Friday, October 28, 2005

Time & Punishment

It was half past twelve when I finally heard the door creak open. Weary of waiting, I’d retired to the couch with the hope that closing my eyes would keep me from endlessly watching the clock. Needless to say, it did not. The bright green numbers slowly and reluctantly increased at a measured pace and in my heart, a seed of doubt as to whether or not M would make it before the night was over began to grow. Before the door was fully opened and before he was completely in view, I sprung up to my knees, feeling so overwhelmed that I couldn’t find it in myself to stand. “I’m not in jail anymore,” M said in an excited tone, as though he needed to reassure himself of that fact. “I know,” I said, so overjoyed that I could barely speak. “Come over here!” I called out. And he did.

I don’t remember what ultimately caused us to break away from the embrace. Needless to say, it was quite a while before we did. As my heart filled up with an equal measure of regret and relief, being in his arms again felt so new and so familiar at the same time that I didn’t know how to let go. Suddenly, in a few quick moments that seemed to come so soon after such a prolonged absence, the world was once again as it should be.

Except that M had clearly lost a lot of weight, further justifying the nickname I once gave him when I called him “my little skeleton,” in spite of his 6’5” frame. I told him that although he did not retain his jumpsuit he’d done well to find something to be for Halloween (and life, for the time being)- he had more than lived up to his name. I suppose he’d missed me too much to be at all perturbed by that comment and I did well to supply him with some much needed nourishment as soon as we got past our initial greeting. His approach to the bowl of food I set before him was nearly as pronounced as his affection towards me and I sat quietly reading the letter he had scrawled so beautifully (though not neatly) on the back of some crumpled prison form.

“They clearly don’t understand how much I love you. If they did they’d realize this is cruel and unusual punishment,” I read aloud. The punishment we both endured had seemed so cruel, but we had faithfully served our time and now... we had all the time in the world to set things right. And after all that time and punishment, we were so thankful, we were so much stronger; it was so worth it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Counting Down!

In fourteen hours, the nightmare that has kept me from a solid night’s sleep in a little under a week will finally come to an end, but who’s counting? Naturally, I am – though neither my range of math skills (minimal) nor desire to calculate the distance between us time-wise (even less) is as vast as M’s. When we spoke a couple of days ago, he gave me the exact number of seconds it would be before we’d see each other again. I suppose when you have that much time on your hands, there’s not much else to do besides count it! Though the prospect of calculating the numerical timeframe of one’s confinement seems more like hell to me than prison… but that’s just me.

Ah, so now my (slightly less mathematical) countdown has begun and the waiting game drags on just a little longer, though regardless of how close in proximity midnight is, it still feels like a lifetime away. But just think… that absurdly large number that M arrived at is ever constantly dwindling down, even as I sit here typing. If only there was a way to fast forward through it! Nevertheless, there is patience in the waiting, and my faith that God will bring something great out of our unfortunate set of circumstances has all the more increased.

There are many lessons to be learned from this unsettling turn of events, patience and perseverance hardly among the least of these… and the soothing benefits of math (or internet sites that do it for you!), of course. Only 48,600 seconds to go, not that I’m counting or anything!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Little Too Ironic

In a turn of events that would be fitting for a late lyrical addition to Alanis Morisette’s “Isn’t it Ironic?” my boyfriend is now attired in a prison jumpsuit. Wasn’t it me who suggested only a week ago that we dress up as a cop and a jail bird for Halloween? Who knew that M would take that suggestion so literally?! This surely was not what I had in mind when I suggested that he inquire into getting a real prison uniform! Nevertheless, it seems that Halloween has arrived early for this couple, though I’ve yet to enlist in the police academy or any similar law enforcement training.

And while my boyfriend is far from dancing to the jail house rock, I’m looking forward to him getting in step – on the right path – soon enough. Surely, this will be a lesson to him that the next time he thinks to pick up the phone to call his ex-wife, he’d be wise to consider whether or not calling the police himself would be less time consuming.

