Tag Archives: family

COVID-19 Chronicles – Kinda Stuck Here

It’s been a year since I went back to Kentucky to visit my family.  A whole year since I last saw my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my nieces… a year since Sadie sat in a grocery cart while I pushed her recklessly around the store, making race car noises as she giggled madly.  A year since I played tag with a crawling Lydia and watched her pull herself up for the first time.

Sadie is almost too big to fit into the shopping cart now.  She’s writing her own name, and spelling words, and is more like me than I could have ever imagined one of my sister’s kids ever becoming.  And Lydia has been running, now, for ages.  She talks.  She said my name today (well, most of it… it’s four syllables long, and is a big word for a one year old) for the first time ever.

And I’m missing it.  All of it.  FaceTime, I’m starting to realize, is not a replacement for being there.  Not when they’re this little.

Part of this is my fault.  I should have made a point to travel up over Christmas… but I was busy moving (and moving is expensive) and didn’t think I’d have the energy to do both.  That was probably true, but if I’d known a goddamn pandemic was on its way, I probably would have tried to find some energy.  Or moved something around.  Or something.

When I first planned to move here, ten years ago, my old supervisor back in Louisville asked if I was worried I’d get “stuck” here.  I looked at her, smiled, and said, “I can think of worse places to be stuck.”  This is not an untrue statement, but I couldn’t fathom then (and I can’t fathom now, even if I’m living in it) a situation in which I’d be so stuck that there’d be nowhere to go to escape.

Now?  Now I don’t know when I can go back.  I’m thankful that Kentucky’s cases are dropping… that takes a load off my mind, as I sit here in this reckless-ass state where the cases are rising and the hospitals are (apparently) getting close to maxing out their resources.  At least my family is safer than I am.  That’s what matters.

It’s not that I flew home that often, see.  It’s not that I made plans to fly back all the time… flying was/is expensive and while I’m comfortable, I’m not rolling in it.  At least not since UT.  I live freaking far away by design, and because there’s not a market for what I do up there.  Being this far away has never been “easy” (and it’s gotten harder since my nieces were born), but it was made easier by the knowledge that… if I wanted to go back or if I needed to go back, I could just hop on a plane and make it happen.  Now?  Now, even if I got in my VW and drove the whole way with minimal stops I wouldn’t feel right about it.  I couldn’t be SURE that I wasn’t bringing the virus with me, and as our caseload here climbs higher and higher, the chances of that happening if I tried to make the trip, however I did it, are more likely every day.  I won’t put my family at risk.

Someone asked me today what I would have done differently if, six months before the pandemic started, I’d known it was coming.  My answer: I’d go see my family.

Because when I saw this coming, I had planned for the food shortage (not so much the toilet paper shortage, but somehow I worked that out and shouldn’t have to buy any for months).  I’ve been training for “quarantine-style introversion” most of my life.  I’d already switched jobs, which (unknowingly) set me up so that I could work from home and further limit my exposure later.  I’m good at doing what I have to do, on the ground level, to survive.  I’m good at planning ahead so that I don’t go without.  When it comes to this, though… visiting… I’ve been completely reactionary.  All I can do is hoard my vacation time so that when I can visit, I can stay long enough to try to make up for the time I’ve lost.  I mean you can’t really make up time… it doesn’t work like that… but I can try anyway.

My parents have a second, smaller house that they bought to be closer to the grandkids.  They didn’t have a TV there the last time I visited, only a CD Player and they liked to play old WWII music.  The last song that I remember hearing before I left to get to the airport, a year ago this week, was this one… and it was so appropriate (though none of us realized how appropriate at the time).

Insurance

Those who know me know I work for an insurance company’s corporate office.  This blog is not about insurance, I am not trying to sell you stuff.  But I did take out an insurance policy this week.  I felt it was warranted, considering the climate, but let me explain.

I have made it a priority, lately, to try to make the best out of situations that do not exactly please me.  Obviously you would think that this would be something that I would do all the time, and I do try to.  But I’ve always been one to try to do that within the “confines” of what I could get away with without stepping on too many toes.  Never exactly fully liberated, I’ve been trying to please myself while pleasing everyone else at the same time.  It hasn’t worked.  And I’ve often found myself to be damned if I do, damned if I don’t.  So, having had plenty of time to think about it, I’ve realized… I need to do what I need to do for ME.

So let’s start with the first policy.  My sister’s wedding.  As I’ve said before, I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to be a victim of the politics.  I don’t want to deal with the fallout of having to sit there, nitpicked.  I don’t want to spend four days with my parents and a mother who, after the ceremony, will have a lack of things to do and who will likely spend her time wanting to have more “heart to hearts” that always result in her making me feel like shit.  But, as I’ve also said, I have to go.  To prevent the chats from happening, I got a hotel room in Louisville.  But I still had to be there, for four days, one evening of which, awkwardly, I’d be at that wedding.  I made a few contacts, figured I’d see some friends, have some drinks with them, but that would be it.

Then I decided you know, I don’t know when I’ll be back in Kentucky now.  Since I am not welcome at my parents’ house anymore, I don’t know when I will see my friends in Kentucky again.  So, I started throwing things out there, and I’ve decided that if I am stuck up there for four days, I may as well make the most of it.  I’ve decided to do a little research at the university archives.  And I’m going zip lining.  Because I’ve always wanted to.  But also, many of my friends are coming to visit me there – from all over the state, some from out of state.  It’s a nice, central meeting ground for all of us.  And I will get to see my best friend.  She and I will actually get to spend some real time together – this time not interrupted by needing to make sure I’m back at my parents’ house before they go to bed, this time not impeded by the fact that I have to lead a double life.

I’ve stopped drinking… officially.  I don’t like to be drunk all the time, and considering that my mother died at 39 from alcoholism, I don’t want to go that way myself.  However, considering I will not be in Louisville again for a very long time, and considering I won’t be seeing my friends for a long time either, I’ve decided that, for this one weekend, it’s warranted.  I’m not thrilled about the wedding, but now that’s become a minor inconvenience – just something that gets in the way of my zip lining time.  Sort of a side attraction to the main attraction, which is my time up there, with all my friends, having a good time the way that we all used to so very long ago (and for the first time with some, since being married to someone who would not let me socialize, really, at all beyond work or school made doing that very difficult when I was made to be home at a certain hour, with dinner on the table).  I have missed my friends.  I do not miss Louisville.  Not at all.  I would not move back there for anything.  But I miss my friends.  And it will be good to be able to see them, and to have all the time that I want to eat at all the restaurants I like up there.

