362 days since the shooting. I had a very productive day, but I also had a weird reaction that I hadn’t done in some time. I shrank away when someone touched my left side. I guess I still feel vulnerable even though I almost never feel pain. I hope that’s going to go away. With time. In other news, I sold my bike. I had mixed feelings about it. I love riding it, but it reminds me of how i chose not to ride it that day. Also I was too weak to ride it until recently. Now I realized it’s taking up a lot of space and I get my exercise from running instead. So I sold it to a stranger who had his stolen the other day. I’m hoping he’ll take care of it. It’s a good bike. Well worth my investment.
Gary Oldman has a victim complex, and in an interview with Playboy that made the internet explode yesterday, he aligns himself with other casualties of our “all too politically correct” culture, including Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin. He also says the word “nigger,” calls Nancy Pelosi “a fucking useless cunt,” and reduces Hollywood to “a town that’s run by Jews.”
Gary, Gary, Gary. Where to begin? Let’s start with this: straight white guys wield a disproportionate amount of power in our culture, as they have at least since the idea of a Western world began. What’s more, they historically have used that power to perpetrate the most gratuitous kinds of violence, and so it is laughable whenever one of them tries to assume the identity of the oppressed.
I’ll say this for Oldman, he’s incredibly well spoken. And he is onto something—the P.C. police make life annoying for people with original, imperfect perspectives. But he shits all over his point by pointing to Baldwin and—most inexplicably—Gibson as targets of society’s double standard.
“Bill Maher could call someone a fag and get away with it,” Oldman told Playboy. “He said to Seth MacFarlane this year, ‘I thought you were going to do the Oscars again. Instead they got a lesbian.’ He can say something like that. Is that more or less offensive than Alec Baldwin saying to someone in the street, ‘You fag’?”
It’s less offensive, Gary, much less offensive, because it comes down to a matter of intention. For such an articulate man, Oldman demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the nature of comedy, which—in its purest form—exists to hold privilege accountable. That’s why it’s difficult for men to make rape jokes, white people to make black jokes, straight people to make gay jokes, etc. Of course it’s possible for anyone to joke about anything, but the punch line never should be the oppressed, always the forces that enable oppression. Unless you’re an asshole, in which case I suppose it’s funny to threaten to bury your girlfriend in a rose garden.
And that’s what Oldman seems like, an asshole of the classic variety. He uses comics like Maher and John Stewart as a counterpoint for Baldwin and Gibson—neither of whom were brought to task for things they said in jest, mind you—and it’s telling that the examples he cites on both sides are middle-aged white guys with chips on their shoulders. It’s borderline narcissistic, if not outright racist, and implicit to his appeals is the idea that people who look and sound like Oldman are under attack from the other.
Ultimately, there’s a cowardice about Oldman that renders him more pathetic than anything else. He uses Baldwin and Gibson as conduits for his own fucked-up worldview, effectively insuring himself against the critics he knew would come calling. He never calls someone a nigger, per se, but merely wonders whether the Jewish officer who arrested Gibson the first time hadn’t ever said the word himself.
The interview is filled with similar hypothetical race, gender and faith baiting. In the end, Oldman reveals himself to be an insecure good old boy, clinging to the days when white WASPy dudes could express their bigotry with impunity. And he’s a hypocrite. Out of one side of his mouth, he expresses disdain for being a movie star; out of the other, he complains (repeatedly) about never having won an Oscar.
Something tells me that, in “a town that’s run by Jews,” he won’t need to clear space on his mantle for any awards in the near future.
© 2014 Tommy Jordan O’Malley
It’s been a few months since I wrote here. Working on A Year Above the Influence was a tremendous exercise in self-denial and discipline—two things I’m historically bad at—but in the last few months of 2013, it felt like a friend who asked to crash on my couch for a week and ended up staying a year. By the time it was over, I needed some space, some time to reacquaint myself with the untethered life.
I entered 2014 full of questions. Would I smoke pot again? Would I booze? Would I go crazier than ever and end up in rehab? Would I keep up with any or all of the constraints I’d imposed during 2013? Would I would I would I would I would I… the overwhelming unknowns were driving me crazy. I became incredibly self-conscious about the choices I made, and so I stopped writing about them.
I took six months just to live, to let things happen without the pressure of a blog. People have asked me when I’d be writing here again—and most of those people wanted to know specifically about The Nancy Diaries (the grand finale is coming, I promise). At first my answer to that question was, “Next week.” But next weeks came and went, and I realized I just wasn’t ready, as counterproductive as that was to growing an audience. Eventually my answer became “I’m going to finish it soon.” And now here we are.
And more to the point, here I am, ready to answer your questions. To start, I’ve done pretty much everything since the year began: drank booze (and gotten drunk 5 or 6 times since January), smoked pot with friends (man I love it, but that shit is my kryptonite; I cannot—and do not—keep it in my house), eaten lots of sugar (with 3 or so inches added to my waistline thank you very much) and introduced dairy & fried foods to my diet again. I haven’t done other drugs, but that wasn’t really a thing for me before the year started anyway.
