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Sunday, July 17, 2016

DIFFICULT PEOPLE



We all know these people.  You know these people.  You may even be one of these people.  If that’s the case, you probably have no idea.  Difficult people always think the problem is the other guy. It never is.

I’ve encountered several pissy types recently, and I will start by acknowledging that I invited them into my life somehow.  I attracted them.  That’s my belief, and it’s an empowering one, because it means I’m not a victim.  I don’t believe in victims or accidents. There’s always an energetic match between people and the interactions they create, even if it appears that one of them is a victim.  There are many unseen forces that go into creating situations.  Nothing is random.  I attracted these difficult types to me so that I can figure out new ways of fending them off, thereby empowering myself.  It's like martial arts training.  Good self-defense. 

I'm about to examine some circumstances that left me feeling put upon, attacked, vulnerable, crappy, yea, even “victimized” (despite my disclaimer above) in the hopes that I can make sense of the interactions and perhaps offer some insight to you regarding your own uncomfortable interactions. 

We’ll start with an easy case.  A mother with two small but shrill, boisterous boys on the subway.  The boys screech, shriek and rough house.  When sound can be heard above the din of the train in New York City, that’s some serious noise.  I was trying to read, and the guy next to me was trying to read, but he had ear plugs in so he was protected, or so I thought.  It’s lovely when there’s decorum, some sense of civility, propriety and manners in public, and it’s awful when there isn’t.  I don’t have to tell you that.  When the mother and her two noise machines left the train, the guy sitting next to me (who was sporting a wedding band) pulled out his ear plugs and turned to me. “Now that”, he said, pointing at the departing ruffians, “is the best birth control there is.”  

I smiled and agreed with him, then added “But if you had them, you wouldn’t allow that. It doesn’t have to be like that.”  It made me feel better, child-free also, to appreciate our advantage.  We’re not plagued by pint-sized hooligans.  He put his ear-plugs back in and recommenced reading after our conference. When I got off I waved goodbye, and he flashed me a peace sign.

For all my growing strength, I am still at times very sensitive.  So, if someone is being difficult, I may cringe, lie low and remain silent instead of mouthing off.  I’ve had a lot of experience with these types (heck, I married one) and after endeavoring to stand up to them (which inevitably results in discord) I finally, sensibly, simply started avoiding them.  Some people are just plain ornery, argumentative and contradictory no matter what you say to reason, cajole or appeal to them.  This is because the Difficult Person's only objective is to be contrary, to remain in an antagonistic position.  This is sport to them, but to me it's torture. Since you can’t win, why bother playing? 

I have been beset upon a minimum of three times under identical, absurd circumstances.  The setting: the bus, a bus full of empty seats.  Now, when a bus or train is packed, you keep your personal possessions to yourself.  You contract, pulling your bags onto your lap, putting them under your seat, doing whatever you have to do to accommodate the crowds.  This is the only thing to do.  However, when a bus or train is empty, one expands, branching out with one’s person and property. 

I've been on empty buses with a bag at my side, peacefully looking out the window or reading inspirational fare when one lone, crazed woman (it’s always a woman) comes right up to me and insists that I move my bag because she wants to sit right next to me.  I love personal space and peace and quiet, for goodness sake, and I like to be alone.  I’m averse to chit chat. Why me?  How did she decide that the seat next to me, when there were myriad others to choose from, was the exact right one?  Since I don’t own the bus, and I often resort to silence when confronted with maddening situations, I accommodated these several lunatics, as they all inevitably were. But I got angry about it.  I felt manipulated by the madwomen, yet I was really mad at myself. 

I now know why they glom on to me.  Because I’ve got a powerful positive vibration.  I’m peaceful, calm, and carry a high light from my spiritual work.  My vibration is attractive to them. They are moths to my flame.  I now also know that I don’t have to sponsor a moth fest.  Personal boundaries and protecting my energy and space is imperative, especially where negative types are involved.  My spiritual work and sanity depend upon it.

There was once a gal on the bus who could be nominated for MVP in The Difficult Person League, for not only did she annoy me (being A Difficult Person) but she expanded her repertoire to vex others.  She was older, but not old, and was wearing jeans, sneakers and a baseball jacket which read “Park City, 2000.” 

I was sitting in an aisle seat on an (of course) mostly empty bus, my bag on the seat next to me.  Ignoring the fifty other seats around us, this woman, who had a large piece of rolling luggage with her, declared that she wanted the very seat I was in, an aisle seat, and would I move over to the window? I did not want to be locked in by her and her luggage, nor did I want to sit next to her at all.  How do you respond to a request like that?  I know, you probably would have had a great response, and I laud you for it, but, determining that she was mad, and without saying a word, I chose to simply and silently vacate my seat and move to one of the aforementioned empties, another aisle seat just across from me.  A perfectly good seat she could have just as easily sat in.  In fact, there were literally three empty pairs of aisle and window seats all within three feet of me.  As I mentioned, A Difficult Person. 

She sits in the seat I unwittingly warmed up for her.  Her big luggage is in the aisle, somewhat obstructing traffic.  I continued to eye her, both irritated and intrigued. 

A big strapping man got on the bus, which was now filling up with passengers.  He was very tall and quite robust and stood near where Ms. Difficult and her luggage were parked.  She solicitously offered to move her luggage so that he could sit (she probably thought he was good-looking). He politely thanked her and declined, saying he was getting off at the next stop.  “The next stop!?” she blurted with her New Yawk accent. “Why didn’t you walk?  It’s a beautiful day.  Exercise is good for you.  You’re a big healthy man, you should be walking, not taking the bus!"

