Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — New Job

20131108-090107.jpgThis is an excerpt from my first book, “I Woke Up in Paradise“.

was receiving cheques from the government. They had started to come again after my work at the emergency clinic, but they were about to run out. I had been applying to jobs and despite Bob’s insistence that I work; he was actively interfering with this process.

One company called to set up an interview. The job would have been in sales. Bob told the person that called that I was pregnant but that it would work out really well because I could take the baby with me to the sales calls. He explained to me afterwards that he had told the guy this. I was never interviewed for this position.

One job that I did get interviewed for was with the federal government. Not an ideal job but government jobs have a lot of benefits and security. On Thanksgiving weekend that year I got a call saying that I could start on the Tuesday. There were twelve weeks of training set up and if I could start right away, I could attend the training. If I could not start away I would not be able to start until they ran the training course again and that might be a year or so.

It was 12 weeks until the baby was due, so if all went well, I could work the twelve weeks and then the baby would be born. A woman that I had met through the playgroup said that she would take my youngest daughter for the twelve weeks. I explained that I would only need day care until the baby came. My daughter and her son were the same age and had gotten to know each other pretty well.

So, I took the job. When animals are being used for food, they are brought to slaughter plants. These places are more or less disassembly plants. The animal comes in one door and it is processed until all of the edible parts have been removed and all of the inedible parts have been disposed of.

Unfortunately, one of the known drawbacks to working in slaughter is that you become exposed to all of the bacteria that naturally occur on the animals. All of the caution about cooking your food before you eat it does not apply when you are not actually eating the animals. There is no way to protect yourself from exposure to these bacteria. They are in the air. You can inhale them on a water droplet.

All this to say that near the end of my pregnancy, I got a type of food poisoning from my initial exposure to these bacteria. When the smooth muscles of your digestive tract contract to aid in the removal of these pathogens from your body, it stimulates the contractions of your uterus. Some of the things that pregnant women are told to help bring on birth are based on this understanding. Eating spicy foods, for instance, can cause your digestive tract to become upset and have extra movement. This movement stimulates the uterus as well.

I can’t describe how awful it was not knowing which end to put closest to the toilet and having a contraction, each time my body tried to expel the toxins. I managed to call Bob at work and told him about the situation. He assured me that there was nothing that he could do about it and he was quite upset that I would not be able to pick my daughter up from day care. I guess I was not doing my part. There was no question that I was completely alone in the world.

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Drive

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Fax

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Interview

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Call

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Cavity

Narcissism–Scenes From the Front Line — The Funeral

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Pants

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Trailer

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — Biking

Narcissism-Scenes From the Front Line — The Doctor

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Medical Literature — Chapter 3

IMG_1683Access to the medical research journals at the university was a blessing that I will be forever thankful for. As any new parents can attest to, once you become pregnant your focus shifts to things pregnancy and baby related.

My first concern was with weight gain. I was gaining weight way faster than any of the baby books thought reasonable. I went into the library to research aspartame. It seemed reasonable to see if there were any problems with it. I felt that if I was gaining weight too fast one way to deal with this was to replace real sugar with no calorie sugar. I looked up the two peptides or the ‘dipeptide’ that is used to make aspartame and found a study.

It is well known that some people have sensitivity to one of the components of aspartame. Blood taken from babies when they are born is routinely checked for this sensitivity so that the diet can be adjusted accordingly. So, I found a study that was designed to take a group of “normal” subjects and expose them to aspartame in order to establish a control group. Then subjects that were known to be sensitive would be exposed to the same amount of aspartame and compared to the control group.

In any scientific experiment it is necessary to develop a control group. The control group essentially balances all of the things that the experimenters cannot account for. Biological systems are so complex that it is difficult to draw any conclusions unless you have a group that has been exposed to exactly the same “experiment” without whatever it is you are testing.

So the idea of this experiment was to bring in the control group and have them do basic comprehension and math tests. Then, after exposure to the aspartame, they were to repeat the tests. The test group, the ones that were sensitive to a component of aspartame, would go through the same process and the results from the two separate experiments could be compared to see if there were any differences in how the test subjects responded.

