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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Learn to Swim.

 via

I really should learn how to swim. 

To preface, we're moving to Columbus, Ohio at the end of the month.  There are a few tributaries leading into this river, and I might go into them later, but right now, I'm thinking about how it Might Be Helpful if I learned how to swim. 

I had dinner with a friend last night who, like many, had questions about the move, most of them starting with "Why?" And then there's the ones that I'm less amenable to, the "What's in Columbus?" "What's so great about Columbus?" "Columbus is gross, what's wrong with you?"  This friend was really needling me with judgment.  He was digging for some "true dirt" on the situation, the kind that would lead to my confessing the dramatic "truth", that something horrible has happened and I'm returning home with my tail in between my legs to go lick my wounds or something.  During this interrogation, a familiar feeling rushed over me.  I wanted to leave.  I wanted to evaporate, to explode, to blow my head off, to be numb.

After dinner, we went over to his neighbor's place-- a limping sultan on disability, waiting for his friends to come over and get high on him and then leave, like a lighthouse awaiting ships to warn away in the night.  I had a drink.  Hash oil came out and was offered and smoked.  I didn't even really want to, it was more a knee-jerk response to feelings of lust for obliteration.

At last, we exited politely.  The sultan returned to his sofa sadly, alone again with his Xbox.

The rest of the night was unpleasantly hazy.  I didn't want to feel the way that I did.  Unreachably tired, disassociated, removed, burdensome.  I wanted to throw up, I wanted to go home.  This wasn't what I was hoping for when I wanted to evaporate or explode before.

What was I hoping for?  Something that would quickly usher me from one feeling to another.  Something that would insulate me, be mine alone.  something I could live in awhile, come out of and be refreshed.  It would be like diving into a pool, dipping under the surface, screaming unheard if you wanted.  Moving all the parts of your body with perfect resistance.  That moment that you hit the water is a transformative one.  However you are when you are dry, outside the pool, is shocked into something different the moment you dive in, splitting the water with the full weight of you, the water responding back with a visceral chill that swallows you whole and just as quickly becomes a part of you.

I can't really swim, but in my experience with splashing at certain safe depths, I can say with a fair share of certainty that swimming must be the safest, most constructive approximation of what I'm looking for when that craving for immediate transportation strikes me in the heart and fills my entire body.

 So now:  where does an adult go to learn how to swim? 

Friday, April 4, 2014

That time I fell asleep on a park bench

 Myself, the winter of 2005 at some super bangin' bar I bet.

Back in the day, homegirl lived in New York City.  I chose to live there because I was suffering from agoraphobia and, after it caused me to quit college, I finally felt that enough was enough.

The best therapy, I thought, was immersion therapy.  I was going to throw myself into a world where I couldn't avoid a person unless I were dead-- which, at the time, was frighteningly a little too okay with me.

So I saved up my dough in a washed out jar of pickled okra and moved.  I lived across from the Comedy Cellar and Mamoun's on Macdougal Street in the West Village in a tiny apartment with a jazz singer who was maybe the last true Bohemian of Manhattan.  I worked at an Italian restaurant in Chelsea about 12 blocks away.


When the last patron of the evening left, Jimmy, a loud reddish man with greased back blonde hair and a tattoo of a bulldog on his chest, would pull the front shades down with a flourish and yell, "Hitta da music!" and Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines" would come on.


BASS!


The song not only heralded the beginning of the end of the night, but it also was the song to which Giuseppe, the bartender, would start laying out lines on the bar or in the basement, in his locker.  One evening, the night was going particularly convivially.  We were wine-drunk and weed-high, and whatever else, dancing around the restaurant, trading Italinglish barbs with each other.  Then it was time to go home.

I walked down the 12 blocks home, but, not wanting to shut myself away in my sardine can apartment whose toilet was in my bedroom, I decided to savor a bit of alone time on Father Demo Square.  At the time, the park was a ratty triangle but if you sat on the right bench, all of the traffic coming up Sixth Avenue seemed to be coming right at you in thrilling style.  It seemed the first time in a long time that I had sat alone in the relative dark and hadn't felt a panicked urge for safety.  It was the last thing I remembered until...

