Trigger warning: Rape
When I was 16 or 17 I was in college at a school that catered to younger students. Ostensibly we were intellectually done with high school. I don’t know how many of us really were ready for college, either academically or socially. I think their main criteria for acceptance was whether students could pay tuition or not. Most freshmen were 16 or 17. I turned 16 in my freshman year.
There was a small group of boys whose parents were low-level somebodies; one of their fathers was Slim Goodbody. They were wealthy, white, NYC prep school kids, complete with the privileged attitudes, blaring-loud rap music, and baggy pants. They were snotty shits. They were also not attractive. By any stretch. But they had a facebook (an actual facebook) that they used as a catalogue for girls. They put stars next to the girls they wanted to fuck. I have no idea what their stats were. I don’t care. But I would bet that they didn’t get much action.
One night I ended up in one of these kids’ dorm rooms with a friend of mine. I’m not going to use his name, but I will say he had no neck. Like, his head ended and his shoulders just began. I can’t remember if this was in my first or second year. I feel like it was in my second year, but I’m just not sure. For some reason the three of us were watching porn. I was really uncomfortable. I didn’t understand the point of watching porn with people you weren’t planning on immediately sleeping with and I wasn’t planning on sleeping with of either of them immediately or, ever. When the, ahem, film was over, my friend said she was heading back to her dorm. I got up to go with her and the No-neck asked me to stay. I said no. I looked around for my shoes and could only find one. He told me he’d hidden the other one. My friend laughed and left. I’m going to repeat that. My friend laughed and left. She heard me say I wanted to leave, heard No-neck say he hid my shoe, and she left me there with him. She’s a therapist now.
No-neck came on to me. I said no. What proceeded was an hour or so of him talking me into having sex and me saying no and asking for my shoe. Maybe it was less than an hour. I have no idea how long I stood there telling him I really didn’t want to have sex with him and I really wanted to go home. It felt like forever.
I finally gave in. I said, “Fine,” and sat down on his bed. Then he asked me for a blowjob. And the whole thing began again: me saying no and him begging. My old roommate and I had bragged the semester before about how good we were at giving head. He said I needed to prove it. I held firm and refused. I guess he decided to quit while he was ahead and take what I was extremely reluctantly giving him.
He humped me for a few minutes and came. I felt filthy and small and filled with shame. He got up, dumped the condom in the trash, walked over to his stereo, and said, “Hold on,” and stared into space for about 10 or 15 seconds, and then said, “I was farting that entire time.” He turned his music on full blast, walked out of the room, came back with my shoe, and tossed it at me.
“It was in the freezer,” he said.
I got dressed, put my freezing shoe on, and walked back to my dorm alone.
I dropped out of school shortly thereafter, had a nervous breakdown a few weeks after that, and ended up in a psych ward. That was not all a result of the rape, there were a lot of factors, but it was definitely one of the final straws.
It took me many years to come to terms with what happened that night and admit that it was rape. I have carried around the shame of this. Even now, 20 years later, I hear myself thinking, “You could have walked home without your shoe,” “You shouldn’t have been watching porn with him,” “You shouldn’t have bragged about blow jobs,” “You shouldn’t have said yes.” I said yes. Well, I said “fine.” And even if I had eventually said yes, it would have come after many, many “nos.” No one should have to say no twice.
I can not imagine wanting to have sex with someone who says “fine” after I’ve coerced them. I can not imagine coercing someone into having sex with me. Recently I was with a woman who said she didn’t like doing a particular thing and it never occurred to me to ask her again. Why would you want someone to do something to you or with you that they weren’t totally enthusiastic about?
No-neck is not alone. Hell, he’s not even the only person who sexually assaulted me. This is common. I have an ex who’s entire m.o. was “getting women” to sleep with him. Some men think coercion is foreplay. Listening to some of the stories coming out about Harvey Weinstein, I’m not at all surprised, though it is traumatizing and deeply triggering. Listening to him beg Ambra Guiterrez to come into his hotel room and to not “embarrass” him is sickening. I started shaking when I heard it. I’ve heard those words. I’ve heard that tone. I have been Ambra. So many of us have.
Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape. Coercion is rape.
To anyone who has experienced sexual assault (and there are billions of us), I love you and I stand with you. You are not alone. It was not your fault. It doesn’t define you. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
We are strong. We are beautiful. We are warriors.
I woke up this morning to the news about the shooting in Las Vegas. More than 50 people dead and over 200 injured. I wrote that sentence and then sat here staring into space for lack of any words to possibly follow it up with.
I watched the clips of the concert from when the shooting started. I listened to Up First and they played audio of it. The rapidity with which those shots were fired is breathtaking. Aside from the horrific images that it invokes, I keep thinking, why do these weapons even exist? Not just why would a civilian have access to them, but why do they even exist in the first place? I don’t see justification for it.
I think a lot about the very beginnings of civilization. I imagine two small tribes living across a river and a few miles up and downstream from each other. One of these tribes finds their crops or their animals dying and they need help or they face starvation. I imagine a gathering of some kind, maybe the elders, to discuss what’s to be done. Someone mentions the tribe across the river. Their crops are healthy. And a decision has to be made. Do they approach the other tribe peacefully and ask for help? Maybe offering some kind of trade or help in return? Or do they ambush them and take what they need forcefully?
I know that animals are naturally afraid of the other. I know that it’s in our makeup to not be too trusting. In order to survive, it’s in our best interest to be suspicious. But humans are supposed to be intelligent. We are supposed to be able to use reason and logic to supplement our instincts.
