communication, language, lessons learned, love, marriage, relationships

It’s very important to use your words when you have needs…

I woke up this morning feeling oddly quiet. I felt like I just needed to shut up for awhile. And, for the past hour or so, I’ve been staring at the computer screen, wondering what I should write about today. I didn’t really want to write about the topic I’m about to tackle. But then I remember what Bill said to me as he was about to leave for work. He said, “You’ll write about it. It’ll help you process.” Then he gave me one of his meltingly sweet smiles, which never fails to win me over and warm my heart.

Bill and I had a little spat last night. It was kind of a sudden thing, not unlike the brief but intense storm that briefly provided us with a rainbow as the sun was about to set. You can see the rainbow in today’s featured photo, which I took as the rain was falling, but the sun came out. It reminds me of the spat we had last night, and how I feel today.

I didn’t say much to Bill today, when we were getting up. After he got dressed, he came into our bedroom and sincerely apologized to me. I told him I knew he was sorry, and I was sorry for getting so upset with him. I love him very much, and truly don’t want him to feel distressed. He works very hard, and really is one of the good guys. Nobody’s perfect, though.

Bill and I don’t have spats very often because neither of us likes to fight or argue, and we’re usually very compatible about most things. We have tons of chemistry, and seem to get each other remarkably well, even if no one else understands us. But every so often, an issue comes up, and we have a disagreement. There’s a spat– kind of like a storm, or a chemical reaction. And usually, our spats occur in the evening, as Bill is wanting to go to bed, but refuses to just go. He wants me to give him permission, or something.

My husband is very much a day person. He functions best early in the morning. When the sun goes down, so does his brain. Sometimes, he’s much too polite and non confrontational for his own good, and that can cause him to temporarily be a jerk. He doesn’t mean to be a jerk, and sometimes I “overreact”, by many people’s standards. I try not to do that, but sometimes I fail.

Last night, when Bill came home, he casually mentioned to me he needed to write up his dreams for his weekly appointment with Jungian therapist. He also needed to complete his time card for his job. That information went into one ear and out the other, since he always does those tasks without announcing them to me. Consequently, I didn’t realize this was something that was pressing in its importance, nor did I know how long those tasks would take. I’m also not a mindreader.

Most nights, Bill does online German lessons using Duolingo. I used to do those lessons myself, years ago. I quit doing them after a year or so, even though it would do me good to keep studying German. Nevertheless, Bill very diligently does his homework. He’s diligent about most things without input from me. I forgot about what he’d said about the things he needed to do. I assumed he’d already done them.

So, as the evening was winding down, I noticed that Bill was tired. I asked him why he didn’t just go to bed, if he was tired. I’ve told him many times that I hate it when he’s obviously exhausted and continues to sit there at the table, as if I’m obliging him to do so. I find it to be kind of passive-aggressive behavior. He could just get up and go to bed, right? But he insisted on waiting for me to finish my drink, and go upstairs with him. I guess I was taking too long, and talking about some subject that wasn’t interesting to him. Finally, he got up and was turning off lights and edging toward the stairs, backing away from me with a smirk, but still not saying outright that he has things he needs to do, or wants to go to bed. It’s left up to me to officially “call it a night”, as he was non-verbally “calling it a night”.

I said, “What are you doing?”

Bill said, kind of sheepishly, “I told you, I have to write up my dreams and do my time card.”

“Well, why didn’t you just say so?!” I exploded. Much to my surprise, I found myself getting really upset. Like… I actually felt like crying, because my feelings were hurt. And then I said, “This makes me not even want to go on the trip next weekend. I think I’d rather just stay home alone!”

I know that was a hurtful and kind of crazy thing to say, because Bill has planned my birthday trip to Antwerp, and we’ve been looking forward to it, even if it does mean I’m turning 50. But I honestly didn’t want to go anywhere with him for a few minutes last night. I just felt really injured and bewildered… like I was being rejected by someone I never thought would reject me. I know that’s kind of an irrational reaction, but I was honestly triggered by that look on his face, and his non-verbal communication. I legitimately felt disrespected.

I felt like he should feel alright about point blank telling me when he has needs, or wants to excuse himself. I’ve been his wife for about twenty years. I’m not going to be offended. And over the years, I’ve seen so many people giving me that “smirky” look he gave me last night… people who aren’t my husband… people who don’t like me, for whatever reason, and wish I would just shut up and go away. It honestly wounded me to see that look on Bill’s face. So, I got really pissed, and felt like rejecting him in kind. Impulsively telling him I didn’t want to go to Belgium with him was a quick way to do that.

Bill immediately looked extremely sorry as he explained that he had just wanted to avoid confrontation. And then when I asked him why he didn’t just tell me, he said he’d told me he’d mentioned it earlier. But he’d kind of said it in passing, in a matter of fact way. I didn’t realize the urgency of the situation, and for some reason, he couldn’t just use his words to reiterate his needs.

Seeing that pained look on his face upset me even more, because once again, I upset someone for simply being myself. At the same time, I had compassion for him, because I love him, and I’m not a mean person. I don’t like seeing him looking distressed, especially when it’s me who caused the distress. I was still feeling angry, though, so I said that maybe when he got home from work, I’d just stay in our room and watch videos instead of talking to him, since he has so many pressing things to do.

Again… I was hurt, because I really do look forward to talking to him at night. I don’t have people to talk to during the day. I don’t have local friends or family, and at this point, I’m not really inclined to try to make friends with people, because trying to be friendly with people usually ends in disappointment. I have a weird personality and inappropriate sense of humor that not everyone appreciates. Besides, around here, almost everyone’s German, so there’s sometimes a language barrier.

Bill said he didn’t want me to stay in our room and watch videos. He wanted to talk to me. He’d just had a couple of tasks he needed to complete before bedtime. So, again, I said, “Then why didn’t you just excuse yourself? You can tell me that you have stuff to do. I’m not a complete jerk, and I’m not a mindreader. What do I do every morning before you go to work, and I need to take a dump?”

