Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Illusion of Safety

I miss the ignorant bliss of my childhood.

I used to think my parents could save me from anything.  Nothing could hurt me as long as they were around.  A nightmare was forgotten by slipping under their bed covers.  The danger lurking in the alleyways of dark, secluded streets was chased away by clutching the hand that held you.

The other day I was walking down one of those streets alone when I realized that there is no such thing as real protection.  It doesn't matter who I'm with - my parents, my husband, my older brother - because life is unpredictable. Nothing can save you if it decides to suddenly throw you into a bad situation.

I think about walking down a similar street in the future, holding the hand of my own child.  They will put all their trust in me, as I did with my own parents.  And I wonder if I'll feel like a fraud, because they will honestly believe that they are safe with me, when all I can do is try my best to protect them.  And sometimes, in the worst of cases, your best is not enough.

Ultimately, the illusion of safety is more important for a child than harsh reality.  Some kids have lost the illusion too soon, and face harsh reality every day, but those are the unlucky ones.

As for us adults, we lost the illusion a long time ago.  Our eyes have been opened, the veil has been lifted.  We know what's out there now, so we compensate for our loss by purchasing alarm systems, taking self-defense classes, and being aware of our surroundings.  We can't think about it every moment of every day, or we'd go insane.  But on some nights, we get a reminder, and that's when we'll pick up the pace just to reach the "safety" of our home.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back to the Basics

Day in and day out, we go to work, come home, eat, shower, sleep, and then repeat. The monotony of life is enough to drive anybody insane. We work so hard to have the things we want: to provide food, clothing, and shelter for ourselves and our families. But depending on the person, the sum of all these necessities varies greatly. What if you could give it all up? Would you? Could you?

When our necessities become more like commodities, we’re succumbing to our inner need to please ourselves and others. For example, we need a refrigerator; it’s a necessity in our homes. But it quickly becomes a commodity when we have to have the ice-maker, the stainless steel, and the temperature regulator for separate compartments on the inside. Do we really need that? No, but we like it, it’s convenient, it looks nice, and so we want it. And if we can afford it, why not?

But sometimes I dream of living a simpler life. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to afford really nice things, but I could work fewer hours at a regular Joe’s job, and really enjoy life, instead of feeling like I’m slaving it away.

I posted a blog about a year and a half ago (The Self-Indulgent Life) about a co-worker at Barnes and Noble who was in his mid to late thirties and had no plans to ever leave the job or aspired to anything greater. This was difficult for me to understand at the time because I was a college kid with many aspirations. I asked him why he wanted to do this, and he responded that he didn’t have to worry about work outside of work, and that it left him time to work on his poetry. I was confused back then, and at the time of that particular post, I still didn’t think it was a way of life I would enjoy, but now I’m starting to wonder if maybe he had the right idea all along.

I’m not sure what has changed in me, but now I wish to relax. And yet I can’t relax. I’m living the majority of my life only half-awake, with my energy level at just 50%. I can’t enjoy my time off because instead of going out and doing the things I love to do, I find myself home, a regular couch potato, just trying to recover from the stress of the week.

Maybe this is just a temporary quarter-life crisis I’m going through, but I think that I could live the simple life now- without the commodities. I want to go back to the basics and live the life of an eternal college student: working a job, not a career, pursuing a passion, living each day at a full energy level, and feeling excitement for whatever unknown adventures lie ahead.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

You Down With No PP?

Eleven years ago, I was sitting in the office of a Planned Parenthood, filling out the New Patient information form. 
No, I wasn’t pregnant.  I was there for 2 reasons: affordability and anonymity. 
            Unable to tell my mother that I’d already started having sex, I certainly couldn’t tell her that I wanted to make a gynecology appointment.  I just wanted to get everything checked out. You know, make sure it was all in working order.  I finally had a car, which allowed me to lie about my whereabouts much more easily, and this was the first spot on my list.
Before filling out the form, I scanned it for one specific question:  Can we contact you by phone or mail? I exhaled in relief as I checked the box that said “NO”.
Many girls have shared my experience.  I couldn’t tell my mom that I’d given it up a year ago at only 17.  There would be no heart-to-heart talk, no question and answer session.  Only accusing glares, punishment, and the threat of being thrown out if I got pregnant.
Being a freshman in college, I only had a part-time job, so I had no benefits, and not much money to pay for my regular doctor to see me.  Besides the anonymity factor, I had also heard that Planned Parenthood charged on a sliding scale, based on my income.  I don’t remember how much I ended up paying for my visit, but it wasn’t much. 
Since I had this experience, Planned Parenthood has always held a special place in my heart.  It was there for me when I needed it, at a time when I knew that I was all alone in taking responsibility for my own reproductive health.
Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood doesn’t evoke that same fuzzy feeling in others.  Instead, it’s seen as a place where the devil’s work is taking place.  They hear the name, and automatically think: abortion clinic.  In reality, abortion is only 3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. 
State legislators are trying to stop funding for Planned Parenthood, an act that will affect millions of women and families.  As of right now, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have already blocked funding, with more states on the way.
It’s very upsetting to me when people try to shut down something good, only because of one service that they disagree with.  They don’t consider anything else but their own beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. 
Four words people need to live by: To each his own.  People should follow the same advice I give my preschoolers when I’ve had enough of their tattle tailing: Don’t worry about what your friends are doing.  Just worry about yourself.  As long as you’re doing the right thing, (or in this case, what you believe is right), then that’s all that matters.

