First Date with SeaFed: Second Base, Third Base, Homerun

You know what’s even more fun than a bag full of rabid hamsters? Dating rules. You know what’s actually fun, though, for serious? BREAKING DATING RULES. SeaFed was a flagrant violation of at least one of the top ten “dating rules” (and probably three or more actually): do not date coworkers, or more elegantly put, don’t get your meat where you get your bread. I was never good at keeping kosher.

I interviewed for the job on Halloween. It was a record store with a good rep, which is to say they played their music loudly, their clerks ranged from stoned, asleep, to Jack Black-snotty, and the selection was good. I had only worked in one music department before, as a Best Buy Smurf, but I have always had a good hustle and talked a good game, so they were willing to try me out. My future (male) boss, who was interviewing me, was dressed in drag for Halloween, not even drag-queeny, but with an unappealing shade of coral inexpertly smeared across his small lips and leaking into his perpetual stubble. He briefly mentioned that there was a jazz section upstairs and that it pretty much belonged to one clerk–SeaFed.

On my first day I was introduced around to the other clerks. SeaFed came breezing through the breakroom pushing his bike and my boss, now in his regular uniform of a threadbare tee shirt and holey jeans, introduced me to him. “This is SeaFed. He runs the jazz department and thinks that American jazz from 1955 to 1968 is the only legitimate form of music, so heads up on that.”

“Hello,” he said, and winked at me. He had a nice voice. He still has a nice phone voice, albeit with that grating Seattle/PNW accent. You don’t put a dagger in a bag, you put the “dayger” in the “beg.” The stuff that goes on pancakes is see-rup, not “sir-up.” The accent is subtle, to me, but I hear it.

When we were scheduled together for the first few days I tried to figure out what his deal was. He was always flirting with me, but he seemed to be always flirting with everybody–customers, our boss, other clerks, men, women, trash cans, it did not seem to matter. He just oozed charm.

I came home and told my roommate about him. “He has the most intense blue eyes,” I said. “Hmmp,” she said, which is what she usually said about guys I was interested in until she found a way to sleep with some of them, then I presume she found more to say to them, at least. (More on her during another first date story.)

I started to get the vibe that he was gay for some reason. And this is not a “ha, ha, I thought my ex-husband was gay when I first met him” part of the story, obviously. I just did. I had to ask around, because I was curious about him. A couple of co-workers were of the opinion that he was straight, and while they could not recall him dating since starting at the store six months before me, they did remember him talking about girls or something. I decided to flirt with him more, just to see what would happen, and since I was only dating a couple of people very casually at the time.

After a couple of weeks, he asked me out, in that low-key way that the very young work things out. “Soooo you want to hang out or something?” he asked.

“When?” I said.

“How about tonight?”

“Sure,” I said, pretending to be calm.

He gave me his number and told me to call him at 10 that night. WHOA THAT WAS SERIOUS, MAN. You have to be completely cool to start a date at ten. I had been in Seattle for three months and had been 18 for only a couple of weeks. Having a very late-night date felt very big city and grown up, so obviously I still had the bruise from where I landed when I fell off the turnip truck.

I transferred SeaFed’s phone number off the back of my hand to the mirror with my eyeliner, so I wouldn’t lose it in the shower. I got ready, showering, dressing, and putting makeup on very carefully. At the appointed hour I called–no answer. I called back a few minutes later–still no answer. I left a voicemail. After an hour, I realized I had been blown off and gave up.

I saw him at work the next day and was cool to him. “Uh…so,” he said. I gave him the eyebrow of mild indifference. “Sorry about last night. Can I make it up to you tonight?” He smiled his sexy “I’m not exactly Jude Law, but Jude Law isn’t here, is he” smiles and I broke yet another one of those dating rules–don’t give someone who dogs you out another chance. He didn’t even have a good excuse as to why he blew me off. It was 10:30 at night–I can’t imagine he was so busy. Nor did he claim emergency. I am a recovering dumbass so I decided it didn’t matter.

We were set for him to pick me up at my place and he arrived right on time, pressing my buzzer, which made my heart leap. “This could be fun,” I thought. I emerged from my building to see his friend in the front seat. “Maybe SeaFed’s dropping him off,” I assumed.

NOPE. The friend, who was an asshat I saw a lot more of after that, unfortunately, was along for the ride. I told myself we were just “hanging out,” as he’d said, and this wasn’t a date as I’d assumed. We picked up a bottle of wine and went back to his house. Was I supposed to be doing this, going back to the house of a man I barely knew with his friend? Probably not. Luckily for me, typical SeaFed in those days was more unthinking and tuned out than malicious.

I chatted with both him and his friend for a while and got very tipsy. The friend told embarrassing stories about SeaFed. I didn’t know it at the time, but being a superior pompous ass was kind of his trademark. He told me that SeaFed used to smoke American Spirits because he misread the label as “non-addictive” instead of “no additives.” I hardly noticed when his friend disappeared off to bed (it turned out he was living with SeaFed for a bit), since SeaFed was the one who was interesting to me.

He moved fast. I stood up, probably to get some more water to mitigate the after effects of the red wine. He stood with me, and leaned in to kiss me. He was assertive, but not rough. I was relieved he was taking the lead because none of our attempts at dating had gone the way I had expected real actual dates to go.

