Modus Operandi

I have always wanted to go to Hogwarts. Not the lookalike castle at Universal Studios in Florida. The real deal. As it is, my letter never came, sadly. None of this has anything to do with why I am not strictly a Harry Potter fan.

Because I’m not. A Harry Potter fan, that is. I don’t fangirl over Draco Malfoy in dirty dreams the way I might fall for Peeta in The Hunger Games. I don’t spend my spare time practicing the accio spell to bring the TV remote closer to myself (I should, though). I’ve never hung a Harry Potter poster in my room, though Divergent has had its place. I have, however, spent a fair share of my life trying to figure out how to use my time more productively the way Hermione uses a Time Turner to get the most out of the Hogwarts curriculum.

The first time I remember reading a Harry Potter book, I was in the fourth grade. The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh books didn’t even exist yet. The girl next to me was reading the same book, The Chamber of Secrets. All I wanted in that moment during Silent Reading, was to read faster than her. Nevermind the fact that I hadn’t even read the first book yet. All I know is that I’m reading and apples are disappearing out of a magical cabinet. I don’t understand the rules of reading yet, let alone the rules of magic. The only thing I knew was that I had to finish this book before the girl next to me finished her book.

The point is I’ve never been a diehard Harry Potter fan. I’ve only read the books once. I watch the movies religiously. I won’t tell you what the Death Eater scenes do to me. I’ve had to pause the films to finish a spell, if you know what I mean. I know for a fact that if I were sorted into a house, I’d be Gryffindor. What I do love are books. Period. People get so excited to learn this fact when Christmas arrives. Because I love books, and Harry Potter is a franchise, they automatically assume that I must love Harry Potter. As a result, I’ve gotten chocolate frogs and wands and Hedwig Funko dolls and all kinds of Harry Potter paraphernalia. My daughter, bless her heart, accidentally broke Harry’s wand on the one Funko doll of him I had. I can’t even explain why I was upset. I should have thanked her. She was one. I think I was just upset that Hedwig no longer had a partner. Now all I had was a damn owl that didn’t make sense without Harry.

I don’t have any excuse for these people.

It’s remarkable how often I deny being a Harry Potter fan and how often my mind is programmed to the Harry Potter channel. JK Rowling has become a part of the cultural collective consciousness. Even I cannot escape her. I frequently hear voices, not unlike Harry Potter hearing the basilisk talking to him throughout The Chamber of Secrets. I was going through a rough patch at the time, and what do the voices tell me?

“Find your Patronus, Jackie.” That’s it. Depression reminds me very much of the description of Dementors sucking the happiness right out of you.

“Find your Patronus.” As it happens, I had no idea what my Patronus would look like. At first, I was hoping for something like a very sexy, handsome man come to save me. That is a Patronus I’d like to see again and again. Dirty dreams, like situations of peril, seem to require some sort of Patronus to get the job done. 

Apparently the Patronus seems to be an animal, I thought more seriously and was thinking perhaps I’d have a fox. Foxes seem slick enough to get themselves out of any problem. I thought I might like to have a fox as a Patronus.

Since I’m not experienced in this area of divining what Patronus would come to me once I wave my wand, I took a test. I got an owl. Talk about anticlimactic. Can an owl spot prey from hundreds of feet in the air and scoop them up for dinner in a heartbeat?

Yes, yes they can. I don’t want an owl, though. I wanted to be something a little more, I don’t know, fearsome and predatory. An owl is not scary.

One time I spent all of the money I saved from doing chores to buy a book at the Scholastic Book Fair. It was all I had in the world, a whopping $20 or so. I bought one of the Harry Potter books, not knowing what else I should spend my money on. Well, it turns out my mother decided to become “born again” right around the time I bought the book. One day our family was Catholic, and the next day I woke up, and we were Christians. She found me reading Harry Potter on the floor one day. I had been highlighting “important” passages and copying them down into a notebook. My mother, Umbridge that she was, declared there was to be no witchcraft in the house. I’m not sure she realized the books were a part of the “fantasy” genre. And so she took my book. She threw my book, and my $20, into the garbage.

Just like that. It was probably a first edition, now I shall never know. She threw out a fortune in the name of Jesus Christ. It has been 20 years and I still have a grudge against her for this act of treachery. It was Fahrenheit 451 come to life.

For the same reason, I was forced to read Breaking Dawn in a single night under the covers, as if being under the covers would prevent anyone who walked into my room at 2am from seeing what I was doing. It is also why, when my mother had a doctor’s appointment, I logged on the Internet via Wii, to watch a pirated version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Thank God for video cameras in movie theaters. A lost art, truly. My parents password, as luck would have it, was 1111.  I simply went into the settings to change the year to 1983 so that my activity wouldn’t be logged for the same day in 2000 and something.