Sadly, albeit my musing, this is no laughing matter. In fact, unsurprisingly, M was very sad on the phone this morning. Sounding more drained than I’ve ever heard him, he spoke hoarsely into the receiver, explaining that his new “bed” – a three inch piece of plastic mat cushioning him from the concrete floor – and a thin gray blanket which he finally received was somewhat of an improvement, though he did not sleep at all last night, giving us something in common.

“I wrote you a letter yesterday,” he said in a low voice. “I wrote you one too,” I replied, referring to one of the many notes I’ve hidden in various pockets of the leather jacket he left draped across my dining room chair. “Do you have it with you?” I asked, irrelevantly, trying to make conversation. (I’ve learned it to be better to ask these sorts of questions rather than those regarding the eating, sleeping, or showering situation!) “No,” he said, “It’s in my cell.” “How romantic,” I joked.

How many more sleepless nights will pass before he comes home? Whatever the number, one more seems like too many, but I wait patiently, and God knows, I thank Him everyday for sustaining both of us through this nightmare. I’ve never been so appreciative to have a bed and a blanket as I’ve been these past few nights. Funny what lengths it takes to make us appreciate the things we’ve so commonly come to take for granted.

After this situation, I don’t take anything for granted anymore. And isn’t it ironic?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Seeking Rest, Finding None

I’m unraveling. As I sit here at my desk trying desperately to think of anything else, all I can do is hear his words repeating in my head. He sounded so tired, so sad. I asked if he’d been sleeping, as I’d been up till 5AM last night with a sick feeling that he was awake, he told me that they’d not given him a bed yet. He’s been sleeping on the concrete floor of a 20-foot holding cell for two nights now without a blanket, a small improvement from his first night of sleeping upright on a concrete bench. More than tired, he’s thirsty. At 4:30AM he’s given a pint of milk and nothing else to drink for the rest of the day, not even with the meals that he’s refusing to eat. Knowing how picky he is about food, I’m not altogether shocked. There is a sink above the toilet, he said, but unsurprisingly he finds that to be as appealing as the thin bologna sandwiches he won’t eat. He asked if I’d make raviolis for him when he gets home.

Yesterday was his ex-wife’s birthday. I wonder if she was happy knowing that the father of her child was spending his day dehydrating in a filthy jail thanks to her. How do you go from being married to someone to caring not at all for them? How do people just change like that? I’ll never understand.

I went to church last night and felt surprisingly joyful - joyful because I believe with all my heart that God will somehow use this for good. As I sang the words to the song, “and right now in the good times and bad, you are on your throne, you are God alone,” I reminded myself that God is still in control and I prayed that he would give M some comfort through this difficult time, when it’s difficult to find any at all.

When it’s obvious that M and I lack the power to change this situation in any way, shape, or form, it helps to know that ultimately, this is in God’s hands. I just pray these next few days will pass quickly. I just pray they’ll be some rest for M tonight.

Friday, October 21, 2005

When the Past Catches Up

What happens when the present proves that the PAST really hasn't? When the skeletons in the closet not only fall out, but the ghosts come back to haunt? I suppose one finds themself in the quiet of their own mind, where I am now, wondering if any effort to make sense of it all will ever be worthwhile.

A few hours ago, I got a call letting me know that M is in jail. He won't be coming home for 15 days. I picture him sitting there in the quiet of his cell. I wonder if he's cold or hungry, what he's thinking, and if he's missing me. And I sit here, confined to my own prison, in this apartment without him, knowing he won't be coming home tonight, knowing that I won't hear from him again until next week, wishing his past wasn't catching up with him so quickly and so seemingly out of nowhere. Didn't we just agree to leave the past behind us? Maybe I was naive to think the past could ever cease to matter. Even if it's behind us, it still follows close behind. When will it cease biting at our heels?

