via Daddy Long Legs
I met Kevin within the first few weeks of joining the Alliance Center, the half way house I had found myself in after leaving the Good Shepherd Center, the hybrid detention center/mental hospital I had called home the entire year I was 17.
I had enrolled myself in Hartford Community College a few towns over from Alliance, set on improving myself as life had already fallen to ruin before I had even hit the age of 18 and I was determined to turn it around. I was taking it slow with my initial classes and only had enrolled in two, self aware enough to realize I was a lazy high school student and it stood to reason I could possibly be a lazy college student. Letters home and parent teacher conferences often threw around phrases like “highly intelligent but does not apply herself,” and “needs to better structure her time both in and out of the classroom.” I was the worst kind of slacker, the kind that could be brilliant and do big things with herself if only I could muster up the energy to give a flying fuck. Well, here I was and my fuck was ready to fly all over this community college. Here I would start the ball rolling into becoming the type of something my mom bragged about to her work friends, rather than the type of something she had to lie about.
I was majoring in Secondary Education and minoring in English since I was passionate about the latter and wanted to influence the future generation into seeing the wonder behind stories, words, plot lines, character development; and the importance of being able to use words to change the world. It was the one subject during my life of being a student that I excelled at, the one time I could count on my semester grade being and “A” instead of the standard “D’s” I got in my math, science, history, and that one time gym, classes.
I scored high enough on my entrance exam to place in a honors English class and low enough on the math portion of that exam to be placed in remedial math class, which was not even a credited class. I was dismayed over this but took my lumps. After all, Rome was not built in a day, as people liked to muse. However, when attending the first English class it became apparent that I had forgotten the previous 12 years of school. Pronouns, correct sentence structure and the course outline seemed impossible to decipher. There wasn’t a single creative writing project, instead a 12 week long assignment due on the last day of the class that I was not looking forward to and was not even sure what the expectation was.
“What am i fucking even paying for?” i thought grumpily as I wandered blindly in circles, halfheartedly looking for the class before I finally came to a rest on a bench beneath a tree. I pulled out my journal, which I took everywhere with me, and began writing shitty, angsty teenage poetry when a pair of feet, men’s feet in a pair of red, high top Converse All-Stars, appeared in my peripheral vision. I looked up from the feet and saw they were attached to a lovely boy who resembled a young Stephen Jenkins of Third Eye Blind.
“I like your shoes,” he said to me, sitting down on the bench.
“I like yours too,” I responded back. We were wearing the same pair.
A daddy long legs was crawling along the back of the bench and spotting it I shrank back a bit. He picked it up and let it walk over his palm, turning his hand over to cross along his knuckles.
“You don’t like them?” he asks.
“I don’t really like anything with long legs and a tiny body,” I explain, scooching away from him.
“That’s sort of a weird fear to have. What if it had a big body and long legs?”
“I suppose it would freak me out less.”
He is quiet for a moment, studying the spider as it wove its way between his fingers and back onto his palm. “The thing is,” he starts “is that they are more afraid of you than you are of them.” With that he grabbed my hand and gently nudged the spider onto it. My body froze and I felt a wave of panic sweep over me. “It can sense your fear. You need to relax a bit.” The daddy long legs does not move, rather just sits placidly in my palm as if also holding it’s breathe, waiting for me to react. The long leg, the feeler, slowly extends out and taps against my wrist, as if saying “hello.” I can barely even feel it sitting in my hand. It weighs less than a feather.
“You can take him back now,” I whisper and the boy in the red shoes does, placing it lovingly onto a limb of the tree behind us.
“I’m Kevin,” he says, extending his hand.
“Heather,” I say, shaking it. His hand is warm and when I let go I can still feel the heat of it lingering.
I don’t remember anything else about him after that but my journal entry from then indicates that I had found him easy to talk to and that we talked about many things during the hour I should have been in my English class. He was not from Maryland originally either, hailing from Florida the year before after his father had died from cancer. His mother had passed away years prior to that and now he lived with his aunt. We spoke about music, religion, drugs. I try and agree with most of his views, a personality flaw I had at the time, a need to please any man who showed even the slightest bit of interest in me. I had dreams of grandeur at that time. Not for material things but for being seen as something more than what I was. I was a secret hopeless romantic and wanted to believe that I was being pined over somewhere, a man torturing himself over my very own existence. I wrote in my journal that night that under no circumstance would I sleep with this boy and that we would only ever just be friends. I needed a friend my own age. Everyone at the half way house was decades older than me and had experienced year after year of extreme and unchecked mental illness, homelessness, and drug addiction. These were not people heading on over to take classes at the community college any time soon. These weren’t even people who could manage to keep more than a few teeth in their head. I told myself I deserved a friend. Life currently was dismal.
I never went back to another English class. Kevin and i found each other every Tuesday afternoon and meandered around the campus. We soon started to trek off campus to a spot in the woods that had a fallen tree that served us well as a seat. He reveled more of his life story to me in these woods. He liked to drop acid with his ex-girlfriend when he lived in Florida and then fuck her, whispering to her in French the entire time. He was worried that the child she now had was his but did not press the issue with her because she never did with him. I asked if this bothered him, knowing he potentially had fathered a child that was now growing up without him. He had shrugged and said it did not really bother him much. His apathy over the situation was tied into not having to pay child support or be tethered down in any way; not in cutting emotional ties to a child he would probably never get to see. This probably should have been a red flag. I too had grown up without a father the first eight years of my life. But all i felt then regarding that conversation was jealously that I wasn’t on acid, being fucked and talked to in a foreign language.
I told him about me, painting my life like something you would see on a Lifetime movie. I tried to play that “I’m the bigger person,” card, the “what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger” thing that People Magazine often wrote stories about. The cutting didn’t bother him. In fact he had a tendency to trace my scars with a finger tip, up and down my arm while we were talking. I basked in his acceptance of me and took that glow back to the half way house, where I could use it to forget that the woman who lived a room over from me regularly accused me of stealing coconuts from her back in ’72.
