Eating Candy with a Stranger

The year must have been about 1973. I was four years old but would be turning five later in the year. It was a beautiful spring day and Mom was making sure my brother (Scott) and I were ready for church before she left us to our own devices so she could get herself ready.

Scott looked snazzy in his little Sunday suit but I, of course, was in a dress. I much preferred wearing Scott’s hand-me-down overalls but that was not proper Sunday School attire. I didn’t like wearing dresses but had not yet grown to utterly despise them.  I hadn’t quite reached the age when I was expected to behave differently when wearing a dress. I was still young enough that I was allowed to be a kid rather than a proper young lady.

Scott and I had been told to wait for Mom on the front porch as she finished getting ready. I was told, specifically, not to leave the porch, touch anything or get dirty.

Mom used to call me her “Bold One”. The term was part of an advertising campaign for Bold laundry detergent back in the 70s, which was advertised to be so powerful it would even perfectly clean the clothes worn by your “bold one”. Mom used to claim I could go out perfectly clean, stand in one spot for fifteen minutes and come back filthy … and that’s what happened on this particular morning.

When Mom came out to take us to church, I had dirt on my face and dress, so in Mom took me to wipe off the dirt and put me in a clean dress.

We were a few minutes late to the Sunday service but quietly found a spot at the end of one pew and were seated. Scott sat on Mom’s left and I, to her right.

I pulled out my coloring book and crayons and proceeded to do my thing. As far as I was concerned at that age, church was the place where I went once a week to participate in structured coloring while wearing a dress and listening to monotone men speak. I use the word “structured” because this was not a normal coloring session. I had to listen for Mom’s cues to stop coloring and bow my head whenever a prayer was said. This little game always ended with all the members of the congregation saying “amen”. I would yell out the word with gusto before resuming my coloring.

I was busy coloring a masterpiece when Mom tapped my arm. I obediently put down my crayon and bowed my head waiting for the prayer, but there was no prayer. Then Mom tapped my arm again. I looked up at her wondering what had gone wrong with the prayer. She pointed to another row of pews, over to our left, and said, “Why don’t you go sit with her?”

Mom was pointing to a woman in her 30s who had just limped in carrying a cane and found an empty seat at the end of a pew. The other occupants of the pew gradually got up and found other seats, leaving her with the entire pew to herself.

I was upset that Mom wanted me to leave her and sit with a stranger. Strangers scared me!

Mom had warned Scott and me of strangers on numerous occasions and with me being a highly sensitive and perhaps more than slightly neurotic child, my fear was ten-fold. Mom had only wanted to instill a healthy fear within us, but I had the tendency to magnify all dangers to equate them with death.

Mom urged me again to go sit with the lady and appealed to my emotions.

“Look … she’s sad. She’s sitting all by herself. Nobody wants to sit with her.”

I had no idea at the age of four that the reason nobody wanted to sit with her was because of the color of her skin. I don’t think I even knew at that age that some people weren’t accepted based on their skin color. As far as I was concerned the world was made up of adults and children – some were boys and some were girls.

I had never before seen this woman in our congregation. In fact, I had never before seen any black person in our congregation, but that wasn’t even an issue to my four-year-old self. My only issue was that Mom was sending me to sit with a stranger, but her attempt to appeal to my emotions worked. I was still terrified to sit with the lady, but at the same time I felt sorry for her because nobody else wanted to sit with her.

Mom had given me specific instructions not to tell the lady I had been given orders to sit with her. Instead I was to politely ask if she minded that I sit with her. So I took my crayons and coloring book with me, walked over to where the lady was sitting and asked if it would be okay if I sat with her and colored.

The brown-skinned lady beamed, reached out and put her arms around me and sat me next to her while complimenting my excellent coloring skills.

I was delighted!

Mom had never been so proud of my art work as was this woman! In gratitude I tore out the page and told my new friend she could put my masterpiece on her refrigerator, which she agreed to do.

My new friend then raised a finger to her lips to make the sign to ‘Shhh!’ or ‘don’t say a word’, then she opened her purse and pulled out a small stash of candy. We each had several pieces as she draped her arm around me and cuddled me close.

I felt like the luckiest person in the world that day! I met a grown adult who raved about my excellent coloring skills, was thrilled to have a piece of my art work, gave me candy and held me so tight I felt like I was the most important person on planet Earth.

I don’t remember the woman’s name but I do recall seeing her many times after that day. She was baptized and became a member of the church. Sometimes, when she didn’t have a ride home, we would take her home to a place that reminded me of something out of “The Jetsons”. She called her huge futuristic home “the projects”. I thought she was rich and was proud to know someone who lived in the projects. I was equally as proud that a piece of my art work was displayed in the projects. 

I sat with her a few more Sundays after her first visit. She always greeted me with enthusiasm, shared her candy and held me close to her. Gradually, over time, people stopped getting up and moving when she came to church. She made a few friends and several members would take turns making sure she had a ride to and from church.

