I should have known – a study in anaphora

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anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses to build emphasis.

I met him at a work party. He told me his name, and I didn’t believe him. Looking back I almost – but not quite – laugh at that…I should have known. But I gave him my phone number, and a kiss, and we met again the next night for a sloppy game of pool, and the night after that, and before I knew it I was making him the most important meal of the day in his basement bedroom most days out of the week.

He was charismatic, and sarcastically hilarious, and his slow moving, crooked smile would always precede a wise crack or a dirty joke. He was daring – driving his car with no insurance and always getting into fights with his room-mate over dish duty, and he would prank call me at work asking for climbing gear that didn’t exist, or pretending he was British – just to make me laugh. I was clumsy, and always covered in bruises from blowing a move at the climbing gym. We would joke about it in the movie store, and I’d sacrilegiously fake a quiver in my voice, asking him to next time please hit me where it didn’t show. ..I should have known.

He was hurting from a recently tragic relationship, but he told me that I made him forget her. He could listen to songs now and think of me instead. He showed me her myspace page once, and told me that I was a better lover than her…I should have known. He quoted ancient poets and compared me to slender trees and ballerinas. He loved me immediately and completely, and told me so. I don’t think I will ever feel so loved as I did those first months. We held hands as I paid his insurance bill so he could drive safe…I should have known.

He was against “institutions” – he didn’t have a bank account due to past indiscretions, and didn’t return his library books on time. Then, he was as punk as fuck, but I should have known.
His Kerouac heart decided that he needed to be in an open relationship, which meant he slept with a young woman from work. Feelings hurt, I asked “why her?” He told me she was cute and had big boobs. I was ok with it..he was just that free. I kissed a boy on a rooftop in Chicago, and we had a fight, and he decided that he was ready. He got drunk on Carlo Rossi that night and, puking into a five gallon pail, told me that when he was sober he wanted other girls, but when he was drunk he wanted Just Me. I should have known.

Summertime brought us Chicago. We lived in an overpriced, undersized studio on the top floor of a converted hospital with our cat named Soupcan. We didn’t have any money, but we went on long bike rides and had marathon sex and drank too much wine and listened to Beyonce with the windows open, and we were happy. Our relationship was passionate, and I saw that as good..I should have known. On Monday we were desperately in love and couldn’t stand to be apart, but by Wednesday I would be tired when I came home from work and we would have a colossal fight, ending in tears and wild making up. Now that we were living together, there was constant pressure to have “good sex”. He told me that his ex wasn’t adventurous, that she didn’t like morning sex. He was afraid of boring, so we role-played and teased each other and it was fun. But I should have known.

In the autumn, about 8 months into our relationship, the arguments turned violent. Holes in walls and curtains ripped from windows, I would sit on the bed and wait for him to calm down, so we could talk about it and he could apologize. He convinced me that I was the reason he was unhappy – in my birkenstocks and wool socks, I didn’t look like the DePaul sorority girls he would point out on the streets, I would argue with him about politics, pacifism, and vegetarianism..he didn’t like that. The fights were my fault too – I was often tired from working two jobs to pay for school, and he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just let it go that he had slept with that woman without protection when we were not monogamous. He gave me an ultimatum one day – drop it or he would leave. I dropped it – I already didn’t know my life without him.

At first, the jealousy was flattering. Early on, he told me that he loved me so much he just didn’t want to share me with anyone, and he was afraid that his love would cause him to lose control. I was thrilled that someone could think so highly of me, but I should have known. He would call and check in on me when I was out with friends, telling me he missed me and to hurry home to him. If I didn’t answer the phone, he’d keep calling until I did, telling me he was worried I was lost on the El. One night, my phone battery died. When I got home, he was in a rage, accusing me of being with another guy, and throwing things, and crying. He told me that he would kill himself if I ever cheated on him, or deserted him. That night in bed, he begged me to humiliate him. I didn’t want to, but I wanted to make it up to him, and I wanted him to be happy. I should have known.

