Gun Show

A first date at a gun show didn’t seem normal to Beth. But she was determined to have a date for her sister’s wedding and with only 49 days to go, she didn’t have time to fuck around with her liberal, or as her co-workers’ called them, “snowflake” assumptions making her judgy. Just because Jason wanted to meet a gun show didn’t make him a bigot. But she did have to keep in mind that it definitely helped tip the scales in that direction. Not because his interest in guns, non-racist white people (do those exist?) and people of color also enjoy guns, that alone was just an interest that signaled a propensity to aggressive and controlling behavior, but that intense interest to have a first date at a gun show combined with the confederate flag decal on his truck and one or two of the jokes he told at the bar the other night did, together, scream intolerance. They met at the bar near her work and he asked her out and he had a job so she said sure, why not. Again, she was under a deadline. It was her younger sister getting married. She can’t be unmarried and also not have a date. She was almost 28.

Beth wore a lightweight and pale yellow dress. Not too tight fighting, but tight fitting enough. Tight around the bodice and free-flowing and flouncy at the skirt. It was perfect for a springtime gun show. She didn’t notice the bullet hitting her in the chest at first. Beth and everyone else in the hall heard the bang and she noticed her pale yellow dress had a red stain spreading over her chest. She noticed the old man who had accidentally shot the pistol, (it was later ruled an accident, one was in the chamber, safety wasn’t on, something fucking happened that someone should have fucking double checked! It’s a gun. Show! Everyone there knows about guns!) staring at her, pale as a ghost. Jason looked at her in horror and before she felt the crushing, stabbing pain of the gunshot wound, she was mortified. He just watched her get shot on a first date. Who gets shot on a first date? So embarrassing.

As Beth was wheeled off to the ambulance, Jason didn’t hold her hand all the way. It was a first date after all. Maybe that was too much commitment. As the doors to the ambulance closed, Beth wondered how this could have been prevented. Maybe she should have trusted her instincts and possible check her priorities. But now the wedding was 48 days away and she had a gunshot wound. She was totally going alone.

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Choices

This weekend was the worse. I don’t know what was worse – my uncontrollable anger alienating my boyfriend and co-workers or the Instagram photo of the owner in the foreground, proud and beaming, with myself in the background, pissed off and yelling at people.

Choices Illustration
Actual Photograph

 

So, now, I’m weighing options on how to phase myself out of the bar business and into the struggling writer business.

Option 1: Quit today. Sink or swim. Good luck.

Option 2: Go down to part time with an eventual phasing myself out over the next two to three months while building a freelance base.

Option 3: Keep everything as is, allowing anger to grow into a Hulk-like rage state, destroy friendships and relationship and die alone a twisted ball of wrath.

Choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Jobs are Real Jobs: A Service Industry Rant

“When are you going to get a real job?”

This question elicits two different reactions from me: “I know. ” and “But, how about you go fuck yourself?”. Because I have a fake job. A fake job that has lasted since I was 17 years old selling sweet iced tea in mason jars and fried catfish on aluminum pie plates. A fake job that I thought I would be able to ditch after college. A fake job that has allowed me to feed myself and my cats many years past college. A fake job that has allowed me to earn money all over the country. A fake job that allowed me to make those moves without employment lined up because I knew it would only take me a few days to find a new job. A fake job that even when the economoy took a shit I still had job security. Because people gotta eat.

I was once a hostess. Then a server. Then a bartender. Now a bartender/bar manager. Very rarely have I gone to work gleeful, often resigned, sometimes with dread, and  four times with absolute fear. St. Paddy’s Parade Day at an Irish pub in downtown Chicago as a cocktail server is pure hell. I was always terrified someone in oversized blinking shamrock sunglasses would throw up on me.

Every shift is more or less a gamble. There’s never a set amount of money you’ll make. I mean, I know that I’ll make more on Friday than a Monday, but sometimes that gets turned upside down by a convention in town or a drunk guy making it rain. You never know. Swapping shifts involves strategy. There’s no way I could do this work with a set hourly rate. I mean, I could, but your experience is about to shit the bed. You think I’m going to care about how fast you get your margarita or whether or not you’ll truly enjoy the salmon? You think I’m going to smile more making $15/hour? I have resting bitch face on nights when my hourly is over $40. And please stop telling me to smile. I CAN’T HELP IT. THAT’S MY FACE, YOU CONDESCENDING DICKHEAD.

