There’s no “I” in girlfriend. Oh wait, there’s two.

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How I feel most of the time, only with a more confused look on my face.

When you are recovering from something, or a lot of things. You might think you are ready for love way before you really are. I know this because of all the false starts I have made at it, and all the subsequent retreats. Take, for example, my lame attempt with Matt.

Matt showed up when things in my life were coming apart. Even before he knew anything about what was going on with me, we were becoming friends. Sometimes I think he liked me becuase I was so vulnerable.   I never talked about it, but I was sad a lot of times. So I think my brooding is what attracted him to me. I think it’s what made me attracted to him, too. Being vulnerable will do that to a girl.

He listened to everything I said, remembered to email me links for things I was interested in, like places to hike and articles to read. I liked the attention. I thought he was cute, athletic, fun to hang out with, and his sister is one of my best friends. Also, he lived in another city, but close enough that we could maintain a friendship and see each other occasionally. Perfect, right? But as soon as I wiggled free from my disaster of a life, he started wiggling the other way.

At first he would come to town and be all about me. He brought me wine. He sat close and talked in a protective way about how I should do this or that, touched my leg for emphasis, and I liked it–a lot. Then he’d come to town the next time and stay a safe distance away when our group went out for beers or walked through the park. I’d leave a party and he’d barely say goodbye. Then as soon as he got home he was facebooking and emailing me. It was safer from that distance, I suppose, but that was okay with me because I was still very much recovering from the whole mess my life had been and we were just getting to know each other.

But it went on like this for months until I finally decided it was time: We were hiking with a group and Matt and I managed to get some time alone on the trail. We shared camera shots of the herons, made lots of eye contact, and stood very close with our hands touching looking into eachother’s digital camera screens. When he wasn’t looking I bit my lips to make them look pinkish and swell up all pouty-like and irresistible (because it was sorta cold out there and they mostly looked purple and corpse-like). Basically, I gave him every chance in the world to make a move, but no moves were made.

That’s when I started wondering if I had bad breath or something. I reviewed what I had eaten; nothing but a Luna bar and some water. Still, I breathed through my nose, just to be safe, and kept up the irresistible act. Finally, after several minutes of nothing, I gave up and walked away. He followed, but at a safe distance. We drove back home in separate cars and when I saw him later that night at a party he mostly stayed in a separate room and then waved goodbye from the window when I left.

Rejection is confusing, I know, but the whole thing never made any sense until a week or so later when I found out he had a new girlfriend. “He has a girlfriend?”

I’ve been on the other side of this one. The other girl (me this time) can’t understand the guy’s strange behavior; making dates, then canceling, saying he’ll call, then doesn’t; pretty much only available in his car or via email. Yeah, I was the girlfriend last time this happened so I didn’t catch on at first, but then it hit me, “That’s what she said.”

Really, that’s almost exactly what she said. I was standing in my boyfriend’s apartment by the front door, she on the outside of the door, him standing in between us with his head tilted to the side and just his lips sticking through the door crack making excuses about who I was and why he didn’t show up for the movie, as if the two women couldn’t see or hear each other. She looked bewildered at first, but then said,”You have a girlfriend?” I was just F’ing pissed. That night did not end well.

So it looks like that’s what kinda happened this time to me. I guess it turned out okay, though, because Matt and I are still friends enough that I can hug him in front of his girlfriend now and nobody cares. I was still a mess back then and not much of sure thing anyway and it’s hard to compete with getting laid regularly, so I can’t blame him for wiggling away. As a matter-of-fact, the whole experience helped me establish a ‘no dating anyone’s brother’ rule for myself. Brothers are sacred. Getting involved with Matt probably would have messed up my friendship with his sister and hers is a long friendship that I cherish above many things—maybe even getting laid regularly.

Start small and carry a large trash bag

Trash bag postWhen you don’t know where else to start, go to a neglected place and bring with you a large trash bag. This applies to me more than ever tonight as I try my hardest to let go of self-destructive behaviors and trash from the past.

