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Black Friday Thoughts from an Overwhelmed Cashier

For anyone in the retail industry, Black Friday is the retail version of the short story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”. This taint of the winter holiday season is pure torture to retail workers and we can do nothing about it except munch on the sugary holiday treats management leaves in the breakroom to alleviate the mental anguish.

I started working retail back when Black Friday was still actually on Friday. It slowly creeped into Thanksgiving before the pandemic resulted in the store being closed on Thanksgiving and smaller sales staggered throughout the whole month of November while still having a bigger sale on the actual day. Besides the definition of Black Friday becoming more questionable every year, it largely remains unchanged. For the last 12 years, I’ve seen my store sell the same exact shit every year for Black Friday—the same art supply boxes, cheaply made pajamas that rip in the crotch after the first time wearing them, 30-piece Tupperware sets, glass baking ware sets, off brand TVs, board games, old movies, Disney Princess dolls, towels, fleece blankets, toolsets, etc. Yet people eat up this crap every year as if we didn’t sell it last year.

On top of the Black Friday shoppers buying up all the deals on the same crap we sell every year, I still have to deal with my regular customers who either shop like they’re down to their last five bucks or like they’re a toddler that was given a hundred dollar bill before being let loose in a gas station to buy snacks for a road trip. There’s no in-between—it’s either a couple items or a fucking cartload.

I’m pretty sure I caught Covid from the re-useable bags this customer gave me to bag their groceries. They looked like they haven’t been washed since the day they were bought years ago and had soda explode in them at some point.

For a brief moment here and there, I have no customers and I finally get some respite only for the peaceful lull to be spoiled by a customer. It’s not just that they’re coming into my line, but it’s the stupid quip they have to make as they come into my empty line. “Oh, you were waiting just for me!” “Oh I’m so glad to see an actual person.” “You thought you were getting a break! Lololololol.” I suddenly remember I forgot to take my anxiety meds that helps filter out the irritation I feel towards these snarky customers and my own existence. It doesn’t help that between the lack of sleep and the stress, my eye has been uncontrollably twitching again.

Forgetting my meds becomes more apparent when my card reader decides to stop working as I have a line full of customers waiting to have their carts of Black Friday deals checked out. Then my entire register slows down to a snail’s pace and I have to reboot the entire thing.

I desperately waited for the moment where I could shut my light off so I could go to lunch to cry into a BK original chicken sandwich…and they sent me to lunch late. Thankfully my spouse drove me to the Burger King because I probably would have not come back if I had drove my own car.

I have four hours left of my shift and I must scream.   

Smug

Upon finding out that my old manager had begged my current manager for me to come back, I thought my situation with my former cake decorating position had come full circle by biting my former manager in the ass. It should have been the end of it, but the Billie Mays of life went “But wait! There’s more!”

I didn’t think there could possibly be any more to this until about last week when I noticed my old manager’s position was listed on the open positions board outside of the HR office. I eventually found out that he had demoted himself after he threw a tantrum when he was pulled into the office.

This week, I was cashiering when one of the other managers tells me I have to go to bakery to help out with cake decorating. I had vowed never to go over there again, but cashiering was starting to overwhelm me off with the influx of customers prepping for Thanksgiving and hunting weekend so instead of complaining, I sighed, “Fine. You owe me.”

When I got to bakery, there was a half sheet cake on the counter with a piece missing. I didn’t get the entire story, but from what I could gather the customer was told we could do funfetti cake—a flavor we never had to my knowledge—and was pissed to find white instead. Though from the looks of the cake, I initially thought the problem was due to it being decorated sloppily. For such a simple cake, it had so many things wrong with it: the beaded border was uneven, the balloons were not piped smoothly, and the shaky handwriting was uneven and written over the balloon strings. I was originally informed there was another cake I had to redo, but then was told that one didn’t need to redone. I asked, “You sure this one doesn’t need to be redone?” It sounded like I was asking for confirmation that I didn’t need to do it when actually I was referring to how poorly decorated it was—the main issue being that it was obvious to me that the cake decorator spread wet frosting on the backs of the poorly cut out edible images and then slapped them onto a cake with slightly dried out frosting instead of the proper way of putting them on the cake immediately after frosting it while the buttercream was still fully wet.

Setting up was a nightmare. Most of the frosting wasn’t dated, which was something I would have gotten my ass reamed if I did. None of the opened whipped frosting was properly sealed. At first, I could only find one cake scraper only to find later they were in the box where all the instruction cards explaining how each cake design is decorated were supposed to be. The counter space was cluttered with cake turntables and other cake decorating supplies.  What the Hell happened in the year and a half since I was booted out?

I haven’t decorated anything in almost a year, but I found that even with my rusty decorating my cake was still better than the cake decorated by someone who actually works in the department.

While I was decorating the cake, a customer came up wanting to order a cake for two days from then. I awkwardly went through the cake ordering process with a customer who changed their mind on what they wanted every few seconds and I had a ton of extra decorating notes on the order. I thought I was going to have to leave this slightly complicated order with whoever was going to be decorating the cakes the next day, but somehow I got roped into doing that as well.

And it came out so beautiful.

I must admit the whole experience made me feel pretty smug. I felt like that gorgeous cake I made was a reminder of how much my old manager fucked up when he set me up to have me thrown from my position–one last “Fuck you” to a department that severely undervalued my worth.

The next day, I was back to my regular job of cashiering when an older woman asked me if I used to do the “beautiful cupcakes”. When I confirmed I did, she turned to her friend and gushed how what an amazing cake decorator I used to be and how I made these gorgeous cupcakes for her.

“You were so good! What made you stop doing it?” she asked.

“Well…its a long story.”

ASL

I wrote about how listening to music from my childhood has helped me remember forgotten memories. So it was a little surprising to have memories pop up because of someone who can’t hear it.

We recently got a cashier who is deaf. As none of us are fluent in ASL and she can’t talk, communication was a bit of a learning curve, but we were able to nail it down through some basic hand signs, voice to text apps, lip reading, and typing on the phone.

Out of the other cashiers, I probably knew the most ASL despite the fact I sign like an uncertain toddler.  

