Just a Minor Task

About two weeks ago, I decided to give up cussing.

It seemed like a perfectly reasonable adult thing to do. Like I used to when I was in college. Purify my words; give them weight. Keep your words in good order.

The next morning the ex texted me to tell me that he failed to pay for Tornado E’s school weekend field trip. By 5 days.

***

Then Trump talked about arming teachers. Several times. Before the evening national news came on, I knew it was going to be bad.

Me: Boys, please leave the room.

Tornadoes: Why, Mama?

Me: Our dear president is going to say something stupid, and I need you out of the room before I react.

******* ******* ****

Nearly every day since has been just as bad.

Traffic.

Drivers.

The ex.

The president.

The politicians. Home and abroad.

This task is going to be harder than I thought.

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Me Too 2

When I was a senior in college, I had an assignment to write the most frightening experience I had ever had in my life. I wrote about a high school trip to New York where someone pounded on our hotel door in the middle of the night, and we did not know what to do. Scary for a 16 year old, and it must have been something similar to what my classmates wrote because our professor discussed with the class that he did not get the quality he expected, assuming we had never been in life threatening situations.

Except I had. I was. And like then, my mind sometimes can’t comprehend how frightening those months really were.

I was stalked. For several months. By an ex-boyfriend. It became so terrifying that I was convinced it would end in my death. And still today, I believe that if certain people hadn’t acted on my behalf, Campus Safety and the Dean of Students, I would have been killed.

It started with his cheating on me, breaking our engagement, and leaving me half-mad with grief. Once I started to recover from my first heartbreak, I did seek him out to talk and to let go. I didn’t want to hate anyone; I wanted to let it go.

Only he took that as I still had feelings for him.

He sent me e-cards with hearts, sent me messages and emails, invited me to the movies and Disneyland, things we had done as a couple. I ignored the messages and declined the offers. He started parking his car on the street, so that I could see it every time I walked to or from campus. He started eating his meals at the same time I did with my friends. He sat across the patio, staring at me, leaving only when I did.  We didn’t notice until I left to use the bathroom, and a girlfriend noticed he got up too and ran to catch up with me to keep me safe. He began appearing near my classrooms. (Honestly it was weird because he could never remember my schedule when we were together.)

But the most terrifying thing was his body language changed. He walked different. He stood different. He moved different. Even at the time of events, I could not describe what was different, but I knew it was different.

When I told him I could not talk to him any more after a few nights of crying 2am phone calls, he left me notes, describing me as his one true love and how I don’t care about him. Advice from older friends told me to tell him to leave me alone in plain, clear language. When he refused to answer the door, I returned those notes written in plain, clear language, “I don’t want to be your friend. Don’t call me anymore. You’re not my deal.”

That night as I sat alone for dinner in the school cafeteria (God, where was everyone). He walked by and whispered, “Bitch.” At first, I was angry and wanted to tell him off, but then thought, “Fine, I’m a bitch; now leave me alone.”

Except he didn’t.

My dorm had doors that opened to the outside, and I tended to leave mine open for the fresh air and for friends to pop in. I was working on the computer, not minding the outside, when he walked by and threw a note into my room. That sign of aggression freaked me out. The note read: We need to talk.

The phone rang.

I let out a little scream.

I answered it. Hello?

“Fae, we need to-”

I slammed the receiver down. The phone rang and rang and rang and rang. It went to voice mail. Then it rang and rang and rang and rang. It went to voice mail. It rang and rang, and I grabbed my backpack and keys and ran the hell out of there. I scanned the rooms and found one of my friends’ lights on. I pounded on the door and told her what happened. I stayed with her until my roommate came home. When I finally returned home, I had several voice mails, emails, and messages waiting for me.

At lunch, I told my circle of friends, “If I disappear, tell them that Crazy Stalker Boy is after me.” I explained the situation; I told them where to find his parents’ number and address. They already knew what his car looked like. We all knew where it was parked.

