Thursday, April 29, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Growing up, my mom was the comforter and my dad was the punisher. She didn’t have the strength or the stomach to enforce anything other than the simplest of rules. Her most powerful weapons were bribery: “I’ll buy you a candy bar.” And threatening: “You just wait till your father gets home!” Unfortunately for mom I knew that unless it was something really bad, she wouldn’t dare tell him. He was the king of “Too Far” and his parenting technique left a lot to be desired.

Before I knew anything about drugs, my mom would blame his behavior on his parents and the way they raised him: strict and with a hand that was much heavier than anything I could imagine. And now, in part, I believe that. Because I’m a parent, because I know myself (as much as one can at my age), and I know my temper and what it’s capable of. I know that that part of me, the impatient, short fused part, comes from him. But the difference between us is that I’m not fueling my temper with drugs that will send it spiraling out of control and even though I acknowledge the part I let him play in my past, I will not use him as an excuse for any parenting mistakes I make. I am entirely capable of keeping my hands to myself and my tongue in check. I might have to work a bit harder at it than others, but that’s my cross to bear, not the kid’s.

One of the things he learned from his parents, according to mom, was his attitude toward food. Meals were not missed and plates were always, always cleaned. If I didn’t like something on my plate, tough shit. “You’ll eat every bit of it and you’ll like it or...” Apparently times were hard when he was growing up and because he’d had to eat massive piles of pinto beans, my taste buds were doomed to suffer. Since he was the man and cleaning the kitchen was beneath him, he would eat, retire to the couch and mom would often cover for me, hiding my plate or taking my portion.

Once, when she put cole slaw on my plate, I picked the wrong time to whine about it. He was near, had no doubt been drinking, and decided he was going to make me like slaw. I ate every bite of what I’d been given, but I made him so mad with my crying and complaining that he decided I should have more. And so I sat at the table, force feeding myself massive amounts of slaw, until I threw up and he sent me to bed.

His attitude wasn’t always unjust. When he was sober, he was sometimes fair. I was a willful, arrogant child and I got in trouble often. In fact, as much as I sometimes feared him, I often purposefully taunted him. I wanted his attention: good, bad, or ugly.

It started in kindergarten. I refused to nap, harassing the other students while they tried to lie peacefully on their mats. I spent the majority of the school year on my mat in the brightly lit hall outside the classroom kicking the walls. It seems like such a small rebellion as an adult, but to five year old me it was a charge into battle.

It wasn’t easy for my teachers through grade school, not only because of my attitude, but because of my large family. Until fifth grade, when the order came that we were to be separated, three of my cousins were always in the same class with me. Ben, the most mischievous of the group, was my partner in crime. Our behavior would probably be considered pretty tame by most standards, but to a harried teacher and principal it was the consistency of our actions that made them so bad. All of us together were no doubt quite daunting. With my attitude and their encouragement, it’s a wonder I was ever able to sit down.

The worst thing I think we (Ben and I) ever did was beat the shit out of a boy in the school yard for pushing our cousin Christine down so hard that she broke her front teeth. His name was Ben too and he was an ugly, slow kid that grew up to be an even uglier, creepy guy.

I was paddled in the principal’s office and sent home with a note describing my unladylike behavior. And I waited, terrified, for my dad to come home. He read the note, looked at me and said, “Did you win?” Eventually I nodded and he surprised me by leaving it at that, no punishment at all. Just a lesson that made me a bit paranoid: Whether I started a fight or not, if I lost I’d get my ass beat. If I won, I’d get a pat on the back. Because no daughter of his was going to be labeled a pussy. I would get not one ass whipping, but two. That hardly seemed fair to me and I said as much. And he replied with a sage bit of wisdom that, even after hearing him say it millions of times and hating him for it, I’ve actually used myself: “If yer gonna be dumb, ya better be tough.”

And I was dumb. I can’t count the number of times I was suspended from the bus or written up for talking back. I usually got the belt in those instances. But all of that changed when I became a teenager: the rules, the punishments, the attitude...everything. He had the strangest opinions and my friends were baffled by my restrictions.

I wasn’t allowed to wear pants that “dragged the ground” or nail polish in “funky” colors (namely blue, green, and black). I was rarely allowed to spend the night with anyone that wasn’t a relative and my comings and goings were monitored not only by family, but by dad’s numerous spies. When I was grounded he didn’t just take away my things. He moved me into the guest room where I wasn’t allowed to read anything that wasn’t school related and there was nothing but a dresser and a bed. The list goes on and on.

When I turned 15 and started driving I was chomping at the bit, craving freedom. He started including me in his outings. I wasn’t allowed to stay at a friend’s house, but I could go mud digging and drink a case of wine coolers and smoke a joint with dad and his friends. (I drank the wine coolers. They drank beer. If he ever read this, he’d be angrier at the implied girliness than anything else.) My mom was livid. The tables turned and when he brought me home drunk and laughing, she finally got the balls to attempt a real punishment. He, of course, put a stop to that. No one overruled the king.

Now he’s given up his throne and moved 1200 miles away to harass someone else. I’ve become an adult, moved back home and have my own child to parent. Now I talk to him about the injustices I suffer from his ex because, funnily enough, with his distance, my meek and mild mom has at last found punishments to dole out that suit her. And he finds it hilarious. You would think that being my age would save me from having to worry about that sort of thing, but no. Her methods aren’t physical, but rather psychological beatings by way of guilt, blackmail, and her most formidable: plain old calculated aggravation.

She is Queen of the “One of these days I’m going to die and you’re going to be sorry” club. Sometimes she succeeds in making me feel guilty, but lately it’s gotten old. If guilt were a horse, she’d have beaten that motherfucker to death, shredded the meat off its bones and broken her arm in the process.

Her antics to send me over the edge are, I admit, often amusing. But she’s like a possessed child with a big rubber mallet in her hands, playing Whack-A-Mole and dancing with glee when she hits her mark, swinging with more frenzy if she doesn’t. It gets tiresome.

The other night, before we had a fight about virtually nothing and I left in a huff for four days, she came home in a terrible mood. I was sitting in the living room, minding my own business, when she put her bare ass in front of my face. A large, plum colored bruise that closely resembled a shoe print was on her left cheek.

“Touch it”, she said. Her brows were knit together and I could tell that laughing and/or demanding she remove her ass from the vicinity of my face wouldn’t be a good idea.

“Go on, touch it,” my sister parroted.

I looked from one to the other, then back at the bruise. Sighing, I stuck out one finger and touched her ass. There was no help for it – if I hadn’t caved she would have harassed me all night. I prodded the center.

“It’s soft on one side and there’s a huge knot on the other”, my sister offered.

She was right. The knot was the size of an apple. And really, I’d never seen that shade of purple on a bruise before.

“Good gawd”, I said.

“Yeah! Yeah”, mom yelled at me over her shoulder, glaring in accusation.

