Category Archives: Fear

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?

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.

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

 

 

The Diagnosis is Right

During my latest annual kidney cancer screening, I anxiously sit in the waiting room until the x-ray technician throws open the door and shouts, “Cindy Valleley, come on down!”

I jump up and down as I run toward him, my old-lady boobs alternately slapping my knees and face as Paul and I try to hug each other. The three of us race down the hall to the examination room and high-five people carrying blood samples, sometimes smashing the vials against their palms because we’re all just really glad to be on TV, win or lose.

When we enter the x-ray room, I get to play a game involving golf, math, and beating a clock. I’m not good at any of these things, but I try. When I lose, it doesn’t mean I have cancer for sure, so I still get to have the x-ray. I’m having a great time as I wave to Paul in the audience.

Then the tech pins my x-ray to a huge wheel. There are two giant sticky notes above and below the picture of my lungs. One says, “Cancer,” and the other one says, “Suck it, Cancer!”

I give the wheel a mighty spin and cross my fingers as I hear Paul shouting “No cancer, Sweetie!” As the wheel slows, I start to sweat, and just when I think I’m going to pass out from the excitement, it lands on “Suck it, Cancer!”

I can hardly believe my insurance pays for this. I’m grateful they do, and I’ll never tell them how enjoyable the experience is just in case they believe suffering is the only thing they should subsidize.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s CT scan. It’s so much fun to lie in the tube and rapid-fire punch the panic button when I get bored. The techs love it when I do that.

V0025809 The "sink or float" method of seeking out witches. Woodcut,
Float Test in the ancient game show, “Are You a Witch?” Same one my doc uses at CT scan time. Given my body fat level, I’m gonna nail this one.

 

That Time I Dated Henry Kissinger

Or just had a dream that I did.

I felt so perturbed by this that I told Paul in order to offload the creep factor, but he seemed more bothered than I was.

In my defense, I said, “But it was when Henry was younger. You know, in his salad days. When he was bombing Cambodia.” This did not have the calming effect that I hoped it would.

Plus I started thinking, “What’s the origin of the phrase ‘salad days’ anyway?” Apparently it comes from this quote:

“CLEOPATRA: My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then! But, come, away;
Get me ink and paper:
He shall have every day a several greeting,
Or I’ll unpeople Egypt.”

I think Cleo’s saying, “If I don’t get to be pen pals with Caesar, I’m going to slaughter every one of my subjects.” I wish I could love like that. Sometimes literally.

I suppose the “green in judgment: cold in blood” part applies to Henry’s ambition to murder lots of Cambodians who were provocatively going to school or the dry cleaners, or maybe out to eat, so that works.

But then I remembered that there was literally salad in my dream. I was sitting at a counter in a diner, and a lady brought a salad to me while I sat there spinning lettuce in a spinner (which is much more efficient than throwing it at an oscillating fan).

I can’t decide if this dream is telling me I need psychotherapy or more roughage. Maybe I’ll just take a therapist out to lunch and spare myself money, time, and insight.

Liz Taylor_Cleopatra_public domain
Salad is boring and Henry is, you know, ick. So here’s a photo of Liz Taylor. ‘Cause damn.

 

 

Confidence is My Faux Finish

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?

Anyone?

I believe in me_public domain
Liar

 

 

That Time I Shot a Piano

Or very nearly did, anyway.

I’ve developed a new psychiatric disorder: Dysfunction Envy.

The other day I started reading The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. In her introduction, Karr relates an anecdote about bullet holes in her mother’s kitchen walls. This is on the first page, and she hasn’t even started the memoir portion yet. What a hook.

Although I’m enjoying the book, I’ve fallen into a funklet (not bad enough to be depression, but I’m not giddy either). I’ve recently written a few things I’m not happy with, which is okay. I don’t mind trashing or savagely editing stuff. But for some reason, Karr’s book has me worried.

Have I run out of dysfunctional material to mine for my memoir? Is my nine-month class this fall going to consist of me sitting there, doing nothing, while my classmates turn their trauma into gold? Where’s the gunplay in my story?

Then I remembered that time when I was twelve, and I found the .22 pistol that Mom kept under her pillow, loaded, with the safety off. For my protection.

As you know, I’m not able to offer much defense for my parents’ exciting decisions, but there was an incident that caused her to believe that a loaded firearm in our house was the best choice for her daughter. I’ll talk about that situation another time.

So I’m standing in the living room with the pistol aimed at my piano. My finger’s on the trigger. The whole room’s in soft focus except for the piano, and everything gets quiet like our house is made out of a giant pillow fort.

When I decide to pull the trigger, it occurs to me that if I shoot the piano, I might not be able to practice my lessons, and my teacher will be disappointed in me.

As the rest of the room becomes visible again and the sounds of the world return, I switch the safety on the pistol so that at least it won’t blow Mom’s head off while she’s sleeping, and I tuck it under her pillow.

I never told her how close I came to shooting the piano, mostly because she was busy with Glen, the womanizing truck driver she pretended to marry in Tahoe, who later left her for a gum-smackin’ poodle groomer with a platinum up-do, frosted nails and lipstick, and leopard print miniskirts. Her reason for the sham marriage is part of yet another story.

I also believe Glen was Mom’s last-ditch effort to be heterosexual, and that leads to another story for another time.

The tales I’m telling now are reminding me of so many I’ve forgotten, and there’s no evidence that this twisted river will run dry in the near future. What a relief. It seems I’ve got what it takes to compete in Dysfunctiondome.

me and guns_public domain
At least my finger isn’t on the trigger. Yet.

The Malicious Mind

I’m starting to wonder if my brain has a vendetta against me. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to fears it can invent.

Paul knows that when he leaves the house in the morning and I say, “Be safe,” what I’m really telling him is:

Please don’t get into a massive fireball of a car wreck. Generally speaking, come home alive, preferably not maimed.

He’s pretty cool about it because he’s a freak who sees the positive in life. He always gets the great parking space, so why wouldn’t he see sunshine everywhere? It’s irritating.

I might be pushing my luck, though. The other day I finally confessed a new paranoiac low that may include a trace of the psychotic. He headed out the door to go rowing, and of course I said, “Be safe.”

Then I told him what I really mean:

Please don’t be murdered by a sniper hiding in bushes along the canal.

I know, right? But this fear seems reasonable to me. All they’d have to do is lead him a little.

My mind keeps telling me this is a legitimate concern despite the fact that I’ve never read a news report involving snipers and rowers. So whatever I did to piss it off, it’s not done punishing me. Bastard.

Paul’s finally shocked. Well done, me?

the-rowing-bath
Bonus: fewer snipers