He caught me at a weak moment and he knows it.
I am tired- weary, really- worn down by scaling mountains of work and managing my bad decisions. So when he calls me and says he's in town and coming over and cooking, I know he only does so because he knows I don't have the energy to debate the fact that he's telling me instead of asking me.
He shows up at my door a short time later, short enough to let me know he's been hanging around my neighborhood awhile. He breezes in loaded down with grocery bags and smelling like the cologne I once bought him just because back when we were trying to be We. He smiles at me, that bright, disarming smile I love and he says my name like a song he feared he'd forgotten the melody to.
I smile, taken by the ways I can at once feel drawn to him and yet completely disconnected. I don't say a word.
Because I am exhausted, he sits me on my couch with a glass of wine and he invades my kitchen, clattering and clanging my stainless steel and cast iron in an effort to make me the buttery chicken dish I love with the creamy risotto. We talk as easily as we ever did, filling each other in on what's been happening since the last time we saw each other; the work dramas and triumphs, the trips and the concerts, the dates- both significant and insignificant- we’ve both been on since we imploded. We settle in to have dinner on my living room floor because I can't seem to commit to a coffee table, a thing I mention offhandedly. He pointedly tells me I can't seem to commit to anything and I keep myself from telling him I'd since been ready to commit, just not to him. Cause I'm a grownup, or whatever.
We eat, refilling wine glasses and wiping food from each other's faces and it's easy and fun as it always was. But I'm cautious. And he knows me, so he knows it.
"Why aren't we together, La?"
I swallow a spoonful of risotto before I answer, "Because you're an asshole." And he laughs, but I mean it.
"I know I fucked it up for us."
"Yes. Yes you did."
"But you gotta admit us running into each other this way after all this time gotta be serendipitous."
"If you can spell serendipitous, I will agree."
"Who's the asshole now?"
We laugh and change the subject, but he's not going to let me off that easy. He never does.
Long after we've finished first and seconds and have resorted to scraping the remnants of our meal straight out of the pots and pans, he fixes his eyes on me.
"I'm not so bad at taking care of you."
"I don't need that."
"You haven't been sleeping." He's got me there. If I had my druthers, I'd lie and say it's work or something equally as vague and noncommittal but the dark rings hanging like rain clouds underneath my eyes give me away.
"I never asked you to take care of me."
"I know. I offered."
"But not for the right reasons."
We've had this conversation a thousand times before. And though I am quite adept with words, I can never seem to get him to understand that his intentions behind wanting to take care of me are far more important than actually doing it.
He talks some more and I'm listening, really I am, but it doesn't matter because I've already made up my mind, and he more than anyone should know the difficulty of changing my mind once I've thought something through and made moves.
"You need someone in your corner."
"I have people in my corner."
"Do you really? Who takes care of you the way you do them? Who is strong for you? Who drops everything for you when you need them? Who looks for you when you're lost?"
"But isn't that partially my fault?"
This too is a truth I am forcing myself to be more forthcoming about; that I am prideful. That I am bullheaded. That I do not, cannot seem to ask people to fill the gaps that I myself cannot cover. That I feel shame for needing, wanting help. That I feel like a failure for not being able to tend to myself and everyone else too. And that I am just as much to blame for being the sole proprietor of The Emotional State of La as the people who have failed me.
"Listen to me," I tell him, as gently as I know how. "We were doomed from the beginning." We burst into that uneasy laughter of relief and uncertainty that generally fills the room when you've acknowledged the elephant in it.
"There’s too much fire here. Too much fight. We are a hundred knockdown, drag out arguments waiting to happen and I just need some peace. More than I need to be taken care of. I need someone that's going to bring me some peace."
I can see that he hasn't gotten it yet. That his mind is trying to run and jump ahead of what I'm saying, trying to figure out the best way to convince me I'm wrong.
"Here's the thing," I say, interrupting him as he goes say something, no doubt completely contrary to everything I'm saying.
"I don't doubt that you want to take care of me. I don't doubt that you could. Or that we make sense. But here's what you never got about me; I don't need to be conquered. I don't need you to take care of me because you like the idea of being the man that got to me, that broke me. You're not ready to be responsible for what it means to break me open. You just really want to be the man that does."
