Showing posts with label self-pity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-pity. Show all posts

no choice but to believe

I've been compiling a list on my phone's notepad. Small moments that have been special, that I wanted to share with you.

Today, despite the blue skies and 80+ weather, feels black and airless. Twenty-four hours ago I was crying, walking out of the elementary school gymnasium where I triumphantly cast my ballot. Election days always make me emotional. For the past eight years that emotion has been elation, and yesterday's tears represented a prolepsis of another victory that, shockingly, didn't materialize. Which is why twelve hours ago I was crying again, but for entirely different reasons.

It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be rocky at best and consistently enraging at worse--but it's gonna be okay. We all have a responsibility to buckle down and promote positivity every chance we get, on every level we can reach. Last night I made two vows to myself. This was the first: that I would concentrate on the things I can control; on building better relationships with the people in my life, taking the time to appreciate them and express my gratitude. My hope, I guess, is that this love will ripple outward and someday, hopefully before the next election, reach those who've become so lost, angry, and misguided in their values that they think the president elect represents their interests. It's Pollyannaish, sure, but we don't have much to lose right now.

The second vow I made is to make better and more frequent use of whatever meager talents I have. To be of service. To make you guys laugh, or think, or just feel less alone. And I urge anyone possessing any artistic bent to do the same. Now's the time. Get expressive. Bring us together, any way you can.

After I share the small moments I've been collecting, I'm going to share one other, bigger moment with you. It wasn't something I ever planned on telling anyone about, for reasons that will be clear to those with good Elliequent attendance. I'll let you make of it what you will. I'll let you think about it as much or as little as you want.

Today is a good day for thinking.

Moment #1

I'm walking home one day in August, the weight of my world slowing me almost to a crawl. Self-pity is a brick-filled backpack I can't seem to unzip, much less unload. My street is ugly; there's no two ways about it. I hate it. It's choked with traffic all day, and lined with run-down duplexes whose front steps are littered with discarded mattresses. How did I get here? A series of very poor decisions. Someday, if I keep making enough good ones, I'll be able to move off of it. But for now, trash avenue is my home.

Twenty feet ahead of me, a front door swings open. Three nimble young bodies bound out into the sunshine. Boys a few years apart in age, and sized accordingly. Ten, eight, and six, if I had to guess. The oldest reaches the sidewalk first, and without turning around, extends his arms backwards. His two younger brothers quicken their pace to catch up. Each takes the hand of their big brother. All three fall into step, and the picture they make from behind stops me short with its sweetness. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Head, shoulders, hand. Together they are invincible.

Moment #2

The 720 bus, the one I occasionally take home from the west side, is standing room only at certain times of day. Exhausted faces that remain otherwise indifferent as we cram against one another, sometimes muttering apologies, sometimes not even bothering. I push as politely as I can to the back, not to get a seat (there are none to be had), but to make room for the dozens more passengers jostling for space behind me. A man ten years my senior stands and gestures for me to take his spot. I demur despite my heavy bag, but he insists. To my mind, etiquette dictates the seat is his; I'm a woman but he's older. But the bus is picking up speed, bouncing us around. Someone has to sit. So I do. All of this is theater for the surrounding passengers, who watch with impassive eyes. All except for one young man, who rises and taps the shoulder of the man who's just sacrificed his seat. Wordlessly, he signals: Now you take mine. They laugh and nod at one another.

Impassive eyes are now smiling eyes. Smiling at me, at the two men. Half the bus is in on this lovely moment. Rarely is something paid forward paid back so soon.

Moment #3

On the first floor of my building lives an old woman who, it seems, is caretaker to several small children in the neighborhood. Some of these kids--mostly around age five or six--live in the building. Some are visitors, only appearing in the afternoons. It's a sort of unofficial day care, the playground of which is our building's dusty front stoop. The kids pull cardboard boxes from the recycling bins, making flat-screen TV sleds or choo-choo trains out of them. A few have bikes, or those wheelie shoes. They don't seem to have much more.

The old woman doesn't speak much English, but I feel like I know her anyway. Her colorful cotton peasant dresses are worn to softness. When she smiles, nearly toothless, I can see why parents trust her with their children.

One early morning, as I am returning home from god knows what debauchery, I watch a man drop off his baby for the day. It couldn't have been later than six am. (Dawn spreads over our east-facing building beautifully but mercilessly; those of us with street front windows woke to roasted living rooms all summer.) The man is tall, dressed in carefully pressed work attire. An immigrant, his accent indicates. As he approaches the building he speaks in low, gentle tones to the baby in his arms, who positively lights up at the sight of the old woman. She reaches out, cooing. The baby giggles, and the man who places his child in her arms wears a complicated expression that moves me immensely.

I bet I don't even need to describe it. I bet you can imagine it perfectly.

Moment #4

I'm sitting at dinner with a man I've known for a little over half a year. My feelings toward him are as complicated as he is. He's a difficult man. A damaged man. He can even be a dangerous man, ill-tempered and violent. He has stunned me, at times, with his selfishness and small-mindedness. He has said many hurtful things to me; criticized and mocked me and left me crumpled in self-doubt. And I've watched him do the same to others, both to their faces and behind their backs.

But right now, he is none of those things. Right now he is someone else entirely. Because right now he is talking, with a sincerity I believe because I have seen glimpses of this other person, about the changes he wants to make. He is speaking with true self-awareness about the importance of compassion. Of how good it feels to him, to give to others. This second man, who lives inside the louder, brasher, angrier first man--I've known this man, too. He has been kind to me. Incredibly generous and understanding and patient. This second man is good. He just needs help being better. He needs encouragement. He's not entirely evil.

Very few people are entirely and exclusively evil. Very few people are incapable of change and growth. For some of them, change and growth are terrifying and threatening. But under the right circumstances, surrounded by the right influences and examples of others--almost anyone can access their second, better self.