I had my first hangover recently. I drank whiskey and then stayed out til 4 a.m., smoking a blunt on a rooftop in Bushwick with friends. The skyline from those warehouses east of Manhattan is the sorta thing I dreamed about when I was kid growing up in Boston, wondering what it would be like to live in the big city someday.
Now I know—it’s pretty fucking awesome, even when you’re broke and figuring things out. New York is the best city in the world. And that’s why being hungover was so awful. I felt like I was going to vomit until about 5 p.m. the following day, and even though I left the house, I couldn’t see anything around me. I had to keep ducking into coffee shops to sit and drink water. All I could think was, “What am I missing because of this?” I enjoy being out of control, but not that out of control.
I’ve maintained lots of healthy habits, as well. I consume gobs of salads and green juices and fruit smoothies. And I run regularly, distances totaling about 20 miles per week. I’ve scaled back the long runs, because I don’t want to have a knee or hip replacement in my 40s. Running the Austin Marathon in February was one of the best experiences of my life, but the training really brought me to my limits. That said, I’m always going to push my limits, and trust that I will run more marathons in the future. Hoping to do Boston in 2015, in fact.
I’m not good at saying no to myself, and not just in the sense that I have a hard time doing it. I’m not my best self when I’m in a state of prolonged deprivation—I learned that last year. By October, I’d become so rigid, so regimented, that I’d completely stopped experiencing joy as a primary emotion. The psychological toll of telling myself “no,” “can’t,” “shouldn’t,” “won’t” was such that I couldn’t embrace the things that I was allowed to do. Everything became a chore, a task, something I had to meet with success or failure. The stakes were too high, and I collapsed under the pressure. What’s more, I became incredible judgmental of other people’s choices, and tension mounted accordingly in some of my relationships.
In the end, I’m glad I did it. I’m happy I took a year to be healthier that I’d ever been, to clear my head, and to give myself a benchmark against which to measure choices I make for the rest of my life. Do I feel guilty now when I smoke pot or have a glass of wine or eat a bowl of ice cream? A little bit, to be honest. But I’m happy to feel that, because it keeps me in check. And more importantly, it’s better than feeling like the uptight asshole I became toward the end of 2013.
© 2014 Tommy Jordan O’Malley
Last week it was Gawker’s disgusting article on the woman with the 7 foot wide ass.
Every day this week, one of the big three (Gawker, Jezebel, HuffPo) have been rolling out articles on women’s bodies, the photoshopping of women on magazine covers.
One article after the other that…
Feeling the fuck out of this.
A sort of postpartum depression has impressed itself on me since the new year began. I spent all of 2013 testing my limits, and then at midnight on January 1st, it was all over. The first thought that entered my mind in 2014: “What was the point of all that?”
To begin, it’s difficult to talk about Year Above the Influence without talking about Lester Brathwaite. He and I started this blog as a collaboration, the idea being that we two trash bags would document our experiment and finish the year with a book deal in hand. Well you know know what they say about the best laid plans.
Lester relapsed for the first time in February. From there, his use of drugs and alcohol escalated. When, in April, he decided to walk away from the blog, I wasn’t surprised, but I was hurt. I suddenly had to manage the blog on my own, and I resented that.
I judged Lester’s substance use, what I saw as his unwillingness to commit. I couldn’t empathize with his situation—we said we were going to do something, so why weren’t we both doing it?—and that put a strain on our relationship. With time, I accepted that my frustration wasn’t with Lester so much as it was with myself. His relapses held up a mirror to my own behavior. I had to question why I wanted to take a break from alcohol and drugs in the first place. Was I an addict? Did I have a problem? Was I one of those people?
Although I go to extremes in lots ways, I am not an addict. I am not powerless over substances, and I rather prefer being sober to being fucked up. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to get drunk or do drugs again. If I want to, I will, but at the moment, it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. I do believe that alcohol and drugs can fuel the creative process, and so I will always indulge when I feel my tank tipping toward empty. As surely as there is value in moderation, there is value in altering the state of an artistic mind.
All of that said, I do have problems, bundles of them. But I’m working on solutions. Every time I talk to my therapist, or go for a run, or mail a check to some other creditor, or hug my mother, or kiss my boyfriend, or visit the dentist, I’m doing what I can to clean up the mess I made for myself in my 20s.
Have I fixed anything? Well, I’m in a better place at the start of 2014 than I was one year ago. Physically, I’ve never felt better, what with the good eats and marathon training.
Financially, I’m better off than I’ve ever been—even if living in New York makes it damn near impossible to save a dime. (I can’t even talk about that asshole Sallie Mae, who wants nearly $700 from me every month.)
