Sunday, July 07, 2013
"Beth, the rust damage is too extensive. If we try to fix your brakes, it will be like opening a whole can of worms. Fuel lines are rusted...calipers...its just not worth it."
"But...what will I do with it?"
"We can send it to the junk yard."
"Okay, um..." My voice starts to quiver. "I'll stop by and take the stuff out of it on Tuesday." I put down the phone and let the news sink in: my truck is finished.
Last week when heading on the island, I had a near-miss accident. I had to slam on my brakes and flew onto the shoulder of the road. The brakes made a horrible screaching sound afterward and I had it towed to garage. I kinda knew it wouldn't just be a mere brake line. It's a 1990 Toyota 4Runner with close to 200,000 miles on it. It's rusty and repairing it would be the proverbial "throwing good money at bad."
Six years earlier, I bought the truck for $2000. I had moved to the Jersey shore from New York and I was pretty broke and not relishing the idea of making another monthly payment to another large entity. So I bought the truck outright from a local fisherman here. The first time I took it for a ride, I was in love. It was a truck! Not some low-riding car...a truck! The little kid in me squealed with delight.
Some people buy cars for status. Even if I had the means, that is not why I buy a car. I buy it to safely get me from point A to point B. And it helps if its cool and has some character. Which my truck did. It also helps if you don't have to get tons of repairs on the damn thing. My Toyota 4Runner ran like a charm for years, needing few repairs.
Growing up, I remember my mother buying lemon after lemon. So many icy cold mornings were spent with my mother cursing at the car because it wouldn't start again. "Just my luck!" my mother would proclaim. And I feared I'd have the same bad luck, like some genetic predisposition to crappy cars.
But the bad luck I feared didn't stop at cars unfortunately. I've often felt that I just wasn't very "lucky." I was never going to secure that killer job or get the recognition I thought I deserved as an artist. I wasn't going to find that perfect guy who'd sweep me off me feet and stay with me for life. I wasn't going to have tons of money; I was always going to struggle to get by. Bad messaging, you might say, but sometimes when you have a tough childhood, you sense a shitty pattern.
I remember listening to an interview with Michael Stipe, the lead singer of REM. He credited his success to his supportive parents who believed in him from day 1. He seemed built for success and I've quietly resented him ever since. My widowed mom was stressed and overwhelmed. She couldn't "build" me for success; she was too busy figuring out how to feed five kids and keep the electricity on.
But I always felt like a winner. I knew I was unique and creative and my "voice" was powerful. Never felt like some supermodel, but I always appreciated my looks. I could play them down or pump them up. Strong, healthy. Maybe I wasn't "built" for success but I would overcome the limitations of a difficult childhood and faltering self-confidence. Fuck Michael Stipe.
So what happened? Real life, I guess. You can want things with all of your heart and soul and it doesn't mean you'll ever get them. Years go by, and like my mother, you find yourself just trying to survive. Dreams become a luxury for the privileged.
Or maybe I was the lemon. No matter how hard I tried, I just didn't work right. My internal mechanisms were just flawed and I'd just be one problem after the next.
But purchasing my red truck reminded me that "luck" and "success" aren't always what you think they'll be. Luck may be a cool truck that lasts for years. Success may be teaching a young kid to surf on his first try and seeing the huge smile on his face. Stardom could be singing with your friend on a roof at midnight.
Maybe Michael Stipe is wildly successful but has some weird eating disorder or an all-consuming fetish for dirty socks. And undoubtedly, he has a really nice car...but its not my truck and it never will be.
My red truck reminded me that I'm not cursed. I'm not a lemon. Things do work out for me, just not always in the ways I expected. And now, I'll say goodbye to it. And I'll thank it because it did its job and protected me to the very end. And it can't anymore. It's too old and worn and tired.
I am my truck. Highly imperfect but built to last. Trustworthy, dependable and comfortable. Rusty but fabulous in its own way.
The next phase of my life awaits me. I plan to leave this area and say goodbye to one of the only places I've considered home. It no longer is home. Like the truck, it used to be a safe haven but its not anymore. I will try my "luck" again. And hopefully I'll buy a vehicle that's safe and smart. But it will never be this truck.
My truck showed me that every once in a while, even in some random ways, I can be lucky too. (Or blessed...I never liked the idea of luck anyway.)
[Photo credit: Tim Faunce]
Sunday, April 07, 2013
Let's say I had a highly communicable disease. How about we call it mondocrazyitis. This mondocrazyitis of mine was so contagious that if you stood in a room with me, you might catch it. Even talking to me on the phone left you vulnerable to my cooties.
Yet you see me out in the world every day, as sick as a dog, spreading my mondocrazyitis to everyone I meet. You'd be pretty mad, right? You'd think I was careless, selfish and just plain dangerous.
Yet every day it seems I encounter another sicko of the mental variety whose never even have an inkling of a compulsion to treat their mental illness. And every day, people like me are unwilling recipients to their free-floating contagions.