When the proposal came, I was so excited to see him happy and planning for our future that I said gladly yes. Later that day, Christmas, he grabbed me and asked, “Who does this pussy belong to now?” I should have known. The ring – a handmade swirl of silver with a jade stone – became a a bargaining tool. He would get furious, call off the wedding, take the ring back. The fights got worse when I stopped trying to make up with him. He would break things, enraged that I was not fighting to keep us together. I was afraid of him, but I was more afraid of me without him. I told myself that if he ever touched me, then I’d leave.

Time passed, but our problems didn’t. The holidays found us living in a cabin in Montana. I was trapped by the blizzards and, increasingly, by him. None of my friends were good enough for me and he was jealous of everyone – he had started telling me that my family was crazy, and they were trying to change me. He started telling me that everyone – my manager at work, my friend Joel, our room-mates – were all out to get me, and he wanted to protect me. He told me that the reason for our now daily fights was me. He blamed my birth control for my moodiness, so I switched birth control. Too depressed to work from a business venture gone wrong, he stayed home and watched hours of daytime TV and I would come home from working a double to cook him thankless spaghetti. One night I had the stomach flu and not in the mood to play degrading sex games with him, and he lay in bed next to me and watched porn. Then, finally, I knew.

But I didn’t know how to leave. We were in significant debt from his attempts to find happiness in things – a truck, a flat screen TV, a Mac Book, kayaks, and I had no means of escape. The day I told him to leave, he took my car and I had to walk for hours to get away. I still, strangely, madly, loved him, and I didn’t want to hurt him, and so he persisted in coming by the house, and finding excuses. My manager at the bookstore banned him, telling him he’d call the police if he came in again. Finally, he convinced me to sit in my car on my lunch break and talk it out. He tried to force the ring back on my finger. I refused to compromise, and he punched a dent in my dashboard, screaming that he hoped I got raped. I moved to a house across town, and he found where I was staying.

Five years, changed phone numbers, blocked emails, and threats of restraining orders later, I am free. It has only been in the past few years that I have been able to admit to myself and to others that I was in an abusive relationship.

As a proud member of a radical community of strong women, it was unbelievably difficult to first speak out about how emotional and verbal abuse has been a part of my life. Left feeling exposed and vulnerable, and even ashamed, I was amazed at the women – women who I had assumed would never allow themselves to be put into a similar situation, who could commiserate with my experiences. And thus my story becomes our story.

As sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers, lovers, and comrades, we need to set each other free from the culture of shame and fear that surrounds domestic abuse. We talk about periods, about our best orgasms, our insecurities about the size of our breasts, we share our birth stories – but we can’t talk about how we don’t feel respected and supported by our partners? Unacceptable. We need to create space in our relationships and interactions where it is ok to speak out about how our partner is sexually demeaning to us, or we don’t feel safe, or valued. A space where there is no more “I should have known”, because we all know.

Being a victim of domestic abuse does not make us less powerful unless we allow it to. I am a survivor, and, in speaking out, have gained a strength that is greater than anything I could have imagined had I kept silent. The stigma has been stripped away, and there is nothing but love here.

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Christmas hangover

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I have been slowly waking up the past few days – staggering around bleary eyed, my mouth tasting of soured Christmas Cheer, myrhh (which tastes surprisingly like bad gin) and pine tree, I still find myself blurting (well, rasping, really) “Merry Christmas!” to drooping tables of families tired of being around each other, but Grandpa’s flight doesn’t leave till Sunday afternoon.  The house looks like the set of the Little House on the Prairie Christmas Special after the filming of the “Great Blizzard of ’09″ scene, or a C(tastefully decorated) UPS shipping facility, and there’s not a dish in the house that isn’t sticky with eggnog or the remains of the sugar cookie decorating party that happened two weeks ago.  Moose has finally eaten enough of the dried out pine needles forever ground into the carpet that they don’t really make her sick anymore, and I am still so greasy from that Christmas goose that even my hair is looking a little lank.    

