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Icebergs (Joce)

“There are transitions in life whether we want them or not. You get older. You lose jobs and loves and people. The story of your life may change dramatically, tragically, or so quietly you don’t even notice. It’s never any fun, but it can’t be avoided. Sometimes you just have to walk into the cold dark water of the unfamiliar and suffer for a while. You have to go slow, breathe, don’t stop, get your head under, and then wait. And soon you get used to it. Soon the pain is gone and you have forgotten it because you are swimming, way out here where it’s hard and where you were scared to go, swimming sleekly thorough the new.” John Hodgman, Vacationland

The summer after I turned 15 I took driver’s ed. My English teacher taught the classroom portion. She was going through a divorce and we watched her drastically lose weight as the summer progressed; her Dolly Parton blonde bouffant atop a bright, round face became limp, frazzled curls tucked haphazardly around drawn cheeks and a grey complexion.

She was obviously stressed out, but attempting to be cheerful, as the problematic VCR spit out its tape over and over, unapologetically, for no apparent reason. Snap went the plastic trap door, as she shoved in the well-used cassette, the motor spinning little internal gears, and we would collectively hold our breath, ERrrvvvvv, Errrrvvvvv, and the tape would pop out again. Please just let it work, I thought to myself, and probably so thought the rest of the class. Please let the video play, so she can turn off the lights and sit at her desk at the back of the room and drink her styro-cup of lukewarm coffee from Jackson’s. We will watch patiently as the teen driver in the video does all the wrong things, and know they’re the wrong things because the narrator, an authoritative man with a radio voice will tell us so.

The teen driver will play his music loud as he careens down the street, non-seat-belted friends in tow, smoking probably, rolling through stop signs, neglecting to use his signal. Oh, look, train tracks ahead! The teen driver will attempt to beat the train, swerve around the flashing lights and striped barriers. These things always end with a train collision. The videos were dated, old cars, the kids looked nothing like me and my friends, bellbottoms!, and the message was patronizing and delivered without nuance. But watching that video in the cool dark of my English class was less jarring than watching the train wreck of my teacher’s life. I was ready and able to deal with the complexities and adult responsibilities of driving; I was not ready and able to deal with the complexities and adult responsibilities of a derailed relationship, teaching drivers ed in the summer to pay for a divorce and nervously drinking gas station coffee by the gallon to get through another day.  Slap, ERrrvvvv, ERrrvvv, the FBI warning appears. I sigh and sink back in my chair. 

I can’t remember the name of the guy that taught the actual driving portion of driver’s ed. The English teacher told us he’d been doing the job for 25 plus years. He was about 60 and to us he seemed old and crotchety; he had stale breath and wore tan polyester pants carelessly home-hemmed with contrasting thread. In these ways he was not unlike every old man teacher from our small town high school. He used his own car, a late 80s Civic, tan, with a rag rug over the back seat presumably to protect the upholstery from the prickly dog hair that covered the rug. There were four of us in the car that day, the old man, my best friend Mallory, me, and another student, a girl. I don’t remember her name either.

The old man followed the driver’s ed manual to the letter. We had to circle the car looking for impediments – soccer balls, parking barriers, toddlers – before we were allowed to get in. Mirrors were checked and set. Signals checked, Mallory standing at the rear of the car, the other girl at the front, while I pressed on the blinker lever from the passenger seat, first up, then down. “Now check the lights.” We checked the lights, put on the brights, tested the brakes, then the windshield wipers, the horn. When he finally let one of us get behind the wheel we were jumpy – how could we remember all these details when it came time to take the test? And we weren’t even driving yet.

“Ladies, I want you to practice this, because you never know when you’re going to be in a situation when some guy is coming after you and you’re in a big hurry and you need to get the keys in the ignition as fast as you can.”

Mal and I looked at each other. “When you get in the car I want you to lock the door with your elbow. Put the key in the ignition as fast as you can, simultaneously locking the door.”

This was for sure not in the manual. And it seemed like quirky advice, but whatever. We practiced running to the car, throwing open the drivers side door, slamming it shut and locking it with our elbow (this was when car locks were little stems at the top of the door, just under the window) while we put the key in the ignition slot and don’t forget your seatbelt!

“Now throw it in drive and I want you to step on the gas as hard as you can. We’re going to practice how long it takes you to slow down when you’re speeding.” He delivered his message with authority.

So in the parking lot of the high school we accelerated, accelerated and then jammed on the brakes. Over and over until we knew exactly how the Civic would respond. That was the end of day one.

Monday and Wednesday we went to the classroom with our English teacher, we watched videos and studied the manual. We took quizzes about road rules and car parts and learned that you should never drive when you’re tired, or drunk, or distracted from a fight with your boyfriend (this was pre-car phone and pre-cell phone and therefore, pre-texting). Most certainly if you do any of these things, you will die, or worse, you’ll kill someone else and you’ll survive and then you’ll have to live for the rest of your life knowing you killed someone because you’re an inattentive driver. Also, we learned that divorce is hard and it will suck the life force out of you and in a few short months you’ll be a mere shell of your former married, bubbly self.

Tuesday and Thursday we drove the Civic with the old man. Mostly we practiced four way stops and changing lanes on the freeway and of course, parallel parking. Also, we learned things that seemed peculiar, and probably wrong, like, in a cul-de-sac, you must first put on your right blinker, and then as you get to the middle of the circle, you put on your left blinker. When backing out of a driveway, honk twice, so those behind you know you’re coming. He put on the music really, really loud, so we could practice driving with the radio on. “Kids always listen to music too loud while they are driving. You might as well know what it’s like with a professional next to you.” He always delivered the information, wacky or not, in the same authoritarian tone. He demanded respect. This was not fun and games.

I should probably mention at this point in the story that Mal and I had been best friends for years. We had bonded over a similar disposition, we were sly, cynical, and witty. We were sassy: Mal had a wicked sense of humor and I, a biting tongue. We were both in advanced classes, got good grades, and spent most class time passing notes that skewered our sad-sack teachers and whomever else we felt deserved our absolutely hilarious criticism

We thought the old man was kind of an idiot. He took himself and his job so seriously. He made shit up and then acted like it was crucial information that would be the deciding factor in whether we were good driving citizens or bad. Mostly, because aren’t all teachers kind of like this we thought, we went along with it. We did our eye-rolling behind his back. Until one day, when we didn’t.

I was driving. The old man was grousing in a low tone next to me; I’d done something wrong and he didn’t think I was sufficiently concerned. I protested, and he reprimanded me for being “flip.”

“Pull over. It’s Mal’s turn.” He made a note in my driving record, a photocopy clipped to a clip board, and gave me a D for the day. A D?! I was incensed. “Lame.” I retorted.

“Mal, get in the driver’s seat.” He repeated. When she did, she neglected to lock the door with her elbow and shrugged when he mentioned it. They had another exchange and then all of a sudden he started shouting. His face got red, and the white spittle collected at the corners of his mouth, and he yelled and yelled and yelled. I couldn’t tell you the specifics of what he was yelling. I was paralyzed in the back seat of the car as I watched him swivel his head between the two of our faces. “How dare you,” was the gist of it, “you are little shits!” 

He was getting closer and closer to Mal’s face as he yelled, pointing his thick finger in rhythm with his shouts. I could see the spittle, like the lather on a race horse, get thicker and creep up his wrinkly lips.