One Sunday I sat scanning the chapel for her. I finally spotted her and asked Mom if I could go sit with her. Mom looked in the direction where she was seated and noticed that she no longer had to sit alone. She turned back around, smiled and said, “No, she’s okay. You stay here with us.”

I didn’t understand what she meant by “she’s okay”. I just wanted to sit with my friend and eat candy. I hadn’t realized she hadn’t been okay before.

Why nobody wanted to sit with her those first few times was beyond my comprehension. It wasn’t until a few years later, during a conversation with Mom, that I realized what had happened that Sunday morning.

“Do you remember that time when I was little and we went to church and you told me to go sit with that black lady?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Well, I couldn’t very well sit with her myself and leave you and Scott sitting alone. If all three of us had gone to sit with her in the middle of the service we would have drawn attention to her and I didn’t want to embarrass her. I sent you, instead of Scott, because I thought she might be more comfortable with a little girl than a little boy.”

“Why did people get up and move when she sat down?”

“Because some white people don’t like black people for some reason. They don’t realize that underneath the skin we’re all the same. You can have a red shirt and a blue shirt, both made of cotton that was picked out of the same field, and some people are going to think the red shirt is better than the blue shirt, not taking into account that it’s the same cotton and God created all the colors of the rainbow. No color is better than the other.”

I never regarded that Sunday when Mom sent me to sit with the brown-skinned lady as a lesson taught … but I suppose it was. She taught me something about racism before I even knew that racism existed, before I had even learned to identify people as black and white, before I had ever heard of the N-word or was aware of our country’s history regarding slavery and oppression.

I don’t know if my outlook on race relations would have been different without this lesson, but what I do know is that Mom gave me a beautiful memory.

Mom died 25 years ago this last February, at the age of 52. There are so many things I’ll never know about Mom but memories like this one give me insight into what she was made of and make me proud to have been her daughter.

I Hope I’m Not Psychic

On January 11th of this year I was lying in bed, fully awake, with my eyes closed. Because my head is always so noisy, I’m in the habit of listening to music or old-time radio shows on my computer, but my computer broke down back in mid-December and since then I’ve been using a tablet. I haven’t been listening to as much external noise which has been forcing me to pay more attention to my internal noise. That night I literally heard the theme music to The Dick Van Dyke Show in my head.

It was in my head!

I had never experienced such a thing before. It did not come from the neighbor’s house, nor my own house. I had no noise-producing gadgets on at all. I posted the following on Facebook.

A friend replied that something similar had once happened to her in the case of Robin Williams, but she also noted that she had other examples that did not come true, much to her relief. I replied to her comment as follows:

After this incident I spent the following ten days checking Google news. At first I was just checking for Dick Van Dyke but after two or three days I added Mary Tyler Moore and Larry Mathews (Little Richie) to my searches. After a week and a half I simply laughed at myself for taking a melodic ringing in my ear so seriously. Then on January 25th, I posted the following status update:

Mary Tyler Moore was my first crush. At about the age of five I developed an innocent childhood crush for Laura Petrie, as I was in the habit of watching Dick Van Dyke Show reruns after school. I was a little freaked out by this incident and very upset when I heard she had died, but haven’t thought much more about the incident and am still not committed to calling it a psychic episode. It very well may have just been a coincidence considering that nothing like this has ever happened to me before.

Early yesterday (Tuesday) morning, after midnight, I took a nap. I didn’t sleep for more than an hour. Again, I had no audio devices playing. I was napping in virtual silence – with the exception of dogs barking in the distance and my Hillbilly neighbors peeling out of the driveway. I woke up to a radio announcement in a dream, as is explained by this more recent Facebook post.

So I’m really hoping I’m not tapping into some sort of psychic ability because Julie Andrews was my teenage crush. I really don’t want to lose her in the same year we lost Mary Tyler Moore. I’m sure psychic ability has its advantages, but it seems to me that someone with such an ability may spend a lot of time waiting for things to happen and hoping he/she was wrong.

I Was Batman – Public Enemy #1

The day I became Batman and Public Enemy #1 was the same day my brother, Scott, became Robin and Public Enemy #2.

The year was 1975. Our parents had noticed that the Dallas schools were in rapid decline and even though my brother and I were in second and first grades, respectively, the folks wanted to find a rural area to move to in hopes to get us out of Dallas before entering junior high.

Every so often, for several years, we would hit the road to look at a tract of land that our father had found for sale. The parcels of land that we went to inspect in this story were all located in various rural areas of Arkansas.

It was our last day in Arkansas and we had just spent the night at a little motor lodge in the town of Imboden. Scott and I grew quite bored watching our parents pack up our little U-Haul trailer that we had rented for the trip, so we decided to play one of our favorite games – Batman and Robin.

Scott is a year and ten days older than I and has never let me forget the fact. As children Scott’s seniority allowed him more privileges than I was happy with – including the privilege of playing the lead role in all our games of pretend. This meant that Scott was always Batman and I was always left playing the Boy Wonder.

