Thursday, May 28, 2009

Perfect Stranger

After a long weekend of partying and all that being around a race weekend in Indy entails, I was walking through the newly built Indianapolis airport when a stained glass window caught my eye. Even amidst the afternoon thundershower that had rolled through, the window’s bright coloring still seemed to light up the terminal. But it wasn’t the colors that really drew me to this particular window more than the rest. It was the words written on it that really caught me off guard.

I will bring you a whole person
and you will bring me a whole person
and we will have us twice as much
of love and everything

I be bringing a whole heart
and while it do have nicks and
dents and scars,
that only make me lay it down
more careful-like
And you be bringing a whole heart
a little chipped and rusty an'
sometime skip a beat but
still an' all you bringing polish too
and look like you intend
to make it shine

I will be bringing you someone whole
and you will be bringing me someone whole
and we be twice as strong
and we be twice as true
and we will have twice as much
of love
and everything.


I later learned that it was a poem called Celebrations written by Mari Evans.

There was more of the poem written on the pane, but I only needed to see that particular part to have a moment of “Eureka” regarding the past few months of my life. Time and time again, I have come to my blog as a place to find solace in the craziness that is my life’s journey, and you have all been an amazing audience and dare I even say a shoulder to cry on from time to time. While I may change the names to protect the innocent and (in more cases than not..) the LESS than innocent, I have also been nothing but brutally honest with the incidents that have occurred. You have seen parts of my life that some would call heartbreaking, others would call ironic, and some.. well, were just downright humiliating. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I guess if we are really going to understand this epiphany, we need to retrace my steps this weekend. And those steps begin the minute I stepped foot in Indianapolis. For those of you who are familiar with my stories, Indy has always had a special place in my heart. It’s been my sanctuary in times of turmoil, my place to retreat to gather my thoughts, and a place to remember what really mattered in life. In short, Indy always brought me.. back to me. This weekend was no exception. Well, sorta.

For weeks I had been planning to meet up with this reoccurring figure in my life, that you all have come to regard as the Roadrunner. I call him this for various reasons, but the main one being the obvious: he enjoys the thrill of the chase. Rarely were the two of us ever in the same city at the same time, but this particular weekend we just so happened to be. I had forgotten to factor in one thing.. there is a reason I call him the Road Runner.

He is one of those ridiculously pretty boys that has never really had to work hard to catch a girls attention, sometimes… multiple girls in fact. He loved the thrill of the chase and almost always seemed to think the girl should chase him. This weekend was no exception. It was always.. come meet me here, come see me there. But for some reason this particular weekend, when the entire theme was built around “the chase,” I found this game extremely unamusing. Though until now, I really didn’t understand why.

That’s because this weekend, I ran into a Perfect Stranger, that as Kenny Powers would say, “f*cked me up with some truth.” I wouldn’t call him a stranger, because I definitely had known who he was for some time, given both of our backgrounds. But what little I did know about him I knew only from the internet, and if I have learned anything in the past few years it’s that the internet isn’t always the most reliable of sources.

I don’t mean he was “perfect” … because well, no one is. In fact his faults are brutally scrutinized. But I mean.. his “timing” was perfect. Not too long ago, I began to realize that so much of what happens in our lives.. the places, the people.. are all based on timing. We meet certain people, at certain times, for certain reasons none of us really understand. Any later or sooner, and well.. the outcome of our lives would be vastly different. Or at least, that is what Doc Brown said in Back to the Future. Sometimes these events are subtle, while others might as well be decked out in neon lights like “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Or something like that. This may very well have been one of those times.

Anyone that has met me on a personal level will be the first to tell you, I’m quick with my one-liners and barbs. Well, the Stranger went toe to toe with me, and then some. He was quite the antithesis for the brand I had come to associate with his “kind.” The complete opposite of a fathead… you know?? The type of guys that are fun to look at, but aside from that they serve no real use other than to hang on your wall just to root for your favorite sports team. But not this one. He was different. He didn’t use lame pick up lines or cheesy gimmicks. In fact, I’m not sure he was really trying to pick me up at all. He threw my one-liners back at me with the quickness of a line drive that would’ve had most pitchers riding the pine pony unable to recall their own names for days.

After a good amount of nonsensical banter, we soon realized the two of us shared more than a deep love for sports in common, with our similar histories, similar philosophies, and similar outlooks on our given situations… especially in the dating category. For some stranger reason, this kid seemed to “get” me. And I “got” him. A few adult beverages into my encounter with the stranger, things took an interesting twist.

“You Ms. Sterger are quite an enigma. I’m not sure what to make of you. On one hand… you seem very genuine and very much one of the guys. You play the ‘I’m a cool single chick’ role real well. But part of me thinks it’s just an act. I think … I think you’re scared,” he said.

I nearly spit out my drink. No one, and I mean… NO ONE calls me chicken. Especially not you, Mr. Stranger.

“Oh really, is that so??” I cocked my head slightly, intrigued by his overall observation of me.

“Sure, well, if you’re this cool… why don’t you have a boyfriend??.. “ he asked.

