Since my friend’s death, I’ve obviously been doing a lot of talking and thinking about my own recovery. Trying to tell people who are blaming themselves to…NOT blame themselves. Some are receptive. Some are terse…like, who the fuck am I to be telling anyone anything. I wasn’t part of the scene he was immersed in for so many years. And honestly that was mostly by design. I knew that hanging out at open mics and good old fashioned Irish sessions would be a huge, huge trigger for me. It would make me want to fall back into my old “identity.”
Listen, I used to be super, super into being a “drinker.” I was proud of it. I thought it was pretty fucking great that I drank whiskey and craft beers, and I considered myself quite the bon vivant for all of it. And maybe I was, part of the time. The part where people DIDN’T see me puking, picking fights, sobbing hysterically in a restroom, and/or “taking a nap” at someone’s party. People didn’t see the bottom-shelf shit I took to drinking at home, because it got me where I wanted to be as quickly as possible…which was oblivion. People didn’t see my head and hands shaking violently at 6 o’clock in the morning, they didn’t see the huge bruises on my arms and legs I was getting because my liver was starting to revolt. But yeah – fucking bon vivant all the way, kids. It was hugely important for me to be seen that way.
So when I had to face an entirely different kind of music, when I had to acknowledge that if I kept doing what I was doing, I was certainly going to lose a LOT of things (I don’t think I QUITE accepted that I could die from it), it was terrifying. My entire identity was wrapped up in drinking. Let me say that again: my entire identity was wrapped up in drinking. Yes, I was a daughter. A wife. A sister. An auntie. A coworker. A bandmate. But first and foremost? I drank. That’s what I did. And drinking informed all my behaviors and it made my life so COMPARTMENTALIZED that it eventually became impossible for me to remember how I was supposed to behave around anyone.
It was more than just something I did to be social. It was NECESSARY.
Figuring out what I could and couldn’t do safely, once I got sober, took a long time. There were some relationships that couldn’t withstand the toll of my NOT drinking. That’s a heartbreaking lesson for folks in recovery. I could still play in my band. My bandmates knew the deal and had my back. But venturing by myself into a bar to play something I’d wrote on my own? Absofuckinglutely not. Not for several years, anyway, by which point I ceased to really be regularly in my friend’s orbit. Of course he supported me, and we would meet up and do things that didn’t involve alcohol. But I wasn’t a part of the world in which he mainly lived. The number of our mutual friends dwindled to a handful. That’s one of the sacrifices I had to make, to keep myself safe, and alive.
When he first got sober, I was so willing and eager to welcome him onto the sober dance floor to do the recovery stomp with me. I did try. But ultimately he had to make the decision to remain in recovery. That was on him. Nobody could make that decision for him. Because nobody could make that decision for me.
It’s just a guess, but the lure of that old “identity” might have just been too strong. Sometimes a toxic relationship feels safer than the unknown. I understand this on a cellular level.
Well, it’s been a spell since I’ve done the blogging thing. Do people even still blog? Do I still have readers?
I’ll be honest – I had gotten overwhelmed and exhausted being what people more and more were thinking of as a “recovery blogger.” I wasn’t feeling the fire behind it. I was certainly continuing my own recovery (I hit 18 years last June), but the idea of pulling up the ol’ WP template and being rah-rah about sobriety just….I didn’t want to do it. And maybe that was a mistake. I don’t know.
I lost someone very dear to me last week. He died a week ago this Tuesday. I won’t get into the details; that’s not for you all to know. What I will tell you is that it was terrible and unnecessary and so devastating that when his best friend called me to let me know (so that I wouldn’t have to learn of it on fucking Facebook), the floor fell out from under me. Not just because I loved him (in the romantic sense, over 25 years ago…and since then as a good friend), but because he and I had something else in common: alcoholism.
