Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I Stayed

My husband is a phenomenal cook.

For this reason, everyone but my best friend is jealous of me.  He's served dishes like this one to our friends at numerous dinner parties, but this particular one happened to take place on a Tuesday, just because tuna was on sale at the seafood market.  That's edamame, and some wild rice, and other little julienned veggies...and that's FRESH ginger.  There is absolutely nothing bad about this dinner.

Not only is he a wonderful cook, but he LIKES to cook.  Every day. He will walk in the door exhausted after a day of dealing with difficult clients and endless meetings, put on an apron and whip up a feast.  To him, it's not a chore; in fact, it relaxes him.  By the time he's done, he's in a better mood than he was when he got home. 

He can also fix just about anything.  He fixed the brakes on the truck, the pump in the pool equipment, and even the microwave (did you know you could fix a broken microwave?).  He doesn't care what type of equipment it is.  If he's never fixed it before, he researches it, orders the parts online, and gets it done.

He's not particularly good looking, but he's funny, smart, and loving.  After nineteen years of marriage, he still wants to hold hands.  He tells me he loves me every day.  And this time last October, I had a suitcase packed and sitting in the hall closet.

It was the fault of the bar, of course.  I've mentioned the bar before. From the day it opened to the day the landlord locked the door was one year and two days.  During that time, I don't recall ever having a conversation with my husband.

I could go over the details, but that would just bore you to death.  When he had that place, he was a different guy altogether.  Part of it was the stress, part was the drinking (which he did from morning till night, I don't care what he told me), and part was the schedule.  He worked from 10 AM each morning till 2:00 AM each night.  He brought in no income, of course, and was never home.  I had trouble paying the bills and couldn't  tell him we were in trouble.  The real problem was that he wouldn't listen.  I tried everything, trust me, but there was always this look in his eyes.  If I ever see that look again, I swear I will not stick around for five minutes.  I've seen that look on the faces of soldiers in Afghanistan: eyes constantly darting from place to place, coming to rest on me and then moving on like he's trying to locate a sniper hidden behind the sofa.  And he was always, always drunk.  Always.

I had no respite.  I worked every day, picked up our daughter, came home and tried to feed her.  I had to let my cleaning lady go, but I couldn't keep up with the mess in our massive house alone.  I tried to buy food with no budget.  I couldn't afford a sitter.  My social life ground to a halt.  The house was falling apart, but I couldn't afford to get anything fixed...the car, the broken window, the microwave.  It may seem strange, but my work wasn't a burden; in fact, it was my work that saved me.  My life had been turned inside out, but my work remained the same.  There were rules there, and everyone followed them.  It was predictable.  I wanted to stay at my office all the time.

So I took my employee mental health services and went to see a counselor.

I told her that there is nothing wrong with me, but my life had become intolerable.  She told me something that helped me more than anything:

Just being ready to leave, doesn't mean you are actually GOING to leave.

So, knowing that somewhere inside this ridiculous shell of a creature was the husband I described above, I packed a suitcase. 

But I stayed.

Because not much later, the landlord came and locked the door.

And the bank seized the assets

And we had to declare bankruptcy

And he went back to work

And one day he sat down with me and wept, and apologized, and begged my forgiveness.

I wasn't ready to forgive yet, but I held him and told him I loved him, even though at the time it may not have been true.

And then one day, he fixed the microwave

And we had enough to bring back our cleaning lady

And we hired a sitter and went on a date

And slowly, over the year, life got back to normal.

Until one day, I unpacked the suitcase and put it away.

Monday, March 14, 2011

So....What Do You Do?

I know a guy who is an airline pilot.

The fact that he's an airline pilot does not affect me in any way.  I've never gotten free flights, never had to water his plants while he's at the office, and in spite of all the times I've flown his airline, I've never seen him in the cockpit (although that would be pretty cool).  In fact, the only reason I know he's an airline pilot is that when we moved in across the street from him over fifteen years ago, we asked him what he did for a living.

Not long ago, he and I were talking, and the subject came up that he had no clue what I did for a living. Why not?  Well, I suppose the subject never came up.  I mean, being an airline pilot...that's interesting.  Everybody knows what an airline pilot does, and anyone can talk about it: Where have you been?  Who have you met?  What's the craziest thing a passenger has ever done?