He became as irritated with her as I already was, and angrily responded, “I’m going to see the doctor!”   Now, maybe he made that up to shut her up (it did) or maybe it was the truth.

People like her don’t want your seat.  They want you.  To pester you.  To engage and lure you into their web of murkiness and despair.  It’s their weird, sociopathic way of socializing. Really, they're just toying with their prey.  

As luck would have it, and to my great chagrin, I encountered this broad again months later in an exercise class, where she maintained her title of Most Difficult Person, constantly complaining, whining, and being disruptive. Forewarned, I avoided her altogether.  She was clearly a lonely person, however, I don’t take on charity projects anymore.  I used to.  And I got burned every single time.

Being on the path of personal growth and spiritual enlightenment, I have begun to find my voice and become more proactive.  Being spiritual does not mean suffering in silence, putting up with things as they are, and making excuses for peoples' bad behavior.  In fact, being spiritual demands that you set a shining example by doing what's right and speaking up, especially when difficult people infringe on the well-being of others. It's not about fixing the world, an impossible task.  It's about being an active participant in your immediate environment, and, where appropriate, an activist in the world at large if this is your calling.

In a packed shoe store (there were sale racks crowding the interior with merchandise) a young woman was sitting on a chair right between the sale racks and one of the few coveted mirrors.  She was patently in the way, and it was all the more obnoxious because she wasn’t even shopping.  She was playing a game on her phone, while waiting for someone who was shopping. 

After stepping over her several times, I became increasingly irritated with her obliviousness until I finally took action and asked her to move.  There were, in fact, plenty of other seats, in less crowded areas of the store. “Would you mind moving to another seat since you’re not shopping?  You’re right by the mirror.”  She, being a difficult person (why else would she have stayed put when customers were relentlessly tripping over her trying to shop?) replied, “Why don’t you move to another seat?  There’s one over there”  “Because it’s not by the mirror, and I’m actually trying on shoes.  You’re not.” She got up with a huff and spat out “Rude!” as she walked away. Hello, Pot? It’s the Kettle calling.

Now, this story I missed, as it was re-told to me by an Indian guy who works at a local newsstand.  “An old man was with his girlfriend at the bagel store next door.  He was making a fight with the owners and using the ‘F-language’.  The store called the cops, and when cops ask him to leave the bagel store he say, “I don’t want to leave!” So police take him away in handcuffs.  They send five police cars for this!”

Case number five.  “What kind of dog are you walking?” A woman rudely interrupted me as I walked down the street with my dog, Milo. She was with her ten year-old daughter. I was taken aback for several reasons.  First, she didn’t bother to say, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question” or thereabouts.  Second, she assumed I was a dog walker, not the owner of my pooch.  Now, perhaps I could take that as a compliment, as most of the dog walkers in my neighborhood, though not all, are younger folk.  They’re certainly casually dressed, for the most part, and so was I, wearing overall shorts.  But frankly, I took it as an insult.  I look like a dog walker?  Nothing against NYC dog-walkers, they’re a terrific breed.  I’m just not one of them.

My old knee-jerk reaction, much to my dismay, was often to answer people (including strangers) when they asked me a question, even if the question was personal or inappropriate. Of course, if I had reason to already distrust or dislike the inquisitor, I’d know enough to keep my mouth shut and wait the scene out. 

And if someone was clearly “off” (crazy, aggressive) I’d know to keep walking.  But there are some cases that are middle of the road, and I reflexively respond.  So I stopped, and instead of explaining that this was my dog, not a dog I was hired to walk, I answered “He’s a poodle and yorkie mix.”  She didn’t even thank me for the information.  She clearly just wanted to procure one for her little darling. 

I was furious after this interaction.  I felt insulted.  I felt treated like “the help”.  And I hated the privilege her inquiry implied.  I was just a means to an end for her.

I wished I’d quipped, “What kind of dog? He’s my dog” and walked off.  None of her damn business what kind he is.  And I realized then that the correct answer to that question for anyone from here on out is the powerful truth, “He’s a mutt from the shelter.”  I don’t want to encourage more people to shop for designer dogs, not when there are so many animals that need adopting.  

That answer would have shut her down.  She’s not running to a shelter anytime soon.  At least I’ve started saying “he’s a mutt from the shelter” since this incident, because it’s the truth.  Yorkie Poo or not, he’s a mutt, and I did get him at a shelter.   Designer dogs are no better than designer clothes.  It's a shallow obsession. 

Months before adjusting my description of Milo’s origins, I was in a small local park walking Milo when a very old German man with a thick accent asked what kind of dog he was and I responded “Half poodle, half yorkie.”  “Aaaah, he is of mixed race”. The old guard spouting a eugenic perspective.  I didn’t hold it against him, though.  He seemed nice enough, even if his reference to racial purity was telling.

Another time I went into Whole Foods with Milo.  He was tucked safely away in his bag and lodged on the top shelf of my shopping cart, surrounded by groceries. When I stood in line a man remarked, “Can’t go anywhere without him, huh?”  I found that incredibly offensive, as it implies, well, what does it imply? That I’m needy?  Pathetic?  Can’t go anywhere without my dog?  Still not used to mouthing off to strangers, I said simply “He’s here.” and then, “It’s more fun with him.” 