I cannot believe that I still need to say this – but alcoholism is not something to joke about. Over the past year, as the pandemic shut shit down and we were stuck in our houses, I saw plenty of jokes about day-drinking, I saw drunk-posting accompanied by lots of laughing emojis, and the usual “wine mom” humor ramped up to 11. And I would grit my teeth and try to – as politely as it is possible for my impolite ass – gently remind folks that problem drinking isn’t funny, it’s dangerous. It’s tragic. What’s it going to take to drive that home?
And then my friend died. And I KNEW. I knew deep in my soul that it got him.
A couple of days later, I blew up on Facebook about it:
If you knew me prior to 2002, I don’t know that you would have known how fucking grim my life had become, and how small my world had become. Other than a few folks (one who lived with me and could obviously see how bad I was, and a couple who – well – “game recognize game” and all), nobody would’ve known. I had a mostly good game face, and a lot of semi-believable stories. Because that’s what we addicts and alcoholics are REALLY FUCKING GOOD AT, besides destroying ourselves because we don’t know how else to manage. And let me reiterate that last bit – WE DON’T KNOW HOW ELSE TO MANAGE. We are not doing the things we do because we’re hedonists. When you are that far into the disease, drinking/using gives you absolutely no pleasure. Zero. You do it to feel “normal,” because that’s what you recognize as such and because other actual emotions are too terrifying to consider. Just so all you normal drinkers know. Cool?
I’ll continue.The fact that I am an addict is not my fault. You can say genetics loaded the gun and environment pulled the trigger. It’s not my fault, BUT – it IS my responsibility. It’s my responsibility to not drink, to not take the medication prescribed for my other issues in any way that it’s not intended. It is also my responsibility to do the things I, personally, have found I need to do to remain sober. And that’s to talk to other people like me, help when I am asked, and – I cannot stress this enough – ASK FOR HELP. Help me, I am hurting. Help me, I am crawling out of my skin and I want to drink. Help me, this is the goddamn LAST thing I should be doing but I desperately want to do it.
And you know what? That is really, brutally difficult for a lot of us. Because we’re conditioned to either A) pretend that everything is fine because we’re the people who always seemingly have it together, or B) believe in the depths of our souls that if we ask, we will be laughed at, scorned, or turned away. And a lot of times? It’s both.
Finally – none of you who love us can save us from circling the drain. I’m sorry. It sucks to hear that, and it sucks for me to say that. But it’s important to say that, because when one of us succumbs to this shitsucking disease, I want it to be abundantly clear that you’re not responsible for it, there is nothing you could have done, and you must never carry the anvil of “if only I had” on your shoulders. Don’t do that to yourself. Please take it from me.
When I was done, I felt….better. Somehow. Still angry as FUCK, but I let it out. We had both hailed from a scene where drinking was (maybe still is) de rigueur. It’s boozy bonhomie right up until closing time, and then the party moves on to someone’s living room. Guitars and whiskey come out. You pass out on someone’s couch, and sometimes you wake up in someone’s bed. But it’s all good fun.
But for some of us, the fun becomes maintenance, the maintenance becomes need, and as you age everything seems that much harder. The people you used to carry on with can now take it or leave it, they drink on the weekend (and – perplexingly – only have a couple of drinks at that). The people who are still drinking the way you do egg you on. There are people who are concerned about you, and tell you as much. You keep drinking, because that’s what you DO. But you’re not in your twenties anymore; hell – you’re not even in your thirties anymore. And yet you have to keep doing it, you keep seeking out people who’ll drink with you, or at least pretend not to notice how much you drink. And unless you get desperate enough to consider that if you stop, your life just may stop being so horrifically lonely (I am here to tell you that you can drink alone even in a room full of friends), it never gets better. IT NEVER GETS BETTER.
We drank when we were a couple, we drank when we were just friends, and then I got sober. Of course he never judged me about that, never pushed a drink at me, never stopped being my friend. But as the years went on, I could tell he wasn’t…right. A few others noticed as well. He went away to get help, came back sober, seemed able and willing to do what he needed to do to stay that way.