Professionally, I’ve made strides toward securing a future beyond bartending, which is a major relief. I was terrified I would end up trapped in restaurant jobs for the rest of my life.
And on a spiritual/emotional level, I continue to chip away at all the bullshit that made me the angry Irishman I am today. Therapy helps, but to be honest, sometimes I wonder if there is a permanent solution to my temper, short of zapping my brain with electricity. I fear I’m hardwired to be a hot head.
One thing I know for sure is that I am not someone who does well without a sense of purpose, a measurable outcome. In taking away all of my vices in 2013, I gave myself lots to write about. But now it’s the new year, and what’s my next step?
Could I write about my reentry into the world of wine and cake and French fries? Sure, and to some extent, I will do that. But I’ve spent the past 365 days talking about myself—unleashing my happiest and most shameful memories on the internet—and I’m tired. And frankly, I’m bored with myself. I need something new, something beyond my story, but first I have to celebrate and mourn my completion of this project.
Everything I did in 2013 was for myself. I needed to hit the reset button, to reclaim the focus and drive that escaped me after college. And so—as is my custom—I sought the most extreme route and took it. Writing the blog made me accountable to an audience and kept me on track. But it also gave me a space to test my material safely and without external influence. Some things worked very well (I’m especially fond of the stories I wrote about my three arrests), and others fell flat. In the end, I realize that I need someone to edit my work, to tailor my perspective to a more general audience. Sometimes my ego gets in the way of what I’m trying to say.
A bunch of people have reached out to me to say congratulations and express their pride in what I’ve accomplished. Don’t misunderstand me; it means a lot to be loved and validated, but I have to admit, it all feels unearned. I mean, it’s not like I got a new degree or built a house or eradicated the common cold. I engaged in some old-fashioned healthy living, and that’s a frankly selfish pursuit.
The number one question I got as the year drew to a close was, “Are you going to drink after the ball drops?” The answer is yes, I had a glass of wine at midnight. A 1981 Bordeaux, which was in excellent shape, if perhaps a bit aggressive for my first taste of alcohol in 12 months. Truth be told, it got me pretty tipsy, and I didn’t appreciate the sensation. I’ve gotten used to being in control, and it’s not something I’m eager to surrender. I’m gun shy, but I’ll find a way that works for me.
Sugar is what I’ve been abusing. At midnight on the 1st, I went to town on a half dozen pignoli cookies from Montelleone’s Italian bakery in Brooklyn. The following two mornings, I ate cookies and brownies for breakfast. Then I threw away all of the sweets in my apartment. If I have it, I’ll eat it, and so sugary treats remain verboten in my house. It’s a strange feeling to walk down the ice cream aisle and tell myself “no” when “yes” is once again an option. But exercising self-control with food is not the easiest thing for me.
In terms of dietary changes, I’ve had yogurt and fruit every morning, but apart from that I’m treading lightly with the dairy. I did eat a duck burger smothered in cheese on Friday night, and I dipped the accompanying French fries in mayo (in all, a delicious one-way ticket to diarrhea town). Otherwise, though, I’m craving the staples I adopted last year: apples and peanut butter, homemade granola, green juice with ginger, chicken soup, etc. My body is rejecting things that it wants but shouldn’t have, and that’s a blessing, a built in system by which to check my bad habits.
At the beginning of this post (which I’ve been writing for six days now), I talked about feeling depressed. I wrote more than I ever have in 2013, and that has left me with a bit of output fatigue. So although I have a plan to keep building momentum in 2014, I am taking time to enjoy some much-needed input. One of my more successful cousins once said to me, “The best writers are usually the best readers.”
I was not the most studious high schooler on the block. If I’m being generous, I’d say that I read maybe 20 percent of the books assigned to me. As a result, I am a woefully under-read 31 year-old. Last year, I picked up The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; I lasted 15 pages before admitting defeat. Totally over my head.
This year (and probably several to come), I’m embarking on a quest to read all of the Great Books, starting with Homer (whom I translated from the Latin when I was 12, thank you Boston Latin School). I’m rereading the Iliad at the moment, taking breaks to brush up on the history surrounding the epic. (Tell you what, that Trojan War was some crazy shit. First of all, men kidnapping and raping women left, right and center. Secondly, was everyone in the Bronze Age mentally ill? Because people were hearing voices and then killing one another on the reg.)
Another thing I’m doing this year is putting myself out there. I always talk about telling stories and doing stand-up, but I’m actually going for it. I’ll be out four nights per week doing open mics and—the hope is—invited shows. I predict this will be a very good thing for my relationship, as now my boyfriend can watch HGTV without my constant complaining. The only thing I hate more than “House Hunters” is “House Hunters International.”
Anyway, I’ll keep updating this blog for the next month or so, at least until
I finish the Austin Marathon. I will finish the Nancy Diaries and keep you posted on my life below the influence. Eventually, I’ll move everything over to tommyomalley.com, which I’m in the process of building. But my posting certainly will be less regular, as I’ll be busy making shit happen in the real world.