And that my newfound friend.. is the million dollar question. For months now I had been picking up the pieces from a tumultuous relationship that had left my life in complete shambles. I had gone on countless dates, with all kinds of people.. but nothing really seemed to stick. I always just assumed I was too picky, or when I did pick something it was all wrong for me. As it turns out, the Stranger had been in a similar situation, though he didn’t divulge a ton of details. From what I gathered, he was just too young, and too in denial that they wanted different things that he wasn’t willing to admit that they had grown apart. Since then, he too had made a few missteps, and just like me.. watched them play out for everyone else’s amusement.

“You want my opinion??? For what it’s worth??..” he asked as he took a sip from his Guinness. “I don’t think you have the slightest clue what you want. You had something, you lost something, and since then, you’ve devoted so much of your time looking for the right thing that you probably wouldn’t know it if it hit you in the face. Trying to have a career, a life, and a love life?.. Forget it. Something has to give. You’ve spent your greater adult life, always with someone else, that you don’t know YOU anymore. And you’re too scared to admit it.”

I sat there stunned. Silent. This guy… this stranger.. that knew me for a mere few hours was calling me out. Who did he think he is??... Just because our lives overlapped in some aspects did not mean I suffered from the same lost boy syndrome he did.

Or did it?

That night, the two of us ended up roaming the streets of Indianapolis by ourselves. Not as a couple of drunken kids looking for a corner to make out in, but as a couple of guarded lost souls that just realized.. maybe for the first time, they weren’t alone after all. By him calling BS on me, he had in turn forced himself to confront his own fa├žade he had been hiding behind. And as they say in crappy old heist movies… the jig was up, pal.

The next few days went by rather fast, as I had a ton of professional obligations and appearances to fulfill, but the Strangers words stuck with me. It wasn’t that I was stuck on my ex, because I could really care less as long as he is happy. Maybe I just hadn’t been alone long enough to really put myself back together again. So every failed date, every misadventure broke humpty dumpty into more and more pieces… to the point I had no clue where to start. Where were all the king's horses and all the king's men???

That’s when I realized… I really didn’t NEED to be with anyone. For once, it felt okay to be alone. I needed to figure out who I was again as a person, not a pair. Months of therapy, years of blogging, and it only took one chance encounter with another lost soul for me to figure out what my life was missing… Me.

I never did meet up with the Roadrunner. And part of me thinks, maybe it was for the best. He would have only filled my head with false hope and just perpetuated this nasty cycle I had caught myself in. Instead, I spent the rest of the weekend figuring out myself, and getting to know me again. And while I’m far from the finish line, at least I made some good headway.

Which brings me back to the window….

A whole person. Such a novel concept. It was something I hadn’t been in a long time. I need to quit bringing this guarded, self censored version of myself to the table, and bring back the real “Jenn.” She may be flawed, and have a few bumps and bruises, but those scars are what make her the unique sensitive individual she is today. The one beneath the tough girl exterior she presents to the rest of the world… her poker face if you will.

The next time I decide to take the plunge, I will bring everything. . I wouldn’t be in something just out of need, but I would be in something because I WANT to be in it. Not the baggage of relationships past, just the lessons that it taught me How was anyone supposed to get to know the real me if my guard was always up???.. It wasn’t fair for me to keep dating from the other side of the wall. If the Germans had brought that ‘ish down, maybe it was time I did the same.

I never did get a chance to thank the Stranger for the lesson he taught me that weekend, but something tells me he’ll keep in touch. I promised him I’d keep his identity a secret. And that I shall. But I think the lesson he taught me needed to be passed on to others. I’m convinced God brings certain people into our lives for a reason, to teach us things as he sees fit. Maybe this was one of those instances. It just goes to show you that timing really is everything. If I hadn’t gotten lost, hadn’t made a wrong turn or two… I wouldn’t have met such an interesting person. Our chance encounter taught me it was ok to laugh again, taught me first impressions aren’t all that they may seem, but most of all it taught me… if you’re going to get lost, at least get lost together.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Must Love Dogs

Not too long ago, I got to talking about relationships with an esteemed colleague of mine. He conceded that reading my blog was one of his new guilty pleasures, mainly because I was so brutally honest, even to the point of self-deprecation. Well, what did he expect?.. I joked that after the heinous past few years of dating experiences; I was a mere few seconds away from joining Match.com or some other random dating site under an alias. Clearly, there had to be some way of wading through all the “getting to know someone” BS, and while I wasn’t sure a mathematical formula was the answer… well, it was better than taking blind stabs in the dark at it.

The true romantic in me always assumed that the right person would simply fall into my lap at the right time. After all, that’s how it happened for my parents.

Where the hell is MY Prince Charming?

That’s when I met.. the Survey. My buddy seemed to swear by it. The survey, while relatively simple asked all the important questions you should always ask yourself before pursuing someone. Writing it all down… really analyzing it all makes you realize what's really important to you in a relationship and a person. Thus, making it easier for you to make clear-headed decisions. You might be intoxicated by someone's good looks or the way they talk or their extensive knowledge of wines, sports, food.. whatever their niche… but if they don't fit your standards, then maybe it’s not worth chasing. After all, no one likes to feel they’ve wasted their heart or time on someone.

