Don’t Call Me “Darling”

When you see me out at a bus stop
Train station
Restaurant
Store
Don’t feel like you have to talk to me
Don’t address me
Don’t look me up and down
When you see me on my way
Don’t stop me
Don’t make a comment
God, don’t tell me to smile
And please
Don’t call me
Sweetie
Honey
Baby
Sweetheart
But most of all
Don’t call me darling.
That one bothers me the most.


It’s been a while since I’ve written a poem. I think the last time I wrote one it was a limerick about hurricanes. This one is obviously far different. I thought maybe it could help me, provide some insight into something that has bothered me for days now.

I was harassed at the train station this week. Not in the sexual way, the one I’m more adapted to. The catcalls and comments about my “ample bosom” as Blanche Devereaux would call it, have become just as commonplace as a simple “hello” in this day and age. I’m not unfamiliar anymore. This, this was different, and it has stuck.

As I stepped out of a stranger’s car, running late to catch the train to work as always. (Some things change, some things stay the same.) He called me out on having a Black man drive me—a white woman—to the station. “You have a Black man driving you! You’re living the life!” he bellowed as I walked toward the entrance. I could smell the smoke wafting my direction, sweet but not too sweet, the smell of tobacco I sometimes miss but sometimes loathe.

I had my headphones on. I didn’t realize what he was saying or if he was talking to me. I had wrongly assumed he was on his phone, on a headset or something. After all,  I always wear my headphones, I always blast my music—it’s the best way I’ve found to keep my commuting anxiety at bay.

I couldn’t respond.

I was stunned.

What do you say when your racial privilege is called out right in front of you? What do you say when the curtain on your life is pulled back, revealing something you hadn’t anticipated? “What’s behind door number three? White privilege!”

Uncomfortable, I smiled at the man, as he smoked his cigarette, and continued on my way. The worst part of the entire interaction? The way he called me “darling.” After pulling back a long-closed, tightly fastened curtain on my life, he left me with these purportedly harmless parting words: “Have a good day, darlin’.”

I haven’t gotten it out of my head.

The entire interaction has haunted me. My commutes to work have been shrouded in these words, this memory, one I wish I could purge from my mind.

I haven’t known what to say in all the replays. I haven’t known what to do. The more I play it back, the fewer answers I find. The more questions I have about society and for myself. How did I forget that the color of my skin, tattoos and all, award me so many different things? As a woman, sure, things are different. As a gay woman, they’re made even more different. In these instances, there are only a few things you can do—and one is just forget. But I have never been good at forgetting.

For now and perhaps forever, just please don’t call me darling.

Change & Transition

Yoga can be a very emotional experience. Yesterday, I cried. And I cried a whole lot. I sobbed on the mat for the first time in a long time, my emotions running wild. And it was okay.

The teacher, one I had taken class with at my previous studio, offered up an intention near the beginning of class. It was different than the one I usually set (survival) and different than the new one I was considering (peace) as I still struggle with many different things.

The intention? Accepting change and transition: in your practice and your life.

This is my last week of work at my millennial dream job. I am leaving to continue my digital career in an agency that prides itself in resolving violent conflict and reducing instances of violent extremist and terrorist events across the globe. Something that plays heavily into my longstanding passion for international relations. And somewhere I never thought I’d be.

I never thought I would leave my millennial dream job. I was happy. It was perfect. I loved it and all the people I worked with and for.

And then the dream became a difficulty, the brilliant plan became a burden. I was overwhelmed, overworked, overtired, and oversensitive. My mental health deteriorated–rapidly. I was floundering, struggling to stay afloat, to stay alive. A change had to come.

And it is here.

Hard work, for about six weeks, paid off. Interviews and applications and cover letters and resume updates and crying on the therapist’s couch all led me here.

But it is here.

I don’t know what to do. I sometimes regret the choice I made to leave. But I remembered how difficult things were. How terrible I felt and still feel. When you feel great, it’s easy to slip and fall into despair. The opposite, climbing out of the abyss of depression? Far more difficult. Ridden with obstacles and setbacks.

