Tales From The Thrift Store: Carnival of Chaos

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It was just your typical Saturday in Ghettoville, and things were rather slow at the store. So I was off elsewhere in the building doing what Super Heroes do; sweeping up dead cockroaches in the pantry while I microwaved a breakfast burrito.

I peeked around the corner and then did this ninja-flip, Chuck Norris style kick move across the kitchen. The remaining roaches scattered. “And don’t come back.” I said firmly with a nod, fully satisfied with myself for a job well done. I then slid slowly up to the window in the swinging kitchen door to spy on any potential crime going down in the cafeteria. All was quiet.

Until around 11:45 a.m., that is. That’s when all hell broke loose at your local neighborhood Baptist Church.

Now, before I get to this installment of crazy, I need to explain what went down last year around this time.

You see, I used to keep several chairs and a coffee table that I was trying to sell near the thrift shop door, and each day after I rolled the big door up, I would pull them into the entry area in an effort to get them noticed and potentially sold faster.

This became problematic when the local area homeless, who I, of course, didn’t mind coming in to see me for food and a change of clothes, started to view this as an invitation to hang out for most of the day; smoking, eating, drinking beer, cursing profusely, and fighting with one another. It was like an episode of ‘The 3 Stooges’ meets an episode of ‘Cops.’ For the first time ever, I had to throw people out on a regular basis. This didn’t always go well. I am not, after all, fit to be a bouncer. There are mosquitos that are tougher than I am.

So, to alleviate this problem, I planned to do some rearranging when I got the chance. Okay, fine; when I wasn’t feeling lazier than a blood gorged tick on a dog’s rear end. This rearranging was going to entail moving the chairs and tables to the back of the store. It was a big job. Might have taken me all of 5 minutes if I applied myself.

It was the day that the “Jacksonville Caribbean Parade and Festival” happened, that ultimately pushed me over the edge enough to finally put that decision into effect, though.

The day started like any other warm, humid Florida day. I had opened up shop and set my tables and chairs in the doorway.

As I straightened up around the place, 2 guys carrying huge tin foil trays came in and said they had a food delivery for some lady that I had never even heard of. I assured them that they had the wrong address. They argued that this was where they were told to bring their delivery.

We went back and forth in that manner for a couple more minutes. I finally did a little air karate move that made them nervous. They high-tailed it back out to their van as they made a confirmation call on their cell phone.  They then decided to just sit in their van in the parking lot for the next 20 minutes. I monitored the situation and wondered if they would eventually leave. They might be some of my crazed stalker fans. They could have just come right out and asked me for an autograph. No need to beat around the bush…

About 30 minutes later, a couple of young ladies came along with bags that they proceeded to plop down onto the coffee table in the doorway. They then settled themselves into the chairs that I had set up there. They pulled wigs, weave, and face paint out of the bags, and started doing each other’s hair and makeup like they were in the dressing room of some low budget Las Vegas Showgirl Review. I stared at them quizzically. They didn’t even glance in my direction. As far as they were concerned, I wasn’t there. They were joined a few minutes later by a couple more ladies that started doing the same.

It was then that I noticed all of the vehicles now parked down at the far end of the parking lot. I peeked around the corner. Much to my surprise, people were setting up a tent and chairs in front of the side entrance to our building. I, being a very non confrontation person… okay, chicken… a big, fat, hide under the coop like I just saw a fox, chicken… had to man up and go find out what was going on. So I slid past the women in the doorway who apparently thought ‘Thrift Store’ now meant ‘Salon’, and went down to try and find the person in charge.

Upon asking around a bit, I found out that they were setting up for a parade. Some Caribbean thing that would leave the parking lot at 1p.m, and travel down the street to a place where they were hosting activities and entertainment afterward.

Well then. I assumed at this point that they had maybe talked to our Pastor or Administrator, or someone that had given them the green light on using our property to set up for this event, and that person had just failed to let me know. Yep, that had to be it. So, I contacted my Pastor in an effort to clear things up.

He had no idea who they were or what was going on, either. They had never called for permission to use our property.

By this time, the parking lot was starting to fill up; a couple of large trucks with speakers on the back, some vehicles with bass thumping music that was so loud it drowned out the sound of the radio that I keep on in the store, and people with tailgates open passing out food. I went to try and find someone in charge again and was rerouted several times until I finally found someone that, while not the “head cheese” of this operation, was at least able to function as a liaison.

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I put her on the phone with Pastor. She assured him that this whole set up was merely a “children’s parade”, and that they would all be off the premises by 1 that afternoon. That, folks, was a big, fat, stinky, steaming pile of lie.

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Since they had convinced him that it was a children’s parade, however, and since they vowed to be gone within the next hour, my Pastor agreed to allow them use of the parking lot to set up. THE PARKING LOT.

