Collaborations of Abstraction

I’d rather spend the day with homeless strangers than Christmas with my family.

It dawned on me slowly, smudged in guilt, rather than coated in it, as I’d expected it to be. I set the heaping platefuls of food on the white, tablecloth-clad table.

The restaurant I worked at was serving Christmas dinner to homeless families, and I was one of the waitresses. Last year I got to use the excuse that my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. I couldn’t pretend to like him for a full day. Now my appetite for authenticity had grown. I couldn’t pretend to like my parents for the few days. And feeding the homeless seemed more honorable. An honorable excuse.

I wasn’t alone thankfully. My friend Jennifer couldn’t make it back to the East Coast so we drank wine and opened stockings the night before. I may have even abandoned her to sleep with Nathan the previous night. I couldn’t remember. Maybe that was why I didn’t feel coated in guilt. The alcohol from the previous several days had left my brain feeling slippery, unable to hold onto anything. It’s OK though. That’s how people get through divorce. And Christmas.

After Jennifer and I finished our shifts, her in the kitchen dishing up plates and me waiting on loads of very grateful, very sweet people, we headed back to her place on the north side of town. It was quaint, with a nice kitchen table and some chairs. We drank hot cider and chatted. It was growing dark, even at 3:30 p.m. Thank goodness the Winter Solstice had passed, I thought.

My phone rang. It was Nathan. He invited me to his parents house. Some of his friends would be there, he said.

Maybe I could bring Jennifer, I asked?

Of course. The more the merrier. Jennifer enjoyed the O’Brien family. Nathan had a few brothers who drank about as much as he did, told great stories and flirted with her mercilessly. They all had girlfriends, though. Still, it was flattering.

I felt tense. Maybe it was all the coffee. Maybe it was the endless days of curing a hangover with another glass of wine. Perhaps it really was that the holidays suck for people like me. I never really did like Christmas. I was trying though. That was more than I’d done in years past.

Although Jennifer was excited at the prospect of another amusing evening, I shared my worry. Nathan had been hinting at his interest in wanting more from me. Well, hinting wasn’t exactly right.

He’d been jealous when I stood outside smoking with his friends at an ugly sweater party. A month previous when we first met, he barely looked twice at who I spoke to. He told me he thought I really wanted to make a home and have a family, even if my bitter demeanor suggested otherwise.

Spending Christmas evening with him at his parent’s was a step toward the girlfriend direction — a direction I had no intention of going. I didn’t know where I was heading, but girlfriend wasn’t the destination. Hell, it wasn’t even on the map.

Jennifer convinced me that it was a party, that I would just be one of many females there, and I should consider it. Christmas night is always a weird time, she said. And she was right. It was either that or go to a movie, and that was a Watson family tradition, something I wasn’t eager to remind myself of.

We drove the 40 minutes into the suburbs and pulled up in front of a ranch style home, snow-covered lawn sprawled out in all directions. Nate’s car was already there. Not one other vehicle, not even his brother’s car, was in sight.

Maybe we’re early? Jennifer said, not sounding very sure of herself.

We knocked and Nate let us in. Family pictures hung on the walls as we walked into the split level entrance. I took off my snow-covered shoes, left them in the hallway and tossed my coat on the bed as instructed. That’s where coats go in Minnesota, you see. On the bed.

We headed into the family room, where his parents were watching Agustin Borough’s Running With Scissors. Nate’s brother nursed a beer on the corner couch. He must’ve driven with Nate. Nate’s mom jumped up to meet me, eager to size me up, sweet as pie in the Midwestern way.

Nate’s dad set the mood by making a mildly inappropriate comment about my hips, and we settled into the couch to watch the movie. When offered a beer, I immediately accepted.

The movie didn’t sit well with either of the O’Brien parents, so Jennifer suggested we play a board game. Jennifer is always suggesting games, and this time I was grateful for the distraction. However, Nate picked Life out of the bunch. Yes, the one where you choose a degree, a spouse, a number of children and go on to buy a home and achieve mediocrity.

When I celebrated getting past the child-bearing stage unscathed, Nate’s mother seemed concerned. Don’t you want kids dear?

I needed a cigarette. Now.

Jennifer stood outside in the cold and got me to laugh at how uncomfortable the situation was. I took a few deep breaths of cold air. Then I took a few more nicotine-filled ones.

OK, I’d go back in. But only for a bit. Then we’re leaving.

Of course.

It was time to have a snack. All that beer was making us hungry. Nate’s dad pulled out some pickles and olives. I started to notice the alarming amount of Catholic garb covering the walls. I tried to calm down by reminding myself it was Christmas, a perfectly normal time to have shitloads of Jesus paraphernalia around.

When I floated back into the conversation, it was just around the time that Nate’s dad called Jennifer a communist. For what? Who knows? Maybe belonging to a newspaper union. But more likely I think it was because she was a woman who had the nerve to have an opinion.