On this particular day I wasn’t having it! I took an extremely rare stand and fought for my right to be Batman!

“You always get to be Batman! It’s not fair!”

“Batman’s older than Robin,” Scott reasoned, “and I’m older than you so I’ve got to be Batman.”

“It’s not fair!” I screamed, “You’re always going to be older than me! I’m never going to get to be Batman!”

After a good deal of crying and a royal temper tantrum Scott reluctantly gave in and forfeited his birthright for the day.

I climbed behind the steering wheel of our 1958 Pontiac and Robin assumed his position in the passenger’s seat. We were now ready to begin the script.

“Atomic batteries to power,” said Robin. “Turbines to speed.”

“Roger,” I replied, ever-so Batmanny, “ready to move out.”

In an effort to be as authentic as possible I pulled the gear shift down with all my might, not realizing that this might not have been one of my best ideas.

It didn’t take more than two seconds for us to realize we were moving. We looked at one another, saucer-eyed, as our faces turned from pink to stark white. I was the first to speak up about the matter as the car transported us across the street and into a vacant lot. In an effort to stay in character, I reacted the same way Batman would have in that situation.

“WE’RE GONNA DIE!” I screamed.

“No, we’re not,” Scott assured with a trembling voice, “we’ll be okay.”

“WE’RE GONNA DIE! WE’RE GONNA DIE!”

The car had picked up momentum after crossing the street and entering the vacant lot. I decided to take action, so thinking only of myself, I opened the driver’s side door. As the Batmobile was making its way through the vacant lot, I jumped out and onto a cement water main cover, skinning my arms, knees, shins and the palms of my hands.

After I was able to gather my wits, I stood and watched the Batmobile dragging the little U-Haul trailer across the vacant lot. Scott was still in the car but rather than jumping out of the passenger’s side, he climbed across the seat and peered out the driver’s side door as it swung back and forth.

The car continued its journey across the lot and was just about to enter the traffic of the town’s main street. In daredevil fashion Scott jumped onto the door which was swinging back and forth, knocking his body against the door frame of the car. Just as the car’s front tires were about to touch pavement of the semi-busy street, Scott loosened his grip on the door and fell into the irrigation ditch.

During Scott’s graceful bailout he accidentally performed a backward somersault – an achievement he had previously attempted without success in an attempt to receive a Cub Scout achievement badge.

After Scott bailed out I started running across the lot while screaming his name, afraid he might be dead. I was halfway across the lot when Scott popped up out of the ditch and started running in my direction. Realizing he was okay, I turned around and we both ran together toward our motel room where both of our parents were standing slack-jawed.

Scott began screaming with unanticipated glee, “Mommy! Mommy! I did a backward somersault! Can I count that as a Cub Scout achievement?”

As Scott and I were making our return to the motel room the Batmobile had continued its journey across the street and crashed into the town’s bank, taking out a pillar or two and crashing firmly into the front wall of the bank.

Scott and I walked up to the door of our motel room as our parents stood in shock. Our father decided he should probably go check out the situation while Mom cleaned up our bloody bodies and administered first aid. Mom tended to me first, as I was the bloodiest and was crying uncontrollably.

After I had been thoroughly cleaned and bandaged, Mom gave me a tapioca pudding cup and turned her attentions to Scott. As soon as Mom was convinced that neither of us were permanently damaged, she proceeded to lecture us.

Apparently – to hear Mom tell it – people shouldn’t drive cars into buildings. It’s just not nice!

“Do you realize your father could go to jail?”

I started crying even harder at the thought of my father going to jail – our only means of support – leaving us to die in this small Arkansas town.

My memory of what happened next might be a little fuzzy. I was six-years-old and distraught at the time so the details might not be 100% accurate, but my recollection is as follows:

A man walked through the open door of our motel room. He was wearing a cowboy hat, western shirt, a pair of belted blue jeans and cowboy boots. His belt buckle was about the size of a dinner plate but the detail that stood out the most was his height. I was so in awe of his loftiness and the large belly button shield he wore as a belt buckle that without realizing it, I had stopped crying.

“Is she okay?” asked the giant.

“Yes, thank you,” Mom answered, “she’s okay.”

I resumed my bawling at this point and screamed, “My father’s going to jail!”

“No, he’s not,” said the giant.

“Yes he is! My mommy said so!”

“Well, sweetie,” said the giant, “I’m the sheriff in these parts and I promise you your Daddy’s not going to jail.”

A promise from a strange giant ruined Mom’s attempt to scare us straight. I believe the “your father could go to jail” remark was intended to teach us a lesson, but since the giant ruined her plan, she needed to devise a new plan! A new moral was needed to insure that something good came from this experience.

Mom’s new plan entailed walking her two evil super heroes across the street to the scene of the destruction. I was back to my normal self by this point and was pestering Mom with some very important questions.

