A Story of Stunning and Brave
I often think of this. It makes me smile.
My youngest were in high school. They had dentist appointments. We have always had a tradition of stopping to get something to eat on the way home because they usually miss their school lunches on dentist day.
This day was no different. We stopped at Chick-fil-A, a bit of a treat for us, and ate inside.The dental hygienist’s work was in vain as they ordered nuggets, fries and sodas. My girls were makeup free, as usual, in normal jeans/yoga pants and tee-shirts, hair pulled back in pony tails. They are beautiful girls, if I do say so myself. And especially back then didn’t wear makeup, “outfits” or much jewelry — quite the opposite of how teen girls have and are portrayed on film — you know, those girls who don’t leave the house without full makeup and a highly coordinated and pulled together ‘look.’ My girls were probably still doing the — pick up the clothes from the floor and doing the ‘sniff test’ — to choose their outfits.
Anyhoo, my point is they were natural beauties, without a second thought about it.
As we ate a young man approached us. Walked right up to our table. Me and my two girls, fraternal twins, Baby A and Baby B.
He introduced himself, apologized for interrupting. He was so respectful and polite. Then turned to one of the girls, Baby B, and said:
“I would have kicked myself if I’d left without coming by and telling you that . . . . “
wait for it . . .
YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY STUNNING.
My jaw dropped to my waffle fries, as did her sister’s.
He proceeded tell us about himself and to ask for her number; she took his. Nothing came of it, but it sticks with me because this young man, who turns out was also a high school student but from a neighboring school, knew how to approach a girl in front of her sister and her mother and did so politely, without being creepy, and without any hint of aggression.
I’ve seen guys, men, checking out my daughters. Of course I have. And not gonna lie, I usually want to hurt them. But not this guy.
This guy spoke softly, but without the menacing whisper. He smiled. He kept a respectful distance. He greeted all of us with eye contact, and when speaking directly to Baby B his eyes never strayed below hers as he delivered the ultimate compliment.
He didn’t ask her to leave her table and talk to him.
“Can I talk to you?”
He didn’t ask if she had a boyfriend.
“What, do you have a boyfriend or something?”
He didn’t lick his lips.
And the word choice. He didn’t tell her she was hot or fine. No.
When he didn’t get her number, he didn’t respond with with,
“What you don’t want to make any friends?”
Nor did he turn her sister and say,
“What about you?”
No, he said it was nice to have met us and wished us a good day.
I noticed when he left that his buddies were outside the restaurant, waiting. He hadn’t allowed them to watch and perhaps laugh when he approached us. Maybe that protected him from the walk of shame in front of them? Maybe. But since either way they waited for him, what it did do was protect my daughter from feeling like a bunch of boys were watching us from the next table, watching his approach, waiting to hear her response.
Instead, this boy had left Chick-fil-A, told his friends to wait outside, and doubled back — to take a shot. He did so in the most respectful way possible.
And in front of both her sister and mother? Impressive.
Who raised this young man?
I want to send his parents a thank you note.
And since he did get her name and her high school, he could have done the stalking thing, but she never heard from him again. I actually hoped she’d call him. He was cute, but I think she was too embarassed (but not in a bad way) and wasn’t really dating yet.
If any of you are concerned about her sister, Baby A, the girl who was clearly not the subject of his appreciation, don’t be. Baby A is usually the one who gets the attention. She is also beautiful and plus she is super tall — like six feet — and a star athlete. Her name and picture had been in the paper, people know her. She is the girl who gets stopped in the mall by grown men asking if she is a model or —wants to be one. And what does Baby B get? She gets called the short one, in all her 5’7″ glory. So don’t worry about Baby A. This was Baby B’s day. And that’s okay.
And as I said, Baby A and I were too busy managing our unhinged jaws.
A girl doesn’t get that every day, not when she isn’t even trying.
It gave me hope that the days of meeting organically might not be completely over — if people know how to approach one another respectfully.
Rather than regretting a “Missed Connection” this teen boy took a shot. Props to him.
Notably this was a few years ago, before “stunning” began being used frequently and usually to describe transgender, nonbinary, or nonconforming people. Now you hear stunning (and brave) all the time. But even so, “stunning” is usually used to describe someone who is wearing a dress, is maticulously coiffed, and/or sports flawless makeup.
But back then? Stunning for a girl in jeans hunched over chicken nuggets? Not so much.
But stunning? Naw, not something you hear every day.
I mean, you know, my daughter is, of course, stunning. I feel that this is an objective fact.
But that boy? He was brave. And just a very nice, polite young man.
Just Me With . . . a chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and dropped jaws.
