Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I avoided them when I went into the Dollar General today.  I saw them coming out, and being a social person, I had every reason to talk to them, but I couldn't.  I couldn't handle the way they are living their life.  I find that after the adversities of the past year and a half--where I left my husband after eighteen years of marriage and started with nothing--leaves me with little patience with people.  The friend who has reckless sex with three men a week--the co-workers who cause unnecessary drama--anything other than true and genuine gets left alone.  So why do I ignore this couple I know--friendly and at the time my next-door neighbors when I moved into my little grey double wide on the corner of Short Cut and Lizana School Road?

Because they won't get food stamps.  They won't bother.  They won't even go to the office.  "He makes too much money one week and not enough the next."  They have yard sales to "buy milk and bread."  They've even gone with me to buy food with me.  I have enough food stamps to cover ourselves and occasionally, if I know someone is hard up, I'll spend $25 or $30 of my foodstamps helping them... or I used to.  No more.

After months of not seeing said couple, I went over to their house because my son wanted to play with her daughter.  Friend has various maladies and so does the daughter--mysterious fainting spells.  "The school says she's not getting enough to eat."  Know what's for lunch?  Six to eight link sausages.  "She eats more than anyone in this house." says her very dedicated but visibly obese mom.

I ask her again about food stamps.  "We're not elligible."

"That's not possible. I qualify.  I make very little, and I qualify.  And I don't understand that if you aren't making $2016 a month, why you don't qualify."

She explains to me that she just can't go back into that building again.

I have an IQ over 150.  I have an honors degree in English Literature (Creative non-fiction track) with a minor in history and education and I wound up broke and nearly homeless after I left my abusive ex-husband.  I had to leave behind a $1,000 a week offer because of the situation he put us in;  ensconced in an apartment for which he had written bad checks--in my name.  I am a good writer, with tons of experience.  And yet here I am--situation, circumstances, location... in extremely rural South Mississippi with little hope of finding work in my field.  Somehow, I'm piecing it all back together.  In the meantime, I take food stamps and although I'm not very proud of it, I don't apologize.

To let your child do without--to hold garage sales to "afford milk and bread" because you just "can't face the food stamps office" is inexcusable in my sight.  Seven or eight link sausages for lunch is not a meal.  Trading babysitting for a Mountain Dew and a candy bar is not an even exchange.  And yes, you didn't have ANY problem getting a few items when I was with you at Wal-Mart last year.

I have no patience for those who won't ask for help when they can receive it.  Especially those who are paying Rent-A-Center $100 a month for a laptop.  A laptop that will cost them $2,100 when it is all said and done but won't go see about the assistance that their taxes go to support.

I have finished with the friendship.  I have no patience with it anymore.  I have swallowed my pride--crying for a half hour when I realized that I would have to buy groceries vis a vis the state--and come out holding my head high because my son and I have enough.  You should go through the trouble to get your child enough, too.  Pride be damned.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Well, other than missing that crucial vitamin E, they aren't too shabby. Seemed appropriate for breakfast.  

There are those days when--looking for a job--I feel as black as one can get.  My best friend Jeanie--who I talk to every Monday through Friday--says that my canoe changes direction to quickly.  Max Lucado says "It's all part of a new curriculum God has for you" vis a vis Joesph in the pit.  (My question is was he sold into pre-dynastic Egypt, or was it a legit Pharaoh?) I like Max--he's an extremely good writer.  (He wouldn't use eight dashes in three sentences--more than likely.  Ten.  Sorry). But I look at him and wonder what tragedy he has known.  He speaks of "you might not have wanted single parenthood thrust on you."

I'm normally funny.  If you stumble upon this blog and this is your first experience reading, come back.  There's rich soil here, I promise.  But I'm having one of those days where I just can't seem to pierce the dark.

Here's the dark:  seventeen months ago I got a call from my soon-to-be-ex-husband. We were moving to Richmond.  It was The Answer.  According to him, our struggles were over.  I whipped up my trademark enthusiasm talking up how great it was going to be to friends.  I got excited about the prospect of rowing, among other things... being in a college town, blah blah blah...

