Favors

When I was 17 I was really good friends with a nice boy. I was fairly sure he liked me in a more-than-friends way, but not totally sure. I was sure of my feelings for him, though, and that always makes it harder to see anything clearly. Other than a few lingering hugs and some couch cuddling during a couple movies, there was never anything physical between us. But the way he was with me… He was attentive and caring and sweet. We had a lot of fun together. It was confusing, but unless I had a clearer signal from him, I was okay with just being friends.

We went on like this for about a year. One night, at a house party, he told me he was going to ask a mutual friend out on a date. He asked me if I’d do him a favor and go to the store with him to pick out some flowers. With a heavy heart and a churning stomach, I got into the car and went with him. I don’t remember picking out the flowers or even going into the store. I remember walking out of the store. It was autumn and chilly enough that he noticed I was cold and offered me his jacket. I draped it over my shoulders like a cape. He opened my car door for me and I noticed he was waiting while I got settled in. Then he leaned down, handed me the flowers, and said “Spants, these are really for you.”

Wait – what?

But before I could process or respond, he said, “Just kidding,” and closed my door. My face was instantly hot and tears flooded my vision. I quickly swiped at my eyes with the sleeve of his jacket and dug my thumbnail into my index finger to divert the pain and stop my tears. He got in and chatted quietly during the drive back. I had a hard time opening my mouth to speak so I just sat there trying to control my breathing. There was no way I was going to cry in front of him. Twice he asked me if I was okay. The first time I said “yep” and the second time I looked him squarely in the face and fantasized about breaking his nose. Instead, I quickly nodded. I had so many thoughts, like: Had that really just happened? What the hell? Why would he toy with me like that? And: Spants, you are so stupid. Of course he’d never like you.

When we arrived, I practically jumped out of the car before it had stopped and quickly walked to my car to leave. I turned around and saw him watching me flee, a pained look on his face. He knew how badly he’d hurt me. He watched me get into my car and then stood on the curb watching me as I drove away.

I was hurt, embarrassed, confused, angry, and I cried all the way home.


It took me a while to understand that, in a really messed up way, he’d done me a solid. Sure, it was painful. But it allowed me to know exactly where I stood, or didn’t, and I was able to move on. Plus, I avoided being with someone who apparently would fuck with my feelings on a lark.

However, I think this incident shaped me more than I would like. Seems like I’m always waiting for the reveal, or for me to be the punchline. It’s sometimes hard for me to tell when someone is sincere, and it’s always difficult to believe it. But I keep trying, I guess. I don’t really know another way to be.

Five years and a couple weeks

We took Tiny bowling the other day during the middle of the day. We had the employees raise the bumpers and they even brought out this rack that allowed Tiny to roll the ball down a slope and onto the lane. Tiny’s ball was orange and six pounds, which was still too heavy for her. Of course, having a ball in her favorite color did not deter her from wanting to accumulate a rainbow of bowling balls.

There were two older men practicing separately at the other end of the alley and, briefly, a young couple only a few lanes away from us. They kept smiling at Tiny’s antics. We played two games. Tiny was ecstatic pretty much the entire time, and she delighted over repeating the order in which we would take our turns. Josh and I were both incredibly rusty. I couldn’t remember the last time I bowled, especially during the middle of the day. It was fun. Well, it’s fun to see Tiny have fun, anyway.

The next evening, I remembered. It was even the same bowling alley, and we were two lanes over.

Five years and a couple weeks ago was my 29th birthday. I’d just found out I was pregnant, but not really. Not in a way that would make a baby, just in a way that would shatter me. And I knew it. I knew what was coming because it was the 4th or 5th time. I didn’t want to see my friends or go out to dinner or make a fuss over my stupid birthday. It was such a burden to pretend. The burden wasn’t in pretending I was happy—that level of emotional fakery is impossible for me. I couldn’t even pretend I was managing, and I wouldn’t have been able to look at that feeling reflected back to me in people’s concern. Josh asked if maybe I’d like to go bowling in the middle of the day. And I remember thinking that seemed like a perfectly good, mindless way to distract myself.

