Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Just before I met Will, I was in a doomed relationship with a woman named Kristin.  We had started dating two months after I turned thirty, although we had known each other since I was twenty-two, when she replaced me as girlfriend to my ex Cindy.

Cindy and I were together for three and a half years.  I don't know why I bother putting that "half" in there, but I always do.  We had grown apart and weren't even physically touching each other the last six months of our relationship, but until we officially broke up we continued living together as partners even though the romance had devolved into depression and mental instability on both our parts long before we decided it was time to do something about it.

I can't remember who broke up with whom, but it was amicable.  Instead of tears, which seemed to be a constant presence in our relationship, I recall feeling relief that we both felt the same way.  We loved each other, but it was time to move on.
Cindy moved on faster than I did.  She and Kristin started dating almost immediately after Cindy and I broke up.  Naturally, I disliked Kristin at first.  I scoffed at the idea that she could replace me, that she could somehow make Cindy happy when I had tried so hard for so long to do this exact impossible thing.  I considered asking Kristin if she would like to have my boulder or if she planned on finding one more suited to the unique aspects of her relationship with Cindy.  She might have had better moves on the dance floor, but Kristin was not as well read as I, so the Sisyphean joke would only cause her face to conjure that expression usually reserved for when she witnessed me attempting to dance at our local gay bar.  A mix of confusion and pity.

Kristin and Cindy rolled their boulder all the way to Houston, where they lived for several years.  In the meantime, I dated a few people, both men and women, but I mostly lived alone and celibate during my twenties.  It was good for me.  I learned that I needed to tend to my own needs before I could ever have a healthy relationship with another person.  I formed nonsexual bonds with friends that strengthened my trust in my fellow humans, realizing for the first time since I was sexually abused as a young girl that not everyone wants to use me for sex.  It was a healthy time for me.  I was in a good place.

For the most part.  But I was lonely, too.  I wanted to get married and have children.  I never thought of myself as a confirmed bachelorette.  I had decided when I was ten years old that I'd grow up, get married, and have ten kids.  By the time I was thirty, I understood the difference between fantasy and reality, but I knew if I was going to achieve even a small family of my own, I needed to start paying attention the the tick tock going off inside my uterus.

Kristin and Cindy had long ago broken up and moved back to Kansas City.  Cindy and I, long over our past drama, had become good friends.  The three of us went to see Billy Idol at the Uptown Theater.  Cindy and I drove together, planning on meeting Kristin inside.  As we approached the venue, I saw all the people standing in line and commented to Cindy,  "Dude, look at all the old people.  What are they doing here?"

Cindy took her eyes off the road long enough to stare at me in disbelief before I realized it was no longer 1984 and we were probably the same age as most of those people in line.  It's funny, now that I'm forty-one and much more satisfied with my life, I don't think I'm old at all, but when I was thirty I was worried I hadn't done enough with my life and it made me feel old.

Once inside we met up with Kristin, who began flirting with me outrageously from the start.  I had a headache from rolling my eyes at her comments by the end of the night, but during a midnight breakfast after the show, when she first mentioned how much she longed to have children and start a family, my rational brain functions shut down and I began thinking solely with my uterus.  Perhaps I wouldn't have to resort to Plan B, resigned to somehow becoming a single mother.  We'd have to adopt or one of us would have to have artificial insemination, but I could have a partner after all.

We moved in together almost immediately.  At first, things were fine since Kristin was in the upswing of her mood cycles.  That and she had a job.  Soon, though, I'd come home from work to find her lying in the same spot on the couch as when I'd left her that morning, her boss' voice on the answering machine wondering why she didn't show up to work that day.  It's ok, honey, I understand how you feel.  I get depressed sometimes too.  No, really, it's fine.  I make enough money for both of us.

At least I thought I did.  What I hadn't factored into my plan of supporting Kristin was that she is not me.  I am frugal to a fault.  I will hem and haw for months before I make up my mind to purchase something.  I don't like to shop.  I don't like to spend money on unnecessary things.  And no, I don't care that most of my furniture has been handed down to me from my siblings or retrieved from the dumpster of my apartment complex.  I don't care that my so-called hippie furniture is out of fashion.  I like rattan.

But Kristin, depressed and lying on the couch, spent her days watching HGTV and getting whimsical ideas for how we could redecorate our home.  I was still in the thinking-with-my-uterus stage of our relationship, so I handed over my credit cards to her, telling myself she was preparing a happy home for us so that we could sometime soon bring a child into it.  I don't know why an infant would need a DVD player, a new car, or a PC, but buying things was the only thing that brought a smile to Kristin's face when I couldn't stand the sight of her frown.

After she bought the PC, she signed us up for AOL.  My Luddite parents never owned a computer, and I'd moved out of their house before we became familiar with the term "online."  I was too cheap to pay for it myself, so I had never lived in a home with online access until Kristin gave me a shove.

