Don’t Question the Steps, Just Dance!

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Today was insular yet interesting, a lovely mix of reaching out, reaching up, and hunkering down.

I took my first biology exam today, and it had me very, very nervous. The amount of material was overwhelming! We had to know the basics of anatomical directions; the regions, cavities, and systems of the body; the organization of living things and the requirements for life; basic chemistry (atoms, ions, chemical bonds, solution chemistry, etc.); and the anatomy of a human cell, including the name of every protein, carbohydrate, lipid, nucleotide, and organelle therein, as well as their composition and function. WTF!

And when did human cells become so complicated?! From what I recall of biology in middle school–the last time I took it!–a cell looked like a cracked egg and consisted of a membrane, a nucleus, and some cytoplasm.

What, then, is this monstrosity:

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I know what this is and how it works! 😀

It appears that scientists have discovered a whole bunch of extra crap in there, and I am expected to know what it is and what it does at the molecular level. Thankfully, I actually like sorting my proteasomes from my lyosomes, and I can now label and (sort of) understand everything on this diagram.

I also love how dirty some of it sounds:

“Can I use my secretory vesicle to transverse your phospholipid bilayer?” she asked thirstily.

I did my level best on the midterm, depleting what I thought would be three exams’ worth of index cards in a marathon flashcard session. And it was ok: I missed one out of forty questions. Had the exam not been open-note, I would have missed perhaps five or six, which is still respectable. I am pleased and hopeful, even though I have no idea where this is headed.

While I was getting ready for the exam, I texted about my nerves with a few friends, and they wrote back with all the affirmations and assurances I needed to hear. I am so grateful for their support.

Interestingly enough, one of those friends was J*. After my exam, we talked for the first time in five months, and it was wonderful.

Most of my closest friends will shake their heads ominously and ask, “Why would you muddy the waters with that piece of dirt?” And I can’t blame them, because they love me, and they worry for me, and they remember the disappointment and heartache I experienced with him as it was unfolding. Plus they never met him, so they regard him more as abstraction and distraction than as an actual human man that they might like.

The reality, though, is that J* is one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I have missed having him in my life. And when we talked today, he said he missed talking to me too. That lifted my spirits immeasurably, not because of some fragile hope that the path he is on will one day lead back to me. Truth be told, my heart does go there sometimes late at night, when I can’t sleep and need a story to put my mind at rest. But that’s not why I loved talking to him today. It’s because I loved hearing his story and learning that he’s ok. Better than ok, actually–he’s excited for a new job, a new living situation, and a fresh start in a new town. I am happy for him. Talking to him also made me happy because the one thing I can’t abide is his indifference. Though I know to my core that no time is ever wasted (a sincere thank you to the poet Richard Brautigan for that wisdom), it would pain me to know that my time meant nothing to him.

And yet, even if that did happen, I would remain hopeful and still. Relationships ebb and flow, people come and go. I know this. Some of my closest friends right now–I didn’t talk to them for years, once upon a time, and now we walk together . People tend to find their way back to love, all kinds of love, if you don’t place barriers in their path. So you never know how someone might filter in and out of your life, because it’s not an orderly process like, say, protein carrier-assisted passive diffusion across a phospholipid bilayer. It’s more like osmosis: water flowing back and forth, in and out, filtering through aquaporin channels or caressing the gently undulating tails of the phospholipids themselves, until it finds its equilibrium. (I never realized the beauty of plasma membrane transport until just now!)

I don’t know the right metaphor, and maybe biology isn’t even the right science. It might be astronomy, with friends traversing hidden corners of the universe, then reappearing suddenly as a bright light streaking across the sky. But no, comets are predictable. People are not, though they can shine just as brilliantly.

Maybe we’ll just leave this one to the humanities and the Analects of Confucius: “To have an old friend come from far away–isn’t it a joy!”