This was before Parents knew where the Settings were.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Vampires, witches, and wizards were contraband in our house. One did what she had to. How I got the password is a short story in and of itself. I had a convenient red digital camera that was set to record when I asked them to log me on. It took several attempts before I had the angle just right.

One does what she has to.

It’s remarkable how often my life coincides with the Harry Potter phenomenon-menon. Not too long ago, I went through a particular rite of passage granted to those on the verge of 30 years of age. In other words, I hit a midlife crisis. And Hagrid showed up. Twenty years late. On my doorstep. No warning. Uninvited. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” (His name isn’t Hagrid, and he doesn’t actually like being outside, and I‘m 99.9% positive he wants nothing to do with beasts of any kind. Also: he hates September for some ungodly reason.)

Like a vision, he tells me: “You’re a writer, Jackie.” And I’m like:

“I’m a wh-what?” For the next twelve months, he slipped me polyjuice potions, until I could no longer even tell who or what I was. I was sort of hoping he’d walk me into a vault with some kind of fortune the parents I never knew left behind for me.

No such luck. He came bearing the news that I was a writer, and I knew immediately I had to go out and squander any semblance of talent whatsoever.

So here I am writing this post, while Hagrid side-eyes me from a corner, begging me to take a prophylactic before I go too far.

How to Not Die

If you’re looking for a new way to torture an enemy or someone you know, you might consider social deprivation. A new study has investigated the results of social deprivation in a group of monkeys, and the results are not optimistic.

Say goodbye to self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and independence. Humans are programmed to operate best when in the company of other humans. I suppose this is good news for anyone who is already in a codependent relationship. You’re ahead of the rest of us.

No matter what your feelings are, humans remain social animals. You cannot avoid it. Socialization is a requirement, it is not a suggestion, unless you want to die sooner than everybody else. You can thank Dean Ornish. He reviewed the literature on the relationship between social isolation and human mortality, and he found that you will die three to five times sooner than the average person from all causes if you continue to live out a life in isolation.

When Thoreau said he was off to live a life in solitude to “front only the essential facts of life,” he failed to mention how close his neighbors lived (about a mile distant), and how liberally he dined and socialized with them. By no means did he actually carry out his life in any semblance of true solitude. Thoreau is a romantic hero, an emblem of idealism no real human could ever hope to emulate.

Not only are you more likely to die from lack of social contact, but Gary Kraemer has found several other adverse effects of living alone he has termed isolation syndrome. Seeing as we have evolved from monkeys, it makes sense that he has used monkeys for the basis of his experiment. He found monkeys raised alone exhibited far from typical monkey behavior. For one thing, they failed to engage in reciprocal interactions with other monkeys. 

In between savage attacks, they’re unable to find a mate or provide any sort of mammalian affection for their young. The monkeys reared in isolation were also prone to fighting to the death. If you don’t die from isolation, you are going to die from someone who has lived in isolation. In no scenario do you win.

However, violence towards other monkeys isn’t enough. The monkeys in isolation also had a brutal tendency to bite off their own arms, bang their head against the wall, and gouge out their eyes.  The conclusion: without external guidance on behavior from other humans, you will self-destruct. Premature death awaits you.

There’s also an easy solution to avoiding inevitable death: simply find a human you like and attach yourself. Try to avoid scratching, clawing, or otherwise poking out their eyes, and I’d say you’re off to an auspicious start to a life of near immortality.

Whatever you do, avoid isolation at all costs.

You’re All F*cked Up!

Bipolar is no joke, yet there is nothing in the world that makes me laugh more than my own rapid-cycling existence.

Yes, I’m a rapid cycler. One of those. Like a bread machine with a setting to cut the time of making bread in half, only I never come out fully done. There’s a spectrum even for bipolar and I fall on the more extreme end of all things. Not only do I cycle fast, I have mixed cycles within a single day, and as if that isn’t bad enough, the real cherry on the cake is that I also get to cycle seasonally. It’s like pulling off a really cool trick you have no control over.

When I’m not out of my mind, I’m having an out of body experience where I get to watch the entirety of my whole sad condition play out as if I am both the ringmaster and lion in a circus under a big striped tent. Every cycle makes me feel like a ragdoll thrown into a washing machine.

Boom boom doosh doosh boom

Beeeeeep

You’re all fucked up now! Of course I don’t get the satisfaction of having any real bruises or broken bones show up at the end. It leaves me with a vague sense of not really knowing what has just happened to me.

Even now as I type this out, I can’t stop laughing. This morning I woke up in tears. I didn’t wake up and then begin crying. I woke up already crying. Talk about escalating quickly. Life’s too short to live the same day twice, if you ask me. Screw that, what am I talking about? Life’s too short to carry a single emotion from one hour to the next.