In conclusion, thank you for reading this silly little blog. It’s been the most fun to write it, even when things got dark or uncomfortably personal. I recommend acknowledging your negative influences and spending some time above them. It’s really wonderful to use your free will in that way, to remind yourself that you are in control. Screw anyone or anything that tries to tell you otherwise.
© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley
To everyone who’s read this blog throughout the year, thank you for indulging my exhibitionism.
And to those of you who have reached out—publicly and privately—to share your stories and encouragements, you have my deepest gratitude and respect.
This year has taught me a lot about being a person who lives among people. We’re all going through our own shit, and if we just focus on that, then we’ll make the world a little easier for everyone else. Screw the Joneses, keep up with yourself.
I wish you all a wonderful end to 2013. I’m celebrating by running 15 miles this morning and then going to work. Tonight, my boyfriend and I are hosting 40-something people in our studio apartment in Brooklyn.
I for one am ready for midnight, ready to rejoin the ranks of the free-willed, ready to make choices that will surely give me diarrhea or worse. Having strictly defined my limits all year, I’m eager to test them again. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m most comfortable when I’m pushing my boundaries.
I’ll write a proper reflection on the year in the coming days. But for now, enjoy what’s left of 2013, and let’s all agree to make 2014 our biggest and baddest yet. Identify a risk and take it—the more it scares you the better—because what’s the point of a life parked in neutral?
© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley
Read: Part 22.
Have you ever seen a face plumped with filler and Botox express anger? Imagine a leg buried knee-deep in cement trying to run. It’s not going anywhere, but damned if you can’t spot the effort from a mile away.
In the instant I defied Nancy, her preserved expression shifted—if ever so slightly—from bemusement to blind rage.
"Why are you trying to destroy me," she yelled at me, her eyes ablaze with the fury that comes from hearing "no" when obedience is expected.
"I’m not try to destroy you," I said. "I just can’t quit without stating my reason."
"After everything I’ve done for you, after all the things I have given you!" She inched closer to me as her volume grew.
"Nancy you are making me very uncomfortable right now."
"I am making you uncomfortable! That’s really something, with the way you have been holding me hostage with your accusations all week!"
I was shaking, barely conscious of my ability to form complete sentences. And yet, I managed to respond to her every delusion. Whether or not I said the right thing… Well you know what they say about hindsight.
"I don’t know how to respond to you, Nancy. You don’t seem rational."
"You know what," she scoffed, pausing to consider her next move. "This isn’t going to work out, this just can’t work. How am I supposed to trust you anymore?"
She stopped talking and walked toward me with a purpose that haunts me to this day. Her face was red, sweaty, snarling like a cat who’d been held under water. She was ready to attack, and when she did pounce, it was my computer that she went for.
"This is mine," she yelled, grabbing the $3,000 MacBook I’d purchased for her six months earlier.
"Nancy, I’m in the middle of typing an email." (In fact, I was in the process of emailing myself stories I’d written on her computer—some of which were decidedly NSFW—because I knew where our conversation was headed.)
"Not anymore you’re not, you spy!"
"What are you saying, I’m a spy?" I was genuinely confused.
"You are a spy! You took notes about my life and now you’re using them against me!"
"Nancy this is not how I want this to play out."
"Well you should’ve thought about that before you tried to slander me! And you know what! How can you prove anything? All you have is a notebook full of stories you might as well have made up! You think your fabrication will hold up in court? Because trust me, you do not want to come at me in court!"
At that point, I got out my phone and called my lawyer, who happens to be my sister. Nancy saw the phone and again came at me.
"Give me that! I paid for it!"
She grabbed my wrist and tried to pry the phone from my hands.
"Get your hands off of me right now," I demanded, my tone full of fuck you. "You paid my bill, I paid for the phone. You need to step away from me and my property."
Nancy looked scared. She knew she was losing control, and there was nothing she could do to reclaim it. I was a toy that she wasn’t allowed to play with any longer, and so she was throwing a tantrum.
"Who are you calling," she demanded.
My sister didn’t pick up, so I left a curt, professional message and hung up. I couldn’t decide what to do next.
"Nancy," I began. "It sounds like you are firing me."
"No no no. You gave notice. You quit on me!"
"I gave notice for six months from now. You are telling me that we can’t go forward from today."
"Well I don’t see how you expect me to work under these conditions another moment! You’re a spy!"
I stayed very calm as I explained, “I moved across the country to work for you. I gave up my life in Boston, and you cannot just cut me loose. I’m happy to leave today, if that’s the decision you come to, but I want severance.”
"You’re trying to extort me. That was your plan all along! You set this entire thing up!"
"We both know that’s not true. But in light of your behavior, I agree that this is not a good working relationship anymore. I just want what’s fair."
“And what do you think is fair. What’s your price, Tommy?”
