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As I was preparing for the last week of College Writing, I found myself reflecting on what we’ve been exploring this term: How regular writing—even if it’s not long, or even directly related to a single subject—can capture the essence of experience. Joan Didion calls it “keeping in touch with our past selves.” I call it a survival kit. Let me explain.

Almost exactly a month ago I got a “friend” request on my Facebook page. It was from a gray-haire but otherwise beautifully preserved man who called himself “David,” which, in the reality of internet security, I understood to mean that his name might or might not actually BE “David.” I don’t judge; I am known in some internet circles as “Bodie Parkhurst.” I have a friend who goes by “Shamala.” This is common practice. But I digress. 

Unlike many of the men from whom I get “friend” requests, David wasn’t a three-star general, a Nigerian prince, nor even a doctor with Doctors Without Borders. He said he was a marine engineer. Given a steady diet of generals, princes, and philanthropists I was understandably eager to learn more, but David proved surprising coy. “I don’t want to talk about work,” he said. “I talk to you to escape from work.”

I thought about that, and wondered if I wanted to be anybody’s “escape” from life, but I didn’t worry too much about it. After all, I had a good friend in law enforcement who once told me that she told people I was her “Bohemian” friend, because I lived below a tattoo parlor and designed things on the computer rather than going to a regular office job. Maybe being trapped on a ship doing machiny and engineers things got old for David. Who was I to criticize?

In the beginning most of our conversations were of the, “Hi, how are you/Fine, I’m just headed out the door/Okay, have a good day” variety. David was invariably polite and supportive of my busy schedule. He never implored me to switch to What’s App, which seems to be the generals’, princes’, and surgeons’ platform of choice. He never became angry when I couldn’t or didn’t respond immediately. In internet friendships on my page, this counts for quite a bit. But then a few weeks in things started to shift. Maybe David caught me on a good day or maybe the long series of tiny polite exchanges just gradually evolved, but one evening I was somewhat startled to discover myself in a real conversation with David.

We talked about his daughter. We talked about my son. We were suitably guarded and respectful, but it felt real. And then one day David said it: “I’d really like to meet you. I feel like I’m developing feelings for you.”

Well. I am not a person for whom men readily develop feelings, particularly on such a scanty basis. I’m more the “wear them down and then pounce in a weak moment” kind of person. When David said he had feelings for me, it took me by surprise. What surprised me most of all was that I wasn’t terrified. Something in my brain woke up and said, “This is the point where you’re usually scared spitless. Why do you just feel good about this?” A part of me worried that maybe I SHOULD be scared, but the larger part felt a little bit proud. Maybe the thirty years of therapy were finally paying off! Maybe at last I was figuring out how to be comfortable with being courted? Maybe I could learn not to laugh at romantic overtures? Maybe I was finally learning how to be normal?

So I took pride in my lack of fear, and chatted happily back. David talked more and more about his feelings. I took some time to reflect on my own. I didn’t love David, but I thought that maybe, once his current contract ran out, it would be nice to meet and see what, if anything, developed. As I have said, I’m not the sort of person who provokes amorous intent in available men, so I was prepared for David to retreat hastily to friendship upon meeting me in person. Still, though, it was nice to think that someone found me worth pursuing. Someone said I was beautiful. Someone enjoyed my conversation, even if he was strangely leery about offering details about himself.

And so it went. Until David’s birthday came up. “I have a small favor to ask of you,” he wrote. “I need you to buy $500 of Steam cards and send me the numbers. I need them for my phone. I’d like to do a video chat on my birthday.

“I’d like to help,” I chatted back, “but I’m not made of money, and $500 is a lot for me. Also, isn’t Steam just for gaming?”

“I use the software on my phone,” he responded, somewhat ambiguously. Still, though, we had been talking for a month. He had feelings for me. More, he made me feel beautiful. “If the money’s a concern I’ll send you my banking information and you can transfer the money out of my account into yours.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay,” I said. “Let me get home.”

At home I told my son what was happening. My son is the tech savvy member of our household. Also, my son had not been chatting with David, so he tended to see things a bit differently. “This sounds scammy, Mom,” he said. “Why does he want Steam cards? You can only use them in gaming. They won’t help with his phone.”

“He says he uses them to run the video chat software on his phone.”

“How long is he planning on chatting?” my son asked, and he asked it with a certain tone. At least I thought I heard a tone.

“He’s going to be at sea for another couple months,” I answered.  “And he’s not asking me to front the money; he’s given me access to his account.”

“He gave YOU access to HIS account?” my son asked. 

