Choose Your Own Adventure: The F’ed up Predestination Edition

[Originally posted on April 2, 2012]

Even though I didn’t go to church until I was in high school, I was always very spiritual and religious.  I wanted to know the right path to follow and do the right thing.  I read my bible, I read about other religions; I tried to make sense of all of it.  I figured the answer wasn’t found in any one religion, but in a commonality amongst all of them.  I searched for the commonality, and tried to live my life in the best way possible.

Around junior high, I experienced some difficulties in life – beyond social anxiety or your typical bullying.  A little voice in my head tried to reason with me – this is your lot in life, for now.  God will reward you later.  You are meant to suffer.  I developed a sort of nonsensical theory that life was a combination of both free will and fate.  Maybe reading about all of those different churches caused my brain to short out a bit, but I believed this.  I saw life as a tree with many branches, and with each choice you make, you’re following one of a few predestined paths laid out for you.

When I was in elementary school, I had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book featuring Supergirl.  It contained four stories, each with a few different endings, depending on what decisions you made for Supergirl.  My favorite story involved her being trapped in some Wizard of Oz concoction Lex Luthor designed.  Until I had the book memorized, I kept on making choices that led Supergirl to die in the poppy fields.  Thanks to my own screwed up religious constructs, I turned my life into a freaking “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.  When you’re a kid, you know on some level you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and you can fix your mistakes fairly easily.  When you start to become an adult?  Well, it’s off to the poppies for you:

Battle social anxiety with therapy (go to page 83) or without therapy (go to page 94)?

Page 94 (of course): That’s right.  Therapy creates an excuse.  Pills mean Supergirl can’t deal with life and she’s weak.  God wants Supergirl to endure!  She needs to jump right in to social situations and use brute force to make herself less anxious.  Oh, here’s a social situation!  Two perfectly nice people are trying to talk to her.

“Hey, are you really the quietest person in the world?”

“Umm…” her throat tightens, her mind goes blank.  “…No?” (go to page 53)

Page 53: Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Does Supergirl leave (page 30) or stay (page 32) in a semi-abusive relationship? 

Page 32:  The guy really wants to love Supergirl, she’s just being horrible.  If she wasn’t so needy and awful (and slightly overweight), he would treat her better.  And he wouldn’t leave her, either.  Because that just happened.  Supergirl? You are one unloveable, fat fuck. (go to page 53, and a gym)

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

The head of Music Composition is a closed-minded dick.  Does Supergirl switch to General Music (page 112), or Jazz Studies? (go to page 24)

Page 24: Supergirl stumbles through her improv class, mentally and physically freezing up in the middle of “Watermelon Man,” her final.  She hears someone stifle a laugh in the classroom, because her improve sounds like a toddler on a toy piano.  Plus? A professor she looked up to just told her she got the worst grade in the class on her Music Engineering quiz, and looked way too pleased to inform her of that little nugget. (Go to Page 53. [Fuck! Not again! Ugh, fine…])

Page 53:  Supergirl collapses from failure and rejection, lands in a field of deadly poppies, dies.

Thanks to severe depression and untreated extreme anxiety, Supergirl can’t even sing in the shower without crying, because she hates the sound of her own voice and none of her melodies are good enough anymore.  Does she pursue a career in music and flog herself with self-hatred for all eternity (turn to page 53) or does she get a regular job with clear, objective accomplishments to assimilate into Normalville (turn to page 99)?

[Okay, not page 53 again. So…]Page 99:  Ha, ha! Fooled you! In Supergirl’s mind, God gave her a gift and she just pissed it away, so she’s only going to see opportunities as punishments for not following her dreams.  She only looks for low-paying work because deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve any better.  See, Supergirl always knew she was “less than” everyone else, so she had to be Supergirl and be perfect to deserve what anyone else had.  Did you really think by not turning to page 53 there would be a better ending?  There is no good ending in this book – either Supergirl dies in a poppy field, or the story simply ends, with her existence suspended on a single moment in time.  So, screw you.  THE END.

What happens after the words “The End?”  Do characters just hang in limbo, frozen in the final act?  Never dying, just existing in that single moment, knowing their only other alternative was death?  See, that’s the problem with any form of predestination.  We live from page to page, not realizing there is an existence that is beyond that stupid book with the limited endings.

A couple of years ago, it seemed no matter what path I chose, I wound up perilously close to falling in the poppies.  My dad died.  My best friend for over 30 years almost died.  My other best friend “dumped” me because she perceived my anger and misery as something against her personally.  Was my life awful because my Adventure had nothing but predetermined crappy endings?  No, my life was awful because a) I didn’t like myself and closed myself off from accepting good things or good people and b) Shit happens sometimes.

I realized that life isn’t “follow this path and you will die!” or “follow this path and you will win!”  It’s a little more like this:  hate yourself, and you can’t be happy.  Love yourself, forgive yourself, invite good people into your life (like, invite that funny chick at work to lunch, or email someone you haven’t talked to in a long time), and no matter the shitstorm, you’ll at least have good company to share it with.  As an added bonus, there’s a lot of mutual healing in said company.  And beer.

Somehow, opportunities open up, too.  When you realize you’re not destined to fail or destined to do That Thing You Were Born to Do, you start seeing all the other things you can do, and some of them are kind of fun.  Like, I don’t know, writing a blog and knowing there’s this one person in Malta that reads it on a semi-regular basis.  Or playing piano again and realizing it’s a lot more fun when you stop attaching any level of importance to every note you pound out.  You simply play because it’s beautiful and it warms your heart in a way you forgot.

So if you’re reading this and relate to any of my Supergirl Fails?  Close the book and look up.  It’s time to really choose your own adventure and be open to see the people who are ready to share it with you.

Learning How to Sleep With Someone

[Originally posted on Mar 11, 2012]

There is something we all must learn as we gingerly step into adulthood, and that is how to sleep with someone.  I’m not talking about anything sexual, I am simply talking about learning how to share a bed with another human being.  It’s a tricky thing, this sleeping together, because it begins when you are feeling happy and cuddly and the world is your snuggly little oyster.  Over time, your Snugglebunny morphs into a snoring, cover-hogging, throat-clicking, night-terrorized, farting in the spoon position, squirmy, sweaty beast who robs you of your precious minutes of sleep every night.  For the record? You are that beast, too.

Let’s take this back to the beginning:


The College Dorm Room Snugglebunny
College is that cool time where you experiment with grown up things, and one of those things is sleeping with someone.  It’s really exciting when you have your first partner-sleepover; spooning in that little twin bed is cozy, and just knowing you can do whatever you want without your parents finding out makes it even better.

My husband first told me he loved me in one of those snugglebunny moments.  We were cuddled up on my dorm room bed watching television, and I was mostly asleep.  He told me, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” I responded, “snurgggltoo” and drooled on his wrist.  Our romance was a page out of The Notebook.  He later revealed he wanted to tell me at that moment because if I freaked out, he’d just say I dreamt it.


The “Our First Apartment” Crackhouse Mattress
When I was 21, Chris and I made the decision to move in together.  I called my mom to tell her, thinking this would be old hat since one of my sisters lived with a boyfriend when she was around my age.  I don’t remember my sales pitch to her on the idea, but I remember the response:

Awkward, scary pause.  “Use a condom.”

Mom!!!

Once the family awkwardness passed, Chris and I commenced Living in Sin stage.  Oh, we had grand plans for our apartment – our vision:  We could have dinner parties with little hors-d’oeuvres trays! We could cook! Like, rice and chicken, not ramen and Maria’s burritos! We’d have art on the walls!

