Category Archives: Relationships

Memory Lane

The Saturn dealership where I used to work is now a Kia store. There is alot of red trim on that aging building on Gordon Highway, nestled in between failing businesses in a declining part of town. I picture the interior of that structure when I drive by on my way to Sconyers, or the airport, or the flower warehouse, wishing I could pull in and just nostalgically walk around. I spent 60 hours a week for 6 years in that building; I knew every inch of that place. I was involved in so many aspects of the business that the Saturn IT guy had to call me at my new job to get the password to the network computer. A former friend who worked there years after I left said he could still see evidence of my work on bulletin boards in the hallway.

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The Saturn building on a snowy day

 

The primary motivation behind my desire to snoop around is sentimental. Kevin and I worked there together in the late 90’s and early 00’s, during a time in my life when I was in what I call my “bad boy” phase, dating guys who were not compatible with me. Kev and I got along well as co-workers, a relationship of mutual respect. I never thought of him as anything except a kindred workaholic spirit, except for one day,  standing in his office, watching him juggle stressful situations with grace. He reached into his drawer and ran a quick brush through his hair while saying something that made us all laugh. In that moment, a thought occured to me: if I ever do decide to stop fucking around with guys who are all wrong, I need to find myself someone just like Kevin.

A few years later, my shitty romantic habits were beginning to concern me. I was teetering toward 40 with no real sense of why I sabotaged healthy relationships in favor of drama-filled ones. I had been in this place before, and even sought counseling about it, but always disliked the therapists I met. One therapist was fresh out of college and had a look of panic when I shared my feelings with her. Another was a nerdy type who left me feeling judged. Despite these failed attempts, I thought I would give it one last try, calling on a therapist who knew both of my parents, as well as one sister. I figured it would save us some time if I didn’t have to describe my family dynamic with her. Let’s call her Dr. Liz.

When I called her office to set an appointment, the receptionist stated that Dr. Liz was not accepting any new patients. I would not be deterred. “She has to see me!” I exclaimed. “She already knows my whole family and I need her help!” The young woman put me on hold, returning a few minutes later with the good news. I started therapy the following week.

I don’t recall much about the short time I visited Dr. Liz, except her office filled with books and one of those small flat dishes filled with sand and a tiny rake for nervous people who want to move the sand around in a meditative way. I do know that I was happy to finally meet a therapist I liked, who was cool and stylish and non-judgey. I didn’t see her very long, as she would finally determine that there was really nothing wrong with me, including my proclivity to sometimes “live in the past”. She explained that some people just spend more time than others thinking about the past, and that it was perfectly fine. She also told me it was perfectly fine if I never settled down, and not to worry about it. Maybe it will happen, maybe not. The main thing was just to always be honest about my feelings.

It was such an enormous relief to hear someone I respected give me a diagnosis of “you are ok.” I stopped worrying about life so much after that, and terminated my toxic relationship. Years later, when I heard that Kevin was getting a divorce, I felt like it was a sign that I should reach out to him. It took a bit of convincing for him to go out with me, but once we found a slow, comfortable way to get to know each other, the foundation was formed for something healthy and lasting. Early in our courtship, when Kevin still worked at Saturn and neither of us had cable TV at our respective apartments, we would stop by Zaxby’s on Sunday evenings for dinner to-go, and head over to the dealership to drink wine and watch Brett Michaels in VH-1’s Rock of Love.

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The lounge where we watched Rock of Love. Was the TV really that small??

 

 

So yes, thinking of those fun times with Kevin, I do still feel a bit of fondness for the past, and that is why I feel the pull of that old dealership with the red trim on Gordon Highway. I yearn to walk through the halls where I used to spend so much time. I could see the office where I first thought of him as a person instead of just a cool co-worker. I could see the customer lounge where we used to eat chicken fingers and watch reality TV. I could visit the ladies room where I cried over icky boyfriends and know that I never have to feel that way again. My memories during the years when the building still held the Saturn logo set the stage for the life I live now. And though I don’t think I really “live in the past”, I do feel an immense gratefulness for those years, when I grew up a little. It’s because of my time in that building that I was able to find something better for myself than what I had. I not only found someone just like Kevin, I got the real thing. And it is even more amazing than I imagined it would be.

