Thanks, Dan Savage.

I have a job that allows me to maintain a high level of productivity while listening to music and podcasts. I listen to a lot of This American Life (best $2.99 I’ve spent on an app), Radiolab, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff Mom Never Told You, The Athiest Experience, Freakonomics, Reasonable Doubts, Rationally Speaking, The Moth, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. A few months I ago, I added Savage Love to that list too.

I have mixed feelings about Savage Love, mainly because Dan Savage is not only extremely abrasive at times, but he holds very liberal views when it comes to love, sex, and relationships. Those views make me reevaluate my conservative background and my ideas of what constitutes a romantic relationship. If both parties consent, are open relationships okay? What about kinks? What about ‘play parties?’ A lot of the stuff discussed on the show makes me, quite frankly, very uncomfortable, because I’m realizing I’m not as ‘vanilla’ as I thought. This fact is intimidating, exciting, and a little embarrassing.

This is awkward. My parents read this.

Anyway, since I started listening to Savage Love, I’ve had a Dan Savage voice in my head giving me advice – not with love and relationships, but everyday problems. I think everyone could benefit from an inner Dan Savage voice.

Problem #1: The cold pumpkin spice latte I got all excited about the return of Starbuck’s famous latte, so I left early to pick one up on my way to work. I sat down at my desk, checked my email and saw a reminder for my health screening, reminding me of my 12-hour fast. I had to wait 40 minutes to drink my latte. By the time I got to it, it was lukewarm and underwhelming.

“Boo fucking hoo. If your biggest problem is a cold fucking latte, consider yourself lucky. Seriously. You work at a company that offers a $40 giftcard if you get a decent grade on your health assessment. You have a fucking job! Be happy you can buy a damn latte.”

Problem #2: The injured foot. I’ve been running everyday this week. Last night, I did a shorter run and finished with some sprints up a few flights of stairs. I’m not sure how, but I hurt my left foot. Feels like a bruise or strained muscle or tendon? I don’t know anything about anatomy. Anyway, I just know that my ankle and outside of my left foot hurts and I’ve been walking funny all day.

“Shut the fuck up. You ran. Your body isn’t in perfect shape. You knew when you were running up those stairs that you were going to hurt something, so don’t act fucking surprised when your foot hurts. Get a fucking Icy Hot patch and quit your bitching.” 

Problem #3: The Dead Car. I came home from work and was looking forward to getting groceries. When I left my apartment, my car died. Just died. Didn’t putter out. Just died. Like it just went, “Nope. No groceries for you. Go back to your apartment and cry.”

“Call a fucking mechanic and get it fixed. Don’t be a moron and think it’s going to take care of itself by you just hoping some fucking magic pixie will wave her magic wand and turn your car into a 2013 Corolla. It’s a fucking old car. Quit your bitching and put money aside for a new car. You’re a fucking adult. Act like it.”

Thanks for helping me get through Thursday, Dan Savage. 

Returning the Ring

As I discussed in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about autobiographical fiction. The following is very, very much based in reality. I wrote it about two years ago as an autobiographical fiction assignment for my personal narrative class. I suppose I could tell you what parts are fictional, but that would take away all the mystery and fun, wouldn’t it?

By the way, any feedback and comments are appreciated.

_____

I left my car running in the driveway. The exhaust coughed as I walked to his front door with a plastic bag. It was sometime before seven and Scott was sure to be in bed for at least another four hours.

Good morning, love. I hope you have a wonderful day!

My day was already planned. Feeling sorry for myself after a night of little sleep, I had called in sick to work. The idea of spending eight hours typing useless data and making numbed small talk with women in surrounding cubicles was just too much. After graciously returning Scott’s belongings, I would stop into the coffee shop and get a quad-shot iced americano that, between the sickly bitter espresso and obnoxious amount of ice, would eventually give me a headache. That headache would later be dulled with a half bottle of vodka and fruit juice while I got bikini baked.

Don’t let David hit on you anymore, otherwise Imma have to go down to Ohio to beat his ass. 

His junk had to go. A cello concerto scribbled on a stack of staff paper, a Russian textbook I had borrowed, pit-stained undershirts I had begged him to bleach, and a six pack of Leinie’s Red. I walked up to the front porch and dropped it all into a heap. I dug into my pocket for the last item – a ring of his grandmother’s.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo

The tiny pile insulted me. After a year, this was all I had to show. Scott wasn’t the nesting type, apparently. Not with me anyway. He never said sweet things to me. I figured he just had the quiet kind of affection. So of course it was a little surprising to see that he was willing to send adorations via text to a girl who lived three states away.

I’m going to rehearsal now, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time. xoxo

I wanted the revenge to be grand. I wanted him humiliated. Everything I could think of seemed so typical: Spraying painting “cheater” across the front of his house. Salting the lawn. Sprinkling sugar in his gas tank. Putting his name and number in the craigslist casual encounters. Signing him up for subscriptions to eight different fetish magazines. Slamming an axe into the hood of his car. Buying a billboard and listing his indiscretions. I wanted to do it all though. I wanted to make his life as difficult as possible.

