Lady Lumps

March 19, 2011

I’ve been holding this one in for a while.

When I first felt the lump, it really didn’t register. Denial began immediately. I have lumpy breasts. It’s nothing.

But there it was. A palpable something. A something the size of a robin’s egg. It wasn’t nothing. It was something. Something I had to get checked out.

Life has a funny way of not giving a shit about your drama. I never had time to dwell on it. There were deals going on at work. At home, we were facing high school admissions decisions for my 14-year-old daughter. One of my brothers was briefly hospitalized.

I had work to do, family to care for, blogs to write for. I didn’t have time to think about what IT might be.

Yet IT was there, waiting. In the quiet of night, when everyone was sleeping, I would feel IT. In the morning, in the shower, I would feel IT. I noticed all the sensations in, near, and around IT – discomfort, pain, irritation.

As with my babies, I began to assign feelings to IT. IT doesn’t like when I touch it like that, or that. Unlike my babies growing inside me, though, I felt no warmth or tenderness towards IT. IT was an intruder. IT didn’t belong.

During those quiet moments at night, I remembered the description of cancer in Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The cancer was described as pearls covering Lacks’ organs. I thought of pearls inside my body, a deadly bedazzling.

I thought of my kids, of their mostly-absent father who neither would nor could take care of them if I were gone.

And as always, I thought of my mother.

I wondered if we, her six children, had been her motivation for staying well as long as she did. I would get so irritated with my mother when she would say, listening to me complain about the latest babysitter,

“Hmph. I never thought anybody could take care of my kids as well as I could.”

I wondered if one day, she looked at us, all grown and independent and no longer needing her, the oldest of her children already grandparents, and said, “Good. I did my job. I did the best I could do. Now I can rest.”

My babies are 14 and 9. I can’t leave them yet. They don’t have anybody else.

I prayed a lot in those quiet moments.

I went to see my doctor. She felt IT, too. My previous mammogram was just four months ago. It was perfectly normal.

My doctor ordered me to have a repeat mammogram.

I waited for the appointment.

Then, the wait ended.

There was no history of breast cancer in my family. People in my family died of complications from the usual black folks’ diseases, heart disease and high blood pressure and diabetes. Not that having a family history was a pre-requisite to getting breast cancer.

Still. No family history. Normal mammograms. I clung to those thoughts as I stepped into the imaging room.

It hurt.

I’ve been having mammograms since age 35, annually since I turned 40. I have large, dense breasts. It has never felt great. But it has always been tolerable.

This hurt.

Because I had a specific complaint, the technician had to focus in on one spot. She tightened the plates – the vise, as I always think of it – until I winced. And then she tightened them some more.

I sucked in my breath.

“Don’t move! Don’t breathe!”

The fuck, lady! I yelled in my head. You’ve got clamps on my right tit. I can’t fucking move. If I breathe, I’ll scream.

I was a good girl. Did as I was told. I kept my swear words in my head and didn’t unleash any at the technician.

“Ok, now we want to do an ultrasound,” the technician said.

This is normal, I reminded myself. Routine. I’ve had mammograms rechecked with sonograms before. It’s nothing. It doesn’t mean anything bad.

But I started feeling scared.

The ultrasound tech had me show her the area. She put the goop on the wand and began moving it across my breast. The keyboard clacked as she took measurements.

I wanted to ask, “What do you see? Do you see anything?” But I didn’t. I knew she wouldn’t tell me.

“The doctor will be in to take a look,” the technician told me.

I thought about my breasts. I’ve been pretty happy with them for most of my adult life. They are a good size. They look nice in my clothes. Even after nursing two babies and losing a bunch of weight, they don’t sag. Much.

I never thought of them as particularly sensitive. I found breast-centered foreplay mostly annoying. My motto? Keep your mouth moving south.

But recently, I discovered I how much I enjoy having them kissed. And caressed. Especially the right one, the one with the lump. If I had to lose one, I would get over it, but it would not be trivial.

I prayed some more.

The doctor came in. More goop on the wand. More sliding and probing. Then, finally:

“We don’t think it’s really anything. Probably just some fatty tissue that clumped together. It does that sometimes. But we’re going to order a biopsy, just to be sure.”

I breathed.

So now, I wait some more. The biopsy is in a couple of weeks. I’m not in the clear yet. But the news could have been much, much worse.

I said a prayer of gratitude on my way out.

Women, please continue to do your monthly breast self-examinations. If you feel anything, get it checked out.

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A Friend’s Pain

March 7, 2011

Michele Grant aka @TheOneChele, novelist and creator of the Black ‘n Bougie blog, recently posted a series about a friend who caught her husband kissing another woman. The initial question posed was whether hubby’s claim that “a kiss isn’t cheating” was plausible. In a subsequent post, Grant informed her readers that her friend had chosen to forgive her husband and forget what she saw. Readers were asked whether or not the wife made the right decision.

