Tag Archives: Coping Skills

That Time I Knocked over a Casino

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.

Here goes:

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.

BonnieParker_public domain
So badass. In my mind.

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.

The_Great_Train_Robbery_public domain
Given my fear of horses, I wouldn’t have managed the getaway anyway.

Mother, Drugs and Me: My Fifteenth Year

The first joint my mother ever rolled, she gave to me when I was fifteen. She enjoyed spoiling me, and even though I was an only child, I appreciated it. Like when she’d go to the store and remember to pick up my favorite brand of cigarettes.

But it wasn’t all about coddling. She was a consistent disciplinarian too. She used to say, “I don’t mind buying you the cigarettes, but I don’t want to see you smoking until you’re eighteen.” She knew the right things to say to make me feel loved.

Every time I got ready to leave town for the weekend with my boyfriend, Rockey, she said, “Leave me a note telling me what city you’re going to. That way I know where to tell the cops to start looking if you disappear.”

Mom taught me a lot about enjoying life too. One night Rockey and I bumped into her at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a local ambulance company. She was a sheriff’s dispatcher at the time, so she had lots of buds in the emergency-related business. But I’m not sure how Rockey and I ended up there, and Mom was surprised to see us.

I thought I was in big trouble, but Mom was as cool as ever. She laughed, patted me on the back, and bought us a round of drinks. Then she waved a cheerful goodbye to us as we jumped into Rockey’s car to chase one of the ambulances and visit the latest car wreck scene.

But Mom wasn’t just focused on fun. She felt it was important to teach me valuable life skills. One of the best lessons was how to cope with problems by running from them, even if you have to flee the country, which she eventually did years later at age sixty-seven. She knew how to walk the talk.

I’m a fairly quick learner, and I devoted myself to honing this skill for decades. I found that running from my problems can lead to many thrilling moments in lots of different states with tons of interesting strangers. I can’t count the number of times I had the opportunity to learn different job skills, live in different apartments, and even fear for my life. What an adventure.

Mom also taught me to appreciate youth. Shortly after she came out that summer, she started dating the slightly older sisters of girls in my high school class, and she taught me the value of community when she brought them home to meet me.

But probably the best lesson she taught me during this time came in 1976. Right after I turned sixteen, Mom and I noticed that there was always a giant, bright-blue Cadillac parked across the street from our house. The driver looked like a garden gnome in a pale blue polyester suit, and he would just sit there, staring straight ahead.

Turns out the guy was a detective that Dad hired to follow us around because he got the crazy idea that Mom wasn’t taking good care of me. He was concerned about the situation because he wanted to stop paying the seventy-five dollars a month in child support.

It’s understandable that Dad was so upset. When I was twelve, he had invited me to meet him at a local Kmart coffee shop to renegotiate my child support with me. It had to be frustrating to him that even though I brought zero negotiating skills to the table, I couldn’t be talked down to nothing because I couldn’t think of anything to say.

But Mom always came through in a difficult situation, and she had a plan to deal with Dad and his detective. She sat Rockey and me down and said, “If you two were married, Cindy would be emancipated as an adult. Then her dad can’t legally bother her anymore. Plus he can stop paying child support, so that should make him happy.” You can’t buy wisdom like that.

The next day, Mom, Rockey, and I piled into his 1972 primer-grey Ford Pinto and drove the nine hours from Santa Maria, California to Las Vegas. At the courthouse, Mom fudged a little on the documents and told the court that she had sole custody of me and she approved the marriage. I was learning so much.

Then at seven-thirty in the morning, the three of us went to a little chapel on the Las Vegas Strip, woke up a bleary-eyed, hung-over preacher, and Rockey and I got married.

After we drove back to Santa Maria, Mom wasted no time further embracing life. With me finally married and independent, she was at last able to hit the open road as an interstate truck driver.

We all lived happily ever after, so I suppose it’s just the typical childhood story you’ve heard a million times. I just wanted to honor Mom and Dad for how much they cared about me.

Junction Double Trailer Highway Semi Truck Truck
Thanks for the great lessons, and safe travels, Mom!

 

Source for Truck Photo

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.

Call Me Diane Von Dufus-berg

Minimal

My office walls are sad. I mean in the sense they are pathetic, but if they could cry, I’d have toxic mold. I’m looking at this beige expanse behind my computer, and all I see are a couple of nails and a PAWS calendar.

As unevolved as this may be, I feel a sense of chick-based pressure to be amazing at decorating. This despite the fact that I work in ratty pajamas and Paul’s hand-me-down shirts in my home office every day. What makes me think my home should look better?

