Winter 1998/1999

When I was fifteen years old I got a job as a hostess at my small town's one and only Denny's restaurant.

This was not my first job, mind you. I'd already been working for a few years as a summer camp counselor for 4-H. There's nothing quite like waking up each dewy morning with the unmistakable olfactory knowledge of nearby fields, each square yard heavily fertilized by cow manure...

Luckily, my job at Denny's was significantly less smelly. I only worked on the weekends - to be more specific, I worked the 6:00am shift on the weekends. I'd groggily get up each morning, apply enough concealer to make my 15-year-old acne-ridden face look presentable, curl my hair (just to put it into a ponytail, so what's the point, you ask? So do I, now, eleven years later...), and put on my maroon vest, name tag, and non-slip shoes. My mom would even more groggily drive me to work and there I'd be for the next 8-10 hours, seating customers, ringing up tabs, avoiding surly waitresses, and (here's the big one), scooping ice cream.

Our particular restaurant had a mini Baskin Robbins in the lobby, and part of my job was to make the delectable and waist-expanding ice cream, syrup, and whipped cream conglomerations that were in our little laminated spiral notebook underneath the counter (to order, of course).

I became a champ at scooping during that year and a half, and although waking up to stinky breezes at 4-H camp was unpleasant, coming home with your clothes, hair and skin all smelling of freezer-burned ice cream is decidedly worse.

No, we didn't serve freezer-burned ice cream. But it didn't matter. I smelled like it nonetheless, right up until a good scrubbing (which happened about 8.3 minutes after I came in the front door of my house, unless I collapsed in exhaustion first, which did happen every now and then).

If asked, I may have even told you then, and am a firm believer judging by the memories I hold today, that although being smelly afterward wasn't the best, that part was eclipsed by the fun I had working there. Eventually my buddy Shenna was my fellow hostess, and we had way too many good times for my weekends at Denny's to be considered strictly work.

Another high point was the copious amount of ice cream I ate during the first few months of my time there. After awhile, I wasn't interested in the sweet stuff anymore, but for a moderate period I was very well acquainted with those tiny pink tasting spoons.

Cookies 'n cream. Fudge swirl. Sherbet. Chocolate chip. Butter pecan. Even the occasional bite of pistachio almond went down the hatch. And I loved them all. I'd have days where I preferred one, and days that I wanted many. Some days I hated that green pistachio-flavored ice cream, and some days I simply adored it. There was no rhyme or reason to my preferences, they changed with the wind (and the temperature, for that matter).

Years later, after my love life's ups, downs, and multiple all-but-name marriages, I remembered those delicious pink spoons.

It was the perfect analogy!

In that sunny restaurant foyer with the big front window view of the field from where we'd heard the trees crying as their branches broke under the heavy ice of January 1999, and where no one ever won a toy from the magic claw machine, and where I'd taken a meal payment from Noah's mom as she nonchalantly asked me how my Christmas break had been when she knew exactly how it was, seeing as how it was kicked off by a phone call from her telling me she wouldn't stand for me to date her son because of the excess melanin I carried in my skin cells, in that dirty-floored foyer, I'd found perfection.

Having pink spoonfuls of ice cream was the perfect balance - I had enough to satisfy my craving, but never enough to have give me a bellyache. I could survey all of my options, which were more abundant than I'd ever have a need for (who wants to actually eat 16 giant tubs of ice cream?), and that I didn't even want to sample all of (some of those flavors I never did touch), and pick one or two, adding a little piece of happiness to my day. I'd only take a bite every shift or two, and after a couple months passed and I'd gotten my fill I never did, but while I wanted it, all I had to do was reach out and take it. A new spoon was always used, no germs or overlapping flavors here. It was delectable, not unhealthy (because of the small amount I actually ate), and it satisfied my cravings such that I didn't need ice cream for the longest time afterward.