My job may not be that exciting, but I love it when people ask what I do for a living.  My eyes light up as I tell people what I do.  I have a really good job.  It's exciting and challenging, and frankly I'm really good at it.  It pays extremely well.  I could, conceivably, do it from anywhere in the world (more on that later).  In my opinion, you don't really know someone unless you know what they do for a living. The problem is, people don't ask.

There was a time when this bothered me.  I mean, what's the first thing you do when you meet a guy?  You ask him what he does.  Once you know that, you know enough about him for the conversation to keep going.  Otherwise, he's just a name with a Miller Light in his hand.  But when you meet a woman, the subject may never come up for years. 

I could let this bother me, but he's the thing: I don't feel I can ask a woman what she does.  I used to ask, but I would get answers like: Oh, nothing, or I'm just a mom.  The woman I'm asking is embarrassed, she doesn't know how to answer.  She thinks I'm trying to figure out if she is like me, and when forced to admit that she's not, she figures we can't be friends. 


Here's one thing about the world I live in that's completely different from the world I read about online.  It seems (from what I read) that in the Big City, women are expected  to have careers, and to assume otherwise is considered, well, a little bit offensive.  In my corner of the world, this is just not the case. Lots of women don't work.  This has nothing to do with sexism, mind you.  In my corner of the world, high tech jobs are plentiful, schools are top-notch, and housing is cheap.  A family struggling to make ends meet in a two-bedroom bungalow in San Jose can move here, buy a five-bedroom with a pool, and mom can still stay home with the kids.  There are exceptions, of course.  I have a neighbor who is a chemistry professor at the university, a number of nurses, a lawyer, a CFO of a major organization (with three kids and no nanny, go figure) and countless real estate agents. All remarkable, interesting women.


But here's the thing.

The women I know who don't work outside the home are just as remarkable.  You just have to do a little digging, probably more than you'd get at a cocktail party.  My neighbor Hallie can tell you about any piece of classic literature ever written.  Amy will keep you in stitches.  Vicki spent last year losing 120 pounds and volunteers as a speaker for Weight Watchers.  Susan went to India to build an orphanage. Linda has two special needs kids and the wisdom to listen to your parenting confessions with humor and understanding without a hint of judgment.

Which brings me to my point.  When you meet a man, ask him what he does for a living.  He needs you to know.  It defines him.  In five minutes, he feels he can tell you everything you need to know about him.

When you meet a woman, there's no point in asking, because it's going to take a lot more than one conversation to really know her.  What she does to bring in a paycheck is so much less that what she is.  Talk to her, listen to her, find out what's important to her and what's important about her.  And if she seems boring at first, give her a chance.  You just haven't found her spark yet.  But it's there.  Wait for it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What I'm doing here

This one will be brief, I promise.

I started this blog because at one time, I loved to write.  I thought perhaps one day I would be a writer.  Ever since I was a little kid, I had wonderful ideas for stories that I was sure would be bestsellers.

Back then, I wrote all the time.  I'd fill notebooks with short stories, ideas, and anything else that came to my mind.  There was no doubt that I would be a good writer; after all, everyone told me I would.

But then, as an adult, I simply stopped.  Not for any reason, really; I stopped for the same reason that the football star puts down his ball one day and spends the rest of his life getting fat in his chair, or that the lead trumpet player lets her instrument gather dust in the attic.  People just stop doing things.

And for the same reason that I looked in the mirror last year and admitted that I was no longer anything remotely close to slender, I had to admit that I had forgotten how to write.  That like any other skill, it must be nurtured, or it will wither.  My writing had withered.

So this is why I'm here: to write again.  I don't know what I'll write, and I don't care, as long as I write something every day.  Maybe, with time, my abilities will begin to bloom again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

How I Crashed the Guernica

This is a story about how I entered a world famous museum in a European capital after hours, without authorization, and didn't get caught.

As I mentioned a few posts back, my work takes me overseas quite a bit.  This year I've been to quite a few places I've never been: Rio de Janeiro (first time in the southern hemisphere), Dusseldorf, and Madrid.  Most of the time I get in, get my work done, and get home, but if I get to go somewhere really cool, I try to stay at least an extra day and take in the local coolness.

