The atrocities of the last 14 months must not be understated.
I mean that in a not entirely (though somewhat) political way, and in a not entirely (though mostly) personal way. To say that things exist in a context is an understatement; that the things which affect us most may have nothing (on paper) to do with the things they most affect. To say, for instance, that I gave up an acting career after 9/11/2001 because going into a room with people an doing my best impersonation of an alligator felt entirely pointless is both inefficient and entirely efficient to describe why I said goodbye to the art. People died in two giant buildings, and this is my best impersonation of an alligator.
Which is to say that today I exist in a place entirely without definition, which which will be, and has been, shaped entirely by the last 14 months, which have been eventful, and which will ultimately define the last 14 months. How, I’m not yet sure. Laying it out may help. The outline of which, begins so:
January 3rd, 2016. A tumultuous yet spontaneous exit with my job of nearly 4 years. I’d hit a wall, rock solid, with a pet project and recognized a dead end when I saw it. Though I would have preferred a more stable exit strategy, I’m not sorry that I said when I did, in the midst of some annual goal-planning, and in complete surprise to both me and my boss, “I’m sorry, but I have to stop you right there, but I don’t plan on being here for any of this.” Thus, I’d submitted my resignation.
In a perfect would I would have had a more substantial financial parachute. In reality, I could not have stayed there another minute.
Mid-January, 2016. I’d secured some financing for my new endeavor: a fabric store that had been loosely in the works since 2012; an idea that was a jolt-out-of-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night, which I’d started researching immediately. Not to be outdone (by whom?) I eventually earned an MBA to prepare myself for business ownership.
End-of-January, 2016; a reconnaissance trip in LA to follow up on some sourcing leads I’d scoured up in 2013. Some major errors in judgment allowed me to check in to a notorious haunted murder hotel in downtown LA, and a wrong turn took me down the actual Skid Row, where amused street residents politely allowed me to pretend that I wasn’t completely lost. I was humbly able to admit that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.
End-of-February, 2016. More financing, more research, and a little bit more stable, I booked a second trip to LA, only to learn that my grandma Julia, my last living grandparent, had suffered a stroke. At 94 years old this wasn’t a sudden shock, although a mere 3 years earlier she’d pommel-horsed herself over a picnic table bench at a family reunion rather than let people think she couldn’t walk on her own two feet. Part of me felt she would never die. I’d gone to Sacramento for a visit the year before and recorded our conversation, asking a lot of questions I’d yet to ask. I hadn’t allowed myself to believe it was the last time we would talk, but I was wrong.
Strong as an ox and just as stoic, Julia insisted that the grandchildren (me) not bother to visit her in the hospital or interrupt our lives to attend an eventual funeral. With all due respect and a dose of how much she’d appreciate this, screw you grandma because of course I’m going to your funeral.
Only she was in hospice and while we knew it was coming no one knew when. Knowing she would want me to (and this isn’t a cop-out, she WOULD) I went on my business trip to Los Angeles for a fabric expo with lots of family encouragement. She knew I was opening a fabric store. I’d heard she was proud. She was a woman who expressed very little pride. At a craft fair at her retirement community recently she’d purchased a little pincushion for me. It’s green and in the shape of a hen. With over a dozen grandkids, she wasn’t the type to buy little gifts. Sentimentality wasn’t her thing. But she’d seen it and thought of me. As she filtered out her closet, a lot of her vintage clothing came my way. We were the exact same size, but either way she thought maybe I could make something from the fabric. She knew I was opening the store. On my last visit to her she walked me through her community, pleased to show me the fabric art exhibit they had in the lobby. She knew I’d appreciate it. She was right.
She died on the second day of the Fabric Expo. But of course that’s not right. She died on the day that she died, which happened to be on the second day of the Fabric Expo, which was where I was, wandering around and already overwhelmed when I heard the news. And attempting to remain calm, I sat down and tried to change my flight home while scheduling a flight for my husband and children to come down from Seattle, which is exactly what Grandma didn’t want, but what was going to happen. And in the midst of the Los Angeles Fabric Expo is a stunning portrait of me, openly weeping while on the phone with Delta trying arrange a series of flights, and there a part of me will always be.