The truth was that I had just taken my dog on a walk that lasted several hours in Central Park and we passed by the store as we returned.  Rather than bring him home first and then come back to the store, I put him in his bag and bought the few items I needed.  But I didn’t owe this guy a damn explanation.  Why should I have to defend myself? What right does a stranger have to comment on my life?  If I had the chutzpah, I would have retorted, “I could say the same of your wife” who was standing by him, along with their son.

Next episode.  I take Milo to a local park where there’s a clear “No Dogs Allowed” sign.  I take him there because many others do the same with their dogs, and the list of illegal activities that go on in that tiny park, including scofflaw toddlers riding bicycles and scooters when there’s an equally clear sign saying “NO BIKE RIDING”, goes on and on. This park hosts pot smoking, littering, alcohol drinking, and generally loud ruffian-like behavior from the local high school kids.  All go on without question.  I, who clean up after my dog, and allow him to pee on the tiny 5’x10’ patch of grass (I ask you, this is a park?) in the center of the park, do not care about stupid rules or the stupid people who care about the stupid rules. 

This is a small public park, and it’s not a playground (Dogs are not allowed in playgrounds, and I totally respect that.  That’s a hygiene issue.)

As I walked up the ramp into the park with Milo, an older woman who was with her tall husband shouted after me. “Excuse me!”  I don’t respond to strangers yelling in my general direction and I didn’t respond to her.  She continued to shout after me, and, in fact, started following me while yelling “Stop! Dogs are not allowed in there! Stop right now!”  She was very upset at me and my six pound dog, and while she and her husband were not going to the park before, they sure as hell were now, in hot pursuit of me, a tiny person with an even tinier dog. 

I walked Milo over to the grass, where he sprinkled a little pee, then we moved to the edge of the park, on a bench by the river and sat, with Milo in my lap. I sat near a young black man with his Rastafarian hair wrapped in a turban.  I thought his presence might intimidate her white ass.  I was wrong. I should have sat next to the gang of high school kids playing loud music and smoking pot.   

The lady marched right up to me, standing to face me.  “Are you blind?  Can you not read the sign?  There are no dogs allowed here!”  So obstreperous was she that I wondered if she confronts everyone who “breaks the law” in NYC, including folk who litter and don’t pick up after their dogs?  I doubt it.  Why did she care so much about this, about me, now? She had it in for me. 

I had sunglasses on and steadfastly stared ahead, or slightly away from her, as she continued her rant.  I did not say a word.  Neither did my dog.  We sat still as church mice. 

“Are you deaf, as well as blind?  What’s wrong with you?  There are NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS PARK.  Can’t you hear me?  Can’t you read? Get out!  Get out of here right now!”

With no response from me she proceeded to escalate.  “Are you stupid as well as blind and deaf?  Are you rich?  Is that it?  You think you’re above the law?  Well, why don’t you just buy your own park!  You think you own this park!?”  A hilarious argument, since I could say the same of her, and the nannies and rich toddlers who take over the park during the day, littering it with chalk, food and wet wipes, or the teenagers who take it over after high school with their loud music, bicycles and pot.  It belongs to all of us, in fact. I’m one of the few people who leave the place better than I find it, not only cleaning up after my dog, but often picking up litter left by humans.

I did not respond to her because there was nothing I could say that would appease or silence her.  I don’t like to argue, and I don’t answer to crazy strangers.  She’s not a cop.  But she threatened to call them.  “Do you want me to call the authorities?  Is that what you want?”  Her husband started taking photos of me with his iPhone, me on a park bench with a small fluffy dog in my lap.  Too bad I didn’t have my hair and makeup done that day.

Because I refused to leave or respond, I won.  They left.  

Speaking of speaking up, I noticed a sign warning that Monsanto’s Round-Up Glyphosate was being sprayed in that very park the following day.  Most people won’t read that sign and their children and pets will be exposed to this known carcinogen.  I wrote the city immediately complaining about their use of this hideous toxin, produced by a hideous company.  I contacted the Mayor’s Office and the Parks Department, excoriating them for their inexcusable choice to apply poison in a public park.  Neither responded. 

And another incident.  After hours on the phone with Verizon simply trying to update a credit card for autopay (the website wouldn’t accept the new card number) I was beginning to lose it.  Impossible to use the website or to reach a rep, the company is an octopus.  It’s too darn big, the definition of a monopoly, and the very reason this country has anti-trust laws, none of which are being enforced by the Corporatocracy we live in. 

I spoke to a minimum of ten people, and was on the phone for two hours.  It was unbelievable.  Eventually, I switched gears and spoke with a bank rep from the issuing company to see if there was a problem with my new card. She said something about my new Visa and I froze.  I had been entering numbers for an Amex. I had no idea that the new hybrid card I was trying to update had switched from a partnership with American Express to a partnership with Visa.  That’s why the numbers were invalid.   It had been Amex for three years, why would it change? 

Despite my ignorance (the bank made no mention about their shift in partnership from Amex to Visa when they presented the updated card, which was simply to be managed by a new customer service firm.)  I was The Difficult Person.  After being humbled  (and mildly amused) by my mistake, Verizon took over the position of Difficult Person again.  Other issues had by now cropped up, passwords, log-ins, and I was on my 12th transfer to yet another customer service agent.  He asked me what I needed help with, despite the fact that another rep brought him on the line and should have filled him in on my case, if only briefly. Baffled, I said,  “I have absolutely no idea.” and hung up.  I’d lost my mind entirely.

What was I gaining from these confrontations with difficult people?  Over time, I was learning to stand up for myself.  To speak up. And to not back down. Whether or not I spoke. 