This past year shook a lot of us in recovery to our cores. Physical meetings were no longer an option. Let me tell you – addiction loooooves isolation. If you’re not used to getting on the phone or jumping into an online meeting, it’s a goddamn invitation to disaster. If you are not asking for help, you’re asking for a world of hurt. He wasn’t able, or willing, to do any of this. And that, if I may be blunt, is choosing death. That may not be the intention, but that’s what it is.
My heart is broken. Certainly I’m not the only one feeling that; he was loved by so, so many. But there is a layer of rage on top of the grief. I am so angry I can barely speak at times. There’s no safe way for me to direct it other than what I’m currently doing. Talking about this disease. Talking about the very real ramifications of not taking it seriously. Telling my story. Telling what I know of his.
I loved him. I still love him. I have yelled at him every day since last Tuesday. I can see him receive it, process it, agree with it. Much like he would when we would meet for coffee and I’d call him out on some dumb thing. But there’s no hug at the end. I don’t know if he actually hears it. What I do know is that the words are pouring out of me again, about this very thing I wasn’t particularly into writing about when I stopped posting here. That’s something.
I’m having dreams where I’m moving, or packing. Probably 2 or 3 times a week now.
It’s usually college. It’s the last day of the Spring semester and I haven’t even started to pack up my room, and I can’t find boxes, and I don’t know if I should be storing stuff in the basement or shipping it home. Everyone is ahead of the game but me.
Sometimes it’s the little house I shared with my friend Brian in Florida. I’ve graduated, and my parents are driving me and my stuff back to Boston, and again – haven’t packed.
On rare occasions it’s at my grandparents’ house in Montana. It’s time to go back home, but I can’t find my suitcase, or somehow I’ve stumbled upon a secret room that’s full of my grandfather’s STUFF, and I want ALL OF IT, but I can’t fit everything.
I’ve read enough Jung and online dream interpretation stuff to know that this is pretty much stress-related. My mind is telling me it’s time to go….where? Or deep down I’m afraid that I am going to be put in a situation where I have to leave….home? I don’t know. It’s just that these are getting tiresome. I want to go back to the dreams where I’m naked, or I only have a towel, and I have to try and be casual about the fact that I’m naked and need to go through a room full of people in order to find my clothes.
I’m a mess. I really am.
All of my mental illness bogeys are pretty much kept at bay during my waking hours. Any urge to do something completely insane runs into this kind of wall that blunts the impulses. I go through the day with this vague notion that something is roiling under the surface, but it never really manifests itself.
Until I go to sleep. And then I’m back in my dorm room wondering where I’m going to store that floor-to-ceiling Bauhaus poster.
I just read a piece about “imposter syndrome.” I’m feeling it. I wonder if part of all this overnight dream-agita is because I’m waist-deep in data and system tables and I’m not quite sure how I got here. How did I become this database idiot savant? I was going to be….famous. Or something. Here’s a story:
We had a “career center” in high school. Many of my high school friends don’t believe me when I mention it. It existed. It was a grim little wood-paneled room near the principal’s office. There were brochures and pamphlets. There was also a Scantron machine. You took your #2 pencil, and filled in bubbles for questions about your preferences and predilections, and you would get career recommendations, noisily spit out by an Okidata dot matrix printer.
I probably took that damn test a dozen times. Always it would recommend anything BUT “famous actress.” Always it would add a little post-script which read: “You show a strong preference for data.”
I tried to avoid it. I did. I got a Bachelor’s in Theatre and a Master’s in Creative Writing and I became a database manager. I couldn’t avoid this calling, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve been mucking around in databases now for 20 years. And I get a kind of perverse joy in so doing. I’ll admit it.
But let’s get back to the dreams. Either something really GOOD is going to happen, or it’s all going to shit. And I need to be prepared either way. Find me some boxes.
It’s Teachers’ Day, and this seems as good a day as any to post something in my long-neglected blog.
I had a lot of teachers. Some were pretty good. Some weren’t. But a few deserve special praise, which coming from me doesn’t necessarily mean a lot (I was a TERRIBLE student), but I’m going to heap it on them anyway.