List six "musts". These are the absolute essentials you need in a partner
This part was relatively easy, and I felt like most were “givens.”

1) I want someone with a good head on their shoulders that that is decisive and can make sound decisions.

2) And while they may not come from a perfect family ( I mean.. who really has one of those these days??), they should definitely have a good sense of family values.

3) They should have some kind of faith (whether they be catholic, Baptist, Buddhist, Taoist… whatever), and be relatively passionate and consistent about it. No one wants to date an absolute hypocrite.

4) I want a man who has solid career goals, and his own life ambitions… knows where he has been, where he’s going.. and appreciates every step of the journey to get there.

5) I want someone to see me as their equal. After all, relationships are all about partnerships. There shouldn’t be power struggles.

6) Make me laugh. I have a guilty pleasure for funny men. They aren’t necessarily the best looking man in the room, but they are the ones that keep a smile on my face the longest. Life it too short to not spend it smiling.. so why not find someone that keeps you in stitches all day long?.. I’m a nerd, and love to speak in movie quotes and references. I want my equal in that respect.

List 10 things that are important
These are qualities that you value, but aren't necessarily mandatory.

1) They should want to try new things, and never be satisfied with their knowledge of the world. I’ll try anything once, maybe twice if it doesn’t kill me.

2) They don’t have to be Emeril, but it would be nice if they could cook something other than a microwave dinner or boil a hotdog.

3) I really value physical fitness. So while they may not be an athlete, they should at least take care of themselves. This also means no smoking. I mean, part of having a life with someone means making sure that lasts as long as it can. Unless you’re Al Bundy..

4) Honor each other's past, but not live in it. I think it's crucial that you both understand where the other comes from, and where they have been. Our pasts are what make us who we are today. But they are just that, the past. Don’t dwell on them, don’t let them interfere with our future.. and move forward..

5) I want a man who can handle himself in public. One who knows you can’t talk like Kenny Powers in a nice restaurant. Someone who can handle himself at a cocktail party or any other social situation that presents itself. It’s not so much about manners as it is people skills. They don’t have to own the room, but they should be comfortable enough to stand on their own.

6) You may not like the same things I do, but at least look remotely interested in them. I don’t expect them to love sports or cars the way I do. But I better not have to explain to them who Deon Sanders or Joe Namath is either. If a guy thinks Babe Ruth is a candy bar.. guess what buddy???.. You just struck out.

7) Someone who knows how to have fun. Anyone that has been around me knows I am the biggest goofball ever. I have an affinity for knowing all the dance moves to music videos, and shamelessly admit to knowing all the words to pretty much any Britney Spears song ever recorded. If you are easily embarrassed, and won’t partake in dancing or having a good time, or have the party personality of a wet mop, need not apply. I don’t expect you to be Frank the Tank, but I do want someone that knows how to have a good time. After all, you shouldn’t take life too seriously, or you will never get out alive.

8) I love spontaneity. It keeps things fun and new. Try new things, go new places.

9) The Little Things principle. As gay as it sounds, even the coolest of girls likes it when her guy does something “just because.” There is no special occasion, no motivation behind it, he does it simply because he was thinking of you. An occasional text, flowers for no reason, or some random stupid trinket you saw and immediately thought of them. Even in a crappy economy we’re all still capable of doing something a little out of the way.. just to show we care. So why don’t you??

10) I want a guy that “tries” just as hard as I do. Let's face it, even the best relationships require a little bit of effort. I don’t think a girl should have to spend all of her free time chasing a boy, or vice versa. I think they should both chase each other. Meet the other in the middle… that’s how real relationships function even under the most strained conditions.

Five must-nots. Anything on this list is a deal-breaker
When I asked a few random women in my life this question, they came back with some blatantly obvious answers… must not cheat, beat.. etc. etc. Upon hearing these answers, I just cocked my head to the side as to kinda say.. “well, DUH.” I think that thing goes without saying. But maybe some of these are a little less obvious.

1) Don’t put down my beliefs or my opinions on things. We may not always agree, but we can agree to disagree. If a guy doesn’t want a woman with opinions, there are plenty of Barbies out there to give them the “smile and nod treatment.” I will not be a Stepford wife.

2) They can’t be overly vain. I once dated a guy that got in a hissy every time I left the house in a baseball cap and sweats. Apparently I am supposed to go to the grocery store, the diner, everywhere in 4 inch heels and full make up. Who the F@#$ do you think you are, Prince?.. Until you are cool enough to replace your name with a freaking' symbol, then you have no business telling me how to dress on my casual day to day life. It’s just shallow.

3) Laziness. I hate unmotivated people. A guy should have their own goals, their own ambitions, and I refuse to ride your ass or play your mother to get you to do them.

4) Do NOT compare me to your ex. Under any circumstances. That ship has sailed, and gone down like the Titanic my friend. You don’t want us doing it to you, so why even go there??? Don’t punish us for their mistakes or make us live up to their standards. Just because your ex used to go everywhere in full make up and hair doesn’t mean I have to. Judge me based on my standards and mine alone.