I suppose it was partially my fault. She was picking up the slip-n-slide mess I’d left in the yard and fell down the stairs trying to haul it all up to the porch. So she’s been limping around for days – bitching, moaning, and sending pictures of her ass to my Aunt. It’s been quite horrendous. And it’s not like I wasn’t going to pick up the damn slide, I told her I would. I just didn’t do it fast enough for her liking.

She even harasses me “inadvertently”.

Every couple months she has what we call an “episode”. She gets violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea and can’t move much for 24 – 48 hours. She’s had every test known to man and still no one really knows what causes it. Though they’ve slacked off a bit this past year.

I’m a very squeamish person. Just hearing, smelling, or being in the general vicinity of vomiting and/or diarrhea makes me green. She knows this, yet every time she has one of her episodes she comes to get me. Usually while I’m sleeping.

I’ve always been a heavy sleeper: sometimes four alarms and a punch in the stomach wouldn’t even do it. But somehow, when she’s on her way to wake me during one of her spells, I’m up instantly. It’s her walk.

My door will be closed, the house dark and silent, and suddenly I’ll wake...and I’ll hear the unmistakable sound of impending doom: StompStompStompStompStompStompStompStompStompStomp. Then my door will fly open and she’ll stage whisper, voice laced with theatrical agony, “Al! Al, come quick! I’m dying!” And then she’s off back the way she came: StompStompStompStompStompStompStompStompStomp, sometimes calling over her shoulder, “Al! Hurry!”

The stomping is caused by the strangest walk I’ve ever seen. Her legs are spread, about shoulder width apart, and she somehow manages, in that position, to waddle very fast with her arms pumping like pistons. I’m usually too cranky at the time it’s happening to laugh, but I often imitate it and laugh later.

Anyway, once I’ve been summoned, if I don’t trudge after her immediately, she’ll start calling from the toilet. “Al! Al!” And she won’t stop. So I have to get up, go to her room, crawl in her bed, and go to sleep there while she sits in her attached bathroom making noises no one should ever have to hear. She claims that she just wants me in the room “in case something happens” or “in case she dies”. I know this to be only partially true.

I’ve tried to reason with her. I’ve tried to explain that it doesn’t matter whether I’m in my bed or her bed, “something” is already happening and I most definitely don’t need to be a participant. Not only that, but once I lie down in her bed (which is 10 times more comfortable than mine), I’m out for the count again. I won’t be waking up without heavy artillery. If she died I wouldn’t find her for hours. My sister would be the logical choice: she doesn’t get squeamish, she’s got the “nurturing gene”, she’s a light sleeper, and she wouldn’t laugh at her stomping waddle. Instead of saying, “Be quiet, you’re not dying! Shut that damn door, it stinks in here!” my sister would say, “Are you ok” 50 times and hold her hair back. The only logical explanation is that she is less afraid of dying than she is in need of torturing me.

Maybe I should have given a better example, one that didn’t make me out to be a complete asshole. (Still, it’s nothing short of the truth.) Let’s see: She also rifles through my personal belongings, listens to my conversations, undermines my parenting – thus causing the kid to be a confused and unmanageable shit head, deliberately embarrasses me with stories of past wrongdoings in front of friends and strangers, and calls for me in the shrill voice she usually reserves for the animals, “ALICE!” And sometimes, “ASSHOLE!”

My name is not Alice.

I have a few theories as to the reasons for her behavior. Firstly, I am a lot like my father and she hates that. I don’t mean I snort coke off of poker machines or anything like that. He has a few good qualities. Like we both make friends easily and we aren’t wall flowers at parties. Mom has always been uncomfortable around people she doesn’t know. He and I both take chances and...Actually, maybe we aren’t so much alike. My vivacity is not chemically induced. Usually.

Second, she’s used to the drama that surrounded her relationship with my dad. And I, being the family screw up, moved back home and gave her the perfect solution to make her feel normal again. She seems to actually enjoy baiting me and causing conflict.

And lastly, I really am a lazy asshole.

The true answer is likely a combination of all three.

Regardless, I know for certain I’ve learned (and am still learning) incredible lessons from both of them, intentional or not.

And ironically, those quick and simple punishments that I was so afraid of in my youth are far more welcome than adult consequences and endless heckling. And sometimes people just need a good spanking.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dancing Queen

Toward the end of my tomboy phase I developed a fascination with ballerinas. Movies, books, posters – I devoured and displayed them all. When my cousin wasn’t using my Barbies to initiate a sex ed lesson, I would drench them in glitter and dance their scantily clad forms across every available surface.

Though I’m sure ballet is a very common interest of young girls, there was something quite sad about my bookish bulk twirling about the room in a makeshift tablecloth tutu. With my round, unflattering glasses slipping down my nose, frizzy uneven bangs plastered to my forehead, and sounds better suited to a buffalo mating ritual – I’d dance my chubby heart out. It’s a wonder my parents didn’t claim I was adopted. Though, in my defense, my mother was the source of the uneven bangs.

Like most things, ballet failed to hold my attention for very long. After several months of insisting my family refer to me only as Madame Nicole (Nicole being my middle name), I turned to a hobby I could really put my weight behind: Karate.

But as I’ve mentioned before, my mother was horrified by my success in combat and pulled me out before I reached my full ass kicking potential. When she told me that I was going to be enrolled in dance classes instead, my thoughts immediately turned to my previous obsession. As loathe as I was to give up my belt and sparring gear, I couldn’t help having visions of Swan Lake finery. My mother had other ideas.

We went to a small family run store downtown that sold all manner of dancing shoes right next to their main selection of old lady footwear. My Nana would take me there every summer to help pick out gold sandals to match her gold bikinis, purses, and the gold case that covered her oxygen tank. So I was quite used to the balding old owner that measured my feet and pinched my cheeks, and he was quite used to my demands for two suckers – one to eat immediately and one to stuff in my pocket.

But my contentment faded when, instead of the coveted ballet slippers, I was presented with a box containing black, soft soled jazz shoes. My mother flitted about, watching as he pressed his thumb down on my big toe, and I scowled – arms crossed and mouth screwed up tight around the sucker stick. No amount of pleading, threats of dying, or arguing would sway her. I was going to take jazz lessons and that was that. “Has her Nana’s temper, doesn’t she”, he commented to mom with a pitying smile.

The studio was small and unassuming, but the dance teacher was another matter entirely. Her name was Deena and she was the most theatrical person I’d ever met. Her hair was a tall, reddish brown thicket that looked like it would have been more at home tumbling across the desert. Her clothing and makeup were bright, her frame thick, and her choices of d├ęcor leaned toward the middle aged cat woman with a doily obsession. In fact, she was a single middle aged woman, with no children, that lived right next door to the studio with her parents...who still treated her like the 10 year old child star she allegedly used to be.

I wasn’t even allowed the luxury of private lessons. I had to shuffle and sashay across the room, accompanied by a thin black girl named Brittany, who hated me on sight, and Deena’s sullen nephew Dan who, in the absence of another girl, was chosen to be the stardom hungry family’s whipping post. I felt more pity for him than I did myself and we formed a hesitant friendship built on mutual misery.

