Night Bird

So this is our new normal.

At least for now.  For the time being.  For the foreseeable future.  I have never heard all the world so still in a city.  I have never been afraid of the night like I am right now, sitting in my own backyard at midnight on a Saturday.  Stripped of the comforting sounds of distant freeways, people chatting across the street in another yard, car doors slamming, motorcycles zooming, I am…disquieted.

Disquieted about so many things, really.  And is that even a great description of what I currently feel?  The stillness of the night is not what is frightening, it’s really what might be deep inside that stillness.  Are there spiders and bobcats?  Coyotes?  Is there a snake in the tree next to me?  Is there a rat on the roof?  Is the natural world being lulled back into a sense of time before we started ravaging all of everything?  Maybe not so much just yet, but then my mind wanders away from bumps in the night to the greater issue of all the living things we’ve ravaged.

My mind races and zooms even further out, then in, and I start to be aware of my breath.  But not in a zen way, in a “holy shit why can I not just slow down my breathing” kind of way.  Because we have all been forced to spend time with ourselves lately.  Too much time.  Oodles and fucking mountains of time.  And yet I think about all the people in the country, on the planet, who would give anything for one more moment of it.  I think about how my routine of extra precautions perhaps doesn’t even matter.  That’s the one that really sends me over.

Here’s how I know I am not okay.  That nothing is okay.  I cannot be bothered to “move more.”  I cannot find my fucking breath because it is everywhere and scattered and ragged and pregnant with fear.  I cannot just go take a walk.  I come back from one weekly trip to get an essential or two and I cry for 15 minutes in the shower.  After I think I am done crying, my brain reminds me hey, do you wanna feel real bad?  Good, because you don’t even know anyone who has contracted it.  YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ONE PERSON YET.  You should be ashamed because there are hundreds of thousands of people who are crying for the loss of people they loved.  There are a million other ways I know I am not okay, but the shower guilt cry is a sure sign.

I love that during this, millions have lost their jobs, that our government hasn’t even begun to do enough anything, that some of us who have been lucky enough to continue to work do so with active trauma happening continuously while we tend to children, spouses, and all other aspects of a life that has been drastically narrowed down to 4 walls.  It is all a mess, a shitshow, a catastrophe of epic proportions, even before you start tallying any loss of life.  The fact that I am inconvenienced regarding my comfort level without toilet paper means literally fucking nothing compared to nurses, delivery drivers, grocery workers, and many other essential service providers who are risking their lives without necessary equipment that is now required to do their job.  Sometimes, a job that doesn’t even pay the bills. 

Nothing, I repeat nothing, is okay.

Yes, I’ve read all the stuff, and I do mean ALL THE STUFF.  Haven’t we all reached the end of the internet at this point?  If not to search “is migraine a symptom of COVID-19” then surely to look at endless kitten pictures so we can try to wipe our brains before sleep?

There is a bird that sings outside our bedroom window all night, every night.  I’ve never heard this until recently.  If there’s one glimmer of okayness for me, it’s that.  While I am in my panic, when the lights are out and my husband snores softly beside me – when my eyes are wide open and I can’t pull together the pieces of my entirely fragmented mind, I listen for the bird.  I think about what it takes for me to just focus on this new thing.  The thing that is happening right now.

I have heard “we are going to get through this” and “this won’t last forever” and “when things get back to normal” from a lot of people in a lot of places.  Those phrases and statements, while hopeful, ring hollow to me.  I want to hope, I really do.  And I do believe we will – well, most of us – get through this.  I have read that we won’t be able to go back to how it was before.  That things will always be different and changed.  I have to ask myself if I really think that’s true in the way I want it to be:  To not go back to the greed, the fear-mongering, the lack of preparedness, the narcissism and puffed-up bravado of the immediately gratified culture we have been living in.   

I mean, we’ve all been forced to spend oodles –

fucking mountains of time with ourselves, right?

Right?

Six

I had my last drink six years ago yesterday.  What a weird feeling, weird thing to say.  It feels weird.  I wonder if that’s how it just…feels.  Like the further you get away from feeling like you need that drink, the more foreign even saying “I don’t drink” feels.  It’s not like it feels wrong to say, it is just a part of me, a habit/non-habit that I don’t really think about that much.  Which seems ungrateful to say.  Like I should be getting down on my alcoholic knees and praising the day I found whatever led me to that 5 seconds of clarity that said, “you are kind of done doing this.”

