On Being Female

If the metric for “becoming a woman” is commencing the horrific monthly bodily ritual of bleeding for five days, ruining multiple pairs of underwear, and undergoing a constant barrage of hormonal chin zits, well, then I “became a woman” at the age of twelve. I clearly recall sitting on the toilet in my parent’s cramped, unfinished second bathroom, staring at a small bead of dark red blood resting sanguinely on the knuckle of my left thumb. After performing some quick calculations in my adolescent brain and assuring myself that I was not dying, but had instead skipped death entirely and gone straight to hell, I found one of my mother’s incredibly bulky maxi-pads and affixed it to the inside of my Hanes underpants. While that solved the messiness issue, it created another problem, in that I could then clearly feel the queen-size futon in my undershorts, and it was very distracting. While I would later discover that a maxi-pad of those dimensions is really only appropriate if you’re hemorrhaging, the distraction and discomfort of that very first pad would put me in the correct mindset for the experience of womanhood I would have for the rest of my life: annoyance and a keen sense of biological injustice.

I suspect any female reading this post can agree that being a woman basically sucks. Not some of the time, but, like, all of the time. And this goes way beyond societal oppression, to the very core of our biological destiny. Not to under-bill how infuriating things like the wage gap and pro-life gynoticians are, but frankly, we have bigger problems in areas that can’t be changed. For every biological inconvenience a man experiences, a woman has both an equivalent and a spare. Sure, I can’t get testicular cancer, but I can get cervical, ovarian, and breast cancers. Did you think heart disease fell under the heading of men’s issues? Surprise, bitch! Not anymore.

Pregnancy (also exclusive to women, by the way—not even Mr. Right can help you out there) comes with it’s own laundry list of side effects and issues, so, in addition to the pain associated with, you know, squeezing a melon-sized human out of your delicate and lady-like nether-regions, you may also find yourself at great personal risk for gestational diabetes, gestational blindness, and post-partum depression. Yes, there is a special form of depression designed only for women! I’m not even going to go into the tearing issue, or how your adorable little angel of death can cut off oxygen to your brain. Suffice to say, if you choose to perpetuate the human race, you will be paying dearly for the “privilege”.

Taking all of this into consideration, I have yet to identify a single upside to being female, social, physical, or otherwise. There really just isn’t any single thing that makes it all worth it. If a woman can benefit from something, a man will benefit equally as much, and probably with some interest (see: multiple orgasms). If a man can suffer from something, a woman will suffer equally as much, and probably with some interest. If a man has to pay for something, a woman will pay equally as much, and probably with some interest. This is true both biologically and socially. The fact that I can’t even be mad at anyone for the biological components only serves to make the social component more frustrating. Why am I not getting paid extra for going to work with cramps? Or getting more sick days so I don’t have to go to work with cramps? Why do men get the same amount of family leave when they don’t even have to use all of it recovering from an actual pregnancy?

To be clear, I’m not suggesting any kind of solution to these problems, and the idea that women should be given more just for being women is certainly hyperbolic, but I am illustrating a point. If we can’t level the playing field biologically, we need to do better than a policy climate that tolerates the active perpetuation of women’s various disadvantages (restrictive abortion legislation is one area that comes to mind, though there are others). From the standpoint of daily comfort and economic success, the finish line is in the same place for both genders but the starting line for women is yards behind where men get to start. This is due to both historical and physiological factors, and while no blame can be placed for either of those things, nor should it be, it’s pretty shameful that we’re still writing new pages in that same history book. Can we please recognize that women have challenges men will never have to face, and, at the very least, stop trying to make a bad deal worse?

Terrible Choices, Great Results

Normally, I would say being shamelessly boy-crazy and doing idiotic shit for men, no matter how cute they are, is a bad thing. God only knows how many times I’ve gone along with, or worse, put effort into things that were not even kind of interesting or good for me because there was someone I wanted to meet, talk to, or impress, only to later suffer the consequences. I’ve frequented bars I hate, wasted an entire Saturday watching Bob Ross paint “happy little trees” on Netflix, smoked cigarettes I didn’t want, and over-caffeinated myself to the point where my hands shook, all in the service of throwing myself at the feet of whatever male figure I was intent on impressing. Disgusting, and, much to my credit, totally outgrown at this point. Weirdly, however, the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever done to impress a guy turned out to be super healthy and ultimately very rewarding.

What is this magical thing which so unexpectedly defies the laws of boy-induced stupidity? Kickboxing. To be clear, I did actually sign up for my gym membership at Paragon out of a genuine interest in fighting sports, and had been paying for it for several months before meeting the men responsible for my fitness and fighting skills. It’s just that, before I met James—later known as The Soulless Ginger—and Andrew—later known as an unparalleled fuckhead—and decided that at least one of them must be mine, my level of attendance was reasonable, rather than borderline obsessive. However, after observing that they typically went on different days, and that Andrew had an unpredictable work schedule that prevented me from ever being sure when or if he’d show up, I had to go all the days, unless I was near death from exhaustion. Yes, I was completely insane when I was twenty-four, but I called it “keeping my options open.”

Anyway, as you can imagine, my cardio, strength, skill, and endurance all improved significantly within a few short weeks of implementing this punishing schedule. A nice side bonus to getting lots of face time with my “projects” was that I started to look better in my gym clothes and get damn good at pad work and sparring, which resulted in more personalized attention from the coaches, which resulted in even more strength, skill, and endurance. Fortunately, no one brought it to their attention that my dedication was less to the sport and more to the game.