Kevin had given me his phone number and I called him one Saturday, getting his aunt on the phone.
“Heather!” she exclaimed,”he told me all about you!” and thus i was roped into a 30 minute conversation and spilling my life story to, as it turned out, a woman who was getting her Master in psychology. I couldn’t seem to escape these people but I answered the many questions she asked about me. I felt like I was probably going to be turned into her end-of-year thesis but she was really very kind and easy to talk to. In the end it turned out Kevin was not home, out with friends, which ended up driving me into an over dramatic depression for the rest of the weekend. He never mentioned his friends to me, never had stories about how he had spent his weekend. He was only a year older than me but I had been out of the social loop for so long, or rather, my social loop included a lot of manics and schizophrenics that I was unsure of what people did with themselves when they had the free time. Probably not hole up in their room and cutting themselves in a half way houses like I did. My life was hardly worth while.
Kevin, as it turned out, had a very dark side that I found uncomfortable and a little scary. He wore emotion on his very handsome face much more freely than I did and would become self critical of himself and impatient with my issues, telling me often that I was an idiot and that my problems freaked him out. After confessing that I had gone on a self mutilation binge a few days prior, one that scared me with the ferocity of it, he called me self involved. “Your problem,” he states pointedly, “is you fall into society standards of what depression should look like. You’re an MTV version of poor mental health.” He tells me my problem is my lack of drug use and that when controlled, drugs, all types of drugs, were actually very good for a person. I tell him that i am subject to random drug testing at the half way house and would get kicked out if in violation and then I would have to add “homeless” to the list of things about my life that sucked. He rolls his eyes, again me being a drama queen, and rolls himself a joint.
“It doesn’t really stay in your system for six weeks,” he pulls on his joint. “That’s just another thing they tell you to keep you from doing it.” He offers it to me, eyebrows raised in anticipation.
“They have me in N.A and A.A.” i plead, declining his offer. He just looks at me with disgust and goes back to smoking. We do not talk the rest of the time. He just gets high and shoots me dirty looks while I pick at the hem of my jeans and feel my face grow hot.
In the end that was the one good decision I made during my time at Alliance because a few days later I was randomly drug tested when another residence got caught smoking weed and fingered me as the person who was with him when he was smoking it. I wasn’t but still paranoid over having hung out with Kevin while he was smoking. When handing back my specimen cup to the nurse, I ask her if second hand pot smoke would show up in my urine. She pressed as to why I was asking her and I told her i was just curious, having read it in a book once. She held my gaze a little bit longer than I’d have cared for but in the end I was clean.
During this odd friendship with Kevin I constantly contemplated having some sort of sexual relationship with him. I had vowed celibacy after leaving Good Shepherd, not that I had fucked anyone while there, it being an all-girl center and me not buying into the “gay for the stay,” schtick that everyone else there seemed to openly tote. Still sex had been like heroin to me. It was an act that placed a band aid, though temporarily, on my black and blue soul and in it’s own ways as self destructive as drug use. Whoever would be next would be special, someone good to me and good to themselves. Never mind the boatload of other promises I had made since leaving Good Shepherd, now broken. The renewed communication with an ex who dangled the carrot often enough for me to never allow me the time to let go while simultaneously ignoring me for his actual girlfriend. The self mutilation I now did several times a week. The failure to keep up my grades. Yet I agonized over sex with Kevin constantly, the feeling of being held, a kiss, the idea that because we had connected on such a deep level instantly that it would be the type of magical moment you read about in Cosmo. I lied to myself constantly and wrote in my journal, playing the role of Strong and Self Respect WOAH-MAN! that nobody was going to “get dis ass,” that I was awesome and worthy and “so sorry boys, you can’t have all this.” In reality I was a scumbag, white trash, rarely knew which character I should be playing day-to-day, manipulative to the people they housed in Alliance, bored and hating the world around me. I wrote that I did not care, these things did not affect me and I would not let it get me down. Then I would fill page after page of this shit, clearly letting it get to me.
On a very drizzly, gray day I found myself in the library of the campus. I had not seen Kevin in about two weeks and had called him multiple times, either leaving a message with his aunt or disconnecting when the voicemail picked up. I actually was in the library to get some work done for my math class, the one class I was still going to and one which I had a pressing need to pass when Kevin suddenly appeared before me and sat down across the table.
“I’d like to fuck you soon,” he says to me calmly, smirking. I laid my pen down and just stared at him. This was my shinning moment, the one had been practicing for in my journal, to tell him that he was a piece of shit and how dare he assume that I was easy enough to just agree with him! Instead I smile coyly, mistaking his carnal needs for more than what the were and told him “this can be arranged.”
To say it was disappointing would be an understatement and this is not me looking back on it now but something I wrote later that day, a time in my life where I conjured up fantasies and misconstrued the events of what actually happened to cover up the atrocity of what had actually happened. He had always been a bit mysterious to me and I liked this about him. It was an impersonal experience. He never kissed me and avoided doing so, the secret body language men use when they really just think of you as a whore.
I did not realize it at the time but I was watching his decline. I lost interest in him after that experience and in turn he was repelled by me, yet still we would seek each other out on Tuesday afternoons. I became the platform that he climbed upon in order to criticize my life, his life, and the world around him. His moods were no longer jovial and he started to lose the profound and positive manner in which he use to speak about life. One day shortly after the shitty sex we found a baby racoon in the woods, dead and curled up against the base of the tree, appearing as if he had only been sleeping. I had a very “that’s life” approach towards death but it pierced something in him and he lashed out at me. He was worthless. I was worthless. Everything was worthless. I never handled comfort well and did not know what to say to him. So, as I did in every situation, i borrowed my lines from television.
“No, no,” I said, patting his shoulder stiffly, going through the emotions perky blond actresses did so well, “there are many things to live for.”
