Tag Archives: struggling

A Sly Smile Kinda Morning

The sky is an iridescent grey, at once inspiring and eerie.

My day is stretched before me with a loose idea of all the things I have to do, mostly of the meetings-and-appointments sort. A murky mess sits at the bottom of a mug I wish was filled with fresh black coffee. I just shrug at its emptiness and type on.

Inside, calmness has settled in. A calmness I probably haven’t felt in a number of years.

It began yesterday morning with a kind of prescient feeling about how much I could or would get done during the day. I blew that out of the water and settled my to-do list with great authority, meeting and beating all aspirations for the day.

At the end, I decided I’d finally take a look at my finances. For the first month of my unemployment I’ve applied the Ostirich Approach to my situation — only after I’d taken a hard look at the bottom line of what I would need to live on each month, and had the vague notion I might be okay until June. Then, I buried my head, spent as little as possible, and just did my shit, with the assumption that Spending Almost Nothing was all I needed to do.

Much of what I did spend was covered by “found” money — gifts from a couple kind people. (You fucking rock.)

I knew when the month started it would be tight and was 95% sure I would either be deferring my loan payment or telling my landlord I needed an extra week to pay the rent. I mean, the reality is, the first month of unemployment is ALWAYS the hardest.

I was in the situation of having had a bad-spending winter, followed by the Olympics crushing my savings, and had NO idea that a complete lay-off loomed. I thought I’d lose a day of work a week — I was praying for it — as we’d applied for the Workshare program (spreading a lay-off throughout the company, with the government paying 55% of the one day a week each employee gives up).

I never thought I’d be laid off entirely this year. And after a year spent rehabbing a back injury and two years of having to replace entire wardrobes with every season due to weight-loss, and that I’ve been making lower-middle-class income in one of the world’s most expensive cities… well, yeah, no savings either.

But…

But I managed to get enough ducks in a row as soon as the “OMG, lay-offs might be coming” fear that hit around March 24th, before finding out on the 25th that I would be entirely laid off, likely the next day, that I sort of had a fighting chance.

I was also insistent with my employer that the additional 3 days of work at the end of March would make the difference between me surviving until June at least.

And it did.

I finally scrounged up everything I had last night — not including a little emergency money I’ve set aside or what’s on my Visa — and know I can pay rent AND groceries until the middle of the month, without even receiving my government employment insurance benefit. AND I keep what little safety net I have intact.

That changes everything.

I feel like it’s the stamp of approval. “Go forth, Steff,” it says. “All will be well.”

I know, I’m supposed to be all embarrassed that my money’s this tight.

I’m supposed to be ashamed.

Wealth is a sign of success and position and talent and brains, isn’t it?

Fuck you.

Fuck ANYONE who thinks I need to be ashamed that things have been so close.

I’ve NEVER been irresponsible with money. All I’ve been guilty of is being average with money. At my income, spending an additional 10% every month cripples you in a hurry.

I am NOT my adversity. FUCK that.

Try losing 70 pounds and having to buy new wardrobes every three months, or getting so severely injured you spend a month laying on a floor and for months have to take cabs and pay 20% more in groceries  just for the convenience, because you’re in too much pain to bus from a further, cheaper store.

That I’m even paying rent tomorrow without any interceding forces makes me more proud than you’ll ever fucking know.

Fuck anyone who thinks money and whether someone gets through a jam financially is a reflection at all of that person’s intelligence, ability, talent, or resilience. Money is as much about luck and selective adversity as it is savings abilities.

Some people just have more things to overcome. In my life, money was always the villain. That line between getting by and barely surviving is thinner than most people might realize.

For once, money doesn’t feel like my villain anymore.

I’ve got rent, baby. And food. And I’m gonna buy me some wine and a steak tonight to celebrate.

[shaking head]

Yeah. I don’t know… I feel like I have to say more:

So many of you need to feel what kissing poverty is like. You need to feel how much it hurts inside when you’re terrified about paying the rent or you’re sure you’ve got to resort to drastic measures to get by. You need to know what it’s like to think hope is too expensive a luxury for your position. You need to imagine what that fear’s like when it’s not just you it affects.

You need to know how hard it is when money’s not within your grasp. Everyone needs to feel that.

