Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Overcast with a possible chance of Sarah

"Though the body moves, the soul may stay behind." -Murasaki Shikibu

“Is that a sock in the middle of the road?” Blair asks as the three of us pull out of the driveway, headed to a Sunday brunch at Drew and Arwen’s.
“Oh, that’s mine. I have been looking for that.” I respond casually as we take off up the hill.
“Seriously?” He asks, laughing. Amelia, having known me for 26 years, is not at all fazed that my navy blue argyle sock is indeed laying in the middle of the road.
“Seriously. It must have fallen out of my car. I found it in storage the other day and I knew the other one was in my laundry. I'll grab it on the way back.”

My new roomies have become accustomed to my oddities, the way my pistachio-colored house shoes pop up in places you may not expect like spring daffodils on the side of the road. The way, no matter how hard I try not to, I seem to always have three beverages going at all times.

Some people, a little newer to my tendency to leave a trail, are having a harder time wrapping their brain around it. A “dusting of Sarah”, he called it, in what seemed to be an attempt at not taking the whole thing too seriously, while still very seriously questioning my sanity.

“Doesn’t it frustrate you to lose things?” He asked after telling me that, again, I had left something at his house.
“Well, you just told me where it is, so can we really call that lost?"

He isn’t the first to question my habit. My mom has told me several times, in the most loving way possible, that, for being so small, I take up a lot of space. It turns out that my subconscious is very picky too. I have never left a wallet on a table at a restaurant, never a jacket at a bar. Airplanes, taxis, hotel rooms, campsites, etc. are all left with a once-over to make sure everything that came in, goes out. I am actually fairly organized and there is a method to my madness. I know where everything is, it just doesn’t look like it.

“It’s not territorial,” I tell him, not sure if that is even true or not.
“It’s not?”
“I don’t think so, but for you, I will put it on the list of things to think about.”
“What is it then?”
“No idea, but if leaving earrings at your house is crazy, you probably don’t want to know about the gym.”

I spent about two weeks looking for my Converse shoes. Every time I couldn’t find them in the obvious spots (by the door, in the closet, under the bed), I would forget about it until the next time I wanted to wear them. It finally dawned on me that the long lost shoes might be at the gym. The next time I decided to torment myself on the treadmill, I asked Ed at the front desk about my runaway shoes. He led me to a dark closet where baskets of disregarded items, sweaty and dingy, waited to be returned to their owners. I immediately spotted my shoes and with a squeal of joy I reached down to reclaim them. It was then that I saw a familiar toe that looked just like my New Balances and also a shoelace that looked uncannily like the shoelaces on a pair of Vans I had misplaced weeks earlier. You may be wondering how I walked out without shoes on three different occasions. I must insist here that the details of my locker room routine are boring and pointless.

“That blows my mind.”
“I knew it would.”

The point is I leave shit behind. Who doesn’t? Yes, you can actually pile my stuff up and have it waiting by the door. You can fold my clothes and wonder how I could possibly go without them, or more importantly get out of the house without pants on. Is it really that different than the other stuff people leave behind? The shit we can’t see. I think, given the choice, I would rather leave a trail of earrings and socks than say, a trail of broken hearts and tears.

I like cozy things. They make me happy. I like lounge wear and quilts, fireplaces and in-floor heating. A nap in a hammock is a dream come true. I need the lighting low and the music good. If the night is long and the heels are high, I stash flip-flops in my purse. If I know I am going to a “no shoes” house, I have been known to pack slippers. The pashmina I wear might as well be a security blanket and while, I feel naked if I forget to wear earrings, they are the first to go at the end of the day. I have never once gone on vacation without packing my own down pillow. If I am in pain, I am not afraid to medicate. I like the fetal position so much that there is a good chance that if I would have known any better, I would have just stayed in my mom's womb. I like to be comfortable.

I am a comfort whore.

