Summer Recap, Outlook: Better

I was coming around the side of the house – no, limping, as the scripture has since revealed, when my feet were stopped by a pile of peculiar garbage. It seemed that as Daniel had been weeding, fertilizing and everything else in his beautiful Eden, he had lifted the broken, hokey ornaments stuck between plants and discarded them in a heap of metal poles and dirty plastic.

Oh, halleluiah. The gaudy girl in a bonnet was gone. The lady bug fly thing, whatever sort of hideously large insect, was in the shitpile as well. Daniel was slowly starting to question the bigger matter of taste and has taken it upon himself to clean up. Not all things left by the dead wife were meant to remain as appropriate ornaments and I give him a lot of credit for being strong enough to handle that truth.

Sure enough, the Disney toys slowly started disappearing from the decorative shelves. Her certificates came off the wall. Now he wants to paint the foyer, over the partial mural of Greece that was never completed. Waiting under the last remaining return address labels splattered with rainbow colors and Tigger, several new pages await of a black and white monogram for Mr. Daniel.

I am not lost in a fantasy world. I know that it will never seem like enough, quickly enough. It will always be sad and complicated and I will always be the first to be made in to a bad person for preferring my own things and styles in the home where I live. Although it was straight outta the “Don’t Do After Death” book, Daniel let me try on all of the dead wife’s clothes, keeping what I wanted to keep. I was honored and troubled the same, as every garment he doesn’t recognize me wearing before is met with, “Is that my wife’s?”

No. Whether it was mine then or is mine now. The answer is no.

He’ll be sitting with me in a co-op Xbox game and his mind is racing with indecision over which pattern of flowers should border the dead wife’s headstone. And because he is used to sharing, he shares this with me in the most dysfunctional way. We are well aware that we have been doing it our own way since day one, against every cautionary tale.

His first day back to school was Monday. I still worried that he would be asked what he did over the course of the summer and he would say, “Nothing.” He did NOT go on a Disney cruise. He did NOT go to Jamaica with his dead wife. He may very well have told them that he did nothing besides work in the hot sun and design his dead wife’s “tombstone”, which always leaves me feeling so confused when I know that it’s the sort of long, patient marble with enough empty space for his information to be added one day.

How exactly, does that work? Does he zip up his pants, die and fall in next to her, asking her what he missed while he was living with me? Where does my jealousy and bad feelings come from? Am I crazy to feel weird about it? Should I be thinking about what it could all mean on a larger scale?

If you ask Autumn, here is what she tells you:

Daniel bought me a Huffy bike and we started going for bike rides. I have not ridden a bike in years and I love it. I worked in Dan’s yard, though not to the extent that he did, but I certainly planted more lilies and maintained what I had. We shot off our OWN fireworks, a first for both of us, which was a blast. We found our new favorite place to eat, a pretty big deal considering it has a live female vocalist performing who also plays the fiddle. We rode around Detroit on the People Mover, attended the Maker Faire, Daniel disappeared hours at a time for some sort of investment planning stuff he keeps separate from me, we played ‘Never Alone’ and ‘Chariot’, found new shows to watch on Netflix, went to the driving range, played tennis, visited my family, helped Daniel with tasks as the association’s groundskeeper, and one day after drinks he spontaneously invited some of my work friends over to the house before proceeding to take too many hits on someone’s pipe and he got so stoned and sick that he passed out from partying like a teenager.

That’s far from nothing, if you ask me.

The Thing With The Leg

The funny thing about the wrong thing is that it isn’t always so blatantly, entirely wrong in the beginning. Sometimes it’s something a little off, or not quite right. But with life being imperfect by design, we accept the nature of the beast and carry on with our mild concerns in the back of our mind. Then we worry about other shit.

In my case, that little something was pain. Being a professional yo-yo dieter and treadmill extremist I am well aware that my body will ache from strains, from time to time. Feeling a little discomfort in my leg? Life is discomforting. So I handle a little discomfort getting in and out of my car, after long shifts on my feet and anything else that seemed to agitate the issue. I learned to move my legs, sit a different way, elevate my feet or what the fuck ever, and work around it.

