Wednesday, December 01, 2010


{This is long. That's your warning. Part 1 is below the photos from Thanksgiving.}

Imagine: It’s 1994 and I’ve just dumped my boyfriend of 3.5 years because I’m infatuated with someone else and want to “see other people” and “expand my horizons”.

My parents have always been supportive in their own way, but they aren’t even remotely cheerleader-y. I didn’t know then that I am smoking hot (I know now). I didn’t know how smart I was. I didn’t know how to try hard at something, succeed, and feel proud (things had always either been easy or I didn’t do them). I wasn’t the smart daughter, I wasn’t the pretty daughter, and I sure as shooting wasn’t the friendly daughter (my sister was those things). I had yet to learn the social graces (I know them now). Back in 1994, I didn’t have much in the way of self-esteem. I’m immune to most criticism and peer-pressure these days. I march to the beat of a totally different tympani player. Heck, sometimes, I don’t even march. I skip. It’s all these years I’ve spent in the manufacturing plant. They’ve hardened me….but in a good way. I have excellent self-esteem now.

Things were different on the south side than they were in Livonia or the North Shore or San Jose. HS Football games routinely had police to prevent large outbreaks of gang-related violence. You didn’t go to the other side of the viaduct if you were white, and you didn’t go to the other side of the same viaduct if you were black. Fights broke out on the playground, in the cafeteria, on the bus. Girls in junior high had babies.

I had a somewhat rocky home life so going off to college was a perfect time to reinvent myself. However, I was a girl from the south side who went to public high school and paid to take her AP exams with financial aid help. I was smart, driven, motivated, and poor. Of course, I chose to go to an elite university that was rife with kids whose parents were paying full-tuition for them (and buying their books, paying for their laundry and picking up the cost of pizza and beer). How did I not realize that I could not possibly fit in with my K-Mart clothes, my work-study job, and my used textbooks? Again, naiveté.

I don’t know the exact first moment I met 343, but I remember the first weeks. It was a blurry time, filled with NEW and exciting and free. I already could tell that I was not going to fit in with the crowd at the Private College. 343 wasn’t your typical private school guy. Sure, he’d gone to a private college prep HS, but it was a Catholic school in the City and his family was working class Catholic from the South Side too. He was also helping put himself through school.

Those first few days of new student week were a whirlwind of defining yourself, meeting people, getting acquainted, and I’m sure I was supposed to be touring the library, finding my classes, and taking placement tests or something too. I spent the week staying up late, walking around, having deep and meaningful conversations about what it means to be, and having the first booze I had had since middle school. It was so enlivening.

343 was in my new student orientation group. Neither of us was really interested in listening to the speaker – the university president who retired shortly thereafter. The president was droning on and on (and on and on) about something and the future and ethnographic studies. I still can’t hear the word ethnography without thinking about how 343 and I snickered and mocked through the entire speech. I’m still the snickering and mocking type. At one point, I had to go to the bathroom. I found two twenty-dollar bills in the toilet. 40 bucks! Big money! I fished it out, and 343 and I ordered Giordano’s for dinner. Woo hoo. Good, Chicago-style pizza. Free!

343 and I became an item after a week or two. He had a hometown girlfriend, and I had Minnow. We agreed that when we were at school, we would be with each other but when we were at home, we would be with our hometown honeys. (How'd that work out for ya?) 343 was a really great guy*.

By Christmas break, it was over. It was a wrenching break up for me. I was dumped. I had never been dumped before. My self-esteem was so low that I think I was tying my own self-worth to how others perceived me and whether or not I was good enough to love. The break-up proved to me in the way only an 18-year old can believe that I wasn’t good enough to be loved. And it showed me that I had made a terrible decision dumping Minnow. Somehow I was still tying all my self-identity up in how I was or was not coupled. And my grades that quarter were pretty bad too.

A few weeks after we returned from Christmas break, 343 and I were on again. We were off again by the time school was out for summer (but my grades were much, much better). Whenever I was in the presence of 343, I was a totally different person. I wasn’t better…not like I am when Mr. Long-Suffering is around. I was clingy, annoying, insecure, fake. A few weeks into the summer (the same summer I tried to be friends with Minnow and last saw his parents), we were on again.

We stayed together through Christmas 1995 and got engaged to be married. (The ring, by the way, was gorgeous. It’s almost the exact same style, size, shape of the ring I wear today. My tastes in men may have changed, but a diamond is forever.)

