It started as an experiment.
And everybody experiments, right?
It was just a little thing, you know, so I can hang with the cool kids. But now I fear it’s gotten out of hand.
It was last year. You see, I’d started a new job, a new assignment, along with about 80 to 100 other people. We were in a huge conference room, seated randomly at round tables. Some people knew each other from other projects, but most, like me, were amongst strangers.
We were a room full of attorneys in professional attire. The women outnumbered the men, slightly, as I noted when I conducted the unofficial scan of the room. This isn’t necessarily a function of progress. These assignments are, shall we say — upward mobility challenged? The ages in the room spanned from about 25 to maybe 65 years old. There was a respectable sprinkling of people of color, mostly women of color, but it was a predominately white crowd. None of this is particularly important, except I want you to experience the look and feel of the room, so maybe you can understand how I got all caught up.
I uttered the normal hellos, introductions, and Have you done this work before? –yadda yadda yadda– but then, as I often do –and I think it’s the writer in me — I shut up, watched, and listened.
Before and after our training sessions, and during every break, many of my new colleagues talked about about babies, toddlers, school aged kids, teens applying to colleges, school schedules, dance classes, sporting events, husbands, meal planning, diets, vacations, grown kids, daughters’ weddings, sons who just got engaged, etc. You know, personal stuff, family talk.
But most of this talk was by the women. Even the childfree women asked the other women about their kids.
My male brethren? Not so much.They were largely quiet, or spoke of the commute and past work experience.
Considering the age range of the group — these dudes were in prime dad years. All years are prime dad years for men, but I digress . . . .
And, I couldn’t help but notice the golden glint of a fair share of wedding rings on these men. Alas, in my single state the hunt for wedding rings (or lack thereof) is a commonplace activity for me, but I digress, again . . . . My point is, it stands to reason and probability and you know, math, that many of these men must have had wives and kids — that they just weren’t talking about.
And me? Having had all the kids I could have jumped right into the mom talk. But I wondered, what would it be like to be one of the guys? I’d still love the fruit of my loins, I’d still be ridiculously proud of them, but I knew — or perhaps I wanted to prove — that I was capable of making small talk that’s not about them.
Just like the guys.
Now, let the record reflect that I’m content with my gender, and I’m not one of those women who hate other women or moms, and I’m not trying to be a guy, I just wanted to be like them. Just for a minute. And to be honest, be like myself, the archived self I was before I had all the babies, two at a time, before the nasty divorce, crippling depression, and crushing debt, before the struggle to maintain normalcy for the kids while the mom was decidedly not all right. I wanted to conjure up the time where, in similar professional situations, I managed to talk the talk without all the baby talk.
Admittedly, having been through all the stuff I’ve been through — peruse old posts if you are not familiar– I just wanted to get away from it. You know, for a minute. Because discussing the kids always leads to questions about the ex. Always. It also leads to comments about my shape (and weight), and to my tutorial on fertility and heredity.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about family at work. Nothing at all. But I couldn’t help but notice the gender divide and I thought . . . I’m gonna jump to the other side.
For a minute.
So, I opted out. I told myself that I would never deny the existence of my offspring, but I would make a conscious effort not to voluntarily talk about them, unless or until I felt like it.
For a minute.
But that was well OVER A YEAR AGO!
During this time I have worked side by side with both men and women, gotten to know them, like (some of) them, bonded with many of them, laughed and bitched with most of them. But I haven’t mentioned to them that I have almost half a dozen children, those young adult humans that I grew in my body, birthed and raised. And no ex-husband either. Nothing. Just me (ironically).
Like a fucking psychopath.
And now I’m in too deep.
What have I done? What kind of mother doesn’t talk about her children? — for over a year?
Just Me With . . . no children — to speak of, anyway. Are you kidding me?
There were a couple of times when I kinda broke my rules, which I’ll talk about later, because now — it’s a problem.
And I guess at some point I should report on the results of my experiment — how it felt.
To be continued . . .
