An Open Letter to the Guy I Cried Over in 2017

First things first: Don’t flatter yourself too much. The tears only lasted a couple days, and then I was over you. And honestly, I was more upset with myself for caring at all than I was with you, anyway.

But the reality is, you still did hurt me.

I wonder how it would make you feel to read this, if you read it. If you are the person you try to present yourself to be, it should make you feel bad. I honestly don’t really know if you are that person. I have a sneaking suspicion that, at best, you might WANT to believe you’re that person, but you might actually be the type who would, to quote a comedy special I recently watched, “treat a 4 like a 6 and she’ll be grateful.” Maybe that’s my own insecurity talking. In any case, I might look like a 4, but I still know I’m worth more than that, and I will not settle for being treated like a 6, much less be grateful for it. Perhaps that surprised you.

I am not a person who admits to feeling hurt easily. I prefer anger. Anger has power. Anger is protective. I can hold a grudge like no other. I trained as a therapist, of course. I’m well aware that anger is just hurt’s shield, most of the time. It allows me to feel less vulnerable. I don’t think that’s necessarily always a negative thing, though. Anger can be a driving force. Anger can get shit done.

I could tell a few stories about my accomplishments that stemmed from anger.

But that’s not why I’m here.

There is strength in vulnerability, too. There is power in allowing yourself to feel hurt. It’s a more dangerous kind of strength, though, because it leaves you open for more beatings. Metaphorically speaking, of course. But even though I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, it has been a work in progress for me to try to harness that strength more. To crack the shell and allow myself to be more open. To trust more. To let it be known when I have been wounded. That’s why I’m here.

I don’t date much. I don’t like dating. Honestly, at this point, if not for the fact that I still want to have a child, I probably wouldn’t date at all.

So when I first heard from you, someone who, on paper, seemed like he could be perfect for me in every way, I was hesitant, but I decided to see where it went.

And then I began to feel hopeful.

I started to think that maybe, just maybe, there really was someone out there for me.

I started to feel downright fucking optimistic.

There were nagging little red flags, though. Like the fact that conversations were always focused around you. And the fact that plans never seemed to get made. And the fact that there were obviously communications with other women still happening.

Like I said, I am not going to be grateful for being treated like a 6. So I called you on this.

To be honest, I was still hopeful at that point that you would make it right. But instead, you first told me that being nagged about it made you not want to respond to me, and then, when I continued to push it, you cut off all communication with me.

That was a total gaslighting move, by the way. My concerns were perfectly reasonable by any metric, and you acted like I was being irrational and pushy by expressing them. And yet you claim to be a feminist.

And then, a few months later, you sent me a message asking why we hadn’t gone on a date. I was kind of in awe of your nerve, to be honest. Like, was that supposed to be flirty? Was I supposed to be flattered that you deigned to get back in touch? My answer to you was true, for the record: I did move on with my life. And I’m doing great. A job I love, a great family with three beautiful nieces, wonderful friends, and adorable pets. That said, and it pains me to admit this, I still had this momentary flare of hope when I saw that the message was from you, that maybe you would apologize for being shitty, and make it right. That maybe you weren’t actually an asshole. But, of course, you just ignored my response. My question wasn’t entirely rhetorical, though. I still kind of wish you had answered it. How did you expect me to respond?

So, yeah, I was hurt by it. But more than anything, I was upset that I allowed you to have the power to hurt me. How fucked up is that? You hurt me, and I blame myself for letting you.

And it awakened long-dormant insecurities, too. Beliefs that I was unworthy of love and desire. That it was stupid of me to allow myself to believe it might have turned out otherwise. See, if you’d ever bothered to ask, you would have known that I have struggled with depression and anxiety, too. Of course, the difference between us is that I don’t use that as an excuse to be shitty to people.

So, I’m starting the new year by taking back my own power and releasing the self-blame. You didn’t hurt me because I allowed you to; you hurt me because you acted badly. It was not stupid of me to think maybe there was potential between us; it was a dick move for you to string me along and then cut me off when I expressed what I wanted.

I was not an idiot for being optimistic; you were an asshole for exploiting my optimism.

