Brain Dump

“I killed me some gophers/moles/voles, whatever the hell they are . . .  I started digging it out again and this little pink snout came out pushing more dirt.  I quickly lit the bomb and shoved it right in his face, quickly covered the hole and ran down, lit the other bomb.  Let’s hope it worked but I think I probably have a whole assortment of critters down there.”

It’s good to have a project to focus on right now.  A lot of my friends seem to be into bread baking.  Others are at it with online exercise or miscellaneous types of remote learning.  Several are volunteering at food banks or various COVID related endeavors.  A few have even figured out Tik Tok. My friend above is channeling her monotony into critter extermination.  I felt a bit sad for the little pink snout being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but no judgement for my friend, who is actually a very nice person.  We must take our little victories where we can in these troubled times.

Clearly people are bored though and looking for projects.  Last week, I received an email instructing me to send $2,000 (in bitcoin) to an unidentified individual within 24 hours.  If I failed to do so, said person would forward all of my (alleged) internet porn activity to my nearest and dearest.  Said person noted that I should not wait to get on this because, “you don’t want people to see what kind of kinky stuff you’re into, lmao”.  He (I’m just guessing at gender here) also warned me: “don’t waste my time by pretending you don’t know how to use bitcoin” (I actually do not know how to use bitcoin, and this could have been a learning opportunity I suppose). My new virtual friend sent me the same email three days in a row.  Then he gave up.  I’m hoping that if my live friends have received any porn related activity involving me, they will let me know.

I haven’t been bored enough to send people threatening emails.  I haven’t been bored at all actually.  I spend my days monitoring the equilibrium in my household and this takes copious amounts of emotional time and energy.  Our family dynamic, on an average day, ranges anywhere between The Brady Bunch and Married . . . with Children. I’m either channeling Carol Brady’s sunny optimism or Peg Bundy’s alcohol-infused maternal neglect and shallowness.  It’s not just the virus. It’s the whole state of things in our country. I think even Carol Brady would be tossing one back just about now.

It’s a unique thing to parent an adult child. I like that we can share a glass of wine. I like that I don’t have to curb my language. I like that I can tell them the truth and have real conversations. I may be an outlier in my demographic, but I’m relieved that their childhoods are over. I spent most of it holding my breath, hoping they would turn out okay.  They turned out better than okay, but the world I’ve forced them into is horrid. My only real job left as their parent is to reassure them that everything will be okay.  Frankly, I’m having a hard time with that one lately.

Since that awful day in November 2016, I’ve been waiting for the grown-ups to tell me everything is going to be okay. The President has either fired all the grown-ups or anyone who dares him to do the right thing. There is an entire news channel dedicated to promoting him – even when he doesn’t tell the truth. If polls mean anything, it seems around a third of the country take this as gospel. The chunk of government whose job it is to keep a check on presidential power, has effectively abdicated its responsibility.  Our free press is routinely threatened by the President. The actions of our Attorney General would seem to suggest that he is no longer independent. Who is left to protect us? Who is left to make it all okay?

I have a close friend who is surrounded by family that not only disagrees with her politically, but thinks the President is doing a great job as a leader.  I asked her how she can still have a real relationship with these people.  Here was her answer: “I turn off a part of my brain when I’m with them”.  So, kids, that’s the answer I guess to living in today’s America.  Turn off your brain.  It is so not okay.

Girls trip with my daughter. Unseasonably warm January weekend. Manhattan. Upper East Side. The Mark Hotel. Strolling in Central Park. Browsing in Bloomingdales. The Strand Bookstore. Moulin Rouge on Broadway. Italian at Scalinatella, Asian Fusion at Tao, French at Le Coucou, sushi at Nobu. “Should we get another bottle?” Pizza. Bagels. Sunday brunch with my beloved New Jersey family. My cousin’s five and eight-year-old daughters singing Lizzo songs.  Forgive me, I just needed a second to ruminate in a favorite recent memory, my last travel event – for this year and the foreseeable future.  I decided to be “present” that weekend and took no pictures.  I won’t make that mistake again.

Someone in our neighborhood decided to paint their house black and another neighbor is not too pleased about it. I know this because the guy called my husband to complain about it.  Jim is on our Homeowners Association (HOA) board, so he periodically fields complaints from well-meaning neighbors. In this case, the aggrieved neighbor wanted Jim to determine if the color was in violation and if so, take the necessary action.

I think the man is greatly overestimating the power of an HOA, or of my husband for that matter.  Jim does have a gold badge lying around somewhere from his 30 years with the Treasury Department.  No firearms though and plus, he’s more of a lover than a fighter.  Also, he’s been in ten weeks of lockdown living with a wife with dual personalities (Carol Brady/Peg Bundy), and loving daughters offering ongoing helpful feedback about: his diet, wardrobe, news sources, personality, diet, communication skills, diet, exercise routine, and diet.  So, he’s a bit worn down.

We checked out the offending house on our walk today. It’s really more charcoal colored and personally, I like it. Assuming they’re a good neighbor, maintaining their home, and not flying a confederate flag, I don’t much understand why anyone would complain about the color of a house.  Particularly at this moment in time when there are much bigger issues to worry ourselves about. Maybe that’s the point though. Focus on what we think we can control. Like the critters in our yards.

Speaking of things that we can control; we have goats in the ‘hood!  For the second consecutive year, hubby has facilitated a herd of goats to take care of brush clearing, thus greatly improving our chances in the event of fire.  There are 400 of them and they will be slowly making their way through our neighborhood over the next three weeks.  I wish they could stay forever.  Just seeing them makes my heart, and my brain, very happy.