It’s OK to be Facebook Friends with an Ex

In 1983 my then-boyfriend David picked me up from work at Davison’s in his yellow truck and proceeded to drive to the other side of the Augusta Mall, stopping the vehicle in front of a dumpster. He grabbed a large shoebox from the floorboard and opened it so that I could peek inside. I noticed an amalgamation of photos, notes and cards. He looked me in the eyes, the hint of a smile emerging on his serious face. He then shut the lid, got out of the truck, and ceremoniously tossed the box into the garbage. What looked to be a valuable assortment of sentimental memorabilia was now mixed up with discarded Corndog-on-a-Stick cups, Spencer gift packaging and J Riggings hangers.

He returned to the truck and proudly announced that the box contained his entire collection of mementos from past romances. Now that he was dating me, he said that he saw no reason to keep any physical evidence of these relationships. He wanted to boldly demonstrate his commitment by destroying any connection to those who came before me. He was three years older than me and quite a ladies man, so the gravity of his gesture was not insignificant.

All these years later, I do not recall what I said, but can distinctly remember what I thought: That was a foolish mistake. It was foolish because the sacrifice made me more uncomfortable than happy. I also hoped that he didn’t expect me to reciprocate. Although my box was considerably smaller, I was attached to my collection of poems and love notes, and wanted to keep them forever. I saw no reason to discard a part of my short life story. I was not a jealous person, so I wasn’t worried that any of his exes would resurface in his life, and knew that he had no reason to be concerned about my former crushes. The whole affair made absolutely no sense to me.

I don’t recall if I gave in to the pressure to toss my small box away, but because I no longer have my early notes, I assume that I did. I don’t know if David ever regretted that audacious moment; we lost touch after our break-up and I only heard bits and pieces of his life after Angie. He has since passed away, so I am happy that I still have a few notes and pictures from my three years with him. He was my first serious boyfriend, and we were even engaged for a short time. I like to think that if he were alive today, we might even be Facebook friends, clicking the “like” button on one another’s family vacation photos.

I’m just not one of those people who think it is necessary to pretend a past romantic relationship didn’t happen. As a happily married person in my late 40’s, I am proud that the collage of my former connections has made me into the person I have become. I am 100% certain that I wouldn’t be happily married if I didn’t have a gloriously diverse combination of experiences to inform my perspective of a healthy relationship. The memories should not be dwelled on, but neither should they be tossed; I cherish my personal history.

Although I missed the chance to connect online with David, I have become Facebook friends with quite a few members of the Angie ex-boyfriend club. Networking with someone on social media is not an overly serious matter to me, and as a PR person I prefer to accept most friend requests. I find it is an intriquing way to get to know people and peek at glimpses of their daily lives without necessarily having to invest any meaningful time. So, in my mind, the fact that about 1% of my Facebook friends are past boyfriends is not a big deal. Seeing their political rants or pet videos on my newsfeed is no more consequential that the postings of say, a former co-worker or my next-door neighbor.

Every once in awhile, though, one of them will offer a thumbs-up to one of my cat photos, and I like that because I’m sure they remember how important my cats are to me. Sometimes I will click “like” on a post about an ex’s favorite baseball team, acknowledging my recollection that he was a fan. In fact, it feels quite evolved and mature when I can keep small casual connections like a Facebook friendship with these guys from my past. For example, when I see one of my exes on Facebook with his posse of small kids, I am thrilled to witness his happy, full life. I also know in that moment that the two of us were never destined to be together, since a large family was never my dream.

With a few exceptions, I am connected to almost all of my past loves and brief flings. There is only one guy in my history to whom I would be reticent to befriend, because of some borderline stalker behavior after our break-up. I confess that in my most paranoid moments, I assume I am already Facebook friends with him, imagining that he has created a fake persona to connect with me. That’s how the mind works sometimes. In reality, he likely never thinks of me and could care even less about social media. I know I cherish my past more or less than others cherish theirs, and that’s ok. We all have different stories.