I almost titled this post, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back,” because I am exploring a way out of an unsatisfying career by returning to the soothing embrace of school. And, ok, talking to J* long-distance again does feel very 2014. But I stopped myself from using that title, because the saying implies linear directionality–you’re headed towards something, but you’re having trouble getting there. Instead, I don’t know which way I’m headed, nor towards what, and I have no idea who, if anyone, will be with me when I get there. Even if I do take two steps forward for every step back, the steps do not go in the same direction. And sometimes the steps back aren’t so much a retreat as a return, to a warm and comforting place I need to experience from time to time.

“Two steps forward, one step back. Repeat!” We’re all doing this, all the time, crossing paths with one another in the process. That’s not walking a line.

That’s dancing!

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2015 Year in Review: Poisoned, Set Adrift

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2015 began with a poison kiss.

I didn’t even know I had New Year’s Eve plans until a few hours before midnight. J* texted me while I was at the gym to see if I wanted to spend the evening with him, and I rationalized, “Hey, better late than never.” We agreed that he would pick me up at 7 to drive an hour to visit friends of his in a far suburb. That gave me a leisurely two-and-half hours to finish my run, stop off at the store, and slap on the pretty stick. About 30 minutes later, he texted again, wanting to know if I could be ready to leave at 6, just an hour hence.

I was still on the treadmill.

With a mighty effort, I managed to get home, stop sweating, and be ready when he arrived to pick me up. We were trying to be there in time for something called “an Irish toast,” though neither of us understood what that meant. Because I thought we were going to his English friend’s home, I imagined a custom of some import, a break in the evening’s festivities at which our absence would be noted. J* drove with urgency and then like a madman. At one point, lost in conversation, he missed our exit, trapping us on an airport service road. He got angry. Then, when we missed the last bailout, he got angry some more.

I had witnessed one of his outbursts on the phone, but never in person. Now, I was trapped in the passenger seat of a car that felt like it was going way too fast, driven by a grown man having a tantrum. He muttered and yelled, addressing himself in the second person. He slammed his fists on the steering wheel. He shifted the manual transmission in waves of anger. When he slowed in the airport parking lot to ask for directions to the exit, I looked at the glittering terminal in the distance and wondered if I should make a run for it. I froze.

I dated a violent man once, so in those seconds of uncertainty, I reverted to what I knew: be quiet, stay still, act small. Even so, when J* challenged me to confront him, I foolishly took the bait.

“Go ahead, say whatever you’re going to say,” he demanded.

“I’m not going to say anything,” I fumed, “because I don’t want to get punched in the fucking face.”

In the twisted logic of our relationship, my words became the most grievous transgression of the night, a presumed accusation–that J* was an abuser–we never quite got past. I offered context that he declined to consider and apologies that neither of us quite believed. He offered very little, pushing back hard that my words exceeded his actions in their terribleness. In retrospect, that argument exposed the power deferential of our relationship: his ambivalence towards me could put me on my heels even if he was in the wrong. In the end, having resolved nothing, we just moved on.

We arrived at our destination–not an English home, but rather an Irish bar–about ten minutes to seven. J* bolted from the car without a second’s pause, leaving me trotting after him in heels across the icy parking lot. We exchanged no words to bridge the angry divide between us. Moments later, I was meeting his friends for the first time, smiling a plastic smile that I hoped would hide my deep discomfort.

As it turns out, an Irish toast is simply an acknowledgement that it is midnight in Ireland. The bar distributed little flights of Guinness, a canned version of Auld Lang Syne blared from the PA system, and then it was done. A piece of actual toast would have been more satisfying.

It was 7:01 PM, and the five hours to midnight spread before us like a cold and lonely road. I drank a lot, I ate too much, and I spent a lot of time in the ladies’ room. As the hours passed, J* and I found our way back to each other. He held my hand, he touched me lightly under the table, he checked to see if I needed anything. At midnight, he smiled broadly as he took my face in his hands and rendered that sweet but fateful kiss.

I was wary but hopeful as our lips met. Lost in softness and warmth, we failed to notice the poison seeping like a fog. Within hours, I was toxic. Within the month, I was adrift.

We went to J*’s friends’ house, where we watched them drink themselves into oblivion. Then we drove back to my house, where J* dropped me off as unceremoniously as a taxi service–no hug, no kiss, no promise to see me again.