Another example.  I was invited to an appealing event, but by someone with whom I had an iffy past.  We were friends/acquaintances, however, this gal had stood me up two times at events to which I’d invited her.  At both events I waited, looked at my watch, then texted her “Where are you?” Both times she responded “Oh, didn’t you get my text?  I have to work.”  Uh, no, I didn’t get your text.  And if you’d actually sent me one, I would have.  A third time she invited me to an event and never showed up.  I texted her as I approached the venue, “Hi!  I’m on my way!” then again,  “Hi! I’m here!  Where are you?”  and finally, “Hello, are you here?”  She didn't answer me until several days later when she claimed that she had, indeed, been there,  and wondered why didn’t we see each other.  Gee, I don’t know.  Nor did I care.  Regarding general communication via email, she rarely responded in a timely fashion, if at all.  So, I had plenty of unsavory prior experience with her.

All this being said, and despite the fact that I’d had no contact with this chick for the past six months (for obvious reasons) I was surprised to hear from her, and delighted by the invite as it sounded like a really fun event.  In fact, I had joined her at one event she invited me to and we both had a great time.  It was one of those situations where the evidence swung both ways.  She had been a loyal student in my spiritual development classes.  And that meant something to me.  I appreciated her reliability and responsiveness early on in our association.

But ultimately, when you consider the bigger picture, that on-again off-again behavior represents at minimum an unreliable friend, and at worst, an abusive relationship.  Someone can treat you like shit for half (or more) of the time, but it’s those few “exceptions” that you cling to.  “Oh, but she’s so sweet sometimes!”  The operative word should be RARELY, not sometimes.  And if you can’t count on someone to consistently be there for you, responsive to you, receptive to you, and loyal to you, then they’re not a real friend.  

Regarding this latest invitation, I asked her a bunch of questions since the event was five hours long and I wanted to get a sense of what she anticipated, as I couldn’t find a detailed description of it online.  She didn’t respond.  This was a red flag, and my stomach felt “funny” (my “gut” feelings or intuition kicking in) so I eventually followed up, “Are these plans definite?  Because I cancelled my other plans.  I don’t want to be left with nothing.”  She responded with a nasty, “Why would you ask me that?  I already told the organizer we’re coming.”  

Well, you know why I asked her that given the history I just outlined.  However, had I referenced the specifics from the past in answer to her, it would have been the same as hurling a rock at a wasps' nest. The event would have been called off, no doubt about it, and a fight would have ensued. 

I could feel the vitriol in her response. I recoiled, and actually felt chastised and depressed for a full 24 hours (I told you I was sensitive). I knew I’d done nothing wrong, but her blast of anger catapulted me into a mindset/emotional mode from my young adulthood when I’d tolerated family members, and later, boyfriends, who would snap at me, moving me to recoil and withdraw within.  I got depressed rather than angry.  Over time, I’ve learned how to maturely express my anger, and, better yet, to take action.  Sometimes it comes from confronting the “abuser”.  Sometimes it comes from cutting off contact with them. I’m not here to teach the world.  I’m here to happily live in my own.  Miserable people like to drag you down to their own wretched level.  You must be a potent gatekeeper.  You must learn to be discerning.  I’m still learning, as you can see from this piece. It's a process of refinement over time. 

Appalled as I was by her angry response, I did not respond.  My desire to be at this particular event overshadowed the crystal clear message from my body and emotions (discomfort and depression) that told me the whole situation was a no-go. Great event.  Bad company.  I wanted to attend the event enough that I ignored my feelings.  That's where I went wrong. That’s what our feelings are there for.  They’re a warning system.  A guidance system.  Bad feelings suggest the usage of extreme caution, if not outright avoidance. Now I know (again, and yet more) not to proceed if I’m feeling bad about something.  We tend to experience the same lesson over and over again until we really, really learn it.  Learning is incremental; so don’t get mad at yourself.  If I didn’t need this lesson (again) it would not have reared its ugly head.

I thought about canceling with her, and going back to my original plans with genuinely nice people (believe me, I kicked myself over this after the fact). However, the nice people were all married, and I, being single, really wanted to be at a large event where the chance of being with other single folks (my “friend” was single, and now you know why) was at least an option. My original plans were a known quantity, the new plans had an element of excitement and the unknown. But I did know the most important thing .  I knew who she was.  That was my mistake, overlooking her erratic and unpleasant behavior in my eagerness to have fun.  How can you have fun with someone who isn't? Her character was more important than the event itself.

I did meet up with her and it was a disaster from the get go.  She was already in a foul mood, and you could cut the tension between us with a knife.  I tried to make polite conversation, to which she glumly grunted responses.  I finally turned to her and said "This is not fun.  I'm going home" and left. I had been with her exactly one hour.  

Your feelings are your friends.  They represent communication from your Inner, Wise Self that knows who you are and what will most please you.  It is Your Wise Self that wants you to be pleased, to be happy, if only you will listen to your heart.  As you get better at understanding the feedback loop between what you think, what you feel, and what you experience, you will get better at navigating what life has to offer you.  If you keep on tolerating unpleasant people and experiences and making excuses for them, you’ll get more of the same.  If you decide that you want more out of life, to be happy, free and unencumbered, then you will seek out people, feelings, thoughts and experiences that produce the happier results.   Again, it’s the use of discretion and discernment that sets the course of your journey.  Like any good GPS, you always have the option of “recalculating” and “recalibrating” your path.  You’re the captain of your ship.  Navigate wisely.  Protect your self, your vessel and your crew. 