Our Reality: We were slobs and our apartment looked like a tweaked-out meth lab.

Like many young couples, we relied on the kindness of family members to furnish our home.  Your “First Apartment” mattress is usually a mattress your family wants to unload, and is often a lumpy, stained heirloom.  “Oh that?  Your Uncle Rob was quite the nose-bleeder as a teen…”  “That? Remember that mean cat Gramma Edith had?  That cat would pee on everything.”  It’s the kind of mattress CSI people define as “contaminated” when they try to lift DNA off it.  At this point in your adulthood, none of that matters – you get to share a full-sized bed with your snugglebunny.  You both can lie on your backs at the same time now – yeah!

We were somewhat lucky – we were offered Chris’ full-sized waterbed from high school.  Waterbeds are the type of bed you always wanted as a kid before you realize how horrible they are for two people.  Prelude to sexytime in a waterbed essentially goes like this:

SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH “Let me just try and…”

“Ow! My hair!” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“Sorry… I just… let me…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“My foot keeps slipping…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“Damn it! The sides are caving, I…” SWOOOOSH

“If I try to…” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“My back! Oh, that’s not good…” SWOOSHSWOOSH

“Hold on I think…” SWOOSHSWOOSHSWOOSH

“ARRAGHHHHH!!!! GET OFF ME!!!!”

Then he angrily rolls over to his side of the bed, and you are catapulted across the room.


The Young Urban Professionals’ Queen-Sized Mattress
When we got to a point where we could do better than a waterbed in a meth lab, we purchased a Queen-sized mattress.  We couldn’t agree on a headboard for years, so the bed and box mattress lay in a simple frame – after lying on the floor for two years.

By this point in time, our sleeping relationship deteriorated greatly.  I for one, snore so loud I wake myself up.   My loving little Stranglebunny would asphyxiate me on a nightly basis in the hopes of shutting me up.  I would wake abruptly, wonder what caused me to jerk awake, yet see nothing but a sleeping hump next to me.

I’d lie awake listening to him.  Chris does not snore.  He makes weird noises, the most common of which can only be described as “SSNNNARRRGLE…poooh.” After studying this sound closely many times in the darkest part of the night, I believe it is achieved by Chris inhaling his own nose then gently spitting it out.  I allow a few SNNARRGLEpoohs before I nudge him.  It doesn’t work.

Gentle nudge.

“sssnnnarrgle…pooh.”

Nudge nudge.

“ssnnnnarrgle…pooh.”

Grab his torso, shake violently.

“SSSSNNNAARRRGLE…pooh.”

Put hands on his side, shove as hard as possible.

Silence.

Quickly flip over and pretend I’m sleeping.

I get a groggy “huhhh?” but say nothing in return.

I fall asleep.

Chris falls back asleep.

Peace….

…tranquility

…rest

Five minutes later…

“AAAHHHH!!! AHHHH!!!! GET IT OFF ME! GET IT OFF ME!”

…I get night terrors.  I rarely have them at this point, but years ago, they were a weekly if not nightly occurrence.    I’d wake up screaming and flailing because I was convinced there was something evil at the foot of the bed or on my pillow.  After scaring the shit out of Chris the first ten or so times, he became accustomed to them.  He’d hold me down to keep me from flailing.  “What did you see this time?”

This is a smart question, because making me talk forces me to think, which causes me to wake up and calm down.  Sometimes I’d answer, “a bunch of spiders,” “a creepy man,” or “a lobster.”  One time I answered, “a kitten.”

“…a…kitten.”

“Yes.”

“A kitten.”  The disbelief in his voice was palpable. “Not a lion or a panther, but…a kitten.”

“Yes.”

“Why were you screaming in terror over…a kitten?”

I sighed.  “…it was menacing.”

I flipped over and fell back asleep.

After my night terrorizing, I’d wake up a few hours later, shivering.  I’d look over to find Chris as a human flauta, blankets and comforter completely rolled around his body several times.  I’d try and pull the blankets from him, but had little success.  Ultimately, I’d manage to tug a tiny little corner out from under him, and curl up in a little ball to get as much of myself under the corner as I could.

Our cuddly little spoon days on the twin bed were long gone.  In fact, any time we had to share a full-sized bed, it was torture.  “Bahh! Your feet are freezing!”

“Your arm is digging into my back!”

If this marriage were to last in one bed, changes needed to be made.

The “Save the Marriage” King Size Tempurpedic
As the rest of our house looked like a dwelling for responsible adults, our bedroom upgraded from meth lab to halfway house.  We had a nice headboard and our bedroom furniture was a lovely old art deco set that didn’t match the bed at all.  We decided to have two separate blankets.  My night terrors receded.

Despite these improvements, our bedroom was missing something.  It wasn’t romantic or luxurious.  This was the room where we shared our most intimate space – it needed to be beautiful and reflect our love and respect for one another!

We upgraded our furniture to a Japanese-inspired bed set, and determined we deserved a good mattress. Realizing how much we annoy each other with our constant tossing and turning, we settled on a king-sized Tempurpedic mattress.  This glorious invention allowed us to move around without the other one feeling it.  The pillows we bought at the same time reduced some of our snoring (he bought a Tempurpedic, I bought one made of latex – no lie, it kicks ass).

Each night we’d lie on our respective sides of the bed, with our own blankets, calling out good night to the other, who seemed so very far away.

At last, we had our perfect bed.

Our perfect, squirm-resistant bed.

Our lonely mile-wide bed.

The snoring, squirming and snargling wasn’t so bad, really.  It was even kind of endearing.  We’ve got two blankets, so we can both be warm…and who would talk me out of my torture by menacing kittens?

Learning how to share a bed is an analogy for learning how to be married – it is not perfect all the time, sometimes your loved one can be frustrating, stubborn and do gross things, but your palette would be filled with nothing but grays without them in your life.

I rolled over to his side of the bed and nestled under his arm.  It felt comforting and reassuring.  I smiled.  “I love you.”

“SNNARGLEpooh.”

Indeed.

Makin’ it Rain Plastic

[Originally posted on Aug 5, 2012]

“Do you want to save 15% today and sign up for our JC Penney card?”

Little did I know at the time, my answer to this question would adversely change the year that lay ahead of me.

“Sure.”

I filled out the little application and low and behold, I was now on the credit grid.  Leading up to college, my mother would often warn me about the perils of credit cards and charge cards.  I heeded her advice, until I realized everyone around campus was having a lot of fun thanks to their credit line.  Cute clothing, good food – they were living the good life! I wanted a piece of that pie.  Minimum payments were reasonably low – I could figure out a way to make a monthly payment, right?

I loved that shiny little JC Penney card; following classes, I would head up to Our Lady Queen of Shopping, buy adorable outfits, and show them off to fellow Believer Emily.  It was a ritual we relished.

Alas, my JC Penney card felt lonely in my wallet – I mean, it’s not like there was any cash in there to keep it company.  So, I did what any logical person would do – I signed up for another credit card.  Besides, it’s not like you can buy food at JC Penney.  A girl’s gotta eat!  The good times kept coming, so I kept the credit flowin’.

It occurred to me as I watched my savings disappear that this was not a wise path to be on.  After a particularly intense bender where I bought a 24-piece knife set – for my dorm room – I realized I needed help.  I took the bus to Emily’s apartment, clutching the knife set in my arms as I knocked on her door.  She opened her door, took a look at the shopping bags at my feet and shook her head.  She understood these things.  I walked inside. She may have wrapped a blanket around me.

