Tag Archives: universal questions

The Continued Pursuit of Happiness

A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend shopping with a friend.  Before that, if anyone had asked, I would have said there was zero chance of finding this man in a store unless it was a tackle shop or Home Depot, and I certainly never would have pictured me along for the ride.  However, the man needed one of life’s necessities, at least one of a middle-aged man’s necessities: The Recliner.  Yes we were shopping for a new recliner and flannel sheets. I believe I gave the man sheet-envy talking about my new flannel sheets (see earlier BLOG post “Comfort and Joy” https://freethetwins.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/comfort-joy/).

I have known almost since the first day we met that this is a man with very simple needs.  All this particular man seems to need to be happy is a comfortable chair, a comfortable bed, a big screen TV and enough hot water to provide him with a long, warm shower after work each night.  Just four simple things are all that is needed to make him perfectly content with life.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this since our shopping trip.  My list of what it takes to make me happy and content in life is quite a bit longer.  I keep wondering if the key to my own happiness lies somewhere in this simple tale.

Most middle -aged men I meet seem to be content whether they have a woman in their life or not.   They have their jobs, their hobbies, add a strong cup of coffee in the morning and they’re good to go.  For instance, nothing would change in this particular man’s life if he didn’t know me.  He would sit in his same comfy chair, watch his same television programs, go to his same job, and sleep comfortably and content in his new flannel sheets.

Women, on the other hand, are searching for someone to share life with.  For the women I know, myself included, it’s about who you’re with not so much what you’re doing.  Perhaps it’s because women are raised to be nurturers and spend a great deal of their adult lives taking care of others and making other people’s lives – children, spouses, parents — more comfortable.  Even if we’re not married a large portion of our self-identity is often derived from who we choose to nurture.

Most of us have been used to taking care of the kids and the shopping and the house cleaning and the dry cleaner and the laundry and had little time left for developing hobbies.  When we had free time we spent it catching up with a good friend over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, sharing experiences and learning from each other.  For instance, my friend’s joy was derived from his new chair, while mine came from sharing time with him.

Now that the kids are grown and many of us live alone again perhaps we should take this opportunity to learn from men how to relax and be content alone. Maybe we should learn to put ourselves first, find a hobby that brings us joy, and stop being concerned about how the rest of the world is doing.  We may find it makes us happier, but will it make the world a better place?


Everyone Loves Me!

I have been told I have a charming personality.  I suspect it’s partly just the personality I was born with and partly from being a middle child in a large family.  I’m basically a happy person. I get a kick out of life and find my fellow inmates on this planet fascinating.  I have made friends easily through my adult life.  I also tend to be very loyal so a lot of my closest friends I’ve known for over twenty years, some since childhood.

I remember sharing my angst over moving to New York City for a job a few years ago with my sister.  “What am I doing? I don’t know a soul in New York?  How will I meet people?”  My sister laughed and said, “You’ll make friends everywhere you go the way you always have.”

And, of course, she was right.  If I go to a new hairdresser, within a few visits we’re best of friends and meeting for drinks and dinner.  When I change jobs my new staff is usually happy I’m there and I make friends among my colleagues without difficulty.  In fact, at a recent job, my boss actually told me one of my fellow directors was jealous because staff liked me so well so quickly.  I just seem to be able to sense the type of support that each person needs to flourish and am somehow able to bring out their best.  I can prompt people to try and succeed at things they didn’t think they could do previously.

I put others at ease.  I laugh at all the everyday occurrences that make some people angry and frustrated and I get others to laugh along with me.  I’m the one that gets the party going.  I coax those who wouldn’t normally dance out on to the dance floor.  I laugh at myself. I use humor as an ice breaker and I’m often the one who helps others to relax and begin to enjoy each other’s company.

I’ve been told I’m adorable, fun, funny, charming, even enchanting.  (Okay, that last one may have been my Mom!)   Everybody loves me: my neighbors love me, the plumber loves me, babies love me, the cable guy loves me, my friends’ husbands and boyfriends love me, my friends’ kids love me, my nieces and nephews love me.

So what I don’t understand is this:  How is it that if everyone I meet loves me I can’t find just one, single man who loves me too?  I only need one man to find me enchanting — not an entire world.  Just one, single, stable, honest man who thinks I’m as special as everyone else does.  I only need one man to share my everyday life, my joys and sorrows, my laughter and tears.

Even at my ripe old age I’m still hopeful that this man exists somewhere and one day we’ll meet.  We’ll connect and he’ll see in me all the good that others do and eventually he’ll look across the room at me the way my girlfriend’s husband still looks at her after 35 years of marriage and say, “I’m a damn lucky man.”  And I’ll be across the room smiling back knowing I’m the one who’s truly lucky.