The reason I know any ASL is because I started learning it in my childhood. The doctor thought I was deaf as I wouldn’t react to noise and was making “weird” sounds. I still have scarring in my ears from when the doctor put tubes in them to drain fluid he thought was blocking my hearing. The tubes drained the fluid, but didn’t solve my hearing issues.

A breakthrough in my care occurred during a doctor visit when one of the nurses noticed something about the garbled sounds I was making and decided to record my voice with a device that could slow or speed up the tape. When the tape was slowed down enough, anyone that was listening could clearly hear singing:

 Old Mc-Don-ald had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.

Long story short, I wasn’t deaf. I had autism. I did learn to speak with the help of speech therapy and eventually lost most of ASL signs I learned.

When we got this co-worker, I tried to think if I remembered any full sentences to be able to communicate better with her. Hi, my name is (insert name) and Nice to meet you were useless to me at that point since we were already introduced. I love you was also useless to me in this situation. I remembered a fourth sentence that was also useless, but triggered a childhood memory.  

I don’t actually remember the moment itself because I was really little—only the story of the incident that Kim repeated throughout my childhood. We had found a stray/lost dog. The low-income townhouses I lived in until my pre-teens didn’t allow pets so we couldn’t keep it for more than a night. I got on the bus for pre-school and came back home to find the dog gone, which made me upset. I kept looking for the dog. My parents told me the dog went home so I signed:

I want the dog, please. 

The fact that our new coworker has a sense of humor and has found ways to be funny despite the language barriers brought up more buried childhood memories.

There was a family that was heavily involved with the services at the church I attended regularly on Wednesday nights, particularly with the music. I had a huge crush on their oldest, Amber, who was a couple years older than me.

Our church did this challenge every week where they would ask any willing kids to come up front and the goal was to see who could go the longest without laughing. With Amber’s father leading, the congregation would sing “The Booster Song” repeatedly until there was one kid left or we got tired of it.

Booster, booster, be a boo-ster!

Don’t be grouchy like a roo-ster!

Booster, booster, be a boo-ster!

And boost our Bi-ble school!

The other kids could get each other to laugh by suddenly shouting the words obnoxiously in each other’s ear or making chicken noises. Well, this didn’t work on Amber because she was deaf. I’m fairly certain she volunteered herself every week to be funny because she couldn’t hear anything that was going on. Her mom or dad would say and sign things like, “Cmon! Smile!” and she’d slowly shake her head from side to side with that stone faced pout.

I saw Amber at the county fair and something possessed me to buy a necklace from one of the vendors hawking cheap souvenirs. I think it was a metal arrowhead with a heat sensitive color-changing stone that hung from a black cord. I presented the necklace to her, but I couldn’t communicate my feelings as I forgotten most of the ASL I learned as a toddler and I didn’t have paper to write it down. I think I might have slowly said something along the lines of “This is for you. Bye!” so she could lip read and ran off. I do remember she looked rightfully confused about this bizarre encounter.     

Lately, it has felt like I’ve been opening up a Pandora’s Box of awful shit from my childhood in regards to trying to remember things from my past that I’ve blocked out and processing it. So it was nice to be able to remember some things that weren’t terrible.

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

TW: Suicide

If you had told me the highlight of my 2020 would be seeing Bowser in titty tassles, I would have said “Fuck you! I have MCR tickets!” Alas, that was the case as the whole country was officially labeled in a pandemic the weekend after I went to the video game convention featuring a Mario/Godfather themed burlesque act.

I had been holding onto this highly coveted My Chemical Romance ticket for almost three years. A friend I made the same weekend as the music convention over the bizarre experience that is Cheesecake Factory said, “I’ve had it for so long I no longer feel the emptiness in my wallet for buying it.” Personally, I had it for so long that I completely forgot that by some miracle I managed to get a floor ticket. There was this horrifying moment of realization about a week before the show that I would not be in a seat, but on the ground level inside the swarm of MCR fans that have waited almost three years for this show just days after the Goo Goo Dolls meet and greet.

“Ah shit. I’m either going to die from a heart attack meeting the Goo Goo Dolls or from getting trampled by Killjoys.”

Neither prediction occurred, but there were a few times where I thought I was going to die. I probably would have been squashed to death if it weren’t for Gerard Way politely telling the first few rows to take a step back a couple times throughout their set and the crowd calmed down a little for a bit. Despite earplugs, I managed to become temporarily deaf in my left ear and it has made a very slight buzzing sound ever since.  

Like most concerts lately, I recalled forgotten memories because of the music. It wasn’t surprising at all this time knowing that I listened to the band a lot when I was a teenager going through a lot of shit.

My friend had burned me a copy of the Three Cheers for Revenge album for my birthday after showing me the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”, which was a faux movie trailer for a movie we all wished existed. The friend in question was someone I liked. She later confessed that she was bi-curious and it got my hopes up. By the time I actually got the courage to tell her I liked her, she had figured out she wasn’t bisexual and privately I did not take it too well. Now I didn’t think that she had to like me or should like me, but that rejection still hurt.

Months earlier, I had been forcibly committed for a few days and given anti-depressants. The pills certainly didn’t fix all the bullshit happening at home and I felt worse while on them. Nobody properly explained to me that if I felt suicidal on them that I wasn’t going to get in trouble and be committed again if I admitted they weren’t working. With the horrid combination of incredibly aggressive suicidal thoughts no one knew about and all the shit happening in my life at the time, it was only a matter of time that something would break me. My state of mind was fragile so it probably could have been anything. Unfortunately and embarrassingly, the thing that sent me over the edge was my friend telling me that she realized she wasn’t bisexual so she didn’t like me more than a friend.   

I tried killing myself one night with my medication in my darkened bedroom while listening to Garbage’s “Bleed Like Me”, but couldn’t bring myself to down more than eight pills. The next day, I secretly popped the pills I had left over in the bottle over the course of lunch period. Someone found me sitting in the hallway crying and I was taken to the counselor’s office. My counselor wasn’t aware of what was happening to me as I refused to talk so she pulled my friend out of class thinking I’d talk to her and left us alone in her office. My friend asked what was going on. I had begun to feel the effects of the overdose and I panicked by throwing the empty pill bottle on the floor. She immediately understood what happened and rushed to get the counselor outside the door. They both came back to find me lying on the floor as I had fallen out of my chair and struggled to get back up. I was conscious the entire time—I just couldn’t move my body properly. I remember my friend propping me upright until the paramedics came because I couldn’t sit up, the oxygen mask they put on me because they thought I was struggling to breathe, being wheeled out on the stretcher and seeing my art teacher’s horrified face as I rolled by, the dizzying ambulance ride to the hospital, puking a lot into a bin in the ER (which is likely why they didn’t pump my stomach), the catheter for a urine sample (I was unable to go with a room full of nurses staring at me), another ambulance ride to a different hospital with a mental healthcare unit once it was confirmed I was stable, the saline drip to flush the meds out of my system, the dimly lit room I slept in…it now feels like a weird fever dream rather than something that actually happened.

