The Swap

I lob my heart over to your side of the fence,
play five games of paddle-heart simultaneously,
try to keep busy, wait- wait- wait for you
to toss yours over. You catch the bloody mess
and try to hang on, crimson liquid trickling
down your arm. You observe the irregular
shape, study its pulsing blue veins, wonder,
perhaps, why I pitched it to you in the first place—
was it love? Or was I trying to fool you,
let the form fuse itself to your body, only to
snatch it away because your grip gave me
goose pimples. At one time, I might have said,
Hello-ooo. When the hell do you plan to finish
the swap? But I’ve learned that when I wait,
you surprise me, eventually climb over the fence,
deliver your heart in person, rest it in my hand,
remind me that wonderful things happen when I keep
quiet the beast clawing its way out of my chest.

Where Are You, Gen Xers?

My current job, working as the Senior Writer/Editor for a foundation at a land-grant university, involves sharing stories, Tweets, photos, and more on various social media. Most recently, on #GivingTuesday, I was checking out articles on LinkedIn, one of which mentioned “how to get Millennials to donate.” Since two of my children are Millennials in their early 20s, and I volunteer for another local foundation, I clicked on the link.

About 2/3 of the way into the article, I came across a paragraph that compared Millennial philanthropic trends with Baby Boomer trends. I kept reading, waiting to see how Gen Xers felt about philanthropy. Guess what? There was no mention of Gen Xers in the entire article. Zip. Zero. Zilch. So, I became curious. And like a Millennial, I went to Google and typed in Generation X.

Suddenly, a whole new world opened to me. I was born in 1968 and have always considered myself a Gen Xer. With a brother born in ’66 and one in ’75, I’m also the middle child. Coincidentally, Gen Xers are called the Neglected Middle Child, mostly because there are 70 million plus Boomers and 70 million plus Millennials, and there are only 50 million plus Gen Xers. Why the discrepancy? Well, lucky for us, even though the hippies were having a lot of sex, in the early 70s, birth control and legalized abortion helped them have fewer children.

After visiting a few more websites, I found conflicting information regarding the specific dates that designated a person as a Gen Xer. My theory holds at this: Gen Xers were born in between the early 60s and the early 80s. And, similar to astrology, if your birthdate straddles those years, you are said to be on the cusp, or a cusper. So, my uncle John, for instance, who was born in 1965, probably has Boomer and Gen Xer traits.

When I think about my being a Gen Xer, I think about being a child of divorced Boomer parents who needed to “find themselves,” walking everywhere by myself, and being raised on or by television. I often joke that my father (a single parent until I was six) used the TV as a babysitter. Through my research, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Many, if not most, Gen Xers were left home alone with little more than the TV and their siblings to keep them company. It’s probably why we love pop culture!

On a positive note, Gen Xers are independent, resilient, hard-working, and have a sardonic wit. I remember bristling, years ago, when I heard us called the “Slacker Generation.” WTF? When I was 12 I got a paper route. And from that moment on, my father gave me no more spending money. So then I worked as a babysitter. Then as a lifeguard. McDonald’s manager. Nursing home diet aid. Retail sales. Bakery cashier. Then, when I was 20, I joined the navy to get the G.I. Bill because my father wouldn’t help me pay for college.

I’m happy to report we are the generation responsible for creating Hip Hop and paving the way for ethnic diversity. When I think of my childhood, I think of Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, and the Electric Company, which we watched in second grade as part of our curriculum. Also, with my father, I watched shows like Good Times, What’s Happening, Laugh In, and the Sonny and Cher Show.

On a negative note, Gen Xers, because we were almost always left alone, referred to as the “latchkey” kids, and were often physically and sexually abused, have become the “most devoted parents in American history.” Some folks call us “helicopter parents.” Guilty as charged. Both of my adult daughters failed out of college, although they grew up watching me bust my butt to earn a BA, an MA, and an MFA, all in writing. I did that without parental support. My daughters have oodles of support. Have I killed their ability to stand on their own?

Anyway: this post is a plea. If you’re a Gen Xer, I want to hear from you! After all, peers are more important to us than parents. I plan to continue my research. If you want to share a story with me, please email me at cindyjoy68@gmail.com.

Happy Veterans Day from Nancy Navy

Yes, I served in the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 1993. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The chance to go to college and leave my town of little opportunity was too great to pass up. I went to boot camp in Orlando, Florida, Apprenticeship School in San Diego, California, and worked as a data processor at a weather center in Monterey,  California for four years. I also attended Monterey Peninsula College, tutored elementary school children in reading, and participated in fund raisers.

After the navy, I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I attended Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston, Washington, and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. The G.I. Bill helped fund my bachelor’s degree. After earning my B.A. in English and Creative Writing, I went on to earn an M.A. in English from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.

I have lived in Moscow, Idaho for 14 years. My career post navy has consisted of food service, bank teller, writing tutor, and then writing (technical, creative, speeches), editing, and teaching writing and other courses. My current position as Senior Development Writer/Editor for the Washington State University Foundation is my dream job. I know the navy made all of this possible.