“When our car hit the bank do you think it hit any boxes of money? I bet they keep all their nickels in big boxes. Do you think any nickels were bent when the car hit them? They won’t be able to use the bent nickels – people want flat nickels. Do you think they’ll give me the bent ones?”

Mom sighed and asked, “What ever would you do with a box of bent nickels?”

“I’d beat them with a hammer and I’d be rich!”

Mom walked a little more briskly after that. She was either stifling laughter or counting silently to ten in an attempt to calm herself down.

I started getting nervous as we approached the bank, thinking somebody inside was probably ready to scream at us for wrecking their building. I needn’t have worried though because apparently in Imboden it’s a sign of friendship to run your car into the bank.

The bank employees were lined up just inside the door awaiting our arrival. We were celebrities! Batman and Robin were receiving a grand welcome!

One of the tellers gave us candy, another gave us bubble gum and a third gave us balloons. Mom looked rather exasperated as her second attempt to teach us a lesson failed.

An employee approached Mom with a smile and asked, while pointing to me, “Is this the one who was driving?”

“I’m afraid so,” replied Mom.

“She’s so cute,” crooned the lady teller.

“What do you say, Vicki?”

No longer nervous and taking advantage of my new celebrity status, I asked, “Did our car bend any of your nickels?”

Vicki Lynn!” Mom scolded.

Mom succeeded in getting me to say “thank you” and proceeded to give us a tour of the wreckage in an attempt to teach us both her long-awaited lesson, but we were too hyped up on sugar by this point to feel remorse.

After our tour of the destruction we caused and after our father was finally able to convince his insurance company that his children were Batman and Robin and were forced to bail out of the Batmobile to save their lives, we were finally allowed to go.

Mom walked Scott and me back to the motel as our father started up the car and backed it out of the bank. The wall was partially caved in where the car had made contact and bricks were scattered around on the pavement, but old Bessie fared well! That old Pontiac received a few minor blemishes, the worst being a busted headlight.

An hour later we were on the road, heading back home after our week-long trip to Arkansas. I was sitting in the passenger’s side back seat behind Mom.

I turned to my left and noticed Scott digging in the goody bag he was given by our adoring fans at the bank. He pulled out his balloon and began to blow it up. Not to be outdone by Scott, I pulled my balloon out of my pocket and attempted to blow it up, too. I blew so hard my cheeks ached!

My balloon was a dud! It was welded shut. No amount of breath could inflate my defective balloon.

“I can’t blow up my balloon!” I whined.

Mom turned around and looked at me over her shoulder and in her sternest tone of voice, she said, “It serves you right!” Smugly she turned back around, satisfied that she was finally able to teach me a lesson.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. When you go around crashing cars into financial institutions, you get stuck with the defective balloons.

I never wrecked another bank after that day, and I hope I never do! The consequences just aren’t worth it!

My Friend, Wig Head

This is somewhat similar to my mother’s hat, but in pink.

Before my parents married in 1966 my mother had purchased an outlandish 1960s bright yellow hat, which more closely resembled a shower cap or a wig than a hat. This so-called hat (which I had always thought of as a wig) rested upon a Styrofoam display that was made in the size and shape of a woman’s head. I called her Wig Head, because that was her name.

When I was either four or five years of age I had a dream which featured Wig Head. My dream, as I remember it, from 1972 or 1973, occurred as follows:

I was sleeping in my bed, awoke and got up out to look out my bedroom window. Instead of seeing the front yard, which was the real-life view from my window, I observed that a tiny little room had been added to the house – my window being the entrance to the room.

I opened the window and climbed into this strange little room, which was just a tad bit larger than my clothes closet.

There were only two things worth mentioning in this room. The first item was directly to the right as I climbed through the window. It was a counter top that ran the length of the room – all four to five feet of it. The second item I observed was Wig Head.

I stood in this strange new room and wondered why Wig Head was here when she should have been in Mom’s room sitting atop the gray marble slab where she belonged.

As if she had read my mind, she spoke to me telling me, “I’m here for you. You can talk to me about anything. I’m your friend.”

Wig Head told me that she knew that my father had been hurting me in my waking life and she knew I had no one to talk to for fear that my father’s threats would come true. She told me I could talk to her any time I wanted and she would always listen and keep my secrets.

I honestly don’t remember everything we discussed. This dream occurred more than 40 years ago now, but I do remember the dream feeling so utterly real. Before the dream’s end I told Wig Head that I loved her and wanted her to promise me that she would continue to converse with me in like manner in my waking life. All she said before I awoke was, “You can always talk to me. You can always trust me.”

When I awoke from this dream, it was still dark out. I immediately got out of bed and went to the window and looked out, only to see the normal view of the yard.

I was heartbroken!

As silly as it may seem now, that dream was so terribly real to me that I truly expected to find the little room and Wig Head on the other side of my window.