“Get out of the car, Mal.” I said. “Get out of the car, NOW!” She got out, and so did he and I, and the other girl. He was still furiously screaming as we walked quickly away from him in direction of the school. “You’ll never drive in this town again!” he shrieked.

By the time we arrived back at the school, ten blocks or so, Mal and I had mostly stopped shaking. The other girl was no longer crying. We went straight to the English teacher and told her the story. You could tell it was the last thing she wanted to deal with, three traumatized teen girls with a story that was likely a hormone-driven over-dramatization. She sent us to the principal.

The principal was a little more sympathetic. He, too, was an older man, and he’d probably seen it all, being the principal of a high school for years and years. Plus, he didn’t know us individually, so he took our complaint at face value, instead of assuming, these are button pushing girls, they must have really been harassing that old man, for him to respond so badly. That is how we felt when we told the English teacher, she thought it was our fault, very likely.  

“Thank you for coming to me,” he said, “I will make sure to have a word with your driving teacher. It’s probably best that you switch cars and have a different instructor from now on.”

Nobody told us, but somehow we found out, that a supervisor had gone on a “ride-along” with another of the old man’s groups. There had been a complaint earlier in the week about some of the material he was teaching being “questionable.” And, also, there was some concern about his temper.

The old man was “let go,” or he quit, and when the English teacher told us this, she insisted this was a very sad development. An end of an era, really, an old man who had been doing a very good job for many, many years, had to leave that job when questions about his ability arose. She, for one, was not convinced of our innocence, but took over as our driving instructor anyway, probably because there was no one else they could get at that late notice. Despite our protests, and proof that we were, in fact, good drivers, the English teacher would not change the grades the old man had put on our daily driving records. “He must have given you those grades for a reason. He’s been a driving instructor for over 25 years,” she said.

The old man had threatened us, “you’ll never drive in this town, again!” and he was almost right. When averaged together with our new driving record grades, and our tests and pop quizzes from the class, we both barely passed drivers ed.

A few months later we found out the old man was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. “We thought you girls should know,” said the principal. “Alzheimer’s affects the memory, and probably your instructor was forgetting what he knew and was confused when he was teaching, you can imagine that might make a person scared and angry.”

I started this essay with a quote from John Hodgman about growing older and how changes in our lives are similar to swimming off the coast of Maine where the water is cold. It reminded me of the time I got caught in a riptide off the coast of Oregon. It was a beautiful day, a clear blue sky stretching cloudless above the weird green grey haze hanging low over the ocean. The water was not particularly cold but I was wearing yoga tights and a quick-dry sweatshirt for swimming anyway, because nobody I ever knew wore a swimsuit in the Pacific off the coast of Oregon over Labor Day weekend! We had been boogie boarding with some cheap Styrofoam kick boards and rowing our inflatable kayak in and out of the waves, never thinking of tides, but only about the sand between our toes and the rush of water on our backs as we dove up and down. My boyfriend at the time grabbed a life vest and swam out to where he was just a tiny floating head on the horizon. I watched his strong arms pump in and out of the water. And then he seemed to just stop. Like he was treading water. He was doing this for about 15 minutes when I started to get worried. Was he getting smaller? Was it getting foggier? How come he didn’t come back in? I waved and he waved back. A few more minutes went by and he still didn’t come back. He just sort of bobbed there in the distance. “I’m going to go see what Rocco is doing,” I said to my sister. We were sitting in the sand on the shore watching the boys hop waves with their boards. I grabbed a board and paddled out. As I got closer he yelled, “Go back! You’ll get stuck! It’s a riptide!” But I was already too far out and when I tried to swim back to shore, the tide just pulled me further and further out. Soon I was as far out as him. We tried to swim back, and several times we got close enough that I could feel the sand under my feet, but each time a wave would sweep us back, and my feet would fall off that shelf of sand into the abyss. Rocco had the lifejacket so he was buoyed up, but my paddleboard provided little support. It was panic inducing. We tried to wave, but those on the beach just waved back. My arms were getting tired. I had to kick my legs harder and harder to keep my head above water. Several times a wave crashed over me and my head was submerged. We had been out there a long time. We yelled HELP but knew the water and the wind would send our cries the wrong way, further into the people-less ocean.

Finally, after many, many minutes, they got concerned enough on the shore to send a kayak to investigate. My brother-in-law and sister paddled leisurely until they saw our panicked faces and then plowed towards us. “Help, help, help!” I kept screaming.

Now I know this may be a very clichéd and obvious analogy, but getting stuck in riptide is similar to how I felt when I was in driver’s ed: out of control, unable to affect an outcome through my own efforts, worried about the consequences of my actions in a bad situation made worse by a relentless, unyielding foe. Obviously, getting stuck in a riptide and dying is way worse than failing driver’s ed, but I already told you this wasn’t a perfect metaphor. Anyway.

I thought of my driver’s ed experience the other day when I had a similar encounter. An older man, an authority figure, totally lost it, yelling, spitting vitriol at me, about me, to my face, with his finger pointed etc. etc. It was simultaneously terrifying and theatrically absurd. And, too, this year has seemed full of these incidents, where I’m trying very hard to keep my self together when the other party is completely irrational and unreasonable, and I am suffering consequences for their actions. My feet can’t find the sand. I can’t move forward. 

The summer after I turned 15 I learned to drive. More importantly, I learned this life lesson: sometimes, for one reason or another, reasons likely having nothing to do with you, people will try to hurt you. There will be real life consequences that you will suffer through no fault of your own, or your punishment will far exceed your crime. Others will pile on, because that person is usually an authority figure, almost always a man, insisting if you had done something different, been someone different, used a different tone, this wouldn’t have happened to you. You will assume there are rules, or laws, or people that will, should, protect you, but come to find out there are not those protections. And, there may be consequences for whoever is perpetrating the behavior against you, but more likely, there will not.

These days I keep my head above water by reminding myself that at end of the story I got my license. I spent hours and hours driving my parent’s old car faster than I should around turns, barely stopping at stop signs, listening to Tom Petty really loud. I never locked the door with my elbow. I did, however, always stop for trains. 

Helium Balloon (Nik, Sabine)

My 30s are over. They began with an epic move to Tucson where I started a brand new life (alone!) in a foreign place. They ended with the loss of three of the great loves of my life: Nik and The Sheriff died, and I parted ways with my best friend of a decade. The in-between years housed great adventures, a few comforts, mostly catastrophes, and confusion. There was one heartbreak after another, many moves, several jobs. My 30s were hard and sad, but they revealed a lot to me about who I am, deep down to my core. They showed me, too, who other people are, for better and for worse.

I was in love with Nik in my 20s. He was a kind and gentle person, remarkably creative, wickedly intelligent, ambitious, interesting, thoughtful. He was the perfect partner for the striving, restless young me. We spent our days renovating our dilapidated little house, making elaborate art projects, drinking too much coffee and beer and whiskey. We spent our weekends scouring used bookstores for old Penguin paperbacks and thrift stores for things made of Gabardine, horsehair and dotted swiss. I was too young and dumb to know that a man who buys you the perfect pair of alligator pumps and brings you coffee in bed every morning and writes you the loveliest of love letters is a very rare man, indeed. I was so young and dumb that I thought the world was my oyster and that men like Nik were a dime a dozen instead of one in a million so after six years, I let him go. I spent the next six wishing I hadn't. We stayed friends and kept in touch, and eventually, I realized that in the end we had had the perfect love, past tense, but it never could have lasted. He traveled and studied and met a new love. And then, this winter, he died. Suddenly.

