relationships

The Politics of Dating

In Broascaating, you collect a lot of unemployment and you end up out of desperation doing odd jobs for very odd people who really, really liked you on the air.   They almost only ever agreed to an interview just to see if one  looked  as hot as one sounded.     I made it through a couple of interviews….I guess that was because I was actually worthy of being the subject of  their fantasy; Laurinella, Queen of SultryVox, Land of CarboHydratia.    Eeewwwww.   I can remember having some of the creepiest temporary bosses.

Anyway, I was thinking back on my long  career and one particular  period of unemployment appeared front and center on ye olde memory banks or in my mammary banks according to some of my creepier bosses.

I’d been doing a little freelance work for a Houston magazine (heavy on the “free”, by the way).   Days earlier, my editor asked me what I wanted to do next in terms of a subject.

I told her that I really didn’t care–anything would be fine–I wasn’t picky. Whatever. I suggested  she throw out a couple of potential topics.

Right off the bat, she suggested I do an in-depth piece on the Interior Department’s finalized proposal to open 48 jillion  acres of previously off-limits land for oil exploration and drilling.

“Nah, that’s a little heavy. Too many facts and numbers”, I said. “But anything else would be fine. Really. I’m amenable to anything,  seriously.  Just name it.  What other topics do you have in mind?”

She then suggested that I write an article on Venezuelan despot, Hugo Chavez (he was still and alive and killing back then) and his ardent criticism of neo-liberal globalization.

I shook my head and told her no; too many abstract political principles. Nor was I in the mood to do a lot of boring research. Plus my head started to spin. I told her I’d do anything , ANYTHING but that.

She then suggested an overview of Nancy Pelosi’s first two years as Speaker of the House.

I vomited a little in my mouth, then suggested an overview of anything else.

She then told me of her idea for a story about the dating world for older Houstonians. (And by older, I mean age 40 and up)

I thought about it for a second: it had possibilities; some creative potential. There would be no mention of Hugo Chavez or Nancy P.  that I could think of and besides, I was a Houstonian over 40.

I told her I’d do it.

But I quickly learned that I wouldn’t be talking to older Houstonians trying to date. I’d have to become one of the older Houstonians trying to date.

The story, as it was conveyed to me, would be far more interesting if I participated in it. First person perspective.

As in, I should actually go out on a date.

Yeah, uh-huh.

A date.

I’m not even sure what constitutes a date in 2017 much less in what it was in 2008 when I was given this assignment,   Certainly not for a woman whose birth  predates Eisenhower’s incessant rants about then military- industrial complex.   

See, at the time, I hasn’t had a real by God date per se since December 2004.    I was Tin Man rusty and way off my game, but a few years earliermImhad some success at what I called “guerrilla dating”. I attacked it with Gunga Din-like precision; I had the enthusiasm of a Sandinista with new boots during the rainy season.

This was my M.O.—I’d get all tarted up and go to the nearest Barnes and Noble Bookstore (ALWAYS date a literate man and do brick and mortar book stores still esxist?).   I’d find a pretentious stack of books to stand near. If I saw a nice looking man, I’d grab a book and open it. Remember, the book really doesn’t matter, but the title and cover made all the difference .  Just make sure whatever you grab as a prop, makes you look intellectual and even a bit mysterious.

I remember on one occasion, I actually trained my eyes to go Marty Feldman. Seriously! One eye scanned the room looking for a mark, while the other focused on the book allowing me to feign interest in the Runic alphabet. I didn’t get that many dates, but I learned that Runic/Futhark is Runic for “how’s it hanging”.

That should come in handy if I’m ever going out with a holdover who’s lineage is that of the ancient Goths.

Still, I remember being nervous about all of it.  The dynamics of dating had changed since I last went out one a date four years prior.  Should I be worried I hasnt changed enough to accommodate all the social changes? But surely, some of the basics were still in existence, right?

All the latest books and authors insisted that men and women have innate “hard wiring” that time can’t change.    The wrote that it all goes back to that feral thing; when we lived in caves, communicated through grunts and screeches and were the mono-browed forebearers to that clever caveman Geico ad campaign eight years ago.

We all saw the movie, “Quest for Fire”, right?    We learned from that flick that prehistoric men looked at women and sized them up as breeding stock. They’d ask themselves, “Is she physically able to bare my progeny and propagate my DNA for generations to come?….Ugh!” If so, he grabbed her by the hair and pulled her into the cave where he would proceed make a big carnal Mesozoic smack dab all over her Jurassic.

So, what’s changed?  Women still do as they did way back then; we look at every man and subconsciously wonder if “he’s the one?”  . We can’t help it. We want to know if these brave, hunter/gatherers can provide for our families.   And by that I don’t  mean bringing home a brontosaurus or fire, for that matter.

But we’re older now, so more than likely, we’ll still size each other up, but for entirely different reasons.

Older men look at older women and hope that we can prepare a meal that’s either low or no sodium and we women will be hoping that men will still be able to—–my God! Is that a crease in his pants or is that his prostate???

Oh yes, things have changed.

And what if sex enters the picture??? There are so many factors now in place that weren’t there years ago. I was 49 then…..(Jeez, really?????) and at the time inconvenienced with “free range” periods–they came and went as they pleased and usually at the worst times!    I had to deal with that, plus, there was the awkward issue of Cialis and Viagra; performance anxiety and feminine…. whatever.

There’s nothing scarier than a “first anything”. Especially a first date. You’ve got a 50-50 chance you won’t like each other physically and if that attraction isn’t there, you know it right off the bat. That’s not to say that perceived looks won’t change as you get to know each other, but rarely will a couple on their first date, ever feel that need and desire at the same time.

The truth is we’re older. Much older.

In fact, too damn old to be dating in the first place.   Writing about it would be fiction.    I’d be Steven Glass  Glass with a better rack.

