Note: The "Trooper" in question is not actually in the military. It's a metaphor, people.

December 27, 2007

A Jew in Texas on Christmas

For the first time in our 8 1/2 month relationship, I can actually "see" a life with Wine Guy. We are half way through our 2 week road trip vacation and my worst fear - that we would fight constantly, break up somewhere in Texas, and I would have to fly home - has not been realized. That's not to say we didn't bicker through most of Texas (when I wasn't sleeping, much to WG's annoyance). But I've heard that anyone in their right mind would want to bite their companion's head off after 400 miles of West Texas landscape.

So why can I "see the future" with Wine Guy? Simple. I met his family. And no, it wasn't this Leave It to Beaver familial scene where everyone is happy and perfect like I always imagined"normal" families were, unlike mine. In fact, his parents were pretty much like he described, when I assumed he was just being a little hard on them. They were by no means terrible. Very sweet in fact and certainly kind and welcoming to me. But let's just say they made me very thankful I have the kind of Mom who you can actually sit down and TALK to about real things besides the weather and how you slept the night before.

But seeing WG with and in contrast to his parents, I am even more impressed with the man he is today. They were good parents who loved their kids and did the best they could. But I was able to see just how much of his character came from his own determination and soul. Yes, his parents instilled those traits in him (if not indirectly), but it was very much up to him to use and develop them -- and he did.

After two days in their small Texas town (and two terribly sleepless nights for me), we all headed into Austin for a larger family gathering at his cousin's palatial home in the 'burbs. Cue up the Christmas music because this is where it does start to get a little "perfect family" hokey. And I ate it up gladly as this was the first real "Christmas" I have ever experienced. The eager kids constantly begging to open their presents and, when they finally get their wish, the frantic, adrenaline-pumping ripfest as countless gifts are freed from their wrapping and shrieks of glee pop up across the littered living room every few minutes. And I was not excluded from this frenzy, as every branch of the family tree included me in their gift giving, which was unexpected and quite sweet. By the time I was finished unwrapping I couldn't help but exclaim, "Forget Jesus, this is awesome! I'm converting!" Thank God they are Christians with a good sense of humor.

We also went to a Christmas Eve candlelight service at a several thousand-seater super-church in town. I was expecting big hair, terrible singing, a lot of preaching and a few heartfelt eye rolls shared between WG and me. But it was actually quite lovely - basically a concert with a little Jesus thrown in. I can handle that. When WG's cousin told me that I was "a good sport" for sitting through it, I responded, "Are you kidding me? I might actually like Christmas now! I can totally respect the religious part, it's the commercial part that kills me!" Again, thank God they are Christians with a a good sense of humor.

As you can probably tell, I was the Jewish comedic relief for the two days we were there. A role I am used to playing having grown up in suburban San Diego where I was basically the only Jew I knew. All in all, they were kind generous hosts and I got the chance to let out my inner adolescent while talking boys, school and movies with WG's 13 year old niece.

Again, why can I now all of a sudden see a real future with Wine Guy? I can't really answer that. I just all of a sudden can. I'm sure part of it is seeing him interact with "his people," and liking what I saw. I also think I enjoyed seeing us as a couple through the eyes of a new group of people. As we interacted together, separately and within the large group, I felt like we just seemed "right" together. We teased each other, added to each others stories, all those things that make a couple good guests. We were a really unit, and I liked how it felt.

Now we are at the home of my good friend from high school and her husband - The Quiets- who also live in Austin. Yes, they are indeed quiet people, or at least when I'm around them I realize how NOT quite I am. Of course, that isn't the case right now since it is 4am and I am having yet another night of insomnia (likely due to my impending surgery which weighs on my mind only in the dead of night ). Our visit with them so far has been great, but I suspect WG and Mr. Quiet are just a little sick of hearing all the high school gossip and chatter. But Mrs. Quiet is one of my oldest and dearest friends and I relish every visit I get with her. Plus I absolutely adore this city and they are fantastic tour guides!

Soon we will hit the road again (hopefully the Northwest Texas landscape will be less fight instigating) and head to Albuquerque to visit WG's sister and brother-in-law. I know I will like his sister from everything I've heard so I am definitely not nervous about meeting her. And she has a dog which is a huge incentive to visit since I am very high on my dog kick at the moment after staying up late at WG's parent's to watch "The Science of Dogs" on National Geographic - a must see!.