"Miss!  Miss!" a child with dirty fingers was shaking my arm.  Hushed, hurried whispers followed.  My eyes opened slowly.

"Miss, are you okay?" said a deeper voice, a teenager.

I pulled myself fully awake and found myself surrounded by an Oliver Twist-of-Harlem crowd of about 25 kids, aged 8 to 16 or so. 

"I'm okay... I'm okay..." I said.

"What are you doing out here?  Did you O.D. or something?" said the older boy, his brown eyes shining bright with concern.

"O.D.?  What?"

"It's not safe out here," the older boy said, helping me off the bench.

"Yeah, it's not safe, it's not safe," the others echoed.

"Are you alone?" said a little one.

"You can come with us if you want," said another.

My sleep-laden brain finally grasped the reality of the situation.  It was 3 a.m. and I was being stupid.  A group of homeless kids recognized danger and wanted to protect me.  I had a place I could be this late at night-- my apartment.  These kids didn't have a place to be except with each other and they invited me in.  So I went walking with them.

We walked all over the West Village.  They wanted to know all about me.  I wanted to know all about them, but they were not forthcoming.  Smart.

Little by little, the kids dropped off and faded away with little snickers until I was left alone with the older boy, the one who helped me off the bench.  I smiled when I realized they had snuck off for that purpose.

"You gonna go home, Miss?" the older boy said.

"I guess I better," I replied. "Thanks for hanging out... and for helping me..." I trailed off.

"We're always lookin' out-- for each other, other people," he said, impulsively grabbing my hands.  The air stopped.  We drew each other in and kissed a lovely, dangerous kiss.  "You can stay with us," he said afterwards.

"I can't," I said.  "I'm too old for you."

"I know, but I don't care," he answered.

"I know... I know." I said.  I kind of didn't care either.  But I had to.   "I have to go."

"I see that," he sighed. "We're always around this place though, so we'll see each other again."

"I'd like that," I said, and with that our hands unclasped and I walked towards my sardine can, he watching from the corner.

We never did see each other again.

And that was the time I fell asleep on a park bench. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Glamour Shot

 The final product.

As there was in every mall across the land, we had a Glamour Shots in ours that always kept a table out front with contest sign-up slips outside.  "Win a free Glamour Shots session!" it said.

Every time my friends and I were dropped off at the mall, we filled out one of those slips.  Though, at 12, I was slightly self-conscious of the vanity of it all, at the heart of it, I just really wanted to wear furs and cheap jewels and get done up by someone so I didn't look all stringy and ratty, as I normally did.  For those who object to that characterization, I had lank hair, buckteeth and penchant for wearing flannels with hoods on them.

One day, I got a call at home that I won the drawing!  I would get to go to the mall and be transformed by the floral-and-cigarette-smelling hands of a burned out stylist with tanned-dark, heaving cleavage--- glamour!  The photos were not free, my mother pointed out, so if they're not any good, we weren't buying any, she said.

My friend Jamie and I went to the mall when they opened.  I sat in the chair in front of the mirror with the bright, white lights.  Jamie sat in another chair, half-excited, half-envious.  The sitting was only for one.

Nonetheless, Jamie, I and another woman getting her hair and makeup done chattered back and forth at a fevered pace no doubt borne of the glamour being done to us.  I wanted blue eyeshadow.  Glitter.  Black eyeliner around my lips.  The stylist sighed at each suggestion and applied tasteful tawny and rose tones to my face instead.  I was worried.  Perhaps giant hair would solve the problem.  Tease it up!  Spray it down!  The stylist "hmm'd" as she pulled my hair back into a simple chignon.  I took out a piece of hair at the front.  "Can you maybe curl this?" I suggested, "I kind of want to look like Jan Brady." The stylist lurched with misgiving as she twisted the little piece of hair into the perfect, sproingy accent.

Much to my delight, I looked fantastic.  And doubly so because the thick, photographic makeup covered my freckles that I hated.  "How old would you say I look?"  I asked the woman in the chair next to me.

"Maybe 16?" she replied gamely.

"She says I look 16!" I brightly announced to the stylist.

"Yeah, well, I think you look like a 12-year-old with a lot of makeup on," she grumbled.  Jamie snickered.

I was a little let down, but not for long because wardrobe (wardrobe!!) was next.