Is a kiss cheating? It’s certainly not benign. If I caught my man kissing another woman, I would be deeply hurt. Could I forgive him? It depends. 

But it was this line from Grant’s post that gave me pause:

“If she’s happy, all I can do is be happy for her.”

I’ve uttered those words after watching girlfriends cry about lying, cheating, abusive partners, convincing everyone but themselves that they deserve better. And then stay in the dysfunctional relationship.

I said it because I felt that’s what I had to say to be a good friend. To show my friend that I wasn’t judging her. That I recognized her autonomy as an adult woman to make her own choices, and not to impose my beliefs on her.

That I had to love and support her choices, no matter what, because that’s what friends do.

I no longer feel that way.

Before I filed for divorce. I would cry to my friends about how miserably unhappy I was. I’d chronicle every fight, every dumb and offensive thing he said, every moment of feeling unappreciated and unloved.

My friends never told me I was crazy for staying. They never said, “Girl, get out!” The closest any of them came was to ask me, gently and politely, what I planned to do about being unhappy.

My mother gave me that much-needed kick. My parents never divorced, but theirs was a brutally unhappy marriage. When my mother told me I was describing her own marriage, I knew it was time to do something, to stop the cycle, because the last thing I wanted was to repeat the words, “you’re describing my marriage” to my own daughter.

After I filed for divorce, my friends spilled their guts in relief that I’d finally chosen to get out. They told me how hard it was to hear me repeat the same story, over and over and over again, across the years, but do nothing to free myself. They told me how hard it was to watch me self-destruct by overeating and no longer doing the things I used to love to do.

They told me I’d become barely recognizable and that they were glad to see “me” back.

But they said none of this in the eight years I was with my ex.

I asked them, “If that’s how you felt, why didn’t you say anything?”

“It wasn’t my place,” they responded.

Bullshit.

I am not blaming my friends for not telling me to leave my marriage. Staying was my choice. Leaving was also my choice. I stayed until I was ready to leave, and I left when I was ready to go.

We don’t live in our friends’ relationships. We don’t know when there’s still hope for someone else’s marriage, and when it’s time to get out and move on. Only the two people in the relationship can answer that question.

We can and do, however, form opinions based on what we observe and what we’re told. And when you see a friend drowning in misery, it’s dishonest to pretend to be happy and supportive of her decision to remain in the relationship that’s causing her so much pain.

You think she’s hurting herself by not leaving, which hurts you. But you know there’s only so much you can do to help her. You have your own life, maybe even your own dysfunctional relationship to deal with. 

So you cringe when she calls you. You side-eye her husband when she brings him to your events and you see her playing one-half of a happy couple. You begin to dislike him to the point that even the way he asks for a glass of water irritates you.

Your continued silence is damaging. You keep quiet because you’re afraid your friend will take offense. You keep your mouth shut to preserve the friendship. But instead, your true feelings become this big huge secret that drives a wedge between you.

So to all of you silently watching a friend suffer in a bad relationship: if she is truly a friend – if you really, truly care – speak up. Tell her how you feel. Maybe your worst fears will be realized, and she will cut you off. But maybe she’ll hear what you’re saying. Maybe your words will help empower her to take action – even if it’s not the action you think she should take. And maybe your friendship can recover.

The friendship may not, however, recover from your silence.

Johannesburg!

February 2, 2011

Three weeks ago, I was inspired by the availability of a ridiculously low round-trip fare to take my children on their first overseas vacation to South Africa. Planning and general excitement about the trip have made it difficult for me to focus on blogging. However, I have my camera and expect to take lots of pictures. Look for a post about the experience when we return. Until then, take care!

Facebook Friending Ghosts of the Past

January 18, 2011

A few weeks ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a man I’d known in college.

Someone I’d avoided for most of my college years.

It wasn’t always that way. [Name Redacted, or NR for short] was smart, funny and charming. And attractive. He was built like a linebacker, big and tall. We girls wondered if NR was big and tall all over.

I decided to find out.

After weeks of flirtation, one night NR invited me to his room. There was alcohol. There was an attempt – a fumbled, bungled and ultimately unsuccessful attempt. Equipment failure played a major factor.

There was the late night walk of shame back to my side of the dorm.

And the next day and the weeks that followed, there were the rumors of how wild I was, what a freak I was, how NR had been all up in that.

The big, baggy shirts I liked to wear at night provided unexpected grist for the rumor mill. I had taken a few of my father’s old shirts to college. At night, I would don one of Daddy’s shirts over a pair of shorts or sweatpants.

I was wearing shorts under one of Daddy’s shirts the night I went to NR’s room. Of course, the rumor mill said I went to NR’s room wearing just the shirt, with no pants or panties underneath.

I never knew if NR initiated the rumors or just went along with everyone else’s assumptions. I could have ruined his reputation by disclosing the equipment failure issue. But I just wanted to forget the whole thing. 

