An alternate title: today I called a total stranger a bitch.
For several months now, I have been trying to motivate myself to come back to my blog and write something, anything. My last post described how alcoholism had torn my family apart after decades of substance abuse, denial and enabling behavior. When my family disintegrated, it kind of killed me inside. I lost the desire to write, and instead spent my time seeking security and continuity in my life. My efforts to be a happier, healthier, just plain better person have not always led to success, which brings me to this morning, and this blog post.
I managed to stand, not merely step, but stand, totally oblivious, for entire minutes in a puddle of gasoline while fueling my car. My shoes reeked when I arrived at the veterinary clinic to have my dog checked for a post operative infection. I was distressed by his frantic attempts to scratch his oozing sutures, and when the veterinary technician reached out his left hand to take the leash, I misunderstood his intent and grasped his left hand with my right in an incredibly awkward handshake, which just set a really weird tone for the rest of the appointment.
After leaving the clinic, I noticed a missed call from an unfamiliar number, and there was a voice message. Returning the call was certainly not my first mistake today, but it proved to be my worst! I ended up locking horns with a perverse collections agent who clearly takes pleasure in antagonizing innocent citizens. She wanted me to give her information so she could contact my father. Of course, she refused to divulge any herself, but I had researched the number prior to calling back, and once I had identified that she was from a collections agency, it wasn’t a huge leap to figure out why she was calling. Her understated Gestapo tactics indicated that she meant to intimidate me, but I have dealt with villainous types before.
We were more or less at a stalemate when she stepped waaaaay over the line by making weirdly menacing comments about other members of my family. Doesn’t matter the situation, don’t use my family as leverage to intimidate me. I informed her that she was a bitch and hung up, then plotted my revenge while driving home. I considered calling her back incessantly and hanging up for the rest of the day, or playing the ever lovely skull searing fax tone full volume every time she answered her phone…Not my finest hour. I’ve never actually called anyone a bitch or plotted revenge. But she did make vague threats, and she named names…
The upsets of this morning continued to linger after I returned home, removed my reeking shoes, and gave the dog a sedative. The incidents at the gas station and clinic were just comical, but the phone call in particular shook me more than I had anticipated. It was just another reminder that things are so not cool with my family. I am getting into fights with creepy collections agents on behalf of my family, so no…things are not cool. A flood of embarrassment and humiliation had washed over me during that phone call. My family drama suddenly brought to the attention of a total stranger, my measly explanations about being more or less estranged from my parents, and the interrogation slicing open a wound that I thought had been adequately soothed with months of affirmations, quiet reflection, and pretending that my life is super awesome. I vented my outrage into a Word document. How dare some smug anonymous witch make me scrutinize my feelings when I had better things to do!
After considering whether or not the unfortunate incident was worth pursuing, I decided that although this individual was totally being a bitch, she was just doing her job, and a miserable job at that. I can’t really hold a grudge. Intimidating people over the phone is, aside from obviously being a source of enjoyment for her, likely a useful tactic when dealing with people who actually have information but are hesitant to be forthcoming. I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting today (after all, there is also a rat caught in my egress window and at some point I will have to fight that battle), then put the document into the trash, walked away from the computer, poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, and threw a load of laundry in the washing machine. For some reason I thought about the One Year Chip in my antique dish cupboard. Even though I started this day horribly, thinking about the chip sitting there reminded me that there is time to make the day better.
The beginning of this summer.
I hadn’t seen my father in over a year. My last good memory of him was two years ago, when we spent a whole day in the Black Hills. It remains one of my favorite memories. We packed sandwiches and cans of Coke, took the four wheeler out to the mineral claims, and updated boundary signs. I took a thousand pictures and inhaled as much of the pine scented air as possible before my journey back to Missouri. If I was forced to forget all memories of my father except one, this memory I would keep. Everything since has been tinged with grief. So when I saw him again, a few months ago, I was actually quite numb. I had put my emotions on ice for so long, and there was a distance. It was nice to see him, and it would have been nice to catch up, but the connection was lost. It was like trying to continue a phone conversation over heavy static.
