Saturday, March 10, 2012

Date night!!!???!!!???

My recent blog posts probably make it pretty obvious, or maybe they don't, that I've been feeling a little morose lately. It happens every year around this time, during winter, but not during December—when I feel the imminence or excitement of time off between semesters—and not during January—when I feel the excitement of a new semester starting. It starts happening in February. I just get moody. I know that I have an amazing life:  amazing baby, amazing husband, adequate dog. But sometimes I just get moody. But it's not only me; it's the world. Today my Yahoo homepage featured a news story headline that read, "Twins, 73, found dead together." Yesterday it featured a headline about a woman who had lost her legs during a successful effort to protect her children from a tornado. And on Monday Yahoo had a story about a grandmother whose entire family, and most recently her toddler granddaughter, died in last weekend's tornados. With tornados falling onto towns, dismembering mothers and vanishing entire families, and with old twins dying simultaneously and in the same spot, it's hard to maintain emotional equanimity.

My winter anxiety is heightened this year, despite season's unusual warmth, because I have a baby. I bet most mothers are as worried about their babies' welfare as Woody Allen is about his own, only it's not nearly as funny when it's for real. The world is a death trap, a disease trap, and an injury trap. Mothers know that not even blankets are benign. What other group of humans has cause to fear blankies? Many deodorants contain aluminum, a known carcinogen, so I've stopped wearing any (and have started stinking it up), because Graham often falls asleep next to me, under my arm, and I don't want him to get cancer of the cranium. Or any other kind of cancer. I can no longer regard the sun as benevolent, because its rays are cancerous.

I need desperately to get over this anxiety in as few as two days, because Aron and I planning a date night during spring break. An overnight date. All night. Spending the night together in a hotel in Atlanta. Without Graham. "Without Graham" is the saddest word duo I have ever seen. What am I thinking when I want a date night that won't include Graham? I'll try to explain.

Aron and I used to live a life totally different than the life we live now, obviously. And of course my life has never been better than it is now that I'm a mother. Graham is an endlessly interesting, fun, rewarding, amusing, adorable, emotionally enriching life project. But I do sometimes miss the other kind of fun Aron and I used to routinely have. On our first date we went to La Fonda and split a pitcher of mojitos before going to listen to Angela Davis lecture at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and after that we went to Manuel's Tavern, where we ate mac n' cheese and drank Jagerbombs. We went to the Decatur Book Festival two years ago and spent an hour chatting at Java Monkey, our favorite coffee shop. For my birthday three years ago we spent the afternoon at Brick Store Pub and ate Flying Biscuit the next morning before we walked up Stone Mountain. We've gone surfing in the Pacific Ocean. We used to go kayaking once a month. We used to play tennis five times a week. We've had sex in a car, on the beach, and in one of those sheds for sale. We used to watch Jeopardy every weekday, but then we cancelled our cable.

Old Times isn't only my favorite Harold Pinter play; it's also my name for this silly tendency I have to glamorize the past. When I look back on watching Cash Cab and regard that experience as the height of my romantic life with Aron, I'm old times-ing things. What I do with these memories is what has been done to Ruby Falls. Aron and I vacationed in Chattanooga when I was five months pregnant, because I was bored and restless and temporarily under the impression that maybe it wasn't really such a lame city. Anyway, Ruby Falls is a geological marvel, an underground waterfall. But they act like Ruby Fall isn't marvelous enough, because the tour of it is turned into this ridiculous spectacle replete with space-exploration-movie music and a crazy, multi-color, light show that flashes, strobes and disorients.

So maybe it's that I want to stop spectacularizing my old life with Aron like Ruby Falls is spectacularized. Or maybe I just want to relive the spectacle.

Thursday, for the first time in more than four months, I felt bored. Graham was napping, and suddenly I realized that I just wanted to go somewhere. Going somewhere isn't as easy as it sounds, because I have pretty intense public place anxiety, and I tend to transpose my anxiety onto Graham, so when Graham and I go into the world together, I'm all the time worried that he's freaked out or not having fun, even though he always seems content to be out and even interested in all the things he sees. So as Graham napped on Thursday, I Googled "things to do with your baby," and one of the search results was an article that had the two lamest boredom-relieving suggestions I've ever hear:  1. walk down the fabric aisle of a crafts store, and 2. pull out and listen to all your favorite CDs from college to remind yourself of your youth. This is so unhelpful:  what the fuck is so fascinating about walking past fabric, and all my favorite CDs from college are all my current favorite CDs.

