Out of the Mouths of Babes

One of my favorite things about small children is that, while they do lie sometimes, they are also brutally honest.  The filter we all (hopefully!) develop later in life isn’t in place for them yet, and so the truth comes naturally and unimpeded by manners or “Should I mention this?” awkwardness.  So it was that on Tuesday, while playing on our front porch with my son and her brother, one of my small neighbors opened her mouth and spilled out to my husband the litany of lies that an older child (she’s 11 and the oldest on our block) has been spreading to the kids and parents over this summer about my son.  “J stole my brother’s scooter.”  “Our mom said we’re not allowed to play with J alone because he’s bad!”.  “Our mom said if nobody else is playing with J, then we shouldn’t either.”  These are just a handful of the things she told my husband, who then walked down the street to talk to her mother about the ignorance of allowing yourself to be completely led by an 11 year old mean girl in your parenting (or non-parenting, as I see it) decisions.

This has been an incredibly hard summer for me, and for my boy.  Our block is a small one, a cul-de-sac street with less than twenty houses.  We all know each other except for one or two neighbors who have no kids and don’t come out much to socialize.  We have a lot of kids on our street, most my son’s age (7) or younger.  And one older girl, who got angry with my son over something or other, some stupid kid thing, and decided that she was going to start a campaign to get the other kids not to have anything to do with mine.  An older girl with the ability to manipulate the smaller kids, who are not on the same level of maturity and therefore don’t understand the game she’s been playing.  They just believe whatever she says.  We don’t play with J anymore because ___ said so, and that is just the way it is.

I’ve watched this play out for my son over the summer, trying to stay out of it, not realizing until a week or two ago that all of the meanness was being organized by the older one.  I have been so angry and felt so helpless, that my child had to deal with being told “Nobody wants to play with you!” when he walks outside and ALL the kids are out there, that the kids who used to regularly ring our doorbell to ask for J no longer come around, wondering if it was something about his behavior that caused it.  But I know it wasn’t, because he has friends from school who come over and play, who’s houses he goes to and plays, and they all get along fine.  I’ve watched my son try to deal with being ostracized, not understanding what was happening, still wanting to play with the mean one.  “She’s being nice to me today, Mom, please!” But no…he is not allowed to go to her house.

I put off talking to her parents because firstly, it’s a horrible conversation to have with another parent, let alone a neighbor.  “Hey, your daughter is tormenting my son by influencing all of the other kids and lying about him.”  I didn’t know if they’d believe me, I didn’t want to ruin our relationship because we are, I assume, going to live here a long time.  But after the little one spilled her guts to my husband on Tuesday, I knew I had no choice.

I got home from work Tuesday night and I saw that her dad was outside doing their yard.  I changed my clothes, and walked over there with the biggest feeling of dread to have the conversation.  I didn’t even know how to start but basically told them I’m sorry to have to have this conversation, but your daughter has been lying about my son and influencing all of the younger kids to be cruel and to ostracize him, I’ve seen it happen all summer, here are some examples, here is what your little next door neighbor said today, I need it to stop immediately.  My son is too young to understand what is happening, and your daughter is too old to be manipulating a bunch of 5, 6, and 7 year olds this way.  I almost broke down in tears more than once during the conversation because honestly, I don’t think her parents understand at all how much their daughter has impacted my child and his relationships with kids who were his friends, and who are now unsure how to be with him, whether to play with him because “the big kid” says don’t, whether he really did the things she’s been saying.  End result was that they said they would talk to her, that they knew she was kind of too old to be playing with the younger ones (I don’t think that’s true of all 11 year olds, but I definitely do for this one who has abused her older child status), and if necessary they’d “take her out of the equation”.  But you know, I don’t want them to keep their kid inside.  I do want them to make her apologize, and tell anyone she lied to about my son that she lied and she’s sorry, none of it was true.  I want her to have consequences so that she never bullies another child like this again.  I want my son to at least have an apology from this mean, manipulative girl who cost him his standing with his friends.

So last night, Wednesday, I get home from work.  My husband and son are in the front yard, I can see that mean girl’s mom is on their porch and she’s riding her bike up and down the street.  I wonder if she’s apologized to my son.  I go in the house, change, sit down to relax.  No, my husband says, she hasn’t said anything.  J says “Mom, she said hi to me really nicely, can I go play with her?”  No, you cannot go play with her.  You can go ride your scooter outside and if she’s out there fine but you may not go to her house and ask her to play.  I ask my husband to please go outside with him…this has been our summer.  We always go out with him because we feel like he’s vulnerable.  It sucks. And no apology has been made, I am sure she lied to her parents when they questioned her or made it sound much less worse than it was.