I thought he was going to kidnap me and kill me.

I told my friends, “Sunday nights, he escalates.” They decided that someone would always hang out with me Sunday nights. They decided that I was no longer allowed to walk anywhere I alone. I was to call someone, no matter the time, to be escorted anywhere. The boys of the circle volunteered to be first call.

So I told this story to my counselor. Never telling him that I thought I was going to be a statistic. Never telling him I was afraid for my life. Never telling him I needed help. I told him the story of how I talked to my friends and how they had decided to help me. I remember literally saying “I told them that if I disappear.”

Somehow I don’t think my brain, my mind, myself could accept the possibility I was in mortal danger. Maybe it was a defense mechanism to keep me safe and alert, to keep me from freezing.

Luckily for me, my counselor was also the entrance counselor. He saw every student who is asking for services. He saw them 3 times before assigning a counselor for them. So he knew who my Crazy Stalker Boy was because that kid had asked for services. My counselor put two to two together and immediately called the Dean of Students.

What I learned later, within the hour, Campus Safety was notified and was tasked to find Crazy Stalker Boy and bring him to the Dean. The Dean laid into Crazy Stalker Boy, telling him he was no longer allowed to contact me in any capacity for any reason. The Dean threatened Crazy Stalker Boy with explosion.

I was called in and told that Crazy Stalker Boy was dealt with and that I was to let Campus Safety know immediately if anything happened. I was encouraged to tell the RAs and my bosses at the law school. I told everyone. All my classmates. All my professors. One tried to say he didn’t want to hear it, but I told him anyways. I told all the people who I worked with. I figured the more people who knew I was in danger, the more people that could help me.

Crazy Stalker Boy was silent for two days but left his car where I would walk. I considered walking another route, but all other routes would put me in isolated or dark areas. My friends walked with me. Campus Safety began to take their lunches at the table Crazy Stalker Boy was sitting.

Then he messaged me. I saved them and notified Campus Safety.

Then Sunday happened.

My phone rang. Crazy Stalker Boy didn’t get out a full word before I hung up. He called again, leaving a message that he was coming by to give him my notes on Italian that I gave him. I didn’t care. Keep the damn notes. I called a friend, and she came over.

Twenty minutes later, he was at my door. I told him to go away, and he said he wouldn’t until we talked. I told him to leave. He put his foot down where I couldn’t shut the door. He leaned over me. I told him to leave. My friend jumped up and asked if I needed an RA. I said yes.

She ran out of the room. Another friend across the way called out to her, asking if everything was alright because he had seen the Crazy Stalker Boy walking over and decided to stay there, monitoring the situation. She told him no. He called Campus Safety.

The RA came and told Crazy Stalker Boy to leave. He refused. So the RA asked to borrow my phone. I asked him in. The RA called Campus Safety.

After a few minutes, Crazy Stalker Boy left, walking down the hall. At the end, he turned and shouted, “I’ll be back.” I dissolved into nervous giggles.

Campus Safety came. The police came. I was encouraged to sleep somewhere else that night and to get a restraining order. My friends called each other, discussing whose room was the safest. The Dean called me and explained that he was kicking Crazy Stalker Boy out of campus housing and would expel him for one more infraction.

It didn’t end there. But that was the worst night.

I got my restraining order with the help of my best friend, who arrived back from study abroad the next day like a knight in shining armor. Though Crazy Stalker Boy showed up at the hearing and his parents got him a lawyer who fought successfully against a permanent restraining order.While I didn’t hear from him for almost 2 years, he found out where I lived with my boyfriend and left a box of chocolates and a horrid love poem with an email address to write to him. Then a few months later, the day after my wedding, I received a gift from him, a gift left on my parents’ porch. 3 months later I received an envelope of pictures of me entering the church in my wedding dress.

That was when my father called his parents and told them to get a hold of their son or he would.

