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My Issues With Popular Romance

I know my friends will read the title of this and say, “Why haven’t you contacted that therapist I sent you?” But the thing is,

I will text her tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have a bone to pick with romance writers. See, as a dog walker, I spend an inordinate about of time picking up poop and listening to audiobooks. It’s a great way to pass the time and learn new things, like how champagne houses were part of The French Resistance in WWII, and how the restaurant Long John Silver’s named itself after a pirate who cooked his own leg and fed it to his crew. (Allegedly.)

However, I’ve been devouring audiobooks at a rapid rate and, in doing so, have found I can almost always predict what’s going to happen ten minutes in:

If a single woman’s mother dies, she will inherit a curious pack of letters and/or a crumbling mansion in Europe, wherein she will discover a tangled web of family secrets guarded by a hot, complicated gardener.

If a woman is successful and lives in a city, her fiancé will cheat on her and she will seek refuge in a sleepy little ghost town, where she will inevitably fall for the neighborhood widower.

If a woman notices a man’s hair “curling over his ears,” she will sleep with him.

If a woman moves in with her grandmother, they’re both witches.

If a woman touches a rock in a foreign country, she will travel back hundreds of years in time and fall in love with a man who, against all odds, has a full set of teeth.

I am willing to accept one can travel through time, but I refuse to believe an 18th-century man would be hot and healthy without ever having laid brush to tooth.

But I digress.

These predictable plots got me thinking about the problematic relationships we’re sold over and over again in pop culture. I should caveat this post with the fact that I am single, cynical, and probably a little confused about what I want, so my opinions are not for everyone.

Mr. & Mrs. ReyLo Smith:

Girl and Boy are sworn enemies: terrible to and for each other. Girl and Boy spend years trying to kill each other. There’s a brief moment in which we wonder if Girl and Boy are related? Girl and Boy have an explosive fight on a collapsing space boat, after which Girl and Boy realize they actually love each other, or, at the very least, would have fantastic sex.

Message: Take a chance on that psycho you hate! He might be your soul mate. Or cousin, who knows! Also, violence = passion, and sex inside collapsing buildings is THE BEST.

My issue with this archetype is that I’ve never wanted to sleep with someone I’ve spent years trying to assassinate.

But, then again, maybe I just haven’t met the right guy.

Why does Hollywood always push women to fall in love with the men trying to kill them? This happens frequently throughout one of my favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whether it’s Buffy and Spike or Buffy and Angel. I will say, though, I very much appreciated the decision to have Buffy kill Angel to save the world. You go girl.

True Vampire Saga:

Virgin Girl Next Door meets Immortal Bad Boy. Boy tells girl to stay away from him, if she knows what’s good for her. Girl takes this as a light suggestion and brings him a bundt cake anyways. Boy says, “I kill people.” Girl says, “Lol it’s okay I’m weird too.” Hot, much more stable werewolf friend enters the picture. No one cares. Someone tries to kill Girl, so Boy makes Girl move into his mansion. Boy and Girl live happily ever after even though they have absolutely nothing in common and their conversations are painful to listen to.

Message: You’ll be the one to change him. Also, controlling is hot!

My issue with this is why are werewolves/shapeshifters always friend-zoned? I’d choose a werewolf over a vampire every time. For one–and I cannot stress how important this is to me–they are not dead. Second, they can do stuff during the day. Third, they eat. Fourth, they (probably) won’t eat me. And fifth, I could ride one like a horse in a pinch.

The Curmudgeon Next Door:

City Girl moves next door to Small Town Boy. Girl is chatty and addicted to work. Boy is rude and thinks Wifi is the Devil’s work. Girl complains about Boy to locals. Locals tell Girl that Boy is mean because he is sad and he is sad because he is widowed. Girl gives Boy a second chance. Girl and Boy make headway until Girl asks Boy about his dead wife, Sara. Boy blows up. Girl storms out. Boy storms after Girl and somehow they end up making out because they’re both scared of love.

Message: He’s an asshole now, but if you wear him down, he’ll come around.

This one is particularly hard for me because I have a pattern of falling for unattainable men, and never once have they caved and opened a B&B with me.

For more, see The Spirit of Christmas or Luke from Gilmore Girls.