Lately I have an insurmountable inability to be dishonest, even when being honest interferes with the way I'd like people to think of me. I'd like to be regarded as a selfless, competent mother whose only interest is becoming a better mother. I do think I'm pretty competent, but mothering Graham is too fun for me to pretend it's selfless, and mothering isn't my exclusive interest (and the others don't include knitting, and some of my interests have almost nothing to do with being a mother:  I want, for example, to be a novelist, I really do). So when I admit to being a bored mother I know it sounds so awful. It even disappoints me. Graham isn't boring, and yet, for an evening, I was bored. And leaving Graham overnight to indulge in some irresponsible adult fun makes me sound selfish. What could I possibly want to do that necessarily precludes Graham's presence? Well, quite a few things, actually. I want to:
  • see some raunchy stand-up comedy,
  • eat a meal with both hands and before it gets cold,
  • booze it up,
  • make out with my husband,
  • tote a purse instead of a diaper bag, and
  • not panic on the inside every time I see a smoker or smell a cigarette.
But I'm so scared to leave Graham. I'm never away from him for more than an hour and a half, and even in those short periods I miss him so terribly. Sometimes I miss him so terribly that being stopped by a redlight on my home from class can feel like an agonizing eternity. On the other hand, sometimes I'd rather read a book after class than rush home. Life isn't simple. And I worry. I wake up at least a dozen times each night to make sure Graham is still breathing. What am I going to do when I wake up in a hotel on date night and Graham isn't sleeping right next to me? I'm going to have to trust that he's ok. He'll be with Aron's mom, grandma and aunt, so I have no reason to doubt that he'll be loved, cuddled, changed, and fed. But what if he misses me? I hope that I'm just flattering myself by thinking that he'll care that I'm not around, but based on the smiles he sprouts every time he sees me, I think it's reasonable to worry that he'll feel at least out of sorts when we're apart. Right now he's an hour into his morning nap. He's sleeping in his pack n' play five feet from where I'm sitting, but, because he's sleeping instead of eating or smiling at and talking to me, I miss him.

But we're doing it. Aron and I are going to date each other like it's 2010. And I'm not going to call to check on Graham constantly, because I don't have any Xanax, I do have lots of anxiety, and if I heard him cry from an hour away, I'd just die. So instead of dying, I'm going to have fun. I'm going to booze it up and have a blast. I'm going to have fun.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Four month bragathon

Graham is four months and two days old, and he is also undeniably, fiercely and shockingly awesome! Here are some of the specifics of his awesomeness:
  • Graham's first stretch of sleep is consistently lasting seven hours, and often he'll sleep another two or three after eating six or seven ounces. I have measured out my nights in formula ounces and hours slept, and both figures keep improving, along with my energy and sanity levels.
  • Graham smiles almost as much as he makes his parents smile, which is a lot a lot a lot, and even often more than that. 
  • During the day, Graham can only nap if he's on top of me, which makes me feel loved and needed and happy ... and incapable of doing around-the-house chores. I have no instinct or desire to be a Holly-homemaker, and while I'm immobilized by the napping Graham, I have plenty of time to read for school. I figured I'd be constantly behind in my school reading assignments this semester, but so far, I've only been ahead. On the downside, we have two massive and ever-growing laundry mountains, one of clean clothes and one of dirties.
  • I was determined to guide Graham through the Essential History of Art book, but before we even made it to the Bayeux Tapestry (page 22 of 249), I was yawning and wanting to yank my hair out, and Graham likewise seemed antsy with ennui. (He stares endlessly at Annie Leibovitz's Women, so the issue is not a general dislike on his part of looking at book pages.) To avoid boredom and maintain our picture-book delight, I decided to forego distant art history and instead peruse MoMA Highlights, whose cover image is Lichtenstein's Girl with Ball. It's cartoony art, and we both love it. And what isn't cartoony is still infinitely more interesting than Byzantine art. Graham agrees and doesn't seem to mind that I'm offering him an incomplete education. And the text interpretations accompanying each art piece are so insightful.
  • We're only two days into month four, but already Graham has gotten his radical activism on.
baby's first protest
Today we went with Graham to a demonstration that took place outside Athens' City Hall and that was hosted by People for a Better Athens, the advocacy group leading the fight against the development of a downtown Walmart. At first I felt like a real phony for being there, because to hate Walmart seems so hip, as hip as Target flip-flops and swimsuits.