In this particular scientific paper the authors explained that when the “control” group came back in to do the comprehension and math tests for a second time the study was discontinued on ethical grounds. Simply put, their ability to do the tests was diminished so significantly that the experimenters could no longer ask anyone to participate because they knew that exposure was doing them harm. Enough said. No way I was going near aspartame while pregnant.

The second thing that I started to research was the interventions that occur during birth. When you go into the hospital you will find that each hospital has a protocol of what needs to be done to a woman in labour. The range of these procedures is great and varies with the hospital. At the time, things like fetal monitoring were quite popular. It has been sixteen years since I had a baby and I have no way of knowing if they still do fetal monitoring or if the same equipment is being used. But although most hospitals used fetal monitoring, it was already established that it was not related to healthier babies but it was related to more intervention in the birth including a higher cesarean section rate and a higher rate of induction. Scary stuff.

The literature was full of controversy. If you go to any doctor or hospital and ask what their policy is, you will always get an explanation of why they do what they do. These are “truisms” that are believed by the staff. My favourite is that you should get an episiotomy before the baby is born. For those of you that have not been intimately involved in a birth, this is a cut that is made to open the woman wider so that the baby can come out.

The “truism” is that it is “better to have a clean cut than it is to have a ragged tear”. Nice visual imagery, I must admit, but it is completely false. The reason that women need an episiotomy is because when you are in the hospital you are forced to give birth on your back with your legs in the air. This is not true of all hospitals, but it was certainly true in the 1980’s. This is very unnatural. Just try having a poo in this position and see how things turn out. It is essentially the same process.

Fear overwhelmed me. My friend told me that she was looking into having a midwife. I remembered seeing a television program about them and being impressed so I looked into it. Fortunately for me, there was a Mennonite Settlement not far from where I lived and they still had births attended by midwives and so I found myself a midwife.

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Pregnant? — Chapter 3

IMG_5137The whole reason we had decided to get married was to try to get pregnant. That had been the plan all along. If you do the simple math, a pregnancy is nine months long and getting pregnant in August would have the baby arriving right after final exams of third year.

As it turned out, we were highly fertile. The first time that we tried to get pregnant resulted in a late period. To say that getting pregnant before finishing university is controversial is really understating how people felt. There had been a couple of other women ahead of me in veterinary medicine that were already mothers or had become pregnant accidentally but it was very uncommon.

It was hard for me to get my mind around the idea that I was becoming a mother. Being a biologist, it was easy for me to know exactly the day that I may have become pregnant and therefore exactly the day that I would know for sure that I was not pregnant. I had started (yes—I am a scientific person, so forgive me) charting my cycle a few months before we started to allow a pregnancy to occur and I had already developed an understanding of when each aspect should occur.

So the first time that we tried I was late. Significantly late. I was a full seven days late and even though I had not gone to the doctors or done a pregnancy test this was significant. Even in hindsight now with several years of data at my fingertips this is significant.

Bob was ecstatic. I told him that I needed some time to get my mind around the fact that I was pregnant and that I would appreciate it if he would give me some time before he told anyone. He couldn’t. I saw this as very selfish at the time. He would still get to tell all of the same people and get the thrill of sharing an awesome secret, he just was asked to wait for a while. He couldn’t. This was very upsetting for me. I had people that I barely knew stopping to ask if it was true and expressing their surprise. I felt cornered and exploited.

Then, I started my period. Of all of the emotions that could surface at a time like this, the one that Bob expressed should have sent me running for the hills. With only one week of knowing that I was pregnant and not quite coming to terms with it, I did not suffer the same loss that many women feel when they are several weeks along. To be honest, it just felt kind of normal. My period was back and things were the same as they always were.

Bob was furious. I had embarrassed him. He said that it was my fault that I had mislead him and now everyone knew that we were trying and had been unsuccessful. He was livid.

The next cycle stuck. Bob was not so eager to go out and tell everyone this time. He insisted that I go to the doctor and find out for sure. I went to the doctor and I had a test done at a clinic. It was all very disorienting. I remember already feeling light headed and having a type of out of body experience where I was aware of what was going on but I felt disconnected from my actual body. I was ill.

