Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Funeral for a Friend

When I was thirteen years old, I met this guy I couldn't put in a nice category. His first name was David but we called him by his last name, which I won't use here. At thirteen, I was fully hitting puberty, my level of deep thoughts was way beyond that of any peers my age and I was just beginning to fully rebel.
I had decided that my body was my own. I was feeling the full autonomy of myself. I was in full on hatred of my controlling paternal figure and much to my delight and chagrin, I was becoming attractive to males ready to exploit me.
David fit neatly into none of these categories. He was about five years older than me, at that age, kind of a big deal. And I didn't like him very much. He was always sarcastic and mean to pretty much everyone.
David held the spotlight at the Varsity during the Rocky Horror Picture Show.. He stood up on the armrests of the seats and held the spotlight on all of the performers so the audience could see us. I have no idea why he did this. It's a totally thankless thing to do. There's no glory in it, but he did it every single weekend pretty much without fail.
I was a pretty shy kid, so I did more listening than talking but hanging out with this crowd was making me more talkative and bringing me out of my shell. I can remember pretty clearly the distrust I had for David. I was wary of him and stayed out of his way and just regularly assumed he didn't like me.
At some point, I started getting to go to Denny's with the rest of the group if I could get a ride there and back home again. I was often pretty reckless and impulsive about getting a ride. I would pretty much take a ride from almost anyone. This caused trouble for me more than once. It was the reason why I accepted a ride from David the first time. I didn't necessarily trust him but I knew him. And he gave rides to lots of the young ones who went to Rocky.
I remember thinking, damn, that's nice of him, but also out of character for who I thought he was. He said such mean, sarcastic things. He made fun of me all the time. After a pretty awful experience one night when a guy who drove me home pretty much demanded sex from me, I started accepting rides from David most of the time.
He was not the least bit interested in me sexually and I wasn't in him either. Most of the boys I knew back then who weren't gay either wanted to control me or fuck me and David wanted neither one of these things. I was never sure if we were friends because he kept me at arms length, but as I look back on it now, he was very careful who he became close to. And he was fully capable of not keeping your secrets and stabbing you in the back at will. I didn't trust him. I watched him take information given to him in confidence and spread it around in the most unkind way.
So- what was it about him? I wish I knew. Somewhere along the way with all those rides home, often I was the last person dropped off and I did talk to him about my life. Granted, I told him those confidences that I did not care if they made the rounds of our tight knit little crowd of misfits. Sometimes, he would just ask me a lot of questions and I would candidly answer. I did not think he cared very much about me, it never seemed like it.
But he was always keeping me safe, even when I didn't know it.
As friendships do, ours grew. It was an odd, misfit sort of relationship but we were from an odd, misfit sort of community. I remember putting together odd clues that he did, in fact, like me as a person. I remember thinking it odd that he would give us kids a ride home when he practiced such disdain for humanity in general. David just seemed to hate everyone. I watched him closely because he was not an easy person to figure out and I loved a challenge. It's the writer in me, I guess, I know too well that what we are putting out there is not necessarily who we are. And duality was not some thing we made up.
I could feel myself as a different person when I was around my friends at Rocky-- different than who I was when I was at school and different than I was when I was at home with my family. In a way, I felt my most authentic self at Rocky but this was not true of everyone there.
It had not escaped my notice that lots of people were putting on a show while crying for acceptance.
David was definitely putting on a show and I am quite sure now, from this distance, that he was trying to figure out who he was but back then, he had me convinced he knew who he was and that he could see everyone else and you know, for the most part, I believe that was genuine. I know this guy, he was an old soul in many ways and he was carrying a wisdom lots of people his age had no idea about.
But back then, I remember getting a phone call from him one day.
"Did anyone invite you to see the Exorcist with us?" he said
"They must have forgot. I guess you'll need a ride, though."
"Yeah... I..."
"I'll pick you up at 7, be ready."
And that was how it went. He picked up four of us.
It has not escaped my attention that he was the unofficial leader of our little group, and you were in or out sometimes on his whim. Though no one was ever asked to leave Rocky, David could make your life miserable. David did not ask to lead us, but he commanded so much anyway.
I think he tried to discourage me from being there many times, but I was persistent enough to stick it out and I feel like it was this day when he made me part of things. It was after this day when I was invited to everything where before I was not always part of it. I think he admired that I didn't wait for permission. In a way, we appreciated each other's rebellions. He recognized a stubbornness in me and my ability to both avoid him and look him in the eye. In some way, the whole group was vying for his acceptance and I have no idea when he figured out I didn't care if I was accepted or not. I was asserting my right to be there and acceptance was merely secondary.
But it was this time that I began to notice David watching out for me. Quietly, behind the scenes, he was revealing he gave a damn. And when he realized I was about to start actually dating, it became the topic of our rides home. He wanted to know who I was interested in and why.
He would poke at me with intrusive questions making me look deeper into everyone I might like.
"Yeah, but do you really think that guy deserves your time? Isn't he just treating you like shit?"
And I would protest quietly about what I could put up with and he would say "That guy is a piece of shit."
And I would say "Isn't he your friend?"
And he would respond "Yeah, but he's a piece of shit, I hope you seriously don't date him."
David was not ever in love with me and had no attraction for me. He neither wanted to fuck me or control me. He wasn't gay. He was one of those rare males who was interested in who I was. For reasons that confused me. He didn't want to be some authoritarian person in my life. He didn't want to date me. I wondered what box to put him in. I couldn't wholly figure him out because he was determined I not know him, but what he didn't realize is his effort to know me was revealing it itself to me.
I'm finding it impossible to give a complete sense of him here, but I want to write down my best memories of him.
David was the worst person at crossing the street. In front of the Varsity, he would walk out in front of an oncoming car and hold up his hand for the car to stop. Inevitably, it would stop, but I used to caution him that he was going to get hit by a car someday and he laughed at me. "They'll stop." he said. "They always stop." He said this with a casual authority and an arrogance that always worried me. He was unconcerned with his mortality and that bothered me. Though as a side note, he was not a reckless or careless driver himself, I always felt safe with him. And I never felt he put anyone at risk but himself.
When I was sixteen, I ran away from home several times. My father was quite abusive and I wanted out. I didn't tell David about this but he found out one night when my mother came looking for me at the Varsity. My friends rallied and managed to sneak me out the back door and escape once again. This whole evening was regarded as a major crisis and a bunch of us ended up at David's house in Clayton, I don't even remember how. We had never been there before and this was not something we had done on any regular basis. His parents were not reported to be that supportive of what he was doing. There were rumors around him constantly. That he was some rich kid, that he was unhappy. I wish I had known more of him but he kept his life cloaked in secrecy and you were as likely to get the truth as you were to get a complete fabrication from him. It amused him to lie about stuff and see how far he could take it. It also amused him to toy with people like me.
I remember him recording private phone conversations and then playing them for the whole group as part of some elaborate joke. I hated that part. He could be such an asshole.
This particular night, he called me into a side room by myself and started lecturing me about how I was screwing up my future. He pressed me to open up to him and I wouldn't. I was scared and I didn't trust him. The whole time he kept telling me how much promise I had and how smart I was and how I could bear it for a couple more years. That I would be able to get out after that but if I screwed this up, it was going to mess up the rest of my life. I broke down a little and talked to him a little. He was so intense that night. I had never seen him like that. I had never seen him take care of anyone like that. Yet of course he did, I just didn't know about it. Underneath that sarcastic asshole was a real person who showed he cared. But in the back of my head, I was wondering if I was being tape recorded for my humiliation later. I wasn't, though.
Probably the most real he ever was with me was on that night. What was going on was genuine.
Sadly, I did not listen to him. His effort to save me from myself and my own worst impulses did not work. I wish I had listened to him, he was more right than I let him believe. It was the last time he intervened.
David hated my boyfriend at the time. For every good reason there was. Shortly after this, David had a private New Years eve party at the bar of the Quality Inn. Everyone was invited and everyone went, this was the night I discovered amaretto sours. I wasn't really drunk but I was kissing everyone at midnight and having a great time until suddenly and epically, everything went wrong. The owner of the venue noticed underage drinking, the cops were called, a girl bit another girl's hand in a ridiculous fight and every punk rock boy that had been slam dancing moments before put their fold up hunting knives in the ceiling and fled.
I stood in the lobby after my boyfriend had abandoned me and watched David having a stand off with the male manager and the female owner of the club he rented for his party. He stood there stubbornly listening to these two yell at him about the giant clusterfuck the party had become and then the yelling became personally abusive. He squared off and very calmly looked at the guy and said "I only have one thing to say to you..." I held my breath, I knew what was coming. David was famous for this phrase, his timing was always impeccable, he played the pause for maximum effect as he went for the kill.
The man was infuriated beyond reason and he balled up his fist and laid David out on the floor in one punch.
David was knocked unconscious and his girlfriend immediately rushed to his side along with the rest of us. There was so much yelling and confusion, it was hard to tell what was going on but we knew the cops were arriving in just a minute.
David came to pretty quickly, looked around him from the floor and locked eyes with me. Quickly, he looked from me to his girlfriend and says to her words I will never forget. "The cops are coming- we have to get Vanessa out of here, she'll get arrested for curfew. Hurry, get her to the hotel room and keep her there till all this is over."
Suddenly and quickly I was whisked away to their hotel room (in the same building) and kept there until things died down.
I cannot imagine what was through his mind to have focused on my safety after he had just been assaulted but there it was. A kind of measurable proof that he cared about other people.
It was that night my then boyfriend had purchased a beer from David with a silver dollar that he stole from my house. A week later, David returned that silver dollar to me when I presented the case that had been pried open with a hunting knife now residing in the ceiling at the Quality Inn. It was one of the many things that had been stolen from my house over Christmas. David looked at me with pity and asked me one more time if I was sure that I wanted to date someone who stole from me. I remember shrugging helplessly and blaming love and loyalty for my foolishness.
"Your life." he said. That was all. He seemed done trying to fix me. That was all he had to say. It's clear that what he said stuck with me.
A few months later, David was struck by a car crossing the street next to Dennys. I cannot describe what it is to lose a friend in this way when you are sixteen years old. Someone that you had just begun to figure out. Someone who could be such a sarcastic asshole and the most loyal friend at the same time. Someone who inexplicably gave a damn about me but didn't really want to advertise it. Lots of people said they were glad he was dead. I wasn't. He was twenty one years old, though he felt so much older to me.
He was so much more than anyone realized. He was so much more than he realized. I often wonder who he would be now, so many years later. Would he have fulfilled his own potential? What would he think of me? Would I finally have lived up to his ideal of me? He saw something in me at a time when I was throwing away whatever there was of me. It's what you do when you're sixteen.
I still think of you, David. I still think of the impact you had on my life. I still think of what happened after you left us, how we had to confess to one another that we were indeed just mortal after all. But most of all, I wish I could talk to you now to figure out what you meant or what was in your head. You have remained one of the most fascinating figures in my life and I think you always will be.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Grave to Cradle