Let’s start with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Barron (St. Paul’s School, Hingham). Mrs. Barron had the task of ushering us 7-year-olds through our First Communion. Seven is the “age of reason” in Catholicism. 7-year-olds are also crazier than rats in coffee cans. Poor Mrs. Barron; she was actually my teacher TWICE, because in first grade I spent half the day in second grade, and in second grade I spent half the day in third grade, and so on, because apparently I was very smart, but not quite smart enough to skip a WHOLE grade. I don’t know. It was very confusing.
I remember her trying to soften the blow about the whole Santa Claus thing by telling us that Santa would never die as long as we kept him in our hearts.
I adored her for reasons I couldn’t quite put my reasonable 7-year-old finger on. Maybe because she was so patient with me. I was a screeching, spinning top of a child, always hovering somewhere between hysterically giggling and inconsolable sobbing, and anything could push me one way or the other. Mrs. Barron protected me from a lot of things. She was one of the few teachers in that school to do so.
Mrs. Ferguson (St. Paul’s School, Hingham). What I learned from Fergie in 6th grade:
If you chew a saltine for a really long time, it eventually tastes sweet
I was a good writer
Mr. Green (Central Jr High School, Hingham). He was my 8th grade history teacher. Now, a lot of my readers know what he was dealing with back then:
Somehow he managed to not be – you know – BLINDED by my sartorial splendor, and taught me the one line that is forever burned into my brain, and that I can spit right back out some 34 years later: “The spark that ignited the powder keg that was WWI was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his ugly wife, Sophie.” Verbatim. Goddamn, man. He knew how to teach.
Richard Jensen (Hingham High School). Sometimes there are those teachers who get you at an almost cellular level. Such was the case with Mr. Jensen. He was my 10th grade history teacher. I remember returning a ruler to him the first week or so that I was in his class, and offhandedly saying, “Here ya go, Mr. Jensen – RULER LENSKA.” Now, I said a lot of weird shit as a kid. A lot of shit that ultimately alienated me from my peers AND my teachers. But I remember Mr. Jensen’s eyes BUGGED OUT when I said that.
“I have a shirt for you. I’m bringing it in tomorrow.”
It was an old tshirt with iron-on letters which read “WHO IS RULA LENSKA?” I was utterly thrilled. So….nowadays I think teachers gifting students articles of used clothing is probably frowned upon, yeah? Like it’s inappropriate or something. Listen – this was a gift from the HEART. I still have it. In fact, when I get home I’m gonna dig it out of storage and wear the shit out of it.
Doug Ryan (Hingham High School). In the world of recovery, one of things that’s suggested that we do in order to remain sober is make amends whenever possible to those we have wronged. I owe an amends to Mr. Ryan. Mr. Ryan was my Latin teacher for THREE YEARS, and I am quite sure that I was a source of eternal frustration for him, because – as I’ve said – I was a terrible student. Just awful. Clearly could do the work, but didn’t. But I loved Latin. I loved Mr. Ryan. After we finished translating Iason et Argonautae from Latin to English, our reward was a viewing of this:
Holy Sweet Infant Of Prague On A Harley. Imagine being 15 years old and watching that. Mind – BLOWN. Is it any wonder why I kept on with Latin, and this guy? The best teachers are those who don’t look down on their students, who believe that they are capable of grappling the heavy stuff. And it doesn’t get much heavier than Zoe Caldwell as Medea.
I do remember that I popped in to his classroom while I was still in college, to tell him that I was studying German. He seemed impressed.
Chuck Ozug (Hingham High School). Another one who saw something besides a lazy kid. 12th grade English. Saw my love for language, and saw that I was – well – rather creepy, and made me read Greenleaf. Who DOES that? Someone who thinks the student is ready for the work, even if she turned in a grocery list in response to the last pop quiz.
The last one I’ll mention is John Higgins (Central Jr. High School AND Hingham High School). My Drama teacher. I could write reams about Hig, and I have, but here’s the tl;dr version: He created the safest space I’d ever known, where I was free to express myself and indulge my whims without judgment. He cast me in the role I absolutely should have been cast in. He didn’t cast me in the role I thought I “deserved.” My two oldest and most treasured friends came into my orbit because of Drama Club. I owe him much for these things. More than I could possibly repay.