This whole damn idea is nuts.  Completely insane.   I remember sweating, feeling nauseous and burping up something akin to sulfur.   I called my editor in a complete panic.

So, long story short,  my piece on Hugo Chavez’s disdain of neo-liberal globalization affected his dating rituals  was on her desk and ready to go to print.

Jeez……The things  we do for a paycheck.

,

Good Grief

If I had superpowers at my disposal one would the uncanny ability to remove soapscum from a bathtub at will.

Being a human capable of flight sans an airplane is a superpower I’d love to have.    And never finding onseself in a situation of saying or doing something that would end in regret would be another.

I’m about to quote someone who once heard  Dr. Phil ( I’m not a fan) quote Will Rogers,  “Never miss an opportunity to shut up”, or something like that.    Knowing when to completely self-edit is something I’m keen on trying.

But apparently now isn’t the time to start self-help endeavors.    Lately, I’ve been so incredibly angry.   Hotel reservationsists, and several poor saps at a call center in Mumbai have experienced it firsthand.

And it’s not so much anger as it full on rage.

I’m mourning the loss of a friend and the better part of a ten year relationship that ended in his taking the perpetual dirt nap.   This happened just over two months ago and I’m only now addressing the residual effects of those left behind.  Ours was a complex duet that most most people didn’t understand.    He was an asshole, a crook, a dick.    People freely  called him names without knowing him.  And maybe he wasn’t a shining example of humanity.   I’ve always said I can’t beatify the dead simply for dying,   Still,  he meant something to me.   Even so, I should have defended him more.    But I couldn’t.   I guess after a while, I either weenied out or got tired of the fight because it was easier to allow  people think as they wanted.   I was outnumbered.   I had to dismiss him when he was alive and remain as dismisive in his death.    Now, instead of calling him names, they say nothing at all.    This means  I’ve been doing a lot of mourning all by myself, partly on purpose, partly because his death like his life, remains awkward for people.    Hell, any grieving person is awkward for anyone to deal I don’t care how much empathy or sympathy you think you have.   You can feel shock and be apologetic during the funeral and wake, but afterwards, you get to go to back home to life as you know it.    You’re barely on the periphery.

That sounds like such a luxurious place to be….on the outside and only infrequently looking in.

There are supposedly five stages of grief, first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.   They are the denial and isolation combo, anger,  bargaining, depression and  ultimately,  acceptance.    I understand there are caveats to all of these.  Aits different across the board.  One grief stricken person won’t necesssarily go through the stages precisely as Ross determined them, others will,  some won’t experience any of them.  Others might go through a few of them.

I understand isolation and anger, as little Habib who instists for English speakers, his name is Greg Jones, can surely attempt.  But I consider myself too rational to bargain.     There are no ‘what ifs’ in life, much less in death.   Depression?    Hardly anything new.  Denial?    I’m too much of a realist and acceptance was /is something I’ve always found easy.   Acceptance of all things is immediate with me.   Once I knew my friend was dead, I acceped it.      I didn’t like it, I felt it happened too quickly, so suddenly,  too out of the blue, yet I accepted it.   Like Automatic reflex.

But the anger!!!

I’ve been doing dome thinking and Ive realized there  are subtexts to anger and isolation Ross never considered.

1–The pajamas phase.  It’s very important that we exeperience a denial in terms of personal hygiene.    This means a complete lack of desire to bathe or shower and  a full on need to be consistent in our filth.   Such as wearing sweat pants, pajamas, the same robe or caftan for days and days and days.

Usually there’s weight loss or significant  weight gain during this time.   And if we eat at all, the majority of food becomes part of the daily uniform.    We wear our food.   And the kind of food also matters.    Grocery shopping is out of the question so, we either have food delivered or if that’s not an option,  the minimal amount of effort is using the drive throigh, but if that’s not possible, we eat whatever we can find in the fridge, And this can lead to some very weird  combinations.    For example:  Peanut butter and mint jelly on stale potato chips.

2.   Isolation:    Mourning  is personal .   In the beginning,  well-meaning friends and family call and try to visit and we tell them, no, no, we’re fine, all is well.   We tell them not to come by and we refuse to answer the door if they stop by.   Then, they eventually  stop dropping by, they stop calling as much or completely, which can be a double edged sword.   We want to be left alone,  but we still appreciate the effort.    Wether we admit or not, the concern makes us feel relevant, a little less alone.   But grieving really is an extremely personal process, even with four people living in your house, it can still be a very lonely process.     It makes us uncomfortable and skiddish, even for those who’ve walked in your shoes, even those who know then mourning game first-hand.    The reality of loss is very inconvenient and even more inconsiderate.   It plays by its own rules and often strikes at our core at 3:15 on a rainy Sunday morning, seven months after the funeral.  Sometimes three years later.     Sometimes longer.

3.   We become mini-hoarders.    We endure this isolation and anger sub-phase by becoming quite messy.   There is no order in grief– why should there have any in the life of a gerievinf person.     Our environmental hygiene suffers, too.  Dishes are piled high in the sink.   Bottles, cans everywhere.    Empty food bags and wrappers.     Junk mail is everywhere, mixed in with bills that have gone unpaid.    Days old pizza still in the box on the couch.   Shoes  everywhere.     The ever-growing pile of Mt. Laundry is in the corner of the room with new foothills that can be found throughout the house.

These brief  dalliances with hoarding behavior comes as no surprise.  Hoarding is a direct response to loss.   I don’t necessarily get how or why one feels compelled to cling to an outdated page of Burger King coupons,  but I understand that’s part of the hoarding process.     And hoarding is the result of how a mentally ill person deals with loss.

