The Rabbit and the Puppet

Today is one of those days where I really have no idea what to say. I am trying to drag words out of my mind and onto the page as if I have to wade through syrup. Paris is too close for perspective. Everything else is too far away. I can only hope that I am tapping the maple tree and the drops will lead to flow. At the very least, I am capable of using a metaphor.

Perhaps the next device should be synecdoche, starting with the smallest possible element.

Cheerios… one word for the fullness of motherhood.

The thing I lack from above and below. The “below” is of little consequence. The “above” has become the finality of losing a single puzzle piece behind drywall. It’s still in the house, but I’ll never find it. It is a desperate, histrionic and lifelong search. Even if I find a different manufacturer that manages to find something that fits, my spirit will always spot the fake, even if I step far enough away to look at the Impressionist painting promised on the box.

I am fortunate that the ultimate axiom in life is pain becoming beauty through reminiscence and introspection. There are moments I wonder (as I wander), can cat burglars steal love? Even if it was possible, I’d have to hire it done. Would I get relief from a middle man? Would I accept what was placed in my hands, or would I write it off as ersatz? Could I hug until the fur fell off? Could I wait until a fairy appeared to make it real? Just how long would my nose grow in the indeterminate meantime?

The interim is filled with REM induced dreams of a fictional character with his arms around me, stroking my hair and saying “fixed point in time. I’m so sorry.” My days are filled with Suzanne Vega running through my head like a mantra:

If your love were taken from me,
Every color would be black and white.
It would be as flat as the world before Columbus,
That’s the day that I lose half my sight.

If your life were taken from me,
All the trees would freeze in this cold ground.
It would be as cruel as the world before Columbus,
Sail to the edge and I’d be there looking down.

The truest comfort I think and feel is that she didn’t die feeling her exclusion from my inner landscape, which started when I was 12 and carried long into my 20s. It was never that I didn’t want her there. I was led by hopelessness, my emotions rather than logic. I wrote her off too quickly, attributing genuine concern regarding emotional abuse as homophobia… but to be honest, there was some of that as well. She cornered me, literally backing me into my closet, angrily whispering that I would not make my father lose his job. The message in the madness was, ironically, “straighten up and fly right.”

I was physically present, but my mind ran away, genuinely and severely frightened.

In my head, the relationship was toxic… and I ran straight into the snare of another one, yanking me upside down and backwards.

The disturbing downward spiral ended for good on my 36th birthday, the moment I began staring into the sky… salty, bitter tears and sunshine leading me into the resulting rainbow’s promise of gold.

I didn’t find it quickly or easily.

Another fixed point in time accelerated the process, but before that seminal moment, I was dragged… kicking and screaming with disbelief… willful ignorance… shame that held the trap in place for far longer than I thought was even possible.

Shame that I didn’t see light when it was right in front of me.

Relief from finally talking to others that I wasn’t unique or special in that regard… and still, it would only be mostly dead, that I would feel triggers for the rest of my life, some that were just noticeable and some that would wrestle me underground. I would still have to claw my fingernails into the dirt and find a foothold to propel me upward so that when I looked up, I would no longer see roots and mud.

In those moments, I have sometimes completed the process quickly, and at others, been too exhausted to try. This is because triggers happen in nanoseconds, and recoveries are variable. By the end of her life, my mother could reach my six feet under. I wish I could do the same.

Succor is by the grace I have met people with the same scars on their own skin, rubbing velvet ears bare.

Dame Blanche

This story starts at a restaurant near the Sacré Cœur, but it won’t end there. There’s more to tell before and after. I am choosing to begin with dessert.49759214_10156642200665272_7175104310940794880_o Literally.

For all my Outlander fans, in Paris (or maybe all of France, I don’t know) a “Dame Blanche” is a vanilla ice cream dessert with hot fudge and lots of Chantilly cream. Not only is it rich and heavy, there’s a lot of it. The portion size is enormous. There is a chocolate version called Liégeois Chocolat, which is equally delicious but not necessary to my French Outlander experience. These are both presented in the same line on the menu (no space or slash), so I think it’s all one dessert, and the waiter is confused. I keep pointing, and the look on his face as he walks away clearly says “I hope she has a hollow leg,” but that is only in retrospect.

What arrives is two overflowing parfait glasses, and I proceed to take them down like I have never eaten before and am new to the concept. I think my dad might have taken a bite or two, and that’s being generous.