The other policy is a larger trip.  One to be taken in October.  And it comes with the realization of something that is, for me, very hard to admit.  I made a mistake last year.  I waited for Botboy.  That, in and of itself was not the mistake, but it led to the mistake.  You see, I waited for Botboy under the assumption that when he came home, we would be in a relationship.  I did not expect, nor desire, to spend every waking minute with him, but I did figure that my schedule, routine, and life would, ultimately, change to a degree.  And I still think I would have been right in that assumption.  But what I failed to do was to make any plans for MYSELF beyond May.  I was looking forward to his return, to getting to know him, to getting to be WITH him, and I was so distracted by this that I didn’t think for a second about what I would do once that had happened.  That was my mistake.  Because once May came, and once things went to shit, I had nothing left to look forward to.  My whole life had become defined by the Gchat messages 17 hours out of every day, out of sending those packages to Afghanistan, out of taking those Transformers for him, storing them, reading the comic books.  I lost myself in that.  I didn’t mind.  I loved him, I still love him, and I loved being able to share those things with him, but I also have realized that I need to be myself.  I need to have myself.

So, while I am still waiting, I’m doing it differently.  I’m giving myself something to look forward to after he is due to arrive – a few months after, to be sure, partially because the Louisville trip is wearing on my bank and also because, if he does decide we want to try something, I want to give us time to do that.  But this time, if things go to shit, then you know, I won’t have hours and hours of nothing except darkness to spiral into.  I am going to New York City.  I have not been there since 2007, when I saw JK Rowling at Carnegie Hall.  I am going there to see the city, and to see a friend that I have known for almost two decades (but who I have not seen in 12 years).  And I am excited about it.  I’m excited about the possibility of seeing my friend, of eating pizza, of buying awesome shoes and going shopping.  I’m excited about being able to do New York MY way (instead of the tourist way that Mr. Ex always insisted that we do).  I’m looking forward to seeing Central Park again and going to some museums.  Maybe I’ll catch a play if something good is on Broadway then.

Because I’ve realized something… when things go to shit, or if there’s a possibility of things going to shit, I can do one of two things.  I can lose myself in that shit, and I’ve done that before.  When I do that, the shit wreaks havoc on my life, and I can’t move forward.  Or, I can prepare for it – take out insurance policies.  Give myself something to look forward to.  I like the second option.  I like it a whole lot better than what my pattern has been before.  This way, I’m distracted.  I have things to think about other than wedding drama I’d rather not consider, or worrying about whether I’ll get a shit show again in the summer.  It’s not that those thoughts aren’t there, but they don’t take center stage anymore.  And it reminds me that, even in the middle of shit shows, there are silver linings.  Things to be happy about.  Things to look forward to.  Life doesn’t end just because things don’t go my way.  I mean it could, but that would be my prerogative, and I don’t want to surrender.

Of course, things COULD go my way too.  Things could be peachy and uncomplicated when I get to Kentucky.  Botboy could come back from his adventures and be exactly what I’ve been looking for all this time.  It could happen.  That’s the funny thing about life.  Bad things happen sometimes when we don’t expect them, but, likewise, really good things happen too, and often just as unexpectedly.  But even if all of that good stuff happens, then you know, all the other fun things I have planned are just icing on the cake.

And I can’t wait to get started.

Planting Roots

I’m a strange girl… I prefer funerals to weddings every time, hands down.  Part of that reason, though, makes perfect sense.  Weddings tend to bring out the worst in people.  They are stressful, depending on the level of “bridezilla” everyone turns into a monster, and every last bit of family drama comes to the surface.  With funerals, I don’t care how awful a person you were in life, no one ever has anything bad to say about you after you’re dead.

And this, ultimately, is why I did not want to go to my sister’s wedding; why I still do not want to go.  But I am going anyway.  For her.  Though the terms, and the situation, is not what I hoped it would be.  True to form, when we decided to start discussing it, the past was brought to the forefront.  My mother, who has been a nitpicker since I became a rebellious, sullen teenager that started questioning everything she’d been taught never to question (namely, religion, morals, and “right” vs. “wrong), always uses these opportunities to engage in the “hard discussions” – she uses these opportunities to evangelize.  To spread the gospel to her horrible, lost, rebellious daughter.  And she uses these opportunities to bring to light everything I have ever done to disappoint her.  I’ve named these things before – but for those of you that don’t remember, or who are just now joining me, I’ll list a few: a modeling career she didn’t approve of, living with a man before I married him, marrying the wrong person (at their behest, though they like to pretend they didn’t have a hand in it), having sex as a teenager, moving to Florida, wearing too much eyeliner sometimes… it goes on and on (and yes, I’m being honest, these minor infractions that are quite mainstream are really, to her, horrible).

But because I love my sister, though we are not close, I agreed to go.  Being in it was not an option.  After I’d thought about it, I realized that with flight times, it was not logistically going to be possible.  When I told my mother this, she blew up at me – as if I can control the flight times, the clock, and the timing of this wedding (which is happening way too fast in my opinion).  More stuff was brought up, she called me selfish (anyone who really knows me, knows that I am FAR from selfish), we had a shouting match.  My father, later, after hearing her side, took it and now treats me like a stranger, making it very apparent that if I come up there with an attitude (an attitude, to him, is not using the baby voice the way that my sister does – something I have never done), that I will be thrown out.  To save myself the trouble of being thrown out, I have elected to get a hotel room in Louisville.

But the whole situation says something much larger about my future, and about the future of my relationship with my family.  Things have been… unstable… for sixteen years.  They get better, but then they get worse – irrevocably so.  At this point, so many things have been said, by both parties, that we are not able to let go.  And there have been things done, to me, that I cannot forget – being beaten as a teenager for nothing at all, enduring the always overwhelming feeling of being second best.  The deterioration, I knew, would cause an eventual split.  I’d hoped I was wrong about that – I’d hoped that we’d be able to go on, being civil to each other, I’d come home when I felt like I could – when I’d recovered from the latest “Let’s tear into Victoria” time, pretend like everything was fine, then go home to the silence.

Now I know that that is no longer possible.  I mean I’ve known that their town is not my home for a very long time – it hasn’t felt like home to me since 1997, and less so since I started moving out during the summers beginning in 1999 until I moved out, permanently, in 2001.  Still, you know, that’s where you are always supposed to be able to go when shit hits the fan everywhere else.  It hasn’t been that way, not really, for a very long time, but it had been civil enough that I was able to pretend.  I can’t pretend anymore.  It’s a little disturbing.  But really, it’s more of a relief.  I don’t know, I’m sad and happy all at the same time – sad that things have gone so far to shit that they are irreversible, but happy as if I’ve just gotten out of a toxic relationship that I’d stayed in for far too long.

But it does pose the question: If my roots are not in Kentucky anymore (because that’s really what’s happened here – my roots are gone), then where are they?  The answer, right now, is nowhere.  This doesn’t scare me as much as it should.  As I told Botboy in the previous post – I’m a brave girl when it comes to doing what needs to be done.

