2017: Looking Back

On January 25, 2017, at approximately 9:15 AM, I was starting my commute to work.  It was a sunny morning and the temperature was right around freezing.  The last thing I remember the radio DJ saying was, “There’s a lot of ice on the roads, so be careful out there.”

The next moment, a big white pickup truck took the corner ahead of me too fast and skidded on the ice.  I remember thinking offhandedly: Wow, that’s a bad skid.  Then, as the truck began to spin more and more out of control: Oh crap, he’s going to hit me.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road as far as I could, closed my eyes, and screamed.

When I opened my eyes milliseconds later, the car was full of smoke from the airbags.  My glasses had been knocked off my face and my forehead and legs were bruised.

The rest of the memories from that day are spotty.  I remember my manager at work calling me, his voice full of concern.  I remember a tow truck arriving to take me and the car to a repair shop, and an employee referring offhandedly to my car as a “total loss.”  I remember getting home, after hours and hours, and immediately falling asleep.

It was my first car accident.  Just days before, I wrote, “It looks like things are finally starting to get better for us.”

January 23 through April 14 was just … a mess.  I won’t go into the details, but it was exhausting, confusing, and terrifying.  Looking back, it’s so clear that the S.O. and I suffered from Vitamin D deficiency last winter, which didn’t help.

Despite all of that, there are some things I will miss about Minnesota – the fresh, cool air in the suburbs, the lakes and endless fields, the rows of buffalo fish and Dover sole at the supermarket (yum, fish!)  I’ll miss rediscovering podcasts like This American Life, S-Town, Welcome to Night Vale and Heavy Metal Historian – don’t ask.  And I will miss wandering through downtown Minneapolis on my way home from yet another job interview.  It’s such a vast, vibrant city, and I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate it enough while I lived there.

December 30 will mark my second anniversary of graduating from college, and I can honestly say that none of the past two years has been what I expected.  At all.  Of course, I didn’t really have any clear expectations when I graduated … besides “Get job.  Earn money.  Try not to freeze to death.”

One of the things I expected the least was moving back to my hometown – almost literally down the street from the hospital where I was born.  When I lived in Minnesota, it was so easy to pretend I didn’t care about old friendships from my childhood.  I don’t care, I told myself when I read about engagements, weddings, graduations.  I have a new life now, and I don’t care if they’ve forgotten me.  

Except, I did care.  And I still do.  And coming back to this state that is so full of memories – some bad, mostly good – I’ve had one heck of a time trying to figure out where I fit into all of this.  Which friendships are salvageable?  Which do I want to salvage?

I have spiraled into this weird, horrible depressive episode (?) with almost delusional levels of guilt and self-hatred.  The good news is, I’m getting help for it very soon.  I just have to hang on for a few more weeks.

In July, just before I started my new job, we adopted a third cat named Oliver.  Younger than Calvin and Hobbes, and normal in terms of motor function, Oliver has been comforting in so many ways.  He lets us hug him, swing him around, and cry into his fur (okay, the last one is mostly me ..)

Up until now, I’ve really underestimated the power of unconditional love.  Our cats love and trust me so much, and that is one of the most inspiring things I’ve come across this year.  Every morning, before I go to work, I kiss the head of every cat I can reach.  I tell them, “I’m doing this for you,” and it gives me the strength to keep going.

Sometimes I wonder why God – or fate, or both, or something in between – brought me back to Arizona.  I wonder why I was guided from a purely R&D, wet lab environment to a more client-oriented lab – a dynamic environment where no two days are the same and where there’s always something to learn.  (Seriously, do not ask me about my job.  I will never stop talking about how much I love it.)

But then I realize that it doesn’t matter why I am here – only that I am here.  I was given a second chance to find closure, and I was given another way in which to change the world for the better.

The sadness is still with me, making my bones and muscles ache and tying my stomach into knots.  Maybe it will always be here, in one way or another.  But my cats and my S.O. are helping me to fight it.