“I think three months on top of what you owe me for last month is fair.” Three months pay amounted to $9,600. She owed me an additional $3,200 for February.
Nancy went into the kitchen and called her scumbag lawyer, Terry. I met him once at a lunch. He spent more time complimenting Nancy’s appearance than he did discussing her business.
“He won’t put it in writing,” she whined to him. “I tried, but now he wants to get severance. He’s trying to extort me, Terry. He wants three months pay. This is the worst case. I don’t know. I have to see. Ok. Ok. Ok. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
I don’t know how to express fully the joy I felt sitting at the dining room table and watching Nancy squirm on the phone with Terry. Even if I never saw a dime of severance from her, having a front row seat to her dissolution was retribution enough for all of her harassment and disrespect.
“Ok, I’m going to pay your extortion,” Nancy said. “I don’t have a choice. You’re blackmailing me and threatening to ruin my name, so I’ll pay. But you have to sign a confidentiality agreement. My lawyer is faxing it over now.”
My sister called me back as Nancy was speaking. Nancy called her lawyer again while I was on the phone.
“Hi Maureen, I think I’m getting fired,” I said.
“He’s on the phone with his lawyer right now. Tommy, what’s the name of your lawyer?”
“She wants me to sign a confidentiality agreement.”
“Tommy I asked you for your lawyer’s name,” she barked.
“Ok, I gotta go, she’s yelling at me right now to find out your name.”
I hung up, and I didn’t acknowledge Nancy’s questions. The one thing my sister said was to get my belongings and leave Nancy’s house without signing anything.
“I am going up to the office to get my stuff,” I said. “Would you like to follow me to make sure I don’t take anything that’s not mine.”
“No, I don’t think you’re a thief. I just think you’re a spy.”
I walked into my office, passing Vishna along the way. He’d been frozen on the couch the entire time. I grabbed what few trinkets I had there—a teddy bear my boyfriend sent me for Valentine’s Day, my phone charger, etc.—and went back to the dining room.
“You know, you’re going to have a really hard time in this life, Tommy,” Nancy warned. “You are a nasty person. This entire thing, I see it now, you set it all up to blackmail me.”
“I don’t need to listen to this, Nancy, you’re no longer my employer. You’re not paying me to be your friend anymore. I don’t have to sit here and accept your attack.” A glorious rush surged through my body.
He tone suddenly shifted from sinister to wounded. “I don’t know what I ever did to you. All I ever did was give and give and give. I gave you food! I gave you a career! I gave you my HOUSE, which your friends had sex all over! By the way! Don’t think for a second that I missed that!”
She’d shifted back to rage. I was silent. She was referring to the going-away party she’d allowed me to throw in her Boston townhouse. The party at which, in fact, two of my ancillary friends had sex on her bed. I couldn’t argue with the truth.
She took a moment to collect herself before launching into an aria, the tone of which was melancholy.
“You think you can just manipulate people to get what you want, well that’s not the way this works. You forget that I know people. How could I ever recommend you for a job after this, I really don’t know. And you’re missing out. You played this all wrong, Tommy. You could’ve stayed with me and learned something about business. I could’ve introduced you to people that could’ve taken you to the next level. I see what’s happening here, I’ve seen it so many times before. You come to LA, you get a small taste of Hollywood, and suddenly you think you’re part of it, you’re better than everything and everyone you knew on the way up. Well I have news for you, you’re not better than this job, and you are going to struggle. You’re going to end up nowhere if I can help it!”
“I agreed to sign your confidentiality agreement, Nancy, not listen life lessons and threats.”
Nancy’s mood circled back to rage, just like that. The highs and lows were coming so fast and with such distinction, I felt compelled to applaud. It was a “Rose’s Turn” moment, and deep down, I was terrified and living at the same time.
“You can’t manipulate me, Tommy,” she howled. “You have no proof! All you have is your word, and it means nothing in this world compared to mine! Nothing!!!”
“Actually Nancy, I do have proof. I recorded you and Aaron talking about your sex life in front of me on the ride back from Santa Barbara last month.”
“You did that. You recorded me. It all makes sense now. You have been planning this for even longer than I thought. This is what you wanted all along.”
She got in my face. I thought she was going to hit me. I was hoping she would.
“You’ve been out for me from the start! You saw a rich woman you could take advantage of! I see it all now. Well listen to me, it’s not going to work. It will not work!”
She waved her finger at my nose. I could smell the green juice on her breath. I decided to leave the building as soon as she did that.
“I’m extremely uncomfortable right now, Nancy. I don’t know what you’re going to do to me, so for the sake of my safety I’m going to leave. I’ll come back later to sign the confidentiality agreement. I’m going to get my stored belongings out of your garage and call a cab to take me home.”
“You do what you need to do, Tommy. She glared at me, full of a certainty that suggested she’d reclaimed the upper hand.
