The Great Debate

When I was 14, I was visiting my dad’s house for the weekend and sleeping on the couch, which was the normal – I didn’t have a bedroom there. I’m a light sleeper. So it was a surprise that somehow between 12:30 a.m., when I fell asleep, and 7:00 a.m., when my stepmom answered a phone call from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her purse was scattered on the stranger’s front lawn, that the house had been robbed – and the burglar had somehow gotten past me. Three hunting rifles had been taken off of the wall along with a video camera and tripod, and of course, the purse.

The next night my dad took my place on the couch with his handgun in case anyone decided to come back. We used all of my babysitting cash to re-key the locks. But this story demonstrates many points: I grew up around guns (that were never locked up), the hunting rifles made it somewhere into the wide world to be used for who knows what, and that we are a violent society. The cops were surprised I was still alive and unharmed.

Not many years later, when my brother was five and a half, he was given his first gun for Christmas. His first few minutes alone with it and he shot out his bedroom light. I was never given a gun because I was a girl. Mind you, I never felt as if I missed out. But my dad and my brother perpetuated craving violence and guns. Even though I was the one who was on the couch, exposed, they were the ones who wanted to kill, kill, kill. At least, that’s what they projected.

My dad’s own father died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In fact, Dad was the one who found him. Included in the three rifles that were stolen was the one that Grandpa used to do the deed. It had a strange sort of sentimental value that I couldn’t relate to. Who would want to cradle that weapon, and use it over and over, knowing its history?

Fast forward a few decades to when I lived with violent men. One was the guy who grew up in Manhattan in a household whose own siblings stabbed each other. The last day I saw him was the last time I called the cops on him, when he was supposed to be gone at work while I moved my things out of the house we were renting. Instead he was hiding in one of the back rooms and came out when I set down some moving boxes and attacked me. I struggled to get back out to my car in my stocking feet and he was restraining me and pinning my arms, telling me that if I would just do what he told me to do, we would be happy. I finally wrestled free and got in my car and called 911. The responding police officers bought his big-eyed innocent act and told me that if I called them again that I would be arrested.

Then there was the live-in boyfriend who threatened to shoot me – twice. He also talked about taking his guns to work to shoot all of his co-workers constantly. The cops reassured me there was absolutely nothing I could do until he actually followed through and hurt one or all of us. 

Most recently of course was my downstairs neighbor who moved out the last weekend of July, 2017. He used to beat his wife and abuse their cat. Whenever I had visitors I was a nervous wreck, because I had no idea if he would pound down the door while they were here, falsely claiming that we were too loud, or take it out on me later, screaming and raging and dreaming up reasons to call the cops on me. Worse yet he could of course physically pulverize his wife and cat for revenge, just for existing. He was ex-military so I knew it was likely there was a gun or two or seven in his apartment.

So here we are in the U.S. with our easy access to the worst kinds of weapons and ammunition. I am the one who was laying on a couch while a stranger or two crept past me to rob our house; you would think I would fall into the category of wanting a gun for home protection. I grew up around them; you would think I would relax around them. I’ve lived with and around plenty of assholes who have wanted me dead; you would think that I would feel safer armed.

Fuck that.

First of all, we have over 7 billion people on the planet. We are no longer hunting strictly for food supply. Anyone who claims that is an outright liar. And hunting season is so abbreviated that there’s no need to keep guns out for the entire year to make them accessible to every man, woman and child on the planet. Second, home invasions do not happen with the regularity that the NRA has somehow convinced the gun lovers they do. I remember reading from one guy a quote last week that Texas experiences 800,000 home invasions a year. My answer was, “Are you talking about bugs?” I mean, c’mon. If that were true, Texas would be experiencing a mass exodus.

The biggest and hottest debate that has resurfaced is the arming of school staff. I cannot stress this enough, but there are so, SO many reasons why this is a bad idea. Right now I live in the city where Philando Castille was shot. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and told the cops, and was shot and killed anyway. If for some reason some idiots decided arming school staff members would be a good idea, the staff members had better be lily white, because we Americans cannot be trusted to be color blind. Even black cops have proven to have prejudice against black suspects without meaning to.