But I went years feeling panic whenever I saw the same make, model, and color car that he had. I did not register for baby gifts because I was convinced Crazy Stalker Boy found out about my wedding through my registry. He tried to contact me once in the early years of Facebook. I blocked him and hid my profile so well that few can find it. For years, I wondered what I would do if he came after me again. Like I said before when I talked about the MeToo Movement. I’m lucky.

At the first hearing (there were four), when the judge asked Crazy Stalker Boy why he was bothering me, he answered, “Because I need answers.”

Answers to what? I can only assume to why I wouldn’t take him back. Clearly I should want him back. I must have been pining away for him. I must be waiting for him to get over his new girlfriend and come back.

Then when I didn’t want him back, when I clearly stated no, when I refused to talk to him, he decided to push and push and push. Because persistence and not empathizing is how a man wins a woman. He repeatedly left messages saying he loved me and wanted me back and then became angry that I wasn’t returning his calls. How could I care for someone who ignores my boundaries and wishes?

His lawyer described him as a kid madly in love with me. He was 20; he was stalking me. His lawyer said I was playing games and encouraging him. I never did. But I know girls who were friendly to their stalkers, trying to befriend them and convince them nicely to leave. When I proved I was clear about my responses, the lawyer changed the goal post, saying Crazy Stalker Boy wanted the engagement ring back. Here’s your damn ring; choke on it. Then his lawyer said that the school was too small and that I was making it hard for the boy to live his life or do anything. I was a distraction.

In a patriarchal world, I am the prize for one man’s desires; I am the siren that drives one man insane. In our culture, he is a boy because he is a 20-year-old, middle class, white boy, who doesn’t know how best to win his love back. I was crazy for being afraid, and I must be encouraging this behavior. I should reward him for that.

So yeah.

Me too.

So I Have Demons

I live in a city with Rodeo Weekend. A four day weekend held over from the days when the town would all gather to celebrate the rodeo. Now it’s tradition, and only the school districts close. But I’ll take it.

I had a plan. Spend time with the boys. Study and grade. Manage the boys’ homework and projects. Go on adventures.

Guess what got done?

Homework and projects. Adventures to the movies, shopping, restaurants, and the Renaissance Festival. Lots of playing tag, going for walks, reading books, watching The Simpsons and the cartoon series of The X-Men. Baking and cooking.

As for the grading, the phone calls, the lesson prep (ok, I did lesson prep in the shower; so I did some of it), um, not so much. I found some more poets for my LGBTQ, and I have read the two chapters I needed for the book study (my goodness, I wish I had English teacher friends to talk their ears off about this book).

Instead of spending my nights grading and study the constitutions, I’ve been waltzing with my demons. Not wrestling, so it’s not that bad. I remained normal and present, letting my mother’s “suggestions” and “questions” roll off my back, during the day. But at night, my demons led me down worm-holes, keeping me distracted from work, from writing, even from art and reading.

It’s rough. It was stupid.

My first inclination is to get out the mental cat-o’-nines and whip myself until I plead for mercy, feeling disheveled and worthless. Knowing this only feeds the demons, I started taking steps last night to right those wrongs, preparing for some interventions. I won’t let them win.

But you know, so what if I’m starting the week a little behind; luckily, I can catch up.

And I know my demons didn’t take me away from my boys. Stories to come…..

Vegetables?

Tonight’s dinner featured hot dogs, personally grilled over a fire pit to entice three little picky eaters. The sides include beans. Huh.

Me: (stirring the beans) Hey, Mom, do you want me to cook the vegetable?

My mom: Oh. We have chips.

Me: …

My mom: ….

Me: …. I’ll cook some spinach.

I feel like I’m getting closer to explaining a lot of things.

Your Useless Thoughts and Prayers

While you send your thoughts and prayers and tell us it’s not the time and how gun control is some sacred right, my ten-year-old son didn’t want to go to school today; he nearly cried.

