Life Analogies

It's All How You Look at It

The Perfect Pebble

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*Note: This is a literal event. Whether or not it becomes an analogy is in God’s hands.

 

I think I found it. The perfect pebble.

 

I should probably back up a little and explain. Gosh, there’s a lot to catch you up on. I’ve spent most of the year deep in a novel so I’ve scarcely even visited my own website.

I always have stories going on in my head and often on my computer. My most cherished story is whichever one I am working on at that moment. Or…that’s how it used to be. This story is different. I write all of my stories for me. I am the intended audience. The movie scenes are rolling in my head constantly, the settings, the dialogues. I am in the movies. Just like actors, I get in character—I’m inside the characters—knowing what they are thinking and feeling and their motivations. But after a while, that’s not enough. I have to write it down, preserve those intense scenes and irreplaceable dialogue. Make it more real. I will work on one story for a while and then—squirrel! Another idea that’s been in the background suddenly springs forward and commands my full attention. I have…mm…at least…fifteen major stories. Five of them have a great deal of text and two of them each had a summer’s worth of writing. Last summer’s story unfolded into something beyond what I had imagined. More characters emerged and the plot went farther back and farther forward than I had foreseen. As I was writing this one, I kept rereading what I had written the previous days and began thinking, “Wow. This is really good. This may be show to other people good.”

So I’ve forced myself to stay focused on this story. Other stories would pass by within my peripheral vision and I had to put on blinkers and keep my eyes on the road.

Nope, not gonna look. FOCUS.

Meanwhile, life has been going on all around me—life on the other side. I meant to write about it all along the journey, starting with what happened when I decided to hop the creek and follow that line of birch trees. I did, and this time, I didn’t see that same &@% tree again. I saw a bridge and had to decide, do I cross or not? I hadn’t seen the bridge before. Perhaps it had always been there, or perhaps God waited to lift the mists and reveal the possibilities. After eleven years of pacing in my cage, wearing a tiresome figure 8 inside a life that was unsustainable, suddenly God seemed to give a nod of permission.

It’s okay. You’ve been through enough. You can go now.

And so I went. I left it all behind and came home to the people I love and the land I love. (No, not Alaska, but my family’s homeland and the next best thing to Alaska.) The ones I hold dearest are either right here next to me (a ten minute walk away) or they are just across the river, perhaps an hour and a half away. I left the two things that were absolutely sucking me dry, slowly killing me. One I had loved passionately for seventeen years, another I had stopped loving over ten years ago. Or rather, that love was brutally murdered before it even had the chance to begin to grow. Still, I don’t miss either one of them. Not even a little. I don’t begrudge a moment of life poured into one of them. It was heart wrenching, brain racking and soul draining, but it was a worthy sacrifice. I was tormented nearly every day with doubts that I should be there, feeling that I was woefully inadequate to the task of leading young minds. I was told that I made a difference and touched lives. I can only hope that God was able to use the feeble attempts of a broken person struggling to make it through another day. I can only pray that there was a purpose to the thoroughbred with too many lead weights in the saddle giving everything to just stagger across the finish line.

The horse isn’t out to pasture yet, but racing days are over and that’s…okay. It’s perfectly fine. It’s an enormous relief. There’s time to sit by a lake and read my Bible (app), think and pray. There’s time to write and space to breathe. There are also days off, not weekends spent preparing for the next week. They are truly days off and days to fill.

For the past two months, most of these days have been filled with driving to the coast. I go by myself now, exploring as I go, at my own speed and own whim. I spent the first trips searching for a beachcombing sort of beach. Many of the ones I’d been to with my family are more than a day trip away. So I experimented and explored within a smaller radius until one afternoon, three weeks ago, I found myself at a park on the coast. This park boasted a village sized campground and visitors’ station. I went into the station and bought a two years’ state park pass and chatted with the rangers on duty, asking about beaches where one could find interesting things, specifically, cool rocks. I was given a few suggestions and headed back to my car, ready to drive to the day use parking lot, when a mother and her grown daughter called me back. They’d overheard our conversation and shared with me a wonderful discovery they’d made, a beach with incredible rocks. Even when one didn’t find an agate (and there were often agates to find), the other rocks were stunning. Of course I had to go there straight away and of course God had arranged all that. He’d orchestrated my day and that family’s day so that our paths would cross and I would be gifted with that priceless information. (I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t share that information. It’s an often overlooked location and those who know of it would prefer to keep it that way.)

I set off, humming with anticipation, anticipation that was not disappointed. The moment I saw the little creek running through the beach to the rocky shore I was breathless.

This is it. This is amazing. If I can’t find my perfect pebble here, it simply can’t be found.

Rocks with colours, shapes and textures of all description were there under the clear ripples of the creek or scattered on the multi-coloured sand. It was awesome. I stooped next to the creek in sand that was deep and loose. You can try at first to keep your toes out of the water, but it’s inevitable. You may as well give in and get wet. It’s well worth it. (Besides, any good scout knows to bring a change of shoes and socks.) When you spot a particularly interesting pebble, you have to reach beyond where you think it is, to overcome the angling effect of light and water. Some folks rake over the stones and push around the rocks with long sticks. Others wade into the middle of the creek. I stretched my arm into the water and combed over the rocks with my fingers, dislodging agates and other treasures. I quickly filled my Ziplock baggie with cool specimens. (My mom taught me how to beachcomb and one essential supply is a baggie in which to put all of your ocean treasures.) I found small (and tiny) agates, reddish rocks, speckled rocks, pattern and swirled pebbles, but not the perfect pebble. This one had to be smooth and just the right shape and size. I walked to the water’s edge and scanned the pebbles cast upon the sand, collecting more fascinating rocks. And then…

There he was. The perfect pebble.

It wasn’t what I expected, not quite. I’d known my perfect pebble wouldn’t be brilliant colours, but I did think he would have some soft colours, a shade of blue or green perhaps, or a dual colour pattern. Nope. Not this one. And yet I knew straight away. It was the exact perfect size and wonderfully smooth. It fit absolutely perfectly in my palm and felt just right. He had been lying in the sun, off by himself, and was warm and soft in my hand. So comforting to rub my thumb across, but…he was just grey. Just a simple, humble, soft grey.

Did I tell you grey is my favourite colour? I’m not making this up for the sake of the story. It truly is. I could show you a picture of my bathroom and closet just to prove it—towels, shower curtain, sweaters and T-shirts give undeniable evidence. I defy anyone who says grey isn’t a proper colour or anyone who declares that grey is boring or depressing. No. Not true. Grey is soft and soothing, the colour of rain clouds that bring relieve and greenness to the land, the colour of distant hills, stormy seas, fuzzy kittens, and gentle eyes.

I won’t say that I was disappointed that my pebble was a modest grey. A bit surprised, just a tiny bit uncertain, but not disappointed.

Perhaps there is a more colourful pebble that fits this well and that is just this smooth and wonderful to hold. Maybe. But I’m not going to lose this one. I’m going to hold it in my hand as I walk across the beach and when I decide to head home, I’m going to put it safely in my pocket. I’m going to set it on my desk, right next to my beloved computer and wait and see.

And here he is, right next to me, as I type away. I won’t go so far as to say this was a sign. I think it’s a bit dangerous to look too much for signs and read into things that come into our field of vision. Not every analogy or symbol is a whispering hint from God. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

But…who knows. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s serendipity.

At any rate, it’s in God’s hands. He has brought me so very far in just one year. One of these days I’ll write some more about that. There has been enough peace and growth to assure me that whatever comes, God is in control and He will help each one of us to weather the storms, even when it seems there will never be anything but storms. It may often feel like you are barely hanging on by a bloody thread, but you are still hanging on. You haven’t fallen into the abyss yet. There is still hope. You may begin to think He isn’t saying anything, but believe it or not, He is saying “Just hang on a little longer. There is more to come. I promise you.”

The Perfect Solution to Noxious Weeds and Birds

Note: When I wrote this, the audience members I had in mind were farmers from  The Farming Forum community in UK. This is a real forum, but don’t go there just because I told you about it. I’ve already worn out the welcome for visitors outside of the agricultural profession. Sorry to have spoilt it for any other Yank that might’ve had intelligent questions to ask. Sorry also to have reinforced the stereotype that all Americans are obnoxious.

Today I was considering the fact that if I were to buy any plants from a home improvement store, I must find out the exact day when the truck would arrive or there was no point whatsoever. The fastest way to kill any plant is to put it inside a chain link enclosure with a cash register. Then, suddenly…

I had an epiphany! The perfect solution for those insidious weeds that plague you farmers out there. Forget chemicals! What you need to do is sponsor an employee of Lowe’s or Home Depot. All they need is a hose and a vest (polyester waistcoat) and yes, probably a UK cell phone provider. Stick them in the field where the weeds are the worst and tell them that black grass is your cash crop.