Things went south pretty quickly. The handful of people loitering in the thrift-store-turned-salon doorway quickly doubled. They started asking to use the restroom. Seemed harmless enough, right? Plus, as you may already know, I have a problem saying no. I’m a floor mat to the point that there’s permanent footprints across my backside.

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Little did I know that the restroom had been converted into their own personal dressing room until I saw the first of the barely covered, glitter-coated females come back through the store. I did a double take and tried to process what I was seeing.  I reasoned that maybe they were making another Twilight movie and I had just warped onto the set. “Twilight VI: Bella’s Gone Wild” or some such nonsense.

They were in a church, but they obviously either didn’t realize it, or didn’t care.

Customers wouldn’t even pull into the crowded parking lot to shop, and the ONE that did, gave a disgusted huff and made a hasty exit when one of the stripper wanna be’s pranced through the store. Not to mention, they had starting pulling the store chairs that I was trying to sell all over the place. A couple of them had been drug halfway across the parking lot.

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They finally got their show on the road at about 1:30. The mess they left behind in the bathrooms was like the aftermath of an explosion at Hobby Lobby. There was glitter and feathers everywhere. The sinks were caked with makeup and stray weave.

These people that hadn’t even asked for permission to be here in the first place, just showed up and left me with a huge mess. Was I being punked? I peeked around the corner to see if Ashton Kutcher was standing there laughing.

To top it all off, “gone by one” apparently hadn’t included their vehicles. They took up all of my customer parking. I really had no choice but to just close up for the day at that point. So I did, and took the next hour afterward to clean up the mess that they had left behind.

Pastor wasn’t happy when he found out that they had lied to him, and when all of their vehicles were still sitting there in the parking lot that night, he got into contact with someone in charge and firmly requested that they be removed.

And that was it.

I had thought that whole mess was just a distant memory.

Until today.

When I saw the truck with big speakers pull into the parking lot and start setting up, and a young lady with a glittery bra in her hand came around the corner and asked if she could use the restroom, I froze.

Oh no. No no no no no. I’m not going through this again.

So I called my husband.

“Do you know anything about these people having permission to be here this year?” I asked.

“I highly doubt it. Call the cops.” He replied.

Now, revert back to the part where I said I’m a huge, non-confrontational chicken. I really didn’t want to call the cops. I honestly didn’t want to deal with the situation again at all this year. I mean seriously. Again? They were gonna pull this…this taking over the place without permission stunt again?!

So I went and talked to one of the ladies that was helping hook up speakers on the bed of one of the trucks.

“Setting up for the Caribbean Parade?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am.”

“You know, you don’t have permission to be here right?”

“We don’t? Let me call the facilitator and find out what’s going on.”

She played dumb after she got off the phone.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I’m from out of town.”

“There’s a vacant lot right across the street. Ya’ll can’t move over there?” I asked

“No, we need to be on this side of the street.”

I was clearly going to get nowhere so I went back inside. The situation wasn’t out of hand like last year… yet. There were only 4 vehicles in the lot so far. No tents were set up, and no half naked people were running around the store or flopped in various chairs playing beauty parlor.

My husband kept urging me to call the police, and I kept stalling and making excuses. Then, a cop car pulled into the parking lot with lights flashing. Good, I thought. Either my hubby or Pastor must have done the dirty deed for me.

I peered out the window behind the desk and waited for the police man or woman to step out of the vehicle and handle the situation. And I waited. And waited. Nothing was happening. Then, while that nothing was happening, more people were starting to arrive. A truck pulling a flatbed trailer with huge speakers on it had pulled in and parked across the middle of the lot. Barely clothed, glittered and feathered women were pouring out of vehicles. Bass was bumping and drowning out my store music once again.

So, I heaved a sigh and headed toward the police car. The officer rolled down his window as I approached.

“Let me guess. Escorting the parade?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am, I am,” was his reply.

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that these people don’t have permission to be here again this year, and they hadn’t asked permission before just showing up and using our facilities last year, either.”

“Well, I haven’t heard anything about that,” was his reply. “You’ll either have to talk to their facilitator and clear it up, or talk to Officer Grant who will be arriving soon.”

I said, “Look. Last year, they came in and ran my customers off and created a huge mess for me in there. We really don’t want them here.”

He suggested that I just go close the store to keep them out while they set up. Seriously? Helpful much? Welcome to Jacksonville.

He then pointed out Officer Grant arriving on scene, and suggested once again that I go talk to her…and so I did. She was very understanding and even looked slightly horrified that they had never bothered to call and get permission first. Finally, I’m getting somewhere.

She assured me that the entire entourage would be moved out to the street right away, but as she started to herd them out, they started multiplying like rabbits. I don’t think she ever fully got them all out of the lot before the parade started.