I once temped in a HR position and was asked if I could handle basic office skills. I was 30. With office experience. I don’t know why people who have always worked in an office think that those of us who haven’t would be lost. If I were to put any office worker behind the bar, most of them would fall apart. Do you know how many skills are involved in bartending? Memorization, being nice to assholes, massive multi-tasking, standing for hours and hours without a lunch break or even a bathroom break, constant reprioritzing, athletecism, flexability and staying calm all while both co-workers and guests are interrupting your train of thought asking for shit, one chic is pulling another chic out of a barsttol by her hair, and you’re trying to decide if you need to cut off that guy on the end because if he gets in a car and wrecks, guess what? I get sued under a Dram Shop Law. Can you get sued at your job? Most people would say no. I’m guessing there isn’t that kind of pressure in the cubicle.

Sometimes there’s blantant aggression. I have more than once overheard people say to a co-worker,”Well, you’re 30 and you’re a bartender!” So what, bitch! Where do you work, Express? Oh, you’re a lawyer? Still not impressed! And for some reason, one out of 4 bitchy guests proclaim they’re a lawyer. Either some people are embellishing on their work histroy or you lawyers need some mindfulness apps. Chill! What’s wrong with being 30 and shaking some drinks? I slept until 10:30 today! Yesterday, I got up at 8am, accomplished some shit and then took a nap. Actually, I usually take naps. I’ll probably take one in a few minutes. You 9-5ers can’t do that shit.

I just took a nap!

Everyone working in customer service has a happy face on. And they should. We’re serving people. Guests should feel welcomed and appreciated. Some of them are. Regulars have often become friends. But some customers are assholes and that’s just reality. Are you nice? Hey, thanks for being nice! Are you funny? Ha! Sit down and make me laugh! Are you a dickhead? AWESOME.  YOU’RE RUINING MY ENTIRE SHIFT. Ways of being a dickhead are numerous and we all know them, but the one way people don’t seem to know is by asking if we do anything else besides taking your food order or showing you to your table. They ask if we’re in school. Or if we work anywhere else. I mean, fucking probably, but why is this question so prevalent in the service industry? Are cashiers fielding these lame questions, too? Nurses? Receptionists? Welders? What’s going on there?

Is it guilt? If you’re hoping those people making you drinks and sliding sizzle plates in front of you like what they do, the majority of them don’t. Again, we’re serving people. It’s literally work. No one likes work. I mean, do you? Do you relish every minute that you’re at work? Is smashing yourself onto a packed train or traveling 5mph on the freeway during rush hour your passion? And why does it matter if the server legitimately enjoyed your joke of “I hated it!” as you wink and wave at your empty plate? Does thinking that someone making 12 drinks simultaneously enjoys her work make you feel less guilty about ordering an extra cold, slightly dirty vodka martini with the ice from the shaker on the side and blue cheese olives? This is their decision to work there. And work is garbage. It’s work. But work is especially garbage when you’re scraping food covered in someone else’s cold and flu germs into an overflowing trash bin next to a overflowing dish pit while remembering that your student loan payments are overdue and someone’s all, “So, you in school?” NO. I HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE.

It’s that judgment from people who have never worked in the service industry that I can never really shake off. Years of listening to shitty comments like “What does she know? She’s a bartender” have reduced down into a vicious little voice in my subconscious so on bad days, I’m like, yeah, what do I know? I’m just a bartender. Then I have to remind myself why I’m not someone’s assistant or doing data entry. Because I know I wouldn’t like it. Because what I do pays more. Maybe they, too, are asked when they’re going to get a real job. That’s shitty. Stop asking people that. Maybe I’ll start asking doctors when they’re going to get a real job. Lawyers, investment bankers, architects.

I look for a real job all the time. I fantasize about being a screenwriter or an author. I’ve looked into the tech industry. I once spent weeks researching schools to become a therapist. Like anyone, I want an easier and more fullfilling way to make money. Because any job on your feet is tough. Any job in customer service has bad days. Working nights limits the time you can spend with family and friends.  But, goddammit, they are all real jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 1: Distance

Distance and time gave me clarity.

I woke up that morning with a plan. There was a lot to do. Trying to get your shit out of an angry alcoholic’s house isn’t easy. Alcoholics don’t like it when you tell people about their alcoholism. That’s, like, the number two thing they don’t like. Number one is sobriety. Even though my ex wanted me out of his house, he wasn’t going to make it easy for me.

For a long time, I chalked up his pettiness as him just being an asshole. It took me a long time to understand why he did the things he did when I was trying to get out of that house. Unpacking someone’s boxes even though you told them to leave doesn’t make sense. But he was, and probably still is, a conflicted man. The days between him telling me to leave and the day I left was an emotional clusterfuck. Which is probably why it took me two years to write about it.