I sit in my living room.  My husband texts me “Hey, everyone is outside”.  Before this happened, I’d have gone outside to talk to my neighbors.  Now, though…I’m not very happy with my neighbors right now.  I don’t feel very neighborly.  I wonder how many parents listened to their kids talk about my boy, and didn’t think to question them, didn’t bother to talk to us.  The bully has been at all of these kids houses frequently this summer, even though she’s older than all of them.  Are parents so damn stupid these days?  There is no way I’d listen to my son badmouth one of the neighbor kids without getting to the bottom of it, and questioning that version.  Talking to the parents about what’s being said.

Right now, I feel like my neighbors are a bunch of idiots who either 1) believed whatever this child said about mine, or 2) didn’t pay any attention to what an older child was doing with their kids.  If this child was a boy, his behavior would be considered predatory.  It would probably cause alarm, but she’s a girl.  She’s cute.  She’s probably been helping the stay-at-home moms with their kids this summer, who knows.

I sat on my couch and had a long cry last night.  We moved here one year ago in July.  I guess I feel like my illusions about neighbors and looking out for each other and teaching our kids right from wrong have been smashed to bits.  I can’t believe her parents haven’t made her apologize, if there is no consequence for her actions who’s her next victim?  I would never let my child get away with such meanness, manipulation, and dishonesty.  I feel very jaded and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to feel better about this, or how I’ll react if that child approaches me.  I don’t want to talk to her or even look at her unless she apologizes.  I don’t want to gather with my neighbors and pretend that nothing happened to hurt my child.  I just don’t want to live here right now, I guess.  I suppose I’ll get over it at some point.

Goodbye, Sweet Girl

That’s my Bonnie girl, curled up underneath the Christmas tree in 2006.  She loved to lay under the tree like that, in a tight little ball underneath the lights.

She was an abandoned puppy, about eight weeks old, when I got her and her brother from a woman I worked with who did animal rescue.  I had only planned on getting one puppy, but when we went to the house to pick one, there were five.  Five!  It was hard not to take them all home, but I settled for two.  I named them Bonnie and Clyde…I know, I’m silly like that. My little partners in crime.


That’s Clyde on the left with the flying ears, I have no idea how he got his ears to stand up like that!  He was the best boy, but he had a very crabby disposition and when little J was a year old, he turned and casually bit him on the side of his baby-soft head.  OMFG!  We were standing right there when he did it, it was not a bite to try and kill but more of a “You just piss me off, little baby who gets all the attention I used to get.  So I’m gonna bite you…there!”  Lucky for him I was able to find a rescue home for him, and she found him a home with someone who had no kids.  He was a jealous little shit. I loved him but you can’t be chomping on my baby.  He had to go.

But Bonnie…she was the sweetest, most loving dog.  She had the patience of a saint with J, who like all small children went through phases of thinking dog torture was funny, scaring her was funny, just generally tormenting her was so. much. fun.  And she bore it with rarely even a slight growl, though near the end she got totally fed up with him and would curl her lip at him if he really got on her nerves.  She was my shadow, following me everywhere.  Wherever I was, she had to be there.  I got her two beds, one for my office and one for the bedroom so I wouldn’t have to be constantly moving her bed from one room to the other every day in order for her to maintain her proximity to me, which seemed to be the most important thing in life to her when I was home.

She had a good, long life.  She was 14 years old, and she was healthy all her life.  And then, she wasn’t.  About a month ago, my oldest son noticed she had a big growth on her butt, underneath her tail which is probably why I hadn’t noticed it.  I took her to the vet, she biopsied it, and it was a mast cell tumor.  Very common, and normally it would be surgically removed and probably the dog will be fine, but it was too big and in too difficult a spot, she would be deformed if they attempted to remove it.  We tried to treat it with chemotherapy, and for a couple of weeks she didn’t even seem like she was sick at all except she had this huge thing on her butt.  But then it turned into a sore, and then her life just wasn’t a dog’s life anymore.  It was the life of a miserably sick dog waiting to die.

I took her to the vet this past Thursday.  You have to understand how much my vet, who has only been treating Bonnie since she got sick a month ago, had only met me a month ago, loved my dog from the minute she met her.  She wanted me to take her to a canine oncologist, spend thousands on radiation and chemotherapy, treatments that probably would not have worked anyway and would have made her feel horrible.  I declined.  She took training she had to take in order to dispense a relatively new chemotherapy drug for her, that wasn’t crazy expensive and so I was willing to try it.  And when I took her in on Thursday and said “It’s time, she’s done”, she didn’t want to believe it.  She wanted to keep trying, in the face of the obvious that my girl was too sick and we needed to let her go.  We needed to help her not be in pain anymore.

I thought she was judging me.  She asked me “So, you’re sure this is what you want to do?”, very gruff-voiced.  I said no, it’s not what I *want* to do, it’s what I have to do because she is in so much pain.  She said you know it takes three to four weeks for this medication to work, and I said, ok, say it works, what are we gaining?  LOOK AT HER, I wanted to scream.