To be fair, I had walked with my dad for over four miles that day, so by the time we got to dinner I was famished… even after having what seemed like an entire braised and shredded duck with mashed purple potatoes (akin to Shepard’s pie) for lunch… and that was just the main course. The entrée was a cream seafood soup and bread. Dinner was a veggie burger and fries. Given the way I usually eat, this was way past “I had too much to eat” and solidly into the perfection of gluttony.

Not being hungry has never stopped me from eating ice cream before, and I have my doubts it ever will again. French vanilla tasted roughly the same as it does in the United States, but chocolate ice cream is beyond comparison… less sweet and much darker, closer to a 60-65% cacao.

Incidentally, the rich desserts sort of made up for the lack of good coffee. Perhaps I was just ordering it wrong, but I thought it was terrible. The one thing I didn’t try that they had at the Charles de Gaulle airport Starbucks was a chocolate cereal milk latte. The rest of the time, I went to independent cafes or had instant Nescafe in my hotel room, which was arguably better than purchasing coffee elsewhere. Go to France for the food, clearly.

Earlier that day, I got my Doctor Who fix. One of the most famous episodes of the show takes place in part at the Musée d’Orsay Van Gogh exhibit, and to see it in person was astounding. musee_dorsayEvery Van Gogh you’ve seen in print is there. I saw the real Starry Night. I saw The Church at Auvers. I was mere inches away from haystacks and sunflowers. If I’d had four or five weeks in Paris, at least one would be dedicated to that room alone. I am not a visual artist by any definition. I would have just stared. I would have let his crazy mix with my crazy and see what writing came out of “us.”

Since I was short on time, I fairly quickly wandered around to the other Impressionists, spending a good five minutes looking at one light green stroke of paint on a Monet up close, then backing away until it looked like a leaf. I marveled at Gougin’s use of color and how it seemed he was the only person who painted people of color in that era. I loved his use of bright, engaging colors with cartoon-like black outlines so that everything stood out, like words with every syllable accented. Gougin’s art didn’t so much speak to me as it yelled in my direction, screamed and dared at me to look. Simplicity was complex. These were island people with spartan houses and blank expressions, so the question for me was, “are they happy?” Perhaps they didn’t so much like being painted, but it was more than that. I wondered if they felt impoverished or empowered.

The next truly overwhelming installation I saw was Monet’s Water Lilies20190106_151827, in permanent residence at the Musée de l’Orangerie. It covers several rooms and defies speech. Yet another work in which you constantly get very close, then very far away, then very close, just to see how the magic is put together. Monet was in his eighties when the collection was painted, and then stitched together to be hung. If you look very, very closely, you can see the stitches, but like everything else in an Impressionist’s work, blends “seamlessly.” When people talk about Water Lilies, they generally only mean the light blues and purples, but the actual cycle is so much more. The way they are hung now is, in essence, virtual reality. You don’t so much look at the paintings as step into them…. Claude Monet in “Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.”

I am finding that talking about Paris is more suited to several entries and not one gigantic read, so you’ll see more as the days progress. My Facebook friends have seen all my pictures because I couldn’t snap a photo without posting it five seconds later. Sorry I’ve kind of left you out in the cold, Fanagans. I was too full to move, much less write.

And not nearly caffeinated enough. What is sold in the United States as “French Roast” is just a terrible, terrible lie they tell little kids at bedtime.

St. Elmo’s Wired

Dan and I are sharing a small table at St. Elmo’s, a coffee shop that serves Stumptown. I told the barista that I’d lived in Portland for a number of years and she stared at me like I was from outer space. You’d think if you were serving Portland coffee, you’d know it (Stumptown is Portland’s “official” nickname). But that’s neither here nor there. Less expensive than Starbucks and twice as good. They didn’t have a dark roast, so I just got a large and added some espresso shots to it. Depending on where you live, this is either a “red eye,” a “shot in the dark,” or a “wizard jump.” Personally, I picture it as stumbling into a coffee shop with my eyes half open and saying, “just fuck me up.” Although doing that rarely gets me the required results. Lindsay does. My sister is a magical being with coffee. For some reason, everything she orders is perfectly calculated to not quite stop your heart. When I’m with her, I don’t even bother ordering. I just stand next to her and say, “I’ll have what she’s having.” I don’t care what it is. Dragon skin, unicorn blood, nine shots double meth, whatever.