When you find that neglected place treat it tenderly but treat the trash like it’s burning a hole in your soul. Get rid of it. Don’t hold on to anything you think you might need, because you won’t. Don’t save something because it had meaning 20 years ago. Don’t keep it because it’s comfortable—whatever it is. Whether it’s an old habit that causes you familiar (and weirdly comfortable) pain or an old shirt that smells like a memory, dump it in the bag and don’t look back.

I did this a lot in the beginning, starting in the spare room and moving through the house. The closets with their broken doors, the dust-filled corners of the rooms, the garage full of junk and mouse droppings. I have before pictures of these neglected places. I get them out and look at them from time to time when I think I haven’t made any progress. They look a lot like I did back then, uncared for and treated with indifference. Not at all what we look like now.

It’s an easy place to start–or start over–so I go back there often when I need to take baby steps again. But it means something and the results are instant. All you have to do is bend over from time to time, grasp something with your gloved, dominant hand, and then just let . . . it . . . go. . . into the trash bag.

As you feel stronger, if you have a rubber mallet or a hammer in your house, you can start breaking apart things you always hated, like that old table, the crappy fake-wood office desk your sister gave you, or the faces you have been wearing for others; faces that keep others’ secrets, that tell their lies, wear their feelings instead of your own.

Then hoist it all over your head and haul it all out to the street. Even if the trash doesn’t come for several days and you are worried about what the neighbors will think, take it out there now. Next week no one will remember how long it sat there. If you do all of this, I promise, your biceps will be in the best shape of their lives, your core will strengthen, and you will begin to notice yourself again. Then before you know it you will be ready for the next big task.

That’s what I do anyway.

Finding God in macaroni and cheese

20121226-173216.jpgNo disrespect intended to those who claim to have seen images of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese or Jesus in a Wal-Mart reciept. Who am I to say? But today I think I saw God in some macaroni and cheese.

This has been a tough week topped off with a trip Saturday to the car dealer where I was turned down on a new car lease. Then today Ben complained of a stomach ache at Church so we left early, because I’ve cleaned up barf at the WalMart pharmacy, lots of bathrooms and various couches and recliners, but never at church and I was not doing it today.

After we got home he seemed to be better so we had some Mac and Cheese for lunch to see how that would go. He seemed fine, and I had errands to run. I needed groceries, had to drop by the 24-hour BMV kiosk to renew my plates that expired last week, and had to weather strip the front door before the big snow tonight. When he complained, I agreed to skip the grocery store and just get my plates and run into the hardware store.

As I stood in the aisle—much too long—looking at the overwhelming selection of weather stripping, he started to feel worse. So I hurried to a check-out line where he said, “Mom, I’ve got to get out here right now.”

So I told him to go stand by the door a few feet away and get some fresh air. I HAD TO HAVE MY WEATHER STRIPPING after all, before the snow started blowing in that old door. Ben stood at the entrance of the hardware store like the bravest little soldier he is, while the girl at the register offered to hurry for me. When I looked back up at him I saw him bend at the waist and lay a huge pile of his lunch at the feet of the people going in and out. I heard a few ughs, and ooohs, but the people just kept walking.

So I dumped my stuff and ran over in time to catch the next load in my hands, and the next in the jacket I’d stripped off. And I know my cotton bikini underwear were sticking out of the top of my jeans as he sat on the floor and I bent over him, trying to comfort him and catch the vomit that just kept coming, saying sorry over and over, and choking back tears.

Then out of nowhere a man and a woman were asking the cashiers for paper towels, asking for someone to come with a mop, cleaning up my child’s vomit. I begged them not to help. I didn’t want them to get sick. This was not their problem. But they ignored me. The husband just kept cleaning up and stuffing vomit-filled paper towels into Lowe’s bags while the wife cooed at me, and empathized, and told me she understood—and never once judging me for the underwear and top of my butt sticking out of the back of my hip-hugger jeans.

