Monday, July 23, 2012

The Soap Opera of Our Lives

Casey and I stood in the restaurant's bathroom, washing the soap off of our hands and contemplating how we ended up at Venti’s with two unknown guys who responded to our Facebook plea for a Friday night double date. Friends of a friend, the two men were the first set of males we had cajoled into undergoing our little experiment. No, we hadn’t drugged them with Love Potion Number Nine. It was our good looks, quick wit, and sparkling white smiles that had drawn these men out of the dark video game dens that their fellow kind dwell in.
             Before we even met Ryan and Zach* in person, Casey and I were sure to e-mail them our rules. The document read as follows:
1. Absolutely no kissing.
2. You must actually be single. You can’t be married, engaged, or have a girlfriend.
2. Participants must be at least 21 years of age.
3. We go halvsies. Everyone brings their own wallet.
4. Joelle is allowed to blog about the experience. But she’ll change your name. And your appearance. So if you’re muscly and bald, you’ll end up being scrawny with an afro in the story.
5. No commitment to follow up. You don’t have to call us the next day. We won’t cry our eyes out or text you 5 million times.

            I have to admit, number 4 worried me a bit. I didn’t want people to think I was just out for a good story and that I would write lies about them. But awkward dates make for really great blog posts, and I didn’t want anyone to feel tricked when three days later they read a story about themselves on The Real Pretend.
Not to mention, I thought rule number 4 might attract only self-centered D-bags that wanted to become famous. Because, you know, this blog gets a lot of hits. And not all of them are from my mother. But let’s get back to the date I’m currently in the middle of.
“What do you think Casey? Possibilities or no?”
            “I think it’s going well so far. They’re both really open and relaxed, even though this whole thing is a bit out of the comfort zone.”
“A little bit out of the comfort zone? Try off the charts. The comfort zone for me was sitting at home wearing a snuggie and watching Joshua Lucas on TV.” Because I don’t know about you, but I just don’t go hang out with strangers found on the FB. I pondered the other option. “Case, do you think posting our themed dates on Facebook was a better idea than organizing Spiritual Speed Dating at Broadway Cafe?”
 That had been our original idea/joke. How we wanted to find guys who loved Jesus but weren’t already head over heels for the blond YWAMer who just got back from her mission trip in Ecuador.
Casey and I had discussed spiritual speed dating, and how we’d kind of poke fun at the whole thing, but it could maybe turn out well. In order to make the event spiritual, participants would have to recite Bible verses in order to meet more people. If you only memorized three verses, you only got to meet three people. I figured this strategy would really motivate twenty-somethings to study the Word. Plus, I still remembered most of James chapter 1 from when I was in middle school (also the Gettysburg address, but that won’t count).  And those GT and the Halo Express songs really helped with memorization too.
            After the joking ended, I approached Casey with the idea to get friends of friends of friends to go on dates with us (the friends of friends were mostly already married). We’d advertise on Facebook in a completely non-desperate-I-so-don’t-cry-my-eyes-out-on-Friday-nights sort of way.
“Casey, How does my eye patch look?” I asked.
“Really good. Reminds me of Pirates of the Carribean.”
To launch off our themed dates, we had started with a Blind Date, but we took it literally. This isn’t an episode of The Bachelorette, so there will be no dates to Dollywood, but Casey and I are creative and know how to put together a memorable experience. We had a unique night of braille reading, blind folds**, and trust walks planned. We really needed to get back to the table so as to continue with the trivia game before our food arrived.
I sat opposite Ryan and picked up one of the cards we had made. “Okay, for three points, what does a green tipped cane mean?” I looked expectantly around the room, thinking most people would remember this from reading the Oregon Driver’s Manual at age 15.
“Um…the person’s blind?” Zach answered.
“Blind and deaf!” Ryan shouted. The couple from the table next to us looked over.
“Correct,” I said.
Casey picked up the next card. “Who invented glasses?”
“Benjamin Franklin?”
“Name five animals with excellent night vision.”
“Cats, lemurs, wolves, raccoons, and….”
“Owls!” Zach finished.
            Shortly after our round of trivia, the food arrived. I had the falafel pita and Greek salad, which is my usual. I’m a fan of Greek food, but I never tell anyone this because I hate olives and don’t want people serving me food stuffed with kalamata olives. Also, saying you don’t like olives is offensive to Greek people. It’s like not valuing the knowledge of Latin and Greek root words.
            During the meal, Zach winked at me. Or at least I thought he did. It might have just been that his eye patch was irritating him and he needed to blink. But still.  
            When the bill came, we all pulled out our wallets. There wasn’t any of that “Is he paying? Should I offer to pay? Am I making him feel like less of a man for purchasing my own meal?” Rule 3 clearly stated that you pay your own way on this date.
            Casey was pretty excited for the next part of the date. She had thought it up. We were headed over to Bush Park for some trust building activities, because a very important foundation for a relationship is trust. We wanted to put the guys to the test.