He told me to leave on a Saturday night and I left on a Thursday afternoon. The days between the break up and me leaving the house were filled with ups and downs on his part.  He’d go from angry and blaming to sorry and sad, usually several times in the same night. On Sunday morning, he walked by me as if I were lamp. On Sunday night, he heard me crying and from his bed apologized for threatening a restraining order. But he couldn’t even bother to sit up or turn a light on. I felt like hired help standing at the foot of what used to be our bed as he chided my dramatic behavior. As though he wasn’t the cause of it and I was overreacting. Gaslighting in it’s finest. On Monday, he told me he was going horseback riding with a female friend. I stared at him, thinking, was he fucking with me? As if I cared what fun things he had in store while I looked for empty boxes and a place to live and dealt with emotions of panic, rejection and disbelief.

On Tuesday, I came home that night (with boxes!) and he wanted to talk. Specifically about the anxiety he had stemming from me leaving. That’s right. He wanted me to listen to him about how bad he felt about kicking me out. That’s like someone punching you in the face and then making you listen to them talk about the guilt they’re experiencing for punching you in the face. Before they let you get ice for your face. I listened and then I asked a question.

“I figured something out today. You were in rehab before I knew you, weren’t you”, I countered. “You told me you once went to a hospital to “relax”. I assumed it was for anxiety. And I never questioned it. But it was rehab, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” he said. “And I’ll never go back.”

“And you didn’t finish it. You left early,” I said.

“Yup,” he said. “My ex girlfriend went into AA and I thought, I’ll show her, I’ll do her one better, I’ll go to rehab. But then I left after 10 days because she left me for someone else.”

He blamed an ex-girlfriend for his failing at soberity. Thanks a lot, ex-girlfriend. This is clearly all your fault. And the one after you. And the one after that. And the ones before the other one. And now me. All our fault.

I asked why after over five years together and moving to two different cities to be with him, he had never told me that. He didn’t give me a reason. I think he said “I’m a private person”. Or maybe he said, “I’m in denial about my disease and I am not about to take any sort of responsibility for any of it. Also, I’m a liar and a huge asshole.” One or the other.

It’s amazing how fast time and distance – even just three days and a different bed – can help you snap the pieces into place.

That conversation ended with me falling asleep on the couch. I woke up to him gently taking my glasses off and setting them on the coffee table. I pretended to be asleep and waited for him to leave the room before escaping to the office I had turned into a spare bedroom. What kind of mindfuckery was that, I thought in the darkness. Was he rounding a corner? Would he go to rehab? Never mind he had just said he would never go back. Him speaking calmly to me, using me as a soundboard for his narcissism flickered that little flame of codependency within me again. Even the next day, Wednesday, I remained dubiously hopeful. Then I came home.

He was very drunk and very angry. He had found out another friend knew about his drinking because of me. He spent a long time going on and on spewing bullshit as I sat there listening to him and patiently arguing. At some point during his rant, I realized I was so, so emotionally drained and why was I listening to this? We were done. So I went to bed in the spare bedroom. He followed and asked me to go on a date with him to the zoo the next day. I looked around for a hidden camera and a studio audience, because what the fuck? He also let me know I could sleep in the same bed with him again. I said no to both.

That next morning, Thursday, he asked me again to stay home from work because he felt bad.

I said, “No. I have to work. Then I’m going to stay at a friend’s house for the weekend while he’s gone. And then, I’ll be staying in a friend’s spare bedroom after that. Will you be all right?”

“Yeah, fine.”

I went upstairs, packed an overnight bag and showered. I came back down. He was angry.

“Where’s your half of the mortgage,” he asked, furious. In the matter of forty minutes, he went from normal to angry as I went from nurse to welcher. His mood changed as sudden as a tornado appearing in Kansas. This is the moment another realization hit me and I thought, “Oh, this guy has totally been using uppers, too. Ah-mazing.” Sometimes it just takes forty minutes, a shower and him rummaging through hiding places for some pills for more pieces to snap into place. Memories of his random nose bleeds, bathroom breaks during a couch night without the toilet flushing and him saying, “Man, we should do coke together!” also factored into this flash of enlightenment.

The third thing addicts hate? Lack of money.

“I’ve already explained this. You’re basically evicting me. I’m not giving you money. And, as I mentioned before, the couch we bought 6 months ago was $4K, so if we deduct the mortagage from that, since you’re keeping the couch, you actually owe me $700.”