Last story.  I was in a good mood, feeling great, actually.  Returning to the city from two days in Southampton with my dog, visiting a friend and her family.  The long leg of the journey was over.  We made our connection to an express train from Jamaica N.Y. to Penn Station, a ride that lasts roughly 21 minutes. 

I’m surrounded by three empty seats, in a car that is mostly empty, on a train that has barely any passengers.  I have with me a small piece of rolling luggage, a large purse, and my dog’s bag. I’m relieved to have breathing space after an hour and a half on a more crowded train before this connection. 

Just as I settle in a woman comes up and points to the seat next to me, “I want to sit there (where my dog was nestled in his bag) and I don’t want to sit next to your dog. You can put him over there” (she pointed to the seat across from me).  I was appalled by her presumptuousness, by her having the chutzpah to tell me exactly what to do with my things and my dog.  As you know, I’ve been historically restrained in my responses.  Not this time.  Not with my baby.  “I don’t want my dog over there,” I said. “Did you pay an extra ticket for him?” she retorted.   I looked at her, not saying a word more. I thought she might call the conductor over and “tell” on me, as if other people don’t spread out with their bags when there’s enough room, with full conductor complicity. I did just that on the trip out.  My dog is always next to me when there’s room, and if not, he’s on my lap.  I looked her directly in the eye and firmly responded.  “You can’t tell me where to sit.  There are plenty of empty seats.”  She was incensed.  “I didn’t tell you what to do.  I simply asked.”  “And I answered.” I rebutted as she huffed, puffed, then blew herself away while muttering that I was “rude”.  It’s always the rude who call others the same when we don’t comply with their selfish demands.

One day I woke up at 5 A.M. and decided to take Milo to Central Park since he can be off leash there until 9 A.M.  On another such day, yet another “difficult person” shouted out to me across a crowd when Milo (and all other dogs) was off leash “Aren’t you worried about losing that little guy!?”  How is this his business? I ignored him and walked on.

On this day, we got to the park by 7.  There was something strange about the park that I couldn't place.  It was preternaturally beautiful, and the sky was what pilots refer to as “severe clear”, stunningly bright and beautiful.  Even better, there was no one around, which I couldn't understand. It was a surreal cross between The Twilight Zone and The Garden of Eden.  The scene was otherworldly, and I couldn’t understand why, but I greedily soaked it all in.  Eventually I figured out the reason that it was so pristine and picture perfect.  New York City had been purged the night before by a thunder and lightning rainstorm, the first in a long time.  The powerful energy of Mother Nature cleansed and cleared the atmosphere, and rearranged the park most magnificently. 

There comes a time when one must Thunder and Lightning, Shake, Rattle and Roll.  Become a Force of Nature in your own right.  Know Thyself and stake your claim to what is yours, including your personal space and your God given right to be happy.  Don’t let others rain on your parade. Don't let the turkeys get you down. 

There are those who suffer in silence, martyrs, no matter what happens around them or to them.  This is not noble, it's passive.  The other extreme is those who are so controlling and neurotic that they insist that you suffer with them.  This can only come to pass if you tolerate their presence and their poisonous efforts.  Setting clear boundaries is crucial, whether with a literal fence or with your words.  

It’s up to us to control our immediate environment, both internal and external, and it starts by knowing what our desires and our limits are.  Decide what feels good and right for you and then advocate for those things. Believe you can have them.  Surround yourself with people who support your beliefs.  Move confidently in the direction of your dreams and keep the naysayers at bay. 

Lift yourself up above the negativity of the world. 

Be Happy.  

Prioritize your well-being.  

The world takes its cue from you. 

©  Valerie Gilbert 2016 All Rights Reserved

Valerie is the author of RAVING VIOLET, MEMORIES, DREAMS & DEFLECTIONS: My Odyssey Through Emotional Indigestion, and SWAMI SOUP. The books are available in print, e-book, and audio book, narrated by the author. 

Valerie leads Psychic Development/Guided Meditation/Healing/Past Life Regression Workshops at Namaste Healing Center, and privately, in New York City.  

For more information on Valerie's full lineup: http://valeriegilbert.weebly.com
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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

BEGINNINGS: Or The Land of the Purple Glove





BEGINNINGS

 Or The Land of the Purple Glove

I’m losing three people from my homefront. Two neighbors, including Shirley, whom I’ve known since I was nine and with whom I’m quite close, are moving to senior housing. Additionally, my building’s warm and wonderful superintendent of fifteen years is leaving. The impending changes were revealed to me within days of each other, and are occurring back to back. While no one has died, their departures feel like a death. It’s the end of an era, and I feel left behind.

Within four months Vanity, 57, Bowie, 69 and Prince, 57, died.  Shocking and sad for many of us (though probably not my senior neighbors and Irish superintendent).  

I grew up with Bowie, Vanity and Prince, the latter two boosting my burgeoning sense of sexuality. The announcement of their three deaths, along with my three friends’ imminent departures threw me for a loop. Why do things like this come in threes? Why does change sometimes happen all at once?  Beats me.  

After I cried, I decided that their change was my change, too.  If new things were coming to them, then new things were coming to me, too.  Every death is a rebirth.  Whether we perceive it, life is constantly transforming.  Nothing is static.  The weather shifts. Our cells die, new cells are born. We crave stability and security and put locks on our homes and even decorate our pocketbooks with them.  But you can’t lock out change.  It is the very nature of life.  So why are we resistant to it? 