My first defense: I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. Although Virginia Slims gave women the confidence to burn bras while dropping acid as a birth-control chaser, there’s still this lingering guilt in my mind that I should be a classic homemaker. Apron, tidy hairdo, Laura Petrie figure.

It doesn’t help that seemingly out of nowhere, Paul recently blurted, “You want to nest, right?” He sounded a little desperate.

In fairness, I don’t believe he’s totally asking this because I’m female. I think it’s about the two of us. We’re lazy bums who keep hoping the walls will magnetically suck pictures onto them, in a tasteful way.

My second defense: Paul’s got the aesthetic eye. I mean, he paints and draws. Stuff you’d recognize. I’ve even hung a few pieces on the wall (and my pride over this is way out of proportion to the achievement).

I, on the other hand, paint as though I’m drunk. On a roller coaster. And I’ve just vomited all over the canvas.

My third defense: So why isn’t he nesting?

As I sit here in my blank-walled office, I’ve made a decision to stop apologizing and self-flagellating (at least about this). I’m going to enjoy my non-cluttered space because I have a style. I’m a minimalist.

IMG_0824
I think that cat’s judging me.

The Homophobic Bisexual?

Label

Just over two decades ago, I was fortunate to work with Stephanie, an outspoken lesbian who decided to coach me out of my foolhardy bisexuality. One day she declared, “You need to pick a side.” For about thirty minutes, she chewed me out gently educated me, concluding with “You’re really a lesbian who’s too afraid to admit it.”

This was a revelation to me. I had no idea I’d been living a life of such hypocrisy. She also pointed out that my boyfriend was just cover for my lie and that I needed to dump him.

He’s my husband now — regular readers will recognize him as the long-suffering St. Paul — and we’ve been hanging out since 1995. Most days I like him a lot, so I’ve decided to stick around and live the lie.

My mother’s also a lesbian. She gamely tried wearing dresses, high heels, and bouffant hairdos in the 1960s, but she always seemed more comfortable in men’s clothes. She could drive a big-rig truck, fix the garbage disposal, and run an offset printer at our family’s business. She was part-mother, part-handyman, which was cool because my father was usually asleep or having affairs or something. He was a busy guy, and we respected that.

A long time ago I had to let my mother know that I needed to say a fond farewell to her and my father so that I could reluctantly give up the thrilling suicidal ideations I was experiencing because of their violent exciting marriage.

Mom always had great empathy and insight, and I appreciated that. When I told her what I needed to do, she sensibly asked, “I’m too butch for you, aren’t I?” I mean, she could get right to the heart of something every time, and she had a knack for seeing another person’s point of view.

When I reminded her that I’m bisexual, and butch/femme concepts don’t matter to me, she was spot on with her understanding words: “Yep. I thought so. I’m too butch for you.”

These two women taught me a valuable lesson about labels. Probably.

 

The Latent Accountant

I’ve been chastising myself lately, and not in a fun, sexy way.

It’s about money management. I keep wondering why it’s taken me half a century to focus on financial responsibility in a somewhat grown-up way. My mother modeled great fiscal behavior, and my father offered sound advice, but I suppose when we’re young, that sort of thing doesn’t get through.

My mother taught me how to stick to a grocery list, fiercely, so that I could plunder the impulse purchase area at the grocery checkout. This resulted in a lot of quality time with my dentist.

And when I was fifteen, she was generous enough to hook me up with the guy who had the best pot prices in town. There’s no sense in overspending when you can avoid it. Such an important lesson.

My father didn’t model anything until his last years of life, when he married a woman who took him from the edge of bankruptcy to wealth (and back to bankruptcy and a fatal level of debt without his knowing it; he died believing he was a rich guy. She was a great wife and stepmom, bless her).

He did offer several pieces of monetary and general life advice, though:

“Marry someone safe, and be a secretary.”

He offered this advice when I was ten. For years after this statement, I thought of myself as a rebel. No way was I going to do what my father said – until I married an Air Force officer and became a secretary. But I was steadfast in my belief that his words had no influence on me. Such an unappreciative daughter.

“If you want to go to college, get a scholarship.”

He tossed this ditty at me as he strolled through the living room and disappeared down the hallway, and he lovingly allowed me the room to figure out what a scholarship is. I was also ten with this one, so there was plenty of time to research it.

He had a habit of offering life tidbits as he was passing through rooms.

“You should take up the clarinet” was one. He was thoughtful enough to suggest this when I was wearing braces. I remember lots of tears. Probably of joy.

“You should take up stamp-collecting,” whoosh, gone. Although this is possibly the most boring sport in the history of humankind, there is a bonus: I learned what “philately” means. It’s an awesome Scrabble power word, and someone always insists on challenging it.

