It’s winter again.
Where I live we get snow. Not every day. But we get it. At times a lot of it. It’s a pain in the ass. It’s the shoveling. The not being able to hop in your car and go somewhere without first moving pounds of snow. And then never knowing if your car will start or stop when you need it to or someone else’s car will slip and slide and crash into you. Snow means weather related cancellations which are inconvenient, and often cost me money. Snow means being stuck inside.
It’s snowing tonight.
But there are other reasons why snow is irksome to me. Snow brings back memories.
It was years ago, on a snowy night, back when I lived in a cool neighborhood with friendly social neighbors. Back when I was still married.
I have never really talked about this night. This is to be a shortened version, by emotional necessity.
My husband had been distant. He was never gregarious and often not engaging, but for weeks he could not seem to make eye contact with me at all.
And though I had made this Sex on Demand pledge, I realized that it had been a long time since there had been any demand, request, or suggestion requiring me to honor my pledge and when I did it wasn’t, well, how does one say, romantic? There was certainly no eye contact. And there were other things. Just little things that I don’t want to talk about now. (How could I have been so clueless?)
I mentioned my growing discomfort to a girlfriend, who said, of course, that I needed to talk to him. Duh. Obvious response, and I knew that’s what I needed to do, but I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it (or I knew I wasn’t). It’s like when there’s a funny smell — before you do anything about it, first you ask around, “Does anybody else smell that?”
So I hadn’t said anything to him. Not yet. I was going to, but I didn’t know how or when. And I wasn’t completely convinced of why — I mean everyone is entitled to be in a funk from time to time. Maybe it was just that. And winter.
Then there was a snowstorm. This meant that until the morning sun could break through clear skies and shine on our faces, signaling that it was time to begin the back straining process of digging out, we were housebound. No one could go anywhere. So my very cool neighborhood decided to have a snow party. Everyone was invited to walk to one neighbor’s house, bring whatever we had on hand to share, and just hang out. It was like college, where you didn’t need a car to go out and no one had to worry about being a designated driver and we could just walk home. Except it wasn’t like college, because I had all those kids and a brooding husband who could not look at me . . . but I digress.
My husband didn’t seem to want to go to the party. This was not unusual. He never liked to go to parties. Not with me, anyway. See My High School Self, My Vampire Boyfriend. Still, we went, with our kids.
I thought it was fun. It gave us something to do, I could be around adults and consume free food and it was better than being cooped up in the house with little kids watching TV. My husband seemed okay once he got to the party, chatting with the neighbors about travel and hobbies (his travel, his hobbies). But he didn’t talk to or make eye contact with me. I remember coming up to him while he was talking to someone and trying to join the conversation. He did not acknowledge my presence in any way. He’s tall. He looked over me, literally.
When the party was over, we walked home in the snow and put the five children to bed. He sat on our bed, his back to me, saying nothing.
Out of exasperation rather than anger or reason, I said — blurted out, really, “What is wrong? You’re acting like something’s wrong. What is it?”
Without looking at me,
he said, simply,
“I have to go.”
Those four words changed my life, his life, our children’s lives and set me on a course which landed me here talking via the interwebs to you fine people. (Channeling Jack from Titanic — oh wait, he died. Oops.)
Tragically, my initial response to him was, “Go where?”
I didn’t know what he was talking about. I mean, we were snowed in and all.
Where did he have to go in all this snow?
And that, as they say, was that. Well, a lot of stuff happened, but he did eventually, go. He had to, you see.
So, now, on this snowy night years later, almost to the exact day of that fateful snowy night when my husband said those four stinging words, I sit here, thinking . . . I really don’t like snow. It’s a lot of work. The shoveling and all.
Just Me With . . . snow.
My Cheating Husband Was Packing Viagra — Packing my husband’s things.
When I Needed a Helping Hand — Moving my husband’s things out.
My Worst Superbowl, Remembered — When I realized it was a lost cause.
The sign is about to go up. The sign for the this year’s high school musical. This is significant to me, because, as I’ve written before — I remember things, so many things. It’s a gift — and a curse.
The local high school here has a very well-respected music and theater department. Going to see a play at the high school isn’t something that only a parent of a performer would put oneself through. It isn’t a painful two hours required by some familial connection to some pimply faced kid. No, it’s kind of like going to a “real” show. It is actually enjoyable, yet since it is still just a school production, the tickets are cheap. When my kids were little, I would take them to these shows and to other local high schools if they had a decent theater department. It’s a night out, and a way to introduce live theater to children without having to take out a second mortgage.
My kids’ high school usually alternates between a classic musical or one of the lesser known newer ones and they “recycle” ones they’ve done before when enough time has passed.
This brings me to the personal significance of the sign going up. Apparently, enough time has passed that the school has decided to repeat its production of the musical they did when my marriage ended. Let’s say it was The King and I — it wasn’t — but that’s the one I’m going with for purposes of this post.
Over the years I’ve only danced around the actual happenings surrounding my husband’s departure, dealing more with the fallout after he left than the painful process of his leaving. I tell myself I’m saving it for my memoir, but really — I’m extremely uncomfortable talking about it — still. For me, I guess, not enough time has passed for a revival.
Sometimes, though, you just have to raise the curtain — a little.
So here it is. It was about three weeks after he’d told me, “I have to go.” Those three weeks consisted largely of me begging him not to leave me, until one Friday night I finally said to him — “I guess I can’t force you to stay.”
That’s all he needed to hear.
By the next day, Saturday, he had booked a hotel room, and planned to sleep there that night. (Say what now?) That joker wasted no time. The plan was to tell the children on Sunday (aka the worst day of my life). After, he would officially move out.
So Saturday night? Separation Eve?
We went to see a play.
Our family was too big to get seats in one row. Musicals are a hot ticket in town. So I sat behind my husband, we each were flanked with kids. I remember thinking it was a mistake to sit behind him, because I’d have to see him, the back of his head, if I looked up at the play. And I didn’t want to cry. I remember trying very hard not to cry during the show, though there was comfort when the lights went down that my tears wouldn’t be noticed. Too bad it wasn’t really The King and I, I always cry at the end of The King and I. No matter, I had tissues to cover any escaping signs of my emotional turmoil. I always carried tissues with me from that time on. Trying not to cry or be seen crying in public became almost my vocation in the next year.