Thanksgiving 2011

by McKenzie James

I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving various ways through the years.  Countless early years spent with my dysfunctional family members trying to pretend it would be different each year.  Many years on the East Coast with my best friend’s extended family and friends where I learned that those wonderful, loving, supportive families you see in the movies really do exist.  One year, when my husband and I were living in London, British friends invited us to their home and gave us the use of their massive kitchen where we made a five course meal (using their Aga four oven cooker) for twenty Brits who’d never experienced this American holiday before.  Most years of late my sister and I begin the day with a 5k walk.  This year, however, I’m doing exactly what feels right for me at this particular moment in my life.  I’m doing nothing at all.

I got up this morning (okay, my sister actually woke me up with a phone call trying to guilt me into that 5k–  and don’t tell her but it almost worked!) and took my dog to the park for a long walk.  I will do some writing because it’s simply what I do regardless of the day of the year.  I will lounge around, possibly do some research on my latest diagnosis, watch the leaves fall in the yard, build a fire in the fireplace, and contemplate all that I have to be thankful for and how to get my life back on the right track.

This week has already been difficult for me.  It began on Monday with the “for sale” sign going up in my yard.  Next I received a confirmed diagnosis from my doctor which, although it explains a great deal, is going to be difficult to manage and medicate.  The week then took a turn for the worse when an already difficult employee issue escalated to a point that it caused a rift in the team and had to be dealt with. By last night I was feeling pretty down, especially since I was supposed to be spending this long weekend vacating with someone I truly care about that sadly no longer cares about me (if he ever did — but that’s a topic for an entirely different article).  With all this going on it is sometimes too easy to forget how good of a life I have.

This morning, however, I woke up renewed in some way and thinking about all I have to be grateful for.  So many of the basics we take for granted: I have a roof over my head that doesn’t leak, I’m warm and safe in my home every night, I have enough food (okay – I have TOO MUCH food), my life is relatively free from violence.  These are things that many in the world struggle without every day and yet they are only the beginning of all I have to be thankful for.

I realize that although I have many things “wrong” in my life I am thankful that at least I have the ability to articulate what these problems are and the skill set to figure out the answers or seek help when necessary.  Many people lack even this basic ability and must rely on the rest of humanity’s good will on a daily basis.

I’m grateful that whatever is wrong with me physically I can still walk 5k on my better days and that I still have a strong libido at my age.  (Even if I have no one to share it with I’d still miss it terribly if it was gone!)

Mostly I am thankful that I have friends and family with so many differing perspectives that they keep me always questioning and clarifying my own beliefs.  My loved ones are not only the ones I turn to share laughter and moments of intense joy but they are also the people who have supported and encouraged me through job changes, divorce, cross-country moves, medical issues and heartbreaks.  They all bring their own unique form of comfort to my life and I’m grateful for each one of them.

Regardless what I decide to create out of my life going forward, and that topic will be on my mind a lot today, I’ve already been lucky enough to have access and exposure to many things that the majority of people never will.  I’ve had personal, social, career and political experiences too numerous to count that have enriched my life and broadened my world view.

Life is always a choice.  We have the option to focus on our problems or to celebrate our successes. We can make a list of those who have wronged us or think lovingly upon those who lift us up.   We can count all the things that are unsatisfactory in our life or we can count the things we’re grateful for.  Today I’m counting my blessings and I’m including my ability to write this, and all of you who read it, among them.

Catholicism May Save Me in the End

By McKenzie James

Some of my friends have been worried about me of late.  I appear to be in a depression that is deeper and has gone on longer than I’ve experienced in the past.  It is true that I’m not my usual optimistic self and that anti-depressants are not working their magic.

Part of the explanation is that things in my life really are at a low point right now.  I have financial difficulties, my best friend in the area is very ill, I am going to have to move again, I’ve been robbed, my heart’s been broken, my job is particularly stressful, winter’s here suck and the holidays bring their usual reminder of just how dysfunctional my family really is.  All of these are things I’ve experienced and gotten through before but never in such abundance at the same time.

I remember a colleague telling me years ago that depression is simply anger turned in on oneself.  I never quite understood it before but lately, thinking about what’s taking place in my life right now, I think I finally get it.  I really am angry at myself for the position I find myself in.  Other than my friend’s illness, and the weather, I can’t seem to find anyone, or anything, to blame any of it on other than myself.

I am the one who made the decisions that got me exactly where I am today.  I chose to move back to Weird Town, I chose to accept my current job, I have obviously not handled my finances very well (which is especially embarrassing for someone whose spent a lifetime working in Finance and Accounting), I am the one who didn’t double-check whether or not the garage door was working when the weather changed (thereby allowing my burglars to walk right in), and although my lover did treat me badly I’m the one who let him come back into my life after breaking my heart the first time and gave him the opportunity to do it again.