In short order I was able to turn things around for myself. Mind you, in the distant past, when my mother got sick with cancer and died from it, I was not able to turn it around.  I was depressed for years, and experienced significant grief before and after her death to boot.  But I have persevered, forged ahead, and become resilient.  

Since I want change in my own life on many frontiers, I’m metaphorically packing my bags.  Cleaning house.  Cleaning up.  Getting my affairs and papers in order.  I’m preparing.  

This is where my hard work over the years has paid off.  When you’ve processed your emotions, your thoughts, your issues, you clean the slate to prepare for the new.  You can’t do that if you haven’t worked through your stuff.  You just bring your baggage with you.  But I’ve worked long and hard to become happier, freer, and am primed to move toward new vistas.  Change is here.

For one, I am increasingly psychic, and this is a great and good thing. I’ve learned to trust myself, and have turned inward for answers instead of following the modern fixation of seeking relief from a pill, expert, partner, activity, job, or a child to fill the voids.  This has connected me to my own powerful core. 

I have taken the recent “deaths” and turned them into my rebirth.  For starters, I’m burning birthday candles.  Shirley gave me her stash of yahrtzeit candles, tea lights, and other assorted candles she kept around in case of a blackout, including birthday cake candles in a decomposing box marked “10 Cents” (what century were those from?)

It’s still cold in New York, even though it’s May, and I need their warmth. Candles instill a great sense of peace in me.  I’m burning all of them, including the memorial yahrzeit candles for the dead.  Birthday and memorial lights burn simultaneously.

I have a forest of candles around me now as I write.  I light the tiny birthday candles one after another like I’m chain smoking. There’s no cake. They’re in a metal dish.  I light the new wick from the candle burning down then melt its bottom so it adheres to the dish.  I’m burning them all to cut down on clutter.  Besides, who wants 100 year old candles on an actual cake?  The bonfire warms my soul.  

I’ll give you examples of what blossoming psychic ability looks like.  One morning I thought of an old friend I’ve been out of touch with.  She wrote me that night to say her uncle died that morning. 

I noticed I was missing an earring right before I was about to lead a private session with a client.  I concentrated on where I could have lost it, came to a conclusion regarding where it probably was (in a park one block away) and made a mad dash in the ten minutes I had left to go find it.  It was buried in dirt, but I found it, and made it back in time for my appointment.  You could argue that I used logical discernment, but once I did, I “knew” where it was and lickety-split retrieved it.  My intuitive vision is focused like a laser beam. I’m psychically “online”.  

A few months ago I lost a purple chenille glove in Central Park when I was with my dog.  Aside from the “lost” earring (which was pulled from my ear by a roughhousing puppy, unnoticed by me at the time) I’m not a person who loses things.  But somewhere along our three-hour walk spanning several miles, I dropped a glove.  Disappointed, I backtracked a bit. In the past, I might have backtracked all the way home.  But I have a looser grip on life now, and after ten minutes, I let it go.  I put the remaining glove in a bag for charity.  There’s another Michael Jackson out there somewhere who’s gonna love it.

The next day Milo (my pooch) and I went to the park again. Since we generally follow the same route, I lightheartedly set the intention to find my missing glove, despite the fact that the park is 843 acres.  Why not?  Setting intentions is a way of playing with the Universe, and discovering your own co-creative abilities. When we got to the park I joked to Milo “Go fetch my glove!”  He didn’t. 

I did.  I found it in the middle of a green field, an ultraviolet chenille flower lying perfectly preserved from the day before.  This is a field that is perpetually filled with people, picnics, and dogs. Heck, a squirrel could have grabbed it to pad his nest in the past 24 hours. But there was no one around on this beautiful day.  The glove was waiting for me, untouched.  I glowed. The find was symbolic and inspired a new mantra: I am a person who finds things. 

In fact, I was never someone who lost things.  Until lately, when I’ve been losing things left right and center (I still haven’t found my umbrella).  The reason I’ve been losing is to show myself just how well I retrieve.  I’m a psychic detective.

The stakes were raised when I lost my iPhone.  I was in an all day class in the Wall Street area on a Saturday, took a walk during lunch, put it in my bag, and when I got back to class…gone. 

I ripped my bag apart to no avail.  The ramifications of the loss hit me hard.  Was I still under contract with Verizon?  (Yes. They own me for another year).  I would have to buy another phone at full price (the cost of a car).  I couldn’t contemplate that so my mind started looking for solutions.  Was it stolen?  Did I drop it?  Could I find it?  I’m so damn good at finding things; I’ll just go find my phone! Wall Street is pretty quiet on the weekend.  The phone’s bright red cover would make it easy to spot and I could easily retrace the steps of my short walk. But there were two more hours of class left and I couldn’t concentrate for the life of me.

So I took action.  I walked to the front desk and asked if anyone had turned in a red iPhone.  No.  Would he call the downstairs guard and ask him? I waited while he called.  No go.  I asked to use his phone to call Apple Care.  Apple was useless.  “For security reasons” they wouldn’t help me, the owner.  If banks can establish security questions to determine I am who I am, so can Apple, for Christ’s sake.  It’s my car.  I’ve paid Apple very good money over the years, and when push comes to shove, they told me to find someone with an iPhone to find my iPhone.  Thanks for nothing.

Who had an iPhone? I recalled that a girl in my class brought her MacBook Air that day. Bingo. I approached her quietly and asked if I could use it.  She offered me her iPhone instead. It located my iPhone all right, which was now on the move.  My stomach dropped.  Someone had found it.  I could watch it walking along Broome Street in Soho.  Was it having a good time?

