Oh, What a Day: The Day I Needed School Supplies

When I was probably about 26 years old, one of my grandmothers asked me when I would meet a guy “so I didn’t have to go to school anymore.”  

I said: “CAN YOU BELIEVE SHE JUST SAID THAT TO ME?!”

One of my grandpas said: “Doesn’t she know you only know just enough to be dangerous?  You can’t quit college yet.”

But, on the real, the answer to her question: when I was 29 years old.  

As you may know, I just got married about four months ago (yayyyyyy, commitment!).  He and I grew up in very very different worlds, and it is still taking some getting used to on both of our parts.  

On my part, I have always been both fiercely independent and also on the cusp of running out of money (except when I have literally run out of money).  

As Sean has put it, he had parachutes on parachutes, for which we are both very grateful.  

Parachute guy and broke, independent girl get married and have to learn the dance of how much help parachute guy can offer to broke, independent girl without one or both parties becoming resentful.  I get aided by his parachutes sometimes, and I must admit it is very nice to feel somewhat secure for the first time in 29 years.  

Sean was the youngest of three boys. His Dad is a Doctor, and his Mom earned a Master’s degree in guidance & counseling and taught kindergarten students for about 40 years.  In other words, they were pretty much the most prepared parents to have ever existed.  

Alternatively, my single Mom didn’t finish high school, had me when she was 19, and then had my two sisters soon thereafter.  The woman supported three kids as a 21 year-old waitress, with no financial support from our biological father. I cannot even imagine.  

Then when I was six or so, my Mom married my step-Dad and they had two more kids.  If you have been counting, you understand there were a heck of a lot of kids to care for.  

While Sean and I grew up in were very different households, on paper, the place where I grew up seemed to be full of families just like his.  

Oldham County has and had the highest income per capita of any of the counties in lil’ ole Kentucky, and its reputation precedes it. 

To that point, years ago, at work, an angry parent called in and tried to argue her kid deserved more scholarship dollars simply because he graduated in four years and “nobody does that anymore.”  Already agitated from listening to her negativity and poorly argued badgering for a longggg time, I told her I had actually managed to graduate in three years, not four.  

Her response was to ask where I was from.  When I told her, she said, “well, to me, that explains everything.” 

She assumed I had achieved a fairly exceptional accomplishment because I came from an exceptional place, and not because I am an exceptionally hard-worker.  It was not very nice of her.

It is easy to assume if you come from Oldham County, you are well-off.   I was an exception to the rule. Growing up there, it was not a difficult place to feel shameful and hyper-aware of being really poor, even if you weren’t really poor and were just pretty poor. 

In my family, we did run out of resources like food and toilet paper at home sometimes, but pint-sized me usually chalked it up to my parents forgetting to go to the store to get what we needed (neglect) instead of them not having the money to pay for it (poverty).  Maybe that was true, maybe it wasn’t, or maybe it was a little bit of both.  

Whatever the true reason may have been, I often did not have what I needed.  

One of the earliest memories I have from school occurred when I was somewhere between ages five and seven years old.  I remember standing in the lobby of my elementary school, holding flimsy food stamps in my hands and collapsing into tears.   

My Mom had told me to take food stamps to the little bookstore run by the school and ask if I could buy the required school supplies for the year with them.  

My internal response: shame shame shame shame shame shame.  

Like hell did baby Jessica feel like flashing paper badges to prove she was poor to people at school, who would most likely feel awkward and not be able to help.  Like. hell.  

I did not want to ask, because I knew school supplies were not food, and I knew my elementary school was not a grocery store.  I did not know much, but I knew this plan was not especially well thought through.  

When my Mom later asked me if I had picked up my school supplies, I had to tell her I had not tried because I had been too scared.  I am sure the news was not well received. For better or for worse, she was never a warm fuzzy kind of Mom.  

I have no idea how this story resolved or how I got school supplies that year, if I got them.  I would imagine my school probably would have helped though, because my elementary school helped my family a lot when I was young.  

