Sunday, April 27, 2008

Now That's a MAN

I kept seeing him at the gym and there was something about him I liked right away. He has an easy, unselfconscious confidence, not at all cocky, he's friendly and laughs a lot. Plus, he looks a bit like Christopher Meloni, the foxy guy on SVU. Pretty blue eyes, and I had him pegged as a Harley rider and former Special Forces NCO based on the tattoos and the demeanor. He would get on the elliptical trainer next to mine, always smiled and said hello, then proceeded to beat the shit out of himself on it.

I saw him out at a party in the Embassy compound with the group of friends he always has around. They're all somewhat like him--they seem like really cool guys, friendly and not tinged with the little bit of meanness I get out of the younger, traditional Infantry types. They're all guys I'd be friends with. So I walked up and introduced myself. We chatted for awhile and I was right--great sense of humor, guileless and warm, quietly confident. He's from upstate New York and has a great accent for humor.

After that, he always chatted with me in the gym, usually while I was drenched and out of breath on the elliptical. Then as he'd beat himself senseless on the one next to me, he'd play little games with me, like mouth wanna race? or throw water or pretend to shove me off my trainer. He's playful and I'm starting to like this guy.

Next time I saw him out, he shouted my name from across a loud room. J was with me, and I introduced her. She didn't see what I see, but that's okay--I see this guy like something special that not everyone's going to get, and it's better that way. Hell, I'm probably the same way. I told him my email address before I left, thinking he probably wouldn't remember it.

By the time I got home, he'd written me:

Subj: Put 'em up, Buttercup!

Hey Kristen!
As your e-mail address is still fresh in my pea-brain, I thought I might hit you on it and holler atcha!
Was good to see you tonight and I had a lot of fun over there.
Anyway, if ya need a sparring partner, I'll whip ur ass......aaahhhh, who the hell am I kidding.
I'm probably the only guy you know who gets knocked down by his own heavybag. HA-HAAAA!!!!

C-Ya in the gym!
aka JD

See? Playful, unassuming...and probably repeated my email address to himself all the way home. I was really impressed.

For about six weeks, we emailed back and forth, ran into each other in the gym, but somehow never quite connected. I could tell he liked me and seemed to enjoy touching me when I'm sweaty, but somehow, he just wasn't taking the bait. Granted, I wasn't exactly giving him the kind of encouragement some guys need, but we'd kept it friendly and agreed to link up last night.

He didn't show--he mentioned he may have to work, and one of his gym buddy friends was there. I work with a guy named Ryan, who's a very smart, capable analyst and a fun drunk. Among the little group of us (including two more of JD's friends), the subject of our amazing gym came up. Ryan started asking about a guy with a prosthetic leg. Everyone was puzzled. JD's friend said, "I've been going there for like a year and I've never seen a dude with a prosthetic leg."

Ryan described him. "He's got tattoos all over his arms and you can tell his leg is seriously fucked up, but he gets on that elliptical and he's like an animal on that thing..."

Me, even more puzzled. "Sounds like JD." Then JD's friend told me about What Happened to JD.

He was SHOT. Right through the top of his leg, here in Iraq in 2005, and it took most of the top of his quads with it. He was supposed to die right there. He didn't. Then he was supposed to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, never walk again. Not this guy. He barely limps, which is why I never even noticed an injury. He's scarred all to hell, he's had over 35 surgeries and the reason it looks like he's killing himself on that elliptical trainer? Is because he's in some serious pain.

One of the other guys they're always there with is some Special Forces fitness master who has written books, and took JD on when he got here in January. This guy put him on an intense, painful regimen that has him pretty close to the way he was before he was shot, when he was Special Forces and operated all over the world as such.

As his friend reverently told the story, the admiration plain in his voice, all I could think was, Now that's a man. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. He only wears pants in the gym. The guys, all former SF, respect the shit out of him--it's written all over them.