“Yes, so I can transfer the money.” I clicked into his bank account. Lines wiggled. Bar graphs shot up. It looked far more creative than what I was expecting. Also, the spelling on some of the terms was creative, to put it mildly. Maybe it’s a bank from a non-English-speaking country, I decided. Maybe this is badly translated.

“Call your bank,” my son insisted. “This sounds like a scam. Listen…” and he started reading from some site discussing scams and Steam cards. 

“But David’s not asking me to spend my own money. He wants me to transfer the funds to my account and then buy the cards. How could he be scamming me?” I asked. And I defiantly pushed the button. 

“Call your bank,” my son said again. “Ask what they think. This sounds like a scam to me.”

Every time he said “scam” I found myself getting more and more irritated. Finally I offered a compromise. “I’ll call the bank. Whatever they suggest, I’ll do.” 

This would probably have been easier to say if I hadn’t just spent the last couple weeks congratulating myself on having moved past my fear of intimacy to the point where I could feel good about chatting with David.

You probably know how this story ends. The bank called back. “We’re locking your account, closing it, and opening you up a new one. This is a scam. When you put in the money transfer information they have your banking information. They get you to give the Steam card numbers, then they reverse the transaction. Sometimes they empty  your account.”

I felt heartsick. David had been my friend, or at least I thought he was. Worse, I had had all the old messages from my childhood, that romance wasn’t for me, that people wouldn’t care for me for myself, and that I was only worth duping, reaffirmed. Suddenly I was right back at the “self” I had been in the bad old days. I felt worthless. I felt stupid. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed.

How had I, veteran kicker-to-the-curb of three-star generals, Nigerian princes, and philanthropic doctors, been fooled? How had David slipped past my defenses? And then it occurred to me: I could know exactly how it happened. I had our chat. 

And so I went back and started reading, analytically this time. I noticed how often David evaded responding to questions about himself. I noticed how his language challenges—he said he was Norwegian—ebbed and flowed. I noticed how often the details he offered reflected details about myself that I had previously offered. 

And then it hit me: David had provided me a framework—a few chats and a few pictures—and I had constructed a person. And then I had decided that person was my friend. I had participated in my own scamming.

The people who know about this all said I should block David, but there was still a part of me that hoped for some explanation—even as the smarter part of myself recognized that the most overwhelming possibility was exactly what appeared to be the case: David wasn’t David at all. He was probably some kid seeking out vulnerable people online, and then scamming them.

David and I had a final conversation. I told him that what had really tipped the balance for me was the long list of evasions. When the time came that I really, really needed to trust him, there simply was nothing there to trust. He responded sarcastically, telling me he had been “straight” with me, and answered every question.

I sent him a list of all the questions I had asked, questions he had carefully slid around before charging off on another conversational tack. 

“That’s what you’re basing this on?” he asked. “Those are details.”

And then he informed me—in perfect English, yet, that I was the “sketchy” one, and that he would never trust me after the “stunt” I had pulled. 

“I googled your bank,” I said. “I couldn’t find it.”

He shot me back a screen capture. “Here’s the bank you “googled,” he said. “Click the link.”

I read the name of the bank, went into my search engine, and entered the name. “The bank’s name is different,” I told him. And it was. The screen background was the same. The client information box style was the same, but the bank’s name and logo was completely, completely, different.

“There were a lot of misspellings on your account page,” I typed.

“Probably because you were making an unauthorized transfer,” he shot back, conveniently bypassing the fact that he had instigated the whole thing and had, in fact, pressured me to transfer the money.

“People who have seven-figure bank accounts don’t need random people on the internet to buy Steam cards so they can use their phones,” I finally said.

And that was when he told me that I had been a waste of time, and that I had “trust issues.”

I thought about that. “In this case, you’re right,” I finally typed. And then I blocked him.

***

So what is the meaning of this? Why am I writing about this? Because tonight I found myself thinking that the record of our conversations—a kind of journal, certainly a kind of notebook—I had kept had, combined with my son’s sharp eye and persistence, had first, saved me from quite possibly devastating financial loss. More important, though, they showed me what it meant to be me in this last month—and what it meant to be David. In the end, that chat has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I think I do. When I look at that I see a woman who is not as ready to give up on the idea of love as she has thought. I’ve seen a woman so entranced by the idea of being thought beautiful and valuable that she was willing to risk far too much to perpetuate the illusion. But it also shows me a woman who, once she has a place to start, can analyze, evaluate, and learn from an experience, no matter how embarrassing. Finally, I see a woman who, while she might be embarrassed, refuses to be ashamed. She speaks up. She tells her story—even if she doesn’t look particularly good in it. She owns her truth. 

The truth is that David was a scammer. But I helped. And in looking at HOW I helped, I am learning a lot about who I am, and who I want to be.