Before him I had fuckbuddies and people I pined after who would sleep with me once and a while and the kind of relationships you had in high school–I had higher standards for the way we would get to know each other, for some reason.

The sex was okay. On the scale of all the sex, it rates a “hmm…meh.” On the scale of first date sex, I think we can say it was your pretty typical tipsy young people hetero first date sex. No one achieved enlightenment, but no one ended up with an accidental wang in the ear. He was your typical pasty skinny white boy thing, with extraordinarily large and well-defined thighs from all his bike riding. No other tattoos or identifying marks.

After it was over, my crotch felt funny, and not in a typical “I just had ill-advised sex, I know, because I can see my bad idea pants on the floor from over here, and boy condoms are still kind of irritating” way. I put my hand to my baby cannon and kind of gave it the once over…HO my labia piercing was missing. It had gotten knocked out during the humpenation in the humpery.

“Oh no!” SeaFed said when I told him.

“It’s okay, it never really healed right,” I said.

If that’s not sexy, I don’t know what is. You bring a girl home and she tells you that her genital piercing never really healed right. Rawr! After that, we saw each other most nights.

Four Stories About SeaFed, Part 3

Three. “Hey, Oswald, over here!” BLAM! 1998.

I never really got along with SeaFed’s sister. Well, that’s not strictly true. I liked her from the date of my marriage in April of 1996 until June of 1996 when she spent half her time at our post-elopement party talking shit about some of the more flamboyantly-dressed guests, who were indeed invited by her father and therefore belonged to her side of the family. There was some Vegas show producer guy there with his showgirl girlfriend who was an old friend of the family, nice of them to come, and she looked WILD. I felt very plain next to her. SeaFed’s sister, whose name Franny could only pronounce as “Auntie Jaguar” for years, much to my delight, talked much shit about this woman. This was Seattle, for the sake of chucklefuck. You were raised blocks from Broadway, Jaguar. Get a grip.

Of course, I should have said something to her right then, like, “YOU SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH about your father’s party guests,” but of course I said nothing. I think I was a little intimidated by her former-sorority girl tan/bikini/snooty thing she had going on. She was only three years older than SeaFed so I figured we were in it for the long haul.

Things went downhill from there, of course. Jaguar decided to pursue a graduate degree in education, with dreams of becoming a small-town public school teacher in the Mountain West. At the time I was convinced that public schools were failing, had failed, and that I would never send a child of mine to a public school (EMPHATIC FIST POUND) and whenever she asked me what I thought about this or that public school blib-blab, I would tell her, amplified times 50 to needle her.

The first time we had one of these debates was on a family trip to Santa Fe. When all the kids were in their early 20s or so, in college or just out, and too poor to do anything is the point, my father-in-law used to graciously fly us to famjams where we would be trapped by his and Jaguar’s whims once we got there. Want to go to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum? TOUGH NUTS, we two want to go fly fishing. What the fuck is fly fishing even? No habla fly fishing. Are there hip waders involved? I will not be appearing in those outside of the privacy of the Fuck Fort.

This, of course, is all just a ridiculous detour to get us to Santa Fe in the Amazing Year 1998. SeaFed’s parents flew us down to a bed and breakfast along with Jaguar and her boyfriend, someday to be husband. I wrote about their wedding once, and how I tried to ruin it by having an opinion about my participation in it. (New Mexico is also referenced therein.)

SeaFed and I were sharing a room, of course, and it did not have an ensuite bathroom. That was a first for me, but we were given a key to the loo in the hallway. Jaguar and I had the epic public vs. private argument on a walk through town to dinner, and I think I had just read some article in the New Yorker and thought I was seeeew smart as usual, but I think it had been let go during dinner and with the onset of drunkenness. For repressive WASPs, they could really belt back the liquor. Maybe that’s a hallmark of repressive WASPery, I dunno. Give them enough to drink, and they might even become moderately expressive and/or emotive. Good times.

I was 20 then, months from turning 21, and would often be served wine with dinner when I was obviously with family and had a pretty convincing “I am a serious respectable married lady, don’t let the blue lipstick fool you, ok” face. SeaFed drank wine though dinner, which made him louder and even more doofusy than usual, and instead of dessert split a rather large brandy flight with Jaguar’s boyfriend. After dinner we kids slipped away from SeaFed’s parents and grandmother and went to a nearby bar. I remember I was in my martini phase at the time, and always drank them whenever I was on vacation from school, so I ordered one of those, which, handily, was another way that seemed to keep me from being carded. SeaFed had a martini with me, and then switched to beer, and had a few more beers. I did not, since I had long since learned that if I tried to keep up with him, I would be very sorry.

We walked back to the bed and breakfast, or rather, I ran, since I was jogging a lot at the time, and SeaFed swayed. The next morning was checkout time and I bustled around the room packing.

“I don’t feel so well,” SeaFed said, lying abed.

“How surprising,” I said, unsurprised.

“I need the bathroom…” he said, fumbling for the key to the bathroom in the hallway. Too late! “HOOOOORF,” SeaFed horfed into the sink in the room. I took my bag and let myself out of the room, closing the door with a little “snick” behind me.

“Where’s SeaFed? We’re about ready to go,” my father-in-law asked me in the lobby.

“He’s not feeling so well,” I said, and shrugged.