All this said, I want to assure all my friends and loved ones who have been calling to check in on me, that no matter how bad life gets I’m grateful for each and every one of you and I would never take my own life (which I know is what you are all really worried about even though you don’t come right out and say it).

It’s simple: regardless of how hellish my life here on earth becomes being raised Catholic has left me with such an insurmountable fear of the afterlife that I will gladly suffer here forever rather than move on.  Intellectually I know that once we die we simply return to the earth and our energy disburses, but emotionally Catholicism has left me with a fear of the burning hell fires that I can’t get over.

Every time I think perhaps life is not all it’s cracked up to be I am reminded of the alternative and I’m fighting to stay alive with a willpower few can surpass.  For I know, having been a hellion and rebel most of my life, that I am not likely to find myself lulling around on a bed of clouds playing harp music and eating chocolates.  Oh no, if I’m wrong about my atheism I will find myself in burning fires being prodded with a pitchfork every few moments to remind myself of just how much fun I had in my youth.  So friends, never fear, I’m here for the duration however long that may be and I’ll be fighting to remain here on this good earth with my last dying breath.

Friends for Life by McKenzie James Part III

Meredith sat back down at her desk and picked up her pen.

I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve sat alone in this apartment with only the television to keep me company.  Tonight, I came home believing it would be another one of those too quiet evenings but I’ve already had several interruptions.  Sometimes I feel as though I’ve read everything there is to read, traveled everywhere there is to travel, seen everything there is to see, and yet something is missing. 

Listen, when it comes to the obituary…just list Marina as my surviving sister….leave the rest of them out of it completely.  If they couldn’t be close to me in life…they don’t need to be recognized in death.  Do whatever you want about a memorial service.  You know I have never understood why people care what happens after their death.  It is truly the height of self centeredness to try and control things after you’re dead.

The house phone? Carlos must have forgotten something.


“Thanks for letting me use the house phone, Carlos” Eleanor said.  Eleanor knew Meredith wouldn’t ignore the house phone.   She needed to get through to her and she was fairly certain tomorrow might be too late.

She noticed that Meredith had become more and more withdrawn and quiet lately.  She knew Meredith was saddened that her love life had never gelled but she was such a fabulous friend to so many.  Meredith had been a part of her life for as long as she could remember.  She had changed Eleanor’s life for the better the first day they met.  It was freshman year and Eleanor blushed just thinking about what a techie dork she’d been back then.  Lost and confused on her first day of classes Meredith had helped her find English Lit and then later helped her understand English Lit.

Since then they’d been through everything together from childbirth to planning Eleanor’s mother’s funeral.  She couldn’t imagine her life without Meredith in it.

“Carlos, did you forget something?” Meredith asked as she picked up the phone.

“It’s me, Mer.”

“El, what are you doing?”

“I’m downstairs, can I come up?”

“Well…um…yeah… of course…come on up.”

As Eleanor got in the elevator she found herself thinking back to that day at the campus coffee shop when Meredith decided she’d had enough of Eleanor and Jimmy smiling shyly across the room at each other and got up and invited him to their table.   After that day, it was the three of them against the world.  They got through everything together: finals, Jimmy’s parents’ divorce, graduation and the search for what to do next.  They’d been through a lot and Meredith was still the only one who could make Jimmy smile when he was in his lowest funk.

Eleanor knocked on Meredith’s door.


“Hey, Meredith, sorry to just pop in but it’s an emergency.  They just hung Jimmy’s last painting at the new gallery and he’s a wreck.  I got him settled down and left him at Louis’ with a drink.  Can you please come out and work your magic on him?”

“’Well El, I had planned to get a lot of writing done tonight.”

“Come on, Meredith, you know you’re the only one he’ll listen to.”

“Okay, okay, let me get my wrap”

As they stepped out on to West 86th Street Meredith took a deep breath and took in the streets of New York in early fall.  She’d always loved this neighborhood with its wonderful, bustling, busy, streets.

As they walked toward Columbus Avenue to make their way to Louis’, Eleanor linked her arm through Meredith’s and spoke.  “Do you want to tell me what’s got you so down lately.”

“I’m fine, Eleanor, really.”