The human being has the potential to be incredibly tolerant. Because I have not currently been enrolled in any sort of medical insurance, the thought of an actual doctor’s visit has been the furthest thing from my mind over a little hip pain. Besides. The pain seemed to migrate and settle for a spot right in the back of my leg, opposite of my knee. Out with the old pain, in with the new pain. So what if I eventually couldn’t sit on those bar stools for very long before I couldn’t walk properly? I shouldn’t be at the damn bar, anyway.

You get used to it, the pain. And you slowly get used to the ways that it slows you down. You’re no longer met with surprise when you go to move one way and it doesn’t go so well – in fact, you’re in the pattern of knowing very well, what you can and can’t do. You live around it like a disability that can’t be fixed. You officially walk slower. You know, that when you go to stand up, you’ll have to stand there for a moment until you can put your weight on that foot and walk without limping. Don’t make it look weird – just act like you’re checking something on your phone on the way out of the restaurant when you’re actually waiting on your body to work again.

I was going up the stairs to my cleaning boss’ gazebo to fetch one of my last checks that she would have waiting in an envelope under a rock, when her boyfriend saw me.

“You’re limping,” he said. I don’t think about it all of the time. I have sort of divided the problem between when it is really bad, and when I’m just cruising along. I was just cruising along, and hadn’t really given much thought to how I must have started to walk improperly all of the time. Doesn’t that asshole know that sort of thing can really give a female a complex?

“Oh, yeah,” I answered, dismissively, “I have a weird leg or something.”

He proceeded to tell me that if I kept walking on it that I would develop a gait. Likely too late. I can remember being a kid at the rink, wondering why it was so hard for me to skate because my left foot simply would not leave the floor like my right. It was like I was always scootering, my left foot, the scooter. There’s no way we missed a problem like that for so long…

30 year olds shouldn’t be limping. So there’s that.

I really don’t want to think about it.

That Whole Cleaning Thing In 500 Words

I quit my housekeeping gig. A lot of it had to do with my car. When you’re getting paid the bare minimum and having to use your own vehicle to constantly travel, you’re making even less for gas compensation and wear & tear. Dirt roads, highway miles and shitty driveways equaled wear. Then there was an incident that resulted in a small tear in my front bumper. I was as pissed as I was done.

Now I always assumed that I was the sort of person that dug adventurous explorations but being in other people’s houses was just plain creepy as shit. I never got used to it. I hated their accumulative smells, their photo arrangements, their children’s toothpaste splattered on the bathroom mirror, their little dog eyeballing me from room to room… it was always the same. It was never my home – just a bogus find every time that I had to wipe down and make nice before I could leave.

The absolute last thing I want to do when I’m on my hands and knees scrubbing a floor is make idle chit chat with the homeowners and pretend to be interested in their open houses, gardening projects and basement remodels. Why yes, I’ll make sure to take my toothbrush to your Jacuzzi jets. Oh, you had guests and so there is an entire extra wing of your home that will need a good clean?

Then I would be running in to my full time job, throwing on my uniform in the security room and walking immediately to the floor for the last half of the day. Food did not get bought. Dinners did not get done. Everyone else’s home was cleaner than mine was. I knew it just wasn’t working for me.

Sometimes my employer would assign me to her home and I would go over there and proceed to clean her house from the basement up while she went about her business. One morning she told me to go out, grab the leaf blower and get started on her back deck. Then she might have me shucking corn or dicing mushrooms. It was unnerving and oddly unsettling for to work for the lady who was supposed to be the best example, who used “us” when she referred to the work that I did – but seemed to have everyone else doing the work. Then again, perhaps it was the best example of how a team of slaves help you live the good life.

I will say this much: I can clean the fuck out of a toilet, which I had never bothered with, before. I learned about high dusting and various chemicals for different surfaces. I got to use an assortment of vacuums and products that helped me form my own ideals for getting jobs done. And I learned that no worldly possession is worth slapping on to a credit card that requires a second job in order to pay off the balance.