            “Alright,” Casey said. “This is what’s going to happen. We are going to blindfold you. Then we are going to lead you through the trees. You will have to follow our directions to stay safe, and trust that we are telling the truth.”
            Guys are forever not wanting to follow the instructions of a woman. Apparently it’s hard for some reason. Smart is the man who just does what his wife asks. Casey and I had plans to open up the vulnerability of these two strangers, testing them out in situations that could cause conflict.
            After the blindfolds were secure, I gave Ryan my first set of directions. “Okay, take five steps forward. Good. Keep walking.”
            Casey had her work cut out for her, having to navigate Zach through a cluster of trees. “Take a left. Okay, go forward until I tell you to stop. Stop. Take a right. We’re going to go up a hill. Lift up your feet.”  
            I am happy to say that both men made it to our end location safely. Nobody tripped on a branch or got attacked by a rosebush. And the blindfolds helped keep the guys from being distracted by the other park-goers who were more attractive than me. For some reason, slender women are always wearing short shorts and running at Bush Park, despite the fact that there are no bears in sight.
Casey and I had our turns next. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be blindfolded and directed down a path sprawling with roots and rocks. I’ve got a terribly loose knee joint, and if you so much as nudge me at the wrong angle, my patella will pop out and it’s all kinds of gruesome. If you don’t believe me, just Google images of “dislocated knees.” I needed my date to know how very sensitive I was to terrain changes.
“Don’t let me fall in a hole or you’ll be carrying me back to the car.” The last part was a lie. I’m resilient and typically good to walk after my right knee dislocates, provided I get it back in quickly. But I wanted him to know that I’d expect him to carry me if I were injured. I’ve never been carried by a man, unless you count  the time when my brother in law carried me to the river edge to throw me in, or when I was ten and stepped on a rusty tent peg and my foot was bleeding and my friend’s dad carried me into the house—which I don’t. I’d like to be rescued by an attractive prince man at least once in my life. Disney taught me that.
“All set.”
I took baby steps forward as Ryan navigated. I could hear Casey walking a few feet away. Everything was going fine and I totally was keeping all my joints in place until I heard an additional male voice.
“Joelle? Is that you?”
I ripped off my blindfold and took a look. My stomach lurched. It was Evan*, a guy I’ve liked for longer than I care to admit.
“Hey,” I said, as casually as one could.
“What are you guys doing?” he asked.
“Ah, you know. Just some blind games. Trust walk and all that...”
“Oh. How come?” Evan asked.
Men are forever wanting explanations to why single girls wear blindfolds and stroll through the park with near perfect strangers.
Zach, who must be an extrovert, piped in. “We’re on a blind date. And it’s like, literal.”
I could feel my face turn crimson. Now Evan is going to think that I’m signed up for or something, when really all I did was make a plea offer on the world’s largest social media site. I started to worry. What if Evan started to think that I was unavailable? That I was going to pursue a relationship with a man in an eye patch? He’d never take me on a non-date to Word of Mouth then.
Men are forever fearful of taking women on non-dates. Because sometimes they like the girl and just want to find an excuse to hang out with her, but they are afraid that a breakfast burrito or some French toast will mean that they are saying “I like you.” And guys are terrified of telling girls that they like them (this is what all the articles tell me), because they are just as self-conscious as girls and don’t want to be rejected.
For every guy who secretly likes a girl, there are ten girls who are mad crazy about that guy. But instead of just taking a chance, the guys have to make sure we like them, so they force us to do things like bat our eyelashes or show cleavage to get the message across. I can’t do either of those things. So what I do instead is go silent as a mime every time a guy is around. Then all the guys think I hate them, but really the problem is that I was home schooled for nine years and don’t know how to interact with the opposite sex.
“Well, have fun,” Evan said.
I smiled dumbly.
Turning to Casey I said, “Shall we move on to the last activity?”
Casey nodded.
Some people end dates by getting ice cream or by making out at the top of a hill while in a parked car. Or maybe you get a kiss on the front step while your mother peeks out the curtains at you. That’s what they show on TV anyway, I don’t really know. We did none of those things. Instead, Casey and I had some braille reading for the boys to do. We had created our messages using puffy paint. They were fairly short, because writing in braille by hand is a lot of work and we weren’t that committed.
            “You’ll have to do some research to figure out what these say.” Or, you know, just throw them in the garbage on your way out.
The night ended. If you think there was a rose ceremony and we picked our favorite bachelor, you’re wrong, because this isn’t ABC television and Chris Harrison isn’t telling me what to do. Instead Casey and I went to her house to gossip and plan our next themed double-date.