In 1993, I had my first story published in a magazine called "Gotta Write Network Litmag". Shortly after that, several other magazines picked it up and re-printed it. It was the first time I was ever paid to write. It's not a true story. But it was inspired by true events that happened. When I was sixteen years old, a dear friend of mine was struck by a car crossing the street and the story grew in my head because of this devastating loss.
Here it is, in its entirety.


Now, he could remember everything. Even his own birth. There was a time when pictures came and went like a disjointed painting. Then, it all came rushing to him like a tidal wave and he simply knew every detail of his life. It overwhelmed him at first but soon after, acceptance came.
It was strange, things were so clear to him now. He was confused the first time he came to a conscious state in the ambulance and the darkness had enveloped him like a silent, stifling coffin. The van was shut off and there was no one around. His throat began to ache with thirst for a coke he had never been able to drink, and the accident came back to him.
The memory flashed through his mind like an ancient silent film. The pain had been violent, intense, covering his whole body. The drunken man staggered out of a blue Volkswagen with a freshly opened beer in his hand.
"Heyyy, this Bud's for you, man, looks like you could use it," he laughed, sat down next to the man he hit and began to cry, heaving, his shoulders heavy with the weight of what could not be undone.
He chilled every time the ambulance drove by there. He had died a little more than seven months ago on that street and felt compelled to press against the window of the van and breathe the scent of his own death. The memory senses there were incredible. The paramedics had revived him the first time right there on the street. The sounds and colors were vivid, crimson blood, red and blue flashing lights, the neon sign of the gas station across the street, a woman's scream among the sirens in his ear, the chill of the March air reaching down into his soul.
He died three times on the way to the hospital, each time he felt himself being pulled back from oblivion into pain. The pulls were hard, knocking the breath out of him. The last time was weak and he fought it. He turned around and severed the rope between life and death, hoping he could go to a place where he couldn't feel that terrible pain and the blood would be merely an illusion. Yet, he found himself stuck where he had ended, in the ambulance. He was sure he was being punished for not wanting to live.
The paramedics hovered over him after his death.
"Has he got a wallet?"
"Yeah. His name is David Somers... birthdate... God, he's only twenty one..."
Dave turned his face from that memory. He didn't seem to be able to leave the ambulance, but when he focused his energy, he could visit that street in front of Denny's restaurant. Sometimes, he wished he could get close to the window and gaze at his friends, laughing and complaining about the food, staring into the night as their thoughts turned to him. It seemed as if he was confined to these boundaries, but why? He wanted to sit amongst them wearing the cloak of his sarcasm, inserting the appropriate remarks as their laughter echoed around him. He wondered if they knew he missed them. If he could have followed his body, he might have sat on top of his coffin, cracking deadpan jokes at the irony of his funeral service. And perhaps they would have heard him. But he watched the days go by from the ambulance.
Death had changed him. He smiled at the ridiculous nature of his thoughts. Of course he had changed, he had no body to feel with and no one listened to his bitter humor. He thought he would see other dead people, maybe his brother who had committed suicide years before, but there was no one. Was he condemned to live in his own world where no one could see him or hear him. He wondered about Heaven and Hell and the same questions that had consumed him when he was alive tortured him in death. Where was the fire and where were the angels?
So, he existed in his memories, laughed and cried as the memories flew across his mind like a colorized version of an old movie. His mother's face came most clearly then. He loved to watch her face as the doctor handed him to her. He had fallen asleep in her arms only minutes old, his mother used to say he could sleep through anything. And now he didn't sleep at all.
Dave felt the bouncing of the ambulance as Greg and Tom climbed in. He had come to know them well. He could feel their thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, he even tried to enter their bodies but they seemed completely unaware of him except for their unexplained chills.
"Where are we going?" Tom looked tired as he asked the question.
"Corner of Hampton and Manchester." Greg replied.
"Not exactly. Some guy beat her up and raped her. Female, 27, third trimester of pregnancy."
"Raped a pregnant lady? Sick bastards in this world." Tom said.
"Shut up and drive. Let's get this over with so I can go home." Greg muttered.
Dave picked up Greg's thoughts clearly as the paramedic flashed through the memory his daughter coming home after being raped. He watched as Greg tried to hold it together while his emotions cascaded between anger and helplessness and fought for control. Greg took in a ragged breath as he focused on the task at hand.
The police were already on the scene when the ambulance arrived. The doors of the ambulance burst open and the light poured in. Dave stared out the open doors as the living world breathed deeply in the twilight hour. The trees swayed in the soft breeze, wearing their colorful fall coats. He could almost feel the briskness of the October air as the wind rushed in, circling his soul with life's breath.
Greg gently escorted the woman inside the van and began checking her vital signs.
"I'm in labor..." she sobbed. Her face was covered with purple welts and her breath was hitching. Her eyes darted around, large, brown and soft.
"Can you tell us your name?" Tom asked quietly, seeking to calm her.
"How far along are you, Holly?" Greg wiped her face with a cool cloth.
"About thirty weeks...oh God..." Her face wrinkled in pain as the contraction peaked. She grunted in agony and then got control of her breathing.
"Holly, we're going to have to examine you to see how dilated your cervix is. It's probably going to hurt given your recent trauma but I need you to try to hold still, okay? Can you do that for me?"
"I'll try." She stared up at him with wide eyes. Sweat had caused her red hair to hang limply, clinging to her face. She was flushed and her face was drawn. As Tom pulled up her skirt, he could see blood and dirt caked to her thighs.
Tom washed her legs as Greg put on the surgical glove and began to examine her.
"She's between eight and nine centimeters. We may not have that long, this baby's coming..." Greg said to Tom.
Holly's face tightened up and she twisted into a ball.
"No, no, you have to lie flat," Tom said.
Dave sat next to her and touched her hand. He felt connected to her somehow but he was sure he didn't know her. Yet, there was something familiar about her. He wanted to reach into her sadness and pull her out. He wasn't sure why but she reminded him of someone he had known. However, the memory was elusive and he couldn't quite reach it. Her body relaxed as the contraction ended.
"Listen to me," Dave said, gently, wanting her to hear him. "Remember the movie?"
"What movie?" She said.
Dave was startled. He hadn't been sure she would hear him. Greg and Tom had never heard him when he spoke. Still, he was not surprised as the connection between them was vibrantly alive in the air around them.
"What'd she say?" Greg asked, standing at the foot of the van. Tom turned and shrugged, preparing the IV fluid bag. "You can squeeze my hand if you want to."
"My baby... is it going to be..." the pain cut off her words.
"Breathe, Holly," Dave said. "Your baby is fine. It's a boy, a healthy boy, just like you wanted."
"It's not born yet, how do you know?" Holly gasped.
"Holly, you're going to be fine, okay?" Greg said "I'm going to take another look now."
"Okay." Holly rode through another contraction.
Greg smiled. "Ten centimeters, Holly, are you ready to push?"
Holly nodded and looked up. Dave put his hand in hers and she squeezed. He could almost feel it as he closed death's eyes and suddenly felt alive again as the baby took his first breath.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Taking Inventory

Over the years, I have been a loyal person. When I decided someone was my friend, I basically stood by that person no matter what. When I was in my late teens and twenties, a lot of people abandoned me when I had kids. They moved on with their lives and stopped inviting me to do things. I was very grateful for the few who remained. Probably too grateful. There were two women in particular who remained that became increasingly toxic presences in my life.
As I look back, I can see the ways they damaged me. I remember asking my therapist again and again what to do about this or that that these two had done to me. And I contributed to the cycle by complaining about each of them to the other.
After many years, I figured out I was in abusive relationships.
I'm not going to say all of it was bad or all of it was their fault. It wasn't.
I had to figure out my own shit and learn what was good.
In a way, rebelling against their definition of who I was helped me become a better person.
In their own way, they were both very good and very toxic people. And they had their own demons.
I do wish I had cut off the friendships much earlier in my life.
But I suppose I still had things to learn.
And that is the lesson here that I take inventory.
What did these lousy experiences teach me? A lot. So much.