Maybe Target isn't as hip as I think people think it is, but it's relevant. Some of those most morally compelling arguments made against Walmart apply to its aesthetically superior counterpart, Target, a store that doesn't seem to be hated with anything near the intensity with which Walmart is hated. (Many Target products are produced by sweatshop labor, though I'm pretty sure that Target isn't nearly as union-squashing as its aesthetically inferior counterpart.) I'm not defending Walmart, and I don't want a Walmart downtown. But hate for Walmart can be so mean. There's a website called People of Walmart that mainly features pictures of heavy men and women whose clothes don't cover their bodies; bums and boobs are prominent in these pictures, but the bums and boobs of People of Walmart are mocked rather than eroticized. (It's not worse for them to be mocked than for them to be eroticized; it's just a different kind of mean, I think, the way boobs on fat women earn derision while boobs on skinny women earn, I don't know, lusty looks. Neither is too nice, but one body type is more popularly regarded as an asset than the other. This is a complicated moral math problem.)

Walmart is so often characterized as a trashy store, but what's so trashy about Walmart is pretty much the same as what's so trashy about most of (at least) American retail. And so many companies in the American market attempt to appropriate ethics:  nevermind that TOMS shoes are made in China and often of leather--buy a pair and a pair will be given to a child in need; Ethos water ("water for the world") gives a whopping five cents from each bottle sold to help provide fresh drinking water to places in need of it; suddenly the paper towel/toilet paper aisles of grocery stores are looking more green than white. With all this false altruism and insipid environmentalism, it's sort of nice that Walmart doesn't put too much effort into pretending to be good. But of course the fact that Walmart indeed is no good is a very big problem, one that its not pretending not to be cannot make up for. Yikes:  a quadruple negative, not unlike Walmart's business model.

So we went to the anti-Walmart demonstration, and as soon as we arrived I saw:  a man painted as a zombie, probably 100 tattoos, at least a dozen hemp purses, and five dogs so ugly that only a liberal could love them. (I loved them. Every dog deserves love. Every liberal knows that.) I was afraid of what I saw, but several local business owners, as well as a professor of history and women's studies (and author of To Serve God and Wal-Mart), gave compelling, principled arguments against Walmart.

There was this frustrating thing, though. One business owner who spoke objected to being regarded as a radical socialist for opposing Walmart; she said that she felt that her opposition to Walmart simply made her American. I don't know why she wouldn't admit to being a socialist, or at least a little socialistic. All-American non-socialistic opposition to Walmart must be aesthetic or self-interested opposition, and I find that incredibly lame.

But overall I think the demonstration was interesting and convincing, and I like the idea of taking Graham to gatherings of that sort, even though it might mean that during his rebellious teenage years he'll experiment with young republicanism. If that's as bad as it gets, I guess that's not too bad.

My baby is four months old!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Vomit Chronicles

(This is the first part of a story that I mentioned a few posts ago, the one that was, unsurprisingly, not accepted into an undergraduate literary magazine. I'm sharing, but as Dr. Seuss might say, and in fact does say [in "Pete Pats Pigs"], "Don't ask my why. I cannot say." That, I think, is the second rudest line Dr. Seuss ever wrote, the first being a line earlier in the same story/poem that goes like this:  "Don't ask me why. It doesn't matter." Pete Briggs pats pigs. Amy Hall writes on internet walls. Don't ask me why. Like I wrote before, this story is supposed to be a spoof, which is something I say about all my stories, that way if they seem silly and laughably bad, I can claim that that's because they're supposed to. I also like to experiment with grammar, spelling and punctuation, so that explains ostensible typos.)