Transitions are hard. Change is harder. Switching jobs feels less like a transition and more like a drastic change. The new job and the old one aren’t incredibly different, but they are different enough to where I am seriously taking a leap of faith–and my new organization and team are taking a relatively risky chance on me. Just like my previous one did. (Arguably, the first job took more of a risk since I had yet to hold a “professional” job and now I have nearly four years’ experience in one.) But there are still skills I’ve yet to learn, failures to avoid, successes to revel in.

Skills that I was reminded of in class today. The skills of mastering Eagle pose. Not falling out of Half Moon. Taking every Downward Facing Dog possible. (Down Dog is my least favorite pose.)

I took the teacher up on her offer of the change and transition intention. I needed the reminder that change and transition are difficult, but possible. That even if you stumble, you survive.

You pick up and keep going.

You find the middle ground, the variation that works for you.

The peace that you need to pick up and carry on, to bring yourself to Savasana at the end of the day satisfied with the fact that you continued to do the best that you could in each moment.

That you did what you could, where you were, with what you had.

And while the changes and transitions in life are hard, you can survive–even if there is some sweat, sobbing, and snot along the way.

It’s Time for Me to Say, Yes, #MeToo

I’ve alluded in previous notes and in some tweets to the fact I have some stories that allow me to say, unfortunately #MeToo. I have been quiet about these stories, saving the space for others. But today, I realize that I need to take my space. I need to remember that I am worthy of the space I occupy in any sense of the term. In any aspect. On the train, on the internet, in the world. This is me, forging my space, in a hashtag that so many women have come to confess the pain and sorrow they’ve experienced at the hands of abusers, assaulters, harassers, rapists. But it’s my time and it’s my turn.

After all, I cannot run from these stories–as much as I may want to and as hard as I may try. I cannot run from my truth, and maybe, somehow, writing about it will help me leave it all behind.

Obviously, the subject matter and stories contained within this newsletter contain references to and descriptions of sexual assault and rape. Please read with caution and take care of yourself. If you need to talk to someone about any experience with sexual assault, you can reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline via the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673)


Back in the days when I used colored straws to indicate how much Captain Morgan was poured into a Diet Coke bottle, I was reckless. The days when I self-medicated before I realized that was actually what it was. It wasn’t until after I was old enough to legally drink when I learned that, yes, I was self-medicating to solve the rampant mood swings and depression I thrust into.

In my heaviest partying self-medicating days, I spent a lot of time at basement house parties. It was college. I would pack up my orange Nike drawstring bag with my wallet, keys, and Diet Cokes and head downtown on the 11 bus (affectionately known as the “Drunk Bus”) and into a completely different world than one I ever thought I’d find myself in.

I only remember details of a couple of these parties. Not because I blacked out drunk (although that did happen a few times), but because most of them are the same. One, I made out with a guy I was flirting with for a couple months and ended up dating for a while after that.

Unfortunately, the story of the other is less idyllic and far less fun.

I’d pre-gamed before leaving my room. It’s standard procedure if you’re underage and planning on heading to a party off campus where there’s always a risk of getting caught by the police who were notorious for being rude and argumentative with college students. By the time I’d arrived downtown, I’d been a pretty decent level of drunk. Not enough to lose all faculties, but enough to be hazy, tipsy, buzzed (whichever term you prefer).

There was a guy. He was attractive. My hazy memory wants me to say he was blonde, tall, somewhat muscular, very bro-esque. (Many of these stories have to do with bro-type guys in my experience reading them.) I almost remember his name as having been Dylan. I don’t know why.

We were dancing. I’d been wearing a short skirt. I still own said skirt and why I haven’t gotten rid of it is far beyond my comprehension. He was cute. We danced closer. Before I knew it and before I realized it, his hand was inside my underwear. He was fingering me. In public. In front of about fifteen people I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t scream. No one would’ve heard me anyway, I was at a house party with blaring music. I looked around the room frantically. I couldn’t find the friends I’d gone with.