I did have one ex who friended me and then un-friended me, and my hunch is that he was forced to do so by a jealous person in his life, or maybe he still harbors hard feelings about our decades-old awkward encounter. Another ex-Ron- refused my request outright, messaging me that it “wouldn’t be in the best interest of his family”. While I certainly respect the response, it is clear that he certainly gives more weight to friending than I do. At 1,300 friends, I am obviously connected to people I have never met. And, like David with his box, Ron has clear ideas about dividing his emotional past and present into different segments, cutting out the parts that are painful or tricky.

I, on the other hand, embrace the tapestry of my romantic story, a varied one filled with a wide range of personalities and difficult lessons. I look forward to the day when I am retired and can sit in my rocking chair and periodically peruse the online posts of past contacts, smiling at all the wonderful accomplishments of people who briefly crossed paths with me before I found the love of my life. I might even bring out my old shoeboxes filled with the notes and photos we all collected before the days of social media, happy that I am married to the type of person who appreciates me despite my crazy past and would never ask me to throw the boxes away.

 

Ladies Man in Training

I met my step-son Forrest when he was 10 years old, and even then he was already showing signs of being a bit girl-crazy. I joked with him about it, saying I was going to buy him a t-shirt that says “Forrest Loves the Ladies”.  Every day he would have a story about a pretty girl who talked to him or punched him (also known as flirting, especially during middle school years). A true ladies man was being born.

By the age of 15 he had his first girlfriend, and I will never forget how Kevin and I “fake chaperoned” his first date at the fair. We pretended to split up in order to meet again later, but we purposely kept a close watch on where they were. When they started holding hands, we were skulking nearby to witness it.

I wasn’t too crazy about that first girlfriend, for numerous reasons I would rather not discuss, but I will mention her rudeness over dinner. I suppose times have changed, but when I was a teenager we tried to impress our boyfriend’s parents, not stare at them with indifference when asked a harmless, small-talk question. She was aloof, gloomy and dismissive.

One thing that has not changed since I was a teenager is the ultimate insignificance of parental opinion. It was better if they liked your sweetie, but if they did not, you didn’t want to hear about it. I am therefore keenly aware that I have to hold my tongue about Forrest’s female friends. He reinforced that message by telling Kevin that I am the “last person he would want to hear spouting relationship advice.” I get that. So my blog is a good outlet for my opinions.

I know I can safely talk here about the young ladies in my step-son’s world because:

  1. I will change names to numbers to protect the innocent
  2. My step-son doesn’t read my blog. If I am honest, very few people do.

My favorite chickie was girlfriend #2, who made the common mistake of being too clingy and scaring Forrest away. He became so panicked by this serious relationship, he has since refused to let anyone claim they are a “girlfriend” at all. Thus my term chickie, which is about as casual as it gets. Chickie #2 was very pretty and presented herself well. In my opinion, her only deficiency was the excessive affection, which is more of a strategy error than a character flaw. Forrest fought horribly with her after the break-up, and neither of them demonstrated maturity for quite some time. Parental intervention forced both parties to act more civil toward one another, which was important because of an overlapping circle of friends.

I never had a chance to meet chickie #3, which was fine with me since she was 2 years younger than Forrest. I’m worried, though, about chickie #4, who has a distinctly different personality from the others. She is abrasive and arrogant, with not much more in the manners department than chickie #1. The worst part about #4 is how Forrest acts around her. She is a bit of an ass, and he acts like one when she is near. It it absolutely torture to watch.

We went out for sushi with them, and it was literally the longest 30 minutes of my life. It was only 30 minutes because I left before the check was even paid. The hateful things the two of them said about other teens, including chickie #2, made me go pale. I know I can’t tell him who he can date, but I certainly don’t have to be around her, and do not intend to- if I can avoid it. All I can do is pray daily that their relationship will be short-lived and that a clean, permanent fracture will end my torment.

When I returned home from that fateful dinner, I knew that the experience was a karmic payment for what my family endured during my 20 years of poor-decision making in relationships. I can recall some painfully awkward moments of guys who loathed spending time with my family, and acted like they were waiting for a root canal. Conversations were forced, dinners were curtailed abruptly.

When I returned from my sushi debacle, I wanted to call every member of my immediate family and apologize. Although I dated some true sweethearts, I know there was a solid decade of bringing home people who were less than charming. My family, true to form, were gracious and kept most of their opinions to themselves, which I appreciate tremendously in hindsight.