I was terrified of everything as a child. I was concerned that monsters lived under my bed at night and that I could only be safe by remaining in bed. On the occasions that I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would crouch on my bed and jump as far as I could so the monsters couldn’t reach my ankles when my feet hit the floor.

Then, because I imagined the house was watching me – that there were unseen eyes watching every move I made – I would run from my bedroom door to the bathroom, hoping I was fast enough that the house spies would miss me.

The bathroom came with its own unique threats. I feared flushing the toilet at night because, in my mind, flushing would wake up Count Dracula (a.k.a. Count Chocula) who would rise from the bowels of the toilet once the water had been flushed. Sometimes I wouldn’t flush at all – I would simply run back to my bedroom hoping the house spies didn’t see me. Other times I would remember how upset Mom would get when I didn’t flush and would stand as far away from the toilet as possible, while still able to reach the handle, and would quickly flush and run as fast as I could to my bedroom, taking a giant leap into my bed to avoid the grabby hands of the monsters.

After my dream about Wig Head, I wanted nothing more than to go retrieve her from my parents bedroom, but this would have to be done so quietly. Not only did I have to worry about the house spies, I also had to worry about the possibility that Count Chocula may be in his second favorite spot – just outside my parent’s door. I also had to worry about waking up my parents – especially my father, who might return with me to my room.

I couldn’t run through the house, even though that was the only way to beat the watching eyes of the house spies. I had to be quiet and take my chances if I wanted to get Wig Head.

I crept through the house as stealthily as a five-year-old can manage, while my heart raced with terror. I managed to get through the dark house, liberate Wig Head and return to bed without being caught by the monsters, Count Chocula or the house spies. My return trip wasn’t nearly as scary, however. There was something about having Wig Head in my arms that made me feel brave.

I slept with Wig Head that night, talking to her as I drifted off to sleep. I was very upset that she didn’t talk back to me as she had in my dream, but she was a comfort nonetheless.

I talked to Wig Head a great deal after that dream but after several months the novelty started to wear off. The fact that she no longer spoke to me was a huge disappointment. My visits with Wig Head gradually tapered off … until the night she reappeared in a dream – in that little room outside my window.

During my second dream about Wig Head she explained to me that she was real but only had the ability to talk in my dreams. She assured me that she still listened to me in my waking life but she simply couldn’t respond. She told me I was her best friend and asked that I continue to keep her company.

That’s when I had the brilliant idea to bring her back through the window into my real world. I explained to her that if I held her without letting go – from dream to waking life – she could be real while I was awake, too! She insisted it couldn’t be done. Just as I reached out to pick her up, I awoke, never having had the chance to bring her back with me.

Throughout my childhood my father worked the second shift, meaning he was gone from shortly after noon until around midnight each night. Sometimes, during the evening, I would sit with Mom as she watched TV in her bedroom and would try to catch Wig Head looking at me. I suspected she watched TV with us and would sometimes try to send me quiet little signals that Mom wouldn’t detect. Occasionally I was convinced that I’d catch her winking at me. Sometimes Mom would allow me take her down from the marble slab she rested upon, and would let me hold Wig Head in my lap as we watched TV.

I never told anybody about Wig Head during my childhood. I knew our friendship was a secret and felt it would be a betrayal to reveal the story of how we grew so close. I’m sure there was also that small part of me that lived in reality and knew that my friendship with a Styrofoam head wasn’t exactly normal.

Wig Head and I were secret friends for a couple of years. I didn’t completely give up on her after that those two years, but I suppose as I grew a little older and developed more coping mechanisms, I didn’t need her as much. But I shall forever remain fond of the memory of Wig Head. For a brief period of my childhood, I had a trusted confidante who I could trust with all my worries, which were more than I was able to handle by myself.

Me, at the age of four.

Wig Head came to my rescue when I needed her most and stayed until I was able to go on without her. She was my savior, in a way – a wise woman who came to my rescue when I couldn’t deal with the torment of the sexual abuse by myself but had no other available options.

I shall always cherish the memory of my little Styrofoam friend.

Never Trust a Sleeping Vicki

Death On My Doorstep

One spring day back in the 90s, when I was living in Lake Dallas, Denton county, Texas, we had a terrible storm. I was working as a graveyard shift security officer at the time and did all my sleeping during the day. It was undetermined whether there had been a tornado, but the dangerously high winds caused a lot of damage to the area. When I awoke late that afternoon the storm had passed.

My next door neighbor had a huge old Cottonwood tree that was felled by the storm.    People from blocks away heard the tree meet its end.  My bed was close enough to my neighbor’s tree that I could have been killed or severely injured if it had fallen in a different direction, but it never fazed me.

I slept right through it.

The Barbecue Crisis Call

Several years later I had moved back home to Paris, Texas.  I was working the graveyard shift, once again, but now I was working as a shelter advocate at a battered women’s shelter.  There wasn’t a lot to do during the graveyard shift, as the residents and their children were usually asleep, but one of my duties was to man the crisis line.  We would often go days without a crisis call, but it was important to be at the ready when one did come through.

