Posts tagged life
I am starting the process of rebuilding my life. A life by myself — except for my kids and animals. There is a lot to do. I have to rebuild myself first, but I have been diligently working on that project for months now. Now that I am no longer homeless, and am back in my own house, it seems that I need to begin rebuilding the house and most of its contents as well.
Many rooms in the house look as if I have been robbed. The dining room has no table or chairs and doesn’t even have a light fixture. Thanks to the slate floors I installed a few years ago, it echoes with the sound of emptiness in there. I’ve actually already begun the process of rebuilding in that room in the form of a new dining room table. I’m making it myself out of cherry, inlaid with Padauk and Walnut. When I finish it it’ll be gorgeous but for now there is just the echo.
The walls, once so covered in signs of love and life and family are now bare. Virtually everything that was hanging on them is now gone. It’s time to put the images of my new life up, but right now I don’t know what those images are. Yet. But my eyes are wide open to life and possibilities and new beauty, so who knows what will end up there.
I do know that one thing that left seemed so minor, but was, apparently, very important. The chalkboard in the kitchen. We used it to record grocery lists, messages, little drawings by my daughter and the occasional misunderstood message. We called the women that designed our kitchen “the girls” and for a few months there was a message on the board that said “Call Girls.” Until the neighbor raised an eyebrow and asked if there was anything we needed to talk about.
The blank spot on that wall needed to be filled. I needed to fill it. Simply writing on the wall wasn’t going to be an option, so I got to work yesterday. Remember up there I said I was making a new table out of cherry? Well, I have a lot of pieces that can’t be used in the table, so I made myself a chalkboard frame to match my kitchen. Only took a few hours, and now I have someplace to write my grocery lists. Small as they may be now.
And I made it myself. Of course the moment I hung it I thought “it needs to have something on it. I can’t have it be blank!” but of course my mind went blank and I couldn’t think of anything to write, anything I needed from the grocery store. So I smiled instead.
It’ll do for now. I may even leave it there to remind myself to smile, even when I don’t feel like it. To remember that my life is not empty, even if the walls of my house are. That there is always something to smile about, if I look for it.
It really is time to just slow down.
Yes, it’s 20 minutes out of your life that you will never get back, but that’s sort of the whole point. You don’t need to get it back if you enjoy it the first time around.
This is what I care the most about. Making sure that these unhappy faces …
Look like this …
As often, and as much, as possible.
That, and teaching this one some better make-up skills.
Yes, it’s cute now, but as she gets older I hope she learns to be a little more subtle with the colors and the application. Though, from what I understand, subtlety in make-up seems to be ‘out’ right now. I’ve been seeing more TV lately, and I’m not impressed.
I’ll also look for more natural beauty like this …
whenever I can. But mostly it’s about the smiles. More smiles for the ones I love. More beauty in the world.
Last spring, at the neighborhood garage sale, I found a small espresso machine for $5.00. That’s about what a good Cappuccino costs at most coffee houses. I couldn’t resist, so I bought it. I know, most people that own one use it seldom, if ever. It’s a novelty that quickly wears off.
But then this happened one Saturday morning.
The Tot thought it looked like a Paw Print. We all agreed with her assessment and chuckled. Then the next morning this happened:
Some of us thought it looked like a heart. Or a turnip. Or … we realized that my coffee was a homemade rorschach test. And that’s when it hit me. I wonder what would happen if I took a picture of my cappuccino every morning for a while, just to see what sorts of changes and interesting images we might see.
The “Coffee Project” was born. The challenge wasn’t in motivating myself to make a cappuccino every morning. That was the easy part. I was getting god at making them, and thoroughly enjoying drinking them. No, the hard part was in taking a picture, every morning, from exactly the same angle, the same height, the same perspective, the same view. I considered setting up a small tripod, or duct-taping a camera to the underside of the cabinet, but all of that seemed to be too much effort. No, I would just use my iPhone and eyeball it.
I wasn’t sure how long to go. A month? 6 months? A year? Wing it. See how long it lasts. Well, the time has come. This will likely be my last blog post for a few weeks, and I thought I’d go ahead and knock this out while I could. It may be a while before I get back to making Cappuccinos in the morning as well, so this seemed like a good time.
I’ve truing them all together in an animated GIF for you to see the whole month (well, 38 days, actually) of the Coffee Project.
I will try to put up a gallery of all of the individual images as soon as I have some time (but that won’t be for at least a few weeks, so check back!)
The Mayonnaise Jar
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle. When 24 hours in a day is not enough; remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and start to fill it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else
He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous ‘yes.’
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.
The students laughed.