“I need to do it, Emily.  I need to cut the card.”

We walked over to her kitchen and I took out the shears that were included in my knife set.  It was like a Greek Tragedy – I was killing my card with the very thing it gave me.  Emily stared at me as I held the scissors over the card.  “Hold on,” Emily made us pause.  “I feel like this is a moment for you…Okay.”

I cut a diagonal line through the plastic, and we both gasped.  A relic to our place of worship and I just destroyed it.  It needed to be done.

Unfortunately, credit cards have a way of haunting you long past their destruction.  My minimum payments depleted my savings and I began to miss payments on the JC Penney card.  I continued to pay my regular credit card bill, knowing that I couldn’t afford to lose that line of credit.  All semester long, I tried to find a job, but thanks to a spread out class schedule and a lack of reliable transportation, no one wanted to hire me.  I turned to the lowest job a college student could have and arguably the worst one for someone with social anxiety: telemarketing.  Oh, and not just any telemarketing – alumni fundraising for the college.

I sat on the phone reading a script to Fine Arts graduates, espousing the importance of donating $1000 to the College of Broke People Fine Arts.  Everyone I called was poor and bitter, yet I had to go down the script and ask them for $500, then $250, then $250 with a mention of a matching gift by their employer, then $125, then $125 and what about our payment plan? Then $100.  $100, to improve the value of your degree? You don’t need to laugh in my ear, sir. And I don’t appreciate being called a – hello?  When we initially called, we had to lie and say the university wanted to receive feedback from alumni on how it could improve, then we’d go in for the kill and ask for the donations.  It sucked so hard.  I became so nervous making calls, my voice cracked and my hands shook.  At one point, I spent 20 minutes talking to a nice man in Seattle and never asked for a dime because he sounded so happy just to talk to someone without being asked to give something.

While working at the telemarketing gig, my finances got worse.  JC Penney sent me to a collection agency, and my credit card company got wind of it.  I called in just to find out my PIN, and they cancelled my card on the spot.  I literally started sobbing and my sort-of boyfriend at the time tried talking to them on my behalf to get them to reconsider.  Obviously, they did not, and just like that I had no money.  All but $20 a month of my money from the telemarketing place went to paying down my cards and getting the collection agency off my back.  Since UofA didn’t do meal plans, that $20 was used for my food budget for the month.  Tired of Top Ramen, I stocked up on bulk spaghetti and a jar of Ragu.  I literally ate about 200 calories a day to ensure I had something every day until the next paycheck came in.  I actually felt like this system worked for me.

The telemarketing place had a snafu in their check-cutting one week, and told us on payday we had to wait an extra two days for our checks.  I literally ran out of food the night before and I panicked.  I was somewhat on the outs with that sort-of boyfriend and didn’t feel comfortable asking him to buy me a sandwich.  The idea of semi-prostituting myself for food felt kind of wrong.  Everyone else I knew had money problems, and I couldn’t dream of asking for their help.

I woke up the next morning starving.  I did the unthinkable – I went down to the community refrigerator, and decided I was going to steal someone else’s food.  Just as I began to reach for a freezer-burned Van de Kamp, someone walked into the kitchen, and I tried to play off my crime by doing the worst acting job ever.  “Oh, someone…um…stole my food.  Damn it!”

Suspicious glare.

“See ya!”  I ran off, never to return to the dorm kitchen ever again.

I walked down Fraternity Row to head to the Music building, wondering how I was going find food.  Before me, a familiar sight took on new meaning to me – the Holsum Bread Truck was delivering bread to one of the frat houses.  I saw it every day, with its plentiful loaves of bread, unguarded and a few mere steps away from my thieving paws.  My eyes rested on one particular loaf of bread.  I’d have to hop on the truck to reach it, but it wasn’t too far in… oh bread, I could make several meals of you…

I looked around.  There were a few people walking further down the street.  Would they notice? Would they do anything?  How long is the bread guy away from this vehicle? Why did I never make note of that before, damn it? What would my classmates think if I carried around a loaf of bread all day?  Because I am apt to spend more time ruminating than actually doing, I pictured getting caught by the bread guy.  I imagined the campus police cuffing me as I protested, “I was only trying to steal a loaf of bread! I’m trying to pay off my JC Penney card! My company didn’t pay me when they were supposed to…Noooooo!” Then I’d get reported in the campus Police Blotter, and I’d be forever known as Jean Valjean Girl or some bullshit.  As if my social anxiety didn’t make me weird enough to people, Bread Thief just seemed that much weirder.

I looked again at that bread.  My stomach growled.  The loaves looked so fluffy and soft; I wanted to dive into the lot of them and roll around, loaves squishing underneath me as I double fisted hot dog buns. Ahh, the life. But? Jean Valjean Girl.  I just couldn’t do it.  I continued on to class, watching people snack on candy bars and eegee’s, taking every bite for granted.  This must be how my labrador retriever felt when we made him “stay” until he drooled.  Sorry, Dunder; that was a shitty thing to do.

I returned to my dorm room, knowing I had one final option to hold me over. I opened my little fridge and looked at the only item holding residence: a half-empty bottle of blue cheese dressing.  Well, there are chunks in it; that’s kind of like food…

I held the bottle up to my lips, toasting to no one: I am never fucking owning a credit card ever again…

It would have gone great with bread.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Advice for College Freshman

Shop Amazon – Off to College Essentials
Between last week and this week, thousands of kids all over the country are moving into dorm rooms and getting ready for Act Two.  This is a time that is scary and overwhelming and exciting, so those of you who are new students and feel like you’re in panic mode – don’t fret! It will all be just fine.  To help you through the rough patches, I have five pieces of advice for you that will help you get through this first year:

1) Go to class
After a few weeks of class, you’re going to be really tempted to skip at times – those 8 a.m. classes catch up with you and you’re going to want to hit that snooze button or watch TV instead.  Going to class and sitting near the front will reduce your study time by at least 30%.  Possibly even more.  If you go to class you don’t have to worry about trying to squeeze 10 chapters of information into your brain the night before a test.  That method does work for some people out there, but for most of us? All it does is cause stress and take away hours and hours the night before a mid-term or final.

2) Liquid Detergent > Powder
Powder may be cheaper, but it can get clumpy and yucky.  Plus, coin-operated machines in dorms are pretty wimpy compared to what you’re used to at home. My life improved exponentially when I switched to liquid.  If you MUST use powder, take this tip from my former roommate: let the washer run empty for a minute to get a few inches of water in it, add your powder, let the water go for a few more seconds so the powder dissolves, and then add your clothes.  While we’re in the laundry room, one other tip: NEVER leave your clothing unattended.  Someone will steal all of your cute clothing and you will never find the person who did it.

3) Avoid cheese, fried foods and vending machine sweets
Okay, there’s a lot you can do to be healthy – eat your fruits and veggies, work out regularly, blah, blah, blah.  If you can’t do all of that, and you’re not good at planning out your meals? Avoid anything cheesy or fried.  Vending machines? It’s tempting to grab a Snickers or those yummy little sugar-caked donut sticks that go perfect with a cup of coffee, but all of that quick and easy stuff is where your “Freshman 15” will come from. It all adds up, slowly but surely.