Four Stories About SeaFed, Part 2

Two. The Lobby, 2002

This thing happened around this time, when we moved into that godawful house in Crown Hill. If that house was a ship, I would name it “Marriage-Ender,” and don’t you just want to bust a bottle of champagne onnit and say “bon voyage” to all that? I know I did.

If you are new, as in, if you started reading *after* 2001, ha ha, or if you need some refreshening, I will give it to you. SeaFed’s father decided to set him up in the business of house-flipping. This decision didn’t really have anything to do with me, in spite of the fact that I would be living in renovational squalor with a toddler while trying to start grad school. That was fine, whatever. He bought this terrible little house on Crown Hill with moldy windows and boogers and foundation makeup smeared on the bathroom walls and YOU BET I cried the day we moved in. I guess if I was selling a house as is I wouldn’t make my renters clean it, either, but come on, have some pride, people, at least with where you put your boogers. The booger-wiper was also a culinary student so the kitchen was covered in grease and tomato sauce.

I am a pretty optimistic person, and I don’t shy away from hard work with a purpose, but I knew my Waterloo when I saw it. This house would not be finished, and certainly not in the year’s time that SeaFed promised to do it in. I got very Cassandra about things in the latter years of our marriage, because you would have to be a giant dummy to think things would turn out well.

SeaFed’s parents went out of town, leaving their condo empty, which was deemed the perfect time to cut a giant hole in the living room floor and hire a carpenter to build stairs to connect the upstairs and downstairs, which were being used as separate apartments. The house started its life at least 50 years ago as a Ballard-style fisherman’s cottage, with a tiny living area above and a basement dedicated to storage and a wood-burning (I think?) furnace, unconnected by interior stairs. So we went downtown to stay in a condo that was blessedly free of sawdust or exposed wires.

Staying downtown meant that Franny was less in danger of getting tetanus, and more in danger of losing her mother to an aneurysm as she crashed one of her grandmother’s very expensive pieces of art. Before my mother-in-law died, their condo always looked like a pastel version of Lydia Dietz’s parents’ house, which I loved, but I always worried about breaking things that looked like giant kinetic spork sculptures. Needless to say, to avert disaster I kept her plugged into their giant TV and the Cartoon Network every hour she was awake, which was a vacation for her as well. The breeze off Elliot Bay was lovely, and Pike Place Market was practically outside the door. SeaFed was either off “working” or supervising the stairs-building, which I was assured was “almost up to code.”

I think we stayed for three or four nights, watching TV in a real living room that did not have a bed in it, and went to bed fairly early most nights. I was pretty tired out from running around after Franny all day.

One morning I woke up and the answering machine was blinking. This was very slightly before the complete proliferation of cell phones, so part of our job was to record and relay any important messages to my in-laws when they would call and check in. SeaFed had the day off and he was noodling around in the kitchen, probably making coffee. I pressed the machine button, pen poised to record what I heard.

The machine announced that the call was from around midnight the night before. Then, a desperate man’s voice, older, came out of the answering machine. It was a call from the condo’s lobby. “Help me…please…I’ve been beaten very badly…please call the police…help me, I need help.”

“Oh my god, did you hear that?” I said.

“Hmm?” SeaFed said. As usual, he wasn’t paying attention.

“Someone got beat up in the lobby last night! They were pressing the buttons for help and left a message on your parents’ machine!”

I played the message again for him to hear. It was just as heart-rending as the first time and my eyes filled with tears. SeaFed cocked his head to one side and then shrugged.

“Don’t you think that’s sad?” I asked.

“I guess…” he said. He stopped and looked at me. “Yes, it is very sad,” he said, slowly, in a strange voice. I felt strongly like I was being humored, or like he was trying to find the right response that would satisfy me. “It was probably a B&E scam, though,” he finished.

We had a very moments like this, where I felt he was grasping for a proper human response and trying to appear like he gave a shit. I was stunned and felt very alone. I wondered what I could do for the man who pressed our bell, but there was no trace of him in the lobby, and I didn’t know the other residents. I hoped he was okay.

That wretched living room with a bed in it, because there was no other room. A tiny Franny. I still hate this color orange. 2002.

Four Stories About SeaFed, Part 1

I guess I am thinking about this guy a lot lately. I feel we are bulldogs holding onto each other’s throats, except kind of acting like we’re not. Like I feel your teeth on my jugular, but at the same time you are checking your cell phone and maybe doing some light macrame. I want to write about First Dates this week or next, so I’m going to write a couple of stories and then write about my first date with SeaFed.

One. I’m a Old Cowhand, 1996-2000
We moved to Arizona to get away from his grow operation and the collect calls we would get from prisons at random times. I told people that I was moving to go to college, but really I was trying for a fresh start. I really should have made “a new line of business” a condition of marriage and me moving in with him, but you think you can handle anything when you’re 18, I suppose.

I felt like a scientist trying to create a totally sterile environment in which to grow the perfect control bacteria that would compose our marriage. “If only I do X, etc,” I told myself. I was such a classic relationship “fixer” then. He said he was done with his criminal phase–he had turned over a new leaf. Or his luck had run out, he said. Maybe some of both.

