Friday, December 30, 2016

Unrequited love


I have this new theory. 

It goes a little something like this: I think we go through this life moving from unrequited love to unrequited love. 

We're all the time seeking equal amounts of devotion and love in other people until we find someone that we believe we can trust enough to stick with us through enough moments of uncertainty. It sort of makes the act of marriage very vulnerable and brave when I look at it through that lens. We lay our fears on that altar of marriage and all we can do is hope that the other person means it when they say they will see us through the days that they may not particularly feel like requiting that love. It's brave, that beautiful act.

And, we don't often talk of unrequited love in friendships, but I'm pretty sure it is the same. We try to get on the same wavelength as other people. When our seasons of life and social needs and personalities and sense's of humor and kids' sleeping schedules all line up magically with someone else's it seems almost karmic. And it's almost as terrible a cosmic joke when all of those things line up but we find the other person terribly boring. The older you get, the more complicated finding that beautiful friend love balance is. The advent of texting has hastened the death knell of friendships as well. How easy it is for us to cancel with just a few typed words as we lay in our beds finishing binge watching some netflix show. 

And sometimes don't the steps between acquaintance and friend you could call for life emergencies feel like the ascent up some shatteringly tall mountain like Everest or K2? Somewhere up there, past the wall of clouds, they say that mythical, perfectly requited friendship exists. There are many a day I feel like I'm staring up at that sheer wall of mountain with my mouth gaping, 80 pounds of gear strapped to my back, and a beer belly out front. There ain't no way out of this alive for me. If I were to continue that metaphor to completion, you'd see me camped out at the bottom of that mountain eating energy bars and taking naps and selfies, trying to convince myself that the views from the top make all of the climbing and oxygen deprivation worth it.

But is it? I'm getting old enough to realize that I'm getting towards being an old dog, and my tricks are pretty near ingrained. I've been through the ringer with a lot of people. I've had great friends. I've lost and been abused in other relationships to the point that I felt I was near to begging for mercy to just be put out of the misery of this life. So I know I've been shaped by all of these authentic loves and these other relationships that have dared to call me love and backhanded me all in the same breath. And all that I know as I stand here is that I am who I am. The life coach and the sex abuse therapist and my husband have held my hand when waves have threatened to go over my head. It never goes all the way away, even if you've been diligently working at it for years (like I have). The stains, the scars-- they are the experiences that make us both vulnerable and neurotic. Lovable and toxic. These experiences they are like my veins now--like lines beneath my skin that I can see but can't tell how well they're actually working. It's hard to tell where I start and where they end. And so wishing the bad lessons I've learned away, ignoring them, writing about them, railing against them starts to just feel like I'm wishing and ignoring and writing and railing me away. I wish it weren't so. I wish I weren't so.

People who have never been hurt in the name of unrequited, but desperately sought love don't understand why women who are abused stay. I've never been abused by my husband, not even close. But I understand those women because I have seen my own ugly codependence in the mirror and wished to scrape it out with my bare fingernails. These women think they can love enough for two. They've learned somewhere along the way that they can take it. At first, it may even make them feel strong that they survived. But then it happens again. And after a while of feeling like they can take it, they are so beaten down that they think that maybe they have to take it, because they didn't stand up at the very start and say no. And the shame and the self-hatred become these added blows to a broken heart. Until finally, it's not just that they should take it, but that they must actually deserve it. And the change is so gradual and imperceptible (because after all, you are trying to keep your mouth and nostrils above the water, all the while choking with every other wave), that there you are, staring up a wall of water, a tsunami of fear and self-horror, and it seems easier to let it roll over you and hope you come out the other side like you have in the past. Battered, but alive. It seems like it is all you can ask when you know that your love is unrequited and you never demanded more.

