Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Emotional Overload

If there is one constant in my life, it has been my inconsistency in certain areas. But although my last post probably left the impression that I was just about to kick the chair out from under me and dangle from the rafters, let me assure you, dearest reader, that your emotional wreck of a blogger here is well intact.

When we last left off, I was feeling numb and disgusted over the election results, and the general depression over that lasted well into that weekend. Of course, life is not happy unless it throws you several curves at the same time, so I had no time to recover from the barking madness that we called an election before another item (ahem) hit the fan.

First of all, our file servers at work crapped out for THREE WHOLE DAYS that week, and so the week was a blur of eating it from people who would not take, "I'm sorry, but I can't access any computer records right now" for an answer, followed by a mad scramble to make up work once the network was up and running again. If I had my druthers, the IT contractor and his band of un-merry nerds would be out the door this fast (indicating very small measurement of time with thumb and forefinger), but for technical reasons not worth going into here, we are stuck with them for the time being. The long and the short of it was that work was a disaster.

Let's sum up so far. Work that week was stressful, combined with the misery of the election results, and the rapid slide into depression that ensued. Combine that with my pet ailment acting up (that's another post), and you have got the picture of how I was feeling as I waited in J's place for him to come home that evening, as we planned. I just sat on the couch, attempting to de-stress, and looking forward to talking to him and having his reasonable and calming take on the days' events work their magic on my frayed nerves.

As I mind-melded with his couch, it suddenly occurred to me that the hour was getting later, and it was an hour past when I was roughly expecting him, based on past-experience rather than our having set a definite time to meet. J. is really pretty punctual, so I had my phone in my hand to call his work to check on him, which I NEVER do, when I heard his car roll up. Instinct told me something was wrong.

He was acting a little strange, and didn't immediately explain why he was late, so I was internally getting more worried than depressed at the moment. Finally, after greeting me and then silently doing all of the "just got home" rituals of putting away his things and checking on the cat, he told me that he'd been late because he was printing out emails on the work printer to show me, to get my take on things.

Apparently, a joking correspondence between J. and the singer of his band quickly, surprisingly and very disappointingly turned into an escalating war of words. Although some of the emails were missing, having been mistakenly deleted in the heat of the battle, as it were, it seemed that a friendship and a band had split wide open, ostensibly because of a few poorly chosen, crude swipes, but perhaps, on a deeper level, due to some larger personal division that took this opportunity to rear its ugly head.

I was stunned, disappointed, confused and angry. At first, I couldn't understand the intensity of the heat behind J's anger at what was said, which admittedly was rude and insensitive and loaded with passive aggressive messages, and what seemed to be an unreasonable overreaction on his part. It scared me, because I'd never seen him so profoundly angry at someone before, and his quickness to sever ties when attacked was threatening and foreign.

As I've explained here ad nauseum, growing up in a childhood home environment where the insane mother is tip-toed around and every one else must placate the mad beast, has left me with a legacy in the role of constant peacemaker/non-boat rocker. It took me a little while to understand his take on the situation, since my first reaction, unhealthy as it may be at times, is to fix it, fix it, fix it! There's a rift? Fix it! Someone's upset? Empathize with them and comfort them! Someone is being mean or yelling? Duck and cover!

But J. wasn't doing any of those things. He was raised differently, and his instincts of self-defense and self-preservation are keener than mine. He lashed back at his attacker. Oh, Fuck me, is it? No, NO, Fuck YOU! (Although this is a gross oversimplification of the argument, it will do for the sake of this story.)

We talked about the matter for quite some time that night, but I still didn't completely understand his side. I was trying, in my own way, to nudge him more towards reconcilliation than towards separation, because this is my habit, and I hadn't had time to process his reaction yet. The next night, after he went over and picked up his equipment from the practice space, still in a rage and not willing to listen to anyone and especially not the singer, he called and told me what happened. I was still so stunned that he was quitting rather than trying to work things out, especially after how wonderful the Halloween party had been and how much better the band seemed to be doing. Everyone was so happy that night, and then days later, it was all destroyed. I just could not understand it. It seemed at the time that he was being petulant, taking his ball and going home, and that just isn't the J. I know.