I was grateful for the effort on her part, though, and grateful that I didn’t have to keep dealing with them wanting to come in and trash the bathrooms to get ready. Or so I thought.

After their glittery bodies, clad in less material then I usually see covering folks at the beach, shuffled off down the road to the beat of the island music thumping through several sets of enormous speakers, I heaved a sigh of relief and headed off to use the restroom. I had been holding it for so long at that point that my teeth were starting to float.

When I got there, I found that the decorative candles had been knocked off the shelves and were now laying on the floor, along with glitter, feathers, and an empty panty-hose package. There was makeup smeared all over the sink. Apparently, some of them had snuck in while I was out trying to get the police to handle the situation.

I huffed irritably and went to find the broom.

At least all was quiet until closing after that.

I closed 15 minutes early anyway, and went home to nurse my throbbing headache.

I hope that the Caribbean crew at least learned a lesson in asking permission first this year, but I doubt it.

Until next time, readers: stay clothed.

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Tales From The Thrift Store: A Member in the Hand is Worth a Guy in the Bush

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As I, Superhero Thrift Store Manager, arrived in Ghettoville Friday morning at 10 a.m. to open up as usual, I happened to glance off to my right and see something curious in the bushes. This was just after I finished cutting through the front door lock with my laser heat vision. Okay, okay, fine. You got me. I only turned the key. I did notice something off to the right that caught my attention, though.

Back in the corner, behind a series of bushes, I saw what appeared to be…a human head. It’s okay to freak out at this point. I did. Screamed like a girl and peed myself a little. Upon further investigation, though, the head happened to be attached to a body, and this body happened to be passed out across the top of a sleeping bag.

Yes, it was what it looked like. A squatter was camped out in our church shrubbery, clearly loitering, trespassing, and well…judging by the mess of trash that lay around him, littering, too.

So, I did what any red-blooded American would have done when faced with such a situation. I called the local law enforc…

Oh, come on. No I didn’t. I run a charity here. I went inside, grabbed a couple of bottled waters, a pop top can of ravioli, 3 Slim Jims, a Nutri Grain Bar, and went back out to rouse sleeping beauty. No kisses were doled out in this version of the story, though. I’m not THAT charitable.

He was a skinny Mexican gentleman. Or maybe Puerto Rican, I don’t know. I’m bad with nationalities. I once thought Michael Jackson was black. All I know is that this guy was maybe 5’7, dark haired, brown skinned, mustachioed, and weighed about 95 pounds soaking wet. He had his shirt and shoes off and was lying on his back across the top of his navy blue sleep sack, with his hand crammed firmly down the front of his pants and a death grip on his manhood.

I puzzled at his chosen slumber position for a moment before waking him. Was that for protection against any knife wielding maniacs that might happen upon him asleep there in the bushes, or was he merely having a pleasant dream? I gave a whistle to try and rouse him. He didn’t stir. Heavy sleeper, this guy. I yelled, “Good morning. Hey. Hello.” Loud enough that his bloodshot eyes finally started to open at a pace slow enough that one would have thought they were stuffed with peanut butter.

Now, you can call me stupid for approaching a sleeping homeless man all alone, but I think we’ve already established previously that I’m not always in the habit of thinking things through. Where others see danger, I simply see opportunities for charity. Yes, it may get me killed one day, but no one lives forever. If I’m going to go, I may as well go out giving.

Anyway, imagine his surprise when he opened his eyes to find a short, fat, white woman hovering over him. He quickly released his member, yanked his hand out of his pants, and proceeded to rub it across his sleep palsied face. Yeah. Eww. I caught the hint of panic in his suddenly fully awake and animated movements, so I said, “Whoa, whoa. It’s okay. I’m not about to call the police. We already knew you were back here.” Which was the truth, we did. Well, not him specifically, of course. One of our Deacons had discovered his belongings in the bushes a couple of weeks prior, and was going to speak with whomever the items belonged to about the litter around the little hidden campsite.  He never showed up that day, though, so that conversation was never had.

I handed him the food that I had brought him and said, “Here’s something for you to eat and some bottled water. You’re alright. Please, just clean up your litter, okay? If you want, you can come see me in the thrift store and help yourself to a change of clothes.” He responded with, “Okay. Thank you.”

He never came in to see me, and made himself scarce for the rest of the day.

So I went about my business parked lazily behind the thrift store desk, laptop open in front of me. Hey, I have no internet at the store, so writing is what I do to wile away the hours.

An hour or so after opening, a woman of about 70 came into the store to peruse the discount fodder. She was about my height, 5’2, with a chunky build, shoulder length white hair pulled back by a headband, stretchy black yoga pants, a grey t-shirt with the name of some charity foundation on it, a Rasta colored bracelet, funky beaded necklace, and tennis shoes. I looked down at my own stretchy black yoga pants, t-shirt, and tennis shoes, and back up at the lady who smiled at me from the back of the store. It was like I was looking into some crazy time lapse mirror. When she turned away, I elbowed my daughter and said, “I think I just caught a glimpse of my future.” She agreed that she had been thinking something along those lines, too. I gave a nervous laugh.