When we finally got enough of it cleaned up for me to look up and notice, I saw they had been standing there with a son and a daughter selling fruit baskets for Boy Scouts. Still, I protested the husband’s help but she insisted saying, “He does this all the time at his job.” All I could say was, “What kind of a job requires you to clean up somebody else’s kid’s barf?”

“Oh, he’s the manager of a restaurant. You can’t believe the things he has to clean up. He’s used to it.”


I could hardly look either of them or their two innocent kids in the eyes with my underwear showing and my hands and hair full of vomit. I have a funny thing about complete strangers seeing me at my worst. I felt bad that I had no cash to buy one of the fruit baskets to help them, too, after all of that. Geeze. Not sure what was worse the underwear problem I could do nothing about at the moment, or the jacket full of vomit I had bundled up in my hands; my guilt over not returning their kindness, or my guilt over making my poor little guy go through all this in the name of weather stripping—though looking back, I don’t think any of it really bothered him. He just wanted to go home.

Unsure if this was the end to a horrible week, or just the beginning of another awful one, the hot tears stinging my eyes, I just wanted to take my bag of vomited-on clothes and go home too. As I stood up and turned to thank them one more time and make a quick escape of it, I looked up into the face of their son with his shy smile and long hair covering one eye, and he just stood there silently holding a fruit basket out to me. After all that, giving me something else for no reason. I looked at his mother who just nodded and smiled. That was the end of the choking back. The tears poured from my eyes. I thanked them, tried to make some sort of excuse about a horrible week, took the basket and ran off to my car.

I cried for the longest time in my car in the Lowe’s parking lot, trying to do it silently so Ben wouldn’t hear, hanging on to my last shred of dignity, with my poor little guy whimpering in the back seat trying to hang on to the last shred of his lunch.

And as I thought of all this later, unpacking the fruit and placing it carefully on display on the dining room table as a reminder of the goodness of others, I saw that what that family gave me for no reason was a lot like what God gives us for no reason. We are here and He is holding out a life that nourishes us, and will treat us kindly if we allow it. I imagine His offer is somewhat like that of that adorable boy scout and his dear family; silently urging us to take it, not expecting anything in return, even after he has cleaned up after us, ignored our pleas for him to just leave us alone, and has seen us at our worst.

How much is too much DIY beer?

Gift from the racoons smallIf you want a good way to find out if you are drinking too much beer while doing your DIY projects, just leave your trash can unsecured overnight and the raccoons will let you know. I did this the other night and when I woke up everything that had been in the trash can was now, instead, out of the trash can and ripped to shreds all across the back yard.

At first I tried to say ‘screw it’ and leave it until after work, except I let the dog out and she jumped into the middle of the whole thing and started having her own little shredding party. Rather than face a bigger mess later, I decided to go out and pick it all up. After about fifteen minutes of picking through old food and toilet paper rolls, worrying the whole time about getting rabies on my hands, this was about all that was left. (This, and the dead mouse I had caught a couple of days before still stuck in the trap, but I decided to leave that out of the picture.)

Apparently raccoons don’t eat beer bottle caps (or already-dead mice or dryer lint) but rather collect them into a group and leave them for their owner. I imagine the little things shaking their heads as they lumbered away, pitying me for the shallowness of a life that needs to consume three beers a week to get by. It was at this time that I remembered texting my best friend Cassie the other night, “Does it mean you are an alcoholic if you mix your vodka with a Capri Sun fruit punch drink pouch because it’s the only thing in the house?”

She said no, I was just being creative. I agreed. Besides I found a Minute Maid mixed berry juice box and some lemon juice to mix it with, so it was a moot point anyway. I don’t think three beers a week is unreasonable when I’m digging fence posts and hauling mulch evenings and weekends. Anyway, I think only two of those caps were mine. I do have friends who stop by sometimes when they aren’t afraid I will hand them a pair of safety goggles and ask them to hold the far end of a 12-foot board or something. But it could explain why I’ve gained a few pounds despite all the manual labor I’ve been doing.