Full closure: My kids are, in fact, AWESOME. The younger ones are still in college, happy and healthy, my oldest kid graduated from college, got a full-time job in his field, an apartment, and a roommate. They are crushing it. And by extension, so am I.
And, if I can be completely superficial for a moment, they are freaking gorgeous, objectively, like people stop and stare. I don’t post pictures of them. Just take my word for it.
I came at my son with a yellow legal pad a week before he was scheduled to go away to college.
I didn’t want to wait until the day before or burden him while he was imprisoned in the car with me for the long ride. I needed to do my duty, read him his rights, duties, and responsibilities. I needed to know that he knows stuff — because he heard it from me.
One of the many topics I addressed was the issue of college campus sexual assaults on women. Fun, huh?
I started with saying that I have no reason to think that he would do any of this stuff I was about to talk about, but that
I have to have said it, and
He has to listen.
The boy shook his head, gave the kind of chuckle that told he knew he didn’t have a choice, and I talked. This is what I said, and I hope, I so hope, that he really heard me:
1. If she’s too drunk to say no, then she’s too drunk to say yes. If anyone does anything to a woman while she is incapable of consenting, it’s rape.
2. If she appears to be consenting, but also appears to be inebriated (or drugged) to the extent that her spoken consent, even her requests or begging for physical attention, are not made wisely, then walk away. Guys can say no, too. It’s not passing up on the only opportunity. Some situations are just not right and absolutely not worth it. “Nope, you’re too drunk.” Wise words.
3. Consent can be withdrawn, at any time. And it can have limits. A person can consent to one thing, but not another. She can consent to one guy, but not another. If there’s ever a no, everything stops.
4. No matter what a women wears, or what she has done in the past, or how she dances, or even if she flashes, or offers to put on a show for the guys, no one has the right to touch her in any way unless she gives consent, real consent, anew, each time.
5. Be a hero. “You think you’re a superhero anyway, so be a hero,” is what I said.
If you see other guys violating these rules , do not walk away.
Women usually travel in packs. If a girl is in trouble or heading that way, find one of her girlfriends and tell her. It can be as simple as,
“Go get your girl, she needs to get out of here.”
Her true friends will take her back to her dorm. If there’s no time for that, you can, I told him, directly stop the guy or guys from crossing the line. It doesn’t have to be a big scene or physical, just a,
“Dude, she’s too drunk, she said no, let her go,” should suffice.
And, get her out of there.
Now, as an attorney mother of a boy, I must say that I’m not entirely comfortable with him being the one last seen leaving alone with a woman — drunk or sober — who was about to be or has been assaulted. The real perpetrators or their buddies might try to redirect the blame to my son, the one who was actually the hero, as the man last seen with a victim of assault.
“She was fine when she was here, but she left with him,”
— is not something I want my superhero son to have to defend or discredit. There is safety in numbers — and witnesses.
So I advised him to go ahead and remove a woman from harm — publicly — then find girlfriends and if necessary call someone with authority — a Resident Advisor, Campus Police, or Security, or actual police. Do the right thing, be a hero, but do it safely for her and for yourself.
I told him that it’s just not okay to allow, ignore, or leave someone in danger. Remaining silent is morally wrong, encouraging it can be criminal.
Yes, I re-watched The Accused over the Summer. Thanks, Netflix. I think.
I want my son to learn and have fun in college, and be respectful, mindful, helpful, do the right thing, and be a hero if necessary. That’s not so much to ask.
Just Me With . . . words of advice for my son.
This was only one part of the multi-page outline I approached him with, poor kid.
I pray he never has to use this advice, but if a bad situation presents itself, I hope he remembers what his mama taught him, and also what Shawn Spencer said in one of his favorite shows, Psych:
You know that’s right.
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
Last week I had another surprise interaction that touched me, deeply.