I decided to take the principles of my pink spoon ice cream adventures and apply them to my adventures with the opposite sex. It was a perfect fit. I could survey (find one -or a few- that I liked enough to try out), take a sample (spend an afternoon, have a conversation, see a movie, go for a hike), never experience any side effects due to overindulgence (if I never become truly emotionally involved, they can never hurt my feelings or aggravate me), and everyone is happy (I never had any complaints).

I was fully satisfied by this arrangement. The boys (I never called them men. I was a firm believer that the "real man" was a mythical creature) didn't have to be perfect. It didn't matter. They could have their quirks and their oddities and their childish ways, and it didn't bother me a whit. Why would it? I didn't need anything from them. I experienced their company just long enough to feel good from it. I had driven away long before they had become cumbersome, and if one ever became the slightest bit less than fun before his time (a bit of rudeness, an ambiguously made then canceled date, etc.), I moved on to the next with no worries. Sometimes a flavor doesn't give you the jolt it did before. That's when you get a new flavor.

When you're only dealing with pink spoons, there's also no reason to have only one. When I was doing a decent amount of traveling, I lined up time spent with each of my boys when I was coming into their respective towns. Note here: I did have male friends too, which were not at all my pink spoons. They were a different breed. No one minded, because I in no way expected to be the only lady that they were giving their time to either. And there was never any physical contact (ahem) that I would have regretted - I've always been a fierce guard of my "number" and that was never a problem. Not that there was no action - where's the fun in that? But it was just about exclusively PG-13.

Robin, who'd been a victim of forced "friendliness" a time or two during her adolescence, once asked me incredulously how I never ran into these types of problems. I was dumbfounded. I'd never seen it as an option. Then it dawned on me: that was why I'd never had an issue with it.

"Men are like dogs honey, if you look them in the eye and speak in a firm voice, they'll just do what you say without the least bit of fuss - no problem."

And it was true, for as far as I could tell. Of course, being sure what was okay and not okay, and never being ambiguous about what may or may not happen from the very beginning, also being vocal so there was never any wondering, was how I made it work. (note: Yes, of course there are crazy jerks out there who would have forced things. However, I was either lucky enough or a good enough judge of character to never meet any of those people. It's not like I'd spend time with just anyone, oh no. They had to be relatively sweet and have various other attributes too, those things in the end probably combined to make this a non-issue.)

Overall, it seemed like an ideal scenario, for the rest of my life even. Yes, of course I anticipated falling in love now and then - a shallow, never-meant-to-be-forever kind of a love. But it would eventually pass, and then I'd be back. The Pink Spoon Theory was one I adopted, hook line and sinker, from here on out.

Spring 2008

Ah, male objectification.

How liberating it was!
How empowering it was!
How easy it was!

On weekend evenings I'd spent at least an hour in front of the mirror, making sure each hair was in place and that my eyeshadow was perfect. My lips were never anything less that perfectly glossed, and my nails were never anything less than perfectly manicured. My unrelenting gym schedule gave me plenty of energy and a body worthy of the barely-there clothes I wore to go dancing in.

Once I convinced Michal to go out with me, I'd give her the prep talk on the drive there and/or in her bedroom, as she was inevitably late and I'd end up perched on her bed, picking out her jewelry for her from the double-doored jewelry armoire that sat on her dresser while she was still getting ready.

"Okay. Remember that you are just as beautiful and just as fun and just as magnetic as any girl there - probably more so than a good amount of them. There is no reason in the world for you to be shy or anything less than outgoing. What's the worst that could happen? You could make a fool of yourself? Well, for one thing, that won't be the case. And for another thing, who cares? You don't know any of these people and you'll never have to see any of them again unless you want to. You have perfect freedom. Let your restrictions go."

And of course, the prep talk about boys:

"See them as toys, as not real. They like it when we use them! Just find one you like, or like well enough to talk to for the evening. And don't worry, if you change your mind, you can end the conversation. Remember - men don't have emotions. They don't care. You're beautiful, so you can basically treat them however you want in this environment we'll be in tonight. That's what they go for too! Of course, you won't give them what they really want (because you'll be coming home, and coming home alone) but same difference."