And finally he gets it. The thing I realized long ago, that I've been trying to tell him for ages. The thing that made me hang back when he wanted more, the thing that made me run in the other direction when I wanted more. He'd been looking for a challenge; I'd been looking for shelter.
"Ok," he says to the top of my head as he tucks me under his arm. "Ok. I'm listening."
We sit like that for awhile, still and silent, digesting the fact that this, once and for all, is probably, finally, It.
"I do want you to sleep though," he tells me, his voice soft and kind. "So," he says as he pulls the blanket I keep on the back of the couch down over us, "we're gonna sleep. And then in the morning I'm gonna leave and I'm gonna respect what you've said. But right now, we're gonna sleep."
He reaches over and turns off the light, settling us together the way we always seem to fit together, and kisses the top of my hair.
"Goodnight, Road Runner," he says, and we both giggle at the inside joke.
I fall asleep almost instantly for the first time in a long time, as though I am in a safe place.
Monday, November 17, 2014
He caught me at a weak moment and he knows it.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Thursday, October 9, 2014
(It’s likely no coincidence I was finally inspired- after sitting on it for months- to complete this on today, my favorite Libra’s birthday.)
I was once one of those girls. You know the ones. The ones who proudly proclaimed that they had no female friends. That girls “didn’t like” them. That I preferred the friendship of men, that it was inherently- and thus was I by virtue of possessing it- superior.
Oh, how young and dumb I was.
Don’t get me wrong; there is still no small ratio of important positions in my life occupied by men. I adore men, in innocent and not-so-innocent ways. But the fact that I was ever foolish enough to think I could exist without the women in my life makes me cringe.
I cannot imagine who I’d be, where I’d be, if not for these women who love me, even when I am my most unlovable. Who lift me up and call me to the carpet. Who protect me and encourage me. Who selflessly wrap me in bountiful prayers and encouragement and real talk.
My male friends love me. And they are wonderful humans. But they do not cradle my head gently in their laps when I have a migraine. They do not bring me food when I can’t get out of bed for days at a time. They do not, cannot know what I feel when I am heartbroken, and they don't pick up a corner of that pain to tuck into the course of their own day so that I don’t have to ache alone. They do not know the communion of sharing our favorite wine and trading sex tips or war stories or chastising bad choices without judgment. They cannot see me, stripped and unvarnished in the depths of my ugliest self and fiercely, lovingly demand I stand up and be beautiful.
These women, my women, my village of magnificent creatures and ferociously beautiful sisters, gird me up on all sides. They stand in my stead when my own strength fails me. They are my safe place, where I go to be my most genuine me and the shelter that protects that tender truth. They inspire me. And they open their lives to me in ways that I did not once deserve, all young and stupid and somehow thinking sisterhood was inconsequential.
Over the last few years we have been through the best and worst that life has to throw at us. We have relocated and fallen in love and gotten married and had babies and lost babies and gotten fired and gotten promoted and had our hearts broken and lost parents and gotten divorced. We’ve bought houses and we’ve travelled and had great sex and taken risks and been changed in awesome and awful ways. Through it all we have remained intact, growing and evolving all while managing to stay a unit. We have laughed and cried and screamed and sat in silence with each other through it all. We are better for it. We are wiser for it. We are stronger for it. We are made whole.
I am a whole hearted believer in love letters. This one- my favorites, my village, my sisters, my loves- is for you.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
We've been dream sold about what it means to grow.
All the self-help tomes and personal journey movies would have you think that growth is a thing that happens when you go to a beautiful place and watch a gorgeous sunset, the vastness of the earth’s marvels humbling you, making you feel small, putting your problems in perspective. Or when you hit some milestone birthday. Or when you fall for someone that makes the very edges of your soul dance. There’s a couple tears, sure, but they're silent, glamorous tears cried on lush sheets or in a circle of sister friends.
But here's the real talk of it: growth hurts. It hurts you down to your bones. It makes you weary, and unlike much of the other things in the world that make you weary, it follows you home to your refuge to invade your solitude. It rearranges everything it touches. You're on that beach looking at that sunset because you're scattering the ashes of someone you love. You found someone who makes your soul dance because you once felt the excruciating loss of someone who sang a song your heart will never sing again. And the crying isn’t elegant, restrained crying among your friends; no, your friends are busy trying to keep their own lives strung together with old bubble gum and tape and your tears are big, ugly sobs that reduce you to a trembling mess on a dirty floor in your apartment that becomes another thing to berate yourself about failing at even as you cry yourself dehydrated.
