Category Archives: first impressions

Progress? Who knows….

Tonight I learned how to make Christmas cards with two friends of mine and about ten other women at our local library.

While checking out one of the card-making stations set up by the instructor, I recognized a woman carrying a cane who came in along with two other younger women.  She was the mother of one of the girls who, in junior high school, made my life a living hell for several months.

At the end of eighth grade and beginning of ninth grade, I was the main character in one of those two-against-one-best-friends-betray-a-weaker-friend-mean-girls-scenarios that you see portrayed in so many movies, TV shows, commercials and… cold-blooded crime shows.

Of course, since it is my story, there is so much more to it than that.  But for now I’d rather just write about tonight.

When I saw the mother walk in, I quickly assessed if her daughter was with her and I didn’t see her at first.  So I thought, good.

It turned out, however, that I was wrong.  As everyone seated themselves for the class and got comfortable, it turned out that indeed, the “evil one” was going to make Christmas cards, too.

It did not occur to me to leave, so we’ll call that progress.  And I did not have an anxiety attack, also progress.  I did decide to avoid being near her, which meant a certain amount of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not too sure how to grade that one.  Maybe it was just some good, old-fashioned self-care.

If I had never met this person before, and knew nothing about her, I’d be under the impression that she was a nice woman who was close to her mother and enjoyed some of the same things I do.  All that might even be true to a certain extent.  I mean, we were actually friends for a time way back when, so there must be something in common.

At any rate, I do know about her.  I know what she is capable of.  I know what I carry around with me to this day because of her and the other girl involved.

People like her are the reason that people like me leave their hometown and never come back.  I did leave for ten years but circumstances brought me back here and now it looks as if I am here to stay.

I actually had her as a customer once at the Terrible Job.  At the time I had no way to avoid waiting on her.  She seemed nervous and hyper and like she was trying to please me.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “Ha!  Your son is in prison.  You raised a violent criminal!  Why am I not surprised?  Your violence led to a second generation of violence.  Ha!”

I expected to see some sign of this tragedy in her face, but there was nothing there for me to see.  I also wanted to see some sign of sorrow or shame for what she did to me way back when.  But again, there was nothing to see.

No, people like her do not carry their own shame.  They carry no sense of responsibility for the effects of their actions on others.  Instead, they give their shame over to their victims.

Over forty years later and I’m still having to deal with such things.

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Filed under anxiety, art therapy, bullies, decisions, emotional health, enemies, first impressions, friends, growth, healing, history, injustice, peer pressure, progress, scapegoating, self-care, social phobia, Uncategorized

Blast From the Past

I was Halloween shopping at Wal-Mart last week when I heard a familiar voice call to me.  I turned around to find an elderly man sitting in one of those motorized scooters and, though the voice was familiar, his appearance threw me for a loop.

It was Doug!  He had been a contractor at my old place of employment and back then, he had been a very large and very intimidating man.  From the very first day I had to deal with him I was very uncomfortable.  He came into our office every single morning and every single evening to do his job.  He was foul-mouthed, bossy, angry and left a mess for us to clean up every single time.  Nobody liked working with him.

However some employees knew him outside of work.  They didn’t have to work with him like I did.  He was a gentleman around them and they clearly liked him and would stop to chat him up when they saw him.  They knew him from church.

That was so odd to me as I found not one thing to like or appreciate about the man.  My only experience of him was as a sexist bully.

Eventually he was fired when he pissed-off someone who mattered more than those of us who had been complaining about him for a couple years.

So in that moment at Wal-Mart, I had to make a decision.  Should I be short with him and try to get away like I would have had to back in the day?  Nope.  He has no power over me any more.  So my decision was to talk with him as if the way he is now was the way he had always been.  It was still an odd conversation.

When he talked about how surprised “we” had been when I quit my job, I wondered how he could possibly know about that since he had been fired and no longer worked there before I left.  When he said I was missed, again I wondered how he could possibly have known that.  He was speaking about my quitting the same way people who really had liked me have spoken to me about it.  The truest and most tactful thing I could say in that moment was that I missed a couple people there but not too many of them.

It was an odd encounter but it made me realize some things.  For one thing, I guess that he has both of those people inside of him–the miserable, selfish, and aggressive person I was stuck working with and the polite, friendly, interested church-goer who is capable of making a positive impression on someone when it suits his purposes.  I wouldn’t have thought something like that was possible!

For another thing, I don’t have to be affected by either of those versions of Doug.  I don’t have to waste valuable energy trying to figure this person out.  I don’t have to like him.  I don’t have to approve or disapprove him.  He’s got his place in this world and I have mine.  I don’t have to be affected because I have boundaries now that I didn’t have back then.  Boundaries are so very important!!!