I went back to pecking at the keyboard with all the swiftness of a dying tortoise.

Then, later that afternoon, Queen Sneezy came in. I have never in my life heard a person sneeze that many times in a row. I stopped saying, “bless you” after about the 15th one. My daughter swears she lost count after 40. I was wondering if I was going to have to call the paramedics. If I did have to, what would I tell them? “Yeah. I have this lady here sneezing herself to death. Mouth to mouth? I don’t think so.”

I think the whole thing was Ray’s fault. Ray Darr. The world’s worst excuse for a pet rabbit. Now he’s trying to kill people with his dirty rabbit dander. We recently found out that he’s just a baby bunny because his little…okay enormous rabbit jewels finally dropped. We’re all still puzzling over that one. How could he be a baby when he’s bigger than some of the Great Danes in the neighborhood? Seriously. The earth shakes when this guy hops.

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See? This is what happens when we bring Ray to the store. He tries to kill people.

Anyway, that about sums up my Friday in the land of crazy.

Stay tuned for Saturday’s tales of Insanity.

Until next time, readers…stay out of the bushes.

The Great Garbage Getaway

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This past Sunday, my daughter and I almost died…

Of laughter.

We were heading home from a nice, leisurely, after church lunch of fried chicken and fixin’s (that’s side dishes to you non-southern folk). Which brings up a good point; what is it about a Sunday church service that makes people in the south want to eat fried chicken afterward?

Anyway, we were heading home to sleep it off, naturally, because everything about a Sunday afternoon and a full belly scream nap time.

It was just my daughter and I in the minivan, because my son had ridden home with my husband. He leaves the house early every Sunday morning for praise and worship practice, so we take separate vehicles to church.

My husband and son were about 45 seconds ahead of us on the trip home, and had just parked and stepped out of the car to wait for us, so they were able to watch the following scene unfold.

We were pulling into our gated and very well kept condo community, as 2 African American gentlemen  that looked to be between the ages of 19 to 22 in a little gray sports car were pulling out.

Nothing unusual there, except that they were creeping along very slowly and one of them was dangling an overstuffed kitchen trash bag out the passenger side window.

I slowed to see what they were up to, as if I didn’t already know.

I locked eyes with the passenger as he watched me watching him. I was completely stopped by now right inside the entrance, but before reaching the gate, to see if the young man had the guts to make his next move, knowing full well that my eyes were now fixed intently upon him.

Sure enough, the car stopped about 40 yards from the exit to the complex. The passenger then flung open his door and quickly hopped out of the vehicle, with eyes on me the whole time, as he tossed his burden into the trees lining the property.

Our condo community has a trash compactor. A trash compactor that is easily accessible to all those that live within the community. A trash compactor that we, as residents, pay hugely inflated association fees to help maintain every month. There’s a second gate leading out to the main road right next to the compactor. So, had those 2  simply driven the extra few blocks to the compactor, they could have properly disposed of their trash and exited the complex via that particular gate, but nooo…

The guy then ran back toward the vehicle and hurled himself inside with Cheetah-like swiftness. The tires screeched as they pulled away, eager to be rid of my prying eyes as quickly as possible.

Now, I’m not some sort of tree-hugging, “go green” hippy with save the planet, save the vegetarians, save the dust bunnies bumper stickers that always buys organic, attends anti-global warming rallies, and recycles everything I can get my hands on. I am, however, that one idiot in this huge, selfish, and uncaring city that will chase a plastic bag or empty wrapper across the entire length of a parking lot just because I HATE to see someone else’s litter cluttering up the beauty of this world.

So this guy, this litterbug of epic proportions that chose to do his dirty work right before my eyes; he sparked an instant rage inside of me. That was it. He was going down!

“Oh no he didn’t!” I exclaimed, and whipped my minivan around to give chase so fast, that my son, watching from the parking lot, later told me, “I think you got some air on that take off, mom.”

We sped down the winding street after the little gray car that was now gaining ground faster than my big boat could keep up. “Faster, mom! We’re losing them!” my daughter screamed from the seat beside me. We must have been doing 80 down the twisting back road toward the main highway. The speed limit was 40. My foot jamming the accelerator to the floor, intent gaze on the car in front of us quickly speeding away, I yelled back, “I just want his plate number! Can you see his plate number?!” “Not yet, we have to get closer!”

