Tuesday, January 10, 2006

eX Marks the Spot

Blogging 4 Books Entry If life were a white carpet, mine would be a mosaic stains. Most of my family view this interrupted whiteness with despair. They are smug in their certainty that the stains are an indication of my inability to remain committed, or maybe the sign of my leap-before-looking nature. I, however, view this carpet-scape with no desire to apply the stain removing agents of regret or repentance. Most of these blots are “eX-marks”; eX-jobs, eX-states, eX-friends, eX-finances, eX-boyfriends. Unlike all the other spots on my carpet, the ink-pen blue spot over there by the small oak student’s desk is not an “eX-mark”, but the beginning of a dream. That’s where my ballpoint pen fell when I was young girl mimicking my dad doing his paperwork. His office was in our house. I felt so important answering the phone for him and taking messages. I delighted in playing “office” with him when he wrote his monthly reports. It was after one of these play-dates I declared my intention to become a businesswoman. “Don’t you want to be a Mommy and have children?” my mother asked. “No”, I emphatically replied, motherhood wasn’t for me. “How about a Nurse?” she asked. “Lots of little girls want to be nurses when they grow up”. “Not me, I want a job with reports, and visiting people, and taking them to lunch” I informed my parents. The ink stain reminds me of my absolute belief from a young age that I wanted a career and not “mommy-hood”. I measure my success against that ink spot. See that black greasy spot over there in the corner? That’s right, the one that looks like car oil. How clever of you to correctly identify it! That’s an “eX-job” mark. It’s left from a summer job in high school working at a gas station. I’m proud of the fact that I took auto-shop my senior year, and received the highest score out of all three classes. One of my classmates always told his dad about this girl who was “ruining” the grading curve by getting such high scores. Lucky for me, his dad owned a full service gas-station and repair shop. The summer I graduated he offered me a job. I loved pumping gas, changing oil, and tuning up carburetors (okay I know I’m dating myself … how many full-service gas stations are left these days, much less cars with carburetors)? This was my first job in a “man’s world” where I “didn’t belong”. I loved it. On the other hand, my brother HATED, H.A.T.E.D. me in this job. The whole reason I took auto-shop? I was tired of being excluded from the endless discussions he and his friends held debating the merits of Edelbrock manifolds and Hurst shift-kits. I was also convinced it wasn’t “normal” to rebuild an engine and end up with “spare” parts. I was sure rebuilding should equal a working engine, a result which frequently eluded my brother when he rebuilt things. Why did my brother dislike me holding this job? Not only was it embarrassing for him to have a younger sister who was a better mechanic but, he’s a card carrying member of the “gender-conformist” club. When we were little, and had a chance to pick out paint colors for our bedrooms, he was horrified that I chose blue. “Don’t you know blue is a boy’s color?” he informed me in his “I’m 8-years older than you voice”. However it was a belief system that caused him to recoil from the gas station job. Didn’t I know girls were supposed to work in fast food, or at a clothes store, or the ice-cream shop? Working around cars was a job for a man! I treasure that oily eX-job spot. It taught me knowledge was the way to earn respect. It didn’t matter if I was a girl. If I could fix some man’s car, I lost the dismissive title of “girl”, and gained the superior gender free designation of “mechanic”. Next my gaze is caught by that cinnamon colored dirt stain next to the potted cactus. I got that when I moved to Arizona to attend college. Yep, you’re right; it’s a pretty big spot. It started out as just a tiny little splotch! It surprised me when it grew to be such a big mark. But really, how can you become a successful business woman, if you don’t go to college? To say my family was astounded by my announcement to start touring college campuses is an understatement. It was at dinner my senior year when I asked my mom to sign the travel permission slip. Her: “If you think I’m going to sign that just so you can take a field trip and skip classes, you have another think coming”, she informed me. Me: “But I’m not going to get out of class”, in an injured voice. “I’ve got to figure out which college I want to go to,” I said earnestly. Her: “College?” in a disbelieving voice. “What do you mean “which” college you’re going to attend? When did you decide you wanted to go to college”, she asked? Me: “Well how else am I going to have a career if I don’t go to college”, I replied matter-of-factly. Her: “Perhaps your thinking of going to college wouldn’t be such a surprise if your classes, or grades, indicated such an intent”, she countered. “Somehow I don’t think taking