I doubt that this would happen nowadays, but the doctor called home with the results of my pregnancy test. I was not home. He told Bob that the test was positive and I found out from a neighbour that Bob had already told before I arrived home. Nice.

Then a strange thing happened.

Like a flick of a switch, I became less important. Bob’s new priority was his career. He would correct me at this point. He would let me know that he was not interested in a career. But, he would be dissembling. His whole self-esteem is based on people telling him how good he is and he needs this constantly. He needed this like oxygen. In order to ensure a supply of praise, he needed to be accomplishing something that people could applaud him for. It was a compulsion.

At the time I wrote journal entries trying to decipher what had happened, but I was missing some key information. I thought perhaps that now that he had a child on the way, he was worried about reaching some point in his career before the child was old enough to know about success. I guessed that perhaps he was in a particularly tough part in his research. He now had a deadline. He needed to be done before the baby came so that he could stay at home and do the childcare. The truth would not be known for many years and was not so benevolent.

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Investing in the Future — Chapter 3

IMGP0516The next year became a whirlwind of activity. I had my schooling to attend to, a wedding date set for June and we had started to look for rental properties. I had developed a passion over my lifetime for real estate.

Planning a wedding was really not that important to me. Unlike many young girls, I had never dreamed about my wedding day and although I had wondered who I would marry, I did not have an ideal guy dreamed up in my imagination, much less an ideal wedding planned.

Surprising to me now is the realization that I did wonder whom I would marry, but I never wondered if I would marry. I was raised under the assumption that I would get married. Respectable women got married. My grandmother, on my mother’s side, even assured me that I did not need to go to school, because I was pretty enough to get married. Marriage, of course, was the first choice for a woman—or so it was always assumed—so you would only bother with an education if you thought that marriage was unlikely.

Bob and I went to his parents and explained what we could afford, as far as a wedding was concerned. Bob’s mom found our plan unacceptable and offered to pay for a “proper” wedding. I did not care either way. Bob liked to say that he did not want a big wedding, but he only ever said this in hindsight. He did not say that he did not want a big wedding to his mother, the one paying for it, only to his friends and people that he was trying to impress. Going against the grain was always something that Bob liked to do and since big weddings were in fashion, he liked to say that he did not want one.

I remember my soon to be mother-in-law doing most of the work planning our wedding. This was fine by me. I was estranged from my family pretty well, so I did not ask them to contribute and I did not invite many of my friends or relatives to the wedding.

My love of real estate was born during the first house hunting that I did with my parents while I was in grade three. I remember being thrilled with all of the possibilities. I was amazed at how different homes were just in our city. It was difficult to imagine how different they would be across the world.

When we were staying in the townhouses, while I was a young teenager, I was astonished at how much of a difference good wallpaper could make in identical units. Then, later, when my mother bought the large rental property it did not take a lot of intelligence to realize that she had bought herself a solid investment, an income.

My father used to explain to me how much simple inflation could impact the value of a home and that in the divorce settlement he had paid my mother, for her half of the assets, over ten times the amount that he had paid for the house initially. This was difficult for me to get my mind around.

I managed to convince Bob that we should buy a rental property. He was reluctant. He did not see why we should buy a property and not live in it. He did not understand that you could buy one and rent it, especially in a university town. Eventually, he did come around and we bought a semi that was half of an older home, within walking distance of the university. It turned out to be an excellent investment.

The rental property paid for its own mortgage, our rent and went up enough in value over the time that we owned it enough to pay for my student loans completely.

So the summer was a blur of getting married, working at the veterinary hospital as an assistant and buying our first rental property.

Our honeymoon was planned for a secluded cottage in Ontario, right on a small waterway. Friends of mine had let us borrow their cottage and had stocked it with a different, high quality, bottle of wine—one for each night. Our difference in relaxation reared its head again. At this cottage, we were totally disconnected from the outside world. We had enough supplies to last us for the entire time.

I was reveling in how nice it was at this cottage and enjoying our break when Bob got restless. He needed to be doing more. He wanted to read the newspaper and catch up on what was going on. He did not want to stay the entire time. His argument went something like this, “We have all of the gifts to put away. The apartment is a mess. We have a bunch of work to do. We should not stay here the entire time because we’ll have to go back to work and the apartment will still need a lot of work. We should leave early.”