I was in love with Sabine in my 30s. She was the first person I met when I got to Tucson and the instant her giant dark-sparkle eyes met mine, I knew we would be best friends. She was exotic and slightly dangerous with a sharp tongue and a delicious sense of humor. Like me she was a no-nonsense, hard-working farm girl with a sophisticated artistic streak, fiercely loyal to her friends and family. She had a tough exterior and sweet marshmallow insides. She saved me from the terror of being alone -- immediately making her community available to me. We threw elaborate parties together, cooked complicated meals, walked our dogs and hit the bars. Every time I moved, she rounded up a trailer and loaded up her old pick-up with my junk. She let me sob on her shoulder when my heart got broken and we laughed uncontrollably at the expense of others, at inside jokes, at ourselves. She confided all her hopes and fears in me, and I, in her. Probably because we were so similar: spirited, opinionated, with a chip-on-our-shoulder and our hearts-on-our-sleeves, we would occasionally have a knock-down drag-out shouting match and then wouldn't talk for months. We always found our way back to each other. When I moved away, we kept in touch and visited each other and talked on the phone all the time. Until this past summer when I got involved with another piece-of-shit man, and "insert long confusing story here" Sabine felt betrayed:

"Joce, Life has a funny way of weaving complicated webs. How our friendship began and how it ended would be hard for the best of screenwriters to craft. I appreciate the email and knew the time would come to talk about how it all fell apart. We’ve been there for each other through the best of times and the worst of times over the past decade supporting each other in one way or another and the next decade will most definitely be different because what do they say…Without change there would be no butterflies? Well, now that we’ve both rolled our eyes, scoffed and muttered "fuck you, Elaine" under our breath here comes the truth. Like you I’m not sure how to react, what to say or what hashing out needs to be done in order to find some kind of closure. I’m tired, old days are gone, old friends are gone and I feel like I’ve buried yet another sister I desperately wanted. Perhaps that says something about my need for female companionship and the truth that perhaps it's not in the cards." 

I disagreed with her assertions, I apologized, I begged for forgiveness, but the truth is, and if anybody knows this, it's me, friendships, like other relationships, have a lifespan. I thought maybe she'd soften when she heard about The Sheriff dying. I knew it was over, for good, when she learned about Nik, and she didn't reach out. She was done, it probably took her years to get there, the second half of our uphill marathon friendship. I was the friend Sabine needed at one point in time, but I'm not that person anymore. 

So Nik and Sabine are gone, in different ways, true, but gone nonetheless. I wasn't prepared the last time I talked to either to say a proper goodbye or to thank them for enriching my life in countless, invaluable ways. That's the thing about endings. They don't often happen on our terms. 

And yet, both of them are still so present in my life. I am constantly stumbling on a thought, or remembering an experience, an event or conversation, that we shared. Daily, maybe hourly, my eye catches a sentence in a story, or my ear, the bar of a song, or I'll glance in a drawer or move an object on a shelf and all of a sudden they are there. Next to my front door there is the beautiful Art Deco mirror that hung in the house that Nik and I shared. A small chip out of each corner from when it traveled all the way to Indiana with us. Here is a stack of stationary that he printed for me on his old platen letterpress. My name and a little pink umbrella with matching pink envelopes. Here is the picture of me and Sabine at her wedding and there is the rocking chair that she lovingly restored for me; small with wide armrests with just the slightest hiccup when it rocks.  Here is the green pebbled leather notebook where Nik kept notes and wrote the grocery list in his distinctive stylish hand, "coffee filters, spinach, red wine vinegar." Here is the thin gold ring topped with a humble gray button, a thirty-ninth birthday gift, the one before this one, when Sabine and I were still friends. When I got a new phone, the day after Nik's funeral, for some reason it reverted itself to 2014: all my pictures, and contacts and messages. There at the top of the text folder, dated two years to the day, was a message from Nik, "Thanks for taking time out to say hi. It was great to see you!" 

Who will leave and what will remain of them? It's almost never who you expect. And the way they leave, that will surprise you, too. And after they are gone, what things will interrupt your day to inspire aching nostalgia, conjuring up the smile, the laugh, the smell or touch of the person you loved? The older I get the more the more my world is littered with those remnants. 

On a hot, sweaty day at the end of August I was pouring wine at the annual Basque Wine Festival and a guy came up to my table and said to me, "Jocelyn? It's Dave. Dave from high school." Of course, I didn't really recognize him (it's been over 20 years, geez!) and I was dismissive, who cares about high school? But, then, something about the interaction stuck with me and I found him on Facebook and asked him out for a beer. When we met he greeted me with the most genuine open and friendly smile, I was taken aback. It was a smile so rare I hadn't seen one in a decade, and I'd only ever seen it from a handful of people: It was the smile of instant connection. Of knowing and understanding and agreeing: we are meant to be. Love is a good place to start my 40s. 

But, of course, with love comes the burden of fear. Fear of losing that love to death, to change, to misunderstanding, to circumstances beyond my control. I hold hope clenched in my teeth and breathe through a deviated septum. Do love and loss form a double helix in your heart? They do in mine.  

Snow Blowed (Joce)

The last few days have brought record snow levels: schools and businesses are closed, people have abandoned their cars on side streets and, maybe for the first time in my adult life, I picked up a snow shovel and shoveled my walks, driveway and dug out my car on five separate occasions. Yesterday morning I slipped while trying to get my phone to take a picture of my landlord skiing down our street. The phone fell out of my hand and shattered on the ice. So my afternoon shoveling found me phoneless, without my constant earbud companions, and my brain insisted on thinking. 

I've been avoiding thinking lately. Music, podcasts, the TV on in the background, anything to divert my brain from fixating. Fixating on politics, fixating on money, fixating on sadness and worry. Since the election I just want to put my head down and move forward, focus on chores, my job, my friendships, family. My dog. Relationships and responsibilities that, to some extent, I can affect. 

Obviously, I'm not the only one who found 2016 a difficult year. Problems and troubles were micro and macro, individual and global. I felt defensive and misunderstood and confused both on a personal level and as a member of a larger community of friends, neighbors, women, Americans, taxpayers, artists, etc. And as much as I wanted to say something, participate in the discourse, offer an opinion, express my concerns, mostly I was silent. I felt like a train was rushing by and it was up to me to run alongside and grab a rail and hop on, but I just couldn't run fast enough to make the jump, to get on board, to help, to be creative, to offer wisdom and words and hope and support. I just got overwhelmed with the thinking about it all. What could, should, would I do? It was a particular torture, all that thinking and doing nothing. So I stopped. 

But then yesterday I fell. And my diversionary tactics were diverted. I let a few thinks in: how could this year be different? It should be different. 

I've spent my whole life making sweeping change, big decisions, attempting huge impossible goals, insisting on grand gestures. All that has led to monumental disappointment, failure, chaos. So instead, I'm going to start small. 2017 will be my year of baby steps.  I'm going to write a blog post and not worry if it's brilliant or moving, or frankly, even interesting. I'm going to lose 5 pounds, not 20. I'm going to pay off a credit card and not carry around the weight of my student loans every minute of every day. I'm going to do one thing each day that makes me a better friend, employee, or family member but not all at once. I will find satisfaction in remembering to take the trash out on the right day, in not wasting produce, in making someone laugh. I will pick my battles more carefully. I will let it go of some of the guilt, some of the shame, some of the self-loathing, some of the anger, but honestly, not all of it. I will enjoy the company of those who enjoy my company, and not worry as much about those that don't. I will keep trying. 