My OBGYN called during our game. She gave me the medical details of what I already knew and asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to wait and see if it would resolve itself? Especially in light of what she strongly suspected was a previous ectopic pregnancy? No. I did not want to wait and see. My body would make me sick holding onto that pregnancy, just like it had for the others; it could do a lot more than just wreck my hormones, my skin, and make my hair fall out. She told me she’d call in a prescription for me at the pharmacy in her building and that I should pick it up the next morning and come immediately to her office.

So that’s what I did. I went in, pulled my pants down a little on the right side, she swabbed me with alcohol soaked gauze and then she gave me an injection near my hip. That was it. After trying for 3 years, I went back on the pill for the next 9 months.

That summer, I was finally okay enough to realize that if I was never able to be a parent I could still find a way to lead a meaningful life. My mindset was totally different when we started trying again, but we didn’t have to try long. My next pregnancy was finally the real deal, and I so thoroughly got what I wanted that this delayed echo of grief is merely just that.

The Accident

May 2001 

I’d been out all day, first on a date with my new boyfriend Dave, then to a pickup softball game to see my brother John—where I noticed how much more he looked like a man than my kid brother—and then to a late-night coffee house with some friends. We’d spent the evening hours on their patio, taking in the mild pre-summer weather, talking and arguing and drinking too many Vietnamese iced coffees.

Just before 9:30 pm, I suddenly became dizzy and lightheaded. I couldn’t track the voices swirling around me. I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes, but when I opened them everything was worse. My vision was blurry. All the street lights had halos.

“I don’t feel so well,” I slurred. I stood up and grabbed my purse. “I’m gonna go home.”

“You okay hon?” someone asked.

“Bye,” I said.

“Whoa, whoa, hey,” I heard.

“I’m okay,” I said and I started walking, consciously telling my legs to carry me.

I don’t remember getting in my car. I don’t remember driving home some 12 miles. I don’t remember getting out of my car or going into my mom’s house—where I was living alone—and I don’t remember going to bed.

——

Continue reading

Two stories featuring my mom

Lexie

When I was about 13, my Siberian husky Lexie got away from me outside and ran off. I can’t remember if this was one of the times she slipped the choke chain, or the time she bent the pinch collar. It wasn’t the time she broke the sky run cable or the time I simply lost hold of her leash, because I remember standing, holding the slack leash in my hand as her white and rust-colored body blurred across the street.

I should’ve immediately enlisted the help of my mom and brother, but instead I chased after her. Lexie would let me get within 15 feet of her (“just sniffing this bush and looking at you out of the corner of my eye, doop de doop”) before taking off again. This scene repeated itself as I called to her with the myriad, full emotions of a thirteen year old. I tried to trick her into thinking I was also playing a game and she should totally come see. Didn’t work. I said her name sternly, and even angrily. Didn’t work. Finally, after running after her for so long, I got a side stitch. I burst into tears and pleaded with her. “Lexie, please! Please come!” Nothing.

Then she ran across yet another street and I lost sight of her. It was getting dark and I knew the highway was only another street away. I needed help. So, sobbing, I jogged back home. I saw my brother and mom in the yard picking up the leash and collar. I told Mom what happened and we all ran back to where I last saw Lexie.

The three of us reached the spot where I lost her, right where a pointless gravel lot met a meadow, and began calling her name. My brother whistled loudly. Finally, Lexie appeared from beyond the treeline. She came running right to us, but stopped before getting too close and then started to dart away again. The little shit was still playing. My brother and I hopped around, pretending to play to see if she’d run up to us, but Lexie was too smart for that nonsense.