I always remember the things that happened afterwards: walking around like a drunken sailor the next day because the meds weren’t completely out of my system, learning that I would have had permanent brain damage if I had taken more than the 40-something pills, being shocked that the doctor wanted to prescribe me another medication not even 24 hours after I tried killing myself with the last prescription he gave me, and deciding not to go on any more medication because it felt like it was a gamble, which turned out to be correct when I finally did decide to try a medication regimen years later and many of the meds I tried reacted horribly with my body. But I always tend to forget the events leading up to it. Unlike some other experiences that my brain has seemingly locked away as a coping mechanism, I kind of wish I didn’t remember the suicide attempt. Whereas other memories have involved my childhood or my mother’s abuse, this one involved people I cared about and how I scared the shit out of them because of my stupidity. I felt guilty because I (more or less) committed suicide because of a girl (even if there were other factors involved) and it wasn’t her fault this happened—it was mine.

The suicide attempt was indeed traumatizing to make me think twice about attempting it again and limiting my access to prescriptions I could kill myself with, but it wasn’t enough to stop the suicidal thoughts from creeping back into my head. A couple months after the suicide attempt, I started a morning ritual of heating a butter knife over a candle and touching the hot metal to my arm to feel the pain, which lead to another hospital stay when I left the knife on the flame too long and it left a scab that I kept picking at during lunch. I would go about my day thinking of all the “what-if” things that could kill me: jumping off the bridge over the river during my walk, being hit by a car in the crosswalk, an active shooting in the store I was shopping at, etc. Sometimes I wondered if anyone would miss me or if it made little difference if I was around or not. My brain was constantly thinking about my own demise and hurting myself.

I refused access to antidepressants, but I could still buy things over the counter. For years, I kept a bottle of aspirin by my bedside. It was weirdly both a potential suicide method and a deterrent. There was the idea that I would reach a point where I could no longer handle life and down the fucking bottle to end it all yet it was a reminder of what I had done and how it awful it was for most involved. I say “most” because Kim was apathetic about the whole thing and was more concerned about how it affected her than she was about her daughter wanting to die, which was partially why I hardly ever told anyone what was happening inside my head. There was also this fear that it could go the opposite way and I’d end up worrying people who wouldn’t know what to do for me to the point I’d be institutionalized again. Without medication, therapy, or a true support system, I dealt with much of it on my own. Music like My Chemical Romance helped keep the suicidal thoughts at bay, but it could only go so far. It didn’t help living in a household where the matriarch could explode at any moment for any little thing she considered a slight to her and everyday felt like delicately walking on eggshells.

My friends did suspect something was wrong, but I reassured them by saying things like “I’m fine”, “I’m okay”, “I’m just tired.” I’m not sure how much they bought it. All I know is like the MCR song, I was definitely not o-fucking-kay at all.

Nobody ever knew the true extent of what was happening inside my head because I mostly didn’t tell anyone and what little I did tell was incredibly filtered. On top of the suicidal ideation, I often thought of my own funeral. At the height of My Chemical Romance’s fame, Hot Topic sold a replica of the dress the dead girl in the “Helena” video wore and I often thought about buying it for the funeral I imagined I would have. Since I frequently thought of my own death, I often thought about what happens when we die. With the release of the Black Parade album, I was given Gerard Way’s perspective of death coming to us in the form of our strongest, happiest memory rather than a menacing, skeletal God of Death with a huge scythe. What was my happiest memory at the time? Eating ramen noodles with my dad by the wooden coffee table while watching MTV, going to the movies or the café with my mother, playing horror games in the dark on the Dreamcast with my brother, listening to music on my Walkman by the stream behind our house—things that had become an impossibility at that point because I was estranged from my dad following the divorce, my mother became a monster to me when she didn’t have Dad to push around anymore, and I lost the Dreamcast and backyard stream when the bank foreclosed on the house.

I don’t think the more depressing music like My Chemical Romance generally amplified these thoughts I had, but rather made me feel like someone in this shitty world understood what I was going through and that was a comforting thing to have when you have nothing else.

Rude, Entitled, Out-of-Touch

My retail job would be so much easier on my anxiety if I didn’t have to deal with incredibly rude, entitled, out-of-touch assholes. These are the type of people that make me question my pay grade and life.

The Saturday before Labor Day, I got screamed at by two different men within five to ten minutes of each other during the first half hour of my shift. The first was brought up to my service counter because his card wasn’t working. He kept swiping it despite the fact my register kept saying he needed to use the chip reader. “There’s no chip! I had the bank take it out!” he yelled at me showing his card that clearly had a gold chip in it. Finally he angrily walked off saying he’d shop someplace else. The other customer wanted to cash a check, but his ID was expired. I explained I cannot take an expired ID and asked if he had a second form of identification. He demanded his stuff back, told me to fuck off, and said this store is fucking stupid.

Gotta love holiday weekend.

Last week was weird about batteries. While working customer service a week ago, an old man walked up and plopped down eight loose lithium batteries on my counter wanting a return with no receipt or packaging. I politely explained I needed a receipt or the packaging to be able to process a return. He said he shouldn’t have to keep the receipt or the packaging and just kept telling me to return his batteries. “I drove 23 miles to get here!” I had to get a manager to explain what I just had told him and he gave her an attitude as well. We finally just had his son go grab an 8-pack of batteries and we used the barcode from that to process the return to give him store credit. The following day I overheard a lady who was yelling at my manager over the batteries not having expiration dates like it was our fault that they didn’t have any on the actual packaging. “Well, everything should have expiration dates!”