I remember during the play reaching out in front of me and caressing my husband’s shoulder. I just needed to touch him. I needed him to know I was there. Still. There. Hurting. I remember him acknowledging my touch without looking at me, as if he were saying, “Oh bless her heart.” I remember the awkward Intermission, when small talk with my soon to be ex-everything seemed so wrong and eye contact deemed so dangerous, as it might trigger the tears. I talked with someone I knew in the pit orchestra instead, I recall.
And I remember the play, “The King and I.” I remember thinking this would really be good, except for, you know, my life falling apart.
I was in a fog, a fog of shock, denial and accommodation. I’ve since had some clarity on the subject. And I don’t love him anymore. Haven’t for years. Still, I remember things.
The kids were oblivious. They enjoyed the play, having no idea that their world was going to be completely turned upside down — in a matter of hours.
When the show was over, we all went home and put the kids to bed.
Then my husband left our home to stay at a hotel. I knew that when he returned the next day it would be so that we could tell the kids he’d be moving out and he would, indeed, move out.
But that was then . . .
And enough time has passed (apparently) that it’s okay for the high school to put on the same musical. My kids aren’t little anymore. One is in college. The rest now go to this same high school, which means that I will see that sign every day, multiple times a day, until the show is over.
I used to hope that my kids would get involved in theater at the high school. None did. But, I think, this might be a blessing.
Because I don’t have to go to this show. Because if I did go to this particular production, I couldn’t help but relive that night, the beginning of the hardest days of my life and the long journey since.
If I had a kid performing in the 2015 production of The King and I ?
I don’t think I would handle that well. I remember things. It’s a gift and — oh hell — it’s a curse.
So, the sign will go up soon. Enough time has passed for a revival.
But no one asked me.
It will take all the restraint I have left in my being not to run the damn sign over.
Just Me With . . . a night at the theater. Too bad it isn’t Chicago, about famous murderesses . . . and their men — who had it comin.’
And I’m glad it wasn’t really The King and I, because that is a beautiful show and I would hate for it to be ruined.
Postscript: The damn sign is up now.
My Daddy Moved Out — What one kid said about it at school.
Happy Birthday to My Ex-Husband’s Ex-Girlfriend — Because I remember everything.
Worst Super Bowl, Remembered — Again, because I remember everything
My Cheating Husband was Packing Viagra — I helped him pack.
Six Days of Separation — I was a mess the next week.
I Don’t Love Him — self-explanatory.
When I Needed A Helping Hand — To move his stuff.
I confess. I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” but I get the gist. I did view her successful Ted Talk that inspired her to write the book. In that talk she made a point of saying to women, “Don’t leave until you leave,” suggesting that women pull back from workplace opportunities long before they have children, simply because they plan to have a family — some day. That’s a valid point. No use preparing to leave the workplace for your family years before you even have one. But I’m taking it even farther back. I’m taking it to school. I’m suggesting that women and girls should not let others do all the talking and just freaking raise their hands in class . . . and say something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you ever want to run a Fortune 500 company or even whether you like the class. If you’re in school, raise your freaking hand. The corporate world is tough. In many ways it is not an even playing field. In some professions you’re not even allowed to speak if there is someone more senior in the room. So while you’re in school? Before you get out there in the real world? Dang it — if you’ve paid your tuition and you’re going to sit your butt down at the desk for the next two hours, you might as well say something.
As a child I remember accidentally seeing the movie The Paper Chase on television. The Paper Chase is a 70’s flick about a first year student at Harvard Law School. I was a kid. I had no dreams of going to law school. I’d never met a lawyer, to my knowledge. I guess in my ultimate laziness I didn’t feel like changing the channel, so I watched the movie. It stuck with me. In the film, the main character noticed that everyday in class only a few students raised their hands, only a few volunteered answers to questions posed by the imposing professor. Of course, the professor called on unwilling participants via the Socratic method, but only a few dared volunteer. They were the Upper Echelon.
At this point, I think it’s important to note that law school exams in the first year are usually anonymous and not given until the end of the semester. There are no extra points for prior class participation.
So why bother speaking in class, then?
First, because it helps to learn and analyze the material.
Second, it establishes the student as being in the Upper Echelon, and
Third, it makes the student think of herself in the Upper Echelon.
Fourth, being in the Upper Echelon might get a student noticed, and some perks.
In The Paper Chase, the main character made a conscious decision to “jump in” and raise his hand, to join Upper Echelon. Once he did, he was viewed — and viewed himself, differently. Other students sought him out for assistance during the study period for finals. He eventually got an “A” in the course, if I recall.
I’m not sure why seeing this movie about Harvard Law students had such an impact on me whilst I was in the 6th or 7th grade or so, but it did. There was something about the guy deciding to jump in with the other students who had the bravura to do it from day one.
Fast forward a decade and then some. I found myself in Law School (not Harvard).
Like the main character in The Paper Chase, I noticed that there were only a few people who volunteered answers in class. And it was always the same people. The Upper Echelon. Most of Upper Echelon were men. I think there was one woman. She, no surprise, was not well liked.
The second tier was comprised of those students who spoke when called on and would speak voluntarily on occasion — on very rare occasions. These students were sitting ducks, waiting to get called on. If the professor was not teaching the Socratic method they were quiet, relaxed ducks, passively letting the material wash over them. (Well, wash over us. I was with them, with my highlighters and colored pencils and markers.)
And then there were The Quiet Ones — the ones who never volunteered to speak, and would even “pass” when called upon.
In law school, there was a saying, “Beware of The Quiet Ones” as they were often the ones who, when grades came out, seemed to have pulled a 4.0 out of their asses. With that 4.0 they could get on Law Review, and continue to collect academic credentials that would yield many, many opportunities in the legal profession or other any chosen professional career. When grades came out, suddenly The Quiet Ones were the cream of the crop, yet no one had ever heard them speak or even noticed they were there. In my years at my school, The Quiet Ones were women. Reluctant geniuses. Secret weapons, possessed of powers unknown to man (literally). Statistically, however, there are only a couple of those kinds of Quiet Ones. Most silent students were left crying or shaking their heads when grades come out. The straight-A Quiet Ones were an enigma. There’s only one Batman . . . but I digress . . .