5) Do not betray my trust. Don’t go through my things, don’t go through my phone, my email.. whatever. It’s password protected for a reason. Even when two people share everything they should still be entitled to some privacy. If you don’t trust the other person enough to not go snooping you have no business in a relationship anyway.

6 Bonus Points
These are added bonuses. Not necessary, but it would enhance your life, make your time together more fun.

1) A man who knows how to fix things is sexy. I’m not saying you need to be the next Bob Villa. Hell, I will settle for Tim the Tool Man Taylor. But, know how to screw in a light bulb, or fix a toilet. And for God’s sakes… don’t be that metro pretty boy that doesn’t know what happens when you put rice down the drain. I wouldn’t say it if it hadn’t happened.

2) Compliments go a long way. And not the backhanded variety. Telling a girl her hair looks better than it did yesterday is not a compliment, it’s a putdown. She should look beautiful to you every day. That way when you’ve knocked her up, she’s 50 pounds heavier than when you met, she won’t be giving you the finger and cursing your existence come that day in the delivery room. She is beautiful all the time. No ifs ands or buts.

3) PDA is underrated. I’m not talking Paris Hilton-Doug Reinwhore make out sessions. I am talking about simple hand holding, a peck here, a hug there. If you are with a girl, be PROUD to be with her, and let her know it.

4) Take one for the team. A guy that is willing to see that chick flick just because I want to scores major points in my book. Because lord knows, I will be the first one to return the favor.

5) I’m a huge animal lover, and have been raised with big dogs all my life. A dog that resembles a bedroom slipper is not a dog, it is a fashion accessory. I have a place in my heart for every kind of animal though. And so while you may not fancy them, at least have compassion for the fact I do.

6) Create your own traditions. Make experiences for the two of you to share that are yours and yours alone.

Five scenarios
Five things you can imagine doing with the person you want to be with.

1) I am the biggest kid at heart. I love riding roller coasters, and rides, and going to Theme Parks. If you are too cool for the tea cups or Space Mountain, you are too cool for me.

2) I’ve grown much more appreciative of the outdoors in recent years. I really want to go white water rafting again, possibly down the Colorado. Men without balls, need not apply.

3) My dad and I have made it a point to visit as many ballparks as possible in our travels. You better plan on getting in on the action. I still haven’t been to Fenway and so many other great sports venues.

4) I am a huge supporter of charity events and volunteer work. Have a heart to help others, not for the publicity in it.. just because it makes you feel good at the end of the day. I would love to spend time with someone that has the same passion for helping others that I do.

5) My favorite date night.. is staying in. Making dinner, and watching a movie on the couch. After all, then you can just be yourself… talk.. and get to know what one another is really all about. I hate having to be “on” all the time, so this is when someone gets to know the real me.. the one behind the big hair.. the make up.. and all that nonsense.

After filling out the list, I went back through it, one article at a time. It wasn’t a list of likes and dislikes. It was a living breathing ideal person on paper. Comparing it against my past, all my failed relationships seemed to make so much more sense. It didn’t necessarily excuse their behaviors or the way they may have ended things, but it certainly explained why certain situations would have never come to fruition. The list was simply a way of saving me the time and agony of chasing something that wasn’t right for me anyway.

I wrote my colleague back and thanked him for sending the list to me. It really had a way of putting the past few years of my adult dating life in perspective. He reminded me that the list was not a be all end all, but it was certainly a great place to start searching. And as he so pointedly put it...

“The good thing for you is you have looooots of time.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

That Darn (Amazing) Cat

Growing up as a child, I was raised alongside two Doberman pinschers. Even as an infant, I showed no fear of these massive dogs that at the time I could have ridden around the house like horses. In fact, sometimes my sister and I did just that. As the years passed, my family became almost a safe house for sick or abandoned animals. Give us your tired, your poor... We turned no animal away. Soon, the roster under our roof began to resemble Dr. Doolittle’s patient records. Two dogs multiplied into multiple cats, none of which my dad was fond of.. But he tolerated them simply because they made my mom happy.

Then one November during my sophomore year of high school, this black stray cat came wandering up to our front door step. He had a purple collar and a name tag that only read: Clayton.

Turns out he belonged to a neighbor of ours. But since the break up with her boyfriend (the one that got him for her), she had dumped him out of the house and made him an outdoor cat. Clayton began to wander the streets and do whatever it is outdoor cats do all day long. But his favorite place to hang was on the roof with my dad as he hung Christmas lights and listened to the Beatles’ greatest hits. Anyone who has seen my house at Christmas time knows the ordeal that goes into the Sterger family Christmas display. It’s a labor of love (for my mother anyway) that usually takes my dad anywhere from 3 days to a week not including the weekend prior of yard work. Spending all this time outside, my dad had plenty of time to bond with this cat, who did nothing more than keep my dad company and chase an occasional bug or two.

It wasn't long before all of us had a chance to bond with Clayton, who seemed more human than any of us could have imagined. That's because there was something different about this cat. He had this amazing personality that for an independent character was still somehow personable. He was playful and even dare I say funny. He loved to be bounced on his stomach, yet was the first to snuggle up to you when you needed comfort. My sister would sit outside and play with him. My mom would put out food for him in the morning.

