Friday, October 3, 2014

Greetings From The Dark Side

My latest story:
Greetings From The Dark Side

I share this next story out of a love for humanity, yes I mean YOU, you and yours, and may this be a cautionary tale about the danger of Thank You cards.

I have an aunt, whom I will call Aunt Dottie. Dottie and I had an unspoken agreement by which we were related on paper but never saw each other. The last time I'd seen her was at my high school graduation, over 25 years ago. Since that time she had continued to send me a small gift on my birthday and at Christmas and each time I'd send her a Thank You card, or thank you letter of some kind and every Christmas I'd send her a card.

Now true, as an adult you might think I could reciprocate by sending HER gifts in return but for whatever reason, I never started doing that and so not doing that became the habit. In the world of my aunt and I, I am effectively nine years old.

She actually lives less than 25 minutes away so you might imagine we'd see each other but neither of us has ever had the idea to mention this. What can I tell you, some families are warmer than others.

In any case, three years ago my Aunt Dottie ticked me off big time. I never minded sending a Thank You card but then again, it was my idea to send one, unprompted, within 4-5 days of getting a gift. There was no stress involved; it felt like an honest, friendly thing. And so I put a thank you in the mail for Dottie, which she was going to receive four days after I got her gift. Whatever it says about my upbringing, I still maintain this was a speedy enough thank you.

But the same day I mailed out her thank you, Dottie changed the game.

After work I came home to find a message on my answering machine. I still had a land line and my answering machine played the messages out loud, into the room. My aunt was in her car, talking on her cell phone, sounding falsely concerned but mostly griping about if I had received her gift (i.e., why had she not gotten a thank you yet). She went on about this for a minute or two and then said goodbye and believed she had hung up her phone.

She hadn't. And so my answering machine continued to record her conversation with my uncle and I heard my aunt's tone change instantly as she described me as an "ungrateful bitch" who was late in sending the thank you. I could hear my uncle making feeble attempts to defend me which resulted in him getting yelled at as well. Several minutes of this recording went on, which although accidental, still changed my feelings for my aunt.

Actually, when I went to send her a thank you I discovered I had no stationery, no blank notecards of any kind, not even notebook paper and envelopes and I was tapped out due to the holiday. I did have several extra Christmas cards though, so I decided to be amusing and practical at the same time and sent her a second card and inside the card I began: I'm sorry I don't have any thank you cards so I guess you're getting a second Christmas card to say I continue to send you Christmas wishes and to thank you for the beautiful bracelet.

I included two or three paragraphs, warmly thanking her for her thoughtfulness. The exact same paragraphs I would have included in a thank you card or letter. In my mind, this counted as a thank you.

She received this Thursday. On Saturday I received a manilla envelope from her which contained three blank Thank You cards with envelopes and a package of stamps and numerous address labels for my aunt. There was no note of explanation but then again, no note was needed.

I'm a female. I speak fluent female bitchery. This was her way of saying my thank you had NOT been accepted and instructing me how to do it properly and without any excuses of not having her address or postage.

At this point, men and women are reading this story differently. The men, I imagine, are thinking, hmm that's pretty weird. The women hear an entirely different story. The women right now are saying, Oh No She Didn't. Because you see women do this all the time. Women fire opening shots sometimes right over the heads of men who remain oblivious. To you men, all I can say is: male fights last seven minutes. Female fights last DECADES.

You see, we have a hard drive. Everything goes on the hard drive. Most especially in regard to other women, who are held to a higher standard because we know THEY also have the hard drive. True, we keep track of male bad behavior, but it's in its own category.

Whether fair or unfair, be glad you're in a different category. True it may mean we're factoring in that you're monkeys, that you are less accountable, less thoughtful by nature, less able to empathize. Less less less. Don't take that bad, take it good. It means we continue to deal with you. It means you live to try again another day.

I can hear some men sounding sarcastic at this moment, saying "Well gee, thank you", and you should thank us. Because a female with a grudge is a terrifying thing. Seriously, be so glad for that Y chromosome pal, because without it, your world would be a different place.

Go find a female who has a beef with another female. Now ask her when the ORIGINAL problem started. Tell yourself to keep a straight face. You'll probably learn that the ORIGINAL slight happened years and years ago and involved either a funny tone of voice or a kind of funny look on someone's face. Something a male would have never registered to begin with.

Often the comment that begins female wars is this: Hmm. You read that correctly. One woman will say something and the other one will respond by simply saying Hmm. But it's all in the tone. When a bitchy tone is applied to Hmm it changes the meaning and becomes F*** You.

Every woman reading this is nodding her head right at this moment.