The lessons were only 30 minutes long, but my sister was enrolled in a toddler class called “creative movement”, so I had to sit in the lobby and wait. I wasn’t exactly sure at the time what “creative moment” meant, but I knew they got to wear tiny ballet slippers and I was pissed. I also wasn’t too happy when, after a few weeks of classes, I was informed that I would be expected to participate in an end of the year recital.

I didn’t like the idea of dancing on stage to begin with, but when I saw the outfit they intended to shove me into I almost died from humiliation in advance. It was a black spandex affair, all one piece, with gold sequined elastic around the edges of the shorts and sleeves and crisscrossed with silver sequins across the chest. Oh, and of course the gold sequined elastic headband that went “across the forehead, Alyson, not in your hair”.

That first recital was one giant lesson in futility. Crying, reasoning, threatening to “tell Grandma”, and claims of broken legs were pointless. I was going to get up on that stage three times whether I wanted to or not: for the introduction with all the dancers, my routine, and the awards ceremony. The majority of the students were excited about getting a trophy for doing nothing more than shuffling around a room with an ageing diva that talked too much. The only thing I had to be excited about was the celebratory dinner I’d been promised if I cooperated and stopped telling everyone that I was being “forced to perform like a monkey” and mumbling about “reporting this to social services”.

Waiting in the wings of the dark theatre was nerve racking. On our side there were several crew members to make sure the dancers were ready, pull the curtains, and move props. On the other was Deena, dancing each dance with us in case someone forgot a step and needed to glance over. As far as I was concerned she was more of a hindrance than a help, because even if someone remembered all the steps they couldn’t help but look over at her jiggling form and get distracted.

There were video cameras everywhere. It was a rather large community theatre and from the sidelines I could see red and green lights dotted throughout the gloom. Between the photos my parents had ordered from the professional photographer the studio used before recitals and all of the tapes being made that day, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to destroy all evidence of my involvement. The only form of rebellion I had left was to look absolutely miserable while on stage. I was too much of a perfectionist to mess up the steps on purpose, but goddamn it I was not going to smile like a loon.

The curtain was lowered and we took our places, spandex clad asses facing the waiting crowd and fingers splayed out into jazz hands. The stupid sequined headband was digging into my forehead and making it itch, but I couldn’t scratch because of the massive quantities of stage makeup. As they began cranking up the curtain I forgot all about my forehead and silently panicked. My palms were sweating and I thought I was going to vomit. Stage fright was entirely new to me. I’d always been quite the attention seeker, but there was no way in hell I wanted the kind of attention I was about to get.

BAM! A spotlight came on over our heads and the first strains of our routine started to play. We were supposed to wait in place, shaking our behinds for the first 15 or so counts. While I was reluctantly shaking my ass and wiggling my jazz fingers, I heard whoops and shouts behind me.

“GO, AL! THAT’S MY DAUGHTER! WOOOOO! SHAKE IT, AL!”

I visibly winced when my uncle joined my father’s, likely drunken, encouragement. When I turned around to begin the routine I was scowling fit to kill. I step-ball-changed and galloped across that stage with windmill arms without missing a beat, face like a puckered asshole. My family filled up two entire middle rows and even in the dark I could see them: the men in ball caps and cut up t-shirts next to the women in flashing gold jewelry and teased hair.

At the end of the routine we were supposed to move together and have skinny Brittany stand up on our knees and wave her arms. I hated that part because the floor hurt my knee and even though she looked skinny, she certainly didn’t feel like it. Dan and I had let her fall accidentally on purpose in practice a time or two, and I’d briefly thought about it on stage, but in the end I decided that it wasn’t a good idea. My family knew me well and there was the possibility that they’d notice I caused the accident and renege on our dinner plans as punishment.

But as we step-ball-changed toward the center for the final formation, Brittany tripped and went sprawling across the floor. We kept going and had reached our places when she was just picking herself up. The music ended and the applause started as Dan and I kneeled side by side, jazz fingers going in the air with nothing to hold, Brittany standing crestfallen out to the side. I was genuinely grinning for all I was worth and I could hear my dad laughing over the cheers of the crowd as the curtain fell.

Long t-shirt over my glittery chub, I made my way quietly into the auditorium to sit with my family and watch until intermission and award time. I was given a coke and a rice krispy treat, clapped on the back, and praised for my performance. I was marginally pleased with myself until my sister and the rest of the toddler class took their places. They were adorable in tiny Minnie Mouse costumes with tights, tails, and tiny black slippers. While the annoying music played some of them stood shock still and stared out into the black, thumbs stuck in their mouths and eyes as wide as saucers. Some toddled around and chased each other, some cried and attempted to wander off stage, and some, like my sister, actually tried to do the routine. But she was like a two year old Hitler in mouse ears, barking orders, pulling at the others and trying to make them join her in the jumping jacks and heel step, toe point exercises.

The audience was roaring with laughter, my family was cheering, and I was pissed all over again. What was so great about what they were doing? I hadn’t missed one step, had done my routine perfectly, and here they were going all crazy for a bunch of babies that couldn’t even stay in a line. If what they wanted was kids running around in a circle, then why the hell had I spent all that time learning the moves and suffering in embarrassment?

When my name was called at the award ceremony I walked forward, bottom lip poked out, and accepted my ribbon and a gold star. Apparently only people that had been there for two or more years got trophies. Not that I wanted one of those stupid plastic statues, but damn if I didn’t deserve one.

After the lights came up and everyone started pushing out the door, we stopped at the back table to pick up our flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals that family members brought. With arms full of goodies and mom’s promise that we were on our way to dinner, I was happy once more. My sister rode my dad’s shoulders across the parking lot, her balloon trailing behind, and I walked beside my grandparents. “Hey Alyson”, someone called from behind.

I turned and there was Dan, waving, with his family. “See you in a few months! Deena says you’re taking clogging with us!”

Clogging? Clogging? My mouth opened and closed like a gulping fish. I looked over at Deena, who gave me a huge grin and a thumbs up, the gapped up tumbleweed atop her head bobbing as she nodded. I looked at my mom. She smiled, but it looked more like a grimace of determination to me.

“I’m not doing it”, I said defiantly.

“Ok”, she replied automatically. I knew a fake dismissal when I heard one. She wasn’t prepared to argue with me in a crowed parking lot.

“I’m not,” I shouted in panic.

“How about some ice cream, honey”, grandma said.

“Whatcha say, Artist! Want Papa to buy you a pretty new dress to celebrate?!”, my grandpa shouted.

“I’ve got a Yoo-Hoo with your name on it, Al”, dad said.

“Assin”, my sister lisped, “I dance pwetty.”

My uncle picked me up, tossed me over his shoulder and they continued to move en masse toward the cars. “Let them think I’m going”, I thought, “I can milk this for three months.”

Seven years, seven cringe worthy videos, seven plastic trophies, four out of state competitions, and a plethora of sparkly costumes later – I still hated it. I probably could have quit without much argument after a few years, and believe me I often wanted to, but something always stopped me.