“No, you’re not fine.  I’ve known you for 30 years and loved you for every day of it.  Do you really think I don’t know you well enough to know when the world has you down?  You’re an amazing woman, Meredith, and a woman I can’t imagine not having in my life.  You give so many people so much of yourself.   You normally take on the world with an energy that’s frightening to behold.  You’ve been withdrawn and quiet for weeks.   You haven’t stopped in to see us at home or at Louis’.  Something is terribly wrong.  If you don’t want to tell me about it, that’s fine,  but I’m not letting you out of my site until you can ensure me everything’s okay.“

She looked over at Meredith and saw the tears quietly streaming down her face.  She stopped and wiped them off and hugged Meredith close to her for several long seconds before opening the door to Louis’.  They stepped into Louis’ Place and he greeted them with open arms, planting a kiss of each of Meredith’s cheeks as was his custom.

“My favorite customer returns!  I haven’t seen you for weeks and Jimmy tells me you haven’t been yourself.  I am fixing you something very special tonight of my own creation.  It will make your taste buds burst with joy and make you happy to be alive.  Sit…sit…   Marie!  Bring my guests some fresh, hot bread.”

Jimmy smiled up at her.  “It’s an intervention.  What did you expect?  We love you Babe.  Sit and sink your teeth into these delicious crusty calories.  If my gorgeous face and Louis’ food and hospitality can’t make you feel better then there really is no hope.”

Meredith smiled in spite of herself and sat down between Jimmy and Eleanor.

“Pass the butter,” she said as she grabbed a hot crusty roll out of the bread basket.   “This is no evening to worry about saturated fats.  I love you two, do you know that?  Thank you so much for watching out for me.  Quite a few of my friends have checked in this evening.  It’s hard to believe with so many who obviously love me I was feeling isolated and alone. ”

“You never have to be alone as long as El and I are still kicking, you know that Mer.”  Louis chose that moment to sit a platter featuring a scrumptious, roasted Poulet de Bresse on the table.  There was a group “Mmmmmm……” as they began to dig in and share one of the simplest joys in life.


Meredith let herself in to her apartment and dropped her wrap on the chair by the door.   She looked over at the clock on the mantel to see it was close to 2am.  They had sat at Louis’ for hours, just like the old days, talking, laughing and simply enjoying the closeness the three of them shared.

She walked over to her desk and looked down at the letter she’d been working on when El had called.  She sighed, picked it up and ripped it in half once and then again and tossed it into her waste basket followed by the pill bottle.

Tomorrow was another day.  Who knew what changes would come with it or what difference the next 24 hours might make?  As long as there are people who love you, and there are tomorrows, the exploration never ends.


Wounded Lovers

He goes to bed alone.

She wakes to find him still gone.

She hears the baby cry.

The tears run down her face.

She misses his warm embrace.

She wonders how he can walk away.

He wakes to emptiness

and wounds he can’t express.

They both feel the pain.

Are they so different then?

She gave herself to him

believing it meant something.

He took the pleasure he sought

not knowing the pain he’d cause.

She lies in bed and cries.

He lies alone with his thoughts.

Wounded lovers

with two very different tales

of the same love affair.

McKenzie James

August 30, 2011

Life is Messy!

I know less with certainty now at middle-age than I did at seventeen but I know a few things: life is messy, people are complicated, and there is no joy without the potential for pain. In the last year I’ve had conversations with several men who told me they don’t want to get involved in a relationship because they might potentially cause the woman pain and they don’t want to be responsible for causing anyone pain.

I commend the concern for others behind their actions.  However, I believe to experience life fully is why we were put here on earth to begin with.  To not enter into human relationships because you may, or may not, inadvertently cause another human being pain seems unbearably paternalistic and may also keep one from experiencing life to its full potential.

Of course, we should not go about purposefully causing our fellow inmates pain.  I believe in being polite and having honest concern for the feelings of those around us. But I also believe that as long as our actions come from an honest place the people we interact with are responsible for their own feelings and reactions to our behavior.  There are no intimate human relationships that are free of pain for we can never know each other completely.  The best we can do is try and understand our own feelings and needs as well as possible and be honest with others about them.

All pain comes from loss of some kind.  The death of a loved one; loss of affection from break ups and divorce; losing our children to the streets or another parent; all painful losses. Even physical pain is mostly caused by loss: loss of blood, loss of bodily functions, no longer being able to breath, bend, run, move the way we once could.  But none of this would cause pain if first we had not experienced the joy of love, affection, and the perfect functioning of the human body.  It is the loss of the joyful experience that brings the pain.  A painter who can no longer paint, a dancer who can no longer dance, a singer who can no longer sing; each of these experienced first the joy and then the pain from loss.

Should we not love each stage of our child’s development even though we know we will feel that tinge of pain when they grow and the baby we knew is no longer there?  Should we not enjoy the love of our mate fully because they may one day decide to move on or because it may cause another to feel more strongly the pain of being alone?  Should we not enjoy every moment we have left with our dying brother knowing full well that when he is gone our heart will ache until we’re sure it will stop beating?  Should we not try over and over again to find the partner who will nourish our soul even if it means that along the way we must say good-bye to those we have tried and failed with?