“Oh yeah?” he turned to me so suddenly I flinched, thinking he was going to hit me. “What do YOU have to live for? You’re as much as a waste of space as I am! We should just both kill ourselves.” With that he sat down on the ground besides the dead racoon, pulled out a text book and began crushing up a pill on it that he then snorted. He never turned back towards me and I just stood there until I knew that one of the Alliance staff members would be back with the van to transport me back to the day center. I recall him looking tired and drawn and like he hadn’t slept much.
I was the type that couldn’t take a hint and normally would’ve blown up his house phone until he answered just to drag myself through the same sort of emotional distress that I loved so much. This time I didn’t. The illusion of him had died the day we had sex in the woods and that outburst with the dead racoon had been the nail in the coffin. The thing was, despite the amount of horror that I regularly inflicted on myself the only positive change in my life after leaving Good Shepherd was that I no longer wanted to die. I wasn’t making any affirmative steps towards bettering myself either but for the first time in my adolescent and teen life I was curious to see where my future was heading.
I saw him the last day of my English class that I still never ended up going back to. He came up to me and I told him that I would be leaving Maryland and heading back to New Jersey and I just wanted to say…
He was pleasant that day and reached into his messenger bag, pulling out a name tag that said “TGIF” and “Kevin underneath in bold, red letters. He pinned it to my shirt.
“What the hell is this for?” I asked.
“Just something for you to remember me by,” he grinned. We hugged, promised to stay in touch and blah blah blah. The stereotypical bullshit people always say to each other when they part but know the have no intention of following through on. There was nothing bittersweet about this. There was nothing about this at all. I may as well have said goodbye to a stranger and I suppose, after only knowing each other a few months and inventing our personalities to appease the other during that time that this was all we ever were.
Several months after my return to New Jersey his aunt tracks me down on Myspace and sends me a message. She said very little in this message. Just the “how are yous,”and “what have you been up tos?” before leaving me her number and asking that I get in touch with her.
“Have you been in contact with Kevin at all?” she asks after I rang her up later that evening.
“No,” I responded. “We haven’t spoke since I left.”
“He’s been missing for several weeks,” she tells me, “and I thought maybe there was a possibility he got in touch with you since he spoke about you all the time.”
She rambled about the problems she had had with him since he came to live with her and how money and items of hers went missing constantly. How she had to lock her bedroom door for fear he would steal something and pawn it for the drugs; the heroin, the crack cocaine, the pills he had been doing for the past year since he moved in with her. She had worried about our friendship and had scolded him often, she tells me, about influencing me negatively when I was doing the right thing and trying to get myself back on track. There were warrants out for his arrest. For all she knew he was back in Florida. For all she knew he was dead. She asked me if I noticed anything about him or if he said anything during the times we use to hang out? I was stunned by all this. To me he was a poet who could be a bit dramatic and had a fondness for mind altering substances but not a real drug addict. As she spoke I realized that i truly knew nothing about him at all, that I may as well just rip out the pages that mentioned him in my journal because it was just a jumble of fictitious crap. I had no information to offer her.
This was the last time I ever spoke to her. She called me twice after that and I sent both calls to my voicemail. The last one she was obviously crying, her voice hoarse and dipping low and asked if I could just please call her back. I never did. I was in the midst of imploding my life, having found myself another drug addict to cling to and was too busy pretending that this horror show wasn’t real. I refused to have the burden of her or Kevin on my shoulders. I had left Alliance convinced that my real problem was having been locked up, essentially, for the past year and a half and I needed to be in the real world to actually live like a real person. I had not flourished at all though. It seemed pointless to get involved with her problems and I was angry that I had left behind a person for which i had no intention of ever thinking about again and now here we were, several months later and I was being dragged into this ghastly hole this person had created for himself and his family. I was too involved in my own ghastly hole to give much of a shit.
Maybe I felt bad about ignoring her. Maybe I didn’t. Most likely I shut down, as I did with any sort of confrontation and just let the ball roll on it’s own and pray it didn’t roll over me. I ignored it, I minimized it, I blamed other people for it. I had the personality of a drug addict but without the pesky problem of actually being one.
I still have his name tag in my metal “box of life” that i keep random memorabilia in. I do not know what compelled me to keep it. It wasn’t until I began reading my old journals recently that I even thought about him. Though I am older, perhaps a bit wiser I still cannot draw any conclusion from this brief friendship. I look at it and can’t even say “this is how you enhanced me. This is what I learnt from you.” He came to me each week with a different mask, a difference costume on and in turn I had been wearing my own. I’d have had a more fulfilling relationship with a cardboard cut out of him than I actually did the person. Now, 15 years later, I cannot say anything. I will never know what happened to Kevin.
I can’t even say that he rid me of my fear of daddy long-legs. I still find them terrifying and grotesque.
“This is the dress I want you wearing tonight,” he tells me holding up the aquamarine halter dress. “I want everyone jealous of me.”
I blush and roll my eyes to hide my pleasure at the compliment. “But I don’t even know what to pack!” I exclaim to him. He laughs at my mock frenzy.
“Don’t worry about nothing. It’s two days. I took care of everything for you,” and with that he embraces me, pulling me against the chest. The slow roll of warmth finally crashes and I admit I am giddy that this wonderful, wonderful man has bothered to go through the trouble of taking someone as dull and average as me away for the weekend. I’ve heard other women gush over these types of things their men did for them on occasion and quite frankly always assumed they were lying. I mean, I had never had a boyfriend who could even muster the THOUGHT of taking me away for the weekend, let along actually doing it for me.
I shift through the rack of dresses at the Goodwill in an attempt to find the culprit of this bogus and clichéd story. The rambling gets louder, something about us holding hands in the car and singing along, badly, to one hit wonders from the early 90’s, when I snatch the offender from the rack.
“Hello!” coos the aquamarine halter top dress.