As it happens, Madrid is the place to be if you're into art.  There are a LOT of art museums, but the most famous ones are the Prado, which you go to if you're into classical art, and the Reina Sofia, which is the place to see modern art.  Now, I'm no expert on art, but there is one piece at the Reina Sofia that I really wanted to see: La Guernica, by Pablo Picasso.  This is kind of a weird picture, but you have to expect that from Picasso.  Here's what it looks like:



I did a little research and found out that Tuesday night, the Reina Sofia is open late, and entrance is free after 5 PM.  Perfect.  I could go after work and check it out without hitting the old budget.  I am such the seasoned traveler.

So at 4:45 I head over to the museum, and sure enough, a fairly large group of people is milling about, looking like they're waiting for something.  I wait as well.  Still dressed for work, I look appropriately non-touristy.  I blend right in.

At precisely 5 PM, the doors open, and the people walk in.  I do so as well.

Inside the gate, it appears the museum is going through some renovation.  A woman meets us, and explains that the regular walkway is closed, so we will all go up the elevator at the back of the building together.  Oh, sorry...yeah, I know what you're thinking.  Don't they speak Spanish in Madrid?  Why yes, yes they do.  And I speak Spanish about as well as...ummm...I don't speak Spanish very well.  But I thought I'd be able to understand her.  And hey, cool!  It's a guided tour!  I wonder if they have one in English?  English is good, I speak English.

But I didn't get a chance to ask, because we all marched right past the entrance, to the other side of the building, through hallways lined with construction siding and sheetrock, and up the elevator.  Okay, I'm just going to go along for the ride.  It's worth it to see La Guernica for free.

At the top of the elevator, our guide began to talk.  She sounded very friendly and personable, and she kept the attention of her audience with her jokes and commentary.  I understood not one word.

The guided tour lasted about 45 minutes.  We saw many interesting pieces, but right about the time we finally got to the Picasso room, I suddenly had a startling revelation.

It was not Tuesday.  It was Monday.

This was not the free night.  I had stown away on a private tour.

Well, there wasn't much I could do about it now.  I tried to slip quietly away and out the door, but I was met by a very angry guard who was considerably shorter than I.  She lectured me (in Spanish, of course), and I pretended to understand her and went back to join the group.

I got a lot out of the tour.  Some of the time I had to stand for what seemed like hours and listen to the guide and pretend I had a clue what she was saying, but (being a world class museum in a major European capital) all of the signs were in several languages, so I could at least read the name and history of the pieces. 

Other than the angry little museum guard, nobody ever noticed me.  When the tour ended, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It wouldn't have been fun to call my client to tell them that I couldn't join them the next day because I was going to spend the rest of the week as a guest of the Madrid Police.

I'm sure this story has a moral.  In this case, it's probably this: if you find yourself in an awkward situation, try to pretend you know what you're doing, and try not to draw attention to yourself.

And if you happen to find yourself in Madrid with a few hours to spare, check out the Reina Sofia.  But please, buy a ticket.

Victor, Part II

Ahhhh, Facebook.

A technological phenomenon that has managed to successfully undo years of effort, by millions of adults, to forget the crap they did in high school.

In doing so, it's taught us that old wounds do eventually heal.

In the past two years I reconnected with my old best friend from high school, who married my pseudo-boyfriend, later came out of the closet and divorced, and apparently, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, has re-emerged happily married to another man.  I also got back in touch with my best friend from college, who I spent several years trying (finally, successfully) to split from after she announced that my then-new husband was an abuser.

Okay, maybe she was right, but that's another story.  My point is, there was a time when we hurt each other badly, and now, twenty years later, we're finding that the hurt is gone.

Since I'm writing about Victor, you'd be in your rights to assume that we reconnected over Facebook.  The weird thing is, he's not on there.  In fact, he's nowhere on the internet at all.  He doesn't even appear to have an email address.  Weird for someone who has a PhD (I'm assuming he has one; he was working on it when last I saw him) and doesn't appear to have dropped off the face of the earth.

Then there's little Charlie, who apparently really did drop off the face of the earth.  I didn't really expect to stay friends with Charlie after high school, not because I didn't enjoy his company, but because he's in a very fundamental and somewhat separationist religious sect.  I never heard a thing from Charlie after high school, and always assumed he was living in Fresno with a wife and twenty seven kids.  Hey, more power to him.

