Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The bolder thing to do

You know, I'm 24 years old, and I still get a little hitch in my chest thinking about talking to complete strangers. I don't like talking to customer service people. Once I'm there, I'm fine, but the thought process leading up to it gives me almost unbearable anxiety. This is probably why I ask my husband to do most of these things. He's social, he doesn't mind. If we can't find something at the store he willingly goes off to ask someone. When we have to call the cops on our ridiculous neighbors, he's the one who makes the call, and also the one who waits outside the building to let the officers in.

It's not quite as bad on the phone. Not quite, but it's still there. When calling some business, or some other unfamiliar person, I brace myself during the first few rings, as though standing at the edge of a great precipice, about to teeter into the black unknown. I know nothing scary is going to happen when someone picks up. My brain could tell you that. The rest of my body thinks a little bit differently. So in those first couple of ringtones I basically have to conjure up all of my social courage, and by the time someone answers I am ready to be an extrovert and speak like a normal person.

Today I had to make a weird phone call, and there was only one ring. I was calling the records office at my university. I needed to withdraw from a class. Somewhere inside me I kept telling myself it was the easy way out and yet the process was very difficult. So there was only one ring and I stuttered over my explanation, "Hi, I have a question about withdrawing from a class. I need to do that. How do I do that?" And I had intended to give my name and say that I was undergraduate, but I didn't, so then I was bombarded with questions, and then I was told I would need to talk to Financial Aid if I wanted to make my decision, and THEN... and then. The person on the phone said, "You know, if you're on campus, you could come down here. The Financial Aid office is right next to the Records office." I laughed awkwardly, and told her I knew that.

I know they're next to each other. But the thought of going down there with my question was seizure-inducing. Why do you think I called first?

The funny thing is, the person on the phone was a friend of mine, and if I'd realized that to begin with, the conversation probably would have gone much differently.

It ended up fine. I have all the correct forms, ready to be signed. The only thing left to deal with is the "giving up" feeling that sends me into a spiral of discouraged guilt. I know this was the right thing to do. I don't have to explain that to the world. I won't. I know it was right, and I'm doing the right thing, but nobody likes letting  people down.

And I suppose that's why this was not the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a lot of work too, but it would have been work on my head and not my heart. Maybe I would have come out at the end of the class with more book-smarts. But I feel as if heading in this direction, I'll be wiser. My heart will be stronger. This was the bolder thing to do.

Which, of course, leads me to this song, which has nothing to do with my blog, but is now stuck in my head.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Perhaps a few days after this new year began, I put a countdown on my desktop. I set the end date for June 25th, which is my wedding anniversary, and in a moment of hopeful naivety I titled it "Home & Anniversary," thinking that in approximately sixth months I would not only be married for a whole two years but I would also be back home in Washington. 

It's too early to say that I was completely wrong. But not too early to wish that I had set my sights on something else.

I have no doubts about my anniversary. It will arrive, and it will be lovely, and then it will pass. What I fear will never come is the long drive home, and every day that I wake up and I'm still in Illinois brings another reminder of how desperately I long to leave it.

Our neighbors to the left, on two separate evenings (and by "evening" I really mean 2am), sounded so violent and frenzied that we called the police. Our neighbors responded by hiding in their bathroom, leaving the two policemen banging on the front door for the next hour. 

The people in our building also draw phallic symbols on the walls, place burning incense sticks in the hallway vents, let loose smoke bombs in the entryway, shatter the entryway door, not to mention all the swearing and malevolence directed at children. The walls are not quite paper thin, but they're thin enough, and no one here knows how to be quiet. Everything is a crisis, everything is worth screaming about, especially if your five-year-old did it. 

And when I am not overwhelmed by the social anxiety of living here, the building itself provides me with crap that makes me want to pull my hair out. We had ants in the bedroom and the bathroom (both nowhere near the kitchen) from July until November. There are leaks and large amounts of mold on both windows, and while we have called in work orders THREE times, nothing has been done. And yesterday, whilst eagerly cleaning the entire apartment, I discovered that there is somehow water in the bedroom closet. I don't know how it happened. Logically, there is no way that water could get in there.

I just feel trapped. At every turn I find another reason to hate living here--and I already know these are the cheapest apartments that allow dogs of Holly's size. But it's not just the building. It's not the "neighbors." It's the increasing level of anxiety I feel as my countdown numbers lower. 106 Days. Somehow, in the next 106 Days, I am supposed to get enough money to rent a moving van, pay for the gas for the van and the car to drive back to Washington, and before then I have to find and reserve a place to live there and get a job. Oh, and I have to graduate sometime before then. Like in May? Yeah, that sounds good.

I know. I put that expectation upon myself when I blissfully made the countdown. And I don't have to hold myself to those numbers. But I feel like I owe it to myself to get out of here. Every time I hear the woman next door shrieking about who moved her cereal bowl, I die a little. Every time someone groans about rain, a piece of my soul chips away. Every time I see a "forest preserve" I feel like joining a commune. (In Washington, we have parks, and then we just have woods. The woods don't need a name. They just exist all by themselves.) 

