Dreams & Nightmares

I’ve been waking up a lot lately.  Actually, thanks to the sleep study I had recently, apparently I’ve always woken up during the night, just enough to disturb my sleep, but not enough for me to be aware of it.  Now I’m aware of it.

For the last several nights, maybe even a week now, I’ve fully woken up about three or four times a night.  I wake up, then look at the clock to see how much longer I have to sleep.  It kinda sucks.  Maybe my sleep apnea is getting worse?  By the time my doctor got around to prescribing a CPAP machine for me, my insurance had changed from an HMO and it’s no copay durable equipment provision to the cheap ass HSA my employer forced everyone onto (after announcing record profits).  Now that machine would cost me over $600.

So I’m hoping Breathe Right strips for $3.99 will help. Insurance fail.

I’ve been having weird dreams, too.  I don’t remember all of them, but I’m having the drinking dreams again.

I’m just so damned bored.  Nothing excites me.  Well, actually, the season finale of Leverage excited me, but it’s on hiatus now.  Besides, I shouldn’t have to count on a weekly television series to excite me, no matter how hot Christian Kane is (or Tim Hutton, or Aldis Hodge…that show has some FINE men).  I don’t know if this is lingering depression, and that the second med my doctor put me on isn’t doing the trick, or if it’s just general satisfaction.

There just seems so little for me to get excited about, and I feel bad for not getting more satisfaction out of my family.  My daughter makes me laugh, and I look forward to seeing her, but that’s not really enough.  Truth be told, I think I’m looking to get high.  I wonder if my Jim Beam-soaked brain just can’t get the synapses poppin’ anymore without chemical assistance.  I can’t tell you how much that sucks. because I know the path drinking will take me on.  And I shouldn’t miss my gallbladder attacks or my fractured disk because those problems afforded me Hydrocodone.

So that leaves food as the only substance left for me to “get high” on, but I’m desperately trying to change that, too.  But that’s a whole other post.

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Corruption everywhere

My favorite TV show is Leverage on TNT.  Just so good.

There’s a scene in the second episode of season one (The Homecoming Job) that includes this exchange:

Sophie Devereaux: [pretending to be a defense contractor] My company’s focused on meeting Senators, but, um, I’m thinking Congressmen.
Charles Dufort: You know the great thing about Congressmen? 50, 100 grand well spent will get one elected. But then, once they’re in, the incumbency rate is over 95%! So you can get on an average 18, 20 years use out of one of them. In these uncertain times, buying a United States Congressman is one of the best investments a corporation can make!
Alec Hardison: [listening in on surveillance] Oh, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. I’m a professional criminal and I find that disturbing.

With all that’s going on in politics these days, it’s hard not to think those words are true.  In California, there are people railing on and on about how Democrats are beholden to the unions that put them in office.  On the other side of the aisle are complaints that Republicans are in the back pocket of Big Business.  We’ve got a city, the City of Bell, that’s going through a major upheaval due to the corruption of its’ city council members.  For those that don’t know, the city administrator paid himself around $442,000, more than the president of the united states, to administer a town with less than 37,000 people in it.  And we’re not talking about Beverly Hills (34,000), we’re talking blue collar to the core.   It’s so disgusting.

I’ve read of outrage that President Obama puts his feet up on the resolute desk.  “How could he!  So disrespectful!”  These are people who seethe at the thought of liberals.  Those same people have nothing to say when shown photographs of George W. Bush doing the same.  I see it all the time….democratic voters complaining about a republican politician engaging in the EXACT SAME BEHAVIOR as the democrats, and vice versa.  People only define certain behavior as “bad” when the person they DON’T support politically engages in them.  How many republicans seethed over Clinton?  What did they have to say about Newt?

People are corrupt.  Wait, I’ll quote another movie…that Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith classic, Men In Black.

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it

A person, maybe you, may not be corrupt, but people are.  Think about how much money our politicians make?  There’s been a big story lately about politicians on both side of the aisle engaging in what is essentially insider trading, stuff that will get you and I arrested, but they are allowed to profit off the information they receive as leaders of our government.  They are supposed to service us.