I was good.

I knew it, they knew it, and even if it was embarrassing... having my family come together, cheer in the audience and put aside their many differences over the years, for me, was worth a little social suffering. Well, that,

and you wouldn’t believe how much awesome shit I got.

*Due to reader heckling, I've decided to post a photo of my humiliation. Sigh. Enjoy.*


Monday, April 12, 2010

It's my party and I'll laugh at the fat kid if I want to

The month of April is one giant clusterfuck of birthdays and holidays. There’s April Fool’s Day, which most don’t consider a holiday, but I’m the sort to celebrate anything that allows me to make an ass out of myself or someone else. Unfortunately, this year I was too busy behaving like an adult (pronounced in this case, for effect, as “add-ult” rather than my usual “uh-dult”.) to play a decent prank on anyone. I didn’t even get fooled until the day after, and that was almost as depressing as the ideas I didn’t have time to come up with.

Being a fastidious employee, I opened a work email intended for April 1st on April 2nd. It was our weekly newsletter of company updates on things like new retirement plan information, classes, discounts, and praise for staff that go above and beyond. (I’ll get there one day.) One of the very first headings announced that George Clooney would be using our campus to film his next movie. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I know that idiot didn’t fall for that.” Well yes, actually, I did. And I’ll tell you why: Because a few years ago Kevin Bacon used the area surrounding our campus for a movie. The place was a madhouse, with employees using their lunch break to try and catch a glimpse of him during filming and get autographs. I never once went near the set. I couldn’t be bothered to interrupt my blog reading for the likes of The Bacon. But for The Clooney I’d at least take a peek. Anyway, so I read the heading, gasped very loudly and excitedly, and then proceeded to read the paragraph that followed. In the first sentence it said, “blah blah blah April Fools”. Then I sat there and seethed because it was such a sucky AF joke and I fucking fell for it and now I hate Kevin Bacon even more than I did before because it’s obviously his fault.

Anyway...

Then of course there’s Good Friday, Easter, Administrative Professional’s Day (to celebrate wonderful assistants like me), and Earth Day, which I can’t be bothered with. I will celebrate the Earth when it starts producing money trees in my front yard and stops inspiring people to avoid deodorant on account of being “natural”, which is really just another word for “stench” and/or “ugly”. (I’m looking at you, Matthew McConaughey.)

As for the birthdays: My daughter and uncle on the 6th, The Grandmother on the 9th, mom on the 19th, and little cousin Dave on the 22nd (I think...fuck.). That’s a lot of money to spend, cake to eat, and family gatherings to get through. Now, with the month almost half over, I’m starting to relax a bit. But I totally deserve it.

Easter and the kid’s 5th birthday were the first stressful hurdles. While we decided to make Easter Sunday a combination holiday/birthday dinner at TG’s, there was still the other half of the family and her friends to consider. We used to have one party and combine the two families, but The Grandmother now hates my Papa (long story) and calls him “that fat rat bastard”, so we have to do two of everything.

In the end I went the easy route and invited only family and neighbors for hot dogs, cake, and ice cream to Papa’s house where I wouldn’t be expected to clean up. Score! In our family there are always enough kids around without inviting outsiders anyway. (Wow, that sounds very Mormon of me, doesn’t it? I should stress that I have no particular religious affiliations at present and when the kid tells TG (ahem, shouts at her) that she doesn’t want to talk about Jesus, it has absolutely nothing to do with me.)

That Tuesday evening there were approximately 15 adults and four children: the birthday girl, my cousin’s two kids, and Air Hose, the daughter of a neighbor’s boyfriend. (Some of you will recall last summer’s video blog in which I am startled by a fat kid on a trampoline. That’s the one.)

In case you are concerned I am not prejudice against fat children and having been one myself, I’ve learned a few things:

1) Sometimes laughter cannot be helped, no matter how wrong or inappropriate it is.

2) It’s usually the parent’s fault and there’s nothing funny about that.

3) Baby powder helps with chafing.

4) Eating while laughing is dangerous and ineffective.

Everything was going wonderfully. The kids were playing together in the designated play area. The adults were chatting amiably in the designated chatting area. And the men folk were grilling in the...well, outside. My best friend, Rachel, sat opposite me at the cake table and we discussed things and stuff that likely weren’t appropriate for a five year old girl’s birthday party, though I don’t remember specifics. That’s about the time my mom started giving me the stink eye.

“Hey”, she half shouted from across the room, “don’t you think you should pay attention to the children?”

“Why? They’re fine”, I shouted back.

“Don’t you think it’s time to do cake and ice cream?”

“Sigh. I suppose.”

I forced myself off the tall swivel chair and marched into the living room to confront the “avoiders”. These are the relatives and friends that must be present at every birthday, barring death (coma and nervous breakdown are not acceptable excuses as child’s birthday parties have been known to cause these), or be banned from free lake access and big people parties with wet bars. So they come, but they sit out of sight and look around furtively lest they be asked to help serve, slice, or hold a squirming crumb snatcher by the ankles.

“Time to do cake”, I said. They all looked at me and then around at each other. “Move it! Now!” (Mom says I’ve a bit of a bossy side when it comes to “events”.)

I moved on to the play area and rounded up the miniatures. At the mention of cake they all took off running, Air Hose galumphing behind like a grizzly on the hunt. The facial expression under the blonde bob haircut, with horrifically short bangs, was nothing short of animal lust. I know it well. It’s the same look Fisher Price used to have before he would attempt to maul me with sweaty paws, fish lips, and that...cocktail weenie.

The kid was placed in the chair of honor, cake pushed close, and the other children scrambled into the surrounding chairs, putting their nappy little heads in the way of prime photo ops.

“Get back! Sit down! Don’t touch that! Hey, hey, kid!”

The song was sung, candles blown out, cake sliced, ice cream scooped and passed around. I was in charge of cutting the cake, of course, so I wasn’t paying much attention to unrelated details. Like the fact that Air Hose’s caretaker decided to leave the party temporarily.

I had just started eating my own slice when there was a slimy tug on my elbow. “Hey...hey...”

I looked over at her, irritated at being interrupted (really just irritated in general because kids tend to have that affect on me) and touched with fingers coated in icing. “Yeah?”

“Can I have some more ice cream?”

I looked at her fleshy cheeks and arms, coated in blue from the icing and birthday cake flavored ice cream. “Um...you should probably ask Person Who Should Have Been Here to Field Request for Food.”

“She’s not here. She went to go pick up my dad from work.”

“Oh...well...I...guess so.” I wasn’t really sure how best to proceed, but I figured I should probably just give her the ice cream in case she decided to throw a very large tantrum. But while I was scooping it out of the carton I was distracted by an adult asking me some random question. As I was answering I plopped the ice cream on her plate.

“Wow!”