Growth is good. More importantly, it's inevitable if you're doing this life thing right. But growth is not Eat, Pray, Love. It's not exotic getaways and existential questions and yoga. Growth is unwinding the tangled weaves of the tapestry of your childhood. Sometimes growth is therapy and the right dosage of meds that ease your depression or anxiety. Growth is every minute you swallow like a dry pill, willing yourself not to call someone you're trying to let go of. Growth is pain. It's uncomfortable. It's a bright, blinding light on the darkest places of yourself that you may very well have to stand in alone. Growth is losing people, places and things that once brought you comfort, love, security. It's stepping forward 99 times and nothing being beneath you and still stepping forward a 100th time despite all evidence pointing towards the fact that you're a dumbass for doing so.
I don't believe in dream selling, so I'll tell you what I know; growing is fucking painful. And not in a this-is-uncomfortable-for-me kinda way. It's a long lasting, backbreaking, soul crushing, rolling-around-in-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night-asking-God-why-He'd-have-you-endure-such-a-thing feeling. It feels unbearable for long stretches of time.
Except you will bear it. Because your pain, while real and valid and intense, is not unique. Because other people are bearing it along with you. Because other people have bared it before you. That’s what we should be telling each other.
Here's the other thing no one tells you; one day you will lay on the bleached sands of a beach and marvel at a sun seemingly sinking into clear water that will cast so many colors across the sky you won’t know the names for them all. And it won't mean anything. Not because it’s not beautiful, but because you won't need it to. You’ll be free to just appreciate a sunset, a birthday, a love for just what it is; not a deeper message from the cosmos for you to decipher. It’s just a sign that growth is happening anyway, all around you, with or without your permission. Just as it always has.
Someone who once bared this all shared this with me. I hope you have someone to do the same. And if you don't, now you have me.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
I was giving her my usual even tempered, objective advice. And I could tell she didn’t want to hear a single word of it by how intently she was focusing on guzzling her mimosa.
“I mean, I know you’re right,” she tells me, clearly exasperated. “But it doesn’t feel right. I mean, it just doesn’t-“
“It’s not what you wanna do.”
“It is NOT what I wanna do.”
“But that doesn’t make it right.”
“But should I care more about right than I do about what I want?”
“Theoretically. I am not living a theory, La.”
She exhales hard, and it’s my turn to focus on my drink. She and I have these conversations often, her wanting to lean in to her tempestuous nature, and me encouraging her to temper it. Because she tends to fuck things up.
“Don’t you ever get tired of it?” She asks me without a hint of accusation or resentment in her voice.
“Being so…together. Controlled. Knowing what to say. Doing the right thing. Being objective. Dealing in logic. Don’t you ever get tired of it?”
It’s my turn to exhale hard and wonder how she knew that I have been having this very conversation with myself.
“Yes,” I reply hesitantly, not sure where she’s going with it. “Yeah, I do. Sometimes.”
“So, why do it?”
“Because I believe it’s the best way to conduct myself.”
“Bullshit. Because it’s the best way you know to control yourself.” I shift uncomfortably in my seat. “Listen, I love this about you. I envy it. Because I can’t operate that way. And we both know the results of that,” she says, alluding back to the latest mess she’s made in her life that brought us to this conversation.
“But don’t you want to just do things? Rather than plotting and planning and organizing and executing. Just feel things sometimes? Rather than think things? Do you ever just feel?”
“Of course I feel things-“
“No, I know you feel things. You’re human. What I mean is, do you ever just give yourself over to what you feel without intellectualizing it to death? What’s the last thing you surrendered to?”
I don’t have an answer for that, and she knows it. She lets the silence linger, sitting back in her chair with a smug smirk as I continue to fidget.
“To be fair,” I counter, “your life isn’t exactly a shining testament to the wonders of feeling.”
“That was a low blow, you bitch.”
“But, true though.”
“Ain’t the point.”