It's amazing in this day and age that people are still so resistant to psychiatric help of any kind. And when the suggestion is presented to them, its often met with a certain haughty arrogance:
"Who me? Nah, I don't see shrinks. I don't have a problem. It's [fill in the blank] that has the problem. Sure my childhood was deeply troubled but I don't see what that has to do with the fact that I have a knife in your back right now."
Let me present a few more examples.
The Flaming Co-dependent. She has been in a highly dysfunctional relationship for years with a verbally abusive, alcoholic partner. She constantly bemoans his latest boozy slip-up. Her work, health and friendships are directly affected. When you're in need, she's a walking zombie, barely able to utter a word. And when she does it’s about him. You suggest Alanon (it's friggin' free!), therapy, even a goddamn book on co-dependency, but noooooo....she won't lift a finger, except to send him another “I love you anyway, baby” text.
The Boozy McPherson. Listen, drinking is great. Big fan of it. But I think we all have a vague idea when we've crossed the line. The typical stuff is affected: your job, your relationship, your ability to walk in a straight line for Joe Cop. "I don't do 12-step programs" I've heard in the past. Really, what do you do then? Drink yourself a solution? If you're so beyond a free program that's worked for decades, then pray tell, what's your alternative? Another stiff martini?
The Manic Panic. A ton of these chataholics out there. Whether its untreated bi-polar or another type of neuroses run horribly amok, these revved-up talking machines wouldn't know the word "listen" if you rammed it in their ear. Generally, as a rule of thumb, if you're doing more than 90% of the talking at any given time or knowingly repeating a protracted story to some poor sap of a listener, you've got a problem. And you're exhausting the rest of us.
The Deflated Narcissist. This is the “whoa is me” guy who bears the weight of the world on his shoulder. He’s depressed beyond belief but he’d much rather tell you how shitty he feels than do one thing about it. If you tell him about the stalker that’s harassing you, it’s met with “At least someone is paying attention to you.” They rely entirely upon the world feeling sorry for their poor lot in life. Psychiatric help would only interfere with their lifelong pity party.
The Caustic Couple Complex. “We’re staying together for the kids, man.” What? Modeling a horrible relationship so they can experience the same when they grow up? If you’re in a toxic relationship, you have very few options. You either a. get therapy and hope it works or b. Get out! Go ahead…name any other option. Let a few more years go by, in silent torture, while every single person around you feels the wire-tight tension between the two of you? Yay! Good times for all!
The Romantic Boomerang. If you're dating, you've probably encountered this broken basketcase. The more he likes you, the more he will unconsciously find a reason not to like you and fly off in the other direction. To add insult to injury, this person will make the other person feel riddled with inadequacies, which are conveniently used as an excuse to run. (Also known as the "But You Looked at Me Funny Syndrome".)I've been in therapy on and off for years. Even on a paperthin budget. Does it work? Hell, I don't know! But I'm sure it beats zero self-examination, right? I’ve also read countless self-help and psychology books. I've meditated, written endlessly in journals and used my creative abilities (I'm even writing this as a form of therapy...hello!)
I've attended Alanon meetings (not because I was in a relationship with an alcoholic but because I was in an unhealthy relationship and couldn't get out of it). I was taught concepts like “boundaries” and “shifting the focus back to myself” with a nice group of people who supported me. It was enough to help me break free from a deadbeat relationship. And I'm not even a fan of 12-step programs. But as they clearly state at every meeting, "Take what you want and leave the rest." You don't even have to buy into the whole friggin' shebang.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still crazy as a loon. I juggle my mental issues like a clown on crack. But it all comes down to awareness. I realize I have work to do, as a fellow human on this planet. I want to be happy. So I read that book or this article. I write in a journal or cry to a friend. (Crying, hello? One of the easiest—and cheapest—therapies that many, particularly men, have totally foregone for some John Wayne reason), I exercise every day for my mental health. And I try, though it’s excruciatingly difficult at times, to examine my past and recognize the ways in which it still dictates my behavior today. Because it does, whether you want to believe it or not.
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Okay, I had to laugh when I first saw this anti-sex trafficking campaign from the Demi and Ashton Foundation. Some Hollywood heavyweights bandied together for a cause. Not unheard of. A good publicist makes sure his or her client has a sturdy cause to plaster a face to.
But this one? With these guys? Well, hello, hypocrisy! Why don't you sit a spell?
I'd bet, let's see, MY LIFE, that all three of these men have used the services of sex workers in the past (month, maybe). Have they all been of age? I'm sure they weren't fretting over it at the time, what with the champagne, cocaine and stuff.
"You want entertainment, get yourself a couple of hookers and an eight ball." - Sean Penn
But then there's this critical aspect that's more cringe-worthy: confusing sex trafficking with sex work. This campaign mindlessly muddies the two, but that's nothing unusual. Many anti-prostitution campaigns will do just that.
A few years ago, Craigslist was "forced" by 17 attorney generals to remove their adult services section of their website due to fears that it harbored sex trafficking activity.