And what needs to be done, now, is making a home for myself.  A real one.  One that I feel like I can come back to, no matter what, when the world goes to shit.  I know that won’t be easy to do.  I don’t even know that Florida is where that home is, but what I DO know, is that Florida has felt more like home to me (even when I didn’t live here, even when I was only visiting as a teenager) than any place ever has.  So because of that, right now, I’m going to stay.  I’m going to give it a fair shot.  There are opportunities I have here that I have nowhere else.  I have a good job.  My best friend in the whole world, the one person that knows how I feel without ever having to say it, is here.  The weather is damn near perfect.  And it is half a country away from the people that have made me feel the worst about myself.

It’s not that I’m not scared.  I’m fucking terrified.  Because now, for better or worse, aside from my friends that are here for emotional support and my cat who doesn’t leave my side, I really am alone.  I can’t call my family when things go to shit.  When UK beats UL, I can’t call my dad and trash talk Rick Pitino.  I will have to learn to be alone for Christmas and to be okay with it.  But it’s exciting, too.  Because where there is loss, there is opportunity.  And this is a big one.  But, then, I think everything I’ve done, everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve gone through has prepared me for this.  This one moment.

I have suspected, for a long time, that what I am now, and what I want now – and who I used to be (who they wanted me to be) could not coexist.  I know this, now, to be true.  I won’t compromise who I am for who someone else wants me to be.  Florida is the foundation.  Because, for now, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather go.  Here I’ll find a house.  Hopefully find someone, eventually, to settle down with (that won’t echo the shit that my parents have put me through over the last several years).  Build something solid that I can run back to when the world around me goes to shit.

I’ll do it.  Because the only alternative is to give up.  And that isn’t an option.

Silence

The loudest noise in the whole world is silence.

In every other instance, we find ourselves able to drown the silence out with noise, with chaos, with the comings and goings of our daily lives.  We can occupy our time, and our minds, with the menial tasks that we throw ourselves into on a daily basis.  We distract ourselves with work, with mindless television shows, with our hobbies, with our friends.

Until everyone goes home.  Or we run out of supplies.  Or we run out of money.  Or we run out of work to do.

And then there is silence.

Suffocating, deafening, all-encompassing.  It’s in the silence that we hear ourselves.  It’s in the silence that we hear all of the things we want to hear, and all of the things we never wanted to hear.  It’s the silence that makes us look at ourselves under a microscope, that makes us dissect every little thing we’ve ever thought, every little thing we’ve ever heard, every little thing that everyone has ever said to us, or about us.

It’s in the silence that we, for better or worse, internalize those things.  It’s in the silence that we over-analyze these things until they become second nature – whether they are true or not, whether we accept that they are true or not, we make them a part of ourselves.

There’s been a lot of silence at my house lately.  Too much silence.  Botboy is away, communication from him is minimal (and I sort of assumed that would happen).  And while I miss him, that’s not really the biggest worry that I have – because eventually, all of that will, for better or worse, resolve itself.

No, the deafening silence comes from all of the anxiety over the things that were said to me at Christmas.  But let me begin at the (sort of) beginning.  My mother and I have a strange relationship.  We were close, once, when I was little and malleable.  As I grew up, though, and my stubborn streak came into play, she became more and more frustrated with me, and more and more disappointed when I did not live up to the things she wanted for me.  This has snowballed into disappointment over a bad marriage, an even more humiliating divorce, a move that placed me 1000 miles away from her, the fact that I do not go to church regularly (or really at all, unless I’m home and need to keep appearances up– she’d die if she knew what I was really doing), a modeling career she did not approve of, etc. I suppose it is the breaking point that I am not, and cannot, live up to being the person, even personally, that she wants me to be.  Because what she really wants is the bubbly, cheerleader type of child, that listens, that will go to church with her, and that is not full of strange ideas.  Now, I’m not an unhappy person… or even a negative person… but I am sarcastic.  A smart ass.  And I have many, many strange ideas and interests that she does not understand… beginning with the strong aversion to chick flicks (Downton Abbey excluded, I’ll admit, I’m hooked) with flowery, happy endings.

Which is why, I suppose, she decided over Christmas to sit me down in the living room and accuse me of being bipolar.  I’m not.  And she’s no professional.  But diagnose me she did.  On top of that, she (and my father too – at a different time during that visit) seemed intent on assuring me that I would never really be happy married and that I shouldn’t worry too much about having children.  I looked at each of them, coldly, and said that they were right… I would never be happy if I were married to the wrong person.  But had I married the right person, things might have turned out very differently.  And as for children, I do want them very much.  Being thirty-one without any, when that is what I really do want, is frustrating.

But what’s worse is having your own parents, the people that are supposed to be supportive of you, sit you down and just throw it in your face as if it were nothing.  Granted, I did not tell her that those two things were my biggest fears (not marrying, and not having children).  I don’t admit ANY of my fears readily to people (oops, I guess I just did – GASP) and certainly not to them, who have not always been the most understanding people to talk to.  I keep those things largely to myself.  Wrapped in grubby newspaper in the back of my head in a corner so that I don’t have to think about them very often.  I’ve even managed to do that, to a large extent, with the majority of their disapproval – I accepted long ago that they were never going to approve of me for ME.  I learned to live with it by throwing it into the back of my mind, in its own compartment, so that I didn’t have to look at it.  I like myself well enough, my friends seem to like me well enough, didn’t matter what they thought.

Except for times like this… when my sister decides to get married, and I’m expected to be there.  I love my sister.  We haven’t always gotten along either, but I do love my sister.  It’s not her fault that our mother wishes I could be more like her, and it’s not her fault that they wildly preferred to go to her school functions over mine.  It’s not even her fault that they canceled their fall trip to Florida because she decided to go on vacation with them.  She didn’t have anything to do with that any more than we had anything to do with our opposing hair color.  But I do not want to go.  I do not want to put myself through that ordeal again, of having to sit there, and be psychoanalyzed by my own parents.  I do not want to, by proxy, have my own failed marriage brought into the limelight again, and have to answer questions about whether or not I am seeing anyone (because I can’t go into detail, period, about anything – not when things are so up in the air).  Not because I can’t bear it when I am in the middle of it… for me it’s like a personal battle I have to fight – how much can I endure without cracking?

But because once it’s all said and done, I have to come home to the silence.  Where there is no one to continually put me under a microscope, but also where there is no one to distract me from my own thoughts.  It doesn’t matter whether I believe her or not.  Because I don’t.  Not really.  But that doesn’t mean those stupid inner demons don’t keep poking at me, whispering about how I can’t even keep a man in my life for longer than a few months these days, how I can’t get into anything stable and healthy, how my damned clock is ticking louder and louder and louder, and how I really can’t say for sure when it’s going to stop since my biological mother died long before she hit menopause.  Whispering how do I KNOW she is wrong?

