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
I admit, I’ve been a bit obsessed with footwear lately, and not in a good way.
I’ve researched Chinese foot binding, have had a running commentary in my head about women’s fashion and how across cultures and continents women’s fashion has served to decrease our mobility. I’ve been thinking that even despite recent “equality” and participation in sports we expect each other to be “bad-ass” with the constraints of clothing that limit or alter our movement. In the old days we weren’t supposed to do anything but now we’re supposed to do everything — in heels.
Raising children has got me thinking as well. I’ve seen them all take their first toddler steps, learn to run, to play, and to compete in sports, but I realize that soon, though my boy will continue in this path, my girls will likely do the same tasks as my son — while standing on their toes. When they are older and allowed to, they may choose to re-learn how to walk in heels that are getting ridiculously high. I acknowledge that men’s ties and jackets, especially in Summer, are uncomfortable, but they usually don’t cause actual pain like some women’s fashions can. And even if men are hot and bothered, they can still walk and stand — even in grass or sand. (Rhyme unintended.)
When writer, director, producer and actress Lena Dunham won her Golden Globe, she literally hobbled up to the stage, needing help like an elderly lady. This woman is taking Hollywood by storm, but on her big night, she was unsteady. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, had the flu — but he could walk.
The thing is, Lena’s shoes didn’t even show, yet she chose to wear what, six-inch designer heels? See Fashionista.com. The fascination we have (and I’m not completely immune) with shoes is beyond the scope of this post, especially since, as I’ve said, I’m obsessed . . . but let me offer a true shoe story.
The night before the Golden Globes I attended a fundraising event. It was a dressy affair. As a volunteer organizer, I knew I’d be on my feet the whole evening. I also knew that parking was a problem and I’d likely have to walk blocks across a college campus to get to the affair’s location. So, I made a bold decision.
I did not wear dress shoes.
Instead, my shoes were clog like, the kind normally worn with jeans. Still honoring “cocktail attire” I wore dress black pants and a sequined top. Since, however, the pants were dressy they were longer than they needed to be (I’m assuming to compensate for the heels that women usually wear). My feet and my comfortable shoes were practically covered. And if my shoes did peek out, since they, too, were black they did not make a statement. No bows, no ribbons, no sequins, no sparkles, no spikes, no red bottoms, no color — no — nothing — on the shoes.
I deliberately chose not to call attention to my feet.
Are you thinking I went the old lady route? Are you gasping in horror? Are you laughing at my fashion faux-pas?
Well, I was no old lady. Au contraire, I was — sexy. I brought the attention north, you see. My top was the statement. It had spaghetti straps and silver sequined triangles draped over the breasts which accentuated “the girls” and my shoulders quite nicely. The blouse had a slightly see-through bodice with a sequined edge going all the way around the bottom hem. I’d just had my hair highlighted and wore it out with in waves of loose curls. I wore full makeup, including great lipstick/gloss and left my eye-glasses at home. Shiny earrings hung from the lobes but I left the neck naked — again to accentuate “the girls.”
A funny thing happened. I was complimented more than I had been in — in — I can’t even remember. Men and women told me I was “beautiful,” “elegant,” “lovely” . . . repeatedly. (Quite nice for my ego.) Drinks were flowing at this event and I received a few slightly inappropriate compliments and appraisals from married men. Since this was a fundraiser for high-schoolers they were there to perform and serve the adults. It bears mentioning that I even got a direct compliment from a 16-year-old girl along with looks of approval from her brethren — me, somebody’s mother! I told my son how his teacher, an attractive, recently divorced man who barely acknowledges me normally, stopped me to tell me (repeatedly) how beautiful I looked. After a moment of silence my son’s response was, “I’m sick of you.” Ha! — high praise for a mom in teen boy world.
All this, and it had nothing to do with the shoes.
