I'm sure you've heard people tell you the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you in the past. Many times I've sought to forgive people who have angered, scared, disappointed or hurt me. And if we're honest here, the reality is that I find the process to be totally unsatisfying and a wee bit inauthentic. At the end of the day, I can't seem to forget the hurt some people have inflicted on myself or others, either intentionally or not, and wonder why the hell they did it in the first place. For most situations, I'll never know.
To forgive others is to free yourself; theoretically I do understand that. But I often wrestle with the real nitty gritty: the damage done to my life or things I care about is often so substantial, just forgiving another person or persons seems, well, useless. I don't see those people fronting my therapy bills, or explaining to my current friends why I'm having sudden panic attacks and need to bail on our plans, or figuring out how to best hide the literal and spiritual scars all over my body. It almost seems like they just go their merry little ways, and I'm sitting there, forgiving THEM. Fuck you, I think. I want THEM to pay, at least a little bit.
Recently I've been uncovering a wealth of past trauma, triggered by what should be a good thing: improved health and weight loss. Suddenly I'm gifted with a healthy, vibrant body of a woman half my age; I can climb trees and wear a bikini, isn't that great? At first it was like Christmas: I bought a bunch of new clothes and paraded in front of the mirror. I could run down the street with ease, I could do pullups, I could go to the beach with confidence. I felt great, I felt pretty, I felt strong.
Then one day, while driving (why does this stuff always pop up while driving?) a black ball of rage consumed me. My entire body stiffened and I began to hyperventilate. I was reliving, through my spankin' new body, an episode in which I was brutally violated. I thought I had dealt with that event and moved on in life (that's what survivors do), and to an extent I did come to grips with the violent event (I did "all the right things", there was no mistake it was not a consensual situation), but what I hadn't released from my being was the rage at what happened after the event: my friends taking sides, my boyfriend dumping me, sleepless nights and self-doubt, the authorities failing me, and me realizing I'd never see justice, not the way I felt it should be. The only recourse I had was to bury it all deep. Not so ironically, I really took to the current fashion of the time, which was oversized rock t-shirts and baggy jeans. My feminine figure was not my friend. And here she was again, the body we all want back, and with it, uncanned pure rage. I realized my very being had been put on trial during that time (what was I wearing, was I sober, did I say something to trigger the event, maybe I liked being choked out and didn't acknowledge my masochistic rape-y kink, the perpetrator was handsome so why would he be attacking me, why would he deny it happened, and of course, why me), and as you can imagine, I was VERY resentful. But powerless, then and now.
Like an onion, more feelings emerged through my body in the days that followed: shivering rage, frozen fear, hot panic. My joy at reaching a new stage of health quickly turned into a bubbling cauldron of past traumas, often at the hands of people wielding power and trust over me, me always feeling little and helpless. How the hell am I supposed to forgive any of these people who preyed on a girl or woman half their size? I found myself itching for a fight, often snapping at the people around me, wary of any personal comment, good or bad. I could not untangle the wrongs of the past with the present moment, and I certainly could not forgive anyone, then or now. The message received was: the world is not safe. It never was. This was dark news indeed.
One evening not too long ago I was sitting on my couch, when I suddenly saw a strange vision: I saw a little boy standing in front of me. He was shirtless and in shorts and was crying wildly for his mother. It was totally heartbreaking and a little bit unnerving, it was like seeing a ghost, he was transparent but clearly there. Right as he faded away (it only lasted a couple seconds), I recognized him as a friend of mine, but this had to have been about 30-some years ago! It was totally bizarre, and I sat there for a while trying to process what I just saw.
For whatever reason, I was receptive to a traumatic moment in his childhood, like a call for help that went floating through time and space and arrived with little pomp in my living room. I don't know what may have happened to him, but wondered, if there was something I could do to help, what would it be? I situated myself into a meditative state and imagined sending him back a message through time: you will be okay. I imagined calming him down. He wanted to run away and hide (don't we all when we're traumatized?), and I imagined asking this little kid where he'd go, and we went to a little forest together and sat. Eventually he wanted to explore this little retreat and I told him he could stay here for as long as he wished, it was a safe place, and I was only a short ways away if he ever needed me. When he was ready to come home, I told him I'd help him find his way.
After running through this imaginative meditation, it occurred to me that I could do this for anyone, including those who had wronged me. I might not be able to forgive them for the things they've done, but what if I could go back to a time in their youth and send them a message of hope? Many of us have had times of distress and trauma, and its common knowledge that many perpetrators have, in the past, endured violence, abuse and trauma as children or young people. I could imagine my abusers or bullies during their own times of tribulation, at a time of vulnerability, and send them a message of hope or love. I don't know how time and space works, but perhaps just those little thoughts focused back into the recesses of time can not only help them, but maybe alter the course of time itself. I often wondered whose voice I heard in my head during dark times in my own life, a voice that told me to hang in there, or get help, or otherwise provided assistance to me. I used to think maybe it was a guardian angel or something; now I wonder if it was just my own voice of compassion towards my earlier self. Maybe we could suggest ourselves into a world salvation through this kind of meditation?
But truly, what I finally was able to to do was direct the energy of forgiveness into a format that really did provide me immediate relief. I am doing no harm, I am utilizing the loving kindness we all have access to, and I am putting to bed the anger, hurt and pain that these episodes in my life have emanated. I also found in these meditations that my mind, body and spirit work together in a new way, and the pain I cause myself in the form of powerlessness dissolves.
Since putting this form of meditation into action, the hyper vigilance has died down, and I've found that even the most difficult of people I interact with don't seem to bother me in the same way. I am settling into my new mode of health without so much fear and anger swirling around myself. I see my body not as something to protect or hate, but a wonderful expression of life and energy, and I'm learning to negotiate with it versus attacking, numbing, or ignoring it. If someone hurts my feelings and I'm unable to resolve that with them, I take that energy and refocus it by sending them loving kindness into the past, to the boy or girl they once were, and my own feelings soften up. Sometimes I can see their story line in a new light, and see how the message "the world is not safe" impacted them, too. I sure know how that rings to me.
I challenge you to take a moment and try this kind of meditation. Maybe think of your mother or father as children, when they were in a fearful state, and send them a symbolic form of hope and love. Sing them a song, or invite them to a safe imaginary place. If this is too much and you find it distressful, perhaps use yourself as the recipient of your meditation, and think of a time of trouble. Send yourself words of strength or hope. It won't change the past, but can soften up the brittle, rigid emotions that surround it and maybe allow you to see another perspective, and perhaps allow you to forgive yourself.
I could write about all my current troubles, fears and woes. Maybe they'll match yours. Maybe not.
I took my dogs for a walk today. It was unseasonably warm, sunny, and beautiful out. Other people were out, walking their dogs or jogging. We would wave and smile and stay the mandatory six feet from each other. All I could think of was how can there be such a terrible world situation going on, and yet, its so lovely right now?.
Today is Naw Ruz, the Persian New Year, and Baha'i's all over the world celebrate this first day of the year by gathering together. I logged onto Zoom and joined a group of Baha'is in St Louis; I met some of them while on pilgrimage in Haifa in November, and really looked forward to seeing their faces again. We read prayers, some members sang songs. There was an underlying feeling of sadness during this celebration, but at the same time it was really good to connect, even if it was virtual. I really felt energized after the gathering, and called my mother-in-law to check in on her, and was happy to hear she is well and safe.
I've been boiling potatoes. I don't know why, but the simple act of cutting up and boiling potatoes made me happy. I am grateful that something so simple and understated can pull me away from the fear, the sorrow, the anxiety that is swirling around our every moment. Boiling potatoes for dinner is giving me a bit of space inside my head, a moment of respite, allowing me to think of all the good things happening right this moment. My dogs are playing with each other, my husband is talking to his mom, the smell of rosemary is filling up my house, the sun is setting in spectacular fashion. Right now, these are just as real as anything else, and strangely far more powerful, poignant.