There is no choice but to believe this.

behind it all

I have some thoughts to share that are pretty high up on the vulnerability scale. Things about myself I don't love at all, and am working on. But I'm going to share them anyway, because I also had an idea that makes me happy--or at least more at peace--about those things. The idea is a visual concept, a really simple metaphor I guess, and it might be useful to someone else, perhaps? I don't know. But here goes. First I have to establish some context. Okay a lot of context...

Do you remember my friend Cameron? I sometimes called him Wally, which became his nickname after a hilarious autocorrect fail. He and I were extremely close, and we spent a great deal of time together between 2010 and 2013, before he moved to Texas. We met around the time of my divorce--he was a neighbor in the building where Mike and I lived before we split up. I think the last time I mentioned Cameron was on Instagram. I believe it was a post showing a bounty of food and treats he'd brought over to me when he came for a visit. At the time I had just broken my foot. I wasn't very mobile and I was still in some occasional pain.

Well, Cameron and I broke up immediately after that visit. And "broke up" is not typically a phrase you use when discussing the end of a friendship, but for Cameron and I, it's really the only way to put it. And anyone that knows us, knows that too. We were tight. Really, really tight. Absolutely best friends. We'd spend hours upon hours together only to wake up and do it all over again the next day. We texted constantly. He was my confidant and my partner in crime (literally sometimes). When I went out of town, it was he who'd watch Chaucer - sometimes for months on end. When my husband insinuated to me that he was gay (fuck it, it's been six years, statute of limitations has been well bulldozed past as far as I'm concerned...plus he got remarried to a woman he was dating while he was still married to me), it was to Cameron I turned, devastated. When I got into an abusive relationship in Arizona, it was Cameron who got in his car and drove, overnight, to come rescue me. Cameron introduced me to gay bars, some of which became our go-to hangouts. I spent so much time in the gay bars of Silverlake and Hollywood that to this day, they are more comfortable to me than straight bars.

But Cameron and I had our problems. We would fight sometimes. Absolute ragers. We are both highly opinionated people who are unafraid to get angry. And having spent so much time together, having gotten so close, we had a lot of emotion invested in our friendship. That's a beautiful thing but it can make for a powder keg, too.

The reason Cameron and I broke up was simple: he wanted me to accompany him to the wedding of a pair of friends of his up in SF. I'd planned on going with him for months...but then I broke my foot. Long story short, we disagreed on how easy or comfortable it would be for me to go. I didn't want to. I was afraid of being away from home, injured and uninsured. He really wanted me to. Really, really. It was a gay wedding, one of his very best friends, and it meant a lot to him for me to come. He promised he'd take the utmost care with my foot. That he'd rent a damn wheelchair if need be. That we could go as slow as I needed. He saw that I was able to get about with crutches and a scooter and didn't see the difference between limping around in LA and limping around SF.

Well, we argued. And argued. And finally I just had enough. I felt completely justified in telling him to take a flying leap.

Oh, and conveniently? I had just started dating Terence. What the fuck did I need a stubborn, demanding jerk like Cameron around for when I had this amazing, loving, gorgeous new guy to fawn all over me??

Yeeeeaaaah.

I ripped Cameron out of my life ruthlessly. I wrote him a scathing letter and then blocked his email. Blocked his phone number. Blocked him on social media. To this day I don't know what came over me. Why I reacted with so much anger. Why I felt it was okay to obliterate from my life one of the few, loving constants in it. Sure we had some issues, sure there were things we could have worked on in our friendship, but really Ellie? Blocking him, like a cold-blooded bitch?

Time went by. Regret is like quick sand. You don't even know you're standing in it at first, and then you're suddenly sinking deeper and deeper and deeper. And the one person who could pull me out? Throw me a branch and haul me to shore? Well, I'd made myself invisible to him, and him to me. Pride. Ego. Shame. I assumed he hated my guts, too. And I buried my sadness underneath the new joy that was Terence.

Can you see where this is going? I told you--not proud of this side of me. The side that claims her friends are her family and then sometimes proceeds to treat them like dogshit.

To my credit, I waited months. Of course I'm talking about how long I waited until after Terence and I broke up to reach out to Cameron, tail between my legs. Because of course I would do that. Of course I would be so predictably basic. Of course I would wait until MY hour of need to invite him back into my life, knowing nothing whatsoever about the hours of need he may have had in the interim.

The letter I wrote was simple and short. I'm sorry. I was wrong. You were a wonderful friend to me. I think of you often and hope you are well. 

He answered. And so proceeded a month or so of polite back-and-forthing while he, understandably, got his bearings on the roller coaster that is Ellie's emotional regulation and decided that yeah, sure, he'd give it another shot.

Fast forward to last week. Those of you who follow me on IG maybe saw my post of him, though I don't know how many of you understood the import. I sort of quietly stopped talking about him after our fight, so maybe you assumed we'd just fallen out of touch? I dunno. Anyway, he came to LA last week, for work. And I spent three glorious nights with him.

I won't go on and on about what it meant to me to see him again, because if you've read this far you already get it. But it was like my entire world shifted back onto its proper axis. Cameron is one of the great loves of my life and talking to him again? Laughing and sharing and catching up and crying and forgiving and drinking and watching Netflix and getting Nutella and cookies at 2 am from the grocery store? Best thing that's happened to me in months.

Of course, he still lives in Texas. He comes to LA often but Houston is his home. And anyone that's read my blog for any length of time knows that I have other very close friends who live either in AZ or in other cities in California. Bottom line: my nearest and dearest are not very near to me at all. I see them a few times a year. Mason I see maybe once a year.  And this is very, very difficult for me.