So, thank you all. You made me into the woman I am. Take that as you will.
Mine is but one voice in the cacophonous din of nerds expressing what it means to lose Carrie Fisher right now. Likely I will have nothing new to contribute here, nothing of substance, nothing that won’t have been said more eloquently.
In life, Carrie Fisher had pretty much heard it all anyway (she says as much in her last memoir, The Princess Diarist). She knew that she had brought to life a key character in what has become, for many, a personal mythos. She knew she was our Princess, our childhood hero, our (for some, anyway) source of material by which to polish Vader’s helmet, so to speak. She knew all this.
She probably even knew what she meant to those of us who face every day living in an Ascent Series Vitamix™ of a brain, while being recovering addicts on top of that. She may have known that we could look to her, think “CARRIE FISHER GETS SHIT DONE,” and live accordingly.
I certainly hope she knew that.
Years ago, she came to the theatre where I work to perform Wishful Drinking. I would stand in the back and watch her and cry. Because I was so close to a childhood idol, and because she was everything I could maybe hope to aspire to (I mean, minus the superstar parents, the starring roles, and the marriage to Paul Simon). I wanted not only to accept the neurochemical hand I’d been dealt, but play it to my advantage. In watching Carrie Fisher, I felt it could be done, with dignity and humor.
That’s what she meant to me. What she still means to me. It’s plenty.
Godspeed, Ms. Fisher. May the Force be with you and all that.
You might have noticed the ballyhoo going on all day today over Donald Trump’s tweets admonishing the cast of Hamilton for delivering a curtain speech to Mike Pence, who was in attendance last night:
We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights. We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.
A simple, heartfelt request. Mr. Pence, to his credit, stayed and listened. But Mr. Trump, for reasons which we can only speculate, found this utterly reprehensible:
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!
Forgetting for a moment the absurdity of Mr. Trump suddenly recognizing the importance of a “safe space,” I was struck by this idea that the theatre “must always be safe.” I think that reveals a profound misunderstanding of what theatre actually is.
Certainly people go to the theatre for an escape. I did that very thing myself today, seeing a British farce at the theatre company where I’ve worked for the last 24 years. For a couple of hours, I giggled along with a bunch of strangers, united in that moment. And we all walked out smiling. In that instance, I would certainly call it “safe.”
But to assume that the theatre is meant for ONLY this, only for escapism and laughter and frivolity…well, that’s simply incorrect.
At the top of the proscenium at the theatre where I work is this line from Hamlet: “to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature.” The theatre, as mirror, reflects everything about human nature back to us, nobility and dishonor, kindness and cruelty. This is the theatre’s moral function. And sometimes it’s intensely uncomfortable to watch.
In my former life as an actress, I played roles that were silly and fun, and I played roles that left me a trembling mess every night, teary-eyed and exhausted, overwhelmed, exhilarated, and grateful for the experience. Most people who work in the theatre will tell you the same thing. And all of us can remember a time we’ve sat in the audience and felt challenged, even offended, by the goings-on onstage. But we understand that this is the very nature of the thing that also nurtures and sustains us.
Theatre absolutely saved my life. But it does not owe me “safety.”
That the cast of Hamilton took a moment to ask the incoming Vice President to consider the very real fears of many Americans was neither rude, nor was it “harassment.” They did what Americans are SUPPOSED to do, and they demonstrated the power of theatre to persuade, or at least attempt to persuade, its audience to consider the world at large.
Last night, as the hour of the first debate drew nigh, I found myself torn. As someone raised in a family with very strong political opinions, it’s always in my best interest to stay informed. As someone raised by a mother for whom horror movies were required viewing, I like being scared. In this, the first of three debates before Election Day, I had the opportunity to be informed AND scared. But I wasn’t sure if I could deal with this particular kind of scare. Was it willfully ignorant to sit it out and watch “Re-Animator” instead?