I got a job and started taking classes. A small load at first, because I was scared of the fact I had been such a failure at school in the past, and then more as I got more confident. I was acing everything. He toyed with the idea of going back to school himself, having quit twice before, and I tried to be a supportive wife and offered to look over his papers and made sure not to bother him while he was studying.

Something obvious emerged then for me. I was a classic slacker–angry, shiftless, did not see the benefit of applying myself until I was out on my own–but the potential was always there. I could write a decent paper if I felt like it, I could make semi-cogent freshman-level arguments in my tiny little essays. The essays thrilled me. We had been taught the five-paragraph essay in high school but I never saw the point of actually writing one. Now I was enjoying myself. Writing well isn’t the acme of what it is to be a human being, but I was having fun exploring it, and I think at that time I began to realize even short pieces were a glimpse into people’s minds.

SeaFed started cranking out essays himself. I do recall he finished one summer semester, but I think all the other attempts were aborted, a sore point with us, since he would always quit on the week when it was too late for his father to get any sort of refund. I started looking over his work for typos, at his request, and I was shocked at what I found. When we were first dating and married we would talk for hours, something that had already dried up, and I thought he and I were kindred spirits. I thought he was like me–the potential was there for him to crank out a decent essay that was well-argued and grammatically-correct. In reality, in spite of his sincere efforts, he was not. His sentences juddered along, veering off into unexpected stops. His ideas wandered and he did not seem capable of concluding anything, really.

Maybe he will improve with practice, I thought to myself. He quit school (again) and got a job at a small sheet music store that was attached to an instrument sales and rental place. The sheet music store was a small operation of three people, including the boss. He worked 30 hours a week and spent another 30 in his practice room, after deciding to throw himself into music full time. I rarely saw him. “I’m woodshedding, like Parker,” he told me. I whined about never seeing him, a habit that broke after being ignored for long enough. “You knew I was a musician when we got together,” he reminded me.

I thought the work experience was good for him. His boss was pretty laid back and trained SeaFed on some aspects of ordering music and running the business. He formed relationships with some of the workers at the shop who were also musicians, and they played together sometimes. He got to know the other clerk well, an older man who was a musician and retirement age and working part time for the discount and to stay busy. He was diagnosed with cancer and we watched him as he become more frail and gained a fanny pack that contained his chemo drip equipment. I cried when he died and SeaFed went to the funeral, which was well-attended by his friends, natural children, and the children he had fostered over the years.

So it seemed we had our perfect little crime-free productive life in Phoenix. The city was significant to me–it seemed we had risen from the ashes and would become responsible adults. I was doing well in school, and he was working, working, and playing. I learned over time that work and music was an escape for him. I would demand balance later and come up disappointed, but at the time I appreciated the regular paycheck.

I got pregnant with Franny on New Year’s Eve in 2000, and we decided to move back to Seattle, to be closer to family and grandparents, and out of the unbearable heat. I could finish school up there, I reasoned. I finished spring semester and packed up most of the house and did the cleaning myself, just starting to show, but not yet big enough to make moving a bigger hassle than it already is. Franny fluttered while I packed boxes and sorted things for Goodwill. We were still young and poor so we were looking at renting a big U-Haul and moving ourselves as we had on the way down. He packed up his music room, of course, and we got all the boxes onto the truck. The day we left it was 113F. I was so happy to be escaping before my body got completely ungainly.

Once we got to the house we had rented in Seattle, it was up to me to unpack everything. We were splitting rent on a split level with my mother, so we put our furniture in the basement living room, and her stuff was upstairs. I went spelunking through all the boxes, unsure of what to do with everything. I found some of the music room boxes, which I knew contained odds and ends like cords and music stands.

There were two boxes that I did not know the contents of. They were very large and almost impossible for me to shift, let alone pick up. What was in them? I thought if I opened them I could ask SeaFed about them or move the contents a little at a time.

I zipped the tape open on the first box. It was filled with sheet music–small books with single songs, and larger songbooks. So much music. The second box was similarly stuffed full of hundreds of books and sheets. Had he been buying this all along? My brain raced, trying to understand. Were there receipts tucked into them, or bags, or some sign they had been paid for? There was thousands of dollars worth of music in front of me. On our budget, there was no way we could have afforded all this, and I was sure he would not keep it a secret anyway–it was just sheet music.

Then I got it. My experiment had failed–my crime-free environment that I had tried so hard to create so that we could both be healthy and sleep well at night. I thought about his boss, a kind man who was just trying to make ends meet. I thought about his coworker, lost to cancer, and the high school clerks on the rental side that he would jam with occasionally. That place throbbed with humanity, with a chance to make a human connection and do right by people. That is when I learned that SeaFed could sleep well at night, no matter what.

From My Electrical Well

Boy howdy bear moon sauce am I sick. I have this cold that makes my head feel like it is a balloon on a string. (Advice from my babydaddy today: “Avoid needles.” What kind of fucking fortune cookie is he, I ask you?)

You will be thrilled to know I have a [OPRAH VOICE] “MEEEDIATION APPOINTMENT!!!” next month to discuss going back to 50/50 time with Franny. He wants to “wrap it up” before school starts. When SeaFed was sending me DEMAND LETTERS back in May demanding that we switch back, I suggested mediation, since that’s our conflict resolution process. He refused to mediate, so I let the matter drop, telling him I didn’t feel comfortable entering into further unofficial agreements with him at this time without a real deal witness present. Enter this month, and mediation is now this like, groovy idea he had, you know?