I posted this article on Facebook regarding an armed officer who never engaged in the shootout that was happening in Florida. He simply hung back while all of those kids were getting shot. I pointed out that if an officer did this, why would we expect teachers to uniformly charge without fear or hesitation, and to act correctly? A friend of 27 years, whom I considered a decently good friend, didn’t like that I used this as an example of why we shouldn’t arm teachers and staff. He also didn’t like that I proposed that we have stricter gun laws regarding background checks, wait times, amount of ammunition sold, amount of ammunition guns could fire, types of guns that could be sold on the market, and age of buyers/operators. He resorted to calling me an idiot. Finally, he just outright blocked me. 

But am I an idiot? I’ve just been trying to stay alive. I have all of this violence swirling around me, and all of these men are insisting that they have a right to violate me. I’m saying no. I will continue to say no. I’m good with saying no.

Lastly, here is a comprehensive list from a woman named Karen Nichols in Ottawa Center, Michigan; she had many questions regarding arming teachers and staff, and did a great job of articulating them:

Which teachers get guns?
Where will the guns be stored?
Who decides when guns can be brandished?
What penalties will apply if teachers mishandle a weapon?
Will teachers volunteer for gun duty?
Can teachers refuse it?
Who will audit their adherence to regulations?
Will students know which teachers have weapons?
Who will be liable if the teacher with the gun becomes the shooter?
What will be the consequences when students are accidentally shot by a teacher?
How will armed teachers communicate in a tactical situation?
Will teachers with a history of mental illness be allowed to use weapons?
Will teachers be required to disclose any history of mental illness?
Will teachers be issued a weapon? Reimbursed for purchase? For ammunition?
How will administrators conduct non-weapon-related discipline against a teacher?
Will there be armed assistance available to deter workplace shootings?
Who will shepherd the armed teacher’s classroom while the teacher is attempting to locate the active shooter?
What happens when a teacher misidentifies a student as a threat in good faith?
Will teachers who do not carry lethal weapons be offered non lethal alternatives?
If an armed teacher is shot, can another teacher employ his or her weapon?
How will armed teachers identify themselves to arriving first responders?
Will armed teachers be required to learn how to give first-response medicine?
Will armed teachers be required to attempt an arrest before using lethal force? Under what circumstances?
Will proficiency training on weapons count for teachers’ continuing education and professional development?
How will insurers adjust health and other rates to account for the presence of armed employees?
Will teachers receive additional pay for being armed?
how often will armed teachers be re-evaluated for licensing purposes?
Will armed teachers leading field trips deposit their weapons in a personally owned vehicle or school-owned transport?
Will one teacher per wing of a school building receive weapons? Two? Three?
Exactly which standards will count for proficiency—greater than a big-city police department, State Police, FBI, hobbyist, marksman?
In training scenarios, how will using force against innocents be penalized?
Will racial sensitivity courses be required?
Do parents have a right to refuse to send their kids to schools with guns?
Will students have to sign waivers? Will parents? What if a parent signs a waiver for a minor student who, when that student turns 18, refuses to abide by its provisions?
Will teachers on probation be allowed to carry weapons?
What about teachers with active union grievances? Complaints about sexual harassment? Anger management? Divorce proceedings?
Will armed teachers wear holsters?
Will they be stationed strategically during pep rallies or other gatherings?
Will they participate in lockdown drills as if they were armed or unarmed?
Will funding for the policies outlined above be distributed according to local budgets, statewide formulas, or national formulas?
Will schools in high-risk neighborhoods receive more or less funding? Suburban schools?
What is the right ratio of armed:unarmed teachers by grade level?
What is the procedure for debriefing and assessing armed teachers’ performance during a crisis?
Can an armed teacher who flinches be fired? Can an armed teacher who breaks protocol be rewarded?
Will preschool teachers have guns?
Will teachers in “juvie” (high risk) schools have guns?
Will the teacher or the school be liable if their gun is stolen?
Can administrators carry weapons? Can they do so in disciplinary situations?

Think about this: I quit playing clarinet after 8th grade because my band teacher was an outright asshole. After I quit, he was fired for punching a student. But let’s give him a gun, right?