Together, we are a family.  And we are home.

Advertisements

[December 16]

Occasionally
the world tilts for me,
causing me to dig my fingernails
into whatever surface – theater seat,
mountaintop, my own denim-covered
thighs – presents itself.
I remember you were there the first time,
in that sage-scented red desert
to the north, and you laughed and looked back
at me, your hair spilling in the wind.
Don’t be afraid, I heard you saying,
although neither of us spoke out loud.
Later, as we touched foreheads
and smiled into your camera,
the earth righted itself beneath my feet.
Nothing is ever unstable for long.
Eventually, time pulls back
into an unsteady equilibrium, hiccuping along
at an all-too-rapid pace
like tired sobs or a terrified heart.
I wonder if you still remember that day,
that mountain. I wonder if you remember
where we met, or if it matters; me, a chunky
red-sweatered girl, and you, already stronger,
always more graceful. Every day,
as I mend what is left, I remember
the words you already forgot you gave me
and sing them in tandem with the words
I am teaching myself:
Do not be afraid.
This, too, shall pass.

How to Be Good

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

– John Steinbeck

When I was little, I wanted to be a saint.  Not in the casual way you might call a very nice or sweet person a saint – I wanted to be an actual, honest-to-God (hehe) canonized saint.

(Insert studio laughter here.)

That’s how far back my obsession with being good goes.

For a long time, I really thought I was a good person.  I guess most people, if they think about it at all, believe that they are good.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more evidence I’ve found that I am not quite as good as I thought.  I’m no saint, but a normal person, with all the normal flaws and failings.

My attempts at being good – the type of good and sweet and kind that catches people’s notice – have fallen more than a little flat over the years.  In college, I got the idea for a random-acts-of-kindness club that never got further than a Tumblr blog and a few halfhearted attempts by myself to inject a little more kindness into my daily life … like the time I sewed up all the holes in my friend’s green comforter without being asked.  And the thread was silver-colored.  Yeah, a bit invasive.

In reality, while I was trying all these fancy acts of kindness, I was also blundering my way through social situation after social situation.  The latter half of my years in college was filled with blurry nights spent crying alone in my room.  I picked up several self-destructive behaviors meant to punish myself for not being likable enough.  Not being smart enough.  Not being good enough.

People close to me began to call me words that were less than flattering.  Words like unstable and socially awkward.  I was told that I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I clung desperately to some friends while pushing others away.

I don’t know how many people I hurt when I was in college.  I can’t begin to count how many relationships, both fledgling and established, that I ruined.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of these people that I hurt.  They told me (paraphrasing), “I’ve forgiven you, but I haven’t forgotten what you did.”

Two years ago, these words would have sent me into a spiral of self-destruction, of physical punishment and mental pain.  Thankfully, I have matured since then.  Instead, I felt the heavy burden of guilt settle across my shoulders.  It hit me, for what seemed like the billionth time, exactly how different I am from the good, sweet person I wanted to be.

Over the past week or so, I’ve cried.  I have grieved for lost friendships and for the person I thought I was.  I’ve stared into the mirror and hated myself all over again.  I’ve made my S.O. snap at me out of worry, and I’ve almost – but not quite – cried at work.

But self-hatred is neither productive nor sustainable.  I’m a busy person and I have a finite amount of energy to expend on mental anguish.  So I decided to sit myself down and start asking the hard questions.

I realized that there are two main reasons why my attempts at being good have failed more often than not:

  1. They are driven by vanity.  I haven’t really wanted to be good; I’ve wanted to be a person that other people see as good.  That’s why my “random” acts of kindness in college were so over-the-top and awkward.  Let’s face it … I love attention, and as someone who is not especially attractive, intelligent, or artistically gifted, I wanted to stand out in terms of kindness … being kind is easy, right?  Apparently not.
  2. They are driven by fear.  I have this constant fear of abandonment.  I am not very sure where it comes from, but I am afraid that people will find out how horrible I really am and then leave me.  I suppose this may be a symptom of depression.  Over the years, I’ve tried to practice kindness and empathy so that people will continue to associate with me.  But the fear poisons many of my interactions with others.