Days later, my body started to go haywire–my first bout with the fun! fun! fun! of serious hormonal imbalance.

Two weeks after that, J* broke up with me in a brief text message.

Three weeks after that, a trusted neighbor assaulted me in my living room, violently groping me and attempting to tear off my clothes. I fought him off but did not call the police, because he was leaving the country the next day, and I wanted to put as much distance between us as possible. Even now, he lurks at the edge of my dreams. And when he returned to his house, just 16 feet away from mine, last spring, I found myself feeling panic every time I had to walk the dog.

Spring semester, I endured a two-month bout of bronchitis and a crushing to-do list: teach three classes, give four presentations at three conferences, attend a hundred meetings, grade a thousand typed pages (that is sadly not an exaggeration), write a million emails. All of it felt like work. By fall, I felt broken.

My relationship with my sister deteriorated. In January, she unfriended me on Facebook for a slew of infractions she declined to mention until I noticed I could no longer tag her in family photos. She made it nearly impossible for me to see her children, who used to be the lights of my life. Where we once had monthly excursions, I took them out just twice all year. My parents remained neutral or erred, understandably, on the side of seeing their grandchildren. Throughout the year, my family gathered frequently without me, having decided preemptively that I was too busy to join them. My mother started to forget me.

My friend was sick. He got sicker. In May, he died. My friends, also his friends, lost their friend. My friend, his widow, lost her husband. My loss was so small compared to hers, but still–the losses associated with this one man piled up atop one another, so that everywhere I turned I saw someone I cared about struggling to breathe through their grief.

Days after my friend died, I reached for J* and he reached back. After months of silence, we struck up an amazing, awkward, amazing friendship. It was an invitation to healing but also more pain. In August, I fell into a hole so deep I could barely see the sky. J* pulled me out. Then he left the country without saying goodbye.

The remainder of 2015 was defined by depression, loneliness, workplace misery, family problems, health problems, and another painful breakup. I could not make anything turn out right, as though the poison coursing through me wilted everything I touched. In that powerless state, I felt adrift.

The year began with a crazy night and a fateful kiss, but, like all measurements of time, midnight on New Year’s Eve is an arbitrary beginning for a period of decline that probably started years before. In some corners of this story, I can say comfortably that someone else was the agent of my misfortune. But in others, it was fate or chance or no one, and in still others, it was me. I made choices too. I opened a door, or closed one. I said things I shouldn’t have said and failed in a hundred different ways. J* kissed me, and I kissed him right back, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Other people–who knows, maybe even 2015 or the Universe itself–might have shoved me out to sea, but I’m the one who untied the raft from its moorings.

Now I write this blog, as if from the safety of that raft. Life often seems like a forbidding sea, and only the moon and stars at night help differentiate sky from the dark water all around me. The writing helps.

I tell my story, I vent the poison.

I plan a new future, I chart a course to safety.

I don’t know what 2016 has in store for me. But just in case, I am staying in this New Year’s Eve.

And the only person I’m kissing… is the dog.Photo on 2013-11-04 at 16.58 #6

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.

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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.

The Kindness of Strangers

I am a little overwhelmed. I don’t work especially hard at my job anymore, due to depression and burnout. But even so, the little details of life tend to elude me. There are leaves that need raking, plaster and drywall that need patching, an oven in need of repair, a tree in need of an arbor, there’s that light that hasn’t worked right for years, shoes that need to go back to the store, laundry and dishes and bills piling up, the dog’s tick treatment, issues with the title on the house, email to my mom’s doctor, that prescription waiting for me at the wrong pharmacy, and on and on and on.

I write this list in the passive voice deliberately, because the grammatically potent, active-voice truth often feels too lonely to bear: All of these tasks–and many others of far greater consequence–fall to me. There is no one to help. On the great sea of life, I am the only person keeping me afloat.

And yet.

Every now and then, someone does a kindness that takes off just a little weight. It happened today, the smallest thing, but when I realized it, it felt like I had been saved from drowning.

I know of what I speak, because I almost drowned. Let me tell you a story.