In 2017 I will keep shoveling. For as long as it snows. 

The Last Booty Call (Neil)

Probably you need a laugh today. Personally, I don't know if I can muster it. There's a dull throbbing in my head, not unlike a hangover. My shoulders are in a permanent slump. My heart hurts like after a fresh break-up though for once it's not because of a break-up.

Today my boyfriend kissed me good morning and brought me coffee in bed with just the right amount of cream. Last night he brought me flowers and Champagne and made homemade noodles, comfort food. Later in the week we have plans for a bike ride down the Greenbelt, by the river. There is sun on the forecast. Today, tomorrow, all the days going forward, I need to remember I'm safe. I'm loved. I have a good family. I have wonderful friends. A job I like. Everything is going to be okay.

In the meantime, I'll try to laugh. I recommend you listen to the Couples Skate episode The Last Booty Call over at iTunes.

Ellipses (...)

I'm sorry I've been absent. I'm sorry I haven't let you in on what has been going on. It's just...it's just that I don't have the words. I know, you're thinking, this girl is prolific with words. And it's true, I'm an open book and the open book is full of words. So, maybe they'll come eventually. Or maybe I'll remain speechless. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

In September my life completely changed. For one thing, The Sheriff died. It wasn't unexpected, obviously, but it still wrenched me in half. The end of an era; the end of the story of a scrappy girl and her scrappy pup taking on the world. But something else happened too. I fell in love. Like real, no bullshit, huge, generous, knock you to your knees love. Like, THIS IS IT love. The kind of love when you realize those other times you thought you were feeling love you were so fucking off base you should be embarrassed. THAT was not love THIS is love, you idiot.

This love is the kind of love that renders me inarticulate. It's so indescribable that every time I go to write about it all I can come up with is clichés, clichés about doors and windows and heads over heels and wind and wings. I don't want to subject you to that. So, for now, that's all I'm going to say. I'm in LOVE. Give me a minute.

The Fox in the Cemetery 2 (Kipling)

I know you weren't expecting, or probably wanting, a response to your last email. And even though I know I've said more than my share, and I've been aggressive in my delivery (which I realize is ineffective), I feel compelled to say more. So, do with this what you will: contemplate it, consider it, disagree with it or simply delete it. Please know that it doesn't come from a state of "anguish," but genuine concern and care for you. 

When I first met you, which was around last Christmas, I felt so sorry for you that you had nowhere and nobody to spend the holidays with. I felt that it must be difficult for you to be in a new place, a foreigner, with only your classmates for company. And I thought, "I would like to help him feel at home." As much as my family gets on my nerves, we make our holidays count and spend them doing fun, and enviable things. There are delicious meals and games and lots of laughter. How could anybody not want that? So, soon, we spent time together, and with my family, and I believe you enjoyed those times and the people. I saw it as though you were finding your place - in a town, in a country, in a family, with the pets. We never considered you, nor treated you as anything other than as one of us. And how could anyone not want that?
And then a couple of days ago I was reading an interview with the writer Charles D'Ambrosio and this paragraph caught me up.
"You’re always kind of there and not there, sitting in the room but also watching the room, alert to some other, less innocent possibility. That distance feels safe, but it also stirs up the most intense feelings of loss and longing, the dream of making the distance go away, of ditching the divided self and all its tensions and simply being there—you know, just crossing that threshold and coming inside, coming home. But it’s hard to do, hard for me to do, anyway.”

And for whatever reason it made me think about you and your "outsider" status. Always before I had thought of your being an outsider as something you would want to overcome. That if I, we, could just make you comfortable and welcome enough you would stay and be part of my, our lives. But then I realized, that it's likely for you, there is safety in distance. From what I know of your life story, I can see that the choices you make are to deny closeness with others and to remove yourself from them. You keep moving, you keep changing, you never put down roots, physically or emotionally, you won't admit to caring or loving others. When you told me you spent 5 days a week for 3 years with Maria and yet never told her you loved her, I understood it was unlikely that you would admit or agree to loving me, or perhaps, anyone. Not that you wouldn't love or care for someone, but that you would never allow yourself to admit to it.
You see, I don't believe you didn't love Maria, but I do believe you never told her to save yourself the responsibility and obligation and vulnerability that comes with loving someone. You didn't protect her from the hurt of you leaving her in the lurch, just because you never said I love you. She still felt betrayed, because we all know that spending that amount of time with someone means you have a relationship and that you care deeply for each other. In your last email, and the one before, you admitted to missing me but agreed that that probably wasn't enough. It's not enough, and I think it's also not true. I think your feelings for me go deeper than just missing me. I also think telling me so, "just crossing that threshold and coming inside, coming home," is really hard, maybe impossibly hard for you.
I do not know the details, but as I've said before, I think somebody important, somebody in your formative life did not love you in the way that they should have. Maybe they neglected you, or abused you or hurt you in a really deep way.  I think that made you fearful, suspicious, and untrusting of the "love contract," the contract that says "I am lovable and therefore this person will love me and I am safe to love them." I see you wanting in, wanting to be loved, to be a part of a relationship, a family, a community but also feeling that those things are a dream, that you would have to ditch the safety of the divided self and all its tensions and participate, let go. But, then maybe someone would still not love you in the way they should and you would get hurt again.
You said in your email that you struggle with knowing anything about yourself or what you want in and out of life. This makes you human, Kipling. All of us deep, thoughtful thinkers and feelers struggle with this. Sometimes we get glimpses of the answers but I doubt any of us actually figure it out before the end. I do believe that avoiding closeness and communion with others will only prevent you, in the long run, from finding relief from the struggle and the search. I want you to know this: there are people in this world that will love you, that will protect you and care for you, and who want you as part of their home, their family, their community. You are only on the outside because you choose to be, and I assure you, it's better on the inside.

The Fox in the Cemetery 1 (Kipling)

Hi,
 
Apologies for the delay, I've been under the weather--a cold or flu or something like that--and have been in bed all day. Now I'm finally in the coffee shop, my head is clouded over, but anyway...
 
I know you tried so very hard. You're a very giving person. And I'm not, though I do try. My behavior is not reflection upon you as a person. I go through periods of doubt, of some type of depression, though I'm relentlessly cheerful on the outside. I really struggle with knowing anything about myself or what I want in and out of life.
 
The other night, on the way back, you were talking quite aggressively (not that I blame you) and it just felt like I was cornered in a way. Maybe this makes sense or not, I don't know.
 
I miss you, of course, but I don't know if that's enough. I feel like I cause you enough anguish already. 
 
K
by Joce

Those Were Different Days (Joce)

We're sitting around the table, everybody on their second or third margarita, worn out from a long hot day, but the mood is light and easy. Somebody asks Brandon about his sister, she's had a lot of trouble with men in her life, good juicy gossip: Her live-in boyfriend got somebody else pregnant and left her, then the next guy she dated was dealing heroin. Heroin! And went to jail. "She's just one of those girls," says Brandon, "that if you tell her she's pretty, tell her that you love her, that's all it takes. She holds on and won't let go." Everybody laughs. We all know girls like that. So insecure, so desperate for the approval of a man, oblivious or forgiving of the red flags. We pity them.

I laugh, too. I laugh at Brandon's sister and those poor, pathetic girls starved for the affection and validation of a worthless, piece of shit guy. I laugh but I don't say anything. Because, in my heart I know that I, too, am that girl. I order another margarita.