As I got better at kickboxing, I started to get a little less enthused with The Soulless Ginger and the Fuckhead. I started to pay less attention to their biceps, and more attention to my own as I began to realize that kickboxing was contributing far more to my life than either of those two losers. In the case of The Soulless Ginger, I say that with a certain degree of affection, because in actuality, he’s pretty cool, and we’re still friends. Andrew, on the other hand, is not included in that affection, for a variety of reasons.

As far as I was ever able to determine, the only things that were cool and unique about Andrew were things he didn’t have any control over, like the fact that, as much as he looked like a corn-fed American boy, he was actually half-Chinese. Interesting, but not his achievement. Also, other than being somewhat witty, there wasn’t much to his personality besides being a prick. He would frequently make vague allusions to “things he’d done” while on deployment, but he “couldn’t elaborate.” I’m sure the mystery was 1000% more interesting than any of his actual stories would have been, and I’m equally sure he knew that.

All of that would have been fine, since it was his business, if he hadn’t had such an adverse effect on my self-esteem. He just had an uncanny ability to reduce me to a quaking puddle of self-doubt. For instance, when making out, he focused exclusively on my bottom lip, which, strangely, made me think there was something wrong with my upper lip, rather than reaching the obvious conclusion, which is that he just has a very strange way of kissing. I can offer no justification as to why I was so into him for so long, other than that I had a fantasy I’d projected onto him which was way, way better than the reality. I probably shouldn’t have done that. Oops.

But in any case, from that frustration and confusion, I got two really amazing things. First, I’ve got one hell of a right cross. Second, I’ve got one hell of a best friend. At one point, the day Andrew returned to the gym after bailing on me last-minute and then leaving town for a month (I know, you guys), he tried to sit next to me before class and talk, just like he hadn’t been an asshole. Since I wasn’t really in a mood to entertain that kind of bullshit from him, I pointedly ignored him and began talking to the girl on the other side of me, with whom I otherwise never would have broken the ice. As it happens, this girl turned out to be Natali, who, at this point, is my ride or die, light of my life, and platonic back-up plan for tax purposes if both of us get too old to meet actual husbands. In short, though Andrew did nothing else constructive for me, he did give me a best friend, so I can’t really totally resent him.

To conclude, being obsessed with guys, but mostly Andrew, for most of my twenty-fourth year was probably not great from a psychological perspective, but once I got past that, I was left with a very strong physique, a seriously cool new skill, a couple of awesome new friends, and some newfound self-respect. For a long while now, I’ve been going to the gym because I actually really like it—I like the sport and I no longer need a guy to chase in order to get me off my ass and on to the mats. Clearly, my motivation was not coming from a healthy place when all of this started, but since the results have been so great for me, I’m inclined to consider the possibility that perhaps the source of the motivation isn’t as important as the thing one is being motivated to do.

You Can Thank Me Later

I’m not a parent, but I do have a fairly good recollection of my childhood, and as such, I have a parenting tip for those of you in the trenches. Before you get super huffy at the concept of me, a child-free, twenty-something without so much as a parakeet giving you parenting advice, know that I have the utmost respect for anyone putting any energy whatsoever into raising a kid. It seems to be a thankless job, and any one who attempts it is brave as hell. I also recognize that it’s easy to stand here on the outside and point out all the things I would do differently. Non-parents have a lot of extra energy and brain power to come up with ideas because we’re not the one’s being woken up on the hour, every hour by a fussy baby, or cleaning up puke, or neutralizing a tantrum in aisle three. As such, this isn’t a condemnation of anyone’s parenting skills, but more an account of the one thing that most damaged my self-image when I was young, and a recommendation on how to avoid it. Spoiler alert: it’s super easy.

I think the vast majority of parents want their kids to be confident, secure, and happy, even if they haven’t actively distilled their goals as a parent into something that distinct. In any case, all of the parents I know seem to share this vison. Unfortunately, a lot of the kids I know don’t seem to be representing that ideal, and I tend to think it’s because of words like “slimming.” If I were a parent, I would ban this word, and any word with similar connotations, from my household. My mom, however, absolutely loved this word. From as early as age five, I recall being notified if something failed to be slimming. If I looked good in a certain color or cut, it was slimming. She recommended I wear dark colors because they were slimming, and avoiding stripes and fun colors because they were not. Finding slimming things to wear, and consequently being slimmed, was considered very positive. God forbid I were to wear something neutral, or worse, fattening.

It should be obvious why this would be a bad thing. The undertone here is that, if slimming is good, and one needs to be slimmed, then whatever the existing state of one’s appearance is must be the opposite of slim, and therefore somehow inadequate. As a kid, I was not too stupid to connect the dots, which is how I ended up thinking I was an orca for most of my life. If you can replace the word slimming with phrases like “that looks nice on you,” your child, particularly your female child, will thank you. The world is hostile enough to average human bodies without insidiously backhanded words like “slimming” creeping in to everyday vocabulary. Leave the subtle body shaming to people who don’t care about your kid, like marketers and women’s magazines.