We came back to see Dad because it was necessary that we retrieve furniture and personal items from the school where my parents had lived. Time was of the essence because the building was rapidly falling into disrepair and Dad had been ordered to sell to liquidate assets and pay debts. There was also some danger of the family heirlooms being damaged or looted. I was extremely anxious about the whole retrieval process, at the same time wanting to save anything with family history attached, but also feeling dread at the prospect. I hadn’t been in the building in nearly two years, and seeing the decay was shocking. I wandered around in disbelief, staring at crumbling walls, water stains eating through the wood floors, and garbage rotting in corners. The building smelled like a dying creature and many of the items we brought back emitted the same fetid odor. I threw away old papers and fabrics that simply would not air out, unable to hold onto anything that smelled like the school, not after seeing it in such disgrace.
Not everything rescued from the building was damaged, however. Most of the furniture and family heirlooms were successfully recovered, save for a few things that we could not find; these probably made their way to a pawn shop or some crackhead’s trash can fire. I felt bitter that some things were missing, grateful that most items were not, and guilty for being so attached to things in the first place. The heirlooms would never be a replacement for the relationships that I wanted from my parents, but if relationships were impossible, the heirlooms would at least buoy me to my own history and identity.
One particular item was especially important, and I agonized over whether it would still be in the school when we arrived. It was a very old dish cupboard that had belonged to my great grandmother and then my grandmother. As a child I included the dish cupboard in many of my daily adventures while visiting my grandparents. My grandmother kept it in a huge family room built over the garage. I spent hours in that room, parading my horse figurines and Barbies across the carpet, staging exciting chases across the land forms which I made from old furniture. Tables made wonderful mesas, and chairs were perfect for hair raising cliff top rescues. The dish cupboard sometimes became involved, because I could open one of the bottom cabinet doors to let my ponies “hide” in the cave-like interior. When tired of playing, I simply gazed through the glass of the top doors at the little collections of tea sets and souvenir plates that Grandma brought home from her many road trips and exciting vacations.
When the dish cupboard made its way to my parents’ school, I still enjoyed looking in through the glass at the arrangement of special dishes, though over the years it held fewer items until by the time Mom was ready to leave, the cupboard was nearly bare. It had been neglected for so long that when we moved it into our home in Colorado, I discovered that the wood had shrunk considerably and pulled away from its once perfect seams, and great cracks had begun to travel along its length. I saturated it with oil to protect it from the extreme dryness of the Colorado air, one coat, then another, and finally a third for luck.
After the outside was oiled to my satisfaction, I began to clean and oil the interior. That is when I found the One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous. It had been my father’s, something he must have earned and carried around at one time. It must have been dropped into the cupboard, perhaps as an afterthought. Or maybe it was deliberately placed there. It’s hard to say. It had adhered to the back of the cupboard where a sticky stain kept it from shifting during the journey down several flights of stairs, onto a U-Haul truck, across a handful of states, and then into my home. Holding it in my hand, I read both sides. The message seemed to be meant just for me, for that moment. I considered the infinite varieties of circumstances that would have brought this coin into my possession and determined that it should be a reminder to me when life was giving me a rough turn.
“God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
I was mean to a total stranger on the phone. Granted, she was asking for trouble and pushing my buttons on purpose. But I don’t like the way the whole situation developed, as though the scene were everything, and I was merely playing a minor part in an undesirable melodrama. I knew when I dialed the number that there was only one way the scene could end, and I played my part, on cue as always, falling into the role of the ever reliable character, buffering my parents from the realities that they had created. The morning’s incident left me feeling disgust at being duped once again into playing a character I no longer want to be. It’s time to start living by the Serenity Prayer on the One Year Chip. I must sort out the things which cannot be changed from the things that I can change, and focus my energy on what is actually my responsibility.
At one time my father earned his One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous. He must have spent an entire year attending meetings, gaining perspective and motivation from peers like himself, and refraining from using a dangerous substance. Perhaps that year was glorious, or perhaps it was a living nightmare. I will never know. What I do know, when I look at the chip, is that for me it represents my goal to learn which battles are mine to fight. Someday I will look back on this morning as a stronger, healthier person. Perhaps the next year will be glorious for me, or perhaps it will be a living nightmare. But I will never know until I break from the prepossession that I am obligated to live out someone else’s drama. It is time to be the author of my own story.