Bill nodded and said, “That’s true. You do expressly tell me when you need a minute.”

Just as an aside… my body is remarkably efficient when it comes to necessary functions. Bill has remarked on it a lot, and has even told me he’s jealous. Most mornings, as he’s about to leave for his job, I have to say goodbye a few minutes early and take care of necessary business. Bill understands this and is fine with it; he doesn’t feel spurned because I have to go to the bathroom. However, for some reason, he doesn’t feel like he can say something similar to me. And I don’t understand why he doesn’t realize that I know he has things he has to do sometimes. Why can’t he simply tell me, his wife, that he needs time to get things done? Doesn’t he trust me, after almost twenty years?

I usually do notice when he’s trying to do something. When I see him with his computer, I don’t intrude. When he’s talking to his online therapist, I give him privacy. But last night, we were just there at the kitchen table, having a chat, and he suddenly gets up and backs away, looking awkward. I mean, if you need to excuse yourself, excuse yourself. Don’t give me that look. It’s not necessary. Just tell me what you need.

This is very much like my husband. He sometimes lacks assertiveness, is exceedingly polite and considerate, and wants to leave decisions up to me. But I don’t always want or need to make every decision, and sometimes I just don’t know what he needs, and I can’t read his mind. At the same time, he doesn’t want to offend or make ripples… and in the process, sometimes he offends and makes ripples. He never means to do that. He always wants me to be happy, sometimes at the expense of his own happiness. And when his needs are about to intrude on my wants or wishes, he’d rather be covert than just come out and tell me what’s going on.

This situation is kind of similar to one we ran into last year, when we were in Switzerland. Bill had expressly wanted to visit Carl Jung’s house and museum. This was the one non-negotiable activity on our agenda. On the other hand, I get very cranky and irritable when I’m hungry. Bill knows this, too. He has a habit of wanting to lead things, but then he gets “wishy washy”. We needed to have lunch, but Bill was focused on us going to the museum, since we had an appointment. And even though this was what HE had wanted to do, he hadn’t even decided if we would be driving or taking a boat, since the museum is on Lake Zurich. He had wanted to leave that decision up to me. But the problem was, I wasn’t prepared to make a decision, because I was just along for the ride. The whole Jung museum thing was his bag, not mine. I needed to eat before we went to the museum, and I didn’t want a hot dog at the dock. But that’s what we ended up having, because there weren’t any firm plans made so that everybody’s needs could be met.

And again, last fall when we visited Slovenia, on the way to Lake Bohinj, I had wanted to eat lunch earlier than Bill did. We kept going, and sure enough, I got hangry, and there weren’t any open restaurants. Bill ended up getting me a chocolate bar, because I desperately needed to boost my blood sugar. That put me in a foul mood, too. He’d wanted to lead, but then kind of failed… and then I had a candy bar for lunch, instead of something that was somewhat better for me.

Anyway, we were able to mend the conflict, and sure enough, I’m writing about it, even though I’d rather write about something else. We had a spat, and it’s over now.

Insightful stuff here… It’s not always a bad thing to be “triggered”.

I saw a really good video yesterday by Kati Morton, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist. It’s not so much about last night’s issue, but it does sort of address my feeling guilty for being “triggered” and overreacting. If I wasn’t triggered, I wouldn’t have told Bill what was on my mind. And as wonderful as he is, he did need to hear what I said. Sometimes, Bill is too nice, takes too much responsibility for other people, is too much of a people pleaser, and needs to assertively express his own needs verbally, instead of being passive-aggressive. These are things that I think would help him across the board, not just in his dealings with his old ball and chain wife. 😉

But then, based on the trauma he went through with his ex wife, I guess I can see why he hesitates. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to teach him that we’re not all like her. It’s an ongoing process that I don’t think will ever end. He’s been scarred by her abuse, much like Noyzi the rescue dog is scarred by his traumatic experiences in Kosovo, before he came to live with us. Noyzi gets better every day, but I think he’ll always have some remnants from that time in his psyche. The same goes for Bill… and the same goes for me. So we’ll keep trying.

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LDS, mental health, psychology

Please don’t smile when you say that…

You know that old cowboy movie saying, “Smile when you say that”? It’s an idiom meaning that you’d better be joking. If you said something shitty and actually meant it, you’re due for a beatdown of some sort. At the very least, if you’re not joking, the other person is going to be very angry or offended by what you dared to say with a straight face. Today, I want to explore the opposite of that saying. Some things aren’t really laughing matters.

Trigger warning– this post is going to be about suicidal ideation.

Recently, I had a rather unsettling experience while witnessing a video call with someone. I wasn’t actually the primary conversant on that call; I just happened to be in the room when it was happening. Bill was talking to his daughter, who was talking about some pretty personal stuff. As she was revealing some painful things about her past, she was laughing and smiling.

At one point, the topic of suicide came up, and she was giggling as she talked about it. There she was, talking about being so aggrieved at more than one point during her childhood that she wanted to meet Jesus. She felt Jesus was the only one who loved or cared about her, and had actually taken steps to make the meeting happen. And as she talked about this painful memory, she was smiling and giggling… which I’m sure she did because she needed Bill to know about this, but didn’t want to upset him. Or maybe it was just too painful and surreal a subject to talk about with a straight face.

Days later, Bill is still a bit apprehensive about that conversation. It didn’t escape either of us that it seems like it would be unexpected for a person to laugh while talking about suicidal ideation. Bill is understandably concerned. So am I. In fact, I wish he could have had this conversation with her in person, preferably in private. Ordinarily, he would have been talking to her with headphones and in a different room. But her call came late and Bill was thinking it wasn’t going to happen, so he didn’t have his laptop handy. He talked to her on his iPad, and was sitting at the table with me when she Skyped. I suppose he could have Skyped her back and spoken to her privately, but he chose not to… and most of the call was mundane, anyway. It was about the usual stuff. But then that topic came up, and it got a bit awkward.