How a Talking Mannequin Changed My Life

Way back in 2013, just before the holidays, I’d been living back in my hometown, Lopez Island, WA, for just over two years. For most of that time, I’d been wanting to not be there, but for whatever reason, I still had it in my head that the transition to proper adulthood/not living on my parent’s property/no longer having to face the judgment of legions of old people for working at a café instead of having a “real job” was a straight-line path requiring good luck and nothing less than an act of God. It hadn’t really occurred to me yet that I could just… leave. Sometimes, the obvious isn’t really that obvious, and you need inspiration to push you in the direction you need to go, and sometimes, this inspiration comes from the absolute last source you’d expect. In my case, the kick in the ass I needed came from an activist mannequin in Pasadena. That sounds a little weird without context, so let’s back up to why I was in Pasadena and how a talking mannequin named Julian altered the course of my life.

In fall of 2013, my brother and I were both doing crazy things to save money and make more money to save. I was working two jobs and training horses on the side, and Matt was doing grunt work for fifteen dollars an hour. We were also trying really hard to peddle private label dietary supplements on Amazon, after being inspired by my sister’s employer, who had become a millionaire in just a few short months by private labeling Garcinia Cambogia, as directed by the instructors of the Amazing Selling Machine program.

Needless to say, cracking into the supplement market didn’t work for us quite as well as it had for Alice’s boss, so we were still on the hunt for even more crazy ideas to make a few bucks. The perfect idea came to us in the form of a story told to me by one of the people I was dog-sitting for around that time. Apparently, she and her husband had flown to Los Angeles at the end of the summer to pick up a car they’d bought with the intent of reselling for a higher price back home in Washington. This was something they’d apparently done with great success a number of times. Upon hearing that story, I could see my brother’s eyes light up and the wheels began turning in both of our brains.

It took but a few short days to decide that we were destined for California and its associated rewards of car-flipping wealth and glory. I dedicated several weeks to research in an effort to ensure the cost differential was a real thing, arranged for some time off work, and, once satisfied, the two of us purchased one-way tickets and reserved beds in a hostel in downtown Hollywood, thinking that this would give us the best access to the most cars. I made a killer adventure playlist for the flight, and then we were on our way.

The hostel was a pastel nightmare of mid-fifties vintage, populated by both short- and long-term foreigners, primarily of Australian and German origin, as well as hopefuls in the process of trying to crack into the film industry. On one of the public computers, some poor creative had left what will live on in my memory as the worst screenplay I have ever had the privilege of viewing. Poorly developed and full of melodrama, it was some unholy blend of science fiction and daytime soap opera. The part of me that wants to watch the world burn was secretly hoping that one day, it would become a real-life, watchable television program. I don’t think that’s likely.

After settling in, we began our hunt for a suitable vehicle in earnest, keenly aware that every second we spent in LA was cutting into our profit margin. The first day, we were optimistic and super confident that we could find something right away. Probably that same day. By day two, after having spoken to only scammers peddling fake and stolen cars, we were a little less confident, but we tightened up our criteria for inquiry and forged ahead. By day three, we were feeling pretty down-trodden, but we’d arranged to meet with someone in Santa Monica about a Mercedes. We braved no fewer than two hours of public transit, a combination of rail and bus and foot, and by the time we arrived we were hoping fervently that this would be “the one.”

Instead, it was a slightly dented SUV with no plates. The seller was a shady, older Indian dude who tried to explain away the missing plates by attempting to convince us that the DMV had confiscated the plates pending a smog check. Knowing for a fact that the DMV wouldn’t extend themselves sufficiently to make a site visit to confiscate the license plates of one unregisterable vehicle, Matt and I decided to pass, and brave the return trip by foot and bus and train. About half a mile into our walk back to the bus station, the suspected criminal rolled up next to us in his own vehicle, pulled to the curb, and offered us a ride. When we politely declined, he insisted, and then became irate at our intransigence on the matter. This was a brave move, considering my brother is six-foot-eight and built like a linebacker, and when Matt gave him a “look,” he quickly reconsidered his own unreasonableness and drove away. After some discussion, Matt and I concluded that the guy probably wanted to rob us, coat us in concrete, and throw our bodies off the Santa Monica Pier.

Call us cowards, but after taking into consideration both that event and the pervasiveness of the uphill battle that had faced us since our arrival in LA, we decided to cut our losses and save our own lives by admitting a spectacular defeat and returning home by plane at the end of the week. What we had learned was that, although the advertised prices of cars in Southern California might be considerably lower than parts further North, that is only true because the cars advertised don’t actually exist. Take my word for it, if you’re in LA, unless you can afford to buy a car new, you will waste your time, waste your money, and possibly die.

With that lesson learned, we decided to turn our remaining time in Los Angeles into a vacation of sorts by visiting with my friend Elizabeth, who was living in Pasadena at the time. One evening, we were walking down Colorado Boulevard after spending the afternoon eating our way through the historic district. As we approached some kind of fast-fashion emporium, I spotted the creepiest, most life-like mannequin I had ever seen in my life. It was fashionably dressed in jeans and a bright pink t-shirt and had its hand elegantly extended.

“God, mannequins are so fucking creepy. I don’t understand how this makes anyone want to buy clothing. It’s not like it’s going to look like that once they put it on anyway. I mean, look at that thing,” I remarked. Then, very unexpectedly, “that thing” introduced himself as Julian and joined me in conversation about how creepy mannequins are, completely missing the point that, literally right up until the second words began flowing forth from his beautifully sculpted mouth, I had thought he was one. Apparently, he thought I was talking about the real mannequin several feet behind him. In my greater wisdom, I elected not to disabuse him of this notion.