And then one day, things started to look different.

Daniel recently accepted a board title as groundskeeper for his suburb and I jumped at the chance to steal some of his projects. There is a spring cleanup event that I took the responsibility of budgeting and planning. People meet at the house for breakfast (continental style), work in the park and then come back for a lunch of lasagna (bon appetite). I also worked with a few landscapers on a design for a front island/medium and flowers to go around a brick sign with the community’s name. I liked taking the different ideas and tweaking them to fit appropriate estimates. All of that allowed me to do things my way, and it kept me feeling involved.

I’m working two jobs. On several mornings a week I have been a housekeeper for a small company of less than ten women. It forced me to go outside my comfort zone, traveling to nearby cities and working inside of other people’s lives. The money is decent and I’m trying to show my boss that I’m the real deal – one of the best – and I’m going to see if I can’t get some more incentive for the adventure I’m on with that sort of career.

You know, it’s weird doing things that can easily be seen as “below” someone. The half of me that wasn’t even sure I could handle it is learning new skills, and feeling more self-worth. The half of me that felt “above” it is learning to be humbled with every toilet I scrub. It’s a very flip-floppy experience and I totally accept this challenge right now.

With the extra income I have been paying off credit cards, paying more things sooner in general, and the feeling is great. I even bought myself a few hair tools to help control the mop on my head. I haven’t had time to try the curling wand or ceramic straightener, but hopefully I’ll be messing with my new toys soon. I even got an epilator, which is like an electric shaver only it rotates several tweezers and rips your body hair out as you drag it along. Some women think it’s a torture device. I will soon see for myself.

My boyfriend and I have had some pretty incredible fights. I have been trying to express the depression and stress from feeling like I live “under” him, which he doesn’t understand. Then I attack his method of communication when he says something like “how dare you put this on me”, which I see as a manipulative tactic to turn the tables and victimize himself, to have him screaming back that he wants me out of his house.

“That, right there. That’s why I don’t feel like this is my home.”

So there’s that. But there are more good days than bad, and we always come back to a silent understanding that we both just want everything to be okay, and we go on doing our best. He finally took the photos of his wife off the walls and out from the other rooms. He put his wedding ring on his other hand. I became involved so early on that these things feel like half-baby steps to me, and I am struggling to find patience and tolerance for his grievance. His speed is his own and could never match the speed of how I wish things were.

He says I have a princess’ fantasy of everything being perfect, and that it just isn’t possible. He says he cannot give what he believes I want, even though we never specify the sort of things that I want. I’ve been told not to confuse hope and promise with a sunbeam shining on a piece of shit; I’ve been told to be very careful and that sometimes, people never change and all you do is waste your light on them. I am choosing to believe that my situation will improve – that my relationship will evolve, that we are both still young and we will find happiness together.

I’ve been on the wagon for a while now when it comes to diet and exercise. I’ve stayed the course and my jeans are no longer as taught as they seemed last winter. I want to need a smaller size by the end of summer and I aim to continue conquering that particular demon. But food is so much fun. It’s hard.

I wish I wasn’t as lost as I actually am. I wish I didn’t seem as hopelessly lost as I obviously am. I wish I had more things already figured out and established, but I don’t. All I can do is continue to try. Today I asked myself to pretend that I’d already lived a perfect life, and had already lived in the perfect house with the perfect flowers, lived through a long marriage, raised a kid, and then I asked myself, “What do you want to do now?” I like to think that the stuff AFTER what society brainwashed me in to thinking was “the ultimate”, will reveal the sort of things I actually want to do.

And I thought about changing. Changing like my name. What if I didn’t even like flowers anymore? What if I thought all of that shit was entirely stupid. How fucking cool could I get?

I didn’t arrive at any answers…I sort of got lost in the imagining, and sidetracked by responsibilities.

We will see.

He Saw Me Fall Into Depression. He missed the part where he shoved me.

