Tag Archives: living in the suburbs

chain letter …

I received an internet “chain letter” tonight via Facebook. At first glance I cringed … then I sighed heavily and cringed again. But, since I was sitting on the pot’, I read through it.

It is important to note that this was sent to me by someone who I suspect never sends superfluous things like this to others. I questioned for a moment whether or not her account was hacked, or maybe she was feeling glum or blue, and I was intrigued. So … I read it.

While reading the message, I was flooded with memories of my youth. Memories of opening the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane and reaching in to find an envelope addressed to me. It reminded me of that important and giddy feeling I had on the inside while carefully carrying it to the roll-top desk in my bedroom. Not seeing a return address, I would inspect the cancellation stamp.

“Ooo! From Arizona? Who is this from?”

It could be from Colorado, or somewhere else in California, or somewhere nearby like Cupertino or Campbell. It didn’t matter; it was a mystery that needed to be solved. I slowly would break the envelope’s seal and remove and unfold the letter.

And there it was — a message.

Letters like this always included directions about how many letters the receiver needed to send and by when. Some even contained a list of addresses to send it to. The frantic feeling of having to do what was required within the deadline would build. I would have to do this! Otherwise, the unspeakable could happen — bad luck, sadness, or something else to avoid. If I were to send them in time following the exact directions outlined, something magical could happen. Something like good luck, granted wishes, or some other mystical occurrence.

It was exciting. It was mysterious. It was entertaining. The wonder of it all. IT WAS FUN!

I could see my towheaded-self open the second drawer down on the right side of my roll-top desk to retrieve fresh and clean ruled paper, carefully counting out the number of sheets I needed to complete the task at hand. God forbid I didn’t have enough! I’d search my school binder (a Star Wars Trapper-Keeper) and other drawers in the house until my supply needs were met. I would grab a pencil, sharpen it into a point, and start the task of carefully copying the directions.

If I used a pen, I would be quickly reminded that pencil was a better option, especially considering how I deemed mistakes as a definite reversal of fortune if left uncorrected; or worse, scratched out. If my Eraser-Mate had a good eraser on it, I might use it. But, pencil was safer … it was good decision making.

If all went well, I would be able to complete the letters, fold them neatly in thirds, insert them into envelopes, carefully address them, and seal them – an act that seemed like I was sealing my fate inside each and every envelope. The sealing gum tasted like the misery and doom that would overcome me if I didn’t get them in the mailbox by the deadline.

Then, the hardest task of all had to happen … asking Mom for stamps.

“What on earth do you need twenty-two stamps for?”

She would ask this while at the kitchen counter cutting carrots, or while sitting at her sewing machine, or while unloading groceries.

“For a chain letter.”

“For what?! A chain letter? Do you know how much stamps cost?”

She would be clearly irritated and then follow up with:

“I don’t even know if I have that many stamps. Go get my purse.”

It was a good sign if the stamps were in there; or if some were found in her purse, and some in the catch-all cupboard, or some in the wall basket by the kitchen phone that held mail, address books, and coupons.

Once the stamps were adhered, and the squeaky mailbox lid was closed over the letters that were dropped in, there was a sense of relief. Then a sense of dread. Over the next few days, knowing the letters were out among the thousands of other letters floating through the US Postal Service, there was this sense of expectation.

“I sent them three days ago. That means there are seven more days until I can ask for three wishes. So then, that means that in twenty days, I will get those wishes granted. Wait! No…. Twenty minus three is …”

I count on fingers. Math never was my strong suit.

“… seventeen, so in seventeen days I will get those wishes granted. Awesome!”

Then it gets blurry. Time goes by. The letters would be forgotten along with the anticipation and the hope for whatever the chain letter promised. It would be replaced by other childhood antics, or rehearsals, or playing with friends, or reading, or anything and everything else.

Only to be remembered when, surprisingly, some random day as the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane would be opened to reveal an envelope addressed to me, and that important and giddy feeling would fill my insides while I carried it carefully to the roll-top desk in my bedroom.

So … I thought about it for a minute. And then I did it. I held down my finger on the text bubble in the Facebook message, selected copy, started a new message, held my finger down again, and pasted the message in it. I chose fourteen people as directed (with a sound methodology in an attempt to ensure those who receive it wouldn’t be targets by others in my list), and I clicked send.

As far as the wishes and promises it made, I highly doubt those will ever come to fruition. But I must acknowledge this: if I hadn’t received that cringe and heavy-sigh inducing chain letter, I wouldn’t have had those lovely memories, and I wouldn’t have been inspired to put them into  words that others may read – something I love and enjoy, and something I have deprived myself of.