Somewhere in Spring of 1996, we were off-again, only to be on-again a month or two later. The next year was more of the same. When we were on, we were on. When we were off, there was yelling in the street at 2am, tears, slammed doors, name-calling. When we’d reconcile, he would promise it would be better. Things would be different. We’d work on it harder. When things went south (again, inevitably), I would cry saying that I didn’t think I could do this for the rest of my life. I was right. I would not have been able to do that the rest of my life. Or possibly, my life would have been smaller.

I’ve mentioned Mimi on the blog before. She is my mother and my children’s grandmother. The doting Mimi of today is a far cry from the mother of my youth. My own mother tied most of her self-worth up with who she was dating or not. My mother had never lived alone. She moved from her parents’ home straight with my father. When they divorced, she had me, and when I went to college, some man she was dating moved in with her. I was following in her footsteps in all the wrong ways. During those years between my parents’ divorce and me leaving for college, I took good care of Mimi. I was a nurturer, a worrier, and her caretaker.

Not only was I repeating her mistakes in tying my own self-worth up with who I was dating, I was trying to take care of 343 the same way I had taken care of my mom. Dating FAIL.

So, we continued on and off. Off and on. I have no idea what our friends thought. This situation had alienated most of my few friends. No one ever really said anything to me about the destructive spiral I was in (and if they had, I wouldn’t have listened). No one ever really mentioned that I was a complete and total doormat. (No one except 343 when we were off-again. If I had listened to him half as much as I loved him, I probably would’ve ended it once and for all because he was right about it all. I was a doormat.) Things were dramatic. Turbulent. Erratic. Passionate. Possibly even exciting, if we’re being honest.

Things had never gotten violent (yet). But it’s the yet I feared most.

The summer between junior and senior years, I went off to have an internship and so did 343. He was in DC, and I was in Michigan. We talked when we could, but his schedule was hectic. I enjoyed this kind of freedom too. It was nice to know that I had someone who loved me no matter what and the security of being coupled but the freedom to come and go as I pleased and to work late when needed. It’s almost as if I liked the idea of having a fiancé without all the difficulty of actually having a second person in the relationship. Since 343’s career would cause him to move around a lot and mine would keep me tied to the industrial Midwest, the summer of 1997 was actually a lot like how my marriage would have been.

When school started back up in the Fall, we were living together. It was weird. After the whole summer apart doing our own things, I had trouble adjusting back to coupledom. 343 had developed some paranoia along the way. He didn't trust me, didn't trust what few friends I had, was suspicious. Somewhere in here I had done something stupid and irresponsible with my thesis and lost my advisor, so I had to start my two-quarter project thesis over. No one can self-sabotage the way I can. (See how my self-esteem has improved...I think I'm the self-sabotage.)

I don’t remember the fight that ended it all. I had made a big pot of chicken soup for 343. He always liked my chicken soup. He was in the living room on the fold out couch where we had been sleeping until we could get a bed. 1-800-MATTRES, leave off the last S for savings.

I remember the light in the room. The living room faced east, but it was a courtyard building so there was a wall directly to the south of the window. It was a really bright white light, but it was filtered and a time of day that made it dark in there, though it was still light outside. He left, and he never came back. Not really, at least. He came back and got his couch. I returned the ring.

A few days later, I sent an RSVP to my BFF declining an invitation to her wedding. I just couldn’t go and be happy for her. I was crushed. I cried for a few days non-stop. I would wake up in the night, go into the bathroom and cry. I would have to get a drink of water just to have enough left for tears.

He had left his kitchen table in the kitchen, but I felt weird about using it, so I put a folding table up in the kitchen next to it and used the folding table instead. I couldn’t afford the apartment on my own, so I started looking to find someone to sublet. I had no idea where I was going to go, but I knew I couldn’t stay – mentally or financially. I started a mad search for a job. I bought waterproof mascara, so I could cry and interview. Surprisingly, I got a lot of job offers.

The pot of chicken soup sat in the refrigerator for weeks unopened. It felt like a betrayal to eat it. It felt worse to throw it out. When it was time to move, I was going to throw the whole thing out - pot and all, but a friend convinced me the stock pot was too nice to waste. So, I kept the pot and flushed the soup down the toilet when I moved out. Poetic, no? (I still have that stock pot. In fact, I handed it to Chuckles last week when he had a mysterious vomiting illness.)