My theory is that many people in Bill’s family, to include Bill himself, have this innate tendency to put others before themselves. They will sacrifice their own needs to make someone else happy or more comfortable. I’ve seen Bill do it many times. I’ve seen his mother do it, too. And now, I think I saw Bill’s daughter doing it, needing to talk about this very deep and painful memory, but not wanting to upset us or herself. Or, it could have been that she was embarrassed about or ashamed of this trauma and wanted to make it seem less serious than it clearly is. I think the laughter could have even been a form of self-protection… a tension breaker of some sort.

I see from reading Psychology Today that laughing about psychological pain is actually not an uncommon phenomenon. In fact, it’s possible that she didn’t even realize what she was doing. This was a very scary, traumatizing, and triggering memory for her, but talking about it with laughter was a way to minimize it somehow. I told Bill that, to me, it seemed like she needed to talk about this, but maybe she was afraid to bring it up because it might traumatize us. That would mean she was at least partially focused on someone’s needs other than her own, although I will say that overall, she’s proven to be very resilient and self-reliant. She couldn’t bear living with her mentally ill mother, so she did what she had to do to escape that environment. But before that happened, she obviously learned to put others before herself, likely to prevent more pain. I also think she comes by that naturally, to some extent. As I mentioned before, I’ve seen that tendency in Bill and his mom. But I also think younger daughter’s mother exploited that tendency and reinforced it. Her older sister reportedly has the same tendency, which is probably why she’s still living with her mom at age 30, taking care of her severely autistic brother.

I heard younger daughter explaining how her mother was “deep down a good person”, as she also talked about how her mom did things like deny her access to her family, force her to take out student loans and give her mom the excess, compel her to change her last name and call her stepfather “dad”, send her off to college and on a church mission with no support whatsoever, deny her medical care, and use money and empty promises as a means of controlling her. I can understand why she does this. It’s not easy to accept that a close family member is not a good person, especially when that person is a parent. When a parent turns out to be a “monster”, the person wonders if that tendency to be monstrous is hereditary. They may try to overcorrect by being overly considerate and kind.

I don’t think younger daughter needs to worry that she’s “monstrous”, like her mother is. I take comfort in knowing that the more younger daughter gets reacquainted with Bill, the more she realizes that she has a lot of him in her… she has a lot of his goodness, kindness, and empathy. But she also has a mother who is truly a selfish, cruel, and abusive person. Her mother didn’t take care of her, and she didn’t have access to her real father. So she’s had to learn to take care of herself by denying herself some basic needs and not speaking up when she urgently needs attention or assistance.

I am pissed at Ex for not taking care of her children properly. It makes me very angry that these things were going on, and Ex apparently knew, and she didn’t speak to Bill about them. She also didn’t do fuck all to help her child. In fact, she even denied her healthcare, even though Bill’s daughters had full access to health insurance through Tricare. Meanwhile, she was telling Bill what a terrible parent he is, and labeling me a homewrecking whore. But this isn’t a surprise. I don’t think Ex is a good person, and I’ve felt that way for many years. I don’t have a connection to her, other than being the wife of her ex husband, so I can safely have these feelings. But her children don’t have that luxury, because she’s their mom, and she’s the only mom they will ever have.

Although people can and do disconnect with their parents, it’s actually a very hard thing to do– to completely cut them off and go no contact. Even if a person dies, as long as any thought of them is in a person’s conscience, the relationship continues on some level. Hell… even many adopted children with excellent adoptive parents wonder about their birth parents. A lot of them do what they can to seek out their birth parents because they want to know their origins. They want to know why their birth parents– particularly their birth mother– didn’t raise them.

Sometimes, the stories adopted children unearth about their birth parents are comforting and reassuring. Birth mom desperately wanted to keep the child, but couldn’t because she was too poor or too young and it was just impossible. But sometimes the stories are painful. Ex was adopted. We heard in Ex’s case that her birth mom was married and had been having an affair with another man. She chose her marriage over keeping and raising Ex. Making matters worse was the fact that Ex’s adoptive parents were abusive, neglectful, and treated her like a second class citizen compared to their natural children. Or, perhaps the adopted child finds her birth parents and neither wants anything to do with him or her. Younger daughter wasn’t adopted. She knows her mom, as well as the truth about her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish it weren’t like that, and have some hope that somehow, someday, her mother will change into a different kind of person.

Younger daughter was told many falsehoods when she was growing up. She was told some outrageous lies about Bill and me, and the nature of how we met. Meanwhile, Ex gaslit her into not seeing what she was seeing with her own eyes. As Ex labeled Bill a philanderer and me a whore, she was shacking up with her now husband while still married to Bill. And they were having a sexual relationship, even though they weren’t married and she was supposedly a devout Mormon. The church teaches that premarital sex, particularly if one is still married and “sealed” to someone else, is morally wrong. The church was used to break up Bill’s relationship with his daughters– Bill was no longer “living the standards”, so he needed to be discarded. But Ex was also not living the standards, and somehow that was okay. The cognitive dissonance was probably incredible for the kids.

Incidentally, younger daughter is still LDS, and the LDS church is good at guilt, too. People are expected to “endure to the end.” I have heard countless stories about people who have wanted to do something for themselves– say stepping down from a church calling or tithing less money– and they were guilted and shamed for that. I suspect that the church has also, in some way, reinforced that tendency to deny problems and minimize or discount them. It’s easier for others when we’re “strong”… at least until it gets so bad that the strength gives out and the strong person finally collapses. And since younger daughter is now a mom herself, she can’t really afford to fall apart.

Is it any wonder Bill’s daughter is so traumatized? Is it any wonder that she laughs and smiles and giggles when she talks about something as serious as suicide, suicidal ideation, or other traumas? I suspect she fears being too “heavy” and turning off her dad, who has been wanting to have a relationship with her for so long. I also suspect that she was trained not to bring any problems to her mom or her stepdad. In fact, I’ll bet Ex’s reactions to her daughter’s pain included anger, derision, or even laughter.

