Rachel, and I am both Monica and Phoebe – mostly Phoebe)

Fretty Betty Disorder

I have no off switch for worry. If there’s any way to chill and let things flow, I can’t find it.

Then there’s Paul, my vanilla-flavored glacier. He can’t envision a reason to push events forward at top speed or sweat about anything.

I don’t get it. Why doesn’t he recognize the value in unnecessary stress? It could be that he sees when I freak out, I’m no less uptight, but it’s more likely that there’s something wrong with him.

Like when I recently submitted a project description to apply for a ten-month memoir-writing class.

I said, “Oh, my God. I’ve waited a year to register for this. I thought I could just sign up. I have to wait for approval. The instructor’s going to scratch her head and wonder how such a moron could belong in her class.”

Paul’s response was as disturbingly calm and predictable as always: “Don’t worry, Sweetie. You’ll get in.”

How naïve.

So I spent sixteen years between August 8 and August 14 waiting to see if I would be accepted. I hit the refresh button on the submissions website seventy times an hour, and it stubbornly said, “Submitted” every time. No “Accepted,” or more sensibly, “Rejected.”

Then came August 14, and the site conceded that indeed I was “Accepted.” This bewildered me, but I was happy. For five minutes.

Then I realized there were probably 40,000 people applying for fifteen seats in the class, and they would all get into the class ten seconds after registration opened the next day.

Starting at 7:00 in the morning on August 15, I began checking the institution’s site, only to find that the “Register” button was available for every class but the one I wanted.

Trying to get any work done while hitting the refresh button every five minutes isn’t easy. Plus after three hours, I imagined that the class’s fifteen seats were full, with a wait list of 39,985 people ahead of me.

So I emailed the school, and they said, “Well, for this class, you have to register by phone. We sent you an email about it.” There was no email in my inbox.

Now my mind was whispering, “This is a special, secret society, and you don’t belong.” Made sense to me.

When I called and told the nice lady that I didn’t receive an email, she said, “The message is in the submissions site, which is a separate program from regular email.”

Of course the site has a separate email system. It’s a secret society. Why hadn’t I thought of that? But maybe I could still get in. I took a deep breath and asked if I could register, and she said, “Sure.” That was easy. Too easy.

Now I’m in the class, but part of me expects to be the accidentally registered sixteenth person, and I’ll be turned away on the first day. Still, that insane part of my mind hopes to be surprised in a pleasant way.

But I think my paranoia may not be a disorder after all. If I hadn’t fretted and sprained my finger hitting the refresh button and then finally asked, “What’s up?” I wouldn’t be in the class. So everything’s fine now.

But what if it’s not? What if my printed confirmation is the product of a random punking scheme? Thank goodness I have thirty-four days to worry about this. Otherwise I’d just have to invent another obsession.

Paul doesn’t know what he’s missing.

Even the Bee Gees Can’t All Keep Stayin’ Alive

When I reconnect with someone from my youth, my first thought is “How cool. They’re still alive.”

This leads to a couple of questions:

One: Just how old do I think I am?

(Answer: Dead any moment now.)

Two: Is my reaction a glass half full or half empty?

(Answer: Half full because I’m happy these old friends are alive, but half empty because see question number one.)

I blame celebrities. If they’d stop dying, I might not think about my own mortality so much. I keep calling the still-alive ones to request that they live forever, but it usually results in restraining orders. Then they die. Probably to spite me.

I’ll just keep enjoying my life each day I’m here, working at home, hanging out with the cats, and listening to the newest certainly sane neighbor as he shouts helpful advice to all the “fuckin’ bitches” to “shut the fuck up.”

It’s the little things.

The_Lunatic_Asylum_public domain
Our neighbor warming up for his musical, “Shut Up, Bitches!,” based on a lesser known Bee Gee song.

The Chump Factor

I love a good bait-and-switch, especially when I’m the target. Especially when I feel appreciated for being me and not just my willingness to write a check.

I’m always surprised when movie characters are surprised that an artist sees them as walking billfolds, but I’m even more surprised at how surprised I am that it can happen to me.

It’s like that moment in every thriller where someone tiptoes into a pitch-black basement to see what’s making that mysterious noise. The urge to scream “Don’t be an idiot!” is overwhelming, and the result is predictable.

I’m supportive of artists trying to monetize a craft, but if I’m lured to spend money on Project #1 because I’m so wanted as part of the process, then I’m rejected from Project #1 and redirected to Project #2 because it needs more money, at some point my instinct is going to say, “If you go into that basement again, you deserve an unpleasant encounter with a chainsaw.”

So thanks in advance for any further spending artistic opportunities, but:

Maybe you should reach for someone else’s wallet next time

 

I Put the I in IED

When I go too long without something to outrage me, I break out into hives. So I’ve added “lack of anger” to amoxicillin on my list of known allergies at the doctor’s office.

