Life Lessons

World AIDS Day

(I tried to keep it upbeat but it still came out kinda sad- you might need a tissue)
Once, when I was in college, I worked for a campus program called SPARK. Mostly it was about alcohol and drug prevention, but it was a program run by the campus health center so we also did some safer sex stuff. December 1 was a Friday that year (1994). The theater I worked at was having a benefit performance of the show that was currently running. And on campus we did a whole bunch of stuff in partnership with the San Mateo County AIDS Project (SMCAP)- we had a table in the student center with AIDS awareness information, did some street outreach, and on Friday, World AIDS Day, we brought in a speaker to tell students what it was like to live with AIDS.
It was a day that changed my life profoundly. The speaker’s name was Jim, and we never got to hear his story. He started to tell us about himself, and about his life, and then he trailed off, seeming to have lost his train of thought. Then in front of an assembly of 100 or so students, Jim had a seizure and lost conciousness. He had not regained conciousness by the time the ambulance arrived. I visited him once in the hospital, Angel (our contact at the SMCAP) on one side of him, and I on the other, each of us holding a hand of the unconcious man in the bed. Angel told me that he had come out of it a few times, but for the most part stayed in his coma. After ten days or so, he stopped waking up and stayed in a coma for two more weeks, and then he died- on Christmas Eve. I wrote a piece on it for the student newspaper, that I’d post here if I could find it.
I was passionate about the cause back then. I put a lot of time and energy into AIDS related programs. I volunteered at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the SMCAP. I did AIDS Walk San Francisco every year and volunteered with them from May to July. I worked hard and gave of my time and energy because, as a college student, it was all I had. Now, I give money, because I have more of that than time. But sometimes I feel like giving my time was somehow doing more. I take this opportunity to remember those people I’ve known who have died- most especially Scott Williams, Michael Callen and Jim- to treasure those in my life fighting it (who know who they are), and to thank all those who work hard for the cause.


Okay, so enough being vague. Two weeks ago, a couple of very close friendships came to an end. I’m still not sure what I did to cause it, but Sarah and Ida, two people that I thought I was really close to, decided they needed a break from me. Apparently that decision was made a while ago, as it has come to my attention that problems had been mentioned to other people but not to me. Everything came to a head on the eve of Ida’s wedding, and I ended up not being welcome there. I can’t even begin to describe the pain of missing that, or the pain of knowing that I wasn’t wanted there.
On Friday (October 1), I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. People got upset, and I feel that the way it was handled left a lot to be desired. The cruelty in the tone with which the message was delivered that I was not welcome at the wedding just made it all the harsher. I cried for hours that night, both in Keegan’s arms, and alone in my bedroom. Saturday the 2nd dawned clear and sunny, a beautiful day for a wedding. My housemate got married that day too, and I went to her wedding that morning, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Keegan picked me up and we headed for the beach, hoping to see a friend and the welcome distraction she would provide, but that ended up not happening. I didn’t cry as much as I expected to that day, but I lost it a little on the way home from the beach. I feel kinda bad for that, because Keegan was with me and he was trying to be the friend I so desperately needed. I spent the night at his house because I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone in my room again.
I honestly don’t remember what I did on Sunday the 3rd. I just know that Sarah didn’t call like she said she was going to, to explain what the hell had gone so horribly wrong… Oh, I remember now, I went to the theater with some friends and saw a very weird musical about a doomed romance.
On Monday the 4th I had to go back to work, and try like hell to keep the tears trapped inside my eyelids, an endeavor which failed in the first five minutes, being as I lost it when my boss asked how the wedding was. That night I called Sarah, to try and make some semblance of sense out of the whole thing. Sarah was cold, and in my opinion, cruel, in relating that they were done being my friends, that she would mail me my stuff and that I was no longer welcome. She made a couple of comments, but there was still no “we think that you’re doing such-and-such and we want no part of it, please go away now” definitive reason.
The days after are still a bit of a blur. There were people that needed to be talked to in an attempt to limit the fallout from the situation, and I think that that was effectively accomplished. People who know me well kept calling to be sure I was okay, and people who didn’t know anything had happened would ask how the wedding was and I’d lose it all over again. I’ve been tormented by my dreams every night since October 1, with the exception of last night.
Last night I saw Sarah for the first time since that fateful Friday. I spent the entire day dreading it, not knowing what to expect. To my utter surprise, she was cordial and even gave me a hug. So we’re taking a break from each other, though I can say that things will never be as they were. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over missing that day, or the fact that the people I thought were my friends could treat me in such a way. And while I will be an adult, while I will go on with my head held high, while I will still do my best to enjoy my life, I can’t promise that there won’t be moments like these, when it still really hurts, when I’ll sit in my room, trying to pour my heart out through my fingers, with tears streaming down my cheeks.