I have been fortuitous to meet major influencers in my life, while they were still alive. Granted, most of those meetings were fleeting, much like how you meet a celebrity at a comic book convention (which I've actually never done, despite all the conventions I've been to). I did stand in line to meet my favorite TV Show host when I was seven: it was the clown J.P. Patches, and I had stood in line for over an hour, which is about an eternity for a small kid. By the time it was my turn to sit on his knee and get my picture taken with him, I was so tired, over stimulated and generally cranky that I couldn't say much more than "hi", and I think I may have burst into tears soon afterwards, as my auntie chose not to purchase the photo I had taken with him.
Fortunately I have not cried during my meetings since then, although I did have an Addisonian attack while sitting with the artist Brian Froud, and had to spend the remainder of the day drinking water and stress dosing steroids to get my nerves under control. Brian is one of two celebrities that have struck me totally dumb (and that's not easy to do); the other was the director John Waters.
While I think it's important to tell a celebrity or influencer that you admire them or their work, I've also discovered that sometimes this isn't when the real meaty connections happen. I actually find these moments kind of a massive letdown, I think because its sealed with the typical autograph or photo op, and I just feel like its phony: I'm getting this pretend souvenir of us being all buddy-buddy, a superficial connection, knowing I'm just another face, another blip on the radar. This might be why I actually avoid meeting people I admire at places like a show, convention, or whatnot. I just feel dumb. Plus, being me, I've made some horrid faux pas in front of celebrities - and while yes, that will get you remembered, its not exactly how you want to be imbedded in their memory.
Honestly, I don't waste my time chasing these people, and here's why: Life is full of twists, and sometimes things flip on you in a really wonderful way.
Not long ago I sat and chatted for nearly an hour with a very quirky art collector; we talked about collecting art, how to properly frame art, and he excitedly told me about how much he loved painting and wanted to work as big as possible. He spoke with big sweeping gestures, which I found delightful, he was absolutely animated and charged up. He was maybe in his early 50s, had a nose ring (which isn't too weird in Seattle), and very chiseled features, and I guessed maybe 20 years ago he would have been kind of a scenester, if he was local. Finally, I asked him his name (I talk to anybody, for hours; I also have face blindness so half the time I don't even recognize my own friends). He got a little fidgety and embarrassed, then spit it out. Holy crap, I thought to myself, I've been talking with a member of one of my favorite bands ever, about my favorite subject, and totally didn't realize it was him. I actually chose not to flip out; instead, I introduced myself and continued the conversation, which he happily obliged. It wasn't quite how I ever thought I'd meet this guy, but it was even better.
A few years ago, at a convention after-party, I found myself sitting at a table with an illustrator celebrity, sort of by accident. As we didn't really know each other, we were polite, and he was a bit reserved because, well, he's famous. His entourage (yeah, even illustrators have entourages) was scattered around him, and everyone had been doing shots so there was a lot of, uh, liquored up energy about us.
An old illustrator buddy of mine sat down with us, of whom this famous guy knew, and he immediately perked up at the sight of a familiar face. My buddy said to this famous guy, "You know, Jules and I go back over 20 years! Back in the old Magic Alpha days! I can't believe its been that long."
The guy's jaw dropped and he looked at me, incredulous. First, he couldn't believe I was that old, but he then said, "Wait, you're Julie from Magic? Wow, I didn't make that connection, I loved your cards, I used to play in high school and hoped I could be a card artist someday, I was such a fan."
I did not expect that at all! We wound up hanging out talking about art until five in the morning, eventually ditching his entourage and even our mutual friend, thanks to that ice breaker. It never dawned on me that an internationally revered artist could like my work and have it inspire him. He's way, way more talented than me, I almost felt like an idiot when he gushed over my work, but again, a lovely twist.
That actually lines up with something I feel pretty strongly about: making honest, inspired connections with people. Most famous people start out like we all start out; those we admire are just as people-y as we are. Despite having prosopagnosia, I have a razor-sharp memory for stories and odd little details. I may not remember a face, but I actually do remember many of my encounters with people, and the stories they tell me. I think our stories are really what life is all about. I know I may never have a deep, connective conversation with my idols (I'm holding out for my White Whale, the great Alan Lee), but I've had the most wonderful moments with people, ordinary people -- and we all know that the Universe is a funny thing: that little girl crying on the lap of a clown grows up to paint trading cards that a high school kid collects -- trading cards influenced by the music she listened to, of a band that had a guy with a nose ring as a member. That kid grows up and paints iconic book covers that win awards and inspires thousands more kids to pursue their dreams. We're all connected, you see, and often just the smallest word, smile, conversation, or act can trigger a lifetime of events, even far out into the future. We're all made of the same stardust, and I'm ironically reminded on a regular basis that whether a person is of a celebrity status or just quietly living life on the outer fringes, we're constantly influencing each other in weird roundabout ways.
I like to use my dad as a classic example of someone who had no idea the impact he made on many people. He wasn't famous, and often lamented on his musical failures. However, he didn't know that his music influenced many many people, even on the other side of the world, including famous people, like Julian Cope. He would have been shocked to see that his memorial service was so packed, people flowed outside and they had to set up speakers so those on the outside of the building could hear the service. He didn't realize that the skinny little kids that frequented his music store, the ones he'd chat up as they "tested" instruments and talked about the local music scene, would grow up to form the band that his daughter painted cards listening to, including that one guy with the nose ring.
Yesterday, I went with my sister to pick up my four year old nephew from his daycare. When we walked in, the kids were sitting at their little tables eating orange wedges. One of the teachers explained they had just returned from a trip to a local park.
While my sister hustled her kid into his coat, a few of the children excitedly explained to me their adventure on the metro bus, which they took to get to the park. For some of them, it was the first time they'd ridden on a bus.
"We had to hold hands together, so we wouldn't get lost"
"I got to sit at the back!"
"I could see out the window, we were high up!"
"It was bumpy"
One little voice piped up after another, between fistfuls of pulpy orange. This was clearly the highlight of the day, the bus ride. Of course, being about 45 years older than them, I've ridden them plenty, and believe me, I don't get quite so excited about boarding public transportation, but listening to this chorus of kids made me realize how even the most mundane things in life were novel at some point in time. And even a little exciting.
To a three year old, the world is pretty big and new. I think this is why they crave a basic schedule; there's a lot of information being tossed at them to process and learn. Even their brains and bodies are new, growing, changing. I would suspect that the natural inclination for a preschooler is to be wary, confused, and anxious, but if you really watch them, most of them are curious and enthusiastic. They are really invested in the present moment; they have to be, its part of our human survival. Distraction can literally kill us.
After talking to the kids, I wondered to myself, at what point do we just take everything around us for granted? Have I gone Life Blind? Later on in the day, when I was driving home, I thought about this and really made the effort to engage myself in the drive. I did have the radio on, but I really made the effort to pay attention to the ride, how the wheel felt in my hands, how fluidly the car moved. I had to drive along the Seattle waterfront, and the scenery was enjoyable, the setting sun casting long blue shadows against golden piers poking out of the water. I noted that normally, while I was driving, my mind would be running along, thinking about my errands, what to make for dinner, how the next day was going to run. I compared the overall feeling between my normal experience and this current driving experience and came to the conclusion that I'm chronically cheating myself. In an attempt to get ahead in life, think myself through it, I'm completely missing out. Oh, and I was clearly a better driver this go around.
Playing with my nephew, I'm reminded of how regimented my brain is, despite all my years of experience and knowledge. He often changes gears, bends rules, goes with the flow; his games often make little sense beyond just being fun. He comes at everything with literally everything he's got, although he doesn't realize it. In playing with him, I noticed that overall, he's just enjoying hanging out with Auntie, regardless of the activity. It's me that attaches the concepts of "quality" to the block of time, not him.
