Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Guy Who Called Me Girlfriend

I broke up with the Manboy about three weeks ago, although he doesn't seem to have fully comprehended the news. He texts me to tell me his work is boring today, or to complain about how much reading he has to do. He keeps asking me to join him for dinner or lunch, or Easter Brunch at Eastern Standard. I would, mostly because my weekly grocery budget hovers around $14, but I am pretty much done listening to him talk about his fairly manageable life in overly dramatic terms. And interrupting me. And one-upping every. damn. thing.

I still can't tell you how we wound up dating for six months. This past year has become a miasma of awfulness in my mind. I met The Guy Who Calls Me Girlfriend (after a month of staggered dating) right around the time I was hospitalized for 8 days due to a majorly infected central port. I emerged from that with a PICC line and a visiting nurse and syringes of medication and total exhaustion. My immune system has been utter crap since.

Basically, I was tired, unable to work, automatically ill whenever I did work (kids are germy, you know), and Manboy decided he would take care of me.

I was too tired to beat him away.

Not a stellar start for a relationship, you say. "Yeah, I know. I'm still not sure what's going on," I would say, every time someone asked me about him.

Things got worse with his temper tantrums, his hypochondria, his constant and persistently terrible "advice" to get my life back together. And then came the suggestions for how I could dress sexier for him, lose more weight (while he gained weight), "get over" my depression. Apparently I was supposed to call him and text him to remind him to study for his classes. It was my fault he didn't do well on his exams. And if I tried to introduce a new restaurant, suggested going to the movie theater, suggested pretty much anything outside of his habitual comfort zone, I was admonished and punished with angry silence. I learned to stay quiet and let his constant outpouring of opinions and emotions sweep over me. I learned that all his moods and outbursts were temporary, and if I just hunkered down and became as still as possible, as small as possible, they would pass.

I didn't notice the slow accrual of a kind of emotional silt. I was constantly fearful of the next outburst or indirect attack. Things he said about my body and my capabilities swirled around my head for days, then months... but I believed them already, so it was easy to catalog them with my own self-hating mantras. I knew I had become both more indefinite and more weighed down and it was a horribly familiar state.

But I needed somewhere to be that wasn't my apartment. And I really liked his cat.

I grew used to having him in my life. His gestures became familiar, and it was nice to have someone to touch. I don't let people touch me, especially in my city life. My personal space is sacred. So when I give permission, that effort, that act is momentous and painful. Once I allow someone in I am far too worn out by the process to close him out again.

He loved me. He introduced me to his best friends, his mother, paraded me around his workplace and called me his Special Lady, his Darling.

But I knew part of me had gone dormant. Whatever he loved about me... well, it wasn't me in full bloom. He couldn't know me because I couldn't trust him enough to actually inhabit myself.

And I wasn't comfortable bringing him around my friends. At one point he told me that I need him because I clearly didn't have anyone else in my life. Although that sometimes felt true in my lower moments, I knew I could access people who cared about me and that I had purposely kept them separate.

I was ashamed, not of him, but of how I allowed him to control me.

I noticed, at some point, that part of me had fled. I was protecting and withholding something very dear. I was behaving like a prisoner who had given up hope of freedom. I had taken on the role of a victim. He never attacked me physically, and I kept telling myself (and he kept telling me) that my wariness was my depression taking over. But the ever-present shame and anxiety had grown overwhelming.

It took an incredible effort to end it. I invited him over and I could tell he knew it was coming. He unwrapped his scarf and took off his kermit-green hat and said, "I love those glasses on you. I'm going to make you wear them more." I brought him to the brightness of the kitchen and got us both a glass of water while he complained about his day. I sat and pretended to listen, trying to find an opening.

Eventually, his monologue tapered to a few ready phrases. He took a deep breath and my eyes were already welling up with tears.

"What is it?" he asked. He took my hand and rubbed my knuckles with his rough thumb. I couldn't look him in the eye. I was suddenly awash with the thought that I didn't want to hurt him. To hurt him.

But I had to. I pulled my hand away and found a tissue for myself, mostly fiddling with it.