I sometimes remind Baby B of that boy, and say, “We all can’t be ‘absolutely stunning.'” Hahaha
She rolls her eyes, tells me to, “Stop it!”
But she’s smiling.
Side note: My girls have many other positive qualities and talents other than their looks, and none of us judge self worth by the existence or quality of the male gaze. Of course.
For a not so nice way to approach somebody see The Landscaper Guy posts, all five of them.
For a humorous approach, see The Best Pick Up Line, Ever .
But still, it was nice.
That Hoarders Smell
The house I bought was not as bad as some of the houses you see on Hoarders, at least the whole house wasn’t. But the third floor attic bedroom was as bad as those hoarders’ houses. This is where the man who I call PissMan, his girlfriend and their cat (sans litter box) stayed. The cat just relieved itself on all the stuff up there — clothes, cardboard boxes, etc. I needed this room to be a bedroom for two of my kids. It had to be completely transformed.
The master bedroom that became my room was the second worst. That is where the family matriarch stayed until she was confined to a hospital bed downstairs, and eventually passed away. See What Happened In My House? Murder? It was in this room where at least one cat was confined with a litter box, sans litter. This cat threw up a lot on the old hardwood floor. Nobody cleaned it up. Old hardwood floors –150 year old unmaintained hardwood floors– have many cracks, they do not have thick coats of Polyurethane to repel liquid. They act as sponges, soaking up whatever is dropped on them. Cat urine, feces, canned food and cigarette ashes had been dropped on them and left there in the Summer months, with no air conditioning or adequate ventilation.
This house had been a house of smokers for many, many years. The walls and ceilings had once been white but had turned a brownish-yellow. So, underneath all of the animal and human excrement smells was the smell of years of cigarette smoke. In addition, there had been some water damage in some of the rooms.
This added another smell — wet plaster, wet rugs and mold. Hmmm Hmmm Good!
Some rooms were worse than others as far as the hoard goes, but the whole house stunk. The smell was bad, really bad. It was so bad that I could smell it from the outside, while I was on the porch roof painting the exterior of the house with oil based paint.
Imagine — a beautiful Spring day, being up high in the sunshine — flowers blooming, birds singing — yet I could still smell the inside of the house — and it was enough to make me nauseous — and seriously question my decision to purchase that house. What was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking I had to move, I wanted to keep the kids in the same schools, and with five children and no money I had very little choice . . . but I digress . . . )
Paint fumes? Not a problem. Fumes from in the house? Problem.
The smell is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. You know when a smell is so pungent that you begin to taste it? Have you ever smelled a diaper after days in the trash, or after it has gotten wet? Are you familiar with that neglected service station bathroom smell? Cat urine? A litter box that hasn’t been cleaned in — months? Well, that shouldn’t happen, but just imagine. Adult human urine and feces? Has anyone ever let milk or cream go bad — like until it gets lumpy? Let’s see what else — food. The family cooked in a kitchen with absolutely no ventilation. Oh yeah, and soap. These people washed, but the usually comforting smell of soap just added to the soup of nastiness. The home’s overall smell was sour and sweet and nauseating, stronger in some areas yet pervasively throughout everything.
It was nasty.
Eventually, however, the family who had lived there for four generations, left. Five people, two cats –at the time (previously there had been many more cats, I’m told, and various other pets. The mom/grandmother loved her animals. See Accidental Exhumation; Be Careful For What You Dig For) plus human urine, feces, trash, piss soaked carpet remnants — all gone, though not in one trip.
Finally, the only thing left was their security deposit. Given the items they tried to leave me, i.e. bottles of urine, and various other debris including used adult diapers and crack, yeah, I kept their money.
So they were gone. Their stuff was gone.
The odor, however, remained — not surprising considering all the piss bottles and all. See Piss, Puke and Porn.
Damn, thinking back on all of this. I can almost taste that smell again. Ew.
Anyway, the following is my public service announcement and my personal account of how I got rid of . . .
That Hoarders Smell:
Hard scrubbed with good old-fashioned Pine Sol, barely diluted, rinsed and wiped down with water, repeat. Repeat until layers of dirt and smoke were removed. Spackle, sand.
Primed with oil-based primer. This is the kind you cannot wash off with soap and water. This is the hard stuff. If you get it on your clothes, they are ruined. If you get it on your skin or hair, either suffer through washing with turpentine or paint remover, or wait until it wears off on its own. The oil-based smell is strong. A mask is required for safety. Given the smells I was trying to eradicate, I welcomed the chemical smell of the paint, though, I admit.
Paint. I bought the thickest (and unfortunately the most expensive) paint I could find. Paint, repeat. The walls and ceilings required two coats of paint to deal with the smell and smoke stains.