I felt this way on Sunday Night

It’s down to this
I’ve got to make this life make sense
Can anyone do what I’ve done
I missed life
I missed the colours of the world
Can anyone go where I am
‘Cause now again I’ve found myself
So far down, away from the sun
That shines into the darkest place
I’m so far down, away from the sun again
Away from the sun again
I’m over this
I’m tired of living in the dark
Can anyone see me down here
The feeling’s gone
There’s nothing left to lift me up
Back into the world I’ve known
‘Cause now again I’ve found myself
So far down, away from the sun
That shines into the darkest place
I’m so far down, away from the sun
That shines to light the way for me
To find my way back into the arms
That care about the ones like me
I’m so far down, away from the sun again
It’s down to this
I’ve got to make this life make sense
And now I can’t do what I’ve done
And now again I’ve found myself
So far down, away from the sun
That shines to light the way for me
‘Cause now again I’ve found myself
So far down, away from the sun
That shines into the darkest place
I’m so far down, away from the sun
That shines to light the way for me
To find my way back into the arms
That care about the ones like me
I’m so far down, away from the sun again
Away From The Sun – 3 Doors Down

Fighting my programming

When I was growing up, I was taught that to show weakness was failure. If you were hurting, you didn’t talk about it. I’m surprised I’m as much of a cryer as I am, because I wasn’t really allowed to cry growing up. I think that’s part of why I bottle things up, why I hesitate and agonize over writing things on my blog. I care way too much about what people think to let myself be that vulnerable without major internal struggling. I wanted my blog to be witty and fun. I don’t want it to turn into a place where I’m always whining. I know I’ve said a couple of times that I want to be more real here… well… I’m working on it, and give me some time, and you should be seeing some posts with actual substance.
In the last 14 days, I’ve barely slept, I’ve cried myself sick at least four times, I couldn’t think about eating without feeling like I was going to throw up, I was down to one meal a day and I’ve lost at least 5 pounds. The issues mentioned above account for part of why I haven’t written about what’s been going on, but the other part is that I’ve been sick to death of talking about it, I’ve wanted to pretend it wasn’t there and not think about it, and that I’ve been going through crazy mood swings over it- sadness, depression, anger, betrayal… you name it I’ve probably felt it recently.
But things are getting better slowly, I slept a long dreamless night last night and lunch actually sounds good today.