“All right. I’m putting you in charge of this black grass. Look here, this is black grass. What is it?”

“Black grass.”

“Very good. And what’s your job?”

“To look after it.”

“Excellent. Don’t worry about these ‘weeds’ over here. I’ll take care of those. It’s above your pay grade. All right, I’ll leave you to it then.”

In a matter of weeks, or possibly even days, your fields will be completely weed free! Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to arrange for a work visa, but just think of the thousands of pounds that you will save in chemical purchases! Yes, they’ll whinge and have a snotty attitude, but whenever you check in on them, just put in your earplugs and shrug and gesture.

What? Sorry. Can’t hear you.

 

In a similar fashion, you can use them to keep away crows.

(Or in our case, starlings! Vile vermin that cost an estimated $800 million losses in crops every year and, more importantly, coat cars with crap if anyone should be so foolish as to park their car under a tree. Thank you very much, Eugen Schieffelin. Every farmer in America falls into bed exhausted but comforted by the thought that we have every species of bird from Shakespearean plays. But I digress.)

I’m sure you can come up with some other pseudo job for these slackers to do out in the fields. Yes, yes. I know what you are thinking:

“Won’t they just stand in one place texting? That’s no better than a scarecrow.”

Yes, I thought of that as well. That’s why you will need to have this little conversation within earshot of your “farm worker.”

Friend: “Cell reception is crap out here.”

You: “No, no. Not at all. I find that if I keep moving the reception is very good.”

Friend: “Ah, so what you’re telling me is that if you keep striding up and down the perimeter of your fields you never have a dropped call?”

You: “Yes, exactly.”

Friend: “Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to remember that.”

 

Problem solved. You’re welcome. No need to send gifts or money, your undying gratitude is thanks enough.

 

*Sorry, no. This isn’t a solution for our current refugee problem. They would be too conscientious. It must be an American between the ages of seventeen to twenty-five or it won’t work at all.

Although…It could possibly work if we got some sort of exchange program. That would be a win-win situation. American gardeners would be delighted.

“Look, honey! I planted this whole row of salvias and they all survived!”

Host parents would be thrilled too.

“You know, I think our son has really turned a corner. He was telling me just the other day that he’s almost saved up enough money to move out of our basement.”

Summer Memories Back at the Home Place

The advice to authors is “write about what you know” and this excerpt does just that. This comes from a partially finished story in which I wove many of my childhood memories and some fiction together. (My life is hardly worth an autobiography and the whole point of writing fiction is to escape to an alternate reality.) My favourite cousin is one of the main characters and I am as well. I wrote this almost fifteen years ago. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish this story. I think it would hurt too much. My plot certainly didn’t involve having him drown in ‘tsunami like waves’ that capsized his fishing boat. Let me repeat: Always wear a life jacket. One of the best things about my cousin was his sense of humour, so I hope this writing honours that. Even if the whole story never sees the light of day, I thought this portion was worth sharing.

 

*The names have been changed.

 

Across the back hay field, the distant figure of Travis appeared.  He must have been returning from the morning’s checking of mole traps.  I waved and bent back over the bushes I had been creeping about, swishing the leaves and the surrounding tall grasses carefully.

“Watcha’ looking for?”  My cousin asked as he came near.

I shrugged.

“Garter snakes, frogs…” (The possibilities were too endless to name.)

His eyebrows went up in friendly surprise and he crouched down at my level.

“You like creepy-crawlers?”  He asked curiously.

I stiffened.

“Not spiders,” I gasped with solemn intensity, suddenly realizing that eight-legged creatures could inhabit this foliage as well.  “J-just frogs and salamanders and stuff.”

(You know, my tone implied, just cute, harmless critters—nothing really scary.)

            He nodded.

“Sometimes snakes fall down inside my traps,” he told me casually, “In fact, I just pulled one out this morning.”

“You did?”

This was cried out with all the tragedy of an opportunity forever lost.

“There’ll be more next time,” he said calmly.

“Could you bring a snake back next time you find one?”  I asked eagerly.

“Sure,” he shrugged cheerfully; looking rather pleased to be able to do someone a service.

 

Two mornings later there was a cardboard box waiting for me on the kitchen table.  (Aunt Jane had left for work already, or I imagine this event alone would have caused a ruckus.) Travis sat across the table, liberally spooning out sugar and shovelling in rice-crispy cereal.  He smiled expectantly as I danced across the floor.  A perfect, black and yellow ribboned reptile coiled under one bottom flap of the box.  I plunged my hand in and lifted up the unhappily writhing fellow.  His tiny head s-curved and glared at me suspiciously.  My delighted face suddenly changed to betrayed disgust as a decidedly unpleasant odour drifted upwards.  Travis took one look at my expression and began choking on a milky mouthful.

“Better go wash your hands,” he coughed with twinkling eyes.  “Garter snakes can be kinda ornery that way.”

I smiled sheepishly and replaced my unloving pet.  Several vigorous scrubbings later, I returned and peered into the box.

“What do they eat?”  I asked, mentally building an elaborate terrarium.

“Oh, bugs and frogs, probably.”

Frogs?  I thought in despair.  Insects were one thing, but how could I sacrifice my other woodland friends to this snake?  It was more heart-wrenching than ‘Sophie’s Choice.’  I decided it was time to change the subject.

“What do moles look like?”  I asked, remembering the trap where my pet was found.

“Oh, they’re kind of a velvety-grey with little pink feet near their nose.”

“Instead of eyes?”  I tried to picture this.

“Well, I think they have eyes, they’re just real small.”

“Oh.  Could you bring one back sometime, so I could see it?”

He looked uncomfortable.

“Well, I’d still have to kill him, Jen.  Moles are bad—they dig up the garden and make holes that cows can step in and break their legs.”

“Like grey-diggers,” I said, nodding.

With all my love for God’s lesser creatures, I had often gone along with my beloved Uncle Ned to shoot grey-diggers.  The hypocrisy of this never occurred to me—nothing my revered uncle did could ever be wrong—besides these were grey-diggers.  One didn’t think of them as furry ground squirrels, these were offensive varmints that endangered the cattle.  I’d sit on the hill, holding my breath in awe as Uncle Ned picked ‘em off—when they fell it was always far enough away not to see ‘em twitching, and they didn’t scream—not like rabbits.

I loved to go along on these walks with my uncle, walking the fence and moving the cows to a new field or re-staking Gretta the goat to a new blackberry patch.  There was always some new discovery or identified species’ name passed on from Uncle Ned’s endless fount of knowledge.  My uncle called down the owls for me once, crouching down near the old snag in the dusk of evening.  There was a nest in the hollow of this dead tree, and one day he boosted me up to see.  Fluffy grey heads, like three little old grannies stared back at me with huge eyes.  I was speechless with delighted awe.

“We can’t do this again,” Uncle Ned explained.  “I don’t want to spook the mamma owl too much.”

But once was enough.

I also just liked the chance for visiting Gretta and bringing her clover or bending an out-of-reach bough to her perpetually nibbling mouth.  But I could never bring myself to enjoy looking her in the eye—those weird yellow eyes with the horizontal dash of a pupil.  Horses have the same kind of pupil, but their eyes are dark brown and it is only on the rare occasion when the light hits at just the right angle—reflecting off the plane of their iris—that one sees the dilated slit.  Besides, horses could be forgiven anything—even their unfailing habit of farting just as one was currying their rump.

I’m serious.  It’s a proven law of nature, all you have to do is just touch the brush to a horse’s hindquarters and “pfffffff…”  (Fortunately it smells mostly like hay.)  Perhaps this is some involuntary response—like the dog-scratch-leg-kick thing. I personally believe they’ve been waiting, holding it, until just the moment when your nose is strategically positioned.  But then, if a bunch of pip-squeaks starting shoving little pieces of metal into my mouth and ordering me around, I’d probably develop some passive-aggressive techniques myself.  Luckily horses are pretty dumb.

Yes, I’ve finally had to admit this, even to myself.  I still remember the day my Aunt Sue—Aunt Sue the sacred keeper of the flame of the Roy Rogers shrine—actually told me that dogs are smarter than horses.  Dogs!  Big, stupid, bounding, salivating, halitosis-breathing, poop-factories were actually smarter than horses?  She then heaped further offense by adding that pigs were smarter than either.  Pigs!  I vehemently denied this heresy, but deep down I knew that Aunt Sue must be right.  She had kept horses and dogs all her life, (though no pigs), so she should know.  My faith was deeply shaken.