This condition is called “IED,” or intermittent explosive disorder, which I officially have because I found the term online. “IED” also stands for improvised explosive device, which means I’m fun-loving in an extemporaneous way, and people enjoy my company because they never know what’s going to happen.

It’s also great for Paul because I help keep his life on track by way of constructive nagging. Like the other day as he headed to work, and I thought he was late for his weekly meeting. I tried to resist the urge to say something about it, but I did anyway because my disorder forced me too.

He grunted something unintelligible, which I assume was “I’m so grateful for your concern. Without your supervision, I couldn’t even tie my shoes.”

After he left, I remembered that he teleconferences in the car until he can be at the meeting in person. I texted an apology even though I didn’t need to because I have a disease.

I was happy and not worried again, which was really upsetting. Then I read the newspaper. I feel better now.

plague
Rats didn’t bring the plague. It was sustained happiness. Chumps.

 

Image by Wellcome Images

 

 

Communicating with Clicks

I’ve wanted to learn a second language for years—besides cursing, which I’ve yet to master, so I keep practicing.

But I just realized I do speak another language, and I understand when others use it. It’s ghosting with clicks. I’m going to call it “Ghostickit.”

When I recently had no idea what to say in an uncomfortable electronic confrontation, I asked Paul for advice. Big mistake. I prefer being straightforward, and he’d rather confront Ebola than interpersonal tension.

Predicto-Paul said, “Just ignore the message.” Click. Offline. Ghosted.

This person had the courage nerve to question why she was being ignored, and despite savoring the sensation of being an asshole, I decided to be candid. I feel better, but I still feel like a jerk, so it’s a win-win, I guess.

But this shit happens to me too. Like with the justifiably overpriced hair salon I used to enjoy.

One day the receptionist, who previously appeared sane, had a monster meltdown at my expense for me. It was the fun kind of moment where you can see yourself being interviewed by a local news crew. “She always seemed so quiet. I never would have imagined she could shoot up an entire lobby full of customers. Good for her that she’s finally expressing herself.” Or something like that.

When I told my stylist—let’s call her Avoidy Girl (AG for short) because she’s great at addressing issues—she was unsurprised and offered a heartfelt shrug, which made me feel special and appreciated.

When I expressed my fear appreciation to the manager—let’s call her Fluffy because I take her seriously—she took a generous bite out of my ass for being so unkind about a woman whose husband had died two months before. I agreed that it was appalling and inconsiderate of me, not using my telepathic powers to figure out why this woman was losing her religion all over me.

Still, I didn’t want the honor of being Among the Many Dead the next time I wanted a trim, so Fluffy told me, “Come see AG again. We’ll make sure you don’t have to deal with the front desk.” When I questioned how she could manage to make that happen, she said, “No problem. I’m fantastic at my job as long as nothing is going wrong.” Or something like that.

So the next time I was foolish wise enough to go in, there’s Batty Betty, greeting me with a smile as she hid an Uzi behind her (I reasonably suspected). AG rushed to me and apologized for not greeting me first, then said, “Oh, I should have told you I’m at a totally different location once a week. You didn’t even need to come here to have your hair done.”

At this point, despite my gratitude for being charged more for one visit than my weekly grocery bill, I decided to move on. That was a couple years ago, and I’ve calmed down. Mostly.

So I decided that because I don’t go to the salon often, I’d give the outfit another chance—as long as I don’t have to deal with Mercurial Mona and Fair-Weather Fluffy. I figured that’s pretty magnanimous of me, and there would be truckloads of gratitude.

So I contacted AG on social media, and you guessed it. I got ghosted, which is chickenshit but fair. I get it because I speak Ghostickit. So I wished her well—and surprised myself by mostly meaning it. Then I blocked her. Click. Ghosted.

So it turns out I do speak another language, and I certainly understand it. Good for me.

Annie Oakley_public domain
“AG is ready to see you now.”

Bonus feature:

Me explaining why sticks, grass, and total isolation are better than people.

Keeping the Squee out of Squeamish

Please don’t tell me about your sex life. If I know you, I consider you asexual, sort of like a bacterium with a driver’s license.

But I’m not uptight, mostly. I figure why get tense over fiction? Anyway, if I want to know about it, I’ll watch porn involving bees doing it with birds. If I watched porn. What’s “porn”?

Besides, my mother already regaled me about her sexcapades when I was fifteen and she burst out of the closet to date my fellow high-schoolers’ older sisters.

She was kind enough to include every graphic detail, and her thoughtfulness resonates with me to this day. And with my therapist. And sometimes with Paul as he chats with his divorce lawyer.

It would be selfish of me to bogart these stories, so it’s everyone else’s turn to hear about your sexy parties. Anyone other than me. But thanks for offering.

Queen Victoria_public domain
“We know what you are doing. We just do not need to freakin’ hear about it.” – Queen Victoria may have said