Class of 1994 Part 2

Well, I went to the reunion, and it was a surreal experience. People kept telling me it was so good to see me, and in my mind I couldn’t help but wonder why they would say that. I mean, it’s not like I was a long lost friend or something.
But people have changed. A lot. I was surprised by who was balding and who had gained weight. And I swear one of the girls had a boob job. Somehow I wasn’t surprised at all by the person who showed up in the tweed suit with the bow-tie. There were a lot of people there- about 110 of or class of 200 RSVPed, and a few who hadn’t RSVPed (like me) showed up, so, it was a big group, at first all crammed into a small space- the bar.
I talked to a lot of people, most of them just the surface, broken record conversation of “So, where are you now, what are you doing?” A lot of people stayed fairly local, within a couple of hours of “home”, but a few people are out of state. One girl, one of the “popular girls” from highschool, has gained about 40 pounds and lives in Alaska. Another girl, who I remember from 3rd grade on, lives in New York and is a journalist for Fortune magazine. It’s weird, because I went to preschool with some of those people, and have memories of them from then. Funny thing- the golden boy of my class was an East Indian boy named John- and last night he was still the golden boy. He’s actually the reason I was at the reunion, because he called my parents house and talked to my mom, who in turn called me at work and started applying the pressure.
I think one of the dumbest things that has ever come out of my mouth came out last night. I saw the guy who was voted “Most Non-conformist” by our senior class, and he was wearing this black blazer with white grosgrain piping, and this funky tie. And I was like “Hey M. Good to see you. You’re looking very British tonight (beat…beat…) Wow, I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth” He just smiled and we laughed it off, but man was that dorky.
Some of the highlights:
The girl who made my life hell (well, one of them anyway) actually apologizing for being so shitty to me. We had a really nice talk, and I was saying how weird it was that people were so glad to see me, and I told her the reason I hadn’t wanted to come was because no one was nice to me in school and the only reason I wanted to go was to show them I was happy, that I had a good life and that they hadn’t broken me, but that I decided answering immaturity with immaturity 10 years later when I should definitely know better, well, didn’t seem like a good thing to do. Then she just looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry. We were such jerks back then- you got a raw deal in school and you didn’t deserve that. I’m so sorry for the way I treated you” And really, what to you say to that? So I was saying it was weird being there, with random people saying hi to me, who wouldn’t have given me the time of day back then. I realize we all grew up, well, most of us anyway, but it was still strange. And how there were people that I know saw me, that avoided eye contact and wouldn’t say hello, which was how I had expected everyone to be, and then Kim said something surprising. She said, “They don’t know what to say to you. I mean, what to you say to someone whose life you intentionally made hell? To be honest I didn’t know what I was going to say to you either. I was so happy when I got your email, and I’m really glad that you came”. Wow.
Seeing the guy that I had a crush on from kindergarten through senior year. He and I emailed a few times about 2 years ago, but I hadn’t seen him in about 8 years. He was there with his fiance, who is utterly fabulous and I had a great time talking with her. And I’ve never seen him so happy, so that was great.
Then there was Emily. Emily is the little sister of my first boyfriend, Jason. She is dating one of the guys from my class, so she was there even though she’s younger. Jason didn’t go to my highschool, but for some reason Emily did. To make a looooong story very very short-(click here for a slightly longer explanation) his parents hated me, and I thought she did too. I have very bad memories of everyone in that family except Jason. So all night, I kept eyeing her, wanting so badly to go and ask her how he was. I haven’t talked to him in 11 years. I was so nervous about it I actually called Keegan from the far corner of the deck, and he gave me the courage to actually try to talk to her. I walked over to her, and had this little speech prepared “Hi, um, I know I’m probably the last person you want to talk to tonight but I couldn’t let this chance go by and not ask how he is.” I walked up to her, put a hand on her elbow to get her attention, and the exchange went like this:
“Hi, um, I know I’m probably the laste person you want to talk to-”
“Why? Why… why would you say that?”
“Well, um… because… I don’t know…”
“I know who you are. You want to ask about my brother.”
“Um, yeah. I do.”
We chatted for about 10 minutes or so, in which time I found out that it wasn’t just me, her parents treated her friends badly too. Sadly, I found out that Jason isn’t doing so well- he isn’t happy and he’s working what sounds like a dead end job, and has been there 7 years. That was hard to hear, because I of course would rather hear that he’s married to someone else, or gay or something, just as long as he was happy. I asked to her tell him I said hello if she talked to him, and she said “Oh, I’m totally going to tell him that I saw you, and that you look great… I think it’ll be good for him to know that you still think about him.”
After that, I decided it probably wasn’t going to get much better, and I had accomplished the few things I really wanted to, so it was time to go. Besides, the guys had started doing shots at the bar, and the drunkenness level was fast approaching the place where things were bound to start getting ugly. So I said my goodbyes and got out of there. All in all, it was a good experience, and I’m glad I went, because it was a lot different than I thought, and now I don’t have to wonder for another five to ten years.