So really, in listening to the three and four year olds, I myself realized I'm making judgements about the quality of daily activities: is it worth my attention? I somehow came to a conclusion that the crap flying around in my brain is far superior than what is going on around me, even if the crap in my brain makes me anxious. In doing "boring" things, like driving, riding a bus, whatever, I choose to distract myself, tune out, until something I deem "quality" kicks in. In the bigger picture, however, that negates huge chunks of my life where I'm tucked away in my brain, living in a fabricated, virtual world, and as my drive proved, or playing with my nephew proved, I've missed out on a lot, even if its just subtle things like noticing the quality of light from a sunset or just the feeling of being together and enjoying company.
Last weekend, I had a long conversation with a very nice lady named Nancy. She spoke about her son at great length, and she asked me to speak about my father, which I did despite getting pretty choked up. There were wonderful, and terrible, parallels to their lives and deaths - they both died about same time, both young, both musicians and artists. Like her, I wound up inheriting my father's legacy, managing his art and works and things. And she said something very interesting: "When your heart is so scarred, its sometimes hard to see what is right in front of you."
I think the time of Thanksgiving is perfect to meditate on this, what she said, because there was a strange, deep resonance to this comment, and I knew it was worth thinking about.
In my mind's eye, I see a human heart made of clay, deep grooves dug in vertical lines throughout its surface. Little trenches, where the daily battles take place. Constant little wars. Constant sandbagging. You want this war to end, but nobody is giving up. And because you don't know the enemy, everyone is a potential foe, every word a potential grenade.
What are you protecting? I ask that, to myself. Who are you protecting? I would imagine I am protecting what is mine: the memories, stories, the moments, surprisingly precious and fragile, sometimes faded and washed out, sometimes bright and vibrant. I don't want these to degrade. I would love to share them with the world, but there is that fear that if I let them free to fly, they'll never return, never be the same. They'll no longer be Mine.
But more importantly, What are you keeping out?
The heart is no more the size of a fist. Its finite. It can only handle so much before it breaks. It has four chambers working in unison, filling and emptying from birth til death. It thumps like a living drum. I think of a medicine drum, keeping beat with the Other. The heart races, skips, bursts - even when we're still, its always dancing. Even the most scarred of hearts keeps a beat.
If you've ever had your heart broken, you know that horrible feeling, that pain that shoots like a bolt through the heart and into the ether. True heartbreak is a pain like no other. Those who have lived through it, through the loss of love, of a friend, companion, family member, even the very land they call home, its a process, a path where every step, every beat, is agony, leaden. Color can literally drain from life. Sometimes you feel like a bit of your soul has been torn away, fluttering off like a scrap of tissue. When you're in the thick of it, you don't know if it'll ever end.
People who've endured heartbreak don't realize how brave they are to walk through that fire and come out the other side. It's a birthing rite. What we fear, I think, is to let more love in. The enemy in this war, I think, is love itself. Can I endure another heartbreak? Well, yes, I think, but we have to view our hearts a little bit differently. It's not an isolated entity; its designed to move, move blood through the body, to nourish the entire being. On a higher level, I think we are all connected, all these little beaters beating together, making this celestial song. The heart is not meant to be a warground, to be shut up and away from the world, fought over.
I think when Nancy said what she said, what she meant was that in the act of protecting the heart, we miss the very medicine to initiate the peace process. We don't see that white flag, we turn from the olive branch handed to us.
What if the love is poisoned? Well, in the body, our system is cleverly designed to process poisons through the liver and kidneys, driven by the beat of the heart. And the blood is cleansed. And yes, there will be people and things that will hurt you, test you, but there is also an abundance of love out there meant to nourish you, and the war can end, if you trust the strength of the heart.
So on Thanksgiving, instead of preparing for war, I think instead of releasing the dove. Someone might say a thoughtless comment at dinner, or I might notice an injustice on the wet, cold streets as I pass by on the way to my sister's lovely house. Lay down your rifle! Sit with it a second, notice the heart is still beating, still keeping time with the song all the other beaters - including those who are scarred or poisoned - play. Notice the warmth in your chest.
I think about my dad, the friends and family that are gone. The illness I've endured over the years, and the illness people I care about are enduring now. All the things that broke my heart, that started all the trench building. I can feel the poison, the pain, its there, but when I let the love in, it seems to neutralizing it, takes the sting out. The love comes in many forms: a funny story, a wagging tail of a dog, dew drops on a leaf. A really great piece of pie. Dad loved pie.
The irony of it all is when we protect our hearts, we are keeping out the very thing that heals it. And Nancy is right: its often right there, in front of you.
At least back in the 70s, the concept of a babysitter was pretty simple: you had to have a pulse.
Because my dad was a musician, for the most part he was around the house during the day, and my mom at home at night. But every once in a while they would need to leave us kids in the care of someone, and for the most part, Grandma was the first choice. They could dump us off at Grandma's indefinitely; after all she had the extra bedroom that was once an uncle's should my parents stay out all night, which occurred sometimes if they both went to a rock show or something. We loved Grandma's house. Grandma let us eat sugar by the spoonfuls, she had a Hammond organ that I relentlessly played Chopsticks on, a creek behind her place with tadpoles to collect, and its where Grandpa taught me chess and how to smoke a pipe on the rare occasion he wasn't out golfing or watching football.
Grandma and Grandpa were still relatively young (I didn't think so then, but they were in their 40s) and often traveled or had evening plans, so on the occasion we couldn't go there, my parents had to find alternatives. Now, I need to explain my parents a little here... my dad was a rock musician, and the first of his peers to become a parent. When his bandmates were doing whatever young 20 year old guys do when they don't have a real job and want to be musical gods in a lumberjack town like Seattle, my dad was home changing diapers, picking up Barbies and Playdough stuck to the carpet, and begging God for 20 minutes of sleep, locked in the bathroom away from the screeching. My mom was the primary breadwinner, scoring glamorous jobs in the world of office administration. They were young and hip but saddled down with two small children, one of which had chronic health problems (surprisingly, not me). If my dad got sick, or they had the chance to get out together, their only prerogative for a caregiver was that he or she knew how to work a phone, had two arms, and was conscious. Beyond that, it was pretty much Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Most of the help was culled from the local music scene. I have early memories of KOL rock DJ Burl Barer being stuck managing my ass for a few hours at a time. Burl was my dad's band manager, and he and his then-wife Britt often took the reigns for my parents, usually in the daytime. Burl was physically there, made sure we didn't drink poison or stab family pets but other than that, he kept himself busy with whatever busy DJs do when tethered to small children as a favor, but would rather be somewhere else. Britt was more attentive, but as a health food fanatic I recall dreading when the pair of them showed up; she inevitably had some kind of nine-grain, tofu infused granola crap with her we would be forced to eat. Mostly though, I recall them using our kitchen table to canoodle, under the assumption small children don't get what goes on, nor have any kind of hearing capacity. Now mom knows why dinner post-Barers was usually some kind of oppositional trial with me.
Another memorable babysitter was a lady named Suupi, her real name Jean Christensen. She was a tall lady, and worked as a stage manager and befriended my dad. Suupi was a lady wrestler from a family of notable wrestlers, but also worked as a seamstress in the rock world, christened "Suupi" by the great Alice Cooper after she designed his trademark eye makeup.
Tiny children were foreign to Suupi; we were underfoot and moved fast. I recall one day she came over to tend to us kids while my dad suffered the flu and my mom was at work. My sister and I were in the tiny kitchen of our crappy Mercer Island bungalow as Suupi was boiling water, something equally foreign to her. My sister was maybe 10 months old and not quite walking, and scooted around in one of those (now illegal) toddler walkers, those wheeled things that when combined with the mind of a 10 month old, makes for a parental challenge. I was sitting on the ground, drawing.
