You Changed My Life, Part 7

>> Monday, March 31, 2014

Rather than re-explain, if you want to know what this is about, see my first post of this set.

Five more entries and bringing this to a close:

March 27 - Whoever sent me a money order for some $660 in January 2001 (2000?)

Again, this isn't a matter of not remembering a name, but never knowing it. Middle of a horrific custody-battle divorce (which sucks money out of your pocket like no one's business) and I was seriously struggling. I had some help, but it was very very hand to mouth there for quite some time. I was in debt to the lawyer already but every other specialist brought in was a new expense.

I was in despair wondering how I was going to pay for some assessment when, in an unmarked envelope postmarked from San Antonio, I found a money order made out to me for the amount ~$660, just a bit more than I was short.

I have no idea who sent it. I didn't really know anyone from San Antonio.

I don't know why they sent it.

But, for a moment there, it restarted my belief in magic/miracles/kismet. Pick your word of choice.

And, though it's been shaken a few times since, I haven't quite lost it. I really needed it back then, (the miracle, more than the money, though it was a tight race) and, whoever you are, you came through.

You bought that back for me with your anonymous gift and, whoever you are, I will always be grateful.

March 28 - Jungle Don

Again, it's not that I don't remember his real name, it's that I never knew it. Or, for that matter, his face.

But, he was one helluva kisser and got to set the standard for the rest of my life. He also made me feel just a little less of a man repellent in a school year when I felt someone had tattooed that on my forehead.

We met at a dorm party. He had previously gone to OU, but, when the swim and diving teams were disbanded, he went to a school that had one (while my two friends just rode their five year athletic scholarship to engineering degrees which was pretty smart). For some reason, OU (my alma mater) still held diving meets and he was there for one the next day.

But, somehow, because he seemed to like sarcasm and, perhap, the fact he couldn't really see me in the dark we peeled away from the crowd and we ended up necking all night in the lounge.

All night, as in within a few hours of his meet (Bad, Stephanie!). And just necking because, well, I was still pretty much not that kind of girl.

Dear sweet Jungle Don, with the very talented lips, never put any pressure on me and I had a wonderful time at his expense.

And I never saw him (I'd say again, but I never really saw him) or heard from him again. Still, it was fun for me while it lasted.

Thanks, Jungle Don. It's still a memory I treasure.

March 29 - Jim Kaufman

Jim was a singular lesson to me. He was always personable and smart, but, when I first met this individual, it was easy to confuse him with the standard NASA engineer type with an eye on politics, something I’m not. Not that I ever saw him compromise his integrity, but he seemed like the kind of guy that got along with everyone. And, truthfully, last I heard, he still was. But he was remarkable underneath.

Not just because he’s a good person, though he is. He’s been a big force behind Special Olympics for decades. He takes care of disabled cats. He is thoughtful and ever courteous. He carries a handkerchief which i find endearing for some reason.

There are several interesting stories I learned from this fellow I never saw coming. When I knew him, he’d had a kidney transplant because of an odd anomaly that also cut short his military career after they had paid his way through college in the ROTC. He had had a fiancee die some two weeks before the wedding due to a drunk driver and told me he remembered that the fine was $200 for the vehicular homicide. He remembered exactly because it was half the fine he was given himself when he began to shout at the judge for letting the driver off so easily. He also took his story door to door when the judge was up for reelection. The judge lost by a handful of votes. That was Jim.

But the moment I realized I had seriously misjudged him, had under estimated him, had fallen into a trap of confusing who he was with what he was was when he told me about his turtle saga.

See, Jim was out wandering in the “wild” around the area we live in and came up on a turtle with a cracked shell. Now, I love animals, but I think I speak for the majority in that I would have thought, “Poor turtle,” and walked on. Not Jim. Deducing that the turtle would be at risk in the wild, he took it home and, finding a turtle expert among the veterinarian choices, found out several things. First, the cracked shell was a death knell and, secondly, the turtles mate for life. No, I didn’t know that either.