Once I recovered from shock and nursed my failing heart back to a regular rhythm, I discovered that Julian was not associated with the store, he was just sheltering in their doorway while handing out leaflets for a humanitarian organization focused on helping women in disadvantaged nations. I was considerably less interested in the organization than I was in his personal history and learning about the environment that had produced such a convincing real-life sculpture. He was tall and elegantly slim, with such perfectly symmetrical features as to seem not quite human (obviously).

With a few pointed questions, I established that he was originally from Gig Harbor, a small town in Washington, and that he’d moved down to Los Angeles right after high school to, predictably, crack into the film industry. While waiting for his big break, he was peddling activism flyers on street corners around Los Angeles County. As much of a cliché as this story was, I took note of two key issues and filed them away for further reflection. First, our backgrounds weren’t entirely dissimilar. Second, he’d moved to California with no safety net, pursuing a crazy dream and he wasn’t dead or starving. How cool was that?

It got me thinking that if he could do it, surely I could do it. I didn’t even want to be famous. If I could just get a garden variety leaflet job to pay the rent, it might not be glamorous, but at least it wouldn’t be Lopez. I began plotting my escape on the plane ride home, and by February of 2014, I’d tied up enough loose ends in my hometown to earn my freedom and I just… left. So, as sure as I am that Julian doesn’t remember ever meeting me, I’m willing to admit that he’s largely responsible for inspiring my bravest decisions, and by extension, partly responsible for my present circumstances. And that, my friends, is how a talking mannequin changed my life.

Work People and Work Things

I work with my best friend in the whole of the world, Natali, and our supervisor, Marylou, who has been a truly incredible mentor for the last several years. So, when they asked if I’d like to go on a hike some weekend in January, I happily agreed. Then, after I agreed, they clarified that it was a company hike with other company people and my enthusiasm immediately diminished. I also felt a little, how shall we say… misled? Both of them knew I probably wouldn’t agree to an elective company activity, so slipping this clarification in after I’d already agreed seemed kind of sneaky. But the point of writing this isn’t to complain about Natali and Marylou being sneaky. The point is to discuss an unpopular view point, which is that I don’t want to be friends with my coworkers.

Lately, in business, there’s been this trend towards “company culture” and “employee engagement” that I find somewhat distressing. The idea is that if coworkers spend time together and become friends and participate in “fun” events and go to happy hour and all that shit, everyone will be so happy to go to work that they’ll be nicer to clients, more productive, and more willing to pour their soul into company matters. This actually bears out in practice, so, from a company standpoint, the return on investment actually makes organizing such activities fairly sensible. Where sense fails me is that, as an employee, I feel strongly that I already spend enough time at work doing work things with work people, so to volunteer to spend more time with work people in my non-work hours sounds unnecessarily burdensome.

To be clear, the issue isn’t that I don’t like my coworkers or the work that we do. I’m actually really satisfied with my day to day work and I have very positive feelings about the people I work with. The issue is that I already spend forty hours a week with these people, which is a far greater amount than I’m able to spend with family and friends, or on my own projects, or any of the other things that give my life meaning and quality. I like my coworkers, but they are maybe third tier acquaintances. I’d say “Hi” in the grocery store, but I’m not going to spend my weekend with them. Which is a completely reasonable way to feel, if you have a fulfilling life outside of work. That being said, the desire to spend quality time with all the people at your office sounds an awful lot like a tacit admission that you’ve given up on having a satisfying life outside the office. I haven’t quite reached that point yet, so I’d far rather invest my time in non-work people and things.

Because I work in HR, this has been a somewhat problematic mindset in that, to a certain extent, my role requires me to be a cheerleader for activities like happy hour and company hikes. I am totally happy to do that, for my regular hourly rate. However, I’m not nearly as psyched to do it in my free time. That being said, it’s a little hard to make all that cheering believable if I don’t then follow through and actually show up, so I often end up feeling shoe-horned into social situations I didn’t want. Plus, these “fun” activities often end up being a work-for-free situation, again, because I’m in HR. Think about it—if someone has a benefits or policy question, do you really think the fact that we’re doing a non-compensated, “fun” thing is going to stop them from asking it? If you were curious, the answer is no. I know this to be true because I’ve had people from my company ask me work questions and RSVP to work meetings when they run into me at the grocery store on the weekend, when I’m buying breakfast to-go in my pajamas.

The whole reason why companies pay people for their time is because work is, for the most part, not intended to be fun. If you have to pay people to be somewhere, trust that those people aren’t there for the fuck of it. They’re there to pay the bills. So to request more of their time and energy for things that don’t even serve to accomplish that objective, while making it impolitic to decline, is pretty shady. Let’s all be honest about what this trend towards “employee engagement” actually is—it’s companies trying get people to buy in to the idea that work is the most satisfying part of life, and that, consequently, you should want to spend more time going the extra mile while they pay you less money to do it. No thanks.

My dream company does not have hikes or parties or ice cream socials. My dream company allows me to clock in, manage my work, kick some ass, and clock out, while engaging in limited and benign interactions with my coworkers. So, please, let me live my dream and go find a dream of your own so that this stops being a thing.

The Death of a Hoe

My days as a hoe are not too far in the past, but they are in the past. This is a particularly notable occurrence, because up until about six months ago, I was as pro-hoeing as your average gardener. This change didn’t come about because of any one horrible experience, and it didn’t come about as a result of falling madly in love, or joining a convent. Additionally, this change in my own preferences hasn’t in any way affected my opinion of girls still out there hoeing and fighting the good fight. I just got tired. And, if we’re being super honest, I had some misadventures that, while entertaining in a certain light, made me rethink the wisdom of my choices. So, for your entertainment and my own catharsis, allow me to recap a selection of my tawdrier experiences.

