August 21, 2014

My Room 101 fear/A letter to Sophie

A friend once told me a story about how her father would prepare she and her younger sister for someone with a weapon to attack them unexpectedly.  While sitting in a restaurant waiting for their order to arrive, he might say to them, "A man with a gun busts in through the front door of this restaurant.  What do you do?  Go!" She had an odd childhood, but she became adept at quickly spotting the closest exits and locating objects in her vicinity that could be used as makeshift weapons.

There's a great deal of evidence that mentally rehearsing the details of the way you want something to happen greatly increases the likelihood of the desired outcome.  And I find myself doing this.

Every parent I've ever talked to knows the fear.  THAT fear.  You can take away anything and everyone else, lord, but don't take my baby.  I can't be in a world in which she is not.  I thought I was the only one whose thoughts and worries about it bordered on psychotic at times, but another friend recently admitted she was terrified to drive her daughter anywhere in the car because ..."what if I crash the car and hurt her?  I worry so much that it makes me physically ill sometimes."

One of the things I fear the most is kidnapping.  I am terrified of it in every single nook and cranny of the world--even in my own house.  Someone could take you right out of your bedroom!  We can be at the playground and you run off and play on the other side of a mammoth wooden play structure with 100 different places to climb and hide.  We can be at the library and you walk around to the other side of the bookshelf that I am on. 

My first thought:  I can't see her.

My second thought:  It's okay.  She's just over there.  Safe.

My third thought:  Some pervert could be just on the other side of a bookshelf waiting for a chance.  He might have been hanging around for hours.  But if he succeeds just once it's worth it to him.

My fourth thought:  This is the children's section of the Morgantown Public Library fer chrissakes.  She's probably okay to wander around it for at least a couple of minutes.

I might position myself strategically between the two exits of the fenced-in playground and feel assured for a moment while you're playing out of sight.  But just a heartbeat too long and I have to find you.  I physically have to.  I am incapable of letting down my guard.  The moment I do, the worst will happen.  I just know it.

Maybe I am overly protective; I honestly can't tell.  What I do know is this:  An old man tried to lure me into the trunk of his car once at Teter Lake while my stepdad was fishing.  I hid inside a pine tree and watched him until he finally gave up and left.  Even then I knew what men did to little girls; this was not my first rodeo.

That was around 1984.  Things in 2014 are exponentially more fucked up.  So I cope with my anxiety by mentally rehearsing.  Kidnapping is what I practice for the most.

I remind myself of what my priorities should be across any potential setting:  get license plate number; note physical description of suspect(s)--god forbid there's more than one; have current picture of Sophie immediately ready to show to anyone who will look at it; remember exactly what she's wearing--what kind of Band-Aids is she wearing today?  Was that scrape on her left knee or right? Sometimes I mentally freeze the scenario in my mind and study all the people in my mental image's vicinity.  What did they witness? 

Once police action is under way, Who should I call first?  Her father, of course.  I remember that I can never remember his cell phone number.  I can recall the phone numbers of my 1st and 2nd grade boyfriends, but I cannot remember the phone number of my partner.  The father of my child.  Then call my mom and dad.  Does my mom have my dad's phone number?  I have to be sure she does.  That way I only have to make one call.  Then they will let everyone else know.  I have to practice it all in my head to increase my confidence of actually being able to react quickly and rationally if the real situation were to come true.  There aren't very many days when I don't think about it at least a little.

Yesterday evening in my hometown--40 miles away and in a town with less crime than my current one--two young men were spotted in multiple places trying to lure little girls to their car.  I practice how I will teach you to protect yourself.  Maybe it would be a good idea to test you--get a friend who is unknown to you try to pick you up.  Maybe around age 6 or 7?  I can't tell if that's totally messed up or not. I don't want you to be fearful and timid in the world; just savvy and alert.  If the ability to spot a sticker of any kind from a mile away is any indication, you don't miss much. 

Worrying about protecting you has become an outlet for my previously free-floating hypervigilance.  I always think that when you are a little older I will worry less.  But I know that's not true.  I may worry about a different variety of things, but the worries themselves will only wear ruts deeper into my psyche.  It is a constant effort to keep them in check.

July 30, 2014

A return to the beginning

This evening I had the chance to hang out with the Andy sisters.  We were neighbors up until T. and I were in the 6th grade.  Sophie came with me.  It was the oddest thing--spending time with people from the opposite ends of my spectrum.