So, once again, relaxation was thwarted. The honeymoon was cut short and we went home early. It did not occur to me that this was a symptom of a larger problem. I can add all kinds of insights in here about what this should have revealed to me and how it was a symptom of a larger problem, but it does not seem fair to judge myself in this way. Hindsight is always 20-20 and I took it at face value at the time. We did have a lot of things to take care of at home.

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The Fish Bowl — Chapter 3

Needless to say at this point, my answer put quite a damper on the rest of our holiday. The time immediately following this trip was uncomfortable because once he had asked me to marry him and I had declined it changed the relationship. I remember there being this awkward feeling of not knowing how to proceed, what to do next.

The distance between us was palpable. I knew that I had to make a decision. I either had to rethink my initial response or I had to end the relationship with this guy.

On a particularly memorable day I had coffee in the main administrative building on campus. This was a large building that originally had been paid for by the students, if I remember the story properly. Not only did it contain the administrative parts of the university, it also contained offices for the student newspapers and clubs, a bar, the graduate student lounge and a cafeteria of sorts.

The place that contained the cafeteria tables was affectionately called the fish bowl because it was a large open space that had glass on four sides extending up two or three stories and forming the roof. This area overlooked the centre of campus that had a lawn with walkways through it and was home to the cannon. These were some of the places that I used to sit with Bob the first summer when we both worked on campus.

I’m not sure what the initial significance of the cannon was, but it became a symbol on campus. Various groups and individuals would go out and paint the canon. Sometimes it would sport the team colours. Sometimes it would have slogans or messages on it and sometimes it was painted to look like something else, a zebra perhaps. Occasionally, particularly ambitious groups would steal or move the canon. That meant the university employees would have to retrieve it and replace it.

http://elementalview.blogspot.com/2010/07/iphone-diries-200-cannon-old-jeremiah.html
http://elementalview.blogspot.com/2010/07/iphone-diries-200-cannon-old-jeremiah.html

So, my best friend and I sat in the fishbowl and had a coffee together. The conversation started with my admission that Bob had asked me to marry him and that he wanted to start a family. I wanted to have a family as well, so it was something that was being discussed.

This friend and I had become acquainted during our pre-vet year, a year that was tacked onto the beginning of the veterinary degree to essentially make a four-year program into a five-year program. We both sat at the front of the class and quickly got to know one another. She had been with the same guy for a few years by the time that I met her and she was still with him at this point.

On this fateful day we started to do the math around becoming mothers. First, we had to finish veterinary medicine. Then, it was advisable to practise for a year in a city that you did not want to stay in. As new graduates, you are more likely to make a mistake so you are advised to not start where you wanted to end up.

Then, we would move to the city that we wanted to live in more long term and get a job. Once we had established ourselves in that community, we could then start our own practices and then we could start our families. So, lets see three years of schooling, one year of practice, then another two and by the time that you could establish your own business you have to add two or three….

The math said it all. We would both be well into our thirties before we had even begun to start to try to have babies. As biologists we knew the problem with this. The older you are when you start trying the harder it is to get pregnant. Some estimates put the decline of fertility beginning in the early twenties. On the other end of it, we would be in our sixties before our children were through university.

This just wouldn’t do. After a long discussion with Bob, held over several days, it was decided that it would be possible to start a family right away. He had already suggested that we have a baby sooner rather than later and he said that he wanted both of us to have part time jobs so that we could minimize childcare. He would be finished his degree before the baby was born and he would stay at home full time and care for our child while I finished my veterinary program.

I felt that it was more responsible to get married to have a child. In my estimation of things, that showed that the father was committed to the relationship and that he was in it for the long term. It was proper to be married if you were choosing to have a baby. So, we got engaged.

To mark the occasion Bob rented two videos and we had a take-out pizza. The movies that he rented were, “Lost in America” and “Paris Texas”. It is eerie to think back to this selection now. For those of you unfamiliar with these films, in the first one a couple liquidates all of their assets and then loses all of it gambling and in the second a man becomes so obsessed with his wife that he ties her to the stove. At the time I found it unnerving but how much can you read into the movies that just happened to be chosen at a video store?

