You should be grateful
At a gas station in Oklahoma, I told the adorably young clerk that “even a broken clock is right twice a day” and her mouth fell open briefly before she replied, in a sweetly Okie accent, “Whoa. I never knew that.”
She had been trying to ring up my coffee or my water or whatever Megan and I bought in gas stations (other than gas) as we made our way through Arizona, then New Mexico, then Texas, then Oklahoma, then Missouri, and so forth.
And the young clerk was struggling to ring up my item.
And I made a suggestion. “Maybe you need to enter the numbers . . .”
And she checked with her manager, came back grinning and said, “You were right.”
And I said, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
And she said, “Whoa. I never knew that.”
And reader, I am that broken clock.
I got to blow someone’s mind with an idiom.
Doesn’t happen every day, reader.
I go days and days and days, these days, without blowing a single goddamn mind. And this makes me miss my young students. The joy I felt when they were “surprised” to learn an expression, the origin of an expression, an origin.
And I’m back at the start again.
Broke and nervous about healthcare and employment and money.
I did not know American Marriage, too, was a “money game.”
And like all money games I’ve ever played (never cared for gambling), I have . . . um . . . learned by losing?
I don’t fucking know, reader. What I’m saying is this: I am somehow leaving my American Marriage with even more debt than I went in with and we didn’t even own property, ever take a proper vacation, or have kids . . .
Right after I got served, I got real “in my shit.”
Started blowing up on Social Media, angry texts, doing some of the cringey things I had seen others do before me. And for this I am sorry, but listen — in the last two years, in addition to all of this (see: the entire fucking planet), I have had some serious-ass Person Problems.
Maybe you have, also. Maybe your health is tanking. Maybe someone died. Maybe your husband left you. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I’m sure your Person Problems suck mightily as most gnarly Person Problems do.
And these two years have been gnarly.
And sometimes when really tough Person Problems (divorce, cancer, et al) collide with World Problems (pandemics, civil discord, war), a girl loses her shit for a minute.
Cut me some slack, reader.
I know you will.
I would like to tell my young, unmarried (or old, unmarried) readers this: the greatest financial mistake of my life was not, as it turns out, those student loans — it was getting married.
Like being married is actually going to cost me money. A lot, it appears.
I am coming out with less money than when I came in.
And I rented.
And I produced no children.
And I never took a good vacation.
I long suspected American Marriage was no bueno.
Or maybe it’s bueno for you, reader.
It was no bueno for me.
And I should have trusted my gut when it told me two very clear things at about the age of 12: 1) do not marry 2) do not have children.
And for a while, as a lesbian, I thought I was off scott-fucking-free (one of the joys of young, single lesbianhood was the knowledge that no matter what mistakes were made, you were never gonna end up preggo)
and then y’all legalized marriage for gays.
Once, on a stage in Chicago, I got up to read an essay and offered that I did not “give a shit about gay marriage” which was being hotly debated again and again and again at the time. Many people in the audience were . . . not amused by my sentiment. And I stand by my sentiment, but I would like to reframe it:
I do not give a shit about marriage — gay, straight, Catholic, Satanic.
I do not give a shit.
I give a shit about kindness and compassion.
I give a shit about forgiveness and grace.
I give a shit about honesty, about truth, and I don’t need a marriage to live these values.
I can try to live this way. Though I stumble ridiculously (less literally now since I’ve quit booze, but also literally because of my Biblically bad eyesight),
I can try to live this way.
Once, in a classroom at one of my more painfully desperate adjunct gigs,
there was once a ridiculously stupid “inspo” poster on the wall.
It was an astronaut floating in black space and it read, in big, dumb, blocky white lettering: “Anything Is Possible If You Try.”
And I took that poster down, rolled it up, and slid it into the trash.
And I remember this because I think it was unkind, but I stand by this act as 1) it was a college classroom not a kindergarten where 2) there was no aeronautical program, and 3) that is the most goddamn stupid sentiment in the history of stupid sentiments. You don’t “try hard and become an astronaut.” That’s not a “just try” sort of thing. Like “just try, Buzz Aldrin. Try to go to space and see how it goes.”
Try does not apply here. You have to do more than try when it comes to being a fucking astronaut, and I felt, back then and still, that a college student is certainly old enough to understand this “brutal” fact-of-life.
But you can “try” where it concerns behavior.
Changing behavior just may be harder than studying to be an astronaut — especially right now what with this *gestures to the whole Western World* — because everywhere we turn we can find something to justify or affirm our shit behaviors vis-a-vis the murderous whims of men and the real Mary Shelley Capital-M-“Monster” of our time: the internet.
And I keep wanting to water this down with gifs and memes and shit, but nothing feels “funny” right now. Everything, right now, down to the bone, feels dead fucking serious.
So here’s a picture of a car upgrade:
I asked for a compact.
All they had was this Jeep Cherokee, and it was a very nice ride.