“But I paid you my half,” he said.

“Yes, you did. By saying I didn’t have to give you my half of the mortage six months ago. Thanks. But even though you “paid me” half, you should still pay me for my half of the couch I’m leaving behind. It was really expensive and you wanted it.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” he said. Of course it didn’t.

“It does. Imagine we’re talking about this townhouse. If my name was on the mortgage, which it isn’t, I wouldn’t just let you have it. You would have to buy me out of it. Because you will still be living here. And while you will still enjoy this couch, I have to go out in the world and buy a new one. So unless you want to saw the couch in half, I am “paid up” on the mortgage and you owe me money.”

“So you’re not going to give me any money,” he asked.

The fourth thing they hate? Logic.

“Fuck. No. I’m leaving.”

“Bitch,” he said.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“You’re running away to some guy’s house. How is that healthy.”

“Well, my friend won’t be home and also he’s a gay sommelier going to pinot noir camp for the weekend [still the gayest sentence I’ve ever uttered] so I’m not leaving you for another man. Oh, and you also kicked me out. See ya.”

I left. Then, hours later, this began:

fullsizeoutput_81f

He was really attached to the idea I left him for a gay sommelier. Makes you wonder if his AA ex left him for a guy, too. Since he told me stories about his all exes cheating on him, which is a crazy coincidence, PROBABLY NOT. And if you take nothing away from this blog posting, take away this: always focus on “gay” and “out of town”.

As evidenced by this screenshot, his brain wasn’t retaining information, but it was pretty paranoid, which is common for alcoholics and addicts.   The drugs are always the most important thing to them – more than partners. I had finally, finally!, figured that out, but at the time I didn’t have the distance to not feel hurt. I was still in that shit and fell for almost every obstacle he threw my way. More importantly, I felt every obstacle he threw at me.

But I was out. I would go back for my things and he wasn’t going to make that easy. Now that he realized he couldn’t manipulate me the way he used to, he would resort to pettiness. It didn’t matter. I had distance. Because I was out.

 

 

 

Seamus and the American

Madison had been living in Ireland for her semester abroad when she met the leprechaun.

“ID, horse box!”

He wasn’t very nice.

“You’re a leprechaun!”

“Ya just gonna stare with yer dopey mouth hangin’ open? Take a feckin’ picture, why don’t ya? Yeah, I’m a leprechaun. What’re ya? A dopey cunt! Jaysus.”

His name was Seamus and he was the size of a cat. If a cat stood on it’s hind legs and those legs were terribly bowlegged, tan and aggressively hairy. He was stocky and even though he didn’t look like much, Seamus was strong. He had the strength of men twice his size. He had a shock of red hair that refused to move even in the strongest wind. Seamus was awfully protective of his hair. He once broke a man’s arm when that man tried to ruffle his hair as tall men often do to the leprechaun men.

Madison met him at a pub. Seamus checked IDs at the door on busy nights. As she handed him her ID, she remarked that it was odd he was a doorman due to his size. “I’m stronger than most pricks! Suppose you think I should be chasin’ a pot o’ gold? ’Tis a modern country, ya cow!”

Madison wasn’t insulted by his unprompted verbal abuse. Just intrigued. Seamus was attracted to her lack of self-esteem. After the show, he bought her a drink and talked about himself. He came from a large family in the countryside. One out of six boys, he was the only leprechaun. “Tis a dormant gene. Me grandfather on me mother’s side was a leprechaun. And me grandma was a ball buster.” Seamus laughed at his own joke, slapping his knee. Hearing Seamus’ laugh threw her mind into low gear. His laugh invoked images of rolling hills and blue skies in her brain. She instantly became calmer, complaint and wanted to nap. A leprechaun’s laugh triggers certain neurons to fire in the human brain that no other sound can replicate. Scientists named it the Opioid effect, as it creates the same effect as an opiate addiction.

At last call, Seamus asked her out. Madison said yes because of his Irish charm and his God given manipulation manifested in a laugh. He kissed her. It was dry, yet aggressive, like his hairy legs. He asked her to come home with him. Madison said no. He kissed her again and asked her, again, to come home with him. Madison said no. Seamus laughed. Madison agreed to go home with him.

In the morning, she woke up. Seamus was snoring next to her. They slept on a mattress on the floor surrounded by islands of dirty and clean clothes. Morning light streamed through the unblinded and smudgy windows, illuminating her decision. His hairy legs seemed even more coarse in the daytime. But his hair was still perfect. At times sex with Seamus felt like he was a normal man. But then at other times, it wasn’t.