I’m not really talking about grades, anyway, I’m talking about perception and learning and opportunities. We learn by engaging. We are perceived to be knowledgeable by engaging. We show what we’ve learned and how we think — by engaging.
So I decided. I would jump in. I would raise my hand. I would talk. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a conscious decision. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a decision that would take me out of my comfort zone. The thing about it was, I was there anyway. I was doing the reading anyway. We were all students. No one had any grades yet. Might as well jump in. If those guys (and one woman) could throw themselves into the Upper Echelon from day one, why not me? I would be just like that guy in that movie I saw when I was an impressionable youth.
I admit, in the night before I decided to jump in I was a little more attentive to my reading. My array of notes was a colorful masterpiece. (It was the markers and colored pencils, you see.) I didn’t know in what direction the professor would be taking the discussion, so I simply vowed to say something about . . . something.
And, the next day, just like in the movie — I raised my hand. I don’t believe I had ever spoken voluntarily in class before.
Heads turned. I was no longer invisible.
After I spoke that first time, I raised my hand again. I argued. I answered. I wasn’t always right, and since it was law school, there wasn’t always a right answer, but my words were heard, my point of view considered, and even when I had no real point of view, I practiced taking a side anyway. I became one of the Upper Echelon, just like in The Paper Chase. I’m guessing that I also joined the ranks of students other students disliked, but whatevs. I walked a little taller.
One day after class a Professor asked to see me. Admittedly, this dude scared the crap out of me. He was not the Professor I had a crush on. See Another Embarrassingly Moment, Another Crush. No, this professor was a classic unapproachable (or so I thought) academic whose pearls of wisdom often seemed to float out of reach above my head. This was the professor who made me nervous, and though I spoke in his class with an unsteady voice, I was always convinced that what I said — or what anyone said, for that matter, was just — not quite right. I didn’t know why this professor wanted to see me, but I dutifully went to his office.
To my surprise (utter shock, actually), the professor asked me to be his research assistant.
Not one of the original Upper Echelon members.
Little old me.
The music student who was really just acting out a scene in a movie she’d seen by accident as a kid.
I accepted his offer, and my research (for which I got paid work-study money) contributed to his book, in which he gave me credit by name when the book was published. He also became a mentor and a professional reference, and my work with this professor, who was a former clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, certainly didn’t hurt me in securing my own Federal Clerkship, a position coveted by many.
All because I raised my hand. All because I decided to raise my hand.
If I hadn’t starting talking in class, he wouldn’t have known who the hell I was, and the research position, along with the opportunities and experience that flowed from it, would have gone to someone else.
But it didn’t. It went to me, because I raised my freaking hand.
I’ve tried to explain all of this to my kids, especially my girls, but they don’t get it.
I’m all, “Did you raise your hand?” And they’re all, “No way, I don’t talk in class.”
And I want to kill myself.
Time to break out the old movies, methinks. One of my daughters has seen The Paper Chase (thanks, Netflix), but I don’t think she got it. I must try again — on her — and the other kids.
One of these days somebody will listen to me.
Just Me With . . . my hands in the air, waving like I just don’t care . . .
I just had a horrifying thought. Much of this was triggered because I happened to see the movie The Paper Chase on television when I was a kid.
Think of the things kids “happen” to see on TV these days. I shudder at the thought.
Related: Tales From The Bar Exam
Although my husband and I were regularly engaging in “the physical act of love” (channeling Ross from Friends), whenever he wanted, and I mean, I really mean — whenever he wanted, see Sex On Demand, let’s just say that such activities did not require a huge time commitment.
I had suggested that my husband talk to his doctor about it, but he declined. No, he would not. No.
Fast forward to after my husband “broke up with me” and moved out, taking surprisingly few possessions, saying he’d come back for the rest. As I discussed in When I Needed A Helping Hand, I didn’t want him to keep coming back to get his stuff so I decided I’d pack it up for him–not to help him, but to help me. Like mothers often say to children — “in or out,” he had chosen “out,” despite my begging, and I mean, I really mean — begging him to reconsider. So, I thought I’d help the process along if for no other reason than to keep him from prolonging it.
One night, after the kids were in bed, behind my closed bedroom door, my sister, a friend, and I packed up his shit. At one point I pulled out one of his suitcases he’d used for his last trip, an island vacation which I’d recently discovered he’d taken with a lady friend. See My Worst Super Bowl, Remembered. I intended to use the suitcase to pack some of his things.
The suitcase, I noticed, still sported the airport tags.
It also contained some papers, which I read.
The papers turned out to be receipts for my husband’s prescription for Viagra, well actually Levitra, a “sister” (or should I say ‘bro) erectile dysfunction drug . The prescription had been filled in the week prior to my husband’s romantic island vacation with his sweetie.
What the . . . hell?
I read it, showed it to my sister and friend. They both said, if I recall correctly, “Ew.”
There it was, in my hand, evidence that my husband had pursued the best that modern western medicine had to offer in order to enhance his sexual relationship with another woman, the woman he was not leaving me for, or so he said, though they had secured an apartment together and that’s where all his things were no doubt going.
Lucky girl . . . she got his stuff, and his stuff on steroids . . .
Looking back, I remembered I’d previously discovered (and suppressed) facts in support of this information — facts that suddenly made sense.
His doctor had called the house to confirm an appointment.
I had wondered: Why? Why? When we were going through this god-awful thing, was my husband making doctor’s appointments? I was the one who was sick, wasn’t eating or wasn’t sleeping and was constantly crying — why was he going to the doctor?
The pharmacy had called to tell him his prescription was ready.
I had wondered: What is he taking? He’s not sick! He’s a mean son-of-a-bitch, certainly — but he’s not sick!
Later, after his stuff was packed and gone, at some point in my post-separation cleaning frenzy –I’m the polar opposite of a hoarder, when I’m upset I throw everything out — I’d found a letter from the insurance company, dated right after the romantic trip time, stating that yes, based on his doctor’s recommendation, the unnamed medication in question would indeed be covered by insurance.