Oh, and off to the side of the kitchen stood an open door to the basement cellar. Yeah, you know where this is going.
Perhaps a demon from the depths of Hell called out to Robyn, lovingly nicknamed Baby Kong by family friends. Who knows what compelled her to spin around and beeline for the cellar door, but I looked up as she skidded into her 180 and tore for the cellar. I don't know what held my tongue for the first couple of seconds, but I just sat and watched until she reached the threshold, then calmly alerted Suupi, "Thoopee, Wobbin's goin' down tha stare-ers."
Suupi spun around just as Robyn tipped over the edge and I could hear the rhythmic wumpwumpwump of the walker hitting every step. It was momentarily quiet before the final WUMP and Suupi screamed at the exact moment Robyn's little muffled wail traveled up from the dark abyss below. I went back to my drawing.
All this screaming alerted my dad from his death bed and he stumbled into the kitchen like a snotty tornado, bloodshot eyes wide open. What the hell?? He looked at me, then caught a glimpse of Suupi, still screaming, racing down the stairs. He sighed and followed her down. A few moments later they brought Kong back up, a gigantic goose egg on her forehead. Suupi was a blubbering mess, and asked to go home. She never came back.
Despite her vows to never care for children again, Suupi did wind up marrying Andre the Giant a few years later. She told me that despite that horror show, she always loved the name Robyn and named their daughter Robin after my sister. To note, Robin grew up without a scratch.
Some of my favorite babysitting moments were with my dad's bandmates; often dad had to drag one or both of us to practice if he couldn't find any local kids to watch us. Musicians are basically gigantic children, and I was fortunate to have these uncles often willing to stop what they were doing to toss me up in the air, or give me drumsticks and let me smash things. Playing catch, tag, or tickle fests were common, and they never tired of the millionth crappy Knock Knock joke a four year old could cough up on repetition. The practice studio was a place of wonder, so many knobs to turn, cables to plug/unplug, pedals to step on, strings to pluck! My dad would play Bad Cop and tell me to sit tight in the corner and draw for a while so they could work, but the guys never seemed to mind whenever my energy could no longer contain itself and I would jump up and juggernaut into a set of lanky legs for an impromptu wrestle match.
There was only one babysitter I was not fond of, a neighbor lady named Bonnie. Bonnie was in her late twenties, did not seem to have a job of note and was terribly obese. Bonnie was unkempt and slow; I've never met anyone who seemed permanently stuck in slow motion. Her favorite word was "bummer". Everything was a "bummer".
Bonnie did not own a comb. I don't mean metaphorically, either. She had long, frizzy brown hair that was not quite one enormous dreadlock. I had never met an adult with hair so bad. It bothered my little sister so much that one evening Robyn emerged from our bathroom with a wide-toothed comb in hand, determined to take a shot at Bonnie's mop. Bonnie's sloth-like protests were no match for Baby Kong, who lept up onto the arm of the couch and attacked Bonnie's head with the comb. Bonnie could not reach for the comb as it plunged into her hair with the force of a freight train. My mouth dropped open at the site of the comb AND my sister's hand getting caught in the hair like a greasy web, my sister tearing and yanking away, Bonnie's slurring "heeeeeyyyyyy, oowwwwwwww", and finally hearing the snap of plastic as the comb actually broke in two. My sister was able to get her hand out, but the comb was forever lost, like the Titanic to the Atlantic. I doubt James Cameron could even imagine a resurrection scenario for that poor comb.
I had the regular stream of teen babysitters, some better than others (I loved the one who let me crank call people). I was fortunate that most of my babysitters were simply well intended goofballs, but the 1970s gave way to the sobering reality that kids really do need more than a toilet and a bed to crash on. Nowadays, "safety" is the calling card of the parent. As it should be. However, I can "safely" say that you will never read stories anything like this from the future blogs of today's children. And that's kind of a shame.
Seven years ago I had emergency surgery to relieve a condition called spinal stenosis. This is when the discs in your spine collapse inward rather than outward (which is normally a bulging disc). Two of mine, up in the cervical area, had collapsed onto the spinal cord and I started losing my motor skills, slowly at first, then suddenly really rapidly. My spine surgeon estimated full paralysis within two months if I didn't get the surgery - not something you want to hear - so in I went for a double spine fusion three days after diagnosis.
Despite a mishap with the Mayfield clamp - that's a clamp that screws into your skull to hold you still, and one of the screws slipped and mashed up a muscle in my head - the surgery was successful. I was told I was wheeled out of the recovery room demanding my two deflated discs in a mason jar.
I recall being in a lot of pain despite a morphine drip, and I couldn't walk. I was told this would subside within a day, but something was clearly wrong, and within a short time I discovered I couldn't move my right side. Even my face was slack. Naturally I freaked out, and meanwhile the pain in my neck and head intensified, and soon after my room was swarmed with doctors and nurses and I was hustled into ICU. It appeared that my brain and spinal cord were swelling - we didn't know it at the time, but I had Addison's Disease and this was the result of an adrenal crisis. Basically, my brain was bursting.
The doctors responded swiftly and within a few days I regained my mobility and the swelling was under control. I was able to learn how to walk with a walker and I was happily discharged, although my doctors were a little bewildered with my unusually slow recovery. Normally people are back to normal within a couple weeks, but it took me over a month, and even then, I was having inflammation problems. One of my doctors wised up and did a cortisol test - I scored 0. Several additional tests later, the diagnosis of Addison's was laid on me. Yay.
I was finally able to go back to work that December at Krab Jab Studio, and we had an upcoming art show opening. I'm used to these kinds of events, which can bring in a lot of people, and I was looking forward to it, like I always do. I was tired and a bit forgetful, not a big deal, even understandable. However, I was a little bit perplexed at some odd interactions cropping up suddenly.
Artists were dropping by to say hi, or drop off art, and I simply had no idea who they were when they came calling. At first I thought maybe I was just tired, but it kept happening, and then it was happening at roller derby practice, which I was coaching at the time. I was mixing up skaters, and without seeing their jersey numbers I was having a hard time figuring out who was who. Then it started happening all over the place: people would say hi or smile at me, strangers, and I couldn't figure out who they were. A few folks called me on it ("Julie, what's with the stinkeye? Are you mad at me?").
It came to a head at the art opening. We had our usual crowd, and many of them were regulars. My job is to greet people, chat, talk about the art, introduce the artist to people. But this time something was clearly wrong. I was introducing myself to friends, I was brushing past regular buyers without acknowledgement. I had no trouble recognizing my studio mates, but everyone else -- without a clear identifier (a signature hat, hair color, voice), I was lost.
I spent the latter part of the evening hiding in a corner, mortified.
Turns out the brain swell did some damage - I had developed what is called prosopagnosia, or face blindness. The lower right side of my brain took the brunt of the swelling, and that's where facial recognition is located. For some reason people I knew prior to the surgery I had no problem recognizing, but anyone I met afterwards, or if I didn't know them very well before the surgery, my brain just couldn't figure out who they were. I couldn't even drum up their image in my memory, their face would be a smear. As an artist, this was particularly distressing.
After the opening, I became very anxious and avoided as much social interaction as possible. I was really embarrassed I couldn't recall people, and I'm such an easy read, it seemed like every interaction I had with someone was awkward. Are you a stranger or friend? I was repelled by people coming up to me, I dreaded any kind of interaction at this point. I was pretty useless as a coach, so I quit derby completely. I didn't want to go out, not even to my beloved art studio.