If you want to get involved, check out this website:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 8 (Silent Night)

I just walked my dog, but the minute I stepped outside, everything felt suddenly surreal.  It’s , but the sky is lavender purple, the color it gets right before it snows, but…there’s no snow in the forecast.  It’s foggy out, and the air is cool, moist, still smelling of freshly fallen rain.  The birds are chirping away like it’s 6 in the morning. 
I walk down the street and back again.  Nobody is out, no cars on the road.  Where is everyone? 
The only sounds I hear are my own footsteps, my dog’s paws tentatively tapping on the pavement, and his tags jingling on his collar.  And the birds.  What are they doing up so late? Are they as confused as I am by the strangeness of this night?
I get back to the front of my house and find the culprit: one loudly chirping bird sitting high on a wire, stirring up all the other birds in the neighborhood.  What could he be saying?  I climb the front stairs, and my dog and I stop.  It seems we are both wondering about that bird.  Finally, it gives one last chirp and flies away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 7 (The Coffee Shop)

Almost every morning I get to Port Authority and choose from one of two spots that sell little cups of cereal.  Generally, I avoid the coffee shop on the first floor because it can get really loud in there, and I’m not talking about the music.  If you go in one morning before , I warn you: there is a group of coworkers/regular customers that meet there and take over the whole place.  Every time one of them walks in, there are loud greetings to be had.  It’s not a big place, and there aren’t many tables, so this group takes up a lot of space.  This “Cheers”-like atmosphere can get kind of annoying, especially because the minute you walk in there you start feeling like an outsider real quick.
Today I went in because they didn’t have any Frosted Flakes at the other place, and to my surprise, the main guy (there’s always a main guy) said “Good morning” to me with a nod of his head and a big smile.  I said “Good morning” back, with a small smile, and went over to the counter to get my cereal, a bit disconcerted.  As I paid, the main guy said loudly to me “Frosted Flakes, huh?”
“Yeah,” I replied sheepishly, turning back around.
“That cereal’s sweet!” he said.
I turned my head a little towards him. “Yeah, I need a little something in the morning.”
I walked over to get my milk, and then sat down at one of the few empty tables.
“Wow, Frosted Flakes! I haven’t had that in a long time! That must be delicious!”
“Yeah, it is,” I said. 
“Like, the milk gets really sweet, right?” He was trying very hard, and I didn’t understand why. The other men at his table were looking at me now, watching me eat my cereal.  I just wanted to eat my breakfast in peace. I’m not used to this kind of attention!
Finally, the guy stopped and went back to his own conversation. 
I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was just sleepy, and hungry!  Besides, this is New York City.  Friendliness doesn’t exactly run rampant.  He must not be originally from here…
Anyhow, I must admit that it felt sort of nice to be acknowledged as one of the “regulars” in the place.  Maybe now it won’t feel so weird to walk in there and sit down.  But at what expense?  Will I ever get to eat my Frosted Flakes in peace again?
I have been accepted into his secret club.  Now I just don’t know if I want the membership. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 6 (The Wish)

Last year, a 10 year old boy who lived in my building was talking to his friend as I was getting home from work.  I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation, but as the lobby door closed behind me, I heard:
 “Well, not like it will happen, but I wished for world peace.” 
I haven’t been able to get this phrase out of my mind since.  It’s sad that this boy already knows that his world will never be at peace.  That at such a young age, he already knows that there’s no way we can all “just get along”.  And yet, it’s beautiful because it’s so innocent.  I don’t know if it was a birthday wish, a wish upon a star, or a wish on a wishbone, but he used one of his precious wishes to ask for it.  Deep down, it’s something he hopes is still possible. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 5 (UNO)

I love getting the Wild card in an UNO game, and I love what it represents: a complete change, only for my benefit.  They’re the best! There should be UNO cards that I can use in real life. 
If I decide to make a major change in my life, I’ll throw down a Wild card, and no one can do a thing about it.  If I feel like I need a do-over, I’ll just pull out a Reverse card, and no one will notice how I messed up the first time.  And if I don’t feel like doing something at the moment, all I have to do is put down a Skip card and get back to it later.      

