Hurricane Laura

No Overarching Themes: Pure Miscellany

Archive for the category “Awfulness”

About that time I found a student on campus with a gun

So, this shooting in Colorado has me thinking about the time last year that I found a student in the hall with a gun.  It was one of many crazy things that happened in the last year, and I got so distracted by the other things happening that I didn’t really write or think much about it after the fact, but I think it might be good to capture it now, so here goes…

Last fall, I taught an 8 a.m. composition class, which meant that I was frequently one of the first faculty members on campus at 7:30.  I would photocopy my materials for class, take a few minutes to get my thoughts in order, and head to my classroom, usually around the time most students were arriving on campus.

One morning, as I was headed to class at the usual time, I spotted a student walking ahead of me with a gun holstered on his hip.  Now, most people who see someone with a gun on campus would probably do the smart thing and run to find security.  Not me!  I’m a bit of a hothead, and I stick my nose in where it doesn’t belong, mostly because I can’t stand bullies.  Bullies – or anyone who takes advantage of people’s trust and/or throws their weight around like an asshole – make me see red.  I’m one of those people who would probably throw myself in harm’s way to stop one person from hurting another, just because I can’t stand that.  Anyway, stupid me decided to confront the student, so I called out to him.

By the way, he was wearing khaki pants and a golf shirt – no indication that he was anything other than your average suburban college student.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  (in very nice, but very firm teacher voice)  Hi there.  Can I ask you why you’re carrying a gun on campus?

Student:  I’m an off-duty cop, so I’m allowed to wear this.

Me:  (genuine surprise)  Really?  Because I teach here and I’ve never heard that.

Student:  Yeah, check with security.  I’m allowed to carry my sidearm openly when I’m off-duty here.

Me:  But I have no indication that you’re a police officer – there’s no badge, nothing to mark you as a cop.  You could just be saying that so you could carry a gun around.

Student:  Ma’am, if I weren’t a cop and I’m here to do something stupid, I’d have my gun concealed.

Me:  Maybe not – maybe you’re an angry cop off-duty and you’re headed to shoot your ex-girlfriend or something and then make a quick getaway.  Regardless, if you are a cop, the question isn’t whether you are allowed to carry your weapon, but whether you should do that.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.  Have you ever asked your teacher how he/she feels about having a gun in the classroom?

Student:  (getting visibly pissed)  Ma’am, my teacher is fine with it.

Me:  Really?  Are you sure?  I would be very upset if you were my student and you walked in armed like that.  What if you’re failing my class and I have to have a conversation with you about your failing grades?  How can I feel comfortable having that conversation when you’re carrying a gun?  You see where I’m going with this?

Student:  (starting to walk away from me)  I’m legally allowed to carry it, and you should be glad:  if someone comes in here to shoot people, I’m here to stop him.

At that point, I let him walk away.  I was red in the face and pretty pissed off myself – this kid (he looked really young – like a rookie maybe) was being a cocky jerk wearing his gun like that.  I mean, why not put it in his bag or something if he’s so hot to have his gun with him?  By wearing it, he’s making it clear that it isn’t about the safety issue, it’s about being a Big Macho Man With A Gun.  It is about the visual intimidation of sitting there packing heat like a badass cowboy.

You know what?  We have security on campus – we have police who are there expressly for the purpose of keeping us safe.  We really don’t need someone to self-designate themselves as Protective Cowboy In the Classroom With a Gun.  And also:  what if someone gets mad and grabs his gun out of the holster?  We’re not safer then. Or what if he does decide to settle a score with an ex, just like this sheriff’s deputy did with his side arm last year, and he uses that gun for violence on campus? We’re not safer then, either.  This “more guns make us safer” logic has a LOT of holes, as far as I’m concerned.