We never let anyone buy us a drink.

If we didn't to be stuck there, they wouldn't monopolize our attention because we'd simply relocate. We had our "save me!" signal and our "what do you think of this one?" signal down to a science.

The two of us even had songs to label the ranks of boys we dallied with. We'd name him as a guy belonging to one of four songs, and the other would immediately know how we felt about him.

I'd routinely sit at the bar with Michal, sipping our drinks and chatting with the bartender, until my eye fell on someone who I dubbed as the pick, for now. Sooner or later we'd talk, maybe dance, maybe maybe exchange numbers, and perhaps a kiss or two. I never called anyone back. I can only remember even choosing to answer one call out of the ones that came a couple of days after the number swap.

I had my life perfectly compartmentalized. Work, career, wellness and contemplation during the week, and partying on the weekends. My weekdays consisted of rising at 5:00am, making my bed, hitting the gym, going straight to work until the evening, then coming home, working on some school work, dinner, touching up my nail polish, maybe a facial, and bed. That is, every weekday except for Friday. By the time Friday came around our plans would already be made and after work the routine would begin - shower, dress for a night out, check to make sure the miniature purse is equipped with everything I'll need, the phone is charged, the cash is withdrawn from the ATM, and off we went.

I introduced Michal to various kinds of men, labeling them with their "types" - country boy type, scholar type, fun to hang out with if you don't try to have a real conversation type, only good for (semi) real conversation type, pretty to look at but please just don't say anything type, and on and on.

We'd joke about past experiences and dish details of current ones. I was setting up what was and was not appropriate behavior for someone I'd spend any time at all with - it ranged from hygiene and manners to hobbies to emotional stability.

I was completely open with her about some of the things during my relationships with Ethan and Noah, and how I'd feel about similar things now with my new 'pink spoon' outlook:

"Don't cry at me. I don't want to see you cry. The only way I want to see a man cry is if he got bitten by a shark."

That last bit, about the shark, was one of our favorite quotes for a good while.

Excerpts from the upcoming book.

Let me know whatcha think!

The Moment

Winter 08/09

We were having seafood that night.

Sitting on the couch side by side, our TV trays meeting to combine into one, we were letting it blather on as background noise as we had yet another discussion about his parents.

Ethan: I can't believe that you would bring this up again. Haven't we talked about it enough? Maybe I'll eventually change my mind on my own, but you can't keep putting me in this position. You know how hard this would be for them, I don't think my mom could even take it! Why can't you just let it go?

Me: I'm sorry (with a guilty shrug). Don't you know - can't you see that every day that goes by, whether or not we actually talk about it, the fact that I know that you're hiding me from them hurts me? You're hurting me, every single day. You've said yourself that it's wrong for them to feel that way-

Ethan: Yes, it's wrong. Of course it is!

Me: -then why do you let them just get away with it? They think that after they made your life hell, or tried to, you just gave in and that we ended things. Knowing that I'm being hidden makes me feel dirty and like there's something wrong with me...

Ethan: Dammit! It's not about YOU! Why can't you see what a difficult position this puts me in?...

...and on and on, and back and forth. He wasn't going to give in. Neither was I. I couldn't! What was I supposed to do? Just be okay with never being accepted, and with my partner, the person who was supposed to be the one I turned to when in trouble, not even choosing to stick up for me to those who were dead-set against the relationship, more specifically against me as a person, for no reason other than this ridiculous one?

I sat and watched his face become more and more flushed as he continued to get angrier. I really, really wished that I could rise above this petty thing (at least, that's how I was being made to feel), but knowing that someone was ashamed to be with me, no matter
what the reason (of course he denied it), did a number on me. I couldn't take it. Sooner or later I brought it up and pleaded my case, always.

Soon the conversation turned into him yelling at me. I was still calm because I had a hotter boiling point than he did, but I was to reach it plenty of times throughout this fall and winter, just like I had when we were together before.