To those who received my chain letter: my hope is that it inspires you to do something you love. Just for you.

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drive to charleston …

One month ago, my fiancé and I moved from Manhattan, New York to Charleston, South Carolina, a city where I never planned to live. It never occurred to me to live anywhere in the South, except maybe Florida in my golden years. Nevertheless, here I am with Kirk and our two dogs, Victor and Rhoda, enjoying our suburban life. When I announced the move, my friends and family seemed shocked.

“You are leaving New York?” they would ask, almost daring me to explain how I would survive outside the city. “What are you going to do? Won’t you be bored? How will you meet people? How will you get around?”

Popular thought had me incapable of living in a suburban environment, even though I grew up in one. I agree that life in the ‘burbs is vastly different from life in a city. In the suburbs, you can’t call a building superintendent to fix broken things. You can’t walk to the corner drug store when you need a new loofah. You can’t get meals delivered from any restaurant you desire. You can’t rely on public transportation to get you where you need to go. And – oh emm gee – you have to drive to the grocery store.

“Wait a minute … do you even know how to drive?” they’d asked.

“Yes,” I would reply, “I am a native Californian; we are born with car keys in our hands.”

I must admit that I was shocked to say that I was moving from New York. The eleven years that I lived in its hustle and bustle were spectacular. I loved the grit, the heat, and the snow. I loved that the West Side Market cashiers barely acknowledged my presence, but scanned my items so quickly that I could not complete the delivery receipt before they drummed their long finger nails on the produce scale. Yes, I loved that everywhere in New York would deliver – even McDonald’s – but it should not be shocking that I chose to leave. After eleven years, it was time to go.

*      *      *     *     *

I moved to New York City with a boyfriend one year after we moved from San Francisco to Irvine, California. He worked in Los Angeles and I worked at the Pottery Barn store in Brea Mall. I continued to seek employment in the corporate environment, but that was challenging in the months following 9/11. I interviewed with a New York based premier lifestyle brand with a colleague from a prior company and was offered the job. I had to decline the offer, because my boyfriend had no job opportunities in New York. Since I could not earn his salary, I could not accept the job. This was his stipulation, which was his typical controlling and manipulative approach. He made more money. He had the power in the relationship. Everything was a contest with him, and he had to win.

A few weeks later, he was offered and accepted a job in his company’s New York office. Luckily, the position I declined was still open. We spent one weekend apartment hunting and signed a lease in a new building in Chelsea. I had final interviews and signed new hire paperwork. I returned to Irvine to start packing and he stayed in New York to start work. I hired movers, packed our belongings, most of which were his. He had a very specific list of what would go to NYC and what would not. Most of the items that would not make the move were mine. I gave away or loaned items to family and friends. Luckily, my piano was on the “approved item” list.

I also planned a five-day across country journey with the thought that it is not often one has the opportunity to drive across country. I thought it would be a fun experience to take time to see sights along the way. I was especially looking forward to seeing the statue of my great-great-great grandfather in Oklahoma City.

“We are doing this drive in three days — tops. No unnecessary stops or sightseeing. You’ll see things from the road. We just need to get to New York City,” he said over the phone when I reviewed the itinerary with him.

There was no discussion or debate. He had a goal in mind and would do anything to achieve it. Once again, everything was a contest. If it were his idea, we would have taken a leisurely trip. Instead, we drove Mad Max style and arrived 70 hours after leaving California. We stopped only for lunches, dinners, late night check-ins at motels, and to let Victor out to pee and walk.

As we got closer to New York State, I asked if I could drive into the city. I wanted that moment for me, a moment of growth in an otherwise oppressive relationship; no longer a passenger, the powerless partner watching state lines quickly pass, but instead, the driver taking the helm and guiding us through the waves of traffic. He said no, of course, he would drive and I would navigate us to our hotel with our MapQuest directions.

We neared the Holland Tunnel and the tall towers of New York City grew larger and larger. The sun was setting behind us when I glimpsed Lady Liberty and her glowing torch in the harbor. Like so many immigrants before us, we had arrived. Like them, I was unsure how to survive in the machine of New York City. It could chew me up and spit me out, unless I learned its intricacies and rhythms and became one with its madness.

The movers came and went, we settled into our new life, I started working again, and our relationship began to change. When we met, I was unemployed. He was in essence my rescuer. His job relocated us, not mine. He made the big bucks and he had the power in the relationship. He thrived on the power and the control it gave him. There were no ideas but his ideas and no solutions but his solutions. There was no life in New York, but life on his terms in New York. I was too insecure and meek to stand up for myself.