Meanwhile, my mom started to crouch a little. I thought maybe she hurt her knee or back, or was pretending to be hurt to get Lexie to come over. Instead, the next time Lexie darted around us in a wide circle, my petite mom launched herself through the air and tackled a 60 pound Husky who was mid-dart. On a gravel road. It was the most bitchin’ thing my mom has ever done.

———-

I guess she really knows me

When I was 24 or 25, mom’s car broke down one evening. I was off work so I went to pick her up. She broke down not far from my apartment. Though she knew the main roads of that area pretty well, she was not as familiar with the side roads and shortcuts. After I picked her up, I must’ve turned down one of those side streets.

“Where are we going?” she asked. I was taking her home; I just didn’t feel like sitting through stoplights.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said in my most ominous voice.

She immediately burst into laughter. We both ended up laughing so hard we cried, which is how a lot of jokes and stories end when I’m with her.

In Which I Was Lucky

I was lucky it happened in the mid ’90s. It being a sexual assault by a group of boys, attempted rape by one boy and actual rape by another boy, that is. I was lucky because no one had a camera on their cellphone. Because if it had happened even 5 years later, it all would’ve been on video. It would’ve been shared among the group of friends. It possibly would’ve ended up on the internet.

And then maybe a decade later, one of those boys who knew what was happening and did nothing, who knew what was going to happen, would’ve felt bad enough to speak out. Of course, speaking out would also serve to advance his career, because of course it would. He could make himself a bystander and a witness and an innocent, but of course he’s not innocent. He knew the whole time what was happening and didn’t stop it.

______

I went to school with my rapist and the teenage boys who assaulted me or didn’t stop it. I had classes with some of them. I have no idea how I managed to deal with all of this, but I did. I knew they spread rumors about me, saying things like I’d let a group of boys run a train on me. Every rumor was untrue. My assault never stopped.

When I was a couple years out of high school, I was the passenger in a friend’s car. She was my closest friend and knew everything that had happened to me. We ended up driving next to my rapist for a split second. Before I’d even finished saying “That’s him” she was deftly turning off the road and rerouting so that he wouldn’t see me.

Maybe 4-5 years ago, Facebook started prompting me to friend the man who had attempted to rape me back when he was a 17 year old boy. You see, despite the fact that I’d told a few people what had happened to me, people took their side. So my high school friends were still friends with these people, and Facebook was just trying to help me network. I added everyone I could remember to my block list, including my actual rapist. I had to dig for him, though, because he changed how he spells his name. It’s a surreal experience to go looking for the guy who raped you, to find his profile, to see his picture: him, leaning against his car with a shy-looking smile. I know that he’s bullshit. No matter what he does, he is bullshit.

But between those two experiences, I repeatedly saw one of the boys who was there that night. He was present while a group of teenage boys fondled my body while I was in and out of consciousness. I don’t think he touched me, but he could have. He also could have pulled me out of that truck and helped me. But of course he didn’t.

He did grow up and get married, though. And he frequently shopped at two of the grocery stores near my house. And I saw him and his wife probably six, seven times over a four year span.

Oh, the look on his face the first time he saw me! He looked like he couldn’t breathe. He’d been mid-story, and suddenly looked stricken and panicked. And you know what? GOOD. Fuck him. Every time I saw him I looked him right in the eyes and he always looked away. His wife was usually the one pushing the cart and carrying a list, and he would nervously joke with her as we’d pass in the aisle. Once, they were stopped so I stopped near them and pretended to scan the shelves. He bounced back and forth from foot to foot, nervously glancing at me until his wife started pushing the cart away. It felt good to know I made him nervous.

More than once I considered talking to him, just to fuck with him, just to see him sweat. What if I walked up to him and said “Remember that night you knew that they were going to rape me and you didn’t help me?” or saying to his wife “You should ask your husband about the night his friends sexually assaulted me while he did nothing to help!” How would that have played out?