My heart goes out to younger daughter. When I was younger, I had similar thoughts about self-destruction. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to launch. I didn’t think I had anything to offer the world and I didn’t think anyone cared about me, even though there were obviously people who did love me. Adolescence is hard, though… biological processes during that time can be pure hell. Childhood is hard, too. You have no control over anything, and adults are telling you to be quiet… “shut up before I give you something to cry about”. Being a young adult is hard– trying to find one’s way in the world and make enough money to support oneself. I think the phase I’m in now may be the easiest for me so far, but I am about to be menopausal. We’ll see how that goes.

Sometimes I still feel shitty about myself and want it all to end. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that when I admitted having these feelings to my own therapist years ago, I probably laughed too. It’s just not easy to talk about it, and laughter somehow makes the task easier, especially when you don’t know how the other person will react. My therapist was a doctoral level psychologist with many years of experience. He was in the prime of his career when I saw him. But he’s still a flawed human being with feelings and thoughts. Despite the fact that I was paying him to counsel me, I wasn’t sure what his human reaction would be to my comments. Fortunately, he was a professional and talked me through the pain.

I do remember telling my mom, at one point, that I felt suicidal. I don’t think I put it that way, but I did express to her the desire I had for ending it all. Her response was to get angry and say, “I know you won’t do anything ‘stupid’.” It was absolutely the WRONG thing to say. She basically discounted my pain and practically dared me to make an attempt. I have never forgotten that she said that to me. If I’m honest, it kind of lowered my opinion of her, although I do love my mom and I don’t think she meant it. I look back at that time and realize that she was under a lot of stress. So I forgive her for saying that, although I haven’t forgotten that she said it. I can’t forget it because it’s shocking to hear your mom say something like that, even if you kind of know why she said it.

I don’t know what Ex said in that situation… but I suspect it was a lot worse than what my mom said to me. My mom is not a narcissist, nor is she mentally ill. My mom has compassion. Ex has compassion only when it makes her look good to other people. And I truly believe that she sees her children and grandchildren as extensions of herself– objects to be manipulated and owned, rather than nurtured, loved, and cherished. I’m sure if younger daughter had succeeded, Ex would have simply felt abandoned. She would have been angry at the imposition and the inconvenience. And she never would have thought to tell her daughter’s other parent, a loving father who would have done whatever he could to help her and ease her pain. Ex was much too “prideful” and vengeful for that.

I really think that younger daughter’s tendency to “laugh” at trauma is a combination of a few things. One is that she’s been conditioned to minimize her own pain, either because no one would comfort her anyway, or because she would be shamed for it. Another is that talking about these feelings is embarrassing for her. Another is not wanting Bill or me to think there’s something “wrong” with her (which we definitely don’t). And then there’s the need to reduce the tension that comes from talking about trauma and pain. Laughter is good for that. It’s close to crying, but crying is kind of “taboo”– many people see crying as “weakness”. So we laugh and that kind of breaks the tension, even if we really just want to break down in sobs and tears and have someone hug us and tell us it will all be okay.

I know my husband well… and I know that if he was in a room with his daughter and she was talking about this subject, he would give her a hug and stroke her hair. He would encourage her to lean on him and cry as much as she wanted. I know he would comfort her for as long as she needed it. I know this, because this is how he treats me. It’s an absolute tragedy that his children were denied this love and compassion that he’s been waiting to give them freely– without any strings attached.

The good news is that she has him now. She’s out of her mother’s house and can heal. No one can tell her what to do anymore unless she gives them permission.

On the other hand, right now Noyzi is telling me to get off the computer and walk him and Arran. So I guess I’d better wrap this up before he has a conniption. I’ll have to give this some more thought. For now, I told Bill that I think he should tell his daughter that he’s here for her and if she needs to talk to him, she can depend on him. He’ll hear what she has to say and won’t laugh at her, judge her, rage at her, minimize or discount her feelings, or treat her like she owes him… or he owns her. I hope that will help so she won’t have to laugh at her own pain anymore when she speaks to him.

A good video for people who have had a narcissistic mother.

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healthcare, law

Freaking out over faltering federal mask mandates…

Well… just as I predicted last year, the time has come for governments around the world to reverse course on the pandemic. Not every government, mind you… I think I read that Australia is still pretty locked down, trying to keep COVID-19 at bay. But European countries are trying to find a way to open up a bit this summer, especially as people are finally getting vaccinated. In the United States, there was an even bigger surprise. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has stated that both fully vaccinated adults may now ditch their face masks indoors and outdoors in most situations.

This is a contrast to the advice given two weeks ago, that vaccinated adults could ditch their masks outside– and they could also potentially ditch them inside, but only if they’re with other fully vaccinated adults. Now they’re evidently saying it doesn’t matter if others aren’t also vaccinated. Masks among vaccinated people will, evidently, only be necessary at medical facilities and on public transportation, like trains, buses, and airplanes. A month ago, there was all this news about deadly new variants and how we’ll never reach herd immunity. And now, the news seems to be signaling the end, or at least a pause, in the worst part of the pandemic.

I remember last year, when all of this shit started, I told Bill that eventually, the government would be asking people to venture out again. They would do it because the economy would be in a shambles. I also predicted that many people would not want to venture out. They would be too shell-shocked and traumatized by all of the COVID-19 doom porn, even with all of the safety precautions in place. Sure enough, based on the comments I read on The New York Times piece I linked above, that is what has come to pass. Governments are now saying they want to reopen things– New York City has even made a plea for tourists to return. In Europe, governments are trying to find ways to open up to tourists so they can make money. Vaccines are supposedly working pretty well, although new COVID-19 variants are also coming out all the time. The face masks are a downer, and allowing people to dispense with them if they get the shot(s) is one way to encourage vaccine cooperation.