When I think about these hypothetical early tribes, they always decide on violence. There is a small contingency advocating for a peaceful solution, but their voices are drowned out by those using fear as their main argument. “We don’t know these people. They could kill us all the moment they see us coming.” And so, they go down river and ambush this unsuspecting tribe and they feel righteous and justified because it was all done in the name of survival.
I know that if this kind of thing happened, it happened the world over. Wherever there were tribes of people, these kinds of decisions had to be made. But I think of these two imaginary tribes and the moment of decision as a turning point in humanity. We could have chosen something better. We could have taken a risk and made the decision that ultimately benefited the species not just the tribe.
And I know this sounds naïve. Clearly we, as a species, have proven that we are not that intelligent. Even if that mythical tribe had decided on a peaceful resolution, another tribe further down river would have made the opposite decision. I think it’s in our nature to destroy each other.
We are ridiculous. We are stupid and scared and we don’t learn from our mistakes. We have let those in charge, since the dawn of civilization, cultivate fear and mistrust for their own gain.
When food storage was invented the people in charge quickly realized they could use it as a method to gain more power and, even better, to pit people against each other. Before we figured out how to store grain, we had to eat what we harvested before it went to waste. And if there was extra it went to those who were in need. But then we knew how to store the extra and suddenly there was something that needed to be inventoried and guarded and doled out. And it no longer belonged to the people, it belonged to those who were keeping the inventory and paying the guards and doling it out. And there were taxes placed on it. And there were punishments for trying to take what wasn’t yours. After all, you can’t just let anyone come and take what they want or there will be chaos. The food and people were controlled for the good of the people.
I realize this seems way off point. Someone let loose a barrage of bullets into a crowd and I’m talking about grain storage.
My point is, we made this world. We had a blank slate and could have made anything we wanted. We could have designed a hedonistic, orgiastic, peaceful utopia. But, instead, we used fear, suspicion, and mistrust to guide us and we created a world in which someone can send their loved one off to enjoy a concert and never see them again because a weapon exists that can fire off dozens of rounds per minute.
Yes, yes, I KNOW this sounds naïve. And insane. I’m arguing that grain silos led to last night’s massacre. And even in a hedonistic, orgiastic utopia someone could send a loved one off to a concert and never see them again. But it’s hard to imagine that, short of a natural disaster, hundreds of people could send loved ones off to a concert and never see them again.
I could spin off into another theory about how natural disasters would have resulted in the use of assault rifles eventually, but I realize I’ve already given you a lot to swallow.
That’s all I can say.
As per usual, I haven’t been posting new blogs because I want them to be perfect. Perfection is the enemy of creativity. So, I’m lowering my own bar and trying to just get words out.
I’m in an in between place right now, having just spent a day on set, filming a small part for a TV show I’m a fan of, and waiting for my next gig to start in a couple weeks. Here's a picture of me on set:
I can’t say what gig I’m about to start as they haven’t announced the cast officially yet. I’m just waiting to suddenly get a bunch of texts and Twitter notifications to tell me the press release has gone out. They won’t even tell those of us who are already cast who else has been cast. So, I continue to wait.
I’m finally getting my room unpacked and set up. It’s stressful because I’m painfully aware of my lack of design talent. I bought red curtains in an attempt to add color to my room and I think it was a regretful choice. The good news is, I’m leaving in a month for nine months, so the curtains will hopefully be someone else’s problem.
Yesterday was the first cold day of the season. After weeks of summer-like weather; swampy, soup weather, it was suddenly fall. Cold and a bit blustery. I spent the day in-doors battling a headache and depression. I had plans with a friend that I bailed on. He’s annoyed with me. But I did get some work done on my room which I’m seriously behind the eight ball on. Walking in here for the past couple months and sidling past boxes and bins has been making me insane. So, it has to be done.
I have always been really bad at unpacking. Suitcases are left untouched weeks after I return from trips. I moved to Los Angeles in 2003 and unpacked my last box in 2005, after moving in to my fourth place. I moved this box from New York, into a house I bought in North Hollywood, into my last apartment I shared with my ex-husband, and finally into my first place by myself and when I finally got it together to unpack it I found half-burned candles wrapped in newspaper. And not expensive or sentimental candles. Just random shit you can buy at Rite Aid.
Worse than the tangled-up mess of cheap Christmas lights that don’t work anymore, and the empty notebooks, and the bottles of expired vitamins, are the notes and letters. I have learned at least to not open old diaries (that trap will have you sitting on the floor until four a.m. crying and eating Entenmann’s cake right out of the box). But I have hundreds of postcards from when I worked at a university for a few years. I asked people to send me postcards for my office wall and I got an enthusiastic response. I have held on to nearly every card and letter I have ever gotten. I have old cigar boxes full of them. But I made the decision that I didn’t need to carry most of these postcards around with me anymore. They’d served their function when I had an office, but for the past eight years they’ve been sitting in a box. So, I went through them with a largely indiscriminate fervor. I kept the ones whose images spoke to me and the ones loved ones sent and tossed the rest.
The hardest part was reading the ones Kurt sent. And he sent dozens. I had nearly forgotten how funny he was. His sense of humor was one of the things that drew me to him in the first place. He sent postcards that were images of random street scenes from the past and ascribed dialogue to the people in the photos. He wrote of the fates of the subjects of the photos. He gave horses punchlines. I sat on my floor, pouring through these, laughing and feeling tremendously sad.