I hope I never feel it again. And I hope I always remember that pain. I hope I always have the empathy I wish more people had shown me earlier — but so many are showing me, even showering me with, now.

Today is a day of gratitude, goodness, and calm. For me, at least. You? You can choose that, too.

Take a minute to think about what you really have, and pray you never come close to losing it.

Some fears aren’t fit for anyone. But gratitude is one-size-fits-all.

Beyond the talk of money? My future’s looking great. What a ride this summer will be. Stay tuned.

PS: Methinks unemployment might’ve been the best thing that ever happened to me. Wait’ll you get a load of me, baby.

Recording a Moment(ish)

I had a moment tonight.

My best friend GayBoy (@mr_tits_pervert on Twitter) was over tonight and we were drinking, doing the Silly Thing, and I was off in the bathroom.

I looked in the mirror and I just remembered my mother and how I always thought she was so beautiful. You know, when she wasn’t wearing her black-&-hot pink industrially-thick socks with too-short pants on “lazy days”, that is. Continue reading

Broken: Hearts, Minds, Vows, and Man

One of the things that’s simultaneously good and bad about this gig is that people tell me things from time to time they wouldn’t even tell their shrink.

Just the other day one such letter arrived in my in-box. As is sometimes my habit, I entered into a knee-jerk response and was about to tear the woman apart. Something made me stop and think, and instead of writing something savage, I sent her an email back. Her last question in her initial email was, “Am I a white trash whore?”

My response then was, in so many words, no, but you’re a liar and a cheat. I do stand by that, but with a massive, monumental, intergalactic caveat.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Due to the fact that there’s so incredibly much riding on her admission to me, I’m taking great liberties to change a good deal of the particulars that could identify who this poor goddamned woman is, because her life is filled with enough shit right now and I’ve no business adding to the pile by doing anything that could in any way come back to haunt her.

Here’s the gist of what you need to know.

  • She’s a mother.
  • She’s been married a decade-plus.
  • She’s in her mid-30s.
  • She’s been madly in love with her husband for all the years of their marriage, and still loves him, but things have changed.
  • He suffered a life-changing stroke of great severity that has rendered him child-like and frail. His mental capacity is nothing of its former self and his personality has been completely reformatted. Physically, he needs constant help. Sexually, he functions, but there’s no attraction left for her.
  • She’s been having an affair with a close friend of the family, in which the sex is incredible. Unfortunately, both she and he are married, and neither have the intention of abandoning said spouses.

That’s it, in a nutshell, that’s what a volley of eight emails has yielded to me.

Like most women under great strain, she’s perceived by others to be an incredible trouper. Strong, coping, able, yada, fucking yada.

The truth is, she’s coming apart at the seams. She hates herself for her betrayal of the husband she loved with all her heart, the husband she stayed with even though she learned he had cheated on her. She despises herself for loving sex with this other man. She’s angry about the loss of her love and best friend and the passion that came with. She doesn’t feel she’s able to speak to anyone about it. My guess is, she’s drowning in this life of woe she’s found herself enveloped by.

And my heart goes out to her.

Yes, she’s lying to her husband. Yes, she’s a cheating ho. But ask yourself: What would you do?

I know a lot of people would judge her for cheating on a guy who’s been sent into this horrible new reality by this unfortunate eruption of blood in his brain, but what about her? She’s still among the living. All of a sudden, she’s expected to give up everything that defines her life to provide 24/7 care for a man who can’t care for himself. She’s young, in her sexual peak, and what’s more, she needs an outlet for all the things gone wrong.

When my mother died seven years ago this week, I turned to books on grieving. I went through all the topics on mourning, everything from poetry to prose to essays, and I distilled from it a great deal of information on what to do to get through it all. The thing was, they said “mourning” and “grieving” are misunderstood. They’re not just necessary in times of death; they’re necessary in times of great change and loss of any kind.

For all intents and purposes, this woman’s husband died. When those blood vessels ruptured and filled his head with pools of blood, the soul of him just faded away. He’s but a shell these days, though he lives and breathes and walks and fills the space of their home with a friendly face and eyes that once mirrored the love she showed him.

With every moment in every day, she’s confronted by the struggle of caring for him, of helping him, of getting him through to the next day. Then there are the kids. And the doctors and medical procedures. Then there are the quiet moments. The moments in which she should be able to have the time to think of herself and her needs and the things she ought to do with her life… but that she can’t. Because every waking moment is spent caring for others and forgetting herself in the process, and when she’s not caring for them or coping, she’s formulating plans for keeping that circle rolling. In a life like that, there is no “down time.”