3.  Emergence.    The darkness in grief can be stunning.  It can take a month or three, but newfound singles who earned that title through the death of a mate or divorce (loss is loss, my friends)  will eventually come around.    Most of us have to.   We have to work.   You have to be wealthy to be have degenerative grief, the all consuming kind that seemingly lasts forever.    When opportunistic  mental illness comes to visit and stays resulting in the way you can only traverse  your home through the tunnels of junk you’ve created then yes, you’re smack dab in the middle of a crisis.    You might not realize there’s problem until  a few TLC producers, a camera crew and a HAZMAT  team knocks on your door.    While those sad cases we see on the TV show, Hoarders: Buried Alive  are the exception rather than the rule, most of us (if we even get to the messy phase) rarely stay there.   We arrive at a point where our reactions to death start to wear  thin.  Basically, boredom can set in.   Monotony.    This is healthy forward progression.  It doesn’t mean we no longer love our dearly departed, or that their death has become any less significant.    It simply becomes a matter of moving on.

It pains me to quote Dr. Phil a second time (I’ve actually gotten more psychological assistance  from watching reruns of Frasier) but he often asks people, “What are you getting out of this?”   Or worse, “How’s that working out for you?”

Shudder, but there is truth in the queries.

Living life in a perpetual state of mourning means you’re not living.   Change is tough, You can’t eat your way through this….or sleep through it.  Stockpiling garbage isn’t a healthy response.  There’s not enough Scotch or Vodka in the world, not a Xanax big enough.   There aren’t  enough carbs to eat your feelings and by contrast, refusing to eat won’t work either.  When your life stops working for you for whatever reason, it’s time to make a change. Yes, you’re heartbroken.   The death of a mate or spouse or a relationship of any kind, even the loss of a job, means the end of an ideal.  It means the death of plans, hopes and dreams and these things are horrendously painful.    So yes, Loss hurts.   Break ups, divorce…terminations of all kinds.    The death after a loved who one lingered  with an illness, a suicide, a sudden massive coronary or aneurism, are all very painful.   After a point, the process by which one arrives at death doesn’t matter; the end result is the same.  So called prep time doesn’t matter.

But if the sadness is overwhelming and not subsiding,  if guilt has beome an unwelcome roommate who won’t leave, if your grief has literally taken over your life, then please seek help.   And if you keep glancing over at that bottle of pills and that quart of whiskey, please, PLEASE  seek help.     Death + death only = more heartache.   It’s the simplest example of negative math.  And if by some chance you are thinking of taking your own life, well depending on your faith, you won’t end up in the same place as your dead wife,  so why bother?

So, rid yourself of ‘end it all thoughts’.    Embrace your curiosity about life and maintain your healthy fear of death.    Be brave enough to dare yourself to wake up tomorrow just to see what the day brings.   Until then, go with your pain….cry, or not,  get angry, feel free to wear sweats containing a poly blend AND  the four basic  food groups for a week.   There’s no rule book.   No game plan.    Just understand that you have ultimate control over all of your feelings.   Please look  for that eventual break in the clouds.    Even tarnished silver linings are better than none at all.

So, wail, cry, shriek.    Punch a wall….I won’t judge.    Just do your best, even in the midst of it all, to understand why your heart aches.    Be very clear and honest within your pain. Death is the ultimate ending.   It’s life’s final play of the game and when it happens to someone  you know and love, it becomes your new reality.  This death is now a part of your life,  a fact that mercifully becomes something  you’re just going to have to live with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closure

heartache_largeA friend of mine contacted me to tell me that a former boyfriend from 37 years ago contacted her recently.    A long four-hour telephone conversation revealed that he isn’t happy with his life and admitted that really, he hasn’t been since they broke up in the mid seventies.    They only dated for a few months–he was her ‘transition boyfriend”, but he never knew that and I don’t think it would have mattered if had an inkling.   He loved this woman, warts and all and knew what she didn’t:  that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

And he would–from a distance and it was with a view that was no better than a few stolen glances over the shoulder of  his rebound wife.    Yes, irony of ironies, the “transition boyfriend” married his “transition girlfriend”.    Of course his marriage to her would be unhappy, for the most part.  Oh, there would be glimmers of happiness; a joyous birth or two, but in the back of his mind,  piercing through every smile would be those damned feelings for ‘her”...THEE girlfriend.  The one that got away.

My friend is currently in a relationship herself.   She says she’s in love.   He’s a man she maneuvered into her life so the move from wife to divorcee would be seamless.

“I could NEVER ever t involved with (insert name here) again.   Ewwwwwww!”

I’ll lay odds that as her marathon conversation with this specter from her past winded down, visions of a life him in some form or fashion crossed her mind.    How could it not?    Name me one normal red-blooded sentient woman who couldn’t let her mind roam down the back alleys of her imagination as she’s being told she was/is the love of someone’s life.   That her absence has been felt every day for almost four decades.   That losing her was and always will be his life’s singularly biggest regret.

I had one of those heartaches.  I had one of those relationships that I let haunt me.   I allowed a simple, acne-faced 15-year-old boy who broke up with me four days into my Freshman year of high school dictate me emotionally for 39 years.       He was there, always present, seething in soul , gripping like a vice.      In some form or fashion, he was there on every date, every uttered “I love you”, every break up, every holiday.

After high school, he went straight to work.   No college for him.    He was a simple guy.   He found a job in the oil patch and never looked back.    He married a women he met in a small town where he’d landed a job;  they married and had kids and last I heard, he had a couple of grandchildren added to his family tree.

Bully for him.

This was the guy who broke up with me before every major gift giving holiday.    I could always count on heartache two to three days before Christmas, my birthday and Valentine’s Day.    Easter,too.   Once, I accused him of being a Jehovah’s Witness, a reference that moved his bangs as it flew over his head.   Yet, I loved the little SOB.   He was my first boyfriend; my first love and at age 12, no less.     In the two years that we were together, he gave me a  yellow smiley face lollipop (which I kept as long as I can remember), a small black pocket  comb with greasy kid stuff still in it  , a very well-worn green and white cap with just as much greasy kid stuff in the inner lining, but the pièce de résistance????     He gave me a corroded silver-colored ring (I’ve yet to find the particular metal ANYWHERE on the table of elements) with green colored stones and three were missing.    He explained that the ring was in his jeans pocket when an impromptu game of backyard football broke out in the neighborhood.