I see it in my job. Clients and prospects sometimes ask us to break the rules, sometimes the law, to help them.  We tell them “no”, and have even “fired” clients who persist, but what always gets me is the fact that these same people would PITCH A FIT if a carrier tried to break the rules/the law and it hurt our client.  I’ve seen carriers behave in obviously greedy ways, demanding a larger increase in rates than is warranted, but I’ve also seen prospects expect to get insurance that they previously hadn’t wanted to pay for but now insist they should be allowed to buy because suddenly they’ve broken their leg and need rehab.

Think of insurance as a pool of water.  The people in the village (those insured by carrier A) all put a little bit of their water in the pool, and it’s there for them should they ever experience a drought.  But there’s a handful of people who don’t want to contribute.  They want to keep their water to themselves.  Then suddenly their pipes burst.  Now they think they’re entitled to drain the pool even though they’ve put nothing into it, leaving everyone else who sacrificed their water to stare at an empty pool.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think your health should be determined by the amount of money in your bank account, but with the system we live in, that’s how it works.  We’re in love with capitalism and it invites corruption.  On every level.

The reason I bring all this up isn’t to engage in a political discourse….it’s to comment on a)why I don’t get involved in politics and b)that this is just how people are, and it makes it that much tougher to trust ANYONE.   I believe this world will never change due to politicians.  We have to be the change we want to see in the world. It’s heartbreaking to shed that idealistic view that I think most people carry with them, maybe through their 20’s.  I kinda wish I could still see the world as full of people who are basically good.  Or at the very least, be able to keep my heart just open enough to let a few good people in.

These days, when someone is really nice to me, I feel downright uncomfortable.  I really need to work on that.  Ohhhh, I’m like Parker, on Leverage!  Yeah.  She calls ’em like she sees them.

Parker[as a flight attendant, speaking before takeoff] In the event of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. But let’s face it, if this thing goes down in the water, more than likely, the impact will kill you. Please take a moment to locate the nearest emergency exit. Because if this plane’s on fire, you’re gonna wanna get out quick. Jet fuel burns at over a thousand degrees! That’s hot, folks.

Okay, I’m done rambling.  Wait, one more thing.  Tommy Lee Jones is a distant cousin of mine.  Really, really distant.  Like, 150 years ago our kin was kin.  And he lives outside San Antonio.  And he’s a Spurs fan.  It’s kismet.

I dreamt I was in front of the school, naked

I’ve been a bit uneasy lately about this blog.  I started it when in the deepest throes of depression I’d ever seen, and specifically shared it with my brother and my husband, because they’ve been my biggest supporters.  But I’ve become aware that other people I know have been reading it, too, and have commented to me about it. 

So my anxiety has become two-fold…I’m exposing myself to people I wouldn’t necessarily expose myself to and some of these people know some of the people I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  Though I’ve changed or omitted names when I felt it necessary, some will be easily identifiable.

I really want to continue this blog.  I’ve found it helpful in many ways.  When I recently entertained the idea of drinking again, writing about some of the things I did while drunk proved sobering, pardon the pun.  I drove drunk, wrecked my car, and attempted to have sex with a stranger. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, people?!

It’s taken me weeks to get here, but I’m suddenly feeling far more exposed than I had when I started.  And I haven’t even talked about the abuse I experienced as a child.  I want to talk about it, too.  There’s a huge gap in my memory from that time.  I remember bits and pieces, but have blocked the rest.  I consider the events of that time period to be the key to why I am the way I am, so I feel there’s value in exploring it.  I know that, sadly, there are many others who have been abused, too, so maybe my story will resonate with someone who went through the same thing.   Yes, I’m seeing a therapist, and we’ve talked a bit about these issues.  Maybe it’s time for me to go deeper with her.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just write about my ex-boyfriends.  I’m sure when I look at my history with men….my sad, comical history…I can squeak out more than one paragraph.  Maybe even two.

And I’ll give every one of their full names, date of birth, email address, and secret hidden fears with which to torture them.  Muwah-ha-ha.

Birth of a cynic – Part 3

After the tv station debacle, I moved back to Texas. I worked as an admin, saved up my money, and moved to California. Too timid to try to work in Hollywood, I took a job as a temp which led me to my current job working in employee benefits (aka, an insurance broker). My first eight years, I was an admin, and had told myself I never wanted more because I didn’t want insurance to become my life. But when I had my fill of being the low man on the totem pole, the under-appreciated, lowest paid, most abused person on the team (not even considered a member of the team by the big bank that bought us), I sought a promotion. I’ve been working with my co-workers for 12 1/2 years now, and my position with them is fairly secure. That wasn’t always the case, thanks in large part to Almond Joy.