And frankly, from my perspective as an instructor, I’m deeply uncomfortable with guns in my classroom.  People discuss controversial ideas in my classroom, and I want them to feel like they can be honest and they can feel safe saying what they really think.  I want to create a place with a free and fearless exchange of ideas – and you know what?  I work pretty hard to cultivate and care for that environment.  Someone walking in with a gun acting like a jerk throws a huge wrench into that process.  Other students are intimidated and silenced by that, and I as an instructor cannot do my job if I have to fear that my student will decide he’s mad enough at me to pull his gun out during a conversation.  Like I said to the student:  just because it is legal doesn’t make it right.

Meanwhile, after I calmed down a bit, I realized I should really check out whether or not that student has the right to be on campus with a gun – after all, all I had to go on was his claim that this was so.  (Actually I have to credit one of my students who is a veteran who served in Iraq with this decision – he said to me, “how do you know he’s a cop?  I’d go check that out – even if he is a hothead cop, somebody should let him know they’re keeping an eye on him.”)  I went to the security office, and explained my concerns.  Instead of heading out immediately to find the student wandering the halls with a gun, they promised me they’d “talk to him” and get back to me….at some point.  You’d think being told there was a student in the halls with a gun who claimed he was law enforcement would make them start jogging out in search of this guy, wouldn’t you?  Nope.  They seemed to think that I was over-reacting, actually.  So, I finally just gave up, completely frustrated, and headed to class to teach.  (Worst class I’ve ever taught – I kept worrying I’d hear gunshots the whole time.)

After my morning class, a security guard came to find me to follow up.  What followed was a strangely heated exchange – it seemed like Security felt that I was the one they should be concerned about, that I was a bit of an uppity do-gooder that was messing up this whole Guns-At-School Party they had going on.  The security guard kept using the phrase, “What you have to understand, ma’am…” before he lectured me about how this was the law and this guy’s gun-toting was “making me safer.”  I kept trying to point out that this argument was totally bonkers and that a gun in a classroom is just very wrong and even he, the security guard, should care about students and teachers feeling silenced by firearms, but you know what?  He was having none of it.  Finally, I thanked him for checking up on it and walked away.

At the time, I didn’t speak out more or write much about this because a lot of other things were going on, and it slipped my mind.  But every time there’s a shooting incident, I think about that day.  I think about the people who claim that the answer to gun violence is to allow more people to carry concealed weapons, and I worry about a culture that cares less about addressing the mental health needs that clearly underpin these mass killings and more about making sure everyone can have a gun.  I mean, frankly, I do actually think we should have some access to weapons to defend ourselves – I recognize what the purpose of the Second Amendment actually was.  But surely there’s some more sane and organized way to keep weapons on hand in the event that we need them – like a secured citizen’s militia building we can all access in the event of some kind of coup?  Why do we need AKs in our homes?  Why have some crazy automatic weapon like that if you’re not planning to use it?  And what the hell are you planning to use it for?  I’m all for going out and shooting – shooting guns at a range is actually pretty fun – but why do you need to keep that stuff at home?  Go and rent their guns to shoot, and then go home to a safe, gun-free zone.

What I suspect is that it isn’t about the guns at all – it is about the right to do whatever the hell you want, regardless of the impact on the world around you.  “I want to drive an enormous gas-guzzling car and eat 4000-calorie meals and smoke 4 packs a day and shoot my machine gun in my backyard and never pay my taxes and the government needs to stay the hell out of my business!” – a gross caricature, but that’s what I think is at the heart of it all.   But it doesn’t work that way.  You have to balance your rights as an individual with the needs of the larger community and sometimes you need to put the health of your community first.  That’s what things like the Ten Commandments were intended to do – to say, hey, guess what!  You can’t go rampaging across the land, killing people.  Killing is bad.  No more killing.  And if the crazy gun culture contributes to an atmosphere which makes it much easier to walk into a movie theater and shoot up the place, it might be time for some individuals to sacrifice a little of their freedom to own semi-automatic weapons to make kids at movies safer, you know?