Except that, because my feet did not hurt, I felt good. I danced and I didn’t have to take my shoes off to do so. And even though I was on my feet for six hours, I still felt good. You see, when you feel good, it’s easier to look good — sexy. I didn’t need the Barbie feet. I didn’t need the clack, clack, clack of the stilettos. (And yes, I own some.) But without them I could confidently cross the room without worrying about slipping, falling or hurting. I could even do stairs, all while being “elegant.” It was liberating, yet I still felt very, very feminine.
By all reports and stolen glances I must have looked damned good . . .
And it wasn’t the shoes. (Or was it?)
Just Me With . . . a true, shoe story.
For a fictional shoe story, see my Dressed for Success at The Indie Chicks.
For an earlier decision to call attention to the girls, see The Summer of Cleavage.
If Lena Dunham had worn sneakers under that long dress (and had it hemmed accordingly), we wouldn’t have been the wiser and she could have taken the stage under her own considerable, impressive power.
Oh well, enough about her shoes. It ain’t about the shoes all the time. Congratulations Lena Dunham, Best Actress in a Comedy Series! Much respect.
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]
I danced around it on my Angela Jolie Post, my Adultery Diet Post and I described some of the effects of it with We Thought You Were Dead, Mommy — Almost F*cked to Death and the Twilight Zone posts but I never really say it. Even here and now within the constraints of a blog post I’m not going into great detail, not in one post anyway. Plus, posts are supposed to be short, right? I can only write so much here. (Thank goodness.)
There have probably been seeds of it implanted in me from my childhood, and in young adult life when I did a miniscule about of modeling. Years later I lost a lot of weight after my children were born, initially as a result of breastfeeding multiples and later from sheer exhaustion. See Fertile Myrtle.
But somewhere in my mind I have had this fear of “getting fat.”
Then there was the negative reinforcement of the world, it seems, when people said,
“You don’t look like you have five kids . . . “
It is meant as a compliment. But it probably got my psyche thinking, “What if I didn’t look like this?“
So, after the children, I kept busy (as if I had a choice with all those kids), watched how much I ate, and stayed slim. And I’d pretty much given my body to my husband, “Sex On Demand“.
Maybe I was still feeling vulnerable from my his stupid brief affair with a much younger woman.
“Maybe,” I thought, “I can’t get younger, but I can make sure I don’t get fat.” I don’t know.
Maybe I felt out of control because I suddenly had so many children and was completely overwhelmed yet somehow needed to make it look effortless. The Superwoman Syndrome.
So I stayed slim, but not yet dangerously so. I got some new clothes, highlights in my hair and was trying to give myself a home makeover — the new me — still fabulous after five kids, who were finally out of the diaper, toddler, and preschool grind. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe we’d be able to leave the house soon?
But then . . . my husband left me . . .
. . . and I pretty much stopped eating.
Ironically his love interest at that time was younger and significantly heavier than me. My being thin and sexually available was ultimately unsuccessful. Maybe I just should have become an incredible cook . . . but I digress . . .
At first I was too devastated to eat, and that, simply, continued.
I never used laxatives, or induced vomiting. (I absolutely hate throwing up). I just stopped eating, or really ate just enough to keep from falling over. I had a lot of other “behaviors” — they call them. Whatever, I don’t want to think about it now. Though it never got as bad as those horrifying pictures one sees on the internet, I admit it makes me uncomfortable to look at pictures of myself during my worst times . . . and I have destroyed most of them.
I was a bit like Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, except not nearly as glamorous.
I was in the throes of a deep, deep depression. But I had children, so I continued doing what I had to do for the most part, except . . . I failed to nourish myself. Or, I nourished myself just enough to continue to take care of the children, short-term.
Was it a cry for help or a form of suicide when suicide was not an option?
Funny thing happens when you don’t eat much or often,when you do eat you are rewarded with pain and nausea. Hardly incentive for a person who was crying all day long anyway. So I ate just enough to function, but my resistance was down, physical strength drained and when I started having dizziness and heart palpitations and losing my hair and a couple of hospitalizations and a blood transfusion later? Well, perhaps there was a problem. (Ya think?) Not to mention my historically unhealthy relationship with my estranged husband, see My High School Self, and the crap I was dealing with when he left. It was a rough time. Call me Forrest Gump, but that’s all I have to say about that — now, anyway.