It was not a very productive trip.
March, 2016. A funeral. An chasm. A series of eruptions that are the natural outbreak of a family unhinged, the tectonic plates moving to fill a sudden gap. And what the gaps reveal, and the avalanches in their places, the shifting and landscape-altering cataclysmic ruins in their wake. The pieces consume weeks of mining and rescue efforts. The landslide destroys us all a little bit. We regroup, piece-by-piece. Fragile, skeptical. My childhood has been rewritten, and with it, possibly me. I still don’t know.
May, 2016. A miracle. My step-sister has been on the transplant list for longer than they said she would survive, and finally her number is called and she gets two new lungs and she survives and it is a real-life actual miracle, and everything I’ve ever done or ever will do seems trivial in comparison.
June, 2016. I’ve waited for the perfect retail space, put all my plans on hold, only to realize I’ve been lied to. Promises broken. This shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.
I take a temporary job to help make ends meet. Family comes up to visit, and it’s tense. No one wants to upset each other so we do nothing, yet we all wind up upset.
July, 2016. A light in the darkness. A landlord offering me retail space available immediately. Though it isn’t an ideal location, the price is right and I have spring and summer inventory burning a hole in my pocket. I regroup. I paint walls. I celebrate.
August, 2016. The store opens. I blink in the bright daylight and recognize that I should feel happier than I do, but I all I feel is unprepared and apologetic. People ask if I’m proud. I tell them I’ll be proud later. It’s just that the store is open, but I still don’t feel ready.
October, 2016. I have customers, and a demand. They want sewing classes, so I launch them immediately. Two days before my first class, I’m home with my sick daughter when I realize that my cat isn’t able to jump on the bed. He’s been losing weight. Been sick forever. He still eats, so I don’t know. I hold him all day, and into the night. At two in the morning he starts convulsing. I rush him to the emergency vet, but I already know the answer. I get to say goodbye.
Catcher had been with me for 11 years. Longer than I’ve had my kids. He sat with me when I was bedridden through both pregnancies, my only company when I was so sick I could barely roll over without blowing chunks. He hid around strangers. Only came out when everyone was in bed except me. He told me he loved me by shoving his nose into mine. His grumpy old man loved and accepted the grumpy old man in me.
It’s 5 in the morning when I get home, and none of us can go back to sleep. That morning I have to go into work. And the next day. And that night, when I help lead my first sewing class. Midway though I realize I’m going to lose it. I summon some sort of ancient strength–the kind my grandma used to endure her own unbearable realities–and make it home. At home I’m the one who is unbearable. I’ve passed my breaking point, and I’m taking everyone with me. I’ve become toxic. My stress levels are unsustainable. But there is very little I can do.
November, 2016. We’re going to have a woman President. I’m over the moon. I’ve been a Clinton fan since 1992, when she wanted to take on health care reform. I’ve talked about it to my two daughters, who know I take up for women’s rights to the degree that they can pinpoint the exact moment when I’m about to make some noise in public about it.
The night of the election I print out maps of the states, and pull out markers: blue, and red. It’s an historic occasion and my daughters get to stay up late. We can color in the state as they’re called, counting how many delegates are blue and how many are red.
By 10:00 pm I realize everything is very very wrong. I send the girls to bed. The maps drift onto the floor of the family room, half red, half blue. Unfinished. I drink myself into a stupor before the election is called. I sleep through the results.
I wake up in a different world. A world where a woman can’t be president. A world where a man who openly brags about sexual assault can be. I don’t want to be in this world. I don’t want my daughters here.
Shellshocked, I drag myself to work, tears still in my eyes. As I unlock my doors, I see it. A printed sheet of paper, taped to my window. It reads “TRUMP WINS! Exit Visas are being Accepted to NEVER RETURN. Thank you for your cooperation.”
I don’t exactly know what the fuck this means, but I also do know what the fuck this means. It means Fuck You. It means a complete fuckhead bigot won and now I feel free to say whatever hateful shit I want. It means get out of “my” country.
Welcome to Trump nation.