I’m not sure what the most fun part is–the appointment is at my old lawyer’s office (best quote from my lawyer, turning white as we walked into court: “Jesus Christ, we got the father’s rights judge.”), or could be it that this is all initiated by SeaFed because he wants a change now (we are still not saying the words CHILD SUPPORT in any communications), or perhaps it’s that the mediator is more expensive than my lawyer at $225/hour, christ. I keep innocently asking him why he wants this change now and the best he’s been able to come up with is “becuz.”

I think mediators deserve $225 an hour to deal with this level of impending asshattery. I sort of wish we could just go fuck off and spin our tires in the mud, because that would be the same, and yet more entertaining. Considering live tweeting the appointment, or at least bringing a tiny whiteboard to make a hashmark every time I say some flavor of “NO!” I’ll bring my laptop and be all “lol hold up dog I need to get that quote down.”

Death by A Thousand Nibbles

Emails! This is what my life has been like lately. Well, not all of it. But imagine Franny raging and crying and her grade school graduation being missed (hint: not by me or by P. as I was running it) and EMAILS, ENDLESS CHAINS OF EMAILS. At the 11th hour we finally agreed on a summer schedule. SeaFed INSISTS on taking her to and from school for her last two days next week, a 60-mile round trip.

I predict this is just more of fuckery that is to come. What do you do if you have a kid in one place, and her other parent is attempting to scooooch her life 30 miles away suddenly? Again, I’m sure the timing of the child support case being open is purely coincidental in relation to all these emails and the DEMAND LETTER I received last month DEMANDING that we revert back to a schedule we have not followed since 2005. I’m spending a lot of energy trying to keep things stable right now for her.

Since the summer schedule has just locked into place, and I should say it’s two weeks on, two weeks off, like the past few summers (I gave him the last half of each month this year since in mediation in 2007 he complained it was TOTES NO FAIR that I had the end of the month, meaning I sometimes got the massively epic 31st, giving me GASP 16 days with her), I had to ask him to take her to an already-scheduled critical dentist appointment. The dentist is something I do, gladly, because then I know it happens.

Did I ever tell you about the time back in 2005 when we were all uninsured, and he and I were separated, and so I sent him her dental bill and asked him to pay half? Not unreasonable considering that our parenting plan says we are responsible for sharing these costs. I think it was about $150, which I really did not have just laying around at the time. What I got in response to the bill was a check for $12.50, which was his “estimated cost of what half a co-pay might be if we were insured.”

I told his wife this story once when she said I should ask for help with the bills and she just stared at me. I would stare too, I guess. What do you say to that? So there’s a history here, of course.

Hi SeaFed,

Franny has a dental appointment on the 29th at 10:30 at the office in XXX. This appointment is critical because her sealant is cracked on one of her molars and she might have a cavity. If she needs a filling, I give my consent for it to be done. If they ask, you can tell them the insurance information is the same and if they have further billing questions they are welcome to call me.

Thanks,
SJ

Reply:

If you don’t have any objections, I’ll have Dr. XXXX transfer her records to our dentist [in our city] and see if they can schedule the procedure during her time here. Let me know if that’s a problem.

And me again:

Yes, it’s a problem. Dr. XXXX is her dentist. If she has a procedure, I’d like the dentist who has seen her since she was three to take care of her. Thanks for understanding.

This is sort of like an attempt at being gaslighted by a park bench or something. Am I just supposed to sit her and pretend I don’t notice that after 3+ years of me taking care of everything and her living here over 80% of the time that there is suddenly a burning desire to change the schedule and switch her dentist when she has one a couple of miles from my house who she’s been seeing for 7 years? Really, this is the response to “your daughter has a dental appointment”?

I tried to map out this thought process and I still don’t get it. If I was a kid I don’t think I’d want to be taken to a brand new dentist for the first time to possibly get a filling, when I had a dentist I knew.

The latest word is that in the fall when his fourth child arrives, Franny will be sharing a room on her weekends with her two preschooler halfsibs (one of them under two) as the baby will get the other bedroom. Franny has started borrowing her friends’ eye makeup (which means I need to get her her own), and has determined that she wants to start wearing makeup for middle school next year–the kid’s growing up. Good times ahead. At least nowadays the harm can just be measured in months in therapy instead of all the negligence injuries of the old days. In the old days I protected her body, now I am trying to protect her mental state.

P.S. My camera is broken. I am half a diarist without one.

My Own Personal Wampeter

“Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go looking for it, and I think it can often be poisonous.” –Kurt Vonnegut

Yesterday I was asked if it was ever a poor idea to send a condolences letter. I thought about it, and it was apt, because we were in Portland visiting family before the memorial service next month.

“Well,” I said. “I think if the presence of the condolences would insert an unpleasant person into your thoughts, if it’s really someone who’s not wanted, then it’s best not to express your condolences.”

The real question is, of which I was blissfully unaware at the time and therefore free to just make smug pronouncements, do unpleasant people know when they are not wanted? Of course not, because this is a very important facet of being unpleasant.

We arrived home from the store this morning and I looked in the mailbox. I had not checked it yesterday since we were traveling and out of town all day. There was a letter to Strudel’s father in there in disturbingly familiar handwriting. I thought for a minute.