Senator John McCain and I have precisely one thing in common: We both have been plucked from the water by kindly Vietnamese people, though thankfully I was not subsequently incarcerated in the Hanoi Hilton for five years.

I was on a three-week tour of Vietnam with my parents, who were in their late sixties at the time. Escorting two senior citizens–even seniors as chill and capable as my parents were back then–through a developing
world country–even one as gorgeous and hospitable as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is a little stressful. Ok, more than stressful. After about ten days, I was ready to either defect or kill them both.

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Fan boats in Ha Long Bay.

At just that point in the trip, we took an overnight cruise aboard the Emeraude, a replica of a 19th-century French paddleboat, in majestic Ha Long Bay. It was a luxurious experience, complete with free mini mai tais upon boarding, which both of my parents declined. Not being one to leave money on the table, and desperately needing to relieve some stress, I drank all three.

Nicely toasted, I enjoyed the balmy breezes as we set sail for our first stop, a small island that featured a swimming beach, a mountain, and a pagoda atop a winding flight of some 400 stairs. We decided to try it, my father with his bad heart, my mother with her bad knees, and me with my mai tai-impaired judgement. My father petered out part way up and sat heavily on a bench to catch his breath. (He would have four stents put in his coronary arteries about six weeks later, so my great fear that I was going to have to find a coffin in Vietnam for a 6’4″ man was not totally unfounded.) Mom and I made it to the top in good time, but then, as we climbed down, her pace slowed dramatically.

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The island.

In concern for both parents, mindful of the departing pontoon boat, and desperate to keep moving after 10 sedentary days, I kept climbing down to my dad, then back up to my mom, then down again, perhaps doubling or tripling the number of stairs in the journey. By the time we all reached the bottom, I was tired and ready to scream. I needed some me-time, and I remembered this talk-show anecdote Drew Barrymore once told about feeling pent up on a cruise, and how she dove off the boat and swam to a nearby island. I could do that in reverse, right?

It didn’t look that far.

I’ll add here that I grew up in the midwest, and we are not “boat people,” so while I was a strong swimmer who had completed advanced lifeguard training in high school, I had little experience with the sea. Apparently, people like that–like me–tend to be very bad at judging distance over open water. I learned that pearl of wisdom from a fellow passenger, a boating instructor in Sydney Harbor, after I became known on the Emeraude as “the girl who nearly drowned.”

I gave my parents my ID, room key, and sandals and told them I was going to skip the pontoon boat and swim back to the Emeraude by myself. Uncharacteristically, they didn’t really say much except “Ok! See ya later!”

Which makes me think they were sick of me too.

I walked into the water wearing nothing but some black shorts, a sports bra, a long-sleeve t-shirt, and the tipsy confidence of a would-be manic pixie dreamgirl. The water was warm and lovely! I paddled capably through the swimming area and made it to the floating ball that demarcated the edge. It was slow going! I was breathing HARD and clung to the buoy while I caught my breath. I had lost track of time and was starting to worry that the pontoon boat might beat me back to the big boat, my parents would think I was somewhere aboard, and the Emeraude would leave without me. I needed to press on.

Plus, it didn’t look that far.

While I was weighing my options, a young Vietnamese man stopped to check on me. He lived on the island and had swum out to the Emeraude to see friends who worked on the ship. There was a little swimming platform on the back of the boat where guests and off-duty crew were enjoying the water. I saw him waive goodbye to his friends, jump in the surf, and swim towards me, passing by as I was clinging to the buoy and heaving for breath.

“You…ok?’ he asked in halting English but with obvious concern.

“I’m fine! Fine!” I cheerfully waived him off. Then, as if to prove it, I set out once again. Freestyle, sidestroke, breast, other sidestroke–I kept switching it up as my muscles would start to fatigue.

Almost there! It didn’t look that far.

In my midwestern ignorance of open water, I hadn’t considered the current. Of course! The buoys marked the borders of a “safe” swimming area that was unaffected by current. Once outside it, the water’s calm surface hid a secret power, pushing pushing pushing pushing me away from my destination.