By the time I realized what I had done, she was already face down in the melting glob. I’d put a very, very large scoop on her plate and now there was no getting it back. Unfortunately I was not the only witness to this accident. I heard what sounded like choking and turned around just in time to see that one of the “avoiders” had been leaning around the door frame and was turning to run before the laughter came out. Not that Air Hose would have noticed, but still, I was horrified. I might have had the urge to laugh several times that day, but damn it I suppressed it and soldiered on! Mostly. I shot her a glare and turned back to my mother of the birthday girl duties.

Opening presents was a fiasco because my precious angel tears off one tiny strip of wrapping paper at a time and flings them away with abandon. I stood to her left behind Air Hose, who had squeezed herself into the closest chair, and snatched paper as it flew by. Every now and then Air Hose would attempt to grab a passing present or tempt me into conversation with little tidbits like, “I have one of those”, but I wasn’t having it. And then came the kicker: The Slip-N-Slide.

My friend bought the kid a double laned slip-n-slide with a little pool and sprinklers on the end. It came with two inflatable surf boards and all you had to do was hook up the hose. The others agreed that it would be a great way to entertain the kids for the remainder of the party so I sent my cousin Dave outside to set it up while I got them ready. Air Hose wore a pair of leggings and a long t-shirt, my cousin’s kids wore a pull-up and shorts, and my always prepared (snort) child had on her new swimsuit.

We (the adults) arranged ourselves on steps and swings and sat back to chat and watch. The kid went first. She zoomed down the slide on her float and splashed into the cold pool of water, immediately popping up and laughing like a hyena. Success. My cousin’s two children went next, the boy followed the kid’s example and the girl, being a bit more cautious, eased herself half way down then ran away, pumping her fist in triumph. We laughed at the sight of them. It was adorable.

Then it was Air Hose’s turn. She started out by holding the float in front of her, running a bit, and jumping. But rather than traveling down the slide like the rest, she landed with a flop and stayed there. All around me people were laughing, but thankfully it didn’t appear to be directed at her because they’d already been laughing at the others. I twitched and bit my lip, a small snort escaping unintentionally.

She stayed there for a minute, unsure of what to do, while the other kids kept zooming past her and crashing into each other. I was just before getting up to help her when she tossed the float away and started to army crawl toward the bottom, digging her elbows in and grunting with effort.

That’s when I lost it.

My best friend and another friend were sitting to my right, my sister to my left, and my mother in front of me on the steps. I watched my mom’s shoulders shake while the rest of us fell into each other, unable to sit upright. Again, there was so much noise and so much generalized laughter that she didn’t notice.

The poor thing finally reached the bottom and performed a graceless roll into the pool that dumped a large amount of standing water out onto the grass. But rather than get up, she continued to roll around under the spray like a trained Orca. And that’s how it went for over an hour. It was an impressive show.

Occasionally she would get lucky and roll all the way down, tumble into the pool and right over the side, and continue rolling down the grassy hill. My mom finally had to leave because sometimes when she laughs too hard she pees her pants.

We pushed Air Hose down that slide and clapped and cheered for her just like we did the others. But I still felt bad that night when we went home. My friends and I were sitting on the porch sipping wine (well, Rachel was continuously spraying her throat with cherry throat spray in hopes of getting a bit drunk) and talking about it. And yeah, it was funny. It was impossible not to laugh at that image. Even my Papa laughed. But it was also a bit sad. Her mom is a big fucker and had her hair cut in a bob just because she knew it would upset her dad. Every time I think about the things that woman does just to bring that kid down, I want to stab her in the ovaries.

And so I’ve been around her twice since the party and it’s gotten a little easier not to laugh. We even hooked up the slip-n-slide for them yesterday and I only snickered three, maybe four, times. My mom says that part of the problem is that she’s 6, looks like she’s 10, and when she opens her mouth and that squeaky voice comes out it’s a bit of a shock. This could explain why every time she spoke I’d get the urge to giggle or run away. But like I said, I’m doing much better. PTA moms have to deal with fat kids all the time. At least I’ll be prepared come fall when I immerse myself in parenting/school/stuff I’d sooner pull my eyelashes out than do. So, in fairness, I owe Air Hose a debt of gratitude. She might have just saved me from getting my ass handed to me by the parent of some kindergarten brownie stuffer.

Where was this originally going? Ah! Holidays and birthdays!

After the kid’s birthday was The Grandmother’s 75th. My sister and I bought her a few outfits for spring that she desperately needed because she has issues with buying anything that isn’t some shade of beige. We all went out to dinner, stayed with her that night, and went to lunch the next day. She was unusually thankful and complimentary about her presents and all the attention she was receiving. My mom says that the reason she’s been so happy and hasn’t been shouting about lesbos and homos is because she’s actually taking her medicine. Though...she did have one incident:

We were sitting in the living room Saturday evening and a car went by with a sound system in it. The BOOM BOOM BOOM drives TG up the wall. She got up and looked out the window, then sat back down in a huff. I think we might have been talking about Jesus or something before that because when she sat down she raised her right arm high over her head, fist balled tight, and said (loudly and in quite the terrifying manner), “I pray God raises his mighty right arm and smites them all! Mighty smiter!”

I laughed really hard and she gave me a stern talking to on the dangers of boom boxes.

Next on the agenda is my mom’s birthday. She’s not hard to buy for, but after the events from last night I imagine she’s not much in the mood for celebrating. Neither am I, really, but more on that later.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Animal Planet: Search for the missing link.

When I was little I loved rabbits. I thought they were the cutest, cuddliest, most adorable creatures on the planet. In the spring time our local outdoor supply store would have a pen full of them and I would stand pressed up against the mesh, oohing and ahhing, while my dad swapped stories with the counter man. I’d beg him to get me one, but he would always say no. Instead I’d get a Slim Jim and a Yoo-Hoo which, let me tell you, went a long way in placating the fat kid.

Then one summer day dad came back from boating with his friends and said he’d brought me a present. I ran outside and discovered that instead of the cute, pink nosed, fluff balls from the supply store he’d picked up two enormous, wild, island rabbits. They were black and white with bright red eyes and sinister, beat up looking ears. They were also really pissed off about being captured and penned for pets.

He couldn’t have picked a creepier location, putting them in a chain link dog pen on the side of the house by the woods. I tried to make the best of it, letting them get used to me and feeding them carrots and lettuce through the fence, but those rabbits were assholes. They would calmly sit while I stroked their heads or backs, then suddenly latch on to my finger or throw in a roundhouse kick to the face. (I have a suspicion that this is what happens to the women that attempt to have relations with Chuck Norris uninvited.) After a particularly nasty brawl, I accidently left their gate open and they were never seen again.

This was par for the course at my house. I’d want an animal, my parents would refuse, then I’d suddenly get some cracked out version and they’d expect me to be all “you guys are the best parents ever!” They would have done better to stick to their refusals, as I was never very enamored with any one pet for longer than a few days or weeks at a time.

They had ducks at the supply store too. But my dad, the stoned Southern Jeff Corwin, just stole a baby from a wild duck and ran like hell. I’ll bet he even had a cigarette in his mouth. The duck itself wasn’t so bad because it was too little to be an asshole; it was really just his acquirement of the thing that bothered me. Why couldn’t he be a normal dad and buy a fucking animal instead of hunting for one in the neighbor’s yard wearing only cut off jean shorts and a belt with a built in beer opener?