The funny thing is, all year I’ve been reading indignant comments from pro-mask people about how science changes, and that’s why in early March of 2020, we were all being told NOT to buy face masks by the U.S. Surgeon General, and then that advice had changed within weeks. Now, since the CDC is saying that vaccinated people will be able to enjoy some freedom, many of the same people who were once extolling the virtues of science and scientists, are now bitching about how it’s too soon to loosen face masking and allowing people to unmask will be a disastrous decision.

Quite a few people seem to think this rule relaxation was done purely for political reasons. Many people have expressed that they believe unvaccinated “anti-maskers” will use this new guidance as a reason to flout the rules. So many people, who had once praised Dr. Fauci and the CDC, are now saying that the decision to relax the mask rules is a terrible, unscientific idea that spells DOOM for everyone. And, perhaps rightfully so, people are saying that people have no honor, and there will be no way to enforce people to keep taking precautions until they have been vaccinated. Fake vaccination cards are already becoming a problem, and the conspiracy theorists worry that the vaccines have chips in them that will invade their privacy (seriously?).

What happened to all of the respect for scientists? All of a sudden, because the rules have abruptly changed, just as they did last year, the scientists are wrong and simply pandering to politicians? And now, all of the people who, a couple of months ago, were liberally quoting and religiously following the scientists, are saying they are going to rely on their own common sense? Isn’t that the same behavior they were shaming the “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-maskers” for doing? Also, again, I notice that the “experts” all seem to be saying different things… which means that everybody has to decide for themselves which one is correct, and which course of action will suit them best. Sounds a lot like life, to me.

Here’s what I think about those so-called “anti-vaxxers” and “anti-maskers”. First off, many of those people never followed the rules anyway, so it’s doubtful that this rule change will affect them. I mean… if they get sick from COVID-19, they’ll get sick. Some won’t get very sick. Some will die. That’s how it’s been all year. Lots of people are commenting that, despite being vaccinated, they will keep wearing a mask so they “won’t be mistaken for a Republican” or “to make other people feel better”– that is, the ones who are comforted by the sight of someone whose face they can’t see fully. Others, who have children that can’t yet be vaccinated, are saying they are going to keep wearing a mask for that reason, even though last year so many people were saying that the masks are intended to protect other people, and not the wearer. Now they’re saying that the masks also protect the wearer, which is probably what they should have said from the beginning. But see? The information is constantly changing, isn’t it?

Personally, I don’t find seeing everyone in face masks comforting. They are a constant reminder of how fucked up things are, how lonely I am (especially when my half vaccinated husband has to travel on business for weeks on end), and how I don’t enjoy this lifestyle at all. That’s just how I feel about it, though… and the person who IS comforted by face masks also has a right to their feelings and opinions about this issue. Fortunately, it’s not like face masks have been outlawed, so they are free to keep doing what they’ve always been doing. Given how many people in the USA were completely uncooperative regarding COVID-19 safety mandates anyway, I don’t think much is going to change in the wake of this new guidance.

Sadly, what it will boil down to is money… and the fact that the safety rules are very expensive in terms of the economy. Lots of people cheer when they read stories about anti-maskers being arrested, fined, jailed, or banned from services like airlines. But all of those measures cost money. Banning someone from an airline for not wearing a face mask often doesn’t just mean that one person is banned– it also means their immediate family will be effectively banned, even if they weren’t officially so by their airline, as will any loyal extended family members and friends who happen to be on their side of the issue. That could add up to a lot of missed revenue that affects people other than the folks running the airlines… it also might affect hotels, restaurants, tour operators, taxi drivers, and even retailers that sell travel gear. If I wanted to, I could probably sit here for an hour and think of all of the people that are potentially affected when someone gets banned for life from flying.

Now… I do think some good can come out of this past year of COVID-19 hell. Perhaps employers will rethink some of their more destructive policies, like encouraging workers to come into an office setting when they’re sick. Maybe working from home will become an even more viable solution for companies, which could mean that more children are raised by their actual parents instead of at a day care. Maybe there will be less vehicular congestion and accompanying air pollution, too, since people can roll out of bed and walk ten feet to their “office” instead of sitting in traffic for hours every day. And maybe airlines will stop cramming people into seats like sardines… although I would be VERY surprised if that happens.

I do think wearing the mask is a good idea if one is sick. Judging by the slow cold and flu season, they are helpful in that regard. However… I don’t think the enforced mask fashion is a sustainable concept. I’m glad to see it going. I hope it stays gone, although I’m not going to hold my breath. Fortunately, thanks to the vaccine and staying the fuck away from people (which is really the best way to avoid getting sick from a virus), it’s still possible for me to hold my breath.

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Germany, good news, money, musings

When landlords are honest…

A few days ago, our landlord/neighbor rang the doorbell. He had papers with him and asked to speak with Bill. I told him that Bill was out of town, but would be home on Friday. The landlord looked perturbed, which worried me a bit. He said he needed to settle our “Nebenkosten” bill. That’s supposed to be done every year, but he never got around to doing it last year, so we had two years worth of bills to settle. Based on his demeanor, I thought maybe we owed him money.

Even though it’s been two years since we moved here, we’re still quite traumatized by our former landlady, whom we ended up suing over our security deposit. The last year we spent in our former house was, in many ways, very stressful. In other ways it was less stressful, mainly because she became passive aggressive and mostly quit speaking to us.

In fairness, our current landlord is nothing like our former landlady was. He very rarely bothers us and doesn’t complain to us about how we live our lives. He respects our privacy, treats us like adults, and is a good neighbor. And although we spend a lot of money to live in his house, it’s a beautiful house that has everything we need. So we’re happy here, although I will admit to missing the views from our old town and some of the people we got to know there. I especially miss nearby Nagold, which is a really cute town. It was just a few kilometers from where we lived. If we ever move back to the Stuttgart area, I would look for a house in Nagold.