The stylist handed me a nude-colored tube top to put on, which meant that (squeal!) plunging necklines and bared shoulders and midriff-baring costume pieces might be in order.  Now, watching me get hair and makeup done was one thing for Jamie, but watching me go through a giant closet full of clothing was quite another.  She went to Merry-Go-Round to go find a choker.

As I combed through the racks, I was dismayed to find most of the choices to be rather square in an Opulent Business Woman type of way.  Blazers.  Puffy blouses.  Satin turtlenecks.  But then-- I found a fur stole.  Oh yes, I thought.  Here was the glamour.  I wrapped it, just below my shoulders and just over my tube top, grabbed some pearls and walked into the photo studio.

"Oh, no, child," the photographer said. 

"What?" I said.

"That's too old for you," she objected.  

"I'm an actress," I said, thinking that would explain it, and somehow, it did.

The photographer coached me through 4 increasingly glamourous poses, before coming back to the closet with me to choose another outfit.  "Howabout this?" she held up a burgundy velvet blazer that was much too large for me.

"Um... I don't know," I said.

"Well, let's try it.  If you don't like it, we'll do something else."

"Ok," I said, and glumly put the blazer on.  I sulked into the photo studio.

"Why that's beautiful!" she exclaimed.  "Let me just take a few shots of you in that."

She coached me through another 3 glamourous poses before she stopped and said, "Now let me get you to hold these."  She handed me a bouquet of silk sunflowers.  Oh, no, I thought.  Not flowers!

But to be game, I held them anyway.

"Now look down at the flowers," said the photographer.  "With your whole head.  Down.  Yes.  Now look up at me.  No, but with just your eyes." Snap.  "Now that's cute," she cooed.  Blech, I thought.  Back to more shoulder-baring looks.

At the conclusion of our shoot, the stylist returned with a couple of wet naps for me to wipe my pancake-face down with.  I put them in the trash.  I wanted everyone in the whole mall to see how beautiful I looked, including my Dad who was picking me up.  While I waited for him, the photographer came by with proofs from the sitting.  "Those will fade after awhile," she said.  "So if you want to keep one of these, you're going to have to get your Dad to buy one."  By then, Jamie had come back with her shoplifted choker on and gazed over at the proofs.  "Those are pretty cool," she said.  "I would definitely buy one.  I mean, if they were of me."  My Dad could not come quick enough.

"DaddylookatmypictureswillyoubuyatleastoneofmypicturesDaddyplease??" I assaulted him as he arrived at the Glamour Shots.

"We'll have to see how much they are," he replied.

The sales person walked him through the pitch and the prices.  Dang it!  The big one is $80?? But... I don't want a small one!  But my Dad was doing the buying, so I let him choose.  I knew he'd make the right choice.  Pearls and fur, the ultimate in high glamour.

To my chagrin, we walked out with the burgundy blazer/silk flowers picture, my least favorite-- by a mile.  "Why did you choose that one?!" I complained.

"You look beautiful here.  So innocent," he said.

Innocent?  I didn't spend a whole morning here to come out innocent!  I was already innocent!  I use Irish Spring and barely comb my hair!  I wanted to be posh, glamourous, sexy, stunning, anything but innocent.  But my mom didn't want to buy a picture, and my dad did, so I was lucky to even have this one, I figured.  Besides, at least I still had those proofs (which actually never did fade, that liar.)

--Elisa.

Friday, March 21, 2014

In The Dark



In the psych ward, they have an art therapist come around most days.  Ours was Dr. Buck-- the only therapist who went by Dr. anything and not their first name.  She was a tall, thin, severe woman of about 80 whom everyone dreaded.  Put those pastels to the paper and draw your angst, goddamn it, or leave!

Personally, I liked weird old Dr. Buck and the art therapy, but most dreaded both.  Some refused to participate, others whined and moaned about their supposed lack of skill for half an hour before they started on something half-heartedly.  On the particular day that the above drawing was churned out by yours truly, Dr. Buck came around with black paper instead of the usual white and asked us to draw "what we see in the dark".

That day, I found myself amongst the grumblers.  "Thanks a lot," I said.  Wasn't I there to get away from all that?  But I knew exactly what it was that I had to draw.  It was a figure from a dream I'd had.