Knowing that my family survived my boy-craziness, I tell myself to be cool through my step-son’s girl-craziness. I must try to hold my opinions and let the kid create his own relationship path, which for now appears to be the ladies man path. I just hope he approaches it with grace and respect, and chooses chickies who know how to politely converse over sushi.

Anger-Free Zone

Buddhism teaches that all life is interrelated. Through the concept of “dependent origination,” it holds that nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life. Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. Nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of its own accord. [July 99 SGI Quarterly]

I’ve been thinking about dependent origination and anger lately. Twice in the past month I’ve been on the receiving end of bitter diatribes from customers, rants so angry that I erupted into tears as soon as I hung up the phone. I’m not blameless in these matters; in both cases, I made mistakes. I failed to inspect work on one person’s car, and I failed to call the other in a timely manner. I accept responsibility for these oversights and have no problem apologizing. Apologizing and taking ownership of problems is what I do for a living, and it’s become a polished skill. In hostile conditions, however, that skill sometimes sits in the corner and refuses to come out until the air clears.

I do not have the kind of personality that gets angry, so it is hard for me to relate to other people’s need to fulminate. I get upset, frustrated, worked up, and vexed on a regular basis; however, I am hard-pressed to think of a time when I clouded the air with an unleashing of venomous words. I don’t say it to brag, and I don’t feel self-righteous about it; it’s just the way I’m hard-wired. I know that everyone is different, so I try not to judge.

My step-son Forrest and his mom are two people who are definitely wired differently from me. They get angry, and feel compelled to express it, especially with one another. They are both head-strong, and I hear that they’ve had screaming matches that would make me curl up in a fetal position. The blessing here is that because of their conflicts, Kevin and I are able to spend more time with Forrest, who seems to thrive when he is around his dad. The tragedy is that the relationship Forrest has with his mom has become so strained that some permanent damage may have been done. It will take a serious olive-branch, kumba-ya, soul-baring, pride-swallowing love-fest to get them back to a place of some semblance of trust. And even that is only going to be as good as the time it takes for one or both of them to get angry again.

The problem arises, as almost all problems do, from a perspective that embraces being right. Once somebody says “it’s the principle of the thing”, and starts using that principle to justify their outbursts, all is lost. My personality dictates that it is more important to get along than it is to make a point, a position I embrace more as I see that angry or insulting exchanges only result in hurt feelings, and rarely in peaceful resolution. We don’t have to convince one another of our point of view. We only have to listen and be respectful. There are many times in life we have to “agree to disagree”, or even better, take ownership and apologize.

Here is the critical point in apologizing, and I’m sure all lawyers will disagree with me: just because you say you’re sorry, doesn’t mean you are saying you were wrong. You can apologize for yelling, or apologize for someone’s frustration (aka empathy). You can apologize for the simple purpose of putting the conversation in a more peaceful place.

It’s important to remember, as you simmer in all of the “rightness” in your head, that it’s often impossible to sway the other person’s point of view. So if you are steadfastly holding to “the principle of the thing”, you are sacrificing the relationship in the vain hope that the other person will eventually acknowledge they are wrong, a tricky thing for even the most evolved human beings.

As difficult as it is to convert someone to your point of view (because, like you, they want to be “right”), imagine how much harder it is to convince them when you are expressing yourself in a state of anger. Angry outbursts have damaging effects, which brings me back to the concept of dependent arising. We cannot know all of the repercussions our words and actions will have on others. The indignant customer who yells at me feels justified; he is convinced that he is a victim of some wrong, but he doesn’t have all of the information about the situation. He certainly doesn’t have any information about what his angry words will mean to me as I sit in the middle of my family dinner. When you throw garbage out into the air and walk away, you no longer see the garbage, but it is still there for someone else to manage. Words yelled in anger are garbage, and the mess is very difficult to clean.

Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions.  How I present myself to you will impact how you present yourself to those around you, who are also affected by these interactions. The ripple effect of how we choose to behave has far-reaching consequences, and anger will always contaminate that stream. The only thing we can do at that point is wait until the anger subsides, go back to the source of the garbage-spewing and apologize to them. “I am sorry for your frustration. I take ownership in being a part of the resolution. I kindly request that our future interactions take on a tone of increased mutual respect. Here is my olive branch, will you accept it?”