He heard my disappointment on the phone, and he said later that he felt just awful about having disappointed me too, on top of all else. But in the following days we spent hours here and there talking about the various aspects of what happened, what it meant, what the repercussions of each person's actions would be, and what, if anything, was there left to do about it all. I know that I made him by turns angry, disappointed, relieved and confused with all my questions and prodding for information, but it was not just about the band. To me, this was a side of him I'd never seen before, a man who could break off personal attachments and not look back, and stubbornly dig his heels in, even after realizing that he had overreacted . I needed to know where all that was coming from. I needed to be reassured that he had thought out his decision, and that it was based on something that was actually said or meant, and not something he projected onto the other guys' words, an excuse to leave the band when the reasons for leaving were already in place and had nothing to do with the recent events.

Most of all, I needed to feel that he was not the sort of man who would fly off the handle at the first major disagreement we had, gather up his things and walk out of my life without explanation. Once I realized that their disagreement was bringing up my own abandonment fears, I kept gently grilling him about his reasons and feelings, until we understood each other.

After a few days, I finally felt that I understood his side, and I told him that I'll support his decision, whatever it might end up being. Even though I felt bad for the guys in the band, whom I've grown fond of and I know were probably pretty devastated by the rift, it's his life, and he has to stand up for himself when he feels badly used. And I love that part of his personality, that he walks his talk, so once we hashed it all out, I was feeling much better that his reasoning was intact and this was not just an emotional blowup.

I thanked him for spending the time he did going over it all, even though I know at times he was uncomfortable or even cross with me from all the prodding, and he said that he didn't really mind, he wanted and valued my opinions, and he knew we needed to talk it through until I understood how he felt about it all and his decision, whether I agreed with him or not. I can't even explain how much that meant to me.

In the aftermath, two good things have come. J. and I have a better understanding of each other and of who we are together, and there have been efforts on both sides (of the argument) to mend fences. What that means for the future of the band, I'm not altogether sure yet, but what that means for the future of our relationship, is that things are looking good.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

My Heart is Numb with Grief

The words sat mutely on the computer screen, and it took long, sad moments for my brain to catch up with my eyes. "Kerry Concedes."

[Other bloggers have enumerated the sins of this administration far more eloquently and in more detail than I will attempt here. But I am going to be talking about them, ranting if you will, for the rest of this post, to perhaps explain the extremity of my disgust and despair over the election results. But let me warn you right now: As this is my blog, I am making no attempt to be fair and balanced whatsoever. This is my description of the unchecked emotional outpouring I felt after the results were in, and until the next appointed puppets in the Supreme Court decide to forgo all pretense of adherence to the Constitution, and carelessly chuck out the Bill of Rights like it's some useless Ikea assembly instructions, I still have the right of free speech, and will rant about this travesty in any way I see fit. If you are offended by the liberal point of view, don't even bother reading any further. Okay, you've been warned.]

Before I had the chance to censor myself, I felt the tears in my eyes, and a tsunami of hopelessness and grief washed over me. Never before in my life have I felt so personally, emotionally involved in the results of a presidential election as I did this year, knowing that so much of the present and the future are at stake. And for a few moments the night before, I had allowed myself to believe that, quite possibly, the nightmare would be over, and someone, sweet Jesus, SOMEONE would come along and save us from the obvious catastrophes to come.

I can't believe that the majority of the country voted for this stammeringly stupid, cold-hearted frat boy, under the guise that his Christian morality and bravery in the face of invisible WMD's will save this nation. What about the economy? It's in ruins. What about the civil rights that previous generations fought so hard for? The notion that this miserable excuse for a president will influence Supreme Court decisions for decades to come makes me so angry. How DARE a religious group be allowed to alter the decision making process of this country. What happened to separation of church and state? As a Christian, I am APPALLED at the decisions currently being made in the name of Christianity. You think Jesus was angry with the money changers in the temple? Wait until He gets a hold of the sons of bitches that are currently in power. There is a separate circle of hell just for Dick Cheney alone, and another for every evil bastard who decided that it's better to go invade a country based on lies and deceit, than it is to allow loving partners of the same sex to be allowed to visit one another in the hospital ICU.

There is a sickness in this country right now that scares me down to the marrow, a complete blind faith in a president and administration that is so incompetent and deceitful that their Pinocchio noses dwarf the size of the national debt. The misguided war, the favoritism shown to corporations over the middle class, the rape of the environment, the cavalier dismissal of the opinions of the United Nations, the contempt in which we are now held by the majority of the world, the erosion of civil rights, the homophobia, the religious fanaticism and the lack of attention to the health care crisis, are just a few of the issues that bulldozed over my brain in that moment - the moment I realized that any hope of a real dialogue and hope of change regarding these issues was dead, for at least another four years. I hang my head in shame.