45 Minutes

It was September.  I was 14 and had just started my freshman year of high school.  I was under-developed, insecure, naïve, and a rule follower. I was still trying to find my way both figuratively and literally.  On this particular day, I got lost trying to find my English class. The bell was ringing as I ducked in at the last minute and grabbed a seat in the back row.  The class was chaotic, the teacher already having lost control.  This was the “C” level class.  In my high school they divided us into three groups: “A” classes were for the high achievers, “C” for the delinquents, and “B” for all the rest.  Thinking back to all of those standardized tests that I never took seriously in middle school, it’s no wonder I ended up where I was.

Those movies where the protagonist isn’t paying attention and she wanders into the wrong room, dark alley, frat house, etc.?  That’s how I see it now.  I stumbled into the wrong seat in a class I didn’t belong in.  Their names were Shawn and Michelle.  They turned around to look at me.  I smiled, because that’s what I always did.  That’s what I was trained to do.  “Smile Susie!”  It was a mistake.  Because it made me look exactly like what I was: prey.

I knew who they were.  You don’t live in the same small town your whole life, go through the school system with the same kids, and not know most everyone.  They were a couple.  He was a football player and a stoner.  She was beautiful, but the kind of beauty you expect to see in a 25-year-old, not a high school freshman.  In hindsight, I almost feel sorry for her.  Almost.

They started in on me immediately.  Words that no one could hear above the ruckus in the classroom.  Him keeping it purely physical, telling me what he’d do to me.  Words, that if they were uttered today, would qualify as a rape threat.  Her words were more an overall appraisal of me: ugly, bitch, cunt, stupid.   On and on it went for the entire class period, as I sat there in paralyzed silence.  A relentless spew of threats and cruelty.  I look at it now with a detached sort of wonderment, but I’ve never forgotten how terrified I was in that moment.  How trapped and alone and powerless I felt sitting in that chair.  How it was only 45 minutes, but it felt interminable.

I’ve discounted it over the years.  Played it down.  Justified it.  It wasn’t physical after all.  Only 45 minutes.  Just words. Not like they injured me or anything. They were just bullies.  Everyone’s been subjected to bullying at some point, right?  The experience made me stronger, yes?  Some might ask why I didn’t just get up and walk away?  Because it was 1977.  And good girls followed the rules.  They certainly didn’t leave in the middle of class.  Or I didn’t anyway.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do that.  I’ve raised my daughters differently.

I came home after school that day to a blessedly empty house.  I lay down on my bed and cried and cried and cried.  Feeling desperate because I didn’t know what to do.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone.  Who to tell anyway?  I didn’t yet have the type of close friendships that I’d eventually form.  The thought of telling my parents was mortifying.  School administrators?  No way.  Phrases like “sexual harassment” and “hostile work environment” were not yet a part of our national vernacular.

All I knew, was I had to find a way out.  Years later, one of my supervisors at work praised me by saying “Susan always figures out how to get the job done.”  It has always been something I’ve prided myself on – that I figure a way out.  That experience with Shawn and Michelle, awful as it was, may have been a factor in the honing of my fight or flight response.  That is the sick way I’ve justified their actions over the years.  As if I owe them a fucking thank you card.

Though figure a way out, I did.  I convinced my parents that I was in the wrong class: the teacher was bad, and I wasn’t being challenged.  It wasn’t a total lie.  A call to my guidance counselor was all it took to get me in with the “B Listers”.   After that, I was pretty much able to avoid Shawn and Michelle.  In a school of 1200 students, it can be fairly easy to make yourself invisible, or at least beige.  I did let my guard down once though, and Michelle cornered me in the girls bathroom.  Fortunately, by then I had learned how to walk away.  I did however become extremely adept at restroom navigation for the remainder of my high school years.

Eventually, Michelle and Shawn broke up, and they forgot about me.  A couple of years later, Michelle showed up in my history class.  She demonstrated no memory of me at all.  Rumor has it she was pretty heavily into drugs at that point.  It could have been that or, more likely, I was simply sport for her and Shawn.  Meaningless cruel fun for them, trauma for 14-year old me.

Michelle disappeared after that, didn’t graduate with our class.  I’m not sure what became of her.  Shawn popped back into my life courtesy of social media and then at our 30-year high school reunion.  It was unsettling seeing him. This now grown man who had so affected me as a young girl.  It was odd listening to people comment on what a sweet guy he was. It took only a bit of liquid courage for me to confront him.  Naturally, he didn’t remember me or what he had done.  When I mentioned Michelle, he had the gall to commiserate with me, “oh, I lost a lot of friends because of her”.  Sure, blame it on the chick.

I’ll give him this much – though he didn’t remember anything, he showed some genuine remorse that he’d been the cause of my pain.  And while he probably shouldn’t have said “well, you seem to have turned out fine anyway”, he did apologize several times.  Even had the DJ play my favorite song.  It was something. Or maybe I’m cutting him too much slack.  At the time though, it was cathartic.

After that, he friended me on Facebook.  We had a pleasant banter for a few years even though we were diabolically opposed politically: he was a full on #MAGA Trump supporter.  Still, he would check in with me occasionally just to see how I was; later, I would donate to his go fund me page when he received his cancer diagnosis.  Eventually, the pleasant banter turned ugly.  It could’ve been politics or his illness or just him.  I don’t think he was a bad person.  I think he did stupid things a very long time ago and I was the unfortunate recipient for 45 minutes.  Still, he was now making me uncomfortable, and I was no longer 14, so I blocked him. And, that was cathartic too.  A few months after that, I heard he passed away.

They say living well is the best revenge.  And I’ve lived very well, better than anyone including myself could have predicted when I was 14.  So, I guess Shawn was right.  I did turn out fine.