Perhaps we can impact the ripples around us with greater empathy. There are reasons people lash in anger, reasons I will never know. Their wiring may not be for me to understand.   For my part, I promise to embrace the art of the apology and do my part to keep the air clean for those around me to thrive.

Angela’s Greatest Hits

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Taken the day of the concert, see Superstar post

Have you ever been suprised when an artist who has only been recording music for a short time decides to put out a “greatest hits” collection? When I hear about it, I invariably think, “Really? Isn’t 20 years old a little young for a retrospective?”

Of course, it really doesn’t matter what age they are, or how many hits they have. They must have had some inspiration to assess and re-assemble their short ouevre into a “best of” compilation. I respect that. In fact, despite my short “career” in the blogging world, I have decided to do likewise. I just need you to pretend not to notice that I only have 2 greatest hits in my blog collection.

Today’s peek at my stats page showed me something I had not seen before, which is the blog ranking. One of my 48 posts has been seen the most by a phenomenal margin over the others. Almost all of my posts have 1-168 views. (I know, I know, but I’m only 20 years old in blog-years!) My leading blog, however, has an impressive 1,871 views. That is amazing to me.

The winning blog in my short 3-year career is “The Former Clinique Consultant”, about how my time with that company impacted my life. https://angelamaskey.com/2011/12/02/the-former-clinique-consultant/  Turns out, someone who had just started a management job with Clinique found my little story, and made all of her consultants read it as a learning opportunity. She wanted them to take my first-person narrative to heart, and remember the customer’s perspective as they put on the lab coat each day. Short of getting a teacher to assign your blog to their class, or getting Oprah to talk about it, I’m not sure I could ask for much more to help get attention for a single article.

The next blog in line, although with much less fanfare, is my sentimental favorite. It is an incredible story of getting to meet my all-time favorite singer, Rick Springfield (who, by the way, is very justified in doing greatest hits collections, considering his multiple decades of creating music). Rick is not the star of the blog, however. That honor goes to my Kevin. It is a touching story of how much Kevin does to make my life extraordinary.  https://angelamaskey.com/2012/06/09/a-true-superstar/

Shortly after I wrote the Superstar blog, a co-worker (who just so happens to be a tough, brawny technician) told me that he wished he hadn’t read it at work, because he had to pretend not to have tears in his eyes when people walked in his office. When you can make an ultramasculine Lexus technician start to cry, you may be onto something. I’ve had a few other people tell me of a similar emotional reaction to the blog. That’s powerful stuff, and means more to me than all the viewers and followers in the world. I’m also hoping it garners me a little forgiveness for putting out such a young Greatest Hits collection.

Happy Birthday Colin

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Much like the 1.9 million fans of this Facebook page, I don’t know much about the soon-to-be 11 year-old named Colin. We all clicked the “like” button because of an inspiring story: Colin’s mom created the page as a social media greeting card after hearing him say that he did not want a birthday party. He said there was no point to planning a celebration because “he doesn’t have any friends” to invite. Something about Colin’s story resonated with us.

Maybe we have known a young person who had difficulty making friends at his age. Maybe we have been to countless kid birthday parties and understand how important they can be. Maybe we like the chance to be a part of a community of empathetic people. Maybe we want to send a message to the kids who refused to let Colin sit with them at lunch, forcing him to eat in the secretary’s office.

Regardless of our motivation, it is truly heartwarming to see the deluge of attention the page has received. Especially touching are the video messages, such as the comedian who got everyone in the club where he performed to say “Happy Birthday Colin!” I also was moved by the army soldiers who sent in their sincere wishes for his big day.

I can’t be alone in hoping that the page gives Colin a bit of “street cred” at his school, and that classmates who formerly shunned him might in the future give him a nod or wave in the halls. It has to help that the messages are from such a diverse audience, including police officers, sorority sisters and people from around the world. One recent post looks like it is written in Farsi, and others from as far away as Australia remind us that Colin’s struggles of isolation are global.

A news interview with the mother from Kalamazoo, Michigan when the page was at a mere 8,000 likes reveals that Colin is shut out from his peers because they do not understand his behavior, which is the result of a disorder similar to Asperger’s. She noted that sometimes it is easier to reach out to someone with an evident physical disability, as opposed to a developmental issue that is not apparent on the surface. Colin’s story is one more reminder for us all to demonstrate kindness without question, because we never know what someone’s story might be. Universal compassion is always a wise policy.