The cascade of fears, regrets, anger, loathing and despair engulfed me so quickly, that I froze. That familiar, terrifying feeling, of my face paralyzed into a mask of solemnity and devastation, came over me before I'd even fully processed the message. It was the frozen facade of depression, that I've fought for so long, covering my face and dulling my senses, in one fell swoop. It has never come over me so quickly before, literally in seconds, and I was scared and desperate to go home and crawl into bed.

For someone who grew up in a home where extreme displays of emotion were tamped down, so as to not arouse the turmoil within the Mother Beast, crying in public, or in front of nearly anyone for that matter, is just short of humiliating. You can't be angry with Mom, it'll upset her. She'll throw a complete fit if you don't go make up with her and tell her you love her. Go hug her, so she'll calm down. (No, it doesn't matter that you are still angry and that your anger is justified, go make up with her anyway.) Don't cry in front of Mom, or you'll have to explain to her what you are upset about, and then she will fly into a ranting rage at the real or her imagined source of your unhappiness, completely out of proportion to the event. And whatever you do, don't tell her that you are sad, or she will be unbearable to live with, sobbing and carrying on as if she were the injured party.

The lesson I learned from those early days: Don't show people your emotions, you aren't entitled to them anyway, and others' emotions take precedence over yours, anyway. The ability to articulate these lessons doesn't make the instinct to fall back into these patterns any less strong. Showing uncomfortable emotions, learning when, where and how much is appropriate, and once it is let out, getting control over extreme emotion, is still a difficult work in progress. So you can imagine my mortification at both the intensity and speed with which this depression descended upon me, at the same time at which I was trying to get a grip on the surprising flood of tears. The grief was palpable, as if I had just lost a loved one, and I was unprepared for the size and swiftness of its grasp.

There would be no opportunity to go home from work, not for hours. But since the first tidal wave of grief came over me, I wasn't able to stop the silent crying. As it happened, that day was very busy, forcing me to come into contact with a steady stream of both strangers and distant acquaintances as I grappled with my emotions. I used the useful white lie I have called upon for years, on the few occasions when I became overwhelmed in a public place with no hope of privacy - I always say that my allergies are bothering me. It's a perfect excuse to be red-eyed and dabbing at your eyes and face with a tissue, without having to explain why on earth you are so emotional that you are crying in public.

I wadded through the sea of faces and demands on my time and attention until the end of the day, the whole time feeling like I was wearing a heavy mask, unable to smile or find humor or pleasure in anything. The country I love is not the country I thought it was, and I felt alienated and confused, disenfranchised in my own home. The despair and resultant exhaustion stayed with me for days, as I dragged myself to and from activities with the knowledge that eventually, somehow, I would make it to acceptance. But not yet.

How could my America be the world's bully? How could most of the country be so blinded with fear by 9/11 that they can't see that the administration is playing a deadly game, diverting attention from our real security risk. by going after the President's personal enemy instead of the country's true, admitted foe? How can the people be willing to turn a blind eye to the obvious personal financial gains of the Vice President as a result of this war? How does the average American ignore the tax cuts for the minority of super-rich individuals who Bush owed favors to, while allowing themselves to be bribed with $300 into thinking that the administration cares one iota for the middle class, blue collar worker and the army of unemployed, poverty-stricken and underinsured? What will happen to our environment if the current administration continues to allow corporations to pollute the air, ground and water at the current rate? Do you REALLY think that this president, from an oil family, will give a crap about supporting environmentally friendly energy alternatives? Has he so far? Has the word of God and Jesus Christ been perverted so fully by certain organized religious groups that xenophobia and homophobia are acceptable replacements for loving thy neighbor as thyself?

November 3 was one of the saddest days of my life.

Monday, November 08, 2004

I'm sorry that there has been such a gap between posts. The past week has been quite an emotional rollercoaster. So much so, in fact, that the events will have to be spread out over several posts. This one is called...

