Oral Hygiene Queen

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Location: Midwest, United States

I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

How I Found My Young Old Man, Part III

It became a standing ritual for M. and I to hang out in his tiny cell of a room on Thursday evenings. More than once that spring we stayed up talking all night, alerted to the lateness of the hour only when birds began chirping as the first light crept into the sky.

KC was also spending a lot of time with M. Partly as a result of our breakup, he was still depressed, sometimes so much that we worried for his health. Support for the broken-up couple became like a full time job for M. Somehow he managed to get his end-of-semester class work and grading done on the side.

I didn’t see that I was falling in love with my friend, though a few close friends noticed. After we were officially united, I’d find out that Feral Mom and the third member of our band (drummer Joie DeVivre) speculated that M. and I would “make a good match.” (So Jane Austen!) Talking long-distance to my old friend K, who had been crashing with me for several months and was now traveling the world, I mentioned I had some big news. “You and M. got together?” she guessed. “What? No. The band is going to record a CD!” (The band, man!) M. and I went to visit friends in Chicago, a couple we’d hung out with together numerous times before, and they pointed us to the guest room, saying “you guys can sleep in there.” We just looked at each other and cracked up. “Um, we’re not together.” Where did they get that idea? It was silly, so silly it wasn’t even uncomfortable. The fact that we were taking numerous road trips together alone did not seem weird to us. We were pals, playing Fugazi at top volume as we sped down the highway, chucking inedible Long John Silver’s hushpuppies out the window of my ’82 Subaru wagon, having a blast.

But more and more, he was the person I wanted to be with at any given time. There were certainly signs I should have seen. Why was I lugging my $700 acoustic guitar through the driving rain to keep the date I’d made to play guitar with M? Why were we suddenly swapping so many backrubs? Why was I feeling this weird tug in my stomach every time M. couldn’t hang out with me because he had plans with KC? Was I jealous of my friend hanging out with my melancholy ex-boyfriend?

I was actually suffering from that pang the very night we got together. It was a Thursday, and I dropped by M’s on my way to the library to find out what time I should come by later. He had made plans with KC, and he could see that I was disappointed. “Dude,” (he called me dude) “I’m sorry… but he’s so bummed right now. He really sounded like he needed to talk.” I understood, of course. “Come by later, like midnight. We’ll hang out for a little while then, okay?” Okay, I said, and I felt a little better, but I was beginning to understand that at some point, M. was going to have to make a choice between me and KC. And it felt to me like he’d probably choose KC. And in my heart, I loved M. for that. He was a very decent person, and KC needed him. And I needed him, too, but maybe not as much.

Walking the rest of the way to the library, I resolved to make peace with the fact that I was going to have to let go of my dear friend M, maybe not altogether, but somewhat. Still, after I arrived back at his place around midnight, we sat around for a long, long time talking and listening to music. So long that, for once, we both actually fell asleep on his single bed. Neither of us is really sure exactly what happened next. We both agree that neither of us really made the first move. We just sort of woke into an embrace, and then a kiss - a kiss that lasted a long time. And when it was over, we were both astonished, a little thrilled and very scared. It was clear to us both pretty quickly that it was a wonderful thing, falling for someone we already loved so much. But it was also wracking to think what effect it would have on KC to learn that his ex-girlfriend and one of his best friends were hooking up.

Were we hooking up? It took awhile to know for sure. There was the KC issue, which loomed. Was he mentally healthy enough to be able to handle this? Should we put the brakes on it, throw it into reverse for his sake? Was that possible? If we went ahead with it, how should we tell him? Should we tell him? In a close-knit community where everyone was someone’s friend, roommate, ex, or band mate, could we really expect to keep it from him?

Then there was the additional issue of risking a good thing. M. was one of my best friends, ever. I cherished what we had so much and feared that our friendship taking a romantic turn might ruin it. We spent a couple of painful months going back and forth over the question of whether to run with this, or try to chill out and turn back the clock.

But in the end, of course, we realized how little control we had over our love. As we talked and talked about whether we should rein it in and how and for how long, it continued quietly to grow, unabated. One evening might find us resolving to chill out our intensifying animal passion, the next morning vowing to engage in a vigorous campaign of “more concerted chilling out,” and that very afternoon soaping each other up in a hot shower. The fact was that we had grown incredibly close well before we’d had any inkling of love-in-the-making. We were used to spending time alone together, and weren’t willing to give that up. But now spending time alone together had a new element, an urgency, and it was beautiful, intoxicating, and impossible to set aside for some less complicated time in the hazy future.