typing, newspaper, and auto-shop is considered a ‘college-prep’ schedule!” she informed me. Me: “Why else would I take two years of English classes? Especially when only Freshman English is required to graduate? I’ve had two years of French classes, and struggled to reach Geometry this year. If that wasn’t college bound course work, then what is”, I asked? The fact that NO ONE had EVER gone to college in our family was no deterrent to me. Finding money for college? Well didn’t every family save up for their child’s college education? Apparently not! In our family money had been put aside for my brother to go to school, but me? Why I was a girl … and girls didn’t go to school. Well, maybe community college, until they got married and had children. But going to a four-year college? That was only for “rich” girls. What’s more? Those rich girls only went so they could find husbands, I was informed. They certainly didn’t go with the idea of school being a stepping-stone to a career. Besides, you can’t have a career and be a wife and mother! The sandstone-colored stain recalls my favorite eX-state spot, Arizona. I loved Arizona so much I stayed nine years after I graduated. Its presence prompts me to remember I can do anything if I work hard enough. I’m reminded of attending community college to earn a G.P.A worthy of a four year institution. I financed my own college education with grants and loans. I moved 1,200 miles away from home, to a place where I knew no-one. I lived for one year on a minimum wage job so I could claim residency for in-state tuition. When I look at that spot I recall all the lessons I learned; how to find a doctor, a dentist, a grocery store, and neighborhood. The sandstone eX-spot reminds me to reduce challenges to one-step-at-a-time plans. Adjoining the Arizona splotch is a wine spill. It marks my standard for friendship. Arizona was the first time I had ever moved. Before the move, I never thought of “how” to make friends. The invisible hometown-strands of, “always lived here”, resolved into people who became my friends with little effort. In the desert I had a fast-food job to gain residency. NO one shared my interests and goals. It was a lonely year. Although I had acquaintances and a boyfriend, I had no friends. College wasn’t the answer either. Arizona State University was a huge school, with 30,000 students and staff populating the campus. I enjoyed the anonymity, but who makes friends in classes of 300 students? I chose to live off-campus so meeting potential friends wasn’t going to happen in the dorm. After attending ASU for 3 years, the invisible threads of, so-in-so who knows so-in-so, began to work. It’s how I met Spooky. I had been invited by a friend (okay to be exact, it was an ex-boyfriends, sister’s ex-boyfriend), to meet a group of his for 19-cent Coronas. I was teasing him unmercifully – and to the great amusement of the group. When I got up to use the restroom, Spooky followed and politely informed me my friend wasn’t used to being teased and everyone else was afraid to poke fun at him. I told her I wasn’t worried about what he liked or didn’t like, he’d just have to take what was coming. I think it was my outspoken attitude and sarcasm that first secured our friendship. That first overture was followed with an invitation to the Mogollon Rim cabin. It was there we discovered our shared love of mountains, traveling, cooking, and drinking wine. It is a long standing Spook-family tradition to have an open table for all major holidays. I’ve spent more Easters, Thanksgivings, and Christmases with the Spook-family, than with my own, in the past 16 years. Over the years, as our trust and friendship grew, we revealed our secret fears, insecurities, self-doubts, frustrations, and self-discoveries to each other. Those disclosures covered families, boyfriends, other friends, job searches and job changes. It was a relationship of give and take; of not matching each other exactly in matters of faith, politics, temperament, and dreams; but a bond of understanding. We complimented each others strengths and weakness. Our friendship taught me about boundaries. I learned which boundaries could be crossed, those that couldn’t, and how to ask for forgiveness after crossing them. It survived her move to California and return to Arizona. It survived my subsequent departure from Arizona and return to California. I was sure it was a friendship to last a lifetime. Then I moved to North Carolina … and the life I planned? It isn’t going as I had planned. The job I thought was my dream job? It’s more like a “bad-dream” job. In my unhappiness, I stopped calling to tell her “everything”. Even a best friend doesn’t want to hear a constant recitation of how the dream is really a nightmare, do they? Business trips back to Arizona ended up being just that – business. I guess I took advantage of our easy open-door policy; our, “anytime you’re in town stay at my place”, relationship. I think the final straw for Spooky was when Chicago-girl, a