One of my biggest preoccupations at the moment is what is stability? What is bipolar? You’d think I’d be something of an expert on the topic. As it is, I was handed a diagnosis neatly labeled and putting me into a categorization I hadn’t even known existed. Here I thought we all cycled at some point or another. I didn’t notice stability had been absent from my life, until someone told me it is absent from my life. So I’m not really sure how to talk about “being” bipolar yet. I’m still absorbing the part where I am different on some astronomical level.

Intelligence is lethal for bipolar. When it became clear the feds weren’t going to show up and bust down my door, I started concocting more elaborate scenarios to explain what is called an “impending sense of doom.” Mind you, I had experienced this emotion in the months leading up to the pandemic, but nobody likes a know-it-all. Otherwise admirable traits such as a “bottomless imagination” only work against me. Going to the grocery store to buy some milk could turn into an episode of espionage at any given moment. I’ve had one such manic episode before.

People think depression means you’re not able to leave your bed. The only reason I stay in bed are in the rare moments I can’t block out all of the voices in my head, which, as it also turns out, is not a normal human feature. Supposedly. What is normal? Maybe it’s normal to hear voices, and it’s not normal to only hear yourself all day long. When I’m depressed, I want to do the most dangerous, absolutely destructive things I can come up with. I might cliff jump today, go on an adrenaline trip, see if I can’t jolt some feeling back into my body.

Depression also means you’re supposed to lose interest in your favorite activities. I simply find a way to poison my favorite activities. Instead of losing interest in reading, I pick the most abhorrent books available to me about sociopathy and murder, stuff to leave me with nightmares because I have an incredibly high impulse for inflicting as much damage on myself as possible. My psyche is nowhere near as scarred as it could be. 

I guess there’s also rumors or these stigma things that people who are bipolar are dangerous. I’m about as dangerous as a teddy bear. I engage in as much air pollution and tree-cutting and global warming as the rest of the world. I recycle, though. I don’t have any human connections. I’m highly introverted and prefer isolation to a hermetic degree, probably to keep everyone else safe. However, it doesn’t change the inner feeling I get when I find out people are jealous, of all things, jealous they don’t get the “bursts of energy” that come with mania. I do not wield a super power.

Mania is exhausting. When I experience mania for more than a few days at a time, exacerbated by sunny days and at its worst in the summer, it feels like walking through a desert without any water. You are just waiting for the rain to come. It’s like a long day at the beach. When you get in the car, you have sand in places you didn’t even know existed. There’s a gritty, metallic taste in your mouth. You smell like lake water and there’s gross algae in your hair. All you want to do is shower, wash the whole day off of you and start over. Finally coming down from a manic streak is like finally getting that shower or drink of water you so desperately need. There’s a tangible release from your body. You’re left with muscle aches and a sore body because you’ve been tense the whole time. Since you can’t keep the mania from happening, all you can do is let it keep you on your toes. It’s a balancing act to not lose even more control than you already feel you’ve lost. It’s very easy to slip outside of yourself when you’re manic. Like a cat chasing a laser on the wall, only you’re too aware to want to watch yourself look that stupid.

Any direction is good if you don’t know where you’re going is not advice for someone who is manic. They’re already lost on a map they drew for themselves.

Let me tell you something. There are rabbit holes in the world, and we all fall down them at one point. My entire life is a rabbit hole. Very rarely do I suffer from any lack of energy whatsoever. The difference with mania is that your energy is not being focused on the task at hand. I have to use most of my energy to direct my impulses before I even focus on what task I am doing, which hopefully, is a task I should be doing, and I haven’t completely found myself lost in Wonderland yet wondering what way to go. Granted, coming from a recovering addiction, the euphoria that sometimes accompanies mania is like seeing an old friend. But it’s a false high. I can reach the same levels of optimism, bliss, and euphoria from writing a good poem on a lucid day.

Have you ever gone to church on a day you didn’t want to be in church? You start to get antsy towards the end of the sermon, right before the closing prayer, and you’re already halfway off the chair, ready to bolt the minute you hear “Amen.” Most of bipolar is dealing with that feeling of always being on the edge of your seat, prepared to jump ship at any moment. It’s rarely smooth sailing. You might make it to harbor, or you might get shipwrecked. If it’s my life, there might be a siren not too far away deliberately trying to lure you to your death. (He’s really a very cute siren, though.)

Impulsive spending is another feature. Bipolar opens a lot of gaps in your reasoning. For example, whenever I get this urge, I prepare for the Apocalypse. I buy things the house needs, like soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, and hair products. If I don’t buy what I want, I can justify the spending. What I can’t do is change the fact that this urge to be productive, to leave the house, to feel prepared won’t go away until I act on the impulse. It’s primal instinct, really. Even squirrels store nuts for a winter day, you know?