The theme of the week before Labor Day weekend was about services we didn’t offer anymore:

One lady wanted a shelf she bought assembled and whoever she talked to wasn’t aware that we don’t offer free assembly at the store anymore. She came back in the next day and someone else had to inform her that it’s not a service we offer in store. She kept saying “I’ve gotten stuff put together before!” Eventually after back and forth, she finally just got the damn shelf returned.

Another lady wanted an item we carried, but in a different color so she asked us to order it. She said we had stuff ordered for her before. We used to be able to order things for customers or have them delivered from another store, but we no longer offer those services and my manager explained that she would have to order them online. She had a complete crying meltdown because she needed the item in white as she was blind and needed to be able to see it. We offered help her set up an account, help her order the item, and get a gift card so she could pay for it since she only had cash, but she outright refused every suggestion we had. The part that irked me was when her friend called her phone and she told her friend that we were giving her the run around, that we wouldn’t help her, and that we “don’t help disabled people”. No, you wanted us to do something outside of our capabilities—we couldn’t do it even if we wanted to—and you shot down every alternative we gave to try and accommodate your situation.

The self-checkout is often a breeding ground for entitlement and audacity. Many people straight up refuse to use them. Some believe that the items should be cheaper if they have to use self-checkout. Some joke about waiting for their W-2 for “cashiering”. I had a guy tell me a joke about how a customer went to the break room claiming to be a worker because he checked himself out on a self-checkout—he thought he was so hilarious when I actually found it quite insulting. One time, a customer had me scan all his items for him in self-checkout because he thought he was doing me a favor by giving me job security. “I want you to have a job!” Sir, I do have a job and sometimes that involves watching multiple self-checkouts at once instead of running a singular register. I’ve also had customers come to my register with a single item that costs less than five dollars with the same “I’m helping!” attitude of Ralph Wiggum when in actuality they’re just holding up my line.

My “favorite” self-checkout incident occurred sometime last year. We were so short-handed that day that we only had enough people upfront to watch the self-checkouts and there weren’t any registers open. Being that it was after 5pm when most of the staff was gone for the day, we did have any extra hands to come up and help us. This made one middle-aged woman extremely irate. She was screaming the entire time she was checking out her groceries about how she had to use self-checkout. “Fuck this place! I’m never fucking shopping here again!” I remember her asparagus wouldn’t scan and she just threw it aside when I offered to help scan it for her. “No! Fuck it! I don’t want it now!” Somehow by some miracle I didn’t have a full blown panic attack. I learned later that my grandma, who also works at the store, was on sanitizing cart duty and saw the whole thing. She had the balls to go up to this woman and politely ask, “Excuse me, were you yelling at my granddaughter just now? The one with the blue hair in the self-checkout?” The woman was so embarrassed that she was apologizing profusely. “I didn’t know she was your granddaughter! I’m sorry! Tell her not to take it personally! I was only venting!” She should have apologized to me personally instead of to my grandma, but I’m glad she was put in her place.  

Some other customer stories off the top of my head include:

*The lady who bought a BB gun for Christmas for her grandson and got pissed that our policy wouldn’t allow her to return it. “There should have been something telling me I couldn’t return it!” There were signs posted in Sporting Goods near the product that explained they were non-refundable.

*A guy came up asking if we had free Wi-Fi because he needed to download an anti-virus program to his phone. I gladly showed him what network to use and he got huffy because the network was unsecure. Dude, you’re using free WiFi in a retail store. He then paced around the front end while talking on the phone with a customer service rep of the program he was trying to download and chewing them out.

*An older woman in her own motorized cart refused to bag the groceries she checked out herself, which resulted in two employees checking to see if she had actually purchased the items. I only know about it because she had me call a taxi for her and then proceeded to chew me out about how two separate coworkers “gave me the 9th degree” about not putting her groceries in a bag. “I’m allowed to not put anything in bags if I don’t want to!” She’s not wrong, but our training requires us to deter shoplifters and walking out of the self-checkout with a whole basket of groceries not in bags looks kind of sus. More importantly, she was taking it out on me when I had absolutely nothing to do with her being stopped by two coworkers. She came back to my counter about 20 minutes later pissed off because the taxi I was told would be there in “about 20 minutes” wasn’t there yet and demanded I call them back. They said they were on their way.

It’s not like this all the time or even throughout my entire shift, but interactions like these occur often enough that its understandable why there there are suggestions calling for forcing people to work retail or food service for an X-amount of time to learn how to be a kind and decent human being. Having worked retail and food service, I understand the sentiment.

And Music is my Aeroplane

From the “Aeroplane” music video

My husband and I recently saw Red Hot Chili Peppers for the first time. It was an amazing show: The Strokes opened for them, they had a very cool stage set up, RHCP had a solid set list with a lot of their best known songs.

One moment in particular blew me away and it was probably the most subtle part of the show. The stage goes dark and a stage light shines down on Flea, who is alone on center stage. He starts playing a bass line that sounds so familiar yet I can’t put my finger on it. And he sings…

I’m a little pea

I love the sky and the trees…

It took me a good couple of seconds to realize he was playing “Pea”. The moment I figured it out I recalled some things I had forgotten as well as gained a little insight.

When I was a kid, I saw the music video for “Aeroplane”. The band was playing shirtless on Green Hill Zone-like checkered platforms next to a pool of synchronized dancers. There were also girls in gold sequined body suits that I always thought were wearing devil horns, but only recently discovered that the pouf from their hairstyles hid the middle point of the tiaras they were wearing and, perhaps unintentionally, gave the appearance of horns. I’m pretty sure Anthony Kiedis is the reason why I’m attracted to thin framed men with waist long hair, which might somewhat explain my love for Duo Maxwell from Gundam Wing.

The music video was enough for me to want the album it came off of—the criminally underrated, underappreciated, and overlooked One Hot Minute album. Like Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, I was too young to initially understand the album’s mature themes and I just really liked the sound, which is mostly upbeat and funky in contrast to its darker lyrical content of drug addiction, battling personal demons, and loss. It was an album that was in heavy rotation growing up, especially after my biological mother started becoming abusive, but unlike a lot of other music I listened to it wasn’t because the lyrics spoke to the depth of my soul. Although I would eventually relate to the more depressing, struggling lyrical content as I got older, I mostly listened to the album because the actual music was just so damn good and I felt happy listening to it. I would play the album while playing my Super Nintendo—I specifically remember playing “Coffee Shop” during the coffee shop level of the terrible Wayne’s World game.