To change the subject I asked about the pickles. They were good. What brand? In Minnesota, this was a perfectly legitimate question because pickles were a legitimate side dish.

Oh, you like them? He was pleased. Nathan, you’ll have to get her involved in your business.

Business? I wondered. Are you in the pickling business? I thought you were an insurance salesman.

Oh no, my parents sell Amway.

Stunned silence.

You’ve heard of Amway, right?

Well, yes. But I thought it was like, illegal or something now. I mean, that still exists?

Of course. You’ve probably seen commercials for it before. Late night TV?

I shook my head. I didn’t have a TV. But I suddenly was the proud owner of a brand new stomach ache.

We left, with two jars of pickles as our parting gift. So nice to meet you, everyone said. So glad you could make it. See you next year.

I’d rather spend Christmas with a bunch of suckers than my own family. Or was that just another version of my family? Another nightmare film entertaining me while I kept digging the same hole?

After reliving the evening’s most shining moments, Communist Jennifer and Childless Rebecca drove in silence back to North Minneapolis.

At one point, a lot of the homeless folks we’d served that day had lived in this neighborhood. When they could still pay rent. Before they’d lost their jobs. Now that was a hole to dig yourself out of. Maybe my Amway Christmas wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was exactly the gift I needed.

It’s Thursday afternoon and Amanda Fairchild is on the phone for me. This makes my palms sweaty. Not because I want to date Amanda. Or even have sex with her. I’m straight.

Nope. It’s because she is a popular girl and I am not.

I’d see her in the hallway with her long dark hair hanging in a perfectly straight curtain down her back. She’d run her fingers through it in a way I’d imitate as I walked from band down the hall past where all the “cool kids” would hang out.

Somehow in the four minutes between class they’d congregate there. I would’ve if I was asked, but I’d have worried how to get to debate class on time, as it was at the other end of school. I’d never had that problem though. Until today. Maybe. When Amanda dialed my number.

I sat with my phone to my ear for a minute, not fully listening as she invited me somewhere. Her house maybe. It all seemed so surreal. I accepted in a haze. Sure I’d be your friend. I saw us laughing as we walked down the hall, trading hair-styling tips. How did I get my hair so smooth and curly? she wondered.

But Amanda had another question for me. Now, in real life. The one where we are on the phone together. I try to pull myself together. Popular girls never talk to me. The guys did sometimes. There was even one who flirted with me in our advanced math class. But the girls? Nope. Not even a breath in my direction.

I would answer Amanda’s question. I would do everything in my power to be her, be one of hers.

“Do you have, like, any experience with guys?” she asks.

I am stunned. What did that matter? Then I think I catch the sounds of silent (well, almost silent) laughter. My whole body feels wrapped in flames.

I take a breath and reply, “You know, I just remembered, I think I’m grounded. I don’t think I can go to your party.”

The rest is a blur as I rush to get off the phone so my tears can have some privacy. But when I hang up they don’t come. And I push the shame and embarrassment away as I pick up my notebook and remember: Tomorrow is Friday. There’s a geometry test.

To be fair, and I do like things to be fair, let me tell you something I did a few weeks before (or was it after?) this unfortunate phone call.

It was just before school started and I was standing outside the cafeteria. Since this was Minnesota, there was no sunny veranda where kids spent their time, like in the California movies. No, we lingered in the darkness of a sub-basement, lit dimly on each end with the natural light that strained through the decades-old frosted, yellowing glass.

I stood this particular day in front of the old tunnel that connected the west building to the main school — a tunnel built because the winters really are that bad, but closed because no matter how terrible -35 C feels, asbestos cancer feels worse.

I was angry that day, about what has long since slipped my mind, but this I knew: Danielle would pay.

I stalked up to her and her friends as they stood chatting in front of their lockers. I was a year older than them, so I immediately garnered something like respect. There I was, an eigth grader drunk on her power.

“I’d watch yourself girl,” I spit with all the venom I could muster. “I can make your life here a living hell.”

She looked at me with a knowing. I wasn’t fear, just an understanding. I walked away thinking, A living hell? What kind of a cliche is that? I was a writer in edit mode, even then, wishing I could go back and delete those words and insert something more clever, less tired.

I have no idea now why I’d want to make her life hell though. And later I would approach her and apologize for that comment. We laughed at my ridiculousness, at my dramatic proclamation only a junior higher or a character from a bad movie could believe.

I’d like to believe that Amanda would’ve apologized for her phone call. We talked a few times as we got older and she was always pleasant.

I know that I might have an overly optimistic idea of folks, but I think most of them are just doing their best and trying to meet their needs. And, judging by my sweaty hands and pounding heart at the very prospect of talking to one of the popular crowd, at the idea I may be accepted, I can only imagine the intoxication of actually being in the middle of it.