With my dog and Megan, I drove — in reverse — the drive I made almost ten years prior. And it was hard. Not the driving itself (we had a pretty sweet ride), or the company (Megan, as always, had me nearly-pee-my-pants laughing on the regular), but this.
Whatever is happening to my life right now feels hard.
Not always bad, either. Just really hard.
And sometimes downright terrifying. And so I just try to stay cool.
Keep a level head. Correct my words. Correct my thoughts. Correct my behavior. Correct my heart. When, of course, they need correcting.
I’m not a total psycho.
Partial psycho? Sure. I could see that . . .
And sometimes what is correct is just mercilessly painful.
There’s no way around the pain. And reader, I’ve had some dark days in the past month where I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go through this pain anymore because I could not fathom in my heart, my body, my mind, absorbing one rice grain more of sorrow.
So I study on my feelings. And I let my feelings pass through me as I pass through my life. And every night, I take my sleepy meds and the world disappears for a few hours. Sleep, lately, has been a thing that reminds me of how much we humans make our world in our mind. When I sleep, there is no war. No cancer. No heartbreak. I have the occasional painful dream, but mostly weird dreams these days. Not scary, not sad, just strange and hard to parse.
I drive through my life as Megan and I drove through the miles from Tucson to Albuquerque to Oklahoma to St. Louis, and home to Chicago. Megan lives in the Loop, and it was good to have to drop her off downtown and be reminded, frontally, why I come home to this place and not somewhere else. Chicago, the city (not the ‘burbs — sorry, ‘burbs) is magnificent — imposing, stimulating, beautiful.
Fear and sadness are my greatest foes now, for they are the inner-forces that intend to do me most harm. The feelings in and of themself are right and natural, but I have the kind of brain whose fear and sadness brakes malfunction more than most. So they tell me. So I’ve been told. So I know. So I have known.
Which brings me back to the car.
The only good thing about the “trip” to Tucson to retrieve my dog (and other things of far lesser import) was that Megan was on it with me.
There are a handful of friends in my life who’ve born witness to damn ear the whole of it. Megan is one of those. We met our first week in undergrad. Early nineties. We were getting out of a class on the shores of Lake Michigan, strolling back to the dorms, when through small talk we discovered we were both from the Chicagoland area, and that we both very much enjoyed weed. Of course our commonalities extended far beyond these two things. One cannot sustain a friendship on Chicago and weed alone (if only).
And I say this without any trace of flattery, only complete sincerity: Megan is one of the funniest human beings I have ever known. No one — and I mean no one — can make me laugh like Megan can make me laugh.
We like the same random historical shit. We like the same kind of music. We share many of the same deep dislikes. We joke, and have joked for nearly a quarter of a century, that we probably should have just gotten married and been platonic spouses. And I hear that’s a thing some young people are doing now, and I say good for you, young Americans. Don’t marry a lover. Marry your best friend. Better yet, just buy a little house by the sea and move in with your best friend. Get a dog. Take up a hobby. Don’t spoil your fascinating life with the dull conventions of marriage.
I’ll take this moment to remind you that I was dumped. So take these bits of “marital advice” with a grain of salt. Or not.
Even a broken clock . . .
When Megan and I arrived at the Dollar Rental counter (yes, in my effort to save money, I rented with a company called “Dollar Rental” — my mind has not been its most clear through this shitshow) at Tucson International, we were greeted by a peculiar looking dude.
I say peculiar in that he was dressed to “stand out from the Dollar Rental crowd.” He had long, thinning, dyed brown hair, horn rimmed glasses, a bright multicolored tie, bronze tipped elvin shoes, pale skinned, tiny build, early sixties.
Not to make assumptions, but he was just not what I was expecting at the Dollar Rental counter.
His name was Joe or Ron or some shit.
Megan and I referred to him as “Joe Ron” for the duration of the trip (and he was a frequent source of discussion on our drive).
The first thing I told Joe Ron was that I no longer had access to the credit card I’d used to make the reservation. (Got cut off from finances a few weeks ago — because why not?) And naturally this caused a great deal of confusion.
See, I had already paid Dollar Rental $600 of my former monies for a partial downpayment on the rental, and I didn’t want to lose that $$ because that’s a lot of money for me when I have no money and am staring up at an incoming debt meteor which will create a money crater that may or may not actually result in my untimely death.
I don’t know.
So after some frustration, some confusion, JoeRon told me he could transfer my downpayment to a new car but that we’d have to add Megan as a driver and use her credit card since I no longer was in possession of a functioning credit card . . . (Do you get anxious when you read this? I do. I have money-ptsd.)
And Megan was awesome about the whole thing. I was embarrassed having to ask a friend, at my age, for help renting a car because I was “cut off the credit card,” but just like the kind of friends I’m lucky enough to keep around, she said, “Whatever, dude. That’s fine.”