"They're buying and selling children out there. Better arrest the hookers on Craigslist or they'll buy and sell more children!" roared the battle cry.
Of course, they arrested women. Working women. Lots of them. Whether you agree with the moral choice of a sex worker is not the issue. They arrested the "lowest hanging fruit" according to sex work activist and author Amanda Brooks and not sex traffickers:
If you want to fight sex trafficking, go find sex traffickers and put them away. Be my guest. I don't know a single sex worker who will stop you from doing that. Arresting consenting adult sex workers isn't going to stop a sex trafficker. It has nothing to do with actually saving those who need help.
There are plenty of consenting sex workers who have been radically affected by these dubious crusades. And the religious right love this kind of double speak:
Sex work = sex-trafficking
Anti-trafficking = anti-prostitution
Pro-life = anti-life
Is sex trafficking a problem? Hell, yes. Human trafficking is a tremendous problem. (I guess Ashton is not as concerned about the children used for labor, which constitutes a substantial 20% of all trafficked individuals worldwide.)
Kutcher claims that "once someone goes on record saying they are or aren't going to do something, they tend to be a bit more accountable." If he's means worldwide trafficking rings, this will not be brought up at their next board meeting, I promise. If he's speaking directly to pedophiles, guess what? They're not listening to advice about their severe sexual predilections from a glossy playboy celebrity.
And while I love me my Justin Timberlake, do we truly think that this campaign would have an iota of effect on human trafficking, where massive rings extend worldwide? A cute t-shirt is not reaching them. As a matter of fact, that cute t-shirt insults and undercuts the extent and extremity of the problem. (And let's hope that underage forced labor isn't making said cute t-shirt.)
What this "campaign lite" does instead? Shames prostitutes. Shames Johns. Shames the oldest profession that ain't going nowhere, whether you like it or not. And conveniently, does not shame (nay exalts) the guys who have used their services. (Please trust me, they have.)
Interestingly, I've seen several feminists and feminist groups proudly post this ad on Facebook, which seems so obviously contradictory in its messaging. Filmmaker Iari Lee and A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World (whom I truly respect) parrot this rhetoric without seeing the possible hypocrisy or outright damage. It's jump on a bandwagon for the bandwagon's sake. (Heck, they're cute guys!)
I've often heard male friends say, "I'd never pay for sex. I don't need to." Well, kudos to you. But some choose to. And in countries all over the world, it's a fine and legal working arrangement. So I can't help but note the underlying message:
"Real men (like us) don't have to pay for sex. We get it for free. Because we're Sean Penn, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake."But that doesn't fit on a coffee mug as easily.
I have a new slogan:
"Real women don't take social instruction, which ultimately shames and harms women, from Hollywood playboys."
Look at this darling video where Kutcher claims that "real men [like this Hollywood star] do laundry."
Do you believe that too?:
Monday, June 18, 2012
In the movies, I’m at my dying aunt’s bedside, a band of loving cousins surrounding me. I’m singing a song she used to sing with my mother and other aunts and uncles a long, long time ago. When they’d sit around the kitchen table, harmonizing, laughing and simply embracing life. And I, a little girl, would sit on rotating laps, listening or trying to sing along.
[Me at 5, singing with my family.]
In the movies, when I sing this old song to my dying aunt, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. When I finished, she’d lovingly touch my hand and whisper, “I’m so proud of you, Bethy."
In the movies, after she died, it would propel me to work harder, to take what I learned from my upbringing and blaze my own trail, kinda like Coal’s Miner Daughter. Wild success would follow and when I accepted my first Grammy, I’d thank my aunt. And I’d get choked up, which would only endear me to the public that much more.
But life is not like the movies…again.
I know, I know. It rarely is. That reality check has been delivered to my table time and time again, thank you very much. But sometimes, I’d like to catch a fleeting glimpse of that dreamy Technicolor world before reality smashes through my screen.
In reality, I’m at my dying aunt’s bedside, a band of loving cousins surrounding me. I’m singing a song she used to sing with my mother and other aunts and uncles a long, long time ago.
In reality, earlier that morning, I worked diligently on one of those old tunes so I could make her happy during her dying hours. Hoping desperately I wouldn’t cry when I sang it, I gave it my best shot, while sitting on her bed. She sang with me a little and filled in the words when my mind went blank from grief and sadness.
In reality, when I was done, the room was silent, with one cousin sniffling in the background. (So far, so good. Kind of movie-like, right?)
Then my aunt, with her eyes closed and a weak smile on her face said:
“You never really did much with that voice of yours, did you?”
In reality, I laughed. I laughed at the inappropriateness of her response. The timing. The incidental cruelty of it.
“You know what your problem is, Bethy?”
(In reality, anytime someone starts a sentence this way, run for the door.)
“You start things and then you just go phhhtttt.”
“Aunt, you don’t really know about anything I do. I’ve been performing and creating for several decades now. And I….”