Let me put this spectacle into perspective for you: 2 white girls, fresh out of church, in a minivan, chasing down 2 black men in a sports car…over trash. It was like a scene out of a Wayans Brothers movie. What were we hoping to gain here once we caught up to them? Was I even thinking that far ahead? And seriously, why were these 2 so afraid of a short, fat, white woman and a teenage girl in a minivan?

I didn’t care. I was a lioness in hot pursuit of my prey. I wanted rectification for the heinous crime that I had just witnessed. If I could just get his license plate number, the power would be mine! I could report him to the authorities! I was chasing these evil-doers in the name of truth, justice, and the American way!

Or, litterbugs just tick me off enough to be this stupid.

As the little car continued to speed ahead at a rate faster than our soccer mom-mobile, I began to lose hope that we would even catch up. I don’t think we’ll catch them,” I yelled to my daughter. To which she replied, “No mom, we’ve got this! Don’t give up!”

Sure enough, we were coming up to the stoplight for the main highway. It was red.

The 2 villains weren’t sure how to proceed as they approached the stoplight. They crossed into the right lane…they crossed back into the left. They were stuck. They tried to turn their car sideways across 2 lanes to block our view of the license plate. Too late. “Get the plate, get the plate!” I yelled, and screamed the now visible number out to my daughter just before the 2 geniuses realized that they could have hung a right down the service road and made a clean get away. Oops. Better luck next time, fellas.

Off they sped into the sunset. We waved goodbye. See ya, suckas!

“That was awesome!” my daughter exclaimed. “Go mom!” We fist bumped. “Next time we need to wear capes.” I said.

That brought to light the sheer ridiculousness of the whole situation. I looked at her. She looked at me. We laughed all the way back home.

“Well, what now?” I wondered

I called up a friend that owns a property management company in the city I live in. She convinced me that, even though I could call the police and report it as illegal dumping, they would likely do nothing. I could call the management company and let them know, but that would be the equivalent of calling my neighbor to ask why the power went out.

Instead, and because it just grated on my nerves so terribly, my husband and I went out to retrieve the bag of trash and properly dispose of it. It would seem that my efforts in chasing down the culprits and obtaining their license plate number were all in vain.

Or were they?

When we picked up the bag of trash, we clearly saw a piece of mail with a name and address on it plastered up against the thinly stretched plastic barely holding in the contents of the bulging bag. We made note of it. It happened to be a woman’s name on the piece of mail. We walked around the property and located the address. Our building faces it from across the little retention pond.

I surmised that mom must have asked son and son’s friend to take the trash out on their way to…wherever. Son decided to take the lazy way out of the task. I wonder if Mrs. Marie would like to know what really became of her trash.

Hmmm…perhaps a letter is in order?

To whom it may concern…

The Friendship Pill in the Hate-Proof Bottle

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Gather around, folks, and let me tell you a story…

It’s a story of love. It’s a story of heartbreak. It’s a story of healing. Best of all, though; it’s a story of how the cosmos aligned to bring 2 people together in a way that would ultimately form a bond that should, with any luck, last for a lifetime.

Once upon a time…

There it is. Trite, I know, but in retrospect, the strange turn of events that created the dynamic duo that would come to be known as… us…we…partners in crime…’S squared’… seems so far in the past that life before then is a hazy memory at best and impossible to recall at worst.

I was merely trying to get through each day without breaking back then. I was recently divorced, and it had hit me hard. When I say hard, I mean sledgehammered heart in so many jagged shards that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men would not dare attempt to reassemble it hard. I mean soggy puddle of continuously sobbing mess that was just trying to do what seemed impossible at the time; scrape myself up off the ground and move in a forward direction hard.

He and I had a child together that we traded parenting time with week to week, and she was ALL that kept my head above water as I bobbed along in my lake of despair. It was hard enough to trudge through my hurt even with her there, but the weeks that she spent with her father made it all the more difficult to bear because I was left hopelessly and stiflingly alone. Sure, I tried “dating”, which often meant jumping into bed with men I barely even knew, because in my grief, I saw physical contact as a salve to rub into my emotional wounds. In truth, though, I was more alone while tangled in some forgettable set of masculine limbs than I would have been if left to curl up and cry myself to sleep with nothing but my pillow to wrap my arms around. Try not to judge; I was a different person back then.

The worst part of it all, the part that made it impossible to move past the pain and misery of the whole ordeal and actually start the restoration process, was the fact that we worked in the same building. In fact, that’s how we’d met. I now had to punch a time clock every day just to see his smugly handsome face wearing its cold, hard expression of extreme…indifference. Okay, in all honesty maybe that wasn’t quite the worst part. The real punch in the face, kick in the teeth, knife to the kidneys came when he got a new girlfriend, and insisted upon parading her around the lunch room at our place of employ for everyone to see. Everyone that knew our history. Everyone that watched me gradually fall apart every day between the hours of 7am and 3pm. Everyone that looked at me with pitying eyes as I hunched over whatever vending machine fodder I had been trying to nonchalantly choke down.