          At 2:52 on Wednesday, May 23 Kellman’s Private Investigation Agency received a phone call from Erin White, property manager of Tri-Columns Apartments, requesting to enlist the agency’s services in apprehending the Tri-Columns vomitter, who, “for three weeks now has been sullying the first floor hallway of Tri-Columns with this pink, rank filth.” Ms. White’s tone was less than friendly, but tones less than friendly are more than common when people realize they are faced with a problem that makes a relationship with a professional P.I. agency necessary. The stealth and secrecy of private investigation is not the happy sort, say of a surprise birthday party; pre-clients like Erin White know this; this knowledge accounts for their pre-client unfriendliness; and this knowledge cannot be shaken, though the unfriendliness usually is.
            On the phone, Erin White told Michael Brooks, head secretary of Kellman’s Private Investigation Agency, that he would be seeing her along with “a check made out to Kellman himself” within the hour.
            Apparently, Ms. White did not realize that Kellman’s first name was Maxine or that she (Maxine) had recently abandoned her sanity and moved herself into the basement of the agency’s offices to commence a new, sinister business:  with its aim of retribution, Maxine Kellman’s Center for the Distribution of Just Deserts was an agency designed by the now-deranged Maxine for the case-by-case crafting and exacting of punishments for those whom the upstairs agency found guilty of some transgression. (There was never a case, upstairs or down, without a transgression.) In the four weeks since its Grand Opening party (which every Investigator and officeworker of the upstairs agency attended, the former with anxiously grit teeth, the latter with at best half-hidden amusement) Kellman’s CDJD had netted no clients. This had nothing to do with Kellman’s abilities, which had proved considerable hitherto, and everything to do with the upstairs agency’s total concealment of Kellman’s new and humiliating business endeavors. Maxine had instructed Brooks to send CDJD’s Grand Opening announcements and party invitations to all of Kellman’s PIA current and former clients; Brooks had subsequently been instructed by every sane investigator of Kellman’s PIA to shred all evidence of the CDJD. Alexander Andrews, an especially professionally fervent yet personable investigator, threatened Brooks that he would lose his job if news of Maxine’s lapsed sanity reached clients.
            With Ms. White’s angry voice in his ear, Michael Brooks, who was new to the job and unswervingly timid in his performance of it, wasn’t quite sure what to do; but he knew what he definitely couldn’t do, and that was to tell Ms. White that the owner and longtime operator of Kellman’s Private Investigation Agency was newly psychotic. Brooks wouldn’t have minded telling Ms. White that truth; in fact, he would have liked to, as it would’ve also afforded him the opportunity to assure Ms. White of how sane and capable all the other investigators at Kellman’s were. Instead of this, Brooks said nothing while Ms. White explained her pukey predicament with livid briskness, and when she announced to him that he should expect her arrival soon, he nodded, in the inaudible way of all nods.
            When Brooks brought the details of the Tri-Columns case to Alexander Andrews, whose investigative prowess made everyone regard him as the agency’s de facto Top Investigator now that Maxine was effectively gone, Andrews seemed at first not to have listened to Brooks’ report before responding with equal parts boredom and dubiousness:  “It’s a case about vomit?” he asked. Most of Andrews’ attention was somewhere among the papers scattered across his desk.
            “Yes, sir,” Brooks answered.
            “Send Ms. White to Kellman,” Andrews said uncaringly. Andrews shuffled through the mess on his desk, and Brooks felt uneasy during the silence that ensued Andrews’ perplexing instruction.
            “To Kellman?”
            “Yes,” answered Andrews, distantly.           
            “To Maxine?” Brooks asked, confused. Brooks, who had been instructed by Andrews to treat Kellman like an embarrassing childhood memory, that was, not to talk about her and even to pretend as best as he could that she never happened, was shocked by Andrews instructions to send the Tri-Columns Apartments case to her, to the madwoman.
            “Of course not!” Andrews shouted savagely, shooting up from his seat as if propelled by springs. He breathed, permitting his sense of professionalism to quell his choler, and said mildly, “Send this Ms. White to Robin.”
            Brooks chided himself silently for mentioning Maxine Kellman to Andrews. Even though Robin Kellman, Maxine’s granddaughter, had never investigated a case, was only in town for the summer, had been hired as an administrative assistant, had majored in computer science, was only twenty-four years old,  … in brief, even though Robin had no relevant experience or expertise, Brooks realized that it nonetheless should have been obvious to him that Andrews would never speak of a humiliating wraithlike woman as if she were a capable investigator. A simple process of elimination ought to have made it obvious to Brooks that Robin was the only remaining Kellman to whom the incensed Ms. White could be sent.
            When Brooks exited Andrews’ office with a posture whose angle was considerably more acute than it had been upon entering, he heard his name called from an office with an open door. The office belonged to Travis Bright, and the voice calling Brooks’ name belonged to Travis too.
            “A new case?” Travis asked.
            Brooks shrugged, said, “I don’t know.” He referenced his message pad, summarizing, “This Ms. White called from Tri-Columns Apartments, said a resident has been vomiting in the hallways there. She’s the property manager, and she says that residents are becoming upset. She sounded pretty upset herself.”
            Travis made a face, evincing his unsettled state; it wasn’t clear to Brooks whether it was the unthrilling content of the case or the thought of vomit that discomposed Travis Bright.
            “What did Andrews have to say about it?” Travis asked.
            “He said something very strange. He said to send Ms. White to Robin.”
            Travis laughed uncomfortably, said, “Really.” He looked off and thought. “People say you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, but I’m not sure vomit is a strong enough foundation to build on.” Travis continued to look off thoughtfully—the objectless-ness of his gaze and the nearness of his eyebrows to each other demonstrated the thoughtfulness of his eyes’ enterprise. Finally, Travis said, “I better help her out.”
            Erin White arrived within an hour as promised, but she was much less time-consuming than Brooks expected her to be. She merely handed Brooks a check, signed a contract without reading it, and announced, “I have to leave now. I have an appointment to show an apartment to potential renters, but I have first to make sure there is no vomit in the foyer.” She said it foi-yay.
            “You may call us if there is any,” Brooks responded, attempting to be helpful. Ms. White responded by looking thoroughly irritated and stomping away from his desk and out the front door of the agency’s office. Brooks promptly unloaded the check and contract off on Travis, who eagerly received them and eagerly embraced the prospect of helping the young Kellman on her first case.
            Robin was first filing papers and then dumbfounded when Travis approached her with Ms. White’s contract and a synopsis of the Tri-Columns Apartment case. She asked “Why me?”, received a vague response, and marveled at Travis’ face, which she now regarded as excessively un-handsome. The idea that anything about him had ever seemed even kind of attractive to her two years ago (when she was a college sophomore and easily impressed by full-time employment and suits and especially by full-time employment spent in suits) now seemed entirely untenable, verging on imaginary, and so it seemed equally imaginary when she heard herself responding affirmatively to his question would she like to talk about the Tri-Columns Case over shrimp cocktails ... or was it shrimp and cocktails? Either way she was committed, and she decided that a free dinner wasn’t anything to be upset about, even if Travis’ face was.
            Travis had glasses, brown hair, brown eyes, a wide, flat nose and almost, in length and width, no lips; Robin figured that he had trouble fitting even a small spoon into his mouth, and she noted that Travis’ very top-heavy face showed no signs of having a chin but she modified her note to allow that perhaps there had been a chin once but it had disappeared into his neck years ago, never to return, while looking downward to read.
