We’re all the lucky ones

Because it was on a weekend this year, Valentine’s Day might have passed without me noticing if it weren’t for a few Facebook friends sharing photos of bouquets and festive table settings. Unlike some previous years, I wasn’t bitter or envious of those in a pair. Sure, it would have been nice to have someone be like, “SURPRISE! Here’s a first edition Lolita with a butterfly doodle on the title page. Now let me buy you a steak!” but I wasn’t aimlessly hurling frustration just because I don’t have a guy to buy me flowers and a card.

When I think of Valentine’s, I recall an album I heard a few years ago: Daughter’s “If You Leave.” It was a dark winter morning & I was getting ready for work and I decided to buy the album on Amazon on a whim. I was groggy, craving soft sheets, snuggles, and the adoration of someone else and the lyrics hit me in the gut.

And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one,
‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone.
Setting fire to our insides for fun,
To distract our hearts from ever missing them.
But I’m forever missing him.

It was a melancholic day in my cubicle. I spent most of the day thinking of loves lost, envious of those lucky ones who took their companionship for granted. I missed the days of democratic valentines when I didn’t understand the holiday, I just knew I was going to get 28 poorly torn and folded cards from my classmates. In middle school when I actually did get the holiday, the first three weeks of February were a slow roasting hell, seeing the halls covered in advertisements for the carnation sale. I think I received two $1 carnations – both were from female friends whose generosity felt cruel because they weren’t boys. High school was where I started seeing that it wasn’t so much about love and affection as it was about the things guys bought girls. Since boys weren’t buying me anything, it was fortunate that it was cool to hate Valentine’s Day.

I had several vaguely memorable gifts Valentine’s Days that I can fondly recall; The lunch, latte, and bouquet from the produce boy. The blood red roses from Jon. My first Kindle & pearl studs from Bill. The Second City tickets from the professor. Last year’s dozen roses delivered at work after a first date.

What I hate most about Valentine’s Day is how reductive it is. That list isn’t representative of those relationships. They ranged from simple blushing and hormone-heavy infatuation to complex and sustained commitments. But somehow, whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around, the first thing that comes to my mind is all the previous February 14ths – not the relationships I was in at the time. It takes a while to recall how the produce boy made me blush every time he delivered a white chocolate raspberry latte from my favorite coffee shop – longer still to remember how badly I craved any sign of love from Jon and how deeply I celebrated any instance of affection. It’s somewhat easier to recall the easy tenderness Bill and I shared, and the thrill of the professor’s support of my hobbies.

I listened to “Youth” again the other day, and it didn’t hold the same sadness it once did. Instead of focusing on the lingering bitterness over someone, I consider myself lucky to have experienced such a range of love and despair. It means I’ve been able share myself with a person and he’s trusted me enough to share himself with me. A successful relationship isn’t necessarily one that ends in marriage and eternal commitment. A successful relationship can also be one of mutual discovery and growth. Even the relationships that ended badly were ones that lead to further self-awareness. It’s cliche, but it really is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.

While the ego bruise from Valentine’s Day might still be fresh for some readers, I still want to tell people to treasure wherever they’re at. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t place any importance on this arbitrary day. Just treasure your moments and savor whatever you’re doing.

Vonnegut sums it up better than I can tonight: “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

Falling in Love on Summer Street

The first time I fell in love, it was to a soundtrack of Sufjan Stevens, The Shins, Nada Surf, and Broken Social Scene. Our first kiss happened in the front bedroom of a house on Summer street with a group of hardcore straight edge guys playing video games in the living room below. Chicago was playing, because why would it not be playing during a first kiss?

His name was Eric and he made me feel like the manic pixie characters I was constantly writing about in my fiction at the time. In his eyes, I was thing to be constantly in awe of. It began so tentatively, I can’t remember exactly how we met. My earliest recollection of Eric-induced butterflies were his responses to my away message on AIM that I read upon returning a youth symphony performance. He somehow found out I wasn’t going to senior prom and wanted to take me, but couldn’t afford it. I was embarrassed by his enthusiasm. Not only was I not accustomed to attention from boys, but he was three years older than me and had graduated from another high school. I imagined introducing him to friends and classmates. I told him I was flattered and thanked profusely, but told him that I was fine. When you’re 18 and awkward, romantic attention is impossible to process.

We started spending time together under the guise of starting a band. He wanted to write songs & I had no idea how to accompany unwritten music. Somehow we got promo photographs taken without so much as a name or song established. Eventually we stopped using song-writing  as the reason for spending time together and then we just started kissing a lot.

This probably would have been our band's first album cover.

This probably would have been our band’s first album cover.

