I Was a Suburban Dropout

As soon as I could I moved to a city filled with misfits. I needed a sense of belonging, and New York provided me with friends and neighbors misunderstood in their former lives. Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey attending a large high school and an affluent Hebrew School felt wrong to me. I yearned to fit in, but felt so different. I imbued my classmates with confidences and affluences they probably didn’t possess at such a young age. I had learned to harbor secrets, while watching acquaintances seemingly share their lives openly. I had to get out.

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Yet, returning to attend my 40th High School reunion, it came to my attention that I had missed so much. I saw old friends, and remembered the special moments we shared. I remember viewing my first Christmas tree all decorated, feeling a sense of awe at the beauty of the season. I remember playing outside in a friend’s backyard, being called in for a home cooked lunch. I remember running around until dinner-time, when we all regrettably had to leave the fun. There were fireflies to catch, and bubbles to chase.

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And, later, there were whispered calls to friends late at night bemoaning our parents’ cluelessness. There was clothes swapping, and sleepovers when we would double or triple date before meeting up to stay over our friend’s place. A group of us cut school to attend the Flyers’ Stanley Cup parade in 1975, feeling cool in Philadelphia. There was laughing in study hall, and gloating over a reading in Shakespeare, and the bewilderment of a simple biology class. There was babysitting, and the decision of which mall to shop with our earnings, Echelon, Cherry Hill or Moorestown.

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I left Cherry Hill because I hadn’t grown up. I remembered all the perceived rejection. The awkwardness of trying to be intelligible at a social. The ignorance of how to apply to college in a town where education was highly valued. The clothes that were off-brand. I was not your average Cherry Hill girl. Oh, and how I longed to be average then. And, yet, in attending the reunion, it was clear to me how unique we all were. I was ashamed of my struggles. It was that shame that kept me feeling separate, not my colleagues. Returning was a gift. The kindnesses of old friends was palpable. The warmth in the room was tangible. And, the good feelings were ever present. We had all matured. I was accepted for who I was and who I am now. Conversely, I joyfully appreciated all who I saw.

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The reunion was a helpful reminder of our connections and our individuality. Both are valuable. Time teaches that.

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Anger Management

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Shortly after a lovely run in the park, and a chat in the colorful garden on this beautiful Sunday, I was crossing the street when a red mini SUV made a fast right, cutting me off. I slowed my walk so as not to be hit. I yelled into her open window, my right arm up,

“HEY!”

She gave me the finger and yelled, “Fuck You.”

I was pissed. Then I saw that she went onto my block. I silently wished her no parking space. A private revenge for scaring me, then blaming me for getting upset. As I arrived at my apartment building, I saw her car parked at a hydrant. Angry, I walked over to the vehicle. She was unloading stuff, presumably from Cosco. I walked up to her took off my sunglasses and said, “I want you to see who you almost ran over.”

“You’re nuts. I had plenty of room. Go away.”

“I don’t think so.”

It felt good to just stand there. Here was a woman who had scared me, and I felt calm, yet energized.

“You’re hassling me. Go away or I’ll call the police.”

“Please do, I’m happy to let them know that you almost ran me over.”

“Just leave. You’re hassling me.”

“No, I’m not. I’m on public property, not touching you, not threatening you, just standing.”

She took her phone out, and started taking pictures of me. Perhaps my picture might be somewhere on social media. Probably with a tag line of crazy woman hassling strangers. Let me know if you see it. I took out my phone and took a picture, too. I wasn’t sure what was motivating me, but I felt righteous. And, I was still angry. She had endangered both of our lives, and yet took no responsibility. I then crossed the street and went home. All the while she’s taking my picture.

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For me this was something of an accomplishment. I spoke up for myself, I did not act out, well, maybe a little, and then I moved on. Although I was angry, I was not compelled to match her anger and denial.

For a long period of time I denied my own anger. I remember in my twenties I was in the extraordinary Kate McGregor Stewart’s acting class. We were asked to offer something to a partner. I don’t remember his name but he wished for me a shelf of plates that I could crash letting go of my anger. I cried. I was enraged, but swallowed my feelings, hating that he thought I was angry. Being a new-ager, I thought anger was negative, and I only wanted to feel positivity. It’s taken me thirty years to accept anger as one of many emotions. Ire does not negate being optimistic, it’s just another aspect of our make-up.

So, today felt good. I could be angry, and I didn’t need to deny it. Nor did I need to dramatize it. It was a moment in time. I get to write about it, and next week I’ll write about something else, unless, of course, I’m angry again.

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A Culture of Tattletalers

“Mommeeeee!” My sister, Susan yells from our bedroom.  “Janet pulled my hair.”  I hated when Susan tattled on me.  Technically she was right, I did pull her hair, but she fails to share the details of the said pulling.  We were playing beauty parlor, brushing each other’s curls, pretending to style, paint nails and put on lipstick.   Anytime we brush hair we pull it.  In the1960s we knew of no brushes or combs designed for anything but straight, fine hair.  So, putting a brush to Susan’s hair by definition meant I was pulling it.  Susan was a pro when it came to telling on me.  I hated when she did that, because it meant that I would lose another good girl moment to Susan. I would get in trouble even though I meant no harm.  I was six at the time to Susan’s four.

 Now, as an adult, I see similar behavior all the time.  People act as if they’re four years old tattling on a sibling who accidentally wronged them.  The poor reviews online often seem personal.  The writer wants revenge.  They didn’t like something and they want to get back at the merchant, the server, the service person.  Sometimes I fantasize about getting back at someone.  I remember the contractor who almost completed our bathroom.  I was angry and thought of going online to write a bad review.  Instead I reached out to him, told him how disappointed I was and that I could not recommend him.  He came back and begrudgingly finished the job.  He’s not someone I’ll use again, but I felt good about communicating honestly with him.  Last year, I went to a nice restaurant and received mediocre service.  I mentioned something to the server.  He tried harder, though I doubt he’ll ever be a great server.  Nonetheless, it was not personal.   He just isn’t talented as a server.  I don’t always like speaking up for myself, but it feels better than going behind someone’s back to get revenge.  If I don’t speak up then the incident or person stays in my mind.  By saying something to them directly, there’s a better chance I can let it go.

This goes on in workplaces, too.  No one wants to speak directly to the person who is causing problems.  We go to supervisors, gossip with co-workers, or act out when around the possible offender.  We may not always like something, but work and life might be more pleasant if we could communicate to one another about what we don’t like.  I can complain with the best of them, but do I really need to get a virtual stranger in trouble?  Sometimes I want to, but then I think of Susan, and remember I was not a happy recipient of her tattling.  No need to perpetuate childish behavior.  Or, maybe I prefer my righteousness to being a tattletale.  Even so,  if we all could have the courage to talk to those who upset us, we may experience the possibility of repair.