Sunday, July 31, 2005

Click "Yes" to Shut Down

What happens when a girl who is normally very reserved and secretive opens up to her friends?

She gets burned.

What happens when, against your better judgment, things normally kept to yourself are said aloud in confidence?

Somebody tells.

Seriously, I was unaware of the Friendship Guidebook rule that said "When telling a secret, you must preface it with 'Don't tell anybody.'" I was, apparently, also unaware of the subparagraph addendum that states, "Even if the teller says 'Don't tell anybody,' she doesn't really mean it. Feel free to tell anyone you like."

In the past week I have been burned twice by my own words. I guess I should've known better, followed my normal path and kept important, private information to myself. But I diverged from my normal route and chose to talk. I reasoned that these people are my friends, and I should be able to speak of things - all things, personal or otherwise - and know that a friend will take that information and keep it. Hold it. And never let it out. But I was wrong.

What began, in both cases, as a simple comment turned into an adult version of Telephone, where my words became more twisted with each telling. By the time the game spun back around to me, I could hardly recognize my original sentiment. But the damage had been done. Words were spoken with my name attached to them, and they bit me in the ass. Hard.

No one was hurt, except for me, and things in the lives around me have all calmed down and faded back into normalcy. Except for the things in my life. I'm left to wonder: What's the point of having friends if you can't talk to them?

It takes a great deal for me to open up. I'll tell you a million stories about my bad dates, my boring single life, work, or something embarrassing I did and never think twice about it. The pieces of my life that I offer to acquaintances are merely appetizers; they're good, but there's no real substance to them. I reserve the main courses for people I feel that I can trust. I know that they'll take and devour the dishes, never to be served again. What I don't expect is for those same entrees to be regurgitated at will and offered to another chef.

So I wade through shallow friendships, offering only enough of myself to give the friends the illusion that they know me, but keeping enough of myself to myself to ensure my privacy. Many of my friends have never, will never, see me mad at them. They've never seen me truly upset, they've never seen me cry tears of complete desperation. Those, I keep to myself. I'm never exceptionally happy or exceptionally sad. I keep my most polar emotions under wraps, for fear of being judged for them. I weed out the fair-weather friends until I come up with three or four people who I know will ride my tumultuous wave of emotions with me, and love me just the same. But when I feel secure enough with someone, the dam opens. I trust completely and spill my guts. How down I can get. My obsessions. How I really feel about so-and-so. How depressed I am, how utterly joyous. They know it all.

Usually, this system works for me. By the time I've opened up, my friend has paid his or her dues, and I'm sure that whatever I've said to them will stay with them forever, cross their heart, hope to die.

Apparently, the system has some glitches.

Because now I feel betrayed. I feel like all the progress I've made by letting a few more people into my mind has just been unraveled. I feel unraveled. And I feel myself closing up. I can see me folding in on myself, keeping all of my words light and not at all personal. I only want to talk about silly things: How much I spent at Shop Rite this weekend, the great sale I found at Express. And, conversely, I don't want to hear anyone else's problems. Normally the therapist for my friends, I found myself getting frustrated and annoyed this weekend when my advice was requested. I can't talk to anybody about MY problems, why should you be able to?

And I know right where this is headed: To complete shut down. Save for one or two people, no one will be privy to my inner thoughts. It's not healthy. It's not even fun. In fact, it makes me miserable. But I feel like I've been violated. By my own words. So I just won't speak. And it's a slippery slope from there to Laurie, is everything okay? It is a question I will be asked no less than a hundred times, when my silence is louder than my secrets. And I will lie, and say that things are fine.

When really, I'm just shutting down.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Stop Thief!

"So, do you always have your branch meetings outside of the branch?"

Our mouths were all full of the homemade cookies he'd offered when he asked, so the only responses he received were muffled giggles. The branch manager, sitting to my right, put the back of her hand up to her lips to avoid spitting out her crumbs when she laughed.

Actually, we had never ventured out of the stuffy conference room of our branch for our monthly meetings. But this month, a member of our bank's Board of Directors had invited us to tour his farm and to hold our meeting in his home. Dying to get a look at the wealthy man's digs, we eagerly accepted.

We had finally come in from a long and humid tour of the property. We spent much of the time swatting away the flies that lingered around the animals he kept, and trying to avoid getting our heels stuck in the muddy grass. But his land was beautiful, blocked off from civilization by a thick white gate and what seemed like miles of wooden fencing. Hundreds of acres of well-manicured grass rolled away from his large alabaster house, leading to dense trees surrounding small ponds. Standing on his front porch, you could see all of Milford, the houses and business reduced to small rectangles of color. It was truly breathtaking.

When we took our seats in his antique farm house's living room, his assistant offered us tea. We balanced saucers on our knees and practically held our breath to avoid spilling our drinks on what was surely a hundred-year-old rug.

I swallowed my cookie and said, "No, this is our first field trip," to respond to his question. But it seemed that no body heard me.

But, apparently somebody had. The manager had obviously finished chewing her cookie, too. "No, this is our first field trip," she said to him, loud and proud.

He laughed, and she laughed, they all laughed.

Except for me.

She stole my line. And she took credit for it when it got a chuckle.

Satisfied with "her" comment, and the thunder she effectively stole from me, she took another bite of her cookie. I sat beside her and seethed.

There are a number of things that I would consider pet peeves of mine. I hate to be told what I already know. I hate when someone speaks over me. I hate to be interrupted. I hate it when I'm telling a story and someone else, who knows the conclusion, feels the need to blurt it out before I get to it. I hate when I'm telling a joke and someone reveals the punchline before I do. But I hate, I mean really, truly loathe, when someone pawns my words off as their own. Even if they're not good.

I know it's silly, but I can't help it.


"I can't stop fucking thinking about you." He said it in a crowded bar, somewhat inebriated slightly shouting to be heard over the bad karaoke assaulting us from the speakers throughout the room. He said it in such a way that it implied helplessness; like he didn't want to thinking about me all the time, but he had no choice. And I liked it. "That's the problem," he said, reaching for his drink. "I can't get you out of my head. It's really fucking me up." I smiled, a shy quasi-smile more for myself than for him. It was luscious to hear him say that he'd been thinking of me. "Because besides this," he waved his hand around in the vicinity of my body, "really hot-thing you've got going for you...You really are incredible."

