Recently, my spouse and I moved into a new apartment. Our new neighbor showed up randomly that weekend. He’d brought us milk and some snacks. He was so polite about the whole thing. Huge red flag. I became suspicious immediately. Bae chatted with him a few minutes while I fought back rage tears over my broken desk. The movers we hired had done a shit job with our cheap ass furniture from Target. See, that made sense in my book: you hire someone, and they fuck up your stuff. Someone bringing me free milk? This scenario held no place in my worldview.
Even now, I still look at the guy funny when we pass in the stairs. What am I supposed to say? “Hey, that was some great fucking milk the other month. Best milk I ever had. So tell me, do you always go whole, or was that just a splurge for us?”
Would we have an extended conversation about milk that gradually moved on to the weather, then personal stuff, and then he was going to confess the last thing his mom ever told him, before the accident, was to pick up some milk?
In short, I just wasn’t sure what I was committing myself to by drinking any of the milk. By obtaining my own, I kept my freedom. This guy owned no piece of my soul. I was my own woman.
Something similar happened last week, on my birthday. My students bought me gourmet coffee. I came into my classroom and saw a gift bag on the desk with a card. I did my absolute best to thank them, but I didn’t open the bag. It was awkward. I mean, what if they hadn’t actually gotten me anything? What if they’d just signed a card and then stuffed it in a bag with a bunch of tissue paper to look pretty?
That would be pretty humiliating. You know? For a professor to rummage around an empty gift bag in front of all her students. So I just said thanks and kept glancing at it for about 3 hours while we talked about Derrida. When they all had left, I searched the bag and found the coffee. To ease my guilt, I snapped a picture and shared it on my boring ass Facebook page.
Maybe this all stems back to my childhood. At the age of six, somehow I found out about Roger Rabbit and developed an obsession. My parents promised to get me a stuffed one. Every morning for about a month, I woke up at 6 am and searched the entire house. Truth? I never got that fucking rabbit. Ever. In fact, my mom snapped one day after I’d asked for the 20th time. “Nobody is buying you a fucking rabbit, okay?” For about fifteen minutes, she raged through the house and I hid in the closet. You feel so sorry for me now. Right? Don’t. At least I had food.
Last year, I was walking down a sidewalk at a conference. A woman accosted me and asked for $20 to buy baby formula. She seemed distraught. People have told me I’m a fool for giving money to strangers on the street. But I always do. Not twenty bucks. Usually a couple of bills. This time, there was something in her face that convinced me she needed that money. I didn’t even have cash on me, so we went down to an ATM. It was late, maybe 10 pm. The whole time, I worried that her friend might appear and whack me over the head. It was completely possible the whole thing was a lie, but there was no way in hell I was going to sleep knowing I’d ignored someone who might’ve been telling the truth. It turned out fine. She even wanted to hug me. Yeah, it was awkward. But we hugged and she cried. And then she left. If she was lying, then she deserved $20 for her acting skills.
So what’s that all about? I can trust someone in those kinds of situations, but someone offering me a half-gallon of milk poses a huge problem. At one point, I almost poured the whole container down the sink. Maybe I should ask a therapist about my distrust of milk. Nah, who am I kidding? My health insurance wouldn’t cover that.
Anyway, let’s get back to the dairy. My spouse put the milk in the fridge, and later that night I drew on it with a sharpie. “Not our milk.” At some point, I went out to buy a separate half gallon. My boyfriend asked me why. “I don’t trust it,” I said. “Who does that? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
We learned a lot about each other that weekend. Over those few days, he poured the milk in his cereal and shit while I eyed him, waiting to see if his mouth frothed. Don’t look at me like that. Even then, I knew the milk was safe. But I couldn’t bring myself to drink it. This voice, reminiscent of my paranoid schizophrenic mom, kept telling me I knew nothing about our neighbor. Poison aside, what was this guy’s angle? Why bring us milk of all things? It didn’t seem rational. Kindness from strangers? What the fuck is all that about? My mind can’t process random generosity from other people. And yet, I still seem capable of it sometimes. That’s good to know.