The Bully

There wasn’t any specific reason why I took a mental trip to the past, and yet there were a thousand reasons why. Usually I avoid thinking about any of the abuse I suffered, but sometimes thoughts just creep through like a spider moving in and out of a crack in the floorboards.

My ex-husband was a master at it. His bruises went deep to the soul but they left no marks on the surface. He worked the graveyard shift and I used to silently count down the hours until he would leave for work. I treasured my nights without him at home and I dreaded his nights off. After a while I used to dread any hour he was home when I or the kids were awake. I never knew when he was going to blow so I would run scenarios through my head. If he blows today, this person is off work and we can go there. Plan B. Plan C. Sometimes all the way to Plan F. The girls and I got so attuned to his body language that we knew he was going to blow before he did, and we could give ourselves a little lead time to get to a place of safety.

Once you learn to read that body language, you can’t turn it off unless you close your eyes. So without even thinking about it, you find yourself reading it in others who exhibit it. Perfect strangers even. Once I was grocery shopping and encountered a man who was oozing anger so silently that he was odiferous. Instantly I became ill and had to run outside to vomit in a garbage can. I so desperately wanted to go back and talk to his wife, to find out how I could help her break free. But I didn’t. I understood all too well that if she was in his presence, she could not be approached.

Several months ago I encountered another bully, an influential person who liked his ego to be stroked often. It bothered me to have a bully rise to the top and be in the brightest spotlight of all, caught on video nearly every day and appearing in my living room on the evening news. I watched in horror as he mocked a disabled reporter. Even more horrifying was watching others defend the bully, trying to tell me he wasn’t making a mockery of the disabled person. I watched the bully knowingly lie, escalate falsehoods and advance conspiracies, manipulate a mob, and incite violence. He called others names to their faces. He publicly falsely accused others of breaking the law. He was disrespectful to his wife in public, caught twisting her arm to cause pain. And she, like the woman in the grocery store, silently spoke just as loudly with her body language. Even my grown children could hear their body language. Sadly, many people could not hear it or would not.

And now it appears some people, some very smart and conniving people, played with that bully, manipulated that bully, to the point that now the bully is desperate and paranoid. On one hand, it’s a welcome sight to watch a bully get a taste of his own medicine. But on the other hand, there is no escaping the fear of what is to come when he blows.

Do I Know You?

Like many people, occasionally I find myself sifting through my social media and networking “friends” to remind myself of how I met that person, why I connected with that person, and whether or not I still want to be connected. Given our new president and the current political divide in our country, I’ve found myself doing this a little more often in recent weeks. I’m guessing some of my “friends” have been wondering the same about me since I’ve become more outspoken about recent events. It’s sad, but I admit that I thought some of my friends had more compassion and more courage, enough that they would speak out against a bully or a dictator. And I was shocked when some of my friends made generalizations and assumed I was “one of those” just because I believe in improving human rights for all. In fact, a couple of times I wondered, “Who are you? Do I know you? I mean, do I REALLY know you? And do you really know me?”

Generally it takes me a very long time to make friends but when I do, I make friends for life. So when something happens to cause a friendship to fade, I find myself unsettled. Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Did I not say something when I should have? I find the whole process of a “deep dive” to determine what caused the end of a friendship to be disheartening and disappointing. I have a lot of questions and usually I can come up with answers. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no clear understanding of why a friendship died and I can’t help but wonder if maybe I didn’t know that person as well as I thought.

In my former job, I worked with a few people on a daily basis and got to know them very well. One woman frequently vented (and joked) about her mother’s dementia. Another woman shared her struggles as she tended to her father who was recuperating from a broken hip, then grieved openly when he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after. He died a few months later. She had to take a bit of time off of work during all of that and we all pitched in to carry her load. Sharing those kinds of sorrows create friendship bonds, or so I thought. I guess I was naïve in thinking that because we had “suffered” together, we could continue to be friends even though I crossed over to a different company. But since I am no longer on the team and don’t see those people on a daily basis anymore, they’ve stopped including me. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

I’m reminded of when one of my brothers went through a nasty divorce many years ago and his friends chose sides. My brother joked about how he was grateful that the divorce left him with six friends, enough for pallbearers when his time would come. I laughed at the time, but stopped laughing when I went through my own divorce and came out with less than six friends.

