My phone whistled in the night.
Charles Manson was dead at 83 of natural causes. He was an evil of my youth.
Manson’s iconic photo showed a crazy-looking man. Most of us would cross the street to avoid someone with that look. How had he charmed others to commit murder? That look readers saw could not have been the look or persona he showed to his followers. In Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn recounted the recollections of family and acquaintances of a very young boy who charmed and manipulated others, FBO Charles Manson. Were these memories in hindsight true? Was he born ‘bad’? Had he possessed the same murderous character traits of the sugar-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth child in the fictional movie The Bad Seed? Or was he created by his early life or some combination of heredity and environment? No more opportunities to study the man unless in death a brain autopsy shows anomalies from the ‘normal’ brain.
We are fascinated by those in our society that deviate to crime as serial and mass murders. No, not fascinated. Stymied to understand such a mind, such a person. Google labeled Manson a schizophrenic and a paranoid delusional. Does that explain him?
A personal anecdote, once-removed, of another infamous killer. In 1985 a co-worker at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in the foothills of Tucson recounted her story of an eerie and serendipitous encounter. The woman was originally from Chicago. On July 13, 1966 a man came to her apartment door. A couple of days later when the face of the man-at-the-door filled her television screen and was printed on front-pages, she recognized him. She had encountered Richard Speck. True story? I believed her.
We learn about these serial and mass murderers too late. Can we ever predict them? And stop them?
I don’t know what to be when I grow up
My sibling chuckled
At my indecision?
My belief I still had time for anything?
But when the moisture in the air can’t decide
To be rain
To be snow
Who can blame my indecision?
“You come to bed in your clothes,” the lover criticized.
Fashionista of underwear and tank tops!
No glass of wine before dinner?
No appetizers before the main course?
Just dig in?
“Passion and foreplay are dead,” he said.
No. I’m not writing about the subject dominating so many conversations now. I’m writing about salespeople.
In this case. a pushy salesman. One with no boundaries-no limits.
One morning the salesman sees a past customer. It’s his business to remember faces. He hasn’t seen this one for over a year. The best customers are repeats. They earn your cut with profit moving up the pyramid. He asks, “Do you need anything?”
He lists his inventory. “Do you need anything?”
“NO. I don’t use your products anymore.”
He should be happy. But he’s not. He’s a salesman using his own products. Products that can grab hold so tight they could squeeze the life from you. He’s not taking NO. He needs to draw you back in. Remind you.
“NO. You need to leave or I’m calling.”
And now the salesman is not wheedling saccharine. His voice has changed. His attitude has changed. He’s threatening. Perhaps because you threatened to call someone. Because his job is criminal. His product illegal. He’s a drug dealer.
Then he begins talking about you to others around you. People you know. Because he wants to humiliate you for daring to say NO. Because he can’t understand NO. Because he can’t say NO.
But NO is universal. NO means NO dude. Learn that. Respect it.
Emotions rule. I abandoned my almost daily exercise routine to depression and stasis and paid the price in pounds and fortitude. I was huffing and puffing when I had bounded up stairs easily. What is hard-fought gain leaves so quickly. Days of plans made, plans broken. The irony that exercise has such a positive effect on those emotions we fight. You know what’s good for you and yet defy it.
I joined a club to use the machines and pool. Our sales guide touted programs for seniors. “I don’t want to hear about them,” I told him. But there are a slew of us seniors. Many of them make me feel like a teenager. They walk and sometimes roll to the recumbent bikes and treadmills and rowing machines. They are most often dressed in street clothes not planning to work up a sweat. I have to sweat. It’s my proof. But I guess that something is better than nothing. Just getting there is that positive emotion.
Diversification. Night 1 of Salsa 101. The men outnumber the women. I don’t have two left feet but mine are not yet a matching coordinated pair. I followed the instructor’s feet sometimes missing a beat while she watched all of us in the full-wall mirror that cannot be ignored. She is patient and helpful with the uneven mix of skill levels.
Will I give up? as the instructor said some will. Frustrated with uncoordinated feet that aren’t getting the message from the brain. 1• 2• 3• 4• 5• 6• 7• 8. No. Like toilet training for my grandson, I know the moment will come when you just get it. The moment in dance when the feet and body and brain quit fighting each other. It’s never really about being a natural. It’s about the grind and rote of practice. And then it will become about passion and love and pride. At least I dream so.
Land of 1000 Dances
I Hope You Dance
I Don’t Dance
What’s it like to get divorced after decades? Depends on the parties. Me? It’s trying to disconnect a one-sided connect. Years with one person places them solidly inside the mind and soul. The person flashes intermittently. You want to tell a story and his face pops up. Even though you know he won’t be listening to you. I was in the candy aisle at Five Below facing boxes of Jujyfruits. I don’t eat them, but I used to buy them. One day I was listening to an ad about a travel-size sleep apnea machine. I don’t use one. The chiropractor’s receptionist told me about a treatment for chronic pain that might be worth a shot. I don’t have chronic pain. I listened to info that had nowhere to go. I changed my contact for Medicare and looked at the date I had listed him. Last August. Wryly amusing. When I switched phone carrier last week and found other devices on the account with my social, I remembered his phone call last September. I updated the GPS last summer for his motorcycle trips with others. I talked to our children about his loneliness and inability to share feelings so they would reach out to him more. I left the Netflix connected so he had something to watch when he was alone. Those are things that popped up uninvited as I made changes. The memories urged me to feel like a fool. And then talking to myself I said, “You’re not!” Deny them power. There will always be that la-la land I lived in that holds more secrets, but I was forced out into the real world where most of them don’t matter to me.