This time of year – that period when we all have but a mere week to think up lots of life changing yet unrealistic goals, often based on poor life choices that were made in the spirit of the Christmas season (for example, my New Years resolution is to never eat goose again), it is important to remember those warm memories and love for all man kind that we brimmed with before Christmas.  Lets be nice to our neighbors still, and still don’t honk at that girl floundering on the ice in the intersection (you know who you are), and still be generous with hugs, and still wear rhinestones and tacky gold broaches, and still listen to Nat King Cole, and still don’t tip $2.75 on a $57.25 breakfast bill (you know who you are too) and still like the way snow looks even when its the same snow that’s been on the ground since November and now its March, and still make an effort to hang out with our families, and still put cinnamon on everything.  

So, the tree will stay up until the new year, to remind me of that already fading Time of Brightness and Light, where I felt the love of 1000 angels, and also because it’s hiding the sap streaks (yet another benefit of having a live tree) I’m putting off cleaning that have been solidifying on the wall over the last month.

Manger Danger

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Everyone has a dirty little secret.  Mine happens to be that I like Christmas. Now, don’t get me wrong. If I had come across the idea of Christmas as an adult – that most magical, dark, spiritual, materialistic, horrendously romantic of holidays – I would have shunned it on principle the way I scorn Pantene Pro-V because of the commercials and cut Sean Connery out of my will because he’s a woman slapper. What it comes down to is that the nostalgia I feel for Christmas burns in my loins with an eternally glowing fire fueled by mistletoe and yule logs (whatever those are).

Growing up, my little family was militarily strict about following Christmas tradition.  The synthetic tree, uniformly decorated with apples, gilt bows, and strictly white lights, was assembled at daybreak the day after Thanksgiving.  The Mannaheim Steam Roller and Christmas Choir cassette tapes were the only music allowed in the house for the next month, while we rabidly created homemade Christmas gifts for each other with too much rickrack (really, any amount of rickrack is too much), too much glitter, and usually not enough hot glue.  Christmas cookies, 1000 piece Christmas puzzles with horse-drawn sleighs galloping through winterscapes scattered with quilts and baby deer,  and Christmas villages with most of the light bulbs burned out littered our usually orderly home,    My parents would buy their gaggle of children practical group presents like Geo-Safari, a computer game that helped the user learn all the countries of the world in alphabetical order, and rug-weaving kits, and lots of socks, and hide the presents in the same place in the same closet every year, so we all had a pretty good idea of what we were getting.   We would put away our allowances, and save up to buy our parents awesome gifts like cucumber melon bath sets for my mom, and yet another wallet for my dad.  When dusk on Christmas Eve finally arrived, we’d pack into our van, our pockets laden with candy canes, to drive around town and look at Christmas lights that other people had put on their houses, since we never had lights on the outside of ours.  Singing carols at the top of our lungs, we drove in circles through neighborhood after neighborhood until I got too carsick and we turned back.  We never had to wait till Christmas morning to open our presents (the benefits of not having the option of believing in Santa are singular, but important), so after dining on a birthday cake for Baby Jesus, eating too much cheese ball, and drinking way too much eggnog (really, more than a cup of eggnog is too much). we’d open our simple gifts made with love and usually scraps of wood from my dad’s shop, and then watch that awful Tim Allen Santa Clause movie before going to bed with visions of badly crafted doll beds and sugarplums dancing in our overly egg-nogged heads.  And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.,,,well, I wish we would have believed in Santa Claus, because I would have believed in him SO HARD. 

What I’m babbling about right now is that Christmas, for me, is not Image 

No, Christmas is family, and 8 sisters wearing matching/coordinating turtlenecks for yet another 3 hour Harris Family Christmas Photo session in the back yard next to the “rustic” wooden fence, and memorizing all the notes to Jingle Bells on the piano finally (even though there’s really only about 12 different notes total in the whole song), and going every year to that damn gingerbread village on that weird houseboat.  Christmas is what you make of it, and I know that it is a supremely stressful, possibly lonely time for many people.  But for me, its now about Aaron watching the Vicar of Dibley and Mr. Bean Christmas specials with me and actually liking them this year, and going to damn gingerbread villages in casinos, and sewing Christmas hats for the dogs, and cutting down lopsided, half-bald, possibly illegal, Christmas trees.  Yes, I am making my own memories and my own cheese balls now,  and they are almost as awesome and cheesy as the ones I hold so close to my heart that is two sizes too big this time of year.  