M has a child and an ex-wife, and while he did everything he could to make his marriage work, and while he's done everything he can to move on with his life, the both of them will always be a part of it. No matter how much time has past, this is his present and it will also be his future. I've accepted that. But at times like this, when the past comes back to bite him and his ex-wife has done everything in her power to disrupt his peace of mind, it's hard to keep my own.

M's past is catching up with him. He's made some sore mistakes. He's suffered plenty. And now his suffering seems so pointless. All because he called his ex-wife's phone. All because he wanted to see his only child. She's kept them apart now for 2 months. We've prayed every night that God would change her heart. And yet, she showed up today in court and told lies to have him locked up. And who does she spite? She spites M, but in the end, she hurts their daughter more. How does a 5 year old put this all in perspective when I, a 23 year old cannot?

I try now to keep focused on the future. I try to look forward to the day when M will come back home, when he will be reunited with his daughter, when we will be beyond these problems from his past life. For now, all I can do is wait, and try to be strong for him. All I can do is pray and remember that tomorrow brings me one day closer, though the morning right now seems so very far away.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Letting the Past Pass

If you go digging in a graveyard, you’re bound to unearth a skeleton or two. That was what came to mind last night as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling trying to turn off the images in my mind that have gnawed away at me ever since I insisted on hearing the details of M’s past relationships.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked me. “I need to know,” I insisted. But did I?

Regardless of whether or not I did, much to my eventual dismay, he willingly complied, and much to his, in true girl fashion, I proceeded to get teary-eyed and poorly feign indifference.

“Nan, what’s wrong?” he asked, as though he didn’t already have an idea as to why I’d become so quiet. “Nothing,” I lied in a tone barely louder than a whisper, “I’m fine.” That was it. The charade was over. And I wondered how many arguments have begun with those same seemingly affirmative words.

It was the beginning of a long night and three long days after in which I tried everything imaginable to avoid picturing my boyfriend gallivanting about with the women of his past. Like an insufferable and unending melodramatic soap opera which I could not turn off in my mind, I witnessed again and again far too many compromising situations -- and in the end all that was compromised was my newfound happiness. Sadly, I had brought it upon myself. M had given me what I wanted against his better judgment and I had successfully turned it around on him, and for three days all we did was tear up one another’s pasts until we were both so weary of it that it seemed like there was nothing left to say.

And it got me thinking… Why do we feel the need to dig around in the pasts of those we love when we know that in the end, all we’ll get is dirty? Why do we find it so difficult to allow ourselves to be happy in the moment or feel the need to cultivate evidence to justify our deepest fears? (We only end up blaming ourselves for overlooking them down the line should they come to pass.) We insist on playing Russian Roulette with our hearts and ultimately kill our joy. Why can't we get past our own childish curiosity when we know the details will only drag us down? In essence, why are we so often unable to let the past be past us?

Fortunately, M and I soon tired from our inquisitions and agreed to put this all behind us – where it rightfully belonged. As I lay in his arms and listened to him breathe, I realized that it did not matter who he’d held before. All that mattered was here and now. The rest was history. It always had been. The only way it would affect the present or the future would be if we let it. Now I acknowledged that and decided against it. And my joy returned.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Elizabethtown, Worth a trip?

So I had this wonderful idea on Friday. Rather than attending a good friend's party, I decided to persuade my boyfriend to take me to see Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" on it's opening night. What a sad sad mistake I made. Had I told him to take 20 dollars, crumble it up, and throw it in the street, he would have been more pleased with the night's outcome. It definitely would have been more entertaining for us both. But this is still a gross understatement.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Elizabethtown is by far the worst, most poorly made, ill-conceived, and badly written film I have ever seen in my entire life... possibly the worst film in the entire history of cinema. I never write about movies in my blog, but if I can prevent one poor soul from the two unbearable hours of misery I endured, I will be content with this post.