I think back to those who have pointed out that I leave water glasses in every room, hair ties on the arms of couches, jewelry on side tables, hoodies draped over stools and crumpled up jeans where their sweats used to be. I realize now that they are the people I feel the safest with. These houses all belong to a parent, a sister, a best friend or a lover. They are where I go after being exposed to the elements and I am feeling vulnerable or when I just need to laugh or even when all I need is a little peace and quiet. The day, the real world, are left behind me as I strip away what I never really needed to begin with. I am happy in these places and I am protected.

So now I know why it all comes off when I walk through certain doors, but why do things get left behind? Maybe it's insurance. A way for me to know, no matter where I go, I will be able to come back at least one more time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Did you just answer my question with a question?

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." -Albert Einstein

I want the smartest person in the world to join my inner circle. I would call their landline, politely ask how their day was going (I love landlines) and then, subtly of course, ask away. I would have the question, or a thousand questions, and they would have the answer. Because they are smart. Smarter than anyone else, actually. They would not, however, be there for math questions or to remind me which of Newton’s laws I was applying. Oh, no. The smartest person in the world would tackle the hardest issues of all: Matters of the heart. My brain seems to fight with my heart on a regular basis. Why not start outsourcing?

Amelia insists that, no matter how bad I want her to be, she is not the smartest person in the world. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t help you with this one. All I do know is it’s happening, you are feeling this way, so it must be true. It must be real. I am not the smartest person in the world.”

More and more lately I find myself in quandaries that require I look outside of myself for the solution. Sometimes I think it must be because I am living back here, at the starting place. In feeling my roots, all thick and tangled under my feet, I am feeling everything else too.

I am also increasingly suspicious that I am in the throws of what symptomatically seems to be a quarter-life crisis (I know I am a little old, but what am I supposed to call it? A “little past quarter-life not quite mid-life somewhere around a third of the way through” crisis? WTF.). This “crisis” comes with all the normal manic moments over career, friends, love life, family and health.

I have piles of books that chant mantras of betterment from my nightstand. I read them and for a few days I am enlightened: I stop reading trashy magazines and I gossip less. I feel compassion bubbling up and I truly think that I have become the better woman I always wanted to be. Then the words slowly fade away like the print on a vintage newspaper and my mind starts to wander. I find myself flipping through an US Weekly as I listen absent-mindedly to the phone that is pressed in between my shoulder and ear. Someone is pregnant, someone else is eating their feelings and, OMG, did I see that picture on Facebook? Shit. I tried so hard, too. Feeling guilty, I start eating my feelings, and every carb in the house.

Therapy totally rocks, but there are days when I walk out feeling like my insides have been ripped out and reduced to scribbled pie charts and generalizations about “the self”.

There is always the friends and family avenue, but I need to be realistic that going on (and on and on) about my latest debacle probably has an expiration date. So, in moments of extreme paranoia, I tend to take preventative measures to ensure that I never run out of ears. Anyone who shows up in front of me with the even slightest interest in friendship wins. Coffee? Sure! Happy Hour? Yes! Go to the dentist with you? You got it! My theory is this; by entangling these helpless souls into the trappings of my web, which is a woven, wobbly mess, I will be able to keep them interested long enough to stick by me when the waters get rough. Not my proudest maneuver, but effective nonetheless.

So I have tapped into professional and personal resources and yet none of them have all the answers. None of them get to claim the title of Smartest Person In The World.

So, who then, is the smartest person in the world? Galileo, Einstein, Da Vinci, Aristotle, Asimov, Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla, Stephen Hawking, Imhotep, Isaac Newton, Plato, Archimedes, Thomas Edison, Michelangelo and William James Sidis are all heavy hitters when you Google “smartest person in the world”. Living today? Marilyn Vos Savant is said to be the smartest person in the world with an IQ of 186. Although, I have to question the intelligence of someone who chooses Parade magazine as the publication for their column. I mean, seriously, who reads Parade?