Reluctant Childhood Sweethearts:
(Most commonly found in novels)

Girl and Boy are childhood best friends. Puberty strikes and Girl and Boy become more than best friends on Their Dock. Shit hits the fan with Girl’s family (her mom is a piece of work!) and Girl moves in with her Grandma. Girl convinces herself she’s unlovable so she says something mean to Boy. Heartbroken, Boy moves to New York.

Girl never speaks to Boy again, but she thinks about him every time she smells the sea.

Boy never speaks to Girl again, but he becomes an emotionally unavailable bachelor who sleeps with lots of models.

Years pass.

Boy inherits his father’s hotel empire, even though he swore he’d never be a Suit.

Girl takes over Grandma’s Wicca store, even though she dreams of becoming a writer.

Grandma dies.

Boy comes back for Grandma’s funeral; Girl avoids him at all costs.

Boy spends days, weeks, MONTHS convincing Girl to let him love her.

Boy yells, “I won’t let you go! Not again!”

Girl yells, “I’m scared!”

Boy kisses her anyways.

Boy and Girl are happy until something weird happens. (Girl’s mom comes back in the picture? Girl’s editor shows up unannounced when Girl isn’t home, so Boy invites her in for coffee and she tells him all about the exposé Girl agreed to write about Boy’s family before they reconnected?)

But whatever they get over it and fall deeply in love. Again.

Message: Maybe take another look at your fourth grade boyfriend. Also, you don’t really know how you feel about someone until they tell you how you should feel about them.

I don’t want a dude to tell me how I should feel about him. I also don’t want a dude to tell me he’s going to the bathroom to play with his nipples, which is why I stopped online dating.

In conclusion, I should probably start reading better stuff. But I doubt I will.

The Keys Part 2

Day 4 – Miami

I want to put as much distance between myself and the boat from hell, so Jessie and I drive to Miami for the day. We check out a street art museum, eat some Peruvian food and swing by the Versace Mansion. I ask Jessie to take my photo in front of it. I send the photo to my friends, expecting responses like, “Omg JEALOUS!” Or: “YESSS fashionista, Of COURSE you went there!”

What I get instead is: “Are you wearing your umbrella hat?”

I am not.

We spend the rest of the day on South Beach. It is stunning, until a man in a speedo sits directly in front of us—back to the ocean, chest towards us—and opens his legs so we’re staring straight down the barrel of his dick.

A club promoter stops by the girls sitting next to us. They are blonde and beautiful and coating their bodies in baby oil. He asks if they’d be interested in coming to his club tonight—free of charge, of course. They mull it over. Jessie and I sit up a bit straighter, adjusting our Adventure Hats and rash guards, ready to be propositioned in kind.

He ignores us.

The only people who stop by our spot the rest of the day are:

A man selling weed

A man who yells at us for touching the umbrella we were supposed to have paid for

Day 5 – Bahia Honda and Key West

We drive down to Key West where we will spend the last few days of our trip. We stop at Bahia Honda State Park along the way to see the old railroad track, swim and scare children.

Me swimming. Jessie looked up from her book and said it “looked like Senator Palpatine was in the water.”

We spend the night checking out spots recommended by our AirBnB host. One is a promising bar with live music. We sit next a wholesome young man who respects our personal space. He’s cute and charming and allegedly in the Coast Guard, a statement I take as fact simply because he is wearing an old braided leather belt. He invites us on his boat the next day, but I decline, citing my recent exorcism on the water.

A man in a pair of novelty disguise glasses (like the ones below, but with a penis for the nose) leans over the fence to inquire after marital status. It’s time to leave.

On our walk home, a middle-aged white woman yells at me for wearing a mask. She is wearing a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville t-shirt and I am aghast. I spin around to scream at her, but she is gone, swept up in the sea of her idiot friends.

I fume the rest of the walk home. How could this woman be so ignorant and rude? I’m wearing a mask because I’m scared of getting sick and absolutely terrified of getting someone else sick. I’m doing it for all of us, asshole.

My blood is boiling as I write this. I hate this woman—and Jimmy Buffet—to this day.

Day 6 – Key West

Today is our big sightseeing day. We start by tracking down the best scones in Key West. I manage to get the last one in the case and what a rush it was. We then tour the old lighthouse and keeper’s quarters because I am going through a lighthouse phase.