She was a cute little thing, I have to admit; prancing around the cafeteria in her miniskirts and talking in her ‘straight off the boat from England’ accent, which he, of course, raved about and made sure to play up in front of everyone present, including…me.

I can scarcely recall my hatred for this woman now, but I do know that I did indeed hate her. She had everything that I didn’t, everything that I had lost… his devotion, his attention, his desire, his embrace…his heart. I didn’t even truly know her, but I wanted to be her, and for that, I despised her.

They eventually moved into a quaint little upstairs apartment a few streets over from my own humble abode, and even though I was in a relationship of my own by that time, I found myself always looking over my shoulder in public places, hoping that I wouldn’t bump into them …at the bank…at the grocery store… at a stoplight. The time I spent away from work where they couldn’t flaunt their cutesy, giggly, sickening bliss was MINE, and the thought that my glorious oblivion could be ripped out from under me at any given moment seemed so… unfair. I was unreasonably and unrealistically angry for this egregious affront to my fragile state of mind.

So angry, in fact, that I remember storming over to their apartment one day and confronting her with hackles and voice raised because I had found out that she had taken my child to her parent teacher conference, since he was out of town on a hunting trip. I was livid. How dare she? That wasn’t her child. Why didn’t someone tell me about this conference? I would have happily done my parental duty and taken her myself. Oh no, no, no, no …no. I was going over there, and I was giving this woman, this usurper, this replacement for me… a rage-fueled and not so well thought out piece of my mind. In hindsight, I looked like an idiot. It wasn’t her fault; she was just doing what he had asked of her. You couldn’t have convinced me at the time, though. She had become my arch nemesis in my pain distorted mind, and I had declared war.

Eventually, he was let go from our place of employ, and without his ever-existing presence around to remind me that I now had a failed marriage complete with child under my belt, I started to do an amazing thing; I started to heal. After a few weeks without his larger than life shadow looming over me, sucking away my emotional stability like a vampiric cloud, I could get through my days without breaking down. After a few months, the bitterness started to melt away like an ice cube on blacktop. After a few years, well…enter the man that currently holds my now fully restored heart in the palm of his loving, giving, and slightly callused hand.

It was a short courtship for my beloved and I, but as I’ve mentioned before, when you just know, you know. You know? I fell head over heels, hook, line, and sinker almost immediately. He whisked me away like a knight in blue jean and cotton blend armor; 1,200 miles from the place I was born and raised, to be exact. We said ‘I do’ in a small, intimate ceremony on a Florida beach in the freezing cold month of January. We said ‘I do’ surrounded by close friends and loved ones. Sadly, though, we said ‘I do’…without the presence of my child.

I had tried. Lord help me, I had really tried. In the end, though, a judge ruled that my little red haired ray of sunshine was best left in familiar surroundings, with familiar people, and the measure of stability that she had come to know… right where she was. At that point, I had to make quite possibly the hardest decision I have ever faced in my entire life; follow my heart vs. motherly duty. I opted for the purely selfish, but what I knew would be a better life for me, and for the son that I had given birth to between divorce and recourse. I left my old life behind me to the tune of  ‘how could you?’ … ‘what kind of mother are you?’…’what kind of person are you?’ It was hard, of course….so very hard to walk away, especially with a mind full of ‘what ifs’. What if she thinks I don’t love her because I made this decision? What if she grows to resent me? What if we lose touch completely? In my mind, though, I knew that even amid the hurt of walking away from her, she’d be in good hands with her father. He was a good daddy, and he loved her. Time heals all wounds, and it would heal hers.

I went off to my new life, and the world still turned. It turned for me…it turned for him…and it turned for my baby girl. We kept in contact as often as possible. We’d webcam, draw pictures together on our favorite online chat program, and I’d sometimes read her bedtime stories over the phone. She’d come to see me for several weeks every summer, and I’d go back to see her at Christmas time.

My relationship with my arch nemesis had turned to civility in the time that followed my departure. Actually, truth be told, she had become the biggest supporter of my relationship with my child. She’d email me pictures, encourage my daughter to write me letters and create cards and pictures for me which she would send along with some really lovely scrapbook pages that they’d put together with photos of my growing baby girl…and her life without mom. She would make sure my daughter called me regularly, and she would even allow her to use her own computer when we wanted to spend our virtual time together. She had become a Godsend, and I found myself truly thankful that she was part of my daughter’s life in my absence.

Let’s fast forward a few years, to a fateful day set in motion by a distressed phone call. On the other end of the line was a very upset little girl that I would do anything in the world for if it if it was within my power, and if it meant that I could take away her hurt. I wished that I could comfort her in her grief, wrap my arms around her and hold her tight, but the distance between us made it impossible to do anything but listen, and assure her that everything would be alright.