I spotted a friend of mine from another instance, another part of my life. I mouthed “please help me” to him. Multiple times. He didn’t respond. He didn’t help me. I eventually pulled the guy’s hand away and said I needed to find my friends.

I’ve never told this story. I only remembered it recently. I’m ashamed of it and how I knew I should’ve acted prior. I blame myself for a lot of this scenario–which is twisted. It wasn’t my fault.


Still in college. My college friends could regale you with hours upon hours of stories about a guy I still to this day refer to as “Dumbass Boy.” It’s exactly who he was and it’s exactly who he still is. (Once you have a nickname like that, you just don’t shake it.)

I was in love with him for a time (or what I thought “in love” looked like) and he never wanted anything more than what we had. I was likely more of a dumbass than he was.

We met through the “Class of 2014” Facebook group my college set up. We chatted on Facebook for the months leading up to us actually going to school, and for a little while once we got there. We ended up living in buildings across the way from each other and one late night went on a walk together to meet in person. I went back to his room with him, he played “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews on his guitar to impress me (it worked), and we then went to second base. He was the first guy to see me topless outside of my now-gay best friend.

For months we stayed on third base. I was okay with that–a man was paying attention to me. He was attracted to me (or so my delusional brain thought). I was desirable. I was more than just the fat girl for once in my life.

Before the end of my first fall semester, we had sex. I trusted him to be my first. And it’s a comical story now featuring the “Family Guy” laugh track and a bed uncomfortably tall for me to climb onto.

He lingered around in my life for years after that.

We would hook up, I’d get in a relationship, that relationship would end, he’d come back, and the cycle would continue. I came out as bisexual, I told him, he had the stereotypical reaction of a bro (“Can I watch? Can we have a threesome?”). I was playfully unamused, but had come to expect it from him. He was that type.

When my college boyfriend (I only had one while I did date two girls) dumped me, I went back to Dumbass Boy. Something about him always had me coming back. He was comfortable and he was the first man in a long time to make me feel desired. To make me feel like I mattered. Like I could be wanted.

We fooled around just like we always had. He always tried to get us to have anal sex. I refused for a long time. I was scared. Everything I ever knew about anal was terrifying. Bloody, potentially embarrassing, and terrifying. I’d determined that that wasn’t ever anything I wanted to partake in. And he knew that.

One night, in his shower, we decided to have sex. We hadn’t had actual sex since he took my virginity. I was open to that idea–it’d been a while for me.

He wanted anal.

I didn’t.

He got what he wanted–after guilt tripping me. He was good at that.

After, I cried silently and washed thoroughly with his Irish Spring body wash. It has forever been tainted for me; even though it had been a scent and a soap I always loved. Just thinking about it brings me back to that night, pushed against the shower wall, wishing I was having a vivid nightmare, wishing I was anywhere else. When I think about this, I can still feel the slight sting of the soap’s scent in my nose, clear as day.

I never told him how that made me feel. I regret it. To this day, I don’t think he knows what it was.


My second year living in Washington, DC. I had gone to happy hour with a couple coworkers and being as young and reckless as I was, didn’t realize that you probably shouldn’t get tanked while out with your coworkers. (It took me a significant amount of time to learn this lesson.) They went home, I wanted to keep drinking. And I did.

I texted a friend (and coworker) to see if he wanted to meet up with me at a gay bar. He lived close to it and I used to frequent that bar when I lived in the Northwest quadrant of the city. He said sure, I’d gotten to my apartment and was still taking Fireball shots in my apartment and then left for the rest of the night’s adventures.

I continued taking Fireball shots and drinking rum and Coke. (Rum and Coke was my drink of choice for a long time. If I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I’ll go back to it. Now it’s more Jack and Coke if I can get it.)

I was very drunk by the time my friend decided to go home with an attractive man. I wasn’t going to begrudge him that. I told him that he should go. He offered to escort me to the Metro station, but I didn’t want to be a cockblock (me, in my eternal quest to not be a burden to others).