A year of disasters

This has been my year of disasters:  in the fall an earthquake, a hurricane, torrential rains that caused a flood, in the spring two uterine surgeries, being told I probably couldn’t have children, being told I might be able to have children, getting pregnant in March, losing my child at 9 weeks in May, and now this past weekend we had a “land hurricane” (a severe storm front called a derecho) that knocked out power to 2 million people and sent us scrambling for shelter and power.  The storm itself was terrifying – intense lightning and 80 mph winds – but that plus the combined effect of a year of disasters  have left me very jumpy about any perceived threat to myself or my family.  As soon as the power went out, I went into planning-and-survival mode.

By the next day, as the heat was rising to almost 100+ degrees, I knew we couldn’t stay at home.  When I went out to put gas in the car and discovered it was an hour-long wait to get gas at the one station still functioning, I started to realize things were bad and we needed to get out.  But we couldn’t go to any public cooling centers, because we have a dog and it was absolutely unacceptable to both of us to leave him behind.

In a way, our dog has been like a surrogate child the last year.  He knows, somehow, that things are harder for us lately, and he seems to provide just an extra amount of affection.  If he goes on a walk with either one of us, he always comes back in the room and heads straight to the one he left behind, giving a quick kiss of reassurance on whatever exposed skin he can find.  After my miscarriage, he spent a lot of time in bed with me, and even if he went for a walk or went in the other room to be with my husband, he would routinely come back to check on me, almost like a nurse would check on a patient.  To be perfectly blunt, he’s been more help to me than some of my closest family members, and I am not about to leave him in 100 degree temperatures with little food and water.

So instead, we packed up the car and left town.  We had no idea where we were going or if we were going to find a place to stay.  I figured if we headed down the highway and stopped at every hotel we found, eventually we’d find one that accepted pets.  It took us 3 hours, but finally we found a hotel that allowed pets in every room and had one last room available.  I didn’t even ask them how much it was – I was just so grateful to find a place with air conditioning where we could stay for the night.  Many times over the next few days, I broke down in tears of gratitude, so happy and relieved that a hotel was available where we could make sure our dog was looked after.  This is a direct result of my terrible year – I’m now emotionally undone by the idea of my dog getting basic care in an emergency.

Our power came back on Sunday, and we started the drive back home in the car.  While we were on the road, I cried again, telling my husband how much it meant to me that my little family was kept together and safe during a crisis, that we made it.  I shouldn’t even have said anything, because right in the middle of that conversation, our car started to stall.  We pulled over on the road and my husband turned the engine off, letting it cool down for a few minutes.  He re-started it carefully, as I tried to keep myself from panicking.  After a few minutes of agonized waiting, we got the car started and got back on the highway.  We’re still not sure if something is now wrong with the transmission, but we managed to drive the last hour home without incident.

But during that last hour, I lost it completely.  I was so freaked that something else would happen that I would barely talk to my husband and if he looked anywhere but at the road, I snapped at him.  I would barely let him change lanes to pass other cars on the highway, and I frequently made him slow down, even to the point of being below the speed limit.  I was rigid with fear that we’d break down or have an accident.

When we made it home, I finally let myself relax a little bit and guess what happened?  I broke down again.  I’ve been crying all morning – crying when the power flickered, crying when the cable came back on, crying at the idea of getting back in that car to run errands today.  I even cry when I look at the dog, thinking about how relieved I am that he’s ok, that we’re all ok and maybe life will get back to normal this week.

This is what the last year has done to me – I sometimes just come undone, when all the smoke has cleared and I have a moment to think.  I never used to be this easily spooked, but a combination of natural disasters and personal tragedies has shaken me so badly I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same again.  I know it could get much, much worse (and just thinking about how much worse it has gotten for other people actually makes me cry again — for them), and that idea has me shaking like a leaf.  I know I can handle it (I’ve handled it so far) but I don’t want to.  I just want it to stop.  I want a little space to get myself together again and feel normal for a while.  I want peace and quiet, but at this point, I can’t remember the last time I had any.