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Just Say No — Chapter 3

I can’t possibly IMGP0503keep referring to this guy as the “guy” so lets call him Bob. That is not his real name but we will all know whom I am talking about. Bob finished up his degree and I still had a few years before I would finish my vet degree, so he decided to stick around and begin another degree as a way of being able to stay in the same city.

The relationship was rocky, but everything that I had read and all of the people that I had spoken to assured me that the first years of living with someone were always difficult. There are many books written about how to survive the first year together. So, I did not put too much stock in it.

By the next summer we were quite an item and decided to go away for a week together near the end of the break from school. We borrowed his mother’s car to go camping in our home province. We did not really set out a plan, but we loosely were going to drive to the areas where there were campsites, not the commercial, provincial ones where there were hundreds of people, but the more secluded ones where you could get out into nature, even if you did have water and electricity provided.

My idea of a nice vacation is to reach a destination that is enjoyable and relax there. Currently, my favourite vacations are to go to an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean where the weather is good, the scenery can be breathtaking and all of your needs are met without any thought. Food, drinks and entertainment are all available without any planning, total relaxation.

His idea of a vacation was to cover territory. He wanted to be doing things. We ended up going from campsite to campsite ever in search of the ultimate destination. There was always something that could be improved upon, the possibility of a better place to stay for a couple of days.

This meant that our holiday consisted of driving from place to place, setting up a campsite and taking the campsite down the next day and moving again. These places were often quite a distance from each other so we might spend a few hours on the road each day. Not my idea of relaxing.

To be fair in all of this, Ontario is gorgeous. We were driving through open expanses of fields, mature trees, small towns and waterways. There were all kinds of interesting things to see and nice places to stop and look around. We did not stop and look around. One of the priorities when driving anywhere is to get there as efficiently as possible, so stopping is never an option unless absolutely required. But I digress, the scenery was quite nice.

The bit that I’ve left out so far was that he did not have a driver’s license, or rather he had one and it had been suspended. In high school he had been in a serious car accident. They were never able to prove whether or not alcohol was involved because they were too busy trying to save lives to remember to take the required samples for blood alcohol analysis.

So, in summary, I drove for most of this holiday and he sat in the passenger seat and drank. Wow! The metaphor there is absolutely frightening.

We arrived at a particularly scenic place near the end of our week together and set up camp. The site was on the edge of a small inlet of water quite a ways back from the main body of water. This inlet was surrounded by mature trees with a majority of evergreens giving it a very secluded and private feel. The deep green and total coverage of the evergreen trees is quite appealing. We spent the day at the campsite and in the water.

Have you ever had the experience of blurting something out and then regretting it immediately? Have you ever realized later that it was the right thing to say even though you did not realize it at the time? Sometimes, the sensation feels like you knew what was going to be said, before it was said, and that you had the answer waiting and ready. These answers should be trusted.

At one point during our stay, we swam out to a small dock that was suspended near the edge of this large inlet. We were completely alone and there was this blissful feeling of being surrounded by nature and beauty. I climbed up onto the dock and sat there enjoying the scenery and Bob said something along the lines of, “Will you marry me?”

With no thought, no consideration and no hesitation I just blurted out, “No.”

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Changing the Locks — Chapter 2

The fall brought the return of my roommate. The guy that I was dating moved out of his boarding house and into an apartment that he shared with a woman. His bedroom was in what used to be the garage and her’s was upstairs on the second floor. He had heard about this place directly from her. She worked in the green house that was affiliated with the lab that he was working in.

His room was freezing. I don’t know if it was heated at all, but this was already a problem and it was not winter yet. The walls were painted cement and even with his Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young posters up it looked like it was still the inside of a garage. We did not go there very often.

Instead, we stayed at my place. I was a veterinary student, so there were often times when I would be studying at my desk and he would be in front of the television. It seemed to work out well because I could not study with noise and he could not study without it. We had worked out a rhythm together. Many of the patterns that we had established in the summer continued, despite the fact that he had told me repeatedly over the summer that our relationship was probably only a summer fling and that it would be over in the fall.