I send out feelers to a few local Facebook groups to find out if signs like this are ubiquitous, expecting to hear stories about more of them. Trump activists, boldly papering the tow, showing them who’s boss. But apparently, it’s only me. My store. Placed below eye-level, right next to my sign. Randomly placed? Or…? I don’t know what to think.
My town, my community, Bremerton, WA, responds, and their response is an outpouring of love and support. Before I know it I’m getting visits and phone calls and messages from people assuring me that this type of hate-speech would not be tolerated in our community. I’m encouraged to call the police who are nothing but supportive and helpful. A complete stranger organizes a cash mob to support the business. I’m overwhelmed, and uncertain. I sense I’m disappointing supporters when they learn that I am neither an immigrant, nor an ethic minority. I was born here. As here as you can get, especially in a military town with a revolving population. My life began at a hospital just down the road, to parents who were both born in America.
“But you look brown,” some say helpfully, using term I can’t stand, as if I’ve rightfully earned the hate-speech. Plus, my husband is a white-passing minority. As are my children. My moms are gay. I’m a feminist. They assure me the hate sign was for me. There are plenty of reasons, I’m reminded, for random people to hate me. Don’t worry, they assure me. We are with you, and all of your hateable ways.
I still don’t think it was for me, and here’s why: anyone who bothered to hate me would know that my pet causes are two things: feminism and gay rights. If I were to be targeted the signs would tell me to get back into the kitchen or say something asinine about how it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Still, I’d made a point to separate my political beliefs from my business. Never once had I talked politics in the store. I wanted everyone to feel welcome, and choosing a political side was the quickest way to prevent that. I wasn’t stupid.
Then I had one of those put up or shut up moments. A newspaper reporter who had covered the store opening reached out to me. She’d heard about an event I was hosting, that had taken off with almost no effort–a supporter had approached me and asked if I could teach her to sew a suffragette flag for the upcoming National Women’s March. I said sure, of course. She suggested I maybe open the offer up to other people in case others were interested. Before I knew it I had 18 women signed up. The newspaper had caught on. They wanted an interview. Before I’d even had my coffee, I got a phone call. “Why is it important to make suffragette flags?”
It’s one of those defining moments: she was contacting me as the owner of a business whose goal was to be welcoming to all types of people. For all the attention I was getting, I was worried that it was turning away more conservative people in our town. Assumptions were made about me, and I hadn’t officially come down on either side in favor of toeing the professionally vague line.
But then someone asks you a point-blank question, for which you have a very good and a very passionate answer, something you’ve been talking about for-fucking-ever even though nobody actually wanted to listen to you. And you can either vaguebook your way out of it to preserve the pristine happy image of your business… Or you can tell it like it fucking is.
Guess which one I picked.
I’ll dig up the article eventually, but suffice to say I went all out. I used the F word. FEMINIST. In public. While standing in my business, which was named a half dozen times. Put up or shut up, and I decided to put up. There was really never any doubt, but there it was, laid on paper for hundreds (dozens? I don’t know their circulation) to see, Dylan Fabrics’ owner Melissa is a Feminist, along with whatever assumption that carries.
After outing myself with the F-word, things really snowballed and before I knew it was I being contacted by various local political groups and organizing a group of women from our county to travel to the Seattle March together, and people were coming into the store literally just to meet me because they wanted to be friends with more feminists like them but we’re pretty hard to find because just saying it makes us a target, which means maybe the sign was right all along, but who knows? Organizers from other groups reached out and then I was hosting things, and people were reaching out because they’d heard I was the one to talk to because they really wanted to get involved.
Fuck, you guys. I couldn’t do this. Because….
Something bad happens to me in December. It happens every year and every year I forget it’s going to happen because of how little it affects me the rest of the year. I get amnesia and I literally forget. But then it’s December and I’m pulling out the Christmas decorations and hanging them up around the store and next thing I know I’m texting my spouse “Um, why am I crying?” And I realize a moment later that I’m crying because it’s DECEMBER and I fucking HATE December and I never remember that until it’s here. Unfortunately December has a lot of visceral reminders of itself, like songs and smells and fucking nutcrackers or whatever, and next thing I know I’m involuntarily crying in the middle of the day and I can’t quite pinpoint why.