I made the error of writing about love in May as if I knew something, anything about it. As if being love thirsty for all these years and years has given me insight into what love is. As if keeping a blog about relationships and dating and feelings qualifies me as a love expert. What a fool!  Enter swift karmic retribution -- I got tangled in a couple of flash-in-the-pan relationships where the word love was bandied about, one was just a lie, a messy, twisted love lie, and the other was unwanted and non-reciprocal love. I realized I know nothing about love. Not one little thing.

I used to think, up until about a week ago, that my big relationship character flaw was having too much empathy for others. Did he have a bad childhood? Was he unloved by his mother? Was his heart broken in 15 different places by 15 different women? Is he naturally timid? Or mean? Or manipulative? I understand. No problem. I can help him overcome. I can heal his wounds no matter how deep or wide. My comforting and kindness and nurturing will make him whole again. He will change. He will love me, too, eventually, finally, and we will live happily ever after.

Wrong.

I realize now that my big relationship character flaw is not empathy, but the exact opposite. I am totally incapable of understanding the motivations, the inclinations and impulses of others, anyone. I can understand that he might have good reasons to behave the way he does and then give him a pass to be exactly that person, but I always assume, that he, like me, has good intentions. He wants to be genuine and thoughtful and generous in the relationship. I always, always give him the benefit of the doubt. He is doing the best he can, with the tools he has, right? Like me! I would not knowingly hurt someone. I would not lie and manipulate to serve my own desires at the expense of someone else's heart. I would not cheat. I would not say, "I love you and I want to be with you," if I didn't love him and want to be with him. How could anybody feel differently? Admittedly, this is tragically naïve.

I know there are genuine, thoughtful and generous men in the world. I know many of them personally. But, insert BBBD REVELATION here: the men represented in my blog are not the exception, they are the rule, and the genuine, thoughtful and generous men, well, they are the exception. The world is full of men* that lie, lie, lie all the time. Men that act hideously and are chronically self-serving, because they can, and are, because they have a good reason for it, or because they don't. I've met and dated a not-insignificant amount of men that are manipulative and cruel and that have hurt me, ON PURPOSE. Men, who in my experience, say things, all the time, that they don't mean, that they can't back up with action. They change their minds...after a week, a month, or a 12-year marriage...and then change it back again. Even I, smart, savvy, pretty girl that I am, cannot convince a guy to be a better man than he is. I have lost a lot in trying.  

Even after years and years of craptastic treatment at the hands of these men, when I hear myself tell the stories that populate my blog, I have hesitation in my voice. I find myself insisting on shedding some light, applying some reason, showing some understanding, to even the worst offenders. Ken was abused by his step-mother, neglected by his father, conditioned by the military; Bryce was an only child who had been pressured by his parents to succeed at all costs, he was a workaholic who meant well but that would regularly bite off more than he could chew; Malik had a chronic substance abuse problem and hippy parents who didn't set appropriate boundaries. It wasn't their fault. Maybe if I'd tried something else, reached out in a different way, was more forgiving, the outcome would have been more positive...STOP!

You guys, I'm 39 years old and I'm just now realizing that I don't have the slightest idea what real love is. I've searched high and low (mostly low) to find it and it has eluded me. And I've tried to shoehorn relationships which were so obviously dysfunctional and ugly (no love anywhere)  into a fairytale framework. None of that worked because love is the rarest commodity. It is so rare it's not even listed on the periodic table of elements. It's elusive like a jungle cat. I might encounter real love once or twice in a LIFETIME. I may never find it at all (good news, loyal readers, this project is just going to go on and on and on). I'm not going to meet my soul mate in line for the loo, or at work, or through my best friend. I mean, obviously, I might, but mostly I'll stand in the loo line 350 times and not meet the love of my life or I'll simply meet one guy once there and go on one date with him. 

But now that I've had this revelation I must act accordingly, so, take note: friends, Romans, countryMEN, I'm done. No more passes.  No more looking under dirty rocks for gemstones. No more clubbing cavemen on the head to try to change their minds, their behavior. No more trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. If he acts like a jerk, maybe he's just a jerk, not just "misunderstood." No more swooning because some random ass dude says "you're pretty," or "I love you." From now on, proof of love is required, not just words, words, words. Maybe the cream will rise to the top. Maybe the better man will win. Insert other appropriate clichés here.


*I'm sure this could apply to some women, too, but I don't date women so it hasn't been my particular experience, and if we all know one thing it's this goddamn blog is ALL ABOUT ME.

The Rock in Your Shoe (Anders)

J I'm sorry, I can't be who you want or need me to be. I appreciate that you love me, but for your sake and mine, don't. I treasure your friendship, and my friendship is all I can give in return right now.
 
A I don't want anything but your respect, I didn't even want to tell you about my feelings, not like I had to say anything, I  tried to hide them from you so that you didn't get embarrassed by me, I don't want you to be anything other than the perfectly imperfect person that you are, now...I can't take those feelings back exactly that I've shared them, so I've ruined a great friendship, and this makes me cry, but...At least I can feel, for me, it's a step and I'm happy to know I still can feel that way about people, thought that had gone out of me. You jumped too far, in thinking I asked anything of you, I'm sorry you did. Ultimately, I remember all the conversations about us having no future together, I respect that, it's OK, I kinda messed up falling for you, knowing I probably shouldn't, can't and wouldn't take it all back, you are pretty amazing in so many ways. Sorry for ruining our friendship, truly my fault.
 
All of that is sincere as I can possibly be, please don't think I'm being patronizing or anything, I'm being honest, ultimately honest, to my detriment. Take care, Pidge.
 
J You didn't ruin a friendship. Just give me some time. I didn't mean to lead you on, and I'm sorry that I did. We could never work, and not because I don't respect you or that you're not good enough, but the opposite. You've got on rose-colored glasses with me, and I can't live up to it. Be safe, be happy, I care about you immensely. 
 
A I know you're a mess, always have been, everyone is, I can't fix it either, I wouldn't want to, I just enjoy the show, but...all the logistics aside, it was never about it working out, it was about what could be shared, either way, I respect you, I need some space and such now to rewind some stuff.
 
Catch ya on the flip side. 

Invasive Species (Wyatt)

May 29
W I went home and I wrote you this song. For your ears only!!!

June 2
W Sorry, I just can't get you off my mind. Bummed there was no proper goodbye. Although no form of goodbye would feel good anyways.

June 3
W I love you!
J I'm going to pretend that doesn't terrify me!!
W :) Keep it together, Pidge!
J Not my strong suit but I'll try. Bad stuff happens when love is on the line.
W Nope, I disagree.
J I have 20 years of experience to prove you wrong
W I'll prove you wrong
J We should put money on it. I hope I'm wrong but I'd bet my car and my house (neither of which I own ;)
W So I win...eternal bliss. You win...I owe on a house n car. Perfect :)

June 5
W Let's not think about reality quite yet! I just gotta see you again. That's all I know at this point! You make me feel so full of life. Not that it's not real...just...ahhh!!! You know!

June 7
W Just seems like it's gonna be perfect. A good date. Maybe you'll let me call you my girl then.

June 9
W Kinda bummer cause it's dry n cows are a little thin, but work went well. Listening to cowboys tell lies: broncs they've rode, cattle they've roped, fights they've won and women they've had. Ya know...the usual tall tales. Thinking of my Pidge.