I had wondered: What? Had he paid the full price for the Viagra in order to get it before the trip because insurance hadn’t kicked in yet?
According to the dates and bank receipts which showed a $200 plus expenditure at the pharmacy on the eve of the island trip, yes, yes, he had.
Ouch. But it all made sense now.
I wanted to scream, “Did he tell his doctor that he needed this medication for use with his girlfriend and NOT his wife? DID THE DOCTOR KNOW THAT LITTLE FACT?????”
Not that it mattered.
I tried not to think of his chemically enhanced love-making to this woman. She brought him newness and adoration, he brought . . . drugs.
I packed his crap a little faster after this discovery, as I recall. Just a little bit faster.
And I think I washed my hands.
Just Me With . . . a medical discovery.
After everything was packed I called a friend When I Needed A Helping Hand.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in receipt of what I now refer to as “Nanny Texts” — when my ex-husband gives me instructions on the preparation of the kids for an event he’s taking them to.
— Have the kids wear clothes, shoes.
— Make sure they shower.
— No t-shirts or shorts.
— Have them ready by 3pm, this should give you plenty of time.
By the by, all of the kids are teens, and pick-up time is technically at 10am, though often the kids have activities that prohibit early pick up. On this day, however, they did not and the Ex had been informed of this.
As to the directive, “Have the kids wear clothes,” obviously he’d forgotten the word “nice” — he wanted them to wear “nice” clothes. But still it was funny. Sometimes I just read or show or forward the Nanny Texts to the kids to minimize my work as the middle man, so there is no mistake as to what he is requiring, and that it’s coming from him, not me. This time I simply showed the text to the kids, missing word and all.
One girl quipped, “Well, I always manage to wear clothes.”
Another girl said, “Yeah, I was planning to go naked.”
My Ex-husband was taking them to a graduation party of his oldest friend, let’s call him Jerry. Jerry is much older than we are and was actually my ex’s teacher in Middle School at one point. They became friends later as adults. Jerry had been a man approaching middle-age, single, and impossibly neat. People who did not know him well thought he was gay — “not that there’s anything wrong with that” — but folks in the inner circle knew that Jerry was very much like the Jerry Seinfeld character — not quite marriage material, string of women, classic commitment issues.
Jerry had been the Best Man at our wedding and years later when Jerry, a long-time bachelor, suddenly married a woman he’d met on a blind date, my then husband gave the toast. My husband was even (temporarily) named as Godfather to their first-born, and we both visited and held the hours-old baby in the hospital. Jerry’s second child is only seven weeks younger than our first and we have the cutest pictures of the two baby boys together. We were always at all of Jerry’s big family gatherings– kid’s birthdays, baptisms, Super Bowl parties, and when my husband and I started having kids and birthday parties and such, Jerry and his wife and kids were always in attendance. Jerry only came around on special occasions, though, my husband didn’t want him at our house to just hang out because he didn’t think our house was nice enough.
Back when my husband announced his plans to leave me, I suggested that he talk to Jerry about it because maybe he needed to talk to someone other than the two women who had his ear: me and his girlfriend. I thought that the opposing dueling arguments from the two women who have a huge stake in the matter were just canceling each other out.
Well, actually, no, the girlfriend clearly won those rounds, but I digress . . . . My husband refused to confide in Jerry, though, saying that he knew Jerry would just try to talk him out of it and tell him it was wrong.
Alrighty then. Anyhoo . . .
Apart from his club activities, my husband had few friends, Jerry was the only one, really. So it was expected and appropriate that when the marriage ended Jerry and his family would remain friends with him, and not me. I’ve not seen or heard from Jerry or his wife since my husband moved out many years ago.
I actually don’t know whether they socialize regularly now. My Ex-Husband has reinvented himself in many ways.
However, my now Ex-husband was going to attend the Jerry’ s first-born’s graduation party. He would attend with his new wife, their children and our children, who had been directed to wear . . . clothes.
After the teen drama at home about finding the proper clothes, the complaints about why they had to go to this thing, that they don’t really know these people, blah blah blah . . . they managed to get themselves (with my prompting) ready only slightly after the 3pm deadline. But no matter, the Ex didn’t show up until 4:15pm. While they waited, one girl said, “I hate it when he does this,” and her twin, who didn’t even start to get ready until 2:50pm, said, “I told you I’d have plenty of time.” In true Ninja Ex fashion I escaped before he arrived, going to a different graduation party alone. See I Almost Crossed One Of “My Bucket List of Men To Do”
And off they went.
The Nanny Texts piss me off, but I’m used to it now and I know how ridiculous they sound. But later I realized something that did feel weird, though — that my ex-husband and our kids were attending this party with his new family, among people who knew us when our kids were babies and when I was visually present.
Now I certainly didn’t want to go to the party. God no, I didn’t want to go. Nor did I expect to be invited, of course. It just felt a little strange that my (appropriately dressed) children were going to be there (paraded) with the Ex-husband and his new family celebrating with people with whom my ex-husband and I had shared many major life events. It was hard to believe that that hours old baby I had held (and I think it was the first time I’d ever held an “hours old” baby) was graduating high school.
I don’t know, it felt kind of like I’d been photo-shopped out and new people photo-shopped in and that no one would or could acknowledge it, despite all that we shared in the early years.
Just kind of weird.
When the kids returned, though, one of them said,
“Mom, some lady told me to tell you hello.”
I’m not sure who it was. It didn’t matter. It made me smile.
At least someone remembered that I am here . . . or was here . . . or had, at one time, been there . . . or . . . whatever.
Just Me With . . . The Nanny Texts
If anyone is wondering why I did not simply curse my Ex out for the Nanny Texts, my failure to engage with him can be explained in blogs like:
The short answer is that it wouldn’t help. I pick and choose my battles.
Before my divorce, when I still lived in the big house in the nice neighborhood — also known as “The Marital Home,” “The Debtor’s Prison,” or “The Money Pit” I had some really cool neighbors, many of whom were there for me when my world fell apart.