He and Monty have moved into their own place near Seattle. I Skype with them twice a day on good days. At breakfast and dinner. Monty shows me the latest thing they’ve added to their apartment. They have a map of the five boroughs over their kitchen table with pins marking where Monty’s important people are. Monty is, as always, happy and well-adjusted. Kurt is shouldering full time work and parenting on his own and he never complains. The most I’ll hear is “Weekends are hard.” I tell him how terrible I feel that I’m not there and he tells me that they’re proud of me how important what I’m doing is. Is it? It’s not like I’m saving lives. I’m not doing embassy work. Or even teaching. I’m just… being an actor. But Kurt is endlessly supportive.
And I’m sad that we can’t be together anymore. I’m sad that we can’t make it work. Sometimes I think we can try to fix things, and then I remember that even if we could work out whatever emotional wrinkles we had, I’m not attracted to men. That, as far as I can tell, some switch has been flipped in me and I generally find the thought of being physically intimate with any man akin to licking the bottom of a shoe. But I’m reading these old postcards and laughing and crying and wishing things could be different. Wishing I could be different.
Maybe the upside to all this is that because there’s no possibility of a romantic relationship anymore we may be able to find a way to live together platonically and co-parent. We certainly like each other enough to make something like that work. Or, at least, I like him. I assume he likes me, too…
I want to write here about the relationship I had over the summer – with the woman who flipped my switch, as it were – but we have mutual friends and I want to be respectful. I loved her (and still do, I think?) and think about her every day, even nearly two months after it’s been over. The relationship was unhealthy for a host of reasons; we triggered each other enormously. Ultimately, I think our major error was moving far too quickly. We tried to build a house without putting down the proper foundation. So, when the house came tumbling down it did so hard and fast and we were both badly bruised in the process. I still think I’m digging my way out of the rubble.
I am overwhelmed by what’s happening in our country politically. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is doing unspeakable damage. Every day we all seem shocked at how much lower he has managed to sink, taking us down with him. The situation is Puerto Rico is devastating. I feel helpless. I don’t know how his party allows him to remain in office. I keep thinking they must have some kind of plan. Nefarious though it may be, and it most likely is, they have to know what they’re doing right? How can they just be letting him dig himself and his party (and the entire country) into this hole without some reason for it? Are they just willfully destroying their party? Are they trying to set the stage for some kind of Tea Partyesque take-over?
Honestly it feels trite to even address any of this. There are others doing it much better than I ever could. I have nothing significant to add to the discourse.
But, I don’t know how pushing policy that kills poor people is helpful to them. I understand they think poor people are detestable, but they do know they can’t continue to benefit off the labor of the poor and struggling if they kill them all off, right? Isn’t there some fine line they have to walk between keeping us sick and barely surviving and out-right killing us off? Doesn’t it seem like their policies are designed for the latter? Who’s going to clean their toilets, serve their food, and raise their children if they kill us all off?
Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. Mostly because I still need to unpack it. It’s probably filled more junk I’ve been dragging around with me for 38 years.
I've been thinking a lot about my life from when I was about 13 to 16 years old. It’s such a short period of time. A blink. But so important in developing the tangled ball of yarn that is my psyche.
When I was 18 I had a nervous breakdown and spent hours literally trying to untangle my stepmother’s skeins of yarn. Only now do I see the metaphor.
Anyway, after my mom died I was angry. I don’t begrudge myself that anger. I had a lot to be angry about. I had a great therapist, but beyond that I had very little support. My father was dealing with the loss of his wife of 26 years and was not able to be there for me in the way that I needed. I was largely left to my own devices. I went to school if and when I felt like it. I smoked cigarettes like a fiend. The group of kids I spent my time with smoked pot, so I did too, even though I hated the way it made me feel. I would be gripped by a paranoia so intense I would end up curled up in a fetal position inside my own mind. But the alternative was not smoking pot and not fitting in. I had spent so much of my childhood being uncool and I desperately didn’t want to go back there. So, I would get high and retreat into silence, trying to seem cool with a bunch of kids who I already knew didn’t think I was cool to begin with.
It's remarkable how many people I meet who say it took them well into their adult years to shake whatever image they felt that had in high school, or even grade school. So many of us look in the mirror and still see a nerd, a dork, a freak. Inside, so many of us are still an awkward kid who just wants to fit in. That shit sticks.
When I was 14 I went to Chicago to shoot a movie for six weeks. When I came back my two best friends had made friends with two different groups of people who were complete strangers to me. They were “ravers” and street kids. They did drugs, died their hair, wore crazy clothes, got into clubs, never seemed to go home. They were cool. And they were not shy to let me know I didn’t fit in. All they knew about me was that I was some bougie actress who had been away shooting some big movie and I didn’t fit in with them. They mocked me for how I dressed. They teased me for double-knotting my laces. “Eiw, you don’t want your shoelaces to come undone? Laaaaaaaame.” I was embarrassed that I had money even though I had earned it myself. One of my best friends had a boyfriend, Andre, who would regularly call me a bitch and tell me to “shut the fuck up” regardless of what I was saying. Apropos of nothing, he would get in my face and yell, “Shut the fuck up, bitch!” And no one defended me. And worse than that, I didn’t defend myself. I just took it. I was so desperate for friends I would let these people treat me like garbage. I was so eager to fit in, I hung out with people who were never shy to make sure I knew how much I didn’t fit in. And I would go home, frequently to an empty house, and cry in my room, finally letting the sting of their cruel words escape my tight, burning throat.