How difficult? Well, sometimes I lose my ever-loving mind about it. Sometimes I get so down, so unbelievably depressed and angry that my friends are elsewhere, that rather than turn to them I turn on them. I grow incredibly demanding and unforgiving. Unforgiving that they have the audacity to live elsewhere and have their own lives. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. Sometimes? These bastards? They group text without me. Sometimes they even travel without me. Together. They take trips without me. Can you believe it?? Don't they know how much I need them? How much I need to be included? How much love I need, because I suffer from depression and have been through some hell?

DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THEIR OBLIGATION TO MAKE ME HAPPY??!

K. So. Has the picture formed sufficiently, of how needy a friend I can be? And let me freeze right here to disclaim, with utmost confidence, that any one of my close friends would be the first to tell you that I am also fiercely loyal, loving, selfless, fun as fuck, and awesome. They would tell you that they adore me with their whole hearts, and they would mean it. I know this, because every time they pick up on the fact that my self-esteem is in the shitter, they swoop in and reassure me with the most unbelievable love and support, you'd melt to hear. It's real, true love, and I know it. Which is why I want more of it, more often than I can reasonably have, from people that live states away and are damn busy. And the last thing I'll say in my defense is that I am NOT the kind of "friend" who only ever cares about her shit, and never participates in the details of other lives. That's kind of the whole problem. I want so much to participate in my friends lives, to know what they're doing, their challenges and triumphs, how I can support them, etc. But again. Jobs. Partners. Hobbies. State lines.

Recently I took a really bad dive, emotionally. The details don't matter; suffice to say I was making plans and not for a vacation. I just felt really, really alone. I reached out to my friends with a mixture of pleading, punishing anger (why don't you call more often! you know I depend on you!), fear, and self-nihilation, and I ended up having one of the hardest but most necessary conversations of my life, with Mason. In a nutshell he told me I could have every last breath of his love and friendship, but that if things with me were so bad that not hearing from my friends was enough to make me suicidal...then no amount of love and friendship would matter. What I needed was a reframe, in the head and the heart. He then said a series of things that did fix me, as far as I was concerned, because my T-Rex brain was only focused on getting the love I needed THEN not the healing I need OVERALL...but the first bit was what was really important. Talk about your tough love.

I'm still thinking about all of this, still trying to figure out where the truth is. Because while I know that no one but me is responsible for my happiness, I think that fully needing and loving another is part of what makes us richly human. For a much better, clearer articulation of what I mean by this, see The Moral Bucket List, a NYT article by David Brooks that I can't stop thinking about.

And now I've come full circle. I started by mentioning that I'd had an idea maybe worth sharing. It's this:

Once, at Disneyland, I took a tour of the animation studios. I remember being fascinated by animation cels, and how they were created. An artist would paint on a stack of clear cellulose sheets; depending on whether what was being drawn was part of the background or the action, he would either lift the stack of sheets or lower them. So for example, if the animation called for a background of trees, the sheet painted with those trees would stay, stationary and constant, under the layer upon which characters would run, or jump.

I realized my life is like that. No matter what I'm coloring in on the top sheet, whether it's a new job or a new home or a new boyfriend, whether it's something scary and ugly I'm going through or something thrilling and fun--underneath it all is my same background. Friends I've had for years, decades in some cases. They're there, behind it all. And they're not going anywhere, as long as I don't erase them. They're sturdy and strong and they are in my life, always. No matter what else isn't.

It's a thought I can hold onto, to make the lonelier times less lonely.

I'm not very good at opening up to new people, which is precisely what I need to do in order to have more close friends locally. Especially now that Kerry and Ross are gone. I try, in small bits. See: Krista, who is truly a lovely, loving person. It takes me a while, but I do open up in a real way, eventually. I'm working on it.

Action and background. A richer, more complete picture. I'm working on it.

the rain came

Well, the rain came. Misty floating pillows of it, directionless and soft. Unthreatening, it promised not to interfere with anyone's plans. Then I guess it changed its mind, or just got tired of holding its own weight, and the tin roof above me became a drum. In the pitch black bedroom I pulled up the covers and listened. Each drop was a glass marble surrendered by a sky too full to keep them. Hundreds of marbles fell, then thousands, until the wind stepped in and picked up a slingshot, and the marbles hit with such ferocity I expected to see moonlight piercing through at any moment.

The rain loosened the soil on the cliff above the house, shaking down small stones and clumps of earth. I had the sensation of being buried alive, and with each crumbling patter I pictured faceless mourners tossing handfuls of dirt onto a casket.

It woke me up periodically, from feverish dreams that either made no sense or too much of it, I'm not sure which. One saw Terence embracing me lightly from behind, turning my cheek to kiss me with an adroitness I hadn't remembered ever knowing. He evaporated, leaving me melting and unsure, and standing at the edge of a shallow pond. Someone dared me to wade to the center of it. And when I did, I found a circle of my friends scowling at me in disappointment. I didn't know what I'd done; I only knew I'd confirmed their worst suspicions.

We had a sort of Thanksgiving. The family, myself, and three neighbors whom I tried terribly hard to impress. They must wonder who the hell I am, I thought uncharitably of myself - of them. What gives with this stranger, this interloper from across the country? She is not blood. Where is her own family?

Woody, of course, knows the answers to those questions now, and probably wouldn't ever have asked them anyway. He and his wife (tennis buff, no nonsense but quick to laugh) brought spaghetti squash, sea-salt dark chocolate caramels, a pumpkin pie the size of a manhole cover, and a bottle of Sauternes. The Sauternes really deserves its own post, honey bright and smooth and lip-licking sweet. It was my first, which made it special to me. And it was the first Sauternes Bill has had in decades, which made it special to him. He and Hannah used to order it as a young couple in California - I believe he said on trips to Mendocino. His face when he spoke of it - laughing about how little he knew of wines back then - briefly lost all of those decades. Woody, too, had a Sauternes story to tell. A group of nine friends, gambling one day on a $900 bottle they had to split, well, nine ways. $100 per man, for about a sip. Worth every penny.