I got on the train and I don’t remember much after that.

I remember a police officer taking me off the train because I’d passed out or fallen asleep (likely the former). I remember a man telling the officer that he’d take me home. I don’t know why I agreed. He did take me to my house, but not after some pieces I still have yet to fully put together (and I don’t think I ever want to).

I remember a basement, the smell of laundry detergent likely Gain and not Tide, sitting atop a washing machine, and vaguely giving a blow job. Then blacking out, and coming to right before I made it to my apartment. I slept for hours upon hours after that, missing a date with my now-wife.

This is the first time I have ever told anyone other than my wife, one of my coworkers, and my therapist this story. It haunts me.


I tell these stories in hopes that being honest with myself will remind me that I am a strong person who deserves to be treated like a human. I tell them hoping desperately that my future daughters will never have stories like these. That this will only be a distant memory and I can tell them of the change and revolution a few women caused via just a little thing called the internet. And I tell these stories with a fervent hope that the conversation will continue and that someday there will be no more stories like these.

American Girl

Well, she was an American girl raised on promises… 

That’s one of the first songs I start singing when someone mentions Tom Petty to me. There’s that one, there’s “Refugee” which I have a separate, and potentially funnier story about if you like off color humor and misinterpreted lyrics, and of course the standard “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”–the first Tom Petty song I ever knew.

I always end up coming back to American Girl though.

I have a very vivid memory attached to that song. One that brings me joy even on dark days like this one…


Back when I was a preteen, you know those awkward years between being a child and a cool, know-it-all teenager, my dad got a go-kart for my brother and I. Truth is, he picked it up off the side of the road on his way home from work one day like a wounded stray puppy and brought it home for us. (He’s the “do now and ask permission later” type–it’s where I get that same behavior from.)

My brother was more excited than I was; he’s always had a propensity for vehicles and a “need for speed.” I was never the vehicle type–as much as I loved watching auto racing, partaking in it myself (or even in driving) was never my speed. In fact, there’s only one picture of me behind the wheel of a car.

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(Yes, it’s a Power Wheels Jeep.)

But that go-kart was awesome. It had two seats, purple rollbars and yellow accents that my dad, brother, and I covered with various stickers and the pool noodles we tied on with wireties to make sure they stayed on–safety first!

There were no seat belts; we only ever drove the thing around the backyard. It was a hallmark of summer days being able to bring out the go-kart and take it for a spin, always making sure to watch out for any various animal excrement in the yard–whether from the household dog or from coyotes or deer.

There was no excrement on the particular day of this story.

It was a beautiful midsummer day–probably early July and my brother and I had taken the car for a spin. I’d just loaded my iPod nano–my very first and only hot pink electronic device–with some new music, including Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

Over the years, my parents had managed to introduce me to a wide variety of music–Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead–thanks to the advent of satellite radio. (You can only get so many FM channels in Upstate New York; there are too many trees.) My music library was essentially all-encompassing by this time.

My latest obsession was that song. It was the “driving the go-kart, hair down, no cares in the world” song at the time. I was that American girl, raised on promises. I was that American girl, thinking there was a little more to life somewhere else. And I was attached to the song deeply.

My brother and I climbed into the kart and drove. The song blared, I sang, I sped up and drove like it was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

I took a turn too fast and my brother flew over the side of the rollbar.

I, instead of letting him back in, thought it was the funniest thing and would slow down so he could catch up, and then speed off. Because, as a big sister, it’s my job to antagonize.

To this day I haven’t forgotten that day and how much fun it was. My brother and I laugh about it now–he’s gotten over it and since I don’t drive, it makes it a little easier.


Today’s a hard day. And on the hardest days, I find myself clinging to memories like this one. Because… After all it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to…

Haunted

Is there anybody alive out there?

Some days are worse than others. Some days I don’t think of you at all. I’m grateful for those.