            Robin, alternatively, had a very distinct chin and very large lips, the former possibility a tad too large. Someone, a boy, had once told Robin that her eyes were honey-colored, but all former and subsequent descriptions disagreed with the honey-colored one and instead insisted that her eyes were brown. Plain brown, and hardly any more oblong than a pair of quarters. Plain brown and almost perfectly round her eyes were, and she was not pleased about it. She would have preferred honey-colored and almond-shaped eyes, but the truth was that there was no food to be had anywhere on her face. Her largish chin and diamond-edged jaws weren’t home to even a single patch of peach fuzz, and her complexion resembled its color’s version of construction paper, not the skin of any known fruit. She often hoped that at least her breasts could be properly likened to a food (her preference was for a fruit likening but she was willing to accept some vegetables), but most presently Robin hoped her grandmother would stop behaving crazily and help her solve her first case.
            For dinner, Travis took Robin to Fishes Revenge, a new seafood restaurant on the muddy shores of two-acre man-made lake whose advertising claims of being “upscale” Robin found both untrue and insensitive, like if a Longhorn were to incite patrons to “steak” their claim to dinner. Robin didn’t let on her disapproval; she listened as Travis retold the facts of the Tri-Columns case as he was made to understand them.
            “What are your preliminary thoughts?” he asked, sipping a martini like it was a chore.
            “Only that our services evidently cost less than security cameras,” Robin responded. At this Travis neither laughed nor showed any subtler signs of having been amused, which indicated to Robin that he had taken her remark more seriously than she had dished it. And although the memory of their last and only other dinner together, which ended with her telling him that she would never fellate him, because it was so obvious to her that he wouldn’t appreciate it in proportion to the pleasure it’d afford, haunted her and had given her many a shame headache, she was sure she was right. He was a monk without principles, an ascetic roaming Home Depot. He was so smug and so serious, and he wouldn’t know a good thing if it wrapped its lips around his penis. Still, to have said what she said was lastingly humiliating to Robin, like a tramp stamp or a date rape. And there was another event from that painful memory pit of a date that haunted Robin, wherein she asked if anyone had every told him that Travis Bright was a misnomer. He had said yes in fact, two people had told him that before, but he said that both times he ended up forgetting to look up misnomer in the dictionary.
            “Hello? Robin? I said, what do you think will be your modus operandi?” Travis asked, apparently for a second time. Robin squeezed her eyebrows together and massaged the small heap of flesh the squeezing produced. Travis asked what was the matter.
            “Nothing. I have a shame headache,” she said, rubbing her glabella.
            “A what?”
            “A headache. As far as my modus operandi goes,” she began half mockingly, half good-naturedly, “seeing that I am starting in media res, I plan to question Ms. White and those with apartments on the first floor. Just like you said, Travis.”
            “You have to be extremely, um, precise with this case,” Travis said.
            “Why’s that?” she asked.
            “Because the case hardly qualifies as a mystery,” he said.
            “So you know the vomitter?”
            “Neither does anyone else. Clearly, this is a mystery. And I already know that every case requires precision, as you say, and I frankly don’t understand why you’re demeaning the case and lecturing me about being precise, as if I would’ve proceeded sloppily otherwise,” Robin said, feeling miffed by Travis’ remarks. “And it’s not like I chose the case or believe it’s hugely important,” she added placidly.
            “Look, Robin, you have to be precise with the case because there are half a dozen investigators who are ready to take over Kellman, call it Andrews instead and forget Maxine altogether, and you don’t want to give them any more reasons than they already think they have to trash the Kellman enterprise,” Travis said. He appeared sincerely stressed, but Robin doubted that Travis’ stress stemmed from the prospect of Maxine being thus discarded; Robin assumed Travis’ stress stemmed more from a desire to rename the agency Bright than a duty to defend Maxine’s name, repute and memory. What Robin regarded as Travis’ motivating desire was forever threatened by Alexander Andrews’ inimitable talent for netting and impressing clients, netting and impressing, netting and impressing.
            “How do you go about determining who your suspects are?” Travis asked, as if administering a pop quiz.
            “I’ve often heard the phrase ‘Everyone’s a suspect,’” Robin said, refusing to take Travis as seriously as he seemed to think he deserved to be taken.
            “That’s true, to an extent,” he granted.
            “Should I consider you a suspect?” Robin asked, attempting to be playful.
            “No,” he rebuked. Shaking his head, he said, “That would be a waste of time.” With his head moving less, he said, “On the other hand, if you feel you need to practice interviewing before you begin officially interviewing, I am more than willing to play the role of a suspect.” Robin wanted to say to Travis that he ought to understand himself as precluded from use of the expression “play a role,” on account of his genius and seriousness, but she wasn’t feeling sufficiently feisty; to get there, she ordered a Tom Collins that, rather than making her feisty, made her very, very sleepy, and she was relieved when the check arrived to the table and nearly elated when Travis told her that he was ready to leave.
            The car ride to Robin’s was silent except for beach jazz on the radio and the occasional lecturing adage from Travis about private investigation, including “Things aren’t always the way they seem in this business” and “Sometimes the good guys turn out to be the bad guys.” He also said he remembered his first case like it was yesterday; and it had been yesterday, give or take three years.
            When they were close to the house Robin had rented for the summer, she told him not to pull into her driveway, which was long and windy and provided no good spot to turn around. She thanked him for dinner, and he did not tell her she was welcome; instead, he sat silently staring at his steering wheel for an uncomfortable while before saying with a wounded tone, “I would probably apologize. I would be embarrassed and feel guilty, which is not to say that I wouldn’t appreciate it. I would appreciate it, but I would say, ‘I’m sorry’ afterward. I’m sorry,” he said. Robin was through with shame headaches, and she didn’t mind if Travis suffered one himself, so instead of filling the silence that ensued his confession with consoling remarks, she just said “Ok” in an emotionless tone and exited his car.
            Robin was glad about the moments of reflection that her long walk up the winding driveway made available. She thought about the case. She realized that to want her grandmother’s help was to dream, but even more than this she realized that the reality of her situation was the dream’s opposite:  not only was Maxine too far gone mentally to help Robin, she was so far gone and showed so few signs of returning that she was the one needing help; she needed Robin’s help to safeguard the company she had owned since 1947 and operated until two months prior to Robin’s arrival. Though afraid, Robin took pleasure from the prospect of protecting and continuing Kellman’s Private Investigation Agency in and with its original name. “I am a Kellman,” Robin said aloud, and she relished the sound of her name and the personal love and professional respect she felt for her grandmother. Robin enjoyed her walk in the semi-cool night air, and she enjoyed the sounds of bugs in the grass and trees, and she liked that the sky over Gray, Georgia seemed only to get dark blue and never to get black, and she loved that the moon made the driveway appear to glow and even to float a bit, and she was pleased by the Japanese maple on the mound of pinestraw in the middle of the yard of her rented house, and she appreciated that her neighbors kept such nice lawns, and she felt great to be free of Travis’ company, and she looked forward to having something strange and exciting to do in the morning. As she approached her rental house, a two-bedroom stucco, the only thing Robin didn’t like was that someone had apparently deposited at least ten sandwiches’ worth of pink, rank pimento cheese filth on her doormat. But of course the truth was more upsetting than Robin initially appreciated, and it was not edible so much as it was already eaten. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trigger warning: sexual assault story