She left the room to get me the paperwork to sign.  I stood there with my sweet girl, crying now, talking to her, stroking her head and waiting, waiting, waiting.  We had the last appointment of the day but there were still other patients there to see.  She came back with the paperwork, the death documents that detailed everything, what it costs, what will happen, do I want her cremated or do I want her body…I can’t begin to describe how it felt to sign those papers.

The vet took my girl to get her ready, apparently you can’t be in the room with them while they insert the catheter that the drugs will be injected into.  I waited to be called back to the room that my sweet friend would be put to sleep in.

I go into the room and she’s sitting up on the table, she’s always been such a good girl about vet visits, shots, having blood drawn, it’s like she doesn’t even feel it.  I’m grateful for that.  My vet tells me that she’ll give her a sedative that will relax her or maybe even make her go to sleep before she injects the real drug.  She’s laying down on the table now and I’m holding her head in my hands, whispering in her ear what a good dog she is, how much I’ll miss her.  The vet tech who has been holding her is visibly upset, I can’t imagine how hard this part of their job must be for them.  The vet gives her the sedative and she starts snoring immediately, it’s almost comical.  We are too sad to laugh, though.

They leave me alone with her for a few minutes, to say my final goodbyes.  She’s asleep but the vet says “She knows you’re there”, I hope she knows I’m there.  She is so peaceful, I haven’t seen her this peaceful in days and I’m so glad she isn’t going to be in pain anymore, even though it’s breaking my heart to say goodbye to her.  I can understand people who try to hang on to their sick pets, but I believe there is a point where it’s our responsibility to do the hard thing and not allow them to suffer anymore. They can’t speak for themselves, we have to do this for them.

My vet comes back into the room and asks if I’m ready.  I tell her yes.  She says “I feel like the executioner”, and I realize right then that she hasn’t been judging me, she isn’t angry at me for giving up, she just couldn’t be the one to say it was time to let go.  She needed me to do it, and I feel so much compassion for her at that moment, I suddenly know how hard it is for her to be the bringer of death.  I tell her no, you are helping her, she has been in so much pain and she needs to let go now.  She gives Bonnie the injection and tells me it will take a few minutes, but it seems like she stops breathing almost immediately.  It is so peaceful, she just goes to sleep for good.  I’m crying but I’m so glad that I was there when she passed, and that I made the decision to let her go.  She is at peace now, my sweet sweet girl.  I sat with her for awhile, it was very hard to leave her in that room even though she was gone. My vet and I shared a long hug, she will be my vet forever now.  I have never had someone taking care of my pet who was so caring, she did so many things these last few weeks that she didn’t charge me for, just because she wanted to see my dog recover no matter how slim the chance.

I don’t know how long it will be before I stop expecting her to be barking when my car pulls in the driveway, or to be waking me up in the morning.  To be following me around the house, getting under my feet, begging for treats or wanting to be petted.  She’s everywhere in this house, and I’m going to miss her for a long, long time.  Rest in peace, Bonnie.  You were the best dog I’ve ever had.  Miss you, my girl.

Postmortem

“I’m on a train and there’s no one at the helm                                   and there’s a demon in my brain that starts to overwhelm” – 3eb

I ordered your autopsy report the other day.  I can honestly say that’s something I never thought to be doing in this life…ordering the autopsy report of a friend.

I ordered it because your parents need to see it, they hope to find the “why” in that report, that it will bring them some measure of comfort about how this could happen.  I have no such faith.  I know that we will never really know why a bullet to the heart was your way out of whatever was consuming you.

I do know that before you left us, that moment before, that you weren’t thinking about what comes after.  I don’t think you could see past the demon, I think you were overwhelmed and in so much pain that you could only see that it needed to end.  I think that in your last moments of irrationality, brought on by extreme sleep deprivation that had lasted months, or maybe by the medications you were taking to help you sleep, you even thought that we would be better off without you, but I can’t know that.  There is so much that we will just never know.  It can make you crazy if you let it.

Not very long ago, a few months maybe, you told me that you thought you had been concentrating on the wrong things your whole life.  We talked about it, I thought that because you recognized it that meant you were making changes in your life.  Now I think that you didn’t believe you could change anything, that you probably thought it was too late.  Or you were too overwhelmed to think of changing, I think that every day was a struggle for you and we just didn’t realize how underwater you were.

I think about the conversations we had over the last few months before you died, and I have so much regret.  Realistically, I know that I was a good friend to you, I was always there when you needed to talk and I know that my optimism and encouragement was something that you valued.  But I think that this feeling of missing something, something so huge, will be with me always.  My rational mind knows there was probably nothing anyone could have done; but emotionally I can’t help the feelings of regret, “what if?”, “why didn’t we…?”.  They just are, like the fact of your death.  It just is.