Hmm. Access to the smartest person in the world would make problem-solving easier, but I just wonder if they would be able to tell me why my heart skips a beat when I see him. Or let me in on why falling for someone kind of feels like I am walking around all day with his arms permanently wrapped around me, protected and safe, and in the next moment I am scared to death and trying not to throw up. They could tell me what I should be when I grow up, or how the hot guy at the gym every night makes running look so easy (and good).

When it comes down to it though, I guess I don’t want all the answers right now. I want to learn as I go. I don’t want to know everything he is feeling or thinking. I want him to show me instead. Feeling tipsy for someone, walking around clumsy, is lovely. I crave the late evening giggles moments before a breathless first kiss. I curl up around rainy mornings steeped in coffee and other quiet, comforting routines. I can even embrace the sting when my heart gets hit, or at least try to. Being crushed by a crush, or even a love, is a test of strength and character.

What I am supposed to be when I grow up? Hopefully it will come through me. If not, oh well. I will find happiness wherever it presents itself I suppose.

Sometimes I do want to hide my heart, cover it with my mind, try and be all smart and logical about everything, never leave it open or vulnerable again. I can’t, though, and I won't. I wear my heart on my sleeve for a reason; I want it to be exposed to the elements. My heart has to learn, has to grow, has to see as much of this world, good and bad, that it can. Someday it will be as open and strong as my mind, which I love, even if I'm not the smartest person in the world.

Monday, March 2, 2009

cleaning out the closet...

"And the hardest part was letting go and not taking part. It was the hardest part."

It was such a lovely Sunday morning before I attempted to ruin it. The house was mellow and quiet. I was drinking coffee, minding my own business. I am not sure what made me do it. It was a perfectly pleasant day, the rain was falling hard and steady. I was cleaning out the refrigerator, drowning in satisfaction as I threw away everything moldy and outdated. I plunged my pink rubber gloves into the hot, soapy water, scrubbing and looking out the window, scrubbing and looking out the window some more. The music was loud, Coldplay maybe. Before I knew what I was doing, I was pulling off the gloves, each finger snapping as the suction released. Five minutes later I was Indian style on the floor, a photo album resting on my grey sweats, the rest of me surrounded by spiral notebooks, folded papers, and loose pictures.

Those eyes. A shock of blue set against rugged, but flawless skin. A mouth that was always smirking. He tried so hard not to be good looking, but fed off knowing he was the one to be stared at in a room. “Handsome garbage,” my mom said that first time she saw him. “I have seen that look before. You should run as fast as you can.” It was the look he gave me when I was talking too much or knew something he didn’t. The look he gave me when we were out and I was talking to anyone else but him. It was the look I used to tell myself to remember every time I was feeling vulnerable to falling again.

We were sleeping together for about two years when he left for Alaska to work. Two nights after our sad goodbyes and promises to see if we could make it work when he returned, I overheard a girl I knew saying how she had taken him home and “fucked the shit out of him” the week before. I don’t know what it feels like to get kicked in the stomach by a linebacker, but I imagine the pain is similar. I wish I could say this was the first time I had been let in on his sluttiness. I pulled it together and called him only to have him deny it for a week and then change his story to one of disbelief that I thought we were even in a relationship. “I care about you and I like spending time with you, but we are friends.” He then emailed me non-stop, called me all the time, sent me mix cds with all our favorite songs and came home with a whole new outlook on “us”.

Friends. Funny how some men love to throw that title around, just so they can get away with not having to give you any other kind of title at all. Friends with the postman and friends with the girl you have been waking up next to.

If I was any brighter at 23, I would have ran like my mom told me. I would have thought about the men who are my friends that spent years telling me that this guy was no good. Reed would hold me by the shoulders, look at me and beg me to see clearly. “You aren’t even you anymore. We don’t even recognize you. You used to be fun and sassy and now you are just… timid and sad all the time. How can you be dating someone that is too chicken shit to even hang out with your best friends? We are like family to you and he is sitting out in the car, waiting for you?” He tried to protect me but ended up getting so mad at me for staying with him that he just backed off. Everyone did. My friends and family saw the manipulation, lying and verbal abuse. They saw the way he used me but they couldn’t get through to me so they just waited.