I started my job in August of 2000. In July of 2001, my boss hired a new account manager, and she would change my life profoundly. By then, I had learned the hard way that people will lie like they breathe if it suits them, but was still willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, as I gave Almond Joy when she first joined my team. But the lessons Lee and Chuck had taught me had heightened my bullshit detector, and it went off after a month or so with Joy. We bonded at first, because we shared the same history of sexual abuse and sense of humor. We were two peas in a pod. At the time, I was very close friends with my co-worker, Mary, a woman old enough to be my mother, but a dear friend who lived just on the other side of LAX from me. We’d leave work every Friday and go to a local hangout near her condo for dinner and drinks and to listen to the live band that I would one day hire to play at my wedding.

Occasionally, we’d invite our co-worker, Jen, to tag along. The three of us would laugh and talk and drink all night. It was great. Then Almond Joy asked to join us. That night, I became invisible. I had never seen someone so confident, so outgoing. She flirted with every guy, and they flirted back, to the chagrin of their dates, if they had them. After she and Jen left, I cried to Mary. Joy had dominated the night, and I had barely had a chance to speak. It was the Almond Joy show, and I did not enjoy it. Mary figuratively patted me on the head. “Oh, little one, don’t you be fooled. That’s not confidence at work, that’s extremely low self-esteem at play. Someone who is truly confident doesn’t need to be the center of attention at all times”. Mary had her number, but it was too late for me.

I started to notice the same patterns I had seen in Lee. Joy would tell a story to a co-worker about something that had happened when we were together, but she’d spin it to make herself the heroine or the victim, whichever one worked best. By the time 9/11 came around, I knew the drill. I heard about the attack in my car on the way to work. When I got to the office, everyone was mulling around the tv in a state of shock. I sat at my desk crying when Joy walked in. I remember thinking, “how long will it take her to make this about her?” She asked what was happening, and we told her. Sure enough, within five minutes, she caused a scene. Her father was on one of the planes, she cried. Our co-worker, Martha, stood on one side of her and I on another, rubbing her back and comforting her. Martha bought it full bore, but I knew better. I calmly told her to call him on his cell phone. Sure enough, he picked up. He was fine, and nowhere near New York.

I came to feel trapped. We had gotten so close, so quickly, and she sat five feet from my desk. If I had had my choice, I would have run from her, but that couldn’t happen. I slowly started to withdraw from her outside of work, and made sure we saw each other as little as possible after 5pm. What was the worst, however, was her interactions with our co-workers. By then I had learned, if someone is willing to speak poorly behind someone else’s back to you, then more than likely, that person is speaking ill of you behind your back, too. She tried to talk smack about me to Mary once, but Mary shut her down and told me about it. Joy then tried to convince me Mary was unhappy with me about something. The truth came out, and Joy didn’t try to use Mary against me again. Once she realized Mary had her number, she backed off, though others in the office bought into her stories, about me and her past (she slept with Wesley Snipes, Chris Noth and Chris Tucker hit on her!) She painted a picture of me to others that left me uneasy. I became more defensive.

I tried to take the high road. I didn’t think it was my place to try to warn anyone about Joy’s lies. I figured they’d figure it out for themselves. So I kept my mouth shut. Because Joy admired one of our supervisors, a woman who had worked her way up to the executive level from the receptionist’s desk, Joy’s behavior with her was different. Joy sat at this woman’s feet, wanting to become more like her. With our supervisor, she was a protege, with me, she was competition. I had never been a competitive person, and certainly didn’t think you competed with friends. But that’s not how Joy saw it.

If we went to a team lunch for admin day, she’d end it by stating she was very ill and had to go to the emergency room. She didn’t, of course, but her hysterics were enough to pull the focus off me. That was the first admin day I spent with her. The next year, my team didn’t take me out or acknowledge it because she had told them I didn’t celebrate admin day. After this deception came to light, my boss apologized profusely. Joy claimed it was an honest mistake.