I told Bill that the landlord needed to speak to him, so we weren’t surprised when he rang the doorbell last night. Bill stepped outside to talk to him. I braced myself, because I figured he would be presenting us with a bill for overconsumption or something. Our former landlady had started off being nice, but most of her visits included unsolicited advice, complaints, judgments, or other indications that she wasn’t pleased about something we were doing or not doing. Gradually, she became ever more hostile, resentful, and rude, even though Bill was never anything but pleasant and businesslike to her. He never, for example, screamed at her or made false accusations about her. She, on the other hand, yelled at me more than once and falsely accused us of things.

Even though our current landlord is nothing like our former landlady, the trauma lingers… same way it lingers in Noyzi, who knows Bill is a good guy, but is still terrified of him. And so, even though our landlord is a good man and has never been anything but businesslike, I still kind of dread his visits and assume the worst is about to happen. I wait for the shoe to drop, so to speak.

Bill came back into the house, shaking his head. He said, “Unbelievable…” as he set down a stack of papers.

“That bad?” I asked, expecting that we were about to shell out some euros.

“Well, it turns out that there’s a discrepancy of about 1200 euros.” Bill said. “But he owes us 1200 euros. We’ve been overpaying the whole time we’ve been here. He apologized profusely for not settling the Rechnung last year. I think he thought we knew we were overpaying. And he wanted to know if we wanted cash or to take it out of next month’s rent. He even offered to show me his bills to prove that we overpaid.” Bill’s face still registered pleasant shock.

“Wow!” I said, remembering that Bill had to email our former landlady to get her to send us 20 percent of our deposit that she deemed we were due. And when Bill questioned her charges, some of which were legitimately illegal and out of statute, she became downright recalcitrant. Meanwhile, I learned that the tenant before us was monitoring me and, evidently, sharing with the ex landlady. My guess is that they had a good time gossiping about us while trying to determine the best way to fuck us out of our money. At the same time, former tenant was very zealous about guarding her privacy, even as she was happily invading mine.

I noticed that the money our former landlady did begrudgingly refund to us was about what she had received in an insurance settlement she got after an old awning collapsed on a windy day. We had filed a claim for her, but because the awning was seventeen years old, it was valued at being worth about just under 600 euros, and part of that money went to pay the technician who looked at it and determined it couldn’t be fixed. Ex landlady ended up with around 300 euros, which she said wasn’t enough to buy a new awning. I have never known insurance to pay the entire cost of replacing something. Ex landlady is older than I am by 20 years, but somehow she missed the memo that insurance is mostly designed to defray costs, not completely cover them.

Ex landlady tried a lot of tactics to get us to let her take our money. She started by trying to get us to pity her, citing how much money she had to spend to spruce up the house after we left. She even sent us a bill for having the top of her carport washed, even though that wasn’t our responsibility. She wasn’t asking us to pay it; she was trying to show us that she had spent a lot of money cleaning off the carport and we should have mercy on her and let her steal our deposit.

When the pity approach didn’t work, she tried shame. She accused us of trashing her house, being filthy, and being negligent. She claimed we were being “unfair” to her, asking her to prove that we were guilty of damaging her house and verifying the expenses she claimed. She said we were the worst tenants she’d ever had, although she didn’t seem to mind that we lived in her house for four years and was visibly relieved when I told her halfway through our time there that we had decided to stay in Germany rather than move to Italy for another job.

Then she became outrageous. She accused us of dumping an “American” refrigerator in her kitchen and stealing her “nice” one. There was a dorm sized fridge in the kitchen when we moved in. We did not buy it. We assumed it was her fridge. It didn’t work very well, but even if it had worked well, we never would have bought such a fridge for our own use. We’re Americans, and we like our appliances large, modern, and functional. Moreover, that fridge was plugged directly into the wall socket. If it was an American fridge, we would not have been able to plug it in directly. We have different voltage in America and different plugs. We did take a nice fridge when we moved, but it belonged to us, and I could prove it with receipts. We also took an old freezer, but it was one Bill bought from a departing co-worker. The old freezer no longer works, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it “nice”. I had taken a photo of the shitty European fridge on the day we moved in and posted it on Facebook, knowing that my friends would get a kick out of it. In the States, I have a full sized fridge that we use for drinks. I call it the “fridge of sin”. There’s no way we would have ever bought a puny fridge, even if it was just to dump it on the ex landlady. That’s ridiculous.

In response to our lawyer’s demand letter, ex landlady’s lawyer blustered about what shitty people we are and threatened a counter suit. He claimed she hadn’t charged us for everything, although many of the charges she listed were either out of statute or illegal. Almost none of them were provable, because she never did a Protokol when we moved in. She also never settled our Nebenkosten in the four years we lived in her house, which is against German law. Consequently, we could have demanded that she return all of the money we paid for our trash, water, and her irregularly performed lawn work. When she did the lawn work, it was done to a high standard. But she became increasingly lax about it, especially at the end of our tenancy.

Ex landlady somehow decided that she deserved 2800 euros for a brand new awning. She never told us how she arrived at that figure. She just expected us to give her the money. Since we didn’t agree with her, she decided to take it out of our deposit and evidently never thought we’d question it. But she had no right to do that. I suspect she never dreamed we would sue her. Bill is a kind, considerate man without a malicious bone in his body. She probably assumed she could take the money with little resistance from him. Strange that she would assume that about a man who has made his living in the business of planning war, even if he is even-tempered and seems meek. She never really took the time to get to know us, for all of her intrusiveness and judging of our lifestyle. That was a mistake on her part. I mean, really it’s probably better if landlords stick to business, but if you’re going to be nosy, controlling, and intrusive, you should probably try to actually understand the person you’re surveilling.

We spent our last precious weekend with our beloved Zane, the wonder beagle, answering her lawyer’s ridiculous claims and translating it into German. Zane had to be euthanized the following weekend because he had lymphoma. Instead of enjoying our last time with him, we had to deal with the ex landlady and her lies.

Allowing her to just take the money would just be encouraging her to continue to bilk her tenants. We felt we had a responsibility to hold her accountable. And frankly, she had driven us to the point at which we no longer cared about preserving any good will toward her. We had repeatedly tried to be patient and understanding toward her, but she simply went too far and we had to take action. Sometimes, you have to take a stand.