It was an admission completely out of the blue. We were talking about our booze of choice one minute, and the next, he said "I'm a good listener. We can be friends. Tell me your problems. What's on your mind?" He leaned over and rested his elbow on the sticky bar, propped his head up on his fist and tried to look like a therapist. So I said that I was thinking of how horrible the karaoke was, how weak my drink seemed to be. "What about you?" I'd said. "I'm a good listener, too, you know. What are you thinking? What's on your mind?" I have a habit of avoiding questions I don't want to answer by turning them around on the inquirer. Most people seem to prefer talking to listening...And most times, I prefer listening. I put my hand on his shoulder, his dress shirt soft beneath my palm. It was meant to illustrate a sense of camaraderie, a Hey, I'm here for you buddy move, but it was really just an excuse to touch him.

He was quiet for a second, looked at me, then back to his drink. Then back at me. Then he shook his head, pushed himself away from the bar, but he kept hands affixed to the ledge. He dropped his head between his extended arms. Then straightened back up again. I can't stop fucking thinking about you. It slammed into me, catching me completely surprise. I was sure he'd make some smartass comment about being drunk, or the youngish girls across the bar. But there it was: Me. It was me he was thinking about. A drunken proclamation of affection, enhanced by the word fuck.

It wasn't the first time a man had announced his feeling for me with the aid of an expletive. Tom had, too.

We were casually talking about our relationship, picking the words we'd use to describe how we felt about one another, but tiptoeing around the word love.







We were lying side-by-side in his house, staring up at the ceiling. I wanted desperately to say that I loved him. I even mouthed it from time to time, my lips forming the words without sound, when I was sure he wouldn't see me. The need to articulate it was that great. But my stubborn nature and my pride prevented me from saying it first. Out loud, anyway. We had been going back and forth with synonyms for what felt like hours and we'd hit a snag. Neither of us could come up with any new words. At which point, he sat up. "I fucking love you," he said. And there was that helplessness. I smiled, more for myself than for him, checked my urge to celebrate overtly, and calmly said it back. "Well thank you," I said, "I fucking love you, too."

We laughed. "I don't know why I had to say I fucking love you," he turned to face me, the smile lines around his eyes less visible in the darkness, "But, I don't know. I just...I do. Love you."

At that moment, I recalled him telling me that he had only once been the first to say I love you. It was his first love. And after that, every time the word love came up, he had never started it - he had only responded.

I felt a sense of accomplishment, both when Tom told me that he fucking loved me, and the other night when someone couldn't stop fucking thinking of me. The way they said it made me feel like I was a force beyond their control; that they could try to resist me, but I'm too enticing to not fall for. I liked that they seemed powerless to fight it, and their attempt to reclaim that power was that word. Fuck.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

My Old Kentucky Home

The five things I miss most about childhood, as required by a tag from Casey.

Running through our huge yard in Kentucky in only my purple bathing suit bottoms, hopping over the lawn sprinkler stationed smack in the center of the yard. The feel of the icy cold water against the humid air. The soggy grass between my six-year-old toes. My bowl haircut plastered to my head. Laughing unabashedly and without reason; giggling. Seeing my mom on our back porch, watching and laughing along.

The smell of Wal Mart in the few weeks before school. Carrying the list my teacher sent, dutifully crossing off #2 pencils and wide ruled notebook paper. Trapper Keepers. Trying on outfits that would carry me through the first months of school. The nerves the night before the first day, wondering if I'd get to sit next to my friends. A new backpack, full of the supplies I'd picked out myself.

The lemonade stand my neighbor and I half-heartedly ran every summer. Sitting at the end of my black-topped driveway on our sleepy street, waiting for someone - anyone - to drive or walk by in hopes that they'd like a drink from our pitcher of Countrytime Lemonade. Drinking most of it ourselves; the vast majority of our earnings due to our parents purchasing glass after glass. The huge sign we made in gigantic bubble letters to advertise our twenty-five cent price.

Our house. My mom in her flowered flannel nightgown tucking me into bed. The smell of my dad's bootpolish and Old Spice first thing in the morning before he went to work. The smell of baby powder in my brother's yellow room. The light purple walls in my bedroom. My heart-covered bedspread. My little brother carrying his stuffed animal, Kitty, through the house. The horrible pear-and-bird wallpaper in our kitchen that was left by the previous owners of the home. (Funny that I know my mom re-wallpapered because we all hated what was there, but I don't remember what she covered it with.) The couch in the living room that, with the simple propping up of the cushions and the aid of a blanket, became a fort in which I could read in complete privacy. I read a whole Babysitter's Club series on that couch one summer.

Being completely content. Never feeling like I should be doing more. Never feeling like I should be pleasing people. Never feeling that I should be smarter, prettier or more successful, being perfectly happy in my skin, belly and all. Feeling perfect just the way I was.

And, now I have to tag three people...Because them's the rules.

Dale Bentley

Friday, July 22, 2005

Guess I Need to Brush More

I've been having the strangest dreams lately. I wake up feeling anxious, disoriented and ill-at-ease.

Although I've been chalking them up to weird pre-bedtime meals and the fact that I watch bad reality TV as I tumble into sleep, I've still sought an explanation. What is going on in my mind that my subconscious is trying to reveal to me? I deduced that it has to do with the very obvious troubles in my life...

I wove an intricate web between the dreams' events and my life. I sorted out that, when decoded, I'm really only dreaming about my house being sold; the feeling that I'm being forced from the home I love; the pressure I'm getting from almost all sides to move to Florida, even though I have zero desire to move there; my constant need to please people and the fact that no matter how hard you try, someone will be left discontented; no matter how hard you try, there will always be something - even something that can be easily hidden - that slips through the cracks; the raise in my insurance rates; my fear of change; the anxiety of finding, starting and learning a new job.

I related my dreams to my mother, desperate for her corroboration. I, for some reason, wanted affirmation that my dreams were only mildly distorted images of my day to day issues. To her and my grandmother -and their culture - dreams always mean something. I needed her to shed some Serbian/gypsy light on the subject.

"So," I said to my mom after I'd detailed my very vivid dreams, "what does it mean when your teeth are rotting out of your head?" I prepared myself for her analysis; eager for it, in fact.

She laughed. "Oh honey," she said sympathetically, "that means you're sexually frustrated."

Oh. Well. Okay, then.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Danger: Rough Road Ahead

I've realized that I don't know what to write about when I don't feel sad. I don't know how to effectively communicate happiness, frustration or anger. Only sorrow and bittersweet memories. I'm beginning to think that I enjoy misery, that I'm fluent in grief.