"This... we're not..." I desperately needed a script. How could I be so useless at a time like this? The tears burned down my cheeks and pooled at my chin, and of course my nose started running. Gross.

"What? What are you trying to say?" His turquoise eyes burned into me as I wiped my nose and chin.

"I can't... This isn't..." I had worked myself up with fear, uncertain of his reaction. Would he jump up and yell? Throw something? Slam his chair against the wall? Would he go through the list of reasons I was mentally unfit to make decisions? Try to convince me of my own feebleness?

"This needs to end," I said, kind of warbling through the snot and tears.

"Yeah," he said, almost whispering. "I was wondering when..."

We sat there and I cried, ablaze with the shame of crying.

"You're gonna make me cry," he said, and his eyes did grow red and wet.

He stuttered through several unfinishable phrases about his lack of surprise and his sadness about losing me. He told me, again, that I was his Special Lady. He repeated over and over that we would still be friends.

I didn't respond, but I never did respond. He must have decided, as always, that no response was a form of permission.

Eventually he stood up and we hugged in the kitchen. He squeezed me extra hard, held me out at arms length and kissed my forehead before hugging me again. In the foyer he kissed my head again before awkwardly scrambling to put on his coat, locate his hat and scarf.

"I'll talk to you soon," he said as he opened the door. "I'll text you."

God, I need to learn how to say no again.

And I need to wash this silt out of my brain.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Blossom with me


I love Blossom Dearie, in case you were wondering. (I'm actually fairly sure you weren't wondering.)

Some talented person with a lot of time on her hands made the above animation to accompany one of Dearie's most darling tracks,"Doop Doo Dee Doop." First of all, that's a genius song title, and the promise of the title comes to full fruition with the first lines: "Why don't you join the group? It's better than being a party poop." Although I have a gorgeous and growing list of replies to that question, the lighthearted joshing of the invitation could almost convince me.

The animation confounds me, however. It seems to depict a dream sequence, or a shopping trip to the local greengrocer. Or it could depict the complicated life of a carrot. Hell, I don't know, but it's charming, nostalgic and makes you wonder if the artist was a Freud fanatic. It could also be complete artistic randomness. I couldn't find much information about the animator. All links led to... well, nothing much.

Back to Dearie... She's one in a list of unapologetic artists who purposely promote a stylized character in their music. Dearie's is quiet but confident, straightforward but playful, naive and simultaneously savvy. She chose standards with heartbreaking stories (Sophisticated Lady) and sang them as a confidential counselor, empathetic and unintrusive. She transformed downright corny Broadway tunes like "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" into salacious, private invitations.

She's been criticized, of course. In an interview Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Gross asks about detractors of Dearie's "tiny voice." Dearie says, "It's very funny to have worked and sung for so many years, and then someone tells you, 'Well, you're not breathing properly.'" But she was unconcerned: "I think that [working with a vocal coach] would probably make my voice more powerful, but at this age, I don't think I'm going to worry about it."

In other words, I'm the one with the career. Buzz off.

As a singer, I find I'm also amazed by her conversational diction. She speaks the words with unabashedly American pronunciation - strong R's and nasal vowels - and rarely elongates a word, even if she slows down the song. She places lyrics, almost talk-singing, and the style makes me feel like she's having a friendly chat, telling a story over coffee. There happens to be a jazz pianist at this coffee shop, but that's just fine.

Actually, I would pour money on that coffee shop. If I had any.

Of course, Dearie was the pianist - a pianist first and a singer second. Her sense for rhythm and restraint starts on the keyboard. She punctuates the song with her voice rather than possessing the song with a full-body belt. I envy her musicianship, her sense of comic and dramatic timing, and her minimalist abilities.

In later tracks, she shows off her vibrato a bit more, and this reinforces, for me, the deliberate choice of her delivery; she didn't whisper her songs because she couldn't sing, she chose that character. She laid back on her piano bench, approached the mic with her sweet secrets and became an icon.