I was in love, and if this was what I had to go through to be in love, so be it. The good times were so good that the bad times seemed manageable. The road trips and the movie nights. Sitting around bonfires, keeping each other warm as we stared at the stars. We would tell each other everything as we sat on the edge of some lake somewhere staring into the sunset. I liked spending hours in the car with him, listening to music, staring out the window. When I showed up at his house before our camping trips he would greet his passenger with a huge grin and two travel mugs of bloody marys. I thought it was adorable that he had the whole trip mapped out and that all I had to do was ride along, no say or input at all.

Then he would rage at me, or sleep with some other girl (or rage at me after sleeping with some other girl), and I would get strong and walk away. He always found me with tears in his eyes and would tell me how much I meant to him, how he thought he loved me. He would say how much he missed me and how, this time, he wanted to make it work. It would be good for a while and then I would find myself laying in bed with him, staring at the curve of his back, watching him breathe, wishing I had the courage to hold him the way I wanted to, thinking that it was impossible to feel this lonely in the same room with someone.

I let him in and it wasn’t enough, I pushed him away and that wasn’t enough either. I could never find the balance between what he wanted and what I thought he wanted. I never thought I would ever be the victim of abuse. Physical abuse is easier to target, see the problem. Emotional abuse is more obscure, and in a sense I was brainwashed. He let me know that I was never going to be good enough to be with anyone else so I should settle for him in whatever form I could get him.

Now, surrounded by all the evidence, I wonder what to do. Do I shred the letters, stained with my tears, and burn the pictures? He is a photographer, so all of trips were documented with images of mountains and beaches; he rarely tried to capture people. There is one picture of me at his house, drinking a pear cider with a my hair in a long braid. I am crying and refusing to look at him. Twenty minutes earlier he had been screaming at me and I was sitting outside when he decided to take pictures of me. "Everyone always sees you so happy and bubbly, everybody's little favorite. Let's show them the real you. The you that is crying over nothing." That picture I keep to remind me how far away from that night I have traveled. I love looking at that girl knowing that, even though she is weak then, she will wake up and get out.

But do I want to hold on to a picture of us cuddling on the beach or laughing into each other’s eyes? Part of me wants to forget he ever happened to me and another part thinks I should embrace the role he had. I learned a lot from him, like what I don’t want. I learned that there are red flags if you remember to look for them. I learned that, more often than not, my family and friends know me and what is best for me, even when I am blinded by emotion. I came out knowing that someday I will be able to tell the love of my life that everything else was just leading me to him, giving me something to contrast him against. I will be able to tell him that he takes my breath away without taking me away.

I realize now that I wasn’t afraid that I would never get over this man, I was more afraid that I would. I think we are all like that. Stuck in these patterns, addicted to the drama, mistaking it somehow for passion. What if they are the one? What if not being with them is a huge mistake? What if this pain, this breakup pain lasts forever? We “what if” ourselves until it feels like the only thing left to do is to stay in the same spot. Not with them, but not without them either. Not in the past, but certainly not moving forward.

I did walk forward. It shocks me still today, as I stare into this pile of emotional paraphernalia that is scattered on the floor, that I was able to find the strength to release him. I am looking at his eyes, his perfect dark hair, the way he tilts his head and smirks and I don’t feel anything. I don’t wait for his angry phone calls anymore and I don’t secretly hope I will see his name in my email inbox. I don’t want to hold him and at the same time I don’t hate him. I never found our balance but I finally found mine. I can honestly say I hope that he finds his too. I hope that he is sweet to the woman he loves and that through me he was able to learn some things too. I do not know him and he does not know me. It feels so liberating to know he can't get under my skin and into my soul, to know that he lost that privilege once and for all. I fought it for a very long time and I am so grateful now. He is very gone from me and all that is left is a pile of pictures and one chapter in, what I hope, is a very long book with a very happy ending.