Thank You, Dick Foam

Things are…better.  I’m cautious about using that word, but I suppose you can look at the objective signs of recovery:  I get out of bed every day, I can usually manage to do something productive for at least the first half of the day before I hit the wall, and while things suck now, I am still aware that they will get better at some undetermined date in the future.  So, that’s something.

I also have little moments of grim humor.  Yesterday I misread the cast list for an old movie and thought the actor Dick Faran was named Dick Foam.  This led to a moment where I decided to Google “Dick Foam” (I don’t recommend you do that) and then spent a long puzzled moment not understanding why his name didn’t come up on IMDB.  Finally, it occurred to me that my tired eyes actually blurred the letters and there was no wonderful human named Dick Foam.  And I laughed.  Out loud.  That felt ridiculously good.  I also had a similar moment this weekend where I went out on an errand, and listened to the Rolling Stones’ song “Start Me Up” in the car, and the combination of that song plus the feel of hot sun on my skin was deeply cathartic.  I felt like a normal human being again, and it made me recognize how rare that feeling has become lately.  Jon and I were talking later, and decided that the words “Dick Foam” would become our catchphrase for a moment when you can forget the whole sordid mess for a second and just feel better.  Every time it happens, we’re gonna thank Dick Foam, the patron saint of momentary pauses in our suffering (and something less saintly, but Google him for that one).

Now I’m in a bit of limbo – I am conscious of the fact that I’m not ready to get pregnant again (and hey, it might not even be possible), but also mindful of the fact that sooner would be better than later (hello 37th birthday!).  Eventually I am going to have to move forward with this process, whatever that means at this point.  To start with, I have a lot of work to do.  After what happened with the D&C, it is clear that I need to change my infertility doctor (who, in the middle of my miscarriage, refused to see me on the grounds that “she’d discharged me” to OB so I was their problem), my OB clinic (which doesn’t even have an ultrasound machine), and the hospital where I was planning to deliver.  That’s a lot of new medical expertise to track down and try out.  I also have to decide if I want to try any assisted reproduction treatments – I was just being evaluated for that when I got pregnant, and I have no idea if I really need it or if I can do it on my own again.  I’m still being monitored for my condition so I need to follow up on that as well.  It all just sounds so exhausting when I write it down, and frankly, right now, my motivation is at its lowest ebb yet.  What I actually want to do is avoid all medical personnel for a while, and just let things drift for a month or two. Drifting is the most painless way to be right now – it keeps me from the pain of trying and failing and it gives me a little space to breathe and remember what I used to be like.

This is what infertility does – it takes over your life.  I’m hoping that anyone reading this who doesn’t understand about infertility but does know me will get that.  You remember what I used to be like, right?  I was not a person who obsessed about this kind of thing.  And yet:  look what has happened, in just under a year.  I’m not unique at all – in fact, my reaction is downright common.  But this is what this process can do to you.  You have to fight it pretty hard to get yourself back.






Long story short: I had a miscarriage 2 weeks ago today.

On May 10th, I had a D&C to remove the fetus I’d been carrying for almost 9 weeks.  There was no heartbeat, and my body had yet to initiate a natural miscarriage, but I knew I’d go mad carrying around my dead baby, so I let the doctor talk me into removing it.

I don’t know how to start this story – it is one of the most heartbreaking periods of my life, and the hardest part is that I’ve largely been silent about it.  Few people even knew that I was pregnant and very few know that Jon and I have been dealing with infertility for the last year and a half.  At the beginning of this, we were silent about it because neither of us had the language to talk about it.  I still feel like I’m struggling to explain it to the outside world, or even just to myself.  The initial diagnosis came last year, and when it happened, it was such a sharp, world-changing moment that I still feel a deep inhibition about putting it into words.  I’ve described it to a few people as a raw, animal grief – I feel as though I mourn it involuntarily sometimes, like my body just vibrates with sadness without my being able to control or predict it.  I did not realize before it happened how much I wanted children, and how terrible the loss would feel when it appeared I could not have them.