So, that’s I why the people on my Christmas list will be receiving potentially useful/less homemade gifts like this
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And I ask you to remember, as you open these presents wrapped in old paper bags and too much scotch tape, that I was brimming with so much joy and love as I pieced together those little gifts, that it makes up for the amount of hot glue and glitter I used on most of them. Happy Holidays, you fools.  I love you all.  

Confessions of a churlish domestic

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While browsing www.tastespotting.com (an excellent site if you’re in the mood for feeling inadequate/dangerously adventurous in the cooking/baking department), I came across a recipe for french mussels in white wine sauce.  As I found myself contemplating the best place in town to purchase saffron, I was forced to give myself a swift reality-kick-in-the-pants.  I would not be making french mussels in white wine sauce for a number of reasons this evening.  Firstly, I drank all the dry white wine. Secondly, I don’t know whether saffron is a smokey spice, a luxurious textile, or an herbed liqueur. Lastly but not leastly, I am domestically challenged.  

I will begin with a disclaimer: this is not my mother’s fault.  Cindy Sue taught me to fold clothes so that the fold is always on the right. She taught me that a toothbrush is the trick to getting those last wiley pieces of grime out of the grout around the bottom of the toilet. Through my mother’s endeavors, I learned that ammonia and bleach are a deadly combination, and that I should never leave a tea towel on a hot burner, and that if I sisters and I are trying to make wax to wax our legs, under no circumstances should we use her good copper bottomed pot. 

However, the fact remains.  I start out each new home I move into armed with toothbrushes, mops, and window cleaner, and a Rosie the Riveter attitude.  Next thing I know, it’s 6 months later and I’ve taken to keeping a 60 watt bulb in the lamp in the bathroom on the pretense that it sets the mood for poopin, but really so one can’t see into the corners.  The following are some things I must get off my chest.  

On cleaning…
-the longer we live in a house, the more area rugs we seem to acquire to cover the wine stains.
-I dust my rock collection, but nothing else.
-I read that a house should be vacuumed once per week for each person that lives there. Apparently, minus 3 people live in our home

On laundry.
-it was over two weeks after we moved into our little bungalow before I realized the washer and dryer didn’t work.
-I “believe that washing jeans decreases their wearing life”.
-I can either wash and dry the laundry or fold it, but i refuse to do both.
-I often smell my clothes to determine wearability.
-I once wore long underwear (my first winter in Montana) for an entire week without taking them off once.

On the bathroom…
-soap scum? more like soap algae.
-The only domestic propaganda literature i read is Martha Stewart Living.  She sits on the back of my toilet, and the speed with which I
 peruse is directly related to how much cheese I have eaten that week..if you what I mean. 
-Sunday night is bath night, and I get so weary of cleaning the bath tub before my bath that I never rinse it out afterward, and Aaron  has more than once nearly killed himself in the almond-oil/bath salt slick that I leave in the bottom of the tub. Sorry, darlin. 

In the kitchen…
-the only time I let the dogs in the kitchen is when I slop/spill something on the floor and I call them into clean it up. 
-when my darlin’s not around, I sustain myself with egg-and-toast-sandwiches, condiments, yogurt, and my emotions.
-last time I collected dishes around the house, I found 14 empty cups with dried out tea bags stuck to them. 
-I blame the fact that the dishes are often dirty after I wash them on the fact that I wear glasses.
-We only own 5 sets of silverware to encourage the washing of them more often
-I can eat a block of cheese in one sitting, and often do, which limits my time with Martha Stewart. 
-I mix the ends of the various bottles of red and white wine in my wine rack to make Rosé
-I once left a piece of toast that got stuck in the toaster to burn out, since it was easier than removing it with a knife.  It nearly caught
 the toaster on fire. 
-My kitchen is literally a closet.  When we moved in, there were closet doors on the closet, but I removed them, for easier access.  
-The size of the kitchen encourages regular cleansing of dishes, pots. and pans, since if more than 3 dishes are dirty they take up the
 entire “room”.  