Last year, Charlie showed up on Facebook.  Turns out he never did marry; he had, in fact dropped off the face of the earth.  More accurately, he had spent the last twenty three years doing missionary work in a distant, undeveloped country, and had returned to our home town to take care of his aging mother. 

Not two days after Charlie friended me on Facebook, he asked me what ever became of Victor.



Heck if I know, dude.  Look him up. 


He asked me if I would do it.


Come on, Charlie.  You do it.  He lives in the same town as you, I'm halfway across the country.  Look in your mom's phone book.


I wouldn't know how to approach him.


Ummm...it would be a local call.  Pick up the phone, tell him you're back in town after spending 25 years in Ridiculoustan and would love to meet him over a couple of beers and catch up on stuff.  I'm sure he'd be thrilled to hear from you.


I'd be too embarrassed!  (Wait...you mean you spent 25 years baptizing savages, and you're embarrassed to call an old high school friend?  Yeah...you're crushing on him too, and you won't admit it.  Come out of the closet, already).


No way, dude.  You want to see him, you call him.  (I am sooo staying out of this.)

So that was that, I hoped.  I had to spend a couple of days doing some serious dredging-out-old-feelings detox, but I figured I was in a good place.

I can't really explain the rest very well, other than to say that it seems everyone I ever talked to in my home town always had something to say about Victor.

From my friend Mark: Victor's kids are in my kid's 4-H group.

From my brother: Guess who walked into my shop yesterday? Victor!


From my mom: You know that pretty Victorian house on Bridge Street?  That's Victor's house!

The weirdest one is from a friend, Nancy, who is co-owner of one of the only actual employers in my home town, which is more well known for B&Bs and renting beach buggies than software development.  She only moved to town a few years ago.

 So Nancy called me about a year ago, which is surprising because we only talk about once a year.

Hey, you know Victor Eyecandy?

Well, we went to school together.  I haven't seen him since then.  Why?

He just got a job in our Sales group!

Oh, jeez.  I always had this secret hope that someday I could get a job at her company, move my family from our fair city back to my hometown, and spend my days working at a desk with a view of the Pacific.  So much for that idea.  No way am I going to do that with Mr. Blast from the Past just down the hall.


Oh, ummm....cool.  Well, tell him I said hi.

He's probably bald and fat by now anyway.

Yeah, I will.  Dang, he's really good looking!  Tell me you dated him.

Nah.  We were just friends.


Too bad.  He's delicious.

Shit. 


I saw Nancy a few months ago.  I was out in home town and my mom and I met her for lunch.  For some bizarre reason, my mom wanted to talk about nothing but Victor.   Sure enough, they hadn't even brought out the salads when she piped up with So Nancy, how's Victor?

With a wry smile, Nancy replied: We fired him.

Oh, really?  Why?


He was awful.  I've never met anyone so self-absorbed in my life.  He did no work, and expected everyone to think he was Gods Gift to Mankind.  I don't know what we were thinking when we hired him, but he sure made a good first impression.

Hehehehe.

Oh, sorry.  I don't mean to chuckle at someone else's misfortune.  It's not that at all.

It wasn't until that moment that I realized just how much I was missing out on.  So far, you see, I've been afraid that talking about him, or even listening to other people talk about him, was going to dredge up old feelings.  It wasn't until that moment that I realized that those feelings hadn't existed for years; that my desire to look him up was no more intense than my desire to look up any other face from my high school yearbook.  It was nothing but curiosity.

 So I started to listen, to engage.

With my mom:  How nice that Victor lives in that house.  It's so pretty, but I wonder why they'd want to live in a house that gets so much attention.

To my friend in 4-H: What are his kids like?  How is his wife?

To my brother: What kind of motorcycle does he have?

Here, in a nutshell, is what I learned: Victor is a control freak who hasn't held down a job since he was laid off from the university three years ago.  They have four children who they home school; as charming and personable as their parents were in college, the kids are socially awkward and have no friends.  The charming house has been in foreclosure twice, only to be rescued by his mother.  His wife, the bully, does not work, drive, or have any activities outside of her husband and kids.  She is completely controlled by him.

I guess he's still good looking, or so I've been told.  At least on the outside.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Victor, Part 1

Come on, admit it.