When I graduated from college, I made a vow to myself never to stop learning and growing.  When I made that promise, I was thinking more along the lines of “book-learning” – like taking online classes or reading in my spare time.  As it turns out, I have a lot of mental and emotional growing to do as well.

I want to improve myself, so that I can be a better friend, S.O., coworker, and daughter.  With that in mind, I made some new goals for myself.  I can never go back in time and reverse all the hurt I’ve caused, but I can reduce the hurt I will cause in the future.

  1. Listen more.  My friend with the comforter probably needed someone to vent to more than she needed her bedclothes to be mended.  I would have known that if I had listened to her – to the verbal content of her statements and to the subtext.  For someone who people see as “quiet”, even “aloof,” I sure talk an awful lot.  Less talking.  More listening.
  2. Do little things, not big things.  Little acts of kindness and consideration aren’t flashy.  They won’t earn me “street cred” as a good person, but they add up, and often they’re more appropriate and appreciated.  Things like picking up trash, genuinely complimenting people, doing extra tasks at work when I have the time.
  3. Be kind to myself first.  If I’m struggling on five hours of sleep, or if I haven’t eaten well, or if my eyes are in pain from crying, I won’t be as kind or respectful to other people.

Does this post sound self-centered and pretentious?  Yeah, probably … I just spent 1000 words talking about myself.  But really, just think of it as the confused ramblings of a twenty-something who really wants to get some parts of her life back on track.

I came back to Arizona for a reason.  It’s time to face my fears and my old mistakes.  It’s way past time to start fixing them.

Here’s to being good.

I haven’t  posted on this site in a really long time.  I haven’t written in a long time, either.

There are many different reasons for this that I don’t feel comfortable sharing here.  The older I get, the more paranoid I become about sharing my personal information or emotions on the Internet – at least, in a webspace where my real name or picture is available.  Suffice it to say that a lot has happened since my last post, and not all of it has been good.

I no longer live in the Midwest, for one thing.  Now I live in Arizona, where I was born.  To be honest, it doesn’t feel like home, just like Minnesota never felt like home.  My heart still belongs to Texas.  It’s been 18 months since I graduated from college.  I wonder if I will ever stop grieving the loss of my beautiful city.

“Real life,” aka life after college, isn’t super conducive to writing poetry.  There is always work to be done.  Cats to clean up after.  Bills to pay and bills to worry about.  I know that the vast majority of poets somehow balance real life and their art, but it’s not something that I’ve figured out how to do quite yet.  Maybe once my grieving is done and my finances are more stable.

I haven’t stopped writing for good.  I know that my ability to write is still there, even though I’ve put it aside for now.  Whenever I’m ready, I can pick up the pen (or laptop, whatever) and start where I left off.  And when that happens, I’ll come back to this blog to share with whoever reads this.

I remain stressed and tired, but optimistic.  😀

Garlic and Grace

I love garlic. Love it. Onions were cheap when I was in college, so I’ve had too many sautéed onions and tomatoes/potatoes/okra/cabbage (all of them more onion than anything else) to enjoy onions very much right now. But garlic goes in almost anything I cook – soup, meatloaf, tacos, pasta.

This is why, last night, I decided to make fish with butter, soy sauce, ginger, and chopped garlic. And that’s how I ended up chopping the garlic with my New and Improved technique of using the point of the knife as a pivot. This technique, improved though it was, didn’t stop me from accidentally slicing into my middle fingertip. Of course.

The cut was – is – deep, although it doesn’t need stitches. I applied pressure, washed it off, then bandaged it up and finished cooking my fish. I ate lying on the living room floor, as is my custom, then rolled over and went to sleep. On the floor. At some point during the night I made it to my bed. This has not always been the case.