It was shortly after my mother died.  I had been spending a lot of time with my friend Joe, whose mother also died of breast cancer at a relatively young age (before 60).  He said that one thing that gave him comfort was that he would occasionally have dreams where she was happy and smiling and he knew that she was all right. 

I hoped that I would have a dream like that, too.  My mother suffered from many physical ailments, many of her own making, but she suffered those as well as an exciting grab bag of mental problems (OCD, schizotypal personality disorder, post-partum depression, anxiety...) that caused her to be dark and cruel.  I can hardly recall her laughing at anything... mostly I recall her expression being drawn, mouth sagging at the corners, her eyes beady with hate.  I prayed that night that I would have a dream where my mother was happy.  She needed that.

My dream that night:  I was in my studio apartment on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square.  It was dark.  My mother stood in the threshhold, backlit from the hallway.  "Mom?"  I said to her.  I went up to her and said "I love you," and went to put my arms around her when her face turned-- she became a dragon made of craggy carbon.  "You don't know me," she breathed hotly, before disintegrating into ash and swirling away down the hall.  It was deeply disturbing, and that image of her stayed in my mind, frequently popping in at intervals.



I wanted to gt it out, so I drew it.  Presenting my drawing to the therapy group my voice quavered in a most unexpected way when I hit the "you don't know me" part.  I didn't know her.  I really only knew her diseases and how they affected me and my family.  I tried so hard to know a different side of her.  Towards the end of her life, though she had softened somewhat, I thought of her as a Rapunzel of sorts (nevermind the whole chemo/long hair thing) guarded by-- yes-- a dragon that she never did or could call off.

They hung this drawing in the lunch room, even though I would have rather incinerated it, and I stared at it every meal.  I stared at it during stretching time and card games, too, because the lunch room was the only place anything happened.  It was a scary image to be continually confronted with, but gladly less so over the next couple of days. At the end of my tenure, I took it home ("to burn?" other patients asked) because I knew it was important.  It's still intact, perhaps not for long, but mostly now out of clutter-ridding concerns.  I haven't thought about that dream as much, and when I have, I don't feel stricken.

It was a model art-therapy session, and Dr. Buck knew it too.  The look on her face said, "Despite my near universal-unappeal, I have assisted a breakthrough!"  So I thanked her for the opportunity.  And now I'm thanking her again.

Moral:  good things come in tall battleaxes.

Yours,
Elissa. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

I didn't do anything.

 Extremely flattering selfie I took in the clink.

I've been depressed most of my life, with bright spots here and there, and with some pitch black spots splattered around as well.  I've often romanticized death, and felt a bit of satisfaction in my open-minded attitude towards suicide (a sign that I was a writer?  My favorite suicide was Hunter S. Thompson's).  I have strongly felt that a life is one's own possession and that a person has every right to take theirs, particularly if some kind of incurable disease is at stake. In my case, my "incurable disease" was a mental one, accompanied by the intense fear that my disease was my mother's.  But more on that later.

The depressive aspects of my as-of-two-weeks-ago undiagnosed bipolar were getting worse.  Then I'd have a really good day, chatting up strangers, singing songs, getting things done. I'd figure things were looking up, maybe.  

Despite this, and because of some ill-timed life shit, I found myself inexorably attracted to all of the leftover oxycontin in my sock drawer.  I'd take the bottle out and look at it.  Count the pills inside.  "This might be enough to kill me," I thought.  And if not, vodka could probably help things along. I didn't want to kill myself, but I found myself parked in my car outside of my apartment, or on the couch, or on the bed, unable to get out because the effort felt like moving a ton of bricks uphill.  "I can't live like this," I thought.  I really, really can't.  I eyed the movie theater behind my place.  "There!" I thought.  There was a place where I could sit in the dark in peace and take my pills and drink my vodka and solve the problem of my husband finding me.  I couldn't do that to him.

I used to work at a retirement community when I was in high school, and one old man told me that his wife always had cold feet.  One night, her feet were so cold it woke him up.  She was dead.  My feet are always cold, too, and when I put them on my chagrinning husband to warm them up, I'm always reminded of that story.  But I don't want to put that image in his head, so I've never brought it up.  And once I know it's in his mind, I'll always think about it being in there, and how my cold feet between his legs might one day be my dead feet.