in the bedroom…(not as sultry as you’d think)
-I flip the sheets over instead of washing them every week. 
-Sheets are a constant source of stress to me..they can’t be too light because Aaron’s sweaty manliness stains them, they can’t be  too dark because you can see the dog hair too easily, which means more frequent washing.
-I have a bedskirt on the bed just to hide what’s under there (which is an awning for our old camper that I just can’t let go of and
 ammunition)
-There are some severe water damage stains on the ceiling.  Instead of painting over them or fixing them, I turned our bedroom into a sheik’s paradise, and draped tapestry over the ceiling.  File under: I’ll deal with it when we move out.  

On decorating,,,
-I have made so many curtains over the years, with varying degree of skill, that there is not one matching set in the house, and we have at least 15 windows. 
-I have dried every bouquet of flowers Aaron has ever given me, which is two.  This means he doesn’t have to buy me any more. ever.
-I have a naked woman hanging on the wall in my kitchen, and I have to hide her when my landlord comes over, because she is so offended by it.
-I arrange my bookshelves in aesthetically pleasing ways (not too many red books together, for example).  

On being clean..
-I’m actually a relatively clean person, I even regularly borrow Old Spice deodorant, since it’s the only thing I don’t sweat through at work.  And the scent of it really compliments the hashbrowns..

So, every night I pop a few Valerian root capsules, climb between my recently-flipped sheets (I say it’s because I’m saving the world by not using water to wash them, but we all know what’s really going on), and dream that my whole house is clean. 