Jumping in the time machine, let’s go back to my very first ever one night stand in Santa Barbara. Before I begin, I’d like to note that the “relations” in and of themselves are not the notable part of this story. It was merely the first inch of a thread that would eventually weave itself into the canvas upon which I could later paint a very realistic picture of why there’s no town big enough for a one-night stand. This theme would be echoed in later experiences, eventually becoming a deafening reverberation of good, common sense, impossible to ignore, like standing too close to the speakers at a rock concert.

My co-star in this mini-drama was an exchange student from France named Yosef. I know, I know, you’re all like, “ooooooohhhhhh—sexy!” and you wouldn’t be wrong. He was sexy. And a great kisser. He liquored me up with shots of Fireball and then pulled me by the hand out into the parking lot for a smoke break I didn’t need. After his cigarette had burned down to the filter, he grabbed me by the ass and kissed me passionately. I was enthralled. By then, I already knew it was game on, and after a short moment deliberating with my friend Kayla (“Is this okay?!” “I don’t know, is it?”), I let him pay for an Uber to take us to his place. We had sex. It was average. He came, I didn’t. I apologized for my pubic hair. Then I left. I thought that was the end of the story. If it was, I wouldn’t be recapping it now.

Roughly two years later, after a night out with a new crush, I offered to give him a ride to his place. No intention of getting into any shenanigans, even when I was invited in, however, as I pulled up to the house he pointed out as his address, I was surprised to find that it was the same house Yosef had brought me to, two years prior. As I was talking to my companion that night, I kept looking around the room, matching objects to things that had been only shadows the first time I was in the house. From the shapes of things, it hadn’t changed that much. It was an odd experience, like losing an earring and having it reappear in my underwear drawer, years later, after I’d already thrown out its mate. Of all the gin joints, as they say.

Speaking of gin, my next experience was born of far too much of it. At karaoke night, I met a computer science grad student about whom I was just inebriated enough to think quite highly. His name was Chad, with only one D. I was out with my friend Erin, and we weren’t yet close enough as friends for her to step in with a benevolent cock-block, so I ended up standing on the sidewalk with Chad, making out while we waited for a cab, which ended up costing him no less than forty dollars. I take no responsibility for the fact that he lived in student housing at the university twenty minutes away. If he wanted to get it in bad enough to drop forty bucks on one cab ride, far be it from me to stand in his way. I should probably have stood in my own way for a variety of other reasons, however.

On the unusually long cab ride to his apartment, in between instances of thinking Jesus, are we ever going to get there??? I had ample time to sober up and realize several things. First, he was much older than I’d initially estimated, probably closing in on his mid-thirties. Second, he was a shitty kisser, with a tendency towards biting that was both painful and unsexy. Third, he’d absolutely slaughtered one of my favorite Cake songs at karaoke. By the time we got to his front door, I was already wishing I was pretty much anywhere else, but given the circumstances, I tried my best to roll with it. We went upstairs, and there were pictures of a little blonde boy, and some kid drawings. “Who’s kid is this?” I asked. “Mine,” responded Chad.

Oh. I’ve since gotten much better at cutting short ill-advised coitus, but, being very new to bar hookups, I hadn’t quite honed my skills yet. I also hadn’t learned that it wasn’t necessary to accept every opportunity to get some. So there I was, my pudgy body atop his queen bed, rotating through the list of thoughts that would later be the primary recollections I would have of this particular indiscretion. Primarily, I remember thinking, Wow, this guy looks really stupid when he’s aroused. Second, I remember reaching my hand around to his back and running across what could only have been a mole of impressive size. Third, I remember being bored, and trying to check my watch, only to remember that I’d inconveniently stopped wearing watches in 2010.

I snuck out during his post-coital haze, leaving a “Thank You” note on the envelope of his power bill, in the style of Halle Berry’s Catwoman. To this day, I remain unsure what exactly I was thanking him for. An average-sized dick? Not being a serial killer? Paying for the cab? I quietly shut his front door and walked out into… the middle of fucking nowhere. What I had not taken note of on the ride in was that this location was an isolated cell of student civilization a mile or so from the highway, and definitely not near anything else. I had to call eight cab companies before I found one that did pickups that far out, and that was after walking quite a distance to find a cross street to use as a destination. When I did finally arrange transportation, I sat on the curb, silently marveling at the abrupt left turn my night with Erin had taken. And then I butt dialed my parents. I only know this because they called back a few minutes later and I had to explain that I didn’t need anything, I was just a degenerate.

The next morning, I noticed that I had walked away with more than just a well deserved hangover. Chad had also left a monster hickey on the upper part of my neck, which the assistant manager at my deeply-loathed retail job was not shy about pointing out. My deadpan reply was that I had accidentally bit myself in the shower. It wasn’t meant to be believed, but it did make him laugh and I never heard about that hickey again.

Almost a year later, I ran into Chad at a different bar, where he tried to introduce himself to me as if we’d never met. Then I learned that he was actually the ex of a friend of mine. Then I proceeded to run into him on a weekly basis for nearly three months. And that was how I learned that there is no town big enough to separate you from a night you never want to hear about again.

