Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanks for Sharing.

One of the worst things about the end of a relationship is the Returns. The CDs, the clothing, the things you left behind -- leaving them behind with someone is such a warm act of faith; giving them back is such a cold, bitter acknowledgement of failure. (cf. Ben Folds, "Song for the Dumped")

I have never been especially good at sharing. I'd like to blame it on having my younger siblings touching my stuff all the time without my permission, but the fact is I was selfish before then. I remember my mom, in an unfortunate early effort to teach me about sharing, took one of my Little Golden Books and tried to get me to give it to the housekeeper's daughter. She wanted me to help her write "Yolanda" on the "This Book Belongs To..." page and I freaked out. Why should I have to give this random girl one of MY books, I remember thinking. Why is this happening?

Some people are just born with certain defects in character.

Today, I retain a bank teller's awareness of what holdings lie where in the transaction of lives that is a relationship. Back in June, I was in a relationship that I knew was ending. I had occasion to be at his place when he wasn't there and I pulled out my Radiohead CD and my Secretary DVD like I was saving Private Ryan, not that he would have cared or noticed. Casualties over the last three years include two pairs of earrings and two books (a short story collection by Nathaniel Hawthorne and a hardcover copy of after the quake by Haruki Murakami). The fact that the Murakami is probably now sitting on the shelf of someone who wasn't worthy of it irks me to this day.

The Returns phase is an opportunity for some serious P/A (passive-aggression). The most jaw-dropping instance of this I have witnessed was with guy I dated for a few weeks. He invited me to see an opera for one of our dates; I was going to have to be a little late because of work, so he cutely sent me my ticket with a little penlight so I could find him when I got there.

Not long after I ended things, he called. "Hey, I was wondering if I could get that flashlight back," he said. "I'm going camping with someone this weekend and SHE doesn't have one."

Dear readers, this "flashlight" could not have illuminated more than a twig in the wilderness and our P/A hero damn well knew it. Nonetheless, he insisted that I messenger the flashlight back to him since he HAD to have it for that weekend and I was too busy at work to mail or deliver it myself.

Too stunned to react otherwise, I complied and he was thereafter known in conversation among my friends as "Flashlight Guy."

Another time, I inadvertently tried to break up with someone (see drama queen J.C. below) after we attended a party. He forced the conversation by pressing me on my doubts, I ended it by affirming them. One undesirable detail: He was driving. Riding in the silent car, I noticed that we weren't headed for my place. "Aren't you taking me home?" I asked. "I just have to make a stop first," he said stoicly.

A stop? Like, at the gun dealer? It turned out we landed back at his place. He went inside and came back out, carrying the material evidence of our relationship in his hands: cards, ticket stubs, photos. "I just can't put it in a box with the other ones," he said, breaking down into sobs as he referred to the heartbreaks behind him. Now, it's one thing to have your own shit returned to you. It's a whole other level when you get back the stuff you happily gave away.

If I think about it, the only way I could have stood to get my Radiohead CD and Secretary DVD back in June was to have "stolen" them. Nobody wants to be given their shit back when it was given, or left, in warm spirits. I did a Return this past weekend: a kitchen bowl and concert tickets in exchange for a pair of earrings (must be psychological) and some money I forgot I owed. This time I didn't care about the stuff -- I was just glad I'd never lived with anyone and broken up with them, and felt both glad and sad that my relationships thus far were no bigger than a bread basket.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Holiday Edition Part One: Blingle Bells

The holidays, for me, are a time to cherish loved ones, to appreciate one's blessings and to enjoy family traditions.

It's also a time to remember that my brother is a rich-ass motherfucker.

You see, I am a wage slave who is struggling to pay down her manageable-but-significant credit card debt. Like a yuppie version of the Little Match Girl, I huddle by my Archipelago Botanicals candle in my rented apartment and gaze into the flame, imagining such sugarplums as home ownership and cosmetic laser treatments.

My sister is strapped for cash even more than I am, only she incurred her debt with three small humans (instead of with three-margarita nights, like me). She and her husband have a house, but they also have ravenous, rapacious toddlers and a small business to run.