We hadn't lived in our house on Lawman Ave. very long when they moved in.  It was early evening at the beginning of September, and my mother was allowing me to make my first practice run darting across all the neighbors' backyards to return home from my grandparents' house on the other side of the block ("Don't stop anywhere.  Don't talk to anyone.  Come straight home.").  I sincerely didn't MEAN to stop.  I was running home with my tangled hair flying behind me when I spotted the two girls who weren't there earlier.  I stopped in my tracks.

They were exploring their small fenced in backyard.  Girls to play with.  I was terribly shy and had absolutely no idea how to approach them, so I did the next best thing and stared openly at them from behind the trunk of a tree.  The tree in which we would eventually spend so much time.  They quickly spotted me and called out.  I froze in terror.  I felt silly continuing to hide at that point, but I had no idea what else to do.

Soon after I found my hiding spot, someone came home and brought the girls food from McDonald's.  Oh, surely these were the luckiest girls alive!  My stomach growled watching them eat their dinner.  One of them--I can't remember which--held out some french fries in my direction.  An invitation.  Food!  My shyness couldn't resist and I left the safety of the tree.  I completely forgot that I was supposed to be going home for dinner.

July 29, 2014

Through rose-colored glasses

I rounded the corner from the produce section to the meat department by way of the deli counter. I remember because I made a conscious effort not to buy any pimento cheese spread and 99 times out of 100 I manage not to. Anyway, I spotted the bag full of tiny plastic cups--marked "Party Cups"--on display at the end of a rack next to the booze room. I immediately thought, "Sophie would love these!" since she is partial to all tiny and/or colorful things, particularly things capable of pouring. I often bring her some small item from the grocery store (a sheet of stickers, a ripe avocado, a fruit she's never tried--and here it is more like 1 time out of 3 in the managing not to), and after doing a quick mental calculation of the ratio between the odds of injury and/or mess and the odds of fun and possibly educational in some fashion, I grabbed them.

They thrilled her, of course, and she immediately began stacking and unstacking them and admiring them in the sunlight.

Ivan walked into the living room drying his hands on a little green towel and observed, "Shot glasses."

"What?" I was confused.

"Shot glasses," he said again. "You bought our daughter shot glasses. I mean, Party Cups? Come on!"
I hadn't really thought of them that way, but, truly, I'm not sure I can recall having any OTHER kind of party with cups this size. Though there are no doubt an infinite number of ways to do so.

July 23, 2014

Mugs is a funkfest; someone's talking junk.

One of my "neighbors" down over the hill is blasting "Jump Around." It's like 1992 all over again. Which was a good year, incidentally. But c'mon, WVU students, I still have a couple weeks before I have to deal with this middle of the night business. Pack it up, pack it in.

July 9, 2014

Something in the universe wants me to buy pasta.

Yesterday when Ivan came home from work, he said, "I have to show you what Monica gave me."

"Who is Monica?"  I asked.

"A co-worker," he responded, "and a--what do you call it?--'couponer.'"

He proudly brought over five coupons for Barilla brand pasta and warned, "They're only good for a couple more days.  At Giant Eagle."  Apparently if we were to buy any two boxes of Barilla pasta, we could save $0.55.  Five times.

I didn't really take him that seriously.  I vaguely wondered how this had come about (Did she bring them specifically thinking he would want them?  Did she have them and he expressed interest?), but truthfully was tired from a long day and it didn't seem important.

"So should I go to the store and get them?" he asked hopefully.

"What?  No.  Ten boxes of pasta?  Are you insane?"

He seemed surprised.  I continued, "Besides, I guarantee the store brand we buy for a dollar and like just fine is cheaper at full price than Barilla pasta is with these coupons.  In fact, I would put money on it.  Which seems ironic."

"Oh, okay," he said with a hint of disappointment.  "I just thought it would save us some money."

Looking back, I think I was not very charitable in that conversation.  His financial habits have often been a point of contention in our relationship.  I'm the one always suggesting ways to save money.  I'm the one giving lectures about cutting back, doing without.  And while it seemed strange to want to buy ten boxes of pasta when we only eat it on occasion and out-of-the blue to bring home coupons, this was a genuine attempt on his part to please me in that way.  I should have been kinder.

Sophia, however, was excited to come across the little stack of colorful papers that were now on the end table.  She carried them around the rest of the evening, and added them to her collection of colorful paint swatches that she like likes to pull in and out of the little drawer of her table and the microwave of her play kitchen.  At bedtime, she grabbed her favorite two blankets and two stuffed rabbits, and then rushed over to scoop up the coupons.  She often takes random things to bed with her.  Since she's so good about her bedtime and can chatter to herself and play happily for as much as an hour if she's not yet tired, I didn't think anything of it.