So I announced, loudly enough for all to hear: "I don't care, he's still smokin' hot." There was a bit of a stunned silence. He is, though, and now? I think he's even hotter. His buddy grinned broadly, clearly pleased as pie. "You can tell him I said that. In fact, I hope you do tell him. I hope it makes his day."

"Oh, Kristen, you have no idea how much it will make his day." He went on to plan a trip for me to go see JD in upstate New York, where he lives. Hell, I love it up there, I'm all about it. Then he just kept going after I told him I have a Harley, about how JD and I can ride off into the sunset, grinning and holding hands on our Harleys. He was excited about it. It was really sweet and reaffirmed what I'd thought about these guys--what a cool bunch. They rallied around JD and pushed him through these workouts. The more I thought about it, the more I saw it, and the more I liked it.

As for the trip and the holding hands? His buddy was drinking and I didn't take that part seriously. But I meant what I said about this guy. To make it through all that pain, to stare his own death right in the face, then to power through it like a bull and come out on the other side without a trace of bitterness or anger and with that easy, bighearted sense of humor?

Now that's a man.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I had the conversation with Jessie and afterwards, felt worse than ever about the friendship. She essentially delivered an ultimatum that had me overhauling my entire personality so that she and the other two will "like" me.

I'm loud. Shocker, I know. Fucking deal with it. I grew up among loud people and I couldn't change it if I wanted to--even my whisper is audible to the geezer two hundred yards away in a windstorm. I got over being self-conscious about it long ago. I know it annoys some people, but my voice is as much a part of me as my nose and even less correctable.

Makes me a great public speaker, though. I imagine it'll only help me as a an attorney that every man, woman, and child in any courtroom will hear every word from my mouth. I don't expect attorneys who mumble or speak at a barely-audible squeak make very good trial lawyers.

The other major character flaw that she told me about "so I'd have the opportunity to change," as if she's doing me a favor by tearing me down? When I walk into a room, I don't properly greet each person, I "shotgun." I.e., say something along the lines of "What's up, ya'll?" as opposed to, I dunno, laying a hand on each person's arm and asking them about their day. Evidently, this lack of ability to "communicate well with others" indicates that I'm selfish and don't care about people. And "other people" have apparently noticed...which is usually just the way people shore up a weak argument, the justification of everybody thinks so intended to leave you to believe you're the only idiot who doesn't see it.

This from the woman I've listened to for months as her marriage fell apart. I've held her hand and been as supportive and honest as I know how to be. I've listened without judging her for hours on end. I haven't bogged her down with hours of agonizing over my albatross house in Arizona, or the things that aren't being taken care of that are costing me thousands of dollars at home, or my family that completely fell apart at the seams, leaving me to fend mostly for myself in this world, or any of the other shit I go through every day.

The root of this whole issue was and still is that we've all spent 15-20 hours a day together...we just plain got sick of each other. She has an annoying tendency to brag about how much every man she meets thinks she's the most amazing woman to every walk the earth. It just gets old.

I didn't ignore her or trash her behind her back. I didn't rally two other people who were upset for a completely invalid reason that could have been cleared up immediately if they'd had the balls to ask me about it. They didn't--they got together with J and picked through every one of my faults they could conjure. Then ignored me. Then had J deliver this ultimatum about overhauling my personality. Which at 37 years of age? Ain't happenin'.

I bounced all this off several trusted friends. The consensus was that this whole thing is incredibly petty. In the big picture of a person, their method of greeting a room full of people is not something you trash them over, no matter how much it bothers you.

So I tapped out. I'm on friendly terms with everyone involved, but we no longer hang out. I've got other friends here for recreation. Several comments have been made, indirectly of course, that they don't Hold Grudges.

But they're all mistaken. I'm not holding a grudge. I'm not "punishing" them. I just saw a side of all three that I wish I'd never seen--petty, manipulative, and mean. Did anyone really think I'm so pathetic that I would change the way I interact with the world to get them to like me? I'm professional and courteous, but knowing what they think about every little thing that may come out of my mouth, I'm dreadfully self-conscious and uncomfortable around them. So no, I don't hang out--how much time would you want to spend with someone who said they hate your voice?