4) Don’t panic if you feel lonely
I can’t tell you how many people feel like they are never going to make friends their first semester.  It always seems like everyone around you is having an easy go of making new friends, but just as many people are feeling shy and nervous around all these new faces.  It takes a while to really connect with people.  It will happen; until then? Enjoy the quiet time – read a book, listen to music.  Walk around campus and enjoy life.

5) If you are in a relationship that involves long-distance sobbing at least once a week, end it.
Every floor on every dorm in America contains one-half of the co-dependent high school couple who fights and weeps over the phone at least once a week for the entire school year.  Look; it’s sweet you guys want to be together, but this is supposed to be a fun time for both of you.  You’re wasting this wonderful time in your life by crying on the phone.  It’s not healthy.  Relationships should never involve that much crying.  Seriously – put the relationship out of its misery and have fun.  Date other people.  See how brilliant and amazing you can be on your own.  By yourself.

Of course, don’t just take advice from me:  I asked a number of former college students for their advice to incoming freshman.  Here are some of their responses:

  • Do your homework and don’t gain the fresh 15 (Analisa)
  • Drink water and eat bread while drinking (Peter)
  • Don’t run out in front of cars (Jacob)
  • If you’re not a morning person, don’t take 8am classes. (Chris)
  • This is going to be the worst time of your life. After you survive this, anything else is cake. (Kirsten)
  • Go and explore the town and city. Take pictures of all the doors on campus. Live the college life! …I should have taken advantage of everything college had to offer me…so much more so than I did.  Lectures, concerts, museums, so much! I did a lot my first semester…visiting Boston and all but it teetered out quickly. (Douang)
  • Simply be yourself.  College is probably the only time where you’ll be surrounded by people just as confused as you so there’s no sense in trying to be someone you’re not. (Jacob)
  • Don’t get a credit card. And don’t drink so much. (Jenique)
  • Try to get a part time job to structure your study time, use that time to actually study, and use a condom every time! (Angela)
  • Study more, drink less, have more confidence in yourself.  And know that if you aren’t already there, you should have gone to St. Mary’s College of Maryland. (Joy)

Does anyone have any advice they’d like to share? Help a student out and post below!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Boob Tube

College? I was so kicking ass.  3.8 my first semester and I procured a good-looking boyfriend – not bad for someone who didn’t have a date to Senior prom, eh?  I killed it in my non-performance music classes.  I was solid in my Gen Ed. Classes.  Yeah, I was a rock star.  When I was in junior high school, one of my family members made a crack that the only “A” I’d ever see was the one in my name, and the rest of my family chuckled knowingly.  Now? 6 As and one B on my first report card from college.  Hell yeah! I thought I had the college thing figured out.

Of course, figuring out college wasn’t just about getting good grades and attractive boyfriend procurement; like other freshman, I had to figure out how to live on my own.  I had to figure out how to do my laundry without getting clumps of detergent stuck on my clothes, or how to eat when all sorts of fried and Alfredo-dipped options lay out in front of me.  I had to figure out how to live in a 10X10 cell with another human being without shanking them or being shanked.  Finally, I had to figure out what was essential, and what was non-essential.

There was one thing I deemed essential that was sorely lacking from our dorm room fall semester: a television.  For four months, I lived without my beloved soap opera – the soap opera everyone’s grandma watched since 1937: “Guiding Light.”  The summer prior to college was one of the finest in GL’s history, and damn it, I was missing out on all the plot resolution.  What happened with Bridget and Hart? Did he learn about her having his baby in secret?  Did he return her affections? I needed to know these things.  I missed out on a variety of plot points, and in soap opera years, a few months meant you missed out on someone’s entire childhood.  Jesus, Bridget’s little baby was probably running Spaulding Enterprises now, and I was missing it!

Following winter break, I flew back to Arizona and walked back into my little cell in the Manzi-Mo dorm.  Emily and her boyfriend Tony were in the process of setting up a small television on her desk.  My eyes widened with glee.  I felt like I was transported back to the 50s, when a television was the centerpiece of one’s living room and social life.  Emily and I could finally reconnect with the world outside of campus!  We excitedly discussed what we’d watch – Fresh Prince, Animaniacs, Guiding Light!  Well, I was excited about Guiding Light.  Emily was not a fan of soap operas, but she was kind enough to give me 2-3pm to watch my show.  I had Music Literature at that time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that was fine – everyone knows the best soap days are Fridays and Mondays.

As soon as the antenna was adjusted, a warm, seductive glow filled the room.  Emily and I stopped our conversation mid-sentence and stared at the moving pictures in awe.  Oh, Television…where have you been?

Catching up on lost time, I started watching my soap again.  I was surprised to find out goody-two-shoes Julie turned bad after sleeping with Hart on her wedding day and was promptly dumped by then-fiancée Dylan.  She now had her sights set on Frank, who was going through a rough patch in his marriage to Eleni (played by the lovely Melina Kanekredes).  When I first watched, Emily rolled her eyes, but surely enough, she began to get engaged.  “Eleni’s pretty…” she said.  “How did she wind up with Frank?” I told her the torrid history of boring, dopey Frank, amazing Eleni, and their entire wacky family, gladly answering every question to come my way.  After coming back from Music Lit one day, Emily nearly tackled me when I walked in the room.  “Girl, you won’t believe what happened today!” She proceeded to tell me about the results of the beauty pageant that pitted sweet Lucy (Frank’s kid sister) against evil Julie, and all the chaos and underhandedness that ensued.  Yes – I had her hooked!

In reality, we both became addicted to television – before you know it, soap operas, Rikki Lake and The Price Is Right became a higher priority than class; I mean, what if they played Plinko today? You don’t want to miss that, do you?  We became fond of the NBC affiliate’s elderly weather guy.  Every Friday night, he’d celebrate the weekend by pulling five pieces of confetti out of his beige blazer pocket and let out a mild “yay” as confetti and old blazer lint unceremoniously scattered across the news desk.  Within a month, we went from a reaction of “what the hell is this?” to declaring him a national treasure.  We were Podlings and TV was our Dark Crystal – it captured our gaze, and we were unable to turn away until the last drop of essence was sucked out of us.

One afternoon, Emily and I lay on our beds and stared like zombies at the television.  A rerun of MASH came on.  To most people, that would indicate there was nothing left on television.  The natural response to this predicament would be to go to class and get the education we were paying so dearly for.  But that would involve getting up and leaving the Boob Tube for a couple of hours.

As the theme for MASH played in the background, Emily and I looked at each other somewhat desperately.  “Doot do-do doot do doot do…” No.  No.  Can. Not. Watch.  Where’s the remote?  “Doot do-do doot do doot do…” Damn, it’s on top of the television – who put it there?? Hurry!  Emily weakly lifted her arm up and attempted to retrieve the remote via Jedi Mind powers.  She released a meek “ehhh,” expending all of her energy to will the remote into her hands.  It was not working.  The force was weak within us.  “Doot do-do-doot-doo, doot do-doot doot! Doot!”  Shit, I don’t want to watch Alan Alda! DO SOMETHING, DAMN IT.

Emily was still frozen, fully focusing on her Jedi powers, letting out a more desperate “ehhh!!!” with her fingers outstretched.  In a jolt of energy, I burst out of bed and ran to the television, simultaneously grabbing the remote and hitting the “down channel” button on the television.  I tossed the remote to Emily and collapsed back on my bed, exhausted from my effort.  Emily’s arm relaxed and fell over the remote.  She sighed in relief, as if her Jedi powers worked after all.  Our panic over the prospect of watching MASH put us in a semi-catatonic state, so we settled on the channel I had switched it to.  Tucson PBS.  Sigh.