So we went through several weeks of elated affinity tempered by agonizing self-doubt. Little by little we accepted our love as something bigger than the chaotic situation we found ourselves in. Just when we had resolved that M. would tell KC that we were in love, and deal with the fallout as best he could, KC confronted M. with an ultimatum: me or him. M. said he couldn’t choose, and in doing so, he chose me. KC cut off contact with both of us, thus breaking out of a cycle that was healthy for no one, least of all him. We went around our smallish town for a year or so, trying not to bump into each other and pretending not to notice when we did. And after some time, we all miraculously and very tentatively began to be friends again.

KC cutting M. loose was the opening of the floodgates for M. and me. We had our first real date. We began sleeping over at each other's places regularly, spending most of our free time together. I worried when we had our first real fight that this was the beginning of the end, that we'd ruined an amazing friendship for a short-term romance. But the more time went on and the more complex and wonderful our love grew, it became clear that, as cool as our friendship was, our love was even cooler. And it would only grow cooler as the years went on and we got our first apartment together, started a band together, got married, and became parents together.

Roll 100 - 15

I said in the first installment of this story that M. is the only man I’ve ever been totally, one-hundred-percent committed to, and that's not to say that I haven't been in committed relationships before. But every time - even with my college boyfriend, who I was with for six years - there was a little part of myself I reserved, a slight suspicion toward romantic love and its perils. In some small way my heart always kept its eye on the door. I never realized this until I was with M, when I felt that little bit of wariness gone. And I think it was because he was my friend, full on and unambiguous, before he was anything else. If we had both been single when we met, we might never have gotten together. I might have dismissed him as "not my type," or been suspicious of his intentions. I feel very lucky that we became friends, and I'm grateful that we're still friends, and so much more.

~ Fin ~

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How I Found My Young Old Man, Part II

So, M. and I became friends. At first, we were hang-out-in-a-group friends. He and DK lived in a centrally located house with another grad student friend, and their place quickly became a social hub, the site of frequent parties, where people - including myself – dropped by at all hours to hang out, mooch food, and even (in the case of my boyfriend KC) to do laundry.

I liked M. more and more, but I remained a bit intimidated by his ineffable aura of coolness. He had gotten into punk and skate culture at an early age, had grown up an hour from New York City. I was a late bloomer in musical terms, and had spent my crucial teenage years stranded in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. So I was nervous when I saw him in the audience the first time my and Feral Mom’s fledgling band played a show, and surprised when I ran into him at the university library a couple days later and he effused about how much he liked us. Our role models were Hole, Liz Phair (back when she actually wrote good songs), and various Riot Grrl bands, but we were still basically dorks with a penchant for pop, not to mention rock and roll beginners. The fact that M. liked our band so much was obviously gratifying, but it also made me further revise my notions about him. He was cool, but he wasn’t narrow minded, hypercritical, or out to impress.

As procrastinating grad students will do, we started dropping by each other’s offices on campus to shoot the shit and talk about music. We had an amazing number of favorite bands in common, and we compared notes on shows we’d seen in different cities. He was four years my junior, but since he was a punk rock prodigy while I was a Johnny-Rotten-come-lately, we found that we’d often gotten into the same bands at the same time. We also discovered that we both had an occasional penchant for getting baked. One Thursday night (the unofficial start of the weekend for grad students), we made plans to get together, smoke, and listen to music. Before long this was a weekly ritual. We’d listen to music we both cherished – Sonic Youth, Stevie Wonder, Joni. I would expose him to music I loved – Superchunk, Sam and Dave, Uncle Tupelo. He’d hip me to music I needed to know but didn’t yet – the Beastie Boys, My Bloody Valentine, Prince.

Prince was a revelation to me, and my deepening respect for him as a musician gave me greater respect for M, as well. This was the artist M. had been listening to since he was thirteen, never wavering in his devotion, even as he’d hidden it from his punk high school friends. One night we were listening to Sign O the Times, and when “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” came on, my mind was blown by how complex and playfully witty it was. Then I caught Prince’s multi-layered citation to Joni’s “Help Me,” and I was sold. “I can tape it for you,” M. said. And as I walked around town with the cassette in my walkman (1995, people), and “If I was your Girlfriend” came on, I was astonished again. The song was so vulnerable and sexy and dorky and gender bending, all intricately and deliciously rolled into one. I had to walk right over to M’s house and expound on how much I dug it.