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 4 (Friend)

My dearest friend:
I think you've chosen me,
Not for my personality,
But for my ever-listening ear
That never fails when you are near.
I only hope that someday you
Will give me the same pleasure too,
For friendship cannot be one-sided.
This is what I have decided.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 3 (I regress)

I’m heading to a networking event today.  I was excited for a while, but now that it's here, I don't feel like going.  Sometimes I just don’t want to be a leader.  It's something I continually work on.  It seems I'll always be a work in progress. 
My default response is to follow – stay back and watch the extroverts do their thing.  Keep to the shadows where it’s safe and nobody can judge me.  There are days when I get to work and feel like: Can’t someone else run the class today?  Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!  Give ME directions, not the other way around! 
I like to think that I’m getting better at speaking up and saying what’s on my mind, but on days like this my stomach starts doing that topsy-turvy thing, and I know I’ve regressed back to square one.  What a shame…

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Stream of Consciousness:Day 2 (When the eyes of a stranger are upon you...)

Don’t look a crazy person in the eyes because they might just look back at you.  Why is that so scary?  Why do we avoid eye contact with strangers?
Eye contact is special.  There’s a reason why it’s one of the first things you try to teach a child with autism: it establishes a connection.  When someone looks you in the eyes, you suddenly exist to them.  You are acknowledged.  That’s why I avoid eye contact with a crazy person: I don’t want them to be aware of me!
Some people, like myself, are uncomfortable making a connection with a stranger, unless there is an attraction there (and even then I get shy and look away).  Whenever I see an attractive man, I’m not satisfied until I see his eyes.  I watch and wait to see if he’ll look my way, just to catch a glimpse.  What am I looking to find there?  I don’t know.  Perhaps a sneakpeek into his soul.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stream of Consciousness: Day 1

The trek to my job is long and painful.  By the time I get there, my back hurts and I feel exhausted.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to wake up so early.
Being a preschool teacher is no joke. You have to be ON, all the time.  There is no moment where you can step back and sit at your desk and take a breather. If you do that, one of your children will get hurt, or they’ll get bored and start creating chaos.  I don’t have a desk, anyway.
A thirty minute lunch time doesn’t cut it.  By the time you finish eating, there’s only ten minutes left to your break.  Just enough time to check an email on the one s-l-o-o-o-w computer in our tiny break room, squeezed behind a coworker who’s trying to eat HER lunch. 
I feel like there has to be more to life than this constant struggle to wake up and get to work.  I’m going to invent a teacher robot that can teach for me, while I sit at home and control the robot.  You know, just like the military is making those robots to go fight in the wars.  Hey, if they can do it, why can’t I? 

The Dance Lesson: Part 2 of 2

For four years, I kept my vow of never dancing again, but as I got older, the pressure to dance increased as I was invited to more and more parties.  For the sake of my social life, I gave up my vow and asked a cousin of mine for help.  With much patience, he taught me the basic steps of salsa and merengue. 
            Armed with my primitive dancing skills, I attended my friend’s 16th birthday party.  I was in my usual spot: sitting on the edge of the sofa, moving slightly to the beat of the music. 
            I was admiring two couples dancing in front of me when a good-looking, muscular guy with short brown hair caught my eye from across the room.  He smiled and I smiled back, recognizing him.  It was Anthony, the 17-year old heart-throb I had met a few weeks ago.  He walked over with confident strides, extending his hand toward me, the universal invitation to dance.
            I took his hand and stood up, attempting to look nonchalant. We found an empty spot on the floor.  Then I looked up to meet his eyes… and instead saw the top of his head.
            My height was the bane of my existence.  Usually the tallest girl in the room, I stood out amongst my vertically-challenged friends.  I knew Anthony was shorter than me, but I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of being this close to him, and it didn’t help that I was wearing heels.
            “Whoa!” he said, his eyebrows lifting in cool surprise.  With a self-conscious smile, I backed up so that I could actually see his face.
            We began to dance: one, two, one, two, one, two.  I tried to focus on my steps.  I had never danced with a guy who wasn’t related to me.  I was suddenly hypersensitive to everything – the feel of his hand on my waist, how large and hard his shoulder was underneath my own hand, how our feet were moving in unison.
             “Relax,” he said in Spanish.  “You’re stiff.”  He massaged my waist a little with his fingers, not realizing that his touch would have the opposite effect on me.  I tried to do as he said and breathed deeply, inhaling the enticing scent of his cologne.
            When the song ended, he lowered his arm but didn’t let go of my hand.  He seemed to be waiting for the next song to start.  It wasn’t long before the music started up again, but I savored every second that his fingers were gently holding mine.  He turned his dark chocolate eyes toward me.  “Do you want to keep dancing?” he asked.
            I nodded, and for the next two hours, he was my dance partner.  I tried hard to loosen up as he taught me the steps.  I tried hard not to look like a fool.
             Before I knew it, it was , and my parents were outside waiting to pick me up.    A bunch of people had just arrived and the party seemed to be getting started.  It didn’t matter that my friend's parents were present as chaperones.  I was fifteen and had to be home at a decent hour.   
            With a wistful smile, I said goodbye to Anthony, kissing him on the cheek.  I rushed to get my coat, trying to be discreet about the fact that I was leaving early.  As I walked out the door, I glanced over my shoulder and saw him with a couple of giggling girls.  I felt a stab of envy as I hurried to my parent’s car and the noise of the party faded behind me.         
            It took many more parties until I was finally able to relax and enjoy the music completely.  My dancing skills developed slowly over the years.  Each dance experience contributed to my growing confidence, melting my insecurities away, and I seized every opportunity I could to practice.  To Anthony, it was just another dance that he most likely doesn’t even remember, but that night signified the end of my greatest fear and the beginning of a life-long passion. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Dance Contest, Part I of 2