And I went on to explain the myriad of ways I’ve “succeeded” that would fit her limited mental picture of success. The weird little TV show I produced (over 100 episodes), the years of wild, experimental theater, my online writing success, my band, my extensive choir work. But somehow I knew she didn’t quite conceive it because she hadn’t seen me on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.
On a bad day, I wonder if I buy my own story. So hard it is, to be an artist. Nobody really understands your stupid little path, including yourself at times. And unless you’re part of the 1% that succeeds, you’re forced to cling to some fading bohemian dream, insistent that it must mean something, right? Right? That it matters to express yourself. On a bad day, it seems like an act of great futility and grand self-delusion.
On a good day? On a good day, you believe in yourself more than anyone could because you’re forced to; there's little to no external validation to bolster this search. You begin to express yourself not for recognition or notoriety (because you’ve given up on that ego trip a long time ago) but because, like a real artist, you feel you must.
You are your own rock god and super hero. You become star-struck, even if it's just for one fleeting moment, with yourself.
Even you can’t imagine you could reach such depths. It's well-earned self-respect that no one will ever be able to take with a careless comment. Ever.
In reality, my aunt died. And she’s not a bad person. She actually cared deeply about my "success" and my creative abilities. She did believe in me somewhere amidst her limited perception.
At least I’d like to believe that. That's how the movie ends in my mind.
The song I sang to my aunt:
Karaoke as Cheap Therapy
Sunday, June 03, 2012
So you and I were groggy, lying in bed, waking, touching one another. My thoughts were sleepily wandering from one topic to the next. I started telling you a story from my past that I never finished.
It was about a necklace and my old boyfriend, Robert.
Robert is a tricky and wild sort. A compulsive liar. Addictive personality. Suffered from PTSD from his time in war zones. Former Navy Seal. Secret Service. Good-natured but with a definite dark side.
He's the type who should be removed from the life of anyone with a modicum of common sense, but like that gum stuck to your shoe on a hot summer's day, he stuck on and we've strangely morphed into friends. Or family. Or something in-between.
Even amidst all of our "issues" (and my god, do we have them), I guess we care about each other on a very basic level that can't be that easily undone. Trust me, I've tried.
Anyway, I got that far into the story. And maybe you started touching me in just the right places. Or maybe the wine and the stars from the previous night still held me captive. But the story was lost, somewhere, lost in soft kisses and warm, inviting arms.
So now that you're not here to distract me so pleasantly, I'll finish my story:
I asked Robert to give me a gift several months ago. In the years that we were together, I don't recall him ever buying me so much as flowers. Not that I live for that stuff, but it's still welcome, of course. And while we're not together anymore, a romantic gesture from any guy in my life would be appreciated.
I told him I wanted a silver necklace with a pendant. Nothing fancy. Something I could wear and feel protected by. Connected to. Something I could touch to feel loved.
Last month, Robert sent me a text telling me he got me a gift. When I asked him what it was, he replied a bracelet. Hmmm...I don't really wear bracelets, but hell, I guess I should be appreciative anyway, right?
When we finally saw each other in person, he handed me my "gift" wrapped in brown tissue paper. I opened it and there it was: a pair of men's aviator sunglasses...what?!
I mean, it was a good pair (and strangely reminiscent of the kind he normally sports)...but still.
"Um...wow. What happened to the bracelet? Or for that matter, the necklace?"
"I just thought you needed something more practical. You'll get more use out of these anyway. You probably don't have any real sunglasses."
Living at the Jersey shore, I wear real glasses all the time. I have to, being an outdoors sort. But I didn't bother telling him that. I said thank you and tried to be happy with the gesture, not the gift itself.
So happy that the next day, the following item was placed on Ebay.
As the days went by, my mood darkened when I thought about it. I remembered Robert picking up a broken, cheap bracelet on the sidewalk prior to giving me the glasses and saying, "Here's your bracelet." He had been joking but I didn't laugh.
Over the phone, I told my dear friend Amanda in California about my necklace that turned into a bracelet that turned into a pair of men's aviator sunglasses on eBay. We laughed and sighed.
"Amanda, why would it be so hard for him to give me something, even now? I just wanted a simple gift. It's not like I get a ton of things from the men in my life. This turned into a...mockery."
"Aw, honey. I'm so sorry that happened."
Tears rose in my eyes, thinking of how I easily and readily I give myself to others. Why I can't be the recipient more often? Am I just a romantic workhorse that others perpetually ride?
Of course, I could be oversimplifying. Robert frequently takes me out to lavish dinners (even now, as friends) and more than that, he adores me, even amidst his profound limitations.
But like other men (and I suppose women as well), he has great difficulty in professing his feelings. And a gift, (perhaps jewelry in particular), is that kind of pronouncement.
So what comes in the mail a week later? A necklace. With a key on it. "A key to my heart" a hand-written note reads.
Surrounding the box were romantic little notes detailing my wonder, beauty and ravaging sexiness. And how worthy I am of the most magnificent gifts in the world. Hearts and kisses drawn all over it. It was a gift of love, wrapped in love.
And it was sent by?