And every time someone slows down to drive over some bumpy railroad tracks, I want to rear-end that person so hard that they land on Mt. Rainier and have to find their own way back down.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A retrospective thought on weddings

You know what's awesome about getting married? I mean, other than having an extravagant, expensive party, seeing most of your friends in one place, marrying the love of your life, and going on an incredible vacation, there's just one awesome thing left. Presents! I have thought long (but not hard) about the complicated dance of wedding gifts, as it was an arduous process for me. Initially I felt very upset about what I have to say, and left this blog in draft-form for many months. I couldn't bring myself to voice my complaints, because they seemed invalid. However, I have since changed my tune a bit and hope that this story will come across as humorous and not cynical or ungrateful or--dare I say it--whiny.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I'll start with a sort of story. A year and a half ago as our wedding quickly approached, gifts because to slowly trickle into the house. The first wedding gift was from an old family friend: a homemade blanket. She didn't make it herself, but she wanted to give us something homemade, so she paid a friend to do it. It was a very thoughtful gift, and this blanket is kept on the couch. I snuggle in it at least once a day, and am often reminded of the genuine kindness that went into the choosing of the gift.

I don't remember what gift came next, unfortunately, because the next time I got one it was probably at a bridal shower with twenty other gifts. However, I do remember one thing: the sudden discomfort of getting something I not only didn't ask for (nbd) but something I definitely did not want. I won't say what it was. But  it was just... not a good wedding present. It probably would have been more suited for a graduation. And no, if you are reading this blog, it was not a gift from you.

If our wedding had been under more normal circumstances, this would not have bothered me. I've gotten unwanted/unusual gifts before and I usually keep them anyway, just to remember a person by. Even if I don't treasure the gift, I still find a use for it. They don't cause any trouble or inconvenience. They don't upset me, usually. They don't make me frustrated usually.

However, Joey and I moved across the United States not even a month after our wedding, and everything we owned had to fit IN THE CAR.  The only furniture we took with us was our mattress. Not a bed, but a futon mattress, folded in half inside a tarp which was duct taped closed, and strapped to the roof of the car. (for the record, the wind ripped apart the tarp, and then it rained a lot, so when we got to Illinois the futon was soaked.) I would like you to imagine this for a minute. Traveling to a new home with just a mattress. Nothing to eat on. No coffee table. No coffee maker even. No couch. No chairs of any kind.

Knowing that this was the plan, we specifically asked for gift cards, and if people wanted to send gifts we gave them the address of where we would be living. We planned ahead. We gave our guests options. We filled out registries at three stores, since many people like giving an actual gift anyways. Two bridal showers came and went, a few gifts were sent in the mail, and for a while this seemed fine. I received gifts I probably didn't want, but I had not realized the chaos which was to unfold.

Until after the wedding. Until it came time to start packing. Until I needed to begin writing thank you cards.

Typically in a thank you card I would write about how lovely the gift was, and how we had put it to use. Or, how we would eventually put it to use. "Thank you for the matching coffee mugs, they're almost too pretty to drink out of!" "Thank you so much for the gift card, we used it on our honeymoon!" Later, more cards were written once we'd moved. "Thank you for the gift card, we bought a coffee pot with it! You know how much this means to us." or "Thank you for the check, it has been very helpful while moving into our new place!"

I came upon a problem, a delicate and complex thing, when we'd gotten gifts that we definitely couldn't take with us. Only the essentials were coming. An old, dear friend had given us a beautiful hand-blown vase from an art museum--something I loved before I even finished unwrapping the pretty box it was in--and for fear of breaking it, it stayed in Washington, in the box. Thankfully the gift was wonderful enough that I could express my thanks for it without explaining that I wouldn't be taking it with me.

However, there is something tiring and painfully practical about taking only the essentials. Coffee cups, books, blankets. The person who bought us dishes had them shipped to our new address. I left all of my journals behind, notebooks, all of my photo albums. I had one box to put arts and craft supplies in--and if you know me, you can imagine how difficult it was. We had to make the trip in three days or less, and all our food had to fit in one small lunchbox. (It was smaller than the average backpack.) I was weary of deciding which belongings were necessary, and which ones had to be left behind. After the move, I was weary of writing thank-you cards for items that I could no longer recall the color of.

So what do you write in a thank-you card to someone who gives you a large, oddly shaped, empty picture frame? How do you tell them that you'll love hanging it up, knowing that it's a lie? How do you explain that you can't wait to put wedding pictures in it, put it up on the wall, etc. when you know that it's sitting in a closet gathering dust? How do you politely not say, "I didn't ask for this gift, just the card would have been lovely, but thanks for adding to the depressing pile of stuff I couldn't take with me!"

Or what about the cookbooks? Oh, we received a multitude of cookbooks. A vast array. A plethora. Alright.... just dozens. But of those dozens, approximately three of them proved to be useful, or even thoughtful. We did not ask for any cookbooks. There was only one cookbook I desired, I forgot to register for it, and my mother bought it for me after the wedding because she knew how much I wanted it.