June 10
W Seriously, you make me feel so good, and I know that I make you happy too. If it's short-lived because of technical issues, or we just don't hit it off - like you say, or it's too hard on you, or you meet somebody better for you...it will be fine. However this crazy thing evolves, it will. Life just happens, you come to a fork and you make a left or a right. Sometimes it's easier than others. I will not fuck you around and lie to you. My life now has a lot of great things in it, and it's missing a lot of things, too. I'm not sure how it's going to play out but I'll do the best I can do make the best decision as they arise. Whether it's you as a friend, or lover, or more. Regardless, my heart is swollen with happiness because of you. I hope you agree.


June 11
W Just read your piece on love you sent the link to. Intense. So true. So scary. You are an amazing writer, which I took for granted, but now I know. You are smart. You are sensible. So beautiful. I'm a mess. That's what I love about you. Can't wait to see you again. Can't wait to know you better. Listen to music together. Look at beautiful things together. Laugh together. Teach me things about coffee, wine, food, books. Live a little. Love.

June 25
W My heart is breaking. I'm terrified. I wasn't supposed to fall in love with you. I feel so alone...in the darkness in the desert. Once again we are left in a whirlwind of bliss, pain and uncertainty.

June 29
W I need a co-pilot if you're up for it.

July 5
W Hey Pidge! You're a tough one. Sorry I'm putting you thru this. Wasn't my intention, I hope you know. Hope your day is going good. Glad you survived the fireworks. Sorry I'm so outta touch. It'll get better. Really need to deal with shit tons here. Physically and emotionally. Thx for being so supportive.

July 7
W I'm so lucky to have you in my life. So smart, so beautiful, so supportive. G'night sweet pea. And a brilliant cook, and an amazing artist, and a Tom Petty fan. And can cross stitch like a motherfucker. And I love the curl of your lips when you smile, and how you kiss me with your eyes open sometimes. And you laugh at my ridiculous analogies. And get my stupid dirty jokes. And you wear sexy shoes. And take care of me when I'm sick. And edit my stupid writing even when you don't really have time. You're pretty darn amazing.

J Thank you, sweetest heart o'mine. Thank you for all these lovely thoughts...and for seeing me, seeing me through all my posturing and insecurities and worries, as the person I want to be. The person I want to be for you. Thank you for stepping up and showing me what it means to be loved, when I had given up hope, when I felt completely unlovable. I hope we have a million minutes and days and years to laugh at those dumb inside jokes, and to share those personality quirks, and kiss and fall asleep all tangled up. And if I close my eyes I can smell the small of your neck and feel your hands and hear your heart, so so close to mine.

July 9
W I'm sorry. Please don't call me anymore. You have to let me go. I'm blocking your number. I'm going to try and work on my fucked up marriage.

Showdown at the O.K. Corral (Billy, Wyatt)

"I think you're just the cutest thing."
 
"Can I hold your hand? I know I shouldn't, I really want to kiss you."
 
"Oh what a night. Late September back in '63. What a very special time for me. What a lady, what a night."
 
"I know us is an impossibility, that doesn't stop me from wanting it."
 
Be sure to wipe the lipstick off...
"No thanks. I like the way it tastes."
 
"You're so smart. So smart and so funny. I haven't laughed like that, like we laughed last night, in years."
 
"I like you and your spirit, Pidge. Your lips, too."
 
"You've got tattoos dedicated to everybody else, when are you getting a tattoo for me?"
"I don't know, but I slept on the couch last night, so..."
 
"Your skin is as soft as I always imagined it to be."
 
"I've had a crush on you probably since the first time I met you. 10 years? But that time you came to my show and we all walked downtown together, that's when I knew it officially. 10 years."
 
"You make it hard to concentrate."

"Enjoy the music. Play it fucking loud."
 
"Yes. Now. Or as soon as you can get to my place."
 
"I like everything about you."
 
"I ain't no jilter, all-caps or not. I am irresistible, though."
 
"I went home and I wrote you this song. For your ears only!!!"
 
"When is a good time to talk? Preferably in person."
 
"Sorry, I just can't get you off my mind. Bummed there was no proper goodbye. Although no form of goodbye would feel good anyways."
 
"Oh my. And you are remarkably adept at sparring. Blog post fodder?"
 
"Not sorry."
 
"Wish you were here."

Sunburnt

I was 16, he was 18. We took a walk in the cherry orchard on the hill above my house; it was in bloom and the scent of the pink blossoms was as thick as frosting in the air. He waited until we were deep in the trees, for as far as we could see the cotton-candy puffs were arranged in neat rows, with soft long grass between; the air was sweet and carried an ambient twitter and buzz. "I love you, I love you, I love you," he crowed, as though he couldn't contain the words any longer. As if it was the most urgent message, the warning of a fire, the imminent attack of a tiger, the goodbye before drowning. "I love you." I caught the words and twisted them around in my mouth, like the stem of a maraschino cherry. I can tie a knot in this stem with my tongue, and I did, and then parted my lips and said it back, "I love you, too."

From then on, and through my early 20's, I shared "I love you's" with abandon. Relationships were lustful - I'd plow into new ones recklessly and within weeks proclaim my deepest feelings. Love was a giant reservoir! A reservoir that was so deep you couldn't see the bottom. It was so deep that I sucked up barrels of it and dumped them on unsuspecting, and mostly, unworthy, men. Love was easy and I was confident. I was naïve. 

And then love waned, and, at some point, it died. The men I was with didn't say it anymore. And neither did I. Love was fraught. It came in concert with other complicated feelings, many of them weird and problematic. Love was a weapon. It was dangerous in the wrong hands. Even, possibly, fatal in others. Best not to feel it, share it, anymore. 

It's been at least 8 years since I've said "I love you" to a partner.* And as much as it was a part of a decade of my life, I can't really remember what it's like. To feel love, to be loved. Each time I get involved with a new relationship, I'm confused: is this it? Is this love? I don't recognize it anymore. As a result, I've misidentified it - I thought those broad shoulders and that tone of voice and that gut flutter were it. But they weren't. Is that smile, that kiss, that chemical fire of chemistry it? No? Then where is it? What is it? How can I know, so if it comes again, I will take care of it? I've been trying to decipher, to dissect, the pieces parts. Perhaps if I can tell what they are, individually, when the person, the time, presents itself, again, I can reassemble love, reverse engineer it. I can make love out of what I do know, instead of what I don't. 

Here is what I have so far: 

In early May, throw on a swimsuit and head up to the hot springs. Let the warm water, the sun on your skin, remind you what it's like to be touched. Let yourself burn. The tops of your knees, your feet. Watch the freckles darken on your shoulders. Your chest. Put your sunglasses on and lay flat on the lounge chair. Wait until your scalp is sore, your nose is scorched. When the backs of your knuckles and your soft inner thighs are pink and tender, rinse off in a cool shower. Like love, the fine spray will tickle, isolating, stimulating, each of the nerve endings on the surface of your body. That night when you go to bed, notice the soft cotton against your hot skin. The tiny fingers of the feathers in your pillow will hold your heavy, tired head aloft. Relief and comfort. Like love.

Go to the woodpile. Find the oldest, weather-worn, rough piece of wood. Rub your dominant hand against the grain until a splinter pierces your palm. Go about your day. As you drive, hold a pen to write a note, pick up the grocery bag, grasp your water bottle, the sliver will lodge deeper. It will remind you, in a persistent, slightly irritating way, that it is there; it is something part of you, but not of you, and it needs tending. Like love. 