The principals would take me home from school when I didn’t get picked up from after school field trips, and after choir practice, and when I missed the bus home.  My teachers let me sleep through classes when they knew things were rough at home and could see I needed rest more than I needed to do crafts.

I deeply hated but appreciated all of it. 

On this day though, there was no saving grace.  It was probably the first time I was publicly confronted with being poor, and subsequently felt a lack of dignity.  It is one of my earliest memories, but not one I have reflected about very often; however, the same feeling of shame for being poor is something I have carried with me for over two decades.  

But also, while this memory and many like it have led me to a lot of embarrassment and shame, they have also helped to shape some of the boldest and best parts of me, too. 

As much as is within my power, I do not want those who are in need (especially kids) to feel like they do not deserve dignity and respect.  They do.  

Whether I realized the correlation or not, the day I stood in my elementary school lobby and bawled my eyes out is likely why I have worked so hard to rally my friends and family members to help single Moms in need get school supplies for their littles each year. 

It is likely why I sometimes have gone broke venmoing college students money, and why I helped one of my younger sisters with her college tuition for a while even though I could barely manage my own student loans. 

It is probably why I have never taken my education for granted, and why I have worked so hard to help a few special refugees and kids from Haiti pursue their own college educations.  I know how important education can be when you have next to nothing.  

It is why I am perfectly comfortable giving every bit of extra I have to help others who need resources more than I do (which sometimes, maybe causes me to live irresponsibly off my credit card).  I know what having no options feels like. I have felt the food-stamps in my hands and cried for having needed them. 

Last but not least, it is the cause of the big embarassing argument that, against all odds, caused my husband to fall in love with me.  

Oh, what a day. 

I’ll tell you all about it next week. 

Imposter Syndrome

Photo Credit: Caitlin Hon Photography

Since I started dating my husband about a year and a half ago, I have regularly felt like an imposter.  

He owns a home in a nice cozy suburban neighborhood, so now I kind of do, too.  I wanted to start blogging again, so he got me a new shiny rosegold macbook and a new-to-me camera without blinking (and only grumbling a very tiny bit about it). He also venmoes me money when I periodically run out of it.  With my solo income and student loans, it is not very hard to run out of money…

Since we got together, we have gone to a swanky Christmas gala his friends helped sponsor, and birthday parties where there are super cool custom-made ice luges.  When we plan vacations that include AirBNB stays, it is not unlike my kickass father-in-law to try to talk us into letting him put us up in a picturesque resort instead.  The hotbar at Whole Foods has become our lifeline. I don’t have to (but still will) almost exclusively shop at consignments stores anymore.  

My life is starting to look pretty darn cushy.  

Thus, imposter syndrome. 

In a couple of ways, I was privileged before I got married.  I have advanced degrees, which is a privilege (although, again, I will be paying off my catastrophic student loans indefinitely, so it doesn’t always feel like a privilege).  I’m white, which I know is the privilege.  I grew up in a beautiful suburban area just outside of Louisville, Kentucky that proudly offers some of the best public schools in the state.  

But there were struggles and challenges, too– many that I was not up to meeting on my own.  As a child, I was no stranger to anxiety-attacks or feelings of overwhelming helplessness.

Looking at me now, you maybe wouldn’t know it though. 

I am a listener (and have a secret Master’s degree in counseling), so people are prone to sharing their stories with me.  Something I am often struck by, is the way some seem to genuinely think they are the only ones who have ever suffered. There have been a few instances in particular, some of which I may write about in the future, where I have been left with the impression that some do not think I am tough, or have had any experiences nearly as trying as their own.  People seem to expect me to be shocked by their stories, and never to be able to relate.  

Surely I am not someone who has grit, or who has experienced hardships.  Surely. 

But I do have grit, and I have been able to relate.  I usually choose not to share though, because historically when I have opted to share my experiences they were often brushed aside or discounted because I was construed as a basic whiny girl with privilege.  