We carry on, but we are forever changed.

Post-Traumatic

I survived 9/11…walked out of the rubble created by a hatred that I will never be able to comprehend.  I suppose I will never have the capacity to understand humans killing other humans, rejoicing in bloody murder, horrifying death.

I never had nightmares, even though I saw so much that day, even though I could have been one of the names spoken at memorials.  Even though the questions “Why? Why was I there that day?  Why am I alive and so many others are not?” have been ones that I will ponder for the rest of my life.  I wonder more about what my purpose in life is, there must be one since I am still here.  I try to find that purpose.

So no nightmares, but since that day I think about things that I never would have likely thought about if 9/11 hadn’t happened, if I hadn’t been there.  I think about things that I wish I could make myself not think, but I know that will never happen.  These thoughts will accompany me the rest of my life, I’m sure.

Elevators and buildings blowing up.  I work in a skyscraper so, you know…I just get on the elevator anyway.  I used to love to take the elevator to the top of the building I work in, to see the panoramic view of the city…now, when I’m up there (because I have to be, never for the pleasure of it), I am uncomfortably aware of my vulnerability.

Every time I get on an airplane, I’m acutely aware of what COULD happen.  I avoid large public gatherings, imagining mayhem and destruction and no way to escape.  I always know where the exits are, wherever I am.   If I’m out somewhere and I hear raised voices, the mere hint of possible violence, I’m gone.

We went to the rodeo last year.  When you leave, you queue up for the shuttle buses.  The place you line up is under a huge canvas tent; it was an incredibly windy day.  The tent, which is held up by heavy metal support posts, would kill many people if it fell, quite likely.  I was not the only one who was looking up anxiously at the shaking, creaking metal supports of that tent while we waited…waited…waited for the buses to come.  But I was the only one who could not bear to stand under that shuddering tent, continually being buffeted and lashed by the wind, a moment longer.  I do not trust tents erected by mere men to withstand gusting winds, in fact we saw just a few years ago a training tent in Dallas collapse.  I simply could not stand there and trust that nothing bad would happen.  Because it’s not true, bad things do happen.   I could not stay under that tent, it was like alarm bells were clanging in my head saying “Get out, get out, get out!”.   I know my husband thought I was being irrational that day, but I’m not irrational.   I am not crazy.  I am a person who knows that safety is an illusion.  

No nightmares…just a constant awareness of the death and destruction that can descend at any moment.

8 Years Ago Today

Eight years ago today, I was stepping out of my Manhattan hotel room into a picture perfect morning. Walking to catch the subway and thinking about how much I love New York City. For this city girl, NYC is the ultimate and I was loving every minute I had left there.

Eight years ago today, I sat on the subway on my way to my new job’s offices a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. The train stopped, the doors didn’t open, and then…it sat there. Grumbling from the New Yorkers, what the hell is the problem, we gotta get MOVING here! The conductor’s voice comes through the speakers and says we’re not letting anyone off or on at this stop, there’s been a bomb threat. The train will continue on to it’s last stop, the Wall Street Station, and let everyone off there.

Adrenaline rushes through me, that “fight or flight” instinct that says “Get the hell out of here” but you can’t go anywhere because you’re on a locked train underground. Then I see that the New Yorkers around me are so unimpressed, I hear mutterings, “A bomb threat, what else is new?”, so jaded and unconcerned and so I calm myself. Breathe. Try to relax.

Eight years ago today, I emerged from the subway at the Wall Street Station stop. We could smell the fire before we got up to the street, and as we came out of the subway, a snowfall of paper fluttering down from the sky. Looking up we can see that one of the towers of the WTC is on fire, a gaping hole pouring smoke and billowing paper out into the sky. My heart clenches as I realize that there are people up there who went off to work just like I did this morning, marveling at the perfect day; they got to work, talked to their coworkers on the way to their desks, got some coffee, sat down at their desks…and now they’re dead. I can’t stop watching the burning tower. At this point it appears to be a tragic accident, and there’s lots of speculation about what it could be since we can’t even see that there’s a plane lodged in the building.

I start walking toward where my company’s offices are, though I’m a little lost because I’m not sure which way Broadway is. By the time I get there, the second plane has hit and suddenly people are running past me on the street, away from the World Trade Center, there is panic because now it hits us…we are under attack. From where I am on Broadway I can’t see the WTC, too many skyscrapers between us, but it is right there a couple of blocks away. My mind went blank after that second plane and the ensuing panic…I had no idea what to do. Instinctively, I knew that what I wouldn’t do was go into any tall building. So I stood out in front of the building that my company’s offices were in. Stood there, not knowing what to do, overwhelmed by the feeling of panic and shock that was palpable because we ALL felt it. Collective despair. I hope to never feel that again in my entire life.