I had enough credits to leave school at the end of the quarter, so long as I could finish my thesis up. I worked my tail-end off finishing everything up by the middle of January, and I high-tailed it out of town. The quarter had ended in December and I got an incomplete on my thesis, but they put it in retroactively so I was able to move to Ohio and start in at the factory just in time for my 22nd birthday. I had given up the apartment in December, so I spent a month staying with different people while I finished my thesis. Essentially, I was homeless but for the kindness of friends and family.

The asterisk up above? 343 was a really great guy*. The asterisk is a place holder for “when he was sober”. 343 was a really great guy when he was sober. When he was drunk, he was a colossal jerk. An asshole even. He might agree with that statement; he might not. He might feel bad about the way things happened. He might not. He might remember them differently. He might think I was a clingy stalker who wouldn’t leave him alone for 3 years. He might regret jerking me around. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him since graduation.

I came back from Ohio to walk at my graduation ceremony that following June. Senior week was a lot like Freshman orientation had been. There was no work to be done, no deadlines, no papers, just a lot of time to stay up late talking about what it means to be. He and I went for coffee. 343 was chain smoking and drinking a lot of coffee. I don’t remember what we said, but it was over. It had to be. 343 was sober now, but I knew that since I was a part of his drinking past, there would always be a codependent part to any relationship we would have (thanks be to al-anon). The how and why he quit drinking are his story to tell, not mine, so I won’t, but I’m glad he did.

I sent him an e-card to congratulate him when he hit one year of sobriety. I haven’t communicated with him since.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and acquaintances and people who come into your life and then disappear. Maybe it’s because we just celebrated Thanksgiving or because I am going to turn dirty-jive next year. Perhaps I’m suffering from some sort of maudlin ennui. I’ve been thinking about how people who were once very important to you can disappear without a trace.

343 has a common name. Have you ever tried to google 343? You get a lot of hits. Many companies have model numbers with 343 in them. It turns out 343 firefighters died on September 11th. So, I have never really kept up with him or known what he’s been up to. But once I found out about Minnow’s wife and parents, I was curious what had happened with 343. Did he stay sober? Did he finish up school and graduate? Those aren’t really the kinds of things you can find from a google search anyway.

A quick look on facebook tells me he got married last year. His wife is currently expecting their first baby. She looks absolutely lovely in all the belly shots posted on twitter. He taunts her by eating her favorite sushi in front of her. He founded his own company. I saw his blog. He’s still sober. He’s still chain smoking. He’s still haunted by some of the same old demons. I wish him nothing but the best.


  1. This was an interesting series. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do this, but it would probably be good for me. My most serious relationship except for the one I'm in now ended spectacularly right when my now husband was visiting my company from NZ, and he helped pick up the pieces. I tried to warn him off since I was a train wreck, but he said he didn't care, and here we are....

    Anyway, did you actually go to college in Chicago? So did I! But I was the middle class girl from the middling quality public school out west who hand no real concept of how much more they learn in those fancy east coast prep schools until I realized I was probably one of the only people in my first year chemistry course who actually had to study. Lord, that sent me into a tailspin. Also, I was totally unprepared for how freaking cold Chicago gets in the winter.

    Anyway, I'm guessing you went to a different school than I did, because I can't imagine that mine had a major that would prepare someone for a career as practical as yours. We were famously theoretical. But maybe I'm wrong? Did your school cheer mention Herodotus and Thucydides?

  2. @cloud - I was thinking the same thing - i don't have the guts either. I had two serious relationships before my babies' daddy and the first was an abusive jerk who found me on fb last year and basically said he was sorry and the second was my 343 (w/o the alcohol, as his vice was being perfect.). I actually looked him up on fb and he is finally married (he is 7 yrs older than me and had commitment issues) and just had a baby. He looks happy and I really hope he is. I sometimes think about sending him an I'm sorry letter but it's been too long, and I think that part of what he liked about me us that I let him make me crazy. Tumultuous, passionate and crazy. And yes, a lot of fun.

    @SarcastiCarrie - I, too, occassionally think about how someone can be such an important part of your life and then completely vanish. Then, inevitably, I end up thinking about how it's like war. We ask normal human beings to go and be killers for a few years and then expect them to come back and pay bills and run errands like nothing ever happened. Both are so totally ridiculous to me, yet it's the way it is.