In the end, after months and months of trying to ingratiate myself to these kids, they all abruptly shunned me. Maybe it wasn’t abrupt. The signs were there. It was no secret how they felt about me. But it sure felt abrupt at the time.
Even the people who had actually been my friends for years, the people who had known me since before my mother died, the people I considered closest to me, began to mock me openly. The friends I used to laugh with were now laughing at me. They were openly hostile. There was never any explanation. They just turned their backs on me.
In truth, I don’t blame my friends for cutting me loose. I was no longer just Daisy; I was Daisy Whose Mom Died. When a kid’s parent dies they become a reminder of impermanence. If their parent can die, what’s stopping your parent from dying? And who the hell wants to think about that when you’re just trying to smoke terrible weed you bought at Washington Square Park in your single-knotted laces? No one, that’s who. Also, I don’t think I was a picnic to be around. I was angry at the world. I lived in abject terror of being abandoned and I managed to alienate myself from the very people I needed most. I think I expected unending sympathy from everyone. People needed to be nice to me because I was the victim of tragic loss.
None of that was conscious. I didn’t wake up in the morning and think “Yes! Everyone has to be nice to me now!” But I think, subconsciously, I thought I was due universal kindness.
The thing is, you can only be nice to a person whose attitude is generally shitty for so long. Eventually their doom and gloom wears on you and no matter what hardships they’ve endured, you kind of want to run whenever they approach. One of the reasons Eeyore is such a popular character is because we want to believe that we will be accepted even at our gloomiest. But truthfully Eeyore would not have friends in the real world. He would probably be that kid who sits alone in front of his computer in the dark trolling people who seem happier than he is. Oscar the Grouch needs a lesson in being nicer to the people around him. No one who isn’t a felt puppet would put up with that shit for long. And Maria, because Maria is a goddess and we all know it.
It’s okay. I’m friends again with those kids I had been friends with before my mom died. We all managed to make it through our adolescence and put a lot of stuff behind us. I forgive them for not knowing how to treat me. I hope they forgive me for being a fucking nightmare most of the time back then. I’m working on forgiving myself for that.
I’m learning to look back with love and compassion. We were all struggling. Being a teenager is hard. It’s the worst. That’s a scientific fact. It is scientifically the absolute worst. But if we can look back with kindness and empathy we can start to untangle those impossibly snarled balls of yarn that are our psyches.
I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven them.
Except for my friend’s ex-boyfriend, Andre. Seriously. Fuck that guy.
Several times now I have posted a blog here declaring I would begin posting more often, only to then fail to keep my word. I’m like that friend who keeps saying, “Let’s tooooootally get together soon!” but never actually makes a plan to see you. Yeah, I’m that guy.
I’ve been trying to figure out what’s keeping me from posting more often, or even, in truth, from simply writing more often. (I say “simply writing” as if writing were ever simple. As if sitting down to write wasn’t excruciating.) A conclusion I’ve come to is that I tend to write with rigorous honesty which is exhausting and scary even when you don’t plan on sharing what you’ve written with the world (and by “the world”, of course I mean the modest handful of people who read this blog).
We are supposed to project and air of success. People want to work with successful people. Our persona on social media is supposed to be one of cheery optimism. No one wants to work with a drag. But I suffer from depression and anxiety, as I’ve made abundantly clear in previous posts, and I tend to share the world as I see it, through blue-tinted glasses. It turns some people off, I know. It may cost me some jobs. But I believe it a) is more interesting than being Sally Sunshine (which I couldn’t be if I tried), and b) can help others who experience depression or anxiety. The more we share our struggles, the more normalized they become and the more likely people are to reach out for help if they need it.
When Monty was born I was given a clean slate. A fresh start. I was able to forgive myself my regrets and “bad” decisions. Every step of my life brought me to Monty. It was and is the ultimate lesson in gratitude.
I left NYC in 2003 because I was restless. I left because I wasn’t disciplined enough in my career and I felt I had developed a bad rep among casting directors for giving less than terrific auditions. Whether this was true or just a paranoid perception, I can’t say. But I was auditioning very seldomly and getting cast even less. My heart wasn’t in the game anymore. I felt beat down and tired. So, I escaped my life and went to Los Angeles.
When I moved to L.A. I was in the middle of what I now call my “20 Year Lost Weekend.”
I did not spend 20 years in a drug-induced, blacked out stupor. I worked. I made a few movies. I was on Broadway for a third time. I played a variety of women in various states of duress on TV. I got married and divorced. Bought and sold a house. Quit the business. Finished school. Got back into the business. I lived my life. But generally, when I look at the time between when my mother died when I was 13 to the time I had my son, almost exactly 20 years later, I don’t recognize that person. It’s as if a stranger was living my life for two decades.
And suddenly I had a human life I was responsible for (“Suddenly” means 41 weeks of pregnancy, of which I was only away of 30 weeks…). I had a white, cis male that I had to raise to be… better. Better than a lot of the white, cis men I have known. Better than the toxic representation of white, cis men that he will be bombarded with from every corner of our culture.
Better than me.
I take that responsibility very seriously.
The great weight of that responsibility, coupled with depression that was now hormonal and chemical, meant I have spent much of the past four years feeling as though I were treading water. True, I’ve managed to make huge strides in my career. I wrote and produced a one-woman show before Monty was a year old. I won awards for my writing. I made the gigantic (and terrifying) leap to move back to NYC. I have managed to turn a corner in my career with regards to my discipline and my abilities. I have worked hard. (Success! Success! Success!) But, if my achievements were taken away, what would be left? I am Monty’s mom. I am an actor. I am a writer. But who am I beyond that?