I stood there, trying to call my boss up on the 14th floor of the building from my now useless cell phone. No phones, no transportation, no idea what was going to happen next. I wanted to tell him I was ok, I was outside, I couldn’t come in because…well, because planes were hitting tall buildings and I just couldn’t. Couldn’t get into the elevator and endure the ride up 14 floors, put myself willingly into a skyscraper that was, as they all were in our minds, a target.

There was a front entrance and a back entrance to the building. I walked through the building from the front entrance and out the back entrance, and dear God please help us, there were the twin towers. There were people jumping, unbearable to watch as people chose certain death over what was happening up there. I turned my back and wept, I felt it was disrespectful to watch them falling, a voyeur…but it was also too much for me to handle.

I’m not a New Yorker, I was supposed to fly back home that day. I knew nobody except the coworkers I’d met just the day before when I arrived, I had just started this job and was there for some training. As I stood there, I saw one of those coworkers I’d just met come outside, she was going for coffee. So surreal to me…how can people go for coffee? She saw me, asked me what I was doing down there, urged me to come inside with her. I said no, I’m fine, please just tell Dave I’m fine and I’m going to go to the airport and go home, I can’t come upstairs. Reason was not with me, there was no way to get anywhere. She finally was able to convince me that I would be safer upstairs, got me into that elevator. Thank you, Jasmine…for all the horror of that day, you saved me from being trapped on the street when the North tower fell not five minutes later.

Upstairs on the 14th floor, I am floored by the fact that everyone is working as if it’s just another day. I am not a person who falls apart, but I sat down in my boss’s office and lost it for a minute. Didn’t they know what was going on? But you couldn’t see, from inside the office because of all the buildings and being only on the 14th floor, the WTC. There were no TVs in the office. And New Yorkers are tough, the WTC had been bombed before and life went on. You don’t stop what you’re doing just because the WTC is on fire. But it kind of broke me, coming from downstairs to see the “life goes on” scene being played out.

My boss left me alone to gather my composure, you know men don’t know what the hell to do when women cry. I sat there, and suddenly I felt and heard this rumble. For a second I thought it was the building air conditioning kicking on, but then it got louder and stronger and louder and stronger…indescribable. The entire office panicked, people jumped up from their desks. I ran out of my boss’s office, I am sure I yelled something, I kept going out the door to where the elevators were. The entire time, the rumbling and shaking is going on and on and on, and we don’t know what it is. We just know we have to get out of there. People start pressing the elevator buttons and I yelled at them not to go in the elevator, opened the stairwell door and started down. Fast. Everyone followed me. I don’t think it took us five minutes to get down those 14 flights of stairs.

In the lobby. It’s plate glass, doors and walls, and it may as well have been midnight because outside it is black. Black, thick, choking smoke and dust, what is it? What happened? Building security locked the doors, front and back, and all I could think was how can they do that, how will people get in, there are people on the street, HOW CAN YOU LOCK THEM OUT?!? And lock us in, too…because that smoke and dust was pouring into the lobby through the cracks and I thought, the bomb didn’t get us but we’re all going to suffocate in this goddamn lobby. I remember seeing one of the guys from the office, a coworker…a big black guy who to me at that moment represented some sense of security, how we fool ourselves. But he reminded in some small way of my husband, my new husband, we’d been married three months by then…and I wanted to lay my head on his chest and wail. I think I asked him what we were going to do and he said “It’s going to be ok”. And you know that it’s really not but hearing the words helps somehow, helps me calm myself. Because this isn’t the time to be falling apart and weeping and wailing.

We just waited, it must have been about ten minutes. Suddenly a guy from building security told us that the building was being evacuated, we would have to leave, go out the back door. From fearing death by suffocation in that lobby to being told we have to go out there…go where? It’s faded from pitch black to gray outside, you still can’t see, and they are herding us out the back door. Surrounded by people, I have never felt so alone in my entire life.

I stepped out into the aftermath of a 100 story building collapse, it looked like nuclear winter. Dust hung in the air, debris thick on the ground. I was wearing contacts and I knew immediately that within a minute or so I wouldn’t be able to see, so I flicked them out of my eyes as I walked. I had one of those small packages of Kleenex in my purse, I put one over my nose and mouth because you could feel that dust every time you took a breath going into your nose, your mouth, your lungs. Saw other people walking without anything to cover and gave them Kleenex. We didn’t talk, what was there to say? Just walk, get away from here, and the police and firefighters on the street to tell us where to go because it was like walking in a thick, thick fog, you couldn’t see. I wish that I’d hugged one of them, said thank you, but we were too traumatized to do anything but go in the direction they told us to go. They were so brave that day. They are our true heroes.