So tonight, I sit at my computer, a dozen empty, sub-par drafts before me, reaching for words that describe mediocre events of my day just to avoid whining.

But please pardon me. I have no choice but to whine.

My house has been sold. This beautiful, wonderful building that I've called home for only five short months will soon belong to someone else. And I'm heartbroken. This place is more than just thousands of square feet of beauty flanked by spacious land and a pristine pool. It's home. Really, truly, home. I come here after a long day at work and feel comfortable, peaceful. Home. And, soon, it will be gone. Of course, it never belonged to me to begin with...But I felt it was mine. Although I may still have a place to live - a different house, but a house that does not belong to my parents - I'm already anticipating the tears that will fall when I leave here.

My bank has informed me that I will now be responsible for a chunk of my up-until-now-free-to-me health insurance. The portion I will have to pay is hefty enough so that survival on my own will be impossible. Which means that I have to either suffer through it...Or get a new job. And, clearly, to get a new job is the more practical choice. But it's at times like these that I'm confronted with my fear of change. I can concoct a million excuses to stay at a job that offers me little challenge and even less money: It's close to home, I love my boss, I love my customers, it's convenient, I know my job. But none of those excuses are going to pay my bills or feed me when I'm hungry.

I have been offered an amazing opportunity to leave Milford in exchange for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. But I've chosen to pass it up. I love Milford; I love being close to my family, to the few very close friends that I have made while living here. And I don't like Florida. But that doesn't change the fact that I don't make enough money here to survive. Nor does it change the fact that Milford doesn't offer me the opportunity to meet many new people; especially that man I've been longing to meet. So even though I may not move out of this town, I must look for a job elsewhere and commute.

I feel burdened, but rootless. Stuck, but lost.

I know what I have to do: I have take a deep breath, muster my courage and step out of my comfort zone.

But I'm terrified.

Dairy Queen

The air tonight outside the Dairy Queen was as thick as the hot fudge atop my vanilla ice cream. Chase and I sat on the ledge in front of the business, eating our late night ice cream and watching cars whiz by in the darkness. Montague, New Jersey was covered in humidity; streetlights wore halos of moisture, condensation blurred the windows of the local shops, the chugging of air conditioners filled the air. I dipped my spoon into my sundae, and lifted the gooey mix of ice cream and topping to my mouth. It was so cold, it burned.

“Whenever I come to Dairy Queen, I think of Kentucky,” I said to Chase, who was scooping up a mouthful of his ice cream.

“Why’s that?” he said, his mouth full of Banana Cream Pie Blizzard.

“Because, remember when we’d visit Maw Maw and Paw Paw, in Calvert City? We’d always go to that Dairy Queen right there on the corner.”

“Oh yeah,” he laid his spoon in the cup, shooed a summer bug away from our vicinity. “That’s right. We’d go with Josh and Justin, right?”

“Yeah,” I looked across the road, Shop Rite’s huge yellow sign stretching above treetops. “And the Dairy Queen in Hopkinsville. You probably don’t remember that one, huh?”

“Not really.”

“It was on that main drag, where Wal Mart was. Daddy used to take me there. We’d get strawberry sundaes.”

Chase’s red plastic spoon scraped his cardboard cup, searching for more Blizzard, and I realized that in those other Dairy Queens, in Kentucky, Chase and I didn’t get along. This was, perhaps, the first time we’d visited the franchise together willingly.

We’ve finally come full circle, from the sibling rivalry of our youth, to the best friends we are today.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

...And I Imagine I'll Never Stop

Whenever I see a sapphire Honda Civic, or a gunmetal gray Honda Accord, I will think of you. I will think of driving with you through Northeastern Pennsylvania on curvy roads, under a canopy of trees, my stomach fluttering with excitement. Whenever I pass an omnipresent Wal Mart, I will think of you. I will think of how crazy I was over you, how the intangibility of us kept that craziness around for a long, long time. Too long. I will think of how Wal Mart was the first place we ever went together, and how it may also prove to be the last. Whenever someone speaks of France, I will think of you. I will think of getting that letter from you when you were there for that year, the Air Mail postage adhered to the outside of your thick envelope, of reading that letter over and over again, searching for a clue that you missed me. I will think of the call, at Christmastime, when you called me from the Alps, where you were skiing with your brother. When I knew I was about to be engaged, but didn’t want to tell you. We talked for a few moments over trans-Atlantic phone lines, the two of us so far away from one another, but somehow still connected. I will think of the last few minutes of that call, thinking that there was something left unsaid. I will think that there was always something left unsaid. Whenever I see LaBatt’s Blue, I will think of you. I will think of you, caressing that bottle across from me, at various tables at various times. The taste of it in your kiss. The way it opened you up, let you talk about our history, our mysterious bond, openly and without reservation. Or maybe that wasn’t the LaBatt’s. I will think of you every time I pass the Dimmick Inn & Steakhouse. I will think of you every time I drive through the Woodlands. I will even think of you when I hear Marilyn Manson. I will think of you when I pass the turns for the Lackawanna House and the Boat House, our restaurants of choice, tucked deep in the woods and away from the prying eyes of the people we knew in Milford. I will think of driving to each one, smoking too many cigarettes with my dry, nervous mouth, not even able to sing along with the radio. Too anxious. I will think of seeing you for the first time again, once a year, for six years, and never losing whatever it was that drew me to you. I will think of you saying you could never say goodbye to me. But you did.