As a matter of fact, there had been a time when the pig-genius would have cheered me—as a small child I had “loved piggies.”  I have a hunch that, (like all other historical childhood obsessions including Cabbage Patch Dolls, Beanie Babies, etc.) this was a largely parent-generated passion.  Several things cute and pink and oinky were amassed for each of my first six birthdays and Christmases.  I believe all this was built on the only shred of evidence of my pig preference—that as a toddler playing with my farm set I seemed to favour the green plastic pig figure.

But I soon bought into the hype, and at one point I finally wore my poor mother down to such desperation that she stopped, on the way home from the state fair in Palmer, at a farm.  She got out and marched right up, covered with humility, to knock at the door of a perfect stranger and ask these people if her daughter might look at their pigs.  I remember standing in the huge, mucky yard while their daughter held up a piglet for me to see—a perfect little pink thing—but I was too terrified by the awesome sight of the immense male hog snoozing just one flimsy wooden slat away.  My love affair was somewhat quenched after that.

Random Linguistic Notes: American vs. English

Meal Terminology

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the whole lunch, tea, dinner, supper terminology. In my family we also call the largest meal of the day ‘dinner,’ hence ‘Thanksgiving dinner,’ ‘Sunday dinner,’ etc. But for the most part this is in the evening. To label your child’s school meal ‘dinner’ seems quite dismal to me. If those foodstuffs that they glopped onto plastic trays were the grandest meal of my day, I’d have concluded that life is a dreary toil at a much younger age than I did.* This would have been especially disheartening on those dreaded days when I forgot to consult the cafeteria calendar and thus came to the horrifying realization that I should have asked Mum to pack me a lunch because it was…

Fish stick day.

Generally this realisation would descend around ten o’ clock when the stench would waft down the school corridors…

D’oh! Forehead slap!

I had no other choice than to relinquish a yellow ticket from my ration book for…that.

In a land whose seafood knows no comparison, the cafeteria factory still cranked out perfectly rectangular prisms of some unidentifiable white mush wrapped in gritty breading. How could they ruin breading, for heaven’s sakes? A wheat product deep fried. What could possibly go wrong there? And yet it did. And does, for that matter. Those fumes still drift across many a primary school campus even to this day.

It wasn’t as though these putrid fish substitutes were tossed out as a token gesture to any Catholics that might’ve gone to my school. If they had been, then there would have been the hope that the polluting odour would have abated over the weekend, rather than tortured us throughout the rest of the school week. No, fish sticks were not served on Fridays and for a good reason. Friday was pizza day. Should the hair netted ladies have ever attempted to dislodge this tradition, there would have been such mutiny that even the BBC would’ve given a passing mention of ‘The Great Uprising at Gladys Wood Elementary School.’

Now, when I say ‘pizza’ let me be clear that this is a purely euphemistic term for the rectangular, floppy things coated with a ‘tomato’ (and I use that word loosely) sauce that likely came from the same recipe as Spaghetti O’s. These were also liberally sprinkled with pepper flavoured rabbit droppings that I imagine were passed off as ‘sausage’ crumbles.

Let me also add that this was to be accompanied by chocolate milk. The one shining day of something beyond white 1%. Nowadays these little knee biters get a choice of white, chocolate, and strawberry every blasted day. (No wonder we are raising up a generation of unappreciative and entitled twits.) If fate beamed down on us especially brightly, the milk cartons would’ve just come off the trucks on that winter’s day and the milk would still have frozen chunks. Ahh…a frosty, chocolate dream.

But speaking of tinned food substitutes, (Yes, I was speaking of it. It is in the second paragraph just above. Spaghetti O’s. Pay attention.), and also continuing the debate over lunch, dinner, tea, and supper…

I must say I was quite shocked to discover that over there, you all can dump a can of Van Camp’s over a piece of toast and call it a proper meal. Really? And you think we’re classless and tasteless? You don’t get any more white trash than that. If you’re going to descend that far, then you ought to round out that ‘meal’ with a nice dish of green gelatine suspending multi-coloured marshmallows. And also possibly a three bean salad. Or at the very least, coleslaw.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking beans n’ ham, but if you are going to serve them, they must be in the triangular wedge of your paper picnic plates that are precariously balancing fried chicken in the larger and more esteemed section. Mash potatoes are in the other smaller wedge, or at least, they were supposed to be, but as you walk over to a lawn chair, much of everything slides dangerously close to the edge and drips on your shoes (or shirt, depending on your luck and girth) and coats that fresh, crispy triangle of watermelon with warm sludge. @#$!

 

West Coast Dialects of American

 

I was raised in the Pacific Northwest which is completely accent free. Anything else is a deviation from proper (albeit sometimes hick) elocution. (Rather like my house has no smell whatsoever, being a perfectly neutral non-smell, whereas most other homes—yours even—have a decided scent.) Over here, we have no accent. (By which I mean that we speak pure, unadulterated American.) Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this fact, so I was exposed to some ‘correction’ during my school days.

I remember the first episode quite clearly that came upon me in kindergarten. My aunt had visited for the week and then flew back to Seattle so I confided in my tablemate that ‘I miss my aunt.’ As I’m sure you have ascertained by now, I did not pronounce this word as you would. Apparently my ‘friend’ (I did rethink this category later), was from another region ‘outside.’ So his reply, rather than being sympathetic, was:

“Oh, you miss your ant? What happened? Did you step on her?”

Mortified, I fell silent and slapped my paper with more of that cold, lumpy, mint scented paste and vowed to never, ever refer to my mother’s sister as an  /ă/nt. No, I now and forever will say /ah/nt, even though the rest of my family considers me affected for doing so.

Others seem to find my pronunciation of ‘route’ as affected and amusing as well. However, I remain firm that it is spoken as ‘root’ like ‘shoot.’ One only has to listen to the extended dance mix of Depeche Mode’s ‘You’re Behind the Wheel’ to know this.**

I was very lovingly corrected in my vocabulary for carbonated beverages and so still call them ‘soda’ despite having returned to the land where these are referred to as ‘pop.’

Did these snobby, Eastern ‘American’ classmates never see the Shasta commercial?

“Don’t give me that so-so-soda, that same old cola!

I wanna a rock and rolla’!

I want a POP!

I wanna…

Shasta!”

I was again mocked by an Eastern transplant. (Remember, when I say ‘Eastern’ I am referring in a blanketed generalization to anyone east of the Mississippi, be it Wisconsin, Chicago, New York, whatever. They’re all the same to me. Judgmental outsiders. With an accent.)

My best friend burst out laughing when he heard my pronunciation of an ‘ag’ word. According to him, ‘bag’ should be pronounced ‘Baa-ug.’ Or something like that. I never could quite replicate it so even to this day I tend to skirt around the whole issue by referring to grocery receptacles as ‘sacks.’ Although this alternative has its risks as well. This was brought to my attention by a colleague who was teaching in a bilingual classroom. He spoke English fluently but he did have a trace of an accent, so one day he appealed to me.

“I was trying to teach my students plural forms of nouns. Could you please tell me…what is the proper way to say the plural form of ‘sack?’  Because whenever I try to say it, to me it sounds too much like…”

I had to admit that if the word was spoken quickly and out of context, it did rather sound like…

As an aside, the aforementioned dilemma was not, in fact, brought to light with the word ‘bag’. It was an entirely different word that began with another consonant and no, I was not asking for a cigarette.

Speaking of which, if an American wishes to sponge off of someone he/she would ‘bum a cigarette’ from a smoker. Yes, yes, stop tittering like a thirteen year old. Although, it would be rather amusing if some Yank decided to be cute and mix his slang.

Ah. So what you’re saying is, you want to ___ a ___?”***

His English companion would choke and splutter.

“Good Heavens! What are you talking about?? Let me make myself clear. I have an intense need for nicotine and I was wondering if you could perhaps help me out.”

 

 

 

 

*Because it is a dreary toil, but children should have the brief illusion that it is otherwise until reality inescapably descends, at say the ripe old age of fifteen.

**English chaps singing, ‘Get your kicks, on route sixty-six.’

***Think about it.

 

Just a Little OCD

*Note: By no means am I attempting to trivialize those who truly suffer from OCD. My tendencies are not incapacitating, they are just…twitchy.

I find the need to buy things in even numbers. I really can buy things in odd numbers, I just prefer not to. Sometimes I grab an odd number of items just to make a point. For example, when stocking up on my weekly supply of Wet Wipes, (I go through almost as many as Monk), I’ll blithely toss a handful of packets into my basket and go strolling along…and feel my feet sliding to a stop.