In my own life I often ask myself when in pain, “If I knew this loss was coming, would it have changed my actions?”  Would I still have moved to New York if I’d known in advance I would lose everything I owned to a fire?  The answer is “Yes”, because if I hadn’t I would never have met my beautiful friend Gwen and knowing her is something I would never give up.  I wouldn’t go back and change even the most painful experience I’ve had with a man since my divorce because I know the reason the pain was so severe is because the joy in the beginning was so heightened.  Go back and change any of these things and you lose the joy along with the pain and everything you learned about life and love along the way that makes you who you are at this moment. Would I go back and not spend 19 years with my ex-husband in order to avoid the painful loss of divorce?   Deny the good years?  The friends we shared?  The home we built? The children we helped raise?  Of course not.  Would choosing another path have been pain free?  Of course not.  Pain is part of the human experience and not something any of us can run fast enough to get away from.

People are complicated.  No matter how well you know a person there is no way you can truly know how they might react to something.  My ex-husband often didn’t tell me things and when I would invariably learn of them later he would always say he didn’t want to tell me because he knew it would upset me.  He was often wrong.  After nineteen years of marriage he still could not predict with certainty how I would feel and react.  Often we can’t predict ourselves how we might feel about something until it happens.  Why?  Because we’re all complicated human beings who are continually changing and none of us have enough knowledge to predict something as complex and misunderstood as human emotions.

Life is messy.  It comes complete with new jobs, old lovers, beautiful sunrises, teen-age angst, new born babies, frightening diseases, and the indignities of old age.  It’s a big, messy, mish-mosh of intense joy and horrible pain.  There is no getting away from it or somehow protecting ourselves from it.

It is the moments of joy that we live for but it is the pain in life which usually brings us knowledge and growth.  It is our painful mistakes, bad choices, and the inadvertent behaviors of others that teach us the most about life and help us to learn about the fellow humans we share the planet with.   Deny the pain, and none of us could ever grow to our full potential.

So I say to the men who are avoiding pain, “What if by avoiding pain you’re missing a chance to share in immense joy?”

I think it may be possible that because I live life with my arms always stretched out to grasp joy wherever I can find it I also open myself up to more pain than others do.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.   I’ll suffer the pain to experience the joy that I don’t want to live without.  So please, don’t hold back with me.  Let me know all of you:  the good and the bad, the fun and the staid, the sweet and the sour, bold and the shy, the joy and the pain.  I want to know it all.  I want to feel it all.  I want to die knowing I experienced life fully and didn’t hold back out of fear of being hurt.

McKenzie James       

August 24, 2011


It Began in the Summer of ‘72

It was the summer of 1972 and no one wanted to admit the ‘60s had come to an end — and in Weird Town, USA, they’ve yet to admit it!  I was fifteen, soon to turn sixteen, and I was looking forward to the long, carefree days of summer.

My twenty-three year old sister was my idol back then.  She treated me like I was an adult.  She was the one who got me on birth control when I admitted to having sex with my best friend’s brother.  She invited me to grown up parties, and introduced me to her campus friends.  When I needed to get out of the crazy house we grew up in and away from my siblings there was always a bed to crash on at the group house where she and her fiancé lived.

My sister was getting married in a few weeks — according to my mother to the man she’d been living in SIN with.  I was to be a bridesmaid in a small ceremony in the campus chapel with guitar music, long haired men, and women in long flowing skirts.  But first a modern shower:  both men and women were invited and asked to shower the couple with bottles of liquor to fill their liquor cabinet.

I don’t really remember that much about the evening anymore except who gave me a ride home.  He was a Nigerian graduate student.  He was six foot two, attractive, funny, and well dressed.  He told me he was twenty-one.  I wouldn’t’ normally have accepted an offer of a ride home from a man I’d just met, but I assumed he was a friend of my sister’s, so I hopped right in his new Camaro with no worries.  But, instead of driving me home, he drove me to a closed park, and he didn’t take me home until after he forced himself on me.

I definitely wanted nothing to do with this man who was way too old for me and had an accent that was difficult to understand.  I told him no and fought him off as best I could but, being six foot two to my five foot three and in great shape, he easily over powered me.   Afterwards I blamed myself.

Did he somehow sense that I wasn’t a virgin?  I had sex one other time with my friend’s brother, a boy my own age.  Did that mean I no longer had a right to say “no”?  All that I had ever heard from anyone was that sex before marriage was wrong.   No one ever offered information about what the parameters were if you decided you were going to have sex before marriage.  You were either good…or bad…there was no grey area.