As a social person, I was becoming miserable with the isolation. This wasn't me at all! I sat one day, staring at photographs of my friends, and suddenly a thought hit me: I have been approaching this all wrong. Sure, everyone is a stranger until we establish our relationship, but it goes the other way, too: what if I approach everyone as a friend? If they actually are a friend, we're already on good turf. If they are a stranger, well, now I have a new friend. This might be a good strategy.
I realized that just asking people how things are going gives me enough clues to figure out who they are. I learned I can recognize voices and physical tics and movements. I started working a little harder to note details of everyone I meet: do they have a favorite hat or coat? Do they have piercings, or moles? What is the shape of their brows? If something looks familiar to me, I start working through my database of details, hemming them together until I can "recognize" the person, all the while cheerfully asking them what they're up to or how are they doing. Most of the time this works and I can figure out who I'm talking to within a few seconds, but it did take practice. At first it would take a couple minutes and sometimes I'd finally have to ask who I was talking to, but that doesn't happen as much these days.
When I'm tired, its worse, and in situations with a lot of people I do get overwhelmed and easily confused, but now I just laugh it off. Oddly, the face blindness forced me to be even more social and friendly and the result is making a lot more acquaintances than I've ever had in my life. I smile more at people and say hi more. I have more interesting conversations with people. My friendliness often pays itself forward, and I have good daily interactions, sometimes with benefits (a free coffee here, a helping hand there). Sometimes I get a cold response from a stranger, but I shrug those off. Their loss.
A stranger is a stranger until they're a friend. Its funny how a little break in the brain actually adds value, rather than detracts. At first this was horrible, but it forced me to really look at how people interact with each other, it pulled the rug out from under me and I had to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. What a gift!
The other night, I was watching VH1’s Best Of series, and they were reviewing the year of 1976. I was pretty young back then but we did have a TV and I was a voracious viewer at that age. So when they showcased the Captain and Tenille Variety Show, you can bet that I have a few episodes of that piece of Americana tucked back in the recesses of my cluttered mind. It also dislodged an old memory of mine.
I simply loved the Captain and Tenille show, but more so, I was mesmerized by how beautiful I thought Tenille was. She was everything a woman needed to be in a nice, neat, homogenized package. Blonde, big eyed, dazzling teeth, not-to-curvy body, complete with a microphone permanently welded to her right hand. And that voice! She clearly was a superstar in my tiny, impressionable eyes. By second grade, I am pretty sure I aspired to be just like her. I say “pretty sure” only because I aspired to be a lot of things during that year, like a flying monkey, Princess Leia, and a World Overlord, to name but a few. I was a very indecisive child when it came to what I wanted to be when I grew up.
When I was seven, my parents split up and my father was banished to live in my grandparent’s attic. We would see him on weekends over at my grandparents house, which we often enjoyed, for their house was a bit of a Funplex for us. There was a manmade creek behind their house, stocked (not purposely, I’m sure) full of tadpoles just begging to be caught in old jars, a breezeway on the second floor that we often tied sheets to the railing and swung off of, a la Tarzan, and my grandma’s lamp made of a gumball machine, with real gumballs inside it. My father’s attic room was a place of wonder, with its steeply angled, raw ceiling, bare lightbulb and dark wooden paneled walls, it screamed “secret hideout” to us kids, and was a favorite place of ours to cuddle up to read stories with him (we slept in the guest room downstairs). Despite my anxiety over my parents’ split, I really enjoyed visiting on the weekends.
One Sunday, before we were shuttled back home, my father was in the bathroom fiddling with his hair. He pulled out a pair of scissors and did a quick trim on himself. My father prided himself on the fact that he could cut and style his own hair, perfecting the “windblown feather” cut to a T. I watched him with great interest until he was satisfied with his trim. He looked over to me.
“What do you think?” he asked. Since his hair was only transformed by a mere centimeter, it looked almost the same as before, but I told him it looked good.
Then a thought occurred to me: if my daddy can cut hair, maybe he could cut my hair too. Maybe…just like… TENILLE.
“Daddy, can you cut my hair too?” I asked him. He thought a second and smiled.
“Of course I can! How would you like it?”
“Like Tenille,” I gushed. He furrowed his brow, no doubt reviewing the database of faces in his mind.
“How is her hair, Jules?” he asked me. I was incredulous. How could he not know? Everyone knows Tenille. My dad was a musician, a rock musician at that, didn’t he know her?
“Like this” I pantomimed around my head a rough estimate of a longish bowlcut with feathered bangs. His brows remained furrowed as he watched me. I suspect my voguing routine made no sense to him, and in hindsight, he should have chosen that moment to back out, but my dad was an adventurer, and more so, wanted to please his darling children in any way he could. He shook his head.
“Round in the back,” I said. He nodded. I happily went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet while my dad draped a towel around me. He carefully combed out my very long, straight, almond hued hair with his little black utilitarian comb, snipped a couple practice snips in the air, then began to work on my transformation from average second grader to Diva.
Although he was to my back, I could tell he was getting frustrated with his work. He’d snip a few times, pause then grunt in apparent disapproval before snipping again. I noticed my head was feeling lighter and lighter, and with a little trepidation I noticed the sound of the shears getting closer and closer to my ears.
“It’s just not even,” I heard my dad grumbling to himself.
“Is it looking good, Daddy?” I asked, hesitation hovering in my squeaky voice.
“It will, Jules. I just have to fix some things,” he replied. Snip snip.
“Okay,” he said, stepping back, “I think we’ve got it. Want to see your new ‘do, Miss Tenille?”
I clapped my hands together, excited. He dusted off my neck – hey, how come I feel air on my neck? – and helped me off the toilet. I looked down and froze.
There was a haphazard pile of hair on the floor, enough to make a wig. I was puzzled, and then put my hand to my head and noticed that I could barely grab a handful in my tiny fist. Panic gripped me before I even had a chance to look into the mirror. I had well-oiled waterworks and already my brain was calling in the troops to kick-start my tear ducts into full throttle. I finally made myself look at my reflection.
I could see my dad standing behind me, a weak, worried smile on his face, eyebrows lifted practically up to his hairline. Directly below him stood one of Fagin’s street urchins, a little boy in a yellow shirt, hair chopped in a variety of lengths, the longest of which was maybe two inches. It looked as if a lawnmower attacked my cranium. I took a big, deep breath and screeched.
“I DON’T LOOK LIKE TENILLE! I LOOK HORRIBLE! DADDY, WHAT DID YOU DO?” A deep, primal wail rolled up my windpipe and I began to weep. I couldn’t look in the mirror anymore, and even if I tried, my vision was obscured by large tears forming and splattering down my face.
“I did what you asked me to,” my dad said, “you don’t like it?”
“I – asked – you – to – round – the - baaaaackk,” I sobbed, “not – cut – it – all – offffff!”
“I’m sorry honey, I misunderstood,” my dad apologized. Even now I find his apology lame. How could he NOT realize he had royally screwed up? Why didn’t he put down those scissors when he first sensed this was way over his head? Was it pride? Or retardedness?
For the first time, I demanded I go home that very instant. My dad meekly complied and piled us kids into the car. I did not let up on my howling, so many tears escaped my eyes I’m sure I must have dehydrated myself in the process. I remember one point looking up, my eye peeking through my fingers, to see my little sister staring back at me, her mouth partly open, silent and looking thoroughly stunned. Her eyes said it all: Holy Crap, what happened to my big sister’s head?
I think the reality of the measure of his screw up came when my mother opened the door, heard my crying and looked down at me.
“Oh my God, David, what did you do to her?” my mom was incredulous.
“She asked me to cut her hair, so I did,” said my dad.
“Not like this! I wanted hair like Tenille,” I interjected.
“David, she’s seven years old and you’re the adult,” my mom snapped at him. “I don’t think anyone would want this kind of haircut, you butchered her hair! What were you thinking?”