We had a dinner discussion that turned sour, not unlike previous dinner conversations. He would say or ask something and I took long sips of alcohol whenever the words were not right there to give. I was thinking. I feel that I owe calculated answers.

“You drink more when you’re nervous.”

He had put a crack in my heart Valentine’s weekend, which I had taken work off for, when he saw the gift bag on my record player. This was just before dinner out.

“What’s this?”

“It’s your Valentine’s Day present.”

Upset, he sighed. “Autumn, I wish you’d stop. I can’t keep up with you.”

As he struggled with getting ready, getting dressed, getting his keys, pretty much simply gathering himself together to walk out the door…he announced as if the task was all too much, “I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.”

I don’t know why he asked me why I looked so sad, eating lobster tails. I couldn’t get his expressions off my mind. I refused to explain. Tears would well up, but never actually fall. I somehow managed to suck them back down my tear ducts every time.

When I ‘pushed my gift on to him’, he seemed upset that the Armani cologne was not the cologne he already had, from his lifetime ago. But then he said, “I used to buy this”, as if to say that it was not only his lifetime ago, it was discarded from it. Or that he had simply been there, sprayed that.

His late wife had bought him the scents from the other side of the counter that are made to smell clean, but to me reek like baby wipes and Febreeze – therefore reminding me of assholes, ass wiping and covering up the smell of ass.

“’My blue guy’, she’d say,” because something is probably called ‘Blue’. All I see is that huge Febreeze bottle, spritzing over ass-covered couch cushions.

It’s fine for people who like that. It’s fine for me, that I like Armani and have a bottle of D&G stored in the closet for his birthday (along with a shirt that has a floppy disc on it and says OLDSCHOOL, get it?).

Smelling better helped. I do like my scents. His gaming room has been spritzed with Britney’s “Hidden Fantasy” more times than I’ll ever admit.

‘I never tell/tell on myself/ but I hope she smells my perfume’-Britney Spears, “Perfume”.

He took me out twice that weekend. I’ve learned to keep my head turned away from everyone else and never make eye contact with them. I can see Dan’s eyes roaming around, ever since I had painted his face for Halloween and noticed how they tallied everyone’s movements carefully. This is to keep him from ranting later on, about how he thought I was getting too close to a stranger or was somehow behaving inappropriately.

“You can’t see yourself when you drink, Autumn, you don’t know.” And yet I’ve never had this problem, or any like it EVER before in my life, to which he explains, “You were with a stupid, young person and you’re used to doing whatever you want.”

A part of me says, “Or maybe I was just being social at the Applebee’s bar”, and I have a feeling that I’m right and he has some sort of problem. But we all have problems.

Daniel received a bouquet of flowers from me, to his classroom. For the second time in the year we’ve been dating. He kept asking me why I did it, but it was too hard to explain, “Because it’s February, and the living room in fucking February should have some FUCKING flowers on it, but I trust you not to know that.”

We went out – correction, I dragged him – to the Detroit Institute of Art recently. He gets so upset before we go out because he says he has to get back to work. Having neglected to eat before the visit he was “gonna pass out”, and I nervously walked through the rooms with him. For me this is like regretting your time with me before it has even started.

At one point I was looking at a stunning oil painting of a volcano and he answered a phone call from his mother. Always on speakerphone. Always mutually sounding so upset, my background music, of those two people complaining about how much work there is to be done. On the drive home he was cursing about the time he had lost and he asked what my favorite part had been.

I hold back a lot of tears, in this relationship.

He says that his late wife understood that he always had to work and that she left him alone. “She said it was enough just knowing I was nearby. THAT’S TRUE LOVE, Autumn.”

As opposed to? SO SORRY if I felt a kind of magnetism. I’m sorry I wanted to be close.

At the dinner during my long sips, he had both hands on the table. They were two individuals.

“This person lives and grows this way, and the other person grows SEPARATELY and grows along WITH the other person.” He was being the teacher, teaching me about how relationships work. It immediately pissed me off.

“What about when one of them is always ever making a hard left”? I asked, and I grabbed his hand and pushed it backwards. “I feel like I can either constantly tag along or I have to get lost.”