At fifteen, there was no one I could talk to about this experience.  I took to my bed in shame and turned the anger inward on myself feeling depressed and empty inside.   My sister was someone I felt comfortable with but we’d never talked about sex in any honest way, other than trying to avoid the outcome of pregnancy.  My mother had never said a word to me about sex other than NOT to do it before marriage and I got the sense she didn’t think it would be much fun afterward.  We didn’t communicate in my family about anything of import and none one of us would have known how to talk about something like this.

My alcoholic Dad had died a few months prior to my sister’s wedding putting our family out of one form of its dysfunctional misery and throwing us into another.  Now my mother, who had always been a housewife and had never completed High School, was forced to do housekeeping for other women and take care of other people’s children in order to make ends meet.  (No matter how hard she worked, the bills never could quite get paid and by the end of each month the lack of funds was obvious at the dinner table.)  She had way too much on her mind already and since it was summer, and I didn’t have to be in school, I imagine she wrote off the long hours spent in my room to my being a moody teenager.

The day following the rape flowers began to arrive on our doorstep from my rapist:  beautiful yellow roses daily for a week.  The roses were followed by more gifts and many phone calls.  I suppose since I blamed myself for the abuse, as many women (and much of society) do, his attention afterward was a way for me to deny what had really happened and pretend that the man actually cared for me.  I also found myself unable to resist the gifts.  It may seem very strange to those who grew up in loving households where no one ever went hungry but to me this crazy relationship didn’t seem that different from what went on in the homes around me.   Screaming and fighting seemed to go hand in hand with kissing and hugging from what I could see.  Listening to my mother and her friends talk, sex was something all men wanted and women simply put up with in order to have someone to take care of them.

So without really understanding how it happened I began a relationship with my rapist that would last almost two years.  Those years destroyed my innocence.  He stood me up, abused me, cheated on me, and always after these violations came the apologies and lavish gifts. For a girl who grew up below the poverty line, these gifts had no small effect.  They weren’t little gems from the dollar store but expensive hand-made purses, a complete new stereo system, a 10-speed bike, and the use of his hot, new Camaro to drive around the local college campus when he was out of town.   I actually got this man to take me to my senior prom.  That was something I wish I had pictures of:  a grown man, the ONLY African-American male attending the senior prom at a conservative, white, catholic High School with a blonde haired, hazel-eyed, seventeen-year old girl.

He also bought me clothes, took me to campus parties where we danced all night, took me to my first sit-down restaurant where we were served by an attentive waiter (before this the only restaurants I’d ever been to were the Bob’s Hamburgers drive-through—I don’t think the town even had a McDonald’s yet–and Sizzler Steak House with my Mom to celebrate my birthday), and on trips to the beach and shopping in the big city.

Along with being in graduate school he  also claimed to be a tennis professional.  He gave lessons in town and was out of town on tour often.  His favorite outfit was his little white tennis shorts and crisp white top showing off his long muscular legs and deep, dark color.

At one point he was arrested and my mother saw it in the paper.  He told me he was arrested for marijuana and I believed him, never bothering to look at the paper.  (Other than the comics, reading the paper was just not something high school kids in my crowd did.)  My mother read the paper, however, and went crazy.  How could I be seeing this man? What was wrong with me? I remember telling her it was no big deal; that all my friends did it.  It was months later when a friend told me that I actually found out he was arrested for attempted rape.  Can you imagine what my mother must have thought when I told her all my friends did this?  Still, she couldn’t bring herself to say to me out loud what she’d read in the paper.  She never said the word “rape”, just as she never said the word “sex” in front of me.   I look back on this and it seems completely unfathomable but I swear to you it’s exactly what happened.  By the time I found out that he’d been arrested for attempted rape I had already rewritten our own history in order to live with myself.  I told myself he would never do such a thing.  I wondered to myself how my mother could have ever let me out of the house again reading such a thing but we never discussed it again.

After two years of this twisted dynamic, I was older and a tiny bit wiser and about ready to end things with him when a phone call came.  He was in Canada.  He had to leave quickly without telling me because there was a warrant out for his arrest.  Again, he told me it was about marijuana, and again I believed him.  Would I go to his apartment and bring him some items he wanted?  In my mind I decided that all the damage he’d done to me was complete.  I could never get back my innocence and trust so why not do as he asked one last time?  I’d never been to Canada and I couldn’t afford to get there on my own.

I went to his apartment and ducked under the crime scene tape that made a huge X across the front door.  Inside, I got the items he wanted, silly things like his favorite shoes, and then decided to have a look around while I was there.  In the bottom drawer of his dresser I found more information than I wanted to know about whom I’d been spending my time with.