Class of 1994

This may be a long ramble. I can’t guarantee it’ll make a lot of sense. I can guarantee I will sound like a whining baby at least once. You’ve been warned.
I think I mentioned a few posts back that I wasn’t very well liked in high school. There was the in-crowd, A-list, whatever you want to call them. Then there were your various stereotypical groups; the jocks, the stoners, the cowboys and the band geeks (who weren’t really geeks and a lot of them were both cute and popular); then there were the kids who didn’t belong to any group and were sort of just there, then there was me, the girl almost everyone looked down on and made fun of. And I’m not just feeling sorry for myself, its the truth. I had friends, but none of them were in my class.
My 10 year reunion is on Saturday. I hadn’t planned to go. It was expensive and being held somewhere I thought was inappropriate, so I was fine with not going. Apparently I was not the only one who thought the venue was a bad idea… the latest flyer I got in the mail said “For those of you who were less than thrilled with the original location and casual tone for the Class of 1994’s reunion, we have decided to make a change!” Wow, looks like she didn’t get any less perky in the last 10 years… (shut up, it’s my blog and I can be bitter and sarcastic if I want)
About three years ago, I was working for a nonprofit and was loving my job and making really good money. My office was across the street from a Safeway store, so that was the convenient place to do my grocery shopping. Two girls I went to high school with (Becca and Becky) worked there. One night I had worked late and was doing my shopping about 10 PM, and Becca was in one of the aisles, stocking. We talked a bit, and somehow the subject of the reunion came up, and she was saying she didn’t think she’d go. I said I wanted to go so that I could show everyone that they hadn’t broken me, that I had a good life and that I was reasonably happy. But then a bit more recently it dawned on me that that wasn’t the most mature approach to it, and if that was the only reason I was going I should probably just not go.
So anyway, my mom found out I wasn’t going, and said she thought I should. Not pressuring me or anything, just saying she thought I should. She’s always seeing people I went to school with around town, and tells me they actually come up to her and ask if she’s “Judy’s mom” and tell her to say “hi” to me, so part of me thinks going would be worth it. I’ve gone back and forth on it, but the bottom line is, if I don’t go, I’ll always wonder. So, I’m going (this statement subject to change before 7pm Saturday) and I’m a total basket case over it. I’m trying desperately to find a new outfit before I go, something flattering. Which is really hard to do. Ugh. Just shoot me now.
And send Vodka.