And there is animosity. I don’t think it’s necessarily typical. I think it is built from how, when and where. It’s quite purposeful to build animosity because it fuels a fire and creates barriers. Keeps people apart that you never want to talk to each other. But if they would connect, you have already created distrust. Like fake news. It works beautifully. It’s worked before. I’ve uncovered lies in this last year that involved someone other than me, yet they are past and seem meaningless to confront. “What’s the point?” has been echoed too often. That works too. To become resigned to just live with it.
The future? If you find yourself thinking of a new relationship, look at exes if there are any. Listen to the stories. A person may tell you that the ex is crazy or manipulative or selfish or a user or doesn’t know what love is. And that could be true. And then again? Why lie? Figure it out. There will be other clues anyway. Relationships with children and family and friends and jobs and discrepancies. The answer for the future is often in the past.
But face it. The person most willing to discount less-than-desirable stories and overlook clues is the one in love feeling loyal and making excuses. And most of us can’t learn a lesson from someone else’s experience. Because we all believe we’re the exception forgetting one thing. It’s not about us. My best advice for me that I wish I had taken to heart in youth. Set boundaries and limits in your life. Not just with a significant other but with everyone. I had sliding boundaries and limits, especially with those I cared about, because I didn’t want to offend or be disliked or discarded. The people-pleaser who didn’t please me. And this isn’t about being selfish to please only yourself. It is about having a good two or more-sided relationship with people. Is it harder to say yes or no? Depends on whether your answer is really all yours.
Disclaimer: You know the song? You’re So Vain. Well, you might be tempted to think this is about my spouse. His strong imprint on me. It’s not. It’s about the difficulty of severance. It’s about writing someone out of your story and growing from it. I’m the vain one. It’s about embracing me.
I woke up and looked at the time. Cary was oversleeping, but I didn’t wake her. I am relinquishing some of my motherly duties. And those of the helpful roommate.
I should get up to take Caleb to daycare. He was getting dressed when I yelled, “Text daycare and tell her he’s sick and staying home. Yes, that’s a lie.
Caleb cried out: “I’m not sick.”
Cary: “Don’t you want to stay home with Grammy?”
Cary: “Do you want to go to daycare?”
Cary: “Do you want to stay home with Grammy?”
Caleb: “Stay home.”
I’d like to tell you that I just wanted to spend the day with my grandson. But the truth is selfish. I just didn’t want to get out of bed and go out in the morning chill. The drive each morning and evening has become longer and longer. And I was feeling lazy on this Tuesday morning.
The same walk along Penn Avenue in Garfield was a summer evening more than three years ago. Or was it four?
I had come alone to dinner offering excuses for my husband’s absence. The Thursday night poker bluff. Oh, it really was poker night and the reason I always visited on Thursdays. And though factually true, it was still a bluff. No one believed. But I made the excuses, and others wordlessly accepted them.
The neighborhood was as unfamiliar then as it is familiar now. I didn’t know where I as in relation to any other neighborhood in the city.
Dinner was a pre-birthday celebration. A waste actually since I got a last-minute invitation to the birthday party. Despite knowing the invitation had been made from obligation, I went. Another day, another excuse.
Tonight I was not in a memory. I was in the past on that street walking past the restaurant that has gone through three more owners since that night. I was actually there. Have you ever felt that you were in more than a memory? That you had stepped into another time?
Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go.
Now I’m the grandmother. A family minus the smallest plus one. Anyone can join us.
Holidays deserve celebration throughout the year. Religious or secular. But I do have one cherished Thanksgiving memory tucked away.
Our kitchen was finished. The sunroom erected and extended over a back porch. The roll-up wood blinds arrived just in time. The twiggy Christmas tree on a cold slate floor dressed up with a gold skirt and embellished with twinkle lights and fruit and vegetable ornaments. The symbolic harvests.
A new recipe—pumpkin cheesecake. And another—cranberry conserve standing in competition to sliced cranberry jelly. My pecan pie with concentric circles of whole pecans. Mashed potatoes made with cream cheese and stuck in the oven to wait their turn. A stuffed turkey’s aroma greeting guests at the door. My brother-in-law, with skills, was the executive chef.
Our combined families less a couple of members. It was the kind of holiday I dreamed about. Too many people for one room. I was always envious of the holiday photos and stories my in-laws told of before my time. They who had enough brothers and sisters to make a party. I wanted it.
But let’s face it. The most anticipated holidays generate the highest stress. Striving for perfection and accord but often difficult to ignore the undercurrents and divides. Even my memory ended on a sour note.
Love tech-hate tech. Love-hate relationships nurtured by ignorance and naiveté.
Messages popped up as I emptied my crammed inbox. A host program was using my webcam. Chrome was using my webcam. Who was videoing me? I texted someone computer intelligent. “Never saw that before.” I stuck my maple leaf coffee sticker over the camera. 1984. NSA. But there would have been no warnings.
I had a meeting a few months ago. I felt at disadvantage sitting facing a window through which bright light distorted my view of the person opposing me. We waited to speak while he fiddled with his phone and then slipped it into his shirt pocket. It was a fishing expedition that might land a live one. My quandary was: (1) believe the words of a proven liar or (2) a lawyer. Don’t get me wrong. In grade school, I wanted to be a lawyer for a brief time. And now that I have seen the job up close and personal, I have thought again about it. Because I have different perspectives. About morality. About equality. About the law. About justice. And lawyers can be the ones to bring change as can the accused and the exonerated. I have an appreciation for lawyers and a distrust of some.
When I left with the parting words that we could probably work something out, it occurred to me that phone in his pocket might have been recording.