The night shift shelter employees were allowed to nap and there was a bed available for us in case it was needed.  Being a night owl, I did most of my sleeping during the day but occasionally I wouldn’t get enough sleep and would take advantage of my on-the-job napping privilege.

On one such night, as I was sleeping soundly on the job, I awoke to find the crisis line in my hand.  I pulled it away from my ear, trying to make sense out of the situation, when I heard a woman’s voice say, “Are you still there?”

“Yes, I’m here,” I answered.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand you. You’re not making a lot of sense.”

That’s when I realized I had been having a conversation with this woman … in my sleep.  I had no earthly idea what her situation was or what I had said to her, so my gut instinct was to simply ask, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I keep telling you I’m okay.  I just don’t understand what barbecue has to do with anything I’ve said.”

Apparently I was either dreaming about barbecue or I was wishing I had some.  Or maybe I thought I was speaking to a barbecue delivery service and was simply placing my order.  Who knows?  I couldn’t very well ask her what had happened during the last ten minutes.  Asking such a question would probably be interpreted as unprofessional, so I winged my way through the rest of the call and always made sure to show up well-rested for future shifts.

Sherlock Brain to the Rescue

Several years later I was living with my late partner, Connie.  I was sleeping and awoke to find her putting something in one of the dresser drawers.

“What are you doing?” I asked groggily.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she answered.

But it wasn’t.

I had no earthly idea what she was doing.  Brainy had not yet remembered that it inhabited a human body that resided on planet Earth, so there was no making sense of such things yet.

I continued to study Connie’s movements as she folded things and put them in drawers.  Slowly Brainy started putting the pieces of the puzzle together until I was given enough information to finally make sense of it all.  That’s when I loudly exclaimed, “You’re putting up laundry!”

Connie was not impressed with my brilliant powers of deduction, but I think I may have startled her with my outburst.

Hamburgers and Monkeys

About  year later I was managing a convenience store in Waco, Texas.  I worked long hours and was always exhausted.  Connie and I both knew I couldn’t be trusted with the telephone on my side of the bed so it was always on her nightstand in the event of a middle-of-the-night call.

One night we received such a call after midnight. My alarm was set for 4:30 am.  I never awoke for this phone call but apparently I had a very interesting conversation nonetheless.

I went to work the next morning, still oblivious to having received a phone call in the wee hours of the morning.  It wasn’t until the end of my shift when Robert showed up to relieve me that I was made aware of the previous night’s call.

“What were you talking about last night?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I called you last night.”

“No, you didn’t!” I argued.

“I was having a problem with the paperwork.  I couldn’t make the money balance so I called you. You started telling me how to make the perfect hamburger.  You went into a lot of detail.  I brought up the subject of the paperwork again and then you started talking about all the monkeys in the trees.  I finally gave up and figured it out on my own.”

I accused Robert of pulling my leg and when I got home that evening, still believing that Robert made up the whole story, I told Connie about it.

“He wasn’t pulling your leg,” she said.  “That’s exactly what happened.”

“Did it ever occur to you that monkeys in trees and perfect hamburgers weren’t exactly store-related topics?” I asked.

“It did seem rather strange,” she said, “but I figured you knew what you were talking about.  Besides I wanted to hear the end of the story.”

Panic Time!

Because that job was so stressful for me and because it required me to work 12 to 16 hour days, I was often sleep deprived and occasionally overslept.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to hit the snooze button repeatedly until the alarm finally woke me up, but occasionally I would simply turn off the alarm clock in my sleep preferring not to be bothered.  On several occasions Connie would wake me up after I had overslept, yelling, “You’re going to be late for work!”

As previously mentioned, Brainy can’t make sense of the world immediately after awaking, so on these occasions when I would oversleep and was startled awake by Connie’s helpful but alarming warning, Brainy would simply alert me that it was time to panic.

I would jump out of bed and in my stupor I would run around the bedroom aimlessly, picking up random objects – thinking I needed them for some reason – and continue to run around trying, unsuccessfully, to make sense of the world with a pillow in one hand and a flashlight and yesterday’s dirty sock in the other.

Connie would usually intervene at about this point and calmly and slowly explain to me that I was running late, that I wouldn’t have time for a shower and that I would need to get dressed and drink at least a half cup of coffee before I was able to leave.  She would then take whatever objects I had managed to pick up during my maniacal run through the house and would introduce me to the closet while explaining that clothes could be found within.  She would then leave me to my own devices as she started the coffee.

My point in sharing these anecdotes was to convey to the reader that I’m a heavy sleeper and generally spend my first 15 minutes of apparent consciousness in a state of delirium.  I hope I succeeded in this endeavor because I have one more story which just occurred this last weekend.

Serial Killer Comfort

I have a relatively new Facebook friend who has been going through some stuff recently.  Friday night I sent her a message inquiring as to how she was doing.  I then took a two-hour nap  and immediately after awaking I decided to check my Facebook notifications.  She had responded to my message with, “I’m alright”.