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These are not my legs, nor are the legs in the approved Potty Dance stance, nor are these my shoes. About the only thing this illustration has going for it is that it looks awkward and funny, and the legs don’t look hairy. Don’t judge. I’ll put in a nice car farther down, and maybe a bike.

So I’ve fallen down–or up–stairs three times in the last month. This has had me concerned. I mean, I’m falling down more often than my mother does, but then she’s a remarkably fit 84. Actually she runs circles around me on a regular basis. So anyhow, falling down and worrying. This has had me thinking. And then tonight, as I was limping across my office and standing timidly at the top of the stairs, worrying about my descent, I suddenly realized that I was falling not because I was getting old–is 59 old these days?–but because my body is inattentive to bodily things until conditions have reached DefCon 1.

If you’re a classy sort who doesn’t discuss body stuff in mixed company, you’ll want to stop here, because I’m about to tell you about the Potty Dance. I’ll wait a minute.

Okay, they’re gone. On with the story. I learned the Potty Dance in early childhood. I executed it frequently because, my body’s pee meter wasn’t a gauge, which measures slowly increasing pressure, but more of an idiot light, which, like the little oil lamp in my car, only comes on when it’s far, far too late. This system does not work well, and never has.

As a small child I provided a lot of entertainment for my siblings and their friends, who took delight in trying to make me laugh when they could see I was performing the Potty Dance, a sort of Drunkard’s Path path executed with thighs pressed tightly together and legs scissoring in a sort of circular motion–all of this performed with what I must confess was an absolutely transparent air of casual ease–I was just staggering toward the bathroom this way because I wanted to. There is still a story enshrined in family history about the time I staggered into the bathroom door at my mom’s friend’s house, nearly knocking her lovely full-length mirror to the floor.

Here’s the bike I promised you, because I always keep my word. Also because I love this guy, with his big nose and his clodhoppers and his fat-tired bike, freewheeling through life. I would never dare to do this. Again, this has nothing to do with the subject matter, but who cares? I’m feeling rebellious. Who says stories and illustrations have to match? Not me! At least not today. It’s a guy on a bike.

When I was a teenager I worked on a ranch. Much of my time was spent in fields where men might come driving up in pickups at any moment. Having to strip in the field (bib overalls were my garments of choice in those days) for a quick whiz was risky business. So how did I cope, you ask? Did I go to the bathroom in the outhouse down by the grain elevator at the river?

I did not. The outhouse was there for the convenience of the truckers, true, but none of us ever used it. This was because we had robust senses of humor. We found it hilarious to pelt the outhouse–which was metal–with rocks if anybody went inside. For some reason there was an outside latch on the door. Rumor had it that some newby had gone into the outhouse one time, and a trucker had locked him in. And then everyone stood around and pointed and laughed as the newby huddled inside, mortified. So–no outhouse for me.

Instead, I developed a bladder that could have doubled for a blacksmith’s bellows. I mean, that thing had muscles on its muscles. Halfway through my first summer driving harvest I realized that I was going all day–that’s twelve to fourteen hours, for those of you who have never drive a harvest truck–without a potty break. Nor was I performing the Potty Dance. How did this happen? I don’t know. I just know that during the summers I developed muscles everywhere, even where nobody ever thought to look.

Ah, if only that happy state of affairs had continued. I had a baby. I had my lady parts removed a few years ago. And suddenly here I am, performing the Potty Dance regularly again. It still provokes amusement. Now it is my son who takes pleasure in my complicated and gyrations as I stagger to the bathroom.

And now my feet are getting temperamental, going along for months, carrying me everywhere without an issue. And then one morning I’ll swing them to the floor, stand up, and fall back on the bed because it hurts too much to stand. My feet will have cracked in the night. Imagine, if you will, trying to stagger through the Potty Dance when your feet insist that yes, you can and should levitate.

But there’s another complication, this one psychological rather than physical. Like all new mothers, I was faced with the complication of having to wrap, feed, and carry my child using my hands and arms. I got very good at juggling a baby, a diaper bag, a baby seat, various bags of groceries, and sometimes a cat.

In those days, I learned to load myself up on trips between the car and the house. Otherwise I would have been toting groceries all day. I’ve never really broken the habit. When I can’t skive off completely and rush into the house while Patrick and whoever is riding with us at the time bring in the groceries–Potty Dance!–I Do My Part. I load myself up with boxes of soda, jugs of milk, occasionally the eggs when I’m feeling very brave, the bread, vegetables–you get the idea.