Next up is the Hemingway House, which is without a doubt my favorite part of this trip. I am not a Hemingway fan but his house is beautiful and his cats are a plenty. We learn a lot about his life and walk away with a fresh, full understanding of just how much of a dick he was.

After a ghost tour (terrible – do not recommend) we wind down at a bar near our AirBnB. Someone sits next to me and orders a Fernet and Coke. I whirl around to see who this monster is, only to come face to face with an incredibly handsome man.

We get to talking. He is a local jet ski tour guide, originally from Mexico City. He orders a bowl of clams and I watch him methodically remove every single clam from its shell before eating a single one. I am blown away by this man and very much regret not getting his number.

His friend walks in and sits next to Jessie. He, too, is hot. They get to chatting and it is later revealed that he never says “sorry” because, as a parasail instructor, “sorry” means something has gone very wrong.

The more he speaks, the more I am certain he would be a selfish lover.

We leave the bar when I realize I am drunk.

Day 7 – Key West

Morning comes and I am hungover. Unfortunately, it is our big paddle board day. I ask for a few more minutes of rest, so Jessie goes out in search of coffee and pastries.

Hours later, we’re paddling through the mangroves, dodging tiny crabs that look like enormous spiders. It is 200 degrees and sunny. It is no place for a hangover.

As we make our way back in, Jessie yelps.

“What?” I ask

“Nothing,” she says.

Moments pass.

“I just saw a nurse shark,” she says. “But I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d scream and fall off your board.”

She knows me too well.

At night, we go to the sunset celebration at Mallory Square. On our walk there, a man jumps out of the bushes and yells, “WELCOME TO MALLORY SCARE!”

We both scream. I go down, diving for Jessie’s knees in an attempt to use her body as a shield.

It is a test of humanity and I have failed.

Sunset from Mallory Square

Day 8 – Key West

We wake up and get one last scone before Jessie drives me to the airport. I do not pack my snorkel gear. I tell Jessie I’m prepared to throw it away, that I never want to see it again. She takes my gear for herself.

Jessie has a few hours to kill before her own flight, so she goes trolling for wildlife with the fancy bird-watching binoculars she got for her birthday.

In typing the above sentence, I have made peace with being slighted by the Miami club promoter.

The Keys Part 1

My sister and I took a snorkeling trip to the Florida Keys. This is an an abbreviated account of our travels.

Day 1Key Largo

We land in Key West and immediately drive up to Key Largo for the first half of our trip. My sister Jessie, an experienced snorkeler, says it has some of the best snorkeling spots in the world. I, never having snorkeled, trust her.

After much difficulty, we find our AirBnB. It is fine, nothing special, though it is certainly better than the tent my sister wanted us to camp in. She is very cheap, my sister.

I set up my travel carbon monoxide detector and we change into our swimsuits. Jessie coats herself in a natural sunscreen that looks exactly like diaper cream. It does not rub in at all. Unaffected, she moves through the world, a trail of white paste in her wake.

We cannot find a public beach access point so we pretend to be guests at the fancy resort nearby. We try to play it cool at the gate, but I am a terrible liar and Jessie looks like a Carnival Cruise ship ghost. Inexplicably, the guard decides to help our cause. He tells us the beach is off-limits to non-guests, but that if we eat at the restaurant, he would turn a blind eye if we then slunk onto the beach.

We agree to this plan. I avoid looking at his name tag in case we are captured and questioned. The less everyone knows, the better.

Jessie and I enjoy a lovely meal on the water and creep down to the beach. I keep my hands in my pockets to hide the fact I do not have a wristband. Jessie says this looks infinitely more suspicious. We swim for a bit and drive home, incredibly smug with ourselves for pulling off such a stunt.

Night 1 – Key Largo

Karma strikes under the cover of darkness. It comes first for Jessie. I awake with a jolt to find her puking in a sauce pan at the edge of our bed. She is violently ill for hours, no doubt as payment for our illicit beach romp. I ask her if she’s okay. She’s not. I put on my noise canceling headphones and nervously await my turn to be smote.

Day 2 – Key Largo

Morning comes. I’ve been spared. Jessie is still nauseous, so we reschedule our boat trip. We instead go to the public beach where I can practice snorkeling from the shore. Jessie gives me a brief lesson before popping a Pepto Bismol and collapsing onto the sand. I wade into the water and practice, occasionally waving back to Jessie like an eager child seeking an absent mother’s attention.