Regardless, I started to blossom in New York, which I believe irritated him. I loved the city and he hated it. I loved my job and he hated his. I was meeting people and making friends and he wasn’t. The city smelled, was dirty and loud. The subway was always crowded, the streets were noisy day and night, restaurants were always busy, there were too many people in line at Starbucks, the snow turned to brown slush after being plowed, the traffic was horrible, cabs were expensive, and people were everywhere. His list of dislikes was never-ending. I tried to explain that is what makes New York, well, New York. One has to learn to love them or cope with them. I was falling in love with New York more each day almost as equally as I was falling out of love with him. He seemed unable to bear that my life was turning around, that I could be happy, that I might not have to rely on him for everything. In some respects, the power paradigm was shifting, the contest rules changing.

He started to isolate, spending late nights at the office or traveling back to California for work. He yelled and complained that what I did, what I contributed, was not enough. I didn’t walk Victor enough, I didn’t water the plants the right way, I traveled too much for work, or I didn’t wash the car properly. When we were dating, he told me he was a recovering alcoholic. I had no idea what true alcoholic behaviors looked liked, or the depth of an alcoholic’s insanity, until it unfolded before my eyes when he began drinking again. It started innocently enough; we would be out to dinner and he would order a glass of wine. I would glance up at him, but not question his decision. I had learned not to do that.

“I just need to take the edge off,” he would say. “This city just makes me crazy. I need to relax.”

*     *     *     *     *

The concept of “one is too many, one thousand never enough,” was unknown to me at the time. I now understand this concept after facing my own drinking and drug dependencies to become sober. I would often go to bed and he had yet to come home, had not called, and had not responded to voice mails. I would wake up to a lumbering, clumsy, mumbling man who would snuggle against me with breath that could light a fire, or I would find him asleep on the couch when I’d wake in the morning. Once, in pre-dawn darkness, I found him passed out in the entry hall, face down, front door ajar, his body partially hanging down the step to the living room. I closed the door and went back to bed.

The last straw came when his twenty-something niece visited. He and I had separate plans one evening: I would meet a long-lost friend for dinner and he would get a haircut. I walked him to the barber and mentioned that I would be home around 11:00pm. My friend and I wanted to continue catching up. My multiple calls to seek permission to come home later went unanswered. Finally, I left a voice mail telling him that I would be home when I got home. I felt a tinge of self-worth after hanging up. I called his niece to ask her to feed and walk Victor. I discussed my horrible relationship over cocktails the rest of the night. I returned home, well after 2:00 AM, to his niece in a panic.

“Where is my Uncle?” she asked, pleadingly.

“I have no idea. He hasn’t been returning my calls,” I coolly responded.

“I am worried. He hasn’t returned my calls either. Where is he?”

“I don’t know and I don’t really care. He has been doing this a lot. He goes out alone, he gets drunk, and he doesn’t come home until very late. I am sick of it and I don’t care where he is,” I said, feeling a small sense of freedom and power having said the words ‘I don’t care’ to the universe.

“I’m going to bed.”

As time passed, her panic increased. She was crying at the bedroom door, horribly worried, and wanting to phone people. The sun was coming up and my worry increased, too. Maybe he fell down, was hit by a car, was mugged, or arrested. I got up and we brainstormed whom to call.

I accessed his email and contacts list. I called his friends whose names I heard but never met, some in California, to see if they had heard from him. I called hospitals and police stations. No one knew a thing. The day went on and he did not come home. Calls and panic continued. The sun set and night began. I went to bed emotionally drained and tired. Later, he stumbled in and a commotion between he and his niece started. Apologies, tears, slurred words. He crawled into bed next to me and put his arm around me, whispering that he was sorry he was so late.

“Where were you?” I asked.

Fury boiled in my blood like lava inside a volcano. My ears were hot, my eyes stung from crying myself to sleep, my pulse pounded in my temples. He didn’t answer. I sat up and looked blankly into his glazed eyes.

“Where the fuck where you, you asshole,” I yelled.

“Fuck you, Scott!” he yelled back.

“You fucking drunk! Where the hell were you? She was so fucking worried. I had to deal with her panic. It’s fine to do this to me, but not to her. We called all over looking for you. Hospitals, police stations, friends. Everyone is worried. We thought you were dead.”

“You called … you called … my friends? Who the fuck did you call and what gives you the right to call anyone?”