What animosity I felt toward Kristin has faded with time, replaced by indifference and little time to spend on memories of her.  But I am thankful for two things Kristin did for me.  It is because of Kristin that I am a born-again dog lover, Dog Is My Co-Pilot believer.  She is the one who encouraged me to go to the pound and pick out my big beloved dog Goodboy Earl, whom Kristin named after the Dixie Chicks song "Goodbye Earl."  When we broke up Kristin took the two dogs she had brought into our relationship with her and let me keep Earl.  I am most grateful, as he is paws down the best dog on the planet.

Kristin also is the person who got me online.  After she put the AOL CD into the drive and signed us up for internet service, she asked me what I wanted my username to be.

"My userwhat?"

"Your userNAME.  What you're going to go by online."  She said, clearly annoyed with my stupidity when it comes to anything outside my own head.

"Like my handle?"

She nodded, "It has to be something no one else is going to want to use, which shouldn't be too hard for you to come up with."  She was speaking to me loud and slow, like I should be in a nursing home.

"Oh.  Ok.  Christmas Freud."  I said, happy with my quick thinking.

"Christmas Freud?  That's weird."  Kristin said as she typed it into the username field.

"It's the name of a hilarious essay I just read in this book by David Rakoff I'm reading," I explained.  When she didn't even bother looking up to acknowledge I had said anything, I thought:

"No it's not weird.  If you would stop watching TV long enough to read a book once in a while, maybe you'd get it."  But I didn't say these things until she had bankrupted me and moved back to Houston, something I wasn't anticipating at the time, with the tick tocking in my uterus.

"It's too long.  It won't take that many characters," Kristin said, looking up at me, on the brink of a ferocious eye roll.

I was standing above her as she sat in the chair she'd bought to match the PC.  I wondered why we couldn't just use a chair from the new dining room set she'd recently bought, but I was so disinterested in the topic of decorating, or in communicating with anyone on AOL for that matter--I was in a hurry to get back to my book, the hilarious one by this new writer named Rakoff who I'd heard on NPR--that instead of arguing my point, which I couldn't in front of Kristin or she'd make fun of me for being such a dork, I stood there for a silent moment before I blurted out, "Xmasfreud.  With an X.  Try that."

It worked.  From then on out, my username, whether or not I understood its function, was Xmasfreud.  When I ordered pizzas online, I didn't have to use my real name.  I could maintain my privacy so no one would judge me for requesting extra cheese.

I had email at work, but I was by no means what you would call a computer guru.  After Kristin bankrupted me and I booted her out of my life, I cancelled my AOL account.  I didn't see the point.

But the username stuck with me when I used the internet at the public library and later, when I lucked out, met Will, moved him in with me, and got back online so he could play his MMORPG.  One way I can tell I love Will more than I was ever capable of loving Kristin is that I tolerate his jargon much better than I did hers.  If you ask me at the right moment, I might even be able to tell you what the hell MMORPG means.

I'm still not much of a computer guru, but I do ok for myself.  I've got this blog.  I'm on Facebook.  I have an account on YouTube.  I keep my mom informed of Katie's goings on pretty regularly considering the three-hour distance between us if either of us were inclined to get into the car, which neither of us is too often, and so we're lucky to have the online connection we do.

I owe that to Kristin, I realize now.  But it took Rakoff, the creator of my username, to point it out to me.

Since he died the other day, I've been re-reading his book Half Empty.  The last essay, "Another Shoe," written after he discovers he has cancer makes me happy to be alive.  I wish it didn't take the death of someone to remind us mere mortals how good we've got it.  How much we should take the time to appreciate each other.  Rakoff writes:

"A friend asks if I've 'picked out' my prosthetic yet, as though I'd have my choice of titanium-plated cyborgiana at my disposal, like some amputee Second Life World of Warcraft character.  Another friend, upon hearing my news, utters an unedited, 'Oh my God, that's so depressing!'  Over supper, I am asked by another, 'So if it goes to the lungs, is it all over?'  Regrettably very possibly, I reply, and when I go on to mention as how they no longer give much radiation for Hodgkin's, he says, 'Well, you got twenty-five years out of it,' as if the radiation was a defenseless washing machine I was maligning, and what did I expect, really?  But here's the point I want to make about the stuff people say.  Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, 'You fucking asshole, I can't wait until you die of this,' people are really trying their best.  Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing.  Let's all give each other a pass, shall we?"

Reading Rakoff reminds me it's time to give Kristin a pass.

Listening to him read his fantastic essays on This American Life makes Xmasfreud of This Ambiguous Life swing to the happy side of life.  I thank Kristin for introducing me to the internet, where Rakoff's words can live after his body has left us.  Check out Act III of "Christmas and Commerce" to hear Rakoff read his excellent essay, my usernamesake, "Christmas Freud":