The rumor mill wasn’t about to let that happen. Thanks to the rumors, I started getting all sorts of unwanted attention from NR’s boys.

One of NR’s boys, however, appeared sympathetic. He claimed not to believe what everyone was saying about me. He invited me to his room to talk, and I tearfully confessed what really happened, and didn’t happen, with NR — all the embarrassing details.

Sympathy Guy claimed to be upset and angry about NR’s lies. He pretended to be a friend, a big brother.

And then Sympathy Guy raped me. He forced me to perform oral sex on him that night. I will never forget the gagging, choking, spitting; the feeling like I’d never breathe again. I felt lucky he didn’t force intercourse as well. I begged him to let me leave, and he did.

Although I didn’t press charges, I didn’t keep quiet about what Sympathy Guy had done. The rumor mill got the word out. I guess not even a ho deserved that.

I steered clear of NR, Sympathy Guy — the whole lot of them — from then on. Thanks to them, I also learned to stay out of men’s dorm rooms at night.

Although I can’t hold NR responsible for what Sympathy Guy did, they are forever linked in my thoughts. Sympathy Guy’s flawed logic went like this:

a) According to his boy NR, I was a ho.

b) A ho could be had, without the need to question whether she wants it or not. Either she always wants it, because she’s a ho, or it doesn’t matter whether or not she wants it, because she’s a ho. Therefore, he was entitled to shove his penis down my throat.

When I got NR’s friend request, I thought about accepting it, as a symbol of forgiveness. NR had made a stupid, young adult mistake. His lies led to Sympathy Guy raping me, but I couldn’t say he was the cause of the rape. And anyway, it all happened such a long time ago.

Furthermore, what does being Facebook friends really mean, anyway? I have over 600 Facebook friends, and communicate with less than 100 of them. Accepting NR’s friend request wouldn’t mean we have to actually become friends.

On the other hand, forgiving NR doesn’t require me to feel differently about what he did. NR let people think we’d had some kind of wild, crazy sex rather than admitting we didn’t have sex at all. I have a right to still feel some kind of way about that.

Forgiving NR also doesn’t mean I have to allow him access to me and my contacts — or expose myself to his. For all I know, NR and Sympathy Guy might still be connected, and Sympathy Guy is someone I have no desire to hear from ever again.

No matter how insignificant Facebook can be, it’s still a level of access to my personal life that I have the right to control.

While I mulled it all over, the friend request disappeared.

If NR tries to friend me again, perhaps I’ll link him to this post. I’m not seeking an apology. I’m not even sure an apology would change how I feel. His friend request reminded me of an unpleasant and painful learning experience.

My own daughter is only 4 years younger than I was when I had my encounters with NR and Sympathy Guy. I will share this story with her, in hopes that she can learn from her mom’s mistakes.

And if NR and Sympathy Guy have daughters, I hope they teach them to avoid young men who are like the young men they each used to be.

Our Bodies, Ourselves

January 2, 2011

So it seems Twitter gets a real kick out of posting pictures of grotesque female genitalia.

Especially when the genitalia in question belong to black women.

In 2010, I saw more pictures of sloppy vaginas than I knew existed.  Someone decided 2011 needed to start with another picture of an unappealing vagina.  No, I’m not linking to the pictures.  You can find them, if you are so inclined, by searching the hashtag #thatvagina on Twitter.

I don’t see the amusement value in these pictures.  If folks were posting pictures of wretched-looking genitals for equal amusement value — if I could count the same number of two-inch crooked penises as I could count human vaginas that looked like they could birth elephants, I’d be less offended. 

But no.  Whenever someone posts a penis pic, unless it’s a celebrity penis worth making fun of, it’s usually large and quite erect.  These posts usually elicit “ahhhs” and queries about the owner’s contact information, as opposed to the derision reserved for the vaginas.

The great penis pictures and the bad vagina pictures often are posted, commented on, and retweeted by young black women.  This baffles me.  I can’t figure out why young black women would make fun of women’s, and especially black women’s, anatomy.

As a med student friend of mine pointed out, some of the pictures could be used by students doing an ob-gyn rotation to illustrate a broad variety of medical conditions: hormonal imbalances or prolapsed uteruses, for example.  Some could benefit from better lighting or camera angles.  Some simply show the natural effects of age and childbirth.  A doctor would likely confirm that most of these pictures depict normal vaginas.

But that’s not fun.  Or funny.  So we pass the pictures around and say “ewwww!” and make jokes about what our own bodies look like.

The ignorance is staggering.

I had a great discussion with my Twitter friend @NOLAQueenD about this.  I am going to borrow her words, because she summed it up so much better than I could:

“Geez, where to begin? 1. We are sadly very ignorant of our anatomy. It seems like the only people that have seen more of it are our lovers and OB/GYNs. So many women won’t even look at their own stuff.