No, I’d prefer to stay here… not that the demons don’t whisper at me, they do.  The silence is deafening because they not only echo the insecurities that were brought painfully into the center ring over Christmas, but because there is the anxiety over this unfinished Botboy situation and the acknowledgement that I have no control over it.   That said, those insecurities are largely under control.  Or at least they are managed.  But I’ve managed them so well that I don’t want to add any more to the load.  And I know that if I go up there, more would be added.  I know that the load would become heavier than it is already.  I can carry it… I am freakishly strong for my size.  And I’ve carried far worse in my day.  But I’m tired of carrying this shit around.

I’m not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination.  And I don’t really know what I believe sometimes.  But if I were a praying person, I’d pray that someone would come along to prove her wrong.  And that someday I can put a family together that will thrive on building each other up instead of tearing each other down; a family that is not so over-involved with appearances that they don’t push the “different” one into a corner somewhere and lavish approval on the one that is more normal.  But, even more, I’d pray for an atmosphere in which the silence is peaceful, and not so deafening.

It’s not a lot to ask.

But maybe, in this case, it’s simply too much.

Home

I looked at the calendar a couple of days ago and realized, with some surprise, that I have lived in Florida now for nearly three years.  I can still remember what it felt like to get off of the plane that carried me from Kentucky to Atlanta, with three thousand dollars in my checking account, no job, no apartment, nothing except a car that I’d bought that was waiting for me in Florida.  It was still more than I’d had seven months before that – seven months before that had me sitting, freezing, in a basement, playing World of Warcraft so that I didn’t get too bored while I waited, desperately for a phone call for a job.  I’d gotten the job in Kentucky.  It had given me enough money to make a fresh start elsewhere.  I took it.

Three years later, I find myself sitting in a fairly large apartment, with vaulted ceilings, in the land of eternal summer.  The beach is at my fingertips (though I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been there since I moved here).  The sun shines the majority of the time.  I have a job that pays better than I ever could have dreamed (or ever could have had if I’d stayed in Kentucky).  I have, essentially, everything I ever wanted – at least materially – and I found it all within a couple of months of moving.  Moving may not solve all your problems (case in point, I am still single, with no legitimate prospects), but sometimes a change of scenery certainly helps.

That’s not to say it’s not hard sometimes.  I am, essentially, down here by myself.  When I got very sick this time last year, I had no real support system – aside from Gatsby/3.0 who made me feel as if the proposed tumor was more of an inconvenience for him than a serious issue for me.  My parents, family, sister, everyone lives 1000 miles away.  A two hour plane trip, yes, but a sixteen hour drive.  Some days I like it that way.  Other days, like when I’m sick, or on the holidays when it’s not so easy to just fly home so that I don’t have to sit here, alone, it’s hard.  And while I don’t let it show, I do get homesick sometimes.

Kentucky was not, by any means, all roses and daisies for me.  But still, there are roots there.  Roots that go deep.  And they’re undeniable.  I sit here, in Florida, in front of my television, in front of my computer, with my cat.  I sit here and I talk about these menial things that I’m doing in my life.  I sit here and I chat with my friends (most of whom still live up north) and I Skype with others.  And fairly frequently, I’m asked why I don’t just move home… or at least to Nashville… or maybe back to Louisville.  The fact of the matter is, I simply don’t want to.

Truth: visiting there is fun.  Going house to house, seeing people I don’t get to see very often, it’s like a big party all the time every time I get off the plane and get in my rental and drive the two hours to the little town.  It’s a nice change – a welcome change, really… to go from almost constant solitude to having people around me all the time.  There’s home cooked food.  And the air there is clean.  There’s no smog, the stars go on for miles, and when you go outside you can hear frogs and crickets… sometimes a coyote.  You see deer literally everywhere – which can be a bad thing if you’re driving.

And of course there’s my family, too.  My mother who loves to cook and who swears up and down that she never gets tired of me visiting.  And my father whose laugh is the best sound in the world to me sometimes (even if it’s from 1000 miles away, on the phone).  I do my best to get them to laugh.  When my father laughs… my little corner of Tampa gets a little bit brighter (if that’s even possible).  There are my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my sister, my best friend.  Lots of catching up to do, and it seems like we never really do seem to get completely caught up before I have to get on the plane again – though we certainly try as we work through the multitude of restaurants I absolutely have to hit up when I am there.

There is all of that… but then there’s Florida.  So many years I wanted to move here.  I can remember sitting in my house as a teenager, snow on the ground, wishing I could live somewhere that wasn’t so cold.  I can remember asking my now ex-husband time and time again to move here (he never wanted to move).  I finally got here.  And I did it all by myself.  And I’m ridiculously proud of that.  And financially, materially, it has been the best move of my life.  Yes it can get lonely sometimes, but, then, I wasn’t NOT lonely in Kentucky either.  I didn’t spend the last decade of my Kentucky life in that small town.  I spent it in the city… and I didn’t know anyone there either.  I tell myself that it’s no different.  And in many ways it isn’t.  But in most ways, in the majority of ways, I’m still happy here.  Happier in Florida than I can remember being in Kentucky – at least for the second half of my habitation there.  I know that if I did move back, that I’d no sooner settle in than I’d find myself unhappy again – and this time, unhappy and shivering in the middle of winter.

And yet, the rolling hills of Kentucky still call to me as I sit here, on my couch, listening to the mid-summer Florida thunderstorm outside my window.  Innately, I feel them drawing me in.  Beckoning to me to come back – to visit the family I grew up in.  To visit the graves of the family I never knew.  To spend time walking around the high school track where I can still feel the awkwardness of those stupid first dates in the bleachers, still hear the kids outside the school waiting for the first tone to sound.  In my mind’s eye, I can see the endless expanse of the corn fields down the highway and I can see the way that the sky, and the stars, seem to climb into the sky forever and ever – layers upon layers of eternity.  Kentucky calls to me when I am in Florida.

And yet, Florida calls to me when I am in Kentucky.  Surrounded by the clean, fresh air that I love, amused by my friends, comfortably pampered by my family, Florida beckons to me when I’m there.  It wants me back.  Tampa, the seductive city that she is, seems to throw out her arms and grab my hand, reminding me of the palm trees and the sound of the waves crashing into the beaches at night.  She sends me visions of the downtown areas that I love so well.  Palm Harbor, too, wants me to come back – the shops I love, the friends I’ve made there, the community that’s growing right before my eyes.

It is as if some days, I cannot win.  Some days, I feel myself being pulled into two opposing directions; the one where my history, for better or worse, is so deeply entrenched.  Where I will likely return, one day, to be buried with the rest of my family.  And the other where my present lies… possibly also my future, though, being the restless wanderer that I am, I’m always open to suggestions.  And then I realize… it’s not that each location, each life, is pulling me in two different directions.  It’s not that at all.  The truth of it is this: neither is pulling me anywhere.  Because I have something that not everyone has… I have two places that I can call home.  Whether I am here in Florida, whether I am there in Kentucky, I am home no matter where I go.