Never in all my years have I seen an audience so disgruntled by any film. Even the insanely drunk crowd behind us, who spent the better part of the night laughing inappropriately at how unfunny the film was eventually became angered as the film dragged on. The couple sitting next to us eventually ended up 5 feet further away from one another with their arms folded defensively across their chests. Whether it was a first date or not, it was clear that it would be their last. Yes, this film will definitely be the downfall of many would-be relationships. Of all the assesments of this film that I've heard, I have to say, my little sister summed it up best when I called her the next day, only to find out that I was too late and that she had already wasted her time and money seeing it, when she said, "For two hours, I wanted to kill myself. The ticket lady should have given us razor blades instead of tickets." Once again, a gross understatement.

Having made films like Jerry McGuire and Vanilla Sky, I had come to expect more from Cameron Crowe. But this was beyond ameteurish. It was plain torture. It called to mind the infinitely long Andy Warhol film of a fly sitting on a man's arm. I wondered if Crowe got some similar sick pleasure out of forcing us to sit there for 2 hours vainly hoping there would be a point to what we'd been watching. Sadly, the joke was on us. And there was really nothing funny about it.

I probably should not have admitt to my boyfriend afterwards that I had already read the bad reviews the film had gotten before we went to see it. "It was galling," "It was a spectacular disappointment," "It was a disaster of mythic proportions." Maybe that should have given it away? Nevertheless, I'd been convinced that the film was worth seeing if only to see my favorite elf, Orlando Bloom. Much to my dismay, by the end of the film, I, myself, was inclined to hop on an excercise-bike-turned-instrument-of-death in the way he did in the film. That would have been far less painful!

My prediction? By next weekend, this film will crash and burn much in the way the ridiculous giant bird in the memorial service scene did. Now THAT will be entertaining.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Little Perspective Goes a Long Way

We all struggle in our lives. Some of the daily battles we wage are harder to bear than others. Nevertheless, it is rarely comforting to acknowledge that there are others worse off out there. If anything, it makes us feel guilty for not having a better attitude about our own situations. “Not only do I feel bad that I’m upset about A, B, and C, but now I feel guilty that I’m feeling so down when there are people in the world who are going through X, Y, and Z.” For anyone who followed the coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you know what I mean here. The suffering of others all too often gives us perspective. Whether we benefit from it or not depends on how we approach our own situations.

I can still recall being a scrawny kid (ah, the good old days), sitting slouched down at the dinner table in front of a heaping plate of pasta and meatballs that was twice my size, hearing my grandmother tell me in a high pitched nasal voice how there were children “starving in the world” who would “die” for the food I was wasting. (I usually preferred this tactic to get me to eat my dinner above being told that my macaroni was growing hair – something that to this day still rings in my ears when I’m not feeling particularly hungry!) I usually gave in, begrudgingly shoveling forkfuls of pasta into my mouth, wondering how exactly the starving children of the world would benefit by my having eaten the food they would have “died for.”

I felt even guiltier! Not only was I a wasteful child, ungrateful for the wonderful bounty of food set before me, but now I was consuming food that could have benefited those starving children in such an unappreciative manner. And even though it was not my fault that these children went hungry, and even though there would have been – at that time – no feasible way for me to remedy their situation, I felt badly. I almost felt responsible. In her effort to get me to appreciate my situation more, my grandmother had succeeded only in reinforcing my Catholic guilt, as well as getting me beyond my “scrawny” phase, neither of which I am altogether thrilled with as I sit here typing!