“Actually, you are more of a turquoise,” I flatly tell the dress.
“But you still loved me at first sight!” the dress exclaims and as I hold it up for inspection.
The dress is right, of course, I do love it at first sight even if it looks like it may be a bit complicated to figure out how to put on. Also it looks like I would need to grow several inches and develop some curves to not be completely engulfed in the flowy material. I cock my head to consider it.
“He will never be able to resist you in this,” the dress whispers to me coyly. “He’ll barely be able to contain himself as you sip wine from across the table, look at him shyly from between your thick and luscious lashes. Did I mention the restaurant is expensive? As in, reservation required.”
“We both know this is a lie,” I haughtily whisper to the dress. “He’s a fucking junkie and I’m pretty sure he’s banging his roommate. Even if he had the extra money he sure as shit isn’t spending it on a weekend getaway and a reservation.”
“Well not with that attitude!” the dress pouts. “With me, he’ll change.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” I mumble.
“But what if it does?”
The dress and I are at a standstill, glaring at each other under the hard, fluorescent lights and day time geriatric shoppers, meandering around us with carts filled with chipped vases and faded throw pillows.
“I’m only $6.00,” the dress urges. “What’s the harm in trying me on?”
I am sold and so, in baggy sweatpants and an oversized hoodie, most likely my brothers, the TURQUOISE dress and I make our way through the sprawling aisles of used garments, cast off wedding dresses (how bad must the marriage have been to donate a wedding dress to Goodwill?) and dirty children’s boots to the dressing rooms; dark 3 by 3 foot spaces partitioned off with a curtain the colour of mold.
I hang the dress and ignore it as it hums a little ditty, removing my clothing and avoiding my reflection in the foggy mirror.
“Don’t forget the bra!” the dress sings from the hook. “You’ll lose the full effect if you don’t lose the bra!”
“Bossy bitch,” I mutter as I remove my dingy bra, wire poking out the bottom. I gently remove the dress from the hanger and pull it over my head.
I am in the Waldorf Astoria as soon as I pull this dress over my head and smooth it over my body. There is a base layer that is form-fitting and a solid blue, softened by the translucent material that overlays it. It elongates my neck and my eye follows the soft curve from the base of my neck to the gentle slope of my shoulders. Did my…did my acne clear up wearing this dress? I swear my skin looks clearer and ; the opposite of scarred, red from my rosacea, with a greenish tint due to the olive skin tone my Italian porcelain heritage has offered me.
“You’ve made my tits bigger,” I tell the dress in awe, looking at the soft cleft of cleavage I didn’t even think was possible.
“And your ass too!” the frock asserts as I do a slow spin, stopping to gaze upon my profile in admiration. The dress is correct, of course, my ass does look bigger or at the least seems to sit higher and perkier on my otherwise petite and stick figure frame. I was small and had always been; the one in the front row of all school pictures and the last girl to need a bra in high school. I referred to my body as a non-body. Larger women often remarked that I could wear anything I wanted and get away with it and while that was true it didn’t matter what I wore; I was never noticed for it. Of course, I had never worn this dress until now. The dress was right, my life could probably change because of it.
I parted with my six dollars at the register and the dress and I went home together. As I opened the closet in the downstairs bedroom of my mom’s house I could catch the other bits of conversation from all the other garments of clothing who had tricked me with promises and scenarios of a better life if only I would try them on and bring them home with me.
“I’m still waiting for that underground sex club in Brooklyn,” the leather studded black pants snarled at me as I look for an appropriate hanger for the tourqious…i’m sorry, Aquamarine dress to live on.
“Well, we are going on a girls only trip to wine country this spring!” the pastel pink flared dress purrs from the corner.
“She hasn’t even bought shoes that match you yet!” the navy blue, A-Line Dress snaps from somewhere inside the depths of my closet. “She is going to wear me to that corporate office party where she ends up meeting her future husband who is on the fast track to climbing the corporate ladder! Can’t you see how beautiful their children are going to look? Oh, and the Christmas cards!” the A-Line dress sighs.
“Girls,” I scold, closing the closet door on them and silencing them with the dark and musk of the closet. I can hear them tittering still in there as I kick off my shoes, reminding me of all the possibilities, the life I COULD have, the potential I COULD showcase if only I would finally wear them outside the confines of my bedroom. But I never would wear these items outside the confines of these bedrooms. All the COULD haves they promised me where things I knew, deep down in the corridors of my mind I dare not really wander, sticking a toe into the swirling fog of those hallways before running back out again; were things that NEVER WOULD BE.
Three years later I will move from my mom’s house and into my own apartment with an alcoholic boyfriend with a fondness for cocaine that would regularly hit me lest I express my displeasure over the drugs, lack of job and constant run-ins with the law and these daydream garments would be transferred from one closet to another, one whose door regularly came off the track and that I would finally just lean up against the opposite bedroom wall, ignoring that this attic apartment was decaying around me.
One evening the boyfriend is not home and most likely will not be for hours when I hear my name being whispered from the bedroom. I peak around the corner from the doorway and I immediately see IT, that two toned aquamarine dress who had, years earlier, promised me a surprise weekend get away and a fancy dinner from a guy who never even existed within my orbit.
“What?” I ask the dress crossly.
“I’m lonely,” the dress whines. “Please just put me on once. Do a twirl in the mirror. I want to play pretend again! I miss you. You aren’t even doing anything right now anyway.”
“Fine,” I groan and pull her from the closet. I hear a chorus of protests from the closet though the Navy Blue dress is suspiciously quiet. I suspect she knows that corporate office party where I meet my ambitious and handsome husband will never come to fruition and thus she has nothing to say to me. That’s fine because I have nothing to say to her either.
“Do you think today I can finally go outside?” the dress hesitantly asks.