mutual friend of ours, who had a brain tumor, began to decline. I didn’t say my goodbyes the way Spooky thought I should. I’ve never told Spooky about the last visit Chicago-girl made to North Carolina. How we talked about our friendship. I confessed to her how I was afraid the strain in my friendship with Spooky was affecting my relationship with her too. She assured me our relationship was ours. It stood on its own merits, not the merits of my relationship with Spooky. Nor did I ever tell Spooky about the last phone call between Chicago-girl and myself, while she was still able to communicate. How Chicago-girl told me everything was good between us. I was a good friend, and I had never disappointed her in anyway, she said. But for Spooky, my unwillingness to call Chicago-girl when she was in a coma, it broke the last bond. Along the way, the big and little events of our lives were marked with red wine. The red-wine eX-spot marks my friendship with my best ex-friend. That friendship taught me so much, and meant so much to me, and I never want the stain to disappear. Finally, you see those heart-shaped discolorations by the fireplace? These “eX-spots” are left by love, self-recognition, and growth. They are marks of learning to live in-the-now, and for God, not of living for the future and the man who may or may not appear. The deepest red smudge represents the Money Manipulator. He was the first man to love me, and propose to make me his wife. The stain reminds me I must always be true to myself – not to the expectations of family and society. I was so in-love with following the set path; college, engagement, graduation, marriage, and career. No matter how hard I tried, it didn’t fit. I tried hard to ignore the pinch of discomfort. But the day I woke up to set wedding date and not a nebulous, “when I graduate from college” date? I was forced to recognize I was in-love with the idea of a wedding and husband – but not ready to commit to the reality of marriage. The eX- mark trailing from the Money Manipulator stain is the Quad-racers mark. It reminds me that no matter how much you love a man – and his family – you can’t force him to love you more than he does. The Quad- racer? He was a desert boy without my wanderlust and the itch for more. He wasn’t driven to fight and struggle for more than life was offering him. I have no regrets about our time together and I can recognize now what I couldn’t then. I was all about perusing a career, demanding more than what easily came from life, hopefully with a husband by my side. The third mark by the fireplace, that scattering of small candle wax drops? That’s the architect/lawyer. I was sure it was a sign; we had the same first name. What could be more obvious? He was a perfect match for me; a fellow pursuer of the illusive career. He was a lover of wine and good food, an incurable explorer. I fell in love with him and Santa Monica. The lesson I learned? Don’t give away your heart until he asks for it. Separated from those three closely grouped spots is the final eX- spot. If you touch it you’ll notice it’s still damp. Yes, those are fish scales and it has a briny smell. Is it salty ocean water or tears? Hard to tell which there is more of – a mixture of both I confess. I moved to a new state, had a new job, so why not a new love? Those intellectuals – their siren song – I can’t resist it. An engineer – to build a life with, a business owner – someone to empathize with my new “Director” role, I thought. He introduced me to Confederate literature. We explored his new home in the Outer Banks. He showed me all his favorite spots associated with his old home here at “State”. We ate at the nicest restaurants, cooked the best food, and drank the best scotch, red-wine, port, and vodka. On the Outer Banks I learned about the Wright Brothers, how to impale eels on a hook for surf fishing, and I let him fly me in a small plane down to Cape Hatteras. And I lied and lied; to him and to myself. “No I don’t expect more than this”, I repeated over and over. “Really, this is enough, this part-time here, part-time there relationship”. “I’m happy with the time you give me, of course your children come first”, I agreed. Emotionally I supported him through his divorce. I thought patience and understanding would win me the day. Instead, it just reinforced what I refuse to recognize. Men say what they mean – and no amount of love can change what they say or mean. Would I clean any of these eX- marks from my life? Nope, not me! Without the eX- spots I would have a monotone, “pure”-ly boring, white carpet-scape life, how dull is that? I’ll take my colorful, carpet-scape mosaic of memories, any day.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Wow - fabulous entry. I really enjoyed reading it. It sounds like you've had an interesting life. I admire your bravery, moving away from your family to establish your own life at such a young age. It'll make me look at my own "carpet-scape" in a different, more understanding way.