I was leaving my daughter’s basketball game and was stopped by another mother who I’ve been acquainted with for at least ten years, meaning before the separation and divorce. Our oldest boys went to pre-school together and are in the same activities now. Our daughters play the same sport. We’ve never socialized outside of school events, though. She’s married, well-to-do (understatement), attractive and always stylish, and I suppose I always thought we didn’t have much in common on a personal level. But unlike some of the downright snobby parents I’ve met, though, she’s always been friendly, genuine, and approachable.
That day, she approached me, and we chatted about some upcoming events. Then she got personal. She asked about my ex-husband’s new family. Apparently he’d brought them all to a game recently. I wasn’t there. She must have been. Seeing them must have made an impact. She asked if I spent time with him, and I answered honestly, “No, we do things separately.”
She paused a moment, took a deep breath, then shared that her father had suddenly left her mother when she was a child, and that it had deeply affected her mother and the whole family and does to this day. She spoke of eventual healing but said that according to her mother, who had no choice but to accept the situation, it just “wasn’t what she signed up for.” She offered her support, saying that women should help each other more, but often we’re left feeling alone, just holding the bag.
She looked me square in the eyes and said,
“This must be hard for you. And I want you to know that I know that.”
And, standing there in the high school gym, I felt like it was okay to admit that, yes, it is hard for me. It felt good not to pretend otherwise, for just a moment.
Just Me With . . . support, from an unlikely source, who knew just what to say. I was deeply touched.
Other kind words:
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:
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.
Anyone remember that scene from Sex and The City where Miranda, after the birth of little Brady, discovers that she can fit into her skinny jeans?
(And by the way, for you people who don’t know, the original “skinny jeans” do not refer to a particular cut of denim pants. They refer to those old jeans that women keep in their closet in hopes that losing enough weight to be able to wear them again.)
Well, Miranda shows up at the club looking great in her skinny jeans and Charlotte asks how she lost the weight:
- Miranda: Well, I got pregnant, became a single mother, and stopped having any time to eat.
- Samantha: Oh, that’s a diet I won’t be trying.
There’s also another weight loss regimen that women don’t rush to try. I call it,
“The Adultery Diet“
Simply put, it is when a married woman suddenly drops the pounds, without the assistance of a gym membership or Jenny Craig. No, it’s none of that pesky diet and exercise stuff. Rather, a woman is on The Adultery Diet when her husband is having an affair and it is making her sick.
There’s just something about finding out or suspecting that your man is screwing somebody else that really kills the appetite.
This revelation may or may not end in separation or divorce, that’s not really relevant to this diet, it’s just a sick, sinking feeling that suddenly makes food intolerable, hence the weight loss.
In walks a female friend you haven’t seen in a while. Her clothes are literally falling off of her. Unfortunately, her eyes are sunken, red, swollen and downcast, and she’s unnaturally quiet. She’ll explain, perhaps, that she’s had a bit of a cold. In her mind, however, she’s screaming, “Oh my God, this is not happening. What am I going to do? How could he? ” And then, she simply doesn’t eat, while continuing her daily responsibilities. She functions, but just knowing that there are some very uncomfortable silences, discussions and possibly life changing decisions that will have to be made in the near future — well, it just doesn’t make her want a sandwich. In fact, the mere thought of the situation makes her food taste bland and causes nausea.
Then there’s the time alone — while it is quite possible her mate is not spending time alone — well, it can make a girl literally sick to her stomach. Pounds melt away, baby weight — gone, along with muscle. Suddenly skinny jeans fit and she needs to tighten her belts.
He has to work late. Again. I fed the kids; they’re good. Everybody is fine. Everything is fine, except that it’s not. So I’m just gonna sit here in the dark on the kitchen floor while my life falls apart. I’m not hungry. I really don’t feel well.
And the coolness of the kitchen floor is somehow so comforting . . . but I digress.
This Adultery Diet is usually available to married or cohabitating women — because there is something about living with someone who is sleeping with someone else that is particularly offensive to the palate.
So if you are surprised by a sudden weight loss of a friend, don’t just tell her how wonderful she looks and ask about her dress size, her diet, or whether she’s working out. Ask about her marriage. Ask if she needs — anything.