More swimming, different strokes, but my strength was failing. I knew I was in trouble, but I still had perhaps 20 yards to go. It might as well have been a mile. (And yet, it didn’t look that far!)

I was struggling, and my limbs felt like lead. Due to my lifeguard training, I knew that the most important thing was to remain calm. I did. I paused, vertical in the water and barely able to keep my head above its gentle waves. I called out to the Vietnamese men on the swimming platform.

“I need some help!” They ignored me.

I saw a white woman standing at the railing nearby. “Would you tell them I need some help?” She stared at me blankly, like a cow waiting to be fed. Then she walked away.

Shit.

Or should I say, “Merde.” I learned later that she was French, and neither she nor the Vietnamese men lounging on the deck understood English. My calm demeanor belied my desperation.

I kept going, advancing against the current in a mighty effort. I had two worries. The most pressing was that I was going to die. A close second was that I was going to be nude from the waist down when it happened. You see, my shorts were not actually board shorts. They got all stretchy in the water, and they kept slipping down below my hips, causing me to expend energy I couldn’t afford pulling them back up. Oh, did I mention I wasn’t wearing any panties? I pictured my mother’s embarrassment when they pulled my lifeless, pants-less body from the water.

And still, I forced myself to remain calm. I had a plan. I estimated that there was enough life in my limbs to swim for another 30 seconds. At that point, I was going to shift to a “dead man’s float” to conserve energy. I would let the current carry me out to sea and hope that someone would notice and come to my aid. Basically, I was going to surrender my life to chance, beyond any further control of mine, having expended the last of my reserves to save it.

I was now perhaps 30 or 40 feet from the Emeraude’s swimming deck, where the Vietnamese men were chatting happily in complete indifference to the life-or-death struggle unfolding just yards away. I called out to them once more.

“I need some help!” This time, the brittle edge to my voice caused them to stop talking. They looked at me, but no one moved.

I was exhausted, spent, perhaps ten seconds away from the dead-man plan. “Remain calm” was so ingrained in me that I failed to realize: Now is the time to go insane, to scream, to disrupt the calm of those around you, to demand, “HELP ME SAVE MY FUCKING LIFE!”

Instead, I was silent. Time to float away.

And then something miraculous happened!

The young man, the one who had asked if I was ok when I was clinging to the buoy–I didn’t know it, but he had been following me, in anticipation of the great danger I was now facing.

At just that moment, when all my strength was gone, he swam up behind me and gently took my hand, as though he were assisting a lady as she stepped across a puddle. It was nothing, just the barest gesture of assistance, and yet it was everything–literally everything. With him taking off the slightest amount of weight, I found my strength again, and my head rocketed above the water. He called out in Vietnamese to the men on the boat, and they realized in horror what was happening. Lots of scurrying, shouting–I remember thinking, “Maybe y’all shouldn’t keep the life preserver in the closet.”

They threw it to me. I am a person who has literally had a donut-shaped life-preserver thrown to her. It landed a few feet to my front, my rescuer helped me reach for it, a guy on the boat jumped in and frantically thrashed towards us, and in the commotion I found the strength to kick my way to safety. I still had to climb the ladder, however. I slipped, badly scraping my shins, but I made it up and onto the deck…where I promptly fell down, because there was nothing left in my legs. I sat there in tremendous embarrassment while kind Vietnamese people fussed over me.

“Thank you. Cám ơn. Cám ơn. Thank you.” There was nothing else to say.

Today, I was finishing some errands on a miserable late-fall day. I returned to my car in haste, trying not to linger in the cold rain. My electronic key worked instantly, I hopped in, and drove away. Later, I realized…the key was supposed to be broken.

For weeks, that key has been a source of constant irritation, as its battery slowly died. And yet, I could never remember to add it to the list of mundane, yet overwhelming tasks that need attention. Today I took my car in for service. The guy who did the intake would have noticed that the key wasn’t working. He must have changed the battery for me. I was overwhelmed by his kindness and started crying when I realized that sometimes there is help beyond what my tired body can do.