My Heart Is Full

The excuses for having such a large party for Halloween were as follows: Due to the kindness of my ex-friend, it had become tradition for me to have a large birthday party every five years, and this is the fifth year since my last. My now ex-friend Lydia had been instrumental in throwing surprise parties for me the last two times, but the breakdown of our friendship has been chronicled in this blog, and it is completely out of the question that she would ever be wishing me a happy birthday again. So, if a party was to happen, it certainly wouldn't happen if I was to wait for Lydia to plan it.

Also, my actual birth date falls in the midst of the end of the year holiday season, a time during which everyone, including myself, is running from holiday party to holiday shopping to holiday cooking, etc., and I felt as if having another get-together during that season was almost a burden for people, rather than a cause for celebration. There is nothing as awful as feeling that you are dragging people out to celebrate your birthday, or that they are being nice to you out of obligation rather than heartfelt good wishes. Once you get that whiff of 'I have so much shopping yet to do/My office party is that same night/Oh great, ANOTHER thing to do that week', blah, blah, blah, you almost want to have a little hissy fit and say, "Really, don't bother! I'd rather be in my pajamas with a good book at home if you are going to wear that puss all night!"

Taking all of those considerations together, along with the fact that Halloween was falling on the weekend and it is my favorite holiday of all, and the excuse for a large party became almost elementary, my dear Watson. However, since I was throwing the party myself, and I definitely did not want it to seem like I was trolling for birthday gifts (tacky!), I did not mention the birthday reason on the invitations, only the Halloween reason. I only mentioned the birthday part of it to a select few people, mostly so that they would know that later on in the year, they will be excused from saying "We have to try to find a time to get together for your birthday (stifled groan)", because with this party, we will have already done that. Except for my brother and three other guests, who still brought presents despite my protests, my efforts were completely successful, and the party did not turn into the dreaded pseudo bridal shower - put the gifts on the gift table - type of embarrassment.

By the time of the official witching hour, all of the elements came together, and if my guests had nearly as good a time as I did, then it was a raving success. I could easily say that the Halloween party was one of the best nights of my life. Here are some details:

Decorations: After two evenings and a frantic morning's worth of decorating, the rental hall was decorated better than I could have imagined. I had been hoarding orange lights and pumpkin covered cups and plates and plastic eyeballs and streamers and styrofoam tombstones and plastic spiders and glow in the dark skeletons and ... for months, and it all turned out to be rather impressively ghoulish when all on display at once. I was extremely proud of the results, and thanks to two of my faithful friends and my sister-in-law, all of the work was done before it got to be too terribly late on the day of the party. People went nuts over the elaborateness of the dungeon-like lighting and the cauldron full of foamy eyeball sherbet punch, and the screech of the battery-operated flying bats amusingly filled in the gaps between songs on the CD or during the bands' sets. I think the two best effects were the hanging caldrons of fire that we placed around the fireplace, along with the red light that went behind the rack that holds the firewood (which was replaced by a realistic looking skull), and the cage, cut out of a refrigerator box and spray painted grey, that had a hanging skeleton and a strobe light effect on it. I mean, orange and black streamers and plastic pumpkins are cute and all, and people will comment on how sweet it all looks, but if you make it look creepy enough, people will really be impressed by the depths of your depravity, and will cast sideways glances at you for months afterwards. I'd rather be a cool ghoul.

Food:The food was great, although there was far too much of it, because (see my rant about RSVPing), I was not quite sure who would really turn up. I estimated on the high side, just to be safe, but luckily, I also planned for food overload disaster, and had purchased a truckload of those round aluminum "to-go" pie plate things with lids. You know when a hostess says, "Please take some of the [fill in the blank with some kind of food that is good enough that you might want some, but is messy enough that you just KNOW it is going to end up all over the back seat of your car on the way home]"? Well, when I said, "Please take some of the food home," and I had a disaster-proof way for people to do it, some of them actually DID take home food. [Insert picture of hostess looking quite pleased with herself for planning that part well.] Still, we have been eating the leftovers from this party ever since, and next summer still might be too soon for me to see any more sausage and peppers. One other little Suzie Homemaker detail to share with you: Those Halloween themed "Peeps" marshmallow ghosts and pumpkins look really cute arranged around a cheesecake or other dessert. And if you can find "Deadhead" Charms lollypops, with white skulls embossed on dark purple lollypops, all the better to shove into a pie or cupcakes. The dessert table was really amazing, if I say so myself.