And I am.  I do.  I am grateful.  There were a lot of hands that helped me through whatever was my initial fog.  My initial inability to feel feelings; to name them.  One in particular – my first and only sponsor, who now has 12 years.  I remember when she had 6 years and I was brand new, and six years felt like…forever.  I don’t take any of the help I received then for granted, even if I haven’t kept in touch with all the people who helped me.  I know a common refrain is that I did not come to this decision on my own – that there was a force that guided me.  That is true in my case.  My god is not your god, which is also a common refrain, and I used to not feel ok saying that out loud.  I don’t even like to say “god” – even now.  I will say force.  I will say universal power.  I will say unnamed source.  Whatever it is, it was the voice that said, “You don’t need this.  It is just a story you tell yourself.”

There are times when I drive down a street with a bunch of bars on it – cool bars, hip places that advertise fun, old-fashioned drinks and craft cocktails.  For a second, my brain will whisper, “oh shit girl that sounds nice, sipping a fancy drank in this beautiful scenery that is San Diego, feeling the cool breeze and looking at a sunset.”  Except.  Except except except.

That is not how I drink.

I drink Target box wine.  I drink Cutty Sark scotch because that’s what’s around.  You can even read posts here on this very site that will tell you exactly the ways in which I drink.  I drink to not think about why life is hard.

I now don’t drink in order to make sure I think about exactly why life is hard.

What a difference six years makes.  The ways – all the ways – have been opened for me.  And I keep trying to live like I really believe that.
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Don’t Wait

This is a love letter to my sister. She is 9 years older than me. Here is what I know:

She loves horror fiction.

She loves Dan Fogelberg and Kansas and Pink Floyd.

Her laugh is the best, and she laughs a lot.

Time and all kinds of miles in between us and there is not a day that goes by that I am not regretful of what we’ve lost. And grateful for what we’ve found. Maybe we couldn’t be there for each other every single time, but the times we have been able to be matter. They fucking count. I remember listening to Styx and Elton John in her bedroom when she wasn’t home. I remember driving up the canyon together listening to Pat Benatar. Or the Police. I remember seeing her laughing. Crying. I remember never feeling like I could get enough of her eyes. Of her smile.

We will be old together, you and I. I will always keep trying to make you laugh. I will never have enough time with you. I love you, and you are the one for whom I waited for so long.

There’s not enough and so much all at once.

I remember.

Arizona, 1984

We Need Undoing

I’m on the Pacific side this flight,
Looking out to the giant blueness,
Reading Freeman’s Dictionary of the Undoing.
I think about my wealth of privilege.
I think about how I have started this decade by paying an artist to adorn my One Body with her rendition of my protector.
I feel good about how this transaction benefits both our lives.
About how it might allow her son to get more and better education.
About how it allows me to feel empowered.
I think about Freeman’s words.
About how I have this one Body.
About how those in power manipulate us – me – through my “choice” of this very interaction with you – you.
About how I want to read this book out loud in a park for all to hear,
But ultimately afraid of being deemed a “crazy person”.
What have they –
We –
Done?
Can we undo?
Who begins?
When?
I want to refuse to be the Watcher.
I want to reject my own apathy.
How do I watch the world burn, how do I make meaning out of a life by just
My one Spark?
It seems too small.

I –
We –
gotta start somewhere.
There is a long black hair on this airplane window and I think,
This is a person
This is DNA
And I reach out in hope towards whoever wherever this person is

Reach out and breathe before we can’t anymore.

I’m Not There Anymore

There was a band in the early 90’s called Mary’s Danish.  None of their albums are available on Spotify – which is probably an okay thing – but that means in order to listen to a few songs that I really like, I have to go get my archaic CD collection out and find a place to play it.  Which also,  holy shit what even are those anyway.  My car actually has a CD player, so I found myself busting out their CD “Circa” not too long ago.  Not every song is a gem.  Nay, most are not.  But the last song on the album has always made me feel stuff and probably cry depending on the day.  The lyrics go like this:

“…You fail in every way

Ask the ones you love – the words they can’t pronounce

You fail in every way 

Ask the ones you trust – you know they stole everything.

Cover your face girl, now shoot some pool 

So what, ya had it comin’.”