When I hurt my back and was told I had a ruptured disk, she proclaimed that she had had that, too, and that she, in fact, had a disk removed. Apparently, this procedure left her with absolutely no physical impairment…not even a scar. When I was told I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), she declared she had it too, and told me not to worry about my impending surgery to remove some cysts, as she’d undergone the surgery herself. I should have asked her for her surgeon’s name since, again, there were no scars. And, yes, I would see them. More on that later. If I had a headache, she had a brain tumor. I think at last count, she had had four “cancer scares”. At the same time she was actively competing with me, subverting my relationships with other people, she’d also become jealous if I showed a preference for the company of someone else. On the day an ambulance had to come to take me to the hospital, I was on the floor, unable to stand or walk due to my back injury. I reached for my cell phone and called our co-worker, Cat, for help. When Joy found out I had called Cat and not her, she was visibly upset and made a scene, even as I was being carted off on a stretcher to enjoy a morphine drip.

Still, I said nothing. Then, something happened that made me realize…I was in Fight Club.

My office had hired an independent contractor to work on a special project. Her name was Marcie. Marcie was fun and hit it off with everyone. I don’t remember how it came up, but Marcie, Joy and I agreed to go to Hollywood for drinks. We went to bar after bar, but after a while, Joy started to feel sick. She ended up insisting we take her to the ER. There, with me in the room at her insistence, she was stripped down to her waist and her heart monitored. She swore it was beating so hard, it would burst out of her chest at any minute. She told the disbelieving doctor she had been slipped a drug in one of her drinks, and just knew she was going to die. When she spoke of having a heart attack, the doctor looked up at the heart monitor, observed it’s perfectly normal pace, then looked back at me with a “you’ve got to be kidding me” expression. After she passed out, I stepped out of the room. The doctor assured me, she was just drunk, and that I could take her home when she woke up. I went out to the waiting room to talk to Marcie. She sat there, her face buried in her hand. The good time was definitely over.

After we drove Joy home, the silence was broken. Marcie had seen all the things I had seen about Joy, but she, too, didn’t think it was her place to warn anyone and didn’t want it to seem like she was trash-talking.

The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.

I wondered who else saw through the act. The following Monday I came into work and was astonished to witness Joy telling EVERYONE what had happened, even the head of our office. She insisted the doctor had found traces of the date rape drug in her stomach when she supposedly went into urgent care on Sunday. She stated a gay bartender had drugged her for fun. She told of her drunken, topless exploits with pride.

Eventually, I left that team. She professed undying love for some man she met on the internet and moved out of town. I chose to believe it was true love, because that meant she’d be gone. Others didn’t. They knew she fell “madly in love” at least three times a year, only to have that person turn out to be “a real jerk” (read: onto her crap). Sure enough, she moved back. Her job had been filled, but there was a position open on the team I was now on. I cringed. By then, however, most were on to her. The supervisor Joy had so admired spoke candidly with my boss. Joy was good with the clients, she said, but brought a lot of drama to the team. My boss had no patience for drama, but asked me my opinion. I, too, spoke candidly, and said I would not work on the same team with her again. The drama was too much for me, too. My boss declined to hire her. My former supervisor, now a team leader, was forced to hire her back for fear that she’d sign with another broker and poach our clients. As I was walking past my former supervisor’s office one day, she pulled me in. She told me she had been forced to take Joy back and wasn’t happy about it, and told me she didn’t want any drama when Joy came back. I told her not to worry about me, for I was never the source of the drama. I left her office with the sad understanding that Joy’s damage to my reputation was still in effect.

Joy came back and worked there for another couple of years. Eventually, the bloom was completely off the rose, and she left. No one in the office had any more delusions about who or what she was. It took about 9 years, but people finally figured out, while I am far from perfect, I am not and never was the person she made me out to be.

By that time, however, the damage was done. Since Joy, I no longer give people the benefit of the doubt. I tend to believe people are deceiving me or manipulating me right from the get-go. I’ve gotten better about it, but it still bothers me. I don’t want to be so distrustful.

I used to have a handful of friends, but over the years, they’ve all vanished.