With that, I went down to the garage, dragged my boxes out to the driveway, and called a cab. I pulled a cigarette out of my pocket and lit it. I had hidden my smoking habit from Nancy the entire time I worked for her. I hoped that she could see me puffing away on my Parliament Light, because screw her. When I was finished, I flicked the butt at her front door.
While I was waiting for the taxi, my boyfriend called. He was at the airport in New York, about to board his flight to come visit me.
"You’re not going to believe what just happen babe," I said to him, as I lit the wrong end of another cigarette.
© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley
I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas, if it’s something that you celebrate. If you don’t, then I hope you enjoyed your day off.
As I get older, part of the fun of the holidays is seeing how traditions blend between two families. My bother and his wife hosted Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning brunch at their house in the suburbs of Boston. Her family and ours, two groups of people who otherwise might not know one another, now forever bonded over their marriage and three kids.
On Christmas Eve, my mother, sister, boyfriend and I also went to a party at my other sister-in-law’s father’s house. We all planned to attend the 11 p.m. mass together (the choir was an off-key, unrehearsed nightmare, for the record). But before that, we spent time with my brother’s new family. It was a different cast but the same idea as dinner earlier in the evening—a bunch of would-be strangers sharing the holiday because my brother and his wife crossed paths on campus when they were in college.
On Christmas night, after having spent the previous two days running around eastern Massachusetts visiting family, we retired to my mother’s house to play board games and have dinner. My boyfriend, who’s Jewish, introduced us to a new tradition: ordering Chinese food. (I ate steamed chicken with vegetables, in case you were wondering, and it was terrible. I really wanted the dumplings.)
Just a few years ago, a Christmas like this would’ve seemed impossible. We’re Irish, so naturally some of us weren’t speaking to each other for reasons not worth recounting. During those years, I would celebrate the holiday with friends’ families. I learned new traditions during that time, such as getting your drink on throughout the day.
One year, I drank a little (waaaay) too much wine at dinner, after which I met up with high school pals at a bar. A few of us ended up going to this guy’s house—a guy I knew but hadn’t ever really hung out with—and smoking pot. Let’s call the guy Matt, because that’s his name.
Anyway, a couple of us were obliterated by the time we got to Matt’s—me more than anyone, I’m sure—and I took a trip to a bad place. I told Matt that he was a mean guy in high school (he wasn’t) and other similarly douchey and untrue things. Eventually my boyfriend threw me in a cab and took me back to Cambridge, where we were staying, before I could embarrass myself further.
I woke up the next morning with a head full of ache and regret. I found my glasses broken—they’d fallen off my face at the bar, and someone stepped on them—and my phone missing. I was in a full-blown panic attack. I called and texted myself from my boyfriend’s phone. Eventually someone texted me back to tell me that they had my phone, but they wanted $100 to return it. I was pissed off… until I realized that it was Matt. He was fucking with me, and I deserved it. I eventually got my phone back and lived to survive this tale of self-inflicted humiliation.
One thing that that Christmas did for me is give me a benchmark against which to appreciate all Christmases going forward. It also allowed me to empathize with people who go to the dark side when they drink. I am, by and large, a crazy drunk. I like to get naked, scream in people’s faces, and generally just have an happy, NSFW time. But that Christmas, when I was lost in the wilderness of depression, I got a taste of what life would be like for me if I didn’t get my head together, if I didn’t start taking care of myself, if I didn’t reconnect with my family.
I have another friend from high school who often gets dark when he drinks (or at least when he drinks around me; there’s a lot of history there, some of which I’m not so proud of). He and I were not the nicest to each other when we were young, and he likes to talk about it whenever he’s drunk. I always tried to hear him, to lend a healing ear to his trauma, but one day I got fed up and said, “Hey, that was literally half our lifetimes ago. Can’t we just move on from it?” His response was to kiss me and say, “I did that because fuck you and fuck your stupid boyfriend.” In trying to hold me accountable for being a teenage dick, he added, “You can’t change the past.” True that.
The past can be painful for its embarrassments and sadnesses, as well as for the hurt we inflict on others. But taken as a point of reference, it’s something that makes the victories of today—sitting around a table with formerly estranged family members, for instance, or sharing a happy moment with someone who’s forgiven you a wrong—all the more rewarding and meaningful.
© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley
Monday morning following our phone conversation wasn’t the most pleasant for me. Having told Nancy that I felt sexually harassed by her—and having refused to budge when she tried to minimize my complaints—I was trapped between empowerment and dread as I got ready. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Nancy’s condo.
My walk to work along the beach that morning, which normally took no more than 20 minutes, felt interminable. I ran over potential scenarios in my head. Would Nancy cry when I saw her? Would she yell? Would she want to talk about our conversation from the night before or pretend it never happened? Would she apologize? The suspense made origami out of my gut.