 So this doesn’t really sum up how I feel about where I’m at in my life today, but I think the reason I get emotional when I listen to it is because I remember all too well feeling like that ALL THE TIME.  I can identify all too easily with the person in that song – or at least, my past self can identify with her.  It’s sometimes a quick mental hop back into a life that really isn’t mine anymore.

My past actions – they’re just that.  Past.  Nothing like a song to put you right back in that same frame of mind, remembering all the shit you’ve done wrong or poorly in your life.  But for all the songs you can find or remember that make you feel a certain way you don’t really feel any longer, there are just as many that can fit who you are right now, in this very moment.  I think it’s okay – even cathartic – to use music to examine how you once felt, or how you feel now.  It’s all part of figuring out your inner life which is kind of what I’m doing all the time now.  Or try to do.  Sometimes it is painful; sometimes I don’t want to look at it or reach my hand down into any one particular feeling-bog of muck and ooze.  But it’s kind of what gets me through to the other side and helps me appreciate my life as it is right now.

All I am saying is, music helps to move through in order to move forward.  I’m not sure where I’d be without it.  Thanks Gretchen and Julie.

 

circa

 

 

 

Hubris

Yesterday I wanted to try a pizza place with my husband for dinner.  We ventured out into the slightly over-warm San Diego early evening, with the sun setting directly in front of me all the way there.  I was already nervous while driving, because I knew this joint was in a neighborhood that was notorious for having little to no parking.  It was a short drive and we found it in no time – naturally, though, no parking close by.  So, extremely preoccupied with turning left on a busy street, finding parking on a side street and with the sun in my eyes, I DID NOT SEE A TRAFFIC LIGHT DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME.  As a result of my *ahem* lack of observation, I proceeded to freak out that a guy was just coming from my left, from the street on which I was trying to turn, and barreling through the intersection.  My jaw dropped incredulously and so I honked.  Long.  Hard.  Honking.  A thing that my husband always urges me to do more of, so I thought “OH HE WILL BE SO PROUD I USED MY HORN!”

All the other cars obeying basic traffic rules stared at me incredulously, and waited patiently while I made an illegal-as-fuck left turn on a red-as-fuck light.

Thanks San Diego.  I feel like an asshole.  It won’t be the last time, I’m sure.

Closer Than You Think

I’ve been thinking about my father a lot lately.  Which I know is kind of a normal thing to do for most people – to think about their parents, whether they are living or deceased.  While it may be normal for most, I’ve never made a lot of space in my heart/brain for thoughts about my dad, minus the times when I absolutely had to – when he was sick; when he was dying; when and immediately after he died.  See, we didn’t have what you would call a close relationship.  He was a hard man, born in 1931 and somewhere in the middle of eight children in Red House, West Virginia.  He dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force at a very young age.  He was in the Korean War and Vietnam.  He retired from active duty when I was little and spent much of the rest of his working life travelling as a field engineer for an aerospace manufacturer, away from us, away from being able to really know him.  He was stoic, and not forthcoming with feelings – pretty much ever.  There were usually parts of fucked up F-16 gearboxes or fuel pumps or what-have-you in his company car trunk.  He would try to teach me what they were and what they did.  I was more interested in the magic of dance at age 13 – unsure of how to learn from a man who was kind of a stranger to me.  A mean stranger, sometimes.  As a child, my father was the brooding orange glow of a cigarette tip early in the dark of morning, or late in the night after the news was over and children should be in bed.  There was just an ethereal body behind that smoke, a man I couldn’t make out in either the dark or the light, really.  And as I grew up, he was just not really…there.

But when he was home, he was the disciplinarian.  Clearly exhausted from the effort it took to parent me (since my sister had long fled the depression and repression that was our happy family home), my mom was in give-up mode by the time my dad would come home from being away for 2 weeks at a time.  We were constantly moving for his job, and yet he still had to travel.  It sounds like I’m knocking my dad for trying to always go for the better position in order to provide for us.  I probably am.  It was fucking hard.  I had lived in 10 different houses and neighborhoods in 4 different states by the time I graduated high school.  It sucked.  I was forever starting a new school, forever not fitting in, forever not making friends.  I was a fucked up, lonely child.  I’m deeply grateful for many of the traits I now possess because of (and despite) my childhood – but there’s no denying that it was hard, hard, hard.  YES I AM AWARE it could have been harder, but I am not playing the comparison game that is ever so popular.  He was The Enforcer, not in a physically abusive way but in a disappointing-look/glare kind of way.  I mean, I was a pretty good kid and tried to stay out of trouble.  It didn’t mean I didn’t get punished, though.  My parents were old-school and strict.  No closed door to your bedroom EVER.  No boys in your bedroom, EVER.  Shit, I didn’t even have a TV in my bedroom until I had to move back in at 22 for a hot minute.  No going out past 10 on a school night as a teen, and they knew where you were as best they could without cell phones or GPS…if I would have been a different child, I would have tested those limits a whole lot more.  I am a rule-follower though, and never sneaked out.  Lied a bit about exact whereabouts, sure.  Never tried anything besides drink a little in high school.  I was a good student.  None of it was ever enough.  Or at least, enough to win his approval, to get his attention, to feel…loved.