My friend Amanda.
That's the story I was going to tell you. It was a story about friendship and kind gestures. And women taking care of each other, even romantically sometimes. That was the story I was going to tell you before we made love in the dancing daylight.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
The Good Weather Gangbusters
The Good Weather Gangbusters: I can't stand this rain. It's supposed to be 85 degrees tomorrow and sunny. Can't wait.
Me: Hmm...it's March. I find those temperatures disconcerting this early.
The Good Weather Gangbusters: Really?? I LOVE it.
Me: Do you wanna marry it?
The Good Weather Gangbusters: What?
And I walk away, wondering why the world is so damn fanatical about "nice" weather. It's almost cult-like, how people treat a sunny day. Yes, Virginia, there are clouds, rain, snow...sometimes even sleet. Hell, hail! It's neither good or bad; it just is.
Radio Announcer: It's another beauuuuutiful day today out there, folks. Looks like we'll hit 80 degrees, if we're lucky! So you better get outside and enjoy the sunny day because it's sunny and sunny is good and I'm positive because I love the sunny weather. Back to you, Joan. Sunshine!
Dark, rainy days always offered me the luxury of doing nothing guilt-free. Its suddenly alright to roll into fetal and mindlessly zone. Besides, clouds are amazing natural works of art. Strong winds possess a haunting sound that stir the soul. A storm rolling in makes me believe in dark powers. (Yes, dark powers - the scary ones that are mean and wild.)
The Positivity Police
The Positivity Police: How are you today, Beth?
Me: Pretty irritable today. And rife with existential angst. You?
The Positivity Police: Oh...well, I'm not that. I'm good. I'm better than good. I'm great. I'm delirious from feeling the best I've ever felt.
Me: Well, happy days for you, Mary Poppins!
The Positivity Police: Excuse me?
And why is negativity so frowned upon? I mean, you'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to feel negative in this day and age.
A quick recap of our dire condition:
Our environment is pretty much ruined. The corporate interests have taken over and barring a revolution, they'll screw us toward an untimely death. And we're too gluttonous and lazy to do anything about it, except watch it happen from our beige couches.
And come on...what about relationships? Can people get anymore lame? After decades worth of TV and Internet hypnosis, we're emotional vegetables. Go ahead, just try to get your needs met by the zombies banging around out there. Flatliners, the whole lot of us.
But it's more than just the slow, torturous downward spiral of our civilization and the slow deterioration of our ability to relate; it's this positivity contest we seem to be caught up in. As if we're all trying to prove to each other how we'd never be caught dead with any of those nasty, ugly emotions.
The Positivity Police: But don't you understand, Beth? When you feel negatively, you bring more negativity into your life. What you put out into the world comes back to you.
Me: Ah, I see you've read that piece of New Age bullshit called The Secret.
The Positivity Police: Yes and it's sooo true. When I radiate positivity, only positive things happen.
Me: Sounds terribly simplistic. Do you believe in flying purple unicorns too?
The Positivity Police: What?
Ah yes, The Secret. When you're negative, you're a walking misfortune magnet. Cancer? Your fault. Car hit you? You and your bad thoughts! Dog peed on your leg? You asked for it.
Interestingly, that kind of dogma doesn't sound that different than many types of religious rhetoric, where you desperately try to eschew dirty thoughts from your mind in an attempt to be pure. Can't do it? Burn, baby, baby. It's emotional propaganda and just plain annoying.
Negative emotions, just like "bad" weather, serve a purpose. Anger can propel you out of a bad situation and into something new and healthier. Jealously can remind you of the deep vulnerability you feel when you love somebody. ("I don't get jealous!" Oh yes, you do. Or you've denied yourself the opportunity to, for fear of weakness. Or you don't really care what your partner does, which is a whole other problem.) Sadness and grief...what feels better than a good cry?
Weather and emotions don't always need a happy face stamped on it.
|Besides, I'm a little creepy and hollow anyway!|
Sunday, March 18, 2012
When you look at me like that, I don't know what to do. It's too stimulating, too exciting.
For such a shy man, it's such a bold act, the way you stare. Audacious. It makes me admire you. It makes me think you're a surprise. And I like surprises.
I try to maintain eye contact with you for as long as possible. But it's so hard. Your stare is intense, overt, sexual. I can only take so much of that laser-focused attention before bashfully averting my eyes. I want to stare back at you longer because I know, I know, it's like fucking you.
Do you like it when I look away? Do you realize the effect your eyes have on me and relish in the power? I submit to you when I look away. I surrender. Do you like that?
I can't help but wonder how this electricity between us would translate sexually. I'm sure you wonder the same thing. (We wonder a lot about having sex with one another, I have a feeling.)
Until then, the pressure continues to build.
Perhaps that tension will become too much to take? This attraction needs to manifest itself physically, doesn't it? Its a protracted tease and I feel myself getting weak, dire for more. Or so frustrated, I could scream.But we can't. We can't follow through on it, for a number of reasons.
