About five years ago, I received an email from a woman. She was someone I knew through work, but not very well. I still remember the date: January 2, 2008. In her email, she told me about a New Year’s resolution that she had made. She wanted to reach out to the people in her life that she admired and wanted to get to know them on a more personal level. It seemed that I was part of that resolution. She and I knew each other professionally. We were often in meetings together. Oftentimes, she and I were the only women in attendance. Her resolution was to reach out to women like me, women she knew in a professional sense, but wanted to get to know on a more personal level. I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback. Why did she want to know me? What was this all about? I remember briefly wondering if she was going to try to sell me something. Pampered Chef? Candles? I hated those kind of “parties” where women got together and then were forced out of politeness to purchase something that they didn’t want or need. Continue Reading »
If this LIFE is a play, I’m not sure what part I am supposed to be playing. I look around me, and everyone else seems pretty clear about their role. Meanwhile, I feel like I am floundering to figure that big mystery out.
It’s been a weird past week, full of Stepford Wives, lesbians, and religious zealots. I suppose a weird week is kind of typical for me lately. Many times, I feel invisible in the midst of it all swirling around me. I observe. I watch everyone else. I wonder where I fit into the whole crazy theme. What do I feel strongly about? What is MY passion? Where am I headed? I don’t even want to think about where I’ve been…
Before I left on my trip last week, I spoke at a luncheon on a military base. It was a gathering of the Officers’ Wives Welcome Club. Many of these women were new to the community. Most of them have spent their entire married lives following their husbands around from base to base and country to country. I admire their commitment and their strength, but there was something that was really odd about the gathering. Most of these women don’t work. They have not been able to grow their own careers due to the frequency of their husbands’ moves. That is admirable and understandable. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for this group of women. There they were in the middle of a “workday” all dressed up at a luncheon at the Officer’s Club. Yes, and they WERE dressed up in a strange kind of way. They didn’t look like the women I normally encounter in the course of a business day. They looked frilly and girly, lots of lace and floral fabrics, curls, and pearls. A staff member was with me, and she sent me a text during lunch. “It smells like my grandma’s closet in here! Looks like it, too!” I knew just what she meant.
Earlier that morning, I had briefly planned a speech. I don’t usually bring note cards or even write notes. I talk off the cuff about current projects. As I looked around the room, I wasn’t sure if these ladies would really be interested in my standard economic development speech. I was suddenly nervous. The president of the group was talking about a “Home Tour,” a golf tournament, and an upcoming “Fashion Show.” I felt like I was in a time warp! I remembered my mother dragging me to tons of events like this luncheon when I was a little girl. It was how women filled their time. Back then….it was how women filled their time. I had no idea it was still going on!
I spoke briefly to the glazed-over crowd. I talked about our Visitor’s Guide, local merchants and restaurants. I wanted to run out of there. The entire experience freaked me out. We discussed it back at the office. I wasn’t alone in feeling shaken by the experience. Why was that? What was that?
There but by the grace of God go I.
I am home now, and so happy to be back. The conference was in Charlotte, NC at the convention center. Other than my organization, there was another large group meeting at the convention center, too, the Eucharistic Congress. There were hundred of priests and large groups from area churches. Nuns, people in black robes, others carrying large crosses or statues. They all seemed to know what they were doing and why they were there. The seemed purposeful. There were large rooms labeled “Adoration,” or “Confession,” or “Meditation.”
On the first day I was not feeling well, and headed out to find a pharmacy. I didn’t know where to go, but thanks to Google Maps and my Droid, some unknown voice guided me to a CVS and back to the conference center before lunch was served. While I was still marveling about the wonder of having GPS on my phone, I saw a group of ladies wearing bright pink shirts that said, “Jesus Is My GPS.” Huh… Not that I don’t believe in Jesus, but I don’t think I would have had much luck if I would have used prayer to find the CVS. It just tickled me. I pictured myself down on my knees praying to God to guide me to a pharmacy.
Snobs – or Where are YOU from? Oh….. I see….