Some days, like today, the memory of you and what you did to me brings me down like a ship’s anchor. I walked through this day zombified, confused, almost-but-not-quite-on autopilot, hoping it would dissipate.

But today is not one of those days. Today, you haunt me. And you haven’t stopped.

It started with “Radio Nowhere.” Your favorite Bruce Springsteen song.

I don’t know why I still remember that fact. I wish I could forget it. I’m sure I never will. That’s just a writer thing, I guess. Remembering all of the little things any “normal” person would’ve long forgotten by now. The memories I’m sure you don’t hold onto are all the ones I’m certain I still have.

My mind wandered to those years of thoughts about what could be, what was, and what I wanted. The good times we shared. The times I thought I loved you and the time I thought you actually might have cared about me. (It’s singular on purpose.)

I snap myself back to reality, and launch into the memory of what you did to me. The bad time. The time I don’t think you realize what you did. What your name to all my friends has forever been changed to.

I cringe, aching with the reminder of how those water droplets felt as they splashed off your chest and onto my back. The smell of your Irish Spring body wash still stings my nose–years later. I can smell it right now. Just the right amount of soft, but masculine. Not overpowering. My skin smelled of it for hours afterward, as I walked home, not entirely sure of what had just happened.

I still hate admitting that I liked that soap, especially as I tried to scrub all of the shame and self-hatred from my skin. Some days, I can still feel it all. The shame, the self-hatred, the soap itself as it slid from the bottle, bubbled beneath my fingertips, and slid across my skin.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I remember how I liked you. The thoughts of your sly smile, your ice blue eyes, the way you were the first boy to ever really pay attention to me. The first one to ever treat me like I was worthy of romantic love and affection. I should’ve learned early on (and long ago) that you weren’t really the romantic love and affection type. I should’ve learned early on that I would never truly believe I was worthy of that. And even years later, married and all, I will never truly believe it.

And yet, I find myself here, behind a keyboard, remembering just who you were and how I cared for you. How foolish I’d been, letting you in with something as simple as a Facebook message and a simple guitar rendition of “Crash Into Me.” (I still can’t listen to that song without remembering that warm September night–almost seven years after it happened.)

Once I thought I’d gotten past this, back to the actual reality of life at my desk and the assignments I faced, it came back. Something else happened.

I saw a photo, of you and the girl you’re currently with. I still can’t decide how I feel about this–and you’ve been with her over a year now.

I’ve written about it before, how I wonder about the way you treat her, whether or not you actually say you love her in the way I wish you loved me so long ago, and exactly how she managed to be the one to break you of your habit of heartbreaking and stomping and general tomfoolery as it pertains to women and their affections or feelings. (I know there were women before me who you’d scorned and destroyed.)

I somehow can’t decide if I pity her or envy her; neither feeling being particularly desirable. How I wonder if she knows what you’d been like before her. If she knows about the hearts you broke, the women you irreparably damaged. If she knows about me. The words we shared. The play fights we had.

I wonder if you used  the same trick on her you used on me. The “Crash Into Me” rendition that got you to be the first man (outside of my childhood best friend) to see me topless.

You haunt me still. And I hate admitting it.

I’m at a point in my life where I know I shouldn’t still be thinking about you. I’m at a point in my life where you shouldn’t matter, where I shouldn’t feel anything about you anymore and yet here I am, writing another stupid essay about a stupid boy (a BOY!) who never thought of me as anything more than a piece of ass.

As a writer, I suppose you’re always just a little bit haunted by the ghosts of your past. And I hope that some day, with enough ink spilled and keys pressed, you’ll finally let me rest.

 


Editor’s Note: If you like what you read, please feel free to leave a tip.

 

Dear Blank Page,

It’s been no secret that you and I have had our differences over the last two or three months.

It’s been no secret that while I thought we’d worked things out, I could’ve thought we were okay far too soon.

What is it with you lately that has gotten me in such a tizzy? With such a fear of even putting down the slightest word, the tiniest pen stroke? What keeps me rapidly and rampantly erasing every single thing?