Well, really, seven is such an untidy number. Let’s make it eight. Oh, what the heck, we may as well make in an even ten.

            That’s not to say that if a store was running low on an item, like say, bottles of Goo Gone, I would look at the three remaining, panic, and drop my basket and drive twenty miles to another store. I would buy the three, but it would bother me. I know. You’d expect me to buy two in that situation, but you see there are so many sticky labels to peel off of all those plastic storage containers. Why do so few manufacturers have those lovely labels that peel off smoothly? Why must so many of them use the sort that deceive you into thinking they’ll peel off cleanly and then halfway through start shredding into annoyingly triangular pieces? Where do they get this adhesive, anyway? If dentists used this substance instead of cement, no one would ever lose a crown.

Of course, odd numbers do have their place, such as in the case of time, which must be measured in increments of five, (obviously ten is preferable.) In such cases, ending a session on a torture device, (otherwise known as an aerobic machine), with fourteen or sixteen minutes would just be unseemly. Much better to end at fifteen if the flesh was too weak to make it to twenty. However, once one steps away from self-flagellation and proceeds to weight machines, then it’s right back to even numbers again. Nothing is quite so galling as making it to the eleventh repetition and then having the muscles start to quiver and

Just a little more…push…almost…there…%$#! I can’t make it to twelve. And there’s certainly no way I can write 11.5 in my workout journal. Argh! I knew I should have ended at ten.

For that matter, the moment one walks through the gym doors numbers become an issue. Mathematical contortions are required in the “simple” act of choosing a mini locker to place ones keys and cellphone. In my case, thirteen is the only correct number. True, thirteen is an exasperating number because not only is it odd, it also has no tidy divisor. However, 13 is my birthday and therefore my “lucky” number. Not that my sort of people ever put anything to luck. No, everything requires careful analysis with pro’s and con’s columns or X vs. Y. When comparing options, it’s best to weight items in importance so that one may total up the columns and see that by 18 to 12, the grey pullover shirt is vastly superior to the navy button down. Success is also gained by making careful to-do lists. Often I’ll realize that I’ve already done something useful and will gleefully write it down just so that I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off. But I digress.

 

Where was I? Oh, right. Lockers. Choosing locker number thirteen isn’t always possible. Occasionally I’m quite affronted to see that someone else has taken my locker.* The only way to remedy this conundrum is of course to use locker 12 or 14, but if hard pressed, 9 is acceptable because 13 has a three in it and 9 is a multiple of three and…Yes. This does actually go through my head every morning and yes, I do realize how completely ridiculous it is.

 

Another exception to the even numbers rule seems to be when checking things, such as how many times one must press the “lock” button on car keys. Answer: Three. One must push the button twice, walk away, doubt oneself and then push the button once more. I’m not sure why. Thrice is odd, but perhaps even I have to admit that pushing it a fourth time would be a bit excessive. When it comes to checking anything typewritten, the answer is: bare minimum, at least five times. In truth, I don’t actually count the number of times I scour every text, email, letter or essay with fine grit sandpaper until I feel fairly sure that there are no splintery to/too/two mix-ups or incorrect there/their/they’re foibles, misspelt words, poor grammar, missing punctuation or missing capitalization. It’s probably much more than five. Yes, I did say texts. I insist that any text I send adhere to all writing conventions. Never fear, I understand that this is not the standard by which you have chosen to live. If you send me a text with the first person typed ‘i’ somehow I will find it in my heart to forgive you, (and politely reply), but I would never, ever dream of committing the same crime myself. For this reason, even if I loved French fries above all else and/or was starving to death, I would never, ever darken the door to McDonald’s. Ronald McDonald’s creepiness was enough to scare me away but the “i’m lovin’ it” ad campaign, to me, signaled the death of our Mother Tongue. And yes, we’re Americans, so we’d already made great headway in brutally massacring the English language. However, the culture of texting ushered in a whole other realm of linguistic atrocities. Still, why bother to email or call when you can text? What, meet up with the person face-to-face? Exhausting. No, much better to type a two paragraph text and edit it five times (or more) to make sure that I won’t wake up at 3 o’ clock in the morning and suddenly realize that I used “further” when I ought to have used “farther.” ((Shudder))

 

But wait, there’s more! Buy this micro-OCD unit now for only $19.99 and free of charge we will throw in sample sized germaphobia! Just call 1-800-248-1632. Hurry, folks! This is a limited time offer!

 

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that I am also a semi-germaphobe. I say “semi” because no true germaphobe would be able to stay in my profession for more than five minutes altogether before having a mental collapse. (Monk would have a panic attack in less than two minutes if he could even see my workplace.) Until I can change to my fantasy career**, I must go through hundreds and hundreds of Wet Wipes. I am most certainly not the sort that takes stock in hand sanitizer. I still cannot fathom why a true purist would find any consolation in this method. Certainly, manufacturers claim that their product kills 99.9% of germs but then you are walking around with germ corpses all over your hands until you can reach the safety of soap and water. And what of the 0.1% surviving? I just know that one of them is rousing the other wounded and battered with the rallying cry, “We shall not admit defeat until we see the suds of doom! Attack!”

Recently, I’ve discovered that I now have to wash my hands before I use the toilet, not only after. Like you, I was once blissfully naïve, but now I cannot escape the thought that I’ve touched many unclean surfaces just on the way to the bathroom and then if I didn’t wash my hands first those evil germs would be all over the no longer hygienic bathroom tissue. Furthermore, one stall bathrooms are to be sought out because then one can also wash one’s hands immediately after flushing and before touching ones trouser buttons or zipper. Do you see what kind of world I live in?

 

Footnotes

 

*Some people even have the audacity to take my parking space, but usually that is the consequence of only being early to work by twenty minutes instead of thirty. It’s very unsettling to not arrive at work an hour early but the gym doesn’t open until five. I cringe at the thought of appearing to be such a slacker and feel the need to explain to my boss that he shouldn’t be proud of me because, no, I haven’t really begun to “lighten up” I’ve just rearranged my schedule.

 

**What’s my dream career? I thought you’d never ask! It’s so obvious that I can’t believe you haven’t already guessed it by now. OF COURSE God really designed me to be one of those personal organizers that swoop into your food pantry and attack it like ravenous pterodactyls, madly ripping away the fat free Ranch dressing you bought three years ago with a 2 for 1 coupon, (upon which you discovered that fat free anything is simply revolting), the cracker (biscuit) box with five semi-crumbled crackers that have been sitting getting stale since some time last Christmas, the instant oatmeal that yes, here I must cover my mouth in horror actually has…well, you know…the gruesome things that find the cereal when they’ve concluded that you are never going to eat it so why should they let it go to waste? After filling several thrilling trash bags, (yes, I did say several—have you looked at your pantry lately?) I would of course proceed to your refrigerator where to my shock/delight I discover an entire shelf of condiments that either have that much left or are beginning to grow fur and/or sinister black spots. There is also the cream that has long since become a solid and orange juice that is now alcoholic. Meanwhile, you are watching me with a mixture of mortification, (you knew it was bad, just not this bad) and growing unease because you’ve never seen me act like this. My eyes are much too dilated and my smile and cries of satisfaction with each item thrown in the trash begin to border on hysterical. But that is because you could never understand how throwing things away is the most exhilarating experience on planet Earth. Forget drugs. Filling garbage bag after garbage bag fills me with such ecstasy that I’m almost pleased that you are such a complete pig. As I haul out the last Hefty you feel a sense of relief, but, my friend, that relief will be quite short-lived.

 

Because we have only begun! Your kitchen has been merely purified of all that is gross and outdated. We haven’t even touched your spice rack! I pause because logically, they ought to be lined up in alphabetical order, but you just couldn’t do anything methodically, could you? Here we have a teeny tiny container of aniseed (who uses that anyway?) and a gargantuan bottle of cinnamon. I could alphabetize them but then I am faced with the dispiriting sight of tall, short, really short, tall, tall, short, short, really short—you couldn’t even manage a pattern, could you? Yet if I place them by height, (Hmm…ought that to be ascending or descending?) you would then have Parsley cheek to jowl with Garlic Salt. P with G? Never! (By the way, do you really need that much garlic salt? I mean weren’t you just complaining last week about your lack of success in the dating arena? Need I point out that there is at least a correlation if not a cause and effect?)

