Failure to Communicate

Sunday, August 31, 2008

After two years, my spoken French is merely pathetic. I try, on occasion, and usually am met with the stunned looks of the Quebcois wondering why I am chewing on gravel and attempting to gesticulate At them.

I then retreat to pointing and using the vocabulary of a two year old to describe what ever I am attempting to communicate. If I get really flustered, I will eventually splutter "I don't speak French!" and then hand over a $20 dollar bill and run off.

My receptive French is Much better. If I am concentrating and focused I can make out 80% of what is being said to me. This makes the show of nodding and saying "Oui" or "bon" almost convincing. Of course, the instant I spy a shiny metal object, my attention is dragged away from the speaker and I am lost once again.

Terrance, however, makes real and authentic attempts to speak in French. To people. Who may or may not understand what he is saying...but he tries. He listens to tapes. He watches French Television. He speaks with shop clerks and wait French.

However, as any non-native language speaker, he struggles with the speed at which people speak to you. And the Quebecois talk FAST.

One afternoon I watched my husband walk out of a gas station looking a combination of horrified, puzzled and slightly angry. He had gone in to pay for gas.

He sits in the drivers seat. I ask him what is the matter, for it is clear something has transpired in the Esso station.

and this is his tale:

"I went in to pay for gas - and the clerk saw me come in and asked me if I wanted "69" - which I couldn't understand since the gas didn't cost that much. So I said "What??" and he repeated himself - Did I want 69? And I thought, is this man propositioning me? Does he think I am gay? Is he offering to give me some kind of sex act here in the Esso - and if so, I am not interested since I am definately NOT GAY....So I look at him and I give him a look and said "WHAT, MAN? to let him know I'm not a punk and he must have understood since he said "69!, 69!" and held up a lottery ticket...which is the 6-4-9...but I didn't hear the four since he was saying it so fast and I thought he was asking me to engage in a sex act with him...."

My laughter needed no translation.

Blurred Lines

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Last week, we went to Toronto to pick up Emily from her time with her grandparents.

Emily celebrated by laying across me and attempting to cover every inch of my body with hers.

Her namesake and grandmother sat watching us, Emily's legs alongside mine, then noted:

"Girl! Look at how pale you are - you need to get in the sun. Your skin just looks terrible!"

Emily and I looked at Emily the Elder - puzzled.

Emily the Elder paused, looked at us both, then started to laugh.

"I forgot you're white! I thought there was something wrong with your skin!"

And the three of us laughed.

Yeah, I smell it

Monday, August 25, 2008

Terrance: "Dawn! Dawn! Come out here!."

Dawn: "Hang on, I'll be there in a minute..."

Terrance: "DAWN! Come here!"

(Dawn walking into living room)

Dawn: "What??"

Terrance: "Do you smell cat shit?"

Dawn: "Not really - or maybe a little..."

Terrance stands up from couch.

Terrance: "I can smell cat shit. Can't you smell it????"

(Dawn stands in front of Terrance looking a bit stricken)

Dawn: "Do you mean the cat shit you were sitting in?"

This is the moment that Terrance's head bursts into flame and he runs around in circles flapping his hands.

Keats, I am not

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ode to my Arm Fat

I brush my hair, You wave at me
From my bathroom mirror morning ritual
Mousse eyeliner, arm fat

Doesn’t my cleavage look great
In this strapless dress?
Arm fat smiles, dimpled in the sun

I expected my ass to fall
My boobs to droop, my belly stretch marked
But you, arm fat, were quite unexpected.

Mission accomplished
Arm Fat,

Through my Glass Darkly

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I am still thinking about the events of Saturday.

I don't like when my world view gets shaken or disturbed. I don't like when I am sure the things I know are maybe not so sure. That maybe what I know isn't entirely true.

We all have our high school origin stories. I mean, isn't that part of what makes us ...US? Part of what shaped our world view - our own private Breakfast Club experiences?

In some strange way, walking into that reunion was like stepping onto a movie set. I knew my lines and role inside and out. I knew everyone else's roles too. I knew who would talk to me and who would keep their distance.

I knew, most of all, that I needed a drink.

My social anxiety was palpable. Legs twitching and bouncing on the car drive down to the event, Terrance kept asking me why I was so nervous.

"I don't know ", I kept telling him, "I just AM."

As we approached the restaurant, I curled my arms into my husband, matching him step for step. Someone pulled up and beeped a horn. I ignored them, all intent on being a stealth reunion attendee - hiding under the arm of the only black guy in obvious sight. Military Tactician, I am not.

And then we were inside. Up the stairs into the loud, puzzling music choices.

