Self-Arrest

I have never climbed a glacier (though I did slide down one on my butt in high school!), but my understanding is that one has to be prepared to conduct a “self-arrest,” whereby one uses an ice axe to stop a potentially fatal slide into oblivion. That’s kind of what happened this Christmas.

As I’ve discussed previously, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas. The holiday involves too much waste, too much self-indulgence, and not enough actual spirit-of-Christ giving. It has also been historically fraught in my family. I won’t go into that here, just trust me. I’ve earned the Girl Scout “Ruining Christmas” merit badge too many times to mention.

This year, I did Christmas differently, albeit somewhat unintentionally. On Christmas eve, I departed my family gathering early–for a booty call. It was fucking awesome, in the most literal sense. On Christmas day, I elfed with Santa and my sister-elf at a rehab center filled with ill and lonely people. Yes, “elf” is a verb, meaning, “To assist Santa by handing out gifts, greeting people, singing carols, and feeling palpably grateful that you are not a patient in that terrible place.” That afternoon, I played host to a friend who unexpectedly arrived at my house, pregnant with weariness and no place to stay. We played tourist and visited my parents, then we met up with another friend for Thai food and booze. Over the next few days, I texted with far-away friends, I went to a play, I went for a hike with a second surprise houseguest, and I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself on a public street.

Doing good for others was, as always, a soothing experience, which helps to explain nursing’s appeal for me. And being with people who appreciate me for who I am was soul-saving. After months of feeling like I am sliding into oblivion, slipping the bonds I share with everyone who cares about me and spinning not off a glacier but off the planet altogether, the choice to go my own way–to serve my own interests–this Christmas gave me a sense of purchase I haven’t felt in a great, great while.

I can feel myself starting to slip again already. The booty call was great, but I wish I could meet a guy who wants to take me to the movies. My friends are doing well, but sometimes it feels as though they are leaving me behind. And being with my parents the day after Christmas made me very sad. I worked a jigsaw puzzle with my mom, and it felt more like occupational therapy than a shared project. “I can’t see it. You do it,” she said time again, as she struggled to fit a piece into its place.

But still–it feels good to know…

that self-arrest is possible,

that sometimes I can make the pieces fit,

that there are people who can still make me laugh and, despite my precarious attachment to this world, who can help me to enjoy the view.

self arrest
Maybe when this guy gets safely off the mountain, he can be my boyfriend.

 

The Perfect Day

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I don’t like this time of year, what with its relentless focus on endings and beginnings, its ruthless celebration of children and families, and its vicious indulgence in nostalgia. Not to mention, you’re a loser if you don’t have a date.

It isn’t all bad. There is my friend who makes care packages for homeless people–600 this year! There is the holiday concert at my niece’s school, replete with happy kids so excited about their clarinets and alto solos. There is the t-shirt I got with my dog’s name on it, perhaps the greatest article of clothing ever gifted to me. There are the holiday lights that help to blot out the inky darkness, which seems to begin around lunchtime. There is a lot of candy.

No, it isn’t all bad. Just…most of it.

I haven’t always felt this way. Most years, I decorate the house inside and out. I practice Christmas carols at the piano. I send out a funny Christmas letter to connect with old friends. I volunteer. I try.

This year, I haven’t even switched out the fall wreath for the winter one. (Yes, I am That Lady, who has artificial wreaths for every season.)

Last year, in fact, I had a perfect day, just a few days before Christmas. I am starting to think it might have been the best day of my life, and as I ruminate on it, I wonder: Will I ever have a day like that again?

It was fall graduation, and a young woman whom I had mentored through personal, legal, and financial problems was finally graduating with her Bachelor’s degree after several years of struggle. Seeing her walk across the stage when her name was called–that was perhaps my finest achievement as a teacher. Later that same afternoon, I hooded my first two doctoral students, also an incredibly satisfying moment.

That day, I never looked better. My skin was clear. I was down almost ten pounds. I was wearing a fetching black dress and heels with fancy fishnet stockings–a rare sartorial success for me. Over that, I was sporting my brand-new academic regalia, purchased in collaboration with my parents (multiple years’ worth of Christmas presents) to celebrate finally achieving tenure. My hair looked great, all straight and shiny beneath my tam, which I perched at a cheeky angle. I was beaming as I walked across campus. I took a selfie, and I actually had someone to send it to.

On the drive home, J* suggested I come to his place, and he would make me dinner. That felt wonderful–a place to go, and a handsome man to greet me warmly when I got there. He told me my body looked great in that dress, and I gently laughed it off as though I heard compliments like that all the time. We snuggled into the couch to watch a documentary, basking in the twinkling white lights of the Christmas tree. Then he had to meet some people, and I went home to walk the dog and go to bed. Not a perfect ending to most people’s perfect day, but it was good enough for me.

Perfect, actually. I felt at home in my own skin, I felt successful professionally, and I felt loved. I even had the grace to realize, as it was unfolding, how special it was, and I was so grateful.

It all started to unravel about a week later, and the unravelling has accelerated with each passing month, until here we are in December 2015, and there is almost nothing left.

I’ve gained weight. My hormones are a mess, so I get to enjoy my first serious bout of acne in middle age. I cut my hair, and it looks terrible most days. I haven’t worn the dress or stockings since that day, and the shoes are going south due to neglect and misuse. (Speaking as a former shoe-care professional, suede is a bad investment.) I didn’t attend fall graduation this year, and I’m certain I wasn’t missed. J* is long gone, and there is no one new on the horizon. I won’t even get started on the mess that is my family. It was a mess last year, too, but I had people outside my family for whom I was a priority, so that made it seem not so bad.

This year, it’s just me. Me and the dog, and the fall wreath, and a long, long night.