As for the corrosion?   I shudder to think what might have started THAT scientific  process.     He found it, I’m sure but what did that matter?   I didn’t care.    HE gave it to ME.

I was lucky in that I was able to talk to him a few years ago.     A few weeks of phone calls, that’s all.    In that time, I was able to ask him why he left me so suddenly, without a real explanation and without ever really talking to me and he told me that he did so because I was in high school and would probably want to start dating and based on my upbringing he assumed that meant dinners and movies which took time and money–both of which he little of—and he was too embarrassed to tell me.   So, he did the sensible thing and broke up with me.

I can remember going silent at the end of the explanation, the reality that I was devastated by reverse snobbery was sobering.    I don’t remember what was said or even how much longer we talked, but I do remember this overwhelming feeling of release immerse me.    When we last spoke I had no money, only a half ass job, no boyfriend, certainly no modeling contracts or Academy Awards, the Pulitzer had eluded me, as did motherhood and marriage,  but even in the face of all those perceived negatives, I had one bright, shiny positive:  I had an answer to the single most pressing question of my life.

It made up for all the deficits during those holidays 43 years ago.  It was the best thing; the ONLY real thing of value he ever gave me:   the gift of closure.

This, I explained to my friend, is pivotal.     She should meet with this guy from her past that still holds the torch for her or at the very least, send him an email or something that could free him of the hold she has had on him.

“He told me he’s miserable and his marriage is nothing more than a joyless business arrangement.  He’s not happy because it was never what he wanted.” 

Of course it failed.   He settled.

Then, I explained it to her as I saw it, from someone who was haunted by a lost love for so long.  Emotional closure is vital for anyone who’s loved too long and all alone.    My God, is THAT a horrendous way to exist.

Sometimes it takes a gentle shove….a nudge….sometimes a major kick in the ass, but easing the pain is so important.   Not that it’s my friend’s responsibility,  not that it was my ex boyfriend’s either, but being told the real reason–even though it hurt a bit—was incredibly worth all risks, all feelings….everything.      I could stop the doubting;  the incessant wondering how and why.

But the truth is,  I was a lot like Dorothy Gale of the Oz and Kansas Gales.    I had the power to free myself of my emotional  enslavement all along, but I never really knew it.   Perhaps, I did but it served a good purpose.  I used it like a protective layer;  an impenetrable fortress.    Nothing gets near me;  I am safe.     But confines like that also allow nothing in either.   But I used it for as long as I used it–it kept me from getting too close to a lot of people.   So when I finally got the answer to a question that became rhetorical, 39 years ago, I let go.   I suppose it was time.

My life has changed since the  big release, in that he’s really no longer in it.    I rarely think about him anymore.  Oh, he’ll creep in when a song comes on that sweeps me back to 1972, but only in a certain fondness.    I don’t revisit unless a memory is triggered, and lately that trigger has a very secure safety on it.    As for the smiley face sucker?   I kept that for a long time, but eventually mice or other critters who forage storage spaces for food, destroyed it  and I would imagine the comb and cap met the same fate.   The ring, you ask?   I still have it.     It’s in a jewelry box somewhere and there it sits, just as it has for the past 42 years but I would imagine these days, it contains a few less green stones and the curious setting is now probably a lovely rust color.

The idealization of who he was and what he had all those years ago has long dispersed. And that is a very, very good thing;  a process that has taken a very long time.   I am free.  I now have a few well sorted  memories  that I keep in a memory bouquet.  I comprised it like one would order off a menu at a Chinese restaurant:   I’ve taken a few  memories from 1971, a couple from 1972 and one or two from 1973 just to complete the triad of years.

“Please set him free”, I begged my friend.    “You have to do for him what he can’t for himself.  Write him, phone him, telegraph, send a carrier pigeon.   How you do it is your choice, but please, just do it.”

She replied, “Why should I?   I  owe him nothing.  It was a lifetime ago!”

My answer came  surprisingly quick.

I told  her when spend most of your life, loving someone  in your past and it’s that all-encompassing love that burns as it cools, races as it rests; leans as it stands tall and straight, you have no traditional concept of time.   Any prisoner will tell you a 42 year sentence  takes forever to endure, but amazingly, when you look back on it, it  takes all of 42 seconds relive.   And in that time, which transpires quickly then slowly, then back again,  all you can think about  is being free from its clutches.

Freedom.   And  sometimes, for the damnedest of reasons,  freedom isn’t a choice….. but in some cases,  it can certainly be a gift.

She assures me, he’ll be receiving her email soon.

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“Ride At Your Own Risk”

It was damn near impossible for any kid who grew up Texas during the 60’s, NOT to have visited either Six Flags or Astroworld at least once.

These two amusement parks in Arlington and Houston, respectively, were two seminal summer destinations for kids back then.   Which park was always a toss-up, but that was often decided based on proximity and the amount in the family vacation fund. 

I remember being at Six Flags once.  There was a roller coaster there,  safe and completely innocuous by today’s coaster standards, but the prospect of riding the “Runaway Mine Train” absolutely thrilled me.    As I approached the ride, I remember that tingly feeling of anticipation….butterflies, as the old wives’ would call this state of  physical nervosa.

I felt it before every cheerleading tryout…every ballet and piano recital…every collegiate broadcast competition.

I remember seeing the sign at the entrance to this theme coaster: “Ride At Your Own Risk”

The reason for that sign was two-fold:  it was meant to absolve the park from blame in case of accident, which technically it couldn’t and wouldn’t.  And it was also placed there to further the thrill factor for riders.

As I got older, I would think about that sign and it became even more relevant when I got old enough to view life as the thrill ride it was.  