One of the women, I'll call her Maria, she used to support my dreams by "understanding" that I had them while shooting them down and telling me if I was a good mom, I would stop pursuing them. And she would pretend to support me but at the same time regularly sabotage me.
The other woman, I'll call her Katie, she said something not long ago that was instrumental in making sure we weren't friends any more.
I was discussing my plans for my next big project. And she said "I believe that you'll do it. You'll accomplish it. Looking back on us when we were fifteen, I never would have believed that girl would accomplish anything like this. But I can see you doing things now."
And I am sure she meant that as a compliment. But it wasn't. It was a clear message that she never saw my potential, though it should have been obvious to anyone who was paying attention. She was supposed to know me so well, but I now realize, she only saw in me what she decided to see-- and I think she never really saw me.

Many years ago, a girl I worked with at Cicero's was hanging out with me. We got into a deep conversation about hopes and dreams. I told her I wanted to make movies and write and direct. I can't remember her saying much about that. It was what I was dreaming about and also what I was pursuing in school.

Many years later I saw her again, out with friends. By this time I had made a couple of movies. She said these words to me. "I remember when you used to talk about what you wanted to do when we were working at Cicero's"
I said "oh yeah, I was pretty angsty back then."
She said "I confess - when you said all that, I thought to myself, she's never going to do any of that. And then you did. I was surprised."
I smiled a little. But it kinda made me mad at the same time. Why would you tell me that? What is the purpose of that confession? Is it to make me feel bad?
So, I went back and asked my best friend, the woman who has known me the longest- if she had seen potential in me.
She couldn't believe I was asking her that because she said it was obvious I was going to do things.
And I thought about the people I knew that I saw accomplishing great things.

I'm so blessed with so many good friends now at this point in my life. And it is because of these missteps that I am able to appreciate this all the more.
I've been able to learn from all this pain.
I've been blessed to have recognized and overcome all these abusive and toxic friendships.
Yes, I hung on to them too long. I tried too hard, I forgave too much.
But what did I learn? What did I take forward?
I learned to write well about complex relationships. I learned to appreciate really good friends. I learned that it isn't the end of the world if you end a friendship.
I learned that sometimes you still get to walk away and hurt for years, but it was the right thing to do.
A couple of months before I made the decision to walk away from Katie once and for all, she said to me "I'm afraid I'm going to lose all my friends, I have almost none left because I drive people away."
And as usual, I assured her that I was loyal and would stand by her.
And then I woke up when she was abusively texting me a few weeks later, accusing me of imagined wrongs. A symptom of her mental illness and extreme anxiety.
And I realized I had a choice. I could just walk away from her and not go back.
That I probably should have done it years ago.
That I shouldn't need to go to therapy because my friends were being toxic to me.
That the relationship was abusive and needed to end.
That it is possible to be in an emotionally abusive relationship with a female friend.
That it had been many years since I had any fun with her because every interaction was stressful and involved me walking on eggshells to try not to set her off. Though I should have known that I can't control her mental illness symptoms, but I can control my involvement with her.
That her refusal to get the mental health therapy she desperately needed was pretty much my final clue that things weren't going to get better.

I realized that my damage was where I was operating from when we began that friendship and that I have worked hard to repair my damage. That not all my friends were reflections of my damage but I had trouble recognizing when I needed to end it.
That my loyalty has hurt me- a lot, but I am not sorry that I try to work things out.
I don't give up easily, which is why I have had some minor success in accomplishing things.
But I am now learning when to walk away and that it is okay to walk away. That not all things need to be forgiven, that sometimes we can just move on.
I'm always going to have feelings about all of it, I'm just grateful now for the lessons.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Uber Stories: On Women and sex