Curiously, however, the absolute worst one night stand I have ever had wasn’t even a bar hook-up. It’s an experience that I have since come to refer to as The Night of the Chadd (yes, with two D’s. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes more D is not better). I met him through my posse of kickboxing friends, and we were at the tail end of a pretty good day. I wasn’t sure I liked Chadd’s looks or his personality, and I definitely did not like his embarrassingly provincial Louisiana gutter-trash accent, however, when he started to make a move on me, I was like, weeeeeelllllll, okay, maybe. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was leaving the bar with him.

By the time we got to the first crosswalk half a block away, it became readily apparent that Chadd was too drunk to be any kind of fun at all. His last several drinks must have kicked in all at once, because from the door of the bar to the street corner, his drunkenness had multiplied by a factor of ten. Or maybe even fifty. It’s not really mathematical. But in any case, he’d gotten so disgustingly hammered that he could barely stay upright and was showing a propensity to be disrespectfully hands-y. He was also bragging about the size of his penis. All bad signs.

By contrast, I was excruciatingly sober, having had only one drink several hours prior. In my head, I had already decided this was a no-go and that he was every bit as much of a douche as I had initially suspected. However, since he was already following me to my car, I decided the least I could do was give him a ride home. The trouble began when he refused to provide his address. I drove aimlessly for a half an hour trying to get him to tell me where to go. Had I been thinking, I would have just dumped his ass at the police station. Instead, I tolerated poorly executed road-head and a painfully aggressive hand-job while trying to coax his address out of him. This actually was somewhat remarkable given the position of the steering wheel and the fact that I was wearing a maxi dress at the time.

Since I had had no success obtaining his address, I had no idea what to do but to take him to my house. My intent had been to put him up on my couch, but after I’d unlocked my door—quite the undertaking, given Chadd’s ongoing attempts to undress me while I fumbled with the lock—he followed me upstairs to my room, and without even giving me the slightest opportunity to remove my shoes, he pounced, pushing me back onto the bed, one shoulder crushing my obscenely expensive MacBook. While I fished the computer out from behind me with one hand (priorities, man), the other hand was at work trying to keep Chadd from smothering me with his borderline rape-y enthusiasm.

Even in his very, very drunken state, he had no trouble making penetration happen, and while he was writhing around like a stranded earthworm in a rainstorm, he somehow managed to reach behind and insert his finger into my asshole, both unexpectedly and unwantedly. At this point, in a last-ditch attempt to get back to an arrangement I could maybe tolerate, I offered him head, which he very fortunately accepted. And then, he started heaving.

The highlight of my evening was watching his misery as he buried his face in my mostly full, disgustingly rancid garbage can. This is the one and only time I can recall being grateful that I was overdue to take out the trash. Witnessing his indignity was worth the stains on my carpet and the midnight load of laundry. When he was done heaving, he went to clean himself up, pink bits of bile and god only knows what else nestled in his beard and the tips of his untrimmed hair. He passed out on top of the air conditioning vent in front of our toilet, and since we couldn’t move him, my roommate and I took turns using him as a footrest while we peed. Then my roommate gleefully went about taking Snapchat photos for her friends in LA. My sister, who saw those photos several weeks later, accurately commented that his testicles, squashed between the tops of his thighs and his unusually hairy butt cheeks (picture an asscrack toupée), looked like a cat birthing a litter of kittens.

Before I went to sleep that night, I locked my door, not realizing Chadd’s pants were still in my room. The next morning, when he woke up, he tried to offload responsibility for being a rape-y, uncultured, Neanderthal by claiming that it would have been “too awkward to turn me down, since I’d come on to him so hard.” Whatever, Chadd. I could see the writing on the wall. I needed to get out in front of this with a little damage control, or Chadd would quickly be painting me as the town bicycle. After we discovered that his phone died and he could therefore not call an Uber, I drove him to his car downtown, and then went about the business of alerting my inner circle of the details of The Night of the Chadd.

I never saw Chadd at our gym again, and while I was amazed that he was really so embarrassed that he actually quit, I was nothing but grateful. Several months went by and I didn’t hear anything more on the subject until my kickboxing coach, Tyson, took my friend Natali, Mallory, Cheap Dave, and myself out for pizza on my birthday. In the middle of the conversation, Tyson started joking about the guy who puked in my room. Since Tyson was not on the list of people I had informed about this unfortunate occurrence, I naturally had to inquire who had enlightened him. Turns out, it was yet another person that I had not told—Pete. As I later determined, Pete had brought Tyson in on the story not out of a delight for gossip, but in the hopes that Tyson would cold-shoulder Chadd right out of the gym, which apparently worked like magic. I failed to ask if Pete had told anyone else this tale of woe, and so it was with equal surprise that some weeks later, I discovered another kickboxing friend, Will, also knew. I figured this out the hard way when, in the middle of class, while doing some clinch work drills, Will whispered in my ear, “Is this what it was like with that rape-y guy?” Say what???

So, two main lessons—again, the world is too small to risk sleeping with people you haven’t adequately vetted, and, secondly, but almost equally important, never, ever associate with guys named Chadd. Fuck those guys.