My parents are doing fine, but they're headed toward retirement and... well, imagining all the potential heartache and financial issues down that road, we'll just save that for another U.M.

Then there's my brother. My brother lives in the Ritz-Carlton, where he owns two places and rents the other one out as a corporate apartment. He drives a BMW SUV, gets his shirts custom-tailored, and buys his furniture in Georgetown. In other words, he could buy and sell my family. I mean, he really could -- he turned a dinky Web business into a small fortune, couldn't he do the same with the Nunezes, make us into a franchise or something? We don't have anything better to do.

Each year in the last decade or so, my family has been a disturbingly accurate microcosm of this country's economy: the rich get richer, the middle class gets middler, the credit debt goes rampant and the parents pick up the slack until they can't anymore. Christmas highlights this issue. It's a very businesslike affair for us: Lists are forwarded and cc'd, briefings are held as to who will handle which gifts for whom. Occasionally partnerships are formed for pricier gifts, sort of the way corporations have had to consolidate in order to survive: "This gift was brought to you by MomChris, a division of Nunez."

A couple of years ago, the family leadership had to acknowledge that the economy had fallen on hard times, and instituted a $50 cap on person-to-person gifts by Nunez siblings. None of us liked the idea of the cap, but I also heaved a sigh of relief. After all, there was no way I was going to be able to match my brother in terms of gift expense, and I was too embarrassed to say so. My sister had already issued warnings that she would be spending less than everyone. So the cap seemed like a good way of preventing anyone from going deeper into debt.

My brother, on the other hand, felt like he wanted to spend more than $50, because even though he's a RAMF, he's a generous guy too. So I got like half my Amazon wish list from him last year, and from me he got... I don't know, an umbrella?

It does make me feel weird and uneasy to know that no matter what we say, this year I will probably not spend nearly as much on my brother's gift as he will on mine. I'm older, and have always been a bit of the Jeanie to my brother's Ferris. Two years ago at the family dentist, when I was forced essentially to put my own teeth on layaway, the receptionist said with dreamy eyes, "Why don't you get your nice brother to help you? He's doing very well..." I've gotten used to it, but still.

When gift-giving time arrives, though, I manage to soldier through my guilt. Somehow it melts away -- maybe it's the warmth of that new cashmere sweater, or the massage bought with my Elizabeth Arden gift certificate.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

You've Got Hate.

The community wankfest Friendster must be getting hit hard by MySpace. I'm not talking about the "Friendster Misses You!" pleas that regularly stream through my inbox. I am talking about a very special message that arrived today.

Subject: Re: * Reminder: Christina Nunez has invited you to join Friendster

Sender: [A man with whom I ended a relationship two years ago]

Message: I assume you didn't mean to send this. If you did, I'd prefer never to hear from you.

Alrighty then.

There was no indication of what precisely had been sent to J.C., but it wasn't from me. I did invite him to join Friendster -- in 2003. He joined, and was among my friendsters. When we broke up, I took him out of my list. End of Friendstory.

Friendster earns nothing but enemies in this scenario of Internet marketing E-vil. For his part, J.C. gets a reminder of pain and bitterness. And I get my own an unsolicited "reminder" : "Don't forget! I still hate you."

My first reaction to this message was a mixture of confusion and amusement. But then something else took its place: Hurt and sadness. Though I too would check the "prefer never to hear from you" box in my J.C. account settings, it doesn't feel good to inspire such enduring hostility in anyone.

It's a common refrain at the end of relationships: "Do you hate me?" "Now you hate me." "I don't want you to hate me or anything." Some people I know, both male and female, knock themselves out to stay "friends" with people they should leave well enough alone. Nobody wants to be hated, sure -- that's just bad karma. But what's worse about ex hate is you can't control it. Once somebody decides how they feel about you in retrospect, there's nothing you can do (assuming you decide to stay broken up).

Sometimes it gives me a pit in my stomach that in anybody's version of a story, I'd be the bad guy. Still, I accept that if you hurt or disappoint someone, you don't always get the benefit of forgiveness or understanding.

Apparently, even if you do forgive, Friendster ain't never gonna let you forget.