Scrape the cat feces and vomit, and tape residue (they used tape for many repairs),
Sand the floors (some floors I had professionally sanded, but taking off a layer of floor did not, unfortunately, take away the smell, it some areas it made it worse).
Seal the floor (and odors) by painting with oil based floor paint. (The floors were in pretty bad shape, staining and them and covering them with clear polyurethane probably still would not make them look good, plus there was a time issue, since we had to move in immediately and therefore needed to be able to walk on the floors right away.)
All in all, smell removal was a huge process. Though it was nice to choose wall colors for my new digs, my painting of every surface of the house had very little to do with decor. No, my painting had to do with odor control. It had to be done.
Not surprisingly, now I enjoy watching the show Hoarders on A&E, though I had never heard of it when I was cleaning my house. Watching now I’m never surprised when those Hoarders houses get a fresh coat of paint. It’s not a makeover, it’s a smellover.
Now? Now my house smells good. But it’s a freaking miracle. A miracle brought about by hard work and some angels, very extremely cool people who volunteered to help me. A post dedicated to these folks is forthcoming.
Just Me With . . . no more smell, and a sudden urge to clean.
Related, Goodbye Hoarders — The television show Hoarders has been cancelled.
One of my daughters wants a cat. I have nothing against cats, but after going through what I did to clean this house, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to smell a litter box, even just to clean it.
A Sad and Disturbing True Halloween Story
I don’t come from a large family, I only had three cousins in the area. It was my Dad’s sister’s family: two boys and a girl. They were Army brats and moved a lot, but eventually settled on our street. The girl was my age and we were inseparable growing up all the way through high school. She would escape to my house to get away from her pesky older brothers. I had my first kiss at the brothers’ party at their house.
Adulthood happens. Bill, the oldest cousin, was now thirty-two years old. He was married with three children: a four-year old girl, a three-year old girl and a nine month old baby boy. His wife was a stay-at-home-mom. I was also married, but no kids yet.
On October 31st his wife was home getting the children dressed for Halloween. She was waiting for their Daddy to get home from work and take the kids Trick Or Treating.
He never got there.
On his way home from work on Halloween night, he was struck head on by a drunk driver . . . and killed instantly.
His wife, wondering why he was late getting home, had to receive the news while the kids were in costumes. It was the most tragic of tragic — a young mother, children too little to understand, a senseless accident occasioned by stupidity. On Halloween.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were just around the corner –but it would be just the first of many holiday seasons missing a Daddy, a husband, a son, a brother, and there had been no chance to say goodbye. It rocked our entire family. It was devastatingly sad.
The services were, of course, well attended. The steering wheel had gone through my cousin’s chest and broken his jaw, but his face was otherwise intact and they were able to have an open casket. There was a viewing , the funeral itself, the burial and the reception.
It’s difficult to describe how heartbreaking it all was. There were tears from three generations, a pretty and petite mother of three– it seemed like a slight breeze could blow her away, bouncing preschool girls, a cutie-pie fat and happy baby boy, grieving parents, siblings, friends, aunts and uncles, and yes . . . cousins. It’s been years and years, but I still think of it, the horror of his senseless death.
When we arrived at the funeral reception, my then husband turned to me and said something I’ve never been able to forget.
“I’m not going to do this all day.”
Just Me With . . . no words.
P.S. This is backstory. The accident happened years ago, but understandably I think about it every Halloween. The drunk driver did some time, I don’t recall how much. It got him off the road, but it didn’t bring my cousin back. My cousin’s wife grieved hard but recovered as much as a person can. She received a settlement from the insurance and never hurt for money. She eventually remarried a family friend and had one more child. The children grew up well, the whole family keeps their father’s memory alive. That nine month old baby boy grew up to look a lot like the Dad he never knew. The girls, young women now, are beautiful, healthy and happy. His parents routinely visit the grave and leave fresh flowers on holidays. I say all this because I don’t want it to appear like I’m using this horrible tragedy just for blog fodder about me. As I said, it’s that time of year; it’s on my mind. And my husband’s statement to me at the funeral reception has haunted me for years . . . and it’s scary.
The Night I Became Cinderella — A College Story
If you’ve read My High School Self, you know I had a very serious boyfriend in high school. We were still dating when I went away to college. My boyfriend lived at home and commuted to a local school in the city. I, like my sisters before me, went away to school, at a private, residential four-year university. This was in the dark ages, meaning before everyone had cell phones. I had two roommates and we shared a land line in our room.
To keep in touch, my boyfriend and I had set up a calling schedule while I was away. He called on Friday and Saturday nights at 11:00pm. Think about it. Weekends at 11pm. This was not good for my social life. Not at all. It suited him, though. He came home on Friday nights an had nothing to do and no one to do it with.