I remember how a conversation between Grandma and her grandson in law from the movie,  Parenthood resonated with me:  

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around.  I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

I have been on many rides in my life.  They thrilled me, angered me, enticed me, boiled my blood and left me cold.   And I rode each one and all at my own peril.   Were they worth the risk?

Yes, even the kiddie cars.

But the thrill of certain life aspects, namely certain relationships have a way off sullying everything that comes after them.   It’s hard not to get lost in their memory.  That’s why perspective is everything.   Well, that and wanting what’s best.

Maybe even who’s best.

I knew one such “ride”….a million years ago in a place a million miles away.   And it was good.

If this ever happens to you and you think and feel as I do, you’ll notice the ride metaphor never leaves you.  

Trust me, it  doesn’t.    You always miss the thrill and that yearning in your heart and soul allows you to become a veritable carnival worker…a Carnie–just with better teeth and hygiene— with the hopes of being close enough to POSSIBLY experience that lusty, parabolic joy; those amazing ups and downs;  love and lust’s wonderfully never static nature, just one more time.

Nothing else can explain why I have had this ridiculous, inexplicable urge to eat Funnel Cake all the time or why I have this need to hire ex-cons or how I now measure the height of all prospective lovers with one of these infamous carnival ride signs:

 

I Had A Few Gong Moments

St. Oprah of Winfrey calls them, “A-Ha Moments”.    My gongers are the exact same thing.

Both are these very specific moments in which something snaps and clarity fills the void that once contained all that purposed ignorance.    It’s as though your eyes (the orbs in the sockets in your face AND the philosophical one in your mind) suddenly open and reality is the only thing you see on the immediate horizon.

Here’s how my Gong Moments went down:

I was taking my evening constitutional around a man-made lake on Houston’s southwest side.   It’s now June here in Houston;  you can practically trip over the brimstone, so needless to say in the midst of this three-mile sojourn around this body of water, I became very hot, very thirsty and I started sweating profusely.  The late evening offered no reprieve from the heat, so in retrospect, I either had a Gong Moment or was enduring a near-death experience.   Either way, it was an enlightening event that once rehydrated, gave me pause.

I’ve always been under the mistaken impression that I had only been in love twice.  The first time at the preposterous age of 12 and then the second time in High School when I fell head over heals for a boy who eventually became a man who like herpes and certain polyps, just won’t go away.  He keeps finding his way back into my life and has on three separate occasions since 1975, mind you.   And I must be honest–contrary to the way I just  described him, I care about him very much.    He happens to be the sweetest and cutest polyp I’ve ever known.  And more importantly, we have this thing; this indescribable bond.    The word “destiny’ is starting to enter into my vocabulary.

And I’m building a special exit for it, too.

You see, really I don’t want to get caught up in such a romantic notion.  Because while I could, I’m choosing not to.   As I walked I realize that I was coming to terms with the fact that I don’t want this relationship to be anything like the ones I’ve had before.    In other words, I…Me…Laurie…n0ne of us want me to behave as I did with other relationships.   I don’t want to get panicked, to feel angst because he didn’t call, I don’t want to worry and let my neediness and co-dependence dictate how it ends.

Yes, how it ends, because when I…me…Laurie act like some inverted narcissist, things never end well.

I was passing a few ducks swimming near the reeds when I realized that my relationships, every one of them, ended for two reasons.

1) There was not enough me in the relationship.   Fear and self loathing kept me distant…

OR…

2) There was too much of me in the relationship.   Fear and self loathing kept me waaaaaaay too close.

It’s all about breathing room and space.  I never got that before.  I was like this ramrod of LOVE ME!!!!    I was selfish because I made it all about me…my wants and needs.    And to tell you the truth,  part of it should have been about me, but proportionately so.   Sadly, I never saw the my own relevance; my own worth in any of my relationships.  Desperation might have looked as though I loved others, but I didn’t.  It was just covering up the fact that I got lost in that concept of love and never held an iota of anything back for me.

It didn’t matter if it was love or not.  I had no self-respect.  That was the problem.

GONG MOMENT #1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was my own problem.

Wow.   And I didn’t fully grasp what love was.

When I was 12 and in seventh grade and met ‘that boy’, that started my career of falling in love with love.    That never lasts.

Years later when my Recidivist Lover first entered my life,  I loved a bit more maturely.   Even more so when he appeared on my doorstep in Austin a decade later and these days, 25 years after the last break up, I am the President of the Maturity Club.   What I feel is so different.    So much so, that I have to question what it is that I’m actually feeling?  I’m calmer.  And that’s an alien sentiment;  I’ve never felt like this before.  Perhaps it comes with the territory of being 52.

So, is this love?

Well, I suppose I could answer that by going all 1st Corinthians on you, but I won’t.    What I will do is admit that I like how this feels.    I like him and I like the way he feels in my life; when we’re together and when we’re apart.  I like the way we feel.  He doesn’t take and give nothing back.  He brings something to the table and willingly leaves it there, when he leaves.  There’s no compromise. We offer each other options and in the face of so many choices, we choose to be together when we can and when that can’t happen, we’re fine with being apart.  Even so, we never feel forced to choose style over substance.  I love that and I love that right now, he provides the salt that adds much-needed flavor to my life.  He has become this wonderful exclamation point that’s brought pathos and sensation to it, too.

And be helps me bring me civility to the forefront.   A few weeks ago, we argued over politics, while still holding hands.

GONG MOMENT #2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My God…am I…gulp…actually happy????    Me??????

Maybe I am, but am I in love?    I don’t think I am.  But I am committed to wanting this man in my life in any form that takes and for some reason, that feels very, very right for who and what I am at this stage of my life.

GONG MOMENT #3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow.  I’m happily NOT in love.

Guess that’s why I am so totally okay with the fact that the relationship we have is far from perfect.  At times, it’s downright insane.   In fact, Nietzsche, Mr. Crabby Appleton himself, once wrote, “there’s  always some madness in love.”