 

You hold your breath (not much of a loss, really, see above) filled with anticipation because you think that faced with this impasse, I’ll either implode on the spot or give up and leave you alone. What? And not earn the exorbitant fee I’m charging you? Yes, I said fee. Yes, I know I’m your friend but this is a business, not a charity. Do you want me to continue or leave your spices in this haphazard disaster? No, of course Parsley and Garlic haven’t defeated me (cough, cough), I have the perfect solution: You must now go out and buy those little stainless steel spice containers that come in, and this is the key here Mr./Ms. Erratic Shopper, uniform shapes and sizes. I think we’d better move on now, or I shall begin to obsess about the need for total uniformity and be tempted to buy containers for everything. Even I can see that would be overkill.

 

Moving on to the rest of your house…

 

Don’t worry too much as we approach your wardrobe. I’m not qualified to be the fashion police. (Hey now, that little comment was uncalled for. Are you really still upset about how much you had to spend at Crate & Barrel?) Call in Stacy London or Clinton Kelly if you are a complete masochist or just stick with me and edit your closet based on how long it’s been since you wore it last. Anything over a year and you’d better have a pretty good explanation my friend. Otherwise, it’s Goodwill City or Bust. (Yes, of course you may keep those relaxed fit jeans. I know it’s been two years since you were last seen in public wearing them. Nevertheless, we must all cling to the dying hope that someday this hideous blight called “skinny jeans” will have ended. Pray.) Once we have pared it down it will be a snap for me to classify each article. For example: Kingdom: Clothing, Phylum: Tops, Class: Shirts, Order: Summer Wear, Family: Short Sleeves with Collars, Genus: Polo shirts, Species: Navy Blue. I know it looks a bit daunting at first, but I will tack this Clothing Taxonomy Table to the door of your closet/wardrobe for reference. I’m sure you will soon find getting dressed for work or pleasure an efficient and effective process. (What? Ha! No, I’m not going to iron them for you! I don’t care about perfection that much.)

 

Hurry up, because it’s nearly four and we haven’t even touched your office ye…Oh, my goodness. I will have to cancel my appointment with tomorrow’s client. And perhaps the day after. Good thing you just got paid, eh?

 

Further Reading and Viewing

(Yes, “further” not “farther.” I checked.)

 

26 Struggles That All Germaphobes Will Understand

Because the world is a filthy, filthy place.

By Adam Davis Buzzfeed Staff

 

Monk, the Television Series

 

“My OCD” Song, by Rhett and Link (Youtube it. Hilarious.)

 

The British Guide to Understanding the Western American

*Note: I wrote the following in response to the general consensus one finds out there in cyberspace: Other People Hate Americans.

I found this out (well, all of us know it already, but more details were brought to home), when I was double checking certain slang terms or alternate words that the Brits use. (More specifically the English.) Of course this was all due to “research/fact checking” for the story I was writing. They say you’re supposed to write about what you know and the setting (that ghastly post-Communistic country I referred to before) is well known to me as are the particular quirks of the American main character, (Yes, yes, all right. It is me, but a much better me who didn’t screw up her life.) However, other things are somewhat out of my sphere of experiential knowledge. I don’t think it really counts to have read every Angela Thirkell, D.E. Stevenson, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Paddington…All right, all right. Stop sighing and rolling your eyes. I really wasn’t trying to show off.

ANYWAY the other main character is English. He just is. If you insist on asking me why, I would give you this vague “bleh” response about an alternative sort of person and wistful thinking that living with a slightly emotionally repressed person from a culture that has a distaste for dramatic scenes sounds…refreshing. Peaceful.

Since this person is so dear to me, it stung a little bit to read the nearly infinite amount of vitriol about all the annoying things we do, including talking too loudly, being nosey, being “too polite” (?) to customers and pronouncing all the rrrrrrrrrrrr’s in words, etc.

Yes, all right, it hurt my pathetic little feelings. There, I admitted it. Are you happy now? Like everything else that hurts or angers me, it festers for a little while and then my mind turns it into an analogy (well obviously), sort of like an oyster makes smooth layers over an uncomfortable grain of sand. Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to imply that my blather is as precious as a pearl. However, it does set it up in case you decide to make fun of me because then I can say, “Well, then I suppose I shouldn’t cast my pearls before swine, should I? And now I am going to take all of my toys and go home. So there.”

Speaking of pathetic feelings, that is a perfect segue into my piece…

 

 

 

The British Guide to Understanding the Western American

 

As you’ve often suspected, the key to unraveling our makeup (assuming you actually want to), is to know this: We have an incessant need to be liked. Yes, I admit it. It’s pathetic, but it’s there. Sure, in 1776 we told Mom to step off, declared, “I am SO outta here!” and stomped out the door. We’re rather proud that we made something of ourselves. We should be. It didn’t come easily. There were quite a few years of living in crappy apartments (yes, flats) and slurping Ramen Noodles, but we worked our way up the ladder to being a World Power with that good ol’ American grit and spirit. And yet…

 

Like every child we still keep sneaking looks over our shoulders hoping we will get a glimpse of Mom’s approval. We can’t help it. It would be so much simpler if our parental unit had been, say, France. I mean, who would care about rejection from those snooty snail-eating Frogs that produced the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and yet still can’t seem to discover the wonders of daily showering and deodorant? It would almost be too easy.

 

What stings is the rejection of our siblings. Now we realize Canada thinks he’s better than us. Really? Our little brother—that vinegar on chips eating squirt that says “eh?” almost as much as we say “like”—looks down on us? He probably just wants to rub it in our faces that Mom likes him better. Still, her favoritism may be because his departure wasn’t so “in your face.” He just quietly moved out and went away to college, (Yes, university. You know what we mean.)

 

But what really wounds us is Australia. “B-but you’re the same as us! You were also just boatloads of ‘dregs’ from other countries that conquered an untamed continent. You even have cowboys and speak with a drawl and everything! Fine then. Who cares what you think? You have animals that can’t make up their minds if they’re proper mammals or not. Besides, you celebrate Christmas in summer and that’s just stupid.”

 

To ourselves: “Dagnabbit! That was a lame comeback. We won’t think of a better one until 3 o’ clock in the morning. Screw it. We’re gonna go hang out with Mexico. He still thinks we’re cool. In fact, he wants to be just like us.”

 

Our desperate need for approval leads to our inability to fathom the British love for self-deprecating humor. Sure, we get it. Some of us even do it—but not for very long. We’re so busy protecting our fragile self-esteems that whenever anyone within earshot diss’es him/herself, we feel obligated to say something nice. (*Lying is honorable in this context.) So after a while of listening to you rip yourselves up one side and down the other, it gets a bit tiresome. To us, it sounds like fishing for compliments. You begin to resemble that insecure girlfriend that pesters her boyfriend incessantly for reassurances that he loves her, she doesn’t look fat in that outfit, if she should get in an accident and be horribly disfigured she would still be the most beautiful woman on Earth, etc.

 

What surprises us is your inability to believe that our friendliness is genuine. You’re so busy being cleverly ironic that when we say please and thank you and sir and ma’am you think we’re being snotty. Aw, shucks. Y’all are so cynical. We generally save our sarcasm as a defense mechanism for rejection so outwardly we look cool while our inner child curls up in the fetal position.

 

Example:

 

“Well that’s a pile of crap.”

“Hmm…I’m sorry. You seem to have mistaken me for someone who gives a rodent’s rear end what you think.”

 

Or

 

“Way to go there, Sparky.”

“Yeah, well, if I wanted your opinion I’d have beaten it out of you.”

 

That’s how we are in the West, anyway. I suppose out East they are generally sarcastic and rude all the time. And when I say “East” I mean New York, Boston, Chicago, basically anything east of the Mississippi. (Skipping over that boring bit in the middle, of course. We always do. I mean, thanks for the breakfast cereal and all that, but actually visit those salt-of-the-earth people? Nooo.)

 

Not having lived in that urban blighted sector of my country I can’t really speak for those easterners. However, I’m going to go ahead and make a sweeping generalization about them anyway based on those that unfortunately find their way out here only to inflict their loud, rude and argumentative personalities upon us and to drone on and on about how everything back East is better.

 

Them: “Blah, blah, blah, pizza, blah, blah, blah, hotdogs, blah, blah, blah baseball.”

Us: “Really? Now that IS interesting. You know, out here we have these nifty things called airports. Perhaps I could point you in the way of the nearest one?”

 

Now THAT my friend, is Western sarcasm.

 

 

 

Perplexed but not Despairing

#@$! There’s that tree. Again!