We leave when I mistake a large fish for a shark.

Jessie sleeps off whatever food poisoning or bug she’s caught while I explore Key Largo alone.

Day 3 – The Atlantic Ocean

We wake up bright and early for a full day of snorkeling. Jessie, a new woman, promises me the time of my life.

The waves are categorized as “moderate.” This worries me. I take a Dramamine and we catch a boat out to the reef.

We arrive at the reef after 30 or 40 minutes. I feel okay, not great, but Jessie tells me I’ll be much better when I get in the water. I’ll be fine, she says, as soon as I’m off the boat.

This is her first lie. And she knows it.

We gear up and jump in. I see some fish and coral. I’m excited. Jessie takes my photo with the underwater camera we splurged on. The memories, we reasoned, would be worth it.

It is the first and last photo we have of me in the water.

Jessie points to a spot the captain recommended. I follow her out but it’s slow going. The waves knock me around and I struggle to keep up.

I see some more fish and coral. They look exactly like the fish and coral I saw earlier.

Another wave hits me and I feel like I’m going to throw up, which confuses me. People get seasick on boats, not in the actual sea. Right?

Jessie said once I was off the boat I’d be fine.

I have to be fine.

Why am I not fine?

Minutes pass and I realize two things:

1: Jessie is a liar.
2: I don’t give a fuck about any of these fish.

I pop my head up to find Jessie and tell her this. She is yards away, which might as well be miles. I yell for her. She yells back.

“Are you okay?”

I stare back at her, too embarrassed to scream the truth in front of so many happy families.

“Keep moving, Jo! You have to keep moving!” she yells

But I can’t keep moving. I can’t put my head underwater.

I consider pulling the emergency tab on my life vest. The captain said they’d come rescue us if we pulled the emergency tab.

I inflate my life vest to the max to make myself more visible. I close my eyes and wrap my arms around myself, completely upright, praying someone will see me and drag me by my neck back to the boat.

No one does.

I spy a boat nearby. I have no idea if it’s our boat, but I don’t care. I plan to climb aboard and demand sanctuary, which I assume will trigger some ancient maritime law to ferry me back to the shore.

I swim for what feels like hours towards the boat. With a thrill, I realize it is ours.

I am the first snorkeler to return.

I heave my body aboard and crawl to the nearest bench. In my thrashing, my bathing suit bottom has become a thong, but I don’t have it in me to fix it. I curl into a ball and wait, ass up, for death.

Days pass.

The sun beats down on my bare butt but I am too sick to care.

Years pass.

People begin to return.

I hear them excitedly clamber aboard and then pause at the foot of my bench.

I am a fallen snorkeler. And they’ve come to pay their respects.

Children scurry past me.

A kind woman applies pressure to my wrist.

A couple (incorrectly) states that we’re heading to ANOTHER snorkel spot.

I begin to cry.

Jessie climbs aboard, one of the last snorkelers to do so. I sit up and stare at her for a moment before turning my head to the side and puking into the wind.

Everyone is back on the boat now. We are ready to leave, but the captain does not start the motor.

Instead, the captain begins to name local fish. All of them. In detail.

No one speaks.

The boat is silent.

His speech rings loud and clear, punctuated only by the sounds of my retching.

Jessie, now embarrassed for me, panics.

“Start the boat, start the boat, start the damn boat,” she chants under her breath, like we’re in a horror movie and some deadly sea monster is swimming our way.

He doesn’t start the boat.

Two teenage girls point to the water near me. Fish circle under my head like vultures. People stand to get a better look.

“Start the boat, start the boat, start the fucking boat,” Jessie continues.

The captain finally starts the boat. We head back to shore.

Days later, when I prepare to fly home, I do not pack my snorkel gear.

Who Broke Your Heart, Sweetie?

A few years ago, I was getting my makeup done for a wedding. It was 8 a.m. and my eyes were heavy with rehearsal dinner hangover and eyelash glue. I am never overly chatty with hairstylists or makeup artists. Not because I’m rude, but because I assume they are best friends with every single one of their clients except for me, so why try to butt in and embarrass myself?

I am, as it turns out, deeply insecure.