Happy new year, fucker.


A Song for my Cats

Do you really need to bite me?

Do you really need to make me bleed?

Do you really need to scratch me?

Can’t you retract your claws when you knead?

I don’t want to declaw you

I don’t like to tap you on your nose

But what will it take to convince you

It really hurts when you nibble my toes?

I know that you really love me

And that this is how you tell me so

I like when you rub your head against me

Could you keep your teeth and claws out of it, though?

Do you really need to bite me?

Do you really need to make me bleed?

Do you really need to scratch me?

Can’t you retract your claws when you knead?

To Someone I Love

Someone I love dearly has had a rough time for the last few months. Longer, really, but these months have been particularly stressful and emotional. Things are looking up a bit now, but the solutions are imperfect (as most things in life are), and this beautiful soul who I love is learning the painful lesson that sometimes there are no fully right answers, and sometimes even the people we love the most are so deeply flawed that they will never be who we need them to be.

I can’t shield her from that reality, as much as I want to. And probably, I shouldn’t, anyway. She pointed this out to me herself a few weeks ago – precocious little old soul that she is – when I expressed to her how much I wish I could have protected her from this pain. She was more quiet and thoughtful than I’ve ever seen her when she replied that she believes that what she is experiencing right now is important, somehow. That it is making her stronger, and better. That maybe it will allow her to help others in the future.

She’s right, of course.

Doesn’t stop me from wanting to fix it for her, though.

I was thinking about this today when something came back to me – a scene at the end of a Buffy episode, about learning that sometimes the more you know, the harder it is to get it right. It’s a great little piece of dialogue, and I want to share it: Lie to Me

And then there’s this song that also makes me think of her: Rise Up

You’re gonna move mountains, baby girl. And I’ve got your back every step.


On Current Events and a Thirteenth Birthday

I am a feminist to my core.


I know, I know. That “but” negates everything that was said before it, right?

Here’s the thing, though. My oldest niece just turned 13. I was able to stay in denial about this for a rather long time, because she has always been tiny for her age, and until recently, she still looked like a little girl. She is still in a transitional phase, but very recently she seemed to go from “little girl” to “teenager” overnight.

And she’s beautiful. I say that not just as a doting aunt who would think she was beautiful no matter what. I mean, I am a doting aunt who would think she was beautiful no matter what (and smart, and opinionated, and passionate, and strong, and kind as well), but I also see how others look at her. She’s always been exceptionally pretty. She gets smiles and compliments from strangers constantly. When she was younger, it happened so frequently that I would actually be a little offended when people didn’t comment on what a beautiful child she was.

She’s aware of the attention she’s always gotten, and even comments about it at times. It’s been a delicate balance in our family of affirming these messages without overemphasizing the importance of beauty and letting it go to her head, and affirming that what’s inside is always going to be more important at the same time. It’s okay to be pretty. It’s okay to enjoy being pretty. We want her to be confident. But we also want her to know that her looks are not where her value lies.

But it gets far more complicated now that we’re entering the teenage years.

My own experiences were a bit different. I wasn’t exceptionally beautiful when I was her age (or at any point in time). I was cute enough, I suppose, although I didn’t think so at the time. But even so, I had experiences that make me fear what the future holds for my niece.

Unlike her, I started developing very young. I got my first training bra when I was 9, and needed to wear one consistently by the time I was 11. By 12, I thought of myself mostly as being fat, although, looking back, it’s possible that I could have been better described as curvy.

I was in 7th grade the first time I noticed that I was being looked at differently. I had a favorite mix-and-match outfit that I felt accentuated my best features and made me feel grown up, and, yes, a little sexy (although my understanding of sex at the time was rudimentary, and not even something I wanted). It was an Esprit outfit that consisted of navy blue leggings with a white flower pattern, and a white boatneck tunic that I wore pulled down off one shoulder. In warmer weather, I alternated the tunic with a ribbed white cotton top that was form-fitting and short, and fully exposed both shoulders. (If I recall correctly, my mother hated that top.) The way it fit left little to the imagination, and I loved it.