And then again, there’s always some reason in madness.

EPILOGUE

I walked my three miles while doing butt clinches every third step.   I then drove my Cheeks of Tungsten home where I happily sought solitude and sanctuary.  No phone; no computer to distract me.   Not that night.  I wanted to be alone.

I wanted to be all by myself  to  revel solo in the wonderfully fulfilling insanity that comes with being with this man, whether we’re together…

Or apart.

And then the gong broke.

UPDATE 12/5/12

My, my….how wrong was this gong.

I was never in love.  Never.  I was operating  from a position of fear based on some impending life changes that I didn’t want to deal with alone.  Silly when I think about it now, but it was a classic case of ‘needing’ more than ‘wanting’ ,  a situation that  never ends well.

I’ll accept most of the blame; but not all of it.  Not only was the timing wrong, the object of my affliction was/is/will always be way too self-absorbed.   And this isn’t coming from a place of resentment.  The truth is I could have said this about him 27 years ago; I’ll be able to say that about him 27 years from now.    He’ll never change.   But I was pathetically willing to accept crumbs.    Fools act foolishly when blinded by anxiety.

But in the years since writing this post, I’ve forgiven myself for my naiveté; for my desperation.   And even in the bleakness of this period in my life, I was able to come away with some invaluable knowledge:  sometimes the biggest assholes in our lives; the biggest pain inducers,  are the very best teachers.

Consider me schooled.

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We Grew Older Together While Apart

I headed west this past weekend, to see a man I once loved, in a city where I once lived. 

And in the wee hours of Sunday morning,  when I was in the throes of insomnia, I watched him as he lie next to me sleeping.   A 53-year-old man’s face is interesting when illuminated by a  clock radio on the bedside table.  The light, while muted and a greenish hue, was enough to allow me to see the contours of his face.  He’s aged, but time has been kind.   Even so, I remembered how he looked decades ago;  he’s still handsome, but I remember his was a young, fresh face;  before life had etched its tale tell presence in the form of crow’s-feet and other lines.   I reached out my hand and cupped his cheek.  He smiled, either because he knew I was touching him or perhaps, like a baby, it was just gas. 

Anyway….

I spent 48 hours with him and spent a great deal of that time trying  to determine where I am in this relationship.   All I know, is that I still don’t know, but for some reason, it’s OK.     There’s something oddly stable about feeling unstable in this relationship in particular.  Odd, I know, but that feeling is very real.   Perhaps I’m waiting and biding my time in an effort to earn this relationships  so if and when love  corrals us both, it’ll feel more deserved.   

As it stands, this is a long distance relationship.  We live about 400 miles apart so we can only see each other about every four to five weeks.    It isn’t easy, but it’s not that hard, either.   I think part of the mass acceptance of our situation is that we’re now in our early 50’s .  Passion is still good and heightened,  but as we’ve grayed, it has slowed and patience plays a much bigger role.   The urgency of youth that once fueled the frenetic nature of the couple we once were, is no longer there.   The pace is manageable; calmer and I like the way that feels.

I continued to stare at the face that’s lived in my memory for more than three decades.   With my mind, I traced the years the we’ve known each other; with my eyes, I traced his laugh lines;  I gently touched the jowls that weren’t there before.   I noticed the gray in his goatee and around his temples–proof of his half a century sojourn on this planet.  None of that matters.  I have missed this man  more than even I was aware.  We reconnected last May and prior to that, I hadn’t laid eyes on him since the early spring of 1986.     That’s  25 very long, event filled years.

We had a horrible break up.  We were young and selfish and both very, very career oriented and really, unwilling to cut the other any slack to pursuit our careers.   He was in his sophomore year of  persuing a lifelong career with big dreams and I was going to be the next Jane Pauley and would inflict nightmares on anyone who got in my way.   We both attained some success in our chosen careers, but as he climbed the ladder of fortune and fame,  he did the responsible thing and got married and of course,  had children. 

I just spent years dating them.  

And that’s one of the principle reasons I like the man this man has become.  He’s not a child.  I love his steadfastness.  He’s very sure of himself and what he wants and doesn’t want.    He divorced a year ago–not his decision–but he’s wizened quite a bit since becoming forcibly single.   That’s only added to this air of certainty and polish.    I must have done some improving and polishing along the way because we now seem  far better suited to each other now.   We’ve both grown up, personally and professionally; emotionally and mentally.    The things that identified him in his career are on a back burner somewhere.    He’s now a successful entrepreneur.  I’m still in broadcasting, but I have no desire to be on the air anymore.   I can see the end of the line where as before, my life in this crazy industry was on this road that went on forever.   I like that my career is finally finite.    I think this has helped enable us to be able to appreciate and respect what each other has done and all the effort and sacrifice that went into achievement.  

What a difference a quarter century makes.  

I say that because in 1986,  I think we resented each other.   His career aspirations took up too much of his time away from me;  pursuing my broadcast dreams meant I had to move away from him.   We locked horns.

Why was this a factor?  Well, I guess the relationship was dying and mutual resentment and hostility became vestiges that the end was near.     And it was.   And frankly, it needed to die when it did, but time heals all wounds.    In spite of it all, I’ve never forgotten this man and really, never stopped loving him.  To have him back in my life is good for me.  I hope it’s good for him, too.  I’d like to think it’s good for both of us because it’s now happening on our terms, as adults.

All these things raced through my mind as I reached out again, this time to run my fingers through his hair.  He wears his shorter now.   I thought about how much of his life hasn’t included me.    But I lied there wanting to believe that was for a reason; as if a part of a divine plan.   There was a reason for the huge gulf of years between us.  My life for the past several years haven’t been happy ones.    From 1988 to early 2005,  my life and a garbage disposal were right on par and while I can’t compare his existence to as household appliance, I can assume by his acrimonious divorce that the last several years couldn’t have been a walk in the park.   Perhaps, we’re together now because this is the right time to be together.   Had it happened two years ago or two years from now, it could never or would never have worked. 