A few weeks into this arrangement, my roommate told me that she was moving out. Beyond the fact that she had found her own place and would be leaving, we did not really discuss it. The people that I talked to about this at the time said that it was a normal transition to go from living with a roommate to living with your lover and this was accomplished in a variety of ways.

One woman that I spoke to had had the exact same thing happen to her. She had been living with a roommate and when things got serious with her then husband, the roommate had moved out and he had moved in. It all appeared to be very normal and expected.

I was very upset. I felt like I was doing something wrong or bad and I did not know what it was. I now know that if you pay attention, your body will share all kinds of information with you. Some people call it intuition. Some people call it having a gut feeling. Some people dismiss it as woo woo crap. I now have learned that this kind of response is worth paying attention to. It is not exactly an emotional response. It is more of a discomfort or pain that is difficult to identify or dispel. The truth was that I had this strange, almost overwhelming feeling of fear and panic in my body.

So I took action. I went to the store and bought a new lock for the door. If I felt unsafe from my roommate moving out, I would at least make sure that she could not use her key to get back in. I remember the lock being very expensive, but I needed to feel safe. I needed to do something to get back that feeling of being OK.

IMG_3330I have a vivid memory of sitting on the kitchen floor installing the additional lock into a hole that I had drilled through the door. I had an almost dizzy feeling and it was as though my entire awareness was swimming in a murky place. The guy was standing across the kitchen watching me do this and I believe, if memory serves me right, he found it all very amusing. I was extremely distressed.

Writing this now, it occurs to me that a normal person would have recognized that I was really upset and would have spoken to me or tried to comfort me or at least tried to understand what I was feeling. Perhaps not. As I’ve mentioned before, I was alone for most of my memories so I really had no idea at this point how a normal person would react to seeing someone in distress. I doubt however, that they would find it amusing.

What I did not know at the time was that the wrong person was on the other side of the lock. I found out years later that the reason that my roommate moved out was because the guy that I was with would hit on her while he was in the living room and I was doing homework in the bedroom.

This pattern of having people around me know more about my relationship with this guy than I did continued for a very long time. We have decided that in polite society we will keep secrets for those that “break the rules” and run around. When the relationship was over many people would rush to tell me stories that they had been keeping secret and were dying to tell me.

What they did not realize, and there were a lot of them, was that it would have been beneficial to have had some of this information while I was feeling insane. When your intuition and your body are telling you one thing and every piece of information that you can gather does not support it, you start to question your sanity, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Yellow Dress — Chapter 2

IMG_3837My best friend was living in a large city about an hour from where I went to school. She was studying fashion design and had offered to make me a dress for my graduation ceremony. I had completed my general Bachelor of Science and would be receiving my degree that spring.

She made me a lemon yellow dress out of two layers of fabric. The bottom layer was a shiny material that I cannot name and then there was a finer, see through layer that sat over it to give the dress this three dimensional, this is really a fancy dress, kind of appearance. It had a belt at the waist.

We had planned to have her there for my graduation. By this time I was seeing the guy that I met at the party quite regularly and I invited him as well. He went to the actual ceremony, but all I remember about my friends’ visit was that the dress was not finished. She asked me if I had a sewing machine and I had said yes. She had not asked the specific question that she needed to and that was, does your sewing machine have a buttonhole maker, which it didn’t.

We spent her entire visit running around the down town trying to find a seamstress or a sewing machine that she could borrow, or rent or pay for so that she could get the button holes into the dress. At the end of it all, she had to sew the dress onto me for the ceremony. It was gorgeous. My largest regret in this was that we did not actually get any time to spend together, to catch up, to talk about our lives or to just plain hang out. She was working in the other city and had to go back right after graduation.

The guy, on the other hand, was spending an increasing amount of time with me. We both had secured jobs at the university and we would often walk up to the school together in the morning and together on the way home. Neither of us had any close friends living in the city, so our outside friendships seldom interfered with the time we were spending together.

He was very attentive. I would find ‘Far Side’ cartoons taped to the outside of my locker. He would leave handfuls of ‘Smarties’ at my workspace in the lab. Sometimes, I would meet him for lunch.