Hillary and Tom lived across the street, in a stately Tudor home.
Hillary and Tom are older than I am, and well established in their careers. Both lawyers, they had worked in the same firm I had, but had left before I started there. My colleagues spoke so highly of them. I earned street ‘cred at the firm just by being their neighbor. I’m not sure where Hillary and Tom went to school, but I’m guessing there was ivy on some of the buildings. Eventually both left private practice, Tom for high-profile government work, and Hillary took an in-house corporate job. The couple moved up the ranks in their positions, with Hillary becoming a major client of the firm. Hillary was kind of a legend for younger female attorneys, she had played with the big boys and shattered the glass ceiling, or at least made a lateral move around it.
What’s more, Hillary and Tom are good people. Tom is a talker, knows as much about music as he does about law (he’d been a drummer in a previous life). Hillary is not nearly as gregarious as her husband, however. She has a quiet dignity that suggests that she is not to be messed with. She’s also very attractive, and appears to be years, even over a decade younger than her years. They both worked long hours, so I didn’t see them often around the neighborhood, but I always liked and admired them both. They were a power couple, truly.
In some ways, I considered Hillary and Tom to be a bit out of my league. They were connected, respected and wealthy. They were happy and well-suited, though Hillary joked that this was because they didn’t spend a lot of time together.
A couple of years ago Hillary took an early retirement from her corporate job. She was undecided as to what to do next, professionally. In the meantime, she had some time off — for the first time in probably twenty years. I was surprised ( shocked) when she invited all six of us to her beach house. We hadn’t spent much time together before this. But I was in the midst of a divorce and renovations on the new (hoarders) house, and I don’t think I had a kitchen at the time. I needed a break. But, I was in a bad way, my medications made me afraid to drive long trips alone. I explained this to her, deciding to be honest.
Hillary listened and said,
“I’ll drive you.”
And she did.
She picked us up in her SUV and drove the kids and I to the beach where she opened her home to us, fed us, and let me sleep while she played with my kids on the beach. I was surprisingly relaxed there. It was nice.
Hillary eventually took a new job, and we haven’t done anything together for years now, though she sometimes drops off her daughter’s (designer) hand-me-downs, and will buy whatever my kids are selling for school fundraisers. We share an educational level, and some professional accomplishments, but our lives have taken drastically different turns. I am, quite literally, on the other side of the tracks now.
Last year, Hillary and another ex-neighbor dropped off gift cards for all of us at Christmas. I was completely surprised and thankful but I didn’t expect it to happen again.
But again this year, a few days before Christmas, we heard a noise in the front room. One of the girls got there just in time to see the door closing and a package sitting on a table. Hillary had left chocolate and gift cards for all of us, including me — again. These are not the obligatory gifts from some aunt. Hillary is not related to us, and has no long-standing tradition of giving gifts to my kids — or me. This was clearly something that she just wanted to do, without fanfare. We were obviously home when she came by, but her stealthy elf-like drop off told me she didn’t want to talk.
So, instead of calling, I emailed her to thank her.
This was her response:
I am grateful for your friendship and especially your companionship during a time that was difficult for me. Not much time for companionship lately, but the friendship is still there.
It made me cry.
I thought I was only on the receiving end of assistance. I assumed that Hillary, like other friends and neighbors who witnessed or had second -hand knowledge of my break up and break down, was simply helping a family in need — because she had the means to do so. I never thought that I had much to give, let alone the means to help anyone — especially someone like Hillary — who seems to have it all.
So I cried.
And I’m still not exactly sure how I helped her — but I guess I did — and it meant so much to me that she told me so.
Just Me With . . . A Wonderful Life?
Other stories of good neighbors:
If you’ve read My Love Affair with Dunkin Donuts’ Bathroom, you know that I spent some time without running water during the renovation of my house.
It was during this period where I spent some extra time at a Dunkin’ Donuts, getting coffee, donuts, sandwiches, using the bathroom, washing my face, brushing my teeth, etc. I continued to go to Dunkin’ twice a day even after I got a working bathroom because I still didn’t have a kitchen, Bathroom or Kitchen Sink, Who Can Tell?, and anyway, it became part of my routine to go there, still is.
During my frequent Dunkin’ visits I was befriended by a Pakistani worker there, I’ll call her Sajida. True to being the stereotypical “Ugly American” I never felt like I properly pronounced her name, though I loved the way she said mine.
Sajida was there every night when I went in for the evening visit. She was very sweet. As soon as she saw my car drive up she fixed my coffee just the way I like it and filled a bag with free donuts. It was usually pretty empty at night, which allowed us to chat. Her English wasn’t very good; still, she asked me a lot of questions about myself and when I didn’t understand she made hand gestures to help me out. She met all of my children and asked if I had a husband. I told her “not anymore.” She told me I should get a new man. She always had a smile for me and usually a compliment, wondering how I stayed so skinny after having all the kids. See Confessions of a Skinny Mom. Still, she noticed when I looked particularly tired (it was a rough time) and would ask if I was “okay.”
“You tired? You look tired.” She’d say sometimes.
Other times she’d talk about herself, saying, “I’m so fat. I want to be skinny like you.” She wasn’t “fat,” by the way, she was shapely, and healthy looking. She was quite pretty.
I learned that she was 28-years-old and had two children back home in Pakistan who were living with her mother. She sent money to them. She lived here alone in a little apartment which she said she enjoyed because it was so clean and quiet, not like back home. She said she had been married to her first cousin, who wasn’t nice to her. “It wasn’t good,” she said, solemnly. Her children were both disabled, with birth defects, one was blind and I’m not sure what the other child’s challenges were, but she said they both needed medical attention. I couldn’t help but wonder whether being so closely related to her husband could have been the cause.
One day after getting my coffee I turned to leave and Sajida called me back. My children were not with me.
The men in the store were working in the back and largely ignored us.
She told me, “I’m pregnant.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. She hadn’t made this announcement as happy news.
She said, “I need help. I need pill.”
“Pill?” I thought it was a little late for birth control, but maybe I had misunderstood . . .
“Pill, I don’t want to be pregnant. Where can I get pill. Will you help me? Will you buy Pill for me?”