Today the rain abandoned all restraint, laughing at me, spitting in my face as I stubbornly rounded up the last day's worth of photos. The wind turned Hannah's umbrella into a sail, and I nearly toppled into the water trying to take a selfie at the end of the dock.

I didn't have a great day today. Sleep has evaded me all week for a combination of reasons, twisting my nerves into a bundle that threatened to snap at the slightest provocation. And provocation came tonight, in the form of a nasty burn running the length of my forearm. I was making vegetable chowder (Hannah liked it so much the last time I made it) and I stupidly used a short-handled cup to ladle some of it into the blender. My elbow grazed the lip of the pot and I jumped, splashing piping hot soup onto myself, my favorite navy cashmere sweater, and the floor.

Everyone swarmed to help me. To clean up my mess, to treat my burn, to fetch me painkillers. Their solicitousness sent me sailing over the edge, and I had to brush tears - humiliating, childish tears - from my cheeks so I could see to finish my cooking. At the table the meal was subdued, heavy with the tone I'd set with my overreaction, and it wasn't long before Bill's gentle prying unleashed the truth underneath the ostensible reason for my tears. I was exhausted, anxious about returning home, lonely for friends who wouldn't be there when I got back, and generally in a storm of self-doubt.

Not exactly the note I wanted to leave on. I mean, I didn't say all that, though the subject of my breakup did come up momentarily. But they could see I was fraught with worry and sleeplessness, and Bill ordered me to bed early.

That was seven hours ago; only one of which I slept for.

Oh god, here it comes again. I wish you could hear it. Great gusting sheets, surging suddenly just now as if desperate to drown out my bleating self-pity. Or maybe gently wash it away. Maybe the rain is a friend tonight.

Anyway, friend or foe, it turned the lake and its surroundings into a crayon box today. It wicked the leaves down from trees that weren't ready to release them; they were still too bright, too alive. They lay stunned on the ground - a wet, waxy palette of goldenrod and ochre, strawberry and chartreuse. I feel guilty filtering pictures of them, like I'm adding salt to food that's already plenty seasoned. So only the tiniest bit, to make sure their vibrancy comes through loud and clear.

The sound of the rain, though - that you'll have to imagine. And now, for me, sleep - though maybe I'll have to imagine that.




















the last thing to go

A few minutes ago, I carried an industrial-sized bucket full of sopping wet towels and clothing two flights of stairs up to my building's laundry room, since this morning, my Eurotrash combination washer/dryer choked on the nickel I accidentally left in the pocket of my jeans, flooding half my apartment. It was a 3/10 on the scale of Things That Suck, a notable improvement over the 6/10 I'd been engaged in a few minutes prior: sitting on the couch, crying, and missing my parents.

Today wasn't horrible by any stretch. Worse things. There are always worse things. It was just one of those days when a few key details go wrong, and you're too tired to shake it off like a normal adult does, and instead you slowly give in to inertia and self-pity, until eventually you find yourself in a mental fetal position where all you want to hear is the uniquely comforting sound of your mom or your dad saying simply, sympathetically, Oh, sweetie.

Some days you just need an Oh, sweetie. And the fact that you can't have one becomes this deliciously self-indulgent shroud of melancholia with which to wrap up and keep warm. So picture me in one of those right now. It looks like a Snuggie, but less dignified.

My friend Tricia, who has experienced grief both of a kind I can understand and that which I never will, once gave me some great advice about how to handle losing my dad. Keep him alive, she said, in the details. The sensory impressions. Butter melting on bagels. The smell of a Sharpie. What made him him.

No butter or Sharpies today. Instead, a dose of my dad's uniquely dry, pragmatic humor. Not for the faint of heart, probably, but what the fuck. I'll keep him around any way I can.

---

When my dad got sick, everything happened mercifully quickly. He lost basic functionality over a matter of days. And wow was that a fun sentence to write, as if he was a fucking toaster, but I don't know how else to put it. First he had trouble walking. Then he had difficulty even balancing himself while sitting. Then he lost speech…and other powers. After that, I assume he started slipping into a state of total disorientation. I assume, that is, because he couldn't tell us. But the way he looked around in bewilderment and fear suggested as much.

Are we having fun yet? Excellent. It gets better.

By the time A., my boyfriend at the time, jumped on a plane to come help out, my dad was still able to speak, still had mental clarity - but bodily, he was falling apart. Those were some of the worst days for me, since, lacking the physical strength to support him, the helplessness I felt was infuriating. He hated using the walker I'd gotten him, even after, desperate to make the house safer and more navigable, I had a late night Craiglist furniture fire sale, just to get some of his bookcases out of the fucking way. He was restless and scared, and kept himself distracted from what was happening by moving around constantly. He'd sit in one chair for ten minutes before insisting I help him move to another. I was always terrified one or both of us would go down as we shuffled along, inch by inch, on the cold Spanish tile. I'm sure he was, too.

The day A. arrived was especially bad for my dad. He was more or less bound to the hospital bed hospice had set up in the middle of the living room, because there hadn't been time to disassemble his own bed yet. He could no longer get up without help, and, due to his size and lack of balance, it became a massive ordeal for him just to go to the bathroom. And on this particular day, whether due to exhaustion or apathy, my dad decided to forgo the hassle and formality of pants.

Honestly, who the fuck could blame him?

Two things happened within seconds of one another: A. pulled up in a taxi, armed with his indefatigable grin and a battery-operated, barking toy dog on the box of which he'd written Chaucer - and my dad realized he needed to use the bathroom.