My dad sheepishly responded, “I thought I could do it, I’m really good with hair.”
“David, just because you cut your hair in one kind of style doesn’t mean you’re a qualified hair dresser. It’s one thing to trim her bangs but Jesus, this is unreal. Just promise me you never ever touch a hair on her head, at least without talking to me!”
And with that, my mom ushered us in, grabbed our overnight bags, and slammed the door. My dad was in deep doodoo.
“You can’t go to school like this tomorrow, I gotta think,” my mom said more to herself than me. The thought of going to school like this, a school in which I already was on the brink of being a social pariah, set me into another wave of sobbing. My mom grabbed the phone and started making phone calls. She called her friend Penny, a hairdresser, and begged her to please see me after hours that evening, it was an emergency.
“David tried to cut her hair,” I heard my mom explain, ”and I think a blind man with epilepsy could have done a better job. You will not believe this.”
Penny agreed, and I was whisked off to her hair studio. Penny took one look and stifled a laugh, covered her mouth, inspected my head, shook her curly mane slowly back and forth.
“Wow,” was all she said.
“Can you fix it?” my mom asked. Penny thought for a minute.
“There are so many lengths on her head, it’s going to be a challenge. It almost would be easier to shave her down and start over, but we can’t do that, can we?” she kneeled down to me and smiled. “I’ll take care of you honey, don’t worry. We’ll fix this all up.”
Penny worked on me for over an hour. She managed to get my hair into a sort of feathered-boy-pixie-cut thing – way before Meg Ryan’s famous shag – and told my mom to both never let my dad cut his children’s hair, and for her to bring me back in each month so she could continue grooming my hair. It took over six months to work it into a short bob with bangs.
I only had one picture taken of me in second grade, and that was my class picture. I hate that picture, I had that terrible short haircut and coupled with my Goodwill welfare getup, I truly looked pathetic. Thankfully the kids never teased me about it – even they could tell that something tragic occurred to my once-beautiful long tresses, and there’s only so much bullying a child can take, the haircut was punishment enough. I never forgave my dad for that episode, and we chose never to discuss the matter ever again, although Penny took joy in ribbing my father over his hair cutting skills for many years afterwards. My dad got the hint and his scissors never snip snipped another head ever again.
Somehow my business partner and I were chatting about dating as teenagers, and he mentioned going to his Prom with his girlfriend as a "couple of losers". He asked me if I went to mine.
I took a deep breath, and he knew this wasn't going to be a "yes" or "no" answer, so he strapped in and ordered a proverbial drink for himself.
I had always wanted to go to Prom, "Pretty in Pink" style. I had gone to all the other dances, like Tolo and Homecoming, but senior prom night was the Mt Everest of dances, and I had already started work on my dress months before the event. There was this vintage shop on Roosevelt Ave near my high school, and they had stunning dresses from the early 20th Century. There was one there that was from 1919 in black silk, high waisted and tiered with jet beading. I saved my money for months for that thing, which was nothing to sniff at considering my addiction to records, vintage clothing, and speed (yes, yes, that's another story... Kyle ordered another drink for that one later). Once I had saved up the money and bought the dress, the girl who worked at the shop helped me redesign and sew the dress so it was a sleeveless and a little bit more form fitting, and she showed me how to stabilize the beading. It was a blessed project for the winter months, and I'd sit up at night maniacally sewing away, imagining how wonderful prom was going to be in this dress, how awesome it was going to photograph. The only thing I was missing was a date.
As spring approached, the date problem was starting to become a worry. While my best friend offered to take me, I was kinda holding out for a real date, not a mercy one, plus my best friend Keri was a vampire and she scared people (she didn't go to school, had her own apartment, slept during the day and was best known for floating down Broadway at wee hours of the night). My prospects were limited at my high school, although my English study partner sheepishly asked me to go with him. I respectfully turned him down: I actually was concerned he'd be made fun of for going with me, since he and I were polar opposites and his friends were pretty conservative, and I was a weirdo. Plus, truly, I had the dress to think of. My date had to match the dress.
Like magic, I was romantically stalked by a local musician-turned-drug-dealer and huzzah, I had the date thing nailed! He worked well with the dress, too, since he styled himself LA goth and wore more makeup than me and already owned a tux jacket with skeleton hand lapels, and wore a top hat. My only problem was, well, he was a lot older than me and unlike me, did not fantasize about the perfect Prom photo. I had my work cut out for me, and only a month to turn him.
While I was working on wearing him down by being the perfect girlfriend, I had acquired the perfect Fluevog shoes (pointy black leather ankle boots), got myself a black rose head piece and my father gifted me with the most beautiful black velvet capelet. I took to dressing up in my prom outfit on many speedy nights, working out photo poses and the perfect beehive (takes 1.5 cans of Aquanet, for the record). Once the date was announced, I got my tickets and called my boyfriend to work out the details.
"No fucking way," he said flatly. "That's retarded. Not going."
"We can just go in and get the picture done, we don't even need to dance or anything," my little heart was breaking!
"Date is no good," he was eating something so I heard a lot of mush noise between syllables, "Shelly's birthday is that night and she made me promise to go. Everyone wants MDA, so I gotta go. Get Keri to take you. Gotta go take a shit babe, see ya later." click, beeeeeeepppp. I just stared at my phone and one big fat tear rolled down my cheek. What was the point of this boyfriend thing? Don't guys understand why they were invented? What about my fucking dress???
I took the bus to Broadway and met Keri at Charlie's, our favorite restaurant to sit for hours. As we took turns dumping Charlie's Famous Colored Sugar Crystals into our bottomless coffee mugs, I relayed my dilemma. She looked concerned but nonplussed, then finally annoyed.
"Guys are dicks, you know that," she took a deep drag off her cigarette, cradled between her skeletal fingers. I just sighed. I wouldn't get very far complaining to Keri, seeing as she was a lesbian and she and I had been a couple for a long while, until my prom dream burned that avenue down like a bad fever. She only tolerated Sean (the boyfriend) because he ran the best designer drugs in Seattle at the time, and she got them through me. ("I'll have another drink," says Kyle)
At about this moment, an acquaintance of mine was cutting through the restaurant towards the back bar. In seeing me, he veered over to say hello. His name was David and he was a local weed dealer, a New Wave hippie guy, really goofy and friendly, like you'd imagine a weed dealer to be. He was probably in his early 20s and he was truly nice, and his big friendly smile dropped when he saw how crestfallen I was. He sat with us and listened to me whine about Sean refusing to take me to the dance, and gave me a big hug. "I'll take you, sweetie, and I'll even dance if you want. We'll have fun, fuck Sean, okay? C'mon, smile! Hey, I never went to my prom, this will be fun. I'll wear whatever you want," he gave me the chuck-on-the-chin and after writing his phone number on my hand, he gave me a big hug and trotted out to the bar. Keri rolled her eyes and lit another cigarette. I just stared at the digits on my hand, a slow smile creeping onto my face. My date with the dress was back on.
David and I chatted a few times on the phone over the next couple weeks, mostly working out the details of where to meet up and what he was going to wear. He seemed genuinely into it, and whether he had any other motive beyond just taking a goth chick to her prom, I wouldn't know. I nonchalantly mentioned to Sean that he needn't worry about taking me after all, and he just shrugged. "Dave's a nice guy," was all he said. Trust me, I Seinfelded the crap out of that comment for days, but finally figured it didn't matter, Senior Prom was only days away!
Friday before school, I laid out my dress near my bed and stared at it lovingly. You and me and Coconut trees and Cut-out stars, we'll make such a pretty picture. I happily trotted off to school, bumping into my English study partner in the hallway. He told me that another girl was going with him, and I was happy to hear it, and he said maybe we could get our pics taken, both couples, and I thought that was a grand idea. I passed by my friend Eowyn and asked her what her plans were that Saturday, as she was boycotting the dance. She wasn't sure, but since she also knew David, suggested maybe we all could meet later on? Again, I thought that was a grand idea, since she lived near Broadway and as her parents were often never home, her place was a great crash pad.