Whenever I see a Subaru, I will think of you. I will think of the stories you told me and your friends about “The Tick,” the horrific, yellowed Subaru you relied onto get you to and from high school. Whenever I hear “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child, I will think of you. I will think of driving down Routes 6 & 209 with you in my Mazda Navajo, singing along to that ridiculous song, where I was Beyonce and you were Michelle. And I will think of remembering that moment, months later after we broke up. Having it break my heart, because you were the one man who would be silly enough to sing with me. Recalling that moment, I questioned our decision. Whenever I see Copenhagen, I will think of you. I will think of how disgusting it was, how much I loathed the lump in your lip and the bottle you carried as a makeshift spittoon. But I will think of how funny it was when the hunk of tobacco would separate in your mouth, invading the small gaps in your teeth, and how I laughed. I will think of you packing the can, the thump of your forefinger on the lid. Your smile. Whenever I smell Eddie Bauer’s Adventure, I will think of you. I will think of your hairy chest, fresh from the shower, smelling of soap and that cologne. I will think of your little black Dop Case, or whatever you called it, stuffed full of your products. None of which you used. I will think of your shirts, your Army uniforms and your civilian clothes, that smelled like Adventure for weeks after they were worn. You left a mark, a trail, of where you’d been that smelled sweet and masculine at the same time. Whenever I am in the Galleria at Crystal Run, that horrible shopping mall in Middletown, I will think of you. I will remember stealing moments together there, that sliver of time between your last class and your curfew that was all mine. I will think of watching out for the close-cropped haircuts of other military men, hoping to avoid them to avoid your being caught blowing post. I will remember that movie theater, those halls, as our own. Whenever I think of, see, or hear about West Point, I will think of you. I will think of meeting you in that tiny coffee shop, in your gray Ass for Class, cradling a latte, that you didn’t even want, in one hand and your cap in the other. The smell of sweet coffee will forever remind me of you. I will think of the white benches in front of that shop, where you’d wait for me to finish with customers. I will think of Thayer Hall, of walking through West Point’s history with you, your uniform crisp, your hair freshly cut, hold hands even though Public Displays of Affection weren’t allowed. I will think of the angle of your jaw, your stubborn five o’clock shadow, your ink-stained fingers. I will think of Flirty Walk, how we would park right next to the entrance every night to spend our last moments of the day together. I will think of the trees, the Hudson River lapping at West Point's banks, the nose of my car pointed toward the opposite shore. We kept one eye on the night sky, and one eye on the clock – We didn’t want you to be late. I will recall the buildings and their countless ghost stories, unsure of which ones were sincere, and which were passed down from class to class as folklore. But I will know for certain that those buildings are haunted with memories of us. I will remember when they were repaving the sidewalks by the library, and how we etched "David + Laurie, 2001” in the wet, blue-gray concrete. We wanted to come back and see it in 10, 20, 30 years. The next day, it had been smoothed over. I will think of our first date at the baseball field. I will think of the cannons, of five o’clock Taps, of the PX, of the Commissary, of Dong Fong Chinese, of Central Area. I will think of watching you collect your diploma, of watching your mother pin you as a Second Lieutenant. I will think of you telling me that you’d love me forever. And know that you meant it.

Whenever I see a forest green Pontiac Bonneville, I will think of you. I will think of our first date, sitting on Milford Beach, and looking out over the water. I will recall the desire to be kissed by you, and the knowledge that you were withholding that from me. I will see later that it was foreshadowing. Whenever I see signs for Branchville, New Jersey, I will think of you. I will think of visiting your mother, your grandmother, and wishing that I was an in-law; wishing I could be introduced as more than a girlfriend. Whenever I think of Boston, I will think of you. I will think of the aquarium, of the penguins. I will think of shopping in Macy’s, because neither of us packed properly for the cold weather, and how I found the perfect black pea coat. I will think of George Peabody – the stuffed animal baby penguin we’d purchased at the aquarium, who we named after the expressway – and how he sat in my cup holder for months, and then I gave him to you to you…and how he was lost that same year. I will think of Salem, of taking the ghost tour, of wanting desperately to be scared and how let down we were. “Some say this building is haunted…but some say it’s not,” the tour guide said, and we laughed the whole way through, cuddling together to avoid the chilly air. I will remember stopping into a brewery when the tour was over, buying pumpkin beer and sitting among the locals, our noses and cheeks numb from the cold, laughing already at the memory of the tour. Whenever I hear Dire Straits, I will think of you. I will remember teasing you for loving the music from the eighties, even though – secretly – I love it, too. I will think of how much you love Mark Knofler, and how I always called him Ralph Nader or Dolf Lundgren just to get under your skin. I will think of Flock of Seagulls and the Human League, and how those groups were a picture of your life in what you considered to be your best times. Whenever I put hoop earrings in my ears, I will think of you. I will think of how I never even wore earrings until you came around. But when I found out how much you loved them, I started to wear them every day. For you. I will wonder if you ever noticed. I will note that I still wear earrings every day; that I feel naked without them. Whenever I think of a vacation to Las Vegas, I will think of you. I will think of our annual weeklong trips there, of our rented convertible speeding along Pecos, going from the Strip to Green Valley. I will think of looking at houses, and seriously considering how I would tell my parents I was going to move with you to Vegas. I will think of how I should’ve known that I needn’t have bothered with the worrying. I will think of how badly I wanted to move there with you, how desperately I wanted you all to myself, in a city where neither of us knew any one. I will think of how sure I was that we could have made it if we had been there. I will also think of how I loved to travel with you. How I always felt safe with you, how I knew that you would never get me lost, how you always made us blend in; you never did look like a tourist anywhere. Whenever I see a Siberian Husky, I will think of you. I will think of sitting on a park bench in Milford’s park, coming up with the name that we would bestow upon our Husky. Puck, we could call him. Like a hockey puck. And I will think of how we thought the Welsh Corgi I wanted – whose name would be Ernie – would be so cute with Puck. How they would be brothers. They would be our trial children. I will think of how we talked about Puck & Ernie for years, how cute they would be, their little paws moving them through our house. And then I will think of how I found the perfect Husky and drove an hour to your house to pick you up to drive you the hour back for you to meet him. I will think of how you fell in love with him just as quickly as I did, and how you bought him right there. I will think of how I saw that to be the sign that our future together was sealed. “You’re his mom,” you said, putting your credit card down to buy him. And I believed you. I will think of how, later, I would be jealous of that same dog, because you were willing to commit to him, but not to me. I will think of how it hurt to know that you were willing to devote time and sacrifice to a four-legged creature, but not to me. I will think of you every time I sit in the car that you helped me buy, I will think of you every time that I listen to the satellite radio that you gave me for Christmas, I will think of you every time I wear the stilettos that you were so fond of. I will remember you telling me you loved me, and I will know that, in your own way, you really did.

Whenever I drink wine, I will become nostalgic. I will think of the three of you, remembering the hurt and the sadness, but knowing that I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the joy I felt when I was with you. I will think of how my time spent with each of you has shaped me into the woman I am today, and how grateful I am for that. I will think of the laughter, the unconditional love, the utter desire, and know that I’ve experienced more in the matter of a few years than many experience in a lifetime. And I will always be thankful for that.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Love Stories

He's a huge hulk of a man, who lumbers to my desk roughly once every two months. He was a customer of mine at my previous bank, and he brought one of his small accounts over to my new bank, just because, he said, "it's nice talking to you."