I feel incredibly grateful for making the decision to join the navy. Thank you to everyone who served in the military, especially overseas and during wartime. We are blessed.

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Complicated Co-parenting

This is a photo of my son Vinny crossing the finish line at the Down and Dirty Mud Run in Lewiston, Idaho. Vinny is 11, and I had accidentally signed him up for the 4.5 mile race that includes several obstacles, instead of the Mini Mud, which was a four-hour open event where he could simply participate in obstacles. Oops.

A few of my reasons for registering for the event were selfish: I love running, and I wanted to do the 4.5 miler. But mostly, Vinny’s father, whom I’ve been divorced from for five long years works for the group that sponsored the race. I knew Eric would be there, and I wanted to see him. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to see me. It was Eric who filed for divorce after I admitted to having an affair, a mistake that made him feel tossed aside, insignificant.

Looking back, I thifinishednk I had the affair because I had been feeling tossed aside and insignificant in the marriage, but didn’t have the skills or faith in Eric to tell him. So, instead, I lit a fire underneath our relationship, which sent him running. I even dated the guy with whom I’d had the affair (it was a disaster), adding insult to Eric’s injury.

It’s only been in the last year that Eric and I have started talking about our breakup. He’s shown me his wounds, and I’ve acknowledged them. I’ve told him numerous times how much I regret the affair, the break up, and that I want him back. He won’t relent.

 

Eric has said although he’s not ready to be friends, that’s what we should be working toward. Friends. How strange that word sounds. We were friends. Best friends, for twelve years. And yet, we destroyed the foundation on which all good marriages are built. For, if you’re not friends, how can you expect to be lovers? Partners? Soul mates?

A few good sources tell me I should be grateful Eric wants to be friends. I know they’re right. But I feel anxious. Friends to me means no kissing. No intimate hugging. No love making. Ever. And Eric and I were great at those things. We were also great friends who shared secrets, gossip, and personal stories. Still, something in our dynamic made me unwilling to go to him when this guy at work started bugging me. And while I kept the guy at bay for weeks, he finally broke through to the vulnerable, overworked, underappreciated mother who devoured his attention, flirting, and dirty talk. After it was too late, I knew I was headed for disaster.

What keeps me sane right now is that adorable boy in the photo. He’s honest, funny, and cares deeply for everyone in his family, even his circle of friends. Eric and I conceived that boy when we were deeply in love. And though we may not be now, we work  hard to get along because we so love him.

I have no idea what the future holds, and it scares me to my core. My sources say I need to live one day at a time. Move the mountain one stone at a time. Breathe. Keep running, one foot in front of the other. Live in the present.

I Miss My Best Friend

Four years ago I was dealt two devastating blows. In April 2012, my divorce became final. Eric, my best friend of 11 years and I could not get over my affair. His anger and my guilt had made communicating nothing but shouting matches. We tried counseling, but whenever the counselor called my cheating partner a “predator,” I got upset. When the counselor asked what I’d gotten from said predator, I answered, “He talked to me. He flirted with me.” Eric said, “If he did it, I won’t.” We were at an impasse.

The worst part was that I never wanted to lose Eric. Some ridiculous part of me believed I could tell him about the affair, he would understand that something had been missing from our marriage, and we would talk it out and fix it together. How arrogant and naive! Eric’s deep hurt came out in anger, and because I couldn’t deal with his emotions or even empathize I turned to the Predator. Big surprise: the union did not last.

Later that year, in October, my father passed away after a sudden illness. I traveled back and forth from my home in Idaho to his in New York to settle his estate. After I returned home for good, Eric came to my house and gave me a hug. (My dad loved him too.) But, it was too late. I’d lost two best friends within six months. 2012 was a bad year.

Here we are in 2016 and guess where I am? Right in the middle of the 5 stages of grief. But it’s not for my father. Of course, I miss him. I loved his angry, sensitive and complicated self. But I’m stuck in the bargaining phase over my other best friend–the one I thought I’d be with forever. “If you take me back, I will never hurt you again.” “You’re the only man I ever loved.” “If we could just work it out, our love will be stronger.”

Big surprise: none of these tactics work. Eric says he’s moved on. I stabbed him in the back. He owes me nothing. He’d rather be alone for the rest of his life than endure that much pain again. Sigh. So, I’m in therapy–trying to stay sane and navigate my life without the love of my life, my best friend. To further complicate matters, Eric and I share an 11 year old son who’s gorgeous, witty, and sensitive. So, there’s no moving away, not seeing Eric, or hiding in my house.

What have I learned? Plenty. But probably the most important lesson is to be honest. Instead of going outside the marriage, I should have turned to Eric and said, “We have some issues. Can we talk about them?” But that would have taken courage. What if he rejected me? Ironic. Perhaps, only perhaps, if I would have taken a leap of faith six years ago and told Eric what I needed. . . Who knows?