The weekend calls placed me in an awkward position. If I went out with people I’d have to come back alone by 11 for the call. If I waited until after the call, it would be too late, people were either already out and about or by the time I got off the phone they might be coming home.
I was having a hard time fitting in anyway. I didn’t drink. Most of the freshman nightlife had to do with drinking at Frat Parties and such. (Frat Parties were so important I still feel the need to capitalize it). But I just wasn’t the Frat Party type. And there was the dating scene, of which I was not a part because I already had a boyfriend. And, at this time in the dark ages and at this university, as a woman of color I was kind of invisible to the cute Frat boys. Plus, I felt I needed to show my boyfriend I was doing the right thing, or more accurately, not the wrong thing, while I was away. I didn’t want him to think I was drinking, cheating, changing in any way or even having a good time. He was lonely. Most of his friends (including his girlfriend) had gone away to school and he hadn’t. He had gone from big man at High School to being just another commuting student in college. I knew how miserable he was and I wanted to be there for him. I was also determined to beat the odds and show the world that I could fulfill my academic promise yet still keep my boyfriend and be faithful to the parameters of our relationship. Yes, co-dependency at its finest, ladies and gentlemen. Neither one of us was going to be happy if we clung to each other and our mutual miseries, limitations and fears.
My college had a homogeneous population (huge understatement). The university was not known for being diverse or popular among people of color, who were a very small minority there. And the majority of the majority were from suburban or rural areas, or prep schools and really had not been exposed to much diversity and did not choose this college in order to be exposed to different types of people. So many of them had the same backgrounds, ambitions and interests. For folks not in the mainstream, sometimes the culture shock was an insurmountable obstacle. Add to that the fact that the school is in the middle of nowhere. There was no town or city to which to escape from the suffocating sameness. Consequently, people of color, foreign students, and city kids regardless of socio-economic status would sometimes seek each other out for support. I, in addition to being African-American, was more of the creative type, and just, well . . . different. But being a suburban girl, I thought I’d be okay there; I didn’t expect a culture shock at all. What a silly girl I was, I did not fully appreciate the level of isolation and cultural homogeneity I had signed up for. This place made my vanilla suburb seem like the Rainbow Coalition. My sisters (who attended similar schools) assured me that once I found friends I’d be hanging out in dorms playing cards and listening to music. At my college, the only people I’d met so far just went out to the Frat houses and drank. I felt invisible yet at the same time exposed — like I stuck out like a sore thumb — not drinking, not dating, not looking like the other kids — it was a culture shock.
If that wasn’t enough, by the luck of the draw I had been assigned to the only female freshman dorm located “up hill” on campus. It was physically removed from the other dorms and the upper class houses which were all “down hill.” Frat houses and most of the lecture halls were “up hill.” I wasn’t really sure what was “down hill,” other than the cafeteria. But I was beginning to realize that unless I started to go out somewhere, I wasn’t going to meet people outside of my dorm floor. Yeah, I was having a hard time fitting in . . . again.
Then I got an invitation, right there in my mailbox.
It was an invitation to a party at, let’s call it, Walnut Street House, sponsored by the Black Students Association. The House, which was a restored Victorian home turned into a small dorm, was kind of like an International House, except it was inhabited by upper class African-American female students, mostly. But this invitation was for a dance party in the common room there. Cool. And it said to dress up!!! Yay! Now, I may not have been a drinker back then, but I did love to dance. And a chance to go somewhere in something other than a turtleneck, sweater and duck boots was enticing. My musical tastes were classical by day and classic R&B by night, and in a campus full of beer drinking rockers who didn’t dance – unless you count the drunken jumping up and down thing — this sounded like fun. Maybe I would go, I thought. Maybe I would go.
But the dance was —- yikes! — on a Saturday night. How would I be able to explain this to my boyfriend? I might miss his call! And I’d been complaining to him about how everything at the school was all about the drinking and the Frat parties and we were acting so superior to it all, blah, blah, blah. He never liked me going to any kind of parties. In fact, in high school he forbade me to go to parties. How could I just tell him I’d found somewhere to go? But I was so lonely. I needed to meet other people. My initial attempts at going out with the girls on my hall hadn’t been fun. Really, I just hadn’t found my niche yet and it was taking too damn long. I’d started skipping meals to avoid the cafeteria and studying more than probably necessary (I made the Dean’s list, though, . . . but I digress) . I was bored, I was starting to need more. My two roommates were okay, my Hall was okay, but I hadn’t made any good friends and spent too much time alone. Everyone else seemed to be having fun, and my College Self, in a new place, and separated from the boyfriend for the first time, thought life was passing me by.