My best friend in high school came to visit me when I was in college. Her two week visit became permanent when she got a job at the local pizza parlor. She fell in love with her boss, much to the chagrin of his wife, and moved in with him. The wife filed for divorce and moved their three children back to Minnesota. The husband couldn’t bear the thought of life without his kids, so he moved, too. While my friend waited for him to send for her, she slept on my couch. The day I took her to the airport to fly to her now-divorced lover’s arms was the last time I saw her. We spoke a few times after that, always at my initiation. I fussed at her once about her lack of communication. She chastised me in return for not being understanding about her lover’s brother’s suicide, for that was the reason she hadn’t called. Months went by. When Josh committed suicide, I called her. She didn’t have much to say. Months went by. Again, I called her. To my disbelief, she excitedly told me she wanted me to make plans to come to Minnesota…we had to go shopping for my maid of honor dress! I was stunned. She had virtually vanished from my life, never called me, and completely abandoned me during the worst time in my life, yet she still had the gall to expect me to stand up for her during the best time in hers? I told her to find someone else, and we haven’t spoken in 16 years.

Another good friend of mine is my adopted brother. His father died several months before I got married. He used that as his reason for not attending my wedding. The morning after my wedding, my mother announced that he had found buyers for his father’s house the day before. I realized he had chosen a real estate deal over my wedding. I was angry and hurt, especially when a month later he attended a mutual friend’s wedding and made it a point to tell my family not to tell me he had attended. He never sent me a card congratulating me, never made a phone call…nothing. While I could have forgiven him missing my wedding, the fact that he never reached out to me, he virtually hid from me for 5 years after, hurt far worse. It’s an MO he had perfected. If he thought someone was upset with him, he’d go to the ends of the earth to avoid them. When he did that with me, it killed our relationship. Finally, we talked. He admitted his mistake and apologized, but we’re not the same anymore.

I’m not friends with Mary anymore, either. We had no falling out or anything, we just grew apart. She quit her job, so we no longer work together. I moved away and got married, quit drinking, became a mother. Our lives are just so different now. I tried to keep things going for a while, but, finally gave up. I realized our relationship had become like my high school friend’s and my adoptive brother’s relationship…totally incumbent upon me to keep it going. *I* was the only one to call. *I* was the only one to make plans. Granted, when I did call or extend an invitation, they happily accepted and we had a great time, but, after a while, it just hurt too much to invest more effort in the relationship than the other person was willing to give. I decided not to expend my energy on relationships with people who didn’t feel I was worth the same effort.

So now my phone barely rings. And when it does, I usually avoid it. I have people in my life that are the kind of people I should have always aspired to be friends with, but now I’m so jaded, so wary of being hurt, I avoid them.

I’ve become my (former) friend, Cat. She would confide in me from time to time and call me one of her dearest friends, but whenever I’d want us to hang out, she’d pull back. When we had a disagreement about something, she avoided me at the office for a month to avoid “the icky stuff”, i.e., anything messy. She grew up with a bi-polar father, who manipulated in much the same way as Joy, so Cat was averse to anything even remotely messy. You had to keep it light with her. That was fine, I could work with that, only she’d pull me in every once in a while and make me think she wanted more, then push me away again when it suited her. She was the worst porcupine I’ve ever seen. And now I’ve become her.

I know that if I want to make changes in my life, I have to overcome this. I have to open myself to people again. I think this blog is an attempt at that, but I know I have to do more. I have to seek out people, and be the kind of friend I (used to) want to have. I have to stop staying in my safe cocoon, alone, where no one can hurt me, because no one can love me here, either.

I need to kill the cynic, and instead temper a more loving, open person with just the right balance of skepticism, so as not to get sucked in. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. Hope I’m up to it.

PS. I really hold no ill will towards any of these former friends, not even Almond Joy. Years after we worked together, we were able to meet once a month for lunch. She was able to acknowledge her harmful behavior, and we came to an understanding. Since she left the office, however, I hardly speak to her, which is fine, too. I recognize her destructive behavior was born of great personal pain, and I wish her peace and happiness.

Birth of a cynic – Part 2

Something I learned about narcissistic pathological liars….their schemes don’t ever last very long. Eventually, other people see through the lies and grandiose promises and walk away. Lee’s video business was one such venture. I remember how excited I was when she told me that the instructional video we had shot at a local horse ranch was going to be played on ABC…during the Superbowl, no less! I’m embarrassed remembering sitting in front of the tv during the game, anxiously awaiting my national debut. When it never came, Lee told me, “Oh, Judy (horse ranch owner) called and said ABC called her and said something was wrong with the tape, so they couldn’t use it. Now Judy won’t pay us! What a bitch!” Of course, I believed Lee. And I understood when she couldn’t pay me for the job because, after all, if she never got the money, how could she share it with me?