The more I found out about M, the more I liked him, and the more deeply impressed I was with what a genuine, decent person he was. Little stories would come out – how he’d stolen an entire industrial-sized box of tampons for his girlfriend from the park service warehouse during a summer job. Most guys I knew in grad school – where men claiming feminist credentials was de rigeur – would have busted that anecdote out within an hour of meeting any woman for the first time. With M. it took months.

It also took him more than a month to mention that his girlfriend had broken up with him. He finally did, at the very end of a week-long road trip we took to Memphis and New Orleans with another friend. I was very sad for him, and told him I’d be glad to talk about it with him if he ever needed to. I had been through the break-up of a relationship of a similar length, one that I had assumed would last forever, as I knew M. had with KD. This was probably the point at which we really began to get close, because we started talking about the real shit, getting personal. I tried to be optimistic on his behalf, even though I had resigned myself to never falling in love again. (I figured it was too much to expect true love to come along more than once in my life.) But when I said “I know that some cool woman will come along and see what an amazing man you are,” I meant it. M. was amazing, and there were many more good women out there than men. My chances were less rosy.

It’s significant that, even though I was in and out of my always-unstable relationship with KC during this very period, it never occurred to me that M. and I might get together. We were friends, and he never gave me the slightest indication of anything but a very warm and enthusiastic platonic regard. In fact, I was broken up with KC when M. revealed that he and KD had split. We would get back together in one last ill-fated moment of bad decision-making. And by the time that fell apart and we finally broke up for good, M. and I were so close that he was the first person I went to, crying it all out. He was sympathetic toward me, but worried about KC too, because all the while I'd been getting closer and closer to M, so had my boyfriend. For every hour M. spent with me, he spent one with KC, in addition to the many hours we logged as a threesome.

So here - at the point where M. and I are seemingly free to fall madly in love - is the moment where I almost lose him altogether, even as a friend. Because now he’s caught between two tight friends, each half of a freshly cut wound. And I, while sad and shaken, am basically stable, and my dear but difficult ex is increasingly shaky. Perhaps he needs a considerate, warm, reliable-yet-amusing friend like M. more than me right now. And perhaps I am guilt-ridden enough over the bad breakup to let what’s left of my social and emotional life fall apart that way.

Tune in soon for the third and, I promise, final installment…

(Again, I blame Esereth for instigating this, and DoctorMama for making me think it’s legit to drag any story that’s not a labor story beyond two posts…)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How I Found My Young Old Man, Part I

Esereth commands and we comply. A love story:

My Old Man is my best friend. He’s big number one on my list of Sexiest Men. He’s the only man I’ve ever been totally, one-hundred-percent committed to. It seems inevitable that we got together, and in many ways it also seems entirely improbable.

When I met him, he was just M, not yet having attained Old Man status, and he was not my “type.” I didn’t actually have a type per se, but to the extent that I did, my type did not permit of some of the qualities I found in him: self-deprecating, given to pessimism, prone to quiet moods, and at times socially awkward. None of these qualities ruled him out as a friend, however, and numerous other traits ultimately made him a cherished one. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I discovered that M. was raucously funny, silly as hell, deeply intelligent, warm, and genuine, I misinterpreted him as arrogant and too-cool. I was a second-year graduate student charged with the task of chatting up the new first-years at a coffee and donuts deal. It was probably too early in the morning for me to muster a more generous (or less superficial) conclusion about the new class, but looking around the room I quickly deemed them a boring lot. There was one exception, a tall guy with dark waist-length hair, sporting a chain wallet and hoops in both ears. He looked like the most interesting person in the room, or at the very least someone with whom I could have a decent discussion about music. I made my way over to him and struck up a conversation. He didn’t seem to respond to my trademark friendliness and charm, his answers to my questions were brief, I had to work to keep the chat going. I gave up before long, finessing my way out of our tête-à-tête and reaching a hasty conclusion: haughty east coast dude; doesn’t know exactly where Wisconsin is; thinks he’s too cool for the Midwest.