And sometimes I think I'm okay with that. Because the feeling in those fleeting seconds, when our eyes meet, is almost beyond sex. It's human electricity. High voltage. A very magical, deeply sexual sensation that stops my breath.
Thank you for that. Thank you for looking my way.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
When I saw the stupid scene years ago, I knew I was in trouble. Tears welled, heart expanded, etc. Romance did exist and John Cusack was living proof. Sure, it was the movies...but it could happen, right?
Say Anything came out in 1989, over 20 years ago. Yet that scene has done a number on me ever since. I was lead to believe that grand romantic gestures were possible, like Lloyd Dobler standing there proudly, defiantly, with that boom box, in front of the house of the woman he loves. The man in your life could break through all the internal and external bullshit and boldly stake his claim for you. (Or hell, even lustful interest!)
Yet I've rarely seen such valiant statements when it comes to love - unless I exhibited them! Most of the time, I feel like I'm excavating for love, like some heart-heavy archaeologist, digging for a boom box that doesn't exist. Or, if I find one, it doesn't play "In your Eyes" but "Crazy Train" instead.
So far, on this Valentine's Day 2012, my ex-boyfriend Robert has sent me a picture text of a rose. Very sweet. But no boom box. (And I can't escape the haunting feeling that he probably cc'd it to a few other females in his life. Cold, this virtual world we live in!)
What else? A woman I know sent me the prettiest animated e-card, where birds fly and horses trot and cats chase. They finally reach a house and the bird opens the door for me. There awaits a table full of pastries and ribbons and stuff. Guess what? I'm still hungry.
Years ago, I decided it was better to simply ask for what I wanted. "Hey [fill in the blank], make yourself useful. Go find a boom box and play it outside of my window." But you know, you lose a little something when you're being a bossy bitch about romance.
A few days ago, I sent several texts and emails to some guys I like. Who I think like me too. Nothing too over the top, but certainly the message was there. "I'm sending you a romantic and/or sexy email."
So far, no response. Can you imagine that? Even if you're not interested, be flattered and share that with me. And basic etiquette dictates that you should at least respond. Come on! That's me playing the boom box and no one listening to the music. My arms are tired, boys!
Emotional dwarfism prevails these days. People (I'm trying really hard not to say men, I swear) seem to have forgotten how to express themselves in a loving, valorous way. They try very purposefully to never feel jealous or vulnerable. Hell, they pride themselves in boring self-protection.
They stutter, overthink, avoid, conveniently forget, distance, make excuses. They tinker with the boom box for hours out in the driveway while I lay fast asleep, unaware that anyone is even there. Too much deliberation, not enough boom box playing!
So here's to the scene that ruined it for me. That made me think that people step up to the plate romantically. Because our hearts are healed a little when such proclamations take place. When someone admits feelings for you, no matter how big or small. When someone gives you a personal gift that isn't of the e-variety. When someone takes a stand instead of sitting this one out. Say anything!
Dumb John Cusack.
Smart Peter Gabriel.
All my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside
- In Your Eyes
Friday, January 27, 2012
I walk by the house on my way to the beach every day. It's a massive, faceless house but it overlooks the ocean. And here, that means everything.
Last week, I noticed several cars parked in the driveway. Very nice cars. Black, sleek, tinted windows. For diplomats and rock stars. During the middle of winter? Strange. It's usually empty on this island at the Jersey shore. Perhaps its just a Realtor or a home owner checking in on things.
But as the days passed, the cars remained. Something was going on in there. My curiosity was piqued and my imagination roamed too far.
I run on the beach every day; a grueling daily chore that I do for my "wellness." But one fateful afternoon, only half of me went running. The other half split off and walked up to that faceless house on the beach and knocked on the door and experienced an adventure that she won't soon forget.
She knocked hard.
A tall man opened the door, dressed in a shimmering blue tux. A servant of some sort? Very young and handsome. Tousled blonde hair and plate-sized blue eyes. Or green. Or purple. They seemed to change a little every second. His voice, deep and resonant spoke:
"Can I help you?"
"Is the party here?"
"What's the password?"
"Mellita, domi adsum?" I said, unsure of the words falling from my mouth. (Later, I'd find out it's Latin for "Honey, I'm home.")
He gestured grandly, "Miss Beth, enter. We've been waiting for you."
Who has been waiting for me, I wondered? No one waits for me, just as a rule.
Bion lead me upstairs. (He whispered his name into my ear when he closed the door. I shuddered with pleasure; whispering is such a lost art.) I wondered why I didn't hear any party sounds. It was dead quiet, just the thud of our footsteps, in sync with one another. The stairway never seemed to end. We just kept climbing and climbing, Bion in the lead.
Finally, at the top of the stairs, he stopped and turned around.
"Are you ready, Miss Beth?"
"Yes, very much so. I've been curious. What goes on here?"
He opened a white door and boom! The music began. Glasses clinking, corks popping, flirtatious laughter ringing, voices, voices, voices...so many of them, like a sweet, bizarre choir.