2. In our hyper-sexualized porn culture, we [black women] see more white women fully naked on display so we’ve become used to seeing pink ones and maybe even a few light brown ones but not ours so much, so maybe we view that as more ideal?

3. we fail to take into consideration the factors that may cause our stuff to look the way it does, like hormones. we don’t even know because we either never learned or weren’t paying attention when it was taught.

4. we’re so catty and so used to attacking each other that we just do it without thinking of the impact.”

@NOLAQueenD went on to say:

“I am a huge proponent of ‘listening’ to your body. the more in tune you become to your body the more you can sense the subtlest change, right down to feeling an egg release. Change in mood, change in skin, change in gastrointestinal functions, change in body fluid consistency. We all need to quit playin around and learn about these things.”

This has nothing to do with politics or traditional feminism.  For the record, @NOLAQueenD is a staunch anti-Obama conservative who frequently questions feminist messages on Twitter.  It has everything to do with logic, self-knowledge, and self-respect. 

If some white person were going around posting these kinds of pictures for sport, we’d have a fit.  People would go on for days about the Venus Hottentot and black women’s bodies being used for entertainment value and on and on…yet we’re doing it to ourselves.

And it really needs to stop.

Notably, Sara Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus,” was an object of European fascination not solely for the size and appearance of her buttocks, but for the size and appearance of her external genitalia, which were preserved for study long after her death at age 26. 

Today, Sara Baartman’s vagina would be posted and retweeted for laughs on Twitter by black women who have no idea what “normal” looks like, and who think Kegels can reverse the effects of nature.

I tweeted last night, “Imma need black female Twitter to study female sexual reproductive anatomy before posting any more vadge pics.” 

I’ll add history to that as well.

2010 In Review

January 2, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 4 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 45 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 64 posts. There were 38 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 20mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 27th with 409 views. The most popular post that day was Why Women Upgrade.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, facebook.com, blacknbougie.com, stumbleupon.com, and clareified.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for jamie mccourt, carolyn edgar, big booty, nicole suriel, and biggest booty.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Why Women Upgrade July 2010
13 comments

2

Child/Spousal Support Awards of the Rich and Famous, and You May 2010
15 comments

3

Upgrade Him? Girl, No July 2010
43 comments

4

Breaking Up (With Friends) Is Hard To Do July 2010
18 comments

5

For Colored Girls – A Review October 2010
10 comments

Lost

December 21, 2010

“You’re not used to asking for help,” he said.

I rolled my eyes.  “No.  I know how to get things done.  I know how to figure stuff out.”

For most of my life, and in most areas of my life, this has been true.  I figured out how to get into the schools I wanted to attend.  I figured out how to get the grades I wanted to achieve.   I figured out how to get the jobs I wanted.  I figured out how to take care of babies, plan a wedding, plan a divorce, buy and sell a home…

Sure, with each of those steps, there were people who helped, but only after I’d advanced the ball pretty far on my own.  These were people who provided second opinions, confirming what I’d already figured out. 

Not only am I not used to asking for help, I’m not used to needing it.  And I was angry at him for discovering my secret.

This isn’t about Superwoman complexes.  It may be, but that’s not my focus.   I’m not talking about mythical heroines and long-standing pathologies affecting Black women collectively.

I’m talking about me.  And my Mom.  Because everything always comes back around to her.

I learned the gift and the curse of being self-sufficient from my mother.  She had to learn early how to take care of a family, after her mother died in childbirth when she was only 13.  The baby died not too long after.  My mother styled her dead baby sister’s hair for her funeral.

My mother was the second oldest of her siblings.   Her oldest sister was crippled with arthritis from a very early age, so my mother functioned as the oldest.  She cooked, sewed, cleaned, cared for younger siblings, worked the fields, dealt with chickens and cows and hogs on the family farm, and still went to school. 

And she became very efficient.  Efficient at doing and not feeling.  Or, at least, pretending not to feel.  My mother held grudges past two and three lifetimes, yet was the stoic at funerals who never shed a tear.  She was a master of the cutting remark, uttered without remorse.  Anger was an acceptable emotion to express; love, less so.

I was her sensitive, emotional sixth child.  I felt like I made no sense to her.  She made sense to me, though.  I admired how she was always working.  Mama got shit done.  She did not play.

I learned how to get shit done, too.  I was the model student, the proud overachiever.

But I also was a daydreamer.  I made up stories in my head.  I wanted to play, joke, laugh.  I grew up in the wrong house for that.  Jokes, when told, were at someone else’s expense.  Or were snarky, biting, sarcastic.

I adapted.

We weren’t a close family.  We weren’t an “I love you” family.  We were people who worked our asses off, even if we were just working to support the habits we adopted to suppress the emotions we were uncomfortable expressing.