The process of suing the ex landlady wasn’t fun at all. It was expensive, aggravating, and it made us feel guilty. We didn’t want to do it. It would have been much better all around if she had simply been cooperative, respectful, and honest. I think she would have found that Bill is a very fair person. She certainly would have saved money, and she would not have ended up being reported to the housing office. It would have been good business. But instead, she decided to take a stand on quicksand, in spite of herself. She lost, but it wasn’t without a lot of pain and aggravation for us, and the process took a long time– probably longer because of the pandemic.

If we hadn’t sued, we would have had to live with the diminished self-respect that comes from letting someone blatantly screw us over. Both Bill and I have repeatedly done that in our lives, and it never leads to anything good. The person who screws us never learns not to, and we feel used and abused. This time, we decided it was time we fought back. And again, it was also for the people coming after us and having to deal with her. Maybe she’ll think twice about the way she handles her business. Or maybe she’ll decide to get out of the landlady business, once and for all. Personally, I think that would be the best end result. She shouldn’t be renting to anyone, in my opinion.

Despite coming out on top with our former landlady, we’re still traumatized and wary years later. And so, when our current landlord turned out to be honest and forthright, it was a shock. A pleasant shock, to be sure– but still it was a shock. We were still smiling about it this morning. And the end result is that we would recommend our landlord to other people, which ultimately is good for his business. He won’t end up being blacklisted by the local military community, and that will likely translate to more money for him. It’s a shame that our ex landlady wasn’t able to realize that cooperation is the better way to go, rather than being stubborn, accusatory, retaliatory, and insulting.

My faith is restored in humanity. It’s like the universe is now showing us that we were right to do what we did… and that we were victims of gaslighting, among other things. I hope we can stay here for awhile longer. I like to reward good people when I can. Either way, I don’t think we’re going to have to sue this landlord, and thank heaven for that.

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memories, musings, nostalgia

A few notable memories of past December 27ths…

The featured photo today is one of me when I was about three years old. It was not taken on December 27th, 1975, but it does appear in my Facebook memories today.

I happened to be awake last night at midnight. That’s something that doesn’t happen so often anymore. I’ve always been more of a nightowl than Bill is. His brain has a tendency to go down with the sun. By nine o’clock, talking to him is like trying to listen to a Walkman with dying batteries. His eyes roll back in his head and I have to tell him to go to bed. I usually go with him, and he wakes me up very early in the morning. He can’t help it. So now, after eighteen years of marriage, we tend to go to bed somewhat early and rise early… and I sometimes have to nap, because I’ll stay up and read.

As Bill slept next to me, I looked at my Facebook memories, freshly available at the stroke of midnight. December 27th has historically been a memorable day. There were quite a few great memories from over the years. And there was also a not so great one from last year. As we were coming back from seeing my friend in France, we stopped at a rest area near Beaune so we could pee and call the people who owned the gite where we were going to stay. As we were about to leave, some jerk slashed our tire. We were driving our brand new car that, at that point, we had only owned since July 1, 2019. I wrote about that incident last year.

Flat tire caused by criminal jerks in France last year. This cost us a lot of money, but at least we got an extra day in France.

At the time of the tire slashing, it wasn’t such a good day… but now I look back on it and realize that some good came out of the slashing. For one thing, we got a taste of French good will. The gite owners let us stay an extra night free of charge, and the guy at the tire shop went out of his way to help us find the right tires. I discovered a love of Pommard wine, and since we didn’t know what was on the horizon in 2020, we got an extra day in a country we’ve come to love. I would love to be stuck in France today… minus the threat of the coronavirus, that is.

The next notable memory was from December 27, 2018. I posted “I am in serious need of fun.” To that, I now say, “I really had no idea.” In 2018, things were still open. Ah well, maybe next year, things will be less fucked up than they are in 2020. Maybe… one can hope and pray. I do have a sense of realism, though. On the other hand, maybe 2020 has taught me to appreciate the small things more. Going out to eat at a restaurant next year would be a great pleasure. Maybe it will happen.

The next notable memory was from December 27, 2014. We lived in Jettingen, having moved there in September of that year. We moved back to Germany in August 2014, but spent the first month in alternative lodging– a hotel for a week, then a temporary apartment that was a little too cozy for us. I was happy to have a home of my own, even if I didn’t love the house we rented and later came to despise the landlady.

Anyway, on December 27, 2014, we had a lot of snow. Zane and Arran were still youthful, and both having been born in the South– Zane in Georgia and Arran in North Carolina– they were not too familiar with the white stuff. Zane had encountered snow once, around the time we first got him. The storm in Georgia had happened in January 2010, I think… Zane was barely out of puppyhood and loved the snow! So I wasn’t surprised by this joyful reaction in 2014…

Zane and Arran in the snow. Zane was a fan, and Arran was not so much.

When we lived near Stuttgart, it wasn’t unusual to get decent snow at least once a year. Actually, where we lived, we got more than a lot of people did, even in the Stuttgart area. Jettingen was a higher altitude than some of the surrounding areas, so the snow tended to stick around awhile. We’d still have sleddable hills long after people in other areas had a sloppy, muddy mess.

Here in Breckenheim, we’re kind of in a valley. It doesn’t snow as much here anyway, so it’s been awhile since we last had a good snowstorm. I miss it. Arran doesn’t. Noyzi seems to like snow, though. A couple of weeks ago, we had some snow that melted after a day or so. He had great fun running around in it. Noyzi has been more playful lately, anyway. He seems to be settling in nicely.

And finally, the last notable memory I was enjoying last night occurred on December 27, 2010. A high school classmate of mine shared this photo of our third grade class…

I’m in the front row, wearing the 70s era hand me down dress and clogs.