As a seasoned bridesmaid, I am no stranger to early hair and makeup sessions. I was, however, a stranger to the woman doing my makeup. We’d never met. And up until this point, our conversation had only covered whether I would be paying extra for lashes (yes, always) and whether I could eat in her chair (yes, as long as I didn’t care about ruining my lips).

After this chummy exchange, she asked the question that always comes next: “So, are you dating anyone?”

This question does not bother me. It’s a natural conversation starter. I ask it all the time. What bothered me is what followed. When after I replied no, I wasn’t dating anyone and, yes, I was single and, what’s that? For how long? I don’t know, a while?, she dramatically set down her tools, held my gaze in the mirror and asked, “Who broke your heart, sweetie?”

Who broke your heart, sweetie?

Like it was not 8 in the morning and we had not just met.

Like I was sad.

Damaged.

As Known Chauvinist Joe Gorga says, A Broken Woman.

I was taken aback. I didn’t think this sort of thing happened outside of Steel Magnolias! And yet, here we were: virtual strangers having a classic Shelby and Truvy tête-à-tête.

I wanted to respond that I’m good, I enjoy being single. That I was having fun. Or, maybe for shock value, that I simply like trolling for dick.

But because I am a people pleaser, and because this woman was, in true Dolly Parton fashion, so earnestly trying to help, I let her think I was the heartbroken mess she wanted me to be.

And then I drank my juice (a mimosa) like a good Shelby.

And totally fucked up my lips.

While I’m sure woman was an exception, I think about her every time someone asks me why I’m not interested in dating. I don’t really know the answer. And I don’t think it even matters. But because it keeps coming up – “Are you dating anyone? Why not? Is Heather? Why not? Wait, are you and Heather together?” – I started talking about it in therapy. I think I’m fine, but now everyone has me thinking, well, what if I’m not? What if there is something wrong with me? What if I am A Broken Woman?

Note: while Heather, my roommate, would make a great life partner (she makes pasta, biscuits and scones from scratch!), we aren’t together. We are both just very apathetic about dating, and my experiences last year didn’t do much to galvanize our efforts.

Heather also cuts my hair. Again, she will make someone a very lucky man.

I know I’m not a broken woman. But I am starting to question myself. To borrow a phrase from a very rude male coworker, “I mean really sweetie what is going on here?”

(I don’t know why people keep calling me sweetie but please know it’s very patronizing and I hate it.)

It also doesn’t help that the landscape has changed. Relationship-wise, I went into lockdown on what felt like solid ground. Familiar territory. I knew where people stood, where all the pieces lay on the board. A is taking it slow with B, C *might* move in with D, E is casually dating but not looking to settle down, etc. We’re all just having fun, right?!

Wrong.

Overnight, casual couples got serious, singles found partners, friends became parents. I thought we were all taking a time out, but instead, everyone jumped three steps ahead. And, suddenly, I’m way the fuck behind.

It’s not a great feeling.

But I comfort myself with the knowledge that people fall in love and get divorced every day.

Clarification: I do not want my friends to get divorced. I love them, and I’ve invested far too much money in tulle and fake lashes for me to want that to happen. But it helps me sleep at night knowing my dream guy is currently in the arms of another woman—temporarily.

Again: I am, as it turns out, insecure.

Perhaps maliciously so.

Anyways, I’m sorting through some shit. And I don’t even know if or why I need to.

I love being single. But am I using it as a crutch?

It’d be cool to find love. But would it completely derail my life as I know it?

I’d love to be held by someone. But would they even fit in my bed with all my new throw pillows?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. That, and “I forgot to take my birth control for a week. Does it even matter?”

No. No it does not.

Honesty

I write a lot about my anxiety. I do that because it helps me laugh at myself. I love to write and to make people laugh, so it’s almost like therapy to me.

Lately though, I’ve been struggling with depression. It’s surprising because I normally swing the other way on the spectrum. I’m high anxiety. Everyone hates me because of something I did, I cut my hand and will probably get MRSA, the cats are going to burn down the house, I’m pregnant from peeing on a public toilet seat, etc.

It’s been so long since I’ve had a bad bout of depression, it took me a while to identify it. I’m sure depression looks and feels different for everyone, but for me, it feels like an actual illness. Like my body is heavy and not my own. I watch my hands move a lot. I’m dizzy and foggy.