When I finally arrived at Nancy’s, I was surprised to find that she was not home. This hadn’t been one of the options I’d considered, but I was admittedly relieved. For even though I had rightfully asserted my boundaries the night before, Nancy still wielded a sort of power over me. She was, after all, the person who signed my checks, the reason for my move to California. I wasn’t sure I could maintain my resolve and dodge her manipulations when we were face to face.
I went to my office and found a note from her on my desk.
Thank you for addressing your concerns with me. I assure you the things we talked about will be handled and kept in confidence. I hope you are happy working here.
Today is a very hectic day for me. I’m going to be running around, so I probably won’t see you. Here is a list of things I need done before Vishna arrives tomorrow afternoon:
Sync my phone to my computer
Buy me four bikinis from Nordstrom for my photo shoots with Vishna—must be two pieces, and not cut too high or too low. No granny panties, but nothing Girls Gone Wild either. Tasteful.
Pick up Vitamin V prescription from CVS
Find out when the ARCs of my book will be ready at the publisher. Need these ASAP.
Make food for the girls to eat when they get back on Thursday.
Roast veggies for me
Make green juice for the next two weeks.
Edit the two columns I sent you for my blog.
And please, remember to smile today. I’m very glad and grateful for you.
Namaste, your friend,
It was a nice enough effort on her part, but I found myself judging her attempt at reconciliation. I read face-saving motives into her words, which perhaps were or were not intended, and realized that my time with Nancy had surpassed its expiration date. I didn’t trust her, and I couldn’t imagine working for her for another five days, let alone five months.
About an hour later, I heard Nancy come through the front door and walk into the kitchen. My stomach, which had settled, folded in on itself again. I poked my head out of the office and said, “Is that you Nancy?”
"Oh hi Tommy, I didn’t realize you were here. I just got in from a meeting. I’m drinking a quick glass of milk and then heading right back out again. Aaron is coming to pick me up any minute."
Aaron was coming to pick her up. The same Aaron from whom she’d asked me to collect her camera equipment twelve hours earlier. The same Aaron with whom she’d wanted to break up and never speak to again. Apparently they’d made up overnight, a dramatic reversal that brought me to the intersection of boredom and awe. Her behavior was, as ever, predictable and shocking.
"Did you get my note," Nancy asked me.
"Yup, looking at it now."
"Ok good, and you think you can get all that done before Vishna arrives from Prague?"
Vishna was the son of Nancy’s Czech friend Henni, whom she met when they were teenagers backpacking through India. Henni fell in love with an Indian man, got married, and had a kid. After her husband died, Henni moved back to the Czech Republic with then-teenaged Vishna.
Nancy flew Vishna in from Prague to take promotional pictures for her website. His ticket, which I’d arranged, cost nearly $3,000.
"He’s the only one who can really capture my spirit on camera," she’d told me repeatedly, seemingly justifying the expense to fly him across the ocean, although I knew that wasn’t the reason for his visit. She once also said, "To be honest, Vishna is kind of sexy. Not in a physical way, on a psychic level. We just get each other. Nothing could ever happen between us, though, can you even imagine? Henni would kill me!"
I imagined that Nancy regularly had imagined something happening between her and Vishna—who was my age, by the way—and it made me wonder if the guy knew what he was getting himself into. There’s no such thing as a free trip to Los Angeles.
While Nancy was annotating my to do list from the kitchen, Aaron arrived to pick her up. He honked his horn from out front, which normally would’ve irritated Nancy—what would her wealthy neighbor’s think—but she didn’t seem to mind. It broke up the awkward conversation between us.
"That’s my ride," she hollered from the foyer. "Thanks for getting everything done today. We’ll talk later."
She left as quickly as she’d arrived. We managed to have a full conversation without seeing each other. It was decidedly less stressful than it could’ve been, at least on my end. The fact that Nancy avoided being in a room with me suggested that she was feeling uncomfortable, perhaps even guilty. And the fact that she was back together with Aaron confirmed that she had, beyond a doubt, lost her damn mind.
I spent Monday checking off items from the list Nancy gave me. I left work at 5 p.m., after receiving a text from Nancy saying that she wouldn’t be home until late and that I should get going when I felt good about the progress I’d made.
Vishna’s plane was scheduled to land at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. All I had to do before picking him up was buy groceries and bikinis. So, first thing Tuesday morning, I headed to Whole Foods. While there, I got a text from Nancy that said she’d be working in her bedroom and didn’t want to be disturbed; she had a headache. When I got to her condo, however, Nancy came into the kitchen, where I was unpacking the bags.
“Hi Tommy,” she said, steely and solemn. It was the first time we’d seen each other since she dropped me off at my house on Saturday night. Her eyes were buggy and red. I wanted to vomit everywhere. Nerves.
“Hi Nancy, how are you?”
“I’m fine thanks, just feeling a bit run down from all I’ve been doing. And I need to be tip top when Vishna gets here, because it will be such a waste if he travels all this way and I don’t look my best in the photos.”