My thoughts started swirling again. What if the people who’d found it were returning it to the Apple store on Prince Street?  If they’d stolen it (how I don’t know) would they be shopping in Soho (a pricey neighborhood)?  All bets were off.  I commanded my phone’s automated message to display  “This phone has been lost.  Please call…” I entered my home phone number.  Having done everything I could logically do, I settled down and was able to pay attention for the rest of class.    

When class ended I ran to call my home phone to retrieve the message about my lost phone. I couldn’t remember my damn password.  When I listened later from home I heard my own recording, “I can’t remember my password!”

One of the gals in my class told me that the cops could help me. When she’d taught school, a student’s phone was stolen, and the cops were able to track it to the home it was taken to.  This would never have occurred to me.

My adrenaline was pumping hard. I was on fire with the powerful intention to retrieve my phone.  My plan of action was to go to the Apple store on Prince Street to see if someone turned it in.  If it wasn’t there, I would make a beeline to my local precinct uptown and enlist their help. 

When class ended I bolted out like a bat out of hell.  I saw a cop.  Great! “Where’s the local precinct?”  He had no idea.  He wasn’t NYPD.  He was with The Fed (the Federal Reserve, which is not a governmental agency. Just so you know, the joint that controls the US. money supply is a private agency.  Hmmm….) “Okay. Where’s the subway?” He was of no use there, either.  I kept running, trusting my radar to find a station.  I found a huge station with a zillion trains and never stopped, my eyes and brain kept recalculating my trajectory and destination.  I jumped on an express, my heart racing.  It didn’t go to Prince Street, so I had to jump off at Brooklyn Bridge and hop on a local.  But before I did, I saw something very intriguing in my car.  A young Japanese lady dressed all in pink with bunny rabbit shoes (you know what I’m talking about?  These kids dress like stuffed animals…) Anyway, she was like a little doll herself, perfect and pretty and…holding a red iPhone.  I took it all in and understood what I was seeing.  A sign.  Two, actually. Follow the White (or pink) Rabbit.  Follow the red iPhone.  I smiled.  I was on the right track. 

I hopped off on Spring Street, trying to remember if the store was on Spring or Prince, but really, just followed my body.  It knew where to go, even if my mind was a bit confused.  Unlike empty Wall Street, there were hordes of people in Soho on a Saturday, and I wove through them like a guided missile.  I dashed into the store.  “Where’s your lost and found?  Did anyone turn in a red iPhone? ” I blurted.  “We’ll have to call downstairs.”  I was still pumped with adrenaline.  He called downstairs.  Shook his head.  Nothing.  Another guy bent down under the counter and reappeared holding my phone.  I screamed “My phone!”  I danced, twirled, and hugged several employees, one of whom did not appreciate the gesture.  But Justin, who was wearing a plaid skirt, welcomed my enthusiasm.  He was the one holding my phone.  They needed to make sure I knew the security code.  I passed the test.  Mind you, did they notice the message on my phone saying, “This phone is lost, please call...”?  If I hadn't picked up my phone in person, I somehow doubt they ever would have bothered.

Bottom line, I had the phone back in my hot little hands 30 minutes after I raced from Wall Street, two and a half hours after I lost it.  My body knew where to go and what to do.  It has its own wisdom.  I was an iPhone-seeking missile.  Was there logic involved in retrieving my phone?  Yes.  But there was more than logic. 

In the month that I knew Shirley was leaving I checked on her daily and helped frequently.  Shirley snapped at me several times, once so harshly that I burst into tears after she hung up on me.  In the past I might have shut her out, refusing to assist further if she’s going to bite the hand that feeds her.  I thought about telling her how I felt, however she’s pushing 90, so were we really going to have a meaningful conversation, especially when she’s so stressed and overwhelmed?  I was able to let it go, and it was obvious from her fawning behavior shortly after the fact that she knew she’d done me wrong.  I accepted her wordless apology, and was happy to continue helping her.  These were my last days with her, after all, and we did have a close kinship.

I came to realize something.  When my mother died, Shirley stepped to the fore and in ancillary fashion served as pseudo surrogate.   She provided the adult relationship I never had with my mom, since I was still in college when Mom died.  I had helped my mother in many ways, and was able to help Shirley (I was her handy-man and computer expert among other things).  Shirley also helped me, taking me out on my birthday and holding my mail when I went away.  So her departure signaled a rite of passage, even though I’m a “big girl”.

Despite her assiduously prepping for her move with daily lists and chores, when I checked on her the afternoon before the move she was grossly unprepared.  So, I stepped up.  “What needs doing?”  I did it.  She was exhausted, slumped over, and couldn’t even look me in the face.  The lunch out she had promised me days before never happened, nor did the dinner out she had offered.  I told her it didn’t matter, now was the time to pack and prepare.  Our last night she couldn’t even order food in.  She was nauseous, and I wasn’t interested in a Last Supper.  I was seeing her off to Summer Camp with the Seniors. 

I was up til 1am that night, packing, lifting and organizing her personal effects after two consecutive days of strenuous gym workouts.  I was a zombie.   But despite her constant insomnia, she was afraid of sleeping in on this most important of days.  She had packed all her alarm clocks.  I was up at 6 and called her, and was back helping her by 7. 