The function of friendship is not to change each other--we love and accept friends as they are, as we've already decided their assets outweigh their liabilities. Kind, constructive criticism is welcome. Picking someone apart and tearing them down after shunning them for a week is not. Which could go a long way to explain why I've made and kept several lifelong friends, some for twenty years. Developing and maintaining close female friendships has never been a huge challenge for me--I love to spend time with cool women. Men, too, but different friends have different roles. J was my fun friend, mostly. We laugh a great deal and have big fun at times. I never relied on her for big emotional support because she's not That Friend. And I always got the feeling she enjoyed feeling superior to me in some ways--not exactly the makings of the friend you seek when you're feeling fragile.

Don't get me wrong, J is a great person overall--which is why, even with the bragging, I'd weighed the pros and cons and decided to be her friend because she's usually so much fun to be around. Shame I couldn't expect the same supportive acceptance from her.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well, the latest is, I think we're going to resolve this thing...I'm supposed to have lunch with J tomorrow. I'm still trying to decide if maybe I overreacted, or if J decided to finally talk to me about whatever was bugging her. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I will definitely tell her what it looked like from where I'm sitting. And I don't know that I can ever go back to the way it was--that hostility was not in my mind.

At least we'll be civil after talking about it--these last few days have been horrible. I've missed my buddy. Whatever happens, I really think it came from C, and I now have no doubt I can't trust him as far as I can throw him. That much I know for certain.

I hate drama and conflict, and it's a relief that at least the hostility part is over with.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

With Friends Like This...

Every so often, all the seething personal conflicts roil up to the surface in an organization like this. Now is one such time.

My (possibly former) posse has exiled me without telling me there was a problem, asking me for an explanation and/or apology for something I've done to offend them, or giving me any indication what this whole thing is about. It is unmistakable. They've barely spoken to me in almost a week. J walks right past my open office door without even looking at me several times a day.

I initially thought it was in my mind. Then I thought maybe I had missed opportunities to make gestures, and maybe they thought I was avoiding them. But I don't think either is true--they make excuses not to go to the chow hall with me and all conversations are strictly professional, no laughing and joking. I said hello to J in the bathroom this morning, and the temperature tangibly chilled.

It's puzzling. Once I've decided someone is a friend and worthy of my trust and respect, I go talk to them if they've done something to offend me. Either that, or I decide it's not worth making an issue of, and I get over it. I don't understand the silent treatment--I've never perpetrated one myself and it seems counterproductive. Especially when we are all forced to live and work together. I would never intentionally do anything to hurt any of them and it's ruined several of my days lately.

Most issues among people who call each other friends boil down to miscommunication and/or misunderstanding of motives or factors that may not be readily apparent. Hence the conversation that should always take place: "Hey, you pissed me off by doing X." "OK, well you didn't know that Y happened," OR "OK, that wasn't my intention / I behaved badly and I apologize." Amazing what one can accomplish in under five sentences.

This has all got me thinking about the company I've been keeping. If they'll exile me over something they don't even care to address with me face to face, how much did they ever value my friendship in the first place? These are people with whom I've been very close for a year now. A year here is like two at home--we're a fairly small community and spend many hours together every day. It's about as close to being married to a group of people as most of us will ever get outside the ranch in Eldorado, Texas.

I won't talk to anyone here about what's going on. Someone asked me at breakfast why I haven't been hanging out with some of the folks involved, and I responded, "I've been exiled. Dunno why." Changed the subject. It would only get back to them and make things worse, maybe from the silent treatment to open hostility. Which we all need about like a shot to the forehead.

Monday, April 07, 2008


America, I've been coiffed.