I would love to have that confidence. I have no idea whether I even have a signature style, especially since my tastes range from the self-possessed divas (and divos) who came out of the Big Band era to the subdued (and possibly stoned) understatements of Cool Jazz.

Perhaps if I pursue a carrot amidst a rain of fish, it will all become clear. I'm taking a nap.

Monday, March 30, 2015

When in doubt, list.

This March has been such a blazingly shitastic

No, no, that's not the way to start a post.

I want to kill everything, and I'm pretty sure, at this point, I could do it with my raging feral hatred and a piece of silly putty

Hmm. Nope. Take a deep breath, Jo.

Some general advice to self-critical bloggers and diarists: Don't write things.

Kee-riste. Okay, forget it. There's got to be a way to quickly update my meager readership without setting off a three-day emotional breakdown.

Oh yeah, a list! No expansions or deep explanations necessary, just a presentation of facts and events. Those who know me will know that each item has caused my self-hatred and anxiety and isolation to completely take over, and I may be able to avoid my customary proclivity toward dwelling on awfulness. Sure, that's it. (I'll try to limit myself to 12 items.)


1. My Aunt Diane died after a ten-year battle with ovarian cancer. I couldn't attend the funeral.
2. My mom is convinced that I am the only confidant she has left on this planet.
3. Dad is acting strange - sold his car, doesn't seem to be working, calls drunk.
4. I broke up with the Manboy.
5. I am working on all the manipulative undercutting and controlling bullshit I allowed during my relationship with said Manboy.
6. Passing out, or nearly passing out, first thing in the morning has become a regular occurrence.
7. It took me two weeks to complete a phone call to my doctor's office. Appointment scheduled for mid-May.
8. I have no work.
9. I was turned down for a $10/hr job at a childcare drop-off center in a gym. Because, master's degree.
10. My usual references are dead, overseas, or otherwise non-responsive.
11. I've been living with a narcissistic,gun-lovin', fundamentalist Christian bulimic who chews with her mouth open for nine horrific months.
12. Despite efforts to invest in my friendships, I'm alone. All the time. The fact is, I don't rate.

Okay, I can't help it...

13. Shane's deathiversary.

Now just imagine the full-blown pity party. I was thinking I could market Pity Party Packages, complete with sad-face balloons, Elliot Smith albums, half-eaten Chinese take-out from that place that's not as good as that other place, and a massive chocolate cake. (It is a party after all.)

On the bright side, I posted in March.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Snow, Snot and Super Bowls

Is that a great title or WHAT? I mean, really... I almost wanted to change it to Snooper Bowls just for the sake of poetic silliness. But I didn't. Such restraint!

Oh, Boston. Why do you entertain me so?

The hiatus between snow storms will end tomorrow morning, according to the many over-excited meteorologists. The lines at the grocery stores, atrocious on any normal weekend, are amplified by the cataclysmic collision of the Patriots playing the Super Bowl and the storm panic. Shelves are empty; staff cannot keep up with restocking the various items New Englanders require in these circumstances: toilet paper, milk, eggs, avocados, beer, chocolate.

Here I sit, surrounded by piles of dirty clothes, strategizing my next attack on our building's laundry room. Will it be crazy because of the storm? There are only two washers and two dryers for a building of 15 units, about 60 people. Will it be easier once the game starts? I know it will be impossible after the snow; too many concrete stairs exposed to the weather for my limpy legs to handle.

I'm not attempting the world outside otherwise. I have a snotty, sinus-y cold. I have my medicine and plenty of tissues. The Guy Who Calls Me His Girlfriend* brought me guacamole and chips, and then ran out the door before my evil germs could invade his healthy self.

I had to cancel my one steady job, a two-year-old in Belmont (two unreliable bus rides and thus an hour and a half away) because I assumed the parents won't want a coughing, sneezing, green-snotted sitter in their home. I believe the little guy gave me this cold. He was coughing a bit last week and his nose was still crusty and red from constant wiping. I've been waking up (which means I slept at some point - that's nice to know) with my mouth open and dried out and my face just crammed with nastiness. I got up to eat something and take meds and wound up back in bed, curling up with tissues and making myself drink water now and then.