Please know that I hate this about myself. I feel I am being unnecessarily melodramatic. I try to talk myself out of it every time.
Suffice to say that two years in a row very very very bad things happened to me very adjacent to the holiday season and when you have visceral reminders of that season trotted out only one time a year you don’t have as much time to get used to the reminders and next thing you know they are involuntary triggers and you are involuntarily crying in the middle of the day. Even though you KNOW you’re being fucking melodramatic because it was 8 fucking years ago and get over your damn self, none of that stops the tears from seeping out of your eyes because peppermint and The Little Drummer Boy.
Every December I basically have to stop my life and just wait it out.
So I did.
January, 2017. Everyone expected a huge reset in 2017 but I wasn’t that stupid. It was the same problems, different year. And my biggest problem was that the store was out of money. I was heading into the slowest months with no cash reserve, and something had to give. I no sooner announced to my staff that I was looking for a job to fill the financial gaps when I got an interesting phone call.
It was from my old boss, the one on whom I’d quit unexpectedly (but with plenty of notice and in a very professional and respectful manner). They had fired my replacement, and wondered if–and I was very welcome to say no, they understood that I may not be able to and that was fine–but they wondered if I was available to come in and train her replacement.
The new person just so happens to be a friend of mine and someone who I felt was perfectly suited for the job. I wished her success, and the same for the old company because although we’d parted ways it wasn’t with bitterness. So I agreed.
After one day there I realized that the place was essentially a complete mess and they would need a lot more than a few days of training to get the entire organization back to base-level functioning. And voila, I had a two-and-a-half-month job doing cleanup. Ironically, everything that I’d told them would go wrong–that wall I’d hit exactly a year before?–DID go wrong. Only this time they were willing to listen to me, especially when the new person identified the same areas for improvement and set out to nip them in the bud right out of the gate.
Don’t get me started on women and credibility, where a second woman has to corroborate a first woman’s issues to get them taken seriously. Whatever. It’s handled, I did a great job, and I feel useful and vindicated.
And also fucking exhausted.
February, 2017. Back down in LA to attend the same Fabric Expo I wept through last time, only this time I actually feel like I know what I’m doing. Perhaps in all this mess progress has actually been made only I’ve barely noticed because life is chaos and everyone we know will someday die. Somewhere in all this I’m still running a store every day. I literally don’t know how.
March, 2017. Aunt Mar died. She was an aunt in the way that your dearest family friend is an aunt, because she’s there when you’re born because she’s best friends with your mom, and she was there at your own kid’s third birthday party and you spent every Thanksgiving and Superbowl together for years, and she died. She was 65. I don’t want to talk about it. Because I’m still not over it. I’m still not processing it. I’m still not done grieving her, or my grandma, or my cat, or the fact that there is still not a woman goddamned president. And I’m avoiding the news because I can’t, I just can’t, fucking watch another piece of goddamned news and people come into the store and think I’m still riled up because for awhile I was riled up but I’m not. I can’t be. I’m tired. I’m just tired. And I’m out of money. And somewhere in all this I opened a store, but that feels incredibly beside the point in all of this. Jenny has lungs and will outlive us all, and everything else is just details.
And now what? But like really, now what? Because I have a store but it doesn’t feel like part of me, it feels like something that just happened and is basically out of my control like the rest of life. Good things will happen, people will get lungs and strangers will organize cash mobs and women will march together in solidarity. Bad things will happen and people and animals will die and bad people win and good people lose.
I’m used to taking life by the balls. It’s really my style, but I may be out of steam and I don’t have the type of life that allows that. I have a next step–I feel that, but I don’t know what it is.
So I’m waiting. Right now I’m waiting. For a sign. For motivation. For a reprieve. For peace. Something. But I’m cycling. My life is cycling. I’m right back where I was last March, leaving behind the exact same job, mourning a family member, uncertain of my future. Maybe that means I didn’t do it right last time, and I’m getting another chance, ala Groundhog’s Day.
Which is fine. I’ll figure it out.
Only this time, can we please elect a different president?