After school I raced home so I could admire at my dress again. While fixing myself a snack, the phone rang. It was David.
"Bad news, sweetie," his voice sounded weird, and wherever he was calling from, there was a lot of background noise. Uh oh.
"I'm in jail."
I asked him to repeat himself. He cleared his throat.
"I'm in jail, sweetie, I sold weed to a cop. This is my one phone call and I feel so terrible, I don't know when I will be released. I wanted you to know right away. I'm so sorry!! I had flowers for you, and--"
I hung up. I dropped my plate into the sink, walked passed my befuddled dad, wordlessly up the stairs, and slammed my door. My dress faced me like a scorned lover, and I snatched it up, tossed it into the closet, flopped onto my bed and sobbed, then fell asleep.
This could have been the end of my story, but no. I was plucky, and after a good long slumber I awoke with fresh determination. My dad had already left for a show -- my dad was a rock musician and played gigs on weekends -- so I helped myself to the dinner he left me and called Eowyn. "Plans changed," I said. "Meet me on Broadway tomorrow night. I'm going to make Sean take me, you'll have to help me."
I didn't tell my dad that my date was in jail; I didn't think that would go over real well. I did tell him that I was meeting my date for dinner on Capitol Hill before the dance, which made no sense since I lived in the University district and my high school was just up the street, but my dad learned early on it was pointless to question me on my idiosyncrasies, and just nodded. He had another gig that night so we agreed I could spend the night at Eowyn's and he gave me $20 for dinner, then gave me a big hug. "Just try to be ready before I leave, I want to see how you look," he said.
There's nothing quite like dressing up for an actual occasion. Its sort of ritualistic, from the laying out of the clothing, to the bathing, plucking, blow drying, powdering, lacing, teasing, combing, spraying. I took my time getting myself put together, dialing Sean's number every half hour. It would just ring and ring, and I figured he was either sleeping or doing whatever drug dealers do when their girlfriends aren't around. No matter, I knew that he would be up on Broadway later on, sitting on a staircase next to the 7-Eleven.
I did a final check in the mirror at the house and satisfied, I waltzed down the stairs so my dad could see me before leaving. He got all misty eyed and grabbed the camera, only to realize he forgot to put film in it. He cursed a couple times, then laughed. "They take pictures at these things, right?" he asked. Yeah, Dad, don't worry, I said. "This David better treat you well, okay? Don't drink anything weird, okay? Have fun, and oh, bring an umbrella, it might rain," my dad said before giving me a kiss and heading out the door.
I grabbed my capelet and looked out the window; the weather seemed clear, so I decided the umbrella was unnecessary. I walked up the street to the bus stops on 45th and 1st ("the Ave" to the locals) to catch a #7 bus to Broadway. I didn't anticipate that a fancy dressed goth teen with an impossibly huge black beehive 'do would get unwanted attention, but of course that's exactly what I was greeted with as soon as I reached the intersection. I knew most of the kids around there, the punk rock kids and metal heads that lolled about near the bus stops, record stores and the post office, and for the most part the ribbing was intended to relieve boredom on their part, and they all thought I was a snob (which is partly true; I was originally an "Ave Rat" but found Broadway to be more interesting to hang out at, Broadway had dancing and prettier boys and girls). I put on my headphones and sunglasses and patiently waited for the bus, wrapped in a protective scowl, Love and Rockets blasting in my ears.
I made it to Broadway by mid evening, hopping off on the north end near the Deluxe. Eowyn lived around the corner, and I met her at her house and did a quick primp before we both started off to the main drag. I explained to her that I knew Sean would be there, and maybe once he saw how fabulous the dress looked, he might be inclined to come back to the dance with me. If that didn't take, I had a $20. He could be bribed.
The usual suspects were standing around the corner of Broadway and East Harrison; it was a pit stop for drug dealing, and Sean was usually smack dab in the middle of it all. That evening it seemed particularly crowded and as we approached, I started to feel a little bit sick. I felt every muscle in my neck tense as I strolled up to Sean and tapped his arm, and he spun around and looked surprised, then irritated. "Why are you up here?" he asked. He didn't seem to take any notice of the dress.
I told him David was in jail and prom was in an hour. "Well, that really sucks," he said. "For you, I mean. I got Shelly's birthday party to go to, the cab is on its way."
I told him it would mean so much if he'd just consider going first, with me. "I worked so hard on this dress, you're my boyfriend, couldn't you just do this for me, just once?"
He started to laugh and shook his head. "I'm not changing my plans over a fucking dress, Julie."
I burst into tears. "What am I supposed to do, then?"
By this time, a little circle formed around us, and the cab pulled up, the back door opened and sitting inside was this Shelly and her friend. I heard Shelly's friend mumble "Oh my God, really?" as she beckoned my boyfriend inside with haste. He looked around at the amused, gathering crowd and me crying, and exploded.
"I told you no, and no and no, fuck, I said no, stop being such a bitch about it, I don't care, I'm going, get the fuck out of my way, go home, I don't care, Jesus!" And with that he stepped into the cab. Shelly and her friend were cackling at the scene before them. I followed Sean to the curb.
"Can I at least come with you?" I squeaked out.
"Not invited," he slammed the cab door in my face.
One would think this episode would incur empathy from witnesses, but alas, you do not understand the hearts and minds of intoxicated, bored teenagers. As Sean's cab sped off and I was left there in a puddle of mascara, I immediately heard a wave of "stop being a bitch" bounce around me like a bad street version of the movie Carrie. Eowyn gently grabbed my elbow to lead me off and away from the jackasses taunting me, assuring me things would be okay. As we started across the street, two local street kids pushed passed the others. One of them, this older punk guy named Derek, backhanded several of the taunters in my honor. Most of the younger kids were afraid of Derek, who was a well known neighborhood junkie and although skinny, was incredibly tall and impervious to pain, making him imposing. He was madly in love with Eowyn and did everything he could to impress her, including making the attempt to salvage my street integrity.
The other kid was a shorter skinny punk kid named Ben. Put that name on the back burner for a moment.
Derek rushed up to us and grabbed my other arm, which was a little bit startling and I jumped. He asked if I was okay, and before I could say anything, started laying in on what assholes those people were, glancing over to Eowyn from time to time to assess her response.
"Get lost, Derek," Eowyn said flatly. He was unflappable.
"I can buy you two booze," he said. He was 24.
Eowyn sighed. I sniffled.
"Okay," she stopped us and gestured for my little clutch I was carrying. I pulled out the $20 and she shoved it into Derek's hand. "If you get us something, that would be great. But you need to leave us alone, okay?" He practically jumped up and down, grabbed Ben's arm and ran back to the 7-Eleven. "You know he'll short change you," she said to me. I shrugged.
Derek came back a few minutes later with a bag containing two bottles of grape Mad Dog 20/20. I noticed Ben was holding another bag, and pretty much figured out I just bought them both their evening spirits. Derek handed me a wad of bills and told me I looked pretty. I feebly smiled back, and Eowyn snatched the bag and directed me onward like a rag doll.
We sat at Eowyn's for a while, guzzling the Mad Dog while I intermittently sobbed, gulped and hiccuped. She wasn't a big talker and I didn't really want to talk, so we listened to music for a little while. After about a half hour I started to get really tipsy and also really angry. I don't remember much after that except that I think I needed some fresh air, and stepped outside. I found myself wandering, Mad Dog in hand, down the street aimlessly. After a few minutes, it started to drizzle, not enough to be rain but just enough to cause my beehive to transform into a wasp nest. Fuck, great, I thought.