My dad had never met A. Never lain eyes on him or spoken to him. Knew him only by my description, and barely at that, since we hadn't been dating long. For his part, A. had just stepped off a trans-continental flight minutes before. We barely had a chance to greet one another on the driveway before I heard my dad calling for me from inside.

A. didn't blink, when he saw what was happening. In an instant, he was at my dad's side, helping me help him stand - discombobulated, weak, needing to pee. And completely naked from the waist down. Really, if you want to see what your boyfriend is made of, throw your pantless, dying father at him and see how he fares.

But this isn't A.'s story. It's my dad's. And do you know what the first words out of my father's mouth were, to his adult daughter's new beau? The very first words he uttered, standing there shakily between us, clutching both of our arms, and in the sort of exposed, heartbreakingly vulnerable state that nightmares are made of?

"Welcome to Apollo Beach."

Because what else was there to say? Manners are manners, whether your guest is living or Death or both, and my dad was fucked if cancer was going to touch his sense of humor just yet. So help him god, that would be the last thing to go.

party of one

So you find yourself, two years shy of forty, to be a grown woman who's still scared of bugs. And that fear leads you to have a clumsy accident, and you land yourself in the hospital with a severe foot sprain. And it hurts, oh my god it hurts so much, but you take a good hard look around, and you remind yourself that you don't know what suffering is. And you suck it up and smile and joke and you do what you have to do. You look online and find a company that will rent you a knee scooter and a hands-free crutch, so that you won't be entirely helpless for the next month and a half. And the company is called Goodbye Crutches! and it makes you laugh, both at the situation and at yourself.

And they send you these things, which come in a massive box that you push down the lobby ahead of you, hopping on one foot behind it. And there's a basket and a cup holder you can attach to the scooter, which you try to find funny, texting pictures of them to a friend, but which you secretly find depressing. They send you these things, along with weekly emails with subject headings like "How to Handle Depression During the Healing Process." They send you an actual greeting card in the mail that says "Get well soon!" and is signed in cursive by someone named Laura. And this small consideration, this unnecessary, extra touch of service almost reduces you to tears next to the mailbox where you stand. But you can't cry because you've hopped one legged over to the mail area, leaving your scooter parked by the elevator, and the other tenants are coming home and getting their own mail, and you feel ridiculous enough as it is hopping back and forth in front of them. So you don't cry and you throw the card away.

And you go to your follow up appointment, which is a week later than it should have been, because there haven't been any openings at the public clinic you've been referred to. And you splurge on a cab to get there, because while it's only about ten blocks up the road, you can't bear the thought of taking a bus and having to wait while the wheelchair lift is lowered slowly, beeping loudly, holding everyone up, so that you can hobble on with your crutches. And you joke with the cab drivers in front of the hotel up the street, who argue over whose vehicle will be easier for you to get in and out of. "No one wants me," you tease them. "No one wants to give the gimp a ride."

And you don't mind that they decide to send you to the furthest cab from you in the line of five, because it's first in the queue to take a fare. You don't mind that they just point you at it, instead of whistling and calling it over to pick you up. You don't mind at all, because the past two weeks have been an eye opener, in terms of learning how much people, in general, care about helping someone out who's in obvious need. You've had doors slam straight into your scooter, your crutches, and you yourself, as you try to navigate the entrance to your building, while people watch indifferently. You've nearly fallen over a dozen times, trying to work your way past people on the sidewalk who don't move an inch to let you pass.

You wonder if you've been inconsiderate in that way to others, in the past. You wonder if you yourself would have noticed, and helped, and held the door, or cleared space for someone, or if you would have ignored them. You hope not, but you suspect that you probably did, occasionally. And you pledge not to grumble the next time someone in an electric wheelchair almost clips Chaucer's foot as they whiz by, because now you understand the very important difference between the side of the sidewalk that is smooth, and the side that is torn up and uneven.

Now you understand, a little bit.

And instead of growing more bitter each time someone fails to help, you understand that thoughtfulness is not actually the baseline of humanity. That the baseline falls somewhere much, much lower. And rather than feeling resentful about this, you actually just feel an enhanced appreciation for the nice gestures of people, because you realize that they're the exception to the rule. And it doesn't really make you sad so much as determined to belong to that group.

And at the clinic, you fill out your paperwork. You fill out your name and address and medical history, and the relevant medical histories of your dead parents. And you know it's coming, even before your eyes reach it on the page, but you dread it all the same. And when you get to that section, the one titled Emergency Contact Information, you know you should be prepared for this, because it's probably the half-dozenth time in a year that you've had to face down this question without an answer. You know this, and other times it hasn't bothered you at all, but today it does. Today it picks up the crutch you've got balancing at the counter against you, threatening to throw you off balance yourself, because the counter is too smooth and the crutch has already gone crashing to the floor twice, startling the entire room of patients, one of whom scrambled both times to pick it up for you. It picks up the crutch, this stupid fucking question on a document full of other stupid questions, and it jabs that crutch straight into your stomach, except you don't feel the pain in your stomach, you feel it in your heart, because you don't have an answer.

Because you don't have an emergency contact.

So you pick one of your friends from downtown, someone who lives close by, whom you know wouldn't mind, and who'd be there to help you if you needed it, to drive you back home if something happened, if something went terribly wrong. You pick someone whom you know would say "Of course!" and be touched by your asking them permission to make them your emergency contact. But you know they'd feel pity for you, too. You know they'd probably, later that night, as they lay together in bed, tell their spouse what you had asked. What you had needed. What you don't have. And that spouse would have nothing to say, because what is there to say? Life sucks, parents die, people divorce, and sometimes a grown woman is at a loss for just who, in her life, is the best candidate to be next in line to help her should the need arise.