Of course, what I wanted at the time was attention from boys my own age. That was not what I got.

One afternoon, I was wearing that top, sitting in the backseat of my family’s minivan, and at a red light, I looked over at the car next to us to see the driver, a man probably in his late 30s or early 40s, staring at my chest. It was the first time I knew I was being objectified, although I didn’t know that word for it at the time.

I had no idea what to feel. There was undeniably a part of me that was flattered. It was the first time I really felt the power of my femininity, this knowledge that I could draw the attention of grown men.

It was also terrifying. I was fully aware that the way this strange man was looking at me – a middle-schooler – was inappropriate. And I felt responsible for it. As if, because I wore and loved this top that flattered my curves and made me feel beautiful, he was entitled to ogle my body. As if ownership of my body was no longer fully mine.

That was the first time. It wasn’t the last. Most of the attention I got, all the way up to college, was from older men whose interest felt intrusive and predatory. And as a result, even now, I have trouble trusting men who show interest in me.

I wonder how things might have been different if I’d gotten that kind of attention from boys my own age first, boys whose interest would have been appropriate and normal.

And now, I’m watching my niece grow up. I’m watching her experiment with makeup (which is, thanks to YouTube, no longer trial and error process that it used to be – she has already mastered the smoky eye and is more skilled with eyeliner than I am with nearly 25 years of practice). I’m watching her experiment with clothing. Skinny jeans and skater dresses and form-fitting tank tops. It all looks fantastic on her.

I had Glamour Shots done when I was 14. In one of the shots, I’m looking at the camera with bedroom eyes. When my mother saw the photo, she looked at me like I was an alien and asked, “Where did you learn how to do that?”

I see my niece’s selfies on Instagram and want to ask her the same question.

Of course, I know the answer, because I remember. It wasn’t necessarily something I learned, although I could have truthfully said I’d seen it in movies. But it was more instinctual than that. I remember how confident and powerful that gaze made me feel. I knew that photo was me at my absolute most attractive.

I don’t want to take that feeling away from my niece. I don’t want to shame her for it.

At the same time, I understand the apprehension in my mother’s eyes when she looked at that picture now. Maybe even, with my background in child protective services, more than she did. I’ve seen the darkest corners of humanity. I’ve encountered the predators who live there.

Is it wrong to want to shield my niece from that? Is it wrong that I want to wrap a blanket around her and lock her in a tower if it will keep some 40-something perv from looking at her the way that man in the next car looked at me when I was her age? Or doing something worse?

And yet, I despise that kind of talk.

Because what I really want for her, and her little sister, and her cousin, and for all women and girls everywhere, is for us to be able to exist without having to worry about how we are being perceived. For us to be able to present ourselves in ways that make is feel confident and attractive without it being an invitation to be objectified. For us not to feel complicit in harrassment or abuse we may experience because we wore something that made us feel pretty. I want us to live in a world where the rallying cry of #yesallwomen is not met with a response of #notallmen (because we women already know it’s not all men, you morons, but for our own personal safety, we have to assume you’re one of “those” men until you can prove otherwise), but is instead met with, “We understand why you feel this way, and we will do better, and we will add our voices to support yours.”

I want my nieces to live in a world where a man who brags about groping women’s crotches without their consent is arrested instead of elected president, where we care more about a rape victim’s safety and emotional wellbeing than about her rapist’s potential swimming career or parental rights, where power and money are not a license to exploit and abuse women.

In the meantime, don’t mind me over here building this tower.


Maybe Baby. Or Maybe Not.