I sigh and sit down on a nearby log and look up at the sky, as if the angle of the sun could somehow magically point the way. No stars. No compass. Just this same stupid place that I keep circling back to somehow. Over and over and over again…

I used to face a chasm of unknown, every year. Every time I moved to a new town I would still be here. Yay. Job hunting. My favorite sport. When I stopped moving, I thought my troubles would be over. Something permanent, stable. The economy had a fun surprise for that one. Then it was first hired, first fired—well, pink slipped, anyway. I would stand yet again at the edge of scariness and look down, wondering how long I would have to wait until I could spot some hint of a bridge that would take me across. God always came through—eventually. It was usually long past what I thought my endurance could bear. I used to joke that I felt like I was in Remedial Life 091. This chasm was my final exam, and trusting God completely was the only correct answer. I had to keep retaking this exam because I never seemed to pass. I wondered when I would get to Real Life 101.

 

But now I wish I could go back to Remedial Life. The chasm exam was a snap compared to this. Now I am lost in this forest—trapped. I know enough about survival to know that the key is to stay calm. I take a deep breath and try to get through the next few steps, but then I realize that all the trees look the same and the only definable landmark is that same #%& tree telling me that I am still here. Stuck. No escape. Then I feel my chest tighten with panic and I can barely breathe. I have to grab onto a nearby tree to steady myself as the floor of pine needles goes all blurry.
I cannot cry again.
Not here.
Get it together.
Think!

 

But I can’t think anymore. My thoughts have gone round and round in circles in my brain, (Yes, I have an analogy for that part too.) I can’t see a way out. There is no way out! My throat starts to close and I feel the adrenaline kick in.
No! NO! There must be a way out!
I don’t want to live in this forest! God, please!

I can hear the voices of my friends telling me that nobody should have to be stuck in the forest. God doesn’t want us to be miserable. He wants us to be filled with joy.

I can hear the voices of my family and pastors and authors of Christian books—God wants us to honor our commitments. He never said life would be easy. Marriage is a covenant—an analogy to the world of God’s commitment to us. And a contract should not be broken. My boss relies on me and those under my care rely on me. Sometimes that is all that keeps me going and sometimes it feels like that’s what’s killing me. The needs and demands so far surpass my abilities…A file clerk might not change lives, but neither does he/she spend 98% of the day feeling grossly inadequate. 2% isn’t much for my self-esteem to subsist on.

 

I don’t know. All I know is I am sick to death of that same stupid tree with dead branches and this stupid squishy muskeg. I’m exhausted, my shoes are wet, and I’ve been bitten by thirteen thousand mosquitoes. I think they’ve taken more blood than they’ve left. Stupid mosquitoes. It’s bad enough you steal my blood, did you have to make me itch on top of it?

My fault. If I had been properly prepared—made the right life decisions—I would have remembered to apply Cutter and lace on hiking boots. Scratch that. (No pun intended) If I’d made decent life decisions I wouldn’t be in this stupid forest in the first place.

Huh. Would you look at that? Low bush cranberries and bear berries. Well, that’s something, anyway. Of course they’re super sour, but…I guess it’s not a total loss.

Thanks God. A GPS would have been better, but…thanks just the same.

I sigh again.

If I had a nickel for every time I sighed, I’d make Bill Gates look lower middle class.

I sit, trying not to scratch the mosquito bites or think about my cold, squishy socks and how lonely and scary it feels to be so far away from basecamp. If there was somebody nice sitting on the log next to me, joking about how attractive the swamp spruce are and what a lovely place this would be for building a summer home…it wouldn’t be so unbearable. But again…life choices.

So I take out my Bible and it falls open to the bookmark, which is in the same place as always. My Bible would probably fall open to that page anyway, or to James 1, because I’ve read them so very many times…over and over and over…

2 Corinthians 4
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”

 

Perplexed but not despairing. That is the part I relate to the most, although the “not despairing” part fluctuates now and then—by which I mean to say every five minutes or so. Perplexed but not despairing. That reminds me of a quote from Daniel Boone:

 

“I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was once bewildered for about three days.”

 

Yes, that’s it, except that my bewilderment seems to last a lot more than three days. I sigh again, (that’s $.15 and counting. Actually it would be more like $1.15 because I didn’t type it every time I sighed. That would get tiresome. Perhaps it’s better that my English accountant isn’t here listening to it. He probably would keep a running total and charge me a whopping fee for making him endure it. Still…I miss him.)

Better keep reading.

 

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

 

Temporal. Yes, this is temporary. How temporary remains to be seen, but…if you think about it, everything is temporary, even life. I can’t say I’m super torn up about that one. Most days I wish I could fast forward past this life on Planet Earth crap and get to the good part, the part that isn’t temporary. Heaven will be nice. Way better than base camp. Focus on that. In the meantime, if I could just find the correct trail…

I guess I’ll try hopping the creek and following that line of birch trees.

Well, Mr. Stupid Tree, here I go. If you see me again, you’ll know it was the wrong way.

Life Post E.D., My Body, The English Bank Accountant

Life Post E.D.
My Body, the English Bank Accountant

Things can get so awful at times…to the point when I think that they are absolutely unbearable, and then…my warped sense of humour kicks in. I have to laugh at myself. Recovering from E.D. is often an agonizing process, (though definitely worth it.) You would think that your body would be so pleased that you are now taking care of it. (You would think.) However, there are many surprising “side effects” of getting healthier. The following suddenly came to me, in a moment of writhing mental discomfort. Hopefully this will help you as well. Think of people that came out of the Great Depression. They had a tendency to horde things and hide money under mattresses. So this is my analogy. My body is the English Bank Accountant trying to reconcile the debts I incurred. (Yes, he’s English. Can’t you tell by his accent?)

One day I just walked up to my accountant and handed him my bank card.

“Here. I’m sick of this. I don’t want to do it anymore. Take it.”

He was so surprised that he just sort of blinked and took it from me uncertainly.

“You’re truly turning this over to me then?”

“Yes.”

“I’m in charge now?”

“Yes.”

“I see.”

He didn’t thank me or anything, which I found rather exasperating, but I couldn’t really blame him. With the alarming amount of unpaid bills and overdrafts that I’d racked up in the last mphmph years, it’s no wonder he wasn’t gushing with enthusiasm. However, after I’d been faithfully depositing reasonable sums of money and not withdrawing any, I began to get a bit irritated by his attitude. Actually, a lot irritated. I strode into his office one day, ready to give him a piece of my mind.

“Look,” I said without preface. “I’m not really thrilled with how you’ve been spending my money.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“These stupid packages keep showing up on my doorstep every day. I hate all of them!”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” But he didn’t sound the least bit sorry.

“Yeah, like the whole Hormone Replenishment Package? Thanks a lot. Super awesome. I missed that monthly event so much. &$@! If I’d known that was in the deal, I’d never have turned matters over to you.”

He sighed and looked up at the ceiling.

“Did you honestly think you could continue on entirely without them? Perhaps it’s escaped your notice, but there really are very few unnecessary features in God’s design. I realize you have quite your own opinion on the matter, but it makes no difference whatsoever.”

I narrowed my eyes at him and shifted my jaw.
I hate you.

I’m pretty sure he could tell what I was thinking, but he just raised his eyebrows blandly.

“I’m sorry, was there something else?”

“Forget it,” I muttered and ground my teeth and stalked away.

*Note: Before we go any further, I want to make it quite clear that I don’t, as a rule, talk to people like this. I can’t promise that I never snap back at people, but generally only after they have repeatedly jabbed me with pointy sticks and driven me into a corner. (Oh, yes. You’ll get to hear all about those too, eventually. Stay tuned.) However, I certainly wouldn’t go striding into someone else’s personal space and start waving pointy sticks around at them. Remember, this is an analogy.

At any rate, I certainly would never dream of speaking that way to my accountant, should I actually be able to afford one. It’s probably a good thing that I can’t. If, by some chance, my finances were left in charge of an Englishman who was this longsuffering and sensible and quietly determined to look after my own best interests, well…I’d probably just do something disastrous like fall in love with him.

 

Other Typical Interactions

I cheerfully stepped up to his desk, dressed in knit pants and a T-shirt, dangling my shiny new gym membership keycard.

“Hi!”

He finished writing something and then put his pen down and looked up at me.

“Um, well, I’m off to the gym and, uh…I was wondering…could I have some cash?”

It was his turn to narrow his eyes and shift his jaw. He very reluctantly peeled off three faded one dollar bills.

“What?! Are you kidding me? I was thinking more along the lines of a couple of twenties!”

He didn’t say anything.

“I’m going to be there for an hour.”

He sighed and peeled off another dollar. That was it, the stupid tightwad.
“Thanks,” I said as sarcastically as I could manage.

I hate you.

Two Months Later

The next time I came to his office, I was a tensed coil of anxiety.

“Look, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. Could you please just loosen up the purse strings a little bit? You’re killing me.”

His mouth twitched to the side in a wry smile.
Really? I’m killing you?