And as you wait almost an hour for your name to be called in a massive waiting room filled with low-income patients, wishing you'd thought to stuff a sweatshirt in your backpack, you remind yourself for the fiftieth time how lucky are. How much worse it could have been. It isn't as if the waiting room is some dramatic illustration of that - it's filled mostly with healthy looking young women and their rambunctious children - but you know yourself to be more fortunate than them in many ways, and you count your blessings.

And when the medical assistant walks you back and weighs you, measures you, and takes your blood pressure, you're unbothered by her impatience with you for forgetting your paperwork from the hospital, and the sidelong glance she gives your iPhone when you take it out to check the date of your last period. You don't take it personally, though you would have, once. Now you know she's just doing her job and her thoughts are probably a million miles away, and you are no one to her, you are not her problem, because she has problems of her own.

So you sit in the exam room and quiz yourself on French vocabulary while you wait for the doctor. And this calms you, and distracts you from that stupid form a few minutes ago, and keeps you from thinking about it, because really, it means nothing, you know. All the security in the world means nothing, you understand, because once you had security too, and it all went away in the blink of an eye. You know security is an illusion, and that anyone who relies on anyone else to keep them safe and happy and loved and fed and housed is a fool, because we are, at the end of the day, truly and utterly alone, and fate has a funny way of teaching us that in the harshest way possible. You know the difference between you and your married friends, between you and the people whose parents are still living is negligible, after all, because there are no guarantees that those things will stay that way, anyway.

You know that, because you've lived it.

So you don't think about it, and instead you think about how pretty the French words for weather are. TempĂȘte. Naugeux. Ouragan.

And when the doctor comes in and looks at your foot, and you see the consternation in her brow, the frown when she sees just how much bruising and swelling you still have, you brace yourself. You very quickly and brusquely tell yourself to keep it together, ask the right questions, and find out what needs to be done. And when she tells you that she suspects they might have missed something in the x-ray at the hospital, and that there may be a fracture in your foot, you concentrate on your breathing, because you don't want to cry in front of this beautiful young doctor, who is being so solicitous and gentle in her manner.

So you breathe and you ask about the worse case scenario, if there is in fact a fracture in your foot. And she tells you that depending on whether it's healing correctly or not, that you'd either need a cast or surgery. Surgery, she says, if it's not healing correctly and it needs to be reset. Surgery, she says, and you feel a black space in your stomach expanding, threatening to turn you inside out (emergencycontact), but you're tougher than fucking nails (emergencycontact), you've been through divorce, depression, and two deaths in the past three years (emergencycontact), you've survived way worse and you'll survive this, too.

And you get the information you need. You schedule an appointment the next day for an x-ray. And you thank the beautiful young doctor and you leave. And you carry your paperwork back down the hall in your teeth, because you didn't want to make the doctor wait while you fiddled with the tricky closure on your backpack. And when a staffperson leaves her desk and walks across the waiting area to hold the door for you, that's when the tears come.

But you hold them.

You hold the tears in the elevator, and you hold them as you step out of the clinic and realize that since you're on a one-way street, you'll have to either switch buses or make your way two blocks to the next two-way street, in order to get back home, which is where you want to be so badly, even though no one is waiting for you there except your dog. And you hold them as you spy a taxi at the hospital across the street, and you hold them as you race against a stoplight, almost tripping in front of rush hour traffic, to get to the taxi before it gets another customer. And you hold them when the taxi driver says sorry, he has another customer already. And you hold them when he says he'll come right back for you, if you don't mind waiting, because he isn't going far.

And you sit (still holding them) on the grass in front of the hospital entrance, and you breathe and try not to think about surgery, or never running again, or not having anyone to take care of you after being cut up on an operating table. You try not to think (still holding) about these things, because there is no point, the universe doesn't care, and all the worry in the world won't change the fact that there may be a fracture in your foot after all. And you think about how good the breeze feels, and you like the clanking of metal on the flagpoles in front of you, and you listen to the flags themselves, the whipping, snapping fabric, and how nice it sounds, like the sail of a ship. And you look around you and you notice what the breeze is doing to some tall ferns behind you, making them sway and dance and tip and bend. And that's when you realize you're not holding them anymore, the tears, but that it's okay, you can feel sorry for yourself and be scared a little bit.

No one will know unless you tell them.

And you watch as a woman in an electric scooter is escorted out and helped into a van. And since you're sitting on the ground, you can see, close up, the wheels of the chair, which are the size of a stroller's, but much thicker. And you stare at the mechanics of this machine, the metal guts of it which are all on the bottom, black tubes and pipes and gears, looking grimy with dirt and oil. And the woman in the chair looks very tired.

So you wipe your tears roughly, because now the taxi has come back, he's come back for you like he promised he would. And that's something. That's a help.

And when you get home, you're greeted with love, with undeniable love. And that's something, too.

And you pull out your laptop, because you need to write, to confess the good and the bad, the uglier sides of yourself and the secret fears you harbor. The cynicism and the hope and gratitude which sometimes is glossier on the outside than it really is, deep inside of you.

And afterward, you feel emptied a little bit, and a little bit better, too. Because you know people care, even if they aren't related to you by blood or by marriage. You know that while you're alone, that you occupy space in this cold, apathetic world as a party of one, that you are thought of with kindness, sometimes, by people whose kindness you've done nothing, really, to earn.

And that's something, too.

snow globe

So, last night - Wednesday night - utterly fucking sucked. Sucked, sucked, sucked.

I'll get into the good (awful) stuff into minute, but first, let me paint you a picture of what anxiety disorder looks like for me. (Oh, did I never mention I have generalized anxiety disorder? Well, I do. I've never been clinically diagnosed with it, but I'm of the mind that it's one of those things that you just know you have, when you do. It's not like you can mistake anxiety for, say, a toothache. Or anemia. It's pretty obvious when you're panicky and worried to a debilitating degree.)