We were all so smart.  So tough.  So invulnerable.  And therefore, so vulnerable.

So there I was, standing before a man I barely knew, who had ferreted out that soft, weak, vulnerable side of me, and was throwing it back in my face.  He wasn’t,  of course, but that’s how it felt.  I was fully clothed, but felt stripped naked and bare before this man, a stranger, someone I barely know.  But someone who wasn’t buying the official, prepackaged Carolyn.  Someone who insisted I drop the façade and get real.

I was furious.

And he backed off.  Reluctantly, I could tell, but necessarily.  I was shutting down.  

He backed off, but he left me feeling a complete mess.

There is nothing I hate worse than feeling out of control.

My therapist told me I have to unlearn the lessons of my mother in order to move forward.  But how do I do that?  How do you unlearn the influence of the most powerful and dominant figure in your life?  Your exemplar of strength, the person you ran to when you were crumbling and alone and afraid, who knew how–when it mattered most–to love without judgment or pity or irony,  even if, for most of our lives together, the words “I love you,” were too difficult to express? 

How do you unlearn how to be like the one person you spent your life wanting to be more like than anyone else who ever lived?

How do I unlearn how to be like my mother?  And why would I ever want to?

My mother, of course, knew her time was drawing near well before any of her children did.  She used to say to us, “Now, I don’t want all that crying and carrying on at my funeral.”  It became a running joke.  We were like, Mom, if there’s one thing you don’t get to control, it’s that.

Except maybe she did.  Unintentionally, my grieving process for my mother has felt very packaged.  There was a grieving period.  There have been those odd moments when I thought of something she did or said, and a tear or two leaked out the corner of my eye: like now, as I type this post. 

There hasn’t been the full-on breakdown, letting go, letting it go.

Letting her go.

Sigh.

I told my therapist my life feels like a 2000-piece puzzle that someone dumped out and took away the box lid, so I have no idea what the pieces are supposed to look like anymore.  I’ve said my life feels like I was driving along a highway, but when Mom died, someone came along and took away all the road signs, so I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going.

I’ve said lots of things to try to capture this, but none of them have gotten me back to a place where I feel like I can navigate.  And yet I must, because that’s how life works.  I still have a kid with ADHD who needs managing and monitoring.  I still have a brilliant, oppositional, defiant daughter who needs managing and monitoring.  I still have an ex, now a co-parent, who frequently needs managing and monitoring.  The skills I learned from my mother have held me in good stead in all the managing and monitoring of everyone except me.

And what about me?  I think I’ve accepted that I’m going to be a bit of a mess for a bit longer.  I think I’ve accepted that I do need help.  I need help.  Not mental health help, which I’m getting.  Help in figuring out that puzzle, those road signs.  Help in getting myself on the path and driving the car straight. 

I’m not Superwoman.  Never wanted to be.  I am soft and vulnerable, AND I’m tough and capable.  I’m all of it.  I’m strong, and I need help.

I’m lost.  I’m lost.  I’m lost.  But it’s ok to be lost sometimes.

To Snoop or Not to Snoop?

November 18, 2010

Let me be clear: I do not snoop.  But not because I’m made of morally superior stuff.

I don’t snoop because I don’t like being hurt.

The last time I snooped through a guy’s things, I was in my late teens or early 20s.  I suspected my then-boyfriend of cheating.  He denied it, but I remained suspicious.  I used the first opportunity I had to be alone in his apartment to go through as much of his stuff as I could in the time it took him to go to the grocery store and back.

Of course, I found the evidence I was looking for.  I didn’t find panties, or used condoms.  I didn’t hire forensic scientists to do DNA analysis.  This was old school.  I found love letters, from her to him.  She wrote, in the flowery language of youth, of her love for him, and how safe she felt lying in his arms.  The English major in me wanted to red pencil the grammatical errors and send them back to her for a redo. 

I didn’t feel guilty about reading the letters.  My then-boyfriend had violated my privacy the year before by reading my personal journals, then confronting me about what he had read in them.

When he came home, I flung the letters in his face.  Much screaming, wailing and throwing of things ensued. 

Of course he denied everything.  She may have had feelings for him, but he didn’t feel the same way.  Yes, he had once held her at night, to comfort her over her sick/dead/dying mother (I’m not being rude, I can’t remember which one it was), but nothing ever happened.  Yes, he may have kissed her, but they never had sex.  He didn’t know why he kept the letters, but they meant nothing to him (this said as he dumped them in the garbage).

We talked about it all weekend and decided not to break up.  I said I forgave him, even though I didn’t.  In hindsight, not breaking up was a mistake.  For me, the damage was irreversible.  Regardless of whether or not they had sex, he admitted to caring about her.  The emotional betrayal was devastating. 

From that moment on, I felt no obligation to remain faithful to him, physically, emotionally, or otherwise — which is why I should have ended the relationship.