Click…click…click…DING. Aw fux, it was my mother. PRESTO! What could be more timely or topical. It was like out of the Emily Post Casebook.

“I bet I know what this is,” I said, handing it over to him.

“This probably does not even need to come into the house,” he said, standing near the recycling bin. He ripped it open. “Yep.” He sighed and opened the bin’s lid, sending it off to its destiny to become toilet paper or something.

“Condolences? From the woman who is leaving me $100 in her will?”

“Yes,” he said.

What can you do with people who are so unpleasant they estrange others who could, if the situation and attitudes were only slightly different, cleave to them? I report, joylessly, that I sense some desperate scrabbling now that my mother has alienated her other daughter as well. Franny is really her last hope and since she’s got her hooks in via SeaFed’s insistence that she should know her grandmother, no matter how toxic, unpleasant, or undeserving she might be. No matter that no one else in the family will come within spitting distance. Based on past decisions, sometimes I think that SeaFed’s motivation in any given situation is simply to do the opposite of what I would do.

There is another thing, too–my mother has just been diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. Treatable, and manageable, and not my concern besides. Sadly the text she sent my sister informing her of this also said that she “might have cancer.” What is this crap? Who does this without knowing anything for certain and via TEXT? I might have cancer. We all “might” have cancer. I am also pre-med, as it turns out. Fuck me if I ever update my girls on serious health conditions via multiple texts. “LOL hernia TTYL”

I get into sharp disagreements with people who believe that family members are entitled to access by virtue of being blood relatives. How preposterous. Family needs to earn the right to be present in a person’s life, just like everyone else in the world. And I have a stronger opinion now than I did yesterday–political condolences are disgusting and helpful to no one.

In other news I’m kind of enjoying this super quick call and response thing I have going with the universe lately. It’s good for the diligent life-examiner on the go.

“I can’t believe you like money too. We should hang out.”

“Well—I mean, your friends. What do they say when someone is under the weather?”

“Oh,” said Gloria. “Well, I don’t think you’d like what they say.”

“Really? Why? Is it risque?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Tell me. What is it? I won’t be shocked.”

“Well,” said Gloria. “Most of my friends, my men friends, they say ‘I was stewed to the balls last night.’ My girl friends—“

“Really. I took you for a lady but I see I was wrong. Excuse me,” said the woman and stood up and left the room.

–John O’Hara, BUtterfield 8

 

Something happened before I left town. I was going to tell you about it when I returned, but here I was lying in bed at 5 a.m. just thinking about it, turning all the pieces over in my head. Franny came back on Monday and told me she was gaining another sibling at her father’s house. I cannot adequately describe to you the simultaneous feeling of petty elation and schadenlulz combined with a sinking feeling regarding Franny’s chances over there. Imagine: you are having an orgasm and someone explodes in and tells you your favorite pet of all time has just died. Maybe I need to dial down the hyperbole a little, though, because mostly I was enjoying the news very much, and Franny has spent most of her time at my house for a long time now. So fast on the heels of his third child, and apparently it was a surprise. SeaFed will have at least four children. I did not see this future for him when I was five months pregnant in 2000, his wife, and he was on a table getting his tubes snipped.

It all made me think of YEARS ago, when the whole crack up happened. I don’t talk about this very much, and I don’t think I’ve ever written about it. Really, there’s too much in this world to spend all your time obsessing about the small shit. As an aside, sometimes I wonder if I look like a person obsessed with…all the things I write about here, how I keep dipping into the same deep grooves over and over. I think I am sorting shit out, like most of us do. You will have to take my extremely unreliable word as a narrator that having a conversation with me involves more than three topics.

When you are in a long term relationship sometimes you hit those moments where you reach your hand out and say “I’m sorry, something is changing. Will you take my hand and leap over this canyon with me?” Sometimes the other person balks. How they balk is almost as important as if they had said “Yes, I will jump with you,” but you don’t always realize that at the time. All you want to hear is “YES, I will jump.” The balk, though. Sometimes it’s a gentle balk of “I need more time,” and it’s real and not stalling. Sometimes they say “I will watch you” and you jump and turn around and they are right beside you, having taken a donkey down and up the canyon while you did all the heavy lifting yourself. How clever!

Sometimes there is a balk and it is the Balk of Finality. You turn around and the gap was bigger than you thought, and they look kind of small and sad and alone on the old lame ledge, and their clothes look slightly out of fashion. You miss them and feel unburdened at the same time. Well, this is unfortunate. Now what?

A million years ago when I was still married, I found myself attracted to someone else. It happens! Does it ever. I’m not going to try to plead my case here. I think what happens after the realization is more important than the alleged crime of it happening at all. I approached SeaFed and told him how I felt, and wondered what I should do. Before Franny our marriage looked like the outline of a typical dull marriage: petty battles, small grudges, the occasional mutual victory, the occasional serious blowout. After her it was really going off the rails because I figured out very quickly that I would be happier as an actual single parent than as a person who acted as a single parent, but had this secret obstacle that I had to work around, who would pass out drunk instead of putting his toddler to bed or would corner my friends at the parties I threw to tell them that he delighted in cornering my friends and making them uncomfortable.