I believe one of the most important things for women (in particular) to do is to remember the them they’re forgetting, and to consciously make themselves more important in their scheme of things. But how does she do this? How is it possible?

I lived with my mother when she was dying of cancer. Any time I thought there was something important for me to do for myself, I consciously remembered that she came first. I couldn’t do that for myself; what about Mom? But then I was let off the hook. She died. My heart shattered to a million pieces, and one day I began to Krazy Glue myself back together. It took time, it took work, it took a conscious remembering that it was her that died, and not me.

This reader has none of that time, none of those options, and as far as I can tell, no Krazy Glue.

What’s the point of all this, of her letter, of this posting? I’m not really sure there is one. There’s no easy answer, no pat solution. It’s broken heart upon broken heart, and no matter what she decides, she’s in for a constant world of hurt because that’s her new reality. She can continue being sexually satiated by her lover, and lie to the man she loved but whose lights are no longer shining, or she can do the moral thing and give up the sexual release in order to do “the right” thing and continue caring for that shell of a man.

Either way, she’s in for a hard life.

So I say, whatever gets you by, sister.

The thing she needs to watch out for, sadly, is the fucking obtuse people out there who think morality trumps reality; those who just don’t get that some kinds of adversity just aren’t the kinds you can put your chin down to and barrel on through. Some kinds stop you up inside and make you hurt six ways to Sunday with no relief in sight, and this is that kind.

She could walk on him. Leave him hanging, and therefore no longer be unfaithful, but then what happens to him? Broken brain, broken body, plus broken heart?

Or she stays with him and gets her pipes cleaned by her new plumber man from time to time, and enjoys the illusion of affection and love, such as she once had with her husband?

I really don’t know. It’s quite possibly the original lesser-of-evils dilemma, and I’ve had some sad moments thinking of what her existence must be like.

I feel badly that she feels so alone, as I know I refuse to be the voice in the night that listens at all hours and says everything’s gonna be all right, baby, ‘cos I don’t even have a voice like that for me right now, so how do I provide it for others?

She’s not alone, though. She sees a therapist, but she’s too afraid of feeling like a failure and a liar in confessing her recent moral choices to him. I say she must. If there’s any one thing I do know, it’s that. She absolutely must confess to him, because he’s not a fucking idiot. He’ll understand, and he might even provide her with the closest form of absolution she’ll ever receive.

This is hard, baby. Harder than hard. It’s diamond-hard. Confess. Take a load off. Print off these emails we’ve exchanged, and this posting, and drop them off at your shrink’s a few days ahead of the appointment with a note saying, “These are a conversation I’ve had with a complete stranger. We need to talk. We really need to talk.” At least it’ll let you know the issue’s finally getting confronted, but it’ll let you sit back while he plays the ball that’s now in his court.

I wish I had a magical Band-aid for you, but all I’ve got is empathy. You do what you got to in order to get through. You may feel like shit and you may feel like a liar and a cheat and trash, but you’ve got my admiration. You’re doing what’s got to get done, and if it so happens that you’re a little human along the way, well… that’s just the way it goes.

But what do you think, readers?

Every Day I Think About Money

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately, for obvious reasons. My theme song is the Stereophonics’ live track, “Every Day I Think About Money.” A couple days back I was elated when I was able to pay for 95% of my groceries with the coin I extracted from my piggy bank. (And, yes, it really is a piggy bank. It’s an upscale pottery pig, a high-falutin’ pig, but it’s a clay porker-broker indeed.)

These days, any self-worth I have comes from me. I can’t pad things with purchases. I can’t buy a little somethin’ somethin’ to make myself feel better. Others keep trying to spend money on me, and every time they do, a little more of my pride whittles away, despite the fact that I know they’re just trying to enjoy some time with me and see me satisfied. And, yes, as Marcellus Wallace would say, that’s pride fuckin’ wit’ me.

I’ve always been a proud person. I learned it from my mother. She was broke in the three years before her death, and we didn’t have a lot of money in my teens, either, but through it all, my mother never looked destitute, and she sure as shit never acted it. I try to live up to that. Sure, I falter at times, but such is life.