I decided I would go to the party. Alone, of course. Going places alone is a skill I developed too early. Women are supposed to travel in packs, right? I hadn’t gotten that memo. But after all, I was invited, by name, so I could go — alone. And I was going to go, damnit.
There was only one other black freshman woman in my whole dorm (out of a couple of hundred girls). She was probably invited also, but she was not in my half of the dorm and we had never spoken. Even when I had passed her in the courtyard and said hello she had averted her eyes. No judgment, but clearly I would be walking “down hill” alone. I could only hope that once I got there it would be okay. It was a big chance.
My bigger concern, though, was my boyfriend. How to deal with my boyfriend? The one who didn’t drink, didn’t dance, didn’t go away to college, didn’t want me to do . . . any of those things. Hmm.
On the Friday night call I explained to him that I thought I’d go out Saturday, and asked if could he call me later than 11:00. (I know, not the best move on my part. But I felt I needed to reassure him of my faithfulness and commitment to misery.) He planned to call me at midnight. I’m not gonna lie, this was okay with me, it gave me an out in case the party was horrible or if I felt stupid going alone. And, I figured, the party started at ten — two hours would be enough, right?
Well, Saturday night came. I put on a skirt and sweater and nice shoes. Told my roommates I had somewhere to go — ha! I took my “Walk of Shame” “down hill” to the party alone, passing people walking “up hill” to the frat houses. They were dressed for drinking; I was dressed for dancing. I arrived “down hill” almost exactly at 10 o’clock. Now I ask you, have you ever known a college party to start when it’s supposed to? Is it ever cool to show up promptly when a party starts? No, no, no. Yet there I was, right on time. I walked in and the lights were off — in party mode, somebody was DJ-ing — and yay, it was R&B and Funk, something to dance to. . . but no one was there!
I wandered around in the foyer for a bit, occupied myself by pretending to read bulletin boards, contemplated leaving. Finally, people started to trickle in. Some dude came out from the back, saw me and left. I saw the “I can’t believe she showed up” look. Ha! But now I couldn’t leave, I’d been seen. Truly, I didn’t care. I was just happy to be out of my room, and somewhere that didn’t smell of cheap beer.
Once the party actually got started I got lots of attention and dances. And bonus, everybody was nice! I met some other freshmen and some upper classmen. People were wondering why they hadn’t met me before. Well, I was an “up hill” girl and these students, at least the girls, lived “down hill.” I had no idea. That night I planted the seeds of some friendships that last to this day. It was college, so I’m sure some of the people there were drinking, but the drinking was not the focus of the party, it was the music. I was actually having fun.
But, in horror . . . I looked at the clock, it was almost midnight!!!!
Crap! I wasn’t in any deep conversation with anyone, I was just starting to meet people. In short, I really had no one to say goodbye to. It’s not like there was a formal host or hostess.
So I just, well — left. As mysteriously as I’d arrived, I left—-
. . . at midnight.
Alone, I ran up the hill in heels to try to get back to my room in time for my scheduled Saturday night phone call from my boyfriend.
I’d missed it. But c’mon, folks, of course he called back.
It didn’t all change in one night. I remained separated and aloof and miserable for a while. But by my sophomore year of college, I’d found people with common interests, and made friends with some of the people I’d met at that dance party, one of whom became my sophomore roommate and a very good friend. I’d changed my major to my love — music, and met more of my creative brethren there. I learned to drink (hard liquor, not beer) and made my own stories in that regard. Still, I never became a Frat party regular, except for Reggae night. Reggae nights were fun, because of the dancing. I think the last time I went to a regular Frat party some dude pissed on the floor right in front of me, and I was done. He’s probably a Congressman now . . . but I digress . . . again.
Much later, one of guys I’d met at that first dance party told me that that was the night the boys started calling me . . . Cinderella.
Well, I had been the mysterious (and yeah, I’ll say it — pretty) girl who showed up alone at a party, danced her behind off, and ran out at midnight without saying goodbye.
There was no Prince Charming or anything like that. But there were two evil step sisters — my roommates. Alright, so they weren’t actually evil but since they were having an easier time making friends and fitting in while I sat in my room and watched — well, in my fairy tale that qualifies as evil.
What about a wicked step mother? Well, my boyfriend, of course. He seemed intent on keeping me in my place, in my own little corner in my own little chair— meaning, in my dorm room on the phone with him — on the weekend.
As an added postscript, shortly after the party a couple of the guys came knocking on my door to say hello. They weren’t looking to fit a lost glass slipper, but they were coming to find me . . . heh heh heh.
However, there was most certainly no Fairy Godmother. Still waiting for her ass to show up. Humph.
Anyway, it was the closest I’d been to being a fairy tale princess, if only by accident and circumstance.