Caffeine is really my only vice, my favorite drug. I will occasionally drink alcohol, but I tend to go weeks without it because I get enough calories from all the crap I eat. I just don’t feel the need to add to them, especially since I go mental when the alcohol kicks in and I am not in complete and total control. Most people don’t feel this until they’ve had a few. I feel it immediately because of my size and lack of tolerance. I’ve also noticed that the sugar rush from even one beer will keep me up for hours, so a “shift beer” literally means “let’s not fall asleep until 0700.” I’m sure for some people, this sounds really fun. For me, not so much. I tend to keep resetting Stitcher, because I think it will take 30 minutes to fall asleep, then it’s “End of Episode,” then it’s 60 minutes, then the sun is up and sleeping through the day is a special kind of hell, especially on the weekends, when there are generally contractors working on the house when I’m trying to sleep. Nothing like trying to fall asleep to the uneven rhythm of a hammer.

Because I get sometimes very little and mostly uneven sleep, I have so much to do that I am overwhelmed, from laundry to organization to just getting a haircut (I like the one I have now, just need to get it shaped again). On the way home might be my best bet, because I also have to get a few things at the store… and by that I mean pads, because my period tracker application finally has enough data to warn me beforehand. When I got the e-mail, I was all like, “SO THAT’S WHY I ATE HALF A LARGE PAN PIZZA LAST NIGHT!!!” In case you’re wondering, cheese, cheese, more cheese, jalapeños. I’m lucky I still have some left. Really.

All of my rules about eating vegan at home go out the window when I am basically a premenstrual Cookie Monster, except that it’s not just cookies, it is anything and everything within my reach. Today it was a Carolina pulled pork sandwich and a Cheerwine™ If you have never had a Cheerwine, I do not know what you are doing with your life. If you live in a place where they don’t sell them, order off the Internet. They’re that good.

Also a big fan of Maine Root lemon lime soda, because it also has ginger in it. Great for a cold shift drink with no caffeine, because I’ve generally overdone it beforehand. I am extremely proficient in this area. Reminds me of a funny meme I saw on Facebook:

Me: These edibles are shit.

two hours later

Joins search party for myself.

Wait, you mean coffee takes a few minutes to kick in? #mindblown

It’s been about 20 since I finished my red eye, and I am still dragging ass. But, because it’s 1500, I am reticent to order any more, and I have a feeling it wouldn’t help, anyway. I have taken my clonazepam, Zyrtec, Sudafed PE, etc. In order to combat all that, I’d have to have an energy drink as well, where I would end up tired AF and staring at the ceiling most of the night. Right now I just feel like I am up, dressed, and still asleep at the same time. In fact, when I was at the Metro station this morning, I fell asleep while standing up against one of the columns. It was delicious. It was only six minutes, but it was a really good six minutes. I figured I’d wake up when the train came roaring into the station, and I was right, thankfully. I got a good enough cat nap not to trip my way to a seat.

I brought my Kindle on the train, and bailed out of “Trump,” by Bob Woodward, to give my brain a rest from the utter insanity of a world without time travel.

I switched to, unsurprisingly, a time travel novel instead. It’s part of a series. Though it’s not the first book, I got “The Chronothon” by Nathan Van Coops for free from BookBub, and as the months have gone on, some of the others have appeared as well. I just got the latest one from Amazon. I don’t want to tell you much about the series- too many twists and turns to give away that are awesome, but I will say that “The Chronothon” is a set of Olympic type games in which you also have to find your way through time to get to them. It’s the perfect “I’m going to Alexandria” read, because it’s light and fun so that I don’t get so engrossed I miss my stop… although that’s kind of hard, because if I am even remotely paying attention, I know that when we pull into the airport station, it’s time to pack everything up. I am rarely even remotely paying attention. 😛

I tried to get a good picture coming across the Potomac, but it took me a second to get my camera open, and then the lens was facing me. By the time I got all that straightened out, I’d missed my shot completely. Just imagine it was awesome. All DC pictures are. I don’t have to work very hard. Just quickly if I’m on the train. Blink and I miss it.

My next shooting expedition is going to be the new Spy Museum. So happy they’re getting expanded digs, sad that the James Bond exhibit is on its way out. With the Spy Museum, I have this funny image in my head of the museum in “Futurama” where all the heads are in glass jars so you can talk to them and find out how they died, etc. Everything from “trying to save the world” to “tripped on a sidewalk in Kabul.” The latter being me as a spy, of course. I can totally picture talking to the CI, getting the intel I need, and dying on the way back from something totally and completely lame. Like, my nickname would be “George W. died” for all eternity, because W. was almost taken out by a pretzel. At the very least, he never got stuck in a bathtub, though I’m not sure which is more embarrassing. Thoughts?