The campus is gorgeous in the summer. There are no interior roads between the buildings so there are all kinds of green spaces and places to sit and walk. There was an outdoor barbeque that served burgers that you could eat at picnic tables and there were numerous other places to buy and eat food. There is something quite serene about having all of that space that is pedestrian friendly. On days when we packed lunches we could always find a bench or a picnic table or a fresh piece of lawn to sit on while we ate together.

We got into a routine of going out together regularly. On Thursday nights he would go and rent videos and the VCR. You could rent both then and he would come back with three movies, the VCR and a pizza. So we would sit and drink beer, watch movies and have pizza once a week. It was all very cozy.

There were weekend visits to the farmer’s market followed by large brunches that were consumed while reading the weekend newspapers. We did our groceries together, went to the laundromat together and shopped together.

He knew the importance of being a modern man and contributed essentially equally to the chores that needed doing. We were increasingly at my place because he was living in a boarding house. At his place he had a lock on his bedroom door and there were two shared cooking areas and a couple of washrooms for everyone. It was not the sort of place that I would have ever stayed in but I did not put too much stock in the fact that he had chosen this place to live. He knew that it was temporary.

He told me how close he was to his family. Before the summer was over, we hitchhiked to his hometown. This ‘close’ family that he had mentioned, did not seem to know how difficult it was for us to get to their place because they were not around. I know that I was introduced to them, but there was no visit. There were no meals together. Interesting. We went out with his friends from his hometown, people that he had known since high school.

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The Professor’s Party — Chapter 2

IMG_0930This particular party turned out to be a rather significant turning point in my life. The party itself was a sad state of affairs. All of the guests were students, as far as I remember, even though this was not one of the newly minted professors that would actually be close in age to the students, but rather an older man. I guess he must have found it easier to socialize with the twenty something set.

He did mention that he had just had a relationship end with a woman that he described as brilliant. Her contribution had been to buy furniture and things for their home and when the relationship dissolved, she took it all with her. This meant, he explained, that she lived rent-free and then took with her the bits that she had contributed.

This was not apparent in the house. The part of the house that I saw was a small kitchen, actually smaller than the galley type kitchen that is often in one bedroom apartments, and a large living room. The entire place was lit only enough that you could comfortably see, but it was dark enough to give a feeling of coziness and relaxation.

The living room had a large sofa in the very centre of the room and several large pieces of furniture around the perimeter. These were things like old fashion stereo consoles and china cabinets, but I don’t actually remember what the pieces were. Certainly, it did not appear to be a room that resulted from someone leaving with all of the furniture.

As a man that still had his roots in the culture of eastern Canada, he had made swish. For those of you that are unfamiliar with swish, it is the result of adding water to barrels that were used to make whiskey, I believe, in this case. Any barrel from any hard liquor will do, I am told. In the production of hard liquor, some of the alcohol content gets into the wood of the barrel that it is made in and this process draws it out into the water.

I suspect that the cost of making swish is cheaper than making other types of alcohol. Of course, it is also less risky since there is no still involved and all you have to do is to remember to turn the barrel every so often. Another aspect is that the alcohol concentration can vary significantly. I suspect that it is around 25%, give or take. The professor had made a batch (or several batches—I have no way of knowing) of swish and had decanted it into wine bottles.

So, I walk into this party never even having heard of swish. One of the fellas that I had met when all of the students had gathered at the bar before we left for the party offered me a drink. I was holding a tumbler and he was holding a wine bottle. I said, “Fill it up” honestly believing that he was giving me wine. He assumed that I knew that it was swish and was impressed with this ‘heavy drinking’ woman that he had just met.

It was obvious on the first sip that I was not drinking wine, so I knew to investigate what it was and adjust how much I had accordingly. But, an impression had been made. A seriously wrong impression, I may add, and the wheels were set in motion.

Immediately, this guy took an interest in me and was very attentive after that point. I was aware of his presence the entire time I was at the party. At one point, in the large living room, I looked up and he was watching me. He saw me see him and smiled. We later played cards together. He was my partner and we had very similar styles. I felt like I knew what he was thinking and that there was already a connection. I felt like I already knew this guy.

This reminds me that there was a guy that I dated in high school that was very much like this guy. The new guy may have felt familiar because he was very similar in appearance and had the same mannerisms as the previous guy. They even smoked the same brand of cigarettes, which I suppose does not seem that big of a deal except that in the 80’s there were a lot of different brand names of cigarettes.