And, knowing that, I feel truly rich, indeed.

I Am A Catch

This is going to sound like some kind of cover letter that would be attached to a resume (if a bit lengthy) but I’m writing this both as a foundation of what is to come and as a reminder to myself of a few things.

 

I am a catch.

I am a thirty year old woman.  I have a good job.  I drive a nice car.  I have some debt, but I make enough to manage that and have it all disappear within a couple of years.  I have been married once, but it didn’t last very long, and I have no children.  I am educated.  I have a Bachelors degree and half a Masters degree.  I write, a LOT.  And I’m ambitious.  I want a lot for myself, I expect a lot out of myself, and that motivates me to keep pushing for bigger and better things.

I have morals.  I do not go to church and do not define myself by any sort of “faith”, but I live by a personal code.  I do not hurt the innocent.  I do not steal.  I do not lie.  When in relationships, I have not and will never cheat.  When one of my friends needs me, they know I am there for them – even if the best I can do for the time being is a phone call because of the distance.  I work hard, I play harder.  I do not take even one second for granted.  I believe that I should treat others the way that I myself would want to be treated.

I have a good family.  I grew up with parents who are still together and who are still madly in love with each other – and have been for forty-one years.  I have a sister who I don’t talk to often, but who is usually there if I need a chat.  I have an extended family that I am also exceptionally close to.  My support system is huge, as it encompasses not only my family but my best and closest friends.  There is no shortage of people to turn to if I need something.

I believe that what energy we put out into the world is the energy we get back.  I believe what we put into our bodies and how we use our bodies will determine how they treat us later.  That said, I try hard not to hurt people.  I try to eat healthily.  And my bedroom does not have a revolving door.  My number is relatively low – single digits – and I keep it that way.  I treat my body as a temple and I keep my stress at a minimum so that it does not wreak havoc on my overall wellbeing.  I do not have any diseases and other than being perpetually nearsighted (that only gets worse because I read a lot), I am perfectly healthy.

I am a doer.  If I see something wrong with my life, I do everything I can to fix it.  My only fault, in this regard, is that sometimes I try too hard.  Sometimes I have problems letting go.  I am a control freak, but I try to harness that need for control into something productive.  It becomes problematic because sometimes I have problems recognizing that there are simply some things I cannot control.  I do not like to fail, and so I have problems letting go.  But I am working on this… both on recognizing that I cannot control everything and in learning to let go of the things that I have no control over – to let them take their course.

When I am in a relationship, I am a giver.  I give everything that I can, both of myself, and of what I have, to make sure that the other person has what he needs.  I bend over backward, sometimes a little too far, and often find myself being used and walked on.  But I keep trying, because while I am sarcastic and while I do have a dark sense of humor, I am also an optimist.  I believe in love.  I believe that true love can transcend even the biggest difficulties, and I believe that if two people want something badly enough, then they can make it work if they work together.

I am ambitious.  I work forty hours a week, but also extend myself into other avenues.  I write.  I model.  I create art.  I dedicate my spare time to those venues and I have been successful at them.  I set goals for myself in my personal life and I do everything in my power to see those things through.  Because I work hard, because I am contemplative, and because I believe in myself and in my own abilities, I see those goals come to fruition sooner or later.

I have everything going for me.  And as I prepare for re-release in the upcoming weeks, it would serve me well to remember this.  Despite what has happened, despite the things that have made me doubt these things over the last few days, I write this not only to affirm what I already know, but to remind myself that what happened was not my fault and that it had nothing to do with me.

I am not perfect.  Far from it.  I have my faults.  I am sometimes insecure, I am sometimes too hard on myself.  I have trouble letting things go sometimes and I can be argumentative.  But even still, despite all of those things, I know who I am and I know what I want.  And I am a catch.

Family Affair

It’s February 2008.  My then husband and I are sleeping in his parents’ basement, he on one couch, I on another.  Things aren’t great between us… separation has been brought up several times, divorce a few others.  For the time being, because of where we are, a truce has been implemented.  We visited his parents a LOT.  He was very close to his mother – calling her just to chat, calling her when he needed home repairs done, calling her when he got a flat tire and needed someone to fix it (she lived two hours away and told him to call a tow truck – same as I did, but he listened to her while he never listened to me).  I had gotten tired of it… her nagging, her telling me that I was not taking care of her “baby” correctly.  Who was I to feed him food with condiments on it?  Who was I to paint the walls green?

But I put up with it.  For his sake.  And because doing otherwise would cause an argument – a screaming, fit-throwing, object flinging, wall punching argument.  I’d had enough but for the time being had no other options, nowhere else to go.  So I stayed put.  And anyway we were in counseling.  We were “working on it”.  Right?  Uh.  Yeah.  She’d gone to work that night, to the post office, she wouldn’t be home until 3 a.m.  And when that time came, I could hear the garage door above me open.  I tried to go to sleep as the floor creaked above my head, sleep didn’t come.  He wasn’t asleep either, I knew, half laying, half sitting on the other sofa, listening for her.  I made no movement.  I didn’t want him to know I was awake.  The door to the basement creaked open, the dog ran downstairs followed by his mother who was whispering loudly for her to come back upstairs.

I didn’t say anything.  I just continued to remain still, my eyes closed.  The dog jumped on me, licked my face, I didn’t budge, and I could hear his mother walking down the stairs after her.  My ex, recognizing his mother, whispered something to her… I opened my eyes a crack to see what was going on and I could barely believe what I saw.  It was sickening.  There they were, the dog jumping between the couch and her legs, chatting amiably, as if it were the middle of the day, and he’s lying there, completely uncovered, wearing nothing but his tighty-whities and with his morning wood just hanging out there, making no move to cover it, not acknowledging it.  And what’s worse, even, was that she was standing there continuing the conversation as if there was nothing out of the ordinary.

But it WAS out of the ordinary.  This was not ordinary at all!  This was… this was… beyond anything I’d seen before – this was… Norman Bates creepy.  I can’t say that this is what made me decide to leave him… many factors played into that.  But I think I realized that night that there was something more abnormal about this degree of closeness that I’d failed to see.  And I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

I can laugh about it now… now that it’s all well behind me, but after the divorce was final and when I decided to start dating again, I remembered that.  I remembered the years of disapproval I’d been through, I remembered the explaining I’d had to do to tell her why I wanted to go back to college (that was a fighting point too), I remembered the mommy-boner, I remembered how she’d get upset if I told her I wanted to go to dinner with my own husband and she was not invited, and I vowed that that would never happen again.  I was extreme about it, making a list of all the things I wanted (and didn’t want) in another human being.  A good family relationship was important… but not so good that you wanted to fuck your mother.  Jeez that’s awful to even think about.