Speaking of instincts, I forget to eat. Something about mania overrides the body’s natural functions, like sending out hunger cues. Not eating in and of itself leads to physical symptoms everyone experiences. Like maybe you want to pass out. Or you can barely walk. You feel nauseous and dizzy and your legs and arms shake. Sometimes this happens anyways. For some reason, mania takes away physical strength and coordination. Not only is my walking unsteady, but I can’t carry as many plates at work. Usually I can stack a few plates on my arm, they’re heavy, but if I am manic, I lose the ability. I might go to put a dish into the tub and miss. The plate falls and breaks. Typically I don’t do these things. I might push a door that needs to be pulled. 

Apparently bipolar is called a “burden” I get to carry that nobody else does, even though we’re all expected to function at the same level. Well, I’m functioning. At least Sisyphus got to push the boulder. Personally, I see being bipolar as the punchline to my life. For right now. I suppose the next time I sit down to write about bipolar, I’ll be somewhere along the “suicidal ideation” end of the spectrum.

I might not, though. It just depends on my mood.

Seeds of Sobriety

Since penning this initial diary entry, I’ve been clean for 451 days. I turned from a life of drugs to one of writing, funneling an addiction into more socially acceptable avenues.

The first few months of sobriety is a far cry from the excitement and euphoria of all-night ragers on speed drugs. Looking back, there is a certain beauty in the mundanity, of doing nothing at all, except merely existing, and finding happiness.

Diary Entry

May 2021

The trees in our backyard have finally started to grow back. It’s nice to see some life coming back around here. I’ve been languishing inside for too long.

Even some of the grass seed I planted in the fall is starting to grow. A lot of work goes into a house and this is the first one where I’ve lived. So everything is sort of trial-and-error, like so much of life.

The front yard is much smaller and I didn’t put down any seed. I’m starting to regret that. Our neighbors have some of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. I’m jealous.

I’m also on Day 10 of the “Practice More, Suck Less” challenge. I’m practicing sobriety. Aren’t we all?

It’s going great. I ran out of deodorant this morning. At least I can’t blame it on the drugs anymore. I spent $12 on more. That’s outrageous. Don’t we want to encourage more people to wear this stuff?

3:17am

Diary Entry

October 2020

I can’t sleep. I go outside. I see Mars. Who do I want to tell? Only one person, but it’s fucking three in the morning. I’m like, I can’t do that. He’s going to wonder what I am doing outside at three in the morning. That would be weird. Then I am like, Oh my God. He is going to guess that I am smoking a cigarette. Because that is what I am always doing. Always. 24 hours a day. My whole family smoked. Died from unrelated causes. So I am like, my God, I don’t want him to know this. Why don’t I want him to know this? 

Man, now I can’t tell him I’ve seen Mars.

Sex in America

Diary Entry

Sex addiction is a thing I guess. Yes, someone out there is telling everyone else that too much sex or sex under the wrong conditions is wrong. Unbelievable. Most people aren’t having enough if you ask me. I googled it. 1.2 times a week. I don’t know how you have .2 sex, maybe that’s a quickie or something, but once a week. 

Sad.

I’m sober by the way. *sips apple juice box*

Kill Me with Your Sexy

Diary Entry 

I know I should be mad at you, but I can’t prove it, so here we are again. Love. I hate you. That fucking face.

He is always in the back of my mind. Or on the forefront, depending on where I put him for the day. I am sure this is weird, an atypical experience, but this is my life, almost two years in the making. I have tried dumping him, I have tried. Whenever I’m done, a little voice in my head: why do you want to destroy a good thing?

Good point, voice in my head. Good point. I don’t, actually. Shall we keep going?

I am stuck with him. It occupies my thoughts from sun up to sun down without boredom in between. Obsessive, maybe. Has anyone else been here before? I don’t know. I have never in my life. Most bizarre phenomenon of my entire life. 

I do the nastiest things in my head with him. I’ll be reading and “doze off.” Then, for some godless reason, I’m interrupted, and I am just like Excuse me, I was about to finish.

I remember the first time I saw him. Cute and kind. That was the word. Of all things. Kind. Him. Biggest asshole I know. Kindest man on Earth. He is the one who says “ass” rhymes with “glass,” no matter what, and did you know? “Fart” rhymes with heart,” every time. Most useless writing advice ever. I want to throw him away sometimes. Worst editor in my life. Doesn’t have the guts to be mean. We are completely different, like night and day, which prevents us from massacring each other. 

Could I write this without him? No. 

It took me like three weeks to decide if he was even cute. I had a debate in my head. What if he’s shorter than me? No. What if he’s taller? That’s okay. Is he cute? I don’t know yet, let me analyze this. Cute at first. It graduated. It went in gradations. The first time I saw him write a non-essential clause, it went to whoa, you’re fucking hot. 