As much as I've thought about killing myself, I didn't actually want to do it.  I felt like a cat, about to be bathed: twisting, flexing, clawing; anything to avoid that evil tub.  But I felt like I was on a conveyor belt to the end.  This was happening, and it wasn't stopping.  My husband was leaving town in a few days, and I knew that would be when it would happen.  I wasn't going to tell him.  I didn't want to tell him.  But I did.

We talked to my therapist, he recommended a place and I went there.  An hour-and-a-half later, they were taking my cellphone, keys and shoes and loading my arms up with a sheet, a blanket, a towel and a washcloth and showing me to my room.

I stayed there for a week.  It was one of the best things I've ever done.  My medication was adjusted, new ideas were planted in my head.  I'm feeling okay now, and I've been trying to write about it ever since.   It's nearly impossible- to parse the entire experience out in my head, to return to my prior mindset in order to write about it, to understand why I even want to write about it, to protect myself in the process.

I'm not even sure who this piece is for.

For myself?  For friends' frame of reference?  Or maybe for the people who say, as a few have, "At least you didn't do anything."  I guess so... but... didn't I?


Friday, February 14, 2014

How I Came to Date Online.



Jon was in my gym class.  He was in 8th grade and I was in 7th.  He was cute in a gremlin-y way, with heavy eyebrows and long, pointy canines.  He was several inches shorter than me but had a sufficiently compensatory amount of swagger.  He asked me out while we were both on a volleyball side-out, and I was thrilled.  My first boyfriend!  Someone to press my side into on the school bus!  Someone go to the school dances with! Someone to kiss behind the bleachers at football games!
One day, very soon after his proposal, he came over to my house after school.  I was terrified.  My mother had many exciting elements to her personality, hoarding being one, and the shame I felt about the mess hung heavy on my shoulders.  Also, this visit would have to be extra short, because asexuality was one of my father's most closely guarded values, and any whiff of me with a guy would probably cause him to combust.

I cleaned the part of the house that led from the front door to my room.  In the days leading up to this tryst, I scoured episodes of "Clarissa Explains it All" and "The Secret World of Alex Mack" to discern what a cool teenager's room should look like.  The results of my research indicated that I'd fare well with multiple (multiple) floor pillows.  Because we could make-out over here.  Or maybe by the closet.  Or maybe under the window.  Maybe on my bed if it gets serious, but probably not.

Jon came over, and we went straight to my room.  "Cool pillows," he said.  I congratulated myself. 

I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do with him now that I had sequestered ourselves in my room.  He clacked his tongue ring against his teeth and pulled nervously on his JNCO's.

"I don't know... do you want to make out?" I said, partly because I was interested and partly because I had not clue what else to do.

"Sure!" he replied, and sat on my bed, not realizing that it was the main course to my pillow appetizers.

We made out in the way that junior high-schoolers do (moistly), and there was definitely an over-the-shirt boob-fondle (We are going so far!!, I thought with mixed emotion, while looking out my window). 

The next day at school, was giddy and giggly.  I've got a boyfriend!  We made out on my bed!  My boob got touched!  This new boob that I just got!  Someone wanted to touch it!  Isn't life grand?? 

I was involuntarily smiling ear-to-ear for the hundredth time that day when Tiffany, one of Jon's friends came up to me.  For a little back-story, Tiffany was what we Cincinnati junior high-schoolers would perjoratively call a "hoss", and a mean one at that.  Her hair was shellacked back off her face and pulled into a high and severe pony tail.  She had razor-thin eyebrows and had one of those puffy Adidas coats with the three stripes down the sleeve that smelled like cigarettes. 

Tiffany stepped into my glee-ridden path and said, "You know the only reason Jon asked you out was cuz of a dare, right?"  "Is that true?" was all I could think to say. 

"Yeah," she sneered, "and he told me what you guys did at your house.  Gross."

Oh my god. I panicked. What was gross?  Was the house gross?  Were my pillows gross?  Was I gross? 

My mind spun.  The house is gross.  I'm gross.  My stupid boob that I thought was so cool is actually Jon's friends joke.  Oh my god, my stupid little boob.  Oh my god.  My house.  My mom.  My mom driving us around.  My horrible makeout skills. Oh my god. 