I would probably put it in my will not to put a star on the wall at Langley for me if the cause of my death was akin to tripping over my own feet.

“She gave her life in service to this country.”
“How?”
“She didn’t see a tree stump that was literally right in front of her and it was the one thing for a hundred miles with a big rock right in front of it.
“Brave. Like, that is seriously Seal Team Six valor right there.”
::uncontrollable laugher::

Which is totally how time travel would come in handy for me, being able to back up ten seconds at will…. except you can’t cross your own timeline.

“Are you sure you can’t let me walk around the tree stump?”
“Fixed point in time. I’m so sorry.”

I just have to hope that on the days I’m most likely to trip, my sister is there to help make me quicker than usual.

Hot.

Writing’s just as natural to me as getting up and cooking breakfast.

-Dolly Parton

I think getting the stage at the brewpub has given me a new lease on life. Whether I take the job or not, it is a huge ego boost. I feel something unfamiliar as of late. To quote Miss Hannigan from Annie, “do I hear….. happiness… in here?” Though I’ve had a few laughs, this mood lift has lasted, when normally, as soon as the laugh is over, I retreat back into my head.kcstr I went downtown and bought some chef pants and some white t-shirts that I can wear with pretty much anything, because I don’t know if there’s something special I have to wear once I get there. These clothes are pretty standard. If I get there and find out I can wear crazy pants, there are some mirepoix prints waiting for me at Fenton’s Uniforms. Yes, wearing pants (and maybe a coat, depending) will be hot AF in the kitchen… but you’d always rather be protected from all the food that inevitably splashes all over you than bare any skin. Also, touching the stove, griddle, or oven hurts less when there’s fabric in between you and them. Mario Batali always wears shorts, by which I am mystified. It would only take one pot of boiling soup spilling down my front before I decided that was a bad idea. I take that back. It’s a bad idea just thinking about it.

I also need to check out their knives, because if I don’t find one that fits my hand perfectly, I’m going to need my own. For the longest time, I preferred German, because they are heavy in my hand, and the heft feels good. Then, I tried using a heavy knife for eight hours at a clip and I wasn’t so impressed anymore. I’ve been to Sur la Table and tried just about every knife on the market, and I swear to God, I didn’t find anything as good as the one I got from Chicago Cutlery on Amazon for $15. I didn’t even have to sharpen it for a year.

And speaking of knives, I’m feeling one right through my chest, because Dana’s not here. I know that there’s not a chance in hell I won’t hear her voice in my ear all damn night. It’s been a minute since we’ve cooked together, but I’ve never had a better partner. Being so intimate with your kitchen partner is a plus, because you know each other so well you can have entire conversations with one look each, and every second counts. I just took a Klonopin.

My best wish for myself is that I find someone I can dance with tonight. Drew and I literally danced to Aqua in the kitchen (as Doctor Who fans, it took less than a second for “Dr. Jones” to become “Martha Jones”), but what I mean is that the entire night is a series of movements, not unlike ballet. What’s running through my head is that I hope I remember the most important thing…. communication with the others.

  • Behind you (with a knife)
  • Coming down the line hot
  • Coming around the corner (or just “corner”)
  • Heard, Chef
  • Answering “what do I need all day?”
    • That means looking at every ticket and counting items across them for the uninitiated….
  • Work clean

The most important, therefore listed first, is “behind you with a knife.” The way you carry it is blade down, and if someone bumps into you, you are way more likely to cut yourself than them. The reason that this is more of a ballet than at other restaurants is that things are not divided up by station. Everyone picks up everything, from sauté to pantry to fry station.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have my professional tools back. There’s nothing like having the right ones, especially a large griddle and scrapers. My favorite chore is cleaning the griddle at the end of the night. I can make it shine like the top of the Chrysler building! I am not kidding myself. Even if it is just a stage, if we get slammed, no one is getting cut, and it’s Thursday. It’s how I know that the kitchen manager wants to literally throw me into the fire. Easing me in would be a stage on a Monday.

Please send good thoughts, energy, prayers if you are a God person, black magic prayers if you are not. I need to be at the top of my game, because when I’m on, I’m ON. I want to walk into the kitchen like I own it, because I know I’m capable. But there’s a chance that everything will be overwhelming and go to shit within an hour. A small chance, but that doesn’t mean I won’t overthink about it.