The last thing I realized is that I have been very powerless throughout most of my life.  Many people have taken advantage of me in order to benefit their own situation or at least make their lives easier.  Those people tend to become my enemies.  Casting people in the role of enemy has often been my only recourse–a boundary of sorts.

As I heal and gain power within myself, I am also gaining skills and that may help me to repel the people and behaviors that would take advantage of me.  Only time will tell but right now it’s looking pretty good.

 

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Filed under boundaries, bullies, decision making, emotional health, enemies, first impressions, getting along, growth, healing, history, human nature, progress, Uncategorized

Enough Time Goes By

Last night my belly dance troupe held its annual Christmas Hafla (belly dance gathering).  We’ve had about five of them.  This year was our third one held a local bar that one of our dancers works at.

I was so keyed-up beforehand that I felt nauseous.  As many times as I have performed in public, that sickish feeling seems to be necessary on some level.  Maybe it is a gathering of all my energies.  It passes once the food is set up and the pool table moved out of the way and the music starts and we are dancing.

There was something different about how I felt, though, compared to previous years.  I felt more centered in my body.  There was less of a “people pleasing” element to me just being there.  More of a detachment.

I think it was a healthy detachment.  More of a “this is where I leave off and that is where you begin” kind of detachment.

Usually I do a lot of nervous laughing in between songs and sometimes even during a dance.  That didn’t happen last night.  Yet, I can say I did have fun.  Less laughing and more being actually present in the moment.

My choreography partner and I performed the dance we choreographed ourselves this year and we received a lot of positive feedback.  I felt really strong while dancing it.

We finished our second choreography this week.  It goes with a Christmas song and we had hoped to have it ready for the Hafla.  But there just wasn’t enough time.  We will polish it to perfection and unveil it next Christmas.  No pressure!!!

So anyway, this is one more example of the kind of progress I have made this year in comparison to where I was last Christmas season.  It is reassuring to have something to measure in a journey that is all about going with the flow.  These things take a lot of time and I am fortunate to be able to spend my time in this way.

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Filed under art therapy, boundaries, decision making, exercise, first impressions, friends, getting along, growth, healing, history, journey, progress, self-care, self-respect, social phobia, Uncategorized

Mug Shots

As a school girl, I spent several years avoiding high school biology class because I dreaded the thought of dissecting worms. However, as a college track student, it was pretty much mandatory to have this class on my transcript. So, I ended up taking biology in my senior year with all sophomores as my classmates.

The kids in the sophomore class were much nicer than the kids in my class. Not once in that entire year did I hear anybody get picked on or disrespected in any way, shape, or form in that room. Never did I have to second guess anything that came out of my mouth as being something that could possibly draw negative attention to myself. In spite of the dissection of worms, it was pretty relaxing in there. It made me think that my life would have been quite different and a lot more fun if I had been in their class instead of mine.

The Class of ’81 has a very nice Facebook page, too. All the postings are supportive and polite. They seem to really like each other.

A while back they were trying to compile a list of all the classmates who had died since graduation. One name jumped out at me. Someone said she had been murdered in Florida and it was a cold case. This was shocking in and of itself. But the reason her name jumped out at me was because I remembered she showed up at a party I threw back in 1980.

Party-throwing is a rare activity for me. I do not just throw a party on a whim. Any party that I throw has to have a specific purpose. That way, I can be sure people will actually attend.

This particular party was for a co-worker at the fast food restaurant I was employed at in 1980. Although I was young, nineteen, I was a parent by then and my just-above-the-poverty-line little family was self-supporting. It was a noisy party because I was nervous and had the music turned up so people would have to shout. And because of that, we did get yelled at by our landlord. It was not a drunken brawl, however, and one of the guests brought some homemade chocolate chip cookies.

I know I talked to this girl who showed up at the party but I don’t remember what we talked about. It was so odd that she came. She obviously knew someone who was invited because there would not have been any other way for her to hear about the party. But she was a couple years younger than us and still in high school. My impression of her from school was that she was kind of naive and not super smart. Just an impression based on moments here and there passing her in the hallways.

My impression of her at the party was that she might be a little out of control. She was tall and a little awkward and had very dark hair and eyes. It seemed like she needed to be out and about. Any party, any place, any people would do. Her body language and behavior were fine. I think it was just the fact that a high school girl had gone to a stranger’s party, my silly little party, instead of doing almost anything else, that left me with the impression that she was a little bit desperate.

It turns out that her Florida story is a little less shocking than the word of mouth story on Facebook.

A search on her name turns up at least a dozen mug shots from the same county in Florida. I imagine, then, that she was well-known by the Sheriffs Dept. She looks very skinny in the photos but she has the same eyes that I remember. Eventually, she looks a little ragged and even skinnier. In one mug shot, she has a nearly healed black eye. At one point, she was using the name of an old high school friend as an alias.