“Making decisions based on facts rather than feelings just makes more sense to me. Feelings change. Facts don’t.”
“That’s true. But then when do you get to feel, La?”
“I feel stuff!”
“No, you don’t. You allow about as much feeling as you think you can handle. And then it’s all about logic.”
“I don’t understand your point.”
“You is a stubborn bitch.”
This is all true, of course. I used to feel a great deal. All the time. All the feelings. And I could barely function. Logic, objectivity, even temperedness became a safe haven for me; a way to for me to communicate clearly and effectively, a means by which to get what I needed. And ultimately, with or without my permission, another way for me to control myself.
But the point is, nobody asked this bitch all that.
“So, what would you have me do?” I ask, half joking and half serious. “Show up at a man’s place of business on a date with another man to unnerve him?”
She side eyes me, but is silent, since she did this very thing to a chef she was dating last month, and followed that little stunt with an argument in the middle of the street.
“I am not saying be petty, though it wouldn’t kill you to be petty for once in your overly goddamn noble life. Although, for the record, that shit felt GREAT.”
“That kinda shit doesn’t feel great to me.”
“How the fuck would you know? You refuse to feel out loud.”
I suppose that too is true. I am prone to feeling only as much as I can rationalize as appropriate. Which, objectively, is stupid.
“You are so goddamn good all the time. Don’t you get tired of it? Don’t you get tired of being reasonable and appropriate all the time?”
“Of course I do. Just not enough to shred a $2,500 bag and ship it to a man’s office,” an offense she is also guilty of.
“HA! That was a good one.”
“You are completely monkeyfuck crazy.”
“Perhaps. But I will tell you this; everyone in my life knows how I feel about them. What I’d do for them. Who I am. Can you say the same?”
I turn my attention back to my drink.
“I’ll make you a deal,” she says to me, her eyes dancing mischievously. “You’re turning 30 this year. You need to do something different. And you have been kinda hinting around this for the last year anyway. But you may as well go big or go home.”
“Here’s the deal; for the next year, I want you to make terrible fucking decisions. Awful. Do whatever you want. Whether it makes sense or doesn’t. Do stuff without thinking or plotting or analyzing. Just do stuff. Worry about it later. Feel some stuff. Don’t think stuff. Just let go. Surrender to something or someone.”
“I don’t do surrender particularly well.”
“I know. That’s why you’re gonna do it. Just make some bad decisions. For a year. And see where you end up. Because I will bet you a spa day it won’t be so bad.”
“What’s in this for me?”
“Um… the awesome shit that comes with not doing the right thing.”
“So, for this year you are making horrible decisions, I will make better decisions. I will think things through. I will control my emotions and my actions. I will be all good and noble and objective like you.”
“You’ll never make it.”
“I will if you help me.”
“I don’t need your help making bad decisions. I’ve made it this for without a criminal record.”
“You know, I don’t think you need my help. Because I think deep down underneath it all, you are perfectly capable of making bad decisions and enjoying them. I think you are tired of being so good and in control all the time. And I think really deep down, beneath all the good and the cool and the detachedness, you’re a beautiful little mess.”
We regard each other for a while, sizing the other up and not saying anything, but knowing we both need a bit more of the other in us.
“Okay,” I tell her uneasily. “Ok. You gotta deal.”
“A whole year?”
“A whole year.”
“Well, in that case,” she says, raising her glass, “here’s to The Year of Bad Decisions.”
“Good decisions for you.”
“Yeah, but we’re gonna focus on the fun part right now. Raise your glass, bitch.”
To the year of bad decisions.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
I was 25 before I finally admitted how fucking miserable I was. How the years of just surviving, of barely making it, of scraping by, had made me weary down to my bones. How badly the heartbreak had made me equal parts hard and fragile.
The admission itself was hard. It felt like a spectacular failure; a mess of my own making from making bad choices and not practicing self-care. But there I was; 25 and miserable, miles from the people I loved, far from where I wanted to be, heartbroken and tired and working a job I hated that did not stretch me. I was single by choice, leery of letting anyone in, committed to remaining warm and detached. I can’t remember who was in the picture at the time, who I’d compartmentalized into a specific role- lover, companion, arm piece- whether that was the part they wanted to play or not. I do remember random crying fits, long stretches of insomnia, weight gain and hair loss, the pallor of my skin as though the misery had become a second skin I could not peel away.