I suppose I should try to go back to sleep now so I'll sign off. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday doing whatever it is you do. I will make sure to check in again in 2008 before the big day of surgery on January 7th. Happy New Year!


December 17, 2007

Cats Are Family Too

The envelopes are rolling in, just like they do every year. For the most part, I like getting these photo holiday cards from my married friends around the country. For many of them, it's become the only way we stay in touch as our lives diverge more and more each year. I enjoy noting the resemblances in their children, the decorated mantels in their living rooms, the choices of formal or casual poses. It's all very warm, festive and familial and I count myself lucky when I come home everyday and see my refrigerator covered with a collage photos of smiling people I've known for years.

But along with these emotions, I'm aware of something darker that simmers just beneath my supposedly cheery holiday surface. Resentment.

Just like my married, procreating friends, I too had a busy, exciting year full of adventure, mishaps and joy. I may not have a gap-toothed three year old to show off, but my life is full of things that are just as photo-worthy as their families.

The stack of cards grew each year as more of my friends had kids, and my dark side grew right along with it. Then last year I just decided enough was enough. Sitting passively by and resenting was nothing but a waste. Nobody actually ever said that I couldn't send out a holiday photo card because I wasn't married and/or had kids. This was just something I chose to believe. So why couldn't I just jump in the fray and make my statement? This is who I am. And I am worth sharing. So there.

So last year I sent out my first "family" holiday card which consisted of me and my beloved cat AppleButt (name changed to protect her anonymity) posed over the warm glow of the Hanukkah menorah. I modeled it after a photo from my childhood of me and my three older siblings watching my mom light the candles. There I stood with my thumb in my mouth, stomach and diaper jutting out, eyes transfixed on the flames. A moment frozen in time - and worth replicating.

So I asked Only Child to come over with his fancy digital camera and take some shots in front of the little Hanukkah "set" I created in my kitchen using dradel gift wrap taped to the wall and shiny silver paper under the menorah to add to the glow. I held poor AppleButt up to the flames while I pretended to light the last candle. Unlike a real child, AppleButt was not quite so entranced, but with a little help from Photoshop, it almost looked like she wasn't in total hell.

I signed it "Happy Holidays from The [Troopers]" and sent it to everyone I knew, curious to get their reaction.

I thought it was hysterical and meant it entirely as a sarcastic joke. Unfortunately, the only people who actually got the joke were my fellow Troopers. Everyone else told me it was "really cute." But I'm sure they all thought I was finally becoming the Crazy Cat Lady.

No matter what the reaction, this little act of rebellion transformed what used to be a negative time for me into something mischievously festive and I couldn't wait for the following year to top it with something even more elaborate.

When I booked my cruise to Alaska, I knew I found my theme. As I smiled for photos throughout the trip, I wondered, "Is this the one?"

It wasn't until I got home and sifted through the hundreds of photos that I found the perfect image. It was from my favorite day of the trip (and probably my life) when I hiked eight miles to a glacier where I sat on a rock, sipped hot cocoa from a thermos, ate a sandwich, and gazed at the ice all around me. Pink-cheeked, decked out in a hat and windbreaker, I'm smiling with true joy. The only thing that could have made the day better was if I could have shared it with someone special.

With a little help from Wine Guy's amazing Photoshop skills, I got my wish. And AppleButt got her first vacation.

I mailed them out on Saturday to about 50 people and the calls and emails are already starting to roll in. "You took your cat to Alaska??!" What the F*&#k!?

I can't stop giggling. I wish I could stand next to them as they absentmindedly open the envelope on the walk back from the mailbox, expecting yet another posed family photo and instead laying their eyes upon a beautiful, rocky glacier, a smiling hiker, and her startled black and white, fuzzy cat perfectly placed in her arms.

Happy Holidays!


December 13, 2007

"Let It Go"

Every New Year I come up with a motto that sets the tone for the year ahead. Or at least I hope it does. If I'm lucky, the motto/phrase/slogan just sort of naturally emerges based upon a theme that keeps rearing its head. Like last year's motto -- "Patience." Short, simple, sweet and based upon the previous year's never ending anxieties over "when will it happen for me?" And that "it" was everything - love, marriage, career, stability. It just felt like all I did was strive but never achieved a thing. That kind of attitude would wear anyone down, including me.