We stared quietly as a forgettable, non-offensive melody on the acoustic guitar played and cheap font lettering appeared on the screen: “Sewing with Nancy.”  A blonde woman in an 80s-era blouse came on to tell us in a soft, monotonous voice that today we would be making a children’s quilt with little wagons on it.  She pronounced “wagons” as “waygins,” which immediately qualified her for mocking by Emily and I.  Way better than MASH.  Nancy was gifted with the whole sewing thing – she was most certainly a Publicly-Funded Martha Stewart, except she seemed terrified of the camera.  We watched and giggled at the cheap production and “waygin”-making.  At one point, Emily lifted the remote to switch the channel and I protested.  “Wait! I want to see how this ends.”  Ultimately, Emily won, and she found an infomercial for us.  We regained our strength, reassured that we now had an alternative to MASH.

We continued in our Podling state well into the night, watching Conan O’Brien and whatever extra late night show they had beyond him.  A few infomercials and Bewitched episodes later and we were stunned.  A US Flag came on the screen and the national anthem began to play.  It shook us out of our state.  I turned to Emily, confused.  “What?

She calmly watched the screen, deeply analyzing what was happening.  I was in denial.  What’s going on? What’s happening?  Something seems wrong here.

Then? Bars of color.  Is this a new show? What is this?  Nothing else happened.  No sound, no moving pictures.  My jaw dropped.  We came to the end of television!  What the hell is this, 1977 Romania?  This is America – television doesn’t just end!  I turned to Emily, baffled.  “I…I didn’t know this could happen in this day and age.”

Emily shook her head.  “Tucson.”

Tucson?  Tucson?!? That’s it?  “But…where did the television go?”

“There’s no more programming!”

My mouth remained agape.  “They can’t put an infomercial on? There isn’t a rerun they can show?  The Honeymooners?  The Odd Couple? Something?” …Just not MASH.

“All the old people in this town are in bed by now, so they turn the station off.”  Her lack of concern was upsetting.

“Who does that??”

“Tucson.”

Arghhh! What are we going to do?”

Emily turned off the television and hopped into her bed.  “We sleep.”

I crawled into bed and we turned out the lights.  The room was quiet and dark for about five minutes.  “Anne-Ma-RIE?” Emily would often say my name with an amusing rhythmic cadence when she wanted something or was about to tease me.

“Yes?”

“Do your Sewing with Nancy Voice!”

“I have to turn the light back on, because you have to see my face.”

“Okay!”

I turned on the light on my side of the room.  I touched my comforter like it was going under a machine.  “…and then you put the little way-gins on the quilt…”

We laughed and mocked our TV shows for a good hour until we finally fell asleep.  In our slumber, the stations magically turned back on, resumed programming, and the universe seemingly returned to its proper order.

Every so often, I’ll come across something that reminds me of one of the classes I didn’t attend; I’ll hear a musical piece that I crammed in my brain before a test in Music Lit, yet I can’t quite place it and can’t tell you anything interesting about it.  A news item will cover something in the world of anthropology – the topic will seem vague to me, yet I have no real knowledge to provide background or insight on the news item.  In those moments, I sit and wonder about that semester; I wonder if all those hours watching “The Price is Right” was worth it.  I mean, if someone actually won the 25 grand in Plinko, it totally would have been for sure… but obviously that didn’t happen. [Total side note here:  a Virgin to Life Mini-Event is when Plinko goes from being the best game on The Price is Right to the worst game on The Price is Right.  I think that moment is the first indicator you’re becoming a grown-up.]

I then think about my friendship with Emily.  In some odd way, as we were delighting in Julie’s conniving ways on Guiding Light or mocking an inarticulate self-righteous audience member on Rikki Lake, we formed a family-like bond.  Because of that television, we actually chose to hang out together in that 10 x 10 cell.  In our mocking and joking, we’d start to talk about life – where we came from, where we wanted to go, and where we didn’t want to end up.  Emily became that rare kind of friend you can lose contact with for long periods of time, but pick up right where you left off at any time.  Just like a re-run of The Fresh Prince.

So, yeah, the TV was worth it.

Tucson Bus System, Part 2: F-ing Red Robin

[Warning! I drop the F-bomb a few times in this due to quoting.  There is also some erm, more adult issues I mention in this. Sorry…it's kind of unpleasant.  Normally I like to maintain a certain level of whimsy in this blog, but I now feel like I killed a unicorn and drank its blood.  We'll go back to the regular programming of "Anne-Marie was kind of a stupid kid" stuff on the next entry.  I promise. Until then, I'm just going to sneak this into the blog with little fanfare to complete my two-part story...This is what they call a soft sell, isn't it?]

No prior experience on the busses – no snotty mustaches, no crazy singing handicapable stalkers – prepared me for the day I only refer to as “The Bus Trip from Hell.”

My first summer staying in Tucson was a difficult one, but biggest problem I had was I was very broke and in need of a job.  I spent the summer going to different places and filling out applications.  Trying to find a part-time job in the summer in Tucson is next to impossible and I was becoming disheartened.  There were times I would spend the entire day on the bus, going from place to place filling out applications, using transfer after transfer to save money.  I became familiar, even comfortable with the regulars – the delusional androgynous person, for example.  Or the older chap I named Guggenheim.  I actually liked Guggenheim – he would sit in the same bus seat every day, leaving the space next to him empty.  He carried one of those plaid thermoses, and would hold the plastic thermos lid like it were a china cup, sipping from it gingerly, and chatting to his empty seat in a charming, distinguished voice.  As he’d talk, he’d stick his nose up in the air and occasionally roll his eyes over the story he was telling.  I could never understand what his conversations were about, but they seemed delightful.  I’m being serious – if I ever become delusional, I hope my delusion paints me as a Jane Austen character, enjoying tea and witty banter.  Except I don’t think he was drinking tea.

I decided to dedicate one day in particular to travelling all over Tucson by bus in an attempt to find a job.  I hopped on my bus earlier than normal – I was disappointed to not see the regulars – Guggenheim was nowhere to be found.  I sat at the front of the bus, in the seats that face each other.  Across from me was a person who seemed fixated on me.  After a few minutes, I noticed this person started to move their arm in an unnatural motion.  Don’t look.  You remember snotty mustache.  Looking sears awful things into memory.  Rule number one of Bus riding: do not make eye contact with anyone but the bus driver.  Keep the eyes down.  Don’t look, for God’s sake, do not look.  But it might be nothing, I – OH MY GOD.

Why did I look?  I hate you, brain.  Snotty mustache was bad, but this is really, really unpleasant.  He was glaring at me, no less.  That seriously just took off 5 years of my youth;  thanks a lot.  What does one do in this situation?  I know what you’re thinking;  you’re thinking I either tell the bus driver what is going on, or I freak out on the guy.  But see, you’re not thinking like a cynical poor person with limited money and a tight connection schedule.  If I did anything, the bus would stop.  I’d miss my connection.  Maybe I’d have to talk to a cop about pressing some charge against the guy for public indecency.  I’d screw up my entire day of filling out applications, and go home traumatized and without a job prospect.  After all of that, they won’t do anything anyway, because that sort of thing isn’t a priority.  No.  My ride is only a few minutes long, and I’ll just get off, fill out some applications and hop on the next bus.  I stared ahead at the road and tried to think of something else.  Thankfully, my asshole brain agreed that this one isn’t one to tease me with.  I switched busses and made my job application rounds.  I spent a lot of time around the southeastern part of town, hoping I’d get a job at the Barnes & Noble.  That would be a decent job for a college student… I spent a couple of hours applying for other positions in the area.