Just Me With . . . a Cinderella Story, well kind of . . .
My High School Self, My Vampire Boyfriend
I was a couple of weeks shy of eighteen, we’d been dating for two years. He had recently become my first, I was not his. I loved him. He loved me. One of the things I loved about being with him was the fact that I could be myself. Ididn’t have to prove anything or act a certain way. I didn’t have to try to fit in or be a certain type of girl. He gave me something– not school related — to do. In hindsight, what he provided me was a way to escape those awkward teen years of discovering myself, making choices and mistakes, finding my own way, being proud of who I was and who I wasn’t, making new friends, and learning how to be social. He had already made some decisions about life, had some bad experiences and had strong opinions about almost everything. He was an old soul. I was not. It ate me up.
He was completely against drinking (which is not a bad thing for someone underage, but he would not even go to parties where others might be drinking, even if they were hiding it.) I respected him for that. I supported him in that. He had had a rough upbringing. His mother had a bad reputation, his brother was the local drug dealer, other family members, including siblings and his mother’s boyfriends had addictions, and teen pregnancies were the norm in his family. So having been brought up in the underbelly of suburban drug and alcohol addiction, he swore never the touch the stuff and forbade me to get near it. Forbade. In his family, he was the one good child. He wanted to stay that way. He was painfully shy unless involved in a sport, so he wasn’t one for hanging out. He didn’t want to travel because he didn’t see the need, and was uncomfortable out of our town. He hated the beach, sand; he hated crowds. He was also very possessive and jealous, so he kept me close and would become angry if he felt threatened.
But he was very cute, tall, slim with haunting light eyes.Teachers loved him, though he was not academically oriented or talented. I think, like me, they saw a polite guy who, despite his family, seemed to be a good kid. He was charming that way. People wanted to help him. People wanted to forgive any shortcomings. He had a smile that could and did charm everyone — that is, when he did smile. Most of the time, unless people were looking, he appeared sullen, angry. Some folks were a little scared of him. (Years later a friend described him like this: He’s the kind of guy where when he walks into a room, the temperature drops ten degrees.)
Me? Well, I was an achiever, academically, musically and athletically, but socially I had struggled, been a victim of past bullying. I was a book smart girl from a good (if not wealthy) family; my parents were teachers. My siblings were in college, they had gotten away from our suffocating suburb. I was lonely. I wanted to have fun but I was basically the stereotypical “good girl” from a stable family. I would never want to do anything that would embarrass my family, and my girlfriends weren’t drinkers or party girls either. Still, we liked to go to parties and dances and just have some sober fun. Before I started dating him, I had had only one short relationship with a boy. Nothing to speak of. No broken hearts. I don’t think we ever even went anywhere together. My hymen was still intact.
At my tender teen age, I thought I’d never have a boyfriend. I just wasn’t seen as girlfriend material in my circles. At the time, I truly thought he was my only and best chance at having any attention from a boy, at least any attention from a boy who was respectful to me. He was what I needed.
Miraculously, once I started dating him, the bullying stopped as well as the false rumors about me. (Somehow, I had gained the reputation of being a slut according to popular, misinformed opinion, even though I was a virgin.) But with him, I had support. No one wanted to mess with his girlfriend.
I see now I was co-dependent. But then? I was in love.
I didn’t know. I had nothing to compare him to and no one to talk to about it. My girlfriends weren’t dating, they didn’t know any better than me. My siblings were gone. After having been treated so badly by other kids, I thought this was right. In a way, it did save me. (The reasons for the bullying primarily have to do with race, and are just too much to get into now.) I never told my parents about how I had been treated at school. I should have. An early, huge regret, one of many to come.
He and I were inseparable, but completely antisocial. We rarely went anywhere with or around other people. He didn’t want to be around people. Usually we went to movies or hung out at his or my house. He met me at my locker every morning. We met between classes. (We never had classes together, I was in the college prep courses, he was not). We were such a cute, dysfunctional couple. Both tall, and we even looked a bit alike.
One night, there was a Friday night basketball game, as usual. He was a star player, I was a cheerleader. (I know, gag me, and this did not mean I was popular). We never went to the parties afterward, though, if there were any. But this night, for some reason, he decided he wanted to go to a party. I don’t know why. I never knew why. He usually was against such behavior. He told me to go home, I wasn’t allowed to go with him. Obediently, I went home. Telling me what I was allowed or not allowed to do was normal for us.
I didn’t see him for the rest of the weekend, which sometimes happened since neither one of us had a car, and in addition to my studies I had a part-time job.