As a culture, we often make hardships into competitions that lead to unfair comparisons, “one upping” sessions, and can ultimately polarize us instead of bringing people together.  It shouldn’t be that way.  

I’m learning everyone has had, or will have, hardships.  People who have been on welfare, and people who go to private school, and people who don’t even understand their hardships count as hardships, and people who are cross-sections of any or all of those groups. And everyone else. Everyone.

Everyone has struggles. They just come at different times and present differently.

You may never learn that, though, if you aren’t open to being honest and truly vulnerable (not just pretend vulnerable) about yours.

So, without further ado, I’ll go first.

Tune in next Tuesday to read about one of my earliest experiences of shame. 

Oh, what a day.

Oh, What a Day: The Worst Day of My Life

When I woke up, the tone had already been set: it was going to be a real shit day.  I knew it and feared it and hoped against it anyway, because you can actually do all of those things simultaneously.  People and feelings are often complicated. 

The morning started by having holes drilled into one of my teeth, to fill in the lone cavity of my adult life.  The only thing inflicting more pain than the actual drilling itself was the feeling I had disappointed my angelic dental hygienist, Rhonda, by having a cavity.  She is so kind that I usually don’t even admit it when she hurts me during cleanings… and I am not a person who typically holds back. She is just so nice!

After the drilling and the self-inflicted shame, I walked across campus to my office where I could obsessively ruminate for hours.   Not unlike a monotonous game of ping pong, my thoughts bounced back and forth between 1. why I hadn’t gotten the job I had been turned down for the week before and 2. all of the possible ways the day might end.  

But I already knew how it was going to end, had known for a month how it would end.  It was going to end.

Before the work day was over, I trudged the half-mile to my parking spot and drove across town in my mega-old, air-conditionless car to go to the podiatrist.  There, I had a wart on my foot cut off and then burned with the acid of a crazy expensive African beetle, of all things. I am still not sure why I scheduled those two appointments on the same day, but it was not my best laid plan…

It is worth noting I am weird about feet to begin with, so someone staring at my warted foot with a microscope and then continuing to do hurtful things to a highly innervated area was just icing on the shit, anxiety-laden day.  This was my third or fourth visit to get said wart taken care of, so you can imagine my delight and horror. My warted foot felt hopeless, doomed to forever be disgusting. 

Following this appointment, I limped out of the office building to discover my keys were locked inside my car, because of course they were!  I had just spent $30 on a copay for my gross little foot, an actual fortune for my 24 year old self with a Master’s degree and a half and a job that paid me like $26,000 a year; now I had to spend even more money to have Pop-a-lock come and bail me out– which they did, approximately two hours later.

Two hours, in the heat of August in Kentucky, waiting and thinking and worrying and sweating profusely.  I remember debating if I should call or text my boyfriend to see if he was back in town and could swoop me up, because I really needed to be swooped up and cuddled a little bit; however, I don’t think I ended up deciding to do that.

My memory is fuzzy, but I don’t thinkkkkk I called him.  When someone leaves for a week long vacation during a fight, and then stays away for four weeks and barely communicates with you during that time, you start to get the impression they don’t want to cuddle you anymore.  Or swoop you up when your life is an actual wreck. Or decide they do want to marry you and let you have as many babies as you want. Or even just answer their phone, really.

This was the set-up for the day my boyfriend of three years broke up with me, after essentially running away for a month to dodge the inevitable.  My first ever breakup, with my first ever boyfriend. I am, of course, choosing to not remember those other times we broke up. I’m the one telling. this. story.

Finally, I was rescued by the company that capitalizes on flustered people locking their keys in their car, and returned to my apartment.  My ‘boyfriend’ and I had agreed to meet there in the evening to go for a walk and talk, after he made it back in town.

Then, just like that, there he was.