By 3pm, I decided I had enough and went to the corner to wait for the next bus.  It was over 100 out and I was tired and sweaty.  I couldn’t wait to get back to my utilities-included apartment and cool off.  When I arrived at the bus stop, I knew I was approaching bad news.  Some dude was flailing his arms around and talking loudly.  He was cursing, but about what I couldn’t determine.  The other people at the bus stop gave me “the look” when I sat down.  “The look” translates to, “he’s a psychopath and/or on drugs.  Look out.”  I gave a gentle nod and avoided eye contact with him.  The bus was supposed to arrive in 10 minutes.  I could deal with this.

“Fuck!  Shit!  I am so fucking pissed off, man!  You know what I’m doing today?  I’m going to fucking Red Robin.  Every Friday I go to fucking Red Robin, and I get some muthafuckin’ fries.  Man, I’m going to fuck somebody up!  Who are you looking at, asshole?  You fucking with me?  Don’t fuck with me, because you know what I’m doing right now?  I’m heading up to fucking Red Robin.  Every Friday, muthafuckas.  Shit!”

It went on for 20 minutes.  Where the hell is the bus?  I looked at the bus stop on the other side of the intersection.  That bus would take me downtown, and I’d have to take two additional busses to get home.  No.  That’s money I can’t afford to lose, and it adds an extra hour to the trip.

Someone walked up to the bus stop, which was becoming increasingly crowded and impatient.  “Hey,” Mr. F-ing Red Robin calmly acknowledged our new attendant.

“Hey.”  The guy didn’t know any better.  Newbie.

F-ing Red Robin went off.  “You fucking with me bro?”

“No…I –”

“Fuck you!  Fuck you, you muthafuckin’ asshole.  I’m going to fucking Red Robin and I’m going to have a muthafuckin’ cheeseburger!  So fuck off!”

Oh, God.  It dawned on me.  Fucking Red Robin is at the Fucking Mall – past my fucking apartments.  I’m going to be on the bus with this guy for 40 minutes once the damn bus gets here.

F-ing Red Robin punched a trash can.  “AHHHHHHHHRRRRRGGGGAAAAHHH!!!!”

I thought about my dwindling money.  Do I eat or do I stay safe?  Eat?  Safety?  Eat?  Safety?  Well, I could stretch out the mac and cheese to a couple of days… and I can’t eat its powdery goodness if I’m dead.  And who knows when I’d get home?  The bus was already late, and if this guy gets any worse, it’s going to get pretty ugly.

I calmly stood up and crossed the street.  The other bus arrived and I hopped on.  I looked back at my comrades waiting for the F-ing Red Robin bus.  They were still waiting.  F-ing Red Robin was strangling the bus stop sign.  I made the right choice.  In one day you can only take so much crazy.

I slumped down in one the seats towards the front that faced each other.  I looked across from me and saw a friendly-looking girl.  I gave a tired smile and a nod.  She averted my gaze, stuck her paper transfer in her mouth and promptly ate it.  I shrugged my shoulders.  Could be worse…

The Tucson Bus System, Part I: O Holy Hurrff

[Warning! I curse a little bit in this] 

Is that what I think it is?

Oh God, it is!  Look away.  Don’t look.  Don’t look.  I can’t unsee it – *HURRFF!*

Close your eyes and try to think of something other than the man who just got on the bus with the giant mustache covered in snot.  I’ve got a sensitive stomach; it doesn’t take much to make me wretch.  Snot was all over his… *hurrff!!*  Think.  Think.  Look at your cute little clothes.  Those cute pinstripe shorts you got for $5 at Robinsons-May.  You’ll be at Emily’s in no time.  Mustache.  Shut up, mind!  Stop torturing me!  Snotty Mustache!  *Hurrff!*  Can’t unsee!!  Can’t unsee!!  Ooo, Emily’s apartment complex, pull the cord!

Ding!  Oh thank God.  Oh please let me get off the Snotty Mustache Express without vomiting.  Don’t look at him as you walk by… don’t look at him as you walk by… OH SWEET MOTHER OF TAP DANCING JESUS IT’S STILL THERE.  I managed to muster a “thank you” to the bus driver and stepped off the bus.  I felt cold sweat cover my brow, and I doubled over letting out a final dry *hurrff!* before I entered the AM/PM across from Emily’s apartments.  I was starving, and wanted a quick lunch before I went to her place.  I grabbed a big, fat, juicy hot dog and began to cross the street.  I bit into it and began to chew.  Snotty Mustache!  Damn you, asshole brain.  Damn you.

If this was the worst experience I had on the Tucson bus system, I would have been lucky.  Alas, no.  Between Emily living in the middle of No-Tel Mo-Tel Hell and the demilitarized zones I would later live in, I often wound up on bad bus routes and experienced the gross, weird and scary world of public transit.

As winter break neared, I went to Our Lady Queen of Shopping (known by non-believers as the Tucson Mall) and bought Emily a frying pan for some reason I can no longer recall.  I walked to the bus stop to wait for the bus line that stopped in front of Emily’s apartment complex.  There was a man sitting in a wheelchair who greeted me when I sat down.  “Hello,” he said.

“Hi, how are you?”  I looked over at him, and noticed that his limbs were randomly wrapped in foam padding, like the kind you would see under a carpet.  We chatted for a while, and I got a serious creepy vibe from the guy.  I figured he was injured or something, and tried to ignore the Stranger Danger alarm.  My social anxiety always kept me amped up, and I felt like I tended to be overly avoidant and cautious with people.  Don’t be a dick.  Connect with people.  Damn you, brain.  Ok.  We began to talk about music and singing.  See?  This isn’t so bad.  We’re connecting. 

He smiled creepily.  “I love Christmas music.”

“Me too!”  Connecting.  Look at me!  I’m actually talking to a stranger; making eye contact and all that jazz.   I’m so proud of myself!

“Can you sing me a Christmas song?”

Connecting with a stra…wha??  “Oh, um… I don’t know…”  The bus stop was filling with people.

“Please?  It would mean so much to me.”

All of a sudden my brain, who was so cruel to me in the Snotty Mustache episode, spoke to me with righteous indignation.  The man in the wheelchair wants you to sing to him.  Is that so hard?  Can you do a good thing for once and sing for this man?  It’s the Christmas season – what would Jesus do?  Damn it, brain.

“Um… okay.  What would you like me to sing?”

His eyes widened.  “What is your favorite Christmas song?”

“O Holy Night.”

“Sing that!”

“Okay…”  And God help me, I sang it.  He started to belt in with me.  To his credit, he had a decent tenor voice.  Slowly people started edging away from us at the bus stop.  Crap!  They thought I was a crazy person too!

“O COME ALL YE FAITHFULL… SING IT WITH ME!!!”  He began to wail, singing like he was at a Revival.  I complied.

“Joyful and triumphant…”  I squeaked.  Where is that damn bus?  People, I’m not crazy, I’m just singing to make a man wrapped in foam happy.  I–stop averting my gaze!  It’s the Christmas season!  Sing with the man!  DON’T JUDGE ME!

We continued on to two additional carols, and if this happened in the days of YouTube, I’m sure we would have been captured on a phone only to be auto-tuned to viral perfection.  Thank God for small favors.