So picture me a couple weeks ago, loading myself up with groceries and juggling a large cup of ice water and a Strawberry Mist Frost as well–a Strawberry Mist Frost from which I had only taken two small sips. I got two steps from the car and the idiot light went on. I Assumed the Position–thighs clamped to the knees, lower legs swinging out to clear the gravel and leaves lying beside the driveway. I made it to the two little steps leading up into our pergola, stared at them doubtfully, took an enormous risk, and unclamped my thighs just enough to lift my foot onto the bottom step. I knew instantly that had been a mistake, but I still had another step to go and then the walk to yet more steps unless I wanted to spend the night under the wisteria bush. I grimly lifted my other foot, resigned to the knowledge that I would be changing my trousers in just a few minutes.

And then I navigated the walkway, doing a flamboyant, twisting rendition of the Potty Dance, tacking back and forth across the walkway like a sailboat in a strong wind. The sole mercy was that The Boy had preceded me into the house so there were no witnesses. I made it to the steps. My arms ached. I took a better grip on my Strawberry Mist Frost and my water cup, hoisted the grocery bags, and attempted the first step. I got my foot up on it, but I was off balance. I lifted my other foot quickly to the second step–always a mistake when one is performing the Potty Dance. I made it again, but there was another step, and now I was really off-balance. I lifted the first foot quickly to the porch, then took a couple little running steps, thinking, as I always do at times like this, that if I could just catch up with myself I’d be okay. I don’t know why I believe this because never has that ever worked. I did, however, realize suddenly that that idiot light had gone on for a reason, and it would shortly be going off again, whether I made it to the bathroom or not. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about this because by now I was seriously falling. I was close enough to the door that I smacked it with my forehead–hard enough to break the door jamb and pop it open, but not so close that my head couldn’t continue its journey to bounce on the concrete porch.

I landed on top of my Strawberry Mist Frost and my cup of ice water. I also bruised a lot of vegetables. The Boy appeared to see my lying flat on my belly, cursing into the concrete as the Strawberry Mist Frost soaked through my coat. “You need help, Mom?” he asked, because he really is a good and kind person.

“No, I’m fine,” I said even though idiot lights were going off all over my body at that point. It is part of my Code that I must get myself back to my feet On My Own at times like this. Having help would be taking unfair advantage. I got myself down there; now I have to get myself back up. Don’t look for logic in this–there is none. I clawed my way back upright, limped inside, and continued to the bathroom without needing to perform a single step of the Potty Dance, if you take my meaning.

So that was one fall. The falls before that had resulted from a simple arithmetic error: I went down a flight of six steps, but only planned on five. It could happen to anybody, I tell myself. And then tonight I stood up from my desk, only to realize my feet had developed cracks like the Grand Canyon, but had kept that information for a little surprise. I winced and rolled up on my heels–the cracks run across the balls of my feet–only to have the idiot light come on.

I hobbled to the steps, doing a strange truncated version of the Potty Dance. I stood at the top for a long time. And then I slowly, slowly descended, sideways, one step at a time, bracing myself on the wall. And I made it. I’m learning. I’m learning to think in terms of time since my last visit to the bathroom, rather than expecting my bladder to alert me that perhaps I should start planning a trip. I’m learning to accept my son’s arm when I go up and down the outside steps. I’m learning to stop loading myself up like a pack mule when there are groceries to bring in. Making a second trip is not a mortal sin.

And I’m learning to laugh at myself when this happens, even though it feels shameful and humiliating. I’m learning that changing my trousers in the middle of the day is not the end of the world. Well, it kind of is right now, since our dryer’s on the fritz, but I digress. Mostly, I’m just letting my idiot light and my poor feet remind me that I’m traveling through life with somewhat temperamental equipment, and if some things don’t work as well as they once did, other things work a lot better. I’m learning that it’s okay to be human.

And here’s the car, like I also promised. Here’s hoping I’m not feeling as rebellious tomorrow. I really do like it when my stories and pictures match…

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…the more they stay the same. At least here in the Magic Dog House they do. Today The Boy got his first college degree. As of this weekend, he’s also a partner in our newly incorporated LLC. All of this sounds very dramatic, but in reality it’s been a slow evolution. He’s been contributing his talents to presentations, to typesetting and laying out books, and to developing data management programs for years now. We’ve just made it official.

Friday, we worked on client stuff. Saturday we played. Today we watched his online graduation. This evening he’s having his socially distanced graduation party–several folks he’s been friends with for more than a decade. When we moved here he was in fourth grade, and nine years old. On the day we bought the house I made a commitment: We would not move again until he was through high school, and possibly college if it was convenient. I wanted him to have a home town, a place where he had roots. We’d moved four times in his first nine years. I didn’t want to yank him up again.