The cat had everything but the roof over its head. And that was about to change.
One day when my dad was out of town on business, my sister snuck Clayton into her room. She figured, we had enough cats, what was one more?

Much to our surprise my dad didn't seem to mind the new refugee. He actually welcomed him. His only concern was whether or not Clayton's owner would give him up. So my mom and my sister walked down to the neighbor’s house, to ask her for the cat. The lady nearly laughed at her request and said if she wanted the mangy thing, it was all hers. And like that, Clayton became a Sterger.

Several years, and some stray additions later, Clayton began to act funny. I don't remember why we first took him to the doctor, but I think it was these sores he would get in his fur. We figured he probably just had some kind of dermatitis or something from his frolicking sessions in the backyard as he watched my father build a new shed. Turns out it was something far worse.

Clayton had AIDS.

Most people think AIDS is something reserved for humans and monkeys, but actually cats have developed their own type of immuno-deficiency disorder, FIV. We don't know how long he had had it, but we figured he got it in the few months the previous owner had dumped him on the street.

We were faced with the tough decision of whether or not to put Clayton down. The thing is, aside from the blisters, Clayton really had an amazing quality of life. He was already neutered so.. We didn't have to worry about that. While he was playful he was far from aggressive so he wouldn't be fighting anyone either. And if he was going to expose any of the other cats to it, well.. The cat was beyond out of the bag at this point.

My mom called my dad who was once again on the road and asked him what to do in this situation. Like any patient with AIDS, Clayton would need constant medical attention and treatment, including Depo Medrol shots and two years of Baytril pulse therapy…So after some discussion with our vet, my parents vowed to do everything they could to ensure quality of life for this animal that had become the glue that held this family together. They also promised that if that quality of life ever dimmed to nothingness, they would do the right thing and end his suffering.

Two years later, we had tackled 30 or so depo shots and had seen our share of ups and downs like anyone that has a serious illness like Clayton's. The smallest cuts or infections needed to be tended to like medical emergencies simply because his health was beyond compromised. But he was still Clayton, even on his down days. He’d do funny things to make us laugh, sit outside with us on the swing when the weather was nice, and cuddle with us when life got tough.

Then the other day, my mom noticed Clayton wasn't touching his food. Not the canned stuff, the carved turkey. He even snubbed his nose at the bite of filet was offered. So my mom loaded him up and took him to our vet.

This time however was different. He didn't necessarily look sick, just tired. His heart rate was a little off, but he still looked like Clayton. The vets ran a bunch of blood work to test all of his levels and make sure the depo shots hadn't thrown off any of his systems’ functions. They monitored him for a few hours, and when all seemed fine they sent him home.

That night however, things turned for the worse. Clayton had made a bed for himself in a pile of jackets he found in my dad’s office and seemed reasonably content. Until sometime in the middle of the night when he let out a loud shriek, and bolted from the room. His cries woke my mother who found him shaking uncontrollably and seemingly scared beneath the dining room table. She picked him up and wrapped him in a towel, and held him close. She knew this was not good.

She went and got my father, and told him to come quick.

Clayton was dying.

The two of them sat there, in the dark of night holding their adopted son until he took his last breath.

He was gone.

Since I've been working long hours on my movie, and sleeps been fairly elusive, my mother sent me a text telling me what had happened. I didn't find it til an hour or so later, when I checked my phone.

Tears began to roll down my cheeks, and I excused myself from the set. Seeing how upset I was, the director called our shoot for the remainder of the night and said we would pick up the next day. I went home, sat in my bed, and cried.

My sister and my grandmother both found out in the morning when they woke up to my dad digging a hole out in the backyard. Clayton had loved to be outside, and to hide in the shed while my dad did yard work, so next to the shed seemed only appropriate.

That day we laid to rest one of the most influential members of our family. We had played Russian roulette of treatments 33 times, and the 33rd was our last. We fought every step with him against an illness he got through no fault of his own, only that he had been originally placed with a crappy owner. But at least his misfortunes with her, led him to meeting us. Otherwise we may have never have been fortunate enough to have a chance to love him.

My family has seen its ups and downs through the past few years, but Clayton was one of those hems that kept things from falling apart at the seams. Because as much as Clayton needed us for treatment, we needed him to be a part of our lives more. He touched even the most stoic of hearts in my father, and somehow got him to see beyond his cat loathing ways. He was the goodwill ambassador of cats. The guy that kept the peace between the rest of the feline brood and my dad, that really wasn't all that big of a fan. He had this weird way of sensing our moods and knowing how to cheer all of us up. I think that's why he held on as long as he did. He loved life, outdoors, and sliced turkey. But more importantly he loved all of us. If Clayton taught me anything in my adult life, it's to cherish every moment you have with someone, man, woman or pet. Because pets aren't just animals, they become family. Maybe that's why this one hurt so badly. Clayton wasn't just some cat. He was a brother, a son, and a companion even despite all his hardships.