I think I’m going to meditate and stretch now. It’s been a long time since I’ve put this much pressure on my knees, and I need to concentrate on everything within my control going right, knowing that not everything is. Now that the Klonopin has kicked in, I no longer feel the knife in my chest. Dana is my guardian angel, and I know I can call on her when I need her. She’ll sit on my shoulder until closing time if I ask.

Just like in Eat. Pray. Love., I’m creating a contract to do well and having people sign it. Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain signed it. Chef Dana signed it. Julia Child signed it. James Beard signed it. Pati Jinich signed it. Vivian Howard signed it. Andy Ricker signed it. Auguste Escoffier signed it. The Two Fat Ladies signed it. Gabriel Rucker and Naomi Pomeroy  signed it. Michael Cordúa signed it. José Andrés signed it. Now, not only do I have one angel on my shoulder, I have a lot of them.

All of the sudden, I am at peace. I got this.

Depending on what time I get home, let’s get together and post-mortem. I am sure I will have a ton to say, depending on whether all the energy in my body has leaked out of my ear. Alternatively, I may be a live wire, adrenaline coursing through my body. It’s anyone’s guess.

Stay tuned.

Living Water

I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever going to figure out what to do with my life, because I can see where it is I want to go with such clarity… but there’s a deep chasm between here and there. The staircase has cracks and is, in some places, completely broken. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to work with the homeless, to be pastor of my own church, to be a writer tagged as more theologian than blogger, to help others heal themselves by laying out my own broken pieces and hoping that something I’ve said will trigger an “A-ha!” moment. I am thankful that I’ve done at least a small bit of the latter with this web site; the rest of me wonders constantly if I am healthy enough to work with other people in 3D.

It’s a question that not enough people ask themselves when considering careers as pastors, social workers, therapists, etc. Three years ago, I was in the psych ward at Methodist hospital… but I have trouble deciding how much of my depressed and anxious state was current and how much of it was a delayed reaction. While it was great to find an anti-anxiety medication that worked, and indeed, to learn I needed to add it to my already-established protocol, that was just psychiatry. Once my brain chemicals were sorted, that didn’t mean anything in terms of correcting behaviors that began as unhealthy in childhood, and proceeded to self-destructive as an adult. The difference, of course, being depth. When those behaviors were new, they would have been a hell of a lot easier to fix. And then I got old…. er.

I thought I was doing fine, and then the dam broke. All of the lies I’d used to convince myself that I was fine stopped working, and as I have said before, I just started emotionally vomiting trauma. I was a grand total of 36 years old, and I still felt like an arrested teenager, especially in my smallest moments. 36 should be old enough to know better, do better. I’d simply folded most of my hands as I watched my same-age friends come in Kings full over Aces.

I’ve never been in doubt about the fact that I was bright, had talent in multiple areas, etc. I just haven’t known how to collate that into success… and when I’ve achieved it, how to learn to live there. Every time I’ve had money and nice houses and retirement accounts and the whole nine yards, I have sabotaged myself in so many ways, torching it all to the ground.

I know how to live on no money and self-worth. I don’t yet know how to rise above it… but I’m learning. It’s probably why I made terrible marriage material… for which I owe two women an apology for being married to them and one other (okay, two… but we don’t talk about two) for thinking I could. So many of my absolutely brilliant ideas live on hope, which is why therapy is so important. It helps me to turn the abstract into logic. As a spazzbasket of creative diva energy, being logical is not my forté. Dana was right in that I tend to jump from one great idea to the next without finishing any of them, except for one. I have been faithful to a fault about cataloging everything I feel on this web site, and to me, 6.13.1_Pensieve_merged_blackthat’s the dependency I’ve needed to see up close & personal where all my flaws and failures lie. It has been a life-changing experience on so many levels to be able to go back over what I’ve written and see where I’ve changed and what still needs work. My friend Kristie calls it my “pensieve.”

She is not wrong.

I have said from the very beginning that I write for me, and you’re invited. It is so true you can take those words to the bank and cash them. Nothing I’ve ever written was meant more for an audience than it was for me, even the marriage article that got more shares and retweets than I ever expected. I wrote it when my own marriage was sometimes doing really well, and sometimes crumbling into pieces. I couched it in sharing common ground with Evangelical Christians, but in reality it was to remind myself of the things I could control in my own life, and what I couldn’t. I couldn’t make my partners do anything, but I could improve myself and hope that they followed suit… and if they didn’t, I was probably in the wrong relationship and trying to make it fit.