It's so easy to make a metaphor about it. I think it might be easy for people to sit in their easy chairs and feel superior and almost angry on our, the wounded's, behalves. It's so damn easy to see how wrong the plot is--it's as plain as anything else in this world. Someone hurts you, you don't go back. You wash your hands of them. Be it a friend or a husband, a family member, or even an institution. Say goodbye and don't spare them a second thought. But why is it that life is never as easy as writing makes it look? Why are the grays so murky? And the black and whites seem to get less and less prevalent the older I get? The bad guys smile and save the day sometimes-- for all the wrong reasons--but it feels right at the time because we just want to be saved some days, don't we? And when it all goes just as wrong as it always did before, we hate ourselves just a bit more for knowing that it was always going to end this way. 

But it's hard. Trying to drag your wagon wheels out of the rut of a life-- the life your mother and your mother's mother lived-- is so scary that most days it seems insane to even try. Because you don't really know how different ends up. There's no guarantee. And though you feel physically sick thinking of what your life is likely to look like after seeing slightly varied versions of the same thing played out in all of the generations before you, at least it's a known. At least it's safe. Is new and different really better if you don't have a guarantee? Mediocrity is so much safer than the possibility of crashing and burning. Especially if they convince you that in doing so, you're probably ruining your life, and your sweetheart's life, to make no mention of your innocent children's lives. They make it so easy to fall back into that deep as dark blue fear that has kept you where you've always been--you're so goddamned scared, and you care so goddamned much about what they think. And it infuriates and shames you. To the dust it shames you.

It all looks like it makes perfect easy sense from the outside. And that is why we love a good adventure story, isn't it? When the heroine realizes that she doesn't have to stay shackled. She has actually had her own kind of magic her entire life. She could have set herself free all along. It's galling and thrilling when she realizes it at long last. But of course all of those years she was afraid. She was shamed, she was loved, she was confused by the goodness she saw even while she was chained. The grays were gray, the days were murky. And as we sit in our easy chairs, we love her so so much. We can see her path so clearly, rising up to meet her as we read it into existence, because we never doubt her innate magnificence. It's so clear from back here. And when she finally realizes it for herself, and takes flight oh how we love her. Because she doesn't look back, as the shackles, the unrequited loves and frenemies slip away and fall to the dirt, finally as useless and worthless as they have been all along. And her fear? The fear that once was the unbearable weight that kept her chained in place, suddenly becomes nothing compared to the thought of staying still one more moment. And just like that, she is free. Lightening, rain, a great gusting of wind, a flaring of otherwordly beauty, and then everything on the outside looks as it always has, and yet it will never be the same ever again. She is free.

And do you know what we all know? We know that she will never settle for that fake love of the unrequited farcical variety ever again. She'll walk in beauty, and trail clouds in her wake, water sparkling as it drips off her long skirts. She will climb the mountain, she will breathe the wild air. And you better goddamn believe that she gets out of this thing alive. Alive.

Friday, December 9, 2016

the post in which I write whatever I want, because I am a writer

Each of our personal stories seems so commonplace and average when we view it ourselves. I suppose this is because it is all that we know, and so that is the baseline with which we judge. If you’ve spent your life using indoor plumbing, that is your standard. When wash your hands in the Target bathroom you don’t luxuriate in the cleanliness of the water, the amazing fact that it is streaming out from a faucet with only a twist of the handle, that you have the godlike power to control the temperature. And I apologize for any first worlders that are feeling guilt at this example, but please hold on for a moment longer. I don’t say this to make you hate yourself again, and cringe at your privilege. I only say that a truth so extraordinary to a young woman who travels 3 miles a day to haul her water back to her house, is over in a moment and forgotten before it’s even done for us. Her three extraordinary miles to us? Ordinary, commonplace, hardly thought of to her. We disregard our lives details with impunity, every one of us, most of the day.