Sometimes learning had nothing to do with books

When I was in high school, once or twice a year we’d have this thing called Kids Day. It was a whole school day devoted to team building and unity. It went from 8 to 4, so we were at school a little longer, but no one cared. One time they actually extended it and it went from 8 to 8. It was limited to 100 students, sign ups were first come first serve, and you couldn’t sign up your friends. But of the 100 slots, about 10 of them were reserved for kids like me- kids who had a hard time making friends, or whose self esteem could seriously benefit from a day like that.
There were so many amazing components to those days, but one of the coolest things was that for one day we were just a bunch of kids. No in-crowd, no popular/not popular kids, no nerds no one liked, just a bunch of kids. And all day, everyone who was there had a big piece of paper on the wall with their name on it, and people could write stuff to you. It was all positive stuff, because for that one day we all got along and we were all the same. And you got to take it home at the end of the day. I had three of them still on my wall when I started college. My mom may even still have them somewhere, I don’t know.
But once, during either my junior or my senior year, they changed it a bit. They called it Challenge Day.
We split into small groups and talked about things like peer pressure and fitting in and the like. We learned that the “popular kids” had the same struggles the “not popular” kids had. We played ice breaker games, had snacks, and had a lot of fun along with all of the serious stuff. But over the course of the day the topics got more and more intense. By lunchtime people were all squirming a little because things were getting personal- a lot more personal than a lot of high school kids ever got with their closest friends, let alone a room full of teachers and kids they barely knew.
By about 2:00 the topics were firmly shifted from unity and peer pressure and fitting in to things like drugs and sex and family issues, and some of the kids had actually started to cry. (I should mention that one of the rules of the day was that nothing said in the room left the room, except the life lesson stuff the leaders taught us- that we were encouraged to share with our friends. But no “did you know that [popular girl] hates her step dad because [reason]”) It was at about that point in the day where I learned two of the things I have carried with me since high school-
Firstly, what people refer to as “bottling your feelings”. It shouldn’t be called a “bottle”. Bottles have finite amounts of space, and when they get full they just overflow a little. Everyone knows when bottled feelings surface, all of it seems to come out at once. The place we stuff our feelings is really more like a balloon, it stretches until it can’t stretch anymore, and then it pops. Most people turn into a big mess when that happens, and there were a lot of “balloons” bursting that day.
The other I learned was that “when the tears are on the outside, the inside is healing”. They said that a lot that day, as more and more kids started crying. And it’s something I still firmly believe, and something I say to people I care about, and I’ll say it again now: “when the tears are on the outside, the inside is healing”
My favorite part of that day was the line game. I don’t really think it had a name, I just call it the line game, but really by this point, they weren’t games anymore. It wasn’t “fun” anymore. It wasn’t fun, but it was my favorite part nonetheless, because it was designed to show you that you’re not alone. They put a big masking tape line down the center of the room, and everyone stood on one side of it. Then the leaders would make a statement, and if the statement applied to you, you stepped over the line. Like everything that day, it was designed to push you, but started off harmless, with statements like “I’m wearing socks” or “My birthday is in January”, but progressed to things like “I’ve been drunk before” and “I feel like my friends don’t know the real me”. And the tears flowed freely from just about everyone with statements like “I’ve been pushed farther sexually than I really wanted to go”. I stepped over the line on that one, and marveled at not only how many others were over that line with me, but at *who* some of those people were. I remember getting involved in a very tearful group hug over that one- me, a good friend of mine, and three kids who always acted like they were better than me and wouldn’t normally give me the time of day. And the other cool thing was that not only were the kids on my side of the line crying, but most of the kids on the other side were too, because they saw that it had happened to their friend, or maybe just that it had happened a lot more than they thought it did. “When the tears are on the outside, the inside is healing.”
I spent a lot of my adolescence thinking I was alone, because only a few people liked me. I didn’t know that a lot of kids felt the things I felt and experienced a lot of the things I experienced. But this day and this game changed that. We were hardly the breakfast club, trying in the following days to maintain the unity. As soon as the day was over all those walls went right back up. But we knew. We remembered. We knew that that popular girl sitting with the rest of the cheerleaders had the beginning stages of a drinking problem. We knew that the really cute boy sitting on the deck needed to pull his grades way up or he couldn’t be on the baseball team. We knew the mousy nerd girl who spent every lunch period in the library had lost her virginity at 12 to a guy on the basketball team that she had been friends with her entire life. And while we didn’t suddenly hang out together and become best friends, that knowledge linked us together. Amazingly enough, I *never* heard a single rumor bourne of the things we learned in that room. And I went to a really small high school (about 850 students) in a really small town (that has sadly gotten a lot bigger since my high school days) where rumors spread like wildfire and everyone thought they knew everyone else’s “dirt”.
Anyway, something compelled me to write about that day. I’m not usually a comment whore, but I’d love to know what thoughts this brought up for you.