He owns a small and minimally successful excavating and construction company in our tiny town, and comes in covered in dirt and grime. His once white socks have long since turned Crayola's burnt sienna, his gray t-shirts muddy brown in random places. In the summertime, he's always sweaty, a ring of perspiration meandering down the front of his shirt, from his neck to his belly button. His thick fingers, topped by wide fingernails, have dirt imbedded so deeply in them that it's possible his hands may never look clean.

When I first met him, well over five years ago, he scared me. His height, his attitude, his constant expression that says stay away from me...They all kept me from wanting to know him at all. But after his daily trips to my drive-thru window, I had no choice but to get to know him. And like him.

Little by little, in our daily exchanges, little pieces of our lives spilled through the drive-thru's speaker. My engagement, his marriage, my school, his business, my recent move from Vegas, his numerous children. We came to know each other in sections, little segments of our lives that were revealed almost accidentally.

When he came in yesterday, sweat shining on his sunburned forehead and wearing his uniform of dust-covered clothes, it was nice to see him. It had been a long while since he'd been in.

"Hey, Joe!" I chirped from my desk when I saw his huge frame duck through the doorway. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Busy, Laurie. Busy." He plopped into the chair before me, sighing to punctuate his exhaustion.

"What's going on?"

"Well, Stephanie just had another baby." His whole face beamed when he told me. "Our fifth."

"Five kids?" I asked, in feigned shock. "Joe, you guys really have to get a TV or something."

He laughed. "I know."

"No really," I said, "that's so great. Congratulations."


"I think your wife is eligible for sainthood now, with five kids and you to deal with on a daily basis.”

“Oh yeah, but she was eligible a long time ago.”

He then launched into the history of his relationship with his wife.

How they met, and how he thought there was no way he’d have a chance with woman like her. How he asked out on a date and was shocked when she said yes. How he knew she was The One as soon as they started dating. But how he thought he could keep up his wild ways – staying out too late, drinking too much – even though he was dating her. How they were going to a wedding when they were dating for mere months and she was taking too long to get ready, and he decided he was going out to the bar instead of sitting around and waiting for her. “Oh no you’re not,” she said. But he turned around to leave anyway. And she smacked him in the back of the head with the iron she was using on her dress for the evening. And how he sat down, rubbing the bruise on his skull, and said “I guess I’ll just wait right here.” How that moment was the moment he knew she wasn’t going take his shit. How he proposed. How they were engaged after a year of dating, then married five years after that. How they’ve been married for thirteen years, but together for nineteen. How he wakes up every day and wonders how he ever got so lucky. How his friends still ask him how he managed to get a woman like her, and how he always answers “Luck.” How he has her on a pedestal. How he doesn’t make enough money to take care of her like she deserves, but how he would do anything in world for her if she only asked.

Looking at the two of them, you’d never put them together.

He’s rough and loud, gruff, rowdy and brisk. He’s tall and wide and strong, a working man. He’s imposing and intimidating, towering over most people he encounters.

She’s petite. Soft-spoken and gentle, she offers smiles that reveal dimples that hide in her soft cheeks until coaxed out of hiding. She’s polite and courteous, delicate in every way.

But they fit.

“Do you know that song, Big Bad Bill, by Van Halen?” he continued. I shook my head no. “Well, it’s about a guy who’s wild and crazy and everyone calls him Big Bad Bill, until he meets this girl and he changes. They start calling him Sweet William instead. That’s my song. My kids sing it to me, only they change Bill to Joe and William to Joey. She changed my life, Laurie, in all the best ways.”

I was mesmerized, enthralled by the story of polar opposites finding each other. Of this giant of a man at the mercy of such a slight woman.

It was so nice to hear his story. Nicer still to think that not all love stories are unattainable or end in tragedy. And that some, at nineteen years, are only just beginning.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

It's Getting Late

Well, I have lost the same post twice.

It's almost two thirty in the morning, and I am too upset with Blogger and the internet and my computer and whatever other evil forces are conspiring to keep me from posting tonight to attempt another one. AND I am too tired.

So, instead, I will post my song. You know, the song that you feel was written just for you; the one that you can listen to a million times and never grow tired of it; the one you can crank up to full blast in your car with the windows down, and belt it out at the top of your lungs and feel somehow cleansed by the end of the song? Or maybe that's just me.

Kelly Clarkson, Hear Me

You gotta be out there
You gotta be somewhere
Wherever you are
I'm waiting
'Cause there are these nights when
I sing myself to sleep
And I'm hopin' my dreams
Bring you close to me
Are you listening?

Hear me
I'm cryin' out
I'm ready now
Turn my world upside down
Find me
I'm lost inside the crowd
It's getting loud
I need you to see
I'm screaming for you to please
Hear me

Can you hear me?
Hear me

I used to be scared of
Letting someone in
But it gets so lonely
Being on my own
No one to talk to
And no one to hold me
I'm not always strong
Oh, I need you here
Are you listening?

Hear me
I'm cryin' out
I'm ready now
Turn my world upside down
Find me
I'm lost inside the crowd
It's getting loud
I need you to see
I'm screaming for you to please
Hear me

I'm restless and wild
I fall, but I try
I need someone to understand
Can you hear me?
I'm lost in my thoughts
And baby I've fought
For all that I've got
Can you hear me?

Hear me
I'm cryin' out
I'm ready now
Turn my world upside down
Find me
I'm lost inside the crowd
It's getting loud
I need you to see
I'm screaming for you to please
Hear me

Monday, July 11, 2005

Looking Back to Friday

Friday, I actually woke up in a good mood. I was early for work, I was cheery, I laughed a lot all day. I was excited about my plans for the evening, and was looking forward to a night out with friends. I worked from 9 until 5 and didn't bitch about anything. I was really happy.


The unfortunate part of the day came just after work. As I pulled up to my house, I saw that my driveway was full of cars: Three, to be exact. One belonged to the realtor and two belonged prospective buyers for the lovely home I call my own. I hated them instantly. Not only because they may buy "my" house (I say "my" because I do not own it - Joe does - but I like to pretend to claim ownership.), thereby kicking me out of it...But also because they were blocking my spot in the garage. My hatred of them was only compounded when I entered the house to be greeted by five adults (including the realtor) and by not one, not two, but SIX children...