I was optimistic at first.  I mean how many men out there, in their late twenties and early thirties can honestly say they let their mothers dictate their lives?  You’d be surprised.  More of them than ever, it seemed.  The dates I went on were more than once interrupted by mothers calling their sons, even if their sons didn’t live at home anymore (and even when they did – seriously, you’re thirty-two… grow a pair), to ask when they were going to be home and if they were alright.  Because, you know.  All 115 pounds of me can be so very intimidating.  Needless to say, I didn’t answer my phone when they called for a second date.  It was all I could do to ask if they were going to get grounded if they stayed out past curfew.  It was entertaining for a second to feel like I was sixteen again… but then I remembered all the bad things about being sixteen and I decided.. yeah… I was going to pass.

Then I met 3.0.  He seemed to have it together: his place, his job, his own life.  Sure he admitted that his condo, which was immaculately decorated, had been done by his mother but I let that one go.  A lot of bachelors have no taste and his place was aesthetically pleasing.  She didn’t have her own bedroom there, at any rate, and if that’s as far as the interference went, I was okay with that.  I didn’t say much either when he would chat with her or spend time with her when she needed something.  All of those things are normal.  She wasn’t intruding on our relationship, she never said much, and she tried to be friendly, which I appreciated.  And anyway, my standards are low then… as Buttface so eloquently put it, this was a step up no matter how I looked at it.  3.0 wasn’t walking around in front of his mother with a boner.

It was just that, as things got more serious and as our talks turned to the future, I began to realize just how much 3.0 really did idolize his mother.  And if that wasn’t enough, I began to understand too how much he really looked up to his twin brother.  If you’ve never dated a twin it’s an eye-opening experience.  You expect them to be close.  But I don’t think you can really understand HOW close.  I never could.  I managed to mitigate it for the most part.  His brother lived somewhere else, and we never saw him.  But when his brother decided that he didn’t like me, fuck, that put the whole relationship in jeopardy.  When his brother decided he wanted to go on a trip with 3.0, and it happened to be a holiday, I was left in the cold.  That was hard… it was annoying… it was frustrating… and it was worse to have none of it acknowledged when I voiced it, but I dealt with it.  I don’t argue anymore.  Not since the divorce, it’s not worth it.  I just take as much as I can take and when I can’t take anymore, I leave.  I hadn’t reached my breaking point yet.  I soon would, but hadn’t yet.

I reached it, though, on the balcony one evening, as we sat, talking.  Our talks turned to marriage and I remember hearing 3.0 tell me that no matter who he married, she would always come third in his life.  His mother came first, then his twin.  I was shocked.  I didn’t know what to do with that.  A normal person would have left.  I SHOULD have left.  That’s not how a marriage works, and if marriage was what I wanted and if this was going to be all wrong, I was wasting my time.  My marriage had failed, but I knew enough to know that for a marriage to work, you have to have your priorities straight… when you marry, your spouse comes first.  That’s the rule.  That’s how it works.  And it cannot be one-sided.

I tried hard to ignore what he said… I couldn’t.  I mitigated the thought of living in a loveless marriage with the fact that I wouldn’t have to work anymore, I could have the kids I wanted, I could live in this posh condo, and I could be free to work on my projects as I liked.  It was a business contract, I reasoned.  I’d give him what he wanted, he’d give me what I wanted, I didn’t need love in the middle of all that.  It was just a paper we’d sign, everything would be fine, I’d live happily ever after with my white picket fence and my cookie business.  What did I need with some silly emotion, anyway?  And yet that nagging voice in the back of my head knew that this is NOT how that is supposed to work.  And even if he ever did manage to bring himself to love me, did I want to be loved by someone that would always place me third in the hierarchy?  Waiting for his mother to die so I could be Number Two?  Always bested by his brother?  Having to compete for his affection?  The answer, despite all the perks, was and is still absolutely not.

As I’ve said before, I am jaded.  I have been through a lot, I have seen a lot, and it seems like it’s never been easy on me.  I don’t expect it to be.  That said, I don’t know what’s wrong with this generation of men.  I’ve either met all of the wrong ones that have all of the mommy issues, or it’s a widespread problem with this generation.  And if it’s not a mommy issue, or at least not directly a mommy issue, it’s an inappropriate closeness with one or more siblings – if your girlfriend, fiancé, wife, etc. has to wonder if she is always going to have to compete with one or more of your family members for your affection, it’s not a good sign.  Period.

Family is important.  No matter where you are, you’re always going to feel some loyalty to them.  As a teacher once said many years ago, home is where they always have to take you in, no matter what you’ve done.  I believe that.    And while I don’t always agree with everything my family says and everything they do, I love them dearly.  And in the beginning of my relationships, the priorities don’t change.  But when the degree of seriousness shifts, the priorities shift as well.  As they should.  Because, I’m beginning to realize, if they don’t, then that person isn’t ready.  Maybe he has his own place, maybe he has a job, maybe he has his shit together, but for all that’s worth, he may as well still be living in his parents’ basement, waiting for the impending family dinner bell to ring, comforted by the familiar and afraid to branch out into something new.

And I don’t have time for that.

Purge

There is an episode of Lost in which the Others have had enough of the Dharma Initiative.  And in that episode, tiring of the empty agreements and negotiations, they perform something they call the “Purge.”  They kill all of the Dharmaville residents, excluding Benjamin Linus and Ethan Godspeed.  After the Purge, the Others are the only ones on the Island… for awhile.  I liked this episode.  Hell, I enjoy that whole series.  But the fact that the writers chose to use the word “Purge” in that episode to describe the mass murder – it made me giggle.  I’ve been using the same phrase to describe the occasional cleanouts that I do, the occasional eradication of clutter in both my life and my house.  I’d haven’t heard that word used by anyone else in a very long time.

At the beginning of this blog, I was housecleaning.  I was trying to make my house livable, trying to exorcise memories that were, for a moment, a little painful to think about.  I was distracting myself, trying to make things bearable, throwing myself into something productive so that I didn’t spend my hours gaming or wallowing in my newfound solitude.  About a month into that project I met someone else, just when I least expected to.  Things got a little more complicated, but still, I kept cleaning, figuring that at the very least, I owed it to myself to have a place for us to hang out when we wanted to.  And as it progressed, the housecleaning took on a new purpose.  I needed space.  I had to MAKE space where there was no space.  The list of things to do that was once as simple as a deep clean grew more complicated.  More time consuming.  It would be worth it, I told myself.  I needed to do this anyway… he was just motivation.

This weekend, three months later, I finished the housecleaning project.  Aside from a few small things that still need to get done, the house is organized, everything has its place, and I am about sixteen large storage boxes of stuff shorter.  This project has been cathartic.  I’ve found loads and loads of things that I had forgotten about – some of it was worth keeping, most of it was not.  And I threw things away indiscriminately.   What didn’t get sentenced to the dumpster got left at Goodwill.