Anytime I simply answer, “Fine”, “Okay”, or “I’m alright”, it generally means I’m not, so in my sleep-stupor I decided to respond.

I told her I didn’t believe her but understood that she might not want to talk about it.  Then, in an attempt to offer comfort, I thought it would be a good idea to bring up Jack the Ripper.

I explained to her that my listening and communication skills may rate lower than those possessed by the 19th century serial killer but that I have an aversion to blood and am too lazy and skittish to go around killing people.

This was Brainy’s idea of comfort with a dash of humor.  I was barely able to keep my eyes open as I typed the message.  Immediately after hitting “send”, I went back to sleep.

My mind is almost always busy.  It often keeps me awake for hours when all I want to do is sleep.  The only time it’s quiet is after waking up – which simply proves that my delirium is more powerful than Brainy … at least until the former starts to fade.

I awoke again early Saturday morning. I had been up for the better part of an hour and was on my second cup of coffee when my stupor started to leave me.  That’s when Brainy took over and cheerfully announced, “Jack the Ripper”.

Jack the Ripper?  Why am I thinking about him?  Did I have a dream or something?  I don’t remember dreaming about Jack the … OH MY GOSH!  NO!  Please tell me it was just a dream!”

That’s when I started to remember that while most of my body was virtually dead to the world Brainy decided to offer words of comfort by sending a message of blood and murder.

I immediately opened Facebook to see what I had been up to during the night and found my “message of comfort”.

I sent another message: “Please ignore the last message and please just know that I hope you’re really okay. I vaguely remembered writing something about Jack the Ripper and thought, ‘Oh no! What have I done? And why did I think that was okay?'”

I panicked much of Saturday until I finally heard back from her.  Thankfully, she saw the humor in the situation and wasn’t disturbed by it.

But I was!

I now know I’m capable of sleep-messaging and am dreading the day when I next inflict my demented brand of textual terror on another unsuspecting victim.

The Adventures of a Highly Sensitive Person

My original working title for this piece was, “The Adventures of an Insanely Sensitive Person”. The title was meant to poke fun at myself and not to be insensitive toward other highly sensitive persons, but it occurred to me that using the word insanely instead of highly serves no one in the end. The HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) is still so terribly misunderstood that such self-deprecating humor would only serve to encourage more criticism.

HSPs are gaining more and more understanding due to increased awareness but there’s still a huge stigma to overcome.

Traditionally we’ve been called too or overly sensitive, cry babies, too/overly emotional, touchy, thin-skinned, etc.

We’re accused of not being able to take a joke, of not knowing when somebody was “just kidding” or “being playful”, of taking things too personally or of not being able to recognize sarcasm.

The truth is that a HSP is the one who is least likely to laugh when you fall, the most likely to respect your dignity when your crooked toupee falls off your head at the Dollar General store and the most likely to empathize with you during a moment of humiliation or pain.

I would venture to say that most of us regard the janitor with the same level of respect as the CEO. We’re not easily impressed by titles, fame, wealth, physical perfection or nice things. We’re impressed by and value integrity, authenticity and fairness.

We rarely have to be reminded to “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes. We live our lives constantly trying on other people’s shoes and are deeply affected by it.

Our feelings get hurt – personally – when we see a disabled person being mocked and ridiculed – especially when there’s an audience of spectators looking on – or when we see anyone being treated unfairly or inhumanely – especially as the result of prejudice, arrogance, sheer hatred, etc.

We despise those who consider themselves to be superior or chosen and therefore “more deserving” than others “beneath” them.

Cruelty, insensitivity, egotism and narcissism are our kryptonite.

We just want everyone to be kind to one another – to work out differences calmly and peacefully. We tend to have extreme negative emotional reactions to name-calling, fighting, screaming, bullying, etc.

Thus is the plight of the highly sensitive person.

To give a real-life example of how such a sensitive nature affects a HSP, I’ll use a recent example from my own life in regard to a friend’s misfortune.

I have a friend who I shall refer to as C.F., short for “Canadian Friend”.

But what if I ever decide to mention any of my other Canadian friends in my blog?

I can’t call them all C.F. That would be too confusing to my readers – all ten or fifteen of them.

Maybe I should go provincial.

No, Canadian provinces are pretty large.

Perhaps I should just personalize their secret identities.

Yes! That’s what I’ll do!

On second thought, scratch C.F. I shall now refer to her as L.M., for reasons which will be made clear in the following paragraphs.

L.M. and I have never met in person. We’ve been Facebook friends for nearly four years but have only started having real conversations during the last couple months.

Why?

Because I don’t do small talk. I don’t think she does either. I think we both needed a conversation starter, which turned out to be her unwillingness to watch the movie, “Titanic”. I needed to know why, which opened the door to further chats.

Last summer I lost all three of my senior cats – aged from 13 to 15 years old – so when L.M. told me recently that her beloved 22-year-old cat’s health was failing, I instantly empathized.