I don’t remember when I decided I could not live this way anymore. I don’t even know that it was a conscious finite decision, or if it was just the realization that at 25 I was too young to resign myself to a life weighed down by unhappiness, that having to will myself out of bed in the morning, and needing to tuck myself into it immediately after exhaustedly trudging through every day, was not the way I wanted to live. Not if I wanted to actually live.
The last five years have been heavy lifting. It has been slicing open old wounds to drain the poison I trapped beneath the surface in my haste to appear whole. It’s rebreaking my bones along the fractures healed haphazardly so that I may set them correctly. It’s been cleaning and clearing. It’s been the reappearance of old apparitions I ran from rather than faced and expelled. And the introduction of new spaces for my soul to feel safe in. It’s been a breaking down and building.
This year on my birthday, unlike last year, I woke up happy. Contentment and gratitude flooded my body like the sunshine through my gigantic windows. I prayed a prayer of gratitude. I wrote my annual list of things I am grateful for. I got up and sang and danced to Stevie Wonder. I spent the day surrounded by people who love me, drinking whiskey and having good convo, and doing other things I won’t immortalize in print. And that night while I laid in bed, spinning slightly from the liquor, I thought about how far I’ve come.
I have cried. I have fought. I have been disappointed and I have been loved. I have moved. I’ve been weakened. I have persevered. I’ve been broken and I’ve been buoyed. I’ve been cold and I’ve been crazy. I have laughed and I have fucked and I have made love and I have hurt people and I have smiled, and been resentful and been overwhelmed by pride and anger and gratefulness. I have changed. I have gotten all that I prayed for.
I have lived.
Make no mistake about it, I am not whole. I am not healed. I am not where I want to be or whom I want to be when I get there. But I am further than I ever thought I’d get. And I know how to get there. And I know that I will get there. And I’m willing to do the work.
Bring on the dirty 30.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
This is my last thought before I go to sleep. It hangs over the bed, turning the air around it crisp and cool. I toss and turn underneath it all night.
Something is missing.
This is my first thought when I wake up in the morning. My eyelashes have barely left their perch atop my cheeks before the thought rises over the horizon of my brain, sending signals to my limbs to look for this something. My feet hit the carpet and I push the thought away, stumbling to the bathroom, brushing my teeth and splashing my face with water. I have too much to do today.
It stays with me. This thought, this feeling. It feels like a muscle memory, like when you forget to put your watch on in the morning and spend all day looking at the empty spot where your watch should be. I can't put my finger on it, but I feel vaguely unsettled all day, productive but removed, my mind pinging and taking inventory; did I forget to do something? Did I take out food for dinner? Run all my errands? Did I drop the ball on a project at work? Did I lose something?
The day is brutal. I stagger home long after the sun has gone down, exhausted and heavy. After I lock the door behind me, I stand in the middle of my living room looking around and hoping something will catch my eye that will tell me why I feel so unsettled. I come up with nothing. I decide the only thing that can fix this is wine.
I open the fridge, the frigid air settling over my face, and inside is the answer so clear I can't believe I didn't see it before.
His beer is in my fridge. His cereal in my cabinet. His towel on the rod in my bathroom. There’s red, heart shaped balloons kissing the ceiling in my living room. His scent still on my sheets. Instinctively I touch my lips- the last place he touched me- and his taste is long gone. I look down at my hands, having spent days lazily intertwined with his, now empty.
I close the fridge. I leave a trail of clothes from the kitchen to the bedroom, lifting the covers and tucking myself underneath them in one smooth motion. I settle in, the scent of us commingled settling around me like a hug. I inhale deeply, knowing I should get up and change them but not having it in me to do it just yet.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll clean this up.
Tonight I settle into a restless sleep, my body refusing to even roll over to the other side of the bed closest to the window.
Something is missing, I think before exhaustion finally overtakes me.
As always, it's him.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The silver lining was the days my grandma's sky blue Bonneville would inch down the carpool driveway, knowing that her being there meant I'd get to hang out with her until it was time for my daddy to pick me up for his visitation weekend.