For those not in the "trigger warning" know (I wasn't until very recently), "trigger warning" is intended to alert readers of the fact that a piece of writing contains references to or descriptions of traumatic events. The descriptions and references in this post might be upsetting, so if you feel reluctant to read this because of that, please do stop reading.

In preschool I took karate. Karate was a part of, not separate from, the preschool experience, which also included tee-ball, swinging while singing "Achy Breaky Heart," and learning to tell time on an analog clock. Those are the main things that I remember about preschool, but those main memories involve secondaries. I remember, for example, feeling embarrassed after swinging the plastic bat and completely missing the plastic ball sitting easily atop the plastic tee, and I remember getting a "gold" trophy for kicking a wooden board in half during a karate performance. I have no memory of being prepped for kicking the board before the performance. What I remember is watching the other karate kids ahead of me go onto the stage and kick the board in half and panicking as I awaited my turn, because I knew I never had kicked, and furthermore was incapable of kicking, a wooden board in half. But when my turn came, I did kick it in half, but only because the board was actually already in two pieces:  it was just being held by the karate instructor in a way that made it look like one piece. So I got a trophy, for basically nothing. But I thought it was a fabulous trophy … until a few days later when the faux-gold coating started to chip, revealing lackluster plastic underneath. If my emotions lately were an image, that is the image they'd start off being. And then they would turn into the image of me deliberately and defiantly, and feeling full of disappointment, flaking away the fake gold dishonestly coating the trophy-figure's masculine, plastic and milky white body. And what I'm doing now, talking about what I'm about to talk about, amounts to an effort to shed my initial sorrow over the disappointing trophy that, once desquamated, looks more like a ghost than a prize. I want to pay tribute to the ugly ghost.