Anyway, what ensued after me realizing I was attracted to someone else is that I told him, and armed with nothing more than “and you’ve been disinterested in sex for months now, so I was wondering if you would consider…”

“No,” he said, toweling off after a shower. I think at that point he had been shooting me down for so long his damp nude body just looked like another object in the house, since it was not something I was allowed to touch, nor was there any point in bothering to have carnal thoughts in the direction of it. He laughed a little, as if I had suggested we blow off school and work and take the rest of our grocery money for the month and go parasailing all day. How ludicrous!

Oh if only, I thought. As if this person you have known for years could surprise you and suddenly grow a new head, which would issue up out of their back and replace the old one, and it would be a sensible head that would say things like, “Of course, I have been inconsiderately withholding sex from you for months, so it’s natural that you would want to have sex with someone. Go ahead, if you exploded we’d never get all your guts and brains out of the parquet flooring.” How luxurious it would be to hear the words “I understand,” or “This must be difficult for you,” without having them come from your own mouth.

There followed a period of silences and loneliness and heartbreak, which was hardly about the other person I was attracted to and killed contact with, but more about the feeling of being next to someone who is supposed to be the person who knows you the best (this was my view of marriage at 23) and in reality you are completely alone.

Things happened after this time, the next year. I was busy with grad school and Franny and making new friends and adjusting to my life as a person who was apparently supposed to be completely neutered at 25. Sex, like breathing, is something we take for granted until the second we don’t have it anymore. A hand was around my throat, hard.

The things that happened around the spaces where I was busy were confounding, and I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them. The summer before I left I found a pair of women’s sunglasses in my Jetta. This was puzzling. There had been no talk of SeaFed going out with anyone, or him having any plans at all beyond “I’m going out to practice” his saxophone with someone else.

October, there I was on the verge of moving out. All the pieces were sliding into place for me. I had been pricing rentals since summer, choosing my new neighborhood. I had taken a thousand leaps over canyons at this point and I didn’t even think of him much. We were coexisting, he was the upright piano gathering dust in the corner, and I was the broken lamp with the pretty shade that you try to remember to fix the next morning after company is gone and there are dirty glasses all over the living room. We were at a party on a houseboat for one of his friends from one of his attempts at college, a couple of weeks before my birthday. I was cornered out on the deck by one of SeaFed’s high school friends who had attempted to hang himself a couple of years before. The attempt had slashed his vocal chords and he was not able to speak much above a harsh whisper, a difficult obstacle to conversation at a party. I spent most of the night leaned in close to him on the relatively quiet deck. He was an interesting fellow. I could see through the window that SeaFed had spent most of his night talking to one person as well, a small mousy girl wearing glasses.

“Well, what a coincidence,” SeaFed loudly and deliberately said, as we walked off the docks and to our car.

“What’s that,” I said.

“Did you see that woman I was talking to?” he asked.

“Sort of?”

“I went to middle school with her. I have not seen her IN YEARS.”

“Ah,” I said. It all seemed kind of overly-elaborated at the time, and some small chime went off in my brain then, but I let it go. It got filed away with the mystery sunglasses to be considered later, much later. A week after I moved out we had dealings at the bank and he turned up with what was possibly the largest hickey I have ever seen on his neck, administered by the mousy girl at the party, who was probably so thrilled to be able to finally publicly claim him.

Months later, on a day I did not have Franny, I got a call from Franny’s school. “Where is Franny, is she unwell?” I was worried about her, and irritated that her father had not called me or called the school to report her absence, something I assumed was common sense. I called his phone, no answer. I decided to go to his house in Crown Hill, our old house, and knock on the door. His wife, who was not his wife yet, but still the mousy girl who my friends said looked like a smaller, plainer, and less stylish version of me, answered the door. She was taking one of her sick days to care for my daughter. Franny capered in the background in her Hello Kitty panties, BOING BOING BOING with a woman who was not me, who was enough of a sucker to stay home with his kid. She wanted him badly, I could see that then.

I had this unsettling feeling like I had moved out, and nothing had changed. Someone had immediately slotted into my place to take care of my child and clean up any messes. Did I want my position back? Was I jealous? No, it wasn’t like that. I think I was egotistical enough to want to be missed, but it was clear I was not going to get that. Overall I was immediately happier, was relieved, and was sleeping better.

But here was my doppelganger, the one who would put up with all the tedious bullshit I had outgrown after seven years. She wanted more than Franny, she wanted her own babies, and she got them, and a house (her mother’s house, who is now sleeping in a mother-in-law SeaFed fashioned out of a garage). And a husband.

Franny stayed over there recently on the last weekend of the month and she told me that she was hungry, and how little food there was in the cupboards at the end of the month, and I told her she should walk to the store and buy herself some food if that happens again. I felt such relief that she has a pragmatic survivor for a mother who can tell her how to do things without subjecting her to them and making her figure it all out on her own. Still, I was angry. I would prefer that she have enough to eat. Franny reports whinging about not enough money. She did some work for him last weekend to earn money and her father agreed to pay her, but he opened his wallet and basically moths flew out.

“Are they happy about the new baby?” I asked.

“No one seems happy over there,” Franny said.