It’s easy, though, when you have money to spend yourself to a supposedly better state of mind. It’s easier still to try and spend your way out of guilt towards a loved one when you’re not being the lover/parent/spouse/friend you think you ought to be. I think we’ve all done this in the past. It’s too easy to not have done it.

We like to confuse the issue and pretend it’s generosity we’re providing, but it’s really not that. It’s absolution.

Back in the day, the Catholic Church filled its coffers by selling salvation. For a lofty price, you could contact a bishop and acquire yourself a church-sanctioned piece of salvation; as if giving God money could cause him to avert his judgmental gaze from you.

Nothing’s changed. We’re still the same. We “give at the office” so we can justify all our transgressions elsewhere. We buy our lovers gifts because we don’t have the time or energy to be with them, or worse, because we’ve lied to them or betrayed them. Well, it ain’t workin’. It’s the financial equivalent of trying to pull off a Band-aid slowly. What the fuck you thinkin’, Willis?

Money may make the world go round, but it also keeps the shrinks at bay long enough to delude ourselves that things aren’t really what we know they are.

The good thing about being broke like this is that I’m forced to go inside myself more and see what it is I value about me, to try and remember the simple things in life that bring me pleasure. Lying on a sofa on a dark, warm summer night with some music playing and just the streetlight slipping in through cracks in the curtains. Finding a nice bunch of economical ingredients and creating something new and wonderful in the kitchen while still making budget. Taking the long ride home on the scooter while dangling my sandal-clad feet off the side to get a breeze through the toes. Singing to myself and switching up familiar melodies with new phrasing and note combinations. Reading a good book in the bath.

And few of those cost any money, and whatever does cost money is something I’d be spending anyhow, so I just spend it wiser, is all.

I’ve been trying to avoid going into stores for the past few months, because this money-being-tight thing isn’t a recent development — it’s just more intense now than it’s ever been. But stores are made to make us want all the things we don’t have. That’s their nature. What’s worse is there’s a science behind marketing that most people are ignorant of.

Next time you’re in a supermarket, look at how it’s laid out. The meats on one side, the veggies on the other, and to get to either, you must pass all the processed and packaged shit that comes with higher markups. The lighting’s dimmer over the processed aisles, too, by some 30%, so you have to focus more to see what you’re looking for, and in so doing, you’re more likely to purchase something you don’t need. The brightest lighting, though, is over the checkout counters so you’re hyper alert and pay the right money, plus you move and act quicker so they save time on every transaction.

I’m on hyper-vigilant stand-by mode every time I enter stores these days. I’m conscious of my knowledge of marketing and subliminal sales tricks so I can try with all my heart to not spend a dime more than necessary. And I’m also conscious in reminding myself that it’s how I live my life, not what I fill it with, that brings me joy. It’s hard. It’s really hard. I’d love to get new headphones. My toaster oven has a Mensa-issued turn-on switch that requires a secret handshake and multiple acts of finagling just to get the fucker to toast. I’ve lost so much weight that all my clothes hang on me, and my pride’s taking a hit (fuck you, Marcellus; it is what it is).

But in the recent months I’ve acquired something money could never bring me before: Resourcefulness. Self-knowledge. Strength of self. A kind of inner peace I didn’t know existed.

Yeah, I still hate the 28-year-olds driving cars worth 30 times what my scooter’s worth, but I also know the looks of envy I get from them when I pull up at a stopsign in shorts and a t-shirt on a sweltering day, tapping my feet and singing to myself under my helmet. I glance over and a grin spreads on their faces as they nod, wondering why they’ve bought into the myth of the fancy car and the big monthly payments.

We each find happiness in different ways, but I’ll tell you one thing: It ain’t on your Visa bill, baby, nor is it in the cracks of your couch.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

That phrase is among select company in the statements none of us wants to hear in a relationship we value. It’s gone beyond being a standard line given when something inexplicable has gone awry in a relationship to being a pop-culture joke of reknown.

In Seinfeld, George Costanza freaks out after being dumping by a woman, saying, “You’re giving me the ‘It’s not you, It’s me’ routine? I invented ‘It’s not you, it’s me’. Nobody tells me it’s them not me. If it’s anybody, it’s me!”

But this time, it’s the Guy.