The song that convinced me to get the album is also a song that can describe my own relationship with music depending on how it’s interpreted. To be fair, at least parts of “Aeroplane” is referencing drug addiction as Kiedis was dropping lyrical hints throughout the album that he had slipped from sobriety, but it could also have a double meaning if taken literally and describe how music can be pleasurable and painful, particularly from a lyricist’s perspective where ideas for songs may come from memories and experiences.

As a listener of music, I also find music enjoyable, but at times it can be distressing because it has helped me remember painful memories I have forgotten. I used to listen to music all the time so a lot of these lost memories are connected to music, notably the shittier times I’d listen to music to soothe my worries. Unfortunately, I’ve even forgotten some of the music I’ve listened to and therefore sometimes I’ll suddenly remember things when I go to see bands I listened to during my childhood, which is what happened at the Red Hot Chili Peppers show. This time is brought good memories, but it can be traumatic depending on what I’ve recalled.

Yet I don’t believe its bad.

As alarming as recalling some of the more traumatic memories can be, it’s worse not being able to remember them. I hate not remembering. It bothers me that there are seemingly huge gaps in my memory and sometimes the memories are so vague that I wonder if they are false memories or if I can only recall a sliver of what happened. It’s weird how I can remember small details from minor moments that happened in the last decade, but I can barely recall things from my own childhood because my brain buried it as a defense mechanism.

The worst thing about the memory blocks is I cannot seem to remember a lot of the things Kim ever did. If I didn’t have a bunch of core memories about the abuse, if my fiancé/husband hadn’t pointed out that her behavior was abusive, or if I didn’t have writings describing incidents hidden somewhere in my closet, maybe I’d wonder if it really happened.

I feel like if I can recall more of those memories, no matter how awful, then maybe I can heal and maybe I won’t be in such pain…and maybe music might be a key in remembering some of those memories.

Anthony Kiedis was onto something when he said music was his aeroplane as music has been something that’s helped me rise above my own pain. It’s just a shame that the band doesn’t acknowledge the existence of One Hot Minute.

You Are No Mistake

My first true love.

Nearly five years ago, I finally broke down and started receiving professional help for my depression and anxiety, which I had been struggling to deal with on my own with no medication or therapy. Before my scheduled appointment, two big things happened that greatly improved my mood and made the appointment somewhat difficult because I had trouble explaining the overall situation because I was so goddamn happy.

  1. Getting my autographed Pixar Coco print.
  2. Meeting Isaac Hanson following my first Hanson concert, which I had been waiting 20 years to see.

When I was prescribed medication, I called them “Ikes” because of the photo I took with Isaac. He was behind the chain link that made up the one wall of the garage the tour bus was parked in and I was standing in front of the chain link with the biggest smile on my face. I had been terrified to be on medication since my first suicide attempt where I used the pills I was prescribed during my first involuntary commitment and strangely calling them Ikes and putting little stickers on the blister packs they came in made the experience smoother.

How ironic that nearly five years later I ended up at another Hanson show when I’ve been struggling with my mental health. Things are not nearly as bad as they were when I had gone to the first show yet I’m still not having the greatest time.

I saw an amazing show. I met some cool fans. I managed to meet the band outside afterwards. I had a great time!

…until recalling the events of the concert night stirred up some memories from my childhood. Some things I have always remembered while others had been long forgotten.

Hanson wasn’t something I got into on my own. Kim bought their first album, Middle of Nowhere, and she refused to listen when I kept telling her I had no fucking idea who they were.

“You know who Hanson is! You like their song on the radio!”

She was likely referring to their hit single “MMMBop”, but I swear I hadn’t heard it until she forcibly pushed this album on me. 

I listened to the album anyways and flipped through the lyric booklet that had their pictures in it. The front cover had the entire band in an orange filter, but the one in front wearing a leather jacket and a pouty stare framed perfectly by flowing locks of hair caught my attention. He reminded me of the long haired punk kid from Salute Your Shorts, but more attractive. I did become obsessed with the band as a whole, but I swooned over Taylor, especially after I found we have the same birthday—just four years apart.

They were the biggest thing at the time. They had sold out shows where the crowd of screaming girls was reportedly as loud as a plane engine at takeoff. They had fans in countries I didn’t even know about and they had sold out shows there. They were in every magazine targeted at teenage girls. They made appearances on TV shows, talk shows, and even SNL.

…and not one goddamn person in my class liked them.

Fourth grade was fucking horrid. It was already bad enough being a ten year old who got their first period a full year before we watched the lovely puberty video while having the only male teacher in the school at the time, but it was made infinitely worse by my class bullying me every day just because I loved a band that was considered “girly” that sang a song about a silly made up word.

The worst was when the school planned a fun day that included allowing students to vote for what music was going to be played over the intercom. As I was being bullied the entire year for being head over heels for a band everyone loathed with every fiber of their being, this “Rock the Vote” event went as well as expected. Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls won out and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who voted for Hanson. My class was sure to let me know their bands had won by acting like a bunch of dude bros after their football team won the Super Bowl. The cherry on top was the note left on my desk that said “HANSON SUCKS”. The bullying was so bad that day that I stood in the back of the line and just stayed in the hallway while the rest of the class moved forward—no one noticed I was gone. The teacher from the next class saw me sitting on the floor when her class came downstairs to the cafeteria and offered to have me sit with her class after I explained how mean the other kids were. I had the last laugh as Hanson continued to make music while the Spice Girls didn’t last too long after the departure of Geri Halliwell and the Backstreet Boy’s popularity dwindled significantly in our school.

One of my previous posts, “God and Depression”, described how I began questioning the existence of God after an incident where an adult church member behaved exactly like the bullies I thought God would stop if I continued to go to church with unquestioning faith. Years later, I would achieve a girlhood dream I had of owning a rare yellow car because Hanson drove one in their music video for “MMMBop” and I felt some satisfaction when I drove it to the church just to flip off the building while playing that very song on my radio.