In the wake of the announcement of the fourth child coming, Franny inquired about the previous promise of her getting her own room there now that she is becoming a preteen and her stepmother snorted and said “That’s probably not going to happen now” and was told that having her visit was going to be a pain now. Franny told me this factually and unflinchingly, because like I was as a child, she is very accepting of every ounce of bullshit adults can lay on her. Reader, I tell you this kind of nonsense is one of the only types that can invoke my vestigial necksnap. “THAT IS NOT OKAY!” I said.

I think about That Poor Woman over there, and yes this is preposterous, but I feel there was a break in the timeline and she is living my life. How grateful I am now that there was a stand in, someone to pass the ferryman’s paddle to, though none of us knew it was happening at the time.

Here is your writer, sitting in tropical climes with sunrises and obnoxious tropical birds happening, feeling like Hemingway except with less glamorous hangovers, a blotchy sunburn, and scoring with 100x fewer bitches.

Weasels Gonna WEASEL.

Franny’s father, our infamous SeaFed, has decided not to broach matters with my mother at all. Not AT ALL. Words that were used were basically to the effect of “You need to talk to Morgan because she has a problem with you right now ok.”

Naturally, this makes me insane, because he wants to have it both ways. He wants someone to dump Franny on so he doesn’t have to make the commute to her school on Monday mornings when he has her, but doesn’t want to face the reality of any problems there may be with his choice of child care. The reason I continue to be a click removed is because I am removed from her. I’ve made myself clear that I don’t want to see her and I don’t want my girls around her.

So I get a frantic call from my sister today after she got the message from SeaFed. “I’ve already had this fight with Mom, I don’t want to do it again.” What’s that sound? Click click click, I am being pulled in closer. Clean up crew gets to come in and say all the mean shit. I don’t blame my sister; Franny’s not her kid.

I have asked Seafed to make any time with my mother supervised and alcohol-free, but I feel like I am leaving important decisions regarding my child to a donkey with portions of its frontal lobe missing and a carny with extreme short-term memory problems and the attendant decision-making skills.

I offered to have a conversation with my sister present via speakphone with my mother and to say all the ugly shit. My sister and I are hashing it out, trying to form a plan. I keep telling her she did the right thing by not hiding what is happening. My sister is terrified that my mother will turn on her now for ratting. I predict what will happen is that things will get hideous, it will strain my sister’s relationship with my mother, and that my mother and SeaFed will get together and talk about how unreasonable I am and things will go on as before, because that will show my control freak ass. That’s my pessimism talking, but it’s also been par for the course. Family trumps all, any problem can be glossed over, and I am unreasonable.

And if anything happens to Franny as a result of how “unreasonable” I am, I am going to SNAP.

You Are Sleeping You Do Not Want To Believe

Did SeaFed call my sister on Friday as he said he would? No, he did not. There’s been absolute radio silence on this matter from all parties. I hate silence.

He did text me to ask if he could pick Franny up on Thursday, since Friday is a holiday. “Fine, and my sister is waiting for your call btw,” I said. “Ok thanks!” was the reply. In the world of SeaFed, that is the fuck you of “I do what I wont my damn self.” This can mean that he was agreeing with me on the phone when I called him to communicate my distress about my mother’s further slide, and then blew it off and will disregard me, since, as always, I am, you know, me, or he’s sticking his head in the sand about it and maybe will stop returning her calls? I don’t care about her hurt feelings.

I am sad to say he has zero coping skills for actually facing problems. People in his extended family used to disappear for a while during divorces or stints in rehab and then reappear thinner, with a haunted look or a new spouse. When I would get upset about things, or made a decision that would reflect poorly on him in “public”, or tried to create boundaries for people in my life who were not good for me, it was always my problem, I was the one who was the troublemaker and needed to sit down and be quiet. NO! I WON’T! I spent many years being quiet and doing as I was told instead of what was best for me, and boy has that fucking ship sailed.

It sailed as soon as I had children. “Hey, you can’t treat my child like this,” and a little voice in the back of my head, growing louder all the time, kept saying, “And you should not be treated like this either.” Say, that’s true, annoying dawning realization. It’s sad that we are willing to take nothing for ourselves sometimes.

I am over that realization, though. The only remaining struggle is balance. I still err on the side of being unnecessarily loyal and agonize over ending situations and relationships that are making me miserable. Sometimes I go the other way and feel like the top of my head is going to pop off over something related to the girls, until a few minutes later, when I realize that not everything needs to be a federal case.

But I am thinking about it. Ignoring this situation with my mother, or asking her opinion about how under control she thinks her drinking and behavior is would be fruitless, which was SeaFed’s plan, to talk to her. Addicts lie. I don’t care about her feelings being hurt like he does. I think he knows talking to my sister, who he has a cordial, if not close, relationship with may force him into action, because then the “crazy” would not just be coming from me.

I also need a new doctor for the girls. We got stood up for Strudel’s TB test results. That’s right, stood up. It was not a miscommunication. The doctor apologized for it last week. Then she almost ran me down at Greenlake this morning (probably unrelated). About two months ago she told me to bring Strudel back for shots in December, and when we came, the nurse looked at her chart, told us it was too soon and sent us away again. I’m done!

I’ve got a pot roast in my fake Le Crueset and that is my happy thought for today. Well, I’ve got more than one. But today, goddam diary, I feel like fruitlessly shaking my pathetic fist at the universe.