Advertisements

Initiation to Rare Disease – Not My Own

Back in 2005, I worked in the tech department of a very large mortgage company whose CEO was the tannest, slimiest, shiftiest man I’ve ever seen. The tech department was overrun with men, so naturally, the few of us women tried to bond as best we could. One such woman, whom I will call Blondie, was a trip. She was born and raised in an Eastern bloc country and knew how to speak her native tongue and Russian first, so English was a third language.

In meetings, of course, we were outnumbered greatly by the guys. I remember our group being called in to discuss something. Blondie said, “Well, let me stick my chest out and say this.” Of course, she meant that tricky little saying, “Let me get this off my chest.” There were a few snickers around the room, so I leaned over to her and said, “Blondie, you mean, ‘Let me get this off my chest.” She nodded and practiced saying it a few times. When she spoke up again, she said, “Let me just take off my shirt and say this.” There was no hope of recovering after that one, the whole room lost it.

Blondie was a great person to socialize with. She was unafraid to talk to anyone, whereas despite my theater training, sometimes I hang back (but I think it’s mostly my desire not to be seen as a bore or a weirdo). It was because of her that I went to a swing dancing event and met a woman who introduced me to her good friend whom I dated for four months.

It was a big event with a 20-piece orchestra and every seat in the ballroom was filled. We were seated at a large round table with about twelve other guests, and it wasn’t long before we were all spinning around the dance floor. Blondie started talking to K. first when we were resting between songs, but then K. and I started talking. I revealed I was single and having a hard time with dating because I had to wear wigs to “pass” in public. K. excitedly told me that she had the perfect guy for me, someone who had been her good friend since childhood.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, I told her I was game. She warned me that her friend had a pronounced limp because he had a rare disease – neurofibromatosis, or NF – and he had many surgeries and successfully beat cancer. I didn’t mind at all. I was more worried about finding someone who was compatible emotionally than whether he could chase me across a field.

The Gambler and I started trading emails, and then chatted on the phone. He decided he didn’t want to waste any time meeting me, so he talked me into bringing my friends who were visiting from England up to the interactive zoo in the extreme northwest of Phoenix. This was also in July in the dead heat of summer. So picture this: my cold-weather friends are tagging along with me in 115 degree (F) heat to maybe pet a giraffe and meet this stranger.

The Gambler was very friendly and used to talking to people he didn’t know well. As it turns out, he was the NFF (Neurofibromatosis Foundation) ambassador for the region, and had traveled a few times over to Europe as well. So my friends thought he was friendly and seemed a decent sort.

The Gambler and I had our first relationship test very early, at about the two-week mark. Neurofibromatosis causes tumors to grow on the ends of nerves, so he had had many, many surgeries at that point to cut the tumors off of the nerves. The tumors can be benign or cancerous. This round of surgery, however, resulted in about 15 benign tumors being removed in both forearms.

I was in the waiting room during the surgery. I helped him get dressed and also with wrapping up his surgical sites so he could bathe. I scrubbed his back. We hadn’t even been intimate at that point, but as a nurse, you are not supposed to be checking out someone’s junk, so I did my best to avert my eyes.

Because I immediately started spending a lot of time with him, there were things I learned that may have not come up for a few months in a relationship that progresses a lot slower. The first is that he was hooked on gambling. This was back in the day when you could play online poker and bet real money. It was how he brought in extra income to supplement his disability pay. The second is that he was a sports whore. He actually rigged 4 TVs and 2 computers so he could simultaneously watch multiple games – basketball was his favorite. The third is that The Gambler’s family was very, very dysfunctional. His father was this giant of a man who drank all day and all night and beat his mother. They lived in a subdivision for retirees and owned a golf cart, and his dad would get fall-down drunk, take the family dog and go for a ride. He had already killed two family dogs on separate occasions from turning the cart over. His mother always tried to not make her husband mad. They kept getting more dogs.

Obviously this family dynamic greatly flavored how The Gambler interacted with me. He would fight to the death to get his way, whether it was where to eat or how to spend our free time. He would bully me first, then he would bargain. The Gambler would tell me that I had to do what he wanted to do because he had NF; if that didn’t work, he would tell me he would make it up to me later. All of our timelines revolved around sports schedules and online poker tournaments.