            No one would ever guess that I’m a maniac on the dance floor.  When the music starts, my body can’t seem to control itself, and my eyes search frantically for a potential dance partner.  Once located, I creep casually up to my prey and ask him to dance.  Most men are flattered by my boldness, while most women are horrified.  But I wasn’t always so bold.
            From the time I was a young girl, I wanted to learn how to dance.  I would constantly bug my older brother to teach me how to dance to the House music he blasted on the stereo in his room.  He would try every once in a while, but would give up after a few minutes. I was hopeless.
            One afternoon, I attended my best friend’s 11th birthday party.  She and I had become friends in Kindergarten, but after that I was put in a Gifted and Talented class.  Because of this, I didn’t know any of the girls at her birthday party.  It didn’t seem to matter, though, because we were having a nice time, shrieking and giggling loudly as preteen girls tend to do.  Until someone suggested we have a dance contest.
            “Yeah! Let’s do it! A dance contest!” the girls shouted excitedly, clapping their hands and jumping about.  I tried to join in the excitement, but was become increasingly nervous as the girls put on MTV and positioned themselves in various lounging poses on the surrounding sofas: some leaning against the wall standing on the seat cushions, others lying upside down with their feet in the air.  I sat down on the edge of one of the sofas, trying to hide my anxiety.
            The birthday girl went first, expertly moving her body in the same way as the girl in the music video.  We all cheered and clapped for her.  When the song was over, she sat down and the next girl shouted “My turn!” and stood up.
            I suddenly missed my own group of friends.  We would probably have started pointing fingers at each other saying “No, you go! No, you! No, I’m going last!” which would eventually lead to the dance contest never happening at all.  But not this group of girls.  They knew how to dance and were proud of it. 
            The rest of the girls did pretty much the same moves as the birthday girl had done.  Finally, it was my turn.  I was the last one to go.  By this time, the T.V. had been turned off and a cassette was playing the music.
            The girls started cheering me on before I even stood up.  “Come on!” You can do it!” My best friend gave me a little shove.
            “Well, okay, but I don’t really know how,” was my disclaimer.  I stood up and they pressed the Play button on the stereo.  I tried not to look at them as I began moving my body awkwardly.  Mostly, I stared at the floor. 
            “Yeah!” the girls shouted.  “Move it!”
            I moved my arms around, trying to keep up with the beat as the stereo blasted “I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie!”
            The girls cheered for me. “Whoooo! You go girl!”
            I started feeling a little more confident, and I began moving my feet the way I’d watched my brother do it so many times.  The girls started chanting, “Go Cindy! Go Cindy! Go! Go! Go Cindy!” 
            I looked up and saw that they were smiling widely at me and dancing along on the sofas.  I was ecstatic.  They actually liked my dancing!  By the end of the song, I felt pretty good about myself.
            The next day I was on the phone with my best friend, discussing the party. “I really liked the dance contest,” I said. “Your friends are good dancers. And so are you.”
            “Yeah,” she said matter-of-factly.  “We practice all the time.  You just have to pay attention to the music videos.”
            “I guess so.  I’m glad they liked my dancing though.”
            “Oh...yeah,” my friend said distantly.
            “What?” I asked, slightly alarmed.
            “Oh no, it’s nothing.”
            “Come on. Tell me.”
            “Well,” she began, hesitating. “You know how my friends were cheering for you?  Well… they weren’t really cheering.  They were laughing at you.  They were making fun of you.”
            “Oh.” I felt my face turn red.
            “I told them to stop, and that I wouldn’t be friends with them anymore if they did it again,” she added quickly.
            “Oh…well…who cares? I don’t care.”
            “Good,” she said. “They’re stupid anyway.”
            Yeah, they’re stupid,” I said.  But I couldn’t help feeling like I had been the stupid one all along.  I ended the conversation quickly, then hung up and cried in shame.
            At that moment, I vowed never to dance in public again.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Until next time...