They say I suffer(ed) from Anorexia.
I actually don’t feel like talking about this stuff. I mean, I’m hardly the face of —- gulp — an eating disorder. I’m an adult woman of color who has been diagnosed with a disease whose poster child is the face of a 14-year-old white girl. The stereotype for me is either the big mama in the kitchen or the strong, sassy and proud single mother. Well, I was/am neither. Food and cooking holds no interest for me and I did not choose, nor do I wave the banner of my suddenly single mother situation, it’s just something I have to deal with.
No matter, “Anorexia” is in my medical charts, I have been referred to and evaluated by a facility for eating disorders who determined that because of my family obligations, I should be treated privately. Whatever. I don’t feel like discussing it right now. Wait, did I already say that? It’s too much for a blog post, anyway, right? (Thank goodness).
Long, painful, story short, I’m so much better now. Therapy, medications for depression and medications for my chronic stomach ailments caused by my poor eating habits have helped tremendously. Though I’m off the daily anti-depressants now, see Getting Off The Meds, I’ve found that changing my lifestyle and removing triggers — as much as I can — have helped tremendously also. So I eat now, not always well and not with enjoyment, but regularly. I’m at a good weight, or so I’m told — I never look. People tell me I look great. (People in the know are careful not to exclaim that I’ve gained weight.) To look at me now, no one would know of my “issues.” Still, when I am down or stressed, I don’t eat. And sometimes, I just forget. It’s probably something I have to watch for a long time, maybe forever. But whatever. I am much healthier than I was, which is the most important.
Just Me With . . . well, they say it was anorexia. They say.
P.S. This may be the first post I delete.
Before I get beat up in the comments because I’m a mom and have to take care of myself for my kids, etc. , know that this just skims the surface (I mean people write whole books on this stuff), that I love my children and have worked my behind off for them, have tried to protect them and have provided a good home (a good part of which I built myself), that even mothers can go through a bad time, having children does not make one immune. I’ve learned that I have to feel good about me. Period. The rest will/has to come from that.
There’s this new show on The Lifetime Channel, called “7 Days of Sex. ” I admit that I’ve never seen the show, but the commercials suggest that the show is about married couples making daily or nightly sex a priority in their relationship to “save the marriage. ” You know, bring back the romance. Or, as Justin Timberlake set out to do, they are bringing sexy back.
The whole thing reminds me of a conversation I had with a co-worker at the law firm where I once worked. The man was a very bright, affable, verbose fellow who was a gifted orator. I’ll call him Barney. I call him Barney because his manner of speaking reminds me of Barney in the television show “How I Met Your Mother,” which I recently discovered on Netflix and use to stave off my bouts with the blues. Unlike the TV Barney, however, Law Firm Barney wasn’t a womanizer. To the contrary, he was happily married. A devout Catholic, he was already on baby number four. He was hired laterally from another firm, was a bit older than us, and I think we believed he was wiser. He was the sweetheart of the senior male partners, and very good with clients. During that time we all “suited up” but Barney was impeccably dressed at all times.
Like the TV Barney on “How I Met Your Mother” Law Firm Barney would often espouse pearls of wisdom upon us younger and less experienced attorneys. His teachings were not always about the law.
One day, as we sat in the firm’s cafeteria, he explained to us that he would never cheat on his wife because,
“The fucking you get ain’t worth the fucking you get.”
Okay Barney. That one pretty much speaks for itself.
Another bit of knowledge he dropped on us went like this:
Barney: “You know what men really want? “
The rest of us: “Tell us, Barney.”
Barney: “Wait for it . . .” Well actually, he didn’t say that, but the tone was the same.
What he did say with the same type of authority was,
“All men really want is: Sex On Demand.”
He continued, “That’s it. That’s all. If a man has that, he’s happy. We’re very simple creatures.” (True story.)