Even so, it wasn’t immediately after The Night of the Chadd that I decided to hang up my hoe-ing crown for good. The change in mindset occurred several months later when I realized that I was actually quite exhausted with the prospect of trying to impress strangers for no other purpose than to get from them a momentary hit of validation. I realized I wasn’t wanting this because it was enjoyable or exciting, but because there was a part of me that needed these guys to confirm my attractiveness, and because there was another part of me that had decided that secure, friendly, respectful relationships with men were reserved for other women. Women more normal, and pretty, and easygoing than me. After all, something was better than nothing, right? Then I realized that the something actually was nothing. Most men would sleep with a bowl of bread pudding if it was the right temperature, so how was this making me feel like I was worth something? Better question, why did I need this in order to be worth something? These days, I don’t. I won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I won’t even be most people’s cup of tea. But I like myself, and to the people who really get me, I am flawless.

Happy Fucking New Year.

New Year’s Day may be for new beginnings, but New Year’s Eve is definitely for goodbyes and metaphorically cleaning house. Sometimes, however, despite my very best planning, I don’t get exactly the experience I was hoping for. And by that, I mean, I can’t remember ever living through a New Year’s Eve that failed to disappoint me. This year’s performance was no exception.

Last New Year’s Day, after being disappointed with New Year’s Eve 2016, I had promised myself that this year, I would stay home, order a pizza, and ring in the New Year by going to bed early and waking up refreshed and ready to slay on January 1st. Call me a killjoy, but the club scene and its associated cover charges and inebriation just don’t do much for me anymore, so I was really looking forward to that pizza. But then I found out this would be my last weekend with Caleb, most likely ever, and since he had invited me out with his roommates, it seemed like a good plan. I’d for sure get my New Year’s kiss and spend some quality time with someone I do genuinely care about, even though currently the situation is somewhat akin to a long, drawn out scream of agony where I have to pretend to be sane (fun!).

But then at around 5pm, my roommate decided she was hitch-hiking on my plans, which meant that although I would most definitely be getting my New Year’s kiss, I could write off getting the New Year’s D or any much needed cuddle or bonding time. Had I known in advance that keeping the peace at home wouldn’t be a priority going forward, I would have been more inclined to clarify her unwanted-ness as my cock-block and third wheel. But, since I was not yet in possession of that very key piece of information, I resigned myself to replacing date-night with an episode of The Lily Show.

It started off about as one might expect—with the unexpected. After dressing in my most festive fire-engine red hooker dress, Lily and I started driving to CVS to get cash out for the evening’s inevitable expenses. On the way, she casually stated that she was going to move my wallet out of the cupholder so she could put her beer in it. It took a few seconds to compute that there was actually an open container of alcohol in my car on the night of the year most likely to end in a DUI checkpoint, and when I outlined this relevant information and mentioned that it would be me who would get a citation in the event of a traffic stop, she obligingly skulled the remainder. Crisis averted, but it’s been a fair while since my brain has skipped like a scratched record.

After a brief stop at CVS where I impulse-bought a fleece throw blanket so I could get cash-back (cashier leeringly suggested I didn’t need the blanket since I could easily find someone to keep me warm), we met Caleb downtown and wandered around trying to find dinner and a bathroom for far longer than I wanted to be outside. An hour later, once we had finally settled at the bar where his roommates were, Lily’s awkward placement as the third wheel became readily apparent. My unmet need to be alone with Caleb was bordering on painful, and her aggressive requests for group selfies really didn’t help. I felt like I had lost something and I couldn’t get it back. The thing that I had lost was one more really great, meaningful night with Caleb, and there’s really no way to replace it, so I’ll have to live with the fact that we’ll never have another sleepover, we’ll never have the opportunity to be so enamored with each other that we stay up until 3am by choice, and I’ll never feel his breath on my neck when his head is comfortably resting in the crook of my shoulder, where my body is still stubbornly convinced it belongs.

All the same, when midnight rolled around, I got my New Year’s kiss and a small amount of the contact for which I was hoping. At 12:01, we split. Caleb and I were done, but Lily still wanted to party, so I tried very hard to pair her up with my friend Erin, who makes a superb party mentor, but Lily refused, instead insisting that we owed her mac and cheese—after all, if you can’t shake your ass, you should probably eat some carbs. So we found a hole in the wall late-night restaurant on the way back to my car, and Lily then refused to order anything unless one of us did, because she didn’t want to be the only one eating. With a fair amount of both amusement and exasperation, I agreed to order french toast bites so she would have a companion in her late-night carb-binge.

After finishing our food and watching the antics of other amusing late-night patrons, we walked the remaining half-block to my car, past a drunk couple having a screaming match, and another drunk couple trying to stay upright. The female half was considerably heavier and drunker than her male counterpart, and the result was that both of them ended up horizontal and flailing on the sidewalk, like disoriented turtles. Not being a horrible person, I wouldn’t have walked past this situation, but there was a fifth friend, playing mom to the two couples, so we elected to leave things in her capable hands.

When we arrived at Caleb’s house, we said our goodbyes and then, instead of actually parting ways, Lily invited herself in to see Caleb’s roommate Jared’s new kitten. Things progressed, there was no kitten to be found, and we were invited to stay and watch “a movie,” which is how I ended up spending the first three hours of 2017 curled up on a twin bed, sandwiched between my roommate and the guy I’ve been sleeping with, while watching a marathon of New Girl episodes. The offer had been made to call Lily an Uber so that this could be an activity for two, rather than three, but the hint was not taken.

When I finally found the resolve to leave, I grabbed my fleece throw, which, miracle of miracles had made itself useful, and carefully picked my way down the stairs, careful not to slip and eat shit like I had a few days prior. Lily and I then shivered in the cold as I unlocked the doors, turned on the car, and began to back out. As I backed around to the long side of the L-shaped driveway, I spotted Jared approaching, asking me to roll down my window.