Ultimately, saying nothing felt more powerful. I had the power to reveal something of who he was and is to the most important person in his life, and he knew it. And though I’m sure she would instantly side with him, the kernel of doubt that would’ve planted! He knew he was a coward and he knew that he was complicit and he’s the one who has to live with that. I hope it eats him up. I even hope I get to see him again and make him squirm.

To anyone who stands idly by while someone is raped or assaulted or abused: I see you, you little men, you keepers of the status quo, you enablers. I see you and I am not afraid. Even though other people might, and our misogynistic culture surely will, I won’t mince words or pretend you didn’t pimp me or someone else out for your own safety or your own career or your own selfish reasons. Because that’s exactly what you did.

Things I am good at

In no particular order:

Being a smart-ass
Some cooking and baking type stuff
Editing other people’s writing
Evasive driving
Saying no
Taking portraits
Remembering conversations, word-for-word
Expressing my thoughts and feelings
[redacted]
Putting someone in their place
Dirty looks
Figuring out when a man looks like a morph of two other men
Honesty
Remembering random trivia
Taking care of Tiny’s curly hair
Saying I don’t know
Wild-ass guesses
Differentiating between offspeed pitches
Interrupting
Catching on quickly
Horror movie screaming
Remembering

How to Fuck Yourself Without Even Trying: A Boring Story

Josh and I got married in 2007, right around the time that he earned his Associates Degree in architectural technology. He wanted to further his education, and planned to attend a school in Illinois where they offered a degree in Construction Management. Unfortunately, his degree wouldn’t transfer completely because it was an Associates of Applied Science*, and not the Associates of Science the university required for the full degree to transfer. Josh didn’t want to take a whole extra year or more of school (which would require more loans). So, he floated this idea to me: what if we started a masonry business?

*Josh was able to get the state of Missouri to pay for part of his college education because he’d suffered a career-ending injury in his previous line of work**. Unfortunately, the state would only pay for more practical degrees. Where things got muddied is that SIU Carbondale had previously told someone at STLCC Meramec that Josh’s degree would transfer in full. Due to the consequences of this communication error, Josh soured on the idea of more school. I was not a fan of his decision.

**masonry, lololol

I took a lot of convincing. And, being the type of person I am, I did some research. I got valuable opinions from people whose business acumen I respect, and all of them were unabashedly enthusiastic about Josh as Entrepreneur. I checked out books about small business and entrepreneurship and started reading everything I could. I took notes. I even wrote a business plan.

Almost immediately, we had problems. Take a new marriage between headstrong people, add a new business, and baby, you’ve got a dysfunctional stew going.

We had a business falling out in 2009 or ‘10 (who cares, really) because he wouldn’t let me participate beyond being his secretary. I wasn’t okay with that and disagreed with many of the choices he was making, so I opted to let him do whatever he wanted as long as all I had to do was reorder business cards and do minor tax preparation duties. Due to a combination of factors, most of them related to his poor decision making timed with a weird industry-wide lull, the business failed. We actually lost quite a bit of money his last year in business.

The last two years Josh owned a business (‘11 and ‘12) we didn’t do taxes. I was too busy with a baby, and he didn’t stay organized enough for me to jump in and easily help. A year’s worth of receipts had to be sorted, spreadsheets created, etc. And then a second year’s worth of receipts…

In 2013, Josh was no longer in business for himself. Within 2-3 months of starting a job he was excited about, Josh (along with 8 other people) got laid off. For 2-3 months, he scuffled for work. He applied for dozens of jobs – jobs he was qualified for, many he was overqualified for, and even a few that he was laughably unqualified for. Through a friend of a friend, he finally got some work as a valet parking attendant. This was obviously not lucrative, but we were at least able to buy food and diapers.
Prior to this, he’d never had a problem being employed, Yes, the economy was now bad. Yes, he’d been laid off and I’m sure that doesn’t look good. No, he’s not the most educated person in the room. But he has years of management experience, years of sales experience, and no employment gaps. He’d put in several years at each of most of his jobs, including the most recent jobs. So he was baffled. This had always been the one thing he hadn’t struggled with. He’d always been employable.