My German friend immediately picked me out of the crowd, and I started to explain the context of that photo. We had only recently moved to Gloucester County when this was taken. I was eight years old, and my parents had moved us from Fairfax County (a suburb of Washington, DC) to Gloucester. I was actually born not too far from Gloucester, in Hampton, Virginia. A lot of my classmates were born in Hampton, or nearby Newport News or Williamsburg, but they had spent their whole lives in Gloucester. I, on the other hand, was an Air Force brat, and we moved to Dayton, Ohio not long after my birth.

Anyway, two years after my dad retired from the Air Force out of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England, my parents moved to Fairfax, Virginia. Fairfax was a very suburban place in the late 70s. We lived in a neighborhood where there were sidewalks and playgrounds. I had lots of kids to play with and could walk to and from school every day. My school in Fairfax was also diverse, and I had classmates from all over the world. I remember learning about Japan and Thailand in first and second grades. We even had culture days at school where we’d taste foods from different countries (I wasn’t a fan because I was a very picky eater). I remember learning about Vincent Van Gogh and other artists, too. Fairfax had a lot more money than Gloucester did, so the school experience was very different.

Gloucester, by contrast, was like a different world. In 1980, it was still extremely rural. My parents bought a house with a business attached. On one side of the house there was a dirt road, where there were no playgrounds or sidewalks, and the kids would act like they were on the set of The Dukes of Hazzard. Yes, there were plenty of Confederate battle flags everywhere, and instead of playing childhood games, the kids would ride bikes and motorcycles, shoot BB guns, and play in the graveyard (seriously, we did this). It was decidedly “redneck”, and not what I was used to at all.

On the other side of my parents’ house ran Business Route 17, a busy road that led to Gloucester Courthouse. It provided my parents with a supply of customers, but it wasn’t the best place to live. In Fairfax, there was a shopping mall on the other side of the woods behind our house. I could walk to the mall with ease. We were also really close to a meeting house for the Mormons. Little did I know that I would someday marry a Mormon. Now he’s an ex Mormon! In those days, I remember thinking that church was mysterious. In Gloucester, I had to walk about two miles down Route 17 to get to the crappy shopping center. In those days, I could do it– even as a young kid– and no one cared.

My first year in Gloucester was very difficult. I experienced a lot of bullying that year. In Fairfax, I had my cousins nearby, and while we weren’t close friends or anything, they were family. I had friends in the neighborhood. I didn’t have to ride the bus. In Gloucester, I knew no one, and people thought I was weird. I’m still weird, but people appreciate it more now than they did then.

So looking at that photo is a little painful for me. That teacher, Mrs. Thompson, didn’t like me much. That was supposedly the “gifted” class. Half the class wasn’t gifted, though… We were divided into two reading groups. I was in the more advanced group, having been moved there a week or two after I started at Botetourt Elementary School. I had originally been in Miss Booker’s class, but I could read better than the other kids in that class. So I was put in Mrs. Thompson’s class, where all the “cool kids” were. These were mostly kids who were born and raised in Gloucester. Their parents were community pillars. Some of them rode the school bus with me and made every day a living hell. I often came home crying.

In third grade, we were in these big open classrooms that could be separated by an electric divider. Our divider was always open, and the teacher in the other room, Mrs. Holstrom, was a lot louder than Mrs. Thompson was. My attention would often drift to her class. Mrs. Thompson would then call on me, and I would be lost. So the kids would make fun of me, and I would get upset and cry. They took perverse delight in tormenting me for having a short span of attention and being easily upset. And my parents did nothing about it. I remember one of my older sisters used to coach me in comebacks. I’m now pretty good at verbally putting people in their places, but back then, I didn’t have a clue.

I seem to also remember feeling like I needed better clothes. The dress I’m wearing in the photo above came from my former Fairfax County neighbor, Sarah. She’s two years older than I am and Canadian. We ended up friending each other on Facebook! She now lives in British Columbia, but for two years, she was my friend. I inherited a bunch of her clothes, including that dress. I remember liking that dress because it “spun” so well and was comfortable. But all of the kids in Gloucester were wearing oxford shirts, Levis, and Nikes, Docksiders, or saddle shoes, and monogrammed sweaters. They all had combs in their back pockets, too. I never got into the comb habit, nor did I ever own a pair of saddle shoes. I do remember having “Topsiders”, which was a rip off of the vastly superior “Docksiders” shoes people wore back then. It’s now funny to me that I was so into brands when I was 8.

I see that photo was also taken in what we used to call “The Pit”. It was a room where we’d watch films, take music class, and have class pictures taken. That was also the room where we had the horrible “Growing Up and Liking It” discussion. Yep– I learned what menstruation is in that room! The Pit no longer exists. It was “filled in” some years later because the school officials needed another room for normal classroom use. Years after I was a student at Botetourt, I taught an after school enrichment horse class for my 4H club. I was 17 at the time, but still had such vivid memories of going to Botetourt.

I also have curls in that photo. Why? Because my sisters used to curl their hair and I wanted to be like them. I slept in pink curlers the night before that photo was taken. I thought it was a good look. I wore clogs for the same reason. My sister, Sarah, had them and I wanted to be like her. She was in high school then, and used to come of Botetourt to teach the “cool kids” French. That was fourth grade, though, and by then I was out of the so-called “gifted” group. Mrs. Thompson had me put down a level. I ended up being the best reader and speller in my fourth grade class. That was when I had Mr. Almasian, who was very popular and young. He was also of Armenian descent, and he used to talk about it in class. Little did I know that I would eventually go on to live in Armenia. But I could devote an entire blog post to his class, so I won’t continue with that tangent, except to say that being in his class helped put an end to the bullying, at least. But Mr. Almasian had a whale shaped paddle that he used on us. He’d paddle us in front of the class. Yes, it happened to me, and yes I’m still pissed off about it. Again… a story I’ve already written, and one to rewrite and embellish on another day.

Anyway… it’s already after 1:00pm, and so far the most exciting thing that has happened is that I finally vacuumed. So next year, if I write another post like this one, I’ll have to pick another day to do it. At least I’m still married to this guy…

And we no longer live in that house…
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