Lots of people ask me when they get in my car and notice my gender. Aren't you scared to drive at night? Not really. Most people are pretty cool and I don't mind so much. The rewards have been pretty significant. I'm interested in humans and when people get in my car, I get a piece of their story, little by little.
Here is a snapshot of several stories of women I have driven.
They often open up and they open up in so many interesting ways. Sometimes we tell deep truths, sometimes the deep truths are beneath the surface and we never speak of them.
I picked up two women around 11 pm. They were sharing the ride and going to work in different places. One was going downtown to waitress at a Hookah Bar and the other was going to the Hustler Club to strip. I spent many years as a waitress, so we had a long drive and a nice discussion about the benefits and perils of waitressing. I was not really clear on the relationship between the women but I noticed there was complete acceptance for one another's work situations.
It was very much "gotta make a living" going on.
The fact that the stripper was so open about where she worked with no measure of shame was interesting to me. I have never felt the extreme need to hide my profession but I have often felt a little bothered by working in places I considered beneath my overall skills.
One time a girl I went to high school walked into the restaurant I worked in and happened to see me behind the bar dropping off cash for the bartender that night. She looked pityingly at me when she said "oh, you work here?" and I said "Yeah, I'm the manager."
At those words, her face physically brightened. This was a more acceptable job for my exclusive private school education, I guess? I was upset and humiliated. She has no idea that bartenders more often make more money and work fewer hours than restaurant managers. Sigh. And she had no idea I bartended twice a week to bump up my earnings.
But somehow, the title made HER feel better. Which bothered me. And I guess it still does. But mostly, I'm beyond caring about someone else's definition of me. Those jobs, they humanized me in a way that make my writing better, richer and give me more empathy to people than working higher up ever will be. So, while I will get where I want to go career wise, this was never a waste of time.
So, I try not to judge people by their professions so much. I know I am going to find people working at McDonalds that have genius level IQ's and probably can't get a job elsewhere. And I know that there are just a whole lot of regular people out there making a living and we are more than the definition the job gives us. We are humans.
We all have to make a living somehow.
After I dropped the waitress off, I had another twenty minute drive with the woman who worked at the strip club. I asked her how she was treated. She had a few stories. "I wish guys wouldn't be so gross with me all the time. I don't want to hear how they want to lick my asshole."
And I was thinking-- damn, that's not so far off from my waitress days, where I heard statements like that every day from some drunk fool.
Except I'm not naked while they're saying it to me. I try to imagine how vulnerable and tough she has to be to stand up to that, and to deal with being kind to people that don't deserve her kindness.
Still, she said she didn't mind it most of the time, that she was able to find gratitude in the many good people that worked there and all those who stuck up for her and held together to protect one another. That she always felt safe and protected by so many people.
I find I want to poke through her statements with my own pre-conceived notions about stripping. But I fall silent. I don't know enough about this world and I realize what I need to do is just listen to her and accept her and even support her decision to work there. Though I want to smash the patriarchy that allows this to continue to exploit women while old white men make money off their naked and vulnerable bodies, still I support the choice a woman makes to go into sex work. Though honestly, I wish it could be something different. When I think of the damage it does...but I let that go in that moment, and decided to just be there with her.
I told her this as I dropped her off.
"I want you to know that every man or group of people that I drop off at any strip club, I say these words 'I want you to remember to tip well. Tip your bartenders, your servers and your strippers well. And I want you to remember that every single one of these people who wait on you and strip for you, they are human. And you should treat them respectfully and decently. Don't be a dick.'" She laughed at that, and thanked me for the ride.
It really was the only way I could sit right with myself for driving people to the strip club to participate in something that I don't sit right with was to remind them of our shared humanity.
The second story I want to share with you is a woman I picked up from a dive motel at around 11 at night. She was nervous to get in my car, it was her first Uber ride.
I smiled big at her and said "Aren't you glad you got a girl to drive you for your first time?"
She said yes and smiled a little more easily.
I assured her I was going to treat her really well and get her to where she was going and make her first uber ride really great. I had wondered briefly at the location I was picking her up. It was a no tell motel, the kind you know you can rent by the hour.
This in itself was only one piece of evidence, so I tucked it back in my mind as I spoke to her and asked her about herself. We landed on the topic of her son, as so often happens with women, we discuss our children. In there are our hopes and dreams and how we define ourselves because our children change and shape who we become. They alter us in little ways. This woman found so much joy in her child and it made my heart happy. She talked about her divorce and the shared custody and when her boy got really good at video games. She spoke of how he excelled in school and was put in the gifted child class. She glowed when she talked about his future, the one she knew he would have.
And in that, I could see she was burying herself, but I loved her joy and her pride and the smile in her voice.
She began to prepare me for the journey we were taking. It was a long drive, forty five minutes out to a little town in Missouri I had never been before.
The ride was not on her credit card, but on a mystery man paying for her journey. He had texted me instructions and a cell number to let her know when I had arrived to pick her up. This was not unusual in itself either. I often gave rides others would pay for. But there was something about the two pieces of evidence that clinked together. She began to speak of the mystery man and his wealth and affluence.
She described how many cars he had and how fast he drove in them and her first trip out to his house.
"What does he do for a living?" I asked.
She was not really sure or she had asked and it wasn't really clear, but he was super loaded-- that was what she knew. She also mentioned he was nice to her, that he treated her well and was a pretty good guy.
She talked to me about the first time she went to his house.
"I was terrified." She said.
Huh, terrified? That seems an odd reaction to going to someone's house.
"We kept getting further and further away from everything and we started going deep into the country. Finally we get to this really thick woods and we keep going further and further into the woods and the further we went, the more scared I was that I wasn't going to make it out. He was driving really fast and whipping around every corner."
And I wanted to ask why. Why did you keep going?
But I didn't because after all, I knew the answer. You do the things that scare you when you talk yourself around the fear. When you try to convince yourself you're being crazy, that there's no reason to be afraid and your instincts are wrong. And when your instincts are dead on, you berate yourself and when your instincts are hyped up and it turns out okay, you tell yourself you were just crazy all along. Even if you aren't. You convince yourself. It's pure survival. Sometimes our fight or flight is out of proportion to the situation and other times it is not.
And as I drove through the night and we started to get further and further away from civilization and the lights of the city and the perceived safety...I began to feel the little fingers of fear creep into my stomach and crawl around and begin to wrap around my heart and squeeze.
But this third and fourth clue in the little mystery was starting to cement my theory. And I knew at this point that I didn't have to ask this woman what she did for a living because there was no doubt I had picked up a prostitute on her way to servicing her client.
I briefly considered asking her. I thought about it, hard because I wanted to know, and I had a thousand questions to ask her about what she did and what led her to this point in her life and the curiosity distracted me from asking myself too strongly-- what are you driving into?
I decided to refuse the curiosity and deny it satisfaction. I wanted this woman to keep her dignity and let the stories of her brilliant boy and her pride in him and keep her warm with safe and good conversation. I liked her and I didn't want to shatter this moment and make her wonder if I was judging her.
As we drove through the last leg of the journey, through those thick and dark woods, I turned on my brights and kept the conversation witty and light to take the edge off the fear. She said "He wants you to go down the driveway and wait for a minute so he can bring you a tip."
"Oh, how nice." I say out loud but those fear fingers are working overtime squishing my heart.
My heart beats strong, throwing off the fear. Got your stun gun on the ready? yeah you do, Vanessa. This guy won't know what hit him...
We arrive.
I see him open the door and the anticipation is a tangible crack of light streaming from the door.
She gets a text.
"oh, he's not coming out. He wants me to come get it. He's such a dork."
I breathe relief. He's afraid of ME seeing HIM.
Good. I feel safe. She comes out with a ten dollar bill and thanks me for the ride, the company, the conversation and for making her first uber ride a good experience.
I want to hug her, but I don't. Instead, I smile brightly at her and wish her well. She's going to be one I remember.

These conversations, these connections-- they mean something to me to have this human experience in that short time I get with people. Every ride is its own story.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Reflections on Eleven