Getting off track over closet doors

closet doorsI’ve been trying not to use so many four-letter words, but I have a long history with them, learning how to curse in 5th grade, and hanging out with 3 brothers most of my life. And honestly, there is something about home repairs that causes me to channel dirty old pirates and throw around swear words like a truck driver.
Sometimes it’s so frequent, even my 9-year-old doesn’t bat an eye anymore. Still, it’s at those moments, when the break downs occur and I’ve sworn up a hurricane, that if I’m quiet for just a second, I can hear God. So while the language could be curtailed a bit, there must be something about raw human emotion that God likes to hear. Sometimes I start to wonder if he likes us to suffer.

Today this is what happened. . .
First, there is something wrong with all the closet doors in my house. They are the original 1959 triple sliding hollow core doors that were installed in all the houses at the time, apparently to save space as opposed to the ones that swing open.
Anyway, they are all jacked up in various ways. Some are completely off and I can’t fix them because holding a door in one arm and trying to screw in the brackets with the other is a skill I have not acquired yet. Some scrape against one another when they slide, some wobble on and off the track at the bottom. It’s a recurring theme in my life (like dreams about water) that I always thought one day I would figure out the meaning of and do something about.

Today, I think I heard the first hint at just what all this closet door business is about. I was reinstalling a couple of those doors on the utility space in the basement where I put down the new tile. It’s sort of a closet area where the water heater and furnace are.

It never occurred to me that the doors wouldn’t fit after I put down the new tile, but now the floor is about 1/4 inch higher than it was before, so it makes sense, right? Well I got one door out of storage and shop vac’d off the spider eggs and dust and attempted to install it on the upper tracks. It scraped along the tile and pushed back and protested. Again, I was working on a limited time continuum as I was due to Ben’s school Christmas program in less than an hour.

As my nerves began to knot and the door protested louder, I pushed hard on it, and like usual, willed it into a space it didn’t want to go. I pushed and beat on it, and pushed some more, until I finally cried out, “Is everything in my life going to be fucked up?”

That’s when I heard a voice other than my own say, “Yes . . . ” and then, nearly simultaneously, the door slipped perfectly into place when I heard, “ . . . but only a little.”

I swear if I didn’t need to shower and be at that Christmas program in 30 minutes I would have fallen to my knees right then. Seriously, why does God do that stuff? I think he might have been telling me that messed up closet doors are a small thing really. Messed up families, messed up ideas, not inviting people over because you think they will criticize your tile job, those are the things that are F’d up more than a little, and I should try my hardest to avoid falling into those things and not worry so much about closet doors.

Still, I gotta find a way to shake my fist that doesn’t involve so many four-letter words. I remember going to a retreat once where the very wise and serene nun was talking about the psalms. She said that they were a way you could shake your fist at God in prayer. And when you look at them they are often about someone at the end of their rope yelling out at God in anger about how he abandoned them, or took all their stuff, or left them in the dark. So maybe the next time I am freaking out about something like closet doors, rather than yelling out four-letter words, I’ll cry out somthing like, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” instead and see what sort of interesting thing God says back.

Speaking of my own little universe

supernova explosion 242 x 210Usually when I am so wrapped up in my own world trying to will things to happen the way I want, bad things happen, like things blow up or get overlooked or somebody gets hurt. I am determined not to let that happen anymore

I didn’t mention that while I was grunting and sweating and cursing at those last few pieces of tile in my basement the other day, my phone rang twice. The first time, I could tell someone left a message. But then it rang right away again, so I thought it might be important. I went upstairs and looked at my missed calls. The first call was my mom, something about Christmas, which I can’t even really think about on the 4th day of December, so I didn’t call her back.

The second wasn’t her again, but my friend Michael, who I’ve been hiding from. Michael is one of only a few people on the planet who knows what’s been going on with me the last several months. He had called a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday and wanted me to call him back, but I never did. Today when he called, I didn’t want to either. I figured I’d get around to texting him and apologize for hiding because that’s what I do when people reach out to me. It’s very hard for me to reach back. But then I remembered a conversation we had a few months back, walking through Bloomington on an unusually warm Sunday.