Now, I really like children. I've always wanted to have one or two of my own. But I had been working all day, and the children were not my own (or my adorable Godson, Adrian), and they did nothing but scream from the moment I walked through the door. These were not cries of pain, but rather shrieks of joy, merriment and excitement. Maybe it was because they liked the sounds of their voices, maybe it was because of the suprisingly excellent acoustics in this large house...Or maybe it was just because they knew how much it pissed me off to hear children screaming after a long day at work...But they were relentless.

After introducing me to most of the clan, the realtor suggested I head upstairs while they finished checking out the house. Then, to my horror, down the stairs came the man of the family. He's one of my customers! It freaks me out that my customer now knows not only where I live, but also what my room looks like. I was completely skeeved out. But I said a gracious hello, then joked that the fine print of the sales contract dictates that I come with the house.

"Oh!" The mother of the brood laughed. "Do you babysit?"

I forced a smile. "Uh, ha-ha. That's not in the contract." I gave a halfhearted laugh and excused myself to head upstairs.

I needed to change out of my work clothes and into something more casual, so I picked out an outfit, and started to change. Only I couldn't. Because I was conscious of the eleven strangers wandering around downstairs AND the fact that my bedroom door doesn't have a lock. I just couldn't chance my customer coming upstairs and seeing me naked. So I hustled into the bathroom where, thankfully, there is a lock. Because - wouldn't you know it - as soon as I took off my pants, the doorknob was jiggled. "Is the lady in there?" one of the adults asked. "I think so," replied another.

Yes, obviously the "lady" is in here! I wanted to scream. But, instead, I offered a timid, "Yeah." and they giggled out an apology and moved on through the hallway.

Once my transformation from Work Day to Early Friday Night was complete, I emerged from the bathroom and headed into my room, where I intended to wait out their visit. But they just kept staying. While her kids continued to scream just for the sake of screaming downstairs, I heard the woman of the family choosing rooms. "This will be Nicole's room. And that will be little Bobby's room..." and a territorial anger swelled within me. No! That is NOT Nicole's room! That is the room I use as a closet! And Bobby can't have that other room because it's next to Joe's room! "This," she said, poking her head into my large room, "could be a guest room...Oops, I'm sorry, hon," she said when she saw me. "I didn't realize you were in here." She smiled and went back down the hallway, but I was seething. This is MY room. Not a guest room!

The herd plodded back down the stairs and opened the door to the back yard. I thought that I would be allowed a few moments of silence as they all filed outside. But I was wrong. The parents yelled to one another across the pool. The kids chose the portion of the backyard just beneath my window to continue their screaming match. I cringed. I live for the time spent in my silent house. I love this place so much. It is truly my sanctuary. And the screeching outside was wrecking it. I hated them. I hated them all.

So the good mood of earlier in the day had vanished, giving way to a more worrisome attitude. What will I do if the house sells? I love this house. Where will I go? And so it was no surprise that I cured what ailed me by heading out to the Garden of Eden's Fourth Anniversary Celebration, to lose myself in a night of friends, blues music and vodka.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mama Said...

...To always dress so that people notice you, not your clothes.
...That her grandmother told her that when it's sunny and raining at the same time, a witch is being born. And every time the sun literally shines through the rain, I think of her.
...That I deserve the best.
..."Squirreler" instead of "squirrel" when she first came to this country. Something about the translation from Serbian to English made her add an extra syllable. My father thought it was hilarious, and when they were first married, he'd point to squirrels in their yard and say "What's that?" She'd answer "Squirreler" and he would just laugh and laugh. Still, she has to concentrate when she says the word.
...That the older a woman gets, the shorter her hair should be.
...That I am "so special," I'm like "a drop of water in the desert."
...To wear makeup so that it looks like you're not wearing any.
...That everyone looks more beautiful when they smile.
...Something that sounded like "Pom-ed-e-say" every time she said something she didn't want to happen to her. Then she's move her butt in her seat, and command me to do the same, to prevent being cursed by whatever hardship she'd just spoken of. I do the same thing.
...Her husband is the greatest man she's ever known.
...She listened to Motown hits on full blast as she drove for her checkups when she was pregnant with me. She thinks that's why I love the Soul classics so much.
..."The key to looking young as you get older is gaining weight. The fat fills in the wrinkles." She followed it with peals of laughter.
...She would do anything for her kids.
...She adores her husband.
...She was too poor as a kid to afford sweets when she was a child in Serbia, and that's why our fridge is always stocked with goodies: She wants to give her kids everything she was never able to have.
...Although her childhood was haunted by poverty, it was rich and full of love.
...To always want the best.
...She would gladly going without the things she wants if it meant she could give to her children.
...That I always have somewhere to live, no matter how old I am.
..."I know what will make you feel better," when I had a horrible day. "Chicken paprikash with egg noodles. And lima beans." She was always right.
...That she fell in love with me the moment she saw me. I fell in love with her then, too.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Replacement Fairy

9:00 exactly I sprinted into work, desperate to NOT be late for the third day in a row this week.

9:01 I clocked in.

9:02 I was snagged by a customer as I walked to my desk, purse over my shoulder, bag full of lunch and bills and calendar in my hand, umbrella under my arm and suit jacket draped over my other arm. "Laurie, could you tell me the balance in my account?" I looked around at the other women with whom I share an office: All doing nothing. "Everybody seems busy, would you mind?" he asked. "Uh, sure." I said, dropping my belongings in a heap on my desk. "You'll just have to give me a minute. I just got here, so I have to turn on my computer..." He wrinkled his forehead. "I'm in a hurry," he said curtly. "So, could you, you know, speed it up?"

9:07 After I had turned on my computer, given my lovely customer his balance and put my purse and other work accoutrements away, I went into the kitchen to fill my water bottle with cool, purified water from the water cooler.

9:08 I realized the water jug in the cooler was empty.

9:09 After replacing said water jug, I filled my liter-bottle and went to grab a Styrofoam cup from which to drink the water.

9:10 There were no cups.

9:12 After searching through the employee lounge and locating a giant box of new cups, pulling out a sleeve of them to keep on the counter and taking one for myself, I returned to my desk.

9:15 Two coworkers passed my desk and headed into the kitchen, only come back out with their own water bottles filled. I wonder why they didn't do that before I got there?

9:20 I printed out my daily reports - Overdraft lists, past due loans, maturing lines of credit.

9:21 I walked across the bank to the printer to retrieve said reports....And was greeted with a message on the LCD panel of the printer: "Tray 3 Empty - Please fill Tray 3 with Letter-Size Paper."