One day he went on and on about the origin and “correct” meaning of some Latin phrase from the Dead Poet’s Society. Etymologize on my face. Kill me with your sexy. 

Am I wearing a bra? Also, no. 

Psychological Chamber of Torture

Weird shit happens to me all the time. Trouble doesn’t just find me, it seeks me out. Murphy’s law governs my life. But if anything goes wrong, it all goes wrong when I’m in front of my computer or phone.

I have a longstanding vendetta with technology. It started approximately two years ago. I’m not one of those people standing on a soapbox preaching we need to unplug and return to nature. I’m no saint. In fact, I’m rather jealous of the general population who seems to be able to browse and social media without an agonizing amount of anxiety approaching them every time. I’m on the verge of buying a VHS player, it’s gotten that bad. For all intents and purposes, I avoid having to do anything online, including brief and informal research. It always comes at a great personal cost, and today I paid.

Yesterday I was in such a dream state while writing that it piqued my curiosity later. I wondered if there was a connection between the state of mind I was in and self-hypnosis. Knowing the history I have with technology, I told myself to not look anything up until it was daylight out, otherwise I’d get scared. I still had a little trepidation about looking up “self-hypnosis” that I did the search while I was on hold on the phone. It was a big mistake. I started crying immediately. Turns out, I don’t think I was on hold at all, and the poor man probably heard the whole thing and assumed I was crying because I couldn’t get a refund back.

Here’s what happened. Here is what always happens to me, and the timing is crucial. Yesterday I wrote the line, not a very rare one, “If seeing is believing, then…” I would venture to say that that line is universally recognized. So I look up “self-hypnosis” and go straight to Wikipedia like any normal 21st century researcher, and right there in front of my face, a quote by some James Braid: “If seeing is believing, then feeling is the very truth.” That’s when I started crying. Synchronous coincidences. 

It happens all the time! It’s a psychological chamber of torture for me without any way to escape the questions without answers.

When I was done getting angry about the conspiracy being plotted against me, I decided to do some research on this James Braid guy, who has been dead since 1865. Of course, since everything is online, I couldn’t find anything. I checked the library catalog, and nothing. It’s remarkable how often the library never has what I’m looking for. I thought about going up to the college campus to be thorough, but I thought I better not push my luck today, what with the internet being broken and whatever.

Wikipedia, the source of information these days, says he’s a surgeon. I thought what in the world is a surgeon doing with hypnosis and trances? There’s a perfectly logical and adequate explanation, turns out. I figured he’d be more into bones and anatomy or something. I went to the library anyways to find an old fashioned encyclopedia to look this guy up. He’s also described as a “gentleman scientist.” First of all, I don’t even know what that means.

I went to my new library. I got kicked out of the Metropolitan Library System because my license changed to a Chicago zipcode. It’s not very big. I found a huge sign with REFERENCE BOOKS above a few shelves that were all empty (totally a conspiracy at this point). I walk along the wall past a dictionary opened to “Mine” and found all the encyclopedias. By “all,” I mean there were a few about Catholicism, the Great American Expansion, and Illinois. Who reads this crap? Anyways, there was nothing to help me. 

I risked going back to my old library, the one that discarded me and my library card on the curb, and checked out their reference section. Even sadder. A book on prescription and nonprescription drugs, one of the new DSM manuals, and a book of Bartlett’s Quotations. I realized that, due to the internet, nobody is probably really printing encyclopedias anymore. I just needed one printed after 1850, and I’d be golden. No such luck.

I ran a few more searches. The Chicago library had nothing on self-hypnosis. The second library did. I found the self-hypnosis books between Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Why You’re Not Married Yet. I pulled out the Idiot’s Guide first. Lo and behold! There is a section in the back telling you to check out all the pioneers in the field of hypnosis, and James Braid is one of the first. In fact, he coined the term. I was so relieved this guy was real for one thing. I summoned all my courage and went into the next book. Nothing. A self-help self-hypnosis book with a section for notes and accompanied by a CD with symbiotic messages included.

I opened up a third book, checked the bibliography. Not very impressive. No James Braid. For someone who coined the term, you’d think he’d be included. On the bright side, they were print sources, always a plus because when I opened the last book, the source she gave for James Braid was the very Wikipedia entry I had already read. However, she gave a pretty decent history, even though the Wikipedia entry is completely different (thanks, editors!). The very logical reason James Braid was into hypnosis was that he used it as an anesthetic for his patients. Calling James Braid a “surgeon” sort of reminded me of Stu from The Hangover when he tells everyone he’s a doctor, but he’s really just a dentist. That’s what Braid did. Extractions and root canals. Another source said differently. Who is this guy?