When I was eleven years old, my mother had a discussion with our next door neighbor about me, in front of me that I remember pretty well. The neighbor was asking how old I was and they both agreed that eleven was just about the perfect age. My mother revealed that I still played with barbie dolls (I was mortified and considered myself too old for dolls even though my bff and I had so much fun with them, it was our little secret we never told) and both women went on to wax poetic about the age of eleven, how much they had enjoyed it, how sweet they had been, how much they loved spending time with their mothers and how simple things were before the complications of teenage angst came along.
I have never forgotten this conversation and it had a profound effect of me as a young girl. I haughtily did not consider eleven to be a perfect age. I was frustrated and wanted to do things and be more grown and felt as if my brain was always more adult and mature than my body and no one took me seriously because I was only eleven.
I had listened intently to every word those women had said, though I don't think it was anywhere near a very important conversation or that it had reached the level of something significant but nevertheless had revealed something very important about my mother and though I chastised her soundly when we got inside for embarrassing me by telling the neighbor I played with dolls, for some reason it always stayed with me.
When each of my daughters reached the age of eleven, I have recalled this conversation and replayed it in my head. I can remember tossing around the seedballs in my back yard while pretending not to be paying attention so that I could listen longer. Time has convinced me that my mother was right in ways I could not understand that day. The age of eleven might be perfect for mothers and daughters for their relationship is more pure than it will be ever again. It is the last time we will look at our mothers before the cloud of hormones overtake us and rush us into a resistance. It is the time before everything changes in that relationship when we both want to be with one another. it is the time before I didn't have to see my mother as a woman, not understanding womanhood and being sure she could still do anything because she was more than human.
Isabella is my last daughter and though that conversation will be with me forever, this is the last time I will look into the familiar eyes of the eleven year old that is a small representation of the me that I used to be, and the girl that my mother was, and the barest glimpse of my grandmother and her mother. In her eyes, I feel that precious purity of what was and hope for what will be.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The De-Escalation Choice

Last night I was driving uber at my usual time and hanging out near the bars and college. Around 3 am I picked up a solo passenger. He said "Can you wait one extra minute while I get some water?" I said "Sure"

I'm going to call him Floyd.
Floyd returns with a cup of water and gets in the front seat. This is pretty common for single riders so I won't say I over worried about it.
He asks me how I am doing, then he offers me some of his water. I thought this was kind of weird but I say no thank you and keep driving. It's kind of a regular, very usual conversation about the work he does and who he is and all that until suddenly, Floyd says.
"Hey, why don't you come over and smoke some pot with me?"
This is not really the first time I have had this offer. It's usually a little more tentative or respectful. And it's pretty easy to turn down. One time a group of bachelorettes wanted me to eat breakfast with them at Eat Rite diner and I truly thought about it because they were a lot of fun.
I figure he's drunk and lonely, so I just say "That's awfully kind of you, but I have to drive the rest of the night and I can't do that high."
Floyd then starts attempting to convince me.
I say "Thanks, that's really nice of you, but I'm going to say no." But honestly, I am out and out lying at this point because his offer isn't nice or kind. It's rude and threatening.
And Floyd isn't having that "no" word.
He takes out some money (a ten or a twenty, I think, I didn't look) and places it on my dashboard.
"There, I've paid for your next ride, you can come in, just take one hit and leave. I just want to smoke with you."
And now I am realizing he thinks he can buy me.
Like a hooker? I'm truly annoyed now. But I bring out Bartender Vanessa who knows how to make a cranky customer calm down. I start the de-escalation process by just letting him talk and allowing him to think for the rest of the ride that he is getting his way.
I start wondering what this scenario looks like as he tries to shame me into going inside with him. I just stop saying no for the rest of the ride because I have already said it at least three times.
I think about all the times this has happened to me before. I start going back in my head to the incidents of times I said no when a man has not respected me.
I've come a long way with the word no.
When I was a teenager, this kind of pressure was extremely difficult for me and I ended up in some situations that were extremely uncomfortable. When I was fourteen, I was nearly date raped by another fourteen year old. He escalated quickly. That is another story but I feel as if it might have been my first experience with not just lack of consent but repeatedly saying the word no and some asshole just not hearing a word you say.
I realize I have two choices on how to deal with this.
The teenage Vanessa was meek and quiet and tried to "nice" her way out of things. It always ended up making me feel weak. The Vanessa in her twenties started to feel her feminist power. She learned to say to the gropey guy in the bar "Get your hands off me." and walk away. She has real chutzpah! She gets it. She can say no to any inappropriate stranger. But she is terrible saying it to her friends. She lets them walk all over her sometimes. Even worse, this Vanessa ends up in some brutally abusive relationships with very pushy men. I think about all the ways I have had to say no in my life and every time I say it, it comes with guilt.
Why is that? Why do I feel shitty for saying no to a clearly inconsiderate person who has no respect for me or my feelings? I have no idea.
Is it the empath in me that knows I am wounding his ego and can just feel all the insecurity oozing out of him. He had struck out at the bar, was feeling all those feelings that were coming at me and now this uber driver was telling him no. How dare she.
I don't want to feel all that. He is now saying to me "When is the last time you did something like this? You need to do this."
And I am quietly super annoyed now, but I keep that smile on my face and even throw a laugh in there. Does he really think I live some dowdy, boring life and I need HIM to provide me with some pot smoking couch sex? Yes, he does. He doesn't know me at all. He hasn't bothered to ask one thing about me. I am the four am chick he thinks he knows is as desperate as him. Except I am not. And in the light of the car, I can feel his loud, sweaty, needy feelings.