“It was other worldly,” Madison said. “How?” her friends would ask later when she told them. “I don’t know how to describe it. It was like a fever dream where reality and fantasy intermingle. Oh, and he’s huge.”

Madison and Seamus began dating. She spent all her free time with him. She suspected he saw other women but she pretended not to notice and not to mind. Eventually, her visa expired and she had to return home to Philadelphia. Seamus implored her to buy her a ticket. He’d never been to the United States. Madison wasn’t sure. Seamus laughed. She agreed and used her parents’ credit card.

After they landed in Philadelphia and Seamus explored the city, he was underwhelmed. “Holy feck, what’s the constant stench? Piss an’ asphalt?”

Then he explored a little further and meet the citizens of Philly. “The people! Massive feckin’ pricks! It’s brilliant!” Seamus laughed. Madison instantly thought of floating in an endless lake. He got a job as a door guy at a college bar.

He lived in her parent’s basement. Bringing home a guy, let alone a leprechaun, was daunting enough for her conservative religious family. But they were instantly won over with Seamus’ Irish charm and his mood alternating laugh. “Ye got more crosses than the Vatican!” He laughed. They thought of floating in eternal happiness with Christ their Lord.

Seamus quickly caught on with the college girls of Temple, then the girls of Drexel and finally the girls of Penn State. They became addicted to his laugh and then promptly to him. Madison saw him less and less. It finally occurred to her that Seamus was using her. He came home late or not at all. Madison’s tolerance to the opioid effects of Seamus’ laugh was increasing, diminishing the effectiveness of his charm. In fact, she realized he had no Irish charm whatsoever. He was just a belligerent womanizer with extremely hairy legs. Yet a fantastic head of hair.

Madison, now seeing Seamus for what he actually was, couldn’t believe all these girls liked him. She told him so. Seamus smirked. “When ya went over seas, what did all yer shams tell ya ta do?”

“They said, bring me back a leprechaun.”

“ ‘tis what I’m doin’. Givin’ ‘em alllll the leprechaun they want. Sometimes two times in a row!” He laughed, slapping his hairy knee. Madison’s anger immediately disappeared into thoughts of lovely lovely nothingness. But she got over it quickly and wanted to be rid of him. Her parents were no help. They were completely overjoyed with Seamus, as his mirth gave them “a window to God.” Whenever he laughed, they imagined themselves “sitting at the right hand of the Father”.

One day, the entire country, except those in red hats and white hoods, lamented the destruction of the world. It was the election of Donald Trump. With such strong talk of deportation of illegal immigrants, Seamus watched the news nervously. His visa had expired months earlier. He didn’t laugh once that day. Just stared at the bottom of his whiskey glass. He had come to love America and all the college girls that lived there.

That evening, he asked Madison to marry him. She said yes. She knew the marriage was to save him from deportation, he knew she knew it was to save him from deportation. Everyone knew. Even her parents. But they didn’t mind since his laughter was “a peek into eternal happiness with the Holy Trinity”.

That Sunday, when Seamus entered the church, ICE agents were waiting for him. He wasn’t very surprised and he suspected Madison called them, which, of course, she had. His mirth and infectious laughter were no use against government officials. After a few failed jokes, Seamus willingly lead himself to the backseat of their car and back to Ireland.

It’s Time

He’s the one, she thought. He’s going to be the one.

“What time is it?” he asked. They were at dinner at her favorite restaurant. It was their fifteenth date. She knew because she kept track in her diary.

She looked at her watch. “Almost eight,” she said.

“Groovy.” This was 1964. He nodded his head in time to an imaginary song. He tapped his fingers. They strayed over his silverware and the various cutlery danced along with his cerebral song. “Lot of forks at this place.”

The first course arrived. It was a wonderful dinner. She had been dropping hints like crazy. Fluttering her eyelids. Pursing her lips. Playing with her hair. Angling herself to be in the most flattering angle she could possibly be in. Stylishly, she thought.

“I love you,” she said after dessert, as her foot rubbed up and down his shin. She had been doing this for the last two courses. How is he not chaffed?

“Oh.” he said. He smiled. “Me too.”

…….

He’s going to pop the question, she thought. He’s going to do it today.

They were on a picnic by the sound. It was classic chic. Plaid tablecloth, wicker picnic basket, champagne and even tiny quiches. This was their 79th date. She knew because she still kept track in her diary.

He squinted up at the sun. “Looks about noon.”