My emotional survival had required that the reality of him being my rapist was rewritten in my mind over the last two years.  History got whitewashed because I couldn’t deal with acknowledging I was continuing to be abused by a man who raped me. Here in his bottom dresser drawer, however, was evidence of the reality of his life that I couldn’t ignore:  letters from his wife and mother in Nigeria, asking when he was coming home to his four children; naked pictures of my girlfriends he’d obviously had sex with; letters from his three fiancés, one in Denver, one in San Francisco, and one in Seattle; and confirmation that he was actually a thirty-two year old married man, not the single twenty-one year old he led everyone to believe he was.

I left the apartment and being pragmatic since birth, having never been to Canada, and knowing there wasn’t anything further he could take from me I headed to the Greyhound bus depot and off I went.  I stayed just one night and day.  He showed me the sites and we acted as if we were just a couple of tourists on vacation.  We said good-bye, me knowing it was the last time I would ever see him, and he was arrested the moment the bus pulled out of the station.

Upon my return, now a freshman in college, I began scouring the papers daily for news of his arrest.  Sure enough, a few days after my return, I read about his arrest and extradition back to US custody where he would be held pending trial.  He was not arrested for drugs, as he told me, but for a grand larceny mail fraud campaign he’d been perpetrating through ads in tennis magazines.  This is how I learned that all of my gifts had been bought with stolen dollars.

He was quickly convicted and sentenced to serve 10 years in a US Federal prison to be deported back to Nigeria upon his release.

Apparently the FBI had been watching him for some time and his phones had been tapped.  Just before they were about to arrest him he got wind of it somehow and fled to Canada.  The paper described how he was arrested at the bus depot in Canada after seeing off a friend.  To this day one of my biggest embarrassments in life is realizing that the FBI listened to my phone conversations with this creep.  Somewhere, in a closed case file in the basement of some FBI building, preserved for posterity, remain tapes of me flirting, cajoling, and often crying on the phone with a complete sociopath.

The next I heard from him was a letter from the State Penitentiary asking me to write him.  I did not reply.  Letters continued to come for a few weeks but I ripped them up unread.  I have often wondered if any of his many fiancés were foolish enough to stay in communication with him, but as for me, I never saw or heard of him again.

Every once in a while, even years later, I would get on an elevator and some man would have on the same cologne he used to wear and I would have a brief panic attack until I realized it could not possibly be him.  Other than that I put the memory of those years in a box, I put it on a shelf, and I rarely ever pulled it out to look at it.  Until today, when for some reason I decided to let it out into the open, possibly hoping to free the memory and let go of it forever.

McKenzie James

August 7, 2011

In Session

Lewis taps his fingers rhythmically against the paperclip. He always has something in his hand to tap against. I picked him from the long list of other therapist profiles because he looks so… Southern California. The therapist website in itself was weird, looking like a dating site with pictures and small quips about the counselors, their educational backgrounds and particular therapy styles. Lewis’ profile was different, the way most profiles that catch your eye are. He didn’t write the profile as if he were talking to you, rather it read like a Curriculum Vitae of a potential research professor.

I really like Lewis. Lewis really likes himself, which we seem to have been trained to despise but in Lewis it glows outwardly, inspiring people around him to like themselves as well. Which makes sense as to why he is a successful therapist with an office in a high rise building in downtown, the view of the harbor glittering sunshine back in. His office is mild, clean, with an outdated laptop humming away in the left hand corner of his desk.

I started therapy because the depression had gotten to the point of destruction. I found myself in my kitchen one night, in an apartment that was too big for me, crouching like some crazed beast on the cold linoleum floor holding a knife and screaming through thick, clotted tears. I wrote words down that night that were so angry I cannot read them on the page, it does not look like my writing. The next day I could not get out of bed, because the only motivation I could find for removing myself from my bed was to jump off the roof and I could not do that to my mother. I didn’t understand before this, that depression could cripple you. Grab your mind and suffocate it slowly, a boa constrictor that takes over every aspect of your life, your mind, until you are a victim to it as if a stranger were squatting like a little black lizard where your heart should have resided.

Lewis titles these episodes as my ‘earthquakes’. He says this triumphantly. Lewis loves metaphors and his own cleverness, mainly the latter.

“It’s like an earthquake! You don’t know where its coming from or how long its going to be. And then afterwards you have little aftershocks, don’t you?!”