But it's so quiet.

Roommates are gone. The whole apartment is still and nearly silent. The cat sleeps on the big chair, radiator steam whistles and bangs here and there, humidifier gurgles. My fingers tap on the keyboard. I have cups of tea and oranges and guacamole. I have laundry to lug outside and down stairs and back again. I have an impending Super Bowl to watch, I guess.

I have time to think.

Please, God, don't let me think.

At least I like the snow. Without a car to dig out or a commute to worry about, snow becomes a beautiful marvel. I loved watching it fall during the last storm; first the innocent meandering flakes that seem to get distracted on their way down, catching upward gusts and collecting on sidewalks in a sheer, lacy layer. Then the slanting, heavy attack, pounding that first fragile layer and battling every available surface with seeming intentionality. The wind picking up, blowing a fierce wall of snow off of the tall drifts. It's impossible to tell how much has accumulated because it refuses to fall straight. Then the eventual calm... Every little twig holding up a slim pile. Sidewalks, stairs and streets completely buried. All the hard edges we construct, the steel and stone and gravel... all of it softened and encased and conquered by billions of intricate snowflakes.

And the quiet. Snow muffles the city. It stops the traffic and the trains, the frantic walking and shouting and coffee cup balancing, the birds, the cabs, the cash registers, the kitchens. No sirens. No planes passing overhead. The occasional plow comes through, but the snow is too deep for them to scrape against anything. They make this gentle, constant noise, a hushhhhhh.

Eventually people will venture out. Kids break out of their homes in bright snowsuits and throw themselves into the tallest drifts with squeals and giggles. College kids assemble layers of jeans and sweaters and sled down the hills on plastic trays and storage bin covers. Seasoned residents shovel at least the first layer off of their cars and stairs. Some people, like me, venture out simply to witness the transformation of the buried city. We struggle through thigh-high, sometimes waist-high snow just to experience it, just to look around and wonder at it. Everyone smiles as they pass, friendlier than usual, united by the frustration of the weather and a kind of relaxed resignation. Not much you can do in a storm like this. Just exist, witness, play, and head back inside to warm the hell up.

Then we all wait. We start to hear the scraping of plows against salted roads. Then the occasional siren. Then the slush, traffic slowly starting back up and carving into the slippery streets. People return to work, as people must. The piles become problems, shoulder high icebergs on every side of the intersections. Funny little paths appear along the areas we know are supposed to be sidewalks.

Life is almost normal out there, I'm told. When I went out yesterday, every street was cleared and most sidewalks were bared and salted. There were still massive, dirtying piles and slushy puddles making any kind of travel rather uncomfortable. Walking, driving, T-ing, bussing... the city is still putting itself back together and there is simply nowhere to PUT all of the snow. We're forced to stomp it down and press it into icy mush. I truly pity people with cars in a city where there are already too few parking spaces. And the snow isn't pretty anymore. It's dimpled and dirty, lumpy and inconvenient.

So I look forward to this next storm. I can't really say that aloud because I think I'd get punched in the face. But I like these moments of suspension from real life. Maybe I like that everyone, the entire population, is forced to join me in the pursuit of nothing. Maybe I'm jerk that way. Or just increasingly lonely and jealous of functional society, more sensitive to a feeling of exclusion.

Can I learn to enjoy the quiet?

I think it's a good sign that I'm writing a bit, but I'm always worried that I'll wind up exposing something... too fragile, I guess? Something that I can never hide completely after exposing it to the air. I have this sense that I'm looking out over my thoughts and witnessing them, fascinated as I am with the snowstorm. But if I voyage out into them I will either wind up smothered completely or sullying something that cannot ever be made pure again. And then what? Is it wise to navigate any of it while I'm completely on my own?

For now, I have cold meds and tea. I have laundry. I have the tangible, physical world to deal with. I will surely have hollering neighbors at some point tonight as the game gets underway, and I'll be grateful for my seclusion.


*Current Manboy, in constant danger of being fired. Long, intensely boring story.