Without going back online, I cannot find anything else out about this guy, unless I do a WorldCat search, and the vendetta I have with technology extends very far back. I have a dicey browsing history, at best. I still can’t explain why these things happen to me. I found nothing that is actually helpful. Not even the books with “self-help” on the spine. I did find out that Freud cried at his first hypnosis presentation because he was convinced this was a breakthrough and major turning point in science. Then again, Freud thought a lot of things we know now that are just wrong. Plain and simple.

At the very least, James Braid is real and today, we communed. I communed with a dead guy. 

Worst Roommate Ever

There is no boyfriend application. There is no way to screen the men we let into our lives without breaking a few laws. Dating will always be a “you live and you learn” experience. In retrospect, it looks like living with a complete stranger who may or may not murder me at any moment would have been the safer alternative than moving in with a boyfriend without a contractual agreement. Tenancy laws don’t apply to relationships. The only upside to a landlord-tenant relationship is that there is a due legal process. No such recourse exists for two people living with each other, out of economic necessity or love, whichever applies.

I did the smart thing by waiting to get to know the person I was dating before we decided to move in together. He paid his half of the bills, I did all the cooking and cleaning. I paid my half of the bills, and he worked. It was a team effort. I will never forget the butterflies he gave me when he told me he liked the way I folded his shirts, that he could never do work as good as me. I had a gift. Surprisingly, it was not money that ended our non-nuptial bliss. He paid me back every cent I let him borrow. He kept leaving town without telling me. Forget an invitation, I didn’t even know he was gone. Of course, we were not married, so I had no right to know his whereabouts. His half of the bills, afterall, were paid.

Worst roommate ever.

Seeing as the waiting period with the first one didn’t work out, I thought I’d try something a little different with the next applicant and skip the screening period altogether. It just so happened that his lease was expiring and I just so happened to already have my own place I could barely afford to keep paying. It didn’t make any sense fiscally to both pay for rent neither of us could realistically afford on our own. Of course, back then I was only paying half of what I pay now. You never know how good you got it. It also just so happened that my lease expired in six months, and I thought this would be a great trial period.

It worked like a dream. It didn’t make sense to go through the trouble of putting his name on anything if things went south. I divided everything up, and he handed me the money at the end of every month. This changed. I made the mistake of putting his name on the lease with mine, and what I didn’t have to allow before, I now had to learn how to live with. Somewhere in between and much too soon, he proposed, we had a baby, and five years after sharing our first apartment, we moved into the house on Kenton. The place still haunts me.

Here is where I make the biggest mistake of my life. I don’t sign. For anything. We’re about to get married. I’ll gain my rights that way. No big deal. I hand him trust. I am about to give him my name, so I just pass all the finances over to him in the same breath because why not? He has no record to speak of. He had no bank account when I met him, no credit report, no car, and he was living in someone’s basement,  but somehow in my twisted little mind, I thought that this is how things were supposed to go. What I did was hand him the keys to my kingdom, and he usurped me. 

To this day I still don’t know how this conniving bastard managed to play me for the long con (mind you, he cooked for me), but what I do know is that he was by far, by a mile, the worst roommate I’ve ever had in my entire life. I shall tell you why.

We purchased our little fiefdom a few months before the Great Pandemic of 2020 for practical reasons: easy commute, good school districts, resaleability. Alas! We were not nestled into a corner of the kingdom with snug banners encouraging us to stay home and be safe, an irony to be sure. No, we and all the people on the south side of Chicago were in full lockdown mode, not a rare occurrence for us, what with Cook County penitentiary and escaping inmates nearby. (More benign reasons include a simple shortage in staff.) The pandemic contributed to extending this saga long past its expiration date. We were, in every sense of the word, locked down together, almost never to part. Everything happened very slowly, gradually, like cooking a frog that doesn’t yet know it’s being boiled.

For reasons I shall not explain, the wedding was called off. We found ourselves in limbo, but the pandemic proved to be a worthy enough distraction, and it all started off very smoothly. Up until that point, the castle had been mine, and only mine, during daylight hours. He crept up on me. I had spent most of the spring cleaning, as people are wont to do, and throwing away shit he still doesn’t realize is missing. He did his thing and I was doing mine, his figuring out how to work from home and me trying to figure out how to be unemployed for the first time in my life. By summer, I had won the bedroom, he took my office, where I wrote and used to do teacherish things, and we slept peacefully apart for several months. He slept on the couch. It was working out just fine. We probably could have gone on like that forever. We didn’t though.