‘Now,’ said the professor, as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – Family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else The small stuff.
‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
‘So, pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap.
‘Take care of the golf balls first — The things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. ‘I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.’
I know at least one friend that I owe a couple of cups of coffee to, and I intend to have them.
What about you?
(Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on another blog of mine (no longer available) on August 25th, 2010 and updated as indicated. I moved it here as part of what will be a couple of other posts on stalking, cyber-stalking, bullying, cyber-bullying, etc. Stay tuned.)
Update 12/18/2010: I had so far been unable to go do this. Until today.
It was a fittingly cold and dark and dreary and rainy day today when I was finally able to go up and visit Sue’s grave — or at least the plaque where her ashes were put to rest.
I took her a flower. It was the least I could do. And it wasn’t easy. It was, in fact, very hard. And sad.
It was also strangely peaceful. In an odd way I think it may have put my heart to rest too. At least Sue is finally at peace. At least I hope that she is. Her life was hard. She suffered a lot, and she deserves the peace.
Rest in peace Sue.
This is a particularly difficult entry to write for many reasons. It’s highly personal (more personal than I usually share on this blog). It is emotionally charged, for me. I’ve been working on it for almost a week. a long, long time, and it’s a very long post. During that time, a lot of other really fun completely shitty stuff has happened to make this even more difficult to process and write about. I still don’t know how I am supposed to feel about this. I don’t think there’s any right answer. But maybe writing some of it out will help me deal with it. There seems to be a lot of sickness and death around lately. I don’t like it. (More on that at the end)
This story ends with a death, but I’ll start at the beginning instead.
When my marriage was ending back in 2000, I got involved with a woman, older than me, who was, shall we say, the antithesis of anyone I had ever been with before. Or so I thought. She was outspoken, beautiful, crazy, funny, loud, uninhibited … the list was long. She had 2 children from 2 previous marriages, both teenagers, or close to it. It was a wild ride from the start. We moved in together. She accepted my 2 kids as her own, even though they weren’t with us full-time, and one of my sons is severely disabled. It was wildly passionate and intoxicating. As difficult as it is to write now, I loved her then. Deeply.
That’s the mechanics of it. The emotions of it are much, much more complicated. We managed to stay living together for almost 2 years. They were not easy years. They were not without conflict or disagreement. What relationship is? They were also not without love and tenderness and good memories. We had fun. We had turmoil.
But the disagreements and the strife and the ugliness began to outstrip the love and the fun and the wild times. The relationship became volatile. Explosive. Unpredictable. Even scary. And I wanted out. But given the instability and explosiveness, I knew I couldn’t just get out that easily. It was not going to be simple. It was not going to be smooth. It was going to leave a mark. A big one.
So I spent months saving money, in secret. I spent months looking for a house to move into, in secret. One that could accommodate my boys, and that I could afford on my own. One that would accept my dog as well. And I found just the place. A little bungalow in downtown Sunnyvale, CA. 2 bed rooms. I bathroom. Fenced back yard. The landlords loved my dog. Only 3 steps to get in the front door (other than that, wheelchair friendly). I took it. Paid my first and last months rent, and a deposit. Swallowed hard. Went home to make my move. Anyone who’s ever lived in an abusive relationship knows what I’m talking about. They know how hard it can be to get out. To convince yourself that you deserve better. To convince yourself that you can get out. To gather up the inner strength required to stand up, take the coming onslaught, and get out.
To say that dishes were broken would be an understatement. I did a lot of ducking. A lot of dodging and weaving. Remember the scene from the movie Dodge Ball where they played with crescent wrenches? Yeah, like that.
My dog and I (and one suitcase of clothes) were gone within half an hour. I had nothing else. I had to go buy an inflatable bed and a “bed in a bag” sheet set, some towels, etc. from Target. I had nothing. Nothing. But I was out. Or so I thought. In hindsight, I could have (and should have) planned it better, but when you’ve never done something as dangerous and frightening as leaving an abusive relationship, it’s hard to know how to plan. Over the next several weeks and months there were various negotiations involved in getting the rest (or at least most of) my belongings out of her house. I never did manage to get everything, but losing some material things in the process of getting back your self respect and dignity is a small price to pay.
Getting out was just the beginning of the problems. There were the phone calls. 100s a day (literally). There were the text messages. 1000s a day (again, literally). There were the emails too numerous to count. There were the chats. It was like whack-a-mole. I would block one account, and a new one would pop up within minutes. It was impossible to stay ahead of. And they ran the gamut. From “I love you, please come home” to “I hate you more than the devil himself and I will send you to meet him soon!” Emails to home. Emails to work. Showing up at the office. Showing up at my house. I’d change my phone number (cell) only to have her calling and texting it 2 days later. I have no idea how she did it.