The dress and I are both quiet and, i think, a little sad as I remove my clothing and slide the dress over my body. We study each other in the mirror. I am still just as beautiful in it as I was years earlier when I first found her at the Goodwill but now it just feels like we are going through the motions, an adult playing dress up like a child for a life she never was going to have and who was afraid to even continue wishing for it.
“You know,” the dress says tentatively as I sway a bit in the mirror, hypnotized by the gauzy material floating around my ankles, “you can always leave him. We still can have that weekend.”
The dress is wrong though. I can’t leave him. People emotionally kill themselves trying to obtain better and this was a secret about the world I was fortunate to have discovered; not everyone would get to that level of “better” and so it wasted the effort to even try. The boyfriend before him had spent most of the relationship cheating on me behind my back with his much prettier ex girlfriend. And then there was the black out drunk night that had occurred with the boyfriend prior to him. No, this was not ideal but it still somehow felt better. Here, at the very least, I was maintaining.
The dress lashes out at me as I went about taking it off. “You are WEAK!” she berates me as I pull her over my head. “We had plans with each other! No wonder you are in this position, you keep letting it happen!”
“Nobody asked for your fucking opinion,” I roared back at the dress. “You aren’t even in the position to say shit. You weren’t even wanted. You were given away too!” and with that I hurled her back into the closet, behind the rows of high heels and jeweled sandals that had also promised me vacations, nights out at dive bars in Astoria, concerts in Philadelphia. All different shapes, sizes, styles of items for a life I yearned for and in the still of night lying in my bed daydreamed of. Memories, laughing, clear crisp evenings, camp fires, trips to the shore, hikes through the mountains in West Virgina, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Alaska where I would get to see the Northern Lights, Fire Island, pub crawls in Georgia; a million places, a million things I would get to see once and then never see again except for the moments I could close my eyes and recount my stories to co-workers or gas station attendants.
Then, if you had opened my closet you would think it was the closet of four or five different girls. I didn’t buy things because I necessarily wanted them. I bought things because it promised me a future. For a moment I was somebody else and at any given moment I could be ANYONE else just by slipping on a pair of pants or a wrap-around dress. I wasn’t a rape victim in my closet. I was a prom queen. I wasn’t drowning in student loan debt from a for-profit school that shut down shortly after I graduated. I was a high-powered something-or-other whose job title impressed people and who gave me a pension and full benefits. I wasn’t married to a man who fractured my face. I was married to a man whose eyes lit up when I came home from the day, who bragged about my cooking to coworkers on the construction site and who would come up behind me, squeeze my butt, kiss my neck and tell me he loved me. Changing my life had always felt too daunting and I was tired of Huffington Post articles and Oprah episodes featuring women who had move mountains to change their lives from drug addicts and domestic violence survivors to stay-at-home CEO’s of their self-made, multi million dollar business that had bagged adoring husbands and exactly 2.5 kids. Clothing and accessories took less energy and offered me a chance to calm my constantly mounting fears, anxieties, and disappoints and so I preferred to just spend an hour of the day secretly playing the part of a woman I desperately wanted to be.
I wish I could say I have long since abandoned this practice because I finally got that surprise weekend trip, girls outing to wine country and dungeon sex club in Brooklyn but in truth I only stopped doing it about a year and a half ago when I realized half the closet was being taken up by date night dresses for dates I was not being taken on. I removed much of these items and donated them back to the very place that had once begged me to take them home with me.
Recently I find myself in a Goodwill just to kill a rainy afternoon when I am beckoned to a discount rack by a sweater dress.
“I’m gray, your favourite color!” the sweater dress exclaims, elbowing a day-glo mumu and a sequined cocktail dress so I could get a better view.
“I have enough gray,” I say passing the dress. “Besides I’m just here to browse.”
“He won’t be able to keep his hands off you,” she presses on, desperately. “He…he…he’s going to propose to you in me! Please come back!”
I turn to her and laugh, aware there is a teen worker eyeing me suspiciously from the aisle over. “He moved out a week ago,” I chortle. “Trust me, that guy isn’t thinking about buying me a ring in this life time.” I walk away, giggling to myself over the sweater dresses silly predictions. I don’t believe in these things anymore. I rarely find myself thinking about them. I’m a single mom now, a welfare mom, working two jobs and struggling to provide as normal and as happy a life as I can for my two children. Daydreaming has become a luxury and now I wake up at 5:45 and hit the ground running, strict, regimented, resilient, quiet. My life isn’t easier now than it had been and I certainly never managed to make it to Alaska or New Orleans but it’s less scary now as well.
I leave the store without buying anything and get into my car. I sit there a moment and listen to the rain hit the windshield, hands in my lap and rubbing the jeans along my thighs, a nervous habit.
“Well,” my jeans sigh, “got all your coupons? Ready to hit the grocery store? I think grapes are on sale today.”
“Yep,” i respond back. I start the car and pull out, heading off to my mundane and normal, well deserved life.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
I am a year and a half away from turning 30 and oddly, or not so oddly because I am absolutely neurotic, I am not handling it with grace at all. 30 is much too close on the horizon. It just found it’s first gray hair, wears reading glasses, and starches it’s pants. It no longer drinks Coors Light from a pint can purchased at the Krauzers on the corner, started shopping at J.C. Penny, and no longer finds Family Guy to but pee-in-your-pants hilarious.
30 and I are probably not going to be friends.
I first considered age when I was around nine. My friend Kathleen and I would log onto her father’s computer to use the AOL chat rooms (the only reason to go on the inter net in the 90’s, this was still when a house line ringing would kick you off). There we transferred to the ripe, old age of 16, the age, we believed, when our lives would make sense and everything would be perfect, just like a Molly Ringwald movie.
We had invented our 16 year old selves persona too. We were 5’6, slender, larger breasted (I still pray for this), green eyed high school cheerleaders.
“We have long, brown, shiny hair,” I insist to Kathleen as she types our introduction into the chat room.
“Long….brown….hair,” Kathleen types with her fingers.