As we get further from the WTC, the air begins to clear. We are walking and I’m looking up at the skyscrapers on all sides of us and the fear is like a living thing. Any one of them could come tumbling down at any moment, blow up, there is no safety and we know it now. We get to the waterfront, where the fishmarkets are, and the fishmarket workers are holding out their hoses to us so we can get a drink of water, they want to help. A drink of water from a dirty hose has never tasted so good. We lock eyes, say nothing…nothing needs to be said.

We come to the bridges, people are streaming across the brigdes, a wave of humanity. I am terrified for them as they walk across because what if they blow up the bridges? I want to yell at them not to go that way but they live over there, it’s the only way to get home. I follow them with my eyes instead, pray them safe though I doubt my prayers are heard.

I walk and walk and walk. I have a little map of Manhattan, I keep looking at it, asking people along the way if I’m heading in the right direction to get to the Empire State Building. My hotel is there and even though I’d checked out, I left my luggage. I was going to pick it up on my way to the airport after I went to the office. After a few hours of walking, I finally arrive at my hotel. I walk into the lobby and the manager says “We’re closed, they’re closing a five block radius around the Empire State Building”. I am spent, I don’t have the energy or will to go anywhere else, nor any idea where else to go. I tell him that I just walked from the WTC, that my luggage is here, and that unless he kicks me out, I’m sitting right here in the lobby. The hotel reopens within minutes; I go to the front desk and ask for my room back. The clerk says “The rooms haven’t been cleaned yet”, and I have no idea what to say to that. I said, please just give me back the same room I had, I don’t care if it’s clean. They do.

I close the door to my hotel room. I fall on my knees beside the bed, wailing. I call my husband, who I could see while I was walking kept trying to call me but I couldn’t answer because phones didn’t work, and he doesn’t answer. I leave a rather hysterical message because I need to talk to him, I need to get home but there is no way to get off Manhattan. I turn on the TV and watch the mayor, I am numb. I am able to get online and contact my friend Julia, who lives in NJ, who’d brought me into the city Monday morning. I’d stayed the weekend with her. She was supposed to be at the WTC this morning but thank God she was not. She pours strength and love over the instant message screen to me, we make a plan for me to get back to NJ the next day.

I get to NJ. I finally give up waiting for the airports to reopen, rent a car, and drive back to Houston. I will save the aftermath for another post…thanks for reading if you’re still here. Never forget.

 

Drive-By Racism

So I wonder how many of my white peeps can relate to being blindsided by other white people’s racist comments? I gotta tell you, it’s getting kind of tiresome that in the year 2009, when we’ve elected a black man to be our president, I’m still dealing with those of you who think it’s ok to make racist comments as long as there are no black people around. What the hell, fellow white people? And the LOOK you give those of us who don’t appreciate your lame, “I’m among white people so I feel like I can let my inner racist out of the closet” attitude when you get busted because OOPS!, I’m married to a black man and I have an interracial child. Like I should have warned you I’m not “one of you” before you spoke. I’m not part of the “we’re all white people here” sister/brotherhood, and in fact I am positive that your ranks have dwindled significantly in the last 20 years or so. But obviously y’all are still out there.

Listen…be glad that I told you I was married to a black man the very minute you made the first comment. I could have let you go on and on, digging yourself ever deeper into that hole of “We’re both white so I can say what I really think about so-and-so dating that black man”. I took pity on your ignorant ass and very casually said “Oh, my husband is black” as soon as you WENT THERE.

I thought about letting you ramble on just to see how far you’d go, but honestly…after a lifetime of listening to racist nonsense, I just don’t want to deal with you people anymore. Why can’t you move on and realize that it’s not ok for you to express those racist sentiments? And while you feel “ambushed” by finding out that your racist remark was not appropriate (like we white people who aren’t down with racism should wear a sign so that you racist people could know this before you open mouth and insert foot), how do you think we feel to know that people with your attitudes are still clinging desperately to them? You could be my child’s teacher, my next-door neighbor, my coworker. You hide your antiquated attitude in the closet and only trot it out at certain moments when you feel “safe”. I’d be a lot more comfortable if you would just be openly racist, maybe a sign on your front lawn so that I could decide whether I want to live next door to you or not? Because we’re moving next weekend and while the neighborhood looks nice, I’m always wondering if I’m going to get a nasty surprise in the form of a neighbor or two who thinks that my family has gone against “nature”. I don’t think it’s fair that we have to worry about this anymore, but hey…I give people the benefit of the doubt. For the most part we’re all playing nicely together. You just reminded me last night that STILL, in the year 2009, I can be among friends, having a few beers and a great time, and then BOOM!…some asshole will explode the racist stinkbomb in my face.