*not their real names
**if you are thinking something dirty, then shame on you.

Author's note: Just like The Bachelorette, this "reality" story is completely fictional. This did not ever happen. Yet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ten seconds short of drowned

On Friday, July 13th, I went whitewater rafting on the upper Clackamas River for a field trip at work. I was very excited and had a lot of fun, until I got the surprise of my life. I'll get straight to it.

                I’m on the side of the raft, looking down into a giant swirling hole, a rapid they call the Toilet Bowl. We’ve done something wrong, because I feel the raft turning up in a sort of I’m-going-to-flip-over-and-you-are-going-to-fall-out sort of way. But what makes my fear of falling out of the raft greater is the fact that I am looking straight down at a rock. When I fall out, my face is going to smash straight into it.
                At the last second, I pinch my nose so water won’t go up it and sort of turn myself so that my side lands on the rock and not my face. I feel a rush of water cover me. I don’t remember anything about the temperature, because that was not what was uncomfortable. It could have been 40 degrees and I wouldn’t have known, because what I most wanted was to breathe air. I think to myself okay, struggle for a few seconds, pop out, then breathe. Problem is, I’m getting suffocated. I am underneath the raft and it isn’t flipping over anytime soon. I can’t hold my breath any longer and try a premature suck of air. Water fills my lungs.  I wave my hands upwards and try as hard as I can to get the raft off.
                Air. I suck it in for a half a second, feel that I am slipping away from the rock I had landed on, and desperately try to wrap my fingers around it. I inch forward, panicked. One of my team members is also clinging to the rock. I look forward and see another raft coming. I look back and see a guide in a different raft making motions to assume the river swimming position, which is “toes and nose up.”
                My fingers let go and I am flushed down the Toilet Bowl. I do my best to stay on my back, to keep my feet out and my nose up so that I can breathe air. But it’s no good. My face is hit with rapid after rapid. I can’t feel any air touching my skin. I try not to breathe, but then again I try to breathe every second I think I can get, because who knows how long it will be until I get more oxygen.
                I’m under, under, under.  God, please let me live, I think. I just need to make it to the end. Just need to hold on until the water calms and I can breathe again. But water is filling up inside of me. I’m swirling underneath, and there is the second that I think This Is It. I can’t hold on any longer. Should I give up? So this is what it feels like to drown, I think.
                But I hang on. I fight. No, I will not die. The right words to describe what if felt like do not exist. The best I can explain is that drowning has a similar sensation to falling from a tree and landing on your chest, while at the same time getting 100 gallons of water poured down your nose and throat, while being rolled down a hill of rocks. It feels like panic.
                Finally the mad gushes of water stop, and I struggle to breathe and cough at the same time. My breaths are incredibly shallow, a quarter of a second probably. I’ve still got water in my nose and water in my lungs that I am trying to get out. One more second, I think. I will be able to breathe in one more second. Even though the rapids have stopped, the water is moving swiftly and I am still met with the occasional lap of water to the face.
                Soon I am at the side of a raft. I hold onto it and try to breathe before they pull me in. Katie grabs me by the life jacket and hauls me inside. I collapse in a pile, sputter, suck, and gasp for air. “Are you okay, are you okay?” voices say. I’m trying to recover, but two seconds later it’s “quick, move, get out of the way,” because someone else needs to get pulled in.
                I make a very half-hearted attempt to climb over the seat and end up falling into the little nook at the front of the raft, at the feet of one of the guides, a guy who’s got to be like 21 years old, if that. I sit there in a hunched little ball, trying to breathe. I feel tiny, pathetic, and shaken.
                The four rafts congregate together, counting how many people they have pulled in, making sure we are all here. We rest for a few minutes, checking people for cuts and concussions. Everybody’s okay. Then they want us to get back in the empty raft. And all I think is Can’t I just stay here for the rest of the trip? Hunched in a ball on the floor by your feet? But I can’t. I transition over to the other raft, my raft, the raft that betrayed me. My legs are shaking. Someone hands me a paddle.
                We make our way down the river. It’s calm. I don’t say anything. I row when the guide says row, and I stop when he says stop. I stare out to the bank and think. I am overwhelmed with a sense of grief. Because three days earlier, a friend of a friend had died in a waterfall, trying to save a kid who fell in. Was that what it was like for you, Brett? I think. It was like that, wasn’t it? Only worse. The panic overtook, the water filled your lungs, and you didn’t get enough air. I think about him, under that dark water, fighting for life. And then it ending.
                How soon does your soul leave you? I wonder. When you drown, does your brain keep having thoughts like in a dream, even though you are not breathing? How soon does it stop? How soon is it until you don’t realize that you are dying? I imagine myself back there, floating lifeless in the water. Would I have separated from myself and watched myself get pulled in, watched as someone attempted CPR? Or would my soul have been bound through it all? Not left me until later?
                I contemplate on this, thinking about Brett, and at what point he must have been in Jesus’ arms. I’m sorry Brett, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you—only met you one time, but I’m close to knowing what it was like. I wish you never had to go through that.
                “You seem a lot quieter,” Eric says to me as we paddle. “Having flashbacks?”
                I try to smile and shake my head no. Because I don’t want to tell the 17 year old next to me that I’m thinking about a man who died in the water just a few days ago, that I’m about to burst into tears.
               We’re floating down the river, and I start to think of all the uncomfortable ways to die. Because surely they must all be different. Smoke inhalation. Burning up. Falling and smashing into the pavement. Sudden impact car crash. Drowning. Suffocation.
 I realize that I am not afraid to be dead. Being dead would be okay. After all, I’d be with God in paradise. But it’s the in between that I am terrified of. The time of almost dying and dying that really freaks me out. Because it’s full of panic and of pain.
                I start to think about Satan and how it ain’t no big thang if I die, because I’d be in heaven and God wins. But if it’s not a victory for Satan for me to be dead (since I’d be with Jesus), then is it not a loss for God if I am not alive on earth? Or does it matter? The conclusion I’ve come to is this: me dying doesn’t make Satan incredibly happy, because he hasn’t won me. God would be glad to take me into his kingdom. But even though Satan doesn’t get to add me to his dark, fiery pit of hell, he probably would be sort of happy that I was gone, because that’s one warrior taken out of the battle.
                Christians shouldn’t fight to live because they are afraid of death, they should fight to live because it means there is a bigger army to battle for God. Satan would love to take me out because that means no more Bible club at the local elementary school. It means no more love letters left in the library for a stranger to find. It means no more Joelle on earth to speak truth.
                Today I breathe air, and I breathe it deeply and thankfully. And while I am afraid of the process of dying, I am not afraid to be dead. I fight to live because I’m a valuable warrior in the Lord’s army and you can’t get rid of me that easily. I throw up my middle finger to you, Satan.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Issue 6 of Things I Dig