We checked in. Terrance and I had our usual scuffle about my adding his last name to mine on name tags. I tend NOT to add it, and he would like it added. I told him that I wanted my last name added to HIS if he forced me to hyphenate. I stayed Dawn Rouse on the name tag.

There was hugging. People I was genuinely hoping to see spotted me - classmates I became friends with after college and had moved back to Rutland for a couple of years. There was a much needed glass of Merlot. There was me telling people that I lived in Montreal - Yes, Montreal. No, I did not speak much French, but was quite happy. No, seriously, everyone in Montreal does not speak French - there is a whole Anglo side and I am enrolled in an English speaking University. Listen buddy - I have now told you three times that we don't all speak French. I mean, I can order from a menu decently and do shopping and understand and respond to basic requests - but long philosophical discussions in French? No. Non.

There was me saying - Yes, an almost PhD. Yes, a daughter who is ten. Yes, A blogger. Distilling twenty years into questions and answers.

There was me talking with people I kind of wished I had been better friends with in high school - People that I knew, but really didn't know. And then, I did it.

A woman walked up to me and said Hello. I glanced at her and resumed my conversation with her now significant other - a guy who my high school boyfriend had lived with for while. At the time, I thought nothing of it. It was perfectly normal for me to disregard this woman. She was to be ignored because I viewed her as a threat to my status in the high school hierarchy. I did exactly what I did 20 years ago. Glance. Say nothing - pretend you aren't there - resume conversation with more important person.

Of course, we were also fucking the same person for a little while between high school and college. Not at the same time, I think ( but with this guy, it is perfectly possible). I am not sure if she knows or knew that. It isn't entirely important except to say that my pathological need to be Most, Best or Beloved can supersede my humanity. All I can say is that I am sorry for being such a royal Bitch, Abby Timbers. It is not you - it is me. I own it, entirely. My fears can make me a person I don't like very much.

Then to have Jill St Peter tell me that I was impossibly cool in high school and scared the hell out of her? What the ever loving fuck?

No! No! There can be no revision of my self image as wounded loner, cast out by her peers in 7th grade and forced to forage a social life for the remaining years of high school. I was NOT cool. I was weird and quirky and ....well, lots of other things.SHE was cool - tall and slim and athletic. Every thing I could never be...

Maybe by the time my 30th reunion rolls around, I will have matured enough to say these things to these peers of mine. I hold out hope for myself. After all, I went didn't I?


Sunday, August 10, 2008

I hadn't even committed to going until Thursday.

And THEN I only said yes because Terrance had booked a room at the Inn at the Long Trail.

The dance between us started months ago. Terrance read - aloud - that my 20th high school reunion was announced in the local Vermont paper. I pretended not to hear him.

"Do you want to go?", he inquired from the doorway.

"Mmmmhmmmm", I cryptically replied. This was followed by my hunching down and doing my best "flounder in the sand" impression.

A few weeks later, he tried again.

"Do you want to? Your reunion? You want to go?"


Oh, my wily spouse. He is wise in my avoidance ways.

He is also wise in the knowledge that my bravado is often just that. Bravado. I talk an excellent game and can also follow through with said game if pushed....but would usually prefer not to. I, like Bartelby the Scribner, would simply prefer not to.

I like to think that I could kick the door in to dulcet strains of "The Final Countdown" and do a dance in the middle of the party, pointing at various people and yelling "I RULE!"....but I wouldn't.

In fact, as late as Friday night I was hedging my bets.

"We don't Have to go if you are too tired - or don't really want to make the drive...", I offered over dinner. "I mean - I am not even sure if anyone I know will be there...and I haven't paid for the tickets yet, so really there is no pressing need..."

He was not swayed. "I think you should go - it only happens once, Dawn. A 20 year reunion."

This is how I found myself bundled into the car on Saturday morning, being driven to Vermont. 20 years of my fears and insecurities looming on the horizon. Stepping back into the skin of the 18 year old Dawn to face her peers.

Zen in a Double Wide Trailer

Friday, August 08, 2008

Today I took my daughter to a birthday party - the first of her public school experience.

I had called several days ago to chat with the mom and flesh out what may be appropriate gifts, as well as what constitutes acceptable parental birthday decorum. My daughter is in class with the little boy - and he has a twin sister, so I needed to get 2 gifts.

Since I do not know these children - or any, that my daughter now attends school with, I find it hard to judge what the likes and dislikes of the group may be.