She glanced at her watch. “Yes, almost. Why? Counting the minutes until something special happens?” She winked and giggled. Flirtatiously, she thought.

“Nope. Just,” He pointed upward. “Telling the time is all.” She feed him a tiny quiche. Seductively, she thought. Mouth full, he made an appreciative sound. He took the quiche from her and held it up to the light. He turned it carefully in his hand, admiring it like it was gemstone. He looked back at her. She looked at him. Propping herself up into a shaft of spring sunlight, she smiled. Still looking at her, he raised the quiche even higher as if to say “Good.” She smiled wider. Wifely, she thought. She can’t wait for him to ask.

“Let’s do it,” she said. “Let’s get married.”

He smiled. Then he swallowed the mouthful of quiche.

“Okay,” he said.

…….

It’s time, she thought. It’s time!

She was upstairs in their perfectly decorated bedroom. They had been married for 306 days. She knew because she kept track in her diary. The contractions were getting closer and closer together. But she wasn’t ready. They had started earlier that morning, but she had things to do before they went to the hospital. She hadn’t told him. Laundry had to be done, her hair had to be curled – ow. They were getting closer. Taking deep breaths, she quickly drew on her eyeliner before the next contraction took away her steady hand. He entered the room.

“I think it’s almost time for lunch,” he said. “I’m not sure. It’s cloudy today.” She cried out in pain, dropping the eyeliner and grabbing her swollen belly. She looked up at him.

“It’s time,” she said. Expectantly, she thought.

“Wow,” he said. He looked stunned. Almost like he forgot they were due to have a baby.

In his flusterment, he took too long to find her overnight bag. And his shoes. He also helped her with her winged eye on the other eye. A little crooked, she thought, but it’ll do. All of this delay placed the contractions dangerously close together. They phoned the doctor.

“You haven’t been timing them?” he said “Time them. And get to the hospital.” Obviously, he thought.

She took her delicate wristwatch off her formerly delicate wrist. “Here.” She handed it to him. She huffed and puffed. Sweat danced on her brow. Perspiration, she thought. She was sweating buckets. He took the watch. He looked at it. “Here comes one,” she said.

Her eyes shut tight, she grabbed his hand and squeezed through the pain. Courageously, she thought. Finally, it ended. She opened her eyes and looked at her husband. “Well?” she said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said.

“Didn’t you time it?” she asked.

“I would, but you know I don’t know how.”

“The doctor explained it to us. When the contraction hits, you-“

“I know what he said. I don’t how to read this.” He dangled the watch like it was a useless piece of equipment. To him, it was.

“My watch? What-“

“I don’t get time. I just don’t get it. Except 6:30. That I get. All the hands are bunched together, so that’s easy. Other than that, nothing. But you know that. I know what I’ll do. I’ll just count. That’s what we’ll do.”

Seconds later, 17 seconds to be exact since he could only count out loud, she realized she never realized her husband couldn’t tell time. What else hadn’t she noticed? What else-

The next contraction hit and she was consumed with pain. Irrevocably, she thought.

All the Feels

During a recent yoga class, the instructor went over various ailments and the psychosomatic reasons your body would be reaching out to you. Like aching knees, a sore back or an upset stomach.

“If your stomach hurts, maybe you literally can’t stomach something in your life.”

I laughed to myself in warrior two or eagle or horse or whatever pose I was in. Because it was fucking true. Not anymore, but for a long time, it was fucking true. It went on for a long time because I never took the time to listen to what was going on with me. I jammed emotional shit deeper and deeper. Until my body had to speak up.

My stomach hurt. It hurt all the time. And it was bizarre the way it hurt. It didn’t feel like indigestion or the flu or food poisioning. It just fucking hurt. Sometimes it felt like hunger. Sometimes it felt like gnawing. But it usually felt a gaping empty endless hole to Hell that was burning everything inside of me. And nothing would fix it. I chewed antacids and Pepto tablets. I ate healthy and, subsequently, bland food. I drank lots of water. Sometimes I thought, “Maybe my belt is too tight?” I’d Google “ulcer symptoms’. Sometimes it felt better, but nothing ever really fixed it. It. Just. Fucking. Hurt.

It wasn’t only my stomach. I constantly felt run down. I alternated between insomnia and hypersomnia. My allergies became really really bad. I blamed that on the prevalence of nature in Seattle. I was sick for an entire month last winter and the doctor found nothing wrong. I sounded like a muppet for three weeks. I regularly got colds and sinus infections. And it wasn’t my lifestyle. I barely drank anymore. And by barely, I mean a couple glasses of wine a week. I worked out five days a week. But I was always sick or, at the very least, run down and exhausted.