Her cat’s name was Lassie, which makes my friend “Lassie’s Mom” or L.M.

On March 8th Lassie passed away. L.M. had mentioned that someone in her life didn’t understand the bond between human and furry friend so I wanted her to know that someone did understand. I checked in with her daily, just in case she needed a shoulder. I understood that she wouldn’t feel like chatting but that was okay – I didn’t expect her to.

A side effect of all this is that I’ve been afraid to mention the word “cat”. For the last two weeks I have dropped the word out of my vocabulary in regard to public posts.

Not only have I felt obligated to avoid the word – I have also avoided any posting of cat cartoons, photos, videos, etc. I have them all stored away in my “saved” file for future use. I did accidentally share a St. Gertrude of Nivelles (the patron saint of cats, travelers and gardeners) image on St. Patrick’s Day. I meant to hide it so L.M. couldn’t see it but I forgot to do so and the next day, once I realized she may have seen it, I emotionally punished myself for being so insensitive.

Then, a few days ago on my “Just Plain Vicki” Facebook page, I posted one of a series of fictitious text messages with my imaginary robot in which the robot asked for a kitten. (Side note: I am not crazy! You’ll just have to check out the page to fully appreciate these bizarre texts.) It wasn’t until L.M. made reference to that text that I realized what I had done. Her response to the text was positive, however, and my heart rate returned to normal after realizing I hadn’t destroyed her.

So this is what it’s like to be highly sensitive. In some ways the torture we put ourselves through is somewhat amusing. It’s not all about being a cry baby or taking things too personally. It’s about being wired in such a way that we’re emotionally pained to the core when we feel or sense pain … especially when we’re able to relate. We don’t simply get over things. We learn how to live with the pain inflicted upon us – whether intentionally or unintentionally – and we are changed because of it. It’s not about being thin-skinned – it’s about feeling deeply.

There are episodes of “I Love Lucy” I simply cannot watch, for instance, because of the perceived humiliating situations Lucy gets herself into. The same goes for many other sitcoms which notoriously use humiliating situations to get laughs. Likewise, every episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos features so-called “funny” clips of people getting hurt, falling off of trampolines, crashing into trees, being pranked, etc. I’m aware of the fact that many people find these situations to be funny, but in most cases I simply don’t understand why. Pain and humiliation simply aren’t funny to me.

I used to hate being so sensitive. It was particularly excruciating in my teens. Besides being highly sensitive, I also had an extremely low self-esteem and socially awkward tendencies that made me the perfect target for bullies. It’s not so bad in the adult world, but every HSP has had to deal with the occasional friend, family member or coworker who finds the need to point out that they are sensitive to a fault.

In recent months I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and self-exploration. I have come to realize that the sensitive souls in this world are not the problem.

The real problem is that we live in a world that has little tolerance for gentleness and way too much tolerance for hardness, coldness, arrogance, boastfulness, prejudice, insults, the infliction of humiliation and bullying.

This seems awfully backward to me.

Instead of advising gentle souls to toughen up, we should be encouraging the more calloused souls to gentle up.

I have more respect for the gentle soul who’s easily bruised than I have for the calloused soul who thinks nothing of bruising others to boost his own ego.

The Horrors of Small Talk

I hate small talk. Most introverts do. But the worst kind of small talk, in my opinion, is the kind in which you feel obligated to participate but weren’t prepared for.

The unexpected meeting!

A while back I had gone to Subway to get a sandwich and ran into an old coworker I hadn’t seen in about 15 years. She recognized me, I recognized her, both of our brains kicked in and remembered past shared experiences – so naturally, we both felt obligated to speak to one another.

Commence mandatory small talk!

She: Oh my gosh! It’s been so long! How are you doing, Vicki?

Me: Oh, hey! Fine, and you?

She: Good! What have you been up to?

Me: Not much … and you?

She: What are you doing now? Where are you working? Do you have a girlfriend? What’s been going on?

Me: I have some cats. That’s about it. How about you?

She probably thought I no longer liked her. We were never terribly close but I never disliked her. We simply have nothing in common with the exception of our old job.

If one attends a party, a reunion or some other social affair, one expects to interact with others. I tend to avoid such get-togethers to avoid the inevitable, but if I were to attend such a function, at least I’d know it was expected of me.  The only speaking I was prepared to do that day was to recite my sandwich order which I was busy repeating over and over in my head so that when my turn came up, I wouldn’t hold up the line.

But when I ran into my old coworker, which was a completely unexpected meeting, I panicked. My sandwich order was on a continual loop in my brain and I didn’t have much room left for new thoughts, nor did I have time to construct a mental script for the occasion.

I felt bad that I couldn’t fill my old coworker in on the last 15 years but she was either going to have to settle for a four-hour conversation or “I have cats”. The second choice seemed more humane than to hold her hostage for four hours during her 30-minute lunch break.