This weekend, I began reading “Plan B” by Jonathan Tropper, one of my absolute favorite authors. I actually just discovered him in the past year, and you may remember that I’ve quoted him here before. Early on in the novel, the main character Ben meets his love interest Lindsey, and during their first real conversation, Lindsey shares what she calls her “Peanut Story.”
She says, “When I was thirteen months old, I found a peanut on the living room floor and tried to eat it. It got stuck in my throat and I began to choke. My mother heard me and stuck her fingers down my throat to try to get it out, but it was in too deep. By the time the paramedics came I had stopped breathing, and my face was as purple as a wine grape. They resuscitated me in the ambulance, got the peanut out, whatever. By the time we got to the hospital, I was fine. My mother was a wreck, though, and some asshole doctor gave her hell and told her she was an irresponsible mother and that I could have died and it would have been her fault.
“Anyway, I had a bit of a behavior problem toward the end of elementary school and in high school. You know, mouthing off to teachers, staying out all night, a lot of boyfriends. Just your general adolescent bullshit, I guess. But whenever I got into trouble my grandmother would always trace it back to the day I swallowed that peanut. She said my mother was never the same after that. She grew more and more distant from me, like she was afraid or had no right to show me any real love, because she’d almost killed me. I know my mother never yelled at me or punished me. My friends thought she was so cool, you know? I think that night at the hospital she decided she didn’t have the ability to be a parent. And my acting out was this pathetic attempt to try to shake her out of it, to force her to step in and punish me. To actually be my mom, you know? I sometimes think about what might have been if the peanut thing never happened. Anyway, that’s my Peanut Story.”
Reading this passage made me think about the validity of Peanut Stories. Everyone has a defining story from their past, something that completely changed the course of their life. I started to wonder what my Peanut Story is. The first thing that came to mind was the way my ex fiancé and I first became serious.
In July 2003, I had just finished high school and was working as a telemarketer, saving money before I started college that fall. This job was incredibly lucrative – I had a knack for it, and this was before the “Do Not Call” list, so phone sales was not nearly as hard as it is today. In fact, I was making at least $3,000 a month working only part-time. It with this job that I was able to purchase, and pay off, a brand new car in less than a year.
The only problem I had with this job was that I had a tough time fitting in at the call center. The majority of my fellow employees were black or Hispanic, and I was one of maybe three dozen white employees (out of 400 total employees). I didn’t have a problem with this; growing up a military brat I’d seen all colors, shapes and sizes, and easily looked past race. However, I was a top performer and a minority in the building, and that seemed to rub some people the wrong way. I experienced a great deal of racial tension and disrespect, and there were several times that I was accused of falsifying my sales, and getting away with it because I was white.
It all came to a head one night during a normal team meeting. My colleague Chantelle kept interrupting our supervisor as she was trying to give us direction regarding a new sales promotion we would be selling that night. Chantelle was simply trying to drag out the meeting because she didn’t feel like getting on the phones. However, I was in my last weeks at this job before I headed to college. I needed to be on the phones – being on the phones equaled sales. Sales equaled commission. I needed every dollar possible to pay for my college tuition, especially since I would no longer be working as a telemarketer once I went to school. After about 10 minutes of Chantelle delaying the meeting, and the entire team getting incredibly frustrated, I spoke up.
I said something along the lines of, “Chantelle, can you please quiet down so that we can get on the phones already?” I will never forget the look Chantelle gave me after those words left my mouth. Chantelle and I had argued about work-related issues a few times before, but she had never looked at me with such hatred. In fact, while we’d argued in the past, we’d also had several moments of pseudo-friendship. What I didn’t know at the time was that Chantelle was really into drugs and her boyfriend was a drug dealer. Had I know all of that, I might have kept my mouth shut.
Chantelle didn’t say another word. We wrapped up the meeting and got on the phones. It was an otherwise normal night.
At around 11:30 p.m., I left work and began to walk to my car. The entire front of the building was made of glass, and two security guards sat at the entrance to monitor the parking lot, as well as those coming in and out. I felt safe – I had made this same walk a hundred times.
I was wrong. About halfway to my car, Chantelle and about five of her friends (male and female) jumped me and beat me to the ground. The security guards stood inside behind the panes of glass, watched it all and did absolutely nothing to intervene. I lay on the ground bleeding, and I remember hearing Chantelle say, “I know what you drive. I know where you live. Don’t you fu** with me again.”
This was probably the scariest moment of my entire life. While nothing was broken and I escaped with only bad bruises and a few cuts, Chantelle’s words paralyzed me with fear. I was so scared that I didn’t want to go to the police. All I wanted was to get the hell out of Newport News.
My supervisor heard about what happened and encouraged me to file a report with management, and shortly after, Chantelle was fired. I was terrified of the repercussions of turning her in. I felt like I was going to break my neck from looking over my shoulder so much, and I couldn’t fathom going back to work.
I had just started seeing my ex fiancé. He was eight years older than me, established in his career and made plenty of money. I told him how frightened I was to go back to work, but that I had to return because I needed the money to pay for tuition. I felt like I had no options.
When we went on our first date to Busch Gardens the weekend after I was jumped, he told me I was beautiful, even as my face had bruises along one side and my eyes felt permanently swollen from days of tears. He hugged me and made me feel safe, and told me that everything would be OK.
And then he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: he offered to give me whatever money I would have made in my last two weeks telemarketing, if I would instead quit my job and go to the beach with him for a week.
He was like my knight in shining armor. He was helping me escape the fear that had taken over my life. He had given me an out when I desperately needed one.
So, I quit my job and never stepped foot in that building again. I headed to the beach happily, feeling like I was part of some whirlwind romance. During that trip, things became serious. And that began a seven-year relationship and almost walk down the aisle. What that also began was a dependent relationship with which I’m just now coming to terms. My ex was always my savior, my support, the person I could turn to with my troubles. He helped me financially for years, because he was able and generous with his money, but also because that was how our relationship was established.
I guess if we had gotten married and lived happily ever after, my Peanut Story would be how he saved me and got me out of a terrible situation, how he was always there for me (financially, emotionally and otherwise) and how in some ways, he completed me.
But we all know that’s not how it worked out. My Peanut Story now is how this man saved me and then I became dependent on him. He was my world. I am a naturally independent person, but I kept parts of myself locked up while I was with him. That independence couldn’t thrive while I viewed him as my savior. I couldn’t be independent if I knew he would always been there to catch me if I fell, to provide monetary assistance if I got into a bind, to buy me pretty things to show me he loved me. The roles in our relationship were established early: he took very good care of me (until the end anyway), treated me like gold, and after seven years together, I molded my personality and my life around his support.
And now that he’s out of my life, I have to figure out who I would have become without him. Who would I be today if I hadn’t relied on him for seven years?
I’m afraid that my new Peanut Story is that I had my heart shattered, cancelled a wedding, lost who I thought was the love of my life and I’m not sure I’ll ever believe in real love again. I now have baggage of which I’m struggling to let go. And, I’m just now beginning the hard work of figuring out who I am supposed to be – who I would have been – if my Peanut Story had been different.
This Sunday is one year from when we were supposed to get married. It really would have been a beautiful wedding. I thought it was going to be a beautiful life. I could spend days analyzing what could have been. But, I will not spend Sunday (or any other day) being sad and imagining the life I would have had if we had gone through with the wedding. I will spend it, and every day of the rest of my life, building a new Peanut Story.
What is your Peanut Story? Do you think we have the power to change these defining stories in our lives?