“Oh,” I said, again. Now I understood.
I haven’t had to think about pregnancy in years. My tubes have been tied since I last gave birth. “The Abortion Pill” or “The Morning After Pill” were not around in my unmarried youth. The only pills I had experience with were birth control pills. Still, my limited knowledge about these other pills was that they were something taken immediately after unprotected sex and/or at the very least, there is a small window of opportunity where such “pills” could prevent pregnancy or the continuation of a pregnancy.
I pondered what to say. There was a language barrier. I didn’t want to be responsible for or influence her decision, I didn’t want to misunderstand her intent.
I just wanted coffee . . . and some small talk. Truth is, I looked forward to seeing her every day. Though I didn’t really know and sometimes couldn’t understand her, I thought of Sajida as my friend. It was during a time where I had little interaction with other adults. My family refused to come to my home, as our living conditions were so bad. The friends and former neighbors — “angels” — who had helped me initially, had finished the first round of work, and I was waiting for the professionals to take over while I organized and cleaned. The children were tiring of the conditions, and I had to pretend that everything was okay. But Sajida smiled when she saw me. I needed that, truly.
Still, as I stood at the Dunkin’ Donuts counter, I wasn’t prepared for this.
Sajida added, “I asked another lady but she wouldn’t help me.”
That almost broke my heart. The thought of this sweet woman asking random Dunkin’ Donuts customers for help with an unwanted pregnancy — and that she had been refused?
Shit, I thought. I don’t want to be that lady, the kind of woman who would refuse to help another woman in trouble, someone reaching out for assistance.
“No one will help me,” Sajida continued, gesturing to her co-workers, also Pakistani, but male. “I don’t want to go to my people. I can’t have another baby. My children are too much. I’m afraid there will be something wrong.”
Here she was in a strange country, her challenged children far away, and pregnant when she didn’t want to be.
I decided I would help her.
At the very least I could get her to a doctor so she can know all of her options. Maybe she’s not even pregnant, I hoped; Maybe she’s too far along, I feared. I mean I didn’t know any of the details for sure.
I asked her, “Are you sure you’re pregnant?”
She said, “Yes,” explained that missed her period, and made the throwing up gesture. “Just like before I’m sick like before. Will you help? I have money. I can pay you,” she added.
Pay me? “No, don’t worry about that. Let’s get you to a doctor,” I said.
My mind was reeling. What if she’d asked someone who would have actually taken her money? And throwing up? God, I thought, how far along is she? No pill is going to help her now.
“Okay,” I said, “Just let me get some information. Please don’t take anything. I don’t think you can do that now. Just wait, okay?”
I left in disbelief, muttering to myself. Why, I thought, why do people feel comfortable telling me such private things? I couldn’t believe that I’d gone for coffee and was presented with a request for assistance in ending an unwanted pregnancy. But I guess I hadn’t just gone for coffee, I’d gone for company.
And I thought I had problems. I was broke, my house I shared with five children was barely livable and I was going through a nasty divorce. But at least I wasn’t pregnant.
This much I understood: It was clear that Sajida was not going to have this baby. The only question was how she was going to end her pregnancy and whether she would do it safely.
I’d told her I’d come back tomorrow. That night I called my best friend, who happens to be a gynecologist, and explained the situation. She confirmed what I already knew, that this woman needs to see a doctor immediately and will likely have to have an abortion to end the pregnancy, if that’s her intent. The next day I called Planned Parenthood and found out where she could go to see a doctor, confirm the pregnancy and talk about options, whether they might have a translator, and how that whole waiting period thing works.
It had been years, but I am no stranger to Planned Parenthood. I’d gone to Planned Parenthood to get on the pill before I lost my virginity. When I couldn’t go to my parents, Planned Parenthood was there. I had continued to use Planned Parenthood until well after I was married — until I eventually got my own private insurance. I felt comfortable sending Sajida there. I would have sent her there for affordable prenatal care if she’d planned on having the baby.
The next day I went to Dunkin’ Donuts and gave Sajida a telephone number and address, explained where she should go, and when, and that after she was seen by a doctor she would have to go back another day for the procedure. She was familiar with the location and said she could get there easily. She planned to take a bus to the clinic on her next available day off at the end of the week.
She thanked me profusely.
In the next couple of days I saw her again. She looked horrible, said she wasn’t feeling well and was still throwing up. She wasn’t as chatty as she had been on previous visits.
Days passed. The next time I saw her, I simply asked, “How are you?”
“Good,” she said, “Not pregnant. There was blood. ” She gestured to her lower regions, “There was blood, a lot of blood. I’m not pregnant anymore.”
“Oh, you miscarried? You — you — lost the baby?”
“Yes,” she smiled.
“And you don’t have to — do anything? “
“No, not pregnant anymore. I woke up, there was blood.” She seemed relieved.
“Still,” I said, “You should go to the doctor anyway, because you have to make sure you’re okay. Sometimes they have to — do stuff after you lose a baby. And you should go on the pill or get some birth control.”
Though the abortion talk had made me uncomfortable, I have no problem whatsoever telling a woman to get some birth control.
“Yes, yes,” she promised.
“Okay, you’re okay?” I asked.
I was relieved, for a lot of reasons.
We didn’t talk about it again. She did ask me for assistance later, this time in programming her cell phone. I was happy to help with that.
Over the months that followed Sajida’s English improved greatly. Almost a year later Sajida told me she was engaged and would be traveling back to Pakistan to marry. I must have looked shocked because she quickly explained, “No, it’s good. He’s nice.”
She added, “Someday you’ll meet someone, too.” She’d always encouraged me to date, one of the few who did.
I never saw her again. I think of her often, though.
Just the other day as I was leaving Dunkin’ Donuts, a very cute young Indian man who had waited on me called me back to ask me a question.
I was a little afraid.
Turns out he just wanted to know how much I pay for medical insurance since Dunkin’ Donuts does not provide it, even for full-time workers. For most people it may have seemed like an overly personal question. For me? Well, I was just relieved it was a question with an easy answer.
Just Me With . . . coffee, donuts and some information.