9:23 Once I refilled the paper, five emails that were not mine emerged before the pages I printed did. A supervisor in the branch came out of her office. "Oh, did you put paper in?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "Oh good," she said. "I was waiting for some emails I printed."

10:00 Back into the kitchen I went to eat my mid-morning oatmeal. I emptied the packet of Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal (strawberries and cream this morning - I buy the variety packs to mix things up) into a Styrofoam cup, filled the cup with the appropriate amount of water, and reached for a spoon to stir. There were none.

10:02 I located the spoons, not surprisingly, in the same place we keep all the excess spoons. And, coincidentally, all seven of my coworkers (who I'm sure use the plastic spoons from time to time) know where the extra spoons are located.

10:30 Upon finishing my first liter of water for the day, I headed to the little girls' room. Where I was greeted by toilet paper roll with one square of toilet paper left on it.

12:00 Feeling hungry, I lifted the apple I brought with me from my bag and sauntered into the kitchen to cut it up into bite-size pieces (to make it easier to bring it back to my desk with me and eat there). I washed it. I cut it up and placed the cubes of apple into one of the cups I had placed on the kitchen counter earlier that morning. I reached for a fork to bring out with me. You guessed it: No fucking forks.

12:02 I located the forks. Where they always are. Right next to the spoons. And, no, this is not a secret holding-tank of forks. I am not the only one with access to this treasure trove of utensils.

So this got me thinking: Do my coworkers think that the supplies, the water, the toilet paper magically refill themselves? They're all grown women over forty with families of their own; I would think they'd understand the concept of "Used the last of it? Okay then: Refill it!" But apparently not.

Or did someone just nominate me for the job and forget to tell me? Because if they'd have told me I'd be running around restocking the kitchen, bathroom and printer for these folks, I totally would've called in sick.

A Home

My hour of kickboxing was finally over. Linda instructed us to lie down on our backs, to stretch our tired and tense bodies. I extended my hands above my head, pushed me legs away from my torso. I felt the stretch in my tight abdomen, in my cramped hamstrings, my sore arms.

Linda stepped over me on her way to the stereo. She told us to take deep breaths, in through our noses and out through our mouths. She stopped the hyped-up dancing music we'd been kicking and punching to for the last sixty minutes and replaced it with something softer for stretching.

It was live. Guitars. A familiar melody that I couldn't quite place.

"Extend your right leg," she directed, and I followed, putting my sneakered-foot into the air and feeling the stretch in my calf. I tried to focus on the elongation of my muscle, but couldn't stop trying to figure out the song.

As I placed my right leg over my left, just like Linda told me to, the words began. The singing commenced and I knew the song.

I sang along to the Dixie Chicks, and I cried right there in the gym. I thanked God that the sweat on my face would mask the silent tears that fell.

I was thinking of you.

I mistook the warnings for wisdom
From so-called friends quick to advise
Though your touch was telling me otherwise

Somehow I saw you as a weakness
I thought I had to be strong
Oh, but I was just young,
I was scared,
I was wrong

Not a night goes by
I don't dream of wandering
Through the home that might have been
And I listened to my pride
When my heart cried out for you
Now every day I wake again
In a house that might have been
A home

Guess I did what I did believing
That love is a dangerous thing
Oh, but that couldn't hurt any more than never knowing

Not a night goes by
I don't dream of wandering
Through the home that might have been
I listened to my pride
When my heart cried out for you
Now every day I wake again
In a house that might have been
A home
A home

Four walls,
a roof,
a door,
some windows
Just a place to rest when my working day is through
They say home is where the heart is
If the exception proves the rule I guess that's true

Not a night goes by
I don't dream of wandering
Through the home that might have been
I listened to my pride
When my heart cried out for you
Now every day I wake again
In a house that might have been
A home
A home

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Fireworks at Ft. Campbell

By the time we were halfway to Matamoras, it was clear we were going to miss the fireworks.

From the backseat of Pollo's Honda Civic, I saw the bright flash of green, the explosion in mid-air.

"I thought you said they started at 10:30," Chuck said to Pollo, his body turning his body away from the steering wheel toward her. The clock said 10:20.

"I'm positive that's what I was told," she replied from her seat in the back next to me.

"Who told you?" Chuck's mother asked from the front passenger seat.

"One of the ladies at work."

Another explosion, gold, popping up from behind treetops. I ducked down in my seat so that I could see them more clearly through the windshield.

"I think they started at ten," Chuck said.

"No, I'm sure they started at 10:30," Pollo maintained.

"Obviously, they didn't," Chuck's mother countered.

They continued to argue about the time the fireworks were supposed to start, then moved on to where they looked like they were coming from. But I wasn't interested in their familial fireworks; I was interested in the ones stretching above Pennsylvania.

I willed the car to move faster, the traffic to clear so that we could get there - To stand in a crowd of people in the black night, our necks craned, staring into the sky. Just seeing them from the backseat of Pollo's car took me back to childhood.

Every year, Ft. Campbell had a Fourth of July Carnival, and every year my family went. In my memory, I can't be more than eight or nine. Chase is a toddler. Our family of four arrives in the gravel parking lot of the carnival, the Ferris Wheel reaching high above the bluegrass state's tall trees. From the parking lot, I can hear the tinny music coming from the rides, smell the smoky-sweet aroma of the concession stand. I push my way out of the back seat of our Mazda 626, eager to get to the fair.

My Keds tennis shoes hit the gravel of the parking lot, and it's all I can do to wait for the rest of my family to be ready to head in. My mom pries Chase from the backseat, and I grab my daddy's hand, hopping up and down, dying to get inside, excited to be close enough to hear it.

Chase is too young to be excited about the rides, but he's hypnotized by all the lights peeking through the trees that surround the fairgrounds. My father pops the trunk and unloads our picnic blanket, laughing at his two kids whose attention can't be turned from the just-out-of-our-reach fair.

We traipse through the parking lot, gravel and dried grass and twigs crunching beneath our feet. I don't shut up about wanting to be inside already. My dad laughs, his mustache curling upwards and revealing his crooked teeth. My mom chuckles, too, her eyes crinkling with laughter.

When the ticket booth comes into view, Chase and I want to lunge for it. "Stay here guys," my mom calls after us. "Michael," she says, addressing my father but watching our little bodies move away from her, "make sure they don't go too far."

"Hey guys," my dad calls, the smile in his voice evident. Chase and I turn our blue eyes to him. "Stay right there and wait for us." We couldn't have been more than two yards ahead of our parents, but to them, in that huge crowd, it must've seemed like a mile.