We'd sing (or more accurately she'd sing and I'd giggle), her voice full and lovely with just a twinge of smokiness from the cigarettes she smoked. There was a silly song about a bee. And one about a bunny. She'd buy me a coke and weather my insistent questions with patience and humor.
I don't remember when or why she stopped, but I do remember missing her, even as it felt like a betrayal to my mama, to my maternal grandmother, to admit it.
I was in college before I really came to understand what a force my grandma was. A whip smart, steel eyed touchstone that raised five kids after her husband died too young while still managing to build a successful, meaningful career. She is lovely and crass, a combination we both share, and profoundly generous; a trait she has leaned into and I have built fortresses around after the jagged edges of life necessitated it.
My grandma has been retired for all the years I've been alive and the running joke became a kind of game of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” On the rare occasion I came home from school, I was never sure I'd see her, as she spent the vast majority of her time on a plane to somewhere, more than likely to a casino not in the city where we lived. She spent almost thirty years the way you hope you get to spend retirement; traveling and indulging her whims, from gambling her money to painting her nails bright pink. When people shared tales of their aging grandparents- the ebbing sharpness, their losing their ability to see and hear and drive and live alone, eventually moved into a basement bedroom or shuffled off to some nondescript building named after a tree- it was foreign to me. At 86, my grandma was still driving, still traveling all over the country, still going to watch her beloved baseball team, still smoking and drinking Coors Lite, and stubbornly wiggling her jeweled, poppy pink fingers in the face of anyone who asked her when she would slow down.
And then suddenly she wasn't.
I spent my birthday with her this year, by her bedside in a hospital, after she had a stroke. I sat there for hours, watching her swing from consciousness to slumber, repeating the things she couldn't remember she said to me the last time she was awake, but smiling every time she recognized my face.
We talked about nothing. I pretended not to be alarmed at how much weight she'd lost when the nurse came in to change her. I waited patiently while my brilliant grandma struggled to search her muddy brain for basic words. I smiled thinly through the ice sliver of anxiety in my stomach at this familiar scene. I'd been here before and I said to myself what I wasn't brave enough to say to anyone else; I could be about to lose her.
May brought a new job and a move back home, and a vow that I would not make the same mistake with her as I did my maternal grandmother before her.
I go see her as often as I can. I spend hours talking to her and laughing at her, fussing at her stubborn refusal to do the exercises her physical therapist gave her to do. We watch TV. And I wait patiently as her mind spins and whirs, as she plods through sentences she once would have skated over with aplomb. I listen intently to every random recollection, my heart heavy with the responsibility of possibly being the keeper of her memories if her long term memory goes hazy and less sharp around the edges the way her short term memory has. I spent a couple hundred dollars to get her great seats to go to her first baseball game in years. I travelled with her for Thanksgiving to spend with our family, watching her intently even as I mingled, coming when she called and hustling when she needed something.
But it kills me. It kills me. To watch my razor sharp, educator of a grandma struggle for words. To listen patiently as she repeats herself, or call her back repeatedly because she doesn't remember she called me an hour ago. It kills me to watch her wry humor turned inwards on herself. It's awful the way her freedom has been taken from her, suddenly and without warning. Mere months ago, while she might not have been running marathons she was certainly still getting around. It kills me to watch her struggle to take even a couple steps, aided by a walker she can't stand. I hate to hear her apologize or thank me profusely when I have to help her to the bathroom or get dressed, as though she is a burden. It kills me to watch her slip away.
But still I come. I come sit with her and I call and make sure she knows that I love her and that she is more joy than she will ever be a burden, and I tell her she will be ok, and I will be ok and we will all be ok. I tell her how beautiful she is because she is still so lovely, and that I love her, wholly, deeply, as all-consumingly as I did as an awkward little brown girl for whom she was a daily refuge.
And I pray. I pray that she stays healthy and as well as she can be. I selfishly pray that I have many more years with her so she can see me indulge the wanderlust I inherited from her and fall in love the way she was with my grandfather and so she can sing the bunny song to my kids.
She gave me my first prayer rosary way back when, and taught me what saints to pray to and if I was as smart then as life has made me now, I would have guarded it, and her, far more fiercely.