She pulls up the picture on her phone of the necklace she wants, so she can show me the little pendants commemorating “angel babies” – lost pregnancies and stillbirths – and “rainbow babies” – the “rainbow” after the “storm” of loss. I did not ask to see the picture. I have mentioned to her before that I am probably not the best person to talk to about this, but that has never seemed to register with her. To frame it the way it feels – “it hurts me to have to hear about this” – would render me far more vulnerable than I am willing to be with someone who has already made it clear many times that my hurt can be turned to a weapon in her hands. And in any case, if I try to push it, I become the Bad Guy. This has always been the case. I am expected to manage and accommodate everyone else’s feelings and comfort even at my own expense, but any attempts to set my own boundaries or protect my own emotional wellbeing where it might inconvenience or distress anyone else are selfish. I internalized that message so completely in childhood that it took three and a half decades to even begin to unravel it. With her, I don’t have the energy to deal with it. Easier to power through this moment than make a big deal about it. Easier to fight back the tears that prick at my eyes. She continues talking about miscarriages and the subsequent successful pregnancy, oblivious to my reaction. Maybe my poker face has gotten that good. I’ve had a lot of time to practice.

And after all, I do love that “rainbow baby,” too, my youngest niece who just turned five. I think of her as my sunshine rather than a rainbow – because I sang You Are My Sunshine to her once when she was a toddler, and she immediately loved it, and she still wants to sing it with me all the time. It is our special song. We had sung it together in my car, earlier that very evening. She is my sunshine.

As I drive home, the conversation mercifully over, I try not to think about the fact that, in an alternate reality, one where things had gone according to plan for me, my sunshine would have a cousin the same age.

Not an angel baby. In my story, there is no baby at all.

I didn’t get pregnant. I didn’t have the chance to get pregnant. And with every passing day, my hope for that to change diminishes. There was no miscarriage. And so I don’t get a rainbow baby, either. That is reserved for those whose losses are concrete. The implicit message, of course, is that my storm, and the storm of those whose journey more closely resembles mine than hers, matters less.

But does that make my loss less real? Because even though there was no embryo, I still named her. Even though there was no pink line on a home pregnancy test, I still pictured her. Even though there was no sonogram picture to put in a photo album, I still browsed through the baby clothes at Target and imagined dressing her in them.

And even though she never existed, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her.


 Make Sense of It

(Spoilers, sweetie. Read at your own risk.)


Twin Peaks is over. Very likely forever, although that hardly bears thinking about. I can keep hoping that another miracle will happen, and Lynch and Frost will sign on with Showtime again for another season, but I should probably face the fact that they, much like life, don’t give the smallest shit about my hopes and desires and expectations. Or yours. Or anyone else’s. Not that they should. They, much like life, owe us nothing, and in spite of that they’ve given us hours of entertainment, characters to love, challenges and puzzles to work through, beauty and terror, and elation and heartbreak and laughter and tears.

And now I need to sort through my feelings and reactions if I am going to be able to rejoin society as a productive member. It seemed like the easiest way to do this would be in writing.

I’m not proud of it, but I would guess I’m not alone in the fact that my initial reaction as the final credits rolled was a cacophony of bewilderment, panic, anger, and betrayal. (Again, much like my reaction to many real life events.) That was it? What was I supposed to make of that? Was Carrie really Laura? Where was Sarah? What happened to Audrey? Did any of it really happen within the show’s universe, or was everything, from the first moment of the pilot, to the final end credits, someone’s (Audrey’s?) psychotic fever dream? The last finale was an accidental cliffhanger, but this one was deliberate – how could they do that to us? And above all, I wanted a happy ending for Dale Cooper, dammit!

But it wouldn’t do to stay in that place.

It makes as much sense to demand of Lynch, especially, that the story meet my expectations and serve my desires as it does to demand the same of life. Which, as we’ve already established, does not give a shit about our happiness. To make those demands would miss the point entirely.

And in any case, it’s not like there wasn’t ample warning:

“No stars.”

“Salvation’s more than I can afford.”

“A fragile existence with echoes of wrath.”

“Cut along the length but you can’t get the feeling back.”

“Who I was, I will never be again.”

These are just a handful of the lyrics that most stood out to me from the musical selections played at the Roadhouse, from Rebekah Del Rio’s No Stars (written by David Lynch himself), Nine Inch Nails’ She’s Gone Away, The Veils’ Axolotl, and Eddie Vedder’s stunningly moving Out of Sand. To say nothing of James Hurley’s reprise of Just You. Nostalgic fan service? Sure. But also tainted by the absence of Donna and Maddy. Together forever in love? Not so much. James ended up middle aged and still single, and, perhaps following in the footsteps of the uncle who more or less raised him, pining after an unavailable woman.