It’s easy to make friends when your kids are young. They make friends at school and you get to know those parents and you all end up at school events together, or you live in the same neighborhoods and take turns watching each other’s kids or carpooling to games or dances. But what do you do when all your kids are grown? How do you make new friends then?

Perhaps instead of making new friends, I should focus my effort on sustaining the good friendships that I have by reaching out more often. But what do you do about those friends who don’t reciprocate when you reach out and work to maintain a friendship? Some friends are satisfied with the standard, “How are you? Good. Me too. No, nothing’s new. Great catching up! Talk to you soon.” I’m finding that no longer satisfies me. I know we’re all tired and overworked, but aren’t we supposed to be there for each other? Share our struggles and our successes?

What it all comes down to is, I value my friends who share the trivial along with the grand, who are not afraid to cry amidst laughter, who dance with me when no one else is on the dance floor, and who take turns at being the initiator of our conversations. I want the friend who asks me how I am and then waits to hear the answer. And I want to be that kind of friend in return.

Six or Half Dozen

Six. A finite number. Definitive. While it’s more than one, it’s a singular entity. Six. Complete logic and order. Monochrome. You know exactly what you’re getting. Six.

On the other hand, half a dozen is ambiguous. Do you have exactly six, or do you have a little more than five or slightly less than seven? There are multiples with half a dozen. Is there chaos? Were there more and now you’re on the downslide? Or are you on the upswing, gaining more and more? Assumptions are made with half a dozen, but they depend on the context. Do you see potential or failure? And while one person may assume a positive grouping in half a dozen, another might see a doomsday prediction. Dichotomy. Half a dozen.

I asked for six. Half a dozen were served.

The Big Boy

As a parent, I found life frustrating and filled with a sense of powerlessness when I could not get my child to do something I wanted her to do. It might have been as simple as picking up toys before bed, or doing homework, or cleaning her room before company came for a visit. As my daughters got older, such challenges were more complicated. Coming home from a date on time. Going to school instead of skipping class. Attending church. I remember when I was growing up my dad used to tell me when I asked for his advice, “It doesn’t matter what I think because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway.” Ain’t that the truth. So is the fact that apples don’t fall far from the tree. I raised independent thinkers and doers. I like to think of them now as strong and successful women, because they are.

I’m learning that it’s an entirely different challenge when it’s my spouse who doesn’t want to do what I want. I lost the battle long ago about keeping the toilet seat down. I’m just thankful that he’s willing to put out more toilet paper when the old roll is gone. I wish I had won the battle about bringing in the garbage cans on pick-up day or emptying the dishwasher. Maybe I should have fought harder. I remember arguing once about something (can’t recall what exactly the something was) and my husband yelled, “Stop mothering me!” That stopped me cold in my tracks. I wasn’t mothering him, was I?

The learning moment I have right now is that my husband needs to change his way of eating or he’s going to die. Maybe not this month or next, but he’s going to die a lot earlier than he should if he keeps drinking five sugared sodas a day, eating a bowl of ice cream every night, and eating an entire bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. My husband’s doctor says he has diabetes. My husband says the doctor is wrong. This is going on year four.

About three months ago my husband got a sore on his leg, just above his ankle. The sore is still there. This week a sore showed up on one of his arms looking just like the one on his leg. He wants me to pull some magical lotion out of the cupboard and heal him. “Go see the doctor,” I have told him countless times. He doesn’t like what the doctor has to say, so he won’t go.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my husband and told him I wanted to do a Whole30 eating plan for the month of September. I’ve been contemplating this for some time and a few things came together to make it the right moment for me to do this. He claimed he’d never heard of Whole30 (although I know that’s not true) and wanted to know what this was going to mean for his meals. After explaining the program and showing him the meal plan I put together, he came on board too. I was thrilled!

My husband has a lot of aches and pains. None of his clothes fit right anymore. His sleep schedule is a mess, and he’s tired all the time. We all know it’s the diabetes taking hold of his body but he won’t admit that. Following a meal plan for 30 days that will allow him to reset his body makes perfect sense. I want this for him. I want to see him free of pain and sleeping through the night. I want him to have energy to go out and do things with me. I want him to live a long life with me so we can grow old together, witnessing each other’s life to the end.