When I sat down to lunch that day, I was with a group from the Chicago area. I vaguely knew most of them. We all had similar jobs in our respective communities. We sat wondering/discussing this large religious group sharing the facility. I related my story to them about the women in the pinks GPS shirts. The one named Kimberly, not Kim (if anyone calls and asks for Kim, her staff knows NOT to put through the call!) said she had seen the women, too. She said, “Oh yes, I saw them. You know, the ones with the big hair and frumpy clothes. They looked like a bunch of ‘Downstaters.'” Oh, how I loved telling KIM that I was a ‘Downstater,’ too!
The rest of the meal (and each time I was with these people) was spent posturing for prestige and importance. Their particular burb or neighborhood was VERY, EXTREMELY important to them. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how incredible they were! Bleh!!!
You’re NOT a Lesbian? Gross!
Turns out that I am a freak. Yes, there was the Lesbian Dinner where I was the only one of five women who had ever been married to a man or (God forbid) given birth to a child. It really freaked them out when they heard how many years I’ve been married. 27 years??? Four kids??? I caught them staring at me curiously (and I hope not hungrily!) for the rest of the conference.
On the last night of the conference, I sat with a group from Canada. There was a woman about my age, and it turned out that she was also married with children. By that point in the evening, I was comfortably buzzed from the champagne bar, so I asked her. “Have you felt like some kind of oddity at this conference?” She knew just what I meant, and we sat laughing for a long time. Yes, we were the freaks at this conference.
The last day of the conference, I was alone. My friend had flown home a day earlier than me. I was going to catch a flight out the next morning, but wanted to have an afternoon to explore the city. I walked miles and miles and truly enjoyed myself. I sat on benches. I looked at architecture. I browsed in shops. The only thing that disturbed my peace that day were the comments or stares from men. Trust me, I’m not a looker, but what with the large number of women uninterested in men, I suppose I’m OK. The comments and behavior was rude, though. Men can be so damn rude and insincere.
I had dinner in a very nice restaurant that evening. I dined alone for maybe the first time in my life. I was OK with it, but it seemed to disrupt and disturb the entire wait staff. They seemed to want me to eat and get the hell out of there. The manager came over about four times to talk to me. “Was I alone? What brought me to the city? How long was I staying?” Well, I thought it was all very nice that he was being so attentive. That is, I thought it was nice until he discreetly passed me his card with his cell phone number written on the back. He said, “Hey, give me a call later. I’d be glad to show you around the city.” Oh, I bet he would… What do you bet he had a wife and kids at home!
It was wonderful to see the girls. It was good to see T. We had dinner around our kitchen table last night, and I was happy to be there. Lola and I watched a few retro-cartoons together. I’m teaching her about “Wally Gator.” I loved him as a little kid! I ran the vacuum. I unpacked. I couldn’t have been happier to be a freak at home with my husband and kids.
Today was not a good day.
I didn’t feel very good mentally or physically. I looked even worse than I felt. At least that’s what the mirror told me. I looked dull and flat. My hair wasn’t shiny. My eyes weren’t bright. I hadn’t slept well, so I had no energy. I had trouble catching a deep breath. Who cares? No one around me EVER seems to notice a difference in me from one day to the next.
I was late for work. Nothing new about that. No one cares about that, either. I work late. I work at home. I work all the time. When I get there doesn’t matter to anyone, but it DOES matter to me. I expect everyone else to be on time. I grabbed my coffee cup and headed down to the conference room to pour a cup of coffee. There was a meeting going on, and I didn’t want to interrupt. I could have, but I didn’t feel like making small talk. I didn’t feel like greeting anyone. I wanted coffee, and I wanted to be left alone. I wandered back down the hall to my office with an empty cup.
I attempted to tackle the hundreds of emails in my inbox, and more just kept coming in. I flipped back and forth between the old emails and the new ones. The new emails were stressing me out. One thing after another needed my attention. Why? Why am I the one with the answers? Why am I the one who has to take care of all the final decisions? Don’t these people know what a mess I am? I am barely able to function normally. Yet…as I said, no one seems to notice that fact.