And as JoeRon is completing the shockingly complex car rental forms to transfer my reservation to Megan — like, am I really supposed to believe there’s more steps in loaning me a used car than in launching a nuclear weapon? — he starts sharing his tedious process with us.
Not incidentally, but pedantically.
Having seen her license, JoeRon told Megan he was from Chicago and that he “Lived there until I was five. Then me and dad said ‘bye’ to mom and moved to the beach to surf for the next forty years.” He said this as though it was a funny story. We did not find this story funny.
On the matter of JoeRon’s story, Megan and I agreed: Eek. Dude. Maybe don’t share that story with strangers. Bad optics for you and your dad, both.
And then he told Megan he was in Tucson “on business” while his mother (who they had left for 40 years to surf) was dying.
What I’m telling you is that JoeRon showed us from the outset that he was a weird (not in a good way), broken little man.
Then, it got fun.
So I see you girls are going to Chicago. Make sure they don’t take advantage of you at the Dollar Rental in Chicago. People are different in Chicago, they’ll try to rip you off. Don’t let them.
Megan and I squinted at each other. Another wonderful dimension of having a friend like Megan, someone you’ve known so long, is that you can read their eyes, you can have a conversation with eyes alone.
What our eyes said: No, JoeRon, I am not going to “fight” the people at Dollar Rental — Chicago, O’Hare. If your company’s model is that corrupt, I’ll just avoid them in the future.
(The people at Dollar Rental — Chicago were 100% less odd than JoeRon, for what it’s worth.)
And then JoeRon started crunching some furious numbers, and said, “Ah, here’s an inter-city fee — I’m going to wave it for you.”
At this, I chimed in, “So is my $600 deposit going toward –”
“I’m saving you on your inter-city fee,” JoeRon snapped, interrupting me. “You should be grateful!”
And he didn’t say this cheerily. He said it with all the “cheer” of a Puritan preacher fresh the Mayflower, full of lice and tuberculosis.
Megan and I uttered JoeRon’s “gratitude command” throughout the drive.
Once, in New Mexico, we pulled off at a gas station with no hoses on the pumps and a graffitied hearse parked in front.
“There’s a hearse here! You should be grateful!”
Or when our food arrived cold and late to the hotel room, “There’s soggy lettuce on this! You should be grateful!”
Or when I accidentally sprayed a little gasoline toward Megan, “You should be grateful! This shit is expensive!”
And if you’re unaware (*cough* JoeRon *cough*) demanding others be “grateful” is not how you find gratitude in this life.
So after JoeRon reminded me to be grateful for some fee I had never heard of in my life, he informed us that he couldn’t rent us the compact car I ordered but could get us a small SUV for the same price. Also, he really relished his pause between “I cannot rent you a compact car” and the “but . . .”
I did not tell JoeRon I was grateful at this point because by the time our “secret upgrade” was revealed I was just tired and cranky and deeply irritated by JoeRon.
Here’s a shortlist of things JoeRon told us before finally giving us the keys to our rental.
Mind you, Megan and I are in our mid-forties, and JoeRon knew this as he carefully (in retrospect “creepily”) scrutinized our driver’s licenses:
1) Don’t take the rental off-road.
2) Don’t drive if parts of the car are malfunctioning/falling off.
3) There are tolls on roads in “big cities.”
4) Don’t drive more than four hours per day because “you ladies get varicose veins and those things are ugly.”
None of these are a joke.
JoeRon said this to us.
And yes, it became a recurring theme in our drive.
I know this would scandalize JoeRon, but we drove way more than 4 hours a day. And usually around the 4 hour mark in any given day’s drive, one of us would invariably say, “Wanna stop and stretch out those varicose veins?”
And we know “stretching” varicose veins is not a “thing,” but it was funny to us. All rest stops, all stops at hotels would include Megan and I saying something about “stretching out the veins” or “oh shit, my varicose veins are barking — JoeRon warned me about this.”
We talked about varicose veins themselves — ours and those of ours, our mothers’, grandmothers’. We talked about life inside of bodies. Aging bodies. Female bodies.
We didn’t complain about JoeRon on Yelp. What’s the point? He’s some broken powerless person. Little tiny Putin. They’re all over the place. Fortunately almost none of them have nukes.
We laughed at JoeRon, which is probably what men like JoeRon (as Atwood first observed) fear most. We laughed at him because we are two women who’ve lived nearly half a century, and we know what’s up.
Also, to JoeRon’s mom, wherever you are, whoever you are, you were better off all those years without JoeRon. And if your ex-husband was anything like your progeny — you’ve been doubly better off.
We didn’t file a complaint about JoeRon because it was a Dollar Rental (what do you expect?) and because JoeRon has no real power and because, these days, I leave people like JoeRon to God.
We made it back to Chicagoland. No parts fell off the car. We didn’t go off-roading. We didn’t die of varicose veins. And I’m grateful to be back here, in the place of my beginnings, because I am not the same and so everything here is new again.
Be good, hooligans.