So I tried to stick with "Patience" all of 2007. Sometimes it helped me to stop, take a deep breathe and just accept. It also helped me to spot a relationship that wasn't working far earlier on than I would have pre-Patience (see Vain Guy), simply because I was no longer desperate to rush into love by sheer force. So I was in and out of that little erroneous fling in two months flat. No harm, no foul.

Other times, my motto hasn't been so easy. These are the years I come up with something that I quickly forget. No biggie. At least I tried.

Then there are those rare occasions when the motto becomes a Resolution that actually sticks. Such as the motto's inaugural year back in 1996. The year of "F.U.N." This stands for "Free of Unnecessary Negativity" and it was my mission to do more FUN things even though I could always come up with a million excuses why I shouldn't. At that point in my life I was living in L.A.. lazy, slightly depressed, and broke. These are three solid excuses not to go out and have fun. But I got sick of it and I finally stumbled on a group of girlfriends who seemed willing to take on F.U.N. right along with me.

We threw great theme parties at our Brentwood pad, went to Universal Studios, took over the local roller skating rink, road tripped to Grand Canyon. It was one, damn F.U.N. year. I even have a photo album that documents the whole thing, and I look through it often and smile.

I haven't had quite as an inspired motto since then - until now. This one is far simpler (a no, duh for many of you I'm sure) and easier to sustain for a lifetime, I hope. And it keeps popping up almost every day. Either someone says it to me, or I read something that makes me think of it. But mostly I'm just getting plain old tired of rehashing the same old bullshit anxieties.

That's why in 2008 I'm going to try to "Let It Go." And by "It" I mean anything that isn't immediately relevant to what I value in my life. Sure, plenty of things are irritating, but do most of them really matter? Probably not. I guess the key is to Let Go of trying to control everything. With that you Let Go of quite a lot. To sum up my humble goal, I might be ready for some sort of Inner Peace.

This all started because of my approaching surgery. The more I research what I am about to undergo, the more I realise how completely incapacitated I am going to be for months. Just going to the bathroom or getting a glass of water is going to take every ounce of my concentration and physical strength. I simply won't have the energy to stress about things that aren't immediately important. Whatever energy I have will need to be directed at one thing - healing.

I realize this is an extreme scenario - and a temporary one. But if I'm going to go through this experience, then I want to get something lasting out of it (besides a reconstructed hip). So I'm going to try to extend the metaphor of self-healing to my life as a whole and do my best to keep my focus only on my necessary, immediate needs while letting the unnecessary things fall away.

This means I really have to decide what's important to me. What I choose to be important to me. And then fight like hell to keep that. The rest can just, well, bite me.

So while I'm lying in my rented hospital bed in my mother's living room, watching episode after episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I've never seen it and plan on watching the entire series beginning to end), I will hopefully be mending a hip and rebuilding a soul.

I've got a few weeks before I have to lock in my motto. So maybe something new and better will come along. But for now my plans are to Let It Go. Feel free to join me (and remind me of my motto if it seems like I might have forgotten).


December 11, 2007

The "Normal" Relationship

For the last few weeks I've been convinced that Wine Guy and I were going to break up. I didn't tell anyone this fear because, well, I didn't want to disappoint my friends (or blog readers) with yet another relationship letdown. I decided to keep it all inside and figure it out for myself.

Bad idea.

What happened instead was festering of worries, exaggerated fears, and bullshit errors in thinking. Nothing new for me. And neither was my clamming up. I have this whole pride issue about failure and when I suspect I'm on the road to it, the last thing I do is reach out for help from my friends. Which is funny because if/when they reach out to me, it would never occur to me to be disappointed in them. I would feel honored that they felt comfortable enough to come to me and do my best to be there for them and help.

As usual, I was under the mistaken belief that I was different than everyone else. News flash: no one is really different. Whatever insurmountable problems I was thinking Wine Guy and I were having were, well, nothing new -- and ones I would find with just about with any male that ever existed.

This all emerged after a night out last weekend with my Veteran (soon to be married) couple friends. Wine Guy had met them before but only in group/party settings - not his speciality. This was our first couple's outing and I went in to it feeling tense and irritated for the reasons stated above.

But the evening went quite the opposite of what I expected. A few glasses of wine to loosen us up and off we went to a warm, Italian restaurant where, for the first time since WG and I started dating, we had "couple banter." You know, all that semi-joking-but-not-really conversation about little fights you've had with each other, what annoys you about your partner, how men and women bicker over the silliest things, etc.