Suddenly I was in the middle of a grand room, made up entirely of glass, overlooking the ocean. And though it was sunny when I arrived, the sky had turned threatening. Everyone stood at the massive window, oohing and ahhing as the storm rolled toward us. Some were clothed, some naked. No one really seemed to care.
A tall, striking man walked up to me. I knew him from...somewhere, I don't know where. He had long dark hair and the same piercing, ever-changing eyes as the servant. He possessed a look of madness to him, but not overcome by it. As if he quietly embraced it.
"Beth, my love. You are here, you are here! Finally!"
He kissed me on the lips and I pulled back, unaccustomed to such behavior from someone I hardly knew. This did not deter him.
He touched my neck and I did as he commanded, opening my mouth slightly. He kissed me again, for what seemed like forever, our tongues desperately entwined. I remember dreaming at one point during the kiss; that's how long it was. When we stopped, he was gone. I was kissing the air. Embarrassingly, I pulled myself together and took a better look around.
Drugs were everywhere. White powder, blue powder, red pills, green pills. Bion appeared next to me, with a drink "especially made for you." He handed me an overflowing glass - almost the size of a small fish tank - full of bubbling blue liquid. I took a sip without question. (It was made especially for me, afterall.)
"Bion, who is the host? What is his name?"
"I call him Sir. But you can call him whatever you please."
Dazed, I wandered over to the window and looked out. There I was, running on the beach! I knocked on the glass, hoping I could hear me. But she just kept running, so determined. I felt badly for her. She works so hard to be good. Stays at home, cooks her little dinners, watches her shows, talks to girlfriends about boyfriends that will never really matter. She takes baths, makes teas, cleans dust off of things.
I, on the other hand, was living. I took a drag from the long cigarette that suddenly appeared between my fingers. The smoke came out a crimson red. I felt very content.
Sir was suddenly standing behind me, watching me run on the beach.
"All that good intention. And what does it get her?" he laughed. He pulled my hair back and gently kissed my neck.
"Are you enjoying your drink, my dear woman? Are you enjoying your time? Shall I get you another?"
I looked down and my drink was almost gone. How is that possible?
"Yes, please. I want to drink as much as I possibly can."
"That's the spirit!" said Sir. And off he went, the new drink already in my hands.
I proceeded to mingle with the beautiful people. They all looked so crisp and perfect, as if they walked out of a magazine. But I looked amazing too. Bion had dressed me on the steps - I remember now. He zipped up my new red dress, put on fine black shoes, applied gloss to my lips and oh so lovingly, powdered my nose.
Ah, I was alight.
And these people couldn't keep their hands off of me! My dress was made of a fabric that felt like kittens and smelled liked fresh raspberries. My skin glowed, my eyes dazzled. Women, men, (and some, in-between) were attracted to me like bees to honey and I to them. We kissed, we hugged, we danced, we dipped, we molded lovingly into one another. We were one, this group and I. I couldn't imagine better friends. They knew all of my darkest thoughts and liked me, in spite of them.
Things got blurry after the second fishbowl. But I didn't mind. The powders and the pills cleared my head. I'd sink, I'd fall, I'd come back to life, over and over again. We all danced this dance for days, it seemed. Our thorny, perverted sickness was so beautiful, I couldn't dislodge myself. The highness was staggering.
Sir and I would occasionally run off to his blood red bedroom and do unspeakable things to one another. It was so splendid and dark that I now can't remember it; my mind won't let me. At one point, the energy we created raised us off of his bed - that I recall. This was beyond fucking; it was pure transcendence.
Afterward, we whispered warm and wicked things to one another, cleansed from the shamelessness of our wanton acts. These words I can no longer speak; it was an eternal language created from the most profane place in our souls. Even after we fell asleep, we continued to speak in our dreams. We were dying, over and over again, and it was absolutely perfect.
Then Bion knocked on the door and ruined everything. Everything.
"Miss Beth, she is here to pick you up."
"The one who runs on the beach."
Sir began crying. So sad, so beautiful he looked. I've rarely seen him cry.
"I can't live without you. You must stay."
"You'll be fine, Sir. There are so many pretty women who love you. They are waiting."
And truly, they were. I looked around the bed and we were surrounded by the most stunning women I'd ever seen, naked and in wait. They already began petting and pawing Sir, knowing my departure was near. Damn beautiful vultures. Was I that replaceable?
As I climbed out of the eternal bed, Sir grabbed me, his hand squeezing mine so tight, I began to bleed.
"Come back. Please. You know she'll just ruin you. She'll bore you to death!"
"I know, but she's all I have." And I began crying too.
Sir and I kissed once more, then the vultures attacked him. He screamed in pleasure at first, then in agony. Looking back, I could no longer see him, just bodies writhing, biting, eating, melting.
Bion showed me to the door, where she stood, drenched in sweat and rain. She had that dumb look of pleading in her eyes. I hated her. For just one moment, I hated her.
"Why can't you let me have fun? I've been waiting for this."
She just held out her hand knowingly, like a mother.