You know when you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and you just sit on the toilet for a while, staring at nothing? That’s what I do all day. I sit on the couch or bed, trying to convince myself to get up. Part of my brain is pumping me up, telling me to get up, just get up and do X. But the other part just sits there and doesn’t take it seriously.

I feel betrayed by my body and mind. I am so fortunate. I have a home, a job, friends, family. I’m not a brain surgeon or lawyer or something “worthy” of being stressed about.

I don’t want to talk to anyone, but it’s not in the way you think. When people retreat, you might picture a hermit. Like a mean old man in a basement. But that’s not quite it. It’s just that I really don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to tell anyone what’s going on because I don’t want to talk about it. I’m annoyed with it. I’m exhausted by it. I don’t feel like explaining it because it doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me, or like I’m fishing for attention and sympathy.

I don’t want to talk about it, but I don’t want to talk about anything else. It makes no sense!

I’m already better than I was yesterday. It just sucks, and it’s something I haven’t felt in a long time. I’m not a major extravert. I like being alone. So I didn’t think COVID isolation would affect me. But I guess it has.

I feel stupid writing this because I know what I look like to the outside world. I look fine. I’m still making stupid jokes and videos on social media. So I feel scared to publish this, because my brain is telling me people will think I’m faking or, again, fishing for sympathy. But damn. I am finally understanding what people mean by an “invisible illness.”

To be clear, I am okay. I know I will be okay. This is not meant to scare anyone. It’s just meant to, hopefully, relate to someone. According to my therapist, my nervous system has been fried for the last couple weeks, so I’m sure my body is just finally taking the chance to say “fuck off and chill out.” I just feel terrible for anyone else experiencing this. If you are, I’m here.

Nostalgia

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking a lot about elementary and middle school, wishing I could put in a tape, press play and rewatch the highlights.

I have a bad memory, so I don’t remember a lot from those times. It could also be that I’ve blocked a lot out, seeing as I was a puberty monster from hell. However, I’ve noticed that when I take an edible before bed (sorry, Mom), I’m able to recall memories that were previously dormant. Like my mind relaxes enough to show me stuff I was too anxious, stressed or preoccupied to remember.

Full disclosure: this could totally be placebo effect. My anxiety makes it pretty easy to trick me into believing stuff. If a stranger on the street told me I was pregnant, I’d believe him. Wouldn’t matter if I’d had sex recently (I haven’t, Mom). Or if he followed up with, “Well, you wanna be?” I’d convince myself that yes, I actually did notice some splash-back from that Whole Foods toilet, which means my pee stream must have propelled a lingering toilet sperm from watery its depths and into my unsuspecting vagina.

This is a joke, but it’s also something I’ve had to talk about in therapy. “Sperm don’t have legs, Joanna,” is an actual thing my therapist has said to me.

Don’t trust sperm, never have.

Anyways, the other night I took an edible and started remembering things from 5th to 8th grade. Here’s what I wrote down:

My first kiss with a boy I was absolutely obsessed with. We were at the movies. When I got home, I washed my mouth with soap because I was worried about germs.

Accidentally farting in class and wanting to die.

Asking my mom why I farted so much, and her telling me it’s probably because I was eating six bowls of Raisin Bran per day.

“You’ll be cute, but never hot.” Something a middle school boy once said to me during an assembly. He was holding court on the bleachers, predicting who would grow up to be hot or not. He was my Allison DuBois, and I, like Kyle Richards, asked for information I simply could not handle.

“I don’t even take Advil.” – A girl in my D.A.R.E. class, sucking up to the officers. I was wholly addicted to Sudafed at this point, so she became my North Star.

Putting on 8 coats of lip gloss to impress the boys at gym class, only to have said boys say, “Looks like you’ve got cum on your lips.”

Putting on 8 coats of black eye liner to look mature and edgy, only to have my crush say, “Looks like someone punched you in the face.”

Begging my mom for a dark blue Chrysler Town & Country.

Playing “the floor is lava” but replacing “lava” with “a river of sperm.” (Like I said, never trusted them.)

Watching Armageddon for the first time.

Falling hopelessly, desperately, obsessively in love with someone new every year and feeling like shit when they didn’t notice me.

Falling hopelessly, desperately, obsessively in love with Vin Diesel.