Cue tragic breakup scene. The scene that I had found myself wishing for years earlier but now felt guilty for willing into existence, considering our newfound respect for one another on the common ground that was the role we both played as mother to a sassy little ball of freckles and French braids. I felt bad for her, I really did. I had been her , once, and I thought back to the time when I had walked in her shoes through a world of emotional turmoil with nothing and no one to lean on except my own  convoluted thoughts.

I decided to make a move that would change both of our lives from that moment forward…I reached out to her. It was online that I reached out, but it was probably easier for both of us not to have to speak in person at that point. That way she could feel me out and make sure that I didn’t have ulterior motives other than sheer concern, and I could gauge whether or not she even wanted my help. I asked her if she was alright, to which she admitted that no, she in fact, wasn’t. She had devoted seven years to a relationship that was seemingly gone in the blink of an eye. “Alright” was the farthest thing from what she was.

She moved out of their home and in with the first in a long string of bad attempts at friendship with women that would do her wrong and further beat her down emotionally. Our online chats turned into frequent phone calls. I was giving her what no one was able to give me when I needed it most; a shoulder to cry on from someone that had been exactly where she was now. I was getting to know the woman that she really was without jealousy clouding my vision, and I found that we had a lot in common.  A scary amount in common, in fact.

Things quickly went south for her in her new living situation and I received a call one day from a very upset ex enemy whose psychotic roommate was having what could only be surmised as a bipolar meltdown aimed in her direction. I told her I was on my way without even having to think twice. I gathered my resources, packed a bag, and began the 1,200 mile pilgrimage to retrieve my broken new friend.

I arrived just in time the next day as the frenzied she-devil that she had previously shared a dwelling with was pitching the remainder of her personal, and in some cases extremely breakable belongings out the door and down the long flight of unforgiving cement steps.  I hugged her, gathered up what was salvageable, loaded it into the van, and off into the sunset we went toward home…my home, and toward a new life that included each other.

I’d like to say that the rest is just history, but it’s been a pretty rich history. She stayed with us for a few months and in that time we grew as close as any sisters could ever be. We talked together, cried together… had a few too many one night and fell out of our desk chairs laughing together. With me by her side, she started the long trek down that same path that I had to walk many years before her…the road to restoration.

She eventually got a job offer through an acquaintance of hers in Minnesota, loaded up her car and left a very sad me behind missing her, but we always stayed in touch. That adventure ended in another crazy roommate, and another trip back to Florida, this time to live with her father a few hours south of where I reside. She still lives in Florida today. We find a way to visit each other as often as possible, and we talk almost every night.

She admitted to me when we were reminiscing several weeks ago that she wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for me “saving” her. I never realized how far down the rabbit hole she had actually fallen back then, but to me, the decision that I had made was a no-brainer, especially now. Being an only child, she’s the closest thing to a sister I have, and even though she likes to give me undue credit for picking her up and dusting her off, her friendship has saved me from time to time over the years, too.

Our ex doesn’t come up much anymore in conversation except in a random, “haha, remember when?” moment. I know that they haven’t spoken since, and they really have no reason too. There’s nothing tying them together, they can lead separate lives. She gets to see the child that she helped raise for seven years and remain a part of her life, and my daughter enjoys that fact tremendously.  I think that we’re all doing just fine.

As for my relationship with him, I can now call him friend, and completely mean it. I love him in a healthy way. The way that we should all love our friends and neighbors. As a matter of fact, our relationship is the best it’s ever been. He’s found someone that he cares about, and I have my special someone, and though we may not talk often, we can talk, and it’s always good. He supports me in decisions I make regarding our daughter, who has lived with me now for the past 4 years after he fell prey to economic crisis for a short time.

As a fitting ending to this story, I’m taking my ‘bestie’ on a cruise in 90 days. Call it a tribute to sisterhood. Call it a reward for being survivors of heartache. Call it whatever you like, just don’t call us. We’ll be living it up ocean style, and loving life…together.

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Husband Number 2

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If I really want to start putting my marriage into perspective for you, I need to go back 10 and-a-half years ago to the day that I met the love of my life, who I have already introduced as husband number 2. The romance started with a ‘happy birthday’ wish that came across my screen in bright green letters in guild chat as we were running through the hills of East Karana searching for Giants to slay for gold with our band of merry treasure seeking guild-mates.

Lost yet? If you are, then you’re obviously not a gamer.  My husband and I met playing Everquest, or as they called it back in the day, ‘Evercrack’ because it was THAT addictive. We of course moved on to World of Warcraft when that became popular and played for several years, but that’s another story for a time when we wish to argue the pros and cons of Fire Mages and whether or not a Paladin can out-heal a cleric. These days I just dabble with different free online games, like Forsaken World, while he mostly plays games on the X-Box. It works for us, though.