I tried in vain to find Jon at school that day, the day after, and the day after that.  I finally found him outside at recess one day.

"Jon," I stammered, "Tiffany said that you only asked me out as a joke.  Is that true?"

He took a minute.  "Yeah," he said.  "Sorry."  I could see that he was genuinely ashamed of himself, which was kind of a silver lining...

"So does that mean we're not going out any more?" I asked.

"Yeah." he replied.  And he seemed kind of sorry about that too. 

Did that mean that he actually still wanted to go out, and his friends weren't letting him?  This was certainly all Tiffany's doing, was it not?  I liked Jon.  He was nice.  I liked his gremlin teeth.  Tiffany was making him break up with me because she was jealous, right?  Isn't that why, for the rest of the school year, Tiffany bumped my shoulder with hers in the hall and gave me a smug look, while Jon always looked sheepish and away? 

But hopefulness for a reconciliation gave way to my thought that clearly, the only way anyone would ever want to date me is if it were on a dare, because I had a bad house, stupid boobs, buck teeth and Lee-brand jeans.  Unless...

Unless they knew who I was, first. They would know me for me, and everything physical would become irrelevant, because how can looks and possessions be relevant when someone loves You?  Thus, my first "A/S/L?" in an AOL chatroom; my dating life leapt from real life onto the Internet and never looked back. 

I met my husband, Russell, on Match.com.  By the time I encountered him, I was sick of pussy-footing around.  No protracted emailings back and forth for me anymore. Meet me in real life, if you dare, asshole.  And meet me he did... maybe because I dared him.  But he kept on meeting me, and meeting me, and meeting me.  

Maybe because he ushered me to the door that would eventually open on Russell, Jon might be second-best person I've met.  But only a very, very distant second. 








Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I forget.


My memory is in trouble.  Should I stop taking the psychiatric medications I've been on for the past year or so?  Because that's really when it started.

On the other hand, I also don't feel like I have to physically restrain myself from jumping off the next bridge I cross anymore.  I guess it's a matter of-- what do I prefer?  To not remember anything?  Or to be a wrist-slitter?  Right now, I'm trying to analyze this paragraph for sensationalism, and though there is some, my overarching reaction to it is, "That sounds about right."

My memory is something that I've always prized highly.  My mother used to marvel at my ability to recall details; most famously, about a house with a 70's kitchen that we toured when my parents were looking (when we were kids).

Regarding memory, whenever something interesting is happening to me, I think-- remember this!  You'll need these details later!  But now... my boss' favorite joke is my terrible memory. It's not even that things are left out, but entirely new fabrications take their places, or, confused collages of other memories do.

Me:  Isn't Employee X's birthday in March?

Boss:  No, we just celebrated it.

Me:  In August?

Boss:  No, late fall.

Me:  Really?

Boss:  Yes!  You were the one that waged a campaign to have pumpkin pie served instead of [the, ahem, tired tradition of] cupcakes!   And remember they were cheaper because it was after Halloween?

Me:  Ohhhh yeah....

Boss:  You were like, "I want some more whipped cream!"

Me:  Oh yeah!  And I was just spraying and spraying these designs...

Boss:  Well, no, you were mostly like (miming using a Reddi-Whip can), "I want more whipped cream!  Rahhhr!!!"

Me: (with annoyance) Alll right.

Boss: I have to remember to not ask you any questions about remembering anything.

Me:  (with alarm) Well, that's not too good!

Boss: But it's true!!

Me:  Well, I did get a planner so that I can write down things I did so I can remember them.

Boss:  You should get one to help you remember things you're supposed to be doing.  (click below)


Me:  I want some whipped cream.

My bad memory has gotten me into a scrape or two, and I feel very self-conscious about it, (but, in a relatively good-humored way so that counts for something).  But, you can see now why maybe I'm weighing moving away from these memory-blockers.  And more than figuratively.  Part of me feels like Columbus is the kind of town where I could do that.  Well, I know it is.  I loved living there.  I didn't want to move away til I picked up comedy, so I've really got to think about that.  That's on my mind right now.

Til later,
Elisa.