These songs all pointed to loss and decay and disappointment. I’ll admit that I ignored the warnings, or at least downplayed their significance. Of course there would be some degree of loss and disillusionment. We were coming back after two and a half decades. Cooper, stuck in the Black Lodge for all that time, couldn’t get those years back. I knew to some degree that it would, at best, be more of a story about picking up the pieces the best we can after loss and pain, and, yes, our own mistakes. It’s the kind of story that has a particularly poignant resonance in my own life at this point.

I underestimated just how deep into despair and hopeless nihilism Lynch and Frost were going to pull me.

These are only the thoughts that I have right now in the first 24 hours after watching. I’m sure my perceptions and conclusions will evolve with time and repeated viewings. But as of this moment, here’s what I believe are the main takeaways: Cooper’s fatal flaw is the hubris of believing that he can fix everything and save everyone. Nothing represents that for him more than saving Laura. But Laura’s death, as it happened, meant something. She sacrificed herself, and in undoing that, Cooper did not do the world (or Laura herself) any favors.

I am not sure whether the Lodge spirits that led him in that direction (namely, MIKE and The Arm) were actually positive influences. The Twin Peaks world is unreliable – we can’t even trust the timeline of events – and I think it would be a mistake to take it as a given that any of the supernatural elements (with the possible exceptions of the Fireman and Señorita Dido, who seemed wholly benevolent) are actually helpful entities. MIKE’s recitation of the Fire Walk With Me poem when Cooper went through the boiler room door at the Great Northern makes me think that Cooper was probably wrong to trust him.

The owl cave/infinity loop reveal points to Cooper now being trapped in an endless limbo of repeatedly trying and failing to right past wrongs. He will never be able to save Laura, because she was not meant to be saved. Whether he’s the dreamer or not, he’s living inside the dream, and doomed never to resolve it, because it’s unresolvable.

Did the showdown in the Sheriff’s office actually happen? I’m honestly not sure. It all seemed a little too easy, and the superimposed Cooper-in-the-Lodge face points to it being a dream. On the other hand, “it was all a dream” endings are also too easy. On the other hand again, it would not exactly be an unprecedented ending for David Lynch. Debating this is probably going to be my own infinite looping limbo. Regardless, whether or not BOB was conquered, there is still evil in the world, the atomic bomb can never be undone, and any victory over evil is only ever going to be temporary.

That said, the ending does not undo the delight of Bobby Briggs growing up to be a stand-up guy, or of Shelly still being a sweet little doll who gives free pie to nursery school teachers despite her horrific taste in men, or of Carl’s act of kindness for a tenant who was selling plasma to afford rent, or of the Mitchums and Candie and Dougie and the girls parading ecstatically through the Lucky 7 offices, or of Cooper declaring to a dumbfounded Bushnell Mullins that “I am the FBI,” or (and this is a big one) of Ed proposing to Norma over the soaring vocals of Otis Redding.

(Cooper may be trapped in an eternal nightmare limbo and Audrey may be institutionalized and/or dreaming the whole thing, but I will NOT let you take Ed and Norma away from me, Frost and Lynch.)

My point being, my ultimate philosophical conclusion from Twin Peaks is that, yes, death is inevitable, evil can never be truly vanquished but only held at bay, happiness is temporary and elusive, and even though death is only a change rather than an end there will always be some fear in letting go; however . . .

None of this negates love and joy and beauty.

That’s how I’m making sense of it at this moment.



Teacher Appreciation

If you were to ask me who the most influential people in my life have been, outside of family, I wouldn’t even have to think about it before I started listing names. Ms. Halpin. Sister Pauline. Mrs. Schlotmann. Ms. Dickman. Mrs. Spencer. Mrs. Timmerding. Mr. Roflow. Mrs. Lewis. Mr. Webb. Sister Francine.