Mr. Peepers stayed in a blue plastic swimming pool on our porch. He would follow me down to the lake and swim beside me, which was cool. But he would get pissed if I swam underwater and when I’d pop up he’d jump on my head and quack really loud, which wasn’t so cool. And, as it turns out, ducks shit everywhere, so I was mostly relieved when he got older and decided to permanently hang out with his own kind.

Then there were the turtles I just HAD to have. I had four of them in an aquarium and named them after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. My cousins and I would make them race across the carpet, much to my mother’s horror. When they failed to move fast enough we would sometimes assist them by way of matchbox cars and duct tape. And once with a firecracker and duct tape which, ironically, earned them an express ticket out of there. Again, I wasn’t too disappointed. I never wanted to clean the aquarium anyway because it smelled like swampy ass.

My mother thought I would do better with fish so we bought a small tank shaped like an octagon and decked it out with colorful rocks, plastic plants, and a ceramic sign that said “No Diving”. Picking them out, carrying them home in plastic bags full of water, and decorating the tank was the extent of my interest.

But mom really seemed to enjoy them. They sat on the counter that separated the kitchen and the living room and she would sing to them while she cooked or talk to them about the merits of dolphin safe tuna. Unfortunately, she was a little over zealous about feeding them and toilet funerals became rather routine. I’m sure the people at the pet store thought we were murderous jerks, but in truth, each time a finned friend circled down to his watery grave, my mom was appropriately somber.

Around the time my mother was killing off fish, I was clamoring for a bird. I managed to drag The Grandmother into a pet store one afternoon under the premise of “just looking”. And while I didn’t manage to talk her into the giant white and yellow cockatiel that said “shit” repeatedly, we did walk out with two colorful parakeets.

The lady at the pet shop said they could be taught to speak, which is why I agreed to get them rather than continue my dogged pursuit of the vulgar, expensive cockatiel. Unfortunately they had to stay at TG’s because my mom was afraid of bird diseases from Africa and I didn’t have much time to properly educate them in the use of profanity. They were adorable little things and loved to play with their bell and fly around the screened in porch. But TG grew tired of being their sole caretaker and gave them away to a lady she went to church with. To this day I still maintain that I was not only heartbroken to lose the germy bastards, but that the church woman in question had some rather colorful new feathers in her Sunday hat not long after she claimed ownership.

And what child’s menagerie would be complete without a few hamsters?

I received two of them one Christmas, along with an enormous cage of twisting tubes and exercise wheels. They were entertaining little buggers and I actually stayed interested in them longer than any of their predecessors. I would put them in their clear travel balls and let them roll around the house for the amusement of my mother’s poodles.

Sheeree, the black poodle, was obsessed with them. She would sit under the cage and watch them every day and bite Puddin, the (you guessed it) white poodle, if he edged too close. In hindsight, I never should have given those dogs so much hell. It’s possible my heckling pushed them over the edge: Dancing around them singing Ebony and Ivory, tossing Sheeree out the window (as instructed by my cousin, but still), putting their toys in the hamster’s cage. Or, I could be accepting too much blame.

My dad once tried to blow Sheeree away. She came in, dripping with mud, and rolled around on my parent’s water bed which was covered in clean, folded laundry. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet he was drunker than 40 hells when he grabbed the gun and started shooting up the bedroom. He missed poor Sheeree, but the majority of the clothes, the bathroom cabinets, and the wall received a few holes. Miraculously the waterbed remained intact (I suppose it was because that bed was destined for...not-so-greatness). Anyway, whoever was at fault, Sheeree finally ended up snapping and going all Hannibal on my hamsters.

We thought both of them were male, but as it turned out, Houdini and Coolio (I had an early obsession with rap, specifically Coolio’s song Gangsta’s Paradise) had been doing the nasty on the sly and I woke up one morning to find their little dome house had a few extra guests. At least that explained why Coolio had been having trouble fitting through the tubes.

After his babies were born Houdini, whose escapes were already quite frequent, started getting out more often. (His bitch was probably naggin.) Unfortunately he never closed the door behind him and when the babies were a few weeks old and moving around, they could sneak out after him.

One morning I woke to find the cage door open again. I quickly located Houdini hiding under a towel, but the others were nowhere to be found. It was my sister’s scream that gave them away. They’d managed to slip past the barricade wedged under my closed door and scamper into the bathroom where they made Sheeree’s acquaintance. There were pieces parts all over the floor and only one bloody, traumatized survivor. I named him Mohican.

When Coolio looked like she was pregnant again I shipped her off to my cousin’s house. I was planning on getting her back and letting him keep a few of the babies.

But a few weeks after she gave birth, tragedy struck. My cousin’s mother, in a typical display of familial drunkenness, left the oven on and burned their house down. Everyone got out safely... except for poor Coolio and her brood. I had nightmares about their terrified squeals as the plastic and wire melted around them. Houdini must have sensed his love’s demise because it wasn’t too terribly long after that that I found him on his back, dead as a doornail. Traumatized Mohican would never come out of the corner so I just let my dad get rid of him and my plastic gangsta-gerbil paradise. He probably sold them for a sixer and pack of smokes.

My mother insisted that Sheeree and Puddin were all I needed and for awhile I made due: dressing them up, pushing them in baby strollers, and attempting to glue their mouths together with bubble gum. But one day we came home and my dad had given the two of them away...just out of the blue. We’d had Sheeree for at least 8 years and mom was inconsolable.

Feeling guilty, dad decided to replace them in his usual odd way. He went to an acquaintance’s house to look at a litter of wild kittens that were living in the woods. In a tree stump. The catch was, he said, that the stray had mated with his acquaintance’s pureblood Himalayan. Why this was such a good thing, I didn’t know. But he stuck his arm down in that stump and pulled it back out, covered in scratches and blood, and brought home the white and grey, blue eyed Chloe.

She was a beautiful, mischievous little devil and my sister and I terrorized her appropriately. We locked her in the clear oven of my sister’s play kitchen, tied doll bonnets on her head, put her in the Christmas tree, spun her around on the bar stool then set her on the floor and watched her weave about. And we pushed her around the house at breakneck speed in the play stroller. But, unlike Sheeree, Chloe actually enjoyed the stroller. Our half feral cat had an insatiable lust for speed. It was a little pink double stroller and the divider would fold down to make it into a bed of sorts. She would lay in it and yowl until one of use would push her and she would yowl if we didn’t push fast enough. It was quite a lot of exercise for me and soon became a chore rather than a game.

Finally, when I was 17 and living away from home, I acquired my very own pet. Ownership is different when you pick them out, pay for them, and care for them completely by yourself. Every one I’d had previously might have been called mine, but this was different.