And it got me thinking… Why do we constantly feel the need to compare our situations to those of others? Does it make us feel better to know that we are unable to properly deal with our mundane problems when there are others out there with “real” issues struggling to survive? Perhaps it would if we realized that we are not ultimately in control of - though we are surely responsible for - our own lives. All too often, we are so busy worrying that things could not possibly get worse (as I did for far too many months before things turned around) that we forget that with God, all things are possible. We let our own doubts put limits on our God whose powers are limitless, and in the end we only limit ourselves, eventually trapping ourselves in self-defeating circular logic that ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rather than looking at the devastation and destruction in other people’s lives and feeling more helpless and hopeless, perhaps we should look at our own lives. What terrible times have you gotten through that you thought would surely be the end of you? Instead of comparing your life to the lives of others (lives that will surely range from far better or worse, depending on perspective), reflect on where you were then and where you are now. In this, God’s faithfulness is truly demonstrated. And if God can get us through the “unsolvable” problems – self-imposed or not – that become such heavy burdens for us to bear, then how much more will He move to help those who seem beyond help, all the starving children of the world that don’t ever benefit from our cleaning our plates for grandma?

A little perspective goes a long way.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

To My Friends...

“I’ve been feeling very alone in the world,” I typed into the body of the email form before clicking send. It’s been over a month since I’ve seen any of my friends from back home in Brooklyn and in NOVA. Surely, we’ve all been very busy and I’ve allowed myself to become overly pre-occupied with work. I’m sure they have as well. But every now and then, I try to take the time to remind those people in my life how grateful I am for them. I fear that I haven’t done a very good job as of late…

As I scanned over the 700+ emails that filled my inbox – emails that I still haven’t gotten around to checking since I’ve gotten out of the hospital – I realized just how many people I’ve been fortunate enough to call friends over the years. Some, I haven’t seen in months. Others, I haven’t seen in years. Nevertheless, in spite of how many days stretch between us, I’ve continued to hold them in high esteem. I’ve never stopped to consider whether or not the friendship remains in the long silences between our communications. For me, it always has.

And it got me thinking. What is a friend? By definition, it’s someone you can turn to, who can shed light on dark areas in your life, who is there for you in your time of need, and who knows your heart. But I also think it’s someone you can go weeks or months or even years without speaking to and still retain a deep enough level of friendship that you can just pick up again at a moment’s notice. I hope I’m not mistaken. I probably haven’t been the best friend these days… but I haven’t given up.

Today I thanked God for you. I thought I’d tell you that. I hope this hasn’t come too late...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Life and Liberty are not enough!

This is far from my usual post... but I've been working on this so much today, I feel compelled to put this out there... Please humor me!

As any basic history course teaches, our Founding Fathers identified three things to be the most intrinsic human rights: Life, Liberty, and Property. Yet, the US government has continuously undermined property rights under the guise of necesassary "takings." This is especially true with regards to the Endangered Species Act. If I asked you, on the face, whether or not you supported the ESA, you would undoubtedly say yes. Who wouldn't? Endangered species need protection, right? Being the lover of all things furry (or on all fours), I would have been inclined to give the same answer a few days ago. This is because few people know just how unsuccessful the Act actually is, (it has a 1% success rate!) and the high economic costs that are associated with it - particularly the punishment of private property owners.

Because ESA punishes landowners who are found to have rare or endangered wildlife on their property, it creates a perverse incentive for them to harm the very species ESA is designed to protect. Under ESA, landowners have lost millions of dollars worth of property because of the discovery of a single sand fly or rare snail! If you owned millions of dollars of property and knew that such a creature had set up a "habitat" on it, would you run and tell the government -- or would you squash it and hope you never get caught? What if the government were to compensate you for the lost use of your property? Or if you would be given funding from the government for protecting the species on your land and allowing it to remain? Would you at least be a LITTLE more inclined to let the creature live? This would surely be an incentive to landowners that would benefit species.

Sadly, ESA has made landowners the enemy of endangered wildlife and failed to provide incentives for their participation in conservation efforts. The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act, which was recently passed by the US House is a step in the right direction -- but it doesn't do enough to protect property owners.

While I am far from a tree-hugging liberal, I am as concerned about the extinction of species as the next person. Rather than encouraging destruction through regulatory efforts and increased beaurocratic hurdles, the government should concentrate on creating better incentives... then it will reach its goal of protecting endangered species.

For further reading, see the 5th Amendment!