But I am better at no, now. I can do this. But most of all, I have to do this. I have to get him to get out of my car and get myself out of this potentially dangerous situation. I start to review my self defense techniques. I take a deep breath as I pull up in front of his place. The money is still sitting on the dashboard. I'm not taking it. I realize I have two choices about how to say no to him. There is the firm, aggressive "Get the fuck out of my car." that I really, with every fiber of my being want to say. I want to do that. I am a strong woman and I have been so disrespected in the last five minutes that I want to make a super strong statement about "No means no." But I am not at the bar and this is not a public place. And I am more vulnerable in this place.
I might need my anger next. I may need to get scary and crazy in a minute.
He starts off with "Okay, let's go."
I decide to go with firm, business like Vanessa. She de-escalates without judgment. She thanks people kindly for the interest. She says "fuck you" inside her head while telling him to "have a nice day." and smiling.
I said "Look, Floyd, like I said, I appreciate the offer, But no."
I think about pulling the husband card but I hate that. It takes away so much of my power as a female to say something like "my husband/boyfriend is waiting for me/ he'll be here any minute" but don't think I won't use it or have any less respect for women who do use it. It's sitting in my back pocket.
My arsenal of how to say no is swimming in my head. I am ready.
At this point, I have chosen to use deescalation and it is making me feel like a shitty, weak, bad feminist. Just tell him NO MEANS NO. Show him your power! Using the words "I appreciate the offer" is just the worst. I want to choke on those words. Fuck those words. Get out of my car, you inconsiderate piece of shit, trying to shame me, trying to coerce me, refusing to hear any of the words I say. But I fight the shame down. Try this first, I tell myself.
And ladies, I say this to you--- if he won't hear the word NO from you in this polite circumstance, he isn't going to respect you later at any point.
So Floyd says "I guess you think that something is going to happen and I can see the reasons that you might not want to do this."
Code, I think he might be setting me up for an assault of some kind.
Yes, Floyd, I do think this. And you know I think this. And I think this because this is exactly the scenario in which it often takes place. And your platitudes of trust me mean nothing to me. Because I have been in this situation a thousand times before. And I'm not flattered and I don't think you find me attractive and I don't give a shit about your feelings right now because you haven't given mine a single thought.
Yes, Floyd, I think about the other girl who might have gone into your apartment and you served her some drugged drink and she woke up hours later, sore on the floor with her pants around her knees. I think this. It may not be true or accurate, Floyd. You might believe you are charming enough on your own but I know one thing about you at this point. No means nothing to you, so I expect more of that. I expect if I go into your place and smoke one hit of a joint with you, and I say "I have to leave" because this is what we agreed to. One hit. I expect that you will not honor that by saying "see you later" Instead, I expect that this one interaction leads to more of "no thank you" and you not hearing that little word a hundred more times. Because I know this one thing about you. Floyd, you haven't been nice about me saying no. In fact you have been coercive and brutish. Every tactic in your arsenal is to shame.
So I don't respond to him trying to reassure me that I'm not going to get assaulted because - whatever dude, it's not like you're going to be honest with planning a sexual assault!
And maybe you are just a harmless dickhead but guess what-- I'm not willing to take that chance.
So- I'm sitting in the car trying the de-escalation tactic first.
Floyd takes the money slowly off the dashboard. "Really?" he says, dripping sarcasm.
As if I give a shit about that money.
"Yes, Really." I respond.
He holds the money above his wallet and repeats "REALLY?"
And I say "have a nice night"
And you all know what I meant by that.
He puts the money away.
Then, I breathe a little sigh of relief as he gets out of the car without any more fight. He thinks he has humiliated me by taking away the money. I laugh a little on the inside as I drive away.
Now, I realize that there are some of you that are going to tell me "you need to stop doing what you're doing, you are going to end up in a worse situation next time, it's dangerous."
And I am going to tell you something-- just by living your life, anything could happen to you. Being out at night does not mean you will get raped or that you are at a higher risk for rape. I realize that some of you will never be convinced by this but shit can happen to you anywhere. I could just as easily have been able to de-escalate that situation as it could have spun out of control. I think about this all the time because I have to. And in spite of all the preparation and thought, this may not save me.
I made a choice to go with de-escalation. I often make this choice. I'm trying to feel good about it but it still makes me feel sometimes as if it's the weak thing to do. I want to say to men, stop asking me to make that choice, to have to decide between my dignity and my safety and just respect the word no. Because it all comes down to that and if that would happen. If every single person would just do that, I wouldn't ever have to be in that position because my consent, whether it is consent to come inside your house or consent to kiss you or consent for anything. I should not have to fight for the right to be treated with common respect. This was not a date. It was a ride. Fortunately 99% of uber riders understand that. In more than 100 rides, this has not happened. It is not common. It's literally more common that this happens to me when I am out in socializing that some guy just randomly disrespects me.
I'm not going to lie about it scaring me. It scares me. But I refuse to let fear of something that might happen stop me from living my life. But it gave me plenty to think about.
And the best part of what happened was that I had a plan. I had an arsenal of self defense. I had an idea of what I was going to do and how I was going to handle that situation and there is no part of knowing this kind of thing that makes that not helpful.
So, I would encourage everyone to play out that scenario, I want guys to play out that scenario, to understand what that feels like for us, too.
I encounter more levels of having my consent disrespected in a thousand small aggressions a day. And my most ugly fear in that if I don't attempt to de-escalate, I will somehow inadvertently incite your anger and this anger will kill me. Though there is not one thing I can do to make sure you don't become angry. Floyd's anger was always out of my control.
I feel soon I have to take this to the next level and look at how education is dealing with this and think about my role in it. And to those that will say to me, "how can you put yourself in that situation?" I say this to you- I did NOT put myself in that situation. Floyd put me in that situation. Let us be clear in that now and forever.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