It was springtime and I was visiting a friend and her parents. My friend’s mom was like the stray cat whisperer and there were always prowling felines around her deck. She told me about a litter of kittens that she’d found under the gazebo, only two survivors and their mother gone. They had been taking care of them for the past few weeks and decided to keep one. When I saw them, the decision to take the other was instantaneous. He was grey with tiger stripes, a wide flat face, and green eyes. The lover of the two, I knew he was perfect for me.

I took him to The Grandmother’s, where I was staying at the time, and the two became instant enemies. He had to stay in my room when I wasn’t there and he would pull at the carpet underneath the door with his claws that, for some reason, didn’t retract. Not long after he succeeded in unraveling several feet of TG’s carpet, I got my own place out in the middle of nowhere.

I’d been calling him kitty because I couldn’t decide on a name. But one night, when I came home from work, I found him laid out on the floor on his back. I’d left a relatively large, expensive, beautiful bag of pot on my coffee table and I found it half gone and half scattered around the living room. He’d eaten a lot, puked up some, and was tripping out on the rest. I was beyond pissed, but it didn’t take long for me to see the humor in the situation. And so I named him Nugget, after the bud.

I finally had to have his claws removed because he kept getting stuck. I’d moved back in with my mom and was working at the vet’s office. I’d talked to the doctors about his issues and they all agreed that it was best, but I’d been putting it off. The turning point was the day I nearly beat him to death with my bedroom door.

I attempted to open it and it smacked into something. Being the bright shining star that I am, I slammed the door against the unknown obstruction a few more times before I heard the faint yowling, looked down, and saw his paw sticking out from underneath the frame, claws stuck deep in the Berber carpet. I immediately freaked out. I bent down and attempted to pry him loose, but couldn’t. I was crying by this point, convinced he was near death from the head trauma, when my sister came to help. She took a spatula and pried his claws loose. When I got him out and examined him, he bit the shit out of me while everyone else laughed.

My family claims his excessive drooling and trouble meowing stem from his pot ingestion and accidental beating. I tend to agree. He seems quite happy though, even if he is a bit stranger. He and I now either ignore or irritate each other the majority of the time and he’s recently taken quite the shine to my mother’s boyfriend.

He no longer runs toward me when I use the voice I used with him as a kitten – a shrill rendition of baby talk. “Nuggggggg! Mommy loves him! Loves him, Nuggggg!” Instead he gives me the eat shit and die look and runs away. And he slaps me in the face when I make him dance on my lap. He’s gotten old and crotchety, but I still love the little fucker.

The fact remains that after all the failed, and often strange, attempts to keep an animal, I finally realized...

I am absolutely a cat person.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Part Two: The chicken wasn't the only problem.

The only thing on my mind as I ran alone through those dark woods was: Get as far from the campsite as possible, get as far from the campsite as possible. I knew things were about to get ugly and quite possibly...loud. It wasn’t until I picked a spot and commenced dying from the inside out that I had time to think about anything else.

I turned off the lantern to lessen the risk of being found by a neighboring camper, or worse, the one I’d left sleeping. Not that anyone in their right mind would approach an area emitting sounds like that willingly. Unless they thought I was being attacked by a razorback.

And of course with that thought, and the sudden blinding darkness that did nothing to muffle my agony, I became terrified that I would be mauled by a wild boar, bitten by a snake, or eaten ass first by a crocodile...bless his heart. I was damn near tears by the time Satan loosened his hold on my bowels.

On my way back to the tent I walked slowly, holding the lantern high and swinging it wildly from side to side. I was consumed with paranoia and every rustle was like a gunshot ringing in my ears.

When I finally reached the campsite my relief was short lived. Fear of wild animal attacks was replaced with irritation, anger, and disgust. I felt horrible and there was no way I was trying anything with him. I crawled into the tent and moved as far away from him as I could without losing any blankets. He was still sleeping the heavy sleep of the inebriated, but I would have no such luxury. I lay awake most of the night, only catching a few minutes of sleep at a time. As I watched the sun creep over the tent walls, my resolve plummeted.

I didn’t tell anyone about my little stroll in the dark, but I watched the others for signs of illness. Apparently I was the only one that had issues with chicken on a stick. I left them to their breakfast and went off to take a shower.

I was miserable all day and didn’t accomplish more than the shower, a few bong hits, and a nap. I lay spread eagled in my tent, wore as little as possible, and prayed that night would hurry up. The heat was oppressive. It felt like being smothered by an invisible pillow and though I don’t remember any conversations that took place that afternoon, I’m sure my only contribution was whining.

That night, wrapped in blankets against the welcome chill, we talked about nothing in particular. Random whispers in the dark until we both fell asleep. As badly as I still wanted to make a connection with him, I’d lost my nerve.

I woke sometime in the night to the sound of heavy breathing. It seemed to be coming from behind the tent and I stared quietly up at the open netted window on the back wall, seeing only black. I immediately thought it was a dog or some other large animal. The breathing was obviously wild and feral. Something had followed the stench of my defeat back to the tent and was going to kill me.

As I silently began to panic I heard whispering. Comforted by the realization that I wouldn’t be eaten alive, I listened intently, trying to determine what was going on. I started to catch a few words here and there. “Fuck...yes...” This was followed by more heavy breathing. “Harder...”

That’s right. The cherry on my camping sundae was listening to my friends fuck each other in the tent next door...all while lying next to the guy I should have been fucking, but wasn’t. I tossed and I turned and I put my pillow over my ears, but it was in my head by then.

I eventually fell asleep, only to be awakened again by pounding rain. I secured the flaps over the windows and moved everything away from the edges of the tent. It was relentless and loud. And while he slept on, I sat Indian style in the middle of the tent and cried.

The next morning we packed up our soggy campsite as best we could. I loaded my things in his car, said goodbye to my friends, and we started the long drive home. He was in a good mood and feeling very chatty as we pulled off. For the first few hours I made conversation, laughed, and sang along with him and the radio. But it was an eight hour drive and soon I was crashing.

I would fall asleep for a few minutes and he would do something to wake me. I knew he didn’t want to drive in silence while I slept, but I honestly couldn’t help it. I told him that I was sorry and that I didn’t get any sleep. He still couldn’t let me be. And even though he smiled and tried to make it funny, I finally snapped. I don’t remember what I said to him exactly, but it was along the lines of “leave me the fuck alone”.

And that was the beginning of the only fight we ever had. He snapped back at me and the gist of it was “you can walk home”. A few more heated back and forth sentences and it was over as quickly as it started.

True to form, he was smiling and turning it into a joke, smoothing things over. Outwardly I let it go, but inside I was still seething. It wasn’t just the fight that was bothering me. It was the whole disastrous weekend. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. If I let him see me break down if would all come tumbling out. All of the embarrassment and the planning, everything that didn’t need to be said in a car with four hours left and nowhere to hide.

We were fine for the rest of the trip, but by the time we pulled up in my driveway I desperately needed to be away from him. But of course it didn’t work out that way. He helped me bring in my things, settled down on the couch, and started discussing what we’d have for dinner with the rest of my family. I stayed in the shower for an hour and got it together. When he finally left that night I hugged him goodbye at the door and promised to call him soon.