The following Monday, he did not come to my locker. When I found him, he seemed distant. He wouldn’t make eye contact all day. I knew something was wrong. I knew something was different. Paranoid, and suddenly needing reassurance, I asked him,
“Don’t you love me anymore?”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
My very being shook to the core, I felt as though I died a bit. My knees buckled.
In another cruel twist of fact, it was Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrated as our anniversary.
I was still reeling from his answer when he added that — he wanted to see other people!
Then he finally looked me in the eyes. He said, “I don’t want you to, though.”
“Okay,” I said.
I know, I know. In my head the voices still scream No! But I was already under his thumb, caught completely caught off guard. He had unilaterally changed all the rules without any warning. I was still freaked out just because he went to a party! And now this? I had given myself to him in every way possible, and now, it wasn’t enough, or it didn’t matter, or — I didn’t know what was happening!
For about two weeks, heartbroken, devastated, and confused, I nevertheless continued to allow him to meet me at my locker, walk me in the halls, kiss me hello and goodbye. I was still his girlfriend (property). But there were more goodbyes than hellos, and I saw him flirting with other girls, one in particular. He didn’t hide it.
He had a swagger about him. I felt small.
Since we’d been dating for two years, we were quite an item. But kids talked. Through the high school rumor mill I found out later that during the party he attended a girl I knew had flirted with him. Well, she grabbed his crotch, is what I heard. That must have been enough to turn the tide, to make him take the next step after control and isolation, to further humiliate me, his girlfriend of two years — but still keep me at his beck and call. He acted as though this was completely normal. And I allowed it. It was the beginning of a hurtful and unhealthy pattern of accommodation I have struggled with ever since.
One day, a friend of his and fellow basketball player who was in one of my classes said to me, unprovoked,
“I don’t know how you put up with it.”
I think I visibly shuddered. I was trying to operate under the illogical belief that no one knew what was really going on or at least wouldn’t acknowledge it in front of me.
The nice boy continued, “I mean, given his family and all it’s amazing he’s turned out as good as he has, but still — he shouldn’t be doing this to you.”
Hearing that from another boy, a boy who was a old friend of his but who didn’t know me that well, got to me. Then, I did some thinking. I had more time on my hands, after all. Throughout this whole thing I kept coming back to the fact that I loved him. I kept telling myself, “But I love him.” But then I asked myself, is being in love supposed to feel like this? Because this doesn’t feel good. This isn’t fun.
Love shouldn’t feel like this.
The next day I was not at my locker when he arrived to meet me.
He had to find me. When he did, I told him I wasn’t going to do this anymore.
When an abused woman hits back, it’s useless unless she kills or runs. Hitting back and standing there just sets her up for another beat down. Mine was coming.
I cannot remember what he said exactly, I do know that he was angry, that he demanded to know why I wasn’t at my designated place. He also told me he did, in fact, love me. I think I may have blocked most of the rest of it out, because it was so contrary to my sense of self-preservation. I’ve beat myself up for years because of it.
Bottom line: He got me back.
He said he wasn’t going to see other girls. We were monogamous again. (Well, he was monogamous again, I had never been free.) I didn’t date anyone else in high school.
He was still my boyfriend when I went to college.
Years later, I married him.
Months ago, our divorce became final. He has since remarried.
Interestingly, I heard later that the girl who had felt him up at the party told him she couldn’t actually date him because her family would not accept her dating a black boy. His would-be conquest wasn’t having it – or him. Whatever. His coming back to me had nothing to do with me — except that he wanted to keep me — unto him, under him.
When I started to pull away, he pulled me back — and he was stronger.
With him I had traded one kind of bullying for another, really.
But something broke inside me then, not because of how he treated me, but because I allowed it —- and I think — just now, I’m trying to get it fixed.
Just Me With . . . a love story?
P.S. Why all the Twilight pics? I have a hard time with the series because of my romantic history. A high school girl who does not fit in should have a chance to experience life outside of high school before changing her DNA for a boy. Bella is so sad and tortured and Edward makes her feel better, but I want her to go to college, get a job, move to a place where she chooses, and have fun, make friends, have boyfriends and ex-boyfriends, without all the danger and without having to forsake her belief system, family, and biological options before she’s had a chance to even develop them.
It’s okay not to have a boyfriend in high school. It really is. And it’s okay to break up with your first love.
For a story on what it was like to still have this boyfriend when I went away to college, see The Night I Became Cinderella.
And for how I feel about him now? I Don’t Love Him.
A Rat In My House
I was in law school. Or, actually I was done with law school and studying for the bar exam. In my infinite wisdom and with a splash of arrogance I decided I did not need the assistance of the bar exam prep courses everyone else took. No, I put myself on a home private study regimen. My husband and I had no children at the time, we were living in our little starter home with our adorable Labrador Retriever.