I have made the agonizing choice to leave Monty with his dad in Seattle while I pursue my career with a focus and discipline I’ve never had before. I feel like a monster most of the time for doing this. It feels incredibly selfish. But my other option is to move to Seattle and, what? Try to make a living doing theater in Seattle? Give up acting again? Be miserable? I would be with my child, true. But I would be giving up my dream and who would that make me? What kind of mother could I be? How can I teach my son to follow his heart and never give up on himself if I am doing just that? How can I teach him to be better if I’m not being my best? How can I teach him how to be better than me when I don't know who "me" really is?
How can I stop being a stranger in my own life?
I’m hoping he will forgive me for not being there. Hopefully he will understand this sacrifice. Hopefully he won’t resent me for too long. I am his mother. He will resent me. Just hopefully not for this or just hopefully not for too long.
I am incredibly lucky that Kurt, Monty’s dad, is a superhuman with a massive capacity for understanding. I would not be able to do any of this without his seemingly endless support. There are times I worry that all I’m doing is traipsing around New York City, seeing shows and schmoozing, while Kurt works full time and raises our son day in and day out. He is there for all the stubbed toes and ear infections, the bathtimes and bedtime stories, breakfasts and dinners, tantrums and nightmares, hugs and kisses. All of it. And I’m here. And he never fails to remind me that what I’m doing is vital. He reminds me that in order for me to be the best mother to Monty that I can be, I need to be here. And he does this despite the fact that we aren’t together romantically anymore. He does this while knowing that I’ve been falling in love with someone else. He does this while being the world’s best dad.
Monty is in the best hands possible.
But he’s not in my hands, which torturous. And necessary. At 37 years old, I finally get to figure out who I am. I have to figure out who I am.
I recognize that this is intense navel-gazing. So, feel free to move on. I hear there’s a great piece about single, working motherhood on Goop…
Stellar idea for a musical:
The story is set somewhere in the middle of the country. It's about a couple that regularly abuse each other physically and mentally. But it's okay, because the music is by Porter or Berlin or Rogers and Hammerstein or whatever.
The woman has had bad experiences with men in the past and is leery of them, but we know that all she really needs is the right man.
The man is a dick. Like, seriously. He's violent and arrogant. He basically thinks women are interchangeable and remembers them only by what kind of sex they offered. But it's okay because it's based on Shakespeare or something. And the woman's parents are like, "Yeah, that guy who treats you like garbage. He's the one!"
And then the man and the woman get in a huge fight and he beats her in front of her whole community. But it's okay because he really only turns her over his knee and we all know that that doesn't count as abuse and besides, did you hear the way she was talking to him? And he hits her so hard that the next day she's unable to do her job properly. Funny, right?
And then he dies because of his oversized ego leaving her with a child to raise on her own. And he goes to heaven.
I mean, this is a great idea, right? Right?!
One of the good things about suffering from panic attacks (Not that there are lots of good things about it. There are maybe two. One is getting out of ladies nights or yet another invitation to an Arbonne spa "party".) is that eventually you come to know the early warning signs of an impending attack and can take measures to dampen or stop it all together. The same is true of depression. If you live with chronic depression (as I do) you learn what the signs are that you're headed for another tailspin. For example, hypothetically, it may be fantasies that you'll get T-boned by a semi. You gleefully imagine that after impact you and your car spin serenely, and in slow motion, through the intersection before you lose consciousness completely and forever. Or, just say, it's a persistent and bizarre intrusive thought of getting shivved in the right kidney; an image that increases in frequency until it dominates your thoughts and you can't even jam out to "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog with your three-year-old without thinking about it. Or maybe it's that you start thinking about what a loser you are and that no one loves you and you'll never be cast in another show because you can't screlt and your voice generally is just okay, and then what will you do because you already quit the business once and you don't want to be that guy that's always quitting the business, and do you really think you can be a successful therapist as a fall back if you are this crazy, and what will your child do without you and you shouldn't have had a child in the first place, what were you thinking? Just, as an example. So, when you start having these thoughts you know your meds aren't working and whatever you're talking about in therapy is probably garbage. And hopefully then you can head it off at the pass. Because if you don't you'll end up under your covers for days and you have a child (or a job, or just basic adult responsibilities), so that's not exactly an option.
Last December I had a panic attack in the produce section of the C-Town in Park Slope. It came out of the blue. I mean, my life was far from stress-free, but I had just booked a big gig I really wanted, my kid's father had landed a decent job, and we were finally going to be moving into our own place on the first of January. But, as I stood in front of the lemons I suddenly got very hot. I took off my jacket. I peeled off my scarf. I took off my sweater. I just kept getting hotter. I sat down on the edge of the dairy fridge and put my head between my legs while keeping an eye on Monty. My chest tightened. My breathing got really shallow. Quickly I was hyperventilating. My dad came back from the cereal aisle. Monty gasped.
"Look, Mama!" He said. "Cheerios!"
"Awesome!" I said, my head starting to swim.
"Uh huh." I turned my head to my dad. "I need help." I mumbled.
"What?" He asked. And then, "Are you alright? Your face is white as a sheet."
Thankfully the brave men from FDNY Engine 239 were doing their shopping at C-Town, too, and it didn't take long before I was surrounded by firemen (a personal fantasy, by the way.) taking my pulse and giving me oxygen.