But I didn’t.

Weeks went by and I played busy. I was just so tired of the emotional roller coaster. And, yes, I could have ended it. I could have said everything I wanted or needed to say and no matter what his answer would have been, at least it would’ve been over and I would KNOW. But, of course, I didn’t. Fear has a way of silencing the outspoken, casting doubt on the certain, and locking the free in a prison of their own making.

I spent our short time apart trying to fuck him out of my system by way of my old standby. The Fireman didn’t know about him, likely wouldn’t have cared if he did, and if I was a bit more aggressive and a bit more available, so much the better.

When I thought I was ok, that I could block it all off again, I called him to hang out and things when back to normal for awhile. We resumed our dinners and our movies and working on his house. I was coping.

But one night, after spending the majority of the day together, we rented a movie and took it back to his place. The TV wasn’t hooked up yet so we set the laptop up on the coffee table in the living room and sat on the couch to watch. I was skeptical about his choice, but it turned out to be tolerable. It was a spy drama called The Tailor of Panama and there was just enough sexuality in it to make me bite my lip a little nervously. I’d never been good at watching sexually charged scenes in front of certain people and he was at the top of that list.

About halfway through the movie he stretched out on the couch and put his head in my lap. He grinned up at me, I grinned back, and we returned our attention to the screen. I started absentmindedly running my fingers through his hair, which was longer than usual and falling over his forehead. I continued playing with his hair and massaging his scalp until the end credits rolled and he looked up at me again. My fingers, still wound in his hair, were motionless as we stared at each other.

We’d had these moments before - Moments when we looked each other straight in the eyes and didn’t move or say a word and there was this feeling. It’s like putting opposite ends of a magnet together and they want to meet straight on, but they just can’t. They circle each other, the pressure building each time they try to move closer, until one of them snaps round and they’re in their original positions again.

He broke it first, sitting up and chattering away about something or other. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. He walked me to my car and hugged me goodbye. As I drove away I played the scenario over and over again in my head. About ten minutes later, before I could stop myself, I picked up my phone and called him. When he answered I quickly said, “What are we?”

“What do you mean”, he replied.

“I mean...what are we? Are we just friends?”

I’d pushed out the words in a rush and they hung between us, suspended, each second like the pop pop pop of a fraying cord about to snap. They weren’t the words I’d meant to say, but they were out and there was no turning back.

Finally he said, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes you do!” I threw it back immediately.

He paused again before stuttering out, “I mean...I like you...I...I think you’re really pretty. (pause) We’re really different.”

I had no idea what to say to that. At the time it sounded like a rejection, simply because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Thinking about it now I still don’t know what it was he was trying to say and I should have pushed him for a clearer answer rather than simply pausing and saying, “Ok.”

And after a few moments of silence he said, “I’ll talk to you later, ok?”

After I hung up I couldn’t stand the silence or the tangle of thoughts in my head. I popped in a random CD and out came Howie Day’s song Collide. And I cried...wailed...while it played on repeat all the way home.

Then I got angry and did something I never do – confide in my mother. She listened and petted me and though she’d always loved him and thought the sun shone out of his ass, she said, “I always knew he was gay.”

Unfortunately, weeks later I still had no idea what to think. We never talked about that conversation again. I went back to visiting the fireman several times a week. When in doubt, have sex and forget about it. There’s nothing quite like a vicious cycle.

At the beginning of the end, we went out drinking downtown with a group of friends. We were having a good time and definitely drinking more than we should. It made everything seem normal for awhile. We stood together with our arms around each other’s waists, we danced and we laughed.

There was some drama (in a college bar...imagine that) and several of us decided to leave. He and I walked arm and arm, trailed by Rachel, some lesbian girl I worked with, and my cousin.

We paused to regroup in the parking lot. One minute I was leaning up against a car in the parking lot, waiting on everyone to quit bickering and laughing long enough to get situated. And the next he was pressed up against me and we were kissing. Really, wrapped up in each other, passionately kissing. I forgot about everyone around us the moment his lips touched mine.

It ended as abruptly as it started. He turned and left, heading for his car. And in my drunken memory, I can’t recall if we said goodbye. In my drunken memory, all I have is that one shining moment that I’ve forced through sheer will to remain intact. The kiss I waited eleven years for.

The next clear memory I have is after he left. I stood in that parking lot, wide eyed, fingers pressed to my lips. My cousin was staring at me with a huge grin on her face and the lesbian coworker was slouched over on a low wall, looking exited but confused. And I said, “He kissed me.”

“I saw it”, my cousin yelled jumping up and down. She was one of the few people that knew about every detail, every moment of our complicated history and exactly how I felt about him.

Tears filled my eyes and threatened to pour down my cheeks as I whispered it over and over to myself. “He kissed me...”

For the next several days I rehashed that scene in my mind, making my cousin recount her version. Then I waited for him to call.

He didn’t. After three days I caved and called him. We talked for a few minutes and I waited for him to bring it up, but again, he didn’t. So I prodded him. I talked about that night and how crazy it was. I knew he remembered. He’d had a lot less to drink.

Nothing. He didn’t acknowledge it. And when that happened, I drew back. I thought about just coming out with it. My emotions raged from anger to hurt and back again. In the end I decided that all signs pointed to one thing: He didn’t want me. I might have beat around the bush, but I attempted to talk to him about it. He shut me down.

And too, if I came out and said the words, talked about what that moment was like for me, there was a possibility he could take it away. I wanted to keep it safe and whole and mine. It was all I had.

We stopped calling each other. We didn’t see each other. Months and months and months went by. I resigned myself to that time apart. I knew it was necessary if I was going to stop obsessing. I saw people, I did things, and I replayed the kiss in my head less and less.

One day I called him and left a message, but he never called me back. I kept trying.

A year went by and still nothing. No response to messages online or emails. Nothing. I looked for him everywhere, terrified I’d see him and heartbroken when I didn’t. Then one day, out of the blue, my godmom asked me a question.

“Why is he mad at you?”

She was good friends with his mother and the word on the street was, no, he didn’t want to talk to me. The first thought I had was, “Oh god...what did I do?”

And that was my constant thought for a very long time. I had no definitive answer. I racked my brain for months trying to figure out what it was I could have done to make him never want to speak to me again. I beat myself up for a long time about one thing or another. “Maybe it was this...maybe it was that.”

But I finally had to stop.

I’ve forgiven myself for any mistakes I might have made. That may sound silly, but it helped. I realized that I did everything in my power to make amends; even though I had no idea what I would be making amends for. And I’ve taken from our relationship some important lessons:

Never let fear stop you from telling someone you love them. Getting rejected is better than a constant internal battle – it can truly make you crazy.

Don’t accept anything less than what you deserve. If you want it all, you should have it all. If they can’t give it to you, move on.

You can’t will love to go away and you can’t will someone to return it. But you can heal.

And, of course, never ever eat chicken on a stick if you plan on seducing someone.