If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed a correlation with how I felt to what was going on in my life. But I didn’t. I felt nothing. A lifetime of dealing with bullshit taught me it was easier to feel nothing than deal with the bullshit. Until one day you notice something. And then you keep noticing. Until, finally, one day, after days and weeks and months of noticing, but doing nothing, you say, “Fuck this!” and do something.

My stomach felt fine that morning. As I rode the Blue Line to O’Hare, the familiar tightness began. By the time I went through security, the tightness became gnawing. As I waited to board, I had trouble sitting up straight. I thought I was hungry. I ate a granola bar. As I boarded the plane headed back to Seattle, I couldn’t stand up straight. I had an arm wrapped around my waist. I knew it was going to be bad when I got home. But I had to go back.

Ten days earlier, I had sat on our deck with him and told him I had bought a red eye flight an hour earlier for that night to Chicago. I told him I put money down on an apartment the day before and then I rescinded the offer that morning. I told him that I needed to get away. I told him that I was a fucking mess. Which was true. Our relationship had ranged between open resentment to a silent cold war for the previous six weeks. I didn’t feel or look okay. My eyes were red and ragged from crying and lack of sleep. I was trembling. My nerves constantly hummed like power lines. My heart was always pounding.

He listened and said flatly, “I think it’s a good idea. Take as much time as you need.”

Later, he left for work without saying good-bye. I tried to be cheerful and texted him throughout the rest of the day and when I landed in Chicago the next morning. Then I saw my friends and I told them everything. I did something. And I felt somewhat okay. I went to sleep that first night back still feeling like shit because I knew my relationship was ending, but I knew I was going to be okay. Once he knew I had opened up to friends about his alcoholism and the affect it was having on me and our relationship, there was no going back.

On the second day, he sent me texts. I looked at them, felt the familiar pang in my stomach and ignored them or sent back a listless response.

On the third day, a friend texted him, offering help. Very soon after that, I recieve a text from him asking me to stop talking about him. I refused. I was sitting in a living room full of friends. I had just woken up from a nap. We had spent the last few hours eating and drinking wine. It was a good day, like the two days before that. I excused myself to the bathroom and threw up everything. It wasn’t the drinks or the food. It was the beginning of the end. Here we go, I thought. I remembered the last time I was sick.

A few weeks earlier, two days before my birthday, I woke up from a post-work nap and heard him come home. My stomach tightened and I became nauseous. “Maybe it was the wine I had after work,” I thought. I went into the bathroom and threw up.

It wasn’t. I had had three glasses of wine with food over a couple of hours. I had eaten again when I got home and it was only when I heard him did I get sick. At that point, we hadn’t spoken for almost a full week after an arugment about his drinking. I convinced myself I had eaten something weird or I had “hit it hard” with my glass of wine per hour, and went downstairs.

I went down into the kitchen. He was sitting on the couch. He ignored. Even though I would try to make eye contact, he wouldn’t even look at me. I heated up soup. I remember visibly trembling. It was May, and I was wearing a sweater, but I was freezing. This was day six of him snubbing me. After a minute, he walked by me to go outside to smoke. He stopped.

“Do you still want to go out for dinner for your birthday?” he asked, looking at the floor.

This was the first thing he had said to me days. I was taken off guard. “I guess so.” I said quietly and bewildered. I didn’t know how to respond.

He rolls his eyes. “Great,” he snarls and steps outside. The door closes.

The microwave beeps. I pull my soup out and put it on the counter. Then I go down to my knees. My stomach hurts. Everything hurts. I rest my head on the cabinets and shut my eyes. My fingertips hold onto the granite countertops. I don’t know what to do, I think. I’m in an increasingly hopeless situation. I’m alone. But I have to find a way out of it. After a few moments, before he can see me, I pull myself up. When he enters, I’m sitting at the dining room table, eating my soup with my head down.

He walks right by me without a word and goes to bed. “Where are you going?” I ask. “To bed. I have to work in the morning.” It’s 9 o’clock. I hear the bedroom door shut. I sleep on the couch, like I did most nights. I had been doing that for almost a year.

Now it’s weeks later and all our Chicago friends know what’s been going on for the last few months, or fuck, years. Now I’m throwing up for a completely different reason. I found the way out and it was telling people the truth. It’s the way out, it’s good and good things will come from it. Eventually. Until then, it won’t be easy. It’ll be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But there’s no going back. I mean, literally I have to go back. My stuff and cat are out there. But, figuratively, I wasn’t going back. I wasn’t going back to feeling like shit and dealing with shit. I was going to move forward. Without him.