I don't care who you are, how long you've been married, or how devoted you are to your spouse, partner, significant other, or better half.  Somewhere, in the back of your mind, he or she is still lurking there.  You know who I mean.  Maybe you dated, maybe you were just friends, maybe it was a crush, but through the years you've never stopped wondering what if  things where different. 

Mine was Victor.  You have one, too, I know you do.  And if you don't, well, you're missing out.  Or lying.

The problem is, for all these years, you and I have gotten used to the idea that these feelings belong in our memories and nowhere else.  For the most part, Facebook has changed all that, but (to my relief) Victor doesn't seem to have joined the Social Network. Since I live across the country from my home town, the chances of my running into him are almost nil.

Victor and I were friends in high school.  He was a couple of years older than me, but because he didn't have money for college, he worked for a couple of years and didn't go to university until my sophomore year at college.  Since I lived in a co-ed household and he didn't want to live in the dorms, we ended up living in the same household for a couple of years.

I never told Victor I had a crush on him, for a couple of reasons.  For one, he always had a girlfriend.  He was a little weird, but very good looking, so he never broke up with one girl unless he had another waiting in the wings.  Meanwhile, I was having fun, playing the field, and I have to admit that I enjoyed that little ache that comes from having your crush in close proximity.

The year I graduated, Victor met the girl he ended up marrying.  Of all the girls he dated in college, this was the one I couldn't tolerate.  She was probably the nastiest girl I had met up to that day, and I assure you, I had met some pretty nasty girls.  I knew (somehow, in my naive little mind) that if they ended up getting married, Victor and I would no longer be friends.

The one thing I can say about the last time I saw him is this: I knew, even then, I would never see him again.  I was leaving for another city after graduation, and I knew I had to be rid of him if I was to move on.

Six months later I got an invitation to their wedding.  Fortunately, I was out of the country, so I had a good reason to decline.

As you already know, I did eventually marry, and other than our recent problems our marriage has been pretty stable.  Twenty five years went by.

And then, in just the past six months, it seems the elusive Victor has started to haunt me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A bit about the bad times

One of these days, I'd like to write about how my marriage almost ended.  I may not be ready yet, but I'm going to try. 

I thought I'd begin by writing about the basics.  I'd better start by giving people some names. 

My husband, first...let's call him Frank.  Plain, simple, unfashionable, but rock steady.  That's him, all right.  Unless it isn't.  There are two Franks, actually, although he won't admit it...the one I married, and the one that shows up when he's Not Right.  It's been about six months since he was Not Right. 

I also have to name my daughter, so let's call her Rachel.  She is now eleven.  When things started getting bad, she was about nine. 

What happened was, I got sick of listening to Frank talk about how someday he wants to own a bar, so when my grandmother passed away and I inherited a hefty sum of money, and he begged me to let him quit his job and start one, I finally gave in.  Grandma is rolling over in her grave now, but I'm not worried about it.  We would have lost the money one way or another.

The long version of the story could fill a thousand pages.  The short version is that while the outside world saw Frank successfully build a business from nothing with the support of his loving wife, the reality is that for a year I was a single mother struggling to work and pay the mortgage, with an alcoholic roommate who came home every night and slept in my bed.  Our only communication during this time was when he would fly into a rage when I made a mistake, or when he pretended to be affectionate when Rachel and I visited him at the bar. 

Rachel, during this time, asked me if we could get rid of daddy and get another one.  

Let's give the bar a name as well.  Let's call it "Rascals".  Good 'nuff.

Rascals stayed open for a year and three days before it ran out of money and the landlord locked the door.  The manager of the bank drove past that morning, saw the notice, and called in the loan.  The bank seized all assets and resold them to another restauranteur for $5000.  We were sued for the balance and declared bankruptcy in order to avoid losing our house.  Frank got a job in his original field.  That was a little over a year ago.

It took another year or so for the original Frank to come back.  Every day during that year, I tried to find the courage to sit down with the stranger I was living with and tell him that Rachel and I were leaving, but in the end I never did get the nerve.


Oddly enough, things ended up working out in the end.  The bad Frank left and the old one came back, and I no longer felt the need to leave.  Rachel is cautious but forgiving.  I feel their relationship was damaged much more than ours; she may never feel as close to her father as she once did.