He wasn’t the boy I thought I would date. I was acutely aware that my parents didn’t understand my attraction to him. He gardened. He had a pair of male and female vintage Schwinn bicycles just because. He wore slim-fitting Levis, tired Converse sneakers, and a perpetual red hooded sweatshirt. He had a habit of making sly observational remarks that surprised new acquaintances.”You just don’t get him,” I felt compelled to explain when I saw this happening. “He’s just commenting on the absurdity of life! It’s just what he does!”

Our timing cultivated the perfect setting for a doomed first love: dewey sunsets, rickety vintage bicycles racing down the hill by the river, ipod classics and auxillary speakers, dusty box fans, virginity’s farewell, and my impending first semester of college just months ahead. Though I maintain the swing shift job I worked that summer was my worst ever, my only memories are those of complete bliss. I was carefree – I had two hilarious best friends, a boyfriend, a convertible car, and an endless supply of mix CDs. I didn’t need anything more.

It’s been ten years since this brief relationship, but some of my most vibrant romantic memories are with him. They’re embarrassingly innocent and naive. I think that Eric was (and perhaps still is) an extremely self-aware person who translates well only to a niche audience. Sometimes it felt like he was directing the scene, ensuring maximum nostalgia for years to come. Sometimes he would change a song before it ended, only to arrive on the one I realized should have been playing all along:

  • Sufjan Stevens: Chicago –  for our first kiss
  • Nada Surf: Your Legs Grow – a sticky night, tacking photographs to his wall
  • The Shins: Those to Come – the timid and moon-bright night when I inaudibly told him I loved him
  • Broken Social Scene: Shampoo Suicide – the night I wore a lime paisley boatneck tank and he breathlessly told me that I was amazing
  • Kenny Chesney: Summertime – driving to Woodman’s in his truck, listening to something like the Getup Kids, and Eric saying he had heard a country song that made him realize he liked the way my toes looked on the dash
  • matt pond PA: Lily Two – sitting on a quilt in some field off of highway 76 with our instruments, Eric trying to get me to loosen up by singing “leaves of grass, leaves or grass, leaves of grass…” at the top of my lungs
  • Silence – lying on our stomachs, watching rain fall beneath a streetlight, then him saying “You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes right before you die? I hope this is one of those moments I see.”

Eric was mindful about creating memories. He was a complicated person, someone I don’t think I ever fully knew or understood, but I knew that if he was choosing to spend time with me, he thought I was special.

I only have the one, but I think it’s safe to say that first loves are magical. I could go on to describe its end, but it doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that it happened and that it was special.

Canine Cancer

Last night I learned that my dog has cancer.

When my dad told me, I didn’t really feel anything for about a minute. News like that never feels real until you hear your father’s voice crack.

Jack’s a 100lb black lab. He’s about 8 years old and blindly adores me and my family the way only dogs can. I visit my parents a few times a month and if Jack sees me from the top of the driveway, he just about plows me over. If I were to match his excitement, he’d squeal for an hour. He’s a happy dog. He has the same amount of energy now as when we picked him up from the shelter seven years ago.

According to the vet, he has a really aggressive form of cancer. Realistically, he only has a few months left. I’m too scared to look at anything on wikipedia about canine cancer, so I don’t know what his life would be like for the next few months. My family has decided that we’ll be putting him to sleep.

Discussing when to schedule euthanasia makes you feel helpless, though you’re basically playing god for a few moments. It’s something that has to be done. We don’t want him to suffer through another bloody nose. They started in July and escalated to what my parents describe as a looking like a crime scene on the front porch, the living room, the back of the car, and the exam room.  But when he’s wagging his tail and excitedly chewing on a stick while dad putzes in the garage, it’s hard to accept that he’s dying. He’s too damn happy to be dying. It makes me sick to think about Jack no longer greeting me when I stop by, but I know it has to be done.

While my family discussed this, I kept thinking about how weird it is to say that we put our animals to sleep. That phrase is stupid. I know it’s supposed to soften euthanasia, but it kind of cheapens it. It’s not sleep. It’s death. The emotional blow isn’t any less harsh just because you use a pleasant euphemism. “Letting him go” seems more appropriate, but if we’re talking semantics, letting him go would mean more that we just let him die naturally. But that’s not what we want, because if we were to let him go that way, it could potentially be by a very traumatic bloody nose that never stops. Though it might be natural, it’s not humane. But what the hell does humane mean in this scenario? Horse doctor? White Fang-style disowning? Because I clearly have excellent coping mechanisms, this is basically what was going through my head while my brothers were sharing how they felt things should go: the language and cultural expectations surrounding dying pets.

We’ll be having the vet come into our home to do the procedure, then we’ll pick up the remains later. I wish I could shut my brain off sometimes, because then, as soon as the remains were mentioned, I recalled a This American Life episode in which they investigated whether or not families truly received their pets’ remains. It’s been a few years since I heard it, but I’m pretty sure they arrived at the conclusion that you’re probably not getting your pet’s ashes. I had to force myself to shut up about it because though that tidbit is probably factual, it wasn’t going to do anything but frustrate my family and remind them that I can be an insensitive ass.