But I kept asking him questions.

"If this is such a lucrative job, why is the gal in the position leaving?"

"She's starting her own business."  He replied.

"In this economy?"  I was puzzled. "Who starts a business in this economy when they're pulling six figures?"

He brushed me off.

It just didn't make sense.  And as the move approached, he had to go away for training. While he was away, I realized that despite everything that he had told me over the years--that I was a spendthrift, that I was wasteful--that I balanced our budget, got everything paid, and bought detergent and milk without having to feel guilty.  Why--thought I--am I answering to anyone for buying sundries?  I realized that every time he asked me a question I flinched.  My judgement was always being questioned and he only talked to me about money.  It was always money.  I had given up buying groceries for the past year or two because I just couldn't take the grief I would get at home about money.  I was once chewed out for spending $16 at the Goodwill on clothes.  Meanwhile, I was making as much money as he ever did within a year of getting out of school.  He said that I was lazy to go back to college but he didn't mind my student loans supporting us.  I stare down that debt alone.

So after a year and a half of being on my own in a place that doesn't have any work (I'm either underqualified to be a secretary because of lack of experience or no one knows what to do with a woman who has done nothing but write.  All that's on my horizon is underpaid minimum wage jobs that I can't take because of child care issues).  And I can't apply to many jobs--including Micheal's Craft Stores--because I can't pass the credit check due to his having written bad checks on our joint account.

So I'm at a loss, and asking for help.  It's not enough to be smart or talented in this world, or to have a college degree.  But it is important to be loved, and I am that.

A friend insisted that I start a blog.  "What if," I protested, "no one reads it?"  Anabelle, the friend that always smacks me upside the head, "Susanne!  People read stupid shit on the internet!  Just write it."

"Okay." Meek me, which I primarily reserve for Anabelle and a few times a year for the boyfriend. 

"And Susanne!"



Blink.  "Okay."  

So here's an old essay I wrote.  Better than an empty blog.  It's from Sixty-Forty-One.

Sunday, October 24, 2010



A voice caught me from the end of my driveway.  I can't remember what I was doing--probably telling someone to go inside or stop barking or picking up a piece of trash.  I turned to see Miss Jean standing at the end of the drive, her arm in a sling.  

Miss Jean is my elderly neighbor.  She's 82, and I think she looks great. What I don't like about Miss Jean is that she seems bored.  I had enjoyed her company when I moved in but over the summer I grew annoyed. In early June--unbeknown her her--I lost two close friendships. I experienced such profound feelings of betrayal that sometimes I would just sit at my desk or in the tub or lie in bed and cry like I had never cried in my life. Deep wracking sobs that sounded almost inhuman.  I would choke on my own crying. Even my husband couldn't understand.  

"I thought that you wanted her out of your life."  He was right.  I had grown very weary of a friendship that was with a person so lost in their own life that they evaporated your needs on exposure. But she had been my best friend--my best friend--for seven years. The year before last, we buried her child together, a darling darling bright shining little girl who had been my daughter's best friend in kindergarten and first grade. They were just refreshing their friendship when she died of trauma, crushed by a four wheeler on a country road.  She died twice--once her heart stopped beating--they were told she was gone--and then it started again only to stop forever.  I stood, for a long time, at the copper casket watching the doves fly away--a gift from a friend who released them at funerals and weddings for a living. Off her bird flew, into the sky, from her little brother's arms.  "Hold still, Emily!" He said as he held her bird, the poor creature beating away.  

It turned out that she was a pathological liar of such immense proportions that I was stunned. "I didn't know," I told another friend "that people like that existed," which was true.  I, poor fool.  I, poor fool, who didn't know. It was crippling.

In early October, God said to me, "Forgive her."  I did and I felt myself falling into a parabola of grace. I no longer felt the need to call her names or imagine myself running into her at Sam's, getting the better of her with my wits not dulled by copious amounts of Xanax.  Wouldn't I be glorified pushing of a zinger worthy of my English major's mind?  No.  I wouldn't. 