One ambulance ride of three and a half blocks later (for which I was billed $600, which is remarkable when you consider that most EMS workers make about $11-an-hour.) I was sitting in the Methodist Hospital E.R. waiting to be seen by a doctor. Two hours later I was still waiting. I asked a harried nurse for an anxiety med. He said he we would to get the request approved. An hour later I realized that I had my own anxiety meds at home that I wouldn't have to wait for the request to be cleared on or pay $250 for and also I still hadn't seen a doctor, so I left. What was the doctor going to possibly have to say to me anyway ("Try to reduce the stress in your life.")?
In the following seven months I had some near misses, but always managed to head my anxiety off at the pass by taking half a Clonapin and removing myself from my child's presence whom I love immeasurably and would die for, but who sometimes makes me regret being alive. And once I took myself to a nearby bar for a double scotch, listened to a true crime podcast (www.swordandscale.com, by the way, which if you haven't listened to it go now and start at episode one and I'll see you back here in a couple of weeks), and played Candy Crush until I was ready to rejoin my life.
A couple Mondays ago I was in the city to teach a class. Monty's dad and I are separated, and I have Monty most of the week while his dad works. We're staying with parents of a friend out of the city for reasons that are too complicated to delve into now. So, I had Monty with me. It was easily 6000 degrees out. I had my suitcase and Monty. On Metro North on the way in, Monty had a full on melt down, screaming and hitting me repeatedly. Hard. I'm doing this weird thing where I don't hit him because I believe people who hit their kids are monsters. And I try not to scream at him unless he's about to run into the street or put his hand on the stove. So, I'm hugging him and telling him I love him and that when he hits me it hurts me emotionally and physically. I'll admit that finally, out of frustration, I told him if he hit me again I would leave him on the train which I KNOW is basically just as bad as hitting him and I'm officially the worst. I'm sure the threat of abandonment is just as scarring as actually scarring him. But you know what? It worked. And then I apologized for saying it and explained that sometimes I get so frustrated that I say things I don't mean. And then I gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and all was forgiven. Or maybe it wasn't. I don't know. It seemed like it was, but he'll probably bring it up in therapy when he's in his twenties. Also, I called him "Mein Fuhrer." The worst.
I'm well aware that my problems are nowhere near as bad as most people's in the world, but they are mine and pain isn't relative and I'm not trying to belly ache about how hard my life is. I'm just trying to set the stage. So, the stage is set, right? I'm stressed out.
My friend, and hero, Eve, met us at Grand Central to watch Monty while I went to teach. When I got back from teaching I knelt down to give Monty a hug and a kiss and got extremely light-headed upon standing. I chalked it up to old age and not the fact that I hadn't had much to eat or drink all day (except for a 32 ounce mocha coolata from Dunkin' Donuts which, in my defense, I was told was the "yummiest value."). Monty and I parted ways with Eve and headed to the shuttle on our way to Grandma/Grandpa's place in Brooklyn. Near the beginning of the tunnel to the shuttle my head began to swim again. My chest tightened and I started gasping for air. I knew there was a newsstand toward the shuttle and decided I just had to make it there and get some juice. Pushing Monty in his stroller and pulling my rolly suitcase, I managed to get to the newsstand where I stumblingly bought an apple juice and some almonds and then collapsed on the ground next to Monty. I considered taking a Clonapin, but I had to weigh the option of completely fogging out from anti-anxiety meds against being awake enough to still parent my toddler.
I called my father. I wasn't sure what else to do. He told me to call 911 but that felt a bit dramatic. I chose, instead, to flag down an MTA worker who said they would go get the police. And then I waited there for 20 minutes hoping to god someone I knew wouldn't walk by and see me being all anxiety-y. Though don't think for a minute that I didn't compliment a woman walking by in her fierce two-piece outfit. No doubt she went home and burned it. No one wants to wear something a crazy lady from the subway floor complimented.
The only person I alerted, besides my dad was a friend whose brother is a cop. Basically I was just like, Uh, can I go up to a cop and just be like, I'm having a panic attack? He called. I didn't answer. He texted. I didn't answer. I know people who call friends at the slightest hint of a rough time. Everything constitutes a crisis. I, on the other hand, having an actual crisis, didn't want to bother anyone.
Monty asked for gummy candy which he NEVER has, but at this point I would have bought him a bag of sugar to distract him from what was happening. He finished the gummies and asked for more. I got him another pack.
"Are you sad, Mama?" He asked me.
"No, baby, I just don't feel well." I told him.
"You want a gummy? It'll make you feel better."
He gave me his candy. Then he emptied the rest of the bag into his hand and said, "That's it!" and gave them to me.
My son is a god damned champion.
The police finally showed up. But not before I folded and called 911. There were cops all over Grand Central Station and I had to call 911. It's like the one time you actually want Starbucks and there is nary a Starbucks to be found. That said, the two officers who eventually showed up were helpful and brought me out to the ambulance. While one EMS worker, who looked exactly like Alan Arkin (He got it all the time), took my information, the other, suggested they take me to the hospital. Apparently I didn't look so good, which, I know, weird, right? My dad suggested that the EMS guy was compelled to tell me to go the hospital as part of his job. Like he works on commission. An extra 10% for every sucker he actually brings in. I figured giving Monty a ride in an ambulance would be better than passing out in the back of a cab and waking up somewhere deep inside Queens, hog-tied in a basement. I may have some trust issues.