Is it perfect?   No and for that I’m also grateful.  I have come to revel in flaws.  His paunchy gut;  my ever-expanding ass and escalating chins.  We like each other and when  there’s mutual admiration; when you’re friends, you’re so much more forgiving.   Liking someone is special and engrossing, often so much more than love can be.   And perhaps that’s why we don’t give anything that we have any kind of  title or label.    True, he’s still nursing some wounds and I’m finally allowing the self-inflicted ones to start healing and this period of recuperation places us in a very unique situation.    There’s a great deal to our relationship that’s unspoken, but understood.  Glances and gentle caresses speak volumes.   We don’t say “I love you”, yet we speak of a future together.   We don’t call ourselves “a couple”, yet we love being together.   We can only spend very little time together, but that only makes it more wonderful when we do.

Twenty-five years ago, a relationship as seemingly sporadic as this would have been the last thing I would have wanted.   Today, it’s all I could ask for.

I took one last look at his man.    A glorious sensation came over me.  I was gazing at my past to be sure, but I also felt certain I was also looking at my future–whatever that might entail.  The outcome will be what the outcome will be…..so, for the time being, everything felt wonderfully fused.  There’s still such a wonderful connection between us; a most welcomed symbiosis.   I have rarely felt that in my life outside of my years with this man.   This made me feel satisfied.  I felt that life had finally attained the status of “good”. 

Life felt ‘right’.

I glanced over at the clock radio on the nightstand.   

It’s still mercifully dark at 5:45 these days.  That was my cue to get up and run to the bathroom and the safety of my carefully packed swaddling clothes before any light of any kind can shine on any of my more offensive body parts.   Oh yes, make no mistake, we care about each other very much and we are older, more mature and so much more forgiving, but I’d rather that the relationship evolve a bit more into a more solid mass–perhaps with an actual title or label–before I allow him to catch a  glimpse of the ravages of time on my naked body in an upright position…..namely my two independently undulating butt cheeks and boobs that I kick when I walk.

 f

The Clothes Hamper: A True Story

It was June, 1967 and I was eight years old.

Earlier that year, my parents decided to break free of the shackles of abject middle classdom and create nothing short of a castle for themselves and their children.

So, on a hill in the little traveled part of the small South Central Texas berg we called home–on land owned by maternal grandfather (and given to us gratis) , Mother and Daddy built a five bedroom monstrosity–replete with gables, a multi-car garage, an intercom system…and all the other 60’s era trappings that would tell the slack-jawed yokels who’d come to gawk, that the Kendrick’s had in fact, “arrived”.

This home was my mother’s self described “dream home” and in the first half of ’67, she and my father made frequent trips to an architect in San Antonio to fine tune the blueprints. On this particular day, they’d be going back to the architect to resolve a kitchen issue and would be leaving the minute Daddy got back from a breakfast meeting.

School had only been out for summer break a few days and I had already gotten in trouble and being grounded was my punishment. I can’t even remember the infraction, but I was forbidden to leave the house, nor could anyone come over to play. This included a moratorium on playing with Fran who was a year younger and lived next door.

Anyway, I was being punished and my oldest sister, Kathy–in all her 14 year old authority– would serve as part warden/part baby-sitter that day.

My father finally drove up into the garage and started honking the car horn, which was code for “wife, get out here and let’s leave”.  Out the door went Mater with a final warning, reminding me that I was NOT to step foot out of the house, nor could anyone come over to play.

“Yes..yes. Have a safe trip. We’ll see you both when you get back from San Antonio this afternoon. Bring us back a surprise”.

And off they drove.

I went to the den and flipped on the TV. Three channels and nothing was on. I’d read every book. Every “Highlights Magazine” hidden picture had been found. There wasn’t anything to do.

The phone rang. It was Fran.

“Hey Laur, watcha doin’?”

“Nuthin’. I’m really bored. Watchu doin”?

“Nuthin’, I’m bored too. Wanna meet in the alley and play? Or climb trees in Dr. Buck’s yard?”

“Nah, I can’t. Mom and Dad left about an hour ago for San Antonio and I’m grounded and can’t play outside or anything”.

“Then can I come over? Then maybe we can make Brownies in your Kenner Easy-Bake oven!  Or maybe we could make some Incredible Edibles?”

“Sounds fun Fran, but Kathy is baby-sitting me and I’m not supposed to have anyone over”.

“Well, make a deal with her!”

“OK, hold on. Let me think of something”.

Just as I put my hand over the receiver and yelled “Kathy???” she walked in the room and firmly said “No!”

“But I haven’t asked you anything yet!”

“It doesn’t matter, the answer is still no”.

 She plopped down in a chair and started reading a magazine. She was thumbing through a story about the fab/gear countenance of the The Beatles.

“Fran, she said no. I guess we can’t play today”.

“Come on, Laurie, she’s teenager. Can’t you convince her? Do something. Try blackmail!”

I thought for a minute.

” Kathy, remember a few weeks ago when you had that mark on your neck?”

She put her magazine down and looked at me with an eyebrow slightly raised. “Yeah, it was from an accident in Science class…So?”

“Yeah uh-huh, that’s what you told Mom and Dad, but since when are Tommy Bronwin’s lips considered “science class”?

“What are you talking about?”

“It was a hickey and NOT a mark caused by getting too close to the Bunsen Burner at school, Kathy. I overheard you and Wanda on the phone. You were talking about making out with Tommy”.

Kathy looked angry. She slammed the magazine down right on Ringo.

“OK, what do you want in exchange for your silence?”

“I won’t tell Mom and Dad about the hickey, if you let Fran come over and play.”

“OK, but she has to leave before they get back which should be around four this afternoon. If she comes over now, that leaves you guys a few hours to play. So, we have a deal, right?”

“Right”. I picked up the receiver once again. “OK, come on over.”