You see women, for whatever reason, are less likely to come right out with what they mean because then they'd be held accountable for that opinion, or thought of differently because they said it straight out. We're taught, from childhood on, that this is how you express F*** You. You say Hmm. In that tone. It is instantly recognizable to every female over the age of about eight years old. You hear that Hmm, you duck for cover because a war just started. Every female in the room will immediately make the same translation. There is no confusion. On their own hard drives they'll be marking the time and day this particular war began because they know they'll be sharing the information later, with other females.

If there are men in the room they will be completely clueless anything has occurred. They'll ask what time the game starts or will stir their coffee.

Usually the person who just responded with Hmm will then say some neutral sounding sentence, but one which will jibe with her Hmm. Then the first woman will often respond with Hmm and a crossing of the legs. This is upping the ante and is translated into Oh Yeah Well F*** You and F*** your MOTHER.

Later on the women may try to get support from the men, will remind them of how that woman said Hmm and the men will be bewildered: "What? She said Hmm? How is that bad?" Trying to explain will be useless. The men, if they cannot offer support, will usually tread gently because they at least understand that something of importance took place and they don't want to be punished.

I'm in my mid forties and have several female friends who are still immediately, actively pissed about verbal slights from other females they received prior to the sixth grade.

I digress. My point is, when I received the manilla envelope full of the silent scolding and the unspoken demand for a SECOND thank you, and this time a proper one, I put my foot down. I had sent her a genuine thank you. Whether on a Christmas card or Thank You card or scribbled on the back of a racing form, a heartfelt thank you is a thank you and that's what is supposed to matter.

I refused to send her a second thank you or to acknowledge that she had sent the thank you cards to me. Take that. On the hard drive. Merry damn Christmas.

So this incident passed and then for two years we were on the same program, with one major difference. Each time I received anything from my aunt I was instantly filled with stress, worried I wouldn't get the thank you in the mail quickly enough. Before I could even finish unwrapping the gift I was mentally planning when I needed to get her thank you in the mail. This made me dread hearing from her and made me actively dislike even the thought of her.

Last year she changed things up. Out of nowhere she sent me a Thanksgiving card.

Just a word here, I do not send Thanksgiving cards. I think they're an iffy thing and not something I want to become associated with. I tend to think people who send them are Martha Stewart show offs with too much time on their hands who are using a holiday as an occasion to make the rest of us feel uncivilized. I don't want to even begin to be the kind of person who sends out Thanksgiving cards because once you start, you've set a precedent and have to send them forever and also because if I sent them I'd be making the recipients feel horrible.

Not to mention, she lives 25 minutes away and could have actually INVITED me to Thanksgiving DINNER instead of sending me a card. Really the card seemed to be a way of saying: Hi, we aren't inviting you to Thanksgiving, hope someone gives you turkey.

Please don't defend the Thanksgiving cards. Truly, if there's a situation where you are communicating with a loved one who would be welcome at your table but for urgent reasons cannot be there (SUCH AS FIGHTING IN A WAR OVERSEAS) then you send your greetings in a letter. Taking the time to purchase a Thanksgiving card to mail prior to the holiday means you took the time to think about how you aren't inviting them to eat dinner with you and you wanted to be sure to let them know. It's the most backhanded greeting card of all time.

But because it came from my aunt, I was gripped with anxiety about whether I needed to send a thank you for the Thanksgiving card. Running to the store to purchase my own Thanksgiving cards was not an option, as I had already taken a moral stand against it (see paragraph above). Because I wanted to end my own stress as quickly as possible, I gave in and sent her a proper Thank You card, which contained several handwritten paragraphs thanking her for the Thanksgiving card. Sometimes you do what you have to do.

Then she sent me a Thank You card for my Thank You card.

This made me do two things: curse out loud, standing at my mailbox, and wonder if I was supposed to now send her a thank you for her thank you for my thank you for the original unwanted and unliked and resented Thanksgiving card.

Which, by the way, should not exist.

I sent no further messages in the mail. Someone needs to draw the line on the overthanking. Which in this case wasn't even overthanking or genuine thanking, it was pure fear and resentment.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a birthday gift from my aunt. Stationery with stamps. I understood. I immediately dashed her off a thank you letter.  It's going out in today's mail. Not that I felt any happiness doing so but only because I had been scolded NO NO BAD DOG and trained to do so. Because Thank You cards are now flaming arrows. Because of the hard drive. Because we're women and we're family.

Amie Ryan is the author of essay collections GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU and STARFISH ON THURSDAY and the Marilyn Monroe biography MARILYN: LOVED BY YOU which was a #1 bestseller in its category on both Amazon US and Amazon UK. To learn more, please visit