Ultimately, I went for the relative comfort of gore over the risk of elevating my blood pressure by watching the debate. The personal is political and all that. I did wind up watching the last 20 minutes or so, and that was enough to give me nightmares. I’m serious. I should have stuck with the horror movies.
I honestly don’t think there’s been an election season as frightening as this one. I don’t know if I was even a fraction as horrified by McCain/Palin as I am right now. You think there can’t possibly be as stupefyingly preposterous a ticket as the last one, only to be proven horribly wrong.
Anyone who knows me knows who I’m absolutely NOT voting for. I debated whether or not to even bring it up in this piece. But I’ll say it, because I may as well: Trump is terrifying. Trump is like Leatherface, Jason Vorhees, and Chucky all at once, with a dash of Tall Man from “Phantasm” for bad measure. I won’t even compare him to Pinhead. That’s an insult to Pinhead.
I’m not the kind of horror fan who spends a great deal of time thinking about the psychology of the canon’s chief monsters. Certainly monsters can represent the things we loathe and fear within ourselves. And there’s no doubt that isolation, in most cases, creates the monster (see: Grendel, or Frankenstein’s monster). Sometimes I certainly do find myself rooting for the monster, especially when its “victims” are deliberately unsympathetic (and they’re always the first to go). I can, and will, wax academic about my preferred genre, but this is when I feel compelled to defend myself and my creepy ways. Mostly I’m in it for the screams, really.
But I can’t help but think that this election season is a monster of our own making, fueled by isolation, AND fear, AND loathing. Unlike Grendel, or Frankenstein’s monster, this isn’t something that is trying to communicate or connect before the fury fueled by constant misunderstanding wipes away all hope of redemption. This is something that rages, flails, and smirks with a Mephistophelean leer that says: “You’re fucked.”
The scares we want onscreen tend to dovetail with the fears we have as a society. A couple of months ago, I had a nice chat with Judith O’Dea (from the original “Night Of The Living Dead”) about how the surge in zombie narratives tends to coincide with periods of political unrest. What does a zombie represent more than the fear of lack of control? You can’t even be dead without something forcing you to continue to lurch in a mindless herd.
I deeply enjoy cringing and not quite being able to look away from something that’s pulsating, glistening with viscous matter, dragging its entrails, or any combination thereof. There’s a kind of low comedy to hyper-splatter that keeps one at a reasonable adrenaline level. Horror allows for the thrill of a “fight or flight” response without having to, you know, actually outrun a guy in a flesh mask wielding a chainsaw. It’s better than therapy, sometimes. A vacation into the implausible (although right now it’s also a vacation FROM the implausible).
And so it stands to reason that this is, for me, an escape from the boundless fuckery that is currently, unsuccessfully, masquerading as the 2016 presidential campaign. I would sooner sit through all four of the “Subspecies” movies again than navigate social media right now. And Radu has better hair than Trump.
My best friend just marked her third year of sobriety. It’s got me all in my thoughts today.
Few things are worse than watching someone you love circle the drain, knowing there’s criminally little you can do to stop it. On the flip side, few things are better than watching someone you love get better. Seeing the light return to her eyes. Celebrating all of those little milestones you pass when you’re newly sober: first set of holidays, first birthday, first wedding reception. (I’ll tell you – when you get through that first wedding reception without drinking you feel like Ben Hur or some shit. I swear to God.)
Perhaps not coincidentally, I’m seeing other people posting those “Here’s Why You Should Stop Drinking For A Month”-type essays again. People who are waxing ecstatic about all the wonderful things that are coming about for them because they stopped drinking for a month, or two months. And while I’m totally happy for them, I can’t help but feel that I didn’t get quite the payoff they’re reaping for having not imbibed for 30/60/90 days. I didn’t magically regain focus and leap into all kinds of amazing projects because OMG THE CLARITY I HAVE NOW.