I vowed never to snoop again after that experience, and I haven’t broken that vow.  Here’s why:

1.  Unless you actually catch him in the act, whatever you find isn’t dispositive of anything.  See #2.

2.  Evidence can always be explained away.  One guy told me the black thong panties on his bedroom floor belonged to his ten-year-old daughter.  They must have gotten mixed up with my things in the laundry, he said.  I smelled them.  They were freshly laundered.  Call me nasty all you want. 

He had made no effort to hide them, and told the lie so effortlessly, I accepted it.  Which leads me to point #3.

3.  You believe what you want to believe, good, bad or otherwise.  Did I really believe those panties belonged to that guy’s daughter?  No.  Even before I had a ten-year-old daughter, I knew ten-year-old girls didn’t wear black thong panties.  But I wanted the lie to be true, so I talked myself into believing it.  (Of course he was lying.)

You can also convince yourself that a truthful man is lying.  Hence, point #4.

4.  You don’t have to snoop to find out the truth.  You don’t need to go through a guy’s cell phone, copy down all the females’ numbers and call each one.  Or hack into his Facebook or Twitter account and see who he’s private messaging or DMing.  The evidence is usually pretty visible on the surface.  Be observant.  That usually yields more than enough information to enable you to ask intelligent, informed questions — and to ascertain whether or not he’s lying.

5.  If you suspect he’s lying, by the time you’re tempted to snoop, you already know what you’re going to find — so why do that to yourself?  This isn’t always true, but it was certainly true in my case. 

If you need that final confirmation: finding the emails, the sext messages, the hotel receipts, the flavored lubricant he’s never used on you, to know for certain he’s cheating, you should do what works for you.  For me, it’s just too painful.  I’d rather trust my instincts than find all the damning evidence that hurts so much.

I totally understand the reasons people snoop.  I don’t judge those who do.  For me, though, the violation of privacy feels wrong.  And I believe the evidence you need of whether to trust or not to trust the person you’re in a relationship with often lies right on the surface, so long as you’re willing to trust what you observe, as well as your instincts. 

Ultimately, what’s right is what feels right to you.

Question: How do you feel about snooping?  Do you snoop through your lover or partner’s things when he or she isn’t home?  Do you worry about your lover/partner snooping through your things?  How would you feel if he/she did?

Oh Canada!

November 15, 2010

After my recent weekend trip to Toronto, I’ve been flooded with nostalgia about growing up in Detroit.  Or what I like to refer to as growing up half-Canadian.

In the Detroit of my childhood, Canada – our neighbor to the immediate south (Windsor) on the other side of the Detroit River, was a constant presence.  Canada was our New Jersey: greener and cleaner than Detroit, except, so far as we knew, without black people.  

In that land before cable, when all stations were either VHF (clear) or UHF (fuzzy), CBC Channel 9 came in on the VHF band.  Channel 9 was what you watched when there was nothing, absolutely nothing, else on to watch.  CBC used to rebroadcast a lot of shows from the British Broadcasting Corporation, so Channel 9 gave me my first exposure to Monty Python.  At first I would watch in utter confusion, somehow knowing that it was funny and irritated that I failed to get the joke.  Then one day, with maturity, I suddenly understood Monty Python, and it was as if the scales had fallen from my eyes.

My father was as much a hockey fan as he was a fan of any other sport, so on weekends in the winter, he was likely to be flipping channels between NFL football and a hockey game between two Canadian teams on Channel 9.  By “flipping channels,” I mean calling one of us kids (often by the wrong name) to come into the room from wherever we were to turn the channel-changing dial for him.

“Carolyn-etta! Come here!”

My sister Caroletta and I would fight over who he was calling. “He said Carolyn.  He meant you.”

“He changed it.  He said Etta.  He meant you.”

“Well I went last time!  It’s your turn!”

We knew he didn’t care whether Caroletta or Carolyn showed up, as long as the channel got changed.  When I lost the fight, I would stomp into the living room, snarling annoyance.  My sister would go sweetly, but always asked, innocently:

“Daddy, who is Carolynetta?”

“Y’all knew who I meant!”

No, Daddy, we honestly never did.

In high school, Canada took on different significance.  As the legal drinking age was raised from 18 to 19 to 21, it stayed 18 for a bit in Windsor. Then it went up to 19.  That was ok.  19 meant quite a number of American high schoolers could legally drink in Canada.  

Those who couldn’t drink legally could still drink, because Windsor bars apparently were not very diligent about carding. I used to hear about my classmates going to Windsor by the carload to drink whatever it was they drank in Windsor bars back then.  I was never on those trips.  I didn’t travel in the circles of the cool kids who went on drinking excursions to Canada.  My nerd friends and I figured out our own way to drink illegally without crossing a national border: we would dress up and go to restaurants like T.G.I. Friday’s or Benihana, and get served cocktails with dinner.  We never got carded.