You always remember the first time you vote

Voting. When I was growing up, it was something I was going to do when I was eighteen. That was a given. My parents always let me know how important it was to cast a vote. Society told me how special it was that we got to vote. My school taught me that it was a privilege to vote and other countries didn't have the right to vote. I grew up somewhere between cynicism and optimism about our future and our government. My father was very pessimistic and angry and always spoke very negatively about government. I often heard the sentence "Guess I'll have to hold my nose and vote for this guy." What was the point in that? Why would you vote for someone you had to hold your nose around.
I maintained my optimism in spite of this.
Growing up, I did not see a lot of women in politics right away. When I was born, it was full of white men in office and I just kind of thought-- women must not want those jobs. Not that we couldn't have those jobs but that we didn't want them. Because I was optimistic and I had a working mother who, frankly was kind of badass and I was sure that if not me, women could do whatever they wanted once they broke out of their shell.
I watched my mother push back against the patriarchy every single day. I watched it wear her down and then she would gather strength and go after it again.
Frankly, it didn't seem like politics was a job any woman would want. Talk about thankless with no reward. That was what I saw as a little girl. I wanted to do something artistic though. I did not yet understand how those women in politics were going to change what my world looked like.
As English Professors, the Liberal arts seemed about as far away from politics as it could get. And I had no concept that my mother did not have maternity leave. I had no concept that in fact, our political system was going to change every life in our country. Some for the better. Some for the worse.
No one in my house ever discussed with me WHY it was important to vote.
I wasn't interested in any of it because no one really explained to me why I should be interested in it, why it was going to make a difference in my future.
As I approached my first presidential election, I was twenty one. And suddenly when I had a voice I knew it was important. I had not wanted to vote in the smaller elections when I first turned eighteen. (I realize now I probably should have but I wanted my first ever vote to be for president) I had not even registered until the summer before the presidential election. But coming up on my first election, I did not ask the advice of either one of my parents. My mother would always say that her vote was private and she did not have to tell anyone who she was voting for. In fact, as outspoken and opinionated as both my parents were, they taught me very little about what government was. And frankly, except for some high minded and bloated ideals, school had taught me very little. I was never told- examine the issues, look for things that you care about. I was taught in a dry and boring way what government was. Look, it has three branches. The President is commander in chief. This is the song where a bill becomes a law. I was not even sure why I should care about any of that.
BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO VOTE. (Okay, but why?) It just is!!!
Cause that is your constitutional right.
Cause...cause... no wonder people don't vote.
In history class, women getting the vote in 1920 was kind of a footnote (at an all girl school, that seems disgusting and disgraceful in retrospect, they should be ashamed of this, the section on this barely covered it)
So, who did I turn to? My friends.
I had some smart friends, some friends who did a lot of self educating and lots of reading.
I had one friend who loved to read biographies.
I was not interested in biographies. She wanted to give me the highlights of women getting the vote and I tuned her out. Because that history was dry and who cared and whatever, it didn't matter. She was going to tell me some boring shit, I thought. So, I did not learn that totally fascinating and engrossing, interesting history for several years.
In fact, I think I was frustrated that I was turned off from history by some dry ass terrible teachers. It makes a difference.
There was one friend who I was talking with a great deal during the election year. She was about five years older than me and we discussed a lot about who was running and what they stood for and it kind of opened up things for me. I listened to her, I was influenced by her, I asked her questions.
There were not a lot of people I could ask in my life.
There was no way I was talking to my dad. Politics made him angry. He was going to end up screaming about the goddamn government. Or he was going to talk until I fell asleep from boredom. The conversation would only go one way, the way he explained everything with his narcissistic one sided point of view. He was very knowledgeable but he was not going to share this wisdom in any kind of accessible way. If I asked questions I would be ridiculed or screamed at or he wouldn't be able to hear me.
Once in sixth grade, I was doing a report on the Nixon administration and he just hollered names and facts at me and I wrote things down. He ended up ripping the paper away from me and writing things down for me. God forbid I be involved in the process. Or learn anything.
I know for sure he did not treat his students like this. But he treated me like this. I never went to him for help on anything. That was the last time. But this for me was government.
I felt the pull to KNOW something, to figure it out, to understand it in some real way. I didn't want to get into the voting booth and just hit choice A or B without knowing anything about either person. I had heard some speeches, but I didn't trust that rhetoric. I was at least smart enough to know that these two candidates were presenting their best sides. I needed to know facts. I wanted to cast the most intelligent vote.