Well, I gave this serious thought. I think I only had one child at the time. But since well before I had become a mother I worried how motherhood would affect my figure, career, marriage, finances, sex life and general mojo. I wanted children, but I didn’t want to be “the mom” and all that that apparently implies. (Think of commercial moms hawking toilet paper and the dreaded mom jeans.) Obviously I had developed my own Madonna/Whore issues. I blame magazines and talk shows and pamphlets in the doctor’s offices. In an effort to gain readers and possibly drop some knowledge they, in my humble opinion, perpetuate the Madonna/Whore syndrome — or hell, they almost teach it.
I had already made a vow to myself that my husband and I would not be one of those couples who forgo physical intimacy for long periods of time because we had become parents.
So the knowledge that Law Firm Barney had dropped on us in the cafeteria was intriguing to me. I had been playing the role of trying to make my brooding husband happy for years. At the very least I tried not to make him mad. If, I thought, I adopted Barney’s philosophy, I would have a happy husband. Could it be that easy? Would it be that hard? (No pun intended, that’s another story altogether.) See My Cheating Husband Was Packing Viagra.
And for me? Well, if I did this, this Sex On Demand thing, I would be more than a mother. I could be available in non-maternal ways. Willing. Always. (insert purring noises)
So I made another vow to myself, without telling my husband. I vowed to provide “Sex On Demand.”
And I did. I stuck to my vow for a long time. A hell of a lot longer than a mere seven days, those wusses. (I got a respite when my doctor said I couldn’t do it because of pregnancy complications and birth — I actually requested a note, but I digress . . .)
My husband and I were “intimate” right up to the day he left me. Actually, we were intimate on that day . . . but I shamefully digress . . .
Now I’m about to drop some knowledge on all of you. Contrary to popular belief,
“A man who strays does not necessarily do so because he’s not getting any at home. Au contraire. A man could be getting it plenty at home and still get it elsewhere.”
Just Me With . . . Sex on Demand — a stupid idea for questionable yet good intentioned reasons that went very, very wrong.
I’m not married anymore. I’m not in a relationship right now. So the 7 Days of Sex show is not relevant to me at this time in my life. I don’t think I’ll watch. But whenever I’m next in a committed, serious, physical relationship, I will treat my body as my own. That’s bringing sexy back.
This was years and years ago. I was a college student. My parents had “sent me away” to live with my older sister for the Summer, I think to keep me away from my boyfriend. They didn’t send me far away or for long enough. They should have put me in a time machine and sent me to the future, just to get a glimpse as to how things might turn out if I stayed with that boyfriend. Now he’s my ex-husband, but I digress.
I was lured to my sister’s city with the promise of getting a Summer camp counseling job with my brother-in-law, who headed a Summer program for inner-city youth. Once I arrived, however, it became clear that there was no such job. So, stuck in a city where I knew no one but my sister, who was married and ten years older than me, and while I was still stuck in a relationship where I was not “allowed” to drink or even go out, really, I decided to take whatever job I could get just to pass the time.
The job I got was at a downtown fast food restaurant, Burger King. The kind folks at Burger King issued me a hideous brown? orange? yellow? UGLY polyester uniform with a matching hat. The manager placed me “up front” as a cashier, taking orders. The people who were already working “in the back” making burgers were not thrilled about this, suggesting (well, actually saying) that I thought I was better than they were because I was from the north and a college girl. We were in the deep south, you see. Whatever. I went where I was told.
It was busy downtown eatery, during the lunch rush there were often lines at the register and a wait for food. And there I was, standing behind the register, with my fitted polyester uniform (I vaguely remember getting it a size too small so I could at least show my figure) along with my matching hat, with one hand on the microphone and the other on the counter waiting for the next customer.
A young man who had been patiently waiting his turn sauntered up to the counter, looked me up and down with bedroom eyes, expertly executed the mack daddy chin rub before he leaned on the counter, gave me the “up” nod and asked, simply,
“So . . . do you work here?”