Look, I know he loved me in whatever way he could.  But knowing it in your head is not the same as feeling it in your heart.  Here was a man who was never really taught what that meant, was never given a model for what that should look like – his own parents were close-mouthed people who didn’t emote.  Whenever we would travel to see my grandparents in California, the visit was full of kids and cousins and aunts and uncles, but Grandma and Grandpa barely spoke.  Maybe it was just me.  Shit.  I don’t know.  My Grandma was an expert baker, and I am pretty sure that is how I inherited the cakes-and-pies gene.  I digress.  I am saying that my father came from somewhat abusive, stoic people and he learned how to be from them.  It was not close.  It was not loving.  It was not enough either.

So, through generations of alcoholism on my mother’s side and too many kids and a restrained depression-era love on my father’s, I grew up resentful.  A demonstrative child trapped in a sad, frustrated house with zero authentic emotions.  I started working at 16 part time.  I worked full time, all the time, from 18 on.  It’s just what you did then.  I did what I could to survive – I built strong AF walls, I built a fantastic Mind Palace, and I got the fuck out as soon as humanly possible.  Many mistakes were made.  Oh, and I also started drinking righteously at about 18.  Like mother, like daughter.  Anything to feel more loved.  Anything to feel more accepted, to feel cooler, to feel like I belonged somewhere.  Eventually, I thought that moving away to college would be the answer, and the necessary step in order to make college a thing in which I did more than dabble after spending 3 years out of high school starting classes and just dropping out eventually.  I remember that my father was always the one from whom I would ask to borrow money, with the admonition of “don’t tell your mother” – which is clearly fucked up in its own right.  I worked all through school, but still spent way out of my means.  I graduated.  I moved even farther away from my parents.  I got married.  I got divorced.  I then spent the next 10-odd years living within driving distance of them and basically doing whatever they needed me to do, whenever they asked.  Which led to what Brené Brown would call a small breakdown.  Which really looked more like

BREAKDOWN.

But what it led to was a few years of therapy (which, you know, never end really), and tough introspective work, and getting rid of shit that just did not serve me any longer.  What THAT led to was realizing that it is not just okay but fucking necessary to have boundaries.  Maybe sometimes what you or I might think as extreme boundaries.  I don’t know.  I just know that I didn’t want to wake up and be 60 and wonder what the fuck I had done, spending 20+ years of my life taking care of my aging parents.  For some, I know that it is in the blood.  For some, I know that it is duty.  For me, it doesn’t work.  And I had already spent 10 of those 20+ years doing a thing I didn’t want to do.  He died after suffering 6 months with a growing brain tumor, and I cried at the ceremony at the National Cemetery – but mostly because a 21-gun salute was a symbolic event that produced a visceral reaction.  At least it did for me.  None of this means (I must keep telling myself) that I am devoid of compassion for my parents.  I am not.  I was not.  But I am also not a bottomless well from which to draw, leaving nothing left for myself.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up.  My feelings about my father – his life and his death and my intersection with those events – are complicated.  I loved him out of duty.  I am jealous when I talk to other friends who have lost their fathers.  They feel a gaping hole in their lives that they cannot fill, not with all the soil on this earth or all the other earths.  I don’t have this hole.  I have a weird, smoke-like vapor passing through.  But I will say that I think he watches me.  In Texas, he was a blue jay.  Here, he is jets.  Fucking loud, all-the-time Marine training jets up by where I work.  They rattle the windows and shake the ground, letting me know he’s here.  I look up to the deafening sky when they pass over and say out loud, “thanks Dad.”

I don’t know how I mean it when I say it.