That woman in the mirror

     I dream of swimming with the goldfish in mango sweetened waters, citrus blasting in marmalade cascades out of a pumpkiny spout. My present bathroom is arctic white; an igloo sized five foot by six foot room, with polar bears lurking under the sink and penguins nesting in the shower.   I’ve tried to warm it up; a curtain blooming with peonies sprouts from the shower rod, and a carefully placed piece of stained glass cuts the light shining into the bathtub into a summertime fruit salad, but the pristine porcelain still avalanches out into the hall.  Currently, my bathroom bleats like an Easter lamb.  I want it to roar like a tiger. I want to paint it tangerine orange. Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.  All these emotions fit neatly into my bathroom, folded next to the clean linens, crumpled up with the dirty socks after a long day waiting tables, floating peacefully around me during my sacred Sunday night baths. 
    My first bathroom was a long narrow room with the toilet at the far end, a little green curtain on the frosted glass window, and a lock on the door; a haven of privacy.  I was the first of 8 girls, shared a bedroom with 2 sisters, and my hairbrush with no one.  My multitude of siblings and I were used to having community possessions; all my clothes were handed down to my younger sisters, we shared books, friends, classes, bikes, and even boys we liked.  But we did not have to share toiletries.   There was a staircase of drawers in that bathroom, one for each sister, cascading with headbands, hair ties, nail polish, Teen Spirit, combs, brushes, acne cream. I had the top drawer; a privilege granted to me being the eldest, and I was the first to tuck a little box of tampons and a razor in the back, afraid of being caught in the act of growing up.  It took me a month to work up the courage to shave those first curly armpit hairs.  It was in this bathroom that my mom gave a tutorial on how to change a sanitary pad to three blushing girls, but she kept the industrial sized box in her bathroom, a large double-sinked wonder with a huge tub.  I remember well the walk of shame down the long hallway toward that box of hygienic paper product; the fact that there was only one time of the month a Harris girl used that bathroom became a running joke in the family.  And I continued to seek solitude in my bathroom, learning how to cut my bangs much too short, plucking those stubborn hairs between my eyebrows that just wouldn’t stay away, obsessively brushing and flossing my brace-laden teeth.  The lock on that door got a lot of use in the 5 years that I was a teenager, and those soft blue walls comforted me during the butchering my legs with that cheap razor that I lifted from my mom’s bathroom.   
    Off I went to college where shared a dormitory bathroom with 20 girls who were not my sisters.  The floor was concrete, the shower curtains offered no privacy and a little mildew, and the sinks were often full of rainbows of hair.  In this dungeon I learned to sleep curled around a toilet, writhing with too much boxed wine, and I realized that lots of women had small breasts and knobby knees. I grew comfortable walking around with only my hair wrapped in a towel.  I never got better at shaving my legs, and grew to love the way the now soft, long hairs blew in the air of the old radiators that lined the walls, strung with damp bras and drying t-shirts.   Those brick walls and beige bathroom stalls were hung with posters that taught me about chlamydia, and student government, and vegetarians.
     I found myself in Chicago, living in a studio with Lauren, and we barbequed out of the bathtub one evening, for lack of a backyard, and the once white walls were stained with smoke.  Lauren was still writing Bible verses on little slips of paper and tucking them into that vanity mirror for me to read while applying lipstick in the morning.  John 3:16, Evening Plum, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Hot Tahiti, resist the Devil, and he will flee from thee, RazzleDazzler, Psalms 27:1.   A year later, when I was moving out with my first real boyfriend, we painted over those swirls of soot and talked about everything I had got away and Lauren had put up with in that apartment; the cat, boys coming and leaving, dance parties, and the indoor smoking.  
     And then the basement bathroom happened.  I tried to make it pretty, but the sheetrock walls and the dented washer and dryer were as hard to overlook as the holes that the man I was in love with had punched out during our frequent fights. Every month brought a pregnancy test, I was sure that this man I was terrified of had gotten me pregnant. Finally, I patched the walls, and packed my bags. 
     Now I am living with this bathroom that should be orange but is white.   Orange is the color of joy, sunshine, and warmth.  It is the color of a cool bath and Eva Cassidy on a hot summer day, it is the color of my boyfriend’s hair, it is the color of my coppery dog, it is the color of happiness with who I am and where I am. 
     And so I stand in front of my toothpaste speckled mirror, surrounded by a halo of bleached fluorescence.  I tuck a paint sample under the cracked corner of that glass that has seen squeezed zits, experimental electric blue eyeshadow, the first smile lines, awful hairstyle choices, various men brushing their teeth, that perfect shade of matte lipstick. Orange Burst.  Tahitan Sunset. Dreamsicle. 

trailer treasure

Continuing the chain of changes in my vida dulce, our little camper, Rosinante (inspired by the oh so wonderful John Steinbeck and the oh so brave Don Quixote) has been sold for $200 to the highest bidder, a feisty republican named John, possibly a relation of the man the camper was inspired by, as he also had a large poodle and a way with words.   That camper may have been tiny, but I figured out the reason it weighed so much; not because it was old as shit and made out of plywood, but because it was weighted down with all the memories of the 6 months my darling, myself, and two dogs lived as nomads/squatters in the wilds of the southwest. 

So much nostalgia is coursing through my veins as I type this Ode to a Camper.  It was love from the moment we moved in; on that fateful day I met my destiny with a broken pyrex dish and had to be driven down to Phoenix with a severed artery, sliced nerves, no tendon in my left hand intact, and all our worldly possessions rattling around behind us in our new home.  The memory of living in that little icebox through a high desert winter with 6 blankets on the bed, a transformer cast and oven mitt on my crippled hand and the propane heater pumping out so much carbon dioxide and hardly any heat will always warm the cockles of my soul.  We’ve been through so much together, so many washboard roads, so many hot springs, so many states, so many illicit transports under false floors of guns whose legality may or may not be in question in certain states, and that camper stayed almost in one piece almost the entire time.

That’ll do pig, that’ll do. 

 

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