I said that Sundays were hard because I felt like I should be doing something with someone and if I wasn’t doing something specific, I just ended up wandering around feeling lonely and doing nothing at all or spending money I didn’t need to spend. He agreed. He said he always called his mom on Sundays, and in the two years since she had died, he always felt at a loss about what to do since he couldn’t call her anymore. He told me he had saved one of her voicemail messages from one Sunday when they had played phone tag, and he didn’t have the nerve to erase it.

Then I realized maybe his calling me today wasn’t about me. Maybe it was about him. A lot of our friendship was about me. From the first time I cried to him about being sexually harassed at work and he wanted to kick the guy’s ass, to my tearful text from Starbucks telling him what a mess my life was in, to my visit last fall to Bloomington when I just needed someone to think I was beautiful and tell me how stupid everyone else is.

So I called him back. He didn’t pick up but I left an apologetic message promising to call him a little later, and made an excuse about how crazy my life has been, and that I was wrestling with the tiles when he called. I wanted to ask him if Sundays had really gotten any easier, but I didn’t want him to hear the catch my voice would have made when I said it. So instead, I just asked how he was doing, hoping that he knew it was about him this time. Later, I called my mom back, too.

Power of the will

Boy hitting ballOne thing I have struggled with the most learning how to lay tile is a trait I have that could be a good quality or a defect. I’m not sure which. It’s the idea in my head that I think I can will anything I want to happen, the way I want it to happen. Sometimes it’s like hubris, but sometimes, I swear, I can do it. Like when I close my eyes and will one of my kids to get a base hit—or sometimes a double.

Not for the team, but because he or she really needed to make a hit at that particular time on that particular day in his or her awkward point in childhood. And I swear it works pretty much every time. But I kept remembering the words of one of my home improvement consultants when I first borrowed his wet saw and I was still fiercely afraid of it. He said, “Just take your time and let the saw do the work.” Neither of those things come naturally to me; taking my time, or letting someone (or something) do the work.

It was the same with golf and me. You may already know this, but the club heads have angles that do the work for you. They lift the ball—I think that’s called loft—into the air to provide the best landing for the distance and type of shot you are up against. The club head angles make it roll a little after it lands or stop short, or whatever it’s supposed to do. So all you have to do is focus on swinging smoothly and hitting the ball straight on.

I could never do that. I could never trust the club to do its job, which is why I never played much. In my mind I had to control the whole thing, so I scooped the ball off the fairway, which just caused huge chunks of grass to fly up in the air, or I hacked at it thinking I could submit the ball into going where I wanted just because I wanted it to go there.

Same with cutting tile. I kept pushing the tile in the direction I wanted it to go, thinking I was cutting a straight line, but then the blade would protest and stop when the pressure got to be too much for it. Finally, I figured out that the saw would cut straight if I just let it. Its straight diamond edged blade and cutting guide weren’t going to bend when all it had to do was cut through some ceramic and baked terra cotta. So I started letting the saw do its job and I did mine, and when the cuts looked crooked, I assumed it was my astigmatism or the unplumbed walls and moved on.

Today, however, I was working in a particularly tricky area between three doors that all come together in the corner of a small hallway. I had a short window of time to cut my tile outside before the rain stared, so I ran out, reminding myself to go slow and let the saw do the work, and I cut the few pieces I needed.

But when I got back inside to fit them into the various corners and openings where they belonged, only one of them fit. I know walls aren’t exactly square, but this time it seemed way off. So I got out my t-square and held it against one of the angles I had cut. It wasn’t square. Then I did the same with the next one, and the next one. All three angles were crooked. Instead of being ninety degrees they were more like somewhere between one-hundred-five and seventy-two.

So now what am I supposed to do with that? Apparently a wet saw can cut crooked if you put too much pressure one direction or the other against the blade. It was not a good day for me. I thought I had submitted to the truth only to find out it wasn’t the truth at all. Plus, I had to recut all the pieces. Then I lay them all down in the hall and when I got to the last piece–the one in the middle of the doorway–something really bad happened. It didn’t fit at all.