But all of that is not the real point. I don't want to make people feel awful for buying wedding gifts. The average married couple moves away with more packing space than just the interior of a two-door sedan. I did express multiple times that we were moving, but I'm not disappointed that people forgot. Mostly I'm just disappointed at the amount of stuff I had to leave behind, and the large pile of thank-you cards I had to write for gifts that were 3000 miles away.

Here I am, a year and a half later, and I still miss that beautiful vase, and that picture frame. I also miss the framed picture than was signed at our wedding (it was also a gift from a friend.) My parents have since moved and therefore all of my stuff went with them. In my memory all of the gifts I left behind were placed in a box that I would one day return to, but I could not tell you now what shape those gifts are in, and I do not know when I will be reunited with them.

So here's my ending statement: I am sorry for my attitude about unwanted gifts, and sorry that some of my most treasured wedding presents are far away in boxes, unappreciated.

In addition, a word of caution: When you're buying/making wedding gifts for your friends, don't give people awkwardly shaped or unusually large gifts unless they were explicitly asked/registered for, then it's their fault, not yours, if they can't move it or fit it into their tiny apartment. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

This, the dog.

Long ago on a farm in Buckley, Washington a little Labrador puppy was born. She had a pink nose and hazel eyes and a little crooked tail. The week before Christmas my parents picked her up from the farm, brought her home, and plopped her onto my bed. She looked like this. I gave my oldest brother, who was in the Navy at the time, the privilege of naming her. We agreed to call her Holly, the Christmas puppy. She looked like this. 
Anyone who's ever had a lab, or met a lab, or just knows general  things about dogs, is probably aware that labs are some of the most rambunctious dogs to ever grace Dogdom. They are cute and cuddly, but do not have the desire to cuddle until they reach about six (human) years old. They are full of love and affection, but are too excited to share that love and affection because they are also full of energy that resembles electricity, or a professional ping-pong tournament. She did, on occasion, literally bounce off the walls.

Now, I am tempted to give a full bio on my dog, but that seems like something you do after a beloved animal has passed away, so I'll save it for later. I couldn't tell you how much later, because after the story I'm about to tell, you'll understand why I have recently wanted to kill her.

Last December, my parents graciously and lovingly bought my dog an airplane ticket and Holly came to live with me and my husband here in Illinois. Joey picked her up from the airport while I was at a seminar and when I was done she was there to greet me. She kissed me happily and wagged her tail just like all loyal dogs do, and for the first time in a year and a half I was once again covered in little white dog hairs.

Since that day, I have fully enjoyed having my dog back in my life. Joey works long hours and so it's nice to have her around when I'm home alone. She is a good cuddle companion, on the couch or the bed or even the floor. She cleans up any spills in the kitchen, and has gotten pretty good at barking our faces off to let us know she needs to go out. (It has been an adjustment for her, since she grew up having a whole backyard to herself and the freedom to run around. Now she has a tiny apartment to lazy about in, and has to be on a leash at all times.) Aside from one incident where she peed all over my clothes (and stared at me sheepishly while doing so), she has adapted to her new life here.

But then, it's like she realized that I was no longer her only master, she recognized that I now loved someone more than her and that person was Joey. The logical thing would be attacking Joey. (Which she does, on command, by licking his face and head-butting him.) But that is just too simple for her. No, she had to be something more than loving dog. She had to be a jealous dog. This, the dog that stopped a thousand kisses.

Yes, that's right, my dog hates public displays of affection. Not with everyone. Just with us.

It does seem too stupid to be true, doesn't it? It's so Hollywood, so Disney, so romantic comedy. Girl loves dog, boy loves girl, girl loves boy, dog hates boy. You've seen it before, you didn't think it was real, but let me tell you... IT IS VOLUMES OF REAL. And by that I mean that Holly actually barks at us should we decide to be affectionate.

Picture this: The husband and I are sitting on the couch, watching a movie. I think it was Braveheart. There is a tender kiss onscreen, so we smile at each other, and then I lean my head onto his shoulder. He responds by putting his arm around me. That's it. Just a little snuggling. The dog, who has been laying on the other side of the room, not paying attention to us, suddenly walks over and stares at us. She sits, rather abruptly, and does the doggy "whiny shuffle." And then, when we don't move, she says, "Roo-WOOF." So I start to sit up so I can give Holly some attention, and before I can say, "Do you want to go out?" she pounces onto the couch and shoves her way between us, wagging her tail indignantly.

It was cute the first time. Sort of endearing the second time. But now it's just obnoxious. Now, she pushes her way between our legs when we're hugging. If we don't let her, she's barks at us.

There is no conclusion to this story. There is no solution to this problem. I'm just interested to hear what other people have to say. Do other dog (or cat) owners experience this? And I'm talking about violent jealousy, like Holly, where she has to all but ATTACKTHELOVE in order to stop us. Has anyone else had their dog or cat behave while you're trying to be affectionate? I'd love to hear your comments, because this is insanity!