I learned a lot about the NFF and about rare disease in general. Networking with other people, grant writing and summer camps were all foreign concepts to me, but after driving him to a few locations, I started connecting with the value. The Gambler’s cause became my cause, at least in becoming more aware of the disease and the many manifestations. I know of two celebrities who (probably) have it and that’s the first thing that pops into mind when I see them – then I spend most of a movie looking for the signs, now that I know how to spot them.

The Gambler begged me to go shopping with him for clothes in anticipation for his next European trip for the NFF. He had been wearing size XXL, but really, his body was more like M. I talked him into a compromise so that his pants and jumpers weren’t dragging on the ground.

When he returned he told me that all of his friends made fun of him because his clothes fit, so what I made him buy was embarrassing and he was never going to take my advice again.

I didn’t feel like I was in a loving relationship at all. I called The Gambler to end it, and of course he tried to bully me into staying with him, then tried bargaining. He told me we could break up but that we should still go on our Las Vegas trip that we had planned. I kept telling him that I wasn’t interested in acting like a couple if we were no longer together. Finally I set a date and time for us to meet so I could get my belongings back (I had lent him an air mattress for a guest, plus various other items like sheets and towels). The Gambler rescheduled the meetup at the last minute a total of four times. Each time I had driven in rush hour traffic an hour each way. The fifth time he didn’t call and didn’t show, so I sent him an email saying he could keep everything because it wasn’t worth me chasing all over the city. Oh, but he tried to get me to come back to him, calling me constantly.

I kept the emails. I keep everything! This was our exchange:

ME: You and I are no longer dating.  This means that we won’t be going to Vegas together.  My decision to not be in a relationship with you is NOT your queue to follow in your parents’ footsteps and alternately bargain with and bully me into changing my mind.  The fact that you are not accepting of my reasons and choose to completely ignore them prompts me to follow my instincts and say that we should NOT meet up.

HIM:  you are sooooooooooooooo wrong about everything

what do my parents have to do with this anyway. you should not even mention them

bullying you into being with me  oh come on. you just missed out on the greatest guy in the world. you will regret this. i already regret opening up to you and sharing things about myself that only very few have ever known and will know for that matter. as from a famous movie wasting hugs and kisses on you too, when in the end it ment nothing to you. you have only just begun to see an ounce of me. as for your safety lol come on there is not a mean bone in my body. you hurt yourself more by not being with me. i am not like your other boy friends and i am a lot smarter and mean when it would come down to things like that. but truth of the matter is by doing something to you or your prized stuff would just bring me down to your level, and that surely is a place i don’t want to be. i rather have cancer again rather than be down there!
when i get home we should have dinner and at least be friends. we have tickets to use anyhow. i thought you should know to i have already taken 5 lessons in dancing to surprise you (even before marcos) k. just slipped up the surprise, and i like it so i am sure we are going to running into each other anyway at whatever dance events that i might like to go to.

i am not going to hurt you or your stuff. again like i said it would just bring me down to your level and that’s a place i don’t want to be because from all this and looking back on it i can tell already that’s a place i don’t want to be. but when we were together i would have gone there for you in heart beat. i am sure the person your with now would appreciate being told now if you are going to hurt them in the end. i also can assure they wont be half of what i am.

i hope in the future when,who,what (ever) you decide to be with, you don’t hurt them as much as me because it will come back to you i will assure  you. if i do see you with some one i will pray that you don’t hurt them. then again maybe it will be your turn whether or not they want to be with you.

hope ur new job is going well and hope all is well for you
hope your health is fine too

best wishes and will talk to you soon

ME: Read your words.  Maybe it will take a few years for what I am trying to explain to you to sink in, but I’m going to try one more time.

I mention your parents because your dad drinks, beats your mom, begs her to come back and says he will quit drinking/beating her, etc., and she takes him back.

If you go back and read your words to me, you tell me that you hope that I get hurt, that I’m the lowest of the low and you would rather have cancer again than to be on the same level as me.  THAT’S THE BULLYING PART.   Then immediately after that you say let’s be friends, and no one is going to treat me as well as you do, and you would have done anything for me.  THAT’S THE BARGAINING PART.  You’ve watched this cycle with your parents happen over and over and somehow you have come to the conclusion that this is acceptable behavior. I, on the other hand, do not allow my friends to say horrible things to me and then try to win me back.