When the work dried up, I went looking for it elsewhere. There was a small tv station in town that played John Wayne movies in the middle of the night and ran a live tv auction during the evening. I went to work there as a camera-person, a video editor, a switchboard operator, and auction-bid taker. I worked with three other people at the auction. Chuck was my boss. I don’t recall how I met him. Maybe Lee introduced us, as she had dated him in high school. He was loud and outgoing, and we appreciated each other’s sense of humor. I think I worked there for a month before he had to lay me off. Two days later, I was attending a meeting at the cable access station, telling one of my friends about the layoff, and how I must have been “the bad-luck poster child”. It would be a few hours later I’d get the call from Josh’s sister-in-law that he had died.

When I moved back to Oklahoma after nine months recovering in Texas, Chuck rehired me at the tv station. I don’t recall how much time passed before he called me into his office on my day off. “Those sons of bitches stole from me, so I fired them all!” he declared, and suddenly, I was his only employee. I was stunned. How awful for him, I thought, to have three of his four employees stealing from him! He hired some new recruits, and the auction resumed, only now I was in charge of it. I ran the auction, and sometimes even hosted it.

But as time wore on, I became more and more disenchanted with my job. One day, while preparing for the show, I was chatting with the day manager, Steve. He ran the store during the day, when people would come in to pay for the items they’d purchased the night before. He made an off-hand comment about how much Chuck was paying him and I realized, it was far more than I was receiving, and I had worked there longer and had just as much, if not more, responsibility as Steve did. I waited a few days, then approached Chuck about a raise. I didn’t tell him I knew he was paying me less because I was a single woman (versus Steve, the married family man). He agreed that I deserved a raise. I was so proud of myself. I had handled the situation with maturity and professionalism. Only suddenly Chuck expected me to work even longer hours. At one point I did the math, and I was working for about $4 an hour. He gave no bonuses, no benefits….only shallow flattery. And when something went wrong, there was hell to pay, even if it had nothing to do with you.

After the auction had been running for a year, the summertime came, and viewership and sales plummeted. This was, of course, all my fault. It had nothing to do with the fact that all those families that had stayed home to see what torn comforter or broken lamp was going to be sold on the auction for the 30th time were busy attending their children’s little league games, and other fun summer events. He’d call me in the middle of the auction, screaming profanities at me, or, worse, show up at the tv station and humiliate me in front of my crew.

I started looking for another job. In the meantime, I had to bide my time at the auction. My crew was sympathetic, but they were trapped in the job, too. I started to notice that Chuck was having another employee lock up the money from the cash register at night. I thought it odd, up until the day Chuck called me into the office on my day off. He had another employee sit in as a witness. At that time, he accused me of stealing from him, and fired me.

When I went to the unemployment office to file a claim, I sat down to interview about my last job, to see if I qualified for benefits. Chuck didn’t think I did, and said so in a letter to the state. The person conducting the interview read the accusations to me. He had included dates he professed that money went missing from the till. I had been advised to take everything related to my job with me to the interview, and was able to present proof that I was not even at work on some of the days Chuck claimed I had stolen from him. On some of those dates, I was in Texas, visiting with my family, and had proof of it. The interviewer was not impressed. Not by my proof, but by Chuck. In this small town, there was only one person to conduct the interviews at the state unemployment office, and this same person had seen at least three of Chuck’s former employees come through her office, they too having been accused of theft. A pattern had emerged.

I was denied unemployment. Not because the state believed Chuck’s lies of gross misconduct. I simply had not made enough money while working for him to qualify for benefits. My friend, Stacy, introduced me to her father. The former mayor of Enid, he was also an attorney. Free of charge he contacted Chuck and his attorney, threatening him with legal action if he told anyone I had stolen from him, for we had proof it was an intentional lie. Chuck didn’t speak of me again, but by then, I was experiencing panic attacks and major depression.

A month later, Steve was fired for stealing from Chuck. My mother hired Steve to do some work on the house I was living in, and we shared stories of Chuck’s outrageous behavior. A few weeks later, Steve went back to work for Chuck. I warned him not to trust him, but he had a family to support, so he went back. Another month later, he was back on my doorstep, asking me if I’d testify in the civil suit he was going to bring against Chuck who had, again, fired him for stealing.