As it turned out, he was fixated on a sobriety check. “Look me in the eyes,” he said. I obliged, looking him squarely in the face, and with perfect diction stated, “Jared, I’m completely sober.” Since he apparently didn’t believe me, he snaked his hand through my open window and with more speed and surety than I ever would have guessed him capable of, turned off my car and stole my keys.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

After waiting for a few very short minutes, which felt much closer to an eternity in the frigid night air, Jared returned bearing a keychain breathalyzer, which he insisted that I breathe into. Cold as I was, I was somewhat charmed by his concern and good-sense, so I exhaled until the gadget beeped in satisfaction and then proudly showed him my result of .00 blood alcohol content. Out of curiosity, he then tested himself, blowing a .11. He appeared slightly embarrassed at the results of his investigations, but in his defense, I was driving and he wasn’t. Once my sobriety test had concluded and Jared returned my keys, I was in bed and asleep in fewer than twenty minutes, and was very glad to finally be there. Things are always easier once you reach the conclusion.

Now, the point of this tale isn’t to vilify Lily. I actually quite like her, and she’s been a fantastic roommate for the last year. But she’s not always the best about entertaining herself or picking up a hint when a hint is offered. And because of that, I did have yet another semi-disappointing New Year’s Eve. Sadly, I think that to an extent my disappointment read as rejection and she realized that my sister and I would not be enough support for her when her brother moves back to Los Angeles in February. She gave notice this afternoon and will be moving back to LA with her brother, which really probably does make the most sense for her. However, between Lily giving notice and Caleb hanging around for a few more days, I feel weirdly as if my own New Year has been delayed. With the exception of cleaning my hard drive and paying off five thousand in student loans on December 31st, I don’t feel like I tied up the loose ends I was supposed to. I left some unfinished business in 2016, and although I never thought I’d say this due to both personal feelings on the matter, and the fact that it’s categorically untrue given that last year included both an entire leap day and a leap second, it seems to me that 2016 wasn’t quite long enough after all.

Is It Love or Ego?

There’s no good way to be left. It’s even harder when the person leaving plays a starring role in your day-to-day life, even if they have not held that role for long. After three months of convincing me I was important to him, Caleb is leaving, so recently, I have learned a few things about loss and acceptance. First, it’s the person left behind who lives with the reality of the absence, a hole in the fabric of routine, the impulse to invite a person who can no longer come. Second, there’s a looming presence of the person, a memory haunting every place you’ve been together. The one leaving may have left just as much, but they do not live with the everyday reminder of what has been lost or changed. It’s a tangled mess, notable in its certainty of adding insult to injury. The injury is the loss of something important, and the insult is the peripheral consequences and entailments of the absence.

For me, the loss started early. It started when he revealed he was going. It continued as he slowly withdrew in preparation for his gone-ness. The things left unsaid because they no longer mattered. The disagreements that were left unresolved because there was no peace or contentment on the other side of them. It started as a hollow feeling in my stomach, a sleeplessness, a feeling that time was slipping away faster than ever, and a fear that the times ahead would be colorless compared to the times just passed. It left me with an undercurrent of dread, the sensation that I should be doing something to stop it, and the knowledge that I could not. It wasn’t up to me.

All of sudden, there appeared an arsenal of questions, attacking me like seagulls in the Hitchcock film, The Birds. I wondered if there was something I could have done or said to change the outcome. I wondered if it meant I was never the right person and never could have been, or if Caleb just wasn’t ready for me. My brain chased its own tail, wondering if it was possible to meet the right person at the wrong time, or if meeting him at the wrong time transformed me into the wrong person. I questioned if he ever felt anything for me at all, because I couldn’t imagine that he could feel anything close to what I felt and still walk away in pursuit of something else. I wondered if I ever did make him feel as happy, content, and loved as he made me feel, and if so, what could possibly be more important than that. There was a desperate desire to believe, to prove, that he cared as much as me, that this would hurt him too, but any evidence in support of this sat in direct opposition to the indisputable fact that he could walk away. Wanted to walk away. Was I just convenient? Did he ever care? Is this a game for him? The idea that perhaps this really had been a game or a script for him made it impossible to assuage that concern—if he said what I wanted to hear, the veracity could not be trusted anyway.

There was the thought that we would keep in touch, and while vaguely comforting, I wondered if it was just enough rope to hang myself. A future without him in it is somehow unfathomable, but there is the very real concern that too little is worse than none at all, that checking in a couple times a year is just enough to keep the wound open. When I think of all the people that will be in his life after I’ve faded into an afterthought, I suddenly find myself competing for attention with an infinite pool of faceless strangers that I will never meet. But I’m also a little afraid to let go completely, in case he someday wakes up and comes back for me. In the same second, I am ashamed for even entertaining a thought so desperate and pathetic.

It’s not that my life wasn’t good before he walked into it, or that it won’t be good when he leaves it next week—it’s that he somehow fills a void I didn’t know I had. I was lonely every day of my life until the day I met him. I can talk to him about subjects no one else can touch. I will miss the way he reaches for my hand. It’s hard to believe I’ll ever find all of that in one person again, and I’m acutely aware of the fact that there’s no guarantee I ever will. For now, it’s a matter of reminding myself to define my life as the sum of the amazing things in it, rather than the difference between what I had last week and what I’ll have next week. I know that soon, I will be fine. I will see all the colors again. But not today. And probably not tomorrow.