Tip your barista. Kiss your sister's baby. Pet your neighbor's dog. Laugh at your boss's stupid joke. Buy lunch for a friend, a drink for a co-worker. Let someone cut in line. Take your mom to dinner and a show. Send a letter. Call your aunt. Remember a birthday, an anniversary. Take a compliment. Yield. Merge. Wave. Be generous, kind, patient, like love. 

Go to the state fair at the height of summer. Indulge in a foot-long corn dog with extra mustard. Wash the salt and grease from your lips with a tangy lemon-shake-up. Get in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. Sit on one side of the curved hard plastic seat. For maximum twirl throw your weight in the direction of the turn as the ride rolls and spins with a rackety clang. Keep your wits about you, your stomach in check, but empty your lungs in a scream. You'll feel the ground beneath you shift, your sense of balance will be thrown. You'll feel sick. Slightly worried. Like love. 

Say, "please" and "thank you." Say, "I'll try." Say, "I understand." Say, "I will." Say, "yes." Like love.

Invite only your best friends for a party. Get everybody sufficiently soused. Turn the music up too loud. Play limbo and Twister and Cards Against Humanity. Laugh loudly with your teeth showing. Silly. Giddy. Happy. Love. 

On a cold winter night, when the moon is just a thin line, drive out to the country. Find a road that goes straight to the horizon. Accelerate. Accelerate. Then switch off your headlights and careen through the darkness. With only the pinpricks of the stars to light your way, you'll be exhilarated. Afraid. Like love. 

Take all the money out of your bank account. Give half of it to the local animal shelter. Drop the rest into the river, from the bridge, one bill at a time. You will have sacrificed everything you have for a good cause and for nothing at all, in equal measure. Just like love. 



*Unless you count Rocco, which I don't, because he was an actual sociopath, and sociopaths fake everything and say what they think they're supposed to say because they are parrots - crazy manipulative relationship parrots. 

Post-Modern Art

She says, “He is the Magician.”

I say, “I am the Fool.”

There are only two kinds of songs. Love songs and songs not about love. Same, too, about letters. This is not a love letter. But, it is not, not a love letter either. It may be a love song. 

She says, “He is unavailable.”

I already know.

I say, “He is a treehouse.” Insubstantial, temporary, solitary, and yet, a shelter.
 
I already know, but I'm pretending that I don't, just in case, just this once. Maybe he's just busy. Or maybe he's shy. Or a part of him is unsure. Maybe part of him is unsure, and the other part of him could be convinced to give it a go. Even though...I know.
 
I know things won't work out. They never do. But, I'm usually the indifferent one, the shrugger, the sigher, the "whatever" sayer.
 
I'm too cynical for crushes, I'll admit to being sideswiped by this one. 

Like a slug of cock sauce and duck blood: delicious, exotic on the tongue, fire in the gullet, foreign in the belly.
 
Maybe it happens to him all the time. 

Maybe that makes him the Fool. 

And me, the Magician.

Who You Love:

A blonde. A brunette.
A brilliant overachiever.
A girl with a baby-lady voice.
A vegetarian.
She is slight in her flimsy cotton trench – Forever 21.
She snorts when she laughs. Or barks.
Sweetie. Honey. Doll. Dearie. Dumpling. Doodle. Darling.
A butterfly. A sleek golden cat.  A swan.
An animal.
Someone in old Havaianas with dusty callused heels.
Someone very vain in her black hot pants and tights with runs down her thighs. Curvy calves.
Someone who keeps track of her schedule in a dog-eared notebook with your name and her name and blue ballpoint hearts and stars.
Someone who bakes her own bread. And makes her own bed. 
Someone that knows all the words to that song. 
Someone that drives a yellow mid-70's Datsun with a Nixon Now bumper sticker. 
Someone who eats her blueberry muffin, a big cookie, a scone and drops the crumbs. Crumbs everywhere.
Someone older than you by 20 years. Old (white hair!) – strident and shrill – you see spunk and sass.
Someone broad-backed in horizontal stripes.
Someone with cat hair on her couch and coat.
Someone not from here.
Someone who loves herself more than she loves you: A bad ass. A hot mess.
A broad. A gal. A pal.
Someone younger. Funnier. Sweeter. Smarter. Thinner.
Paula. Lainey. Meg. Jen. Dawn. Gina. Kayla. Kristie. Kelly.
A feminist. A Republican. A poet. A Jew. A gardener. 
A massage therapist. A middle manager. A mom. A moron. 
Someone. Anyone. No one.

 Not me.

This Dog's Life (The Sheriff)

It was my birthday a few days ago. Another reminder that age manifests physically, psychologically with what feels like compound interest. This past year two surgeries left me with a Frankenstein face, now matching inch-long scars punctuate the sides of my nose. The skin under my eyes is red, flaky and wrinkled from constant dabbing with Kleenex: collapsed tear ducts, of course. I have a persistent shoulder injury that requires physical therapy. And like a tree adding rings, what I used to think of as winter weight settled in spring and sprawled in summer. Forget bikini body, I'll be lucky to consider a sleeveless sundress or revealing my dimpled knees as the weather warms. Another year and, under my belt,  another bad relationship, another painful breakup. My financial situation is perpetually tenuous. I'm still juggling three jobs which means I'm stressed and short-tempered most of the time.

We celebrate the milestones, the birthdays, the weddings, the babies but it is the little changes in ourselves, the broken hairs lining our brow, the click in our left knee, the four o'clock fatigue, that actually mark the time. We notice, and remark upon the firsts, the first step, first kiss, the first car or apartment, but find the lasts much more difficult to pinpoint or to conceive of their meaning. When did you last cartwheel? Eat pepperoni pizza and not get heartburn? What minute, what day did you feel the final tug of heartstring and let your ex go? Hard to say. Lasts are trickier to see, maybe because they come so slowly, so gradually, or maybe because we avoid looking for them. 

When I was 19 years old, like many, I was a full-time college student with a full-time job. That summer, at the suggestion of my dad, I bought a house. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage. I decided, as a newly-minted "adult" homeowner, all that was missing in my life was a dog. A dog named The Sheriff. Though I didn't have a specific dog in mind, I envisioned a small one with a big mustache and skinny legs. So when the Pet Haven called me a few weeks later to report the owner surrender of a young miniature schnauzer I jumped in my car and drove to the shelter. He recognized me immediately, and I, him. The adoption fee was $50 - a fair price for a runty used schnauzer.


If you had told me then that a little dog with a big mustache would represent the longest relationship in my life outside of family, I would have doubted you. I also, maybe, would not have adopted him. I was 19. I was not looking for commitments that would last into my late 30s.

Fast forward to 2016. At 21, The Sheriff is the oldest dog I've ever met. And, the oldest dog anybody I know has met. Though mostly blind and mostly deaf, he is still agile and energetic. He still asks to go outside when the occasion warrants a backyard trek, eats his mashed up food with vigor and demands a long walk just as soon as I get home from work.

The Sheriff used to be able to jump on the couch from a dead stop. Hell, he could jump on the bed, too, even though it was four times as high as he was. He could walk on his front paws, famous for his handstands while peeing. He got hit by a mini-van when he was 15 which left him slightly dented on one side but otherwise unimpaired. Was it five years ago he needed a lift onto the bed? Maybe two since he could get on the couch? It seems he suddenly favors his back right leg, or maybe he always has, and I've just started paying attention. When you love someone, or something, the little changes are even harder to see.