This morning she brought all the coupons back down to the living room with her, and when it was time to go she grabbed those, too.  "Honey, why don't you put the coupons on the table and then you can play with them again when we get home?"  I suggested.  She smiled at me and carried them over and tucked them into the little side pocket of the bag I was carrying.  I laughed.

So.  Here I am.  With the capacity to purchase 10 boxes of discounted pasta, sitting at my desk.

July 1, 2014

A tiny, stoic sentry

At the end of every day, when I crawl into bed next to my husband, there is a part of me that stays alert, a little part I save just for my daughters in case they need it -- a tiny, stoic sentry who never sleeps and guards her post alone.

- Kate Rope, The Bittersweet Loneliness of Motherhood

May 5, 2014

My family on Earth is so good to me.

[From a letter to a friend nearly a year ago--reflections on relocation.]

I don't know where to begin.

For the past couple weeks, in particular, I keep looking around thinking, "What the fuck has happened to my life?"  The first two days back in WV I cried constantly.  My mother settled into a chair with a tall glass of wine (with ice) and a bunch of cats on her lap to watch some nameless legal show and ignored me.  It was like being 14 all over again.

I feel homesick, although for what or where I really can't say.  Most likely I just feel homesick for one of my grandparents' front porches in the early 80s, when I had seen or experienced very little of the world and when all I needed was an extra five minutes to play outside before dinner or to finally distract my grandpa from his baseball game so he would talk to me instead ("Papaw, have you ever had a mustache?  How old were you?  How long did you have it?  Would you ever have one again?").  Obviously, I can't go back there.

And that leaves me here.

My friend came to see me.  Judith.  She lived in an identical apartment above me when I lived at 3333 W. Grace Street in Richmond, VA.  23221.  I met her shortly after I moved in.  One weekend morning I was unpacking and cleaning and whatnot, and waiting for my landlord to come and unclog my kitchen sink so I could move on with my day.  Suddenly my upstairs neighbor drained the dishwater in HER sink and my kitchen began flooding.  I threw on my flowery bathrobe and ran upstairs to plead with her to please, PLEASE plug her sink!  Just for now.  Her large dog (a boxer mix named Jojo to whom I would later sing, "Jojo left his home in Tuscon, Arizona for some California grass...") came charging and barking to the door.  After some delay, she cautiously peered out through her cracked front door.  She seemed nice but a bit reserved and more than a little startled by my dramatic, breathless appearance at her front door on a Saturday morning.

When she wanted to visit me upon my unceremonious return to the area, I warned her that I was staying at my father's and he lived a little off the beaten bath.  She said adamantly, "I will find you."  And she did, thank god.  Spending a couple days with her and watching her play with my daughter made me feel normal--like my old self for awhile.

This morning at 6am I stood at my father's kitchen sink eating a half sandwich with last night's slow roasted pork and surveying the landscape, and it felt good.

I can't say much for the events that have taken place in between Judith's visit and that sandwich.

I had a job interview on Friday.  At [a local mental health facility] in Clarksburg, WV.  It is located just feet away from the old hospital in which I was born, and it was a completely baffling experience.  The two women who interviewed me were as sweet as could be and incredibly informal.  Mary Sue and Peggy.  They stared at my resume and then up at me and said, "What brings you here from San Francisco?"

Oh, ladies.  If only I could succinctly answer that question.

The were puzzled as to why I had a PhD in psychology but no license to practice therapy.  At one point, one of them asked the other, "Did you see on her resume that...." The other one cut her off:  "I read it," she said.  "I read every bit of it."

They seemed to want to try to fit me in SOMEwhere in the organization and promised to talk to their HR to see what they could offer me.  "Honey, you might not even want the job after you see the salary," Mary Sue warned.  Possibly as much as $40,000/year less than I made at my last position.

Oh, Mary Sue, I want it.

I heard them talking about me before I was even down the hall.  "She's so nice!" was the main thing I heard.

I am nice.

My mother was dogging San Francisco as a place to raise a child.  "I hear frogs outside every night!" she bragged, as if that fact alone were enough to sufficiently make her point.

"Yes, but I could count every person of color in my high school on one hand and I can still remember all their names!" I countered.  "Because there were so few of them."

"We have the Mexicans and the Orientals here now," she offered.

Yes, it's true.  And if they're not picking our produce, they've opened a restaurant.  My friend Shannon tells me there is a popular Chinese restaurant here that keeps a large bowl of Doritos on the food buffet.  And they're very popular.  And everyone still finds it hilarious to joke that the chicken is actually cat.

To be continued.  Sorry.  I didn't even bother to edit this for typos as I usually try to do.  Stream-of-consciousness.  My household is starting to wake up.  Send.