mucky purposeful kindness. with chili coke.

This blog entry has two parts: 
Part One is about purposeful kindness, why it matters. And Part Two is completely off-topic and full of muck. Might I suggest only reading Part One? It's more uplifting and maybe you'll go help the elderly afterward.

Part One:

The other day, Miss M and I were eating lunch at a fast food place that will remain unnamed, but it starts with W and rhymes with schmendy's and they have fabulous chili even though one time some unscrupulous rednecks put a finger in it and tried to sue the company for a billion dollars and now I have to really focus on not thinking about forefingers in their chili but I still eat it anyway because it's so damn good.

So we were eating lunch there, and an old man walked in looking very confused. He slooowly, sloooowly made his way to the cashier and placed his order. Then he went to the self-serve soda machine to get his drink. You know those machines with touch screens and a gabillion options? Completely confounded him. 

I watched a nice lady in a business suit try to explain it to him and then help him figure out how to get ice. She set him up to pour his drink, but after she walked off he pressed something and his drink choice disappeared, putting him back at start. He was such a sweet old man - he wasn't upset or annoyed, just deeply confused by the whole situation. Bless it, I'm not sure he even knew where he was at or why he was there. And I could tell: this world is a place of frightening pandemonium for him. All these gadgets. The fast cars and too many choices. These fancy tv screens that deliver your drinks. Chaotic magic.

Then, the man across from us sent his 12 year old daughter over to ask if he'd like some help. He gratefully accepted and she patiently walked him through the whole thing. I watched the young teach the old...but he was sort of teaching her as well, yes? Teaching her patience and kindness and how to teach the unteachable. I looked over at the dad who was watching me watch them. I winked at him, he smiled back, and...well look at you, Coca-Cola! You actually DO make the world smile when you're shared.

The kindness of strangers. It made my whole day.

I wrote a story once (that I must find so I can send somewhere) about a high school boy named Nathan who wanted to kill himself after being abandoned by his parents and bullied by schoolmates throughout his life. He gets on his bike to ride 50 miles away to a motel where he intends to hang himself, But he decides to go to sleep instead and, in the morning, he wakes up and decides to have breakfast first. Then he decides to go to the library, where he meets a nice college girl who isn't mean to him, and they spend the afternoon talking and make plans to meet at the local cinema to see a movie the following afternoon.

Nathan goes back to the motel and, instead of hanging himself, he calls his grandparents. He tells them where he is, why he's there, and asks them to come get him. They do, and Nathan and the girl don't go to the movies but they stay in touch and eventually Nathan enlists in the Army and gets his head blown off. The end. (That ending actually didn't screen well in my writers' group, so I ended up changing it to something way more open-ended and uplifting.)

That was a fictionalized true story. Nathan was a real boy I knew, and I was a college girl who saved him from himself. But before you get all: awww, you're so awesome and kind, Amy! let me tell you how it really went down, because I was kind but not on purpose:

I was in college, and spending the summer at my parents' house. I got bored and drove to the library one hot afternoon. As I was looking for books, I noticed a boy stalking me amongst the shelves. Totally creepy. Finally, I asked him if he needed help and he said, "No, I just saw you and thought you were so pretty. I've been trying to find a way to talk to you." 

That was sweet, right? So eventually, I gave up trying to find a book because he wouldn't stop following me and it was creeping me out. Also, it was annoying so I thought: let me talk to him for a little bit and then make an excuse to get the hell out of here and go home, where it's safe.  He was tall and skinny and his skin was pockmarked and sallow. He had dried saliva at the sides of his mouth. His hair hadn't been washed in I don't know how long. 

But then he started to tell me his story, and his story was sad - he told me about his mom dumping him at his grandparents' house when he was 12 so she could run off with her drug-dealer boyfriend. He'd never known his dad, who'd been in jail for something heinous since before Nathan was born. We talked about how he'd just dropped out of high school; it didn't have anything in it for him and he had no friends. He asked me if I liked going to college and I said yes, and I told him there were all kinds of things he could do with himself...don't drop out of high school! 

We ended up going to a fast food place near the library (that started with a W and rhymed with the word schmendys that had great chili) and he asked me if he could be my boyfriend. Horrified, I told him I'd need to think about it and, uh, could we just start with maybe a movie first? 

So we made plans to meet the very next day at 2 pm at the movie theater.

(I bet you're going: oh, Amy...you're so nice! NO! No I am not. I was a shallow, immature college girl who just hadn't learned how to say no to anyone.) (for the record, now I am a shallow, mature professional woman who still hasn't learned how to say no to anyone.)

I left Nathan at the restaurant and drove home, shaking off the whole incident as weird and more evidence I would never marry a Brad Pitt lookalike; the man I was destined to marry would look and smell like feet (fortunately I was wrong...though I did end up marrying a man who has an aversion to feet). And I had absolutely no intention of going to the movie theater at 2 PM to meet Nathan. No intention, totally decided to stand him up and not feel a single bit of guilt about it. I did NOT want to date a boy with dried saliva in his mouth corners, and also he was high school age and a drop out EW, no. I wanted the Wolf of Wall Street, even though he was a douchebag. Back then, I wanted to be with a douchebag. As long as he looked like Brad Pitt. (Later? In my 20s and 30s? I would get my wish. Twice. Which is what would teach me to avoid wolves, at all costs, no matter which street they are from.)