“You always take what I’m telling you and then you twist it and only see it YOUR way, Autumn. I can’t believe you just had to hurt my hand to make your point. You should SEE yourself right now.”

He had been making these very separatist points for a while, now. My attachment style seemed unappreciated – he even made it a point one day to say that I had “latched on to [my] life, because that’s what you do.” Really?! Figuring out ways to help someone who claims he never has enough time to have a life worth living, and I was being clingy?

I took all of this constructive feedback and I detached.

Just started taking steps back.

Skip a few days forward, over more of the same, insert streaky little static marks like a speeding VHS.

This morning Daniel says to me about his framed photos on the bedroom wall where I’ve slept for a year, “Hey, Autumn. Do you think you have six photos that we can put in this frame?”

I never thought he’d ask. Yet at the same time, something inside of me gave up on ever believing that thing would come down. The night before I had reached out and touched the jewelry organizer under it.

“You can use the one I bought for my wife,” he’d offered, when I said I was trying to organize my things in my one room I’m allowed-

Oh, don’t say that, I’ve let you put shit all over this house, he’ll say now, because I waged absolute bloody wars for any inch of mantle I could wrestle from Americana fauxtiques and decorative cats. But believe me, all of my s-h-i-t, is in one room upstairs.

I was looking at that jewelry organizer, under photos of the late bride, something I would have never, ever picked out as it stood empty because it was hers and she died and her jewelry is all probably appraised and in a safety deposit box somewhere, and I just said, “Fuck this thing.”

“Fuck, this. Fuck everything here, that isn’t mine. I’m never touching it. Don’t want the shit,” I decided, as I fell in to bed. The same one that was theirs. To be fair, I’ve had to pick some or leave.

Do I have six photos. I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know, anymore.

I don’t go down and have coffee with him anymore. I don’t butt right up next to him on the couch. I don’t wait up at night. I’m finding time to do other shit.

I haven’t decided if I’m still fighting.

He all but spelled out that we needed to be separate and my life is NOT taking the course of a constant hard left. Gotta move forward. And now he has to bring everything up. Says it’s a pattern – even though he didn’t KNOW me before – and that my time on the treadmill and off in another room playing on my laptop is all part of getting ready to leave him.

“It’s nice just knowing you’re somewhere, around, somewhere,” I answered, flailing my hand, “It’s TRUE LOVE, you know.”

Somewhere Between Helping and Hurting

Everyone’s got a past filled with the other people from the world. They have histories of living and loving before you came along. Each relationship is different, existing on its own account, whether brief or everlasting.

While it’s true that most breakups devastate at least one of us (the lyrics “When a heart breaks, it don’t break even” come to mind), sometimes both parties unwillingly separate. We don’t all choose to end it. But we do choose to begin anew.

Despite the harsh turns our lives take, none of those people in yours should be (or be made to feel) like your last chance leftovers. They are not the ruins of your previous relationships. They are not defaults or plan B’s. Don’t ever look at your partner and tell them that they came from your past without them.

To say that you’re holding their hand only because you can’t hold someone else’s is wrong. It’s hurtful and pointlessly devastating to the both of you, to live by this methodology. Life would be different if things were different; this is basic science – it’s not the basis of a relationship.

“When I was with someone else, I wasn’t with you.” No duh. Neither was I.

“If I could have stayed with someone else, I wouldn’t be with you.” Why does that matter, now?

“The only reason I’m with you is because one door closed.” Hold on there, dipshit.

For the record, I am not ONLY, ANYthing. And I’ve been with you because I’ve chosen to, and that’s what matters. That is the only direction to go with this. I’m not a crappy band-aid for your losses in life.

I’m sorry if you think your last partner was a bigger jackpot. I’m sorry that you’ve loved bigger and better. I’m sorry you didn’t win. I’ve been here, focused on you, giving you all I have and I know you’re hurting. You should be trying to do better. That should be the point.

Don’t treat someone like your consolation prize because they’re not.

You’ll lose that, too.