After I moved away, my family still in Enid informed me that Chuck had been hurt in a serious accident. His leg was badly mangled. By that time, Chuck’s reputation had gotten around town, and it was difficult for him to find people willing to work for him. Though I had not wished him well, I never wanted him physically harmed, nor his children to be without support. Others in the town apparently felt the same way, and some of his former employees returned to work for the tv station, free of charge. Amazingly, he still treated them badly, volunteers who had come together so he could still put food on the table for his six children. The volunteers abandoned him, and he had to sell the tv station.

Oddly enough, when I first went to work for him, it was prior to my realizing the full extent of Lee’s disturbed psyche. After Josh died and I went back to work for Chuck, she and I were no longer friends, so he felt free to tell me how he had really felt about her. She was a liar, and had had a reputation in high school for being easier to ride than a bike with training wheels. After my encounter with Chuck, I realized in retrospect that they had been perfect for each other.

But I still had one more lesson in store for me about people, and whom to trust.

The birth of a cynic

One of the things I aspire to is to peel away the hard shell I’ve formed. This is the first part in the story of how that shell was formed.

I can vaguely recall a time when I honestly believed people were basically good. That time has long since passed. I also very clearly remember truly believing 99% of what people told me because, after all, I wouldn’t lie to people, so why would they lie to me?

There are three people who changed my view and turned me into the distrustful cynic I am now. Josh’s mother, Lee, my boss at the TV station in Oklahoma, Chuck, and a former co-worker of mine, whom I’ll call Almond Joy…flaky and nuts. I met them in that order.

In 1994 I was 24 years-old and living in that mecca of entertainment, Enid, Oklahoma. I answered an ad for a video camera operator and editor, and went to work for Lee. We shot commercials for local businesses and created video yearbooks for some of the local schools. She got me involved with the local cable access station. We produced lots of programming for them and spent a great deal of time in their studios. Lee and I hit it off immediately, and I was sympathetic to her story. She spoke of her now-deceased ex-husband, and how he had stolen her three children from her when they were babies, whisked away in the middle of the night. They were raised to hate her, she said, and had been told she was dead. It was only her determination and love as a mother that reunited them upon her ex-husband’s death, but her children were ungrateful and hateful to her now. At least, that’s the story she told.

I can’t remember how long I bought into it, but I do remember when it started to fall apart. I met her kids. They were 20, 19, and 17. I was taken aback at first, for they were nothing like she had described. I thought nothing of it at first. But as I got to know them, I heard their life story from their point of view, and it was different than the yarn spun by Lee. It’s not unusual for people to remember the same events differently, so I started paying closer attention.

I started to notice a pattern. Lee and I would be out somewhere and something of note would happen, then we’d return to the studio to edit, and I’d listen to her retell the story to one of our friends. Only she’d “embellish”. She’d revise the story with facts that didn’t happen, or make herself the center of the story when she had not been, either by making herself more heroic or more sympathetic, depending on the audience. She would relate these fabrications right in front of me, even though I had been a witness to the event, without the slightest bit of shame, or even acknowledgement that she was lying through her teeth. I came to realize, she did that a lot. She was my first pathological liar. He ex-husband had not stolen her kids from her, she had abandoned them when they were in diapers. They had not been told she was dead, she was living in Florida, having gone there after having convinced a small health clinic that she was a doctor. The kids still had the name badges she had made for herself that had her name with “MD” behind them. They still had a copy of the letter she had sent the clinic. She was living her carefree life, sailing off the waters of Florida, when her ex-husband died in a construction accident on the job. Suddenly, the kids needed her. And she needed to be their guardian in order to spend the insurance benefits they received. She took their money and bought a 27 foot sloop, a sailboat she docked in Kaw lake, outside Ponca City, Oklahoma. She moved those three kids and herself onto that boat, and that’s where they lived, I don’t recall for how long. She worked the odd job now and then, but largely the family lived off the insurance.