When the mover arrived at 9 the guy beamed from ear to ear and said to Shirley.  “You did all my work!  I was supposed to pack for you! This’ll be easy, thanks!”  I stared at him, dumbfounded.  I did all your work.”  He got paid for my backbreaking labor.  Shirley had left a few plates in the kitchen and a few garments hanging in the closet for them to pack, but had entirely misunderstood the agreement (and what she had paid for).  They were to pack everything, including her dishes and garments. With the movers there, I was again “in her hair” and she made it clear my presence was not wanted.   I went home and cried, not from being dismissed, I was used to that from her by now, but from sheer exhaustion and from finding out that what I had spent the last 18 hours breaking my back doing was utterly unnecessary.

This put me in mind of an incident years ago, when my sister and I visited our grandmother in her nursing home.  She was pretty frail, and so tiny the nurse called her Peanut.  My grandmother was German, and so was her roommate, a tall, willowy woman who called me Schatze and begged of me while gripping my hand, “Bitte. Kaffee?”  She wanted a cup of coffee with cream and sugar.  I got it for her.  The nurse yelled at her when she caught her with the contraband.  For some stupid ass reason, this simplest of pleasures (in a Styrofoam cup, no less) was denied a very old woman.  Ridiculous.

My grandmother’s dentures were out on the bathroom shelf.  They were disgusting, covered with all sorts of muck.  I bit the bullet, grabbed them, and scrubbed them with toothbrush and toothpaste until they were… less disgusting.  Very proud of my bravery, I emerged from the bathroom and told my sister what I had just done.  She replied, “What are you talking about?  Nana’s dentures are in her mouth.”   I had just cleaned her roommate’s teeth. 

The feeling of shock and dismay was about the same with the movers.  

Shirley left two notes written on paper towels.  One was to the movers, “DO NOT REMOVE ROBE, HAMPER OR SHOWER CURTAIN” (these were going to the Salvation Army, via me) and the other was to me, “VALERIE, WORDS CANNOT CONVEY MY ETERNAL GRATITUDE. I WILL CALL TONITE. SO M…“ 

Like Joseph of Arimathea’s unfinished Aramaic message carved on the cave wall in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “Here may be found the last words of Joseph of Arimathea, ‘He who is valiant and pure of spirit may find the Holy Grail in the castle of Aaaargh….!’”  I discerned the intended meaning of Shirley’s last few letters.  “So much love.”

I don’t regret packing Shirley’s things.  It was an intense night, and it represented our final hours together, with me helping her.  I saved her life that night.  She was in a “state”, believing that she was unprepared, and I prepared her. 

While looking for years, she didn’t tell me of her plan to move until just a month prior.  She shared her reason for moving to a home for independent living thusly.  The building that we've lived in since the 1970s has changed vastly over the years.  There are lots of young couples with babies, nannies and maids galore.  Then there are the old timers, some of whom are in wheelchairs and walkers (I’m somewhere in between the two demographics.) Shirley referenced someone who’d died in the building and said, “I don’t want to leave the lobby on a stretcher”. 

My final gift to Shirley came in the form of words. I found her still in the lobby (after the movers packed her teacup and blouse) waiting to be picked up by a relative and driven to her new home.  I was just back from yet another workout I couldn’t believe I had the strength for, but adrenaline was still pumping through me and I needed the release after all the stress.  Shirley was drained of all energy, and she sat slumped on a chair by the front door. 

She was sinking into a quicksand comprised of exhaustion, stress and insomnia.  Hunched over like a 9000-year-old mummy, she could not even look at me; she looked only at the ground.  The night before I had repeatedly commanded her to stand up straight and look at me since she was withdrawing into herself like a traumatized person.  I imitated her atrocious demeanor, hunched over, eyes down. Despite how spent she was I reminded her that I was doing all the work, and when she snapped at me yet once more, I finally stood up to her.  “Are you complaining?”  That shut her right up.

I looked at her seated in the lobby.  “You remember what you said to me?  You don’t want to leave this lobby on a stretcher?  Well, you’re not.  Stand up straight, chin up.  You’re walking out of this building.” 

Shirley bequeathed me a bag of frozen peas and a can of string beans.  I also inherited her string, ribbon, and plastic and paper bag collections.  She took her plastic bag ties (already twisted and used) with her.   My foyer is filled with 20 bags of her unwanted stuff awaiting the Salvation Army’s pickup in a month.  

Shirley is now up north eating endless lox with the “walker brigade”.  It’ll probably take her a year to unpack. Despite her virtual “death”, she called from her new haven, and we had a lovely chat.  I’ve often felt abandoned when people moved, and wrote off the relationships. Hearing from Shirley was like hearing from a ghost.  I enjoyed the ghostly conversation thoroughly.

I’ve had another realization about my relationship with Shirley since she “departed”.  After years of looking after my mother, and looking in on Shirley, I'm not on call anymore. I’ve no one to care for now but myself.  And that’s a good thing.  I’m free. 

I’m softening, and this too, is a part of my mystic and spiritual opening.  The Land of the Purple Glove, The Orange Earring, and The Red iPhone is an expansive place. My heart continues to open and wonder abounds.  I am a person who finds things. 

© Valerie Gilbert 2016 All Rights Reserved

Valerie is the author of RAVING VIOLET, MEMORIES, DREAMS & DEFLECTIONS: My Odyssey Through Emotional Indigestion, and SWAMI SOUP. The books are available in print, e-book, and audio book, narrated by the author. 

Valerie leads Psychic Development/Guided Meditation/Healing/Past Life Regression Workshops at Namaste Healing Center, and privately, in New York City.  

For more information on Valerie's full lineup: http://valeriegilbert.weebly.com

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