During my undergraduate years, Canada became synonymous with peen.  Windsor was where I had my first official night-at-a-hotel-with-a-boy — my then-boyfriend, J.  During one holiday break, we decided we were grown enough to go to Windsor to gamble (Detroit didn’t have casino gambling back then) and spend the night at the Windsor Hilton. 

Everything was all well and good, until J’s car wouldn’t start the next morning.

“Call Ant,” I said.  Ant (appropriate nickname, for he did in fact resemble one) was J’s best friend.

Not surprisingly, Ant’s car was in the shop, and he couldn’t come get us.  Triple A wanted to charge a fortune to send a tow truck, a fortune we did not have.  J refused to call his father or sisters for help.

“Well, who else is there?” I asked.

“Your father?”  J said.

“I can’t call my father to come get me from a hotel in Windsor!”

But of course, that’s what ended up happening.  It is a testament to my father’s character, and the regard he had for J, that he never said a harsh word to either of us.  My father drove his rickety Ford Fairmont across the Canadian border, hooked up J’s jumper cables to his battery and gave a boost to a guy who, hours earlier, had been defiling his daughter in a Windsor hotel room.  My father spoke not a word of any of it to anyone — not even my mother, who would have gone apeshit.  The humiliation J and I felt was punishment enough.

“Your father is cool,” J said after my father left us, satisfied that J’s car would make it back across the border under its own steam.

I glared at him.  “Trust me.  He’s not that cool.”

But amazingly, he was.  My father and I never spoke of that incident.  I think he was just glad I was okay.

I also attended a lot of bachelorette parties in Windsor.  There were a couple of all-nude male strip clubs in Windsor that catered to women.  We Midwest girls found male exotic dancers exciting, in a Madame Tussaud’s waxed-to-perfection sort of way.  The idea of seeing a hot guy take it all off in a safe, date rape-free environment appealed to a lot of us Detroit women.  So we piled in cars to cross the border for peen-themed bachelorette parties.

And were disappointed.  The male strip club dancers would gyrate their hips in earnest, but there was always a collective “ohhhh” (at least among our groups of black bachelorettes) when the final garment came off.

“Girl, is that it?”

“Hmpf.  He oughta be shamed of himself dancing nude if that’s all he got to work with.”

We black women would sit there smug, making jokes about the tiny white dicks dancing in front of us. 

“They oughta recruit some better endowed brothas from across the border!” we’d say, dapping each other up, pretending to believe that myth.  Like we’d never experienced even worse disappointment when a prospective lover of our own race finally dropped his boxers or briefs to the floor.

Him: *beaming*

Us: Hmpf.  Is that it?  He oughta be shamed of himself, sweating me so hard if that’s all he got to work with.

As a high school senior, I went to Toronto with my then-VBFITWEWFAEA (Very Best Friend In The Whole Entire World Forever And Ever Amen).  We couldn’t afford the senior class trip to Florida, so our mothers let us take the train to Toronto for the weekend. 

It was kind of amazing my mother let me go.  My sister Caroletta had gone to Montreal with a friend and apparently hooked up with some Barbadian dude, who was swiftly and forevermore rechristened “Barbadian Booty.”  Maybe my mother assumed I was more innocent.  Maybe she thought there was less Barbadian booty to be found in Toronto.

My girlfriend and I did not go to Toronto looking for booty, Barbadian or otherwise.  Being together, without adults, in a big city, was enough.  We had a very limited amount of money to spend, and we had budgeted it out to the penny.  Of course, being teenage girls, we spend most of our money shopping.  We weren’t old enough to do much of anything else.  Roots Sidewinders shoes were all the rage in Detroit back then (told you we were half-Canadian).  We were excited about taking advantage of the (then) favorable exchange rate and essentially getting them at substantial discount. 

We had paid very careful attention to the cost of the taxi from the train station to our hotel.  But being Detroit girls who rode in cars and not taxis, we didn’t really understand how taxis worked.  We assumed the taxi back to the train station would cost the exact same amount as the taxi from the train station to our hotel.  We spent every dime we had, save for that exact amount.

Traffic was heavier on the return trip, and we watched in horror as the meter clicked steadily towards and then past the amount we had left, since we were still far away from the train station.  The thought never occurred to us to explain our plight to the taxi driver.  It did occur to us to panic and flee, so that’s what we did.

“We better get out!” one of us whispered to the other.

We could see the train station.  It looked to be within walking distance, though we were poor judges of distance and it turned out to be several blocks away.

“We’ll get out here,” we said.

“Really? Here?”

“Yeah.” 

We jumped out of the cab when it stopped, and my friend flung our last remaining Canadian money at the cabbie.  We laughed like criminals who had just successfully robbed a bank.  In fact, we had just successfully stiffed a cab driver, a hard working man who didn’t deserve that. 