My favorite pants: denim flares from Ross with an airbrushed panda bear on the left leg.

A girl telling me, “You wore those pants yesterday.” Bitch I know they’re my favorite.

Creating three fake screen-names to stalk my crush on AIM. One of them was “FashionVictim123” which was, unintentionally, perhaps the best undercover name I could have picked:

I’m on the right, flying deep under the fashion radar.

Realizing I was one of maybe two kids in my social studies class whose family voted for Gore.

Similarly, a kid telling our science teacher they weren’t going to learn about evolution.

Faking a broken toe at soccer tryouts because I didn’t realize it would be so much running.

Stepping on a mason jar, cutting my toe 90% of the way off and going into shock while my parents weren’t home.

Fiddling with a phantom bra strap in class so boys would think I wore a bra.

Believing my cousin when he told me that croutons were made from ground up bits of hamsters.

Riding my bike around the neighborhood as fast as I could, hoping all the teenage boys would look out their windows and whisper, “Damn that girl can fly.”

Absolutely living for my friends’ bar and bat mitzvahs.

Thinking Voldemort had taken control of my feet when actually they were just asleep because I’d been sitting on them too long while reading.

Being a real asshole to everyone, especially my family. Sorry Mom, Dad and Jess. I love you.

Wide Awake

I’ve been having a hard time sleeping lately. I’m sure I’m not the only one. My dreams have been violent and insane. My legs have been restless to the point I wonder if I’m being punished for not believing in restless leg syndrome.

My brain simply won’t shut off at night. I lay awake googling the dumbest stuff, like “nicole kidman tom cruise wedding,” and “is dick cheney still alive.”

I started keeping a journal by my bed to jot things down as they come to me, in case they’re particularly poignant. So far, I have:

  • Billy Bob Thornton made it in Hollywood with the name Billy Bob.
  • The way we buy fish is really rude. We walk in, pick out the coolest/prettiest fish in each tank, totally separating them from their friends and families, and then throw them all together in strange, unfamiliar tank and expect them to get along.
  • I would like to see a fish tank reality show.
  • Peter Pan pits all the women in his life against each other.

My friend suggested I download this app that plays special musical tones to help you sleep. It’s actually really nice. 

Since it sounds like spa music, when I’m listening to it, I try to meditate by picturing myself floating through space. And it works for a while, but then my brain is like, “let’s fuck this up.”

Here’s an example: 

I’m floating through space.

I’m weightless.

I’m peaceful.

I’m naked?

No. I’m not naked. That would be stupid.

I’m floating through space. I’m weightless. I’m peaceful–

But why am I floating through space? Was there some kind of explosion? Am I like Carrie Fisher in the Last Jedi? 

I’m floating through space. I’m weightless. I’m peace–

God I hated that scene. There’s no way she would’ve survived that explosion. Or the exposure! Who approved that? Who thought that was okay?! HAS NO ONE SEEN ARMAGEDDON?!

I’m floating through space. I’m weightless. I’m peaceful, and my skin melting off and my face caving in like Owen Wilson in Armageddon.

And now I’m wide awake.

Things I’ve Done So Far While Sheltering in Place

Traded an almond cake for a copper pipe.

Washed a block of cheese with soap and water.

Set up a barber shop for cats.

Started running again.

Lowered my Hinge minimum age preference to 26.

Learned 30 seconds of my Phantom of the Opera piano book.

Built a laptop for cats.

Tried to bake.

Raised my Hinge age minimum preference back up to 30.

Made a TikTok account.

Dreamed I had a baby at a Macy’s counter.

Took pictures of my molars.

Tried to train the cats how to sit.

Shaved one leg.

Stopped running. Again. For reasons I’m not yet ready to disclose.

I have no idea how to use TikTok, which is why this is an embeded YouTube video.

Dad Doing Taxes

It’s impossible for me to do my taxes without thinking about my dad. Growing up, Tax Day was a scary time in the Clark household. My dad would lock himself in the office for hours, while my mom did her best to keep my sister and I quiet/as far away as possible.

This was hard for two reasons:

First, because my sister and I were very loud. Our favorite games were scream-singing The Lion King and The Music Man, and trying to break each others’ bones. Once, we danced so hard that Jessie threw up in my ear.