At 3:30 pm, our phone rang and I picked it up, not even thinking. Had completely scrubbed Nathan's existence from my brain. THAT'S how shallow, Internet, exactly how shallow I was.

An old woman's voice on the other end told me her name was Betty, and asked if she could speak with Amy. I said that was me. Then she let me know she was Nathan's grandma..............holy shit! Internet!! I wish I could recreate for  you the look on my face as I stood holding the phone. I wish you could feel the horror gurgling from my bowels to my throat. Nathan's grandma Betty was calling to tell me what an asshole bitch I was for hurting her grandson! Oh god oh god, I totally deserved it. You're going to be so on target, Betty. Go ahead, Nathan's grandma. Beat me up. Leave bruises that scar.

But no. No! She was super sweet like her grandson, and let me know that Nathan asked her to call me. He had stood ME up, and wasn't able to call and tell me why - he was too afraid I'd be mad at him, and he didn't want to hurt my feelings. So he asked his grandmama to call and tell me what happened.

And that's where the story came from - Nathan couldn't meet me at the theater because he'd ridden his bike 50 miles from home, to a motel, with the intention to kill himself. But then he met me and he wanted to (a) impress me because he liked me so much and (b) I inspired him to go back to school and finish. And also, Nathan wanted to know if he could still write to me some times or maybe also call and talk...would I be okay with that, even though he'd flaked on me at the movies?

Nathan's grandma Betty said, "Nathan can be hard to talk to, and he's very impulsive. But I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to talk to him because I don't know what you told him, but it turned him around." 

And all I'd done was be a people pleasing secret bitch, really, who'd agreed to have some chili and a Coke with a sallow-faced, weird boy. 

(The ending to Nathan's real story is happy: we stayed in touch for a long while, via letters and phone calls, and he eventually enlisted in the Army to see the world. He asked, before leaving, if I wanted him to save himself for me so we could get married...choking back my shallow/self-involved horror I told him No, Nathan - you go and see the world, enjoy every bit of it, and if you meet a cute foreign girl who wants to settle down with you then you go do that with all of my blessings. And I hope he did. I don't know what happened to him after that. But I hope he did exactly that.)

The point to all of this is that (1) you don't know what battles other people are fighting, and we are ALL fighting battles; (2) be nice to people around you even when you're not feeling them - one day you may run into someone who's about to hurt themselves in a disastrous manner and one word or one sentence from you could make them see their situation different; (3) don't hurt yourself in a disastrous manner...at least not before you try sleeping on it, eating breakfast, and taking a trip to the public library; and (4) W/schmendys chili and Coca-Cola are powerful, powerful healers. 

That's the end of the purposeful kindness portion. Now on to the muck. 

Part Two:

...yesterday was a hard day for me. It was my wedding anniversary. Last year, I completely forgot the day and C shock-surprised me with a dinner outing. When we got to the restaurant, I asked what the special occasion was and he said, "It's July 22." And then I said, "Okay, what's July 22?" And he said, "The day we got married." 

And I spent the whole rest of the time in and out of the bathroom in tears. That wasn't the beginning of the end; it was sort of the half-way to the middle big reveal that There's A Very Insurmountable Problem Here. 

This year, it was all I could think about all day. And when I talked to C about it late in the afternoon he said he'd felt like something was important about the day, but hadn't remembered until I said something. (Do you buy that? I'm not sure I buy that. Never try to bullshit a bullshitter is my policy on stuff like this, but some people operate different.) 

I watched Extant, which has an overwhelming theme of loss and longing running through it. I drank wine and I cried. I spent a lot of time in tears - I hadn't been sure what would happen on July 22, 2015, and that's what happened. Some margaritas, some wine, and a lot of tears while watching a robot child struggle with longings for his human mom who's infected with alien spores. 

And I thought about Nathan. And how very kind some people are. And why kindness matters. But that sometimes we have to be cruel to each other to be where we need to be, because they can't come with us. But it's important to find a way to mask the cruelty some, so we don't break anyone in the process because maybe they've rented a motel room to do something hurtfully unspeakable. I am, and always have been and always will be, reluctant to be a wolf of wall street; it is not in my nature to break other humans for any reason. And so two things often happen around me: (1) I get broken a lot and (2) I end up breaking other people because of my reluctance to break others. One time, with a boy named Nathan, it all worked out in the end and nobody was broken; everybody won. 

It usually doesn't end up like that, I've found over the years. 

What I should have done yesterday was gone back to the place that starts with a W and rhymes with schmendys and had some chili and a Coca-Cola, then hit the public library afterward. I may try this later today, and if it magically solves anything, I'll let you know.


  1. I liked the Nathan story you did for the group. Maybe there is a parallel story that needs to run with it? "Amy's story" too? Seeing it from both viewpoints? And I agree - good chili.

    1. Ah, yes. An "Amy's story." Parallel why's.

      Having chili very soon, possibly for lunch tomorrow. :)


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