I had an appointment with a developer at 11:00. He was giving me a tour of his rehab project. Normally, I would love that kind of thing, but I really wasn’t looking forward to the meeting. I would have to talk to him. I couldn’t just sit behind my desk and plug away without any face to face communication. I would have to interact with someone. Yuck. I dreaded leaving the office.
The old building, metal doors with ornate latches, winding staircases, antiques hidden under the protection of tarps; all of those things lifted my spirits. There was that musty smell that I love. That smell is potential and history all mixed together. My cloud lifted as we wandered from floor to floor. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and dust danced in the air. Disintegrated carpet mixed with bird feathers revealed large pieces of what would surely be a beautifully restored floor. Tall ceilings and beautiful moulding restored my hope in good and solid things in this world. As we poured over his blueprints and spoke of his plans for an accurate historic restoration of this blighted property, I remembered for a moment why I once loved my job. I wish that I could have spent all day poking around that old building, but that wasn’t why I was there. I had the information that I needed, and too soon it was time to leave.
Once I was back in my car, I sat for a moment and decided what to do. Did I want to return to the office? It was close to lunchtime. Shoes! I would go shoe shopping during lunch, and I headed to the mall. As I was driving, T called. Did I want to meet for lunch? No, I didn’t, but couldn’t say that to him. What I really wanted was to be alone. I told him that I was headed to the mall, and he said that he’d meet me in 10 minutes. Damn.
Our lunch did not go well, and it was mostly my fault. I was quiet, and he attempted to fill in the blanks with conversation. Unfortunately, everything he brought up to talk about had an element of stress attached to it; the kids, my mom, the progress of work on my parents’ home, my upcoming trip later this week. I could feel myself shutting down more and more. Once again, I couldn’t catch my breath.
The trip. Later this week, I’m am travelling alone to a place I don’t even want to go. T simply reiterated what I was already feeling. It will be a long, lonely trip. Do I know very many people that will be going? No, I don’t know who will be there. Is anyone staying at the same hotel as me? I have no idea. Then, of course, he had to express how much he hated it when I traveled alone. I reminded him that I HAD to go. It’s my job. I have no choice. He told me that I needed to take some time off work. Yeah, I know. Why don’t you? Because I don’t have time. Why does everyone else get to take time off work? Because they don’t have my job. Blah, blah, blah….
I didn’t get any shopping done. I didn’t get that perfect pair of black sandals that I had imagined. Instead, I was nagged. I was stressed out. While my cloud had been lifting a while earlier, I was once again shrouded. As we left the restaurant, I informed him that I wouldn’t be having lunch with him for the rest of the week. I told him that I needed some space. He looked hurt, and I felt bad.
How do you tell a good person, a person that you’ve been married to for 27 years, a person that has stood by you through all kinds of crap, that you need “space?” Basically, I felt like shit for the rest of the day. I don’t like being hurt by people, and I certain don’t like hurting anyone else.
It continued. Believe it or not, but it continued. T sent me texts all afternoon. I had hired his company as a contractor, and he directed all of the questions to me. He knows that the details of this arrangement are not my concern. I hired them, but he knew that he should be directing those questions to staff. Dammit. He texted and called all afternoon. I responded kindly (I hope,) but it about drove me insane.
LEAVE ME ALONE! I simply want some time to be left alone to sort through all the damage and crap inside my head. Why am I so necessary to the functions of so many people? What if I died? How in the hell would all of these things be managed if I were not around? Can’t I get a break for just a little while? I am exhausted.
Even now, T is pacing. He wants me to go on a walk with him. As I write, I have been interrupted countless times. I have made dinner, eaten dinner, cleaned the kitchen, listened to kids tell me about their days, listened to the plot of two movies, heard about how much so and so makes to babysit when all she does is sit by the pool at the countryclub. (I hate that word!)
I am grouchy and discouraged. I feel ugly and yucky. I’ve decided to go with the whole UGLY thing tonight. I have put on my ugliest t-shirt (with a bull dog on the front) and a pair of running shorts. I look like hell, and strangely, cultivating that ugly look tonight has made me feel better.
Now I’ll go for a Power Walk with T. My precious little town might work it’s charm on me. Maybe I’ll come back remembering who I am, or who I once used to be, or maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of who I will become.