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A blog about my friends, family, and all the weird and annoying people I know. Feel free to comment. I'll delete it if I don't like it.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Value of Strangers

When I was 24 I was a hot mess and probably a little evil too. I wasn't as angry then because I was too busy being sad and drunk. Being sad and drunk was something I could do right when it seemed I had done everything wrong.  It was something I had to go through like a right of passage. Some people decide to have a leg warmer or big purse phase; I decided to be sad and drunk. I really rocked sad and drunk for a very long time. It's just another thing I'm good at.

Even through my self-loathing and falling down, I managed to earn a master's degree and keep a small child alive. However, I developed panic attacks and exaggerated fears. I would sometimes cry the entire way to work or school and tell people I had allergies when they asked if I was okay. I was excessively stressed out and always on the verge of a meltdown. I had generalized anxiety disorder too. I was a good time.

 I struggled for many years making it 'on my own', but this week I was reminded that I really didn't make it all on my own. What I guess I really mean is that I made it this far without any help from immediate family whom I expected to help me, which they didn't, and now I'm a tad bitter about it. No one can tell though.

Anyway, a few people have floated into my life over the years that remind me of who I am and who I owe my gratitude towards. I've become indebted to these 'strangers' for seeing in me characteristics I didn't or couldn't see in myself. These are all the people who are better than me, nicer than me, and people who saved my life.

1.) Scott: He gets me. He lets me be who I am and reels me back in when I start to panic or cry. He is my anxiety medication.  He calms me down with just a phone call. He won't make me fat or bloated either. He also thinks I'm amazing and spends his time making sure I know he loves me. He fixes things in my life, not broken things, more like problems I have that frustrate me, like getting my oil changed and dealing with tedious bullshit which I like to call talking to people I don't want to talk to. I love that about him. He is my lobster.

2.) Jodie. I've known Jodie since I was 11. She gets me too. She doesn't fix anything for me, but she laughs so hard at my problems that they all become kind of funny. Like that one year I thought my kid might be a serial killer:  While on vacation he found a tiny sharp metal object to poke people with and then enjoyed their discomfort and smiled at their pain. It's been ten years, but we still talk about it and luckily Tyler turned out okay. He would, however, still love to stab some people with sharp objects, but I'm confident he won't. I hope.

Also, Jodie laughs with me, at me, and near me with the kind of hearty laugh that  makes people wonder what the joke is and want to be a part of it. She knows me so well I can look in her direction and she'll know what I'm thinking. She is friendship gold. Her and I are like twins sometimes with our own language because we have 25 years of inside jokes. We are very annoying to other people because nobody knows what we are actually laughing at.

We made up a joke when we were 11 which purposefully wasn't funny. It made no sense. We carefully constructed this joke and then told it to adults and children in hopes to make them look dumb for our own amusement. It was about a frog in a bathtub and a door knob. When we came across people we'd ask as a team, "hey, do you want to hear a joke?" And usually people said yes because you say yes to jokes from children. Immediately Jodie would start to laugh, not because the joke was funny, but because it wasn't. I was the calm teller of the joke. By the time the joke was through, her and I were laughing so hard we were doubled over. The other person either 1.) Pretended they got the joke and laughed or 2.) Didn't get the joke and just looked at us in bewilderment. Either way, it was funny. For us.

The next group of people were strangers who met me during the worst days of my life, saw what a crazy dumb ass I was, but helped me anyway. For the kindness of the following people I will always give someone the benefit of the doubt. It will take the rest of my life to repay the kindness they showed me when I was at my lowest point.

1.) Sherry. Sherry is a bad ass and will tell you what's up. One day at soccer practice for my 5- year- old son I was talking to Sherry about being new in town. Our sons went to the same school and I lived in the same general area she did. She offered, the first day I met her, to pick Tyler up from school with her kids and take him to soccer practice. She picked him up from school for 4 years give or take. He wasn't an easy kid either, but she took him into her family as if he'd always been a part of it. These 4 years weren't without conflict. My kid was troubled and had behavior issues in school. Many times I was called to the office to discuss his behavior and she would go with me. We went  everywhere her family went; we ate dinner at her house almost every night.