So–here we stopped, and here we stayed. It hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s been very good in a lot of ways. And today? It’s pretty danged wonderful. My house and yard feel full of boys–bringing their wives and girlfriends now. Normally they congregate in the living room; today they’re outside, keeping their distance, and strengthening those connections that have served them so well. Happy Graduation, Patrick. I love you.

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The last post here was about Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate. It is perhaps a measure of our times that I can’t even remember posting that. This is what happens when crises multiply. We had the impeachment trial, and watched an entire party with one–count’em, one–exception, vote to shield a President who clearly should have been tried. We had the Democratic primaries, which to my sorrow seemed to proceed much as Democratic primaries often proceed–the candidates who seem the strongest, who offer the best ideas, and who give many of us the feeling that we finally have the opportunity to vote for something offering the hope of change, rather than just against something vile, are maneuvered out of the race, leaving only the preferred party candidate standing. So we were stuck with Biden, who had gone silent and was hiding in his basement.

Then the coronavirus hit, and with it the ever-increasing realization that Trump had no plan, had actually dismantled the plan left in place by the Obama administration, and gave not one feck about the deaths as long as the Stock Market stayed strong. So we retreated into our homes. The pittance provided to help us through the shutdown disappeared into the maw of mortgage companies, rent, groceries, and utilities. And still the death numbers rose.

And then there was another death, not from coronavirus but from a policeman’s knee on a Black man’s neck, an all too literal image of what has all too often been the state of affairs in the U.S. And suddenly all the festering anger about far too many cases of police violence against people of color, far too many bills and no way to pay them, far too many deaths with no vaccine or real treatment plan in place, and far too many presidential speeches about how we were doing great when any idiot with a window could see we were not doing great, came roaring out into the streets.

And that’s when things got crazy. Suddenly we had protestors who had hit the streets because they wanted haircuts furious at protesters who had hit the streets because they were tired of being victimized by the system that is supposed to protect all of us. We had a president whose racist views have been an open secret scheduling his return to the campaign trail on Juneteenth, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, site of one of the worst incidences of racial violence in America’s history. (He rescheduled, but the only after public outcry.)

Mortgage and rental companies are gearing up to start evictions. For many of us, work is still hard to come by (I’m one of the lucky few–I’ve actually managed to develop a couple new income streams during the shutdown–but my experience is not typical). Coronavirus infections and deaths are on the rise again–maybe due to premature opening, maybe because that’s the nature of the disease. And we’ve still got the presidential election, and with it its handmaidens of voter suppression, partisanship, poll manipulation, and what used to be called “spin,” but now can be called nothing but “lying.”

And in the midst of all this, I find myself in my quiet office, in my quiet house, teaching classes and leading retreats via Zoom, working on city projects for a lovely woman, planning to start work on a project I’ve been doing for something like fifteen years, and still working with authors who have stories to tell. My son and I have finally incorporated–we are now true business partners.

There’s a huge disconnect between the national and global scene and my quiet life. Sure, I’m worried about the mortgage. I’ve got a call pending with the bank. but so far we’re here. We’re healthy, and above all, we actually do have some people in Washington who seem to “get it.” Bernie Sanders, of course, has been working tirelessly, fighting for economic relief for millions of us. Thank you, Bernie–I wish you were still a candidate, but I respect and love you for continuing the fight for us, even though you’ve been denied the opportunity to lead from behind the Resolute desk.

I’m also grateful to my senators, Wyden and Merkely, and my governor, Kate Brown, who have also been fighting for our safety and prosperity. And finally–and most unexpectedly, I find myself grateful for Mitt Romney. I didn’t vote for him in 2012. Had he run for the presidency the way he seems to have governed Massachusetts things might have been different, but I watched him disavowing some really good things he’d done, and, well, I just couldn’t see it. But then I watched him, alone in his party, vote to try President Trump.

That impressed me. I really disliked his business practices and financial policies, but clearly he had drawn a line in the sand. I respected that. And then I saw some pictures of him, masked, hot and sweaty, perfect hair mussed, eyes smiling, marching with the “Black Lives Matter” protesters.

I can’t tell you what that means to me. I still am disgusted and furious at the GOP capitulation to Trump and trumpism. I am still nauseated by the misogyny, the racism, and the support and elevation of white supremacy and white supremacist ideas. But in all that roiling dark, I sit here in my quiet office and look at Mitt Romney, rich dude, investment banker, sometimes tone-deaf bastion of the Establishment. I see him smiling behind his mask, on the streets to say with his presence that Black Lives Matter, and I realize that in this person I had previously dismissed as a Suit, there is integrity. There is courage. And for me, that means there is hope.

 

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