Second, because at that age, I found it nearly impossible to stay away from the office. I loved the computer. I’d spend hours up there, curating quotes for my AIM profile, playing Monkey Island, asking Jeeves for pictures of Vin Diesel, previewing ringtones for the cellphone I didn’t have, scanning photos of myself into the computer and using Microsoft Paint to give myself cleavage, etc.

I LOVED the computer. But the picture my mom painted of “Dad doing taxes” put the fear of God in me, so I stayed away.

“What are these ‘taxes,’ and what have they done to my father?!” I’d cry as I imagined him up there, grumbling, cursing, kicking my beloved scanner.

A few hours later, he’d emerge from the office, bleary-eyed and pale, mumbling incoherently about “quick books” and “that damn cat” throwing up somewhere.

I go into all of this because now, as a full-grown tax paying adult, I realize I have become my dad. I learned this as proper tax paying behavior. So when it comes time for me to file, I repeat what I have learned.

This became abundantly clear yesterday when, after growling at 1099s for two hours straight, I looked up to find Heather staring at me, eyes wide with a mix of fear and concern.

“I think you should take a walk,” she said. “You scare me when you get like this.”

Maybe she saw in me what I saw in my dad. Or maybe she wanted to Paint her cleavage in peace. Either way, I took her advice and got some fresh air.

While I blame my dad for this behavior, I’m not mad at him. He’s taught me a lot of lessons. Some – like how to change a tire or make rice – I’ve conveniently forgotten. Others, like self-sufficiency, storytelling and how to make Beer “Gatorade,” I hold dear.

My dad teaching my sister Jessie (left) and me how to fish.

An update

As most of my friends and family know, this pandemic is my worst nightmare realized.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been terrified of germs.

And sperm.

But most days: germs.

When I was a child, I’d patrol the bathroom to make sure my family members washed their hands.

Also when I was young, I wouldn’t touch a quilt my great aunt made for me because I was worried she’d pricked herself while sewing it, thus leaving behind an invisible trail of disease-ridden blood.

In elementary school, I threw away a pair of Skechers because I accidentally stepped on a dead bird.

In fifth grade, I ruined our family reunion because I was convinced the 100-year-old Italian home we rented was empty because its inhabitants had died of the plague.

In middle school, I thought I had Mad Cow Disease.

In high school, I got tested for Mono at least four times. (And ended up getting it! Huzzah!)

In college, I convinced myself I was pregnant without having sex.

Ah, wait.

That’s sperm.

In college, I went to the ER because I convinced myself I’d been given a dirty flu shot needle.

A few months ago, I started feeling sick while listening to “Outlander” because Claire and Jamie kept talking about small pox.

I’ve never seen Contagion, 28 Days Later, or any of those types of movies because I know they will be my absolute undoing. (I’m ruling out Parasite, too, based on name alone. Though I hear it’s great!)

In summary, my anxiety has been training for this my entire life.

I’ve spent the last few days in a series of highs and lows. One minute, I’ll be perfectly fine. Laughing, joking, eating the myriad of treats my roommate, Heather, keeps making for us.

The next, I’ll feel like I’m about to pass out.

“Unraveling.” Captured by Heather.

I am slipping back into old habits. I’m not returning phone calls, texts or emails. I’m not listening to people when they talk to me; my face is simply there to hide the panic behind it.

My stress dreams are no joke. Here is one entry from my journal:

Tuesday, March 17

“I had a nightmare last night that I had COVID-19.

I was at an Irish pub. I started feeling really weird and hot. Someone served me a blueberry muffin with eggs on top. 

Next I was home, screaming for my mom but no sound would come out. Eventually she heard me and took me to the hospital.

I was ‘first in line.’ They gave me the test. It was a cheeseboard set up with tiny amounts of fermented food. I put each one in my mouth and drank a weird liquid. Apparently that was the test. I tested positive.

They then asked if we were going to stay at the hospital or in a hotel. I told my mom to make the decision. We picked a hotel room that had a Tasmanian Devil theme.”

I am fortunate in that I have the resources to support myself during my complete isolation. I know many people have it much worse than I do. People have lost jobs. Money. Time with loved ones. So much. And this thing is only getting started.

I have no idea what’s going to happen.

It feels like waiting for a tsunami.

I’m reading Little Women which feels like a terrible decision.

I needed to write about it because I’m feeling up to it today.