I slowly, begrudingly reached for it.
"I liked him. I really did."
"I know," she said. "Don't worry. He's not going anywhere."
She lead me home in silence. I looked down and my dress was gone. I was ugly again, old, worn clothes, drenched. The party was indeed over. I had books to read, clothes to clean, gardens to tend, vitamins to swallow, checks to write, problems to solve, help to offer, blood to bleed.
A final blow to the head and he was out cold, face down, glistening drool seeping from his cracked, nicotine-stained lips. And I was the one who did it. I warned him that I would. That I could. But he didn't listen. He should have.
When we arrived at the hot springs in the Nevada desert, we were dusty and tired. My friend Amanda, her teenage daughter and I had planned this 6-hour road trip months ago. Recovering from a particularly hard break-up, I was emotionally vacant, like a burnt-out building. This hot spring was to be my rebirth, my scalding baptism.
When we completed the mile-long trek to the hot spring, I dropped by backpack and gasped with joy. What beauty. Several sizable hot springs, all adjoining. A majestic view overlooking a green valley. Yes! This will do the trick. It has to.
There were a few others who had made the journey, but no matter. Of course, I wanted the springs entirely to my friends and myself, but I knew that others needed their spiritual cleansing too. We'd share in the experience together.
My friend and her daughter quickly undressed and made their way into the magical waters. I took my time, drinking in the ritual to its fullest. I undressed and with each article of clothing I dropped, I felt as if I was letting go of another "drag me down" element in my life.
When I finally placed my foot in the hot liquid, I felt instantly changed, as if the magic flew through my foot and up my naked body. As I submerged, it was all I could do not to cry. The goodness hurt my poor, aching heart. I closed my eyes and let the healing begin.
Then I heard him. A gruff, asthmatic laugh.
I opened my eyes and saw a man on the other side of the pool, staring at me in that unwanted, lascivious way. No, no...not this now. Please, God, not this now.
I returned his stare aggressively, as if to say, "Stop. Leave me the fuck alone." But he wouldn't be dissuaded. I couldn't let him ruin this for me. Closing my eyes again, I tried desperately to block him out but every time I'd open them, his eyes burned my flesh.
"Can you stop staring at me?"
"I said stop staring at me."
"Fuck you. I'll look at what I want."
I looked over at my friend and her daughter. Their look of relaxation had quickly turned into concern.
"It's just rude and I'm trying to relax."
"That's your problem."
"She's got a hot body, man. I can't help it," he jokingly tells his friend.
What a scrawny fuck of a man. Yellowed teeth, broken face, greasy hair, glossy red eyes. I could smell the stale cigarette smoke and cheap booze emanating from the steam and drifting my way. I approximated his size so I could make my decision. He was at least an inch or two smaller than me.
I'm a woman who fights. I studied martial arts for years and have sparred men considerably bigger than me. This guy was an easy take-down, especially because he was drunk. For years, I've argued with men (predominantly) who insist that a woman can never beat a man in any physical altercation. Well, I have. But obviously, many factors come into play.
The most pressing concern is size. If a man is much bigger than me, then yes, there's a good chance he'll beat me. (Or honestly, I'd get out of the situation before I'd allow that to happen. One good disarming hit and I'd run.) But if a man is my size or smaller, then the odds shift. I stand a chance. After years of fighting in competitions, I stand a better chance.
But it's not just size; it's mindset. If someone is really angry, for instance, and you are not, you could be at a serious disadvantage, regardless of the size. They have the force of their rage coming at you and you're not at their pitch level of volatility yet.
In the same breath, if you're a practiced fighter, calm serves you. A relaxed, focused fighter can always beat an angry one, who tends to be wild and sloppy.
I could have taken him. In my mind, when I go back in time, I do. I ask him to step outside of the pool. I put on my clothes and kick his ass resoundingly. He lie face-down in a puddle of his own blood and spit while I grab my friends and leave.
But I can't go back. And that's not what I did. Instead I got up and went to an adjacent pool and fumed instead of "cleansed." And the rest of the trip was slightly tainted by this man's need to dominate me with visual harassment.
I hope that little runt of a methhead is dead, rotting in a worm-ridden cardboard box somewhere. I hope no one shed a tear for him. I hope that men everywhere realize that unwanted stares can feel as invasive as an unwanted touch. I hope my friend's daughter, in the future, sees a woman check a man like that so thoroughly that she vows to never tolerate such harassment.
This wasn't some horny lowlife, but a violent man. Those stares weren't sexual; they were an act of dominance and aggression. He spit on my spirit during a time when I desperately needed the world to envelop and comfort me. And of course, this kind of thing goes on all the time. A sick man's desire to invade trumps a woman's need for peace of mind. And it's a spiritual crime, one that can't be undone, ever.
In my mind, I still go back to those hot springs and hurt that man. Badly. Oh, you did the right thing, everyone says. Fuck the right thing. I still live with that experience. I should have kicked his ass or died trying.
There was no justice that day. There was no baptism.