“I’m sorry, but you decided to entrust matters entirely in my hands. I must take whatever action I deem necessary to repair the not inconsiderable damage you have done over such an extended period of time.”

“Yes, I know, but…I mean, I think I’ve been pretty good about depositing money, haven’t I?”

“Yes, I agree. You’ve managed to deposit…reasonable amounts, perhaps not what I’d hoped for…but, nonetheless, useful.”

“Not what you’d hoped for? What were you expecting? Several thousand a day?”

“That would be most helpful, yes.”

“Are you smoking crack?? I’m not going to trust you with that much! Look what you’ve managed to do already! I’ve had to shop for bigger clothes three times!”

“Oh, so now we’re going to talk about trust issues? That doesn’t strike you as the least bit ironic?”

“Yeah, whatever. I guess I was being completely unreasonable in expecting you to be thankful. This isn’t easy, you know.”

“Yes,” he said in a softer tone, “I do realize that.”

“So, do you think you could…you know, loosen up a little?”

“I’ll take the matter under consideration.”

“That’s it? That’s your answer?”

A nod.

“Argh!”

The Next Day

I knocked on his office door, but I’d barely opened it half way before he deflected me.

“I said I’d think about it.”

What Seemed Like Months Later

When he tried to dismiss me again, I pushed the door open wider and walked straight to the chair across from his desk. I was decidedly edgy at that point. One hand wrenched at the ring on my other hand and my foot jiggled restlessly.

“When are you going to forgive me?” I finally blurted out.

“Wh-what?” He was actually astonished.

“When are you going to forgive me? I know I deserve it, but still…this is…awful.”

His eyes dropped and his brows drew down a fraction.

“It’s not a question of forgiveness,” he said very quietly. “It’s more a matter of…broken trust.”

I bit my lip and looked down at the floor. An overwhelming wave of remorse threatened to drown me. (I did/do have those, by the way, as well as tsunamis of guilt. It’s not always seething rage, or intense irritation. However, he probably didn’t see quite as much of the deep regret, because I didn’t voice it so…er…forcefully.)

“I’m doing everything I can to…build it back up again,” I said very softly.

“Yes, I do appreciate that—very much, indeed.”

You sometimes have a very funny way of showing it.

“Well…I don’t suppose you could…sort of…give an…ETA for this restored trust thing?” I asked wistfully.

He coughed awkwardly.

“Well, er…that’s rather difficult to say, really. Perhaps if you come back in six months’ time, I could give you a better answer.”

Six months?!

“Oh—ok,” I said faintly.

A Week Later

I knocked and peeked around the door.

“I said six months.”

Sigh.

Another Week Later
(Or Four Days, which is close to Five Days, which is near enough to a Week)

I poked my head through the doorway and heard him sigh very loudly.

I got the point.

Yet Another Size Up

I burst into his office in full freak out mode. Even he looked a bit startled.

“No, no! You cannot keep doing this to me! I will not allow you to keep doing this to me!”

He sighed.

“I told you. These things take time. They cannot be rushed. You have to be patient.”

“%$# being patient! This is hell! I. Can. Not. Take. This. Any. More.”

He made a helpless sort of gesture and said nothing, but my eyes followed his hands’ movements and noticed the ATM card on the corner of his desk. I squinted and shifted my jaw. My fingers twitched slightly. His eyes followed my gaze and then went back up to my face.

“So that’s it, is it?” he said quietly. (I couldn’t hear the note of bitterness then, but it was there.) “You really want to go back to that?”

“It was better than this #$@!”

“I think perhaps you are forgetting just how bad it really was.”

“Yeah, whatever. #@$ it! I don’t want to be fiscally responsible anymore. I want to be—“

“Yes, yes. I know. You just want to maintain a zero balance in your account and yet somehow magically have the necessary funds appear when you should need something, like say, stable potassium levels or—or something really extravagant like sufficient bone mass.”

“#@$ you! You know what my childhood was like! You can look all #@$ smug and pleased with yourself. You don’t have to deal with this! I do!”

He started to open his mouth but I cut him off.

“I’m telling you, this is pure hell! My own personal Room 101. I can’t deal with it anymore. Maybe you don’t care about being completely hideous, but I do!”

I knew I had touched a nerve with that one because I saw that little bone at his temple shift as he clenched his jaw. He drew in a big breath.

“Now look here! The only reason we’re not completely and utterly bankrupt is because I went about crawling on the floor to pick up any pathetic pennies and nickels you might casually drop in your wake of destruction. You never gave a thought to me throughout that hell, now did you? It couldn’t ever possibly occur to you to be just a wee bit grateful? No, of course not. In fact, now—at long last—when we’ve finally got something resembling a balanced checking account, you have the appalling audacity to be angry with me!”

But I wasn’t ready to stop being furious yet.

“&$# straight, I’m %$# off! I was prepared for a few—stacks—but do you have to fill the whole @#$& vault?!”

“Ha! Your perception of an overfilled bank vault and mine are quite different, I can assure you. I’ve no intention of changing my position on the matter. I will however, continue to take every precaution necessary to preserve our financial integrity and no amount of abusive language will persuade me to do otherwise.”

I ground my teeth.

I’ve never been quite so enraged in my entire life. Fantasies of drop-kicking him down ten flights of stairs flashed before my eyes. Total helpless fury. The one area of my life where I’d had a modicum of control and it had been wrenched from my vise-like grip. I was at his mercy now. (It ought to have shown me what he’d gone through, but of course I was too self-absorbed to consider that.) I spun on my heel and took long angry strides to the door, but before I touched the handle, I lowered my voice to the quietest, deadliest tone I could manage.

“I hate you.”

I yanked open the door, but not before his parting shot.

“That’s as it may be, but I don’t hate you.”

Oh!

(Light bulb!)

*Note: That part is real. I did actually hear that. I won’t say it was the voice of God, perhaps it was, or perhaps just His prompting a shred of common sense. But I do distinctly remember an especially torturous moment, in the shower, looking down at myself in horror and thinking, “I hate my body!” and then hearing the rejoinder, “Yes, but your body doesn’t hate you.” That was definitely a turning point.

Eighteen Months Later

Our relationship is a great deal better. Not perfect, mind you. There are still very bad days. I still don’t see eye-to-eye with him on a great many things, but, the anger is down to…occasionally irritation or feelings of despair. But not fury. The following might be a more typical interaction.

I walked uncertainly into his office. He had called me in, actually, which was quite surprising in itself. His face lit up when he saw me. I hardly recognized him, he looked so…happy.

“Look!”

He spread the pages of the report out in front of me and pointed fondly to the thyroid and cholesterol numbers in particular.

“These figures are wonderful. Excellent. Very well done indeed.”

“So…you’re…proud of me?”

“Exceedingly.” His eyes shone.

I felt a warm glow at his praise, but the credit was due to him, really. I had to tell him that.

“Thanks, but…it’s all because of you. You’re amazingly resilient, you know.”

His face flushed, embarrassed and pleased.

“Um…” I faltered.

I didn’t want to take the gloss off of his moment, but I really needed to know.

“Um, do you think that now you could…you know…increase the ‘funds available’ in the Metabolism account?”

His smile diminished slightly and he sat down across from me.

“I know you’ll probably never agree to my ideal, so I won’t even try to convince you. I’ll trust you on that one. Really. I am very grateful. You know that, don’t you?”

He cleared his throat.

“Yes, but…it’s still nice to hear.”

“So, I mean, at this point, I’ll take anything, but it would be really nice if…I mean, even if you could agree to bring the balance down to say, a size eight?”

I wasn’t sure if his face stiffened then, or if I just imagined it.

“Remember, eight used to be a horrifying number to me, not that long ago.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t think that’s too much to hope for, do you?”

He swallowed and looked down and pushed the papers together in a neat stack.

“No. No, it’s…quite reasonable.” There was a long pause and he cleared his throat again. “It’s just…you had me so terribly worried for such a…very long time.”

I had to blink very hard and swallow a few times myself.

“I know. I’m so sorry I put you through all that.”

He made a wry face and gave a slight shrug.

“Yes, well…we came through it at any rate.”

“By the way, I don’t hate you.”

He quirked his eyebrows at me.

“Not quite so much, anyway,” he murmured.

I grinned back. It wouldn’t do to take ourselves quite so seriously.

God’s Love Made Tangible

*Note: I wrote this years ago when I was in another country, (I might tell you which one someday, suffice to say, it’s not one that people go to for pleasure.) It is still true, although there have been days when I’m not too sure about the last two lines. Yet, even now God is sure to place someone I can talk to when things seem particularly bleak. He doesn’t always give a lot—or it doesn’t seem like it—but He always gives just enough to see through to another day.