I purged all the wedding stuff, too.  Those things, seven years later, now seemed pointless to keep – the extra napkins with our names on them, the unity candle, the decorations, the memorabilia from the showers and things that were packed away during the divorce.  I hadn’t looked at them since.  I wasn’t even sure why I kept them to begin with.  And now that that is long over, behind me, now that the divorce has been final for quite a while, I didn’t want to revisit it.  I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the photographs – my family and friends are in those.  And I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the greeting cards from that – most all of which came from my people.  Those things I kept.  Though what I’m going to do with them in the long run, I am still not sure.

Every trip to the dumpster, wedding stuff and otherwise, was hard.  I’d question myself the entire way – would I want this stuff later?  Would I wish I hadn’t thrown it out?  I’d keep walking, because I didn’t know where I was going to put it – I needed the space for other things.  Once I reached the dumpster, I unceremoniously threw it in there, knowing that once I did, that was it.  I wasn’t going in there after it.  And I was okay with that.  One by one, the boxes disappeared until all that was left was a ceiling fan I hope to rehang someday and the box of things that belonged to my grandmother.

Once all of the physical cleaning was done, I stood back and marveled at the change.  The apartment looks significantly different than it did last fall when things fell apart.  Better.  Less cluttered.  More organized.  But then, my life, really, is significantly different than it was several months ago, too.  For the first time in living memory no one is stifling my creative energies or my eccentricities.  I can be myself.  I AM being myself.  I’m liking that.  I’m literally so overwhelmed with ideas for writing, for baking, for painting, for drawing that I have a hard time settling on one thing to do at a time.  Things haven’t flowed for me this freely in a decade.  Literally a decade.  The house was clean – but there was something else that needed to be done.  I knew it… I’ve known it for awhile.

A few weeks ago, though, I traveled to Ohio.  I saw many of my friends – most of which I hadn’t seen in a very long time.  I’d missed them, I was glad to see them, but an afternoon spent with an ex (we’d remained friends post-breakup) made me realize, more than ever, that there was still purging to be done.  I’d cleaned my house.  I’d gotten rid of the wedding stuff.  I’d gotten rid of most of the physical reminders of my past that were just laying around here, waiting for me to stumble upon them.  But there was something, this time, about the trip to Ohio that made me see things as they really are – as they always have been.  I went to lunch with my ex (we call him Buttface).  I spent an afternoon chatting, catching up.  And I was, literally, bored out of my mind.  I stayed for as long as I thought would be polite and then, as I was contemplating how much longer I needed to stay, my phone rang.  And it was my boyfriend.  We didn’t talk long… and while I didn’t need the call to push me back in the direction I wanted to go, it was a very good reminder of how much better I have it now than I had it then.  A welcome one.  There were no romantic feelings left in Ohio with Butt.  There hadn’t been for a long time.  Sometimes I think we kept in contact simply because we were one of the last relics from the long-time past for each other.  But somehow I knew when I left that that was it… that even that part of the relic was gone.  Strangely, I didn’t care.  A few weeks later, while finishing the cleanout, I deleted his numbers from my phone.  I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, that it wasn’t painful.  I did it with barely any thought at all.

While I was at it, I decided to purge the rest.  I went through my phonebook.  I cleared the names of contacts I hadn’t thought of in ages.  I got rid of email addresses, phone numbers, text messages.  After all, I’d cleaned my house.  Why not the rest?  After all, hadn’t I said that I wanted to do something different?  This final cleanout, this final purge would really give me the chance to actually start over, do something different.

I owed it to myself, I realized, to just LET GO.  Stop looking ten feet behind me and start looking at what I have beside me and in front of me: my job, my friends, my family, my relationship, these creative ideas that are pouring out of me at the moment, this fledgling business I’m starting.  None of these things are perfect.  I don’t expect perfection.  All of them require varying degrees of work.  Most things worth having do.  But these things at the very least, they deserve my complete and undivided attention.  They deserve the chance to really become something incredible, and I owe it to myself to be open to that; to stop my pattern of self-sabotage by living in the past and trying to apply the past to the present.  It’s easier said than done.  But if I can’t do that, then none of these things will work.  I’ve purged before – I’ve not purged like this.  This time I meant it.  This time there’s no going back.  The ties are cut, the house is clean.  I’m starting over.

It’s time to make a new past – maybe one that is better than the one I’ve spent too much time dwelling on over the last decade.

Christmas

There have been only three Christmases in the history of my thirty years where I have not been able to make it home for Christmas to be with my family.  The first one was when it snowed so badly that I could not leave my apartment and was worried about driving home.  It was miserable.  I sat there, staring at my computer, editing photos because I didn’t have anything else to do, and talking to my parents on the phone while they told me about the awesome dinner that my mother had made.  My little TV dinner that I baked in the oven later paled in comparison to her cooking, as TV dinners always do.

The second was the first Christmas after I’d moved to Florida.  I’d just started my job, I was broke, I had no plane ticket money, and of course I’d just seen them in November as we were driving the truck down.  But the wonders of Skype prevailed.  The camera feed was awful, and it was not the same as being there, but I could at least watch them open their presents.  And as I was seeing someone at the time, I wasn’t alone at any rate.  I cooked a dinner of epic proportions – a spiral ham with all the trimmings, and after dinner, I fed the leftovers to the colony of stray cats that lived outside the apartment where I was staying.

The third will be this Christmas.  And this time, like the first time, it is not my choice.  I knew that when 3.0 and I broke up that I was fortunate to have the Thanksgiving tickets already purchased way ahead of time so that I could take refuge with my family for a bit.  Funnily enough when he was bringing the hammer down on the relationship, ending it effectively, the first thought I had was, “Well now what am I going to do for Christmas?” Because that had been the deal – he would go home with me for Thanksgiving, I’d stay here in Florida and spend the holidays with his family.  When the relationship ended, of course, that plan changed.  I tried to find tickets – I looked everywhere.  But given that I didn’t want to take more time off to go home, and given that the prices of tickets had already skyrocketed, I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be possible this year.

I was upset for awhile.  Pissed at 3.0 for being so inconsiderate as to string me along for a whole year – long enough to make plans for the holidays and then for those plans to not work out.  I am still a little pissed at him for that.  But I realized that none of that really would make a difference in the grand scheme of things – things still are what they are.  And there was nothing that I could do to change that.  The only thing I COULD change was to try to find a way to make the holidays bearable – to try to find a way to make them good, even though I was not going to get to be home.

First, I considered the weather.  I am fortunate, after all, to live in a state where we get no snow, where the sun shines the majority of the time, where at any given moment I can look outside and see foliage on the trees and ducks swimming in the lake.  Considering the cold weather I’d be going home to (that I suffered through last year), I was sort of pleased that I wasn’t going to have to wear winter parkas and boots just to visit Kentucky.