Days later, I’m boarding the plane to Seattle, holding my stomach, holding everything together. I’m moving forward slowly down that jetway, and it’s super fucking painful, but I’m fucking moving. I haven’t talked to him in days.

On the fourth day I text him: ‘No one is against you – it’s the opposite. We’re all very much for you. I’m telling our friends what’s happening because I love you. Our friends are reaching out to you because they love you. You have a lot of people in this world who really love you. Accept the help everyone is offering. I have spent the last 5 years loving you. I don’t want this to end in bitterness and hatred.”

To which he responds:

‘STOP TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT ME. I DON’T GO TALKING ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS AND YOUR FAMILY TO ANYONE. YES, YOU AVOID YOUR FAMILY BECAUSE YOU WON’T RESOLVE THE CONFLICT. YES, YOU RAN AWAY TO CHICAGO TO GET AWAY, CLEAR YOUR MIND, AND AVOID CONFLICT/CONVERSATION. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME!! THIS IS ABOUT YOU!!!!!’

After that, nothing.

Until the sixth day, when I receive an email asking for my half of the June mortgage. Of the townhouse he kept in only his name, even though I paid half the monthly mortgage, even though I offered to help with the down payment when he bought it. He had refused my help with the down payment. He offered to put me on the mortgage months earlier, but then he backed out a day later. As much as he said it was “our house”, it wasn’t. It was his house. He wanted me to think it was my house, but it wasn’t. Legally, it was only his. He had control. He always wanted it this way. He’s been down this way with girlfriends before. That’s when I knew. That email, that bill, was when I knew.

“He’s going to kick me out,” I tell a friend, his friend, the day before I leave.

“No way,” he says. “He won’t do that.”

“Yes, he will. Watch.”

When that plane lands and I get home, that’s exactly what he does. He tells me to leave as soon as possible. Because I “talked about him”. I did the most unforgivable thing: I told the truth and I asked for help.

But my stomach doesn’t hurt anymore.

We rarely listen to how we feel. I missed him for a long time until I realized something. All the things I missed were easy. Making dinner, good night kisses, vacations. Anyone can do that. Anyone can make me dinner, kiss me good night and drink margaritas in Mexico with me. But it’s the difficult stuff I don’t miss. Because the hard stuff never existed. Because he could never do it.

He rarely visited when we were long distance. I always went to him. He didn’t meet my family until year four of us dating, but he sure as fuck demanded a presence of me in his family. Whenever we had an argument or disagreement, he went silent or shut me out. There was no resolvement. There wasn’t even talking. He would simply block me. He couldn’t admit he was wrong. And when it came to the really, really hard stuff, like seeking help for an addiction, he sure as fuck didn’t do it. I’ve realized, I don’t miss this guy at all.

There wasn’t substance or sincerity or honesty present. How was that ever a healthy relationship? It wasn’t. But I had never realized that because I didn’t know what a healthy relationship was. Growing up, our house was strife with dysfunction. Maybe I didn’t think I deserved a good guy. Or it would feel ‘weird’. If I had been listening to how I felt, I would have realized this much much sooner. And maybe this catastrophe of a break-up could have been avoided.

Holding my stomach down that jetway, filled with dread and anxiety, I got on that plane and now I’m the person I always wanted to be. Speaking to a friend the other night, she told me, “You were a mess when you moved back. You were beaten down. But you did all of this on your own. You got a job, you found a place, you furnished it. You didn’t have shit. And you got through all that. You packed up your shit and you came back and you did it.”

As shitty as that situation was, I wouldn’t change any decision I made those first frantic weeks. Even the missteps. Everything lead me to where I am and who I am and I’m happy. Why is that? Because I stopped shoving shit down and I acknowledge what I’m feeling.

I don’t what my next relationship will be like. But I know it will be healthy and there will be mutual respect and love. I know this because I’ve finally learned to listen to how I feel. I’ve had friends tell me to start dating immediately and I’ve had other friends tell me to wait awhile. I don’t know what an appropriate time is. No one does. Maybe it’s too soon, maybe it’s too late, maybe I timed it perfectly. There isn’t a rule book. I can only listen to how I feel. If it’s a toxic relationship, then yeah, it’s way too soon. Never will be too soon for bullshit. If it’s a relationship built on mutual respect, admiration and love, then I’m way the fuck overdue. I deserve that. Everyone deserves that.