Later I realized that what I took for arrogance was really shyness and discomfort in an unaccustomed social situation. But before I could arrive at that realization, I had to demonstrate that I, too, was too-cool. It soon turned out that the haughty east coast dude was the same first-year that was rooming with one of my best friends in town. When I went over to see my friend DK’s swank new apartment, he introduced me to M. “Yeah, we’ve met,” I said offhandedly. DK seemed convinced that we would hit it off. “M. plays guitar! E. plays guitar!” he noted, attempting to open an avenue of conversation. “Wow. What a shock.” I said, “Just like every other guy I know. Let me guess: you’ve been playing since you were fourteen.” Oh my fucking god, what had poor M. done to receive such a bitchy reception? In my defense, I was going through a period of annoyance that so many guys I knew had been playing guitar since they were fourteen and as such could be a pain in the ass to play music with (if you happened to be a twenty-six-year-old woman who’d only been playing a few years and was still getting your chops down). That was before Feral Mom and I began playing guitar together and formed our kick-ass all-girl rock band, after which I mellowed considerably on the guitar issue. But that’s another story.

Due to that pleasant interaction and a couple more like it, M. concluded that 1. I was totally unimpressed with him and possibly hated his guts, and that 2. I was a hard core, take-no-bullshit chick that he definitely wanted to befriend. Little by little, I discovered that, in addition to having mind-bogglingly good taste in music (he loved Fugazi and Joni Mitchell), M. was a sweet, funny, and unpretentious. A watershed moment in our budding friendship came when I learned that he had been with his current girlfriend KD for four years. Having benefited from my own though-college-and-slightly-beyond relationship with a supportive guy, I had great respect for a man who could maintain a relationship of that longevity, and with an unapologetic feminist (KD was even a Women’s Studies major). And as M. and I got to be better friends, he was also becoming tight friends with my lovable-yet-impossible boyfriend, KC. What could be better?

But how, with all these boyfriends and girlfriends and all this platonic regard in the picture, how will this ever blossom into love, marriage, and a bouncing baby O? Tune in next week…

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Hey, Mr. Kah-tere!

Here at the end of the first full week of school, I am still adjusting to having to be somewhere every day and not having the bulk of my time at my own disposal. Still, I’m enthused about school – there’s a bright and shiny aspect to the beginning of the year, and this semester I’m teaching a new English class that my students seem very into. Feral Mom’s delineations of the significant role teaching plays in keeping her bowels regular made me laugh to beat the band, and it also made me think about how natural teaching feels for me. I definitely get nervous on the first day of class, a day when I’m invariably so high-strung I accept the fact that my new students will think I’m completely batty (and console myself with the thought that they’ll come to see how I really am – only about half batty - as the semester gets underway). But once I’ve learned my students’ names and gotten the necessary policy bullshit out of the way, once I begin really teaching, I feel right at home.

I received a request from Esereth for more stories about teaching, and I have made a note of it. I’ve certainly shared a few school-related stories in the past, from lunch duty anecdotes, to my run-in with the math department , to my on-campus lingerie-making escapades. I’m not sure why I don’t blog about teaching more. Maybe because I already spend so much time doing it and talking about it (my Old Man is an English teacher too, and we never seem to tire of talking about literature, writing, and teaching). Maybe because I’m afraid if I start, I’ll never shut up.

I will end with a teaching anecdote. I like to think of myself as a fairly unflappable teacher - it's rare that a student busts out a comment that surprises or flusters me, because I'm basically a potty mouth with a dirty mind and a puerile sense of humor myself. In fact, I sometimes have to work up a good impression of a disapproving authority figure when a kid says something inappropriate that I actually find funny. I also pride myself on being honest with my students. But last week during my Creative Writing class, I both got flapped and told a flat-out lie. We were discussing J.D. Salinger's story "Just Before the War with the Eskimos" and one of my students compared the fifteen-year-old Ginny's crush on her friend's twenty-six-year-old brother to another kind of intergenerational crush: "It's kind of like when you get a crush on your teacher." Suddenly I felt my uptightness nerve begin to clench strenuously. "But that never happens," I said emphatically, "never." It was a joke, but it was also a lie and a convenient way of shutting down a discussion I didn't feel comfortable with. (Hey, I enjoy mid-eighties Van Halen as much as the next person, but when the "Hot for Teacher" thing goes from the realm of hair-metal fantasy to something close to my reality, I want to change the subject.)

And then, twenty minutes later another student admitted that she "hadn't brushed her teeth in four years," and I just about lost my shit. Discussions with students about student-teacher crushes? I get a little unsettled. Student disclosures (however exaggerated) about terrible oral hygiene habits? I get downright riled up. Luckily in this situation, I could be totally honest. And I schooled her. And I hope she learned her lesson.