Don’t ask me how I know.
Just Me With . . . a weight loss regimen no one wants to try.
Just found this pic of Demi Moore:
Message to Demi: Give me a call. We should talk.
For a couple of years my husband and I rented an apartment in the city. (Ironically, just blocks away from where he lives now with his new wife, but I digress . . . ) It was in a semi-circular stone post-war building that in its hey day was probably luxury living but had since come to disrepair. If I had a few million dollars sitting around I would have bought and refurbished the whole thing, it had great bones and was located near a golf course, it just needed an overhaul. All the units were attached around a shared courtyard with the “A” apartments downstairs and the “B” apartments upstairs. We all had separate entrances but “A” and “B” apartments shared a back door. The complex had an absentee owner but it was managed by one of the tenants who lived in the “B” apartment above me.
At the time, my husband and I were child-free and I was a student, so although he had regular day-time work hours and nighttime sleep hours, I was out a good portion of the day and up a good portion of the night.
The manager/neighbor upstairs was a nice enough guy, at first. I’ll call him Kenny. Kenny’s day job was managing the complex. I soon realized that Kenny’s other day job was selling drugs. There were too many short visits, too many exchanges of small items. Yet Kenny was a “family” man. He was married to, let’s call her, Laura. They had a son, little Kenny, who at the time was about four years old. He was a really cute kid, an unusually cute kid, actually — and a real sweetheart.
A neighbor next to me used to come out and practice Tai Chi and little Kenny would just sit down and stare at her, but he was very quiet and respectful. When I sat outside with or without my dog he would visit and talk with me about life the way only a four-year-old could. His mother knew where he was and that I was cool — meaning safe. I really liked that kid, and I admit I don’t warm up to every child.
I started to cool on Big Kenny, though. I soon realized that big Kenny had another dark side, other than the illegal drug activity. My husband and I would hear he and Laura arguing, yelling, screaming. It wasn’t pretty. Actually, we would hear him yelling at Laura. The building was old and the walls were very thick and we couldn’t always make out words, but there is an unmistakable tone of voice — that sound that means somebody has lost control. Some couples are screamers, that’s the way they argue. My husband and I were no strangers to the occasional loud argument, but we could sometimes hear Laura crying and as I said, there was something about Big Kenny’s tone. Laura worked during the day so these “situations” usually happened at night.
Occasionally, I would see Laura come and go. She was a small woman, probably in her early twenties, but looked like she’d lived a century. Her hair was usually just pulled back in a short ponytail, no make-up, her eyes were sunken with dark circles. I could tell she was brought up with manners, because she always spoke nicely but she avoided eye contact and small talk and almost scurried away. Maybe she was embarrassed by the thought that I could hear how her husband treated her? I don’t know. Maybe Kenny didn’t want her making friends with the neighbors.
During the summer months big Kenny spent more time outside, not working on the apartments, of course. No, he was working on his car, listening to gangsta rap, meeting “visitors” and, as I could tell when I had to pass him, sampling some of his product.
Drug dealing is a dangerous vocation. People get angry, people get ripped off, people get paranoid. I wasn’t going to live there forever, but in the meantime, I’d keep an eye on this guy.
Kenny started to get even meaner. The late night fights with his wife escalated in intensity and frequency. My husband and I would lay in bed and hear muffled yelling. Soon we heard crashes — things got broken.
My husband and I discovered that if we made noise, it would stop. I guess once Kenny realized there might be a witness he would calm down. So my husband and I got into a habit of making noise whenever heard them fighting upstairs. We would start talking really loudly, knocking on furniture, making our dog bark, turning up the television, etc. It would usually stop. One night it got so bad I sent my husband to actually knock on their door. Of course, they didn’t answer. Still, our noise making temporarily stopped whatever was going on up there. It became a semi-regular routine.