For probably three of the four weeks he had been gone, I had been building myself up for the disappointment of the break-up.  But then I saw him, and my heart told my logical brain to STFU because it wanted him back, earnestly.  

It was a weird weird feeling, seeing the person you love the most in the world, after not seeing them for a long time, and wanting to hug them but knowing better.  Instead, we awkwardly looped around my neighborhood while he worked up the courage to tell me:

You’re ready to get married and I’m not, so our relationship cannot continue.”  

What I am sure of: I cried a lot.  A scary lot. The third biggest cry of my life. 

What I am also sure of: I asked him if I could rub my buckets of snot on his shirt.

What I am certain of: he said I could.  So I did. I wiped my snot all over him, while he held me.

He broke my heart and ran away, yes, but he also let me rub my snot on his shirt when I was sad; therefore, I cannot pretend he was a cold-blooded monster.

Mid-snot rub, I looked up at the man who was holding me, with whom I had survived all kinds of hell over the course of three years, and had loved more than anyone.  Through sobs, I said, sincerely without intending to be mean: “you will probably never have sex again.”

And he said: “that idea has occured to me.”  

I don’t know if it would be funnier if I had intended it to be mean… but as previously mentioned, I did not.  I was just stating what I now understand to be a pretty rude sounding, intuitive prediction. 

While I am an introvert, he was an extreme introvert.  He was perfectly happy spending a lot of time alone, and filling the rest with his two best friends and his family.  He didn’t ever really seem to need or want people beyond aforementioned individuals. Save for my annoying friendliness and persistence, he probably would not have ever dated me either.  

BUT PEOPLE GROW, OKAY. 

If I, for one, can learn to not say every seemingly true thing that occurs to me and makes me sound like a socially-challenged witch, then surely he can have fallen in love again and be in a healthy relationship.  And I have mostly learned, I think. It’s a process…

Back to worst day: the entirety of this song and dance took about ten minutes, and then he left, snotted up– never to be seen or heard from again.  Not even once.  

He was gone.

There I was, completely alone, with a migraine from my cavity fill-up, producing more snot and tears than is possibly good for any one human, with a big old broken and bleeding heart.  I had nothing to do but attempt to limp back up to my apartment without completely alarming my precious roommate. It felt like the worst day of my life, and that day it was.  

I felt it all over again whenever well-meaning old people I only kind of knew asked me when we were going to get engaged and I had to tell them we had actually broken up, and every time I had to go to scary doctors appointments alone, and every time my best friend’s baby asked where he was in her precious innocent baby voice, and every time someone told me I had dodged a bullet with him when they learned we had broken up.  

It hurt like hell, for a long time. 

Then gradually, over the course of about three years, it stopped. 

It would be easy for people to look at my life and say this story had a happy ending, because I ended up married to Sean— a saintly man who always carries a handkerchief that can be acquired easily when my nose is extra runny; however, I would argue my happy marriage has nothing to do with this story.  

Good things do not cover-up or erase suffering.

But past suffering can squelch the good stuff, if you let it.

This breakup story did not end with a husband sweeping me off my feet, saving me from dying alone.  It ended with me starting my former blog as a way to cope, making the decision to try to redefine myself after the relationship ended, and it ended in therapy… several rounds of it, with several therapists (because not all therapists are actually even helpful). 

Time didn’t heal those wounds, nor did any subsequent relationships.  My decision to heal did, and it took me awhile to commit to it. 

My decision to go to therapy meant agreeing to look at myself through a microscopic lens to see ways I needed to grow, so I could try to be healthier in future relationships.  It meant being open to owning my shit, and accepting that life doesn’t just happen to me.  It meant acknowledging I sometimes give people less than they deserve, and I sometimes accept less than I deserve.  

Because of my hard work in therapy and my own introverted self-analysis, my husband doesn’t have to deal with any baggage from that relationship (don’t you worry, I do have other baggage he has the privilege of carrying with me), and instead can just laugh at a story he thinks centers upon my past foot problems. 