Since the diagnosis, we have been through a special kind of hell – as one friend put it, “welcome to the club that no one wants to be in.”  I’ve been through two uterine surgeries, both easy enough to deal with on the day of each surgery, but with complicated recoveries and the constant fear that the scarring from each procedure will make it impossible to conceive.  I also live in constant fear that I’ll need an emergency hysterectomy and it will all be  over.  We’ve discovered that our families are not really able to understand our grief or support and comfort us very well, so this has only increased the sense of isolation we’re feeling.  The culture we live in also has a variety of negative and insulting things to say about the infertile – I won’t repeat them all, but I’ve heard everything from “Maybe God doesn’t want you to have children” (meaning, I’m somehow less worthy than people who can conceive easily) to “Your problem is that you just can’t relax – relax and you’ll get pregnant” (meaning, this problem isn’t as big a deal as you think it is).  Go to any infertility website and you’ll see a list of insensitive, cruel and hurtful remarks that people make to infertile couples – sometimes they come from members of your own family.  And the worst thing you often get is silence and avoidance – I have one friend who changes the subject or abruptly ends the conversation when I bring up the subject of my struggle with infertility.  In general, I feel like I’ve become the focal point for the unease, fear and hostility that surrounds the darker side of reproduction.  I represent what a lot of women are afraid of, so afraid that they can’t even bring themselves to admit it, so they just want me gone, out of the room, off the screen, out of their lives, as soon as possible.  I’ve had a lot of moments where I feel like I’ve been silenced, shunted aside, and pointedly ignored, for fear of what I might say or what I might make someone confront.

And then there was the pregnancy.  It happened out of nowhere – first it appeared that I magically started ovulating again (after the doctor told me I had stopped some time ago, and if I didn’t start again, there was nothing she could do), and then while we were in the middle of testing and evaluation of our options for treatment, I discovered I was pregnant.  It felt like the whirlwind inexplicably stopped, and we could see a way forward for the first time.  I will also admit:  I fell in love with that baby (to me it really was our baby), impossibly small as it was.  We saw it on the ultrasound at 6 weeks and heard a heartbeat – that’s not something I think I will ever forget in my life.  I tracked its progress every week, and even though I felt wretched, I welcomed it.  I told myself I’d happily throw up for nine months if only the little tadpole would stick it out with us.  I talked to it sometimes, telling it how much we wanted it, how loved it was and would be, thanking it for coming to us after all we’d been through.  Feeling hope for the first time was very painful, but I let myself feel it – I would cry and talk to the baby, saying please stay.  Please make it and live.

Around 8 weeks, I started to think it might just work out for us.  We told our families.  We picked out some names and dared to discuss what our child might be like.  I scheduled a maternity tour and a birth class.  It felt impossible, amazing even, that we’d had this lucky break after so many months of grief and disappointment.

And then, it just ended.  When you work so hard to get pregnant, you take nothing for granted – every twinge, every change in your symptoms, every pain is examined in detail for any sign that something might be wrong.  When my morning sickness abruptly stopped, I knew.  I didn’t want to believe it at first, but I called my OB’s triage nurse, “just in case” I told myself, and by the next day, I had an ultrasound and they confirmed that the heartbeat had stopped and the baby had died.  I felt like such a fool, for hoping like that so early, for daring to believe it might actually work out, for loving something that much that was so small and fragile.

The actual process of removing the baby was a complete nightmare.  I don’t even know that I can write it all down yet, but I will describe one moment:  as they were wheeling me into the operating room, I began to panic.  I had this wild feeling that there had been some terrible mistake, that they’d missed the heartbeat and we were about to destroy my child in a terrible error.  I began to gasp and whimper, the whimpering became crying, and the crying turned into a small scream.  Instead of stopping to let me recover, the nurses and doctor held me down.  “This is for the best,” one of them said to me awkwardly, “Just let go of it.”  They strapped me to the table and as I wept and thrashed around, they forced the oxygen mask over my mouth until I passed out.  That’s the last memory I have until I woke up in the recovery room, the very last image of my pregnancy.  Sometimes I don’t know how I am still walking around with that moment in my head, how I am not destroyed by that.  Often I wonder if my pregnancy wasn’t some horrible dream or a joke someone played on me.  How does a person hold that kind of thing inside her without flying apart?