There's some paperwork that needs to be done for my lawyer, regarding my dad's estate. I've known it needs to be done, but I've been avoiding doing it, because absolutely everything associated with the estate gives me massive anxiety. Like, terrifying anxiety.

I have no idea why. It's just fucking paperwork, for the most part. But it does. Freaks me out like you wouldn't believe. It took me months to get things filed away and in order, to the point that they are now, because whenever I thought about doing any of it, I would have a complete melt down.

Anyway, the latest thing that needs to be done - well, it doesn't matter what it is. It's paperwork. And about a day after my attorney said Hey, you gotta do this, my printer went all wonky. Started printing things all blurry and wavy.

And I was all, of course. And I laughed bitterly to myself, as I am wont to do. And then I printed up a page of some blurry text and took it to my boy Percy to get his expert opinion. And mind you, Percy doesn't sell printers, just ink, so it isn't as if he has some vested interest in me getting a new printer, because god knows, my last one sucked up ink like it was going out of style.

Percy told me I needed a new printer, that the problem mine was exhibiting was basically the ink jet death rattle. He recommended a brand and model that he likes, and that he knew was on sale at Office Max. And I was grateful for his advice, his help, and of course, his humor (because you know I went in there raging, and you know he diffused the situation by being his ridiculous self).

Fast forward to me swinging by Office Max to get the new printer. And by "swinging by" I mean calling ahead to make sure they had one in stock, having some snotty-sounding associate inform me that I'd "better hurry up" because she could only hold it for half an hour, jumping on the train to Union Station, changing trains to get to Little Tokyo, running in to the store frantically because by this time, half an hour had gone by, then schlepping the damn thing home again. And it wasn't huge, but it wasn't light, or easy to carry. My arms were like jelly by the time I got back.

Then I pretty much let the printer sit in my cabinet for two weeks, because I was terrified of it.

Why the fuck would I be terrified of a printer, you ask?

That's an excellent question.

I was terrified of the printer because, in my warped and worried little mind, I had formed a link between it and the unpleasant paperwork I needed to do. The poor thing, which had never done wrong in its short printer life, was guilty by association.

Also, I had convinced myself that once I got around to setting it up, I wouldn't be able to configure it correctly, because I am lousy at those sorts of things. So me being the defeatist that I am, I had already doomed myself to failure.

Are you shocked, yet, that I'm not a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, with this sort of can-do attitude? Just wait.

Anyway, I closed the door on my scary printer, and more or less tried to ignore its existence, only getting spooked by it when I needed to open the cabinet to get an envelope or a rubber band or something. And when I did, you know that printer gave me some dirty looks, suffocating as it was in its shrink wrap and tape. Bitch, let me out. I can't breath in here. And I'm bored. Why don't you write something interesting for me to print up? Why don't you write something, period?

Well, tonight I decided I was ready to face my fear and deal with the damn thing. Only, anxiety isn't something I can just snuff out at will, like a candle. It's more like a snow globe. When my thoughts turn to the panic-inducing trigger - whatever it is - all of a sudden it's like a snow globe being violently shaken, where all those little snowflakes are bits of worry and fear. And I have to wait, calmly, trying not to shake it again, while they slowly fall and settle back to stillness. Then I can very carefully tiptoe in and try to do what I need to do.

So, the printer and I squared off for a couple of hours. This is what that looked like: I'd do something, anything, to try to procrastinate dealing with it. I cleaned. I did some laundry. I wrote some emails. All the while completely preoccupied with the knowledge of what I really needed to be doing instead. Meanwhile, the printer just sat there, wordlessly waiting, indifferent to my tumultuous state of mind.

(Incidentally, if you don't suffer from anxiety, now would be a good time to turn to your nearest loved one and say, I'm so glad I don't suffer from anxiety. I'm reading this blog, and man, this chick has problems.)

Let's fast forward, because holy god has this anecdote gotten long and boring. And this is where you get to be momentarily impressed because, get this shit: I actually unpacked and configured the printer correctly. Like a real grown up. It was amazing. I installed the paper, the cartridges, ran the ink test, and most incredibly, configured the wireless network. I entered in the correct network name and password and it synched up exactly like it was supposed to.

I probably should have stopped there and had a glass of wine to celebrate. But I got cocky and decided I could install the software on my laptop, too.

And that's when my little choo-choo train, which had heretofore been hauling ass down the Ellie Expressway, ran into a tunnel packed with TNT. Boom.

The details are boring - suffice to say, I couldn't get it to work, despite my troubleshooting. Something about drivers and incompatible operating systems.

And that's when I lost it. I just fucking lost it. I felt so useless, so dumb and incompetent, so defeated and frustrated. I dropped to the floor, held my dog, and cried.

For context, maybe, or at least background: I haven't been having the greatest couple of weeks, emotionally. Getting sick derailed my productivity and schedule, which in turn knocked my state of mind down a notch or three. And I've been struggling to get it back up.

What it is, and I know this is 100% pure whining, is that I just get so tired, sometimes, of doing everything on my own. It can be so discouraging when half my day gets sucked up by errands and chores the time of which spent accomplishing could be halved by a partner. I don't miss having a husband. But I miss having someone to share the responsibility of all the time-consuming, exhausting things required of Adult Life. Even just the physical exertion of doing all the shopping, all the housework, all the errands (read: walking, walking, and more walking), all the Chaucer care...it's hard for me sometimes, it really is.

Ugh. So whiny, I know. But there it is.

And sometimes I just don't fucking feel like being a strong, independent, competent person who takes care of herself completely on her own. Sometimes I just want to curl up in ball on the bed while someone strokes my hair and just babies me. Honestly, I don't even want someone to do my shit for me. I like the feeling of developing that, I don't know, grit, as I'm forced to do it all, on my own, all the time. But Christ, sometimes it would be so nice to have someone just sort of care for me a little bit, you know?