I’m a sensitive sort. I’ve delayed writing and publishing this post for fear of the criticism for assisting a woman who wished to terminate her pregnancy. Some might argue that I should have tried to talk her out of it, that I should have pointed her to an organization that would have tried to talk her out of it, or that I should have simply refused, like the “other lady” had. But the bottom line was, she was an adult woman in a strange country, already a mother of special needs children and her decision had been made — without me. She merely asked for my help.
Was I relieved that nature took its course? Yes, yes, I was, I admit that. But if it hadn’t, at least Sajida would have received medical care and not simply paid a customer to provide her with random medications to end her pregnancy — and/or perhaps injure herself in the process.
Where ever Sajida is I hope she’s found happiness and that her new husband is nice to her.
I was working at the fancy law firm in the city at the time, but I lived out in the suburbs and usually trained it to work.
My firm had a policy about working late. It was to encourage late nights or discourage leaving early or necessity or whatever, but if an attorney worked after a certain time, the firm would pick up the tab for a cab ride home. This wasn’t a big deal for the city folks, but the policy included picking up the tab for the suburban commuters as well. That tab could be quite substantial. Still, the policy wasn’t abused, people would rather get out of work early than work late just to cop a free cab ride. It seemed like a caring policy, the firm wanting to make sure its associates got home safely.
Rumor had it, though, that it was really a liability and public relations issue. The story was that there was a female attorney from another firm who was required to work late and as she went home she was brutally attacked while waiting for a train. She suffered head injuries so severe that she was unable to practice law ever again. She brought suit against the firm. After that, so we heard, all the large city firms started the free cab ride “benefit.”
I’d cabbed it a few times, not often. But this evening or should I say night or actually morning — I was working on a project that kept me in the office very late, going on 1:00 am. Since I’d taken the train to the city I needed a cab ride home. I was pregnant at the time, though not very far along. I am also a fair-skinned African-American woman who had recently had her hair permed. To those of you who don’t know, that means a “permanent relaxer” — the opposite of the curly perm. It makes our hair straighter (like with a flat-iron) and easier to manage. Having just had my “hair done” it was very, very straight.
My point is: It was night, I am light-skinned and my hair was long and straight. In poor lighting could be mistaken as white.
My firm always used the same taxi company, so I wasn’t hailing just any cab, merely arranging for pick up. The cab was waiting at the street and I hopped in, preparing to doze for the thirty minute ride. I was so very tired, having worked such a long day and being pregnant and all.
As the cabbie drove out of the city and out onto the highway he started to talk.
And oh boy did he talk! This man hated black people. He went on and on using the N-word, yelling, saying all black people are worthless and didn’t deserve to be alive. At least, I think he said we did not deserve to be alive. If he didn’t, he said something close. It was more than a rant, it was a hate-filled tirade.
Hostile, that’s it. This man was hostile, openly hostile.
Suddenly, I felt very afraid. I think it was the pregnancy making me feel vulnerable and alone (I did not have a cell phone at the time). I just wanted to get me and my unborn child home safely because this guy — seemed —- crazy. And he clearly hadn’t gotten a good look at me, because he was ranting in such a way that he thought I’d be a sympathetic ear.
I wanted out of that cab.
“What if this guy freaks out — on me? Should I just get out now? ” Not an option. I looked out the window I saw that we were on a bridge. Couldn’t very well ask him to pull over. Standing on the side of a bridge pregnant and alone wouldn’t be good either. I was starting to freak myself out a bit. This guy was scaring me and I don’t usually scare easily. “What’s up with this?” I wondered, “Why am I so scared?” I’ve never been afraid to go out alone or ride public transportation. I actually like walking around by myself, and would often scoff at the suburbanites who are fearful of the big city or of the dreaded subway. When male friends or colleagues suggest walking me to my car I would often respond, “Um, Why?” I thought I was Miss Independent, and all that. Now that I think about the risks I used to take, I’m thankful and lucky that I’ve never been a victim of random crime.
But this cab driver — he was scaring me.
So I sat in silence as he ranted . . . and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that . . .
I kept my head down and let my limp, straight hair hang over my face.
I didn’t want him to see me, to discover who/what I really am. I was afraid that this would send him over the edge, having “one” in his cab, knowing I could get him in trouble. I even went so far as covering my hands with my jacket.
I had never tried “to pass” as white before — or since. I was scared of this man, though. And I didn’t like it.
It was a long ride.
When I failed to join him in his rant he eventually quieted down, which scared me more. I saw him glance at me through his mirror and he didn’t say another word, which scared me even more. I hoped he assumed I was asleep.
“Oh,” I thought. “I’m going to be left in a ditch somewhere and no one will know.” (My husband was home in bed.)
Did I say it was a long ride? It was.
We finally got close to home and I had the crazy cabbie drop me off at the train station where my car was. Perhaps I should have had him bring me straight home, except I didn’t want him to know where I lived. I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I just wanted out of that cab.
I had him pull up right next to my car; I had my keys ready and I hurried out.
When my hand was on safely on my unlocked car door I turned so he could see me and simply said, “I’m black” jumped in my car and sped off. It was somewhat dramatic yet anti-climatic, hardly confrontational. I lacked bravado alone in a parking lot at 1:30 AM. I left him there and drove the wrong way home to make sure I wasn’t followed. This guy really scared the crap out of me.
I was shaking, and mad — so angry that this man could make me feel so vulnerable when I want to be so strong. I started to question myself, wondering why I reacted so strongly. A lot of people say stupid things, most don’t act on them. Some do, however. Some do. I was a woman, a pregnant woman, alone late at night with a man who had the awful combination of hateful and chatty. Bottom line was that I’d do anything, including “pass” to keep me and my baby safe.
Overreacting? Yeah probably. I mean, what was he really going to do? But it’s a special kind of fear when you think, “If he knew, he’d hate me and he might hurt me.” — That fear of being “outed” in a hostile environment –not pleasant. Gays, Jews, Transgendered . . . I would guess have a similar historically based respect for this kind of fear.
Justified or not, it was a real fear, a discomfort to the bone. And my being pregnant made me the polar opposite of a bad-ass. Instead, I felt vulnerable, in need of protection.