It sounds trivial here but I assure you, this seemingly inane conversation was causing me to have some sort of relationship epiphany. All the reasons why I was convinced Wine Guy and I were going to break up were the same silly fights and annoyances my couple friends were complaining about. Except when they have them, they don't think it's the end of the world.

This outing was a rare occasion of four people being wholly open (and slightly drunk) with one another - one of the reasons why I like these couple friends in the first place. As we touched on each new topic, I felt more and more reassured by their concurrence and advice. All this time I thought they were the "perfect couple" who met and fell in love within two dates (seriously), moved in together after three months, and now (to quote the detestable Dr. Laura) have "a ring and a date." Now I know that despite their sped up timeline, they are just like us. Except they don't walk around thinking every fight could mean the end of their relationship.

This is how my friends earned their new nickname - The Coracle (or Co-Oracle). For every problem we threw their way, they had an anecdote, advice, tale to tell that put me at ease and reminded me that there is no such thing as "perfect."

It was a great Friday night out that led into the first relaxing, romantic weekend Wine Guy and I have had in a while. Probably because it was the first weekend during which I wasn't rehearsing our breakup in my head (Yes, I'm a pessimist. But I've also been severely disappointed in the past. So sue me).

On Monday, I called Mrs. Coracle to tell her how profound the evening was for helping me snap out of my relationship panic. She surprised me with her response, "You know, the next day [Mr. Coracle] and I felt better too. I'm not sure why, exactly. But, you know, we have problems too sometimes, and it felt good to talk about it with other people going through similar things."

Suddenly I started to understand why my friends who have kids go to those annoying Mommy & Me classes we used to make fun of together. We need to be around people going through similar life events. It sucks to admit, but it's true. Not all the time, but just enough so that we can learn from and be around people that make us feel "normal" (at least for a little while).

I did not grow up in a home with any sort of married couple to look to (my mom was widowed when I was 5 and stayed single). So I have no idea what a "normal" relationship looks like. I'm flying blind, except for the examples being set for me by my friends and television - and I prefer my friends since I hardly think Ross and Rachel are a good example.

So, as much as I hate to admit this after so many years of proudly wearing my "single girl" badge, I will have to make room for more double dates. Hey, it's cheaper than couple's therapy.


December 6, 2007

Dwindling Milestones

I'm big on relationship milestones and Wine Guy and I just had another one - my birthday. I don't usually enjoy these "firsts." In fact, they tend to cause me more anxiety than anything else as I start building up in my head what is supposed to happen and then worry myself sick thinking I'll be let down. (This is one head game I would be happy to get rid of - if only I could figure out how.)

The good (sort of) news is that Wine Guy and I have been together long enough that we are getting close to running out of these exciting/torturous firsts. That's scary. Let's see, what do we have left?
  • Me meeting his family (coming this Christmas)
  • Christmas (we'll be at his parents' in Texas)
  • New Years Eve (overrated holiday -we'll be in New Mexico with his sister)
  • Valentine's Day (a universal day of anticipation and letdown)
  • Passover (my favorite Jewish holiday that will likely involve my brother Pat-hole)
  • Our 1 year anniversary (April 11)

Yes, I left out President's Day, St. Patrick's Day and a few others too..but these are the biggies that will likely cause me some mix of joy and anxiety.

So how did my birthday go? Very fine thank you. My pal Mendoza Line has her birthday two days before mine so a big group celebrated with an 80s inspired rollerskating bonanza at a nearby rink. I've never seen ML happier as she skated for 3 hours straight, clad in rainbows and leg warmers no less. So my b-day celebration 48 hours later was a bit of a (welcome) comedown.

Wine Guy took me to a lovely French restaurant that I've been dying to try and we ate and drank til we were almost sick. Actually, I was kind of sick - with some sort of stomach ailment that still plagues me tonight. So I spent more time in the lovely French restaurant's one-stall bathroom than I would have preferred.

After dinner we headed to a swank bar where we met Mendoza, Scotty, Gouda and her boyfriend BabyFace (he who inspired the Motorcyle Men entry that became a bit of controversy today when someone on a motorcycle chat room stumbled on to it and decided I was hateful and prejudiced towards motorcyle riders. I finally had to close down the comments section for my peace of mind, but I suggest you check it out for a good laugh).