He didn’t even make it past Day 3. I caught him finishing up a bottle of sugared soda and a large bag of peanuts. I was so disappointed, and hurt. The plan I put in place for this month of Whole30 eating was the best offer he’s going to get from anyone to reset his eating habits. And he couldn’t do it. I love this man and yet, I have to wonder if he loves me. Obviously he doesn’t love himself enough to try to improve his life. I can’t mother him through this. I can’t force him to eat right. I can’t take the keys away from him to prevent him from going to the store and buying these snacks.

Remorse is sitting like a big stone in his stomach today and he says he promises to not cheat anymore. Does the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” apply to eating habits? Probably.

I’m not going to let this derail my plans. Maybe after 30 days there will be enough of a difference in me that he’ll be more willing to try it. If not, then he will suffer the continued deterioration of his body and an early death. And maybe after all is said and done I’ll feel good enough that I can go to Hawaii with some of the life insurance money. (I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)

 

My Billboard from God

About six months ago, I was given a gift from God—a new job. It had taken more than a year to land it but when I did, I knew without a doubt it was God’s will. Prior to getting the job offer, I had had many hundreds of conversations with God, asking him to help get me out of the miserable job I was in. I told God regularly that I was “blind and cannot see” and that I would need signs the size of a billboard to know which job was the one he intended for me. The sign he sent then was in the form of a cardinal. Even so, I saw it and understood this was the job I was supposed to take. Only one other time in my life have I felt God’s will so completely.

Now that I am at the end of this particular day, I can look back to this morning and understand that the first test of whether I have accepted God’s will about this new job came when Krissy—who’s been in her job about a month—came over to my desk to complain about how the rest of the team decided to work at home today and why can’t she work at home that often and how come there isn’t any work and why does she feel like our team is about to implode? I’ve had those same thoughts occasionally over the last six months but I’ve never voiced them at work. To Krissy I suggested that we have to earn the privilege of working from home and (even though I too feel our small team is about to go down the drain) I tried to offer reassurance that everything will be okay. With each passing day I believe that less and less, but I felt Krissy needed solace not angst. A few minutes later Krissy was satisfied from venting and she went back to her desk.

An hour later we had a conference call meeting with about half our team, each calling in from their off-site locations. In that call, Ethan, our boss, asked me to take on some work and to divide it with Krissy. I’m a wordsmith and Krissy knows numbers. It was clear to me how to divide the work, but I wasn’t sure if Krissy would know all of the tasks she would have to do since she’s so new on the job.  So while we were all still on the call I asked Krissy if she understood what Ethan was asking us to do. She mumbled something about not being able to hear, so Ethan briefly highlighted the process steps that Krissy would have to follow to complete the numbers work. He asked if she had any questions and she said, “No, I got it.” But just as soon as the call was done, Krissy was back at my desk. “I don’t know what Ethan is asking me to do.” I bit my tongue and then tried my best to explain what Krissy would need to do. She went back to her desk and I started playing with words to complete my part of the assigned work.

Right after lunch our team once again gathered on a conference call for our weekly team meeting. Ethan discussed several things and then with great pomp announced that Krissy and Kayla were being awarded for outstanding work on a project they completed a couple of weeks ago. I was stunned. Krissy has been on the job one month and she’s had one project and she’s getting an award for it? And Kayla despises Ethan, regularly berates him in meetings, and tells anyone who will listen that he is a horrible manager. In fact, she’s had five interviews in the last ten days for other jobs. At that moment, a pity pot opened up and I fell in. A few moments later that conference call ended and I just sat at my desk and stared at nothing. A multitude of thoughts raced through my head and not a single one could be labeled pretty. And while I sat stewing, Krissy once again appeared at my desk. This was the second test of my acceptance of God’s will.

I congratulated Krissy on her award and she smiled from ear to ear. “I’m just one lucky girl, I guess!” Must be luck because it sure isn’t skills, I thought. I asked Krissy if she had completed her tasks for the project that had been assigned to us earlier in the day. She confidently told me she had completed her quality check and there were no errors. What she didn’t know is that I had finished my part of the work before lunch and having no other work, decided to take a stab at Krissy’s half of the work myself. And in the process, I found several errors in the data. Just to be sure, I explained to Krissy that in the course of doing my work I noticed a couple of errors in the numbers. She was caught off guard, then agreed that indeed there were some errors. She said she’d take another look at the material, but that right then she had another conference call she had to join.