And what have I done to be the scum of the earth? I’ve acknowledged that I honestly couldn’t live with our differences and decided to end the relationship. I didn’t stay to hope that things would change.  I didn’t stay to make your life and mine miserable by fighting with you or resenting you for things that I ultimately couldn’t tolerate.  Instead of sitting back and saying “I don’t understand, but I respect your feelings”, you have discounted everything I’ve tried to say and have said some very nasty things besides.

I’m tired of fighting to be heard, which I’ve had to do throughout our time together.  I still believe you have a bright future and I wish you a happy life, but I will not be a part of it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Three years later, he sent me a friend request on Facebook (I declined).

I snooped around and discovered that he was engaged to a psychology student. I figured either she wanted a project or she was fucked up herself.

In 2012, The Gambler succumbed to cancer. I have no idea if he married that young woman.

The moral of the story? We are, after all, humans first, and NOT just our diseases. I don’t have to stay with someone who doesn’t treat me well, and neither do you. And just because a person has a disease does not mean that he or she cannot do the work to learn to be a better person and break some bad familial cycles.

 

 

 

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

When I was 21, I worked two jobs with the goal of saving up enough cash to travel for a while. I also wanted to pick a new place to live, but I wasn’t sure where. My best friend and I packed up my car, converted most of our cash to traveler’s checks, borrowed my dad’s 6-person tent and took off. We stayed for a month on Mackinac Island to earn some more cash. After that, we cut across Canada and started at Niagara Falls and camped our way down the entire east coast. It was my first encounter with the ocean.

I almost set up residence in Hilton Head Island, but I kept seeing all of the hurricane evacuation signs and they freaked me out. As we looped back up and cut through Tennessee, I considered Nashville, but then I figured all of the country music would make me want to jump off a tall building. Later we cut back through Missouri and headed to the southwest, and I finally ran out of money in Albuquerque, so there I stayed. Within a short amount of time I landed two jobs and a place to live. My friend opted to go to the Everglades in Florida to live and work.

A year later, she made her way back to New Mexico, and I was happy to have a good friend so close after floundering for a year with trying to make friends. We decided to take on dating together. Back in 1996, the best way to meet the opposite sex besides getting tanked at a bar was either posting or answering personal ads published in newspapers. Let me take just a little time out and post an ad that I found, clipped and saved for these almost 20 years:

SPM, 31, seeking female amputee, age 18-99, for romance. Your beauty and grace astounds me. Box ID 23394.

Talk about a fetish!

My friend and I placed an ad saying something to the effect that we were looking for double dates. The ad was free, but to initiate a call to someone is where the fee kicked in. We got a couple of bites but they were from men who didn’t have single buddies. One was a guy I will call Bear; he had a really deep voice and was very articulate, so after talking to him we agreed on a date.

Bear was tall, 6’2, with glasses and a bookish manner – or if you prefer, he was geeky or nerdy in general. Our first date was right after Christmas that year. Immediately, we hit it off. We hardly spent any days apart and were on the phone constantly. I remember telling him one time that I couldn’t get close enough – I wished that I could crawl under his skin and live there.

A month after we started dating, we were at a restaurant eating dinner in the middle of some serious winter weather. We looked around the place and noted all of the kids having meltdowns and said, “I’m so glad we don’t have kids.” Bear then said, “Why don’t we go to Las Vegas?” We both had never been and Bear liked to play blackjack. He revealed that he had saved up a wad of cash (something like $600, which was a pretty good chunk in early 1997) and decided he wanted to use it to take a short trip with me. We ran to our respective places and quickly packed backpacks and called for tickets. We didn’t even take time to book a hotel.

When we arrived, we realized our mistake – it was the electronics convention, and EVERY hotel room was booked. However, our chain smoking cabby with the biggest, flashiest earrings told us that the Happi Inn was a sure thing – she always took people there for situations like these. Sure enough, they had a room. And what a room it was! Mirror on the ceiling, garish orange bedding with a bed sagging horribly in the middle, one TV station and cockroaches in the bathroom. We were also being price gouged because of the convention, $80 for the night. We did the best we could because we were flying out the next day.