In the two weeks since then, I realized immediately that silence was no longer possible.  If only to save my life and preserve some sanity, I need to start talking about this.  I don’t really have a great support system – a few dear, loyal women who know and keep me afloat, a therapist who props me up every week, and Jon, who is dealing with his own version of this devastation.  Family members have really not offered us very much, and since the miscarriage, they’ve either ignored it or said the worst possible things.  If I am going to move on from this and get pregnant ever again, or make my way through the landmines of adoption, I am going to have to find another means of coping.  I am going to have to write my way through this, or else give up completely.  So from here on out, we’re going to try this and see if it helps.

There’s an Emily Dickinson poem I’ve been reading, which I think explains better than I can, how I feel about the loss of our child.  I’ll end this post with that:

Of all the Souls that stand create –

I have elected — One –

When Sense from Spirit — files away –

And Subterfuge — is done –

When that which is — and that which was –

Apart — intrinsic — stand –

And this brief Drama in the flesh –

Is shifted — like a Sand –

When Figures show their royal Front –

And Mists — are carved away,

Behold the Atom — I preferred –

To all the lists of Clay!

I Will Take Any Chance I Get To Bring Up ‘The Human Centipede’

A college classmate of mine helpfully posted a link to this article in the NY Times  on her Facebook account today, and it provided me with so much amusement, I ended up reading it out loud to my husband in its entirety.

The article is a profile of the wedding of David Friedlander and Jacqueline Schmidt (described as an “ethereal redhead” in the first paragraph, a harbinger of snark to come), who decided to turn their wedding not just into a moment to celebrate their commitment to one another but to proselytize about “the world of creativity and social purpose that they inhabit.”  I hate to cast aspersions on a non-traditional wedding, since mine certainly lacked many elements of tradition, but I also think it is really the wrong place to push a lot of your philosophical musings on people.  They want to see some folks get hitched, enjoy a little free booze, and get to the buffet line quickly.

Instead, what guests got when the attended the Friedlander/Schmidt wedding was a Powerpoint presentation “on subjects of interest to the couple – ecological efficiency, neuroscience, holistic healing.”  I love how the poor writer assigned to this beat described this event:  “Few events have so perfectly distilled the essence of a certain New York lifestyle as it is practiced right now, one steeped in proselytizing, bohemian entrepreneurialism.”  Oh, I feel like I lived down the street from these people in Brooklyn.  Although, that can’t be true, because I’m sure these folks have so much more money than I ever did.  They downsized because they thought it was good for the earth; I did it because my apartment was the size of a cockroach’s suitcase.

What I was immediately reminded of, as I read the description of their heavy-sell bohemian Powerpoint presentation, was another similar presentation in the soon-to-be-classic horror film, “The Human Centipede.”  In it, the evil doctor presents to his victims his vision, which involves him sewing them together mouth-to-anus.  His victims watch in horrified abject despair.

Here's what will happen if you don't recycle!

Now here’s a photo of the wedding Powerpoint presentation:

Downsizing means not all of us get our own anus.

I feel like these two decided to create a metaphorical version of the Human Centipede experience and bring it to the people!

Comments have been closed for the article, another telling sign.  Also you really get a sense for the reporter’s bedraggled perspective when she acidly comments at the end, “Their strain of progressivism never feels convincingly divorced from ambitious self-promotion.”  Much like the doctor in the film!  Any hitchhikers or stray travelers on the road become victims for his disturbing experiments.  Really, these people might find more adherents to their world view if they insinuate that anyone not in compliance will find himself at the wrong end of a scalpel…

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