Now, I, too, can laugh about the “worst day of my life.”  

That day only ended-up being the third biggest cry of my life so far.  In fact, an even bigger whammy of a heartbreak wrecked me down the line.  

One day, I will tell you about my first and second worst all-time cries and my incontestable biggest heartbreak, but sharing those stories will take a lot more courage and obsessive editing than I have in me right now, or will likely have any time soon. 

For today, saying “shit” like seven times in a blog post, admitting I slept with my long-term ex-boyfriend, and owning up to having the worst possible social skills and saying accidentally hurtful things to people I love took enough courage.  

Oh, what a day.

We’ll see how brazen I feel next week. 

Oh, What a Day: The Day I Dodged a Bullet

Sometimes people with good intentions try to add a silver lining when you can’t see through the clouds; instead of making you feel better, it just makes you feel worse.  You can’t see in front of your own face, let alone all the way to the lining. Ever been there?

Have you, too, ever been struck by the painful irony of someone telling you how you just “dodged a bullet on this one,” or some other trite statement that means you should actually feel lucky when, in reality, you happen to feel like you’ve been shot point blank in the freaking chest and are gushing metaphorical blood all over the place? 

Everyone: “you are fine.”

You: 

Your inner narrator: “y’all, all was most certainly not fine– look at the context clues.” 

When this happens, not only do you feel like you have been shot, but you also believe you need to undergo a major surgery to remove the aforementioned stray phantom bullet which no one else is choosing to acknowledge is even there, swimming around inside you.  

It’s agony.

However well intended, “you just dodged a bullet,” translates as: “they were awful, I never saw this working out, I’m so happy and relieved this is finally over so you can finally move on to the next best thing.”  

Yes, I know, it translates to a heck of a run on sentence… 

Other, shorter sentences, “you dodged a bullet” seems to be code for:

Be happy (your relationship failed).

Be happy (you didn’t get the better paying job you had three interviews for and really really wanted and needed).

Just be happy

Be happy. 

Happiness, I have found, is not easy to attain when you feel like you have been shot.  Or when your emotional hurt starts to manifest physically. Or when the people who love you the most are too busy loving you and being happy for you to pause and remember such things as empathy.

Instead of dancing in the streets, as has been suggested, you just want to cry in your shower (and therefore do a tremendous amount of it). In the great wide world outside of your shower, you do the most human thing you can think to do: you fake it.  Sometimes for years. I did.

Being told by nearly everyone that I was lucky when I felt like my tiny world was over is exactly where I found myself on the “worst day of my life.”  Or, at least, the day five years ago I pronounced to be the worst day of my life. 

A few years and experience has taught me it wasn’t so very bad, in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment and for a long time afterwards it felt acutely and almost comically awful.  Now, thankfully, it is just really funny.  

I’m realizing lately much of the significance and meaning I’ve given to different days of my life, even some which occurred years or decades ago, has started to change.  Sometimes, as is the case for my worst day, time and information and good love and self-reflection can make days that felt awful at the time seem to be more or less trivial. 

I’m also discovering those same great things- time and information and good love and self-reflection– can cause you to discover those long ago awful days were even more painful than you ever realized, and can cause you to feel them all over again with a mega-punch to the throat.  When this happens, we all have the choice to let it hold us up indefinitely, or allow it to spur us on to do something productive about it once and for all (because we are alleged adults now, with agency). 

With this in mind, I’m going to start writing about all of it– the good and the bad days– and then this little introvert is going to share it on the internet, and maybe even turn my collection of days into a book or two.

I can’t wait to share about the worst day of my life with you soon, in my first blog post– I hope you laugh, I hope at least one person finds it relatable, and I hope beyond hope you never tell someone they dodged a bullet again.  (Unless it is an actual and literal bullet they have dodged– in which case, they are likely already aware of their amazing feat, sans your commentary).

Be on the lookout for “Oh, What a Day.”