I’m not sure when exactly he’ll be put down, but probably within the next month. As with all things, this sadness, too, shall pass. But right now, it’s kind of heartbreaking.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something's awry. Just look at those eyes.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something’s awry. Just look at those eyes.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn't get any stronger.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn’t get any stronger.

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn't a dog who has cancer, right?

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn’t a dog who has cancer, right?

He's patient, but not coordinated. I think I've seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

He’s patient, but not coordinated. I think I’ve seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

Chill out, bro.

Chill out, bro.

Lookin’ Forward to Hump Day

A few weeks ago, I found myself stopped at a red light on my way to work. It was a bright mid-august Monday morning, complete with golden sunlight, dew-glittered fields, and cool air. I’m stopped at this light most mornings, I still haven’t figured out the pattern to work in my favor. I was in the right lane when an orange truck pulled up next to me.

People often joke that there are two seasons in Wisconsin –  Winter and Construction. It’s true. They’e always finding new ways to tangle the highways and frustrate commuters. As August falls into Construction season, the truck didn’t really draw my eye, though I assume the point of the color is to alert drivers of potential hazards. But construction sites and all their accessories have really just turned into one more blemish of a highway drive, like a billboard or wind turbine.

Any moment free of social obligations is one I savor. Typically my resting bitchy face is defense enough against bland small talk and handsome men in coffee shops. (To deal with the slightest romantic anxiety, I’ve developed these really cool defense mechanisms that basically say, “I’m going to avoid eye contact with that handsome man so he doesn’t think I’m at all interested in him. The few moments of potential polite rejection isn’t worth the potential payout of meeting my soulmate.”) Does this enhance my life? Probably not. But I’ve accepted that I’m just not one of those naturally social people who makes a new friend weekly.

When I’m not humming along to music, I’m wearing my resting bitchy face during my morning commute, so I was surprised to hear a man greeting me. “Mornin!” He hollered over the idling engines. One wrist rested on the steering wheel, and he held his nonchalant but purposeful gaze on me. His sun-bleach facial hair contrasted sharply against his tanned skin. Sunglasses covered his eyes, but I was sure he had winked behind the lenses. His reflective vest indicated his destination.

“Good morning,” I said.

“How you doing?” He asked in that leery tone, accentuating “you”.

“I’m doing well.”

“Yeah?” He nodded, prodding for more.

This is exactly why I hate small talk. Small talk so clearly demonstrates the checks and balances of conversation, and no one is ever sure of the final value of a shallow exchange. I loathe owing somebody a response for nothing. But I’d rather fill the silence than endure the discomfort of going against social expectations.

“Yeah, you know. It’s Monday,” I said, defaulting to the lowest common denominator. I started to question the intention of this interaction. What did this guy have to gain?

“Yeah,” he said, grinning widely. “Can’t wait for hump day!” He paused slightly before laughing heartily.I laughed that empty obligatory chuckle. I looked forward and pretended to focus on the traffic light.

It took me a moment. Hump day? Wednesday? Who looks forward to Wednesday?  Who looks forward to the middle of the week? Just to have the satisfaction of knowing the workweek is half done? You still have two more days of work – why not look forward to Friday?

By time the light turned green, I got it. The subtext became clear by the time he started his left turn. Hump day. He was just being pervy. Way to rise to your stereotype, sir.

What made him think this was a good idea? Had this worked for him in the past? What was the best possible outcome in his mind? Me suggesting we celebrate hump day together? My shock swiftly shifted to disgust. What a gross way to start my week. I had just been sipping my coffee, minding my own business – certainly not inviting casual discussion of genital friction. What had started out as a beautiful morning now had the grime of some man insinuating that he wanted to hump me. I didn’t need that clouding my week.

Construction Worker

In the right context, most women wouldn’t hate that sentiment. But even contexts of the most generous musings don’t involve separate cars and a 15-second exchange between strangers. The few words he yelled over at me essentially told me: “I don’t value you, your comfort, or your dignity. But I do kinda want to rub against you.” That momentarily robbed me of my humanity.

The momentary loss of of one’s humanity might seem like a negligible loss, but when those moments are compounded, the result can shift your perception of what is right. Most women have been harassed, honked at, or otherwise objectified by strangers and have just come to realize it comes with the territory. The fact that he was comfortable making a crude joke is indicative of a culture that disregards women’s right to a personal realm.

What I wish I had done (in my fantasy, I immediately realize what he was really saying) is remove my sunglasses and looked him in the eye to say this: “I don’t appreciate your insinuation, sir. For future reference, it is not acceptable to imply that you want to hump a woman. Fuck off.”