Months later, when things still hadn’t subsided, and I lived in fear of coming home to find a rabbit boiling in a pot on my back porch, I had finally had enough. I had gone on a few dates with a woman who had an unlisted home phone number. One evening her phone rang. It was my ex-girlfriend calling to threaten her to stay away from me. How she got that number I do not know to this day. I came home one night to a messages, scrawled in lipstick on the glass panes of my front door. I had finally had enough.
I went down to the Santa Clara County Courthouse to the domestic violence unit, and filed for an order of protection. I’m going to try not to go on a rant here, but suffice to say that the Domestic Violence Unit — and later I would come to find out the police, too — don’t exactly take a man seriously when he’s trying to get an order of protection against a woman. To say that they were skeptical, and unhelpful wold be an understatement. But I got a temporary order, and a hearing set for the full order in a month. The Sheriff’s office would server her, and explain the order to her, and hopefully the harassment would stop.
When the hearing came around, my ex didn’t show up, which, at least in California at the time, meant that the Order was granted as permanent (meaning, I believe 10 years). She was not allowed to call me. Send me email. Send text messages. Or come within 500 yards of my house. She was also forbidden from owning a firearm. I lived on a narrow street, so there was no way she would be allowed to even drive down my street without violating the order. I hoped this would put an end to it all, but I was very, VERY wrong. Things slowed down, but the emails continued. The phone calls continued. Reporting these things to the local Police proved fruitless. They simply didn’t care. I’m a big strong guy. She’s a little bitty woman. They didn’t see a problem.
Finally one evening as I was standing in my living room, talking on the phone, I saw her come storming up my walkway. She had a head of steam and was coming in hard and fast. The front door flew open, she was in my house, in my face, and slapped the portable phone out of my hand, leaving a scratch across my face in the process. A few choice words from her, and she was gone just as quickly. I dialed 911. The Sunnyvale PD arrived, and I showed them the protective order, and told them the story. They listened diligently, but it was clear they weren’t that interested in doing anything about it. Then my phone rang. The caller ID showed that it was her, so I let the police officer answer. This was as clear a violation of the protective order as could be asked for. Had the roles been reversed, I would have already been in handcuffs in the back of a squad car. After 10 or 15 minutes, the police left, saying that they were going to talk to her and “get her side of the story.”
They did go talk to her. They didn’t arrest her for violating the protective order, they just talked to her. This is what I call the “naked man problem.” Most of the men reading this will get this instantly. But let me explain:
We have a woman, standing in her house, in front of a plate-glass window, stark naked. A man is standing on a public sidewalk in front of her house, looking at her. Along come the police.
Question: Who gets arrested?
Answer: The man, of course.
Now we have a man, standing in his house, in front of a plate-glass window, stark naked. A woman is standing on a public sidewalk in front of the house, looking at him. Along come the police.
Question: Who gets arrested?
Answer: The man, of course.
And that, my friends, is the naked man problem. It is rampant in the family court system, and in most areas of law enforcement. And it is what I was up against in this situation.
For the next 3 months, nothing changed. I got phone calls. I got email messages. I got Chat messages. I would change my phone number, and 2 days later, the calls would start again. But after 3 months, the District Attorney’s office called me. They had the police report (including the phone call that was answered by the cop), and they were prosecuting. In fact, they already had prosecuted. He was calling to tell me that a bench warrant had been issued, that she would be spending 72 hours in jail, and (this is the best part) asking me if I knew where she was.
After that, after she ended up in jail, things got much better. Not entirely. I would still get messages like “Those paintings look great above the fireplace in your new house.” And my wife (I had gotten married again by this time) would get messages at work. But things were better, and we coped. Then we left California and moved to North Carolina. Being 3,000 miles away made me feel a lot safer. Not entirely safe, but a lot safer. I gradually began to open my life back up again.
Every few months I would google her name just to make sure she hadn’t moved to North Carolina, or whatever. At one point, googling her, I came across this (coincidentally, the same day, a former mutual friend emailed me the link. I’m still not sure I believe in coincidences). So this is the article, in it’s entirety, that I came across.
That came as quite a shock to me. I knew she was an alcoholic. I knew her life had been spinning further and further out of control since we split up and she started stalking me. But I never imagined that she would have lost everything and become homeless. Living in a Motel 6. As I said, I was shocked. Part of me wished I could reach out to her and lend a helping hand. Especially to her younger son, on whom I knew this was being especially hard. But I also knew that were I to reach out a hand, I would likely have it bitten clean off. I knew that I could not reach out to her without becoming re-engaged n some manner. And once that started, there would be no turning the dial back. Her dial only had 2 settings: off and 14. There were no middle settings, and I couldn’t go back to 14. So I left it off.