“What gives me the right? What gives you the right not to come home? You are such an asshole, you selfish mother fucker! I fucking hate you. I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!”

I was beating my fists on my pillows and on the side of his arm. I was weeping. I was lost. I was completely alone in that moment. Rage had filled my brain and hate had filled my heart. All the days of feeling less than, of being told what do and how to do it, and hearing apology after apology after apology, came to the surface. A wave of pain and suffering came over me and I continued to shout at the top of my lungs how much I hated him.

Then, POP!

My head buzzed, blinding white light filled my eyes, and my ears rang. I no longer heard anything but the humming in my head. The light dimmed and my eyes focused. I was facing the floor, as if having been pushed over the bed. I leaned up, head throbbing, blood falling to the floor. It seemed to be coming from me. I touched my face. I stared at my bright crimson fingers and watched as slow motion drops hit the floor.

Is that blood? Is that my blood?

I righted myself and saw red spatters on the mirrored closet doors and wall behind the bed. My head pounded and I was dizzy. I touched my tender and quickly swelling face. He sat there in shock, eyes wide open with horror, remorse, and disbelief over what he had just done.

“Oh my God,” I said calmly, “This is what we’ve come to? You are now and forever that boyfriend … the one who hit me?”

Sounds around me became more audible. His niece was at the bedroom door shouting that I had started it, she heard it all, and that it was my fault. He was trying to calm her down and get her back to the living room. Her tears, his tears, my tears, her fear, his shock, my pain, my blood, my face. My God.

Instantly sobered by his brutal action, he showed kindness by helping to clean my face with a washcloth and by bringing me an ice pack. He apologized profusely. He wanted to talk about what had happened, where he was, how bad our relationship had been lately.

“I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to see you. Get out of here. Get out of this house. Go away.” I repeated.

He did.

*      *      *      *     *

The next morning I called in sick to work.

“What’s wrong?” my newly promoted boss asked me.

“There’s something wrong with my face. I need to go to the doctor.” I had not thought of a good excuse. I returned to work days later with a black eye and bruised and swollen cheekbone and nose. I told co-workers that I was mugged in the East Village after dinner with a friend. I am sure that no one believed me, but I have never told the truth – until now.

I called my sister to explain what happened and asked her to come to New York to help me.

“I have kids in school. I can’t. I am sorry.”

I felt completely alone. But I also felt able to live through and handle a very adult situation on my own. We broke up, he moved back to San Francisco, and I stayed in New York City. I have not held grudges against his niece or my sister, but I do hold him accountable for his actions. I also hold myself accountable for my part in all that transpired.

In the years since, I thrived in my career and personal life. I made new friendships, dated, had relationships, was brought to my knees by depression and insecurities, and crawled out of a personal hell to the clarity and lightness that now is my life. The beauty of my life now is that there is no contest. There is no fear. I am completely honest with Kirk; he knows about all my past relationships, their issues, my personal issues and struggles.

We have a life filled with love, laughter, honesty and communication. Our family (Kirk, me, and Victor and Rhoda) moved south on a new adventure. We have a lovely three-bedroom home with a large backyard and a vegetable garden. We are minutes from the beach. We have a car, garden tools, and a lawn mower. We put out the trash each Wednesday and the recycling every other Monday. We water the lawn, pull weeds, and soak the magnolia tree. We drive to Lowes, HomeDepot, Homegoods, and to the grocery store. We wave at our neighbors on our quiet streets. We eat in our screened in porch, listening to our wind chime and fountain. We look up at the stars. We sleep peacefully in the quiet of the suburbs.

While planning our drive for the move, we talked about stopping at his parent’s house in High Point, North Carolina for a few days, then continuing on to Charleston.

“May I ask a favor about when we leave?” I asked, thinking I was that needy, or that my request would be trivial to someone living outside my head.

“Of course. But you don’t have to ask,” he said. “You will drive out of New York.”

And I did. I drove across the George Washington Bridge while the lovely West Side of Manhattan, where I spent eleven years, grew smaller and smaller in the distance until it was no longer visible.

He remembered the story of my arrival. My desire required no debate, no whining or silent treatment, no feeling rejected or less than, powerless, a non-equal. Instead, what was required was true love. Deep love where there is no contest and where scores aren’t kept.

But, if it were a contest and scores were kept, when he acknowledged my need it was as if the stadium lights were blown out and a shower of sparks rained down on my life’s field of green. And, since he has joined my team, I definitely feel as if – no, I know – I have won.