Some things in life you just can't replace. Clayton will always be one of them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Timing

I've dated plenty of amazing people since my first date at 15 years old. Hell, I didn't get my first kiss 'til I was 16. By today’s standards, I think that makes me a late bloomer, or possibly just extremely prude. Whatever, I went through an awkward stage, don't judge me!

Now, 10 years later.. I'm celebrating my ten year anniversary. My reunion of boyfriends past. There have been plenty of amazing candidates that, given a different circumstance -- a different time, a different place-- they'd have made excellent life partners in crime. But for one reason or another they simply didn't work out.

I have my dating ups and downs like anyone else, but the last major relationship I had really opened my eyes to something. Maybe that's because he thinks this new girl he is seeing could be "the one."

I'm not sure I believe in the whole concept of "the one:" the idea that there is only one person out there that we’re supposed to mesh with. So if you don't find them, you're doomed to wander the Earth the rest of your years.. alone.

In fact, I come from the school of thinking that it’s all about timing. Men don't necessarily marry the best woman for them, more likely the woman at the best time for them. The high school girlfriend may have put up with you and varsity football practice for four years. Your serious college girlfriend endured countless drunken mishaps with you for two. I mean, these women paid their dues. But unless the guy is at the point in his life he feels he can honestly settle down, then it’s really just time wasted.

I can think of one instance in my own life where this case is more than likely true. You may remember this guy from another blog I wrote last November… “The 27 Dresses” guy. He has since been dating the girl I selflessly helped him score. And I haven’t seen him since.

To better understand the situation, I have to give you a little bit of background. The way things ended with the two of us was.. Bizarre. Because they didn't necessarily end, they just went on an extended vacation without notice. Luckily enough for him I'm not the kind of girl to hold grudges, so we remain close friends. I’d be lying, however, if I said I didn't get a little messed up every time we ran into one another. That's because there's still a ton of lingering feelings and tension. For both of us. Too bad were both too career focused and busy to ever really put forth a concerted effort to ask questions or try make it work. When we lived in the same town, it had a chance, but now that were a two and a half hour plane ride away? Well, $hit was nearly impossible.

So imagine my surprise when I found out he was in town this past week and wanted to catch up. Sounded innocent enough. I mean, we were after all friends. That is, until I saw him coming down his hotel escalator, grinning from ear to ear. He had actually managed to put on a nice collared shirt, which for him is practically dressed for a gala at the Moma. And damn him.. He looked better than I remembered.

Then the little voice inside my head bitch slapped my subconscious.

Easy Sterg. We've already been here before, and he's broken our heart more times than the Mets (which in this case is somehow, ironic).

So we set off on our night’s quest: to find the last few minutes of the Houston/Lakers game, and grab a few drinks. Only neither of us knew Times Square. What was supposed to be a quick walk under awnings, turned into a long walk in the rain. At least I had been smart enough to bring my hoodie. Him on the other hand?? Well, I never said he was a brain surgeon.

There we were, running in the rain, dodging puddles, and trying our damnedest to find some obscure sports bar with the game on. But everything within walking distance had closed. So we ended up at a random bar, in a random part of midtown, with no sports scores to distract us. And then, things got awkward.

It’s hard to put up a poker face when the person staring back at you is just as capable at playing the same games you can. They’re just as capable of pulling the same BS, and they know your next move sometimes even before you do. We were just like Rocky and Apollo. We made for great sparring partners, trusted companions, and sometimes.. Even lovers. (Ok, well.. Maybe not the last part, but you totally understood where I was going with that. Then again, there was that one weird beach workout montage. :::shakes head to erase image:::)

First, comes the small talk: about jobs, about family, about pets. And then, about dating. He informed me he was still seeing the girl I helped set him up with, but wasn't really happy. The girl he had built up in his head as some dream girl was proving to be a colossal headache. I, on the other hand, was still single, and while I wasn't happy, I've just been entirely too busy to date anyone. As the alcohol flowed, he quickly began to unload his baggage on me.

"She picks fights with me in public and you know I can't stand my business out there like that. She gets obsessed with being seen, and the drama, and.. don't get me started about money. I dunno Jenn. You were just never like that. You were the kinda girl that was content with blue jeans and a baseball hat, and a six pack of beer. We never had to impress each other. And you enjoy your privacy as much as I do.”

"So, why stick with it if you're not happy?” I asked. “It’s not like you're the kinda guy that has trouble getting girls. You just tend to fall for the wrong ones."

He nodded shamefully and took a swig from his Jack and coke.

"You’re right. I need a girl that has her own thing going on. This one just has too much time on her hands, and she's driving me crazy. I mean she tried to move in with me! I got news for her, $hit ain't happening. I mean, I don’t want to date someone whose only ambition is to be a club rat. Sometimes Jenn, I just dunno if I want a girlfriend. Other times I think, maybe this one just isn't the one."

I'm thinking. Well, duh you moron. He never seemed to know what he wanted. He just always wanted whatever he thought he couldn’t have. But, part of knowing someone the way we know each other.. is understanding the parts of the person that no one else sees. He really needed someone that understood him, his quirks, his obsession for Guitar Hero, and his demanding career. He and I have been down this road many-a-times. He just always ended up being distracted along the way, too much to see what's been right in front of him all along.