One night we had an epic battle. By “epic,” I mean he broke my nail. He didn’t chip my nail. He didn’t break off the acrylic. He broke the whole damn thing. He pushed me, I pushed him back, and we tussled. He took my phone and my keys, so I broke down his door. Plus, he got blood, my blood, on the wall I had just finished doing touch-ups to. It took me months to pick out the precise shade of gray I wanted. I had even done the painting myself, and I thought this is no way to treat a lady. Our feelings out of the way, we were now having it out over some territory. For months, he refused to let me paint the wall in what was now my bedroom. I had to be proactive. I bought some crayons that wrote like lipstick and I scribbled all over the walls. Finally, he gave in and let me paint the wall so as to cover the mess I had made. Talk about the writing on the wall. But I was fooled. It wasn’t to be my bedroom for much longer. I had left for a short time, and when I came back, he had painted over my entire wall with a new color as if I had never even been there. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him so motivated to finish a project.

Meanwhile, we went on, avoiding fights by avoiding each other. It was working out well, here and there. If we so much as looked at each other, all hell would break loose. He’d say something like “What the hell are you looking at?” and I’d say something like “Why don’t you want to marry me,” and he’d counter with “There you go bringing up the past again.” We were merciless. He managed to avoid me most of the time by simply locking me out of the house. Whenever I wasn’t around, he’d grab my keys off the wall, take off the house key, send me on my way, and I’d come home to yet another door locked in my face. I’m not sure you’re technically allowed to kick a tenant out. At this point, I wasn’t even sure that I was a tenant. We never had a talk about what we were after the wedding was called off. I figured it was probably none of my business. He yelled at me a good while for not paying him rent. I only found out later he wasn’t paying the mortgage, and where some of my money went, I could never tell you. What is no longer a mystery is how he managed to open up two more credit cards during a pandemic. I now see clearly where funds must have been transferred.

This wasn’t nearly as grand as the furniture war. He had an obsession with moving things after I had deliberately moved them somewhere. If I had the table centered under the light, he’d push it up against the wall. If I had made a play area behind the couch for our kid, he moved it against the wall. If I put the bed somewhere we could all get some feng shui, he pushed it up against the wall. One time he even pushed me up against the wall. By that point, I already knew better than to call the useless city cops. Believe me, I tried. He was aggressive over the barest matters, too. I bought a bag of potato chips and we had yet another epic battle about what food could and could not be brought into his house.

To be fair, it was his house, as the police so kindly reminded me each time they, like him, threw me out of there. Even though that’s where I lived. He was also smarter than he looked. I woke up one night to him standing over me. I had slept in his bed while he was out partying for the night and locked the door behind me, not that this did any good. I couldn’t even tell you what the fight was about. I wake up, and he’s standing over me with a Mike’s Black Cherry in his hand (it was not even 9am yet). What is he doing in the room when I’m not even dressed? He did this to me all the time. He would just walk in while I was taking a shower or doing my make-up. This roommate had no sense of personal boundaries. He was always in my face, locking me out, or on this occasion, he very literally threw me outside at 9am.

I don’t wear pajamas to sleep.

I called the cops that time. They asked me what he was wearing. I told them what he was wearing. When he walked outside, he was wearing something different. He is no stranger to the police. Of course, I’m the hysterical one; I wasn’t wearing anything. The police kindly offered to call me an ambulance, not because I was bleeding. They told me I had to leave. To pack up my shit and leave. I did this under the eye of a sleazy ass officer. I had no idea there is no due legal process where I live. After all of this goes down, I do what any sane person does. I call the one person you can always count on to be there for you when you need him.

I called my dad. Mistake number three coming up. After the wedding is called off, after we have been in physical fights, after he lights my credit report on fire, after I step down from teaching to stay at home with our daughter, after locking me out, throwing me out, after moving all my furniture, after every microagression he throws at me, my dad says:

“I think you need to work on your relationship.”

Personally speaking, I don’t feel like I should be forced to date a roommate, but here I was, considering that I was perhaps in the wrong after all. If you wouldn’t break down a door to get back your phone and your keys, then you wouldn’t understand.

I will never have another roommate again.

Happy Anniversary, Darlings

I don’t eat shrimp. I don’t eat shrimp, and therefore I do not know how to cook shrimp. Why one day I found myself overcome by the urge to learn how to cook shrimp is a mystery I’ll never unravel. It’s remarkable how much you learn about love by first learning what it is not. I had hatched a plan to keep my boyfriend occupied at work longer than he had to be. We worked at a bar together. The whole plan backfired.

I am cooking shrimp at home into a nice sautee while he is, presumably, occupied at work. It was a special occasion. It was our anniversary. Not only was I cooking shrimp, I was grilling some filets. I had a table set. The whole cheesy nine yards, with a tablecloth I didn’t own and had to go out to buy, and some candles. I saw this on some film or another. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Shrimp is disgusting. It feels funny and it smells terrible. Finally I let my person on the inside know to send him home.

“He’s finishing a drink,” they let me know. Okay. So I waited. I waited until the food got cold. And then I waited some more. I waited until he came home too obliterated to even notice there had been a table set in the first place. This was July 17th some time in my very early days of youth.