When my husband and I first e-met, I was still in a relationship with my son’s father, and it was actually him that first introduced me to the large, foreboding ogre warrior that I would eventually marry…IRL (that’s ‘in real life’ for those of you that don’t know the gamer lingo), after a whirlwind 4 month online romance. Hey, when you just know, you know. You know?

Now before you get all ‘judgy’ on me for admitting this to you, I hope you’ll understand that when I met my husband, the relationship I was in was already at rock bottom and I had tried to end it several times to no avail. His answer to me when I’d try and get him to leave my apartment would always be “I aint goin’ nowhere, you’ve got my kid here.” Which is true, I did. However, when your relationship turns into nothing but a continuous battle, and every time your boyfriend gets a paycheck he disappears for the entire weekend to go and drink it away without even letting you know where he’ll be, it’s really not a ‘relationship’ at all. I had gotten to the point that if I knew it was the Friday that he was getting paid, I wouldn’t expect to see him until sometime Sunday night and I’d brace myself for the fight when I finally heard his key in the door.  It took me moving on and starting a new relationship to actually get him out of my apartment.

Staying together for the sake of the offspring created in the relationship isn’t always the best course of action if you just can’t make it work and you spend every moment together fighting. They say that there’s a fine line between love and hate, and I couldn’t even think back to the time when I’d officially crossed that line. I don’t hate him anymore, of course, because you can’t call yourself a Christian and still harbor hate for anyone in your heart. I didn’t attend church or have any sort of relationship with God at the time, though, so I didn’t really know any better. I was miserable and terrified of the man because he’d already struck me on several different occasions after he’d been drinking. In all honesty, I just didn’t make a great support team for an alcoholic with a bleeding liver and a mean streak of epic proportions. Besides, when you have to call your parents in the middle of the night to take you to get your vehicle (which he took off in without even asking, by the way) out of impound because your boyfriend has been arrested for drunk driving on an already suspended license, it really makes you take a long hard look at the direction your life is heading in.

Needless to say, he denies our son now because of his anger at me for finally throwing in the towel and walking away from the war that my life had become. He hasn’t spoken to our son or cared to know anything about his life in the 11 years that he’s been alive. When I tracked him down and sent him pictures about 6 or 7 years ago, he responded with, “that can’t be my kid, he looks nothing like me”, and that’s where he left it. I haven’t heard from him directly since. It doesn’t seem to bother my son, though. My husband has been the only daddy he’s ever known for all of these years, and he doesn’t even give his sperm donor a second thought.

Enough of that dreary little drama from days if old, though. My life has been much better since, despite the raging OCD that drives my family crazy.

My husband and I hit it off so well in our online relationship that it soon turned into phone calls, which led to him buying a plane ticket to Michigan where I was born and raised, to see me in person. He said some time after that first meeting that when he saw me standing there to greet him, his first thought was, “I’m going to marry that girl.” You always think that the silly, romantic notion of love at first sight can never happen outside the movies until it happens to you. That’s how it went, though, and as I stood there freezing my ta-tas off on a cold January day on a Florida beach, I still wasn’t sure what hit me as I exchanged “I do’s” with a man that I hadn’t even know for half a year yet. All I knew was that it had to be love. I can assure you, though, that it is love, and we couldn’t have made it the 10 and-a-half years that we have if it weren’t.

What can I say about my lover bear? He’s a morning person. I’m not. He likes sweet tea and coffee. I don’t. He likes math, and I’m pretty sure that 2 and 2 makes 5. He’s an amazing singer. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and my wailing along with the radio is so bad that it sends the neighborhood dogs into howling fits. Despite all of our differences, though, we still have a lot in common and have fun together when life doesn’t have us bogged down with our everyday routines. He’s just this big, obnoxious child, and even though there are times I want to gouge my eardrums out with a hot poker because he’s just so loud and boisterous ALL OF THE TIME, I still love the big lug with all my heart. I used to call him my hero when he first rescued me from my old life, and I still feel that way. We’ve had our ups and downs just like any relationship, but he’s fairly laid back and easy going, is willing to do just about anything for me, makes me laugh, and is adorably cute. Well, to me, anyways. I like to point to him and say to my teenage daughter, “look at that guy, isn’t he a sexy beast?” She just rolls her eyes and gives me that ‘seriously, mom?’ look. Then she says something along the lines of, “Ugh. Gross.” Ah, well, to each her own. I don’t really expect her to agree with me, I just enjoy yanking her chain. It’s one of parenthood’s guilty pleasures.

Let’s call this a good stopping point for now. In the next installment of my life I’ll start to introduce you to our house full of teenagers. Buckle up for that crazy trip. The twists and turns down that road are endless.

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