When my car broke down, I called her. If I had stomach pain in the middle of the night and I thought I was going to die because I didn't have health insurance, I called her. I slept at her house for a week when I had a panic attack so severe I was afraid to be alone. When I needed to get away from an asshole boyfriend but didn't have good enough credit to get my own place, she pretended to be getting a divorce and rented me an apartment in her name with her credit. I lived there for a year and pretended I was her when I paid the rent.  Eventually we both moved and just grew apart after I moved out of state. I was a panicky drunken, hungover mess during those years and trying to cope with my son. Whatever it was she saw in me, to help a stranger out in that way, I will forever appreciate. I don't know if I met a single parent from another state if I'd offer to care for her child every day and take her in as part of my family for 4 years. I don't know if that type of extension of myself would come naturally, but if it ever comes up, I will first remember Sherry. I will try to pay forward the kindness she showed me and Tyler for the rest of my life.

2.) Wendy. I was sitting at my desk one day and got a call that my child care was canceled for the evening. I had class at USF after work and was panicked that I'd miss class, get behind, and fail. I only had one child care option, see above, and would have to miss school to pick him up. He was about 10 at the time and at the height of his dysfunction. Wendy saw me sitting with my head down at my dumb office job desk and said, "What's wrong. Nothing can be that bad we can't fix," or something to that effect. I told her my problem through teary blurry eyes and she, without hesitation, said she would pick him up for me so I could go to class. It wasn't a big deal and it was no problem.

She picked him up for me for 2 more years. She picked him up, fed him, and talked to him until my classes were finished and I had earned a master's degree.

She didn't have to. I didn't give her anything.

She never made me feel bad or seemed put out by it. She just helped me to help me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to help someone the way she helped me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to see the good in someone who is struggling. I don't know if I'll ever be able to see the strength and determination and potential in someone the way she did me. I don't know. What I do know is that I'll never stop trying to pay back the kindness she extended to me and my son. I just don't know how yet.

To both of these women I probably wasn't even a good friend. I was about 10 years younger than Sherry and probably 15 or 20 years younger than Wendy. When I look back on myself at the ages of 23-29, I don't know how anyone saw anything in me except a total wreck.  I was trying to survive in my life during that time and, as a result, the only person I could see was me.

This is me all skinny and panicky before I started taking medication for anxiety that made me fat and bloated looking. I'm sure the beer didn't help either.....

Me, fatter, but with a college degree

There are also people in my life who treated me like shit for being young, inexperienced, selfish and a bad decision maker. I already knew these things about myself so to have others point them out didn't do me any good, motivate me to be better, or teach me any kind of valuable lesson. Here is a big fuck you to those people:

1.) The lady at church who I over heard saying she was not glad I was back. Fuck You.
2.) The person who said that I could never make it without him. Fuck You.
3.) The lady who told me I needed therapy but in such a way to suggest I was crazy, not that she cared I needed help. Fuck You.
4.) The other moms in the elementary school who wouldn't talk to me or include me when I was 18 because I was very young and had an eye brow piercing. Fuck You.
5.) My department chairs my first year teaching who were condescending, rude and unhelpful. Fuck You.
6.) To that principal who told me my kid would never catch up. Fuck You.
7.) To every person who tried to 'teach me a lesson' by being rude, unforgiving, relentless, mean, or distant. Fuck You.
8.) To any one who thought I was too much trouble, quit calling me, helping me, or remembering my birthday. Fuck You.
9.) To that guy in Idaho who thought it would be a good idea to drive me out in the middle of nowhere while he was drunk. Fuck You.
10.) To the committee who suggested my son be sent to Aces. Fuck You too.
11.) To the girls in my class junior year who were mean bitches. Fuck You. And, I hope you're fat and still live in Michigan.

What is comes down to is the good people will see through your low self-esteem, your bad decisions, and your drug and alcohol problem. They will be kind to you when you can't be kind to yourself. They will be nice to you when you don't deserve it. They will help you when you never asked them for help. They will see you when you've lost who you are.

For many the good people are your family. For me the good people were strangers. I might be that stranger to someone. I might not even know it. You might be that stranger to someone too. I figure there's enough people in life who are going to be mean and try to teach everyone a god damn lesson about tough love, but that's not going to be me.

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"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." Louise Erdrich, from "The Painted Drum