I’ll admit, men are notorious for forgetting important dates. This has clearly been my experience. So when some other real charmer tells me he asked me out on June 1st so as not to forget the date ever, I took this as a surely good sign. I can’t say I’ve forgotten that day once in my life. His manners now stand in contrast to some more unsavory characters I’ve had the displeasure to encounter. For the first time in my life, I’ve witnessed someone with the audacity to slide into my DM (which is a direct message, if you don’t know), at 4am and ask me if I’m still awake. At four. In the morning. When clearly, this is when people sleep. He had asked to follow me, I said fine. Did he ask for my phone number?

No, no he did not. He may as well have just walked into my back door. If you don’t have my number, what makes you think I am talking to you? It blew my mind. It’s bad enough nobody leaves a calling card with your valet anymore, or writes a freaking letter. This is a whole new level of discourteousness if I’ve ever seen an instance before. No manners whatsoever. Did he stop when I asked him to? Of course not. That’s why they invented a “block” button, and the pleasure to push it was all mine.

Women are notorious for making allowances for men all the time. Which I do. All the time. Like the guy who took me out on something like a first date to pet puppies. Yes, to pet puppies which is, in theory, a great idea. If you like petting puppies. Or if you like animals at all. I’m not saying lock your dog in the car on a hot day. I’m just saying keep that barking contraption away from me. Dogs make me nervous. Yes, even the small ones. That wasn’t even the first date. It might have been. That’s not when he, I mean we, decided to start counting. The whole relationship lasted approximately two months, the time it took me to figure out how to now back out of this relationship that started in yet another situation where I hadn’t yet learned how to say no. 

It was St. Patrick’s Day. Responsible kids that we were, we decided to book a hotel room with a bar downstairs in the lobby. While everyone else was busy jumping into the pool with clothes on, him and I were somewhere upstairs, not jumping into a pool (bummer), and I guess he probably expected something else, but it didn’t happen. Here’s what happened. He asks me out. In a hotel room. Maybe a few beers deep. I don’t drink. I am sober and wishing I was getting kicked out by security downstairs. After he asks, I say yes, obviously because I have to or else leave the party, which wasn’t the plan, he says:

“Do you mind if we tell everyone it’s tomorrow, so they don’t know I asked you out on St. Patrick’s Day?” Truly, I was flattered. Blew me away, this charming rake. Hence why I spent the next two months hatching an escape plan. Red flags and all, you know. To be fair, when I did finally break it off, he showed up at my house, unannounced and uninvited, with some flowers and some candy in a tin lunch box with a picture of Spongebob on the front. I threw away the flowers and took the candy. Saying no is one thing. Getting the point across is a cutthroat endeavor.

Speaking of bad timing, no day is better to propose to someone than a mere nine months after you’ve been dating, at the beginning of a career, on your birthday. No, not my birthday. It was his birthday. I didn’t even see it coming. I had planned a birthday party. I already had a guest list. That he added to. Behind my back. Which, not surprisingly, became a theme planning the wedding. How do you say no in front of 50 people you don’t know? We had just barely moved into our own place. We did not have a conversation about this. There was a cake and everything. Saying no meant dissolving the relationship, and I wasn’t ready to do that just yet, but here was down on one knee. One of the most embarrassing videos on the internet is the whole fiasco. Me in party gear. Him ready to propose. It was nothing like I dreamed or anything I could have imagined.

That’s how I get stuck with this guy. Do I advocate living with your boyfriend before the wedding night? Absolutely not. I get stuck with this thing, with this ring on my finger. That I picked out. That I thought, cutely, he might be saving for to surprise me with one day. “One day” came a lot sooner than I expected, let me tell you. He’s done all kinds of things to the word “forever.” For example, I had been engaged forever. Like all brides, I’m thinking we’ll be married before the year is out. This is exciting. I decide we shall run away, it shall be a beach, nobody will be there (PTSD), and it would be perfect.

No. He had an ever-growing guest list our wallets couldn’t accommodate. The whole thing was a mess, not to mention I had just started a career. I didn’t have time to plan anything, to be honest, and if I’m fair, he met me on the back end of all this other shit, so he already had a train wreck to deal with in the first place. I’m not sure I remembered any of our anniversaries. Most of my thoughts were preoccupied about setting a date, one he had imposed on me, without talking to me first, and this didn’t blow over so well for him.

Here’s how “forever” works. I was with him forever, I was engaged forever, and then, I’m an almost-bride. Forever. We have all these years of history. Seven, to be exact. He verified this for me. And now we are stuck together because in one planned, and yet passionate night, we bore a love child. Since the wedding was stalled, you see. I am now stuck with this amnesiac man forever. Because he doesn’t remember anything past the last week. All of our history, erased. Non-existent. Me? I remember every last detail.

Happy Anniversary, darlings.