The Rock Pile

rock pile small

 

My friend Allison has been through her fair share of life’s ups and downs. Recently, she’s spent a lot of time on the down side of the hill. This bout of hard luck seems to be making her a little bitter, a little cranky, and a lot less fun. It’s a shame because Ally is truly a dear, sweet, loving person. She deserves a little happiness to roll her way. Sadly she seems to attract the dramatic, preferring soap opera style Strum und Drang over peace.

Allison never had the benefit of my grandma’s advice when growing up, which would have nipped this silliness in the bud. My grandmother told me often, “I expect you to try new things in your life. I expect you to fall on occasion. Pick yourself up and try again. You are not allowed to lie there and wallow like a fat, muddy sow.”

Allison indulged in a bit of sow-wallowing this summer and paid a tidy sum to do so. Allison went to a women’s camping retreat for two weeks. I’m not sure how this retreat was advertised, because I got odd messages from Ally. She bought new tees, sandals and shorts. She complained that finding shorts that looked cute both with tees and topless was really difficult. Hello? Shorts that need to look good with and without shirts just aren’t purchased by females. I’m thinking the Malibu men’s beach volleyball team has a lock on this fashion trend, but why would Allison need such a thing? “Well,” she explained, “I expect that we will be honoring our womanhood by dancing around the fire topless. “

Uh huh. I honor my womanhood by eating strawberry shortcake in my bathrobe while watching Monty Python re-runs. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.”  I have a news flash for Miss Ally.  If you are topless, no one should be checking out your shorts.

I think I have figured out why Allison signed up for this “Outward Bound meets Oprah Winfrey” event. When Ally is under pressure from bad luck, a bad relationship, a bad job; she tends to make impulsive decisions. I’m counting the two-week camp-out for unhappy women as one of her questionable choices. Even worse, it was expensive.

On Day Two of the retreat, Allison signed up for a class on “Attracting Joy to Your Life.” It was a popular class loaded with participants, all eager to find the elusive secret to happiness. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone deserves joy. The morning was spent on generalities and before breaking for lunch, the class got their first assignment. During lunch, everyone was to go out and walk around the campus. Pick up a pebble or rock for each issue in your life that made you feel disrespected or angry. Document your hurt with a stone only if you thought about the incident every day. The size of the rock chosen should also represent the amount of hurt you suffered.

Ally was all over this assignment. She was so eager to get to it that she skipped lunch altogether. She found a sizeable stone to document her philandering ex-husband, rocks to represent her three older sisters and their life-long mistreatment of her, a flat paver to show her boss’ general lack of appreciation, and chunks of gravel for every self-centered slacker she’d ever dated. I had no idea that Allison felt so wronged. I can not imagine being haunted by past events every day as she claims to be.

Allison managed to get her load of issues back to the class space just in time for the afternoon session. It took the pillow case off her bunk to haul it all, but it was worth it. As everyone assembled, some with just one tiny pebble, barely a bead, Ally was very proud to see that she had the largest pile of rocks. No one else even came close. She was going to have so much fun.

Allison had heard about this exercise before. You took your rocks down to the lake. You yelled everything you could think at the person the stone represented and heaved it into the water. It was supposed to be cathartic and wonderful. She could not wait to start screaming and chucking her collection of wrongs.

The instructor walked about the class, examining and commenting on everyone’s pebbles. He spent some time counting Allison’s pile o’ pain. He questioned whether she really carried so many injuries with her on a daily basis. She swore that she thought about each and every one of these issues at least once a day. With a sigh, the instructor went back to the front of the gathering.

“Okay people, this is an important exercise for you to accomplish. Only by completing this task, will you be able to begin living a joyful life. Is that clear?” asked the instructor.

Allison was practically vibrating with anticipation now. She was going to lug all these hateful injustices to the lake and drown them. She was going to be free. This was going to be so great!

The instructor was talking again. “All of you have assured me that you have gathered rocks to represent the painful issues that you think about every day. These issues nip at your confidence, block you from achieving success, and prevent you from attracting happiness and love into your life today. These issues are a tiresome burden to carry and you must prepare to not only let them go, but to gladly rid yourselves of them forever. Unfortunately, old pains are comfortable pains. People carry things around for years because if they let go, they are uncertain of what’s next. It’s a better-the-devil-you-know thing. But we are going to move beyond that here this week. We are going to let go and open our lives to true joy. Are you ready?”

A resounding “yes” was heard from the entire class. Everyone was ready to divorce their anger and find happiness. Quite a few of the rocks in the room represented ex-spouses, so divorcing the pain was practically a literal task for the group.

“Now” the instructor began, “in order to fully understand what you are doing to yourselves by carrying these past disappointments around and reliving them daily, you will carry your rocks everywhere with you for the next three days. You may not even go to the bathroom or the mess tent unless all your rocks are with you. Is that clear?”

“What? Wait.” said Ally. “What about the lake? What about the rocks and the lake?”

“Oh, thank you for reminding me.” said the instructor. “I would not recommend swimming for the next three days. You in particular, Allison. You are in real danger of drowning yourself.”