One of the biggest drags of being over here is the unavailability of a good beauty salon. If you're a guy reading this, I don't expect you to understand the gravity of the situation--I haven't had my hair cut since I was home in November. And the color? Yeah, I do it myself, standing in my room, trying not to leak it all over my bedspread, and hope for the best. The stuff you buy in the drugstore just ain't the same if you're grey as a gramma like I am. Not to mention the fact that I can't exactly match the gorgeous color I got at the salon at home...I went a shade lighter, and now there's a subtle two-tonedness to my locks that I cannot WAIT to get fixed this July.

It doesn't look horrible, it just doesn't look great. A woman's hair is the single-most important feature under her direct control, and if it ain't right? Mamma ain't right. Period.

So the least I can do is get a decent trim, and my only option is the tiny shop on our FOB with a sign outside that reads Cleopatra's Saloon (sic). With the arrow pointing the wrong way, across the street at the port-o-let. Having never seen an Iraqi woman with short hair, I figured it would be safe to get a trim, as my hair is also long. Iraqi women, especially in their 30's and 40's, are also generally very made up, lots of hairspray and makeup, attention paid to clothing and jewelry. They don't let themselves go for the most part, you won't see them shlepping about in a track suit with dirty hair.

Which, in this environment and given what their lives outside the gate must be like, is actually pretty damn stoic. God bless 'em.

So Cleo welcomes me in, washes my hair, and combs it out. She looks puzzled. "You have two different colors in your hair, one is like copper and the other more like blond."

I nod and explain the color situation. She nods and instructs me to put the color on the roots--which actually aren't "roots," they're like four inches long, my hair grows fast--and leave it on for forty minutes, then comb it through the rest. I don't go on to explain that the drugstore color will not cover the salon color, no matter what I do. Her hair is very long and black--although she says hers is also grey underneath. We're all engaged in the same struggle.

I look at the framed photos on her counter. Cleo smiling in several academic-looking settings, accepting awards in a business suit. I ask her if she had been a teacher. She nods. I was Chemical Engineer under Saddam. I smile and nod with respect, suitably impressed. There is nothing else to say to this woman who held a PhD and now makes her living styling hair in Iraq's new world order.

She spins me around to face the mirror. Most beauty parlors the world 'round make the mistake of spotlighting the clientele with the harshest of all flourescent light. I know they need to see your hair, but it's demoralizing to sit in front of a mirror in front of that light. I studied myself in a way I can't in my room with my one little bulb.

I look very pale. Check. I've lost some weight and my face is a bit thinner. Check, hallalujah. My skin's blessedly clear, but every new wrinkle looks magnified. But the thing I find a bit alarming is how tired I look. The blowing dust here keeps my contacts dry and my eyes a bit swollen, and it brings out the bags. I look utterly exhausted, despite my near-pathological insistence on at least eight hours of sleep a night. Working over 90 hours a week for over a year will do it to the best of us, even with sufficient sleep. In this harsh light, I look...well, I guess I look my age, which has never been the case.

Cleo takes about ten minutes to cut my hair, getting the long layers just right. She then spends about an hour burning it with a hair dryer, bullying it into submission with a round brush, clipping sections up here and there. There is a great deal of hairspray. But somehow, she managed to curl the bottom half of my poker-straight locks without a curling iron or rollers, only the brushes and her fingers, and the slight stench of burning hair under the intensity of the dryer she wielded like a samurai.

It was parted all wrong and the front wasn't right, but after I got outside, shook it out, and ran my hands through it, it looked fabulous. I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop mirror as I walked back to our building. I can definitely see the weight loss. I'm wearing a red, v-necked t-shirt, capris, and sandals. I don't look nearly so tired in the light of day. I do look pale, but it's in a good way, if that's possible.

I must look better than I think, because I'm still seeing a man ten years my junior who can benchpress over 400 pounds. There isn't much competition and I seriously doubt I'd turn his head in normal life, but know what? I don't care. You take the good with the bad over here; this hot young boytoy cancels out a great deal of the monotony and bullshit I deal with daily. And I don't hear him complaining.