Right before middle school, my parents bought their first and only house together. They thought I would be excited about the house and were shocked when I reacted angrily to the news. For most of my life, I had lived in the low income town houses and I felt like I was being ripped away from my home. I was anxious, completely terrified, and furious that my parents for doing such a thing. It wasn’t until recently that I realized, “Ah. That was probably an autism thing.” When my parents brought me and my brothers to see the house, there were gifts for us hanging from the coat rack. My gift was Hanson’s 3 Car Garage album, a compilation of recordings from one of their demo albums. By an odd coincidence, our house came with a somewhat run down three car garage, which my parents pointed out probably so I could make a connection between something that I liked and the house that I initially hated. Actually, it kind of worked because it only strengthened my cringe preteen delusion that I was destined to marry Taylor. “Their album is called 3 Car Garage…and we have a three car garage…we share a birthday…it’s fate!”

Our town has three elementary schools, but only one middle school so my sixth grade class consisted of students from all three schools. One of my classmates from one of the other schools happened to be obsessed with Hanson as well. It was like finding the Holy Grail and we bonded quickly over the love of this band. One of my fondest memories of us was requesting “MMMBop” to the DJ at the monthly Fun Night dance and literally rolling on the floor laughing after all except four or five students, including ourselves, immediately rushed out of the gym in disgust. It was the funniest thing to us and we didn’t care if everyone else thought Hanson was stupid—I suppose as long as we were friends it didn’t matter what everyone else thought.

But alas, my love for Hanson started waning out towards the end of the middle school. Taylor, who I thought was my soul mate, got married. Not only did he get married, but his wife was five months pregnant when they did. Besides Taylor’s nuptials gutting me emotionally during my teen years, my musical tastes were shifting heavily towards nu metal and my new obsession became Kittie. I did still like them and bought every album up until Underneath, but I wasn’t as obsessed with them like I was in preteens and early teens.

Since Hanson was a huge part of that childhood involving a parent that would later become abusive, I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the concert unintentionally triggered my “PTSD-like symptoms” (as my therapist calls them) and recalled all these memories.

There was a moment in the show that sucker punched me emotionally.  I was bawling during “Child at Heart”, a song about finding hope in the face of struggle, and then Hanson followed it up with “Weird”, a song that holds special meaning for its themes of unfair treatment for being different and wanting to feel understood in a world where everybody is “normal”. Lately, I’ve been struggling more than usual and feeling like the biggest failing misfit just like I did growing up.

But… maybe… it was more helpful than hurtful. Repressing memories, in the long term, ultimately has had a negative impact on me so maybe remembering all these things can help with the healing process, which has been long and difficult.

In the end, despite all the feelings it stirred it, the concert served as a reminder that I need to stop being so hard on myself. As Taylor, my ex-future fiancé, says in “Child at Heart”:

You can just breathe. You are no mistake.

Temperamental Pikachu

A visual representation of my car giving me problems.

A lot of my posts involve my narcissist mother as I’m working through unresolved trauma and PSTD symptoms, but currently she is nothing compared to the bane of my existence that is my yellow PT Cruiser (aka. “The Pikachu”).

The day after I decided to put the Aloy cosplay on hold for the sake of my sanity instead of trying to complete it in a matter of days, my car wouldn’t start after work. Long story short, the starter and thermostat were shot and it had started leaking coolant.

Of course, it had to die during the time the parking lot was being re-done so I couldn’t leave it there. I have AAA and waited six hours after calling them for a tow, but I ended up shelling $90 for a tow truck in town because nobody affiliated with AAA wanted to come to Rural Town, Wisconsin. I’m still waiting for the reimbursement I sent in.  

We had initially had planned on a friend who went to mechanic school fixing the car, but decided to explore other options after three weeks of him flaking out on us. Our regular garage—being the only good garage in town—was booked out for a month and the earliest we could get booked was the third week in September. Another good garage in the next town over was able to pencil us in for the following week, but ended up canceling on us after the mechanic called the next day to inform us that they would be unable to do the job as their secretary did not realize how much time it would take. Finally, someone my husband used to work with contacted us offering to fix the car if we still needed it.

Some of the initial issues we pinpointed and got parts for were worse than we thought. We had a couple mechanic experienced people tell us that typically the water pump is replaced when doing the timing belt since it’s such a pain in the ass, but when we opened the car we found a brand new timing belt in a crap water pump that was fixed McGyver style and there was no gap in the blades. The starter was more rusted than we could see with just the hood popped open. Thank God we planned on replacing the spark plugs anyways because the connectors had rusted off and the metal was completely black.

Things went relatively smoothly at first as most of the initial problems were fixed within an hour of getting the car towed to the guy’s place and it was actually running, but soon turned into a clusterfuck of road blocks. It wasn’t leaking after replacing the thermostat and they had hoped that they wouldn’t have to replace the water pump, but it started leaking somewhere in the 45 minutes they had the car idling. The water pump was a bitch to get out. While getting the water pump replaced, my husband quipped about replacing the alternator only to find that the bearings were stating to go out and we decided to replace it while the car was still open instead of waiting for it to go out later. We also decided to have the shocks on the back hatch replaced after finding it was an easy fix and it was cheaper than having to replace the whole door if the bad shocks resulted in the back window breaking. We found that most of the engine mounts were broken. The hose clamps fell apart upon touching them. While trying to get the timing belt put on, he noticed that one of the gears was cracked and it could rip the belt to shreds. It been almost like getting a laundry list of problems from a shady mechanic except the guy has been showing us pictures and videos of the issues if my husband hasn’t been physically there to be personally shown the problems and hasn’t raised his labor costs beyond what we initially agreed on.

Meanwhile, for the past five weeks, I’ve been getting up earlier so I can get a ride with my husband when he goes to work two hours before my shift starts. I’ve been pretty sleep deprived as a result. On top of all this, work has been more stressful for reasons I will not get into. Between the car, work, my regular stressors, and the general feeling of burn out from stress and a lack of sleep, my anxiety-induced nausea has been much worse than usual to the point that I’ve either been violently vomiting or not eating and have lost a little bit of weight as a result.

I’m fucking miserable and exhausted.