I might be mixing metaphors here, but I have to warn you that this is an atrocious ghost I'm dealing with. The story I'm working on telling is about sexual assault and might, for that reason, be triggering. It's essentially a very upsetting story I have to tell, so, again, if you feel inclined to stop reading, please obey that inclination.

When I was in ninth grade my mom went out of town, and I was supposed to stay at a friend's house while she was gone. Instead, I stayed home and threw a Christmas party, for which I had sent out invitations about a week in advance. At the party I chugged a beer, the first beer of my life, and soon after chugging the beer I went to my bedroom with a boy I had kissed a few times before. The boy and I started kissing in my bedroom, and he wanted to lie down with me. I figured that he wanted to have sex, and I knew I didn't want to have sex, so I refused to lie down with him, which made him angry. My very last memory from that night is seeing this boy leave my room, upset that I wouldn't lie down with him, and the last feeling I remember having that night is relief. I didn't care that this boy was mad at me, and I was glad at his leaving, because suddenly I felt exhausted and wanted nothing but to sleep. I woke up the next morning with blood in my underwear, and the tops of my legs and in between my legs felt bruised and tender, a feeling that lasted a few days.

I think I told this story for the first time soon (I don't know how soon) after it happened. I think I told my best friend at the time. And then I didn't tell this story again for nine years. It would periodically occur to me that this thing had happened, but I remember thinking in the shower the day after the party that I could never tell anyone. Whenever it has since occurred to me, I've had an immediate emotional response that goes like this:  that's the thing you never think about, and you can never tell anyone. Sometimes I would verbally instruct myself, saying, "That's the thing no one can ever know," and I never wanted to even think about what that "thing" was.