We hung up and Fran rang the front doorbell in a matter of minutes.

We immediately went to my room to play with my Little Kiddles and their self contained dollhouse.  Fran and I marveled that my dolls had been out of their plastic perfumed bottles for weeks and still smelled like strawberry, lilacs and one scent we couldn’t identify.

When we tired of  Kiddling, we moved on to “Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots”. Fran knocked my block off. Then, we switched to playing “Operation”.   Just as I was about to remove the appropriately shaped “wrenched ankle”, Fran said she was thirsty.

She followed me to the kitchen where in the fridge, there was an ice cold pitcher of “Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry”…

The newest flavor in the “Funny Face” cavalcade of powdered drinks. Just as I was pouring her a glass, I heard Kathy scream.

“They’re back! Oh no! Mom and Dad are back early. I just heard the car pull up in the drive way. Get rid of Fran! Get rid of Fran!!! If they find her here, we’ll both be grounded for life and I’ve got another Bunsen Burner session planned with Tommy Bronwin this weekend!”

Kathy was in a panic.

I wasn’t. I was calmly going to take Fran out the front….but wait!!!! Was this possible??? Mom was coming through that door. Damn! She’d gone around the front to get the mail. My father was entering through the back door. We were being tag teamed! All escape routes were blocked. There was only one thing to do:

I had to hide Fran and the only place I could think of was the the built-in clothes hamper in my parents’ bathroom.

Why there? I don’t know. It seemed like the perfect place; the ONLY place to hide her at the time.

I shoved Fran inside and closed the small, double doors just as my father was entering the bathroom. He told me in no uncertain terms to “get the hell out” and shut the door behind me. Something was obviously wrong. He didn’t look well.

I went into the kitchen just as mother was putting the mail on the table.

“What’s wrong with Daddy?”

“Oh, he had Mexican food at his breakfast meeting this morning and you know what does to his stomach. We had to make three emergency bathroom stops on the way to San Antonio before we decided to just turn around and come back home”.

Just then, I heard the bathroom fan power up. Uh-oh. Either he was firing up the hibachi or whatever business he had in there, was serious.

I sat at the table with my mom as she sorted through the mail. I tried to figure out what to do. Fran was trapped in that cramped clothes hamper in a hot, tiny bathroom with my father, apparently in full intestinal distress.

What should I do? Was Fran OK?

Five minutes went by and suddenly, the whole ridiculous reality of what was happening struck me as funny and I started giggling. Mother asked me why I was laughing and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I knew I’d be grounded until I was ten, but I had to do something because I started worrying about Fran’s mental and physical health.

Just then, the door of the bathroom opened and my father walked out and announced that he was feeling better and that he was going back to the office to get some work done. As he left the house, I told Mom to follow me into the bathroom.

She was muttering something about having a “death wish” going in there and she was right.  When we got to the bathroom door, “it” hit us.   The atmosphere was–for lack of a better adjective–“thick”.

It was horribly, HORRIBLY obvious that the Mexican food breakfast my father had eaten earlier, had retaliated in a most egregious way. It’s exit from tubular prison in my father’s lower G.I. must’ve been loud, explosive and extremely painful experience for my father….. and for Fran.

I opened the hamper doors and peered inside.

There she was; silent, motionless. She was huddled in a semi-fetal position, in the far corner of the hamper. Her face was pressed against the wall. She turned to look at me, her eyes squinting in the bathroom light. She looked dazed, she was sweating profusely and her face was pale with a greenish hue. She’d stuck two of my father’s black Gold Toe dress socks in each nostril, apparently in an attempt to thwart the stench.

She was clenching one of my mother’s bras.

I helped her out, pulling off soiled underwear and dirty shirts which had stuck to her sweat-soaked clothing. I gently removed the socks from her nose. Automatic reflex and I guess, survival mode took over–she fought me on it.

Mother lit matches and waived them around the room. Futile effort—they weren’t helping.

The odor was horrible.

Garbage scowl bad.

Bayonne in August bad.

“Laurel Anne Kendrick”, my mother said in between gagging fits. “Would you care to explain why Fran is semi-conscious and lying in a pile of dirty clothes in the hamper in my bathroom while your father was making stinkies?”

I replied, “Not now Mom. Help me with Fran”.

The petite seven-year-old was shaking. Her strawberry blond hair was matted and damp. Mother and I grabbed each arm and we walked her into the kitchen, away from the “hot zone”. She was wobbly.

Fran sat down at the table and was trying to speak. The only thing intelligible was the word “water”. Mother poured her a glass and I asked her if she was OK.

She gulped down two full glasses before finally being able to say, “I’m fine”. She then took a deep breath, let it out through her mouth, then looked at mother and me. “But I think the bigger question is how’s your father?  From the sound and smell of it, I’d say he’s pretty sick.”

We let Fran sit for a minute to compose, we then walked her to the front door and I apologized. She said that I should forget about it, but the experience had allowed her to rule out nursing as a possible career.

She then rubbed the back of her head and retrieved a sock that had been hiding there. She handed it to Mom.

I closed the door behind her and felt my mother’s glare on my back. I turned around slowly and saw her standing there, hands on hips and then she uttered the infamous one-word sentence that mother’s utter, “Explain!”

I told her what happened and instead of getting yelled at, she started laughing. She immediately went to the phone and called my father at his office and told him that he wasn’t alone in the bathroom.

Well, as expected, I was grounded for an additional month and lectured about the importance of privacy. My sister, Kathy was placed on house arrest for two weeks for her complicity in “the bathroom affair”.

As time went by, we never talked about “Potty Gate”  very often,  but for a while there, Daddy instantly checked every cabinet large enough to contain a small child in every bathroom he entered.

My parents eventually got new house blue prints made to their exact specs and within a year, we moved into Casa Kendrick.

The new house had four bathrooms and not one of them had a clothes hamper…..built in or otherwise.

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