I lost it. That cracked me the hell up! It was the best laugh I’d had in a long time. I almost gave him my number right then and there, boyfriend be damned.
Looking back now, I wish I had.
Just Me With . . . the best pick up line . . . ever.
What’s your favorite pick up line?
Bad pick up attempts: The Landscaper Guy
Yesterday I saw a woman I’ve known for years, and decided to sit with her for a bit at the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts. I see her around our small town, she lives near me. She’s a recently retired school bus driver and has more time on her hands these days. She’s a talker and sometimes I don’t have time to chat but yesterday I did. I’ll call her Miss Debbie.
When I saw Miss Debbie at the counter I remembered someone’s blog post where they listed simple things we can do for others, and one of those was to listen to an elderly person talk, because sometimes they just need to.
Miss Debbie is probably in her seventies, but she’s mobile, healthy and spunky so “elderly” doesn’t seem quite right, but I guess on paper, she is.
She is also the Ex- wife of the man my Ex-mother-in-law had a long-term affair with.
Let me explain. I may have to distribute a chart later. Years ago and for a period of many years, my ex-mother-in-law was sleeping with this woman’s husband. Everybody knew. We live in a small town outside of a large city. It is a bed of gossip. The affair between my Ex-Mother-In-Law– let’s call her Shirley and Miss Debbie’s husband, who I’ll call Larry, was common knowledge.
I took the stool next to Miss Debbie and we chit-chatted for a bit. She told me about problems she was having getting work done on her house and her latest cataract surgery. I suggested a couple of contractors I know.
As always, she eventually asked if I’d seen my Ex mother-in-law, and I said, no explaining again that I don’t have any contact with her, or have any reason to have contact with her. I added that I hadn’t heard anything either way so I guess she’s okay.
Then Miss Debbie said, “It was all in my face, that was the most hurtful thing.”
Yes, I nodded. Truly that must have been horrible.
The woman who would later become my mother-in-law, Shirley, used to pull up to a nearby lot outside Miss Debbie and Larry’s house and beep her horn for him until he came out. I repeat: Shirley beeped her horn for all to hear — until Larry left the home he made with his wife and two children and went off with her. That would be a hurtin’ thing. A country song inspiring hurtin’ thing. A spit on your own porch and clean your gun hurtin’ thing. I can’t imagine.
Granted, Larry was no prize, obviously. Still, he was somebody’s husband — and this somebody was sitting next to me having coffee.
Let the record reflect: Some men do leave their wives for their mistresses. It happens. Case in point: Larry eventually left Miss Debbie, moved in with Shirley and her children, one of them being my future- and ex-husband. (ha! That sounds funny . . . but I digress . . . ) Still later, Larry married Shirley. An alcoholic, he almost missed his own wedding because he’d been out drinking the night before. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Larry and Shirley’s happy union was short-lived. Shirley eventually kicked him out but not before an “accidental” shooting . . . by Shirley . . . but I digress . . . again. This was over twenty years ago.
Debbie still lives in the same home, Shirley still lives in hers. Larry, however, died last year, I think it was liver damage, cancer, karma, whatever. His last days were spent living alone in a little apartment, his grown daughter providing assistance. His home going service (funeral) was planned by ex-wife Miss Debbie and his children. I’m not sure if Shirley and Larry ever officially got divorced, but my Ex-mother-in-law Shirley was the last wife of record. Someone called Shirley to see if she wanted to come or contribute. She did neither.
Sitting there with Miss Debbie, who knows my husband (Shirley’s son) left me, and hearing the pain in her voice when she reflected on her husband’s affair, “. . . that was the most hurtful thing,” I felt for her. Just like labor pain for some, there is some pain that you can’t forget, even if it was long ago.
I offered just a little comment, saying,
“Well, I gotta tell you. I’ve never had any interest in somebody else’s husband.” This make her break out in a good loud chuckle.
“Me neither,” she said.
Just Me With . . . a coffee break.
P.S. If anyone knows of that blog post that inspired my coffee with Miss Debbie along with this post, please let me know. I want to give props.