There was nothing to indicate she had been a murder victim, though I can see how someone might think that from the way the websites come up in the internet search. No, she was actually the victim of a hit and run accident ten years ago. During a three month period that year in Florida, there was probably close to a hundred hit and run accidents. Only one of them was a John Doe. All the rest were known.

I’ve been thinking about her all day long. If someone had told me that night at the party how her life would end, I would not have been surprised. However, when I learned about it today, I was surprised. I guess because I have lived long enough to have met people who should have met such an end but did not. They are still going strong and causing trouble and will probably live a very long time in spite of it all. I would have thought she’d figure out a way to save herself.

There is an old man in town with the same last name as hers and I wonder if he is her father. I have had dealings with him in the past as have local law enforcement and mental health services. In my dealings with him he seemed to have some kind of mania and/or paranoia. I learned to never look him in the eye, rise to his bait or engage him in any kind of meaningful conversation. If he is her father, then I can guess why she came to my party that night.

I never did use the biology class, not even when I finally went to college. I still haven’t been part of a large group of really nice people. I have not given a party in years.

This summer, I invited a couple people to a bonfire in our backyard. Nobody could come, so we never had the fire. I might try it again this summer. If nobody comes, though, we will have the fire anyway.

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Filed under depression, family, first impressions, friends, grief, work

Stodgy Stuck Up and Not Fun at All

I had a nice Christmas Eve at my cousin’s house. I even drank a little wine which I seem to have developed some kind of liking for. It used to be that alcohol pretty much tasted terrible to me but if I wanted to get drunk, I would just tough it out and either ignore the taste or bury it with orange juice or Coke. Even with this new found liking for alcohol, though, I still don’t drink much. Or enough. Wink, wink. If I were a drinker, I might still have a job.

My cousin’s neighbor joined us later on that Eve. I’ve met this neighbor many times before. We never hit it off or anything but I can live with that and we have conversed in the past so it wasn’t a problem her coming over.

We ladies had been chatting for awhile when she turned to me and said she wanted to tell me something and she hoped I didn’t mind and she didn’t know if she should or not and if she said too much, please, just tell her it was too much and that she had stepped over the line and to stop.

Here we go. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. People often feel compelled to tell me exactly what thought just popped into their little heads. People have said some pretty unusual things to me over the years.

This time I smiled because I kind of suspected what was coming. Then she said that when she first met me, she thought I was very stodgy and not much fun. This made me laugh out loud. This is not news! I am aware that I make a certain kind of first impression. People who can only see surfaces are frequently left with a very basic and somewhat unfair impression of me. It became even funnier when my cousin piped up with, “People say that about ME, too!!!” A fellow traveler! Thank you, cuz!

I don’t know if the neighbor lady was relieved at my “fun” reaction to what she said or if she really didn’t think about the conversation that much at all. The only reason I care to think about this, and write about it, is because it reminded me of previous similar conversations people have had with me and my realization that I would NOT say such a thing to someone. I would not say, basically, “I used to not like you but now I do. Before, you fell well short of my requirements but now I think you’re A-okay.” Why, thank you! What a sweet thing to say. Wink, wink.

Well, it hurts my feelings when people tell me these things and I know not to do that to someone else. At least not on purpose.

As a kid, I was considered stuck-up by several of the school cliques. The popular kids couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t popular; they thought I should be, but I was not. Yes, somebody told me this. The not popular kids didn’t like me because they thought I was popular. Yes, someone told me that, as well.

On my long walks home from school by myself, passersby would say, Smile, it’s not that bad! Even though I wasn’t feeling bad and was just thinking about things on those long solitary walks. I guess I should have been tap dancing on the shoulder of the road and talking to myself.

Many years into the terrible job, one of my former co-workers said, “Man, that first day, when you first got hired, I told Lisa, ‘man, she isn’t going to be any fun at all!'” She told me this because I had finally passed the Fun Test. I was so relieved that I had passed the Fun Test. I do fit in! I thought I never would. Life is good.

Except that I didn’t fit in and life wasn’t good at all. The terrible job was really just a Red Flag Parade. Grab one of these here flags and swing it in the air with us! It took a long time for me to see it that way.

Last week I visited my mother. It was a pretty good visit. I stayed pretty laid back while I listened to Show ‘n’ Tell. At one point, she asked me if I wanted something to eat. She was hungry and didn’t want to eat in front of me. I told her to go ahead, I didn’t mind, I wasn’t hungry. But she kept asking me if I wanted something to eat. She tried tempting me with ever more delicious treats. But I truly wasn’t hungry and kept turning her down. “Oh, you’re no FUN!” Thanks, Mom.

Apparently, “fun” doesn’t mean what I think it means. Neither does “stodgy” or “stuck up.”

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Filed under family, first impressions, honesty, opinion