As much as I love Wine Guy's enthusiasm for wine, I am a cocktail lover myself so I was in heaven with the bar's menu of clever drinks like mojitos with champagne, lemon drops with whipped egg whites (frothy topping!), and ginger spiced mint juleps. Yummmmm. Gouda gave me a terrific book called 4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone and we all had a blast throwing around absurd questions that elicited answers that ranged from truly heartfelt to hilariously offensive. (I recall Wine Guy, Scotty and BabyFace doing some sort of ridiculous manshake as they sang "bitches...." in response to some relationship based question. Oy.)

Despite my tummy issues, it was a wonderful night that served to remind me how lucky I am to have so many amazing people in my life. Not just those I see everyday but also friends from all over. I was surprised by how many emails, cards and phone calls I received throughout the day from busy friends who took the time to wish me a happy birthday.

Getting older is scary. VERY scary. But I'm also realizing that the older I get, the more wonderful people I get to add to my mix of friends. Some stick around, others don't. But all leave a mark on my heart. Cheezy, I know. But true.

Thanks everyone!


December 3, 2007

Issues Confessional

I have "issues." You know what I mean by that. Those certain trigger points centered around some deeply rooted psychological problem, memory or whatever. You have them too. And if you are right now insisting that you don't, then you DEFINITELY do.

There's nothing wrong with having issues. It's when you pretend that you don't have them that you become, well, a liar. I had one friend - now a former friend - who used to brag that she just "didn't have any issues." (Hmmmm....why are we not friends anymore???)

I make an effort to step outside of myself every once in a while to take a nice, long objective look at who I am. This is often done with the aid of a psychologist, although my mom (a shrink) or this blog also serve as pretty good substitutes. This kind of self inspection helps me to identify errors in my thinking that cause me to react somewhat irrationally to life events.

This kind of useful observation is exactly how I was able to identify my two (well, three) main issues. I could clearly see a consistent pattern emerge with every relationship - romantic or platonic. No matter how different the person or the circumstances around the relationship, the only thing they all had in common was simple - me.

Before I was able to calmly identify these issues as such, I often mistook them for truth. My poor, pathetic truth (can you say self-pity? Yeah, shrinks are so worth it). One painful recollection comes from my mid-20s when I first met Only Child. We hit it off when we met on a trip with mutual friends. Once we had been dating for about six months, he told me that he had asked my friend's boyfriend (now husband) about me during that trip. His response was, "[Trooper]? Yeah, she's pretty cool. But watch out, man. She's kind of crazy." We all know how that ended up. (And for the record, my friend's boyfriend admits today that he was just intentionally being an asshole with that comment. His "issue.")

That stung. But deep down I knew he was kind of right. I wasn't really crazy (no rabbits have been harmed in my dating history), but my then-unidentified issues definitely got the better of me more often than I would prefer.

Of course, my issues haven't simply disappeared. Nope, they are still there, worn with pride for just about any perceptive person to see in all their glory. But when they peek their heads out for some fresh air from time to time, I see them for what they are - feelings, not truth. (Once again, I recall my mother's quote "Just because you feel it, doesn't mean it's true." Seriously, memorize that one).

So, I'm assuming you want to know what my issues are, right? OK, I'll indulge you. But I think it's only fair that you tell me yours too (and you can be anonymous). Plus, you'll feel better once you admit to them. Here goes:

1. Diagnosis: Fear of Abandonment. I am convinced people I care about will disappear on me. Either they'll die or just decide to cut me off with no explanation. Yes, both of these traumatic things have happened to me in the past (Dad died when I was 5, Naval A-hole dumped me by disappearing). But just because you know where your issues come from doesn't mean they suck less.

2. Diagnosis: Not being listened to. I am ultra-sensitive to other people's listening skills, and I take it far too personally when I think they aren't listening to me. This is most trying with anyone I'm close to. I don't really care if acquaintances (and certainly not strangers) listen to me that closely. But when someone I trust starts fidgeting, looking over my shoulder or interrupts me for no good reason while I'm talking (or, even worse, ignores me completely), I get really upset. This is my #1, Big Issue that could very well bring about the end to any romantic relationship I manage to get myself into. Just ask Wine Guy.

3. Diagnosis: I can dish it out but I can't take it. I'm a smart ass and love teasing people. But when it gets turned back on me? Well, I've been known to cry. Yes, I'm a total hypocrite and work very hard to take teasing better. This is one of those issues that immediately got less troublesome once I admitted it out loud. It's actually so stupid it's almost funny. Sort of.

So, 'fess up people. What are your issues?