So, Monty got a ride in an ambulance to NYU Langone. He pushed all kind of levers and buttons that I'm sure I'll receive a bill for somehow.
Emergency Transportation $850
Entertainment of Toddler $6000
Total $10,436.72 (including composition of bill, time, and postage)
I was attended to immediately by both a nurse AND a doctor, as well as a tech who gave me all kinds of beepy boopy tests. When I gave my pee sample Monty asked if it was apple juice. When a nurse gave me apple juice Monty asked if it was pee. Another patient walked by with her pee sample which looked like pomegranate juice. I felt fortunate to only be sick in the head. Two orthodox Jewish men walked by and Monty said,
"Look, Mama! Jingle bells!" Really loud.
My doctor was cute AND Jewish. Unfortunately he was wearing a wedding ring, which, honestly, how would we have told the story of our meeting at our rehearsal dinner? "She was a broke, harried, crazy, single mom. I was a successful doctor. She came to see me for a panic attack. It was a meet cute!" Clink clink.
Anyway, he made me drink two buckets of water and told me to try to reduce the stress in my life...
So, here's the conclusion, I have had to write and re-write much of this piece over and over because of bugs with the app. Monty and I fought about 10 times today. Let me break that down for you. I, a 36-year-old MOTHER fought with my three-year-old son. Because I'm an adult. And he is threevil. He is currently in the other room watching complete garbage on my phone because I can not bear the thought of fighting with him again right now. And it gives me five minutes to "end" this piece. And it prevents me from completely breaking down. Again. Although tonight, when I'm trying to go to sleep, I will lay there wracked with guilt over fighting with my child. I'm supposed to be an endless source of joy and enthusiasm for him. I should be happily giving up my life to play train tracks with him. Or watch him "perform" The Dream Police for the 7000th time. I just can't.
And tomorrow it will start again first thing in the morning. He will throw a tantrum because the banana has a bruise on it. Or I won't let him watch Mickey Mouse Club House or I'll ask him to take his diaper off. And I will try to remember to breathe and try to remember that he is still a baby and won't be able to fully reason for another 23 years. And I will spend the day debating whether or not to take a pill or part of a pill until it's finally the end of the day and he screams and yells for me to sleep in the bed with him which I'll do because I'll just be too tired to fight him again. And anyway, going to bed at 8pm is highly underrated.
I haven't posted in maybe six months. I was having trouble with the Weebly app and got frustrated with not being able to post from my phone, Also, I got very busy with holiday stuff, looking for a place to live, and prepping for the concert of The Secret Garden at Lincoln Center in February, I got sick with a cold on the first day of rehearsals and here we are, two months later and I'm still sick. Pretty sure I'm dying but everyone else is like, "Get over yourself. You have a cold."
Kurt got a job in December working for the Devil's spawn and his dung beetle of a wife. He is a war profiteer and she used to be the head of a major cable network, though how anyone ever stood being in a room with her for more then two minutes is beyond me. They have three children whom they're raising to be just as shitty as they are.
He was hired for a specific job, with very specific duties that were expressly laid out before he agreed to take the position. They wanted to make sure he knew what he was signing on to do. Then, maybe two weeks in, the Mrs. decided she really wanted a butler and was angry that Kurt wasn't one. She was like, "Ugh, were you raised in a barn?" during his first dinner service when he served the water from the wrong pitcher. She texted him at midnight on his day off demanding that he go to their Connecticut residence in the morning (also his day off), pick something up, and deliver it to their Greenwich Village residence. And what was the item that needed to be delivered? Like, a really important flash drive, right? Or an envelope with a ton of cash. Or a fucking Faberge Egg that they were auctioning off that day. No, no. It was a white, crew neck tee-shirt. To be fair, those are a very hard item to find. Especially in New York City. So, I get it. Their oozing puss stain of a daughter, who was all of 11 years old, ordered him out of the kitchen when she went in to get a snack. Because that's how you treat people.
Anyway, he lasted two months before being summarily dismissed for not doing the job he wasn't hired to do. So, that was a two month respite from nearly two years of unemployment. You know how on the news you hear about people who have been out of work for two years and you're like, how is that possible? Or you're like, how are they feeding their children? Yeah, that.
Monty is going to be three next month. He is still an amazingly terrific kid. But, man oh man, that boy can be a dick. JEEEEEzus. I'll say, "Hey, how about we go in the backyard and ride your tricycle?" and he will scream at me like I suggested we cut his penis off. And that will go on for a half an hour until we somehow finally manage to wrangle him into clothing and then he'll go, "Can we go to the backyard and ride my tricycle?" all happy-like, like he's just coming up with the idea. OH, MY GOD, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT? SOMEONE GET THIS KID A FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP.
He's in school three days a week because that's what we can afford. Honestly, if I could have him in school seven days a week, I would. And I KNOW that he's an easy kid. I have met other three-year-olds. Generally speaking, as a group, they are fucking awful. Snot-nosed, scowly, screamy little shitheads. And most of them have the personality of a bowl of oatmeal. Their just like, "Look at my Thomas train!" and you're like, "I'm in my mid-thirties. You really think I have any interest in your stupid train?" But of course in real life you have to be like, "Wow! What a cool train! Oh my god. Amazing!" At least Monty's interests center around things most adults can get into, like David Bowie and The Hives. On the other hand, he's really into that awful Mighty Mighty Bosstones songs right now. You know, their one hit. And he's found that god awful "I would walk 500 miles song." Sometimes, if I catch it early I can convince him a song is garbage. But it really has to be the first time he's hearing it.