I could see the wheels in his brain turning, and the poor hamster doing its best to keep up.

“So,” he asked, “what about you??.. Any new developments in the love life department?”

"HA. Hardly. And if it makes you feel any better,” I conceded, “you were right about THAT guy too. He was clearly just out for a piece, but at least you warned me before it was too late."

"Yeah, I'm sorry Jenn. It’s just, you’re genuinely a good person. I just didn’t want to see you get hurt again. People talk, and I had heard a few things. I just felt like you should know what you were getting into. I felt like $hit telling you. But, its better you found out now before it got serious, right?"

"Yeah, I guess"

He clearly had more to say, but he’s never been the greatest of communicators. Then again, what men really are??

Last call came and went rather quickly, and the two of us walked back to his hotel. The silences were long.. And again, very awkward. I mean, what are two people in this position supposed to say?

Finally, I'd had enough of the bull$hit.

I turned to him and said, "Look, we both know there is something there. We end up in this same place, same predicament every time, with the same result: both of us messed up in the head. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome. I’ll always be there for you, but I'm tired of being your life coach while some other girl reaps all the benefits. So we can continue to pretend like this conversation never happened if it helps you to sleep at night, but me? I'm tired of denying the obvious."

I kissed his cheek, wished him well, and turned to walk away. He just stood there, once again dumbfounded. I continued my walk home in the rain by myself sans umbrella, but for some strange reason I didn’t really mind. In the course of your adult life you’re bound to encounter a storm or two, you just have to learn to dance in the rain. Here I was, just embracing it. After all, life isn’t just about the things you do, but the things that simply happen to you. I’m not saying you can’t take action to affect the outcome, but I do know that on any given day you can step out your front door, and your whole life can change. That’s because the universe has a plan for all of us. And that plan is always in motion. It’s scary how all these seemingly little things all add up to make sure you end up at exactly the right place, at the right time… right where you we always supposed to be.

My time in New York may not have worked out exactly the way I had planned, but it was all leading me to my next journey, right? Life had thrown me a couple of curve balls, but I was somehow still in the game. And there was no doubt in my mind that this would not be our last at bat. It was simply the end of another inning. There would always be a next time. And who knows?? Maybe then things would be different. Maybe it would be the right place, and the right time… where things would all make better sense. For both of us. Because it’s really all about the timing, isn't it?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Fear Factor

For years, I've defined myself as the guy’s girl. I can eat like the boys, drink like the boys, talk like the boys, and certainly keep up with the boys. I live for the thrill of the wind in my hair, the rush of adrenaline through my veins, and the occasional bump or bruise I may get in the process.

But, I haven't always been this way. If you had asked my mother 10 years ago to describe her daughter, she’d no doubt come up with tons of adjectives: creative, sensitive, caring, selfless, introverted. But she'd have never come up with bold, physical, or daring.. And certainly not fearless. I was tentative about big presentations, speeches, playing sports.. You name it. Except for bowling, and music.

Aside from physical traits like my asthma and sheer lack of coordination that kept me from bending it like Beckham, I think the real barrier I encountered was fear. Fear of embarrassment, failure.. You name it. So I was constantly playing the role of benchwarmer and wallflower. I wasn't the girl that "got the guy," I was the best friend that just wanted them to be happy. It just felt safer. I was already an outcast at school, the type of girl the popular kids used for their personal amusement.. But that's another blog.

The past few years though, I've come to realize just how little I do in terms of pushing myself. I was so used to playing it safe I was depriving myself of life altering experiences. So one day I had enough, and decided.. If I've only got one life to live, I better do this right. I worked out harder, took chances, dared to be bold.. both emotionally and physically. White water rafting, stock car driving, the ‘bolder the better’ became my motto. And I've been pushing myself ever since. My two most recent fear factors were much more psychological barriers, but it didn’t make conquering them any easier.

I was recently cast in this horror film to be shot in and around NYC. The director is also an amazing self-taught effects artist that also happens to have a niche in cinematography. I took the role mainly because it’s a really well written script, and an extremely physical role. Lots of fighting, lots of gore, lots of running-- less screaming. I didn't want to play a victim that just sat there as she was disemboweled or gutted like a fish. Sorry Drew Barrymore. Instead, I wanted to play a fighter. A strong woman who uses her emotional issues in her day-to-day life as a way of combating the supernatural evils she encounters on when else.. Halloween.

And then, there were clowns. Ever since I was in second grade I have had a ridiculous fear of clowns, chainsaws.. and anything that went bump in the night. I think it stems back to my parents taking me to Halloween Horror Nights when I was far too young to appreciate the artistry that went into the scaracatures makeup, or understand that it was in fact.. Faker than Donald Trump's comb-over. Instead of enjoying the Halloween festivities, I spent the majority of the night perched on my dad’s shoulders like the lookout muskrat-- in charge of pointing out predators in masks waiting to scare unsuspecting park visitors. Pretty traumatizing experience to say the least.