I read somewhere that we come to this Earth as blank slates--we are beginning fresh with no experiences, no expectations, no personalities. We are untouched. Vacant and empty. For those that believe in God, they believe we might come with our souls already intact for whatever helpful meaning that gives them. Me? Well, I’m a mother. I’m 36 years old--I think. I’ve had two children, a boy and a girl. Two makes you more of an expert than only having one, but less of an expert to just about anyone else (including the parenting experts who have never had children, but are obviously excellent observers). But it’s two that I’ve got, and I can’t tell you what expertise I’m missing. With the birth, and subsequent intense care of only those two babies, I still think I might get away with speaking for every mother I’ve ever met when I say: Babies are not blank slates at all.

Those babies, they can be deceiving, with their wide eyes and innocently gassy smiles. But there isn’t a mother I’ve met who doesn’t know within a few hours of acquaintance with her baby the truth behind the newness. The truth that their baby came with their own pre-programmed ideas and desires and temperaments. And that you will spend the next however-long-it-takes-them-to-speak-coherently trying to figure out what on god's green earth those adorable not-blank-slates want from you. And I hate to tell any new mothers out there that the answer to what it is that they want from you and the world is summed up aptly in a Tootsie Roll lollipop commercial that was popular some time ago: The world may never know.

So I hope, if you’ve never had a child, you will trust me on just this one little point--you were already something different and new when you got here. Whether you call it your intact soul, or you consider it the result of biology and womb conditions, or maybe for you it comes down to whether your mother placed headphones playing mozart on her belly before you were born, the fact remains that you came here, and you were you. And not just that. You, my friend, were amazing.

Amazing? Amazing you say? I do. I stick to that gun most fiercely.

I know that to the untrained eye babies can seem and are...well catatonic half the time. The eating and sleeping and filling diapers seems pretty mundane. I can admit it. I am GOOD at admitting things about diapers. (For example, I recall with perfect clarity the moment I wished with all of the fervency and wish upon a star desperation in my heart that the Diaper Genie were truly an actual Diaper Genie). Believe me when I say that the babies and their upkeep IS mundane when you are the person helping said baby to accomplish these goals. If I were in charge of the Oxford English Dictionary--and it had pictures, which on my watch it would--and mundane had it’s own picture in the dictionary, it would have been me, changing my millionth diaper without so much as the confetti cannon or military salute that it so richly deserved. Mundane exists. It's real. And I'd even go so far as to say it has value.

But even so, with all of that workaday humdrum that surrounds the baby, it doesn’t come close to negating the fact that you were freaking awe-inspiring. And it comes down to the truth of this most singular fact: that when you and I were new to this planet, we were not only decidedly NOT blank slates, but we were brave and we were true.

You spent hours crying, refusing to be placated, because you needed things that you knew were your right to have. You slept and ate as much as you needed, and you didn’t apologize or feel guilty. Your brain grew at such exponential leapings and boundings--processing and deciphering information at incredible speeds-- and you layered very little judgements on top of all of that new information other than good, bad, or indifferent. (Yes, you were terrible at nuance, but I call that refreshing!)

You were open to the wide world. You were frightened sometimes. You were curious. You were asleep, you were bored. You were thrilled. You were soothed. You were just you. And it is only a mother, or a person looking back, that sees that baby for what it is. A force to be reckoned with. A beautiful, exhausting beginning of an individual who made no other demands on life than to be only themselves. Breathtakingly, brutally (at 3:00 am), intoxicatingly, selfishly yourself. My god, you were something else. And yet, your story remains to you, so very average. That you ignore the magic of your life so blatantly is a very sorry treason to your fierce beginnings.

Wake up, dear baby. Let us see your story, with it’s mundane, but with it’s tears-inspiring, selfish, glorious, good bad and indifferent truths. It’s time to wake up. Because you’re 36 years old, and it’s time. And even the mundane--when the diaper genies miracles don't happen, when the job is lost, when the potatoes are undercooked--some day you might realize that your ordinary will become extraordinary to someone else. You will become the confetti cannon and military salute for someone else's midnight. And I'm starting to think that that is what your story is for.