Vicki Marie’s Sexy Summer Reading Series: One Chapter A Day
THE BACHELOR CHAPTERS: A THINKING WOMAN’S ROMANCE
“Hola, girlfriends, que pasa?” I said as I walked into Cara’s house. She and Trish were in the kitchen. They both looked spooked. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Cara said, turning her back to me, and wiping the counter with a sponge.
“Where do you want to have dinner?” I walked over to Trish, and gave her a hug. She held on a little too long. Now I was certain something was off. “Seriously, what’s up? What’s this?”
We unlocked our bodies and I saw the open book on the counter. Cara had gotten her Masters in Clinical Psychology before the baby, I was reminded, when I saw the page header. It was the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. “What’s with the DSM?”
“Vic—listen, we need to talk,” Trish said, and I didn’t like her tone. She was clearly bugged. She turned back to the book, and I followed her eyes. The open pages were definitions of various psychological disorders, alphabetized, for easy reference. “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” leaped off the page. I looked up at Trish.
“Why are you reading about NPD?” I asked.
Trish told me that she had asked to borrow Cara’s book because she was worried about me. She thought I had a problem; that I might be sick. Based on a glossary of terms, she had diagnosed the problem, and told me I suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, and that I needed help. My ears burned. My best friend on the planet had just called me crazy.
The room contracted. I heard her voice, but I felt my brain leave my body, and track the scene from a safer place. The feeling of betrayal was absolute and overwhelming. This could not be happening. My oldest and dearest friend—my sister— the woman who I had known for thirty years, the woman I came out with, the woman who spent every Christmas with me, the woman who was the beneficiary to my estate, the woman who I trusted more than any person on the planet was calling me a narcissist? She was convinced I had an untreatable mental disorder? I was numb. I could see in her eyes that she believed it.
“Tell me you’re kidding.” My voice was low, almost a whisper, holding back the hurt. “I think it’s something you need to look at, Vic.” She looked at me, her face stern and steel-jawed, but her eyes soft and patronizing. That was Trish. Fucking judge and jury. When she was convinced of something, stubborn couldn’t come close to describing her. And now, armed with her self-selected evidence, she was playing doctor? I was doomed.
“Trish! Don’t even go there—you have no right—who the fuck are you to accuse me of a personality disorder?”
I turned my attention to the book, and she watched as I read the diagnosis. I was startled by the first few sentences. OK, so there was no argument that I enjoyed attention, and that I held my own at center stage. And yes, I could cop to vanity, for crying out loud—but come on—it wasn’t complicated for me to go to the grocery store in my sweats with no makeup. But as I read on, the characteristics lost any resemblance to me. The anti-social symptoms of NPD were cruel and predatory: taking advantage of others to reach own goals; displaying dominance, arrogance, showing superiority, and seeking power; lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others; becoming easily hurt and rejected; trouble keeping healthy relationships; belittling or disparaging others in an attempt to validate their own self-worth.
I stopped reading. I was nauseated. I was none of those things. If anything, that list described the exact opposite of my intentions and actions. I was a team builder and a cheerleader; in my job I fostered responsibility and initiative among my colleagues; in my charity work I was constantly advocating through awareness and fundraising; and I had fallen into a mentor role with both young men and women in my cultural and professional circles. I was beyond hurt. I felt crushed and smothered, like there was no air in the room, and no way out of her false accusation. But I was stubborn, too, and I was not going to defend myself. She, more than anyone, knew who I was, and where my heart lay. I wasn’t going to explain myself to Trish, of all people. That would be insane.
“Trish—I can’t believe you think even a sliver of this describes me. Did you read the whole fucking thing?” I was mad, now. Humiliation and heartbreak would have to wait. “Are you trying to tell me that because I’m confident, and because I go for the limelight at a party, and because I give a shit that I look hot for a date, that I’m certifiable?” She looked at me, and her body language said it all. I couldn’t bear it.
I was out the door in search of oxygen. I could not live with her view of me, and was not willing to fight her on it. I wanted her out of my sight and out of my life, but she followed me back to my place and cornered me in my kitchen.
“This is a real problem, Vic. It’s your ego. You need to deal with it.” She was dead serious.
“There’s nothing you can say right now that I want to hear, except that you’re sorry and you don’t think I’m crazy.” She met my gaze without flinching, saying nothing. We stood frozen until I broke the standoff, and made it clear what was at stake, “We’ve loved deeper than family for more than thirty years. I can’t believe you won’t give me that.”
It was my final appeal, but I already knew it was hopeless. I felt the barricades surround my heart. Her silence gave me no choice. “Then there’s nothing left to say, Trish, except we’re done. Finished. Now, get the fuck out of my house.”