He needs some time, he says. Life’s hard. Between the rehabbing, working incessantly, being completely out of sick time for the next ten months, the frustrations of life being different from what it was, the fatigue, the lack of freedom and fun, the residual depression that comes with… It’s proving to be a hell of a reality cocktail for him.

Apparently, the future of the relationship is in jeopardy. As a result of all the things going on for him, he’s been left feeling flat and emotionless, and it’s eating him up.

I’m worried that it’s over. My worries are valid. A decision won’t be made yet, there is no timeline. Space will be had. Things will be revisited. We’ll see what’s next on the horizon then.

The strange thing is, we both care for each other a great deal. I know it. He knows it. We’re a great match. On paper, we have so damned much going for us, so how it’s here, how it’s this way, neither of us can figure out beyond just really dumb fucking luck.

I’ve had reservations since the get-go with his badly broken leg that he suffered only a couple weeks into our relationship. I should have played things differently. I should have pulled back more, made myself scarce, but I didn’t. I wanted to pretend things were fine, too. Delusion is a great plaything.

Unfortunately, I know exactly what he’s going through. I should have known better. I’ve been down that road – coming home from work so fucking tired all you want to do is die a while, cry a while, whatever it takes to reset. The last thing you want is having to deal with people of any kind, because you haven’t even got the energy to deal with yourself anymore.

Am I feeling negative about it? Yeah. Because although I’ve come through those injuries and know that he’s at his lowest point right now – there’s a false optimism when you get that first update on the prognosis from the doc: “Progressing nicely” – because it’s never as easy as you hope it will be. In fact, it’s harder. You throw excess overtime and challenges into the mix, and then you’re sent spiraling into a hole you think’ll take you all the way to China.

And one day, things change. One day, things get better, and you come back to yourself, and things carry on as you wish they would’ve a long time before.

The only question is whether I’ll be around to see it. Whether I want to be. And right now, I don’t even know the answer to that. I know he doesn’t want to hurt me, but I’ve been pushing little hurts and neglects aside for a couple weeks now, with a realization of what he’s been enduring and cutting a little slack as a result. I’m not sure what my breaking point is. I had a vision for this relationship, and that break broke more than his bones.

I have no cards to play. I get to back off, and that’s all I can do.

That’s adversity for you. It’s why hard times are so consistently responsible for trouncing relationships. In the end, we all close our eyes and become prisoners in our own minds. Lovers seldom can truly break through the walls we raise between us and the world. We try to let them in, but there’s a place inside they often just can’t reach (and sometimes we can’t, either), and when things like these happen, those places grow cavernous and dark and dank.

The thing that makes this really hard is, I want the Guy in my life, but if this was to end tomorrow, I’m not sure he would be. I’ve never stayed friends with an ex-lover. I don’t have it in me. Just like I can’t do random, casual sex; my emotional capacity doesn’t work that way. My reservoirs run far too deep to just turn the valve off and change pressure modes for comfort’s sake. I can’t ignore matters of the heart, and I can’t pretend they’re less than they are. “Friends” are nice, but when you’re wanting a lover, there’s not much sense in pretending you’re not the person you know you are, or that you don’t have the needs and desires you do.

I sometimes hate how life can change in an instant. (Ironically, mine seems to be changing two ways in an instant. I’m so fucking torn.) There’s so little power any of us has over our circumstances, and when the going gets tough, we have to hold on to the things we have and struggle to keep ourselves in the game.

Only this time it just isn’t that easy. Nothing is.

It’s a waiting game now, and my suspicions last week about overtime possibly being a dire contributor to this relationship have proved true; I saw it posing a bad shift in balance between the me time I have far too much of, and the time he’s had virtually none of. I don’t blame him for the overtime, he’s had no choice. We all know what responsibilities to the workplace entail, and we’ve all sacrificed our private lives to an extent for it.

I just wonder if either of us really knew what was on the table.

Now we do.

Am I optimistic? As I write this, not particularly. And I fucking hate that. I have no question that he wants it to work with me. He’d be a fool not to want that. I just don’t think he has it in him right now. And if he doesn’t, then I probably won’t have it in me to be anything outside of what I’ve been thus far for him. I wish I wasn’t, but it’s how I’m built. I foresee things being hard to overcome if it goes that way.

For now, we wait. We hope. We wonder. Then we see.