 

When I go walking in the woods, and smell all those familiar smells of damp earth and sticky sweet leaves of willow and birch…I remember all the other times I’ve walked in woods…in all the different places…and how God’s presence has been the same…like a protective canopy arching over me, and over all creation. And as I walk, I remember all the other times I walked in the woods, thinking, wondering, self-sufficient…or hurting and alone. Thinking about the people who had gleamed a promise of something precious…and then disappointed me. Or I disappointed them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who turned away first. I have a pretty knee-jerk reflex—self-protection—to be the first to leave. But it isn’t always the case.

I squint up at the leaves, transparent green against the brilliant sky, and remember all the people that have passed through my life. Sometimes it seems like life is just a bunch of broken bits of love fallen and scattered about…But then, when time telescopes the events…I see the times when I needed someone and God placed a person there, a friend, albeit temporary. Someone to be the tangible arms to wrap a hug around me, and listen to me and understand, at least a little. And then I see…it isn’t something broken, it’s like separate beads of caring, and the thread linking them in an unending chain of love, is, God.

And I realize, I will be ok. Whatever happens, I will be ok.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting

It starts out slowly…and gradually spreads until your whole life is clouded by this dream-like state. Like a dream, it fluctuates between just slightly odd to nightmarish…and then back again. You suspect that this is not reality, but none of your navigational systems work in this bizarre atmosphere, so you aren’t quite sure.

 

Some dreams can be very realistic—people act and talk like they do in real life, so at first, it seems so real. No one expects the beginning of a marriage to be easy, so of course conflict will come and probably neither one will handle it very well. But…it’s all so confusing. These aren’t really fights or squabbles or fussing over who forgot to do this or that. Just, one moment everything is fuzzy wuzzy perfect and the next you are caught up in some bizarre episode. You’re not quite sure what it is about or how you got there, only that you are caught in this terrifying storm of emotion. You never even saw the tornado approaching and suddenly your house just passed by and a tree nearly collided with your head. You must escape. NOW. But as always in a nightmare, somehow your feet don’t work properly or when you open your mouth to scream, nothing comes out. You’re trapped in panic.

Or to put it a different way…

He tries to load some highly complex program or throws malware at your system (because, let’s face it, we ALL have malware. It’s called being human in a fallen world) and you get:

>>ERROR<< System failure…aborting and deleting all programs…

Or

Blip! Crap. Blue screen.
Control alt. delete.
Control alt. delete.
CONTROL ALT. $#@% DELETE!

 

But it doesn’t work because he keeps clicking retry. He refuses to let your system shut down so things get very bad indeed. You bolt for the door, but he is much faster and stronger than you. It’s even better if he’s been trained in restraint holds and can incapacitate you in three seconds flat.

When someone blocks your way or actually physically restrains you from leaving something strange happens. If you’ve no idea what I am talking about, be thankful. If you can’t possibly fathom what I am talking about, try taking a fluffy bunny, bored cat, or wagging dog. You don’t have to hurt it or anything, just keep backing it into a corner and give it absolutely no route of escape and see what sort of reaction you get.

Something in your brain snaps. You go quite mad and turn into this frantic, clawing, screaming creature. Your reptilian brain kicks in the flight/fight response—both responses simultaneously. And then of course the other person feels very justified in restraining you because you are a raving lunatic and a danger to yourself and others. Then he can feed you some bullshit about being able to dial 911 and the paramedics would haul you off and hospitalize you or something. They would believe him and not you, because you’re clearly out of control and he is quite calm. He knows how all those systems work, of course. He’s always right.
Even when one storm has passed, the wreckage provides fuel for the next one.

“But you said x.”
“No I didn’t. I said y. You said b.”
“No…I said a.”
“Pft! No. You said b. I recorded it on my cellphone even.* I played it to my best friend. He thinks you’re a total %$#.”

But…I’m sure I said a…I’m pretty sure…I can’t believe I would say b. I know he said x. He did. I heard it. I mean…I think I heard it…maybe? I was sure he said x but…”

(*Strange that I never asked him to prove it and play it back to me. He probably would have blustered and said he deleted it already or something.)
You’re stunned and disoriented, stumbling around in some sinister forest with black, twisted trees whose branches keep snapping back in your face. You shake your head to clear it and somehow reorient yourself, but just as quickly another branch snaps back and stuns you again. You can’t see the sky, but no matter. There’s no drinking gourd to follow to freedom here.

And then, one day, you wake up.

A compass suddenly falls into your hand from the sky and you realize where the hell you are. It’s a bit of relief, but…not exactly terrific news.

 

It’s kind of like being trapped in the Fire Swamp, only, alas, there is no brave Westley to steer you. So you have to learn to anticipate the popping sounds before the bursts of flames and the telltale signs of lightning sand, and sleep with one eye open lest the R.O.U.S.’s creep up on you. Everything might be “ok” if you just never, ever drop your guard…

 

The insidious part of mental abuse is that it leaves no visible trace. No one would peek in the window and yell, “Run! Run now!” There’s no verse in the Bible giving it an escape clause. Marriage certificates don’t have to be renewed every ten years, so you can’t stamp yours with a big red NON-RENEWAL. Even inmates can get out on parole, but…

 

Stricken with regret, you realize you must make the Fire Swamp your home and there’s nothing for it but to start building castle walls. Construction is surprisingly swift in these DIY projects. Within days you can have your fortress and a moat—with crocodiles even. You might put in a drawbridge…you haven’t quite made up your mind about that one yet. The sentries you post at every corner must be forever vigilant. They might be able to catch quick naps while you’re at work, but they can never really sleep. It’s exhausting though, and sometimes one of them starts to nod off only to be awoken by a whistling arrow shaving past his head. The alarm is rapidly sounded and boots rush to gather defenses. They have no weapons. They could, of course, if you permitted them to, but you prefer to keep clean the rules of war. There will be no boiling oil or raining of arrows on the enemy’s head, merely smoke bombs and magical explosions of vanishing mist. Distract and avert your enemy, try not to injure him. You will sometimes, of course. You’re not perfect. The fact that you never lower your drawbridge for him is injury enough…if he’s really aware of how far away you are. His perspective is quite tilted, you see, and he might truly believe the wisps of smoke that suggest that you are just very tired. Work is stressful. You’re not unhappy you’re just…so very tired.

Sometimes the castle walls aren’t enough. Sure, they keep him out, but they don’t keep the pain away from your heart. So you may begin (or lapse back into) some maladaptive coping mechanism. (*See E.D.) Eventually—hopefully—that will grow wearisome too. One day you will wake up and say, “Enough.” (After all, E.D. is just another abusive boyfriend in the end.)

That’s when things get really disheartening, because then the numbness wears off and you can clearly see how appallingly obvious it is. How tragically damaged and stunted his own life made him. You feel a twist of pity for him, but…would you lower the drawbridge just for that? I wouldn’t. I don’t.

 

Recently, I started to peek through the arrow loops and strain my eyes to see off into the distance. I’m not quite sure why. Do I really expect to see someone riding to me? I’m not waiting for some glorious knight on a galloping steed to rush to the rescue. (Bleh.) And still…I’m scanning the horizon…By now his horse would be plodding with weariness. Or maybe he’s on foot…that’s what took him so long. Just the thought of the lines of exhaustion and battle scars on his face makes my throat close and my eyes sting. How much worse if I looked down and actually saw him there signaling from below.

 

“It’s bloody freezing out here. Do you mind lowering your drawbridge or throwing down a rope at least?”

That would be excruciating because I would have to say,

“Sorry, no. See that man over there trying to catapult flaming missiles and heave battering rams against the walls? Well, he happens to be my husband. I’m so, so terribly sorry. Please forgive me. I tried waiting, for a really long time, but you see, I thought you were dead. I should have kept waiting. I’ve regretted it ever since.”

I know this and yet…I keep looking and listening for some signal out there. If I could just know he was out there, it feels like it would be easier somehow. Or if he really died…at least I would know.

Sometimes I wander around the internet, as if I could discover some way to send a message to an unknown recipient. I write stories to keep me company. (You never would have guessed that, right?) Some of the stories are in present day, so the characters send little texts back and forth. For some strange reason, seeing that font, that size, in print is a little bit too real. On more than one occasion I’ve taken my phone out and was startled to remember that there will be no message there for me. There’s no

 

Today was awful. I miss you.

Or

There was a beautiful sunset this evening. I was thinking of you.

So I just swallow, hard, and slip my phone back into my pocket and send a prayer to God. “Please take care of him for me…wherever he is. And if he’s in heaven already, please help me wait to see him.”

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