A few weeks later, I got a letter from my brother. Only a year apart in age, Rick and I had been close most of our lives, but since his latest girlfriend, I’d been kicked off the A-list. Or, that’s what I’d assumed.
He wanted to let me know that he’d had something on his mind for a long time, and could no longer keep it to himself. The letter explained that he didn’t approve of my lifestyle, and he found me difficult to be around. He accused me of being self-absorbed. And furthermore, since my divorce, he had lost the family of friends I had included him in, the great tribe that always showed up for Thanksgiving and my birthday. No matter that most of the couples from those days were now divorced as well. His gripe made no sense, but he was adamant; I was at fault for every broken bond.
The truth was that I actually entertained more since the divorce. In the past three years, I had gained a reputation for fabulous dinner parties. I met vital, interesting, and creative people all the time—and took it upon myself to facilitate connections among them. I had invited my brother and his girlfriend to all of the soirées. I wanted them there, because I knew they would find connections among my eclectic web of people, and I also wanted the addition of their spice and charisma. I hadn’t understood why they never came. Well, that was no mystery, now.
Just like with Trish, I was shell-shocked by the depth of his accusations. And I hadn’t seen it coming. This nightmare reminded me of that moment in my twenties, years after I had come out, when my mom had disowned me for being a lesbian. She had called me on the phone to tell me, under the influence of her born-again, Christian rapture, that moving forward she could love me as a daughter, but never as a lesbian. I let her know that she didn’t have that option, and it was a painfully long time before we ever spoke again.
And now, my brother felt compelled to weigh in with his own condemnations? Once again, I didn’t understand what was really going on. My lifestyle. They had problems with my lifestyle: my live out loud, sexually significant, look-at-me, I’m- Vicki Marie lifestyle. They had problems with my philanthropic, business-driven, and art-making lifestyle. They had problems with my salsa dancing, roller-blading, and global hiking lifestyle; and problems with my entertaining, networking, and socially rich lifestyle. That pretty much summed up my life. What was the fucking problem?
It was an unbelievable hit: another ambush to survive. He ended the letter by saying he loved me very much. I wasn’t convinced. I threw the letter in a drawer and left the house for the beach.
Alki Beach became my refuge after I quit smoking. I’d traded tobacco for roller blading, and with my Walkman strapped to my waist, I traversed the seven-mile strip every dry day of the week. I had given up running years earlier, wanting to preserve my knees for high altitude trekking, and rollerblading had brought back that thrill of moving through space. On a clear day, with the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, and the blue expanse of the Puget Sound, I had the feeling of being on the edge of the natural world. With my music, that amazing view, and the endorphins of exercise, I could always count on an attitude adjustment when I hit the beach with my blades.
As I rolled along the beach, and felt the physical transition from effort to grace, I thought about what I knew to be true. I had never felt more alive, more centered, more fortunate or more generous. I had built an exciting and dynamic life for myself, and it had taken my entire life to get to this moment. I had grown up poor, been dealt the disadvantage of teenage parents, but had won big with a lifetime of lucky breaks. More than ever, I was committed to giving back. I had the resources and the desire to add more joy to the universe through my philanthropic work and the bridges I built in my social networks. I had a world of new people in my life—who appreciated my work and my vitality—and I met more all the time. I had never been more outspoken and active in my life, but I was merely operating at a higher level; I had been outspoken and active for my entire life. Yet the two people I loved the most—and who had loved me the longest—didn’t like what they saw.
When I tried to make sense of it, I was convinced that they didn’t see me at all. Or they didn’t see all of me. It seemed that they magnified the slices of my life that they didn’t approve of, and then judged me on those parts alone. Because I trusted and loved them both, I gave their criticisms the light of day. But I couldn’t see anything close to what I was accused of. They both agreed, though, that I was out of line. The only thing I could see that was different about my life in the last few years was that I was no longer coupled, and I was a Chatty-Cathy about my sex life. I was outspoken, and I talked about my bachelor-style of dating, and my constant jungle hunt to lure another worthy man. Because I was a storyteller, I entertained with my experiences, and made comedy out of the episodes. It was true I could be accused of being a braggart; my skill in snagging trophies had totally eclipsed my vapor dates. I was promiscuous, all right, and I had passed over to proud. Sergio’s words echoed in my mind. Was I just too damn much?
TOMORROW: Chapter 54
Copyright Vicki Marie Stolsen, 2014, Forever Forty-Four Publications, Publicity Rare Bird Lit, Tyson Cornell, Tyson@rarebirdlit.com, Distribution by Ingram, Available online and in bookstores in paperback, eBook, and audio format.