Honestly, I think most parents can agree that for a lot of years, their kids are really only tolerable to them. Anyway, my point is that I know Monty, compared to many kids his age, is relatively easy. He has never thrown himself on the supermarket floor because we won't buy him some crap with Elmo on the box. His tantrums are fairly mild and usually, if he does need to throw something, it's more like he's placing it firmly. Sometimes I use his tantrums as an opportunity to remind him that "no means no" and if someone asks you to stop doing something to them, you have to stop. Even though I'm fully aware that his brain is not functioning normally during a tantrum and he can't really process what I'm saying. But, you know, consistency is key. Or something.
So, Kurt is unemployed, I'm unemployed, and Monty is a toddler. I would say we have our fair share of life-stressors right now and some measure of depression is to be expected. The problem is that I suffer from chronic depression. So, when a normal person gets depressed they feel sad, tired, angry. Maybe a little hopeless. I think for most people a course of talk therapy or a low dose of anti-depressant will help them through it (Although I take issue with people taking anti-depressants for situational depression. Emotions are normal. Sometimes they suck. Work it out.). For me, because my base-line is depressed, when I am dealing with major stressors my depression becomes almost unmanageable. And that's where I've been for the past couple weeks. Constant spiraling thoughts of failure and shame. A conviction that I will never work again, everyone hates me, I am a terrible mother, etc. Panic attacks. And not your cute "Oh my god the line for Star Wars went around the block. I swear I had a panic attack" panic attack. Like, hyperventilating at the grocery store and being taken to the ER panic attack. The kind where you wait in the ER for two hours and no one helps you and you ask for an Ativan but have the wherewithal to realize that when and if they finally do bring you an Ativan they're going to charge you $500 for it, so you just leave and take the Ativan you have at home and then you get a bill for $608 for the ambulance ride from 9th street and 6th avenue to 7th street and 7th avenue. Fortunately I've been dealing with it for so long in my life that I know what the signs are for when I'm headed into hospital-level depression and I can do things to keep it at bay. For example, one sign that my depression is getting bad is when I find out a friend is in the hospital with pneumonia and I'm like, "Oh my god, they're so lucky." Because, like, mandatory vacation from life, am I right? Or near-constant fantasies of being stabbed in the kidney. A coma sounds like an awesome nap.
I worry about sharing this level of detail about my illness because I'm afraid it may hinder me from getting work. I can understand someone being hesitant about casting me because they're worried my mental health might be a liability. The truth is that my depression only affected one job in that I had to turn it down because the subject-matter was gruesome and I had just gotten out of the hospital after a major depressive episode. I'm healthy enough to know when I'm healthy enough to work. I tend to be pretty emotionally healthy when I'm employed. Because, like everyone, my self-worth is directly tied to getting a paycheck. And also, if we continue to keep the truth about mental illness to ourselves we perpetuate the myth and shame of it. So, I guess if it costs me a job, so be it. I know that when I've been honest about my situation before, people have thanked me for my honesty because it helped them feel less alone in their own illness. So, you see, I'm sacrificing my well-being for YOU. You're welcome.
This morning I managed to get up with Monty at 7, make him breakfast and lunch, and get him out the door (with Kurt's help) by 8. I realize this is, like, bare minimum parenting, but for me, it felt like a victory. Now, here it is, not even 9:30 am and I've earned myself a nap. Right?
Kurt got some bad news on the job front yesterday. It was extremely disappointing and puts us back in panic mode. Mild panic. Not full on running around like maniacs panic. But, you know, how-are-we-going-to-pay-the-bills panic. We were very confident about his chances on this one. The CEO TOLD him he wanted to "move forward" after Kurt's FOURTH interview. He said we would hear by the beginning of this week. So "move forward" meant "not hire you" and the beginning of this week meant Friday, I guess. It's as if hiring someone for a really well paying job with benefits for their family isn't something that person might be, you know, waiting to hear about. It's been a long week.
Monty woke up in a terrible mood and stayed that way all day. We're trying to do the whole "no time outs" thing because it's sort of a terrible thing to do to a kid who doesn't understand feelings and isn't fully capable of communicating his needs. "You're mad, therefore we'll abandon you!" So we do a lot of redirecting. We do a lot of looking at the sun coming through the clouds. We do his Frozen puzzle. We listen to music.
Today we went out to the apple orchard (by orchard I mean four trees in a field) to pick apples and clear out some saplings that my father said were encroaching on a few more apple trees. The axe we found in the garage was basically a large hammer. God knows when if it was ever sharp, because it sure isn't anymore. I decided that taking down the saplings would be my job. I needed to swing an axe at some trees pretending that they were the CEO. It was that or run into traffic.
Turns out the saplings aren't so much "encrouching" on the apple trees as apple trees are growing in the forest. It was a forest. I set out to chop down a forest with a dull axe.
Here's what I learned about chopping down trees:
1. It's hard.
2. Like, hard.
3. Check to make sure the axe head is secure to the handle or it might fly off and narrowly miss hitting your toddler who is innocently standing by eating an apple and insisting, "No. Monty can cut da trees!"
4. If you ever come across a handsome lumberjack out in the woods chopping trees while you're on a camping trip with your girlfriends like that chick from the 1970s-era porn, Bad Girls, skip going down on him because I guarantee you he has a cup or so of sweat accumulated in his underwear. It smells like a bucket of chum down there. Just steer clear.
5. Wear gloves.