Dumping Grounds: A Vocabulary Lesson

This post was initially inspired by a conversation with a friend who’d just been dumped by her best friend. I’m no stranger to dumping–to being dumped that is. Even before I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2017, I was a pro! Now? Pfft.

The “cancer kiss-off” is nothing new. There’s actually a word for it: it’s called “cancer ghosting”.

But that isn’t what I sat down to write about. I’d intended to write about dumping in general. Ghosting. The practice of ducking out. Leaving fellow human beings stuck to deal with hollow echoes in their haunted hearts. “Wasn’t there something or someone here once? Like yesterday?”

I get that shit happens. Life changes. People move on and out. But I don’t get the phenomenon of “ghosting”–if I decide I’m done with someone, I take the time to tell them. I don’t just leave them hanging because I don’t don’t like dangling strings. Things that’ll trip you up. Or strangle you. And I don’t do disposables. I like to sew things up. Doors left hanging on their hinges are the most dangerous kind: I prefer to have them slammed in my face, or set ajar. Ripped off their hinges.

So my friend’s best friend began dating a guy who both of them knew. My friend couldn’t stand the guy. Especially after her best friend started dating him, and she went from seeing her friend 5 or 6 times a week to zero…she really couldn’t stand him. I thought it was a lousy thing to do. You don’t just throw your best friend out of your life because you’ve got a new beau. You don’t just drop someone. People are like teacups. They shatter when dropped. Talk to Sylvia Plath about sticking them back together with glue.

We spent an hour or two on a stroll through a quiet place. The fact that it happened to be a cemetery was incidental. Venting, mostly about dumping. My friend’s wounds were fresh. And deep. Dripping. The earth was there to absorb the drops. I didn’t mind. I shared some stories from of my own–tales I thought might be helpful to hear. Old wounds. Not fresh enough to well into tears with the very mention of them. But deep enough to cut to this day.

Afterward, I was planning to use the opportunity to pontificate about “ghosting” and “people dumping” in general. It’s a coward’s way out. The chickenshit’s guide to saying “piss off” without having to say it. Anyone who can’t muster the decency to tell someone WHY they’re getting the boot…to me that says more about the dumper, than it does about the dumpee.

In search of a meaningful segue way from our conversation into a blog post about “people-dumping” and “ghosting,” I did some googling. I was dumbfounded by the vocabulary lesson that Google spit out.

My word. Increasingly, I find the range of my vocabulary reduced to this “my word…”. It’s that moment where I am confronted with some knowledge about the world out there that seems so absurd as to leave me speechless.

My word. I discovered that “trauma dumping” was a thing.

Trauma dumping? Yeah, trauma dumping.

Who knew? Another thing people like me are supposed to be ashamed of? Another crime against the rules of polite society. Another overstep. Another boundary breach.

My word.

From the USA TODAY

“We all have that friend, who constantly talks about their problems without stopping to consider how others are feeling. And sometimes, a seemingly innocent conversation about relationship troubles will suddenly pivot into a much darker one about childhood trauma or toxic parents.

The USA TODAY article continues:

“Though openly talking about your trauma isn’t an issue in itself, Manly says a problem arises when serious information is “shared without permission, in an inappropriate place and time, and to someone who may not have had the capacity to take in this information.”

Yep. That would be me. Except that I do “stop to consider how others are feeling.” I know that the story of my life, from start to finish, makes most people uncomfortable–especially those people who share my educational background, my vocabulary, the socio-economic standing these things are often assumed to signal and signify. My story is shocking because the picture doesn’t fit the narrative.

OK. But “trauma dumping”? This goes beyond “my word.” We are now in “you have to be fucking kidding me”-territory. To share without permission? The stories about your life? Have we descended so far down the rabbit hole we need permission slips to talk about the experiences that have shaped our lives?

An old friend once told me I have the social skills of a dead ant. Like most of my friends from college, she hailed from an upper middle class background (emphasis on upper). I completed my Masters at an elite Ivy League school; later, my PhD at a state university, but….by the time you’re ABD, you can be fairly certain that people who share your experiences as a card-carrying member of the welfare class have been weeded out. So anything you have to say about your life is likely to fall into the category of “trauma dumping.” You need a permission slip to talk about where you grew up, how you grew up.

That, or you learn to lie. A lot. I’ve never been good at lying.

The alternative, I suppose, is to STFU. About everything except the flowers in your garden and the cats on your lap.

The surprise vocabulary lesson caught me off guard and wiped out my plans for writing about people dumping and ghosting. But I did manage to dredge up this little ditty–a undated piece from the past: definitely pre-cancer. I’ve always been ahead of the times. I was trauma dumping before it was fashionable to do so.

So there’s that.

Haute Couture


You couldn’t tell from looking at her,
that lady clad in lapis blue, her black leather
boots cringing  through the penultimate throes 
of winter’s wait on the wood-planked platform, 
thrust as she was against its slow-moving grain.

She was trying to catch the five-twenty
southbound, heading home, only six salt-sopped stops
away. Who could have known all she carried in black bags
slicing sharp as obsidian into the meager anvil of shoulders
laden in luxurious folds of lapis-hued merino and cashmere?

Stories. Her shrink says they’re all just stories. 
And the self-help books confirm it. Power to the pain! 
All hail the sufferings, deprivations, despairs
of the scarred, card-carrying underclassmen—
wounds inscribed in the color of skin: black, 

but not like her. She would wear stories on her sleeve--
screams of dreams devastated, not deferred. 
Bleak poems of a bleak world.  The words of
some lady in lapis on the platform with stories 
strapped  to her shoulder, cutting, and quick.

At lunch that day, a slice served to some unsuspecting 
stranger’s stab at casual conversation still sticks in his craw:
“So, where did you grow up?” he’d asked. 
“Oh, on the steel cot of jail cell, and you?”
So much for lunch. And leftovers for dinner: 

“Honey, someone asked me where I grew up …
I should have lied, should have politely supplied
the name of some town or another 
where I was supposed to have grown up.”
It would have been the right thing to do. Proper. 

You can’t let them know you never did. Grow up. 
Anywhere. Can’t let on that your bag is brimming with
things you weren’t entitled to have or to know, 
not ladies like you, layered in lapis and black leather,
clad in cashmere, merino and the lily white privilege of guilt by association:

The poverty, the addictions, the incarcerations. Cops crawling
through tenement windows, their footsteps padding
the flat tarpapered roof of the tavern below,
the rhythm of the train on the tracks 
that made you run, and run, and run again. 
From that place you called “home.” 
Always away, never toward, anyone or anything because there was
only this to run back to: the poverty, the addictions, the incarcerations. 

She carried contrabaggage on her shoulder: poverty, addiction, incarceration. 
Hands cuffed behind your back—the sight of yourself sniping at you from the rearview mirror of a cop car.  Bleak things she wouldn’t understand. 
She is standing on the platform, but it may as well be a maximum security facility 
for juvenile offenders, beside the industrial steel gray door in a row of doors, 

tooth brushes, extending like barbed wire from the hands of juvenile offenders, each 
rationed a quarter-inch strip of toothpaste, a paper cup, water, a retreat 
to the burnished stainless slab stuck to the wall above the sink in the corner:
the closest you came to seeing yourself, this mirror, disfigured, scarred, scratches 
scribed by whatever means available, a bobby pin, a safety pin, something slipped 

through the intake process, as inmate. The incarcerations, the addictions, the poverty, the reactive attachment disorders and the PTSD. 

She wasn’t permitted to have them.