I was NOT going to drag that stupid wet saw out again. There was nothing I could do but will it to fit. And how was I gonna do that? I was up against two walls and stuck in the corner and the adhesive was starting to dry. So I hacked away at both sides of the door trim until the tile just barely fit. But there was no room for grout lines. So I willed the grout lines into existence. I grabbed the flat head screwdriver I’d used to gouge out the wood trim around the door and wedged it into where I wanted the grout lines to be. I twisted until I got enough space to shove grout spacers around three sides and that was it.

I couldn’t help but wonder the whole time how many paid professionals do this sort of thing alone in someone else’s basement. I figure they probably do it all the time because in the end no one will notice. They probably just do it without calling the tile an F’n bitch as loudly as possible because they don’t want anyone to know they messed up at those prices.

So I thought I was done, but it looks like crap, so maybe in this case a different approach would have been better. I guess I just need to figure out when it’s appropriate to will things into place in my little universe and when it isn’t. Like trying to will a person to be a certain way, or trying to make lemonade out of grapes, or trying to save things that don’t want to be saved.

A perfectionists first attempts

Sometimes things just don’t turn out the way we want

When I was ready to tackle a real project, like usual, I opt for the hardest thing first, something that requires skills I don’t have–not yet anyway. I’ve been trying to learn how to lay tile and I suck at it. It’s hard work, especially when the tiles are 13 X 13 and have to be hauled down to the basement family room. I cut them outside on the driveway where the water can spray and stain the worn black top (another thing I need to fix). Then I carry them three or four at a time down the stairs and fit them together much in the same way I do jigsaw puzzles. If it looks like a piece sorta fits, I shove it in the empty space just to fill the hole. So what if when I step back to look at it, the piece that is supposed to be the chimney of the little red cabin is really the one for the fallen tree trunk on the other side of the lake. The leaves around them are all the same color, aren’t they?

Trouble is, that way of doing things often leads to examples such as what we see in this picture. One where, I don’t know, maybe I was tired, maybe my contacts weren’t floating right, but well, you end up with something like this. I know I do this with a lot of things. I make it work even when it shouldn’t or doesn’t want to, or has outlived its usefulness. And truthfully, whatever it is, it never works very well. But sucking at things is not something perfectionists are good at.

I am teaching myself piano and my fingers are growing stronger and I can play chords now. I am learning how to do other home repairs and I’m getting pretty good at using tools. But I suck so much at tiling that I’m in danger of going down a path of compunction and never making it back. I know being a perfectionist isn’t a positive personality trait. It’s a bad one. We make everyone around us miserable because nothing is ever good enough and we spend most of our time feeling frustrated and unhappy. We care way too much what everyone else thinks and live in fear of making a mistake, as if mistakes are some kind of grand failures and we are too super-human to ever fail. As a consequence, we never do anything very exciting. I know because I struggle with this every day. Doing things like laying tile with these types of results can send someone like me into hiding for days while I sit and pray for someone to come and deliver me from it–or do it for me, to be more exact. But deliverance never comes.

I’m sure there’s something I’m supposed to be learning from this, like ‘just keep trying and you’ll get better,’ or ‘try, try, again.’ But I don’t have time for all that learning the slow way. I’ve gotten lots of good advice though, and even some offers to help. But the people who have really put down tile before and are good at it know how horrid it really is and never offer help. From other people—those who have never done it before–I’ve gotten lots of helpful comments like, “My husband just took that wet saw thing down to the basement one weekend and came up Sunday night and it was all done.” I wish I lived in a magical world of tile fairies like that.

But when it’s late and I’ve been working hard for several hours and I have a section of tile that looks like this, I can do one of two things: I can rip it out and try shoving more pieces in where they don’t want to go, or I can move on to the next section and try to forget about making everything turn out the way I want it to, just try to do better next time. So for today, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to move on for now and if I get the rest of this project done and that section of uneven edges and weird lines is still bothering me, I’ll go back and fix it later–if I can. Otherwise, I will just have to get it through my head that everything can’t be perfect all the time, and throw a rug over it.