That year, I was pregnant. I was due November 2 and the following Tuesday was election day. I was late, I was overdue. I was up all night in labor. I knew I was in labor. Early labor. The kind that takes a really long time to get going. I knew I had hours to go but it was real.
So, there I was at seven am, miserable, in pain. Feeding my son breakfast and weathering through small but steady contractions.
I didn't say anything to my dad. He tends to panic and it was nowhere near time to go to the hospital. So, I kept my mouth shut. Pretty soon, my dad started pestering me, though.
"Are you going to vote?" he asked
"Yes." I responded.
"When are you going?"
"I don't know. Today." I responded, dripping with sarcasm.
"When, today? Because I would like to vote and if you're going now, I could go later. But if you're going later..."
I couldn't take it. He was going to keep talking. Meanwhile, there was another nasty contraction.
"Can I have breakfast?"
"Are you going after breakfast?"
I resisted the urge to murder him on the day I was voting for the first time. That was not the type of irony I needed in my life. I wondered briefly if I could be acquitted because I was in labor. Temporary insanity. Extreme duress. Nope. Not worth it.
"I'm going now." I announced.
I put on my comfy sweatpants and a clean sweater and maybe even some makeup. I can't remember if I put on makeup. I think I did, it seems likely. If I wasn't nine months pregnant, I might have walked up there. It was only three blocks away. But I drove. The line was not that bad. I remember expecting much worse but there were probably only about fifteen people in front of me and the whole process went pretty quickly. The entire thing took all of about twenty minutes. I punched a bunch of holes through a card and presto, I was done. I handed my card in and it was all over. Huh. That seemed like no big deal. I had hesitated over my choice in the last moment. It was so final. Was I sure I wanted to vote for this guy? Was I positive? It seemed like I didn't know enough, that I was still rather woefully ignorant of everything I needed to know. And I was right about that.
That process spurred me to know more. To understand more. To take my vote as seriously as I should.
These days I actively discuss politics and policies with my children. I don't expect my kids to vote for the same person I vote for, but I feel like they have a pretty good grasp on what is going on. They have much more information but the downside to that is that they also have much more misinformation. Satire websites that they are taken in by, opinion pieces that are slanted. Whole tv channels that only present one side of the story. And lies and more lies. It's hard to figure things out.
What means something to me now is that I finally found the story of how women got the vote. I finally became interested enough to let go of the boring history teachers and the past prejudices I had and I saw a movie called "Iron Jawed Angels". (A small reason why I know that movies are not just entertainment but they change the world) and it changed me and the way I looked at my vote.
In 1776, we declared independence and waged a war which (eventually) gave all male white citizens the right to vote. Somewhere around a hundred years later, black men got freedom and a right to vote (which people spent a lot of time surpassing and shutting down and all the rest that went with that but that is another story). And women, all women, white women and women of color had to fight and demand and be jailed, beaten, force fed, etc. Suffrage sounds like suffering to me. But if not for these women, I would have no right to vote on November 8th. And this woman running, just four years shy of one hundred years of having the right to even vote would not have the right to seek political office.

And representation in government is crucial. No matter how you feel about this election, having people from different backgrounds, people of color, different genders, different sexual orientation, these things matter. Because of the people, by the people, for the people means all of us. So the representation of all of us is important.
The hardest thing is finding people who actually care and are not just self serving fame and power whores. Because to be in government is to serve a community. To do your best for the people you represent. High minded ideals. And politics is made of lies and back room deals and unsavory things. Sometimes they mean well and the law of unintended consequences steps in and bites you hard.
But every now and then something wonderful happens. Slavery is abolished. Women get the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act. Gay people get the right to marry. Pre-existing conditions no longer matter when seeking health insurance. Every now and then some amazing piece of change happens and I marvel that it happened.
And these things happen because we voted for people who were integral to making this happen. So, yes, your vote does matter. It's a small piece of a larger world and it belongs to you and only you. Try to use it wisely with your best conscience and your highest ideal. When I walk into the voting booth, I stand on the shoulders of those women who suffered before me, who believed it would matter to me that I was represented and knew that I could change the world with one vote. I know that their battle was worthwhile, that their sacrifice for me humbles me and I honor it.
For all of you, this should be meaningful. To make your vote a part of history.