When I realized that the friendship was over, I drove over to her house to say goodbye to her husband who was home alone. I found out more that night than I ever felt possible, and was away four hours talking with him.I came home to relieve my daughter from babysitting, much later than I expected. Miss Jean must have still been up. 

Miss Jean never knew how broken I was.  I didn't speak to Miss Jean about it. Instead, she called me a few days later and told me "Your children sure stay home a lot alone nowadays, don't they?" It took me aback at the moment, but I let it pass.  Or so I thought.

Over the painful months that followed, my husband and I struggled like we never had before. I had never felt so defeated. We were broke, visiting the church food bank, and wondering when we would see daylight again. My ego was shattered.  How could I have been so naive?  How could I have been so blind?  Didn't I notice she was slow sometimes?  Didn't I put something of it together? How had I missed it all?  Hadn't it been worth all the hours of sacrificing my own work to comfort her in her loss? Would we be so in need now had I not been attending to her needs? 

Then another friend burned up on re-entry, someone I truly held in high esteem. He evaporated like the mist and I still feel the loss no matter if I am at fault or not. (I have been assured I am not). 

Into this whirl of pain I vanished and began to rehear past criticism with ears sharpened by pain. I had always gone out of my way for elderly neighbors. But in the summer when Miss Jean fell ill and lost part of her intestines, I did not visit. I hardened my heart. I felt as if the Earth had turned against me and fell away from kindness like I never had before. I just waved when she called my name in September.  Now Miss Jean stood in my driveway now, in October, telling me about how she had broken her shoulder.  "Didn't you know I was ill this summer?" It was a brief conversation, and left no doubt in my mind that she was telling me how hurt she was by my absence during her time of need.  

On my desk sits a pair of glasses. They are my father's.  They are old fashioned bi-focals and not a bit given to fashion.  He was a big man, and they look small to me now. Weren't they bigger? He lies buried under the lighthouse in Biloxi, in the Air Force cemetery under the flight path of the base's jet planes.  A huge personality in a tiny box. When he died, not a single person from my church called to see how I was.  I received no email, no condolence and no meal.  I was wounded.

Wouldn't you know it, two things happened.  First the Man in Black showed up, my pragmatic and wise-beyond-reason priest, Father John Troy. A modest man, he has a long white beard and a moderately sunny demeanor. He knows things that he does not let on. He is always humble.  He has the air of a man who has learned that the fewer words spoken, the better. He sat at my kitchen table after I poured him some spoiled creamer in his coffee.  I was so embarrassed, but he took it in stride as is his way. He said that the church had let me down and here was a secret: they were going to do it again. But if I would have myself back, he would be so happy to see me, and if I decided to move on, at least I should do so in the faith. I was pelted by the forgetfulness of my brethren. I told him I didn't know if I could.  I went back. I let more than one person Have It. They all replied with such kindness that I couldn't stay angry for long. 

Now Miss Jean looms large on my mind. What would it have benefited her had I just decided to be kind? So she made an inopportune statement. So she mentioned my dog when I told her my father died. Was I not relieved beyond measure that he was out of pain? Was it not an answer to prayer? Was not my relief palatable and did I not tell her to worry, I was so relieved. And now I dig through that moment--how could she mention my dog at such a time? My unwillingness to withstand her early summer slight has led me months back into the year, into things she said out of my nonchalance. Now, in October, slightly shaking, head bent and not staying for conversation, I could see my weakness had wounded her deeply.  I owe poor Miss Jean the truth, no matter how irritated I got over being watched so closely. What would it have meant to her had I obeyed Christ's command and treat those who misuse me with kindness?  And what did I gain by dropping my sword and walking away from such a small wound? I gave Unkindness the field when I shouldn't have. Now there  are two wounds instead of one, and hers is much deeper than mine. She walked away from me visibly upset. She said in her body language what she felt in her heart.  Abandoned. So she was rude. Other people have been rude since and much worse than her. Why nurse a wound against an old lady? Why nurse one against anyone? 

I am busy.  I have to write, I have to study French, I have to read history, I have to care for children. But I owe the world a wound-less heart as much as I am able and that means setting aside both time and feelings to make amends. Bitterness benefits Satan infinitely. We should show him the door through our kindness.