Using a Sick Day

I’m so sorry, guys. I can’t post this week. I started this week’s entry and intended to finish it today, but right now my head hurts too much to write. I apologize and hope this will be the last sick week for a long time. Please don’t give up on this blog! There are 26 posts, so if you’ve missed some, please take this opportunity to read some older posts. I’ll be back next week!

Some Things You Can’t Forgive

About a month after my mother died, my father called. “Your uncle Gus died.” Hot Damn! I thought. “Do you want me to send a card in your name?” he asked. Do they make cards that say, “Glad you you’re dead, you son of a bitch”? HA! “No, Dad,” I said. Maybe he thought this was my opportunity to repair relations with that part of the family. Some things you just can’t forgive.

Everyone loved my uncle Gus. A born salesman, he told funny stories, jokes, drew funny pictures, flew airplanes, and drove a motorcycle. He attracted people like free samples at Costco.

We saw his family twice a year. Once they’d come to us and then we’d go to Pennsylvania to see them. I loved going to their house. My mother, her sister, my father and my uncle would talk for hours. I remember waking up, hearing the animated voices in the kitchen, and feeling happy and secure. I’d get to see my cousin, too. She was nine years older than me but she loved seeing me and I’d get a glimpse of a world years beyond my own.

We always had fun during those visits. My aunt and uncle would take us to Sea World, or Seven Springs Resort, or somewhere equally fabulous every time we’d visit. Their visits to New York weren’t so exciting. Lots more relatives to see, less time, and my parents didn’t have my aunt’s and uncle’s talents for hospitality.

I had fun until the year I went to visit them on my own. I was eleven and so psyched to make my own trip. They had just opened a business and they let me sit at reception. I felt very legitimate but I wondered what customers would think when they saw the braces on my teeth. Would they know I was too young? Looking back, the white overalls probably gave my age away.

I was sitting at the desk, and my uncle came by and said, “Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the building.” We got in the elevator and as it climbed, he reached over and grasped the clasp of my overalls, brushing my budding breast with his hand. “Nice,” he said. I felt uncomfortable but didn’t know what to do. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it wouldn’t happen again.

But it did. From then on, if nobody was looking or he could catch me in a room alone, my uncle Gus would grab at my breast or my crotch. He’d do it in his house. He’d do it in mine. Every time we saw them. Twice a year.

When I was sixteen, I told my parents. “GUS?” my mother exclaimed, “I can’t believe it!” and then, “Well, Honey, you ARE a very sexy girl.” They concluded that my uncle just couldn’t help himself, and I was to avoid him. They didn’t say anything to my aunt or uncle, because “It would kill her,” and the visits continued. My aunt and uncle’s family still stayed at my house when they visited. I was free to stay elsewhere.

All of the groping and my parents’ reaction sent the message that I was a sexual object, to be enjoyed and exploited by anyone who got the opportunity. Once I started having sex, I learned that sex gave me power. I never had much luck with boys, but once I learned I could give them what they wanted, I realized I could command a boy’s attention for however long it took for him to finish. I felt used and dirty afterwards, but I had the attention of a boy for a while and once he was done, I could get myself another one. And I did. I plowed my way through my small town in high school. I calmed down in college, but by then the destruction of my reputation and psyche was complete.

I never recovered. I’ve never felt like my body was my own and I still have flashbacks during intimacy. Shame eats at me like a parasite. When I visit my hometown, I relive all the memories and the suffering.

Before my first wedding, I sent my uncle a letter. It detailed every incident, every consequence, and said I never wanted to see him again. I lost my cousin and my aunt, but I had to take that chance. I had to confront him. I haven’t spoken to that part of the family in fourteen years.

So when I heard that my uncle died, I thought I’d finally be free. And in a sense, I am. I never have to worry about running into him at a family event. I don’t have to think about him living blissfully anymore while I suffer. But I’m not completely free. The damage that he started, and I perpetuated, is still with me. After years of work on those issues, I still can’t shake it. Everyone leaves a legacy, I guess. I just wish my destruction wasn’t his.

Author’s Note: I changed his name to protect my family. I don’t know why. It’s not libel if it’s true.

The Accident at Lake MacGregor

The following is an excerpt from my book in progress. It’s a true story. I like to try work out on the blog from time to time. I appreciate your comments.

Ten o’clock on a school night. I knew Cathi’s mom was down at the lake, trying to get the scoop. The police cars whizzed by about two hours earlier. By then it was already dark. I prayed, “Please, please let him have run away.” It had been too long for him to come up alive.