I have to remember that I had to stop not because it was cramping my style, but because it was killing me. And that because of the way I drank, it would take years to rewire everything to the point where I could even manage doing a load of laundry without needing to anesthetize myself. I’m still not there. The highway system of my mind is full of potholes and I sometimes feel like I spend most of my time putting traffic cones around them instead of, you know, FIXING them.
Basically, I don’t get to “take a break” from drinking. I have a restraining order on alcohol that has to be renewed pretty much every damn day. And 99% of the time, I accept that. But then there’s that occasional point where I look at Booze Vacation people virtually beaming while posting all these breakthroughs they’re having because they haven’t had a beer in two weeks, and I let it get to me. I think, “Great, and you get to pick back up whenever you want and suffer no consequences.” That’s the key word for me: consequences. I don’t actually envy you because you can have a couple of drinks and stop whenever you want to. I envy the idea of drinking without consequences. I never drank normally in my life. I always drank like there was a raging brush fire in my heart and I needed an endless bucket brigade. And I didn’t particularly want to stop drinking like that, honestly.
I have to remind myself not take this personally. I have to remind myself that if someone is doing something that’s improving their quality of life, the correct – and only – reaction is to be happy for them. Self-care takes on many forms, and it’s not my place to begrudge anyone their methodology, or be an underpaid tour guide in Miseryland. And we all have our a-ha moments around alcohol. For some, it’s “Wow! I have so much more money at the end of the week!” For me, it was “Wow! So this is what it’s like to wake up rather than come to.” It’s all worth celebrating.
It’s the start of another school year. In Boston, moving trucks piloted by inexperienced drivers are getting stuck in the Storrow Drive underpass. The “seasonal aisle” at the drugstores are wiped clear of window fans and hula hoops; in their place are notebooks and backpacks.
And all over Facebook, I’m seeing pictures of my friends’ kids, dressed and ready for the first day of (____) grade.
A close friend of mine texted me a picture of her daughter, all ready for her first day of middle school. She looked cute as all get-out, and I joked about how sassy she was. And later that day my friend texted me again, and my heart broke.
It’s a story I know all too well. There’s another girl, see. This other girl has found something objectionable about my friend’s daughter. Something totally unforgivable. The wrong shoes. Laughing too much. Liking “weird” things. That tangled-up terrain of adolescent girls is virtually impossible to navigate, no matter how prepared you think you are.
My friend told me what happened. This little pack of girls shunned her daughter. The years go by, the technology changes, and yet this is still the most vicious, effective weapon in the entire shitty arsenal. My friend has been up since 3 o’clock this morning, trying to figure out what to do. She lives in a small community. The girl’s mother heads up her own pack of “mean mommies.” They wield a considerable amount of power, just by dint of being petty, garbage people.
I’ve been sitting with this all morning, feeling helpless. I am almost 46 years old, with pretty specific and desirable computer skills. I’m a homeowner. My life is full of amazing, creative, compassionate people like my friend and her daughter.
But right now? I am 12 years old. I am waking up in my friend’s daughter’s head, feeling that tightness in my chest, the physical manifestation of a kind of terror that no kid should have to feel. Trying to figure out a way to negotiate my way through the day ahead. Can I fake being sick again? And if I can’t, how can I lay low enough so that I won’t be noticed, and subsequently humiliated? Will anyone eat lunch with me? What am I doing wrong?
I can’t tell my friend: “It gets better.” In the here and now, that’s useless information. I think about myself at that age, listening to the platitudes of well-meaning adults (“They’re just jealous.” “Ignore them, and they’ll get bored.”) and thinking, bullshit. The future was impossible to see, beyond the next day. I enjoyed school up until 6th grade. By 7th grade, my days were spent trying to will the clock’s hands to move faster. Even home ceased being a refuge, when the girls in my class decided that the chief entertainment during their sleepovers was calling me, making increasingly bizarre accusations, erupting into spasms of cackling before hanging up, leaving me even more bewildered and horrified.