Well, the next day I reported it to the partners. It was easy to track down the cabbie since the cab company was under contract, and he was promptly fired. (Yeah who’s the bad-ass now?“)
The cab company sent me a huge bouquet of flowers with written apologies, and the firm apologized on their behalf as well. Everyone wanted to make sure I was “okay.”
I viewed the world a bit differently. I realized it’s not just about my pride and independence anymore. I was going to be somebody’s mother and — I had to do what I had to do — even if it meant sitting quietly with my head lowered.
Just Me With . . . a cab ride . . . from Hell.
I threw the flowers out. I didn’t want my office decorated with mementos of that crazy ride. For a much more upbeat commuting story see Miracles Happen.
I was living in the suburbs and working in the city. Consequently, I lived and died by the train schedule. Each day I drove to the train station, parked, and caught a train to another world. The trains ran rather regularly and had express routes during “rush” hours, but after the commuter trains stopped there was often an hour wait between the trains which made — every — stop. If I missed the last express train, I would be very, very late for work.
On this particular day, I had trouble finding a parking space.
“Damn,” I thought, as I drove around the lot. “I cannot miss this train. I can’t.”
I was working at a law firm where they proudly told new associates the story of how the founding partner died at his desk. This was something to aspire to, according to them — so long as our time sheets were in order (Ha ha — and by that I mean, not funny at all . . . but I digress . . . ).
Needless to say, strolling in late was, well, frowned upon.
Finally, I found a semi-legal parking space and ran down to the tracks just as my train pulled in. But I was “running” in dress clothes and carrying a briefcase. It wasn’t pretty — or effective, especially since the train pulls in on the opposite side of the parking lot and I had to run down the stairs, cross under the tracks, and run back up the stairs to actually board my train.
I didn’t make it.
As I climbed the steps on the other side I witnessed my train pulling away.
The next train, which was not an express and therefore would take the full 43 minutes to get to the city, would not come for another 50 minutes.
Sure, I could drive into town and pay an arm and a leg and my first-born to park, but I would still be late for work. I cursed myself and the world — Damn, damn, damn. I hoped the partners wouldn’t see me coming in late. I should have left earlier. I had no one to blame but myself.
I wished with all my heart that I’d made that train. I ached to have caught that train. But all I was left to do was just stand there — all alone — watching my train pull away. I was left there like the last dog at a shelter.
I think I even whispered out loud, “Come baaaack” before I hung my head in defeat.
(I hope you can feel the tragedy of it all. I was having a very bad day.)
But then, I looked up again.
The train . . .
The train . . . was . . . coming . . . back!
I thought I’d lost my mind. I did the cartoon character rubbing my eyes with my fists thing. I looked around to see if anyone else could see this, because it was surreal. But I was alone. Everyone else had actually caught the train — which was slowly, but deliberately, coming back.
Had I willed this to happen? (Was it like in that first Harry Potter when Harry makes the glass around the snake cage vanish, yet is totally oblivious of his powers?)
Was I being Punked? (Where were the cameras? Ashton?)
Things like this just don’t happen. Not in real life. Not in Suburbia. Not to me.
But sure enough, the train pulled back into the station.
Tentatively, I stepped up to the now open door.
“Can I get on?” I asked the conductor, sheepishly.
“Yeah,” he answered. I must have looked spooked because he volunteered that there was some sort of switching problem.
But you couldn’t tell me that I hadn’t brought that train back out of the sheer force of my will — or it was divine intervention — because almost as soon as I embarked, the train started again, and took me into the city, express style.
I smiled the entire trip.
It was a commuting miracle. A miracle, I say.
So, when I’m feeling a little blue, sometimes I think of the miracles in my life. And it’s not always the obvious or the big stuff — like births and graduations and crap. Sometimes, I think about the day the train came back . . . just for me.
Just Me With . . . a commuting miracle.
Yeah, I know, Father’s Day is over. But here’s a story about my Daddy.
When I was little my dad was a teacher, but at a residential school for delinquent youth. This meant that in addition to his classes he had to work night shifts at the school. When I was in kindergarten he worked from 1 to 9 pm. My mom was teaching during the day while my older sisters were in school. So it was Just Me With . . . my Daddy in the mornings before I went to afternoon kindergarten and he went to work.
One day my dad was fixing my lunch, which meant he was heating up a can of soup. He’d put the soup on the stove and went outside. My dad is not the kind of guy who sits still for very long. I think he was working in the yard or something.
But he forgot about the soup.
My five-year-old self saw the soup boiling over and ran outside,
Of course he didn’t come right away. But I persisted and screamed,
“Daddy, Daddy, come QUICK!”
I’d made him listen to me. He ran inside, turned the burner off and the crisis was averted. The house did not burn down. All was right with the world. I had saved the day.
He was so proud of me for making him listen. He was so pleased in fact that he took me out to the toy store and let me pick out a Teddy Bear.
Now, we were not a wealthy family. We got presents for Christmas and birthdays, I’m guessing picked out by my mom, and our parents provided us with what we needed, but “just because” presents were few and far between. Plus . . . I’m just going to say it, my Dad is, well, . . . frugal (the voices in my head are screaming CHEAP!!!!!). My Dad buying a gift for me when it was not a national holiday was a big deal. Even at five I knew that.
Most importantly, my Daddy made me feel like I saved the day. He was impressed with his baby girl and let everyone know it. It might not sound like much, but it must have meant a lot to him. He has retold this story countless times over the years. And to hear my Dad tell this story, mimicking my little girl voice — “Daddy, Daddy, Come Quick!!!” — is just the sweetest thing ever! Notably, he usually leaves out the part about buying me a Teddy Bear.
I had made him listen, and he made me feel important — and a little bit like a superhero.
That Teddy Bear was one of my most precious toys, she stayed with me for years to come. I credit my Dad with instilling in me the feeling that I matter in this world and that I can make a difference. It’s the little things.
And bonus, my older (evil) sisters were sooooo jealous that I got a present. Heh heh heh
Just Me With . . . a Dad who made me feel like I have the ability to save the world! [insert Superhero music]