I cannot say that the relationship with Dana was wrong for me, only that it became so. Neither one of us really got the short end of the stick. We both participated in our own destruction, not really one person’s fault or the other, just a mishmash of problems that we thought we could solve and didn’t.

If I had it all to do over again, there would have been professional help involved. It also would have been good to either go and visit Argo or have her come and visit us, so that there was relationship on the ground between all three of us, and not a secluded bubble with swells of operatic emotion on the page. My writer personality is so different than the one I have on the ground, and it would have been good for all three of us to make that connection. Had Argo been a part of our daily lives, she would have ceased to be my “Raggedy Man.” My friends would have ceased to call her “The Doctor,” because she would have been real to them instead of seemingly this person I made up. It also would have made her concrete in my own mind, because speaking of self-destruction, the wall of anonymity between us kept even me from really seeing her in three dimensions. My lips were too loose, always. It is not lost on me that because we didn’t know each other on the ground, I was capable of more love and anger with her than anyone in my life, before or since.

That’s probably the biggest take-home message I’ve gotten from this web site…. that I need tighter boundaries with emotions all the way around. I don’t always need to be a loose cannon jackass who spouts off and regrets… or in the case of love, spouts off without really thinking of the consequences my words will inevitably bring. At this point, my life has to be all about learning to think critically while leaving my emotions on the back burner.

It’s a back and forth sort of process… one step forward and two steps back sometimes, a giant leap for mankind at others. I find myself watching TED Talks on motivation, and I haven’t found anything better for thinking while mobile than Tim Ferris’ podcast. Both deal with great thinkers- TED Talks are presentations, Tim Ferris interviews industry giants on how they do what they do. I feel stronger and more strident after listening to them, which is something I desperately need. Most of the time, I feel about thisbig, because depression and anxiety whisper, let’s think about everything you’ve ever done wrong in your whole life. My coping mechanism is to, most of the time, have something going in my headphones to drown out what my AA friends call “The Committee.” The Committee is the collection of tapes in your head that stop you from moving forward because it continually drags you into the past. Instead of how do I get there from here? it’s you’ll never get there because we won’t let you. It is the well of worthlessness from which The Committee continually tries to get you to drink.

There are better sources of living water out there, and my goal is to find them. At this point, there’s no other choice.

#prayingonthespaces

Meditation on the Tenth Doctor

I sometimes wish I had a TARDIS that would be willing to let me cross my own timeline. Every time I think about the loss of Dana, Argo, and my mother, I hear the Tenth Doctor say, “fixed point in time. I am SO sorry.” I have to believe that losing everything is what is meant to propel me into greatness, but so far, I have seen no evidence. Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant write in Option B about post-traumatic growth, and except for blogging every day and trying to put my emotions out into the universe (which I hope is helping someone), I have done nothing except fold into myself in fear.

Fear of crowds, fear of friends, fear of going to church after the one time I LOST it. You’d think I’d be willing to forego my fear of my friends, but sometimes it becomes so awkward it’s onomatopoetic. Sometimes it’s that they say things I don’t want to hear. Sometimes I’m just uncomfortable for no valid reason except it sometimes seems as if my mother has just died, and she didn’t. It’s been months, but I have flashbacks all the time that seem incredibly real. Fear of church is natural. My mother was a church musician her whole life, and every time I go in, no matter what church it is, I panic with an intensity I’ve never felt before. I can see her at the piano or organ bench. I can see her in the alto section. I can’t stop the pain and anxiety, so I avoid it altogether. My choir wants me back, and I can’t seem to explain well why it’s not a good idea. I thought that it would make me feel better to be a soprano in tribute to all the work my mother has done.

Well, not so much.

I have always been anxious around huge crowds, hiding behind Dana, and then my friends once we divorced. I went to a party last Friday, and I had a lot of fun. I had drinks for the first time in months, which served two purposes. The first is that it acted as social lubricant so I could actually be funny. The second is that it kept me from feeling guilty that I was having fun at all. Mourning people that close to me makes me feel like I am not deserving of fun.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I deserve.

I lost my mother through absolutely no fault of my own, but I can’t say the same for Argo and Dana. It is an uphill battle to forgive myself for all the sin and cortisol I felt coursing through my body, because now I can’t apologize enough, I can’t achieve enough, I can’t send enough gifts that make it all better. I thought that words didn’t matter without changed behavior, and as it turns out, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference either way.