I wanted him to burn with shame the way I had when I had seen the text messages the night before. Scanning his inbox, I found he told this “Belle” that he loved her more times in the previous five hours than he had in eleven months with me. The worst part was that the texts were burned into my memory and kept playing on repeat like a short film.

I love you, Belle. 

I put the ring between my teeth and reached to tear pages out of the Russian textbook and shred his concerto. I ripped the t-shirts in half while considering what to do with the ring. I could toss it in the lawn and let the lawn mower jam up next time he mowed. I could somehow melt it down into the shape of a dog turd and send it with a friendly note.

I wanted that ring to be destroyed. He had left the other things with me without a thought. He had copies of the concerto on his computer. The textbook was two editions old, and he neither remembered nor cared about the vocabulary and verbs. I cracked open a beer and tipped it upside down, soaking the pile.

Next door, a neighbor was unraveling a hose to water his flowers. He watched while I smiled, waved, and reached for another bottle. I poured all six onto his things.

It started to feel good. Almost as good as I had felt the night before, slapping him across the face.

I wish I could be there to hold you as you fell asleep tonight. 

But this ring was more than all of that. It was still resting between my front teeth and saliva, no longer held back by tight lips, was beginning to creep out of the corners. He had given it to me two months earlier, on the morning of an audition. We had spent the better part of a year at universities two hours apart and I had decided to transfer to his university. I told my friends I was transferring to save money, but I really did it to be closer to Scott. He had encouraged me, saying it was obvious that music was in my soul and that I should study with the violin professor at his university.

“Literature doesn’t suit you,” he told me. “But it’s obvious that music is your real passion.”

Flattered by his apparent ability to realize things about myself that I didn’t, I prepared an audition to complete my minor. He had done his best to convince me to change degrees altogether, but I wasn’t willing to dedicate four more years to a bachelor’s degree. While my fingers were callusing and my neck developed a persistent red mark from my violin, Scott encouraged me and told me he was looking forward to playing in the orchestra with me.

On the morning of the audition, I was running through the second movement of the Haydn concerto in a moist practice room when he had knocked on the door, an americano in one hand and the other in his pocket. “Morning, love,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“I’m nervous. I can’t get the double stops right in the cadenza,” I said, taking the americano from his hand. “I mean, I can get them right half the time, but the other half sounds like crap.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” Scott said, kissing my forehead. He sat down on the piano bench. “You’re going to get in no problem. Half the violinists here suck anyway. Play a little for me.”

I took a drink from the americano, ignoring how it burnt my tongue and focusing instead on the tensions in my body. My left shoulder had a knot. My wrists were sore. The spot on my neck felt raw. My fingers were sweaty and rigid. The caffeine I was sucking down wasn’t going to help me feel any less shaky. I handed the drink to Scott and picked up my violin. While I played, Scott watched. I got through the cadenza perfectly. When I finished, he stood up and kissed me again.

“I’m proud of you, Ashley,” he told me, hugging me. “Like I said before, you’re going to do just fine. There’s no reason to stress.”

“I know, I just haven’t done this in a while.”

“I want to give you something,” Scott said. He reached into his pocket, retrieved the ring, and pressed it into my hand. “It’s for luck.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking at it. A think silver band with small dots framing a smooth center. It made me think of a zipper. I slid it over my right ring finger, not wanting him to think I thought it signified an engagement or promise.

“It used to be my grandmother’s. It’s really not worth anything, but I wanted you to have it,” he said. “I found it in my dresser the other day.”

“Thank you,” I said, a little amazed he had given me a family ring. “It’s really nice of you.”

His jaw got tight and he suddenly looked like he regretted giving it to me. “It’s not like…you know, a ring ring.” he said. “It’s not an heirloom or anything, just something my grandfather made for my grandma and I somehow got a hold of it.”

“Don’t worry, I know. An engagement ring would have to have a big ol’ diamond, anyway,” I joked, sensing his discomfort.

I still think he’s an asshole.

I took the ring out of my mouth and looked at it. Slimy with my spit, it shined a bit more than usual. It was ugly. I had recognized that the moment he gave it to me. Since it was too big for any of my fingers, I had put it on a chain of beads and occasionally wore them around my neck. He had given it to me halfheartedly so I wore it halfheartedly. Maybe it was his last ditch effort to commit to me. By giving me a tangible sign of commitment – even if it was a worthless piece of family jewelry – maybe he felt like he would have to fully commit to me. Maybe it was a peace offering when I didn’t realize there was a conflict. Maybe it was a pathetic attempt at making up for what I was about to find in a few weeks. Whatever it was, it didn’t make much sense.