So, imagine the shudders that went down my back when I arrived at set and my co star was already hours deep in the makeup chair. I had never met Sid (that’s his real name) before, and now the person looking back at me through bloodshot yellowed eyes.. Was “Art.” And boy was he a piece of it. Bloodied and bruised down to the fingernails, covered in scabs and cakey clown makeup we sat face to face. I won't lie. Taking pictures with him was downright painful, I even considered calling my therapist. And this was before we stepped foot on set. We still had to work together. It was going to be a long, long day.

Because of his prosthetic rotted teeth, Sid was unable to speak to me. There was no fun playful set banter. Just the creepy stares and even creepier smiles. As we wrapped for the day, Sid and I returned to our respective dressing areas to remove our makeup and costuming. An hour later, we both emerged our regular street clothes wearing selves. He was a simple kid from Brooklyn, with a passion for scary movies. But Sid was certainly nothing to be scared of.

My second round against my fears came early Thursday morning. I recently signed on with a major beverage distributor as a national spokesmodel. These roles are typically saved for big time baller athletes with sick dance moves and bad ass personas, but these guys chose to go a different route. They reserved the bad ass athletes for use in their particular regional markets, and instead wanted a strong bad ass sports-loving girl as their main face, the one they'd use in their commercials and all their nationwide print ads. And they chose.. Yours truly. I was beyond ecstatic and flattered and jumped at the chance to work with such a reputable and huge name like theirs.

Then, I got the call.

"Hey Jenn, we were wondering.. You're not by chance afraid of snakes are you?"

Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? I can deal with the dangerous, the poisonous, the sharp toothed.. But the creepy crawly??

My inner team player though agreed to put on my best gameface and give it a shot. Suit up Short Round. Were off on an adventure!!!

The next day I touched down in Dallas, and was ushered away to my photoshoot.

Apparently I wasn't the only one shooting my part of the campaign that day, as I was greeted by a few members of the Dallas Cowboys and an entire staff of hair and makeup and creative assistants. There in the middle of the room against a grey backdrop was linebacker Demarcus Ware, giving the camera his best mean face imaginable.. Which I found quite comical given the fact Demarcus was a remarkably polite and soft spoken guy. After tons of introductions I was sent to hair and makeup, where I was doused in more hairspray than John Travolta in drag. An hour later when I emerged, I was no longer Jenn Sterger ‘girl next door ‘in her tracksuit. I was Barbarella 2.0 with hair to match. Just when my nerves had finally settled, my co-stars arrived.

Their names were Aussie and Neon. Aussie was a Australian tree climber of some sort, while Neon was an albino boa. I watched as people passed them throughout the studio, and let them crawl and wrap themselves around their necks, arms, waists.. You name it. They seemed calm and relatively docile, but me? I still wanted no part in this. Damn it! Why I hadn't I put Valium on my Rider??

If there is one thing I pride myself on, it’s being a girl of my word. I promised them a bad ass snake picture and damn it. That's what they were gonna get.

I started with Aussie, figuring he would be the easier one of the two. But I soon discovered this was not so. Because he was a tree climber, he was not content just sitting there. He was constantly looking for higher ground. And for me that meant... In my face. I was fine with him around my shoulders or wrapped on my arm.. But my face?? C’mon man!!

I tapped out when I felt Aussie's tongue touch my cheek. So I asked we replace him with his other friend Neon, who by the way happened to weigh about 75 pounds and could easily have eaten my cat. I tried to zone out as they strategically wrapped neon around my legs and brought the rest of him up to my arms. Neon was much more content just chilling… for a few minutes anyway. Then, I felt his tongue against the inside of my leg. I shrieked.

“Um excuse me.. Neon! That's third base! I don't even know you like that... We're not on that level!”

2 hours of Britney Spears greatest hits later, we had our shots! Sexy, yet strong. And just the look they were going for.

I had survived my snake encounter, my face to face with a clown. But could I match my scariest opponent yet? My own feelings.

Many times I've found myself in certain scenarios that dare me to be bold, and while I may have become better at conquering physical fears, I still have not mastered my emotional ones. If you read my last blog, you know that I was in a state of turmoil over this friend of mine, Hmm Hmm, who I had discovered I had feelings for. After reading through all of your advice, it dawned on me that I was really scared of nothing. So what if I got rejected? At least I would know where he and I both stand. So.. I told him the truth...

But, again… that, is for another blog.

Sometimes we really have nothing to fear but fear itself. And we hype up all of these insecurities and flaws we have for no reason. For so long I was afraid to live my life to the fullest, but I'm working to change all that. I've learned so much lately, all because I was willing to take a chance. I learned that clowns are people too, just with really overzealous makeup artists. I learned that snakes are something to respect, but certainly not be afraid of. Unless it's the John Voight/JLo variety, in which case you’re on your own buddy. And I learned that sometimes you just gotta go all in and take a chance on someone. Sometimes you'll go belly up, but other times you'll take the house. Regardless though.. You took a chance, and showed your fears (and Tony Danza) who's the boss.

And that has made you all the stronger. I had conquered my demons... And lived to tell about it. Now, it’s your turn.