I hope you remember this from our interaction last night…that I didn’t call you out on it, though you deserved it in my opinion. That I casually told you that my husband is black before you could continue with your line of racist commentary, and graciously continued our conversation even though I’d have rather not talked with you anymore. I didn’t try to make you feel stupid, I could see that you knew you’d said something inappropriate and I allowed you your clumsy recovery without any confrontation on my part. You know why? Because I know how racist attitudes change, after a lifetime of hearing this stuff from white people.

One person at a time. I’m very patient…but I hope some of you who do this stuff read this and reconsider the next time a racist thought pops into your head. BEFORE it rolls off your tongue, please. Most of us don’t want to hear it.

 

You’re Not Invisible

Hanging out at the Starbucks in my office building on Monday, gabbing with my coworker and waiting on my latte. I’m a freaking latte junkie, yeah, I know it’s too much for a cup of coffee.

As I turn around to see if my drink is ready, a very scraggly man is right there in front of me and he says very low “Ma’am I haven’t eaten all day, can you buy me something to eat?”. It’s very crowded in the Starbucks, and as crowded as it is with all of us (mostly it’s people who work in my building because this Starbucks is in a tunnel underneath our building), I know that just about everybody but me is doing their best to avoid looking at him. That’s how it is in the big city, and especially if a homeless person comes into “your” place, instead of staying out on the street…people don’t want to see, they’ll look anywhere and pretend they just DON’T SEE. I know this in my bones and it makes me hesitate for a second, and then I feel ashamed of myself. How much pride did he have to swallow to tell me he was hungry, to even approach me? More than I’ll ever know, I’m sure, because as much as I went without as a child, I’ve never been hungry a day in my life. So I said sure I will, and walked with him over to the sandwich case.

He got a sandwich, and a piece of pumpkin bread. I asked him if he wanted something to drink and he got a big old frappucino with whipped cream and chocolate chips. I stood in line with him to pay for his stuff, and the young guy who gets my coffee most days, who knows me by name, saw me and I waved to let him know I was getting it. He got a funny look on his face. He rang us up and then he said “Hey Kat, come here, I want to show you something”, and he headed for the back of the store where it’s employees only. Now I’m embarrassed, because I know the conversation we’re about to have, and that he thinks he’s doing me a favor or protecting me. From the scary homeless guy.

I go back there, and he says “Was that guy pandhandling you?” I say no, he’s hungry and he asked me if I’d buy him something to eat so I did. I don’t give money to people, usually, but there’s just no way I can say no to anyone who says “I’m hungry”. Because I know they probably are hungry, and I can fix that for that one meal, right then. Then I said you know, he could be a vet, a huge percentage of the homeless population are veterans, and I just can’t turn my back on them.

I was embarrassed when I went back out into the store to get my coffee because I felt like people were staring at me, and at him. What I really hope happened is this: that they looked at themselves instead, and questioned themselves about why it’s ok not to see someone who’s hungry and alone. That they felt uncomfortable enough to do that, and maybe the next time they won’t pretend that person isn’t there.

You’re not invisible to me, homeless guy. When I looked at you, I saw someone’s brother, someone’s baby boy…someone who needed something I could give, and I was glad to do it. Hope you found a warm bed and that you weren’t hungry for the rest of that day, at least.

I Wish I’d Known That Guy

My father died on Thursday, November 6, at 5:15am. He had a massive stroke on Wednesday night, and he died a few hours after being taken off life support. He would have been miserable if he’d lived, they could have operated but he’d have never walked again, probably wouldn’t ever have spoken again, would have been blind. I’d rather be dead, too.

I was supposed to meet my stepmother for lunch on Thursday, she was coming here for a meeting. She called me Wednesday night to tell me she was at the hospital, and my brother called me later that night to tell me he wasn’t going to make it. Neither of us knew how we felt about it. I guess what I mostly felt was “That’s too bad.”. I had just talked to my stepmother a few days before and she’d asked me, if I were ever in Dallas, if I’d be willing to go out to dinner with them. Because I haven’t talked to my father in almost four years. I took a lot of shit from him over the years, but his racist comments about my baby and my husband pushed me too far one too many times, and I gave up on him. There was no point, he was a toxic presence every time I ever let him into my life. I grew up, let go, and moved on.

So now he’s dead and it’s very strange. My brother, my sister and I all went to Dallas for his funeral. We have a half-brother, he’s 23 years younger than me, and as horrible of a non-father as he was to us, he was the exact opposite kind of father to Steven. I listened to Steven eulogize him at the funeral, he broke down a couple of times, he really is going to miss his dad. His pain almost brought tears to my eyes, but not quite. Because I didn’t know that guy he was talking about. That father who was there every day, who taught him to play golf and went to all of his football games. My father doted on Steven. He never, ever doted on the four of us. He left us to fend for ourselves, and when we did see him, he exposed us to all kinds of crazy shit (as you can tell from my occasional posts on this blog). He was a pathological liar and a total narcissist, and if you asked me if he ever loved anyone but himself, I’d have to say “no way” from our experiences. But if he ever loved anyone, it was Steven. That would honestly be the only nice thing that I can say about him.