He’s worried that his school will be next.

Because he’s already started to put two and two together. This shooter is white and male with a history of acting out and being angry, and he was expelled. A boy in seventh grade who is white with a history of action out and being angry was expelled (or more likely encouraged to leave).

While I do not believe my children and their school is in harm’s way. Tornado S is seeing patterns. While these might not be the right patterns, patterns do exist.

While I personally believe we should have some common sense gun laws like mandatory permits and training and violent offenders being stripped of their gun rights, I can play the game your way. You want to say it’s mental illness. I can stand with you.

But that means actually doing something about it. Like free mental health care. Like de-stigmatizing mental illness and mental care. Like trained and licensed counselors at all schools.

Except you’re not doing any of those things. You’re not researching. You’re not debating. You’re not talking to law enforcement agencies or government officials, who have passed successful laws to deal with shootings. You are passing the buck. With your thoughts and prayers.

While I have to convince my son that he’s safe, thinking that it’ll happen in my school before his, and on that day, you’ll find me guarding my classroom door with a pair of scissors, praying that I see my boys again. And I will have just as much contempt for your thoughts and prayers as I do now.

Excuse me while I write angry emails and letters to my legislators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling a Lesson

Me:

Me: Sit down (to the kid who was up for the 10th time)

Kid: I can’t miss.

Me: You’re 14; you can sit for 50 minutes.

Kid: But you don’t. You never sit for 50 minutes.

Me: First, I chose a career where I don’t have to sit for 50 minutes at a time. I like standing. And kid, I went to Catholic school. I had to kneel for 50 minutes. Now. SIT.

I smirked at the end of the story that I was telling my mom in the kitchen.

Tornado E: Mama, why did you have to kneel for 50 minutes?

Me: It was a punishment. I talked in church.

Tornado E: Did you tell your student that?

Me: What? No. I’m not an idiot.

Tornado E: Huh.

Huh, in deed…..

Being Safe

The annual Gem and Mineral Show started last weekend. Tradition dictates that I take the boys. They have all sorts of fun, looking and learning, talking to vendors, charming vendors. Nearly every year, I take the boys alone because, you know, it’s tough to hear someone say the same thing a thousand and one times. “Don’t touch. Look with your eyes.” It’s also hard to say it a thousand and one times, but that’s a different issue.

Luckily, as the boys get older, they get more mature. I’m down to saying it eight hundred-fifty-four times.

This year we started off on time. We made good time. We got a good parking place. We started looking in a few tents, looking at raw and polished opal and lapis lazuli. Please don’t touch; this stuff is hundreds of dollars.

Then it happened.

A panic attack.

My chest began to ache. It felt like I was stuck in a vice. Like a band tightening and tightening around my chest.

I’ve been through this before so I started to monitor my breath. Breathe one-two-three. Hold one-two-three-hour. Breathe out one-two-three-four-five-six-seven. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

As we walked, I looked for a safe place. A place to keep the boys out of trouble. Safe. We were in public. I couldn’t break down here. Safe. The mini food court was safe. With food to occupy the boys.

So I led them there, concentrating on my breathing, listening to their chatter. I got them there and sat them at a table.

Me: (in a hush tone) Boys, I’m having a panic attack.

Three boys: Oh no, Mama!

Me: It’s ok. We’re going to sit here for a little while until it’s over. So, here Tornado E, why don’t you get a bag of kettle corn and two waters. We’ll share. And no fighting because I can buy more.

Tornado E: But Mama, I don’t want to buy popcorn with my money. I want to buy rocks!

I laughed a littler.

Me: It’s my money that I’m using. Not the money I set aside for your rocks.

So off he went. A big boy responsibility. And then the boys snacked on popcorn and drank water as I concentrated on breathing, wondering if I had family selling in the area, wondering when was the time to call for someone to get us.

Then finally. Finally the pain eased. The boys raced out of the area to explore more rocks. And we were safe.