Following the expert’s advice, Jim returned to the area and picked up another turtle that looked vaguely like the first to see if it was an abandoned mate. But they didn’t care for each other. So, he took that one back and found another one. This one, apparently, was willing to become a mate if they had not been so in the beginning.

My friend was telling me this story, in a very matter of fact way, after a chance comment. I expect I looked stunned. But that was not all.

Jim then worked with the turtle expert in devising a replacement shell made of fiberglass. Using fishing weights, Jim worked out the balance of the shell in the bathtub and then, in an operation I didn’t realize was possible, the vet removed the turtle’s natural cracked shell and replaced it with the artificial one. I did not realize that turtles could survive such an operation and was well able to believe a deshelled turtle is a sad looking creature. Jim then double-checked the newly installed shell’s function and balance on the turtle over several days, including more bathtub runs. And painted the fiberglass shell from its original white to more environmentally neutral camouflage. He was planning, he explained to my stunned self, to release his turtle and its mate back “into the wild” within the next few days.

Cue the song "Born Free" in my head as I imagine the turtles sprinting from the cage over an hour, hour and a half, into the local scrub.

Perhaps, there are some reading this consider this story commonplace. Well, I did not. “I can’t believe you did so much for a wild turtle.”

“Oh, no,” he decried. “Anyone would have done as much.” I often wonder, thinking back, if it were his honesty that made him so very very special indeed.

“No, Jim,” I told him. “You’re something special.”

Jim taught me what I thought I knew but hadn't really lived up to: what's on the surface is a small part of who someone is. I knew it, but I never knew it so fully as when Jim reminded me.

Thanks, Jim. It was a pleasure knowing you.

March 30 - Michael Dupalo

A list like this wouldn't probably be complete without at least one regret, one might-have-been. I won't lie; I have more than one. But this one is one that wanders across my mind a few times a year so I chose this one.

When I was in high school in Las Vegas (Eldorado High School for those interested), I was not popular. However, EHS had the advantage for me of being full of nomadic folks like me so at least I wasn't dealing with the been-best-friends-since-birth thing.

By a strange coincidence, for all 3.25 school years, Michael Dupalo was in 5 of 6 of the same classes. He was tall and, to the best of my recollection, personable and popular, but I don't notice that thing very well so I might misremember. My recollection is that he was good-looking and fairly smart, given that he was in all my advanced classes (only PE, which was segregated by gender, we didn't share).

Any way, sometime early in my sophomore year, I was cornered in class just before Advanced English began by Michael who made some sort of comment about the kissability of my lips and likely would have kissed me. ("In class?" you might be squealing. PDAs were absolutely par for the course at that school so you know)

I was 14 or 15 and never been kissed. Truthfully, no one had before made any concerted attempt. And I'll admit, I liked Michael (no crush, per se, but I liked him well enough and was plenty curious) and also wanted him to kiss me. BUT, I chickened out that moment and asked for a raincheck with every intention of redeeming it when I'd had a chance to prepare myself.

Except it never happened. He, in fact, took to avoiding me and needling me with nasty comments throughout the rest my high school life in Las Vegas. I'm used to that sort of thing so responded with sarcasm as usual, moving readily into a non-hating sparring. When I walked home from school, he would drive as close as he could manage as he flew by to give the impression he'd like to run me down. (Once he did so with a classmate who was so horrified how close he drove that she made him stop and give me a ride home.)

After I'd left to move to Oklahoma (against my will), a classmate circulated a yearbook at my old high school which garnered a pathetic number of signatures, including Michael Dupalo's that said "I haven't seen you around much this year. I'm sure you've enjoyed it as much as I have." His signature was, hands down, my favorite. I do love a sense of humor.

But I never understood the change in his attitude or the intense antipathy.

Until the only boyfriend I had in high school (the following school year) told me (when I was in college) that he (before he was my boyfriend) and another friend had taken it upon themselves to warn him away and beat him up for good measure "in my name".

So, mystery solved. Though I do still wonder.

So, thanks, Michael, for making me wonder what might have been if things had gone differently. It's entertained me for years. And, if only for entertainment value, the rain check has not expired.