It was funny until we boarded our train, and then, as we thought of our own hard-working blue-and-pink collar parents, it wasn’t funny anymore.

A Dating Life

November 6, 2010

I talk about relationships a lot, but I rarely talk about my own current dating life, except in generalities. My post about being thirsty, the one that admonished women not to try to turn that temporary lover — the greasy burger — into a boyfriend?  It was mostly directed at myself.  Of course I failed to take my own advice.  The results weren’t miserable, but it ultimately didn’t work.  Intellectually, I knew it wouldn’t.  Emotionally, I was lonely and he met a need.  Until he didn’t.

It’s hard to talk about my current dating life, in part, because I feel ridiculous admitting, as a divorced woman with two kids, that I am just learning how to date.  I never dated in the past.  I had sex partners and boyfriends.  I would hook up with someone in school, or at work — usually, in the beginning, for sex and giggles.  (Gasp!  Yes.  At work.  Stop acting like you’ve never done it.)   Or I would go out with the girls and meet some guy.  If I was really feeling him, I was probably taking him home.  My girlfriends knew this.  Cock-blocking became their speciality, to the point that they now make really lousy wingwomen.

A lot of those hook-ups turned into relationships of a sort, but they were never fulfilling or satisfying.  Call it a double standard if you will, but a lot of men can’t go from a one-night stand to a relationship.  In my experience, no matter how much I otherwise filled the “good girlfriend” role, the guy often couldn’t forget that I was ass up, face down four hours after he met me.  And he never let me forget it, either. 

Still, for me, chemistry is critical.  If I’m not at least thinking about having sex with you shortly after I meet you, we’re never going to work as a couple. 

Trying to navigate the dating waters again after being out of the game for over a decade is tough.  It’s not the competition — I find that I can still hold my own out there — it’s what goes on inside my own head.  What are the rules?  Do I have to follow the rules?  Is there still a 3-date rule?  Do I have to wait three dates if I’m feeling this guy now? 

On the reverse side, if I feel no chemistry with a man on date 1, shouldn’t I cut it off then?  Or should I go out with him again to see if it gets better?

Having kids has definitely forced me to modify my behavior.  If I didn’t have kids, I probably would have snapped back into my pre-divorce mode of turning (or trying to turn) sex partners into boyfriends.  But the kids are like the roommates from hell, who never leave.  I’ve tried the sneak-him-in-after-midnight, sneak-him-out-before-sunrise routine, and it’s nerve-wracking.  Don’t make too much noise, don’t wake the kids – ugh! 

And the last thing I want is for my daughter or son to wake up to find some random stranger standing in the kitchen in his underwear, drinking orange juice out the carton, or cursing the fact that I have nothing in my fridge to make into a sandwich.

I won’t even allow my brain to fathom the notion of a random stranger giving my teenage daughter so much as a single sideways glance.  No sir.  No men around the kids unless I know he’s someone I want and expect to be around.  Having kids has made the random stranger encounter decidedly less appealing.

There are some aspects of the modern dating game that, I have to admit, I just don’t get.  Dear men of the universe: what is up with texting pictures of yourself to women and asking women to text pictures of themselves to you?  One guy texted me five pictures of himself within the first 12 hours after meeting me.  What part of the game is that?  I didn’t ask for that.  I just met you.  I know what you look like.  You, shirtless, isn’t all that different from you in a shirt.  Please stop.  Boy bye.

I haven’t gotten the dreaded penis picture yet.  I really don’t want pictures of it.  If I want to see, it, I want to see it.  Not a picture of it.  And what — do dudes now have a standard portfolio of penis pics on their phones, ready to send to every new woman they meet?  Do you take them from different angles?  Do you adjust the lighting in your bathroom mirror to display your penis in its best possible light?  I can’t. 

Practically every guy I’ve met has asked me to text him pictures of  myself.  This might be acceptable in the context of a long-distance relationship — or in the context of a relationship, period — but send you pictures of myself when I just met you?  Why? 

“You know what I look like,” I usually say. 

“Oh, you’re one of those,” was one guy’s response.

“One of those?  Oh, there’s a category for that now?  Women who do not text pictures of themselves?  Yes, I guess I would fall into that category, then,” I said.

He had no comeback for that.

So please allow me to make a brief public service announcement:

Dear men of the universe: I do not text pictures of myself to people I just met.  It’s a personal quirk.  Please stop asking. 

I also haven’t wanted to blog about specific people or dates, because it seems unfair.  These men didn’t sign up to be characters on my blog just by meeting me.  Even the appellations I use with my friends when I talk about these men are less than flattering: Happy Meal, Cute Dumb Guy, Corny Ass.  Hopefully, if any of them read my blog, they won’t know which appellation applies to them.

I may blog a bit more about dating, but I think I’ll still refrain from being too specific.  At least, until one of these guys morphs into an actual boyfriend.  Then he’s fair game.