Music: J. had arranged for his current band and the band that he used to be in years ago to both play at the party, and had been busy that week setting up and running rehearsals with both groups. I know that he got a lot out of it too, but I was so touched that he worked so hard to provide the entertainment, and that they were all nice enough to give up a Saturday night (a big night for musicians) to play at my party, for free. They seemed to have fun playing separately and jamming together, and I was especially proud of J's playing that night, as many of my friends had never heard him or his band before.

I had never been one of the cool kids in school, and I had never dated musicians when I was younger, so having a cool musician boyfriend and having all these rock and roll musician friends who would come and play at my party was something out of one of my teenage fantasies. I remember thinking at the party, someone really has to pinch me, because I cannot believe this. Luckily, I have not yet crossed over that imaginary and yet seemingly inevitable dividing line, the one which separates such an experience. On one side, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true; but on the other side, it could be a terribly pathetic, last ditch attempt to recapture youthful exploits. Some might say that chronologically, I am over into the pathetic side of that line. But as far as I'm concerned, it was a dream come true moment, so I was thrilled to pieces. I'll be too old to rock some day, but not today.

Guests: Friends I see every day, and friends I have not seen in months or even years, all showed up in inventive costumes, and I was a little bit overwhelmed trying to make time to talk to all of them, take care of my hostessing duties, and enjoy the bands all at once. A nice couple I used to work for drove all the way here for the party. My friend who owns a costume store and had worked his tail off for days and days during the Halloween busy season, dragged his weary yet well costumed self there. J's ex-wife, who was the singer in his old band, and who had been sick as a dog, came and sang her heart out, and impressed the crap out of everyone. ( She is so talented, no one could have guessed how awful she felt that day.) My now oldest surviving friend, in terms of the length of our aquaintance, not her age, made me so happy by coming to the party, making it the first time we'd seen each other in a few years. My one good friend came to the party dressed as me, with the shirt loaded with "in" jokes that gave away who she was supposed to be, and everyone got a hearty laugh out of it.

Partying: I made two attempts to eat some of the food, and all told I only made it through half of a stuffed shell and a portion of the chocolate mousse cake, what with all of the people arriving and talking and various introductions to make. Some dear person was trying to be helpful and kept clearing my plates before I could get back to them, but I have certainly had more than my share of the catering since then, so no matter. I was worried at first that people would only congregate with those they already knew, but some brave guests got around to introducing themselves to others there, and I was so happy to see all the parts of my life melding, laughing, and dancing together. Except for one real stick-in-the mud husband, who has been making his wife miserable for several I-wish-she-was-strong-enough-to-leave-him years now, everyone seemed to have a great time.


Miscellany: Since J. had not had an opportunity to meet a good deal of the people from all of the far flung parts of my life, I had to drag my poor shy one around and introduce him to many people that night. Luckily, there were also many people who were his friends, or who he already met, so it wasn't completely like being thrown to the lions. Still, I know that since he is rather shy with new people he probably doesn't make the best first impression, so I'm sure that some people came away with very little idea of what he is like, aside from the musicianship. Well, that's been the story of my life, since almost every person who has been important to me has suffered a bit of social shyness, and they all make either a neutral or poor first impression, which can only be righted when they meet up with people again in a smaller group. But honestly, the evening wasn't about trotting J. out as a trophy, or to worry about what my friends thought of him, since my feelings about him are not to be dictated by others. But it was part of my agenda to have the people I like best at least meet the other people I like, so that when I mention them in conversation, there is some frame of reference: "Oh yeah, the one who came as the spaghetti and meatballs to your party?"

Uninvited guests: Besides the revelers, there were ghosts in the room that had nothing to do with the decorations - phantoms of love and loss, the past and the future. The ghost of Lydia, the hostess of my previous birthday celebrations, hovered around the far corners of the party, trying to cast a jealous pall over the proceedings, yet not able to dampen the energy and enthusiasm present. The twin goblins of alcoholism and cancer slow danced in the corner, unseen by many, as they gossiped and cackled together, proud of their past conquests that had saddened those present, and conspiring how to best win over those in the room who had narrowly escaped them in the past.

The spirit of my father smiled down on us all, happy in the knowledge that I was blessed with so many good friends, and was finally able to see above the murky waters of depression. Far enough, in fact, to imagine that I was perhaps worthy of such a celebration. And yet the spectre of bad feelings to come laughed at us from behind the amplifiers, sending out an ominous hum and crackle.

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