On the really warm days toward the end of the school year, all the cool kids would go to Lake MacGregor. The boys would strip down to jeans or shorts but the girls all wore bathing suits. Everyone would stampede the water, rendering it a churning, writhing storm of young bodies and summer exuberance. They came to Lake MacGregor because, in early June, the lifeguard was not yet on duty. Sometimes the future lifeguard himself counted among the revelers.

Today was one of those days. At least thirty kids had descended on the beach, yanking off restrictive clothing on the way down the hill. They jumped in the water and dunked and wrestled, splashed and laughed and chased the girls. We MacGregorites, for the most part, sat on the retaining wall at the beach. I think our friend Mike went in, but none of us did. It was our lake. We didn’t need to go in that day. We had all summer. Or that’s what we told ourselves. But everyone else partied in our neighborhood, and that was enough for us.

The party started to break up around four-thirty. Small groups climbed out of the water, wrung themselves out, and headed home.

We left about the time the party was breaking up, home to our parents and dinner. After dinner, Cathi’s mom knocked on the back door. “Did you hear? One of the boys that was down at the lake is missing.”

Missing? What does that mean, missing?

About then we heard the sirens. They got louder and more urgent, then faded toward the beach.

“The police are already down there,” she went on. “Mrs. Brady told me. I’m gonna go down there.”

Missing? Maybe he’s just late getting home. He can’t have drowned in my lake. No one’s ever drowned in my lake.

I could have gone down there. My father did. I could have, but I didn’t want to be there when they dragged him out of the water. He’d be heavy and covered with seaweed and though I didn’t know him, I couldn’t stand to see something like that.

I know the fire trucks and the ambulance were there until late that night, but I don’t know when they found him. They did find him, though. Wearing a pair of wet jeans. They thought the jeans killed him. He wasn’t that strong a swimmer and they said he probably got tired and the wet jeans were so heavy they pulled him under. No one noticed until his friends looked for him to leave. How would they notice? There were so many people there that day.

No laughter echoed off the walls at school the next day. Just hushed conversations among clusters of kids. “Who died?” someone said when he walked in. Someone silenced him immediately.

School was quiet for a few days. People slowly recovered. A month later, someone requested a song for him at the roller rink. The DJ announced his name and people just left the floor, crying. But eventually life overtook tragedy and people didn’t talk about him anymore. We went on. But no one came to visit Lake MacGregor that summer. We natives swam, mostly to take our lake back, and we did, but once death had violated our lake, it was tainted forever. People would say, “Oh, Lake MacGregor, is that where that kid drowned?” We reclaimed our childhood playground, but to everyone else, it would always be the site of tragedy.

Navigating the Seattle Ice

The Seattle Ice. A new hockey team? Sadly, no. It’s a term coined to describe the general social demeanor of native Seattleites. Before we moved here, Matt and I were on a cruise and we met a teenage boy from Washington. He chatted with us for quite a while. He was friendly and polite and obviously interested in talking to adults. He really impressed us. Kids from the East Coast weren’t like that. They would never have a conversation with two adult strangers. So we applauded our decision to move West. I was pregnant at the time and who wouldn’t want to raise an engaging, polite, West Coast kid?

Once we moved, we discovered an entirely different social phenomenon. I joined a moms’ group and met lots of moms — natives and non. But every time I tried to connect with a Seattle mom, friendly as she seemed, she’d freeze up. I tried with mom after mom with the same result. My husband and I found the same thing with the people we’d meet together. They were very friendly on the surface, but if we tried to go deeper, they distanced themselves.

We did make friends eventually, but we gravitated to transplants. I connected with two moms initially – one from Australia and one from South Africa – and I met two more when we moved to the suburbs – both Californians. My husband befriended a coworker from New Jersey. We’re happy with the friends we’ve made but we’re worried about raising our daughter here. Do we want to raise a kid who exhibits the Seattle Ice? We’re not like that. We’re both from the East Coast. I’m from New York where everyone may not be friendly but you know whether a relationship has potential within the first five minutes. What you see is what you get in New York. My husband’s from southern Virginia where people are much nicer initially but with the first “bless your heart” you know who’s not a friend. In both places, you know where you stand.

Rose is shy. It will break my heart to see her try to forge friendships and get iced out. And worse, what if she adapts by adopting the Seattle Ice? Everyone around her will have it. How can she help it? How do we, as parents, teach her how to be open in a place where everyone’s so guarded? I try to tell myself that our influence will outweigh the social factors, but will it? How do we shove sincerity down her throat?

This concern could make us leave Seattle, and honestly, we like it here. It’s a beautiful place; we’ve found friends; and we appreciate the mild winters. Although I like to move around, I’m satisfied with where I’ve lived and I recognize the importance of a stable environment for Rose. We don’t want to go anywhere else.