“Buy real estate from women who just became widows. They’re vulnerable and ready to sell at any price.”

I was so lucky to be thirty-two when he imparted this one – and even luckier that he didn’t leave the room this time, so we could finally have a great father-daughter talk. I could appreciate the point he was making even though I didn’t fully grasp the wisdom of it in the moment.

We were sitting in his den, waiting for his mother’s wake to begin, so my grandma’s death was pretty much on my mind. My father and I were getting into the innocuous sort of chitchat that happens right after death, kind of catching up on family members. He mentioned that my stepbrother was going to visit Seattle.

I said, “Oh, Ricky will love it. It’s so beautiful.”

Dad said, “Yeah, and I told him he’s going to find great pussy there.”

Instead of berating myself, I’m going to appreciate that I’m now paying attention to my finances and be thankful for the nurturing guidance of two caring parents.

 

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

Virtue Smirchoo

I’m angry at my ass. It isn’t downsizing on its own. At least not anymore. After I gave up sugar last August, I lost eleven pounds and even kept them off for a long time.

It seemed true what no-sugar guru David Gillespie says. The pounds will just fall off if you avoid that evil, sweet, delicious poison. Plus he says that being off sugar doesn’t mean I have to totally give up wine or spirits. Just no sweet wine or mixers. This made my brain swoon.

Check out this site. Great message. Love the Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook. (No endorsement paid here. You probably assume that. I mean, how successful and famous could I be at this point where people would pay to advertise here? God, what an ego.)

We’re eating whole fat everything now because—and you probably know this—“low fat” is synonymous with “We’ve dumped a shit-ton of sugar in this in order to make you feel great about avoiding fat. It’s going to turn you into a dirigible. Enjoy!”

I’m loving the butter, whole milk, and fatty-mcfat-fat sour cream. Plus the good-Lord-you’re-full-so-for-the-love-of-all-that’s-holy-stop-eating-now mechanism works again, so I don’t overeat. Well, I didn’t at first.

My translation of this new-to-me information is: Have all you want, as often as you want. It’s a party! Crush that baked potato under a brick of butter and wash it down with a half-liter of chardonnay. Every day. What could go wrong?

Then the weight loss stalled, and I even gained a few pounds back. Still. Off. Sugar. Except for that cake I ate last week, but it was for my birthday. So wisdom can just fuck off.

After a few months on my latest plan of action—Wait and See if Anything Changes, Part 654—I realize I might be missing a point in all this, but my hope remains: Magic will handle everything. I’m frustrated that this isn’t easy. And a little angry.

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My ancient ancestor, just as pissed about the weight-loss struggle. Evidently there’s a long family history of flipping people off. And floppy-gut.

 

All these months later, I see that my enjoyment of gallons of chardonnay, truckloads of butter, and nearly zero exercise have not transformed me into a super model. Now I realize effort is required in order to feel healthier and look better. Was that always a thing?

cleopatra_public-domain
I have to work for this?

Doing something good for myself just because it’s the right thing to do is in direct conflict with my assumption that I deserve nothing good. Paul goes rowing because it makes him feel good and keeps his weight down. It’s as though he believes he should be treated well, even by himself. I don’t get it.

I guess I’ll walk the whole block to the gym and do something. Tomorrow. For sure. My brain just hissed, “Liar,” which is fair enough.

A Balanced View

Our Molly has been sick lately. (See half of her in the header photo. Isn’t she gorgeous? Also stealthy.)

Of course I assumed her diagnosis would be dire. She’s almost nine, which is killing me but not fast enough. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. Except food. And vodka.

I’m fed up with my brain. It doesn’t want me to even know there’s a bright side, let alone look at it.

hindenburg
My thought when Paul says, “Let’s take a trip!”

In fairness to me, though – and in the time-honored tradition of parent-blaming – my mother and father taught me to be this way.

My mother’s favorite phrase was “Don’t get your hopes up.” When I asked her why, she said, “I don’t want you to be disappointed.” This sounds protective and motherly, but what I learned was: Disappointment is horrible. Avoid it at all costs.

On the positive side, this lesson saved me a lot of tuition over the decades. As soon as a class got difficult (usually in the drop-now-and-you’ll-get-all-your-tuition-back period), I’d bail.

My father knew disappointment was inevitable, though, so he modeled coping skills for me. Like the time he jumped up from the kitchen table, holding an empty frozen dinner box in one hand and smacking it with the other. He screamed, “The Salisbury steak isn’t the same size as the picture on the box!”

I think it’s great when parents work together to raise a healthy child.