The four of us walk together to the yellowed booth to get our wrist bracelets from the big lady behind the glass. I wait for my dad to pay, my eyes taking in all the bright lights, the people, the noise. It's intoxicating. Dad pulls money from the pocket of his cutoff jean shorts, his deep voice requesting four wristbands in his thick southern drawl.

Once the plastic wristband is fastened onto my tiny wrist, I'm a madwoman. I want to ride every ride, I want hurl darts at balloons to win a stuffed animal. I want to get a ping-pong ball into a tiny goldfish bowl. I want to go down the huge slide.

Chase and I get cotton candy - I always get pink, he always gets blue. "Boy's color," he calls it. We hold the cardboard sticks topped with the fluffy tornado of sugar, our fingers instantly sticky as we pull wispy strands from the hunk of cotton to stuff in our mouths. Chase bares his teeth, revealing blue-tinited enamel. I stick out my tongue to show that it's turned hot pink.

The four of us walk through the narrow alleys between rides and vendors, taking in all of our surroundings. My mom has to hold tight to Chase - he was known to run off - but I walk along side of my parents, feeling like a big girl that no one has to hold my hand.

A stuffed animal, hot dogs for four and countless rides later, it's time to make our way to see the fireworks. Tons of military families make their way to a huge field to take their seats. Daddy lays out the picnic blanket so that we can all sit and not worry about the scratchy grass on our bare legs. We settle in, preparing to see the display. I rub my palms together excitedly and look at my mom. "When do they start?" I ask, eager to see them right now.

My mom smiles at me. She finds my giddy anticipation comic. "Just a minute, Doodlebug. Get ready." Chase crawls into her lap, and I sit cross-legged, staring at the sky, waiting.

The beginning of the show is marked by a cannon's explosion. I hadn't expected it, so I jump, startled. I laugh raucously. Chase, however, is terrified, and buries his face in my mom's chest.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand for the National Anthem."

And so we do. My family and hundreds of others push themselves up from the ground and face the huge flag at the end of the field. We dutifully put our hands over our hearts as a trumpet cries The Star Spangled Banner. I know I'm supposed to be looking at the flag, but I look around instead. My dad has removed his 101st Airborne cap and is standing at Attention, instead of with his hand over his heart. I do the same. I look at him again, careful to note exactly how he's standing, wanting to be sure I do it right. I look back at the flag until the song is over.

We squat and sit back on our blanket, and I keep my young face lifted to the black Kentucky sky, and before I know it, I hear the hiss and pop of the first firecracker of the evening. Bright gold and red, exploding just above our heads. I feel the boom in my chest, through my body. It's frightening and delicious at the same time.

One after another, streamers of fire shoot into the air and fan out into giant waterfalls of light. It looks like someone has tossed handfuls of diamonds into the sky, and I'm riveted. The sparks cascade through the night, leaving white smoke behind - ghosts of the display they once were. I look for the smoke every time; that split second between the end of a firework and the beginning of a new one where the sky is just light enough to see them.

The crowd "oohs" and "aahs" all the way through, I giggle and clap my hands. I look at my dad to make sure he's watching, too. He smiles down at me. I look at my mom, collect a smile from her, too. Chase, however, isn't smiling, he's resumed the position he took at the cannon's first appearance: His face in my mom's chest, peeking out from time to time.

And then, the Grand Finale. Explosion after explosion after explosion. Red and White and Blue. Purple and gold, green and red, silver and blue. As soon as one bursts open, another follows suit, filling the whole sky with color and light. It looks like daytime. My senses are full: The bright light, the smell of smoke and gunpowder, the thick sound of the explosion, the way it reverberates in my chest. It feels so hearty. So real.

Chase screams, his tiny hands over his tiny ears. His wail is piercing. He's terrified. But I can hardly hear him over all of the explosions. I watch knowing that each one I see may be the last, so I keep my face up toward the sky at all times, bathing my features in the glow of the fireworks. I never want it to stop.

But before I know it, they have stopped. I take a deep breath and inhale the faint smoke in the air, while my mom calms my brother.

"Did you like that, Sweetie?" My dad puts his big hand on the top of my head and tousles my black hair.

"Yeah," I say, dreamily.

My mom smiles at me over Chase's head. "I'm glad," she says sweetly.

I hop off of the blanket and Daddy folds it up, tucks it under his arm, and we make our way back to the car. Suddenly, I'm exhausted, tired from all the excitement. And as soon as we're in the car, I fall asleep.

Tonight, I spent the Fourth with my family again, only we didn't go anywhere to take in fireworks. My little brother and I went out and picked up fireworks of our own. And like two little kids, we grew impatient when it was still light out. We set off smoke bombs and snakes to tide us over until darkness fell. And as soon as it was dark enough out, we brought out the big guns. But, unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, the "big guns" can't fly. So we watched as Killer Bees and Lava Cones shot sparks into the air. We waited for the whistles that came at the beginning and the huuussssshhhhhh that came when it fizzled out. As mom and dad looked on from their chairs on the porch, Chase lit each one then ran back to stand at my side. And we "ooohed" and "aaahed." I still giggled and clapped.

"Do you remember when you had to light the fireworks for them?" my mom said to my dad as Chase lit my sparkler. Her words were full of memories.

"Yeah. Yeah I do," he answered, the smile on his face suggesting that he might just miss it.

I do, too.

All grown up... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Damn Me and My Big Mouth

I walked into a fancy store today in my new strapless, striped green & white dress. The two sales ladies said, almost in unison, "I love your dress!"

Where a normal person would've just said thank you, especially when surrounded by $120 jeans and $100 handbags...I said "Thank you! TJ Maxx!"

"Did you say 'Two bucks?'" One lady said.

So I was forced to say it again, louder and more clearly this time. "No. Uh, I said TJ Maxx."

Why not just say it: I am obviously cheap and cannot afford anything in this store, so do not waste your time trying to sell me anything because I'm clearly out of my league and just browsing at things I can't have.

Then, later, as I was looking at a new pair of sunglasses for myself, one of those same salesladies pointed at my ring: A huge light pink gem surrounded by diamonds. "Oh my God! That's so beautiful! Tell me that's real!" And what did I say? "No." I told her it was fake. I followed it up by volunteering that I got the ring at TJ Maxx, too.

Can't I just keep my mouth shut for once and simply say thank you?