From the article it was clear that she had nearly succeeded in drinking herself to death. You don’t need a liver transplant from the soap at Motel 6. I’ve known people who also hit a similar bottom to that one. Most of them didn’t survive either because they never got the liver they needed or because they continued to drink, causing what was left of their own liver to fail completely. There isn’t a whole lot of middle-ground there. You either get a liver in time, or you die.
I have not been in contact with her, even after reading about her desperate plight. As you may have read in a previous post about friendship, I probably should have. On some level, even though she had been stalking me, and making my life miserable, and generally disrupting and disturbing anything and everything in my life she was still, I guess at some level, a friend. I don’t give up on friends that easily, though maybe I should. And I should definitely rethink that philosophy. As I said, I’m just not wired like that.
I didn’t contact her. I never called (not that I would have known what number to call. I never emailed (again …), she remained blocked on Facebook.
And then 2 weeks ago I googled her again (as I said, I did that every few months/years just to check in with her and make sure that she’s ok. It’s the most I can do, since I can’t, and don’t want to, actually contact her. Well, this time I found something entirely different. This time, I found this:
She was gone. And back on July 1st. I no longer had a stalker. I seriously didn’t know, and still don’t know, how to react to this news. Should I be happy that this woman that made my life a living hell for so many years is gone? Should I be sad that this woman that I loved at one point was now dead? I feel deep sadness for her children. Her son, has no one in this world left (his father died of cancer a few years ago). I wish that there were somehow something I could do to help him.
In the end, I am saddened by her death. She was a bright, vibrant, funny, crazy, and thoroughly enjoyable person most of the time. I did love her. She also had some very serious and deep-seated problems that neither I nor anyone else could ever seem to help her with (and not for lack of trying). I don’t know whether or not she had regained her wonderful friendships and had lots of people who loved her nearby when she died, or if she died alone. I very much hope it was the former. She deserved that, at least. It would sadden me even more to think that she died alone. No one deserves that.
I have to handle this on my own. I have to find my way through this emotional minefield alone. I have to reconcile the love, the distrust, the malevolence, and the ambivalence. Somehow I have to come to some sort of peace with this. Death is final. There is now no longer an opportunity for me to make peace with her, to let her know that, while I hated her for what she put me through, for so many of the things she did to me, that on some level I still loved her and would always love her. And the simple act of writing that last sentence causes so much conflict and pain.
You see, I never give up on people. Even people I know in my heart I should give up on forever. Even people that have not only not earned my continued love and friendship, but have actually taken serious and overt actions to destroy that love and caring in me. But I just can’t seem to ever do that. And so I couldn’t with Sue. (I knew her as Sue. Some knew her as Michelle.)
So I will grieve some for her. I will grieve that she is gone from this earth, and that at least for some people, the world will never be as bright and wonderful a place without her in it. I will grieve that I never got to have any sort of final closure with her so that she could know that somewhere I still loved her. For the person she always could have been, not for the person she so often was. And in the biggest paradox of all, I will grieve that she is no longer in my life, and never will be again while at the same time being relieved that she is no longer in my life and never will be again.
And I will feel guilty over the mourning. And I will feel guilty over the relief. And I will never be able to reconcile the two. But it has taught me a lot about myself. It has taught me the depths of friendship. It has taught me the depth of love. It has shown me the fleeting nature of our lives, and the everlasting, lifelong impacts of friends and lovers and enemies.
I’ve learned a lot this year. As usual, most of it the hard way. But in the last few months, with the help of some really wonderful people in my life, things have become quite clear on a few subjects.
Growth is hard. True growth takes work. Sweat. Tears. Struggle. Insight. All of that and more.
Part of what I’ve learned are things I’m trying to teach my son. He’s at that age where he needs to learn these lessons. He’s becoming a man, and many of these lessons are about just that: Being a man. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about that. About what it means to me, and about what I have learned about it.
A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook, mostly as a joke, but she posts lots of “Cowboy Meat” these days.
Nice Cowboy Beefcake. Is that what it means to be a man? Big bulging muscles and all? Hmmm … I suspect that he’s not all that secure with himself. See that hand placement? Right. You see that all the time with men that aren’t secure in who they are as men.
Being a man isn’t about how you look. It isn’t about how big your muscles are. That’s all on the outside. Being a man comes from the inside.