It was a fun day. We played slots, and Bear got three blackjacks in a row, which was noticed by the pit boss, and we were rewarded with two tickets to the Ceaser’s Palace buffet. We took many pictures around the strip and visited M&M World. We even saw our first Cirque du Soleil show, “Mystere.” It was a fun little trip…or so we thought, until we tried to fly back. Because of snow storms all over the U.S., we couldn’t get a flight home until the next day at 1 p.m. I left a message on the work answering machine to tell everyone I was momentarily stranded and that I would be back to work Tuesday. The managers didn’t think to check the messages when I didn’t show up to work Monday morning, and they were in the process of calling the police to do a wellness check on me when I called in to make sure they got my message.

It didn’t take long for Bear and I to move in together. He was my first love (though he had had other loves before me). I loved him deeply. He was a patron of the arts. He wrote me love letters. He talked about the future.

However, there were problems at his workplace, and he decided to try to land a job closer to the Midwest or east coast. He almost took a job in Allentown, PA, but decided to take an offer in Cincinnati, OH instead. It was still early in our relationship and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I moved with him. I figured I would get a job after we relocated. We rented an apartment on a short lease without seeing it first on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.

Shortly after we moved to yet another city where I didn’t know anyone else, Bear told me to make my own friends because he wasn’t going to be my entertainment. So I did. First I went out a few times and partied with a lady I met while working a temp job as a proofreader. Later I partied a lot with the people who worked with me at the large law firm. It seemed that his declaration was the turning point in our relationship, and nothing was ever the same after that.

Bear also became somewhat addicted to the internet. His nerd side was strong – his mind was blown with the potential the internet held at that point – and that meant that he was on it constantly. Part of the problem was that resources were available that never had been before, like being able to buy video games that weren’t always sold in the immediate vicinity. Oh, and the porn…

So the problem was that money that was supposed to go for rent was being used up by video games and porn. I was unhappy because there were a few times when Bear would blow his portion of the rent on games and I would have to pay for everything. He also spent money and time on porn instead of joining me. There were so many times I would beg him to come to bed, and he would refuse. I felt ugly and undesirable. Since I was living with a nerd, I was becoming more computer and internet savvy myself. I started to go to chat rooms, and then I began talking to men in private chat sessions.

My first trip to Europe was in May of 1999. I was visiting a university friend who lives in England for ten days. I had been saving and saving, knowing that even though I had a free place to stay, there would still be lots of expenses. A week before leaving, Bear revealed to me that he didn’t have the rent money again because he had purchased video games. I was absolutely furious. Like a true daughter of an alcoholic, my brain went into dissociation mode and I completely forgot what Bear’s face looked like. In fact, when he picked me up from the airport at the end of my trip with a fist full of flowers, I walked straight past him like he was a stranger – he had to call out my name and grab my arm.

A few weeks later I met up with one of the men from the chats while Bear was working. I was so eager that I failed to properly turn off the computer, so the message box was still there for Bear to see when he got home from work and the house was empty. Of course he read it, all of it. When I got home, he was sitting on the edge of our bed, looking absolutely crushed.

We broke up but continued to live in the same apartment and sleep in the same bed because we were still obligated to the lease we signed. Luckily it ran its course within two months and we could move on. We actually stayed friendly through the breakup – he helped me move into my new apartment, and he joined me at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving (my friend’s mom introduced us as, “This is Kiwi and this is Bear and they were dating and now they’re not, so I don’t know”).

Bear later went on to marry one of our mutual friends and have two sons – the two sons we used to discuss when we were a couple and talking about our future. He even named them the names he had picked out then.

Today I had a chance to trade messages with him and catch up. Bear is now divorced and in a relationship with another woman, and his sons have adjusted well to the major shift in the household. We exchanged information about our families and friends. I also sincerely apologized for cheating on him, acknowledging that I did not have the best tools at age 25-26 to deal with my anger and disappointment, and I hurt him deeply. He very graciously told me that it was forgiven and forgotten. I cried big, fat tears.