I nearly lost it yesterday morning. The car was supposed to be done last Sunday, but we found one of the gears that holds the timing belt was cracked and it could potentially rip the timing belt to shreds. We were in Chicago at the time so we checked a couple places, but ended up having to order them online since PT Cruiser parts are apparently difficult to get through a retailer. We got the new gears the other day along with the shocks that UPS didn’t deliver to us a few days ago because, of course, they suddenly couldn’t find out apartment even though they’ve delivered dozens of times since we moved there. The parts get put in and all that is needed is some new hose clamps because, as mentioned earlier, mine apparently disintegrated. The three of us hit various stores in town to find the hose clamps. We had ordered some in the event none of the stores had them, which is precisely what happened despite Advanced Auto Parts’ website saying that they had the clamps. (We did later find out Advanced Auto Parts actually did have the clamps and the employee that was asked about clamps was dumb.) Just shy of half an hour into my shift I get a text and a picture that informs me that he popped the hood to find that the timing belt was snapped like we theorized it would if we left it running on a cracked gear. So that’s another fifty bucks to the $500ish worth of parts we bought that initially was $140 before we kept running into issues that were a problem now or would eventually become a problem soon. I suppose I’d rather have it snap now rather than while I’m on the road, but this is just getting ridiculous at this point.

…and it starts raining and the car is outside so they aren’t able to install the new belt.

This has basically become the Cars version of what Job went through in the Bible. I’d say this is like a real life version of Miss Trunchbull buying a lemon off of Harry Wormwood in Matilda, but she kind of deserved it and her car still kind of ran. How appropriate that I affectionately call my car “Pikachu” because it’s about as fucking temperamental as Pikachu was at the beginning of the Pokemon anime.

When will my car be fixed? My husband and our mechanic say Friday assuming the breaks and rotor don’t need to be replaced, but who the fuck knows at this point. For the past two weeks we’ve been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel only to have yet another setback. The only silver lining in all of this is fixing it is much cheaper than buying a new car and should run beautifully for a good long time whenever the Hell it gets done.

My Own Inspiration

Spoiler alert for Kiki’s Delivery Service

When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I saw a commercial for the very limited theatrical release of this beautiful looking anime film. Created by a “master filmmaker” I had never heard of, it had gorgeous visuals, unusual characters, and an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. As there weren’t any theaters near me that was playing it, my only glimpse into this wonderful looking film was this commercial until I was able to acquire it on DVD.

I got into Studio Ghibli purely on a commercial for the limited theatrical release of Spirited Away.

Perhaps due to the popularity of Spirited Away, Walmart started selling several of Studio Ghibli’s films. I realized when I saw the four-way with the Studio Ghibli films that I had actually seen one of their films before I had seen Spirited Away. I don’t remember if I saw the movie before or after I saw the Spirited Away commercial, but either way I never made the connection that both films were made by the same studio until that moment in the Walmart store. I do remember sitting on the hardwood floor at the foot of my brother’s bed while the Disney Channel was playing on his old tube TV and there was a witch with a red bow in the middle of the street focusing intently on a chimney sweeper broom trying to get it to magically levitate.  

I think Studio Ghibli is so popular because they are masters of storytelling and animation. They’re so good at their craft that other major animation studios like Disney and Pixar have looked at their films for inspiration. But no matter how many of their past films were dubbed into English or how many new films were released, Kiki’s Delivery Service remains my favorite.

Perhaps it was because Kiki is so relatable beyond both of us wearing black clothes, owning a black cat, and becoming friends with an oil painter. She started off as overly determined, but her confidence and self-esteem wavered. Her abilities weren’t absolute as they were affected by things like depression. She had to take on adult responsibilities at a young age yet struggled with becoming independent. These mirror experiences in my own life—just in different ways and without the support system that Kiki had.

In the third act of the film, Kiki experiences a crisis when she temporarily loses her ability to fly. The movie hints that there are multiple reasons for this like Kiki feeling disheartened, doubting herself, and no longer finding flying enjoyable once she used it as a means to earn an income. Ursula notes the similarities between magic and art and offers some insight when she describes getting over artist’s block after realizing she needed to figure out why she wanted to be an artist. Kiki concludes she hadn’t thought about why she wanted to be a witch and that she needs to find her own inspiration.   

From the time I was little, I wanted to get into video game design or animation. In high school, I took classes I didn’t want to take because a friend had convinced me I needed them for college credits, which I thought I needed to make myself into an artist.

Then I took an animation class. I’ve done a lot of art mediums that I wasn’t particularly good at, but still found at least some enjoyment in the process and learned something from it. That wasn’t the case with animation. We did hand drawn, stop motion, and Flash animation and the only thing I learned was that I hated it.

Imagine having this lifelong dream of getting into video game design during a time when most video game animation would have been done through key frame animation and finding out that your fascination with animation is simply not enough for you to enjoy making it. It broke me.

My choices were to go into debt to pursue a career path I’d likely not enjoy or give up on this goal with no real back up plan. I kept trying to think of some way around it. Maybe I could just be a character designer. Maybe I could just work on storyboarding or the script. Maybe I could still make it work. I eventually came to the same question as Ursula and Kiki did: Why did I even want to do this in the first place?

Like Ursula, I had never given any thought as to why I wanted to be an artist. I spent my entire childhood being told that I was creative, artistic, and talented. There was always the expectation that I’d pursue an art career, but never thought about if that’s what I truly wanted. I found that I didn’t.

Even though an art career isn’t what I really wanted, I had held onto this idea of becoming a professional artist for long that it was hard to let go. Others didn’t make it easier. My friend’s mom told me “You’re wasting your talents.” A co-worker at my retail job saw the work I was doing for a cosplay and said, “You’re in the wrong business.” When I took up the cake decorating position, I got so good at it that everyone kept telling me “Open your own bakery” and didn’t care about my concerns and lack of desire about opening one. People think that if you have artistic talents or any ounce of creativity then you have to use them to turn a profit, but that awful animation class inspired me to learn the truth: you can create art simply for the enjoyment of it rather than to make a living.

Maybe Ursula came to the same conclusion when she found her own inspiration as the movie never explains if she earns her living by selling paintings. At least, I’d like to think that she did.

Tiny Little Fishy

Since 2017, Ghibli Fest has been rereleasing Studio Ghibli favorites for limited theatrical runs. May’s offering was Ponyo, which is loosely based on Han Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Ponyo is special to me because it was the first Ghibli film I saw in the theater, but it was also a sore spot due to the circumstances that lead to that moment.