I wish I could stop caring. It’s been three, almost four years with no relief… not that I haven’t tried, but in the meantime, those two years have been a shitshow of enormous proportions. I haven’t had time to really stop caring about anything, even if they “deserve it.” By that I mean that I am not angry, I am just sad, because it’s appropriate to let go of people you want to show up for that don’t want to show up for you.

Toward the end, every single time that Argo showed up for me, I felt like she wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt. She’d take one phrase out of an e-mail and blow it up into enormous proportions… the last communique re: we’ll never be normal and then cutting off all contact when it brought up some feelings of past shame for me and asking her why she thought that a phrase like that wouldn’t come across to me as “we’ll never move on.” I think she thought it was going to start another fight, when in reality I was breathing through those words like labor, exhaling anxiety and inhaling both peace and “now what do I do?” Part of it is that when I said that, she wouldn’t work it through like I’d hoped. Part of it was that I never meant to “poke the bear,” and even more shame rained down on my head.

And yet another part is that it would have been so damn easy to fuck off from e-mail and have a conversation in real time, so that we could actually see the other one “e-mote.” There’s such a difference between a) writing something into the ether and waiting with baited breath for a response and b) hearing what the other person says and being able to say in real time, “that’s not what I meant. I meant THIS.” I truly, honestly believe that if we’d ever taken the time to see each other’s responses, our whole deal with each other could have been cleared up in less than 15 minutes with some active listening.

But, despite how busy either one of us is, you make time in your lives for the people you want to see. For her, I am not one of those people. For me, I have nearly constant distress, brought on by a whole host of other factors, that words like “always” and “never” make it into the conversation. I am not “always” and “never” anything… and I am betting neither is she. We’re both complicated in our own ways, probably what made us attracted to each other in the first place. And I do not mean romance, I mean magnets that click together instead of repelling each other… that came much later.

Again, what I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time.

I’d like to tell her what’s going on in my life, I’d like her XOs of support, I’d like the normalcy that came with me thinking she hung the stars and being the moon for her. More than talking, I’d like to go back to the days of listening. If I had everything to do over, I’d listen more and talk less. I’d breathe through her anger at me rather than “clicking off safe” and returning it full force. I am a believer in grace, and I didn’t offer her much… and when I did, she couldn’t believe in it, anyway.

The reason this is hitting me so hard after all this time is that if I hadn’t been such a “judgmental dickhead,” I’d be able to express grief and joy in equal measure. I’d still be able to have a full range of emotions in front of her when I really need that safe space to be able to say everything I won’t publish here. There is something therapeutic about pen pals, especially those who have no bearing on your daily life and can look objectively at what you’re saying because they don’t have a horse in the race. It cannot be equated to attending therapy, because you’re not talking to a trained professional. But you do get that friend whose advice is not tainted with taking anyone else’s side, because they don’t know them….. and don’t care. They’re not there for them. They’re there for you.

Most of all, she never met my mother.

My contribution is that I’ve never met anyone in her life, either… and I’d step in front of a bus for her if it meant she was safe… the same way I’d react for anyone in my family… because before our blowout, I definitely considered her as such. When truth and honesty traveled our chord in both directions, there were deep and lasting feelings on both sides of the equation. The rub is that it seems to have been a lot easier for her to disengage than it will ever be for me, because hold on…. I have to overthink about it. I am not willing to say it WAS easier, only that it came across to me as such. Perhaps her grief is only in her private moments to which I am not involved, and shouldn’t be. I have to believe that there is grief on her end, because she doesn’t take anything lightly, not even me.

I wish that it WAS easy for me. It would open my life up and make room for other things, and it is happening slowly but surely. But when I feel bad about something, I am inconsolable. When I met Argo, it was winning the lottery, and ended with consolation prizes akin to a 1972 Amana side-by-side refrigerator freezer (bonus points if you get the movie reference).

Again, I believe that this entry is all about displaced grief, because Argo is alive and my mother isn’t. It’s easier to focus on my grief because with my mother, there is no chance in heaven or hell that she’ll respond. I feel, in some ways, the same way about Argo… with the exception of the smallest hope imaginable, like a candle that’s at the end of its wick and the flame is so small it is barely there. With my mother, the candle has already been snuffed with the bell end of the candle lighter I used to carry as an acolyte.