The bus finally came, and he got on first, with the driver using the special lift and wheelchair seating that was on the front of the bus.  I got on the bus and noticed it was standing room only.  The girl in front of me stood beside his wheelchair, as I began to walk towards the back.  He grabbed my wrist and glared at the girl.  “You need to move.  That’s my friend’s spot.”  Oh, shit.  He’ll be wearing my skin as a suit before the night is out.  I hope I at least make a cute suit.  The girl shrugged her shoulders and moved to the back.  I stood beside him as he hummed Christmas songs.  I thought about the frying pan in my shopping bag.  Okay, if he does something crazy, I have a weapon!  Or, you know, I could run.  He started to ask me where I lived, and I gave him an incorrect generic answer.  As we neared Emily’s apartment, I pulled the cord, and we eased to a stop.  I looked at my foam-covered friend, and smiled nervously.  “It was nice meeting you…”

He looked angry that I was leaving him.  “I hope to see you again.”

“Um yea!”  And I ran off the bus.  I held the frying pan in a defensive grip and high-tailed it to Emily’s apartment, just in case.  When I told her the story, she looked at me like I was a damned fool and said, “Oh, he was faking it!  He probably used the foam to make it look like he was bandaged…what were you thinking?”

“I…well…I…”  Damn you, brain!

Ha, ha, sucka!  Oh, and… snotty mustache!

Asshole.

Fashion Intervention Team!

Towards the end of spring semester of my freshman year at college, I learned an important lesson: when your life is falling apart, you need something simple and superficial to yank you out of your funk, even if it’s for only a day.

Now realistically, life wasn’t really falling apart; my psyche was merely experiencing an ongoing war between severe depression and extreme anxiety.  Each side had an ample supply of weapons to toss.  I had an unclean break from my first serious relationship and I gained 20 pounds through its course – that’s two offensive strikes for depression.  My grades were taking a nosedive and I was terrified of communicating with people; even making eye contact made my throat tighten and my hands shake – powerful weapons for the anxiety side.

At the height of this internal battle, I returned to my dorm room one night.  Upon opening the door, I was greeted by my roommate Emily and our friend Shemeka.  They were sitting on Emily’s bed, staring at me gravely.  Shemeka spoke first.  “We need to talk to you about something.”

Uh-Oh.  Was it my messiness?  Was it my pathetic issues with my ex?  Emily rested her hands on her lap.  “Anne-Marie, it’s your clothes.”

I looked down at my Marvin the Martian T-shirt.  “Huh?”

“You are a cute girl, and you have great features, but you don’t wear things that complement that.”

I looked at them, perplexed.  “I don’t?”

Shemeka shook her head.  “Like those blue shorts you wear; the ones that are really short?  You shouldn’t wear them, because when you bend over, it shows your butt.”

“What??  It does?”  I intuitively grabbed my rear end.

Emily continued.  “And those tight leggings you wear with the swirls…”

Shemeka knew exactly what pants Emily was talking about and finished her sentence for her.  “…they don’t match with anything you own.”

I sat down on my bed and pondered for a moment.  I thought I had some fun, indie-artist-y chaotic sense of style; that I marched to my own drummer, as they say.  My friends were blowing my mind.  “But…I shop at the mall…”  You can never go wrong with the mall, right?  I mean…the clothing is pricey, and they would never sell something out of fashion… they have Merry Go Round, and Wet Seal.  Wet Seal!  I put my hands on my shorts.  “I got these at Wet Seal…”

Shemeka smiled sympathetically, and Emily shook her head.  “See, this is what we need to teach you; things at Wet Seal look really good on the rack, but you have to inspect them.  They aren’t made as well as other clothing, and that’s why they aren’t as expensive.  You’re not getting as much value or quality as you would get at say, The Gap.”

My eyes widened.  “The Gap?  They are so expensive!”

Emily stood up, exasperated.  She pointed to her shirt.  “Ten dollars!  I got this for ten dollars at The Gap!”

I looked at her in amazement.  Where was this magical place she could find such inexpensive quality items?  I wanted to see the magical cheap clothes place!  I wanted to wear shorts that didn’t expose my ass!  I thought about the bad turn my life was taking.  Perhaps this one thing could set forth a series of events that would move my life in the right direction.  I looked at them like a lost kitten.  “Can…can you guys take me shopping?”

Their faces lit up and they squealed with glee.  “Yes!”  I knew by looking at them that I was going to be their dress-up doll for a day, and I was totally okay with that.  My life needed a makeover, why not start with my closet?

“Let’s go tomorrow afternoon!”

All three of us had classes in the afternoon, but what the hell – we skipped a bunch all ready, and this was an emergency.  I need this – I don’t need Anthropology.

The next day, we went on a pilgrimage to a haven from school and reality: Our Lady Queen of Shopping, hallowed be thy name, O home of clothing, Sbarros, and overpriced smelly soaps!  So yeah: we took the bus to the Tucson Mall.  From this point forward, I’m going to refer to Shemeka and Emily as Fashion Intervention Team (FIT), because they spoke as One – they were like two copies of the same Cylon model, but their Plan was to properly outfit every last human in the universe.  FIT’s first stop was “The Limited.”  We walked in and I eyed a shirt near the front.  They grabbed me and made a beeline to the back of the store.

Fashion Intervention Team’s First and Most Cardinal Rule of Shopping:   “Never pay full price for anything.  Never!  It will all go on sale eventually.  Oh and by sale?  We don’t mean 10% off.”  We arrived at the back of the store, and they introduced me to the magical place they spoke of the previous night – the Clearance Section.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Second Rule of Shopping:  “Always start at the back of the store.  That’s where the clearance items are.”  I looked at the items skeptically.  “I thought this was the stuff that was going out of season…”

FIT shook their head.  “We live in the desert – you can easily wear these for another month before it gets uncomfortable.”   They waded through racks and checked seams and price tags.  “Besides, when you find something that looks good on you, it will never go out of style.  Try this on!”  I was handed an off-white T-shirt with some girly prose and a rose on it.  I squinted to read the writing on the shirt.  “I can’t read what it says…”

FIT sighed.  “It doesn’t matter!  You’re not getting it for the saying – it’s a cute print and it’s feminine, unlike your Van Halen concert shirt!”…Which I wore with the swirly pants.  Yeah, maybe that was a bad fashion choice…

I tried on and ultimately purchased the Illegible Girl Shirt, and we moved on to the next store – The Gap.  I walked to the back of the store, and FIT nodded in approval.  They instantly grabbed a plain white oversized shirt and dark blue leggings and handed them to me.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Third and Fourth Rules of Shopping:  “Oversized shirts are great with leggings, because the shirt hides your trouble areas (a.k.a. my pronounced ass, brought to you by the deep fried offerings at the UofA Student Union).  Combined with the leggings you get to show off your skinny legs!  Also, you want a plain white shirt, because you can mix and match with different bottoms.  The more combinations you can get with one piece, the better it is!”

We purchased the shirt and the leggings.  True confession time – FIT would show dismay at this, but I kept that shirt for 15 years.  I stopped wearing it out several years ago, but wore it around the house until the collar completely ripped off and Chris pleaded with me to throw it away.

Anne-Marie’s Anti-Fashion Tip #1:  Shirts are more comfortable and feel extra homey when they are loaded with holes and have a ripped collar.  I may have tossed that shirt, but I still have my tattered UofA Alumni shirt from 1999, and you will pry it from my cold, dead, unfashionable hands.