I would study most of the day, take a break in the evening when my husband got home, and then do a night shift of studying after he went to bed. My mini-split level had a pseudo downstairs den and a small damp room which I used as a study. There were sliding glass doors from the den opening to a small yard and beyond that, a wooded area. We hadn’t been in the house long. The previous owners used to leave the sliding doors cracked a bit so that their small dog could come and go, which, of course, allowed other critters to become accustomed to coming into the house. We, of course, discontinued that practice, kept the sliding doors closed, had the place exterminated, and didn’t have any problems with pests — or so I thought.
One night, during my late night study session downstairs, long after my husband had gone to bed, something ran across the room. It was NOT my adorable lab. No, this was smaller than a lab, bigger than a mouse, too fast to be a possum and had a long hairless tail.
A freaking rat. A huge gray rat!
I gasped so hard, I almost swallowed my tongue. But, I’m a tough girl. Bugs don’t bother me. I’ll get dirty outside, I have a strange interest in serial killers and I seriously considered becoming a mortician at one point in my life — but vermin? — not my thing.
I sat completely still waiting for it to come back. Afraid that if I moved it would come after me. I heard scratching; it was still in the house. So I did the responsible thing and ran up the half flight of stairs, through the kitchen, rounded the corner to the next flight of stairs, turned into my bedroom, closed the door and jumped in bed. May have done it all in four steps.
Studying done for the night.
I woke up my husband, told him we had a rat. He didn’t get up, said he’d look for it in the morning. I had nothing more to do but wait for the sweet release of sleep, behind my closed bedroom door.
My husband went to work very early. As usual, he got up before me. Before leaving, however, he woke me to exclaim that he’d killed the rat with an arrow — he had hunted it down and stabbed it. He asked me if I heard it screaming. I had not. He was so proud. But, he added, it had gotten away and he’d have to find it when he got home because he couldn’t be late for work. Huh? I was half asleep, murmured, “Okay. Thanks.”
I woke later. Looking down the stairs, I saw my dog’s butt. She was on her haunches staring into the kitchen.
This can’t be good, I thought.
I was right.
I slowly descended the stairs and peeked into the kitchen. My dog looked up at me as if to say, “Um, we have a situation here.”
There, on my kitchen floor, was a quite large, dead rat. It had apparently been wounded and emerged from its hiding place and did a death crawl to the middle of my small kitchen. Entrails hanging, a train of blood and guts behind it. It finally succumbed to its wounds equidistant from the kitchen sink and refrigerator, blocking the steps to the downstairs den and study where my books were.
My study regimen for the day did not include disposing of a dead rat. My knight in shining armor did not complete the job.
I freaked. Of course I did the mature thing and went back to bed.
That didn’t last. I was afraid my dog would play with it. Really, though, the dog was like, “I’m not getting near that thing.” Plus, it was summer and we did not have central air. The only thing worse than a dead rat in my kitchen would be a rittingbdead rat in my kitchen.
My husband was unreachable, this was before cell phones and he worked on the road. I hadn’t made friends with any neighbors yet. I was on my own . . . and I needed to study. I considered grabbing my books and heading out to the library, my parents’ house, anywhere, to study for the day. But my books were downstairs, through the kitchen. My husband wouldn’t be home for hours.
I cursed him. I cursed him like I’d never cursed him before (of course events in later years have elevated my cursing him to an art form, but I digress . . . ).
How could he go all Rambo like that on the rat and not finish the job — leaving his wife to dispose of the body?
What kind of man was he to leave me with this mess?
Oh, he must have been so proud running around stabbing this rat and then walking off into the sunrise, leaving the corpse to me, a sleeping student suffering through the stress of the impending bar exam.
Damn, him. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Cursing him to myself did not help.
The dead rat was still in the kitchen.
I’d taken my dog out the front door and around to the fenced back yard.
The dead rat was still in the kitchen.
I cursed my husband again.
The dead rat was still in the kitchen.
I’d have to get rid of it, without looking at it, without feeling its weight, without dropping it. I still shudder.
Damn him (husband), damn the rat.
The whole disposal operation took me about two hours. I had to rest between tasks. My study schedule was ruined for the day. Once the carcass was removed, I disinfected the floor to a level beyond operating room clean. Many trees lost their lives to make the mound of paper towels I used. Lysol was my soul mate.
But I don’t think I ever went barefoot in that kitchen again.
When my husband came home I was a raving lunatic. He laughed. He thought it was hilarious. At some point much later I was able to laugh about it, too. But I still cursed him. I still do.
Clean up after your kill, man. Clean up after your kill.
Just Me With . . . a dead rat, paper towels, a shovel, Lysol, and trash bags.
See also, Tales from The Bar Exam