The trick is how to change all of this post-trauma into something with boundaries in which I can live. Right now, there are none. I can’t compartmentalize, because nothing keeps me busy enough to forget, even for a moment. But this is not a journey I can take with Argo, only about her. I would be mortified to learn that she was still reading, and relieved at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. My words are just the rambling I’m feeling at the moment, and not representative of all of me. I have more depth than this… no, really. But sometimes I’d like her to know that I remember her with such clarity… that even after all this time, I wish her nothing but the best in her pursuit of happiness… that I pray she is happy, healthy, and alive with possibility.

As I have said, her kindnesses are written in marble, and her anger is written in sand… the rain having already washed it away… or at the very least, pushed it out of reach. I feel the same about my own anger… that working through all of this has nothing to do with how I feel about her personally, but delving into the past to create a future that does not include all the mistakes I made…. to know them is to keep them from happening again.

Maybe that’s post-traumatic growth in and of itself, and I am selling myself short- with the exception of being able to write about Dana in a way that truly lets go. I forgive her, but I do not forget. She told me to my face that I’d never amount to anything AND that she thought I had the ability to lead millions. I cannot reconcile those things, and they are words I can compartmentalize, because the former reinforced my opinion of myself, and the latter was just a WTF? moment… one of these things is not like the other. I stuff my feelings about Dana down so deep that I can’t access them except in small bursts, because I can’t take more than that. The buttons on my clothes hold in my feelings where she is concerned, because she is the river deep inside me where I refuse to drown… because I could, easily. I could wreck my whole life based on her opinion, because she was the most important person in my life. When she took my own insecurities and beat me with them, it destroyed a piece of me I’ll never get back… it has torched my ability to trust the new people that come into my life… because if I am vulnerable with them, whose to say they won’t pick up on those same hot buttons and push them? Everyone is wonderful in the beginning.

It leaves me asking myself how I can trust Argo without trusting Dana, given that both fights were just as terrible emotionally? My answer for this is that Dana saw what was right in front of her, and Argo saw what could be. She believed in me as a writer, one of the first to do so… to recognize that writing WAS a real job… that staring out the window is hard work for someone like me, and though I look lazy on the outside, am running a marathon at the cellular level… backbreaking emotional work that does not quit, not ever.

Outside of Argo, my marriage began to unravel as I became a writer, especially as I got more and more popular. One of our last conversations (the one regarding me being able to lead millions) was just as much about jealousy as anything else. In retrospect, it must have felt good to her to knock me down a peg… but she’ll never know how badly she burned the whole board. In this way, and this way only, I felt as if I’d grown past her. When I wanted to do more and be more, she was out.

Argo already had the type job where she WAS doing more and being more, so I wasn’t a threat to her. She was excited for me, that I was embarking on something she thought only I could do…. or at the very least, was rarified air. As much as it terrified and saddened me, leaving Dana’s choice shitty phrases behind and grabbing on to Argo’s belief was what I needed at the time.

But here is the rub for all bloggers everywhere. Unless you are writing something impersonal, like a blog for a business, it starts off with new readers thinking you’re amazing… then they get to know you and think you can write all things accurately except where they’re concerned. It is an immediate, face-cracking fall from grace…. when in reality, I am only telling my part of the story and would love to hear the other one. There are three sides to every story- yours, mine, and the objective Truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle.

With communication gaffes, it’s usually because people will not acknowledge Truth. We can both be wrong, and we can both be right. No one has a lock on what really happened, only our perceptions of it. People mistake perceptions for reality all the time… when Truth is the chasm between offended people.

Perhaps it is this displaced grief that is allowing me to think differently about everything in my life, because as much as I might wish for it, I can’t cross my own timeline.

To This Day

Dana and I were just having the most interesting conversation about Doctor Who and the Bible, because the canons are strikingly similar. The conversation started when we remembered The Master.

I said:

I hope they show The Master as a little boy, looking into the schism for the first time. You know who it reminds me of? Moses and the story of the burning bush. God actually tells Moses not to look at him because the sight is too overwhelming. When The Master looks into the time vortex, it’s like getting an answer to the question “what would have happened?” Keep in mind that since I am not a fundamentalist, I am not talking literally. There’s just a lot of wisdom in looking at them together.

And Dana said:

The Doctor is a Christ allegory because in dying for our sins, he’s still protecting us to this day. For years, the story has been that the doctor is atoning for the sins of killing all of his people and the canon has changed to now having locked them in a slice of time so that he can rescue them one day. And he’s over 2,000 years old now.

My eyes started to bug out of my head.

I love being married.