Caveats on this exercise now that it comes to a close.

First, if you weren't one of the folks that got an entry, that doesn't mean you don't matter to me or that you didn't change my life. There are a surprisingly large number of valuable people in my life, especially considering my general unpopularity. But the friends and family I'm close to are valuable beyond counting and I treasure them all. But that is generally far more than an off-hand comment or single act that made a difference but a relationship and interactions over and over spanning years that have made my life far better than I would ever have expected.

Among the people of note that were underrepresented were those who befriended me during periods of time when I was virtually friendless (and they frequently had many friends who might have turned away from them as a result but stayed my friend anyway), like Josette Votipka and Lauralee Proudfoot. Nancy was like this, too.

There are family members who probably shake their heads at me a great deal for my personal weirdnesses and views far-flung from their own, but who accept me as I am anyway without any apparent hardship.

They're are the friends who make time to hang out with me or check in on me even though they have full lives of their own and I'm just one step from a shut-in since I hate travel or trying to schedule childcare so I can go out.

If I've never been popular, I have never gone friendless and those friends I have are of the very highest caliber across the board, living embodiments of the term "quality over quantity." I am honored and charmed that you find time in your lives for me, for the warmth, concern, acceptance and company you have given me. For all my lack of social skills, I hate being alone and you have made it so I don't have to be.

If I had tried to capture all of you, I'd never have done you justice and would have likely forgotten this or that essential person as I tried to recall you all on command, then felt like a damn fool when I was reminded of another dear friend.

So, thank you all. My life has been so much richer having y'all in it.

Just one more to go...

March 31 - Myself

For those who were wondering when my narcissism would reach it's pinnacle, now you know.

So, why me? What one thing have I done that makes me special, that merits me a spot on this list?

I learned.

This exercise was largely about the people over the years who changed my course, expanded my horizons or my view of what was already there. I could not be the person I am without their timely insight, care or actions.

But, that's only half the equation. Because, no matter how stellar the example (or counterexample), how profound the advice, how touching the action, if I don't LEARN from it, it's wasted. (OK, so I should have learned about not cutting Roxy's bangs).

I have to be willing to listen honestly without closing my mind or heart to what wasn't in my current view of the world. I had to be willing to question myself and what I thought the world and my part in it truly was. I had to challenge my preconceived notions and be willing to adapt them as I learned more.

And I had to be willing to change my course when it needed to be changed. All the good intentions won't do a damn thing if you don't follow through and act on what you feel is the right thing to do. But it's hard. Inertia is pretty powerful stuff, the path you know, the world you thought was real, even your own self image, it's tough to break free of that and stride out in a different way, knowing that, while some will appreciate those changes, others will be baffled or feel threatened.

I'm not trying to say I've cornered the market on open-mindedness, or a willingness to learn. Many people have it. But, since we're talking (still and at great length) about my life, I somehow felt it wouldn't be fitting if I didn't take a little credit myself.

Like the man in the video that started me on this, he might have joined in with a Star Trek group because of his admiration for Whoopie Goldberg, but he joined when it was something that scared him, and he made friends and tried and worked to become more adept socially and expand his horizons. She was the catalyst, perhaps, but he did the work and he deserves the credit for the effort.

There are plenty of people with inspiration and good examples positively strewn over their paths who walk on blithely, unaware or deliberately ignoring what doesn't fit in their world. There are plenty of people who see what they want to be and ways to get there, but who are unwilling to take the steps and risks necessary to make it so, so they wallow, bemoaning the chances everyone else has.

But I didn't and that's worth noting. I've had plenty of ugliness in the past, more than some, but far less than others. But I made the decisions on what shaped me, consciously chose to become what I am (so far), for better or worse. And I've had some real beauty and wonder in my life, much of which I never saw coming. And for that, I'm grateful. Which is why I wrote all this, why I opened up far more of myself and my past than I expected, though I don't regret it.

But I'm grateful to myself as well for learning from those experiences, good and bad, and still being someone I don't mind spending all of my time with when all is said and done.

So, yay me! Thanks for not being a dumbass.


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