Maybe his prior employability had been a reflection of the better economy. Josh has a felony conviction on his record. He was a minor when the crime was committed, but he had a public defender and was charged and convicted as an adult. He served 5 years of probation, which ended way back in 2003. He has been in no other trouble with the law in that time. He’s completely reformed. But I suspect that his record could be why companies stayed away from him. Why risk it if they’ve got dozens of other applicants without felony convictions?

In August, he finally got somewhere. After beginning the process with a telecom company in June, he was finally offered a job. He was also offered a job selling cars. We were faced with the choice of Job A with the telecom company, which had certain, decent income but also several drawbacks, or Job B selling cars, which had low base pay but the opportunity for much more money, while being less physically demanding. He chose Job B.

OOPS.

Job B was a bust. After a long, slow winter where only a couple guys made any real money selling cars, Josh and 3 other guys were let go. The employer wants him to come back when he’s less financially stressed out, though. Apparently being broke stresses Josh out? Who knew?!  So, Josh has been looking for a job again for over a month. He’s returned to the telecom company where he got to pick up midway through their long hiring process, but we’re still waiting to hear if they want to hire him.

Back to the tax situation. Josh is friends with a tax attorney. Last summer, this wonderful, kind person offered to handle our tax situation for free. Obviously we said yes. I immediately began the process of sorting two years of receipts and constructing monthly and yearly spreadsheets of expenditures and income. It took a few days of nonstop work, but I powered through and we turned everything over to the lawyer. Then we waited. I can’t speak to the process in any meaningful way because Josh has handled all of this on his own. There were phone calls and office visits and paperwork to sign. Eventually, all of our back taxes were filed sometime in late 2013, and 2013’s taxes were filed in March of this year.

However, there was a problem. Someone at the attorney’s office incorrectly transcribed Tiny’s social security number, and Josh didn’t catch the error. The IRS caught it, though! About 6 weeks ago, we started getting letters from them about our taxes from some of the years we filed late or amended, but one year was notably missing. We got the answer as to why two weeks ago. Another letter arrived requiring more information about the initial error which has us mis-claiming a dependent with the wrong social security number. So, Josh had to turn that paperwork over to the attorney’s office. They’re working on whatever it is they have to do to fix this, and then Josh will go in to sign the paperwork on Monday, hopefully after proof-reading it. I don’t understand why the initial amendments to the late filings didn’t clear this whole mess up for both years we filed late, but it didn’t.

Remember how I said Josh isn’t working? Yeah. We’re broke. Remember how I said that we lost money the last year we were in business? Well, we didn’t do so hot the year before that, either. Despite some not insignificant penalties and fees for filing late, and despite owing small amounts of money to Missouri and St. Louis City, we are supposed to get refunds that combine to be several thousand dollars. This money wouldn’t be enough to dig us out of our hole entirely, but it would make this mess so much easier to clean up once Josh has a job. So far, we’ve been waiting basically an extra month for it because someone incorrectly transcribed one digit in Tiny’s social security number. Until a couple weeks ago, we were checking the mailbox everyday for this lifeboat to arrive and rescue us. All we got was cast further out to sea.

We’re waiting on a monolithic telecom company to decide Josh’s employment fate. We’re waiting on the lawyer’s office to fix this mess – again! – so we can wait – again! – for the IRS to send a check for the two years that we waited to file taxes for. Our landlord is waiting another month, maybe two, to evict us. I’m waiting for Josh to stop being the weird person he’s been the last couple years, and Josh is waiting for me to magically like him again. Tiny isn’t waiting for anything and is chugging right along to her approaching third birthday.
There is no clear moral to any of this, and no neat bow to tie off this boring story. But I know that if I wait around a little longer, it can’t be like this forever.