So far, Rose has befriended the other kids at the babysitter’s – she talks about them so we beilieve they’re her friends. She plays with our transplant friends’ kids; and she likes a little girl at preschool who doesn’t return the favor. It’s not that the little girl doesn’t like Rose. She’s just not interested in making friends. And seeing their relationship is like a glimpse into the future for me. Will that be her life? Will she try to befriend little Seattle kids and experience rejection after rejection? What will that do to a kid who has such difficulty approaching other kids in the first place?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay and raise Rose to be a sincere, genuine friend or if she’ll be overcome by her surroundings and wind up superficial and guarded with no real deep attachments. I guess the best we can do is to encourage her to forge real relationships; develop our own relationships as a model for her; and teach her that, even if she gets hurt, taking a chance on friendship is preferable to molding the Seattle Ice.

The Same Guy

I’ve changed my position on business travel. My very first post described the hardship I endure when Matt takes a business trip. I don’t get a break from Rose and we get very bored by ourselves. But this last trip was just what we needed.

Last week, Matt went to Hong Kong. It was his first trip to Asia and he got very excited. I was excited for him. Sure, he was leaving us again, but things have changed. For one thing, we now have a housemate so Rose and I have someone to keep us company while Matt’s away. Eric gets home early and breaks up our afternoons. He helps with dinner, dishes and trash. He babysits. Everyone should have a housemate like that. I don’t know how we got along without him or what we’ll do when he’s gone.

The other thing: before Matt left, his charms were wearing thin. The Tuesday before he left, Rose woke up and vomited on the rug. “Do you want me to stay home?” he asked, quickly adding, “I don’t want to get sick before Hong Kong.” Well, shoot, if you don’t really mean it, don’t say anything. “Come on, I’ve got to catch the bus,” he pushed. Even though it was month-end and I desperately needed to work, I let him go. He obviously didn’t want to stay home and if he did, he’d be angry all day. Come to think of it, every time he stays home sick with Rose he’s angry about it. I don’t need that.

But I did need to stay mad. Someone explained to me that offering to stay home with Rose then quickly taking it back was a typical guy thing. He wanted credit for offering without ever having intended to follow through. That pissed me off even more. If he’d led off with, “I’m sorry, I can’t get sick before my trip,” I could have accepted it, never having the prospect of help dangled in front of me. But he didn’t. So I was mad.

I intended to stay mad at him until after his trip, but we wound up talking about it. He told me that he did mean to volunteer, but quickly thought about the prospect of getting sick, and then didn’t have time to make a decision because he had to get to the bus. Just like it sounded that morning.

By the time he left, I had forgiven him, but his guy stuff was still grating on me. The recycling was stacked high atop the can. The pile of cardboard and plastic from the new couch sat in the driveway, to the assured delight of our neighbors. I was ready for him to go.

Right before he left, he found out his phone wouldn’t work overseas. He was going to get a new one but time got away from him before the trip. So once he left, he had only email as a means of communication. He tried to call from the hotel but the call wouldn’t go through. So every day around 5 p.m. we exchanged emails. Matt’s much more of a talker than a writer, so I got three-sentence descriptions of Hong Kong. I wanted to hear more and see pictures. But I had to wait until he returned for that. He did call, three days in, from his office. Chatty as ever, he told me about the high-speed train he took from the airport, how he ate frog uterus for dessert and how dense and busy a city Hong Kong was. I had really missed talking to him. It was the first time in five years we hadn’t talked every day.

Then the day before he left Hong Kong, I got an email. It said that his life really started when he met me and without me, his job, his trip, his expanded view of the world, would not have been possible. He said everything he ever wanted – a beautiful wife, a great kid and a good job – was because of me. I melted. I sent him an equally sentimental response and couldn’t wait for his return.

Matt got back yesterday and I couldn’t have been happier to see him. The break from that guy who let the recycling go and faked an offer to help made me realize that he was the same guy who planned an elaborate marriage proposal three years ago. The boat rocked too much for the band to play, it was too dark to see and someone handed me a beer right before he did it, but he got down on one knee and told me how much I’d changed his life and how he wanted to spend the rest of his years with me. He’s the same guy who’s taken on “diaper and jammies” because he knows that by bedtime, I’m exhausted from taking care of Rose all day. He’s the same guy who brought me a Blues Brothers shirt from Chicago, even when I was mad at him for ruining our holiday weekend.

He’s the same guy I married. Day to day life can make the pile of recycling and the redneck garbage in the driveway seem like the most important issues in our relationship, but they’re not. Our time apart taught us that remembering what we’re doing together in the first place is most important. And when we suffered from limited communication, we still managed to communicate the things that mattered most.