And if I know anything about being drunk, it’s that you’ll often do anything to keep that buzz going, even if it might make someone else feel a bit bad. That’s the last thing you’re worried about when you’re chasing your next fix, whether it be booze, drugs or approval.

Your love is the closest thing I’ve felt

To what I’m missing now

What I grew up with then

Ding Ding Ding!

Did I get the right answer?

Or is that a warning bell?

I blame pop culture

Tricking me with pretty pictures

Baiting me with twisted stories

Catchy songs

But here’s a friendly reminder

Of where I’ll be when the dust clears

Magic doesn’t matter

Fate cast its lot

I’ll listen to my head this once

My heart’s misinformed

I’ll let it keep this view of us

Because this dog learned some tricks

It can’t unlearn

I’ll drive away from

What looks like home

I never stuck around there long anyway

Rebecca A. Watson:

I love me some blogging advice and I think this is a good mix of practical and esoteric. Enjoy!

Originally posted on HarsH ReaLiTy:

I’m still relatively new out here but I was your poster blogger for clueless newbies a year ago. I wasn’t familiar with blogs; it was a friend who introduced me to WordPress. Once he sat me in my dash and taught me how to pilot the thing, I just wrote like I was drunk. Well, writing is one thing but getting it out there another. These are some things I wish I’d known in the cyberworld fresh off the ship from Earth.

1. Don’t wait last-minute to come up with a good title. After putting in all that thought and time into the post, I would scrounge for a good title just before publishing. There were times I didn’t do justice to the text just because I hadn’t prepared. I’ve since learned: good title, good views. It’s our first – and possibly last – shot at inviting a reader in. It…

View original 360 more words

Rebecca A. Watson:

When is the last time you too a leap of faith like this? Sometimes in order for amazing things to happen, you need to create space for them to land in your life.

Originally posted on The Well:

For most of my twenties I focused on becoming financially independent, but as I drew closer to my thirtieth birthday, there was a shift.

Is living for a paycheck a safe choice? Is living for something we believe in a scary choice? I’ve been thinking a lot about how we define “risk” in our lives. It is often described by monetary loss or gain. We equate a job with security and those pursuits that don’t lead to financial stability or material comfort are risky.

Risk is the potential of losing something of value.

What do we consider valuable? It may be financial security; we want to clear our debts or invest in a home. It may be artistic satisfaction; we want to make something meaningful and put it out into the world. It may be love; we want to nurture those closest to us or build a family. These values vary from person to person…

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Rebecca A. Watson:

So often I would wonder if I met the “definition” of an alcoholic. Like, if I took some test and was told definitively that yes, I had a problem, then I would get help. It would’ve been great to have read this article then. Not sure if I would’ve listened, but hey! I’m sharing it on my site because maybe it will help someone else :)

Originally posted on FitFatFood- Blogging to Stay Sober:

I was looking through old computer bookmarks this morning, and I came across this wonderful article by Veronica Valli. She could not have made answering the question ‘An am I an alcoholic?’ easier for me. My experience of alcoholism, which she summarises so wonderfully here, is that it’s about how I THINK and FEEL as much as how I drank. That’s why it’s been really hard to explain to my binge drinking friends I’ve confided in how I differ to them, without turning myself inside out before their eyes. 

Have a read of the article, and take a look at Veronica’s site, which I have found packed full of great insights:

Am I an alcoholic?

That’s a very good question.

Are you?

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In all honesty, there is no straightforward answer to that and whichever ‘expert’ or professional you speak to will give you a totally different, if not conflicting…

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Rebecca A. Watson:

I haven’t been writing on this blog for a LONG time but have decided to start reblogging and writing some poetry, which I did last week. I thought this would be a fitting start to my reblogging: fitness, health and being lucid. Another reason to skip the booze right now (Neptune Retrograde), even if you don’t have “a problem.”

Originally posted on taking a new path:

yum yum London!

yum yum London!

this title is taken from a recent Guardian article, How does alcohol affect your athletic performance? thought others might find it as interesting as I did, not just from an athletic perspective but also from a “why the hell aren’t I losing weight now I’ve stopped drinking?” one.

the whole article is well worth reading but the two key points for me were, firstly, that the dehydration caused by consuming alcohol is an appetite suppressant. so when we stop drinking excessively our natural hunger levels return to a higher level than that to which we are accustomed. it is not just a matter of subtracting the calories we are no longer consuming as wine, because our natural, appropriate appetites are returning and we need to re-accustom ourselves to those levels. which is no easy task given that many of us have at best a fragile truce with…

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Collaborations of Abstraction

Two close (though, unfortunately, not in proximity) friends – a Welsh man living in Ireland and a Minnesotan woman living in Germany – come together to share musings, wit and random things of interest in this journey called life

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