And the grabbing your penis all the time? Watch just about every rapper strutting around on stage, one hand on the microphone, the other on … himself. As if he’s going to lose his penis if he’s not holding it in his hand at all times. That’s insecurity about who you are. You may be rich and famous, and yet …
They aren’t men. They’re just rich and famous.
Farther down the ladder are the ‘men’ that hit or otherwise abuse women. I’m of the firm belief that hitting anyone is counter-productive and wrong. It never teaches anyone anything — other than “getting hit hurts” — and it is all about expressing power and anger. Mostly because you have no other way of expressing your anger, and because you feel like you have such little power. Whether you’re hitting your kids, or hitting your spouse, it’s not about them. It’s about you, and how powerless and insignificant you feel on the inside.
Hitting other people doesn’t make you a man. It makes you an abuser. It shows me that you aren’t mature enough to handle your emotions. It shows me that you feel so powerless that you have to try to exert some physical power over someone else, because that’s the only power you have.
My son came home with that song a few weeks ago. A teachable moment for sure. Especially given the current culture teens are growing up in. It’s not okay to hit other people. It makes you a bully and a coward.
Then there are the guys that think that if you cook, or sew, or do any of those “female” things, that you’re not a real man. You know, the old “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” deal. I have news for you. Real men can do whatever they want, because they’re not worried about what you, or anyone else, thinks about them.
When I first got to college one of my roommates didn’t know how to do his own laundry. He didn’t even know which was the washer and which was the dryer. He didn’t know how to cook. He couldn’t have sewn a button on a shirt to save his life. He was, in essence, a helpless little boy. He certainly wasn’t a man.
I’m teaching my son that lesson. I’ve cooked with him since he was a little boy. He loves to cook. He knows how to do his own laundry. He can sew — both by hand and with a sewing machine — and likes it. So do I. I quilt, too. I made that quilt over there for him. I’ve made him several quilts which he loves. He made one for his Grandparents. One thing he won’t be as he grows up: helpless.
I quilt because I like it. I also make jam and jelly and can out-cook most people — other than a few friends who are actually chefs. And I don’t care what anyone else thinks about me because I can cook and sew. Because I’m not afraid of who I am, and I don’t need external approval for who I am, or for my ‘manliness’ to be ok. That’s the other lesson I hope my son is learning in all of this.
There is another whole class of things that some men do in order to feel more like men: Drinking, women, danger, etc.
Drinking. How many beers you drink, or shots, or whatever. Even what you drink — beer or wine or scotch — really doesn’t make you a man any more than drinking fruit juice makes you a child. All it makes you is drunk. And, more often than not, stupid.
Women. Whom you sleep with, how many women you sleep with, etc. None of that makes you any more of a man. Wwat makes you a man is how you treat those women. With dignity and respect? ✔ in the man column. Dishonestly? Shabbily? Hit them? Emotionally, physically or otherwise abuse them? Not a man. Really.
Money. How much money you make, or what you do with it, doesn’t make you any more or less of a man. I know plenty of what I consider real men who don’t make much money. I know plenty of men that I have no respect for who make a lot of money.
It’s not about how much of anything you have — money, power, women, muscles — that makes you a man. It’s about how you act. About how you treat other people. About how you are in the world. Mostly, it’s about how you respect yourself and others. Those that have no respect for themselves seldom have respect for others. And those that have no respect for others are hardly men.
So this showed up in my inbox today:
I take this matter very seriously, and very personally. In the past 6 months I’ve unfortunately experienced the loss of two friends, candidly the first two losses I’ve experienced in the “Facebook” era. Along with my real world mourning, I am also faced with their digital specters, not just on Facebook, but they appear as suggested contacts on Quora and I see them on LinkedIn from time to time. Others have written about their mixed emotions when Facebook suggests that they reconnect with loved ones who have passed on (although Facebook says suggesting users interact with dead friends and family was a deliberate decision).
For me, it was very … well, I hate to say timely or appropriate, but it was sort of both of those things. Some of my now-deceased friends, etc. keep showing up on twitter. And when Twitter says I should contact them, I wonder if I should have a seance or something.
I’m not going to un-friend them, that’s for sure. I’m pretty much not going to do any of the things suggested in the above article, frankly. But I’ve had a longer relationship with death than most people. The first person I knew — not a family member — that died was when I was in 6th grade. Kid in the neighborhood fell off of a cliff and broke his neck. He died before search and rescue could get him out of the canyon. Since then, I’ve lost a couple of girlfriends (try losing your girlfriend when you’re in 7th grade), and, on average, about 1 friend or acquaintance a year throughout High School and College.
Death is part of life. It’s just not one of the more enjoyable parts of life. But it is a big part. And now that I’m “getting older” it will once again become a bigger part of life.