This has been my experience of Real Adulthood over the past year – varying degrees of constant, inescapable exhaustion. Worrying about my weight. Worrying about money (or lack thereof.)  Worrying about work. Worrying about my family.  I have no doubt that most of my exhaustion comes from needless worrying. But so few stressful situations are easily resolved like they were in college. There are no essays, no assignments, no auditions. Just one problem after another.

2017 has been a rough year so far. I’ve actually had reason to worry. Beginning the week of January 23, it seemed like our personal troubles were finally coming to an end.

And then, that Wednesday, a truck skidded on ice and rammed the front of our car. While I was driving it.

The car was totaled. I escaped with some bruises and mild dizziness and nausea. The airbags deployed, but they didn’t even damage my glasses. The financial and psychological aftermath has been difficult, of course – I still have to drive to work, snow and ice or no.  But I’m okay, and I am so grateful. We are getting a new car this week, and I’m grateful and excited for that as well.

Last night I cut my finger.

It’s such an insignificant thing to trigger this mess of a post, but my life is nothing BUT insignificant things – I’m not in grad school, after all, which I’m mortified about.  From middle school all the way to college, my parents, teachers, classmates, and friends expected me to end up in grad school. The fact that I’m not is … unexpected.  For the longest time, I felt worthless because I wasn’t in a graduate program.  Worthlessness and self-hatred are exhausting, too. Leaving Facebook has helped, but it’s going to be a long fight – and not one that will be solved by going to grad school, necessarily.

Since the accident, I’ve resolved to practice what is (for me) the hardest form of self-care: being kind to myself. Like many people, I’ve gained weight since leaving college and incorporating things other than sautéed vegetables into my diet. I have spent a truly obscene amount of time despairing over the shape and size of my body. But it’s healthy, and it’s the only one I’m likely to get. I forgot how lucky I am to have it.

Life as a Real Adult has been nothing but problems. This is something I know all too well. What’s easy to forget is that life is also a series of solving problems. Every accident, every cut finger, every bad day at work and poorly executed gumbo recipe, is both an obstacle to overcome and a lesson for the next time.

I hope that one day I can stop worrying and learn to face my problems with humor and grace. I think this is a talent that comes with practice. And I am so, so lucky – we all are – to have the opportunity to practice.

[January 23]

The car door’s slam echoes brightly
in the cold December air. Inside
the restaurant, a man chats with the cashier,
speaking too quickly, eyes too dangerously alive. This is a dangerous
time of year. A mouse lies near
the double doors, probably frozen, paws
tucked close to its chin as if in
mid-pounce. There are bigger pawprints
in the parking lot, a sure sign
of wolves, although we never see them.
Wolves belong to the dusk and dawn anyway,
not to the early morning
when every razor-sharp outline
bleeds its color into the sky.
The man steps off the porch, his whistling sparking and pure. He carries
a single plastic-wrapped eclair,
to be eaten in his truck, slowly,
as he waits for the edge of cold
to fade away.

The Larks

On a warm August morning two years ago
I walked alone through the streets of
the largest city in my experience, secure
in the knowledge that I was twenty-one
and therefore nothing could hurt me, nothing
was permanent. It was 5 A.M. on a Saturday morning,
which is about thirty minutes after Friday night
has truly ended and everyone has gone home.
The first train whisked beside me
into the lightening east, and I remember feeling
incredibly foolish yet incredibly happy, because
I was in the heart of the city, my city, and for once
there was nothing for miles but silence.

Mornings have always been better for me
because so few people seem to like them. If I were
the running sort I’d take myself for a jog
with my music and pepper spray (because, at twenty-three,
I am no longer invincible.) As it is, I check the news,
feed the cats, fry an egg or two. The building awakens
around me. In this fragile silence,
unique among all the silences I have found,
I am never alone. Sometimes I pass another
morning person on the stairs, and we make eye contact,
perhaps nodding briefly to one another,
as if to say This sunrise is the best one yet.
This is the time when we belong.