“Shiny! You forgot shiny!” I nudge her out of the way and type s-h-i-n-n-y.
“What’s a shinny?”
Basically we wanted to be Kelly Kapowski from Saved By The Bell.
We took our future self on car rides in our red convertible. We took the shiny hair with us too. The wind would whip it around our heads in a halo of rippling light. In fact it would always look as if wind was blowing our hair around, like we were perpetually stuck in a perfume ad. We would hang out at the mall all the time. We only hung around with really hot guys. But no tom-foolery. We were saving ourselves for marriage. No lips would even touch ours until we one day exchanged vows. And those vows wouldn’t even come until we had completed the mandatory four years in college. Did I mention we had really shiny hair?
These dreams never came to fruition. I was a pot smoking high school slut and her hair failed to have body or shine. Go figure.
For some reason 16 was when I thought I would feel like I was going to feel like I was somebody rather than as noticeable or important as the folding chairs in the elementary school auditorium. Something about me always felt flawed even before I hit double digits in age and I was torn between wanting people to swoon over me and wanting them to leave me alone. Being flawed wasn’t the fear but thinking that everybody else saw it was. I was awkward, strange, and too sweet for my own good. My comebacks always came to little too late. And it wasn’t like I was friendless either. Somerset was a small town and who you went to Kindergarten with were the same people you were graduating high school with. I felt that it should have been more.
I did not bother to consider age by the time I was 16 because I was pretty sure that I would be dead by the time I was 20 so thinking about a future seemed irrelevant. I voice this thought often and matter-of-factly in my journals from that time. There is no mention of how this will happen; suicide, drug overdose, dating the wrong guy, car crash but rather an innate idea that this was fact, set in stone, and nary should anything change.
Well, I didn’t die at 20, obviously. But I had dropped out of college, been involved in a violent relationship, and then went to a tech school for which I owe my best friend, Sallie Mae, mucho money.
I am not sure if 30 would bother me less if I felt like I wasn’t stuck between being a doofy goof ball who still laughs at the word “pianist” and living a ground hogs day existence where I am constantly doing dishes, taking somebody to the doctor, and paying bills. I am torn between still dressing in a way that many would consider “too young” but fear fanny packs and mom jeans. My job pays decently enough but it’s dead end employment and I have to wear khakis, the uniform of the underachiever. My brain in atrophying at this job, a place I swore I would stay at for no longer than five years but now it’s six.
I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
I ask my friend Kristen if 30 is scaring her.
“Fuckin’ petrified,” she texts me back.
“I feel like I should be further in life somehow, you know?” I text her in response.
A few minutes goes by and I see she has responded. “I am a bartender at Chilies. Obviously I went wrong somewhere.”
This is where it comes to a head in my mind. Shouldn’t I be further along at 30? I have no idea because I haven’t thought that far ahead and then when I had kids I only was able to see their future, not my own. Shouldn’t there be a house with a picket fence, a career, business suits, gym memberships and a yearly vacation to somewhere tropical? Shouldn’t I be eating at better restaurants and drinking better alcoholic drinks with complicated sounding names? Shouldn’t I have more money in my savings, life insurance, a will and a trustee of my estate? And how shallow of me to assume that these things is what makes one feel adult. I suppose there are no answers. Maybe I could have had these things already. Maybe I would have been bored by it if I did. Maybe those things would have come with their own set of problems. There really isn’y anyway for me to know. I just know that I am not really content with the way things are now which I do not consider to be a bad thing if I could get myself together and light a fire under my ass to make some changes.
I never do big birthday’s because my own birthday bores me and always has (though I adore other people’s birthdays) however, Kristen and I decided that we are doing it big the year we turn 30 and are planning a trip to Alaska. I know, random place to go. It’s pretty much the most opposite place of New Jersey that you can go within America and that is really what all of our reasons boil down to.
So time to cook dinner, throw the four year old into the shower, track down a nebulizer for the six month old (RSV diagnosis today, fun) and then after all that boring, adult crap is done and the kids are in bed i’ll switch the serious, adult off and turn on the other Heather. The one that enjoys beer and Cartoon Network.
For the past several months I have been resolving my physical health. Not that it was generally bad or anything. Just the basic “eat better, exercise, drink more water, get more sleep, stop smoking, drink beer less.”
But in this I failed to notice my mental health which has been slowly sinking into the cesspool that is my brain and now here in the midst of some sort of break down wouldn’t you know it? My physical health is starting to suffer.
I am secretive with the life long depression and anxiety that I first started experiencing very young. Much too young. Childhood age really. Because sometimes when I said it out loud I fear that I will sound silly or over dramatic as so many people I know are. I feel guilty over it too because I didn’t come from some shit-in-the-gutter childhood like my husband did, a man who takes things with a grain of salt, who can carry the world on his shoulders but still get the recommended eight hours of sleep, who doesn’t have heart palpitations, who questions little that has happened to him, who has the ability to shut it all off, who tells himself it is God’s will. I come from a middle class home where I never doubted my mother or my grandparent’s love. The idyllic upbringing where a brown bag lunch was packed for me everyday, where homework was checked, bedtime stories read, where I was hugged and kissed endlessly and nobody beat or molested me, nobody suffered from drug addiction, nobody was mentally abusive. A plethora of horror I could have been born into but wasn’t. I too get annoyed when people claim overwhelming sadness when their lives look like daisy’s and rainbows. This is me being a hypocrite though. I cannot judge what I do not know; the things that go on behind closed doors or in people’s heads. One wonderful thing about the world is that we all have different experiences and different ways of rationalizing them and coping. This is one of the reasons I like people so much, why I came back to the Xanga community after a five year hiatus and why I like reading all of these different collections of thoughts and ideas. I may not understand people but I would at least like to try.
I fall into depressive states normally about once a year so this really isn’t out of the norm. I easily recognize when I am starting to sink beneath the waves and then I make the necessary steps to drag myself back to shore.