I can't stand the sight of you.  Your very presence annoys me.  I'm sorry, but I just don't want another reminder of how careless I've become.  And I don't want, can't take, one more thing to worry about. 
So off you go, fingernails.  See you in a few weeks.  Maybe by then I'll have the time and the money to treat you the way you deserve. (CLIP CLIP!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Confrontation

As soon as she walked through the front door, I told her.
“You bought what?” My mother’s eyes bulged wildly. “Where is it?”
“In the kitchen,” I responded.  She rushed past me to see if this abomination was really true.
“Ay!” I heard her exclaim a few seconds later, a sound mixed with both disbelief at what I’d done, and surrender at what stood before her.
Who could resist my new puggle puppy’s soulful gaze and sweet demeanor?  His soft fawn fur, which wrinkled at the top of his little head? His tiny floppy ears?
My dad, apparently, could.
That night, he sat in his usual chair at the head of our 6-seater dinner table, his eyes giving me a deadly stare over the top of his intertwined fingers.  My mother was in the kitchen, taking her time preparing his food, wisely staying out of it.
            “Why did you buy a dog, Cindy? You know that I don’t like dogs,” he said in his piercingly steady voice.
            I stood directly across from him at the opposite end of the table, close to the open doorway leading to the kitchen, just in case I needed a quick escape route.  The front door was about fifteen feet behind me, but it was closed and locked, not suitable for my purposes.  “I’ve always wanted a dog,” I began.  “You bought me a dog for my 15th birthday, so why can’t I have one now?”
            “And what happened with that dog? Do you remember?  You couldn’t take care of him, and we had to give him away.”
            “You and mom took the fun out of it! You wanted me to keep him in the kitchen the whole time.  I couldn’t even play with him in my room!”  I put my hand on the chair in front of me and focused on keeping my tone and volume in check.  My father did not respond well to attitudes or yelling.  “Besides, that was 7 years ago.  I’m more responsible now.”
            He shook his head slightly, several times.  “Get that dog out of here.  I don’t want dogs in my house.”  This, I knew from years of experience, was his final answer.
            I took a deep breath, having prepared for this very moment.  “Well then, that’s fine.  I guess I’ll have to take my dog and move out.”
            My father was silent, the lights from the chandelier hanging above the table creating shadows over his tense face.  “So you’re just going to leave?  Where will you go?”
            “I don’t know.  I’ll have to look for an apartment that accepts dogs, I guess.”
            He continued to sit there, thinking.  My mother made noise with her pots and pans in the kitchen to hide her eavesdropping.  The brass clock on the wall next to me ticked away the seconds loudly.  Back in my room, a puppy whined and scratched at the closed door.          
            Finally, my father spoke.  “What I don’t like is that you’re forcing me to accept this dog.  You didn’t even ask.  You bought it while we were on vacation, and now you’re forcing me to accept this dog, or else you’ll leave the house.”
            “I’m not forcing you to do anything,” I said, stepping back and leaning my hips on the back of the dark leather loveseat behind me.  “I’m saying that since you won’t let the dog stay, and I don’t want to give him up, my only option is to move out with the dog.  I don’t want to go, but you leave me no choice.”  I kept my eyes down as I said this, watching my foot play with the edge of the area rug that divides the dining room from the living room.  I prepared myself for yet another one of his long silences.
            “Well,” my father said matter-of-factly, after about two minutes.  “I can’t stop you from leaving.” He finally lowered his hands from in front of his face, elbows still on the table, placing one arm on either side of his placemat.
            I stood there for a few more seconds, and then shrugged my shoulders slowly.  “Okay,” I said. 
            I turned in slow motion and walked out, passed my open-mouthed mother in the kitchen, and went back to the puppy waiting impatiently in my room. 

Monday, January 31, 2011