I’m glad that at least he didn’t spend his entire life treating all of his children like they didn’t exist or matter. But it was very difficult to be at that funeral, and to accept the condolences of people who knew him when they were introduced to us. At least there were no awkward questions from anyone.

I’m glad we went because I got to see my brother and sister together, which doesn’t happen often. I’m glad we were there for Steven, I think he has questions about why we were never around but he isn’t ready to ask them. But I know it was good for him that we were there, he has four siblings that maybe he can get to know now that our father isn’t in the picture. It’s kind of strange, he doesn’t resemble any of us in any way, or my father. But then, my brother and I don’t resemble our father at all, and my other brother looks exactly like him.

So, he’s dead. I don’t quite know what to do with that fact yet.

Put Out or Get Out

I was an unruly teenager. So unruly that I refused to go to school for most of my high school years; my mother would take me to school, thinking if she dropped me off I’d be there, and as soon as she left I’d sneak off campus. I was just wild, and there wasn’t anything she could do about it. This was back in the days when being a wild girl was not at all a good thing. You got a reputation, if you know what I mean.

We had this house on our street that these two brothers owned. It would be the two of them living there all the time, and then there was always a revolving male roommate. One of the brothers, Harold, was a skinny, long-haired blonde with a mustache. He had FLOWING hair, rock star hair, and he fashioned himself a rock and roller, too. Played guitar, sang, had some sound equipment set up in his basement. Yeah, he made me hot. We had our moments.

Then there was the other brother, Larry. Straight arrow. I think he was an accountant or something, he had some kind of “real job”, not like Harold. He was blonde, too, but real conservative looking compared to his brother. He was not exactly what I thought of as sexy, and that might have been partially because he was so nice to me.

When you have a father who’s a sadistic, narcissistic asshole, you don’t know what to do with nice. Nice feels boring. Nice doesn’t inspire lust. But it does inspire friendship, and Larry was, I thought, my friend. We would talk, we would laugh, he never put the moves on me which made him pretty unique in my eyes. I trusted him.

One day Larry got a new car. An orange Roadrunner, I think it was 1976 (yeah, I know how old that makes me). It was a hot car, all brand new and shiny. Of course when he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride, I said yes. I didn’t have a whole lot of “no” in me back then when it came to boys and cars.

We go riding in his new car, we’re talking and laughing, the radio is blaring. He drives WAY out into the country. So far out that I don’t even know where we are, probably at least an hour from home. It’s starting to get dark out, and you know how dark is out in the country. You can’t see your hand in front of your face when it’s full dark. I don’t care, I’m having a good time, riding with my friend in his brand new car.

Then all of a sudden, he pulls over to the side of the road. I asked him what we’re doing, little tiny alarm bell wayyyy in the back of my mind but nothing too scary. I’m with my friend, no worries, right?

And then my friend, who’s never made a pass at me or said a single inappropriate thing to me, says “Put out or get out”. And he’s looking at me with this perfectly straight, “I’m not fucking around with you” face that I have never seen on him before. So I laughed, because this must be some kind of fucking joke, right?

Right. “I’m serious, put out or get out”. He never says my name, I think that was probably part of trying to get up his nerve to, I don’t know, rape me? Pretend I’m not someone he knows. Or maybe he didn’t give a damn that until that moment I’d thought we were friends. But I still didn’t believe that he was serious, because it was pretty incomprehensible to me that I was out in the middle of nofuckingwhere, with no way to get home, on a dark country road, with a guy telling me that either I strip and have sex with him or I could get out and walk. And it was unreal to me that it was someone that I knew. That I thought I knew, anyway, that I thought was my friend.

So I just looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. He said it again. I said, “You’re not serious, Larry”. He said it again, and sat there looking at me. I think I started to cry.

And this is what I love about my scared to death, crushed spirit, 16 year old self: I didn’t do it. I sat there, scared, miserable, as alone as I’ve ever been in this lifetime, with him staring at me and waiting for me to crumble, and in my head I screamed “FUCK YOU, YOU BASTARD!”. And silently prayed for him not to try to force me because I doubt I’d have resisted if he hurt me. I’d rather be screwed than beat up any day, but if he thought I was just going to cave from some words on the side of a pitch-black road, he was sadly mistaken. But God I was scared.

Sorry son of a bitch. He finally put the car back on the road and drove home. And I never, ever spoke to him or went near him again.

I wonder if he ever thinks about that night and what he did? Probably not, who knows. It was a good lesson for me, though. Watch out for the quiet ones. Although, in all the men that I’ve known over a lifetime, the ones like him have been very few and far between.