I don't need to tell you that his breath is horrendous. He's a dog and he's old. Being an old dog also means he's got little lumps and bumps in weird places, his big mustache collects gravy from his food which he then leaves in a trail through the kitchen, and because of his poor eyesight, the groomer trims his eyebrows close to his face which gives him a surprised and slightly daft look. Like in many long-term relationships his deficiencies, his weaknesses, his unsightly appearance in no way compromise my love for him. If anything they solidify my loyalty: I take pleasure in gently lifting his stiff-jointed body onto the bed at night, giving him a little extra squeeze as I do so. If his wheezy snore wakes me up, I find it reassuring to know he is still by my side, breathing. When he clumsily hits his food bowl with his paw demanding food not an hour after he ate, most likely because he forgot that he already had dinner, I just give him more. When you love someone, or something, making them happy, satisfying their needs, makes you happy, too.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't mean to insinuate or suggest that my relationship with my dog is anything like a marriage or the relationship between two committed human beings. It is, though, a love relationship, and a significant one in my life. He reminds me that the most beautiful part of love is not the slightly panicky excitement of a first kiss nor the exchanging of vows or a really great date but the comfort, compassion, and forgiveness that comes from loving and knowing each other for a long time. It's the appreciation of the imperfections; I don't love The Sheriff despite his imperfections, I just love him. The whole creaky, crabby, independent mess of him.

I've missed out on a long-term compassionate love (with a human) in my  life. And every day that passes I find it more and more unlikely that I will find someone that sees beauty through the scars, sharp edges, and baggage. I've focused my own love towards a now, very elderly, pet, and I know our time together is coming to an end, so I mark the days with deliberate kindnesses. Is this our last walk? I will make sure I don't hurry him too much. Is this his last meal? A little bacon grease, a leftover egg from breakfast makes it even more delicious.

Three days before my birthday, I threw a birthday party for my dog. All his dog friends came, and my friends came, and I baked a carrot-peanut butter cake that proved very popular with the canine set. The humans had spaghetti and meatballs, a la Lady and the Tramp, and wine. The celebration reminded me to appreciate love more, long-term, fleeting, between friends, partners, spouses, parents, and children. All love is enriching and nurturing and considerate and merciful, and it will get you through, through the firsts and the lasts and the everything in between. And guess what? It is no small thing to love and be loved, by a little dog.

Photo by Emma Arnold

Big Fish (Nic)

8/24/08
Nic-
I'm flying back to Tucson tomorrow. I guess that means it's officially over. 
The amounts you owe me, I believe, are as follows
plane tic: $320
plane tic: $396
cash: $160
Let me know if this is different from your records. 

I guess that's the end of it. I hope you find someone who loves you as much as I do. I hope I do, too. 
Joce

Mutual Insurance (Kipling)

After two months he sends you a text, "I didn't know if you wanted to catch up this week?" You are curious. You say sure. You meet for coffee.

He is the same - a conundrum, an enigma. His features are classically, carefully drawn, beautiful instead of handsome - dark hair contrasting with a light complexion - he has strong shoulders, narrow hips and long, elegant fingers. His skin is taut over his cheekbones, jaw line, and aquiline nose, the ivory color only slightly, barely more pink on his cheeks. His full lips rest equidistant between a smile and a frown. But his eyes, the color of smoke haze in a blue sky, are not windows into his soul; instead they dart around, rest on the middle distance - he avoids your seeking gaze. His movements belie the refinement of his physical being, he slouches, he is bumbling – he accidentally knocks the spoon against his coffee cup with a clang and drops his napkin on the floor. When he speaks it is in starts and fits with long pauses between. He doesn't explain what happened. What changed. Just that he's missed you. That he thought about you every day. As you leave the coffee shop, both of you bundled in a heavy wool coat, knit cap, scarf, he nervously rubs your arm and then wraps you in a long sigh of a hug. He kisses the side of your head, your hair. Can he feel your heart beat through the layers?


That is all it takes.



Previous relationships and life experience have left you emotionally gun shy – the starting point of any interaction is colored with hesitation and mistrust. And now the chasm between you and Kipling, wider and deeper from your break-up, has filled to the brim with paranoia, worry and uncertainty. He doesn’t contradict your concerns, he feeds them – he gives you even less of himself than before. He wants to see you less. He communicates less. He shares less. He is more reserved, quieter, less affectionate. Not that he’d been generous with compliments before…now he’s limited them to never. He ends each day with a text: Night! Unless he doesn’t.

When you mention an event coming up next month, he shrugs. He’ll commit for Friday but not Friday next and who knows what he’s doing in March. He remarks he’s looking for work that will take him out-of-state for the summer. Like it doesn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, matter to you.


You meet for a movie on a Saturday afternoon. When he gets up mid-film to use the bathroom, he takes his coat and hat with him. Will he return? Or will he walk out of the theater, down the hall to the exit and leave? Are you more surprised when he returns than if he didn’t?

He moves apartments but doesn’t bother to tell you.

He doesn't make suggestions or have ideas about how or why you spend time together. He doesn't ask you to go to a play or lunch at your favorite spot. But if you invite him for dinner, and make something special for dessert, he might be available.

He is busy. He has work. He should have called, he didn't. He is vague about where and what he's doing when you're apart. But he lets you hold his hand when you’re watching TV on the couch. And his sarcasm, cutting as it is, makes you laugh. And when he stays over, he walks the dogs and makes the bed and does the dishes without you asking. And in the deep dark depths of the night, he turns his naked body to yours and spoons you, his breath on your neck, chest to back, thigh on thigh. And then, you tell yourself, even if he is barely here, he is still here, and that is enough.


You hate this part of you maybe more than any part. The part that of you that says: “he is giving me nothing and I’ll take it. I’ll take this bit of moldy bread and I’ll relish it like it’s the most delicious bite of the most delicious cake I’ve ever eaten.”


Because you’re so hungry.

Brokedown Palace (Ken)

I recently made a submission to The Museum of Broken Relationships: 


"In the summer of 2010 we were preparing to move into our new house in Tucson, Arizona. We spent weekends at antique fairs and shops finding all the perfect things to fill the rooms. One day I stumbled across a little wooden soldier with a round head and a drab canvas overcoat. Ken was in the Army Reserves and I liked the idea that this humble soldier would stand watch at our home when he was away. 

We moved in at the beginning of August and only a couple of weeks later, while we were still unpacking, Ken lost his job in a mass layoff at Fort Huachuca. He panicked. There were very few options for jobs in our area, and we could barely afford the house payment as it was. He started sleeping on a cot in his office, often staying up nights to do job research. He suggested we take a trip to do some scuba diving in Mexico over Labor Day, to relax, forget about our troubles over the long weekend. 

Late Sunday night we returned home to find the inside of our house flooded ankle deep - the tiny hose to the ice maker in the fridge had a hole in it and had been spraying water for three days. Nearly all of our belongings were waterlogged and ruined. The house was unlivable. 

About a month later I found out that Ken had tampered with the hose - he had intentionally flooded our house for the insurance money. He had also taken out an insurance policy on my life just prior to our scuba trip. Had he planned to drown me in the ocean and lost his nerve? There were other deceptions, too. He had maintained a relationship with his former girlfriend and those trips away, the ones where my little toy soldier was standing guard, were rendezvous with her. 

I packed up my remaining belongings and moved back to Idaho."

Listen to a longer version of this story here

Sk8tr Grl (Joce)

I've recently started recording a podcast with my comedian friend Emma Arnold. You can listen to new episodes here (on iTunes now!)  Couples Skate - arbitrary hilarity and goin' shallow on some real deep shit.
by Joce