With all of the bullying awareness these days, one would think this kind of manipulative, nasty behavior would be checked. It isn’t. Insular, narrow-minded thinking gets passed down generation to generation. If your kid is being bullied, he or she needs to get a thicker skin, or maybe try harder not to be such a magnet by stuffing everything down and showing no traces of real personality. And if you’re an adult talking about what happened to you, and why the events of decades past STILL inform some of your reactions today, you’re soft. You need to get over it. You’re a “libtard” for demanding administrative intervention when “kids will be kids.”
I can’t offer anything to my friend and her daughter today, other than an ear and a shoulder and a broken heart. So I put a plea out here- try not to let the heaviness of whatever you’re carrying drag you down to a level where you cease to muster empathy. I include myself in this. It’s much easier, actually, to be kind. It takes considerably less energy than drawing a box around someone and believing they’re responsible for their isolation and unhappiness, or that it’s inevitable. That’s your kid being shunned at the bus stop. That’s your kid being told – on the daily – what a stupid, ugly person she is. Kids are still somehow learning about the currency of cruelty, how to dole it out just so.
I want so much for my friend’s daughter to have a better day today.
The low rumble turned into an enthusiastic hum turned into a cacophonous din of praise. Stranger Things on Netflix.
I’m three episodes in, and I am in love.
Much has already been written about what is so great about this show. If you were an adolescent/teenager in the early 80s it’s a nostalgia supernova, incorporating all the Spielbergian tropes of the era (kids versus adults, supernatural friendships, the horror-tastic underbelly of suburbia, missing children speaking through electric devices) with a heavy dose of Dungeons & Dragons thrown in for good measure. There’s the deliciousness of casting 80s heartthrob Matthew Modine as the show’s sinister antagonist. And, of course, there’s Winona Ryder channeling JoBeth Williams and Dee Wallace and every harried single mother from the era in what’s probably her best performance in decades.
It’s goddamn delightful.
I was 13 years old in 1983; this show is almost painful to watch, the attention to detail is so exquisite. I’ve viewed these first three episodes with a curator’s eye, which makes it no less enjoyable. I’ve squealed inwardly as well as audibly at some of the stuff I’ve noticed (The Dark Crystal poster on Mike’s bedroom wall! The Trapper Keepers the kids are stuffing into their lockers!).
And then there’s Barb.
THIS is what I’m going to get all thinkpiece-y over, folks. BARB IS THE BEST GODDAMN THING ON THIS SHOW.
When I first saw her, I legitimately gasped. Like – mad props to the costumers on this show, because they NAILED it with Barb. The high-necked ruffle blouses (that sartorial nod to “prairie girl” culture), the mom jeans, the princess-sleeved puffy jacket. My God. Perfection. Even Barb’s hair and glasses were spot-the-fuck-on. You can picture her carefully managing that coiffure with a curling iron.
BARB IS A QUEEN.
I knew Barb back then. I may have even been a little Barb myself. Barb was the nice girl you ate lunch with. Barb might have been a horse girl, or a Jesus girl, or a little bit of both. Barb’s not the smartest kid in class, but she’s a pretty solid B student. Barb.ALL HAIL BARB.
(Here be spoilers….so read no further if you haven’t seen the show yet.)
Okay? The rest of you with me here? Let’s talk about what happens to Barb. Because I was not ready for what happened to Barb.
When what happened to Barb happened, I was INDIGNANT. I yelled at the television: “WHY?! That’s not supposed to happen! Barb’s not the sexually active one in this bunch! This is supposed to happen to the slutty mean girl! THAT’S NOT HOW THIS WORKS.” First she loses her best friend to the hunk with the pompadour, then THAT.
I mean, Jesus. You can’t do this to Barb. You can’t do this to ME. I don’t how I’m going to get through the next five episodes not looking forward to seeing what Barb’s wearing. I wanted to see Barb rocking one of those Bermuda bags with the changeable, button on covers. Because you KNOW Barb has one. Probably monogrammed, too.
Who do I have to talk to about having Barb come back? Because if Will can talk to Winona Ryder through a string of Christmas tree bulbs, Barb should be able to talk to Nancy through a curling iron (“Heat up if you can hear me!”). I’m serious.