That’s just a small sampling, and I’m sure a lot have you have already guessed what these people had in common: they are, or were, teachers. And the names I listed only go through high school. The list could go on for quite a while. All of these people had a profound effect on the person I grew up to be. And this is just a small sample of the ones I liked. There’s a whole separate list of teachers who had a profound impact that I only fully appreciated years later because at the time I was so focused on how tough they were and how hard they made me work. It was only with distance and perspective that I was able to see how much I learned from them (and that not all of it had to do with the subject being taught). Of course, this is not to say that every teacher I had was good; there were definitely a few bad apples in the bunch. But I was, overall, extremely lucky to have been taught by passionate, gifted teachers who genuinely cared about their students. I’ve even run into a few who still remembered me by name, as many as 15 years after they’d last seen me.

I could tell stories about each of them, and the different ways they engaged me in learning and cheered me on and supported me: how Ms. Halpin encouraged my love of reading and writing, Ms. Dickman’s compassionate support when my grandfather was dying during my junior year of high school, Mrs. Timmerding’s “you go, girl!” answering machine message, left after I’d had a letter to the editor published in the local newspaper, and the way Mr. Webb (who moonlighted, if I recall correctly, as a stand-up comedian) made chemistry the most fun class of the day despite how I struggled to even get C’s in the subject.

But one of the teachers on that list stands out, partly because of her memorable personality, but also because I was well into my thirties before I truly understood what she was trying to teach.

I had Sister Pauline for math and spelling in fifth and sixth grade. At the age of 10, I was already taller than her, but her short stature did not make her any less intimidating. She was four feet eight inches of fiercely opinionated iron will. The first time I ever failed a test was in her math class, in fifth grade – a devastating turn of events for an overachiever like me. But despite my struggles with math, Sister Pauline never gave up on me, and by god, I learned. But that wasn’t even what made her so influential.

Sister Pauline was a staunch feminist who led our Catholic school classes in praying the Our Mother instead of the Our Father, and she was vocally and passionately pro-choice. Something that, looking back, I’m kind of surprised she got away with in our highly conservative community and diocese. Given that probably 95% of my classmates’ parents were solidly Republican, and many were probably actively involved in the Right to Life movement, I can’t believe there weren’t complaints to the principal, if not to the bishop. But, then, like I said, Sister Pauline was surprisingly imposing for someone so small. Perhaps the parents and the principal and the bishop were all intimidated by her, too.

Every so often, when we went in to math class, Sister Pauline would be standing in front of the room with a hard scowl on her face, her lips pressed together in a thin line, and we would know immediately that we weren’t going to be learning any math that day. Instead, she would lead the class into a spirited debate on abortion, or capital punishment, or allowing women to be priests, or any other variety of controversial subjects.

I loved those days. I would have loved them on the basis of getting out of math class alone, but it was also on those days that I learned to love intellectual debate, persuasive argument. I was already a minority among my peers, in that I was being raised by liberal Democrats among a sea of conservative Republicans. I was already pro-choice and pro-women and anti-death penalty. I was one of the few who actually agreed with Sister Pauline from the start, and I learned a lot during those debates about how to defend my arguments and counter others’ arguments. I don’t know if she convinced anyone else in her classes that abortion needs to be legal, or that women should be priests, or that God is actually a woman.

But it didn’t occur to me until literal decades later that convincing us was never the point.

The point was to teach us to think. To teach us not to accept what we were told at face value, but instead to view everything critically, and examine the evidence from all sides, and to question everything: authority, rules and laws and traditions, and even our own perceptions and assumptions.

And here’s the miraculous thing: I learned to do all of that from her. Years before I even realized that that’s what she taught me. I was guided and coached by other teachers in further honing my critical thinking skills, but without a doubt, Sister Pauline planted one of the earliest seeds of one of the most crucial skills I would need in life. Sure, she taught me long division and fractions, too, but guess which of those skills has served me best in my life.

Of course, it’s not something that could be easily captured on a standardized test.

In the age of No Child Left Behind and Common Core and school ratings and funding being tied to test scores, it’s easy to lose sight of all the myriad ways that teachers impact the lives of their students that cannot be quantitatively measured. But they’re equally as important, if not sometimes more important.

Who are the teachers who taught you more than you realized at the time?