Fear. The fear and intimidation you set.

Writing is a fickle, fickle thing. Many people who don’t write creatively don’t understand that (and I’m being constantly reminded of this fact).

I’ve written, I’ve gotten words down, but yet, the ability to hit publish or send or even sometimes “Save Draft” is even gone. I have no tangible products to show for the work and the pain I’ve been through lately.

You’re daunting and scary, yes. I sometimes feel the same deep-seeded fear I felt as a child when I would listen to one oddly creepy radio ad and run screaming to the comfort of my parents–that unadulterated, earth-shattering fear.

It’s a fear that I know I can overcome, but it’s also like the fear and dread that sets in as I sit and watch the grey storm clouds roll in through my floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a fear that hurts, a fear that sits in the pit of my stomach.

There’s nothing that compares to it. And there’s absolutely nothing that compares to beating it.

But for now, you and I will just have to sit and talk it out again. It’s okay, I know you think that I might not be enough for you, but right now you’re not quite enough for me either. This blank page, this unrivaled fear, they’re not working for me. And so, right now, I will hit publish and we’ll move on from here. Alright? Thanks.

Love you always, even when you’re a petulant brat.

–Jess


Editor’s Notes:

  1. This post first appeared as part of my newsletter. Subscribe and get more. 
  2. If you like what you read today, please feel free to leave a tip.

Day One: Whole30!

This month, my wife and I are embarking on the journey known as Whole30–where for an entire month, we will be on what’s essentially an elimination diet; removing things that are absolute staples of our lives: grains, sugars, alcohol (that’s mostly a staple of my life if we’re being perfectly honest).

It’s the end of day one, which I honestly waited for excitedly and anxiously. My wife and I thought long and hard and prepared ourselves–and our kitchen–vigorously before this day arrived. That didn’t stop my trepidation.

I awoke early enough to make myself some scrambled egg whites for breakfast (cooked in ghee instead of regular butter like I usually do and they were marvelous) to bring to work with me. I chopped tomato, pepper, and cucumber to toss into a container for a salad, coated them in oil and balsamic vinegar for some extra flavour. I grabbed a banana and cherries and tossed them all in a lunch box. (There is no acceptable or graceful way to eat either of those things at your desk, by the way.)

Dinner was a lettuce wrap filled with ground beef, mushrooms, yellow and green bell pepper and tomato seasoned generously with garlic and onion, cumin, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, salt and black pepper. Kind of like a healthy, cheese-and-bread-less version of a Philly cheesesteak–and a meal I’d be happy to eat again. (Go figure, something without cheese was delicious!)

This was the first time in months that I’ve eaten three meals in a day. Truthfully, I don’t actually remember the last time I ate three meals in one day. I am usually one to have a beverage in the morning (lately it’s been iced tea) and have a large dinner. But no. Breakfast and lunch and dinner all happened today. It’s an odd feeling.

In keeping with the theme of perfect honesty, I’m utterly terrified of failing at this. I’ve already had to remove coffee, my lifeblood, from my diet because of persistent stomach problems and removing sweetened and caffeinated beverages (miss you already, Coca-Cola!) will likely prove to be difficult. I know thinking about how many ways I could potentially fail will likely set me on a path to failure and a restart, but I know what I’m up against: myself. And I can beat that relatively easily.

Why do this at all though? As I tell my therapist on a regular basis, my single goal for my life right now is to feel better. I want to feel better spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically–which is where Whole30 comes in. It’s absolutely no secret that I weigh more than I want to. It’s also not the point of this exercise. Weight loss isn’t the goal here and I think that’s what drew me to it; the fact that it’s more about wellness than weight loss. I want to feel better and if I end up losing some weight along the way, well then cool! That’ll be great!

But for now, I will rediscover my love of sweet cherries, try and eat a lettuce wrap without dropping its contents all over myself, and perhaps master filling my S’well bottle without having it spill all over itself, my counter, or me.

 


Editor’s Note: If you like what you read, here’s my tip jar.