And then all of the sudden, this last Saturday, I was in the shower, and the memory hit me, and I couldn't keep it away. I've been incapable of fighting the memory away before, most notably four years after it happened when I saw the boy while I was at one of those Bank of Americas inside Kroger, where I was depositing a paycheck. But even on days I couldn't quite keep the memory away, I always knew that I couldn't tell anyone. It was a pact I had with myself. The idea of telling anyone made the memory considerably more painful, unbearable even. But on Saturday, when the memory hit me, I thought, "You have to tell Aron." And after I told Aron, I told some others, whom I'm not going to name, because I don't want their identities associated with this next, extremely distressing revelation:  of the six people I've told, three reported something similar happening to them. And two of those three reported feeling a shame so strong that for years they kept what happened to them a secret.

Revealing in such a public way what happened to me is less about the event itself and more about the senseless shame that surrounds events of this kind. For so long I felt so ashamed, and when I admit what happened to me, I feel like it amounts to announcing that I'm done being ashamed of this thing that I didn't want, control or invite. I in no way want to suggest that women with similar experiences should reveal what happened to them. For almost ten years I would've preferred dying over anyone knowing. But now, suddenly, it feels so important to me that people who have had experiences like the one I had know that they're not alone and that they shouldn't feel any shame over what happened to them. It took me almost a decade to realize that I shouldn't feel ashamed, and I certainly wish I hadn't felt ashamed for so long. My voice is tiny, but I want to use it here, in my little bitty blog, to say that I now realize what should have been obvious all along:  there's nothing to be ashamed of. I didn't have to be disappointed in myself for so long. I didn't have to be disappointed in myself at all.

It's not uncommon to hear a woman be accused of fabricating a story of sexual assault. People presume that, if she were telling the truth, she would've come forward to tell that truth earlier than she did. I can't really convey how painful it is for me to look back on the times I've heard people doubt the veracity of rape claims:  I feel like my decade-long failure to admit what happened to me has contributed to the suspicion ("Is she lying?" and/or "Was she asking for it?") that pervades the sexual assault dialogue. This sort of suspicion has always pissed me off, and lately, because I feel complicit, it has also been breaking my heart. So I'm working on fixing myself and atoning for my silence.

I have an amazing friend who sent me this after I told him what happened, and I want to share it because I think it's so kind and beautiful:

Oranges. I just finished eating frozen oranges. The oranges themselves are so fresh that they literally came off a tree in my backyard only a few hours ago and then were promptly stored in my freezer so that they would freeze. They make quite the delicious and refreshing treat and are a critical element of my quest to finally stop drinking soda.
When you messaged me last night and told me about what you had told Aron I did not know how to react. What is different than the time in which friends, mostly female, in fact – all female explained a history of sexual abuse or misconduct is that there was always a title attached to it. You however simply told a story.
When I go outside to pick the oranges I have to cross into the gate for my orchard. It’s a rusty gate and the chain that locks it is much more oxidized. In reality, it’s pretty gross to touch. If I weren’t such an addict to soda pop I might have it in me to pour some Coca Cola on the chain to see some of the rust fall off.
One of the things I have always liked about you is your matter of speaking. You are concise without rushing yourself and honest without being blunt and you may in fact be the single most polite person I’ve ever met. Rarely have I ever heard you speak spitefully of someone you knew personally.
As I enter the orchard of trees I can grab the picking stick and cross through a shed of useless mechanical parts. Surely, if I found it in me to not drink so much soda and do commit myself to any worthwhile projects I could make something. Maybe art or something functional, I feel like there are so many things I could do, if only I could convince myself to stop drinking soda.
So of course when you share a story as intimate and as personal as yours I find myself poised to listen and beyond that reflect. Oddly enough my first instinct is to want to hug you and tell you that the world is okay and it’s still an overall good place and that not all people are selfish monsters worth of disdain.
In trying to get the oranges I have found it best to simply bring down a branch and grab one or two or three or four. To be fair to the trees I try to rotate which one I’ll grab oranges from each trip. They are not for sale. They are only for me and my friends, and sometimes my neighbors, who frequently make delicious orange juice.
As I slept and pondered what I could say, well, really, there is nothing I can say to make it go away, or I presume even make you feel better and even then, I’m not sure if that would be the goal. What I am trying to say is that as your friend it disturbs me that this happened and if you would like to talk about it then I am here for you. If you would like to never bring it up again or on a whim or solely on even numbered days or whenever either of us wears plaid, then I am also here for you.