I let this one get away from me though.
Initially I blamed maternity leave for my blues. The boredom of being stuck at home with a newborn who is a shitty conversationalist, trying to rearrange my life to now include two kids, trying to figure out how I was going to be able to have a social life ad keep my hobbies. Regular thoughts for any mother. I figured once I was off my maternity leave and back at work among adults and using my brain to solve problems at work this would lift.
So far it hasn’t and it’s been almost four months.
Hurricane Sandy hit two days after I returned to work. Living on the East Coast several blocks from the Raritan Bay, the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, meant that I was traveling from a dark, cold apartment to a dark, cold office. Seven days at home and 11 days at work with no power or heat. I was happy though that all I lost was power and the food in my refrigerator. Across towns homes were being condemned. So I was really very lucky. And then, of course, my two year old car that I had purchased with on;y 40,000 miles on it broke down and needed $1,100 worth of repairs. I was broke from maternity leave. Thanksgiving was less than two weeks after we got power back so nobody was really in the mood. My daughter was sick over a Christmas that I could barely afford but struggled to try and make magical. She couldn’t care less and I was exhausted anyway from dealing with a newborn. Somewhere through all of this I found that i had stopped calling friends, having sex with my husband, eating, sleeping, and was snapping at my four year old on a constant basis, something I had never done.
I let myself slip down the rabbit hole and I have told no one until recently when I called my father who, too, is crazier than a loon.
I have generally been anxious which really starts to take a toll on the body, though my friends are envious that in times where I am lacking any sort of mental well being lose weight as opposed to gain, as many people tend to over eat when they are stressed and I go the opposite way. They can have the weight loss if they are willing to take the others stuff; the heart burn, the nausea, the acid reflux, the diarrhea, the insomnia, the constant waking or waking at 3 am and then being unable to fall back asleep, the shakiness, the racing heart, hot flashes, the lump-in-the-throat that I can’t seem to swallow away, the dry mouth, the jitters, the teeth grinding that actually caused me to crack a tooth two weeks ago, the FUCKING HAIR LOSS for fucksake! And that isn’t even the mental side of things. I lose things left and right, buried so deep inside my whirlwind thoughts that I forget what I am doing and the reason I was doing it. All the meals I have been ruining because I lost track of time. The times I have been late for work because I forgot where I was going and missed my exit. The “To Do’ list I write myself every morning when I come into work and then spend the rest of the day reading it over and over and over again, comprehension of even the simplest task lost amount the other bullshit that has just been compiling in my head. I can’t afford to lose ten pounds. I am thin to begin with. Now I just look like I have a drug problem. I’d give anything to gain weight if it didn’t mean I had to deal with the other stuff. Please, just take the rest if it means you can lose those then extra pounds.
I have been here before, this place I coined “The Great Below” when I was in my mid teens. I wouldn’t call it my “dark place” either; it’s actually gray. Gray, foggy, and endless without any dimension or time value. Just a big expansion of endless gray space. The last period of time I was a visitor in The Great Below was the winter I was 21. I lost a period of two months; depression and too many drugs. The time before that was when I was 15. I lost about two years on that one; foggy memories that I cannot really grasp. Snapshots of things that may or may not have happened. I had yet to experience it as a wife and mother. I worry that I am dragging them into this place with me or at the very least forcing them to watch as the slow unravel picks up speed.
I know it is getting bad when I have a panic attack in public. I have gotten those sporadically over the years but the frequency of them recently is alarming. I had taken my daughter to Monster Golf, and indoor mini golf establishment that has a DJ and is illuminated entirely by black lights. We were playing some sort of Whack-A-Mole game when the familiar flash of heat washed over me. This is how they start and it is followed up by the inability to breath, heart slamming against my rib cage, shaking, extreme thirst, dizziness, nausea, and the intense need to run from where I am. Except I couldn’t because I had two small children with me. I could only have a death grip on the foam covered mallet as I pounded moles back into their yawning borrows for tickets to use for cheap, plastic toys that I will probably puncture a foot on walking through a dark apartment somewhere in the upcoming week.
I could only describe it as getting into a near miss while driving and realizing that you were only a few feet from injury or death and that you start shaking so badly you have to pull your car over to the side of the road to collect yourself. “Just keep it together, this will pass,” I tell myself as I smack, smack, smack away at those moles. And that’s the things, why I get so frustrated with these issues. I understand that this anxiety is all in my head, just a manifestation of worries over things that haven’t happened or that I can’t control. Even when I get a panic attack, sometimes waking me up and so severe I find myself dry heaving over that toilet am I saying to myself “this is just a panic attack. This will be done in a few minutes. You are not drying. This is all in your head.” But I am angry at myself that I let it get this bad that they are now coming at random.
I have tried to explain it to the few close friends I have but, as I mentioned in a previous posting, the friends I have now are suited to THIS Heather, the Mentally Stable Heather. Not the Old Heather; the Crazy, Kinda, Sorta Doing Drugs and Sleeping With A Lot of Boys Heather. So to them it’s “Oh, problems with the husband?” I hate when that go that route, assuming my misery is because of a man just because their misery is over a man. Or my mother who assumes it is because I am unhappy with my job because that is what would cause her pain and anxiety.
I suppose people like reasons. I do too. I wish I had a laundry list but when you are already in The Great Below it’s irrelevant. Just the feeling that I am stuck, that while I should be thankful for what I have and be more humble I should still be somewhere else right now in my life. I feel like I am letting all these good things waste away, that I should be further in my life that where I am now but I didn’t even know where I should be going so how can I come up with a plan to get there? I am eroding away as a human being. I am letting my family down, I have failed them somehow but not in any tangible, outright way. I go through the daily motions but they can see through it. And here I am trapped under the weight of the madness I created for myself. And I am angry about it too. I am angry when I speak to my father and realize that he has dealt with this too his entire life and that I am the apple that didn’t fall too far away from his own crazy tree. To even use the term “crazy” makes me angry but I do it anyway before anybody else can.