He sits back, a self-satisfied smile still floating over his lips. I look at him from across the desk. I sit in a deep leather seat, with a pillow on my back because otherwise I’m too small and my feet don’t reach the floor.  In Lewis’ office, I always make sense. I love it there, when the words tumble out of my mouth like tiny pebbles being thrown around by white water, Lewis just leans back until I am done and then carefully reconstructs what I have said, following the tangled strings of emotions until he has clean lines laying before us. Unlike anyone else in my life, Lewis presents me with cool, linear logic that doesn’t condescend. He never angers at my reactions, in fact for the most part Lewis treats every single one of my emotions, outbursts, tears, and laughter as the most singularly important thing that has ever happened in the world. He seems truly excited and enthralled by the fact that I, indeed, exist.

Today, I am explaining to Lewis about my self-sabotaging in relationships. Not only romantic ones but friendships as well. He leans back in his chair and looks at me through his spectacles while I take him through the claustrophobic vines that I attempt to machete through when explaining how I feel to people. Therapy is an odd art form, we attempt each session to place into neat categories every memory, touch, and influence we have had throughout our lives.

“Why is it concerning you now that you do this?” Lewis asks. He pretends it is an innocent question but Lewis is a very deliberate person. He explained to me that he is the most important person in his own life, and as such his time is invaluable. He does not spend it circumventing what he really wants to know. When he told me this, I asked him if he ever worried about offending people and having them not like him. He looked slightly confused when I asked him this.

“Not like me because I am asking an honest question? Well they sound like someone with something bad to hide and, I don’t want to know those people anyway”.  Lewis lives his life with a close-knit circle of people he loves around him whom he will do anything for, and the rest of the world he treats as if they were in an interview for the last available slot to be his friend; politely and with extreme discretion.

“I’m concerned because I don’t want to sabotage anything this time. I can’t lose him, and I like my friends and I’m tired of feeling as if the only way I’ll be happy is if I am completely independent of everyone. Like my safety net is figuring out a way that I will be completely okay if any particular person is no longer in my life”.

Lewis doesn’t say anything at first, just looks at me as my body clenches and tenses. Expelling this darkness in this neat rectangular office is the most exhausting thing I have ever done. It is a chain weighing 10,000 pounds that I have wrapped around me, longer and longer, for years. Slowly we are tracing back the knots and the kinks, figuring out what I have done in order to undo it and free me, pound by pound. Sighing inwardly, Lewis sits his small frame back up in the black chair and says

“No. You are not alone, you are not independent, you are not unattached. And it is not an admirable quality to be those things. I haven’t cooked a meal in 20 years because my wife is an incredible cook, if she were to leave me I would have no idea how to cook for myself. But I don’t refuse to revel in her cooking, I take it in, I bask in it”

At this point Lewis is leaning back in his chair, arms stretched out and an almost monk like expression of peaceful bliss extends on his face.

“You have to allow people to love you. You have to just, take it all in, enjoy it, swim in it. When people want to do nice things for you, you must nod your head in agreement and say ‘yes, do nice things for me!’. Otherwise life is miserable and short. And why wouldn’t they want to do nice things for you, why wouldn’t they want to love you? You must expect people to treat you as if you were the most important person in your life because you are.”

I laugh. Lewis is not joking but I can’t help but laugh, the idea is so freeing. I am still in shock when people love me the way my friends and family do. That demonic little presence in my head has slowly convinced me it is all false, Lewis’ main job is to tell me that I am fine, that I will be fine, and that no one has the capacity to hurt me anymore than I allow myself to react by being hurt.

The hour ends, and Lewis stands and smiles at me. Therapy is precise, within a set time frame, the way situational comedies always resolve themselves within a half hour.

“Next week, same time?” he asks as he opens the door for me. I nod as I walk out the door and back down the stairs, preparing myself to re enter a world that overwhelms me, a world that never seems to resolve itself no matter how many hours tick by. I look over my shoulder and Lewis smiles and waves goodbye, until next weeks session.


Note to self:   Never use but and love in the same sentence!

I love you but…

I can’t commit.

I love you but…

you’re just too fat.

I love you but…

I forgot I’m married.

I love you but…

the timing’s not right.

I love you but…

it’s not the BIG love

I love you but…

my kids come first.

I love you but…

my mother says you’re wrong for me.

I love you but…

I need my space.

I love you but…

I’m not attracted to you sexually.

I love you but…

you should guard your heart.

I love you but…

can we just stay in?

I love you but…

only as a friend.

I love you but…

I can’t promise you anything.

I love you but….

your sister’s cute too.

I love you but…

I’m too tired to come over.

I love you but…

I sleep better alone.

I love you but…

I have to go home.

I love you but…

I’m confused about it.

I love you but…

I can’t be exclusive.

I love you but…

I’m on a spiritual journey I must make alone.

I love you but…


It’s hard to say BUT really

I don’t,

I don’t love you at all.

McKenzie James

August 9, 2011

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