We continued on.  I pointed to a Merry Go Round and FIT grumbled.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Fifth Rule of Shopping: Don’t shop at Merry-Go-Round, unless you want to look like a Bon Jovi Groupie.

“Hey; my Junior year prom dress was from Merry-Go-Round!”

“Sigh.”

FIT was prescient – when the 80s groupie style completely left the universe in its pink lame spaceship powered by Aqua Net bottles and C.C. Deville tears, it took Merry-Go-Round with it.  I believe Hot Topic is essentially its replacement, replacing 80s whore with Emo-Avril Cul-de-Sac Disenchantment; take your pick as to which is worse.

FIT wasn’t impressed with the other boutique stores.  We hit the big anchors, the best of which being Dillards.  To split the Collective for but a moment, I need to point one thing out.  Dillards was THE store for Emily.  Emily worked at the mall for a while a few moons after this intervention, and I am convinced that she began her day by kneeling before a Dillards sale rack, arms outstretched in exaltation, praying and praising the God of Dillards for His Righteous Sales and Brand Name Goodness.  I will admit that if this were Scientology, I would have so been Will Smith to her Jada Pinkett.  She sold me on Dillards Sale-vation, and I too worshipped their sale rack altar many times during college.

Fashion Intervention Team’s Sixth Rule of Shopping: For name brands, the department stores are better than the brand stores (like Guess), because you’ll find more items on the clearance rack, and the clearance price will be rock-bottom.

At Dillards, FIT presented me with the Clearance Rack to end all Clearance Racks – the “66% off already marked down items” rack.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Was I reading it correctly?  I looked at the price tag on a cute pair of shorts – the shorts were originally $40, and on the price tag, it stated that they were marked down to $30.  “So…I can get this for… under $15?”

FIT nodded.  We then turned to the rack and devoured the clothing like starved Coyotes on a fresh, meaty carcass.  A Guess shirt for $10; an Esprit tank for $5!  I felt like I was sharing this moment with my inner 13 year-old who was rejected by her peers for never wearing these brands.

We finished up our shopping, and got on the bus to head back to the dorms – the neighboring bus seats towered with our full shopping bags.  Emily’s boyfriend came over to the dorm, and she made him sit through a brief fashion show of some of the items we purchased.  He showed as much enthusiasm as a guy could muster for such a thing, particularly approving of a nice sleeveless pantsuit Emily picked out for me.

Now truthfully, my lovely new wardrobe and hair color of the week didn’t change my life.  I was still horribly depressed, had a hard time with my bad break up, and my social anxiety kept me from responding to the compliments I got for my new “look.”  I was still me, unfortunately, but if nothing else, I now at least had shopping as an outlet for my angst.  For a few minutes, I could look in the mirror at my cute clothes and feel good about something.

Shortly after returning to Tucson for my Sophomore year, I visited Emily at her apartment to show her all of the clothing I bought without her assistance.    Naturally, we did a little “fashion show,” and at the end of it, she had a little tear in her eye and exclaimed, “I knew you could do it!  I’m so proud of you!”  I admired myself in the mirror – a fitted white blouse covered with a cute print vest over faded blue jeans, brown suede boots on my feet.  I looked good.  Well, 90s-era good.  I earned my FIT diploma that day.

Unfortunate teen photo of yours truly is copyright 1992-2012 by Douang Athitang

Act Two

Connecticut, for the most part, is a beautiful and quaint state.  The roads rise and fall with small hills and wind through lush green landscapes, as large oak trees create a canopy overhead.  Driving through these winding roads, you experience Connecticut’s history through the architecture of its homes.  In the more rural areas you see old saltbox houses from the late 1600s and early 1700s.  Old towns are filled with colonials and Victorians, and the closer you get to major metropolitan areas, you find post-World War II tract housing consisting of cape cods and L-shaped ranches.  Tudors dot the wealthy outskirts.  In all, you have a wide variety of architecture to enjoy, covering the span of American history.

As pretty and diverse as it can be, there are few vistas in the state where you can look out and see for miles.  You happen upon homes and landscapes when you drive or walk along the roads.  You can see only what is in your immediate view, unaware of the world past the canopy or over the next hill.This was my life for 18 years.

As I stood on the balcony of my hotel room, I experienced Tucson for the first time, and admired the beauty of differences.  Instead of being cocooned in Kelly green leaves, I could see miles and miles of sand-colored ground and sage green plants.In place of winding roads, there was a clear grid stretching as far as the eye could see.  Rather than being surrounded by homes spanning 250 years of history, I could only see homes that were 50 years old at the most.  The tiny hills of Connecticut were no match for the bold and ragged Catalinas – the mountains made me feel like I was living in a topographic map.

When I stepped foot off of the plane, my mind was filled with a typical Yankee perception of Arizona – sun, sun, sun!  It never rains!  Blue skies all of the time!   Imagine my surprise then, when on that balcony, I saw a menacing dark cloud creep over the Catalinas making its way towards my hotel.  I inhaled to enjoy the unusually thick smell of ozone that preceded the storm.  For the first time in my life, I saw lighting bolts stretch from cloud to ground, hitting different points on the mountain.  The thunder rolled loudly as the storm neared.  I watched with fascination and concern – this was nothing I had ever seen before and was wholly unexpected.

Suddenly, a loud clap of thunder exploded as a large lightning bolt slammed from the heavens to earth only a couple of miles from my balcony.  I jumped.  Tens of car alarms triggered, providing a soundtrack of man-made chaos responding to the ho-hum of Mother Nature.  Large, dense raindrops fell from the sky furiously, while thunder and lightning rumbled and flashed around me.  The world was ending in a biblical storm; why was I the only one who looked freaked out?

Just as quickly as the storm came, it ended.  The sun peeked through the clouds, and the sky shimmered from the raindrops that continued to fall over Tucson.  The menacing cloud moved on to wreak havoc on another part of town, leaving a brilliant rainbow in its wake.  The sun seemed brighter, the sky bluer.

I realized at that moment that I had finally made it to Act II.  I did it.  I was able to leave home – to really leave home and start the next stage of my life.  I had no idea where I would wind up, but the wheels were finally in motion.  I could finally be “me” and have an existence that was built completely on my own accomplishments and failures.

Today, I think about how my life has mirrored that moment – I think of all the times I believed I could see far ahead, and I would anticipate and plan every move, only to be rocked by an unexpected lightning strike or fierce storm.  I’d feel like my world was ending yet somehow the storm would find a way to clear, and I’d be stronger and wiser on the other side; even if there was a little damage left in the storm’s wake.

That moment also serves as a microcosm of why I was a virgin to life.  There was much I thought I knew about the world, only to have an abrupt epiphany to challenge my thinking.  The epiphanies can range from subtle to anvil-like; they can be triumphant or they can be devastating.  They can be humorous, morbidly funny, and on a rare occasion – unfortunately – they can still bring tears to my eyes.

Over the years, there is one epiphany that trumps all others in its importance – the realization that we do not connect with each other through our perfection, but through our mistakes.  In the coming weeks, you’ll learn why I was (and am) a Virgin to Life.  My missteps are embarrassing at times, but a little hyperbole, humor, and a few choice curse words can at least provide good therapeutic laugh and perspective if nothing else.  So feel free to laugh and/or facepalm at my expense – I won’t be offended;  Maybe you’ll even find a little bit of yourself in my stories – I won’t tell if you won’t.

Photo of Arizona copyright 2007-2012 by Chris Giard.