School stuff is a touchy subject for me. I have over extended myself to make sure that Emily has the nicest clothes, the best toys - a sense of plenty that I never had as a child. I never had the right clothes, or things and knew it every day of my school life. My husband has called me a snob during some of the less proud moments when I cried because I didn't want to buy a coat at Walmart, or when he tried to get boots that weren't LL Bean. I know, I know, I know. I am not overly proud of this trait in myself. It has cost me more money that I can even bear to describe. It has caused fights between myself and my husband. And....yet...I...Can't...stop......

There is a rather infamous moment when a girlfriend was in the Hannah Andersson store and was buying Emily a gift, but didn't know her size. They called into the Main store - who told her over the phone what sizes Emily was now wearing. Shameful.

So, I went and bought these children Playmobil. Playmobil has been a god send for Emily. She loves her Playmobil to distraction - almost as much as Bitty Baby and American Girl. The Pirate Playmobil set for the boy and the Unicorn Fairy Playmobil set for the girl. Emily practically swallowed her tongue when she saw these in the bag. She has neither of these sets. So we wrapped them in fancy ribbon and paper ( presentation is half the battle!) and off we went at the appointed time to the place.

When I called the mother, I made some assumptions from the phone call.

A. the woman's name is Candy.

B. I was told to look for the double wide trailer, behind the fire dept.

C. The kids have never seen playmobil and have no idea what it is.

I'll give you a moment to put this picture together in your mind.

Have you fixed it in your mind? Yeah, I did too.

So, off we go to find the double wide trailer at 11 a.m. in the pouring rain. When I find it, it is all that I expect, and more.

There is a bathtub Mary in the front yard!
There are several less than funtional vehicles parked to the side!
There is some sort of shed which looks to be a serious fire/health hazard!

We park and I walk up with my child to, what I can only assume, is the entrance to the house.
We come in. I quickly take in the interior - which looks exactly like I assumed it would. There are different shag carpets from the early 70's. There is a great deal of sheet rock that is being used as wall -- sans paper or paint. There are Nascar pictures. The only thing I didn't get to look for was the "Screaming eagles of freedom" collectible plates.

Now, don't get me wrong. I was born in West Virginia. These are my people. My 30+ first cousins were lucky to graduate from High school, and most had their first babies at the median age of 16. I am, if truth be told, one genetic leap away from hillbilly. And not even a giant step.

I sized Emily up, and she said "I think you should go Mama." "Are you sure?", I reply - half wanting to stay and imprint this scene on my mind the way an anthropologist would , half wanting to get the hell out of there as fast as I could!

I leave. I get to my car. I begin to turn around in the very narrow driveway. I am almost all the way around when my front tire slips off the pavement and hits the mud that is the front yard. My car slips farther down onto the mud. Sliding, sliding. All 4 wheels are now on the mud.

A sheer wave of unadultrated panic slides over me. I try to reverse and the sound that my tires make is not a good one. Squelchy, and muffled. I go forward, and inch further out on the mud to get a more solid spot. Then reverse again. Minutes pass. I am not going anywhere. I try to call my husband - because he will surely get me out of this mess with his 1987 Jaguar? It would be like the blind leading the blind.

I go forward and backward. I call my husband. I get no fucking signal. I resist the urge to fling my phone and watch it sink into the mud. If I get out, I'll have to do it in bare feet, since my Birkenstocks will be no good in this mess. MOTHER FUCKER!!!! I try to call again and get a signal, but no answer. Just the voice mail. I practically scream "Where are you!! I am stuck in this fucking front mud yard since these people have torn up their yard and I can't get out and where are you!!!" and hang up.

Terrance calls right back. "Hey babe what's up?" Whats up? WHATS UP?? I am stuck in some metaphor for my fucking life. In the mud filled front lawn of a god damn double wide trailer.

"I'll be there in just a few minutes"

I put the car in park and sit.

A small hand knocks on my window. I jump. The birthday boy is standing outside in the rain. I roll my window down.

"You're stuck in the mud." he says.
"Yeah, I know."
"My dad can pull you out - he's got a four wheel drive"
"Ok, I called my husband too."
"I got stuck right over there when I was driving my four wheeler - see the hole?"
"Oh yeah, Emily says you like her hair", I say
He smile shyly, "It's fluffy", he says

And then the nicest man I have ever seen drives a 1983 GMC truck down, hooks a chain to the back end and pulls me out of the mud. This guy even looks like he could have been one of my cousins.

"I'm really sorry for tearing up your yard", I say to him.
"No problem - want to come in the house?" he says.
"No, my husband just pulled up - I'll go let him know I'm ok - Thanks again"

And like Buddah himself has come down to re-teach me the lesson of judging others, I drive home.
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