And there were places I could put that plane ticket money.  I remembered the promise I’d made to myself two years ago when I first started working down here.  The company I worked for had sponsored thirteen children from a children’s home in town to fulfill their Secret Santa lists.  These lists aren’t like the ones you get on the Angel Tree where you buy two or three things and you’re done.  These lists are extensive.  And usually very expensive.  Shopping for the kids was an involved process that required multiple trips to the malls and the purchase of thirteen iPods with no video capabilities (among many other things).  It’s a lot, but the research I’ve since done on the place confirms that these kids really do need someone to do this for them.  I didn’t have the money to do it two years ago – I was lucky if I was able to pull one of the kids’ names off of an Angel Tree to fulfill that wish, but I was involved the first year anyway, even if I didn’t bankroll the resources, and it didn’t matter so much then.  This year, though, my life had changed.  I got a huge raise.  I am making more money and am more comfortable than I ever have been.  Could I have afforded the plane ticket home?  Sure.  It was never about the money – more about the time spent there for the money I was putting out.  I decided, then, that if I could not have the Christmas I wanted, I was going to use my newfound riches to give someone else the Christmas that they needed.  After all, I am thirty years old.  Christmas gifts and Santa Claus don’t mean as much to me as they do to a child.

So I called the home and inquired about getting a list for one of the children.  I called twice, since the first time I called no one answered and I had to leave a message.  The due date was not even a week away and if I were going to do this, I needed to do it now, or else there would be no time to shop.  The second time, I got someone on the phone – a harried but nice lady who seemed at first in disbelief that I would want to do something like this, warning me of the money I would spend.  I assured her that it wasn’t a problem and that it wasn’t about the money to me.  I must have talked for fifteen minutes before I managed to break through her skepticism and she sent me the wish list.  As I looked at it, I smiled.  It was going to be a lot of work, and it would mean a lot of driving to a lot of places, but this kid was going to get everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, on that list.

I started shopping the very next day, tearing apart the malls, looking for the shoes that she wanted, the watch that she’d asked for that could only be found in Macys.  I spent the next evening tearing apart Michael’s Crafts to find the very best drawing set that I could, and Bieber-fied my shopping cart with the posters and the CDs she requested.  The one thing that I could not find, at all, was the diary.  There were plenty of diaries, yes.  None with locks.  None to be found in the places I’d gone to anyway.  None to be found in Orlando either as I rummaged through the stores in the outlet malls that weekend.  I was starting to think I was going to just have to settle for a nice, Bieber-themed journal and hope for the best since there wasn’t enough time now to order it and have it shipped to me from Amazon.

And then, with one shopping day to go before I had to turn over the gifts to be wrapped by the staff at the home, as I was walking through Barnes and Noble, I found a section for journals.  And as a last resort, I walked to it.  There were all kinds – leather-bound journals, spiral notebooks with inspirational sayings on them, bound diaries with animals.  And then, on the shelf, almost forgotten among all the others was one with hearts on it.  And two circular rings on the side, bound together by a heart-shaped padlock with a very small key.  This was it, the last thing on the list.  I snatched it, still in disbelief over my good luck, and added it to her stash.

On that following Monday, the deadline for the gift collection, at work and between webinars, I printed the directions to the home.  It wasn’t far from work but as I didn’t know where I was going exactly, and as I wasn’t sure how long it would take to drop off her gifts, I knew that it was likely that this would take the entire hour.  No matter, I told my rumbling stomach as I got into the car.  I’d grab something at the drive thru if I had to and if I couldn’t, well, a little bit of afternoon fasting wasn’t going to hurt me.  I could get a big dinner later and I’d be okay.  And anyway, this little girl needed her presents.  If I didn’t bring them, then there would be no one else who would.  And as I have said many times, and continue to believe, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, everyone deserves a Christmas.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I got there.  This wasn’t in the best area of town, at least that I knew.  And I half expected to find a towering structure, something like what you see in Annie where the orphans are cleaning the building and a tyrannical matron is dishing out harsh words and punishment (even though I know that is fictional, and I know it’s not really like that – at least not anymore if it ever was).  But when I pulled onto the campus, I was pleasantly surprised.  It was plain on the outside, the fence and buildings were a pale yellow against the well-manicured lawn.  But the main office was decorated for Christmas and it was well-kept.  I could see the dorms lined up down the driveway, and imagined that this is where the children probably lived.  It reminded me of the camp I’d worked at, actually, as a teenager.  I parked next to the door to check in as instructed per the email I’d gotten and as I got out of my car, noticed the empty basketball courts.  Yes, this was like camp.  There were no children to be seen, but as school had not yet let out, this wasn’t a surprise to me.  And it was just as well – I didn’t want her (whoever she was) to see her gifts until she was supposed to.

But I was happy to find that the campus was clean, the staff was very nice.  Dropping off the gifts took a few minutes – there were papers to fill out, things to sign.  But when I left the three large shopping bags behind at the makeshift “Santa’s Workshop” that had been set up in one of the cabins, I felt good.  Better than I had in weeks.  I had taken my own misery and disappointment and I had made something good come out of it.

And now, a week later, Christmas is almost upon us.  I’ve ordered all of the presents for my family on Amazon and had them shipped to their house.  They were received, per my mother, neatly wrapped in pretty Christmas-colored solid wrapping paper.  My parents packed my gifts neatly into a large shoebox, then wrapped the box tightly in brown paper, and shipped it to my apartment where they were delivered several days before Christmas.  Plans have been made to spend Christmas Eve on Skype, opening up the presents on the webcam and spending some time together that way instead of not seeing each other at all.  I have a spiral ham waiting in my refrigerator for cooking (a small one – I can’t eat all of a large one by myself) and have spent this first four day weekend cleaning my apartment to get it ready for the impending new year.

It still isn’t the same.  I’d still rather be home instead of here, alone, shaking the wrapped packages to try to figure out what is in them.  But what do I have to complain about?  I have a roof over my head, enough money to buy the things I want to buy for myself, I am comfortable and don’t have to go hungry unless I want to.  I have a family that loves me and that I can visit any time I want.  I have a mother and father who wrap and ship Christmas presents to me even when I can’t be there to open them in person.  And I have always had these things.  There has never been a time in my life where I have ever really wanted for anything.

And then I think about that little girl back on the campus.  I won’t get to see her open her gifts.  I won’t get to watch her write in her diary or open the watch or wear her shoes or practice drawing with that new drawing set she’ll get to open in a couple of days.  But I gave her something that she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.  The money I would have spent going home to have a couple of days with my family was used to give someone else a real Christmas.  Someone who needs it much more than I do, much more than I ever will.  And I feel good about it.  After all, isn’t giving to others what Christmas really is all about?