Years later, part of Josh’s treatment involved drawing pictures of the events in his life that led him down the path he was on. He was to draw his life as it was, and his life as it should have been. He drew a picture of his father’s funeral, and of he and his siblings riding along in his mother’s SUV, the windows rolled up and the car filled with her pot smoke. His drawings of what his life should have been was dramatically different. As I got to know the kids, Josh and I started to fall for each other. By that time, I had realized I needed to withdraw from Lee’s life as much as possible. Nothing she said could be trusted. Even decades later, I’m still discovering her lies. By the time Josh committed suicide, she and I hardly saw each other. She only saw Josh every month or so. That day, we all gathered at her house. She was sitting in the center of the room, crying without tears. She lamented on and on about losing her baby boy, and turned to her daughter, her youngest, and proclaimed, “you will have to take his place in my life”. The more she went on and on, as though she were June Cleaver who now had to bury the Beaver, I lost it. I lunged at her, shouting, “You only saw him once a month!” My mother, who had been visiting that weekend and was there when I got the call, had to hold me back from hitting her. She and Lee’s husband, Ronnie, escorted me to another room to calm down. Ronnie was very sweet and did his best to comfort me, a fact which infuriated Lee all the more. This was her moment to shine, and he and everyone else better damn well pay attention to her. I left her house that day, not to see her again for a year.

I couldn’t bring myself to go to Josh’s funeral, especially after learning that she’d ask the family drug dealer to be a pallbearer. Whether you believe in god or karma, he/it was at work that day, for the drug dealer’s car broke down, and he was unable to carry Josh’s casket. My good friend Christine went in my place, a sweet, thoughtful Jehovah’s Witness I had come to know and love.

I had been laid off work two days before his death, so it was decided I’d go back to San Antonio to recover. When Lee found out, she left a note on my door, proclaiming me a traitor and that I was abandoning her. She referenced herself 16 times in that letter. She referenced Josh twice.

It was later I found out the events of Josh’s last night. He arrived with his mother at his brother’s house, wreaking of marijuana. Because, you know, pot is the best medicine for a teenage schizophrenic checking out of a mental health/substance abuse facility. Mother knows best. His mother proclaimed him a burden, and left him there. He left no note, so I can only assume he saw no hope. I realize now that he was doomed, no matter what. All he’d ever known in his life was loss, drugs, and dysfunction. Though he lived with his brother and paternal grandmother (the “normal” ones), the rest of his life was filled with alcoholics and drug addicts, and people that didn’t truly care for him. I, myself, was on the edge, exhausted and heartbroken from months of dealing with his addiction and mental health issues.

In Texas, I found some relief, up until the night I got drunk and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. Amazingly, I survived, though I was very sick all weekend. That Monday, the mailman brought with him a letter from Lee. My mother, who at that point thought I had simply gotten very, very drunk, had asked my brother to stay with me that day, to keep an eye on me. He was the one who opened the letter. He didn’t let me read it, though he did show me the bottom of the last page, where Lee and her family had signed the letter, their affirmation of their hatred for me. Note to narcissistic pathological liars: when forging your families’ names on a letter, be sure to spell their names correctly. Months later I read the letter myself, and it was full of the easily verifiable lies I had become accustomed to from her. Christine hated me. “Stacey” hated me. The most insulting one was that the sole reason Josh killed himself was because he wanted to break up with me and I wouldn’t let him. Far more insulting to Josh than to me.

When I moved back to Oklahoma, I worked with Josh’s brother to make a PSA about Josh and drugs. It ran on the tv station I worked for. Lee called me up at work to scream at me, again proclaiming that everyone in her family now hated me, and how dare I make that PSA. Her lies were deflated a bit when I explained that I had the full blessing of other members of her family, including the ones who had given me the pictures used in the PSA. She started driving past my house at all hours, as noted by the sheriff’s deputies I lived next door to. By that time, the curtain was in complete tatters. I no longer believed in the Wizard, and came to realize that Lee had a reputation in this town of 45,000. That she had aliases, and had been telling whoppers since childhood, even managing to fool a local reporter once into thinking she was training for the Olympics as a runner. Years later, when she heard from her daughter-in-law (my good friend, yet one of the people Lee tried to convince me hated me) that I was moving to California, she, quite shockingly, stated, “Good. She’ll be successful there, she deserves happiness”. Stacy and I both knew all Lee had done to me, and were blown away by this new standard of self-deception. Lee actually believed we were still friends.

I’m still friends with Josh’s brother. We chat on Facebook now and again. He’s tried calling me a few times. I love him and want nothing but the best for him, but I feel it necessary to keep him at arms length. I fear letting him too far into my life will invite the crazy back. I pray he’s got a healthy relationship with his mother now (read: a non-existent one).

Lee was my first lesson in betrayal. The first person to teach me the lesson that not all people are honest. Or even sane, for that matter. You would think that lesson would have been enough. It wasn’t.