We kept arguing and it got more and more heated until he'd shoved his table out of the way and was doing his same triangular route through the apartment - to the window of the living room, into the dining room, down the short hall, back to the window. I was perched on the arm of the sofa next to the front door.

After staring at me with blazing eyes, all the while accusing me of being too hard on him, he picked up his shell cracker that we'd been using on the crab legs from the tray and hurled it across the room, where it hit the opposite wall, leaving a little dent in the tan surface, and bounced abruptly down to the carpet. He didn't miss a beat but kept pacing and yelling, occasionally towering over me and pointing into my face.

After the cracker hit the floor, I knew. I knew that this was that moment. My pain and anger was starting to turn into fear, and once that heavy piece of metal flew through the air, I knew. If it had me rather than the wall that had been hit, some real damage could have easily been done.

Everything started to move in slow motion.
Would he really hit me?
I don't think so.
I'm alone with him. Shouldn't I know that it won't happen?
....but I'm sure it won't.
But do I know that it won't?
I remembered when Dawn used to tell me about how it started with the children's father. First it was a sharp tone, then yelling, then moving around like this, throwing things, and after that was when the hitting started.

I had a firm belief that in any relationship that goes abusive, there's always that moment. The one where you can, with every woman's common sense, see what can happen, and see that it's likely to. Anger is one thing. Explosive and dangerous anger is on an entirely different level. From hearing others' stories over the years (not to mention by remembering my crazy experiences with the Emporia strangler), I knew that this turning point was always there, if you had the wherewithal to see it.

The knowledge broke over me like a wave that this was that moment. Maybe he wouldn't hit me. But if he did, I'd never be able to honestly say to myself later that I hadn't known it could happen.

Shouldn't that be enough? Shouldn't this knowledge alone make me just leave?
....but what if he doesn't ever do it...
But what if he does? Just go!

I didn't say a word. Honestly (I probably wouldn't have admitted it at the time), I was afraid to tell him of my fear. Telling him that I thought he might hurt me may have sent him right over the top, judging from how he'd acted before when I'd brought up the "a" word (abuse, that is).

I looked around (as he was still yelling in slow motion) and saw my black Reefs sitting by the door. I slid them on and unlocked the door.

Now everything was suddenly silent. I didn't look over my shoulder to see what he was doing, I just left.

I didn't want him to follow me so I walked the opposite direction from where we were both parked, and where I thought he'd assume I'd gone. I didn't have my truck keys so I couldn't go anywhere anyway, and if I had had my keys, I don't know that I would have left. I was still in that in-between stage where I wasn't strong enough to really GO, but I wasn't okay with fooling myself enough to stay.

It was 10:30 at night and the sky was dark. It was chilly outside and I was only wearing capris and a thin shirt. I knew that before long I'd be pretty cold. Even though it was Florida and sizzling during the day, the nights could get clammy and unpleasant, downright excruciating for me because of my natural nonexistent tolerance for cold.

I walked towards the other side of the complex. The complex was pretty big and I went back into a side parking lot, and sat on a tree stump for awhile.

Some time passed.

I heard the night sounds around me. We were far enough from the busy part of Gainesville to not hear traffic and the like, but not far enough to escape the light pollution. I wished I could see more stars.

More minutes ticked by.

I hunched over my legs and wrapped my hands around my toes under the flip flop straps. I was pretty cold. I could see a faint fog when I exhaled, and dew droplets were forming on my hair.

I expected to see him at any moment. After more time, I wished that I would see him. If a man loves you, if a man wouldn't hurt you, knows that you're alone outside in the dark and afraid, wouldn't he come to get you?

Surely he'll show up sooner or later.

20 more minutes passed.

I moved down to the curb.

After another half hour, I walked a bit to warm up and sat on a hill of a median in the center of my corner parking lot. A street light was shining above me and I could see a cloud of tiny insects around it.

I felt so alone. I was so cold.

I stood up and started to slowly walk back to the apartment.

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