Then I tripped over the pointy tip of my Fluevogs. I didn't fall down, but it was just enough to scrape the topside of the leather and damage the tip. Fuck, great, I thought.
I continued my stumble, heading southwards. I passed the market, with its huge glass windows, and glanced over to see my reflection stare back, a girl with a lopsided, melted updo, black lines of mascara streaked down her cheeks, smeared red lipstick, capelet askew off one shoulder, bottle of shitty booze in one hand and a broken shoe on her foot. I wiped my nose with the back of my hand, smearing my lipstick worse. Fuck, great, I thought. Well, the dress still looked okay. I looked away and kept walking.
I wandered down Harvard Ave for a few blocks, and as I passed by Harrison, I heard someone call out something, and I looked up. Down the block, on the north side of the 7-Eleven there was a concrete slab that served as a bench. Sitting on it was that punk kid Ben, and he was apparently yelling something at me. I couldn't understand him, so I slowly turned east and walked up to him. He patiently waited.
"I was saying, you look sad," he repeated himself. "And also, can you share? I'm all out." I looked at the Mad Dog in my hand, shrugged and gave it to him. He snatched it up, mumbled a thanks and quickly looked around before swigging. I noticed he had a cane in his other hand and I pointed to it, I think I drunkenly inquired about it.
"Oh yeah, this is Big Ben's," he was referring to another local punk who resembled Lou Ferrigno. "I'm holding it for him." He tapped the ground with it, then pointed at me with it. "You," he said, "are unhappy. You need to tell me all about what's wrong. Come sit over here and tell me your troubles."
I sat on the bench next to him and immediately started some kind of girlish babble. He signaled for me to shut up, looked around again, smiled then patted his knee. "I'll hear you better," he said. He was clearly flirting but I took it with a grain of salt; Ben was known to be a flirt and had pretty much dated or hooked up with every high school girl I knew, except me. He was very charming though, and even surly Keri had a soft spot for him. He didn't think much of Sean and had made that clear to me on multiple occasions in the past. And at that point, on that evening, I wasn't thinking much of Sean either. I promptly sat on Ben's knee.
"Guys are dicks," I said. "They sure are," he agreed. "I hate guys," I said. "As you should," said Ben. I laughed. "I have always hated you," I booped his nose. He grabbed my booping hand and said, "Well, okay, that can change, right? Its loud out here, let's go to my house and you can tell me all about that."
Ben picked me up and I wrapped my arm around him so I wouldn't fall down and we started down the street, when suddenly I heard "YOU GET OFF HER RIGHT NOW!". I turn my head to see my friend Eowyn marching down the street toward us. She grabbed my arm and started yelling at Ben, something about being a dirty dog. "Julie wants to come with me, right?" he asked me, a big grin on his face. "Yep," I said, then hiccuped.
"She's drunk, she doesn't know what she's doing, you damn asshole," Eowyn hissed at Ben and yanked at my arm. Ben yanked back on my other arm and I was now a pinata. Back and forth they argued, and back and forth I went, both of them pulling with greater and greater force until I think I said "I'm going to throw up", and Ben let go. He put his hands up in mock defeat and backed away, still grinning, cane still in hand. "You win," he said to Eowyn. "You know where to find me," he said to me and winked, then turned to join a small group of his friends that had gathered to watch this spectacle. Eowyn grabbed me around the waist and steered me down the street, grumbling. I was pretty much out of steam and let her lead me home.
I don't remember anything else except Eowyn had carefully removed and hung up my dress before putting me to bed. When I woke up it was miraculously unscathed. In borrowed clothes I went home, carrying my dress carefully with me. Once home, I hung it at the back of my closet, blew it a kiss, then gobbled up a handful of aspirin.
The following Monday, I bumped into my English study partner at school.
"Where were you?" he asked me. "I had hoped we'd get a picture or something, or maybe dance? What happened?"
I gave him a long, quiet look, then shook my head.
"I should have said yes," I said to him. "I'm sorry I didn't. I hope you had fun."
A few weeks later, I sat down next to my study partner in class, and he tapped my arm. He handed me a picture of him and his date at the prom.
"I thought you might want this," he said. I looked at it for a long time, at the vase of roses on a pedestal next to him and his date, the black and white checkerboard floor. He sported a sharp looking tux and red tie and his date wore a crepe pink dress. "Thanks, Jovy," I said.
"It would have been fun with you, you know," he gave my arm a quick squeeze. He knew how much work I put into my dress, I had been talking about it to him all year and he had patiently listened to me describe the beading process and how to make bodice alterations, and I realized right then and there that it wasn't that guys are dicks. I was the dick.
Hey, Kyle, hey, wake up!
I need to add here, I thanked my friend Eowyn a few years later for tearing me off of Ben that night. I was drunk and stupid, and I would have regretted going home with him, not because I had a boyfriend I was mad at, but because a year later I bumped into Ben at The Underground, a dance club in Seattle. Had I gone home with Ben on Prom Night, I would have been too embarrassed to say hello that evening, and we would not have repeated that entire scenario a second time around, and this time there was no Eowyn to save me from my foolish decisions. However, this time around, I took him home with me and 30 years later, he's still here.
The other night I had a strange dream, which I summarized and sent off to my friend, a Lakota Indian who happens to be rather good at analyzing dreams. He didn't interpret it, but asked me a series of questions that allowed me to unmask the dream's lesson, which was a pretty good one.
In the dream, there is a crow. This crow (whom I'll just refer to as Crow) starts a game of pulling young chicks out of nests, dropping them down to earth, then mauling them before biting their head's off. Crow seems to enjoy this gruesome bloodsport, and after a while the local bird community suffers a great loss in its next generation.
I see Crow's game and am upset by it. He pulls down a young Robin chick, who is crying. He hasn't completely finished with a little finch chick, who is pretty much dead, so the Robin is hopping about in distress while Crow works on biting the finch's head off. I crouch down and pick up the Robin and carry it back to its tree and worried parents.
I walk back to Crow and I scold him. I tell him that this game is terrible and destructive. Crow cocks his head and looks at me and I can tell he doesn't agree with me. Finished with the finch, he flies back to the Robin's nest to retrieve the little chick.
I then wind up spending my time in wait, trying to catch him in the act and rescue the little chicks he steals. This is time consuming, and since Crow is wise on me, he devises little counter actions of his own. It becomes exhaustive on my part, and I realize I can't spend all my days spying on Crow.
Since Crow is clearly unphased by his actions and consequences, and my counter to save the chicks isn't always successful, the only other option to end the game is to convince Crow to play another one. While the dream ended here, it made me realize that in life, you're going to come across situations that you find unjust, broken, dysfunctional, destructive. Your kneejerk response is to point out how wrong this is, or how wrong these people are. Often, you are met with opposition, anger, or simply nothing at all. Now you are at war. You fight the injustice, and sometimes you're successful, sometimes you're not, but it becomes a consuming battle.
Crow is traditionally a very wise trickster. Trying to outwit Crow is a fruitless challenge. Going to war with Crow can also warrant results that are not in your favor. And really, locked in this situation, no one is happy.
Taking the time to understand that the game he is playing, then devising a new game that satisfies those motives, will ultimately end the game. If Crow is convinced that there is something better to do with his time than steal chicks, he'll move on. He may never understand the vulgarity of his actions, he may never pay the price of killing little chicks for sport, but if the results stop the terrible injustice and bring about peace, its worth the effort.
In this current day, the dream of Crow is a potent one, its strong medicine. It tells me that I need to explore other options in solving problems, and to do so, I need to better understand the motivations of those around me. If I want the world to be a healthier place, I have to work to find solutions that entice others enough to end their current dysfunctional ways. This is the hardest path to walk, but the most rewarding.