As she walked away, I remembered the pity pot I had fallen into and instantly I was full of anger. Actually, I was somewhat surprised that I could be so angry so fast about something so silly. And that’s when I understood the events of the day had hit a core hurt of mine—not being acknowledged or appreciated. As I type this now I feel so silly. But the truth is this is an enormous core hurt that I’ve fought my entire life. Blame it on the fact that I’m the youngest child of eight kids or that I was sexually abused at the age of twelve and an orphan by the time I was sixteen. I could list fifty other reasons to justify this core hurt. It’s real. I know it. And I deal with it. And in that moment, as I sat stewing at my desk, I knew the day wasn’t going to get any better. Quitting time for me was still a half hour away. The rest of the team was on a conference call and would be for another ninety minutes. I bolted.

In the time it took me to ride the express elevator down from the fifteenth floor, I had an entire day-long argument transpire in my head. I was so angry at myself for being jealous that Krissy and Kayla had been rewarded for their efforts. I was mortified that I had the gall to question God’s will whether this really was the right job for me. And I despised myself for falling into the pity pot. When I reached the lobby, I was an emotional mess. All I could think about was going home and soaking in a hot bath. I walked to the bus stop and leaned against the building and waited, still berating myself. I looked down the street, hoping the next bus would be in my sights. It wasn’t. Instead, I saw God’s billboard.

In the horrible job that I left six months ago, I worked with Liz, who is the sister of the company’s owner. Liz understood the struggles I had with my then-boss, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Her brother owned the company and he was going to make all the decisions. A few months before I left the company, Liz suddenly quit. She went on vacation and never came back. She even sent her daughter in to collect her personal items. For a time we all thought perhaps Liz had taken ill, but over time we learned she had just had enough. Clearly I could relate. I was just as desperate to get out of that awful situation.

So the third test of my acceptance of God’s will came as I stood leaning up against the building at the bus stop and watched as Liz came walking down the sidewalk. At first she didn’t see me but as she came closer, the emotional war I had been battling was instantly gone for I knew Liz represented God’s Billboard. Clearly she was the visual reminder that I needed in that moment to remind me of all the bad stuff I had left behind in my previous job and all the good things that had entered my life since taking my new job. By the time Liz threw her arms around me in a hug, the scowl on my face had turned into a smile. Truly, God works in mysterious ways.

Behind Anger Is Loss

My bestest friends in the whole wide world are too kind. They listened to me whine and complain this past weekend (again) about how I’m so frustrated and angry with not having any money. They let me carry on and on when they should have told me to shut my mouth and get a grip.

The problem is, I can’t get past my anger. I’m still mad that I lost my job in 2008 and that we lost all our savings in the market crash. I’m furious that it took me three years to find another job that didn’t come anywhere near the salary I needed. Okay, I just nudged myself in the ribs. I need to shut up about it.

But it’s hard to be quiet when it seems the whole world is angry along with me. We’re in the throes of a nasty presidential election and candidates are struggling to appear poised and composed. Their followers prod them with chants of rage and the main networks run those scenes 24/7 to boost ratings. Protestors are breaking out in fights at campaign rallies, and others are blaming the candidates for it all. I can’t remember a time in my life when so many people were so angry.

Today I had an Aha! moment. I’ll bet many of those angry protestors are people just like me—working in a lower job, making less than we need (if we’re lucky enough to have a job), frustrated by the fact that eight years post-recession we are no better off. We just want all the bad stuff to stop!

Sure we can point fingers at the current president and the president before him. If we really want to, we can go all the way back to when Ronald Reagan was president and blame him. Assigning blame isn’t going to change the situation. It might make us feel better, but the fact is we’re angry because our dreams were shattered or even worse, they never even had a chance to come alive.

Therein lies loss. And knowing that just makes me all the angrier. I despise loss. It’s right up there with cleaning toilets and picking up dog poop. I don’t want to deal with loss anymore. I just want to leave it there in a pile and walk away from it. Let someone else clean up the mess because I’ve had my fill. Just like Howard Beale I want to yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I’ve been swimming upstream for more than eight years trying to find the root of a small tree that I can grab hold of and secure myself. I’m tired. The water’s cold. And it’s crowded. There’s no room to move about because so many of us are treading water. How are we ever going to lift ourselves up out of this damn stream?