Anyhow, when we were arranging rides home it came to our attention that we lived in the same neighbourhood. We both got dropped off at my house and we spent the next several hours outside on the back stoop talking about our opinions, what we wanted out of life, our religious belief’s and our histories.

He had had some drama in his life and you could tell because that sort of thing forces you to grow up quickly. He had worked with mentally and physically handicapped people and had done babysitting for a woman that worked at night, in exchange for rent. I did not feel like I was talking to a guy my age. Most of the men that I had dated had been significantly older than I was and this guy was actually six months younger. He seemed mature for his age.

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Research — Chapter 2

IMG_0604I no longer had to think about acquiring experience to get accepted into veterinary medicine, so I focused the next summer on getting a job in town. I could save a lot of money by simply not having to pay rent in two places. I liked my apartment, it was close to down town, walking distance to the university and there was a farmer’s market, grocery store, fast food and a laundromat all close by.

I realized that I might qualify for a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council or NSERC award, so I applied and was awarded a scholarship. This money allowed me to shop around the university, with my pay cheque already covered, and see whom I wanted to do research with. I interviewed three professors. One was doing research on cancer, or rather was doing research on fruit flies but had recognized that there was more research money for cancer than there was for fruit flies and had learned to word the research in terms of cancer.

Another professor worked with lizards and other cold-blooded animals and had made the same funding discovery. If there was a mechanism for cold-blooded animals to grow back a leg that had been cut off, it might in some way provide clues as to why tumours grow. It is possible.

The third professor was doing anatomy, congenital defects and sex differentiation. The research did not seem to be any more interesting but I appreciated his enthusiasm for having a student during the summer and, let’s face it, his honesty. He was not pretending to be trying to solve some puzzle that would get him funding.

What I experienced that summer was the end of a research era. I did not know it at the time. I guess you never do. The mundane, the normal, the everyday soon becomes the past and quite irretrievable. The lab that I was working in was staffed by several professors, technicians and students. These professionals had been trained in the traditional fashion.

Coffee and tea were made on a schedule and everyone sat together to have it. This occurred every morning and served the purpose of bringing everyone together to get to know one another while they shared a break in the middle of their work day. When you are working on research and you pull yourself away to have coffee, you talk about your research.

The importance of this did not become apparent until I was doing research again, much later in my life, and this did not occur. Without this morning coffee, where you could address the smallest, simplest question immediately, there was always a delay. More than there being a delay, there was a requirement to set up an appointment with the professor that you were working with and prioritize your questions so that the most important ones got discussed first.

The secondary thing was that unlike having a formal appointment with someone, these coffees were casual so the conversation ebbed and flowed with what was going on in the outside world as well as within the lab. Great discussions and insights were possible because focusing on answers and solutions was not the point. Anyhow, I only recognized the value of these unstructured discussions in hindsight.

I tried to “break-in” to the social life in town. I found out that their softball teams were structured very differently from my hometown. I went out to one of the first meetings of a couple of teams that were looking for players and I was totally unknown. I don’t know if I came across as bookish or simply unfamiliar. I know that I went out to a couple of games but I was never played more than the minimum and never actually got the chance to show these women that I could actually play ball. So, I just stopped going.

Most of my friends were also university students so they had all gone home for the summer. I met a couple of nice people in the lab and I met one guy at a professor’s birthday party on campus.

This professor learned that he was revered simply because he was the teacher. He had used this to his advantage in order to impress the students. He was naturally entertaining and regaled us with stories more than presented material. He had managed to flawlessly combine the material with the stories, so you came away from his lectures both entertained and informed.

He had announced that he would be celebrating his birthday at the one bar on campus and I had made note of this and taken the time to show up at the bar. There were several other students there and through a series of car-pooling arrangements we headed off to his house for his party.

He lived in a house that overlooked a man made lake in town. This particular town had no natural bodies of water and someone decided that damming up a river until a muddy lake formed was a good idea. Even now, the occasional person dies by jumping off of a boat, getting their feet stuck in the mud and drowning, but I digress.

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