“That would be a nightmare, for sure.”
“I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but I realized we haven’t backed up my phone on my computer in a while, and I really need that to get done. I had a panic attack this morning thinking about losing everything I’ve got on here. That would be totally beyond the pale. Can you take care of that asap?”
“Of course, I can do it right now. Where’s your computer?”
“It’s on my bed,” she said, handing me her phone. “I’m going to make myself some tea and then nap for a few hours.”
“Of course, you should rest.”
I went down to her room. The phone she’d just given me was open to a text conversation with Aaron that read, “From now on, Tommy is not to know anything about my videos. I only want him to run errands. He’s out of everything else, I just can’t trust him.” I plugged it into her computer.
Nothing with Nancy ever felt coincidental. My immediate thought upon reading the text was, “Thank god.” I wanted out of the madhouse, and she was making it very easy for me. At the same time, it pissed me off, the passive aggression, the idea that she couldn’t trust me. She played everyone in her life, always portraying herself as the victim.
Here’s a true (if tangential) story. Nancy once coauthored a diet book that sold 750,000 (the only book of hers that ever sold more than a few hundred copies). The main writer—the person on whose research the book was based—was a well-known nutritionist M.D. After its publication, Nancy and the doctor stopped speaking. Years after their falling out, Nancy was giving a talk at a women’s conference, and she saw the doctor in the audience. She had security remove the doctor, because as she put it, “I didn’t know why she was there. Maybe she wanted to kill me. It was terrifying.” Later, when we were editing one of her books, Nancy confessed to citing the doctor’s research without attribution. “I changed some of the wording from our original book,” she told me. “But those are essentially my words. I’m the one who wrote them that way, she just provided the study. I don’t want to give her any more credit for my success than she’s already claimed.”
Anyway, that afternoon, after the phone debacle, I went to Nordstrom and bought four bikinis, as instructed. I sought out the most expensive sets I could find, in part because they were fabulous, and in part because I didn’t care to bargain hunt for someone with whom I knew my days were numbered.
When I showed Nancy the bathing suits, she squealed. She loved them, as she loved all of her gifts to herself. “You really have a knack for shopping for me, Tommy,” she enthused. “No one else has ever just gotten my style like you!”
Her praise fell on deaf ears. My contempt for her swelled, as the anxiety I once felt in her presence shifted irreversibly to disdain. I didn’t believe a word she said, and I knew, right then, that she didn’t either.
Nancy went into her room to try on the bathing suits. She smartly spared me a fashion show. She did, however, open the door three separate times to tell me how great she looked. I considered that she might be trying to taunt me, to test my limits and let me know who was boss in our relationship. Then I thought better of it and realized that she was just genuinely ignorant of other people’s boundaries.
I left shortly thereafter to pick up Vishna. It took him more than an hour to get through customs, and by the time we got back to Nancy’s, it was nearly 6 p.m.
“You can take the rest of the afternoon off, Tommy,” Nancy told me, ignorant of the hour. “Vishna and I need to catch up.”
I said my thanks and headed home. The following day—Wednesday—was a big day for me. It was to be my last day really working for the week. My boyfriend was flying in from New York in the evening. He and I planned to drive to Santa Barbara to pick up Nancy’s dogs on Thursday. She’d left them with her former housekeeper during our Seattle trip.
We never made it to Santa Barbara.
On Wednesday morning, I arrived at work at my usual time, 9 a.m. Nancy already was dressed and organizing things in the office. I worked from the dining room table, so that we weren’t crammed into the same room. At about 11 a.m., she went into the kitchen to grab a glass of milk. On her way back to the office, she casually mentioned, “By the way, Tommy, I need you to put in writing the exact date that you want to stop working for me. If you could do that now, I’d really appreciate it.”
A fire ignited in my stomach, and in an instant my entire body got warm. I could feel my face getting red. The sweat in my throat made it difficult to speak, but I managed.
“Ok. But you understand that I’m not quitting by choice. I told you I can’t work for you because of what we talked about.”
Vishna was in the other room, and I tried to be discreet. But Nancy kept the conversation going. I assumed she’d already provided him with a skewed account of the situation anyway.
“I know, Tommy,” she said, her tone taking a right turn toward agitation. “But I just need the date in writing and nothing else.”
“Why do you need that,” I asked, understanding that she was trying to get me to quit, but not knowing enough to comprehend what the legal impact would be.
“It’s just for my records.”
I called her bluff. “Ok then, I’ll write it. But I have to include the reason I’m quitting—that you have been sexually harassing me, and that I reported it to you on Sunday—in anything I write.”
If you ever want to see a narcissist explode, just back them into a corner with the truth. I couldn’t believe I said it to her, but as soon as I did, I finally saw the rage that I’d suspected lived beneath the plastic veneer. In that moment, Nancy went boom.
© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley