All of my kindred spirits seem to be people I can’t access in person or to the depth I like. Why would my soul choose such a lonely journey? Such as it is I take the tiny morsels whenever I can get them.
A long time ago I used to work in the Forest Products office at Oregon State University. I worked with my best friend Debbie, a boss who was so stupid sometimes I wondered if it was possible for someone to be that dumb, and a sociopath named Bonnie. Bonnie was…I can’t even begin to describe her in a single word except to say she was a sociopath. She could and did make life hell for a lot of people. She was also very annoying. She was possibly the most negative person I have ever met. If it was sunny, she complained that it was too hot and should be rainy. If it was rainy, she complained it was raining. If we had work to do, she complained that she had work to do and that she was the only one who could possibly do it. If we didn’t have work to do, then she complained because she was bored. She didn’t like her chair. She would get another chair and wouldn’t like it and go back to the original and then complain about it. She had gossip to share on every single person who walked in our door and even those who didn’t. It was a guarantee that as soon as you left the room she was dishing something about you and turning anything you did into something to complain about and to use to make you look bad. The only consolation with her was that she was an equal-opportunity sociopath so if she didn’t have her sights set on you, she was going after someone else and there were a lot of other people for her to choose from.
Most of the time I worked with Bonnie was pure hell. Six months after I started working in the lab, I was wondering if I was crazy. Between the boss who couldn’t figure out how to explain the most basic assignments to this constantly complaining crazy woman who had something nasty to say about every human who walked into the office, I seriously thought I was losing my mind. Luckily, I made friends with Debbie and discovered that no, I wasn’t nuts, the office was. She helped me stick it out (until I got pregnant and realized I didn’t want the loony factory anywhere near my growing fetus, but that’s another story).
Sometimes working with Bonnie could be fun. It wasn’t fun because of anything Bonnie did to make it fun, but because Debbie and I could see what she was doing and it would make us roll our eyes and laugh silently from behind our hands on our lunch break. Bonnie fancied herself the sexiest woman in the office and made a great show of throwing herself at every male who walked through the door. This got to be quite amusing, especially when the male was a 20 something grad student from India or Pakistan who had no idea that what she was doing was supposed to turn him on. Many of the older, white, male professors got off on her attention, which could be kind of gross (especially the one who was married to a disabled wife with MS), but Debbie and I could still find things about this situation that made us laugh.
The lab would periodically hold grad thesis presentations whereby the student would make their presentation to faculty and other students, followed by a small reception with doughnuts and other refreshments. Prior to these events, an announcement was to be made by our office notifying everyone on our floor that the presentation and reception would be taking place. Bonnie LOVED doing this and would literally race to the microphone to make sure she got to be the one to make the announcement. She would snarl something or other to us about how “The goddamned printer isn’t working again! The piece of shit must be out of ink or something.” Then she would turn to the microphone, sexily flip her hair behind her shoulders, lean in and grasp the microphone and breathily intone, “At four o’clock this afternoon, which is in just fifteen minutes (breath, breath, breath), there will be a presentation by Rakesh Akbahr, on the role of stress-strain on the physical transformations that occur (breath) during the cure of thermosetting adhesive-to-wood bonds (breath, breath, breath). After that (breath) there will be a reception in the Buchanon room, where refreshments will be served.” She’d then flop back down in her rolling desk chair and screech at us again, “Goddamned rain. It was supposed to be sunny today.
Debbie and I could laugh and laugh at these displays (out of the office, of course).
Bonnie told us she was an expert on everything. She said she had a degree in forestry, as well as a degree in nursing, and in English, and several others I no longer remember. No matter what came up that required some knowledge by someone in the office, she was in competition to be the top person in that knowledge and she usually had a degree to go along with it. Debbie and I would wonder to ourselves why she wasn’t putting these degrees to good use somewhere considering how underappreciated and underpaid she was sharing an office with us. It is because of Bonnie’s expertise that I even bring her up in this post today. I earned a Juris Doctorate degree in 2003. Then last year, I completed a Master’s in Teaching so that I could transition out of being a lawyer and become a teacher instead.
Last week, I had a conversation with someone, the content of which really isn’t that important. In the course of the conversation, the person I was speaking to was telling me another person had complained about something and that they had to complain because they were a teacher and as a teacher, they were required to complain. This puzzled me because I knew that the thing about which this person was supposedly required to complain was not required of teachers, so I said to the person I was speaking to, “I am a teacher, and that is not actually true.” He looked at me rather consternatedly (now there’s a word) as if to say, “Huh? I thought you were a lawyer?” because in another conversation on another day, he had asked me what kind of work I did and at the time he asked, I told him I was a lawyer, so my saying that I was a teacher on this new occasion was probably a bit odd to him.
I was like Bonnie and her multitude of unrelated degrees. I don’t have a multitude of unrelated degrees, I only have a couple of them. There is my undergraduate degree in English, then there is the lawyer degree, then there is the teacher degree. So I have several degrees and they are mostly unrelated. This got me to thinking about Bonnie and my time in the Forest Products lab so many years ago — twenty years ago actually, is when I started. I’ve stayed friends with Debbie. She came to the birth of my baby and probably knows me better than any other friend.
A lot has happened since then. I wonder now, with my handful of unrelated degrees, if maybe Bonnie really did have a forestry degree and an English degree and a nursing degree, and maybe perhaps something happened that she didn’t need to work in those fields at all. I don’t know. I can’t remember her last name so I can’t look her up (even if I wanted to, which, true told, I really don’t).
If I did look her up, I would find her and tell her I’m sorry for doubting her many educational accomplishments and let her know that I too now have many educational accomplishments. We could get a coffee and reminisce and I could tell her how funny I thought it was when she made the sexy forest products announcements and she could tell me how much she hates the weather and the coffee in the coffee shop we meet in and the chairs in the coffee shop and make googly eyes at the male patrons and…
On second thought, maybe not.
Three years ago I wrote a blog post about the illusion of connectivity. It said:
“I go to Facebook. I go to email. I check all the addresses. I go back to Facebook. I check my blog. I go back to Facebook. In all, I find not what I am looking for. It is not satisfying. I see posts I share. I read here and there. On email I get Truthout, read through the articles. Find one that is really interesting. Read to the bottom. Post on Facebook. Go back to email. Go to Facebook. Read Salon, click on the link to “Continue Reading.” Go back to email. Nothing. Something from Powell’s. Something from Bug of the Day. Go back to Facebook. Share a picture of some cute animal or funny thing from George Takei, but overall, no connection. Not really.
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I had a friend who I thought was one of my bestest friends in the whole wide world. I have a couple of other bestests who fit into this category, but there are some topics that are simply not discussed with them. One is not interested in hearing about my lack of love travails. The other really could care less about anything about spiritual growth or any of that.
Yet I could discuss anything this friend who I thought was one of my bestest. Even when we hadn’t seen one another in weeks or months or years, which could happen because we didn’t live close, we could pick right up and begin again. A couple of years ago, we made a decision to try and visit one another more because we were both lonely for a bestest friend we could see more often.
Then last year she decided not to be friends with me. Stupid facebook. It posts everything you do on all your friends’ pages and all they say back and on and on. All of it was about politics. I am drifting too much left for her (or many friends, actually), and I knew she didn’t like that. She didn’t like what my other friends said so she cut me off, then sent me a message telling me as much, then that was it. I never heard from her again. Phone calls unreturned. No more emails. I knew it was final when the birthday passed without so much as a whisper because she’s always sent a card at the very least.
It’s been a life lesson that I’ve chosen to replicate my family dynamic (I am a cliche’ of the highest order). I get it now. I’ve spent three years of work with a woman who is like an old medicine woman in her capacity to heal old wounds, plus a good year and a half checking in with her now and then. Years with counselors before never even got me in the same healing ballpark that this woman did. She is amazing. In any case, I understand it was my dynamic to choose people to love who didn’t love me back quite as much or at all. I make different choices in how I pick people now, but it’s slow going sometimes.
I never considered this friend whom I have known for nearly 20 years to fall into that category, yet I have gradually realized that she did. I look back and see the signs. They were there. They were sometimes right in my face, but no, I didn’t see it. How blind we can be sometimes when we don’t want to see something. She meant more to me than I did to her. It’s as simple as that, and as painful.
I’m thinking of this now and writing about it because I miss her. I haven’t spoken to her in almost a year and I miss her sometimes so much it hurts. I want her to be my bestest again, even if she never really was because I can be such a deluded fool sometimes.
Ah well. Sunny days will come again? Maybe…
This is what modern life is: All relationships are via some electronic device, or they do not exist at all. Meeting face to face is a rare occurrence except in the workplace, and if you work alone, woe be to you. If you want to find out what is happening in a friend’s life, you have to use some version of social media to discover it, because it will not be found out through real conversation. Even the phone has gone by the wayside and telephone conversations are rare. Everyone is too busy to connect with real humans that have any meaning to them unless those humans happen to live in the same house, and even then, it won’t be the sort of connection time and reflection bring, but the rushed and desperate connection of going to and fro. If there is a misunderstanding via electronic device which lacks the nuance of face to face connection, it is quite possible the relationship will end, regardless of how long you have known one another because with electronic misunderstandings comes the possibility of projection of whatever the person who misunderstands chooses to perceive, whether or not there is any basis in reality. Even when you do meet your friends in person, this is no guarantee you will actually connect with them. The devices are there too, intercepting. Faces don’t turn toward one another, but toward little screens, lighting the visage with cold, blue light.
These are the lives we have created for ourselves. In exchange for products that can do everything for us and do do everything for us, we have given up human connection, human passion. Maybe it isn’t such a travesty that we seem on the trajectory to self-destruction.
A couple of days ago I listened to a story on This American Life about prom. It got me thinking about mine because the people interviewed kept remarking just how important prom was. One person even went so far as to say it was second in importance to a wedding. Seriously? I don’t know that I agree with that. Prom is certainly a ubiquitous high school event, but it wasn’t anything at all life-changing for me, and it wasn’t because I was an anarchist or anything. I just didn’t really care. I thought it was a dumb dance. I was not one of those people who spent all of high school looking forward to attending. I did finally obtain a boyfriend by senior year so I actually had a prom date. If I hadn’t gotten the boyfriend, I probably would not have gone. I was much more concerned with acquiring a boyfriend than attending prom, and much more surprised and shocked that this happened than I ever would have been at getting a prom date.
For me, the story of how I got my first boyfriend was practically out of a high school movie. Every February, our school hosted a Valentine’s Day school dance. For some reason, one of the most attractive, most popular boys in school asked me to dance. A lot. We danced together all evening. This was a surprise to me. He was Mr. High School All-American boy. Extremely popular, he had attended the schools in my town his entire life. This meant something in our little town; it meant you knew everyone and everyone knew you. This could be a bad thing, but for a lot of people, it accorded them with additional status. Eric had this status in spades, plus he was captain of the football team and President of the Senior class. Seriously. He also had blonde hair and blue eyes, lovely chiseled features, and an athletic build.
I, on the other hand, was not Miss High School All-American girl. I had the blonde hair and blue eyes, but my hair was short, and for the dance in question, I had tried beforehand to trim my bangs. After cutting, I realized they were crooked, so I cut them again and made them crooked the other direction. By the time I was done, they were about two inches long and still crooked. I was also skinny as a rail, with no breasts to speak of. Certainly not curvy. I imagine I was prettyish, but definitely not a beauty and never one of the girls the boys talked about or wanted. I spent most of my time buried in books, riding my horse, or acting weird because my friends thought it was funny and I liked making them laugh. My parents lived like they never had money, no matter how much they had, so my clothes were not name brands, which I cared about in those days. (One nice thing about growing up was giving up that ridiculous delusion.)
In spite of my average appearance and lack of social standing, here we were at this Valentine’s Day dance and Eric was dancing with me. My friends couldn’t believe it. “He must like you!” said Marie. “He keeps dancing with you!” I didn’t quite believe he liked me. Deanna kept giggling every time he came near. “Stop it,” I would hiss to her in a whisper before heading to the dance floor. Kari just smiled her poker-face smile.
Over the weekend after the dance, my friends and I spent many hours on the phone deconstructing the dance and its portent. Did Eric like me, or was he just being nice? I could not believe that he did. They could not believe that he did not. On Monday, I was embarrassed and terrified at the prospect of seeing Eric. We had a class together the last period of the day. I spent most of that day a nervous wreck, wondering what would happen in that class. I was terrified.
Later that afternoon, we were all in Mr. Fisk’s class listening to him drone on about who-knows-what. Mr. Fisk’s stories were fascinating as sophomores and stupid by the time we were seniors. I don’t remember now how it transpired, but somewhere along the line in the class a note was transferred to Eric. I think it was supposed to be from me to Marie or Marie to me, or something like that, but it was about how much I liked him. He sent me a note and we agreed to both ask to go to the bathroom at the same time. A few minutes later, Eric got up, asked to use the bathroom, and left. Heart pounding, 30 seconds later, I asked to go to the bathroom as well. Mr. Fisk was none the wiser and let me follow Eric. He probably didn’t even notice we were out at the same time. We were the good kids, the ones who always turned in our homework and would never leave to go fraternize and cause trouble, so bathroom passes were easy to come by.
Eric was waiting by the bathroom. He was wearing his Levi’s 501 jeans, a pink polo shirt, and white sneakers. I thought he looked amazing. He said hi and then kissed me. Exhilarating.
We were going out after that. We never had a conversation where he asked me to be his girlfriend or anything, I just was. I adored him. Completely smitten, I would do anything he wanted to do or go anywhere he wanted to, just to be with him. Compared to stories of teenage activities I hear about these days, our actions were so tame. I would never have considered having sex with him, not in a million years. Honestly, we never made it past second base, but to both of us, this was a lot.
How is it that I managed to get the most popular boy in school for my boyfriend senior year? I mean really? I think about this time and I have to wonder. I know part of it is that this most popular boy in school was unique in some respects. So often the popular kids are so idealized that we have a vision of how they must be, but to become truly popular and liked by everyone (which Eric certainly was), that person must possess some characteristic of some sort that makes people like them. Eric was truly likeable. Plus he’d been in the same town schools since kindergarten. Plus he was handsome. Really. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Captain of the football team. President of the class. I mean, come on, was this for real?
It was. That is what is so remarkable to me. I look back now and for the first time truly marvel at it. I mean, come on! Do you think he could have been more of a cliché? And it’s even more amazing that I, with my background and thought processes, could have had him as my first real boyfriend. That alone is a feat in and of itself.
One night, we were making out in the backseat of his housemate’s ginormous 70’s automobile. The thing was a boat on wheels. I was supposed to be spending the night at Marie’s house, and a group of us had all gone and done something that evening. Eric and I parked the boat outside her house and started kissing in the backseat. It was cold out and the windows fogged up. At some point, I realized there was a round light moving along the back window. We both sat up quickly and pulled on our shirts (each other’s, as it turned out). Then we heard a tap on the window.
Humiliated, Eric opened the car door and got out. The officer took him aside and scolded him. He then stuck his head in the car and asked me my name and where I was supposed to be. Terrified and humiliated as well, I told him. He said I should go into my friend’s house and go to bed. It was probably only 11:30, but I was scared and obeyed without question.
I spent the next week completely terrified that the stop would show up in the local paper. A weekly, the local paper did not have much to report on, and therefore contained a section listing every petty grievance to which the police force responded. I was certain our names would be listed with our transgression for all–especially and including my parents–to see. Thankfully, this never transpired.
Because I now had a boyfriend, prom seemed like it might actually be fun. My friends were all going and I looked forward to hanging out with them. My mom is an excellent seamstress, and after looking and finding no dresses that I liked, she offered to make a prom dress for me. I picked out a pink satin and some pink tulle. She made a long dress with a fitted bodice, with a pink ribbon around the center and tulle around the collar, which sat off the shoulder on my collar bones. I liked it fine. Looking at it now, I think it’s kind of boring, but I enjoyed getting dressed up. Eric looked amazing in his tuxedo, and he arrived in the boat to pick me up, a pink corsage in hand to match the boutonniere on his lapel.
The best memory I have of prom is that my best friend Marie won as prom queen. She had a huge crush on a good friend of Eric’s named Gary. Gary had a girlfriend, but for prom king and queen, there would be a dance. When it was announced that Marie was queen and Gary was king, I was thrilled to death for her. She was able to dance with the boy she liked for an entire slow song. I could tell watching her dance, her head against his shoulder, that she was in heaven.
After prom, we went to a party at some friends of Eric’s and sat in a hot tub before he took me home. Most of them were drinking alcohol and this scared me. I didn’t find that part of the night much fun. I can’t remember when I got home, but I don’t think it was very late.
One other huge aspect of my relationship with Eric was that shortly prior to our starting to date, he had become “born again.” Over the course of our courtship, he became more and more heavily involved in the church. In an effort to please him, I went along. I had been friends for some time with another girl who was extremely involved in her church. I started going with her, mainly because I had a crush on David W. and David W. was in youth group. David W. would flirt with me at youth group and I enjoyed this. Also, my friend’s parents would take us for pie after church. Having grown up in a family that went out to eat maybe once every two years, this was an immense treat.
Interestingly, while I was attending church and trying to be a good Christian, I was discovering a lot of hypocrisies that bothered me immensely. One morning, the pastor described faithful Muslims praying to Mecca. He spent a good deal of time describing the scene, to the point I could practically feel the warmth of the sun on my back and the rug under my knees. Then he dropped a bomb saying, “Isn’t it a shame that all these millions of faithful Muslims are going to hell? I could not tolerate or believe this. This sermon was a turning point for me. I had serious doubts about Christianity and organized religion in general anyway, and that statement made me start looking for inconsistencies, which were not difficult to come by.
However, I kept my doubts to myself. Eric would drag me to youth group on Wednesday and church twice a day on Sunday and I would go with him because usually after we would make out in the back of his truck and I liked doing that. I went along with the church thing, even so far as memorizing the entire book of Romans because he did so as well, and I believed that he wanted me to. I would pray with him, and discuss the Bible with him. Mainly I just wanted to be with him and this offered me the greatest opportunity.
Our small town, like many, had started offering an all-night graduation party to the entire senior class. The point was to keep teens from drinking and getting hurt or killed as a result. I was not a drinker and looked forward to graduation and the graduation party. My grandparents had flown in from Kansas for the event and I was excited by the prospect of all of it.
The day before graduation, Eric took me out in the afternoon to eat at a nice restaurant. When we arrived back at my house, at the top of my parent’s driveway, he got out and gave me a hug. Then he said, “It’s been really fun hanging out with you, but we are going to have to stop. I’m going to college in the fall, and I am afraid our relationship is interfering with my relationship with Jesus.” There were more words, but I don’t remember them.
I was incredulous. I had not seen this coming, not even close. Heartbroken and numb, I stumbled into the house and into my bedroom. I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on my bed in a pool of misery. We were to attend a Baccalaureate dinner that night. I dressed in the new outfit my mom had bought for me, a knit yellow sweater and white cotton skirt. I don’t remember much of the Baccalaureate dinner except there were some speeches. Eric was there, but he ignored me. I stared at my plate all evening. My parents and grandparents could tell something was wrong, but didn’t say anything.
Later, after we arrived home, I went again to my bedroom and lay on my bed, trying not to cry. My family wanted me to come in the living room and visit, but I just couldn’t do it. Finally, my grandma came in to talk. I confessed what had happened. “Oh, honey,” she said, rubbing my back. “It seems so hard now, but you’re so young. It is for the best.”
I still remember her voice and the way she stroked my hair and back. I also remember that graduation and the party were a drag. My friends kept trying to get me to liven up, but I just couldn’t do it. Forever after, when I think of graduation, the memory is colored by the fact that the day before the ceremony my first love dumped me for Jesus.
It was the best decision of course. Eric became a successful missionary in Africa. He is still there, working on a Bible translation of some sort, I think. I saw him at our reunion and it wasn’t weird at all. Time heals all wounds and we had grown up. I was such a baby at 17. I am immensely grateful Eric didn’t do something stupid like ask me to marry him. I would have said yes in a heartbeat and it would have been the wrong decision. We would have been divorced by the time we were 20. I’m so different from that person, I can barely remember how I thought or acted. Most of what I remember about myself at that time makes me cringe in embarrassment. I certainly could never have been a Christian. The seeds of doubt in organized religion had been planted, probably before I knew the ground was tilled.
In any case, this was my prom and the story around it. Nothing spectacular, just an old memory. It’s funny, as I’ve been writing this, how much I actually do remember. Life is interesting and so much is forgotten. I’m glad I remember this.
We have led a remarkably busy, whirlygig sort of existence over the last few weeks. On August 5 we decided to move back to Portland. As a child is imminent (due September 10), we wanted to accomplish a lot in a very short amount of time. We also sent a moving truck along its merry way from NYC on August 13, and required a home for our belongings to land. This put some pressure on us to get things done so we would not have to unload the truck into a family garage or storage unit, reload into another moving truck, and unload into whatever home we located.
Fate was with us. We searched all day for five days for an apartment or house. We applied at many locations and were accepted at one, but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Early the morning after that acceptance, I woke up too early (the m.o. these days) and was doing the search on Craigslist. The first house to show up that morning was exactly what we were looking for. I was reluctant to call because it was so early, but figured since the posting had just shown up the person must be awake. So I called. I am so grateful that I did. We were the first callers and the owner said he gave priority in order of who called first.
Later that morning (last Wednesday) went and looked at the house. Not only was it in the exact neighborhood we wanted, it was the style of house I love the most, had plenty of room, and was simply lovely. It is a bungalow with a huge front porch, a fenced backyard, a full basement, and all the amenities we could ask for. The old tenant was a cool guy who was heading to Canada to “hang out with his mom in Vancouver, B.C.” He graciously agreed to allow our belongings to arrive before he departed, whenever that happened to be. On Saturday we received the call from the driver that he would be in Oregon on Sunday. We made arrangements for him to meet us at the house and we started calling friends.
Here is how Oregon is different for us from New York: In New York, we had 3 people who could help us, one of whom had to leave after an hour for another engagement, leaving 2 people plus Dan to load our truck (considering at the time I was 35 weeks pregnant, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do in the hucking boxes department). Here, we had 10 helpers, plus Milla had two girls to play with, daughters of one of the helpers. Loading the truck took nearly 8 hours. Unloading took under 3. Unloading always takes less than loading, but the speed here was phenomenal, plus everything went into the house in an organized manner. I couldn’t unload, but I could certainly direct traffic!
Basically, since we decided on August 5 to move back to Oregon, and arrived so late August 14 it may as well have been the August 15, we have managed to find a place to live, buy a used car, find a new midwife, and begin settling in. We have been busy, to say the least, but so far things are working out. Dan has had a few gigs and I’m slated to return to work for a firm here after baby is born and maternity leave. It has been a lot of work, but it has been so worth it.
A year ago I could not wait to leave Portland. There had been a long string of hard times and it was difficult to see a future here. Having left, spent too much money, and returned, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. I am grateful for a place among family and friends. I am so grateful we found a house we like in the neighborhood we wanted. Now I just need to relax and sleep through the night. It won’t be long before our little one arrives and sleeping through the night will be a thing of the past…