I remembered his face the night before, when he came into the room, seeing me with his phone my hand. Shocked. Eyes and mouth gaping. Taking a second and hoping the worst hadn’t happened, he swallowed and asked, “Did I miss a call?”

“No, but who the fuck is ‘Belle My Dearest’?”

Suddenly I realized the emptiness in my stomach. I blinked hard and dropped the ring on the pile. I took the empty bottles, placed each neatly in the cardboard caddy, and crowned the weepy mound.

My Favorite Thing

Thinking of my favorite thing is difficult. My no-brainer response is my violin. I’ve had it since my sophomore year of high school. I spent many nights and weekends were spent at McDonalds with my pores getting clogged with french fry grease and my patience growing thin with the trainees who couldn’t grasp the POS system.I can’t remember the exact cost, but I do know that I could have bought a fairly decent used car for the same price.

It’s been through a lot with me – a concerto competition, chair auditions, music festivals, youth symphony concerts, college auditions, college symphony concerts, quartet gigs, and lessons. But while I like my violin, I don’t always love it. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s more the operator’s fault than the instrument’s. My vibrato isn’t as loose as I’d like. I lost my bowhold four years ago and have been struggling to get it back ever since.

My second response might be my Kindle. That seems like a strange response because I’ve only had it for about 2 years now. I feel like an object that gets the title of My Favorite Thing needs to be owned for a significant amount of time. I got it for Valentine’s Day from my boyfriend at the time, Bill. He bought it the same day he gave it to me. I know because he asked to borrow my car. When he returned, he had a gift and a card. I sat on my bed and opened the gift. “Omigod, Bill! You got me a Kindle!”

“Yeah, it’s the one with the 3g access, so you’re able to get books without an internet connection.”

“Omigod. Thank you!” And I gave him a big hug. And a kiss. Lots of kisses too, I’m sure. I was thrilled. I was amazed how the screen looked like something I was supposed to peel off before using. When we went to bed that night, I crawled in next to him and read a Toni Morrison book by from the light of the street because I didn’t want to disturb him, though he told me I could turn a light on if my eyes were strained.

I’ve since used the thing to read a ton of books. I love that when I travel, it’s just one book instead of the three or four I’m usually reading at a time. It is always with me in case I find myself with an extra 10 or 15 minutes with which to read. I fall asleep reading and often wake up with it nestled under my pillow or tangled in my duvet, like an adoring mate. I love it.

There are other objects I could name, but there’s always an issue. My journal (Which one? I currently have two). The pearls Bill gave me for Christmas last year (I haven’t worn them in months and I have mixed feelings about clasping them around my neck). My copy of Lolita (It’s not the original – I lent that to a friend who lost it, then replaced it with an Everyman’s Library edition). My bed (how cliche). My wine glasses (I’ve only had them for a few months). My ipod (again, not my original. That was stolen and I inherited Bill’s. And it’s on its last leg now).

Many of the objects I think of have strong ties to other people. All of the things from Bill are pretty obvious. But even my copy of Lolita reminds me of another boyfriend. I bought it at a bookstore in Milwaukee because the cover intrigued me. I read it while we were fighting one week and it was able to completely transport me. My journals aren’t permanent things since over the last 8 years I’ve decided to get a new one every time something significant happens (a move, a breakup, a sudden realization that the $40 one at Barnes & Noble is prettier than the one I’m currently writing in).

Which brings me to the last thing I could think to name – a small gold necklace. My Aunt Laurie gave it to me my freshman year of college. She was cleaning out her jewelry box and asked if I would like anything. I don’t wear much jewelry – usually nothing other than earrings, and even those are usually just cubic zirconia studs. But the necklace stuck out to me. It was simple and delicate – very subtle. You might not even notice it unless you looked for it. That’s what I liked about it.

It’s like a little secret I carry with me, and only those closest to me get to see it. I’ve been wearing it on dates over a spritz of Chanel no.5, beneath a silky shirt and near my camisole. I’d like to think that men are interested in it. Why, I’m not sure. I imagine a man wants to kiss my collarbone where the minuscule chain rests. But it’s probably just a dumb curiosity: “What’s that shiny thing by her boobs?”

But other than attracting men to my neck, I just like the necklace. It came into my possession as a throwaway, but I still thank my aunt for giving it to me. It’s become mine in a way I hadn’t anticipated when I first got it. I’d never lend it to a friend. I take it off every night and hang it so the chain doesn’t tangle.

Unlike the other objects, it’s subtly me. My pearls make me feel like a Kennedy. My violin steals the show. My Kindle reflects nothing other than the fact that I love to read. My journals are often crass and full of things I don’t want to share with other people. And while Lolita has some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, I will never write like Nabokov.

I guess for me, at least, My Favorite Thing isn’t so much about pointing to some object and saying “I really, really love that thing”. It’s more about something that makes me feel like myself unadorned, even if it is a piece of jewelry.