So tonight when I broke down, all of that came bubbling up from my stomach to my throat, and then to and through my eyes, in a hot, helpless rush.

And I found myself saying Why? over and over and over. Why, why, why? And Chaucer just looked at me with his eyes as big as saucers, worried and scared and not knowing how to help. He pawed me and he licked my face, and I swear I felt him shift his weight to move a little bit closer to me.

Why, why, why? At first I didn't even know what I was asking. Why what? I thought. So I started asking my ceiling more specific questions. Why is this so hard? Why is this happening? Why can't I do this?

And then came this one: Why am I alone?

And it was as if I'd snapped the last piece into the ugliest, most wretched puzzle ever designed. I said it again: Why am I alone? 

That was it. That was the question that had torn its way up from my belly the minute I got an error window on my computer. Why am I alone?

Why am I alone, if I am so great?

Why am I alone, if I'm as smart and loving and funny and talented and worthy as I believe I am?

And, wouldn't you know it, the other half of my brain had an answer at the ready: Maybe you're really not those things, after all.

---

And that's where I'm stopping for now, because this post is monster-sized as it is, and I'm exhausted by the writing of it, and by the experience of going through all those emotions again, in describing them.

Ugh.

It's a bad day, not a bad life.
It's a bad day, not a bad life.
It's a bad day, not a bad life.

And with that, I'm going to wash my face, kiss my sweet pup on his smart bump, and go to sleep so I can take another crack at dominating the bogeyman in my credenza my Brother MFC-J425W tomorrow.

to be my brother's sister

At six...

...meant kinship. It meant dragging a wagon down the street, filled with cherries we'd picked from the tree in our front yard. Special delivery for the neighbors, from the Baker kids. It meant sledding tandem in winter, and climbing beach dunes together in summer. Here, take my hand. I'll help you up.

At eight...

...meant idolatry. It meant begging for a spot on the Older Kids kickball team, and admittance to their basement Monopoly games. It meant promising to keep secrets, and not tattling when they messed with dad's tools. Come on - just let me watch? I'll make you guys Kool-Aid.

At ten...

...meant confusion. It meant not understanding why one minute I was invited to play Newscast with the tape recorder, and the next, being bullied and teased to tears. It meant toughening up, quickly, to physical torment much rougher than a fourteen year-old should be allowed to inflict. Mom's not here. Dad's not here. You're dead meat.

At twelve...

...meant bewilderment. It meant learning to fend for myself against the negative attentions of a classmate with a penchant for bookslamming and passing mean notes. The little sister of my big brother's best friend. A word from him could have stopped it. Ha ha, I heard Shannon kicked your ass again today. Loser.

At thirteen...

...meant a crash course in substance abuse. It meant my parents screaming, crying, begging, and ultimately disappearing as their teenaged son experimented - and failed - with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine. It meant answering my bedroom door to find my seventeen year-old brother holding up a finger with white powder on the tip of it. You have to try this. Rub it on your gums. It's really cool.

...meant fear. Violence against himself and others. It meant sneaking out of the house at four am to use the neighbor's phone and dial 911, because he was high and threatening us with the baseball bat again. It meant being pushed into a closet, and held hostage until the drugs wore off and the psychotic episode ended. Please open the door. Please let me out.

...meant chaos. It meant watching him grind a lit cigarette into his own arm, to move our increasingly detached, often drunk mother to some action. Feeling helpless and alienated as she returned from yet another visit to juvenile detention and retreated into her dark bedroom alone, door locked, bottle uncorked. Please open the door. Please let me in.

In my twenties...

...meant disgust. Finding out that he'd created fake online accounts in my name on every class reunion website, and written profiles cunningly weaving together enough truth and lies about me to create embarrassment at my upcoming ten year reunion. It meant him calling me out of the blue one day to announce that our dad had been killed in a car accident - a complete lie, just to hurt me. Mystifying and unjustified hatred towards me that manifested in voicemails so nasty I had to change my number.

...meant secrecy. Meant being afraid to share my mailing address with my own parents, despite their promises never to let him find it. Threats on me, my property, my loved ones, my pets.

In my thirties...

...meant detachment. It meant lying and saying, No, I don't have any siblings, because it's easier than bringing light conversation to a screeching halt with words like jail, violent, schizophrenia, sociopath, restraining order, homeless. Nearly twenty years of watching him destroy his own life and create endless misery for my parents had squelched any compassion I may once have had for him.

When my mother died...

...meant massive, years-long frustration. It meant begging him to sign over to me the right to execute her estate, so that her assets could be liquidated and her affairs settled. She didn't have a will, so it meant trying to reason with an unreasonable person a very disturbed and unstable person about reasonable things. You don't have an address. You don't have any ID, or a checking account. You're in jail now, and you'll be homeless when you get out. You cannot possibly execute her estate. Please, please, please just sign the papers and let me handle this. I have no interest in screwing you out of anything. I just want to get this over with.

...meant anger. It meant finding letters from him among her things, filled with lies about me, about what I was doing, about who I was with. Heartbreaking, horrible things designed to drive the wedge that already existed between her and I even deeper.

When my father died...

...meant apathy. It meant handling every last physical, emotional, financial, logistical, and legal detail of my dad's death completely on my own, because my brother was, as usual, in jail.

This evening...

...means fresh aggravation, in the form of an email from my attorney.  The details of it are too complex and uninteresting to recount, but they're enough to completely wreck my day and mood.

...means fresh pain. He has nothing but time, money, and anger to fuel his malice, his outward expressions of self-loathing. I'm the only target left, and there is no hiding.

...means fresh heartbreak. Just this afternoon I Instagrammed a shot of some of our old family photos, one of which features the very same red wagon we used to haul cherries in. This is what it used to be like. Don't you remember? This is the beautiful thing we had.

...is to have a stranger in my own two-person family.