 

The Key

My choo-choo train has been known to jump the track from time to time. Sometimes I get so irritated that I fly right past miffed, hang a hard left at pissed off, and head deep into hissy fit territory.   I believe that it is perfectly fine, better than fine even, for a woman to let it be known when she is right livid with the world.

Lord knows, I’m not one of those darling, demure little dears who politely hold it all in. Stuffing your conflict down inside often results in a very messy and public explosion in your late 40s and early 50s, most likely involving the cabana boy from the Mirage hotel in Vegas. What is it about the scent of coconut oil and margaritas? The embarrassing part of my occasional derailments is that I am often mad about the wrong thing.

Let me tell you a story about one very mistaken hard-core huff I had going right after I met my Gruff. I realized quickly that I could spend a whole lot of time with this guy. We were in synch immediately, comforting in the way a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers are. That might be a reference that is understood only by women, but you get my drift. Everything felt cozy. It felt right.

I liked right. I’d done wrong, horribly wrong. Right felt well, right. This could work. This was much better. I decided to go out on a limb. I had a key made for my house and wrapped it in a pretty red box, complete with satin bow. This was the key to my very own house. My house, the one I’d bought with my money, and decorated just for me. It was my private happy spot and I was giving someone else, a boy even, full access to come and go as he pleased. To me this was huge. I wanted to do it, yet the emotional enormity of it caused severe shortness of breath.

I hemmed and hawed, hid the pretty red box in my lingerie drawer, and thought about it incessantly. What’s the problem? I mean, Gruff was a great guy. I really, really liked him. Surely he deserved a key. The saintly Salvadoran cleaning woman whose only English was “More Windex, missus” had a key. Why not Gruff? If I gave Gruff a key to my house, he could pick up some Windex on his way over. It was a win-win situation.

I decided to do it. Worse, I decided to infuse it with all the romantic overtones of that Hallmark, Inc. fabrication, Valentine’s Day. Yep, I gave Gruff the key to my house over dinner on St. Valentine’s Day. He appeared to be um, underwhelmed. He said, “Oh hey, thanks.”

Now I made it worse. I explained, perhaps too enthusiastically, that this was the key to my house. It was my refuge, my safe harbor, my freaking Fortress of Solitude and he should recognize that he was receiving the highest honor I could bestow. I believe he responded with, “That’s great, Sweetie.”

Fine. Men just don’t fully appreciate the emotional sensitivities of such things. I was expecting too much. I had just given him my key, not a kidney. Fine. I had agonized over the event for weeks, but never mind. It turned out to be not so much of a big deal. Fine.

Of course you realize there is a second part to this transaction. I had given Gruff my house key. It followed that Gruff would now give me his house key. Here’s where the wheels on my train started to lift off the track. I waited, and I waited, and there was no key. Gruff came and went, but there was no presentation of a key for me.

After a month, I had worked myself up into a right proper snit. I assumed that I wasn’t getting his key because he was dating lots of different women and couldn’t risk any one of them popping over unannounced. Maybe he was running a meth lab in his house. Maybe he was a secretive hoarder and his whole upstairs was filled with old newspapers and desiccated rat carcasses. I didn’t know. Anything was possible. Gruff lived two hours from me, it’s not like I would be dropping in every twenty minutes to check up on him.

After six weeks of imagining the worst possible scenarios, my locomotive derailed at high speed. I greeted my new love at my front door with the tender phrase, “Where’s my fucking key?”

“What?”

“I gave you a key to my house, which you are using to unlock my damn door anytime you please and I just want to know, where’s my key? Why haven’t you given me the key to your house? Huh? What up with that, Playa?”

“I don’t have a key to my house.”

“You’re lying.”

“No Molly, my house was built in 1905 in a very rural area. When I settled on my house there were no keys transferred. There are no keys.”

Um, never saw that coming. I mean, who doesn’t have house keys? Who goes to sleep at night with every window and door unlocked?   I come from a law enforcement family. We were taught from toddlers to know your surroundings, protect yourself, and lock the damn doors. Hell, we weren’t allowed to learn how to drive until we could load, unload, and properly fire a weapon because there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat of any family car you drove. My daddy’s head would have popped off its stem had I suggested that we not lock the doors to the house, day or night. Good Lord, who does such a thing?

Gruff did such a thing. No biggie as far as he was concerned. Totally new concept to me however, and after I wrapped my head around it, I had to humbly apologize for so convincingly playing the role of psycho-bitch-girlfriend.

I was mortified. I had not asked simple questions while I was still chugging along sensibly, but instead waited until Ozzy Osbourne was screaming “Crazy Train” in my cortex and pounced on Gruff like a paranoid she-devil. I made amends with barbecued ribs and pie, but still felt odd about the whole thing.

Thankfully, Gruff is not one to hold on to my weirdness. He let it go and so did I. Eventually I sold my perfect little home and moved in with the love of my life. You can bet your ass there are now locks on all the doors and plenty of keys.