 

 

 

 

Childhood Injuries: Who Hurts More?

When I was 13, while skipping stones before a lake with a dozen of my classmates, I bent over to pick up a rock when someone accidentally hit me in the face with a boulder. My left front tooth broke in half, which hurt like the dickens. I started bawling and ran back to the cabin where we were all hanging out for the afternoon. The dentist fixed my tooth, and many years later my father told me, “When I saw your fat lip and tooth hanging, I started crying.”

When my daughter Jessie was four, she was bitten by a white German Shepherd. I rushed her to the E/R where she had to get four stitches on her lip. That night, I pored over the pages of her baby book. As I stared at her beautiful photos, all chubby cheeked and pig tailed, I cried. What a terrible mother I was–leaving Jessie alone with my mother-in-law and that crazy untrained dog. Of course it bit her! I didn’t deserve such a beautiful daughter.

My second daughter, Josie, is a bit more self-destructive. My husband, daughters, and I were all living in Bellingham, Washington, when Josie ran into our duplex and said, “I just stepped on a nail.” I’m a Gen Xer, okay. So, all I could think was, tetanus shot!!! One of my grad school buddies said “calling the fire fighters was cheaper than calling 9-1-1-” so we called the fire station. Turns out it’s not the rusty nail that causes infection, it’s the bacteria from the bottom of the shoe going into the skin. But later Josie told us, “I wanted to see what it would do.”

Nothing comes close to Kid #3, my son, whom I love to the moon. He’s allergic to tree nuts. In the last ten years of his life, he’s been to the E/R five times.

1: Age one- Grandma makes cookies with walnuts. Vinny eats one and then pukes. Breaks out into hives. Left side of his face swells. Dad gives epi-pen because of peanut allergy. Takes Vinny to the E/R.
2. Age five- Teacher gives Vinny cookie from grandma of classmate. Vinny pukes. Breaks out into hives. Dad gives epi-pen. Takes him to E/R.
3. Age six- Vinny eats toffee with almonds. Lies to family and says allergy was caused from COOP bread. Mother throws fit at the COOP and threatens to notify the local media. Gets them to install allergy signs on all foods. (yay)
4. Age eight- Vinny’s best friend makes him a sandwich with “nutty bread” containing “almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and Brazil nuts.” After Vinny complains of a burning sensation on his tongue, Eric comes and injects Vinny with epi-pen, but Vinny spends the night in ICU and needs a ventilator. His entire body is covered with hives.
5. Age ten- Vinny’s home from school because of a cough. He makes a frozen dinner with vegetarian ravioli, not knowing it contains walnuts. He takes one bite, says, “I have that nut feeling.” After we read the ingredients, mother gives him epi-pen and rushes him to the E/R.

I called in at work, spent most of the day in the E/R and ICU watching Vinny get poked and injected full of Benedryl. He says his vision is blurry and that he feels weird. All I can think of is what his life will be like as an adult–when his father and I am not around. When he’s negotiating his own life–no mother or father policing his decisions, looking for dangerous foods. I start to cry.

When You Know It’s Love

Part of being creative for me means having an overactive imagination. When I was a child I was terrified of the dark. I hated horror movies, because the images stuck with me, and I believed Michael Meyers would spring from the bushes to kill me or that Jaws would erupt from the drain in the local swimming pool. As an adult, I watched the Blair Witch Project and was chilled to the core. Part of my overactive imagination also involves having vivid dreams, in color, where I can feel textures and smell odors.

Recently my best friend and I were at a scrap-booking retreat sharing stories about people who’d pissed us off, especially during pregnancy and post-partum depression, and how we’d contemplated murder. While we laughed, “Stacy” sorted the piles of photos of her pale-haired, hazel-eyed son who was born prematurely. I was embellishing a page on my scrapbook of my father the cobbler, who had thick brown hair and a large nose, like an Italian Dustin Hoffman.

That evening, I dreamt I was a serial killer. There was no rhyme or reason to my killing, and each murder was clean and quick. I propped the dead body in a wheelchair and hid them in a bathroom stall. (The retreat was at an old ski lodge). My last kill was none other than Dustin Hoffman. (For argument’s sake, let’s ignore the Freudian implications.)

So far, I had not been caught, and I was trying to pin the murders on a squeaky clean friend. In the dream, I was suddenly back at my house with the friend and no evidence to convict him. Cops were on their way, and I knew I was going to jail.

My two daughters were in the other room. My son was at his father’s house. My lab/pit bull was nowhere to be found. I turned to my Black lab/newfie Gus and said, “Momma has to go away for a long time, Gussy.” I patted down his ears. “I love you.”

When I woke at the lodge the next morning, I told Stacy about my dream. Then I told her sister and her mother and our friends. Everyone shook their heads. I said, “It has to be all that talk about murder and the barrage of photos of my father.” But what got me was my going to Gus–the first dog I’ve ever owned. Not my two daughters. It must be love.