In my early 20s, I had some sort of argument with my mother, Kim, that lead to me throwing some things and she had me thrown in jail. While I fail to recall what the original argument was about, I do remember the events that occurred afterwards. After a few hours in jail, I was told I was free to go, but there was a temporary no-contact in place with Kim (I found out years later this wasn’t something they automatically do, but something she had requested). I was unable to go home as I lived with the person that I couldn’t have contact with so I walked a few blocks to the house my friend and his mom, Jess, lived at. It was October, lightly snowing, and my thin metal band t-shirt didn’t protect me from the freezing cold. I was hanging out with my friend when Jess says there’s a phone call for me—it’s Kim. She broke the No Contact she put in place herself just long enough to tell me I was not allowed to live at home anymore. I hung up on her. I had a rough night, I walked through the freezing cold, and I found out I was essentially homeless. I just sat in the dark bedroom all day channel surfing the cable in a daze.

Thankfully, my other friends had recently gotten their own place and they let me crash at their place. I didn’t have any ID on me at the time because Kim had things like my birth certificate and I had no proof of an address because I technically didn’t live anywhere. Without proof of my identity, I wasn’t able to become an actual tenant at my friend’s apartment and not being a tenant could get them into trouble. To skirt around this, I would stay for two weeks at a time, go stay a weekend or so at Jess’, and then go back to the apartment for two more weeks.

I did this for nine months before I got into a huge fight with my friends. By that time Kim and I had reconciled so I angrily stormed off to her place, which was a two hour walk. Shortly after I arrived, my friends called to inform Kim that I wasn’t allowed to stay with them anymore. It ended up leading to a mental breakdown and yet another short stint in a mental unit of a hospital. A few days after I had left the hospital, Kim drove me to my friend’s place to gather my things and I found everything dumped on their front doorstep.

I was hurt, but it hurt even worse when they acted like they didn’t kick me out and they somehow couldn’t possibly understand why I was so incredibly upset. Regardless, they tried smoothing things over with peace offerings of presents, but I felt too betrayed and angry to accept any of it. This only made them angrier as they felt they were kind enough extending these olive branches despite the fact they felt they hadn’t done anything wrong. How dare I refuse them!

One such olive branch was going to seethe new Studio Ghibli film, Ponyo, in a movie theater. At the time, it was rather unusual for anime films to have widespread theatrical releases in the US, if they even had one. My estranged friends had managed to find a theater in the next state over that was playing it and a mutual acquaintance of ours was willing to drive them there (the one friend that could drive was uncomfortable driving that far). They messaged me asking if I wanted to come along and I coldly responded, “I’d rather wait to see it on DVD than to see it in the theater with you.” Like any emotional early 20-somethings, they got pissed and trashed talked me on social media (which would have been DeviantArt or MySpace in 2009) and to anyone that would listen about what a complete, ungrateful bitch I was.

I became an even bigger bitch when I found a theater within our state that was playing it and, after explaining my side of the story, convinced the mutual acquaintance to cancel on them to take me. They were furious! It was most definitely petty and childish, but I certainly didn’t give a shit. “Fuck them!” I thought.

Seeing a Studio Ghibli film in the theater was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I cried to Ponyo’s breathtaking hand-drawn animation and storytelling. It made petty, childish revenge taste that much sweeter. It got even sweeter when a theater half an hour away was showing the film and the projector broke during the previews when my asshole ex-friends went to go see it on the last day the theater was playing it. They viewed it as horrible luck. I saw it as glorious karma.

Ponyo was a piece in a continuous cycle of fury and backstabbing that lasted for a few months before we somehow managed to patch our friendship. To this day, I still don’t understand how the Hell we mended bridges, but I now know that they wouldn’t have been burned to begin with if it weren’t for Kim.

A few weeks after I had moved out of Kim’s place for good, I visited those friends, who were now living on the other side of the state. I don’t remember how that dark period three years prior was brought up when I was talking to the husband half of my friend couple, but I’ll never forget what I was told when I noted they had kicked me out.

“…we never kicked you out.”

“Mom told me that I wasn’t allowed to stay with you guys anymore!”

“She told us that you were going to stay with her from now on!”

Once we had exchanged our sides of the story, we realized to our horror that Kim had manipulated both parties and it nearly cost us our friendship.

My friends hadn’t called to kick me out—they called because they were worried sick about me and hoped I had walked to her place. She told them I would be moving back in with her, but she just told me that I wasn’t allowed to stay over there anymore. In addition to not having a conversation with me about moving back in with her, she also failed to inform me she had told them to leave my belongings on their doorstep before they left for the weekend to see their relatives. From their perspective, I had willingly left on my own accord and they understandably had no fucking clue as to why I was angry with them. To me, they had kicked me out following an argument, threw my things out the door, and then pretended like nothing happened. The reality was we were deceived by an abusive parent who manipulated the situation to exert more control over her daughter.

The deception was bad enough on its own because of all the confusion it caused that set off a chain of events that nearly destroyed an almost decade long friendship, but what kind of monster watches their daughter be hurt and angry for months about a betrayal that never actually happened?

I have some sort of vague recollection of her suggesting that I make up with them, but the fuzziness of it makes me question if my brain is making up a false memory. Though it wouldn’t surprise me that she would make such a suggestion to cover up what she had done. If we made amends, we would go back to normal, never speak of it again, and Kim gets away with taking advantage of a situation to manipulate her daughter. The more we stayed angry with each other, the more likely one of us would have blown up at the other for what they supposedly did and it would have risked Kim’s actions coming out into the open if we realized something wasn’t adding up, which is precisely what ended up happening except years later and not during a moment of frustrated rage.

When my husband asked if I wanted to go see Ponyo in the theater, I immediately said “Yes!” Like calling her Kim instead of Mother, it was another way to switch the narrative and figuratively take back control from her.

The movie was as beautiful and breathtaking as it was the first time I saw it. Only this time I was seeing it because I genuinely enjoy the film and Studio Ghibli rather than out of pure spite and vengeance for a perceived wrongdoing. It’s been a few months since the theater showing and I no longer see Ponyo as a bad memory of the past.