I’m sure if I called to thank him, he would say that it was nothing, just the barest gesture of assistance. And yet it was everything–literally everything. Because removing even the slightest amount of weight is sometimes all you have to do to save a stranger from drowning.

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I took this picture of the Emeraude (right) from atop the pagoda. You can’t even see the beach from whence I began my swim down below. Turns out, it was really fucking far!

 

 

What’s Good?

I have had been laid low recently, a combination of physical and emotional ills. If not for my little yellow dog, I would not have left the house, and we have spent most of the last four days nestled in bed together. I find myself disconnecting from the world–declining invitations, ignoring overtures, disappearing from social media. My mantra is “Reach out to people who reach back,” but just now I feel as if I can scarcely lift my arms, let alone reach for someone.

(If you’re one of those people who has reached out, I am so sorry for not responding. Please don’t give up on me.)

The flexibility of my work schedule–the non-financial compensation that academics so highly prize–is counterproductive for me when this happens. Because of the looming Thanksgiving holiday, I could stay in bed for a good two weeks before anyone would notice. But my relationship to my work–that is a story for another day.

Today, I am trying not to close doors as soon as they open, even though a future beyond this low horizon is impossible to imagine. I responded to a text from a new suitor I met online (not Tinder; a different site). He’s “old school,” so he called me and left a nice voicemail. I wasn’t expecting that. But just returning the call feels like an impossible task for which I need to: clean the house, or at least the bathroom, ok, maybe just the toilet; take a shower, but wait–I need to go to the gym first, but I’m too gross to go out in public, so I should take a shower, then go to the gym; then I’ll tidy the house and clean the toilet; discard the dead plants and throw out the rotting Halloween pumpkins; take the dog out; sweep the leaves off the front walk; maybe find a shred of self esteem under there? Shower again. Then call.

It’s just too much.

The woman who crafted the online profile, the woman this man wants to talk to, is a stranger to me. I look at her pictures, and I read her witty self-descriptions, without recognition. Just trying to be her, let alone a woman who can endure the endless disappointments of online dating, would be the performance of a lifetime. I imagine trying to talk to this man, and I can’t script a conversation that doesn’t end with me in tears. (This poor man. Little does he know, he has drifted into the eye of someone else’s midlife hurricane!)

In an effort to rally, and in homage to my friend who writes the most hopeful blog and Facebook posts, when I know for a fact she ain’t always feelin’ it, I am going to make a list of Martha Stewart-style Good Things to try to pierce the gloom and let some light filter in. Because it’s just a phone call, right?

Good Things (aka Fronting):

  • I am not a Syrian refugee.
  • I am not an ISIS bride.
  • I am not Bashar al-Assad’s food taster.
  • I am not Putin’s botox injector.
  • I do not have to wipe Kim Jong-un’s ass (because you just know someone does, amiright?).
  • God willing, I will never have to see Donald Trump or Ben Carson naked.
  • David Vitter LOST, and 250,000 Louisianians will have access to health care as a result.
  • My dog is super cute.
  • I live in a nice house that is mostly not falling down.
  • I drive a car that is less than five years old.
  • I have a car.
  • I have a steady income and health insurance.
  • I am not trapped in a hurtful marriage.
  • My parents are both still alive, and I get to spend time with them.
  • One of my best friends is in a happy, committed relationship for the first time since I’ve known her.
  • I just bought a pair of teal slacks.
  • None of my teeth are sore.
  • There are leaves in need of raking, which is an exercise in mindfulness if ever there was one.
  • I binge-watched all of that show “Ballers” on HBO yesterday and think the Rock could get an Oscar if he found the right role and director.
  • I have an HBO-Go password, which belongs to an ex-boyfriend’s roommate’s friend, who once got so drunk he peed the floor, which the roommate filmed and my ex-boyfriend shared with me.
  • I do not struggle with addiction.
  • When the guy I like, but who doesn’t really like me back, texted me the words “great tits” unbidden yesterday, I had the self-respect not to be I’m Cool With It Girl and didn’t text him back.
  • Sometimes making a list, giving a name to the Black Dog that haunts you, and telling other people about your struggles, can help.
  • I really do have great tits.