All of this anger and frustration turned out to be a good thing because I finally was fed up and told my husband that I couldn’t live like this anymore and if I had to live the rest of my life feeling this way with all the physical ailments that went along with it I would rather not live at all that that is not like me; to stop reading a story when I am already so invested in it. Since I have already had 28 years of life and consider myself invested in it I scheduled an appoint with my primary doctor to speak about these issues and gent a referral to a mental health specialist.
Jim asked me goal for therapy. “To calm the fuck down,” I answered him simply.
But to sound less like white trash I suppose I would like to gain the tools to be more proactive with how I live my life instead of sitting around and waiting for things to happen and then become miserable over either worry about things happening, not happening, taking too long to happen; ect. I would like to be more focused in my goals, more organized in my thoughts, feel like I am 28 and not like I am 80.
My grandmother, my father’s mom, Kay, lived the life I have currently been living for the past few months. Only she lived it her entire life. It made her sick. It made her bitter. It made her alienate her entire family so that she lay dying at the end of her life with few beside her and looking back at a life that she regretted every moment of. That is my biggest fear. To die alone and full of a lifetime of regrets. Simply put, my goal is to one day look back on my life and think “Man, that was an awesome ride.”
I know most people aren’t for New Years Resolutions claiming that they never stick. I can’t really fault anybody for thinking that way, most don’t, but i am all for people striving to better their lives or fix something that they are unhappy about. Who really gives a fuck what day they decide to start making a change?
With that being said both my husband and myself are about 14 hours into our goal to quit smoking cigarettes.
12 hours and my oxygen levels and carbon monoxide levels are that of a non-smoker. Reading that makes me feel like i’ve had my lips around the rim of an exhaust pipe, which in retrospect I guess cigarette smoking isn’t too far removed. This explains too why many people who try and give up smoking report feeling dizzy or “fuzzy headed.” The brain is simply not use to a normal oxygen flow.
Pretty scary stuff but I have known about this for years and it never made me want to quit smoking. The statistics behind it never have. Cancer and emphysema have always felt very far off into the future and I always told myself I would quit well before then.
No, my reasons are purely shallow. I simply cannot justify the cost any longer. New Jersey cigarette prices are insane; my brand with sales tax is $8.55 a pack. We both are pack-a-day smokers, sometimes more as he drives long distances during his work day and my anxiety often keeps me up all hours of the night, nervous energy driving me outside every 20 minutes so I can puff away until I finally exhaust myself and lay down for the night. So lets say you are looking at roughly 16 packs a week between the two of us, that is about $550 a month on something that will eventually kill us and that really on provides several minutes of pleasure at a time. That cost is my car insurance, car payment, and phone bill. Or to put it another way that will drop your jaw, 5 years of the both of us smoking is $33,000 down the drain, or in our lungs. I could’ve put a down payment on a fucking house instead of being stuck in the renters rut that is so common in New Jersey. Fucking cigarettes. Fucking lack of will power.
Goddamn though i’d be lying if I said I hate being a smoker. I fucking love it! I love how I look doing it. I love rolling down my car window with some Nine Inch Nails blaring (or any other 90’s rock band) one hand on the wheel as I cruise around looking like a badass. I love that it allows me to take a five minute from my life, whether it be at home and the kids and husband are working my last nerve or at work when I just need to step outside and get away from my office for a few minutes. I like being one of the huddled masses outside the bar entrance on a cold, winter night freezing my ass off and shrugging sheepishly at the other idiot smokers also freezing their asses off. So many good conversations have taken place on those nights. How am I suppose to meet people now?
I suppose I can start driving with both hands. Or talking to people INSIDE the bar. Or just tolerate my kids and husband better. Pleh!
Of course, that is nothing but the addiction talking and I am aware of this. I often imagine my brain as a separate entity from the rest of my body, a habit that I started during my pothead days when I would picture, comically as it were, my brain squeezing out my ear, handing a “Be Right Back” sign on my forehead, and then spending the next hour rolling around a field of daisies far away from my body. Except now my brain is just whispering all the things about my life that are going to suck unless i go RIGHT NOW and take 30 seconds to walk to the 7-11 that is right next door to my job. Hence I am trying to write this shitty essay just to pass through the craving.
I do have lofty goals that I would be unable to do as a smoker just because the enormous cost consumes everything else. I’d like to take a weekend trip to Boston with my husband for our on year anniversary this spring so we can eat seafood and get drunk. I have a good friend who moved to Vegas and I would like to fly out there so I can gamble. And get drunk. I would like to get a membership to the YMCA in town so Jim and I can get into shape and I can enroll Sophia into a kiddie class and she can meet some kids around her age. My best friend is getting married this summer and I need to be able to afford all the crazy shit that goes along with being in the wedding party. Jim is trying to get himself to Ireland next fall with his club, the AOH, and I desperately want to make that a reality for him.
As you can see i’m about as deep as a puddle
Least lofty is I would hate for either of my two kids to one day become smokers. Every Time I am home and my four year old sees me get up to put on my jacket and boots she asks if I am going outside for a “see-ga-rette.” Even though I love smoking I do think it is a disgusting habit and could only imagine how I would taste to any nonsmoker who tried to stick their tongue down my throat. When I smell it stale on my coat or in my car I could gag.
In another 10 hours anxiety will start to set it. Can’t wait! In 72 hours there will physically be no nicotine left in my body as it will pass via piss and sweat (which is what I would name my Heavy Metal band if I liked heavy metal or had any musical talent). I’ve already started reducing the chances that I will have a heart attack in the future and by the end of this week I will probably have a new sense of smell and taste (which could either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it).
So wish me luck or even better offer me some tips or advice. Though the reasons to not smoke are blatantly obvious I am terrified of this new life venture.