There are a few things I’ve really been digging recently, and I wanted to share them with you.
1) Drop Box. This is really great for huge files you have that you want to email to someone, but you can’t because gmail won’t allow it. Put your stuff in Drop Box, then you can send it via a link to whomever. I use Drop Box to email all my volunteers children’s church curriculum, because the lessons are explosive in kilobytes.

2) Making mad amounts of lunches over the weekend. See, I’m a lazy chef, and I never seem to have time to put together a lunch (either in the morning or the night before). God help any future children I may have. Though I’m pretty sure I would turn into the kind of mom who cuts her children’s sandwiches into fun shapes and sneaks a little note in every day.

But back to my current single laziness, which I tried to remedy by doing this: I made four PBJ sandwiches and four burritos and put them in the freezer. Now I just grab one out in the morning when I’m in a rush. I fully realize that you can purchase frozen burritos for thirty-eight cents at Winco, but they taste disgusting. I use my favorite salsa (mango peach), black beans, cheddar cheese, and good tortillas when assembling burritos in my at-home Taco Bell. I wrap them up in wax paper, because it’s microwaveable. I’m proud to say I’ve eaten lunch three days in a row so far.

3) My Target Red Card. Did you know I save 5% on every purchase? And that I get free shipping if I order on-line? I’m not one to go out and get a card for every major store, but Target is my exception. I have a VISA and a Target  card, and that’s it for credit cards.

What’s something you’ve been using that makes life easier?
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