Visiting with my friends this weekend I learned they’re in the stream with me, furiously swimming along, trying to make ends meet, and trying to find that root to grasp. But they’re dealing with it so much better than I am. If they’re angry, they aren’t showing it. If they’re depressed, they’re hiding it much better than I can. I know they’re tired too. But what is their secret? How are they dealing so well with their anger and loss? They look composed and pulled together. I feel like a hot mess beside them, flapping my mouth, spewing words without thinking.

“Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you’re a madman.”

Surviving Sick-cation

I had planned for weeks that I would take five days off of work for a stay-cation and paint our living room ceiling. And if that went well, then I’d paint our kitchen ceiling. And maybe even paint the walls too. I’ve done a lot of painting over the years, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. Sure, it’s been a few years since I did that big of a job, but I knew I could do it.

I woke up on my first day off feeling determined and energized. I spent the morning prepping the room, then ran some errands, and then just after lunch I cracked open the primer paint. It wasn’t laborious work, just tedious. Ceilings are trickier than walls. Instead of painting the trim all around and then returning to “start” to do the roller painting, with ceilings you have to paint it all at once as you go so it never has a chance to dry. So a little of the trim work, then a little of the roller work, then trim, then roller. Up the ladder, down the ladder, move the ladder, up the ladder, down. You got it.

A couple of times I got light headed and told myself to open the windows a little more and to slow down as I climbed up and down the ladder. Even though my body was aching more than usual, I refused to accept that I was too old to be doing this big of a job. By the afternoon, I noticed I couldn’t hear out of my right ear. Strange. And I found myself a lot more wore out than usual. I reassessed my plan and decided the kitchen ceiling—being twice the size of the living room ceiling—was too big a project for me to handle alone even if I didn’t plan on applying a primer coat. I refused to believe I was getting old and made a rash decision that no one else was going to notice the difference between the “new white” and the “old white” of the two rooms.

Day Two I ran some more errands first thing, waiting for the full light of day before grabbing a paint brush. Since this coat was the “real” paint, I worked a little harder making sure it was applied properly but fast. My hearing was back in my right ear, but I was getting an echo. Not a good sign. By midafternoon, the ceiling was done and it looked fantastic. I loved the “fresh” look but now the walls looked dingy. I had a feeling that might happen, so I was prepared. I started to prep the room to paint the walls.

I stopped at suppertime to run more errands with my husband and have dinner out. At one of our stops I found myself standing next to one of those quick-stop clinics inside a big-box store, so I decided I’d have someone take a look to make sure I didn’t have something going on with my ear. No ear infection but a whole lot of fluid build-up behind the ear drum. So with a prescription of antibiotics in hand for a sinus infection, we stopped at a favorite restaurant for dinner. And as we sat waiting for our food, I suddenly felt very ill. I maybe ate three bites of my meal. My husband said I looked awful. Gee, thanks.

Most of that night I spent in the bathroom. The next day is all a blurry memory. I know I drank lots of fluids and I ate some soup, but I don’t remember much else. But the next morning, I felt rested and ready to get back at it. So I painted the living room walls. And then I cleaned up the room and moved back all the furniture. That’s when I realized the mistake of my earlier decision to not paint the kitchen ceiling. There was no denying people would notice the difference. Still, I knew it was just too big a job for me to do alone and I’d have to find someone to help me or save money to hire out the job. I went to bed feeling satisfied with my hard work in the living room but disappointed that I discovered my limit and couldn’t do the kitchen myself.    

In the middle of the night, I woke up as sick as I had been before. That’s when I realized my second mistakeof thinking I had paced myself. And I spent the next two days laying low, reading a book, watching TV, feeling old. Tomorrow is my last paid day off. I will spend it cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry (I hope). I’m grateful I will work only two days before I have the weekend off.

It’s right up there in the Top 10 list of disappointments for a working person—getting sick while on vacation from work. It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t planned a trip or some extravagant outing. The fact remains, I spent days of hard-earned paid time off laying in bed or on the couch with the double whammy of a sinus infection and the stomach flu. I can’t get that time back. Just thinking about it makes me feel queasy.