I look forward to March 9th when Colin’s mom Jennifer posts a video of his reaction to the page. I hope Colin feels all of the love behind it, not just from the millions of fans from around the world, but also from Jennifer, who clearly adores her son. My wish for Colin moves beyond joy on his 11th birthday, and becomes more far-reaching as he progresses into adolescence.

Colin, no matter what acceptance you may or may not get from the other kids around you, today or in the future, please know that by just being your unique self, you have inspired many people to be a little more gentle with one another. That is a birthday gift you can carry with you always- but it is also a gift you gave to us. Thank you.

Thankful for Randomness

In 1988 I went to Atlanta with a co-worker named Mark to party with some of his friends; one of them was an auto mechanic and part-time race car driver. I thought the mechanic/driver was cute, so of course I feigned an interest in cars to make conversation. By the end of the night, mechanic/driver and I had arranged for me to bring my car from Athens to Atlanta for a major service, and in return I would treat him to dinner. His name was Charlie, and we dated on-and-off for a couple years. It ended amicably, and we’re even Facebook friends today.

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At Road Atlanta, 1989

The reason I mention this story is not because Charlie (the guy) was significant in my life, but because Charlie’s passion (the cars) stuck with me. Our random meeting led to my life taking a distinctly different turn. Had I not gone to Atlanta that night, I would have never been exposed to the automotive world. Though we had long since broken up, Charlie was somewhere in the back of my psyche when I told my sister in 1997, “I want to move to Augusta; watch the classifieds for me.” I told her I would sell either cosmetics (which I had done before) or cars. She kept an eye out for sales openings and in no time, I was driving to Augusta for interviews.

If you know anything about the car business, you know that there is always a dealership looking for sales professionals; it has got to be the highest turnover of any industry. In a matter of weeks, I was making plans to move to Augusta. Because of this fortuitous turn of events, my life evolved into a new career, and ultimately I would meet the most significant person in my life-Kevin. In addition to being the most amazing service manager this town has ever seen, he is the most amazing human being I have ever met.  Without the interest in cars I adopted from Charlie, I would never have met Kevin, and my life would have traveled down an entirely divergent path.

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Ang with love of her life

Kevin has made so much possible in my life, and followers of my blog have heard many of those stories. One which I’ve not yet mentioned is the thoughtful surprise he arranged for me: to be a driver of a racecar at the Richard Petty experience. In terms of adrenaline, it only matches jumping out of a plane for powerful life memories. That’s an experience I wouldn’t have had without Kevin.

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I’m sure the career path from cosmetics to cars is an unusual one, but I’ve loved both industries equally. I’ve been able to drive the latest cars, learn the newest technology and meet the coolest people. In my early days at Saturn, I was introduced to Dave Rosenblum, who coordinated an inner-city youth racing program in which at-risk teens worked as part of a pit crew. We brought Dave and his car to Augusta, and he spoke at Evans High School about the importance of staying clean and working hard.

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Inner city youth race car, circa 1998

Meeting people like Dave and driving Richard Petty-level race cars are life moments I will always cherish, and there was a certain randomness that brought them to me. Having sensed this randomness at a young age, I’ve long been intrigued by small decisions that have metamorphic results. I often ask couples how they initially met, are there is always a similarly arbitrary set of events that led to their life-changing connection. It makes me aware and appreciative of the power of taking risks, as well as the power of making ostensibly innocent decisions.

Whether or not indiscriminate circumstances are the result of divine intervention, destiny, karma, or natural chaos is not the purpose of this blog. Regardless of the source of the coincidences which bring people together, there is an inherently magical or miraculous feeling which can inspire tremendous gratitude. While I subscribe to the theory that I must take ownership of the events in my life, I also acknowledge that I have been tremendously lucky or blessed, depending on your POV. Ever-grateful, I can say a prayer for the immense blessings of my life, but I think it is also nice to be somewhat indebted to Mark and Charlie, good guys that fortunately crossed my path at the right time, and opened up a world I never would have known otherwise.