I would see Laura from time to time. I admit I didn’t know what to say. I was much younger then, and I was a different person, up to my eyeballs in a co-dependent yet not physically abusive relationship with a man. I wish I had known how to help her better back then. The Roxanne now would have been blunt in offering help, talked about shelters, asked to drive her somewhere, anywhere. But back then I took a more passive approach by making my presence known during the fights and when I saw Laura, hoping she would just know that I cared, that I knew, though I didn’t say the words out loud. I didn’t realize that perhaps Laura might have needed a more direct approach.
I handled many things passively back then . . . .
Big Kenny was a big asshole, but he was also a drug dealer who managed my building and I was alone in my apartment a lot. I didn’t know what else to do.
One night it got really bad. There was yelling, screaming, crying, crashing and then — it sounded as if Kenny threw his wife down the stairs.
“I’m calling the police,” I said. And I did, while making a whole lot of noise. Things got quiet, suddenly, as was usually the case when we became the noisy neighbors. Whatever was happening up there had stopped, again. I just hoped Laura wasn’t badly injured.
The police came. Kenny and Laura refused to even answer the door. Laura came to the window and told the police she was fine. The police said there was nothing they could do if the woman doesn’t complain since they didn’t witness the abuse. So all we had accomplished was stopping the fight that night — and I guess we created a record. Small victory. Now I was afraid of what big Kenny would do to her when I wasn’t around.
Big Kenny needed to have his butt kicked, big time. His very presence was pissing me off, and he had this adorable son who he didn’t deserve, and a wife who did not deserve to be treated like that.
My purposeful noise making increased, not just during the fights — but when Kenny had his visitors, whenever Kenny went in or out of the house, whenever I was home. I would go outside for no reason to let him know when I was there. I just wanted him to know I was watching him. Jerk.
Then one day, Laura was gone.
Little Kenny was gone, too. At first, I thought they were just gone for a day, a weekend, but then big Kenny seemed to be on his own. I’m suspicious by nature, I’ve been known to often suspect foul-play, it’s just where my mind usually goes, see “What Happened In My House?” but not this time, somehow I felt that Laura finally just left. At least that’s what I hoped.
Fast forward over a year later. My husband and I had since bought a house and moved out of that apartment complex. I was downtown, making my way to the train out to the suburbs. As I was walking some woman stepped right up to me and said,
“Hi, Roxanne!” She was all smiles and seemed to know me.
I had no idea who she was. I put my mind through some mental gymnastics trying to figure out how I knew this woman, since she clearly knew me — Was it law school? Had I worked with her? Was she some sort of family friend I can’t place?
I guess I hadn’t hid my confusion very well because she finally said,
“Roxanne, it’s Laura. You know, with little Kenny.”
My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t hide it. Because this woman looked gooooood. I mean, her skin was healthy, her make-up was flawless, her cheeks were plump, her hair was out and styled, she sported a cute outfit. This woman had it together. She was unrecognizable — in a good way. I never would have known it was her if she hadn’t stopped me. Never in a million years.
I had to say, “Oh my God, you look so good!”
She knew exactly what I meant and simply said,
“Thanks. I got away. “
“How’s little Kenny?”
“He’s great. We’re both great. I’m done with him [Big Kenny].” I knew exactly what she meant. “I got out.”
She told me she’d moved out of the city and was doing just fine. It showed.
I had to hug her, and I’m not a hugger by nature. I told her I’d often wondered how she was and added, “It was so good to see you.” It was heartfelt.
I had never before been so happy to run into somebody I didn’t recognize.
I think I smiled for the rest of that day, and I’m smiling as I write this.
I never saw her again. But I never worried about her again, either.
I tip my hat to Laura, “You go girl. Here’s to one that got away.”
Just Me With . . . a happy ending.
P.S. I wish I had done more to help her. Now, looking back, my mind fills with the “I should have done this, I could have done that . . . ” and Big Kenny should have done time — for something, anything. But I am just glad Laura got away. I don’t need to be the hero. Laura did it. She got away.